Monthly Archives: April 2019

Reforming a Religious Terrorist

Image result for Paul on the Road to DamascusTHIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Acts 9:1-20
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Prayer of the Day: Eternal and all-merciful God, with all the angels and all the saints we laud your majesty and might. By the resurrection of your Son, show yourself to us and inspire us to follow Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

This weekend, on the final day of Passover, a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in California killing one and injuring three others. Last weekend, on Easter Sunday, over 300 people were killed and around 500 others were injured in eight coordinated attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. Prior to that, the world was shocked by an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand killing 49 people and wounding 20. There is something particularly revolting about attacks on houses of worship where people gather to express their deepest faith convictions, support one another in prayer and perform works of compassion and service. What kind of perverse and twisted soul would desire to kill people on account of the way they pray, worship and believe?

The Apostle Paul, for one. We read in our lesson from the Book of Acts that Paul (then known as Saul) was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Not content with cheering on the lynching of Stephen and driving the disciples in Jerusalem out of town or underground, Paul obtains authorization to purge the Jewish communities of Damascus by imprisoning all he found who adhered to the good news about Jesus. We know very few specifics about Paul’s upbringing. The Book of Acts tells us that Paul was born in Tarsus, but brought up in Jerusalem and educated in a “strict” manner. Acts 22:3. Paul himself tells us in his letter to the Philippians that he was, in his “zeal,’ a persecutor of the church. Philippians 3:5-6. As a Jew brought up under the pharisaic traditions of Jerusalem, Paul no doubt witnessed what he saw to be the corrosive effects of foreign teachings and traditions on his faith community of Tarsus. One can readily understand why he would perceive the Jesus movement, taking place as it did initially on the front porch of the Holy Temple, the the very heart of Judaism, as a direct attack on the faith of his ancestors.

Paul’s background, what little we know of it, mirrors that of Zaharan Hashim, the mastermind behind the Easter church bombings in Sir Lanka. According to an article in this morning’s New York Times, Zaharan was educated in the strictest expression of his faith, namely, Wahbhabism. This variant of Islam, forged in Saudi Arabia, the heart of the Muslim world, is fiercely intolerant of rival faiths, including other forms of Islam. Such rigorous and isolationist tendencies often prove attractive to religious minorities struggling to maintain their identity in predominantly foreign cultures. As a member of a minority Muslim community in the predominantly Buddhist nation of Sir Lanka, it is understandable that Zaharan saw in Wahbhabism a way to preserve the integrity of his faith and culture. Like Paul, he is fighting a life and death battle against hostile cultural forces to ensure the survival of his faith. Like Paul, he believes that requires taking human life.

My purpose in drawing these parallels between Paul and Zaharan is not to justify or minimize the violence and intolerance practiced by either of them. There is no excuse for persecuting, to say nothing of killing, people on the basis of their faith. Yet I believe this biographical episode in Paul’s life has been preserved for us as a salutary cautionary tale. Though persecution of persons adhering to other faiths runs counter to the fundamental teachings of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, all three faiths have been guilty of this sin. Historically and currently as well, our sacred scriptures have been used to justify acts and words of hatred directed at one another and toward those of other faiths. As St. Paul learned on the road to Damascus, when religion gets sick, when it becomes incapable of tolerating contrary points of view and demonizes everyone holding such views, it winds up destroying within itself the very image of the God it claims to worship.

More than all of this, however, the story of Paul’s conversion is a reminder that all people are capable of redemption. All people bear within them the image of their Maker, however distorted that image may have become. That is so even when they have names like Hassin Zaharan. All people are objects of God’s love and so must be subjects of our compassion. We are the people who believe in redemption, that all are capable of being changed or, rather, God is capable of changing anyone. That is why love of enemies is at the heart of discipleship. “…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” says Paul. Romans 5:10. God’s perfection is demonstrated in God’s lavish kindness poured out on the wicked and undeserving. That, too, is the way of discipleship. Matthew 5:43-48.

The message is worth repeating in this present culture of polarization. The problem is not that we disagree. The problem is that we are no longer even speaking to one another. We are instead shouting slogans at one another from behind our entrenched positions. We live in our proverbial bubbles, associating with people who share our views, listening to news sources that tell us what we already believe and growing more certain by the moment of our corner on all truth. Such isolation kills our curiosity, dulls our ability to think critically and makes us increasingly unable to tolerate difference. The extremes of religiously and ideologically inspired violence reflect the growing consensus that there are “some people you just can’t talk to.” Mass killers are people like us who have run out of words and decided they’re through talking.

