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.  

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.

What if the Bible Is Not Our Guide?

This Book Doesn't Have Any Answers

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – the B.I.B.L.E.  Have you heard the Bible explained that way?  It’s clever.  But is it accurate?  

I said in my teaching Sunday that I used to think the clever acrostic is accurate.  But not anymore.  Let’s be honest.  The Bible isn’t really a very good instruction manual or guide book.  

I know.  That rubs us the wrong way.  But, as Billy Sunday said, and I paraphrase:  “If something rubs you the wrong way, maybe you need to turn around.” 

I needed to turn around.  Maybe you do too. 

Think with me:  The Bible tells us, for example, to “Be kind to one another,” “Love one another – even our enemies,” “Give generously to the poor.”  All good. 

But next to these good things are some bad things- really bad things:  

Rape (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Numbers 31:15-18); 

Slavery (1 Peter 2:18; Titus 2:9) 

Genocide (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Deuteronomy 20:15-17) 

…are all commanded – by God.  At least the writers pass the buck to God for these commands.  Are those instructions ones that we should follow?  I hope you’’ll answer “No”.

One more thing. It doesn’t make much sense to claim that the Bible is an “infallible” guide in what it says if we cannot agree on what it says.  “But we agree on the essentials,” I hear someone saying.  We really don’t.  Go to amazon.com  and type in “four views” in the search bar and get ready to “turn around.”  We’re given page after page of books about various ways of interpreting key Christian doctrines:

Four Views on Hell

Four Views of Atonement

Four Views on Divine Providence

Four Views on Eternal Security

These are not peripheral issues.  These are some “big rocks” of Christianity.  In each book we find opposing views in which each proponent is absolutely certain that their particular interpretation of the Bible is the right one.  

If the Bible spoke clearly on these issues then why isn’t there a “The Only View” series.

So, if we remove the Bible as our guide, what do we put in its place?  Are we just free to do whatever we want – to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:5)? 

I offered, Sunday morning, an option given to me by mother throughout my junior high and high school years.  Here is the question she told me to ask myself when considering the rightness or the wrongness of an action: “When you consider this action, ask yourself, ‘does the life of Jesus well up inside of you?’”  

That’s good.  

Denise and I went to Little Rock after Sunday’s service to see my dad.  Drinking a glass of wine and eating Girl Scout cookies, (what are the rules for pairing wine with Girl Scout Cookies) with dad, my sister and Denise, around dad’s kitchen table, I asked dad about mom’s counsel to me.  He told me mom read that in a book by Watchman Nee, an author that greatly influenced my parents.   

For 52 years I’ve been under the impression that mom came up with that on her own!

So, this morning, I did a quick Google search trying to find the exact quote.  I didn’t find mom’s version of it but I did find the following statements by Watchman Nee.   

Read them with an open mind.  Contemplatively. And get ready  to “turn around.”  

“Brothers and sisters, as we live before God, our actions must not be determined by good and evil, but by the life within.”

Hmm. “Actions determined…by the life within.”  Let’s go on…

“When we have the life within and feel life rising up, we are doing the proper thing.” That sounds a bit like Mom’s version. 

Then there’s this from Nee: “Many problems arise because we only have a standard of right and wrong.  Many mistakes are made because we do not have the standard of life.”

Then Nee, a mystical Christian,  offers this prayer,

“Grace me so that I live by the tree of life, not by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  I want to constantly pay attention to life…”

Mom was telling me, and I’m just now really hearing it: “Don’t live by an external rule book (the Bible), instead, live by an internal life – the life that is “graced” by  the Spirit of Christ.  

Have you been indoctrinated into seeing the Bible as your guide?  

Yes.  We need a guide.  No doubt about that! 

But have we settled for an external law when we have within us an internal life?  

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives and you will not obey your selfish desires (Paul to the Galatians, found in 5:16).

“And when that one comes, the Spirit will guide you into all truth” (Jesus, to his disciples, recorded by John, in 16:13).  

“Pay attention to life” the Christ-shaped life within (Watchman Nee to Mom; then Mom to me).  

I will live in the awareness of the presence of life in me and I will pay attention to it.

That will be my guide.

Kindness Week and President’s Day

kid President kindness

Kindness on President’s Day

February 17 is both President’s Day and the beginning of Random Acts of Kindness week.  Initially, that sounds like a weird combination, but maybe not.  

Think about food combinations.  What sounds awful may actually be delicious. 

*Ice cream and French Fries.  Dip your fries into a Wendy’s Frosty.  Salty and sweet.  Hot and cold.  What’s not to love?

*Strawberries and Balsamic. Now, I’m all over that. 

*Banana and Bacon.   Thank you Elvis for this one. 

Let’s add President’s Day and Kindness Week to the list of weird but totally doable combinations.  

Our favorite President, by almost every poll every year, is Abraham Lincoln.  I wonder if his kindness is one thing that pole vaults Lincoln over the others. In Lincoln, we see a combination of strong leadership with pervasive kindness. 

We respect that.  We like someone who “leads with kindness.”

“Kindness” includes, but goes way beyond, sweet little acts of kindness.   

 “Love is kind” is what Paul writes in the “Love” poem of 1 Corinthians 13.  But he frames “kindness” in the context of relating to the “problem people” in our lives. 1 Corinthians 13 was written to a community in conflict. They were angry with each other.  They were at each others’ throats.  They were divisive. They had fallen into the dualism of “us-vs-them”.

Sound familiar? 

To that group of fighting folks then and to the fighting folks today, Paul says “Love is kind.”  

In an environment of hate we are to love, and that love looks like kindness – kindness to all.  

We see such kindness in President Lincoln.  

Historian, Paul Boller Jr, writes about Lincoln that, “No president has been vilified the way Lincoln was during the Civil War.  He was attacked by all sides: by abolitionists, Negro-phobes, states’ righters, strict constructionists, radicals conservatives and by people who just did not like his looks or resented his storytelling…”

Yet, the direction of his life and response was kindness.  “Kindness was,” Donald T. Phillips writes “the very foundation of his personality.”

Here are two examples out of a life-time of examples:

Some weeks after the 1860 election, Springfield banker John W. Bunn met Senator Salmon P Chase coming out of Lincoln’s law office in Springfield.   

“You don’t want put that man in your cabinet,” he told Lincoln.
“Why do you say that?” Lincoln asked.
“Because,” said Bunn, “he thinks he is a great deal bigger than you are.”
“Well,” said Lincoln, “do you know of any other men who think they are bigger than I am?”
“I don’t know that I do,” said Bunn,  “but why do you ask?”
“Because,” said Lincoln, “I want to put them all in my cabinet.” 

Ok, that story is more about “humility” than “kindness,” but I like it.  Humility and kindness is a naturally combo – like peanut butter and jelly.

At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln refused to execute Confederate Generals for treason.  Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once asks Lincoln explicitly whether he wanted Jefferson Davis captured or allowed to escape. Here’s Lincoln’s response.  It’s a good one:

“I’ll tell you, General, what I think of taking Jeff Davis.  Out in Illinois there was an old temperance lecturer who was very strict in the doctrine and practice of total abstinence.  One day, after a long ride in the hot sun, he stopped at the house of a friend, who proposed making him a lemonade.  When the friend asked if he wouldn’t like a drop of something stronger int he drink, he replied that he couldn’t think of it.  ‘I’m opposed to it on principle, ‘ he said. ‘But,’ he added with a longing glance at the bottle, ‘if you could manage to put in a drop unbeknownst to me, I guess it wouldn’t hurt me much.’  

Now General I am bound to oppose the escape of Jeff Davis; but if you could manage to let him slip out unbeknownst-like, I guess it wouldn’t hurt much.” 

Abraham Lincoln was not a vengeful person. And in his Second Inaugural Address he challenged the nation to move on “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”  

In February 1865, Lincoln told his friend Joshua Speed, “Speed, die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best to say that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower when I thought a flower would grow.”  

He died from an assassin’s bullet 2 months later, April 15, 1865.  

In honor of President Lincoln, let’s plant flowers of kindness, not just this week, but every week until we are united with Love.  

Kindness Week and President’s Day

kid President kindness

Today, February 17, is both President’s Day and the beginning of Random Acts of Kindness week.  Initially, that sounds like a weird combination, but maybe not.  

Think about food combinations.  What sounds awful may actually be delicious. 

*Ice cream and French Fries.  Dip your fries into a Wendy’s Frosty.  Salty and sweet.  Hot and cold.  What’s not to love?

*Strawberries and Balsamic. Now, I’m all over that. 

*Banana and Bacon.   Thank you Elvis for this one. 

