Friday, October 28, 2011

The Most Important Issue Not Being Talked About

So many issues unfolding in front of us each day that they may overwhelm our ability to deeply consider them, much less to take action. And all are important, particularly as they intersect in the public world. But one I see so little about amongst all the "Your Voice, Your Vote" commentaries on political candidates, is all of those people who are daily losing their vote.

The Voting Rights bill of the 1960's finally permitted people of color who had been denied the vote since the inception of this nation, to vote. People worked so hard, organized, were beaten, went to jail and died so that all could vote. It never occurred to many of us that those rights might be legally taken back just a few decades later. This very year in dozens of states laws are being passed to insist on voter I.D. That all sounds innocent enough, perhaps even noble. I mean, who wouldn't want to prevent voter fraud? But the truth is that "voter fraud" is a bogeyman. One is more likely to be hit by lightning than to commit voter fraud. The Bush administration spent 5 years investigating voter fraud and convicted only 86 people among 196 million votes cast.

So why are all these states passing laws that will disenfranchise millions? Some estimate 5 million people who voted in 2008 will not be able to vote in 2012 and the number is climbing of those being disenfranchised. They are people who don't have a driver's license. That already targets the young, the old, the poor (who don't have a car), and those people living with disabilities.

Hear the story of the 90-some-year-old woman who has voted in every election except one when she was ill, since women were able to vote. More elections than almost any of the rest of us. She has been a faithful citizen, exercising her voice and vote in the public world. But in 2012 she will not be able to vote. She took all of her documentation including birth certificate, records of utility bills paid at her current address, etc. to the center where she was to go to obtain a new special I.D. card. But she didn't have her marriage license from decades ago which showed her change of name. No matter she has been a widow for years. She had a stellar voting record but now she was denied the right to vote next year.

Why would anyone want to deny this woman the vote? Why are people of color being denied I.D. cards for such technicalities at such great rate?(I'm not even commenting on the issue of the political party in power in various state legislatures.) It's my guess that it might be connected to what has been on the news since the 2010 census, that the "majority" whites population may someday become the minority. People fear the "other" and demographics are changing. The country feared what would happen if half the population, namely women, were "allowed" to vote. People feared "Negroes" being "given" the vote a hundred years after emancipation. In 2008 eligible Latino voters were 9.5% of the population (up from 8.2%); eligible African-American voters were ll.8% (up from ll.6%); eligible Asian-American voters were 3.4% (up from 3.3%); eligible White (non-Latino)voters were 73.4% (down from 75.2%) Looking at those figures, one should still ask, "What do white folks have to fear?" But fear has its own power.

There is nothing so fundamental to democracy than the right to vote. For citizens of voting age, voting is a right,not a privilege, not something a voter should need to prove again and again. If someone votes unlawfully, that is a crime which can be prosecuted. As a nation the price of freedom is leaving open the possibility some will break the law (but we have seen how small that number is) in order that we not deny millions their right to vote.

So, what can we, who have a driver's license and find voting easy, do? One, honor that right and use it. And, I might say, reflect on just how hard it might be for us to find all those "correct" documents, marriage license, etc, particularly when the list for some targeting people keeps changing and growing of what is needed.

Second, it means that as part of our vocation in the public world we need to aggressively scrutinize new laws or laws being proposed in our state legislatures that have the potential to disenfranchise people. If the laws are there, we can reach out to people within our faith communities and beyond..often the invisible ones...who may be disenfranchised without their even knowing it, or who have never had the means or transportation to register to vote. We can help them find documents, take them to register, advocate on their behalf.

Third, we can contact U.S. Attorney General Holder and say we want the Justice Department to be active on this issue. And we can...this may be most in our own states to overturn such laws or stop them from being enacted.

Fourth, we can put pressure on the media to make this a story, NOW. It will be too late when come next November, the day after the election, the news media finally, "surpringly" say, "There were millions who tried to vote and couldn't"

And, yes there are other very important issues in the news, and in our lives. Perhaps some who are reading this are participating in the "Occupy Wall Street" and "The 99%" protests. How do we grow protests into a movement?

And, there is the PBS series "Women, War and Peace" with two more episodes. Extraordinary and terribly important. Why do we need women's voices? Here's why.

