Meditation Monday: Angels Among Us

The news cycle is filled with the events and personalities surrounding the impeachment investigation. It is easy to miss stories that may be less exciting but are just as important. Last week Pope Francis unveiled the first new sculpture added to St. Peter’s Square in 400 years. What makes it worth our attention is that this sculpture lifts up the plight of migrants and refugees around the world. It is based on Hebrews 13:2, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: For thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” It depicts 140 migrants and refugees of different faiths, cultures, and ethnicities including Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Here is some of what the Pope said at the unveiling of this amazing piece of art:

“As Christians, we cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our’ group, We cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people. We must not fail to weep. We must not fail to respond. Let us ask the Lord for the grace of tears, the tears that can convert our hearts before such sins.”

Even as the Pope called Christians to repentance, openness, and action, our President issued two proclamations that would drastically restrict accepting migrants and refugees to our country. First, the administration seeks to cap the number of immigrants to the fewest in decades despite the current crisis. The second seeks to deny entry to those who do not have health insurance or sufficient money to pay for their health care. This would eliminate the vast majority of those who had to flee their countries with only what they could carry. While there is certainly no easy answer to developing a just and fair immigration policy, it is clear for those of us who follow Jesus that restricting immigration to a drastically limited few wealthy people is both cruel and unjust. It is clear that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would never have been accepted with such restrictions. Are we okay with that? If not, we cannot support or condone these dehumanizing policies.

People take photos of Timothy P. Schmalz’s sculpture on the theme of refugees and migration, “Angels Unawares,” which was unveiled Sept. 29, 2019, on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

People take photos of Timothy P. Schmalz’s sculpture on the theme of refugees and migration, “Angels Unawares,” which was unveiled Sept. 29, 2019, on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis, left, watches the unveiling of a new sculpture on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, on Sept. 29, 2019. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis, left, watches the unveiling of a new sculpture on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, on Sept. 29, 2019. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

Meditation Monday - The Forgotten War Against Children

Last week I received the weekly email from Marian Wright Edelman who is the Founder and Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund. I subscribe to it, because she has been a leader in the struggle for justice and equality since her days in the Civil Rights Movement. Please take a few minutes to watch the video at the end of this post to get a sense for the depth of her commitment to peace and justice for children. Her latest email included some shocking information about the level of gun related violence and death impacting our nation’s children, especially our black and brown children. Here is some of what she shared. I highlighted the statistics that were especially shocking to me:

CDF’s new Protect Children, Not Guns report analyzes the latest fatal and nonfatal gun injury data for children ages 0-19 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It continues to reveal a shameful crisis worsening in a nation that refuses to protect children and teens from the scourge of gun violence:

  • 3,410 children and teens were killed by guns in 2017—the greatest number since 1998.

  • 21,611 children and teens were killed or injured by a gun in 2017—one every 24 minutes.

  • Gun violence was the second leading cause of death among children and teens of all races 1-19 years old and the leading cause among Black children and teens.

  • Gun violence killed more children and teens than cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, HIV/AIDS and opioids combined.

  • Homicide is the leading cause of gun death among children and teens.

  • Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native children and teens are disproportionately likely to be killed or injured with guns.

  • Guns killed more than twice as many preschoolers as law enforcement officers in the line of duty in 2017: 93 children under 5 were killed compared with 42 law enforcement officers in the line of duty.

  • Children were not safe from guns in every state between 2008 and 2017. Deaths ranged from 18 in Hawaii to 2,977 in California.

  • The deadliest states were Alaska and Louisiana with about 8 gun deaths per 100,000 children and teens annually—more than twice the national rate.

  • Since 1963, four times more children and teens were killed with guns on American soil than U.S. soldiers killed in action in wars abroad.

  • U.S. children and teens are 15 times more likely to die from gunfire than those in 31 other high-income countries combined.

How would we act as a nation if we took seriously the fact that our children are being killed by guns at rates higher than those who serve in law enforcement and the military? For those of us who follow the Prince of Peace, reducing violence of any kind including gun violence should be a priority. Why can’t our nation follow the example of Australia and New Zealand where episodes of mass shootings resulted in swift and meaningful gun control? Remember the words of Jesus who said, “By their fruits you will know them.” Rhetoric about “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of gun violence is meaningless without the “fruit” of actions that can help reduce that violence. I am grateful to Marian Wright Edelman for sharing this shocking and disturbing information. Once we know this, we cannot “unknown” it. Now the question for us and the nation is, What will we do about it?

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Meditation Monday: An Inconvenient Commute Turns Into Gratitude

Many people including myself experienced the inconvenience of today’s Climate Protests that disrupted much of downtown Washington, DC. In fact, I had to turn around and head back to Northern Virginia, because climate protestors blocked traffic around bridges and major intersections in the city. My initial feelings of frustration at the inconvenient change in my schedule soon turned to gratitude for those who cared enough about the devastations of climate change to put their bodies on the line in non-violent civil disobedience. My mind and heart quickly made the connection between these predominantly young activists and the equally young activists who put their bodies on the line 50-60 years ago during the various campaigns of the modern civil rights era. Over the last few weeks, perhaps the most famous climate activist is the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Earlier today she made an impassioned plea at the UN Climate Summit in New York. A short excerpt from her speech is posted below. Also posted below are two other short videos that lift up the witnesses of two young women during the civil rights movement - Diane Nash and Joan Trumpauer Mulholland both of whom risked their lives for racial justice. I encourage you to take a few minutes to view each of these videos. Together they remind us of the kind of commitment to love and justice that can truly change the world. Today’s inconvenient commute left me with a question that I want to share with you, How is God calling me (you) to live out commitment to God’s love and justice for all people?


Meditation Monday: From Acknowledgement, to Apology, to Action

Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA is preparing to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2023. As part of that preparation, this Episcopal seminary is taking a step that is hopefully the first of its kind for primarily white educational institutions that benefited from slavery and participated in Jim Crow segregation. Officials at the school recognized and apologized for using enslaved people to build several campus buildings, three of which are still there. After slavery was abolished, the seminary followed the prevailing culture rather than challenging it by participating in Jim Crow segregation before admitting the first black student in 1951. In light of this past injustice, the seminary raised $1.7 million as an endowment which will be used to provide reparations for the descendants of enslaved people who helped build the school. A recent CNN report noted that, “…the fund will also be used to support local congregations with ties to the seminary, to bolster the work of African American graduates and to raise the profile of black clergy in the Episcopal Church.” (Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor 9-9-2019) That same report noted, “Several scholars of reparations said Virginia Theological Seminary is the first institution of its kind to set up a reparations fund, even while other colleges and seminaries have issued reports on their role in slavery or offered scholarships to slave descendants.” This commitment to justice is a specific example of what it means to move from acknowledgment, to apology, to action. It also raises the challenging issue of reparations on a national scale. While there is no easy answer, it is important to have the conversation and to take specific actions to rectify this kind of historic injustice that goes back to the very founding of our nation. Such a commitment to justice benefits everyone, because it leads to freedom that comes with the truth. As Jesus said so long ago, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)

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Meditation Monday - Where Was God?

Where Was God? - This question inevitably comes up in the wake of great tragedies either natural or man-made. This past week the Bahamas was devastated by hurricane Dorian with parts of some islands nearly obliterated. It will be some time before we know the full extent of the devastation and number of lives lost. Within the past month, mass shootings took lives in California, Texas, and Ohio in addition to lesser publicized shootings. On this week 18 years ago, our nation experienced the enormous suffering and loss of life from the attacks on 9-11. Yet even in the face of the suffering and death of individual loved ones, the same question arises. There is no simple answer to this age old question. Yet the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus reveal that God is somehow present with us in suffering and death rather than standing outside of our painful experiences and certainly not causing them. In the months following 9-11, I purchased a book titled From the Ashes: A Spiritual Response to the Attack on America. It is a series of essays by religious leaders of various faiths. One essay was by the Catholic priest and novelist Andrew Greeley. Here are some of his words which I believe are as important today as they were 18 years ago and also apply to other experiences of suffering and death:

Where was God on September 11? He was somewhere (which in his case is everywhere) grieving for his suffering children…For reasons that we do not and cannot understand fully, God cannot prevent death, though he can triumph over it, no matter how horrible it is.

This is no easy answer to take away suffering but a promise that we are not alone in it. In fact, we can and are called to be agents of God’s loving presence to those who are suffering. The outpouring of relief efforts for people in the Bahamas along with the vigils and advocacy efforts to end gun violence are recent examples of embodying both the grief and love of God. Where Was God? - This is not a question for theological debate but a call to recognize God’s presence in suffering and to respond with Godly compassion. So the follow up is another question - How are we called to share God’s love in the face of suffering? That answer is up to each and all of us.

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