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Posts tagged ‘Central America’

Mercy and Compassion Come Out!

Matthew 15:10-28

This week I was taking with a guy I know who works in a store that I shop in frequently. He and I always have funny or interesting conversations. This time, we were joking about his nickname and his favorite superhero, and then, he told me an unexpected story that I will now paraphrase. He said:

When I worked in another store, I used to wear my stocking cap down over my hair. And, you know, since I am not as “black” as other African-Americans, this guy who worked with me kept staring at me and then finally he said to me:

What are you? Are you Puerto Rican or something?

I then took off my hat to reveal to him my hair, which I assumed would show that I was indeed black.

Oh…

He said.

You are one of those good-looking blacks…

My friend, as he finished the story, said that he didn’t curse out the other individual, but simply remarked about how shocked he was, and also how inappropriate the comment was.

Truthfully, it makes me sick to my stomach to think that we still do this to each other.

What are you?

Oh, you are one of those good-lookin’ blacks…

And yet, this is all too real.
Racism. Prejudice. Discrimination.

Words many Anglos avoid using.

But they are more than words to many, many people who are black or brown; very real to people who are discriminated against or mistreated simply because of the color of their skin, their cultural or national background, or their religious background.

Of course, after my friend told his story, we started talking about Ferguson, MO and Mike Brown and racism in the U.S. and white privilege. Many people choose not to talk about these things because they are too heavy or maybe because the topic makes them uncomfortable or maybe because they prefer to live in isolation from what is really happening in the world.

But the thing is, we have to talk about how we treat people.

We have to be aware of prejudice and stop denying its existence. And those who have privilege and never have to look over their shoulder in a store because someone might think they will steal something; or who never have to fear police officers in particular neighborhoods or immigration officers and the TSA in airports; or who never have to put up with ignorant, offensive comments about their skin color, nationality, or language—those with privilege need to accept that much of society is built upon prejudice systems that favor only a few and push down many others.

If we ignore that, we are compliant.

And all people—not just people of faith—should care about people in Ferguson, MO; in North Philly; in Central America; in Iraq; in Gaza. They are our neighbors and we must remember that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So said Martin Luther King. And so hatred and violence against anyone due to the color of their skin, their nationality, or their religious background should matter to us.

Even if it does not happen directly to us.

And now to the Matthew story.

Jesus of Nazareth leads with this:
Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.

Apparently, this was an inflammatory thing to say, because the disciples were worried. Why?

The Pharisees were offended; this scared the disciples because they obviously cared more about appearance and pleasing people than they did about the truth of what was going on.

The “what was going on” part has to do with rules, once again. The Pharisees, the disciples, and others were more concerned with what people ate and drank, what they read and studied, what they put “into” the mouth [or mind], rather than what actually came “out” or in other words, how they behaved.

Jesus was getting impatient with his own disciples.
What goes into the mouth goes into the stomach and into the sewer.
What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.

People’s hearts inspire them to do evil, hate, murder, steal, lie, etc.
But if someone doesn’t wash their hands, in other words, if he/she does not follow your specific rules, that doesn’t make him/her a sinner.

And then, the disciples are tested, and they fail the test miserably.
They are in Tyre and Sidon and a Cannanite woman starts shouting:

Have mercy on me! My daughter is tormented by a spirit.

The disciples get impatient.

Let’s go, Jesus. Send her away. She’s annoying us.

The woman [and her daughter] do not count. They are unimportant to the disciples.
Wasn’t Jesus supposed to help the people of Israel first?
Shouldn’t he give his teachings and his healing and his time to them?
The disciples thought so.

So nobody listened to the Canaanite woman.

But the woman was persistent and came to Jesus of Nazareth and knelt before him.

Help me.

She was called a dog and not worthy to eat at the table with everyone else.

But what came from her heart impressed Jesus.
The mere crumbs would be enough. She was not a dog, but a human asking for healing. She deserved to be heard, to be treated like everyone else; to be afforded the same opportunities.

