Saturday, December 6, 2014

ferguson, children, grace and christmas


Yesterday afternoon my colleague in ministry called to talk about something our church will be doing tomorrow when we gather for worship. We’ll be walking and praying in our neighborhood, joining other churches across the city in doing the same.

We will walk as a cry for justice, a cry for peace, a visible call for others to add their voices to these cries, to link hearts in solidarity.

If the church is God’s people, and if God identifies with the oppressed—reaches out to them in love, longs to love the downtrodden through God’s people—then it is the church’s responsibility to identify with the oppressed, to call for justice. If we do not, we are not God’s people.

So, we are walking and praying tomorrow as a symbol of our resolve to take a stand, to be responsive to God’s heart for everyone. The walk itself is no great feat, but if it serves as a symbol for something greater…then that will be world-changing.

To be sure, the recent events in the United States in Ferguson and New York have prompted this simple peace-walk but what should trouble us more is that these events are the same old story: “You’re different”—and “difference is bad.” What should trouble us is that racial discrimination (and all manner of injustice) happens every day all over the world, not just in the United States—and we do nothing or little more than nothing in response to it.  Yes, this should trouble us.

Someone looks and acts differently, so we use coercion to call them to conform—and the result is deadly.  

Even if we engage in arguments about who is “right” and who is “wrong” in these tragic scenarios, those are the factors at play: difference and coercion. And something dies in our heart and soul when things like this happen. We know something is not right. It doesn’t sit well with us. It disturbs us—and rightly so. The anger should tell us something. We were not made for anger. Even so-called “righteous anger” should be tempered with humility and gentleness—we’re only human, after all. Invitation is the most powerful kind of confrontation.

Since it is the Christmas season, I hasten to add that this lies at the core of the Christmas message. In the Christmas story we see God’s humble self. We see a confrontation with humanity in which God (the Almighty Most High) became the weak and vulnerable, gentle. God sent his Son to make peace—and peace was offered not loudly and in anger, but softly, quietly. That was a risky, bold move for God to make. Vulnerability, gentleness, solidarity with the powerless…the most powerless.

Who threatens Herod, the tyrant? A displaced Jewish baby, so wondrous.

God the peacemaker is shocking, truly.


 Each Sunday in Advent has a distinct theme. Last Sunday, it was Hope. This Sunday, it is Peace. Week three is Joy and week four is Love.

I am thinking a lot about the sequence to those themes just now. We cry out in hope, longing for a better world—longing, waiting, expecting, praying and working for the day when all will be well, and all will be well, and all will be well.

That is our deepest heart-cry. It is a cry for peace.

When the hope for peace is fulfilled, we will have joy and live in love.

What more do we need? Nothing. There is nothing lacking in this. That is what makes this season so wondrous.


I have the privilege of serving as a children’s ministry coordinator at our church and I am grateful for the opportunity to help the children wonder deeply about all this. So, they will be invited to walk and pray right with the adults.

In fact, I think of children in the midst of this prayer walk like the secret ingredient in an award-winning recipe. If you leave them out, you lose the essence of what makes it so special.

Whether we realize it or not, anyone who joins the peace-walk tomorrow is doing it for the children. We do not really think that on Sunday we will walk and on Monday everything will be hunky-dory (that’s Minnesotan for “just fine”). No, what we want is real, lasting change. We hope that the world 50 years from now will be better—truly better, safer, more loving. We want to see the young grow up to be concerned for others, to rise to the aid of the poor and disenfranchised.

That is change. It is slow and will take a long time to nurture. It is a work the older generation can begin now but it must be embraced by the younger generation or nothing will really change.



Here is another reason I am glad the children are invited to join us on our prayer walk tomorrow: Racism is learned. It is handed down from the old to the young.

Here is a common scenario of how this happens: a wound was inflicted and a grudge is nursed. Just when the wound is on the brink of healing, it gets re-injured or we choose to open it up on our own again. Sometimes we grow so accustomed to being hurt that we hardly know what to do with ourselves without hurt. Hurt begins to define us. We label ourselves as “the wounded ones,” no matter what “side” we are on.

Regardless, we begin to form an identity that reinforces the notion of “us vs. them.”

“Those people…,” I heard someone say the other day. Yes, they used those very words: those people.

It is natural to “protect” our children, to seek to give them a space where they can grow and be free and safe. But it will be better to form in children an appreciation and love for people who are different than to cloister them in pockets of homogeneity.

Love and respect are better teachers than suspicion and fear.  Hurt does not need to define us anymore. Courage can.


