Mary’s Magnificat

Are you tired of the 24 hour news cycle or do you stayed glued to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC?  Do you read your news online?  It’s can make you depressed because inevitably they cover more tragedy than celebration.  I’ve had journalists tell me what I already know, most people prefer the bad news.  It’s like schadenfreude.  Our fascination with others misfortune.  How many times have you been stuck in traffic on an interstate for an accident with the accident on the other side of the road?  We have rubber neck syndrome.  We want to be in the know.  If we’re praying people than we know how to pray for the world, our nation, our community from news sources.  Do we live in our own personal bubbles or are we in the world, but not of it – speaking prophetically, praying intercessory prayers, being informed so we can stand against tyranny on the side of the poor and oppressed.

People often say to veteran broadcaster, Paul Harvey, “Paul, why don’t journalists and broadcasters emphasize more good news instead of tragedy, destruction, discord and dissent?” Harvey’s own network once tried broadcasting a program devoted solely to good news. The program survived 13 weeks. We say we want good news, but we won’t buy it. In Sacramento, California, a tabloid called Good News Paper printed nothing else. It lasted 36 months before it went bankrupt. A similar Indiana tabloid fared even worse — the publishers had to GIVE IT AWAY. Evidently, the positive news people say they want is news they just won’t buy.  The tabloids full of scandals or In Touch or US sale off the shelves.

Listen to any broadcast, Paul Harvey suggests, or pick up any newspaper. You’ll learn that records are crashing, it is the worst wind or the worst fire or flood or earthquake or whatever — because NOISE makes news. For example,

* On August 31, 1997, Chicago Tribune sales soared 40 percent due to coverage of a crash that killed a princess.

* The very next issue of People made it the lead story and sold more than a million copies.

* Newsweek and Time broke sales records when they did the same in the following weeks.

* For an entire month after the crash, Britain’s biggest newspapers gave 35 percent of their total news coverage to the death of Princess Di. Not even the end of World War II got that much ink.

I actually stayed up with friends to watch Princess Diana’s funeral and when Mother Teresa died a few months later, she didn’t get near the publicity.  As Harvey suggests, noise makes news — and one gunshot makes more noise than a thousand prayers. That doesn’t mean it is more important — just that it sells more newspapers. The heads of all the major television networks understand this basic fact, and they make sure that news broadcasts are full of noise. 

That’s why the weather report does not stop with simply announcing that today’s winter temperature fell to 0 degrees. How boring is that?! No, the forecaster goes on to say that the “chill factor” is 40 degrees below! That’s news!

Here, then, is the question du jour: Could the same be true of our lack of enthusiasm for the Christmas story? Let’s face it: Good news can be boring. God is love. Mary is his favored one. Joseph is a righteous man. Jesus is such a sweet little baby. We’ve heard the story so often, and we’ve seen the pageant so many times. It just doesn’t get the adrenaline flowing any more. 

But hold on: There’s a surprise to be found in today’s Scripture, the “Magnificat” from the first chapter of Luke. This passage is an explosion of free verse by Mary — a young woman who could have thought she was getting some bad news when the angel arrived.  I asked the children’s Sunday School last week, what angels look like because anytime they appear, they immediately say, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel’s announcement to Mary was a mixed bag of good news and bad news.  When she heard Elizabeth’s proclamation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  When she realized how truly awesome Gabriel’s message was, she began to make some soulful noise, and that’s where the Magnificat comes in.  She does her part to make sure it sells — she does it by itemizing the noisy good news about her Good News God.

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
Is this really “noisy” good news? Yes, it is. We should shout and sing because Mary makes a racket for all of us. There is nothing meek and mild about the song that Mary sings. Check out these headlines:

GOD TAPS NAZARETH NOBODY. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” rejoices  Mary, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (1:46-48). It is truly surprising and newsworthy that God chose a poor Galilean girl to become the mother of Jesus the Christ and the most significant woman in all of Holy Scripture.

“Mother of God,” “Heavenly nurse,” “Help of the helpless,” and “Dispensatrix of all grace” are just some of her names. She became an unbreakable link between Jewish and Christian history.  Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan sees her as the inspiration for the great abbesses of medieval times — the most powerful women in an age of powerful men — and today as the driving force behind people engaged in struggles for social justice around the world.

Not bad for a nobody from Nazareth. Her selection by God should give hope to any of us who are feeling trapped in our everyday existence.  Feeling like we’re not making much of a difference to anybody.  The great truth of Mary’s story is that God uses the small to lead the big, the weak to teach the strong, and the ordinary to carry out the extraordinary. All we need to do is to remember that it is availability and not ability that is key, and to say, along with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).

