PREACH IT PASTOR — RACISM / NATIONALISM

A preacher without a pulpit, I am compelled to share a ‘Facebook Public post‘ from a colleague, The Reverend Susan Sytsma Bratt.   Preach it!  Teach it!

With all the ugly hatred, racism and nationalism emerging from this weekends Charlottesville crimes and a Trump Administration that panders to this abhorrent behavior, this is my way of using this blog as a pulpit. I also thank Dan Saperstein, Presbytery if Lake Huron Executive,  for pointing me in the direction of this post.

These words from Rev. Bratt:

There is much to say in the wake of the last 24 hours where more hatred has taken root and sprouted up publicly in Charlottsville.

Tonight, I turn back to Scripture and the Belhar Confession as I prepare to lead worship tomorrow.

To be a member of any Christian church is to be an active witness to Christ’s reconciliation in the world. It’s not just for Sunday morning, but has a place in our daily lives. It shapes how we vote, when we march and use our power to protest, and how we seek to know and love our neighbor.

Faith isn’t private, but public. Not individual, but communal.

The Belhar Confession was written by the church to work to overturn the systemic evil and sin of apartheid and institutionalized racism in South Africa.

The opening lines say this:

“We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22); that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);”

Full text is worth reading and studying. Presbyterians, this is our newest Confession.

Here:
CONFESSION OF BELHAR
1. We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe

• that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);

• that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);

• that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);

• that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity (Phil. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; John 13:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 4:1-6; Eph. 3:14-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor. 1:3-4);

• that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13);

• that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;

• which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;

• which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;

• which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe

• that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).

• that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17–6:23, Rom. 6; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 2:13-19; Col. 3:1–4:6);

• that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;

• that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe

• that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;

• that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;

• that God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;

• that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;

• that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;

• that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;

• that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right (Deut. 32:4; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Eph. 2:14; Isa. 1:16-17; James 1:27; James 5:1-6; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 7:22; Luke 16:19-31; Ps. 146; Luke 4:16-19; Rom. 6:13-18; Amos 5);

• that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;

• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology

• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence (Eph. 4:15-16; Acts 5:29-33; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:15-18).

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

Note: This is a translation of the original Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

 

The Emotions of Letting Go…..

Our 35 year old daughter, wife and mother writes a monthly article for the Mount Diablo Mother’s Club blog (www.mdmcmom.org).  She brought tears to the eyes of her mother and me in writing about her son, our grandson Thomas.        

emily-and-tommy-073015

The emotions of letting go

Thomas has been in daycare and pre-school since he was one and a half. While it has gotten easier there are still days that it tears my heart out to walk away and leave him for a few hours at a time. I know the separation is good for him – and for me – but what is he doing while I am not there? Is he eating what he is supposed to? Is he making friends? Is anyone picking on him? Is he learning enough? Does he miss me? The questions are endless. Some days there are tears, but most days there are not. It is the days where he cries and says, “Mommy don’t go” that are the hardest. However the grief for him lasts maybe five minutes, for me it lasts a bit longer. On the hard days, I usually text his daycare provider a few minutes after I leave and ask if he has calmed down. He always does. She says the tears usually stop within minutes of me leaving. On these days that drop-off was so hard it is always exactly the opposite when I go to pick him up “no mommy I want to stay, I am having fun!”

I know this will never end. He will start elementary school and I will worry about him adjusting to the academic world and making friends. Middle school where I will worry about bullying and if he is listening to his teachers or just talking with his friends instead. High School where I will worry about his preparation for college or whatever life after high school will bring. College where I will have empty-nest sorrows and miss him terribly. When he gets his first job, I will worry if he is paying his bills on time? Is he impressing his boss?  Is he happy? I think it is in our nature as parents to worry and to have trouble letting our babies move on to each stage of their life with the fear that we might be left behind.

When the emotions start to get the best of me I just try and remind myself that I am raising a caring, independent and smart boy. He will always be my baby – through every up and down, even after he is long over the phase of telling me how much he loves me and hugging and kissing me with wild abandon. Part of being a parent is learning the balance between letting go and ensuring that our children know that we will love and support them no matter what.

So if you are facing the first days of daycare or school just know that it is normal to feel emotional. It is normal to go and sit in your car in cry. Heck, it is even okay to cry as you turn to walk away. They will be fine. They will still love us. They will thrive. 

 

Thoughts After Dallas Shooting

I am spending time today reflecting on the death of five police officers in Dallas.  Two civilians also died in this shooting that took place the evening of July 7.  Words cannot describe the depth of my feelings.  Let these five devotional thoughts be a beginning:

1                    My prayers are with the five police officers who gave their lives in serving the Dallas community.  Lord, hear my prayers for these officers and their families and friends.   Lord, hear my prayers for all the officers who put their lives on the line each and every day protecting citizens—both black and white.  Hear our prayers!

2                    My prayers continue to be with the two young men who were shot in Louisiana and Minnesota:

Hear our prayers for Alton Sterling (37) shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.    Be a source of strength for his family and friends.

