Within One Flower

Life and Death WM

Those horrible shows,
loathsome portrayals,
at our worst.

The glory of ugliness,
violence, hate, death,
only self.

Others as objects,
to be groped or killed,
mostly both.

I sob.

 

Those horrible souls,
our human leaders,
real people.

Hurting others, self,
compassionless works,
for power.

“For me! For mine! Us!
But not for those ones,
they are evil!”

I ache.

 

Is this how it is?
Is this how we are?
Imperfect.

Fallible. Hateful.
Doomed in disregard.
Abhorrent!

Is this our essence?
Must we die hating?
Our nature?

I sigh.

 

Nature replies, “Look!”
Extravagantly,
life springs.

Glorious joy speaks,
we’re naturally,
beautiful.

Greens, purples, yellow!
Abundant red & blues!
Colors sing!

I hope.

 

But, death, pain, win-lose,
storms, quakes, heat, eaten.
Our Ecosystem.

Colors sing and fade,
joy comes, goes, returns,
life and death.

This is how it is.
Good, evil, hurt, joy.
Love and hope.

I see.

 

Within one flower,
budding, wounds, and death,
and rebirth!

In each life is love,
suffering, trauma,
and deep loss.

Grief, joy, grace each come,
brokenness wants Hate,
it will call.

I choose.

 

Just like the flower,
fiend and saint within,
Choice abounds!

Inside one human,
pain, healing, joy, love,
I can dance!

Within one flower,
both bud and wilt charm,
beautify.

I can, too.

___

Photo: Life & Death, 2017 © Tim Graves
Poem: Within One Flower, 2017 © Tim Graves

 

 

How Long, O Lord? A Sermon in a Rural County Following the Election

Isaiah 6

We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. –Karl Barth

Election numbers

  • County 2/3
  • State 40%
  • National slightly less than 50%

Protests across cities

Fringe Trump supporters overtly threatening

We are a deeply divided people

Our hope that we would somehow magically come back together after Tuesday was naive.

***

Result of election of one who was openly

  • Racist
  • Misogynistic
  • Blamed immigrants and Muslims

Stories from circle re fear

Text: ”Half of this country just threw my life under the bus”

Election served as a trigger for sexual assault victims

Hateful “go home” notes left in people’s work mailboxes

Synagogues hiring security

Screamed at on way to work: “Trump! N****r!”

I spent much of Wednesday counseling, listening 

***

Others celebrate shock to polarized system

Needs have been ignored

Voting for him doesn’t mean you did so because racist

Some of you voted for him despite these things

***

View the world through the Bible,  faith, love

love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength…The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 CEB

As followers of Jesus we are obliged to stand with those the powerful have attacked.

I sat down to write the scripture email late Wednesday. I came up with something not quite reflection.

I share some of that with you now:

***

“How long, O Lord?” asks Isaiah. “How long, O Lord?” must I fruitlessly prophesy to your people.

And God tells him that he must prophesy until the cities lay in ruins and the land lay devastated.

And, still, Isaiah goes where God sends him.

This is a discouraging story. 

The descriptions of the people turning away from living in accordance with God’s requirements,

their obstinate refusal to listen to the prophet warning of the pitfalls of their chosen path,

and, still the voice of Isaiah calling to them, is reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie. Love of neighbor be damned!

I have seen some horrible things as an educator and as a pastor.

I’ve been privy to some of the worst of what humanity has to offer.

I’ve often felt like following God’s requirements “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB) is futile.

Too often I’ve felt beaten down by shortsighted bureaucrats or politicians more concerned with bombing and killing others than feeding our own children!

My words of “you are God’s beloved” seem too little when the church — THE CHURCH! — spews hatred and rejects children of God.

In the face of an incoming president who has made fun of a disabled reporter, bragged about sexual assault, who has a racist history,

and who blames and threatens to discriminate against all Muslims — our sibling Abrahamic religion — all while claiming the Christian faith, I am discouraged. 

Does our faith even matter?  On the morning following the election I was counseling multiple people who are terrified that their rights are at stake now.

One young woman said to me, “I am scared for my personal safety!”

An individual one step removed from me was the victim of someone yelling, “Trump! N****r!” as he journeyed to work.

I imagine Isaiah saw some of the same underbelly of humanity happening all around him.

God does not seek prophets when humanity is loving neighbor and caring for the least of these (Matthew 25:44-45).

God saw the state of the world all too clearly in the time around King Uzziah’s death, in Isaiah’s time.

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.” Isaiah 6:8 CEB

Isaiah volunteered to take God’s message to the people!

His response reminded me of a little girl who, as Hitler was spreading through Europe, wrote in her diary:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank).

