Posts Tagged ‘peace’

Gathering of the Waters

Monday, September 12th, 2011

A Meditation for Sunday, September 11, 2011
Scripture: Revelation 21: 5-7; 22: 1-2

Today we celebrate the gift of water as sustaining element, wellspring of abundance, creator of community, and source of healing. We celebrate with full awareness that water, such a gift to a thirsty person, essential to life and so healing to the spirit, has also been recently a source of dangerous flooding in the Northeast, and the cause of hurricane-force winds that have injured people and harmed property.

We also celebrate in the shadow of September 11, 2001—ten years since the towers exploded, part of the Pentagon was knocked in, and Flight 93 came down in a Pennsylvania field. The long shadow of 9/11 encompasses very nearly ten years of war in Afghanistan, and much fear, grief and anger around the world.

Life is full of joy and sorrow mixed. Humanity is capable of great evil and also great good. In the 9/11 attacks, we saw some of the worst of humankind. And yet we also saw some of the best of humankind, people risking and even giving their lives to save others. There were incredible rescues. Listen to this story from the book Ashes Transformed: Healing from Trauma:

An Islamic Arab from Palestine was running for his life in the surging crowd when he stumbled and fell. Paralyzed with fear and unable to get up, he was trampled within seconds by hundreds of feet rushing past him. Then the man felt an arm on his shoulder and a voice speaking to him. “Get up, brother! We have to get out of here.” Unable to stand because of his injuries, he felt himself being picked up. Again he heard the voice: “Brother, we have to get out of here.”
Half dragged, half carried down many stories, the man finally emerged from the building leaning heavily on his rescuer. As the injured Palestinian turned to thank the person who had carried him to safety, his eyes widened, for the person who had called him “brother,” the man who had saved his life, was a Hasidic Jew. He had risked his life for an enemy. Who would do such a foolish thing? (Tilda Norberg, Ashes Transformed: Healing from Trauma, Upper Room Books, 2002, pp. 54-55, quoted by Rev. John Sumhalt in his sermon, “We Do Not Live To Ourselves,” September 11, 2011.)

We are so able to bend the world to our will, we humans, by our good and evil deeds. We make war, harness the power of electrons, atoms and wind, build rockets and cities and tear down rainforests. We forget that in the end, we are just a part of the natural world. The lesson we learned in September 11 2001 is one we should already have known: We are vulnerable. People of the two-thirds world have always been aware of their vulnerability, but we in the developed West have to be reminded by events like Pearl Harbor and September 11. We are not invincible “masters of the universe.”

It should be obvious that technologically-adept humankind is a part of nature, and vulnerable to its forces, but we seem to have forgotten. To live in nature as human beings is to be surprised by paradox. Water is necessary for life, yet too much water, or water in the wrong place, threatens life. It is impossible to be alive without water, yet polluted water brings disease and even death. Hurricane Irene did much damage, yet it also has benefited crabs and oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. The forceful winds stirred up the waters and eliminated, at least for awhile, the dead zone which contains oxygen levels too low to sustain aquatic life.

The water we pour today at Sojourners is soft and gentle; unassuming: yet remember that the Grand Canyon was created by this mild substance.

There is a Taoist saying:

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Someday, I pray, we will learn that there can be more strength in vulnerability and gentleness than in violence and control.
The earth that we sought to have dominion over, to change to our liking and convenience, is now in grave danger and we are too. Climate change is rapidly altering our island home. Melting glaciers cause a rise in sea levels and some island nations might disappear. Warmer water causes more violent hurricanes with more inland flooding. Elsewhere, streams and rivers dry up. And so on through the water cycle. And that’s not even mentioning problems of pollution!

But there is hope. It’s not too late. Despite recent political denials of climate change, scientists are working hard all over the world on these issues. Many people are acquainted with the issues and are learning to make changes and speak up to politicians.