This is heart work, at its core. Though laws may be passed and enforced now, if the work of peace does not take root in the hearts of children, no just society will flourish.

Legislation, however well-intended, is bound to fail in time. As the next generation matures and takes leadership, if they have no grasp of what it means to live peacefully with others (no experience of that), then interpretation and enforcement of once-good laws will be no more useful than learning to speak Homer’s classical Greek. People read it, but no one speaks it.

If, on the other hand, children learn to cherish peace in their hearts, their mouths will learn to speak it and their actions will embody it.

That is our task. It is akin to infection or art. You get caught up in it, without being “told” to do so. Beautify hearts and minds (especially the young—while they are not set in their ways yet) with a vision of dignity and respect for every living soul…

…young or old
…rich or poor
…male or female
…no matter the color of their skin
or the language of their tongue
or the condition of their body
or the afflictions of their mind (we all have them!).

Beautify and wonder. That is our task.


Tomorrow, before going out to walk, we will gather the children up front and take a good, close look at the Jesus-story that is there (via some small wooden figures). It looks like a nativity scene, but the figures also tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Never mind, the nativity is chock-full of the truths we need to consider before going on our walk. It’s all there. It is a vision of dignity and respect for every living soul…

…the young (Mary) and the old (the shepherd)
…the rich (the 3 kings) and the poor (the shepherd)
…male (Joseph) and female (Mary)
…people of all colors (the 3 kings, Mary, Joseph)
…Jew and Gentile, all together.

“I wonder where you are in this story?” I’ll ask. “I wonder where others are?”

We’re all in it. Beautify and wonder. That is our task.

I invite you to join in on it. Amen.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

see the tree

see the tree
on winter’s dawn
stripped clean of leaves—
her form poised,
her leg firm,
long arms outstretched.

now, look!
in this season,
at this time,
in this moment—
her fingers,
fine and strong,
have let go
and wait—
open,
beautiful,
patient without pretense,
moved only by the wind.






see the tree
by troy cady

















Monday, December 1, 2014

centerpiece

There is a person in the stained glass
but what I notice most
are the red veins
like labyrinth lanes
arcing in patterns
around and through
the praying Christ
in purple and white—
colored panes,
like blood and water,
at once obscure and clear,
both rich and vibrant.






centerpiece
by Troy Cady








Friday, November 28, 2014

waiting

It’s time to shop wait.

Sunday marks the beginning of a season that calls us to practice something that is hard for most of us: waiting. It is the season of Advent. The word Advent means “coming” but I suppose we could also call the season “waiting” because that is what we do during Advent. We wait.

For what do we wait? For whom?

We wait for the coming of the Christ.

“But, didn’t he already come?”

Yes, that is what Christians believe. And, yet…we look around and see pain, hunger, corruption, and greed. If Christ, the redeemer, has come…why does the world still look unredeemed?

There are many answers to this question but one answer is: We are still waiting. The king who came...is still coming. This is a mystery in which it seems there are more questions than answers. Christians do not like that. We want answers.

Advent is a time to make friends with unanswered questions. It is a time to quiet the noise so we can hear the questions; it is a time to sit in the midst of the tension those questions create. The tension awakens a longing. The longing cries out, often without words, “Come, Lord.”

…………………..

In our time, Christians quote nativity narratives during this season—we cite the early chapters of Matthew and Luke, with a measure of Isaiah and pinches of the minor prophets thrown into the mix. We like the parts about fulfillment. We like the part where the angels make an announcement to the shepherds.

But what do they announce?

“Peace.”

Do we have peace?

No. When we have peace, we will not read about carjackings and the health care crisis; when we have the peace God intends there will be no such thing as death row and deception.

We are still waiting.

A better text to mark the season can be found in Romans 8:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption…the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”   -Romans 8:22-25

This is not our typical “Christmas season” text but it is well-suited to reality. There is much here to embrace. Slowly savor these formative words and phrases. You have time; we are waiting.

“creation”

“groaning”

“childbirth”

“wait”

“hope”

“wait for it patiently”

…………………………..

I understand that it is important to prepare for Christmas by making sure we have all our gifts purchased in good time, but as we hurry to shop maybe we can also find a way to be quick to wait.

Stillness and simplicity come to mind. This season of waiting is certainly counter-cultural. It is hard to wait, to be still, to pare down activity and shopping.

But it is good for us to do so.

…………………………

The word “redeem” carries with it the idea of “buying.” When Christians say that Jesus is our Redeemer, they mean that Jesus has “bought us back.” We belong to him now.

