“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

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Image: The Sleeping Gypsy by Henry Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

In a world of division, violence, hate, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and all manner of angst, perhaps we need to draw nearer to Jesus for a moment to listen to the thoughts of his heart. It happened before, you know, when Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The things he taught them that day are ever so important for us in these days.

Love your enemies . . .

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)

Turn your other cheek . . . 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)

Make peace . . .

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9 NIV)

I have heard it said that one would not likely find the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount on display on any courthouse lawn. They might never be inscribed on a slate in a state capitol building. But the most important inscription for these words of Jesus is an inscription on our hearts. Not physically possible, of course, but spiritually, we can open our hearts to receive these words within us, allowing them to transform us in ways that empower us to create peace.

Richard Rohr asks how it is that many Christians have managed to avoid what Jesus actually taught? How have we evaded major parts of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ clear directive and example of nonviolence, and his command to love our enemies?

Perhaps we do not believe that nonviolence actually possible or that it will not effect any significant change. Many peacemakers know better. The Pope has singled out one active peacemaker we should know. Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel prize winner from Liberia, organized pray-ins and nonviolent protests that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia. There are other peacemakers living out a commitment to peace. Not surprisingly, most of them are women. The contributions of women such as Leymah Gbowee in Liberia and Marguerite Barankitse in Burundi are showing the way to the eventual end of violence and the dawning of peace. Their work is working.

Two other women, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, write in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works, about the effectiveness of nonviolence, drawing from examples in Iran, Palestine, the Philippines, and Burma. They insist, based on their research, that nonviolent resistance is “nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as its violent counterparts. ” 

Perhaps it is that mothering, protecting instinct that makes women lovers of peace. Perhaps it is their capacity for hope and determination. Perhaps it is that women persevere in faith. Perhaps women are a prophetic people who insist that transformation is possible. Women who love peace know that nonviolent movements are made of loyalty, resilience, commitment, creativity and love. Fortunately, women are not afraid of love or creativity or commitment. Women do fear the destruction of hate, violence and war.

So sisters in the struggle, let us keep on. Let us persevere in our quest for peace. Let us persist, struggling for as long as it takes to see holy peace gently cover our world from East to West, North to South, so that every man and woman, every child will be able to lie down in safety.

After all, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Taking Back Our World

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Let’s take back our world! Let us join hands and, in the power of community and holy resolve, reclaim our world from white supremacists, racists and violent actors that threaten our people.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 young children, British journalist Dan Hodges wrote that the gun control debate in the U.S. was over. This is what he wrote: “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

And then we let 2,193 shootings happen. 

The shootings that occurred this week offend us in a very deep place. You see, we are followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace. We are the people of God who know that thoughts and prayers and compassionate sentiments won’t end this kind of terroristic hate.  

The El Paso shooter told law enforcement that he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible. His manifesto, which he posted on the 8chan online community  included details about himself, his weapons and his motivation. He described the El Paso attack as a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and proclaimed that he was defending his country from “cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”

Most certainly, these words from an obvious white supremacist should offend every follower of God. His evil intent is also an offense to God. In response to such evil, perhaps we will raise our voices continually and persistently, without becoming weary. Perhaps we will resolve to take back our world, proclaiming God’s word in the darkness of evil just as the prophets did. Like them, perhaps we will persist tirelessly and with a holy resolve, for as long as it takes to end the evil that arises from racism and white supremacy. 

Perhaps our prophetic action will mirror that of the writer of Lamentations who wrote, “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children.”

May God so embolden us.

A Prophetic Voice

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There was never a time when God’s people needed a prophetic voice more than in these days. We keep hearing the phrase, “children locked up in cages,” and we continually feel righteous anger rising up within us. At the same time, we nurse a sense of hopelessness that holds us captive. 

We ask, what has happened that has created the environment in which we now live? How do we respond to this toxic environmental of racial division, harsh words and name-calling? Why is there such a blindness to gun violence? Wh is white supremacy now acceptable? When did we stop caring about the lives of immigrant families who flee for safe haven to our country? How did it happen that hate and meanness has all but replaced love and kindness?

As we watch these things happen, we recognize that voices of reason give silent ascent to the evils of the day as our leaders fail to stand for the values we hold dear. Where is their courage? Where is their ability to lead and govern? Where is their willingness to speak truth and champion change? Why are self-proclaimed people of faith giving permission for words and acts of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and just plain out hate?

