Wednesday, November 26, 2014

THE CRIES OF RACHEL


THE CRIES OF RACHEL

The events of this week are making it hard for me to face Thanksgiving. It’s hard to settle into the warmth of hearth and home when the world outside is filled with violence and injustice. I’m finding it hard to shut out the cries around me.

Seeking comfort, I found myself turning to a most unusual scripture for this time of year. It is one which is read right after Christmas day. And I mean right after. We barely say the Amen on “Joy to the World” before we encounter a most disturbing historical account of violence found in Matthew 2:13-23.

You see, Herod, who was a front man of the Roman empire, ruled over Israel. When Jesus was born, word got to him that others were calling Jesus the King of the Jews. He sent wise men to see the boy. Herod told them it was so that he could honor him, but really he wanted to know his whereabouts so he could kill him. The wise men, after laying their gifts before Jesus, are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and Jesus’ father Joseph is always warned in a dream to flee with his family. When Herod learned that he had been outwitted, he ordered the murder of every boy in Bethlehem under the age of two. This is known as the Slaughter of the Innocence and fulfills the prophesy of Jeremiah:

 
 
A sound was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children,
    Rachel refusing all comfort,
Her children gone, dead and buried

Rachel, weeping for her children who are gone, dead and buried.

There is a steady drumbeat of violence in this country. A war has been declared in America, and the enemy has been labeled by skin color. A war specifically being waged against black and brown men. Ferguson or Fruitvale, New York City or St. Louis or Los Angeles or San Jose. Too many black and brown men have lost their lives by the very ones who are supposed to protect them.

I can’t get out of my head the sound of Rachel, Rachel who will not be consoled. Rachel who is weeping for her children who are gone, dead and buried.

How can we comfort Rachel? How can we push back on the pandemic of racism in this country, one that was literally written into the constitution? Earlier this fall, Glide’s Associate Pastor Angela Brown and I had a meeting in Little Rock, and we stopped into Central High School, a National Historic site where the Little Rock 9 broke down a color barrier and ignited a fire storm, simply by going to school. It was at the visitors center that highlights of the Constitution were presented, a reminder that from the very birth of this nation, racial inequality was the law of the land.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed this fact out in 1967, and his words are hauntingly true nearly 50 years later: “When the constitution was written, it declared that the Negro was 60% of a white person.  Today, another formula seems to declare that he is merely 50% of a person.  Of all the good things in life he has approximately one-half those of whites, of the bad he has twice those of whites.”

There continues to be a racial divide in this country, and it remains just as deadly as it did from the start of this country. If you don’t believe it, if you no longer pay any mind when another young man of color is gunned down, just listen for the cries of Rachel,  for her sobbing is all around us.

This is specifically for my white brothers and sisters: because for many of us who live comfortably and even blindly with the privilege that comes from our white skin, too many of us want to stick our head in the sand and pretend that we live in a post-racial society. We hear our black and brown brothers and sisters tell of their racist treatment and we often interrupt and say, “It’s not really like that any more.” Or “You should see what happened to me.”

Thank God that prophets like Jeremiah, who help us remove our blindfolds and unstop our ears, still are walking around in our day and age, because we need them more now than ever before. Hear these words from one of the great prophets of our day:
 
video
 

Racism isn’t an inconvenient social construct.  It is a deadly way to control others. Herod killed the babies of Bethlehem because he was afraid, afraid of Jesus’ power. So he killed innocent ones to keep himself feeling safe.

When we refuse to hear the truth of the lived experiences of others, we become Herods, exercising power over others as a way to keep ourselves safe. And as a result, there are a lot of Rachels weeping over the deaths of their babies.

I will never forget the day I realized that my walk in the world was different from that of my friend of color. In college, one of my professors (yes, one) was black. Every day he came to class dressed so dapper. In an era when jeans and flannel shirts were the rule, he stood out by his three piece suits and hat, even though he was only about 5 years older than the students he taught. He told us about how not once, not twice, but nearly every time he drove through the town to get to work, he would be pulled over by police. This wasn’t Birmingham in the 50’s, it was New Jersey in the 70’s. And whether with a colleague or his children, he would suffer the indignity of the police asking him to step out of the car for questioning. His crime? Guilty while driving black.

This busted open my world. Made me see my own privilege, and began my commitment to be an ally in the dismantling of racism.

But we still have so much work to do and it will require all of us.

From Birmingham of the 50s to New Jersey in the 70s to San Francisco in the 2010s. Just a few months ago I was nearly to the door of Glide when a taxi pulled out and one of our church's matriarchs--who is black--literally fell into my arms sobbing. I asked what was wrong and she said she had been standing at the curb at the Ferry Building for 45 minutes, trying to hail a cab. Literally hundreds passed her by without stopping. Finally, a white man noticed what was going on and asked if he could help. He raised his hand and immediately a cab stopped.

Rachel is weeping. Rachel is weeping.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had an interesting perspective on why the struggle for racial equality seems never ending while the gains in lgbtq equality have seem to leap forward in a relatively short time span. She said:

“Once [gay] people began to say who they were, you found that it was your next-door neighbor or it could be your child, and we found people we admired,” she said. “That understanding still doesn’t exist with race; you still have separation of neighborhoods, where the races are not mixed. It’s the familiarity with people who are gay that still doesn’t exist for race and will remain that way for a long time as long as where we live remains divided.”

Some have noted that while once the most segregated time in America is no longer Sundays at 11am, but it is noon lunch hour at work.

Proximity doesn’t breed contempt, distance does.  Proximity  breeds a familiarity that gives birth to  empathy.

How can we comfort the crying Rachels and make a world of opportunity and life for all people, including black and brown young men?

I was speaking at a conference recently, and one of the other speakers was from Zimbabwe. He told me about the traditional greeting in Zimbabwe which he says has no real English (and I would dare say American) equivalent. It is called “Chabadza” and it is always said when you pass someone and it means something like, “Hello, can I help?”

Unlike here, where we say without even meaning it, “Hi, how are you?” in Zimbabwe they mean it. He said to me,  “When we say Chabadza, what we mean is ‘Greetings! Let me stop a while and help you with what you’re doing. We will work together and we’ll talk a bit and then I’ll be on my way.”

Chabadza is the sharing of a moment, a participation in the task at hand and an acknowledgment that life is best when it is shared.

Life is best when it is shared. As long as we live in silos that separate us by our differences, we don’t get to enjoy the best of life and in fact life turns deadly for those who are feared because of differences.

What would it mean for you to practice chabadza in your office, in your community, as you walk down the street. How would your living change if you took the time to look others in the eye and say "Let me join you, side by side work with you, so I can learn from you and make your walk in this world a bit easier."

This is what it means to comfort the Rachels who are crying. This is our task as we work for racial equality. This is what we must do to stop the flow of blood of our young men. This is what is required of us as children of God.

Chabadza. Hello. How can I help?

 

 

Monday, May 12, 2014

WE ARE THE VILLAGE






Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

And so they laid down for a good night’s rest
Terrorists came in, they were taken in the night
Who will be their voice, who will put up a fight?
Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

 Two brown kids walk home from school one day
Their undocumented parents work hard and pray
When they get to their home, Something’s not right
 Their parents are gone, they were taken by ICE
 
Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

 A child is bullied in the school playgroundToo dark, too light, to gay, too round
The words they hurt, they cut like a knife
The only option she can see, is to take her own life

Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!
 

A child is hungry and dreams of meat
But the cupboards are bare there is nothing to eat
This isn’t just happening so far away
There are hungry children in the US of A
Where is the village?
Here is the village!
here is the village?

We are the village!

A child now lives with a great deal of fright
Because her dad comes to her room at night
The very one who should try to protect her
Has now become a monster by being her molester

Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!


There are kids in your apartment or living down the street
Their future already feels so obsolete
Won’t you take a moment, to let them know you care
It’s the simple things we do that wash away despair
Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What a Difference a Decade Makes!


What a difference a decade makes!

Ten years ago today, I received a call from one of my parishioners who gave me the most surprising news: the City and County of San Francisco was issuing marriage licenses! He barely took a breath before informing me that he and his partner were on their way to City Hall and then asking if I would meet them there and marry them.

When I arrived at City Hall, it was as if I was stepping into a dream world: A line had begun to form as word got that legal marriage was now available to gay and lesbian couples. Gay couples, lesbian couples and straight couples were taking their places throughout the building to exchange vows. The joy in that building was overwhelming.

San Francisco was transformed during our “Winter of Love.” So many of our neighbors and friends were married. Many of the couples had been together for years, had even had civil and holy unions. Yet it was not until they received their marriage certificates that their relationships gained equal footing with straight couples: families who in the past referred to their son and his “friend” proudly claimed him now as a son-in-law. Co-workers who were indifferent after holy unions quickly put together wedding showers for newlyweds. It was clear that marriage was an
Officiating at the first legal wedding for a gay couple
 in a United Methodist Church
important step in the long road to equality.

By the time that window of legal marriage was over in San Francisco, I had married 9 couples related to my congregation. I had the privilege of officiating at the first legal marriage between a gay couple to be performed in a United Methodist Church. Our congregation joined the rest of the City in celebrating the way the love between a couple spills out into the larger community to bless us all.

As a theologian, I couldn’t help but see God…EVERYWHERE. The scriptures tell us that “God is love, and love is of God.” With the amount of love that was celebrated in San Francisco during that brief legal window, God was simply busting out all over!

Not everyone saw it that way. I soon had an official ecclesial complaint filed against me, for performing the marriage in a church. Mayor Gavin Newsom was derided as a renegade. The rest of the country simply shook their heads, “Those crazy folks in San Francisco…”

Ten years later and the Defense of Marriage Act is dead. Marriages have resumed not only in San Francisco and California, but in states across the US, with the number of states offering marriage to all loving couples increasing exponentially. And a review of Gavin Newsom’s political record has changed from labelling him a renegade to a progressive, forward-thinking Democrat.

The complaint against me was dropped, but now other colleagues in other states bear the heavy burden of choosing to be a pastor to all their parishioners or obeying an unjust church law that forbids pastors from officiating at the weddings of their gay and lesbian parishioners. For me, it was and continues to be no contest: I will always choose the side of love, for that is where God resides.

 

Monday, December 2, 2013

A PRAYER FOR WORLD AIDS DAY



PRAYER FOR WORLD AIDS DAY
Loving and gracious God, as we begin this observance of World AIDS Day, we pause to gather our spirits together as One. We are a people who have walked through the wilderness of disease and uncertainty, of loss and grief.  In the years since HIV/AIDS first impacted our world, we have had our hearts broken in more ways than we can count. We have companioned loved ones through their final days, holding them, crying with them, tending to their needs with great love and tenderness.
We ask you to share your love and tenderness with us. For even as tremendous strides have been made in battling this disease, there are times when we, too, need a loving touch, a warm embrace, a word of hope.
We come this day to remember: we remember those early years of the epidemic when it felt like all we were doing was going to funerals; we remember the many friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short too soon, whose names are inscribed on our hearts; we remember the strength of a community that found its voice and power, to not only care for the dying but fight for the living; we remember in spite of the fear those who acted up and spoke out to get the attention of a nation that preferred to ignore the disease; we remember courageous lives, moving through their final days with dignity.
We come this day to renew ourselves, to sit in the tranquil beauty of this place and remember that life and death and new life are a continuous cycle found not only in the natural world but also the spiritual world. We come bringing our sighs that are too deep for words into this observance, knowing that here our weary souls might find rest; we come to gather again as a community that has learned the truth: that we can do more good in the world together than we can alone.

Through remembering and renewal, we find the strength, power, and inspiration to recommit ourselves in the battle against HIV/AIDS, for there are still so many who suffer. Because of fear and bigotry, because of poverty and politics, too many face this illness alone, without the support of loved ones, without education or needed medications. We come together to stand in solidarity with those around the world, who are in need of the work of our hands and the labors of our hearts.
We remember this day the child in South Africa, the young person in Brazil, the woman in Southeast Asia, the man in the Tenderloin. For them, for all those who have passed, for those who live with HIV/AIDS, for at-risk and vulnerable communities, we know that we must continue to make education and health care accessible and affordable for all, to work for a world of zero discrimination, zero new transmissions, zero aids related deaths, and to eradicate of the stigma of AIDS.
Be with us as we honor the heroes and sheroes among us, knowing that there are countless, nameless others who have lived lives of service and compassion without hesitation or reservation. May we, too, stand as tall and strong as the trees that surround us, may we allow our light and love to shine in the darkest places, rekindling connection and hope. In this way, may healing and wholeness spill from our hearts to those in need.
Our Holy Friend and Comforter, we pray in the assurance that you hear all our prayers, whether spoken aloud or held in the quiet place within our hearts. Amen.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Welcome, Everyone?

When I was the associate dean at Pacific School of Religion, I attended Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley. It was an odd thing to move from the pulpit to the pew and be a worshipper rather than a leader. It provided a perspective that I am grateful for, now that I have moved back to parish ministry.

I hadn't realized how hungry my soul was for spiritual nourishment, which was usually fulfilled within the first five minutes of worship, when the children came forward and sang, "Welcome, everyone, to the love of God!"

I was so grateful to be a part of a church that truly embraced these words. God's love was extended to a diverse congregation that included people of all races, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations and gender identities. Families of all sorts were welcomed to be a part of this faith family. And, after one glance around the sanctuary by the end of the song, all knew that they were embraced by the love of God.

This week was not a good news week for The United Methodist Church. Rev. Frank Schaefer, a member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, was tried, convicted and sentenced for extending the love of God to his son. There is a cognitive dissonance that runs deep in that last sentence. One of the greatest joys of a parent is to see their child get married. That joy is heightened for clergy parents, who sometimes get the great honor of performing the ceremony. All that a parent has tried to convey about God's gift of love is wrapped up in that moment when their child says, "I do."

Welcome, everyone, to the love of God.

While most pastors would get a round of congratulations from their bishop and colleagues for officiating at their child's wedding, Rev. Schaeffer got slapped with a complaint which led to the trial, simply because his son happens to be gay.

The language the prosecution used this week has done nothing to extend the love of God and neighbor. In fact, fear has replaced love as the blessed tie that binds United Methodists together: the prosecution requested that the jury consider a penalty severe enough "so that other clergy fear breaking the covenant."

Any covenant that rests on fear instead of love deserves to be broken. Covenants--whether between two people bound together in marriage or clergy uniting to an Order--are always grounded in the love of God. The purpose of covenant is to help us remain rooted in this love and to help us express it in all that we do. Using fear as a way to force another to conform to a certain behavior has nothing to do with covenant and everything to do with abuse.

The prosecution and trial jury has made it clear: not everyone is welcome to the love of God. How can a church, which is founded on an understanding of the depth of grace and the wideness of God's mercy, live with this distortion of our theological heritage? 


I stand with thousands of other faithful United Methodists, who will continue to live into the fullness of a love-based covenant. I will continue to be a pastor to every member of my congregation, to help them experience and express God's love in their lives and relationships. I will marry couples who have found God's blessings in the love they share together. I will not allow fear to destroy covenantal love. 

Today, I am so grateful for the children who sang to me every Sunday at Epworth: Welcome, everyone, to the love of God. They remind me why this work and witness is so important.They give me strength for the journey. Let the children lead us again!

Welcome, everyone, to the love of God.

Monday, October 21, 2013

THE MASKS WE WEAR

A little preview for Sunday's sermon:


Are you ready to give up your mask and live into your best self yet?

Monday, October 7, 2013