Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
 
 
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

 
Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

Out of the Darkness

(Matthew 4:12-22)

When we proclaim our profession of faith, we say:

‘We believe on One God. . .  God from God, Light from Light’. . .

I imagine that all of us have been afraid of the dark at some time in our lives. . .

afraid of the monster under the bed, . . .

the creature in the closet, . . .

the shadows on the wall, . . .

the distance of darkness between us and the nearest room with light.

These dangers may have been imaginary, but everyone has had periods in their life as children and adults when darkness has stricken us to our very core with fear – shaking, our hearts thumping with fear!

I have a confession to make. I do still get a little anxious when I’m walking in a dark or unfamiliar place by myself; maybe it’s not being able to see; or maybe it’s not knowing who’s there or what to expect. Or maybe it’s that being alone in the dark feels so just really alone. On the other hand, I find it amazing that light, any light, quickly dispels the anxiety darkness provokes. Just to see a light, is so comforting, even if it’s some distance away. In some way, it’s like a visible reassurance that there is somebody there, somewhere. And, of course, the closer you get to the light, the less you feel that anxious fear.

As we grow up, we learn that all of these dark fears are baseless, just childhood imaginations.

But as we grow up, we find that darkness takes other forms – mostly fear – a sort of psychological darkness or

fear of being lost,. . .

fear of failure, . . .

fear of personal unworthiness, . . .

fear of concern for our ability to care for our families, . . .

fear that we will not make correct choices, . . .

fear of illness, . . .

fear of loss of loved ones, . . .

fear about what is happening in our nation and the world.

Last week has been full of significant events: we honored Martin Luther King, Jr. for the stand he took to bring for equality to all. Indeed, he gave his life to bring light to the darkness of racial discrimination.

Our nation, bitterly divided about our recent election and its consequences, just saw the inauguration of the next President of the United States. There is fear that this inauguration will have consequences so far-reaching that history will record difficult and disastrous changes to the United States and the world. We also see that much of the world is fearful too!

So amidst all this fear – this dark unknowing and black negativity –

where is the light?

How can we find that light?

How can we be that light?

If the new administration begins to mark people as “other” (based on their creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, income, age and health status) and targets them for deportation and various forms of discrimination, we need to step in to protect them from the looming darkness. As people of faith, we know no “other”; we are one, and when one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are all children of God.

During the Civil War, Union generals told President Abraham Lincoln that the Union would win because

‘God was on their side’.

But Abraham Lincoln wisely asked:

‘But are WE on God’s side?”

When people believe they are entitled to hate – when they see their leaders model vengeance and retaliation as acceptable, it’s time to remember that God DEMANDS that we love all people—especially those that have been marginalized and rejected.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It is my deep conviction that justice is indivisible”.

So, it is our job, as citizens of the United States, and especially as Christians, to bring light to the darkness of fear and separation that could permeate our world. We are called to be disciples of Jesus; to bring relief to the suffering, acceptance and wholeness to those who are maligned, and security to those who are lost.

To be a disciple means to commit ourselves to a ministry for the least and the lost. We don’t get to choose who is worthy of Jesus’ attention, of receiving the Messiah’s light in their darkness. We are just to reflect it to everyone we meet. We are simply to remind everyone that they are called to be children of God. And if we are open to being God’s children, we will find all kinds of things to do in response to God’s call. Maybe the “doing” will come through our work, or volunteering, or being a good neighbor or starting a community involvement group. We need to remember that our living into our call will come through forging relationships with others. No matter how God may use all of us – it’s important to remember that before God calls us to do anything God first calls us to be His beloved children. And knowing this, we can trust that the opportunities for witness and action will follow.

And we can’t let it stop with each of us, individually. This calling is also for our congregation. In a world that often does not take the church seriously, God calls us to be ‘the church’. In responding to that call, we enable God to shine his light through us into the darkness of the world. I believe that God is calling Saint John’s to be the gathering of God’s beloved children. God is calling all our congregation to be a place of welcome and acceptance. God is calling our congregations to be sanctuaries where God’s word is taught, lived, and where all find justice and healing.

We live in a turbulent time in our country and world, where the needs run great. So I can understand if we want to get going and do something. But if we can first focus on being – just being – God’s beloved children, and let that grace-filled identify seep into the deepest parts of ourselves, I have little doubt that those things we are called to do will become clear in time.

