Saturday, June 16, 2018

Where is America?

I apologize for this picture. It is disturbing to any ordinary human being. And I apologize for the fact that the girl is crying. And I am deeply sorry that she will be hurt still more by state-sponsored child abuse perpetrated by the United States of America. You can see the U.S. (that's us) right there on the door behind the frightened girl.

This American nation has never been a perfect beacon. We have done things far worse than this. Slavery and Jim Crow, the Native American Genocide, the Japanese internment, various unprovoked wars inflicted on other lands, killing hundreds of thousands and millions. In all of these cases, there was a complex interplay of motivations, greed and pride and fear. Always fear.

But this latest sick fantasy of Donald Trunp and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions strikes me as distinctly different. It is just plain cruel.

There is NO REASON to take these children from their parents. We should see this little girl in front of us every single day until this nation repents of the evil done in our name. She - and the world, and every decent human being - sees what is being done to her and her mother.

Many of these children, and their parents, are here legally seeking asylum. These separations are not required by law or anything else except perversity.

Our President and Attorney General love to talk about respect for the law - except when they are breaking it or lying about it. But when Sessions quotes the Bible to justify his racist cruelty, he sins before God and the nation. He forgets that "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law" Romans 13:10.

We sin before God and the nation if we stand by. Love in modern day America must be a love which resists the temptation to cooperate with evil, which goes to the people and places which are suffering, to embrace them, to stand with them, to advocate and fight for them. And by so doing, enable our mutual deliverance.

God bless America with the courage to give our full measure of devotion, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.


"An undocumented Honduran woman says that immigration officials took away her four-month-old as she was breastfeeding—and she was put in handcuffs when she tried to hold on to her baby. A group of parents says they were told their children were being taken away to be bathed—and as the hours ticked by, they realized they weren't coming back. And another set of moms claims they could hear their children screaming for them in another room, and were powerless to go to them." Parents Magazine

[A two-year-old Honduran girl stands with her mother after being detained by US Border Patrol agents near the US-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP, cropped). A new U.S. policy implemented by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will separate this girl from her mother, with no guarantee of timely reunification or even contact during their separate detentions.]

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

People enter the United States armed forces for many different reasons. Over the course of our nation's history some have been conscripted. Sometimes young men have been given the alternative of jail or enlistment. Sometimes people see it as a career, and in recent years, educational benefits have played a part. Almost all serve with a deep love of country. But regardless of how people get into the military, they hold one thing in common.

They agree to devote their time, and work, their bodies, and sometimes their lives to their nation, but in a very particular way. "I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..." (from the Oath of Enlistment and Oath of Office.

While people intuitively understand defending their native land or group ("blood and soil"), America asks for and holds its military to a different obligation. The Constitution is the document which holds us together as a nation, the legal embodiment of the vision the American revolutionaries expressed: that all people are created equal before the law, that in this Republic, all have rights which the State should not abuse.

It is striking to me that the oath for our military, and the oath for swearing in our President, is an extremely conservative statement. It does not say anything about making America greater or stronger or richer or morally better. "I will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution."

I think our Founders assumed that if America was to be great, that would come about through the work of all its citizens. They designed, and our ancestors adopted, a rule to let our government be flexible, but not infinitely so. Enshrined in our Constitution are limits to government and rights of the people. Preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution was seen as the way to let us flourish, individually and as a people.

When the Constitution is under threat, it is a vital necessity for those who love this country to preserve, protect and defend that Constitution which has allowed our nation to grow and prosper. It is also a sacred duty we owe to those who have served, fought, and died supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It is to us, to here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A tough day for mothers

On Mother's Day we celebrate the mothers in our community, and the great gifts they bring to the world and to their children. Yet amidst the flowers and dinners out, not every part of motherhood is lifted up equally. Motherhood may be the hardest vocation in the world.

Unlike fathers, mothers necessarily make room for new life not only in their lives, but in their very bodies. Then, there is no childbirth without pain. Ever since there have been mothers, they have fed their children, sheltered and protected them, taught and nurtured them, and sent them out into the world with prayers that they might be well. Mothers live knowing that their child's safety is not a given, and that their worst fears can be realized when children come to harm.

Over the past years and this week I have spoken with mothers who grieve the death of their children. While I have not taken a poll, I believe that every single one of them would have traded their life for that of their daughter or son. Every single one lives with the pain of continuing to live when their beloved child has been taken from them. It doesn't matter what continent the mother and child are from, or if the death happened today, a hundred years ago, or two thousand.

Iraqi, Armenian, Chinese, Palestinian mothers with their children

That is an inescapable part of mothers' vocation. And we do well to give it every bit as much honor as we give the "Hallmark" moments. The original observances of Mothers Day in America began in 1870 as a movement for mothers to fight for an end to wars. Julia Ward Howe called for women, as wives and mothers, to stand up against the abhorrent evil of war, inflicted by one woman's child against another's.

She wrote: "Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly:... 'Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.'”

Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo - Mothers of the Disappeared, Argentina
Mothers' Day witness, 19th century

The other day I encountered this poem, by Dunya Mikhail. It ripped my heart apart, maybe moving me an inch closer to the experience of these mothers.

Bag of Bones, as read by the author (English), on the New Yorker Radio Hour, May 11, 2018.


What good luck!
She has found his bones.
The skull is also in the bag
the bag in her hand
like all other bags
in all other trembling hands.
His bones, like thousands of bones
in the mass graveyard,
His skull, not like any other skull.
Two eyes or holes
with which he saw too much,
two ears
with which he listened to music
that told his own story,
a nose
that never knew clean air,
a mouth, open like a chasm,
it was not like that when he kissed her
there, quietly,
not in this place
noisy with skulls and bones and dust
dug up with questions:
What does it mean to die all this death
in a place where the darkness plays all this silence?
What does it mean to meet your loved ones now
With all of these hollow places?
To give back to your mother
on the occasion of death
a handful of bones
she had given to you
on the occasion of birth?
To depart without death or birth certificates
because the dictator does not give receipts
when he takes your life.
The dictator has a skull too, a huge one
not like any other skull.
It solved by itself a math problem
that multiplied the one death by millions
to equal homeland.
The dictator is the director of a great tragedy.
he has an audience, too,
an audience that claps
until the bones begin to rattle
the bones in the bags,
the full bag finally in her hand,
unlike her disappointed neighbor
who has not yet found her own.

Mikhail, Dunya. The War Works Hard. New York: New Directions, 2005.
Translation © 2005, Dunya Mikhail with Elizabeth Winslow and Dan Veach.
From, the page also includes the author reading her poem in the original Arabic.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Prayer for peace

Almighty God, ruler of heaven and earth, all lands are yours. So too, all people are your beloved. We know this night that not all rulers are just. We pray that you protect the innocent. That you guide all people to turn away from destruction. Lead us out of the nightmare of violence, and protect everyone in harm's way. Topple every tyrant, and establish your peace among nations. Though that dream seems far away, it is yours, and may it ever be ours. Amen.

Mid Night waiting-3, by Rajesh98.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Fifty years after King

Fifty years ago this April 4, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. We have now been without him longer than he walked on earth. His public ministry lasted a mere 14 years. Called as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954, he quickly became a leader of the Montgomery bus boycott. Following its success, his ministry expanded well beyond the call of a tall-steeple pastor.

Since his assassination, Martin King has become an icon of American righteousness, and deployed as a symbol in service of many different agendas. Probably most often, he is used as a heroic symbol of racial progress.

We conveniently forget how much opposition King encountered. We forget how few people and organizations joined with him, even at the height of his success and popularity. We forget how, after having made gains in civil rights in the South, King was fought to his death when he took on civil rights in the North, the evil of the Vietnam War, and economic justice for poor people of all skin colors.

We love dead heroes far more than the living men and women. The dead can speak no more challenging truths, they cannot personally confront their opponents. We have their words, we have their accomplishments, but we lose the vitality, the spirit, the relationships, the living leadership of the living person. Without the living person to call us to account, the contest over their legacy may take priority over their life work.

Yet Martin Luther King, Jr., named after three prophetic saints in the Christian tradition (Saint Martin, the peacemaker, Brother Martin Luther, reformer, and Daddy King, pastor), even 'til the day of his death witnessed to a vision of God's justice. King would be the first to acknowledge that the movement he led was not about him. It included him, it included his fellow leaders, it included his communities of color, it included the poor white Southerners and the middle-class Northerners, and the Vietnamese peasants, and the Jim Clarks, Richard Daleys, and Lyndon Johnsons of this world. It includes you and me. It includes everyone, because God's vision is a dream of healing and redemption.

In God's vision for this world the hardest of hearts are opened, the most toxic hellholes get loving remediation, and the dream of peace and justice is the reality we live.

In memoriam: Martin Luther King, lover of humanity, renewer of society, preacher of peace, and prophet of the Lord.

See also my 2008 article "Martin King, prophet & martyr."


The first image is Martin King's mug shot from his arrest February 21, 1956, discovered July, 2004 by a deputy cleaning out a Montgomery County, Alabama, Sheriff's Department storage room. It is not known who added the notations.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April Fool!

Hope is dead. Good can never win, evil is just too powerful. Jesus is rotting in the tomb.

April Fool!

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:25

"The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always."

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" Luke 24:1-6

May you know the foolish joy of God's steadfast love!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Sabbatum Sanctum

Sabbatum Sanctum, Holy Saturday, known also Great Saturday, the Great Sabbath, Black Saturday, Joyous Saturday, or Easter Eve, is that day long deep breath between Christ's death and resurrection.

It doesn't get the same liturgical attention as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Sunday, because, formally speaking, nothing happens.

Epitaphios - Tapestry depicting Christ's burial,
used in the Great Saturday liturgy.

Jesus' friends laid him hurriedly in the tomb Friday in advance of sunset and Sabbath. And then they laid low. The gospels go silent until Sunday morning, about 36 hours later.

Any and all the action is off-stage, buried in the ground, hidden behind the stone, shrouded in the Great Mystery.

Tradition has not been able to be as silent as the gospels and has filled in the blanks with two competing stories. The Matins Canon of Holy and Great Saturday has a tone of watchful expectation, with Jesus observing Sabbath rest.
    Today Thou dost keep holy the seventh day,
    Which Thou has blessed of old by resting from Thy works.
    Thou bringest all things into being and Thou makest all things new,
    Observing the Sabbath rest, my Savior, and restoring strength.

A more militant story has Jesus breaking open the gates of Hell and bringing the dead out of captivity to to paradise.

This is, of course, something the church believes as true. In the Great Vigil of Easter, the Church will sing the Pascal Troparion:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

We live post-Easter. Thankfully, we cannot un-see or un-know that wonderful news which we have embraced.

Yet Great Saturday is an opportunity to reflect on that moment where we cannot see God's plan. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, to the world it looked like yet another troublemaker put down. The devil wants you to know that resistance is futile. "March all you want, but I can and will kill you with impunity. Your best hope is to submit." These temptations (really threats) are the same whether from the Roman Empire or the Domination System of this age.

It's a choice that takes your breath away. Can we trust just a little longer? Can we dare to hope in the face of fear?

    With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
    What can mortals do to me?
    The Lord is on my side to help me;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. Psalm 118:6-7

Two thousand years ago, everyone buried Jesus. To this day, there are forces which would prefer this inconvenient God to keep silent and make no demands. Can we be faithful and not abandon the reality of God's blessing? Can we be faithful just another day? Can we deny the devil no matter how strong its position seems? Keep your eyes on the prize, and hold on. The dawn is coming.

    You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God, I will extol you.
    O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 118:28-29

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saint Patrick

There is probably no way to tease apart the Patrick of history and that of legend. What is certain is that he, with Saint Bridget, was one of the key leaders of the church which established Christianity in Ireland.

One of the more compelling parts of his story is that he was a slave who escaped Ireland, and later returned to spread the gospel of Christ. Patrick's Confessio tells that his time in captivity was critical to his spiritual development and embrace of Christianity. He also tells that while a captive, he worked as a shepherd, prefiguring his later work as bishop. The legend is challenged, and he and his family may have been slave-owners and slaver-traders, something which was prevalent in Ireland at the time, and permitted and regulated by the Church. ("Was St. Patrick really a slave trader and tax collector?" by James O'Shea.) Whatever the truth, the tradition lifts up the hope of freedom.

What is not in dispute, is Patrick's emphasis on the Trinitarian faith of the Church: God in three undivided persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And the tradition has passed on prayers and hymns attributed to Patrick which boldly maintain the power of this interlocking Trinity.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

But the Patrick tradition goes even further, seeing the life of God as all-encompassing, transcendent and imminent. He calls upon every attribute of God, every power, wrapped in the centrality of Christ, to protect and strengthen the believer in a turbulent world.

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
    – Against the snares of the evil one.
May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!
May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore.