Inspire our hearts, feet, & hands to be your expansive love in the face of hostility and hatred and fear. Help us to retain your essence of compassion and favor for those on the margins. May we embrace your calling of love and justice in “just such a time as this.” Amen.
Related Scripture Readings Luke 12:22, 25, & 31 Micah 6:8 Mark 12:30-31 Esther 4:14
Make the bed.
“Should I change the sheets today?”
No time. Tomorrow.
Do the dishes.
Water the grass.
Deal with dog.
Eat. Don’t dawdle.
Ding. Ding. Reply to texts.
Teeth. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.
“I’ve gotta start a load of clothes before I go!”
In the midst of my morning routine I found sabbath. As the laundry detergent slowly and intently flowed into the cup, I took a breath. My body relaxed and my blood flowed in rhythm to the steady, unhurried liquid as it flowed from bottle to tap to measuring cup.
In and out. Sigh. I am here in this now.
That’s when I knew who I am. That’s the moment when I felt the divine presence in my morning routine.
For the people of Paris, we pray but we also pray for the invisible peoples whose
daily lives — in our own nation and across the globe — are enmeshed in violence.
We confess that too often we turn a blind eye to the pain that our choices cause. We confess that too often we grieve most for those involved in tragedies that remind us of our own vulnerabilities. We grieve for those who look and act like us forgetting that all peoples are your peoples.
As we focus our compassion on France remind us this day that our every action allows us the opportunity to expand love or contract love, to hear & see the divinity within another or disregard their humanity.
Remind us today that in the midst of the grieving you are present, saddened by the failure of your people — all of us — to live as we were created to live.
Offer us the grace of one more chance to sow love and justice in a broken world of our own making. Open our hearts to changes in our own behaviors.
May our every action ripple out love, peace, and justice until all of creation is as you dream it can be. Amen.
“I looked it up. It’s true,” she said.
“No,” I said sticking to my guns.
“Um, yes dear. Mt. Adams IS taller than Mt. Hood.”
“Nope,” I said, “Mt. Hood is the best, the tallest of all mountains!”
In my unbending insistence, I was a five-year-old defending my dad as the strongest and smartest. (He is, by the way.) That’s the trouble with dogma; it often ignores facts. Though institutional religion is the quintessential dogmatist, it is far from alone. The laying down of ideas as beyond reproach is common among human beings.
My mother-in-law even once criticized the color we painted our house because, she pronounced, “houses are white with black shutters.” There was no room in her thinking for cheerful yellow.
Partisan politics, brand loyalty, American exceptionalism, the importance of eating locally, the definition of marriage, the best mountain, paint color, and even atheism can become dogmatic. Anything from which we find identity or meaning can become dogmatic. All it takes is a little passion and a dash of inflexibility sautéed over a bed of unquestioning spirit to cook up dogma. Spiced with fear or ignorance and the dish becomes poisonous.
Since the deadly dogma that led to the murder of nine African American men and women at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I’ve been reflecting upon my theology and found it wanting.
Theology, or how we understand and experience the divine mystery, hints at the nature of the one I call God. Though it seeks to explain the divine nature, my personal theology reflects as much or more about my nature than that of God. Though useful, any theology has its limitations when faced with the mysterium tremendum (literally, tremendous mystery).
I lean toward a process understanding of the inexplicable One. In Process Theology, God allows evil in the world because God cannot prevent it. In simplistic terms, the killing of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson is the result of human free will.
The coercive God of most theologies could have prevented the shooter from his deadly action, leaving us with the question, “why?” In the Process view, God is non-coercive and was incapable of directly preventing the killings. God seeks to lure, beckon, or encourage each of us toward the most loving action in each moment. Evil happens when we make choices contrary to God’s desired (loving) action for us.
In the case of Charleston, we collectively allow racism to fester. Instead of heeding the luring spirit to eradicate this American sin, we make other choices. Within this context, relationships influence each of us but it never means the individual perpetrator is faultless. Given his free will, the shooter ignored God repeatedly. The final and deadly action was the result of utter disregard for the non-coercive God’s preferred action. He instead chose evil.
So, what do I find wanting about my theology following the heinous crime at Emanuel AME Church? The non-coercive nature of the divine seems to explain why God allows evil to exist. Isn’t that enough?
No. What I find lacking in my theology is an attribute which I perceive to be in God’s nature: passion. My pedantic explanation of how a young man could sit in Bible Study with nine men and women and then shoot them is too-tidy, too-easy, and too-sterile. Like my ancient forebears in the faith, I perceive God as passionate.
“The Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord the God of Israel”. 1 Kings 11:9 REB
I imagine God raging, not only at the shooter but at those of us who are white. For too long, we have allowed the poisonous dogma of white supremacy and privilege to fester. Having constricted racism with color blindness, we are culpable.
At worst our white failure to confront our personal and collective roles in the scourge of racism caused the killing of the nine women and men of Emanuel AME Church. At best, our failure to question the dogma in which we were raised sanctioned not only killing the nine at Bible study but the countless other people of color who are killed daily in our nation.
