Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Urgent Need for Compassion - Building a Collective Voice to Address the devastating Concerns of American Society

Mindful of the week of Compassion February 21- 28 and that we are now in the season of Lent, a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter, and a time of self-examination and reflection are a means to awaken to the joy of God within.  These have been and still are significant responses, a means to exhale, if you will, as I and others engage distinctions such as racism. Today’s message, based on the lectionary text for this week, Proverbs 91:1-2, 9-16 and Romans 8b-13 seeks to provide sustenance as we daily seek to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth in the midst of the complexities of the human condition, while holding firm, through our confession of Jesus Christ, to the intimacy of God’s care and concern and the urgent need for Compassion.

Society has taught me to embrace separation, to define myself as an individual, responsible to self and family, and extended family of faith.  This is good and right yet the call of Jesus Christ as lived out by the Apostle Paul calls you and me to so much more.

The life and dynamic ministry of the Apostle Paul reminds me that a calling of the one who would profess Jesus Christ is to break down distinctions, those barriers, racially, culturally, religiously, the constructs of gender and sexuality which beset, hinder or deny the fullness of humanity and the manifestation of the beloved community of Jesus Christ.  A proud Roman citizen, Paul knew the power, privilege and allure of distinctions as a tool to give the illusion of superiority, divide, define, characterize and shape life in imperial Rome.  By his conduct Paul makes it clear that distinctions have the potential to create disparities and disparities multiple levels of oppression and inequality and an imagination sequestered and bound to the narrow confines of tribal and/or imperial ideology and desire, and as such they are a denial of, and even irrelevant to the gospel message of Jesus Christ as received by the Apostle Paul. One Lord for All, racial, cultural and religious distinctions irrelevant. Further, distinctions have the potential to inhibit empathy and understanding necessarily hardening the heart towards the suffering of those less fortunate.

This thought on distinctions occurs once again in Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  The implications of the Paul’s words are the transformation of social, cultural and religious institutions, systems and structures from modes of distinction as determined by the desires of the  culture, and those in power towards a means of grace and mercy grounded in Christ Jesus. More so the Apostle Paul, through words and conduct sought to build a Church not in bondage or beholden to the worldly desires of the age.

Recently while at anti-racism training there was a question posed by the facilitator.  The question was, “how do you introduce something new into an organization?  My response was that you have to be slow and gradual, listening to the people and the culture of the organization and in the process establishing relationships. As someone who has introduced a different narrative in various contexts I am aware that the process of introducing new ideas, concepts and narratives takes patience, consistency and listening. It becomes a means to cultivate compassion. 

Orchot Tzaddikim, a teacher of compassion within the Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, a 19th century ethical, educational and cultural movement, compassion is an extremely noble trait. It is one of the thirteen traits attributed to the Holy One, Blessed be the Holy One, as it is written: "Compassionate and gracious,." All that one can do to cultivate this trait, they should exert themselves to do. Just as one would want compassion on others who are in need.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” 1967
 “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

In light of the words Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, cultivating compassion, (and I'm thinking on the many Civil Rights Activist who made a way for others and future marginalized communities here) is a means to awaken to life, community and destiny. It is urgent and unless this urgent need to cultivate compassion is addressed there will continue to be racism, poverty, inequality, police brutality and many other oppressions both personal and systemic with the very real potential to lead down a path of terror. We should be mindful of this as we listen to the various candidates share their agenda's about making America great again!

Compassion both for ourselves and others is a means to awaken and to build a collective voice to address the devastating issues which plague American society today in the 21st century.  Only through a collective voice will we be able to throw off those would divide and oppress.

According to the Greater Good Science Center located at UC Berkeley compassion is deeply rooted in human nature; it has a biological basis in the brain and body. Humans can communicate compassion through facial gesture and touch, and these displays of compassion can serve vital social functions, strongly suggesting an evolutionary basis of compassion. And when experienced, compassion overwhelms selfish concerns and motivates altruistic behavior.

A healthy life is a compassionate life, so cultivate compassion 

While the weapons of war, politics and capitalist economics inflict pain and terror as means to change or transform or conquer people and societies, lasting change, even transformation occurs as we cultivate compassion within and without necessarily building a movement of profound care, concern, peace and justice and in this the gospel of Jesus Christ would be made real.

Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.
Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves.
Let us be aware of the source of being,
common to us all and to all living things.
Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion,
let us fill our hearts with our own compassion—
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be
the cause of suffering to each other.
With humility, with awareness of the existence of life,
and of the suffering that are going on around us,
let us practice the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.
— Thich Nhat Hanh – in Singing The Living Tradition – #505

Monday, February 1, 2016

To Tell the Truth, The Rejection of Jesus by His Hometown People

The lectionary text this week, Luke 4:21-30, provides some grim humor as we read of the rejection of Jesus by the congregation of his hometown of Nazareth.  There is Jesus, having proclaimed his call out of Isaiah 61:1, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then we have the townspeople, many who had known Jesus as he was growing up.  They knew him and his family, as they said, is not this Joseph’s son, in effect saying that Jesus was not the Messiah, or a prophet, or anyone great.  Now Jesus being Jesus and knowing his congregation, a people of Nazareth, a city of ill repute, he read the skepticism, contempt and blatant dishonor running rampant among the congregation and become irrate, even insulted regarding the whole matter.  The Gospel of Mark 6:1-6, the earlier text, the situation is described as suspicious, hostile, even resentful because he had worked miracles at Capernaum and other places before.   According to the interpreter’s bible “The people were astonished but it was a grudging and sour astonishment.”  Having known Jesus for many years before he answered the call of God, the people asked, among themselves, what I would consider logical questions such as, “How did Jesus get all of this wisdom?”, “How did he learn to preach and teach so well?”  Yet the logic of their questions only made the scandal of their hearts more pronounced. At this point Jesus, being amazed at their lack of faith, begins to “tell the truth” meaning he was frank, bold and truthful in his encounter with the congregation of his townspeople. 

 I remember when I was growing up I would hear people in Church, school and/or on the street say, “To tell the truth” typically it was an introduction to some pretty heavy stuff, somewhat derogatory about an individual, group or organization, they might even pick a fight.     

This was the case when Jesus compared the people in the congregation with the people who lived in Elijah’s and Eliseus’ times who were unworthy of the miracles of God, due to their idolatry and disbelief, that God ministered to the non-Jew.  This did not go over well at all as they rose up, and thrust him out of the city and led him to the edge of the hill where they were going to throw him over but he passed through the midst of them, went his way.

There are three points which arise out the text.  The Call of Jesus, A Prophet is not without honor except in his or her hometown, queering love, expectation and rejection, and the Courage to Love, Doing God’s work in the Midst.

I.                 The Call of Jesus  

Mindful of the Call of God upon Jesus his beloved son, the call of God upon a person’s
life is one of the most intimate moments a person will experience.  It can be fearful, terrifying, joyful, even stunning, leaving one speechless, to say the least, even in the presence of witnesses.  The call of God is that one moment when the mystical confronts the staid practical sensibilities of human existence.  According to the interpreter’s bible, “They are possessed by the purifying and inspiring purpose of God, then for the first time the soul finds for itself an immense and joyous freedom.  The one called is God’s expressed desire beyond office, position or pedigree, and so was the call of Jesus. Yet the calling of God is not without significant concerns and challenges as the one called moves in the midst of the people, even a hometown crowd whose desires have been shaped by systems, structures and processes of Oppression and Privilege as established by ruler and authority written in Ephesians 6:12,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the
powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of 
wickedness  in the heavenly places.    

II.        A Prophet is not without honor except in his or her hometown, queering love, expectation and rejection

Queering love, expectation and rejection is a means to look at the foundations of these three conversations which frame the encounter of Jesus and the congregation.  Where do they come from, what gives love and expectation and even rejection “credibility and pivotal importance in the situation?” 

 In a summary – Now Jesus had been victorious over Satan in the wilderness and had "gone back to his hometown in the power of the Spirit" to give his initial sermon in Nazareth his hometown. He had accomplished this by beginning with the prophet Isaiah and a passage about true change and transformation. However, in this passage he takes the congregation to task in his old home town and almost suffers a premature demise because of it.

