Sunday, August 29, 2010
Betty, my Mother In Law, as a good Mother/Mother In Law, should, loves to impart nuggets of wisdom on us. One of her favorites is to repeat the wisdom that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. We probably should listen to that some day. I take on clients that other attorneys actually fear to represent. Cheri tends to take on helping people that other pastors fear to help.
Fourteen years ago, as we had just started to date, Cheri read a story in the Findlay news paper about a group of young men in Fostoria. They were going to be on trial for killing a friend of theirs. These 17-20 year olds had beaten a friend to death and then set a home on fire to destroy the crime scene. Now three friends were in jail for murder, arson, etc. Cheri reached out to all three. One, Josh (not his real name), is the only one who responded. Cheri wanted to learn how these young men’s lives had led to this point.
Josh told her of growing up abused, how he had learned later in jail he was gay and had repressed that all along. How the group had turned to robbing people’s homes. How the group had discovered one of them was a snitch, and how they identified the victim, and pressured Josh into helping with the crime, otherwise he would become a victim too. And the details, I won’t repeat on how they killed a former friend.
Cheri, who was living in what most of us would consider a pretty suburban, middle class kind of town, discovered that her part of the world could still be pretty messed up. Things like this didn’t happen in her world, even though she had been in inner city Atlanta and suburban Cincinnati, even as a police chaplain there. Cheri saw how messed up this world can be at times.
In the end, Josh testified against the ring leader, and he was sent to jail for twenty years to life. Now, this messed up kid is entering adulthood in a world that thankfully most of us will never know. A world of violent roommates, difficult to follow rules, some difficult to deal with jailers, etc.
To make Josh’s world a little better, Cheri has stayed in communication with him for the last Fourteen years. She writes him monthly, talks to him via collect calls almost monthly, sends him a small amount of money each month for the commissary, visits yearly and sends him a Christmas present. Josh will rejoin society when Becca is in college, maybe. At that point, he might be in need of the kinds of help a church like The Village will be able to offer.
Why did Cheri write that letter? She can’t take on the entire prison system. She has other battles to fight. I can’t tell you how much time and money she has spent in letters, overly expensive collect calls, monthly & Christmas gifts, etc. As she says, you can’t afford to change the whole world ourselves.
Why is answered by looking at the viral video I posted on Facebook profile. Here’s a link to the You Tube video if you aren’t my Facebook friend or can’t find it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg&feature=related. It is little girl, Jessica, having a really good day. She talks to a mirror about how great her life is and how she can do anything. Cheri is working for a world where every child feels that way and stays like that, a beloved child of God. A world where kids experience no violence, no fear, no loss of hope.
One person at a time, can we make a difference? It’s overwhelming sometimes when you move beyond one. Jesus usually worked one person at a time. In our story from worship this week, John 8: 1-11 if you’re following along at home, Jesus was presented with a real challenge in this story. The self-righteous of the time wanted to trap him in a no win situation. They brought him a woman who had been caught red handed committing adultery. The law of Moses was pretty clear on this one. Stoning it was. Right now in Iran, you can see a woman facing a similar fate.
Jesus, though, being Jesus, figured out another way. He simply turned to the angry leaders and said, you’re right, but the first stone should come from the one among you who is sinless. Of course, none of them can go, slowly, one by one, they walk away. Jesus turns to the woman and says, no one can condemn you, now go, and sin no more. Does she not sin again? Probably not, but you hope that a moment like that changes the path of her life.
Jesus had that way of leveling things out, of cutting through to the humanity of us all. Even those of us who screw up hourly, like me. We are all part of the human race, that God loves. We make it complicated though. One person at a time is what it really boils down. You have to write that one letter to a Josh, or whatever your first step is.
Yesterday the Village had a booth at the community festival for Toledo Pride. Our team of volunteers had a blast. We performed acts of hospitality including giving out a couple of hundred re-useable water bottles, filled with ice cold water. We gave away a combo of 24 gallons of water mixed with over forty pounds of ice. Also, we handed out stickers with the church’s name & web address on it, along with a message that most people, sadly, found hard to believe, “you are made in God’s image”. Cheri and our team handed out hundreds of these. Some people were taken aback, some didn’t believe it.
Cheri found a group of high school kids who are getting a different message at school. Their principal and a teacher at the school were not at all welcoming of their “alternative lifestyle”. The teacher went so far as to sprinkle holy water around the chairs of these “troubled kids” in the hopes of fixing them. Hearing a group of people who follow the same God tell them they are beloved may not bring them to church, but I am willing to bet it had a better effect than the holy water.