And as for us — the people of faith who see the ills of our world so clearly — where is our prophetic voice, and when and where will we use it? Yes, we may be feeling the kind of hopelessness that breeds apathy and inaction. That feeling is normal when evil looms large over us and when the wrongs and the injustices we observe far outweigh what is right and just. We are understandably overwhelmed with all that is happening in these challenging days:

The president is escalating his racist attacks against everyone from women of color in Congress to the people of Baltimore.

Attorney General William Barr is bringing back the federal death penalty.

The Trump administration wants to ban new asylum requests and new refugees, closing America’s doors to families fleeing violence and seeking a safe place of refuge.

And almost constantly, Trump’s allies on the religious right, people who call themselves Christians, continue cheering him on, constantly twisting the Gospel to help re-elect him.

It is no accident that these actions came at us all at once. The president and his allies think that if he does enough hateful things all at once, they can overwhelm and silence us. What they cannot seem to understand is that, as God’s people and as followers of Jesus Christ, we are not listening to their message of fear and hatred. Instead, we hear the voice of God proclaiming a call for justice, mercy and compassion. We are listening to Christ’s message of hope and love, and that is our clarion call to act.

Of course, there are so many things we cannot make happen, so many wrongs we cannot right. Many of the remedies for the evil that assails us are out of our hands. Yet, we must not feel disempowered. Though we may feel that we have no recourse and that there is simply nothing we can do to create real change, we must remember that our voices hold a certain power, the power of the Spirit of God. Words are powerful tools. There is deep wisdom in the quotation, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” 

As for me, I pray that God will grant me a prophetic voice, and that with boldness, courage and perseverance, I will use my voice . . . 

To speak truth to power through constant letters, phone calls and messages to members of Congress and to the President. 

To confront those who maintain silent ascent to the evils happening at our Southern border. 

To challenge a president who speaks ill of people, who demonizes his enemies, who acts with blatant disregard for humanity and who ignores the suffering of the migrant families he has abused.

And to speak with deep compassion and caring to all who suffer injustice, oppression and harm.

Finally, I pray for my brothers and sisters of faith, that God will grant a prophetic voice, and that with that voice, you are able to speak God’s message of Good News with courage, boldness and perseverance. 

At times, words find their most powerful expression in music. To that end, I have included the following hymn text, which is actually a prayer. Please use it with my permission in any way that is empowering to you.

 

God, Give Us a Prophetic Voice

God, give us a prophetic voice that speaks of harm and pain;
A voice that claims injustice wrong, that calls the hurt by name.
God, give us a courageous voice that speaks against all wrong;
A voice that sees when harm is done and sings oppression’s song.

Our Mother God, we seek your grace to offer words of life,
To reach our hands toward hurting hearts who live in endless strife.
We ask for courage to persist when violence owns the day,
When children live in fear and want, protect them, God, we pray.

Empower us for good, we pray, that justice may increase;   
Ennoble us to speak your Word that pain may find release;
Give us a voice to speak your truth in places of despair;
Grant wisdom, God, and make us bold with courage, is our prayer.

God, give us now compassion’s voice that we might offer peace;
A voice that comforts through the night, that bids the darkness cease.
God, help us find our voice again when silence words erase,
When evil overtakes the words of righteousness and grace. 

Words: Kathy Manis Findley, 2019
Hymn Tune: Kingsfold
Meter: 8.6.8.6.
Source: English Traditional; English Country Songs, 1893
Copyright: Public Domain

 

 

Dangerous Contemplation

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This morning, I read a meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation as I often do to start my day. In it, Sister Joan Chittister explores the relationship between prophetic witness through compassion and contemplation. Sounds risky to me! And that’s very close to the point Sister Joan makes:

. . . contemplation is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God, it brings us, as well, face to face with the world, and then it brings us face to face with the self; and then, of course, something must be done. 

Something must be filled up, added to, freed from, begun again, ended at once, changed, or created or healed, because nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. . . . We become connected to everything, to everyone. We carry the whole world in our hearts, the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the earth, the hunger of the starving, the joyous expectation every laughing child has a right to. Then, the zeal for justice consumes us. Then, action and prayer are one.

