Compassion, Discipleship, Police, Reconciliation, Social Justice, The Great Commission, Transforming the World

God sides with Michael & Trayvon

Our children are our future, they are our hope and they hold our hearts in their little hands. When they grow up, they are still our children and we still want to protect them. If there is one basic human feeling that we should all understand in guts its the common human desire to protect our children and their future. No matter what culture, language, race or nationality we all seek the good of our children and would do anything for them.

We have this common basic desire and yet, how we struggle to see this in each other. We see the differences between us and get scared rather than have compassion.

In Ferguson, Missouri a community is grieving because one of their children (yes, 18 year olds are big kids, but still kids) was murdered with his hands up in a sign of surrender by someone who had sworn to serve and protect. Would any of us be calm if our 18 year old was killed in such a way? Would our community? And the man who shot him was not arrested, but is protected. The reputation of the victim has been smeared. The community stands in protest of this injustice and the police takes the stance of a militaristic, oppressive force. Who will say that this is not OK?

Psalm 82:2:
How long will you judge unjustly

and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;

maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

God says its not ok to treat people as if they are nothing. God says we have to give justice especially to the weak, the lowly, the poor and the needy. God will judge us if we do not stand up for the Michael Browns, the Trayvon Martins, the children who study in broken down schools, the children with not enough to eat, the children judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.  They are God’s children, and God will hold us accountable to how we did or did not stand for them.

Everyday we have an opportunity to stand for others, on the side of God. With our words, actions and attitude we can make a difference and fight racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and injustice wherever we find it. We can say to each other that it is not OK to judge people by skin color, religion, or nationality. We can say “no” to those who would have one group be better or more powerful than any other. We can say “no” to the swastika, the Confederate flag, and to hateful speech that belittles and demeans. We can stand up for all children. God help us make the world a safe place for every child.

Iowa churches and pastors I beg you: Talk about Ferguson.  Talk about how it would feel to lose an 18 year old of your community in this way.  Talk about what we expect from our police and how they should be accountable when they make a mistake – they are human beings too.  Talk about racism.  Talk about how God made all of us a rainbow of colors that is beautiful in God’s eyes.   Talk about our baptismal vow to “accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

I had a visitor come to our Lakeside (Boat-In) service this past Sunday.  She wrote me an email after the service talking about how she was hoping, yet not expecting, for a message about Ferguson because the white church has disappointed her so many times before.  I was scared, but I talked about it.    She was relieved and filled with hope because of what she heard.

Be bold, be strong, the Lord your God is with you!

SarahRohret

Rev. Dr. Sarah Rohret is an Elder in the United Methodist Church and serves at Calvary United Methodist Church in Arnold’s Park, IA and is the Chair of the Iowa Board of Church and Society.

Discipleship, Faith, Mission, Police, Psalms, Reconciliation, Response to Violence, Social Action, Social Justice, Suicide, Transforming the World, Whole Community

Drop the Script

ServiceShirtMason City, IA hosted this year’s Pyrotechnics Guild International convention. Our house is about 2 miles from the North Iowa Events Center and this week has been one long percussive symphony of pops, cracks, and sizzles as the various fireworks demonstrations have lit up the night sky.

This has also been one long week of bad news and violence. War, suicide, and another few names on the litany of those who have died via inflamed passions mixed with the trigger of a gun, those bigger deaths, publicized and amplified, seeming to drown out the more intimate personal violence which claimed the life of someone close here to home.

Media responses to these situations have been exactly as one would predict; reinforcing stereotypes, pointing fingers, and insisting that there is some sort of alignment we can choose to cover all situations: as though your geo-political, social, and familial relationships are simply blanks to be filled out on your voter registration card.

As the fireworks shows started to sound more and more like anti-aircraft fire, I wondered when my imagination stopped seeing strobe lights and loud noises as entertainment and started feeling them as the specter of violence which seems to be hanging over the world.

Friends, we are not swimming in safe water. It is pretty poisoned and polluted, and it may even be toxic to the skin. The way we don’t talk with one another, but instead allow facebook, twitter, CNN, Fox News and AM Radio to carry our messages back and forth for us is bad.  They don’t have the capacity to carry complications, and it is to believe in a lie if you believe that these situations and experiences we face are easily conquered, or can be simply realigned into the appropriate categories of Black, Purple, Brown or White.

Our lack of trust in one another is bad. I am not saying that trust will necessarily be rewarded, but mistrust breeds only evil and spawns hells in our neighborhoods.

Its other name is fear, and we are called to cast out all fear. It is bad to build walls around ourselves and create or uphold laws and ordinances which oppress the widows, aliens and strangers living amongst us. Instead, Jesus’ Disciples practice generosity and openness of heart, hearth, body and soul. Even naïve Peter says to us, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.'”

While “common sense” may be telling us that we must take up arms against a sea of troubles, over and over again, our Great Book tells us to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

To be a witness to faith in this time means to drop the script that has been handed to you. You have an opportunity to turn down the part, to improvise yourself out of the bad lines, even to walk off the stage in the middle of the performance and refuse to refund the ticket.

God asks better of us, believes better in us. The Lifegiver has endowed us with such gifts with which to encounter one another and this good creation in which we are blessed to live, I cannot comprehend why we are so happy to go along with the story we are being fed.

Life is not you against me or us against them. Life is all the parts knowing themselves to be irreplaceably precious members of the Whole.

Survival is not being the last living contender standing on this planet. Survival is letting go of your power so that others might live.

Joy is not in finding the originator of the wrong. Let’s face it,that blame goes all the way back to the beginning of time. It is in regaining that which was lost.

