Pulling Back the Veil

IMG_5796How good and pleasant it is when people live together in harmony!

– From Psalm 133

How long, O Lord, will we experience hate speech and evil actions? How long will we see the kind of divisive and violent display we saw in Charlottesville? How long will we refuse to lift the veil to reveal the truth about our nation, about ourselves? How long, O Lord, will we remain silent, complicit? How long will it take us to stand courageously as people of God and proclaim in whatever ways we are able that racism, xenophobia, homophobia and every form of injustice will not prevail in our nation?

The God who made us and nurtured us expects us to act with courage in the face of evil, to speak, to write our leaders, to be present in the quest for justice, to wage peace, to pray for the strength to change our world, and most importantly, to be brave enough to pull back the veil, to truly see the depth of the division in our nation and the racism in our own hearts. This is Godโ€™s calling and challenge to us. But most of the time, most of us meet God’s challenges with hesitation and questions.

I am only one person with many limitations. How can I make any difference at all?

I don’t know enough to speak out. How can I influence anything?

I am not strong enough. How can I persist in the midst of such violence?

The lives of our sisters who live on in the Scripture encourage us by their courageous example and summon us to be change-agents that work for the day when God will reign on earth as in heaven.

Deborah, prophet and judge in Israel, calls us to emulate her wisdom, courage and compassionate zeal for justice. (Judges 4:4-14)

The four daughters of Phillip the Evangelist call us to prophesy as they did with boldness and courage. Eusebius refers to them as โ€œgreat lightsโ€ or โ€œmighty luminaries.โ€ย These strong women held a unique place in the early church, exercising their prophetic ministry freely and powerfully. Will we become “great lights” in the midst of hatred’s darkness? (Acts 21:9)

Esther calls us to the kind of bravery and courageย that led her to risk her life to save the lives of her people. Like her, perhaps we have been called for such a time as this. (Esther 4:14)

The five daughters of Zelophead call us to be fearless. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah stood fearless and firm, and as result reformed the culture of their day. Because they spoke up without fear, they reversed precedent. Their call to us is to speak truth to power. (Numbers 27:1-7)

Certainly, our deepest desire is for โ€œpeople to live together in harmony.โ€ But until that day comes, we will speak and work and pray for peace and justice.

My friend, Ken Sehested shares a prophetic line from a poem penned by Adrienne Maree Brown: โ€œThings are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered.โ€

In response, Ken writes:

The poetโ€™s counsel in light of these things would be mine as well: โ€œWe must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.โ€ (http://www.prayerandpolitiks.org/blog/2017/08/12/we-are-charlottesville.2776686)

I end with a wise word from another poet, Maya Angelou.

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

With the example of our Biblical sisters, with Godโ€™s unambiguous call, let us move with courage, pulling back the veil, uncovering the truth, working for the day when people will live together in harmony.

Raise Beautiful Trouble!

IMG_5737Raise beautiful trouble!

Resist! Resist all actions that hinder peace and cause the madness of warring. Women have long dreamed of peace, dreaming of a world without war, hatred, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all forms of injustice. Our Jewish brothers and sisters proclaim “Tikkunย Olam” calling us to heal the world. Tukkun Olam is a jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings andย is often used when discussing issues of social policy.

Raise beautiful trouble!

Diane Wilson climbed over the fence at the White House, skinning her stomach on the steel barbs.ย Two weeks later she got a visit from two guys in black suits, black shoes, and wearing sunglasses, Secret Service agents who wanted to know if she had an authority complex.

Diane is active in the organization, CODEPINK, a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs. (http://www.codepink.org)

Century after century women have yearned for and worked for peace. Through the years, women have walked hand in hand as they reflected on ways to create a just and peaceful world. Maybe it’s just a woman thing! Julia Ward Howe proclaimed these words in 1870.

