Saturday, July 16, 2016

Just as I have loved you

A few days ago, a friend was telling me a bit about the Wild Goose Festival. Jim Wallis of Sojourner fame told the group that our sole guide for racial and social justice is our Baptismal Covenant. I replied that our Baptismal Covenant should be our sole guide for every aspect of our lives.

There is one Body and one Spirit;
There is one hope in God’s call to us;
One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
One God and Father of all.

Were we to go no further in the Baptismal Covenant, this opening verse and response should tell us all we need to know.

We are a single unit, strands knitted together by God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. We, all of us, are one united through our baptism.

Yet, there is more. We are called into accountability.

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?

Each child is brought into this oneness with a vow made by the parents and godparents – I will, with God’s help. This is a very serious promise. We enter into a covenant, with God, with that child, to bring that child up in the Christian faith and life and promise to help that child grow into the full stature of Christ. That is a very big deal. I wonder if we know what we are promising the first time we say it.

Personally, I failed miserably as a god parent. Twenty+ years ago, a young woman asked me to be a godparent to her two children. I barely knew the woman except for the fact that she lived near the parish and had been coming to church for a little while. I said yes. I should not have said yes. I made a vow and broke it in my ignorance. I did not understand the full nature of the promise. At the time, I had no idea as to the “full stature of Christ.” I am sure I continue to lack full knowledge of that phrase but I do know much more now than I did then.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I have always answered dutifully, “I will, with God’s help.” And I mean it, every time. I try to proclaim by example, if not always by word, the Good News of God in Christ; meaning, that I try to love God with all my heart, and soul, and mind, and love my neighbor as God loves me.

I am fairly good about these first two promises, at least, I am when I am at work. I am not always a shining example of God’s love, especially when my next door neighbors are shooting cannon firework off in front of my house on the sidewalk. Nor am I a very good example of God’s love when an unconcerned and seemingly selfish driver does something stupid and careless in front of me on the road. Nor do I do a very good job of loving my neighbor or being an example of that love when I read the ongoing fear-mongering on social media. 

Still, I try. I agree that Thomas Merton’s prayer “But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you” is what pleases God; just the simple fact that, indeed, I do try. Yet, the first of these two do not ask that we “try”; rather, that we “proclaim” and “seek and serve Christ in ALL persons” regardless.
The third one calls us into action, asking will we “strive for justice and peace” – among ALL people. And that further, we “respect the dignity” of EVERY human being.

Again, at work, I do strive diligently to do this. And actually, it is far easier to love people than we might first think. I do try at home too. Sometimes, it is difficult. Like when I come home from work and feel as though every ounce I had to give was given away. There seems to be no more. Yet, I am asked by word, thought, or deed, to do so. I get grouchy and resentful.

But I know in all of this, in all of my lack, in all of my more, I know I am trying. The more I try, the more I practice, the more real it becomes. I am a slow work of love.

I told a guy that I loved him. I saw his face change. It was the first time I had ever said it to him. He has been coming to the pantry and hot lunch for over a year. I remember when he first came, he was dirty, belligerent, smelly, and totally disrespectful. He is still. At first, I reacted to his behavior. If he was nice, so was I. If he wasn’t, I reacted in a negative way. 

I don’t think that tough love works very well.

Over the past few months, I came to the realization that he is often “acting out” just as a rebellious teen might do. He expects people to be irritated with him, to be repelled, to be shocked; therefore, he is irritating, shocking deliberately. He said he played the piano, so I had the piano returned to the parish hall. He doesn’t play. However, there is a certain rhythm to his tunes that lends a certain quality to the music. It sounds like music, only a piece no one has ever before heard. More than anything, it changes him when he plays. I think it calms him. I believe that he knows that it irritates some people but that I allow it. I think he respects that. He always tells me thank you.

When he asked me why I do the things that I do, I told him, “because I love you.” He cocked his head to one side and laughed but then he realized that I was sincere. It mattered.

Does my love cure him of whatever caused him to be homeless? No. Of course not. Does he trust me in all things and will never argue with me again, be belligerent or irritating? No. But it lets him know that he matters.

I take seriously the covenant I have made with God. It is the basis for all things. I realize that now, at this age, after all my life’s yearnings and earnings. I know this now. It feels natural, finally. I don’t always succeed but it lives before me, pulling me onward, teaching me new ways to love God and to love my neighbor as I am loved.

