Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Irony of Sunday Mornings

We all know the drill. It’s Sunday morning and typical morning chaos is worsened by the fact that our schedule is different. As parents, if we dress ourselves first, we have to navigate breakfast and sticky fingers and messy bedrooms in our impractical shoes and nice clothes. But if we get the kids ready first, we dress ourselves in a rush, wondering what new ways the kids are finding to destroy their clothes, then putting our lipstick on only one lip, or failing to brush our hair out.

And then comes the moment when we have to get everyone in the car. This is the moment when the yelling usually begins. And as soon as the angry voice erupts from your mouth, you feel the clench of guilt.
I’m one of THOSE moms. A mom who screams and acts unChristlike as I’m taking my family to church.

My husband and I never had a problem getting to church on time. And then we had a child. All of a sudden, church became this huge struggle. And I became one of THOSE moms. Dragging my family out the door, tapping a foot in impatience, glaring at my family members. It got worse when I joined the choir at my church, because suddenly if we were late, it didn’t just mean getting a bad parking place. It meant I was late to my commitment.

I’m very fortunate, because my daughter can dress herself, and because I’ve chosen to let her wear whatever shoes and accessories she wants. She does have delicate white leather Sunday shoes, but this morning when she paired her blue tulle dress with puffy silver knee boots, I said nothing. Why bother?

I don’t have a solution, or even a wise word. The combination of everyone putting on nice clothes, working with an unfamiliar schedule, and trying to go to a place where timeliness is essential just seems to throw a wrench in everyone’s lives. I’ve talked with my husband, and we’ve worked out some things that help us avoid the stress. But it's an ever moving target, and we're not perfect.

And then sometimes you get a morning like today. We were all ready to go on time. We walked out the door together, discussing the rain outside. We hopped in the car and I put on the Sound of Music. As we headed down the road, not just on time, but EARLY, we sang Do Re Mi together. I felt a little bit like Maria, successfully overcoming obstacles through sheer confidence and a few fun tunes. And I made a mental note to myself to remember this morning. These are the days that make everything else worth it. Going to church isn’t simple, but nothing worthwhile is.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What Would Elaine Do?

I, like thousands of others, watched the video of the poor man being dragged off his United airlines flight. I was horrified to see it. Like everyone else, I believe United Airlines made some terrible mistakes in this entire situation.
And today I celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, my God, a man who was executed by the state for no reason.
When I watched the video of the passenger being dragged off the plane (and in case you haven't seen it, I'm not exaggerating - he was literally dragged), one thing that caught my eye was the dozens of camera phones sticking into the aisle. Every passenger was filming the disaster, it seemed.
Let's think about this. Everyone knows that this one man is the last holdout: that once he is off the flight, they will be able to continue their journey. United has already offered $1000 to anyone who volunteers to get off the flight. And yet, not one person thought to offer to take his place. Not one person stood up and said, "Hey, don't beat him up. I'll get off the plane."

Would I have done that? I don't know. 

If I had been on that plane with my family, I think it's a possibility that my husband would have volunteered to get off the plane, to allow this man to stay on. That would have been fine with me. If I had been flying alone, I might have volunteered.
We talk a good game about justice, but when faced with actual injustice, not one person on that plane took action to spare the man. Has our addition to social media blinded us to what real action looks like? Do we think that by filming injustice and posting it publicly, we are somehow morally superior to the officers dragging a passenger down a plane aisle? We are happy to point and scream and wag our fingers, but did anyone consider taking action to actually help that man in the moment? Do we even remember that we can put down our phones and DO things?

I ask this question of myself more than anyone else. 

We so often ask glibly, "What Would Jesus Do?" but maybe the question ought to be "What Would I Do?" Would I stand up and volunteer once the passenger refused to get up? Would I be so courageous? I doubt it.

And so I conclude my week long celebration of Easter by looking at myself and my own decisions. Am I truly taking all the action I can do combat injustice and bring God's kingdom to earth? 

Monday, April 10, 2017

I Am Not Innocent of Anyone's Blood

In yesterday’s sermon, our rector Robert talked about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He shared this new idea with us: that perhaps Jesus was inspired to pray by His sleeping disciples. As Jesus looked at them, sleeping and vulnerable and totally unaware of the coming danger, perhaps He was so moved by love that He was reconciled to the suffering: that like a parent, He resolved to take on all the pain and trouble just so He could spare them some.

I have never heard this interpretation, but it makes beautiful sense to me as a parent. I make sacrifices daily just to make my daughter’s life easier. And I would happily take on suffering if by doing so I could spare her. Right now, nothing is more worrisome to me than the approaching start of kindergarten: she’s entering a world where I have less power and ability to shield her from suffering.

As I pondered these thoughts I considered the war in Syria and the bombings in Egypt. In the Palm Sunday readings, we heard the priests refuse to take back money from Judas, telling him they would not have Jesus’ blood on their hands. Pilate says the same thing. And so do we, as Americans. 
Matthew 27:24 "So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.'" 
We are innocent of Syrian blood, Iranian blood, African blood, or so we like to think. We point our fingers: It’s Obama’s fault. It’s W’s fault. It’s Trump’s fault. It's Islam's fault.
And yet, like any good parents, we Americans have diligently created a paradise for our children and our culture. Even the poorest people with housing have drinkable water, proper sewage disposal, access to food and fresh air. We offer free education to all citizens from age 7 to 18. We had a peaceful transition of power when Trump took office, followed by peaceful demonstrations.

I’m not saying the US is a utopia.

There are painful socio-economic disparities, deep injustices, systemic racism, and the recent violent desecration of the Dakota Access pipeline.
We have created a safe place for most of our people by ignoring the suffering of others, and in some cases, creating suffering for others. Our refusal to make any sacrifices to benefit others is inviting their blood on our heads.
  • We refuse to buy fair trade products because they cost more money. 
  • We refuse to raise the minimum wage because it would raise the price of our Big Mac. 
  • We selectively support repressive regimes and we destroy our own environment because it is easier to use oil and gas than wind and solar power. 
  • After they have suffered to guarantee our safety, we allow our veterans to live on the streets. 
  • We shop for the lowest priced product even as we complain that manufacturing jobs in America no longer exist.

If we claim Christ, we must embrace the suffering of the world and do what we can to alleviate it.  

The Tomahawk missile strike on Syria is the latest red flag thrown into our midst. 

War is the easy option in all cases. It is always easier to send troops and kill until we get compliance than it is to talk through solutions and cooperate. But war is also the most wasteful, the most violent, and the most evil solution.

The attack on Syria is a call to action for all of us. It is time to take on some suffering and bring some relief to the world that so desperately needs it. 
We can do this directly, with prayer, financial support to refugees and humanitarian organizations, and political action. 

We can do this indirectly, by reducing the resources we use, showing love and kindness to every person we interact with, and living a life which is creative rather than destructive. 

Or we can continue to wash our hands, saying “This blood is not on our hands; see to it yourself.” 

But as Christ taught us: what we do to the least of these, we do to Christ. And in the global economy, the least of these is no longer limited to the poor and oppressed in our cities and neighborhoods. The least of these are refugees from Syria, orphans in China, child soldiers in Africa, migrant workers in America, the homeless in every city, and many others.  

This week I remember the redemptive suffering of God in the Incarnation of Jesus. I remember that His final command was to serve others. I worship a man who chose to be beaten and killed rather than fight back. I accept that there is blood on my own hands. And on Easter Sunday, I will rejoice that the blood on my hands is washed by Jesus, and that through the Incarnation, I can make a difference. I can take on the suffering of others to alleviate it. The only question is how.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Grant Us Strength and Courage

We’ve got to stop focusing on nonsense. Last week, the whole social media world was atwitter because Vice President Pence apparently won’t share a meal one on one with a woman. He was mocked. The entire “Billy Graham” policy was attacked. Women who had worked for Pence wrote articles defending him. And what was the trigger for all this? One remark by Pence in an interview from 2002. 

That’s FIFTEEN years ago. 

And at the end of the day, the Republicans and President Trump continued to advance their own agenda.
In the last few months, I have dealt with my fears over President Trump in two ways. One: I have prayed for him. Two: I have focused my attention on NC state politics. I have been calling my representatives. I have been reading proposed legislation. And I’ve been involved in a group that deliberately seeks to bring harmony and healing through intellectual conversation: the Chautauqua meetup.
But this morning I woke up to news that President Trump ordered missile strikes against Syria, in a unilateral move that angered the country (Russia) that Trump has repeatedly wanted to improve relations with.
As a pacifist, I am heartbroken by the entire situation in Syria. The use of chemical weapons by Syria was deplorable, but in a world where we routinely kill people to enforce our will, I fail to see why chemical weapons are any worse than drones, smart bombs, land mines, or enhanced interrogation methods.
On the other hand, as a red blooded human, I am kind of glad that we launched missiles. I’m ready to put a stop to the violence, and overwhelming force can be effective. So my feelings are extremely mixed. Just because war and killing are wrong and against God’s will (my pacifist theology in a nutshell) doesn’t mean that sometimes war is a solution.

The answer is, as always, prayer and focus.

Every Sunday, at the end of communion, we pray a prayer that I absolutely love. It concludes with:
"Send us now into the world in peace,
And grant us strength and courage
To love and serve you
 With gladness and singleness of heart;
Through Christ our Lord. Amen."
I need strength and courage now to face my mixed feelings. I need to pray, for those killed by the airstrikes, for the US service men and women who had to participate in those airstrikes, and for the global political situation.
And I need singleness of heart. We all do. I have chosen to focus on what I can do locally to resist the policies and actions of President Trump. That means continuing to focus on Raleigh and NC politics.

What are you choosing to focus on? 

Give it singleness of heart. 

You can’t solve every problem everywhere. But you can have a huge impact on one or two issues.Take the time you need to process, to mourn, to gather information, and to choose. Then pray. I'll be praying with you.