We believe God is putting our church in a place to touch lives, to change a world in need of changing. We don’t want people to settle for less than a fully realized, happy life. The Village wants to provide a place of healing and support for those who society does not value, who are given a message that they are less worthy than others.
Dorothy Day and her colleagues at The Catholic Worker Movement did just that. They joined those who society did not value. They reached out to the poor, the voiceless, the oppressed. This week in worship we watched a scene from the movie on her life, "Entertaining Angels," where Dorothy is in a jail cell, when a young African-American woman, high or drunk is thrown into her cell. Dorothy shows the woman she is loved by God, even as she throws up on Dorothy’s shoes.
At the Village, we are working to change the world by following Jesus. We get told, almost daily, that people already feel like we are changing the world. As a baby church, we’re feeding the poor, helping give shelter to the homeless, and giving a safe haven to those in need. Today we went to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in the Old West End. There we sat down with those who were hungry, we didn’t sit behind a window or counter, but came to those who needed our help and ate with them. Next month, we will be working with the Interfaith Hospitality Network to feed homeless families, again eating with them, one night, maybe two if we can get the volunteers in place. So, what is your role in all of this?
What is your part in that, or something we’ll do as our church grows up? What is God calling you to do? Beyond these wonderful service projects, we need people to help as we expand what we do. On Sundays, we need people to greet visitors and everyone attends, make them and serve them our wonderful coffee, make & run Powerpoint presentations, etc as we expand how we change the world.
Do you want to be part of a movement to change the world, like Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement that has 100+ centers around the world? Consider joining us on Sundays at 10:30 AM or starting October 3rd at 12:30 PM. Like Dorothy Day, you are made in God’s image and you can change the world.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn New York, and was about the same age as my grandmother, born in 1897. She was a sort of bohemian, living in Greenwich Village and hanging out with folks like writer Eugene O'Neill. She was a free lance news reporter; and a suffragette, marching for the rights of women to vote. Much later in life Abbie Hoffman tagged her as the original hippie. She was an agnostic. In her 20's after at least one abortion, two common law marriages, and after giving birth to her daughter Tamar, she began a spiritual awakening while living on Staten Island. When she was 30 years old, she was baptized with her infant daughter, ( much like we baptized Vanetta and Faith right here a few months ago).
With a man named Peter Maurin she founded the The Catholic Worker movement: first, it was a newspaper which was started to make people aware of church teaching on social justice. Day said the word "Worker" in the paper's title referred to "those who worked with hand or brain, those who did physical, mental, or spiritual work. But we thought primarily of the poor, the dispossessed, the exploited." It first appeared on May Day, 1933 to make people aware of the social justice teaching of the Catholic Church as an alternative to Communism during the Great Depression. Its stated goal was to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. One of my mantras throughout my ministry. The newspaper grew into a "House of Hospitality" in the slums of New York during the depression, today, there are more than 100 Catholic Worker Houses around the world.
Dorothy Day was a follower of Jesus who had spunk. But her life was not easy. She knew tragedy, both personal tragedy, and that of her community. She saw the pain and suffering of the GREAT Depression. And that is the time during when she first heard the message of Jesus, and took it seriously. She heard the message and took it very seriously. She did not PLAY CHURCH. She FOLLOWED JESUS with the intention of CHANGING THE WORLD.
You see, Jesus listened to God. That's why God sent Jesus to Earth. The folks were not listening. God's people were not listening. They had these laws and these religious practices. They worshiped in these holy places, but they were PLAYING at RELIGION. They WERE NOT GETTING IT. So God sent Jesus to try to SHOW THEM HOW TO DO IT.
In our scripture for today we see a couple of simple examples, for those reading at home, we used Luke 6:1-11 from The Message Translation. It tells two stories. One where Jesus and his followers get in trouble for picking grain as they walk on the Sabbath and another where Jesus cures a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath as well. Jesus tells the powers that be that he is there to do good and he won’t be stopped by silly rules.
Here's how Dorothy Day was like Jesus: The choices where simple for her too. She read her bible and it told her to:
1) Feed hungry people.
2) Comfort the sick.
3) Stand by those who are oppressed, and work for justice.
She found these instructions in the Sermon on the Mount and she lived her life by them. But funny thing, she got in trouble with her Church because of it.
