Thursday, June 21, 2018

The haunting cry of a frightened child...

Like a lot of you, I tuned in to TV news programs a few nights ago and heard a recording of a little child crying "Papa...Papa...Mama...Mama..." as the parents were being carted away by the U.S. Border Patrol agents. I will never forget that frightened, little voice. All I could think of was "What if that was one of my children--or one of my grandchildren?" The horrors of a parent at this point would be matched only by the fear of a child being separated from them.

Our Working for Justice ministry at St. Paul's began mobilizing around putting together a hasty prayer vigil for these children and families. Of course, all of us joined our immediate prayers with those of the world for these children and families. An answer came--the President signed a new executive order to stop separating children from their parents, thus removing the threat of more such awful actions, going forward. Questions remain about what will happen to the 2,300 children already in custody. I guess I don't see why this is so hard to resolve: allow the parents to meet the children at an advertised checkpoint (releasing any of the parents who have been confined and spreading the word to those who have already been turned back). I'm sure these parents would find their children among such a number. Getting these kids back with their families should be priority one.

Working for Justice is still planning to have an event to explore what we can do about this immigration issue so that it is never allowed to become so inhumane again. We will have Sister Janice from Casa San Jose here to speak, will hold a prayer service for these families and for wisdom for our public officials, and ask persons to sign up for an "at home" prayer vigil as well. A tentative date is Monday, July 2. Details will follow.

Don't you wonder what happened that orders were given to separate small children from their parents in this situation? Some are saying that the administration was attempting to use these children as leverage to get funding for the President's pet project--a border wall. Others suggest that it was a fear tactic to discourage other families from trying to cross the U.S. border with children. Those supporting the administration kept saying they were "just enforcing the law," which, when it meant painfully taking children from their parents, sounded a lot like "We were just following orders," an excuse given by the German officials in defense of the Nazi death camps. And while the holocaust was an event unparalleled in human debauchery and evil, I have to confess that the closest thing I have experienced to that horror was hearing the pleading, tearful cries of that little child in the recording the other night.

I am thankful, as we all are, that President Trump listened to the public outcry against this horrific practice and halted it, at least for now. i'm sure we'll hear more details as this unfolds, but it is clear that our voices DO matter, and that people should not be so pessimistic about what politicians listen to. We just need to speak loudly enough! The immigration policies of the United States need updated, and Congress must act for this to happen. The DACA situation needs remedied in the short term, and how we allow and regulate immigration needs to join the 21st century. Obviously, our present policies are too open to the whims of a few people. We need laws that make sense and allow this country to continue to be a "melting pot" without melting down. Immigration is a positive factor that helped build the nation, unlike how we enslaved persons for labor and persecuted, fragmented, and even slaughtered Native Americans.

It is my understanding that the largest majority of persons wishing to cross the Southern border into our country are doing so either to find work or because they are fleeing political and social atrocities in their nations of origin (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela). They are not coming for "handouts," but want a safer, better future for their children. And they are not taking jobs from Americans, as our people, frankly, don't seem to want the jobs these people are willing to do.

Since our President has had a brief change of heart, we should pray that it grows to include dispensing with his prevarications about immigrants, and that he might work with Congress for sensible immigration reform, making that a campaign plank rather than a giant, costly wall. We should also pray that his "base" might accept the truth about immigration and its role in our nation's history, instead of the drummed up fears of it.

Above all, let us pray for these little ones whose lives have been irreparably altered, either because some may never be reunited with their families, or they were so traumatized emotionally by the experience. And may we pray that we will again become a nation that builds rather than blames our way out of its problems.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Peace on the Korean Peninsula...

Nope. Not about what you thought, either. I'm not going to comment about the Trump-Un summit, for we really don't know what will come out of that. We're in a "wait and see" posture.

Instead, I'm using the Korean Peninsula as a metaphor for the continued controversy in my denomination, The United Methodist Church. While it is oversimplifying a complex issue to divide it into two "sides"--one FOR inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons into the life of the church, and one that views them as persons living a "sinful lifestyle," and who must "repent" and eschew this lifestyle--in a way there are parallels.

North Korea has been a nation of "hard lines," and until recently, not open to compromise or debate about its national authority. Its leader, Kim Jong Un, is, in his own way, a fundamentalist whose principles of leadership are ironclad and authoritarian. (Since this is a metaphor, I'm not going to get into some of the facts and accusations regarding the North Korean leader's more heinous activities.) In this leadership style, what counts more are the rules, standards, and "doctrines," and the power to enforce them.

The South Koreans, on the other hand, have a much broader and visionary philosophy about how to run their country. They, too, have rules and standards, but they are used to help focus and apply the prevailing visionary freedom that is at the center of their governance. South Korea is a much more "open" state, and one whose positive vision of its own future has taken it from "start-up" to economic superpower in just a few short decades. (I remember when the Hyundai Excel, selling here for $4,500, was a national joke and when Samsung was a cheap "knockoff" electronics company that mostly sold its wares in K-Mart or Gold Circle.)

These two factions fought a war, into which the United States was drawn, and while the "war" ended with a demilitarized zone in place and the two factions recognized as autonomous nations, the actual state of war wasn't officially ended until the most recent meeting between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In.

