Getting UnStuck

Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9; II Cor 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18

Despite the passage of centuries, I do believe that to this day Moses, people Israel, and the whole experience of the exodus and exile has something to teach us about our own lives.  Their story really is our story.  We know what it feels like to live in exile from others at times, even from God.  It so often seems, in such contentious times with Moses and the people, that they lose their ability to relate to one another and to God and move towards cutting themselves off, moving into this tribal mentality of winners and losers, where, in the end, everyone ends up losing.

The same is true for ourselves and the climate in which we live these days.  On many levels we’ve lost the ability to relate to anyone different than ourselves and have really exiled ourselves from one another or at least from people that we have deemed the losers, the ones that think differently, creating this divide, and like people Israel, we have become stuck.  We can’t relate to others and then for that matter, with God.

Think about their experience, though, in relation to ourselves.  Despite this newfound freedom that people Israel experiences following the exodus, they don’t know quite what to do with themselves.  It’s as if they had become accustomed to being slaves in Israel that they no longer know how to live.  They don’t understand what’s up with Moses and his seemingly strange experiences, but they also don’t understand God.  Keep in mind that this experience has impacted them on a very deep level.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to abandon them.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to reject them over and over again, and now as they move to this place of freedom, they don’t know how to act and they certainly don’t know how to relate.  They react to it all and create these false gods for themselves, grouping themselves and finding, at times, a common enemy in Moses for leading them to this place.  It’s simply their experience but so is being stuck as they seem to become in the throws of the desert for years to come.  As Moses tries to lead them to a deeper understanding of this God, a God of mercy and generosity, their hearts remain closed and they become, as he so often refers, the stiff-necked people.  As life changes so does the way we relate to others and especially to God.

This is what we encounter in this snippet we hear from John’s Gospel today.  In its larger context is an interaction with one of the more interesting characters in the gospel, Nicodemus who’s known for coming to Jesus at night.  At this point in John’s community, some fifty years after their formed, there is a great deal of contention and division.  We have certainly heard that during the Lenten and Easter seasons as Jesus often found himself in conflict with the leaders.  Well, Nicodemus was one of them.  He has his own way of relating in the life of the community as a Pharisee and is not yet willing to put that in jeopardy so he comes to Jesus at night.  As much as people Israel didn’t know what to make of a God that wanted to enter into relationship with them, even centuries later they still can’t quite grasp now this God who takes the form of one of them in Jesus.  It causes more tribal thinking, certainly among the Pharisees who had their own way and were stuck in that thinking.  For them there had to be winners and losers.  For Nicodemus, despite being one of them, he finds himself somewhat attracted to this Jesus guy and what he’s all about.  For John it is a process we go through, of letting go and reconciling, allowing ourselves to move forward in life with a fresh take on the way we relate to one another and to God, not in some distant universe, but right here in the midst of our own lives as they unfold.

In the end, it’s probably Paul that sums it up best for us in today’s second reading and provides us the tool to look at our own lives and the way we relate.  Just because we’ve related in one way all our lives doesn’t mean that it’s the best way or even the healthiest way.  Again, we see that on the large scale in our political system and the divides, people moving to the extremes.  Paul reminds us to mend our ways.  Reconcile with one another.  Love stands as the foundation of relationship and community.  Work towards peace.  Among other tidbits of ideas that he shares with us today.  If we continue to cling to a God that rejects, abandons, or shames us, it’s just probably not God.  There’s a better chance that we can relate to people Israel and find ourselves stuck in life, just as we find ourselves politically.  It impacts all of us and the way we relate.

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, maybe it’s time accept the invitation to be the fourth one at the table and being challenged to change the way we relate.  If we cling to tribal thinking, where we’re right and others are wrong, where truth becomes relative, where there needs to be winners and losers, well, guess what, we all lose and we are all losing because we’re being invited to move beyond our stuck-ness and grow into a deeper relationship that goes beyond ideology and politics, to the deeper reality of a God that continues to pursue a relationship with us from deep within our very being and through all creation we encounter.  Where are we stuck in our own thinking and understanding not only of others but of God?  That’s the place this God pursues us and desires greater and deeper intimacy with us, relating to us in a more profound and deeper way, with others, our community, and with the Mystery that continues to draw us to the place of mercy, generosity, healing, reconciliation, and certainly, love.

