Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Blessed Sunday!


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Leadership


Friday, January 19, 2018

Don't Be Frightened


Stained glass time lapse, Final edit from Colin Winterbottom on Vimeo.
“So don't be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don't know what work they are accomplishing within you?”
Rainer Maria Rilke,
Letters to a Young Poet

Healthy Lives


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2018 Gaza Freedom Flotilla


We're honored to announce that Ann Wright will be speaking at Peace United on Friday, February 23, as part of a key fundraiser for the 2018 Gaza Freedom Flotilla.  We hope her speaking that evening will highlight the blockade of Gaza and the human rights catastrophe there.

Monday, January 15, 2018

History Shows Little Mercy to Bigots


Martin Luther King Day in the USA
January 15, 2018

Dear Pastor Jeffries,

Grace to you, and peace.  I pray for you tonight, for your congregation, and for your ministry there in Texas.  May the Spirit's light shine brightly on you all.

Just recently, I've picked up a provocative book called Strangers in Their Own Land by noted sociologist Arlie Russell Hoschchild.  In her book, Hoschchild sets out to meet Tea Party activists in Louisiana and to listen carefully to their stories and concerns.  She wants to understand--and even to feel--what they feel: and how it is they organize so passionately against immigrants in their communities and environmental protections and human rights.  She's quite honest about her own left-leaning politics; but she believes the country benefits from deeper understanding of difference and compassion in the midst of conflict.  It's a noble effort, and quite illuminating on many fronts.

I too am puzzled by the anger on the Right, and especially the Christian Right.  I'm puzzled at how easily your preachers equate Jesus' gospel with Trump's bigotry.  How, exactly, do you come to that?  When Jesus says, "Let the children come to me," do you imagine he means: Let the Norwegian children come?  Do you somehow believe he means: Let the white kids come, let the white kids get health care, let the white kids have an education?  Is it possible--could our Jesus possibly mean: Forget about the African kids?  Send the Haitian kids away?  I have no time, I have no space in my heart for black kids and Mexican kids and gay kids and disabled kids?

But send me some more of those Norwegian kids!  Seriously?

Surely, Pastor Jeffries, you can't possibly believe in that kind of Jesus, right?  That Jesus has no Biblical credibility.  That Jesus is not found in the scriptures you folks on the Right so vehemently champion.  That Jesus is a fictitious white ghost--created by racists, bigots and decidedly un-Christian bullies.  And yet, you persist.  Trump's right, you say.  He's onto something, you say.  He's got the right stuff.

Arlie Hoschchild discovers that some Tea Party enthusiasts are demoralized by an economy that seems to punish hard work and decency in middle class communities.  I get that.  Working class Louisianans and working class Texans are surely paying a steep price in an economy that crushes hard working people (of all races) and rewards the greed of the very rich and the insanely powerful.  But let's be clear: That's not about Haiti.  And that's not about Africa.  That's about Donald Trump and his friends.  That's about the political class that prioritizes its own wealth, its own power, its own claim on government and privilege.

What Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are counting on--and what you are helping to execute--is a plan that convinces those same hard working folk that the real problem in America is immigrants.  The real problem in America is poor people.  The real problem in America is Haitians.  All these 'outsiders' are stealing America.  That's how it goes.  And it's time to take America back.  To make America great--and white--again.

Can we be honest, Pastor Jeffries?  That's a big stinking stack of dog crap.  That's what it is.  And it has absolutely no place in the spiritual life, in the moral imagination, in the missionary work of Jesus' church.  None whatsoever.  In fact, any church that takes discipleship seriously (and the Bible, too) simply has to resist.  There's just no alternative.  Again and again, the scriptures insist on God's care for the immigrant, and for the widows of war, and for the orphans left behind.  Again and again, the scriptures denounce nations that take these vulnerable folk for granted and judge them harshly.  Jesus stands in a long line of similarly concerned prophets.  So Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are on the wrong side of all that.  Thus saith the Lord!