Is not our own United Methodist Church like these two factions? One "side" seeks to preserve certain doctrines, couched in a mode of biblical interpretation that is far from universally embraced by either bible scholars or individual, "at large" Christians. The rhetoric and affectation that has arisen around the "doctrinal" and "biblical" view of "homosexuality" (LGBTQIA+ issues) seems much stronger than is merited by the issue itself. Would allowing LGBTQIA+ individuals full participation in the church actually destroy the church? Why is this seen as such a"Maginot Line" in the current context of the church? Why this issue? And why now, when science, psychology, and medicine have almost exclusively accepted these persons as being part of the normal "spectrum" of human sexuality, has this faction of the church decided to defend so vociferously a different conclusion? Like North Korea, this "side" has shown very little interest in compromising, and with the current "rules" of the church disqualifying LGBTQIA+ inclusion--apart from the aforementioned repenting and "stopping it" message--the other "side" (those of us who would like to offer all of the services of the church to these persons, and equal opportunity to serve God, likewise)--is simply shut out.

One could explain the church's dilemma on the basis of the "conservative" and "progressive" brains, and how they are, according to neurologists, "wired" differently, and to the need for a healthy community to have both views active in order to maintain equilibrium. Wesley Wildman, a Boston University scholar, supports this latter sociological conclusion in his book, Found in the Middle!. However, the degree of posturing, politicizing, and downright bow shots being exchanged by the church's two "sides" looks a lot more like the Koreas to me.

Now, we have two national leaders--both of whom have had their mental states and diplomatic prowess questioned--who seem to be moving North and South Korea toward some kind of reconciliation. Is that what it takes? Two people--or factions--crazy enough to try something totally "outside the box"? Don't we all certainly hold out hope and pray for this unorthodox peace effort to succeed?

What will it take for the "Korean Peninsula" of The United Methodist Church to make similar headway? What radical proposal might emerge to find a true "Way Forward," and who will be the "unusual" leaders who might step forth to initiate it?

The world is watching Trump, Kim Jong Un and the Korean Peninsula. The religious world is watching The United Methodist Church. May our prayers for both bear fruit and result in a lasting peace! Shalom!

Friday, June 1, 2018

The only thing we have to fear...

In his first inaugural address,  Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "...the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself..." (Go to this link to hear a stirring, audio excerpt of this speech: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057). His administration ushered in a period of history often referred to as the "American Century," and it was a time of hope, of vanquishing foes, of rebuilding, and of more hope, right up through our nation's 44th President. The "American Century" may be waning before its hundred years is up. A trusted political commentator recently suggested that we are becoming a fearful people again, possibly being told whom to fear, and even being urged to arm ourselves against the threats that may come from our neighbors or across the sea. We are clearly not living in a time of optimism and hope.

Another voice I was reading recently said that we have lost touch with what he called "the American Jeremiad." By this he meant that we have been at our best as a nation when we are self-critical, comparing our current reality and its actions against the values we hold dear--"liberty and justice for all," "e pluribus unum" (out of many, one), and even "one nation, under God." Holding out hope that the "American Experiment" will stand the test of time--or at least the current moment--is what has kept us a strong nation, and made us a beacon (of sorts) to many other nations. However, as the jeremiad principle illustrates, we must never stop being self-critical, balanced by a sober view of how we are doing against our national values, and being soothed and encouraged by optimism and hope. Again, we do not seem to be living in those times. Where is our hope? We have a President who has stated on more than one occasion that "he is the only one who can solve our problems." Any one who believes this has abandoned the "American Experiment," and is wrapping up all hope into a singular figure. The Romans had a word for this--Caesar.

As Christian people, we profess Jesus as Lord. In a discussion with St. Paul's Pastor Emeritus recently, he recounted reading Marcus Borg's statement: "Jesus is Lord--Caesar is not." Maybe it's time for a refresher course on this concept? There are a great variety of ways to interpret "Jesus is Lord," but if we keep the focus on Jesus, I still believe we will be on the right track. I happen to believe that the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon the Mount from Matthew offer incredible guidance on how we do this.

John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Martin Luther King, Jr., in speaking about the parable of The Good Samaritan, questions the motives of the actors. The priest and levite in the story asked themselves, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But the Good Samaritan asked, "If I don't stop and help this man, what will happen to him?" How have we gotten to a place as a people and as a nation to where the universal question seems to be, "What's in it for me?" This is a question that propels us away from life in community, and toward a fearful, protective life, if you want to call it that. And, it ain't American! And it certainly isn't Christian, a faith whose scriptures say things like "Perfect love casts out all fear," and "God has not given you a spirt of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind."

The fear that seems to be gripping people is leading to inappropriate and dangerous actions, including but not exclusively limited to: more citizens buying and carrying guns; more and increasing "hate speech," (from all political angles); "justified" classism, racism, sexism; and isolationism. These are not the things that Christ taught, and politically, they are not the values the American "Founding Fathers" gave us.

So, what are we to do about this state of affairs? We should stay informed, using time-honored and time-tested sources of news and information. Read books! And read some history. Read the Bible, for God's sake, and then connect up with your faith community to discuss what you read so you don't form yet another individualized, isolated, and possibly highly distorted opinion about what it says! That last part is so important--put yourself in community with people who look and think differently than you! It is in this diversity, dialogue, and wrestling with each other and the issues that we will discover both compromise and integrity, as people, as a country, and as a church. If we only affiliate with those who are just like we are, we may come to believe that our tribe is right, and the only ones who are right. At that point, fear wins--fear of "the other," fear of what might happen, and fear of what may happen to us. Remember the parable of The Good Samaritan, and what Dr. King said about it. And, as an American, remember what FDR and JFK said. We've got to turn the corner on this, or our future is not only much dimmer, but more precarious.

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...