Let’s add President’s Day and Kindness Week to the list of weird but totally doable combinations.  

Our favorite President, by almost every poll every year, is Abraham Lincoln.  I wonder if his kindness is one thing that pole vaults Lincoln over the others. In Lincoln, we see a combination of strong leadership with pervasive kindness. 

We respect that.  We like someone who “leads with kindness.”

“Kindness” includes, but goes way beyond, sweet little acts of kindness.   

 “Love is kind” is what Paul writes in the “Love” poem of 1 Corinthians 13.  But he frames “kindness” in the context of relating to the “problem people” in our lives. 1 Corinthians 13 was written to a community in conflict. They were angry with each other.  They were at each others’ throats.  They were divisive. They had fallen into the dualistic thinking of “us-vs-them”.

Sound familiar? 

To that group of fighting folks then and to the fighting folks today, Paul says “Love is kind.”  

In an environment of hate we are to love, and that love looks like kindness – kindness to all.  

We see such kindness in President Lincoln.  

Historian, Paul Boller Jr, writes about Lincoln that, “No president has been vilified the way Lincoln was during the Civil War.  He was attacked by all sides: by abolitionists, Negro-phobes, states’ righters, strict constructionists, radicals, conservatives and by people who just did not like his looks or resented his storytelling…”

Yet, the direction of his life and response was kindness.  “Kindness was,” Donald T. Phillips writes “the very foundation of his personality.”

Here are two examples out of a life-time of examples:

Some weeks after the 1860 election, Springfield banker John W. Bunn met Senator Salmon P Chase coming out of Lincoln’s law office in Springfield.   

“You don’t want put that man in your cabinet,” he told Lincoln.
“Why do you say that?” Lincoln asked.
“Because,” said Bunn, “he thinks he is a great deal bigger than you are.”
“Well,” said Lincoln, “do you know of any other men who think they are bigger than I am?”
“I don’t know that I do,” said Bunn,  “but why do you ask?”
“Because,” said Lincoln, “I want to put them all in my cabinet.” 

Ok, that story is more about “humility” than “kindness,” but I like it.  Humility and kindness is a natural combo – like peanut butter and jelly.

At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln refused to execute Confederate Generals for treason.  Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once asks Lincoln explicitly whether he wanted Jefferson Davis captured or allowed to escape. Here’s Lincoln’s response.  It’s a good one:

“I’ll tell you, General, what I think of taking Jeff Davis.  Out in Illinois there was an old temperance lecturer who was very strict in the doctrine and practice of total abstinence.  One day, after a long ride in the hot sun, he stopped at the house of a friend, who proposed making him a lemonade.  When the friend asked if he wouldn’t like a drop of something stronger int he drink, he replied that he couldn’t think of it.  ‘I’m opposed to it on principle, ‘ he said. ‘But,’ he added with a longing glance at the bottle, ‘if you could manage to put in a drop unbeknownst to me, I guess it wouldn’t hurt me much.’  

Now General I am bound to oppose the escape of Jeff Davis; but if you could manage to let him slip out unbeknownst-like, I guess it wouldn’t hurt much.” 

Abraham Lincoln was not a vengeful person.   And in his Second Inaugural Address he challenged the nation to move on “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”  

In February 1865, Lincoln told his friend Joshua Speed, “Speed, die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best to say that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower when I thought a flower would grow.”  

He died from an assassin’s bullet 2 months later, April 15, 1865.  

In honor of President Lincoln, let’s plant flowers of kindness, not just this week, but every week until we are united with Love.  

Game of Thrones – A New King

GOT“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” 

I have no idea of the origin of that quote.  I’ve heard it used in motivational speeches for businesses and in sermons and eulogies at funerals.  I’ve used it myself.  

I thought of it when I watched the final episode of “Game of Thrones.”  

I think I’m in the minority but I think “GOT” ended well.  I have seen a lot of final episodes of TV shows. Here they are in the order in which they popped into my head, not from worst to best or best to worse – just the order in which I thought of them:

“Lost”

“Seinfeld” 

 “The Sopranos”

“Cheers”

“Mash” 

“Big Bang Theory”

“The Fugitive” Most readers will have to Google that one! The final episode of “The Fugitive” was really good.  Maybe the best.  

The final episode of Game of Thrones didn’t get much love. 

Here are a few of the comments:

“I wish I never owned a TV.”

“That’ll teach you people to look forward to things.”

“Tyrion: ‘No one is really happy.’  All of us watching, ‘No kidding.’” 

From William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain Kirk, “Craycray incestuous family rules 7 kingdoms.  Baddies from the north invade so must put away their differences to fight together.  After winning the go after the craycray Queen who didn’t help them fight and everything ends up in a hot mess and a big disappointment. The end.”

I liked the ending.  It wasn’t “The Fugitive” good, but it was close.  Here’s why I liked it.  

Bram the Broken was named king of the 6 Kingdoms.  

“All hail the King that no one expected.”

“All hail the King that was broken.”

“All hail the King who was the least.”

Some may remember the “Red Wedding.” 

Some may remember the Coffee Cup or the Water Bottle.

I remember the final speech by Tyrion:

“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags?” Tyrion asks.  Most of culture would say “Yes.”  Those are the things around which people commonly rally.  But it’s not so in the new Kingdom established after the melting of the Iron Throne.  This new Kingdom would be different than the kingdoms of old.  In this kingdom the King was broken.  Crippled.  Wounded.  Humble. 

Instead of sitting on an Iron Throne made from the swords of vanquished enemies, the King in this Kingdom sits in a wheelchair.

This Kingdom would be led not by one who is strong in the world’s eyes, measured by the bodies slain but by one who is weak in the world’s eyes.

I don’t know the spiritual leanings of George R.R. Martin, the author of “Game of Thrones,” or the spirituality of David Friedman, the screenwriter of the HBO adaptation, but I see, hear, and feel a picture of Jesus and the Kingdom of God in this final episode.  

You don’t look for a King in a wheel-chair.  You don’t look for a King washing dirty feet, riding on a donkey or hanging on a cross. 

In Jesus’ Kingdom the first shall be last.  Those who have been pushed aside (out of a window) are elevated.

In Jesus’ Kingdom it is about restoration, not retribution. When Bran picked Tyrion to be his “hand,” Grey Worm protested, appealing to the need for a justice of retribution.  The newly announced King outlined a new approach, “He’s made many terrible mistakes. He’s going to spend the rest of his life fixing them.”   Restoration replaces retribution.  

There may be plenty of things to not like about GOT.  I get that.  I didn’t like all of the blood and sex.  But this, I liked.  

The finale presented another way for a King to lead, another way for people to live.

Denise and I turned off the TV Sunday night, said “Goodbye” to GOT, but were challenged and encouraged to live that new way.

“Stay in Your Lane”

Kentucky Derby

A friend stopped to talk with me after a Sunday service.   He told me that someone had told him that “Phillip had gone off the rails.”  

“But,” my friend said, “I don’t believe him.” 

Thanks.

 I got home and Googled the phrase and read this: “The phrase has been used since the mid-1800s and is a reference to a train derailment.  When a train goes off the rails it is no longer progressing along its preordained track and is uncontrollable and chaotic.”  

Well, that doesn’t sound good at all.    Derailed trains are tragic. 

Have I gone off the rails? 

I guess going “off the rails” meant that I was, at one time, “on the rails.”

Whose rails? Who laid the rails? Are the rails of theology set?  

I get it.  Sometimes it’s good to stay on the rails – if you’re a train. 

It’s good to…

  • Stay in our lane when we drive.
  • Stay in our lane when we are riding in the Kentucky Derby!  It was a wild ride at the Derby.  Maximum Security crossed the finish line first but got a DQ when it was determined that he got out of his lane and interfered with other horses.  Just like football I guess.  So, Country House, a 65-1 underdog, won the first American Triple Crown race.  The lesson here, I guess, is, “Never throw away your ticket in anger.”  Or, in horse racing, stay in your lane.  

But is it good to stay on the rails of theology?  In no way am I putting myself in the same category as the following folks, but their story certainly makes me question the rigidness of rails.

-Jan Hus, a precursor to the Protestant Reformers, asserted that:

*no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church, and

*that a Christian should pray for his enemies and bless those who curse him, and

*that a person is forgiven of sins by true repentance, not by making a donation to the church (Not a bad way to increase the offering!) 

Hus was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

-C.S. Lewis, a hero to Evangelicals: 

*accepted evolution, 

*did not hold to the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, 

*thought and taught that it is possible for people in other religions to inherit the kingdom of God without knowing it, and, perhaps the biggest derailment of all, 

*rejected the view of Biblical Inerrancy.   

