Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Crisis Isn't At The Border, It Is In The Heart Of The Nation

One of my favorite cartoons is below




It reminds me that my life in Christ is not a life in isolation.  It is a life lived in community.  And that community is very large.

In Chin State, Myanmar (Burma), a place I have come to love and where I have friends, there is a partial internet blackout as the fighting between government forces and independent militia intensifies.  The government does not want news of what they are doing to get out into the world.  I worry about and  pray for my friends.

Here in America we incarcerate children on the border and now, as the concern for, and the spotlight on, those children intensifies, our government plans to move them to Fort Sill (which was an internment camp for the Japanese during WWII)….this will put the children on government land which means that it will be harder, if not impossible, for people to get in and check on the conditions these children are being kept under.  Like in Myanmar, the government (our government) does not want news of what they're doing to get out into the world.

Jesus' commands about caring for the "hungry, the lame, those in prison, and the naked" are rooted in Torah.

One of the harshest curses in Deuteronomy was aimed at the Ammonites and Moabites,  curse that lasted "to the 10th generation" …. get this: "because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt, and because they hired Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Aramnaharaim, to curse you." (Deuteronomy 23:5)
Then, Deuteronomy 24:6, 10-15, 17-22 are a list of rules (among a list that also includes some rules about divorce and not sending newly married men off to war) about how to deal with loans and with immigrants and with the poor.  That list twice includes the commandment to remember that you were slaves in Egypt.

Jesus takes these commandments and makes it starkly clear that the quality of the relationship we have within the human community is also the quality of the relationship we will have with God.

Let me say it again:  The quality of the relationship we have within the human community is also the quality of the relationship we will have with God. 

I read about how the Ammonites and Moabites failed to offer hospitality to the weary immigrant Hebrews as they walked through the wilderness to escape the harsh conditions of Egypt and I see our southern border.  I see children separated from parents; denied toothpaste and soap; left in the care of other children.

I see Balaam hired by these people to curse the Hebrews and I cannot help but see Donald Trump, elected to shouts of "Build That Wall."  The story, you may remember, included an ass that had sense enough to lie down because it saw the Angel of the Lord blocking Balaam's way.  Do American voters have enough sense to deny Trump's sins of inhospitality and racism a second term?  Or will our nation walk straight into the sword of the Angel of the Lord?

God is not mocked.  We cannot behave like predatory creatures who only see others as food without losing our soul.  In Mark 8:34-38 Jesus makes it clear that it is possible to lose everything in our grasping desire.  He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.  Following Him may include more than "this is how people will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another like I have loved you," and "As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me," but it certainly does not include anything less.

You can shut down the internet.  You can hide the children you are abusing by your policies away from the media and other observers.  But God is not blind.

The Quality Of The Relationship We Have Within The Human Community Is Also The Quality Of The Relationship We Will Have With God 

The crisis is not at the border; it is within the heart and soul of our nation.  It is indeed a crisis; and our soul may depend on how we address it.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Witness

I have seen coverage
of children in cages.
Locked there by my country's government
because their parents
thought the risk of cages
was less than the carnage back home.

I have watched video
of bodies
bobbing like mahogany rag dolls,
thrown like litter onto the beach
by careless waves.
Sliding in and out on the sand
While masked workers
tried to grab a flopping limb
to pull them ashore for disposal.
These too were trying to escape;
this time from the civil war in Cameroon.
Fragile boats, overloaded on angry seas
were safer than what they left behind.

So I have seen God
Bobbing in the waves
dead pale eyes
milky against chocolate skin.
I have watched God
through the wires of a cage
diaper full
shivering beneath an aluminum blanket.

I have seen this all
because the horror of believing
that a God of love could stand neutral
and impassive
while this happened
Is a risk my soul cannot bear.

