Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stands firmly with undocumented immigrants and their families in opposition to the wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in migrant communities and the threats posed by the new Department of Homeland Security memos that pave the way for mass deportation. Click HERE to register for a Webinar on expanding the Sanctuary Movement next Wednesday, March 1!
As a faith community called to “seek justice and defend the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17), we are deeply disturbed by these actions. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has affirmed its support for immigrants many times. The 221stGeneral Assembly (2014) affirmed the formation of the Presbyterian Immigrant Defense Initiative,[1] a campaign to “empower Presbyterians to work to change policies and practices that infringe on the human and civil rights of immigrants in our communities including immigrant detention, streamlined deportation, and the executing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by local law enforcement.”
According to government officials, a series of raids over the past weeks led to the arrests of at least 683 undocumented community members and targeted people who faced criminal charges.  These actions did not represent a major change from Obama administration policies. But immigrants, their advocates and lawyers say that many people without criminal records also were taken, spreading fear in cities and counties that are home to many foreign-born people.  The intention to focus on immigrants with criminal convictions has the impact of criminalizing the entire immigrant community. Undocumented immigrants may have an immigration related conviction or they may have been targeted by a policing system that is racially biased and unnecessarily focused on low-income people of color. Even more troubling is the administration’s guidelines that grant law enforcement agencies broad latitude about whom to arrest and approval to target a broad portion of the undocumented population for deportation.  
We would like to lift up in prayer the arrest and detention of DACA recipient, or “DREAMer,” Daniel Ramirez. Beneficiaries of the DACA program like Daniel have been promised a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit, paid nearly $500 in fees every two years, passed a background check and met a number of other requirements. Within the faith community, we believe in transformation and forgiveness.  Even if someone has made a past mistake we do not believe that  they should be deported and separated from their family. Daniel is a father of a 3 year old, is falsely accused of being a gang member, and belongs with his family in Seattle. Sign HERE to petition for his release. 
One of the most powerful ways churches can act in solidarity in this moment is to join the Sanctuary Movement. To learn more about the process of providing sanctuary, please join the OPW for a webinar on Wednesday, March 1 at 3:30 pm EST. Click HERE to register, and share this invitation widely! If you can’t attend the webinar but would like to be involved, click HERE for a list of resources and background on the Sanctuary Movement.
In Faith We Share,
Rev. Jimmie Hawkins

[1] “On Recognizing the Presbyterian Immigrant Defense Initiative to Affirm and Promote the Civil and Human Rights of Immigrants in Our Communities—From the Presbytery of Central Florida.”
Approved by the 221st General Assembly (2014).

Judge Not

"Judge not" is a good word, spoken by none other than Jesus himself. With the proviso, "lest ye be judged."

Which is a good thing, both to be judged by God, and then, with all sincerity and whatever shreds of integrity we can gather around ourselves from the bits and pieces of life, to render judgment.

Here's the full text of the Matthew 5 passage:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with thejudgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you givewill be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out ofyour eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, firsttake the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly totake the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Judgment, as Bonhoeffer did ... a slow and arduous process ... but called for by the very nature of history.

From his book, "Ethics,"

The responsible man acts in the freedom of his own self, without the support of men, circumstances or principles, but with a due consideration for the given human and general conditions and for the relevant questions of principle. The proof of his freedom is the fact that nothing can answer for him, nothing can exonerate him, except his own deed and his own self. It is he himself who must observe, judge, weigh up, decide and act. It is man himself who must examine the motives, the prospects, the value and the purpose of his action. But neither the purity of the motivation, nor the opportune circumstances, nor the value, nor the significant purpose of an intended undertaking can become the governing law of his action, a law to which he can withdraw, to which he can appeal as an authority, and by which he can be exculpated and acquitted. For in that case he would indeed no longer be truly free. The action of the responsible man is performed in the obligation which alone gives freedom and which gives entire freedom, the obligation to God and to our neighbour as they confront us in Jesus Christ. At the same time it is performed wholly within the domain of relativity, wholly in the twilight which the historical situation spreads over good and evil; it is performed in the midst of the innumerable perspectives in which every given phenomenon appears. …. … responsible action is a free venture; it is not justified by any law; it is performed without any claim to a valid self-justification, and therefore also without any claim to an ultimate valid knowledge of good and evil. Good, as what is responsible, is performed in ignorance of good and in the surrender to God of the deed which has become necessary and which is nevertheless, or for that very reason, free; for it is God who sees the heart, who weighs up the deed, and who directs the course of history.

None of us can escape the judgment of God, and none of us can eschew making judgments about the people we know, or hear about ... judgments not made hastily, or without deliberate consideration and humility, or without regard for God's judgment upon our own life - what we value and how we conduct ourselves.

When reminded by others about judgment (which is a good thing of which to be reminded), I remind them that all the writers of Scripture rendered judgment on others ... and made it clear that there are boundaries, rules of engagement, doctrines, ideas that define the heart and soul of faith ... and there are those who take license with such things, who, for devious reasons, alter the "truth of Christ" and create "another gospel."

In 2 Corinthians 2.17, Paul writes:

For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.


Rather a stunning judgment, would you not say?

Yet Paul had all the right in the world to render such judgment, not because he was always right, but because of his labor of love, his learning and experience, his determination to set people free from the horrible superstitions and moral codes of so much religion. I'm not suggesting that Paul was always right, but I'll take Paul anytime, even if a grain of salt is sometimes required.

So ... Paul makes it clear: he's not a "peddler of God's Word" ... but, rather, someone who speaks with sincerity as a person sent from God.

Huge claim for himself.

But in a world of all sorts of competing ideas, Paul took a stand.

So did Moses and Jeremiah and Peter and down through the ages, folks like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Huss and Wycliffe, Luther and Calvin ... and of our own time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa or Pope Francis on poverty and justice and immigrants.

It's this, and not that.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dr. King makes is clear, abundantly clear, what he refuses:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction

And then offers a litany of what he believes:

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!

And that's a judgment ... so help us God.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Forum, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, Feb . 19, 2017

Feb. 19, 2017 Forum,

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
December 10, 1964

When Laura approached about what I’d like to do with this series, it didn’t take me long to choose this piece of it, with its focus on two remarkable prophets, and how two “simple” verses were woven into Dr. King’s acceptance speech.

The Peaceful Kingdom
Isaiah 11
1      A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
      and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2      The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
      the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
      the spirit of counsel and might,
      the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3      His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
      He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
      or decide by what his ears hear;
4      but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
      and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
      he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
      and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5      Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
      and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6      The wolf shall live with the lamb,
      the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
      the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
      and a little child shall lead them.
7      The cow and the bear shall graze,
      their young shall lie down together;
      and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8      The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
      and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9      They will not hurt or destroy
      on all my holy mountain;
      for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
      as the waters cover the sea.

Peace and Security through Obedience
Micah 4
1      In days to come
      the mountain of the LORD’S house
      shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
      and shall be raised up above the hills.
      Peoples shall stream to it,
2      and many nations shall come and say:
      “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
      to the house of the God of Jacob;
      that he may teach us his ways
      and that we may walk in his paths.”
      For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
      and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
3      He shall judge between many peoples,
      and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
      they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
      and their spears into pruning hooks;
      nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
      neither shall they learn war any more;
4      but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
      and no one shall make them afraid;
      for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.
5      For all the peoples walk,
      each in the name of its god,
      but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God
      forever and ever.

*The film clip …*

Both Isaiah (the text for today) and Micah (737-696 bce) are 8th Century Prophets, a time wherein the Judean Kings were at their greatest level of power in a kingdom now divided.

After Solomon’s death, his son, Rehoboam, assumed the throne and issued a number of mean-spirited “executive orders” (1 Kings 12.6-11) and so the Kingdom split into Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) … ultimately the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria (722 bce) and the Southern, or Judah, fell to Babylon (587 bce) and led to the “Babylonia Captivity.”

The Northern and Southern Kingdoms were often enemies and combatants. After Israel’s fall (the remnant of which was know in the New Testament as Samaritans (treated by the Jews {Judeans} as half-breeds and spiritually defective). 

Jesus, himself, from the “northern” area, while not a Samaritan, was still considered an outsider to the true land of Judah that saw itself as the pure expression of faith and blood.

By the time of the 8th Century, Israel was gone, so the prophets in our purview are directing their thoughts to the Southern Kingdom, i.e. Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem. 

The prophets grew in influence as the kings/queens grew in power, along with their religious support staff (ha!) … the prophets challenged the kings/queens and the priestly guild of Jerusalem, with all of its pomp and circumstance and its enormous wealth (certainly the case which Jesus addresses time and again). The prophets were bold, frequently in trouble, accused of treason and heresy, suggesting that if Judah continued on its way, it would all end badly.

Yet the prophets also looked to better days … days of peace and prosperity … the peaceable kingdom wherein opposing realities would come together and people were no longer prepping for war, but for peace, and would thus experience a great sense of safety and comfort - not just psychologically or spiritually, but materially, with everyone enjoying their own figs and vines.

All of this and more was in the mind and heart of Dr. King, a man of the Bible, engaged intelligently (as opposed to ideologically, or literally) with the text, and with theologians who tackled the vast social questions and systemic systems of the day, as well as the personal matters that so occupied evangelicalism (i.e. swearing, drinking, dancing, smoking, card playing, theater attendance) … on these good thinkers, like Paul Tillich, Dr. King built his ideas, his resistance and his blueprint for a just society, upon their work, and that of the Prophets, and the Prophet we honor in life and faith, Jesus of Nazareth.

Gandhi, and others, too, were influential … those who worked for peace, but never at the expense of justice, those who saw life in all of its wholeness … and for his work, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and for his work, his faith, his vision, we honor him today.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

All the Free Lunches

"When I look back on my life, what jumps out is how many variables had to fall in place in order to give me a chance" (J.D. Vance, "Hillbilly Elegy," p.239.

Many years ago, a man of considerable success and wealth said to a group of Rotarians, "Life is full of free lunches."

He went on to list so many things and people that simply came to him as gift, out of the blue, if you will, or from the hand of God, as some might say.

A loving home and the wisdom of mindful parents.
Teachers who cared and encouraged and challenged.
The network of family and friends who looked after him.
His own ambition and good health.
His dreams and energy.

Professors who never let him get away with shoddy work.
Folks who helped him get his first job.
The banker who loaned him money, on his word.
And all along the way, people, even strangers, who showed up at the right time.
And all of those fortuitous moments, too numerous to mention, and mostly unknown.

All of these, and more, the free lunches of life.

Here was a wise man who understood that his life was a gift, not a achievement of his own doing, and as such, there was only response, and that was gratitude, immense and all-consuming, gratitude, and the promise, the pledge, to be a free lunch for others.

How it should work, who knows.

Some have the opportunity, but something gets in the way.
A crummy family life.
Poor health.
Bad choices and no one around to cushion the fall.
Who knows?

A spectrum of variables, bits and pieces.

But this much I know, for those who "make it," there's only one legitimate response, gratitude. And maybe a huge amount of humility, as well.

Too many people walk around these days with their arms in a sling, broken arms, for patting themselves so vigorously on the back.

But for the woman or the man who truly understands the millions, even the billions, of variables that had to come together at just the right time so they could make, there is no back-patting, but only open arms and open hands to everyone around them.

And the best we can do is give and keep on giving free lunches.

Government programs, of course.
Personal engagement, you bet.
Financial support for aid organizations, all the way.

And many more moments and variables in which we can play a part for others.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I Like My Kindle, But ...

I like my Kindle.

I use it a lot ...
The Daily Lectionary and the Poem of the Day.

Lots of books, which take up no space;
An important truth when living in a tiny apartment.

If I'm doing the liturgy, I put my prayers on it.
And the many weddings I do.
It's a great tool; I like my Kindle.

But ... (and you knew this was coming).

My wife gave a hardcopy of "Hillbilly Elegy."
And with pen in hand (needed item for me to read),
I'm enjoying this very good book.

Having spent nearly two years in West Virginia,
With the West Virginia Mountain Project, a
Presbyterian Mission started by some women who
Came into the Mountains on mules.
At the turn of the century.
The last century. Ha!

The book touches on so many levels. Describing
Behaviors and values that I encountered in them thar Hills.
And have never forgotten.

But, all that aside (this isn't a book review).
It's fun reading hardcopy.
Underlining easily, making margin notes.
Flipping pages back and forth.

Am I old fashioned?
Who knows.

But this I know for sure.
I like my Kindle.
But ...

I love the feel of a book.
It's heft, it's substantiality.
The way it looks setting on the counter.
And seeing what I've underlined.

In purple ink, no less.