Thursday, May 23, 2013
Key quotes in Obama’s Counter Terrorism Speech
The Last Decade
I believe we compromised our basic values – by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.
We unequivocally banned torture, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law, and expanded our consultations with Congress.
Lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates. Threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. Homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism.
Al-Qaida’s thoughts on drones: “we could lose the reserves to the enemy’s air strikes. We cannot fight air strikes with explosives.”
This is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.
To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.
This last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes – at home and abroad – understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties, and non-governmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places –like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu – where terrorists seek a foothold. Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.
It is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths, or to create enemies in the Muslim world. The result would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.
The very precision of drones strikes, and the necessary secrecy involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a President and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.
Let me repeat that – not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes. That includes the one instance when we targeted an American citizen: Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for AQAP.
For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team.
That’s who Anwar Awlaki was – he was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S. bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab – the Christmas Day bomber – went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, and helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack. His last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn’t. And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took out Awlaki.
But the high threshold that we have set for taking lethal action applies to all potential terrorist targets, regardless of whether or not they are American citizens. This threshold respects the inherent dignity of every human life.
So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia. As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking. We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred. Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better. But our security and values demand that we make the effort.
For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.
Targeted action against terrorists. Effective partnerships. Diplomatic engagement and assistance. Through such a comprehensive strategy we can significantly reduce the chances of large scale attacks on the homeland and mitigate threats to Americans overseas.
The Home Front
The success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam.
That means that – even after Boston – we do not deport someone or throw someone in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the State Secrets doctrine. And that means finally having a strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counter-terrorism efforts and our values may come into tension.
Ending the War on Terror
All these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact – in sometimes unintended ways – the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.
The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.
GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law. Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people –almost $1 million per prisoner. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep GTMO open at a time when we are cutting investments in education and research here at home.
As President, I have tried to close GTMO. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense. After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from GTMO with Congress’s support. When I ran for President the first time, John McCain supported closing GTMO. No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offenses, including some who are more dangerous than most GTMO detainees. Given my Administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.
Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?
Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, is as we speak serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison here, in the United States. In sentencing Reid, Judge William Young told him, “the way we treat you…is the measure of our own liberties.” He went on to point to the American flag that flew in the courtroom – “That flag,” he said, “will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag still stands for freedom.”
Sunday, May 19, 2013
The future of the church: ELCA 2020
So, the ELCA recently invited 4 leaders in our denomination to do a 20 minute “TED” talk about the future of the church, and to cast a vision for the church 7 years from now. Below are the results:
Friday, April 05, 2013
To Do: A barebones list of the pastor’s task as I understand it
I’ve made it through two Easters now, and have had a little time to reflect on my calling as a pastor. Specifically, I’ve taken some time to look at my call papers, my ordination vows, and St. Stephen’s “Mission Plan.”
One of the things I’ve learned is that there is always more to do, and if I’m not careful I’ll try to do all of it. And that would be great, if my time was infinite and my skills and strengths perfect, but they are not.
So, below are the bare bones of what a pastor needs to do, the essentials of our task in ministry, as I understand them at this time.
I’m writing this thinking for folk embarking on first call, but also as a reminder for myself, because recognizing these bullet points and doing them are two different things.
Preach Well—You have to churn out 1,000 words that will come out well orally, are faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, considers the world as it is, and is contextually relevant, each week. To do this well you need to get started early each week—preferably starting the process of reading and contemplating and questioning the text as early as the Saturday night the week before (as in 8 days before you preach the actual sermon). I know, it might seem excessive, but it can shape your week and ensures the sermon—which must be done—will get done, even if multiple emergencies occur throughout the week.