The election of 2016 laid bare the fault lines that have long divided our nation. Those fault lines run right through the middle of our churches. This fact affords us the opportunity to be centers of healing and reconciliation. Sometimes, that has in fact occurred. But frequently, the issues of race, sexuality and gender identity have proved too explosive for congregations to handle. Too often, we have lost the capacity to trust one another. Too often, we have been unable to recognize in one another anything more than what we hate and fear. Too often, we have simply given up on each other. When that happens, the false gospels of religious intolerance and the ideologies of culture, blood and soil find welcome audiences. That is why it is more important than ever for all who identify as disciples of Jesus to begin putting themselves into the skin of those we think of as enemies, trying to see the world through their eyes, acknowledging that what we hate and fear in our enemies often reflects the darkest elements of our own fears and prejudices. More than ever before, we must determine that we are not going to give up on one another. We are not going to give up on the world Jesus died to save. We are not going to give up on reconciliation.

I am not suggesting that we should “heal our wounds lightly” by agreeing to ignore pressing issues and “just get along.” More than at any other point in my lifetime, I believe it is critical that we speak the truth about white privilege, American nationalism and its symbiotic relationship with the American Church and the persistence of patriarchy in church and society. Having conversations about these matters will be painful for all of us. But the church is the community of the one who took up the cross and whose resurrected Body is presented to us with the wounds he bore for the world he loved. We are the community of deserters that left its Lord to die alone, but who were called together again by that same Lord and given the Great Commission. We are the community of the man who denied his Lord and was nonetheless entrusted with feeding that Lord’s sheep. We are the church which hears the words of God’s limitless compassion for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, female and male, gay and straight, legal and illegal, Christian, Jew Muslim-all through the lips of a man once driven to murder by fanatical religious and cultural hatred. Yes, loving one’s enemy and seeking reconciliation is hard work. And it needs to be said that for those most deeply wronged by our society’s structural injustice, to which many of us more privileged folk remain blind, it’s a big ask. But the atrocities we have seen in New Zealand, Sir Lanka and California over these last few weeks remind us that the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

Here is a poem by Joy Harjo painting for us an image of what reconciliation might look like and what it might demand of us.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings

I am the holy being of my mother’s prayer and my father’s song

—Norman Patrick Brown, Dineh Poet and Speaker


Recognize whose lands these are on which we stand.
Ask the deer, turtle, and the crane.
Make sure the spirits of these lands are respected and treated with goodwill.
The land is a being who remembers everything.
You will have to answer to your children, and their children, and theirs—
The red shimmer of remembering will compel you up the night to walk the perimeter of truth for understanding.
As I brushed my hair over the hotel sink to get ready I heard:
By listening we will understand who we are in this holy realm of words.
Do not parade, pleased with yourself.
You must speak in the language of justice.


If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”

The lands and waters they gave us did not belong to them to give. Under false pretenses we signed. After drugging by drink, we signed. With a mass of gunpower pointed at us, we signed. With a flotilla of war ships at our shores, we signed. We are still signing. We have found no peace in this act of signing.

A casino was raised up over the gravesite of our ancestors. Our own distant cousins pulled up the bones of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren from their last sleeping place. They had forgotten how to be human beings. Restless winds emerged from the earth when the graves were open and the winds went looking for justice.

If you raise this white flag of peace, we will honor it.

At Sand Creek several hundred women, children, and men were slaughtered in an unspeakable massacre, after a white flag was raised. The American soldiers trampled the white flag in the blood of the peacemakers.

There is a suicide epidemic among native children. It is triple the rate of the rest of America. “It feels like wartime,” said a child welfare worker in South Dakota.

If you send your children to our schools we will train them to get along in this changing world. We will educate them.

We had no choice. They took our children. Some ran away and froze to death. If they were found they were dragged back to the school and punished. They cut their hair, took away their language, until they became as strangers to themselves even as they became strangers to us.

If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters in exchange “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”

Put your hand on this bible, this blade, this pen, this oil derrick, this gun and you will gain trust and respect with us. Now we can speak together as one.

We say, put down your papers, your tools of coercion, your false promises, your posture of superiority and sit with us before the fire. We will share food, songs, and stories. We will gather beneath starlight and dance, and rise together at sunrise.

The sun rose over the Potomac this morning, over the city surrounding the white house.
It blazed scarlet, a fire opening truth.
White House, or Chogo Hvtke, means the house of the peacekeeper, the keepers of justice.
We have crossed this river to speak to the white leader for peace many times
Since these settlers first arrived in our territory and made this their place of governance.
These streets are our old trails, curved to fit around trees.


We speak together with this trade language of English. This trade language enables us to speak across many language boundaries. These languages have given us the poets:

Ortiz, Silko, Momaday, Alexie, Diaz, Bird, Woody, Kane, Bitsui, Long Soldier, White, Erdrich, Tapahonso, Howe, Louis, Brings Plenty, okpik, Hill, Wood, Maracle, Cisneros, Trask, Hogan, Dunn, Welch, Gould…

The 1957 Chevy is unbeatable in style. My broken-down one-eyed Ford will have to do. It holds everyone: Grandma and grandpa, aunties and uncles, the children and the babies, and all my boyfriends. That’s what she said, anyway, as she drove off for the Forty-Nine with all of us in that shimmying wreck.

This would be no place to be without blues, jazz—Thank you/mvto to the Africans, the Europeans sitting in, especially Adolphe Sax with his saxophones… Don’t forget that at the center is the Mvskoke ceremonial circles. We know how to swing. We keep the heartbeat of the earth in our stomp dance feet.

You might try dancing theory with a bustle, or a jingle dress, or with turtles strapped around your legs. You might try wearing colonization like a heavy gold chain around a pimp’s neck.


I could hear the light beings as they entered every cell. Every cell is a house of the god of light, they said. I could hear the spirits who love us stomp dancing. They were dancing as if they were here, and then another level of here, and then another, until the whole earth and sky was dancing.

We are here dancing, they said. There was no there.

There was no  “I”  or “you.”

There was us; there was “we.”

There we were as if we were the music.

You cannot legislate music to lockstep nor can you legislate the spirit of the music to stop at political boundaries—

—Or poetry, or art, or anything that is of value or matters in this world, and the next worlds.

This is about getting to know each other.

We will wind up back at the blues standing on the edge of the flatted fifth about to jump into a fierce understanding together.


A panther poised in the cypress tree about to jump is a panther poised in a cypress tree about to jump.

The panther is a poem of fire green eyes and a heart charged by four winds of four directions.

The panther hears everything in the dark: the unspoken tears of a few hundred human years, storms that will break what has broken his world, a bluebird swaying on a branch a few miles away.

He hears the death song of his approaching prey:

I will always love you, sunrise.
I belong to the black cat with fire green eyes.
There, in the cypress tree near the morning star.


When we made it back home, back over those curved roads
that wind through the city of peace, we stopped at the
doorway of dusk as it opened to our homelands.
We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story
because it was by the light of those challenges we knew
We asked for forgiveness.
We laid down our burdens next to each other.

The following poem by Joy Harjo paints a picture for how reconciliation might begin and what it demands of us.

Source: Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (c. 2015 by Joy Harjo, pub. by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.). Joy Harjo  (b. Joy Foster on May 9, 1951) is a poet, musician, and author. Born in Oklahoma. She took her paternal grandmother’s surname when she enrolled in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation at age 19. Harjo graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1976 and earned her master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa. In addition to writing books and other publications, Harjo has taught in numerous United States universities, has performed at poetry readings and music events, and has released five albums of her own original music.  You can read more about Joy Harjo and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website

NRA Joins Forces with First Lady to Prevent Bullying

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

First Lady Melania Trump is teaming up with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to combat bullying in American schools. “Best Shot” or simply “BS” is the name for this new initiative that would provide for distribution of fire arms to all middle school and high school students. Ms. Trump explained that she wants to see young people “be best” in everything-including marksmanship. “Good girl, good boy, good shot,” she told reporters. The president has given his full support to the first lady, promising to veto any legislation that would limit the full, free and unrestricted circulation of fire arms to the largest number of people. “Guns don’t need to be controlled,” he said at a recent rally, “people need to be controlled.”

Officials at the NRA lauded the initiative and pledged the full support of their organization. “The concept is as simple as it is effective,” said NRA representative Dana Loesch. “Nobody is going to bully anyone else where everyone is packing. Even a ninety-eight-pound weakling can pull a trigger.” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre concurred, adding that “it has long been known that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. So more guns for more kids means less bad guys on the playground and less bullying.” For the time being, BS will be confined to middle school and high school settings. “We recognize that a kindergartner would have difficulty managing a fire arm,” said Loesch. “But R&D is working on smaller, light weight fire arms made of plastic material,” she added. “Soon we will have small but lethal guns that fit easily into lunch boxes and backpacks. It is only a matter of time until our BS spreads to elementary schools as well.”

