All posts by pstrbled

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Athletes, Anthems and Courage

There are not many White parents who, upon finding out that their Johnny or Jane has been unfairly treated or deprived of classroom resources, won’t speak up and ask the teacher or principal to rectify that situation.  I recall doing so myself when my youngest was in about third grade and late in the year she told me she finally had the chance to use the classroom computer.  I was shocked.  So for nearly the entire school year, the boys had used the computers.  No girls.  Did I march into the school and demand justice and equality?  You bet I did.

So why is it so difficult for White folks to understand that when an athlete respectfully takes a knee or bows out of pledging allegiance to the flag, s/he is protesting the injustice and inequity of persons who supposedly are promised “liberty and justice for all” but in truth, are too often denied that promise?  That is not only an understandable protest, it is one that actually honors the principles of the flag and is far more patriotic than the hollow entertainment and spectacles that surround the flag at these events.  Consider  God Bless America at the 7th inning stretch–it may not be blasphemous but it’s close.

Christians especially are caught up in this drama when they should know better.  Church History is a complicated and long history but for the sake of this point, let me simplify and say that most scholars would agree that Constantine and his conversion to Christianity is a watershed moment.  So there is Church that is Pre-Constantinian and there is the Church that is Post-Constantinian.  The Pre-Constantinian Church was persecuted and martyred by the Roman Government.  Paul and Peter and the Lord they proclaimed were all killed by the State. And the reason so many Christians were persecuted and killed is that they would not bow to the images of Caesar and the State.  The Post-Constantinian Church eventually became intertwined with imperial power.  And yes, in America, churches will have the flag prominently displayed in their sanctuaries.  Some will pledge allegiance to it on a Sunday. That is a Constantinian Church, jeopardizing the very Gospel it proclaims.

Were a First Century or Second or Third Century Christian to show up by way of a time machine and see athletes refusing to honor the image of the State, they would quickly conclude that these must be Christians about to be fed to the lions in a large stadium.

Well, Pastor, what do you do?  When I am at a stadium and the anthem is sung, I stand and put my hand over my heart.  But I do not pledge allegiance.  My allegiance is to Christ.  I love my country and am grateful for all I have but here’s the deal—I know that my experience as a White male in this country is vastly different from African-Americans, Women, and GLBT persons.  I don’t blame them at all for opting out or taking a knee at the anthem. That in my opinion is remarkably similar to the early Christians and their passion for God.  And were I able, I’d link arms with those who choose to protest because, protest is not only Protest-ant, it is American through and through.  And I recognize this:  while a game, be it football or baseball, allows me to cheer on an athlete, it does not allow me to dictate their conscience.  They agreed to entertain us but they did not agree to prop up our political views or philosophical opinions.   When we can have a conversation about how justice in this country is predetermined and bends for some while oppressing others, then maybe we will have grown up.

So, no, Mr. President, you are wickedly wrong. These athletes are not “sons of bitches.” They are brave. They are true Americans.  You owe them and the country an apology for your vile speech.

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Vexation and Belligerence

Listening to some Anglican chant on a youtube channel to which I subscribe, I came across the 143rd psalm and the 4th verse:

Therefore is my spirit | vexed with- | in me : and my | heart with- | in me . is | desolate.

I cut and pasted this from the text from which the choir sang it on that channel (ArchivesofSound).  I like that old English. “Vexed” is not a word we use very often but the vexation of the current political turmoil–the wholesale rending of the safety net, the belligerent rhetoric spewing from the White House and the drum beat of not just war but nuclear war–is a great weight on the shoulders of the multitudes.  Here is a more contemporary translation (NRSV):

So my spirit grows faint within me;
    my heart within me is dismayed.

A spiritual discipline that can infuse hope into your life; that rises above the belligerent, maniacal cawing of tyrants and politicians; that incorporates mercy and grace into the tick-tock rhythms of your daily life–that discipline is worth pursuing!  Pursuing peace we are less pursued by the harrowing tragedies and exploits of our world. We come to a moment such as the one that arises within this psalm of desolation, verse 8:

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.

Faith, hope, and love. Live fearlessly for we are shepherded by the Great Shepherd.  I hope you will begin or continue as it may be, your spiritual discipline and worship with us Sunday morning at 10.

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Balance: Turn Off the “News”

In Washington DC, the swirling currents of power and those who want it or those who attempt to live near it, threaten to overwhelm and diminish everything else.  It is difficult to maintain balance and perspective.

Reduce by half the time you spend watching the news.  I use “news” in its broadest terms as an entertainment product produced by a range of radio, print, and internet media.  Reduce the time you devote to that by half.

We have had illustrated for us in recent weeks how a hurricane can inundate every aspect of a person’s life.  The power, the devastation and ruin are so vast that persons living within that matrix are in danger of being swept away by the sheer number of issues and tasks they must undertake to regain their lives.  In such times, you must focus on the most immediate tasks that will insure your safety and health.  Find those few things that you must accomplish this week and then bracket out all of the other issues until such a time arrives that you can sort through them. And while weather reports are important (anyone who lives in a hurricane zone will have to keep an eye on the weather reports), watching those reports on the hour every hour will actually paralyze you.  Reduce your time watching reports to morning and evening and in between, get on with your life.

This is applicable to we who live in D.C.  There is an entire world that can be explored. There are other dimensions of your life that need and deserve attention.  The political vortex of “news” however can pull you in and deplete you of the joy of living in balance.