In order to pull off their bizarre and bigoted strategy, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz have to convince you and your fellow preachers on the Right that Jesus is a nasty, hateful, distrustful jerk.  They have to convince you that what Jesus really wants is a pure America of white folks, a 1950s America of nuclear families from Norway and Sweden, an America that never, frankly, existed.  And they have to convince you to ignore Luke 4 and Matthew 25.  They have to convince you to ignore Jesus' very first sermon in Nazareth, and his invocation of a new jubilee, setting captives free and bringing good news and liberation to the poor.  

I'm afraid you've fallen for their trap.  I'm afraid--based on your remarks last week--that your brothers in the pulpit have betrayed Jesus in the deepest way and gone after Trump and McConnell and Cruz instead.

All is not lost, however.  We believe in change, in the church.  We believe in repentance.  We believe in the power of grace to heal and turn the heart to new life and righteousness.  I pray for that in your heart tonight, and in the hearts of your friends on the Right.  I pray you'd return to Jesus, to his sweet and generous side.  I pray that his voice of love would find your heart, and open your heart to the sisters and brothers all around you.  The poor sisters and brothers of Texas.  The Haitian sisters and brothers, both in Haiti and all over the States.  The African sisters and brothers everywhere.  I pray, dear Pastor, that you would see--as Jesus does--that we are created in a magnificent web of mutuality and brotherhood, interdependence and sisterhood.  And it is in this web that we are made holy and even saved by the holy grace of God.  There is no other way.  Only by grace.  And only together.

Martin Luther King taught us all that, as Jesus did before him.  I don't imagine you and your friends put much stock in Dr. King's teachings.  I know Donald Trump spent the day playing golf--rather than honoring Dr. King's legacy.  But he does so at his own peril--because the price for ignorance and hatred is steep.  And history shows little mercy to bigots.

I pray for you all, Pastor Jeffries, for your church and your fellow pastors.  May the Spirit's light find your hearts tonight, and turn them sharply toward justice.  And then, and there, may the sweet joy of faith fill your souls with gratitude.  Because there is freedom there.  The true and everlasting freedom of God.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Dave Grishaw-Jones
Peace United Church
Santa Cruz, California

Sermon: "Do God's Will"

A Meditation on Matthew 5:1-16
For the Weekend of Celebration
Around Martin Luther King's Vision and Legacy
Peace United Church, Santa Cruz

1. 

Blessed are you poor in spirit, Jesus says to us, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you poor in spirit: you brokenhearted, you fragile and vulnerable.  For yours is the kingdom of heaven. 

And blessed are you grieving souls, Jesus says to us, for you’ll be comforted.  Blessed are you grieving souls: you bleeding hearts, you mournful human beings.  For you will be comforted.

This is just the beginning, of course, just the beginning of Jesus’ greatest teaching, his most provocative preaching, the sermon on the mount.  Blessed are you poor in spirit.  Blessed are you grieving souls.  But what a beginning!  The kingdom of heaven, he says, is a community of the brokenhearted, a community of the fragile and vulnerable, a community of grieving souls and bleeding hearts.  Start there, he says, and you’re close.

2.

So I went on line this week and found a recording of Martin Luther King’s last sermon, his last speech, preached in Memphis on the last night of his life in 1968.  And if you haven’t heard it in a while, it’s worth your time.  Especially this year.  Especially 50 years down the line.  He talks about the struggle and the price we have to pay for that struggle and for freedom from tyranny and racism.  He talks about the dignity of those sanitation workers in Memphis, and he says that their struggle for decent wages and fair treatment is his struggle.  He talks about the long, long road to freedom, and how he’s seen it and he’s seen where it’s going.  And he talks about the possibility that he might not make it to the end with all the rest of them, but he’s seen it, and that’s enough.

