Clueless in the White House

To those who wonder whether our President has racist and nativist tendencies, here is your answer.  A quote from today’s New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/us/politics/trump-shithole-countries.html?ref=todayspaper

President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Where does such arrogance and callousness come from?  Perhaps he has never met people who live in a developing nation or live in poverty here in the States.

If he did he would meet people who work incredibly hard in difficult situations to provide for their family.  He’d meet young people of great intelligence, who dream and aspire.  He’d meet moms and dads who worry and weep for their children who lack access to clean water and medical care.

If he did perhaps he’d learn some humility and compassion.  This man who was born to great wealth and given every opportunity.

To refer to those who struggle and aspire as living in ‘shithole countries’ is an insult to the beautiful people I’ve met and served with in developing countries.  His callousness is an insult to my great-great grandmother  Sarah,  a single woman who gave birth to her son in a work house in Manchester, England in 1867.  A place where the poorest of the poor went, when no one else would take them in.

In 1869 Sarah emigrated to the United States with her two year old son.  A single mother, dirt poor.  She made a way for herself by working in the textile mills of Rhode Island.  I am here because she had the strength and courage to make a new life.  I am here because the United States said there is a place for people like Sarah and her boy.

For Mr. Trump to disparage those who struggle and strive against overwhelming circumstance, to provide for their family, is a disgrace.  A disgrace to what it means to be an American. A disgrace to what it means to be a Christian.  A disgrace to what it means to be a human being.

What will we do?  As citizens will we allow this callous and shallow man to redefine who we are as a country?

As people of faith, inspired by the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40 ‘whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers you do unto me’… what will we say?  What we will do?

In my Christian tradition this is called a ‘come to Jesus moment’.  It is time for my fellow Christians, who have so freely embraced Trump, to stand up and say ‘no more’, ‘not in my name’.

We as a nation and as citizens of the world, deserve better than this man who lacks humility and a shred of compassion.  The eyes of the world are upon us.  What will we do?

 

 

Getting Ready for the Big Storm

People are fascinated by talk of a BIG STORM. The weather professionals heighten our anticipation giving us a step by step breakdown of the storms impending arrival. We rush to the store for milk, bread and batteries.

Those of us with miles on our odometer hearken back to the ‘Great New England Blizzard of 1978’.   The ‘Blizzards of 2015’ which dumped nine feet of snow on our coastal town remain a vivid memory.

Blizzard of 1978

Storms have a way of bringing people together. In many ways it brings out the best in us. We check in on our neighbors, help out strangers.

Storms also highlight the precariousness of neighbors living on the streets.  I’ve been thinking about two friends in particular, Earl and Lyle (not their real names).  Earl is an alcoholic active in his addiction.  Lyle wrestles with mental illness and  self medicates with alcohol and drugs.

Earl and Lyle come to the church I serve for a hot meal, use the rest room or warm up in the hallway.  We’ve gotten to know one another.  I’ve learned about their past, their struggles, their hopes for the future.  I’ve come to see them as brothers, each of us doing our best to get by.

Tonight as I often do, I worry for their safety.  We have a limited emergency shelter system here on the North Shore.   Most shelters are ‘dry’, which means they won’t accept a person like Earl or Lyle if drunk or high.  The one ‘wet’ shelter for the most fragile of the fragile is full.

On this eve of the storm I’ll offer a prayer for my homeless sisters and brothers.  I’ll offer a prayer for city workers who plow our streets and first responders who do their best to keep us safe.  A prayer too for those who staff our shelters.

Tonight weather experts tell us the BIG STORM will come.  In the days following the temperature is forecast to plummet down to the single digits.

My hope is that we will take good care of each other.   My hope too is that we will recommit ourselves to strengthening our fragile social service safety net.  It will require an ongoing commitment and collaboration of faith communities, non-profits and government.

This storm will pass.  The need to take care of each other continues.

Christmas in the Woods

In the midst of the deep darkness of December, made complete with the Winter Solstice, is the promise that light follows. Advent, the prelude to Christmas,  invites us to anticipate the embodiment of this light, in the life of a baby named Jesus.

This can be hard to believe when the temperature is cold and the sun sets so early.  Hard to believe as a metaphor of hope, when the political winds blow contrary to so much that I hold sacred and dear.

With such dark thoughts in mid December, I climbed into my Subaru and headed 90 miles for Canterbury, New Hampshire. I’d heard about a little church that invites seekers to unplug, breathe deeply and walk mindfully in the forest.

Warming barn for Church of the Woods

I drove up a snowy road to Church of the Woods   http://kairosearth.org and parked adjacent to a small barn.  Standing in a field, adding logs to a campfire, was Steve Blackmer, pastor of this unusual church.

Steve, a forester by profession, has become an ordained Episcopal priest.  His parish is the outdoors.  Most often congregants are sent out into the woods, in silence, to commune with our Creator.

Church of the Woods is tapping into a truth that most of us know but so often forget.  That that great mystery we call God/Spirit/Creator, is heard and sensed most clearly when in nature.

Early Christians had a name for this truth:  ‘The Book of Nature’.  They believed that in nature we hear and experience the voice of the Creator reminding us to be humble, thankful, mindful.  Inviting us to make room for awe and wonder.

Martin Luther spoke to this truth when he wrote: “The call of a bird, water in a stream, the wind through the reeds, are little words to us from God.”

Steve invited us to walk the snowy paths of Church in the Woods.  We worshipers were a mix of ages from three to seventy plus.  He invited us to listen carefully for little, holy words.  After a time of wandering, a bell called us back to the barn with its wood stove.  There we warmed our bodies and shared gifts from our walk.


On the altar was the Eucharist, to which we added decorative touches of pine cones and hemlock bough.  Steve spoke ancient words inviting us to consume the bread and drink from the cup.  Each a symbol of God’s grace.

Once all were served, Steve poured wine onto the ground, reminding us that the fertile soil is the source from which the wine and bread come and to which we will one day return.

Now late in the afternoon, the sun had begun to set.  It was time for me to drive home.  I left feeling calm, centered and thankful.  Thankful for the Book of Nature that had spoken so gently and clearly.  Reminding us that ‘little words’ from God are being spoken for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

This season may we remember that light always follows darkness.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas.

 

 

 

Why We Sing

For thirty plus Christmas’ I’ve led groups of carolers.  I can’t carry a tune.  But I understand the importance and value of singing.  Particularly when singing to those among us who are feeling vulnerable.

First Baptist in Beverly, sharing the love.

We sing in nursing homes, memory centers, jails, retirement communities and on street corners.  We sing to folk who have lost a loved one.  We sing to encourage neighbors wrestling with addiction.

We sing to remind people that they are not forgotten.  To remind ourselves and those we sing for,  that as dark as any given moment may seem, that the light will come.  To lift up and celebrate the beauty found in community and mutual care.

In the Gospel of Matthew we hear these words:

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.

Matthew quoting words from the prophet Isaiah, reminds us that the embodiment of this light is Jesus.  It is this light come to earth in the story of Jesus, which inspires us to sing, to hope, to persevere.

Christmas is often a difficult time for people.  We have so many expectations of what the season should be…family, gifts, comfort, joy, peace.

Yet the reality for many doesn’t match the expectations.   Many of us are estranged from family, struggle to pay the bills, wrestle with addiction, face health challenges or worry over the future our children and grandchildren will inherit.

There is a lot of darkness in the world.  This is true.

Yet our faith teaches that the light enters into the darkness.   Light which cannot be extinguished  or contained.

Each year the story of Christmas comes to remind us that light has come.  An unlikely light in the form of an infant, born to peasant parents, during a time of military occupation. This child born homeless, wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.

From this humble beginning a life-sustaining light has come.  A light which still burns.  A light that rests upon each woman, man, girl and boy.

This is why we sing.  To remind ourselves and those we sing to, that darkness never has the final word.  The light has come, once again.

