Planting Seeds of Mercy, Compassion and Love

Howard Thurman, in his book, Disciplines of the Spirit writes, “There are many forces over which the individual can exercise no control whatsoever. A farmer plants a seed in the ground and the seed sprouts and grows. The weather, the wind, the elements the farmer cannot control. The result is never a sure thing. So what does the farmer do? The farmer plants, always the farmer works at it . . . in confidence and assurance that even though this seed many not grow to fruition, seeds do grow and they do come to fruition.”

These past months have brought turmoil in many sectors. Our political divisions continue to separate us. We demonize those whose viewpoints are different than ours. Last weeks confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia symbolized for me how fractured we have become. White nationalists, proud of their evil symbols of hate and bigotry marching with torches, brought shades of another era and time. It was as much symbol of our political discord as it was of the attitudes which formed it. And then the tragedy when a young man drove his car into a group of pedestrian aiming to injure and kill.  This has been a time of questioning who we are and what we are becoming as a nation.

At moments like this we ask ourselves what we can do to challenge the forces of evil in our world and in our nation. We wonder why we should keep trying, when nothing seems to be working.  We grow discouraged.  Challenging moments are those in which we most need to remember that seeds do grow.  Our task in God’s kingdom is to sow the seed.   Seeds grow. We know they do.   We  have seen that growth in our own lives.   We know too,  that without planting at appropriate times there would never be a harvest of good fruit.

Like the farmer, we are never certain which seed will grow. Planting seeds of faith, nurture, love, acceptance, compassion, tolerance, mercy, integrity, hope, joy, peace, commitment and service continues to be our task. Sowing good seed, loving God’s people, risking, caring and forgiving are ways we live out our faith day by day. No, our efforts are never a sure thing. But, God asks only that we try, that we do our best, and leave all which remains to God.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

We Have to Stop the Hate

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There is No Way to Peace – Peace is the Way – Outside the Quaker – Friends Meeting Hall – Philadelphia June 26, 2005

I suppose it was inevitable really . . . that there would be a shooting. That someone or some political party would be targeted. With the hate speech and intolerance spewing through our air waves and with legislation being put together in secret, someone was going to snap. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when.  When the shooting occurred as  GOP Congressmen were practicing for the annual Democrats verses Republican baseball game this morning,  it came as the climax of vitriol which has been going on for years . . .  inflamed by  last  years election.

We have to stop the hate. We have to stop the way we have been treating each other. We have to change the way we talk to each other and about each other. We have to stop assuming that anyone who disagrees with us politically or on social issues is our enemy. We have to start listening to each other and hearing why people believe and feel as they do.

A few weeks back, I ate at a Mexican Restaurant in LaCrosse WI. There was no internet service.  I don’t have a phone with a data plan. Although there was a TV on  it was set to a Spanish-speaking station. I could not understand a word.  Then, I realized what a gift it was. For the next hour or so I would be unable to hear or see any negative news coming from Washington. I would be free, if only temporarily, from the ongoing cycle of scandal, intrigue, and “awfulizing” being broadcast. I would be able to rest from the 24 hour news cycle that tells me everything is wrong with the world and  (depending on which station I tuned into)  whose fault it is. For the next hour and a half, eating with my family, I would be free of it all.

But, I am an avid news junkie. I would soon be going back into the spewing and the hating – reading angry tweets and angry responses. That place where there is no middle ground. In the midst of today’s shooting, in the trauma and tragedy of it, may there be honest reflection on the why of the shooting. How did we get to this place? How can we change the way we do politics?  Do we always have to disparage the person who opposes us? Can there be reason and honest dialogue about what is best for the country? Does whatever party that is in power have to flagrantly bypass honest dialogue with the other side? Does the party not in power have to demonize the party in power?    Can we start looking for the best and not the worst in each other? Can we all tone down the conversation, take a deep breath and use our minds and our hearts the way God intended?  Can we get back to loving our neighbor as ourselves, even in our politics?

Love Draws the Circle Wide

Westboro Baptist Church planned some picketing in my community today. If you have somehow missed Westboro’s hate-filled speech, consider yourself fortunate. Fred Phelps, who started the church, found fame when he and his people started to picket the funerals of soldiers around the country. They held up signs with hate messages aimed at people who were gay or lesbian, using derogatory terms.   The targeting of soldiers was a warped logic which tied the war against terror to what the Westboro people believe, is the country’s willingness to have gay and lesbian members in the armed services. In their arrogance, they cheered the deaths of those who gave their lives for our nation.    Choosing to intrude on the heartbreak of  parents, spouse and children, they  brought their hateful agenda  and picketed funerals.  Westboro’s goal in Minnesota today, was to protest decisions by the University of Minnesota Hospital as well as a local high school related to transgender youth.

