What is the Point of Christianity?

Mother Teresa

It may sound a little strange for a Christian minister to be asking such a question, but I have indeed begun to ask myself this question over the last few months.

I know there have always been bad apples in the bunch, and maybe it is due to the rise of social media the last few years, but I am disgusted by the way many “Christian” leaders are acting and doing it all in the name of Christ. So I am seriously asking, what is the point of Christianity?

In an essay appearing on the Sojourners website from October of 2016, Stephen Mattson asks the same question but with a different spin, have we forgotten the point of Christianity? In the essay, and I highly recommend you read it, Mattson asks questions about what the point is given several examples.

What’s the point of Christianity if during a historical refugee crisis, Christians refuse to protect, accept, and help refugees?

What’s the point of Christianity if believers actively oppose immigrants from pursuing a better life, and promote humans beings that are created in the image of God to be detained, separated from their families, arrested, and sent back to impoverished and violent conditions?

What’s the point of Christianity if people who worship the Prince of Peace also vigorously support policies that vilify entire people groups, actively seek death, and kill tens of thousands of people each year?

What’s the point of Christianity if people who pray to the King of Kings also seek wealth and privilege at the expense of the oppressed through corrupt systems that maintain and promote systemic financial, educational, and racial injustice?

What’s the point of Christianity if people who worship a Jewish Messiah from the Middle East also discriminate and legislate against people who have different religious, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds?

What’s the point of Christianity if Christians — who celebrate a man who was crucified on a cross by an authoritarian government partly for being an ethnic minority — refuse to stand up and defend the rights of those facing persecution because of their skin color, ethnic background, gender, or political beliefs?

For me it comes down to how we treat others, especially those “least” that Jesus mentions in Mathew 25:

“for I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” Matthew 25:35-40

Maria Skobtsova, also known as Mother Maria of Paris, was a Russian refugee that fled to Paris, France in 1923 as the Russian Revolution raged on.  Maria became a nun in the Russian Orthodox church and spent the rest of her days until she was murdered in a concentration camp in March of 1945. She had been arrested by the Gestapo and sent to prison. Her crime, issuing baptismal certificates to Jews to help keep them alive.  Mother Maria, canonized a saint in 2004 by the Russian Orthodox Church, believed in the Gospel command to care for those less fortunate and that as a Christian she had an obligation to obey this command, even if it meant sacrificing her life. This is what she said about the point of Christianity.

The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead, I shall be asked did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.

I do not see this kind of commitment or sentiment from many people today and surely not from many in the Evangelical world who claim that Donald Trump has been “raised by God” (Paula White, Religion News Service, August 2017.) I do believe that God raises people up, but he raises people up to build other people up not to break them down, not to put them down, and not to keep them down.  We are called not to build walls but to build bridges, that is the point of Christianity not this thirst and quest for power, Jesus never wielded any power except that to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and give hope to the hopeless.

Sermon: The Real Goodness & The Real Evil

A Sermon on Matthew 15:10-20

Another moment of confession; when I chose this passage and sermon title over a month ago, I was going to take this in an entirely different direction.  Although I am going to cover some of the same ground I was going to cover before recent events took over the preaching calendar, this Gospel passage is very applicable to today.

Jewish dietary laws are as ancient as, well, as people.  Every Jew would know what they could and could not eat, when they could eat it, and how it was to be prepared and served.  Eating was a complicated ritual for many Jews, and now Jesus is telling his followers that it is not what goes in but what comes out that is the problem.

Jesus is striking at the very heart of tradition here. Those of us in the Reformed Tradition of Christianity like to think that we eschew tradition. However, tradition is anything that we have done in church more than once.  Now, not all tradition is bad. Tradition can provide a solid, yet flexible, foundation for faithfulness, but it can also function oppositely.  Tradition, and the idea that “we have always done it that way,” can become and idol that will hinder growth. This idol can become a hindrance not only to our spiritual growth but the growth of the community both spiritually and numerically.  Just because those that came before us did it, does not mean it will work in the contemporary world we live in and that is exactly what Matthew is writing about today.

Matthew is writing at a time when the Christian community had become radically diversified.  The Community in Matthew’s day is no longer just a Jewish community it is a blend of Jew and Gentle and there is a struggle to determine how best to make it all work.  Matthew is speaking to those who, based on Jewish tradition was included in the community, but he is also speaking to those who, because of that very same tradition, were excluded from that very same community.

Jewish liturgical and spiritual law and practice was focused on the externals of daily lives.  The animal sacrifice in the temple removed the sins without actually have to do anything other than purchasing the appropriate animal at the right time of the year.  The dietary law was meant to keep one clean, on the inside, the washing ritual was intended to keep you clean on the outside, but what about the spiritual?

For Jesus, religious purity and faithful discipleship are not measured ultimately by how many perfect attendance badges one earns for Sunday school or worship, how often one has read the bible from cover to cover, or how much money one contributes to the church treasury (Jesus obviously never had to maintain a church structure such as ours) Purity and faithfulness are shown ultimately by how the church speaks and lives out the radical hospitality and love of Christ.

Last week, we were all reeling from the events that had taken place just the day before, in Charlottesville, Virginia. I stood here and publically denounced hate and violence in all forms and called on others to do the same.  This past week many of us have been having a conversation about how our community, along with those in Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, and rest of the South Shore should respond to these incidents, and, I am afraid to say, events like it in the future.  Clergy from all Christian denominations and all faiths have been coming together to witness and support each other and our community in these days; it has been a beautiful experience.

Shortly after Charlottesville, it was announced that a “similar” rally was being planned for Boston and that the city had granted a permit to the organizers.  Boston’s mayor and police commissioner warned those coming to Boston that there was no place for hate in the city and that violence would not be tolerated.

The call went out for clergy to come to the city to pray and support those who would be marching not for hate but love.  I struggled with going or not going and ultimately decided that God was not leading me in that direction so I remained home and prayed for, and supported my brothers and sisters who did go.

On Friday night, there was an interfaith service at one of the Temples in Boston attended by many many members of the clergy of all faiths as well as the faithful. The message was clear; hate will not win, love will.  Early Saturday morning, Old South Church in Copley Square held another interfaith service. Again hundreds of folks came to worship and pray together because we all know that before undertaking any work prayer is what is called for.  There were prayers for the safety of all those who would be marching, regardless of what side they were on, and prayers for police and others that would be keeping the people safe.

Then they left the church and joined hundreds of thousands of others, Boston Police estimated 25 thousand people, and they began the three mile march to Boston Common.  When they arrived there were about 100, I will call them “other” protesters, assembled on the band stand.  It did not appear organized, and the police had cordoned off the area so the two groups would not clash. After about 20 minutes, they left the band stand and dispersed.  I received a text from one of my friends that were present and the text read, “it is over, they have gone!”

What a different story from just the week prior.  Sure, there were acts of violence towards the police by a tiny number, and I will say again, that I denounce violence under any flag regardless of the reason.  Violence, like hate, has no place.

But let’s return to the Scripture at hand, Jesus says that it is not what goes into our bodies but what comes out that defiles a person.  Last week I mentioned that what we say, even in a fit of anger, comes from inside, from our hearts.  We do not “just say things.” The things we say have to reside inside of us, festering, good along with the bad and on occasions, if they are not guarded, will bubble to the surface and come out.

But sometimes it might be something innocent.

We have all heard the juicy bit of gossip about someone that we could not wait to tell the next person about.  Sometimes we are bursting at the seams to tell someone, and we do not even know if the story is true.  We are confident that it is based on who told us the story in the first place, but we are not sure.  But we pass it along anyway.  If it is not true, that is what Scripture calls, bearing false witness and is one of the top ten no no’s of the Christian life.  Even if we know it might be true, what is the purpose of passing along that story, is it to build up or break down another person?  Will it bring edification to the Christian witness or will it bring shame? One little story, one little falsehood can pull on the thread that unravels the entire thing.

Earlier this morning, as I was finalizing these words, I came across this quote:

“At the end of this day, the world with either be a more or less kind, compassionate, and loving place because of your presence. Your move.”

We spend so much time on the externals, reading the bible, studying the words, coming to worship, serving on church boards and putting money in the collection plate.  But if it is not changing you inside, if we are not doing the interior work that is required of Christians, and we are spreading hate with our words, then it is all for naught.

As Christians, everything we say should build up the kingdom of God here on earth.  Our job is to go, make disciples are we doing that?  We have to speak the truth in love, and that truth is that hatred, under any flag, is not a Christian value. Demonizing a group of people because they believe different about the direction of our country or because they chose to worship, or not worship God differently than we do.  Demonizing the poor and calling them lazy, building walls that exclude rather than bridges that bring together. Sitting on the sidelines sniping at church leadership rather than rolling up your sleeves and getting involved to make things better. Always complaining about what is happening in the church and the world without offering any real and workable solutions. What have you done today to make your sphere of influence a little better? Have the words that have come out of your mouth helped or hurt another individual?  Have they harmed or brought praise to the Christian witness?  You must ask yourself these questions.

Words are powerful. God spoke, and the world came into being. Jesus spoke words of healing and love as did his apostles. But sometimes words can hurt and even kill.  A young woman was recently sentenced to prison because she urged on her former boyfriend to kill himself, and he did.  Words have power, the power to hurt and kill and power to lift up and to save.  It is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles a person, and it is not what goes in but what comes out that reveals our hearts to the world. You have a choice to make today, are you going to make the world a better place by our presence or a worse place by our presence. Your move.

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.