Just as Jesus called the first disciples, saying

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)

Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

We must remember we serve Jesus Christ,

‘God from God, Light from Light,’

And we shall not be left in the darkness! And we cannot leave others in that darkness!

One of my favorite songs, ‘One Voice’, was written by Barry Manilow, and reminds us

‘Just one voice singing in the darkness,

All it takes is one voice

Singing so they hear what’s on your mind

And when you look around you’ll find

There’s more than

One voice

Singing in the darkness

Joining with your one voice

Each and every note another octave

And hands are joined and fears unlocked

If only one voice

Would start it on its own

You need just one voice

Facing the unknown

And then that one voice

Would never be alone

It takes but one voice!

Just one voice singing in the darkness

All it takes is one voice

Shout it out and let it ring

Just one voice

It takes that one voice

And every one will sing.’

 
So let us rise up, get out of the pews, go into the world, be vigilant to what is happening, and bring light to those who need it most so that

people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16).

‘We believe on One God. . .  God from God, Light from Light’

Amen.
 
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 22 January 2017

Joseph – the Reluctant Stepfather

Listen to Joseph’s side of the nativity story:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21)

Here we are, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas Eve is just two days away and we are all waiting for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

But waiting for what?

Some are waiting for travel and returning to families, for parties and merrymaking;

  • children wait wide-eyed for Santa and gifts,
  • while others delight in special music, plays and art displays.
  • Some are waiting for meals to be cooked and eaten, houses in disarray to be made right, order to return after chaos, and to be able to stop pretending all is perfect when it almost never is.

The most common answer to what we are waiting for is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ Child, who we believe came as a prophet, teacher, example and God Incarnate – to show the world a better way to live.

But . . . what does that mean – for us today. . . in this complex world of 2016?

Today’s scriptures tell the Nativity story from another point of view: from the standpoint of Joseph, the father. We all remember the story of the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary and telling her she would bear the Son of God. Today’s scriptures however, points us to an aspect of our beloved Christmas story often glossed over – the fact that Joseph was NOT the father of Jesus.

He is described as a ‘righteous man’, a member of the synagogue and follower of Jewish law. But he went against all Jewish religious and cultural laws to stay with his young betrothed, to shield her from certain infamy and dishonor, as well as himself. To be, in fact, the stepfather of Jesus – – all of this because God spoke to him in a dream!

How many of you are stepfathers?

Imagine yourself in Joseph’s place; here he is betrothed to a lovely young maiden, probably making him the envy of Nazareth. And, all of a sudden, she is pregnant! Now, he knows he is NOT the father. In those times, when a couple was betrothed, the girl moved into the house of her espoused to learn from her future mother-in-law, making this situation even more disturbing.

So, it wasn’t as if she was living somewhere else and could have been carrying on with someone behind his back. Joseph intended to quietly dissolve the arrangement and send Mary back to her home.

Jewish law said that a man and woman were not supposed to have intimate relations until they were married. A righteous man like Joseph, would have honored that law. But he suddenly learns that his fiancé is ”with child” – and he doesn’t know it has come through the Holy Spirit. All he knows is that he has a horrible dilemma. If he marries Mary, others would assume that he disobeyed the Jewish laws.

It’s difficult for us to imagine the depth of Joseph’s shame at this point. In his culture, a fiancée’s unfaithfulness would imply Joseph’s inadequacy, bringing dishonor on him and his entire family. In fact, Jewish, Greek, and Roman law all demanded that a man divorce his wife or break off the engagement if she was unfaithful. Friends and relatives of Joseph would surely have mocked him and treated him with contempt.

According to Jewish Law, he would have been expected to publicly divorce Mary. He could have impounded her dowry—the total assets she brought into the marriage But Scripture tells us Joseph was a good man—a righteous man. He chose a more compassionate path:

Matthew 1:19 says that he

planned to dismiss her quietly

In other words, in front of two or three witnesses, he would quietly give her a certificate of divorce and minimize her public dishonor. Joseph could have chosen the righteous path, a path that would have allowed him to maintain his honor without humiliating Mary.

But God had other plans for him. He may not have been the biological father, but he was being charged with bringing up the Son of God. No pressure there!!!!