What has always stunned me about the Westboro Baptist church are actions which are antithetical to Christian Love and compassion. As a pastor I find it hard to reconcile the Jesus of the gospels with the arrogance and self-righteous attitude of the Westboro church.  I found myself  praying that our young people were protected from the hate speech and that the Westboro people had changed hearts. Ironically, at the very end of his life, Fred Phelps was excommunicated from the church he founded, because he came to see the world more compassionately than his followers. He pushed for reconciliation with two of his granddaughters who had been shunned by the church. The church he grew became even narrower in their ability to love and accept people than he had been. There was no longer room for Fred Phelps in his own church.

Edward Markham’s poem, “Outwitted”  is a favorite of mine, for its insistence that God loves all of the world’s people and wants us to do the same.

“He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!”

God is the one that keeps drawing us into the larger circle. God pulls us from the isolation of judgmentalism, arrogance and self-righteousness into the greater truths of love, compassion, mercy, kindness, gentleness and humility.

I’ve heard no news coverage of Westboro Baptist Church today. The community made a decision not to confront or encourage a counter-protest in the places Westboro chose to picket, so the group would be denied the publicity they wanted. I don’t know if they came and picketed or not. I do know that the community decided to work together and silence their message of hate, by simply ignoring it. It was a teachable moment to remember that the greatest commandment,  after loving God with all our heart, minds’ soul and strength,  is to love our neighbor as ourself.

When Washington Plays Havoc With Your Values – Contending With Difficulties

In January of 1780, Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams wrote to her son John Quincy Adams, who would later become the sixth  US president, “These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed . . . The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties . . . Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”

I learned a new word recently, “Awfulizing.” A person engaged in “Awfulizing” assumes the worst case scenario will come true in any situation. “Awfulizers,” can only see the potential hazard ahead and prepare themselves for a disaster. I think I’ve been doing a good bit of “Awfulizing” myself in recent weeks.

I have watched unfolding events in Washington with despair. Every time I’ve seen regulations cut that would protect consumers, the environment or the work place -I’ve set off on a case of “Awfulizing.” I’ve agonized over the House version of the health care bill. Each time, I have assumed the worst that can happen will happen. That was before the past weeks in Washington, where there has been a media circus revolving around connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, resignations and the timing of firings. While all of this is going on, the concerns and needs of ordinary people are put aside in the midst of the latest scandal talk.

I read an article a few weeks ago where a person likened today’s period of “Isn’t this awful” thinking to the experience of England in the Blitz. During an eight-month period, from the fall of 1940 to late spring of 1941, England was bombed almost daily. While many people in England are bemoaning *Brexit the writer pointed out, that any fallout from Brexit could not compare to what people endured as they lived through the Blitz in London. The writer then added, nor does it compare to the height of World War II when almost every family in the United States had one or more family members deployed in the war effort.

What I’ve been forgetting in all of my “Awfulizing” is that, while I don’t like much of what is happening in Washington these days, God is still God. God still works through God’s people for good. God is a God of justice. When God works in the hearts, minds and souls’ of God’s people, truth rises to the surface. There is “Awfulizing” and there is action. God always calls us to move from looking at the problems in our world to working on positive solutions. The choice is really ours. Where does God need us today? Is it “Awfulizing” or is it to start working for solutions?

*Brexit -The decision in 2016 by popular vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The decision impacts everything from trade and students attending colleges outside of the UK, to international banking.

God is on the Side of the Poor

I try to stay out of politics when I’m writing. When I do write about politics I try to be objective and balance the different sides of an issue. It’s difficult when what you really want to do is to scream at politicians who, either have no comprehension of the policies they are creating and how their decisions will impact the working poor, or simply don’t care. I try to believe that it is  ignorance and not open hostility toward people who are living on the edge. This week Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) a member of the House Judiciary Committee was talking about the roll out of the new Health Care bill and made a comment that the poor will have to choose between the new IPhone and health care. Wow . . . all I could think of was a low-cost plan I have been looking at that would give me a reconditioned older model IPhone as part of the package. At twenty-five dollars a month, I would have my own, new to me, IPhone.

It is so easy to judge the needy. Why, we ask are they making that decision? Isn’t that a foolish use of scarce resources? Hey, I’m making due with an old flip phone ( And I am) . . . Why should they have something better? Of course, I’m also making due with a tablet, PC, Laptop and high speed internet connection. I don’t need a smart phone to read email, fill in a job application, search for jobs or get updates from my kid’s school. I can do all I really need with the connections I already have. In our digitally interconnected world, lacking Internet access is more than an inconvenience, it is a handicap. Schools, doctors, social service agencies along with employers, all use email or web pages to communicate.

