Pete and Peter

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Impulsive, spunky, fiery, colorful Pete. RIP.

My youngest brother, Pete, was taken from us too early. Cancer ravaged his body, but could never damage his indomitable, spunky spirit. Pete was spirited, colorful and full of life, fiery in one moment, gentle in the next. He was funny. He was fiercely loyal. And he loved lavishly.

I could easily compare Pete to his namesake, the disciple Peter. You know the one, the disciple who kept putting his foot in his mouth, who tried to walk on a lake and began to sink because of a faith too small. He was the disciple who betrayed Jesus three times and in the end, in the very last verse of the 22nd Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verse 62 ends the pain-filled story with these words: β€œAnd he went out and wept bitterly.”

You see, in spite of his mistakes, his denials, his impulsive behavior, Disciple Peter loved Jesus deeply. And my baby brother was a bit like this flawed disciple. Pete was often impulsive, volatile, frequently unreasonable, quick-tempered. Yet, he was full of love that opens its arms to protect with extravagant caring.

So for the 29th of June, St. Peter’s Day, I remember the impulsive disciple who, for all his mistakes, learned how to hold on to his better self, to recover from wrong turns in his life, and to make peace with his wavering self. Jesus called this seemingly undisciplined man β€œthe rock.” I suspect Jesus chose that name because he saw that Peter knew how to live again, standing strong against his own demons and ultimately learning that any betrayal, every betrayal, can miraculously be restored by love.

My brother Pete’s life, also filled of rough roads and wrong turns, taught him the same lesson: that love restored him to himself, to his estranged family, to the sister that had been lost to him for years. Love did that. And love is what keeps Pete close, even in death.

Poet Malcolm Guite has written a beautiful piece entitled β€œA Sonnet for Petertide.”

Impulsive master of misunderstanding
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;

Jumping the ship before you make the landing,

Placing the bet before you know the stakes.

I love the way you step out without knowing,

The way you sometimes speak before you think,

The way your broken faith is always growing,

The way he holds you even when you sink.

Born to a world that always tried to shame you,

Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,

I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.

And in the end your Saviour let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.

Thank you for your life, Disciple Peter. You give us hope that we can overcome our imperfect actions, make it through dusty roads covered with the boulders of our mistakes, and find love at the end.

And as for my baby brother, Pete, I will always remember your ornery ways, your explosive temper, your intense loyalty and your lavish love.

Happy Name Day, sweet little brother. I miss you.

“You Shall Also Love the Stranger”

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In December of 2000, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution to inaugurate World Refugee Day, to be observed annually on the twentieth of June. Protestant bodies as diverse as the World Evangelical Alliance and the World Council of Churches (which include Orthodox bodies as well) urge member congregations to commemorate World Refugee Sunday each year on the Sunday before or after June 20th. The Roman Catholic Church observes the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in January.

According to 60 Minutes, hundreds of houses of worship in the United States haveΒ volunteered to shelter illegal immigrants and their families who face deportation. In fact, since Donald Trump was elected in November, the number of churches in the United States expressing willingness to offer sanctuary has doubled to more than 800, according to the Rev. Noel Anderson, national grassroots coordinator at Church World Service. Illegal immigrants can be arrested in places of worship, but ICE has a long-time policy of avoiding religious spaces, schools and hospitals.

Katy Long of The Guardian news organization tells the story of a Christian couple who own and operate Refugee Coffee, a company that hires newly arrived refugees. Long also writes about Clarkston, a small town in Georgia, that has received over 40,000 refugees over the past 25 years. They come to Clarkston from every corner of the globe. This year there are more Congolese than Syrians. Past waves of refugee resettlement have brought Bhutanese, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Somalis, Sudanese, Liberians, Vietnamese. All have landed in an otherwise unremarkable city in the Deep South, population 13,500.

TIME magazine called Clarkston the most diverse square mile in America with almost 32% of the city being foreign born. Their story is recounted in the best selling book, Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference.

Good for a Clarkston, Georgia, a shining example to us in our increasingly xenophobic nation! As people of God, we have our mandate: to love and respect those who come to seek refuge among us.

I share with you a litany for worship written by Ken Sehested, β€œYou Shall Also Love the Stranger.”

Gracious One, who jealously guards the lives of those at every edge, we lift our heavy hearts to your Mercy.

We live in a fretful land, anxious over the ebbing away of privilege, fearful that strangers are stealing our birthright.

Aliens breaching our borders.

Refugees threatening our security . . .

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β€œCursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.”
(Deuteronomy 27:19)
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

β€œYou shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy10:19).
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

β€œThere shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you” (Exodus 12:49).
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

β€œWhen an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien” (Leviticus 19:33).
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against . . . those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts”Β Β (Malachi 3:5).
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

[Speaking to those destined for paradise, Jesus explained:] β€œFor I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

For we, who were formerly illegal aliens and undocumented workers in Creation’s midst, β€œare no longer strangers and aliens, but you with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)

Amen, Amen and Amen!

Β©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

Reconciliation: The Heart’s Repentance

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The long and arduous presidential campaign left behind a fractured nation. The political parties displayed unprecedented enmity between Democrats and Republicans. The citizenry followed their lead, and the result was broken relationships among friends and even within families. My own family exchanged sharp and hurtful words during the campaign, words that continue to affect our relationships.

We have made enemies of other nations. Some among us have made enemies based on race, culture, gender, national identity, religious practice, sexual orientation. And we remain divided and hostile, with no apparent desire to reconcile.Β And yet, we desperately need true reconciliation.

The Biblical concept of reconciliation suggests the presence of spiritual, divine intervention that creates reconciliation in the hearts of those who are estranged. Reconciliation assumes there has been a breakdown in a relationship, but through the heart’s repentance, there is a change from a state of enmity and fragmentation to one of harmony and fellowship.

It is going to require the heart’s repentance to restore a climate of unity, mutual respect, love and peace. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, offers these insightful thoughts about reconciliation.

Reconciliation isn’t just singing Kumbaya and everyone being nice. Reconciliation is about the hard work of working through our differences, maybe acknowledging them and not changing them, necessarily. Working through our differences, honestly and with integrity, and sometimes repenting of where our differences or my differences or yours has actually hurt relationship and not helped the human family.

Shall we just leave everything as it is? Shall we allow the distance to continue between us and those we have lost because of our differences? Shall we accept a fractured world and the divisiveness that now assails us? Or shall we instead commit ourselves to the holy work of reconciliation?

Our sacred calling is to restore peace within the human family, creating a world that can nurture our children and grandchildren, striving for genuine reconciliation among those from whom we are estranged, restoring peace and a community of love, transforming fractured and hurting humanity. This is what God implores us to do.

. . . This is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;Β that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19

 

Pleading for the Future

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Attorney and prominent advocate for economic reform Clarence Darrow used a compelling statement as a part of his closing argument in the 1924 Leopold-Loeb trial in Chicago. β€œI am pleading for the future,” he said.

I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and justice and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.

– Clarence Darrow
April 18, 1857 – March 13, 1938

Perhaps we should engage in some sincere pleading for the future in light of the recent and very disturbing news reports that describe our world as a precarious one.

A serious opioid epidemic is swamping hospitals, with government data showing 1.27 million emergency room visits or inpatient stays for opioid-related issues in a single year. (The Washington Post)

Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, died Monday afternoon, days after he returned home in a coma. (The Washington Post)

Two “terrorist incidents” include reports of a van plowing into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbings at the nearby Borough Market. (ABC News)

U.S. Representative Steve Scalise and three others were shot at a GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia. The shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, was killed by police after firing dozens of bullets during the congressional practice session. (NPR)

A suicide terrorist killed 22 people outside of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. (Fox News)

To the God who knows the woes of our world, who is our refuge and strength, we do plead for the future. As Clarence Darrow wrote, “we have learned by reason and justice and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving and that mercy is the highest attribute of humankind.” So, in spite of the world’s troubles that threaten us, we persevere in faith, inspired by the Psalmist who speaks this good news.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging . . .

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress . . .

He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

He says, β€œBe still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

– From Psalm 46

Light for a Dark Path

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Life can be a very dark path, frightenly uncharted. Inching through life often finds us hesitating in dark places, afraid to take even one step into an unknown future. The darkness can be daunting. Still, for me light has at times eased the darkness, and with even a tiny ray of light, I was able to move forward.

Brother Curtis Almquist writes of the grace-filled presence of beacons of light.

There have been people in our past who have been beacons of light, and whose life still shines into the present . . . and we remember them because they help us find our way and know our place in life, which is otherwise so terribly uncharted.

– Brother Curtis Almquist
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

How fondly I remember and give thanks for the people who were beacons of light for me.

Yiayia, my beloved grandmother, who was my faithful and loving protector and whose energy nurtured me.

Thea Koula, my favorite aunt, who was like a mother to me and who brought joy and lightheartedness to my life.

Ethel, my forever friend, who was a constant beacon of light, always helping me find my way.

In the darkness, the light of faith endured and made the journey possible. Most certainly, the people in my life strengthened my faith and were for me a welcomed light for a dark path. And yes, I stumbled over more than a few nasty obstacles and rough spots. But even when I languished in the darkness of an uncharted path, my faith was enough. My faith was my brightest light.

I will be forever grateful for the beacons of light that helped guide me on the journey and for the enduring, constant presence of a faithful God.

The Lord will guide you always;
will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

– Isaiah 58:11 NIV

Struggle and Wonder

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Aging, they say, is not for sissies. The person who coined that statement must have known about the many ways getting older would take its toll. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, our lives change,

We have at least two ways to live through these days that bring aging’s challenges. We can languish under the weight of life, fighting through every day to maintain our elusive youth. Or we can live deeply, embracing the sweetness and the sorrow, and savoring the memories that have brought us to this time in our lives. We can hold on tightly to the “small bagful of stars” that make our every moment a wonder.

Bishop Steven Charleston speaks great wisdom, describing a “place of struggle and wonder.”

We do not have long to linger in this place of struggle and wonder, surrounded by the clamoring throng, or sitting silently beneath the moon. We have only a measure of moments, a small bagful of stars, to spend here among the laughter and sighs, before the days of our counting are complete. Let each one, each day, each moment be lived then, as if it was the only hour creation will ever know, lived in as deeply as love will allow, lived in for all of its sweetness and sorrow. We do not have long to linger, but we have forever to remember.

Struggle and wonder, sweetness and sorrow . . . inextricably joined, woven together to create the tapestry of our lives. And so we grasp the struggle and cling tightly to the wonder. We welcome the sweetness, knowing full well that the sorrow is a necessary emotion of a life well lived.

We have forever to remember the struggle and wonder that swaddled us, abided with us, made its home within us, and fashioned our wondrous lives.

And this is God’s good news for us.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face struggles of many kinds,Β because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Β Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4