Thursday, June 23, 2022

BREATHE AND REJOICE: "Mahna Mahna"

THURSDAY THOUGHTS: "Spirituality and the Supreme Court"

Understandably, some have asked why it is that preachers like me are so vexed by Supreme Court decisions--like this week's rulings expanding access to guns and restricting rights to abortion and reproductive health.  "Why can't ministers leave politics to the politicians?" they ask.  "Take care of spirituality, and leave the political issues alone.  It just gets so divisive.  And I don't come to church for that."

A couple of thoughts today:

1. Spirituality explores vitality and meaning, the wholeness of human being and human community.  There's just no reasonable way to divorce it from political concerns and realities.  The issue of guns and weapons in American life is a case in point.  In our attachment to violence as the means of safety and wellbeing, we have traumatized ourselves and compromised community trust across the country.  This isn't a partisan issue: it's a human, communal, and (yes) political one.  

When I preach on Sunday mornings or counsel parishioners in my office or their homes, I now face a community stressed and streched to the breaking point--by the possiblity that the next school massacre will be at their kids' school, by the reality that every second neighbor at the mall is packing a piece, by the grim and bloody news from Buffalo and Uvalde and Las Vegas and Orlando and on and on and on.  Without any meaningful efforts to end the madness.  Does this wear people down?  Does it affect the spirit of a community?  Does it stress families and marriages and friendships and neighborhoods?  You bet it does.  Spirituality suffers.

2.  What I'm finding especially maddening this week, with today's ruling on guns and the inevitable ruling on abortion to follow, is the plain truth of it all.  This is not--if it once was--an independent Court doing its own independent work in consideration of weighty moral and legislative concerns.  This is now a very determinedly Right Wing Court--put together by Right Wing leaders like Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Donald Trump, to enact (without doubt and without question) the Right Wing agenda.  

Does anyone out there (reasonably) disagree?  Does anyone out there (reasonably) believe that these 6-3 decisions reflect an independent judicial branch, considering all sides of issues, weighing what's truly best and constitutional, and discerning (according to their duty and calling) the constitutionality of matters before them?

3.  What I'm learning about the Second Amendment this summer is that it was in a very powerful and direct way a response to the South's commitment to perpetuating slavery and using armed militias as an active tool to prevent uprisings and liberation movements among free and enslaved Blacks.  (See The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, by Carol Anderson) In order to commit to the union of states, Southern white landowners insisted on arming and engaging militias to quell any hint of uprising or rebellion.  They knew--because it was happening--that the enslaved would eventually join together, organize and turn toward rebellion and freedom.  And they also knew that their enormous privilege--and economic power--was built around the institution of bondage.  The Second Amendment was designed, even in compromise, to assuage their fears.  To enforce racism.

It's a devastating truth, this.  And it reminds us that what's happening in this week's ruling--and in Buffalo, and in Uvalde, and in the next place, and the place after that--is designed to make us fearful.  It's designed to keep us fighting one another.  It's designed to make us wary of one another.  That's how this Right Wing vision of America works.  If we're so wary of one another, so traumatized that we don't do much except buy stuff...they've won.  If we're so weary of the political madness, if we're so demoralized by the way a small minority controls and manipulates power at the highest levels that we don't engage in the political process...they've won.  It's just about buying the next car, betting on the next Super Bowl, etc.

And that's why all this is about spirituality.  Spirituality explores vitality and meaning.  And these decisions are ripping hard at the vitality of our American life, the meaning of our democratic project.  That's hurting all of us.  And those of us committed to spiritual life, and spiritual communities, have a lot of hard work to do.  To bind up the broken hearts.  To repair the tattered fabric.  To reawaken the spirituality of a people.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

PASTORAL LETTER: "On Abortion Rights, What Happens Next"

A Pastoral Letter
June 14, 2022


Friends and siblings,

Abortion should be safe, legal and accessible.
  One in four women of reproductive age will have an abortion at some point; it's been an essential right for women in this country for 50 years.  It's a critical piece of promoting reproductive health and family choice, and encouraging well-being for women, children and the partners who love them.  So there is no doubt.  Abortion should continue to be safe, legal and accessible in this country.  Full stop.

Over the next couple of weeks, there's every reason to expect that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, and provide a road map for criminalizing abortion in many states.  It's important to note, for you and me and our families here, that New Hampshire is not one of those states.  There is work to be done here--a lot of work--to protect reproductive health and the right to a safe abortion; but New Hampshire is not one of the states that will quickly move to ban all abortions.  That message is critically important for all of us to understand and share.  Women will still be able to seek, find and receive the care they need and deserve in this state.

Still, nationally, the overturning of Roe would signal a sad turn toward limiting human rights, curbing human rights--in a country that claims to be a beacon of freedom, dignity and fairness.  And let's be clear.  That's what the overturning of Roe means: that a conservative religious community (with reactionary secular partners) can organize, manipulate and bully their way through the political process to limit and even abolish a human right we've come to honor and cherish as a people.  And this is a dangerous turn, a dangerous one indeed.

To my Christian sisters and brothers who have focused (almost exclusively) on this issue over these past five decades...I want to offer this.  Your contempt for women's freedoms, your contempt for reproductive health, your contempt for families who make complex and difficult decisions every day--is stunning and deeply antithetical to the gospel itself.  The gospel proclaims God's grace and love, and equally, God's partnership in our choices to live generous, healthy and just lives in community.  It's grounded in a profound belief that God alone is God, that God alone is judge and Lord over humankind and all creation.  By your actions, and your disdain for democratic norms over these 50 years, you assume to act as divine arbiters of right and worng, and you presume to play God in the lives of many.  You do this with women's lives in the abortion debate.  And you seem equally happy to play God in your approach to gay rights, gender equality and gun proliferation as well.  You know best.  You alone know best.  And the well-being of our families be damned.  The well-being of our schools be damned.  You are not doing "God's will," my friends.  You are making a mockery of "God," and religion itself.  

I'd suggest there's something deeply, profoundly wrong with this.  Theologically.  Spiritually.  You are flaunting the gospel to pervert the gospel.  And you'll be remembered for that.

To my neighbors in Durham, on the Seacoast and across New Hampshire...let's continue to organize for human rights.  We know--as people of different faiths, as people with hope and love--that this is the right path to take.  We know that the common good requires democratic participation, deep love for difference, and a steady and open-minded commitment to neighborliness and public health.  If you're a Christian in this environment, don't be bashful about claiming the gospel mandate here: that freedom and humility are paramount; that neighbors collaborate to protect human rights; that women's reproductive health is a matter of utmost importance for all of us (and that includes Christians in every way).  Don't hide your light under a bushel basket, and don't allow fundamentalist and reactionary voices (perversely claiming Christianity) to monopolize the civic discussion.  You can love Jesus and work boldly and tirelessly for human freedoms and public health...indeed, I would argue, you must.

In the meantime, if you are stressed by this news, or by anything the Supreme Court does or doesn't do this month, reach out to me, reach out to one another.  If your daughters and partners are unclear about what's available and possible in New Hampshire, reach out.  Planned Parenthood continues to offer clear and helpful information on where you can find the care you deserve and need.  And know that by our loving, by our caring, by our sharing of this moment, we shall overcome.

Yours, in Christ,

Pastor Dave

Sunday, June 5, 2022

HOMILY: "The Unexpected Church"

A Meditation on Pentecost
Acts 2


1.

In their first inklings of Jesus’ resurrection, their first intuitive moments of Easter joy, these ordinary disciples imagine that Jesus rises again to repair all that’s been ripped asunder or fractured by despair.  And it’s a reasonable hope: that God raises Jesus from the grave, that Jesus embodies God’s passion for correction and restoration.  So much has changed, and so fast.  So much is up in the air, and insecurity brings out the angst in us all.  

In fact, if you rewind the tape, and take up the Book of Acts from the very beginning, you hear these same angsty disciples asking Jesus, the Risen One, “Have you returned to us now to restore the kingdom of Israel?”  In other words: Have you come back to make things right, to fix things up and (of course) to put us in charge?  It’s a revealing line.  And there’s a familiar (and pretty contemporary) human yearning in this text: for a return to normalcy, for things to be steady and safe again, for things to be as they always were.  Or seemed to be. 

