Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sow the Wind-Reap the Whirlwind
"For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind"
Hosea 8:7

     Winston Churchill spoke these words from Hosea in the early days of WWII, referring to Nazi Germany.  Hence followed the most horrendous war in world history.
     The prophet Hosea wrote in judgment of Israel for their disobedience, for their refusal to follow God's call, for their refusal to be God's gift, for their denial of their chosenness.
     I see a parallel between Hosea's time and today, between Nazi Germany and ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.  Proclaiming a new Caliphate, these barbarians murder the innocent, massacre those who follow a different faith, sell women as slaves, turn children into soldiers or slaves, slit the throats of prized prisoners (on camera), force surrendered soldiers to lay down on their stomachs in a ditch and then shoot them in the head, all the while shouting "Allah Akbar!" 
     ISIL makes the same misguided assumption all nations, all conquering soldiers shout: "God is with us!" The warrior uses God to psych-up for wielding death. Little do they know of the weeping God.
     God does not will war, or murder, or massacre, or genocide, or discrimination, or lack of tolerance, or rape, or.... It is we who will to kill the body and the spirit.  
     God is not mocked. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). God's judgment works itself out through human response, not through God pulling strings and activating our trigger fingers.  As Paul writes in Romans 13: 3-4: "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad....But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain." God does not bear the sword, or the AK-47, or the AR-15, or the RPG.  Those in authority in the world bear the sword. We ought not confuse the authority we claim as God's authority. God is not a killer. Remember: "For God so loved the world...."
     God has set humanity free to choose life. God's will is that we choose life. God has chosen us that we can choose life. In Creation, in Jesus, in Baptism, God chooses us. God's grace is God's chosenness.
     But if we reject our chosenness, we choose death. We are on our own.  We are the "captains of our fate." We have chosen to "sow the wind", create chaos, sound death's bugle.  The outcome is the grave. We will "reap the whirlwind".
     Thankfully, God is merciful. God says we are not on our own. All the while as we shoot our rifles, send in the drones, provide air support, plant our IUDs, call out to our God for strength to kill, sow the wind and reap the whirlwind, God's mercy still claims us, calls us to repentance, to turn away from death to life, to seek reconciliation, to make for peace. 
     The response of the Western nations, as well as some of the Middle Eastern nations, to ISIL is a living out of Hosea's judgment. As God's judgment is UPON ALL of us, so also is God's mercy FOR ALL of us.
     
     

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Gift of Catholic Social Teaching

Ever since the 1960's, I have been inspired by Pope John XXIII and Vatican II.  It was a time of dramatic change within the Roman Catholic Church, an "opening of the windows to let the fresh breeze of the Spirit" happen, a birthing of the Ecumenical Spirit! 

An outgrowth of this time was Liberation Theology, a Roman Catholic Theology begun in South America declaring a "preferential option for the poor."  During the 70's, I took a course on LT taught by Dr. Jerry Folk at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As a result of all of these events, my life was changed and directed firmly towards nonviolence, peace and justice in all facets of ministry. 

Since those years, I have paid close attention to RC social teaching.  The recent issue of Sojourners devoted a piece entitled "No Longer the 'Best Kept Secret'" by Tom Allio. He affirms Pope Francis' focus on social doctrine and social justice.  He writes: "This social tradition is best summarized by seven principles or themes, as illustrated by Pope Francis' teachings."  He then lists the teachings:

1. LIFE AND DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON: "A human being is always and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.  Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of of resolving other problems."

2. CALL TO FAMILY, COMMUNITY, AND PARTICIPATION: "Give up the way of arms and go out and meet the other in dialog, pardon, and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you."

3. RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES: "Today we have to say 'thou shall not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality.  Such an economy kills."

4. OPTION FOR THE POOR AND VULNERABLE: "Each individual and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society....They have much to teach us."

5. THE DIGNITY OF WORK AND THE RIGHTS OF WORKERS: "Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person.  Work, to use an image, 'anoints' us with dignity, fills us with dignity, [and] makes us similar to God...."

6. SOLIDARITY: "We have a responsibility to act so that the world may be a community of brothers [and sisters] who respect each other, who accept their diversity, and who take care of one another."

