Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Few Thoughts on the March

            I’ve had a number of people say to me, “Man, aren’t those who marched in the Women’s March sore losers. What do they even want? Why would they protest? Why won’t they tell us what they want?”
            Well, first off, check out their website. Also, read this, this, this and this, just to get a sense of why individuals marched. For that matter, if you’re still confused, take a look at a few of their signs to get a sense of why they used their first amendment rights.

The Hats say it all
            They’re wearing pink cat hats, reminding America that we elected this guy:
            Again, we elected this guy. Our choice was between the first woman president and a guy who brags about sexually assaulting women… and that guy is now president. If you can’t understand why that is distressing to a whole bunch of people, especially to women, then you are being willfully blind.
            Remember what a difference having a Black President made for young people of color, that the Obama era raised the ceiling on their aspirations. Well, I can only imagine what glass ceilings the Trump era will construct over the heads our young girls.

Abortion and Planned Parenthood
            Trump is a transactional guy—he isn’t above the carrot and the stick—and he promised Evangelicals the repeal of Roe V. Wade if they elected him. As we saw yesterday his VP was the highest official ever to attend the annual anti-abortion rally. It is reasonable for women to make their voices known, letting the country know that they want safe access to abortion and they don’t want to be held hostage by their body in a way men never can be.
            On top of that, the president keeps demonizing Planned Parenthood, an organization that most women have received medical care from at one time or another. They are saying with a loud voice: “I was screened for Ovarian Cancer there, I get my contraception there, they diagnosed the STD my ex-fiancĂ© gave me, and when I was raped they helped me through hell.”

Immigrants and Refugees
            They marched to affirm that America, at its best, welcomes those seeking a better life and those running for their life. One of the saddest stories in our history is our shameless refusal to grant German Jews asylum from the horrors of Nazi Germany. Bluntly put, the choice the President made regarding refugees from Syria and other Muslim countries means many innocent people will be sent back to their home countries and killed. Their blood is on our hands. Surely raising your voice in lament of this choice is justified.

            You’ll notice among those signs at the march quite a few involved Putin and Trump, and Trump’s tax returns. It is disturbing that Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, initially he said he’d do so after the campaign, now he’s announced he will never release them. If we can’t see if he is in hock to the Russian Government—which most people in the know suggest he is—we can’t assess if he’s making decisions to benefit America or those to whom he is indebted. This is worth protesting about.

            I could go on, talk about BLM and the ACA and pipelines, arrest of journalists, and so on, but at this point it should be pretty obvious, this is more than sour grapes. The protestors have real concerns. They are being at least as patriotic as those who do not march—more so even, I would say, they are continuing to engage in the democratic process, which has always involved more than simply a vote every few years.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of "They Are Us"

They Are Us: Lutherans and ImmigrationThey Are Us: Lutherans and Immigration by Stephen P. Bouman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“They Are Us” is a book reflecting on immigration by officials from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It engages with the question of immigration and the lives of immigrants with great kindness. Unfortunately, it was written in 2009, and looking back on these writings now it feels like we’ve crossed some sort of Rubicon, and the insights are written from a much less polarized time.
That’s not to say “They Are Us” isn’t worth reading. Maybe even the voices of the recent past can call us back to a more faithful witness.
One of the central questions asked in the book is about how 9/11 changed how we do immigration here in the USA. The question is: “What kind of community is emerging from ground zero?”
The book spends some time looking at the biblical witness around faithfully ministering to and being immigrants. It looks at the history of immigration in the USA, taking a long view that can shake off some of our recent myopic views.
It tells stories of immigrants to the US both past and present, and ends with examples of churches engaging with immigrant communities well (and becoming immigrant communities).
The focus of the book is on the meaning of immigration, but it does eventually get to four concrete ways immigration reform can be faithful. It must respect family unity, ensure human and worker rights, make sure immigrants can live without fear, and create a path to permanent legal status for immigrants.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon: The Kingdom of Heaven Calls

          I started that phone call, “Mom, please don’t hang up, this isn’t a joke.”

          I’d flown from Oregon to San Fransciso to  Milwaukee to JKF to Heathrow International Airport in London—I presented my documentation to the Immigration agent—only to be told that since I left the UK 3 months previous they had changed their policy on issuing student visas in country
—it could only be done at a consulate or embassy in the United States.
          So, they took my luggage from me, marched me down to this basement facility, through a cage door, made me empty my pockets, led me through a re-enforced steel door, and into a waiting room with a bunch of Iraqi refugees and a businessman from New York. There was this TV on the wall playing re-runs of Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules on loop.
I’d already been up for well over 24 hours, but I tried to stay wake, it was a strange and scary place, I mean what self-respecting West Coaster wants to be locked up with a New York Businessman, right?...
But eventually I passed out in the chair.

