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Yesterday was Pentecost.  We sang, “Holy Spirit, rain down!” We prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And, thanks to one of our teens, we heard the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Today, people across this country are rising up as part of the Poor People’s Campaign to call America to a Moral Revival–a revival of desire for the paths of life.  Together, we say “Enough!” to all that denies and destroys life.  “Enough” to systemic racism!  “Enough” to violence perpetrated against communities of color! “Enough” to unequal education and unlivable wages!  Today, we are prophets of a future not our own.

So, in the words of William Mackay, “Revive us again! Fill each heart with Thy love! May each soul be rekindled with fire from above!”

For too long, we have been asking for the wrong thing!  Instead of seeking to make America great again, we need to ask God to revive us again. Yes, Lord, Let the fire fall.  Let the fire burn away the fruitless and worthless stubble that we cling to as if it were precious stones.  Let the fire burn away the destructive, life-choking thorns of racism, greed and violence that have taken root in our hearts.  And burn into us a passion for God’s love, shalom and justice.

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A reflection on the 50th Anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

50 years later…

We honor the one

Who dared to dream in the nightmare of US,

And shook the foundations until he was crushed.

And some will point to all the things that have changed

For the better.  See how existence is now re-arranged?

A Black Middle Class and Black College grads,

Black CEOs who live with the haves.

And if that weren’t proof that we’ve got civil rights—

We chose a Black president—not just once, but twice!

Who could have imagined that 50 years in the past?

 

50 years later…

We honor the one

Who dared to dream in the nightmare of US,

And shook the foundations until he was crushed.

And some will point to all the things that have changed

For the worse.  See how subsistence has still been maintained?

The Brothers with the insolence to be black and armed

with Skittles and cell phones; just asking for harm.

Almost three thousand since poor Michael Brown

Like Freddy Gray and Eric Garner, squashed to the ground;

Philando Castile, Oscar Grant, Stephon Clark,

Walter Scott, Laquan McDonald,  Tamir Rice, in a park.

Just Like Fred Hampton and young Emmitt Till

Or the targets of Daley who said, “Shoot to kill!”

Murdered by those protected in blue,

Sworn to serve and protect.  Tell me, who?

The Sisters are not exempt from this fate, pushed over the edge by a cop on her tail.

The Children are labeled and destined to be squeezed through a pipeline that leads straight to jail,

And left there to rot in an 8 by 6 cell.

They’re not six feet under, but they might just as well.

The Families re-segregated by hidden agenda

That’s advanced and enforced by policy addenda.

And what right to vote?  With 5 of 9 approval,

States now reinstate thanks to Section 4 removal.

Who would have imagined, ‘cept one woke to the past?

 

50 years later…

We honor the one

Who dared to dream in the nightmare of US,

And shook the foundations until he was crushed.

Remember the Dreamer, but do not dwell there;

For the nightmare of US remains the hell, where

New dreamers arise on an old enterprise

To bend the arc away from the dark;

Who can imagine the change that will come to pass

This is the day when death is swallowed up in victory! This is the day of our freedom!  Rejoice and be glad.  By the power of God, we are holy and whole!

Amen! Amen! Amen!

Here we are, coming to the end of our Lenten Journey.  We have taken stock of the words we use as to whether they kill or heal.  We have looked at the toxicity of our culture that poisons our minds and our spirits with stress, anxiety, fear. We have identified the demons that possess our nation, that hold us captive and that devalue and destroy the lives of the most vulnerable.  And we have heard the words of hope.  God has given us everything we need for life and godliness.  God has built into creation the antidote for our distress.  God has formed us into a community of wellness.  God wills “Shalom” for God’s creation.

A new day is on the horizon.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we see God’s new creation.  Chains are broken. The sick are healed.  The dead are raised. The lame walk. The blind see.  ALL God’s children experience abundant life.

Tomorrow, our Lenten Fast will end, but our journey toward life will continue.  I pray that you will continue to resist the devil and take your stand against the powers of injustice and systems of death.  I pray that you will continue to renounce the old words that kill the spirit and the old ways that destroy life.  I pray that your minds will be continually renewed and your lives be continually transformed into the likeness of Christ.

