Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘change’

Living in Trust, Living in Peace

Philippians 4:5-8

Emotional health is hard to come by in a world that seems to discourage trust in a healthy way, especially among many of in our communities who have a history of being marginalized. How can we seek a path out of the destructive patterns that recreate abusive relationships? How can we work towards a future that doesn’t recreate the past? What keeps us from this kind of healthy, holistic living: broken trust. When trust is broken we feel betrayed, alone, even worthless. We can enter into behavior patterns of mistrust, even when people have shown us that they are to be trusted. We can even perpetuate the same patterns in our relationships

Thus, it is essential that we seek restored trust. What are the elements of trust that we look for in a person, in life? What if we pursue and nurture these qualities in our relationships?

So…who was Paul of Tarsus? Good question. Like every author of Biblical literature, there is a lot of speculation and interpretation as to who Paul was. What we do know from other historical documents of the time and other Biblical books, is that Paul spent considerable time in prison. He was accused by the people of Philippi of disturbing their city and promoting customs that were not lawful for them or the Romans to observe. Leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin also sent Paul to trial because they considered him an agitator and a leader of a sect of the Nazarenes. We don’t know for sure, but it’s very possible that Philippians was written while Paul was in prison.

Before I go on, if any of you have any baggage about Paul, i.e. what’s been most likely pushed on you by others, let’s put that on the table first. Some [and maybe that’s you] consider Paul a misogynist, homophobe, and strict legalist. By no means am I claiming that Paul of Tarsus [or any other Biblical authors for that matter] were perfect or extra-inspired, super-holy people, and that’s why they are Biblical authors.

No way.

Paul, like anyone else was a flawed human being and he actually said as much in some of his writings. Now look, I cannot address the whole “against women and gay people” thing in a few sentences and you’ll need to do more thinking and study to come to wise conclusions. What I do know, however, is that women covered their heads in the 1st and 2nd century. It was cultural. This is not a teaching of Paul. Likewise, some of Paul’s closest associates on his missionary journeys and most trusted leaders were women. They were obviously teaching and leading. People who wish to propagate the idea that women cannot be leaders or ordained ministers use Paul as a way to justify their gender bias. And, Paul was not a homophobe. This word and also the word homosexuality did not exist until this century and neither did the concept of sexual orientation. It’s a fact. When Paul mentions in his letter to Rome, unnatural acts, he is speaking of a whole of behaviors [as defined by Greco-Roman culture and Jewish culture]. I point you to Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa and others for a more in-depth look at NT sexuality.

I say all this only so our conversation is not derailed by our biases about Paul of Tarsus. Otherwise, all that follows will not have any relevance. You see, Paul was a Pharisee originally. He was raised with a rigid belief system and set of morals. Most everything was “right” or “wrong.” He was raised to trust in a religious system and eventually to trust a Roman Empire that occupied Israel and spread its cultural and societal norms. But like most people who go through some sort of psychological break, Paul had a life-changing moment. We don’t know if it was a day, a week, or a period of years. Whatever the case, he changed his world view. He no longer trusted being a Pharisee. He no longer trusted the Roman Empire. He found peace and contentment in the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. But that was long after Jesus’ death; Paul never met Jesus. His journey to self-awareness and contentment was not as a follower of Jesus. Perhaps this is why some people can resonate with at least part of Paul’s story. He came from oppressive power and great privilege. At some point he broke away from that and changed. As Jesus did, Paul spent the rest of his days with the marginalized. And in doing so, he found peace within himself. This leads us to a pretty well-known part of Paul’s letter to Philippi, chapter 4.

The phrase “Do not worry about anything” could certainly sound like wishful thinking at first glance. But, as it fits within the original meaning of the Greek language, consider placing it after the first part of this text. In other words:

Be gentle with others, because you really don’t know what they’re going through. In your day-to-day moments, meditate, pray, be grateful. Whatever is honest, just, joyful, beautiful, kind, life-giving—think about these things and pursue these things in your relationships. If you do, a divine, holistic peace that doesn’t fit into society’s or religion’s boxes will fill you and surround you. You will think differently about yourself and others. You won’t judge life and its situations so much because you’ll take them as they are. And anxiety will not control you anymore.