 

Jesus Christ, Public Enemy Number One

Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18; I Cor 3: 16-23; Matthew 5: 38-48

What happens when the solution to our problems no longer works? Honestly, we have to prepare for it because the typical means of dealing with problems, these evils of the world, and so on, it is typically done through violence and fear. What happens when it doesn’t work anymore? Think about it, Jesus himself was public enemy number one. He was hated by the scribes and pharisees, as well as the political authorities of his day. He rattled their cages. He challenged the status quo. He preached this awful message of loving enemies, and yet, he was that person. For it, public enemy number one faces death, death on a cross. Why on earth would be we surprised that we would do the same thing? If we can do it to God, to Jesus, why not get rid of anyone and everything that stands in our way, our enemies. Yet, the message today is to love them.

So where do we begin. We first get rid of anyone with brown skin. We lock up black people. We bar Muslims. We can dump the President. We can get rid of Congress. There’s no need for the Church or any institution for that matter. Now, of course, we can throw in the press and the desire for truth and honesty. Let’s just get rid of everyone and everything that has become an enemy to our way of life. There is so much out there right now trying to open us to a place to look at ourselves and where we need to grow. But then what? When all else is gone, using the image that Jesus uses today, after I hand over my tunic and my cloak as well, I now stand naked, exposed, with no one else to blame for my problems, out of solutions, and after I use both my words and actions to take down the enemy, I’m left with myself and the greatest enemy of all, lying deep within myself, my own hurt and pain that I finally come to realize I can no longer outrun and no longer blame everyone else for in my life. If we’re willing to do it to Jesus, and none of us are innocent in this game, the only one left to destroy so often is myself.

Martin Luther King, Jr, in his sermon on this very passage said most of us live with “a persistent civil war that wages within”. It becomes the easiest of paths and the path of least resistance when we choose violence and hatred. It does make it easier, though, when we remove God from the scene. It’s the challenge that Leviticus faces in the first reading today. The writer speaks and writes of a God that is distant from the world. It’s so often easier to justify our wrongdoing and the bitterness that we hold onto in our hearts. It is so often that Christ within that tries to rattle all of our cages, moving us to a place of freedom in our lives where we can begin to deal with the injustices of the world and of our country. We mustn’t allow the oppressed and those who feel oppressed become the oppressor in return. If we are not living in that place of freedom ourselves, we so often resort to violence, and no, maybe not always physically, but with our gossip and talking about others behind their back. Violence doesn’t come just in the form of war, but often from our own mouths. That civil war becomes a persistent part of our lives when we desire to move to the place where we can love our enemies rather than destroy.

Paul warns of destroying God’s temple, which I am and you are and the community is, with Christ as the head. Paul warns them about taking advantage of those who may feel oppressed in the community of Corinth and beginning to think that somehow it’s about me and what I want rather than recognizing that we become instruments of God’s grace, a God who works through and with and in us. When we keep God at a distance we can put ourselves in that place of power, a power that is so then often abused and so the war begins of trying to take out anyone that stands in my way. Jesus was public enemy number one and if we’ve done it to him, who’s next? What happens when this solution to our problems, the deep hurt and pain we so often want to hold onto, no longer works, when we find ourselves, as individuals and as country, standing naked before the true God and the world, with no one else to blame for our problems, but now exposed for our own pain. It’s a humbling place to stand when we no longer have to fight that civil war and we can learn to love our enemy.

Sure, there are plenty of enemies in our world and plenty of evil at play. But the journey of faith that Jesus invites us into these weeks, leads us to that place of pain and the place of humility when I can finally begin to see that that damn enemy that I have been fighting all along is right within me, looking for attention and to be loved. Jesus understood first-hand, knowing that he was that enemy to so many, or so they thought. If he teaches us anything, it’s that when we allow ourselves to go to that place of pain and ask ourselves why we do hate and why we even desire to have enemies and what it is about them, we can finally hold the mirror to ourselves, individually and collectively, and realize it’s not a solution that we desire, but rather healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. An alcoholic will always think that alcohol is the solution to his problems, but in the end, it’s a destructive end to himself and others. Hurting people will always think that violence and “getting rid of” is the solution to our problems, but in the end, it’s destructive to ourselves and others. Sure it may give an immediate gratification and stroke our ego, but it’s never a long-term reality of the Kingdom that Jesus preaches.

