Thursday, August 16, 2018

Respect! Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, was a Gospel woman for generations of men and women. Cradled in her church in Detroit, she never left it, but rather carried it with her all over the world. She sang "Precious Lord" at Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral 50 years ago in 1968. Her music and her dedication supported the civil rights movement right through to her singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at President Obama's inauguration in 2009. Amazing! "Respect" was her anthem. Amazing woman. Amazing Gospel Grace!
P.S. I googled the Queen of Soul singing "America" at President Obama's Inauguration.  Just to listen to her and to watch the crowd listening to her was wonderful.  To watch President Obama watch and listen to her and be inspired by her inspired me again.  Then I scrolled down briefly to see the comments.  This was all within a few hours of her death. They were all in gratitude.  Except one. What?  One by Donald J. Trump: "Gotta Thumbs down on this one."  I don't tweet things to or about Trump, but this time I did reply to his tweet. I wrote: "Thumbs down on America? Thumbs down on music? Thumbs down on Freedom? "Don't gotta!"
I know even more today how much we need Aretha, and Martin Luther King Jr., and President Obama.
I know how much we need the Gospel.  I know how much we need to sing.  All of us.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Egotistical, Uninformed, Confusing Words are a Danger to the World

This week we have seen and heard, and sometimes cried about Trump's outrageous words with Putin in Finland. We have no idea what he actually said behind closed doors.  Did he know the implications of what he was saying? He changed his tune and then changed it again and then again. Does he comprehend what he is saying beyond what he believes it means to his own ego?

But his words and policies and impulsive actions affect everyone of us and the entire world, if not also the course of history. We become depressed watching, but we cannot laugh it off.  We need to not fall into becoming obsessed with watching nor can we turn away.

My husband and I watched the video of former President Barack Obama's speech's given in South Africa this week.  It was an almost 1 1/2 hour lecture to 15,000 people in a stadium there. Not cute one-liners. No bragging. No crowd-pleasers. No hate speech. It was an intelligent talk about history, a magnificent account of Nelson's life on the 100th anniversary of his birth. It informed us about the changes in the world in the past century.  Obama knows about our country, South Africa and the entire world.  The people paid attention the entire time. You could tell they grasped everything he was saying. They were thoughtful and appreciative.

Actually, after the past 1 1/2 years of Trump's words (he only uses a very few over and over), I found myself forgetting that a presidential speech can be that intelligent and enlightening. I longed for the time when I couldn't wait to hear an Obama speech. I was so impressed by those 15,000 South Africans and how they listened and caught every nuance--such a contrast to the way Trump dismisses and denounces Africans. 

I put here the link so that you can be amazed, informed, refreshed, challenged and hopeful, too:

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Families Belong Together . . . In the Storm

Five minutes before the appointed 4:00 p.m. time, the rain stopped after huge thunderstorms and floods forced cancellation of the Families Belong Together event in Mason City, Iowa, part of the 750 protests nationwide Saturday, June 30. At 4:01 Burton and I decided spontaneously to drive to Central Park anyway. There we saw it: a bunch of people with signs held high: “Jesus was a Refugee.” “Reunite Families.” We didn’t know what else to do, but we wanted to be together, high water or not. 

We introduced ourselves to each other. Some women had driven in from Titonka, an hour to the West; a couple had driven up from Jewell, an hour to the South, being stopped on #Hwy 35 because of visibility. But they had persisted. The all day television coverage of tens of thousands was important. It might not have included us, in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the country, but we were here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I Wondered Why My Family Members Had Not Been Taken Away From Their Homes

As a child after WW II I remember our finding out that Japanese Americans had been taken away from their homes and placed in internment camps for “national security” reasons. Even then, young as I was, I wondered why my family--aunts and uncles--immigrants from Germany, had not been taken away from their homes.

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Proclamation issued by the U.S. president September, 2017, placing entry restrictions on people from mostly Muslim majority countries that government department reviews concluded presented national security risks.

In 1944 the executive order to lock up Japanese Americans had been based on one general’s report who gave the reason that “racial characteristics” of Japanese Americans predisposed them to assist Japanese forces and that it was impossible to distinguish loyal and disloyal members of that racial group. The war department and navy intelligence disagreed, saying things should be handled on an individual basis and not on a racial basis.

Nevertheless, over 100, 000 Japanese Americans were locked up. Japanese Americans fought the legality of the executive order, particularly a Mr. Korematsu, all the way to the Supreme Court, but he lost the case in 1944. In 1982, forty years after that executive order had been issued, a lawyer found government documents in dusty boxes showing there was no military reason to show Japanese Americans were a national security threat. Mass detentions and persecutions based on ethnicity and “inability to assimilate” were false to the core. The lawyer found Mr. Korematsu. He went back to court. It took a long time, but in 2011, the Justice Department finally made a confession of error in regard to the Japanese Internment camps

Today, the third version of the Muslim ban, is carefully worded, to say there are national security concerns, no bias; this time no religious bias. Have we not learned? Today, the bias is not hidden in dusty boxes, but open in speeches and tweets. Nevertheless, it has been disregarded by the Supreme Court. Thus the First Amendment of the Constitution is disregarded.

As I child I noticed the discrepancy between the way Japanese Americans and German (and Italian) Americans were treated on the basis of the way they looked.  Today I am deeply concerned in the discrepancy between the way people are treated on the basis of what they believe.

Justice Sotomayer yesterday read the minority dissent out loud, citing the flawed 1944 Korematsu Supreme Court case. “The United States of America is built on the Promise of religious liberty,” she said. “The Establishment Clause guarantees religious neutrality.” She added,  “The Court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle.” This third version has “morphed into a proclamation punitively based.” This new “window dressing cannot conceal an unassailable fact. . . the strong perception that the Proclamation is contaminated by the impermissible discriminatory animus against Islam and its followers.” Sotomayer also said that the ban on Muslims entering the country now “masquerades behind a fa├žade of national security concerns.” The First Amendment “embodies our nation’s deep commitment to religious plurality and tolerance.”

Chief Justice Roberts renounced Justice Sotomayer for citing the 1944 erroneously decided case.  Before yesterday Korematsu’s individual conviction had been overturned and he had received an apology from the Justice Department but the ruling still technically stood. However yesterday Chief Justice Roberts issued a one-line sentence finally overruling the Korematsu Supreme Court ruling.

How ironic.  I would like to believe that today’s decisions could prevent us from repeating tragic mistakes from the past. Can the concentration camps of my childhood really be gone? What about the belief that some people cannot assimilate? Should they? And will we always try to keep out others based on race, religion, ethnicity? What else? Accept executive orders for national security reasons? Will we continue to disregard facts because of our fears?

Friday, June 22, 2018

In Christ We Have Strength for a Long Attention Span

I have been watching this nation’s outrage over separation of immigrant children from their parents. Individuals, mayors, lawyers, church leaders—even corporations--and more have spoken and acted forcefully. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services was interviewed on TV. In the midst of this administration’s cruelty and incompetency, I have been heartened that it is still possible in this democracy for people to force at least some seemingly temporary change in government policy. Freedom of the press still exists although there are so many more layers of secrecy to be uncovered.

So what now? President Trump this morning said that Republicans were “wasting their time” on immigration and should put it off until after the November elections. We are told some children have been reunited with their parents. “Oh, good,” we might say to ourselves. “That’s a relief. Things will soon be fine again.” Really?

Will we so easily move on? After all, we are known for having a fast news cycle and short attention span. Could we be tempted by Melania Trump’s strategically ambiguous jacket back message, “I really don’t care. Do U?”

The issues of immigration are just so complex. “Zero Tolerance” sounds so simple compared to deep compassion. “Believing the Bible” on “obeying the government” seems easier than walking with Jesus in the midst of all kinds of people in pain. But Jesus kept on walking.  He went from village to village, encountering needs, facing opposition, finally to arrest and the cross.

Then disciples were tempted to turn away, give up, get on with their own lives. But the faithful women who came to the tomb with no expectations of success over deathly actions, were shown that Jesus rose again.

So we walk on with Jesus, all the way. There are so many more complexities to come: reunification of thousands; the rise of the private prison industrial complex; refugee issues not just on our southern border, but globally; violence in Central America.  And what about gun violence in the United States? And those brave high school students who this Spring were challenging change: #NeverAgain?  And? And?

In Christ we have the strength for a long attention span.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

June 5 and 6 1968 and 2018: Hope in the Darkness

So many thoughts and feelings swirl around my head and heart that I don’t know where to start this June 5 and 6. Fifty years ago Bobby Kennedy won the California Democratic Primary June 5 and then was assassinated, dying June 6. Two million people lined the railroad tracks for his funeral procession from New York City to Washington D.C., all races and economic classes, honoring a man whom they saw as being able to bridge divisions, and bring hope in that dark and dangerous 1968. Over 4000 gather today in Arlington Cemetery to remember and ponder “hope.”

It’s dark in Mason City, Iowa, this morning, the kind of day one wants to just pull the covers over one’s head and refuse to feel or face 2018. What do you make of the news? A Supreme Court decision and the ongoing question of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  The Philadelphia Eagles? Invitation to the White House and presidential preoccupation with popularity. Honoring the nation and the flag by kneeling out of commitment to justice for all. Pardoning oneself or service for others? Children of immigrants and refugees separated from their parents as an incentive for their parents to not come to this country. Primary elections, here in Iowa, and yes, again on June 5 in California.

June 6: D Day 1944. A day that changed the world. Our nation together with its allies risking all in service that turned the tide of WW II. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. In 1968, the United States struggled over the Viet Nam War and we were torn apart over racial and economic inequality.  And 2018? Do we understand what is at stake in nuclear negotiations globally? Do we believe trade wars with allies protect our “God-given” national identity? Do we comprehend the necessity of a vital United Nations as much today as after WW II? Do we daily kneel and listen and work to understand each other across racial divides?

So we wonder. Issues swirl around. Is there an absence of hope? An anxiety? An apathy? What will the November 5th election results mean? In some places there were large turnouts; in some places fewer than 100 people in a county voted.

June 5: the 58th anniversary of my consecration as a deaconess. That day I made a commitment to faith and service in Christ for a lifetime. What would that mean? I would not fully know. We cannot know, but God knows and continues to call us. The days have been dark before and divisions dangerous. We pray for wisdom for the choices that are before us these days and for the courage and energy to live into the challenges together.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Distant Relatives! What Does That Have to do with Pentecost?

Jackie, my first cousin, came with her mother to my daddy’s funeral in 1950 when I was 11. That was probably the only time Jackie and I ever saw one another. She, oldest of nine children, lived in Texas; I in Iowa.  Separated by time and space.

Distant relatives. Pentecost.

Jackie died May 4 at the age of 93. Pentecost is Sunday.

Relatives: people “like us.” Pentecost: strangers, gathered from great distances in one place.

DeeDee, a closer relative, sent me Jackie’s obituary and funeral home video from Alto, Texas. I saw pictures of Jackie, for the first time. I didn’t know her; didn’t know as a young woman she sang on  a half-hour radio program in Chicago. I didn’t know she and her husband worked manufacturing airplanes during World War II.

I viewed the video of pictures spanning childhood through the many decades of her life. I related, from a distance. In her face I recognized familiar faces in my family: Aunt Helen, Aunt Ruth, Aunt Dorothy, cousins Beverly, Shirley, Mary, and more.  I met Jackie and also said good-bye and saw that hers was a life of laughter and love.

Throughout my lifetime in the Church I have often wondered, “How is it that we keep connected through the years to brothers and sisters in the faith, people who are not our relatives?  People whose faces do not resemble ours at all?”

Pentecost.  The Church is not a genetic family who look only like us. Church is more than family. It is a Communion.

Acts: When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.
The crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
This Jesus God raised up and all of us are witnesses. 
All who believed were together and had all things in common.
And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The disciples were surprised.

I’ve often wondered in awe . . .

God creates. God relates.  And God continues to broaden the communion, binding us together in Jesus Christ.  The Spirit surprises us with people who may not resemble us at all, but joins us through adoption, refugee resettlement, immigration, and global justice. In what language are we to listen? What political issue do we need to understand? Whose facial feature is so different and yet heart so similar? I wonder. This Pentecost I may just meet some hungry people who feed the non-hungry? A whole congregation who breaks bread together with glad and generous hearts.

I thank God for Jackie’s life. And I stand in awe.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Five ELCA Women Bishops Elected and Re-Elected!

A powerful weekend of re-elections and elections of five women as synod bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ann  Svennungsen of Minneapolis Synod. Shelley Wickstrom as bishop of Alaska. Election of the first African Descent bishop Patricia Davenport in Southeastern Pennsylvania, election of the second African Descent bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld of South Central Wisconsin, and election of Sue Brineras bishop in Southwest Texas. The Holy Spirit is up to something! Let's dance with her! Congratulations to all!

Friday, April 13, 2018

When We Live in the Midst of History, What Are We Called to Do?

When we live in the midst of history, between the times, we question, doubt and are confused. We live between Easter and Ascension Day, this year April 1 and May 10. We know what happened on Pentecost and after, but the disciples did not. All they knew was that after his suffering, Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples, appearing to them during forty days, telling them not to leave Jerusalem and to wait (Acts 1).

This year we live between the 50th anniversaries of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, April 4, and June 6, 1968. Looking back, we realize that year was full of turmoil and uncertainty. On March 31 Lyndon B. Johnson, embroiled in the Viet Nam War, announced, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”
On April 3, King delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and made plans for a march to be held on April 5. But the evening of April 4 at age 39 he was shot.
During Holy Week 1968 the nation was swept up in grief and anger, named riots. Around 3,500 people were injured, 43 were killed and 27,000 arrested. Would this nation, as violently divided as it had been since the Civil War, survive? We did not know.
Just weeks earlier, the Kerner commission established to investigate the 1967 riots, provided explanations for the deadly upheavals. “Segregation and poverty have created a destructive environment.” “What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” After a summer of turmoil, political uncertainty and violence, Richard Nixon was elected president in November.
I heard a young reporter ask last week, “Were the riots worth it?” That’s not the question.  Any more than “Is the fatigue of the daily news stories unfolding today worth it?” or “Was the disciples’ uncertainty during those 40 days called for?” When you are in the midst of history unfolding, you don’t know what to think or do or feel. Riots were not the plan to be deemed later “worth it” or not. They were the context.
The Fall of 1973 was another such time. I remember it well. October 20 became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus resigned in the same night after refusing Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor appointed to lead the investigation into Nixon’s reelection campaign. News media that night worried on-air about our national Constitutional crisis.
After two years of bitter public debate over the Watergate scandals, President Nixon on August 8, 1974, bowed to pressures from the public and leaders of his party to become the first President in American history to resign. While the President acknowledged that some of his judgments "were wrong," he made no confession of the "high crimes and misdemeanors" with which the House Judiciary Committee charged him.

How do we live in the in-between time, when history is being made?

We live, meanwhile, with the complexities of our daily lives, personal, professional, familial, and ecclesial.

During the uncertainties of the national Constitutional crisis: “How will this turn out?” a Lutheran Church Body, the schism in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod unfolded. The New Orleans convention was in the summer of 1973. On Jan 21, 1974, the students of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis voted 274-92 to “walk out” (until the church body declared which of their professors were being considered false teachers). Then followed the faculty walk out and the beginning of the “Seminary in Exile.”

Lives were changed. Lives are changed. History is changed. How? How do we know? That schism may have contributed eventually to the formation of the ELCA, joining together of the LCA, ALC, and AELC (outcasts of LCMS) in 1988.

What if Johnson had decided to run again? What if King had not been assassinated at age 39? What if Robert Kennedy had been able to win the democratic nomination and Nixon had not won the election in 1968?

What if the disciples had not waited together in Jerusalem, but had scattered?

How do we live in the in-between time, when history is being made?

I, too, have a hard time watching/listening to the news each day. And, to which news stream do I turn? There were fewer channels in 1968; all showed the same pictures of over 100 cities burning.

The disciples were called to wait together in the city of Jerusalem.

Today IS a difficult time, a dangerous time. Investigations, special counsels, constitutional issues, questions: “What is truth?” Indictments, firings, resignations, primaries, mid-term elections, campaign financing. How will this all turn out?  Trade wars or not? Diplomacy or not? Nuclear escalation or not? Bravado. Fear. Can’t we just turn the page of history and find out?