And so the healing happened.

The story is relevant for today.

Many times, Christians are just like the disciples and just like the Pharisees. We argue and argue about religious rules, cultural norms, and who is clean or unclean. We crave attention for ourselves and wish none for others. It’s about me, me, me or us, us, us and we forget about her or him or them.

We focus too much on appearance; we focus too much on the outside.
We ignore what comes from the heart—real human behavior.

And in doing so, we ignore and disenfranchise others; we say they don’t count.
We don’t listen to them; we send them away.

Friends, the story cuts deep, does it not?

I wonder how much good we could do in the world if we focused less on the surface and more on the behavior that comes OUT of people. What words do we say? What actions do we perform? And…most importantly, how do we treat other people?

The Matthew story is a challenge to anyone who thinks that believing in Jesus or God or religion is enough. The disciples said they believed. But then they were still worried about appearance and wanted to push away a woman asking for healing.

Where was the mercy and compassion that was supposed to come out of their belief?

Where is our mercy and compassion that comes out of our belief?

In Ferguson, Missouri; in Gaza; in Iraq; in Syria; in West Africa; in Central America; in Philly and in Warminster.
Where is our mercy and compassion?

Perhaps this is a lament more than anything else.
I’m saddened and maddened by how poorly we treat each other in this world.
And how people are ignoring Michael Brown’s story, and the story of others who have been attacked because of their skin color.

Are we listening to their stories?
Or are we pushing them away?

It is sad that Twitter has to explode with #dontshoot for people to pay attention.

Howard University students shouldn’t have to do this to get people to listen to the cries of those who suffer discrimination every day in this country.

howardunivPrayers are fine but not enough when teenagers are shot out of fear.
This doesn’t need to happen.

The appearance that we live in an accepting and open country is a fallacy.
Prejudice is alive and well once you move past the surface.
There are imbedded systems that are built on prejudice and give advantage to a certain few while pushing down others.

So people of faith [and no faith], let’s stop being silent about it.

Stop justifying it.
Stop ignoring the real stories of those around you.
Listen to them.

And when you see or hear this kind of prejudice, don’t stand by and watch it happen. Don’t be a bystander.

Any of your friends, family, or neighbors who make prejudice comments—challenge them; call them out. Don’t put up with it, because you care more about the heart and aren’t fooled by the surface.

Be friends with people who are different than you. Stand up for anyone who is pushed down.

May the behavior that comes out of your heart be more important than any appearances you try to keep up.

Let mercy and compassion come out!

P.S. I have permission to share the following comments from one of the members of the church I serve:

We haven’t mentioned anything to our daughter–she’ll be 10 next month and probably at that age where we should talk to her about these things, but she is so naive and innocent still. We want her to stay that way for as long as possible. 🙂

We believe in setting a high bar for these girls to reach, because they will reach it. We believe in teaching them to be kind and thoughtful first and foremost. We believe in showing them how to set a good example for others to follow.

And in doing those things they will SHOW people that maybe their initial judgment of them, based on skin color, was incorrect and maybe teach someone something without even realizing they were doing so.

That is our hope.

I know some day they are going to get awakened to racism and pre-judgment. But I hope when they are, they are strong enough to know who they are and don’t let it define them. 

Participating in Miracles?

Matthew 14:13-21

 

MIRACLE.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs

2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment

Not sure what you consider to be a miracle. Does it have to be something religious—something related to a god or gods? Does it have to be supernatural?

Or are miracles everyday occurrences that we cannot explain?

 

What’s a miracle to you?

Check out this Ted Talk given by Louie Schwartzberg.
Hidden Miracles of the Natural World.

Now allow me to admit something to you.

I love to see nature’s miracles.

But I’m not a big fan of the popular miracle stories we have in our religious traditions. Don’t get me wrong—I love mythology and magic and science fiction. I thoroughly enjoy the magical stories in the various religious books from around the world.
But we’ve come to a point in humanity’s existence when some of those miracle stories [particularly religious ones] have led us to apathy, lack of empathy, and even great misunderstandings that lead to violence.

