Tag Archives: United States

In This Place

This is the manuscript I took into the pulpit at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church today. The preached sermon varied from the manuscript in some instances as the preaching event took place.

People often ask if I miss serving as a pastor in a congregation. I reply that I miss the community, the shared life. But I feel called to my work at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. I make mistakes; challenges and frustrations arise, but I believe I am where God has called me.

And then come those Sundays when I have the privilege to take part in the sacrament of baptism. And in the joy and wonder of the moment, I feel a tug to parish ministry.

Because I knew I would have that privilege this morning, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about children. Of course along with the filled expectation of the sacrament, this week has also brought tragedy and sorrow and hope.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Israeli children who listen for sirens and take refugee in bomb shelters.
Palestinian children killed upon a beach, under the crushing weight of collapsed homes, on the streets of Gaza.
Israeli and Palestinian children bound together in the violent spiral, not of their making, of occupation and resistance.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Nigerian girls abducted from schools and homes, wrenched from their families, held by a rebel group.
Children of Sudan’s Nuba Mountains who huddle in caves as bombs dropped by the government rain around them.
South Sudanese children whose stomachs knot from hunger and malnutrition that threaten their lives.
Syrian children caught in a chaotic cross fire.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Children forced to carry guns larger than they are tall in combat.
Children who breathe air-filled with dust and sometimes toxic gases in mines for gold.
Children used, violated, and exploited.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Children fleeing rape and gang recruitment and violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and parts of Guatemala who make their way to the United States to be placed in detention centers where they may experience cramped cells without enough food, beds, toilets or showers.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Children who lost a parent when a plane went down over the eastern Ukraine.
Children with AIDS or whose parents have AIDS whose lives will be affected by the loss of the researchers and scientists on that plane.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Children in our country whose lives are constricted and diminished by racism.
Children bullied because of their sexual orientation.
Children who know violence in their homes, their schools, and their communities.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

New babies, long-awaited, welcomed, cherished.
Children who receive encouragement, affection, support, and nurture.
Children who enjoy life, bring delight to friends, and share love with family members.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

And I have wept.
Sweet tears of joy and grace.
Hot, bitter tears of grief and pain and anger.
Purging, cleansing tears that have renewed my commitment.

And I have prayed.
For the circumstances that wound children.
For the children. By name when possible.

Prayer opens me to God.

Prayer also opens me to the children and circumstances for which I pray. It binds me to the children be they in Damascus or Detroit. It calls me to commit to act on behalf of the children for whom I pray.

Prayer makes and nurtures the relationships, key to pursuing justice. And prayer for justice and wholeness in one setting draws me out of myself to experience anew the connections between all forms of injustice. It reminds me of the interdependence of people and life. It transforms me as it leads me to pray—and then act—more broadly than I would have otherwise done.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

And I have advocated with government officials and others who are in positions to act to reshape realities for children.
And I have made contributions to groups caring for children in the United States and abroad.
And I have invited and challenged my family and friends to learn and pray and act.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

And I have come to this place, this sanctuary, this congregation.

I come to stand in community. For community is essential to confront the realities of the world. Only together can we stand against the forces that violate children; alone we cannot stand.

I come to sing songs, break bread, share the cup.

I come to celebrate with a family as they present their children for baptism. Affirming their faith in Jesus Christ in a world broken, fearful, and frightening. Proclaiming hope. Sharing love.

I come to remember the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In ways that may surprise us, frighten us, awe us, God is at work. Here. Now. In this community.

When I experience the presence of God, I join Jacob in his affirmation of wonder and faith: “Surely God is in this place — and I did not know it!”

And knowing that God is in this place, reminds me, fills me with hope that God in Jesus Christ is in all places. Even in places where heartache and horror seem strong; even in places where violations occur; even in places where people and relationships are most badly broken and fear and wrong seems strongest, God is at work.

In this place, I am reminded that God is at work in all places. And that sustains and challenges me to look for how God is at work and, as the Holy Spirit gives me grace, to join in that work.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Faith in God in Christ have put them there.

And in this place, God invites us all to join in caring for the children. The children of this congregation. The children of this community. All the children, all God’s children of the world. May we hear and respond.

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Heartbeats above drumbeats

Prayer vigil Syria

We gathered at the Tillman Chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations – Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodists, Presbyterians, and more. We shared statements from our various denominations. We prayed – for the people of Syria – for our brothers and sisters who have been killed, wounded, and maimed by chemical weapons and by conventional weapons. We prayed for those who seek peace in the face of violence. We prayed for those who resort to violence that they might turn away and seek peace. We prayed for leaders of the United States and Syria and the world – that they might have the courage and wisdom to seek nonviolent, diplomatic solutions.

We prayed that we all might hear the heartbeats of life and love above the drumbeats of war.

The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent. It violates international standards and international law. International standards. International law. Thus the only appropriate response lies within the international community. It is not the place for any one nation or any coalition of nations to decide guilt and determine the appropriate response.

May we hear the heartbeats of life and love above the drumbeats of war.

A unilateral response by the United States or any nation flaunts international cooperation and violates the Charter of the United Nations. The Charter – to which the United States as a member of the UN agrees to abide – provides that the Security Council is the appropriate body to maintain the peace and security of the member states.

May we hear the heartbeats of life and love above the drumbeats of war.

Unilateral military action by a state undercuts the authority and integrity of the United Nations and the international system of cooperation. Unilateral military action defies diplomacy and cooperation and denies the possibility of a nonviolent, diplomatic, negotiated solution.

May we hear the heartbeats of life and love above the drumbeats of war.

May we – peoples, leaders, nations – turn from violence and seek alternative solutions.
May the efforts of Syrians to make peace and care for one another be blessed.
May diplomatic initiatives and efforts be redoubled.
May all the parties to the violence in Syria be brought together to negotiate.
May an international peace summit be  convened.
May investigations into the use of chemical weapons take place.
May the results of those investigations be honored – charges filed and trials held and verdicts rendered and sentences enforced.
May the international community act to help Syria rid itself of chemical weapons.
May an embargo be created and enforced against all parties who would provide any weapons to any parties to the violence in Syria.
May humanitarian aid be increased – to refugees, internally displaced, wounded, and all the people of Syria in need.
May humanitarian workers be protected and granted the access needed to meet the people.
May steps that I cannot imagine be taken on the path to peace.

May we hear the heartbeats of life and love above the drumbeats of war.

Naive?
Idealistic?
Unlikely to work?

Perhaps. Certainly it will be difficult.

But one thing that the people of the world has seen again and again is that violence feeds violence and war breeds war. Other options have to be tried.

May we hear the heartbeats of life and love above the drumbeats of war.

See you along the Trail.

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A Joint Statement on the Peace of the Korean Peninsula

Having the privilege of visiting the Republic of Korea recently, I was further privilege to attend a consultation between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Church of Korea where the participants wrote this statement on the peace of the Korean Peninsula:

Presbyterians in the United States and Korea have a long history of shared mission as followers of Jesus Christ. Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church of Korea gathered from April 17 – 19, 2013 to pray and think together about future directions our shared mission might take.

The mission consultation occurred at a time of increased tension on the Korean Peninsula. Out of a shared faith and concern, the gathered group wrote a joint statement on the peace of the Korean Peninsula.

While each communion has spoken for peace and justice on the Korean Peninsula in the past, this marks one of the few times that representatives of the two communions have made a joint statement:

God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. ~ Isaiah 2:4

Representatives of the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK) and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PC(USA)), including the moderators of each denomination, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), the General Secretary of the PCK, and leading staff members in ecumenical relations and mission of each denomination, met on April 17-19, 2013, at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky, to consult on our shared mission in the name of Jesus Christ. For more than 129 years Presbyterians in Korea and the United States have worked in a costly fellowship to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and to seek human rights, democratization, and peaceful reunification for all the Korean people.

This consultation took place at a time of escalating tensions among South Korea, North Korea, and the United States. The current crisis concerns us deeply and points to larger, unresolved issues, including the division of the Korean Peninsula after Korea’s liberation from Japan, the unended Korean War, the separation of families, and the presence of nuclear weapons on the peninsula. In response to Christ, we issue this joint statement that calls for steps that may lead nations and peoples in the way of justice-peace for life

In the short term, we call

  • The governments of the United States, South Korea, and North Korea to enter immediately into dialogue to ease the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula by ending inflammatory rhetoric, confrontational policies, and provocative military exercises.
  • The governments of the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, and Japan to support such dialogue.
  • The governments of the United States and South Korea to resume humanitarian aid to North Korea and to work with the government of North Korea and the international community to ensure that the aid reaches the people of North Korea who are in need.
  • The United Nations to appoint a special representative to work for a peaceful solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
  • The United Nations Security Council to lift sanctions on North Korea, recognizing that sanctions interfere with humanitarian efforts by churches and other aid agencies.

For the long-term, we call

  • The governments of the United States, South Korea, and North Korea to
    • pursue the security and well-being of all the people of the Korean Peninsula rather than simply the security of nation states;
    • enter into negotiations toward a peaceful resolution of the situation on the Korean Peninsula that will include the replacement of the armistice with an interstate agreement establishing a just and lasting peace that moves toward peaceful reunification; and
    • work with the international community to establish a nuclear-free zone and limit the arms trade on the Korean Peninsula, and to support economic development in North Korea.
  • The governments of the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, and Japan to support such initiatives and efforts.

Recognizing the key role of people of faith, we call

  • The PCK and the PC(USA) to
    • Pray for peace on the Korean Peninsula and to engage in a season of prayer and reflection from June 25 (the date the Korean War began in 1950) through August 15 (the date Korea was liberated from Japanese occupation in 1945).
      • For the people of the PCK, this season of prayer will be a time to remember the suffering of separated families on the Korean Peninsula; and to acknowledge that, since the partition of the peninsula, the Christian commitment to reconciliation has been compromised by the trauma of a fratricidal war; discipleship compromised by bitterness; and faithfulness compromised by fear and hostility.
      • For the people of the PC(USA), this season of prayer will be a time to reflect critically on how the division of the Korean Peninsula, the unended Korean War, and the separation of families have harmed the Korean people and on what the historical roles of the United States have been in relation to the Korean Peninsula; and to call the United States government to implement a policy of peaceful engagement in relation to Korea.
    • For the people of both churches, this will be a time to deepen their commitment to work for healing, reconciliation, and peaceful reunification that will create a culture of peace in Korea and all of North East Asia.
    • Create a joint working group on justice-peace for life in North East Asia, participating in the North East Asia Ecumenical Forum on Justice-Peace for Life.
    • Collaborate with the broader ecumenical community to mobilize women’s gifts for building peace on the Korean Peninsula and North East Asia.
    • Participate in the work of the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches for healing, reconciliation and peaceful reunification.
    • Work with ecumenical bodies, people of other faiths, and people of good will for healing, reconciliation, and peaceful reunification in Korea.
    • Support people-to-people interactions between the United States, South Korea, and North Korea in religious, cultural, artistic, academic, athletic, and other fields.
  • The PC(USA) to participate in a proposed ecumenical delegation from the United States that would visit both South Korea and North Korea.

We ask the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) and the General Secretary of the PCK to communicate this statement to their respective denominations, to appropriate government officials in their respective countries, North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, and Japan, to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the members of the United Nations Security Council, and to the ecumenical community.

We affirm our commitment to walk in humility, with open minds, prepared to change our ways fulfilling the ministry of reconciliation as we follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ~ Matthew 5:9

Participants from the Presbyterian Church of Korea included the Rev. Dr. Dal Ig Son, Moderator, the Rev. Dr. Hong Jung Lee, General Secretary, the Rev. Chang-bae Byun, Executive Secretary of Ecumenical Relations and Planning, the Rev. Dr. Jeong Kwon Lee, Executive Secretary for World Mission, and the Rev. Dr. Hyunju Bae, Professor at the Busan Presbyterian University. Participants from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) included the Rev. Neal Presa, Ph.D. Moderator of the 220th General Assembly, the Rev. Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, the Rev. Robina Winbush, Associate Stated Clerk for Ecumenical Relations, Office of the General Assembly, Elder Linda Valentine, Executive Director, Presbyterian Mission Agency,the Rev. Dr. Hunter Farrell, Director of World Mission, and the Rev. Mienda Uriarte, Area Coordinator, Asia and the Pacific, Presbyterian Mission Agency

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Enforce the law!

Call on President Obama to enforce U.S. legislation related to the use of children as soldiers!

The U.S. Child Soldier Prevention Act addresses the issue of children in situations of armed conflict. The act seeks encourage governments to disarm, demobilize and rehabilitate children who have been used as soldiers by government forces and government-supported militias.

Using the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights as a barometer, this bill would place limits on the provision of U.S. International Military Education and Training, Foreign Military Financing and other defense-related assistance in our foreign operations programs for countries in violation of the bill’s standards.

However, this act has been waived in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). President Obama could take steps to prohibit military assistance to the DRC until the government meets specific benchmarks.  These benchmarks should include: 1) demonstrating that it no longer recruits child soldiers; 2) showing concrete progress in demobilizing or releasing children from existing forces; and 3)engaging in credible efforts to render persons suspected of recruiting child soldiers to justice.

Call on President Obama to enforce U.S. legislation related to the use of children as soldiers!

I did. Will you?

See you along the Trail.

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Of Americans ugly and otherwise

It always wonders me – wonders me deeply – when I hear people use the term Ugly American. I know that it has come to refer to people from the United States who travel abroad, who refuse to build relationships with the people in the area where they are living, who refuse to learn about the people and culture and history and country, who judge everything by the standards of the United States, who are culturally insensitive, who are certain they know what is best for the people even without listening to the people, who insert and implement solutions based in United States and developed world values and standards, who are often loud, and who are generally obnoxious.

But still, the term Ugly American grates on me – not because the reality to which it points rings false – I have known people like that. I have been that person. Often. Far too often.

My problem relates to the term’s origin.

As I understand it, the term Ugly American  comes from a novel by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Published in 1958 (and first read by me at an unknown time) and set in Southeast Asia, The Ugly American contrasts U.S. approaches to opposing Communist influence.

Most of the folks from the United States in the novel fit the contemporary usage of the term Ugly American. Loud, boorish, certain they have all the answers, unwilling to learn from the people, relying on U.S. technology, their work benefits U.S. contractors and companies and the elites of the country. They build no relationships with the people and accomplish little.

A smaller group proves somewhat more effective because they meet and relate to the people. They listen to the people and try to implement projects and programs based on what they learn. They make use of technology appropriate to the situation and the needs and assets of the people. The members of the first group distrust them immensely and limit their effectiveness.

Then there is the title character. Homer Atkins is ugly. That is made clear. His appearance is ugly. In particular, his hands are described as ugly. His rough clothes and unrefined manners contrast with the pressed clothes and polished mien of the diplomats.

Atkins is an engineer. He spends his time with the people. He learns from the people – both in terms of what they need and in terms of what they suggest as solutions. He is the one who reveals and practices cultural sensitivity and proficiency. His efforts, rooted in the people, benefit the people.

I realize that I swim upstream against years of linguistic usage. But the way we have twisted the meaning – losing the context from whence it came – sometimes seems and feels like an example of the very phenomenon the term seeks to describe.

So whenever I hear Ugly American used with its contemporary meaning, I cringe. I recognize the reality to which Ugly American as we use it today points – in myself and in so many others, and I grieve and cringe again. Then I remember all the women and men who live in real life as Homer Atkins did in fiction, and I give thanks.

Some day I will tell you about Madame Defarge. 

See you along the Trail.

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