Archive | January 2015

Jesus Loves The Children – All Of Us!

    Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)

A follow-up to the Scripture we just heard told more of the story about Jesus and the children:

    People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

Jesus has always been closely connected to children. From infants to older children, Jesus has gathered them to Him in love, time and time again; Jesus’ ministry was inclusive of children. Jesus spoke to children, healed children, blessed children, cast demons from children, raised children from the dead, and welcomed children into his warm embrace.

Jesus knew what most of us have forgotten: that a child’s faith is pure and sincere and without reservations. They have not been jaded by life experiences or personal prejudices and emotional hurts.

These children symbolize humility and not thinking of yourself as being more valuable than others. They believe with a love that has no ‘and, ifs, or buts’ attached to it. Think about when you have looked into a small child’s eyes – that wonderment and gleam of pure love.

When a child trusts Christ it’s not the same belief that they have in fairies or the bogeyman – it is true faith that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, accepts. We have all heard Saint Paul say:

    When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

We do, when we grow up, put away childish things – but the Apostle Paul never put away Christ. He never gave up his faith, and it was in adulthood that he came to a fuller belief in the gospel. Trusting Jesus and having faith in Him is not a childish thing.

Now, you may think that this only applies to children, sweet lovable little kids with jam on their faces. But the meaning of children in this Scripture goes much deeper than that. Childlike faith is trusting Christ early. Now, that means whatever age you are, trusting Christ as soon as you know that He is true – whatever your age, whether you’re young or old. When you realise who He is, what He says is true, what He did for us on the cross was out of love and was able to take away our sins forever – that is childlike faith.

Jesus took these small children into his lap, enfolded them with his arms and blessed them. These children represented the marginalized members of society, those of little or no worth, those left on the doorsteps or shunted away from adults. He took children into the center of His ministry – pushing aside adults to bring children in.

When Jesus refers to ‘children’ he is not just talking about kids under the age of ten. . .

He is talking about you and me!

God’s children are all around the earth, and whenever one receives/welcomes a child, one receives/welcomes the presence of God. A child is the very presence of Jesus.

In Matthew 18:6 Jesus said:

    But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world. (sung)

Let us all remember that we are one of those children in the world, no matter what our age and renew our faith like a child’s.

Amen.

 

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 23 September 2012

Twenty-First Century Demons

Mark 1:21-28

Dear Lord, may we listen with our ears, hear with our hearts and be willing to carry out your mission. Amen.

In the passage from Mark that was read today, Jesus was teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum. It was the first time his newly chosen disciples had heard Jesus teach, and they, along with everyone else present, were amazed with the authority – the clarity – of what Jesus said. He did not speak like a scribe, parroting the scriptures, but as one who understood their meaning in a new and deeper way.

Then suddenly this crazy man starts shouting

    “Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are, you the Holy one of God.” (Mark 1:24)

Now here at Saint John’s we know what would happen if such a thing occurred. Ushers would scramble and get this demon-possessed crazy man out of here. We would all shift uncomfortably in our seats and roll our eyes at this poor crazy person who dares upset our solemn service.

But not Jesus, no indeed. He just said:

    Be silent, and calm down!” (Mark 1:25)

And caused the demons to leave him.

To me there are several observations we can make about this event.

First of all, from the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus spoke new things, unlike anyone had heard before: about the Hebrew law, about how people should love and treat one another, about priorities and what’s important in life. And he spoke and taught as the Primary Source, not a mere commentator: He talked about unconditional love, about a classless and egalitarian society where all care for one another, an all-inclusive, all sharing world without master or slave, Christian or Jew, male or female, rich or poor (Galatians 3:28) – it was radical then, and is radical now!

Secondly, Jesus showed early on the amazing, unworldly, God-like power He had to heal the sick, make the blind to see, change water to wine, cast out mental illness – all actions, then and now, beyond this world. All bigger than any mortal.

Thirdly, this crazy man really ‘got’ it. Of all the observers in the synagogue, he realized Jesus was the Son of God come here to ‘destroy us’ – that is, to change us, transform us, and make us new.

So what has this to do with you and me today in the twenty-first century?

To answer that question, at least in part, I want to share some ideas and facts I learned this past weekend as I attended, via live streaming, the Trinity Institute from Trinity Wall Street in New York City. It was a two and a half day seminar entitled ‘Creating the Common Good’. In reality, it was an in-depth look at economic inequality in our country and in much of the so-called western world: the income gap between the upper 20% and the lowest 20%, which we euphemistically call the ‘poor’.

What is economic inequality?

