Parkland: What I Would Say this Morning

A clergy friend called me the other day, wrestling with what to say to his congregation this morning about the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Our conversation got me thinking about what I would say to a congregation on this day. So, here is a close approximation to what I would share. 

We gather here after a week where 17 people lost their lives in yet another school shooting. Violence of this nature in our schools was once an unthinkable tragedy, yet now seems like an almost regular occurrence, to the point where we are numb, wondering when and where this will happen again. Our thoughts and prayers are important, but it’s time we realize that our prayers, no matter how deep and heartfelt, are not enough to bring back or save lives. On Thursday morning, I hugged my kids an extra time or two before putting them on the school bus. I imagine many of you did the same.

Parkland

 

We have now entered the familiar pattern of figuring out who and what to blame. We do this without any real conversation or any real acknowledgement that something in our collective lives needs to change. Life is too precious to God and should be too precious to us for us to continue doing the same things.

Every time I speak about guns, I offer this caveat. Guns have never been a part of my life. We did not have a gun in the house growing up. I’ve never been hunting or sport shooting and have no intention to do so. We don’t have a gun in our house. I’ve been to a shooting range twice and most likely will not go back. I personally don’t like guns and don’t understand our fascination with them. However, many people whom I care about deeply feel differently and I respect that. Guns are an important part of their lives and I seek to honor that.

I know that people not only in this congregation, but in most congregations, have widely different views on guns. Many of us own multiple guns and use them for sport and recreation on a regular basis. For some, a hunting blind on a crisp fall morning is a holy place. On the other hand, some would not think of owning a gun. Some feel very strongly about the 2nd Amendment while others would be fine with it being rewritten or repealed all together. I wonder if that is what makes conversation around gun violence so difficult to have. It invoke a strong emotional reaction in us one way or another.

No matter what point of view we carry, it’s time to begin having serious conversation and reflection around the role guns play in our lives and communities. Jesus is quite famous for saying “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The church and those seeking to follow the way of Jesus must be peacemakers. Jesus spent a large portion of his ministry tearing down systems of violence and oppression so that all may have life. We cannot be faithful to that call if we are not at least willing to have conversation and do some self-reflection. Our kids’ lives are too important for anything less.

I realize there are other factors that go into this type of violence other than the gun itself. By many accounts, the shooter had a difficult life that was further complicated by a spirit of fear, anger, and hatred towards others. Our nation, from the highest levels, is riddled with spirits of fear, anger, and division. These spirits permeate our communities and our institutions. These are sinful and the church cannot fall into being about these things. The church must be about love for all, hope, and unity. The church must be welcoming to all, no exceptions. We have to create the space necessary for difficult conversations. We, through the love of God, must be a place of healing of hope for people and for our community. We cannot underestimate our power in being a force for good. This is no time for us to shrink back. We have an important role to play in the healing of our community and nation.

So today, we do offer our deep prayers. Our prayers of lament and our prayers of hope. May those prayers convict us to be peacemakers. Lives are too important for anything else.

“Loving On Each Other” as a Poor Substitute for Real Love

“We just need to love on each other”

I’ve learned that this phrase, used even by a well-meaning person, typically means that we are going to do nothing to improve the individual or collective well-being. Often it is served up with a side dish of judgement, while having an excuse for not leaving one’s comfort zone.

Kentucky Blugegraa

By accounts, yesterday’s tragic school shooting in Kentucky was the 11th school shooting in the United States for 2018. Let that sink in for a moment. We’ve had eleven school shootings in the first 23 days of the calendar year.

The governor of Kentucky released a statement encouraging folks to “love on each other” during this time.” He might as well just have said “we are going to do nothing while I continue to accept large donations from the NRA.” I will give him credit for adding to the standard thoughts and prayers line by calling upon folks “to love on each other” during this time. He sounds like the misguided youth pastor at the local fundamentalist church.

