Tuesday, March 17, 2015

For God So Loved the World


A few years back, I was in downtown San Francisco.  I love coffee and the hotel was out  so I set off down one of the long hills searching for a Starbucks.  I seemed to notice people were heading down the hill however I was too focused on my quest.   Soon, I found myself surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people.

I was in the middle of the annual Gay Pride Parade. I could not move because there was so many people  I panicked because I do not like crowds, I needed coffee and I had a meeting in 45 minutes.  I was stuck.  I sort of hopped up and down to get a better view.  Glimpsed an opening, put my head down, lowered the shoulders and pushed.

The crowd seemed to give way and I popped out in front of a well dressed man in his 40’s.  I was quite proud of my crowd maneuvering so I proudly smiled.  He looked me right in the eye, sneered and said: “Sinner! You are going to hell!” I was a bit surprised at his assessment because we hardly knew one another.

He then raised his hand and he was holding a book.  It was the most holy bible, with a round sticker - John 3:16.  He shook the bible in my face and said - “Jesus is coming back - if you don’t repent, you are condemned.”  and then “you need to find Jesus?”  I felt like saying: “Is Jesus lost?” Yet not wanting to agitate him further I said  “Yes, I have, have you found Jesus?”

He gave that look like I was an idiot with such a stupid question and said gave me a sharp “of course”  I then asked “for what?”  We have read one of the most familiar passages. It is on billboards, stickers and signs at sporting events.   In many ways it has come to represent Christianity; both the good and the bad.

It is a breathtaking description of God’s love; God sent his son into the world because of that love.  Yet it has been used to exclude and reject.  I have been asked how can such a beautiful passage be turned from God’s open accepting hand to a pointing, condemning finger.  From love to rejection.  Acceptance to closed doors.

Maybe it is because we are afraid, despite our statements of faith, to know a living God that is present in our lives.  We tend to like the Jesus of 2000 years ago, because he is distant and we can pick and choose what parts of his message we like. When Jesus becomes frozen in time, we can control him and create him in our own image.

We then have God who looks like us, thinks like us and acts like us. We create a God who lives in the same country and likes everything we like and hates everyone and everything we hate.  Who can blame us.  We want God on our side.  Yet that type of faith is easy, because we really do not have to live the message.

We begin to worship Jesus instead of following Jesus.    Jesus never asks us to worship him.  He always points to the Father and the beautiful Kingdom and then asks us to follow him.   If we only worship Jesus, we never really know him. He becomes a thing to look at rather than to live with.

If we only worship him, his words become like etchings on stones rather than inscriptions on our hearts. Following him requires that we bring him into our lives, so we can hear his voice, feel his touch, watch his movements, do what he truly does.  And it is there that we are transformed.  If you take one thing away from faith it is this:  we believe in a living and loving God.

Not a statue, not a story, not the distant past or an easy set of rote biblical passages.  We believe in a living God. And that means that Jesus is continually breaking into our world, into our lives, daily, hourly, moment by precious moment. God so loved us that he sent his son into our world not only 2000 years ago, but throughout eternity.

God thought more of us than we believe possible, that is why he is constantly breaking into our lives.  A theologian (1) wrote: "The world has been irreparably changed by Jesus Christ.  The gospel breaks our train of thought, shatters our comfortable piety, cracks open our capsuled truths.   The flashing spirit of Jesus breaks new paths everywhere.

In entering human history God has shattered all previous conceptions of who God is and what man is supposed to be The life he has planned for us is his life, like he lived."  Christianity makes no sense  if we only believe God in the past instead of a real presence right here and right now.

The man shouting condemnations on the street must of experienced the love of God in some way.  I wanted to know “why he found Jesus?”  It cannot be to reject, isolate, and condemn God’s creation.  If he listened to Jesus’ works, looked into Jesus’ eyes, let Jesus break into his life - hate, rejection and condemnation would be impossible.

