COVID-19 and Palm Sunday

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Thank You

Happy Palm Sunday

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.

Pilate has also arrived, riding on a war horse.  

Two leaders. Two different ways of leading. 

Two animals. Two different images.

When writing about this event, Matthew reflects on Zechariah 9:9:

“Say to Daughter Zion (Jerusalem), 

‘See, your king comes to you,

Gentle and riding on a donkey,

Even upon a colt, a foal of a beast of burden.

“Gentle?”  

“Riding on a donkey, even a foal of a beast of burden”?  (No, the Rolling Stones are not the originators of the phrase.)

What kind of King is this? 

Where’s the display of power? 
Where’s the “Hey, I’m a big deal!” attitude? 

It’s not there.  We won’t “see” that in Jesus. In Jesus, we “see” a different way to live and to lead.  Jesus is reframing power. Oh, yes, Jesus has power.  “All power (authority) has been given to me (Matthew 28:18),” Jesus tells his disciples.

But this Jesus kind of power is “seen” not in the person who is served but in the person who is serving (Matthew 20:25-28).  

Wanna see power today?  Look at  the 1000s of medical personnel serving us, “giving their lives as a sacrifice” in this war against COVID-19.  

That is power on display.  

On this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passion Week, we thank them for their passionate and sacrificial service.

 

Love or Truth?

“What caused you to change your mind….? 

…on theology.

…on sexuality.

…on ______.

It’s a question I’m often asked.

I wish I had a deep, philosophical answer.  I don’t. 

When I was “called to the ministry” at the age of 15, it was basically a “call to preach” – to tell people the Truth.  I had it.  I knew it.  The truth.  At least I thought I did.  

For most of my early years as a pastor, I didn’t do a lot of listening.  I did a lot of talking.  Telling people the truth. 

Then around the year 2000 several members of AA began attending the church I was pastoring. I became friends with some of them. 

Friends listen.  Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

I listened to them.  I heard their stories.  As I listened, the boxes into which I had placed them began to open.  

In 2008 I delivered a sermon on “The Hot Potato of Homosexuality.”  Before I “told” my understanding of “truth” on that issue, Denise and I were compelled to “listen” – to listen to dozens of people in the LGBTQ+ community.  

What I heard over drinks shaped what I said that Sunday morning.

What I heard changed what I believed.  The theological and sexual stereotypes exploded.  

“The first duty of love is to listen.”

Listening changed me.  I found myself putting Love above Truth – or at least my version of the truth.  

As a young pastor I wanted to be a great preacher.  A persuasive defender of truth like Billy Graham.  Today, I want to be Mister Rogers.  

It’s like Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “ Let love be your aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

As theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar put it, “Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed.”  

Did he get that from Carole King’s “Only Love is Real”?  

One more quote and lesson from von Balthasar, “Lovers are the ones who know most about God; the theologian must listen to them.”  

“What caused me to change?” 

I started listening. 

I’m learning to love.  

Remember This Day

How was your day, January 20?

January 20 was a day etched in my memory.

Nationally, it was an important day.  It was inauguration day.

Socially, it was an important day. It was January 20, 2020 that the first person in the United States was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Personally, it was an important day.  It was January 20, 2017, that my mom transitioned from this world to the next.  

I was leaking tears all day and I couldn’t always distinguish the source. 

The inauguration had some tear-jerking moments.  

Yes, you may have cried because your guy wasn’t being inaugurated, but surely, regardless of whose name you marked on your November 3 ballot, you had to soar along with the giant dove on Lady Gaga’s dress to the themes and performances of the January 20 inauguration.  I wrote about a few of these moments for the weekly “Random Thoughts from the Rev” that I post weekly for the church I pastor, The Venues.  You can also find these “thoughts” here:  The Venues Facebook.  But, I’ll add these:

*As former Presidents walked onto the platform I was made aware that we have taken the transfer of power for granted.  No more.  Seeing leaders from both parties, past and present, together after the events of the last two weeks made me realize how precious it is.  Speaking of the events of the last two weeks, how about:

*Eugene Goodman. Two weeks ago he was staring down a mob of rioters who sought to do real harm to our National Leaders as they had already done to our Nation’s Capitol.   On January 20, he was escorting new Vice-President Kamala Harris onto the dais.  It was a deserved honor for both.  

*Who doesn’t cry at the sound of “Amazing Grace”?  But when Garth Brooks led us to sing the third verse, out came the Kleenex :

Through many dangers, toils, and snares.

I have already come.

Twas grace that brought us safe thus far.

And grace will lead me home. 

The words had new, special meaning on January 20. 

