Friday, March 22, 2013

Holy Week Words from President Obama's Speech in Jerusalem

President Obama went to Israel as the celebration of Passover nears and as Holy Week begins for Christians. So quickly President Obama flew to the Middle East and back. Here are some excerpts from his speech in Jerusalem that deserve a longer look:

President Obama recalled the story from Hebrew Scriptures: It’s a story of centuries of slavery, and years of wandering in the desert; a story of perseverance amidst persecution, and faith in God and the Torah. It’s a story about finding freedom in your own land. But it’s also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering, but also all of its salvation.

It’s a part of the three great religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-- that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred. And it’s a story that’s inspired communities across the globe, including me and my fellow Americans. To African Americans, the story of the Exodus was perhaps the central story, the most powerful image about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity -- a tale that was carried from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement into today.

On Shared Struggle: I bring with me the support of the American people -- and the friendship that binds us together.

We know that here on Earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle. As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” So Just as Joshua carried on after Moses, the work goes on for all of you, the Joshua Generation, for justice and dignity; for opportunity and freedom.

For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. That’s why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea -- the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.

Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa.

On Diversity: America is a nation of immigrants. America is strengthened by diversity. America is enriched by faith. We are governed not simply by men and women, but by laws. So in Israel, we see values that we share, even as we recognize what makes us different. That is an essential part of our bond.

I stand here mindful that for both our nations, these are complicated times. We have difficult issues to work through within our own countries, and we face dangers and upheaval around the world.

And that’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. And today, I want to tell you -- particularly the young people -- so that there's no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America -- Atem lo levad. You are not alone.

About Peace: First, peace is necessary.  I believe that peace is the only path to true security. The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. That is true.

The only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war. Peace will have to be made among peoples, not just governments.

Peace is also just. The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.

There is an opportunity; there’s a window. My third point: Peace is possible. I'm not saying it's guaranteed. I can't even say that it is more likely than not. I know it doesn’t seem that way. There are always going to be reasons to avoid risk. There are costs for failure. There will always be extremists who provide an excuse not to act.

I know there must be something exhausting about endless talks about talks. I'm sure there's a temptation just to say, “Ah, enough. Let me focus on my small corner of the world and my family and my job and what I can control.” But it's possible.

I ask you to think about what can be done to build trust between people. That's where peace begins -- not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people. Not just in some carefully designed process, but in the daily connections -- that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

Look to a future in which Jews and Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land. I am hopeful that we can draw upon what’s best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come; to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war; and to do the work of repairing this world. That’s your job. That’s my job. That’s the task of all of us.

President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem needs to be remembered during holy seasons and beyond. Whether or not his trip was a “success” may depend upon his words taking root in the Holy Land and beyond.  A brief trip, but words at the airport brokering a telephone call, re-established diplomatic relationships between Israel and Turkey. Words have power.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Who Becomes Pope Matters to the Rest of Us

 Two years before Vatican II, I was consecrated a Lutheran deaconess. My uncle, a Roman Catholic, could not come to the service because he believed his church would not permit it. A week ago, I, now an ordained Lutheran pastor and seminary professor, was guest lecturer at a Roman Catholic University in Florida celebrating the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.  How things have changed!  Vatican II helped usher in a time of ecumenical dialog with churches of the Reformation.

So why talk about Vatican II at a time when cardinals meet in Rome to choose a new pope? Because their choice matters to the rest of us. Oh, not the way news coverage often gives the impression: as though the pope of the Roman Catholic Church were the leader of all Christian church bodies.  He is not. Rather because the leadership of any faith body impacts the way all religions do or do not interact respectfully and productively for the common good of the world.

Our family lived in inner city New Haven, Ct. during the 1960’s where “living room dialogs” between Protestants and Roman Catholics on how to put faith into action led to establishing Christian Community Action, which to this day provides help, housing and hope to those who are poor in New Haven.

The Schools of Theology of Dubuque, including Acquinas Institute (Roman Catholic), the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (Presbyterian) and Wartburg Theological Seminary (Lutheran), after students and faculty worked together to hold back the flooding waters of the Mississippi River, became one of the first ecumenical theological consortiums in the world.
Each October people walk for CROP (Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty), appreciating one another and the fact that we of many faiths can do much together to say “no” to the injustice of hunger. On Thanksgiving Eve people join together in Dubuque for an interfaith service. The offering supports PIN (People in Need).  

Dubuque Area Christians United is now Dubuque Area Congregations United, becoming interfaith.  The mission: “Through prayerful dependence on God and respectful cooperation with each other, we will make a difference in our world by fostering an awareness and understanding of human need.”
Change is not without resistance, however. Forces of fear push back. We Lutherans speak not just about the Reformation but about being an ongoing reforming church, particularly toward justice and peace.  And there are still promises of Vatican II to be realized. That historic three-year assembly (1962-1965) would change the way the Roman Catholic Church viewed themselves, their church and the rest of the world.

The Reformation and Vatican II breakthroughs provided radical new possibilities for all kinds of people to serve within the church and to make significant vocational contributions to society. There was a break from reliance on authority in a person’s determining what to think and what to do in the world. 
The restoration of unity among all Christians was one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXIII said that the unity of the Church was the compelling motive for his calling the Council.

Today our challenge is not more narrow, but even more broad.  I often say, whether in the classroom, a faith community, a neighborhood, city, or the world itself, “How do we set and maintain trustworthy environments for us to be difference together?” How do we appreciate a healthy pluralism where leaders encourage and empower people of faith to become actors in the drama of being agents of change for the sake of the world?

Pope John XXIII said frequently that he convened the council because he thought it was time to open the windows and let in some fresh air. For some that became a gale force. The changes didn’t stop when the Mass ended. Women and men in religious orders started taking on causes. It hasn’t stopped. This summer Nuns on the Bus rolled across this country calling for just economic policies.
We live in a time when people in the public sphere both watch and reject religious leaders. The role of clerical leadership in the community has been redefined. Today the greatest gift leaders--parish pastors, diaconal ministers, bishops--can bring is a sense of God’s calling to serve our neighbors, working together with leaders of other faith communities, non-profit organizations and the network of civic leadership.

More challenges call. For example, the new group, a "Culture of Nonviolence Coalition," including people from a wide variety of Dubuque religious and community groups met for just the third time last Saturday, discerning which actions to take at the local, state and federal level to address our culture of violence.

What ecumenical and interfaith experiences are you part of today? What challenges lie before us as we are called to work together in a world in need of justice and healing?