Tag Archives: fear

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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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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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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The Refugee Jesus

A sermon preached at Rutgers Presbyterian Church on 22 November 2015. I rarely post sermons, however this one received enough positive feedback that I make an exception. Note that this is the manuscript that went into the pulpit; the sermon that came out no doubt differed in several ways.FullSizeRender

The Refugee Jesus
John 18:33-37
Rutgers Presbyterian Church
November 22, 1015
Christ the King Sunday 

Fear.We have to talk about fear this day if we wish to talk about refugees.

Fear always creeps into conversations about refugees and immigrants—a fear of the other—of people from whom we differ.

But this day, we gather after

a bombing in Baghdad

a bombing in Beirut

an attack with guns and bombs on Paris

a bombing in Yola, Nigeria

a bombing in Kano, Nigeria

an attack on a hotel in Bamako, Mali

yet more bombings in Baghdad.

And fear has entered the conversation.

Fear of Daesh and other terrorist groups.

Fear of Muslims even though Muslims have been the targets and victims of many of the attacks.

Fear of refugees, particularly refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Political leaders and candidates and pundits have pandered to the fear and fed the fear.

Governors have said their states will not accept refugees from Syria. The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to make the vetting process for refugees from Syria and Iraq more difficult, it not impossible. Some leaders have essentially said “No Muslims need apply” or “Christians only.” Both phrases resonate with nativist and racist language from our past.

In at least one instance, the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II has been cited as a model for refusing Syrian refugees rather than the evil act of racism that is was.

And one candidate for President called for a mandatory registry of Muslims in the United States, a call that evokes the horror of the Holocaust.  The New York Times reports he may be pulling back from that position somewhat.[i]

We cannot talk about refugees on this day without talking about fear.

Some pastors may preach that we should be afraid. We should hunker and hide in fear. And we should allow fear to guide us in our behavior and relationships with refugees. I will not do that.

Surrendering to fear in relation to our brothers and sisters who flee for their lives flies in the face of everything I believe as a follower of Jesus. It goes against everything I believe as a citizen of this country and a resident of our great city where in the harbor stands a statue with a poem:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”[ii]

And it goes against the policy statements and congregational actions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Presbyterians have supported refugee resettlement since the refugee crisis created by World War II. The 160th General Assembly (1948) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America stated, “The United States should pass legislation to bring in at least four hundred thousand displaced persons during the next four years.” (Minutes, PCUSA, 1948, Part I, p. 204). [iii] Presbyterian congregations have helped resettle thousands of our brothers and sisters through the years.

Some pastors may preach today that we have nothing to fear. After all, fear not is what Jesus told his disciples on several occasions. Sermons will proclaim that that God is completely in control, life is working out according to God’s plan, God will protect us, and we have no reason for fear. I will not do that.

The world is a broken and fearful place. I know that and you know that. I fear for my African American friends, Native American friends, Hispanic, Latino/Latina friends, Asian American friends in their encounters with law enforcement and in their daily lives within a racist system. I fear for the gun violence that too often tears lives and communities apart. I fear for the homeless on our streets, particularly as winter comes. I fear for my transgendered sisters and brothers. I fear for sisters and brothers who struggle with addiction, or lack access to health care, or who have lost jobs. I fear for those who serve in our military and come home to inadequate support and care. I fear what those who resort to terror might do. Acts of terror are, after all, a form of public theater intended to provoke fear. I fear the possibility, however small, that despite our best screening efforts, a person who wishes to commit and act of terror may be admitted to our country as a refugee. Megan McCardle observes, “There’s no perfect way to screen out Syrian terrorists from Syrian refugees. It may be that someone we let in will, eventually, do something horrible. In fact, that’s a risk with any immigrant we let in, or for that matter, any baby we allow to be born.”[iv]

We live in a broken and fearful world.

And so it is right and natural that we fear.

But, we fear as those who follow the Jesus – as those who proclaim Christ as ruler. And that makes all the difference.

We fear. But we refuse to allow fear to rule our actions and decisions.

We recognize that courage is not the absence of fear; it is going ahead despite our fear. Indeed as John McCutcheon puts it, “courage has no meaning without fear.”[v] Jesus had his moment in Gethsemane where he first prayed that the cup before him might be removed before he prayed that God’s will be done.

We realize that we need to understand fearful situations as well as we can. For example, we might learn about the vetting process for refugees. It is long and complicated. And it is available online from the White House. Refugees are the most carefully screened travelers to the United States.[vi] We might learn about our country’s history with refugees and immigrants. We might look at what other countries are doing in response to refugees and acts of terror. We might consider how important it is to integrate refugees into society.

We remember that Jesus was a refugee. The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”[vii] There was no UNHCR at the time. And the borders may not have been as clearly delineated as they are today. But under the terms of that definition, when Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to Egypt to keep him safe from Herod, they became refugees.[viii]

Jesus teaches us that what the way we individually and collectively treat the least of our sisters and brothers is the way we treat him. That would seem particularly appropriate in relation to our brothers and sisters who are refugees—in the world’s refugees we encounter the Refugee Jesus.

The Refugee Jesus is the one who we celebrate today on this Christ the King Sunday. Lots of causes and commitments and things vie to have first place in our hearts and minds and souls and strength. But today we reaffirm our intention that Jesus is Lord. Jesus and no one else. Jesus and nothing else. We know we we will fall and fail as we try to live out that proclamation, but we also know that by God’s grace we can pick ourselves back up and try again. We are not who we should be – but we are not who we used to be – and we know that God in Christ can help us become who we could be.

On this day, our Gospel reading seems a bit out of place. We are at the end of the church year—Christ the King Sunday. And we read part of the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate that follows his arrest and precedes his execution. It’s the stuff of Holy Week. But here it is for today.

The reason lies in the content of the discussion between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate wants to know who Jesus is. The buzz on the street says that Jesus is a king. The Twitter feeds were filled with #Jesus #King of the Jews. “King” is a political term. And Pilate is a political person. He needs to know what is going on.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks.

Jesus turns the question back on Pilate. He asks Pilate the question he asked his followers—the question he asks all people—the question he asks us. “Who do you say, I am?” He does not put it that directly. But that’s the heart of Jesus’ response. For who we say Jesus is makes all the difference in how we live.

Pilate tries again. He notes that Jesus has been “delivered” to him by others. He wants to know why. “What have you done?”

Jesus ignores this question and returns to the idea of kingship.  “My kingdom is not of this world.”  He is a different style of leader from what is contained in Pilate’s political understanding of being a king. The reign of Jesus is not “of the world” of political calculation, accusation, and contending interests.

Pilate, tries one more time: “So you are a king?”

Jesus replies, “You say that I am a king.” And again, Jesus describes what type of a king – a ruler – a leader – he is. Jesus spoke to Pilate – but his words have echoed to all people since – his words speak to us today.

The political understanding of a king involved struggle and domination. When we listen to Jesus – not just in this passage – but to his voice as consistently revealed in the Gospels – we know that his reign is about the dignity and equality of all – it is about love and caring and sharing.

Jesus’ ministry and mission is “to testify to the truth” – to proclaim the Good News of God’s love and grace – to call women and men to live in new ways –rooted in God’s love and justice – living as Jesus lived, loving as Jesus loves.

The reign of Christ has no geographical boundaries. Christ’s reign is about faith and hope and grace and love. His reign consists of followers who listen to his voice and seek to do his will and share love in his name and trust in his grace.

So we give thanks today for Jesus in whom God came among us.  We give thanks that the story of Jesus did not end in a cold, smelly barn.  It did not end as the Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt, becoming refugees. It did not end even on the cross.  God raised Jesus and the story continues.

We give thanks for Jesus who invites us to live in new, abundant ways.  We give thanks that Jesus calls us to enter into the story—to love one another. To welcome the newcomer. To build relationships across the diversities God creates.

As we consider responding to our sisters and brothers who are refugees, we quickly realize we cannot do everything to meet their needs. But as Archbishop Oscar Romero taught us, each of us can do something.

Perhaps we can write a letter to elected officials. Or give money. Or work with refugees who have arrived—providing transportation—becoming friends—helping gather needed household supplies. I have a number of friends who have recently had their first babies. They are participating in the Carry the Future project started by a mother from California that provides baby carriers to families that arrive in Greece.[ix] That is not everything. But it is something. And if you have ever carried a baby, you know it is something that can make a difference. Each of us can do something. Each of us can find concrete ways to love as we follow the Refugee Jesus who is Christ the King.

In his statement, “Choose welcome, not fear,” the Rev. Grady Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) noted that, after the crucifixion of Jesus, his disciples hid in fear. They gathered in an upper room and locked the doors. But God had other plans. Jesus appeared to them and said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’.[x] We who proclaim Christ as King were not meant to hide. We were meant to walk out in hope and compassion. Fear feeds terror. The Refugee Jesus calls us, invites us, challenges us, transforms us to witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality—to live as Jesus lived—to love as Jesus loves.[xi]

In the face of terror and in the face of fear, hope and faith and love are the way forward; they are the way to life.

As we follow the refugee Jesus; as we proclaim Christ the King, may we live in hope, faith, and love. Today and all days.

Amen.

 

 

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/21/us/politics/donald-trump-sets-off-a-furor-with-call-to-register-muslims-in-the-us.html?_r=0

[ii] http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm

[iii]http://oga.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/call_to_write_for_syrian_refugees_and_governors%5B1%5D.pdf

[iv] http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-11-20/six-bad-arguments-for-u-s-to-take-in-syrian-refugees

[v] http://www.folkmusic.com/lyrics/here-islands

[vi] https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states

[vii] http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html

[viii] Matthew 2:13-15

[ix] https://www.facebook.com/carrythefuture/

[x] John 20:21

[xi] This paragraph draws heavily on the Rev. Gradye Parsons’ statement posted at http://www.pcusa.org/news/2015/11/17/choose-welcome-not-fear/

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New creation

The facade cracks,
slowly falls away.
The truth,
only the truth,
painful, wrenching truth
remains.
Naked, vulnerable,
do we
retreat to old pretenses,
erect new falsehoods,
renew delusions?
Or do we dare
open ourselves to
resurrection,
new creation?

28 August 2014
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

 

 

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