Meditation Monday - Why We Needed and Need a Movement

January 15 is the 90th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. He became the most famous leader of what became known as the Civil Rights Movement that started in the late 1950’s. Yet the struggle against racism did not begin with Dr. King. This week in the news there was a graphic example from the 1940’s of the pervasive system of legalized racism known as Jim Crow and the struggle for justice and equality that predated the modern civil rights movement. In Florida the Groveland Four received posthumous pardons after being wrongly accused of raping a white woman nearly 70 years ago in 1949. At that time one of the four young men was lynched by a mob before their trial. Two others were later shot by a local sheriff who falsely claimed that they were trying to escape, and one of them died. The remaining two endured two trials and were falsely convicted twice despite the best efforts of their attorney Thurgood Marshall who would go on to become the first African American Supreme Court justice. The video posted below is a brief report about the posthumous pardon of the Groveland Four. It is a story of racism, unjust suffering, and a seven decade struggle for justice. As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and give thanks for the civil rights movement, it is important to remember that the struggle against racism goes back to the very foundation of our country and continues today. The story of the Groveland Four is an example of why we needed the civil rights movement. Their posthumous pardon is a witness to the persistence of those who fought for justice against overwhelming odds and a call for us to resist unjust actions and systems regardless of how popular they may be. Organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative and the Poor People’s Campaign are contemporary examples of the ongoing need to continue the movement for racial justice 90 years after the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. and 70 years after the Groveland Four.

Meditation Monday - The Unifying Power of Love

Vickie and I are in New Jersey this week to remember and celebrate the life of our sister-in-law Lisa Semple who died on December 23 from breast cancer. Even as Lisa endured increasing pain and limited mobility, she was determined to finish work on an art exhibit called “Faces of Cancer.” Using her gift as an artist, Lisa completed 20 portraits of people who dealt with cancer, some survivors and some whose lives ended. With each portrait, she included a short written description of that person’s journey. On Saturday, the month long exhibit opened at the public library in Cherry Hill, NJ. Around 200 people attended the opening - a very diverse group all of whom were connected through relationships with Lisa and/or with the subjects of the portraits. There was a sense of grief that Lisa did not live to host the exhibit. Yet along with the grief there was a powerful spirit of love and unity. At the end of the day, cancer did not win - Love Wins. This reminded me of the following quote by the late writer and spiritual leader Henri Nouwen:

There is no clearer way to distinguish the presence of God’s Spirit than to identify the moments of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. Wherever the Spirit works, divisions vanish and inner as well as outer unity manifests itself. (from Life of the Beloved)

Thank you Lisa for using your life and your gifts to bring people together to experience the unifying and victorious power of love.

Postcard of “Faces of Cancer” Exhibit by Lisa Semple

Postcard of “Faces of Cancer” Exhibit by Lisa Semple

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Meditation Monday - Using the Time We Have

Today is New Year’s Eve, a time when many people’s thoughts turn to reflecting on the year completed and the year ahead. Thinking about the concept of time and how we use it, I recall the following words from Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from the Birmingham City Jail:

I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

As we prepare to enter 2019, I share these words of Dr. King written 55 years ago and the images below from the Birmingham campaign to remind and inspire us to be co-workers with God through daily commitment to spiritual growth and following God’s call to peace and justice for all people.

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Meditation Monday - Faithful to the Vision

Vickie and I recently returned from a week in Western Europe. One of the highlights of this amazing trip was visiting the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain. The visionary architect Antoni Gaudi began to work on the church in 1883 and devoted the next 43 years of his life to it until his death in 1926. Sagrada Familia was not finished in his lifetime and is still under construction today. The hope is to finish the basilica in 2026 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. I was inspired not only by this awesome structure but also by Gaudi’s faithfulness to a vision that did not come to completion during his life. It reminds me of the following passage from the book of Hebrews:

 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…

During this season of Advent, a major theme is waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Our visit to Sagrada Familia and the passage from Hebrews remind me that faithful waiting is an essential aspect of discipleship, especially when we may not see the fulfillment of a particular promise of God in our lifetime. Yet we are called to be faithful to God’s vision of peace and wholeness (shalom) for our lives and for the whole creation. In a time and society that values instant gratification above almost anything else, I am grateful for the witnesses of Antoni Gaudi and the countless other disciples over the centuries who remained faithful to the vision of God’s calling for their lives, especially when that vision lasted longer than their own lifetimes. We can always trust in God’s faithfulness because as the writer of Hebrews also wrote:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 

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Meditation Monday: The Season of Hope and Light

Hope and light are powerful symbols of this season in both Judaism and Christianity. While Christians began to observe the season of Advent, our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated Hanukkah. I recently saw two photos related to Hanukkah that spoke to me about the truth of God’s presence and love in the face of darkness and evil. At the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers watches as a menorah is installed outside the place of worship where 11 people were shot to death less than two months ago. In another photo, Holocaust survivors celebrate International Holocaust Survivors Night during Hanukkah in a Jewish Community Center in Berlin. These photos remind me of the reality of evil and suffering in our world but even more importantly the reality of faith in the power of God’s love to overcome evil. I am grateful for these images of hope from the Jewish faith that bear witness to the light of God’s love that overcomes any and all darkness by being with us through the darkness.

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Rabbi Jeffrey Myers watches the installation of a menorah outside the Tree of Life Synagogue, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, before a celebration on the first night of Hanukkah, on Dec. 2, 2018. A gunman shot and killed 11 people while they worshipped at the temple on Oct. 27. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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Two Holocaust survivors arrive for the International Holocaust Survivors Night at a Jewish community center in Berlin, Germany, on Dec. 4, 2018. The event is held in the middle of Hanukkah holiday celebrations. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)