Thursday, June 22, 2017

Discipleship Today

"Capitol Police forcibly removed protesters gathered outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Thursday, with at least one photo showing drops of blood on the hallway floor.  The crowd was protesting the health care bill that Senate Republicans had written in secret at McConnell’s direction. Judging by photos and video from reporters, the senator’s staffers didn’t appreciate their presence.  Police reportedly arrested more than 20 protesters, many of whom were in wheelchairs and on respirators." (Huff Post, 6/22/17)

For what it's worth, Christians, I believe this is what discipleship looks like today, in the halls of power at least.  It looks like a woman who places her body where her conviction is, another who wheels herself to the threshold of a Senator's office and says "NO MORE!"  

Jesus says to those who'd follow: "Take my body."  In other words, do with your bodies what I did with mine!  Stand in the way of viciousness.  Reach out with healing touch.  Trust that the God of love and justice is stronger, mightier, wiser than the gods of empire and industry.  Resist!

This is what it looks like--today--to inaugurate the kingdom, on earth, even in DC, even on the doorstep of Mitch McConnell's office.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

50 Years of Occupation

A very thorough review of the price children pay for occupation, fear and separation.  If you're interested in the controversy that followed this panel, Peter Beinert at FORWARD.COM offers a thoughtful reflection on it here:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

SERMON: "Jesus, Resistance and the Church"

A Meditation on Matthew 9 and 10
Sunday, June 18, 2017


Several years ago, on a gorgeous fall afternoon, I baptized Tiffany Smith in the restless surf of the Pacific.  The sun was warm, the sea was cold.  Tiffany was 18 at the time, newly arrived for her first year at UCSC and the first in her Vallejo family to attend college of any kind.  As she stepped out to join me, knee deep in the surf, somebody on the beach started singing

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s a-gonna trouble the water!

There was liberation in the breeze that day, and wonder in the sunlight dancing on the sea.  As you probably know by now, I love those moments, the meeting of earth and heaven in sacrament.  Worship as gratitude, as resistance, as embodiment. 

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s a-gonna trouble the water!

I can honestly say there was a certain look in Tiffany’s eye that afternoon, a look that caught me by surprise, a look that said: “I’m serious about this, dude.  This is the moment that changes my life.”  And then we baptized her: once in the deep, all the way down, twice in the deep, all the way down, three times in the love of God.  I told her: “Jesus will never let you go, Tiffany.”  And she made eye contact again, no words, just a look that said again: “This is the moment that changes my life.”

Soon, Tiffany was swept up in your many arms, dried off in bright towels and celebrated among us as a gift from God.  In no time she was meeting regularly with our high school youth group and singing in our gospel choir.  About a year later, she visited in my office and told me that she was transitioning, female to male, and that she cherished the church’s blessing and love on that remarkable journey of faith.  She was nervous that day, in my office, but resolute.  Determined.

Throughout that journey, from Tiffany to Taj, Taj continued preaching and growing here at church and continued agitating on campus for racial justice and queer visibility.  He taught us what faith and integrity are all about, showed us what they look like in a human life.  Along the way, he challenged many of us to think about our own transitions, what it means to embrace the evolving image of God in our own lives, and how Jesus calls us to radical trust. 

Because, when you think about it, we’re all in transition, in one way or another, all the time.  A PhD program or an undergraduate degree.  Launching a new marriage or moving through divorce.  Recovering from cancer or raising a teenager.  Life is all about transitions.  Taj taught many of us to trust God through the shifting seasons of our lives, through bright days of joy and confidence, and darker days of unsettling uncertainty.  The ground we stand on is vibrating all the time, he said, cracking and quaking and tossing us about.  But God is with us all the way, in every vibration, on every step of the journey.  Indeed, Taj said to me once, God is the journey itself.

Which is quite a thing for a young man in transition to say, really.  For Taj to say as his journey took shape, as he faced doubts in his family and curious looks from friends, as he encountered some Christians who questioned the morality, the wisdom of the journey he’d chosen.  God is the journey itself, Taj would say, the journey of discovery as a human being comes to embrace his dreams and honor his passions.  And every time Taj’d say something like that, I’d see the same look in his eye, the same look I saw on the beach years before, the look that says: “I’m serious about this, you know.  This is my life.”  Talk about trust.  Talk about faith.  Talk about courage.


And so we pivot back to this morning’s reading (Matthew 9:35-10:23).  Jesus and his friends.  On the road.  It strikes me this morning that Jesus is not satisfied to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven alone, by himself, in acts of singular courage.  He’s got this audacious vision of the kingdom, he’s got this compelling sense of God’s immediacy in human affairs, in the ebb and flow of ordinary lives.  But Jesus is not satisfied to inaugurate the kingdom alone.  He’s always building a community of sisters and brothers, a community of disciples and seekers—a community capable of generating courage together.  That’s the courage Jesus stakes his life on, and his ministry on, and his vision on.  So he sends them out in teams.  He sends them out in collaborative partnerships.  He sends them out in communities and churches and choirs and cohorts.  To cure the sick and raise the dead and cleanse the lepers and cast out demons.  To preach and then to enact abundant life for all.  Talk about faith.  Talk about courage.

You know, for several years, we’ve included ‘evangelical courage’ among our eight core values here at Peace.  And inevitably ‘evangelical courage’ makes some of us uneasy, because we’re understandably skeptical of ‘evangelicalism’—a Christian trend that prioritizes individual conversion and personal salvation above all else.  ‘Evangelicals’ can come off as kind of smug and rigid, and sometimes there’s an anti-intellectual edge in their preaching.  But ‘evangelical courage’ is different.  Here in the UCC, at least, I think it’s altogether different.  So let’s talk about how.

‘Evangelical courage’ is driven by Jesus’ conviction—right here in this morning’s text—that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  ‘Evangelical courage’ is driven by Jesus’ commitment to living his life as if it’s true.  “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Good news!  Abundant life!  God’s gifts!  You read this text, top to bottom, a couple of times; and you’ll never find a single word about converting the lost soul or saving the sinking sinner.  Not even a hint.  Good news!  Abundant life!  God’s gifts!  ‘Evangelical courage’ is courage to act in faith, courage to risk in faith, courage to change our lives if need be, because “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  The love of God is here and now, in these villages, in our dreams, in ordinary time.  The grace of God is here and now, in the ways we touch one another and lift one another and bless one another.  “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  So don’t wait: live now, love now.  

When I think about ‘evangelical courage’—I think about Taj Smith and his transformation here, and his commitment to integrity on the way, and his trust in God, and in you and in me.  I think about Taj’ theological conviction: that God is the journey itself, his journey from Tiffany to Taj; and my journey from privileged pastor to straight ally; and your journey as an advocate for inclusion in your neighborhood or workplace or school.  If the kingdom of heaven has come near, if the kingdom of heaven is the ground of all being, if the kingdom of heaven is the very air that we breath—then God is the journey itself.  And that’s where ‘evangelical courage’ begins.  Don’t wait, live now, love now.

But even that’s not all of it.  There’s more to ‘evangelical courage; there’s more to the ‘kingdom of heaven.’  In the same text, in almost the same breath, Jesus sends disciples into the world to do his work and preach his gospel and encourage his people.  It turns out that ‘evangelical courage’ isn’t the solitary work of a savior or the heroic achievement of a superhero: it’s the work we do in communities, together; it’s the capacity for forgiveness and justice we cultivate, together; it’s the building up of a church, the collaboration of leaders, our commitment to compassion and celebration.  And all this we do together. 

In the long arc of Matthew’s gospel, and maybe you’ll read it this summer, in the long arc of the gospel, you might even say that this right here is where the rubber hits the road.  Matthew 9 and 10.  This is where the gospel gets real.  Jesus and the twelve.  Jesus and his own beloved community.   

If you’re going to raise the dead, he seems to say, you’re going to need a community.  If you’re going to cast out demons, you’re going to need a community.  If you’re going to heal broken hearts and challenge oppression and offer alternatives, you’re going to need a community.  “It’s going to be hard,” he seems to say.  “There’s sure to be conflict, and division, and pain.  So live simply.  And serve generously.  And be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

With Jesus, it’s all about—it’s always about—community, beloved community, a brotherhood, a sisterhood of courage and compassion risking everything to spread the good news of God’s love.  So don’t be fooled.  Everything Jesus believes about mercy, everything Jesus believes about justice, everything Jesus believes about nonviolence and generosity and prayer: it all gets embodied in relationships, in friendships and in a community of believers and seekers and practitioners.  Paul calls it the Body of Christ.  Martin Luther King calls it the beloved community.  Sometimes, you and I call it church.

Happy Father's Day!

My dad in his natural habitat.

Me, in mine.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

No Such Thing as Someone Else's War

I'm a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn and Mavis Staples.  This guy--Jason Isbell--has some of the same stuff: a gritty, transparent, aching passion for life and human communion.  As raw as this song is ("White Man's World), it's ultimately a song of profound resistance and determination.  Without being preachy or simplistic.  I love this guy's music!  Check out the lyric...and the video below:

I'm a white man living in a white man's town
Wanna take a shot of cocaine and burn it down...

There's no such thing as someone else's war
Your creature comforts aren't the only things worth fighting for...
We're still breathing, it's not too late
We're all carrying one great burden, sharing one fate

I'm a white man living on a white man's street
Got the bones of the red man under my feet
The highway runs through the burial grounds...

I'm a white man looking in a black man's eyes
Wishing I'd never been one of the guys
Who pretended not to hear another white man's joke...

There's no such thing as someone else's war
Your creature comforts aren't the only things worth fighting for...
We're still breathing, it's not too late
We're all carrying one great burden, sharing one fate

A Poem: Armed America

"Armed America"
A Poem, June 14 
After Genesis 4

The answer to Cain's question is up for grabs in America
Or so it seems to me today, another bright June American day:
Am I my brother's keeper?  Does it really matter what happens to him?
Another angry man, another frustrated man says, Hell, no.
Not if he's a Republican.  Not if I can't stand his politics.
Not if he's thick as thieves with the President.  Hell, no.
So he loads up on freedom, he inhales hatred and righteousness,
And he heads for a ball-field and a bunch of old men playing catch.
Because that's his right apparently.  With his loaded gun.  And his rage.