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of tears! . . . We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, โ€œDisarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

โ€” Julia Ward Howe, 1870,ย From her Motherโ€™s Day Proclamation for Peace

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Art by Ayla Mahler

The dream persists. The peacemakers persevere, longing for a day when all people will โ€œhammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.โ€ (Isaiah 2:4 NASB)

The words of T.E. Lawrence offer stunning hope for better days.

. . . the dreamers of the day are dangerous men and women, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.

Sisters (and brothers too), continue to dream of peace with eyes wide open. Raise beautiful trouble! Resist! Persist! The peace of the world is your reward.

 

 

The Power of a Whisper

IMG_5727Speak your mind. Don’t be afraid. Don’t whisper in the deep.

These words, composed by Ray Phiri, the South African guitarist and anti-apartheid bandleader who played behind Paul Simon on “Graceland,โ€ opened my mind and heart to a stark realityโ€” that hate hovers ominously all around. That hateโ€™s power can dessimate all that is right and just and good in the world. That hate can be conquered only by a courageous people willing to speak truth and love whatever the cost.

Ray Phiri died last week at age 70, but in this seventy years, his controversial ideas made an impact. His song,”Whispers in the Deep” was banned from broadcast on the South African government-controlled radio station, SABC, when it was released in 1986.

Stand up! Wake up!
Call me angry, call me mad.
A soul that whispers in the deep.
I’m inspired.
But I can’t understand hate.

I imagine that is exactly where we find ourselves, unable to understand hate. We see enough of it, to be sure. We hear about it every day. We know about the dry, brittle bones that remain when a person experiences enough hate.

Hate is war. It is hunger and poverty. It is racism and homophobia and xenophobia. It is violence and abuse. It is unbridled anger. It is injustice in many forms, injustice that shatters lives and leaves dust and ashes in its wake.

Standing amidst hate is not unlike standing in a personal hell. Hate, whether around us or within us, has the power to crush the soul. And yet, always present with us is a protective God who can deliver us from hateโ€™s destruction.

For me, it is true that I do not always know that God is nearby. I seldom see God as my personal vanquishing superhero that destroys the power of hate. Rather, the God I know is much more like the God in the story of Elijah. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

As the story goes, Elijah clings to a cave while God unleashes natural forces far beyond anything Elijah has ever seen or heard. But even in the midst of the tempest, Elijah realizes that something is terribly wrong. The text tells us three times that God is nowhere to be found. But the text also insists that God is passing by.

Elijah looked for God in the great whirlwind, in the shattering earthquake, in the blazing fire. But Elijah did not experience God’s presence in any of those mighty and supernatural happenings. Elijah experienced God in the sound of a light whisper. Biblical translators have often called it โ€œthe still, small voice.โ€

The question I ask myself is whether or not I will gather enough strength from God’s tentative presence with me to wake up, to stand up against hate. As in Ray Phiriโ€™s compelling lyric, I do not understand hate. He warns against whispering in the deep, probably a warning against being too quiet in a world that needs to hear confident voices. But it seems to me that even a whisper can be full of power. A persevering whisper can vanquish hate. A persistent whisper can transform the world.

May God make it so.

 

Persevering Hope

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PAX

(pษ‘ks ; pรคks; pรฆks ; paks). noun

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

2.ย 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 โ€œjustice, mercyโ€ 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 Senateโ€™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 McConnellโ€™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 โ€œimmoral Congressional legislation.โ€ The Repairers of the Breach Facebook page gives details of the event.

Together, weโ€™ll join in song and march through the halls of power, sending a moral message that we cannot cut Medicaid โ€” 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, โ€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 —ย http://www.breachrepairers.org/

“You Shall Also Love the Stranger”

Design

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 haveย 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, โ€œYou Shall Also Love the Stranger.โ€

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

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

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

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

“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”ย ย (Malachi 3:5).
All the people shall say, โ€œAmen!โ€

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

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

Amen, Amen and Amen!

ยฉken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

Justice Is a Verb!

Design

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 divisionโ€”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: ย 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 youโ€™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