Tag Archives: fear

A prayer, September 11, 2021

Gracious God,
twenty years on
we remember.

We remember
your precious children killed in
New York
Washington, DC,
Shanksville.

We remember
your precious children killed in
Afghanistan
Iraq
and around the world.

We remember
death
wounded bodies
wounded spirits
wounded souls.

We remember
acts of terror
acts of valor
acts of violence
acts of peace.

We remember
fear
anger
hate
prejudice.

We remember
kindness
courage
grace
generosity.

We remember
people coming together to
reach out
weep
sing
embrace
care.

We remember
songs ended
songs gone
songs created
songs begun
songs lived
songs shared.

Remembering,
may we take bold, faith-filled, hopeful steps
to unlearn the ways of war and
turn to ways that might make peace between people;
to overcome fear of one another
and recognize the dignity and value of every person;
to seek understanding of suffering
and nurture the empathy needed to work to alleviate it; and
to walk the paths of love
that leads to peace and justice.

Remembering Jesus,
in response to your Holy Spirit,
we pray. Amen.

with thanks to Shannan Vance-Ocampo, Chris Shelton, leaders of the United Church of Christ and Come from Away

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Virtual prayer vigil

Joining, from afar, the ecumenical prayer vigil held on Sunday, March 21 in the parking lot of the Gold Massage Spa to honor the victims of the Atlanta shooting. This vigil was organized by Korean Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, St. Andrew Kim Catholic Church, Emmanuel Korean United Methodist Church, and Lutheran Church of Incarnation. Here are some prayers for the moment.

Christ have mercy.
We thank you for your beloved children whose
lives were taken too soon, too violently in Georgia.
Draw us together to work
against racism and racist violence against Asian Americans.

Christ have mercy.
Inspire us to see each person
in the wholeness you create;
inspire us to see each person
with your gaze of love;
inspire us to see and honor
your image in each person.

Christ have mercy.
Provide love and courage for those who fear
for their safety because of who they are.
Guide us to disrupt systems and practices
that lead to fear and to create a society
in which no one need be afraid.

Christ have mercy.
Grant rest and comfort and strength
to your children who are wearied
by resisting white supremacy.
Sear the consciences of
those who have accepted privilege without interrogation
those who responded with apathy,
those who have expected people who endure racism
to provide the answers and to do the work.
Move us to care for one another
by dismantling systems that wound and drain
your children, our family
and deny your justice and love to all.

Christ have mercy.
Lead us to learn our history –
the history of Asians in America and of Asian Americans –
the history of the violence too often
inflicted by white supremacy
on Asian nations and on Asians in this nation.
May our learning lead us to recognize wrongs done,
repent, and begin the journey to repair.

Christ have mercy.
Move us to demand that
elected representatives in our nation,
in each state and in every community
speak and work to end hate and violence
directed at the Asian American community.

Christ have mercy.
We have work to do.
So much work to do.
Search our hearts,
guide our feet,
hold our hands,
stand by us
as we do the needed work
to disrupt white supremacy
and dismantle the systemic racism
that impacts Asian Americans
and Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

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Freed to Love

John 20:19-31
The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone

After the empty tomb; after the encounter with Mary Magdalene in the garden; the followers of Jesus gathered behind locked doors. They were afraid. Afraid without Jesus. Afraid of arrest. Afraid of death. Maybe even afraid of life:  afraid of what Jesus might ask of them if Jesus really were resurrected.

It seems appropriate to note that the disciples physically distanced themselves from the people gathered in Jerusalem. They met the qualification of not meeting in groups bigger than 10. Judas had left after the betrayal. And Thomas. Well Thomas was not there. Perhaps they could not score an InstaCamel or DonkeyPod delivery and he was out foraging. Perhaps he was grieving in his own way. We are not told. All we know is Thomas was not there.

Behind the locked door and beyond the fear, Jesus appears to them.  He gives them his peace. He breathes the Holy Spirit on them. He sends them into the world with work to do. It’s like group CPR.

The resurrection is for the purpose of re-creation after death, and re-creation before death. The resurrection is about the life to come. It is about this life. The resurrection of Jesus leads to the resurrection of his followers – the creation of the Church – so that through the power and ministry of our life together, the people of Jesus might become God’s continuing presence in the world.

“Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says, and the stage is set . . . the disciples are ready to go . . . it is a new beginning in the great adventure of life in faith . . . except someone is missing. Thomas is not there. Jesus must come back and pick him up.  For no one can be forgotten. No one can be left out. The new life is for the people of Jesus . . . all the people.

Jesus returns when Thomas is present. Jesus displays his wounds. And Thomas believes. “My Lord and my God!” The words of Thomas serve as the basic affirmation of faith for followers of Jesus. And they serve as the basis for every formal affirmation that has followed.

This year, this passage resonates with me in ways it has never done before. Our lives parallel that of the disciples. Life after the execution of Jesus was not OK for first disciples. Life today is not OK for me. I venture it is not OK for you.

We grieve. Death. Dashed dreams. Lost hopes. Unmet expectations fill our individual hearts and our collective consciousness.[i] The other day, a friend responded to my “How are you” text with: “I had a long, ugly cry today.” I replied that one of my favorite songs features Rosey Grier, a gentle giant, former Pro Bowl defensive lineman singing, “It’s Alight to Cry.”[ii] We grieve.

We shelter in place. We pause. Out of a need to protect others and ourselves, we establish and maintain physical distances. We isolate and separate.

We fear. Writing in The Presbyterian Outlook, the Rev. Jill Duffield notes, “Our fear is utterly understandable. The death toll of this virus mounts. The extent of the economic fallout is yet to be determined, but we know it is, and will continue to be, huge. We’ve seen the suffering, the wounds inflicted, the crucifixion completed. No wonder we shelter in place in anxiety, with no sense of when the world will take a turn for the better.”[iii]

The similarities are striking. Psychologically, emotionally, even physically, we share  great deal with the first disciples. That’s where the Good News of this story finds us.

Christ the Lord is risen today. The gifts he brought his first followers behind locked doors, he brings to us.

The Rev. Duffield names those gifts. The Holy Spirit to inspire us. Hope in the face of fear. Peace amid chaos. Belief in life no matter how deadly the circumstances.[iv] A ministry and a mission.

And that brings us to Kelly Clarkson. I had to look her up. She won the first season of American Idol in 2002. I did not know that because I have never watched an episode of the show in all the years it has been on the air. Her victory led to a recording contract and launched her career as a singer-songwriter, actress, author, and television personality.[v] You may know more. I have told you everything I know.

Except. My friend So Jung Kim posted the news that Kelly Clarkson released a new song this week. “I Dare You.” She released six versions of the song in six different languages. Arabic, French, Hebrew, Spanish, German, and English.[vi]

Clarkson says the song is “about love and all its forms, in the face of adversity. Choosing to love instead of fear.”[vii] She believes that message will connect globally at this moment in time.[viii]

In English, the chorus says:

I dare you to love
Oh, I dare you to love
Even if you’re hurt and you can only see the worst
Even if you think it’s not enough
Oh, I dare you to love.[ix]

I believe that when the Risen Christ entered that locked room to meet the ten and then the eleven, he provided his followers what they – what we – need to take that dare.

In their fear, in the chaos, in their anxiety, the Risen Christ gave his followers the gifts they needed to love one another, to love neighbors, to love themselves, as God in Christ loved them. He freed them to love. He equipped them to love.

And he does the same for us.

Christ the Lord is risen today. The Risen Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, provides hope for our fears, peace in chaos, faith in life in deadly circumstances.[x] The Risen Christ does not magically make all our challenges and afflictions go away. Rather the Risen Christ equips us for the living of our days. And frees us to love.

Even when we are not OK. Especially when we are not OK. Jesus reminds us of God’s unending love for us – come what may, God loves us. And by the grace of God, we too can love. This day and every day, we are freed to love. Thanks be to God.

[i] https://pres-outlook.org/2020/04/2nd-sunday-of-easter-april-19-2020/

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y52bs0aX6v8

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Clarkson

[vi] https://www.countryliving.com/life/entertainment/a32187398/kelly-clarkson-new-song-i-dare-you-6-languages/

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] https://genius.com/Kelly-clarkson-i-dare-you-lyrics

[x] https://pres-outlook.org/2020/04/2nd-sunday-of-easter-april-19-2020/

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A prayer when we are not OK

Gracious God,
help us remember that it is OK not to be OK.
We grieve.
We worry.
We fear.
Help us remember that it is OK not to be OK.
Frustration,
anxiety,
disquiet
swirl within us.
Help us remember that it is OK not to be OK.
Loneliness,
restlessness,
unease
fill our days.
Help us remember that it is OK not to be OK.
We wonder.
We doubt.
We dread.
Help us remember that it is OK not to be OK.
And help us remember you love us
you love us just as we are.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

7 April 2020
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig
with thanks to the Rev. Yena K. Hwang
who used the image “It is OK not to be OK”
at the 2018 Montreat Youth Conference

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A prayer of thanks

Dear God,

in times when I am frightened,

in days when I am discouraged,

in situations when I am unsettled,

even as I grieve for what is lost,

remind me to seek reasons to say

“thank you.”

Amen.

31 March 2020

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After – Albuquerque 1996

1294519_10151934672121063_245716286_oAfter the prayers had been said
and the motions had been made;

after the rulings had been dispensed
and the speeches had been delivered;

after the instructions had been given
and the buttons had been pushed;

after the votes had been tallied
and the results announced;

after the passion
and the decent order;

after . . .
. . . the assembly sat in quiet contemplation,
pondering who had won
and who had lost,
considering what was gained
and what the cost.

My heart sundered the silence,
breaking, softly breaking,
for those, who by official action,
had been denied their full humanity,
and, whose gifts, but that same official action,
had been rejected.

A tear slid down my check,
coming to rest in tangled whiskers.
A single tear
shed for those beloved of God
who the vote would exclude
and for those
who out of fear
or prejudice
or lack of love
or for whatever reason
sought to shut doors –
and build walls –
and keep out –
and settle once and for all;
and in so doing
lost an opportunity
to join in
God’s amazing,
welcoming,
including,
affirming,
door-opening,
wall-smashing,
never-ending
love.

This was written after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 208th General Assembly (1996). That assembly met in Albuquerque, New Mexico and took action to recommend a change the church’s constitution that would ban LGBTQ individuals from serving in ordained offices. I attended that assembly as an observer. As the United Methodist Church meets to wrestle with similar questions, I remembered this piece and choose to share it. 

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Filed under Current Events, Family, Friends, Human Rights, Poem, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

I choose the way of life

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has apparently urged students, staff and faculty at his Christian school to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon on campus. The purpose seems to be protection in the event of an attack.

“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” Falwell reportedly said.

This from a man who purports to follow Jesus who told Peter to put away his sword.

But Falwell further appears to have added an Islamphobic remark.

“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” Falwell said.

Donald Trump issued a call to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” a campaign press release reportedly said.

This from a man who claims to follow Jesus who continually crossed lines of prejudice and discrimination.

To Falwell and to Trump, I say “No! You do not speak for me.”

I reject these messages of hate.

I reject these messages of hate because of what I understand it to mean to be a citizen of the United States of America. We are the home of the brave and courage comes from inside ourselves and among ourselves not from being armed to the teeth and shooting first. The message of Lady Liberty is a message of welcome not a message of exclusion.

F26 Lift Highlands Camp, CO 25 August 2012

I reject these messages of hate because they are incompatible with my faith in Jesus.

Jesus calls us to include not to divide; to love not to fear; to respond to violence with creative nonviolence. Jesus invites us to live into hope; to make ourselves vulnerable; to build and nurture community.

The world is a scary place. I know that.

However, responding with weapons and violence and judgement and exclusion leads only to more fear, destruction, and death.

The way to life, and it takes hard, hard work,  is to recognize we are all God’s children, created with an amazing diversity, to honor God’s image in one another, and to love one another. It will involve challenges and risks and pain and sorrow. But it will also involve grace amazing and joy abounding and blessings abundant.

So I reject these, and all, messages of hate. And I choose the way of life. I will protest hate and I will love as well as I am able.

See you along the Trail.

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Dear fellow Presbyterians

The Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, vice-moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has posted a call to Presbyterians to “stand up and demand more, both of ourselves and others” in responding to gun violence. Her words apply to all of us; the resources she cites may be used by anyone.

Dear friends and colleagues,

You have seen the facts: we’ve had more mass shootings this year than there are days, we are 5% of the world population and account for 1/3 of its mass shootings, and that there was not one but two shootings in our country on December 2 (and that’s what made the news).

I spent much of last night posting overtures and reports from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I didn’t do this just because I am the vice moderator and feel as though I need to inform others about the resources that our at our fingertips. Each Sunday when I opened the bulletin of my church, I would read, “We are all ministers of the church.” I didn’t really think that much about the statement growing up. There is not a hierarchy. There isn’t a boss who demands certain actions. We are all ministers doing the work we are called to on this earth.

We are a denomination of words. We’re great at policy making and debate. Some would even say experts! But as I watched the news unfold yesterday and today, I am reminded that we are all ministers.

It’s time for us stand up and demand more, both of ourselves and others. We have the policies and words to back us up. We know what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) states about gun violence. It’s now up to us to do something about it. We can no longer avoid the tough conversations with our neighbors in the pews, leave the messaging to the preacher in the pulpit, rely on our pastors to do the leg work in our communities or believe that a statement from the denomination will be enough.

We are all ministers. We are all the Church.

We’ve engaged in a churchwide conversation about the identity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I want us to continue to engage in policy and statement making because it’s a way that we have a voice in the national conversation. But I also hope that our identity involves the local congregations to presbyteries to synods to the national leadership doing the hard, tough work of educating/engaging one another and our politicians in demanding changes to address gun violence. I want to be a part of a denomination that recognizes the historical reality of America that racializes others when faced with fear and decides to respond with love; we need to look no further than the Japanese internment, a black teenager wearing a hoodie, a Sikh man questioned about his Muslim beliefs, or news outlets that yesterday said the shooters names sounded, “foreign.” I want us to remember the photographs of Aylan Kurdi washing up on the Turkish beach and we open our doors to welcome more Syrian refugees because others pull back in suspicion.

Let’s not just talk about who we are as a denomination…let’s live it.

Gun Violence Prevention from 221st General Assembly (2014)

Gun Violence Policy from 219th General Assembly

Resource created for congregations based on the policy from 219th General Assembly

“Trigger” (A film created by David Barnhardt based on the policy from 219th General Assembly. It includes 4 lesson discussion guide if you purchase from PDS)

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Filed under Advent, Antiracism, Current Events, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

A Thanksgiving prayer for Syrian refugees

My friend, the Rev. Sung Yeon Choimorrow works for Interfaith Worker Justice. She recently wrote a reflection on Syrian and Iraqi refugees in which she 535553_418699534886667_1200697668_nexpresses her “prayer that the spirit of hospitality and generosity will rule this nation. It is my prayer that we give thanks that we get to partner with our creator in this journey of seeking justice and peace.”

She reminds us that the U.S. “narrative of exclusion and oppression isn’t a new one. It is one that has repeated and continues to repeat itself in history.”

And she challenges us to make sure that

Fear does not win. When people who live in hope and fight for justice work together, we can and do drive out fear. We, the people of faith must act on our convictions to stand up against Islamophobia that is driving our legislators to pass a bill that would stop women and children fleeing war from coming to our shores. We, the people of faith must act on our convictions to stand up against splitting up families due to deportations. We, the people of faith must act on our convictions to stand up against poverty wages and corporate greed that puts profits before people.

For her words, which I encourage you to read, I say “Thanks.”

To her prayer, I humbly say “Amen.”

See you along the Trail.

The photo shows the Rev. Sung Yeon Choimorrow attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2013 and was taken by our mutual friend, Bruce Reyes-Chow.

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Another take on refugees and fear and faith

I posted “The Refugee Jesus“, the sermon I preached yesterday at Rutgers Presbyterian Church. It focused on Christ the King Sunday and Jesus the Refugee and what it meant to affirm a refugee as king in times when acts of terror occur and leaders and pundits fan the flames of fear.

Today I discovered that my friend Randy Clayton preached a similar sermon at Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church: “Of Kings and Kingdoms.”

Here are some excerpts:

But King Jesus is certainly not just a figurehead whose only role is to make us stick out our chests in pride; nor is King Jesus a despot who takes and oppresses, ready to pounce on us for one wrong move, unable to forgive and set us right again.  In fact, King Jesus didn’t even proclaim he was king, but his actions and his love showed us the real truth.

He was a king yes, but his kingdom didn’t look anything like Pilates’ kingdom, or the Roman Empire.  Jesus was a king, yes. He had royal bloodlines that stretched back to King David, but his kingdom looked like none the world had seen. He is king, but his reign of truth and life is based on love and peace and trust rather than coercion, division and fear. He is not a king surrounded by body guards and armored cars, but he was a king surrounded by the poor and the hurting, the outcast and the lonely, the grieving and the prisoner, the powerless and the refugee.

To align ourselves with Christ’s rule and God’s kingdom is certainly to oppose acts of terror, calling them the evil they are, that’s for sure. But at the same time it is to work to end the poverty and the hopelessness across the world that gives rise to desperation and fuels the terror’s flames. To align ourselves with God’s kingdom and Jesus’ rule is to welcome the widow and the orphan as Jesus did, to risk what we have so that others might find life, as Jesus did, and to get worked up about the same things that Jesus got worked up about. And maybe especially in these frightening and scary times, it is to follow Jesus’ example and refuse to live in fear,  to refuse to let our actions be guided by fear, and to let our lives and all we do we shaped and molded by the affirmation that both in life and in death we belong to God.

I encourage you to check out the whole sermon.

See you along the Trail.

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