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 God’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 β€œgreat lights” or β€œmighty luminaries.” 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 courageΒ 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 β€œpeople to live together in harmony.” 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: β€œThings are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered.”

In response, Ken writes:

The poet’s counsel in light of these things would be mine as well: β€œWe must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.” (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 God’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.

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 Wild and Precious Life

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β€œTell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver

I am constantly inspired by the poetry of Mary Oliver. What is it that I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? That is a question worth asking throughout life, asking again and over again at every juncture. Life is definitely not still or stagnant. It moves with the hours of the day, the moments of the soul. It constantly asks of us decisions . . . What will I cherish on this day? What will I do about this challenge? Where will I move at this crossroad?

The answers to such questions steady our journey. The answers give adjustment to our sails as we travel into the wind. The answers are crucial ones, imperative to a life path, making space in the heart for the unimaginable.

I leave you with the words of Mary Oliver.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Delicate Wings

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I love watching the fluttering flight of a butterfly. I am mesmerized by their colorful, delicate wings, amazed that they are so resilient. Monarch butterflies, for instance, possess a mind-boggling skill. Without any guidance, they inherently know how, when and where to migrate across continentsβ€”and it takes four generations to make the yearlong trek.

The monarch butterfly’s migration begins in the spring, with the first generation making its debut into the world. Born in March and April, these tiny insects pick up where their predecessors left off, traveling farther north on a generational journey that totals 1,200 to 2,500 miles. That’s quite the feat for creatures with wing spans of only 3.5 to 4 inches.

We could learn a lesson from the butterfly. It emerges from a lifeless cocoon, develops beautiful wings, and embarks on amazing migrations. I like the migration story told by Annie Dillard in her book, β€œPilgrim at Tinker Creek.” She writes that the monarch butterfly flies across Lake Superior and makes it all the way without a rest. That is a distance of about 500 miles! We don’t understand how those delicate butterflies do that. But thousands make their way across that mighty lake every single year during their migration.

None of them arrive without being wind-battered, snatched at from behind, hind legs torn off by the birds that pecked at them along the way. Our life journeys are just as challenging. Like the butterfly’s wings, we can be delicate. ButΒ even though we may be battered and broken along the way, we take risks, we keep flying, we persevere. We move forward. We survive!

“If footmen tire you, what will horses do?”

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Many, many years ago I heard a sermon entitled, “If footmen tire you, what will horses do?” I was intrigued by the question and headed straight to the Bible to see what it was all about. I found it in Jeremiah 12:5.

If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, wherein you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the swelling of Jordan?

After all these years, I am still intrigued by these questions. I have asked myself similar questions many times. If I am tired out by this small task, how will I fare when the work is harder? If I complain when I have a simple illness, what will I do if a serious illness attacks me? If I am brought low by the harsh words others say about me, how will I endure a complete betrayal?

I have been through each of these life circumstances. I read and read for a word of relief. It took me all the way to Jeremiah’s 15th chapter where I found this consolation in verse 20:

Though they fight against you,
They will not prevail over you;
For I am with you to save you
And deliver you, declares the Lord.
So I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked,
And I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.

Life has knocked me flat plenty of times. I have experienced grief, failure, betrayal, sadness. I have seen things I never wanted to see. But no matter how many times I’ve been knocked down, I always, always get up.

I learned two lessons along the way:

Don’t sweat the small stuff.
In the end, God will be with you through it all.

That’s Gospel Good News!

Dreamers and Misfits

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In my younger years, I was a dreamer of dreams, big dreams, impossible dreams, dreams that I had to fight for. Without a fight, the dreams would not have become reality. I was brave and fearless. I would stand my ground in front of any person trying to thwart my dream. I would face off against any obstacle.

Where did all that bravery go? When did I stop taking risks? When did I give up on dreams? When did I lose my strong resolve to help create a better world?