We are one in the Body. We are one in the Spirit. There is one hope in God’s call to us. There is One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all.

Striving for life in this oneness is what our Baptismal Covenant is all about. There would be no need to strive for justice, mercy or respect if we heard and lived into the two most important commandment: Love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Sometimes our only job is to show other people how much they are loved. But first, we have to understand that we are, indeed, loved. Regardless. Steadfastly. Realizing that we are loved, that we are worthy of love, offers us the ability to share that love.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ John 13:34

We can’t learn to love or fully understand how much we are loved unless we work at being in relationship with one another.

We have to practice love every day. If you don’t know how much you are loved, contact me. I will tell you. I need the practice.


Saturday, July 09, 2016

A Musical Escape from the Dis-ease



A large part of me wants to run, to hide, to escape. I love this video of Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole singing. It transports me into a safe place.


or this:  Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. Healing. Soul-full. 

or this one: Carrie Rodriguez. Beautiful voice, mix of Spanish and English. 


Music heals me so that I can go forward. Live to fight another day. Because we are in a battle. A battle between love and hate. And I fully expect love to win. 

Music is a universal language. 



Friday, July 08, 2016

People want what people want

When the fight of the day was prayer in school, I had two questions. Do you want all people to be able to pray any prayer they want? And, how can anyone keep one person from praying when he or she wants to do so?

The things is, people want what they want. The ability for all to have that “right” is not even in the picture. Those people who fought to have prayer in public schools wanted others to allow them to publicly prayer in their own Christian way. There was no thought that a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Wiccan, or even an atheist might want the microphone to broadcast out over the PA system a prayer their own agenda or belief. Actually, that was exactly the thought - they feared that an atheist could make them stop praying. Those fighting for prayer wanted what they wanted and to hell with the rest. The others didn’t exist or, if they did, no one fighting for this “right” cared. No one should have the right to be an atheist. (point, not my thought)

It’s the same thing about guns. Gun rights advocates cite the “right” to carry a weapon. The advocates do not necessarily mean “They” get to carry a gun. “They” are the reason why others want to carry guns, to protect their homes and families – the individuals’ right to carry a gun.

The word “right” has many definitions: True, correct, morally good, justifiable, acceptable. It can also mean “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” It is an entitlement, a privilege, an advantage, a birthright. It is not something we earn. It is simply something that is accorded to us by the fact that we are who we are.

According to the Declaration of Independence, the rights of a citizen are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t know about y’all, but I see these rights violated every single day.

In the Bill of Rights, Amendment I is the reason why formal prayer in a public school was banned. Because the prayers were always God or Jesus centric, it violated the “rights” of those who believed differently. By its public nature into a closed environment, it gave the appearance of forcing people to pray a certain way.

Amendment I is also the reason why we can protest publicly in a peaceful manner when we disagree with others.

Amendment II. Infamous Amendment II. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
A simple definition of militia according to Miriam Webster is “a group of people who are not part of the armed forces of a country but are trained like soldiers”

I could be wrong, but this doesn’t sound to me as though every idiot in the country who wants to walk around with an automatic or assault rifle strapped across their chests should be able to do so. In the first place, they aren’t part of the “militia”. They are not trained like soldiers (assumption on my part). Nor have all of the gun-toters ever been a part of the armed forces of this or any other country.

Therefore, since they are not likely to be called to active duty, even in the event that there is a national catastrophe, they have no “right” to keep or bear arms. But that is not really the point of this diatribe. Well, maybe it’s not actually a “diatribe”…it’s not a bitter attack. It is simply pointing out the fact that individual interests always overplay the ideals. The Bill of Rights are an ideal.

Most of the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights have been violated at some point, some of them often. Why is no one up in arms about “speedy trials” or “probably cause”?

What about this one? “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Can we define “eminent domain”? Or the idea that those who have means ($$$) rarely spend much time in jail even when they commit big crimes while those without means spend time in jail for petty theft. Can we define being killed by a police officer for a broken taillight? Or for selling music outside of a convenience store?

Law is like Holy Scripture. Not in the Holy part, but in that those ideas/words that pertain to MY belief system, I use against others or for myself. Those parts that do not apply to me or to my grievances, well, I ignore. (I/me used to express the point)

People want what they want and they don’t give a flying fig what anyone else wants.