Be awake on Sunday—This means going to bed at a decent time on Saturday night. This means having everything prepared ahead of time. This might sound obvious, but again, if you try to do everything, and your time isn’t infinite, you end up doing really important stuff even at the last minute… then you preach and preside poorly on Sunday. For that matter, Sunday is Game Day; the majority of the issues that will arise in your upcoming week will show themselves on Sunday. If you’re not entirely clearheaded when you initially engage with these issues they will be harder to resolve later in the week, which means you’ll be resolving them late in the week… which means you won’t sleep Sunday… which means you’ll not engage well with the new challenges which arise on Sunday which means… well you get the idea. Also, your church might start to think of you as the-jittery-coffee-pastor.
Teach the faith in multiple venues and ways—Teach the young, teach the old, teach at bars, teach in your office. We are to equip the saints to act faithfully as the body of Christ in the world; there are many different types of people with different needs needing to be equipped. So we teach in a multitude of ways and places for the sake of the multitudes.
Don’t be afraid to widen your flock’s perspective—It is a great temptation to be parochial, after all it makes you more relatable, and that’s necessary in this job too. But part of being faithful Christians is interacting with the whole world.
Be kind to your flock, forgive much—In a wide variety of ways you’ll be hurt by your folk. Modeling graciousness in the face of such hurts, pointing out bad behavior, but also forgiving much, is part of your calling as a leader in the church. This may be the hardest part of being a pastor.
Be genuinely interested in them—Especially as an introvert it is easy to keep things professional and surface level—in fact Seminary boundaries workshops, while very valuable and necessary, can foster aloofness. But knowing and caring for your people makes you relatable in a way becoming parochial does not.
Even be interested in the absent ones—Again, home visits, especially to people you know only because you pray their names when you pray through the church directory (cold calls), can be emotionally taxing for introverts, but it's necessary. It is more personable than a phone call and lets people know the church cares for them more fully than a parishioner visit (though that should be happening as well). I know pastors who, if they don’t make 27 home visits a week, ask God to forgive them for their misanthropy—this seems excessive, but is probably closer to what you should strive for than you’d want to do without such a goal.
Celebrate with them—A fair bit of what you do is jump into people’s lives when an emergency happens, when the worst is upon them. Don’t forget to be with them in the good times too. It might feel like your time could be better spent, but celebration is part of being community together too.
Be interested and involved in the wider church—Again there is a temptation to be parochial, it scores you points at home, but your ordination is to the church at large. There is a whole big world of interesting fellow workers out there who can help you with ministry and who you can partner with. For that matter, the simple fact is the wider church needs us too.
Remember you are a person of faith—You got into this gig because you love God and love your neighbor, or at least yearn to do both. You were whisked away by powerful story, with an order of service, which orders your life. Don’t lose that. Continue to read scripture outside of sermon prep. Attend worship services in which you aren’t presiding. Not only will this feed your soul, but it will also give you insights into the experience parishioners are having in worship. For example, it can be tough to make it to Saturday Night services at the church in Edison… it can be tough for your folk to make it to Sunday Morning too.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Prodigal Son/Stingy Brother/Deeply Loving Father—A Homily in three parts
I left, what can I say? I was inspired—by scripture even.
Being the younger brother I always liked those stories in Genesis—Jacob besting his older brother Esau, Isaac getting the promise instead of Ishmael—they both got the drop on their older brother—and God willed it!
But just because God acts a certain way for Jacob doesn’t mean he did for me…
It was foolish—to leave.
I had it all, and lost it all…
Do you know what it’s like to lose it all?
What its like to wallow with pigs?
To hunger in a famine?
To hunger so badly…
To be so bad—the bad son—and to be so low that when you imagine going home to your father and saying “I’m sorry” and you can’t tell if you are scheming or repenting!
When you get as low as I got you really can’t tell…
I had no choice, I had to leave the new home I’d made off in that foreign land—to return to my old home, not as a hero, but as a villain, or at least a failure.
Yet, there was dad.
Running to me—his Yallabi flapping like an embarrassed bird caught in a trap—as he ran to me.
