Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘storms’

Peace Clouds in the Storm

Mark 4:35-41

I got behind on my blog posts. Sorry ’bout that! But I’m back…hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!

Image result for rainstorm
Do you like rainstorms? Do you appreciate the pattering sounds of raindrops impacting the roof or the ground or the windows or the top of your umbrella? Do you marvel at the dark clouds moving in, changing the landscape of sky, the rapid temperature change, and the possibility of thunder? I don’t know about you, but a good summer rainstorm can be an amazing thing.

Of course, there’s another way to look at it, right? Imagine you’re on your way somewhere urgently for work or school or whatever—and the rain clouds move in and you’re caught in it. No umbrella. No poncho. No raincoat. You’re bound to get soaked. You can’t avoid the puddles. You’re inundated. You’re stuck in the middle of a storm.

Image result for stuck in a rain

That can be scary, or ominous, or at least annoying. Your plans have to change [and your clothes have to be changed]. Your shoes slosh around. You may have to take shelter for a bit and wait it out. It can be difficult if you’re caught in a storm.

Weather is a universal thread throughout the great literature of the world. Consider the metaphor of storms, which typically represent a great challenge or an obstacle to overcome, and often are metaphors that are both physical and psychological in nature.

Indeed, storms present themselves in the great stories and teachings as necessary for growth, essential for learning, and opportunities to discover inner strength and/or wisdom.

Such is the case in Biblical literature and the stories about Jesus of Nazareth in the NT Gospels. This particular story in Mark has as its principle setting a stormy body of water—one in which Jesus and his followers are navigating in a boat. The boat full of Jesus-followers is on its way to the other side of the lake, where non-Jewish people [called Gentiles] lived. It was Jesus who challenged his fellow Jewish followers to stop discriminating against non-Jews and to share love and compassion with those who they had always called “other.”

So there they were, on a boat bound for the “other” side.

Then, the winds picked up. So much so, that the boat was rocking. A storm was coming, and the rain threatened to fill the boat up and sink the whole enterprise. The people on the boat were freaking out.

And then there was Jesus.

He was curled up like a baby, sleeping on a pillow. Wind? Rain? Storms? No problem. Nap time.

Image result for whaaat

Seeing this, the followers were upset and blurted out to Jesus: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Really? Did they think that Jesus of all people didn’t care? Well, Jesus must’ve cared, because he woke up, got up, and rebuked the wind and talked to the water. Peace. Be silent. And sure enough, the wind ceased and then a great calm began.

Now it’s important to note that at the end of the story, the followers on the boat were not in awe of Jesus. They were scared—of the storm with its wind and rain, and scared of Jesus’ calmness in the storm. In fact, the Greek word/phrase to describe them was less awe and more crippling fear mixed with inaction.

That leads us to now. Not gonna lie—there are a lot of “storms” out there right now that seem to be invading our boats, stirring the water, tossing us about, creating a climate of fear all around us. Sadly, we in the United States live in a country where the government uses social media to create storms of fear. Donald Trump [yes, I rarely say his name, but in this case it’s necessary] is a distraction artist—using whatever he can to distract our attention from social issues we can actually change, so as to keep his false and faulty sense of control. Those around him stay silent when it comes to human rights issues like the treatment of immigrants at our borders and in detention camps and centers; the separation of families in the name of homeland security and so-called safety; the unprecedented, unchecked presence of ICE and the angry, fearful, ignorant, armed U.S. citizens who direct their anger and fear at black and brown people or anyone who looks like an “other.” All of this is a created storm of distraction and fear. And it’s effective if we let it keep us in our boats, huddled in fear and confusion or worse yet, if we let it keep us from venturing over to the other side of the lake at all.

It’s true, friends, that storms exist. They exist outside in the physical world and they exist in our society. But the storms also exist inside us. That which is external is what it is. You and I cannot control other people. Neither can governments or leaders, regardless of what they assume. What happens externally is often beyond our control. The storms come with wind and rain and they rock our boats. And then we’re left with a decision: how will we react inside?

Will we let those storms eat us up, engulf our minds and bodies so much that we forget our humanity and stop seeing the humanity in others? Will we take on these external storms inside ourselves and start to claim them as our own storms? This will cripple us; we will cower in fear; we won’t act. We’ll either stay in the boat out of fear or we’ll never get into the boat at all.

But there is another path, and it’s one that Jesus of Nazareth invited others to take. It is the path of peace, the path of calm within the storm. It is recognizing the storms and not ignoring them, but not allowing them to affect us negatively.

This path is seeing the storms as opportunity for growth, for aha moments, for strength, and for effective action.