“Now may the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together spirit, soul, and body, and keep you fit for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

From 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (The Message)

 

The End.

There is a 12th Century tradition for Good Friday called Tenebrae.  The service begins with 15 lit candles.  The tallest candle is the Christ Candle.  As the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion are read, the candles are snuffed out one by one until only the Christ candle remains.  Finally, the story is told of Jesus’ death and burial and the Christ candle is also snuffed out.  The end.

The death of a loved one — spouse, child, parent — is THE most stressful life-event a person experiences.  Tragic death often leads to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. One can only imagine the mental state of Mary as she watched her son be executed unjustly.   One can only imagine the grief of Mary Magdalene or of John, the disciple Jesus loved.  They had lost their light.  They descended into the grave with Jesus.  There was nothing more.  Imagine.  The end.

Maybe you don’t need to imagine.  Maybe you have experienced this kind of grief and pain.  But if you have not experienced this kind of grief, try to imagine.  Imagine the mothers who have watched the video of their unarmed sons or daughters being shot by police.  Imagine the students who have watched their friends be gunned down in school.  Imagine the children who have watched fathers be arrested and deported by ICE.  These are today’s tragic events of grief, pain and descent into darkness. . Imagine the end and linger there.

The value of lingering in the grief of tragedy (like Good Friday) is that it makes us sensitive to the pain of others, it produces within us compassion for those who have suffered deeply and it motivates us to act for justice in the face of injustice.  While you may want to rush to Sunday and the joy of Easter morning, let grief do its work in you.

 

 

The Final Days

Today is Maundy (or Holy) Thursday.  Christians around the world will honor Jesus’ final meal with his disciples and will partake of the Lord’s Supper, remembering his words, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.”  But beneath Jesus’ words that reframe Passover for his followers, there was grief and suffering.  For Jesus, this day was the beginning of the end.  The evening included betrayal by a friend, abandonment by those closest to him, denial by one of his inner circle, and ultimately rejection by those he had come to save.  In the end, he was alone, praying anxiously about the coming hours, suffering mental anguish, physical pain and inner struggle.

It is in times of deepest distress that we are alone–alone with our struggles, alone with the grief, alone with our fears and uncertainties.  Even praying is a challenge–words cannot express the depths of our pain.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NRSV)

Even if all you have are tears, Jesus understands. He has had those times too.  And God’s grace will help you get through it, just like it helped Jesus.

“Falling Through the Cracks”

We have learned throughout this Lenten Compact that a sense of wellbeing begins early in life.  Early experiences of trauma have lasting effects on one’s physical, mental and spiritual development.  Early messages of rejection, incompetence, and failure become the recordings that shape one’s self-understanding.  We live in a society built upon competition and standards and the pressure to succeed.  We have accepted the “Bell Curve.”  Some will exceed and succeed; most will survive; some will fail and “fall through the cracks.”  Though we shake our heads in pity and sorrow, we seem powerless to fill the cracks.  We talk about “falling through” as if that is “just the way it is”–as if there is no other option.

But beneath the acceptance of the “Bell Curve” is an assumption that some people (and some people groups) are superior and others are inferior. In the U.S. which has been built on an assumption of White European superiority, those who fall through the cracks are most likely to be members of communities of color, non-white immigrants and those living in poverty.

A society that accepts the reality of “cracks” and the inevitability of some “falling through” is a society that is mentally ill at its core.  Racism (White superiority) is a mental illness.  Classism is a mental illness.

Is it any wonder that the U.S. has the highest prevalence of mental illness in the world?!  According to the World Health Organization, 27% of Americans will experience a mental health issue each year, and over a lifetime more than 50% will suffer a mental disorder.

Until we name the demons and cast them out, the cracks will continue to exist and we will continue to watch children “fall through them”  As people of faith, we must rise up to stand in the cracks until we can fill them with policies that better reflect God’s heart of justice and mercy.

Dang! I Missed World Happiness Day!

Happy (belated) “World Happiness Day”. Yes, there is such a thing and it occurs every year on March 20–a week ago.  We don’t hear much about “World Happiness Day” in the United States–probably because we’re not very happy.

According to the World Happiness Report–a look at 156 nations on 6 key variables of wellness–income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity–the U.S. ranks #18 in happiness in 2018.  In 2017, the U.S. ranked #14.  In part, the decline in happiness is attributed to increases in obesity, addiction and depression.

So where does Happiness live?  It has nothing to do with tropical breezes! Despite being really, really cold, Finland took the #1 spot in 2018.  Followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland.  And it isn’t just the native born who are happy.  Immigrants to these countries are happy, too.

What do all these places have in common?  A look at the internet, and you’ll find as many  answers as there are people.  However, one of the most telling factors is their economic and political equality.  While there are some families with low incomes, those families still have all the benefits and rights of the rest of the population–including free education through PhDs, universal healthcare and paid extended maternity (and paternity leave).  In Sweden, parents are given 480 days of paid leave to share.  And fathers are required to take a minimum of 90 of those days!  By comparison, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does NOT offer paid maternity leave.

The countries with high “Happiness” scores have systems that ensure well-being for not just the few who can afford it, but for everyone–native-born and foreign-born.  They think more about collective advancement rather than individual success.

The principles and practices sound a lot like the beloved community Jesus envisioned, when he commanded, “Love one another!”  We are often considered a “Christian Nation,” but our Happiness score would suggest we are far from it.

 

‘The Mass Shooting Generation’

On Saturday, March 24, a group from Kimball Avenue Church joined thousands of students, parents and grandparents in Chicago’s “March for our Lives.” We heard teens tell stories of loss of family members and friends due to gun violence.  We felt their grief.  And we felt their anger and frustration with adults who do not seem to care about their lives and do not act to protect them.

Children who were born after the year 1999 are being called ‘The Mass Shooting Generation.’ They were born immediately after the Columbine High School massacre and have witnessed Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, Pulse, Parkland and more.

This is a traumatized generation–a generation with deep wounds, embedded fear, and building mistrust in adults.  As a society, we have done little to heal them.  Instead of providing comfort and protection, we have removed the supports kids need to thrive.  Rather than budgeting more funding for mental health services, our leaders have cut what little existed.

Our children do not need more ‘thoughts and prayers.’ Our children need to see adults willing to take action to preserve their lives and willing to show compassion in the midst of their suffering.  Their mental health–and our future–depends on it.

“My Name Is Legion” – Part 5

“Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.”  James 4:7

So what does all this mean for the Church?  If “Legion” is still present and active in the world around us (and they are), and if “Legion” is destroying life through oppression and possession (and they are), and if Jesus has the power to break the grip of “Legion” (and he does), then what is our role–as followers of Jesus–in breaking “Legion’s” hold on those around us?

Early in Jesus’ ministry, he organized his disciples in groups of two and sent them out into the community, giving them instructions to announce, “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near,” and giving them authority over impure spirits (Matthew 10:1, 7-8).  Jesus’ disciples were sent out to continue and expand the ministry of Jesus.  Following Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples were again instructed to go out to be his witnesses in the world.  Filled with the Spirit, the early church took the good news of the kingdom to the streets, bringing healing and deliverance to those held captive.

The gospel work is not finished.  Like the early church, Jesus gives us authority to break “Legion’s” chains and announce good news to the oppressed and the possessed.  Filled with the spirit, we are sent into the streets to dance upon injustice and sing songs of deliverance.  We sing, “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.” We sing, “There’s an army rising up.”  We are the resistance army that is rising up in the name of Jesus.  We rise up and enter the places of death and the places under the control of the destructive powers of “Legion” and boldly name the demons holding people captive.  We name the controlling forces that are robbing people of life–economics of greed and inequality, policies of control and suppression, white supremacy, state-sponsored violence.  We name them and we cast them out.  We name them and announce “Shalom!” in their place. We name them and we restore those who have been bound to community and purpose.  And then, together “resisting the devil,” we will become holy and whole.

“I hear the chains falling!  I hear the chains falling!”