Bolder prophetic words were never written! Would that all of us who profess a relationship with God might rise from our knees and be ennobled by our prayers to do justice and love mercy! Largely, this is not the case for us. Our prayers feel empty, devoid of the compassion of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. After we have prayed, have we changed? Has our heart been softened by moments of communion with God? Does our heart move into a tragic world with the tenderness of a compassionate Christ?

As we are praying, children and families still languish at our borders, suffering in living conditions that seem impossible in America. And we hear the distant echo of Jesus asking for the children to come to him.

As we are praying, the ever-changing climate exacts its harm on oceans and rivers, having significant impact on ecosystems, economies and communities. Rising average temperatures mean balmier winters for some regions and extreme heat for others. Flooding, drought and violent storms take a dangerous toll on our beloved earth.

250ACCE1-377E-4980-9A7B-546C7B31A8FEAs we are praying, gun injuries cause the deaths of 18 children and young adults each day in the U.S. And every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns. Can we ignore the fact that nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner?

 

 

All the while, we comfortably rest in our own kind of contemplation. Yet, contemplation must be redefined. We must learn to experience it as a change in consciousness that forces us to see the big picture, to see beyond our own boundaries, beyond our denominations, our churches. Sister Joan again says it best:

Contemplation brings us to see beyond even our own doctrines and dogmas and institutional self-interest, straight into the face of a mothering God from whose womb has come all the life that is.

Transformed from within then, the contemplative becomes a new kind of presence in the world who signals another way of being. . . . The contemplative can never again be a complacent, non-participant in an oppressive system. . . . From contemplation comes not only the consciousness of the universal connectedness of life, but the courage to model it as well.

Those who have no flame in their hearts for justice, no consciousness of personal responsibility for the reign of God, no raging commitment to human community may, indeed, be seeking God; but make no mistake, God is still, at best, only an idea to them, not a living reality.

So we struggle, Christ followers in a world of cruelty and insanity. Our struggle is about what exactly we can do when we face the world after our contemplative practice. Isn’t contemplation and compassion a pilgrimage to the heart, my own heart and God’s heart? When our moments of contemplation reveal a clear-eyed view of a suffering world, what does Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit’s prompting move us to do?

I often refer to the words Tikkun Olam, the Jewish teaching that means repair the world. Tikkun Olam is any activity that improves the world, bringing it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created. So how does our contemplation lead us to practice Tikkun Olam, to repair the world? What is it that “must be filled up, added to, freed from, begun again, ended at once, changed, or created or healed?”

It is a critical question for all of us and each of us. Indeed, each person must find her own answer and must follow her own path. The way ahead may lead to U.S. border towns. The way ahead may lead to phone calling or letter writing. It may lead to community activism or bearing witness in places where injustices occur. It may lead to protesting and marching or teaching and preaching. It may lead to deeper communion with God through even more time spent in prayer and contemplation.

It will, beyond any doubt, lead us to the places in our world where compassion touches pain. Dangerous contemplation will most definitely lead us to those places.

May God make it so!

 

 

Teresa of Avila

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The saints have left us a legacy of wisdom, inspiration and challenge. I often browse through readings by the saints and find myself enthralled in the words, wondering what in their lives prompted the words they have written. Most often, there is a back story that offers a glimpse into their lives.

One of the saints that calls for my attention is Teresa of Avila. I became especially interested in her life during the years our progressive Baptist church worshipped each week in the chapel of Carmel of Saint Teresa of Jesus in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was the pastor of a church where Baptist congregants worshipped in a beautiful chapel cared for and consecrated by Carmelite Sisters, thirteen of them at that time.

How rich an experience it was for us! As we lived out our spiritual commitments in the world, we were blessed immeasurably by the inner life the Sisters modeled before us . . . a life of silence, reverence, prayer and contemplation.

Recently I came across a quote by Saint Teresa of Avila, also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus, that touched my heart.

Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.

Those words were intriguing to me, calling me to a still place. Calling me to allow my breath to lead me to the still place on the invisible path. I contemplated the meaning and what the meaning might say to me. I could not help but wonder what prompted Saint Teresa’s words. And then I looked at her back story. 