He hugged me, and kissed me
I tried to give him my line—my speech—my apology
But his embrace swatted away my canned speech like it was nothing
There was such a largeness to dad.
Ring, sandals, a feast.
I didn’t come back—I was found.
My brother left us.
He sold off a chunk of the field—a chunk of our family name—our family birthright—the old homestead
Sold so he could leave us.
You wouldn’t believe how the people talked.
And not just about him.
They wondered what dad did wrong—
and if I was in on it—getting the other half of the land…
they even wondered if I wanted dad dead.
His absence—my brother’s absence—was as trying as his presence. Dad was stuck with a hang-dog look, staring to the East, to see if he would come back.
And he did come back—that’s the thing.
I worked and worked—I was…I am…the good son.
I was—I am—the responsible one.
I managed Dad’s land—at least the land that my little brother didn’t sell.
Being the good one is hard work—it takes so much out of you—caring for dad, even when it feels like he doesn’t care for you.
But that’s what I did, I worked and worked and worked some more—because I’m the good son who picks up the slack. I did what needed to be done.
And then, in the midst of the work I heard merriment and play. I heard a party.
I thought, naively, that maybe dad was pleased with me. Maybe he wanted to show me how much he loved me.
I should have known better.
It was him—that sinner.
I let it all out—how much it hurt to be the good son.
And after I was done, dad reminded me that the work I did for him, I did for myself—tending the field and the flock I inherited.
He reminded me that my brother had been dead, but was now alive again.
You love ‘em from the moment they come out of the womb, don’t you? Even when they’re bad.
It was a kick in the gut though—when he came to me—asked me to sell off the land that would be his.
It didn’t just leave the family farm diminished—it left me diminished too—I became smaller—there was a hole in my heart.
Especially once he left.
He went off to a new country—to become a new person—part of a new family… I guess that was what he was looking for. Becoming a new person—
denying being my son.
And I worried about him.
Worried day and night.
Until he came home—it’s still his home—it really is,
even though he left.
And he came, starting up with this speech—it might have been insincere, or maybe he meant it… either way I didn’t care.
I just wanted to celebrate his return.
So we did.
And then, my other son—my “good son” was sore, grumpy, just plain angry!
He felt like I’d mistreated him by being gracious to his brother.
What could I say to him? How could I explain it to him?
How do you let them know how much you love them?
How much you love them both—different kinds of love yes—different types for different sons.
Continuous steady love for the continuously steady son
Wild improbable love for my wild improbable son.
But love for both of them.
He didn’t see it that way—he felt slighted—but couldn’t he see? All that remains of the inheritance is his—think of his poor younger brother’s future!
And think about his return.
And think how amazing it is, that his brother who had been dead, was now alive!
Monday, December 24, 2012
"Luke Chapter 1:81-101, The Angel of the Lord and a Publicist walk into a Diner.”
As some of you know, previous to seminary I spent my time studying intertestamental retellings of Biblical stories.
Well—an interesting one arrived in the church mail-box a few days ago—sealed with an Ox faced stamp from a man named Theophilus—yes the same man to whom the Gospel of Luke was dedicated to—the words were scrawling in Greek letters so illegible that could only be from a physician—a physician such as St. Luke.
What I bring before you was titled Luke, chapter 1, verses 81-101, twenty verses not found in any canonical scripture, but which would fit between the 80th verse of Luke chapter 1 and the first verse of Luke chapter 2. In other words, if it had made it into canonical scripture it would have been read right before the lesson I just read here tonight.
If the translation sounds more Halversonian than Lukean—do not judge the author harshly, but instead judge me, the translator.
I bring before you a section of scripture titled “The Angel of the Lord and a Publicist walked into a Diner.”
Let us pray:
The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the first chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
At that time an Angel of the Lord looked for a publicist in the phone book, and called one Chase Thompson, esquire.
And low, they met for coffee and pie at a diner, Mr. Thompson arrived late—and verily his outfit was pretentious.
“What are you selling?” he asked the angel.
And the angel said, “The Savior of the World—the One who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (This was said to fulfill the words of the Prophet Isaiah).
Mr. Thompson stifled a chuckle, thinking to himself, “is this guy for real?”
And truly, he was for real.
But aloud the Publicist said, “Sounds like an easy enough roll out—a little event at a library or something—balloons and punch—maybe an ad in the Observer or the Courier News.”
With that the angel produced from under the table a brief case filled with 100-dollar bills.
Mr. Thompson’s eyes became very large and lit up with much greed.
“Mr. Thompson,” said the angel, “what would the greatest roll-out in the history of the world look like? How would humanity expect the Savior to appear?”
“Well—first off, make sure he’s born to a nice family—no scandal—no skeletons in the closet, nothing that his enemies could use to hurt him.”
The Publicist paused.
“He’ll be the child of an emperor right? Or a king, prime minister or president. Born somewhere with easy access to the outside world—A capital—DC, maybe London, Jerusalem, Paris… you know, somewhere where the paparazzi and the media can find him— I can get him a Twitter account and a hash tag even before he’s born!”
The angel summarized—writing something in his little mole-skin notebook. “So he should be in a capital city born of an Emperor?”
“Yes. And you’ll need someone to discover him… don’t get me wrong—I will charge a finder’s fee—but someone prominent to discover him—Ashton Kutcher maybe… or Dianne Sawyer—the old people like Dianne Sawyer…
wait, you’re an angel—you could bring Cronkite back…you could have George Washington, Honest Abe, and Walter Cronkite all at once discovering this kid!”
Then, like he was swatting at flies, he pushed those thoughts away, saying, “I’m not a details person—the point is, bring in someone respectable and above reproach—some Pharisees, a Bishop, and a couple of good lawyers—everyone will be eating out of your hands.”
“Your saying he needs to be discovered by reputable people.”
“Yeah,” the Publicist affirmed.
And then their bread pudding came, and Mr. Thompson leaned in, whispering,
“The big thing is security, but don’t worry—I know a guy.
we can keep your Savior under glass—untouched—invincible.”
“You are suggesting a messiah should be under lock and key?”
“Yeah, you know, keep him away from the riff-raff and make sure no unstable or sick person messes up the good thing he’ll have going.”
“In Summary, Mr. Thompson, your recommendations for rolling out the Savior of the World—publicizing the birth of the Messiah, are:
1. to make sure he’s born in the center of an empire to scandal free and influential parents,
2. that the first people to ‘discover’ him have reputations beyond reproach, and, finally,
3. that he’s kept from any possible danger—including interacting with those who need him, so that he can have rest at the expense of those who are weary and loaded down with heavy burdens?”
“Yeah,” Mr. Thompson affirmed, eyeing again the suitcase filled with money.
“We’ll take your recommendations under consideration,” responded the Angel of the Lord.
And with that he, and the suitcase filled with money, were gone—Mr. Thompson—after much argument and haranguing—was forced to pay for his meal
He did not tip well.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Reading these lost words from Luke—knowing the tradition from Matthew that Joseph was going to divorce Mary quietly to avoid a scandal
Reading these lost words from Luke—knowing Bethlehem was at best a backwater of the Roman Empire and that a cattle trough is hardly the Ritz.
Knowing a carpenter and young lady were not influential.
Knowing that the shepherds who proclaimed Jesus as savior to Mary, Joseph, and whoever else were listening,
these shepherds were considered by some to be in the same category as tax collectors and prostitutes—the type of people whose testimony was considered inadmissible in the court of law and whose presence was unwelcome in respectable towns.
Knowing Jesus Christ—the Savior whose birth we celebrate tonight—was born as a vulnerable baby and lived his life for those in need and gave his life our life to save.
