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In Defense of Extremism and Intolerance

United Church of Christ at March for Our Lives DCFIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, you teach us that without love, our actions gain nothing. Pour into our hearts your most excellent gift of love, that, made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34.

This is not a “new” commandment in the absolute sense. The commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself comes directly out of the Hebrew Scriptures and lies at the heart of Torah. It is new only in the sense that we view it now through the lens of Jesus’ death and resurrection which reveals the depth of God’s love for us and which we, for our part, are called to practice toward our neighbors and one another. In Jesus, God takes love to extremes.

The term “extremism” has unsavory nuances. If someone calls you an extremist, it is probably not intended as a complement. The word conjures up images of suicide bombers, white nationalists and religious fanatics of all flavors pushing their perverse agendas by all means necessary-including violence. To be sure, these are all examples of extremism. But are they the only kinds? What about people like Saint Vincent de Paul who took generosity to extremes? What about people like Saint Francis of Assisi who took compassion to extremes? Isn’t discipleship about taking love to extremes? Isn’t Jesus’ determination to exercise love and healing rather than self defense against those who came to take his life about the most extreme expression of love imaginable?

Like everyone else, those of us in the church are suspicions of people who “take things to extremes.” We prefer moderation. If there must be change, let’s make it incrementally. Let’s be thoughtful and deliberate. By all means, let’s not take things to extremes! According to our lesson from the Book of Acts, the church leaders in Jerusalem felt that perhaps Saint Peter’s baptism of a gentile family was taking things a bit too far. They would become increasingly alarmed by Saint Paul’s mission to the gentiles.  Many in the New Testament church seemed to feel that Paul was taking things to extremes. The Book of Acts gives us the picture of a church struggling to keep up with the Spirit of God pulling it incessantly to new extremes.

“Moderation” and “tolerance” are the supposed counterbalancing virtues to the vice of extremism. Admittedly,  prudence might dictate practicing moderation in some areas of life, such as alcohol consumption. Wisdom and charity require my tolerance of the neighbor’s screaming children. But neither of these tepid virtues serve us well as guiding principles. We fault Nazi extremism for crimes against humanity, yet could we not as much fault millions of moderates of that time who tolerated conditions under the Third Reich and chose not to take love to the extreme of standing with the victims of state violence? Moderation does not go to the extreme of supporting racism, sexual abuse of women, separation of families, abuse of power and environmental degradation. But it will tolerate all of these things as long as the stock market goes up and unemployment goes down. Moderation would never deny a child food or access to medicine; but it will tolerate childhood poverty and disease if the price of addressing it takes a bite out of the wallet. Turns out that moderation and tolerance are often just polite words for cowardice and self-preservation.

Extremism is not really the problem. It’s all a matter of the extremities. Extremists for hateful ideologies have demonstrated that they are prepared to injure, kill and even die for their perverse beliefs. They are prepared to close borders, gate their communities and segregate their schools to protect the purity of their nation and culture. In response to all of this, the last thing we need are moderates willing to tolerate it. What is needed are extremists unwilling to tolerate evil, extremists equally committed to opening borders, breaking down walls and pledging their allegiance, not to any flag or nation, but to that kingdom composed of “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9. If extremists of hate are prepared to embrace a bomb in furtherance of their perverse aims, extremists of love must be prepared to embrace the bomber accepting all that may follow. Disciples of Jesus are those who are prepared to die taking love to extremes.

Here is a poem by Denise Levertov dismissing the banal moderation that makes a false virtue of tolerance.

Goodbye to Tolerance

Genial poets, pink-faced
earnest wits—
you have given the world
some choice morsels,
gobbets of language presented
as one presents T-bone steak
and Cherries Jubilee.
Goodbye, goodbye,
                            I don’t care
if I never taste your fine food again,
neutral fellows, seers of every side.
Tolerance, what crimes
are committed in your name.
And you, good women, bakers of nicest bread,
blood donors. Your crumbs
choke me, I would not want
a drop of your blood in me, it is pumped
by weak hearts, perfect pulses that never
falter: irresponsive
to nightmare reality.
It is my brothers, my sisters,
whose blood spurts out and stops
forever
because you choose to believe it is not your business.
Goodbye, goodbye,
your poems
shut their little mouths,
your loaves grow moldy,
a gulf has split
                     the ground between us,
and you won’t wave, you’re looking
another way.
We shan’t meet again—
unless you leap it, leaving
behind you the cherished
worms of your dispassion,
your pallid ironies,
your jovial, murderous,
wry-humored balanced judgment,
leap over, un-
balanced? … then
how our fanatic tears
would flow and mingle
for joy …

 

Denise Levertov (1923–1997) never received a formal education. Nevertheless, she created a highly regarded body of poetry that earned her recognition as one of America’s most respected poets. Her father, Paul Philip Levertov, was a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and subsequently moved to England where he became an Anglican minister.  Levertov grew up in a household surrounded by books and people talking about them in many languages. During World War II, Levertov pursued nurse’s training and spent three years as a civilian nurse at several hospitals in London. Levertov came to the United States in 1948, after marrying American writer Mitchell Goodman. During the 1960s Levertov became a staunch critic of the Vietnam war, a topic addressed in many of her poems of that era. Levertov died of lymphoma at the age of seventy-four. You can read more about Denise Levertov and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

President Trump Shoots Man on Fifth Avenue

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

This morning President Donald Trump allegedly shot and wounded a man identified as James P. Maga in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York City. “I did it to prove a point,” said the President. “I told you I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and my supporters wouldn’t care. You thought I was joking. I don’t joke.” Mr. Trump’s supporters in congress are standing by him. “As usual,” said House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, “the Democrat party and the liberal media are taking this out of context and sensationalizing it for political purposes. The America people aren’t going to be fooled by this tsunami of fake news.” In fact, the latest polling from Reuters, ABC, Fox and CNBC all seem to confirm that the president’s base of support is holding firm notwithstanding the alleged shooting.

Attorney General William P. Barr has declined to prosecute Mr. Trump for the alleged shooting. “First off, you don’t indict a sitting president,” he said. “Second, I have reviewed the statements of the 789 eye witnesses, the eighteen surveillance films that appear to show Mr. Trump firing a pistol, the DNA samples linking Mr. Trump to the alleged weapon and results of ballistic tests linking the gun to the bullet striking the victim. My determination is that the evidence is insufficient to charge the president with a crime even if that were legally possible. I am currently investigating the individuals who placed the 911 calls that triggered the bogus investigation into this unfounded accusation. Prosecution may very well follow.” Meanwhile, the President’s legal team has been defending the president against severe public criticism for the alleged shooting. “Shooting someone in New York City is not a crime,” said presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani. “I should know. When I was Mayer of New York, the cops shot lots of people for lots of reasons and for no reason at all. They always got away with it. And that was just cops. This is the president, for godsakes!”

At a press conference this afternoon Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s action. “The president has made it clear that the American people don’t care about peripheral issues like whether or not the president colluded with Russia, obstructed justice, appointed sexual predators to the Supreme Court or shot somebody on the street.” She went on to say that these matters “are fixations of the liberal media.” Sanders insisted that as long as Americans see the stock market going up and unemployment going down, they will continue to support Donald Trump. “That’s all the news they care about,” she said.

The victim, James P. Maga, is being treated for non-life threatening injuries at an undisclosed hospital. He has issued a statement, however, to make clear that he holds no ill will toward President Trump. “I voted for him and I support him 100%,” he said. “I am proud that I could take a bullet for Donald Trump. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” Maga’s family also expressed their appreciation for the president. “He’s been doing great work for America,” said Albert Maga, the victim’s father. “Sure, he’s got some rough edges and does some crazy things. But that’s what we love about him. He’s not afraid to shake things up.”

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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.”

Love That Won’t Let Go

Juliette en larmesFOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Prayer of the Day: O God of peace, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep. By the blood of your eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good that we may do your will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17.

I used to do that for my own children whenever they suffered the pain and indignity of a skinned knee or bump on the head. Additionally, I would kiss the site of the wound, blow on it, give it a gentle rub and tell them everything was fine. It always worked. I think that was largely because, at the tender ages of three and four, they believed me when I told them I would take care of them, keep them safe and protect them from everything scary-including monsters lurking under the bed. I encouraged my children’s simplistic faith in my ability to protect them because I wanted them to feel safe, loved and secure in their home.

I often wondered, however, whether I was doing the right thing. Clearly, I was over promising. There are plenty of terrible things form which no parent can protect one’s children. Much goes wrong in the life of a daughter or son that mom and dad can’t fix. That became painfully evident to me the night my infant grandson Parker died a day after he came into the world. There was nothing I could say or do to take that pain away from my son, pain that I felt deeply myself. All I could do was hold him as we wept. In the final analysis, that’s all we really have to give our children.

I thought again about that dreadful night as I was reading our gospel lesson for this Sunday in which Jesus promises that “no one shall snatch [my sheep] out of my hand.” John 10:28. In the worst of times, we remain in the Triune embrace of our God. Or, as St. Paul puts it, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39. Tragedy, suffering, doubts, traumatic wounds and all kinds of evil are capable of causing us to doubt and perhaps lose altogether our trust in God and God’s goodness. But our salvation does not rest on the strength of our faith, but on the strength of God’s faithfulness. It is only because of God’s tenacious faithfulness that it is even possible for us to have faith.

But is a hug all that God has to give us in times of despair? I would rather say that a hug is the best God has to give us. The whole point of the Incarnation was to make it possible for God to hug us with human arms, love us with a human heart and dry the very tears from our eyes. The Book of Revelation, so frequently misused to support the lurid and bloody  fundamentalist fantasies of global carnage, is actually summed up in just this: the horrors that have been inflicted upon us and the ones we have inflicted upon others will finally find healing in God’s eternal embrace. That’s not a quick fix, but it’s a real one.

Here is a poem/hymn by George Matheson giving profound expression to God’s stubborn and determined love that will not give up on us. (Sadly, it did not make the cut for the most recent hymnal of my church.)

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Source: The lyrics of this hymn are in the public domain. George Matheson (1842-1906) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. His sight was impaired from birth and, by the time he entered his teenage years, he was nearly blind. In spite of this limitation he enrolled as a ministerial student at Glasgow University where he excelled in his studies. Matheson served several parishes in Glasgow and the surrounding area. In 1886 he became pastor of the large and prestigious St. Bernard’s Parish Church in Edinburgh. Matheson authored several books on theology and published one volume of poetry. It should be noted that Matheson received a great deal of assistance from his sister who learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew to help him through his theological studies and also helped with his pastoral responsibilities. You can read more about George Matheson in his biography, The Life of George Matheson, (c. 1957 by Hodder & Stoughton) available on line at this link.

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

1. SET CONFLICT RESOLUTION GROUND RULES:

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.

2. USE EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS THAT DISPLAY AND ENHANCE MUTUAL TRUST AND RESPECT:

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.

3. GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK:

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.

4. REDUCE DEFENSIVENESS AND BREAK THE DEFENSIVENESS CHAIN:

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.

5. ELIMINATE NEGATIVE ATTITUDES DURING CONFLICT:

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.

6. AND, USE WHAT YOU LEARN TO RESOLVE YOUR OWN CONFLICTS AND TO MEDIATE OTHERS’ CONFLICTS:

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
ourselves—
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?”

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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,
America!
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.