Just as Isaiah responded to God’s call to a seemingly fruitless task, we must not give up on God’s call to be the realm of God in the world.

If we are to call ourselves Christians, we must stand on the margins of society as Jesus did.

We must strive to manifest the extravagant love of Christ.

We must protect the vulnerable even when others empower hatred.

[Isaiah] said, “How long, Lord?” And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.”  (Isaiah 6:11 CEB)

And I suppose there is the Good News:

Even when we don’t deserve it, even when the only thing that remains is a holy seed, God does not give up.

Amen.

How Long, O Lord?

“How long, O Lord?” asks Isaiah. “How long, O Lord?” must I fruitlessly prophesy to your people. And God tells him that he must prophesy until the cities lay in ruins and the land lay devastated. And, still, Isaiah goes where God sends him. (Read Isaiah 6 here.)

This is a discouraging story. The descriptions of the people turning away from living in accordance with God’s requirements, their obstinate refusal to listen to the prophet warning of the pitfalls of their chosen path, and, still the voice of Isaiah calling to them, is reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie. Love of neighbor (Mark 12:29-31) be damned!

I have seen some horrible things as an educator and as a pastor. I’ve been privy to some of the worst of what humanity has to offer. I’ve often felt like following God’s requirements “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB) is futile. Too often I felt beaten down by shortsighted bureaucrats or politicians more concerned with bombing and killing others than feeding our own children! My words of “you are God’s beloved” seem too little when the church — THE CHURCH! — spews hatred and rejects children of God.

In the face of an incoming president who has made fun of a disabled reporter, bragged about sexual assault, who has a racist history, and who blames and threatens to discriminate against all Muslims — our sibling Abrahamic religion — while claiming the Christian faith, I am discouraged. Does our faith even matter?  On the morning following the election I was counseling multiple people who are terrified that their rights and personal safety are at stake now. One young woman said to me, “I am scared for my personal safety!” An individual one step removed from me was the victim of someone yelling, “Trump! N****r!” as he journeyed to work on public transit.

I imagine Isaiah saw some of the same underbelly of humanity happening all around him. God does not seek prophets when humanity is loving neighbor and caring for the least of these (Matthew 25:44-45). God saw the state of the world all too clearly in the time around King Uzziah’s death, in Isaiah’s time.

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.” Isaiah 6:8 CEB

Isaiah volunteered to take God’s message to the people! His response reminded me of a little girl who, as Hitler was spreading through Europe, wrote in her diary:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank).

Just as Isaiah responded to God’s call to a seemingly fruitless task, we must not give up on God’s call to be the realm of God in the world. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we must stand on the margins of society as Jesus did. We must strive to manifest extravagant love. We must protect the vulnerable now and especially if our president-elect continues to empower hatred.

Isaiah said, “How long, Lord?” And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.”  Isaiah 6:11 CEB

And I suppose that’s the Good News, even when we don’t deserve it, even when the only thing that remains is a holy seed, God does not give up. As faithful people we must not give up either.

David & Donald: Does God Use Imperfect People to Be Great Leaders?

Jerry Falwell, Jr. compared Donald Trump to King David in March of this year. Explaining his endorsement Falwell said,

“God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer.” (1)

Given the nature of political leadership, the argument that God uses flawed human beings for good, for God’s purposes is a legitimate topic. Did God use the extremely imperfect David for good? In our own time is God using another imperfect man, Donald Trump, for good?

***

Despite his reputation over the millennia as a great king, David was a human being. He was a sinner who did terrible things. From our twenty-first century vantage point he was despicable.

David lusted after Bathsheba who was bathing on a nearby roof, as was ancient custom. And, though, lust in and of itself can be a normal human response, like other men (and women) he did not have to act upon that physical urge.

One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.

So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (2 Samuel 11:2, 4a CEB)

You might remember, this was no innocent hook up between consenting adults. This was a king who at best abused his wealth and power to have sex with a married woman or at worst raped her. Both interpretations can be legitimately argued.

David wasn’t done, however, with his despicable abuse of power and wealth. He covered up his actions by having Bathsheba’s husband killed! David used his power to satisfy his sexual urges at the expense of a woman and then abused his power as commander of the army to assure the husband died in battle.

God was certainly angry with David. God took his wives and gave them to others. God allowed the child born to Bathsheba to die. David was publicly humiliated as God took his patriarchal privilege away in a way that left him open for ridicule. God said,

“You did what you did secretly, but I will do what I am doing before all Israel in the light of day.” (2 Samuel 12:12 CEB)

What was David’s response when he was called out?