So then, this Pentecost event—when the sound of a great windstorm comes from the spirit world above—is not at all what they imagined or hoped for.  They’d expected familiar prayers, the steady comfort of old liturgies and sacraments.  Right?  But what they get on Pentecost is flames of fire resting on their heads.  Make sure you hear that right.  Flames of fire resting on their heads.  And the Holy Spirit filling them with possibility, power and new life.  Now—let’s be theologically precise with this—the Holy Spirit here is nothing other than the Spirit of the Risen One, the Life Force of Jesus himself.  It’s not just some generic spirit, some generic good will.  This is what Jesus has in mind for the church, somehow, somehow: a vision of possibility, power and new life, an experience to match.  It’s a daring and even uncomfortable vision: I mean, flames of fire resting on your head?  Can’t be too comfortable, right?

And all of this, so much of this, that they are speaking now in new and unexpected languages—the languages of other lands, the languages of love and peace, the languages that give birth to relationships, to partnerships, to communion and celebration.  It’s an UNEXPECTED CHURCH!

2.

And I think this is so important for us, in our own moment, to hear and then to grapple with.  Because far from restoring one particular version of the kingdom, one limited arrangement of the kingdom of Israel, this Holy Spirit gathers a wildly new and disruptively bold Israel—a people of peoples, leaning into one another’s languages and stories, delighting in one another’s traditions and songs.  And risking a whole new kind of intimacy and connection.  A whole new measure of trust and communion.  Jesus’ church is always, always, always in the process of renovation and re-formation!

And this, yes this, is the vocation of the Easter church—at least, that’s Luke’s suggestion throughout the Book of Acts.  This is the vocation of discipleship and the beloved community, the community in touch with Jesus’ life and teaching.  The Greek word for this strange, spirit-guided, disruptive, joyfully connected community is KOINONIA.  KOINONIA.  They come from Land of Victory and Land in the Middle and Land of the Ancient Ones.  They delight in the many ways of Land Between Rivers and Land of Promise and Land of Handsome Horses and Land of Black Waters and Land of the Rising Sun.  They speak a thousand different languages and sing a thousand different songs in a thousand different rhythms.  

And that’s how it is to be with us, with the church, with our KOINONIA in 2022.  We are to learn new languages and sing new songs, not to discredit and lose touch with the old ones, but to expand and to stretch and to welcome.  The Holy Spirit draws us out across boundaries, across rivers and borders, across all the fears that keep us from going.  And out there, we are changed by one another, out there we are delighted and changed and challenged by one another.  The Body of Christ.  An UNEXPECTED CHURCH!

Monday, May 30, 2022

PRAYER: "For a City of Peace"

May 30, 2022
After another day of violence and tension in Jerusalem: SEE HERE

Maker of all lands and partner to all peoples,
How it must break your holy heart
To see us snarling like this, and sneering at one another.
When we fear for our futures,
You would have us turn to you and lean on one another.
And yet, we retreat from our humanness,
We seek refuge in hatred and nationalism.
We chant death.  We arm for death.  We die together.

We pray for grace and peace in Jerusalem today:
For those who march with angry hearts and fists,
And for the others who imagine, even so,
A City of Peace, Shalom, Salaam.

We pray for a spirit of curious mercy today:
Drawing neighbor to neighbor, and Jew to Arab,
Moving the faithful children of Abraham to pray
Together, and break fasts together, and remove
The yokes of history, cruelty and occupation.
Together.

May all the dear ones in the Old City be
Protected and loved today.
May all the dear ones in East Jerusalem be
Protected and loved today.
May all the dear ones in West Jerusalem be
Protected and loved today.

And may their hearts be turned powerfully
To one another.  And so to you.

Amen and Ashe.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

HOMILY: "Three Hundred Million"


A Meditation on Memorial Day
Sunday, May 29, 2022
The Community Church of Durham (UCC)

My dad was a Navy guy; and I have vivid memories, bright and happy memories of his piling us into his beloved inboard-outboard, once every couple of summers, and hauling my brothers and me from Boothbay, up the Sheepscot, and across the Kennebec, to Bath, Maine.

And we’d drift out there in the Kennebec River, with dozens of other boats, as the workers at the Bath Iron Works launched a huge naval destroyer…or one of their other colossal naval vessels.  And when the destroyer finally hit the water, its journey into the fleet begun, I’d see something like tears of joy in my dad’s eyes.  Tears of pride and tears of joy.  How he appreciated the hard work, the engineering, the union labor, the collaboration necessary to pull off a project like that!  A boat that would defend the country he served and always loved.

As I’ve aged in the church and in the peace movement, militarism becomes more and more problematic for me.  But for my dad, those huge destroyers made sense, even spoke to a collaborative American spirit.

But when it came to guns and assault weapons, my dad just didn’t get it.  He didn’t get the idea that collecting guns could be fun or interesting in any way.  He didn’t get the idea that gathering them in your basement made you safer and smarter than your neighbors.  And he didn’t get the idea that guns made America, well, America.  “Weapons,” he said to me once, not long before his final illness, “weapons are a scary poor substitute for democracy.”

And I’ve been thinking about that all week.  “Weapons are a scary poor substitute for democracy.” 

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If I could have five minutes with the executives at Sig Sauer here in Newington, the same Sig Sauer that produced the assault rife that killed 50 dear and beloved souls at the nightclub in Orlando in 2016…if I could have five minutes with those executives…I think I’d say that: “Weapons are a scary poor substitute for democracy.  Assault rifles are a scary poor substitute for democracy.”

“No matter how much money you’re making on them.”

If I could have five minutes with Senators Cruz and McConnell and Collins, and Reps beholden to the NRA and the gun lobby…just five minutes…I think I’d say that: “Weapons are a scary poor substitute for democracy.  Wake up and grow a backbone.  Assault rifles are a scary poor substitute for democracy.”

In Uvalde, we’re reminded that our public schools are under assault.  In Buffalo, we’re reminded that communities of color across the country are under assault.  And I think it’s time we acknowledge, with 300 million of these handguns, rifles and assault weapons in our homes and cars and basements…democracy itself is at risk.  You simply can’t sustain a vibrant, collaborative, diverse democratic project—when the entire population is armed to the teeth, angry and ready to go to war.  Democracy doesn’t work that way.

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And this is an issue for us, for the church, because it’s an issue for peoples of conscience and good will across the land.  We believe in the promise of a vibrant, collaborative, diverse democratic project.  We believe in the capacity of Jews and Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, atheists and pagans—the capacity of a wildly mixed and wonderfully diverse nation for problem-solving and the common good.  In a community like this one, in the long tradition of our United Church of Christ, we believe that it’s God’s intention that we live together in abundance, in generous spirit and communities where participation is everything and equality under the law is guaranteed.  And all of this—this great democratic project—is compromised or even sneered at by lobbies that peddle grotesque weapons of mass destruction…and insist that these are the tools of a safer, stronger, wiser America.  It’s just not so.  And it's just not right.

And, friends, let’s put it clearly: “We will not be fooled!”  Not any more!

Think with me, for just a minute, about the challenges we face in this century, in just this moment, as a nation, as a people.  There’s the terribly divisive tone of our political conversation for one.  Mean and cruel and vengeful.  There’s the ongoing work of addressing and repairing systemic racism, the legacy of racial hatred and oppression that suffocates whole communities and has to be faced.  And, of course, over all of these things, is the huge crisis of climate change and global warming, a crisis we simply must take on with purpose, with unanimity and with grace if we are to pass along a verdant and vibrant planet to our grandchildren and theirs.  These are enormous democratic challenges—for all of us, for the whole world, obviously.  But for us here in the United States, they require democratic engagement, daring citizenship, deep trust among neighbors and institutions.

And 300 million guns, 300 million weapons, 300 million assault rifles—all they do is compromise that work.  All they do is make us angry and frightened.  All they do is make us cynical and skeptical.  See what I’m talking about.  It’s a matter of huge democratic import.  Say what you want about the 2nd amendment.  But these weapons, these gun lobbies and these politicians on the dole with them—they are perverting American democracy.  And putting the whole project at risk.

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I’m glad to report this morning that religious leaders across the state—Jewish and Christian and Muslim and Unitarian—are mobilizing this spring to take this project on.  Vigils are great.  Vigils give voice to our pain and our grief.  But vigils are not the end of the story, or the point of this work.  We need to build a moral case, a spiritual case—not just for gun control, but for democracy itself.  It sounds kind of strange, but I really do think it’s true.  If you buy an assault weapon on line and store it under your bed, you’re not a democrat.  If you collect handguns, one for each car, one in every desk, several in the garage, you’re not a democrat.  And by God, if you make these weapons, if you profit off the sale of these weapons, if you market them to sullen, sad, despairing teenagers—you are no democrat.  You are the problem.

So I hope the church—that’s you—I hope you’ll join the rabbis, priests, nuns and pastors who are mobilizing in New Hampshire to cast a renewed and revitalized vision of democracy in our state.  We can and we must learn to trust one another again.  We can and we must learn to collaborate on big issues, and little ones.  We can and we must beat our swords into ploughshares, lay aside our guns and rifles, and study war no more.  For the good of America.  For the good of our kids.  For our own sakes too.

Amen and Ashe.

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“Uvalde”
A Poem by Jeffrey Klenk
Teaches at Columbia University
--
fear in the school
fear in the home
fear is the rule
fear is the bone 

they throw to the whites 
they throw to the blacks
fear is the blade
that widens the cracks

fear is the life
we live in the states
fear is the strife
the gunman creates

fear is the prayer
fear is the way
hear the soothsayer
fear every day

fear for the past
fear for the now
fear for the future
fear is our tao

fear is our lover
our legends, our lore
fear is our cover
our culture, our core

fear for the children
fear for the young
fear for their teachers
the heroes unsung

the leaders sing words
but hear not the song
the leaders spout freedoms
but see not the wrong

a father cries helpless
a mother screams why
a sister cries sorrow
they all see the lie

enough of your thoughts
enough of your prayers
enough of your words
that lead us nowhere

enough of your gun rights
your freedoms, your lies
it's just guns sales and money
as schoolchildren die

fear in the school
fear in the home
fear is the rule
fear is the bone



Friday, May 27, 2022

STAND!: "Stop Making These Weapons"

People of courage, kindness and defiant hope gathered today on the lawn at Sig Sauer's corporate headquarters, in Newington, NH, to call on weapons manufacturers to stop the madness.  Sig Sauer's own assault rifle was used in the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016--killing 49 souls, most of whom were young people out dancing and enjoying their friends.  Similiar rifles were used this month in Buffalo and South Texas, bringing death and heartbreak to communities of color, schools and families who will never be the same.

The Rev. Sarah Rockwell, St. Andrew's, Manchester

We are so very aware that vigils and protests are just a small part of the work ahead.  We must translate energy and anger into political power--making a case to folks from all kinds of backgrounds and political parties that gun control is smart, democratic and right for our kids and neighbors. "A New Imagination," as Jon Bromley puts it, "For What is Possible."

Jon Bromley & Dennis Drogseth

It's my own conviction that only vigorous democratic engagement and thoughtful neighborliness (citizenship) can meet the tremendous needs in our time--crises like climate change and economic apartheid, authoritarianism and systemic racism.  It's also clear the 300 million guns--little guns, big guns, concealed guns, out-in-the-open guns, assault rifles, all of them--serve to frighten, overwhelm and deter citizens from showing up for the tasks of democratic life.  And maybe that's the Far Right's hope: to keep the rest of us isolated, afraid and demoralized.  But this is no longer an option: we have to come together, we have to negotiate with one another, we have to practice our way back to the heart of democracy itself.

Allison from First Parish, Dover

The Rev. Hank from Milford

See the excellent coverage of today's demonstration in Seacoast Online's edition.

Chuck Hotchkiss, GSOP and Community Church

It was deeply meaningful, at Sig Sauer's campus today, to see peoples of many faiths, friends from many generations, all coming together with love and spirit and determination.  We will not be frightened away from one another.  We will not be bullied into submission (or inaction) by gun lobbies and rightwing zealots.  "This land is your land, this land is my land," sang Woody Guthrie, "this land was made for you and me!"

Audrey Drogseth

Zoe and Loren Selig and Heidi Bogle

In "Foster's Daily Democrat" this week, John Shea names the crisis: "In a world full of problems, we may be losing sight of the most critical among them. The most pressing crisis today in the United States is not the pandemic, inflation, or the abortion divide. It is the growing number of guns and increasing violence in our country – at a time when too many people are hurting in too many ways, too many people are filled with too much hate, and our nation’s democracy is arguably as factious and fragile as it’s ever been."  How in the world do 300 million weapons--under our beds, in our closets, in our pockets--how do they make us more trusting, more engaged, more creative?  There's just no way.  Those weapons are designed to divide us, to make us mean and to drive us from one another.  We cannot let that happen!

Jane Pollard