Both sides

Both sides on the beaches of Normandy weren’t equal.

Both sides at Auschwitz were not responsible. 

Both sides did not cause the Civil War. 

I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”

People went to Charlottesville because they are prejudiced racists who want to discriminate against others.

Others went to oppose discrimination.

And the war came.

Like a man who blames the victim, not the rapist, the president claims both sides were responsible for violence in Charlottesville, Aug. 12.

The terrorized are not responsible for the actions of terrorists.

Those who fight to defend freedom are forced to fight by those who would take freedom from others.

The only confusion rests in racist minds.

Neo-Nazis are anti-American, immoral racists. The ‘other side,’ the only decent response, is to oppose Nazis.

The president has clearly sided with the bigots who celebrate traitors:

“So this week it’s Robert E Lee,” Trump said. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

It stops when bigots and racists are no longer shamelessly parading through city streets and supported by bigots in the White House.

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A letter for our times

In the aftermath of the chaos in Charlottesville, too many moderates remain silent.

Anti-American, anti-Semitic racists marched through the city brandishing images of bigotry and hate, culminating in a racist white, male, terrorist driving his car into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer and wounding dozens.

The tepid response was chilling, from the president, from some pulpits and from across the cultural landscape. (For example, of 52 Republican senators, fewer than 10 addressed the racist rally for what it was.)

The racists were emboldened by the president’s silence. Silence equals consent.

It took two days for the president to read a prepared statement condemning the haters.

There is no equivalency of issues or participants.

One side dehumanizes and delegitimizes the humanity of groups of people.

The other side opposes hate and bigotry.

The United States is built on a promise of equality.

Racists oppose equality.

Racism and discrimination victimizes some people and rewards others.

This is wrong.

It’s pathetic that something so simple has to be explained in 2017.

There is a silent, significant segment of the white population that benefits from racist systems and they affirm it with silence or ignorance.

The situation calls to mind another example of white moderates failing to stand up for justice.

In April, 1963, the six year-old faith-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference assisted with organizing protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.

City officials turned water hoses and police dogs on children and arrested the SCLC’s 34 year-old president.

Eight moderate, white clergymen published a letter calling the demonstrations “unwise and untimely,” urging moderation. As the SCLC President, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. responded with what has  come to be known as King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

It is filled with familiar quotes.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

“Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council0r or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.””

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

“In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

“But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

The day after the murder in Charlottesville, some ministers who preached about the violence and denounced racism reported opposition from their congregations. At least one minister was immediately told to resign or  be fired.

Many moderates, including too many Christians, have responded to the traitorous racists in Charlottesville with less than outrage.

King has some words for them.

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A line drawn in blood

A new line was drawn on the streets of Charlottesville, Va.

A line as red as the blood on the pavement and as stark as the Nazi flag.

Because the line is clear: those who are on the side of Nazis or those who oppose racist bigots.

If you, your friends, family or fellow church members find any sort of excuse, comparison, or false equivalence associated with Aug. 12, then you are siding with Nazis.

If you do not repudiate and reject everything associated with Nazis, then you are little more than Vichy France.

Donald Trump said there are “many sides” in the issue. He is mistaken. There are two sides: people who support Nazis and people who oppose Nazis.

Nazi. In the streets of Virginia. An hour from my front door.

Not just one racist with a new flag, but Nazi salutes, tee-shirts with Nazi quotes and racist slogans on the college campus designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Nazis and the KKK agree with Trump’s agenda.

Trump doesn’t repudiate their support or the Nazi rhetoric.

In fact, Trump is supported by legendary racist David Duke, who spoke shortly before the rally dissolved into murderous mayhem:

“This represents a turning point, for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back. And that’s what we gotta do.”

This isn’t home-brewed, American racism of burning crosses and white hoods. This isn’t bombed churches and cold blooded murder.

This is NAZIS.

Nazis.

The enemy at D-Day, the regime who murdered six million innocent Jewish people in death camps, the greatest organized evil on earth since the Roman Empire. Nazis.

They shouldn’t be difficult to repudiate.

If you agree with Nazis, then you probably have deep character flaws that prevent you from seeing how bad you are.

David Duke is right. Charlottesville should be a turning point.

The line is drawn: those who agree with Nazis and those of us on the side of justice, equality and love.

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God breathes

The breath of God blows through all of creation and through each of us.

The seeds of creation are in each of us.

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden

In Hebrew, the word for Spirit, ruach, means breath. Ruach is a feminine word.

So, in Genesis 1, when

… the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

The Spirit is feminine. God blows her breath across the face of the waters.

Any verse in Hebrew scripture that speaks to the Spirit of God is referencing a feminine God. This also applies to the Wisdom of God, which is also feminine.

The Greek word for Spirit is pneuma, which has a similar meaning to ruach.

The English word Spirit comes from the Latin, spiritus, which means breath.

The Spirit of God, the breath of God, blows from the first page of the Hebrew scripture across the Gospels, through thousands of years, to the very breath you take, now.

The Bible written at different times, by different people, in different lands, in different languages, always carries the same breath of God.

The Spirit of God has always existed. Like our own breath, it is constantly present in our lives.

The feminine Spirit moves upon the face of the waters, across the earth, and in our lives.

Each of us, no matter our home or language, carries the Spirit of God.

God is the air we breathe and the life within us.

Each of us is touched by the Divine Breath.

 

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God moves

I heard them before I saw them.

And I heard them for a long time.

I was hitchhiking across rural roads in Missouri and hadn’t seen much beyond abject poverty for what felt like most of my life.

The night before, I sat with my back against a tree in front of a church and watched the sun set — magnificent reds, oranges, purples and blues blended across the sky like chalk, from horizon to horizon.

That was the cool of the evening. In the stark, sun bleached heat of the day it was just miserable. Little shade and fewer businesses.

And then the fluttering sound — like flags or canvas sails. I walked alone slowly, steadily, my arm outstretched to the intermittent traffic.

Fluttering.

The road stretched into nowhere, cutting through empty fields. I looked in every direction for the source of the crazy flutter.

Nothing but the sound.

I kept walking.

Fluttering. But no flagpoles and certainly no sailboats.

Then I heard the voices.

Again I stopped and listened.

Emptiness all around. Several people talking, their words clear across the open expanse and amid the fluttering.

That’s when I looked up.

Skydivers.

Layers of parachutes filled the clear, blue sky. Colorful canopies bursting open, so high that I couldn’t see the people wearing them. Little puffs of fluttering canvas, like tiny clouds of smoke.

People hundreds of yards in the sky talking like they were sitting on a bench.

Then I saw the plane, lifting off from the small airfield. Minutes later, a stream of dots falling from the plane.

God works the same way. In your wildernesses day, alone or among strangers, God is there.

Even before you recognize it, God is already there.

Be still and listen.

You can literally look up and see the wonders of God written across the sky.

Leaning against that tree in Missouri, watching the wide, wide sky, I had no idea who God was.

The boy who gave me a ride, who was not much older than myself, had gone into the church. I suppose he invited me in, but I couldn’t see God working. Not even when I watched God’s magnificence painted across the sky.

Like admiring music with no idea who plays it, I could see the effects, but not the cause.

God vibrates in the softest notes.

God is the gentle breeze in the heat of the day.

God is in the connections between people.

God moves, in the world, in our lives, in the endless pulse of the ocean waves.

God moves.

God moves.

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50

I turned 50 recently.

The age where we realize there are more yesterdays than tomorrows.

Half a century.

All the coins in my pocket are younger than I.

The most recent Supreme Court Justice is younger than I am.

At 20, I was months away from being arrested and more than 15 years away from recognizing God working in my life.

By age 36 I published two books.

June 17, 2003, I was baptized.

At age 42 I earned my Master of Divinity degree.

And at age 47 I became a father for the first time.

In 30 years I’ve experienced more shifts in my view of the world than I would have imagined possible.

I once supported capital punishment in the case of cop killers and terrorism — attacks against society. As a Christian I oppose all executions because Jesus was executed. Despite how some people behave, I believe God can help anyone be redeemed, and executions prevent redemption.

Redemption is possible daily for each of us. (Redemption.)

At 20, I was progressive politically and enjoyed the Grateful Dead. At 50, the teaching of Jesus has made me even more progressive and accepting of others. (But I no longer enjoy sweaty, dirty arena concerts and the hours it take to get to and from them. Jerry is gone and so too is my desire to follow the Dead on the road.)

God knows who we are, and loves us unconditionally. When we allow ourselves to feel the unconditional love of God we are able to extend that love to others. I didn’t know this at 20. I try to live it at 50.

At 20, like most 20 year-olds, I thought I had things figured out.

In seminary I worked at a retirement community where I talked with very elderly people who felt they didn’t have anything figured out. Their long lives left them with more questions than answers.

At 50 I accept the fact that I will never figure things out. I try not to waste energy looking for answers that don’t exist.

In the past 30 years I’ve tried to accept myself and others and each day as we are, not as I want them to be.

When I consider the past 30 years and the 30 years to come, I suspect my views will shift even more in ways I haven’t imagined.

As you look back and look ahead, considering the significant events that comprise your life, I wish you equanimity to accept the past and courage to face the future. May you have the strength of Muhammad Ali to stand up for what you believe, to take risks and to try new things.

Release the past to fully embrace the present and view the world differently, from this moment on.

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Jesus had two dads

When I adopted our daughter, Joseph became my new favorite Biblical character.

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Save the People

This song comes into my head often…

So I thought I’d post it here, to make it easy to return to.

And when I’m in the mood for the original…

… and the movie…

Shall crime bring crime forever
Strength aiding still as strong?
Is it thy will, O Father
That men shall toil
For wrong?
Oh, no, say thy mountains
No, say thy skies
Man’s clouded sun shall brightly rise
And songs be heard, instead of sighs
God save the people!

When wilt thou save the people!?
Oh God of mercy when!?
The people, Lord! The people!!
Not thrones and crowns,
But Men!

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He Was My Brother

On June 21, 1964, in Neshoba County, Mississippi, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner were assassinated as they worked for civil rights.

A deputy sheriff assisted in their murders.

They died so others could be free.

He was my brother
Five years older than I
He was my brother
Twenty-three years-old the day he died
Freedom rider
They cursed my brother to his face
“Go home, outsider,
This town is gonna be your buryin’ place
He was singin’ on his knees
An angry mob trailed along
They shot my brother dead
Because he hated what was wrong
He was my brother
Tears can’t bring him back to me
He was my brother
And he died so his brothers could be free
He died so his brothers could be free

© 1963 Words and Music by Paul Simon

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Gratitude

“Thank you,” I said as calmly and sincerely as I could. “Thank you very much.”

I have a problem with my tone. For as long as I can remember. My voice doesn’t always communicate emotions I try to convey.

I sound sarcastic or angry or frustrated when I don’t intend to.

The upside is, with my quick wit and sarcastic tone, I’m very funny. The downside is I often sound sarcastic when I’m sincere.

(This was particularly unfortunate when I served in congregational ministry. But that’s a story for another time.)

Last month we returned home to find several cars in front of the house. I hadn’t properly closed the gate, and our year-old puppy had gotten out of the fenced-in backyard and ran around the neighborhood like a year-old puppy.

A neighbor we didn’t know already had our dog in his car and was preparing to leave a note.

When I thanked the neighbor, i didn’t properly demonstrate my gratitude to him and the others who helped keep our dog safe. I was angry with myself for not closing the gate securely. I was frustrated with our goofball dog for running around foolishly. My tone didn’t properly communicate my appreciation.

Almost immediately, I realized my tone of voice, but I was trying to wrangle the dog by his collar while the neighbors moved towards their cars. Did I mention he’s a purebred Chocolate Lab who weighs nearly 80 pounds?

I thought a lot about my voice that day. I even thought about calling the neighbor and thanking him again, but I didn’t.

A month later, our three year-old was eager to get to daycare. While I was in the kitchen, she opened the door to look outside — no shoes, no socks, no coat. I wasn’t worried, we were talking the whole time and I knew she wasn’t going outside.

I got her dressed without any toddler incidents and as we cheerfully gathered our things to leave I asked her to put the dog out.

“Oshie,” she called in her little voice, sliding open the patio door. He’d gone upstairs while we were getting our shoes on.

“Oshie, outside,” I hollered.

“Where is he?” I asked, looking in the bathroom.

“Where is he?” she repeated. She rushed from room to room, calling his name.

“Did he go out when you had the door open?”

“Yeah,” she said, her eye wide with the realization.

I grabbed his leash and went to the door.

We’re six houses away from the main road — about six seconds for a year-old puppy running at full speed.

“Stand on the porch and call him,” I said as we went outside. “Stay right there and keep calling him. If he comes home, go inside with him and close the door behind you. Do you understand?” She nodded. “Let me hear you call him,” I said as I crossed to the neighbor’s yard.

Her little voice carried as I walked across the yard next door. I kept her in sight as I circled towards the road.

And then I saw him. He was on the other side of the busy main road; being held by a woman who had stopped her car. Several others were with her, a string of parked cars on the side of the road.

With two lanes of cars passing between us, the dog struggling to pull away from the woman holding his collar, I called out, “Oshie, sit.”

Thankfully, he did. I focused my attention not on the dog or the situation, but on the people.

“Thank you,” I said as sincerely as I could as I crossed the street. “Thank you very much.”

I attached the leash to his collar while I commanded him to stay.

“Thank you all for stopping,” I said. I looked at each of them and smiled. “My three-year-old opened the back door and let him out.”

For some of us, gratitude comes naturally and easily, born from a willingness to be vulnerable and transparent. For others it’s difficult to offer thanks because it means admitting our need for help.

I am in desperate need of help every time our dog runs blindly in the road. (He did it again while I was writing this. Twice. The second time, he managed to unlock the gate with his paw. Animal control has my number on speed dial.)

I tried to respond to strangers with a level of gratitude equal to the fear I felt when he was running away.

I hope I succeed. I hope people understood how grateful I was for their help. I hope they felt appreciated and important because they were very important.

Every person is important, in someway. Even the worst, most difficult people can helpfully remind us that not everyone is like them.

Everyone deserves the best I can give at any moment.

And so I will continue to be intentional in my gratitude and strive to give to others the grace that is given to me.

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