Either God is there
and there I must meet Him in His death,
join Her in Her anguish for her children,
or cease to believe,
renounce my faith,
abandon my worship.
Emmanuel
or Moloch.
Chose this day whom you will serve.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Pentecost

They stood in the street and listened
these Jews who had travelled
from all over the known world.
From Pontus and Cappadocia; Libya and Rome.
Medes and Elamites; Cretans and Arabs.
It didn't matter.
It didn't matter who they were.
It didn't matter if they had been born a Jew
or converted along the way
drawn to the God who was
The Lord Our God Is One.
They listened.
Listened to the stories of the Mighty Acts of God
in their own language.
Oh that we could hear
really hear
those Mighty Acts
in our language
Acts of the God
who freed slaves in Egypt
and America;
Who opened a way for refugees to cross the Red Sea
and the southern border;
Who promised a new home
in Canaan and Connecticut.
Perhaps if we could hear
we might find the courage
and the imagination
to look at our immigration policy
our gun violence issues
our racism and poverty and hunger.
Perhaps our sons and daughter might prophesy
instead of going shopping;
Our old men in Congress dream dreams of healing
rather than support division.
Our young men see visions of equality and community
rather than shoot random strangers of another race.
But we don't want that
it might also mean that God would poor out God's Spirit
on the marginalized, like the slaves Joel mentions,
What would happen
if they suddenly began to prophesy
to say "I have a dream that one day my children...."
It's easier to say, "they're drunk."  Or "they're just stupid outsiders"
like Galileans....country come to town.

Sunday morning we will sing
"Holy Spirit you are welcome here,
"Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
"Your glory, Lord is what our hearts long for
"To be overcome by Your Presence, Lord."
Will we find the courage to mean it?
Will I find the courage to preach it?

Come Holy Spirit
Blow the doors off the narrow places of our lives
Fill us again with a belief
in the stories of the Mighty Acts Of God
that we might claim them for ourselves;
and shatter the narrow ways in which
those who want to claim they have the only way,
who deal in memo rather than mercy,
cages rather than compassion,
and racism rather than reconciliation
have tried to bind us.

Free us from Pharaoh and Caesar
From Donald and Mitch and Miller
Blow through our lives like a hurricane and set them aflame
with the Mighty Acts of God

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Thus Says The Lord


I am sick
Of psychiatrists who just push pills
deadening pain that therapy might heal.
Addicting one pain and need to another.
I am sick of therapists
Whose cost for session
rules out those marginalized who have been traumatized
these ones who need them most.
I am sick of student loans
and insurance companies
that leave skilled therapists
with little choice
but to offer short term sessions at high cost.

I vomit with the caged ones
as the flu moves through their numbers.
I am covered with their feces
Because I will not leave them
While prisons for hire grow rich
And legislators make news
but make no change in this abomination.
You have covered the Lord Your God
with feces and vomit
and the blood of the weak
Because I will not abandon them.
You have forgotten my commandments
But I will not forget your transgressions.

I am tired
And numb
Watching the weary parade go by
Of wounded ones
for whom no one will care.
They move like refugees
driven from the fullness of life
for which they were created
Into shelters for the homeless
And the pill line at the clinic.
While the fat cows of Big Pharm
and big banks
grow obese
and too big to fail.

Surely I will judge between
these fat cows and the starved lean ones.
And when the lean ones
rise up
And gore you with horns
sharpened on the rocks of want
And you bleed out
the blood and fat of your bloated greed;
You will cry out to Me
But I will not hear.
For you did not listen
When they cried out to you.


[If you don't think God talks like this, read the Prophet Amos]

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Return....Hopefully

I have not written for a while.  Close to two months to be exact.  There is a reason for this.

To be very honest, I haven't felt like I had anything coherent to say.  After my trip to Myanmar (Burma), being involved in some ongoing training around Domestic Violence, and watching what is happening in an America that I thought I knew (but realize that I really don't and maybe never did)  I have felt overwhelmed with material that I need to process.