“I’ve sinned against the LORD!” David said to Nathan. (2 Samuel 12:13a CEB) 

A contrite David humbled himself before God. And God forgave and offered grace to David, to one who admitted his sin, humbled himself, and showed contrition. But God did not take away the consequences of David’s sin.

Because David admitted his sins and was contrite and received God’s grace, he became a great king. Though God would still love David whether he was contrite or not, it was his humble response and admission of his sin that allowed the God-David relationship to move forward.

Ultimately David will restore Jerusalem to the Israelites. Yes, God does use flawed human beings for good, for God’s purposes.

***

In our time we have Donald Trump, a financial king who would like to become the leader of his people.

Like David, Donald has a history of allowing his appetite for power and sexuality lead him astray. He was caught on tape belittling women, discussing sexual assault because, he bragged,

“…when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” (2)

What was Donald’s response when he was called out?

As accusations (and corroboration) from numerous women have surfaced about his abuse of power to sexually assault them, he has not confessed in anything near contrition. Instead, he has doubled down calling them liars. He has pointed his finger at others who have misbehaved as a five-year-old might: “Todd did it first!”

So, no. Donald Trump is not like King David.

Yes, David was an extremely flawed human being who went on to become a great leader. The difference, however, was that David admitted and confessed his sins when called out. David showed immediate contrition! He didn’t call Bathsheba names or point his finger at other leaders.

No, Donald is not at all like King David.

***

  1. http://www.christianpost.com/news/jerry-falwell-jr-trump-bible-king-david-a-man-after-god-own-heart-russell-moore-159143/
  2. http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/10/07/donald_trump_2005_tape_i_grab_women_by_the_pussy.html

Cookies of Fear

Cookies of Fear
Source: Church World Service
Source: Church World Service

When distressed, we tend to use whatever tools we have to try to alleviate our condition. For example, if I have a headache I will take two tylenol. That is unless all I have in the cupboard is ibuprofen, in which case I’ll take ibuprofen.

We tend to use the things we have at our disposal to solve problems. Toddlers, for example, will sometimes resort to hitting or biting when feeling threatened by another. They use these strategies because they do not yet have the social skills necessary to remedy the situation.

I have multiple tools to cope with personal stress. The healthiest are getting rest and exercise. A good vigorous walk or run does miraculous things to my ability to cope with challenges. Regular sleep results in a more rational and loving me.

Though I know this, too often I turn to the cookie in the cupboard to deal with stress. Briefly, the cookie makes me feel better. Soon, however, it actually makes things worse. I feel bloated. The sugar disrupts my mood.

The suggestion that our nation refuse to accept Syrian refugees or accept only Christian refugees, as some have suggested, is a cookie. Rufusing our sisters and brothers may make us feel safer for a short time but it only breeds more hostility and bigotry.

Rather than gorging on cookies baked in the oven of bigotry and fear by opportunistic politicians, this is a time to slip on our running shoes and exercise our social skills, our hearts, and our faith. We need to look inside ourselves for the divine love with which we have each been created and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-30).

Enough Culpability to Go Around

Enough Culpability to Go Around

When I was trying on pacifism in my formative years, my peers would begin the classic argumentative questioning. “Would you kill if someone threatened your sister?” “Would you kill if it was the only way to save your own life?”

The goal — if there was an articulated goal in my society of children and teens — was to prove pacifism flawed because it was impossible to practice.

As a mature pacifist I know that given the right circumstances I could be driven to violence against another. Though I understand the harming of others to be out of bounds, I understand violent urges. I am human.

None of this negates my belief that pacifism is consistent with the teachings of Jesus and the interconnected divinity of creation. Harming another ultimately harms self.

***

Anytime we resort to violence, in the language of my faith, we sin. Violence, harming of another, is a tragedy and a failure because it breaks relationship. The perpetrator of violence is not the only one at fault. Typically there is plenty of sin to go around.

Context matters. When basic rights and needs are denied, when people are oppressed, and their call for relief and change go unheeded, the likelihood of physical violence increases.

When people go unheard, the ones who fail to listen and respond are at least as culpable as those who are driven to violence. My dog can accurately be called sweet and loving. However, if I were to taunt him, fail to meet his basic needs, and abuse him, couldn’t he be pushed to the limits of friendliness and lash out?

***

Now is the time for whites to accept our culpability in the pattern of police killings of blacks. Now is the time for us to stop tsk tsk-ing about property damage when our sisters and brothers are being killed!

We must listen to and believe our oppressed kindred and follow them in insisting on change. Despite what our media tell us, this is not about property damage. It is about the  taking of lives.

license cc

Voting No While Standing With

Voting No While Standing With

Three caveats before I start: 1) I failed to do my homework before the CPCUCC Annual Meeting which led to my failure to speak out to the assembled; 2) I feel woefully inadequate to address solutions to conflict in the Mid-East; and 3) I am deeply troubled by Israel’s actions directed at the Palestinian population.  

