Transforming Toxicity: A Psalm of Lament

If you know me, you know my love-hate relationship with what we Christians call biblical text – The Bible. Words that can comfort, liberate, and empower. Words that can be used to wound, divide, and justify hypocrisy and hatred. One of the books that has inspired me is the Book of Psalms, especially now that I transform the masculine and patriarchal language. Most of the psalms in the biblical canon are psalms of lament. In a class on the psalms, we were asked to write a psalm of lament and I share it with you today. To lament to God is to cry out in the hope that being aware of the sources of our pain and injustice, including our own roles in it, and to express it openly in words can lead to healing, forgiveness, protection for the future, and a closer relationship to our Creator. I pray that my sharing will encourage you to give time and expression to your own laments and your own journeys of healing and hope.

Transforming Toxicity

Most Gracious Spirit,

You are my source of strength, my healer, my comforter, my friend.

I speak to you from the depths of my heart,

a place you know well,

a place where you reside.

 

I plead for your guidance – let me hear and follow your words

How shall I deal with the anger, the hurt of being aware of things I cannot control

To have been uprooted so long ago and planted in such toxic soil,

a delusional land founded on greed, theft, slavery, and genocide

that calls itself a beacon of freedom and democracy, a land of justice for all,

From childhood, infused with pledges of allegiance to a flag, a government, a nation

that has never been loyal to me or to anyone who is not rich, white, male, and

idolized on Wall Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Capitol Hill.

A place that spreads hatred all around the globe,

that takes your name in vain as it sinks colonial Christianity to new depths of depravity.

 

Shall I find solace in the institutional church? Most certainly not.

It may bear your name, display symbols and speak words in honor of you

Yet it is the source of so much personal hurt, so much pain,

maybe more than this nation in which I was born

Help me, Loving Spirit, to free myself from the hurt and pain of the past,

from the agony and anger that will continually be awakened,

Remind me, Spirit of Life, that my roots go deeper than any church structure,

deeper than any nation, than any poisonous words or deeds,

Remind me that my roots are in you,

a God of life, of love, of creation,

Convert what is evil within me to what is good,

Focus my thoughts and feelings on what comes from you,

The energy and creativity, the intelligence and inner strength,

the sensitivity and spirituality that can help heal my wounds and

those of so many others,

that can bloom for your glory,

In you and you alone rest my hope.

To you and you alone do I give allegiance, honor and praise.

 

Christ First

For Christians, it is Christ First, not America First. And no, it cannot be both. People have asked me why I get so upset about having American flags in the sanctuary, singing patriotic hymns, or recognizing military service during worship. It is because our indoctrination as Americans renders us highly susceptible to ignoring or attempting to justify the horrendous acts that have been and continue to be committed in our name. Our society encourages us to equate being a Christian with being an American. Our communal worship must be a time to remind us that our loyalty goes first not to America, but to Christ.
As Americans, we are taught from childhood that the United States is the greatest country that ever existed, the world leader in democratic values, and a place founded by people seeking religious freedom. What is often left out of our education is the fact that before there was ever a Declaration of Independence or a Constitution, there were Africans and African-Americans being sold on auction blocks and Native Americans being slaughtered. What is often left out is that our history speaks less to the search for religious freedom than to the search for land, less to the desire to worship Christ than to worship greed. While there were Christians who spoke out against atrocities and died because of their beliefs, there were others who used Christianity as a tool to justify those atrocities. Our faith has too often been used as a means of distraction, division, and affirmation of what is wrong about our nation than as a force for what is right, just, and affirming of all life.
During this season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, may we remember our commitment as Christians to the principles for which Jesus stood. Instead of getting distracted with calls for cashiers to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” or to bemoan who or what institution did not place a manger scene on the lawn, may we focus on the things Jesus, God in human flesh and blood, cared about. May we remember the child whose parents were turned away from reputable establishments, who was targeted by the government for execution, who was carried out of his homeland to seek asylum and who lived as a refugee, and who called on his fellow Jews to follow God’s way regardless of doctrines, traditions, or laws. May we speak out against any American policy, including the closing of our borders and the tear gassing of people seeking asylum, that does not welcome the stranger or treat our neighbors as ourselves. May we not gain secure borders at the cost of losing our souls. May our minds, our voices, and our hearts always be guided not by America first, but by Christ first. Amani.