It is the oppression placed on our global world that creates an environment in which some people suffer, do not have sufficient nutrition or even enough to eat, receive sub-standard or no education, are restricted from voting, receive inadequate or no healthcare, fall prey to drug pushers, pimps and traffickers; they are demeaned through white privilege and inhumanity based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or social status. People, who, no matter how hard they try, fall deeper and deeper into the pit of poverty, despair and oppression. And despite more and more wealth being created for some, this gap between the ultra-wealthy and the working poor grows wider and wider.

There are many reasons for this, but a significant one is that we have a crisis of leadership, both governmental and, often, ecclesiastical – everyone seems to be for sale to the highest bidder. Our leaders seem accountability to no one except those who fund them. There is no transparency as to where the money comes from or how the money is spent. Rules on the financial markets and banks have been deregulated so much that these institutions have now become ‘too big to fail’. And are the instruments of greed for a very few billionaires.

Such inequality results in destructive ideologies, encouraging comparisons between individuals, delusions of entitlement (at both ends of the social and economic spectrum), and a slow but sure move toward a totalitarian government in which those in power have no regard for the rest of us.

We hear from politicians and some clergy a myriad of proposed solutions to this inequality –blaming a certain sector of society, such as the last/lost/least, ‘the other party’, socialism, fascism or greed. Everyone wants to point the finger at someone else so they don’t have to take responsibility for their own complicity in our unequal, rigged system.

While about 1% of the US population now controls over 40% of the nation’s wealth, 30% of the working people in our country live at or below the poverty line of $15,000 a year. Added to this there is approximately $100 billion dollars a year stolen from workers by requiring additional work hours for which they are not paid. They cannot protest for fear of losing their jobs. Furthermore, it is expensive to be poor; many live in areas where there are no grocery stores or grocery stores cannot be reached without a car. Nutritious fresh foods are too expensive or not available. Low wage jobs are also physically tiring, leaving little time or energy for healthy food preparation, non-nutritious and fat-loaded fast food seems the only option. These same working poor have little interaction with children or for their own personal development. The homes they can afford are not well insulated or efficiently furnished. Energy bills are out the ceiling. There is a huge disparity in education: rich kids get taught in private schools and poor kids get tested in public schools. Eventually this endless struggle for survival grinds people down until they reach bottom.

Not only is their life more difficult because of our system, but we make life harder for the poor since they are most likely to suffer harassment from the government and police. Of the over 10 million misdemeanors in the country, over 75% of those last year were charged against poor people. Each misdemeanor carries a fine of $200-500 for such offenses as resting feet on the seat of buses or subways and sleeping on park benches. Parents are being fined when their child is truant. In 43 states, the poor are forced to pay for the Public Defender, who is supposed to be provided free if the person cannot afford an attorney (we have all heard the Miranda statement saying an attorney will be provided for free if the arrested cannot afford one). If the person cannot afford the fine, they are imprisoned and then charged room and board for the time they are in jail. If put on probation, 49 states charge for the ankle bracelet. Since 2008, many cities are using these arrests and fines as a supplement to their income, creating even more economic inequality.

It has become illegal in several cities simply to be homeless. If you are sleeping on a park bench you will not be arrested unless you are homeless. There are no laws in this nation that say cities/counties/states must provide services for the poor and homeless. Those existing nationally-supported programs such as SNAP (food stamps) are being cut at the federal level. Moreover, it now illegal in some cities to even feed the poor.

Perhaps worst of all, the church acquiesces to this inequality all too often. Churches create an atmosphere of shame and exploitation for the homeless, poor, people of color or LGBT youth and adults. Our churches are separate, isolated, and ‘comfortable’ in our safe buildings and rituals. We are concerned, in theory, about ‘those people’ – we contribute money but we do not know them, work with them, or share our lives with them. In many ways we place the poor and homeless outside of God; forgetting the mandate from Jesus to:

    Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless (Matthew 25:35-46)

And we ALL are complicit in this economic inequality!

We deceive ourselves that as long as we are fine, that is all that matters. To quote my grandmother, ‘It all depends on whose ox is getting gored’. We forget that this escalating poverty and economic injustice is, in reality, a risk to our national security, to the very fabric of our way of life.

At the Trinity Institute conference, the renowned American philosopher, author and activities Dr. Cornel West, summed it up appropriately by saying:

    “Indifference is more evil than evil itself”.

And we all participate in this indifference.

Again to quote West, indifference shows, really, a lack of love for our neighbors:

    “If we don’t, as imperfect people, love our imperfect neighbors with our imperfect love, we are more evil than Hitler or Stalin.”