Knowing all of this—trusting it to be true, let us sing of mangers and hay
open starry nights and lowing cattle,
the nearness of Lord Jesus to us—his blessing to children and his tender care.
Let us sing “Away in a Manger.”
Friday, November 30, 2012
A Poem for Advent
Wait for the Lord
Whose Day is Near
Parking and stuff
Parties and stuff
Stuffing wrapping stuffing wrapping
Stuffing wrapping stuffing wrapping
Wait for the Lord
Whose Day is Near
Time off—Question Mark
Time off—Exclamation point
Time off—Worried face
Travel Travel, Travel Travel
Travel, Travel Travel Travel
Wait for the Lord
Whose Day is Near
What to buy her
How to woo her
Meet the Boss
Meet the Family
Eat, small talk, Eat Eat
Eat, small talk, Eat Eat
Wait for the Lord
Whose Day is Near
Wait for the Lord
Be strong, take heart
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
My All Saints Sunday/Post-Sandy Sermon
For the whole service click here.
On this the first Sunday all together since Hurricane Sandy, and this celebration of All Saint’s Sunday—I bid you greetings and peace.
Today, as we note the death and destruction that is in our rearview mirrors, yet still too close for comfort:
trees down, subways flooded, and amusement park rides thrown into the sea.
Today, as we continue to live with that shadow of death, where we’ve always been, just more aware of it at some times than others.
Today, I would like to speak with you briefly about death and our life in God.
About death being the great unknown and the experience of loss,
as well as the promise that God is with us in that loss and that the unknown is known to God.
Let us Pray:
In so many ways our life is saturated with death—it clings to us like sopped up wet cardboard to the side of a building. And when we notice it, moldering there, it scares us.
And rightly so, death is the great unknown—the end-point of expressible experience—in the normal course of life the average person can do a lot of things and live to tell others about them, but death isn’t one of them.
What can be experienced of death—by those who survive, is separation—separation from a loved one—a sense of loss.
Death is the great unknown. It’s an end-point. You may remember from Geometry the end point is simply the place where a ray becomes a line, where it shifts from being an unending line going forward forever and becomes a full stop measurable unit.
And that full stop—death—like the sudden end of a booming symphony or the silence in the eye of the storm—is eerie—it’s disconcerting, it’s down right frightening.
And that fright is nothing new—our fear of death is nothing new. In fact it’s quite old.
In the book of Isaiah we read of “death.”
Death, in the mythology of the Canaanites was not just the experience of the unknown end—but The Unknown End Itself—the horrible creature—Death.
Death was the eater of worlds, the consumer of life, the ender of all that is.
It was believed that the trajectory—the flight path—of all that is, was known—it’s ultimate resting place was the unknown cavernous belly of the beast death.
Yes, for the ancients death was a cosmic ravenous beast that would eventually eat the whole world. Death was the ultimate end point.
Death too, is an experience of separation. Think of Mary and Martha, weeping effusively, for their brother Lazarus—in their grief reproaching even Jesus. Think of the position they were in, a position of loss—separated physically by the rock at Lazarus’ tomb and cut off spiritually from their brother by the grave.
If there is anyone within the sound of my voice who hasn’t experienced the separation of death—remember back to Monday night and Tuesday. Remember trying to contact your loved ones, while being without power, how you were separated from them—
remember that and you get the smallest glimmer of what Mary, Martha, and the rest of us experience.
Or think of when you wandered into the bathroom at night and tried to turn on the light—you knew it wouldn’t turn on—but you still acted like the electricity was on. You remembered what having electricity was like—it should have been there—but it wasn’t.
That, again, is the tiniest touch of the separation that death brings.
And in those moments of separation—those moments of the terror of death. In these moments when our world is turned upside down. In those moments when we find ourselves with Mary and Martha at the grave.
In those moments, Jesus is there with us. Jesus is there in this mess, with us in death.
He is there weeping with Mary and Martha—and Jan and Bob and Loraine.