The civil war will only persist in our lives if we don’t first deal with the enemy within ourselves. Otherwise, we continue to project it onto the world, continuing to hate and to hurt. We must live a life of resistance that heals, a resistance that forgives, a resistance that leads to a deeper love. That is why this gospel stands as one of the most difficult and most challenging that we hear all year. It’s not easy to love people around us sometimes let along those whom we have deemed enemy. It’s a sad way to live our lives when we give into such hate and violence. When we resist the temptation, and it will always be a temptation, to retaliate and exact revenge, we finally move to that place of freedom, free of any oppression in our own lives, to then begin to tackle the real problems that exist. Hate leads to more hate. Violence leads to more violence. It’s time to accept the challenge for all of us to hold that mirror up, with public enemy number one looking back, leading us to a place of love, forgiveness, and healing, first in ourselves and then for the salvation of the world.

God’s Endless Pursuit

Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14; I Tim 1: 12-17; Luke 15: 1-32

For those of us who remember, the days of the old Baltimore Catechism, we remember the question and answers that were to be memorized. Some of us can probably still recite them today. I believe the second question simply asked, “Who is God?”. The answer was simply creator of heaven and earth and of all things. It was pretty easy but when we hear these readings this week, it doesn’t seem so easy and certainly portrays God in a very different way. We hear of a God that is in constant pursuit and we the object of that pursuit.

However, many aren’t even aware of this God who is constantly revealing and in constant pursuit, desiring relationship with us because we often get hung up on the illusions of who we think God is. It’s tough to penetrate these illusions because they are so deeply rooted in who we are and often connected to deeply-seeded wounds that exist in the human race and so we cling to the simple illusions we’ve been taught and never quite experience a relationship with what seems to be a rather foolish God in these readings, constantly in pursuit desiring only to love. God pursues from so far beyond and yet in the depths of our being. Unfortunately, these illusions end up impacting our relationship not only with God but with the people around us and even collectively as a people, unable to experience this God in a new way.

These illusions create a distance between us and this God, despite His constant pursuit. We hear that in today’s first reading from Exodus. It appears that it is God that is distancing Himself from the people in the reading. We’re so used to God referring to Israel as my people, but today it’s different. He’s ticked off at people Israel and tells Moses, “go to your people.” It’s as if God wants nothing to do with them at the moment because of how lost they have become. Despite the constant pursuit of this God to His people, they wander again and again. Over time people Israel tries to make themselves god and creating gods in the molten calf today, that they lose sight of all this God has done and the mercy that He has brought upon them. It impacts all relationships. We’re not much different. This country as well has tried to put itself in the place of God and creates gods not only out of objects but out of ourselves as well. Yet, God still pursues Israel as Moses mediates on their behalf, leading them to a changed heart once again.

It is the story of the prodigal in today’s gospel as well. It’s somewhat easy for us to understand the younger son who goes off doing rather dumb things. We’ve all been there and over time eventually, hopefully, work our way back somehow. Even that, though, the father is in pursuit of that son before he ever returns. But there remains the issue of the elder son, the one we’d rather not deal with and face. Remember Jesus is addressing the scribes and pharisees and so the elder son is really a reflection on them. He too has an illusion of not only God but his father in the story. He holds tightly to this illusion of a father who demands perfection and so in turn a God, as it is with the Pharisees. Yet, he has so much animosity towards the other that he too wants a break and a distance with his younger brother. Notice how he refers to him in the say way that God does to Moses in today’s first reading. He doesn’t acknowledge his as his brother, but rather says, “your son”. He wants no association with him. His wound runs so deep that he can’t see beyond this illusion of perfection. However, the father, seeming rather foolish, still pursues him and loves him and desires life for him. But he can’t get beyond thinking seeing beyond the illusion that some how his father is out of his mind and has betrayed him. God doesn’t demand perfection. God desires relationship and whether we know it or not, we can’t have a relationship with an illusion.