But there’s more: LORD BUMPS WALL STREET, LIFTS LITTLE GUY. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” says the Magnificat, “and lifted up the lowly” (1:52). From tech giants to the world’s biggest oil companies, those who run the economy agree on one thing — bigger is better. But what’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with it is that God is working to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. God is concerned more about the common good than about corporate greed. “Can anybody seriously suggest that bigger, more powerful, and more profitable corporations will help to protect the interests of workers, consumers, the environment, local communities, and the forgotten poor?” asks Jim Wallis in Sojourners magazine. “Is it right that the casino economy of Wall Street profits when the real economy of workers and their families suffers? Is it fair that the people who do the firing get a raise, while the people fired can only fear for the future of their families?” Christians who follow the Good News God of the “Magnificat” are called to look for the common good for all people.

And here’s some more noisy news: 2000-YEAR-OLD PROMISE KEPT. “He has helped his servant Israel,” Mary notes, “in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (1:54-55).

God kept his promises to Israel, from the time of Abraham to the time of Mary, and he keeps his promises today. The greatest sign of his promise-keeping was the birth of his son Jesus Christ: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,” said God through the prophet Isaiah, “and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (11:1-2). He’ll grow up to judge the poor with righteousness and kill the wicked with the breath of his lips. His kingdom will be a peaceful one, marked by righteousness and faithfulness and the knowledge of the Lord.

This is news — news of surprising selections, unexpected elevations and the preservation of ancient promises. It’s noisy news, awesome news, but better yet … it’s Good News. It’s the Good news that God has come to earth in Jesus Christ, to call us to himself and to point us toward his just and everlasting kingdom.

The sermons I’ve been doing for Advent have had a definite apocalyptic or eschatological lean, “Keep Awake,” “Repent for the One is coming”, and this one will is no different.  “Joy WILL come in the morning.”  Many places Mary is depicted as meek and mild-mannered, Saint-like with a golden halo around her head, pondering things in her heart.  To answer Margaret’s song that she sang beautifully, I think Mary DID know.  She knew just like her foremothers knew, Esther, for such a time as this, Ruth, your people will be my people, your God, my God, and now Mary, the peasant girl who utters this powerful prophecy, the first of Luke’s New Testament.  It is powerful.  A total reversal of the world order.  But do we live that?

I was “over hearing” a conversation on facebook between some FSU Wesley students last week.  One was preaching a sermon on Advent that night and asked, “Talk with me about Advent. Is this season purely about remembering the birth of Christ, or is there more to it?  (I have my thoughts, I want to hear yours)”  I had so much fun reading their comments.  Here’s some of them.  “mary’s song and a lot of the old testament passages that prophesy about the coming of Jesus talk about how he will essentially turn society upside down. the lion will lie with the lamb, he’s brought down the powerful from their throne and lifted up the lowly, etc. These texts demonstrate that Jesus is not just coming to save souls but to radically transform how our society functions, for the better of the poor and the oppressed. for me, advent is a time to remember that God came to save everything (individuals, political systems, economies, etc) and to challenge ourselves to put that belief into action.”
“I think Advent represents a thrill of hope for all weary people. The birth of Jesus didn’t necessarily omit weariness from the world, but it gave us the tools to build a table at which we can all share a meal and rest.”

“dude. Honestly if us millennial, Christians could just build enough tables we would convert the world.”

“i’ve been thinking about not ignoring the weary people around me, and how advent makes me want to be human with other humans (“we’re all passengers on the way to the grave” sort of feeling).  Advent makes me want to take my headphones out and sit next to someone at a bus stop (advise, I don’t even ride a bus) and have a small conversation that recognizes our sameness, because we’re all waiting for things to be fully healed, and we’re all headed the same direction.”

“To me, it’s a deeper reflection on the hope that only Christ can give us; that this groaning here on Earth will eventually lead to peace and rest for anyone that puts their hope and trust in Him. And yes, to celebrate and remind us of the magical and yet simple way that he entered our world as a little baby.”

“I just thought of a late night sermon that Jimmy gave when he turned off all the lights in the worship center and preached with a headlamp on. Advent is sitting in the darkness, without being too quick to jump to the light. Like we’ve got a spoiler alert that the light will come, but sometimes we need to acknowledge the realness of the dark.”

Spoiler alert.  The light breaks in through the darkness and great joy comes in the morning.  Hear me now.  The light breaks through in the darkness and JOY comes in the morning.

What are some of our dark places? What are some dark corners of our hearts and of our worlds?

I’ve asked Mike to play the song, “A Baby Will Come.”  It was written by Bill Wolf after he read Mary’s Song in Luke. “As I was researching the social climate of that time and place, I realized just how dire the lives of the Israelites would’ve been. Between the brutal conquests of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus and the obscene taxation of Herod, King of Judea…they found themselves enslaved once again, but this time it was in their very own backyard.  The Promised Land no longer felt like the Promised Land.  And into that climate, a young adolescent Jewish girl was visited by an angel of God and told that she would give birth to a baby boy and His name would be “Salvation”; his very name would “Liberation” for her and her people.  In a moment of joy and restraint, Mary sat down and wrote her Magnificat; a poem that is on one hand personal and introspective, but on the other hand, charged with social and political revolutionary language.”

