Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Grant Me Justice...."
Luke 18:1-8
"Hands Up-Don't Shoot!" read the signs. But the police officer did shoot in fear for his life. Michael Brown was called Hulk Hogan and a Demon. Michael was an unarmed Hulk and Demon.  A witness 50-100 yards away said Michael Brown was charging him.  Others said Michael Brown had his hands up and was not charging.  Conflicting testimony.

The District Attorney called a Grand Jury to decide if there was "probable cause" for a trial. But the DA abused his authority. He manipulated the Grand Jury and set them up to do his bidding.  He turned the Grand Jury into a Trial Jury to decide the officer's guilt or innocence. "Probable cause" was off the table. There was no cross examination of witnesses. The result: officer Wilson walked free. What followed were riots and demonstrations nation wide. MLK, Jr. said: "A riot is the language of the unheard." People demanded to be heard! People sensed a miscarriage of justice. 

A Black leader said a Black youth is 21 more times ready to be shot or called to account by police than a White person. Meanwhile, a 12 year old Cleveland, Ohio boy playing in a park is shot dead by police for brandishing a pellet gun! Remember Trayvon Martin? Yes, in the Twin Cities, the majority of gun crime and gun violence is caused by African Americans. Yes, policing is a dangerous job.  But so is being a Black man or youth. 

Police officers are given TOO MUCH leeway, TOO MUCH benefit of the doubt on when to shoot. TOO MUCH! In Minneapolis, nearly 500 police/citizen shooting/confrontation incidents have occurred over a span of time and there has been ZERO police convictions.  Hmmm. I think there is a justice disconnect between what is justifiable homicide and alternative nonviolent responses to incidents. Why do police most likely go for a "kill shot" rather than a disabling shot to the legs or arms? Why is it that police believe lethal shots are justified simply because they "felt threatened" for their life?  This is too existential, too relative, too subjective, too Libertarian. 

In 1985, the United States Supreme Court decided that "a police officer cannot use lethal force against a fleeing suspect unless the officer has reason to believe the suspect is armed and an immediate threat to public order." Michael Brown was unarmed and no threat to public order other than perhaps having a handful of "cigarillos." 

Is it any wonder there is a consistent cry for justice? A son is dead, parents grieve, and portions of our nation weep and get angry, crying out for justice. The racial divide is exposed!

There is no place for a blood lust. There is a place for conversation, action, and justice. Action should include additional training of police officers, teaching officers the practical meaning of the 1985 Supreme Court decision. Action should be the wearing of video cams to document all incidents and arrests.  Action should be training officers to NOT shoot unarmed suspects, and if shooting is deemed necessary, training to NOT go for a "kill shot." Why not the legs or the arms? Police should be required to carry Mace, a baton, and a Taser gun. Police should be taught to be more aware of the context of the incidents.  If you are called to a toy store, the chances are that if you are confronted with a person carrying a toy gun, think that the gun actually is a toy gun! Recognize it for what it is!

As for now, the Federal Government Department of Justice should bring Darell Wilson to trial on Federal charges. There is clear evidence for "probable cause." Mr and Mrs. Brown call for justice, as do millions of citizens. Let this situation spark a renewal in police ethics and training. This tragedy has awakened deeply felt dissension, and torn the scab off the suppurating wounds of racism. Someone said (paraphrase): "Don't let a tragedy go to waste." Tragedy can unite. Tragedy can lead to healing. Let it be so. "I want justice!" the widow cries.  As does America.

"For he is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups
into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is,
the hostility between us."
Ephesians 2:14

Peace!
Ron

Saturday, November 15, 2014

CONVERSION: IT IS POSSIBLE!

I attended a lecture by Joseph Pearce.  He began by singing the first verse of "Amazing Grace." "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved as wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see."

At the age of 15, Joseph Pearce joined the British National Front, a far-right political party opposed to multi-racial and multi-cultural England.  At the age of 16, he set-up the BULLDOG, the paper of the organization.  His parents never went to church and never prayed. He attended a school whose motto above the door was: "To your own self be true." These words are from Shakespeare's HAMLET, Act 1, Scene 3, spoken by Polonius to his son, Laertes. Joseph said this motto described his life. He spoke of his brief stint as a singer in a punk rock band. He spoke of a song he sang with the band which included the words: "White power! Smash, smash! Yanks, go home!" 

He was imprisoned twice. His conversion occurred during his second imprisonment. He was given a book written by C.K. Chesterton. It changed his life. He then read C.S. Lewis, followed by reading John Newton's conversion story. All the books pointed to the "Amazing grace of God!" Of Chesterton, Joseph spoke of his humor and humility. Joseph quoted Chesterton: "Anything that's worth doing, is worth doing badly." He coupled this with Chesterton's allusion to the value of standing on your head and seeing the world differently. Joseph liked Chesterton's comment about conversation: "We always argued, but never quarrelled." 

Through these writings, Christ came to "make sense" to Joseph. It led him to what he describes as a "rational faith." His book is titled, RACE WITH THE DEVIL: MY JOURNEY FROM RACIAL HATRED TO RATIONAL FAITH." Faith in Christ led him to conclude that racism is overcome through love, all through the amazing grace of God. The alternative, life without Christ, without God, leads only to the "Three G's: Guillotine, Gulag, and Genocide", referring to the French Revolution, Communism, and the Third Reich. Joseph is now the Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville.

The relevance of Joseph's story for today is exemplified in the conflicts between Blacks-Hispanics-Asians-Whites-Native Americans-Muslims-Christians-Sunnis-Shiites-Russians-Chinese-Republicans-Democrats-Fundamentalists-Mainlines-Gays-Straights-Ferguson and.... The list is seemingly endless. Dealing with diversity and differences present the greatest challenges to peace and justice. 

Hatred is easy. Love takes work. The Apostle Paul is insightful: "The evil I do not want to do, that I do. The good I want to do, that I do not do." I take heart in God's words in Revelation 21:5: "See, I am make all things new!" This is "amazing grace." It is by grace that our hearts are changed and our actions focused to justice, peace, and reconciliation. Grace causes conversion. It is possible!

Peace!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

ELECTION REFLECTIONS
Our nation was devastated by the 2014 mid-terms. The cultural and political divide was glaringly revealed! The descent precipitous. The Biblical text that speaks to this time is the Magnificat in Luke 1. Notice the contrast, the irony. Replace the Trinity with the powerful elite, the greedy banker, the Wall Street mogul, the bought-off politician who breathes only the air of profit and perks. 

MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD: Money and the power of the elite was magnified. Winning trumped concern for the common good. Citizens United became the flood covering the goodness of life rather than a cleansing agent. The ark is nowhere to be found. Our god is the belly filled with poisonous ego, turned in upon itself with ulcerous pain.

FOR THE MIGHTY ONE HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR ME: The mighty are the corporate leeches who refuse to pay decent wages, seek ways to pay lower taxes, take jobs overseas and take advantage of overseas workers, who seek ways to avoid capital gains taxes, who suck money out of our society like a vacuum cleaner, who deny adequate health care to all, who stifle attempts to rebuild our infrastructure, who bleed the environment of health, who choke the air with carbon for profit's sake, who punish those immigrants yearning to breathe free and find sustaining labor and fair wages.

The mighty ones are Wall Street and Big Banks who refuse to help homeowners, who play with people's money by investing in the market rather than people, who feel entitled to yachts and holiday homes in Aspen, Nice, the Hamptons, and Chamonix, who refuse to refinance student loans, who want relief from regulations to the detriment of the national financial health.

The mighty ones are the politicians who sell their souls to the wealthy who buy their fealty with campaign contributions, who bow to the Big Banks, to Wall Street, and the corporate moguls believing it in the best interests of the country, who do not acknowledge the increasing economic inequality, who still believe that unfettered capitalism will right the sinking ark of the people, who believe the military will lead us home and is blindly deserving of our bended knee.

HIS MERCY IS FOR THOSE WHO FEAR HIM: Profit is mercy's pathological instrument. The record setting Dow juices the filled pockets and demands the peons fear their suited presence. Mercy is not what they give, but what they demand in payment.

HE HAS SHOWN STRENGTH WITH HIS ARMS: That the people will be crushed, that the people be low-wage slaves, that the people be denied jobs worthy of their talents, that teachers be layed off, that public schools be stiffed of adequate resources, that the majority of students be walled-off from learning, that higher and advanced education be only for those who can afford it.

HE HAS SCATTERED THE PROUD IN THE THOUGHTS OF THEIR HEARTS: A person's pride in their work and ability to support their family is squashed in the pulverizer of greedy power. The only pride is in profit and only the well connected deserve it because only they know the true capitalistic methodology, or so they believe. The rest of us just don't get it, as we are lazy, we are the undeserving.

HE HAS BROUGHT DOWN THE POWERFUL FROM THEIR THRONES: The Everyman, the Everywoman, the Everychild are the powerful, and their bodies litter American streets and soil.  They have been brought low from their thrones of home and family.

AND LIFTED UP THE LOWLY: Where? How? The lowly are ground up like hamburger.

HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS: Only with fast food and dumpster leftovers.

AND SENT THE RICH AWAY EMPTY: Empty of restraints and regulations, empty of accountability in the courts, empty of empathy, empty of love, empty of justice, empty of God.

Rise up, O People of God! Reclaim the True Magnificat! Demand the Reign of God and the building of the Kingdom! Let God's grace guide, empower, and provide! The time is ripe for transformation!

Peace!
Ron

Saturday, November 1, 2014

GEMS from JUSTICE FOR ALL
On 25 October, the Joint Peace with Justice Committee sponsored a conversation on economic justice. The speakers addressed the theological, political, and practical facets of the issue. What follows are some of the GEMS from the speakers.

Dr. Mary Hess-Luther Seminary
Mary was the moderator, the guide for the conversations.  She quoted Micah 6:8 and the Greatest Commandment from Luke as the Biblical focus for the event.  She also used the term: "tensecrity", an expression coined by an architect.  The word is a blend of "tension" and "security", meaning security comes through the tension among various forces.

Dr. Gary Simpson-Luther Seminary
Gary referred to Psalm 82.  When the Psalmist refers to "gods", he is referring to the rulers, the politicians.  God is holding these "gods" accountable, expecting them to deal justly with people's issues.
Gary also spoke of the medieval genre of "Mirror for Princes." Leaders of significance, such as a "wise and respected person, like a theologian", would write a treatise addressed to a prince or other political official.  Upon rising each morning, the prince was to recall the treatise, that is, gaze in this mirror and see what a wise and righteous prince was to look like.

Gary said it is difficult for Americans to connect "rights talk" with economic justice or social justice. He spoke of the great contributions of Francis Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor (and America's first SOL).  She said she would accept the position under the condition that FDR would support these ideas:  1) A 40 hour work week; 2) A minimum wage; 3) Workman's compensation; 4) Unemployment compensation; 5) Federal law banning child labor; 6) Direct, Federal aid for unemployment relief; 7) Social security; 8) Revitalized public employment; 9) Health insurance for all. She was the force behind the New Deal.

Finally, Gary said that Luther never called us to be "Little Christs." Instead, Luther said "We are Christs, with and without the apostrophe!"

Pastor Sarah Breckenridge-St. Andrew's Lutheran Church
Sarah created the Community Resource Center at St. Andrew's. It is an ecumenical cooperative ministry involving 30 faith groups.  The CRC provides housing stability, computer work stations for those seeking employment, transportation, nutritious lunches, referrals, and pastoral care. Commenting on why it is hard for people to talk about money, she says such conversation opens us to vulnerability.

State Senator John Marty
John has been in the State Senate for 28 years. He quoted Isaiah 58: "Is this the fast that I choose,....to bow down the head like a bulrush?....Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free...." He said it is cheaper to provide housing for the homeless than to let them be homeless ($16,000 a year!).  Look at what the State of Utah is doing.  They have dropped their homeless population by 72%.  95% of Minnesotans are covered by insurance. In the 1930's they didn't start a pilot program, they did a program!  Why can't we?

Dr. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer-St. Thomas University
Jack is head of justice and peace studies. He referred us to Naomi Klein's newest book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING. Life may have a soft landing, but we may be required to do some painful actions. To be hopeful requires real honesty.

How do we create authentic hope? 1) Address the reality of climate change; 2) Address that the US economy is disconnected from environmental reality; 3) Address growing inequality nationally and internationally.  The three richest people in the world possess more wealth than 48 of the poorest countries. Inequality is the #1 thing you associate with poverty and lack of health care; 4) We must reach the end of our American exceptionalism, American militarism.  54% of our discretionary budget goes to the military; 5) Money in politics needs to be addressed.  This excessive flow of money results in passage of legislation which promotes money concentration in the hands of a few, the powerful, the wealthy.

The purpose of an economy is to provide resources for a means-based society.  Translation: An economy must provide the means for ALL people to flourish.

Hope is not a ledger sheet.  Authentic hope is hope we embody in action [for the common good].

Nonviolent movements have succeed more than twice a much as violent movements.  The key to  success is to live as if you were free!

Are we connecting with each other to build a social movement?  Better policies come from better values.  We need empathy.  We need to make linkages rooted in values.  We need to build a sustainability. 

GEMS for ACTION!

Blessings and Peace!
Ron

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