7. CARE FOR GOD'S CREATION: "We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation.  The implications of living in a horizontal manner [are] that we have moved away from God."

I must ask myself, and inquire the wisdom of God, "How do I stack up with these principles? What do I need to tweak? Where do I need transformation?"  

How does our congregation stack up?  How does the ELCA stack up? Where does the Church Universal stack up?

Thank you, Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, for lifting up the Ways of Christ, for being Lights of Christ in the world.

Now to do it.  Be it.

Peace!

Ron

Saturday, June 28, 2014

HOPEFUL ACTIONS
TO ADDRESS GUN VIOLENCE

I recently attended a symposium on PREVENTING GUN VIOLENCE: THE PROBLEM, SOLUTIONS, AND WHAT THE SECOND AMENDMENT ALLOWS.  Presenters included: Jon Vernick, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, Dr. Michael McGonigal, Trauma Services at Regions Hospital, Prof. Darrell Miller, Duke University School of Law, and Jon Lowy, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

I came away with hope!  

First some facts and opinions by the speakers. 1) If the gun violence issue were mainly about White folks, there would be immediate action; 2) Having a gun in the house raises the possibility of domestic violence by 6 times; 3) 90% of guns involved in crime are handguns; 4) The cost to society for GV is $174 billion a year; 5) 1% of dealers sell 60% of guns used in crime; 6) There are about 50,000 licensed gun dealers in the US; 7) 40% of gun sales are not covered by back ground checks; 8) In most states, licensed private gun sales are not required; 9) Suicide success rate with guns is 90%, and with pills 1%; 10) The USA is the only Western Industrialized Nation that has not addressed gun violence; 11) 90% of public and 75% of NRA members support universal background checks; 12) We need to remember that the Second Amendment has two parts: one relating to the right to bear arms, but also this right must be seen in the context of the historical need for a standing militia.  

What actions can move us towards more gun violence prevention? First of all, the right to bear arms is not unlimited. Although the Heller decision was a victory for individuals' right to bear arms, there are situations that would prevent this right.  Furthermore, states can adopt gun violence prevention laws.  Universal confiscation is not allowable. For example, the fact that universal background checks "are more popular than ice cream," means that states and federal officials can pass universal background check laws.  It becomes a matter of judicial and political will. One presenter said: "Federal law is the floor.  State law is the ceiling."  The point is the states can pass laws beyond what the federal officials can pass.

Similarly, gun manufacturers have special exemptions and immunity from lawsuits if their weapons is used unlawfully.  Laws can be passed to eliminate these exemptions.  

There are laws that prevent research into the questions surrounding gun violence.  Furthermore, information cannot be made public through the Freedom of Information Act.  The solution: pass a law that allows gun violence research AND the free dissemination of factual data. Let decisions be based upon facts and not ideology or political party.  

One speaker made a prescient statement which seemed to reflect that of the panel: "The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people.  We don't have a more violent society.  We have a more lethal society."  

We in the church need to mobilize our parishioners to press our elected officials, to pass laws that mandate universal background checks, to allow funding for gun violence prevention research, to demand the release of data which enables the public to approach the issue factually.  We need to insist that gun violence is BOTH a person problem AND a gun availability problem.  We need to demand that our elected officials take action for the safety of our homes and families.  We in the church can sponsor gun safety courses in our congregations.  We need to seize the freedoms we have within the church to promote safety and action.

There is hope if we demand and work for it.  After all, we have Jesus on our side!

Peace!

Ron


Friday, June 20, 2014

Travel and the Reign of God

I have previously written how travel experiences are metaphors for revealing the Reign of God. Linda and I just returned from four weeks travel in Russia, Spain, and France. Here are some metaphors that are windows to the Reign of God.

RUSSIA
We signed on to a tour with RoadScholars.  I met two people who presented a human face of Russia.  Nicolai was a musician on the river boat who played the balalaika, a traditional 3-stringed instrument similar to a guitar.  I asked him if he would give me a lesson as I loved the instrument and want to purchase and play the balalaika.  He taught with skill and patience, he spoke only Russian and French and I only English.   Nicolai had a great smile and magic fingers who could make the instrument sound as it was created to perform.