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life,” Dr. King says in Memphis.  “Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.”  What I hear in Dr. King’s voice—and you’ll hear it too, if you listen—is a stunning mixture of fragility and determination, a holy brew of grief and gratitude, an inspired combination of pain and power.  Blessed are you poor in spirit.  Blessed are you grieving souls.  And blessed are you when you hunger and thirst for justice.  Dr. King understood his own pain, and the pain of his people, the pain of his country.  He felt it, he wasn’t afraid of it; and he let that pain speak through him, through his words and in his actions.  And in the very midst of all that pain, through the crucible of injustice and the long fight for freedom, he found power, deep, Godly, good power—the kind of power that can move mountains and bring empires down.  The power of love and nonviolence and decency.

And you can hear all of that in his voice.  It’s a kind of music, right there in his voice.  A holy brew of grief and gratitude.  As he commits himself to his brother and sister sanitation workers.  As he commits himself to solidarity in the streets.  As he goes all in, again, with God’s dream.

So Jesus says, “Blessed are you poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven!”  Martin Luther King was all about that.  All about that kingdom of heaven.  On earth.

3.

You know, Christians so often get heaven all wrong.  We really do.  We set up heaven as some afterlife—some fluffy-clouded, angel-guarded, pearly-gated afterlife—when Jesus so clearly came preaching that the “kingdom of heaven is near.”  That’s his message.  You can look it up.  “The kingdom of heaven is near.   The kingdom of heaven is close.  The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Jesus didn’t push that other heaven—that fluffy-clouded, angel-guarded, pearly-gated thing; he came preaching another message.  “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Or maybe even better: The kingdom of heaven is in your hands.  That’s it.  The kingdom of heaven is in your hands.  That’s the radical message of the gospel, and the whole point of Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  The kingdom of heaven is in your hands.  It’s now.  It’s on.  So live this way here, love one another here, forgive one another here, feed one another here, treat one another right here.  Because heaven and earth are all mixed up.  Heaven and earth are in your hands.

So the beatitudes are preparing us—that’s you and me—for life in the kingdom of heaven.  Not in some deep space, far off, heavenly realm far away.  But right here, today and tomorrow.  In Santa Cruz.  In Heyward.  In Oakland.  In Scotts Valley.   The kingdom of heaven is near.  It’s close.  It’s in your hands.

And if you live that way, you’re going to find you get brokenhearted along the way.  If you live with an open heart and an open mind and deep and abiding love for all creation, you’re going to find you feel vulnerable and fragile a good bit of the time.  Because it’s hard to love that way.  Because it’s hard to see the world breaking.  Because it’s hard to see people suffering.  But blessed are you when you do.  Blessed are you when you risk living with a broken heart.  Blessed are you when you risk living with vulnerable spirit, a fragile spirit.

When you get to that point, Jesus is saying, you’re close.  When you love creation so deeply your heart breaks for climate change and polluted oceans, you’re close.  The kingdom of heaven is near.  When you see your neighbor as a brother, as a sister, and when you know the immigrant as a friend, and when you grieve injustice against sanitation workers and kids in poverty and children of God anywhere, when you grieve like that, you’re close.  The kingdom of heaven is near.

That’s what you hear in Dr. King’s voice—that last night in Memphis—you hear the kingdom.  You hear the beatitudes.  You hear the good news.  It’s not easy good news.  And it’s not cheap grace he’s preaching in Memphis.  It’s going to cost him everything.  But the kingdom of heaven is near.  It’s close.  And Dr. King exuded that in his preaching, in his organizing and in his very human and imperfect life.  The kingdom of heaven is in our hands.


4.

Now it follows—at least I think it follows—that if heaven is here on earth, if heaven is mixed up with all of this and with all of us, then hell too might be here among us.  Hell’s not some grim, godly punishment in the distance.  It’s not some kind of fiery furnace in the underworld, either.  Hell is right here, among us, in the cruelty and bigotry that keeps us from our true calling as lovers of life.

