Social Justice

Peace

I recently wrote an email to one of my state legislators, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, asking him not to let fear get the better of compassion, by slowing and stopping the immigration process for refugees fleeing war in Syria. I received a written response from Senator Grassley, for which I am thankful. His letter closes with the following:

“America’s humanitarian principles haven’t changed. The times have changed . . . The United States is the greatest nation on earth, and we have consistently demonstrated our generosity and compassion towards those fleeing persecution. Yet, we must not let this compassion overshadow the safety of the American people in this time of crisis.”

Senator Grassley expresses an opinion that I often hear from people. It is the opinion that certain principles, like compassion and justness, are fair weather friends; that they are like rain coats and umbrellas in a world ravaged by a hurricane; that, when the real world invades our fantasies, we can no longer rely on kindness, hospitality, and mercy to see us through; the idea that peace is only possible because of those who are willing to kill to maintain it.

In 2015, I was asked to present some thoughts on the theme “Go, Be Peacemakers,” for the annual Peace with Justice March which happens during the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Below is a short speech I wrote that I did not end up giving. I have included a picture of the stole I intended to wear.

I think Senator Grassley is wrong. I don’t think the times have changed all that much at all, and I give this to him, and to you, as my response:

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PEACE.

This word. This simple, easy word. One vowel sound. One syllable. All these fat, rounded curves. What does it mean? What do the doves mean? The olive branches? The whole thing is so . . .pretty.

Isn’t it, though? Isn’t it nice? Doesn’t it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Like a dream of a garden full of lazy bees and butterflies, where honey drips from the comb and flute-like music plays on the breeze?

Is it still nice word when you learn that this word was stitched in Bosnia-Herzegovina? After the war there? By a woman who is selling her sewing talents so she can eat? What does this word mean in Ukraine, where our United Methodist Churches are doing all they can to house, feed and tend those fleeing conflict there? What does this word mean in Democratic Republic of Congo, in Ferguson, in Baltimore, and in Garland, Texas? What does this word mean to you and me, here on this day in Des Moines Iowa?

What does it mean to call God the Prince of Peace and Lord of the Sabbath? Especially if we believe, as many of us here at least claim to, that Jesus is not merely a Lord among Lords, but THE Lord of all Lords, warlords included. Who are we to stand by and let them, then, the Masters of War tell us that peace is not possible. That peace is not politically feasible? That national security requires a standing army, an armed militia, militarized policing forces and borders with just enough permeability not to slow down the export flow of guns and other weapons to our neighbors, friends and enemies around the globe?

It may be that you don’t want to “take sides” in the ongoing feud in the Middle East, to choose Palestine or Israel, Syria or Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran. and I can understand that. Conflict is complicated. We like things to be simple.

Like taking sides, for instance, instead of loving people. Loving people, strangers, outcasts, criminals, and enemies such that we invest at least as much in building up their lives and infrastructure as we do in our own defense Research and Development. Loving people, strangers, outcasts, criminals and enemies such that we don’t care what political agenda actually wins the day as long as it guarantees neighbors have the safety and freedom to eat dinner together, and that Romeos and Juliets don’t have to lock their relationships into closets and drink public poison simply to be together. 

Because as I stand here in this garment of peace, stitched together by hands and a heart shaped and changed by the mindless fury of war, I can’t help but believe that peace can’t be some sort of light, fluffy, Kum-ba-Yah moment of sisterly love.I can’t help but believe that peace isn’t some layer of frosting on the celebration cake we bake at the end of time, but that it is instead our Jesus Christ Christian call in the here and now, in the day to day, in the moment by moment choices we  make with every single breath. It is our response to the sighing, dying, killing, hating, hurting question, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

So I would like to issue a challenge to all of us gathered here today. I challenge us to GO! To be peacemakers. To go, to do, to be whatever it takes to make this word, this simple, single-syllable word actually mean something. 