Paul knows that better than anyone and he tells of his own journey today to Timothy. Remember that Paul was a chief pharisee and held tightly to that sense of a God that demanded perfection. It’s not until he finds himself blinded in some way that that illusion begins to break down and Paul encounters God in the flesh, in Jesus Christ. He comes through a changed man with a changed heart. The good news is God never gives up. God continues the pursuit and we remain the object of that pursuit. There are the pharisees today, God in the flesh before their very eyes, and yet they can’t see beyond their own illusion and their own pride to encounter God in Christ. Jesus himself pursues them and yet there isn’t that openness to see and experience this God in a new way, in a seemingly foolish way, a God not demanding perfection, but freely offering love, forgiveness, and mercy. Why would we not want such a relationship?

We live in a time when we can almost sense that same distance in our country. Like the elder son, we want nothing to do with the other. We tend to rather enter into relationship with, demonize the other. Our pursuit is the destroy the other, take them down. There is deeply rooted pain and loss that we suffer that we continue to hold onto. But God doesn’t give up on us either. God continues to pursue. Like people Israel, though, we wander and wallow in our own pain, holding onto illusions of what was, of who we think God is, putting ourselves at times in the place of the god we create, creating further distance. What we need, though, is to allow ourselves to be found by the living God, the seeming foolish God that smashes all illusions and moves us to a place beyond separation and violence, to a place of reconciliation, love, and mercy. It’s what we need. Yet, if we can’t bring ourselves to enter into relationship with the other we will continue to suffer at the hands of ourselves and create our own gods, worshiping false idols. It will always seem foolish to the pharisee within us and yet a gift to all who can allow themselves to be open to something new, a God that always is and always will be so far beyond and yet so imminently in pursuit of our hearts that we will never desire anything less than love and mercy.

Violence, again.

I turned the television off this evening. I couldn’t handle getting pulled into another senseless tragedy in this country surrounding violence, when someone out there feels the deep pain within themselves can only be “erased” through an act of violence on other human beings. Of course, as is often typical, it’s a man that harbors such anger, depression and hostility towards others, unable to confront his own pain and frail humanity while often living a split life virtually through a computer, believing there is somehow an absence of pain there; when in reality, it only compounds the pain all the more. When will we break free of the numbness that has consumed us, seeing lives not for what they are but as something and someone other than ourselves? Another moment when we feel helpless in the face of such tragedy and how often we do when it doesn’t impact us directly.

It’s hard not to have the past week or so as a backdrop when Pope Francis visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City, less than a week prior to the shooting in Oregon this day. Some of his very first words spoken publicly at the memorial were, “The water we see flowing towards that empty pit reminds us of all those lives which fell prey to those who think that destruction, tearing down, is the only way to settle conflicts. It is the silent cry of those who were victims of a mindset which knows only violence, hatred and revenge. A mindset which can only cause pain, suffering, destruction and tears.” Although he speaks of the utter destruction of human life taken on that day back in 2001, in how many other circumstances can they relate? Parents having to make sense of their sons and daughters who will never return home from school, from the streets, from serving in another country. Sons and Daughters, brothers and sisters, never having the opportunity to fulfill whatever it is they were studying and the dreams that had still lied dormant within their souls.

That empty pit, as Pope Francis spoke of, lies deep within all of us, tears running steadily on what seems and appears to be an open wound in our country and in the hearts and souls of so many. It’s hard to fully understand the plight of another and the internal struggle that ensues the human soul. We can get stuck in that mindset that somehow we can erase the pain from our lives and that of the country by eliminating what it is that we hate, undoubtably hate about ourselves and a God that seems to have all but abandoned. Yet, the path of conversion and the descent into the soul takes us on such a painful journey within ourselves where we can move to less reaction to the world while becoming more aware of our own hurt, knowing that deep within that pain is the place of great gift that we have to offer to the world. Yet, we avoid it, shun it, hate it, bury it, try to rid ourselves of it, unable to face what has hurt us the most, leaving us with never-ending violence in our lives, on our streets, in our classrooms, in our homes, and around the world.

It’s hard to understand the call for further violence in the world once you begin to understand and learn from it within yourself, seeking healing and reconciliation rather than blame or victimhood. As a matter of fact, all you can do is cry with the world, cry with the parents, their siblings, this country, when over and over again we quickly move into debate rather than as Pope Francis had continued last week, “to settle conflicts through dialogue.” We fight about guns and we fight about mental illness, all of which is an illness within itself, shattered egos, when we fail to see the larger vision of this humanity and the divine indwelling, and the lives that are being cheated, stolen, and destroyed, unable to lament our own brokenness and short-sightedness, unable to see the face of this merciful God. It’s hard to understand that all of it takes precedence over a human life, any human life, that has been wounded, that at this time needs to be held, loved, healed, understood, listened to rather than talking over and lost in the realm of policy, self-interests, political gain. Numbers; it’s all that we are to any of that, numbers, votes, dollar signs, whatever way you look at it, the dignity of the human life is lost in the scream of violence that has become second-nature in our lives and world. We find ourselves, over and over again, lost in that bottomless empty pit within ourselves trying to make sense of the tears, trying to understand the pain and hoping that one day there will be peace.

Violence, again. And all I can do is weep.

It’s Too Hard

Ephesians 5: 21-32; John 6: 60-69

I came across a book this week entitled Thieves in the Temple. The basic premise of the book is that religion in America has become bankrupt in many regards, it’s lost it’s purpose. The author cites that it’s become much more about entertainment, money, and membership, a more business model rather than the intended purpose of salvation of souls and the conversion of hearts and minds. Now he is speaking of a very large umbrella of the institution of church, beyond just Catholic, but has also at times. I thought of that as I was looking at this gospel that we hear today and how what it is that Jesus speaks of is too hard for the some of the disciples. We look for the easy way out, least amount expected of us, choosing sides, and so often fear-based over the life-giving faith that Jesus speaks of to the disciples. It’s too hard for them and often for us.

But think about what we’ve listened to the past few weeks in this Bread of Life discourse. We’ve heard this constant bickering and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and in the middle of it all, listening to every word, are the disciples. They’re left with a choice and many choose to go back to what is known. I’ve thought about it, the Pharisees would have at least been perceived as the greater threat. They’ve already heard what they’ve thought about Jesus and the animosity towards him. If they’re being called to live such a radical life are they willing to face the same thing. Fear has a way of taking a strong hold on us and them in those situations. It was never that Jesus was even expecting them to give up what they held so closely, the law that they knew, but rather to fold it into something deeper, to reconcile these pieces of life that often become fragmented over the course of our lives. It’s hard work, living a life of faith and living wholly and holy in the way Christ calls. Even for Peter, despite his firm acclamation in today’s gospel, we know when the going gets tough at the end, he too is taken hold by fear and will have to be led to a place of reconciliation as well. It’s hard stuff when we commit ourselves to a life of faith; how easy it is at times to choose the easy way out…settling for entertainment, money, and simply filling the pews. That’s not faith and rather than blaming the world, sometimes we have we have to be willing to look at ourselves and see how we are contributing to the problem. If we’ve strayed from our purpose of conversion and the salvation of souls, not only does religion become bankrupt but so do we. We become divisive, violent, make politics into a religion. It’s hard but it’s the way to life.

Then there’s this second reading from Ephesians. Paul takes a lot of heat for it and quite honestly, there’s question whether he’s really the author of this letter to begin with! I did a little research to see what was going on culturally and in society at that time as to why he would write these words. At that time there was a struggle with differing understandings of marriage. There was, of course, still that sense that the woman becomes property of the man and Paul is trying to reconcile that with faith. Maybe most importantly is that at the end of the reading he too returns to the roots of who they are and speaks of the two becoming one from the Book of Genesis. It’s where Jesus tries to lead the disciples, although some split by differing values, to a place of oneness within themselves, a life of wholeness and holiness which only comes through a reconciliation of our “former way of life” to what it is that Christ calls us to; that’s how we become one but it’s also why this is so hard and why some choose not to proceed and accept the call. It’s easier to choose the lesser and be satisfied. I do wonder, though, that once the word has been planted, do any of them begin to feel something missing from their lives when they return to the former way? Will they go away restless for something more in life?

As we wrap up this jaunt through John’s sixth chapter, the Bread of Life discourse, we ask ourselves if it’s too hard for us. What kind of life are we looking to live? Can we be satisfied with anything less that the word that has and gives eternal life, Jesus Christ? It’s easy to say that we are committed, but when push comes to shove as it will for Peter, what will we do? Will the former way of life look all the more appealing in that moment? When we commit ourselves to Christ and a life of faith, we will never be satisfied with anything less. It may be hard, but a life of wholeness and holiness is hard to beat and nothing else will do!