Critics object that children under the age of 18 are forbidden by law to own or carry fire arms in most states. LaPierre brushed these concerns off. “We are not particularly worried about restrictive legislation. We happen to own more than half the Senate and the House of Representatives. We have the resources to buy whatever laws we need.” NRA president Oliver North also does not believe that legal hurtles will hinder the implementation of BS. “I have extensive experience getting guns into the hands of people that aren’t supposed to have them,” he said. Ms. Trump expressed the view that her initiative would meet with broad political and public support. “We want to make school safe,” she said. “Who’s against that?”


FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen. In the words of John Steinbeck, “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.”

The Resurrection and Patriotic Idolatry

Image result for United states flag in churchSECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ’s blessing, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Revelation 1:4.

In the above passage from our second lesson, John of Patmos makes the audacious claim that Jesus is, in addition to being the “firstborn of the dead,” the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” It is clear from our first lesson in the Book of Acts that the “kings of the earth,” or the “principalities and powers” as St. Paul calls them, do not recognize him as such. Easter Sunday finds the disciples hiding behind locked doors for fear of the authorities that are now supposed to be subject to Jesus. Peter and John are charged strictly to refrain from preaching and teaching in Jesus’ name on threat of arrest and punishment. The struggling congregations of Asia Minor to whom John writes were facing social ostracism, commercial sanctions and prosecution for their faith in Jesus. Under these circumstances, we might rightly ask: What real world difference does Jesus’ resurrection make? What good is his Lordship if the world at large does not recognize and respect it? What kind of reign does Jesus exercise over the world?

It is important to recognize that the primary significance of the resurrection is not that God raised Jesus from death. No one in the First Century world doubted that a god could raise someone from death. The radical message of the resurrection is that the God of Israel raised Jesus from death. Had God raised a prominent general, a successful political leader or a charismatic religious figure, the import of the resurrection would be altogether different. As it is, God raised Jesus, the rabbi whose teachings were misunderstood, whose closest followers betrayed and deserted him and whose mission ended in failure. God raised the one who confronted a cruel and oppressive regime armed only with love-and lost badly by every imaginable standard. Absent the resurrection, we could only conclude from Jesus’ story that love fails; that might makes right; that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun; that nice guys finish last; that Caesar is Lord. But in raising Jesus from death, God demonstrates that Caesar is not Lord. God is on the side of love-even when it seems to fail and accomplish nothing.

Jesus’ resurrection turns every hierarchy on its head. The Church’s one Lord and King is Jesus. No monarch, president, prime minister, dictator or governmental unit has authority to require a disciple of Jesus to act contrary to the great commandments, namely, love for God and love for the neighbor. Of course, allegiance to Jesus does not necessarily place the church at odds with the government under which it happens to exist in any given place and time. Government is not evil in itself. It has a role to play in ordering human existence, ensuring that justice is done and protecting the weak and vulnerable from exploitation. As such, government is another of God’s good gifts to humanity and all of creation. Yet, like all of God’s good gifts, government becomes demonic when it usurps loyalty and obedience due God alone. In our fallen world, government has a tendency to do just that. When government demands loyalty or obedience that puts a disciple at odds with his/her duty of loyalty and obedience to Jesus, “we must obey God rather than any human authority.” Acts 5:29.

The relationship between the Church and the Roman Empire was antagonistic from the start if only because of the Church’s assertion that “Jesus is Lord.” There was but one Lord in the Roman realm, namely, Caesar. Roman policy toward religion was generally tolerant. If the Christians wanted to worship a dead carpenter, that was surely their prerogative. Just don’t call him “Lord.” This was not simply a matter of semantics. Though no one in the first century actually believed the emperor to be divine, they all knew he must be treated as such. Loyalty and obedience to Rome was an absolute requirement that no religious duty or obligation could overrule. This, in effect, elevated government to the place of God, thereby putting the disciples of Jesus on a collision course with the empire.

In our American context, the relationship between church and government is a bit more complicated. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids government interference with the free exercise of religion. That affords protection for the church against governmental persecution, but it does not guaranty that the church will not succumb to an idolatrous allegiance to the nation. In fact, there are clear indications that our churches have done just that in too many instances. In my post of July 26, 2017 I argued that a toxic mix of nationalism and aberrant right wing “evangelical” Christianity has created an environment favorable to the expression of racist, sexist and anti-Islamic sentiments and acts of hatred against people of color. But I don’t believe for one moment that those of us in the “mainline” traditions are immune from this sickness. The ideology of American nationalism has infected us as well, blinding us to our own idolatry.

I strongly suspect that most of us identify more deeply with our American identity than our baptismal identity. The placement of the American flag in most of our sanctuaries testifies to the centrality of our American identity. If you think the flag’s presence is harmless and that it has no religious significance, try suggesting its removal. Whether we can articulate it or not, we have a strong sense that the flag is an important, perhaps essential, ingredient for our houses of worship. More telling still is our collective willingness to sacrifice our children on the battlefield in defense of our country. We speak of one’s death in warfare as the “ultimate sacrifice.” If human sacrifice to appease the appetite of one’s god is considered barbaric, how much more the sacrifice made for something less than divine! Patriotism has become for us a kind of religion and politics a perverse form of worship.

Shaped as we are by nationalistic patriotism, we no longer see its demands upon us as sinful or contrary to the tenets of our faith. Our national and Christian identities have become so thoroughly fused that we are incapable of recognizing the presence of rank idolatry and the incongruities it breeds in our lives. We sing

“In Christ there is no east or west,
In him no south or north,
But one great fellowship of love,
Throughout the whole wide earth.”

Yet we see no contradiction between this anthem declaring the universality of Christ’s Body and slogans like “America First.” We listen to the parable of the Final Judgment in Matthew on Sunday and find nothing objectionable in our nation’s closing its borders to refugees fleeing violence and starvation. In our perverse moral hierarchy, patriotism trumps discipleship, the flag flies higher than the cross and the bond of American identity proves stronger than the universal appeal of the communion of saints. We have reduced discipleship to a mere aspect of what it means to be an American. It simply does not occur to us that being a good American citizen might conflict with our being a faithful disciple of Jesus. The Church in America lacks the spiritual maturity, the theological depth and the moral courage to be the Body of Christ for the world and has opted instead to be the house chaplain to the United States.

I am hopeful that mainline American churches like my own will finally grow up, get beyond issuing preachy screechy social statements on this or that particular issue that no one ever reads and, like the Confessing Church under the Nazi regime, address in a public way the root sin of idolatry that is twisting our souls and muting our witness. Martin Luther tells us that “A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” Nationalism is heresy. It is incompatible with our confession of one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one holy catholic and apostolic church made up of nations, tribes and peoples worldwide. In the face nationalistic appeals to blood, soil and culture, we need to speak boldly St. Peter’s and St. John’s admonition to obey God above all human authority and acknowledge as King the one who lived and died for others, regardless their citizenship, nationality, race, sexual orientation or whatever part of the globe they inhabit. That is the difference the Resurrection makes.

Here is a poem by Langston Hughes that might serve as the sort of prayer we ought to be praying for our nation as a people called out of all nations to be the resurrected Body of Christ in the world.

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
The free?
Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—

And make America again!

Source: The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (c. 1995 by Langston Hughes, pub. by Harold Ober Associates, Inc.) Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an important African American voice in the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s. Though well-educated and widely traveled, Hughes’ poetry never strayed far from his roots in the African American community. Early in his career, Hughes’ work was criticized by some African American intellectuals for portraying what they viewed as an unflattering representation of back life. In a response to these critics, Hughes replied, “I didn’t know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren’t people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”  Today Langston Hughes is recognized globally as a towering literary figure of the 20th Century.

Doubting Your Doubts

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Saint_Peter_and_Saint_John_Run_to_the_Sepulchre_(Saint_Pierre_et_Saint_Jean_courent_au_sépulcre)_-_James_TissotRESURRECTION OF OUR LORD

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

Prayer of the Day: O God, you gave your only Son to suffer death on the cross for our redemption, and by his glorious resurrection you delivered us from the power of death. Make us die every day to sin, that we may live with him forever in the joy of the resurrection, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told [the message of the angels] to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” Luke 24:10-12.

If Peter had determined, along with the rest of the apostles, that the women’s account of the empty tomb and the words of the angels was no more than an “idle tale,” why did he go running to the tomb? One possible answer is that he didn’t. The last sentence of the above passage (verse 12) is not found in some of the oldest and most reliable Greek New Testament texts we have, leading many biblical scholars to conclude that it was a later addition to the story. Some commentators suggest that this account of Peter’s going to the tomb was added on in order to absolve the “Prince of the Apostles” from unbelief. There might also be a hint of masculine embarrassment over the fact that the news of the resurrection was given first to women and all the more so in view of the men’s failure to receive it in faith. Peter’s sojourn to the tomb takes the edge off the apostles’ failure somewhat. While these explanations are credible, I think there might be another way to understand Peter’s seemingly contradictory behavior.

It is hope that gives rise to faith and faith is ever groping after hope. Hope wants desperately to believe. It is often simmering below the surface even among people who seem to have lost it. Perhaps this was Peter’s dilemma. To be sure, Peter doubted the veracity of the women’s witness and I can see his point. We know that grief can make people a little crazy. The sudden and traumatic death of a loved one often triggers irrational and hysterical denial of the horrible truth. That would be the most rational explanation for the women’s account. In all probability, the business about angels and the empty tomb was just an idle tale. Still, what if the women were right? What if they really had seen angels? What if Jesus really were alive? What if Peter’s denial of Jesus was not the final judgment on his life? What if Peter was being given another chance to follow Jesus faithfully? It was news too good to be true-but too good to dismiss. It awakened in Peter a slumbering hope that sent him racing to the tomb.

Hope is a hard thing to suppress. It persists even in the face of death. My own first experience of death was the passing of my grandmother when I was only six years old. Grandma and Grandpa lived just two blocks away from us. They were like a second set of parents to me and my siblings. So, when Grandma died, I was left trying to wrap my six year old head around what it meant for Grandma to be gone-forever. I distinctly recall wondering whether this whole experience of losing Grandma was just a bad dream from which I would soon wake up. I became so convinced I was living in a nightmare that I resolved to test this theory. On the night of Grandma’s funeral, I stuck a piece of gum on the edge of my nightstand before going to bed. I figured that if I woke up the next morning and the gum was gone, it would confirm that everything I had experienced was all just a dream. Grandma would be alive and everything would be back to normal. Of course, I more than half expected to wake up and find the gum stuck to my night stand where I left it. But what if my improbable theory proved true? What if there really were a way out of this nightmare?

I have to confess that I am, in part, relieved that I will not be preaching this Sunday. I have always found preaching on Easter Sunday difficult. It is difficult because the news of Jesus’ resurrection is as incredible today as it was two millennia ago.  It is difficult because church attendance is always swelled by people who have all but left the church’s orbit and are more than half convinced it has nothing to offer beyond a little holiday nostalgia. It is difficult because all of us have had the bitter experience of waking up to find the gum we placed on the nightstand there to remind us that death is not just a bad dream. It’s real, painful and permanent. Proclaiming God in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self is a hard sell to people who see more evidence each day convincing them of the dissolution of civility, decency and respect. It is hard to believe Jesus’ Easter benediction of peace when it seems as though the institutional agents of peace like the United Nations and the international treaties that have managed to keep the world from sliding into total carnage are disintegrating and losing their potency. In a world where the authority of government, commerce, the press and religion are all suspect and the very existence of “truth” is in doubt, why would anyone believe testimony given by a couple of nearly anonymous women to a remarkable and unprecedented occurrence recorded in a two thousand year old book?

If the immediacy of the women’s witness could not convince Jesus’ own disciples that he had been raised from death, I doubt that any sermon preached anywhere this Sunday is likely to convince this cynical and jaded age. But maybe Easter sermons don’t need to convince. Perhaps they only need to plant a seed of holy doubt. Maybe it is enough for the preacher to inflict a tiny crack in our unbelieving hearts, thereby causing us to doubt whether our hardened realism is so realistic after all. Sometimes it takes only a clever phrase, a creative metaphor or a story that rings true to open our minds to a more expansive view of the way things are. A word or two might suffice to sow just enough uncertainty about the impotence of good, the primacy of evil and the certainty of death to drive us to the empty tomb and the message of the angels. There we discover that the testimony of those mad women is in fact the one voice of sanity we all need to hear and believe. There we discover that the phenomenon of hope is not a cruel hoax hardwired into our collective psyche, but a seed planted in our hearts by a loving Creator who watches over it, doing everything possible to assure its maturation into abundant and eternal life. This Sunday’s sermon does not have to flood the sanctuary with light. It  has only to pry the door open a crack to let it in.

Here is a poem by James Church Alword about hope desperately seeking faith.

Easter Evening

Walking through the woodlands and oncoming night
I saw His hair stream in the sky-line’s red,
I heard His footsteps on the path which led
Out from the naked trees; while golden light
Shook from His seamless robe, that, rippling, slight
As woof of dream-stuff, flamed across the bed
Of some low-gurgling brook. He was not dead-
His risen presence was a world’s delight.

It was the magic of a night too fleet
That filled the valley with a foam of mist;
The scorch of cloud-banks that the sun still kissed,
And crunch of crinkled leaves beneath my feet.
I’d offer every breath I’ve yet to breathe,
Just to believe, O Master-to believe!

Source: Poetry, April 1917. James Church Alvord was an American poet active in the early years of the 20th century. Little is known about Alvord. His background and history are shrouded in mystery. His poems appeared in Poetry, The Nation and Century Magazine. In addition to poetry, Alvord also wrote at least one short story and reviews for the New York Times. In the 1920s, a professor of modern languages at Censenary Collage in Louisiana composed the lyrics of the school’s Alma Mater. It is doubtful, however, that he was the same person.

Republicans Proposing Legislation to Protect Civil Rights of Corporations

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

Image result for Kevin McCarthy

This morning House minority leader Kevin McCarthy announced that his party will be taking up a new civil rights initiative. “For too long,” he said, “civil rights have been the issue of the Democrat party. Today we are taking that issue back.” He went on to explain that the House Republicans are currently drafting legislation that would protect the civil rights of “the most maligned, persecuted and mistreated” members of society. “It is well documented that corporations have suffered government and public persecution unparalleled anywhere else,” said McCarthy. He pointed out that both Democratic presidential hopefuls, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have threatened to “break up” Facebook and Google. “Corporations are an endangered segment of our population and more deserving than anyone else of the protection afforded by civil rights legislation.”

Utah Senator, Mitt Romney agreed. “I’ve said before and I will say again, corporations are persons. They have feelings, hopes and dreams just like everyone else.” He dismissed out of hand the popular belief that corporate America already has too much power. “I don’t know how you can say that,” Romney replied. “Corporations are not even allowed to vote! It’s just plain silly to claim that they are somehow taking over the country. But even if that were true,” he went on to say, “would that be so bad?” His colleague, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnel agreed. “Corporations pay more to buy elections than anyone else. Fairness dictates that they should get what they pay for,” he said.

President Donald Trump has thrown his full support behind the proposed legislation. “I’ve always believed that corporations are better at running the country than government. Government is the enemy.” In a press conference later in the day, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reinforced the President’s support explaining that, “the American people don’t share the liberal press’ obsession with individual rights, equal representation, protection of the environment or racial justice. As long as unemployment goes down and the stock market goes up, they are happy.” Counselor to the President, Kelly Ann Conway concurred, telling reporters “the American people would much rather be governed by public corporations than by a deep state run by liberals.”

FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen. “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck

The Secret Life of Stones


Luke 19:28-40
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:15 — 23:56

Prayer of the Day: Everlasting God, in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross. In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered,I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Luke 19:37-40

I spent late Saturday afternoon walking on Cahoon Hollow beach in what has recently become my home town of Wellfeet, Massachusetts. Though the day started out rainy, the sun came out around lunch time and a gentle breeze chased the remaining clouds out of the sky. By about 3:30 p.m., there was nothing overhead but blue. The sun was low in the west when I arrived at the beach. The cliff above the shore cast its encroaching shadows over the sand drawing ever closer to the waves, swallowing up inch by inch the remaining sunshine.

It was about an hour away from low tide and the sea was about as calm and the waves as gentle as they ever get. As always, I found myself captivated by everything the ocean leaves behind on the the sand in its retreat. Perhaps because the Palm Sunday gospel was very much on my mind, the stones grabbed my attention.

There were all varieties of stone to be seen: granite, sandstone, quartz, shale, conglomerate and kinds I cannot begin to identify. All of them were worn smooth and polished by the relentless work of the sea and sand. Each had been placed by the action of the waves into its own niche. Some are purest white without a single blemish. Others have two or more distinct colors woven together like ribbon. Still others are a checkered mix yielding a shade that is more than the sum of its constituents. I could not resist photographing them.


Taking pictures of stones might sound a little quirky and perhaps it is. Nevertheless, there is a point to my madness. Photography is for me a way of seeing, a way of noticing what I am normally prone to overlook in my haste. For that reason, I have a collection of photos featuring everything from sunsets to mushrooms of interest to no one besides me.