There is a great film about Dorothy Day called "Entertaining Angels" starring Moira Kelley. We watched a great clip from the movie. It begins with Dorothy at a banquet receive accolades and applause. The scene cuts to Dorothy, on her knees, scrubbing a toilet. One of her staff scurries upstairs to tell her that the Cardinal is downstairs. For those who don’t understand Catholic Hierarchy, the only one higher up than a Cardinal is the Pope. The Archbishop is there to ask her to drop t he name Catholic from her organization because she is standing up for the wrong people, unions, the poor, etc. She responds that “I thought we were being the Church”. He also expresses a concern for her insisting on living with those who are poor. He says, after saying “they didn’t teach us about people like you in the seminary”, "I couldn't do it, and I wonder how long you can.".
Now friends it would be easy for us to look at Dorothy Day's life and say: "Boo Catholic church of 1930's," or even "Boo established church of today." And somehow get some "holier than thou attitude" that we are doing things better. Let's don't fall into that trap, ok?
Let's be bigger than that. Let's have some humility. Because, actually, a little later in the story, Dorothy has to come down off her high horse too, and listen to her friends in her own community a bit, because she gets a bit dictatorial.
Instead, let's ask ourselves this question. What might Jesus be trying to tell us with this scripture and with this story of Dorothy Day? What are the ways that we "Play Church" rather than "being church"?
What does this mean for The Village? How might Jesus challenge us, if he walked into our doors today?
You see I think he might tell us, "what are you doing inside here?" Why is it, that you get the biggest crowds on a Sunday morning to come together and worship me? You sit inside here and wait for people to come join you.
Why don't you get out there and tell people that God loves them? Use your imaginations to find ways to connect with people who think they want nothing to do with religion. You know - those people that are so turned off by religion. Those people that think church folks are judgmental and that church is boring. Go to them. Go to them at the bars and the sports arenas and the concert venues and engage in conversation, and try to find a way to slip me into the conversation, and let them know that I love them. Be radical. Tell them I love them. Tell them I forgive them - and I can give them the strength to change their lives and find meaning.
Dorothy Day did it by giving people food. People were hungry for food in 1933, and some people in Toledo are hungry for food, and we need to spend time feeding hungry people too, and next Sunday we will have our monthly opportunity to do just that at St. Mark’s. But more people are hungry for meaning. Their lives are empty. They feel lost and worthless. We feel lost and worthless, and unlovable. But we know that God loves them and us. We've gotta find some ways to get that message across. There are folks out there that need the message of God's love and they are not going to go to any other church in town - but they might come to The Village. But only if we find ways to connect with them.
God will help us.
And it will take time. But here is my question: Are you willing to take some risks for the sake of the folks out there who need the love of God that we experience you have in here?
Because here is the thing. Dorothy Day was able to stand up to the Cardinal of the Holy Roman Catholic Church because she was answering to a higher power. She was working for Jesus, and Jesus told her to feed the hungry and ask why they are hungry.
I believe Jesus is asking us to do something just at risky in our day. I believe Jesus is asking us to find ways, in our daily lives, to say to some of those hurting broken folks we encounter out there: "I follow Jesus. I follow Jesus who is loving and forgiving and who knows we all make mistakes and who always gives us another chance. I'm part of a community where we are making a difference in the world and I'd like to pick you up next Sunday and take you there with me."
Can you think of one person who has lost their way, and who needs a course correction in life? Maybe don't start with the person who is least likely to say yes to invitation, think of the person who is most likely to say yes. Will you start by praying for that one person, and then call that person this week and invite them to come with you next week? And offer to pick them up.
But even more than that, will you pay attention to those openings in the conversation when you might take a HUGE risk and say, "You know, God wants better for your life. God wants you to have deep joy." Or maybe you will say: "God has already forgiven you, it's just about you needing to forgive yourself."
I don't have all the answers. It's going to take some time for all of us, friends. This is a process. And here at The Village, we are on this journey together. And I'm glad you decided to be here today. Dorothy Day was a woman who hung out in Greenwich Village with a lot of lost souls, but she was sure that there was something more she was supposed to do with her life,. In time, she found that something more. I am convinced that God has more people that God wants us to reach with The Village. For each one of us I know there are 10 more hurting and confused folks out there who need to hear the simple message: God loves us and forgives us. I started this project with the purpose of finding you. Now, I hope you, will help me - find them. Together, we can follow Jesus and change the world.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Nelson Mandela had one over-riding value in his life: equality. One value: Equality. In studying about Mandela I learned that even more than non-violence he valued equality, so there came a time when the African National Congress used violence in their freedom movement.