We need to keep awake, be prepared, and trust that joy comes in the morning.  That GOOD will triumph over evil even when all seems lost.

The kings of this world
Have torn it apart
But we can take heart
A baby will come

To the hungry and meek
To those who grieve
To the broken, in need
A baby will come

We have known pain
We’ve felt death’s sting
God, help us believe
This baby will come

The angel appeared
Said do not fear
For peace is here
A baby has come

The advent of life
Let hope arise
We’ve our King and our Christ
The Baby has come

We’ve waited so long
God, for Your mighty arm
May our doubts ever calm
For the Baby has come

The proud will be low
The humble will know
They’re valued and loved
For the Baby has come

Cause the kings of this world
Won’t have the last word
That, God, is Yours
For the Baby has come

A Great Nation

This past March the students and I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. on a seminar by the General Board of Church and Society on Human Trafficking.  There were so many things that struck us at the time, both the things that were disillusioning like walking into the Senate chamber and only 3 Senators being in there and the things that were truly moving like many of the war memorials that we saw.

The thing that was most hard for us to understand was how our houses of Congress work now.  I had never been on a tour of the Capitol building before and it was really neat to see the sculptures and history.  It was really cool going under the ground in the little cars made by Walt Disney.  It was amazing that our Senator’s office squeezed us in under short notice and that we got such a great tour.

It was one of the most disheartening things I’ve seen to witness an empty room with three Senators going back and forth over air quality and asthma and  these Senators primarily talking to the camera because there wasn’t hardly anyone else in there to hear them.  I understand what the aid said that these days our Congress people get briefed in the mornings and evenings and the transcripts are given to them and they are pretty much told how to vote in their briefings.  I also understood when he said that today our Congress people have to work hard with their constituencies taking meetings and working on those things during the day so that they can get re-elected.  I get that getting to that place is not easy and I’m sure it takes a lot of money and support and you’ve got to keep the people that give you those happy.  I get that.

What I don’t get is why we keep letting this broken system survive without all saying, “Enough.”  This is ridiculous.  I’ve heard most of my life that you’ve got to work in the system to change the system and I get that.  You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with and sometimes be able to speak the language so that change can happen.  But we are also called to be in the world and not of it.  We can be in the system and understand the system, but we don’t have to be one of the people sucked into it and trying to make it survive without glance at justice or mercy or ethics or even some good ole character and integrity.

I’m not talking about pointing fingers and blaming this group or that group or this person or that person for all of our problems.  I’m not talking about demonizing some of our fellow Americans even if we may completely disagree with them and think x, y, z about them.  The bottom line is that we are all in this TOGETHER.  We don’t need to waste our time trying to pit people against one another.  We don’t need to waste our time blaming all of our problems big and small on a select party or group or body.  We need to work at solutions, asking the right questions, having a dialogue with one another, figuring out ways that we can live it out with or without the support of the powers that be.

I realize that power is a precarious thing and I know that nothing is ever “that” simple, but I would love to see leaders that lead.  Not just when it’s popular.  Not just the party line.  (Either party.)  Not just what you’re told.  But what you think.  What you have discerned.  What you have wrestled with.

I know that Washington is not just a movie – it’s not just Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The American President, Air Force One, or even the President’s speech in Independence Day.  But we’ve got to do something here.  In this nation that seems more and more divided.  In a place where unemployment is growing and I have more and more students graduating without finding jobs and more and more coming in barely making it through on loans and what little they can make on part-time jobs and not even enough money for raman noodles.

The thing that most moved me in Washington was the Lincoln Memorial.  Reading those words on either side, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address, and the face of a Congress that even then was working on a budget – was a powerful contrast.  There’s no way we’re more divided now than we were then and yet the words of Lincoln ring out.  “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

We may not be a nation warring with each other but it is time to bind up the wounds of our people.  When it is clear that many of our children are going hungry.  Many parents are wondering how to provide.  Our churches and organizations that are working to clothe and feed and help educate and give shelter, have more than enough work to last a lifetime and the numbers are doubling and tripling and growing by leaps and bounds.  Do I think all of the responsibility lies in Washington?  No.  Do I think it all depends on a President to shape the course?  No.  But I think it’s a start.  There are unsung heroes all around and I know that God’s people are faithful and that the words of Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God are words that many are living by not by just words but with their lives.

When I think about that nation that I believe in, this crazy idea of America, of freedom, of representation by the people for the people, I don’t think of trillions of dollars spent on defense.  I don’t think about loop holes or pork barrel spending or people after their own wealth or power.  I don’t think of people wasting time talking to the media or to the rich and wealthy in their districts.  I think about the men and women who have fought to make this freedom a reality.  I think of those who live their lives every day with grace and mercy and selfless service.  Not people that are going to cram an ideology or there own culture onto someone else.

