Rise Up in Love

On Palm Sunday suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people, injuring hundreds more and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror and outrage.  The Coptic church is the earliest Christian presence in Egypt going back to the year 100.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the violence, adding to fears that extremists are shifting their focus to civilians, especially Egypt’s Christian minority. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-egypt-christian-church-bombing-20170409-story.html

That same week in Syria, 70 people, including children died,  the result of an air-launched chemical attack attributed to the ruthless regime of President Bashar al-Assad. http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/05/middleeast/idlib-syria-attack/index.html

What are we to make of such horrific events?  Is there any room for hope?

Holy Week for Christian’s begins with these words:

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19: 41,42)

What is this way of peace that Jesus speaks of?

It is the counter-cultural way of forgiveness. Later that week, Jesus would look upon those who betrayed and crucified him with these words:

“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Christianity teaches that three days later on Easter morning, the risen Christ was seen and touched. Whether you take this metaphorically or literally, the Easter story affirms this truth: That neither violence, fear or even death will have the last word…On that first Easter love expressed in forgiveness had and has the final word.

It’s been said: ‘We are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’. Whether you are Christian or not we are invited to claim the truth that evil never wins.

Pope washing feet of youthWe think of Pope Francis washing the feet of homeless children (Muslim and Christian) in Rome. A reminder that love has no boundaries, no limits. Each of us are invited, challenged to put love into practice. To offer an alternative to retribution and fear.

What forgiveness are we prepared to offer? Who are you and I called to embrace? What stranger are we called to befriend?

In time, ISIS and the Assad’s of the world will be a footnote of history. But the story of love’s capacity to persevere and show us the way will continue to be told.

This Holy Week let us pray for our Muslim and Christian sisters and brothers in Syria.  Let our hearts rest with our Coptic family under siege. May our Jewish friends be blessed as they walk through Passover.

Let us Rise Up in Love.

Brussels: Living in a Good Friday World

More than 30 people are dead and more than 200 are wounded after explosions struck Brussels during the Tuesday morning rush hour. Two blasts hit the international airport; another struck a metro station. The city is in a state of emergency. Residents and visitors are told to ‘shelter in place’. ISIS has taken credit for this atrocity.

We in the United States watch this horrific story unfold and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We recognize that such senseless terrorism can come to any of us. I think of my daughter, a college student, who in January spent a week living and working in Brussels. She told us how beautiful Brussels is and how friendly the people. She arrived at the same airport and rode the same subway that were bombed this morning. It could have been my daughter, your child, anyone of us caught up in this tragic story.

bombing in brussels

The world has always known violence. The 24 hour news cycle brings tragedies before us in quick secession. We feel overwhelmed, frightened, even numb. What then, if anything, are we to do? In this political season some would have us isolate from the world and build bigger walls. Others would have us respond to the violence of ISIS with violence of our own. An eye for an eye.

Is there any hope? Any way forward that does not lead to more suffering, create greater fear?

We reflect on such questions during this Holy Week in the Christian calendar. This week we remember how Jesus was betrayed, arrested and on Good Friday crucified by the Empire of Rome. On that Friday 2000 years ago a reasonable observer would have thought that the forces of violence and revenge had won. That death was the final word.

In the aftermath of today’s bombings in Brussels we too may be thinking that hatred, terrorism, fear and death have won.

Holy Week for Christian’s begins with these words of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for the last time: ‘As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19: 41,42)

What is this way of peace that Jesus speaks of? In my tradition it is the way of forgiveness. Later that week, Jesus would look upon those who betrayed and crucified him with these words: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

My tradition tells me that three days later on Easter morning, the risen Christ was seen and touched. Whether you take this metaphorically or literally, the Easter story affirms this truth: That neither violence, fear or even death will have the last word…On that first Easter love expressed in forgiveness had and has the final word.

It’s been said: ‘We are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’. Whether you are Christian or not, believer or skeptic, we are invited to claim this truth that evil will never have the final word.

We think of Pope Francis washing the feet of homeless children (Muslim and Christian) in Rome. A reminder that love has no boundaries, no limits. Each of us are invited, challenged to put love into practice. To offer an alternative to retribution and fear. What forgiveness are you prepared to offer? Who are you called to embrace? What stranger (who makes you uncomfortable ) are you called to befriend?

Pope washing feet of youth

Today and in the days to come the prayers and love of millions of many faiths and no particular faith will be with the people of Belgium. In time, ISIS will be a footnote of history. And the story of love’s capacity to persevere and guide our shared path, will continue to be told.

Love wins. It is the only force that can.

