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Dial into Silence


Perhaps you are old enough to remember or have simply seen an old radio with a tuning dial.  With deft fingers and patience, one could turn the dial slowly to eventually land on a radio station. With fine-tuning and precision, the noise and static would give way to a clear–if faint–station.

And this is analogous to prayer.  Now I grew up in a noisy church.  The electric organ would vine leaves of notes around prayers. The choir sang. The church, which is to say, the congregants, would exhort with “amen” like a boy throwing a firecracker on the pavement on the Fourth of July.  And the preacher would proclaim for well over thirty minutes and very often forty-five minutes, a sermon that now seems to me in hindsight to have been more stream-of-consciousness than a crafted commentary upon holy writ.  Church was noisy. Silence was not even a word in our theological vocabulary.

We live in a very noisy world. I am sure you have noticed this, especially during these weeks of political conventions that provide a stage for our culture’s anxiety.  The rhetoric, protests, speeches and and speeches and speeches, pelt us with words.  It is little wonder that we feel confused, agitated or simply worn out after listening to even a little bit of all this.  What to do?

Prayer and worship offer us a still point of silence.  You can listen to my sermon, Still Point,  from this past Sunday to ferret out the deeper meanings here. This week, I urge you to patiently tune the dial of your inner life until you find that still point of quiet where you are met by “the peace that passes all understanding.”  Turn off the news for a while.  Barricade yourself against the noise.  Dial into the center where, to borrow from Eliot,

the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

~See you Sunday  where silence and peace meet praise


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Race & Violence in America: A Compilation of Sorrow


How many times must we turn to one another and ask that the violence stop?  Race and violence in America is a problem. That is an understatement.  Gun violence continues to strike at the heart of our nation and yet, the idol worshippers of Moloch insist on feeding our children and their future to the Gun god.  Lay down your sword. Do not give your allegiance or your hearts to those who divide, hate and insist on violence.  There is no way to peace, peace is the way as the Fellowship of Reconciliation chants it.  Below is a compilation of statements made over the last few years that speak to these issues.

Open Letter to White Christians

The Mocking of Christ

Guns + Hatred in America

The Scourge of Gun Violence

Defying Injustice, Speaking Truth

Ferguson

Orlando

Shame on Jerry Falwell

Charleston

Baltimore

McKinney, Texas

Paris

Mourning Brooklyn Police Officers

Mr. Beck & Some Lives Matter

Order the Flags at Half Staff

Refuge in a Profanely Violent World

The State of Race in America


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The Conscience of the Nation Must Be Roused


Alton Sterling

Philando Castile

The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

~Frederick Douglass, 1852, “July 4th?”

Dallas Police Officers

Michael Krol
Brent Thompson
Patrick Zamarripa

Michael Smith

Lorne Ahrens

Our nation is in the grip of madness, a violence stoked by a variety of groups and individuals from right wing radio talk show hosts to hate groups.  Our Congress refuses to act while the citizens of this country are armed to the teeth.  Legislation is important.  Community policing is important. As, or more important, is a change of heart, what the bible calls repentance.  As we mourn yet more lives taken from their families and friends, we pray that a spiritual awakening ensues and we turn from violence as a solution to our differences and our problems.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.


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Frozen Stars and Anti-Semitism


The Republican nominee for President has now asserted that Disney used a Star of David on its marketing for the movie, Frozen.  Look, he says, same star!  Corrupt media.

This seems as good a time as any for an education about semiotics and how signs work in a network of symbols and signs.  Let’s see if I can clarify for the nominee-apparent what is obvious and apparent to everyone else.  I think I can illustrate this quite simply with reference to another religious symbol, the Cross.

So imagine a cross ensconced on a wall inside a church.  The wall is ornamented by golden mosaics. But the Cross is empty, that is, it does not have a corpus or body on it.  This immediately suggests that it is a Protestant, not a Catholic, Church.  Now imagine a Cross on fire on the front lawn of a home.  And imagine the police arresting the persons who erected that cross on the lawn and who set it aflame, accusing them of terrorism. Can you guess who is living in that home, by the way? Of course you can.   Now, imagine the arrested saying what the Republican nominee has said in so many words:  look at that Cross hanging in the Church! Same Cross!

Actually, no, that is not the same Cross.  How do we know this?  We know it by what the American anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, would argue is a “thick description” of culture and signs that helps us distinguish, say, between a twitch and a wink. So quickly let’s see what we have with the Republican nominee for President’s tweet of a  star used in reference to the “corrupt” Democratic candidate whose picture is superimposed over money. We have a star that resembles the Jewish Star of David in red, over a stack of money, next to the word corrupt.   DT now says this is no different from the star that appears next to the princess Elsa against a backdrop of blue on a Disney coloring book. Same star? How do we distinguish between a twitch and a wink, a Star of David and say, a Sheriff’s star?  The context of the network of symbols is important. And so is this:  DT lifted the image of the star and money from a fringe, white nationalist web site.  He has trafficked in tired anti-Semitic tropes that have been around forever–these also lend a thick interpretation to his tweet.  In other words, DT, we know you’re winking.