I pray for people to step up in conscience and discernment.  I pray for people that will say, “Enough.”  I pray for people who go back to their roots of what this country was founded upon, of what truly makes us a great nation – not a superpower, but a great nation that has character and respect.  I pray for the people hanging in the balance of some of these programs and spending and I pray that we as faith communities step up and see how we can reach out across our communities and lead the way.  I pray that we will open ourselves up to the One who knows all of our needs and who can direct our course, to the One who doesn’t just bless America, but seeks to be in community and relationship with the whole world.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Speech on The American President

What would “A Great Nation” look like to you?  What do we as a church do to step up ready to work and to grow and to fight in this battle for justice and mercy?  (Yes, I know I used the word – “fight” – because at this point I feel like we’ve got to dig in and take action no matter what the opposition or what the cop out.)

Such a Different Perspective

I’ve been contemplating and playing over a blog post in my mind for a bit about two of the songs from The Book of Mormon Musical on Broadway.  I know, I know…one day I will have run out of songs to talk about.  The first song is called, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” or in other words Salt Lake City.  Nikki James sings a beautiful song that is endemic of the entire musical – it’s such a funny, both mocking and serious look at faith and harsh reality and the conflict that is of the somewhat prosperity gospel that is sometimes preached and how that is seen and viewed in the various lenses of most of the world.

It’s an interesting tension.  And for me it really is a tension.  I’ve spent most of the day working going over the budget and expenditures for this year at Wesley and budgeting for the year ahead.  As some of you know, this past year our Annual Conference stopped providing program or building support for our campus ministries, but is still covering our salaries and benefits (which we’re really thankful for).  As scary as that was, people stepped up in huge ways this year.  And we have tried to use that money wisely – from mission trips to educational and missional opportunities on campus to small groups to worship to training up leaders and people going into ministry and everything in between.  It’s exciting to look at.  We couldn’t have taken students to training events without you.  We couldn’t be in ministry with the poor and hungry here in York County, in our state and around the world without you.  So I’m thankful for that.  Hugely.  Especially as we start visioning for a new year.

This afternoon, actually right now, I’m on a conference call with some folks working on getting equipment for the Women’s Spinning Plant, a cooperative of the CDCA (Center for Development in Central America) to be working and functional.  We have worked with these women making concrete blocks, pouring concrete in the floors of the building, and tying rubar.  We’ve protested the company that mislead them.  We look forward to visiting again in August and continuing to work alongside these faithful, resilient, strong and powerful women and men who have withstood and determinedly marched on in the midst of all sorts of adversity.

See that’s the rub.  When I think about what so many around the world are facing in terms of World Refugee Day that we celebrated earlier this week, those in the midst of war zones, atrocities that we can’t imagine, it really puts things in perspective.

We are beyond so blessed here.  And to me blessed isn’t even the right word in some ways because to me that implies that God has blessed us and not someone else just because they were born in a different place to a different family in a different set of circumstances.

It just seems like a lot of time we throw our own “stuff” around and we’re selling people this line that may not be ours to sell and sometimes it even seems cheap and cliched somehow.  One of the last numbers in the musical is the two lovely white guy mormons singing, “I Am Africa.”  It’s very a la “We are the World” or something along those lines.  And I’m not trying to hate on we are the world or Live Aid or the other benefit concerts or celebrity commercials out there.  I’m really not.  That raises money.  And if it raises money and the money gets to the right people who will put their money out there and not just fund overhead and all of the work getting into a country, that’s a great thing.  There are so many good folks like the CDCA, UMCOR, Church World Service, International Justice Mission, Imagine No Malaria that are doing work on the ground with people in-country who speak the language of the people and are being as least patronizing and colonializing as possible.  And these folks aren’t doing the bait and switch and they’re not peddling mink coats.

Don’t have any huge answers today, but I just wanted to name the tension between our problems (check out those tweets #firstworldproblems by the way) and the things that are facing much of the world.

Still a big believer in the tremendous groups working on the ground and who live it out every day.  Still a big believer in hope and love and humanity.  But wrestling with all that these songs evoke in my mind.  Which is what I think the writers did in a beautifully comedic and amazing way.  To take something so funny and sarcastic and ironic and put so much real life and struggle in it – powerful stuff.

When it all boils down – what is the Gospel?  How do we speak that clearly to the person next door, down the street, in the next state over, on the other side of the world?  How do we share our faith in real language in the face of real problems?

Check out the words for Sal Tlay Ka Siti below.

My mother once told me of a place with waterfalls and unicorns flying

Where there was no suffering, no pain, where there was laughter instead of dying
I always thought she’d made it up to comfort me in times of pain
But now I know that place is real, now I know its name

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: not just a story mama told
But a village in Ooh-tah, where the roofs are thatched with gold
If I could let myself believe, I know just where I’d be
Right on the next bus to paradise: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

I can imagine what it must be like…this perfect, happy place
I’ll bet the goat meat there is plentiful, and they have vitamin injections by the case
The warlords there are friendly, they help you cross the street
And there’s a Red Cross on every corner with all the flour you can eat!