Great Love in the Midst of Deep Suffering

1 Jn 3: 18-24; John 15: 1-8

Remain in me as I remain in you…and become my disciples.

I wasn’t about to let fear to hold me back from going further down into the city this week. How easy it would have been to remain hunkered down in my house, feeling helpless, and never stepping out the front door and down the street because of fear. Yet, I didn’t want to believe that what I saw on television was true. I didn’t want to believe places burning, national guard in place, people destroying property. I didn’t want to believe it was true, even though I knew it was at least partially true. But I wasn’t going to allow fear to stop me. Heck, as crazy as it is, I was probably more worried that something would happen to my car than to myself. All the times I’ve driven through West Baltimore and other areas, I never really felt unsafe. Uncomfortable, yeah, probably, but never unsafe.

And so I went. And I went a few times after that to different locations, mainly to listen more than anything. On Tuesday evening I found myself driving through the national guard, as surreal as that was. Quite honestly, the only other time I’ve experienced something like that was with the United Nations in the different Third World countries that I’ve done mission trips to over the years, and yet, here it was in my own city and in my backyard. That alone left me anxious, wondering what I was doing and where I was at that time.

At the gathering I had attended, I found myself overwhelmed by it all. I was overwhelmed that this was real and it was happening in this city, even though I am aware of the history of the city and the many issues it’s had over the past decades and beyond. There was a young African American woman that spoke and all I truly remember were the tears and her words, “Where there is deep pain, great love will follow.” I was truly overwhelmed by it all and nearly lost it myself as I looked out over the crowd that had gathered, wondering, disillusioned, hopeful, questioning,still in shock with tension that could be cut with a knife, and this young woman put her finger right on it, where there is deep pain, great love will follow…and she really believes it.

Remain in me as I remain in you…we hear parts of that in today’s Gospel from John and have reflected deeply upon these readings this week. The message is carried over in the second reading as well. More than anything, when there is such deep pain, and I witnessed it and heard it the times I’ve ventured out into the streets, listening and remaining is what we can most offer. In these situations we want to do something and that’s great and often necessary, but to be the peacemakers, the disciples, that we are called to be, we must also learn to sit with the tension and the rawness of reality in order to grow from and through it. Once again it will be quite easy to sweep things under the rug or try to fix them through politics, but what we experience here this week is something much deeper than problems that can be fixed. We must go below the surface of the skin and ask ourselves serious questions and sit with the uncomfortableness of it all to grow as individuals and community. Where there is deep pain, great love will follow; remain in me as I remain in you…and be my disciples.

Along with the deep pain and certainly not disconnected from it all was a sense of hopelessness. When you have nothing to lose, who cares! There’s more than the untimely death of a young man in all of this; although he becomes the catapult for it all. There is racism. There is extreme poverty in this city. There is a lack of jobs, especially for lower income neighborhoods. There is resentment. There is anger. There is the lack of quality education. There is a lack of fathers and men who can mentor and be the non-judgmental figure for young men that have given up hope. There is a drug problem, but that too lies in the surface of deeper hurt, anger, grief, and so much that we hold onto as individuals and community. Yet, where there is deep pain, great love will follow, when we no longer avoid the pain but rather go through it, the narrow path we call the Cross, that leads to that great love.

I question how effective religion has been. When there is so much hopelessness, where is faith? Even in the midst of despair, when we have that grounding in faith and Christ Crucified now raised from the dead and remain in him as he remains in us, we manage to see hope through it all. When we lose that, where then do we turn? We become boxed in to our own little world, overcome by our own pain and grief and never to experience the great love. All too often we are left with politics and activists in it all, which are fine as far as they go, but that’s not what we’re called to, we’re called as the gospel tells us today, to be his disciples. Disciples bring healing. Disciples bring unity, not division and discord. Disciples bring reconciliation. Disciples bring a listening ear and that great love with them where they go, most especially to that place of deep pain and suffering. If we’re afraid to go there we will find ourselves to go down the same path again, not to be transformed, but rather clinging to clanging cymbals, hope that isn’t really hope in the first place, expecting change to happen around us where as disciples, we’re called to seek change to happen to us, all of us.

I leave you with two questions to reflect upon this week in light of all that we have seen and listened to this week. One, where is God in the midst of it all? Even in the deepest pain, God is present. Where did we see God? And second, in what way is God calling me to change, to be healed, to grow in light of these events? That’s sometimes the tougher question to answer for all of us because we don’t always want to admit that we have to change. We can easily disconnect from these events and say they don’t concern me. Well guess what, we all participate in the dysfunction of these systems and as long as we are still breathing, God calls us to grow and change. That’s reality. So, ask yourself, how did I react this week? Where did I overreact or judge? That, my friends, is exactly where God wants to meet us and change us into his disciples. Where there is deep pain, great love will follow. As Christ’s disciples, in a city that hurts and in a world that hurts, we bring that love and we don’t allow fear to stop us and hold us back from being the people and community Christ is calling us to be at this time and the city needs us to be at this time. We are called to bring healing. We are called to be the peacemakers, which is hard work, messy, but in the end, the only way. We are called to bring reconciliation. We are called to bring a listening ear, while remaining in him as he remains in us…now, be my disciples.

Winners and Losers then No One Wins

I enjoy watching sports as much as the next person. It’s ingrained in our culture and certainly a part of Americana. We all want to see our teams win; yet, with a win, someone else must lose and experience the agony of defeat. It was that way Saturday evening at Camden Yards, all tied up in the bottom of the ninth, Red Sox versus Orioles. It would take an extra inning, but the Orioles, with a walk-off home run, would pull one out on one of their fiercest rivals, the Boston Red Sox. It was a thrilling win and hopefully a turning point after a rough start to a season.

As much as winning and losing in sports is a part of the fiber of our being in this country, life isn’t always that way. Yet, it has trickled over into other aspects of our lives where I must be superior over the other, come out on top, be the winner despite the fact that someone then must lose. What does that do to the relationship? Can a relationship exist when it’s about winning and losing, rather than finding ways for a ‘win-win’, understanding, and reconciliation? Where does that leave the one that ‘lost’? What does it do to my own ego, the self-proclaimed winner in the face of the agony of such defeat and who else must I defeat to build on that thinking?

On Saturday evening, the winning and losing at Camden Yards was the backdrop of a larger reality that unfolded outside the stadium. Late in the game it was announced that fans must stay put in the stadium rather than venture out onto Eutaw Street to go wherever it is they were heading. Peaceful protests, regarding the death of Freddie Gray, turned sour with people injured, property destroyed, more than thirty arrested, and a city trying to grapple with a reality that, as we do so often, has drawn a line in the sand asking the wrong question of who’s the winner and who’s the loser, who’s right and who’s wrong, within the context of the death of a young man and yet problems that are much larger and deeper than his death. That’s what we like and it’s what we want, or so says our minds and our ego. It deepens divides that already exist and we never find resolution and healing. It gives one side proof that they’re right while the other is wrong and vice versa. It makes for great news drama and the way the story is spun by different broadcasts. It fuels tension and an already deep-seeded anger and mistrust which will always find a way to makes its way out into the world, often violently against ourselves and others. We find ourselves at a stalemate. We find ourselves between a rock and hard place, so wanting to choose sides, and how easy it is to do when one man is dead on one side and the “proof in the pudding” on the other as the violence erupted on Saturday evening and continues to unfold. Who am I to side with on this; who wins and who loses? Yet, I feel helpless, trying to sit in the tension of what is happening trying to make sense and peace with all of it.

If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to put yourself in the place of Freddie Gray. His life is not my own and his reality, if stories are correct, was nothing like the reality that I grew up and the reality I live in, despite living in the city of Baltimore. First of all, I’m some white guy trying to put myself in his place, which I can’t do; but I also believe it should not be so difficult for any of us to empathize with him, considering his life was cut short, and if it were someone in my family or yours, we too would be outraged. It’s safe to say, no one deserves that type of treatment and to be stripped of his dignity, regardless of his lived reality. However, ever-so subtly, lines are drawn and speculation is presented. He was dealing drugs. He was in trouble with the law many times over. The police were just trying to be preventative. The bottom line, so it is said, he was a troublemaker. All of that, begins to cloud my vision and what I see and the person I see as Freddie Gray. I begin to make judgment, no thanks to the news. Maybe he got what was coming to him? There’s one less ‘problem’ in the city. He brought it on himself. How can I even begin to think like that?!? I begin to make winners and losers in the case. It’s hard for my mind and my own brokenness not to devolve in such unhealthy ways and to react out of judgment; it happens in an unconscious way for all of us, especially if we’re not aware of it happening, and before you know it, sides are chosen, winners are chosen and resentment and anger builds and spills out into the streets.