Social Justice

Dear Church

Church, if we just decided to be The Church, there is so much WORLD to which we could be attending*

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why we don’t want to.

Instead, we want members. We want people to come to our church events. We want people to like our linoleum and our pastors. We want to entertain, sustain, enliven, and energize public crowds, but we are not as good at that as are the stadiums, restaurants, dance clubs, and farmer’s markets. Instead what we want is a secure compound with a secret tunnel into Heaven for the day the zombie hordes finally breach the wall. Except, we aren’t very good at administering that, either.

You know what we are good at, though?

Theology.

Hugs and empathy in a world which celebrates toughness and stoicism.

Preparing and sharing food in ways which make everyone feel like a friend.

Talking about the dead, and holding hands with the dying. The worst experience in the world is a death devoid of meaning and a funeral among people without a faith.

Being friends with murderers. Don’t believe me? Read about United Methodist Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, and Jürgen Moltmann .

Feeding strangers-even the dirty, crazy, lazy, unworthy ones.

Communion.

Entrusting the management of our organization to the hands of just about anybody who comes through our doors.

Honoring sheep.

And what resources do we have to help us offer these gifts to our neighborhoods and communities?

Houses and churches-empty or underused spaces which we can employ free of charge; and they are in every town in Iowa. Some of them were even built where there is not a town.

If we could wrap our heads around it, we have a shared bank account with tens, hundreds, thousands, and through the Connection, millions of other people. (This in a culture which rewards people that hoard, hide, and password protect every possible resource they can get their hands on.)

Families that are not related by blood-we have cousins, grandparents, children, parents, and siblings to spare.

Oodles of people with time, flexible schedules, and unique life experiences who can bridge the space between faith communities and their local School Boards, Chambers of Commerce, Housing Authorities, Hospital Administrations, Parent-Teachers’ Associations, Insurance Companies, Retail Stores and Sports Booster Clubs.

Hands on opportunities for people to gain experience in:

Fine Arts, Business Administration, Volunteer Management, Computer Literacy, Grant Writing, Journalism, Audio/Visual Technology, Public Speaking, Financial Management, Web Design, Systems and Information Technology, Spreadsheets, Wood Working, Plumbing, Electrical, Auto Mechanics, Nursing, Meeting Management and Facilitation, History, Humanities, Social Studies, Biology, Food Science, Event Planning, Hospitality, International Relations, Cultural Exchange . . . 

A story that always ends with a Beginning.

The world has issues. The world has problems. The world has patriotism, politics, and Oscar nominations to worry about.

You know what we have? We have the memory of God. And that memory, that reminder of who and whose we are, it has the power to do nothing less than transform the world. What would you rather spend your time attending to?

http://afterhoursdenver.org/
Social Justice

Homesick

Monday night, my significant other and I worshiped with AfterHours Denver, a United Methodist Church which meets in a bar and lives into the motto: Love More, Laugh More, Judge Less. That night, a member of the AfterHours community shared about how serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Civic Center Park every Tuesday for the last three years has changed his life. During the message, there was time for people to talk with those around them. There were five of us at the table, strangers when we sat down, and by the end of the discussion time I had received these amazing stories of how AfterHours had changed the lives of those seated there-given meaning, made a difference, touched Divinity.

One man shared that he did not know the Bible very well, but that he experienced the love of Christ every time he made eye contact with someone at the park. Another shared that it had taken almost a year of weekly visits to the park before the folks there trusted AfterHours enough to come and receive. He seemed humbled and grateful to have been given that trust. At the end of service, people hung around for about an hour of fellowship. During that time, three other people dropped by my table to share about AfterHours. I could tell that AfterHours is the highlight of the week for many there: an evening of deep connection, Spiritual engagement and an open environment for questions and religious seeking.