Aging had a role, as did illness. Yet, I cannot help but believe that somewhere beneath this exterior reality, the old dreamer and misfit still lives. I cannot help but believe that I still care about justice and hope, hope for a better future. I am convicted and inspired by the words of Bishop Steven Charleston:

It may seem odd, in this age of doubt and disillusionment, that some of us still believe in a hopeful future, a time of justice, and the power of love to overcome every evil. It may seem odd, in this epoch of technology and consumerism, that we still believe in God, in a conscious and living presence that cares for us and helps us to care for one another. It may seem odd, but there is a perfectly reasonable explanation: we believe these things because we are odd. We are the odd ones out, the misfits and dreamers, the mystics and advocates. We do not follow the party line, but step over it, together, every chance we get. – Steven Charleston

The Bible calls us pilgrims and strangers, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people. Yes, misfits as Steven Charleston says, misfits that go against the grain of the status quo. Misfits that still dream in spite of those who want to maintain the world as it is.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.

So I want to spend my remaining years stepping over the line, taking risks in the name of love, living out of a compassionate heart, challenging the world’s evil ways, dreaming of justice, being a maker of peace, and not counting the cost. I hope you will do the same, sisters and brothers. This world needs all the misfits who still care and all the dreamers who won’t give up.

Pathways

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Life journeys take us through pathways of all kinds – lonely pathways, contemplative pathways, dangerous pathways, mysterious pathways. The pathways make life exhilarating and unpredictable. The pathways lead us to places we never expected to go, discovering things we never expected to discover.

The pathways make life the pleasure that it is. That is, if we ever learn to travel the pathways without fear. Unfortunately, fear makes us forgo countless pathways, and we miss so much when that happens.

Walking fearlessly requires faith and a heart that can still hope. Walking life’s pathways takes courage and persistence. The Bible gives us encouragement to move forward. “When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:12

So let us walk on with hopeful hearts, taking the pathways before us, being delighted at every turn, fearlessly moving toward our destiny.

Keep On Keeping On

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Life has often been a stormy way for me. The good news is that I have survived many of the storms in my life. And the poet asks us the question: “Who is happier? The person who has braved the storm and lived to tell it or the person who stayed securely on the shore and merely existed?”

I’m glad I braved the storms. I’m glad I took the risks. I’m even glad I endured some losses. I suffered. I wept. I was often angry. I made many more messes than I could possibly clean up. Whatever corner I backed myself into was worth it. The battles I fought were worth fighting. The friends I lost were not really friends in the first place. To be sure, I did much more than just exist. I weathered the storms, and I survived to live another day.

Life has taught me to move on, to get beyond hurts and bad feelings, to reach out again and again for happiness, in spite of the risks. I have learned to keep on keeping on, no matter what. I love the words of Steve Maraboli:

β€œCry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.”

The Sky That Calls Me

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Getting older brings various limits. What used to be an adventure now feels risky, even dangerous. Digging a flower garden is more of a challenge. Making up a bed is harder than it used to be. Lifting heavy things can leave one with days of back pain.

A long road trip sometimes feels prohibitive. A long plane trip seems out of reach. The worse thing is that taking risks can be frightening, and chasing dreams and adventures sometimes feels impossible.

And yet the sky still calls out to me, opening up before me with new dreams and fresh adventures. Only I can decide not to lean on the age-old excuse, “I’m too old!” As I do many times, I bask in the inspiration of Bishop Charleston.

Fly before the wind that lifts you, soaring on wings outstretched to the sun. Do not feel constrained to stand below, afraid to take the risk, but trust in your own imagination, in the wild ideas that others cannot yet see. Let them pull you from the common ground and up to a different horizon, a far vision of what might be if only you can reach it. Already you feel a stirring to do something different. Go with that first breeze and see how far it can take you. You were not born to plod the earth, but to test the limits of the sky that calls you.

The sky still calls me. I still want to soar. What if I still can? What if dreams and adventures are still possible for me?

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,

And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?

― Erin Hanson