I Love My Muslim Neighbors

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love everyoneWe had such a beautiful Sunday, yesterday. Teresa and I fasted for social justice and mercy during the day with our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and many others from the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. We also heard from a special guest in Sunday School, Imam Tarif Shraim of the Islamic Community Center of Potomac (the ICCP). He attended with another teacher from the ICCP and several of their youth.

I met Imam Shraim at his mosque on my birthday, March 31 of this year, when I attended Friday prayers with other guests invited from our parish of St. John’s Episcopal Church Norwood. By the way, both Imam Shraim and Reverend Sari Ateek, our pastor, are Palestinians. When they are together you can feel the contagious energy of two humans thrilled to be present with each other.

Imam Shraim was gracious and wise as he shared with our combined Sunday School of 8th to 12th graders some of what it is like to be a Muslim in America. He shared his own story of facing racial and religious hatred here in America (a high speed pursuit and attempt to run his family off the road) because they have brown skin and his wife chooses to wear a head scarf. He expressed sincere gratitude for his welcome at St. John’s, and he invited us all to visit the ICCP any time we can make it. I plan to visit again as soon as my work schedule allows, hopefully during the coming celebration of Ramadan, beginning the evening of May 27 until June 25.

IMG_0243It warmed my heart to spend our class time helping our students grow in their understanding of our shared humanity with our Muslim neighbors, and our shared religious heritage and aspirations. I loved that our epistle reading in worship that morning was of the Apostle Paul in Athens, Acts 17:22-31. I’ve always believed that this should be a foundational text for our interaction with other faiths and adherents of other faiths. Paul shows respect for them and appreciation for what they share in common, and he even quotes their own poets. There is a humility and graciousness in this text that we have lost in so many of our own interactions with other faiths. Paul has a message to share and his own faith convictions, of course, but he doesn’t belittle, hate, fear or condemn the aspirations of the Athenians.


A Daily Prayer of Love Learn ServeI pray that this is a week marked by more love, more learning and more service.
May we find ourselves drawn to a shared grace and mercy for all people, and may we speak loudly and consistently against the hatred, fear and violence that threaten so many of our neighbors. And to support our prayer, may we do more loving, do more learning, and may we do more service.  This is our calling as followers of Christ, to be known by our love: love for neighbors, love for friends and family, love for enemies, love for all. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14

AMDG, Todd

White Supremacy Is A Criminal Lie

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It’s too easy today for white people to ignore the growing strength of white supremacy in our contemporary culture and political scene in the United States of America. Yes, white supremacy has been in the news because it is resurgent here in the US, right now. Being a white male with no inclinations of supremacy I could easily ignore the whole thing and choose not to participate, but that’s not enough.

As a white male who in my inherent privilege is in no way personally threatened by the criminality of white supremacy I bear an inescapable responsibility to speak loudly and stridently against it. Every white person must accept this responsibility and speak loudly in defense of the truth of the dignity, worth and welcome of our non-white friends, family and neighbors.

Some links about the current swell of white supremacy from…
The New York Times
The Southern Poverty Law Center
CNN

White supremacy is evil. White Supremacy is a lie. It is not a mental illness, because it is chosen. It is a crime against humanity. White supremacy is a systematic devaluing of human beings and it must be denounced and disowned.

I do not advocate violence against white supremacists, but I do advocate for us all to speak clearly with grace, compassion and equity for all peoples’ value. Christians must decry the use of our religious symbols, our scriptures, our Christ and our God in white supremacy. Americans must decry the idea that we are lessened by our diversity.

There is no room in Christianity for racial and ethnic discrimination, as there is no room for any other discriminations perpetrated in the name of Christ. There is no room for partiality and bias among the human family. There is no sacrosanct white culture or American culture. I do not interchange Christianity and American Nationalism here as equal or the same, but I use both because White Supremacy dresses itself in the trappings of each, falsely.

Let us never tire of saying it loudly and repeatedly: White supremacy is a criminal lie. Let no lack of courage, conviction or compassion stop our voices.

AMDG, Todd

 

A Reminder of Our Connection

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Mother Teresa Belong to Each Other QuoteI was driving into work today and listening to an NPR piece on climate change and climate responses (I think it was Climate Cast), mostly hearing from three Republicans and their views on climate issues and what we should do and how. I surprisingly agreed with many things being said, but I struck by the constant refrain of “This is not a Federal issue, but we should tackle it at the State and local levels.” Not a single question was answered without this being part of the answer over and over.

I had a growing unease while listening, not necessarily because of the treatment of climate science or climate change, but because of this anti-Federal government political ideology that kept surfacing to deconstruct our connectedness to one another. When we share rivers, share the plains and valleys, and share the very air we breathe, we cannot afford to move on important issues which directly affect those shared resources as a disconnected mob of individual States and communities. We must move as a nation, as a people, as good neighbors of all. If we fail in this then climate change for the time being will continue to primarily be a problem for the poor, those who cannot afford to insulate themselves from the worst of climate change effects.

Some Climate Change Effects on the World’s Poorest:
National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/151201-datapoints-climate-change-poverty-agriculture/
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/31/climate-change-poor-suffer-most-un-report
Time: http://time.com/4209510/climate-change-poor-countries/

A loss of connectedness leads directly to suffering. We see this when mining destroys local habitats and ravages the earth for a quick profit and leaves behind suffering communities. We see this when pollution rides downstream to most affect those not doing the polluting. We see this when the developed world flexes its financial muscles to rebuild again and again after the mega storms, while poorer countries are never the same, never to fully recover and rebuild from our climate’s struggle to deal with change.

Listen, no one party or political affiliation has a monopoly on connectedness or lack thereof. I’m not writing to demonize or belittle any particular political party, but to express what a perfect reminder it was of our basic human connection, and even our shared national connection here in the States. Isolating ourselves in little State or local bunkers will not move us forward in constructive ways. That idea of local change is part of the solution, but not thew whole of it. We need to reconnect with our neighbors, on our streets and across the country and world.

I hope we can listen more and learn deeply from one another. I hope that sounding the bell of a pet political ideology will not drown out our shared interests or cover over the cries of those least able to cope with our climate effecting decisions. We are connected.

Peace, Todd

For Such A Time As This

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When our Presiding Bishop calls us to fast, I fast. I love the intent and meaning behind this call, and I pray that we might all be transformed in our spiritual practices, the world made a better and more humane place, and that mercy will reign. Click the image below for the video, or just peruse the transcript.

Amen, Todd

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Transcript…

There is a wonderful book that was published some years ago titled “Eat, Pray, Love.” I want to invite you to fast, pray, and love by advocating for those who have no one to advocate for them. 

On May 21, I am going to join with Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and many of our ecumenical friends, in fasting for the day, and beginning a fast on the 21st of every month, continuing until the end of the year 2018, when the 115th Congressional session comes to an end. 

Here is the reason for that fast: That time of the month, around the 21st of every month, is a very difficult time for people who are on public assistance and have received their assistance earlier in the month. So we will fast and pray, to pray that our government and our leaders will find a way to do what is just and kind and compassionate in the best of the American spirit.

But we will not only fast and pray. We are asking you to join with us in advocating in a variety of ways for the poor, for those who need public assistance for children who are the primary beneficiaries of most of the forms of assistance that our government provides. We are asking you to join with other Christians and other people of goodwill to help our government reflect the best of the American spirit by feeding the hungry, caring for our children, and making sure that everyone has the opportunities for life and liberty not only in our country, but in our world. 

There is a story in the Bible, in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the story of the people of God who found themselves in some tough times, and there was a woman named Esther who rose up and accepted the challenge at some risk to herself. A challenge to save her people when they were in jeopardy. At a moment of decision when she was trying to decide whether or not she should enter into the work to save her people, someone named Mordecai sent her a word, and said, “Perhaps Esther, you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” 

Maybe we are Esther. Perhaps we in the Episcopal Church, perhaps we in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, perhaps we who are Christians and people of faith and goodwill have come to the kingdom for such a time as this, to help our country make sure that no child goes to bed hungry. 

“Eat, Pray, Love” is a wonderful book, but I want to invite you beginning on May 21 to fast, to pray, and to love by advocating for our children.

God love you, God bless you, and you keep the faith. 

Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry, The Episcopal Church

A Short Reminder of Empathy

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Whether you are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist or you identify with any other religion on this shared globe, you can love these two, hurt for them and hope for them. Whether you are Syrian, American, French, Korean, Kenyan, or any other nationality on this immense earth, you can can recognize their humanity, their need and their beauty.

 

I don’t care what they are wearing, either religiously or culturally… I feel like I’m watching a video of my own grandparents. I see my wife, and I see me. I see love and pain. I see two human beings.

Their marriage sounds so different than our marriage, but then again our marriage (at the ages of 19 and 21) seems more than a little crazy to some of our friends who are just now getting married in their late 30’s and 40’s. I hope that my wife and I can make such joy of our love at such an age. I hope we can one day make a whimsical video about our 65 year love affair.

I also hope we don’t reach that milestone just to be bombed from our home and driven into a refugee camp. I pray that we always know where our children are and that we can see them and speak with them and know they are safe.

Syria is not so far away after all. I haven’t done enough.

AMDG, Todd

We Also Are Resurrection and Life

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Got a long post for you… I’m preaching today at the the 8am, 11:15am and 5pm services, and this is my transcript. Be blest, you beloved of God!


Sermon, We Also Are Resurrection and Life
John 11:1-45 “Lazarus Raised From the Dead”
April 2, 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church Norwood Parish

I stand before you now in the name of the One who called to Lazarus, “Come out,” who wept with hurting friends, and who risked it all to be with those whom he loved. May we cherish one another as deeply and be as present with each other, in joys and in the darkest of days. Amen.

Has anyone started doodling on their bulletin, yet? I know ours can’t be the only bulletin doodling family at St. John’s. Not only do I invite you to doodle away, keep your hands as busy as you need to, but I invite you to think with me for a moment, and maybe doodle or jot down a few things that come to mind with this question… “What labels do you wear?”

As examples: First in this life I was son and brother, and later I became husband and father. I am Christian, and I have been “Pastor.” I have labels applied to me according to my work and employment, my sexuality and gender, and I have labels that try to define and capture my political thoughts and opinions. Some of those labels, I kinda like… but sometimes labels can be hurtful, or limiting and completely unnecessary. Labels are a daily tool and reality of life. We can say we don’t like labels, but we’re kinda stuck with them. So, I think we need to be careful with them.

Someone in our Gospel story we just read was labeled a long time ago, and that stigma still sticks to him, today. Even someone who may not be a student of the Bible has probably heard and used the phrase “Doubting Thomas” to name the Apostle Thomas or chastise a doubting friend. But is that fair? Is a Doubter all that Thomas was? Or, is a doubter even an important part of who or what Thomas was in his life?

One of the many reasons I love our Gospel passage from John 11 is that we learn something about this man named Thomas. If we only knew Thomas from the later chapter when he doubts the word of the other apostles, then maybe I would be more open to the Doubter label, but here he is in chapter 11, the lone apostle of the group we hear daring to go with Jesus into hostile territory. In fact, Thomas is willing to go die with Jesus should that be their fate for venturing to Bethany. He’s willing to go die with Jesus.

This guy Thomas is bought in, folks. He belongs to Christ and is willing to follow him anywhere, into anything and through the worst. Maybe we can understand his moment of doubt in a better light when we understand the depth of his love and devotion to Jesus. Later when he watches his Lord die, he must have been crushed. The idea of his resurrection must also have been a desirable idea, but… trusting the words of his friends?

He’s already lost so much, felt the hurt so deeply, he’s not ready to trust their words and dare to again hope. From the man we know in our passage in chapter 11 this Doubting Thomas could as much or more easily have been labeled Daring Thomas, Devoted Thomas or DareDevil Thomas, willing to give his all to Jesus. And by the way, so ya know, Jesus didn’t label him Doubter, and neither did anyone in our scriptural witness. We did this to him. We, his legacy of faith through the generations, labeled him I suppose for his worst day, his doubting day.

We saddled him with Doubting instead of Daring or Devoted. In a similar vein we’ve done worse to Mary Magdalene through the years. All we know from scripture for sure is that Jesus cast demons from Mary and then she was his devoted, faithful disciple. The Apostle John even names her as the first to witness the empty tomb of Jesus. But we through the centuries have most often rewarded her faith by associating her with a nameless prostitute in another Gospel story. We have often needlessly associated her with sexual sin. By our scriptural witness, she has no specific sin at all, neither a failure of moral or doctrinal nature, attributed to her… but we needed to do that for some reason. We needed to label her Sinner and Adulteress.

What drives us to do this to one another? Why do we need to see one another in the worst light? Jesus didn’t do this… he sets no example of relating to people in their worst moment or identifying them by their failure. He sees people in their best light, sees into their best nature and loves them deeply. That love led him into hostile territory in our Gospel story… Bethany wasn’t safe, but he was determined to be with his hurting friends. And when he arrived, and Lazarus had died, Jesus weeps with his friends.

Maybe standing next to Jesus as he wept Thomas put his hand on his Lord’s shoulder to comfort him? Maybe Thomas held Mary or Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, in their moment of grief and weeping? Thomas was there in the middle of it, because he followed Jesus anywhere and everywhere, and Jesus was in the middle of it. Daring. Devoted.

Think back on some of those labels you carry with you. Specifically, now… think about the negative labels you’ve been given, or maybe have even chosen for yourself… in your mind, name them… do any of us carry something similar to dumb, undeserving, stupid, inadequate, loser, cheater, liar, thief, unworthy, fake? These labels, when given to us or even chosen by us, are not our true selves. Those labels, even when they have been earned, are not who we are.

Martha and Mary both say to Jesus, “…if you’d have only been here…” But Jesus is not late. He reminds the sisters that he has a few labels of his own: I am Resurrection and Life. Martha adds a couple more in a beautiful statement of faith: Messiah, Son of God. And Jesus is going to take that label of “dead” that clings to Lazarus, and tear it away. “Lazarus, come out!” Because if Jesus is Life and Resurrection, then so also is Lazarus, and so are we.

If Jesus is Resurrection and Life we are also Resurrection and Life! Jesus will tear away the worst of the labels we own and replace them them new labels of Goodness and Hope. He does it so many times in Gospel stories: the Unclean and Untouchable become Clean, sometimes they even become Dinner Guests and Hosts. Paul echoed this to the church in Ephesus when he wrote: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient… But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”

Recently in a Gospel reading (in John 4) we saw Jesus chatting with a Samaritan woman at a well! This woman who seemed in several ways to be labeled Unfit or Undeserving of that conversation with Jesus suddenly finds herself labeled Fit and Welcome by the Messiah. She would even become Prophetess and Missionary, bringing her whole village out to the meet and believe in Jesus.

A few chapters later in John chapter 8 Jesus will famously draw in the sand as some accusers drag a woman caught in adultery to him for judgment. She is labeled Sinner and Guilty, and seems to have earned those labels, being caught in the act. Jesus labels her Un-condemned, Loved and Capable. He sends her back to life with renewed energy and purpose.

Can you imagine how it must have felt to be either of those women, relabeled by love in the presence of Jesus. Can you imagine how it felt to be Lazarus, when the label of Death is remade into Life? Now maybe you want to say to me, “Todd, dead is not a label for Lazarus, he’s dead, as in dead.” And you’re right, he’s physiologically dead, not just labeled so out of spite, but sometimes aren’t we? Maybe we aren’t physically expired, but our souls feel dead, our spirits crushed, our emotions flatlined and others may view us as unworthy of more life, of better life, or full life. We acutely feel the label of unworthy, dead.

Jesus preached a familiar and oft quoted line in his Great Sermon as recorded by Matthew: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the Law and the prophets.” What would life be like for us, for those around us, if we applied that sentiment to the labels we use? Jesus sets an example for us of applying labels that give life. He looks into the lives of the people around him and loves them, and he labels them by that love. He sees them as the best of who and what they are, and he names them as such. And he treats them as such.

Oh, to have someone ignore my worst day, when I fail so miserably, and remember me and call me by my best day. Perhaps I haven’t even had that best day yet, but I think Jesus would still see me for it, name me for it, label me by it. Because the same power that called Lazarus from the grave can awaken my soul, revive my spirit, and re-energize my life, as he calls me Beloved, Redeemed, Sought After, Worthy and Alive.

And this can be scary! Jesus said to roll back the stone and the people protested, “Jesus, it’s gross in there. It stinks.” I can feel the same way sometimes, “Jesus, don’t come to close, I’m just not always what I seem.” But he is not deterred. He says, “Come out to life! Be who you were made to be!”

God has labeled us with love before we earn it, deserve it or even seek it. God has chosen us for love. You are called Alive, Wanted, Worthy. You are Beloved and Welcome. When we are called into his kingdom and mission, this is a gift we receive and then give to those around us who are mired in the death-dealing labels which steal their joy and true identity.

I will remember Thomas for his Daring Faith, not his Doubting Faith. And as God sees me, the best of me, and calls me Beloved, so will I strive to see you and all humanity, in your best. And I with God will call you such: Beloved. Worthy. Amazing. Beautiful. Needed. Valuable.

I have a short favorite poem/prayer I’d like to share with you in closing, written by a Jesuit Father, Michael Moynahan called “Broken Record”. I often turn to it when labels offered to me by this life or by my own failures begin to cloud my memory of how God has labeled me, how God has called me. It’s a prayer of remembrance. It’s a prayer of our truest self and our truest label. It begins briefly as spoken to God, but then shifts to be God speaking to us. Since you can’t see that shift indicated in the text I’ll signify it by raising my hands as God begins to speak in the poem…

Grandparenting God,
You see our sin / as symptomatic stutter,
self-effacing struggle / to ignore
the confounding reality / of Your willful vulnerability:

“I love you
because I can’t do anything else.
I made you,
every last part of you:
all that’s hidden
and all that’s revealed,
all that’s muddled
and even all that’s clear.
You are,
at the risk
of repeating Myself,
dear to Me.

You are precious
in My eyes
because…
just because
you are Mine.
That’s enough for Me.
And it will have to do / for you.
Wrestle with it / until you get tired
and then relax / and give in.
Take a deep breath / and enjoy.”


AMDG, Todd

Constructive Wallowing

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img_0818I am a little behind on my goal to read a book a week, but I’m catching up and wanted to share one of my recent finds with you, Constructive Wallowing by Tina Gilbertson. I got it from a clearance table at Barnes and Noble, intrigued by the titled, and it did not disappoint.

Gilbertson writes a funny and easily accessible guide to allowing yourself to feel all your range of emotions, without guilt or regret, and having felt them to move on with life in the best frame of mind and emotional health. One of her niceties that will stick with a reader is her pointing out that the word wallow contains the entire word allow. This is to help free you to let yourself wallow and not be trapped by all the negative connotations we normally reserve for the word. We are allowing ourselves to be ourselves.

img_0816For me, after years of experiencing St. Ignatius’ advice on accepting my feelings and exploring them for all available meaning and use (seeking God in all I feel and experience), her advice feels very authentic, doable and constructive. Her book is fun to read and she peppers it with a wonderful array of quotes from notable quotables.

I’ve already passed the book to a friend who was also intrigued by the title when he saw me reading on my lunch break, but the link above is for the book on Amazon, or it would be worth a search at a local B&N.

Enjoy your day, beloveds. Remember that our God is love, not anger, judgment, remorse, regret or hatred. Our God is love and when we pause to ponder ourselves and the word around us, God is loving us more than we can comprehend. Let every voice and noise which threatens to drown out that love be silenced.

AMDG, Todd