We will not become righteous by choosing the right opinion to have. We will not win a war. Ever. We will not be able to vote back the bullet which killed Michael Brown or reform Robin Williams back to life. You and I know that. It is time we started to speak and act like we do.

Faith, Health, Poverty, Reconciliation, Social Justice, Transforming the World, Whole Community

Hard Peace

Grace Des Moines PeaceI keep coming back to this idea of a “hard peace.” Maybe it is because I am a hard-headed person that I am dissatisfied with the ways people talk (write) about peace and conflict within the United Methodist Church. There are all these “family” metaphors. We are told to rely on our “unity of spirit” and also there is a kind of playground dialogue which ends, “I am taking my toys and heading home. So there!”

While I often wish I was the kind of person who can say “Look! We are going to end malaria. We are feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Isn’t that good enough? Isn’t that all the proof we need of the Holy Spirit fire igniting this church?” I simply am not.

I don’t think the most important question is how much service work are we doing as a church  but rather, how are we doing that work? Who is being ground down, beaten up, cast aside and left to die in the ditch while we are so focused on ending “poverty;” a concept with which we start to divide people into opposing groups of rich and poor, have and have not, hungry and fed, check-writers and service receivers, fit and broken, able and disabled. We are definitely doing our best to alleviate hunger and disease, but still, there is no peace.

I think we have to work for the harder peace-the peace of justice. It is not a peace that says “Can’t we simply get along?” It is not a peace that says, “Oh, never mind him, that is simply Crazy Uncle Zee.” It is not a peace that says that families are safe, open, affirming, caring, loving, capable, and simply organized places in which to grow, but recognizes that first families are often the places where we learn how to hit, hate, deny, degrade, and destroy.

When Paul tells us we are brothers and sisters in Christ, he is not suggesting that we Christians get along with people the way we relate to our own siblings. In my family that looks like an awful lot of wrestling, name-calling, door-slamming, practical jokes and hand-me-downs. Instead, Paul is telling us we participate in a different kind of family, one where we have to get along with one another the way Christ gets along with us.

And that means we have to work at kindness, gentleness, peacefulness, faithfulness, joyfulness, loveliness, patience, goodness, and self-control. But those fruit are hard to nurture. They are hard to water and they are hard to grow. They don’t come naturally, simply, or easily, and evidence of their existence can be in short supply.

So, I don’t buy it. I don’t think there is a really a way for us to simply ignore our very real disagreements with others while we go about the service work of the church. Because, Christ didn’t really plant us here to provide services for those poor unfortunate souls. Instead, he tried to cultivate the soil of our souls, and he planted the seeds of God’s Mercy and Rightness, and he watered those seeds with Faithfulness, his own belief in us, that out of those souls might grow the Garden of God in the midst of a ground left salted and sere by the warring passions of people estranged from Love.

 

Abundant Life, Reconciliation, Social Justice, The Great Commission, Transforming the World, Whole Community

Be Reconciled to One Another

"Hands across the divide statues - Derry' reconciliation monument" by FABIO CASADEI  Some rights reserved
“Hands across the divide statues – Derry’ reconciliation monument” by FABIO CASADEI Some rights reserved Creative Commons License

In two separate entries for the definition of the word “reconciliation,” I think I see the seeds of one of the biggest issues facing American Christians today. There is an entry which says that reconciliation is the “restoration of friendly relations,” and the next entry says “reconciliation is the action of making one belief or view compatible with another.”

Interestingly, when looking up the word irreconcilable, I found a similar set of definitions, but in reverse order. The first entry says that irreconcilable indicates “ideas, facts, and beliefs representing findings or points of view that are so different from each other that they cannot be made compatible” while the second entry reads that irreconcilable, when used to describe relationships between people, means “implacably hostile to each other.”

As I read blog articles, eavesdrop on conversations in the diner, and engage in pretty intense one-on-one conversations with people about topics like abortion, contraception, sexuality, gender, war, gun control, foreign aid, environment, labor, or incarceration, what I find is people who have somehow made the two definitions of reconciliation (or irreconcilable) the same.

Yet one definition is a definition of subjects. It is a description of relationships between people: people who have successfully re-established friendliness, and people who cannot and will not decide to get along.

The other definition is a definition of objects. It is a description of relationships between things: ideas, beliefs, and facts. Some ideas can be made compatible with one another: I am a Christian and I am a United Methodist, for example. Other facts cannot be made compatible with one another: hot and cold, for example.

It seems, as I read, listen, argue, converse and engage, that we all too often fuse the two.  “I hold ideas or beliefs that cannot be reconciled (made compatible) with your ideas or beliefs, so that means you and I must be implacably hostile to one another.”  Or, more commonly, “Because you and I cannot find agreement on this issue, one of us has to leave, or both of us have to stop talking about these ideas and beliefs, and not just with one another, but at all.”

This confusion-that the full compatibility of ideas is necessary in order for our relationships to be friendly, for you and I to be reconciled to one another, is not only ridiculous, it is also dangerous.  What’s more, it casts doubt on Christ’s ability to have reconciled the world-because Christ’s primary work of reconciliation was a work of subjects: God with people, people with God, people with people, people with creation, creation with heaven, the living with the dead, men with women, Muslims with Christians, deviant with conformist.

In John Wesley’s sermon The Character of a Methodist he opens with this phrase: “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his [sic] opinions of any sort.” The Methodist is “a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He [sic] is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He [sic] thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His [sic] soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he [sic] so walks as Christ also walked.”

Apostle Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we humans continue to argue the compatibility of ideas, beliefs and facts, I think it is imperative that we Christians live seriously into this other ministry with which we have been entrusted: the ministry of restoring  friendly relationships between all God’s children on this Earth.

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