There were folks in their movement that advocated for the non-violent ways of Gandhi, but others won out, and disappointingly, eventually they went to armed combat as one means to their end. However, once they got their freedom, and a democratic form of government, and legally protected equality for all - Mandela was clear that it was his role as a leader to LEAD his country into a new day for everyone, and that day included peace, respect, and EQUALITY for everyone.
In worship at The Village we watched a scene from the movie Invictus. Once Mandela is elected President, his small personal staff of bodyguards know they need a larger contingent to protect their new president. They ask for more bodyguards. But when they get what they ask for, they are faced with a huge challenge.
Rather than fellow members of the struggle, fellow Africans, they instead face Whites. Worse still, while these new members are highly trained, having guarded the prior president, they are also their oppressors. The members of the Special Branch used to arrest, torture and even kill their comrades. Now, members of that group are going to join their group. The oppressors who were against them, are now to be trusted and risk their lives to protect a man they put in jail.
The leader of the existing team is furious. He runs to the president asking for an explanation. Mandela responds simply, eloquently, but firmly: “Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon. The Rainbow Nation begins here!”. If watch the clip, you will see it's going to take some time for this work of reconciliation to take place in South Africa.
Mandela's understanding of equality is rooted in the African concept of ubuntu, which is the "profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and accomplishment of others" (Mandela's Way, page ix). We are connected to one another in the human family. The Bumper sticker version is simply: "No one is free until everyone is free."
We have passed through a period in American History, at least we hope we are passing through and not settling into it,: radical individualism; an utter focus on the SELF, as I put it “I got mine, you’ve got to get yours”. This is a foreign concept in the Bible, it's unknown to God; Jesus is not wired this way. Followers of Jesus don't act this way - it's what makes us revolutionary.
And here is where our value comes from. We value the connectedness of people. We are all in this together. We are a village - where we take care of one another. There are NO dividing walls. We are all beloved children of God. We are all living in one home, reconciled in Jesus.
In the scripture we read today, a letter from Paul to the new church, like The Village in the village of Ephesus (from Epshesians 2: 14-22, the Message Translation for those following along at home):
He [Jesus] tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. . . .Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody. . . . You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. . . . Now God's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day-a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
We said it happening here every week at The Village. We all come here to get a fresh start every week. We see it here, at an old bar, in a neighborhood that refuses to give into a type of despair and decay, here at the corner of Monroe & Central.
When we follow Jesus, we WILL change the world, because we will live as people with NO DIVIDING WALLS. This is not something to be taken lightly, folks. This is serious. We are not playing church here, we are being the church.
If you watch the clip from Invictus, you will see it on the faces of Mandela's bodyguards. You will see the commitment on Mandela's face. There was NO QUESTION. He understood that everyone was of value to God. He had 27 years in prison to deepen his resolve to that principle, at the hands of some of the people he then welcomed into his inner circle or protectors and even advisors later.
You see. . . here is the deal: When WE receive this GIFT - for ourselves. . .this wonderful message that God made us and God loves us. Then the logical next step is to recognize that God made that person sitting next to us and the person across the street and around the world. And God loves that person. Yes, even that person or people who annoy the BLEEP out of us.
Now, sure, God wants all of us to change some of our actions. But God loves each one of us, because God made us. We are all God's people and so we are connected to God in one family. We are equal in God's eyes. THERE ARE NO WALLS. Human walls are artificial. They are ALL artificial.
There are no walls. And once the walls of apartheid in South Africa were dismantled Mandela said to his people: "Alright then we are going to take this seriously and live as if the wall is really GONE." Forgiveness starts here today.
So, my friends, what would it look like for us to live, as followers of Jesus, as if the dividing walls were ALL GONE? Who do you have a wall built up against? What group of people? What kind of people? Can you imagine that God loves that person? It’s easy to think about them needing to change, but this is ABOUT US! This is about our hearts changing, now praying to have them change their hearts. To see the belovedness of all, not just those who are like us, agree with us, would pray good things for us.
We shared a sign of reconciliation and peace with each other as we got ready to share communion today. But, as we did so, each of us tried to picture the others in the room as those others in our life, that we want walled off. And we imagined starting to tear down those walls. But this will not be an easy journey. Not for any of us.
If you’re ready to be a part of a community that is tearing down these artificial wall, and living the ideal that we are all in this together, join us. We start again each Sunday at 10:30 on this journey, and we’re all this together.