Letter to Congregations on the Death of Osama bin Laden

The events of the last week have weighed heavy on my heart. Last Sunday night as I was watching the announcement by President Obama that Osama bin Laden, leader of a terrorist organization, had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. In the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, the responses of individuals came rushing into the world. The responses were varied, some well thought out, some very visceral. One thing was clear, a chapter in our history had just been closed.

In reviewing responses of people on Facebook and Twitter, and seeing images on the different news stations, the overriding response was joy, celebration, and pride. As I sat there something didn’t sit easy with me, I honestly felt sick and had to sit in silence for a few moments. There seemed to be something wrong with this type of response from the masses. I was most troubled by those who would claim a blessing from God upon our nation by providing the death of this man. The thought that God has played a part in any of this was not isolated to a few zealous Christian fundamentalist, but people I know very well who many would classify as very devote Christians who follow Christ closely. (Some would even be called left-wing crazies!)

I do not want it to be thought that I look past the teachings or actions of Osama bin Laden throughout his life, nor do I think that it is realistic that he would ever be brought to a courtroom alive, it is the response of so many people that has lain heavy on my heart. Is celebration of any death a Christian virtue? There is nothing in any of my study, prayer, or faith experience that can comprehend that celebration of any killing is a faithful way to serve our God. Some claim the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) of God’s judgment and wrath as precedent for this type of celebration, but I must say this is a strong misreading and interpretation of God and Jewish practice.

I share with you the practice of the Seder Meal during Passover. During the meal the Ten Plagues on Egypt are recounted that lead to the freedom of the Jewish people. With the recital of the Ten Plagues, each participant removes a drop of wine from his or her cup and places it on the tablecloth. Although this night is one of salvation, the Sages explain that one cannot be completely joyous when some of God’s creatures had to suffer. So even though the deaths were needed for the freedom of Israel from slavery, mourning is still the proper response to those deaths. We can mourn for the systems in the world that create violent behavior and thought, that create people like bin Laden, but celebrating the death only continues the cycle. Celebrating this death with such joy only perpetuates the things we find so disturbing about terrorist like bin Laden.

I leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. from his writing Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?(1967):

Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes… Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

In Prayer,

Love Will Find A Way…

This morning I was struggling to get into a reflective mood. I stayed up late doing homework, got up early to do more homework and just wasn’t feeling it at all. So, when I feel that way I go straight to the iTunes for some inspiration. Like always, something came up on my shuffle that centered me and calmed me some.

Here are some of the lyrics:

“Love Will Find A Way” by Celia Whitler

Searching, longing for someone to know.
Listening, waiting on your own.
Deep inside you know life is a winding road.
Faith will lead when you’re alone.

Love will find you, when you think you’ve lost your way.
Love will speak to you, when there are no words to say.
Love will reach your heart when you’re lost in this world of doubt.
Love will find you somehow.

Looking back it’s clear to see the path you’ve chosen doesn’t always lead you to your goal.
Someway, someone will show you love.

I’m still in my dreaming for the church mode, and this spoke to me after reflecting on my pastoral care reading for the week. People are lost, heck, I’m lost most of the time. Faith is the part of us that guides us and brings us somewhere we can be accepted and love. I hope that my ministry can create a place for that to happen. That as people feel lost on the road of life, there is always a welcoming place, free from judgment and ridicule. A place that is comforting and not hurting, that can show people the unending love of God. That’s my hope anyway.

Escalation…

As I sat in the first session of the parishes Lenten Study, we talked about relationships and how escalation is a part of broken relationships. The idea that we are constantly upping the ante with one another, to be better than someone, or to try and be something new constantly. I thought about how easy it would have been for Jesus to simply put all the people to shame with his gifts in those final days, but he didn’t. Jesus let things happen, and lived out his calling.

On a more personal level, I thought about how I never feel good enough for the people around me. I feel a constant need to be fresh and new, and do something exciting to impress people. I can never find contentment in what is happening at that time. I can’t believe that I’m accepted just as I am, and don’t need to impress or be better than others. I am, who I am. If people are my friends, than I should be okay with who and what I am around them, not worrying about whether I can be something better or different. I need to pause and appreciate what I have and not worry about the need to escalate situations to impress or sustain a relationship.

This song came to mind as I was reflecting on this:

Come and Find the Quiet Center

Come and find the quiet center
In this crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter,
Find the frame where we are freed.
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
Clear our eyes that we may see,
All the things that really matter,
Be at peace and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us,
Cools the heat and slows the pace.
God it is who speaks and names us,
Knows our being, touches base.
Making space within our thinking,
Liftting shades to show the sun,
Raising courage when we’re shrinking,
Finding scope for faith begun.

In the spirit let us travel,
Open to each other’s pain.
Let our lives and fears unravel,
Celebrate the space we’ve gained.
There’s a time for deepest dreaming,
There’s a time for heart to care,
In the Spirit’s lively scheming,
There is always room to care.

Come and find the quiet center
In this crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter,
Find the frame where we are freed.
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
Clear our eyes that we may see,
All the things that really matter
Be at peace and simply be.

This song has always been moving to me, and really forces me to think about my life and where it is leading. I need to take the time and see what is around me and recognize God’s presence. May you too find time to pause and find room for God to enter.

Grace and Peace,
Z

You did it to me…

Matthew 25:31-40

<!– 31 –>

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 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.”

Something from scripture finally made into my journal/blogging today. This passage was shared on the bishop’s daily e-mail devotion. These verses remind me of our interconnectedness as humans. There is a connection through God that each and every person has, whether everyone recognizes it or not. How we act towards one another matters. The way in which we work for justice and mercy, matters. If we even think about the problems in the world, matters. We have not been called to a “wait and see” faith, but a faith of action.

