Persevering Hope

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PAX

(pɑks ; pÀks; pæks ; paks). noun

1.Β the Roman goddess of peace, identified with the Greek Irene

2.Β sign of peace

 

The Reverend Jennifer Butler was wearing a white clergy stole with Pax embroidered over a cross and an olive branch. Enlight126She Was singing as police officers restrained her, arms behind her back, both thumbs held tightly together with plastic straps. Next to be arrested was The Reverend Traci Blackmon, who chanted β€œjustice, mercy” again and again as police restrained her and led her away.

The Charlotte Examiner described the event, The March to Save Medicaid, Save Lives.

Capitol Hill police arrested the president of the North Carolina NAACP on Thursday morning after he led a protest of the Senate’s proposed health care repeal-and-replace bill.

Rev. William J. Barber II, who was protesting in his role as president of Repairers of the Breach, was released from jail by 2 p.m. On that morning, July 13, 2017, Dr. Barber and other faith leaders led a group of about 50 people to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in the Capitol.

The group gathered a few blocks away at 10 a.m. and walked to the Capitol, chanting and singing along the way. Eleven protesters were arrested.

Read more at this link:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/latest-news/article161200048.html#storylink=cpy

As I watched the live feed of this moral and courageous expression of civil disobedience, I hoped that the police would not arrest The Reverend Dr. William Butler, who was obviously experiencing pain from his physical disabilities. I hoped that other faith leaders would not be arrested.

The band of justice-seekers, clergy and persons of all faiths, gathered together in a prophetic action to protect the 22 million Americans in danger of losing healthcare because of what the group calls β€œimmoral Congressional legislation.” The Repairers of the Breach Facebook page gives details of the event.

Together, we’ll join in song and march through the halls of power, sending a moral message that we cannot cut Medicaid β€” a lifeline for so many children, seniors and people with disabilities.

My heart was with them in Washington. My prayers pleaded for hope for a brighter day, for justice for those who are oppressed, for peace for every person. My mind recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah . . .

And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;
And will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

– Isaiah 58:10-12

I watched them stand bravely as they faced the powers before them, living into the words spoken by Hannibal of Carthage, β€œWe will either find a way or make one.” I listened to their voices echoing through the halls of the building, singing with persisting, persevering hope.

Ain’t gonna let injustice turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around
Ain’t gonna let injustice turn me around
I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’
Marchin’ up to freedom’s land.

Ain’t gonna let no jail cell turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around
Ain’t gonna let no jail cell turn me around
I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’
Marchin’ up to freedom’s land.

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’
Marchin’ up to freedom’s land.

Repairers of the Breach —Β http://www.breachrepairers.org/

Reach for the Stars

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We greet this year’s Independence Day still reaching for the stars. We also come to this day with a measure of confusion, disillusionment, and even fear. We have a president who is revered by some Americans and feared by most Americans. We feel concern when the president Tweets divisive messages. We feel concern about the ways he interacts with international leaders. We feel concern about health care. We feel concern about the loss of the freedoms we have enjoyed for centuries. We are concerned for our neighbors who have come to America as immigrants and who now face an uncertain future.

This Fourth of July we remember that eight immigrants signed the Declaration of Independence we celebrate today. We recall the words written on that historical document that was signedΒ on July 4, 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

. . . And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We are still the United States of America. We persist in loving our brothers and sisters and in cherishing the unity that goes far beyond our differences. Creating β€œa more perfect union” remains our sacred calling though we know that mutually pledging our lives to each other requires constancy and dedication. It requires our willingness to accept one another and to honor each other’s differences. It requires offering mutual respect. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the sheer work of human progress, work to which we must commit and recommit.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable . . . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

– Martin Luther King, Jr. in Stride Toward Freedom, 1957

On this day that is a celebration of our independence, we know that we we cannot always determine the destiny of our country. We know that our freedom often feels precarious. We know that we cannot always be led by the president we prefer. But we also know that the citizens of this country will always reach for the stars as we labor for our nation’s honor, and in the end, will join hands and rise to meet a brighter future.

More than any time in recent history, America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life . . . Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.

– President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

Justice Is a Verb!

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Surely someone has written about the challenge of being a Christian in these days of political upheaval and societal angst. I need to read such a book. I need to be emboldened to live out my faith, not as a passive bystander, but as a change-agent that insists on peace and justice.