The Speaker of the House is outraged meanwhile by the refusal of the FBI or Justice Department to bring charges against the Democratic nominee for President. The Speaker forcefully asserted that the email scandal disqualifies her to be President.  I would like to hear more about that and why he believes this is the case but as importantly, I would like to ask the Speaker why the Republican nominee’s racism, misogyny, homophobia and anti-Semitism are not disqualifying?  {crickets}

Perhaps when the Speaker answers that question he would grace us with an answer as to why he refuses to pass meaningful gun legislation in the light of yet another and another murder of a Black man by police?  The NRA has asserted that arming everyone will make us safer.  Surely we can see through this as police respond in fear for the number of guns carried or perceived to be carried by citizens.  Live up to your title, Sir, and speak up.

Finally, perhaps James Dobson who has asserted that the Republican nominee is now a born-again Christian might focus his candidate on the fact that his Savior was a Jew and that his tweeting of anti-Semitic winks is an insult. Don’t hold your breath.


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A Compass and a Triptik: Navigating The Spiritual Life


I have never used a compass to navigate any journey I have undertaken but I am sure I have depended on persons –like pilots–who did use a compass.  Even without having used one, I’ve seen one and of course, I know it is important to know where East and West are, North and South, in relation to me and wherever it is I am located.

triptik1Some of you are old enough to remember Triptiks, those maps that AA A would print you with details on not only which roads to take in your route to your destination but also warnings on construction and advice on speed traps.  Those were useful but of course were overtaken by Mapquest in the dawning internet age and now, of course, GPS systems we carry in our pockets on our phones.

Getting located is something most of us find very important.  Indeed, when a loved one or friend seems overwhelmed by circumstances in their lives we will sometimes say, “they seem lost” or “they don’t know where they’re going.” And it is why sometimes we’ll say to our loved ones, be they children or spouses, “come home” since home is that one place where they not only have to let you in (I believe that was Robert Frost’s definition) but it is the one place to be counted on for knowing where you are in the world.

Which all may explain why the Church has hymns like Softly and Tenderly that has the line “come home.”  It yanks at our heartstrings. And the Bible has remarkable stories like the one Jesus taught about a young son who took off with his inheritance, squandered it to the point of living and eating with pigs and finally returned home.  His father, standing on a porch and seeing him from the distance, ran to meet him in the road, hugged and kissed him and welcomed him home.

Navigating the spiritual life involves all of these things:  finding a compass or GPS or map, sensing that one is lost (it is impossible to be found if one has not awakened to the truth that s/he is lost), and making the trip.  I hope you’ll join us this Sunday for worship.  It is basically the place and time when we who have been and are lost find our way home. We’ll sing “Amazing Grace” and declare that we’ve been found. We’ll rejoice in the sheer joy of being human beings made in the image of God. We’ll embrace like a family reunion and we’ll humbly make our way to God whose light, like a sun rising in the East, confirms the road we’re on leads to a place called faith, hope and love.  ~ See you Sunday


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The Patriot Organ Grinder


On July 4, 2016, I will give thanks for being a citizen of the United States of America, my native land, my country.  For its freedoms and ideals so beautifully stated in its founding documents.

I will also pray for the entire world where other citizens rejoice in their citizenship, love their country and admire their ideals.

It is not easy to tack between the right wing and the left wing on Independence Day.  I marvel that the Left can celebrate and fly the flags of other nations, particularly of nations either harmed by the U.S. or opposed to the U.S. but cannot take pleasure in their own nation’s flag.  Everyone has a right to love their country.  I marvel no less at the Right that insists that the United States is exceptional, so different from other countries as to warrant our absolute obedience despite whatever wrongs it has carried out in our names.

As a Christian, my ultimate allegiance is to Christ and the Kingdom of God.  I love my nation but I do so out of a critical engagement with its ideals and its practices. Right now, the Patriot organ grinder is churning out his relentless jingles, ginning up the passions and anger and fears of fellow citizens.  Christian Evangelicals have been captured by the Patriot organ grinder’s tune.  Below is an excerpt from Mark Twain’s autobiography when he reminisces about the nomination for President in the Republican Party of 1876, candidate from Maine, James Blaine.  Twain refused to support him though he was loosely affiliated with Lincoln’s Party.  His colleagues criticized him for not supporting the nominee.  Twain’s words are as prudent for our consideration today as they were then:

…I said: “But we don’t have to vote for him.” Robinson said “Do you mean to say that you are not going to vote for him?” “Yes,” I said, “that is what I mean to say. I am not going to vote for him.” The others began to find their voices. They sang the same note. They said that when a party’s representatives choose a man, that ends it. If they choose unwisely it is a misfortune, but no loyal member of the party has any right to withhold his vote. He has a plain duty before him and he can’t shirk it. He must vote for that nominee. I said that no party held the privilege of dictating to me how I should vote. That if party loyalty was a form of patriotism, I was no patriot, and that I didn’t think I was much of a patriot anyway, for oftener than otherwise what the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views; that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn’t; whereas the king could dictate the monarchist’s patriotism for him—a decision which was final and must be accepted by the victim; that in my belief I was the only person in the sixty millions—with Congress and the Administration back of the sixty millions—who was privileged to construct my patriotism for me.*

Happy Independence Day.  Tell the Organ grinder to go home. We are better than the tunes he plays.  ~ See you Sunday

*[Twain, Mark; Smith, Harriet E.; Griffin, Benjamin; Fischer, Victor; Frank, Michael B. (2010-11-15). Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1 (pp. 316-317). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.]