The Rev. Victoria Stafford, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Minnesota, wrote the following call to hope and resistance:

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope–
not the prudent gates of Optimism,
which are somewhat narrower;
not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
not the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through);
nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.”

But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling,
about your own soul first of all and its condition,
the place of resistance and defiance,
the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be,
as it will be;
the place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
but joy in the struggle. (quoted by Rev. Beth Johnson in her sermon, “Worshipping the Creator in the Midst of Destruction,” September 11, 2011.)

There is hope. We can change.

Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy says: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.” Amen

(From a speech entitled “Confronting Empire” given at the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre, Brazil, 28 January 2003)

The Signs of the Times

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Luke 12:49-56
Jesus said, “I come to cast fire upon the earth. And what do I wish? Would that it were already kindled!
There is an experience through which I must pass; and now I am under great tension until it is accomplished! Do you think that I came to give peace to the earth? Not that, I tell you, but division!  From now on in one house there will be five people divided—Three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, son against father,mother against daughter, and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”  Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say “Rain is coming.” And so it happens. When you feel the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat.” And so it happens. Hypocrites!
You can read the signs of the face of the earth and the sky.
How can you not read the signs of this time?
(William Barklay)

In these few verses Luke has Jesus speak of:
(1) Some sort of fire
(2) An overwhelming experience
(baptism)
(3) Peace shattered by divisions
(4) Signs of the times
 Taking them slightly out of order: What is this baptism ?
(Barclay = “experience” which Jesus anticipates perhaps with dread?)
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus anticipates his Passion. He knows what he is facing – a terrible, overwhelming “experience”. Luke believes that Jesus’ mission was accomplished on the Cross; that that is the crucial moment of Grace ushering in the Kingdom of God. “Would that it were already here!” Luke emphasizes Jesus’ desire, and we do too. That may help us understand the statement: “I come to cast fire on the earth.” One exegete has shared an interesting insight. He says that in Johns’ gospel, (12:32) when Jesus says , “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself,”  he is saying much the same thing, only in very different terms. An ardent fire will be kindled in our hearts for, as St. Paul says in II Corinthians 5:16-18: “For
anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation, the old creation is gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation”.  Hear Paul’s burning ardor!
However, Luke is writing several decades after that fatal Baptism. He is writing to people who are experiencing some of the costs of allegiance to Christ and this new kingdom. Instead of universal peace and harmony, they not only experience opposition and derision from outside, but sad divisions within their own families. If these words about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and so on, are Jesus’ own words, how prophetic they were!
Prophetic in more ways than one: It is said that “the Romans” opposed Christianity because it was so divisive. Families were torn apart when some members willfully chose this new way while others refused it. Further, the Romans probably sensed the possible extended implications when familial lines of authority were questioned. If sons and daughters defied their parents, or spouses disagreed, what might happen to civic order? What of ruling authority? What of respect for the emperor and the power of the empire? Where might this lead?!
II.
We know divisions. All these centuries after Jesus’ horrible baptism we experience the tragic divisions of so-called Christianity. There are folks who seem to assume that it has one unitary doctrinal code that could be used to shape national policies, to combat the claims of an unholy Islam, to suppress homosexuals, to support judicial killings in order to stop killings, to control the influx of immigrants, to combat “socialism”, to keep big government from meddling with health care . . . . .
I suspect some of you are aware of the recent “stir” caused by Anne Rice, the author of a series of novels tracing the life of Jesus, and another series of popular “vampire novels.” Her personal, spiritual journey may not be so very strange to some of us here: from Catholicism to atheism, back to faith, and then to disillusionment. Ms. Rice recently wrote in her Facebook: “ For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.  In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control.   Irefuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.  In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen”.

I hope you will excuse me if I say, along with some others, “Gee, Anne! We are sorry you don’t know our United Church of Christ!”. (Refer to the good article by Bennett Guess, in the online August 2 issue of UCC.org/news/anne-rice asks us, ‘What does it mean to be Christian anyway?’ Here I quote :
“By lumping all Christians together with the more specific faith tradition she was repudiating, Rice triggered a response from many. Some Christians agreed with Rice that she couldn’t authentically remain Christian and hold views that were so divergent from Roman Catholic social teachings. Other
Christians – especially members of the United Church of Christ and other mainline Protestant denominations – felt, once again, that all of Christianity was being cast publicly as monolithic in its outlook when, in reality, many of Rice’s more-liberal views are shared by many Christians in the United States and around the world. (The rub is that too few know this).”
This week a church in Gainesville, Florida, ironically named The Dove World Outreach Center, is planning to have an International Quran-Burning Day on September 11th. Their pastor, Terry Jones, is the author of a book Islam Is Of The Devil. He claims that the mission of his church is to warn people of their present peril, and to give Muslims time to convert. I wonder if he and his parishioners know that 59 Muslims died in the Twin Towers destruction in 2001. For the past several weeks I have been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Repeatedly Goodwin shows us President Lincoln striving to hold the Union together while respecting his opponents and hoping to encourage reconciliation.   At Christmas time in 1863, Lincoln’s irenic spirit was sorely tested. Mrs. Lincoln’s sister, Emilie Todd Helm was now a widow, her husband, Ben, fighting for the Confederacy, had been fatally wounded that September at the battle of Chickamauga in Georgia. Lincoln himself was grief-stricken. Emilie, in her grief, wished to see her mother in Kentucky. That meant that she needed safe passage through Union lines. One attempt after another eventually got her to Fort Monroe (Kentucky?). There the officials demanded that she swear allegiance to the United States. She just could not do that so soon after her husband’s death. A telegraph was sent to President Lincoln explaining their dilemma. Lincoln responded: “Send her to me.” Her visit started out well. She and Mary Todd Lincoln consoled each other. Both had losses: Mary’s young son, Willie; Emellie’s husband, Ben. But, Emillie’s presence was revealed to friends of the Lincolns. When they encountered Emilie in the White House they angrily, verbally attacked her. She staunchly replied and shortly thereafter left. Mary and Emilie were sorely distressed, wondering when the nightmare of war would be over.
III.
In our world today, with all its irrational and seemingly insoluble divisions, it would not be surprising if we would turn desperate if not cynical. Whether it be patriotism, political party loyalty, or spiritual affiliation, we hear our selves saying along with people like Anne Rice, “Not in my name!” It seems as though the name of the game is to assign blame rather than to work for the common weal. The focus is so often on short-term advantages rather than on long-term consequences, and on greed and consumerism rather than empathy and sharing. Are there no signs of that promised Kingdom of God, for which Jesus died and in which St. Paul exalted? At the risk of sounding Pollyannish or naïve, let me suggest that there are some positive signs to counter the negative signs. But first, let me quote again from Rev. J.
Bennett Guess:
“One thing for sure, Christianity is not a religion rooted in individualism. We don’t have the luxury of believing in isolation from others, even those with whom we disagree. As Christians, we share one another’s hopes and struggles. Our faith – and even those frustrating social policy statements – are shaped in discernment with the larger body. We are baptized not unto ourselves, but into the community of Jesus Christ. To go it alone has never been a faithful option, as tempting as it may sometimes feel”.

If it is true that community is part of the deal, I would like to ask you to read some signs of hope as you think about some of the people you know and some of your own experiences.

(a) Who runs the Food Bank?
(b) Who is working to help the homeless?
(c) Who is involved in prison ministry or working to restore voting rights to felons?
(d) Who is comforting the sick, the dying, the bereaved?
(e) Who is bringing shelter, safe water, medicine and food to victims of natural disasters or man-made calamities?
(f) Who is teaching your children in school?
(g) Who is sitting beside you here in this place, sharing in this community today?
These, too, are signs of the time.
Blessed are those who read them.
Rev. David C. Gallup, August 8, 2010