I experienced a similar vibe at a Sunday School class in an Iowa United Methodist Church whose members requested that I not share their names or location. The Sunday I attended, there were about 13 people at that class. There were people ranging in age from 17 to . . well, it probably would not be polite to say. The group was sharing with me a mission project they had taken on a couple of years ago. The members of the group had read Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life: You Were Born to Make a DifferenceThe book had spurred a desire to do something more than simply read and discuss books. They started looking for ways to make a difference.

Inspired by a story they read in a newspaper, they decided to take up a collection. The money was then given to one member of the group who was tasked with keeping an eye open for a way to help out someone in the community. No strings, no names, no credit-simply to use that money to make someone’s day better or to help someone with a difficult situation. That member would report back to the group and the next month, a different member of the class is given the money to give away.

I sat for over an hour as the members of the class shared the ways they had been moved to touch their neighbors’ lives with the money their group collected: a family swimming pass, a Wal-Mart gift card, paint for someone whose home was damaged in a flood. The magic, they said, is in being anonymous. One woman shared how transforming it is to be used by God. Their words and stories tumbled over one another as they joyfully shared not only their own stories, but the stories from others in the group.

Their pastor said that the excitement that Sunday School class generates has had a significant impact even on the church members who don’t attend the class. It has created a bit of contagious generosity and has raised the congregation’s self-esteem, but the members of the class are clear: participating in this ministry is not about them being generous benefactors. It is about being people called by God to make a difference, and the overwhelming generosity of God in supplying opportunities and resources to make that difference.

At a visit to Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, someone asked me how I liked the church. I said, “This will probably sound odd, but being here makes me feel homesick.” He said, “Not at all, Sister. You know what homesick is, don’t you? It is the feeling you get when you remember what it feels like to be loved.” I experienced that same homesickness in both Denver and that Iowa Sunday school class. It is the feeling, or thirst, if you will, that calls me into discipleship and out into the world with whatever of Christ I can manage to share.

I wonder where it is that you experience that “homesickness,” that feeling you get when you remember what it feels like to be loved. Do you find it in your church on Sunday morning or Saturday night? Do you experience it at your workplace or in your Sunday school? Maybe you encounter it while stocking shelves at the pantry or serving meals through some sort of outreach. Does it encourage you to protest and to disrupt? Does it keep you from losing hope when all the media knows to feed you is bad news?

If not, seek it out, because God is in it. Christ inhabits the homesick you feel when it isn’t home you’re missing, and the Holy Spirit breathes through communities of people all living into that same hope: a world where we can love more, laugh more and judge less.

Social Justice

Bearers of the Good News

‘Tis the season, but we should not jump too soon and too quickly to the joyous occasion of Christ’s birth. Still, today, God grows in the waters, and in the darkness. God is still a seed germinating, hidden beneath Mary’s heart. God is still, today, but a scrap of hope which has yet to breathe on its own.

God is a hope and even on Christmas, will be born weak and dependent on human nurturance to survive. I wonder if we jump too soon to expectation of salvation and forget our own roles as the midwives, mothers, cooks, babysitters, daycare providers, teachers, and foster parents of Messiah. Hope, peace, joy, light and love may well be born on Christmas Day, but it takes a life (several lives, in fact) for them to develop, grow, flourish and thrive.

As you look around this Advent and Christmas season, I invite you to notice those who have nurtured hope. I invite you to encourage those who have given food and drink to peace. I invite you to celebrate those who sing, dance and foster playful joy. If the Christ knew to love, it is because the baby Jesus was born, not only to a manger, but to a community of love; and still today, it is people of radical humility and love, communities of outstanding peace and embodied joy who emanate the light of Christ into a world which sometimes seems barren of possibility.

You and I are in this thing together, together with Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit to carry, bear, birth and nourish that better world to which we aspire.