          Some time later a guard shook me awake and took me back out to an office with a telephone—I got one phone call—and called my parents back in the US, “Mom, please don’t hang up, this isn’t a joke.”
          It was the middle of the night for them, but they jumped to, figuring out which flight I was being deported on (they sent me to Chicago), cancelling all their plans and driving cross country to be there when I drug myself off that airplane back onto US soil.
          They were my parents, they couldn’t help but respond when I called.
          So too, we can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.

          We can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.
And that can be messy, and costly.
When it called John, he was called to a hard and thankless task,
calling people to repentance, including, ultimately, his own ruler, Herod Antipas, who had him jailed and later executed.
          Throughout Christian history confrontation with the powers that be, and the consequences that follow, is a common occurrence
—from Justin Martyr’s explanation of the faith to the emperor of Rome to the early Lutheran church presenting the Augsburg Confession to the Holy Roman Emperor,
--from Dr. King’s famed letter from a Birmingham Jail confronting segregation and white apathy to Christian resistance to repression by the Stasi in communist East Germany.
          Yes, we can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.

          Now, in today’s Gospel Geography is important, Jesus moves to Capernaum—and in so doing calls it to the future promised in Isaiah
—Isaiah write of Galilee as occupied and in need of a rescue only God could bring
--and that Rescue comes, as God’s rescue always does, and as Paul writes, foolishly and hidden behind the cross.
          This region occupied by Assyria 700 years before Jesus’ birth, and constantly a place pointing to national humiliation, is where the Messiah takes up residence, and he redeems it, not with conquest, or plunder, or religious war,
but through a steady call of,
by calling people to be his disciples,
through teaching,
and healing
—this is how the Kingdom Comes.
That’s the foolish saving message of the Kingdom—that’s the power of God!
Whenever you get discouraged sisters and brothers
—when the work seems small
—feeding a few hungry people at the Y,
grieving together and getting through,
sending letters of welcome to your new neighbors,
going to a park with the kids to talk about God’s love
this is how the Kingdom comes!

We can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.
Look no further than Peter, Andrew, James, and John
—they leave nets and boat and father
—they follow Jesus
—follow him into this kingdom work
—this work that for three years never leaves that tiny and tumultuous sea of Galilee.
Back on their boats, again among their family
—they still do Kingdom work, and it builds even to this very day!

We can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.
If I was creating the lectionary I would make sure we read verses 23-24 too, because, as I said before, geography is important. They read thus: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. His fame spread throughout Syria… and great crowds followed him from Galilee, the 10 Gentile cities, Jerusalem, Judea and the land of the Nabataeans.”
Jesus lives in Capernaum, his back yard is the sea of Galilee
—he has access to Syria,
the 10 pagan cities, Samaria,
and parts south.
Different peoples and nationalities in each place.
(It’s kind of like what we have right here—North Plainfield, South Plainfield, and Plainfield, each in a different county. The Plainfields, Edison, and Metuchen—all so close together, yet each a distinct identity, and too often separate.)
The rule of God calls ALL people
—the Kingdom of Heaven divides our divisions—
no longer, is the great problem, the great division, between those who can trace their heritage to before the age of Isaiah, and those who are interlopers.
No, the call of the Kingdom of Heaven
—the presence of Jesus
—requires a response, and that response is the important thing,
where we sit in relationship to the reign of God
—that’s the important thing.
It’s kinda like what Paul is talking about
—those divisions,
who baptized you,
if you are Apollo’s gal or Cephas’, whether you come from Jerusalem or Syria
—it doesn’t matter
--you are one in Christ
… the Kingdom has called you!

You needed a cure and Christ came,
you were sick and Jesus healed you,
you needed good news, and there it was
You wanted to know about the Kingdom and it called.

We can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls
—it’s call is more urgent than a transatlantic phone call that starts, “Mom, please don’t hang up, this isn’t a joke.”
It will call us to hard and unpopular things—the right thing even when it appears wrong to everyone else.
Call us to tasks that seem far from heroic or extra-ordinary—yet they are signs of the Kingdom.
Call us to leave everything behind and pick it all back up again with new purpose.
Call us to Unity in Christ.