Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thankful for Dr. King's words

I can't tell you how many times I've thought about the following quote by Dr. M.L. King...

When I was in sixth grade I was chosen to recite this well-known quote in for a musical that we were performing at my school called, "Kids for America". While I was excited about the singing and dancing and having a chance to have a speaking part in the play, this quote rattle around my young mind in a way that no other words had before.

I grew up in a tiny town in western Pennsylvania and the community was lily white. There was no racial diversity to see or speak of. The only significant differences I recognized were religious ones, and this only happened because the kids who were Catholic were dismissed early on Fridays so they could attend Catechism Class. From my perspective I could not understand why I could not go to class with my Catholic friends to Religious Ed - after all, I loved Jesus too!

The unifying power of Dr. King's words cut through my homogeneous environment. I longed to have friends that were different from me. I wished that there could be a way, for me, to join in Dr. King's call to stop judgement based on skin color or religious perspective. I wanted to be a part of the whole human community in it's difficulty, it's difference and it's diversity. In my small town in western Pennsylvania I longed for equality for all people.

While I probably could not articulate this so clearly as a child, what I could do was recite Dr. King's words with passion and sincerity. The emotion of this longing for equality for all people rattled in my heart and came out of my mouth. Dr. King's words freed me to speak, even from my own space of unknown privilege, about the truth that sets all people free.

This freedom for all and freedom from judgement based on external and uncontrollable qualities is not a simple task to achieve.  In light of recent days we know that differences have been the cause of great grief, loss and destruction. In this time more than ever, we need to bring challenges in the world to the space where Dr. King's words brought us over forty years ago. We all need a refresher lesson in valuing people.

Who do we think we are to decide that one group of people is better than another? 
Who do we think we are to assume that one group or another is wholly evil or intent on the destruction of others? 
Who do we think we are to think that respect for human life is only a quality accessible for some and not others?

Justice, respect, protection and cherishing human life can't be sequestered to speeches from days passed by. These principles need to be the foundation we walk upon until bigotry is a thing of the past.

In another section of Dr. King's 'I have a dream' speech is the following statement...

We may think our accounts for justice are empty, but I refuse to believe this. Dr. King refused to believe this. Will you refuse to believe this too?

Justice for all needs to bring all people back into a sense of balance, respect and dreams filled with hope for each persons future - regardless of skin color, religious perspective or other aspect of diversity. The dream of Dr. King needs to become reality.

To listen to the entire 'I have a dream' speech by Dr. King, please visit American Rhetoric

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thankful for throwing bread

When one hears about food being thrown around, we often think back to elementary or middle school food fights. You would probably agree that food fights are wasteful, messy and ridiculous.

This is not the kind of food throwing that I refer to.

Several years ago, I read a story about two communities of Christians that were separated by to very high wall. The wall was too high to see over, but one day a person walked by the wall and heard a familiar hymn being sung. The music lofted over the wall and the person realized that even though there was a wall between the groups that they had something in common - their faith in Jesus Christ.

The person was so excited about hearing the people on the other side of the wall singing and worshiping, that he gathered some friends from his church and went to listen for sounds of their worship. As they had hoped, they heard the singing and joined in singing with them. Even with the wall between them, the two groups of Christians were united in song.

Over time the two groups continued to worship together and even figured out a way to share communion together. After the bread and wine had been blessed, the people on one side of the wall would shout, "The body of Christ, given for you!" and would throw the bread over the wall to share it with their friends. In return, the wine was placed in a plastic jug and tossed over the wall to be shared with the words, "The blood of Christ, shed for you!".

In spite of the wall and limitations for these two communities of faith to work together, through communion, they were united as one.

Image from First Lutheran Albany, NY

The impact of this story becomes greater when we learn what their location was. One group was in the state of Texas and the other was in Mexico. While these two groups spoke different languages, lived in different countries, and were separated by a wall lined with barbed wire and attended by border patrols - these two groups were made one in and through Christ.

Making these kinds of connections with others different from the group we are comfortable with is challenging, but when hearing how two communities with so many challenges to become united succeeded, makes our challenges seem easier to overcome.

Isaiah 50:4 reads as follows:
"The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,[a]
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught."

The prophet Isaiah was called by God to speak up for the widows and orphans and to call Israel back into relationship with God. The successful delivery of this message required that the prophet's and people's eyes, ears, and mouths (tongue) be receptive. Just as the people of Israel needed open ears and eyes to speak the message of God's promises; we also need God's help the see, hear and speak too.

This kind of transformation is not something we "do" on our own. We need God to give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and mouths to speak the good news of Jesus Christ to our neighbors. Our first efforts in sharing this good news, might not look graceful or beautiful. The beginning efforts to share with others may look more like a middle school cafeteria food fight. Ministry can be messy work, but God promises to walk with us in it.

This is why I'm thankful for stories like the Mexican church and the American Church that became united in worship - in spite of the wall that divided them. With Christ's help, walls become a new way of living out the call to worship and mission. With Christ's help, our ears hear songs that connect us with people who are different and we learn in Christ those differences are a gift. In this season of Advent leading to Christmas, we long for hope, peace, joy and love. With God's help - hope, peace, joy and love can be heard, seen and shared and the walls that divide us, can and will be removed.

Walk in the light this Advent asking for God's help to see, hear and speak hope, peace, joy and love to your neighbor and the neighbor you are yet to meet.

Note: Original story of the churches with a wall between them was told by Shane Claiborne from The Simple Way community in Philadelphia, PA.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Chowder Thankfulness

Chowder, in its Western-New-York unique way, is something simple and wonderful. In the parish I serve, chowder is a part of the monthly community ritual that has come down from generation to generation to do what chowder does best - feed the hungry and connect people.

While it may not be surprising for those that know me, but I love to connect with people AND I love food. So earlier tonight, when I was invited to stay for a bowl of chowder at a church member's home - I was delighted and the recipient of a lovely blessing.

The chowder was wonderful. The carrots, potatoes, celery and corn danced in a tomato broth with tender pieces of chicken and beef dancing around my spoon. I heard about the origin of the recipe for this "chowder", I met some of the family's extended members, I learned how chowder was and is woven into the humble but persistent culture of feeding people with food and friendship.

The space this chowder dinner created allowed all around the table to share stories of hope and challenge - and fill my own need to be "with" people.

It did not pass my attention either, that there was an empty place at the table...
it reminded me of the fact that there a many people that long for a community to sit and eat and share life with. This space also reminded me of a tradition some have to leave a place vacant at the dinner table as a reminder that God is there with us.

I am thankful for chowder dinner.
I am thankful for having a place at the table.
I pray that all find a table to share with someone and I'm amazed how God is always present - even when I take it for granted.