The training that I've been doing on Domestic Violence, thanks to the State of Maryland, has included a large chunk of work on entitlement.  This is a necessary, but painful, exploration for an older middle aged white guy like myself.  I would recommend to anyone wishing to look at this to read Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.  You can find it here:

https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mcintosh.pdf

All of this being said, I believe that I'm ready to start writing again.  A lot of what I write will be sharing my discomfort with what is happening in our world; particularly in our nation.  I hope that I will be able to write more poetry (something that I've been unable to do for the past few weeks).  And I hope that all of what I write will be rooted in the stories of God with God's people.

As I've been exploring trauma as part of my work as a therapist and also as I was preparing to go to Myanmar (Burma) and teach on trauma and pastoral care, I was reminded that we mammals have three major responses when we feel threatened: fight, flight, and freeze.  It is easy to freeze in the face of the overwhelming evil going on at our borders.  While watching marginalized people try to get health care.  While watching one Republican Representative stall the disaster relief bill.

I've been reminded as I read that the (known) death toll for children in border detention is now six, of the 1971 song by Crosby, Stills and Nash

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drummin
Four dead in Ohio

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Flight is not an option.  The question we each must face now, is how will we fight?  What will be our means of taking on the evil that grips our country, making us numb to behaviors that look like nothing so much as the Nazi death camps?

Think about the song....think about the last child who dies in detention on the border

What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Having gone the 70's rock route, I will close with a hymn.  You can find a nice rendition of it here

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=once+to+every+man+and+nation+lyrics&view=detail&mid=14072D35071251984B0D14072D35071251984B0D&FORM=VIRE

It is by James Russell Lowell

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth with false-hood, for the good or evil side
Some great cause, God's new messiah, Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever 'Twixt that darkness and that light.

What if you knew her?


Friday, March 29, 2019

After The Homecoming

Poetry must
At least
Be honest
So I must say the rest of it

After
The Father put sandals
on feet still caked
with manure from the pig pen
and mud from the long road.

After
He put a robe around shoulders
sagging beneath the weight of guilt
and hunched
to avoid the objects thrown
by angry neighbors.

After
The Father put a ring
on a hand
that had not been washed
for a long time.
After
he slipped a signet ring
a sign of position and affirmation
on that dirty, shaking hand.

After
He wrapped arms of love and welcome
around all of that filth
Because he saw, and loved, the child beneath it,
After whispered in his ear
"I'm throwing you a party."
And the son spent all afternoon
trying to get clean enough
To match those gifts.

After
Those of us
who have slipped weary, calloused feet
into those sandals
Felt the soft fabric
of that welcoming robe
Will spend a lifetime in gratitude
Reaching to be worthy of the gifts.

Yet the truth of it all is this Too:
That even after
The ring, the embrace, the party;
the Far Country
burns itself into our brain
like a post traumatic flashback-
Minus the terror.
We forget the pigsty
the pig shit
the shame of begging people
for bitter carob pods

And when our elder brother
is a little too smug in his inheritance
a little too eager to remind us
that this is all his now;
When the sun beats down
hotter than we remembered,
and the monotony takes over,
A part of us longs for desolate living.

God forgive us, we miss it.
That's why friends, long sober,
still go to AA meetings;
"I need to be reminded
of what it was really like. To watch
a new prodigal come down the road
and remember the pig shit."

The truth is this
Even in all our gratitude
the Far Country sings a siren's song
and if we're not careful
like the Hebrew children in the desert
We will remember the fleshpots
in Egypt
and forget the overseer's whip.

Lent is a bit of tattered cloth
Torn from the clothes we wore home
before they burned the pile of them,
Tucked away with a note that says,
"Don't ever forget."

The gratitude
that marks a lifetime of home coming
Is built on the truth
That we come home again
Every day

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Homecoming

The Father put sandals
on feet still caked
with manure from the pig pen
and mud from the long road.

He put a robe around shoulders
sagging beneath the weight of guilt
and hunched
to avoid the objects thrown
by angry former neighbors.
The clothes beneath that robe
were grimy and tattered.

The Father put a ring
on a hand
that had not been washed
for a long time.
There was no telling
where that hand had been.
Yet he slipped a signet ring
a sign of position and affirmation
on that dirty, shaking hand.

The Father did not wait
for his son to clean himself up
Before he reached for him.
He wrapped arms of love and welcome
around all of that filth
Because he saw the child beneath it

The Father whispered in his ear
"I'm throwing you a party."
And the son spent all afternoon
trying to get clean enough
To match those gifts.

The Father does not wait
for us to clean ourselves up
Before He jumps off the porch
and runs down the road
to throw His arms around
our ragged, filthy shoulders.
But those of us
who have slipped weary, calloused feet
into those sandals,
Felt the soft fabric
of that welcoming robe,
Will spend a lifetime in gratitude
Reaching to be worthy of the gifts.

Monday, February 25, 2019

A Light To The Nations

I'm feeling very much like an old Peter, Paul, and Mary song this morning:

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go
I'm standing here outside your door...
So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane

This will be the farthest away I have ever been from my wife Carole.  I don't do separation from her particularly well.  But today I leave for Myanmar (Burma) to spend time in Chin State visiting the area and teaching about pastoral care and trauma.

I've never been much of a "foreign missions" kind of guy.  Even when I was in my early teens I thought it smacked too much of paternalism and colonialism.  But when I got the invitation from my friend Pastor Rollin Van Bik, I said yes.

As I've planned and studied for this trip I've learned a lot about the Chin people...and I expect to learn much more, both about and from them.  And this is where the "light to the nations" comes in.

When I was growing up in a Southern Baptist Church in South Carolina, the idea that seemed to permeate was that WE were the light (we being white, mostly male, but some women missionaries, from America).  This is the very definition of nationalistic, paternal colonialism traveling under the cloak of evangelical Christian witness.

What I am learning is that I have already received great light from Rollin and the pastors from Chin State with whom I have communicated.  The history of Chin Baptists is one of courage and deep commitment in the face of oppression and poverty and hardship.

So here's my thought for beginning my trip:  we are ALL expected to be light.  We are all mirrors (at our best) of God's love for us in Christ.  We reflect that back and forth to each other.  (this isn't original with me, by the way, I met a missionary translator 40 years ago who referred to her work as "Reflected Light.")

So I'm off to Burma.  One mirror in search of other mirrors with whom to reflect the Light.

Please pray for all of us who will be on this trip together: myself, Rollin Van Bik, Dr. Pat Hernandez...and all we will encounter and interact with.  If the mirrors align right, we could, together, flood the place with Light.

Shalom

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Go Down Moses 2019

Go down Moses 
way down in borderland
Tell old Trump he
Better better let my children go

When these children came to this free
Let my children go
He tore them from their mother's handa
Let my children go

He put those babies in a cage
Let my children go
Set fire to my holy rage
Let my children go

And those who watch while he does this
Let my children go
Are just as guilty as he is
Let my children go

If he won't hear what you say
Let my children go
No tweet can tell the price you'll pay
Let my children go

Go down Moses
Way down in borderlands
Tell old Trump he
Better let my children go

Creed

I believe that
Jesus came
To proclaim

Freedom
for the captive and the oppressed;
opening prison doors
and ending exploitation
of the vulnerable and the weak.

Forgiveness
for the sins that wound
the brothers and sisters
God has given me.

Healing
for the deep wounds
of my life and theirs,
that shame and paralyze and isolate

Jubilee
in new beginnings
where second chances come true;
and economic Justice is reality.

No wonder they had to kill Him.

But Jesus conquered Death,
was resurrected, lives again
and promised that I shall share
that victory with Him.

This is the Kingdom
that He invites me, and everyone, to live in.
To work for now
and live in forever.

Even when I am most afraid
of what the world can do to me
I cling to this truth:
The battle is already won
The final word is His
That Word will be Love
and we will live in that love forever.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Resistance

We are Resistance
As sure as the Dutch underground.
We are not the only Resistance,
it is true,
There are others who do not
walk our Way
and we join hands
with person's of goodwill wherever we can
But we are Resistance
Fighting not
against flesh and blood enemies
Whom we in fact are called
to find a way to love,
But against
"principalities, powers,
and the world rulers
of this present darkness.
Wherever Brown Baby Jesus
is separated from His parents
at the border
Or denied electricity and relief aid
In Puerto Rico;
Wherever Black Jesus'
water remains poisoned
Or he is shot and his body
left in the street;
Or LGBTQ Jesus
is denied room in the homeless shelter
on religious grounds;
Or veteran Jesus, coughing up blood,
is denied access to legal remedy
for toxic exposure.
Wherever human beings
are made expendable
On behalf of powers and earthly rulers
Because of race or gender
or where they fall
on the economic food chain.
We are Resistance.
And it is dangerous.
Jesus told us the time was coming
"when whoever kills you will think
they are offering service to God."
The clouds grow dark overhead
the hate speech grows louder
But we are Resistance
And we know Who will win
even if we never see it.

Monday, January 14, 2019

On Taking Down The Christmas Trees

Taking down the Christmas tree
is bittersweet these days
A harder task than in years gone by
Not just because
the getting up and down to take the tree
out of the stand
is harder on older joints and bones
But because
I feel the years deep inside.
True, this may not be yet
the winter of my life
But it is definitely the Autumn
And I wonder
as I take down these trees
and thank them, when no one is looking
for the joy the brought us
About the impact of my own life
And commit myself
to the planting of trees
in whose shade
I will never sit

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Lessons From An Aikido Dojo

I recently returned to practicing Aikido, a martial art which originated in Japan, after not practicing for about 15 years.  I had previously practiced for about 10 years (off and on depending on where I lived) and have always viewed this martial art which focuses on staying centered and redirecting the energy of an attack as part of my spiritual disciplines, a kind of "moving meditation," and a place where I could focus on something other than all the stuff swirling about in my head at the time.  I still see this as true.  But during a recent class there were some things that have jump started some interesting theological reflections.  Let me share 4 of them with you:

1) It does not take long to fall back into really bad habits once we stop practicing a discipline; whether that discipline is a set of disciplines that include prayer and good works or the techniques of aikido.  Things that I knew to be appropriate technique vanished from my physical actions with lack of use.

2) At one point my Sensei (teacher), after watching me attempt a technique, asked, "Is that the technique we demonstrated?"  I had to admit it was not.  I was trying to move my Uke (the person receiving the throw or technique), to muscle them into going where I wanted them to go.  In the process, I risked injuring because I was forcing the technique by using too much pressure on the wrist lock involved.  I had to ask myself, "How often do I take one of the teachings of Jesus and try to force it to happen rather than simply engaging my own self and my center in obedience?  How often do I, without attending to, hurt someone that I am actually trying to help?"  And finally, "How often do I, because I'm not getting the result I want, change from doing what Jesus taught me to do and do something that looks 'kinda like' that teaching...but really isn't?"  It's a rather sobering thought. Or at least it was for me.

3) My two Sensei keep saying the same thing: "You're not trying to move your Uke; focus on doing the technique properly and your Uke will move."  Now stay with me.....I believe that following Jesus will change the world.  That loving our neighbor will change the world.  That working for justice will change the world.  But as I thought about this, reflected on it, prayed about it, I realized that I may have it a bit askew.  I cannot force the world to change.  When I try to force change, people can be hurt who I don't intend to hurt.  HOWEVER if I "do the technique properly;"  if I love my neighbor, regardless of their response; if I live and work for justice, whether Court cases are won or people appreciate my actions or not;  the world cannot help but change.  Now this is tricky, because part of what Jesus taught is that the world may try to kill you for doing these things.  But the world will change.  Slowly. Bit by bit.  Or as one of the old hymns says, "Not with sword's loud clashing, or roll of stirring drums, with deeds of love and mercy the Heavenly Kingdom comes."

Now I won't claim that I have these kinds of insights every time I go to the dojo.  Most nights I leave tired and with sore aching knees (did I mention it's been 15 years?)  But sometimes something breaks through that I can chew on for a while.  This was one of those nights and I wanted to share it with you.  Whether you're an Aikido student or not, the truths are there:  We have to maintain our spiritual practices to keep them alive; we need to practice what we've been shown and not change it by trying to force it; and if we're living and moving from our center (that connection we have with the Higher Power that for me is Jesus) the world will change.  We've been promised that: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Shalom

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Owning The Horror Of The Moments When God Acts

As I'm looking at the passages for this Sunday (Exodus 2:1-10 and Matthew 2:19-23) I owe a debt of gratitude to Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence's sermon The Girls In The Reeds.  You can find it both on YouTube and links thru Day1.org.  This sermon helped to stoke the fire of my thoughts on these passages.  Phyllis Trible's Texts of Terror, long ago demanded that we listen for the voices of the voiceless when we read scripture.  This commitment stirred the fire even more.

When I widen my reading of the passage in Exodus to include 1:8-2:10, it truly becomes a
"text of terror."  It begins with a racist speech tainted with fear that these "Israelite people" will become so numerous that they will "join our enemies" and "take over the country" or "escape."  It acknowledges the need for their presence, even as it tries to work them to death.  This oppressive plan moves from "forced labor" to a secret plan to enlist the midwives in genocide.  Thwarted by the midwives, Pharaoh turns to the public, making a royal appeal to violence against the Hebrew infants by the general populace (Exodus 1:22).

Moses' mother hides him from this pogrom for three months.  What was it like for her?  Did she listen to other mothers wail as their sons were torn from their arms?  What is it like to weave a basket and coat it with bitumen and pitch as you watch your son wave his little arms lying in his blanket? To know that this one or two day reprieve may mean nothing?

Switch to Joseph for a moment.  Here is the quintessential migrant.  On the move for years when you think about it.  Run to one place to escape the violence of where you're living (truth be told the number of infants murdered in Bethlehem was probably small...not that it mattered to their mothers); settle in down in Egypt only to hear that it's time to go again.  Load up and back to Nazareth.  They're building a city at Sepphoris, there will be work there within walking distance.

My point here is that we can hear these tales of God's care and intervention and forget that they come in the midst of horror and murder.  Not everyone escaped.  God's action does not turn the horror into a Disney film.  It does not negate the genocide.

And the good things that will come from these actions are a long way off.  Sometimes we act, do brave and good things....like Moses' sister, Pharaoh's daughter, and Joseph...and things don't really change for a very, very long time.

God seems to work this way.  I don't understand why.  Sometimes it makes me angry.  I want things to change now.  I want acts of courage to result in more than just another dead hero.  But I am also convinced by these stories that God is acting.  Like a seed, deep underground, where unseen the shell of the seed is cracking open and roots are going down.  These stories point us to the reality of God's presence and activity even in those times in which God seems most absent.

And they can give us courage.  Courage to do the right thing on our borders...just as they can give the migrant the courage to keep moving away from violence and toward hope.  Courage to push and push for clean water and medical care....just as they give those robbed of these things the courage to keep acting to force the issues.

I believe earnestly in the promises of Revelation; of a God who makes God's home among these healed and redeemed people, wiping their tears and doing away with all pain.

But I also believe in the God who lives among us in the anguish of Lamentations.  Who plays the long game, using each act of justice, love, and courage that we can muster to partner with us as God moves all creation toward wholeness and a new world.

I can bear to live in this time of Lamentations only when I claim these truths.  When I acknowledge the agony and the anger; the anguish and the truth of what my nation's racism and xenophobia have done and are doing.  I look for those small signs that God is on the move.  I grieve, I moan, I scream in rage, but I also claim the hope.