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: the most perfect place on Earth
Where flies don’t bite your eyeballs and human life has worth
It isn’t a place of fairy tales, it’s as real as it can be
A land where evil doesn’t exist: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

And I’ll bet the people are open-minded and don’t care who you’ve been
And all I hope is that when I find it, I’m able to fit in
Will I fit in?

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: a land of hope and joy
And if I want to get there, I just have to follow that white boy
You were right, mama, you didn’t lie
The place is real, and I’m gonna fly!

I’m on way…soon life won’t be so shitty
Now salvation has a name: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

Video for Sal Tlay Ka Siti

We have this poster framed on one of our tables in Wesley.  I’ve always liked it because a lot of what we do with CROP Walk or Stop Hunger Now or Imagine No Malaria focuses on not just spreading a message of faith to folks but also feeding the hungry and providing basic needs.  But singing “We Are Africa” in my head over and over because it won’t get out, part of me think this can be patronizing in some ways as well, because the continent of Africa is not the only region that faces these concerns.  Again, things to think about.

The video for “I Am Africa”

Check out these great organizations:

Imagine No Malaria – http://www.imaginenomalaria.org/

Church World Service – http://www.churchworldservice.org/

International Justice Mission – http://www.ijm.org

UMCOR – http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/

Center for Development in Central America – http://www.jhc-cdca.org/

Behold I Stand at the Door and Knock

So I’m trying to not eat for energy or pick up my favorite coffee drink at The Coffee Shack.  I have done pretty well at The Coffee Shack – only one in a month and that was after the New York trip before I went to a wedding rehearsal so not bad.  Anyway, so I’m terrible at this don’t eat for energy thing and I remembered that in the Wesley kitchen we found some melted chocolate from the New York trip.  I know it’s a pretty low standard if you’re looking at melted chocolate from a road trip.  Anyway, again (I’m digressing a lot here), I got a Coke Zero that someone left here and I found a melted bag of Reese cups (jackpot!) and I’m walking back to my office, when lo and behold I’m walking by the front door and I think I see out of the corner of my eye, a figure at the door.

At first I keep walking down the hall and then I think, wait a sec, I think that really may be someone at the door.  Sure enough it’s a guy.  He’s pointing at our picture that sits on the table in the entryway that says, “I stand at the door and knock” and then he says through the glass – “See, I stand at the door and knock.”  I open the door and of course he’s asking for assistance and if we’re a church.  (I must say that I love our Winthrop Wesley sign and the symbol of the cross and flame that is now big on our wall outside, but no one ever stopped by and asked for assistance before we had that new sign.  I guess they didn’t think we were a church with the words “The Wesley Foundation” on the outside, probably thinking we were a bank or insurance company or philanthropy or something.)

I explained about our college ministry and walked him around the corner pointing out HOPE, Inc. an agency down the street that many of our churches support, I point out the churches in the area, I give him directions to some, tell him about Dorothy Day, etc.  All this time saying that I personally can’t help him, but holding my Coke Zero and bag of Reeses cups in my hand.  As I walk back into the building and I look at the picture and I see what it says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock:  if any hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.”  Hello, conviction as I walk in the door.

By the time I caught up with the guy after grabbing the cash from my wallet to help him with his bus ticket, he’s at the Presbytery building on the corner.  He looks at me and says, “See, I’m trying.  I’m doing the best I can asking these churches to help me.”

It’s tough.  I know that HOPE only helps people every certain amount of days/weeks and they had helped this guy when he was in the hospital last week.  I know that certain folks that he had talked to only give utility bill help or food or they give all their money to HOPE to distribute.  I know that none of us want to be taken advantage of or to enable.  Heck, enable is pretty much a curse word these days.

I know I am one fiesty woman, but also alone in the building so I didn’t want to invite the guy in and I somehow didn’t think handing him spagetti sauce and uncooked pasta from our pasta lunches would actually help anything.  I could have driven him somewhere and I thought about it, but the whole woman alone thing – sometimes I’m okay with that, and sometimes not so much.  So yes, I ended up doing something that I actually don’t usually do and I sometimes even say we shouldn’t do – I just gave the guy some money.

It’s such a hard issue – to give or not to give, enabling or accountability, erring on the side of grace or of caution.  What would you do?  Do you go with your gut?  Do you listen to the Spirit as you discern?

How is our church inviting people in as they stand at the door and knock?  Do we just give them some money or do we actually invite them in and build relationship with them?  What does the world see about a church that says we want to clothe the naked and give homes to the homeless and yet we have nothing to offer?  What does the world see in a church that just gives hands out and not hands up or real relationship?

Questions to wrestle with and ponder.

What Makes for Peace

One of my favorite places to worship and reflect is Tillman Chapel in the Church Center Building across the street from the United Nations.  I like so many things about it from the stained glass, to the religious symbols, and the beautiful words inscribed from the Gospel of Luke chapter 19:42, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”  It’s appropriate across the street from the United Nations and it’s appropriate as we take students on UM seminars to learn about people other themselves from places other than their homes facing circumstances that they may never face.  It’s also appropriate for us as we go about the tug and pull of the life of Christ in light of recent events.

While I was in ethics class in seminary, my brother Josh was living with us at the time and offered me great food for thought as we went back and forth over issue after issue.  We’re both pretty stubborn and because I love and respect him, I could hear things that challenged me and that I didn’t entirely agree with, that I would chew on for awhile.  Josh fits in well with the belief that The United Methodist Church is a peace church.  He does and we need people like him.  Even as he walked in a few minutes ago and I’m telling him about so many people posting on this, he has no hesitation in saying not just that we shouldn’t rejoice, but that we shouldn’t kill.  Violence does not solve violence.  I’m the one when watching the horror movie or drama on tv or when someone I love is hurt violently or tragically, that jumps to the let’s take action – go get ’em! – shoot the person already, etc.  When watching it in the movies of course you want the person being stalked by the killer to get away and the killer to be brought to justice, and we cry for justice just as much in “real life” as well.  It’s such a fine line between justice and wanting people to answer for what they have done and for the pain they have caused, and letting yourself be swept away by the hate that knows no bounds and just seems to be spraying everywhere.

I was a senior in college when 9-11 happened.  I got engaged the night before the attack and it was a beautiful September morning as I left for class.  In my first class of the day, English with Dr. Jones, we talked a little bit about someone having heard on the radio that a plane had accidentally flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  We continued on with class thinking that it was just an accident.  By the time I went to my 9:30 class, History with Dr. Silverman, he had turned on the television in the classroom and as we watched, we saw the towers fall.  I remember girls in my class holding up my hand to look at my engagement ring as we watched all of this from the classroom.  That class was then cancelled and I made my way over to The Wesley Foundation where my then fiancee Mike and my campus minister Jerry were sitting in the living room watching everything on the television.  I remember our silence and our disbelief, our fear and our sadness, our uncertainty and our anger.  I remember having class that afternoon in Plowden Auditorium and our education professors led by Dr. Dockery and Dr. Vawter saying that we were not going to let terrorists disturb our day to day lives.  We were not going to give them the satisfaction and we were going to have class anyway.  I remember talking to the junior high youth group that I led and trying to answer their questions in youth and Sunday school about what had happened and where was God in the midst.

Over the years, as the anniversaries have come up, I’ve talked more and more to students and heard their stories from that day.  Many of them were between 8 and13 or so.  Hearing their perspectives and how this event has shaped their lives has been illuminating and fascinating to see how such a big event has shaped so much.  I try to think back to what I would have remembered at that age and I think about the Oliver North trials or for me, pivotal was the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  It was the first bit of big news I actually remember.  When I think about our 9 year olds today and how they perceived the news Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I wonder what their stories will be.  Was their family elated, throwing a spur of the moment party, as many of our students on campuses were doing?  Did their family solemnly watch the news, thankful that it was over and that justice had been done?  What did they think about the reactions of the press, of facebook, of their classmates or teachers?  What did their friends say?

Over the past days watching facebook light up the first night with so much passion and excitement about someone’s death and then over the last few days with scripture and sayings in response to that fervor, it’s been a study to watch the polarity.  I admit my own feelings are pretty mixed.  As Mike and I were watching the Celebrity Apprentice Sunday night (yay Lil John won $40,000 more of the United Methodist Children’s Home in GA) we saw the interruption bulletin and we thought it was about Kadafi.  When they then said that it was about bin Laden we were floored.  We, the United States, finally got him.  All of the families who lost loved ones in 9-11 finally get at least that much closure.  Yep, I was happy that that part of the story was over.  I watched families talk about their loss of loved ones and the pain that they still feel on the morning news.  I saw all of the commentators and military personnel talk about this as a shot in the arm for our military.  I’m not speaking at all against any of that.  We do need to support our military – the actual people – the ones that are suffering and fighting for us – whether we agree with the military action or not.  We do need to support these families and all of those affected by 9-11.  We as pastors do need to journey with our congregations and the mix of emotions they feel.  We do need to be mindful and intentional and praying for wisdom and discernment as we offer words in the days and weeks ahead.

But even as my most patriotic go get em’ self, I pause at all of the fervor surrounding this.  As Mike and I sat on the bed and watched this unfold, he looked at me and said, if you ever wanted to know what a lynch mob looks like, look at facebook.  There’s something about band wagons that make me pause whether it be jubilation expressed or scripture expressed or even the sayings of MLK that end up not being entirely true.  Some say we shouldn’t post anything at all to facebook because it’s not a real place of dialogue, you don’t know what people really mean, or can’t hear the emotion in their voice, etc.  But I feel like it is a place for us to engage and can be meaningful and insightful if we let it be.  It’s definitely interesting to see the wide diversity of some of our thoughts and opinions especially within the Christian faith.

