Meditation Monday - Supporting Veterans By Working For Peace

On this Veteran’s Day, our nation expresses gratitude for all those who served our country through military service, especially those who served and died during times of war. We often hear the phrase “Support the Troops” as a call not to question our country’s involvement in war. Yet on April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an historic address at Riverside Church in New York in which he spoke out clearly against the war in Vietnam. In opposing the war, he also made it clear that he supported our troops in the process. Here is a part of that speech which goes by the title “Beyond Vietnam” or “A Time to Break Silence”:

I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

On this Veteran’s Day, we can and should express thanks to our military veterans even as we commit ourselves to working for peace and to building a nation and a world in which we study war no more.

Mediation Monday - Remember to Vote and Those Who Paid the Cost to Vote

Tomorrow is election day. By now you have been bombarded with campaign ads by email, television, and social media. Even with all this attention, it is estimated that less than half of eligible voters will participate in this year’s mid-term elections. It is easy to take the right to vote for granted. Yet on this day before the elections, I want to remind us not only to vote but to remember those who paid the cost to extend voting rights to all citizens of our nation. It has only been 53 years since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it possible to vote for many people who had been denied that right for decades due to racial discrimination and injustice. Even today we continue to see efforts to suppress the right to vote that target people of color. Among the many struggles for voting rights, perhaps the most famous is what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” On March 7, 1965 peaceful protestors were viciously attacked by Alabama state troopers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. They were part of a campaign in Selma to secure voting rights regardless of race or economic status. The video posted below is actual footage of the attack on Bloody Sunday. Please take the time to view it so that when we vote tomorrow, we will not only exercise your own right to vote, We will also remember and give thanks for those who came before us and paid the price to make voting more fair and just. We are also part of the ongoing struggle for justice to insure that the right to vote is not manipulated or suppressed.

Meditation Monday - Darkness and Light in Pittsburgh

The mayor of Pittsburgh described Saturday as, “the darkest day in Pittsburgh’s history.” Throughout this country and around the world, people are sharing shock and grief over the massacre of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This was the largest incident of violent loss of life among Jewish people in our nation’s history. From now on, the word “Pittsburgh” will be synonymous with this evil just as “Charlottesville” is synonymous with the racist violence that resulted in one death and many injuries in 2017. Yet it is essential that we not consign Pittsburgh to the darkness. The people of Tree of Life, the larger Squirrel Hill neighborhood, and the city of Pittsburgh are full of wonderful examples of light and love. I know this personally, because our older daughter and her family live in Pittsburgh. As a registered nurse, Katie worked at the Squirrel Hill Health Center that served low income people including a large immigrant and refugee community. Tree of Life Synagogue was also known for serving the immigrant and refugee community. In fact, that was one of the reasons they were targeted by the gunman in addition to his anti-Semitic hatred. The hatred that killed 11 people, including Dr. Richard Gottfried who shared his services as a dentist at Squirrel Hill Health Center, will not ultimately define the Jewish community or the people of Pittsburgh. Their legacy is faithfulness to the Biblical tradition as they followed the way of God as proclaimed in Psalm 146: 5-10

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed;
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
    he upholds the orphan and the widow,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

These are dark days in Pittsburgh and in our country, but “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 5)

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Meditation Monday - Almost a Disciple

What would you do if Jesus invited you to follow him? One of the recent gospel stories featured in the Lectionary was Jesus’ encounter with a rich man who wanted to know what to do to inherit eternal life. After the man confirmed that he had followed God’s law since his youth, Jesus invited him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. He could have been the 13th disciple. Yet Mark records the man’s response, “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Mark 10: 22) This story is not meant to be an isolated event. Rather it challenges each of us to realize that following Jesus involves letting go, especially letting go of pursuing wealth as the purpose of life and means of our security. In a culture that emphasizes “making our own way” and “securing our own future,” the invitation of Jesus to discipleship seems more threatening than inviting. The link at the bottom of this post is to a sermon that I preached on this challenging story. It does not have the “right answer” but invites us to be open to Jesus in deeper ways by discerning what we need to let go. This is an ongoing part of the journey of faith that calls us to new levels of trust in Jesus words, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Jesus does invite us to follow him. What is our response?

Click here to listen to the sermon preached at New Community Church in Washington, DC

Meditation Monday- A Saint for the Whole Church

Yesterday in Rome, Pope Francis canonized several saints including Oscar Romero, the late Archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated as he stood at the altar on March 24, 1980. He is a witness to the whole Church of commitment to standing up for justice for those on the margins as an essential aspect of living the way of Jesus. He was initially seen as a conservative supporter of the status quo, but he allowed God to open his heart to the plight of poor people in El Salvador who were being brutalized by the regime in power. In his daily reflection yesterday, the Franciscan priest and spiritual leader Richard Rohr shared the following quotes from the last days of Oscar Romero:

In his homily on March 23, 1980, the day before he was murdered, Romero addressed the Salvadoran military directly:

Brothers, we are part of the same people. You are killing your own brother and sister peasants and when you are faced with an order to kill given by a man, the law of God must prevail; the law that says: Thou shalt not kill. No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. And it is time that you recover your consciences. . . . In the name of God, then, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise up to heaven each day more tumultuously, I plead with you, I pray you, I order you, in the name of God: Stop the repression!

The next day, following his sermon, a U.S.-supported government hit squad shot him through his heart as he stood at the altar.

Only a few weeks earlier, Romero had said:

I have often been threatened with death. I must tell you, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. I say so without boasting, with the greatest humility. . . . A bishop will die, but God’s church, which is the people, will never perish.

The video clips below provide more information about the life and witness of Oscar Romero. The first clip is a report focused on his canonization as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The second in the trailer for the 1989 movie Romero starring Raul Julia. It is a powerful presentation of the events that transformed Oscar Romero’s life and that led him to give his life in faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I recommend this movie with the disclaimer that it is not suitable for children because of the vivid depictions of the evil and violence against which Oscar Romero stood. Thirty eight years after his enemies thought they rid the world of Oscar Romero, his spirit and witness live on and continue to inspire people all over the world.