Breaking Bread

A common denominator for the human condition is eating. Everybody has to eat and the act of breaking bread creates space for relationships to be formed. Some recent memorable meals include: Enjoying home-made potato soup with neighbors of the church I serve. Three times each week volunteers provide simple, delicious food for neighbors with tight budgets or living on the streets. I’ve gotten to know neighbors by name and those new friendships go beyond the dinner table. We bemoan another slow start by the Red Sox and sometimes go deeper by sharing our struggles. While the circumstances of life may differ we find that we have so much in common.

photo of shared meal

This past week I enjoyed gayo pinto and fried plantain in Nicaragua. I serve on the board of an organization called AMOS which empowers rural communities to improve their health care practices. Board meetings by definition are intensive and include looking at important but mundane topics like budgets and personnel policies. It is over a lunch that we renew, refuel and build relationships so essential for a healthy functioning organization.

This Friday my wife and I are invited to a table for Passover. Alison is a rabbi and our friend. Her husband Chuck is an amazing chef. Their son Leo is a wonderfully creative little boy. Rabbi Alison and family will host an eclectic group of 21 in their home. Over the Seder Meal we will tell the ancient story of Israel’s journey from slavery to freedom. In the breaking of the bread we remember our shared need and the opportunity it provides for the common good.

In my Christian tradition the Eucharist is a ritual for communing with God and with each other. When we ‘break bread’ together we remember who we are as we remember ‘the One and the ones’ to whom we each belong.

Breaking bread reminds us that too often people are excluded intentionally or unintentionally from the table by prejudice. Prejudice means we ‘pre-judge’ others without getting to know their story, learn their name and let them know who we are. Some in our political climate seek to build walls of fear and intolerance. They would have us judge and fear those we don’t know.

phot of table

The antidote to fear and prejudice is simple. All we need do is invite those we don’t yet know, to sit at our table or to look for an unfamiliar table and draw up a chair. It’s amazing what happens when we choose to break bread with others.

Workplace Discrimination: Not Good Enough for Jesus?

On July 4th I saw this headline in The Boston Globe: ‘Religious exemption to hiring rule urged.’ The article reported on 14 religious leaders (primarily Christian) who sent a letter to the White House requesting a religious exemption to a planned executive order by President Obama, barring federal contractors from discriminating in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.

President Obama’s executive order is in response to failed efforts to get through Congress the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA would have made it illegal under federal law to discriminate in the workplace – not just for contractors.

The letter requesting a religious exemption, was signed by nationally prominent evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders including D. Michael Lindsay president of Gordon College in Wenham, MA. I note President Lindsay’s name because Gordon College is an influential voice in the community I call home. I happen to be a pastor to some of Gordon’s graduates.

The letter reads in part: “Without a robust religious exemption…this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom.”

I have many questions for the signers of this letter: What common good are they speaking of? Is it in the interest of the common good to discriminate in the workplace? Is it in the interest of the common good when students, staff and faculty are forced to be closeted in fear of being fired or marginalized? Is it in the interest of the common good to perpetuate a theology that teaches that some aren’t good enough for Jesus?

I am offended by the use of noble terms like the common good, unity and religious freedom to impose discrimination due to sexual orientation. Not so long ago religious leaders coopted noble words and scripture to perpetuate discrimination towards people of color, women, minorities.

As I was working on a draft of this article a gay couple at the church I serve stopped by my office. They told me that one of them must remain closeted in their workplace lest their employer who is religiously conservative learn that they are gay. They can’t go to holiday parties as a couple, they can’t disclose who they fully are out of fear of being fired.

I say to President Lindsay: ‘Adding your signature as a representative of Gordon College does not promote the common good, unity or religious freedom. Rather it forces good people to deny who they are and live in fear.’

I urge each of the signatories to reconsider and rescind their signature. I ask this in the name of Jesus who in Luke 14: 15 – 24 envisions the Kingdom of God as a great banquet table where all the marginalized, oppressed and forgotten people have an honored seat at God’s table. I ask this for the sake of the common good.

Earth Day: Working for the Common Good

Blackstone RiverI remember sitting on the banks of the Blackstone River on a beautiful day in April 1970, listening to the great folk singer and prophet Pete Seeger.  Pete was giving a concert from a barge anchored to the slow-moving Blackstone, in honor of the first Earth Day.  On that day citizens across our nation had worked to clean up trashed and polluted areas in their hometowns.   I was 14 years old and I had spent the day with my cousin Tom,  pulling shopping carts and old tires out of the shallow reaches of our local river in Cumberland, Rhode Island.  

Life Magazine had recently labeled the Blackstone as ‘the most polluted river in America’.   The Blackstone had been the workhorse powering the American Industrial Revolution, since the first Cotton Mill had been built by Samuel Slater in the 1790’s. 

Since that first mill the river had been lined with textile mills that drew power from the river and poured their industrial waste directly back into the water.  By the time I came along the mills had long since closed but the chemical waste remained imbedded in the river silt.  The chemicals had killed off the fish and decimated the birds.  Biologists labeled the river as a biological dead zone.

Rachael Carson in her landmark book Silent Spring, published in 1962, awakened the conscience of our nation to the price we pay for our neglect of mother earth.  On April 22, 1970 thousands across the nation looked around at our polluted water ways and toxic landfills and said ‘no more’.  It was the beginning of our national awakening to our responsibility to be stewards of the earth, for this generation and generations to come.

On that  first Earth Day after a day of working to clean up the Blackstone, hundreds listened to Pete Seeger sing a song of hope for the river.  He spoke of nature’s ability to restore and regenerate.  He reminded us that taking care of creation was a sacred trust.  

43 years later as you  walk alongside the Blackstone River you are likely to see people jogging along a newly built footpath and seeing parents push their children in strollers.  You’ll watch the trout dimple the water as they rise to feast from an insect hatch.  A woman casts her fly as she stands chest high in her waders casting for that elusive trout.  At the same time a Great Blue Herron casts its own shadow on the water as it looks for its next meal. 

And as you walk or canoe along the Blackstone the words of Pete Seeger our great American Prophet continues to remind us, that taking care of mother nature is a sacred trust.  The Blackstone is a story of resurrection and regeneration and a reminder of what happens when people of good will come together for the common good.  Happy Earth Day and keep up the good work.