One specific line moved me today: “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.” This is really making me think about life, calling, and just general treatment of others. God is a part of everything, and the way in which we respond to each other is an embodiment of God’s creation, God’s love. There aren’t exceptions to this, not any “levels” of worthiness. People are sacred in God’s sight, and thus should be in our sight as well. That means as a progressive, liberal person I need to recognize the sacredness of people like Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson. Now, I can disagree with them, but how I respond is what matters. How I act and listen is important to the treatment of others.

How are you embodying God’s creation in your actions with others? How can you improve on this? Why are you waiting to change the way you see others? What is God calling you to do in this area?

Grace and Peace,

Z

The Cold…

Cold Poem by Mary Oliver

Cold now.
Close to the edge. Almost
unbearable. Clouds
bunch up and boil down
from the north of the white bear.
This tree-splitting morning
I dream of his fat tracks,
the lifesaving suet.

I think of summer with its luminous fruit,
blossoms rounding to berries, leaves,
handfuls of grain.

Maybe what cold is, is the time
we measure the love we have always had, secretly,
for our own bones, the hard knife-edged love
for the warm river of the I, beyond all else; maybe

that is what it means the beauty
of the blue shark cruising toward the tumbling seals.

In the season of snow,
in the immeasurable cold,
we grow cruel but honest; we keep
ourselves alive,
if we can, taking one after another
the necessary bodies of others, the many
crushed red flowers.

I have found myself looking towards poetry and music for inspiration and meditation this Lent. So far Mary Oliver has made two appearances, and will probably make a few more before the season is over. Her writing brings to life the simple things that embody complex emotions and feelings, they bring to life creation and God. Her writing brings to life my imagination and faith like it hasn’t been in some time. I hope that you also can experience some of that when you read poetry or listen to music.

A few line in this poem really focused my thoughts today. “Cold now. Close to the edge. Almost unbearable.” Almost unbearable is the key. At times, life and its challenges seem so unbearable, almost enough to cause a stop to everything. But we fight, keep ourselves alive, remembering the things that are worth it. Remembering the things that brought us to this point in time. Just like the seasons, sorrow will pass… these moments keep us grounded, recognizing over humanity. The cold of winter reminds us of hte hard times, but a brighter, happier season is only a few months away.

Our faith is kind of like the cold. When we struggle, question, doubt, we think that it may be unbearable. However, we are always reminded of something to get us to the next season. Something or someone comes and guides us to recognition that God was present all along. “Cold is the time we measure the love we always had.”

Grace and Peace,
Z

What will it be? Where will it be? My purpose in life is a mystery.

Yesterday at chapel I had the distinct pleasure to her the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery preach. Some would say it was a lecture, but there was no doubt in my mind that worship and a sermon took place during that time together. I cannot fully give justice to the event in my words, but I do know that I was greatly changed by being able to experience it. Very few people know this, but since I was in elementary school I have extensively read and studied the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. So, to be able to see, listen to, and shake hands with a giant of the movement was extremely meaningful to me.

There were many quotable moments throughout the morning, many of which I am unable to recall completely, but I do remember this one being especially moving.

Integration is not the movement of all things black to all things white; it is the movement of all things wrong to all things right.

As I heard Rev. Lowery speak, I was constantly moved, many times to tears, about all that he and others had done to bring about change to our country and how they have never stopped working for the greater good. He has been committed to his convictions for his entire life, which has spanned an amazing 87 years so far. His stories always had a point whether they seemed to at first or not, and hit home something powerful about humanity and its need to love one another. After the time in chapel I was both comforted and extremely uncomfortable. My discomfort is grounded in the struggle of my purpose and calling in life. Hearing the call for each of us to be “chaplains of the common good” really struck home with me. Rev. Lowery spoke of his recent work in uniting advocacy groups, and how he felt there were some things above the hierarchy of the church. His use of humor in that situation did not stop me from thinking that our institution gets in the way of ministry many times.

I struggle with my own calling each and everyday. I question whether I am called to the direction I’m headed, or to something different. I wonder if I am compromising my calling for the sure deal of itinerant preaching and guaranteed appointments. Am I called to this? Each day I think I may be less and less. First and foremost I want to be a servant leader. Yes, those two terms can go together whether my recent pastoral care book would agree or not. Leading by example, and less by meetings and visioning plans is where I want to be. I want to serve the needs of people and spend less time maintaining and protecting an institution. There is so much need for work in social justice and mercy ministries, that I would hope the church would be open to a calling based entirely on those factors.

Here’s the catch, how do I go about this? How do I determine if this is possible? How do I make sure that I am able to serve in a way that is authentic to my calling, and still be able to make a living to survive? These are all things on my mind right now. I never imagined being almost half done with my MDiv and be thinking that maybe there’s a different path for me when it’s all done. It scares me, causes me discomfort, but also gives me some peace that I know God is still calling me through the doubt and confusion. God’s calling is bigger than a process and bigger than me. Hopefully some answers will come my way soon, and Rev. Lowery was probably a messenger on the path to figuring it all out.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Let There Be Peace

As it is the Christmas Season, there is a lot of Christmas music being played right now. As I listen to the lyrics, sometimes I wonder why songs have become exclusively labeled as a Christmas song. One of those songs is “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I have heard it used in Worship a couple times in my life outside of Christmas, but not very often. I think the simplicity of the song could be made to good use throughout the year.

Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me.
Let There Be Peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be!
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now.
With ev’ry breath I take, let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally!
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!

So here’s my challenge: find ways to use this message and song throughout the year! Share how each of us can play a role in making peace. Peace isn’t only an Advent activity…it’s a lifestyle!

Shalom!
z