My close friend and colleague in ministry, Wendell Griffen, insists that justice is a verb. His life beckons us to live into what he calls “the fierce urgency of prophetic hope.” In his book of the same name, he asks people of faith to consider this question: “How can we speak of hope in a time of deep divisionβ€”a time too often defined by racism, misogyny, materialism, militarism, religious nationalism, and xenophobia?” *

My faith compels me to find ways to speak hope in these unsettled days, to speak truth to power when people suffer oppression, to care deeply about injustice. As I sit in my home dealing with the inevitable aging that marks my days, I think about the past to a time when advocacy was my passion. I remember ministry in the hospital, at the jail, in child sexual abuse forensic interviews, in courtrooms. I remember the energy of speaking for those who were suffering. I recall a life on the edge that made a difference in people’s lives.

But what about today? How does my faith ennoble me at this time of my life? What is my new normal in service and ministry? In what ways will my voice be heard proclaiming hope, justice and equality?

The following words are written by Dr. Cornel West in his book Democracy Matters: Β Winning the Fight Against Imperialism:

To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely–to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet keep stepping because the something that sustains you, no empire can give you and no empire can take away. This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire. *

I believe there are still battles that I must fight. I believe that the vision and courage of youth remains. I believe that when God calls one to be a prophetic voice, that call is a permanent, lifelong call. My challenge is to keep stepping in the name of love, seeking to do justice, always knowing that God will sustain me.

And the Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your soul in parched places,
and will strengthen your bones;
and you’ll be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Isaiah 58:11, ISV
* The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope, Wendell L. Griffen, 2017: Judson Press,
http://www.judsonpress.com/author.cfm?author_id=894

* Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, Cornel West, 2004: The Penguin Press

Chains

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Chains.

Some folks see a golden necklace with sparkling links. But others see chains as cruel symbols of enslavement. History records thousands of inhumane acts of enslavement. A review of history is about real people whose lives were oppressive, whose chains were heavy, whose slavery was permanent. We remember their lives with a sense of shame and we honor them with genuine repentance.

But we must also bring the reality of chains closer to home as we recall the times of our lives that held us in chains. Serious illnesses. Violent relationships. Troubled children. Careers that became personal enslavement. No, the chains that bound us were not made of steel. Instead, they were chains that bound our very being, holding us fast, oppressing our spirits.

In all of this, there is hope. It is the hope of God’s grace that empowers us to break free. I am reminded of one of my favorite Scripture passages.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

– Galatians 5:1, New International Version

Of one thing I am certain. God does not desire for us a life of enslavement, but graces us with the courage to free ourselves from all that holds us hostage. Life in Christ is not a life of chains. It is a life of freedom to live, to love, and to thrive. Though we may have been hurt by circumstances that left us in chains, our souls can never be chained.

Laurie Halse Anderson writes this in her brilliant novel series, Chains: Seeds of America.

She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She’d already done so . . . I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her.

Please listen to a beautiful arrangement of “Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone” sung by Noteworthy. Β https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA

 

Today We Remember

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Today, April 4th, marks the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A minister, a change-agent, an advocate for equality, Dr. King was a civil rights leader whose message of non-violence inspired generations.

At 39 years of age, he was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King, who was in Memphis that day to show solidarity for striking sanitation workers, delivered one of his most famous speeches on April 3 at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis. Toward the end of the speech, he referred to threats against his life and used language that seemed to foreshadow his impending death, yet he reaffirmed that he was not afraid to die. His words hung in the air as an ominous predictor of what was to occur the next day.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place.

But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.

And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Just after 6:00 p.m. on the following day, Dr. King and a group of others were standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was hit in the neck by a single bullet. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead later that evening.

For all of us, for all persons of compassion and good will, for a world filled with racism, his death was a deeply felt loss. We remember his eloquence. We remember his tenacity. We remember his faith and his courage. Today, we remember and we honor his legacy

The Light in the Harbor

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Photo from the February 13-20 cover of the New Yorker magazine featuring the light of the Statue of Liberty snuffed out.

