In the middle of nowhere

“…Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen.
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men?
Make them hear you.
When they hear you
I’ll be near you again!”
-Ragtime
Music: Stephen Flahert
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

The roof of a for-profit ICE detention center

It was in the middle of nowhere. West of Richmond. South of Charlottesville. East of Lynchburg. I would never have found it if I hadn’t had a GPS (and a map when I lost cell service!) It was hot and sticky. The sun was merciless. The stole around my neck was damp with sweat and felt so heavy.

I met up with members of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church from Raleigh, NC in Farmville, Virginia. As a sister church in the Alliance of Baptists, they responded to a challenge from their pastor, Rev. Nancy Petty, to bear witness to the incredible human suffering in these camps. I joined them and other Christians that summer morning to demonstrate the extravagant love of God. A God who welcomes. A Savior who stands up for the marginalized, who cares about refugees.

signsI had other things I could have done that day. I chose to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. (Crazy, right?!) But with a strong cup of coffee, and the prayers and blessing of my church and my family, I hit the road.

After a short prayer vigil with the entire group, I drove with other clergy to pray at the prison’s training center. We held hands. We prayed. We asked For God’s Spirit of mercy and compassion to touch the hearts of those who decided to work there. We prayed for the Spirit’s conviction on churches who not only refused our group hospitality, but whose members are among those working at the prison.

Detention center sign

We were told that 700 people are detained in Farmville. 700 people removed from their families, their homes, their jobs. 700 people who are not criminals. They are not “illegals.” They are seeking asylum. They were forcibly detained when ICE raids scooped them up and brought them here. Many were in process with their petitions… for a safe place to live and raise their families.

No one chooses to go an ICE detention camp, except for perhaps some Christians who want to draw attention to the detainees’ plight. I made the 3.5 hour drive because I believe it is important to call out injustice. I believe my faith in Christ requires standing up “for the least of these.”

Crowd at prayer vigil
Prayer vigil

We did not gain access to the detention center to talk to any of the detainees. I’m pretty sure the detainees didn’t even know we were there! But God knew. God knows them by name. God hears their cries and holds their prayers. God sees the injustice. And God will hold us accountable for not seeking justice for them.

Prison guard videotaping us.

We prayed as we marched. We sang. We interceded for the detainees and the guards. As we were leaving, walking back to our vehicles in silence, a guard videotaped us. (No doubt he was recording us for identifying us via facial recognition software!) I raised my hand and blessed that guard, making the sign of the cross. May he bear the full conviction of his actions in his heart.

On the outskirts of Farmville was “The Church of All Nations.” Since the local churches refused our group hospitality, I had to wonder… ALL nations? Or just light-skinned ones? How do these churches justify their inaction? How do they stay numb to the suffering in their midst? I made the long, sobering drive home reflecting…

I realized that in my comfortable suburban home, it’s far too easy to look the other way.  I frequently forget those who live ever wary of ICE raids. I don’t have to worry because my German-Irish roots and Midwest accent are a free pass. My whiteness means I’m not identified as a potentially unauthorized immigrant. I don’t have to carry around my passport to prove I am a US citizen.

These detainees still are my neighbors. How will I care for them? How will I support them? How will I work for change to comfort and protect my neighbors?

Pectoral cross made of forged nails

One thing I do know. Justice work is tiring and inconvenient. It is not done for attention or publicity or to create a scene. Justice work is meant to bring a voice for the voiceless, to remind us of rights we have, that others are denied. It is a Calling. And it is following the way of Christ.

Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

et lux perpetua…

Today during our Hospice team meeting, we stopped at the 10 o’clock hour to honor the lives lost in Parkland, Florida just two weeks ago. Just two weeks…

I re-lit our memorial candles to read the 17 names. After two or three names, I could not go on. So I passed the paper to a co-worker… and to another… and then we stood in silence. And tears.

At my regular team meeting, I read the names of recent deaths, and we have a moment to honor them. Sometimes I get a lump in my throat and feel a little sad. The stories and lives of our patients affect us deeply. We know we are in a sacred work.

But this… this was so very difficult. So very, very different.

This was random.
This was evil.
This was violent.
This was full of pain.
This was senseless.

Right before I blew out the candles, I said to my teammates, “May their lights continue to shine.”

Indeed.

…et lux perpetua luceat eis…

And let perpetual Light shine upon them.

Amen.

I don’t speak for you

I don’t speak for you.

There. I said it.

I also don’t speak for people who look like me, dress like me, work with me, worship with me, or live near me. And, most importantly, I most definitely do not speak for someone who is nothing like me!

I am just… me. A wife and mom. A hospice chaplain. A progressive Baptist. A pastor. An LGBTQ+ally (and yes — I asked and was told that I am. If that matters.)

I look like women who voted for Trump in large numbers, and that pisses me off. (White, middle class, Christian.) I supported Hillary and contributed to her campaign. I tried to influence the hearts and minds of people around me to vote for her. And apparently, I was not very good at it.

Election night, I had tears in my eyes and felt frustrated. I had no words for those closest to me who were also devastated. I heard their fears. I was distressed with them. I am deeply worried about them because of the rhetoric and abuse we all heard from Trump during the campaign. They are vulnerable because of who they are.

Here’s what I have learned in the last few days…  (Sorry it’s in bullet points. I don’t have time to create fantastic, in-depth prose.)

  • By accident of birth, education and economic status, I could fade into the Great Beyond of white suburbia. But my Calling, my conscience and my faith do not allow that.
  • Those who know me already, know that when I wear a safety pin* or a rainbow bracelet, that I am visibly trying to signal what I believe and will do. And that I want them to be treated fairly, kindly, respectfully as I want to be treated.
  • Those who don’t know me personally might think I’m posturing.
  • The dying patients I serve, as well as their families, need my focus and care. Many of them are marginalized by their race, religion or gender identity.
  • My coworkers who care for the dying with me every day are sad, stressed and discouraged.
  • My family, friends, and parishioners have real fears, hurts and anxieties because of this election season.
  • I don’t have enough money, time or energy to respond to every need around me. That means I have to pick and choose, and I try to do that wisely.
  • I am praying — fiercely — for the projected new President.** (As of this date, the Electoral College has not met.)

 

I am trying to make a difference where I am. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year. In my context. Wherever God takes me.

I will do this imperfectly. Incompletely. Ignorantly. But I will keep trying.

I will  continue speak up against hate speech whenever I witness it.

I will keep learning. Growing. Praying. Reading. Listening. Serving. I’ll wear a safety pin and a rainbow bracelet. And sometimes, a cross. And I’ll try to do a better job of being an example of Christ in the world.

soli deo gloria

 

*It used to be that when someone wore a cross, they were expected to act “Christianly”. But today, the cross has been co-opted by political entities within American politics. It seems that a safety pin might better express my effort to be a welcoming, affirming and listening presence, without the trappings of a particular religious group.

**[edited to add] This does not mean he has my approval or my trust. (Bless his heart.) It means I am fulfilling a Scriptural admonishment to pray for those in authority.

What shall I tell my daughters?

Oh Lord…

How did we arrive in this unholy mess? The latest kerfuffle with the presidential election makes me want to throw things. Or vomit. Or maybe throw vomit. How did things get so thoroughly mucked up? Is this really the result of an uninvested, uneducated electorate, who were distracted by the rhetoric of obstructionist Legislatures, both national and local? (…as some pundits would suggest)

img_2179What shall I tell my daughters? They are voting in their first presidential election. The big issues like our national debt and student loans matter to them. (Hello. To me, too!) So does affordable healthcare. Getting a job. A clean environment. Global warming. A safer world. Marrying the person they love.

How shall I explain what their parents’ generation has done…and not done? They know as well as I do that it is a complex world we live in, far more complex than when I snoozed my way through “Principles of Democracy” (aka “civics”) in high school. It’s more than sound bites. It’s more than tabloid-driven news (God, help us!) It’s more than he-said-she-said.

This much I do know… I believe these young women, these wonderful daughters of ours are, inherently and personally, people of value and promise. They and their friends have much to give to our nation and our world. They have drive and dreams. They are articulate and compassionate.

They are watching and waiting with me, Lord.

I know You guide the hearts and actions of the nations.
I know You are able to steer even the most stubborn autocrat.
I know that whoever is elected will be flawed human being… just like me.
May Your peace reign.
May we hear Your direction.
May we know Your heart.
May we have Your mind.
And may those of us who are tasked with spiritual leadership
guard our tongues and increase our prayers…

Amen.

-Mischief Managed

I solemnly swear I am up to no good. 

Dear political telemarketers,

I understand that you are volunteers. And that you are motivated to get your candidate’s name out there. But you make it far too easy to prank you…

———–

It all started when I read the caller ID: “Republicans for Tdump”

(Feeling snarky, I think to myself, “Ok, I’ll play!”)

Me: Hi! Thanks for calling! Hold on while I connect you to your party!

[I hum fake on-hold music*]

*(Would have been TOTALLY believable until the cat meowed LOUDLY…)

Me: Hello? Hi? Hi? Hihihihihihi?

Poor unlucky caller: ummm HELLO?

Me: Hello? can you hear me? hi? 

(I repeated this until I felt merciful, then talked as if I were talking to someone in the room with me…)

…I don’t know… Caller ID says it’s Republicans for Tdump but I don’t hear anything…

Poor unlucky caller: Hello? Ma’am?

Me: Oh good! Yes! Hello? Hello?

Poor unlucky caller: yes!! HELLO!! (Without taking a breath, he launches into his spiel…) Well, as you know the Presidential Primary is coming up. Can you tell me who you’ll be voting for for the Republican nomination for President?

Me: oh yes! Bernie Sanders!

 Poor unlucky caller: [silence]

Poor unlucky caller: ummmmm [silence]

Poor unlucky caller: ok ummmmm next question… 

Of the following candidates, who will you vote for? Ted Cruise, Donald Tdump or John Casing? (Yes. I know they’re spelled wrong. Just playing with the data mining robots.)

Me: [quickly and with great enthusuasm] Jeb Bush!!!

Poor unlucky caller: [silence]

Poor unlucky caller: unmmmmm 

———–

When I felt the giggles coming I just hung up… I’ll do better next time. 🙂

Feel free to play along at home. I need to go now and adjust my halo. 
Mischief managed. 

When is it OK?

“…Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise can not see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or evil before this is over…”

Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

When is it OK to bomb someone out of existence? Or gas their hometown with poison? Or shoot someone because you don’t like their face/heritage/religion? Is there ever a reason? Is it ever really a “just war”?

I wrestle with questions like these because in my short lifetime so far, I have yet to see an armed conflict come out the way it has been planned. One group’s superiority complex tips the balance of power and peace around the globe. Others rising in the defense of the weaker neighbor (or to carefully reinforce their own borders) escalate the conflict.

I do not agree with those who suggest we must bomb/shoot/gas/drone strike others before we are attacked. And I know I am possibly raising the hackles of many who read this… To be fair, I have good friends who serve in the military. They give up a lot to be peacekeepers, and I am grateful.

But this determined stance of “answering” acts of foreign or domestic terror with more bombings, more killing… it does not sit well.

I ponder the realities of the human condition. We are made in the image of God. We are poor reflections of the love of God. We go out of our way to live selfish, petty lives. We hold offenses against us like they are prize possessions, to be nurtured and violently protected. (And by “we” I mean me. And you.)

Have we learned nothing in our centuries of war? Have we not remembered that Evil exists — and that in its very existence we will find ourselves at odds with one another for no other reason than we can not agree on what actually constitutes “evil”!

As I write these words, the final decisions on a response to the mass killings in Syria have not been announced. My heart is heavy, my prayers are constant. For peace. For courage. For wisdom. For hope. For all of us…

When the walls fail…

Eight years ago, the levees failed in New Orleans, and Katrina’s storm surge all but swallowed a city. We watched news reports and saw President George W. Bush tour the area in a helicopter. We listened to the frustrations of people camped in the SuperDome, without electricity or plumbing. We saw inadequate response from FEMA. In the weeks and months that followed, many traveled to the area to rebuild churches, schools and homes.

Yet, if you travel in that region, you will see the “bones” of a time “Pre-Katrina.”

Somehow, despite early warning systems, despite the logic of building at (or in some places, below sea level), we continue to build places to live, work, eat and worship on the coastal plains. (I should point out that I regularly enjoy the peace and quiet of one of these homes… so I’m not condemning anyone.)

There are times that we can see walls about to fail. Especially in the arena of world politics, we see the match-to-a-powder-keg situations that make us catch our breath. “Dear Lord, may it not be.”

As Syria is about to explode in anger and war. As the death toll rises in Egypt. As Iran and Iraq and Pakistan remain riddled with gunfire and IEDs. We watch a world that is on the verge of eruption and harp on the unimportant.

What matters? Health, education, food and safety for families across the globe. Safety and security to worship in a place and manner of their choosing.

In a Star Trek Next Generation episode, Captain Picard was trying to communicate with the Tamarians, a people who communicated exclusively in metaphor and cultural inference. Frustrations abounded as human and Tamarian talked past each other.

How like our world scene this is…

Lt. Commander Data: Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.
Counselor Deanna Troi: It’s as if I were to say to you… “Juliet on her balcony”.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: An image of romance.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Exactly. Imagery is everything to the Tamarians. It embodies their emotional states, their very thought processes. It’s how they communicate, and it’s how they think.
Commander William T. Riker: If we know how they think, shouldn’t we be able to get something across to them?
Lt. Commander Data: No, sir. The situation is analogous to understanding the grammar of a language, but none of the vocabulary.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: If I didn’t know who Juliet was or what she was doing on that balcony, the image alone wouldn’t have any meaning.
Counselor Deanna Troi: That’s correct. For instance, we know that Darmok was a great hero, a hunter, and that Tanagra was an island. But that’s it. Without the details, there’s no understanding.

And that is exactly what I see in Syria…. and Egypt. And in the racial tensions and misunderstandings of our own country. If we only understand grammer and none of the syntax or vocabulary, we have no hope of truly communicating.

We speak of political peace when people are seeking power and dominance. The way of Christ is one of peace through faith, in spite of circumstances. We should not be surprised when the levees fail, when the wall fall, and when people turn on each other, each scrabbling to hold on to high ground.

Can we find a way through these moments of political injustices and persecution? Can we advance a way of peace that does not exist through the realm of ego and anger? Not by our own attempts. No, we need the work and power of God, watching, shepherding, guiding, and diffusing our “first response” – war – to the way of peace.

Oh Lord, may it be.

23 Jesus answered, “Whoever loves me will keep my word. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word that you hear isn’t mine. It is the word of the Father who sent me.

25 “I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. 26 The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.

27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.  (John 14, CEB)