Sergei  owned a delightful small house in the Russian village of Goritzky.  Linda and I were walking a street and we noticed this charming house.  We took a picture.  The owner came out and invited us in. I went in. (Linda waited outside anxiously.)  The inside had the same charm as the outside. I learned it was his birthday.  We sang "Happy Birthday" together.  He placed a bottle of unopened vodka on the table along with two glasses.  He motioned for me to pour.  I toasted "To Sergei.  Happy birthday!" We "shot" the vodka!  Whew!  Strong stuff!  He smiled!  I sang "Happy Birthday" again.  

Russia now is more than a nation with an ideology and politic.  Now Russia  has a human face.  "And God created [humankind]....And it was good."  "Welcome the stranger."

SPAIN
We met our daughter, her husband, and two grandchildren in Barcelona.  Together, we visited several Antoni Gaudi sites.  Gaudi was an idiosyncratic architect who created remarkable structures suitable for varied purposes.  He was the major influence for the La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, begun in 1882 and scheduled for completion in 2036.  Sweeping and fresh worship center, conveying Christ and celebrating nature!  Parc Guell is a fanciful park with a whimsical spirit!  Then there is Casa Milla or La Pedrera, a modernist apartment with a totally unique interior/exterior design. Previously, I had not seen anything like these structural designs.  I think of Revelation 21: "Behold, I make all things new!"

FRANCE
Linda and I cared for our two grandchildren, Anja and Milla, while the parents had a night out in Paris. We took them to the Anne Frank Park and the Place des Vosges, one of Europe's first planned squares. Henry IV was going to live there until he was assassinated.  Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables while living in a corner apartment.  Today, the square has four fountains, grassy areas for hanging out, benches for relaxation, and many children's play apparatus.  Anja and Milla let themselves go in these two places!  Laughter, running, freedom, celebration of life!  "I believe I shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living!" Psalm 27:13

THE LOIRE VALLEY
If you want to visit chateaus (castle-like homes), travel the Loire Valley in central France.  We visited Villandry, Chaumont, d'Azay-le-Rideau, and Chambord.  The interiors are quite similar: mostly empty rooms with windows, stone or wood floors.  I guess it is too expensive to furnish the rooms with period furnishings.  In most cases it is the exteriors that set each apart.  The structures are architecturally creative, and stony! The many gardens at Villandry are design masterpieces, each unique, some with flowers, others with shrubbery and trees, some with sculptures.  Chaumont has an International Garden which this year featured creations exemplifying the "7 deadly Sins", using gardening and some solid structures to be "sin metaphors."  Wonderfully expressed!  Chambord has a hugely expansive estate!  Get out your walking shoes!  Chambord is also the largest chateau.  In every case, I asked "How could these mostly empty elephants be creatively utilized today?"  Also, "What was the real purpose of taking years to construct and spending huge amounts of money?"  Ego?  Status?  But here they exist, taking up land, and empty of life other than the presence of tourists.  Could they be utilized as living arrangements?  Could they be used as treatment centers? I think of the purpose of buildings.  We can remember Solomon's Temple, Herod's Temple, and the majestic city of Babylon.  We can think of our church structures today.  How are they used?  Is what we do with these buildings pleasing to God?

Travel is filled with metaphors for revealing the Reign of God.  The Holy Spirit enlightens us with possibilities and truth!

Peace!

Ron     

Monday, May 5, 2014

DODGING COLUMBINE II

A family, a school, a community has dodged bombs and bullets. Last week, 17 year old John David LaDue of Waseca, Minnesota, was prevented from killing his family, unleashing explosives and killing school mates. It was meant to happen on 20 April, the 15th Anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

Fortunately, 20 April was Easter Sunday.  How appropriate!  Also fortunately, John was spotted by a 21 year old woman looking out her kitchen window, walking through her back yard, carrying a backpack, and then trying to open a storage shed.  She thought he may have been a homeless, hungry boy.  She considered asking him if he was hungry.  Instead, at the urging of another person in the house, she called 911.  

The police arrived, looked inside the storage shed, and arrested the boy.  According to the STARTRIBUNE of 4 May, "Bomb squad members called in to confiscate the explosives were 'shocked by the amount of bomb making chemicals and components.'.... Three more bombs were discovered at the storage unit, along with chemicals...and 60 pounds of metal ball bearings. The storage unit also held a black trench coat." Authorities then searched the boy's room and found seven firearms along with ammunition. (I have since learned that perhaps John gained access to the storage shed through a friend who evidently got his mother's permission.) 

