Wednesday, July 8, 2020

since you have never been this way before


since you have never been this way before
take my hand held out for you
we’ll walk slowly for
I am gentle and lowly of heart
feel me bind myself to you
with the lashes I have taken
wrists bound freely
so it is easier
to hold my hand

since it is dark
and you have never been this way before
listen to my voice
stretched out
like a song
scored like a whipped back
open as a wound
so it is easier
to hold my heart

………………………

since you have never been this way before
by troy cady

thank you: Debby France
after Joshua
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Saturday, July 4, 2020

Freedom, Truth and Cancel Culture

Frederick Douglass


Freedom, Truth and Cancel Culture
reflections by Rev. Troy B. Cady
July 4, 2020


            I recall just now the sense of wonder, hope and joy that welled up within me on the 4th of July when I was a child. Every year, I looked forward to this day. Though we didn’t have a lot of money, we always managed to buy fireworks and we enjoyed plenty of food, treats and sugary drinks like Kool Aid, lemonade, and soda. I remember sitting near Silver Lake, anticipating the start of the big fireworks show as night fell.
          As I aged, I remember always feeling intrigued by stories and figures of our nation’s founding: from the arrival of pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620 to the revolution led by George Washington about 150 years later. I imagined myself as a witness to historic moments like the Boston Tea Party and the battle at Valley Forge. I revered figures like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Such brilliance they possessed! The words of the Declaration of Independence gripped my imagination: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is no exaggeration to say those words still inspire me today.
            I remember longing to see the Capitol building, the White House, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in my tween years. In 1985, at the age of fifteen, that dream was fulfilled when I had the chance to participate in a youth conference that took place in Washington, D.C. Later in high school, I remember being awestruck at the sight of Mount Rushmore, where four of America’s great Presidents are etched in stone, larger than life.

            Yesterday (July 3, 2020) President Trump stood in front of Mount Rushmore to deliver remarks that address a growing movement among American citizens calling for the removal of monuments which memorialize figures in our nation’s history who have committed dishonorable acts of sobering significance. Among such monuments are those that memorialize leaders of the former Confederacy or utilize symbols of the Confederacy (such as the Confederate flag itself).
            But it has also been noted that, if those monuments are removed, why should monuments to people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson be left standing? After all, it is a well-known fact that both Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, as were many prominent figures during this part of U.S. history.
            “Where will it end?” many wonder.
            The movement calling for the removal of these monuments, it is said, is part of a much larger agenda that has been labelled as “cancel culture.” The label aims to portray people who are calling for the removal of such monuments as people who want to obliterate our sense of historic identity (so as to “cancel” our culture—our cherished way of life—altogether). The fear is that, in removing monuments such as these, we will, in effect, be taking a big eraser to history, getting rid of the memory of those who have shaped us and made us who we are today.
            To many, it simply does not seem right to dishonor those who have gone before us by removing monuments that help us remember them. For this reason, the President announced last night that he is planning to build a National Garden of American Heroes. It will be “a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live.”[1]


Beyond Nostalgia
I must confess: July 4th just doesn’t seem like the July 4th of my childhood anymore. As a middle-aged white, male Christian pastor (with a wife, two kids and a dog), there is much in me that would love to just relive the nostalgia of my youth.
            And, I must confess: as I watched the President’s speech last night I could picture a former me among the crowd in front of Mount Rushmore, swelling with pride, relishing every word, including the songs and speeches that were given by others.
            But over the years, something has changed in me. I still stand by this continued experiment we call America, but as I have gone deeper in my relationship with Christ, I have also identified the ways in which my faith causes me to do more than just affirm “the American way.” On the contrary, it has helped me to see that the way of Christ often challenges the American way by calling us to a better way, a higher way.
            So, as much as I would like to perpetuate my own sense of nostalgia, my faith in Christ calls me to something greater (which is, in fact, something to which our country itself aspires). It is this:  
            There is no higher expression of freedom than to use one’s own freedom to liberate the oppressed and come to the aid of the downtrodden. But it takes incredible courage to speak out against the abuse of freedom, for such words will not be welcomed by those in power.


Frederick Douglass and True Freedom
About nine years before the start of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass did just that: he used his freedom to speak truth to those who were abusing their freedoms by perpetuating the institution of slavery.
            Here is what he said on July 5, 1852:

“Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, ‘may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!’ To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view.

Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting.

America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! ‘I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;’ I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

“But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued.”[2]

            I would like to suggest to all of us that these words are just as needed today as they were over a century and a half ago. Here we have an example of the true sacrifice that freedom requires. It is to lay one’s reputation, one’s livelihood, and one’s very life on the line for the sake of others who have been denied freedom in all its fullness.

Freedom and Truth-telling
In Mr. Douglass’ speech we have a true model and inspiration as he shows us that those who are truly free are unafraid to face the truth. And the truth is: we have been granted freedoms we do not deserve.
            I ask: who is the greater patriot? The one who glosses over the truth so we can remain comfortable in our half-truths? Or the one who speaks the whole truth by boldly challenging us to rise to our highest ideals even while calling us to confess our gravest sins?
            It has been said that racial oppression is America’s original sin. It is a sin, I am convinced, we have not fully faced because it is the kind of sin that those in power have the luxury of ignoring (myself included).
            In light of this, I invite you to thoughtfully read the transcript of President Trump’s speech that he delivered last night in front of Mount Rushmore (it’s linked in the endnotes below). In his speech, he tells the story of great moments and figures in our nation’s history—but he leaves out those parts of the story that many are trying to bring to light.
            It is the suppression of this fuller story—the suppression of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—that keeps us from being truly free.
            This is ironic, however, because in his speech the President addresses a concern many people have about the “cancel culture.”
            I, too, share the concern that we take pains not to omit important aspects of our nation’s story. So, I have to ask:  “Just who is trying to ‘cancel’ and ‘erase’ key aspects of our history?” Might it be possible that both “sides” are doing just that?
            A case in point: last night what we witnessed was a speech by the leader of our country in which he used a giant eraser to edit out key aspects which are inextricably woven into the very fabric of the story he told (a nice, nostalgic story).
           

Towards a Fuller Story
What we need is to face the truth with an honest assessment, neither demonizing nor canonizing…but humanizing. This requires humility and a determination to put right the wrongs we have committed.
            The truth is: Thomas Jefferson was a human. True: he was brilliant; we owe our country’s very existence to his brilliance. In his speech, Douglass even refers to this:

“The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.”

            But, that is only one side of the story. The hard reality we must face is that Thomas Jefferson was also a slave owner who raped one of those he enslaved when she was just a teenager. To fail to tell both sides of the story is to “cancel” the part of the story that is left out.
            And, yes: the Louisiana Purchase, along with our subsequent expansion into the West, served to advance commerce and build the nation’s economy. But this expansion also displaced Native Americans, robbing them of their homes and livelihood. We occupy land that was not ours; we enjoy freedoms we do not deserve.


Manifest Destiny and the Spirit of Christ
On this 4th of July it should trouble us that last night President Trump invoked the doctrine of Manifest Destiny to justify his account of history. As Franklin Douglass modeled for us more than 150 years ago, we need to ask, “Just whose destiny are we talking about here? Was God’s favor manifest for the Africans who were taken from their homes and enslaved for two and a half centuries? Did the Native Americans, whose population was decimated by a biological attack when the Europeans arrived, enjoy God’s freedom? Whose destiny are we talking about?”
            It is a desecration to the ideal of freedom to ignore the truth so we can continue to enjoy a comfortable existence. And, as a pastor, I must say: it is blasphemous to invoke Christianity in service to this agenda.
            When Frederick Douglass said he would view July 4th from the slave’s point of view, he was truly exhibiting the spirit of Christ, for Jesus himself did likewise: he sided with the oppressed. He who enjoyed all the powers of divinity…divested himself of power, humbled himself, and became a servant with no rights whatsoever. He did this freely because of love. And there is no greater freedom than that.
            And he who freely loved like that reminds us that it is the truth which will set us free. We cannot be free if we fail to face the truth. This is not about demonizing and it is not about canonizing. It is about humanizing.
            This may be the hardest thing we will ever have to do, but it is absolutely essential that we do it. It will mean the relinquishment of control, letting go of power, being willing to honestly assess the shortfalls of the version of history we prefer. But only as we do so will we be healed from the wounds of the sin of racism.
            I know that what I have written is not popular, and it violates any sense of nostalgia on this important day, but this is my call to freedom on this 4th of July, 2020.

      

Friday, July 3, 2020

Preamble Promises


We the People
in Order to
form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defense,
promote the general Welfare, and
secure the Blessings of Liberty
for ourselves and our Posterity
do ordain and establish
this Constitution…



The preamble to the Constitution of the United States sets forth a vision of a society in which all people may thrive and flourish.

It envisions “a more perfect Union.” Yet we are divided.

It envisions a nation in which Justice is established. Yet too many have been denied Justice.

It is a vision of Tranquility in which her citizens dwell in peace. Yet there is great Unrest.

It is a vision in which we have strong defenses against all those who would tear us down. Yet, as mighty as we claim to be, we remain vulnerable to attack, both without and within.

It is a vision where we look out for the Welfare of all, where the Blessings of Liberty are secured for all. Yet some are well-off while others are impoverished; some are blessed, while others live in fear…as if their very existence is cursed from the moment they are born to the day of their death.

Finally, it is a vision not only for ourselves but for future generations. Yet too often it seems we are robbing our children and our children’s children (and generations of descendants to come) of the very way of life we cherish.

Evidently, it was the goal of “We the People” to set up a government whose role it would be to bring about the amazing vision described in the preamble to the Constitution. But, if there is one thing that seems clear now, it is this: governments can fail us.

It is, in fact, beyond the capacity of the government (any government) to realize this vision...if “We the People” fail to pursue these ideals and enact them in the course of our day-to-day lives. If the Constitution articulates the science that undergirds such a vision for society-at-large, it is up to us to practice the art of living out such a vision.

And it is an art. From one generation to the next we will need to plumb the depths of our diversity in search of an even deeper unity. We will need the light of humility to ignite the fires of courage and sacrifice as we commit to do whatever it takes to put right the wrongs we have done, to seek justice no matter the cost. It is up to us to de-escalate the tensions that always seem to be on the rise these days. Our world can only be as tranquil as we work each and every day for lasting peace.

If we attack each other from within, what does it matter if a strong military is able to make us secure from without? If we only have a view to stockpile blessings for ourselves while others suffer all around us, can we really claim we are a blessed society, a free society? If we pass on to the next generation only hate, fear and suspicion, have we not cursed ourselves in the making?

Can “We the People” do better? I hope so. But I do believe we will only be able to do better as each person endeavors to be better, to call forth the better angels of our nature, to summon the best of what it means to be human by humanizing one another.

For my part, I must confess I am unequal to the task on my own. I must appeal to the grace of Another who is somehow both beyond me and deep, deep within me. Daily I must cry out to God to give me strength, wisdom, humility, and creativity…to guide me in this higher way. It is a way that includes both forgiveness and repentance, mercy and a commitment to change course. The good news is: by God’s grace and forgiveness, we all have a second chance. As dark as things may seem, there is always the offer to start again. After all, God’s mercies are new every morning.

My prayer this 4th of July is just this: Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lead us in the way of a true and lasting peace. Amen.

………………………..

Preamble Promises
reflections by troy cady
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*Photo by Anthony Garand via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

my Breath


This morning
God went for a walk
in the city
in the cool
of the day
and, on the way
to the park’s trail,
she saw evidence
of civilization
but no signs of life.

She breathed
Yahweh,
her name,
pairing each syllable
with each inhale
and exhale,
as if to
resuscitate us,
to whisper
us awake,
sharing the rise
and fall
of respiration,
praying for
a resurrection
on her way
to the trail.

So, I wait
for her return,
here in the
rising heat
of the day.
The waiting,
my prayer,
the long wait
of longing,

Come home,
dear Lord,
come home.
I have arisen
from death.
Return,
my life,
my Breath.

………………………….

my Breath
by troy cady
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Sunday, June 28, 2020

patience


Patience is
a dog
waiting by
the door,
lonely,
faithful,
plaintive, heartsore.
You bide
the time
plaiting seconds,
till seconds
shed minutes,
and hours abrade.
The braid
of hope unravels—
until, at last,
your home returns
from her long,
eternal travels.

……………………….

patience
by troy cady
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Friday, June 26, 2020

the black sea


Today, we swallowed
the black sea,
unblinking tears,
eyes opened
to the dead. See how these
unthinking fears
still stand
the ghost of a chance,
like the wake
of small waves
whispering no one awake,
lapping sand ceaselessly,
exposing only broken empty shells
for casual tourists to collect and lose.

Such is the state
of this place
of our displacement.

……………….

the black sea
by troy cady
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why the Abbot left with the brother


At a certain monastery, a certain brother was found out by the other brothers to have sinned.

They deliberated: “What should we do with this brother who has sinned?”

They determined: “Throw him out. He can no longer dwell with us.”

And, as the offending brother was leaving, the Abbot went with him.

Surprised, the brothers asked the Abbot: “Where are you going?”

The Abbot replied: “I am leaving with my brother—for I, too, am a sinner.”


…………………………………………


We long for justice and, thus, we are quick to condemn. “What they have done is wrong. They must be punished. They must be called out and cast out.”

But we forget that to act justly is to love mercy and to walk humbly. That is what the prophet Micah of antiquity said. That is what the Abbot understood.


…………………………………………………


When Jesus called Levi the tax collector to be one of his disciples, he echoed Micah’s words. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The Pharisees condemned Jesus for keeping company with Levi, whom they regarded as the worst traitor—a thief, a despicable criminal and a cruel oppressor.

They questioned Jesus’ response to Levi’s treason. “Why does Jesus eat with such a person? How can he even stand to sit with him? We will have nothing to do with such a person. It’s not right!”

But Jesus chose to befriend sinners like Levi. He knew that, in doing so, he would be counted as one of them. After all, to abide sin was to be a sinner. “Mercy is for the oppressed, not for sinners. Sinners need punishment; that is the only way they will learn to stop oppressing.”


……………………………………………….


The Pharisees were not entirely wrong. Wrong does need to be put right. What Jesus showed them was that wrong can be put right by mercy. Punishment can only do so much to change the situation.

But mercy seems risky and foolish. Why show mercy to a sinner?

Perhaps Jesus showed mercy to sinners because he knew like no other how sin itself oppresses both the sinned against and the sinner. Sin enslaves the sinner’s heart before it enslaves others. If the sinner is to be free of sin, they need someone strong enough to free them—and Jesus’ strength was his mercy, the risk of mercy.

And the substance of mercy was presence. Jesus showed mercy by coming close to sinners like Levi, sinners like me. Jesus came so close and spent so much time with sinners he was labeled “the friend of sinners.”

Jesus was humble enough to accept this label, for he was NOT a sinner, to be sure. He gave up his heavenly title to take on an earthly one. Remember: to be a friend of sinners was to be a sinner, to be counted as one of them. If you side with a sinner, you are no better than them, you are just part of the problem. To refuse to do what is right (to withhold punishment from sinners) is just as bad as doing what is wrong (sinning).

But if Jesus shows us anything, he shows us that those who practice humility show mercy, and that mercy makes a way for things to be put right (justice). Jesus, in his humility, came close to someone as despicable as Levi, befriended him. And Jesus, in befriending Levi, showed mercy, saw Levi with enough love to see that Levi the oppressor was himself oppressed by his own sinful heart. And it was by such mercy that Levi’s life was changed, wrong put right. And countless others since then have known first-hand that same life-changing mercy, mine included.

Thus was fulfilled the words of the prophet—that to act justly is to love mercy is to walk humbly.


………………………………….


For Jesus, the practice of humility involved coming close to those he was not like. For me, it means coming to grips with what I am like. And, humbly, this is what I must confess:

I am a sinner.

That is what the Abbot knew about himself. He knew he was a sinner. And this knowledge was the source of his humility. And this humility was the source of his mercy. Knowing he was a sinner, the Abbot went with the brother as he was being expelled by the others. And, in leaving with the brother, the Abbot showed mercy.

With his example in mind, I must confess: I too often side with the Pharisees and the brothers who are quick to see sin in another but slow to see it in themselves.

Just who do I think I am?


……………………………………….


The spirit of Pharisaism runs rampant today. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “the quality of being self-righteous.”

Our self-righteousness is often manifested in our propensity to call out sin when we see it another but not to call it out when we see it in ourselves. Worse: we do not even see it in ourselves. We are so oriented to spotting it in others that we fail to look in the mirror.

I am mindful just now of how we exhibit such self-righteousness today when it comes to race relations. Too often, we are quick to condemn another as racist while neglecting to confess how we ourselves harbor racism in our own hearts.

But I must confess: I am a racist.

To clarify: this confession rises not out of a desire to be politically correct, to say something as a white man in such a way that others will now think I am virtuous for confessing such a thing.

No: this confession is to really, truly tell you that I am a racist. I gravitate towards circles of comfort with those who are “my own kind”—other white people. I am sometimes suspicious of Black people and other people of color. I have neglected to listen intently and to learn from people of color. I have rolled my eyes when I’ve heard something that many Black people would want to be done to help this world become a more peaceful, equitable place. But: why should I so quickly disparage the wisdom of such a desire? Why am I so reluctant to listen and really try to understand? What twisted sense of security am I protecting and preserving over against the wellbeing of other human beings?

No doubt, some might say that there is nothing in what I have just said that warrants the label of “sin.” But I recognize these dynamics as sin because they reflect an inner disposition that fails to fully honor the image of God in another human being, to love others as I love myself. And, even worse: I recognize these dynamics as sin because they spring from a perverted view of others, a view that distorts the reality of everyone’s beauty and beloved-ness in the sight of God.

This is sin at its root. And, as long as I harbor such dispositions, I am a racist and a sinner.

To that, some might grant me my confession and respond within: “Thank God I’m not like that. There’s no racism in me.”

And, I must confess: I have thought the same thing about myself. “I’m glad I’m not like that person. How can anyone be so hateful and racist?”

And then I take this thought as something which grants me permission to call out others about their racism, without realizing that when I do so I am siding with the Pharisees in my own self-righteous hypocrisy.

This is not to say we should not stand for truth and justice. It is just to say that when we do so we do well to also acknowledge that we are no better than those we are prone to accuse. This is simply an invitation to stand on the ground of humility as we call for justice. And to make our appeals for change out of mercy, knowing that sin enslaves the sinner even as it oppresses the sinned against. We appeal to sinners like ourselves on the basis of mercy through and through—mercy for those we have hurt by our sin, and the chance of a new start for the sinner, the hope of change.

On such a foundation Jesus sought to break the stronghold of self-righteous hypocrisy. Jesus’ strongest words were for those who failed to recognize their own sin while pointing out the sin in others. “Judge not lest you be judged. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This is why he said that one’s righteousness needed “to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees.”

Theirs was a self-righteous righteousness. Theirs was, truly, no righteousness at all. Do we recognize in ourselves the same self-righteousness that simply adds sin to sin as insult to injury? I wonder…

The irony is that Jesus took the side of the sinner, though he himself had never sinned—whereas we like to claim we are sinless, though we ourselves have gravely sinned.

It is for sinners like you and me that Jesus, in his humility, extended mercy. It is by such mercy we are changed and set free to work for truth and justice. In this way, and in this way only, may truth and justice endure. May it be so.

………………

why the Abbot left with the brother
reflections by troy cady