*Speaking of “grace”, did you catch what Inaugural Committee Co-chair, Sen Roy Blunt (from my home state of Missouri) turned to President Obama and said, “We remember when you sang that at Mother Emmanuel Church” (after the horrible shooting there).  I heard criticism from some of President Obama’s song on that occasion. 

I didn’t understand the criticism.  I was saddened by it.  

So I welcomed Sen. Blunt’s “shout out to Barak Obama.  It was a remarkable moment.  A healing moment.  

I’d love to know what mom was experiencing “there” while watching what we were experiencing here.  

Mom and I often talked politics.  We didn’t always agree.   We more often talked Scripture. Again, we didn’t always agree!  Ha!  

But there would be agreement with the poem by Amanda Gorman.   The 22 year old National Youth Poet Laureate finished writing the poem on the night of January 6, after a mob stormed the Capitol.   She included a reference to Micah 4:4, saying:

Scripture tells us to envision

That everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree 

And no one shall make them afraid,

If we’re to live up to our own time

Then victory won’t like in the blade

But in all the bridges we’ve made,

That is the promise to glade

Mom is living out the ultimate fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy.

Amanda calls us to work toward the fulfillment now.

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Do You Want to Be Right or Kind?

What is your “one thing”? – with a nod to Curly in the iconic movie, “City Slickers.”

Honestly, my “one thing” often explodes and I end up doing many things, like

*Defending myself.

*Convincing others to believe a certain thing.

I don’t know why I do those things.  It seems that I allow myself to get drawn to those dark places.    

 Yesterday I read the following words from John Lewis quoted by  Father Richard Rohr in his Daily Meditation.  I was deeply moved.

Please read them…

Slowly…Like you are savoring a bite of filet mignon. 

Please read them… 

Contemplatively…allowing them to touch,  to transform you. 

”Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Know that the truth always leads to love and the perpetuation of peace. Its products are never bitterness and strife. Clothe yourself in the work of love, in the revolutionary work of nonviolent resistance against evil. Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”

What words, phrases, concepts touch your soul?`

Do you get a “one thing” out of this? 

Here’s mine:  Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Know that the truth always leads to love and the perpetuation of peace.”

Love is my one thing…

Love is the universal truth…

Love leads to love and peace.

Maybe it’s right to be kind.

We’re In Each Other’s World

I’m a little bit upset.  

I was in the bank this week where dad had an account tying up some of his financial matters.  The employee assisting me told a customer who was waiting that as soon as she and I were finished, she’d sanitize the area and be ready for her.  

The customer replied, “We’re living in a different world.  I’m ready to get back to normal.”
I agreed.  “Yes, it is.   I am too.”

Then I asked, “Have you and your family been affected by COVID?”

“No, not at all.  I think it’s all been blown out of proportion!” she answered. “Have you?”

“Yes, I have 7 family members with COVID…”

Then I added this, “ and my dad died with COVID.” 

Have you ever tried to reach out and retrieve the words you just said?  The lady tried.  But they were already out there.

We tend to see things mainly, if not only, in terms of how they personally affect us.  

COVID had not personally touched this lady so COVID must not be a big deal.  “Look at me,” some have said,  “I’m fine!”

I visited last night with a man whose wife is in ICU fighting COVID. She’s been there a week. Yesterday, she experienced a COVID-related heart-attack and is suffering from diminished kidney function.  

This man’s view of COVID is very different than the “bank lobby woman’s” view. 

The difference is experience.   

Spirituality pulls us toward each other to the degree that another’s experience becomes our experience.  

“Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.” Thomas Merton

“Compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering.”  Dalai Lama

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” — Mother Teresa

“In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength.” Buddha 

“The compassionate are near to God, near to me, near to paradise, and far from hell.”  Prophet Muhammad

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

It is a message we need to hear and heed during COVID and beyond.   

Pope Francis is in “Good Trouble”

Pope Francis has rocked the planet again.  In a documentary titled, “Francesco,” Pope Francis said this about LGBTQ people: “They are children of God and have a right to a family. You can’t kick someone out of a family nor make their life miserable for this.  What we have to have is a civil union law; that way, they are legally covered.” 

Read his words again.  Let them soak in.

“They are children of God”

“…we have to have a civil union law…”

A few weeks earlier, Pope Francis told a group of parents of LGBTQ children that, “God loves your children as they are.  The Church loves your children as they are, because they are children of God.”

Don’t skim over those words.  “God loves your children as they are.”  

These words have the power to heal.  They have the power to stir up anger. 

Yes, the Pope has been praised and pilloried.

I’m on the praise side.  

Yes, his statement falls short of equal marriage, but it certainly throws open the door.  Others, like myself, have, after a long journey, walked through that door and have found on this side of it freedom, love, healing, and, yes, criticism.    

There are some who question whether Francis is a legit Pope.   There are some who have questioned whether I’m legit pastor – or who have concluded I’m a legit heretic.  

The critics point to the Bible and shout, “The Bible clearly says…”. But does it? Does it clearly say?  The so-called “gotcha” verses are often quoted with little understanding of their cultural, historical, grammatical meaning.  I know I don’t fully grasp their meaning.  Do you? 

For example, Paul’s words sound more like he’s referring to straight men using young boys for sex often in religious ceremonies.  He’s describing rape and abuse rather than loving, committed same-sex relationships.   

Well, Pope Francis has gotten himself into some “good trouble” which I hope will, in the words of John Lewis, “redeem the soul of America,” the church, and people around the globe.  

COVID and Dying Alone

A poster to be placed in Dad’s hospice room since COVID kept us out.

Dad died Sunday morning, October 11.

Alone.

I was not there.  My sisters were not there. 

We could not be there.  COVID-19 did not allow it.

On Wednesday, October 7, dad tested positive for COVID-19.  Yes, he was already dying.  That’s why he was in Hospice.  But COVID accelerated his death…and isolated his dying. 

Of all the pains of this pandemic – and there are many – dying alone has to be one of the most intense.  That dad was alone when he died haunts me.  

Oh, I know the Bible verses that assure us that “we are never alone,” but you get the point, don’t you?  I know without a doubt that God was there.  

But we weren’t.

I also know that the kind, competent, considerate nurse was at dad’s bedside minutes before he died, but she had to step out.  When she stepped out, dad slipped away.  I don’t blame the nurse.  Not one little bit.  Medical staff across the country have been heroic as they have served on the front line. They are angels of mercy holding the hands of the dying and spiritually placing those hands into the hands of other angels.   But they do not replace loved ones whom the dying need to be with, speak with, be with, one last time.  

And the loved ones need to be there one last time.

I don’t understand those who deny the severity and impact of the virus. I get a little mad about it.   Today, I just feel sad about it. 

 Where is the compassion toward and empathy for the dying and for the displaced living?  Are people unable or just unwilling to feel it? 

Our heath care workers get it. They have it. Compassion and empathy.

Thank you health care workers for not just caring for the body, but for the soul.  

Labor Day and Social Justice

Denise and I spent this year’s Labor Day in Kansas City visiting with Denise’s cousin who is dying of cancer. He’s my cousin too, by marriage, and someone I’ve known since I was in junior high.

I think of him on Labor Day because he has spent his life advocating for justice, fairness, equal treatment of all people.  

And that is the essence of Labor Day.  

In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks and still  barely made ends meet.  Children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills, factories, and mines across the country.  The working conditions were deplorable. 

On September 5, 1882, New York City workers took to the street and marched from City Hall to Union Square, marking the first Labor Day parade in the United States.  

How are we doing since that first Labor Day March?   

We have a ways to go, don’t we?  There are issues of health care, a living wage, family leave, income equality.

Labor Day is so much more than the last day of summer, a day off, picnics and parties.  

Labor Day reflects the prophetic concern for justice.

“You are to pay his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and depends on them.  Otherwise he may cry out tot he LORd against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 24:15).

“Look, the wages you withheld from the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts” (James 5:4).  

On Labor Day, we raise our glass to those whose efforts have led to justice for workers and care for the least of these.  We make a commitment to complete the arc of justice.  

Good Trouble

Good Trouble

“We need to get into good trouble.” John Lewis

“These men…greatly trouble our city” Acts 16:20 (speaking of Paul and Silas)

“These men who have upset the world have come here also.” Acts 17:6 (speaking of Christ-followers) – “upset” is a political word meaning “revolt”

“They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” Acts 17:7  

“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.” Acts 24:5 (speaking of Paul)

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” Luke 1:52 (Mary’s Annunciation Song about God)

Seutonius (69-140 CE), a Roman historian of the Imperial House under the Emperor Hadrian, wrote of Christ and Christians and the “disturbances” caused by them, namely not worshipping idols and, get this, “loving all, including their tormentors.”

Yes. Loving our enemies can cause disturbances. Weird, isn’t it?  

What do John Lewis, Paul, the early Christians, and God have in common?  Troublemakers.   All of them.

John Lewis was a preacher before he was a politician.  

His first congregation was a flock of chickens under his care as a child. Being a Baptist, he tried to baptize them. Ha! 

Since 1963 the country has been his congregation as he was introduced to the nation as one of the speakers at  the “March on Washington” on August 28, 1963.

Since 1987 the United States Congress has been his congregation as a U.S. Representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. 

His sermons were stirring.
His teachings caused trouble to the status quo.    

Do you think it’s ok to be a troublemaker? We were taught and told, “Don’t make trouble.” But, as John Lewis, Paul, and Jesus show us, there can be good trouble.     

John Lewis’ journey along the path of trouble is instructive. Let’s start with the August 28, 1963 speech.  What he actually spoke is not what he originally wrote. His first draft of the speech was considered by the march’s organizers to be too radical. (Maybe I should have that group look at some of my sermons before I deliver them!)

For example, they asked him to remove a section  in which he pledged to “burn Jim Crow to the ground” and “fragment the South into a thousand pieces.”

 “Too much…A bit harsh,” they said. He altered it to: “We will march through the South…with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity we have shown here today.”    

Which version do you like? Which approach do you prefer?

The version we heard in his speech and watched in his life  showed “a spirit of love and dignity”.  

He exchanged the way of violence for the way of nonviolence. 

Lawmakers attending a memorial service for Rep Lewis, burst into a standing ovation on Monday after listening to a recorded commencement address by the “Conscious of the Congress.” You can read it here, or listen to it here

You might just want to stand and applaud as well, or sit there and cry.   

Here are the closing words from John Lewis’ speech:  

In the final analysis, we all must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. We all live in the same house. And it doesn’t matter whether we are  black or white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. It doesn’t matter whether you’re straight or gay. We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house.

Be bold. Be courageous, stand up. Speak up. Speak out and find a way to create the beloved community, the beloved world, a world of peace, a world that will recognize the dignity of all humankind. Never become bitter. Never become hostile. Never hate. Live in peace. We’re one, one people and one love. Thank you very much.

Thank you, John Lewis, very much for following in the way of “good trouble.”  

 

,

 

 

 

now I see

George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis Thursday opened with the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

Who doesn’t love “Amazing Grace”?  

While it is a favorite of all, “Amazing Grace” seems especially meaningful to black church-goers. Historically “Amazing Grace” has been an anthem for those longing for freedom from oppression from white supremacist ideology and policy. 

Which is so interesting! 

Because the writer of the hymn, John Newton, was a slave trader!

Yep.  His story is instructive for us today.  

  1. Fear motivates. 

I don’t like it and don’t use it.   Some preachers like it and use it.

Newton converted to Christianity in a storm that scared him to run to religion.

  1. The Christian experience is a process. 

Newton admitted later, “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word.”  Maybe that goes along with a fear-based-conversion? 

  1. We hang on to unChristlike attitudes and actions for a long time after becoming a Christian.

It took 34 years after his conversion for Newton to renounce slavery.  He published a pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade” and confessed, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in  a business at which my heart now shudders.”  

The pamphlet was sent to every member of Parliament and was instrumental in Great Britain outlawing slavery in 1807. 

Do we call ourselves Christ-followers but still hang on to a racist philosophy?  I’m not talking about the lynching type of racism but the type of racism that says, “We’re not racist! We had a black president for crying out loud!”  

 Read these lyrics from “Amazing Grace”:

“I once was lost, but now am found.

Was blind but now I see”

“Was blind but now I see.”  I wonder if Newton was talking about moving from blindness to sight concerning slavery.  Have we moved from blindness to sight:

*concerning our own racism?

*concerning systemic racism?

It took Newton 34 years to renounce his racist views.  

It’s been 57 years since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963).   

It’s time.  

 

 

Just Listen.

Just Listen

Amid the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, I’ve listened to the voices of the past and present.

Not to speak.

Not to react.

Not to defend.

Just to listen. 

As you read this post, I ask you to listen to the words of Coretta Scott King from her “Solidarity Day Address” delivered in Washington D.C. on June 19, 1968.

June 18, 1968, was the 15th anniversary of her marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr. Her husband had been assassinated two and a half months earlier (April 4, 1968), a victim of racial violence.

June 19, 1968, was two weeks after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (June 6, 1968). Her speech included a message from Ethel Kennedy, the wife of Senator Kennedy

Violence was on the mind of Coretta Scott King. 

But not the violence we might assume. Here are her words.  Hear them.  Feel them.  

“In this society, violence against poor people and minority groups is routine.  I remind you that starving a child is violence.  Suppressing a culture is violence.  Neglecting school children is violence.  Punishing a mother and her child is violence.  Discrimintion against a working man is violence.  Ghetto housing is violence.  Ignoring medical needs is violence.  Contempt of poverty is violence.  Even the lack of  willpower to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.”

(Coretta Scott King, June 19, 1968)