There is nothing so seemingly inert as a stone. Stone is a metaphor for everything hard, passionless and immovable. For that reason, it is difficult to imagine a stone shouting out in praise at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The few biblical commentators who bother to reflect on these words of Jesus dismiss them as hyperbole. But I’m not convinced. Jesus doesn’t waste words. When he speaks, it isn’t for dramatic effect. As is always the case with Jesus’ teachings, parables and figures of speech, there is a wealth of meaning lying beneath the surface for those with the patience to look for it. That is, with “those who have ears to hear.”

Physicists remind us that a stone is more than what it seems. Though it might appear solid and motionless, it is made up of atomic and subatomic particles seething with energy and motion. Stones are not passive objects. They are active participants with a universe in motion. If we give credence to St. Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Colossae, we understand that all of the molecular energy in that stone is held together and relationally ordered by and through Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:17. As Martin Luther observed in his lectures on Genesis, God “spoke” the universe into being. Like everything else, the stone exists in response to God’s creative Word. The natural and appropriate existential response to being spoken into being is praise.

The Scriptures are not shy about attributing praise to what we consider inanimate forces and objects. For example, Psalm 148 calls upon fire, hail, snow, frost, wind, mountains, hills and trees to give praise to God. As Professor Christoph Schwobel reminds us: “God’s work creates effects that have being and order, and God’s work has to be understood as communicative action, even when it is not expressed as divine speech. The whole of creation is an ordered network of communicative relationships in which being and meaning are intrinsically connected.” “We Are All God’s Vocabulary,” published in Knowing Creation: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy and Science, Vol. 1, Edited by Torrance, Andrew B. and McCall, Thomas H. (c. 2018, pub. by Zondervan) p. 51. The stone carries within it the ordering principles of creation moving it toward God’s promised goal of a new heaven and earth. Wet and glistening in the afternoon sunlight, it bears testimony to the Word that spoke it into being.

Yet, just as a stone can sing praises, a stone can lament. Human violence corrupts God’s good earth. Genesis 6:11-12; Psalm 74:20. John of Patmos refers to the oppressive Roman empire and its allies as “destroyers of the earth.” Revelation 11:18. The creation “groan[s] in travail” under the weight of human sin and, therefore, our salvation is its salvation as well. Romans 8:19-23. This coming Sunday we will hear again Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God. Why has thou forsaken me?” We should hear in that cry of anguish the cry of dying coral reefs, shrinking forests, animals on the verge of extinction, rivers clogged with mining runoff and stones washed ashore by waves of contaminated water. This, too, is the consequence of our species’ unique refusal to live joyfully, thankfully and obediently within the parameters of its creaturely limitations and striving instead to “be as God.”

Nevertheless, just as the whole creation shares the consequences of our evil, we share, albeit undeservedly, in creation’s redemption. I think perhaps that is why we have on Palm Sunday this one celebratory oasis in the otherwise somber season of Lent. We know that, whatever may lie ahead, our worst day is behind us. Not even our rejection of the best God had to give us could make God reject us. Our cruelty to God’s Son could not turn God against God’s creation, could not break the love that binds the Trinity, could not break God’s resolve to have us for God’s own. The love of God in Jesus Christ, in which “all things hold together,” is stronger than all the forces of evil that would rip creation to shreds. So, even in the shadow of the cross-no, especially there, we sing.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

“My Life Flows On in Endless Song,” Robert Lowry published in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (c. 2006 by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, pub. by Augsburg Fortress). Hymn # 763.

Here is a poem by Marge Percy giving expression, wittingly or no, to creation’s praise for its Creator.

More than Enough

The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
All over the sand road where we walk
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
the scene drifting like colored mist.
The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
clumps of flower and the blackberries
are blooming in the thickets. Season of
joy for the bee. The green will never
again be so green, so purely and lushly
new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
into the wind. Rich fresh wine
of June, we stagger into you smeared
with pollen, overcome as the turtle
laying her eggs in roadside sand.


Source: Colors Passing Through Us (c. 2003 by Marge Piercy, pub by Alfred A. Knopf). Marge Piercy (b. 1936) is an American poet, novelist, and social activist. She is perhaps best known for her New York Times best seller, Gone to Soldiers, an historical novel set during the Second World War. Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan and was the first in her family to attend college. She studied at the University of Michigan and won a Hopwood Award for Poetry and Fiction in 1957. This, in turn, allowed her to complete her college degree. She earned a Master’s Degree from Northwestern University in 1968. Piercy was a powerful advocate for feminism in the 1960s and 70s and a member of the Students for a Democratic Society. She has written seventeen volumes of poems and fifteen novels. You can find out more about Marge Piercy and sample more of her poems at the Poetry Foundation website.