First, “Why did Jesus return to his hometown to give his inaugural address?”  Surely he knew what might happen, what their response or reaction might be.  Nazareth was in the working class region of Roman-controlled Galilee. It was home to farmers and tradesmen – and a bit of the rabble or mob, crowd or gang as defined by Webster’s, it was a rough town. Nazareth was not a town of privilege and wealth, in fact it was a town of ill repute, as Philip says to Nathanael in John 1:46, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I suspect it was love that caused Jesus to return to his hometown, even though he had a pretty good idea what might happen.  The depth of Love Jesus displays by returning to his hometown emerges from his oneness with God and nowhere else.  I can’t help but reflect on the Protestors of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s whose love proved courageous in the face of the manifest hatred of Bull Conner and his dogs.  The protestors knew the situation they were facing but love as a matter of justice compelled them to brave the storm.  This is Jesus in action!!!

Second, Jesus had encountered a congregation of people whose imagination inclusive of expectations was sequestered at the feet of both Jewish religious authority and Roman authority.  The rejection of Jesus reveals in supreme degree that God’s truth may come in ways we do not choose to recognize. To a lesser degree this is the case today as God daily deposits gifts for the life of the Church in people formally rejected. The Church is being transformed by God in our midst and we are a part of that transformation.  

Third, Rejection.   In the midst of this struggle described in Ephesians 6:12, there are times, more often than not, when the one called of God will experience rejection yet this rejection can reveal particular passion, even joy, as the ministry of ones calling is defined.  It is ironic that the rejection of Jesus by his hometown people became significant in shaping and defining his ministry.  It became a means toward profound hope for those who might receive salvation.  Rejection, problematic as it is on many levels, can lead us to a hopeful experience as we move on to greener pastures knowing that God is our refuge as written in Psalm 71:1-6,  

In You, O Lord, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.
Be my strong refuge,
To which I may resort continually;
You have given the commandment to save me,
For You
are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,
Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
For You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from birth;
You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb.
My praise
shall be continually of You.

III.              The Courage to Love, Doing God’s work in the midst.  

Today’s lectionary text Luke 4:21-30, the rejection of Jesus, is a reminder that the call of God may lead us into harm’s way, a place of danger.  It is also a reminder that following Jesus can lead us to difficult and challenging conversations with family, friends and the larger society with the possibility of rejection.  Yet we are infused with the power of the Holy Spirit and in this we are fearless in the face of great danger.   

Rabindranath Tagore writes, “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in the face of them.”  –  

A study of the great movements for social justice as defined by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ finds a people infused with the spirit of the living God. They go into harm’s way aware of the issues, challenges and the danger manifest.  In this they become the Inbreaking of God and in the sense they are the prophetic movement of God in the order of the Christ.   

I remember being on a tour at the Washington National Cathedral and seeing the many statuettes around the massive sanctuary.  Statuettes such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  My impression as I looked at the statuettes was that each person was determined and courageous to love.  They were firm in their purpose and resolute in their cause.  Their Love, even in the face of manifest hatred and death would not be deterred. This is our calling as Disciples of Christ, “To be determined and courageous in our love.” 

Cornel West writes, “To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely - to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.”  -  

This is the way of the Christ, that whatever manifest hatred be present, a determination and courage to love overcomes and in this our hope, and our salvation is indeed real.   

Life changes and is transformed as love becomes the center and determining factor of our actions. 

Let us now walk, infused with the Holy Spirit, determined and courageous in a love grounded in Jesus Christ.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Reflections on Rhetorics and the American Political Regime, “Who has Heard My Cry?” The Call for a Rhetorics of Compassion

Listening to the words of the politician and the pundit I am evermore mindful that the political regime and supporting rhetorics, i.e., the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques, are antithetical to truth, ethics, morality and believe systems.  Politics is about power and money as means to support narrowly defined ideological positions affirmed or repudiated, and particular indulgence of intolerance, this the purview of the ego.  Power is the preeminent discourse of the ego and this the foundation of politics and rhetorical theatrics as displayed by Donald J. Trump. Sadly, this is a brand of American politics which has gained footing as sectarian, parochial and naiveté sensibilities have risen to the surface of the body politic.  American politics, as it has seemingly become, has very little to do with the care and concern of we the people, the broad and diverse people which define the United States, more so it is about those few people, in comparison, who are able to contribute their voice, i.e., their money, as a matter of cooptation. In this sense they are the constituents, the voices that are heard in the halls of the White House, Congress and Wall street.