According to the STARTRIBUNE, "LaDue in fact 'idolized' Columbine shooter Eric Harris and made several references to Harris and fellow shooter Dylan Klebold in a 180-page journal that spelled out the details of his plan....LaDue even 'critiqued what Harris and Klebold did right and wrong' during the shooting...."

It was reported that John David LaDue was a "B" student, played guitar, was never bullied, and was never in any trouble at school. I saw a video of him playing his guitar in a church setting. And yes, he was rather quiet.  Sound familiar?  

The President of PROTECT MINNESOTA, an organization committed to gun violence prevention, on which I am a board member (full disclosure), reported that John had the guns in a locked gun cabinet in his room to which he had the key!

Walking into church yesterday, I said to a friend who is also a Rush Limbaugh fan, "We dodged a big one last week, Chuck." He proceeded to tell me that "People will always find a way to get guns.  Look at Chicago (his home town)! He was a disturbed kid." My response was he exhibited normal behavior and was doing well in school.  There were no strong indicators of mental illness. Yet, he was under age and was able to access guns. We need to tighten our gun laws. (Since our conversation I have learned that John liked throwing knives and axes at a tree.)

I have several questions. 1) How did John get his guns?; 2) Why did he have a gun cabinet in his room and he had the key?;  3) How was he able to purchase so much ammunition?;  4) If it is true that a friend of John's arranged through his mother to let John share access to a storage shed, why wouldn't she check out the shed?;  5) Didn't the parents notice anything?;  6) How was he able to purchase the chemicals for bomb making?

What can we learn from this near tragedy? 1) Parents, be alert; 2) All of us, be alert to strange behavior and be prepared to call 911; 3) Guns are too readily available; 4) Parents, do not give the keys to a gun cabinet to your children, nor allow gun storage in their rooms.  Hide the keys.; 5) States should pass universal background check laws, making it mandatory for licensed and private sellers to do background checks; 6) Schools and states need to be better equipped to deal with mental health issues. Let's be honest. "Normal" kids and adults commit heinous crimes because of the saturation of gun availability. So, if people pass the "normal" test, we must then act upon gun laws as another line of defense; 7) Mandate trigger locks on guns. 

I can think of one appropriate text for this edgy situation: "Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is your brother, Abel?' He said, 'I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?' And the Lord said, 'What have you done? Listen, your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground.'" (Genesis 4:9-10)

We are.

Peace!

Ron 



Monday, April 21, 2014

GOVERNMENT:
REFLECTING THE WILL OF GOD

Governments are a mix of good and evil, justice and oppression, compassion and neglect, generosity and paucity, peacemaking and bloodiness.  But some do a better job generating goodness, striving for justice, expressing compassion, showing generosity, and making for peace.  It is these qualities that reflect the Will of God(WOG) and nurture the Reign of God(ROG).  It is these qualities that are inherent within the FOUNDATIONAL 15(F-15) of The Obedient Government.

WOG and ROG, the FOUNDATIONAL 15(F-15), are focused on the common good.  The common good builds community.  Community connects all people and ensures the well-being of all.  

Within the community are the unique gifts each person brings for the sake of nurturing the fellowship. The individual gifts provide a purpose which provides sustenance for all.  We live for each other. 

Governments committed to the WOG/ ROG/F-15 unite individual gifts for the purposes of sharing and  sustaining all of life.  There is equality mixed with opportunity, with all given freedom to grow, yet tempered by commitment to the common good.

WOG/ ROG/F-15 are the anti-thesis of Libertarian anarchy, totalitarian control, and oligarchical arrogance. Similarly, Ayn Randian ethics have no place at the Table of God.  Political gamesmanship exists for making the WOG/ROG/F-15 actual. Governments are instituted by God for obedience to God. Obedience to God means commitment to WOG/ROG/F-15.

Democracy is the finest governmental form expressive of WOG/ROG/F-15.  Democracy must be bound to the ethics and spirit of WOG/ROG/F-15.  It is the task of the Church, the Synagogue, the Mosque, and other faith expressions to provide the guidance, the values, the character for proper governmental functioning, consistent with WOG/ROG/F-15.  

Faith communities are called to be personal and political, local and global, technical and environmental. Faith communities are called to unite the ebb and flow, the warp and woof within the world. Faith communities engage the world through the Spirit of the Other which waters the soil of humility in governmental affairs.

God calls governments to obedience, not to divisive, arrogant ideologies. In this way, God is pleased and the common good served.

Peace!




Friday, April 11, 2014

The Obedient Government - III

Holy Scripture informs the purpose and actions of governing. 
Hence, GOVERNMENT IS TO

INSURE EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL: Equal justice means equal fairness for all: races, genders, classes, and abilities. Appropriate and equal laws for all. "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." (Amos 5:24) Justice levels the playing field so that all people are equally accountable, suffer fair consequences, and reap fair rewards.  Equal justice means economic equality. Equal justice means equal opportunity. Equal justice means equal educational opportunity. Equal justice opens one to the common life, the common good. No one is excepted from being part of the common life.  No one is exempt from the demands of the common good.  The standard of equal justice liberates and requires that all people nurture the common life and common good.  

LIFT UP THE POOR: There is to be enough for all. (Amos 4-6). "[God has]...lifted up the lowly; [God has] filled the hungry with good things." (Luke 1:52-53) We are to care for the stranger, those from other cultures, those who are outcasts. (Luke 10:25-37) We are to share our bounty according to need. (Acts 2:43) We are called to discipleship, to compassion, to generosity, to show mercy. And in the end we will all be judged according to our response to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, giving water to the thirsty, providing shelter, and visiting those in prison. (Matthew 25:31-46)  Debt relief will lessen or relinquish the burden of financial scarcity: "Every seventh year you shall grant  a remission of debts." (Dt. 15:1) We are to remember Cain's question: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9) and answer "Yes."  Life is not Darwin redux, survival of the fittest.  All humankind are united for mercy.

BE SUBJECT TO JUDGEMENT: The standards by which the character of government is grade are how well the hungry are fed, how well the naked are clothed, who well we welcome the stranger, how well we give water to the thirsty, how well we shelter the homeless, and how well we treat the prisoner.  Governments are to see themselves as "disarmed" (Colossians 2:15), accountable and subject to judgement, vulnerable to the needs of the people. No government is free to work its will exercising moral corruption, justified by a cold and merciless ideology, unbound from mercy's embrace. Governments are to remember the Barmen Declaration, which announced that first allegiance is to Christ (or to that which provides standards of justice, love, and mercy).  Governments are to also recall Bonhoeffer's concept of the "misleader": that leaders can be corrupted, committing bloody acts and unjust deeds, all the while justifying itself for the sake of order and protection.  Remember, the Third Reich lasted only 12 years.

 CARE FOR THE EARTH: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth...." (Genesis 1:1), "[God said] let them have dominion...." (Genesis 1:28) To have dominion is to have the responsibility to care for creation.  Throughout the Creation narrative, we learn that God was pleased with what God had done, saying "And it was good" or "God was very pleased."  The Garden of Eden was a time and place of shalom, of harmony, of balance.  Romans 8:21 says "...creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay...."  John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world...." We are to live towards the future when there will be a "new heaven and a new earth." (Revelation 21:1) Governments are stewards, caretakers of God's earth, creators of a balanced harmony. 

PRACTICE LOVE: It is significant that bookending Paul's treatise on government in Romans 13:1-7, are the calls to love: "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor." (Romans 12:9-10) And in Romans 13:8-10, we read: "Owe no one anything except to love one another....Love your neighbor as yourself....love is the fulfilling of the law." Paul is binding governmental actions to the love ethic.  Politics is captive to love for all.  Political action is to create a love culture for all.

CREATE PEACE: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity." (I Timothy 2:2) In Luke 19:42 we read: ""As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying 'If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!'" In Isaiah 2:4: "....they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and neither shall they learn war anymore." Once again from Isaiah: "The wolf shall live with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together...." (Isaiah 11:6) Governments are to create a culture of peace, of nonviolence.

NEXT TIME: What does it all mean?

Peace!

Ron