Category Archives: At the Corner of Grace and Damnation

Morality and Sin, Justice and Mercy, Virtue and Vice.

Selma at the Bridge

Much has been made of late about what happened one Sunday morning on a bridge in a town in Alabama. Commemorations have been held, speeches have been given, marches all across the country have been staged and even a major motion picture has been released. It has been big doings all around the country, all around the world. John Lewis young SNCC organizer then, US congressman now, is getting his due recognition finally as a true hero and leader in the movement. Names forgotten in history books are re-emerging in current events as we once again speak about Jimmy Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo. We say today that Bloody Sunday was turning point, a momentous occasion, one that spurred on the passage of the Voting Rights Act and made America a better place. We do not talk about the limp.

In another story, at another river, another man confronted a power greater than himself. His name was Jacob and he wrestled at the river’s edge all through the night with what he thought was a man but what he learned was God. And at the dawn it was God who asked for release and Jacob who made demands for blessing. God granted that blessing and another gift not often mentioned. In the course of the struggle God touched the hip of Jacob, and forever pulled it out of joint. For the rest of his days, Jacob, now named Israel (He who has striven with God and with men, and has prevailed) would walk with a limp, a reminder of the cost and continuing nature of struggle.

On that Sunday, Bloody Sunday, in Alabama men again struggled long, wrestling with God and man. And again did our Jacobs prevailed and would not release their opponent until they were blessed. But on our bridge stood not just one man or even a few, but many. As history would tell hence, an entire nation stood on that bridge and wrestled with itself, with its aspirations and in the end received both its blessing and its limp. Just as Jacob paid a price for victory that one day in a struggle that was ongoing, so too have we paid a price for our struggle at our river. People died in the struggle at Selma and in all the days since. Others across the days and years would lie wounded, bloody, and forever changed.

While now we as a people still walk, we are reminded again and again it is no graceful gait with which we move but a crooked cadence, given to stumbles and imbalance. Tragically we still walk this world surrounded by ignorance, want, and cruelties both petty and great. Often we fall and often we find it harder and harder to rise,

And yet…

Still we do rise and even with the limp we still walk, we still struggle on, we still wrestle with the wild God and we still demand our blessing.

For it is in the struggle we find the victory, it is in the wounding we find the healing and it is in the demand we may grant sweet release.

Amen and blessed be.

THIS I BELIEVE

Knowledge and wisdom are changing things. Each in its own revelation turns and turns and turns again. No one glance at a precious gem can ever define completely its beauty and so it is true of the knowing of anything and all things. Understanding sits on a fog that rolls, that ebbs and flows; that obscures and reveals as it will. We must be vigilant in order to see what is revealed when the fog rolls back. We must be practiced in imagining what could be just behind the veil when the fog rolls in.

We are creatures of gathering, more the gazelle than the leopard. We come together because we must, but we stay together because we choose. We can demand our presence be accepted in the company of others, whether they wish to have us or not, and grow weeds of resentment and loathing. Or we can choose to come into the company of others under mutual agreement and grow the connections of interdependence and empathy and love. It is our choice, freely made, that makes real relationships of equality, justice, and ultimately grace.

We are existential architects of our destiny. We are not kites held by the strings of others and blown by the winds of fate, but sailors who harness the wind and guide our ships as we will. We plot our course. We pick our destination. We navigate among sea and stars. Terrestrial and cosmic currents flow as they will but we discover how best to use them to forward our journey.

We are called to build the kingdom. We can build that place where caring is encouraged and connection is praised. We can build that place where we feed each other and no one goes hungry. We can build that place where sanctuary is not just shelter but a practiced prayer of protection of others and humility for self.
We do the things of life; we strive for the bettering of life, because we long for warmer suns and kinder hearts. We engineer changes in the environs of life, for we are a species aware of promise, aware of potential, and that awareness births in every newborn an aspiration known as hope. Sometimes hope is good and sometimes hope is bad, but in all things, hope is present. Hope is the gateway to the easing of suffering and strife. Hope is why we love, why we birth, why we struggle on.

These are things I believe. As a list, they are incomplete for life is a continuous thing, ever changing, ever evolving. As a starting point, they are strong and good. They are also hard and sometimes I fall short of the glory, but in grace and faith, I choose to struggle on. I choose vigilance. I choose mutual assent and good accord. I choose my path and responsibility for it. I choose working to build the community I wish to see.

I choose hope.

I choose love.

RELIGION

“Religion is as a finger pointing to the moon. And most people live and die believing in the finger.” This quote I have seen attributed to Buddha and also Lao Tzu. Maybe both said it, maybe neither. The sentence is still true.
Reza Aslan (author of ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth) put it like this, “Religion was never meant to be an end, but a means to an end.”
I think we sometimes lose sight of the fact that prophets are messengers of prophecy, not the prophecy itself. We forget that the Burning Bush, the Voice of God, did not make itself known to Moses so that Moses could see a really cool thing, but because there was a message that Moses needed to hear. Admonitions against images of Mohammad are not rules made for the sake of rules. I think, and please anyone who knows for sure feel free to correct me if I am wrong, that the reason images of the Prophet are severely constrained is so that believers will not come to worship Mohammad or rather the image of Mohammad instead of hearing and living the message. Jesus, throughout the gospel is referred to as the son of man. His life was about spreading the message, not him being praised and flattered.
Today, many of us like to praise God, and that’s fine, but we need to remember God doesn’t need our praise, we are suppose to praise and revere the holy to keep US mindful of the Way, the Truth, and the Light. We aren’t supposed to worship and testify to prove that we believe all the right things, that we are all in the right church, that we all can pat ourselves of the back and be proud and puffed up in our righteousness.
It is in humility that we come into the presence of the Sacred and its grace.
It is in reverence that we speak our testimony
It is in our imperfection, we enter into grace.
it isn’t about us or proving to others how holy we are, how right we are in our religion but about the message, about the life lived, about the work we do, about building the kingdom.
Regardless of the way you pray or in what building you worship, are you holding true to the message? Are you living the faith? Are you beholding the moon, or manicuring the finger?

Finding Bread

“I’m just a beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread.”

I first heard this saying from a priest who was running a college outreach program back in the 1980s, and it has never strayed far from my mind. I think it stayed with me because of the man who said. Father Steve was an easy going guy with a quick wit, a boyish face, and an inviting personality. He wasn’t much of papal dictates. He was more concerned about keeping people’s lights turned on, getting a four way stop on a dangerous corner, or making sure that bad grades, unexpected pregnancy, or some other one of life’s hiccups didn’t send kids to the top the clock tower to practice their swan dive. He lived in the real world and he lived a real religion. He didn’t do the hell-fire and brimstone sermons I was accustomed to from my youth. He said he was too busy doing work in this world to do God’s job, which was taking care of the next.

Father Steve has since gone on to where the good people go when their work is done, when they have finished their course.

He retired and moved to Florida.

But his words remain.

“I’m just a beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread.”

People of liberal religious faith would do well to remember the words of Father Steve, In our quest to be accepting and open-minded and non-judgmental, we keep to ourselves our religion, our place where we have found bread. We find disquieting, and for good reason, the practice of proselytizing, of trying to threaten or cajole a person away from their beliefs and into ours. So we do not speak of what we believe, what we find moral and why, what we find sustaining and uplifting. So we remain to most people suspicious and possibly cult-ish. Our religion can be seen as either a commune of hippies or possibly the Manson Family with a dash of Jim Jones. This is not a true picture, but If we refuse to even pick up the camera then how can we ever focus the shot?

Evangelizing is not proselytizing. Telling someone that the reason you are helping to build a habitat house is not just because you care about housing people, but also because the faith you have chosen demands you do for others is no sin. Answering questions asked of you in a forthright manner, wearing your church t-shirt when participating in civic life, Inviting a friend to Sunday service are all things you could and should do. If your faith has brought you joy, brought you peace, simple saying that is no vice. You take your sustenance from your faith, you have found your bread. Simply stating that the bread is there for those not filled somewhere else is not a bad thing

It could be a saving grace.

‪#‎ItsYallTurnNow‬

My life is not your teaching moment.
My tears are not yours to drink.
My pain is not here to grow your empathy.
My words are not your thoughts to think

White folks, it’s your turn now
To take up your cross and walk
To do your work of justice
To stand up in your world and talk

I will not leave you forsaken
I will still include you in my prayers
but I will not do your work for you
I will not ease your cares

It’s your turn now to bear the fear
Of facing the demon called Race
It’s your turn now to stand and fight
And set your own healing pace

We can stand beside each other
And build the Kingdom grand
But we cannot be actor and spectator
And expect to save this land.

So take your stand and do your work
Stare down your fear, don’t blink
My life is not your teaching moment.
My tears are not yours to drink.

An Act of Prayer

Let’s face it.

My tossing a soda can in a recycle bin will not stop global warming, will not stop the depletion of finite resources nor will it make Rush Limbaugh just go away.

And yet I do it.

My turning a light out in a room, even if I’m only going to be gone a few minutes won’t make a dent in the electric bill, won’t stop Progress Energy from using coal fired plants instead solar panels and windmills, and it also won’t make Rush Limbaugh just go away.

And yet I do it.

So why do I do it?

As an act of prayer.

See, the little things I do aren’t meant to change the world, they are meant to change me. They make me mindful, thoughtful, and invested. And if I do them long enough, they not only change my mind, but they change my heart, they grow my soul.

So when I come into communion and fellowship with others, we can be of one accord. We can be a people united. We can be a collective for change. Together, we just might make all the Rush Limbaughs of the world go away.

So do separate the trash and cut out the light and all the other little things that don’t change the world. Then go out in world together with others and in one accord, do the big things that do change world, that bring about beloved community, that build the Kingdom.

A Word on Shaming the Devil

A Word on Shaming the Devil

“Speak the truth and shame the devil!”
I heard this saying all the time I was growing up. It was usually said as an affirmation of agreement with some previous statement and that previous statement was usually a pronouncement of some now obvious truth that before either those present had overlooked or more often had purposely avoided.
It was never about a guy in a red cape with horns, a goatee, and a pitchfork.
In our day to day lives, we often avoid the truth, it’s easier that way. In avoiding that truth, we allow the petty cruelties of life to fester and kill us all by tiny cuts. Evil lives in the willful blindness we practice when we look the other way. Our own devils dwell in our silent acquiescence to small and large tyrannies of the status quo and travesties of justice.
But when we break from our go-along-to-get-along mentality and say in truth “This is wrong,” we shame the devils of silent compliance and blind obedience and make them smaller, take their power, and expose their evil.
We grow our souls this way. We grow our faith this way. We build the Kingdom this way.
As the people of Ferguson continue today to speak their truth, let us all do the same. With them and in our own lives, let us all strive for a love supreme, a holy truth, and a soul salved in a Balm of Gilead.
SPEAK THE TRUTH AND SHAME THE DEVIL!