As such, this is not telling you to just push aside your problems and feelings, to ignore suffering, to be complacent and to “don’t worry, be happy.” Instead, this is an invitation to trust those things and people that bring you joy and encouragement, fill you with acceptance and peace. To think about and meditate on such trusted things and people, because the trust is earned. I’m hearing this text giving us all permission to Live into trust and into peace. Life is about Moving forward.

It is about stopping the continual dysfunctional patterns within our lives and relationships.

handscirclepeaceSee, we can try to be healthier, more spiritual, whatever—but we won’t be unless we change. We won’t find peace and wholeness by tweaking this or that or by trying various religious practices or joining clubs or making small lifestyle changes or making New Year’s resolutions. We can continually rearrange things in our lives, but it will never end. Not until we realize who we are at our core.

Are you feeling stuck in a dysfunctional past? If so, why? What relationships and behaviors are keeping you there? How can you move forward?

What drives you in life? Think about these things.

Where have you been hurt? Recognize this.
What qualities in people inspire and encourage you? Meditate on those qualities.

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Are We Out of the Woods?

Matthew 4:1-11 NRSV

The 40 days of Lent, for Christians around the world, are an opportunity. Now I don’t know where you are in terms of Christian traditions or Lent. Maybe for you, Lent is a strange word that sounds like the small amount of fuzz in your pants pockets [i.e. lint] or the past tense of a word meaning to borrow. Some of you may have grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, and so Lent may remind you of giving something up, like candy, alcohol, or meat [on certain days]. I also know that many of you have no history with this thing called Lent whatsoever. So let’s focus on the number 40, shall we? And on the journey story of Jesus of Nazareth, which begins with a 40 day period of self-discovery.

And as a help in our own journey of self-discovery, allow me to introduce another story.

wild
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a memoir written by Cheryl Strayed that describes her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 as a journey of self-discovery. Her story was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Cheryl Strayed, at the age of 22, saw her mother die of lung cancer at the age of 45. Afterwards, her family was incredibly distant and disconnected and she began a path of self-destruction, leading to broken relationships and heroin addiction. Four years later, Strayed, with no hiking experience, set out to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail that begins in the Mojave Desert and continues through California and Oregon to the Bridge of the Gods into Washington State. Her story recounts Cheryl’s life before and after this hike, describing her physical challenges and spiritual realizations. Let’s watch the trailer:

Cheryl Strayed’s story is an appropriate one for us to look at during this season. It leads us to Jesus’ story in the Gospel of Matthew. This 40 day journey of Jesus is told by Mark, Luke, and Matthew, though today we are focusing on Matthew’s version, and there are some differences that I need to point out.

First, Matthew’s author says that Spirit “takes Jesus up” into the wilderness, he fasts for forty days and only afterward is he hungry. Matthew’s Gospel was written for a primarily Jewish audience, so no surprise that this version of the story makes two connections with Israel. The number 40 refers to the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and the phrase “forty days and forty nights” refers to Moses in the book of Exodus who was on Mt. Sinai for “forty days and forty nights.”  Further, Matthew’s story defines the character of “the tempter” in various ways, calling him devil, Satan, the evil one, the enemy, prince of demons, and even Beelzebul.

Speaking of the temptations. And no, not the Motown group, though they were AMAZING.

temptationsgroupThis is Jesus’ temptation experience and Matthew switches things up. First, Jesus is told to turn stones [plural] into loaves of bread. Then, Jesus is tempted at the pinnacle of the temple [order change], and lastly, Jesus is tempted up on a mountain [see earlier Exodus/Moses references]. The plural of stones and loaves is important because Matthew is making the point that if Jesus is who he says he is, why not feed the world? Why not use his magic power to do something like that? Jesus rebuffs the temptation by retelling the story of the Israelites in the wilderness and waiting for food, and in that waiting and humility, they were finally able to be ready to receive the manna [bread] that Yahweh provided.