Let me be clear- love is the focus of my ministry- God’s inclusive love for all people. I believe love is at the center of the lives of all who seek to follow Jesus. In no way do I want to diminish the important role love and the sharing of love plays in our lives and in the lives of the church.

My experience is that when someone uses the phrase, “we just need to love on each other” it rarely has much to do with God’s love. It’s a phrase we use to absolve ourselves from acting. It produces the kind of love that is a poor substitute for real love. You can’t claim that Jesus is your source and example of love and then do nothing about the gun violence in our communities.

Real love will create a deep sense of mourning for the loss of life due to senseless gun violence.

Real love asks us to examine what influences us to have such a fear-based world view in which our youth feel they need to bring a gun to school.

Real love calls us to acknowledge the sinful epidemic of gun violence in our land

Real love asks us to examine our own lives and habits.

Real love calls us to do something because one precious life lost to gun violence is one too many.

Real love is more powerful than the NRA and its influence.

Real love moves us to enforce and enact sensible gun laws because life is more important than our right to bear arms at any cost.

The President Who Would Not Welcome Jesus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

liberty3.jpg-550x0

These words have stood through time on the to remind us that all are welcome in the United States. We are, for the most part, people from somewhere else who’ve made this our home. We are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot of culture. These truths make us who we are when we are at our best.

The current President does not embody us at our best, he embodies us at our worst. He intentionally seeks dark places where fear takes over. The President deals in fear, fear rooted in racism and classism.

As a citizen, his words trouble me on many levels. As a Christian, I find them to be in direct conflict with any teaching or ethic of Jesus. That this President continues to be lifted as a “Christian” example by several Christian leaders is incomprehensible and disgusting to me. It’s proof that a few will go to great lengths to use religion to curry favor and gain power (Yes, I am talking about you Franklin Graham).

If the President’s racism and classism had its way, he would not welcome Jesus into this nation. Jesus was a poor, dark-skinned person from the Middle East. Sounds to me like the kind of person the President loathes. The truth of the Gospel that all are created by God and all are loved by God is a great threat to the President’s worldview. It’s past time for those who believe in the power of God’s inclusive love to speak up. I know I have too often been silent. No more.

This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about human decency. It’s about speaking for the dignity of God’s beloved. It’s about creating a nation that embodies the very words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We are better than this.

2017 Reading List

I doubt that its best practice to start off 2018 with a 2017 list, but time ran out on me in 2017 (and I honestly didn’t think about it until a couple of days ago) My reading choices this year were not as robust due to a ministry transition and a move. I’ve included everything that I read for the first time or for the first time in a while and all of these books have been read all the way through. There is no particular order to this list, other than a general descending order from December to January. One of my goals for 2018 is to read more fiction, including some classics. Let me know what you think, I’m always up for coffee and conversation. Happy Reading in 2018.

End Game by David Baldicci

The Art of Loading Brush by Wendell Berry 

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Stanley McChrystal 

Origins by Dan Brown

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek 

Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferris

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kendo

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

The Call by Adam Hamilton

Questions Preachers Ask: Essays in Honor of Thomas G. Long

Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates 

Pre-Post- Racial America by Sandhya Jha 

More Than Words by Erin Wathen

Night School by Lee Child

42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry

The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

What is the Bible? by Rob Bell

How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin

The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear by William Barber

Ally by Michael D. Oren 

The Road to Character by David Brooks 

Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle

The One Thing by Gary Keller

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

The Whistler by John Grisham

Option B: Sheryl Sandberg

The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the New Companies of Silicon Valley are Changing the World by Brad Stone

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Love Lives Here by Maria Goff

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

 

 

Advent 4 and Christmas Eve

“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.” Marianne Williamson

happy-holidays

The account of Jesus’ birth that we hear today is the foundation of a way of life. The birth of Jesus is a gritty story. We clean it up a bit so that it’s easier for us to digest. Jesus was born into a less than ideal world in less than ideal conditions. The government of Rome was an imperial monarchy that sought to bring all in line through fear. They used the military and economic inequality to bring fear. For most, it was a less than ideal time to be alive.  Some spoke on behalf of God, but what they were saying was nothing that was of God. Others thought that God had stopped speaking, giving up on the people. People were watching for a messiah, expecting a great warrior, a smooth politician, and a gifted legislator.

