Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

A Cup of Water

Mark 9:38-41
A Cup of Water
30 September 2018
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

On the night of December 13, 1862, the Confederate army held the high ground outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia. They had dug in behind a stone wall on Marye’s Heights that rose about 50 feet above an empty plain that stretched some 600 yards from the town itself.

That day, fifteen different Federal units had attacked the Heights – moving across the plain in futile rush after futile rush. The closest the Federal troops came to the wall was 25 yards in some locations, 40 yards in others.

In the darkness, ambulances removed the wounded soldiers. But they could not reach the men who had advanced the farthest against the storm of lead that poured upon them from behind the wall.

As the dawn broke on December 14, wounded, dying men still lay where they had fallen. They called for loved ones. They cried out for a merciful death to ease their pain. They begged for water.

After what must have seemed an eternity, an amazing thing happened. A Confederate soldier crossed the wall and went to the wounded, dying men to offer water from a canteen. When they realized what he was doing, the Federals held their fire. The man, probably Sergeant Richard Kirkland from South Carolina, is known as the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” because of his efforts to ease the suffering of those from the other side.[i] Sergeant Kirkland was killed in action before the war ended; that is one of the reasons the identity of the Angel is uncertain.

Jesus taught that in the least of the human family, in the most oppressed, the most vulnerable, we meet him.[ii] A soldier lying wounded under the guns of those who are called the enemy seems to be vulnerable, seems to be the least. What the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” did was certainly done to Jesus.

image_123923953“I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

I may never fully appreciate the power of Jesus’s words. I have been thirsty from time to time. There have been days when the water has been shut off for a few hours. I can remember once or twice when we had to boil water. But for 99% of my life, I have been able to turn on a spigot and receive safe, clean water.

People who live in Flint, Michigan. People who live on the Navajo Nation. People who live in other places in our country and around the world where there is no water, or the water is filled with lead or some mineral runoff or other poison know too well how important water is.

The people who heard Jesus understood. The land where Jesus lived is not a desert in the sense of miles and miles of sand dunes. But it is an arid land. It is a place where water is scarce and water is precious. The people who lived in Judea and Samaria almost 2,000 years ago knew well what the indigenous peoples who gathered at Standing Rock to protect the Missouri River remind the world: “Mni Wiconi – water is life.” Little reason that Jesus praised giving a cup of water to drink as a sacred act.

Our country passed through an emotional wringer this past week. The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court has been contentious and controversial from the moment it was made. The drama and the trauma exploded exponentially when women came forward with allegations of sexual assault by the nominee.

After much wrangling, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to hear one of those women, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testify. On Thursday, Dr. Blasey Ford told her story to the committee and responded to questions. The nominee did the same. It was a grueling day for those in Washington and for those across the country who relieved painful violations as the questioning proceeded and the news media dissected every statement.

The Committee reconvened on Friday to consider what to say to the full Senate. After several hours of statements and debate the Senators voted, along straight party lines, to send the nomination forward with a recommendation for approval. Although, one Senator voted yes only with the understanding that there be an FBI investigation, within a week, of Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations. Such an investigation appears to be moving forward.

The process was emotional. Painful. Wrenching. Disconcerting. Anger, deep anger, bubbled near the surface and sometimes spewed forth like unrestrained lava bursting from a volcano. Two exceptions, two individuals who showed no little or anger, were Dr. Blasey Ford and attorney Rachel Mitchell who asked questions for the Republicans for a portion of the hearing. Both women.

Senators behaved badly. Barely restraining their words. Attacking each other. Raising their voices. Resorting to exaggeration and hyperbole. Demeaning each other. Attributing base motives to their colleagues with no evidence.

Twitter and social media exploded with fury at all the parties involved. In the days before the hearing, we learned that Dr. Blasey Ford had received death threats. During the hearing, we learned that Judge Kavanaugh had received death threats. After the hearing, we learned that Senator Flake who helped broker the compromise to have an FBI investigation, has received death threats.

This was far from the Senate’s finest moment. This was far from the finest moment for the United States.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing takes place at a time when we have heard a great deal about sexual assault, sexual violence, and sexual abuse. Bill Cosby was recently sentenced to prison following his conviction on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home 14 years ago. As many as 60 other women have made similar charges.[iii]

Women, and men, have charged other individuals with inappropriate sexual contact of various sorts. Some have lost jobs. Some appear to go on with life as though nothing had happened. A few, a very few, have admitted their actions and resigned from their jobs or stepped out of the limelight.

Sexual assault is primarily directed against women and girls, but it happens to men and boys as well. Most perpetrators of sexual assault are men, but there are a few instances of women perpetrating such assaults against men or other women.

The church is not immune. Recent reports from Germany and Pennsylvania indicate widespread abuse of children by a number of Roman Catholic clergy over extended periods of time.[iv][v]

But abuse is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church. It has happened in our own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Children have been abused on the mission field where Presbyterians served.[vi] Abuse has also occurred by Presbyterian youth leaders and pastors in this country.[vii]

A 2016 study revealed that 84 percent of Presbyterian female clergy have experienced discrimination, prejudice or harassment based upon their gender.[viii] While discrimination, prejudice, and harassment do not necessarily rise to the level of assault, they may. And they create an atmosphere in which assault may occur. Former Co-Moderator, the Rev. Denise Anderson writes, “most heinous behaviors have their beginnings elsewhere. They are undergirded by our commonly accepted practices and the things we never interrogate. When we don’t take care to pay women with equity, it doesn’t happen. When we aren’t intentional about examining our biases and respecting women’s leadership, it doesn’t happen. And if we can’t even trust women to make decisions about something as simple as their hair, how will we ever believe them when they come forward with their stories of abuse?”[ix]

The multiple allegations spurred the #MeToo movement in which women, transgender people, and men, told their stories and added the hashtag #MeToo. For people unwilling to share their story, who found it too painful to tell their story, who felt unsafe if they were to tell their story, who could not bring themselves to tell one more time a story that had been consistently disbelieved, denied and dismissed, the simple use of the #metoo hashtag served to affirm their experience.

#ChurchToo became used to refer to assault or abuse in the church. One of my seminary professors writes “I can’t even remember the names of all the men on my #ChurchToo list.”[x]What she remembers is the power and the privilege they held. In the end, sexual assault is not about sex. It is about power and control; privilege and violence.

No matter the gender or age of the person who commits the assault; no matter the gender or age of the person who is assaulted; all such actions are sin. The state defines different actions as different types of crime. To those who follow Jesus, all such actions violate the image of God in which each person is made and so are sin.

There’s a lot to process in what I have already said. I have identified some important dynamics and pointed in some necessary directions. I am happy to have further conversations with folks about the issues and concerns I have raised.

This morning, I want to say two more things.

First, we have witnessed amazing courage this week. Bruce Springsteen sings about “courage you can understand.”[xi] As I watched Dr. Blasey Ford testify, I saw courage I cannot understand. I stood in awe of her grace and strength as she presented her story and responded to questions in a hostile setting under enormous pressure and the glare of the world media. Her courage proved contagious and people found their voices and told their stories because of her.

But know this. If someone has sexually abused or sexually assaulted you and you are a human being, you are courageous. You are courageous for working through and living with that trauma every single day. You are courageous if you find your voice and lift it protest and a call for justice. And you are courageous even if you never speak a word aloud. You are courageous. You are not alone. You are stronger than you imagine. And you are beloved by God. Do not ever forget that.[xii]

Second, I believe that amid the stress and trauma of the days before the hearing and the stress and the trauma of the hearing and the vote and the stress and trauma of waiting for what comes next, I believe there were moments of kindness, glimpses of grace, tender mercies, acts of love. To use the image of Jesus in our gospel lesson, cups of water were shared.

We learned that 10-year-old Liza Kavanagh prayed for Dr. Blasey Ford. A cup of water.

Maria Gallagher from Westchester and Ana Maria Archila, who is a native of Queens confronted Arizona Senator Jeff Flake at an elevator inside the U.S. Capitol.[xiii] As they spoke, Mr. Flake nodded and looked down, his eyes darting between the women, the floor, and the elevator walls. “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me,” Ms. Gallagher said. “I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter.” Fighting back tears, she demanded the senator’s attention. “Don’t look away from me,” she said. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me.” This marked one of the first times either woman had publicly shared their accounts of sexual assault. Ms. Archila said she was moved to tell her story after seeing Dr. Blasey’s testimony.[xiv] Sometimes cups of water are delivered with tough love.

Senator Flake took his stand for an FBI investigation after conversation with colleagues, Republican and Democrat alike. While reports indicate he talked to several Senators, it seems likely that his conversation with Senator Chris Coons proved pivotal. Senators Flake and Coons rarely vote together but they have become friends. For a moment that friendship became a cup of water as friendships often do.

Women and men, who had profoundly painful memories rekindled, and grievous wounds reopened, found comfort in Facebook posts by strangers and in the presence of friends. Cups of water.

Friends I have known for years thanked me for my simple words of kindness and support posted on Facebook. They shared parts of their story with me that I did not know and for which I weep. They reminded me that courage is contagious. And sometimes we do not know when we pass along a cup of water.

18836062_10155210720946063_1533898934229885746_n“I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

In the week ahead, I give you two homework assignments.

Look around you for people who are sharing cups of water.

Look around you for ways you can share cups of water in the name of Christ.

Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Fred Rogers, or Mister Rogers as he is better known, said that “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”[xv]

I believe that in our passage for today, Jesus says something similar with the image of sharing a cup of water.

When scary things happen, when life become unsettling and threatening, look for the people who are acting with kindness, who are showing love, who are sharing cups of water.

When scary things happen, when life become unsettling and threatening, be the people who act with kindness, who love, who share cups of water in the name of Jesus.

May it be so. Amen.

 

[i] https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/14/the-angel-of-maryes-heights/

[ii] Matthew 25:31-46

[iii] https://www.thewrap.com/60-bill-cosby-accusers-complete-list-breakdown-guilty/

[iv] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/12/world/europe/german-church-sex-abuse-children.html. A study in Germany reports that more than 3,600 children, most age 13 or younger, were sexually abused by Catholic clergy members over the past seven decades by at least 1,670 church workers.

[v] https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/19/us/catholics-react-pennsylania-sex-abuse/index.html. In August, a study notes that over the past 70 years in six Pennsylvania dioceses, 300 Catholic priests abused more than 1,000 children.

[vi] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/wp-content/uploads/iarp_final_report.pdf

[vii] https://pres-outlook.org/2018/09/a-letter-to-church-that-i-love/

[viii] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/1217-convo/

[ix] http://www.ecclesio.com/2018/02/never-starts-assault-overlooked-ways-church-enables-abuse-denise-anderson/

[x] https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/guest-post/i-cant-even-remember-names-all-men-my-churchtoo-list

[xi] “Nothing Man,” https://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3458764513820554674/.

[xii] This paragraph grew out of a Facebook exchange with Hannah Truxell.

[xiii] http://gothamist.com/2018/09/28/jeff_flake_elevator_protest.php

[xiv] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/us/politics/jeff-flake-protesters-kavanaugh.html

[xv] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/mister-rogers-helpers-quote_n_2318793.html

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Tonight I wept

There are places I remember all my life

Lennon and McCartney got that right.

But there are also people I remember. And moments.

Moments I will remember as long as memory lasts. Moments that not only fill my mind as memories. Moments that fill my soul and spirit as the sights, sounds, feelings wash over me as though the moment had never ended.

The births of my sons.

The death of my father.

The murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy.

The fall of the Berlin Wall.

The release of Nelson Mandela.

And more.

Tonight I wept as I relieved such a moment.

I finally watched Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I had not seen it in the theater, but I added it to my Netflix list and it arrived this week.

The film provides much to ponder. Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan? Seriously?

The scene that touched me came near the end.

Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, has retired from his position as a butler at the White House. He has reconciled with his son, Louis, played by David Oyelowo. His wife, Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey, has died.

Cecil and Louis are in his house on November 4, 2008. The votes in the Presidential election are being counted. As the moment nears when the media will declare a winner, Cecil calls his son to come to the living room and watch. Louis arrives in time to see history happen.

As the newscaster in the film announces  Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States of America, I found myself transported back to the night it happened. And I wept.

I wept in joy at Barack Obama’s victory. At progress made. At hopes realized. At the possibilities before us then and now.

I wept in sorrow at how much work remains to achieve racial justice. At the oppression, discrimination, and injustices my sisters and brothers endure.

I wept in frustration at shortcomings and failings of President Obama’s administration to meet the expectations of the moment. At potential unfulfilled.

Merdine T MorrisBut most of all, I wept remembering my friend Merdine T. Morris. Shortly after the media announced Barack Obama’s election, I called Merdine T. Together we laughed and cried and prayed.

The film scene transported me through space and time and as I heard again the joy and hope and pride and concern Merdine T. expressed that night.

Merdine T. recognized the historic significance of President Obama’s election. She also understood the arduous work that lay ahead for him and for our country as we continue to come to terms with the racism and other systems of oppression and discrimination dividing us. Merdine T. knew first-hand racism’s bitter sting and enduring power. She knew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. personally as our mutual friend Carol reminded me. She knew hopes shattered and dreams, not only deferred, but devastated. She knew the tears that water and the blood that mark the road to justice.

But Merdine T. Morris never gave up. She held to faith. She held to hope. She held to love.

And so I wept tonight because Merdine T. and her husband Luke trusted me and were my friends, because Merdine T. and Luke welcomed me with grace, because Merdine T. and Luke accompany me in the Communion of Saints, because, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, writing about another unforgettable moment:
Her strength gives me strength
Her faith gives me faith
Her hope gives me hope
Her love gives me love

Tonight I wept in gratitude. And my tears were good.

See you along the Trail.

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Carrying tunes

One of my former work colleagues and friends posted the following on Facebook:

In your status line, list 10 albums that have stayed with you. Tag ten friends including me. These shouldn’t be the critics list, but records that mean something to you. Do it fast. Don’t research it.

I don’t often do this sort of thing but I decided to give this one a try. I suspected  that because of differences in our ages and tastes, my list would be quite different from his. It was. Both lists contained amazing music.

It also proved an interesting exercise because it allowed me to consider the tunes I carry in my heart and my soul. These are the soundtrack of my life. Each recording played a role in my life. They associate with moments and experiences, transporting me back across time and space. Many smiles accompanied the process.

Here’s my list. The significance to the order is the order they occurred to me.

  • Derek and the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
  • Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
  • Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky
  • Eric Bogle – Scraps of Paper
  • Bob Marley and the Wailers – Exodus
  • Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
  • Van Morrison – Saint Dominic’s Preview
  • Black 47 – Fires of Freedom
  • Carole King – Tapestry
  • Warren Zevon – The Wind

This proved far harder than I expected. Here’s a second 10 – actually 11 since I sneak in two by Brother Neil.

  • Seeds – the songs of Pete Seeger
  • Mountain – Nantucket Sleighride
  • Neil Young – Prairie Wind / Harvest
  • Arlo Guthrie – Amigo
  • The Band – Music from Big Pink
  • Bruce Cockburn – Nothing But a Burning Light
  • Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad
  • The Temptations – Puzzle People
  • Archie Roach – Charcoal Lane
  • John McCutcheon – Live at Wolf Trap

And many, many more crossed my soul as I worked on this.

What tunes do you carry? What music would be on your list?

See you along the Trail.

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Remembering Annie Rawlings

The word first came in a simple text from a friend. The precise words have already faded from memory, but their essence remains: “Annie Rawlings died.”

I could not believe it. I tried to deny it. I searched Facebook and other social media looking for something, anything, I don’t know what, to demonstrate that the news was false.

But it was not. Through electronic media and phone calls the confirmation arrived.

Annie Rawlings –
woman of deep faith,
daughter,
sister,
sister-in-law,
aunt,
niece,
cousin,

Annie Rawlings –
maker of peace,
welcomer of new neighbors,
community member,
strategic thinker,
seeker of justice,
builder of coalitions,
pursuer of truth,
builder of bridges,

Annie Rawlings –
ally of those living in poverty,
feeder of the hungry,
challenger of the systems,
clother of the naked,
houser of the homeless,
community organizer,
interfaith advocate,
child of Cleveland,
New Yorker,
citizen of the world,
glocal disciple,

Annie Rawlings –
trusted friend,
valued colleague,

Annie Rawlings –
lover of life,
liver of life,

Annie Rawlings was dead.

Annie died, unexpectedly, on November 2 after snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico where she had gone on vacation.

Annie threw herself into life with a zest and a passion. She lived boldly, bravely, fully. Annie made the most of her life.

Now Annie is dead. The world seems a bit more empty, a tad colder. Annie is dead and with so many others, I grieve.

I grieve for the pain and heartache that her parents and family suffer – pain and heartache that I can only imagine. I grieve for the empty seat at the table, the empty chair in the office, the empty place in the circle. I grieve for a life that ended too soon. I grieve for what might have been.

Yet as I grieve, I give thanks.

I give thanks for Annie’s faith and love. I give thanks for Annie’s living and witness. I give thanks for the lives that God touched through Annie. I give thanks that her memory shines. I give thanks that, while no one will ever, ever replace Annie, others will step up, have already stepped up, to carry on the pursuit of justice and peace to which she gave her life.

I give thanks because even in the face of the sudden death of one so young and vital as Annie, there is love and there is grace and there is God. All will be well for Annie. All will be well for her parents, Chuck and Joan. All will be well for her family and her friends. It may not seem that way now. It may not seem that way any time soon, but all will be well. There will be tears and heartache and great struggle, but all will be well. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

If you have ever read my blog, you know my closing line is: See you along the Trail. Tonight, I am going to give the final word to Annie’s favorite singer. Bruce Springsteen expresses a similar sentiment when he writes;

Further on up the road
Further on up the road
Where the way is dark and the night is cold
One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise I know
And I’ll meet you further on up the road.

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I like these moments

I like the moments when I recognize an actress or an actor – when I am watching a film and I spot someone I did not know was in the cast. Or someone playing against type. Or someone at an early moment of their career.

In the midst of an incredibly busy stretch (and on laundry duty again), I find myself watching The Indian Runner – a film written and directed by Sean Pean based on Bruce Springsteen‘s song “Highway Patrolman” and featuring David Morse and Viggo Mortensen.

All of a sudden, I had an ah-ha moment. That is Benicio Del Toro, I said. A very young Benicio Del Toro, but Benicio Del Toro. Of course David and Viggo were also young.

I checked on IMDB and sure enough. Bernicio Del Toro. I like these moments.

See you along the Trail.

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Firefly in August

Hard it is
to be a saint in the city;
harder still, perhaps,
mid the noise and the bright lights and the traffic,
to be a firefly
that is seen in August.

5 August 2011
Shire on the Hudson

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