And, and, and.....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Connecting Communities for the Common Good

I was privileged yesterday to attend here in Dubuque, Iowa, at the Northeast Iowa Community College Town Clock Center "Connecting Communities for the Common Good" with representatives from President Obama's Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office. This was held in conjunction with Obama's Rural Economic Forum at NICC's Peosta campus just outside of Dubuque earlier in the day. What a privilege to be with these nine fine people in panel presentations and later for informal conversation at a reception at Loras College.

And what a change from the "Faith Based Initiatives" emphases of the Bush administration. J. David Kuo in the book, "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction," some years ago went to Washington wanting to use his Christian faith to end abortion, strengthen marriage and help the poor. Kuo said he reached the heights of political power. But after three years of being second in command in the President’s Office of Faith Based And Community Initiatives he found himself helping to manipulate religious faith for political gain. (J. David Kuo, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, New York: Simon and Shuster, 2006.)

Yesterday was entirely different. In this administration we have an invitation to real partnerships in a religiously plural nation. Perhaps 150 to 200 people representing many faith communities and non-profit organizations were present. Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary, USDA's Office of Rural Development said, "Thank you for your expressions of your faith." The mayor of Dubuque, Roy Buol and the interim president of NICC, Dr. Liang Wee, told of how the city and the college have grown to be places where diversity and collaboration for the common good are welcomed and appreciated.

Alexia Kelley, Deputy Director, and John Kelly, Senior Policy Advisor, for the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships set the tone. I added my voice and was thanked by many in saying that there are millions of Christians that do not have the cross and the flag all tangled up. We need to work together to create a trustworthy place for us to be different together.

So, why is it that the narrative that receives all the press is the one where presidential candidates blatantly profess this is and should be a "Christian" nation where capitalism rules and the poor are left behind? Ray Suarez in his book "The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America" makes clear that Christianity is not an American religion and that the American state is not necessarily Christian. The appropriation of American symbols by the conservative Christian right is a dangerous trend internally and certainly externally. When people in the Middle East hear this kind of talk it's no wonder they assume democratization means Christianization(Ray Suarez, The Holy Vote:The Politics of Faith in America. New York: Harper, 2007)

At the reception we talked about the need for a new narrative. Due to its beginnings under the Bush administration, "Faith-Based" to many means efforts of convert to Christianity under the auspices of the government. Lutherans and many Christian denominations have a much more healthy view of the relationship of church and state. In a pluralistic society we need to have institutional separation and functional interaction. See John R. Stumme and Robert W. Tuttle, Church and State: Lutheran Perspectives. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003. It’s religious pluralism that makes us strong.

So, how do we do that? How do we connect people in our communities for conversation and work together for the common good? I strongly encourage leaders of faith communities to explore the website or phone 202-456-3394. There they will find connections to 13 centers. Faith-Based and Neighborhood representatives of some of these centers were with us yesterday: Max Finberg, Director, US Department of Agriculture Center; Mara Vanderslice Kelly, Acting Director, Department of Health and Human Services Center; Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director, Department of Education Center; Jerry Flavin, Director, Small Business Administration Center, Terry Monrad, Executive Office, Department of Homeland Security Center. Also prsent were Doug O'Brien, Deputy UnderSecretary, USDA's Office of Rural Development, and Terry Sullivan, Small Business Development Center for Dubuque.

How do we make sure children in our communities are well nourished? How can churches and the government work together so that when school is out in the summer children do not go hungry? How can churches and the Small Business Administration work together in a small town to help people without jobs start a new business? How can leaders of faith communities, government and non-profits coordinate efforts in times of natural disaster? All of these partnerships are welcome and needed. As people of many faiths we can and need to work together. And we need to tell these stories. We need a new public narrative of what people of faiths (plural!) in America are doing together. Who will tell this story?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The River Just Kept Running

The river just kept running all night through our back yard last Wednesday. It had begun simply enough. As I left the seminary about 5 o'clock, the seminary president and I exchanged common thoughts, "Do you think it will rain?" "I don't know. Perhaps."

And then it started about 7:00 p.m. There were the on-and-off-again tornado warnings...which we do heed! Down to our lower level inside hallway Burton and I would go. The warnings finally stopped but the thunder and lightning continued until past dawn. And the rain. Too soon the river of water started across Fremont Avenue to the East when the catch basin there overflowed, forcing all that neighborhood of water into ours. The stream became a river perhaps 40 feet wide. The force was too great for the city storm drain out back and soon the rush of water could have drowned small children. It rushed on over the drain, through the neighborhood and finally to the ravine and railroad tracks beyond. When it was over the 6 inch record for Dubuque had been shattered by l0 to 14 inches throughout the Dubuque area, with East Dubuque particularly hard hit.

Well, when a river runs through your yard all night one can expect that the waters will also come inside. Burton had been awakened and he stayed awake all night. Now, on this fourth day since, the carpets are finally drying out. I need not go into the details of books and papers drying out and all the rest of the clean-up work. All of this is nothing compared to Joplin...or to the droughts for that matter in Texas and Oklahoma we saw just two weeks ago. Yes, this spring meant our needing a new roof because of hail and now a flood. But still, even when the river just kept running, we were ok.

Not so with the more vulnerable. The national news focuses on the debt ceiling crisis. The "clock" just keeps running. How we view the coming deluge is important. How we hear the warning alarms. It is not simply the thunderous noise of politician voices. There is real danger here, for the most vulnerable. A debate is not just neutral when those with the power (money) can keep the vulnerable oppressed. The river that ran through our property simply followed a course to the sea. There are those with any power they can hold on to whose agenda it is to make sure wealth stays with the few, to have government that protects the weak fail and to see that a president that stands for justice is soon out of office.

Now if that sound harsh, consider the figures that came out this week: Whereas Blacks and Hispanics had been gaining in income and "wealth" in relation to Whites, the river of injustice just keeps running, seeking a new course that is devastating, right through people's homes and lives. Now "whites" have 20 times more wealth than Blacks. An article in the Jamaica Observer this Sunday, July 31 written by a woman in the Caribbean diaspora shows how the world sees the disparity. And the world is watching, not just the debate over the debt ceiling, but how the rivers of injustice just keep rolling through our land. Yes, it was a good thing that finally Blacks could share in the American Dream of home ownership, but when the housing crisis came it is now clear, at least to the minorities who suffer, that they were the ones most oversold with sub prime mortgages; they were the ones most likely forced to abandon their homes; and those who were renters lost the roofs over their head not because of hail but because their landlords could not pay the mortgages. Add to that the higher rate of job loss and long-term unemployment and we see the river of injustice just keep running.

Our waters have gone down. We will be fine. How can we carry on the conversation and work so that all will be?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chairs at the Feet of God

We walked the lawn of the "Field of Empty Chairs" at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum this morning where on April 19, 1995, 168 people, including 19 children, were killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. The empty chairs, the reflecting pool, the "Survivor Tree" are beautiful. (I had been here once before, when there was just the wire fence with memorials surrounding the vacant space.) The scene that day was grusome. And terror, violence, rages on.

Therefore the statement of the memorial is profoundly important:
"We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."

Yesterday we heard stories of survivors and of the education and outreach offered so that people might find alternatives to violence, from bullying to bombing. More needs to be done, of course. I remember so well, the first reaction of this nation: the assumption that the terrorists were from outside the United States, not from within. How far have we yet to go in learning to understand one another? In respect? And yet, I could not but respect this community of Oklahoma City for coming together to have conversation in the public world through empty chairs. May we the living sit down together on chairs for conversations of compassion and compromise in our mutual search for peace and justice.

I use the plural "we" because I am attending DOTAC, Diakonia of the Americas and the Caribbean, which meets every four years, this year, here in Oklahoma City with the theme, "Chairs at the Feet of God." Each of the days we focus on: worshipping chairs, listening chairs, working chairs, resting chairs, and sending chairs.

There are fifteen members groups of deacons, deaconesses and diaconal ministers, including Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, and United Churches from Canada, the United States, Brazil and the Caribbean. This is the fifth such conference I have attended, seeing old friends and new. (Also every four years...therefore two years in between...Global Diakonia meets.) My husband Burton is as eager to attend as am I. Each time I am deepened in my commitment to servanthood ministry, strengthened by the stories of the services of my brother and sister diaconal ministers, and inspired for service to Christ. Diaconal ministry bridges church and world. Once again the conversations across the hemisphere draw us to the feet of God and sends us forth into the public world.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Conversations with my dentist and Jennaya

I’m a gagger! And my dentist of a number of decades knows that. Nevertheless he persists in caringly giving me the dental service I need. This morning, needing work done because of a broken tooth, while waiting for the gums to numb up after his injections, I told him I appreciated his care and that I trusted him, particularly because I gag. “I imagine there are some people who are afraid to come to you.” “Yes,” he said. We talked a bit about trust. And I commented that it’s that way in ministry, too. People need to trust you so that they can open up and tell you what’s really on their hearts so that you can serve them. “Yes, open up,” he said. We both caught the phrase that crossed over our diverse ministries in daily life. We need people to “open up” for us to do our work.

It was time for me to close (my mouth)again so he could proceed. But not before I had noted that pastors need to be careful not to make assumptions about what they will find “inside." People who may seem to “have it all together” may have deep wounds and those who come looking quite disturbed may not be so deeply distressed after all. He continued, both with his work with hands in my mouth, and with a continuing comment of his own: “I find, that, too. I may make pre-judgements about which people really care about taking care of their own health and which ones are too busy. And often I'm surprised.”

We carried on our conversations, across disciplines, his denstistry, mine theology, and found not only new meaning, new ways of conversing, but also new insights about each of our ministries.

My conversation with Jennaya took place across generations. For her 7th birthday, I for the first time put actual dollar bills in her birthday of them. The morning after the party we had a conversation about money. I don't think she's had much experience with "carrying-around" bills. She has been learning in first grade how to count, particularly dimes and quarters.

I asked her what she might do with her seven dollar? "I'm going to save it," she replied. "Good," I said. Then I went on to ask her what she knew about the things we use money for. To get started I said, "Such as for buying food...." She and I came up with quite a list, including "Paying for the house, their car," and yes, "giving to church." She knew that her offerings went to help people who needed help. And she had experienced her family giving her baby bed to a family that needed it.

But I was a bit surprised when she added to our list, "For work." I said, "For work? But, people pay us for the work we do." She quickly corrected me, "My teacher uses some of her money to buy things her students." She was right, of course. And then I began to think of how often people, including myself actually, do use money to spend on our work." Her own parents, also teachers do, and she has witnessed that. And, given the economy, we pay our own expenses that our institutions used to be able to pay for us.

What is money afterall? And what a privilege to be able to work, to serve, to minister in God's public world, as a seven-year-old and all of us, no matter what our generation. We learned together that morning, Jennaya and I, as we often do.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What Have You Been Talking About?

I was at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Summit, New Jersey, May 8, the week of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Summit lost many people on that September 11th day 2001. The text for the day was Luke 24:13-35. Here are my thoughts that I wove together with that text:

On that same day, that same first-day-of-the-week-day,
That same they-found-the-tomb-was-open day,
Two of them were walking along, going to their village, Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.

And they were talking,
As no doubt you were talking on this first-day-of-the week day,
As you were walking—well, probably most of you driving-- here.
As the two of us, my husband, Burton and I were talking as we drove here yesterday from Philadelphia, where, by your gracious gifts, I have been serving as the St. John’s Summit visiting professor at the Lutheran Seminary this spring semester.

So, what were you talking about?
It’s Mother’s day. Where are you having dinner? What’s been going on in your daily life this week? And, of course, what has been going on in the world? Osama Bin Laden was killed. And there are the terrible floods in the Midwest. And a child or grandchild was sick. What were you talking about?

That’s what Jesus asked, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

Important question. “There’s a bench on the campus on the campus of St Michael’s College in Burlington, Vt. With the inscription of that question from this “Walk to Emmaus” passage. “What are you talking about as you walk along together?” during those college years.

The seven-mile walk was not too long for all the things those Emmaus disciples had witnessed. Two men. One a man. One a woman? We don’t know. We do hear that one, whose name was Cleopas, answered this stranger who came near. Our text says, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing.” “Why didn’t they see the Jesus who was right there, right there, beside them?” I think the key is in the first part of the sentence, “while they were talking and discussing.” They were so busy, so distracted, so overwhelmed, they didn’t see Jesus right there.

Even though they don’t see Jesus, Jesus enters their distractions, and asks. And so they tell him. I hear in Cleopas’ voice in my own, (Maybe you hear yours, too.) Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know that’s happened there these days? About Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.
WE HAD HOPED….. that he was the one to redeem Israel.
And, and, besides all this, it’s the third day since all this happened. And moreover, some women of our group simply astounded us. They went to the tomb early this morning and when they didn’t find his body there, they came back and told us they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. And some of the rest of us went to the tomb and found it just as the women said, but they didn’t see him.

Can you imagine. Walk along side those disciples. Listen. Hear yourself in their hurried speech.
Think of some series of events in your own life. When my father died suddenly when I was 11. Or, when a collision turned your car or your life upside down. Or when those whom you thought to be your leaders did the unthinkable. Think about the global events of tornados, Tsunami. Yes September 11, 2001. We had hoped. It began as a sunny day. And then, and then… And now, and now that Osama Bin Laden is dead.....

What are you thinking about? What are you discussing? And then there are the less sudden events, the every-day-thousands die because in inequitable distribution of food, the displacement of people because of war, the reality that we in the U.S. have 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the those in prison. The injustices that continue, the complexities of global economies. The problems that just don’t seem to ever get fixed.

Do you, too, look around to see an empty tomb, but no Jesus?
A death, but where is the life? We had hoped…..

But then, right there beside them, right there beside us, not just here at the altar, not just sitting beside us here in the pew, right there beside you as you are walking along on Tuesday afternoon when you have a difficult decision to make, right there beside you on Thursday morning when your family or friend situation is so complicated, you are too worried to reach out. We had hoped it would have been different. Right there in the middle of the night, when you can’t sleep, mulling all these things over in your mind for the hundredth time, Jesus is there. Jesus the patient teacher: “He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.” Jesus the constant companion, who walked every step of the way with them.

We need that of course, Because, in the midst of things we forget, Jesus called them foolish. Not fools, but, well, they had heard Jesus talk about possible death, but they didn’t realize it could actually happen. And we, too, we’ve heard it before, but we together, need to keep walking along together, discussing, seeing Jesus right beside us. We have the great gift that this teacher who sends us out to teach, is walking right beside us as we grieve all over again and try to make sense of our daily lives, both personal and communal life together in this community, in this nation, in this world. We, yes the priesthood of all believers, the laos in ministry, have the privilege of Jesus entering our discussion. See him. Recognize him. He wants to listen to you, speak to you in the languages of your daily lives about the real things that matter so that the “We had hoped” longings might be fulfilled in him.

You know the Gospel story: He kept walking with them, all the way to the village. And then, just as it seemed he might be going on beyond them, beyond their town their village, their lives, they urged him strongly, “Stay, stay.” What did he say? “No, just forget it…you had your chance.” He went in to stay with them. All they needed to do was ask. (You hear that, don’t you.)

And yes, we, you, who gather regularly for the Lord’s supper, remember “When he was at the table with them he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Then, then they saw clearly. They recognized the one who walked beside them during their day’s journey.

And then the table time was over. But don’t focus on, “He vanished from their sight.” Then, then, they talked more to each other. Wasn’t that amazing? He was talking to us on the road and opening the Scriptures to us.

The discussion went on because they recognized the Christ in their midst. There’s so much we need to help each other comprehend so that we know what we are called to do in this world. Not just this past week, but the week before. Remember the tornadoes in the south? You saw the images on TV and the Internet, more stories than we can imagine, of people clinging to each other in Tuscaloosa Alabama. And the challenge in Cullman Alabama where every church in town was damaged or destroyed, to pick up, and clean up and rebuild where it seemed death had won and nothing but emptiness remained. But the students at the University of Alabama, classes cancelled, stayed on, to prepare and deliver thousands of meals.

In Christ, we are called to care for and can, care for one another.

President Obama visited Ft. Campbell, Kentucky Friday to say thank-you to the troops. Even closer here, he visited New York City Thursday. Low key visit, a prayer and a wreath at Ground Zero, and yes, a meal together with those first responders, in that fire house who had lost so many, eating the food prepared by the firemen themselves. They broke bread together.

And this very morning, the lower Mississippi continues to rise.

And, in your own village, household, a new baby, a mother honored, a mother remembering, a friend near death, an agonizing decision, a grievous loss. Possibilities realized, and hopes devastated. We had hoped.

What are you talking about with each other? Are you continuing to open the Scriptures with each other? Are you opening the book of faith? St. John’s, Summit, New Jersey, has a long history of connecting faith and life around the catechism in lifelong learning. Jesus is here, in you and you and you, as close as your brother and sister in Christ, ready to listen to those fears, and doubts and disappointments. And as you gather at the table, feeding together on Christ’s very own self, together the body of Christ is strengthened, together with the whole Christian church on earth.

That same hour those disciples, surprised that Christ opened their eyes at the table, got up and walked those seven miles back to Jerusalem and found their companions. Jesus opened their eyes. Jesus opens our eyes so that we can open our doors to the world, unafraid, bold, caring, courageous. What are you talking about as you have conversations about the Church's vocation in the public world? Where are you going? Christ is already out there. Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed.” “Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Greater Works Than These

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

We say those words, and we believe them. In reflecting on John's Gospel, and specifically on 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 and John 14: 8-14, I've been pondering our calls to ministry in the public world, particularly when we move from place to place. I have been in Philadelphia this spring, teaching at the ELCA seminary here, which has given Burton and myself opportunities to get out and visit places on the Eastcoast. We've spent time with old friends, and walked around where we used to live.
So, here are some reflections on scriptural words and ministry.

“If in my name you ask me anything, I will do it.”
“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
(What we will not do: refuse to minister manipulatively or falsify God’s word. We will not proclaim ourselves. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.)
“For it is the God who said: Let light shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in face of Jesus Christ.”
“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18)
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us what deeds you performed in their days”; “God knows the secrets of the heart.”; "Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.” (Psalm 44: l, 26)
So, what have you seen?

What have you heard with your ears? What have those who have labored before you told you of God’s steadfast love?
Where have you seen the light shine when there seemed utter darkness? When have you felt the light shine in your heart giving the light of the knowledge of the glory of God? And given what you have seen and, and what God in Christ has done that you have not seen, what do you believe about the now risen Jesus Christ?

Philip(we, too? )wanted more, or thought maybe he was missing something. Maybe there was more that he hadn’t even thought to ask about. Jesus: look, look right here. Right here, where you’ve been.

Believe in me Thomas and Philip and……. We can go even further with Jesus. The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these. Not that we presume to be greater than nor do greater works than Jesus, but than the works in the short time Jesus would have been ministering here on earth. But when I think about it, I cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of the works Christ has and is and will do among and through the body of Christ throughout the globe all these centuries.

Jesus in the midst of the disciples, in the midst of us here at noonday says, “In my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” We do ask, or course. We pray for those dear who are sick, who grieve, for war-torn countries. We pray diligently.
But listen: “In my name you ask for anything, I will do it.

Psalm: Our ancestors have told us what deeds you performed in their days. What will be said when we are the ancestors? What deeds did God performe in those days? What deeds live on? What deeds will live on in the ministries we have not yet done but Christ says we will?

This is way beyond our comprehension, but not beyond Jesus’ vision. This was not merely a prediction of possibility, but a statement of belief, a commitment to how ministry was to continue through the disciples, through the church, in and through us. (Risk and promise and responsibility)

What have you seen? Heard? Touched? Been touched by?

I am touched by the scene from our apartment window looking out on Germantown Ave. I don’t know where all those people going, doing. How is God among them?

And an early weekend in April my husband Burton and I went back to New Haven, Ct. where we had lived, learned and ministered for nine years, in the l970’s. Decades ago. Visitors now. Return. What would we see? What God had done there? What still exists? Change? What about ministry there—here-- will it last? Grow? Jesus says to us, “I have been with you all this time.” And we still ask. “How did you, are you, will you do in and through us these works of ministry?”

What greater works have you seen? What works of ministry seem to have faded away? How might Christ still be at work?

In New Haven we walked up Ward Street. The church building where Burton served as pastor is still there, but the parsonage, the home where we lived with our family is gone.

We were not totally surprised because a year or so ago, when there had been a murder at one of the Yale NH hospital labs near our inner city Zion congregation, we, wondering which building, had taken a Google map walk up the street and wandered onto Ward street. We had known every the family on that block. Now they and their homes were gone. Where were they? Had they been replaced, in the name of progress, gentrification? But there was a new building here now. What was it? We had zoomed in through the Google lens. It looked like a school. Our and our neighbor’s children had attended an officially condemned school across the street. We researched further and found on this land now a new charter school. So, on this spring car trip, we literally walked in. An eighth grade student gave us a tour. Questions remain, would neighborhood children really be given preference now that a “good” school replaced their old one. The work for justice continues.

And then we walked to the end of the block. Christians Community Action is still here, a store front ministry begun in the 1960’s out of ecumenical living room dialogs. Our children from Zion used to take the weekly food contributions next door to CCA after each Sunday’s offerings. These movements often die young, but CCA, still a storefront, continues to feed and house, well now thousands after almost 50 years.

And on. Sunday we worshipped where we, now the ancestors, had worshipped, at the church, now named Resurrection. Again no surprise as we have continued as mission partners through the years. But doubts and wonders and questions, and fears, of disciples of all times and all places continue. “We don’t know where you are going, Jesus, how can we know the way?” “We don’t know where this ministry will go after we’re gone; how can we ever leave?” “Lord, show us, give a guarantee that this work is of God.”

And in a few weeks we will pack up our car and travel back to Iowa and to Wartburg Seminary (without blizzard we trust). And you? Some of you will remain where you are. Some don’t have any idea about which direction to turn your steering wheel. Questions, fears, doubts. I don’t need to name them, do I? But just a little guarantee, Jesus. Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?

And, of course there are no guarantees like that. We come to places of ministry unknown; we will be unknown again. We will never be alone, even when the works of ministry seem to have disappeared. We will never be alone when overwhelmed with the newness of it all, when doors are shut, locked up and no one has thought to leave us a key. And in the midst of things when buildings and ministries are demolished in fear or in danger, Jesus comes and stands among us, “Peace be with you.” Have you believed because you have seen me? Jesus says. I am the way, the truth and the life.”

We experienced that life, that real presence at Resurrection among the people. A small number but beautifully diverse. Absolutely not one of them was unnecessary, merely audience that day, as lessons came alive in participatory worship, intermingled with people’s real life. Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and beyond.

We worshipped that Sunday night at Yale Lutheran campus ministry, which through the years has grown and waned and grown again, now lead by a campus pastor who was student with us over 35 years ago. We are graced to journey along together as disciples, to be parts of each other’s lives. We worshipped Monday morning at Yale Divinity School chapel sacred worship space during my years there as student and teacher. No one there would remember us today. It was April 4, now 2011, 43 years since death of Martin Luther King Jr. Who remembers the dream today? Surely racism…that’s long gone. But new Gospel music rang through that light-filled chapel. Let light shine out of darkness in this world which continues to invent new ways to manipulate and falsify and keep people oppressed. Guest preacher Rev. James Forbes asked,”What does the Lord Require?” Let Justice Roll. Keep on marching.
And the ministries in which you have been, are and will be engaged. Christ said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” (Risk and promise and responsibility.)

Sometimes we can’t remember where the streets were, or can’t find the place anymore or won’t recognize the ministries or be recognized. Some will fade. And in the ones that have grown, flourished, do we see the Christ in the midst? Greater works than these, Christ is yet ready to do in that out of the way place, that I don’t-know-how-to-pronounce-the-name place to which we have not even been called yet. What doubts do you have in the present about what is real? The risen Christ is real.

“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence

I stood and said the name, “Tanya Frisby.” I did not know Tanya, but she can no longer stand and say her own name out loud because she is one of 64 people who were killed through gun violence in 2010 in NW Phildelphia.

Burton and I are living in Philadelphia for four months as I serve as the St. Johns Visiting Professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where I am teaching three courses. We attended Christ Ascension Lutheran Church on Sunday and saw in the announcements in their worship folder an invitation to attend a Sunday evening “In Their Names: A Remembrance and Call to Action,” sponsored by “Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence,” an interfaith effort to prevent gun violence in the northwest neighborhoods and city.

This effort is part of a wider, “Heeding God’s Call” faith-based movement to prevent gun violence, (check out their website). One action is to meet with gun shop owners to convince them to curtail the sale of guns to straw purchases who illegally sell handguns to others, who in turn use them in crimes and disputes with deadly results. They urge gun shops to adopt a l0-point voluntary code of conduct created by Mayors from across the country.

As we gathered in the large, old First Presbyterian Church, warmed by the sites and sounds of current-day outreach ministries, this interfaith group prayed, heard poetry, were led by the young, and heard wisdom of the elders. We were challenged, inspired and called to action. And we stood, 64 of us, calling out the name of one person who had died from gun violence last year in this neighborhood.

Across this nation 85 people die each day from gun violence. There are more gun homicides in Philadelphia alone each year than in any other nation. We heard Rabbi Linda Holtzman draw us all back to the story of Cain and Abel. “Am I my brother, my sister’s keeper? When? How? What is a Keeper?” Bishop Dwayne Royster said “There’s a health care crisis in this city.” Due to tort reform, qualified physicians who can’t afford insurance have flocked out of the city. And then he told the story of a young man from the hood headed for Harvard on a full scholarship, committed to coming back to Philadelphia to be a doctor here who was gunned down and now lives in a vegetative state dependent upon medical services 24-hours a day rather than being able to serve.

We heard from Victoria Green, Chantay Love and children who had come to tell us movingly about groups they had formed out of their own need to help families of victims of gun violence, “Every Murder is Real” and the “We Live Project.” It’s all about support and education for the long term because every day new parents become “eligible” for their support group. “The bullet does not stop unless you stop it,” because families, suffer from the effects of gun violence long into the future. “Untreated trauma perpetuates violence.” The children and youth shared their commitment to simply live!... to grow up and grow old! They, and we, are committed to invest in the human spirit and teach resiliency as well as to stop gun violence.