Let us raise our voice in song.

 

 

Evelyn at Ninety Nine

Aunty Evelyn has always been my refuge.  Growing up my family home was adjacent to that of my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Freddy.  Their yard was an extension of ours providing a shared space where we cousins played.

For several summers during my boyhood,  I’d go on vacation with Evelyn and Freddy’s family to Newfound Lake, N.H.  There we created memories which have lasted a life time.  A favorite is of  hiking on a bluebird day, with my cousins Tom and Sandy,  to the top of Mount Cardigan.  We picked wild blueberries as we scrambled up and down that mountain.  We returned famished to Evelyn’s chicken dumplings.

Over the years I’d  remind Aunt Evelyn of this memory and ask if she’d make me a batch of her famous chicken dumplings.  Her response was always the same: “Kent, my dumplings can’t match the memory of you at age fourteen, having just climbed a mountain and digging in to those dumplings for the first time.”   She’s right.

Over the years Evelyn has provided me with a gift even greater than her chicken dumplings, the gift of unconditional love.  Evelyn (and Freddy) were always there for me.

They made a place for me in their home and in their hearts and for that I will always be grateful.   In recent years I’ve moved back, from Oregon to Massachusetts, less than a few hours from where I grew up.

On a regular basis I stop by to visit Aunt Evelyn.  The welcome is always the same: “Kent I’m so glad to see you.  Tell me about your daughters.  Tell me about Tricia.  I love you so much.”

We never lose the need to know we are loved.  Loved without conditions.

Aunty Evelyn has always offered me this gift.  This love was my refuge as a boy and remains mine to this day.

Garrison Keillor in his book, Lake Woebegone Days, writes: ‘The kindness we offer to a child is never forgotten.’  This is true.

Now at age ninety-nine Evelyn looks back on her long life.  She thinks of those no longer living:  her husband, her siblings, friends.  She’s grateful for her mother Anna, who taught her how to live with courage and a selfless spirit.   Evelyn chooses to look back with gratitude and a sense of wonder at how her life has unfolded.

And, she chooses to live in the present with a sense of gratitude too.  Grateful for the gift of her friends and especially her family.

Evelyn on her 99th birthday with her Great-granddaughter, Riley.

Recently the family gathered for her birthday.  A few days later a group of friends baked her a cake and presented her with flowers.

In keeping with who she is, Evelyn voiced surprise for all the kindness shown to her.  I replied: ‘Aunty Evelyn, your family and friends are simply responding to all the kindness you share with others.  You are  a gift to us.’

When I grow up, I want to be like my Aunt Evelyn.  I want to live my life loving those around me unconditionally.  I want to learn to focus not on what I’ve lost but on what I have.

I too want to offer kindness and accept with gratitude the kindness of others. I want to live with as much grace as Evelyn Wisz Harrop.

Thank you Aunty Evelyn.  You’re the best.

 

 

 

 

 

Shame

I’ve been a pastor for thirty-five years.   I’ve had the privilege of being invited into  lives during the most difficult of times.  What I’ve learned from accompanying others and from my own 61 years, is that no one has their life completely together.  To one degree or another we are all train wrecks.

By this I mean that we humans are incredibly complex and complicated beings.  We have the capacity for bringing healing and hope and the capacity to tear down and diminish. Psychologists call this our ‘light and shadow’ side.

All of us have things we’ve done which we’re not proud of.  Our words and actions (and sometimes inaction) have consequences.

I’ve been thinking about this as men of power have been outed for their harassment and abuse of women.  As I wrote in my recent blog entitled ‘Tipping Point?’ my hope is that this will be a time when enough people say  ‘we will not be silent in the face of harassment and systemic gender inequality’.

Men who have been involved in predatory behavior must be held accountable.  Those of us who have been silent or complacent must speak out and stand with those who have been victimized.

I’m wondering too about those who have been outed.  Those who have lost their jobs and reputation.  What about them?

Let me pose a theological question: ‘Is anyone beyond redemption?’  The word redemption means to be redeemed or restored.

I can imagine a variety of responses to what I just raised:  “To hell with them. There must be consequences.   They are monsters. The victims must have justice.”

I agree that the perpetrators must be held accountable.  The systems that have protected them must be torn down.  Those victimized must be heard and cared for.

But again I ask: ‘Is anyone beyond redemption?’

Over the years I’ve sat with people who made very bad choices.  Bad behavior that hurt others. Behavior that became front page news and resulted in great loss personally and professionally.  Some even went to prison.

Often we talked about the ‘shame’ they felt.

Granted, religion has often used the guilt and shame card to keep people in line.  To require conformity for the sake of narrow religious parameters as to what is pure and right.

But sometimes ‘shame’ serves an important purpose.  There are words, behaviors and actions that we should be ashamed of.  Being sincerely ‘ashamed’ can be the first step in the process of becoming whole.

Being ashamed means taking responsibility for the harm ones action or inaction has caused others.  Being ashamed means knowing that there are consequences for inappropriate behavior.  Shame means knowing you are wrong.

Shame however need not be an ending.  It can mark a beginning.  When claimed with sincerity it can be the first step on the path toward self-awareness.  A first step to becoming a healthier person and when appropriate, making restoration to those one has wronged.

Those in the Twelve Step program know this to be true.  Our actions when under the influence of alcohol or drugs often does great damage to family and friends.   People caught up in addictive behavior often speak of shame.

But shame paradoxically can  be a gift.   A gift that leads one to do the hard and relentless work of becoming sober and clean and staying on the path.  Shame can lead to a change in behavior and a change of attitude.  One day at a time.

What I’ve learned in thirty-five years of being a pastor is that no one is beyond help. No one is beyond redemption.

My Christian tradition call this ‘grace’.  Grace is rooted in the belief that God’s essence is love and that no one is beyond the reach of this love.

Philip Yancey the theologian puts it this way:

There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more.  There’s nothing we can do to make God love us less.

Yes, people need to be held accountable for their behavior.  Yes, unjust systems that have and continue to allow for abusive behavior must be named and dismantled.

Yet let us not forget that no one is beyond redemption.  We are all in need of grace.

 

 

 

Tipping Point?

Every day new public figures are outed for sexual harassment.  Harassment rooted in an abuse of power.  We see this abuse reflected in a society which objectifies women. We see this abuse institutionalized in limited access for women to positions of influence and power.

Have we reached a tipping point?  A willingness by enough people to say ‘no more’?

tipping points (plural noun)
  1. the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change

Are we at a point where men stand with women,  in calling out those who exploit?  Will we men be willing to explore and wrestle with the cultural bias’ we’ve acquired and profit from?  Will we name and let go of attitudes and behaviors that contribute to the wider culture that objectifies and oppresses?

Will men join forces with women in demanding equal treatment under the law and hold those with power accountable?   From school campus’, to military bases, to halls of Congress, to the White House, to business, to religion, to households… have we reached a tipping point where we demand more of ourselves as a society?

Imagine a tipping point that affirms our best intentions as a nation.  Imagine women and men, girls and boys, affirming our inherent equality,  that every person as Thomas Jefferson put it, ‘is endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

True, Jefferson didn’t fully grasp the implications of his words.  His world view didn’t include people of color and women in his listing of who was worthy.

Yet, Jefferson’s words continues to offer a vision we aspire to.  A vision that says everyone, female and male, native-born and immigrant, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old are ‘endowed by their Creator’ with inherent worth and equal rights.

This is not simply good public policy.  It’s also good theology.

This is who we strive to be,  when we are at our best.  The floodgate has opened with stories of harassment, oppression, abuse.

Such stories reflect a decision by enough women and enough men to say ‘we will not be silent, we will not be complacent or complicit’ towards those factors that have created and reflect an oppressive culture.

Have we reached a tipping point?  The answer rests with women and men like you and me.  Imagine what our society can be as we live into our core values.