Does this make any sense to you?  That hell is the economy that forces a mother in Chicago to choose between feeding her child and keeping the heat on.  That hell is the xenophobia that drives ICE to split families in half and the racism that pervades our country still after all these years.  Maybe hell is right here, among us, in all this cruelty and bigotry.  And maybe—see if this makes sense to you—maybe hell is in the mind of that President who calls entire races of people, entire nations “shithole countries”—and doesn’t have a clue how racist he is, how racist his policies are, how devastating and cruel they are.  He’s got to be living in some kind of hell, this man.  Hell is where he lives.  And that’s a sad, sad thing.


5.

So Jesus is saying, just as Martin King said in Memphis 50 years ago, the time is now.  The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Let’s get it on.  Let’s start healing folks now.  Let’s start healing our country now.  Let’s resist bigotry now.  Let’s resist poverty now.  It’s going to hard, Jesus is saying.  And it’s surely, most certainly going to break our hearts.  If we start healing folks and dedicating our churches and synagogues and mosques to justice and peace, we’re going find ourselves working through dangerous territory.  We’re going to have to risk some things.  (Like King risked some things.  Like Jesus risked some things.  Like all the other peacemakers and freedom fighters risked some things.)  And we’re going to get broken, and sometimes they’re going to turn the fire hoses on us, and sometimes we’re going to get beaten up.  We’ll weep and we’ll grieve.  And then we’ll get back to it.  We’ll hunger and thirst for justice, and then for more justice, and then for peace, and then for more peace.

But friends, there’s no way around Jesus’ message.  Just as there’s no way around Dr. King’s.  Don’t wait for heaven.  Don’t wait for the frilly heaven of Hallmark cards or even the sweet heaven of your grandmother’s hymnbook.  Because Jesus has something completely different in mind.  Jesus and Dr. King want you and me to be the kingdom of heaven, to be it here, to be it now.  Jesus and Dr. King insist that the church is a beloved community in which the kingdom of heaven is happening.  Happening.  In our love for one another.  In the songs we sing—exuberantly and defiantly.  In the courage we put out in actions for immigration reform and peace in the Middle East.  In the brave ways we resist racism whenever and wherever we find it.

That’s heaven.  There is no other.  The kingdom of heaven is near.  Close.  The kingdom of heaven is in your hands.

Amen. 

Beloved Community







Sunday, January 14, 2018

An Award We Share!


I really can't imagine a more humbling day: to be honored in this way--with the ACLU's "Hammer of Justice Award"--before a crowd of people I love and respect.  I looked out at the couple of hundred gathered, ACLU members and supporters, and saw heroes like Steve Pleich and Stacey Falls, Willow Katz and Dorah Shuey, Peter Klotz-Chamberlin and David Sweet.  These are neighbors who dedicate their every breath to the deepest kind of compassion, the boldest kind of nonviolence, and human freedom in every sense.

And for some reason, for some crazy reason I can only begin to wrap my mind around, they were honoring me!  Wow.  Life doesn't get much sweeter than that.  And I've been truly, completely humbled.  

I believe in the power and the promise of community.  I believe we do justice and seek peace together.  And this is an award I share with my church, with my friends and colleagues at Peace United Church.  It's a generous, prophetic and courageous community of souls.  It's not a perfect church, and we're not perfect people.  But together, we have built a church of courage and compassion.  Together, we have committed our lives to service and lovingkindness.  And together we continue to take risks for justice and peace, in Santa Cruz and Sacramento, in South Africa and Jerusalem.  

Because my church is determined to the core, and because they pray every week that God's will be done "on earth as in heaven," I am empowered to be a witness.  I am encouraged to be a peacemaker.  I am emboldened to cultivate my own hunger and thirst for justice.  I am a blessed man.  And tonight, a humbled one.

So, thank you, ACLU!  And thank you, Peace United!  You are my heroes.  You are my people.  And we do this work, we love this world, together!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Oceans


Tammi Brown sang this beautiful prayer tonight, at the NAACP's Annual MLK Gospel Night!  What a gift to be in the presence of dreamers, in the presence of believers, in the presence of a diverse community of compassionate souls!  Bless Tammi, and bless us all, O God!