Thoughts and Prayers?

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Here we go again.  

Another mass shooting.  

Another round of “thoughts and prayers.”  

I’m not denigrating thoughts and prayers – I want to be more thoughtful and prayerful.

But…

We’ve been “thinking and praying” since Columbine and the problem seems worse than ever.  

Just look at the ever-increasing numbers of mass shootings in the U.S:

  • 2019: 417
  • 2021: 693
  • In 2022?  There have been more mass shootings than there have been days in the new year – over 200.  

“Thoughts and prayers” don’t seem to be working.  I wonder if God is telling us what he told the people of Judah through Isaiah: 

I cannot bear your worthless assemblies…

When you spread out your hands in prayer

I hide my eyes from you

Even when you offer many prayers

I am not listening. 

Why is God not listening to the prayers? Glad you asked:  

Your hands are full of blood!

Take your evil deeds out of my sight; 

Stop doing wrong

Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed…  (Isaiah 1:11-18)

That’s like God is saying that to the U.S. today – “Hands full of blood”!

The emptiness of thoughts and prayers spread to the northern kingdom of Israel too. Speaking on God’s behalf, Amos writes: 

I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies…

Take away from me your noisy songs…

Justice must flow like torrents of water,

Righteous actions like a stream than never dries up (Amos 5:21-24)

Have the emptiness of “thoughts and prayers” spread to the United States?  I think so.  

Maybe we need to respond with “thoughts and prayers and…action.” What a novel idea!  Father Rohr gets it.  He named his organization “The Center for Action and Contemplation.”

*Contemplation helps us see the world through the eyes of God – seeing God and reflecting God.

*Action is…well, ACTION.  It’s getting off our butts, or knees, and doing something.

Father Rohr says the most important word in the name is neither “Action” or “Contemplation” but, “and”.

It takes both. 
Let’s do both. 

“Faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  James 2:17   

Maybe there wouldn’t be so many deaths if our faith was not dead.  

Men Behaving ….

After watching the video of Will Smith smacking Chris Rock after the comedian told a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, how would you complete the line: Men Behaving _________?

Some commend Will Smith for “protecting his wife,” calling what he did, “beautiful,” “manly.”

Some criticize Will Smith for “toxic masculinity.”

Some commend Chris Rock for showing restraint and maturity for not smacking back and for not pressing charges (at least not yet).  

Some criticize Chris Rock for bad taste in joking about someone’s health.  

What do you think?  What adverb would you use to complete the sentence? 

I think I’ll go with the title of the British sitcom – “Men Behaving Badly.”

And I think it applies to both men. 

I’m not saying they are bad men – just that their behavior was bad.  

Maybe both men need to take a step back for a little re-evaluation. 

Chris Rock:  I’ve always cringed at jokes that target health issues of people.  I just don’t see Jesus doing that.  Or maybe it was because I received my share of “teasing” as a kid for my speech impediment.  

Will Smith: Well, what he did was assault.  I wonder if we have fallen asleep to basic standards of human decency and civility.  Our leaders have been openly cruel and mean and in so doing have given us permission to be and do the same.  This is where we are. 

In his speech after receiving the Oscar for actor for his role in “King Richard” (Loved that movie!), Will said, “I’m being called on in my life, to love people and to protect people.” And then he said this: “Love will make you do crazy things.”  

Will Smith, Nope.  Just ask a victim of abuse whose abuser uses that same line.  

We all can do better.  And hopefully, when we know better, we will do better (Thank you, Maya Angelou).

A Lesson From My Mom on Martin Luther King Jr Day

As I celebrate the life of and lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr today, January 17, I am also thinking about my mom, whose 5th anniversary of her death is in two days, January 19 (I can’t believe it’s been 5 years). In the last 10 years of her life she and I had several conversations about social justice, as I was growing ever more passionate about the marginalized and justice issues. She expressed more times than I can count her regret over not participating in the march from Selma to Montgomery, March 7, 1965.

Her regret was deep, sincere, palpable.

In March of 1965 mom was a 31 year old mother of two daughters, ages 12 and 2, and one son, me, age 8, and a busy pastor’s wife of a growing Southern Baptist Church – which is a full-time, unpaid job. It’s understandable that she did not, could not, march.

“Phillip,” mom said to me, “I did not march. You can.”

Mom left me with a resolve to have no regrets…to do what I can to create a world driven by love and justice for all.

In response to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of August 28, 1963, Billy Graham said, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.”

Talk about a dream killer. If that’s true, why march? Let’s just sit and wait.

Mom didn’t believe that to be true. I don’t either.

I dream for a just, loving world. I will work to make the dream come true.

No regrets.

One Religion

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“So, if we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion, one, one, one nation under God and one religion under God.  Right? All of us together. Working together.”  

These are the words of Michael Flynn spoken in an address at the ReAwaken America tour which stopped at John Hagee’s church in San Antonio, Texas the weekend of November 14-15.  

“One religion” is not a surprising concept to me.  Michael Flynn is not the first person I’ve heard give voice to that view.  I heard it in the 70s and 80s from the Moral Majority and preachers who were sucked into that movement – I was one of them.  

I heard it from myself.  

I don’t talk that way anymore.  I don’t think that way anymore. 

Why? 

History.  The Constitution.  My evolving understanding of Jesus.  The Handmaid’s Tale (The US is not Gilead).

What religion is Flynn proposing the US should officially adopt or enforce?  I think we know the answer.   

Now, imagine if a Muslim or Jewish American leader made the same comment that the United States should have one faith, and that it should be Islam or Judaism.  The outrage from the religious right would be deafening.  But, strangely, I haven’t heard a peep of criticism from the religious right for these comments.  

Here’s where I am today.  

The Dalai Lama describes his religion in this way:  “My religion is kindness.”  

Ok, if that were the religion referred to by Flynn, that might be ok.  One religion of kindness.  All of us together.  Working together toward  kindness.  

That’s golden.  In fact, it’s the golden rule we’ve all learned: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  

Yeah, we must have that religion.  

  • St. Francis
  • Martin Luther
  • Rob Bell
  • Father Richard Rohr
  • Ralph Carmichael

You may recognize the first four names as revolutionaries in the movement of Christian thinking. But you may be asking,  “Who is Ralph Carmichael and why is he on the list?”  

Ralph Carmichael, who died October 18, 2021, at age 94, was the key figure who dragged the church kicking and screaming into the world of contemporary music.  You know how touchy that topic was and still is!  Some churches are still fighting over music.  

Ralph Carmichael was considered, by his Christian college and many churches, to be a “heretic” for blending the “sacred with the secular.”  He faced resistance and rejection from the Christian world at almost every turn.  

In 1969, Ralph Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser collaborated on the youth musical, “Tell It Like It Is.”

My dad, the hymn-loving  pastor of Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin Missouri, allowed the youth choir to perform the musical during a Sunday night service.  

Dad certainly had a progressive side.

I was in 8th grade, too young to be in the youth choir, but I sat in the congregation listening, mesmerized, “Wow, this is SO COOL!”  

Ralph Carmichael was instrumental in re-forming, re-shaping my faith.  In ninth grade, I joined the youth choir.   One song at the forefront of my memory from those days is a Ralph Carmichael song:  “A Quiet Place.”

It meant a lot to me then.  It means even more to me today. 

Read the lyrics. 

Let them soak into your soul. 

There is a quiet place

Far from this rapid place

Where God can soothe my troubled mind.

Sheltered by tree and flow’r

There in my quiet hour 

With Him by cares are left behind.

Whether a garden small

Or on a mountain tall

New strength and courage there I find.

Then from this quiet place

I go prepared to face

A new day WITH LOVE FOR ALL MANKIND.  

I have not always had a love for all mankind.  I have not always loved people who worshipped differently, who voted differently, who lived differently than I.   Oh, I said I loved them, but I really didn’t.  I judged.  I condemned.  I excluded.  

Ralph expressed an experience in song that I sang about as a 14 year old but did not experience until I was a 50 plus year old: Contemplation of God – looking at God’s face – in nature, resulting in a reflection of God’s nature – a love for ALL mankind.  


Yes, Ralph Carmichael, your songs were revolutionary. 

Some revolutions are slower than others.  It took me 40 years to live what I sang.  Each day is a “new day” to live in love.

Don’t Know Much About History… Don’t Care Much About History

Juneteenth is, as of June 17, 2021, an official, federal holiday. Yay! We love holidays. The problem, however, is at times, we forget the history behind the holiday.

Every Christmas there are voices bemoaning and berating those who have forgotten the “reason for the season.”

Is it possible that we don’t know, or maybe don’t care about the history behind this new holiday?

To appreciate the holiday and all it means, should we not aggressively and enthusiastically make every effort, remove every obstacle, to learning all we can about the history surrounding it?

It’s a hard history, and we don’t like things that are hard. It’s uncomfortable to sit on hard chairs or hard facts. And slavery is hard history. Violence against fellow human beings is hard history. White supremacy that justified the violence then and the injustices now is hard to face.

But maybe it’s only when we feel uncomfortable that we will change chairs – that we will do something to change the way things are and make them the way they should be.

Juneteenth will be celebrated, but learning about it may not be.

In Memoriam

On this Memorial Day:

I will remember with gratitude those who died in efforts to preserve our freedoms (Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from Fear – President Franklin D.Roosevelt’s speech of January 6, 1941).

I will mourn those who died in our wars while mourning the presence of war. I will long for and work for the time where we “will study for war no more,” when nation will not take up swords against nation nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).

I will remember May 31, 1921 – the Tulsa Race Massacre. One white Tulsa resident labeled a photograph of the carnage, “Running the Negro Out of Tulsa.” The event remains one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our country and one of the least known. I didn’t know about it until a couple of years ago. How about you? How could something so horrific be so hidden? “If we don’t face it we can’t fix it.” Maybe we didn’t want to fix it? Do we now?

I will remember the family members of those whose funerals I’ve conducted. Church members, friends, strangers who through a death became friends.

I will remember Mom and Dad and other family members who have transitioned – Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins.

I see things that remind me of them. Signs that say “Look. They existed.” And I know they exist still. As Paul Coehlo writes, “We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.”

In the meantime, this afternoon, I think Denise and I will take Dad’s 73 Beetle for a spin. I’ll polish it up a bit first. That’s what Dad would want.

Remember.

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.   

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.