I don’t think this is a stretch at all.

Consider what is happening in Gaza right now.

Both sides of this violent conflict claim to have some higher authority that gives them the right to claim a certain land. Now, whether or not most of the normal, everyday people of Israel and Palestine believe that—I don’t know. But that’s the view we often hear about and see.

Children, youth, and adults all die because someone believes in a supernatural right to a particular land.
It’s so tense right now that people are afraid to even talk about this issue.
No matter what someone says, it’s likely to offend someone.

So I probably just did.

And then there are other issues like the fact that thousands of children and youth from Central America are coming to the U.S. via la bestia, a train that travels through Mexico to the U.S. border. They are risking their lives because they believe that they will be reunited with their families in the U.S. if they can just get across that imaginary border we made up years ago.

They expect that they will be greeted with hospitality, food and water, a place to stay. They think that once they are in the U.S. their lives will be better.

There are also countless examples of prejudice, discrimination, racism–the pushing down of people just because of their skin color, or cultural background, the religion they practice [or don’t] or the language they speak.
Ferguson, Missouri. Black men [unarmed] and killed by police officers in the last few weeks:
Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or John Crawford.

Of course, These issues are only a few of many around the world.

So back to the issue of miracles.

I argue that our stringent belief in religious, supernatural miracles [especially those within books] have led us to apathy, a lack of empathy, and even violence.

We rely on some supernatural force to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
We wait for some god-miracle to deal with those Central American kids.
We stay silent about and don’t organize against racism or prejudice of any kind in our communities.

We pray and pray and pray, and light more candles.

And then what?

My question for you to consider today is simple:

Do we ourselves participate in miracles?

In other words, for one moment, try to put past ideas and conditioning aside. Think about miracles differently. Consider the possibility that miracles do in fact happen, but they don’t happen while we are passive.

Consider that miracles happen when we are agents of change.

Do we participate in miracles?

And with this in mind, let’s look at a really famous miracle story in the Christian sacred text of Matthew’s Gospel. The miracle story of the loaves and fishes is also told in the other three canonical Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John.

On the surface, this seems like the best Jesus hocus pocus magic show ever.

You go, Jesus Potter Harry Christ!

jesuspotterharrychrist.jpeg

People hungry. 5000+ people, actually.
Not enough food.

Did I mention hungry people, and a lot of them?
Enter Jesus, who waves his magic wand and…Abracadabra!
Bread and fish for everybody!
It’s a miracle!

The story begins with “when Jesus heard this.” What Jesus had heard was that John the Baptist, his cousin, had been killed by Herod Antipas, the ruler of a region called Galilee. Even though Jesus was obviously distraught over what had happened and wanted some alone time—when he saw the crowds of people he felt compassion for them and offered healing to those who needed it. But then, that evening, the disciples arrived. Now I don’t recall the people ever saying anything about being hungry. But the disciples were anticipating having to feed these people. They had only five loaves of bread and two fish—probably enough to feed themselves and Jesus. But it was their ration and certainly not something they would share with the others.

So the disciples wanted to send the people away.
Not enough to go around.

But Jesus said to them: “YOU give them something to eat.”

Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish from the disciples.
After a blessing, Jesus broke the bread. Then, the disciples gave the bread to the crowds.

Everyone was satisfied. There were even leftovers.

A LOT more than 5,000 people, because someone forgot to count the women and children.
It was a miracle!
Or something like that.

Look, I’m not here to be a Debbie Downer.

debbieDownerBut the author of Matthew’s Gospel story has Jesus only bless and break the bread. Then, he distributes it to the disciples.

Um, yeah. This is classic “Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper.

#JesusBodyandBloodCeremony

Matthew’s agenda, however, is to include a great number of people in the Lord’s Supper– regardless of social status, wealth, being clean or unclean—they all ate together.
For one beautiful moment in a story, people of all shapes and sizes; beliefs and cultures; languages and traditions; social levels and genders and ages—were together.