The second test is in Jesus exploiting his supposed religious power as God’s son. This is about the religious elite of Jesus’ day, and how they wielded power over the marginalized of society. Jesus, in Matthew’s story, again refers to Moses, this time to a story in which people were thirsty and Moses asked God to make water flow from a rock.

And lastly, when Jesus is up on a high mountain [so high that he not only sees the promised land but the whole cosmos], he is tempted by the question: who is the divine? Is Yahweh God? Is the tempter God? And it follows: how is Jesus really? That last question, of course, has been the crazy controversy of Christianity since probably around the 3-4th century.

The identity question within Jesus’ wilderness story is the point for us. Just like in the story of the Wild, someone is challenged to look deeply at who they are, facing temptations, anger, sadness, the past, and the present.

I will pretty much leave this here for now, because we need to take this journey appropriately—with patience and care. Self-examination /change/personal growth are not quick-fixes. This is more than just learning a new skill, giving up something, or practicing some sort of religious thing. This is a change not just in what you do but in who you are. Each step of your journey is important. And we all must start where we are. Doesn’t matter what mistakes you’ve made or the state of your life currently. This is where you are. Just take the next step, whatever that is. Take the first step.

See the trail, the wilderness, the journey—as an opportunity. Embrace it. What would it be like for you to forgive yourself? What would it be like for you to embrace your own journey? What is your first step to change that will help to make you a healthier, balanced, and whole person?

 

How Do Changes Change YOU?

Matthew 17:1-9

Change.

changeFactory
Does this word scare you? Make you shiver? Excite you? Heighten your anxiety? Give you hope? Motivate you? Change. How does this word make you feel?

It is not hyperbole to say that recently, in the United States, the word change for many does not have a positive connotation. A president addicted to the bully pulpit and one who consistently uses fear to distract and separate people does not help. Not all change is good, isn’t that true? Removing protections in public places for transgender people and for transgender students is not a good change. Requiring people to carry and show IDs randomly doesn’t feel like a good change either. Forcibly removing native peoples from Standing Rock, their own land, so an oil pipeline can be installed, is not a good change. Banning the majority of the press from presidential press conferences is a bad and dangerous change. Lawmakers skipping out on town hall meetings…not a good change. Detaining people in airports, like Muhammad Ali’s son, a U.S. citizen born here in Philly, asking him about his religion—a horrific change.

Fanning the flames of ignorant prejudice and hate crimes, not a good change. Rest in peace, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, engineer and family man of 32 years, shamelessly killed in a bar in Kansas by a white man who said: “Go back to your country” before he shot Srinivas and wounded two others.

srni

So no, not all change is good.

In my view, any change motivated by fear, prejudice, manipulation, or power is not a good change.

Call it disfiguration.

Change is good when it is progress, when it leads to positive transformation. Changing positively is allowing for a new reality and then advancing towards that which makes us better people.

Call it transfiguration.

The idea of transfiguration [in a spiritual sense for Christians and Jews] is based on the Exodus story of Moses and then the Matthew story of Jesus. In Matthew of the NT, Jesus and three disciples go up on a mountaintop for 6 days. In the OT book of Exodus, the prophet Moses also went up to a mountain [Mt. Sinai] for 6 days. The 7th day, in Jewish thought, is Sabbath, rest, the recharging of batteries, recreation and reinvention of self. Both Moses and Jesus do this for 6 days and then find fulfillment on the 7th day. In Jesus’ case, on top of the mountain, he is transformed by the presence of God. There is light that visibly changes him, just like Moses’s shining face in the Exodus story. The main difference is that Jesus doesn’t wear a veil to cover the light. The three disciples then talk in their sleep—dreaming about Moses himself and the other prophet Elijah. But then more light comes [in cloud form] and wakes up the sleepy disciples, with a voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

They have trouble listening, though, and they fall to the ground, scared out of their minds. But Jesus reassures them with a simple touch [like in healing] and these words: “Get up and do not be afraid.” They look up. And then they come down from the mountain.

Day seven; the change begins.

This metaphorical story has relevance in this very moment, I think. It is not a stretch to say that our world is disfigured in so many ways. Why do we judge people by who they love, the color of their skin, their last name, their religion, where they were born or grew up, or which bathroom they choose?

This is sickness, not health.

This is disfigurement, not transformation. So those of us who actually do want to live in a world in which people are valued as they are, and diversity of all kinds is embraced, and affirmation and compassion rule the day—those of us wanting this reality, this change, we have to go up to the mountaintop.

So to speak.

We have to take the time to search ourselves, recharge our batteries, heal and rest. We have to take the time to reinvent, recreate, and transform ourselves. And then we come down from the mountain. Then we make change happen.

A big mistake I have made [and many of us] is to wish for positive change, talk about it, but then never do the necessary hard work to make it a reality. I’m done waiting for a change to come. I’m finished with wishing or hoping for all people to be treated well. I don’t want to wait for the seventh day to come so that light will break through. I want to be part of positive change now, in this moment. Today.

And so I remind myself [and I remind you] that real change is cyclic. In order to make lasting change, all of us will have to do that tedious and difficult mountaintop work of introspection, self-examination, and transformation. We will need to ask hard questions of ourselves. We will need to look in the mirror. This allows us to have the strength necessary to face the obstacles when we come down from the mountain. This gives us the wisdom to discern who we should join with and who we should part ways with.

The world is disfigured. We must face it and not ignore what is going on. But we must spend time and energy recreating and transforming as people, and then making positive changes happen. The approaching 40 days of Lent are an opportunity. How will you get to know yourself better? How will that work lead you to positive change within yourself? And then, how will that personal change lead you to make positive change happen in the world? See you on and off the mountain….

Who Are Our Neighbors?

Luke 10:25-37

WhoMattersMoreWhelp, this is a well-known story.

I’ll try to highlight some of the details that may sometimes go unnoticed before I share some thoughts. First off, the person asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is a lawyer. Why that is significant is because of what lawyers do. Lawyers qualify and define elements of the law, correct? Good lawyers are concerned about justice. So, in this case, the lawyer is examining the Mosaic Law of the Jewish faith to find out exactly what he must do to justify himself before God. This is not an attack on Jesus. This is a legitimate question. What do I need to do to be right with God? Jesus responds appropriately: “What does the law say?” And the lawyer knows:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, life, power, and thought; love your neighbor just as you love yourself.”

That’s from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. And Jesus says: “There you go, good job. Done.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied. So he asks a follow-up question: Who is my neighbor? And then Jesus tells the famous parable-story. Some insight:  it begins in a typical way like many ancient Jewish teaching stories—with an introduction akin to a joke: A priest, a Levite, and an Israelite walk into a bar…

But in this case:
A dude is beaten up and dying on the side of the road, and then, a priest, a Levite, and….

And an Israelite walks by…right?

Uh, no. Remember that probably there were at least 70 people listening to this story. They all expected for the third character, the hero, to be an Israelite. But wait—it wasn’t. Before we get there, some quick notes on the first two characters. The priest decided not to help the dying man, most likely because he wasn’t sure if the dying man was a Jew. Better to be safe than sorry, because if he were not a Jew, going anywhere near him would defile the priest and he’d have to go through a lengthy process of becoming clean again. Oh, and also, the guy might die soon. So a priest certainly couldn’t touch him. The priest is the higher class, the elite. Then, the Levite. The Levites were not as high as a priest, but they were descendants of Levi and assisted the priests in the temple. The Levite decided to pass by, because maybe he saw the priest? How could he do that which the priest passed up? So the Levite walked on by. So now the lower-class Israelite will arrive and save the day, right? WRONG!

It’s a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixed race between Jews of captivity [when they were exiled from Israel] and the Samaritan people of the actual land of Samaria. Jews [called Israelites, too] were hostile towards Samaritans. The Mishna, the oral traditions of Judaism that developed about law, say this about Samaritans in Mishna Shebiith 8:10: “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.”

Right. That’s harsh. Also, you may remember Jesus talking to a certain Samaritan woman at a well of water? She told him: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan” [John 4:9]? This Samaritan, though, would be bound by the same law as the Jews. So seeing a dying person on the side of the road was equally dicey. This dying person did not qualify as the Samaritan’s neighbor. So why did he help?

Because he was moved with compassion.

He did the right thing, regardless of the ethnic and religious conflicts involved. He put himself at risk. And the crowds listening would assume that the half-dead person now rescued by the Samaritan was Jewish. So add that to the drama. Jesus tells the lawyer: go and do the same.

The lawyer wanted to know who we are obligated to love. Jesus answers with a story that says it’s not about obligation, of loving the person near to you, or like you. Jesus erases the line of difference. Whoever is in need or hurting is your neighbor.

mylifematters1Friends, in the course of 72 hours this past week, all sorts of &*$! went down. Two more Black lives were taken away. Their names are Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was needless violence, and yes, it was committed by police officers and once again against Black people. And then, violent individuals not affiliated with the peaceful BlackLivesMatter demonstrators in Dallas, Texas, opened fire on police and civilians, taking the lives of five Dallas police officers and harming many others. As a white person, I cannot understand the racial profiling that others have experienced. I can only stand with my friends and colleagues while they express anger, frustration, and grief. I can only continue to work for understanding and peacemaking in our communities. I can only choose to be vocal and to say that Black lives do matter.

girlBLMWhen thinking about this burning question of who is my neighbor, this is what I hear:
My neighbor is anyone and all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice.
I cannot just walk by and ignore their suffering; I shouldn’t try to silence their anger, frustration, and sadness. I should love them. I should stand with them. Loving my neighbor compels me to help put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism in this country, inspires me to continue to talk with colleagues and church and community folk about why it’s important to stop saying that if we support Black Lives Matter that we are “against” the police or “against” others. That is not only false, it is also harmful. We can be “for” the just treatment of Black people everywhere and also “for” those in law enforcement. We can be “for” the honesty of admitting that the U.S. has deep, racist roots within its systems and society. And at the same time, while we support Black Lives Matter, we can also support the just treatment of undocumented immigrants, transgender and non-binary folk, the poor and homeless, the abused, and all else who deserve our love and attention. Of course we can.

I close with some words from the UCC’s Acting Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, Rev. Traci Blackmon:
Ultimately, the guns used to kill those 5 officers last night and wound 6 more and 1 civilian and the guns used to kill Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Amadou Diallo, 49 mostly black and latinx people who were LGTBQ at Pulse in Orlando, and the 9 people in bible study in Charleston, were loaded by our common enemies, fear and hate.  This same ammunition is responsible for the bombing of mosques and the burning of churches. This same ammunition fuels the escalating levels of death in our nation’s streets as a result of communal violence. Irrational fear and hatred that nurses at the breast of a nation increasingly divided against itself.

We must mourn them all because we are all connected.
And we must find our way back to love.
Murder is a by-product of people who have lost their love.
Love is our only hope.

changestartsBLM

And look–the WNBA players who chose to wear these t-shirts while warming up for their game were just doing what we should all do. Their message was simple: CHANGE STARTS WITH US. Let’s stop trying to spin things to fit some agenda that isn’t helping to bring us together. Remember the Dallas police officers who protected Black Lives Matter protestors. Let’s set an example for all the kids and youth who are just waiting for us to cooperate and love each other as we should. Come on. Change starts with us.

 

Changing to Return to Ourselves

Luke 13:1-9

Selections from Self, Gautama Buddha

If a person holds oneself dear, let one watch oneself carefully.
The wise should be watchful during at least one of the three watches.
Self is the master of self; who else could be the master?
With self a well-controlled a person finds a master such as few can find.
Bad actions and actions harmful to ourselves are easy to do;
what is beneficial and good, that is very difficult to do.
By oneself is wrong done; by oneself one suffers;
By oneself is wrong left undone; by oneself is one purified.
Purity and impurity come from oneself; no one can purify another.

Change.jpeg

Daniel Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching, including the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology. Dan’s 2007 book, Stumbling on Happiness, spent 6 months on the New York Times bestseller list, has being translated into more than 30 languages, and was awarded the Royal Society’s General Book Prize for best science book of the year. In 2010, Dan hosted and co-wrote the award-winning PBS television series This Emotional Life, whose premiere was watched by more than 10 million viewers.

He gave a recent Ted Talk entitled: The Psychology of Your Future Self.

He claims that all of us are walking around with an illusion:

“an illusion that history, our personal history, has just come to an end, that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives.”

To prove that claim, Mr. Gilbert provides some data from studies with thousands of people. Gilbert and his researchers asked half of them to predict how much their values would change in the next ten years; the other half they asked how much their values had changed in the last ten years. So in essence, they were comparing the predictions of people who were about 18 years old with the reports of people who were 28. Here’s what they found:

The common view that we often hold is that change slows down as get older. Gilbert’s study found that change does not slow down nearly as much as we think. People from age 18-68 in the study vastly underestimated how much change they would experience over the next 10 years. For example, 18-year-olds anticipated changing only half as much as 50-year-olds actually do. And it’s more than just change in values. It’s personality change and it’s likes and dislikes, too. What music do you like? Who is your best friend? What is your favorite hobby? People in the study thought that these things would not change in 10 years, but they were almost always wrong.

They did change.

This season of Lent [40 days] is about self-reflection and about change.
I’ve been asking you to hold this question closely:

What does it mean for me to be truly myself?

So as we continue to ask that question, let’s look at a story in Luke’s Gospel that challenges us to consider that change is really a part of who we are.

The story begins with a reference to Galileans. These “Galileans” were most likely pilgrims in Jerusalem. Apparently, Pilate, a Roman leader, had mistreated these Galileans, and violence filled Jerusalem. Jesus then asks a question of the crowd gathered there:

“Do you think that these Galileans were bigger sinners than all the Galileans because they had suffered this?”

Meaning: something really bad happened to these Galileans, so did they deserve it?

This of course is the old-school, sad but commonly-held view that if someone does things right, things will go well for her; if bad things happen to her, it’s because she is bad. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t believe this for one second.

So he refers to another old story about the tower of Siloam falling down and killing 18 people. And once again he asks: did these people do something bad to deserve that fate?

Both stories are attempts to change people’s perspectives about sin and debt. The commonly-held belief was that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. This cause and effect, reward and punishment mentality was and is severely limited. Instead, Jesus calls the people in the crowd to repent, a word that does not mean feeling sorry for a sin or something bad you did. Repent means turn around and move in a new direction.

Change in perspective that leads to change in your life.

Finally, Jesus of Nazareth tells the parable of the fig tree.

fig_tree2

A vineyard owner comes to a fig tree looking for fruit, but finds none. The owner is ticked off about that and lets the gardener have it. For three years I’ve been looking for figs, and nothing! Get rid of it—it’s taking up too much space! But the gardener says leave it alone. Coincidentally, the Greek word there [aphes] means forgive. The gardener is not ready to dig up the fig tree. In spite of its history of not bearing fruit, there is still the possibility that the tree can change and eventually be productive, finding its place in the vineyard.

Have you ever considered that change is part of your natural makeup–that you are not meant to stay the same? That goes for your perspectives and your life practices.

As Dan Gilbert’s studies found, we over-invest time and energy in our current preferences and perspectives because we think we won’t change and so we overestimate their stability. Why does this happen? Gilbert and co. are not sure. But one hypothesis is that it has to do with the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining.

The owner of the vineyard couldn’t imagine the fig tree having any use, because the owner only saw a tree without fruit. But the gardener had an imagination.

Friends, I’m sure that most of you can remember who you were 10 years ago, right? But how hard is it sometimes for you to imagine who you are going to be?

Don’t assume that due to your lack of imagination, who you are going to be, i.e. a change, is not likely to happen. When we say: “I can’t imagine that,” we are simply expressing our lack of imaginative perspective, but not the unlikelihood change.

Yes, changing your perspective right now will help. The present moment can be, as Gilbert points out, a magical time.

It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves.

So no matter what age you are, or where you are on life’s journey, remember this:
We are all works in progress. We are not finished.

The one constant in our life is change.

And when we change, we are truly ourselves.

 

Emmanuel AME: Just Be. And Be Not Afraid

Mark 4:35-41

Emmanuel.jpegThis is an excerpt from an article written for the Huffington Post by Rev. Otis Moss, III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

The doors of the church are [still] open.

The question running through the minds of many African Americans, particularly black church folks is where and when will we ever be safe? Earlier this week nine prayer warriors were massacred at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina…

On Wednesday night, members of Emanuel gathered with their pastor in what should have been a safe place…Seated in their midst was a young white man who was a stranger, yet welcomed as a friend…The young man was seated next to the pastor, where he returned the church’s hospitality with unimaginable inhumanity.

The AME denomination was founded as a protest against racism [Yolanda Pierce]. This is true of Emanuel AME, affectionately known as “Mother” Emanuel. Its storied history dates back almost 200 years. Mother Emanuel endured despite being burned down, outlawed and destroyed by an earthquake.

Emanuel AME has been the target of racist attacks, legal harassment and arson. [Despite each [calamity] that stormed the doors of the church, [Emmanuel] was committed to teaching the south “a more excellent way” called love. Emanuel at every turn has responded with love rooted in justice by teaching literacy, producing leaders, protesting unequal treatment, fighting for economic parity and demanding the confederate flag be replaced by a symbol for all South Carolinians. Mother Emanuel exemplifies the best of our religious tradition–liberation, love and reconciliation.

This storm too shall pass.

Despite this breach, the black church will continue to serve as a sanctuary against racism and hatred. We are encouraged by the images of South Carolinians of all races coming together to mourn and remember the fallen.

When we see the faces of those who were lost and learn of their lives, we are devastated not just by the senselessness of the act but also because we know these victims. We know them–the civil servants, the recent graduate, the librarian, the track coach, the grandfather and the great-grandmother.

In honor of those nine souls and of the countless others who preceded them, we will continue to exist, to protest, to remain open, to stand, and to pray. The doors of the church are open.

So many of us mourn with the families, friends, and church members of Emmanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina. In Philly, Mother Bethel AME, led by my colleague Rev. Mark Tyler, hosted a prayer vigil for hundreds of people. And Rev. Tyler’s commitment to interfaith cooperation and welcome shined through. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and many others gathered at Mother Bethel for prayer, mourning, and healing.

In spite of the fear, confusion, and sadness—

Their doors were open.

I don’t have much to say about what happened other than it makes me sick, angry, and sad. So I cannot imagine what others feel. This kind of storm seems insurmountable. And where is God in all this?

So I suppose it’s appropriate to reflect on Mark’s Gospel story about some horrified disciples stuck in a boat in the middle of a storm while their teacher Jesus slept.

They were doing what they were supposed to do. They were listening to Jesus, reaching out to people who had been marginalized by religion, society, and government. They were in a boat going to the other side where others did not dare to go. And then, without warning, the storm came. They weren’t protected; they were vulnerable, exposed, afraid.

Jesus was asleep, unresponsive to their fears.

Until they awakened him and then he asked:

Why are you afraid?

Seems like Jesus was asking them why they had allowed their terror to overcome their faith—to lessen their commitment to journeying to the other side. And Jesus commanded:

Peace! Be Still!

This kind of peace was aggressive.
The disciples took notice. They were in awe. Jesus spoke peace to terror; love to hate; mercy to judgement; friendship to isolation; healing to sickness; forgiveness to resentment; justice to injustice.

And so they kept going in their boat…to the other side, well aware of the dangers ahead and that things would not be comfortable or perfectly ordered, or even completely safe.

During the storms, when we wonder where God is, how do we respond?

My colleague, the Rev. Waltrina Middleton, United Church of Christ National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership, wrote this on Thursday:

waltrina.jpegWith deep sorrow, I write to share that my beloved first cousin was among the nine fatalities. Her death was confirmed this morning, and the unspeakable grief of this loss has knocked me and my family off-kilter.

Please keep my family, Mother Emanuel congregation and all those impacted by this rampant culture of violence in the center of your prayers.

Let us come together for such a time as this to the sacred clearing—no matter our faith or practice—and be of one accord in the spirit of love, hope, and healing to seek justice and peace for these and other victims of hatred and violence.

Let us put our faith to action and be more than empty drums that have long lost their melodies or arrangements. Let us remove our instruments from the poplar trees and call the people, the public officials, and, yes, the church to action to address the festering sores of racism, classism and militarism—as they intersect in this culture of violence. How can we begin to eradicate this evil without acknowledging the realities of racialized policing, hate crimes, and the disproportionate acts of violence against Black and Brown bodies?

Alas, it is morning and tear-filled dewdrops fall fresh upon my face, with eyes watching God and a soulful lament. Our hearts are troubled, but our faith remains steadfast, trusting and believing in the reconciling power of God for the brokenhearted and the oppressed.

Yours in faith and justice,
Waltrina

She has chosen to cry out to God, but she has also chosen to keep on going to the other side.

How about the rest of the families who lost loved ones on Wednesday night?
Have you seen the video from the courthouse?
As the terrorist thug who took so many lives stood there, grieving family members expressed their sorrow. But then they verbally told him:

We forgive you.

I don’t know if I would have been capable of such a thing during such a storm.
But even as they cried out, they forgave.

Peace be still!

The miracle is in the justice and love work that people still do while they’re in the storm or down in the depths.

I have no doubt that Mother Emanuel AME Church will continue to be the miracle it has always been, just like Mother Bethel AME in Philly—testifying to a counter-narrative. No doubt that they will testify to the Spirit working its own history of justice, of peace, of reconciliation for American people who have been ostracized, marginalized, and treated as imposters.

We are, and should be appalled by this hate crime. We should mourn with those who mourn and cry out. But as we have been shown by those directly affected by this tragedy, we must also stay in the boat and keep going to the other side. We cannot allow fear to paralyze us or to make us apathetic about things like gun violence and racism.

In short, saying nice words isn’t enough.
We have to act.
We have to make changes TODAY.

When storms like this occur, we are meant to join together with others. We are meant to cooperate, support, stand with, work for justice, replace hate with love, fear with faith, and we are meant to make peace ourselves.

Jesus woke up and expected the disciples to understand that this was their responsibility. They didn’t get it until Jesus himself spoke peace to the storms.

We should all keep in mind that Mark’s Gospel was written to assure people that God was present with them in their sufferings. And it should come as no surprise that this story in a boat follows the mustard seed parable. It’s emphasizing, once again, the freeness of God’s presence, the unlimited, uncontrolled Spirit in the world. And it’s focusing on us–on humans, and how we are afraid of this freeness and this uncontrollable Spirit. We are afraid to let go of control. We are afraid of change.
And sadly, if we grip tightly to that fear, we become obsessed with keeping all that we are afraid to lose—whether status, control, money, power, privilege, etc. We can even go so far as to commit acts of violence against others.

What is racism? Fear. What are acts of terrorism? Cowardly acts.

In Mark’s boat story, faith is letting go of fear–letting go of the belief that everyone in the world is out to get us and so we better control certain people and things in order to survive. Faith is about letting go of this.

And so, as we hear the cries of all those who mourn this tragedy, we must sit and stand with them and join them in their cries. But then, we must act. We must let go of any fears that keep us from fighting against prejudice, and gun violence, and racism and stop making excuses. We must stand up in the boat and say:

ENOUGH! PEACE BE STILL!

We must be the peace we so often hope for and talk about, in spite of the storms.

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