The call goes out from city, town and village, urban and rural, “who has heard our voice,
who has heard our cry”

The current political environment emerges as the voice of the people has been muffled by and for particular privileged interests.  We should not wonder why the movements of Black Lives Matter, the Tea Party, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Donald J. Trump just to name a few of the prominent movements have gained social and political traction.  These movements should be considered a poignant statement regarding the care and concern of the body politic and the desires denied in favor of the privileged corporate class.  There is a longing of the people to be heard, to be seen to be respected and received as viable agents of political and economic import.  This seems, more than at any other time in political American life to be the point, “Have you heard my cry, do you reflect my perspective or at least my point of view, do you hear my voice?” I write as a liberal and a progressive on this matter.   As I write this post I am mindful of the words of the U.S. Constitution, one of the most liberal pieces of political rhetorics of the 18th century.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Rhetorics is a central part of political acumen which becomes the tool by which to speak to the issues of the body politic.  Rhetorics must be sustaining, empowering and sensitive to the profound needs and concerns of all people.  American rhetorics as embodied in the U.S. Constitution must embody a hopeful pragmatic attitude of divine import for a diverse and teaming population of people. 
We the People must once again believe that our voice is heard and that it has intrinsic value within the life of the American political scheme.
I believe it important to grasp the gravity of the intrinsic value of the voice of the people.  This intrinsic value must be seen as one of divine import.  Note:  While I do believe in separation of Church and State due to the many complications and complexities that would ensue if there were no separation I do acknowledge that each person is the incarnation of the divine, in this there is no waiver.  In this sense the voice that is heard is a voice of the divine.  That said, the voice of the person is the voice of the divine and a such the voice of the people must be considered an amalgamation of divine import.
Historically and I would say presently the rhetorics of American politics is tied to the narrative of white supremacy, privilege and empire, and I might add somewhat of a care taker attitude.  This is still the ground of the Euro-American political rhetorical project.  If we can move this rhetorics beyond the means and attitude of white supremacy, empire, their cousin capitalism then the systemic, systematic and programmatic issues that plague places like Flint Michigan, Ferguson, Mo., the Appalachia region and the U.S. at large might be adequately addressed.  Of course this is a difficult and challenging proposition.  Yet this is what is necessary to address the problems endemic to America in the 21st century.  American political rhetoric must mature so as to enable the U.S. to attain an even greater imagination grounded in justice and equality for all people.  American politics must make as its ground and purpose the empowerment of the powerless, to attain a broader more justice oriented imagination of what could be.
What I am seeking here is a new consciousness, one based on equality and empowerment for all framed in profound compassion.   This should, no, it must be the foundational ethic which undergirds the American rhetorical project.  The implications of this statement are nothing less than the emergence of a new discourse that enables and empowers those of critical difference formally a voice denied towards a voice heard and received by all.  This is the clarion call for a democracy empowered of divine intent for the transforming hope of humanity, this is the call for the Citizen Activist.
The Citizen Activist, A Sacred Calling
Through the rhetorics of compassion the Citizen Activist presents a poignant message of hope as they address “Who Has Heard My Cry” through the building of communities of solidarity, coalitions, and alliances.
The Citizen Activist is a person who, after significant reflection, meditation and conversation is able to look up from their personal suffering so that they might receive and embrace the suffering experienced by themselves and those around them, this as a matter of seeking justice.  This must be the mission of those in poverty, the disenfranchised and those who suffer because of race, sexism and bigotries.  Their suffering, as a matter of faith, must be received as a denial of self-deception and a poignant call for solidarity, this solidarity a means to alleviate the suffering for all.  To deny the reality of our suffering is to deny certain hope in favor of profound ignorance.  That said, there is a need for the Citizen Activist to gain some understanding of suffering, firsts as a term of definition and then as a reality of nonviolent protest.
Suffering, the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship, compels a response, this response received as hope is a mystical release of passion in the life and purpose of the Citizen Activist.  We see this in the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he writes of his “Suffering and Faith” on 27 April 1960 in Chicago, Ill.
Some of my personal sufferings over the last few years have also served to shape my thinking. I always hesitate to mention these experiences for fear of conveying the wrong impression. A person who constantly calls attention to his trials and sufferings is in danger of developing a martyr complex and of making others feel that he is consciously seeking sympathy. It is possible for one to be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. So I am always reluctant to refer to my personal sacrifices. But I feel somewhat justified in mentioning them in this article because of the influence they have had in shaping my thinking.
Due to my involvement in the struggle for the freedom of my people, I have known very few quiet days in the last few years. I have been arrested five times and 1960 put in Alabama jails. My home has been bombed twice. A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of threats of death. I have been the victim of a near fatal stabbing. So in a real sense I have been battered by the storms of persecution. I must admit that at times I have felt that I could no longer bear such a heavy burden, and have been tempted to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. But every time such a temptation appeared, something came to strengthen and sustain my determination. I have learned now that the Master’s burden is light precisely when we take his yoke upon us.   
My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.
There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, and others consider it foolishness, but I am more convinced than ever before that it is the power of God unto social and individual salvation. So like the Apostle Paul I can now humbly yet proudly say, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”4 The suffering and agonizing moments through which I have passed over the last few years have also drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God.[1]
It is also an authentic conversation, and I believe Dr. King understood this, that the earth and her humanity are composed of suffering and hope, this an evolving discourse on compassion.   Indeed, the Citizen Activist longs to balance these realities of human existence.   In this light the Citizen Activist seeks to build alliances, coalitions and partnerships, as a means of community rooted in a divine call for care and concern with compassion as their core understanding of life.  Understanding this, the rhetorics of the Citizen Activist must be based on compassion, mercy and grace simply as a shared narrative of the human condition.  This is important since in the new emerging world, particularly with the rise of social media, a shared narrative must be more explicit within the body politic. 
The Citizen Activist, encountering the narrow sectarian, parochial sensibilities aligned with structures of power, domination and avarice must be steadfast and nonviolent in the face of these forces that seek to maintain certain disparity between peoples, and classes of the body politic.
In the manner of Jesus Christ, the Buddha and Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi the Citizen Activist receives and embraces what is at stake.  In light of what is at stake they go the distance.  Yes, beloved they do go the distance in these affairs of Calling yet they do so among and with many others of divine calling.  And, in the manner of the Buddha they seek to balance, to do the least harm knowing that power, while a causality of passion, is not the goal of the Citizen Activist but love for all.

Friday, December 18, 2015

An Advent Message on Joy

Joy:  An Encounter with the Great Love of God or The Implications of God’s Joy

(Luke 1:28), the red-robed angel Gabriel announces to the apprehensive virgin Mary

Luke 1:26-38 (The Birth of Jesus Foretold)

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed[a] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”[b] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[c]

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant[e] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Advent is a season of reflection, contemplation and anticipation of the birth of the Christ child.  It is a sacred space of time for those of us who profess Jesus as Christ to ponder or reaffirm our belief in his birth as the Christ child, the beloved son of God.  I believe this to be of necessary intent in a world of people, systems and associated rhetoric more and more aligned with hate and fear.  The Advent season is a holy and sacred invitation to experience a different imagination of life as we awaken to a most intimate encounter with divine love.  Indeed, we have found favor with God.  This is a joyous occasion as intimated by the words of the Angel Gabriel the messenger of God to Mary. This Advent time calls me to sit with Mary.  To be seized by the intrigue of Mary.   I want to be acquainted with her humanity, to embrace our common humanity.  To gain insight to her fear, uneasiness and yes even the joy expressed to her by Gabriel.  Of course this is Mary’s narrative yet her narrative of joy is a message to all who consider the birth of the Christ child to be a witness that there is a God who can be touched by the longing of a people in need.  And this joy of God given to Mary is the seed which matures and blossoms permeating every facet of life and Church through the ages.  While the protestant tradition may not fully receive Mary, the mother of Jesus, I suggest that sitting with Mary, taking time to know her, to know her story might give significant insight to the meaning and interpretation of joy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his last circular letter to his friends, written on November 29, 1942.

Joy abides with God, and it comes down from God and embraces spirit, soul, and body; and where this joy has seized a person, there it spreads, there it carries one away, there it bursts open closed doors.