***

The Palestine-Israel Network of the CPCUCC calls the gathered to pass "A Resolution of Witness " Photo by Maggie Sebastian
The Palestine-Israel Network of the CPCUCC calls the gathered to pass “A Resolution of Witness ” Photo by Maggie Sebastian

The Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ met last weekend for their Annual Meeting. The gathering passed “A Resolution of Witness Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” I voted against this resolution which can be read here. (This is the original version without friendly amendments added during the meeting.)

My concerns about this document began when I read materials on the information table. Terms like “European Jewish colonialism” and frequent use of the term “Jews” in background materials are at best vague and imply or place blame on whole swaths of people rather than Israeli decision makers. The tone of the materials and their reliance upon the Kairos document, which one Conservative Jew whom I respect calls “antisemitic at its core” were red flags for me.

When a proponent of the resolution described Gaza as an open-air prison, I was appalled. If our goal is peace and reconciliation terms like that only polarize. Peace requires the concerns of all parties be recognized and heard. As an American Christian that term was loaded with innuendo and implication that failure to pass the resolution was tantamount to condoning Israel’s actions against the people of Gaza.  How might a phrase like that be heard by Israeli Jews who live within a context Americans — especially Christians — can barely imagine?

It is no secret that embedded anti-semitism is both a contemporary and historical sin of the Christian church. Our sacred text itself has been used as a weapon to blame our Jewish sisters and brothers for killing Christ! This, of course, is historically inaccurate. The only entity that had the ability to crucify Jesus was the occupying Roman authority.

Too many Christians believe that Jesus’ criticism of religious leaders of his day implies a rejection of his own Jewish faith.  The biblical witness does not bear this out. His criticism of leaders and arguments with other Jews is analogous to differences argued within any mainline American Christian denomination. Our supersessionist reinterpretation  of some passages of the Elder Testament (e.g.; Isaiah 7:14) to have meanings never intended by the original authors too often affirms embedded anti-Jewish attitudes.

None of this is to suggest that the proponents of the resolution passed at the CPCUCC Annual Meeting last weekend are antisemitic in intention. We must stand with our Palestinian sisters and brothers — Christian and Muslim — who are victimized by the actions of the Israeli government. The conditions under which they live are abhorrent.

That said, when those of us in the United Church of Christ, a denomination committed to Christian unity and positive interfaith relationships, stand with oppressed peoples in Palestine we must do so without relying on antisemitic documents. We must intentionally seek to uncover the embedded antisemitism of our tradition. Until we do, our voice calling for justice will lack credibility.

In short, we need to stand in witness with our Palestinian sisters and brothers but we must do so without perpetuating the sin of antisemitism.

___

Related

My Speech to the Presbyterians, Rachel Lerner of J Street

Cautions to US Churches Regarding the Kairos Palestine Document

I Will Vote No on Divestment, Rev. Chuck Currie

A Prayer from Those Living in a Powerful Nation

God of all peoples,

We come before you today, a hardy but small group gathered in your presence, gathered to worship you and thank you for all that you have done and will do for your people.

We rely on you because you are a steadfast God. And, yet, God…

And yet, God, we turn on our televisions and read the news online. We hear of more violence and impending war in Ukraine. We pray that Russia does not escalate matters in the Ukraine but we know our righteous indignation is hollow.

As Americans we know we have intervened in the affairs of sovereign nations when it has suited our purposes. As beneficiaries of power and wealth, our nation has manipulated matters in places like Guatemala not as a matter of helping but because it suits our country’s needs.

Help us to hear the words of the prophet Micah through the ears of the Guatemalan and Ukrainian people as the prophet calls out,

Hear this, leaders of the house of Jacob, rulers of the house of Israel, you who reject justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice! Micah 3: 9-10 CEB

Help us to hear the voices of the Guatemalan and Ukrainian and so many other peoples through the Psalmist who cries out,

“Don’t let the feet of arrogant people walk all over me; don’t let the hands of the wicked drive me off.” Psalm 36:11 CEB

Help us to hold our leaders accountable to your ways of love, your ways of justice, your desire for peace for all of your people not just those of us who live in powerful nations. Lead us toward personal and communal actions that respect and honor the dignity of all peoples within and outside our own nation.

In our worries, in our feelings of guilt, in our feelings of helplessness, we turn to the One through whom we know you best. We turn to you through Jesus.

Amen.

***

I offered this prayer at the Condon United Church of Christ on March 2, 2014.