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.

Antidote to Election Bitterness

This has been a bitter, nasty political season.  The level of vitriol which transcends political party has created fissures among groups and within families.

Whichever political party wins the presidential and congressional election we will all have  work to do.  It will take work to live into the promise of our Pledge of Allegiance…‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’.

How do we mend the divisions that threaten to pull us even further apart? How do we live into the values that guide us?

To begin we must understand the deep-seated fear and despair that many in our nation are feeling. We need to understand what brought about this alienation and offer practical and effective solutions.

People need to have hope.  In the absence of hope the gulf that separates us will only deepen and grow.  This is the long-term challenge for those we elect and for all citizens.

At the risk of appearing simplistic, I offer two steps that I think are essential in restoring us to unity as a people. 1) Listen.  Find people who voted differently than you and simply ask them ‘why’.  Don’t argue. Listen to understand why they feel the way they do.  Listen to their fears.  Listen to their hopes.

Understanding one another’s fears and hopes are essential first steps to finding solutions.  Listening to understand is a profound expression of respect. We may not readily agree on solutions but when we feel heard we are already on our way to finding common ground.

2) Offer kindness.  This political season has made us more coarse as a society.  We’ve talked at and past one another.  How can we respond?  With kindness.  https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas

Starting with election day intentionally offer a ‘random act of kindness’.  Offer an act of kindness at least once a day for one week.  Who knows, it may become a life-giving habit.

In line for coffee?  Buy a cup for the person behind you.  At an intersection?  Flash your lights and let someone else make their turn.  Passing someone on the sidewalk?  Say ‘hello’.   See someone looking tired and stressed?  Offer a silent prayer of blessing.

Have a neighbor or family member who you’ve been avoiding because of politics?  Offer a gift of kindness.

photo-of-kindness

Not only will the act of kindness bless someone else, it will also begin to soften your heart too.  The path to reconciliation ain’t rocket science. Listening and offering acts of kindness can go a long way in bringing us back together as ‘one people’.

Come Wednesday morning nearly half of us will be pissed off or despondent.

Win or lose we each can choose how we will respond.  We can choose to listen and be kind.  In such simple acts we will find our way as a nation.

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’.

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.