Monday, January 18, 2021

A Place at the Table


While we are no longer a legally segregated society, we still are largely divided by race and class.  Just look around this sanctuary if you need a concrete example.  As Martin Luther King often noted 11:00 o’clock Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in America.”

One could argue, I suppose, that the lack of racial diversity in my congregation is directly tied to the lack of racial diversity on Sanibel.  And that is, no doubt, true. We can’t unravel the complexities of de facto segregation in a single blog post, but perhaps we can acknowledge the reality that we are still a long way from Dr. King's vision of a world where all have a place, an equal place, at the table.  Where all can share in the abundance.

In the last years of his life, Dr. King paid an increasing amount of attention to the economic ramifications of racism.  And in the last days of his life he was engaged in supporting the garbage workers of Memphis, Tennessee who were out on strike, protesting poor working conditions and low wages. When he traveled there from Atlanta the plane, he was to fly on was guarded overnight to make sure no one would plant a bomb on it.  When he touched down there were verbal threats against his life.  It was nothing new, he he had dealt with such threats for a number of years.  But still be persisted in his efforts to lift up those who were oppressed, those who had no place at the table.

On April 3, 1968, he mounted the pulpit at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination. 

As he wound up his address, his words rang out:   “. . . I don’t know what will happen now.  We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t matter with me now.  Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. . . . But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And he allowed me to go up the mountains.  And I’ve looked over.  And I’ve seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”  (A Testament of Hope, 286)

It was last sermon and it proved to be powerfully prophetic.  King was assassinated the very next day.

King’s dream was a dream of a day when all of God’s children are seated at the table.  A day when all of God’s children share in the abundance of life.  A day when all drink freely of the waters of life.

Yes, we've made some progress, but this past year in particular has reminded us we aren’t there yet.  


 

 

 

 

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Worst Form?

 A parishioner reminded me last week of a Winston Churchill quote from 1947:  "[D]emocracy is the worst form of government," he said, "except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time . . . ." (https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/quotes)  These past weeks we have certainly seen that put to the test.  

It would, of course, be far easier to  give up on democracy.  How much simpler it would be to have some form of autocratic rule.  No decisions to be made.  No need to take responsibility for anything that happens.  Just go along to get along. 

But those of us who are part of the Congregational tradition have realized over the years that as hard as it is sometimes to have the conversations necessary to make decisions for the whole body, our lives are greatly enriched when we do.  And often our decisions are so much better.  Especially when we work at including everyone in the conversation.

Clearly, as the attack on the Capitol made very clear, we need to recommit ourselves to the work democracy.  Work that should be, must be, non-violent and broadly inclusive. And just as clearly, as the protests over the summer also made clear, there are many who have not been included in the decision-making process, many whose voices have not been heard.  Those who are impoverished, rural folks, people of color, and the list goes on.

Let's be clear, our democracy is broken.  But I hope we don't approach it like so many other things in our modern age.  I hope we don't just throw it out and replace it with something new and different.  I hope that we will have the courage, the patience and the will to fix it; to honestly assess what's wrong, and to address it.

I don't think planned obsolesce is built into American democracy, but clearly, from the start, there was a recognition that it needs ongoing adjustments, even major adjustments.  And for that to happen it will take all of us being involved. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Let Me Be Joy! (Another Look at the New Year)

 I thought this was supposed to be a new year and a fresh start?  Why does it feel so much like . . . well, 2020?  You know, political turmoil, an out-of-control pandemic, bureaucratic snafus, civil unrest, racial tensions unresolved, economic stress on so many . . . doesn't look very new to me!

But here's the thing.  I can, get so bogged down in that kind of thinking that I fail to take the steps I can to make a difference, a difference in my life, and a difference in the lives of those around me.  I can fall into despair, "Oh mothing changes, nothing ever gets better!" Or, I can work out of hope.

Daily I share a poem and a prayer on Facebook Live, and this morning I read a poem called "A Prayer for Today" by Mary Carolyn Davies.  Born in the late nineteenth century, Davies was a moderately successful poet whose work was even included in Louis Untermeyer's 1921 anthology Modern American Poetry.  She died, however, in extreme poverty in new York City in 1940.  Hers was not always an easy life.

What struck me most about the poem, and why I shared it, is its call for approaching life in a way that would and does make a difference.  The poet asks God to make her "too brave to lie or to be unkind" and "too understanding to mind the little hurts companions give."  Many would call it a simple prayer and a simple poem.  Even simplistic.  Yet I found and find some real strength in it, as she prays, "Let me be joy, be hope!  Let my life sing!"

So let me take another look at 2021 and really give it a chance.  And let me take another look at my own attitude.  For I too can be joy, hope and a song, if I so choose.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Vaccines and Christmas: A Strange Tale

 I read a story in Sunday's newspaper that seemed to illustrate the true spirit of Christmas.  It was not about a toy drive for indigent kids, as wonderful as such things are.  Nor was it about people cooking special meals for those shut-in over the holidays.  Though those are also good ways to mark the Birth of Christ.  In fact it involved three governmental bodies.  A seemingly unlikely place to find the spirit of giving that marks this season.  

Most folks are aware that there are not nearly enough Covid19 vaccines to go around at this time.  So they are being parceled out.  A need-based system has been set, placing first priority on healthcare workers.  Which is essential.  But in terms of divvying up the precious supply, there are the haves and the not-haves, or at least, those who don't have so much.

Such was and is the case in metropolitan Washington, DC.  A predominantly African-American city, which very much provides the lifes blood for the surrounding counties in Virginia and Maryland, with majority white populations, the District often seems to come up short.  The distribution is based on population, so when vaccines were distributed for healthcare workers in that city, only 7,000 does went out in the first round.  Virginia and Maryland each received hundreds of thousands of doses.

The governors of Virginia and Maryland both recognized that many folks who work in the District at hospitals and healthcare facilities there, live in their states.  So both of them determined it only made sense to pass along some of their allocations. As Governor Northam of Virginia said, "It's the thing to do for Virginians and for the region."  (News Press, 12-20-2020, 31A)

For the region.  That is how we all need to begin thinking.  What's best for all of us.  What's equitable for all?  My parents used to say, "Equal doesn't mean the same."  I think they were really speaking about equity.  Where there is the greatest need, there should go the greatest number of resources

A strange tale for Christmas, most assuredly, this tale of metro Washington and the vaccines, but then, this is a strange Christmas in a strange year.  

Might the New Year bring vaccines and blessings to each and everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Christmas and Covid and Singing in the Heart

I imagine Christmas has given birth to more music than any other holiday in history., and one of the real sorrows of this Covid Christmas is the fact that we will be unable to do much group singing.  It is too risky!

There are more well-known Christmas carols and songs than you can list.  There are purely sacred pieces, like “O Holy Night, and purely secular ones like “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas.”  And then there are a few that fall somewhere in-between.  One of those is “Christmas in Killarney.”  Perhaps you know it:

                       The holly green, the ivy green

                        The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen

                        Is Christmas in Killarney

                        With all the folks at home . . . .

 It goes on to talk about mistletoe and Santa Claus, as well as the parish priest coming by to offer a blessing on the household.  I’m not sure if it’s a very accurate picture of Christmas in Killarney, or anywhere else in Ireland!  But it is lots of fun!

 Many years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful concert sung by the Moscow Boys Choir.  Like so many concerts it was a blend of both sacred and secular seasonal selections.  And to my surprise, one of the featured numbers was “Christmas in Killarney.  You couldn’t help but chuckle as boys and men with sturdy Russian accents sang lyrics like, “I’m handing you no blarney.”  It was really a wonder, while at the same time, rather absurd!

 If truth be told, the Christmas story itself, with its baby born in a stable, and heavenly angels singing to sleepy shepherds is much the same.  It is quite wondrous, while at the same time a bit absurd.

 Think about it, for a moment.  The same God who is said to have created the universe, the same God who is said to be all-knowing, all-powerful and ever present, chooses to come to us as a baby—and not even a very special baby.  This is no crown prince born in a royal palace.  No, this is a baby born to a peasant girl in a no-account country.  So unimportant that he and his parents don’t even rate a room at the local inn, and so he’s born in a barn.  And his first visitors?  The local dignitaries?  The mayor of the town?  No, the lowliest of men in the neighborhood—shepherds claiming to have seen angels. 

 
But despite all the seeming absurdity, it is the wonder that we have hung on to for centuries.  It is a story that has been told, and retold, and retold again.  In simple words, and wondrous songs.  And even if we can’t sing them aloud in groups, we can now, and always, sing them in our hearts!

 

 

 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Bright Light of Freedom

I am blessed to have many Jewish friends, including a number of rabbis.  To a person the rabbis in particular all say that Chanukah is (relatively speaking) a minor holiday on the Jewish liturgical calendar.  Not that it is unimportant, but rather that it is rather outsized in America due to its proximity to Christmas.  It is not one of the three major festivals (Shavuot, Sukkot
and Passover)--nor is it one of the high holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).  But more than likely it is the best known of the Jewish holidays among those of us who are not Jews.

And who can resist it?  Candles, latkes (sour cream with mine, please), a miraculous story, gelt (or at least chocolate coins covered in gold foil), dreidels . . . not to mention gifts.  Still, the importance of the holiday is so often lost.  Because in the end, it is really about religious freedom.

There are those who would disagree, I am sure.  But I think religious diversity such as found in our nation, is one of the things that gives us real strength.  And protecting the rights of others to believe and worship as they see fit, is a foundational responsibility for all Americans.  Not so much standing up for my right to worship as I please (or to not worship at all), though that is important as well, but rather standing up for the other guy, the other gal.

Chanukah calls us all, whether we are Jewish or not, to protect the rights of all to observe or not as they feel led to do.  In his famous letter promising freedom of religion to the people of the Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island George Washington wrote of his vision for the new nation as a haven for all people.  "Everyone" he wrote, "shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."  Might it be so!

As each candle is lit on the Chanukah menorah, might it remind us of the bright light of freedom--for all!


 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Work of Advent

Advent has always been one of my favorite seasons of the church year.  I love Christmas with all its fanfare and beauty--angel choirs and glittering trees and a bright star in the night--but Advent reaches deep into my soul.  This time of waiting and preparation suits my introverted nature.  

Yet how often I let it slip by without really taking the time to settle down and move into silent spaces.  In this year of lockdowns and isolation, one would think that might be easier, but the truth of the matter is it is not.  Simple things, like Christmas Eve services, are made all the more complex with the various restrictions.  Even the ceremony surrounding the lighting of candles on the Advent Wreath each Sunday, have required a different set of preparations.  We are worshipping in two different spaces, so we needed to procure a second Advent Wreath, arrange for it to be set up . . . and on and on.  I'm not complaining, just noting how easily I can be distracted from the real point of Advent.

One of my favorite Christmas poems is Howard Thurman's exquisite "The Work of Christmas":

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among others,

To make music in the heart.

And so it is.  But first, before Christmas, I must do the work of Advent.  I must take the time to focus my heart on the love of God made known at Bethlehem.  I must pause and be still.  I must be ready to be filled with the joy, the courage, the grace and strength of Christ. I must do the real work of Advent, for only then will I be able to do the work of Christmas.