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The Great Unfinished Symphony

…please hear this post for what it is: a plea. I believe in America. I believe in all that we can be. I believe in the true American dream: that one day, we will live up to our ideals that all humans are created equal. I pray for that dream daily. But I also know that prayer without action is useless.

This weekend we will celebrate independence in our country.

There will be fireworks, fun decorations, and hopefully some really good food.

And yet, in the midst of everything that is happening right now, it is a day that should cause us to pause and reflect on where we started. Where we have been. Where we are. And where we are going.

In recent days, I came across a quote from the Vice President of the Confederate States of America that shed some light on the tug of war that’s been happening within me of late:

“The Constitution… rested upon the equality of races. This was an error. Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Though this statement is disturbing on many levels and lays bear the truth behind the most divisive war our nation has ever fought (no, it was not about state’s rights), it did raise up one very helpful thought: the Constitution was created with an opportunity to do and be better.

Even as our founding document literally wrote white supremacy into law – stating that people of color were worth only 3/5 of a white man – it also left an opening for us to evolve. Unfortunately we have been caught up recovering from this horrifying statement of value (not rights, since they were afforded none and the 3/5 was to make their white masters have a better vote) ever since.

What we are witnessing in this country is a new kind of revolution. This time, instead of taking it on piecemeal, we are finally naming the virus that has been invading and sickening our nation since its very inception: white supremacy.

Racially-motivated police brutality is merely a symptom. Racial slurs, also a symptom. White people thinking they have authority over BIPOC is one of the most egregious symptoms. And there are countless more.

In order to truly. move forward, it is going to take more than simply winning hearts and minds. We need to take on the system this time. We need to change our laws to reflect the ideals we strive for – that all people are created equal.

The good news is that there is hope. We have the opportunity to change the reality in our country. But it will take a whole lot of hard work on multiple levels.

So, where do we begin?

It depends on who you are as you read this.

If you are a BIPOC, please know that you are beautiful, stronger than many can understand, and I (and so many others) are truly grateful for your witness. Your actions in these coming days are something I have no right to speak to.

If you are white (as I am), dismantling white supremacy starts with you. It starts with me. Start by naming it as the reality that it is. Then actually read the books on it – not to make yourself look good, but to truly learn. Then find what ways you can get involved in BLM, Poor People’s Campaign, LGBTQ rights, or any other movement supporting the previously denigrated, demonized, and destroyed lives that calls to you. Speak up and out. Donate to organizations working for these movements. Wear their symbols as a sign of solidarity. Wave flags and signs. And yes, protest (especially once the pandemic is over if it is unsafe for you now).

This is a fight for the very soul of our nation. And none of us is free until we are all free.

So please hear this post for what it is: a plea. I believe in America. I believe in all that we can be. I believe in the true American dream: that one day, we will live up to our ideals that all humans are created equal.

I pray for that dream daily, for I know the symphony that Lin-Manuel Miranda spoke of is not yet finished. But I also know that prayer without action is useless. So I will speak up. I will stand with all those who our nation has cast out or cast down. I will do everything in my power to support these movements.  I will do all I can to dismantle and eradicate white supremacy from our systems and our hearts.

The real question is, will you join me?

A Universal Principle

Displaying kindness and generosity towards others, caring for their immediate needs, and offering whatever service one can do – that practice has been around since time immemorial…

Hospitality is a universal principle.

Displaying kindness and generosity towards others, caring for their immediate needs, and offering whatever service one can do – that practice has been around since time immemorial.

Unfortunately, we, as a society, have largely lost this concept.

Sure, we sometimes throw parties and think about people’s needs in those cases. But true hospitality is what happens in our daily lives. It is the way we show care and welcome to others.

Why do we have such a difficult time with this practice?

We have gone so far down the rabbit hole of extreme individualism that we have forgotten we are meant to care for others, as much as and even more than ourselves.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” People all bear Christ’s image. People, and their lives and livelihoods, are all holy.

Something that all of the ancient religions understood is that we all are strangers at some point in our life. We all need help sometimes. None of us is able to get through this life without either the support of others or on the backs of others. And for those of us who would claim to follow Christ, we should never use people as a means to an end for our benefit.

We need to return to our roots and remember the holy practice of hospitality. It is universal and appears across almost all religions (and humanism). It is what we are meant to do as humans on this planet.

That means suffering inconvenience to ensure another’s safety. That means focusing on the set of lives being oppressed in order that all life might flourish. That means doing what you can, everyday, in order to see your neighbors (and strangers) live the lives they were meant to live.

Hospitality. Learn it. Do it. Love it.

 

Growing

Growth is hard. It can hurt. It can make us face our fears. It can bring out every fighting defense we have because change makes us afraid…

Have you ever considered those times in your life when you have grown the most? Most likely they were times that were full of challenge, in some shape or form. This is because our very best growth in this life occurs when our barriers are broken down in ways we weren’t fully expecting.

It takes vulnerability to grow. To evolve. To become who we are meant to be.

It takes a willingness to face those places that are not what they should be. To let them go. And to seek something better.

This growth process happens with individuals to be sure. But it can also happen with communities of people. When God spoke to the ancient Israelites, it was about growing together. When Jesus spoke the beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, it was about a group of people facing life together. When Paul wrote to the churches, he was writing to the body, not individuals.

Growth is hard. It can hurt. It can make us face our fears. It can bring out every fighting defense we have because change makes us afraid.

And yet, it is so incredibly necessary. Because we are meant to grow. To transform. To become who we are meant to be.

Sometimes it may feel like the world is closing in around us when we see a change that needs to happen but cannot quite climb the mountain. It may feel as though others are heaping mud and mire on top of us for daring to reach for a better world. It may feel like our strength is gone.

But never forget the words of Greek poet, Dinos Christianopoulos: “they tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Growth will happen, but only when we are willing to do that hard work it takes to pursue it.

The world is trying to grow. Are you willing to be vulnerable enough to join the fray?

Sin or not?

Now here’s the really difficult part about all of these issues: they are all a part of the culture we live in. They have been intrinsically interwoven into the very fabric of our society and governance to keep some in power…

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Throughout history, theologians, professors, pastors, and priests have debated the nature and definition of sin in the Christian tradition. Some have focused on a list of acts. Others have chosen to point at specific people and professions as “sinful.” Still others have chosen one or two “sins” to deem as worse than all the rest.

In reality, when Jesus taught about sin, he took it a step further than all of these. Christ taught that the intention to cause harm counts as much as any act. Lust and anger become adultery and murder because the avarice in our hearts impacts what is ultimately important.

And for Christ (and God) the most important part of our lives and being human is the relationships: with God, with ourselves, with one another.

Why? Because we are made in the image of the Triune God to love and be loved.

God’s ultimate purpose is and always has been love.

Sin is breaking that purpose – breaking our relationships. Which is also why the intent can cause sin even without any action. Because when anything takes our central focus away from the healthy, loving, equity and justice-seeking relationships God desires, that creates cracks in the connections we are meant to build.

So let’s use some of the real issues facing our world right now as examples of sin or not?

  • Racism – the systematic denigration and destruction of a group of people because of the color of their skin = sin. It breaks our ability to see all of God’s children as being made in God’s image. Worse, it causes harm to that very image in the people who have been harmed.
  • Sexism – the systematic subjugation and abuse of a group of people because of the sex of their body = sin. It does a similar number to racism, except this time because of the way someone was born in terms of their physical parts. It causes harm to the bodies and psyches of those who it attacks.
  • Bigotry – the systematic vilification and abhorrence of those who were born with a different a sexual or gender identity than what has been deemed “acceptable” by the powers that be = sin. Again, it attacks those who were born different for something they cannot control, wreaking significant damage both mentally and physically.
  • White Supremacy – the belief that one race is superior and therefore should rule all other races = sin. This one is particularly problematic because its very foundation is that the majority of God’s children are less important, there to serve those in the ruling race, and are things to be used as the ruling race deems appropriate.

Now here’s the really difficult part about all of these issues: they are all a part of the culture we live in. They have been intrinsically interwoven into the very fabric of our society and governance to keep some in power while keeping others under “control.” They affect the way we see every single thing that happens, because we have been taught to normalize all of them since our youngest days on this earth.

Jesus spent his life here on earth intentionally dismantling systemic issues in his own time (racism and sexism being two of particular import). He not only fought to see individuals’ needs fulfilled, but also fought against those systems we have created to keep some in control while others are subjugated. He worked to undo their damage and to stop them from causing more.

That means that those who would follow Jesus are called to intentionally identify and dismantle systems of oppression, purposefully support and empower those who have been oppressed, consciously realize the ways we have internalized and benefitted from these systems, and then deliberately do all in our power to mend the relationships we humans are so good at breaking.

Like all problems, the first step is naming it.

So say it together: racism is sin. sexism is sin. bigotry is sin. white supremacy is sin. We all have a problem.

And by God’s grace, we can and must work together to solve it.

A bit of fabric

Because while God loves everyone, God has always been specially protective and active in the lives of those who were born different or do not have what they need. Jesus was one who fought for social justice with every breath he took…

Have you ever considered the moment when something becomes a social justice issue?

It is that place where personal choice begins to impede another’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because of something they can’t control.

Masks are a social justice issue.

They are there to protect the lives of those who have chronic illnesses or who have reached an age that puts them at risk. Not just their physical lives, but also their ability to have contact with anyone right now. The opportunity to go out at all. The chance to actually live, not just survive.

In the midst of a disease that we know so little about, the scientific community has found that a simple bit of cloth can make the difference in keeping the disease spread down. Along with physical distancing, of course.

I’ve heard many around me say that it is a very personal choice for them to make as to whether they are going to wear a mask or not.

Thanks to the liberties we are afforded in this country, they are correct.

Nevertheless, every time I hear that I realize that they are (usually unthinkingly) saying that their right to do what they want matters more than their neighbor’s right to have a full life.

Jesus spent his life on earth preaching and doing ministry with those whose lives have been deemed less important by others. Women. The poor. The marginalized. And especially the sick. He cared for their physical bodies as much as their afterlife. He taught us that followers of Christ are meant to care for the weakest and poorest before we care for those who have what they need. Because while God loves everyone, God has always been specially protective and active in the lives of those who were born different or do not have what they need. Jesus was one who fought for social justice with every breath he took.

My family is one of those at high risk of getting the disease. Many of our neighbors are telling us that our life is unimportant – not just the physical one, but the flourishing one we’re meant to have. Stay home, they say. But we did not choose to be high risk. It comes from something that is out of our control.

All we need is a little piece of fabric. That’s it.

Jesus has proven on which side he would be. The question is, how many will join him.

 

Universal Language

It takes a myriad of forms. But the common language of compassion, kindness, and thoughtfulness remain the same…

One of the most fascinating discoveries that any person can make is what all of us share in common.

Now, it is true that mathematics and music are the languages that transcend human words. However, there is one language that all humans are meant to learn from their earliest days: love.

Love is the true universal language.

Why? Because we are all made in the image of God, who is Love itself. Even if we do not realize it, we are meant to know love in our lives. Not necessarily romantic love, though it has its place. No, the love we are meant to know is the self-giving, serving the other, caring for another love.

It takes a myriad of forms. But the common language of compassion, kindness, and thoughtfulness remain the same.

Interestingly, while love is the universal language, there is another word that is the universal greeting.

Can you guess it?

Across almost all major world religions (including most of the ancients), the word we should use to greet one another is peace.

One place to look for the reason behind this comes from our Jewish brethren. In its Hebrew form, shalom, it means wholeness. Because true peace is not a lack of conflict. It is the fullness and flourishing of all around us. The wholeness that comes from truly knowing Godly love.

So what should we take away from this consideration of words?

First, the place to begin with those who are different than you is to look at how they love others and start the conversation there, because we are all meant to find common ground.

And second, no matter who you meet or where they come from, when greeting a fellow human, the best thing one can always say is peace – wish them wholeness. Wish them flourishing. Wish them love lived out.

Who matters?

Each other human is just as loved, wanted, accepted, and important to God. No one is excluded from the list…

A key question in theology for any religion is how do humans relate to God and to one another?

We know that we were fearfully and wonderfully made by God. We are creatures, not the Creator, but unlike the rest of creation, we were made in God’s own image to love and be loved.

That is who we are – beloved children, called by name, wanted, accepted, important.

Revel in that love, to be sure.

Then remember the other key part of this description of who we are as humans: it applies to every other person on this planet.

Each other human is just as loved, wanted, accepted, and important to God. No one is excluded from the list.

So how do we relate to one another?

Most importantly by remembering this key truth. If every other person is loved by God, then no one is expendable. No one is better than another. No one matters more than any another. We are all equally beautiful, wonderful, and essential.

Put this another way: life is not all about you. It’s not all about your family or your success or your schedule or your worldview.

Life is about the ways we live into our God-given identity by loving others, making connections, and creating new opportunities for full-life in all.

In light of everything that is happening around us, the two things I want you to always keep at the front of your mind are these: you are loved by God but so is everyone else. So act accordingly and as though their lives are just as valuable as yours. Because they are.

 

Frail, but hard to kill

How God has lived among us. Moved within us. Breathed life into us when all seemed lost…

For many of us, the days dragging into weeks trailing into months has been grating on us for a while now. We’re not sure what day it is. And the weather isn’t really helping us in telling the season, either.

We want to know when this will be over. More than that, we want to know that this will end.

Though love is the center of who God is and who we are called to be, hope is the thing we need most at this moment. Keep loving, to be sure, but also be mindful that hope is a vital commodity, too.

Throughout our history, God has repeatedly appeared. God walked with Abraham to a new country. God lead Esau to forgiveness for his brother who had stolen his livelihood. God protected Joseph when he was sold into slavery. God shepherded the people through the sea of reeds and the rivers. God stood with the three foreigners thrown into the fiery furnace. And those are just some of the more famous stories from scripture.

We have hope, because of how God has already acted in our lives. The lives of all humans. And our lives in particular.

How God has lived among us. Moved within us. Breathed life into us when all seemed lost.

For any who follow the God of Abraham and Sarah, we very likely have experienced God’s presence at some point. Likely many points. And oftentimes at those points when we needed help most.

But here’s the best part: if all hope seems lost to you and you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, then know that I have hope for you.

Among God’s promises is that others can have faith for us that continues to grow our relationship with God, even when we may not realize it. Others can believe and hope because we know that God is with each and every one of us. Walking with us and working all things for good.

And our hope, though sometimes frail, it is hard to kill (as the old song says). It does not disappoint us – for ours is a hope in the God who is the source of all life and is love itself.

You can have hope, because a new day will dawn. And until it does, you can trust that God is here. With us. Helping us to find our way.

What’s Your Name?

We are meant to live full lives as God’s wonderfully made creations – most importantly by the ways we give and receive love…

I remember, several years ago now, the time when I went to a Christian concert with some of our younglings. Among the speeches given that night, one was by a musician who gave a thirty minute dissertation on how God’s name is “holy.” Not that it is a holy name, but that the name was literally the word “holy.” (Insert eye-roll and facepalm here.)

Knowing God’s name is important because it tells us something about who God is. And yes, our God (for those who follow the Abrahamic traditions) has been called several names. However, there are two that are particularly important.

The first is God’s main name in Hebrew that was given to Moses on Mount Horeb. It is usually translated “I am,” but it comes from the Hebrew word “to be. God’s name means life, existence, being itself. And that is who God is – the one who gives life, who creates, who empowers, who renews.

The other name appears in the New Testament in John’s first letter. That name is Love. The highest form of love: caring as much for another and for oneself. Agape love.  The way God loves within God’s own self (the Trinity). The way God loves us. The way we are meant to love God. And most importantly, the way we are meant to love one another.

What do these two names teach us?

We are meant to live full lives as God’s wonderfully made creations – most importantly by the ways we give and receive love.

Because Life and Love are God’s own names, that does make them holy. Set apart. Of the utmost importance.

And they are what we are to seek after and to protect: for ourselves and for others.

My hope, as we continue to face this crisis, is that we will do so together, remembering the love and the life to which our God has called us – as who we are, as how we relate, and as what we protect.

Are We There Yet?

…yet, it is a question we really are asking ourselves right now: when will this be over? (Or as SpaceBalls would say, “When will then be now?”)

Anyone who has ever taken a road trip knows this question: are we there yet? Usually said in as whiny a tone as possible.

And yet, it is a question we really are asking ourselves right now: when will this be over? (Or as SpaceBalls would say, “When will then be now?”)

Though it may be soon, it is not going to be nearly as soon as many of us would like.

Major challenges still face us, our communities, our leaders. What is more, though science is working as fast as it can, there is still so much we do not know about this virus.

What we learn from scripture is that God almost always refuses to give us an expiration date for struggles. Even Christ said not to focus on the date of his return.

We also learn that children of God are loath to wait. They love grumbling. They whine and bicker and chide every chance they get. They blame everyone they can, regardless of guilt. Even when God provides what they need, it barely touches their mood.

People react when their world is turned upside down. It is stressful. It is trying. It throws us for a loop – or at times like now, for a loop-de-loop-de-loop.

But God never taught us to just sit still when life gets difficult. Even if we are intentionally keeping physical distance from others to save lives, that does not mean we should sit on our hands while we wait.

There are a myriad of things you can do – everything from hobbies to languages to enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. And beyond that, there are countless things you can do to serve God while we wait for our destination.

Help your neighbors. Ensure your friends and family can get their groceries and meds. Talk to local business owners and buy gift certificates for later. Use sidewalk chalk to spread a message of hope. Learn how to use technology and FaceTime or Zoom to make sure people know they are not alone. Send kind notes to long-lost friends. Buy gift cards to a coffee company or a spa for the healthcare workers in your life. Do the same for people serving on all the other “front-lines” of this pandemic – truck drivers, farmers, grocery workers, trade-craft workers, first responders, and everyone else who is keeping this place running right now. And this is not an exhaustive list.

If you feel ready to grumble, give yourself a minute and then get off your tuchus and do something with your time. Help someone out. Because we’re not there yet and we’ve already pulled this car over.

And always remember this: God is still here. Miracles still happen. And you will receive all the strength you need to get through this.