-Inspired by the contagious witness of Katie Meyler and the  More Than Me Foundation

Adoration of the Magi: image used with permission: capl@washjeff.edu 

Abundant Life, Central Iowa, Compassion, Conversations, East Central Iowa, Economy, Gifts, Mission, North Central Iowa, Northeast District, Poverty, Schools, Social Action, Social Justice, Solidarity, Under 18

Youth Strike for Christ

YSfCThis weekend, I got to spend a few hours with a bunch of United Methodists between the ages of 13 and 18 along with various mentors, youth leaders, event planners and pastors. The event is called Youth Strike for Christ, and I was asked to lead a session titled “My Name is Justice.”

I have been reading and watching a lot of amazing things recently involving young people: an interview with Malala Yousafzai, a speech by Madison Kimry, a response to a culture of meanness and bullying by Jeremiah Anthony of West High School in Iowa City, and an amazing project by Katie Meyler whose foundation, More Than Me, is taking on child prostitution in Liberia. Like John Stewart, I am left with an idea of “I don’t know where you come from, but I am glad you are here.”

So I decided not to spend  time telling my groups about injustice, unfairness, and the United Methodist Social Principles. Instead, I invited them to speak from their own hearts and experience; to start imagining ways to respond, and to name the things that may be holding them back. Because the power to make change does not reside in the hands of others. It lives inside each and every one of us, and when we invite the Holy to inspire us, we can rely on that change to be good.

Issues they see in their schools, towns, churches and world: racial discrimination, judging attitudes, terminal illnesses among young people, a lack of respect for the gifts we have (taking abundance for granted and disregarding the cries of those who go without), loneliness and a lack of meaningful work and community building for young people, hunger, poverty, inadequate education opportunities, inability to dress for success, lack of clean, running water, war, lack of respect, rudeness, illicit drug use, alcoholism, misuse of aid offered in good faith, unprotected and premature sex, pregnancy among peers, drug dogs and security cameras at schools, cynicism about people (hard to have faith in others); strong pressure to participate in behaviors which are not good for us (social drinking, drug use, mean-spirited relationships), depression, suicide, potential violence (bomb threats and hit lists: wars and rumors of wars).

Some strategies they proposed: find friends to stand with you; take it one step at a time (don’t try to fix the entire situation); collect “nice” suits and shoes to offer to people who may need them for an interview, etc.; talk to everybody; don’t avoid personal interactions with people who say mean or judgmental things about you-directly address their behavior as it relates to you; overcome your own F.E.A.R. (False Expectations Appear Real); go to the Bible and see what is said there; grow deeper in your own faith so that you have hope, courage, and endurance for the “bad” stuff around you; use the lens of faith and the example of Christ to look for the positive transformations that are happening, rather than focusing on the “few bad people.”

Some costs to doing any of these things that they named: it is hard work and there are other things we may rather be doing; you may lose your friends; you may lose your life like Martin Luther King, Jr. did; you may have to give up family; by crossing the line and spending time with people [who are doing drugs], you might be pressured to behave like them, or teachers/parents/others might start distrusting you-think you are doing “bad stuff” even when you aren’t, what you try might not work

Some reasons why you would do something to change “the whole mindset” of a school, town, or church: you will be respected; you will have respect for yourself; you will reflect God out to the world; you will lose your fear; you wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore; people who are struggling wouldn’t have to work so hard; people could have dignity, people could have more choice 

Some of the gifts I witnessed: respect, caring, engagement with one another, willingness to make room for strangers, giggles, awareness of people who are weaker, poorer, hungrier than they are, supportive and positive interpersonal actions, desire to be of benefit to their community, diversity (of perspective, socio-economic class, and background), leadership, gentleness, shyness, patience, grace, energy, earnestness, confidence, knowledge of the Bible, personal relationship with Jesus, depth of commitment to their community and a desire to meet that commitment through their youth groups/church, readiness to participate in hands-on mission and service, knowledge of Imagine No Malaria, sophisticated opinions regarding economic and political realities, empathy, self-discipline, strong work ethic, positive and supportive family structures and connections, strong self identities, sweet dispositions, sense of set-apartness (Christian identity as a special identity they have in common)

Abundant Life, Mission, Psalms, Remembrance, Social Justice

When Giants Pass

This year has seen the death of giants. Earlier this year, Rev. Bob Williams passed away. Just this last week, South Africa lost Nelson Mandela, and the Iowa Annual Conference lost Bob Crandall.