Lady Liberty’s torch went out last night due to a power failure. New York harbor was absent her light. There was even online speculation that the move was deliberate, to show solidarity with the “Day Without A Woman” inequality protests taking place today. We will possibly make more of this than we should, seeing the loss of her light as a commentary on our times. For certainly these days, some of our citizens experience the light going out on their freedom.

For those young people we call Dreamers, the light seems dim and their dreams seem to be in jeopardy. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, freedom’s light has dimmed. For Mexicans seeking refuge, there is the shadow of an unwelcoming dividing wall. Women once again fear the affliction of inequality.

Is it true? Has freedom’s light really gone dark in our country? Is there no light in the harbor?

The answer is a resounding “No!”

The Light was out for only two hours. What is more important is that America — the land of diversity, freedom, welcome and acceptance — will endure. The Statue of Liberty lights the harbor again, and the inscription on her base will remain as a testimony of welcome to the immigrants, immigration ban notwithstanding.

Inscribed on the base of the statue is the poem that Emma Lazarus penned in 1883. Protesters across the country cite the Moving poem as a clear argument against President Donald Trump’s travel ban and immigration crackdowns.

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.

God grant that America will always welcome the tired, the poor, from every corner of the world.

Will Never Perish

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“Oscar Arnulfo Romero – My Hero” Β  Β β–ͺ️ Β  Art Β by Curtis Narimatsu

Martyrs of the faith never perish. Their work lives on, inspiring others to sacrificial service. For centuries, God has graced us with men and women of courage whose lives stand before us as examples of faith. One such example is the late Γ“scar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador. Although he spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture, he was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while offering Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador.

Archbishop Romero inspired Christians around the world with his commitment to the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized β€” those whom Jesus described as the β€˜least of these.’ Archbishop Romero’s stirring words from his last sermon capture the essence of his ministry and continue to inspire us all:

Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies . . . We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us.

On May 23rd, 2015, thirty-five years after his assassination, Γ“scar Romero was beatified in the capital city, San Salvador. At least 250,000 people filled the streets for the ceremony which was the last step before Archbishop Romero is declared a saint. But let us look back on his life. In 1980, the soon-to-be-assassinated Archbishop promised history that life, not death, would have the last word.

“I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”

On each anniversary of his death, the people march through the streets carrying that promise printed on thousands of banners. But his murder was a savage warning. Even some who attended Romero’s funeral were shot in front of the cathedral by army sharpshooters. To this day no investigation has revealed Romero’s killers. What endures is Romero’s promise.

Days before his murder he said this to a reporter, “You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.”

In these days of peril, may we all heed the words of Pope Francis, “Let us be moved by the Holy Spirit in order to be courageous in finding new ways to proclaim the Gospel.”

Courageous faith that works on behalf of those who are poor will never perish. Lives dedicated to standing against injustice will never perish. God’s holy church, though it is made up of imperfect humans like you and me, will never perish. Thanks be to God.

 

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.)

One Nation under God

The Statue of Liberty is pictured from the Staten Island Ferry at twilight in New York

I sometimes tire of hearing talk about being “one nation under God” in a nation whose leaders want to exclude and divide. In these difficult days, our President has signed an executive order to ban persons from several countries from entering our country. Protesters object in the streets and at airports throughout the country, seeking to hold fast to the promise represented by the Statue of Liberty. We must not forget that Lady Liberty stands in New York harbor lifting her light to all the world. And on a plaque at her base, these words are inscribed:

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!

Bishop Steven Charleston writes what it means to be one nation under God. He says that ours is a holy calling, compassionate to all who seek refuge, caring for those who are poor, protecting those among us who are most vulnerable. These are his words:

One nation under God. What would that be like? I think any nation striving to live such a holy calling would be compassionate to all those in need, caring for the poor, healing the sick, protecting the most vulnerable. It would seek wisdom, supporting its schools and teachers. It would defend itself and help its friends, but never cease striving for peace. It would turn from greed and honor God’s creation. It would respect the dignity of every citizen and strive for reconciliation, finding unity in diversity, strength in mercy, authority in justice not promised but practiced.

– Steven Charleston

Dignity, diversity, strength, mercy, justice, compassion . . . May these words always define us as a nation. May God rebuke the leaders who seek to obliterate these values. And may God touch the hearts of our leaders, urgently summoning them to help make us truly one nation under God.