The one who would sincerely experience Advent opens their life to the joy of God as they take hold of the birth of Christ in their heart.  The joy of God expressed by the birth of the Christ Child in their heart becomes a means to new and different perspectives of possibility and in this the manifestation of the reign of God resounds.  In a world where fear and scapegoating have seemingly taken or been given center stage the joy of Advent becomes a profound act of love as fear cannot exist in the same space or at the same time as joy.   Yet, whether in communities of faith or secular space I seldom hear of this joy except in “specific times such as advent.  In this sense to choose joy is a courageous even a radical act of non-conformity worthy of the birth of the Christ Child. 

Christian joy is not just a giddy, light-hearted, frothy emotion. Our joy is meatier than that, it has substance. It has endurance; it is strong enough to gird us up through even the darkest of days.
                                                                                                          Katherine Walden

There is a song I would sang in Sunday School entitled “This Joy I Have”. 

This Joy I have, the world didn’t give to me.  X3

The world didn’t give it; the world can’t take it away.

This is a song which defiantly responds to the injustice which seeks to deny the love of God within.  It speaks to the ills, and absurdities of this life, to the struggles, concerns of a people in need.    Yes, joy is not juvenile or dismissive but more so it is the consummation of our hopes and dreams.  It presents God’s immanent will in us and in the world.  This Joy extends deep into the bedrock of eternity.  It is invincible and irrefutable.    I have been taught over time that this Joy I have and which happens to be my middle name is a testament to the hope present for me in the birth of the Christ child.   Joy is my choice, however, deep in my soul, to daily orient my life to the goodness of God.  It is an essential tool in my stride towards freedom. 

Joy is a life transformed and made new, a nation where justice and equality are for all.

The encounter between Gabriel and Mary can yield needed clarity as we seek to walk humbly with God.  It reminds us that God is in life with us working towards what might be called “a rising tide of joy.”  This rising tide of joy gradually takes away the sinking sands of injustice and gives space to movements of change and transformation.  New and different perspectives arise, and new visions reveal a depth of love not seen or experienced before.  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes in his book Strength to love

“Too unconcerned to love and too passionless to hate, too detached to be selfish and too lifeless to be unselfish, too indifferent to experience joy and too cold to express sorrow, they are neither dead nor alive; they merely exist.”                                                                                                

                                                                                                        Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The words of Dr. King remind me to take hold of my humanity, to daily claim my joy as I experience life in family, community and the farthest reaches of my journey.   I believe this to be just one interpretation of change, transformation, transitions and even the pain I experience – to cause me to take hold of the joy God desires in my life.  Of course the experience of Mary reminds me that God’s joy has to be accepted.  It’s not without a particular uneasiness even as I have been conditioned to many contexts but not joy.  Joy is typically outside of the matrix designed as history has shown that it overcomes the intended oppressions.  The Church, the civil rights movement, the LGBTQ movement and the many revolutions down through history bear this out as those in power seek to maintain the status quo.  Happiness yes, but joy no!    To claim one’s joy from God is a danger to those in power as God’s joy is antithetical to reality and notions of empire.
God’s Joy in the midst of Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”
Recently, I attended a celebration of Christmas.  It was also a celebration of community.  Although we spoke different languages, the one language that each of us communicated was joy.  This Joy with its dialect of happiness was shared by all.  This gathering was filled with people who were longing for a different more abundant life.  In this sense their longing was similar to many other people.  There was a longing for God’s joy as shared with Mary.  It is clear to this reader that joy is God’s agenda.  God's immanent will is that we would have joy in our life.  Joy is a part of God’s reign and the one who would do God’s bidding does so in this light. 

The one who has joy moves in the midst of Charles Dickens, “A tale of two cities.”  They live among the haves and the have not's, between those who long for the liberation of their bodies and souls, and those who daily develop systems and processes meant to maintain their present form of aristocracy.  Into this fray God’s joy becomes manifest as revolution becomes the intent of a life which has fully received the radiant love of God.  The world is not equipped, due to its lust for power and wealth, at any cost, to give or bless with joy. 

The message of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel is one which changes her life and how she receives her humanity.  Although fear, for better or worse is the initial manifestation of an encounter with the unknown in the case of Mary fear turns to astonishment, even amazement as she begins to fully receive the joy of God.  She has been changed in the process, and now experiences herself as servant of the highest. (v 38).   The more she receives the joy of God, which emerges from the radiant love of God the more she is changed, transformed and made new.  Mary’s experience should be received as a manifestation of the approachable, the presence of God in the midst of empire and desires for liberation.

Beloved seize the joy for this is God’s will for you this day.  Be not afraid in the midst of this joy but take possession of this joy and make way for the reign of God.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Very Uncommon Act of Love, Thoughts on Forgiveness

Forgive them for they know not what they do.  Luke 23:24

We are called as Disciples of Christ to live a hopeful vision of present and future things, to seek to live an authentic life grounded in Christ and community.    In this light there was a desire to focus today’s message on affirmation, love and the implications of communion.  Mindful of a deeper longing within to address this time we live in I found that I should not bypass a particular terror that engulfs so much of life in our time.    We live in a world of complications, complexities, challenges and oppressions which characterize more and more of life in America.   Thus, as people of faith, we are called to critically reflect on the issues of our day which emerge as symptoms of the world we live in.   We reflect on the many lives lost at the hands of violent racism, police brutality, bigotry, privilege, increasing inequality, poverty, and polarization, considered by some people who embrace white supremacist ideology, to be a matter of tradition.  We remember the recent death of a Black woman stopped for a minor traffic violation in Prairie View, Texas who allegedly committed suicide in a Waller County jail cell by hanging herself.  I receive her tragic death as one more act of terror inflicted on a diverse population of people who are living in states of righteous anger and fear as hope, long defined by productions of white supremacy and black subordination, historically mediated through law enforcement, wane, shift and fall like tectonic plates resulting in seismic shifts in the midst of the California sun.   This became evident as I and my mother watched and then discussed the removal of the confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capital and ensuing protests which occurred. 

They said, “I Forgive You”
A Very Uncommon Act

 In the midst of the echoes of a civil war one hundred and fifty years passed but not forgotten we are called to do the joyful work of ascertaining hope in the midst of a time which unsettles so many people.   Reflecting on hope I am mindful that hope is not the exclusive purview of the naive or the optimist but a calling of faith, courage, and a love that is unyielding.   Hope is exemplified in action as the spirit within calls forth a glimpse of the arc of justice.  This becomes clear as we watch the family members of nine beautiful people massacred at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina by a man filled with hate do what might be called an uncommon act of love.  They said, “I forgive you.”  Surely Jesus is the author of forgiveness as it is written in Luke 23:24, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”, in the midst of his own slow and painful crucifixion.   Listening to the many reports from around the country I find that forgiveness, boldly standing with grace and mercy in the face of hatred, compelled a nation of people and their president to give homage to its presence.    That said, their statement of forgiveness has also been controversial, as some people, not considered religious, have said that the relatives showed weakness by forgiving the shooter[1] and some call for a type of moratorium on forgiveness, in regard to black people forgiving white racist.[2]  Yet because it is this type of uncommon act of love that has the potential to contribute, even in controversy, to a mediation of the ills of our present time I believe each of us should, if feasible, sit in silent meditation regarding forgiveness, so that we might come to some understanding of such an uncommon act of love.

The Fool says in their heart I have no need of God
God cannot speak to the issues of humanity

  Living in a society of materialism, rationality and a gradual marginalization of God and Church in common life and space, a critique of love should be undertaken.  I have come to belief that love, the kind of love defined by the life and ministry of Jesus, the one who taught us how to love, has been sequestered and a form of love, now considered common, constructed by various corporate institutions has been given its former holy and sacred space.  Of course this has occurred over time as the purveyors of capital and its politics sought to enslave the heart, its religion and western clerics for matters of greed and profit, for me an extension of the plantation narrative.  Now I must be careful not to become too philosophical, abstract or theological about love, a certainly not cynical,  since I do want to communicate with you today, yet love the love I encounter in Ephesians 3:14-21 is abstract, uncommon and sacrificial.   Yet it is this abstract, uncommon and sacrificial act of love that breathes life into our souls and empowers us towards forgiveness, considered as part of a spiritual medical regimen needed to heal a sick and bewildered nation and its people yearning for some type of solace.