But I also have a hard time putting myself in the place of police officers and politicians, including the mayor. I wouldn’t want any of their jobs. I can’t even begin to imagine what the roles they play does to one person. However, like Freddie, they too are human; something we can all relate to. They face a reality everyday unlike my own with much bigger problems that I would say, just as in the life of Freddie Gray, are beyond my understanding and can be extremely complex. The city faces problems that go way beyond politics, a reality that goes beyond judgment, it just is the case. Poverty, inequality, and so on go much deeper than the color of one’s skin or their mental state. Yet, that automatic pilot within me kicks in once again. I make judgments on what I have seen. If the police can break minor traffic laws that I’ve witnessed in my neighborhood, who’s to say what else is done when I’m not or someone else is not looking? Does it automatically put an element of doubt in my mind, especially after seeing the violence on Saturday evening? Maybe the police are right? What if I were in their place and pushed to such limits at times, what would I have done? Maybe they’re just doing their job and we all just have to live with the consequences and chalk the whole thing up as a mistake? Can we then live with such a reality since it then defines how we go forward in the future? How can I even begin to think like that; and yet I do, and maybe it’s my own uneasiness of such anger and the loss of control, but can’t that be said of everyone? Have I not been outraged at injustice and hurt in my own life, burying it deep within, only to have it spill out into my own life and actions? Again, sides are chosen, winners and losers are drawn; feeling helpless becomes the lived reality.

Winners and losers are great with sports, but in real life, when there are winners and losers, we all come out as losers and no one wins. No one wins when everything is kept on the surface, judged by behaviors, and within my thinking patterns and never moving below the surface because I will always dig my heels into the ground. We so often refuse to deal with the deeper issues at hand because it forces all of us to look at ourselves, no matter whether we are police or citizen, black or white, or however else we have drawn the line and split reality, because then we all are put in a position to change our thinking and our behavior and the way we respond to issues that present themselves, responding with love, compassion, and understanding. When we can no longer see each other as the same, and I’m not always sure that’s entirely possible, but when we no longer even try to see each other as the same, violence will always erupt because sides will be chosen, my position in the community will define where I stand, winners and losers will happen, resentment will grow deep within us, and a split reality will take shape, where in the end, a win-win becomes impossible, relationship breaks down, and unfortunately, no one wins and everyone loses.

That is the true reality of where we are at in this city, lost in the midst of a great divorce, trying to pick up pieces, not speaking to one another or simply speaking past one another, questioning the truth and lost in speculation, wondering what’s next, deciding on who’s right and wrong, what side will I choose, and so on and so on; the unending conveyor belt of questions that loom in my mind, split from my heart and quite possibly, the heart of the city. Anger, bitterness, and resentment loom on this cloudy afternoon. The city, after a tumultuous weekend and now spilling over into a new week, is left with such questions engulfed in a debate of the culture within, but also an invitation into the deeper questions on identity and who the city wants to be; can it be reconciled and healed? That can only come through honest dialogue, free of judgement and legalities, through person to person, side to side, coming to a common ground, found at its core, charm city as she’s known, a winner in my books. The city, and each of us, stands at a threshold before we are too quick to choose sides, draw lines and act out of our own judgments, a few things for all of us to ponder as we try to breathe deeply these days, trying to respond with dignity, love, and compassion. Do I go back to what has been once again and a reality that has not worked and is not working, leaving all of us lost in the end or do I use the opportunity to cross over into something new, a greater lived reality where we all come out with a win and free? It’s not just a question for the mayor or the police department or any one neighborhood; rather, it’s a question we all must sit with and reflect upon if we are to confront problems and change culture, honestly and head-on, and rise above to become what we all dream this city to be, a city that has lost a lot but lives with the opportunity for some great wins in the future.