But we are called to live in the midst of history. To wait, yes.  But also, to watch, and to be peace-making, community-building, equality-seeking, truth-telling, witness-bearing, radical Christ-is-alive living disciples. Pentecost is May 20.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Holy Week to be Freed from Our Foolish Gun-Killing Ways

2018 Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday Procession into Jerusalem coincides with a Valentine’s Day Mass Shooting to yesterday’s March into Washington, D.C.  This year’s Lenten journey of repentance led surprisingly, but surely not unexpectedly, to a “March for Our Lives.”
         This afternoon is the funeral service for my beloved colleague and friend of almost four decades, the Rev. Dr. Ralph Quere, Professor Emeritus of Church History and Theology at Wartburg Theological Seminary. Among his many gifts, Ralph devoted special attention to ministries with youth and to the work of evangelism for the contemporary world.
          This weekend Burton and I are caring for two youth of our own, 11 and 13-year old Jackson and Jennaya Everist, with whom, in our Mason City blizzard, we watched the marches on TV (more than 800 around the world). Jackson and Jennaya processed with Palms in church this morning. The connection was not lost on them. Jennaya prayed at lunch for the marchers and that the voices raised by youth against gun violence might be heard by legislators.
         Ralph Quere, as an historian and teacher of Lutheran Confessions, was never surprised by the human condition of cruelty and violence. And he was always a man of deep faith and great hope. His passion for youth blends with my absolute joy in hearing the voices of youth yesterday. The newscasters who covered the story all day Saturday, for the most part, dropped adult commentary, and let the youth talk. It was good news indeed. Amid excruciating suffering, with clarity and perseverance, the youth spoke. The youth organizers engaged social media—yes—and involved intersectionality. Youth of all colors and economic backgrounds are killed in schools, and on the streets outside of school, and at home. The Lutheran Confessions remind us there are not bad guys with guns and good guys who should buy guns to shoot the bad guys with guns. There are not bad neighborhoods and good neighborhoods. We need to be liberated from a killing culture.
        On this Palm Sunday, with a Lent which began with an Ash Wednesday on a deathly Valentine’s Day, we are bid to ponder deeply, and be ready to be awakened from our foolish ways on April 1st. Easter! Resurrection. Christ is alive.  Ralph Quere lives eternally. We are called to live and to serve and to act and to march for our lives—everyone’s life.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March for Our Lives

NOW! I'm a member of the Silent Generation proud to stand with the students of this generation and the "March for Our Lives" to end gun violence happening right now in Washington D.C., 800 places around the U.S. and the world. It's so important to unite the movement to change the gun culture in order to make schools safe AND the streets, and homes and all communities. We're in this for real change. Now.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"We Know you are a Great Country and that You Can Change"

Last week I had the privilege of speaking (via Zoom) with a class on leadership at the Presbyterian College, University of McGill School of Religious Studies in Montreal, Quebec.  At the end of our engaging conversation on the book, Transforming Leadership (Everist and Nessan) which the students in Montreal had been using as a textbook, I mentioned the Parkland school shooting and how much we could learn from Canada in terms of gun violence. In poignant words they responded with care but also with concern. “We know you are a great country and that you can change.”

Likewise, the Australian delegation, including the prime minister, visiting the United States this week, also noted their care and concern for the United States. They noted how after the horrendous Port Arthur massacre in 1996 that country adopted sweeping reforms to that country’s gun laws.

After a massacre at Dunblane Primary School, Scotland, in 1996, there have been no school shootings in the UK. Gun restrictions now are much, more strict. Children feel safe in school.
Today Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of America’s largest sporting goods retailers, is immediately ending its sales of assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines. They will also require customers buying firearms to be at least 21 years old.  Many businesses are ending their relationships with the NRA. People can make change happen.
This is a great nation, but not one without flaws. To admit that amidst our prominence we have things to learn from other countries may be our most hopeful promise. Those who may admire us also see our glaring, deadly, problems. We can change! They see this. I was humbled by those words from the class in Montreal.
And we hear that from the students in Parkland, Florida. Do you notice they do not refer to their school as just “Douglas High?” That made me wonder just who was this woman after whom the school was named
 Marjory Stoneman Douglas (April 7, 1890 – May 14, 1998) was an American journalist, author, women's suffrage and civil rights advocate, and conservationist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development. She became a freelance writer, publishing over a hundred short stories. Her most influential work was the book The Everglades: River of Grass(1947), which redefined the Everglades as a treasured river instead of a worthless swamp. Its impact has been compared to that of Rachel Carson's influential book Silent Spring (1962).
Marjory Stoneman Douglas lived to 108 and received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Perhaps the students returning today to the high school named in her honor have received some of her eloquence, persistence, and outspoken political advocacy for the public good.  We can learn. We can change.