Locked in Fear

On Thursday of Holy Week members of my congregation shared a meal together. It wasn’t an ordinary meal, but rather a worship service with a meal. Something I would like to do again, and like to call, dinner church. This night (Maundy Thursday), we re-heard the story behind Passover, we remembered our own sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and then we shared a meal. That was, for me, a highlight of Holy Week.

On this second Sunday of Easter we contemplate the disciples who locked themselves in a room… because they were afraid. They were afraid in spite of the news that Jesus was no longer dead. Approximately 2000 years later we might wonder about their fear. Like, how could they have not believed Jesus’ predictions of the events that would transpire? How could they not gather strength from the wonderful news that Mary and friends had reported? How could they cower in fear? Would we be any different?

I look around and I see a society in the grip of fear. We seem to have so much to fear…and sadly, those fears are being exploited in so many ways that we can’t really enumerate them right now or we’d be here all day.

Fear is an emotion that is mentioned frequently in our scriptures. Fear is an emotion that immobilizes us, so much so that a common command given to God’s people is, “do not be afraid.” Why? Because when we operate out of fear we do nothing or tragically, we are capable of doing pretty horrible things. Not just us…but all people, or groups of people…when driven by fear, are capable of the most atrocious behavior.

Which takes me back to our story behind the story of Passover. Most of us are familiar with the story of God’s deliverance of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. The story usually starts with Moses and God’s calling him to deliver his people.

But how did they come to find themselves in such a precarious position? It wasn’t an overnight thing…or a kidnapping and forcing into slavery thing (like the shameful part of our own American history). The oppression of the people happened gradually and the root of it all was fear.

Yes. Fear. You see the Egyptians saw that their Israelite neighbors were growing in number. The Egyptians saw that their Israelite neighbors were prospering. The Egyptians began to fear these neighbors. Fearing that their growth would eventually cause them to take over…to displace them. I’m sure that demagogues were active in stoking this fear of Egyptian towards their neighbor.

But rather than build a wall to keep out the Israelites (since they were already there) or mass deportation of their Israeli neighbors, they decided to just oppress them. And when oppression didn’t work they opted for a horrible form of genocide in killing all the baby boys. The story of Moses starts with these attempts at genocide. People can do atrocious things when they are afraid.

God knows this. So not only do we have the continued call to “not be afraid,” we have the common instruction to remember the oppression of Egypt. Why? So that it never happens again. The Israelites were to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and thus to treat the strangers…the sojourner…the refugee…the non-citizens in their land with compassion, with care, with justice.

Jesus would double down on this command when he instructed his disciples – including us – that the law is summarized in the command to love God and to love neighbor. Who is our neighbor according to Jesus? Everyone…especially the stranger. This was so important to Jesus that he in Matthew 25 said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

These stories, and Jesus’ words are pertinent to us today. How do we, as followers of Jesus, treat the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger in our communities? What do we do when a story as old as time is so pertinent for today?

Do we give in to fear and reject the stranger? In doing so we are most likely rejecting Jesus.

Do we listen to the words of Jesus, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” but stay silent? I think of the disciples hiding in a room out of fear. They were afraid of those in power, they were afraid of being arrested, they were afraid to live as Jesus had taught them to live.

Then, into the midst of this fearful existence Jesus appeared.

“Peace.” So much in this word. Peace. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.

But also don’t stay here. Don’t stay locked up in this room. Don’t stay locked up in your fears. Peace… and go!

As the Father sent me, I send you. I send you out into the world to be bearers of the peace I give you. I send you out into the world to learn to love your neighbor and to teach others to do the same. I send you to counter the fear that divides and diminishes and destroys peace.

This peace, this call, this promise of the Holy Spirit, this sending is for us. It’s a great gift. It’s an awesome responsibility and thus scary. It is not hypothetical.

On Friday a couple that has loved here in Oxnard for 24 years was deported. They were pastors at a church in Colonia. They literally lived across the street from us…can’t be any closer neighbors. They are grandparents. Their grandchildren are students in our preschool.

So today a church worships…mourns… the loss of their pastors. A son and a daughter mourn the loss of their parents. And most upsetting, preschoolers no longer have their grandmother who cared for them while their parents worked. These children don’t understand why their grandmother is suddenly gone. How do you explain that fear of the stranger has resulted in the expulsion of their grandparents?