They were humanity.

 And this was a miracle.

I asked you at the beginning to consider the possibility that miracles do indeed happen, but that they don’t happen when we are passive. I asked you to consider that miracles happen when we choose to be agents of change.

I am asking you to be willing to participate in miracles.

And like you saw in the beautiful nature videos, you will need to accept the fact that many [if not most] of the real miracles in the world and all around us are hidden miracles.
They are not featured on television news programs, tweeted to a million people, or shared on Facebook.
They are hidden to our conditioned and distracted eyes.

Hidden miracles—but real. VERY real.

I challenge you to participate in the miracles here on the ground where the people, animals, plants, and all living things are.
Don’t limit miracles to divine intervention.
Don’t wait for someone or something else to make positive changes happen.

Miracles have always been and will always be extremely outstanding and unusual events, things, and accomplishments in this world.

And real miracles are needed in Gaza; in Palestine; in Israel. In Western countries like the United States, that both fund and support Israel’s military actions; in Arab countries that both fund and support Hamas’ military actions.

The real miracle would be Palestinians and Israelis seeing each other as humans and not enemies. The real miracle would be if countries like the U.S. would stop fanning the flames of hateful rhetoric and start funding peacemaking instead of bombs.

Consider this recent article in the Chicago Tribune, written by Jill Jacobs:

This is what we need to hear instead: pro-Palestinian voices that empathize with the Israelis racing for shelter, that denounce terrorism and rocket attacks, and that refuse to tolerate any anti-Semitic tropes masquerading as criticism of Israeli policy. In one powerful and much-circulated op-ed, for instance, a Palestinian-American student calls for pro-Palestinian protesters to utterly reject anti-Semitism.

And we need to hear pro-Israel voices expressing authentic grief at the deaths of Palestinian children, calling for protection for civilian populations, acknowledging the damage inflicted by 47 years of occupation, and denouncing any language that dehumanizes Palestinians or Muslims.[1]

Likewise, as it pertains to the 50,000 + children and youth from Central America who are here in this country, will we participate in miracles?

A United Church of Christ ministry, Bethany Children’s Home, near Reading, PA, was asked by the federal government to be a temporary site for children who have been victims of abuse and human trafficking.

bethany.jpegThe program is called Helping Hands. It allows staff at Bethany to pick up children at one of the surrounding airports, give them food, clothing and a medical exam and reunite them with family in the United States while they await an immigration proceeding. Kevin Snyder, Bethany’s CEO, said this:

“They are very caring kids. They are very needy children. They are very appreciative.”

bethany2.jpegIn spite of recent protests against the Helping Hands program, Bethany’s staff and volunteer core remain committed to helping kids as long as there is a need. Says Snyder:

“These are children. They need help and we just cannot turn our backs on them.”[2]

The real miracle is in seeing these children and youth as human beings who deserve hospitality and fulfillment of their basic needs. The real miracle would be to stop seeing them as “undocumented” immigrants, criminals, or problems.

And as for all the senseless shootings in U.S. cities, and the prejudice that is alive and well, even though some people to cover it up–as people, as human beings, let’s stop being silent about it.

Stop justifying it. Stop criminalizing young men just because of their skin color or cultural or religious background.

Seriously, just stop.

And when you see or hear this kind of prejudice, don’t stand by and watch it happen. Don’t pray for a miracle.

Make a miracle.

Be friends with people who are different than you. Stand up for anyone who is pushed down.

So friends, I ask this same question—of myself and of you:

Will we participate in real miracles?

 

[1] “Move past hideous stereotypes of Israelis, Palestinians”, Jill Jacobs, Chicago Tribune, August 1st, 2014.

[2] http://www.wfmz.com/news/news-regional-berks/local-program-reuniting-kids-crossing-border-illegally-with-families-in-united-states/26987366

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