And, last but not least, 

-Jesus, according to the religious authorities of the day, went off the rails (John 5:18; Mark 2:5-7; Matthew 9:2-3; Luke 5:20-21; John 8:58-59; John 10:30-33; Mark 14:61-64).

Then there is Rachel Held Evans – writer, blogger, reformer.   I read her first book, Evolving in Money Town in 2010.  Reading it brought relief.  With each page, I thought, “I’m not alone with my questions, with my exhaustion with a constricted, restricted view of God and spirituality.”   Her words on paper removed my feeling of weirdness for thinking and feeling what I was thinking and feeling.    Rachel was raised between conservative evangelical rails. I lived on those rails as well.  

Rachel died Saturday from massive brain swelling after receiving treatment for an infection. Words of grief,  appreciation and honor have poured in. But, so have ominous words of judgment and warning.  

When she was facing death, the nicest of the comments went something like, “We don’t agree with her theologically but we are praying for her.”  Upon her death, other writers were just mean.   One website carried two articles, one titled, “Heretical Author, Rachel Held Evans Dead at 37.”  The other is titled, “How Do We Respond to the Death of an Apostate?”  

Some might say she has “Gone off the rails.”  

Rachel showed a different way to understand God, to love the Bible, to follow Jesus.  For many, her way is the reason they remained Christian. Instead of throwing out God and Christianity, she showed a spirituality outside the rails between which she was raised.  

As a Baptist by birth, I was born into a tradition that valued reform.  We were products of the reformation.  People today still value reform – 

In the past.

  It’s strange isn’t it?  We honor, respect, revere the people who colored outside of the lines, the risk-takers, the revolutionaries. We honor them…

  • from a distance. 
  • in the past.

Not up close and in the present.

The person who said I had “gone off the rails” may have said it out of concern. Or warning.  Or judgment.  I don’t know.  

I do know that I’m ok with it.  

I know that I don’t have it all figured out.  

I know that we are reformed and need to keep being reformed to the image of the Christ.

I know that that means we have to, at times, get off the track.     

Marching in Synch with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

 

 

mlkdaymarchDenise and I attended the Springfield NAACP Martin Luther King Jr March and Celebration this morning.  The marchers gathered in the MediaCom Ice Park beforehand.  Making our way through the crowd I saw Steve Pokin a friend and reporter for the Springfield News-Leader.  I respect Steve so much and thoroughly enjoy his columns.

I stopped to say “Hello” and then saw that Steve had in his hands the tools of his trade: a pad and pen.  Merging friendship and work together, Steve, asked, “And why are you here?”  

I was caught off guard… After linking a few disjointed thoughts together, I shouted out to Denise who was talking to someone else, “Hey, Niese, look who’s here!  Steve Pokin.  He has something to ask you.”  

As we marched through downtown Springfield I thought more about Steve’s question:  “Why am I here?” 

I’m here because Dr. King and I have something in common.   Dr. King wrote about his early life, “I grew up in the church.  My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my daddy’s brother is a preacher.  So I didn’t have a choice.”  

I too grew up in church.  My father, both grand-fathers, one great-grandfather, three uncles were preachers.   Preaching/Pastoring felt a bit like a family-business.  

I love his pastor’s heart.  I love that his drive toward social justice came from the spirit of Christ.  He heard Jesus say to him, “Stand up for justice.  Stand up for truth.  And lo, I will be with  you until the end of the world.”  

*  I’m here to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and to publicly align myself with his ideals – Love over hate.  In a sermon delivered to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, November 17, 1957, Dr. King expressed the heart of the movement in these words, ““To our most bitter opponents, we say, ‘Do to us what you will and we will continue to love you…Throw us in jail and we shall love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall love you…We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”

“We must meet hate with love” were his words then.  I want them to be my words now.

I’m here to express solidarity with others in the march.   I want to align myself with them as well.  In a sermon deliverd in 1954, Dr. King directed his words toward whites, “I have seen many white people who sincerely oppose segregation and discrimination.  But they never took a real stand against it because of fear of standing alone.”  

Denise and I weren’t alone this morning.  We stood and marched with a diverse group of people – diverse in color, income, religion – but united in love and the desire for justice.  

”The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruely by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people,” Martin Luther King, Jr.  

I am not saying I am good and others are bad.  I am saying I do not want to be guilty of oppression, cruelty or silence.  I was there because I want to be:

  • A good person.
  • A vocal person. 