If he followed Jesus he would know that Jesus did not ask anyone to change before he met them in their journey.  He met people where they were in life - sick, healthy, lost, sinning and questioning.  He did not condemn them.  He met them and they were either healed or transformed. It was his presence, his acceptance that caused change.

I am constantly attempting and failing in following Jesus. I have all these faults, thoughts and biases.  I do not need to be saved once.  I need Jesus to save me daily.  I need him to break into my heart again and again, so that I do not condemn, I do not judge, so I do not create God in my own feeble, faulty image.

I have to live Jesus, so that I can try, really try to be so much like his Christ.  God so loved the world that he sent his only son. It is the most powerful message in the world. Far more powerful so than money, fame or might.  Imagine if we lived it like we say it.  To experience the risen Christ, new, again and again.

There is a story by Alice Walker that speaks of our tendency to talk God but not to live Christ.  It is of an old black woman, who has been worn down by old king cotton. In tattered rags she makes her way "down the road toward the big white church.” The good church folks are shocked. The reverend reminds her pleasantly that this isn’t her church, "as if one could choose the wrong one.”

She brushes past them and finds a seat near the back. Inside it is very cold, colder than usual.  She ignores the request of an usher to leave, but she is finally thrown out.  She is stunned, until she spies a familiar face coming down the road. She grins toothlessly and begins to giggle.

It is none other than Jesus, and he is walking toward her.  Jesus is breaking into her life.   The two of them walk on together.  She tells him her troubles, and he listens kindly, smiling at her warmly.  Under their feet the ground becomes like clouds, and they walk on without ever stopping. They are home.

The people in church never knew what happened to her. Some said they saw her jabbering to herself and walking off down the highway all alone. "They guessed maybe she had relatives across the river, some miles away, but none of them really knew.” "None of them really knew.”

That day in San Francisco the man looked at me for a moment with a questioning look.  He lowered his bible and turned away.  I pray he was thinking of why.  As for me, I was  thankful for him.  Because he was right.  I needed to find Jesus.  I was such in a rush to find coffee and make an appointment, he was breaking through and did not notice.

It could be at a VA Hospital, workplace, school, a mall, prison or at dinner with the family.  At that moment it was right there and right now on a sidewalk among thousands of people.  So I stopped, sat down and looked for Jesus.  In the middle of an enormous crowd.   I was among all the people that God so loves, that he sent his son.

Gay, straight, black, white, brown, yellow, immigrant, american, illegal, young, old, democrat, republican, christian, hindu, muslim and jewish, sinners and saints. Jesus breaking through.  God’s love and this beautiful passage is too profound and inexplainable to break it down into a formula of who is in or who is out.

Too bigs for signs, buttons or simplistic phrases. It is new and life changing, day in and day out.   So the next time we think we know what God wants - stop, listen and look for Jesus.  Because God so loved the world, God so loved you, that Jesus is breaking into the world right now - for you.  Find him and then become something new.



(1) Brennan Manning 
 Alice Walker's The Welcoming Table

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Politics, Polls, Torture

Hope, peace, goodness, and love.  In this Advent time of holy expectation, the words seem more than ideals or dreams.  Our hearts yearn for the possibility; they feel real and attainable.  I want so much to feel their truth.  I am a hopeless believer.  I follow this beautiful man whose life epitomized the fullness of their meaning.   I want them to mean something.  I want to believe in those words as much as I believe in Him.

Hope, peace, goodness, and love.  And then the world groans.  Brutality by a segment of law enforcement, angry protests in response, and then news of a Mississippi teenager horrifically murdered on a lonely road. Are those words simple dreams?  I wondered as I read two small articles buried on pages 5 and 6 of the newspaper. 

132 children and nine adults murdered by the Taliban.  Innocent children filled with hope, slaughtered by hate and justified by a horrific aberration of faith.  The father of his 14-year-old murdered son wailed “My son was my dream, and now my dream has been killed.” I lose my breath at the pain.  

I read the next article and am at a loss for words.  60% of Americans believe the use of torture is appropriate and justified under certain conditions.  I read the reasons for torture: anger, vengeance, counter terrorism, self-protection.  The ends justify the means.  We knowingly condone and inflict the same horrors we so emphatically detest in others. It seems that hopelessness and fear reign.

Do we truly live in a world where violence is accepted, torture is condoned and vengeance is commonplace.  I feel much like Fr. Gabriel in the 1986 movie “The Mission, who says “ If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so; it may be so. But I don't have the strength to live in a world like that.” 

It may be so; it may be so. I do not want it to be so. I pray that it is not so.  I believe in the goodness of humanity. We have seen it time and time again.  Throughout the centuries where the worst of mankind was present. There were people who believed in the power of good. Through the periods of genocide, greed, starvation, lust, cruelty, hate, and hopelessness; these women and me of goodness gave life a breath of hope.  

Women and men who have believed in the power of hope, peace goodness, and love. Fellow sojourners who envisioned a different world.  Hopeful people whose lives expressed a deep and abiding love for all of creation. A world where forgiveness is stronger than revenge, where empathy abounded over hate, acceptance mightier than exclusion and that the light of love shone brighter than the darkest of hearts. 

I follow a man who said, “put down the sword” as he was being led to the torture chamber.  Jesus whose dying words spoke forgiveness for his torturers.   I am struggling to learn that by following this beautiful man, I do not have a choice.  I cannot pick and choose his message.  I cannot choose who to love, accept or who to forgive.  I must follow him; all or nothing.  

By following him, I know. I know inherently that choking a person to death while they scream for a breath is unconscionable.  I know that vilifying every law enforcement officer is wrong.  That flying airplanes filled with innocent civilians into buildings is horrific and against God. Killing children in the name of God is evil.  I know that torturing another human created in the image of God is simply beyond His and our understanding.  

Hope, goodness, peace and love goes far beyond the obvious.  We know that no child should be abused, trafficked  or die of starvation.   No one should live on the margins because of who they love or where they live. We know this because we are made for hope, peace, goodness and love.  Because of this, I know we cannot accept a world where children will be slaughtered at school and humans accept torture.  

I believe in my brothers and sisters who share this small place called earth.  I know that we are inherently good, and we will shout “no more.”  Hope, peace, goodness, and love are not simple words or far away dreams.  These words represent who we are.  It is our only path we have for a world that has a tendency to slip into the darkness.  May we all believe in the transformative power of hope, peace, goodness and love.  May it be so, may it be so. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sacred Spaces of Transformation

Each one of us has had those special moments we remember with fondness.  At home, surrounded by family and sitting by the fire.  A special vacation, a night with friends or the completion of a successful work project  These moments in time feel good and create memories. While they are special, they are just that - moments.

I want you to think of those instances in your journey that were transformative.  No words to describe the emotions or depth of feeling. You lose your breath, stand in wonder and know that in some way, you will never be the same again. They are sacred spaces.  It could be when you experience love, true abiding love. 

The first cry of a child at birth. When you kneel and receive the Body of Christ.  Or when you turn and catch the sun breaking over the horizon. That sacred space between night and day, where the earth is transformed and becomes something new. In that instant, the world stops in hopeful expectation of a spectacular holy mystery. 

The wind eases and all of God’s creation, birds, animals, plants and water, seem to stop and bow in reverence. The colors are true, the light is clear and everything is  highly defined.  The black of night turns to soft purple, then a deep crimson, a soft red and then slowly that beautiful light.   Hope for a new day. 

I imagine this how the world expressed its joy each time it felt the footsteps of Christ. How the water sat in silence when Jesus calmed the seas; transformative sacred spaces.  In reading our Gospel, I thought of those sacred spaces.  How throughout this journey of life, God creates sacred spaces for transformation and invites us to them.

Most find it odd that in between the manger, silver bells, holiday parties, festive lights, and advent wreaths, John the Baptist steps into our lives from the wilderness. It seems out of place and who wants to hear him screaming about repentance and making our ways straight. Yet, there is something about his message that calls to us. 

Imagine him, standing at the edge of the dawn pointing at a place near the horizon.  Maybe in this season when various messages compete for our attention.  We need someone like John to grab and shake us.  That something spectacular and transformative is occurring all around us, and we are not noticing it.  

I love John the Baptist.  He is my favorite saint.  I can relate to him.  Not only because he is crazy.  For me,  he represents our conscience, humanity, our gritty journey, the need to place God at the center of everything. For John, there is nothing more important than God.   He understands that we must know God, talk to God, depend on God, allow God into our lives all the time. 
He is insisting that we go to that sacred space because there is no other place like it.  Relationship with the Divine.  God wants it, we feel it, and John has the guts to say it.  
Advent is where we get deeply in touch with our need for our Savior.  John is shouting over the competing voices of the world and calling us to something new.

A space between the past and future, between absence and presence, moving from memory to hope.   From the night to the  breaking dawn. It is now wonder he is shouting.  Yet, it seems there are always barriers.  Our lives are too full.  We have to buy gifts; we have to perform at work.  We keep up with schedules, sports, and neighbors. 

Who needs the reverence and the sunrise, when we can record all you need with the Hopper. Maybe we have just lost a sense of the sacred.  We know stuff does not fill our emptiness.  We are never satisfied.  There has to be something more. Not a moment in time or a good feeling.  Something greater than what the world offers. 

And still, we push away.   I have found that many of us feel inadequate or unworthy.  Often, I feel that way.  But let’s be honest; in some ways we are all unworthy. Now, I am going to say that word.   The one Episcopalians hate, and we avoid - Sin.  Yes, I said it.  While I am not smart enough to define it or pure enough to make judgments about it, we know.  The body and heart inherently know what is keeping us from wholeness from community, self and God. 

I am not speaking solely of moral challenges.  What keeps us from stepping into a sacred space has many definitions.  Yes, addictions to pornography, alcohol, painkillers. Our sin could be materialism, the need for attention, success or status. Participation in subtle racism, classism or sexism, something other than love. Excluding those who are different.  

Failure to right the wrongs in society, losing our voice when we encounter bullying or hate. Lack of compassion, dishonesty, impatience, anger, judgment or simply fear. All of these seemingly insurmountable barriers we face and often we falter.  So we timidly look upon the sacred spaces, never fully confident we can take that step to get there. 

That is what John is screaming about.  The reason we need Christ.  We don't need a Savior unless we're deeply convinced there is something to be saved from. That means within our lives and bodies; we feel the need for Christ.   That is the beauty of this second week in Advent.  We hear a voice.  

A crazy man in the wilderness is calling us to a place of beauty, beyond what we know or can ever image.  God, calling us into a wondrous, loving, and sacred relationship. A sacred place of transformation.   This invitation is the same today, as it was 2000 years ago.   God calling you.  John does not sound that crazy after all.  

Imagine for a moment that he has experienced the colors of the divine dawn and will never step back into that dark night.  He wants to share that feeling.  What if he understands his unworthiness and his past, the tendency to stand timidly on the edge, he stepped into a space and was forever transformed.  He is shouting at the top of his voice.  We have a difficult time understanding that because of Christ, no longer will our faults and sins be seen through human eyes. 

Forevermore, they are seen with the eyes of a forgiving, compassionate and loving God.  John wants us to see what he sees, feel what he feels. And the beauty of this is that it is not some far off time, some momentary promise, no conditions.  It is right now. 
For this reason, the first words of our Gospel are The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This is where we make the decision.  We can ignore it, run from it, and hide.  Or we can move into that place where our humanity with all its faults and gifts is held by the divine. It will need effort.  It will require vulnerability, in a world that hates vulnerability and acknowledging that we cannot do it alone.  That we need God in our lives. 

It will require you changing those things that are keeping you from God.  It will require that you are open to the possibility your life will be different.  While it is difficult, there will be a sense of peace, a sense of knowing that something beautiful and sacred is occurring in our lives. That we are held and lifted up. What will change?

New colors will fill our lives with hope. Like the dawn, from black to purple to crimson to red, slowly, beautifully, until we see a light of new day. With God, there is not darkness.  And the longer we stand there, the definitions will provide a clarity and brilliance that will allow you to look at the world in different ways.  

Where forgiveness is more important than pride, where kindness is placed before being right.  Where others come before self.  When community and empathy mean more than status or fame.   My dear friends, during Advent, a prophet is pointing to a path of divine liberation from our past and toward our sacred space for our future. 

We are not made for moments in time and feel good memories.  We are called to an abundant, ever mysterious and unfolding life.  Angels, shepherds, prophets and young mothers are telling us of the glorious divine child that will step into our lives and make them sacred.  You are being called to live in that same place.


There is something about John’s crazy, upending and amazing message that is mysterious, saving and life giving. So listen carefully, what is he saying to your heart? Are you willing to go where is he calling you? Take that step.   A new dawn is rising; a sacred place is waiting, for unto us a child will be born.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Talents. Matthew 25.14-30 Cathedral Church of St. John

What talents do we have that will bring about the Kingdom of God?  It is challenging and thoughtful question.  A question Jesus places squarely in our lives.  Yet, it is a question that is difficult and one we have to wrestle with.  

What are these talents that Jesus is talking about?  Are they money, ability,  or an exceptional singing voice.  Maybe none of the above. The question was answered for me a few weeks back in a cold parking lot of a homeless shelter.  I glimpsed what I believe are talents.  I witnessed the love of Christ in ways I did not expect. 

I was at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center on a chilly Monday morning.  I noticed a lady sitting on one of the hard stone benches outside of the door.  It was breakfast and the line was forming, yet she seemed unconcerned.  She wanted to move inside into the warmth. Next to her was a stroller and a 8 or 10 month old child was in the stroller sleeping.  

The lady and her baby were homeless.  The small thin cloth was covering the opening of the stroller was so thin that it could not keep out the sun nor the cold.   The mom was young but the lines in her face, and her premature gray betrayed her age.  She had one hand on the stroller, slowly moving it in a rocking motion. and she was staring at the ground.  She had that dismayed look on her face as if attempting to grasp all the pain and suffering that was enveloping her life.  

In the stroller, her beautiful child was had no idea he was homeless, wearing torn clothes or sleeping in front of a homeless shelter.  He was dreaming, there was a smile on his face, his legs were gently kicking as if running in a field of grass.  It was one of those moments when you want to cry.  

I thought of where they had slept the previous night.  My heart was broken because i kept focusing on the conditions that caused this mom and child to be on the streets.  I truly could not imagine the  fear she encounters each night as she pushes the stroller forward on the streets.  Watching and listening.  Seeking warmth, safety and acceptance.


Just then, from the corner of my eye, I could see an elderly homeless man move away from the breakfast line. 

He was weak, a bit wobbly and moving backward holding a cup in his hand. He stumbled and fell toward the woman and her child.  He hit the stroller and spilled his drink all over the woman.  He was on the ground, her simple clothes were soaked and the baby was awake, crying. For each of them, their worlds came shattering down.

In reading this Gospel, I thought of that moment and what talents truly mean.  Some may point to money and the need to give, invest and grow the profit.   Maybe talents are abilities.  The capacity to pull strings across strings and create music. Or using your hands to hold a brush against canvas and create art.  The physical prowess to sink a 30 foot jump shot. 

I do not believe these are the talents that Jesus was talking about. Let’s dream greatly and look at this Gospel through a different lens.  Talents not as the English word that is difficult to correlate with Aramaic or Greek.  Talents not as abilities but rather gifts, placed inside us that reflect the Divine.

Gifts like compassion, empathy, goodness, humility and joy.  Even such things like sadness and longing.  Divine talents of hope, laughter, humanity and most importantly, love. I have read fashionable articles, felt the pull of seductive advertising that traps me into thinking that I should double power and status, triple the checkbook, and that my appearance is a simple formula for worldly success. 

Yet, all are external and temporal.   Rarely do find that empathy, goodness, humanity and hope are to be emphasized.  It seems we are encouraged to hold it in, maybe even bury those talents.  They are buried so deep they become difficult to uncover.  It is said that for many in society the only way they can express emotion is through anger or violence.  It is the only way they can feel. 

Yet Jesus in his beautiful way of teaching and encouraging is pointing to something radically different. Jesus is pointing to the Kingdom and not the expectations of this world.  God has given you a personal treasure that was never meant to be buried or wasted. The divine talents of kindness, compassion, hope, acceptance, love are meant to be daringly shared and given freely.  They are sacred, a gift from God.

Inherently we feel, we know there is a beauty, a goodness, when we share laughter, when show humanity toward one another.  It is the same beauty we see in nature - the colors, the talents of a flower, of a sunset, of the glimpse of fall.  Talents of nature joining to praise God, just as our talents within reflect the beauty of God. 

These talents are not meant to be put aside.  They have to been invested, doubled tripled and shared. We just need the courage to give them life, to bring them out of our buried darkness.   It has been said that when the Lord returns, I do not believe he wants us to say, "Look, everything is just as you left it!” 

Each on of us has the talents to be the creators of God’s Kingdom. To expand it and grow the edges.   Because the Kingdom of God is about reclaiming what has been ruined and making beautiful again.  You have talents.  I read that the writer Vaclav Havel, imprisoned by the communist, spent years in confinement.  

After he was released and elected President of the new Czech Republic, he was invited to address the US Congress.  In part, he said,  ”The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart . . . in human responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my time, my country, my success.” I believe when he was speaking of the heart, he was speaking of talents.  

You say that is unbelievable and extraordinary.  How can compassion, love and humanity change things.  People will not believe it. Yet isn’t that what God does constantly?  The unbelievable and extraordinary - through us, through our lives.  That day in the parking lot, three lives came shattering down together on a cold morning.   The elderly homeless man was face first on the ground.   His nose was cut and bleeding.  In a soft and despondent way, he said “I am so sorry.”  The woman, stepped forward with clenched fists.  Her only clothes soaked, baby crying, their collective worlds collapsing further.  I prepared for the outburst.   

She stood over him, reached down and helped him up.  She then asked him “are you OK?”  They both struggled up and the two leaned on one another for one instant.  In that moment, despite her pain, despite her condition, her suffering.  Her talents reflected the divine gifts of God - kindness, compassion, hope, love, humanity.  

Whatever was buried was multiplied right in front of me.  Her talents are continuing to multiply three and four fold.  So much so that a Priest stands in magnificent cathedral and tells a faithful people of the love and compassion of a tired, beautiful, talented woman who has no place to lay her head. How will her talent ripple out into your lives and into the world.  

What will awaken, what will be uncovered in our lives that was buried.  For example, all the media coverage of ebola.  The fears sets in and we talk of isolation, quarantine and bans on certain countries.  All to protect ourselves.  Yet what talents will awaken when we think not of the disease, but of the orphans in Africa, some as young as 2 or 3 who wander the streets alone because of HIV and Ebola. Not sick people but brothers and sisters - our children in God. 

We hear of the terrorists who perpetuate the hate of ISIS so we lump all Syrians together.  What talents will increase when we hear of 500 Palestinian and Syrian refugees murdered attempting to flee violence and poverty.  Human traffickers rammed their boat in the Mediterranean and all drowned.  Most suffered extreme exposure before death forced to sit on the deck in the glaring sun.  Over those who drowned over 150 were under the age of 10.  Not terrorist, not Syrians, but brothers and sisters, our children in God.  

My dear ones, pay attention the heart, that divine gift, your talents.  If they are buried, abandon yourself and give them life.  If they are working in your lives, double, triple, quadruple the investment. 

Those talents are sacred, given to you by God.  I pray you never lose to ability to remember, to uncover that sacred gift.  It is in you.  Because tonight, there is a lady walking the cold streets of Albuquerque with a baby in a stroller. There is a person in your life seeking acceptance and hope.   There is someone you will encounter that will need to see the face of Christ.  Each day, each moment you will have a chance to increase your talents.  


Risk daringly, astonish completely and use your talents to radically bring about the Kingdom of God. That is where our treasure is truly found.  

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Bless Your Vote

The election is coming to an end.

The endless television commercials touting both the triumphs of the candidate and the unimaginable despicable faults of the opponent.  The flag waves in the background. The shiny dome of the Capitol reflects the glow of dawn.   It is hard to tell what America wants, much less needs.

One party may take the Senate, another Government official will be swept out of office.  Will anything change? I have been thinking about our political system and how it can truly change.  It begins and ends with Him.  I have been thinking - I ask for His blessing on my work, my ministry, my family, and those in the Diocese.  I ask for His blessing on this day, those traveling, and the sick.

As I walked into the voting booth today, I took a chance and asked that He bless my vote.  Maybe that sounds silly, yet maybe that blessing will carry onto those who win and those who lose.  That the array of names on the ballot will feel and act differently.  The blessing may come forth in simple ways.  Where they realize this campaign, government office, is not about power, prominence, structures or politics.

That those who have the most blessed votes understand they are entrusted with a precious gift. My hope is that they use this gift of blessed votes in goodness and kindness.   Where compassion, empathy and tenderness envelope their hearts so that no one is hurt and all are considered.  Most Holy One, bless my vote, bless every vote that comes from the hands, heart and mind your have created.  In return, those who hold the blessed votes, surround them with your mystery.  Give each of them the grammar of the Divine.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Five Lost Souls

Three Hispanic teens are out late searching for someone to be the target of their pain. Two homeless Navajo men are sitting in an abandoned field strewn with rocks and glass, drinking away their pain, dulling whatever path that has led them to this place. Two broken roads meet last Saturday night, and we are left wondering if can ever call ourselves a civilized or caring community. For no other reason than rage and hate, the three teens spend the next hour bashing the men in the field with hands, feet, cinder blocks and poles. Through splattered blood and cries of pain, the teens shout " eat mud bitch. "

The next morning the homeless Navajo men are found under a mattress. The faces of these beautiful children of God are mutilated beyond recognition. They are caked in blood, brain matter and mud. Unrecognizable in death as they were invisible in life. No one seemed to know who they were, only that they were the nameless homeless. The three teens walk home with blood on their hands and clothes. Who is at home to notice their appearance? One of the teens looks into the mirror and tells the arresting police that he saw the “devil” in his reflection.

This story transcends heartbreak. It prompts outrage, questioning, disbelief. Nevertheless, it goes far deeper. One cannot begin to describe the depth of incomprehension. Three teens are shackled for their appearance in court. We learn they dropped out of school.  One cannot find a parent. Another was at one time homeless. What were the origins of this torment and hatred that were unleashed upon the world in that abandoned field? I suspect we will find a myriad of abuse, poverty, isolation and neglect. During those hours, they walked the streets of our city - did we see them? When they were booked into jail - did we intervene? When they were ignored by society did we bring them in? I am at a loss for these children of God.

Two lost Navajo men far away from their sacred home. They are sitting in the dark, in an empty field next to a busy street. Their last hours are simply horrific. Forsaken by society, they are not identified for three days. No one knows who they were, or that they were in a morgue. Who cared for them? We become immune to the pain felt by the Navajo homeless. We simply forget the homeless - ethnicity is of no factor. I suspect we will find a myriad of poverty, neglect, cultural oppression and abuse of some kind. All those hours walking the streets of our city - did we see them? When they were booked into jail - did we intervene? When they were ignored by society - did we bring them in? I cry for these children of God.

Five lost people on the streets of Albuquerque. Many are calling for justice and vengeance while politicians now talk of protecting the homeless. There will be media headlines and sad vigils; what has changed? The reality is that we did not care about them before this horrific night, and I suspect that over time, this story will become a dusty old story. Will we even remember their names in six months? Who will be the next lost soul? Thousands of dropouts will continue to walk the streets; gangs will grow. Homelessness will continue, and lonely souls will drink in abandoned corners.   Children of God will continue to die violent or lonely deaths on our streets.

It is difficult to find the Kingdom of a God in this story. However, maybe there is hope. I pray that abandoned field will be a step toward creating that Kingdom. Maybe our community will understand that one lost soul, five lost souls, or 1000 lost souls are unacceptable. Through the pain, bewilderment, and sadness, we may have the courage and compassion to care. Someone has to care; something has to change. Please don’t let this be the end of the story. " The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me.”

Monday, July 07, 2014

I had difficulty with our flag this 4th of July


A fond, childhood memory was of my father reverently raising the flag of the United States on days of national importance. A Marine, like his father and grandfather before him, he would stand silently and watch the flag move in the breeze. He held a sense of awe for this country, and he believed the flag represented everything that was right about the United States.

He would point to it and say; that flag tells represents freedom. I have attempted to carry that tradition of raising the flag. My son and I would dutifully place it in a position of honor outside our home. This year it was difficult. The national media has been reporting on the immigration protests in a town called Murrietta (named for an immigrant - Esequial Murrieta) in the State of California (another Spanish word).

Women and children in an attempt to escape the economic oppression and daily terror in their home country have been arrested for entering the United States without proper documents. They were being transported in buses to a temporary holding facility before final deportation to their former “home.” After a treacherous journey of 1000 miles to escape gangs, extortion, rape, murder, these women and children were met by angry protesters.

The protesters blocked the buses from passing through to the facility.  Many were waving the flag of the United States. The flag my father would hold so gently, was being held in anger. Softly flapping in the California wind, the flag of the United States would be forever etched in the memory of those impoverished women and children as a symbol of rejection. My father would have shed a tear.

In public life, we call ourselves a Christian country. We use phrases like “freedom and democracy” or “the chance for a better life.” It all sounds true; we tend to intervene in situations where liberation for oppression is a pressing national concern. Many of the appeals to our highest national identity emphasize the long held belief that we are the promised land: “And may He continue to hold us close as we fill the world with our sound—sound in unity, affection, and love—one people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart, called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world.” (Ronald Reagan, Second Inaugural).

The women and children waiting on the bus were hopeful, and they found despair. The women and children silently watched as our flag was waved in anger at their presence. These children of God on that bus were told they could not enter “our kingdom.”

I would never assume that can speak for our Holy Creator or actually know what God is thinking. I like to believe, however, that through prayer, grace, silence and the Bible - God sent his Son with a message of love and inclusion. It is meant for everyone.  I like to believe that God does not draw lines or borders, favor nationalities, or wave flags, or differentiate by standing, skin color or social class. Only that Jesus said, " Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. "

I like to believe that most Americans have a greater love for humanity and inherent compassion than what was reported at Murrieta.  I pray that compassion still exists and because of this hope in humanity, we walked outside and unfurled the flag. I watched as my son raised it with special reverence, and I thought of my father and the love he held for his country.

I then walked into my makeshift chapel and sat in silence, staring at the crucifix. I was reminded once again the beauty of the cross.  The beautiful cross is where the love God meets the earth. That cross is where life come alive and is the only real place for me.  It is the place where true transformation is found.  

I blessed the people protesting in Murrietta and blessed the women and children on that bus as they journey toward hope. Although the flag was waved in anger, it will always hold special meaning. It reminds me of my father and his belief in this place called the United States. I could not allow hate to replace his dreams of good.

However, I am also reminded there is something stronger in this world, something greater than nationality or speeches. It is what moves me to an indescribable place that no flag, country or song can replace. It is that a wounded, beautiful man was nailed to a cross. The arms of Christ, open in love and acceptance, embracing all of humanity. I will honor the flag for my father, struggle when it is used in hate, however, my life and everything about me is with Jesus. I will always follow Him and all that the cross represents. 


I pledge allegiance to the Lamb and to the Kingdom for which he stands.