Hear our prayers for Philando Castile (32) shot near St. Paul, Minnesota.  Surround family and friends with your love.

3                    My prayers for the communities around this country struggling with a wide range of race-based issues dividing us as a nation.  I pray for those who fail to see this as an issue that belongs to all of us.  From the co-moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Tawnya Denise Anderson, who had this to say on Facebook on July 8th.

“For those of you who ask “How long?” or “How many times must this happen?” I’ll tell you precisely when it… will stop. It will stop when people en masse are aware of the ways in which whiteness/white supremacy have shaped the way people of color are viewed, engaged, and treated in this world (even by other people of color). To come to this realization, however, white people will then have to be self-aware and convicted of the ways in which they have benefited from and promulgated the lie of whiteness. As necessary as this is for the well-being of society, it is also an uncomfortable undertaking and there is literally nothing forcing white people to do it. White people, then, will likely have to create the force.

 White people, you have heard it said that you must talk to other white people about racism, and you must. But don’t talk to them about their racism. Talk to them about YOUR racism. Talk to them about how you were socialized to view, talk to, and engage with people of color. Talk to them about the ways you’ve acted on that socialization. Talk to them about the lies you bought into. Talk about the struggles you continue to have in shedding the scales from your eyes. Don’t make it “their” problem. Understand it as your own problem, because it is. To not do this would put you in danger of being yet another well-intentioned racist, convinced of their own goodness and living a life wholly unexamined and unaccountable to anyone. We don’t need anymore of those. It’s confession time.”

Yes, Lord, I have to acknowledge that I too am complicit as a citizen of this world with these issues that divine us.  As a white male, I have not always had an open heart and mind to hear what others of various races and religions and cultures are saying about these deep-rooted conflicts that divide us.      Hear my prayers for my brothers and sisters struggling to understand what it will take to mend deep wounds in bringing about unity and peace.

4                    I look to what President Obama had to say this morning, once again, in responding to these tragic shootings.

“I spoke this morning with Mayor Rawlings of Dallas to convey the deepest condolences of the American people. I told him that the federal government will… provide whatever assistance Dallas may need as it deals with this tremendous tragedy.

 We still don’t know all the facts. What we do know is there has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement. Police in Dallas were on duty doing their jobs, keeping people safe, during peaceful protests. These law enforcement officers were targeted and nearly a dozen officers were shot. Five were killed. Other officers and at least one civilian were wounded, some are in serious condition and we are praying for their recovery.

We are horrified over these events and we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas.

According to police there are multiple suspects. We will learn more about their twisted motivations, but let’s be clear there is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement.

Anyone involved in these senseless murders will be held fully accountable. Justice will be done.

Yesterday I spoke about our need to be concerned as all Americans, about racial disparities in our criminal justice system. I also said yesterday our police have an extraordinarily difficult job and the vast majority of them do their job in outstanding fashion.

 Today is a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices that they make for us.

 We also know that when people are armed with powerful weapons unfortunately it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic. And in the days ahead we are going to have to consider those realities as well. In the meantime our focus is on the victims and their families.

Police across America, it’s a tight knit family, feels this loss to their core, and we are grieving with them. As a nation let’s remember to express our profound gratitude to our men and women in blue, not just today, but everyday.”

 5                    Finally, love is that which binds us together and builds us up.  Hate is not the answer.  Love is the bond that will unite us in times of national strife.   “God is our refuge and strength—a very present help in times or trouble….”  (Ps. 46). 

 

In prayer…..

Obama Speech at Baltimore Mosque–

Every student in every Civics Class should be required to read or hear this speech!   This speech was delivered by President Obama in a Mosque in Baltimore on February 3, 2016.  As a Christian and Presbyterian Pastor, I know there those who will not agree with everything in this speech.   Just read it!   Fact-check it!  As Muslims and Jews and Christians we are “One Nation under God”!

A short segment from this speech from President Obama:

“Here’s another fact:  Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim.  And even in their bondage, some kept their faith alive.  A few even won their freedom and became known to many Americans.  And when enshrining the freedom of religion in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, our Founders meant what they said when they said it applied to all religions.

Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans.  And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now — “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.”  (Applause.)

Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”  (Applause.)  So this is not a new thing.

Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation. They were part of the flow of immigrants who became farmers and merchants.  They built America’s first mosque, surprisingly enough, in North Dakota.  (Laughter.)  America’s oldest surviving mosque is in Iowa.  The first Islamic center in New York City was built in the 1890s.  Muslim Americans worked on Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars.  A Muslim American designed the skyscrapers of Chicago. 

In 1957, when dedicating the Islamic center in Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower said, “I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution … and in American hearts…this place of worship, is just as welcome…as any other religion.”  (Applause.)

And perhaps the most pertinent fact, Muslim Americans enrich our lives today in every way.  They’re our neighbors, the teachers who inspire our children, the doctors who trust us with our health — future doctors like Sabah.  They’re scientists who win Nobel Prizes, young entrepreneurs who are creating new technologies that we use all the time.  They’re the sports heroes we cheer for -— like Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon.  And by the way, when Team USA marches into the next Olympics, one of the Americans waving the red, white and blue — (applause) — will a fencing champion, wearing her hijab, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is here today.  Stand up.  (Applause.)  I told her to bring home the gold.  (Laughter.)  Not to put any pressure on you.  (Laughter.)

Muslim Americans keep us safe.  They’re our police and our firefighters.  They’re in homeland security, in our intelligence community.  They serve honorably in our armed forces — meaning they fight and bleed and die for our freedom.  Some rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  (Applause.) 

So Muslim Americans are some of the most resilient and patriotic Americans you’ll ever meet.  We’re honored to have some of our proud Muslim American servicemembers here today.  Please stand if you’re here, so we can thank you for your service.  (Applause.)

So part of the reason I want to lay out these facts is because, in the discussions that I was having with these incredibly accomplished young people, they were pointing that so often they felt invisible.  And part of what we have to do is to lift up the contributions of the Muslim American community not when there’s a problem, but all the time. 

Our television shows should have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security — (applause) — because — it’s not that hard to do.  There was a time when there were no black people on television.  And you can tell good stories while still representing the reality of our communities.

     Now, we do have another fact that we have to acknowledge.  Even as the overwhelming majority — and I repeat, the overwhelming majority — of the world’s Muslims embrace Islam as a source of peace, it is undeniable that a small fraction of Muslims propagate a perverted interpretation of Islam.  This is the truth. “

Link to this speech:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/03/remarks-president-islamic-society-baltimore

The stage is set.  Read the speech.  I am putting this in my Blog because I don’t want to lose it.

 

 

Weaving Hope Out of Tragedy

It was sad to hear today of the fire at the Whaley Historical home in Flint[1].  This type of tragedy hits close to home when you know people who are involved.  Samantha (Sam) Engle is the Executive Director and an active member of the church where I worship—the Second Presbyterian Church in Saginaw.

Family and friends are all thankful that, while ‘Sam’ was in this historic home when the fire alarm sounded, she was not hurt.  Thanks God!

Now my thoughts turn to the unimaginable work it will take to restore and rebuild this beautiful home.

http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/11/whaley_historic_house_museum_o.html

As these restoration efforts begin, I share this prayer from the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA Pastoral Edition).  Please hold the directors and staff from the Whaley House in your thoughts and our prayers.

“God of compassion, you watch our ways, and weave out of terrible happenings wonders of goodness and grace.  Surround those who have been shaken by tragedy and hold them in faith.  Though they are lost in grief, may they find and be comforted;  through Jesus Christ who was dead, but lives and rules this world with you.   Amen.”

 

[1] http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/11/whaley_historic_house_museum_o.html

 

 

I Wonder…..HOW DO WE CURB ALL THE VIOLENCE?

In hearing about another school shooting in Roseburg Oregon (October 1, 2015), I feel compelled to write down some thoughts. In not putting NRA friends on the defensive, I wonder: How do we curb all the violence?

I agree with the President that this issue of violence and mass shootings needs to be discussed by the candidates for President.   My question for the candidates: What would you do as President do to curb all this gun violence? BE SPECIFIC!

  1. The Constitution (second amendment) gives the right for all citizens to “bare arms”. At the same time, I wonder if the National Rifle Association, with all of it’s resources (lobbyists and financial resources) could take a more proactive stance in helping to address this national crisis?   Specifically, what could NRA do with all of its resources to help limit access of weapons to those who are mentally unstable?
  2. I admit that this is a stretch in my thinking! I am fully aware that pain medications (opiates) have been killing people who over use or abuse them. Those of us on pain meds are now experiencing a government that places major restrictions on those of us who need these meds. I am getting used to these restrictions. I am wondering if there shouldn’t be some intervention or limited access to some of ammunition used in certain guns?
  3. We have a congress that likes to spend millions of dollars holding hearings on a host issues they feel are important the safety and well-being of Americans. When are we going to hold our congress accountable in doing some work to help curb all this violence—especially when it comes to helping with the mental illness issues that seems to exist behind all this violence?

Finally, I have been careful to blame guns or gun ownership for all the violence. At the same time, guns are used with the most deadly of school shootings. We need to lift our prayers for the victims of these shootings. We also need to “hit the pavement” in finding ways to address this violence.

One Year Anniversary of Death of Michael Brown

While there has been a small amount of progress since the hateful shooting of an 18 year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th of 2014, it is frustrating for me to hear almost every night on the news about another shooting.  Have we become desensitized to all this violence? There seems to be one major common denominator when it comes to all the violence: MENTAL ILLNESS.

While guns are often the tools-of-choice for unstable persons acting out against others, the focus of time and energy and advocacy needs to be in diagnosing and treating mental illness. And yes, this is a medical and societal crisis!   So on this anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, let’s search for ways to be advocates in helping this nation improve conditions for the mentally ill.   And yes, anything we can do to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill persons would a great help in curbing all the violence.