Several of my students posted scripture yesterday and sayings and I was glad that they were in the mix.  The lovely Ashlee Warren posted the quote, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”  They were participating in the discussion.  They weren’t just sitting back, but were speaking up.  I was sitting back.  I didn’t even want to check facebook to see what was being bantered about.  But then I began to see that there were other people struggling to figure out how to feel or how to articulate a Christ who turns the other cheek and shows us the way of the cross.  This is a Christ who challenges us in Matthew 5 verse 43 (also echoed in Luke 6), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  It’s hard to argue with that.  It’s hard to reconcile that to some of our feelings.  You can’t make that statement easy.   As much as I’m relieved that bin Laden is gone and that his reign of terror is over, I know that there are more stepping up to the plate.  I hope that his death will affect this “war” on terror in profound ways in turning terrorists away from their intentions and that they are discouraged and are brought to new life and peace in real, just and deep ways. I also hope it helps us in thinking about “what makes for peace” as Jesus cries in Luke.

What makes for peace?  Does demonizing someone (a country, faith, race, person, gender, sexuality, region, political party, education, or skill) make for peace?  Does killing innocent people as was done in 9-11 make for peace?  Does making blanket statements and assumptions about people without actually trying to engage in real dialogue and not just bullying people into buying in, make for peace?  Does hanging out with like minded people that always agree with us and being comfortable in our recliners with either our beer or our hot tea or our fair-trade coffee, make for peace?  Does throwing out scripture or quotes or opinions without being ready to stand up for them, apologize for them, or at least engage with others on them, make for peace?  If we continue down this road, it’s hard to know what we do that makes for peace in this world, where are we culpable and where we accept responsibility.

And yet, I find Christians wrestling with these things and struggling to find integrity in the midst of this event, as something that gives me hope.  I have been proud of my fellow United Methodist and other clergy as they have posted on both sides of this issue, as they have challenged each other and their parishioners, as they have stood up as sometimes a still small voice articulating and being a voice in the midst.  To me, us being in dialogue and engaging in the world showing that as Christians we sometimes disagree, we sometimes struggle with how to respond, we sometimes are counter cultural and other times struggle with a voice – this, this engagement has been breathtaking to see.  It has gotten our blood flowing and our brains firing and our hearts hopefully turned to what it means to have peace and justice and hope and grief and remembering and rejoicing and what it will be in a time and a place where war will be no more.

I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians 13 and the love described there.  I hope that in the days and weeks ahead that we as clergy offer not fuel for hate, but fuel for love.  I don’t mean a love in a sunshine, flowers and rainbows, pansy type of love.  I mean a full, robust, no holes barred, Jesus is all in and extending grace to each of us, kind of love.  I hope that the scriptures that challenge us or our own feelings that make us a little uncomfortable will spur us on for more study and for more discovery and journey.  My prayer is that we will continue to search and act and live the ways that make for peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our church, in our country, and in our world.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

One Day

Today at lunch, Adrienne and I were sitting talking over the Wesley to do list and everything that needs to happen before the semester ends including our Human Trafficking cultural event, Imagine No Malaria event and the Harlem Mission trip.  We were enjoying lunch and then Matisyahu’s song “One Day” came on the radio.  We both stopped and listened and sat there wondering where we had heard this song.  Finally we remembered that we heard it on the Tom’s One Day without shoes video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BitShRujoeA

It is a really catchy song and something that is saying really great words.  Below is a video that has the words and I’ve also included them below.

Right now, my amazingly wonderful sister-in-law is in labor for my niece.  We’re all really excited.  Josh picked me up at 5:45 this morning for all of us to go over there.  I was honored to be apart of it and I’m looking forward to heading back over there.  When I think about the world that baby KLM (they haven’t told us the names, just the initials) is going to grow up in, or the world where my children will grow up, so many thoughts run through my head.  I would like to think like this song that one day there will be no more war.  One day there will be no more fighting.  One day there will be no more hungry.  One day there will be no more malaria.  One day there will be no more modern day slavery or human trafficking of any kind.  One day…

Outside of the Church Center building across from the UN is a quote from Isaiah on the wall.

Isaiah 2:4 says what is written on this wall, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, netierh shall they learn war any more.”  Micah 4:3 echoes this.

I remember in a meeting long ago, some clergy using Jesus’ words “the poor are always with us” as a reason for us to not work as hard as we could for justice, because they believed the poor were just a natural part of life. (Yep the verse is in Mark 14:7, Matthew 26:11, and John 12:8)  Yes, Jesus said it.  And if you want to take things out of context, I guess you could justify a pompous and self-righteous attitude about it, but Jesus didn’t work to bring about a kingdom that is just to come, but one that is also alive and well right here.  The already and not yet.  Jesus brought release to the captives and healing to the sick.  And part of what we do as disciples of Jesus is work to bring light and love and God’s grace to all that they may see and know that the Lord is good. 