As I contemplate this I wonder how we benefit from all of this? I cannot see how we are anything but diminished.

I am also reminded of other words from Jesus. Words of love and forgiveness. And as I remember these words I hope and pray that they will empower us to go out into the world and combat the fear that leads to the oppression of the immigrant.

Peace be to you.

We Shall…

 

An Idle Tale

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

Where did I get this quote? Was it from the news today, yesterday, last week, last month, last year?

An idle tale…maybe a bit archaic. How about, “they thought they were lying, and they did not believe them.”

In this case the “they” are men and the “them” are women. No surprise here!

We seem to be experiencing a reckoning in our country right now, at least in some quarters. Each day, each week, powerful men in media and entertainment are losing their jobs because of a newly found zero tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace. Why now?

Tales of harassment, abuse, and even assault are now making their way through the political world. We read that members of congress have been using taxpayer dollars for years to make settlements for bad behavior. Maybe more and more of these stories will come to light. I hope so. Meanwhile I ask, why now?

Maybe NOW is because many women are fed up. They’re tired of the silence and have decided to speak truth, as painful as that truth may be. I personally don’t have stories of sexual harassment and/or abuse in the workplace, although I have many stories of being treated differently because of my gender. My own story of abuse is one of a confused little girl. I am working up the courage to one day share that story.

I personally am fed up, and disgusted by, the Christians who in their worship of political power are choosing not to believe the credible stories of multiple women. For the Christians who voted for Donald Trump regardless of the abuse claims leveled against him, the victims, ” words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

Now, those who call themselves Christian, are poised to elect Roy Moore as a senator from Alabama. They call themselves “family values” Christians, yet they are ok with an accused pedophile and predator. Because all they can see is the benefit of political power, the many corroborated stories are to them, idle tales and not to be believed.

I reject this Christianity in the strongest terms. I am ashamed and embarrassed to profess my own Christianity when I see what is being allowed in the misguided pursuit of power.

To be consistent, I also believe that Al Franken and John Conyers and anyone else whose actions show that their respect for all women doesn’t go beyond mere words should resign or be pushed out of power.

It is time for a more thorough reckoning… it is time for all people to reject those who use their positions to abuse others. The first step is to listen to, and believe the stories.

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

Where did I get this quote? From the gospel of Luke. It describes the reaction of the disciples to the news, brought by the women, of Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:11). I guess we haven’t progressed much, but change is in the air.

Let’s start listening…and believing…and making change that is good for all. It’s the truly Christian thing to do.

Growing up racist – #4

This is not so much a memory of a racist policy but rather an example of the heartbreaking divisions that can hit us at a young age.

I was in 7th grade at Hamilton Jr. High in North Long Beach. We were a mixed race school but I don’t remember having any black friends. I actually don’t really remember having any friends. I was/am an introvert, and a painfully shy one at that. Because of moving around as a child this was already my 5th school. I wouldn’t be here long because we’d be moving again.

Physical education. These were the days we had to wear silly looking PE uniforms, with snap front blouses and elastic leg bloomers. Because of these we also had to use a locker room to change. Once dismissed from class there was usually a big rush to go change.

One day we were all sitting on the ground when this dismissal came. Lots of girls (I think we were an all girl class) started running. I was not one of them. Instead I slowly began to stand. But before I pulled my legs in another girl tripped over me. She’d been running and was now sprawled out on the ground. She was also incredibly angry because she insisted that I purposely tripped her. I apologized while also insisting that I hadn’t seen her. She didn’t believe me. She continued to insist I tripped her. She thought I did so because she was black and I was racist. I didn’t have skill to deal with this and still remember just wanting to crawl into a hole.

This incident almost led to a campus fight between black and white. I was afraid and I felt awful.

Whenever I think of this I still feel awful about it. Not just for me but for that other girl. The one who had, at her tender age, already experienced enough racist aggression that she was absolutely sure that I’d attacked her. I wonder where she is and how she is doing. I pray for her as I pray for the day when our world will be one where precious children of God are not attacked and disrespected solely for the color of their skin. And I hope that when that day comes, accidents such as the one that happened on a schoolyard so many years ago would just be experienced as accidents.

The Landowner’s Response – A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46

October 1, 2017 ended up being a horrible day. It’s just that most of us didn’t know this until Monday morning because the massacre of 58 people and the injuring of about 500 more occurred after most of us had gone to bed.

Do you remember getting the news? I was up early on Monday because I go to a strength training class at 6am. So, at approximately 5am, I sat down with my coffee to watch the news and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Did any of you have this initial reaction of disbelief?

Megan texted me just before 7am to say that Ethan had gone to Vegas and to the show and that he wasn’t responding to texts. I told her to call his mom. About 10 minutes later she said he was ok…he hadn’t been at the concert when it happened.

Later in the day Matt, texted to say that Andrew, one of “the kids” from our old Simi Valley neighborhood was shot in the back. He survived. A friend’s niece was shot in the arm. Her dad prevented her bleeding to death with a correctly applied tourniquet as she had a severed artery.

This was very close to home for us. So close, that five of people who lost their lives Sunday night were from Ventura County. I don’t know how many from our county were injured. Pastor Bill Hurst at First Lutheran in Torrance wrote of the death of one of their former students. He also stated what has made this so personal, “everyone knows someone who knows someone.”

Do you?

A theme in our texts for today is the vineyard. It was a metaphor for Israel… for God’s people. But being the fallible human beings they were and we all are, they had great trouble living as God’s chosen people. It is hard to be a people set apart…to be an example for the world… to model justice. They struggled mightily.

Our text from Isaiah tells the story…”My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” But unfortunately the fruit from this vineyard wasn’t good…so the story describes the destruction of this vineyard…because God “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”

These are incredibly painful words for a people in exile. They are incredibly painful words for us today.

The psalm(80:7-15) that we read together is a prayer for restoration of the vineyard… for a restoration of a people. It is a prayer of hope.

Fast forward to Jesus and his disputes with the religious leaders in the temple and we get this parable about the vineyard. And maybe this is a parable for our day because, tragically, it is a story of fruitless violence.

It is a story of tenants having everything they need to prosper, yet not satisfied, and not willing to pay their share of the harvest, or rent. Instead they beat, kill and stone the first bill collectors. A second set of bill collectors received the same treatment as the first. I wonder, if the parable were told today… what weapons would be used?

Now in that culture the landowner would not have sent that second group of bill collectors. He would have sent an army and would have destroyed those tenants. But this landowner does something crazy and he sends more people. They meet the same fate. The he does something even more crazy and he sends his son. This would have been seen as foolish behavior. Sadly, this son is thrown out of the vineyard and killed as well.

What would you do if you were the father?

Today we have lots of fathers and mothers who are heartbroken over the deaths of their children. We have children lost and bewildered over the deaths of their parents. We have sisters and brothers and friends in great anguish this day. What would you do?

Jesus asks those religious leaders what the landowner would do. They respond as we might, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Violence to repay violence… the human way.

But the father/land owner didn’t do this.

It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t really respond to their assumption that violence will beget more violence. Instead, he criticizes their inability to recognize they were standing in the presence of, and arguing with God’s son. Contextually this whole encounter began with their wanting to know who gave Jesus authority to say and do the things he said and did.

Jesus then gives an ominous warning that the kingdom will be lost and given to others for one reason. Those in the kingdom were not producing fruit.

I wonder if this causes you as much discomfort as it causes me.

It certainly caused discomfort among the religious leaders. Their discomfort lead to intense anger. These men (it would only have been men in those days) were so angry that they wanted to arrest Jesus. The only reason they waited was their fear of the crowds.

But later, when the crowds had dispersed, they arrested him. And they conspired with the Roman occupiers to kill him. Jesus’ words and actions angered them that much.

But still, Jesus didn’t say what the landowner did after the death of his son. I think that his response came later… when the parable became reality and the son of God was up on a cross dying. And from there he gives his opinion… his verdict… his plea:

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

That was Jesus’ response. What about the father? How did he react when his son was murdered outside the walls of the city?

From Matthew’s gospel.

Darkness came over the whole land for the last 3 hours of Jesus life. Three hours in which he suffered on the cross. Can you imagine that darkness? I think many can today.

When Jesus died the “curtain in the temple tore in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Can you imagine the intense feeling that would literally shake the earth? Maybe some can today.

But the father did not do what was expected. Nobody was killed in retaliation. Violence did not beget violence.

Instead, those who did not flee in fear cared for Jesus. They took his body off the cross and as best they could prepared it for a proper burial. They weren’t concerned for themselves but for what was right. Some of them, the women, were blessed to be the first witnesses of Jesus resurrection.

This care is the father’s response to horrendous violence.

We saw it this week when people ignored their own safety as they tried to help others. We saw it this week when strangers used their own vehicles (or borrowed what they could) to take the injured to the hospital. We saw it this week when so many people tried to donate blood the collection centers were overwhelmed. We saw it this week when people brought food to the hospital for waiting family members and to those who were waiting to give blood. We saw it this week when people donated funds to ease the financial burdens that accompany senseless violence. We saw all this in the past week, just as we always see people pull together in the midst of tragedy.

This is the response of the father…not vengeance but loving care among family, among friends, and among strangers. May this empower us to make needed change.

Amen

Tired of the Meanness

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Also…before posting or sharing anything on social media.

As I walked through Costco today I could sense a change in the people. It seems as if we were all a bit subdued, quiet, going about our business by rote. Of course I’m the first to admit that this could also be just me projecting my feelings onto the world around me. Is it? Are you too feeling it?

It seems as if we are on tragedy overload. We’ve dealt with natural disasters, but I don’t remember them coming one after another with such rapid succession.

Now we have human made disaster and with it, a sense of powerlessness. We want to do something. This was immediately seen in the rush to donate blood and even food for those waiting. These are wonderful things to do and if I were in Las Vegas I would do them too. Some of us have donated money to the victims. That is good too.

But in finding other things to do, we seem to be a bit lost. I feel lost in this. I don’t want to turn on the news one day in the future to news of another such attack. Pessimistically (or realistically) I know that we will experience more attacks like this. Its as if we resigned ourselves to such a future. I hope and pray that I am wrong.

Meanwhile Facebook is as (I guess) its always been: a mix of pet photos, chain prayers, recipes, inspirational stories, and downright mean memes. You know what I’m talking about because you see them too. The inspirational stories and the pets are so helpful. But they sometimes are overshadowed with the attacks from both the right and the left. Attacks that have important issues at their root, but because they are attacks, will never result in needed dialogue.

Today I think I’ve reached my saturation point with the meanness. As I scroll by I’m tempted to comment, “just stop!”

I also wonder about these posts because I’m not sure the target. These questions run through my mind:

  • Is the poster trying to change the mind of someone?
  • Is the poster throwing “red meat” out to like minded friends?
  • Or, is the poster just sharing something that he/she thought was funny?

As I contemplated this I remembered coming across a different set of questions. I think they originally came from our Quaker friends, but I could be wrong. Regardless, I will make sure that I use these as a filter and I’m hoping that you would choose to join me. These questions use the acronym THINK.

Before you speak – & post or share anything on Facebook or Twitter – THINK

Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?

Let me know what you think.

Waking to Bad News

Like most Americans I woke this morning to the horrible news of the massacre in Las Vegas. More death at the hands of a man with a gun. The news was so shocking that I had trouble believing it. Maybe you felt that also.

A few minutes later I was surprised at my shock. Why be shocked when these violent events happen with regularity? A pastor friend posted this comment,

I want someone to explain why the right to bear arms is more important than the right to not be shot dead.

I would also love to have an answer to that question. As I contemplate this latest shooting I hear in my mind the prophet’s call, “How long?” How long will such violence terrorize and destroy? When will we as a people choose to lay down our arms? When will peace prevail? Will it ever in our lifetimes?

I saw a headline from someone’s opinion piece on today’s events. His opinion is that massacres such as this are “our price for freedom.” Really? Is this freedom? Or is it idolatry?

Idolatry may be thought of making a nice golden statue and worshiping such thing. We can believe that idolatry is an old concept from an old time. But I fear that far too many worship guns rather than God. While I don’t believe this applies to all gun owners, I’m frustrated that we hear very little from responsible gun owners. Instead we continue down the blood soaked road to better and more lethal weapons in the hands of murderers. It’s as if guns are valued more than life. That is idolatry. Will we ever repent?