For those who profess Christ forgiveness emerges out of their heart as they intimately engage in the hope found in the everlasting God.  God and the things of God are the anchor and the inspiration of their life.  Their life and their hope rest secure as they walk humbly with their God as written in Micah 6:8.  Recent discourses on identity inclusive of the political, economic, racial, gender, sexual and scientific rhetoric remind me that walking humbly with our God, in a blessed state of forgiveness is not so popular in a world of materialism which looks within itself for hope believing that the ability to overcome the deeper more substantial ills of society rests in the latest technological trinket inclusive of weapons of personal, communal and mass distraction, or illicit drugs will somehow fill a void or sooth the pain within.  Indeed this is a fool’s errand.  The fool says there is no God.   In this sense they believe that God, if there is a God, bears no consequence and in this sense has no bearing regarding issues of a population of people in severe emotional, mental and spiritual pain, in need of real and sustainable sustenance, considered by some as a yearning for a year of Jubilee, and a time of blessed forgiveness.  This is a challenge for the fool as they see forgiveness as an admission of weakness and a denial of certain profit.  Yet for those in love with God forgiveness is life and this more abundantly.  Psalm 14:1-7 has a lot to say about the fool.  It reads


1 The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3 They have all turned aside,

They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,

No, not one.
4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge******

Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call on the Lord?

5 There they are in great fear,
For God is with the generation of the righteous.

6 You shame the counsel of the poor,
But the Lord is his refuge.

7 Oh that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord brings back the captivity of His people,
Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.

Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, considered the voice of God by many in the Catholic Church, and received as a breath of fresh air by some in the Christian religious community beyond the Catholic Church, recently released a papal encyclical or a papal letter on the climate crisis and the economic system that has led to our present environmental crisis.  He has also been speaking out regarding issues of forgiveness, this in regard to the participation of the Church in the brutal colonization of South America.  He has been roundly criticized, even taken to task regarding his comments particularly on the economy and the global climate crisis by many in his own Church and by secular authority.   Pope Francis blames climate change on apathy, political shortsightedness and a pursuit of profits.  He calls climate change one of the principal challenges facing humanity today.    His encyclical intimated that our present state of affairs is a crisis of the soul, making more evident an economic system morally bankrupt.  Of course his encyclical incurred the rhetorical wrath of the capitalist, environmental skeptics, conservatives, less progressive voices and right wing political pundits and candidates running for president.  I remember listening to National Public Radio and hearing a staunch capitalist cry in frustration about the Pope, and the Church seeking to address the issues that impact the poor, the homeless and those of a lesser state.   The response reminded me that God, at least in the mind of the capitalist, has no voice.  Fools have no use for God as capitalism is the great savior and protector of humanity.   Surely we live in foolish and even dangerous times indeed.

                                                Times that Try the Soul of Humanity 

In a sermon given at Detroit's Second Baptist Church (28 February 1954) Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made the following statement, “The great problem facing modern man is that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man's soul. We haven't learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we've made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we've failed to make of it a brotherhood.”   Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 28 February 1954

 The words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are timeless.  They remain as relevant today as they were back in 1954.  His words present a particular truth that is difficult to deny in the face of a nation where banks are privileged and untouchable at the expense of its people, and where Wall Street has more bearing and credibility that the person on the street or the earth herself.   In light of these sobering realities we should gladly desire to gain spiritual strength, to strengthen the human soul and thus begin to know and to comprehend the fullness of God in Jesus Christ.  This is a journey within straining towards the inner sanctum of divine-human interaction.  It is a desire of head and heart, to know the fullness of God and to experience the breadth, width, height and depth of a love which releases forgiveness for ourselves and others.  

Healing, reconciliation and a life affirming perspective begin with forgiveness.  I suspect that the ills of society and even the Church itself, as an inhabitant of the material world, cannot be solved without forgiveness within and without.  It is clear to me that the material world which demands an allegiance of desire at the expense of the soul is seemingly incapable of forgiveness since forgiveness emerges from spiritual strength, and this from a love unknown by the material world.  Love, borne of spiritual strength, for Jesus and my trust in God, at times affirmed by people who do uncommon acts of this unknown love, compel me to be hopeful that one day this would not be the case.   
Uncommon Acts of love such as forgiveness remind me that a Day of Jubilee is approaching. A time of spiritual awakening where forgiveness will comfort and heal the soul of humanity and the earth.  Each of us should prepare for this day as it will surely arrive. 

 Let us open our bibles to Ephesians 3:14-21 and read together. 

Prayer for Spiritual Strength

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.