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)

Meditation Monday - Waiting With Hope

The season of Advent started yesterday. This is the time in the church year that leads up to Christmas. However, it is about much more than counting down the days until December 25. While the culture around us emphasizes hectic shopping and holiday activities, the season of Advent emphasizes patient and hopeful waiting for God’s plans to unfold in God’s time. This is not passive acceptance of things as they are. Rather Advent reminds us to be still and open enough to discern how God is calling you and me to play our part in God’s purposes of love, justice, and reconciliation for all people. This season reminds me of the quote used often by Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Following the way of Jesus is not for a day, a month, or a year. It is commitment to a life long journey of being co-creators with God in ways that make visible the reality that all people are beloved children of God. At this time when there is so much division and hostility in our country and around the world, l encourage you to take time to be still, open, and patient before God so that we will both know and participate in the true reason for the season.

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Meditation Monday - Giving Thanks by Protesting for Justice

Thanksgiving weekend is a time when millions of people gather with family and friends to give thanks to God. In a recent edition of The Atlantic magazine, there is a story about a different kind of Thanksgiving gathering. An interfaith group of about 200 people made a pilgrimage to the US-Mexico border in support of people from Central America who are seeking asylum in our country. The article begins with the following words:

By midday, the desert sun is high and this little protest frankly feels like a misguided act in powerless futility.

About 200 people, Jews and Christians, cluster near an eight-foot stone gate in the West Texas town of Tornillo, singing and praying for hundreds of Central American children held by the federal government. Two cop cars and chain-link fences topped with concertina wire keep them a good 150 yards out of the children’s sight and well beyond their hearing. Every 20 minutes, buses with tinted windows arrive ferrying still more children.

Although the protest may have seemed futile at the time, it is a powerful witness that is being shared around the country. We can have honest disagreements about the details of immigration policy. Yet as people of faith, what is non-negotiable is the humanity of each and every person seeking asylum. We cannot accept or tolerate hateful stereotypes that demonize people as “less than” for any reason including race, economic condition, or political status. God’s special concern for oppressed people is clear throughout the Bible including the following quote from Psalm 146:

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.

It is good that we have a national holiday called Thanksgiving. Yet giving thanks to God rings hollow unless we are also committed to doing the will of God. The Bible in general and passages such as Psalm 146 in particular make it clear that God’s will is for us to actively share God’s special concern for people who are oppressed rather than condoning oppression especially when it is done in our name. For a deeper and disturbing look at the oppression of asylum seekers by our government, see a story from last night’s episode of 60 minutes by clicking here.

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Rabbi Josh Whinston, a Reform Jewish leader from Ann Arbor, speaks during a rally outside a tent city on November 15, 2018, in Tornillo, Texas.IVAN PIERRE AGUIRRE

Meditation Monday - Thanks for an Elder of the Movement

Earlier this week, several members of Congress including John Lewis recommended the Rev. James Lawson for the Congressional God Medal to honor his decades of service in teaching and practicing non-violence. Rev. Lawson is a United Methodist pastor who served as a missionary in India where he learned Gandhi’s principles of non-violence. When he returned to this country, he became the foremost teacher of non-violence in the civil rights movement beginning with students in Nashville during the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960. John Lewis and Diane Nash were among his many students who went on to touch the conscience of our nation through their non-violent witness in major civil rights campaigns including the Freedom Rides in 1961, Birmingham in 1963, Freedom Summer in 1964, and Selma in 1965. Dr. King’s own commitment to non-violence was deeply impacted by James Lawson, and it was Rev. Lawson who invited Dr. King to come to Memphis to support the sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 where Dr. King was killed on April 4. At 90 years old, James Lawson continues to teach and witness to the power of non-violence. In a recent article by the Religious New Service, he said,

“While the gun discussion may be an important discussion, it doesn’t get into the virus that needs to be attacked: the spirit of violence, the language of violence, the thinking of violence, the despising of one another,” he said. “Nonviolence is the force that can save our nation from itself.”

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday, remember to give thanks for those who helped to change our nation through non-violence even as we recommit to practicing the non-violent love of Jesus in our time.

 Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., greets the Rev. James Lawson at a reception on Nov. 14, 2018, at which members of Congress announced support of legislation to recognize Lawson with a Congressional Gold Medal. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., greets the Rev. James Lawson at a reception on Nov. 14, 2018, at which members of Congress announced support of legislation to recognize Lawson with a Congressional Gold Medal. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

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.