I had dinner with a couple of students last night and they were asking me about some of the things they’ve learned in one of their Human Experience classes about faith.  They asked about doing mission trips and service and if that was what Jesus wanted and if that would make them a better Christian.  We talked for a while about work’s righteousness and how you don’t “earn” your salvation, but that in my mind acts of justice and mercy naturally grow and flow out of a love of God.  We even talked about the lovely Wesley’s personal piety and social holiness.  Yep, there’s something about that thing between us and God – that devotion, quiet time, meditation, getting away and centering on God, prayer, scripture study – that’s important.  But that social holiness aspect is equally as important.  They were saying that people in their classes questioned their faith and if they were hypocrites for believing both evolution and creationism.  You could argue for days on personal belief/piety.  Both personal piety and social holiness are things that the world can clearly see.  They can see if we are at peace and content.  They can see if we’re centered and grounded.  They can see if we’re leaving out what we say.  They can see if we’re offering a coat or a meal or a hug with a string attached or not.  They can see if there’s an ulterior motive or a justification or a rationalization on our part.

To me, what the world is hungry for, is not just people shoving beliefs down their throat but people living it out.  To the people that are going to be hesitant, unbelieving and sometimes obnoxious – that’s their opinion.  Maybe they’ve had some bad experiences with “Christians.”  They can’t tell you how you feel or what you believe and they can’t take your God/Jesus/Holy Spirit from you.  But we can answer honestly and openly with humility and confidence that the God we know and trust and love is One who is calling us forth to new life.  The God we know and trust and love is one who knows that one day there will be no more war, no more tears, no more struggle, no more disease, no more fear, no more….  One day.

May we work for this “One day,” not because we “have to” or we won’t be “good enough” Christians if we don’t, but because we want to and we’re called to and if we believe this Jesus is who he says he is and if we believe that this kingdom of God is happening right here all around us, let’s make it a reality.

What do you hope for one day???

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl9voSKJmEU

 

One Day by Matisyahu

sometimes I lay
under the moon
and thank God I’m breathing
then I pray
don’t take me soon
cause I am here for a reason
sometimes in my tears I drown
but I never let it get me down
so when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around
because
all my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
for the people to say
that we don’t wanna fight no more
they’ll be no more wars
and our children will play

one day

it’s not about
win or lose cause
we all lose
when they feed on the souls of the innocent
blood drenched pavement
keep on moving though the waters stay raging
in this maze you can lose your way (your way)
it might drive you crazy but don’t let it faze you no way (no way)
sometimes in my tears I drown
but I never let it get me down
so when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around
because
all my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
for the people to say
that we don’t wanna fight no more
they’ll be no more wars
and our children will play

one day

one day this all will change
treat people the same
stop with the violence
down with the hate
one day we’ll all be free
and proud to be
under the same sun
singing songs of freedom like

one day

all my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
for the people to say
that we don’t wanna fight no more
they’ll be no more wars
and our children will play

Truckers Against Trafficking

A huge thanks to Bob Paulson for sharing this video with me.  Bob and some of his colleagues at Triad Ladder of Hope are going to be sharing in a cultural event at Winthrop University in Dina’s Place, the campus theater, on Apirl 18th at 7 pm.  We’re going to be hearing from Bob about human trafficking in our area and what we can do and we’ll also be watching the documentary, “Very Young Girls.”

While on our human trafficking seminar in New York City we watched some of this documentary and it was one of the most haunting and disturbing things I’ve seen.  I don’t know how you could watch it and not feel something.  Human trafficking happens all over the world, but it also happens right here in the United States.  This isn’t some far away problem, but something that we can educate, advocate, and work to stop right here and around the world.

Sometimes, like you see in the video above, it just takes a phone call.  A phone call could save a girl or a boys life.  Call 1.888.373.7888, the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline, if you think you have encountered a victim of trafficking.

Some questions to ask:

*  What type of work do you do?

*  Are you being paid?

*  Can you leave your job if you want to?

*  Can you come and go as you please?

*  Have you or your family been threatened?

*  What are your working and living conditions like?

*  Where do you sleep and eat?

*  Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?

*  Are there locks on your doors/windows so you cannot get out?

*  Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?

This cannot continue happening while people sit by and go about our day to day.  Help spread the word.  Make the call if you see signs (evidence of being controlled, evidence of inability to move or leave job, bruises or other signs of physical abuse, fear or depression, not speaking on own behalf, no identification or documentation with them).

This is a justice issue.  This is a faith issue.  This is something that the church needs to step up and take a stand on and actively pursue the things we say we believe like freeing the captives and walking alongside the poor, helpless, and trapped among us.

If you have any questions or would like more information about human trafficking, a good website is www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking.