Friday, August 15, 2014

Two eighteen year olds

I have been trying to gather my thoughts over the past week but this has proven to be an elusive task. My feelings are too expansive; my fear too large; my awareness of my privilege too perceptible. I cannot help but compare the fact that my 18 year old just got dropped off at college yesterday while a family grieved the loss of their 18 year old who was supposed to begin college this week.

I have read a lot of snark over the last few hours since the Police Chief of Ferguson released the officer’s name who shot and killed Michael Brown and then immediately followed that with the news of the release of pictures showing Michael Brown involved in a “strong armed” assault at a convenience store. Michael and another young man apparently had stolen some cigars from the convenience store.

As if that justifies the idea that a police officer can shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot at least one more time an unarmed suspect until he is lying dead in the street.

What we know about this case from the media and what really happened in this case is known only to those who were immediately there. The truth is always somewhere floating in the midst of the “facts”. A person in authority, armed with a deadly weapon, cannot become the jury, judge, and executioner in one fell swoop.

For the first time in a long time, I did not worry about my eighteen year old last night. Even though he could have been doing who knows what, I was not worried. He was away from the ‘hood.

It is not as though he hangs with a bad group of friends. Rather, one friend is a tap dancer, the other a ballet dancer. A couple of others are just boys growing into men, each of them likeable and polite. It is not the young friends that are at the core of my worry.

It’s the idea that Tucker could be walking down the street with his friends and there could be a drive by…or the police just decide to stop them. Or, as was the case one day last spring as they were driving home from school, a police car pulled them over half a block from our home. They were told to put their hands out of the window and get out of the car. Then they were frisked and made to sit on the curb with their hands crossed behind their backs and their ankles crossed. Then the car was searched. No rights read. No warrants served. No excuses offered. It was a “driving while black” offense. Tucker just happened to be in the back seat. When the officer found out where he lived, he was told to walk on home. The other boys were kept for a few minutes and then released.

Now some might say that is the only way the police will be able to clean up the drug infested neighborhoods. But I say that there has to be more probable cause for stopping someone than seeing that the possible suspects are simply black. That cannot be a cause for becoming a suspect. It just can not.

Those who think that the riots and looting play some role in the whole of this are misguided. There is an anger there that is boiling. It is an anger born out of bad school systems, crappy jobs with worse pay, or no job/no pay, knowing that the chances of a black boy making it to 18 without getting arrested or to the age of 25 without dying. It is a disgust with a system that allows society to treat a person of color with such disdain as to allow them to die from neglect. It is a hatred born out of generation after generation of abuse and misuse. I heard it described by one man on NPR this morning as the “root of our bitterness.”

The truth is this: a people can be kept down for only so long before they rise up in force against their oppressor. Our society is one of the ruler and the ruled. Those with power flaunt it; those without suffer. 

It is time to understand that racism is wrong and that we have to change this sick culture that allows it to thrive. The warning sirens are blasting, letting us know that the rages are rising and that change has to be now…today and not one second longer.

It is time for a radical upheaval of understanding. There are no two sides to this. A person cannot be deemed "less than" simply because of an accident of birth. 

I won't really stop all my worrying about Tucker. But one worry will be alleviated for a little least until he comes home for a visit. Michael's mom won't have to worry over him any more. He has lived into the statistic of a young black male in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. It is just that simple. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Take it on the run, baby

That REO Speedwagon song came to my mind last night as we attended the last Lenten session on Transforming Stewardship at St. Paul’s Carondelet. It was just one of those things – the lyrics for the most part had absolutely nothing to do with anything. We were sharing our stories of moving from the Wilderness into the chaos of Jerusalem. My particular sharing had to do with the fact that I have felt as though I have been in the chaos of Jerusalem for some time now.

With the idea of Wilderness, I think of wandering, searching, contemplation, and just a great unknown. With two grandkids living with us, two jobs, one senior soon to leave off into his own journey, and far too many commitments, I don’t have time to wander, search or contemplate anything. My daily routine is known. I get up, I shout Hurry Up!! numerous times each morning, jump in the car and race kids to schools, rush off to the job of the day, do the required things there, rush off to pick up kids at whatever location they may be at that day, then rush home to fix dinner and whatever there might be to do there. Then I collapse in bed. I don’t wander from task. I have no time to search. And whatever contemplation might happen occurs normally about 3:30 am when I am awakened by those “things left undone”.

Prayer comes in odd times: The New Zealand Compline at the end of the day as I am ready to pass out, at Trinity Food Ministry when a patron asks me to pray for or with them; in the car as I am driving down the streets of St. Louis City; when I am so tired I can barely move.

I “take it on the run, baby.” It’s not the way I want it but that’s the way I got it.

I used to hope that one of these Lenten times, I will go into full contemplative mode. But I am not sure that will ever happen. I understand what Paul meant when he talked about relationships. Relationship with one person is not that much of a detriment to a contemplative life. I could do both. But to increase that relationship to include children, grandchildren, a certain self-induced poverty – there are daily requirements that disallow more than a meager amount of moments to contemplate anything other than what there is to cook for dinner that evening. It becomes a full blown struggle to follow what I perceive to be the path that Jesus walked.

My faith is no less; in fact, it might be stronger. Some days it is the only thing upon which I can rely. But as for any type of prayer, contemplation or study?

I take it on the run, baby. Welcome to Jerusalem. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

end of winter

Overwhelmed by the tangle of regrets
Feelings of failure swarm me.

All that could be all that was all that is and will be
Whisks me up in a tornado of emotion

And just as violently tosses me aside.

I am paralyzed.

Light within the darkness bleeds
Shooting waves of life through each limb.

All that could be all that was all that is and will be
Immobilizes the fear and uncertainty

            And just as suddenly…

I am reborn. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

A Reflection on John 12:20-26

Next week, we begin Lent…a time of reflection, contemplation – a time to look at our lives and see ways where we have fallen short of serving and following Jesus.

In the Presiding Bishop’s Lenten letter, she notes we are in a time of hunger. To be a follower of Jesus is to seek the healing of the whole world. In seeking to heal, we have to work in solidarity with the people of the world.

A part of my world resides on the edge of the Central West End in St. Louis…one block from Delmar – commonly known as the Delmar Divide – a geo-economical boundary between those who have much and those who have little.

Basically, I work in a world of hunger. I manage a food ministry. A good part of my work includes many mundane tasks such as sorting, stocking, ordering. But this ministry isn't just about giving food to the poor.

It’s about being on the lookout for angels. I am not talking about angels that save us from a moment of catastrophe.

I mean angels that help us see ourselves as we are…and as how we would like to be. Angels that make us wrestle with a certain thought and afterwards, we are renamed…different. Better. Closer to what Jesus wants us to be.

I have met several while working at Trinity.

John came to me a few weeks after I had begun work at Trinity.  He introduced himself and then he said, “I haven’t always been homeless…I used to be somebody.”

Jane – a prostitute – a recovering drug addict – the last time I saw her, she asked if she could talk to me for a few minutes. She wanted to let me know that she was moving out of the area, trying to get away and change her life. She needed to ask me a question. What was it about me that made you love me?

A little lady who she looks old but probably isn’t much older than I am. She and her husband are struggling. Her cupboards were bare – she said she had nothing. After putting out a call for help (outside of the bounds of the pantry), there were enough basic groceries to see her through the last part of the year.

Sheila – she came into the pantry one day – angry, hot, ready to fight. I was not in the best of moods myself. The temperature in the parish hall was 80 degrees and there were at least 50 people – all wanting something and needing more. I was not at my best but I did get Shelley what she wanted. Then she told me, “I want one more thing.” Glaring at her, I asked, “What?” She smiled at me and said, “I want a hug.” All anger and frustration evaporated within me and I told her, “I have two for you.”

Some of the people that I have encountered have called me an angel.

I don’t think that is true. I think they have been the angels. They have helped me see Jesus up close and personal. I have hugged him. I have prayed with him. I have looked into his eyes.

Do I serve or follow Jesus? All I can say is that I try. One thing I have come to realize…wherever there are angels lurking, there are demons to overcome.

It is exhausting trying to see Jesus every day; being on the lookout for angels; watching out for the demons that reside within me.

I fail miserably… often.

But the world we live in is a world of hunger. We cannot ignore it and we cannot simply walk above it or around it.

We have to walk in its midst, just like Jesus did, every day.

What better way to prepare ourselves for the season of Lent?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Glory to God and Merry Christmas!

It is a brand new year. I am rather amazed at the fact that it is the year 2014; nonetheless, I am energized about this New Year.

Here I sit on January 3 feeling a little jiggly ball of anticipation in the core of my being. I have made a few resolutions for myself and I do believe that it is the promise of change within me that is creating the excitement.

December is such a difficult month for me. The days are short and the hype is high and hope falls to its lowest. The light that I see is full of glitter and neon. The commercial world screams to the rafters about the latest gadget our loved ones have to have, the “happy holi-days” vs “Merry Christmas” debate becomes a political, secular and spiritual battle and there just doesn’t seem to be much time or energy for Advent, a season of waiting and anticipation. Added to this year’s circus…college applications. Oh yeah…and two new kiddos plus…well…let it be said that this was a seriously sad and sometimes scary year.

Such over-abundance in too many; so much scarcity in more. It left me all wadded up in a useless heap.

Well, not literally. But it did affect me seriously with depression, anxiety…and all the crap that goes along with those things, namely, a gigantic void empty of joy or hope.

So, it is with a good deal of joy that I relish this little feeling of hope. I know it is growing. While sadness overwhelmed the Christ-birth story, I do believe that this current feeling is of the Christ-child/man himself and the things he did and said – more importantly – the things he expected us to do and say.

My religious life at this particular age has been fairly evenly split between time claimed as a Southern Baptist and time spent as an Episcopalian. In all reality, I have been an Episcopalian far longer, being confirmed in 1986 and stopped going to the Baptist Church closer to 1972 or 3.

Regardless, the point is, it has only been in the last couple of years that I have begun to hear more clearly preachers preaching on the teachings of Jesus. That is a great deal different that the “Jesus is your Savior and died for your sins, you worthless piece of scum” and “God rewards the righteous with wealth and good fortune and to the worthless – not such good fortune and no wealth” messages that I have had ground into me. It was always about the sacrifice of Jesus, my worthlessness and GAWD’s retribution.

This year is different. I feel it. This is the year that people are talking about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit; talking about change. Sara Miles, Nadia Bolz-Weber and Pope Francis are in the news and on my radar. This is the year that people will seriously address the issues that make people homeless, that allow them to be hungry, and that cause people to spend hours out of their week going around to different food pantries so that they can feed their families. Finding food is their work.

The Daily Episcopalian recently posted an essay by Sara Miles. It is a serious message that is, in the words of Janis Joplin, “of great social and political import.” We can no longer see ourselves as separate, above the fray, outside of the oneness that God calls us into. What hurts one, hurts all.  Nadia Bolz-Weber is a breath of fresh air, bald honesty, and someone I would love to meet, just to say I have met her. I know her language and brutal honesty make some cringe but perhaps that one is the ear that needs to listen more closely. And Pope Francis…well…it is a new day in the Church…rather; maybe it is an old day come into the Light after a great many decades of decadence and dishonor to the masses. In the mess that is politics and anti-justice and anti-mercy politicians, these people offer me a sense of sanity, an indication that there are others who think and feel the same way as I do.  And their audience is large! There are those who will listen to them and in the listening, be altered.

I know that not all people are as seriously affected by the secular season of Christmas and short days of the winter. And I know I am a little late coming to the celebration but it is, after all, still Christmas if already the 10th day! Better late than never!

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Glory to God indeed who has lifted me from the void of Sheol; who has nurtured within my heart that seed of hope; who has been with me throughout this time. Thanks be to God for the goodness and mercy and most of all…Joy.

Merry Christmas to all. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

adam and chavvah Genesis 3:8-15 Evensong Advent IV St. Paul’s Carondelet

adam –a neutral gender form – adam means human, not MAN –

chavvah –means Mother of All Living and known by Christians as Eve

Adam and Eve did something they were told not to do and like children, their guilt demanded that they hide themselves away and then, found, blame it on another.

Not only did Adam blame Eve but he went further and placed the blame on God --for it was God who gave the woman to him.

Eve, in turn, blames the serpent.

God, as parent, metes out punishment to all. If we read the entire text, the punishment seems evenly divided. But somehow, at least in my southern Baptist upbringing, the woman gets blamed for it all. She should not have listened to the serpent, she should not have tempted Adam and it’s all her fault. Had it not been for her, Adam would not have sinned.

Working for a living, the pain of childbirth…even thistles and thorns…all the woman’s fault. Even the serpent crawling on its belly from that point out, forever being hated by the woman and her offspring, that is the woman’s fault also.

Actually, perhaps the most severe punishment of all was the alienation created between humans and animals. But that is a whole ‘nother sermon…

Today…I think it is more about The Fear of being in the Presence of God.

As soon as adam and chavvah had eaten the forbidden fruit, they knew there was a problem. When they heard the sound of YHWH, they hid…

Fear of being fully in the presence of God without curtains or veils or clothes … fully naked, in all our glory…in all our imperfections – that actually is rather frightening.

If the forbidden fruit gave wisdom, opened the eyes so that humans might see as God sees, both good and evil, that was…is… enough to cause a great deal of fear.
Adam and Eve were able to see how susceptible they were – how responsible they might have been for whatever was wrong.

There is so much in this world today that can be called evil. Hunger, poverty, shootings, drugs, mental health issues, environmental disease, so much pain…so much terror.

We see the evil sometimes far more clearly than we do the good.    

But the evil isn’t ours, is it? What do we have to do with it? It is all caused by other people, by their own actions.               Surely it is not our burden to carry.

Fear lets us believe that we can hide from God, from our responsibility towards the evil. We use many techniques to do this – we are  busy busy busy – if we keep ourselves busy, there is no time to think about anything but the tasks ahead of us. We go until we collapse… too tired to worry about whether or not God is watching…too tired to hear any call.

We have to stay busy ……. what if God calls us to do something we don’t really want to do? What if what God wants pulls us out of our comfort zone, demands that we give up something or get involved in things we don’t really want to do? What if that prayer really means God’s will be done????

That could cause a whole lot of chaos in our lives.

May God have mercy…what if God wants us to do something about hunger, poverty, shootings, drugs and what not? God have mercy…indeed.

We want to think that God is close to us – close enough to swoop in when there is trouble, to save us, lift us up out of the angry waves. But on those other days…well, God’s presence can be a thorn.

I can’t let go of the question from last week’s gospel when Jesus asked the people – what did you expect to see? The work that is set before us is not neat or necessarily nice…it isn’t always fun and it is often heart-breaking.

But just like adam and chavvahImmanuel (which means God is with us) is with us…always. We can hide – we can think that we hide – but God is with us nonetheless. There is work to do but we are not alone.

 We are always in the presence of God – it is in our fear that God’s light shines brightest upon us.

Adam and Eve were given the gift of God’s presence just as we have been. it is to be used by us to bless the lives of others, to share that presence when there is despair, when all seems lost…ours to share given to us by God. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What did we expect? Matthew 12: 2-11

On this first anniversary of the Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary slayings, the outrage is reborn. Voices stilled by the great nothingness of Congress are once again resounding across Social Media outlets. Heads that had rammed ineffectually into the Great Wall of Gun Lobbyists for months after the shooting, voices that cried into the wind as one after another school shooting happened, finally in sheer exhaustion, became silent. Lamentations had no effect.

Pleas for the lives of innocent children, emotional blackmail – what if it was your own children/grandchildren? – requests for simple controls on the types of weapons that might be made available to a sick and damaged public – all these went unheeded. No, all these were pelted with scoffs and sick diatribes about the “rights of the people.”

The right of Adam Lanza to own a gun trumped the lives of those 26 people to live?

Logic does nothing in this war against the weapons of war. Those who are afraid that their “right to bear arms” will be taken from them cannot even see the innocent faces that have been removed from this life.
But here we are, one year after 26 people were gunned down as they hunkered down just as they had been taught, sitting ducks for a madman hell bent on murder. Clearly, it is a time for the voices to rise up again; for the battering rams to return to action. In light of the school attack one day short of the Newtown massacre, just a few short miles from the scene of the murders at Columbine High School, it is time to ask, What are we doing?

One can get all obtuse and make the disingenuous argument that “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” But guns are made to kill. Guns in the hands of people who have hatred in their hearts or sickness in their minds are deadly.

Guns are made to kill. It is as simple as that. They are not toys. They are weapons of death.

Accept that reality.

Jesus asked the people what it was they expected to see when they went out into the wilderness to see John? They went to see him because of the things that he was doing. They must have been surprised when they saw a scroungy, scraggy guy dressed in fabric made from the cheapest of fibers. What did they expect to see? Soft robes? Soft words spoken in sweet tones?

John was not nice about it. He spoke of that which was to come and how there was a great need to be prepared. John preached that the kingdom of heaven was in fact there and that judgment was coming.
It seems very important to me this morning that those of us who believe guns are deadly and that those who scream for their rights to own these are dangerous, that we stand up and speak very loudly against these weapons of death.

The gospel messages cannot be whitewashed. We cannot be nice about it. Too many have died in this past year. Too many children died simply because people with grudges and with the ability to lay their hands on a weapon, picked up those weapons, walked into schools and opened fire.

What do we expect in a nation that allows people to purchase any type of weapon or ammunition? What do we think will be done with these weapons? What do we expect to see?

The first and foremost assumption that we must make is that people buying weapons and ammunition want to kill something…someone. It is simply that simple.

John was a messenger sent to prepare the way for when the messiah came. He called to people to hear, to see, to be ready. We are today's messengers.

At this time, the day after the school shooting in Centennial, Colorado, one year after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, this is the day that we must stand up and proclaim, This is Too Much. This Must Stop.

The insane killings can be no more.

The second and just as important thing we must understand is that the munitions manufacturers are behind this. There is a great deal of money at stake. The Gun Lobbyists are among the most powerful (full of money) in Washington, D. C. These lobbyists and the munitions manufacturers are the ones who gain from the killings of these little children.

Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

I can’t help but wonder how much harder it will be for those rich people who have the blood of innocent children on their hands.