Prayers for Pastors

Storm Surge (a prayer for pastors)

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet, for just a moment, a yellow sky.”
(Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hurricane” in “Hamilton: An American Musical”)

Holy One,
Storms surge beyond human-made barriers.

Waves break beyond their bounds,
and winds blow heavily,
destroying homes and taking lives.

We pray for the injured,
the homeless, and the bereaved.
Have mercy, Lord.

Storms surge due to human action.

Words break beyond old norms,
and arguments spin out,
distressing minds disturbing peace.

We pray for our leaders,
the reasonable, and the reckless.
Have mercy, Lord.

Storms surge in human hearts.

Wounds break open again,
and memories burn,
tears are shed,
or worse, held back.

We pray for ourselves,
our hearts, and our spirits.
Have mercy, Lord.

Amen.

matthew-100916

Politics

How the Sausage Gets Made

aaron burrNo one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens.

~Aaron Burr, in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton

I’ve known plenty of people in politics. My dad was in politics. Politicians, like most human beings, exist on a spectrum from noble to well-meaning to pragmatic to misguided to selfish to downright evil. Whatever their moral character, politicians do work behind the scenes to accomplish their goals. The Constitutional Convention was closed to the public with no minutes taken exactly in order to give the delegates freedom to debate and change their minds.*

It’s not different for pastors. There are things we do behind the scenes, in private, most of us adhering to the highest ethics, I hope, and yet we are blamed and called out for not being where someone else wants us to be, not revealing what someone wishes we would say, not making the pivot exactly when someone demands our loyalty.

Students of history will know that in politics it has always been hard to get the true story, that the press has always been manipulated for the sake of ideology and also for the sake of commerce, that politicians have phrased things carefully in order to avoid revealing truth without actually being caught in lies. What we didn’t have in the past was a digital “paper” trail. The potential for embarrassment is huge now, and while I deplore the idea of one candidate encouraging foreign hackers to look into the other presidential candidate’s deleted emails, I also deplore the careful answers used by the other candidate.

We’re at a bizarre crossroads. Some people think it’s okay to say anything, while others continue to abide by more traditional rules of public discourse. One could probably afford to risk a little more vulnerability, while the other really could use an injection of temperance. We might be able to understand her defensive posture, given the history of lies told about her. We might even be able to understand his aggressive nature, because in the story he tells himself, that stance works and has been working.

Meanwhile advisers on a bus try to figure how to spin things and still make their gal a winner, and meanwhile the other guy is sitting on his plane grinning widely and eating fried chicken for his dinner.**

The most telling piece of the Democratic convention for me was the film about Dorothy Rodham, who sent 4-year-old Hillary back out into the fray to figure out how to deal with bullies by herself. Imagine a life informed by that moment, and then add to it the influence of a mis-attributed but supposedly Wesleyan principle of doing all the good you can, and you have a formula for figuring out how to get done what you believe needs to be done, however you can get it done, for as long as it takes to get it done.

History may tell us, someday, what really happened, whether the emails were really a national security scandal, or a case of privileged arrogance, or (my guess) the result of a person with important things to do creating her own workaround to match the reality of today’s communication demands, rightly or wrongly. History will also likely consider whether the other guy got into it mostly to prove that he could win it by being outrageous, and then couldn’t get off the track he laid out for himself. And for us.

I don’t want to be cynical. The politician who raised me lived out a careful balance of working toward compromise where beneficial for the whole and staking out his principles where meeting in the middle would compromise his integrity. There is nothing simple about governing that way. It requires intelligence, patience, nuance and bone-deep righteousness. I really hope that’s what she has, because under the circumstances, I’m with her.

*Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (The Penguin Press, 2004), p.228.
**A one word quote from “Hamilton” probably doesn’t count as a quote, but if the soundtrack is burned on your brain as it is on mine, I’ll bet you heard it that way.

Living in This World, Political Theology, Politics

Feel the Burn

The grown-ups at my house don’t watch a lot of TV outside of baseball season, but this being a presidential election year, I have been drawn into watching some cable news coverage. I’m undecided most days; my spouse is not (sorry, I won’t tell you more); our voting age children #FeeltheBern.

When I turn on the foolishly big television intended to make us feel like we’re sitting at the ballpark, and I punch in the channel for the latest debate, press conference or expert analysis, I often find myself watching and listening to distressing behavior at what feels like an unsafe distance. It’s up too close, the red-faced hostility, the fallacious allegations, and the self-aggrandizing claims.

I wonder what the world is coming to, how we will avoid destroying ourselves, and things that matter to us. I feel some mixture of frustration, apathy, and despair. I exercise my privilege, therefore, to press the mute button, or I change the channel to see what’s on HGTV, or I turn the darn thing off and go to bed.

img094
Daddy, Tommy and me – Monumental Methodist Church, 1966

It’s the truth that I grew up starry-eyed about politics because the politician I knew best was my daddy. We practiced our own civic religion; our polling place was at the Methodist church where he learned about faith. I remember vividly walking there from our house and going into the booth with him before I was old enough to read the names on the ballot. I associate goodness with the sound of that lever being pulled to register his vote and open the curtain that revealed us again to the world. Everything about his speech was thoughtful, careful, strong, but gentle.

I wonder how I would have felt if I had been in the Temple courtyard that day Jesus came in and started turning over the tables, knocking over the cages and freeing the birds intended for sacrifice, shouting that his Father’s house had been turned into a den of thieves? Did he not raise his voice? Did he not cause a disturbance? Did he not protest the way things were?

How do we discern the difference between righteous indignation and attention-seeking tirades?

We ask ourselves, what is the underlying intention of the person raising his or her voice? What is the agenda of the person causing the disturbance? What is the desire of the person protesting the status quo?

If we’re people of faith, we ask ourselves, do these loud voice do more than invoke God? Do they align with the values Jesus lived and died to teach us? And, perhaps even more importantly, do they express our Resurrection hope?

I’m not looking for a savior among political candidates, nor do I think that only certain varieties of church-going Christians can express that hope. I am looking for an affirmation of what matters to me, which will allow me to be faithful as I mark a ballot. I hope I’ll feel that burn.

Prayers for Pastors, Transfiguration

Transfiguration (a prayer for pastors)

St. Pete Beach Sunset
St. Pete Beach Sunset

I’ll admit it, Holy One.

I struggle with this story.
I struggle with it,
and what it means.
I definitely struggle with
how to preach it,
year in, year out.
I grapple with the idea
not of what light once was
but of what we have made it,
not a gift from you to help us see,
or a means of sorting out order from chaos,
but as a badge of superiority,
an ID of supremacy.
It’s more than a metaphor now;
we have given it literal power.
A brown man with his brown friends
climbed a mountain,
saw historic figures
and recognized them,
suddenly looked brighter,
with clothes whiter than bleach
could make them,
and I could argue for
a spotlight effect
or something,
but in truth,
we’ve made the narrative
of light v. darkness
so sick,
it’s hard to do.
Yet it seems to be true
that your light
wherever it shines
puts things in focus
makes us able to see
better, even clearly,
for the first time
what matters.
In this season
of argument and fear,
help us to see
better, even clearly,
what matters now
(what always matters):
safety from violence
enough to eat
clean water
for all children
for all people
wherever they live.
Faith, Friendship, Marriage Equality, Politics

My Cup of Hope

Light Princess came downstairs this morning as the kitchen counter TV, tuned to the news, blared a commercial with Christmas music.

Offended, she exclaimed, "It's not even Thanksgiving yet!"

I agreed. "I got a Christmas cup at Starbucks yesterday."

I prepared for her disgust, but instead she smiled.

"Well, they sort of put me in a good mood, so I guess it's okay."

And it was true, that on a morning when I felt discouraged, my first response to a Christmas cup was to cry out, "No! It's barely November!!" But then I noticed the words on the cup, which include "Wish" and "Joy."

And the first one I saw was "Hope."

Some of us might be about up to here with the idea of hope. We hoped and hoped all last year, and we rejoiced on Election Night, but on the other side of the country, people felt then the way my friends and I feel now.

It's possible that word got to bound up with a human being, one who doesn't share my position on the issue of marriage. I mean, he really, really doesn't. 

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. (Psalm 146:3, NRSV) 

I don't like thinking of this verse in reference to a President for whom I voted. It felt like a *great* verse six years ago, when we were going to war and the colleagues in my preaching group were still trying to figure out how to talk about it in a sermon. He even acted like a prince, that President–in my opinion–but I see how inclined we are to make them into princes, all of them, even if only the ones we prefer. Princes or fools or mustachioed villains, however we dress them in our minds, do not put your trust in them. They cannot manifest our hopes single-handed. They may not share them. They may not even care about them.

We've got to find our hope in other places. 

I start with my kids. They are 23 and 19 and 14, and two of them voted, and all of them are angry. They're learning a hard lesson that other Christian people did not hear the gospel the same way they heard it in this house and in the churches that formed them. It makes no sense.

LP will go tonight to the big GSA meeting where LGBT students and their straight allies from many schools will gather to unpack what has happened.

For my No on 1-voting neighbors and the onlookers from away who don't reckon these things from a faith perspective, it's almost easier. They can shut out the religious voices, or try to, and make plans for the next campaign. They don't have to figure out a way to talk to the ecumenical colleagues at the next community event or clergy group meeting.

My friend, RevFun, went to see a priest yesterday. God, he's brave. He's braver than I am. He wanted to tell a priest how this felt and why it was wrong.

I know the priest he went to see, not as well. I've met him once. I wonder if he felt equipped to have the conversation. I wonder if any of them do.

My friend E wrote a beautiful reflection on the power of the widow who gave her mite, and another E wrote he would "watch the sun come up tomorrow, and go back to work repairing the world. Who's in?"and my musical colleague J used Facebook to share his feelings about how this experience led to deeper self-acceptance and my friend B simply said in a status update, "B W is not going away…"

We are all in some way part of the United Church of Christ, and we are motivated by our understanding of the gospel message that we are to love God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds and our neighbors as ourselves. Make no mistake about it.

That's my cup of hope this morning. I put no faith in princes, but in the next generation and in the people of God, who are not going away.

Marriage Equality, Politics

Vote Early

No on 1

We’re in the midst of a campaign to preserve our new law allowing same-sex marriage in Maine. Out-of-state money and ads remade from the Prop 8 fight in California claim to represent Maine Values, but our side is fighting back with good ads and strong volunteer efforts.

I volunteered at the Marriage Equality phone bank the other night. I say this not to garner praise; it was a pretty small contribution of time and effort, all things considered.

But here’s what I found fascinating.

We were calling identified supporters (mostly true) to ask them to vote early. This is a strategy devised to boost turnout, since many of the supporters of same-sex marriage are not people who have a history of voting regularly. Maine traditionally has good voter turnout, but this is an off-year election, so it’s clear the get-out-the-vote effort will matter a lot. Southern Maine organizers of the campaign have devised a script and a philosophy that works for younger, urban voters who, quite honestly, are the most likely to get busy on Election Day and forget to go to the polls.

My call list, however, was to small towns on the coast and in more interior sections of Maine. And I’m here to tell you that Maine Values in those small towns include going to the polls to vote. The idea of voting early seemed absurd! Absurd. If I live three doors or three blocks from the polling place, in a town with no traffic, in a town where I see all my neighbors when I go to vote, why would I want to vote absentee?

Now, the advantage to the campaign is clear once it’s explained. Every week the Secretary of State will publish a list of those who have voted, and the Marriage Equality campaign will cross-check that list with its list of identified supporters and stop calling those who have voted. It both helps with “turn out” and allows the resources to be turned in other directions, to undecided voters.

So, I got the message I preached, and this morning, I applied online for an absentee ballot.

If you live in Maine, and you are planning to vote No on 1 (yes, I know that’s counter-intuitive, but that’s the way you need to vote to support same-sex marriage here), please consider clicking here and requesting an absentee ballot. Please think about voting early.

And if you’re related to me–Snowman will be voting absentee, if he remembers to request a ballot–just do it. Thanks.

Because whenever and however you do it, voting is a Maine Value.

James, Politics, Prophets, Psalms

Show By Your Good Life

Jimmycarter460 (Thinking about Proper 20B again.)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. (James 3:13)

He's a former President, a Sunday School teacher and a builder of houses for people in need.

He's an old school liberal. 

He failed to win re-election, in large measure because he could not get the hostages out of Iran.

He told us, wisely, to turn down our thermostats and put on a sweater.

(My daughter believes this was brilliant and cannot understand why people derided him.)

He's a prophet. And you know how much people like prophets.

It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds.But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!" (Jeremiah 11:18-19)

This morning I turned on that show again, and in the two minutes I watched, I heard President Carter described as "malevolent" and "ignorant" by a person who also accused him of "poisoning the health care debate."

Seriously, Pat Buchanan? After a summer of rowdy demonstrations and guns being carried to public events and posters of the President depicted as a witch doctor, this gentle old man is responsible for "poisoning" the debate?

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. (from Psalm 1)

We often hear that history will have the last word on Presidents. I'm fairly sure this President's leaves will not wither.