When We Truly Love

Let’s talk about love. Let’s talk about patriotism, what it is and what it is not. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism as “love or devotion to one’s country.” So, if we’re Americans, what does it mean to love the USA? For me, it’s similar to loving a person, a person who has always been in my life, a person who has cared for me and for those I love, and a person who has, since birth, affected the way I think about myself and about others.

As our relationship has developed over time, this person, USA, and I have grown to know each other better. And as with any relationship, we will never know all there is to know about each other. We will never know how other people feel about either one of us or what all the reasons are for those feelings. What we do know is that in order for us to stay in love and for our love to mature, we must take care of each other, support each other, trust each other, and be honest with each other. We must acknowledge that each of us makes mistakes, call attention to those mistakes, apologize for our own mistakes, and have the courage to help each other rectify and learn from those mistakes. If we are unwilling to do all of that, then we do not love each other. It may be infatuation, mutually beneficial companionship, or even a master-servant relationship, but it is not love.

Today I ask each of you who is an American and a patriot to ask yourself if you love the USA. If the answer is yes, ask yourself if your love is a mature love? Do you love her the same way you did 10, 30, or 50 years ago or has your love grown? How much about her past do you know, do you question, and do you try not to know? Can you name any of her recent sufferings or mistakes? Have you been or are you a party to those sufferings? Have you ever tried to help her rectify those mistakes? How do you react when others tell you she has said or done something to hurt them? Do you automatically dismiss their claims, become defensive or do you take time to truly listen to what they’re saying, to try to understand the claim from their point of view? When was the last time she hurt you or disappointed you, maybe even neglected or abused you?

I encourage you not only to ask these questions of yourself but also of other people who claim to be patriots, who claim to love her, who pretend to love her. I say claim to love because we know that saying we love someone is not the same as loving them. I say pretend to love because we also know that loving what she’s wearing, what she’s saying or writing or what holiday she’s celebrating, does not equate with loving her. In the same way, loving our country’s writings, like the U.S. Constitution, loving the national anthem, loving the American flag, or loving the 4th of July does not equate with loving the United States. It does not equate with being a patriot.

To love the United States is to seek to know and to understand the struggles through which she has come, to welcome the promise of who she can be, and to love the people who have made and continue to make her who she is. And yes, that includes loving people who are not, have never been, or may never desire to be American citizens.

To love the USA is to not just to talk about but to have the courage to put into practice the principles for which she stands. Two of those principles that we say we hold dear and that we have fought for at home and abroad, are freedom and justice. They are also principles that have never been fully realized by all Americans. If we are unwilling or afraid to say that or if we get angry or hurt when others do, then we need to question the depth and maturity of our patriotism, of our love. My father, uncles, brothers, and cousins who served in the military at home and abroad did not do so in order to restrict freedom or to affirm or ignore injustice. They did so in the hope that the country for which they fought would one day love them as much as they loved her. They did so in the hope that their children and grandchildren would have the opportunities that they were denied. They served as did thousands of women and men so that every person who lived in this nation could put into practice and benefit from the principles they held dear. They did so to give every person in this nation, regardless of their political affiliation, faith tradition, occupation, or citizenship status, the freedom to speak as much and as easily about the things that are wrong in this nation as about the things that are right.

The individuals across this country who are marching for the rights of women, who are protesting the treatment of immigrants, and who are calling attention to the state-sanctioned harassment, discrimination against, and murder of people of color are doing so not out of disrespect for this nation but out of love for this nation. Whether they do so by rallying in the streets, by refusing to rise or place hand to heart for the pledge of allegiance, or by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, they are doing so not to dishonor the individuals who fought for this nation but to honor and uphold the principles for which they fought and died. They do so to bring to fruition the dreams of those who were beaten, jailed, and lynched simply for wanting to be treated as human beings, not as vermin or apes, workhorses or chattel. They do so to bring our nation closer to realizing the promise of who she can be.