It seems that Teresa of Avila was a reformer of the Carmelite Order. The movement she initiated was later joined by the younger Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic, Saint John of the Cross. It led eventually to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites. A formal papal decree adopting the split was issued in 1580. Throughout her life, Teresa founded several new reformed Carmelite Orders.

Saint Teresa experienced years of excruciating pain and serious illness. Her  spiritual life was one of dreams, visions and mystical experiences. Unfortunately, when her mystical experiences, including visions, became widely known, she was treated with ridicule and even persecution. Her religious ecstasies caused jealousy and suspicion. She lived in the period of the Spanish inquisition, a time in history when any deviation from the orthodox religious experience came under strict observation and scrutiny. 

So her experiences of spiritual ecstasy subjected her to the investigations of the Inquisition. In 1576, a series of persecutions began on the part of the older observant Carmelite order against Teresa, her friends, and her reforms. Pursuant to a body of resolutions adopted at the general chapter at Piacenza, the “definitors” of the order forbade all further founding of convents. The general chapter condemned Teresa to “voluntary” retirement to one of her institutions. 

But prior to her forced retirement, Saint Teresa devoted her life to traveling around Spain setting up new convents based upon ancient monastic traditions. Her travels and work were not always greeted with enthusiasm, as many resented her reforms and the implied criticism of existing religious orders. She often met with criticism, including the papal nuncio, who used the rather descriptive phrase “a restless disobedient gadabout who has gone about teaching as though she were a professor.”

Saint Teresa of Avila most assuredly had a great deal to teach us about the importance of an inner life of deep contemplation and an outer life of immersion into the hurt of the world. What a lesson we could learn about doing the inner work that enables us to do the outer work in a suffering world!

So the one who spoke those words about a “still place” had so much more to say when we readthe entirety of her writings. The following are but two small glimpses into her depth of devotion.

This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway. Be bold. Be humble. Put away the incense and forget the incantations they taught you. Ask no permission from the authorities. Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.

Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands

with which Christ blesses the world.

Saint Teresa was a contemplative mystic that showed us a life of silence and prayer. But she was also a brilliant revolutionary in the best sense of that word. We would do well in our quest to follow God to emulate her life that spoke so eloquently of our hands and feet being those of Christ on earth. She showed us deep contemplation and revolution. Our world needs both.

 

 

Good Questions!

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I read a very disturbing article today. Here is a part of it:

Attorneys who visited a Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, Texas, as part of an inspection found that officials there had been illegally jailing a sick, prematurely born one-month-old infant and her 17-year-old mother for days, BuzzFeed News reports. This same facility, known as Ursula, was last year called “the ‘epicenter’ of the Trump administration’s policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents” by an official with the Department of Homeland Security.

“You look at this baby,” said volunteer Hope Frye, “and there is no question that this baby should be in a tube with a heart monitor.” Instead, the tiny child was wrapped in a sweatshirt and was reportedly “weak and listless.” Her mom, still weak from her emergency C-section in Mexico, was in a wheelchair and hadn’t been able to sleep due to pain.

They shouldn’t have been there in the first place. “Under federal law, minors are required to be released from Border Patrol custody within 72 hours to officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement after they are determined to be unaccompanied. Both the 17-year-old mother and her 1-month-old baby are considered unaccompanied minors.”

The Washington Post last month reported that hundreds of children “have been with the Border Patrol for longer than 72 hours, and another official said that more than 250 children 12 or younger have been in custody for an average of six days.” Who knows how much longer this mom and infant would have been in custody, had attorneys and others not intervened? (From Daily Kos)

Good question! How much longer would they have been held in the custody of officials who obviously had no regard for their well being? 

Good question! Why is this horrendous treatment of refugees tolerated in our country?

Good question! Has this nation become a nation of cruelty to those coming through our borders and how did we get there?

Best question! What can you and I, as persons called by God of grace and lovingkindness, do to help bring an end to this atrocity?

There is obviously no easy answer and no quick fix, but those who are suffering need a quick fix. They need for us to stand up and help reclaim our nation’s position as a welcoming, compassionate nation. In these days, I wonder what the symbol of Lady Liberty means to us? 

A gift from the people of France, Lady Liberty has watched over New York Harbor since 1886, and on her base is a tablet inscribed with words penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Most importantly, we must ask this question: Can we escape from the admonitions in Holy Scripture? Can we ignore the call of Jesus to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? (Luke 10:27) Can we ignore these warnings?