All injustice could be rescued by the love that Jesus commanded us to show one another in Matthew 12:31:

    “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than this”

So we say, “What can we do?”

We don’t seem to be able to influence the extremely rich or the local/state/federal legislators. The Supreme Court has made a ruling in Citizens United that now equates money to voice – none of us have the monetary resources to counter that interference in our democratic process.

“Hot Button” social issues are constantly used to muddy the atmosphere of our political discourse, so we never really deal with poverty and economic injustice.

Things we can, however, do:

    We can acknowledge our own vulnerabilities,

    We can acknowledge our own indifference to the mindless consumer culture and skewed economic structure that has fed this inequality for so long.

    We can step out, take a risk and honestly speak for and stand in solidarity with the suffering.

    We can admit we are complicit in the economic inequality in this global world.

    We can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are poor, jobless, marginalized, segregated.

    We can stand together for justice and human rights for everyone.

    We can practice unconditional love!

But this is impossible, we say;

    maybe not.

Pope Francis gave us a wonderful direction:

    “Start by doing the necessary, then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Here are some things we can do:

  1. Realize that poverty is not a lack, but a lack of distribution. What do you have in excess that you can give others? How will you work for a tax system that encourages those with much to help those with nothing?
  2.  

  3. Seek justice. Learn to recognize where there is injustice and be brave enough to be a truth-teller.
  4.  

  5. Work for an economy of sufficiency in which we acquire what we need, not everything we want and be willing to go from ‘good living’ to ‘living good’.
  6.  

  7. Take a public stand for an ethical, and fair democratic government, caring for ALL people
  8.  

  9. Have dialogue within the Episcopal Church and with other faith traditions to plan strategic actions to ameliorate this economic inequality
  10.  

  11. Establish relationships with the marginalized. There are plenty of opportunities to get to know those who are not as fortunate as we are, who have been oppressed by the system. You don’t have to look very far to find someone. In my work with In The Garden, I have come to find the only difference between me and many of the folks living on the land is one bad decision or one unlucky break. We are not all as different as you might think.
  12.  

  13. Stand and work for quality education for all, job training, living wages, and fair housing for all.
  14.  

  15. Remember every day that our baptismal covenant with God sends us out into the world; get outside the church walls and do the work of Jesus, and encourage your fellow parishioners, and your clergy to do the same.

Like the demon-possessed man at Capernaum, we must recognize who Jesus was and is and passionately work to bring his Kingdom on earth, Rather than squirming in our pews and rolling our eyes, we must realize that if we are to follow Jesus, as we way we do, we must be transformed by his message and his love, and take that message of love to the world. We must be radicals ourselves and cast out the demons of injustice, greed, cruelty, and judgment that plague our world.

The time is now!

Let us go forth to love and serve our Lord by loving and serving one another.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH, 1 February 2015

The Wilderness of Lent

Mark 1:9-15

Today is the first Sunday of Lent – the annual period of reflection leading to the joy and celebration of Easter.

It is also the Sunday that we hear in the reading about of the baptism of Jesus and God’s affirmation that He is His well-beloved son. It surely helps to remind us of our own baptisms. Our baptism is the first sacrament that we share with Jesus. Just as it was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, so it is the beginning of our life in Christ and compels us to follow His teachings and to emulate His life.

Although most of us do not remember our baptism, we still are able to relive it each time we witness a baptism and we have the opportunity to begin anew our life in Christ through our baptismal vows. Indeed, together as a family of Christ’s followers, we commit ourselves to try to live the life that Jesus taught.

Pretty powerful stuff – or at least it can be. We are given to the opportunity to start again, to do better this time, to live up to the Christ’s teachings and values.

As the Scripture continues we are told that following His baptism, Jesus went into the desert for forty days. He did not chose to do this willingly, but was driven out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. He was cast into the wilderness in order to prepare for His great work for which He had come to earth. He didn’t go to a library, he didn’t go to a spa, he want alone into a wilderness with wild beasts, dust, sand, heat during the day, cold during the night, no food, no water for forty days of fasting and prayer. It was a rigorous time, it was a lonely time, it was a time in which most would have turned back, given up from fear or doubt or dread.

During these forty days and nights, we learn that Jesus was tempted by Satan three times:

    • When hungry He was challenged to turn stones into bread; Jesus replied that we cannot live by bread alone;

    • When in his solitude he felt powerless, He was taunted by Satan to have the angels catch Him as He threw himself from the pinnacle, Jesus reminded us that we should not tempt God;

    • When He was overcome by loneliness and helplessness, Satan offered the Jesus the kingdom of the world with all its power and riches; Jesus rebuked Satan, reminding us that we should worship only the Lord our God and nothing else.

