The Strong Signs of Justice

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Signs of injustice are ever before us. In these times, we look for any sign at all that justice will prevail. But there is despair enough to go around. The presidential election has led to protests on every hand, persons fearing that they will lose their freedom, undocumented students who were born here fearing deportation, seniors fearing that they will lose their social security, African Americans fearing that new “law and order” policies will result in even more unjust incarceration. People are in fear for many reasons.

All of us long to see compassion and common sense restored. We cling to hope that what we are seeing now is not the end of the story. We want to see justice for every person. And we ask ourselves if there is anything at all we can do. Is there something we must do?

Answers are hard to come by. We almost want to wring our hands and give up. But there is still the light of hope within us and we cannot give in to despair. During these unsettled times, I find hope in the words of Bishop Steven Charleston.

We are not done yet, you and me, and all of us who are crazy enough to keep believing. It will take a lot more than what we have seen so far to break our hold on hope. We will not rest, we will not quit, we will not be quiet until we see the strong signs of justice secure once more around us, until we see compassion and common sense restored. No, we are not done yet, because every day there are more of us, more believers of every kind and culture, rising up, standing up, and walking side by side. The wind is at our back, we are moving forward, and we have only just begun.

It is true. We are not done yet. We will persist. We will persevere. We will stand firmly until we again see the strong signs of Justice secure once more. May God walk beside us as we move forward into hope.

Sanctuary

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Churches vow to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants: At least 450 churches are prepared to act as Trump-era “Underground Railroad”

Sanctuary . . .Β A sanctuary, in its original meaning, is a sacred place. By the use of sanctuaries as safe havens, the term has come to be used for any place of refuge. For people of faith who are providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, a sanctuary is indeed a holy place, sacred and inviolable.

Jeanette Vizguerra is a Mexican mother seeking to avoid deportation. As she held her 6-year-old daughter, Zuri, she spoke during a news conference in a Denver church where she and her children have taken refuge. But when Jeanette Vizguerra walked into that Colorado church, she also walked into the forefront of a possible clash between Donald Trump and many sanctuary churches across the country.

Vizguerra has lived in the U.S. since 1997 with four children, three of them born here. She was due to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Instead, she took sanctuary inside the First Unitarian Society of Denver.

“I did not make this decision lightly,” Vizguerra said through an interpreter. “I was thinking about it for weeks. But I think that I made the right decision in coming here instead of going to the immigration office.”

The pastor of the church, Rev. Mike Morran, said, “It is our position as a people of faith that this is sacred and faithful work. We know Jeanette. We know her to be an honorable human being.”

But critics say the church is violating the law. While it has been for years federal policy not to do immigration enforcement in churches and other “sensitive locations,” such as schools, unless absolutely necessary, today that may be a lapsed policy.

“President Obama’s administration thought it was prudent to avoid rounding people up in places like hospitals or churches,” says Richard Garnett, director of the program on Church, State and Society at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

But Garnett says if the new administration changes that policy, it could set up a conflict between President Trump’s push for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and his administration’s support for religious freedom.

“Sanctuary works,” says Seth Kaper-Dale, pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey. “I can tell you from our own experience that all nine people who lived here have kept their families together, have been able to raise their children, have been able to go back to their jobs. Is sanctuary brutally hard? Yes. But it is a tool that we will use if we’re forced by a brutal regime to use it.”

Sanctuary churches across this country are living out their convictions because of their faith in a welcoming God. The government will, no doubt, enforce immigration law. The Church will live into the law of God . . .

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

– Leviticus 19:33-34 New International Version (NIV)

The invitation from God’s people proclaims, “In the name of God, come! You are welcome in this holy place of refuge.”

 
(Information about Jeanette Vizguerra is from David Zalubowski/AP.)

Faith Restored

 

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Sometimes life has so assailed us that We cannot take another step. At such times, our faith shrinks and we can only manage to crawl out of that place of pain. Yet, it may well be that the times when we can barely crawl become the times of the most meaningful spiritual growth.

We cannot move forward on our own strength. We cannot get ourselves out of darkness and back into God’s light. We cannot rest in the faith that has always sustained us. We cannot feel hope. We cannot believe for ourselves.

I have been in such a place a time or two, fearing that I would never again be restored to my faith. I have been in a place where I felt I could not believe anymore. But I have heard some words that reminded me of my faith. They are strengthening words that I once heard from one of my seminary professors, Dr. Frank Tupper.

“When you can’t believe for yourself anymore, crawl to the edge of the Garden of Gethsemane and let Jesus believe the rest of the way for you.”

Thank you, Dr. Tupper. And thank you to the ever-abiding God who waits with us in hard times, for as long as it takes, until our faith is restored.

Under the Shadow of God’s Wings

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How comforting it is to know that we can find refuge under the shadow of God’s wings. It is a beautiful metaphor of divine protection. One of the emotions of aging, at least for me, is that of feeling orphaned. When parents and other significant people in my life are no longer present, I often feel unprotected and vulnerable. Never was it more true than when I spent most of 2014 in the hospital.

The nights were long and lonely, and often sleep would not come to ease my anxiety. During those nights, I sometimes longed for the comfort of my grandmother who was probably the most constant protector in my younger years.

Like I did in those long nights, all of us experience times of utter aloneness. I am so blessed to be able to recall scripture, and during that hospitalization, two Psalms came to mind.

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.

– Psalm 57:1 New International Version (NIV)

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge . . .

– Psalm 91:4 New International Version (NIV)

I learned what it feels like to be in the shadow of God’s wings. I learned how to feel safe during unsafe times. Thanks be to the God of comfort who covers us with wings of refuge when we most need to feel protected.

Just Hope

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When all else fails us, hope persists. It is a silent helper, a secret comforter that abides with us and in us. I have had so many sacred opportunities to look at hope up close in some of the most unlikely places . . . sitting with a dying person; keeping vigil with a grieving family; baptizing a stillborn infant. All the places one would never expect to find hope.

Hope was present with those who needed it most. And in their mourning, God’s glorious hope emerged as a light in the darkness. It wasn’t knowledge or wisdom or strength. It was just hope, and hope was more than enough.

Pamela Hawkins writes about hope in her book, Simply Wait.

Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits strands of light to make their way to us, even when we still stand in cold darkness; but hope also reveals a landscape beyond us into which we can live and move and have our being. With hope, closely held interior thoughts are gently turned outward; deep desires, perhaps long hidden in secret corners of our heart, might be lifted up to the light.

In times of despair, we don’t need answers or solutions. We have only one deep need: just hope. Thanks be to God who graces us with hope.

Out of the Miry Clay

 

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The Jordan River, Israel

Sometimes I sink into the mire of my journey. It is if I am walking through thick, deep clay, barely able to take another step. All the prayers and promises I have held on to for so long suddenly do not bring comfort or courage. I feel as if I cannot take another step.

It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, I am immobilized. For just a time, all the faith of my mothers eludes me. I am stuck, fearful, and in search of a word from God that has the power to release me and guide me forward. The promises from the Holy promise maker seem not enough when I am so weary of the journey. I protest and lament, complaining that the way is too hard and long.

When I have nursed despair long enough, I begin surveying what has worked before. I go through message and melody that might hold the power to restore my will. Often, I will recall the words of the hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside.
Bear me through the swelling current,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

The Prophet Isaiah reaches me with this word of hope.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

– Isaiah 43:2 New International Version (NIV)

And Jeremiah’s conversation with God hits me squarely with a hefty dose of reality.

The Lord answers Jeremiah:
β€œIf you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,
 then how can you contend with horses?
 And if in the land of peace,
In which you trusted, they wearied you,
 then how will you do in the swelling of the Jordan?”

– Jeremiah 12:5

God still calls out to each of us with words of hope if we are open to hearing. The miry days will come again, no doubt. No life escapes that. I’m sure I will once again struggle through the mud, but one thing I have learned well comes from the words of the Psalmist.
I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

– Psalm 40:1-2

Morning Mercies

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Every new morning reminds me that I have been given a gift, another day to live, another chance to make a difference in my world, another day to love and grow and enjoy. Not so long ago, I lived some days of fear. Each dark night brought a sense of dread, and I allowed myself to believe that another morning would not dawn. I was afraid to let myself sleep, and did not expect to make it through the night.

Obviously, I was wrong. Fortunately, I got beyond those dark times and willed myself to believe in hope and new dawns. But the process of finding hope again was no easy task. It took time, prayer, and talking about my feelings with a trusted friend. It was a process that required persistence. Most of all, it required getting re-acquainted with God’s grace and faithfulness. I learned to find hope again in each morning’s new mercies.

The writings of Steven Charleston were a part of my process toward hope. These words gave me an extra measure of strength.

Here is the hand of morning, coming so quietly to part the curtain, letting in the first light, welcoming the wide-eyed day into the sleepy corners of our lives. A new beginning is the miracle that awaits each one of us. We are the people of new beginnings, each one of us, brought here by more mornings than we can count, fresh chances from an older life, a turn of events, a change of mind, an unexpected friend, how many different mornings have we seen? You and I are made of morning, set free by the new light, forever being welcomed into a life that is just beginning.

– Bishop Steven Charleston

Now I expect mornings again. I fall asleep these days with new hope that morning will come. As for all of us, new days are not guaranteed. We live with that reality, but we do so without fear and with faith in the faithfulness of God. The beloved hymn says:

Great is thy faithfulness . . .
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed, thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

The Scripture says it this way:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

– Lamentations 3:21-23 New International Version

Thanks be to God.

Celebrating the Journey

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We are travelers on a journey, fellow pilgrims on the road;
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

– Richard Gillard (1974) Copyright: Β© 1977 Scripture In Song/Maranatha! Music/ASCAP

This hymn, “The Servant Song,” offers the image of life as a journey. It is a clear call to our interconnectedness as “fellow pilgrims.” It is a portrait of making the journey together, caring each for the other, holding up the light when the darkness becomes overwhelming.

So we are not wandering strangers, but instead brothers and sisters united by our mutual care for one another weathering the storms of every difficult hour. For me, the path has been steep and rocky at times, smooth and pleasant at other times. The brothers and sisters along the way gave me enough grace and courage to keep moving ahead when the journey got the best of me. Bishop Steven Charleston offers a tribute for journey travelers.

Here is the respect you deserve for all that you have done. You have weathered the storms of many difficult hours, kept going when others might have stopped, continued to believe despite all evidence to the contrary. Were you perfect in thought and action? No, of course not, none of us are, but you have tried, more than once, and tried again, admitting mistakes, growing in wisdom, learning the lessons of a life well lived. For all of this, from one other traveler walking the road beside you, you have my respect. I honor you and celebrate what you have accomplished.

Always celebrate the journey you have traveled. Always honor the wisdom you gained, the lessons you learned, the brothers and sisters you found along the way. May God bless you as you journey on.

Night Sky Wonders

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Eclipse, Comet, and a Full Snow Moon

Look up into to the heavens tomorrow night, February 10. You will see a trifecta of wonders: a full snow moon gracing the dark skies, an amazing lunar eclipse, and a few hours later, a spectacular view of Comet 45P. Indeed, there will be some lovely wonders to marvel at in the skies above.

To many this might just be a plain old full moon that happens to be in February. But for early Native American tribes, the full moon was much more than just a lovely novelty. Tribes kept tabs on time by observing the seasons and especially the celestial timekeeper known as the moon. They called the February moon a Full Snow Moon.

We humans tend to marvel at the lights in our skies. In some ways, looking into the night sky is a way we feel closer to God. In fact, throughout history, humans have looked to the heavens in their quest for God.

Seek him that made the seven stars and Orion, and who turned the shadow of death into the morning, and made the day dark with night: that calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the face of the earth: The Lord is his name.

– Amos 5:8

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;

– Psalm 8:1-3 NASB

In 1981, Roman Catholic Jesuit, Daniel Schutte, wrote the words of one of our most beloved hymns,β€œHere I Am, Lord.”

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry,
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

Whatever gazing into the sky might mean to you, it may be inspiring to take a few minutes to look for the display on Friday night; to wonder at the beauty of the night sky; to pay homage to the God who made the heavens and the earth; to worship, for just a moment, the Lord of sea and sky.

Transformation: The Spiritual Journey

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The labyrinth is a walking meditation, a path of prayer where psyche meets Spirit. It has only one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center. There are no dead ends. Unlike a maze where you can lose your way, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that can help you find your way.

The life quest of drawing closer to God is best described as a spiritual journey. But it is a journey of our own choosing. We are not forced to take it. God does not coerce us to travel such a path. Each of us must choose it, and in a spirit of prayer embark on an unknown journey.

We cannot predict its path. We can only give ourselves to its gentle turns with confidence that, along the way, we will discover and learn and grow in our faith. It can be transformational. Wendell Berry describes this journey with the words arduous, humbling and joyful, an apt description. Most importantly he describes “arriving at the ground at our own feet” and there learning to be at home. Here’s what he writes:

The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.

– Wendell Berry

Taking the journey leads us home, a place of peace and comfort, a place where we are comfortable in our own skin, a place where our heart meets God’s heart. The journey can bring transformation within us.

The danger is that we can shrink in fear from transformation because we cannot control the process. Giving up control is always a challenge for humans, but refusing the spiritual journey means that we will wander aimlessly, always searching and never finding our deepest spiritual self.