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
— Deuteronomy 10:19

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
— Leviticus 19:34

Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow. Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
— Leviticus 27:19

. . . I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
— Matthew 25:31-46

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none…
— Luke 3:11

Bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…sight to the blind…let the oppressed go free.
— Luke 4:16-21

In light of our faith and the counsel of Holy Scripture, each of us must answer the critical question: “What must I do about this?” These are only a few of the actions we might undertake:

Hold congressional representatives accountable and constantly hold up before them the “more excellent way.” Phone calls, letters, emails, visits — not just once, but continually. 

Stay aware of the credible news reports of treatment of refugees at the border. Take that information — every time — to your representatives.

Discover ways that your faith community might partner with faith communities near borders by providing clothing, personal items, blankets, towels, cash. Ship to them whatever they might need for their care of refugees.

If possible, travel to the border nearest to you and see what is happening first hand. When you have seen and heard the voices of people seeking refuge, your life will be forever changed, your heart will know genuine compassion and your impulse to intervene will be magnified.

 

I certainly do not know which of these actions might be possible for you. But I do know two things. I know that this issue is fluid and current, and that the raid sites are throughout the U.S. Just this minute I received this information in my news feed:

ICE is set to begin immigration raids in 10 cities on Sunday. Last year, the Executive Office for Immigration Review announced that it had begun tracking family cases filed by the Department of Homeland Security in 10 immigration court locations: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco. (CNN)

I know also that our faith calls us to compassion, kindness and a welcoming spirit. We can respond to that call in whatever ways seem good and right.

I pray that God will make it so.

Lenses

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Photo: The Power of Lenses, Wired

All of us see things through a lens. We get our lens from our life, and no one else sees things through that same lens. Just to make it clear: this is not a commentary on current politics and policies. This is simply a hodgepodge of musings that have emerged from what I am seeing through my lens.

Let me start, right off the bat, by pointing to something that doesn’t look so good through my lens, namely the unconscionable practice of separating children from their parents in the name of enhanced border security. We railed at that policy — for a while. But with the passing of time, our advocacy for these separated families has waned. These days, it is even hard to find a current news report that updates the status of the separated children.

I did find a report that quotes administration officials in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying that the number of beds available for migrant children increased from 6,500 last fall to 16,000 today (CNBC; 19 Dec 2018). Apparently, the crisis we have all but forgotten is still real.

Dr. Jack Shonkoff, who heads Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, has called our current immigration policy “a moral disaster.” Dr. Shonkoff provided this emphatic rebuke:

There has to be some way to communicate, in unequivocal terms, that we are inflicting punishments on innocent children that will have lifelong consequences. No matter how a person feels about immigration policy, very few people hate children — and yet we are passively allowing bad things to happen to them.

According to The New York Times, population levels at federal shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, reaching a total of 12,800 as of September 2018. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May.

Are we choosing to ignore the huge increases of children in custody that have placed the federal shelter system near capacity? Are we listening to the the employees who work in the migrant shelter network telling us that the bottleneck is straining both the children and the system that cares for them? Do we care that the administration announced that it will triple the size of a temporary “tent city” in Tornillo, Tex., to house up to 3,800 children?

Reports are that immigrant advocates and members of Congress reacted to this status report with distress. As well they should! 

Leader or citizen — each of us should react to this report with great distress! My lens sees that with our current immigration practices, we are participating in a sin against humanity by placing children and teens at great risk of long-term trauma and irreparable harm.

With that realization, I find myself in a place that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. My silence, passivity and failure to act is complicity. Have I signed enough petitions, made enough phone calls and written enough emails? There is no right answer to that question. 

I heard a discussion this morning on National Public Radio that revealed a troubling trend. The information shared is that not as many males are crossing the border into the U.S. right now. Instead, record numbers of women and children fleeing domestic violence and violence in general are coming to seek asylum, protection from horrific circumstances and safe shelter.  

For example, Guatemala has one of the most prevalent rates of violence against women in the world. Instances of gender violence in Guatemala include domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, incest, and femicide (the deliberate killing of women).

Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to Guatemala. The neighboring countries of El Salvador and Honduras, for example, also face epidemic levels of femicide as well as impunity for the perpetrators. (https://www.amnestyusa.org/why-does-guatemala-have-one-of-the-highest-rates-of-femicide-in-the-world/)

For many years, I have been a vocal advocate for women and child victims of violence. For at least fifteen years, that advocacy was my life’s work. I am angered by the abuse of women and children. But today, in our current circumstance, my advocacy feels like a tempest in a teacup. While my heart may be overflowing with anger, my acts of protest against our nation’s immigration policy are relatively insignificant.

Advocacy always begins with understanding? We understand that immigration and border security is one thing; illegal immigration is another. But the desperate need for asylum is on a significantly higher level in the quest for human rights and protection from oppression!

And so this presents a dilemma for any follower of Christ living in a relatively uncaring world. How does the Gospel motivate us? How do we follow Christ into the situations that are causing women and children such harm? How do we act in ways that offer asylum for those in the midst of violence? Wouldn’t God desire safe shelter for persons in danger? What can we do to effect real, in-the-moment, significant change? Knowing that many people look at the state of immigration and security through “America first” lenses, what lens am I using to look at this abysmal situation?

Lenses are important. They guide our thoughts and actions. They develop our sense of right and wrong, good and evil. As I contemplate lenses, I am reminded of Victor Hugo’s description of the very kind Bishop Myriel, the Bishop of Digne, in Les Misérables: 

He had a strange, idiosyncratic way of looking at things.
I suspect he got it from the Gospel.

I could only hope that a description of my idiosyncratic ways would point to the Gospel. In the meantime, I intend to challenge myself to find ways to be a change agent for the way our nation is dealing with asylum seekers — women and children — who take the dangerous risk of crossing our borders to what they desperately hope is a place of safety and refuge.

May it be said of America that her doors were forever wide open to receive persons in need of refuge.

God would will such a compassionate, caring welcome.

Jesus would have embodied that kind of compassion, a compassion that rescues, shelters and protects. As followers of Jesus, should we not live out his example?

 

Thinking about Justice

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Berlin on September 12, 1964;  PhotoquestGetty Images

Coffee, aloneness and silence. A perfect time to think! It’s what I need in the morning. I may be running around the rest of the day doing those tasks that most of us have to do. But in the morning, I crave the quiet time that allows me to think.

So here’s what I’m thinking. Since yesterday when we remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have been pondering a very intriguing article I read about him yesterday in Time Magazine. It was about Dr. King’s 1964 visit to West Berlin.

Now you need to understand this: being a lifelong student of Dr. King’s life and legacy, I should have known about this visit. I did not! According to Time, West Berlin’s Mayor Willy Brandt invited Dr. King to participate in a memorial ceremony for President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated the year before. Simultaneously, Dr. King also received an invitation to speak in East Berlin from Heinrich Grüber, who had been a pastor at a church there and a prisoner in a concentration camp for three years during World War II for openly criticizing the Nazi Party. So it would seem that Dr. King was in the company of leaders who, like him, challenged systemic injustice.

Historian Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson wrote that Grüber had been driven out because of his “anti-government views.” In a letter to Dr. King, Grüber wrote, “I write in the bond of the same faith and hope, knowing your experiences are the same as ours were. During the time of Hitler, I was often ashamed of being a German, as today I am ashamed of being white,” Grüber wrote. “I am grateful to you, dear brother, and to all who stand with you in this fight for justice, which you are conducting in the spirit of Jesus Christ.”

The Time article reported that on Sept. 13, 1964 — two months after the Civil Rights Act was enacted and a month before he won the Nobel Peace Prize — King addressed 20,000 people at a rally at the outdoor stadium Waldbühne in West Berlin. Later, King delivered the same sermon at St. Mary’s Church in East Berlin, which was over its 2,000-person capacity, and then gave another, unscheduled speech to the overflow crowd at Sophia Church, similarly over its 2,000-person capacity.

It is interesting to me, in light of the demagoguery of our day, that standing in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, Dr. King said, “While I am no expert in German politics, I know about walls.”

As always, Dr. King’s eloquence was evident in the words he spoke to East Berliners:

It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth. For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.