LORD of Justice, Your anger is justified. We have been ignorant and indifferent to the lives of others. Clinging to personal comfort and the dogma of whiteness, we’ve failed to listen and learn and grow. Confronted with the sin of white supremacy, we explain it away.
Help us to see the road ahead. Taking responsibility for our personal and collective sin, may we listen, follow, and move to act in ways that bring forth justice for our sisters and brothers who have suffered at our expense for too many generations.
I packed up the props I’d used in class. I carefully inserted my students’ papers and exams into the “to be graded” pocket in my bag. I touched the glass window beside my desk, shivering involuntarily.
I wrapped my warmest scarf around my neck, pulled on the hat my students (and my own children) laughed at, laced my snow boots, and put on my heavy coat. It was winter in upstate New York and the sidewalks were still imperfect from the twenty-three incher two days ago. Trudging through the student parking lot toward the small faculty lot I used, I noticed a quarter inch had fallen while I was distracted by student conferences.
I looked forward to sitting around a fire with my family after my long day. I wondered if I should pick up a pizza for dinner or if Maggie had another idea. Though I certainly didn’t feel like cooking, my mood was upbeat. I was gratified by the discussion we’d had in class that afternoon. My students were finally grasping the concepts they’d been struggling with for several weeks.
When I got to my car, all of the joy flushed out of me. Scrawled across the back of my car, in the newly fallen snow was one word: Fag.
I perceived this as a reaction to the rainbow sticker across the top of my rear window. I perceived this as a hateful act. I felt diminished. If I felt this way…what if? What if, I wondered, this had happened to one of my students? What if I was gay or lesbian or transgender? What if this action was directed at an immutable part of who I am?
The next morning I reported the issue to Security. None of the thousands of students at the college should be subjected to hate based upon their orientation. The connection between my rainbow sticker and the disgusting word scrawled in the snow was clear, I said.
I was dismissed. It was random, I was told. Nothing they could do, I was told.
Next, I spoke to my Department Chair. She was sympathetic to my concern for students, agreeing it was a hateful act. Unfortunately, political considerations and transitions-in-the-making kept her from using any of her remaining clout in support of pushing this issue. She gave me strategic assistance but essentially I was on my own.
I contacted the head of Security. In what I think was a well-articulated email, I described what happened. I expressed my concern for LGBT students.It was random, I was told. Nothing he could do, I was told.
In the end, I dropped it. I was getting nowhere. That was more than fifteen years ago.
To this day, I regret I didn’t work harder at getting at least an acknowledgement that a hateful act had occurred. I don’t recall whether, as a non-tenured faculty member, I was afraid of causing trouble. Perhaps, but I think I’d remember that emotion. I think the sin is that I dropped the matter because I was busy. I gave up because it was easier. How many students, staff, and faculty suffered similar hatred because I stopped too soon?
Holy One, I confess I’ve failed to use all of my gifts and talents when faced with injustice. Forgive this sin. Too often I use busy-ness or “not my fight” as an excuse for allowing an injustice to continue. Forgive my self-focus. Nag me. Remind me that bumper stickers are not enough. Move me. Keep me restless for your dream for our world. Help me to strive for justice wherever and whenever I encounter it. Amen.
Evil is real. Evil is real but it’s not born of a horned being with a pitchfork. Evil is born of deep hurt and wounds. And, so, even today when I’m reeling from weeks of dealing with evil wrought by aggressive hostility, manipulation, and vindictive actions, I feel some empathy for the perpetrator. I am exhausted and bruised by the actions and words of the emotionally wounded perpetrator and will be cleaning up the destruction wrought for some time yet.
Whether I start from anger at being mistreated or am releasing tears that cleanse my body of the evil, I end up thinking about the trauma or wounds that can lead a beloved child of the Divine One to manifest evil. Praying, connecting with the One I call God, I feel sadness. I yearn to clean and wrap the wound. I wish I could kiss the broken spirit’s boo-boo and apply a cartoon band-aid.
But the wounded one clings to the pain and violation — whatever it may have been — and resents any attempts at healing love. The wounded one blames and points fingers even when objective facts contradict. In the smoldering pot of evil soup she concocts and lashes out at those who will not eat her food with a subservient smile.
What kind of pain, God?! What kind of violation of spirit did your beloved suffer that would lead to denial of your divinity within? What kind of hellish violation of soul makes the wound the only thing a person feels can be called her own?
What pain is so traumatic that love is rejected? What is the boiling soup that burns and scalds made of?
And so I protect self and flock to the best of my ability. I pray. I cry. I lick a wound or two. I toss and turn at night and I scream out to God in the shower!
I lament the evil soup that bubbles over. I lament the human condition! I hurt. I hurt for myself. I ache for those victimized. And I pray for the soul who clings so tightly to the wounds and says no to the love to which she is worthy.