Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events

I have been asked by a few folks how they should be, or if they should be, talking with their children about tragic events such as Chancellorsville and Barcelona. This is never an easy subject to discuss but it is one that needs to be discussed.  Children can sense when their parents and other adults are under stress and they need to understand why.

There is a great article on website Healthy Children that should be of some help.

Here is a little bit of the article.

After any disaster, parents and other adults struggle with what they should say and share with children and what not to say or share with them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents, teachers, child care providers, and others who work closely with children to filter information about the crisis and present it in a way that their child can accommodate, adjust to, and cope with.

Where to Start – All Ages

No matter what age or developmental stage the child is, parents can start by asking a child what they’ve already heard. Most children will have heard something, no matter how old they are. After you ask them what they’ve heard, ask what questions they have.

Older children, teens, and young adults might ask more questions and may request and benefit more from additional information. But no matter what age the child is, it’s best to keep the dialogue straightforward and direct.

Avoiding Graphic Details & Exposure to Media

In general, it is best to share basic information with children, not graphic details, or unnecessary details about tragic circumstances. Children and adults alike want to be able to understand enough so they know what’s going on. Graphic information and images should be avoided.

Keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, radio, social media, computers, etc.

With older children, if you do want them to watch the news, record it ahead of time. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its contents before you sit down with them to watch it. Then, as you watch it with them, you can stop, pause, and have a discussion when you need to.

Children will generally follow good advice, but you have to give them some latitude to make decisions about what they’re ready for. You can block them from seeing the newspaper that comes to the door, for example, but not the one on the newsstand. Today, most older children will have access to the news and graphic images through social media and other applications right from their cell phone. You need to be aware of what’s out there and take steps in advance to talk to children about what they might hear or see.

Read the rest Here

To my friends and family who support Donald Trump

 

 

It has taken me a long time to write these words to you.

You have been taking a lot of heat these last few months, and for that, I am truly sorry.  I also want you to know, first and foremost, that I love and cherish each one of you, many of whom I have known my entire life, and that is why your continued support pains me so.  This essay will make many of you upset, and I apologize for that, but friends need to tell friends the truth, and as a Christian minister I need to speak the truth in love, so please keep reading.

I do not think you all are racists, homophobes, Nazis or any of the other things you have been called just as I am not a communist, snowflake, socialist (well I did vote for Bernie Sanders) libtard or any of the horrible names I was called, by some of you, during the past 8 years.

I can somewhat understand your reasons for voting for Mr. Trump in the first place.  I was not thrilled with any of the candidates myself, but the demeanor of Donald J Trump during the campaign upset me. Making fun of people with physical disabilities, shouting “lock her up,” in sighting violence and all the rest are not what has, or continue, to make America great.

This is not about President Obama or Secretary Clinton, that is the past, and there is nothing anyone of us can do about that.  This is about the present and the future of our country, and I believe of our souls.

No, I know the argument, her emails, Benghazi, and all the rest.  Like I said I was not thrilled about the candidates, heck I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, talk about going out a limb.  But none of that, none of it, holds a candle to what Mr. Trump has said in the past, during the campaign, and since taking office in January.

President Trump has three close advisors, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka all known to be racists and White Supremacists and yet there they are, with unfettered access to the President of the United States, making policy decisions and advising him.  This alone should be enough.

As a Christian, I have a difficult time trying to come to grips with other Christian leaders like Robert Jeffers, Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Paula White who are willing to overlook so many of the moral transgressions of Mr. Trump.  Three times married, mostly because he cheated on the former wife with the next one, objectifying women and saying the grab them by the P^&%. Demonizing of Mexicans, LGBTQ, the poor, and Muslims for a quick laugh and a bump in the polls.  These are the same Evangelical Christians that were in moral outrage when a President lied about having sex.

They are willing to trade away their morality and dare I say they have sold their souls, for the promise of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and judges, so their brand of Christianity will be the law of the land.  They have blasphemed God by calling Mr. Trump “anointed” by God.  We do not anoint Presidents in America no matter what party they belong to, especially one that demonizes all of the groups I have already mentioned.

But the real reason I am writing this, and if you are still with me, I hope you listen, his immediate refusal to denounce Nazis and White Supremacists and the Klan after the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.  If his non-renunciation was not bad enough when he finally did renounce them, after tremendous political pressure, he tried to make a moral and legal argument that the Antifa and BLM are the same as Nazis and White Supremacists.  Make no mistake about it, they were carrying the Nazi flag, giving the Nazi salute, and chanting “blood and soil” and the “Jews will not replace us.” Donald J. Trump is the leader of the party that is on record of stalwart support for the Nation of Israel, and he could not find the moral courage on Saturday to denounce Anti-Semitism on an American street.

There are not many sides to this issue there are only two, one was Nazis on it, and the other side should have everyone else.  We fought a world war, where many hundreds of thousands were killed and injured, to prevent this very thing and here we see it happen all over again on an American street.  It is very sickening to me.

I agree that any group, flying any flag that resorts to violence should be denounced, but to try and make an equivalent between these groups is disingenuous at best.  And the Evangelical voice that got Mr. Trump elected has agreed with the President, supported him, and stood by him, and has done harm to the Christian witness not only in America but the world.

There was a time, right or wrong when America was the moral compass in the world.  At one time we were the Antifa that fought fascism and then Communism all around the world.  We removed dictators from power because of their political philosophy and how they treated their citizens.  We have stood for freedom around the world for generations, and now we have a stain on our reputation.  America is not great, and we have Donald J Trump to thank for it.

I will repeat this, I love and cherish each one of you, but I cannot understand why you still support this man, I am sure you feel the same way about my support for President Obama, but there can be no comparison.  Many of you have unfriended me on Facebook and other Social Media sites, and that is your call, I have not done so.  I have unfollowed many of you during the campaign and after, but I will not let something like this come between us, but it pains me greatly to see your continued support.

Further Thoughts on Monuments

As the debate continues about the future of Confederate Monuments, I have been giving monuments in general and our interpretation of history a lot of thought.

Several questions have come to mind, and one is, as a Christian, what should my response be when a monument becomes an idol? Symbols are important in our lives, but when those symbols pass that point, and we begin to worship the metal and stone, it becomes a theological problem.

There is also the issue of how we interpret history in the present.  Most, if not all of the Confederate monuments in question were erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in an attempt to continue the Lost Cause narrative.  They were also constructed during the time of Jim Crow in the South, again as a way to remind people of the glory of the Confederacy and what it stood for.

As much as we would like to think that the study of history is a static endeavor it is not, it is constantly changing and our interpretation of it, as is our understanding of theology, in constant need of readjustment.

Several days after the horrible events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the President of the United States attempted to draw a line connecting Nazis, White Supremacists, Confederate Statues and Monuments, and monuments to Washington and Jefferson.  The common thread was the issue of slavery, and yes it is a common thread.  However, the times were different when Washington and Jefferson owned slaves as well as people in Boston.

Just to be clear, I am in no way defending the institution of slavery, but I cannot put my 21st-century sense of morals into the mind of a 18th-century person.  Slavery was legal in the United States when Jefferson and Washington owned slaves.  The Constitution allowed it, the church allowed it, and the morality of the day allowed it.

However, by the middle of the 19th century, the time of the Civil War, the morality of the country had begun to shift away from owning other human beings as chattel.  Keep in mind equality of the races was not even on the radar except to say that they were not equal.  The abolitionists in the North wanted slavery abolished, and the slaves freed, but they did not want them to vote or be considered equal to the white man.

So what the President attempted was a false equivalency in trying to draw this line.  But that leaves the question of how we interpret history today.

I have made my position clear on Confederate monuments.  I believe, as did the law of the day and the law of today, that the men who took up arms against the United States of America were, and are, traitors.  At wars end, they were not given their citizenship or their right to vote or hold public office back automatically, for the private soldier that was different.  The officers and political leaders had to apply and swear an oath, to have their citizenship restored.  Under the law, they were indeed traitors.  Robert E. Lee did not have his citizenship restored until the 20th century, and as far as I know, Jefferson Davis never received his.

Symbols are important, and they tell the story of past events.  They give us a visual reminder of what the event was.  But, and this is going back to the theological argument when they become idols, centers for rallies and demonstrations it becomes problematic.

The descendants of Stonewall Jackson have written concerning the removal of Confederate Monuments in Richmond.  They are proud of their family but also understand what that pride means.  I do not believe Stonewall Jackson owned slaves, but he still fought to preserve the institution.  They make the point in their letter that the monuments “offer pre-existing iconography for racists” and for this reason, they must be removed.

They go on to say;

“The people who descended on Charlottesville last weekend were there to make a naked show of force for white supremacy. To them, the Robert E. Lee statue is a clear symbol of their hateful ideology. The Confederate statues on Monument Avenue are, too—especially Jackson, who faces north, supposedly as if to continue the fight.”

Whatever these symbols once where they have now become something very different. You can read the rest of their letter here.

I do not believe removing a statue will erase history, but sometimes history belongs in a museum, where it can be properly interpreted, and not on city streets. Germany does not deny their past, but they confine it to museums and other places.  There are no statues of the leaders of the National Socialist Party in Germany and many if not all, of the statues to Communist leaders in Russia, have been removed, this does not deny or erase that period of their history. America is the only country that erects memorials to her former enemies!  Let that sink in.  These were not patriotic Americans; these were traitors.

The question will continue for many more months and perhaps years, and yes, there will be hysteria and calls to rename Faneuil Hall in Boston and remove statues of Washington and Jefferson.  Cooler heads will prevail, and our interpretation of events will change and update just as they always have.

UCC Pastoral Letter condemns racist violence in Charlottesville, demands equality for all

August 15, 2017

As a response to the violent clashes between white supremacists and counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead and 19 injured, the national leadership of the United Church of Christ issued this Pastoral Letter:

Dear Members, Friends, Clergy, and Leaders of and within the United Church of Christ,

The Officers of the United Church of Christ and the Council of Conference Ministers have both composed a Pastoral Letter and a set of liturgical pieces. We share both with you now, and invite you to read the letter in your service of worship, add it to your website or social media pages, or print it in your newsletter or bulletin. Please feel free to incorporate any or all of the liturgical pieces in this week’s worship.

Pastoral Letter

Last weekend, a group of white supremacists came to Charlottesville, Virginia, and incited violence to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. Although protest is the bedrock of our nation’s democracy, coming in riot gear proves that they intended to do more than simply protest.

We, the Council of Conference Ministers and Officers of the United Church of Christ, strongly condemn the acts of violent hatred expressed by these white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members. Their white robes and burning crosses were replaced with polo shirts, khakis, and tiki torches, while their lynching was replaced with a speeding car barreling through a group of peaceful protesters with the intention of harming and killing others, which it did. Their vitriolic hatred is the same.

We confess that the events of Charlottesville are systemic and communal expressions of white privilege and racism that continues to pervade our nation’s spiritual ethos. And if we only condemn the acts of August 12, 2017, without condemning the roots of racism, which perpetuate discrimination in our American schools, justice system, business, and healthcare systems, then we have sinned as well. We must work toward the Kin-dom of Heaven here on earth now for the sake of a just world for all.

We do this by committing to follow the ways of Jesus, who stood with the oppressed, spoke out against political and religious powers, and courageously embodied a just world for all as he sought to create it. Today, we must follow the ways of Jesus in addressing the hatred of white supremacists and racists among us.

Our local UCC churches must be true solidarity partners with those who march in the streets.  Our UCC churches are encouraged to move from the sanctuary and walk alongside other clergy and community leaders who seek to resist, agitate, inform, and comfort. We must resist hatred and violence. We must also agitate ourselves, and our neighbors to acknowledge any racism within or among us. We must inform ourselves, and our neighbors what our sacred stories reveal to us of a just world for all. We must lament and grieve with those who are injured or murdered during violent confrontations with those who mean us harm. And we must comfort those who have been discriminated against with the transformative love of God.

As we go forward, let us model the legacy of activism through our sacred call given to us by our UCC ancestors: May we be prophetic truth-tellers like our Congregational Christian forebears, who marched in public squares demanding equality for all. May we serve others, and remain faithful witnesses like our Evangelical and Reformed forebears, who tended to the needs of the forgotten. And may we be courageous like our non-UCC forebears, who left their spiritual home and joined the UCC in order to fully live out who God created them to be.

In the days to come, may God’s truth, mission, and courage be our guide to embodying the Kin-dom of Heaven here on earth.

Call to Worship:

L: We gather to worship the God of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar – author of all life, whose children are beautiful no matter the color of their skin or their place of origin.

All: This God of love deserves our songs of praise!

L: We gather to worship the God of Jesus, who raised him from the dead so that all might have abundant life.

All: This God of life is worthy of our faithful devotion!

L: We gather to worship the God of Sojourner and Martin, calling forth prophets in every age to speak truth in love to power.

All: This God of justice moves still among us. May we open ourselves today to hear God’s voice and respond with our full measure of commitment to the causes of love and justice.

Call to Confession:

The prelude plays. Announcements are made. Call to worship, invocation, hymn, confession. Wait, confession? Yes confession. Let’s stay with confession a little longer this morning. Confession needed: For times when we have been silent; For our complicity with our nation’s support for racism; For our timid faith in sacred spaces; For wearing the mask of kindness but harboring hatred within our hearts; And for a broken world in need of love. For viewing people as less than equal when God called them very good. For pretending not to see racism and hiding in comfort.  For our condemnation of evil within and without, and for inaction when our presence was needed.

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer. No jumping too quickly to the assurance of pardon and a quick singing of the Gloria Patri today.  Stand still in Confession and linger in Lament.

Prayer of Confession:

God of peace,
give us the courage, strength and perseverance needed,
to challenge the systems of racism,
so that we can clear a path for your justice, peace, and equity.

We believe racism is present
in our society and in our church,
and throughout time has manifested itself in many forms and in varying degrees.

We know racism is alive
in our language and in our structures,
and through our systems it actively works to deconstruct your glorious design,
blocking the path to justice, equity, and peace that Jesus brings.

Racism exists, and it challenges the gospel message that we cry.

We cry abundant life for all,
knowing that we are slowly being suffocated by the pervasive evil of racism:
some of us are choking;
some of us cannot breathe;
some of us are dead.

We cry peace,
knowing that we are the instruments of God’s peace
and that such peace cannot exist without justice, equity, compassion, and God’s grace.

We cry Emmanuel, God with us,
knowing that to God, every life matters—God is with all people—
even though as a community and as a society
we have stated through our actions that some lives matter more than others.

Compassionate One,
Help us to understand how racism finds life in our hearts and in our cries.
In this time of tense anticipation,
may we commit ourselves to be people of your way
crying and creating a path for justice, equity, and peace
for all people in this wilderness of hatred and racism.

Amen.

—a prayer for Black History Month by Alydia Smith

Invocation:

Holy Spirit of the Living God, as we gather today let us seek to follow the ways of Jesus modeled to us in our UCC ancestors.  As we go forward, let us model the legacy of activism through our sacred call given to us by our UCC ancestors. May we be prophetic truth-tellers like our Congregational Christian forebears, who marched in public squares demanding equality for all. May we serve others, and remain faithful witnesses like our Evangelical and Reformed forebears, who tended to the needs of the forgotten. And may we be courageous like our non-UCC forebears, who left their spiritual home and joined the UCC in order to fully live out who God created them to be. In the days to come, may God’s truth, mission, and courage be our guide to embodying Beloved Community here on earth.

Benediction:

As you leave these hallowed walls and go forth to love neighbor and build a just world for all, may you see with the eyes of our Creator that all God’s children are beautiful and deserving of love and respect; may you reach out in love to all with the arms of Jesus, with no regard for race, creed, or homeland; and may you be accompanied by their Holy Spirit so that you may be sustained as you commit to your part of the ongoing courage in the struggle for peace and justice.

From the website of the United Church of Christ

Anger is the Opiate of the Masses

 

The title of this post is a paraphrase, if you will, of the famous quote by Karl Marx “Religion is the opium of the people.”  Marx is claiming that it is religion that will addict people and will then follow their leaders wherever they go.  I am claiming that anger has now replaced religion as the opiate of the masses.

There is no doubt that people in this country are angry and I believe that those feelings need to be validated but when anger turns to violence, and there are not many sides here, that is when it crosses the line.

By definition, anger is a “passion or emotional response to a real or supposed wrong.”* From a moral stand point, anger is neither positive nor negative in and of itself. What we do with that anger, or how it manifests itself in us, that determine if it is constructive or destructive.  Hostility, which is different than anger, is a “state of antagonism, or animosity toward someone or something.”  From a pastoral perspective anger is not always caused by an external force, more often than not, it is because of something inside of us. In other words, we get angry because of the way someone or something makes us feel or because we do not want to deal with our internal baggage. Anger can be justified, but hospitality is never justified.

I was not surprised by the level of anger that came out of the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday.  Not the anger by those on the streets but the anger by folks using social media. People were angry that I did not denounce the Black Lives Matter Movement or something called Antifa which I will admit I had not heard of until this weekend.  People were trying to make equivalents, no doubt based on the statement by the President that there was violence “on many sides.” I am used to people getting angry when I point out the unchristian behavior of elected officials and especially that of other Christian leaders, but I was not prepared for the level of anger the terrorist actions in Virginia would conjure up in people.

“The capacity for anger is a basic human endowment. Anger is aroused by sensory perception plus an interpretation of the perception. Anger, like all emotions not based on physical stimuli, is thus ‘born’ y an individual’s thoughts; it is a product of interpretation and thus always meaningful in some way. Contrary to popular belief, anger (or any other emotion) is not automatically ‘caused’ by someone or some event, but it is the result of an individual’s perception and interpretation of a given situation.”*

So what does that mean?

Anger is not always caused by what is on the outside sometimes; resulting from the feelings the event stirs up inside of us and how that “inside” stuff makes us feel.  All of us have things that we like to keep hidden from others, and when we are reminded of them we become angry, not at the events that reminded us of them, but the stuff itself.

I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday that I have to own my role in racism and hatred.  Like most people, I have told, what could be considered racist jokes.  I may have judged someone by their skin color or race or their sexuality, and when I am reminded of that, I get embarrassed and angry with myself.  What is clear to me, from the interactions that I witnessed Saturday and the days following, many of us “white folk” are angry with how those events made us feel.  In our attempt to shift the conversation away from our racism, we try and find moral equivalents, “look the BLM folks are doing it as well,” or, “those anifa guys are violent as well.” It makes us feel better about ourselves, and for a moment, we can move on.  But not everything is equal.  I am not going to try and justify violence for any reason, but I have to own my part in all of this, and yes white America we have a role in it.

One of the skills I have had to learn in my work as a chaplain is “no anxious, compassionate presence.”  The chaplain is the one that remains calm in all situations, on the outside anyway.  We are sort of like the duck on the water.  On the surface, all seems quiet, but under the water, we are going like crazy to try and stay afloat.  To be this “presence,” I had to deal with the situations that make me anxious in such a way that I can minister in those situations.  Anger works the same way if it is not addressed it will consume us and control us.

Those young men, all dressed a like and carrying tiki torches through the streets of an American city, were not born with that amount of anger in them it was learned and now that it has been learned it is being used to whip them up.  The leaders of these groups capitalize and count on that anger when the call goes out, but what we do with that anger is what matters.

As I mentioned previously, anger in and of itself is neither morally good nor morally bad, but when anger turns to hostility, that is when we tread into the moral arena and not in a right way.  Yes, people are angry on all sides, and I will admit they have a right to be angry.  People have a right to demonstrate and protest.  We can argue whether they have the right to carry Nazi flags and bear arms and shields while they protest, but in a free society, they have that right.  But when that protest turns to mob mentality and that anger turns to hostility that is when things get worse.  It is the same whether you are on the streets or sitting behind your keyboard.

So what is it that makes us angry?  Is it that we are being called on our privilege?  Is it that we are being reminded that yes, we have told a racist joke and harbored racist tendencies inside?  Is it that we feel helpless?  Is it that the person we thought was going to be the savior has turned out to be just like us, a flawed human being?  Perhaps it is all those things, and my point is this, anger, not used in the appropriate way, leads to the destruction of our very souls.  Anger becomes a spiritual issue that if not dealt with appropriately can lead us down a path we honestly do not want to go down.

So next time you get angry at something I post or someone else posts asks yourself why you are angry and take a good long look inside and see if it is something inside of us that is making us so angry.  Oh, and count to 10 before you hit send…..

*Hunter, Rodney J, General Editor, Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1990

What should be done about Confederate monuments at National Parks?

Nothing.

Historian Kevin Levin has a thought provoking essay on his blog Civil War Memory, about monuments to Confederates located in National Parks.  Levin makes the point that these monuments, maintained with federal tax dollars, were primarily built during the Jim Crow era of American History.  He rightly asks the question:

These monuments do, however, raise some of the very same issues that are currently being debated in communities across the country. If the Lee monument in Charlottesville is problematic than what can be said about Gettysburg’s Lee statue? Lee dominates Seminary Ridge making it possible for anyone to imagine a glorious Confederate victory whenever they choose. Not too far away the soldiers of North Carolina inch forward with their last ounce of strength in the direction of the farm of a free black family that was forced to flee when Lee’s army of slave catchers entered Pennsylvania in late June 1863.

I can see his point, but I view battlefield monuments much different than monuments in city streets on town squares.

My position is well documented, I believe that those who took up arms against the United States of America are now, and were then, traitors.  Lee, Longstreet, Jackson, and the like, were all officers in the army of the United States of American and swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. They betrayed that oath, which does not end when one resigns their commission, when they took up arms, and command others to take up arms, against the United States of America.  We should not glamorize our former enemies in America!

But monuments on the battlefield tell a much different story for a much different purpose.  Sure, Robert E. Lee is depicted mounted on his horse Traveler is a majestic pose, overlooking the field at Gettysburg where Pickett’s Charge took place, but it gives one the opportunity to discuss the battle and the events that brought it to life.

Statues or monuments on any battlefield are part of the narrative that can be used to tell the entire story if they are interpreted that way.  Talking about the battle of Gettysburg without discussing the events that led up to it and the reasons for the war place these monuments in the abstract and I can see how they can be used as a memorial to white and southern pride, but interpreted in the right way, they will not.

I agree that monuments to traitors should be removed from cities and towns across America whatever they once were they are now symbols used by those who hate, as we witnessed recently in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The Confederate Battle Flag and any other symbols of the Confederacy should be relegated to museums and battlefields where they can be portrayed in their proper position in the telling of the story.

Some will say that the removal of these monuments and statues from cities and towns rewrites history, and I say, as many others do as well, that their erection in the first place, was an attempt to rewrite history and to prolong the Lost Cause Narrative.

Take down the monuments in the cities and towns but leave those up, on the battlefields where hundreds of thousands gave their lives, some to prolong a history and heritage of hate and some to fight against that very hate and preserve the union.

Why I Re-enact

Every so often I will get asked the question, why do you re-enact?  Sometimes I answer it is because I love to dress up or, I love to go camping in a tent.  But the more serious reply to that question is I re-enact so people know the truth about what happened, why it happened, and hope that it never happens again. In light of the terrorism that took place recently in Charlottsville, Virginia, I thought I would clarify why I do what I do not only for those who ask, but for myself.

War is a horrible thing, and it should not be glamorized in any way.  To quote George Hazzard from the miniseries North and South, “War is killing, killing your enemy.”  The taking of a human life is not something that should be celebrated no matter the reason.  War is sinful, and yes, sometimes inevitable, but it is not the norm nor should it be.

Make no mistake about it; the American Civil War was about slavery plain and straightforward.  It was not a complicated series of events it was about white guys having the right to own black guys and if you doubt me just read the secession documents published by the various states in rebellion.  Also to be clear, as justified as their position was, the abolitionist of the day believed that slavery was an abomination, but they also believed that the black man was not equal to the white man.

Some might say that the American Civil War was a shameful part of our history, and they would be correct in that assumption but just because something is a disgrace does not mean we should hide it or not try and find lessons in it to prevent us from making the same mistakes.

History, our shared history, is significant and those times that we are the most ashamed of help us not only to understand where we have come from but where we are going.  We need to know the mind of those who came before us partly so we can understand and interpret the actions they took, but also so we can frame the future direction we take.

My usual portrayal at an event is as a chaplain with one of the regiments of the Union.  I will freely admit that religion was, in no small way, a catalyst for the war but it was also a way to help the soldiers, far away from home, dealing with the horrors of war, to try and make some sense out of it. Just as the soldiers of today have to deal with the mental and emotional scars of war so did the troops in the 19th century.

In the end, I will say that I reenact in the hopes that we can avoid the events that brought our nation to that point of near destruction.  I re-enact to inform and educate people about the real reasons why the war happened and that we should not glorify, even for a minute, those who caused the war and took up arms against their nation.  I re-enact a war in the hopes that, in the future, we may never have to re-enact another one.

Sermon: In the Hour of Trouble

A Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

 

Most every Sunday, as I prepare to preach, we recite the 14 verse of the 19th Psalm;

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer.

But this morning, these words have a very particular meaning for me.  I love to preach; in fact, it is what I enjoy most about being a minister and being your pastor.  The privilege I have to stand here before you is one that I take seriously and most of the time, spend a great deal of time in preparation.  This week was one of the more difficult times to be able to stand here, but stand here I must.

I have preached after such horrific events as the Newtown Shooting and the Shootings at Virginia Tech.  Like it or not, preachers are called upon to try and make sense of the events that happen in the world.  We, as caring Christians, cannot shut ourselves off from the rest of the world, we have to engage the world, our world, and try and make a difference in that world.

I had no idea, when I chose this passage and title of this sermon, over a month ago, that we would be, once again, embroiled in troubled times.  My original plan was to talk about this passage, one of my favorites by the way, as a way to begin to frame the discussions we need to have faith in times of change and uncertainty mostly surrounding the pastoral transition that we are now in.  Then events began to unfold, and I decided to switch positions a little and discuss possible nuclear war, the Charlottesville happened, and all bets were off.

Let me state right here right now in as precise a term as I can, I condemn any acts of violence, any acts of racism.  I condemn Nazis and those marching through the streets of an American city shouting Nazi slogans and giving the one handed Nazi salute.  I condemn those shouting “the Jews will not replace us” and all of the other white supremacist language that was used yesterday on the street of an American city.  The images of young, white, American males walking through the streets of an American city, carrying torches and giving the Nazi salute made my blood run cold.  I want to make the point very clear, all of these things not only fly in the face of what it means to be an American, but it is also counter to what it means to be a Christian. I do not care what political party you belong to or what candidate you vote for; I hope we can all agree that Nazis and white supremacists have no place in the United States of America! I am publically calling on our President and all of our leaders, church and civic, to denounce these terrorists, Nazis, and White Supremacists.  In the words of the Governor of Virginia, there is no place for you in the United States of America!

Today, those young men, and possibly some women, will be sitting in churches praising the same God we worship, after they unleashed vileness and hate on the streets of an American city.  They will continue to use Scripture, as some pastors have done this week to support the annihilation of a race of people, to justify their hate and their violence.  It is time that they are called what they truly are, terrorists.  I am truly sorry if this language offends you but, it has to be called what it is and given a name and that name is hate, and that name is terrorist.

Friday night a group of interfaith clergy gathered at an Episcopal Church in Charlottesville to pray for the city and to pray for what, they all knew, was going to happen on Saturday.  I knew many of those people in that church, in fact, I was going to be in that church Friday night.  While they were singing and praising God, they began to see a crowd gathering outside the church, carrying torches and shouting threats to the clergy peacefully gathered inside.  Secret Service and local police came into the church and told them to stand away from the windows and not to leave the building as their safety could not be guaranteed. This was a frightful situation for those gathered inside in peace to pray to the Prince of Peace, and have a mob of Nazi terrorists, shouting racist slogans at them through the walls of the house of God.  Are we in troubled times, yes we are.

So preparing for what I was going to say today took a much different path than the one I had intended.  But the message to me was clear, have faith, speak the truth, do what is right, God is with me to calm the troubled storms raging inside of me, and that kept me awake most of the night.  As the Psalmist says in Psalm 19; “O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

But let us continue to look at this Psalm for these should not be words that we say, but they should be words that we believe and words that we take to heart.

Let the words of my mouth….  I have to own my part of racism and the hatred that we saw on the streets yesterday.  Like many of you, I have told a joke or two, I have made comments about people and laughed.  I have listened to others do the same and did not speak up.  Let the words of my mouth be acceptable in your sight.  Are the words we speak acceptable in the sight of God?  Sometimes I know mine are not, and that contributes to the hate.

And the meditations of our hearts… Before the words are spoken, before the actions are taken, they have to form in the mind and in the heart.  The ancients believed that the heart was the soul, it was the window to what a person was truly feeling.  We have all said things that we regret and wish we had not said.  In a fit of anger words come out, but those words would not have come out if we were not thinking them or harboring them in our hearts.  Sometimes I know my heart is not as pure as it should be, and that contributes to the hate.

I confess that while listening to what was taking place yesterday I was angry and I began to hate those that were perpetrating the violence.  Then that subsided, and I started to pray and to feel sorry for the anger that is inside each of those people marching on the street.  People created, just like the ones they hate, in the image and likeness of God. Born with a soul that is precious in the eyes of the Lord. And it made me truly sad, no I was depressed, and it hurt, and it still hurts at this moment.

There has always been, and always will be hatred in this world we live in but that does not mean we have to accept it and we have to normalize it.  As Christians, we have an obligation to do something about it.  But what can we do?

Earlier in the week I was involved in a discussion about prayer and that we needed to pray for the nation and we needed to pray for the leadership not only of our country but all nations.  In a time of trouble, we need cool heads at the top to attempt to find a solution but also to reassure us that all will be well.

In the Gospel this morning the apostles were sacred out of their minds. The storm was raging all around them, and then, they got a glimpse of Jesus, and he calmed the water, and he calmed their souls.  We are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, and we need to be the ones walking on the water of hate and despair bringing calmness to people, starting with us.

I am a firm believer in the power of prayer, but our prayer has to move us to action.  Prayer is not enough.  Jesus prayed, and then he went out and did something, and that is the example he has left for us to follow.  We pray, and we do, that is how it is supposed to work.

We can start by denouncing hate and racism in our own lives.  We truly cannot control the thoughts and actions of another person, but we can control the thoughts and actions of us.  We need to root it out of us in any way we can.  We truly need to surrender it to God and work with God and help us, especially in these troubled times.

We can walk away.  When we hear someone start with hateful speech about someone or a race of people, or begin to tell a joke that is off color, get up and walk away.  You do not have to say anything but if you can say something, do say something and let them know it is unacceptable in your sight and your hearing.  Scripture is full of examples of calling out behavior that is unacceptable, and we have to do it.  I know judge not…. You are not judging; you are calling it what it is hate.  But we have to speak the truth in love because love will win in the end.

Mahatma Gandhi told a crowd of people to “be the change what you wanted to see.” If we want the world to be more loving, we have to be more loving.  If we want the word to be less hateful, then we need to be less hateful. It is the ripple effect, and it works.

The Jesuit Priest James Martin said this yesterday on Twitter and let me be clear that I agree with him, “racism is a sin and all Christians, all people of faith, should not only reject it, not only oppose it but fight against it.” And the battle begins right here and right now.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we read; There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (3:28) Let me add to that there is no longer black nor white, Protestant nor Catholic, American nor other countries, democrat nor republican or any other label that we will use to divide for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Let us pray:

“God and father of all, in your love you made all the nations of the world to be a family, and your Son taught us to love one another. Yet our world is riven apart with prejudice, arrogance, and pride. Help the different races to love and understand one another better. Increase among us sympathy, tolerance, and goodwill, that we may learn to appreciate the gifts that other races bring to us, and to see in all people our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. Save us from jealously, hatred and fear, and help us to live together as members of one family at home and in the world, sons, and daughters of one Father who live in the liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Book of Common Order, Church of Scotland

Statement Calling for Immediate Cessation of Hostile Acts and Rhetoric Between USA and North Korea

“And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.”
Revelation 16:16, NRSV

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA calls for an immediate cessation of hostile acts and rhetoric between the leaders of North Korea and the United States. Steps must be taken immediately to avoid the possibility of a cataclysmic nuclear war. Increased tension and destabilizing actions and rhetoric by both sides make such a war more likely.

In the past months, we have seen aggressions by both the United States and North Korea.  In May the United States deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea. This was seen as a destabilizing move by China and other neighbors and a threat by North Korea (see previous NCCCUSA and NCCK letter to President Trump on this matter). Critics point out that THAAD is incapable of countering North Korean missiles with their low-angle trajectory; thus, this so-called defensive system is being used in an aggressive manner.

At the same time, North Korea’s testing of missile technology is well known.  The nation’s development of a miniaturized nuclear weapon brings destabilization unseen since the end of the Cold War, and its apparent new capacity to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles is of great concern.

Recent comments by the leaders of the United States and North Korea threatening hostilities are beyond alarming.  Such threats, of “fire and fury…the likes of which the world has never seen” by President Donald J. Trump, and “all-out war wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the US mainland” by spokespersons of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, only serve to bring our countries, and the world, to the brink of war.  We therefore urgently call upon both leaders to tone down their similar and mutually inflammatory rhetoric.

Further, the movement of US military assets to the region, including aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, places the world on the brink of war. Threats by North Korea regarding an attack on Guam place the US and its allies in a precarious position, bringing the world closer to the possibility that a quick and devastating nuclear exchange will take place.

Threats and bluster will not help this situation but are likely only to provoke hostilities.  Indeed, if this rhetoric were to become a reality, it would only mean the horrifying exchange of nuclear weapons.  This would not only threaten US and North Korean civilians, soldiers, and territories; nuclear and conventional war would be a complete disaster for the people of South Korea, Japan, and other countries in Asia and the Pacific.

It is therefore essential that bilateral dialogue take place, that aggressive language be discarded, and that paths to peace be pursued.  We will continue to urge our government to tone down its rhetoric and to utilize diplomacy and work with the many partners, both governmental and nongovernmental, who stand ready to assist both the United States and North Korea to de-escalate this crisis.

The National Council of Churches USA is praying fervently and will continue to pray for peace. We stand in solidarity with the National Council of Churches of Korea (South Korea), the Korean Christian Federation (North Korea), and all others who are committed to a nonviolent resolution of this conflict.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Matthew 5:9, NRSV

 

The World Council of Churches and the World Communion of Reformed Churches are calling their member churches to observe, on August 13, a “Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

Prayer for Peace

Prayer for Peace

Almighty God, all thoughts of truth and peace proceed from you. Kindle in the hearts of all people the true love of peace. Guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom those who, at this time, take counsel for the nations on earth; that in tranquility your kingdom may go forward, till the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Order, Church of Scotland