As you might expect, the U.S. State Department nervously monitored this visit. Historian Michael P. Steinberg explained the nervousness: “King is determined to cross the wall and see East Berlin, and it’s very clear, at this point, that the U.S. embassy does not want him to do this. They do not want the press.” American officials were particularly concerned as racial violence in the United States was frequently held up within East Germany and the Soviet Union as “an indication of the failure of American society.”

The embassy did confiscate Dr. King’s U.S. passport, hoping that doing so would deter him from crossing into East Berlin. But Dr. King managed to get into East Berlin by flashing his American Express card. 

German scholars have written that the visit was key, not only to raising the Germans’ awareness of the American civil-rights struggle, but also to sow the seeds of non-violent resistance there. Some say it inspired participants in the Prague Spring four years later, as well as the activists who campaigned for the Berlin Wall to be torn down in 1989. 

A final interesting historical fact from Waldschmidt-Nelson: East German opposition movements marched to “We Shall Overcome” in the 1980s.

So there you have it: a little-known story about a very well-known man! And thanks to him for a lasting legacy that continues to inspire us toward justice.

Moving Elephants

1d7ce45b-06ac-4a0a-92a0-8d51176ca80fThe wisdom for this day comes from Hannibal of Carthage: “We will either find a way or make one.” It was a Latin proverb, most commonly attributed to Hannibal in response to his generals who had declared it impossible to cross the Alps with elephants.

We need this wisdom for today because for the past two years, racism and other divisions have been promoted by the extremist in the White House and his enablers in the Congress. In general, Congressional leaders are creating policies that enforce systemic poverty. Plain and simple!

The truth is that this country has a long and tragic history of classicism, sexism, misogyny, and violence against women. And those who participate in oppression against women are often on the same side as racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and fascism.

This is not the way a nation and government should be moving, and the masses have said it will not be tolerated. They have looked squarely at the injustices and have determined to “find a way or make one.” They cannot be deterred or thwarted. They will persist as they have always done. “A change is gonna’ come,” sisters!

What are the signs? 

Sign number 1: a record number women were elected to seats in the House of Representatives, many of them flipping districts from red to blue. This nation elected the first Native American and Muslim women to Congress, and the first openly bisexual woman to the Senate. South Dakota elected its first female governor. North Carolina elected another African American woman to the state supreme court.

Sign number 2: the powers that be fear women who persist. As Rev. William Barber points out, they are afraid of women like Rosa Parks. They cower in the presence of women like Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign’s who has fought to tear down systemic poverty and oppression. They are terrified of women like Women’s March national co-chairs ― Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory ― who are bringing women together across every race, creed, color, religion, sexuality, and class. They fear women like Sister Simone who fights for affordable health care or like Lucy Parsons who fought for labor rights and living wages.

They’re afraid we’ll march, or vote, or advocate, or speak the truth, or run for office, or persist. But “a change is gonna’ come,” sisters! It won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But if any people can find a way to cross the Alps with elephants, sisters standing together in solidarity can do it! Women have shown that they will “either find a way or make one!”

But there is one caveat: stick together! Forget about infighting.

Yes, There may be realities of real conflict that need to be addressed head on. No social justice movement is without conflict, and disagreements around the Women’s March were there from the start: Should the march include anti-abortion women? Were the needs of women of color overshadowed by the priorities of white women? What about transgender women? Is it true that accusations of anti-semitism hang over the march?

Let us pray that women and those who support women will find ways to mitigate these concerns and show up on Saturday ready to march. After all, we made history together. That was our stellar beginning. Remember?

It started just days after the fateful 2016 election. A small group of women who feared the Trump presidency joined together at a New York restaurant to plan a demonstration. What resulted from that meeting was the largest single-day protest in U.S history, the Women’s March, which took place in about 600 American cities and towns and on every continent in the world. And that march was a part of what inspired a record number of women to run for office and win. Elephants or not, we “will either find a way or make one!”

So let us march on Saturday and if we cannot march, send positive energy in solidarity with those who do march. Be encouraged. Be encouraged by the words of Dr. William J. Barber:

As you march this weekend and as you step into the new year, I urge you to keep fighting. Do not relax until poverty is eradicated, until every American receives a living wage for their work, until racism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny are words of the past. Continue to register your friends and family and neighbors to vote. Continue to run for office. Continue to march, protest, and make your voices heard.

Keep the faith. Keep fighting.