No one was expecting the most powerful love of all to come into the world as a baby. Jesus would later in his life describes Gods actions like “a thief in the night.” God sneaks up on us. This day, we are waiting for God to sneak up on the the whole world once again.  In a world that is filled with fear, we need this. We need a savior who is born with the power of love, not the love of power. We need the reminder through the birth of Jesus that we are all born with love. Not fear, but love. Tonight, as we welcome Christ we begin a journey. A journey to who we are created to be, people filled with love in our hearts.

Cars Should Run On Electricity

This is a guest post by Bella Gulden, who wrote this two weeks ago for a 4th grade writing project. I found it to be a good word to share from a bright, up and coming writer (I am a little biased) She has something important to share with all of us. 

Cars should run on electricity. Then there could be less global warming, less chance of emergency, and most of all a better and cleaner future. Here are some answers to why cars should run on electricity.

electric-cars-charging-670x335

One reason cars should run on electricity is it will make less global warming happen. Today cars are one of the most used mode of transportation. Cars use gas, so what’s the big deal? Well, when you are driving, the gas will wear away up into fumes. It floats up into the air to pollute cities and homes. Also, when you get an electric car, the Polar Bears will thank you deeply.

Another reason cars should run on electricity is that there could be less change of emergency. Gas is very flammable to people and animals, like those who set onions on fire at Chinese restaurants. I must say, that stuff is pretty cool. Never use water when there is a car crash, it can just make matters worse. If you are in a car crash remember that water is the enemy this time.

My last reason why cars should run on electricity is there can be a better and cleaner community. Gas can pollute millions of places in the world. Gas can pollute trees, wildlife, and rivers. Trees are the source to the air we inhale today and tomorrow. Rivers are the source of our water, but we are polluting them with water bottles and soda cans. Electric cars are clean with no polluting involved. Cars that run on electricity will help stop pollution. Electric cars could be the next big thing in our world. Even dogs are riding on skateboards.

Electricity can be clean and we can make it. Our supplies are unlimited to make electricity. Gas can come from dinosaur bones, which are extinct. Then we will run out of gas and have to use a different source to make cars keep going. There are cars today that use electricity, but there are more gas cars. Electric cars could change the outlook of the future. Here are all the reasons cars should run on electricity.

THE END

Advent 3- Joy

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

Isaiah 61:1-4

Joy

Dreamers are often too easily dismissed. We love to hear the words of the prophet Isaiah at this time of year, but do we take them seriously? You see, in the prophet’s day, people found Isaiah to be a bit strange. He was a dreamer who spoke words that pointed to a time that was too good to be true. He spoke of a day that was impossible to imagine. Most dismissed him and his words because they couldn’t see what he could see.. To be a prophet, you had to see beyond what is in order to see what could be. Today, there are many of us who have an issue with seeing as the prophets of old call us to see. We are willing to settle for a mediocre version of our world and of our faith.

Can you allow yourself a bit of privilege this day? Give yourself the joy of getting a glimpse of seeing life not as it is, but as it can be. Not just for yourself, but for everyone. Isaiah is pointing us to a day when the oppressed will hear good news, the brokenhearted will know wholeness, captives will know freedom, and prisoners will gain release. The world will be turned upside down. He is pointing us to a time when God will use a baby born in a humble manager to signal that the day is upon us.

Redemption is promised. That redemption will not so gently nudge us out of our comfort zones and into God’s future. Will this be the time when you and I decide to see something bigger at work in us and through us? I hope and pray so, because God desires all to know wholeness and to know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is love. Allow yourself to see the world not as it is, but as it can be.