Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Barack Obama--My President

We're on the eve of another election. This is a terribly important time for all of us in this country. I doubt that “the fate of this country will be decided on who is elected President.” That is hysterical or doomsday thinking. If I was a Pastor I probably couldn’t write what I am about to write—or shouldn’t. But I am going to cast my vote for President Obama.

There are many reasons for this. Wading through the ugliness of the last four years—I picked up one of the biographies of Jackie Robinson. You might remember that he was the first African-America to play for a major baseball team. But the road seemed impossible for this young man from Cairo, Georgia. He had to wade through the injustices of segregation.  He came up through the ranks of the black leagues—and Branch Rickey saw Robinson’s talent and helped him make it to the Dodgers. This seemed almost impossible. Teams and managers said they would refuse to play with a black man on the field. Crowds booed. Fellow team players were dubious. And when the team went on the road Robinson could not stay with the other players or eat is many restaurants. Yet he kept on. He played for a decade for the Brooklyn Dodgers and helped them win the World Series in 1955. And he changed history.

Another black man has changed history. Barack Obama has faced unbelievable odds. People keep whispering he is not one of us. That he is a Muslim. That he is retarded. That he is lazy and no leader. That he is gay. That he does not believe in God. That he was not born in this country. Pictures of the President as a monkey or Hitler or Stalin have cropped up many places.  None of these things are true.

My decision to vote for him is not mere sentimentality. I vote for him because he represents the finest part of the American dream. He grew up in a one-parent home, shuffled from the United States to Kenya and then to Hawaii. He only met his father one time. Most of his growing up he lived with his grandparents. He didn’t fit in most places. Lincoln said one time:”I shall work and I shall pray and perhaps my chance shall come.”

Obama refused to give up and was educated at Columbia and finally Harvard. He worked as a community organizer and then Congressmen and then President. He reminds me of Jackie Robinson. He just kept keeping on. His story is America at its best.

I vote for him because of his courage. He has done what no President in our history has done with health care. Knowing this was not politically savvy he has established the Affordable Health Care plan that will bring many of those 49.9 million without insurance into the circle. Like the beginning of Social Security—this plan is far from perfect. But we have to start somewhere. I vote for him because I hope to see this adventure in health care unfold.

I vote for him because of his stance on gay rights. He did not have to abolish “Don’t Ask...Don’t Tell” in the military. Neither did he have to say that he had come to believe in the rights of gay folk to marry. In supporting gay people he has taken enormous political risks—yet deep down I wonder if in his statements about gays he did not remember his own hard journey. I support a President who takes the “all” of the Constitution seriously.

I vote for him because he is a good model for us all. President Obama is a family man and it is obvious that he loves his wife and daughters. People of color in this country and all over the world see in this good man hope and promise for their lives. The dignity he has given black folk particularly is a great gift to the African Americans in this country. 

I vote for him because of his stand on immigration. He has made it possible for over a million children of illegal immigrants to find a home and citizenship in this country. This is the only life they know. They are here, as most of our ancestors did, to find a place to live and work and be safe. Barack Obama keeps faith with the immigrants in our country.

I will vote for Mr. Obama because he has ended the war with Iraq and will bring the troops in Afghanistan home. These two wars have just about bankrupted this country—his vision for peace in a complicated world I applaud.

I will vote for him because of his understanding of the role of government in our lives. The hurricane Sandy and its terrible aftermath is the best example I know of one of the purposes of government. Government is not some foreign power—the government is us at every level and there are some things that we must do together nationally that we can never accomplish alone. Need I add Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid? Of course I could mention tax cuts for the rich, global warming and many other issues. The list is too long. And the demands are many.

As we near the end of this race I remember that Jackie Robinson did wonderful things for baseball. I really believe, given a chance that Barack Obama’s second term will continue to be very good for our country. I have friends who will disagree with me. They believe if someone does not fix this economy soon we will go under. Many economists tell us that to move from where we were to where we want to be is slow progress. Americans are an impatient people and want a quick fix.  But no severe problems are ever made better overnight or in four years. Whoever wins this election will need us all to help, to shoulder the load and to use that old hackneyed phrase: to reach across the aisle.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bill Cash--Parachute Maker

"I have woven a parachute out of everything  broken."
        --William Stafford

(The following words were first written for the Birmingham News in 2010. They also appeared on my blog that year. But this week as the leaves were ablaze in color dear Bill Cash slipped into the mystery. His funeral will be in Birmingham at his church tomorrow afternoon,October 28.

He was an amazing man. he was told in 2008 his chances were living very long were almost impossible. But Bill was a stubborn and courageous man. He lived four years longer than anybody expected except Bill and his family.

I took him to see a friend of mine that was dying of cancer. He had never met my friend but he leaned forward and listened intently and then told my friend his story. From  time to time he would ask me how this friend was. He did this for an amazing number of people. So I grieve this week-end for as courageous a man as I ever met. And I share with you the words I wrote him in 2010.)

What would you say if the Doctor said you had the most aggressive kind of brain tumor and there was no cure? Bill Cash sat in the Doctor’s office two years ago and was told after an operation his chances of survival was less than 50% the first year and only 25% the second year. The Oncologist told him his cancer was Stage 4.  

In June 2008 they removed the tumor and they told Cash he would be lucky to be around in 14 months. So he began a hard regiment of radiation and chemo which lasted a year. He finished his last treatment four days before his daughter’s wedding in Charleston. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it—but we went and I danced at that wedding reception.” 

Bill Cash is a stubborn man. He refused to give in to this cancer in his head. He had always exercised and five days after surgery he began to work out again. Three months after his operation he had already run in two 5K races and one year after surgery Cash finished a Triathlon. He went back to his doctor in September 2009 and the MRI showed no traces of cancer. Bill celebrates his two-year anniversary this June.  Oncologists at UAB encouraged him to tell his story and help others who struggle with brain tumors.  

Sitting in the sunlight, drinking coffee one morning, Bill Cash had a smile on his face. “They cut a hole in my skull took out a plug, dug out the cancer and stapled the plug back into my head. It’s been two years and I’m still here.” 

I asked him what helped. He said his wife and family helped greatly. He and Kathy have been married for 40 years. Over and over she would encourage him and remind him how important it was just to keep fighting. Doctors helped too, he said. He followed their orders, had round after round of chemo which lasted a year and used their expertise to help him get back on his feet. And then he added, “You can’t just rely on doctors or anyone else—but you have to do some things for yourself.” He discovered that that a healthy diet was essential for his well-being. Cash said that a large variety of fruits and vegetables helped reduce inflammation in the cancer. He said this new way of approaching food has helped produce powerful antioxidants which support the healing process. Change in diet was most important. 

Solitude became very important to Cash. He confessed that his Type A personality had not given him much time just to sit and be still. “There was something about the quiet that brought me great peace,” he said.  Nights when he could not sleep he would sit on his porch in the dark and padding behind him would be his 120 pound German shepherd, Samson. “He would sit there as close as he could get and just look up at me. From time to time he would put his paws on my lap and lick me in the face. My dog has helped save my life.” 

Bill has always been a person of faith. But he said church took on a whole new meaning after his surgery. He found himself surrounded by church members and Sunday school class members.  He told me that his favorite Scripture verse is: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts…” That’s my mantra,” he said, “Faith kept me going—still does.” 

Work also helped. But he has turned his attention to other people. After consulting with neurologists and Doctors at UAB he established a foundation he named Gaining Life Initiative which helps people who have gone through what he has experienced. His goal is to raise five million dollars in the next four years. Hopefully research will extend the life expectancy of those with this dreaded cancer. 

Bill Cash, who is not supposed to be alive, is finding his way. He doesn’t do it alone. He has discovered that family helps. His physicians and specialists certainly help. Taking control of the parts of life he can change has been a great benefit.  Healthy eating and consistent exercise keep him going. He is finding strength in solitude and in his faith. ealthy and consistent exercise helps. And he rolls up his sleeves and reaches out to help others who walk this same scary path he has walked. 

The poet, William Stafford confessed that “I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” Bill Cash understands those words. He has taken his own broken things and the parachute he continues to weave is something to behold.
"Into paradise may the angels lead him ; may the martyrs take him up into eternal rest, and may the chorus of angels lead him to that holy city, and the place of perpetual light."
                                                --Roman Catholic Prayer for the Dead


Monday, October 22, 2012

The Survivor's Song--A Sermon for Everybody

The title of the book intrigued me, Survival Stories. The subtitle is memoirs of crisis. The book grew out of a workshop by a very fine writer when she instructed her class to write stories of crisis situations in their own lives. These were their instructions: write about the hard things in your life, the threatening things. And they did. Those in the class wrote with urgency about their personal wars. Depression, loss of friendship, divorce, illness, death. Someone wrote about a benign brain tumor, another wrote about a malignant brain tumor. There were personal stories of a cousin that died with AIDS, infertility, a mother’s death. Someone wrote about a hospital’s incompetence that led a woman to have to abort her baby. They wrote about adultery and what it did to them and their marriages, what it felt like to care for a retarded daughter years after year. A very fine teacher forced out of his job and now worked in construction wrote about what this experience did to him. They wrote about what happened when personal tornado tore through their lives and how they sorted through the debris, picked up the pieces and started life all over again.

Reading the book I realized all over again that we are all survivors. You and me. If we had time or the courage or the trust we could stand one by one by one and talk about some moment or occasion then or now that changed it all—that brought us to the precipice—that made us different. And if the church is to do anything it is for us to help one another across the swirling water to safety.

Interestingly enough the last book in the Bible tackles this very subject: survival. We think Revelation was written somewhere between 81 and 96 AD. The Roman Emperor Domitian made it compulsory for all the citizens on the Roman Empire to worship him as God. Caesar is Lord they were to say. But the Christians could not say that—their first creed was: Jesus is Lord. And because of their refusal, some fled into exile while others lost their lives. Churches were either being stamped out, or acclimated to the culture, or many just fell away in great droves. And out of this difficult time the book of Revelation came into being to encourage Christians in a time of great danger. And, over and over, John would write: Christians need not be paralyzed by fear of the future. John gave his troubled friends, what Robert McCan has called: a vision of victory. 

It is a strange book. It is written in symbols and mysterious imagery. Some think it was written in code language so that the Roman Empire would not understand. It was written to give courage to Christians then and now. It is a survivor’s story. It addresses the questions we have all asked: How shall we survive this terrible ordeal? How shall we make it?

Chapters four and five become the basis of all that will follow. This is the key to the whole book. One word stands out. Day and night without ceasing the believers sing. (4.8) The twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne singing. (4.10) In the fifth chapter the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders sing a new song. (5.8-9) And then, if that were not enough, we read in verse 11: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads and thousands and thousands, singing with full voice…” But even this is not the end, for in the thirteenth verse he pulls out all the stops: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing…” Five times he uses the word: sing until by the end of the fifth chapter the choir loft is full—everybody is there—standing, every creature that God ever made is singing in full voice: Alleluia…Alleluia…Alleluia. It is so cosmic and so all encompassing that they are all taken in and no one is left out. They are all singing.

What is it they sing? It is a survivor’s song. We find our answer in Revelation 5.12: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." This is their song.

Worthy is the lamb. We are told that when Caesar came marching into the city with his horses and banners and trumpets and minions the people would shout over and over: “Worthy art Thou.” Worthy.  The Greek word is axion. It is an old and rare word found only a few times in the Scripture. Six times we find the word in Revelation alone. It means to value or appreciate. And the song the survivors sang is that we find our worth and our value not in this world. We find our value in the other world—silent, unseen but there.  

They were not fooled by the pageantry or by the flags or by the power or by the majority. There is a majesty that is above all the worldly things around us. For the Survivor’s Song says it is not money and it is not this world. The heart of the matter is spiritual. And if we are going to survive we don’t place our worth in Caesar or Angelina Jolie or Mercedes or our retirement or fame or making it or health or popularity or winning. This is not it. The writer of Revelation puts the word God down beside Rome, Caesar—and your little old half-acre of real estate and says: It will not last. You see the only reason we remember Domitian is because he is linked with the history of the people he tried to stamp out.  

Worship comes from the word, worth-ship. Want to survive? You learn to worship. I'm not talking about coming to church.  I’m talking about finding your worth in something outside this world. Through a hymn, a prayer, a Scripture, stained glass—silence, sitting out underneath the stars—you being to say: “Ahhhh.” And with John we begin to say as he said three times: “You are worthy, our Lord and King to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things, and by your will they were created and existed.”(4.11) Worthy is the first stanza of our song.
The Lamb 

Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered.  If the first stanza is about worthiness—the second stanza is about the source of our worth. Worthy is the Lamb. 

What a strange gospel. Chapter five says John, in a vision, sees the elders weep and he says to them: Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered. (5.5) But he keeps looking and the Lion fades away and we see now a Lamb. And four times he doesn’t talk about the worthiness of the Lion. He talks about Worthy is the Lamb. (5.6,8,11,13) We find our redemption not in the powerful lion but in the fragile and seemingly helpless lamb. All our lives we struggle with power. All our lives we struggle with influence and making it and securing ourselves. All our lives we have thought the secret was power. Lions. And this gospel points in the other direction. The Survivor’s song is not about lions but about lambs. Weak, vulnerable, powerless. Servants. We find out redemption in him who took the form of a servant.  

So the lamb in weakness stands against the mighty power of Rome. And the strangest thing emerges. We find our redemption in the lamb that was slain. The cross is triumphant. The cross endures. And we are redeemed by the lamb that was led to the slaughter.So it isn’t the lion after all. It’s vulnerability. It’s suffering. It’s weakness. It’s a strange twist. The Lamb of God takes away our sins. He died for us. He gave his life as a ransom for many 29 times John points us to the Lamb in Revelation. In Revelation 8. 13f is one of my favorite passages: “ Then one of the elders address me, saying `Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, `These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching hear; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”(8. 13-17) It isn’t a lion. It’s a lamb that’s what the song says.

The third stanza is praise. John says if you want to survive then learn to praise. Those Christians crushed by Rome were told to praise the Lamb. Look at the words they sent up to the Lamb: power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, blessing! And then if that were not enough the chorus come back on stage and begins to sing a second time: “To the one seated on the throne and the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”(5.13)

When old David had come to the end of his great reign I chronicles gives his last and most poignant speech. The words here are even greater than those moving words when his son Absolom died. “Oh, Absolom…Absolom.” He totters on stage. And the audience is hushed. For, you see, he was the great king, the greatest King Israel had ever known or would ever know. They would look back with misty eyes on the reign of King David as the high water mark.  Even greater than Ronald Reagan if you can believe it. And now, he stands alone on stage. His hair is thinning. He leans on a cane. His eyes blink and are watery. And he speaks for a last time to his beloved people Israel. He tells them the secret of his success. “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours in the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.”(I Chronicles 29. 10-13) He has learned on that twisting, winding journey of his life to praise God. It is the missing note in most of our lives and most of our worship.  

The Church growth folk keep talking about if you really want a church to grow you have to be user-friendly. Put your ear to the ground and find out what they want and give it to them. Put down that practical piece of advice down beside: “The Lord is my Shepherd…he leadeth me beside still waters…he restores my soul…. yea though I walk through the valley and shadow I fear no evil…Thou art with me.” See the difference. Focus. One: we lift up our little lives by our own bootstraps. But praise God from whom all blessings flow lifts us up beyond the hills and we are stretched.

The grateful survive. That’s what he said. The ungrateful just keep on bumping into the furniture making themselves and everyone around them miserable. Learn to look up. Learn to whisper: Thanks. Thanks. Thanks. The third stanza is praise.

The fourth stanza of the survivor’s song is All. There is a universality here that is cosmic and all encompassing. All. In 5. 9 the saints from every tribe and language and people and nation sing. In 5.11 he writes: “Then I looked, and heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing in full voice…” And if that were not enough, he writes: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them singing…”The whole company of the universe leaves their pews and comes up front and joins the choir. Tribes with all sorts of costumes, languages that we don’t even know, countries from around the world—nationalities and customs from all over. And John puts it down beside the exclusivism of Judaism which prided itself on being chosen. The church, which is the real church, prides itself on knowing no nationality, no political party, no cultural or racial boundaries. 

Something has happened to me these last few years. As I stare in his face I see someone who loves us all. Someone who commands us—and that is an order—to love one another and get along. I see someone who shatters the myths and categories and the little bitty barricades that we have erected: us and them and us and them and us and them.  

Do you want a secret to survive? Join the family. Not the Kentucky family. Not the Baptist family. Not the middle-class family. Not any category where you define yourself. Woman is not big enough. Gay is not big enough. Straight is not big enough. Military or Democrat or Republican or Yankee or Southerner or whatever adjective you have tried desperately to turn into a noun is just not big enough. How about person. P-e-r-s-o-n. Survivors are members of the human family. Pogo was right, you know. We have met the enemy and he is us. Not them—us.  

One of the great scenes I have ever seen in a movie takes place in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s out in video and I recommend to anybody that can take strong language. It is the story of Andy Dufrense who is sentenced to two back-to-back life terms for crimes he did not commit. The murder of his wife and her lover. Everything about Shawshank Prison conspires to utterly destroy humanity. As the story unfolds, we are given glimpses of how Andy hangs on to hope. These moments are pinholes of light in a valley of terrible darkness. After two years of unanswered weekly letters to the state legislature requesting books and educational materials for the prison library, a huge shipment of used books and records, accompanied by a check, gets dumped in the warden’s office. One of the records that turns Andy inside out is Mozart’s `Aria’ from The Marriage of Figaro. Andy locks the warden out of office and plays the Aria on the prison loudspeakers. It is the greatest moment of the movie. Prisoners stop and listen. They quit talking. It is a spiritual moment in which they are transcended. Andy is tortured for what he does. And somebody asks him why he did what he did. And Andy explained to his friends: “I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company. It is in here (pointing to his head and his heart). That’s the beauty of music…so you don’t forget that there are places in the world not made out of stone, that there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. It is yours.” 

Revelation gives us a song of hope in a hard time. It is a way to survive the craziness of our time. Those that sing the song make it through whatever comes. And I came all the way from South Carolina to say that it is my hope for us all that some hard when the wind blows...some day... 

“When the strife is fierce...the warfare long—
(There will) steal on our hearts the distant triumph song—
And our hearts will be brave again—
And our arms will be strong—
(And we will all sing again) Alleluia! Alleluia!”

(I preached this sermon at the Faith Baptist Church , Georgetown, Kentucky October 21, 2012. I served that church for over 6 1/2 years and this congregation was one of Camelots. They have recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. )

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Presidential Debates--Mr. America Contest

Well, we’ve had two beauty contests in the last week. We crowned Romney Queen for a Day in the first debate...perhaps. Joe Biden wears the crown and carries the flowers for first runner-up. Who knows? My concern, whether you are a Democrat or a that we need to look behind the makeup of both Presidential candidates and their sidekicks and look at who they really are—as much as we can determine—and stand by our man(s) since there are no women in this race.  

I keep remembering those wonderful lines from the play, Inherit the Wind. One of the characters muses: 

“That was the name of my first long shot. Golden Dancer. She was in the big side window of the general store in Wakeman, Ohio. I used to stand out in the street and say to myself, ‘If I had Golden Dancer I’d have everything in the world that I wanted.’ I was seven years old, and a very fine judge of rocking horses. Golden Dancer had a bright red mane, blue eyes, and she was gold all over, with purple spots. When the sun hit her stirrups, she was a dazzling sight to see. But she was a week’s wages for my father. Sop Golden Dancer and I always had a plate glass window between us. But—let’s see, it wasn’t Christmas; must’ve been my birthday—I woke up in the morning and there was Golden Dancer at the foot of my bed! Ma had skimped on the groceries, and my father’d worked nights for a month. I jumped into the saddle and started to rock—and it broke! It split in two! The wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and sealing wax! All shine, and no substance! Bert! Whenever you see something bright, shining, perfect-seeming—all gold, with purple spots—look behind the paint! And if it’s a lie show it up for what it really is!” (Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee)

 One of my sources for real news is the Associated Baptist Press. They recently had two great articles about this political campaign. Ken Camp writes about what it means to be a faithful citizen and still be a Christian. Which is a pretty good topic for believers to consider. We can believe strongly in separation of church and state and still be engaged in the political process. And should. 

Another article in that same ABP Press is by David Gushee, wise teacher at Mercer University (Ga.) who writes on his observations on the debates. Interesting what was discussed in both debates and what was completely left out. Where was the discussion about immigration? Who even mentioned why don’t we pay down our debt before we start another war? Is this war-talk crazy or what?  

Having just gotten back from a trip out West where we went through those new-fangled Body scanners and were patted down pretty seriously on several occasions—I wondered are we overreacting to an event that happened 11 years ago—and I wonder who is getting rich over all these machines that are in every airport in the country, it seems. . They must cost a fortune. I understand the Department of Homeland Security is the biggest Department in our Government. There are mroe than 230,000 working for them now. Nobody mentions this subject in the debates. 

I keep telling myself we’ve been down this political road before. And we have seen ugliness and lies and over-reaction and fear and exaggeration many times. We will get through this in a few weeks. I just hope whoever is elected can help us in this very troubled time. And—God bless America. She surely needs it if anybody does.






Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Politics, Church and Jesus

"It is important that our churches
be courageous and creative, not
sanctuaries  for frightened Americans which is to say recruiting ground for authoritarian
figures and movements that bear the earmarks of emerging fascism."
   --William Sloane Coffin, Credo 

A pastor-friend of mine said he had a strange discussion with one of his members. Against his advice the church erected two large flagpoles outside their sanctuary. The American flag stood taller than the Christian flag. My friend asked: “Haven’t you got that reversed? Shouldn’t the Christian flag be higher than the American flag outside a Church?” “Don’t you know the law,” his friend replied, “ the American flag always comes first.”

I thought about that story when I read about the hundreds of Pastors who are backing political candidates from the pulpit. There is an organization called Alliance Defending Freedom that has staged “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” since 2008. Over 1500 Pastors this year say they will endorse candidates from their pulpits. This is in clear violation of the tax code which states that any religious organization that specifically endorses candidates for political office and could lose their tax-exempt status. The funny thing is that the IRS has followed through on this violation of this law in only one case in 2008, which they lost.

Violating this law one preacher said, “I am speaking as a pastor and as a citizen of the United States where we have that freedom of speech.” He went on tell his large congregation that, “issues such as sanctity of life, marriage, religious freedom and the national debt matter.” Before he went on to endorse a Republican candidate for the state Supreme Court he added, “As a follower of Jesus Christ, I will not vote for a candidate that violates the principles of God on the issues I have discussed.”

Of course we have freedom of speech but the church is not the place to wave political (or national) flags. Weldon Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance wisely remarked: “When the church divides the country, where’s the win in that?” Blurring the lines between politics and church gets us into serious trouble. Remember the old wag: When the lion gets in bed with the lamb—the lion always wins. The church should know when it is a pawn from any particular political party it will lose. People who come to church to have their political alliances coddled might go away feeling good about their choices—but they will go away empty.

The purpose of church is to lift our eyes beyond the TV screens and the competing voices all around us and point us a vision of wholeness and goodness that includes us all. And the church should always challenge the axioms of the crowd whether it be war, gay rights, women’s rights, global warming, or narrow nationalism. In the church of Jesus Christ no one should feel left out if they subscribe to one particular party or none at all. It is scary when God’s will is wrapped around any candidate for political office.

We should never leave the church unsure of what age we live in.  We are to be engaged in the issues of our time. But unless, like Isaiah we see the Lord high and lifted up, with his train filling the temple...touching the deep places in our hearts...we will not have been to church. Let the folk in the pews make up their own minds about who or what cause to vote for. Whoever wins or whoever loses—the next Sunday those who sit on our pews ought to feel like the church is their place and they are part in what goes on.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We Remember the Fallen

Sitting on the Oregon coast last week—a long way from South Carolina...I read about the 2,000th American death caused by the continuing war in Afghanistan. Back home my newspaper gave this soldier a human face. AP Reporter Allen G. Breed wrote the story about Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Metcalfe. He was on patrol in the Wardak Province when his unit came under small arms fire. So he became our 2,000th victim. Daniel was a 11-year veteran on his third deployment. He left behind a wife and four children, aged 11 months to 12 years.


Watching this report on TV, a grandmother named Lisa Freeman remembered back to August 7, 2009 when her own son Marine Capt. Matthew C. Freeman died from a sniper’s bullet very near where Metcalfe died later. Both men were 29. His mother, responding to the TV news of the 2,000th American death was irate: “I just sat here, reliving the pain and wondering: Where is American’s outrage? Where is America’s concern that we’re still at war? " She went on to say: “I walk around this country and look in faces that don’t even know we’re at war anymore. People that are going about their everyday lives, not realizing that they’ve been kept safe by this amazing group of your man and women who have been willing to sacrifice so much.”

Grandmother Freeman went on to say that just two days before he died her grandson, Matthew had called home in Georgia. He told his mother, she said, about the friendly locals and how cute the children were. He asked her if she would start collecting school supplies that he and the other troop members could distribute in the villages. She said that the Matthew Freeman Project, “Pens & Paper for Peace,” has shipped over six tons of school supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan.

And so the war goes on. We need to remind our leaders in Washington and at every level that we cannot forget the fallen who have given their lives for us. Strange sacrifice-less war. We must remember the fallen.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Metcalfe – age – 29 – from Liverpool, New York.
Marine Captain Matthew C. Freeman – age 29—from Richmond Hill, Georgia.
"Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone,
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes."

--Wendell  Berry, "Look Out" in Given