Yes, it matters how we see the storms. Will you see the rain clouds, will you feel the wind and drops, will you hear the thunder, and will you see it as opportunity? Will you see it as a chance to jump into the boat and go to the other side? To embrace an “other” as a “friend” and to combat the distractions and fear mongering with focused compassion and courageous action?

Bring on the storms. We’re in the boat together. Let’s keep going to the other side.



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,

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:


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

Storms and the Peace Within

Luke 12:49-56

Last Sunday an unexpected visitor came to the church building. Twenty-four years old, he had the courage to drive to the NE suburb of Warminster all the way from Philly to walk through the doors of a strange church only seeking a conversation.

As a consequence, my meeting was interrupted. I was pulled out of conversations about worship music style, planning for the calendar year, leadership, etc. This young man simply wanted to talk. Could it wait? Why the interruption? I had things to do. But I left the meeting after someone hinted that he really needed to talk now. And so we did.

What I found out was that this conversation was as much for me as it was for him.

He is an incredibly intelligent, mature, and wise individual. Wise beyond his years, actually. He grew up in the church, was a “star” in the choir and everyone always referred to him as the “model” kid in the church—the highest moral character, the ethical wherewithal, the “godly” lifestyle.

But my new-found friend came all the way to the suburbs because there has been a storm raging inside of him for quite some time. Something is wrong. Something has been eating at him, little by little, causing a pause in his seemingly smooth ride through life.

Last Saturday, he came with his mom to the car dealership right next to the church. She bought a vehicle there some ten years ago. He just came to accompany her.

And then he saw the two signs on the front window of the church building.

One is a rainbow flag with the words: God is still speaking.
The other is purple with the words: Open and Affirming. Image

Simply because of these two signs—visible to him from a car dealership—this young man drove from Philly to talk with some joker like me.

The storms moving him inside were related to all the hypocrisy he has witnessed in the church. People so quick to judge others for their lack of morals or their “alternative” choices that “lead them astray from Jesus”, yet these same people who judge are the very ones who also lack morals and most certainly fail at following Jesus. So they hide behind the Bible and religious tradition, sit in a pew weekly or at a table for meetings too; they think that they are holy enough to predict the weather or even who gets into heaven.

He’s had enough. The storms inside him say that there is a “gospel” to share with the world and with those who are hurting and alone, but if THIS is the gospel—hate and judgment and fear and hypocrisy—then forget it!

Because he is talented! He’s a singer, an actor, a performer. He’s a good listener. He accepts people as they are.

What does open and affirming mean? he asked me.

I tell him: It means that we try to accept people as they are, no matter what. It means that though we fail sometimes, we really seek to be an inclusive community of faith. Anyone who wants to worship or pray or learn or serve others is welcome with no strings attached. We don’t accomplish this every day or all the time, but that is what we try to be for people. Open and affirming. God loves us as we are; we ought to love others as they are.

He listens intently. And then he says:

I think that this is the gospel—to love and accept people as they are.

Eventually, he leaves—he goes back home to Philly. I go on with my day. A day later, he writes me an email thanking me for the conversation. He offers to help with any service or project coming up.

I thank him for the conversation and then I more clearly notice the storms raging inside me; and in the world.  

Today we are exploring one of Jesus’ hard sayings. Yes, it’s true—this Jesus of Nazareth of the Bible is not the friendly, Mr. Rogers character who makes us all feel better about ourselves and then tells us to go home and relax. Today we hear the peaceful guy now saying he isn’t about peace at all.

Division? Fire? Water?                      

Let’s find some context: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. It’s going to get worse, of course. His ideas are dangerous. The political situation is tense.

Jesus is stressed [worn out]. Luke’s storyteller makes sure we know it.
Luke also doesn’t hide the fact that this gospel book was written many, many years after Jesus traveled to Jerusalem. The “divisions” existed within the Christian community itself—long after Jesus’ death. There is also religious persecution—something that American Christians have no idea about. But certainly people of other religious backgrounds do.

Put yourself in the shoes of an American Muslim.

What does it feel like to be mistrusted, even when you’ve never done anything suspicious? What would it be like to deal with people’s daily stares at your head scarf or to hear constant complaints about the Muslim’s need for daily prayer? With all that is happening in Egypt right now, what would it be like to be grouped together with political and religious fanatics, simply because you identify as a Muslim?

This is persecution. We need to keep this in mind in order to better understand Luke’s point of view [and Jesus’].

You see, this difficult saying of Jesus is expressing a truth that being a follower of this Jesus Way actually causes conflict and is anything but comfortable.

Quite a contrast to the typical American church ideal.

Luke calls the Jesus community the kingdom of God. This kingdom, however, is not governed by powerful people but by equity. All people are cared for, forgiveness is the mark of the community, the poor are lifted up, wealth is shared, and the weak and lonely are honored.

No doubt that if we were to transform our communities into this kind of “kingdom,” things would be uncomfortable and there would be division.

Our Open and Affirming sign [the rainbow one] was stolen the first time it was hung up outside on our building. Why, do you think?

Because taking a stand and saying to all who traverse Street and York Roads that gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people are full members of the kingdom of God and therefore full members of our church community—this caused division. It still does. People left this church because of that stand. There’s no denying it. It happened.

Now by no means am I saying that we are “right” or “more Christian” than other churches. That would be contrary to the message here and also not true. The point is that most forms of our religion called Christianity avoid creating the kingdom of God. Otherwise, churches would be full of homeless people, ex-cons, people on welfare, kids and adults with mental or physical challenges, divorcees, single parents, people who speak different languages, identify with a variety of cultural heritages, etc., etc. But that’s too hard. That could cause division.

And that is Jesus’ point in Luke’s story.

It is much, much easier to try to follow religious rules and to participate in habitual traditions than it is to ask this question: Who is in need?
Who is lost, hungry, and sad, discriminated against, ridiculed, lonely, or hurt? Who has storms raging inside them?
Let’s help them with no strings attached!
And if we ourselves cannot help them, let’s find someone who can!

THAT is not easy to do, is it?

But within this hard saying of Jesus, there is also wisdom and strength. For the conflict, strife, and division can lead to….greater peace. Shalom.

 ImageNot a superficial peace which is just the absence of conflict and therefore not real.

Instead, a peace born out of harsh reality that passes all understanding.

So we get two famous, important symbols: fire and water.
ImageNotice that they are opposing symbols. The same, yet the opposite. Both fire and water purify and clean; they can destroy, but they also bring new life.

God in the Hebrew Scriptures, is a fire—a presence with people, a voice, a guide.
Fire hones, burns, refines.

Water is cleansing, healing, baptizing, renewing.
In the natural world, living things do not resist or “fight against” fire and water. They are natural parts of creation. Nature takes them on, confronts them, incorporates them—recognizing fire and water as necessary. And then, after the water and the fire, nature is renewed. Life after death! Peace after conflict! Calm after storm!

But you and I are like the Pharisees [and many others]. We think that we can predict the weather and the natural order of things. People in Jesus’ time, where they were living, knew that rainstorms could come quickly and flood the ground. Also, temperatures in desert areas could soar in a moment and scorch everything. Water and fire. They were sure that they knew about the weather outside. But what about the weather inside themselves? What about the storms in their hearts? What about the fire and water that needed to transform their ways of thinking and living?

Already, communities were splitting. They were not noticing this. Already, they were losing touch with their true essence as human beings, as God’s children. They failed to recognize it. Sound familiar?

Do you recognize the storms within yourself?

Or do you ignore them, hoping that they will go away?

I have thought a lot about this since my conversation last week with the twenty-four-year-old with storms in his head and heart. And I’ve struggled all this week with all that is going on Egypt and around the world—the raging storms outside and inside.

Then I remembered something else that this Jesus of Nazareth said:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Not the peace the world gives, because, quite frankly, the world gives us squat. Another war here. Or there. People die in Egypt, in Lebanon, in Syria…peace?

Kids get shot in Philadelphia; violence happens in Warminster and the suburbs, too. We often lose the essence of our humanity and so families are broken; and real friendships are so hard to find.

Peace? Really?

Yes, really, but not the peace that the world gives.

Not comfort.

Not sitting in a nice, comfy chair and watching the world turn.

Instead, a peace that is wholeness and truthful. A peace that doesn’t ignore the storms.

A peace that is about fire and water.
A peace that confronts the storms within ourselves.
A peace that recognizes that all of us are like nature and part of it—we have hurricanes, storms, earthquakes, and tornadoes inside ourselves.
We change as the seasons do.
And if we recognize that this is just part of our natural cycle of change…
Then, we get through those times and we emerge renewed, rejuvenated, reborn with…
Added strength, perspective, knowledge, and spirit.

And then we are able to see the beauty of the weather changes. Like the Northern Lights.
ImageImage And we are aware that we are not alone. We share these experiences with others.

We are connected, just as all of nature is intertwined.

Friends, peace is not nice and comfy. It can cause division—even in ourselves—as we seek justice, reach out to someone in need, and decide to leave our comfort zones.

But this peace-living is whole and real.

Recognize your storms and embrace them.

Be open to having a conversation or to making a connection to someone who also is dealing with storms. And don’t be afraid of the conflict. It will lead to true, inner peace.


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