Tuesday, January 22, 2019

No Place for Children

During the major protest event in Washington, D.C. last Saturday, a group of teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky found themselves at the center of confrontations between several groups, including Black Hebrew Israelites and Native Americans.   In watching the extensive social media footage of that difficult time, it is clear that this group of high school students did not provoke the trouble that they experienced.  What seems equally clear is that this group of young people were ill equipped to respond to the situations they faced at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday.

One wonders about the wisdom of having high school youth traveling to Washington, D.C. on a weekend of multiple protests, including the one that brought them there to protest against the legality of abortion in the United States.  One wonders about the role of adults from Kentucky who accompanied these boys--their chaperones, parents, teachers, and administrators.  Where were they?  Why do so few of these adults appear to help diffuse the situation?

I also noted the red hats with that political logo of the Trump administration:  "Make America Great Again."  Is this the way we make America "Great?"  I wonder whether these students, many of whom are not yet old enough to vote, realize that they are being co-opted by being thrust into an adult world before they are really prepared to be there.

As I watched the footage of the various encounters in the video, I put myself there and wondered how I would have responded as a senior citizen, who has been a long-time disciple of Jesus.  I think that I would have been afraid.  I would have resisted by not engaging with those shouting their ideology at me.  I would have walked away, not giving their anger a place to take root in me.  All groups had a right to peacefully protest on Saturday.  They all had a right to be there, but wisdom is evident in knowing when to engage and when to walk away.  When there is no opportunity for meaningful dialogue and respect, it is time to walk away.

I applaud Elder Nathan Phillips for trying to diffuse the initial conflict, but I also believe that the group of boys did not have the maturity and background to appreciate what he was doing or sufficiently understand his heritage.  It created a scene that was disrespectful and inappropriate.  What are the lessons that adults must teach our children about cultural heritage and acceptance of other peoples?

And, in the end, I still believe that such protests are no place for our children to be thrust into a contentious, adult environment without preparation and adequate accompaniment by their elders.  Let us pray for our children.  May they be prepared well. 

Friday, December 28, 2018


In 2011, as I traveled to India with a group of colleagues, I often found myself feeling homesick.  At times, I felt trapped.  The noise of the Indian culture was too much for me.  The press of people was a overwhelming.  Sometimes in the massive crowds, I feared becoming separated and lost from our group.  During the two weeks of traveling, I longed to be home again.

The word "nostalgia" comes from a Greek word that literally means to return home.  It is the word for exiles, for travelers, and for first-time church campers.  It is the word that would describe the feelings of patients in a hospital or residents in a nursing home.  The dictionary relates a two-fold meaning:  (1) the state of being homesick and (2) a wistful or excessively sentimental, sometimes abnormal yearning for a return to some past period or irrecoverable condition.  I know how it is to be homesick.  I know well how nostalgia feels.

Frederick Buechner wrote a book as he approach the eighth decade of his life entitled, The Longing for Home: Reflections at Midlife.  In the book he reminisces about the house of his childhood, his maternal grandparents' house, that became his home.  While now long gone, Buechner remembers it clearly.  That image of home continues to beckon to him--the home of his past.   But he also looks forward to another home, the home of which he dreams.  I like the book because it speaks to my soul--my sometimes homesick soul.  It is often easier for me to look back than it is to look forward.  Sometimes my memory is stronger and more vivid than my hope.  That is not necessarily good or helpful. 

While it is important to remember, it is even more important for people to hope.  Yes, our scripture sometimes speaks of a nostalgic longing.  Many of the exilic texts yearn for returning home again.  There is a persistent spiritual longing to be reunited with loved ones and the places that have been foundational in our lives--especially when we feel vulnerable and all alone.   There is a longing for a restoration of the broken places in our lives--for a return to wholeness, for salvation.  There is a longing for God to come home to be with us again.

When I hear the political slogan advanced by our nation's President, "Make America Great Again," the word "again" gets my attention.  It is a word that looks back to another time--sometime in our country's history.  It does not specify, however, when that time or period actually was.  Who was the President when America was great?  What were the social and cultural hallmarks of such greatness?  What was the economy like when we were great before?  Were we at war or living in peace?  Were our policies connecting us with others around the globe or driving us into a deep isolationism?  Did we value our unity or dwell on our differences?  Perhaps those who wear the red caps and attend the political pep rallies today are folks who feel like exiles, who experience a deep longing, who are trying to find some security and stability amid their nostalgia.  Perhaps they too are longing for home.

I also know that nostalgia can be, as the dictionary defines it, an "abnormal yearning" to return to some imagined time that cannot be recovered or may never have existed in the first place.  I am often reminded that the great times in my life and ministry may not have been as grand as I remember them now.  It is healthier to be oriented to the future than preoccupied with the past.  Hope is promised.  Resurrection is more than restoration; it is an invitation to experience God's new thing, God's new creation.  New life is promised.  The future is not to be feared because it is where God meets us in an even closer way than today.  The future holds our home.  It is where all will be revealed, where justice, peace, and love are eternally present.  This is home!  This is the home for which I yearn.  A good life is not only about history and heritage . . . it is always about hope.

Our God, our help in ages past, 
Our hope for years to come. 
 Be Thou our guard while troubles last, 
And our eternal home.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What Do You Want for Christmas?

So, what do you want for Christmas?  Perhaps that is a strange question to ask.  It is the question we ask our little ones as they sit on Santa’s knee.  It is the question for the children—for those who cannot earn their own way yet.  Even so, I think it is also a question that must be asked of every adult, of every person who already lives with great privilege and power, as well as great uncertainty and anxiety about the future.

When I was a little child, we looked forward to getting the Sears and Roebuck catalog and looking through its pages of colorful toys.  We made our lists, anticipating with delight the gifts that might be waiting for us under the Christmas tree.  The old catalog is gone, but there continues to be a daily stream of ads in our mailbox and our inbox—all beckoning for our attention and our money.  The gifts promise to make our lives easier, to make us look younger and better, to make us live longer.

Perhaps you have already done the shopping for others on your list.  So Christmas is a quid pro quo holiday.  We give a gift because we got a gift last year or we anticipate one this year.  Perhaps there is that gift pool at work, where you have drawn names to make sure everyone gives and receives a gift.  But, back to the focusing question:  What do you want this Christmas?  Are you in touch with your Christmas longing?  What will satisfy the hunger in your soul?  What will help you know that you are appreciated and loved?  What will bring you peace?

I invite you to make your list now—not for someone else—but just for you.   That’s not about being selfish, but about being human, a creature, and a child of God.   We all depend on gifts to be fully alive.  It’s not about what we can secure for ourselves.  We need gifts to be whole.  So, what is the gift that you need as Christmas comes?

That gift is likely found in some holy place, a sanctuary just down the street.  For me, it is in a manger, where an infant lies in swaddling clothes.  Christ is the gift, sought by shepherds and strangers from foreign lands.  Christ is the gift who reaches across the brokenness and the divisions between people and nations—across the stress in our souls.  Christ is the gift that brings forgiveness, pardon and peace, and life.  Among all the things that promise us a better life, this baby—Jesus—is the gift for a lifetime.  He is God’s gift for the world—God’s gift for you as Christmas comes anew.

So, what do you want for Christmas?  That gift is found in a holy place right in your own neighborhood.  Receive, cherish, and be changed by that gift!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Invocation at the Bridge Dedication


A Prayer of Invocation

Dedication of the New Highway 47 Bridge
Washington, Missouri
Saturday, December 1, 2018

Most Gracious God, who calls us to live and love in communities of care, we thank you for the communities that are connected by this new bridge—cities and towns and villages of Franklin and Warren Counties with one another and those far beyond.  We believe this bridge to be a symbol of the connection you intend for all people.  Today, we thank you for the skilled engineers and contractors, the laborers, and public leaders, who not only dreamed of this day but have worked so diligently to make it a reality.  We thank you for the vision and the generosity of many who made this day possible. We pray that your blessing would be upon those who will come to cross this bridge whether by vehicle, or bicycle, or on foot.  May their journeys be blessed with safety and peace.  May this bridge also represent our commitment to span the divisions and the deep divides in our world.  May it remind us of your creative, connecting love and your hope that we will be companions with all who share life with us.  O God of us all, receive our prayer, our praise, and our love!  Amen.