Part of my sermon yesterday was about changed hearts. After every massacre I wonder, will this violence cause changed hearts? Will we now, finally, at least have a national discussion and research and change so that we can reduce the carnage?

At mid-morning, I saw the headline that the stock prices for gun manufacturers had increased 5% on the news of the massacre. Increased! Increased because in our national sickness we go out and buy more guns after such event. Lord have mercy. Will we ever change?

Many of the thoughts running through my head are angry thoughts. Frustrated thoughts. Intersperced are feelings of great sadness. Tears. For those who lost loved ones. For those who were injured. For those who were terrified as they ran for their lives. I wish I could be there for them. Hugging and holding hands. Listening to their stories, their grief, their pain. Comforting. Being present.

I’m not there. So I pray. I invite others to join me in prayer. I remember the promise of God’s love and God’s presence. I know that those who suffer don’t suffer alone.

This morning I went to my regular 6am exercise class. It was hard because I was weary. Then I went on my regular post-class run. It was hard because I was weary. I only went 3 miles. But as I returned to my car I saw the most amazingly beautiful early morning sun interacting with the clouds (I have no photo because I didn’t take my phone).

The clouds were blocking the sun. But its light was much more powerful. Glowing along the clouds edges, casting beams of radiant light to the ground. I was thankful for this reminder that the darkness of this world cannot overpower the light.

Then, when I arrived home I saw the long lines of those donating blood…an 8 hour wait they said. This too is light overpowering the darkness. This is hopeful. This is a reminder of the goodness in people. It is a reminder of our connectedness. It is a sign of hope.

So today we mourn. And I hope that tomorrow we, as a nation, choose to do something different.

Meanwhile we can take solace in the words that Jesus uttered from the cross as he was dying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Thankfully that forgiveness is for you and for me. May it empower us to change.

Growing Up Racist – #3

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” -Genesis 1:27

I love the first creation story in Genesis. I love the poetic way the writer describes order coming out of chaos. I love the way the early understanding of the world meant the sky was seen as a great dome. I love how after each day of creation “God saw that it was good.”

This creation story is not about science. It is a story about God bringing order out of chaos. It is a story of love. It is a story that allows us to think about beginnings and the wonder of this world. But mostly I love the egalitarian description of our creation.

Humankind, men and women, were created in the image of God. As we, together, are created in this image it is only possible to reflect that image when we are together.

When I meet with people who have been hurt by the church, it is often because someone has told them that they are “less than.” I always say, “you are created in God’s image and God loves you the way you were created.” This has been important for me to share with those sisters and brothers of mine in the LGBTQ community.

Today I am thinking of the awful human made idea of “race.” This idea that our skin color makes us different from one another, with those possessing white (or light) skin being created as superior. This is not true. This is not biblical. This is sin.

A struggle with this sin is that its debasing ideas are so steeped in our culture that we don’t always recognize our own thoughts as racist.

I remember the first time I consciously thought about skin color. We had moved to Texas (outside of Chandler in East Texas) and I was in 2nd grade. This would have been in the late 60s so the schools had already been desegregated.

I rode the bus…for a very long time. We lived 13 miles out of town and so were the first picked up and the last dropped off. To this day I’m not a fan of riding busses.

I discovered quickly that the busses were segregated. There were two African American boys, twins, in my class. They lived a little ways down the highway. In fact they were the only children who lived near us. But they rode a separate bus. We never played together.

In my childish naiveté, I hadn’t considered different skin color as representative of different “race” and thus the need to be separated. My first thought had been that an older sister of mine had darker skin than me. I was thankful she still lived in California because if she had come to Texas with us they would have made her ride a separate bus. The logic of a 2nd grader.

The 2nd grade me lost the opportunity to play with and be friends with the boys down the highway. Just because of skin color.

The other loss for the 2nd grader was the subconscious learning that there must have been something wrong with these boys. Why else would they and others need to be separated?

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” -Genesis 1:27

There was nothing wrong with those boys. There was something wrong with the adults. There was something wrong in a culture that perverts the truth that ALL humans are created in God’s image, and thus are precious. I wish I knew these boys. I pray for them. I pray for me. I pray for the day when we see our neighbors as precious in God’s sight and thus precious in our sights as well.

By the way, after God created human beings…male and female and with different skin, eye, and hair color, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).”

When did you first become aware of racism?