Friday, July 21, 2006

Make your own damn sandwiches

A very good friend of mine went on a holiday to another city. He stayed iin that city with a friend. His friend got up early every morning, went to the grocery and bought two loaves of bread and enough peanut butter and jelly to make sandwiches. When he had made the sandwiches he went to a nearby bridge where several homeless men where living. Every day he distributed the sandwiches and returned home.

After returning from his holiday, my friend was so moved by the sandwich maker that he sent him a check for $100 with an attached note that said, "This is to help out with your wonderful ministry of making sandwiches." A few weeks later, my friend got a letter from the sandwich maker. Enclosed in the envelope was the original check and this note attached to it, "Make your own damn sandwiches."

The lectionary texts for Sunday July 23rd are interconnected. Isaiah 57:14-21 offers peace for the near and far – only - if the Household of God has a humble and contrite heart. The writer of Ephesians states in 2:11-22 that the Household of God is to be one of unity and peace. And in the subversive gospel of Mark 6:39-44, we hear of Jesus feeding a huge crowd of no less than 5,000 with a meager lunch of five loaves of bread and few small fish. So you ask – how are these texts related?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “All life is interrelated…tied in(to) a single garment of destiny, whatever affects me…affects all….I can never be what I ought to be - until you are what you ought to be - and you can never be what you ought to be - until I am what I ought to be.”

What we have in God’s Word is a radical re-visioning of our religion. This radical vision is called the Household of God – the family of God – a family that is interconnected with the global community.

In the Household of God we are: Working for peace for the near and the far by having a humble and contrite heart. In the Household of God we are: Working with God to create a global unity. In the Household of God: We are sharing our meager lunch which makes us the bread of Jesus.

This re-visioning will bring about the end of slavery, the end of racism, the establishment of civil rights, where freedom is empowered, where compassion is implemented, justice advanced, where human rights are defended and peace made.

According to Isaiah peace will only be achieved when the people of the Household of God have a humble and contrite heart. Do we have a humble and contrite heart? Does our Church offer forgiveness before condemnation? Does the world see our nation as gracious?

In Ephesians the Household of God is part of the global community - working for the common good of all – “no longer strangers and aliens but citizens with all the saints in the household of God.” Do we act as if we are no longer strangers and aliens? Does our Church treat others as saints? Does the nation we live in act as if we are global citizens?

In the Gospel Mark a new economic order is presented; an economy which is based on the simplicity of sharing. Are we sharing? Does our Church share? Does our nation share?

The Word of God is a subversive document which presents an “alternative to the existing societal structure” – which is in stark “contrast to the current exploitative economics of our existing systems.” (quoted from Engaging the New Testament by Russell Pregeant)

What caught most of the attention from the recent Episcopal General Convention was the election of a woman as Presiding Bishop and the Episcopal Churches’ response to the World Wide Anglican Communion and the Windsor Report. However, as Presiding Bishop-elect Katherine Jefferts Schori has pointed out, the “biggest news” and the most important action of the Episcopal Church is its commitment to endorse and financially support the United Nations 8 Millennium Goals.
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
2. Achieve universal primary education.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
4. Reduce child mortality.
5. Improve maternal health.
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
7. Ensure environmental stability.
8. Develop partnerships for development.

Michael Lerner (the editor of Tikkun) in, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, writes “(Our) spiritual consciousness….(should) be one that links us to the unity of all being and insists upon our interconnectedness with all others.” When we see ourselves connected to the entire world, then, as Christians, we will take up the vision of sharing what we have to help our fellow global saints. This is the key to the accomplishment of the Millennium Goals – we, the Christian community of the wealthiest nation in the world must share our resources in a significant and sacrificial way. And we as Christian people must lead in that example and only support those with a similar theology.

But it seems almost impossible to focus on these critical issues that encompass the survival of the entire human race when, as a “Christian nation” our minds are consumed with a war that has been created out of fear.

If the Church - the Household of God has ever had the responsibility to step up with a radical re-visioning of our Country’s engagement with the world – it is now.

Peace will never be achieved by using pre-emptive strikes or by condoning retaliatory violence.

Peace will only be achieved by seeing ourselves as global citizens of unity and by radical sharing. While it may not make sense in our world of complex social, political and religious systems – it is the Way of Jesus; to share and to turn the other cheek.

To lead in peace means to be leaders in achieving the Millennium Goals – all of which will require us to put others first – in other words, to share our resources with the world.

What if, in the first one hundred days of the Iraqi war the US, instead of delivering shock and awe, delivered $100,000 to every person living in Baghdad and asked them to overthrow Saddam and his oppressive regime? The $100.000 for every man, woman and child is the equivalent of the money spent on bombs in the first one hundred days of the war in Iraq. To use a Godly Play term – I wonder.

Now, though, when Israel retaliates with unreasonable force, all we can say is, “every nation has the right to protect her borders.” We can not lead in peace if we are the leaders in war and violence. It’s bad theology if we believe “God will bless America” with this strategy.
To quote Jim Wallis the author of God’s Politics: Why the Right gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, “It may be that only theology and spirituality can save the poor and the victims of war.” Jesus has that different theology to teach us. A good theology.

In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus took a small meager lunch and turned it into a banquet feast. One person sacrificed their lunch for the common good. Jesus’ new economic model is one of sharing what we have for the common good all – that includes our enemies. I can only imagine that Jesus fed not only his friends but also those around him who were plotting to take his life.

Let me offer an example from Lerner’s book. Today, this very day, between 20,000 and 30,000 children will die of starvation and diseases related to malnutrition.

Imagine that you have a family with 5 children. One child has 40 percent of the family’s resources, a second child has 32 percent, the third child 20 percent, the fourth child is struggling with only 6 percent of the family’s resources and the fifth child is dying of starvation with 2 percent of the families resources.

Let me ask you one simple question, what would you do in this situation?

Is the reason the US doesn’t operate out of a theology of sharing is that we don’t consider the less fortunate children of the world as part of our family? Why is it so difficult to share? Why do we respond to violence with more violence? When instead, Jesus calls us to respond to violence with grace, mercy and food? What if, instead of spending money on war, we spent it on eradicating poverty? I wonder.

As followers of Jesus and the Household of God, we are called to be a people of a radical new alternative; a radical economics, a radical social structure, a radical politics and radical personal behavior.

As Christians we believe in a God who using us, the Household God, as food for the world. We believe in a God who is ever luring us and the world towards the common good. We, as Christians, are God’s loaves of bread – fed into the world to bring about peace. We believe in a God who has called his Household to be about the business of changing the souls of our human institutions: changing the souls of those institutions to care about the common good and to share our resources with the world. We believe in a God who calls each of us to be family members in the Household by promoting peace through envisioning ourselves as global citizens and by sharing our meager lunch.

Maybe we better get busy making our own damn sandwiches and start feeding them to a world hiding under a bridge?

What do you think?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Hope not fear

My sister Dinah has Prader-Willi Syndrome; the deformity of chromosome-15. Prader-Willi is random, it's not passed down through the genes or caused by any known factor - it just happens. Basically, my sister is mentally and physically handicapped. She is challenged is so many different ways, yet, she has always been a beacon of light for all those she encounters. Due mainly to my parents love and diligence, Dinah is the oldest known living Prader-Willi; she is 51. The person who lived the longest was 63. Most Prader-Willi's die in their 20 or 30's due to obesity and uncontrollable anger outbursts. My parents and those who work closely with Dinah have managed her weight quite well. The anger outbursts are something that happens - but, with Dinah some medications have been effective in mitigating their frequency.

Dinah has lived at home until her mid-thirties. At that point my parents decided that for Dinah's continued growth and development that she needed to be an environment outside of home. They researched and searched out several possibilities. The first group home worked well with Dinah for a while, but as Dinah has grown older it has become apparent that the smaller the number living in the home, the better she can function.

With more research my parents found a "Christian home." First warning sign was the "Christian label." It wasn't long before Dinah had an anger outburst. The couple that managed the group home didn't handle the episode too well. My parents and I were summoned to meet with the management team.

Quickly into the meeting the Christian couple who managed the home began telling us that if we would only pray harder and with more fervency that Dinah would be healed of being Prader-Willi. Honestly, I didn't handle their presumptions too well myself. It wasn't long before my parents moved Dinah into another more suitable place where she now resides most comfortably and happily.

I don't believe in a Santa Claus God. While it would be much easier to believe in a God who went around looking for all who was naughty and all who was nice to dispense either punishment or gifts, I don't find that God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the gospel of Mark (5:22-24, 35-43) Jesus tells the father of a dying girl "Do not fear, only believe." Jesus' admonition about fear speaks volumes about the very heart of God. The Presence of God brings hope. Yet, more often than not, we act out of fear.

There is a powerful tendency inside all of us towards fear. We fear sickness, injury, death, change, the enemy, and the unknown. Michael Lerner in The Left Hand of God, writes "When our consciousness moves (toward fear) we believe that the Other is a serious threat that needs to be dominated and controlled before it does likewise to us." Jesus if offering hope as an alternative to fear. Jesus is summoning us to move out of the paradigm of fear into the prospects of hope.

Jesus goes to the home of the 12 year old girl. Everyone there is grieving her death. But, Jesus says, "She's not dead, she's only sleeping." Where some see death, Jesus sees hope. Well, that brought mocking laughter from all the mourners. They feared death so much they could not see the hope of the Presence of God.

Ignoring their ridicule, Jesus took three of his young disciples into the girl's room. There Jesus spoke the powerful words of hope, "get up." Jesus saw hope in the mystery of the unseen. While no one else could see hope, Jesus offered the Presence of God for healing.

I wonder what would happen if we responded to the Other with hope instead of fear? In our country today we are operating out of fear not hope. What if we offered hope for our enemies instead of reacting out of fear? Without hope there will be no healing.

In the Episcopal Church this very minute we are living our lives in fear. The fear of change and the fear of not changing. But, what if, instead of working from a place of fear we moved to a place of the hope of healing found in the Presence of God. Would we, like Jesus, see hope instead of death?

I once asked my mother if she could change Dinah into a "normal" person, would she? First, my mom corrected me in that Dinah was probably more normal than any of the rest of us. Then she told me, no, she wouldn't. "Dinah is a gift and we see life differently through her eyes than we ever could any other way."

God isn't Santa Claus. God is the Presence of Jesus seen in each of us offering the hope of healing. Healing hunger, healing hatred, healing the fear that breeds greed, healing that crosses the divide in theology and the healing that allows us to hear the words of Jesus, "you're not dead, get up."