In the desert Jesus sought the inner strength and calm and resolve to claim his identity as God’s child, and to let the rest of his life – his words, his relationships, and his love, even to dying a painful and unjust death on the cross, come from that identity as God’s beloved Son.

Jesus denied Satan’s three temptations and then told Him to go away! (do you remember the scripture: Get behind me Satan?) At that point he was ready. Jesus comes out of the wilderness proclaiming that the ultimate battle is won: the reign of God had begun.

Forty days and forty nights Jesus suffered and prayed in the desert. And this is why we have Lent.

Anyone see a pattern of His forty days in the desert and our forty days of Lent?

During those forty days, Jesus was without food and water, being tempted by Satan to prove he was the Son of God. It becomes clear that even though Jesus was baptized, He (and we) do not get a ‘get out of suffering’ card when we are baptized. We will still have conflict and suffering. Our baptism equips us both for the realities of the wilderness and the work of joyful proclamation at the resurrection. Through prayer and the grace of God we, too, will get through it.

We have now entered the desert of Lent on a spiritual quest of our own. Lent is not a domesticated kind of pious self-improvement; (giving up something that most people think is good to give up, at least for a time — chocolate, beer, swearing — drop a few pounds and maybe look a little more like what our culture thinks of as ‘good,’).

But if we want to experience our Lenten quest fully, we need to realize that the quest we’re on for these forty days is NOT tame NOR flippant. Jesus left his family and entered a desert with wild beasts, hunger, bodily discomfort and all the temptations of Hell. . . and angels (and I don’t know about you, but I suspect that the reason the first thing out of an angel’s mouth is “don’t be afraid!” is because angels are often as terrifying as wild beasts).

And if we are striving to follow Him, we should make our Lent a time of fasting, reflection, penitence, searching and prayer. During our forty days of Lent, we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the jubilation of the resurrection of Christ on Easter morning.

Jesus was alone, but we are not alone. We have each other, and we also have something else on our journey – the opportunity to encounter God as Jesus did, to wrap ourselves in God’s word to us that we are His beloved children, to claim that identity as Jesus did – the only identity that really matters – as a child of God.

And Lent is not only forty days of centering and reflection, it is preparation for truly participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is about dying to an old identity defined by our culture, our traditions, our habits and even our families, and being born into a new identity centered in the spirit of God. It means dying to an old way and being born into a new way of being. . . being centered in God.

It is about dying to our deadness, that daily routine of our lives that we trudge through, oblivious to the needs of other and the call of our Lord. It is a time of reminding ourselves of God’s love and God’s reality. It is a time to be lifted out of our confinement, removing those feelings of burden and mortality, of fear and doubt.

How shall we spend these forty days of Lent?

    • How about forty days where we truly open ourselves to God through prayer and meditation and inviting God to live through us as never before;

    • How about forty days where we examine ourselves, our shortcomings, our judgments, our arrogance and egos, where we face who we are and strive once again to be all that we can be confident in the love and acceptance of God;

    • How about forty days in which we remember we are dust and to dust our bodies will return, but with God’s grace our spirits will be transformed and we can live THIS life and THE LIFE TO COME more fully, embraced in God’s unending love to do His work through us.

So just as we came Wednesday to have ashes in the sign of the cross placed on our foreheads, may we open our hearts, admit our helplessness to save ourselves, and accept the grace and forgiveness that marks us as a child of God with new resolve to be His body on earth.

Let us pray:

O God, how you honor us by creating us in your image and giving us the gift of life. We want to live in a way that will honor you in everything we do. We want to be like Jesus. We want to see the reflection of Christ in the eyes of everyone. We want to be part of the gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that lives in each one of us and enables us to share – to share love, to share concern, to share service, to be disciples. Bless us on this day and every day with the opportunity to be like Jesus, to make a difference in the world that you have shared with us. And when we are in the wilderness, help us to experience your presence, help us to know that we too are attended by angels and that we can come out of the wilderness into the world and make a difference in your name.

Amen.

Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, 1 March 2009

The Kingdom Is NOT ‘Up There’

    Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

We have just heard Jesus say in the Gospel of Mark,

    “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near.” (Mark 1:15)

But where is the Kingdom of God?

Most of us were taught in church that Heaven or the Kingdom of God was a place we go to when we die. That someday, when we die we can experience the freedom and perfect new life of Heaven. But that is not really what Jesus said; He said that

    the Kingdom is near – is at hand. (Mark 1:15)

So, why are we struggling so hard here on earth?

I want to suggest to you that we need to look at the Kingdom of God in a different way.