Mother Emanuel’s Open Door

The door was open for a Wednesday night Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. It had been a busy day at this historic African-American church with several lay members being ordained to preach the Gospel. Once the festivities were over approx. twelve leaders of that church remained to listen for God’s leading from the ancient scripture.

A young white male, age 21 walked in. This was his first time and he received a warm welcome and listened as the small group shared, sang and prayed. At the conclusion when the benediction was given, he took out a handgun and murdered nine people. Each time he reloaded he uttered racist oaths.

The shooter fled and left behind a devastated church who had lost nine well-loved members including their pastor. The city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina which has a long and painful history with slavery, segregation and racism struggled to make sense of such blatant racist hatred.

This tragedy adds to the conversation on racial tension that we as a nation are being forced to have in the wake of recent police shootings of unarmed blacks and abuses of ‘stand your ground laws’ in Florida and elsewhere. It also highlights the desperate need we have to restrict access to guns.

In the midst of the heightened emotions and debate the people of Emmanuel AME Church continue to show us the way to live. Drawing upon their faith in the teachings of Jesus they offer us a way beyond hatred, beyond violence, beyond revenge.

The day after the killings, the families of the murdered stood before the now captured accused and offered forgiveness. Said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance: ‘You took something very precious away from me. But I forgive you. And may God have mercy on your soul.’ One after another, each family member bore that same witness.

In Charleston, the church is known with affection as ‘Mother Emmanuel’. Since its founding as a church for slaves in 1820, this community has witnessed to the Good News that each person is created in the image of God and has inherent worth and beauty. It was a belief that made this church a beacon of hope during the painful days of slavery and Jim Crow. It was this belief that empowered Mother Emmanuel to be a leader for Civil Rights. And, it was this belief that enabled those victimized by an act of racist hatred, to see even their assailant as a fellow child of God, worthy of mercy and forgiveness.

On Sunday morning, just days following the mass murder, the doors to Mother Emmanuel were open. Open doorAn elderly African-American usher welcomed a little black girl to worship. He wanted her and all of us to know, that love always win. His faith was rooted in the belief that we are loved and cherished by our Creator, that there is no ‘them’ but only ‘us’.

Seeing Lent through Coptic Eyes

This past week 21 Egyptian men working in Libya were kidnapped by ISSIS terrorists and executed. They were murdered because they were Coptic Christians. They were forced to kneel in the sand and beheaded. Their martyrdom took place a few days prior to Lent.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality. Ashes are placed in the sign of the cross upon the forehead with these words: “From ashes you come and to ashes you will return.” It is a somber day that reminds the faithful to be humble before God and to remember that from God we come and to God we will return.

From what I’ve read about Coptic Christians, this martyrdom is but one in a long series of persecutions over many centuries. The word ‘Coptic’ means ‘Egyptian’. The Coptic Church was planted by Saint Mark sometime between 40 – 60 A.D. For the last 50 years, Copts which comprise 6 million people or approx. 10% of Egyptian society have been routinely harassed by some from the religious majority while the government has often turned away from protecting them. Copts can rarely build or repair their churches, it is difficult to find employment and often have limited access to public education.

Yet the Coptic churches are full to overflowing with people and passion for their faith. In the suffering of Jesus upon the cross they see their own suffering. In the words of Jesus they find the capacity to persevere and to forgive: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.

Coptic Christians

In the West, particularly in Europe and increasingly in the United States many churches stand empty or near empty. Faith when practiced is often squeezed into a busy schedule one option among many. But for the persecuted Coptic Church the faith of the people is foundational to who they are and where their hope is to be found. For the Copts martyrdom is not something they seek but also not something they run from. For the Copts the Spirit of God that was alive in the life of Jesus is also alive in their gathered life.

This Lent I pray that I too may have a measure of the Coptic faith. For all Christians may we too have the clear sense that God’s Spirit and the Spirit of the Risen Christ is with us.

A comfort to the families who lost loved ones to ISSIS is their sure knowledge that the Christ who suffered and overcame even the cross was with their loved one’s when they died. Oh, to be in the presence of such a faith.

Happy Agape Day

Heart in snow

Love in the Greek language has many manifestations. Eros speaks of the erotic attraction of two people. Eros refers to those moments of combustion when two people are physically attracted. It is a wonderful type of love full of passion. It is summed up in the phrase: ‘Va va va voom!’ Movies and images as diverse as Hallmark cards to the raciest films make a lot of money fanning the flames that come with erotic love.

Philia is another type of love. Our word fraternal is related. It speaks to those who are bonded by a deep sense of identity. People who share the bond of family or tribe have a fraternal love. At its best this type of love is beautiful as in the love of a parent for a child. At its worst philia can lead people, tribes and nations to war protecting themselves from those perceived to be a threat.

The ancient Greeks knew that love is complicated. They knew that eros and philia can bring out the best and the worst in the human condition.

2000 years ago an itinerant healer and mystic named Jesus was guided by a third type of love. The Greek word is

agape.

Agape is a selfless love that isn’t dependent on physical attraction,the bond of blood or tribe. Agape comes from a deep place both within and beyond a person. Such a love enables us to relate to people in a universal and expansive way. Paradoxically such a love is both detached and profoundly intimate.

Agape empowers us to serve without thought of what is in it for me. It transcends fear and leads to freedom. Freedom from bitterness. Freedom to forgive. Freedom from self-centeredness. Freedom from hate. Freedom to accept. Freedom to be.

coffee for homeless

How do we know when love is of God? When it is expansive, life-giving and self-less.

Anne Lamott writes: “If god hates the same people you do, rest assured you’ve created god in your own image.”

Agape is about becoming aligned with the wisdom of God. Jesus understood that we are a fragile species but with the Spirit’s help we are capable of loving more fully and freely than we every thought possible. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Losing Our Moral Compass

Fear has a way of constricting the human heart and imagination. When we are afraid an instinctive part of our brain called the ‘reptilian core’ takes over. This part of our brain moves us into a survival mode where we will do anything to survive.

After the horrific attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 some would argue that our nation has been guided by a survival mentality. Our fear of the enemy has taken us to Afghanistan, Iraq and a clandestine shadow war by the CIA.

This week the Senate Intelligence Committee released a study indicating that for four years during the administration of President G.W Bush the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were actually torture.

Here’s an excerpt from the Senate report, on waterboarding: ‘The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah,for example, became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth”. Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a “series of near drownings.” Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in-stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.’

The study went on to say that “enhanced interrogation did not provide actionable intelligence to stop attacks”. Even if one believes that such actions resulted in useable data, the Senate report raises this fundamental question: Do the ends justify the means?

photo of torture

Writing from my Christian tradition, I ask this question: ‘Is torture ever justified? Can torture be consistent with the way Jesus?’ Jesus grew up in a tradition that allowed for a brutal response to a perceived injustice:

Listen to this teaching in Exodus 21: 23 – 25: ‘But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.’ In truth, this is how nations and tribes often govern themselves today.

Jesus however challenges this mindset in Matthew 5:38-48 in which he says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

In reading Jesus’ words, one might think that the teachings of Jesus don’t work in the real world, particularly when we have so much to fear. But I ask: What lasting benefit have ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ provided? Such violence has only inspired our opponents such as ISIS to raise the bar in their capacity for torture and humiliation.

Can this cycle of violence leading to more violence be broken? Yes, we need only look back 2000 years to a simple carpenter from Nazareth, who met and in time overcame the violence of the Roman Empire and the narrowness of religious leaders, with forgiveness, generosity, mercy and expansive love.

Can torture ever be justified? For the love of God, ‘No’!

Israel and Palestine: Revenge Begets Revenge

Recently three Jewish Israeli teenagers living in the West Bank were kidnapped and murdered. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of ordering the murders. Prime Minister Netanyahu said: They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by beasts.” Hamas denied any involvement.

A few days after the three boys bodies were found, three Jewish Israeli’s intent on revenge, kidnapped a Palestinian Israeli teenager living in East Jerusalem. They tortured the boy and then set him on fire while still alive.

Incensed members of Hamas living in the Gaza Strip unleashed missals into Israel. Israel responded with devastating military might. As I write 500 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have died. 3000 Palestinians have been injured in bombings by Israeli artillery and jets.

Gaza Photo

What we are seeing is a seemingly endless cycle of violence fueled by a mindset of revenge. Is there any hope?

Our answer was voiced 2000 years ago as Jesus wept over Jerusalem and said: ‘If now even now, you knew that which makes for peace.’

Jesus also lived in a time of great violence as Israel lived under the heel of the Roman Empire. Jesus realized that the path to a true and lasting peace comes only through the spiritual practice of forgiveness and the hard work of seeking reconciliation.

Is such a path possible? In the past two decades South Africa, Nicaragua and Ireland by choosing the path of reconciliation have found their way to a lasting peace.

What we need are leaders in Israel and Palestine with the wisdom and courage to say ‘no’ to revenge. In the United States we can lobby that our tax dollars support only those who support the path towards reconciliation.

In the 1960’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed while his children were sleeping. Soon supporters intent on revenge gathered outside the King home. Dr. King spoke these words to the crowd:

“Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”

By refusing the way of revenge, Dr. King set our nation on the path towards ultimate justice and reconciliation. The path isn’t easy nor is it quick. But in the long run it is the only way that we as the human family will find our way to a lasting peace.