Aside from the obvious, the new health care plan will take us backwards in health care. Only 3 percent of people searching for health care were impacted by steep premium hikes. Instead of working on a solution for that subset, we seem to be heading down a path of total destruction for a much larger group of people. The promise of a health care package that would be “Wonderful” reassured a lot of voters. What is clear is that this replacement will not cover the most vulnerable people in the country. It won’t cover some people in my life who are really important to me. There is nothing “Wonderful” about it unless you already have plenty and aren’t looking for genuine help. It would make health care unaffordable for the working poor who don’t have coverage through their employer.

So I wonder how anyone who has made those promises can face the people in their districts? And when will they realize that not everyone who shows up at a town hall fearing this heath care law voted for their opponent.   When will they  accept that when they take on the role of representing a district or a state, it includes everyone within the boundaries?  The problem with too many politicians is that as long as one can deny the hardships they are inflicting through their policies, they can pretend that they aren’t hurting anyone.

Yet, God is not mocked. We end up reaping what we sow. Because God is always but always on the side of the most vulnerable. God is on the side of the poor.

Being a Christian is More than Something We Believe

Subway Art - Kaohsiung Taiwan

Subway Art – Kaohsiung Taiwan

My memories go back far enough to remember when good people worked together to create solutions that would be beneficial to everyone. The rural and city divide was less divided. Each recognized that we were one nation. What helped one part, helped all parts. The apostle Paul experienced some of this division in the church he had planted in Corinth. He talked about the body of Christ and how each person plays a valuable part in the whole. None was greater than the other. Cutting off one part was akin to doing damage to the whole. He said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (I Corinthians 12:21)

I have to admit I have spent that last two weeks shuddering at the rapid escalation of anger, hate speech and a sense in some quarters that it is perfectly all right, to demean anyone who is different that you. This is not new. But, our recent two-year presidential campaign has brought out the worst in us. Part of this is simply that we no longer have common core values as a society. We’ve slipped into a philosophy that it’s a “winner take all” kind of world and if our side is on top, we get to do anything and everything without consulting the other side. As it plays out across the country, we ignore the wisdom and experience of people we now label as enemies. It’s us against them, not we. In doing this we are forgetting our common humanity. We are all creatures of this one earth. Each of us dependent upon the good gifts of creation. While we may have varying views on social issues and our life experiences have led us to different conclusions . . . All of us, each of us, are God’s children. Whatever our views, we are called to both respect and love each other.

The Psalmist writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23,24) I’ve been thinking that a whole lot of us could do worse than examining our lives for those attitudes that belittle our neighbors. Ones that throw verbal darts at unsuspecting targets. Attitudes that show our arrogance when we assume that we are in someway superior to another group of people. Being a Christian is more than something we believe. It is a way of living in the world, following Jesus. Loving our neighbors. Caring about the most vulnerable. Welcoming the stranger. Watching over the children. Bringing good news to the poor. Standing up for what we believe in without attacking those who disagree. Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God – Each of these are the practices of the saints.

What are You Feeding Your Soul ?

Everywhere I went people asked about our presidential election, during my recent trip to Vancouver BC.   I quickly discovered that Canadians are anxious for us to make a good decision.  I can’t remember an election that has troubled me more than this one.  There are so many things I could say about the appalling spectacle we’ve been subjected to, it is difficult to begin.    Civility has been discarded for innuendo.  Lies for truth.   Arrogance for honesty.   Books have been written, which tell false tales.    Debates are billed as if they were  wrestling matches.   Among true followers, violence has at times been encouraged.    With the degree of rancor, anger and  resentment that has been fueled,  I fear for all of us after the election.   I wonder  how that will spill over for the losing side.      Will  we remember that another election is coming four years from now?  Or will those on the losing side decide violence is the answer?   Who are we really as a people? What is it that we are feeding out souls?

There is a story of an old Cherokee who was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – it is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  The other is good – it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

To which the old Cherokee wisely replied,”The one you feed.”

We become that which we spend our lives dwelling on. If we feed our souls hurt and pain, we grow angry. If we feed on self-pity, we become convinced that we alone suffer. If we feed  resentment, it grows into hate. But, it is also true that when we choose to focus our thoughts on the good in our lives, we began to see that good in many places. If we feed on compassion, we become more compassionate. If we feed on joy, our hearts grow lighter and more thankful for the blessings which God continues to give us, day by day.  If we open our hearts to wisdom we can begin to see anther’s point of view.

The scripture puts it another way, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

What is it that you’re feeding your soul today?