He is there taking-on their reproach—bearing our pain and hearing our cries.
He is there in the stench of death at the tomb—and on Staten Island, Sea Side Heights, and everywhere destruction holds sway.
He is there with Lazarus as he unbinds the strips of cloth from his re-animated body—and with us as we find wholeness within our broken lives.
Jesus is with us in our separation from those we love and as we suffer from that beast Death. He weeps with us as we weep, dies with us as we die.
But not only that—we read in Isaiah that Death—that consumer of worlds, is consumed by God. The eater is ate.
That the end note to the symphony of creation is just a rest.
That the storm does pass.
That the ferocious end point to end all lines is ultimately slurped up like an extra-long spaghetti noodle.
That Jesus doesn’t just shed tears with us, but that on that day he will wipe away every tear.
That like Lazarus we too will come out of the tomb, and like Jesus we will be resurrected.
The timeline with the fierce ending—Death, is met with the One who can say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. I am the Beginning and the End.” The timeline that has an end has no power over the one who is the end, and the beginning.
We who are, who were, and who will be—All the Saints of God—are all caught up in the One Who Was, Who Is, and Who Will Be.
I know I’ve used this image before—but look at the altar rail. It’s a half circle, because, as we receive God’s grace by physical means we are joined—completing the circle around God’s table and around his throne—with the saints who have came before us and those yet to be born—all sustained together in that meal which consumes death and wipes away the most mournful of tears.
And that circle of saints surrounding God that we are a part of, reminds me of what I believe will be the emblematic image of Hurricane Sandy—Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
It’s this carousel—a merry-go-round—from 1922 with three rows of wooden horses and carriages lit-up and circling one another.
During the height of the storm this couple, right before they were evacuated, looked out their window and saw a darkened New York Cityskyline, dark save for that carousel—lit-up, waves and storm lapping at its base.
And that’s us, around that table—three rows of saints, those present, those past, and those yet to come—the storm breakers-Death, the darkness drear at our feet, yet still lit, lit by that one true light… still Thou our Lord, our one true light.
Still singing together, “Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna in the highest.”
Saturday, November 03, 2012
L'état est nous: What’s at stake on Tuesday
I remember, whenever someone would say something bad about the Government my mom would get a little flustered and respond, “We are the government.” This from a life long civil servant. She worked from the Department of Defense as the only civilian pharmacist at the NATO Health Clinic in Brussels during the twilight of the Cold War and still keeps our promise to America’s veterans at the VA to this day.
And I believe that statement by my mom is on trial this election. Do we as a country believe that we are the government or is the government a nefarious entity that we should be afraid of?
I vote for the first one—that government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
We, as the government, do together what we can’t do alone. We, as the government, protect citizens who can’t protect themselves. We, as the government, govern as we wish to live.
We do together what we can’t do alone. For example, the government acted to keep us out of a second Great Depression. One of the ways we did that is being argued about today, whether the Federal Government should have bailed out American car companies. We did, it saved millions of jobs in the American Auto-industry. Governor Romney says we should have let private firms bail out the American car companies, yet there was neither private capital nor private will to do such a thing. Yet, for the sake of millions of Americans, there was a need to save those jobs and keep the recession from becoming a depression. So we, the government, bailed out the car companies.
Likewise, at this very moment we in New Jersey are pretty glad America is working collectively through agencies such as FEMA to assist us in our hour of need. Governor Romney has said he would break up FEMA and either pass it’s responsibilities on to state government or privatize it. I’ll be frank, I’m glad all of America is flexing our muscle to get things done here. I’d rather have all of us working together to fix the many bruised lives instead of 1/50th of America’s power working to bring power back and get life back to normal.
We protect those who can’t protect themselves. There are forces, like Super Storm Sandy, that are too big for any one of us to handle on our own. In my own life, the force that is bigger than I am is being one of the 57.2 million Americans who have a pre-existing medical condition. The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obama-care”) moved we the people into collective action against the bad practice of discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.
Now, during the debate Governor Romney said, while he would repeal “Obama-care” on his first day in office he would make sure people like me won’t be discriminated against. Then, after the debates, he explained what he meant. He won’t allow me to be discriminated against, as long as I’m already covered, but if I go without insurance for even a month, for whatever reason, we the people will no longer protect me from discrimination. As long as I’m not applying for insurance I’m protected from discrimination.
I prefer the other path, the one where we protect our people on good days and on bad ones too.
Finally, we govern as we wish to live. Now, I grew up in Wyoming so, Ayn Rand (the writer/philosopher who Representative Paul Ryan claims got him interested in public service) and extreme libertarianism—do it on your own or die rhetoric—gives me a certain reflexive cuddly warm fuzzy feeling. But then I realize a dog eat dog society isn’t the kind of society I want to live in.
After Sandy my next door neighbor could have let my cell-phone go dead, but instead when she went to her sister’s house to charge her phone she offered to charged mine there too. I braved post-storm South Plainfield on foot to check on my parishioners, not because it was my job and I’d get paid for it, but because it was the right thing to do.
And I think we should govern based on the type of neighborhood and society we believe we should live in. For example, every four months, I send a check for $2,500 to the IRS payable to the Treasury Department. I’ve heard libertarians (sometimes even libertarians citing St. Augustine’s discussion of Piracy and Government) call that theft. I call it an investment in the society I want to live in. That $2,500 goes to our collective defense, to fulfilling our promise to our soldiers when they come home, to my aunt’s 3 adopted kids, to my older friends who have been able to retire with dignity and in good health, to ensuring healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions, and to rebuilding New Jersey and the tri-state region.
(This post does not reflect the views held by the ELCA, the New Jersey Synod, or St. Stephen Lutheran and should not be seen as a political endorsement by any church body)
(This post does not reflect the views held by the ELCA, the New Jersey Synod, or St. Stephen Lutheran and should not be seen as a political endorsement by any church body)
Friday, November 02, 2012
Thursday, November 01, 2012
St. Stephen News:
First and foremost I’ve visited most St. Stephen folk within walking distance of church and the parsonage that I could find without googlemaps. Everyone I’ve seen is okay, a beloved truck was smashed, fences are down, trees are in people’s yards, but we’re okay.
Second we have power at the church. I’m going to be here at least until 5pm tonight (I might even be having a slumber party here depending on how cold it’s feeling--if there are enough of us in need of warmth and power we'll make a night of it) so if folk need to warm up or charge their varied electronic devices please stop on by St. Stephen.
Here is the Bishop’s Hurricane Response Letter in full:
TO: The New Jersey Synod, ELCA
RE: Hurricane Response Update
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
As electric power begins to return, we have become more able to assess the damage from the storm. To this point we believe all of our rostered leaders are safe, although there are some whom we are still trying to reach, most serving on the barrier islands. Pastors and lay leaders have been trying to reach members of congregations, especially the most vulnerable, to make sure they are safe and to learn what they need. This is our immediate life and ministry together.
The devastation on the barrier islands, as you know, is massive. Because people have not been able to return to places like Long Beach Island, we cannot be certain about the condition of church properties. (We are presuming that leaders and members heeded the mandatory evacuation order and are safe.) Churches in Lavalette, Brant Beach, and Barnegat Light probably have suffered the most damage. We have yet to hear from Cape May and Wildwood and Asbury Park. Ocean City, Stone Harbor, and Somers Point are okay. But in all Shore communities, from Cape May to Sandy Hook, and inland for many miles, as you are well aware, people are dealing with very serious challenges.
Hoboken is trying to cope with catastrophic flooding. St. Matthew-Trinity is one of the few places with lights and heat. As a result, when one of the city shelters flooded early in the storm, St. Matthew-Trinity became a shelter for forty persons. I suspect there are similar stories in other communities.
LUTHERAN DISASTER RESPONSE
- LSMNJ is the point agency for Lutheran Disaster Response in New Jersey (though as of October 31 their offices were still without electricity). The LDR Coordinator is Pastor Lisa Barnes. Her cell phone number is 609-658-7988.
- Mission Investment Fund Regional Manager Pastor Mark Wimmer is available to discuss assistance for "any church or ministry in your Synod that has suffered damage as a result of the hurricane." Contact Mark.Wimmer@ELCA.org or phone 267-203-1137.
- Please encourage folks who are able to make gifts to ELCA Domestic Disaster Response. This Sunday would be a good time to begin receiving special offerings, perhaps designating a portion to be used for local assistance, and sharing the rest with the wider church to invest where the needs are greatest.
All of you continue in my thoughts and prayers. God bless you with abundant grace, strength, hope, and peace in these days.
A Prayer from Julian of Norwich (A.D. 1342-1416)
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, savior.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.
Bp. Roy Riley
As you might have guessed we are the national newsELCA Disaster Response begins relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and its subsequent storms, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson said that the 4.2 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is "in prayer and will respond generously and work tirelessly to rebuild lives, congregations and communities."
In an Oct. 31 video, Hanson, presiding bishop of the church, said the recovery work will not be done alone. "Through ELCA Disaster Response, we will join with our congregations, affiliates and other partners in our shared commitment to restore communities. As we have shown in past disasters, we stay until the work is done. That is the ELCA's commitment."
Some ELCA congregations along the U.S. Atlantic coast have reported damage. In the Caribbean, the storm has caused an estimated $88 million worth of damage to Cuba's second largest province and taken the lives of 11 people. In Haiti, 51 people have been reported dead and severe flooding has damaged roads, homes and farmland.
"In the face of this horrific storm the church is present in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean for relief, to rebuild and to renew the lives of those who have stood in the path of destruction," said the Rev. Daniel Rift, director of ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal.
"The church's work in these times benefit from our experience in disaster response, having already been present and prepared," said Rift. "Gifts given previously to ELCA Disaster Response enabled us to support the prepositioning of supplies in the Caribbean. That means we are already at work in bringing aid."
While much of the damage on the east coast of the United States still needs to be assessed, many ELCA synod offices closed early in anticipation of the storm. After losing electricity on Monday night, the Rev. Claire Burkat, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, reported that "it might be days until (the power) comes back" and that it was "too dangerous for utility and Internet providers to work."
"Communication and collaboration among our faith partners has been swift and effective," Burkat reported. "We pray that the Lord of Sea and Sky will continue to be with and protect those people and living creatures who are at risk from the wind, rain and flooding due to this massive storm."
In hard-hit New Jersey, the Rev. Roy Riley, bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod, was optimistic. "We were blessed to have the weekend for families and communities to make preparations. In our congregations, there were reminders on Sunday to remember the most vulnerable and check in with them as possible before and during the storm."
"In the past few years this synod's congregations have sent response teams to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Upstate New York, and places closer to home," Riley stated. "We should know the drill by now. Nevertheless, we are hoping for the best possible outcome but recognizing the significant challenges that lie ahead."
The ELCA has a long history of responding quickly and generously to natural disasters.
"The verbosity of this storm invites a response similar to that mounted over six years ago to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said Rift. "In New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, we have recent experience in coordinating repair and cleanup after floods last year. We expect to continue and reactivate programs and to expand this work in other states where the storm continues to progress."
"Gifts can be directed for the work in the United States, Caribbean or for either locations as needed most," said Rift. "In all cases, 100 percent of gifts for the Hurricane Sandy response will be directed for response."
View the video message from the ELCA presiding bishop at http://youtu.be/xrsGUUgU7YM. Information about ELCA Disaster Response is available at http://www.ELCA.org/disaster.