The answer to Cain's question is in our hands, America,
Your hands and my hands, liberal and conservative hands:
Am I my sister's keeper?  Do I really care what happens to her?
Another frightened man, another sad man says, Hell, no.
Not if she's dancing in a gay club.  Not if she loves like that.
Not if her liberation offends me, and her moves challenge me.
So he loads up on fear, he inhales betrayal and self-contempt,
And he heads for a place called Pulse, a sweet summer night.
Because that's how we do things.  With our rage.  In Armed America.

The answer to Cain's question is up for grabs, it's a choice we make.
Not just me and you, but us.  
We choose guns and explosive rage.  
We choose a classroom in Newtown, Connecticut,
And a ballyard outside Washington.
We choose a nightclub in Orlando,
And we choose to raise our little boys on games that slaughter for fun.
We choose the NRA.

Today--not tomorrow, not next week--we answer with our choices:
Choose life?  Choose brothers?  Choose sisters?
Cain's choices are ours.  Our choices are Cain's.
There's blood in the streets, blood in the classroom,
Blood on the dance floor and blood in the infield.
Today we answer the question of God.
Are we ready?  Are we able? 

DGJ 6/1417


Friday, June 9, 2017


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lord, Have Mercy

Over the past year and a half, I've experienced some things I never imagined experiencing: occasionally, around town, old friends cross the street to avoid me; letter writers use the local daily to make fun of my faith and my politics; and (inevitably) some use Facebook to call me a bigot:
I'm old enough, and experienced enough, to know that this kind of thing (in response to a video you'll find in my previous post) comes with the territory.  I've learned that sometimes well-intentioned discipleship provokes passionate response.  And, in the case of our human rights work with Palestinian and Israeli activists, the response has been intense and often personal.  I've been called anti-Semitic by all kinds of folks (some I know and some I don't) and even accused of stoking anti-Jewish bigotry in my hometown. 

My spiritual practice is such that I take criticism seriously, that I reflect on even the harshest of critiques and examine (as best I can) my intentions, limitations and prejudices.  This is what faith means to me, and it's the path my Teacher sets out for me every day.  "First take the log out of your own eye," Jesus says, "and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye."  To be a strong advocate of justice or an energetic peacemaker means working 'my side of the street' (religiously)--and facing up to the mistakes I make and the biases I carry with me.

That said, I am not an anti-Semite.  And I have not stoked anti-Jewish bigotry in Santa Cruz or anywhere else.  What I have tried to do is listen: first, to Palestinian colleagues and friends who cry out from the midst of occupation for justice; and second, to Israeli allies and Jewish activists who ache for a just sharing of land, power and opportunity in the Holy Land.  In listening to their hope and their stories, I've heard many asking for my help.  I've heard them advocate passionately for a coordinated and nonviolent economic campaign--much like the anti-Apartheid effort in the 80s--to pressure Israel and her allies to do the right thing and negotiate in good faith.  This has drawn me deeply into the effort to use strategic boycotts and targeted divestment to bring this pressure to bear.  Palestinian colleagues themselves have devised this strategy--insisting on a nonviolent alternative to violence, insurrection and terror.  And--in faith and solidarity--I have joined their efforts.  As has my church.  To not act in this way would be to turn from them, to reject their cry for friendship and brotherhood.

Just the same, I'm stung by the kind of comments I see on line and in the paper (most, like the one in the FB post above).  It hurts to be accused of bigotry and aiding the forces of prejudice.  I find myself reading comments like the one here and wondering if all this effort is worth it, if I should choose some other avenue for my energies and passion.  

But then I think of Issa Amro, a young Palestinian peacemaker in Hebron; and I think of Zoughbi Zoughbi at Wi'am in Bethlehem; and I think of the remarkable young adult organizers I've met in Tel Aviv (Israeli and Palestinian); and I think of the walls and the poverty and the hopelessness occupation sows in the hearts of dear, dear people.  I remember all of them--and their kind faces, and their determination--and I realize that I would truly be a coward to turn away.  I would truly be a coward if a FB comment, or a letter to the editor of a small town daily, or any of the other stuff this last year, caused me to lose faith.

That's not my practice.  That's not the way of my people, or the many allies I choose to love.

So I will do my best not to answer the comment here, or the next letter in the paper: not with a barb or a flippant quip or a mean-spirited counterattack.  I will rely on the example of so many others who have shown that "hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."  And I will pray for the wisdom and courage to keep loving: those who love me, those who resent me, those who value my contributions to the common good, and those who are disappointed in them.  I will pray for the courage to keep loving them all.

Lord, have mercy on me.  Lord, have mercy on us all.

Why We're an HP-Free Church!