Katie Day, professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, one of the leaders in “Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence” gave the call to action. She reminded us that 30,000 people in the United States are killed in gun related violence each year and that l20,000 to 130,000 more are injured…way, way beyond any other nation in the world. “We have accepted the unacceptable and felt powerless. We need to confess that powerlessness. Now is the time to move from lamentation and sadness and powerlessness to action.” Led by the youth we went into the fellowship hall to make signs and strengthen our partnership.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Safe Way to be Different Together

President Obama's speech at the Memorial Service in Tucson January 12th is worth watching again and again.

We were in Arizona last Saturday morning when the man with an enormous amount of ammunition took aim at his congresswoman and those who had come to meet her at a Safeway in Tucson. I felt the impact upon that state firsthand. The nation has been immersed in images and questions ever since.

What is a "safe way" for us to gather in the public world?
The congresswoman had read aloud the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution just days before on the floor of the House of Representatives: "..or the right of the people peaceably to assembly..."

Why can't we see that 2nd Amendment rights do not need to provide us more and more incentive and opportunity to kill one another?

Even before we left for Arizona I had prepared pieces for this blog posting noting that as of January 1 all Iowans now have "equal" rights to obtain gain permits, which translates into a loosening of restrictions. In the days before the end of the year 300 more people in Dubuque, Iowa, had filed for a permit. One man said, "I had been wanting a gun for a long time, and given the way things are in the world, now I can have one to protect my family and property." He may feel more secure, but I don't with at least 300 more people in Dubuque walking around with guns. Likewise the number of gun permits being issued and the sale of guns and ammunition is way up across the country since last Saturday. This provides a more safe way?

And the first bill to have come before the Arizona assembly when it reconvened after the shooting was for people to be able to have guns on college campuses. That would make us, teachers and students, more safe?

Why do we continue to back away from seriously dealing with the issue of mental illness, favoring instead a labeling of people who commit crimes when they do not have the treatment they need as "crazies" "deranged"?

All of us....all...need to give lifelong attention to our own and others' mental health. It is not a matter of "us" ("good" people) and "them" ("bad" people.) There has been much conversation (accusation) about why the shooter had not been "turned in." But to whom? Arizona's governor just last year slashed money for mental health. How can we as communities, neighborhoods, schools, cities, states and the nation, create mentally healthy communities for us to live together responsibly and well?

How can we have conversations together in the public public world that, in President Obama's words, heal and do not wound?

The president made clear that he will not ascribe vitriolic speech as the direct motive for the shootings, but the fact that the subject of our uncivil talk, our violence-inducing speech so quickly came up, shows that it is a huge problem and that we all know it. Deborah Tannen's "The Argument Culture" is an insightful book to read on the subject. A Saturday morning Phoenix newspaper (before the shooting) had as a front page headline, "Republicans Try to Shoot Down...." The end of that sentence was "Health Care Bill" but the metaphorical language was ironic given what would occur just hours later.

How do we as a nation learn from one another to act courageously for justice?
We have tragically learned how to mourn together--9/ll, Oklahoma City, Columbine, and so many more. President Obama, ever so gently and therefore powerfully, called us to prayer and beyond prayer to be and to become the nation that Christina Taylor Green imagined we were.

We were in Arizona last Saturday. And this Wednesday, Jan. 12th I was here in Dubuque, worshipping at Wartburg Seminary where I teach, when we commemorated one year since the earth quake in Haiti that killed not 6 but 316,000 people, including Wartburg's own Ben Larson. And these are the days we pray for and need to be committed to the people of the Sudan while Southern Sudanese vote for independence. And there are floods in Brazil and Queensland. And.... And...

Monday will be the 25th anniversary of Martin Lutheran King Jr. Day being a national holiday, a day here in Dubuque, and for all of us everywhere to recommit ourselves to being and acts of conversation and courage and inclusivity and non-violent change. And January 20th will be the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. We need to listen again to his "Ask not what your country can do for you but for what you can do for your country." The bookends of the week of Obama's speech and Kennedy's with King's day in between are powerful calls to us for the church to be extraordinarily contextual, and for us all as a global people to seek and to create safe ways for us to be different together in the public world.