The official march came to an end about hour later…but Denise and I want to continue the march.  I’m reminded of a hymn we sang in the Baptist church of our childhoods, 

Come ye that love the Lord, and let your joys be known.

Join in a song with sweet accord, Join in a song with sweet accord.

We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion

We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God. 

Then let our songs abound and every tear be dry.

We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground.

To fairer worlds on high, to fairer worlds on high.

We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion

We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.

We had joined people, in song, in sweet accord this morning.  Together we will continue to march to create a fairer world, a beautiful city of God, of shalom, fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that: 

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven.”  

Celebrate the New Year with Cheese

Cheese 2019

Black-eyed peas, greens, cornbread, pork, pomegranates, noodles, cakes  are considered some of the lucky foods to eat for New Years. Mmmm Good!

The Wrights are adding a big block of cheese to our menu today…
It’s not just because I’m a cheesehead -not the NFL Packers kind – just a lover of cheese (goat cheese), but because of an event that happened on New Year’s Day 1802.  

January 1, 1802, Baptists of Cheshire, Massachusetts, sent a giant block of cheese to President Thomas Jefferson.  The big cheese (a 1,200 pound cheese wheel) was delivered by the Baptist pastor, John Leland to the President as an expression of “thanks” for his stand on religious liberty for all – even for the irreligious and non-religious.  

“Religious Liberty” meant something different to them then than it does to many in the U.S. now.  It seems to me that some today define religious liberty as “freedom to impose my religion on everybody.” It seems that some religions are “more equal” than others.

Baptists in the days of Jefferson and Leland would not recognize many Baptists and other evangelicals today in regard to their views on religious liberty.

In the days of Jefferson and Leland, Baptists were among the discriminated class.  In many communities, being Baptist or anything other than the state-approved religion, was grounds for persecution and imprisonment.  Yes, the Puritans had sailed to these shores seeking freedom of religion, but freedom of their religion only.  

Do we have some Puritans hanging around today?  

Are Evangelicals today, the discriminating class?  

As Francis L. Hawks wrote in Ecclesiastical History, 1836: “No dissenters in Virginia experienced for a time harsher treatment than Baptists.  They were beaten and imprisoned, and cruelty taxed ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyance.”  

Baptist John Leland, who pastored in both Massachusetts and Virginia demanded not just toleration, but equality.  

Are we demanding equality for all religions? Shouldn’t we be? 

Back to the cheese:

*Pastor Leland enlisted the ladies of his Baptist congregation to concoct the giant cheese. 

*Leland, a passionate abolitionist, also carefully made sure no slaves were used to make the cheese.

*Jefferson’s policy to refuse gifts while in office led him on January 4, 1802, to pay Leland $200 for the cheese.  (about $5000.00 in today’s dollars!  Wow.  That’s a lot of cheese and money!)

One other thing from that New Year’s Day, January 1, 1802.  

Jefferson wrote a letter that day.  From that letter we get the phrase, “wall of separation between church and state.”  The letter was addressed to a different group of New England Baptists.  Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut were concerned that their religious liberty was at risk because of a government that sanctioned one religion over another.  Their religion was not the sanctioned religion. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

 Baptists were the minority, the outcasts, the heretics.  

So it was party time for the Baptists when  Jefferson, an outspoken proponent of absolute religious liberty for all, was elected President.  Danbury Baptists wrote a letter to the President expressing their delight in his election and hope for his assistance in disestablishing Connecticut’s official religion. 

Jefferson composed his reply to their letter on the day he received the cheese from Baptist pastor John Leland.  I wonder it the “religious freedom cheese” reminded him, “Oh, I forgot to respond to the Danbury Baptists!”

Anyway, in this letter, Jefferson stated:

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State (emphasis mine).” 

I love that wall.  

I appreciate that wall. 

Without that wall it could be my religious views that are considered heretical and illegal.

Think about this history when you see government sponsored religious displays – whether it is a cross in a public park, or religious slogans on government property.  

Ask ourselves the questions: 

Have the persecuted become the persecuting?  

Why have I turned God into the God of my tribe?

 On this New Year’s Day, I will enjoy a chunk of cheese with my black-eyed peas  and contemplate these words from Catholic Mystic, Nicolas of Cusa, “God is an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

I worship a God who is inclusive enough for all and appreciate a country established on the principle of liberty for all.