Because we need the Kingdom of Heaven in our lives today! We need to know that God cares about us today. Jesus said ‘NEAR’ – not ‘LATER’. Let’s consider the possibility that the Kingdom of God is near to those who hear Christ’s message and believe that message.

Contrary to the teachings of many churches, the teachings of Jesus are not primarily concerned with life after death. Christianity is concerned with life here and now. His message is not about dying, but about living. Christianity is not nearly as concerned about the Last Day as it is this day!

Jesus said:

    “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

There are many people who think that when Jesus talked about the Kingdom, he was talking about Heaven, where we would go some day. He was not. He was talking about a Kingdom of the here and now. He told us not to worry about tomorrow. It is today that really matters.

The Kingdom is at hand right now, so don’t put off your living until tomorrow. Experience God’s love in your life right now; live His teachings; find that peace and joy. The Kingdom can be here, and the Kingdom must be now.

That is the message that we all need to hear and make real in our lives. The reign of God in human life is here. No longer can we act as if God doesn’t matter in our world. No longer can we act as if justice and righteousness are irrelevant in our modern society. No longer can we act as if life has no meaning and that there is no hope. The Kingdom of God is nearer than it has ever been before.

There are two things we need to do to experience this Kingdom.

The first is to examine our lives honestly and make the changes needed to live in love and forgiveness with others and ourselves. Is there anything unhealthy in your life that you need to do something about? Any relationship, any way you spend your time that needs to be changed? Do you need to change your habits, or make amends with someone you have harmed? This is the time to do that. . . after all, the Kingdom of God is here and now.

The second thing we need to do is to believe and live the Good News.

But, what is the Good News?

It is the message of Jesus from the Gospel of John:

    My kingdom is not of this world; my kingdom is different. Turn to me; trust in me. I am here for you. I will die for you. I will rise from the dead for you. And believing in me, you will have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Everlasting life doesn’t begin in the far off unknown. It can begin the moment you give your heart over completely to love – loving the Creator and loving each other as we are loved; treating everyone else on this earth as our own brothers and sisters, with kindness and caring. At that moment you begin living in the Kingdom of God, here and now.

We start each of our services with the song, “This is the day”. You may not know it, but that comes from Psalm 118:24:

    This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad

That’s because we know that if we choose, we can live in the Kingdom of God, right here on earth, not ‘up’ somewhere in the heavens.

Are you ready to live in the Kingdom of God?

Right here
. . . .on earth!

Right now!

And the people say:

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 25 January 2015

Human Trafficking is the Modern Holocaust

“Human Trafficking is the Modern Day Holocaust”

ohio human trafficking awareness day 2015 (small)This is what those attending the Ohio Human Trafficking Awareness Day at the Ohio Statehouse heard on 15 January 2014. For the sixth year Ohio Representative Teresa Fedor gathered politicians, service providers interested people and survivors of human trafficking for a day-long seminar on the status of human trafficking in the State of Ohio.

Human trafficking was not recognized as a problem in Ohio until 151 women and children in the Toledo area were rescued in a sting operation in 2005. It may be surprising to some that Ohio is one of the main crossroads for human trafficking from Michigan to Miami. Just last week, a raid was conducted in northeast Columbus in which 18 Asian women were rescued from human trafficking in massage parlors. These victims were identified and rescued because someone in the community had been trained in the signs of human trafficking, recognized the potential trafficking and reported it to the proper authorities.

It is estimated that there are 32-39 billion victims of human trafficking in the world; of those, over 10 million are in the United States. There are two kinds of human trafficking; sex trafficking targeting women, girls and young boys, and labor trafficking. Work is being done in the area of sex trafficking, but very little is currently being done in the area of labor trafficking.

The average age of victims of sex trafficking is 13 years old; a time when girls are in those terrible teen-age years and are exceptionally susceptible to the lure of the predators. Not all sex trafficked girls and women are from poor or minority families. Many of these girls are from prominent, upstanding families, and are trafficked because they feel they are not loved or have become trapped in the cycle of domestic or drug abuse. Almost 62% of the children (both girls and boys) in the foster care system are at risk of being trafficked, whether by the foster parents or as runaways from foster homes. In the state of Ohio, currently 1678 children have been rescued from human trafficking and approximately 3000 are at risk of being trafficked.

Sadly, Ohio ranks tenth in the nation for human trafficking. The purpose of the seminar was to make people aware of some of the signs of trafficking and what can be done if trafficking is suspected. The human side was presented by a panel of eight survivors of human trafficking who told their stories of being trafficked, rescue and recovery. Their motto has become ‘From Victim, to Survivor, to Thriver’.

In response to the problem of human trafficking, and through the unflagging efforts of Representative Fedor, the Ohio General Assembly has passed legislation to benefit those who have been trafficked: trafficked victims are no longer treated as criminals but victims. The Safe Harbor Acts has created procedures and social support systems to give teen-aged victims a chance to get out of the trafficked business. It also has increased the penalties for those who traffic in underage prostitution. The End Demand Act intensified the penalties for those participating in human sex trafficking, changing the trafficking from a misdemeanor to a felony when trafficking minors.

Through the efforts of Representative Joyce Beatty and Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, House Bill 246 and Senate Bill 178 have been introduced at the current session to decriminalize victims of human trafficking. The Child Human Trafficking Data Collection process has been established a national database to track human traffickers to assist law enforcement personnel in the rescue of victims and prosecution of the perpetrators. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 protects those undocumented person in the United States that are trafficked; this is where most of the labor trafficking occurs. The Bringing Missing Children Home Act of 2014 redefines ‘child prostitution’ to ‘child sex trafficking’ and thus lets law enforcement treat the victims as victims, rather than criminals. It also requires coordination between law enforcement and social services agencies to facilitate the return of runaway children to their homes (there are currently 18,000 runaway children in Ohio). Also in 2000, End Trafficking in Government Contracts was enacted to restrict issuance of contracts to any entity which practices human trafficking, especially international companies.

In 2009, Franklin County Judge Paul Herbert established a CATCH Court (Changing Actions That Change Habits), where victims of trafficking can complete a 24-month program of treatment for substance abuse, depression and other psychological problems and receive job training. Many of these victims are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and some have sustained brain injuries from frequent beatings. For the dozen women who have successfully completed this strenuous program, their criminal records are expunged and they have a new start on life. Since CATCH Court was created, about 45 percent of the women in Herbert’s court who enter the program have not been rearrested. Before, nearly every prostitute released from jail would sooner or later either be back before a judge, or dead. The Franklin County CATCH Court is becoming a model for other states; Cincinnati is currently developing their own CATCH Court.

Education is the key to reducing human trafficking. Currently there are courses being taught at the major Ohio universities to make students aware of the characteristics of human trafficking. The University of Toledo has established the first of its kind, Anti-Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, to gather data and provide resources for agencies fighting human trafficking.

The Attorney General has created the Commission on Human Trafficking, gathering people from all over the state, representing law enforcement, social services and faith representatives to address the education, enforcement and penalizing of human traffickers. The Governor now has a Human Trafficking Task Force. The Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking, under the auspices of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, is addressing human trafficking at the national and international level, and within supply chain economics.

We have not solved this problem yet! There are far too many victims of trafficking and potential victims. What is required is interdisciplinary cooperation between law enforcement, social services, faith groups and the state and federal legislators. Churches can be instrumental in assisting in the recovery of those rescued from human trafficking. We need advocates willing to talk to their local and state officials and demand that the perpetrators receive stiffer penalties and the victims be treated as victims, not criminals. People need to be trained in the signs of trafficking so that they can report potential trafficking to the correct agencies. Volunteers are needed to assist in the rescue and recovery of those victims of trafficking.

Know The Signs Of Human Trafficking
1. Appearance of being under control of another
2. Restricted movement
3. Demeanor changes
4. Signs of physical abuse
5. Lack of personal belongings
6. Unaware of physical location
7. Owes a large debt
8. Lacking control of personal ID, documents or finances
9. Little or no payment for work services
10. Working long outs with no breaks

If you wish to know more about human trafficking and what you can do, the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Center, (614) 285-4357, and End Slavery Cincinnati, (513) 800-1863, have active programs to train volunteers. The national hotline number is (888) 373-7888. To aid in identification of potential trafficking victims, The United Nation’s Human Trafficking Toolkit is available at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/rescue-restore-campaign-tool-kits

The worldwide kidnapping and sale of human beings for labor and sex is deemed by many to be the greatest human rights struggle of the 21st century.

We, as members of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, have a biblical imperative to take care of ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25:31-46). This is your opportunity to become educated and support those victims and potential victims of human trafficking.

The Rev deniray mueller+
Legislative Liaison

This Year Be YOU!

We are almost a month into 2015, a time when we begin to reconsider our New Year’s resolutions; did we make realistic ones, can we continue with them for the entire year? There is one resolution most of us do not consider, but I want to earnestly invite you to put it on your list, because it is crucial for this and every new year: let us resolve to live our own lives – the one God has given only to us – not someone else’s.