I think of that scene in Les Miserables where the kind, old priest refuses to charge Jean Valjean with theft. After the police leave, he tells Jean Valjean that he has just bought his life.

That is the picture of what Christ does for us. We are guilty but he buys our innocence.

What mercy! What grace! What freedom! With such a redemption, what more do we need? 

As we hunt for holiday bargains, I invite you to ask this question. It is an uncomfortable question—certainly counter-cultural—but I do believe it is a good question for us.

“With such a redemption, what more do we need?”

……………………………………….

Waiting does not preclude working. During this season of waiting, we consider those aspects of our world that are still “groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” And, we face the hard truth that just sitting and waiting for “the God who is coming” misses the point. In this in-between period we are given work to do.

At the end of the first Advent, Jesus commissioned us to do the work he modeled for us: heal the sick, feed the poor, “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” He modeled forgiveness and grace, mercy and justice. He modeled humility and gentleness. He modeled truth, beauty and goodness—all categories that are up for debate in our departments of Philosophy. (We like to call them metaphysics, aesthetics and ethics to skirt the heart of the matter.)

The model of Jesus, however, is so wonderful because it does two things at once for us—and these two things seem to oppose one another.

On the one hand, the model of Jesus lays to rest the question, “How should we then live?” We have an example in the person of Christ. He shows us how to live. In Jesus, we have a crystal clear picture of truth, beauty and goodness.

On the other hand, the model of Jesus stirs a hornet’s nest in us because it begs the question, “How should we then live?” His model is one of freedom. He gives you the task of discovering how you will uniquely embody his character.

The model of Jesus also stirs us to a hoping kind of action because we see that our lives do not match up to his yet. We see that his will is not done “on earth as it is in heaven”—yet.

And, we see that that is precisely the work he has given us to do. When we say “Amen” at the end of speaking The Lord’s Prayer we are saying, “So be it—and empower us to make it so, to cooperate with God in making it so.” There is a tension implicit in calling out “Amen” because when we say it we are asking God to “make it so” while God’s “Amen” replies: “You make it so.” God’s will is that our will would cooperate with his will.

So, God forgives when we forgive. God feeds the hungry when we feed the hungry. We do not need to wait for God to do this because God has given that task to us.

What does this have to do with Advent?

If it seems like peace is a long time coming, work and wait—and you will see Jesus in the faces around you and—Lord willing—yours.

Advent is a good time for waiting and working…which is to say, hoping and redeeming.

I invite you to make friends with waiting these next four weeks.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

from The Book of Common Prayer

I invite you to pray this with me today.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, 
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks 
for all your goodness and loving-kindness 
to us and to all whom you have made. 
We bless you for our creation, preservation, 
and all the blessings of this life; 
but above all for your immeasurable love 
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; 
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. 
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, 
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, 
not only with our lips, but in our lives, 
by giving up our selves to your service, 
and by walking before you 
in holiness and righteousness all our days; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, 
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen. 


-from The Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

let me pretend that wishing makes it so

Let me pretend that wishing makes it so. I wish…

…your mom could come to celebrate with us tonight. Right now, we’d have a few minutes to catch up before you get home from work. And I’d tell her what she already knew.

“Heather has your compassion for the down-and-out. She makes friends of strangers and family of friends. She’s a hard worker, honest, and real. She’s creative and has a gift for words. She won’t let anyone put her in a box…she’s tough, that one.

“She’s generous. Why, just the other day she was trying to think of a way to give to someone in need.”

Your mom smiles.

“She has your smile, perfectly asymmetrical, curving just to the side.

“She doesn’t give up, ever. And she knows how to fight a good fight. She’s quick to forgive.

“And she’s a great cook, can you tell?” I pat my belly, protruding prominently.

“She loves her some Christmastime and she reminds me she learned that from you. Thanks!

“You’ll be proud of her when you see her, when she comes home.”

I wish…

…I could see you celebrate with your mom tonight. That would be my birthday gift to you. Let me pretend that wishing makes it so.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

save us from the delusion that we have made our own living

Almighty God, we must confess 
your people are the least likely group 
one would expect you to work through. 
It’s as if you have chosen the second string 
of the worst team 
to start the Super Bowl.

We have no skill except what you have given us. 
We have no wealth nor power apart from your grace. 
All that we are and all that we have is simply a gift from you.

So keep us from pride. 
Save us from the delusion that we have made our own living.

Receive our lives as a humble offering. 
To you and you alone be all glory, honor and power.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen