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.”  

 

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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)

 

Teachers, Thank You!

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” 

That line from Joni Mitchell’s 1970  song “Big Yellow Taxi” referred to the environment: 

“They  paved paradise and put up a parking lot…They took all the trees and put ‘em in a museum..” 

But today, I’m singing it in regards to our teachers.  

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. 

With COVID-19 closing schools we’re missing our teachers and recognizing how important they are to our lives, our families, our communities, our country.  


Teachers.  Thank you!  We have taken you for granted.  We want you back.  

You have been:

Disrespected.

Underpaid.

Unappreciated.

We put athletes on Wheaties box.  Why?  Are athletes really our heroes?  We’ve got some upside down values in the USA.  Guys who dribble a ball down a court can make $20 million a year.  Teachers stand in a classroom and shape our children and, consequently, shape our future,  bring home an average of $50 grand. 

That’s just not right.  

Lee Iacocca, the guy who brought us the Ford Mustang and Ford Pinto (You can’t win them all), and revived a Chrysler Corporation that was ready to be buried, made this observation: ““In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.”

People are saying that we will create, post-COVID-19, a new normal.  How about making paying and appreciating teachers, as the heroes they are, being part of that new normal?

Here are some heroes that shaped me:

Mrs. Summers, 3rd Grade Teacher at Kinyon Elementary School in Poplar Bluff, MO.  Thank you for enhancing my love of books when you took the last 15 minutes of each class to read to us, Mark Twain’s, “Tom Sawyer.”

Mrs. Langford, 5th Grade Teacher at Eastmoreland Elementary School in Joplin, MO.  Thank you for giving me a note at the end of the year in which you called me “a boy with promise.” 

Dr. Gerald Cowen, Greek and New Testament Professor at Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, MO for opening my eyes to the cultural and historical context of Scripture.

Dr. William Tolar, Dean of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for not telling me what to think but teaching me how to think.  I’m still learning. 

Robert Frost wrote, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”  

I think a good teacher is an awakener.  

I’ve had good teachers. 

I’m still learning.  I’m still waking up.

COVID-19 and Earth Day

Covid and Earth Day

COVID-19 has stopped us in our tracks.

The Earth has noticed. 

In the middle of all of the bad linked to COVID-19, there is a good.  

We notice that good today, April 22 – Earth Day. 

The skies are cleaner.  The waters are clearer.  The animals are happier and healthier. 

Levels of nitrogen dioxide – a component of smog created mainly from burning fossil fuels – have dropped over major US cities since March “stay at home” orders were put in place.

In the air over New York City, Columbia University found a 50% drop in carbon monoxide emissions, a 5-10% drop in carbon dioxide emissions, likely a result of the drop in traffic. 

Now, a pandemic is a terrible way to improve the environment.  

Terrible.

COVID-19 has brought to us hurt and heartache.  

It has also brought us a “what if…?”  What if we learned life-long, life-changing lessons about how we treat the environment? 

We will return to our jobs, to our favorite restaurants, to our hair stylists, to our traveling plans, to our ballgames and concerts.  We want that. 

But, maybe we won’t return to “dominating” and “mistreating” our environment.

Maybe that will change. 

Maybe we’ll see the planet like the Hebrew story of creation pictures God seeing the universe, as something “good.”   

The Hebrew word for “good” is used in Exodus 2:2 which records the birth of Moses.  The writer says that his mom saw that he was a “beautiful” boy.  Are you singing John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” right now?  “Good” in Genesis is the same Hebrew word as “beautiful” in Exodus 2:2.  

The planet is beautiful.  The planet is good.  God loves it.  So should I.  

The day of my spiritual awakening

Was the day I saw and knew I saw

All things in God and God in all things.

Mechtild of Magdeburg (1212-1282)

COVID-19 and Palm Sunday

Featured

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.

 

Living in the World of COVID – 19

hand sanitizer

This is the week, on which we will all look back, when everything changed.  Every click on a newsfeed seems to bring with it another report of another change to our daily lives: 

 We’ve kissed handshakes goodbye.

The Stock Market keeps going down. My retirement is in jeopardy!  I guess I’ll work several more years!

Stores temporarily closing (Apple, Nike, Under Armour etc). 

Some restaurants, bars, movie theatres in certain states,  closed.

Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and others moving to “Drive-thru” only.

Even Golden Corral is moving to a “To Go” service only.   Can we go back for seconds and thirds?

Major Sports events cancelled. I just heard that MLB opening day is postponed indefinitely. 

Amusement Parks (Disney Parks, Universal Studios,  Silver Dollar City, etc) temporarily closing or moving back their opening date. 

Welcome to the world of COVID-19.  

Devin Wright,  my son and pastor of Mission Gathering in Issaquah, Washington, commented that March Madness may have been cancelled, but March Madness is still here, just without the basketball.  

Unfortunately, preachers and politicians are contributing to the madness.  

In all times, especially in changing times, we need leaders who can be trusted.  We need leaders who know the facts, who can interpret the facts, and lead us into a better future.  

When we, as leaders, fail to interpret the situation accurately, we lose our credibility.  

By late winter 1933, the nation had already suffered more than three years of economic depression.  More than 11,000 of 24,000 banks had failed. Millions of people were out of work and millions more were working at jobs that barely provided enough to live on.  On March 4, 1933, newly elected President, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address, in which he gave us this memorable line,  “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

But, before he said that, he said this: 

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel.  This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in your country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.”  

Drum roll. Get ready for it, here it come – the line we remember:  “First of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

There it is.  The famous line.  But “no fear”came after “Just the facts, ma’am,” (thanks Sgt Joe Friday)

But, that line sounds different when heard with the lines that  go before.  

Part 1: “Speak the truth, frankly and boldly.”  Don’t “shrink from honestly facing conditions in your country today” 

Part 2:  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

Let’s be brutally honest about the situation we face.  And, let’s never lose faith that things will get better in the end.  

Last Sunday, we canceled our in-person Sunday service at the request of the Greene County Missouri Health Department, and chose instead to live-stream a service with only essential personnel present.

Not every church in our area followed the request of the Health Department.  I don’t understand why. Maybe they had legitimate reasons. Maybe not. I just know why we chose to do what we did. When public safety is at risk, which by every account it seems to be, it’s best to act on behalf of the public even when it costs us personally.  That just seemed like what love would do.  

In the words of Harry Smith, Perhaps think of it this way: that by staying home, you could save a life. And you know, that feels pretty good.”

Listen to our scientists – even more than to our preachers and politicians.                 Be loving in all we do. 
Fear can lead to discrimination and selfish decisions.  Replace our fear with faith, hope, and love, working to create a better world for all.