In a commencements address at Stanford University in 1995, the amazing Steve Jobs said:

“Your time is limited. Don’t waste it trying to live someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary”,

As the founder of Apple, he certainly marched to his own drummer and did what he felt called to do.

God wants us to spend our lives being who He has created us to be as we try to live into the teachings of Jesus. Each of us is a unique people; there is only one person with your DNA and your set of life circumstances – you.

You will never happen again. There’s something you can contribute to this moment that no one else has to offer. You view each day in a way that is different from any other person. Don’t settle for merely doing the same thing as anyone else, or mimicking the opinions, desires and dreams of others. Live your own life, and explore the unique beauty of your very own dreams, thoughts, opinions and interests. The greatest value you can truly give the universe, as well as to those you love, is to be truly who you are. Know the true joy of being your uniqueness. Honor and appreciate all of life by fully and authentically living the one very special life that is yours.

In order to live your own life, you must begin to identify and prioritize the things in your life that are the most meaningful to you. Ask yourself if you are truly living the life you want to lead and were meant to lead. Are you making your life choices based on your own desires, beliefs, and values, or are you living your life based on the expectations of those around you and ‘prescriptions’?

In other words, whose life are you really living? Finding your own unique path can take time and involve a lot of trial and error. The process of becoming your true self is a lifelong journey. Our personalities, interests and abilities are not set in stone; humans are always capable of change. However, in order to change our lives or ourselves, we have to understand ourselves first as completely as possible.

Five Steps to Living Your Own Life

    1. Think About What You Really Want in Life
    For many of us, just knowing what we want in life can be a challenge. However, it is not possible to live your own life on your own terms, unless you define what your terms are. Being in touch with what you want and what matters to you helps you prioritize, develop goals and ultimately get where you want to go. Once you know what you want, you have a destination, and you can set a course in that direction.

    Discover what you truly want by asking yourself the following questions: What really gets me excited? What matters most to me?

    Allow yourself to think freely, as you answer these questions instead of getting caught up in what you think you ‘should’ be doing or what others ‘expect’ you to do.

    We often make the mistake of thinking that we are selfish if we spend time contemplating what we want, however that is how we get to know ourselves. Asking yourself what your principles are doesn’t mean that you will ignore everyone else’s. On the contrary, deciding what matters to you includes recognizing the people who matter to you and acknowledging that they are a priority in your life and that caring for them is big part of what makes you happy and gives your life meaning. Plus, according to Dr. Lisa Firestone in her six-weeks course Overcome Your Inner Critic: How to Free Yourself from Imagined Limitations, “You have the most value in the world around you when you find and invest in the gifts that you uniquely have to offer.”

    Advice such as “follow your passion” may sound cliché, however research has actually proven that people are not only happier when they follow their passions, they are also more likely to excel in their chosen careers and activities. A recent study on the effects of motivation found that the stronger the internal motivation for doing something, rather than the external rewards, the more likely people were to succeed. So, think about what is meaningful to you!

    2. Differentiate Yourself
    We are all born genetically unique individuals. However, much of our identity is created by our early environment; we internalize characteristics of our caretakers and often take on their personalities rather than developing our own. In this sense, we often spend more time reliving the lives of others rather than living our own lives. In order to live our own lives and fulfill our destinies, we must ameliorate destructive environmental influences.

    Throughout our development, we adapt ourselves to cope with pain and fears as they arise. We adapt so that we can deal with our early environment and get our essential needs met. Most people either take on the value systems and beliefs of the family and culture they grew up in, or they rebel and form defiant attitudes in direct opposition to their family and culture. However, in order to live our own life, it is important to develop our own personal values and beliefs, rather than simply accepting or rejecting the values and beliefs of our early influencers. Distancing ourselves from the negative influences and identities of our past allows us to become who we truly are. When we develop our own unique identities and follow our own unique desires, we will be able to live our most fulfilling lives. We must strive to live our own lives rather than the lives prescribed by our parents, our families or our society.

    3. Set Goals
    Once you are in touch with what you want and what your core values are, it is important to set some goals for yourself. What do you need to accomplish to live your own life? It is helpful to write down your goals; start with just a few that you would like to change. Think about specific actions you can take to achieve your goals. Start small and set mini-goals that you can accomplish along the way.

    A recent study showed that people were significantly more likely to accomplish their goals if they wrote them down, planned actions to achieve them and recorded weekly progress against those goals. This may seem silly or tedious to you, but it an overt and important act that will bring into reality your inner thoughts and musings. If you want to live your own life, you must be proactive about creating that life.

    4. Stop Listening to Your Inner Critic
    As you begin to take actions toward your goals, be aware that roadblocks will arise along the way. The first enemy you will encounter is your “critical inner voice.” It consists of negative thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that oppose our best interests and diminish our self-esteem. It is our own worst enemy. It warns us about going after the things we want. The inner critic attempts to keep you feeling “safe” by reinforcing the familiar old identity you grew up with. It is essential that you break free from your inner critic and stop listening to its bad advice.

    If you really want to change your life for the better, you must adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward your inner critic. As soon as you notice that you are starting to attack yourself, interrupt that negative thinking immediately! Pay attention to what triggers these negative thinking. Don’t be fooled by your negative voices—they are seldom acting in your best interest!

    5. Harness Your Personal Power
    As you overcome your inner critic, you will develop more personal power. Harnessing your personal power is essential if you want to live your own life. It is a healthy form of self-assertion that reflects a natural striving for love, success, satisfaction and meaning in one’s life. Personal power is an expression of the real-self, and it is characterized by movement toward self-realization and achieving your goals in life.

Personal power is “an attitude or state of mind”; it is fearless and firm in self-knowledge and inner peace. It is something that we can develop through personal exploration and honesty.

There is no greater challenge and no greater reward than to be the master of your own life, but be flexible as life unfolds. There are things that are going to come up which you hadn’t foreseen that just might be a new direction you may be called to take. Listen to your ‘heart’ – your inner sense of joy, truth and harmony.

Lastly, the only comparison you should ever make in your life is not to the lives of others but to the life you want to live. Realize that the only life you control is your own. Make your own choices, choose your own dreams, live your own life.

And, remember, it’s not so much what you are given or not given in life, it is what you do with it that’s important.
 
 
Adapted from “Live Your Own Life: How to Create the Life of Your Dreams”, http://www.PsychAlive.org

A Fresh Start In This New Year

(NOTE: an unfortunate incident happened last week at In The Garden – someone ‘lifted’ the cell phone of one of our most dedicated volunteers. I had intended to continue my series on tips for the new year, but also needed to include something about the theft. This is the first time that we have had this kind of activity in the over eight years we have been doing In The Garden)
 
Last week we heard about a New Year’s resolution – one that encourages us to not compare ourselves to others. We need to recognize and revel in the growth in ourselves.

Jesus told us,

    “I came so you can have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10, The Message)

We need to embrace that God still loves us no matter where we have been, no matter how long we’ve been there, no matter what we have filled our lives with; God, always has and always will love us just the way we are.

The Prophet Isaiah told the people of God:

    Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past (Isaiah 43:18)

Here we are in a new year. Let’s concentrate trying to be what we are truly meant to be. And let us all have compassion for others.

We are a varied community here, not only those of you who come on Sundays, but also the volunteers who come to serve. It may appear that these wonderful people who bring food and fellowship are wealthy and have lots of things you may not have. But that is not necessarily the case. We have members of the team and those who come who have been homeless in the past. Many of the volunteers are living paycheck to paycheck. Some are on very limited monthly incomes and just manage to eke by each month. But they give of their time and make meals to ensure you have a hot, nutritious meal each Sunday. And for that we are grateful.

You may think I am one of those ‘fat cat’ preachers getting paid a lot of money. I drive a nice car, I have nice clothes, and wear a fur coat in the winter. But there is nothing further from the truth. I serve a church in Worthington twice a month, do social justice work at the state and federal level during the week and am here almost every Sunday. But I do not get one red cent from the church. . . I am not paid. I do this because I am called to this ministry by God.

We had an incident last week which is greatly disturbing to me and should be to you. Someone stole a cell phone while they were picking up their cookies and leaving. This cell phone belonged to a person who works tirelessly every Sunday for In The Garden. She does not have the extra money needed to replace the phone. So that leaves her without a means to communicate with her children, and us without a lot of pictures from last week.

Whoever took the phone knows who you are. We urge you to return the phone in the next couple weeks (you can put it where you took it), with no questions asked.

But everyone needs to think about what the loss of an stolen item would mean to you. We have developed a community where we have learned to trust each other, warts and all. Now that foundation of trust has been shaken and it will take a long time for some people to feel that trust again.

None of us at ITG people to feel uncomfortable or afraid for themselves or their possessions when they come here, either to volunteer, worship, or eat lunch.

Do you?

So, as we move into the new year, let us all make a fresh start; look at how we can grow into people who are more like Jesus.

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, we know what we are not all that you would wish us to be, that we sometimes do things that we know we shouldn’t, we sometimes hurt people. Please help us to put aside those hurtful behaviors and strive to be more loving and kind to everyone we meet, showing them your infinite love.

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 11 January 2015