As a society, we do not really care about others whose rights are violated. We don’t even recognize the idea that the rights of others are violated daily. For if it is true that one citizen of the United States is accorded certain unalienable rights by virtue of his/her citizenry, then, it is also true that every citizen of the United States is accorded those rights also. And that, my friends, means that regardless of whether a person is White or Black, Latinx or Native, male or female, cis-gender or trans-gender, gay or straight, Greek or Jew, first generation or tenth generation, and the many unnamed, ALL have the right to life (how many have died because they do not fit limited ideologies), liberty (how many continue to be trapped in a system that considers them ‘less than’), or the pursuit of happiness (check out the suicide rate among Native American young people).

We are not a land of the free. And certainly, there are a whole lot of cowards out there, many spewing a false bravado that simply aggravates their fear.

There are a bunch of trigger-happy, fear-filled bigots in this world and one is not different from the rest. There is no difference in those who are considered terrorists because they instill fear and pandemonium as they kill multiple people for a cause and those who walk around with their assault rifles terrorizing little children or adults because they believe it to be their right. It doesn’t matter that their intentions are, to them, altruistic. Those people detonating bombs believe they are doing it for good reasons. They are terrorists. They terrify people. 

But there are consequences to actions, even if one is a police officer with the “law” justifying his poor decisions and over reactions. He shoots a man point blank in the chest while the man is pinned down not by one person but several, well, that seems a bit excessive to me. Why the hell did the police officer even un-holster his gun? IF the man had been able to overcome the fact that he was pinned down, an officer should never un-holster his/her gun if he/she does not intend to shoot it. Since he did do just that, I’m guessing he fully intended to shoot that man pinned so close to the car on one side and by other officers regardless of the fact that the victim couldn’t move much less resist.

A police officer shoots a man in the arm, not once or twice but several times, while he is belted in the car, then watches the guy bleed to death with his gun drawn because he is afraid the belted in, bleeding man is gonna jump out and attack him? While the victim’s girlfriend is filming the entire thing?

Police officers are sworn to protect and serve the people of our communities. Too many are just scared humans with people’s lives in their hands and when these instances happen – which these instances happen far too often – they should suffer the consequences of their wrong actions.

To those citizens who want to carry a loaded weapon into a grocery store or a library or a church or simply walking down the street because you think you may need it to protect yourself or others? Buddy. I’m telling you that you need some counseling if you are that damn scared. I don't need your protection. And if you want to carry that rifle, it would be good to understand that all those people who look different than you and those who scare you senseless – those people have that same right. And it also has to be known that as a person carrying a weapon, you can be blamed for a shooting.

My rights are your rights. My rights extend to the exact point where your rights are being violated or infringed upon. And the same is true for you. Once you cross a line, your rights no longer apply. It is not a game of ‘my rights trump your rights’. (jeez…can’t even use that word any more without bigotry, selfishness, and individualism jumping off the page at me.) One’s rights do not outdo another’s rights. Rights are rights. Either we all have them or none of us do.

As for prayer, there is no one in the world who can keep me from praying. I can pray aloud. I can pray silently. I'm praying now. I pray for those who are soaked with the fetid stench of fear. 

Fear will always be with us regardless of how many times Jesus told us “Do not fear.” We are humans. We like control. Few things are within our control. Some people use money power to control. Some people use body strength. Some people use authority. Some people use all of the above. Some people use guns. When our control is threatened, we become controlled by fear.

There are few things in this world that we, individually or as a group of humans, can control. But we can learn that fear is not a healthy way to live. Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to supreme violations of civil rights.

There is one thing I know well. Fear. I allowed fear to keep me from living into the dreams I had when I was younger. Now, I am wiser. I know that fear alerts me to the idea that there is something I have not done, something I have not tried, something that I need to walk towards or into, or, most importantly, something that I need to overcome.

Fear lives with us, in us. Fear in itself is not the problem. What we do with the fear is the big issue. Do we allow it to own us, define us? Or do we use it as a tool to walk on into life in spite of the fear?

Fear allows us to see the crossroads in our lives. It offers us a chance to make a decision: do we continue on the road we are on, or do we realize that we have an opportunity to change, to be transformed?

I choose transformation.