I pastor a church on the corner of 7th Street and Maine Avenue. Currently we are building a new sanctuary.  And as we do, we worship across the street at Jefferson Middle School.  Every Sunday, at 10 a.m., we dial down the noise and rhetoric and dial into the still, small voice of a merciful Shepherd. We sing, we pray, we live in the light of a greater Good.  Peace like petals from tree blossoms fall around us.  Dignity and blessing are handed out by hands and hugs.  If there is one thing in your routine that might immediately propel you out of the raging currents into a harbor of peace, worship is it.  ~See you Sunday, 10 a.m.

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Fog Lights Through A Disaster

In recent days since Hurricane Irma wrecked much of Florida, I have been dealing on a very personal basis with that wreckage for my mother’s home was ruined by the storm.  I won’t go into those details but suffice it to say I’m learning some things along the way as I navigate this disaster.

A disaster is always personal even when it is regional  One way we naturally gauge disasters like a hurricane is by satellite images and radar or even drones that hover above the landscape and provide us a perspective of the breadth of a disaster. The depth of a disaster, however, lie at the deep level of individual lives. Their narratives are comprised of trauma, harrowing escapes and sometimes unutterable loss.

When the storm dust is in the air, use fog lights.  The first time I learned this lesson was as a child in the back seat of a car. My father was driving and we went down a hill and as we did, suddenly a storm of dust out of nowhere filled the air.  He turned on his lights so he could be seen (ever see folks ride through rain storms without headlights on? they think they can see, and perhaps they can, but we need to see you!) but my father also pointed out that persons headed our way had their bright lights on which filled the dust with light and blinded everyone.  Dim lights or fog lights are the best way to navigate one’s path through.  But of course, people turn on their bright lights and with that they turn up their volume, yelling and frantically lashing out in panic. Turn your fog lights on, turn down the volume and find the path out.

We are interdependent and rely on the kindness of strangers.  I hope the country can finally come to terms with a covenantal view of human interdependency and be done with the half-truths of libertarian and other conservative ideologies that extol the individual’s liberty at the expense of our biblically mandated obligation to care for one another.  The question is not whether or not people “deserve” our help–we all need the help of one another. Living selfishly, as the monk Thomas Merton pointed out, is living at the doorstep of hell.  My mother has now made two trips to two different hotels. This morning, as she drank her coffee in the free breakfast area of the hotel, a stranger helped her with getting some hot water and other items.  Kindness is a hand that lifts our chin. We are humanized by those kindnesses and when we are the ones offering the kindness then we are also humanized in the process.

Life is a storm.  The Buddha’s first noble truth is, life is suffering.  Christianity has at its very center the suffering (the Passion) of the Christ.  To live is to navigate storms and loss.  We all suffer.  For me, at this frantic time, I am doing my best to get to Sunday. Why? Because I know when I get to Sunday, I get to peace and communion with others, hymns of joy and prayers of sustenance.  I hope you can find an oar and paddle your way over to our safe harbor.

~See you Sunday

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Dignity in the midst of the storms

We pray for:

THOSE IN THE PATHWAY OF STORMS  We are especially mindful of all those who reside in Florida and Georgia and the Carolinas, the Bahamas and Caribbean who, at this moment on Friday,  seem to be in peril as Hurricane Irma makes its way closer to the United States.  And for those who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana.  Christ, have mercy.

THOSE IN MEXICO  We remember especially those in the state of Oaxaca and beyond who had family and homes destroyed.  Lord, have mercy.

DREAMERS  We pray for those children who have known only the United States and came here or were born here with families who had illegally entered the country but by no fault of their own were raised here and dared to dream they could be part of the American Dream.  This administration and the Congress seems prepared to do them great harm.  May it not be so.  Christ, have mercy.

FOR ALL OF US  We who toil day by day and attempt to do better by ourselves, our families and our communities are under great stress, carrying large burdens.  May these burdens be lifted and in their place may we receive courage and strength.  Lord, have mercy.

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Sunday I will be asking the following questions and I hope to give some guidance in my sermon entitled, “Superman’s Cape, A Clerical Collar and Clothed in Christ”:  How are you navigating this apocalyptic landscape?  How are you making sense of your lives as you daily wade through the swamp of political rhetoric, assorted hatreds, natural catastrophes, not to mention trying to find an affordable plumber on the week-end?  How are you living between sun up and sun down?  What strategy for maintaining your human dignity and the dignity of others do you have when the power goes out and the storm is raging around you?

Join us in worship Sunday at 10 a.m. at Jefferson Middle School.  Because there in that auditorium, we embrace each other as fully human. We carry one another’s burdens and share in each other’s joys.  ~See you Sunday

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How to Live in the Toxic Atmosphere of Political Strife

I was struck Sunday in our worship service by the power and the simple eloquence of the lectionary reading take from Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 12.  As you embark upon another week and ponder how you’re going to deal with the various catastrophes, hatreds and toxic rhetoric, I urge you to read these words. Print them out and attach them to the refrigerator or  recite them into your life every day this week.  They are words to live by.  They are words that can help us live in the toxic atmosphere of political strife that has permeated our culture.

ROMANS 12:

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 

10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 

16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;do not claim to be wiser than you are. 

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 

18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

AMEN.  So be it…in our own lives, in the lives of our leaders and within the sacred bounds of our beloved community.