If any of those actions upset us, we need to move beyond initial reactions, beyond defending and worshiping symbols, and beyond catchy but empty and meaningless phrases. We need to ask those who protest why they are protesting. We need to seek the truth in what they tell us and try to understand why they feel the way they feel. We need to examine the ways in which the hurt, the anger, the abuse or the injustice they feel connect with the feelings and stories of our own lives. For when we truly are patriots, when we truly love our nation, we want all who live within her to love her. We want to help her overcome the trials life will continue to bring. We want her to live up to her potential. We want to love every life she births, shelters, or nurtures as much as we love her.
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patriotism (accessed on 08/20/18)

The Goodness in Us

“She understood that God loves us and helps us not because we are good but because God is good.”(1) A few days ago, I read those words about Julian of Norwich, the 15th century writer and mystic and God placed it on my heart to share them with you in relation to the immigration battle being waged in the United States. I believe Julian’s words can guide us when confronted with two of the three main reasons given for blocking immigration from Latin America and to some extent, for blocking or limiting the entry of people of the Islamic faith. One reason, based on the economy, was addressed in an earlier post. The two reasons addressed in today’s post are the risk of criminal or terrorist activity and rewarding people who are breaking our immigration laws.

For those people who seek to exclude immigrants or certain ethnic groups based on the notion that some of them are criminals or terrorists, I ask you to be mindful of the fact that criminal behavior and terrorism are not limited to any specific racial, ethnic, or religious group. And as Americans let’s be honest with ourselves. If our immigration laws were designed to protect the nation from criminals and terrorists, our history would require limiting immigration from Western Europe as much or more so than any other area in the world. Our history also would require limiting immigration by Christians more than any other faith group. We can site instances as recent as the shooting of journalists in Maryland and the rioting of white supremacists in Charlottesville or as distant as the lynchings of thousands of African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the murder of Native-Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. If we talk about gangs and organized crime, we could talk about the Italian mafia, which many of our organized crime laws were initially crafted to combat, and we could add another area of the great white north and speak of Russian organized crime, which has been a lethal part of American crime for decades. We could add many of the modern day corporate and government criminals to that list, executives who lay off workers, raise prices, close businesses, and slash benefits that feed, shelter, and help heal the most financially impoverished among us, not because they must but for financial gain. So, I ask my fellow Americans and fellow Christians to speak out honestly and forcefully against the portrayal of Latin Americans and Muslims as criminals and terrorists. I ask you to be honest in owning the fact that our immigration policies and laws are not about crime or terror. Our immigration policies and laws, as they always have been, are the rotten fruits of racism and religious discrimination.

For those people who seek to exclude immigrants or certain ethnic groups based on the notion that they are entering the country illegally, I ask you to be mindful of the fact that for the most part, laws are created by human beings with power and they are designed to benefit the people who create them, not the nation as a whole. Legality does not equate with justice. Some of the cruelest and most horrific actions taken by our government and by governments throughout history have been taken under color of law. At this very moment across our land, there are innocent people trapped in jails and prisons who have been legally convicted when justice would demand their freedom.

Even when laws are created with the best intentions, they can never be justly applied to every individual. They simply cannot cover every situation or circumstance. That is why it is vital to have competent, caring, and compassionate individuals as police officers, prosecutors, and judges, and to give them laws that are flexible. This way they can connect with the individuals in front of them, apply the law as fairly as possible, and, at the times when a required application is unfair, seek to find ways to limit or counterbalance that unfairness.

Our focus as human beings must always first be not on law and order, but on justice and grace. Our focus as human beings and as Americans, if we truly value family, community, and freedom, must be on the goodness in every human, not on their faults or potential faults. Relying on the law and punishing people often seem to be great ideas until the laws and punishments are applied to us and to the people we love. Then, we open our mouths and our hearts to cry out for acts of mercy. As people of faith, in particular, we are called to remember that each of us makes mistakes, causes harm to ourselves and to others, and participates and benefits from injustices.

If God sat in judgment over humanity in the way we sit in judgment over each other, the human race would long ago have been extinct. We should give thanks every day for God’s justice, a justice that seeks to empower, connect, and liberate life, a justice that is filled with mercy, love, and grace.

To paraphrase the opening quotation, God is good to us not because of our goodness, our purity, our merit, or our obedience. God is good to us because God is good. May we seek to live as ones created in God’s image. May we love others, help others, and welcome others not by our estimation of their goodness, their purity, their merit, or their obedience, but because we seek to be good as God is good.

Amani.

(1). Gloria Durka, Praying with Julian of Norwich (Winona, Minnesota: Saint Mary’s Press, 1989), p. 42.

We Are All Each Other’s Children

We are all each other’s children. There are two components to that statement. One component is that each one of us is a child. The other component is that every child is our child. We are all each other’s children.

First, each one of us is a child. No matter our age, we still have a child within us. We are most aware of that fact when we are overcome with joy and laughter, when we are lonely or afraid, and when we bury the people who raised us. Second, every child is our child. We have a responsibility to care for and to nurture each other. It is not always our responsibility under the law, but it is always our responsibility as human beings.

A few years ago, I went to South Korea as part of a ministry team. The primary reason for our trip was to assist with a Vacation Bible School program. I was blessed in many ways by spending time in South Korea and one of those ways relates to this post. The church was relatively large by American standards and had numerous activities occurring in addition to a large Vacation Bible School program. Every day the building was buzzing with students of all ages, teachers, translators and room assistants, kitchen and maintenance volunteers, members preparing for the regular Sunday worship services, and paid church staff. As for the VBS kids, they were everywhere, sitting in classrooms and on the floor during morning worship services, walking and gathering in the hallways, singing in the praise band and sleeping in sheltering arms. They did not have on identifying wristbands. There were no guiding ropes around their waists. There were no huge name placards on their backs.

After one or two days, I gave up on trying to connect any one child to her biological parent. It was a fruitless and unnecessary enterprise, for every child in that building belonged to everyone else. If a child cried, fell, tugged on someone for food or water, or was being picked on by another child, she was immediately attended to by an older child, a teenager, or an adult. I was blessed by what I observed in that church and saddened by what I had observed in many American churches. Our focus in the United States on so-called child safety has unnecessarily increased the risk of any of us caring for children in the ways in which our hearts guide us. It has caused us to teach our children through our words and our actions that there are good people and bad people, when in truth, every human is born good and every one of us can succumb to sin and evil at any given moment. It has caused us to teach our children that security comes from laws, restrictions, and barriers instead of from inclusion, openness, and love.

We have become a society that neglects our responsibility to every child, that neglects our responsibility to each other as human beings. Our current immigration battle is a prime example of our neglect. I say battle, not discussion or debate, because a battle is what this has become. I say neglect because there’s way too much focus on laws and on which government policies led us to this point. There’s too much back and forth about why we care for one group of children and not for another group of children. If we are not to neglect our children, if we are not to neglect each other, our focus must be on caring for all children. Our focus must be on comforting, supporting, and loving every child.

Yes, there are children who are American citizens who are without their parents due to their parents’ abandonment, military service, imprisonment, or death. Yes, there are children who are American citizens who are without adequate shelter, food, or clothing. Yes, we have a responsibility to each of those children AND we have a responsibility to the children at our southern border, regardless of which side of the border they are on. We have a responsibility as part of the human race to all of the children at the border, including the toddlers and teenagers from Latin America and the parents and other adults fleeing persecution or simply seeking to build a better life for themselves and their families. We have a responsibility to every child, including the border patrol agents, immigration lawyers, social workers, journalists, cooks, bus drivers, and any other person who is in the midst of the cruelty that is occurring. What must the child in each of them be feeling? What must the children in them be remembering from their early years or fearing for their futures? What heartache and grief do they take home to their families?

We must resist the temptation to pit one group of children against another group, to become more and more suspicious and less trusting, to limit our interactions and our sense of responsibility to people like us, whatever that means, and to judge who is good and worthy and who is bad and unworthy. The temptation is great because we think that if we do those things, we will be safe and secure. We think we can avoid whatever risk being open to, vulnerable to, and responsible for others might bring. In reality, we cannot live and avoid risk. We cannot be safe and secure as long as our fellow humans are not safe and secure. We cannot be fully human until we are willing to embrace the child in us and the child in others. We cannot be fully human until we risk being responsible both to and for each other.

When we live as the human beings we are created to be, we recognize the child that rests in each of us, a child in need of love, of kindness, of laughter, and of human touch. When we live as the human beings we are created to be, we are grateful for the child within us, the child that reminds us of our vulnerability and of each other’s vulnerability. When we live as the human beings we are created to be, we speak and act with an awareness that we are all each other’s children. We accept and cherish the responsibility to care for each other and to protect each other, not only other Americans but all people. When it comes to immigration or to any issue that confronts us, may we remember the child in each of us. May we remember that every child is our child. May we remember that we are all each other’s children.
Amani.

The Wall We Need

Recently, I spoke of the importance of language and of how as a nation, we have lessened its importance as we promoted math and science. I spoke of how this was not a choice we needed to make as we could promote both areas. I also noted that I am an English major not a math major. I don’t pretend to quote detailed statistics. That’s not the way I try to understand the world around me. Thus, I state up front that I have done no mathematical research on what I am about to say. This is just my educated guess regarding the question of what as a nation, we could do with 25 billion dollars. One thing we could do is provide transportation (by bus, or even plane if we’re good bargainers) for every unemployed American citizen who will take a job picking produce in the Southwest, working in chicken plants in the Southeast, or washing dishes and similar tasks in New York or Chicago. My educated guess is that a few American citizens would take the offer but that the vast majority would not, even if we threw in housing.

Another thing we could do, which I would prefer personally, is to use the 25 billion dollars to pay for trade school and community college for unemployed citizens whose jobs, like those in coal mines and steel factories, are gone, are not coming back due primarily to automation, and who would be willing to try something new. We also would let them know we realize how difficult this may be and we would offer to help with child care, transportation, etc. through our federal, state, and local governments, our faith communities, and our individual efforts. We would have enough left over to provide basic services for people who are seeking to make a new life here. That would include public education and health services, especially if we have 25 billion dollars plus the money we are spending on immigration officers throughout the country, border patrols, and internment camps.

Yes, there are American citizens who are hurting. There always have been. There is simply a difference in whose hurt we choose to see at any given time and whose hurt we seek to heal. I invite each of you to turn off the televisions, I-Phones, Facebook, and other social media for even one night and think about and, for those of faith, pray about, what the immigration battle is really about. For I submit to you that it is about three main things that it always has been about since the birth of our nation. It’s about greed. It’s about power. It’s about fear.

First, it’s about greed. And no, I am not making this all about class. I have financially wealthy friends, financially impoverished friends, and friends in that dying breed called the middle class. This is about our greed as Americans. We believe we are entitled to more than whatever it is we possess and that bigger is always better. We need more land and more money for bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger buildings, more expansive highways, and yes, fellow Christians, bigger and more elaborate worship spaces. This is a wealthy nation and it is not because of the mental abilities, physical labor, or any other contributions of any one generation, one gender, one race or one nationality. Every person who has ever been born here, brought here, or moved here has contributed something of value to this nation and not one person who has ever been born here, brought here, or moved here survived, much less thrived, without assistance, assistance of other individuals and assistance of governments. And remember that we never have a problem opening our borders to bring in people who will do the work we are not skilled to do or do not want to do from indentured Europeans to enslaved Africans to today’s so-called illegal immigrants. Then when the work is done, we want them to either leave or assimilate into the so-called American culture, which translates as one race, one faith, and one way of believing and living for all. I could speak on a personal level of the psychological damage that does to a person who does not fit into any one of those categories, but that is a story for another day.

Which brings us to immigration problem number two. It’s about power. It’s about who will control the economy and means of production, about who will control the government, and about who will control the American narrative. One Latin-American theologian often says something we should all remember in times like these. He says that the roads on which people are coming to the United States from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other Latin American countries are the same roads we built going in. Our government, our corporations, and our citizens have no problem going into other people’s lands, whether they ask us to or not. This is when it becomes about narrative. Our entries abroad are not invasions or infestations. Oh no, our entries are to bring democracy, economic growth, and culture to others as if people around the world did not have any culture before there was a nation called the United States of America. In fact, in many cases, including Native American communities, they had cultures in which their communities, not only individuals, were responsible for caring for children and the elderly; in which animals were only killed for necessities, like food, not for sport; and in which the land was seen as a gift to all, a gift to be nourished, rested, and planted with crops suitable for the soil and the climate.

I guess that’s what made them weak and vulnerable to our invasions and those of nations with similar narratives. Community, compassion, nourishing and nurturing, and even rest are not the characteristics valued and applauded in those narratives. If you’re thinking, well, we’ll get there, but first we need to have a strong economy, secure borders, and peace for American citizens in our own nation, our own communities. Unfortunately, if that is the roadmap, we’ll never get there. We’ll never get to see or to experience the main characteristics, the characteristics that sustain and nourish all. We’ll never to get to live into the main characteristics of our Constitution and of every major faith tradition. For my fellow Christians, I invite you to try out the theory on Sunday. Go to your home church and/or local church and as soon as any of the main characteristics is mentioned in a greeting, a prayer, a hymn, or a sermon, get up and leave. Okay, La Ronda, I get your point, but it’s just not the world we live in. That brings us to the last immigration problem, fear.

It’s about fear, fear of change, fear of difference, fear that somehow someone is going to take something that we believe belongs to us. Here are some things to consider during the evening’s respite from television or social media. First, change can never be stopped. Some change we have no choice over and for change that is within our control, the only options are to fight it or embrace it. To fight it, including fighting it by trying to ignore it, only brings more fear and misery to all involved. If we instead choose to use our energies and our resources to embrace it and learn how to implement its benefits for all, we will be a better nation for having done so. Second, difference is good. What is the point of all the fascination with DNA tests, ancestry charts, and even world travel if not to learn about and embrace differences of heritage and experience the good that every culture has to offer. There have always been people in this country who feed off the fear of difference. Their goals being what we’ve already discussed, greed and power. To be a better nation, we must not overcome difference. We must overcome fear.

The vast majority of individuals at our southern border only want what every one of us wants deep in our souls, to be valued, to be respected, and to be loved. The real terrorists and gang members are not the helpless individuals we are incarcerating at the border and in cities across the country. The real terrorists and gang members are powerful enough and well-connected enough to come and go as they please. Or they are our fellow citizens, whether they strap on colored bandanas and guns, wear dirty pillowcases on their heads while burning crosses at night, or sit in boardrooms lining their expensive suits with the profits from building and leasing facilities to imprison traumatized children and their desperate parents.

Which brings me back to walls. I woke up this morning thinking about a wall. It wasn’t the 25-billion-dollar wall being touted as a savior for our nation but a wall in Jerusalem. It’s called the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall. It’s all that remains of the wall that surrounded the Temple Mount in ancient Jerusalem. There are some people who go to that wall to pray for a Messiah or for the return of Israel to its military and religious might during the days of King David and King Solomon. Those are not the people who entered my thoughts this morning. Who I thought of are the people who go to the Wailing Wall to pray for loved ones who have passed or who are in trouble, to pray for the healing of their nation, or to pray for forgiveness and for God’s mercy on us all. For those are the prayers that rest in my heart at this time. I pray for loved ones whose toil over generations helped to build this nation. I pray for loved ones and for my fellow citizens who are overcome by fear and despair, politics and division. I pray for the families that we as a nation have torn apart and who may never be reunited again on this earth. I pray for God’s forgiveness for anything that I have said or done or failed to do or say that has in any way contributed to or made me complicit in our government’s actions. I pray that our nation does not experience the enveloping nightmare that I and many others foresee. Yes, Great Spirit, I need a wall. We as a nation need a wall – a wailing wall. Amani.

On This Day

This is one of those days when I still cannot decide. What was the spirit that led me to leave my bed and venture into the world on this Father’s Day? At first, I thought it was God. After deciding I would hibernate for the weekend, I had received a text on Friday to read a scripture passage this Sunday. Of course, I said yes. I love to be a worship “leader” whatever that means. I love to read scripture aloud. And for better or worse, I love to please. It must be the Great Spirit, I said as I responded “yes” on Friday and as I made my journey to worship today. The reading went okay but everything else before and after seemed to go wrong, not in a major way but with small signals. By midday, I wondered, “What spirit had this been?”

After worship, I made my way to lunch ahead of the rest of my lunch group for the day. I could not meet and greet or do the cocktail party type chit-chat. I needed to leave, to find a space to let go of the hurt and anger and despair. As I parked at the lunch venue, backing in near a modest incline, an individual standing on the sidewalk below assisted me with the ordinary stop and go hand motions. When I exited my car and thanked him, I realized that he was an elderly man and a Vietnam War veteran (thanks to the words on his baseball cap). We chatted briefly and for some reason, his words cheered me. Only a few words about people each of us knew who fought in Vietnam and about being childless on Father’s Day were shared but those words were heartfelt, I believe, on both sides.

After chatting with a few other people at the restaurant before and after meeting my lunch group, I journeyed home, hardly able to hold back the tears. I made it in, let the tears flow, and then began to wonder what motivated this mood. Was it limited to another Father’s Day without my father and without my uncle, who had raised me like a father? Was it the sadness of sitting “alone” in worship in the midst of a room full of people? Was it the ongoing struggle of going to any worship service and not using the gifts I have been given and yet knowing that those gifts do not fit within a “traditional” or even “contemporary” worship structure? Was it the current political climate, a feeling of being trapped between worlds with so many people I care for seeing the world so differently, thanks in part to different media outlets and different social connections? Was it the feeling that no matter how much I researched the world that lay beyond these borders and how much I hurt, I am stuck, stuck between the land of my birth and the hatred and venom that spews forth with reckless abandon within it and venues abroad that each have their attributes and their detriments when compared to what has always been home? How can I, as an African-American female, well-educated and having received so many gifts from family and friends, describe the despair that overtakes me at this moment? Only if you have had or are having similar feelings about life, about country, about vocation, not occupation or career, but vocation, or about the earthly loss of family and friends can you truly understand.

I have the luxury on this day to go to bed in comfort, in good health, and with an awareness that there are many tomorrows in which any minute may bring positive changes within myself, within those I love, and within the country that is my home. The fear which arose to the surface this day is that those positive changes within the United States may not occur. In the midst of that fear, I still believe that each of us is called to do what we can to move our country forward in ways that show our compassion for all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, or citizenship status. My prayer this evening is simply that each of you will open your hearts to feel and to understand where we are as a people, to for a moment let yourself take in with all of your senses the cruelty, the intolerance, the mistrust, the fear, and the hatred that has become so pervasive among us. My prayer is that we each speak and act with the awareness that we are not invincible as a nation, that we, like so many nations and empires before us may be permanently divided or destroyed as a people. My prayer is that each of us will find ways to surrender to openness, to hope, and to a justice that values and cherishes every life. May we allow ourselves to be guided by the loving, vulnerable, and embracing Spirit that rests within each of us and that I believe yearns for us to be so much more as a people than we are on this day. Amani.