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I did not know any of these men well, but I have met people they touched. I have been in rooms made uncomfortable by the questions they raised. I have met people they inspired and encouraged. I have started to hear stories of the ways in which their witness to social justice changed the lives of the people and the nations around them.  And now, they are gone.

When people die, it is our custom to spend time remembering them. We read narratives of their lives. We share memories of our time with them. We describe their corporate and their personal meaning to the community. We claim them as part of our family and name them so future generations won’t forget them.

Talking about the radical nature of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann describes them as powerful tools for remembering. Over the coming weeks, I invite you to remember those giants of Biblical justice we have lost, whether that be a public figure like Nelson Mandela or a close and intimate friend like Bob Crandall or Bob Williams. I invite you to search the Psalms for their story, and then I invite you to send me those remembrances. You can email or mail me a story and a Psalm. You can put together a quick video remembrance or even a simple audio recording. If you are an artist, I encourage you to send me poetry, dance, drama, or music which somehow connect you to that member of the family of Christ.

Because we don’t want to fall into nostalgia. We don’t want to retreat into the convenience of amnesia. Instead, we want to keep alive the examples of hope, faith and love that they provided for us and share those stories to raise up our next generation of giants.

Abundant Life, Conversations, Health, Social Justice, Wellness

Be A Well

well2Wellness has been a topic of discussion over the last weeks.  Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and societal health have all been on the table.

One pastor puts it this way:  “The connection is frayed,” she said.  Elders and deacons on disability are falling through the cracks.  Deacons and elders supporting children and spouses with mental illnesses do not have a supportive system to lean into.  There is an experience of ostracism among those living with disabilities.  “It is as though we have ceased to exist.”

One man I spoke with was deeply concerned about the loss of civic dialogue in the church and in society.  He remembers when there was a good working relationship between our identities as United Methodists and as as American citizens with voice and vote.  Over the years, he has seen those identities become fractured and has seen divisions, similar to those between political parties, arise within local churches such that we don’t seem capable of trusting one another’s faith.

He sees the church as a power which can change the culture, but believes it has stifled its prophetic voice because it fears for its own survival.  Instead, it evidences a willful blindness to the connection between the violence in our lives and the violence in our culture.

I had lunch with a small group and the topic was wellness.  What does it look like?  How do healthy people, couples, families, churches, communities, and institutions maintain balance? What do they hold on to?  How do they let go?

People are suffering from too many hours on the clock, not enough friends to rely on, and an almost pathological inability to say “no” even when schedules are full.  We are not eating well, sleeping enough or choosing to believe the best of one another. We have forgotten how to spend time with ourselves.  We have forgotten how to experience Sabbath.  We have forgotten what it is to play.

And our life in Christ becomes a stone we are pushing up a hill alone.

In John 10: 10b Jesus says, “I came so that they could have life-indeed so that they could live life to the fullest.”  Among the social principles of the United Methodist Church are these statements related to health and well-being.  “Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility.“ (The Social Community, subheading V)  “We recognize the opportunity leisure provides for creative contributions to society and encourage methods that allow workers additional blocks of discretionary time.” (The Economic Community, subheading C).

As I have thought about wellness, I have thought about the difference between wells and conduits.  Conduits are vessels through which power flows.  Wells are vessels which fill, and when they have reached capacity, overflow. Maybe we have gotten so addicted to the currents of power we have chosen to be conduits rather than wells. Yet, Jesus, the Messiah of the Well, promises us living water, a flow of joy and sustenance which has no end.  This Advent season, I encourage you to let yourself fill.  Take time, find space, say no, and turn off the power switch for a while. Be a well.