It is incredulous to us today! This ‘righteous man’ Joseph, however, risked all to do what he felt led to do – regardless of the consequences. And the result, we believe, is that Jesus of Nazareth grew up nurtured in a family, with brothers and sisters, in the synagogue, protected and loved by an adoring mother and stepfather – to fulfill his destiny on earth: to be in the truest sense the Son of God and the Perfect Man.

The Bible generally does not give us a very good picture of fathers. Look at Herod, who slaughtered all the newborn male children out of fear; or Herod Antipas, who promised his daughter Salome anything, including the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.

Joseph could have become one of those fathers. He had every right to be upset, after all, Mary was carrying another man’s child. But he didn’t; even though Joseph was a ‘righteous man’, he chose another path.

He ignored Jewish religious and cultural rules to do what was right, no matter what the consequences. He maintained his integrity under what could have been severe public ridicule. He became a model to young Jesus, of a living, protective father and was the best stepfather he could be, showing unconditional, patient love.

Joseph helped raise Jesus to fulfill his destiny on earth. He showed him the kind of love that Jesus and God show us. He risked common opinion to do what was right, no matter what the consequences. And he had NO idea of what was going to happen to his little boy. He was the best stepfather he could be. I have a friend who married late in life and had three stepchildren. He swears to this day that Joseph is the patron saint of all stepfathers.

Joseph represents the type of father on earth that God is in Heaven. Jesus teaches us that we are to look to God as our father, redefining the laws of the times. Joseph showed Jesus the kind of love that comes from God. He shows us the kind of love God has for all his people, particularly those who are the least. And he risks everything to make sure that his Son is safe. Joseph was not the earthly father of Jesus, but showed to us the sort of love that God wants us all to have for each other.

Do you possess the kind of Christ-like behavior, like Joseph, that allows you

  • “to do the right thing?”
  • to risk personal comfort and even your reputation to deal with a difficult and unacceptable situation?

Ask yourself:

  • When you see or hear about someone who has broken God’s or man’s laws, does your heart fill with compassion and concern or do you simply roll your eyes and gossip?
  • Do you move towards them, or do you move away?
  • Are you willing to risk the shame of personal disgrace because of your contact with this person?
  • Do others know that if they have a problem that goes against the norm of social behavior, that they could come to you and find acceptance and help?

By following God’s command to him in a dream, Joseph had to overcome his natural desire for revenge and judgment. He had to risk his reputation. He had to disregard the local customs and religious laws defining a good Jew, turning his back on his cultural class . . . to follow God’s will.

Yet, it is precisely here that we see the glory and greatness of Joseph. He was willing to trust God amid doubts and unanswered questions. He was willing to follow God’s will for today even though tomorrow was totally unclear. Joseph is, in many ways, the patron saint for all of us who must live by faith in difficult and uncertain times.

Because of Joseph’s example we are challenged and commanded to do the likewise.

In large measure because of the integrity and goodness of Joseph, you and I have a Savior, this child born more than 2000 years ago who led the world to a fuller understanding of what it is to be fully human and the Son of God.

Are we willing to do the same?

May we, like Joseph, risk all to show the love of God to all our fellow men this Christmas and always.

Let us pray:

Father, our hearts are full of the truth that our minds can’t grasp: the virgin Mary carried the Son of God in her womb! Yet the miracle in Mary is a reminder that we have been given new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All praise to you, O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I praise you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 
 
Delivered at In The Garden Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 18 December 2016

‘Stir It Up’ Sunday

Now when John the Baptist was in prison heard about the activities of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and asked Him, “Are You the Expected One (the Messiah), or should we look for someone else who will be the promised One?” Jesus answered, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive [their] sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed by healing and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed joyful, favored by God is he who does not take offense at Me accepting Me as the Messiah and trusting confidently in My message of salvation.” (Matthew 11:2-11)

The Season of Advent can be a very confusing time for some people:

  • on one hand, we all wait with wide-eyes for the birth of the Christ child
  • on the other, we are waiting for the second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world.

Indeed, a major part of the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus will return to earth and all believers shall be drawn to him and into eternal life. And in the liturgical year, Christ’s ‘Second Coming’ is celebrated during the Advent Season when we are usually more focused on the birth of Jesus.

Today we enter the third week of Advent – with it the anticipation of the Birth of Christ. In just a little over one week we will be sitting here celebrating Jesus’ birth that nativity story from so long ago. You would expect the readings to center on that blessed event in Bethlehem.

But today’s scripture is not foretelling the birth of Christ.

In today’s scripture, we find John the Baptist languishing away in prison. John was considered a fanatic and zealot in his own time, so, when Herod Antipas married his brother Phillip’s wife after divorcing his own, John had much to say, about it, far and wide. John, of course, would rail against this; it was his life’s business to prophesy and accuse! In an attempt to silence him, Herod had thrown him in prison. He has been there for over a year and must have felt abandoned and out of the mainstream. He heard rumors that the Jesus he had baptized and proclaimed to be the Messiah was traveling the countryside preaching and prophesying. The time of the Messiah must surely have come. His hopes high, John is sure that Jesus will ‘ride up on a white horse’ and rescue him from prison.

But what was actually happening? What do his messengers tell him about Jesus?

He hears that Jesus is busy performing miracles, preaching mercy and compassion and love. This is not what he expected of the Messiah!!!

Jesus was not proclaiming himself the Messiah King,

. . . not bringing about the destruction of Rome

. . . or overthrowing Herod’s rule.

Instead of preaching revolution and smiting evildoers he is proclaiming good news to the poor and destitute, the broken-hearted and downtrodden, the captives and oppressed. He was even saying people who believed in Him would be persecuted!

Even though they were cousins and had known each other since the womb, John was no longer sure that THIS Jesus was the Messiah he had foretold. He was certainly not doing what he expected Him to do.

So, John sent his disciples to speak with Jesus. After all, John had been prophesying that the Messiah would come with fiery judgment, pitchfork and axe in hand. But here was this man, preaching and teaching hope and love and healing, not fomenting revolution.

What was going on here?

Imagine you were John, foretelling the reign of the Messiah, only to find out that He was not the revolutionary you had predicted – or at least not in the sense John expected. Jesus was preaching and healing, not riling up the citizens to revolt. There was no message of revolt in his teachings and stories. He stressed compassion and inclusion of everyone in the Kingdom of God.

The Jews had been waiting a long time for the appearance of the Messiah with the expectation that he would save them from Roman oppression and restore them to their rightful kingdom. This Jesus was certainly not acting like that Messiah! Disappointed, John wanted to know if Jesus was that man . . . or if there was another Messiah coming.

He must have thought:

  • Had he been wrong about Jesus?
  • Was he looking like a fool?

Some folks may have thought so then, but today we know better . . . that even John didn’t fully realize what the Kingdom of God would be, and indeed sometimes, we forget, too.

The scripture goes on to say that Jesus affirmed John and his prophecy. Jesus reminded John that he was ‘the voice crying in the wilderness’, in camel skins, eating locust and honey. He reminded him that his calling was as a preparer – he had called many to the wilderness to be baptized. He was more than a prophet; he was a forerunner, reformer, a preparer of the way.

Those times for which John was baptizing people and foretelling had truly come to pass. Just as Elijah foretold of Jesus’ birth, John was foretelling of Jesus’ life on earth. John’s purpose was to prepare the people for the arrival of Jesus among them.

  • That prophesy was fulfilled in the person of Jesus: a Jesus that was a man of words and compassionate actions, not one of authority and military might.
  • A man of the spirit, not of the sword

Jesus sends the disciples back to John, telling them to tell him what they had seen. Tell him about:

  • Healing the sick
  • Casting out demons
  • Raising the dead
  • Forgiving sins
  • Preaching to the poor.

We can only hope that when the disciples returned and told John what they had seen, he remembered the prophecies of Isaiah that we heard about in your reading today about the marvels that would take place in the desert. And he remembered his faith in that man he baptized so long ago.

But wouldn’t it have been natural for John to have been a little upset that he was sitting in prison suffering for an itinerant preacher who gave mercy to anyone who asked (even Romans) and would lead his followers into a brutal death? Possibly John sent his disciples to Jesus to try and prod him into the action that John had expected from the Messiah.

This Jesus – this Messiah – was not what John the Baptist expected. He was not coming to destroy Rome; they could and did do that without his help. He was here to establish the Kingdom of God.

A Kingdom of God where everyone is welcome, all are loved, and mercy and compassion flow like waters.

This is Rose Sunday, or to the Anglican community ‘Stir It Up’ Sunday. In the Collect, we ask God to ‘stir up his power’ in us. And we got our blood flowing when we sang one of my favorite hymns: Sound the Trumpets!! Spread the Message!!!

We need to be prodded and poked to strive for a sinless life. We need to be pushed forward to who is coming. We need to be reminded in this Advent Season that our King and Savior comes not only as a human child, but promises to return again to triumph over death and make that possible for us also. That our Lord comes twice to bring eternal life and peace and in an everlasting Kingdom.

This Kingdom of God is what we are waiting for as we continue this Advent Season. As we anticipate the birth of that little baby in Bethlehem, let us keep our eyes fixed on the real prize:

The Kingdom of God!!

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 11 December 2016

Preparing Ourselves for the ‘Way of the Lord’

Matthew 3:1-12

Today we begin the second week of Advent – a time of preparation as we celebrate the birth of Jesus and anticipation of His Second Coming. The message of John the Baptizer, who prepared Judea for the first coming of Jesus, tells us how to prepare for the coming of Jesus in this Holy Season. In the Gospel reading we just heard:

‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Matthew 3:3)

We are instructed by the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Malachi, and in all the Gospels to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’.

But, what is ‘the way of the lord’?

And how do we best prepare for Him?

The ‘way of the Lord’ is the way of God, . . . the way of Jesus, the ways and precepts taught us by Jesus in His work And His life. Proverbs 10:29 tell us that ‘the way of the Lord’ is a refuge for those who are following the teachings of Jesus, as well as a place of safety for those are marginalized, rejected by society or lost.

In the season of Advent, the start of the church year, we reset our clocks to the beginning: the birth of Jesus. We relearn what it is like to be Jews, waiting for the Messiah. We do this together, as a church, because we are not capable of doing it fully or well alone. And we need the body of the church in this journey, to help us realign our thinking and actions to be more Christ-like, if only for the Christmas season. We need to come together so that we help each other remember the birth of the ‘Prince of Peace’ and all that birth means, to help us clearly follow His teaching and to spread then to all the world, especially in this time of uncertainty and discord.

And it has to start with each of us – you cannot change the minds and hearts of others until you change your own mind and heart. As Thomas Merton said in New Seeds of Contemplation:

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

“Hate” seems a rather strong word here, unless we apply to ourselves the old chestnut, “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” That’s never as easy as it sounds. To conform oneself more fully to Christ, there is much to be unlearned, disowned. To approach Isaiah’s vision of a peaceable kingdom, each of us must change.

The coarse and ugly national bickering that is in the news so much today, is causing dissention and alienation; I see and hear it in the faces and voices of those who ask me, as a cleric, what they are to do. I’ve heard many expressions of fear, disillusionment, and anger. Some people fear that the world as they know it is disappearing before their very eyes and they don’t know what to do about it or if America will ever be the country they love and the world admires. They are angry at those they see as the cause; it is reprehensible to have a young woman threatened on a COTA bus because she wore a hijab. It is disheartening when crowds yell to ‘deport them’ to groups of people who they think are taking their jobs – even though they would not do those jobs. And most of us thought we had moved past African Americans being called the “N” word and told to go back to Africa or picking cotton.

We have to admit that that system truly is rigged — both economically and politically. There is great disparity between the majority of the nation and the upper economic levels; more Americans live near or below the poverty line and a strong middle class is disappearing. Parents realize, that for the first time in American history their children may not do better than they did. Everyone is angry! This economic anger has been encouraged to become racial anger, anger at anyone not like one’s self, and is being promoted by some sections of society.

The distrust now between people of color and white people — including Christians of color and white Christians — is greater than it has been since the civil right movement and legislation of the 1960s. A majority of white voters on every level of class, gender, and even religion, have now been given permission to say and do whatever negative or vengeful things they like, having no repercussions.

The dream of America has gone from ‘justice for all’ to admiration for money, sex, and power – which many discontented people are attracted to (after all, who wouldn’t follow a leader promising to make you rich and great). There is overt discrimination against those ‘who are not like us’; talks of registries and deportations make everyone feel uneasy, whether they are a member of the ‘chosen’ group or not. And some rightfully worry that we, as the most powerful nation in the world, are losing our place and showing the rest of the world an ugly side, rather than being a symbol of freedom and democracy. Surely, we see our society beginning to mirror the Roman culture of power, greed and division into which Jesus was born.

What do those of us who claim to follow Christ do in this time and place of radical change and nagging uncertainty? We must remember that Isaiah told us of the coming of one who will deliver true justice and uncommon peace.

So, what can we do to ‘prepare the way of the lord’ right now?

In this environment, how do we begin the process of preparing for the birth of Jesus, heeding the admonition of Matthew 3:3.

Prepare a way for the Holy One. Clear a path of God to come by.

Prepare the way! Let us start with our own hearts and minds. Let us remove the injustices and inequities that block God’s pathway. Lift up those sunk by despair. Find your own prejudice, fears and angers and face up to them. Then act in small, steady ways yourself. Knock down the haughty hills of pride and prejudice. Prepare the way for God, who comes bringing justice and liberation through the Messiah. Above all, give love and forgiveness and joy to all you meet from family to friends to the stranger.

A theologian summed up our preparations in this way:

The prophet cries to prepare a way for the Promised One, and we panic.

We write shopping lists, and head to the store for the treasures we must surely present.

We survey with dread the mess of a heart we must clean up for the holy visitor.

But after all the cleansing the house is still just our little place.

The Gift is not to be found in any market.

We fear our unpreparedness, our failure to adequately repent, still rushing, still dusting this and hiding that.

In the din the Spirit speaks softly; we are not asked to clean the house for the weekend to impress the Unexpected Guest.

We are asked to prepare a room and set a place at the table for the rest of our lives for the Beloved, the child who already dwells within.

That’s the good news: Jesus’ way must come again through you and me. Each day can be a glorious day of Jesus’ coming if we live it in our hearts and lives. Prepare your heart, prepare your world, prepare the way of the Lord.  Prepare, for Jesus is coming.

How will we prepare for the way of the lord? How can we poor faltering mortals prepare the way of the lord? Because the Holy Spirit will help you. You need only ask.

I leave you with these beautiful thoughts from Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Go ye, and prepare the way of the Lord.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 4 December 2016

 

What Now?

The election is over – and there are many people cheering and others who mourn the results and have great fear in their hearts. I am sure that, among the people here at In The Garden, we have people on both sides of that emotional line, and those who don’t think they are affected at all. Politics has a way of emphasizing our differences while ignoring all those things we have in common.

With the election of Donald Trump, and yes, he was elected by the people no matter what anyone says, certain people who have felt unheard, neglected, marginalized and demeaned have seen this as permission to speak and act in ways that are socially unacceptable. But Trump gave his followers permission; he is quoted as saying:

“For the most part you can’t respect people,” he has said, “because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

And this is what that kind of rhetoric has spawned.

African Americans have been approached by people who ask ‘How do you like being a N* again’? Most of us cannot understand that depth of hatred in these people; we had assumed that we had come pass that. Obviously, we have not.

swastikas-in-clintonville
Swastikas have been painted on synagogues and racial slurs like ‘kike’ and ‘Jesus killer’ have been shouted to people coming out of temple. And there is a row of swastikas on the bridge here in Clintonville. . . in our own city!

Latino children in Michigan were attacked by a hooligan gang of white kids, beaten up and told they were not welcome at school or in the country while chanting ‘build the wall’. I have a friend with a six year old boy, who, having heard Trump threaten to deport all Mexicans, asked his father the day after the election if his little Mexican buddy would be at school – children do not understand that campaign promises are not instantly implemented the day after an election.

We have a huge group of this melting pot we call America who now fear for their lives. The Muslim community, who live peacefully and contribute to our nation, are afraid. One of the Muslim students who provides sack lunches for In the Garden was verbally attacked on the bus by two men saying: “I can’t wait until Trump takes office and we can kill ‘all of them.” His friend said, “I can’t wait until we can take that scarf around her neck and strangle her.”

God is NOT a supporter of hatred, bigotry, sexism, homophobia. We must remember, that these people are also God’s children. We must respect their right to express themselves, whether they act in a civil or uncivil manner. It is possible to respect the dignity of every human being while refusing to participate in our own oppression.

We, as marginalized people, and I count myself among them, must rise above the gutter and show that we will not allow ourselves to be further pushed down by society. As Michelle Obama said: ‘If they take the low road, we must take the high road’. Remember, no one can make us feel inferior without our consent. We need to stiffen our backbone and stand tall and not let ourselves buy into their definition of who and what we are

As scripture says:

I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39)

It is not going to be easy, but for most of us, life has never been easy. We must continue to persevere, wrapped in the knowledge that we are all children of God, beloved children of God. Jesus told us

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, (Matthew 5:11-12)

We can only pray that things will get better soon; that calmer and more civil heads will prevail. . . that Americans will return to the concept of being one united country. But until it does, we need to remember that we are not put on this earth to sow seeds of dissent, but to love one another and live our lives according to the teachings and example of Jesus. We are to

Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

But we cannot sit passively by as injustice reigns. We can and must fight against the rhetoric and acts of injustice in peaceful ways. We need to be vigilant and stand firm and speak out against acts of verbal and physical violence. Find a group that you can join, and work to make America the inclusive melting pot we are supposed to be!

Let us pray:

Gracious Creator, we are hurting. I ask that you help us overcome the evil that enslaves us. The evil the promotes hate of all forms. Help us to see Christ in all people and accept Love over hate. Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 13 November 2016

It is over. . . But it has just begun

The campaigning and election is finally over – and there are people rejoicing and people fearing for their lives as they know them. Every election always has a winner and a loser, people who are happy and those who are depressed. But this election has splintered the fabric of America, torn it asunder in a way that no foreign enemy has ever been able to do.

The President-Elect, if he follows through with the campaign rhetoric, will further divide the country into those who have, those who want what others have, and those who could lose everything. In his acceptance speech, he said he wanted to unite us and ‘Make America Great Again’. Only time will tell whether he really intends to unite or further divide.

But one thing is sure: there were a lot of people out there hurting economically and socially and they have spoken. Now we all must deal with this. We could riot (as was suggested by some factions of the reigning party), we can cry and moan, or we can do something; something that will further the values that were established when the country was founded – an inclusive, accepting country that welcomes all, nourishes them and gives them an opportunity for ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

This election must cause us to look at these problems as “our” problems, not the “government’s” problems or “someone else’s” problems. We can no longer passively sit on our hands, read about the problems, become somewhat concerned, and then NOT DO anything about them. If we do not act, what we are part of the problem; we must be part of the solution.

We need to love more –  more radically, more intensely – and especially love everyone we currently view as our enemy. We must pray for radical changes of heart, in their hearts and in our hearts. We must be that light that darkness cannot overcome.

No matter the results of the election, remember, regardless of who wins,

there will still be poverty to meet with generosity.

there will still be hunger to meet with food.

there will still be violence to meet with peace.

there will still be hatred to meet with love.

there will still be sorrow to meet with empathy….

there will still be pain to meet with compassion.

there will still be fear to meet with understanding.

there will still be frustration to meet with patience.

there will still be hurt to meet with forgiveness.

there will still be sin to meet with reconciliation.

there will still be joy to meet with celebration.

there will still be Good News to meet with a willingness to share.

there will still be signs of God’s presence to meet with open hearts.

there will still be a world to meet with the light of Christ shining from within.

there will still be God’s Mission to meet with the grace to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus.

“Regardless of who wins, we still need a plan to be the light of Jesus. We need a plan to

love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31).

We need a plan to offer hope to the hurting and peace to the suffering.”[1]

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
 
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 10 November 2016

[1]      Relevant Magazine

The Christian Citizen: Considerations in the Voting Booth

We are just weeks away from the presidential election, and I know there are many of you who agree with me that I wish it were already over! But it is not, and I fear it is likely to get far worse in tone and tawdriness until election day.

For many reasons, this is one of the most important elections in this century. The appointment of up to three Supreme Court Justices, overturning Citizens United, and continuing to solve the healthcare situation, especially for women and the poor are just a few of the domestic issues that loom in the near future.

There is also the growing global crisis in war, terrorism, and the resulting wave of millions of refugees worldwide, in trade and finance, and in the environment that affects every living soul on earth. Whether we like it or not, our President sets a tone for the world, and is looked upon for leadership and direction.

election-rhetoricSadly, the mudslinging, scare tactics, name-calling, lies and promises that can’t be kept aren’t new in 2016. Though we are bombarded with ‘he said/she said’ and a level of public discourse that has reached a new low, one does not have to look far back in history to realize that this has always happened to some degree in politics. Even though the political rhetoric gets outrageous, and “spin” and “talking heads” muddy the already-murky waters, the checks and balances of our constitutional system have continued to support our democratic process year after year.

Sadly, however, some of the 2016 candidates are making it a central focus of their campaigns to denigrate and cast doubt on this democratic process – to sow seeds of distrust and anger about our national institutions and elections, and to foment dissatisfaction wherever possible. Although our system of governance and of choosing our leaders may have some glitches, we would do well to remember that US democracy is far more successful and promising than any governance human beings have developed to-date, anywhere on this earth, and we must guard it with our lives!

Still, some shrug their shoulders and say, ‘it doesn’t matter if I vote – it’s all rigged” or ‘I don’t like any candidate so I will make a protest vote – it doesn’t matter who wins”.

If you feel this way, I want to ask you to reconsider. As Christians and followers of Jesus, I urge you not only to vote, but to realize that your vote matters— like never before! I ask you to consider several basic concepts springing from our faith that can help influence your decision.

INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM VS. THE COMMON GOOD: The central struggle of modern societal ruling systems has been to balance the rights of the individual with the needs and structure of the community—to seek the common good while preserving personal freedoms. If one takes time to read the platforms and policy statements of the four groups vying for national office, it is clear where they stand on matters of great national importance: regulation, public vs. private institutions and ownership, access to the laws and the courts, healthcare education, religion, etc. From the first recorded moments of His ministry, we know that Jesus taught inclusiveness, caring for your neighbor and “the least of these,” non-violence, and fairness. We are taught to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39), “go the extra mile,” “welcome the stranger” (Romans 12:13) and to love and treat others as we wish to be treated (Luke 6:31). Racial, religious, economic, and social barriers must be broken so that we may all be one as “Children of the Light” (Luke 16:8). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) is a profound and simple model of what is important and eternal in relationships and in nations. We must seek leaders with policies and positions that strive for that model. We must go beyond our personal fears to seek and support those who espouse the good for each of us within what is good for ALL of us! Playing on our fears, our greed, our hubris, and our prejudices diminishes us all.

COMPROMISE OR ”RENDER TO CAESAR THE THINGS THAT ARE CAESAR’S”: Politics is messy and often unfair. Just as in Jesus’ day, many groups, interests, and powers make up society, and the struggle to live together must involve “give and take’ if it is to succeed. In Mark 12, Jesus avoids the trap of literalism in which his enemies sought to ensnare him. Instead of railing against unfair taxes, Jesus reminds them that taxes, societal laws and regulations are all part of the earthly realm of Caesar, and not of God, but if we are to live in this world successfully, we must at times live by the rules of “Caesar” so that we may do the work of God! No one likes to compromise their values or integrity, but we have all done it at one time or another, and in politics, we’d best follow Jesus advice, and seek leaders who have been willing to compromise in order to get something done for the good of all. “My way or the highway” may sound high-minded and tough, but in fact, it migrates against moving forward any discourse or action for the benefit of all. Jesus would urge us to support leaders who have shown themselves able to master the give and take of difficult agreements in the world of “Caesar”!

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS: Since childhood I have heard the adage “talk is cheap,” and with most political rhetoric, promises are made and broken on a daily basis. Several times in His teachings Jesus reminded us that we can be judged best by what we DO, more than what we say. In Luke 6:44 we find:

For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

In the book of James 2:14-16, we are reminded that faith without works is dead—and so we must look to the candidate’s actions and deeds, rather than listen only to what they promise. How have they lived their lives? What have they valued and fought for? That tells us more about what they will do in office than any catchy slogans or bold assertions!

DO NOT DESTROY THE GOOD IN SEARCH OF PERFECTION: We must remember that only God is perfect and we all fall short of perfection. But Jesus continually urges us to

“seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)

to keep trying. Our leaders fail and make mistakes, but many do good things in the process, and in the chaos of the political arena, have fought and proven themselves. As we learned in our Scripture last Sunday, he who is faithful in small things, can be trusted in large things (Luke 16:10), and so let us not deny the leader who has shown in his or her life a determination to work for the best for us all, despite his or her mistakes and failures. Let us ardently support those leaders who did their best to work with love for compassion, peace, and justice for all of us. Remember, we are also choosing for the world!

YOUR VOTE MATTERS—for today and for the future of America and the planet! I urge you to take your faith with you passionately and enthusiastically into the voting booth!

And finally,

We must pray for all our leaders and the candidates – pray that they will consider the teachings of Jesus in their lives and their elected functions.

And no matter what, no matter who is your favorite,

WE MUST ALL GO VOTE!

This is the one time that the ‘government for the people’ can actual be determined ‘by the people’.

 
 
written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 17 Sep 2016