Homily–Christians and Refugees

_Y7A3750.jpgwmToday’s readings from Isaiah, Paul and Matthew tell us that our light will shine forth if we serve others and are attentive tom their needs. We are challenged to be the light shining forth and then light of the world. It is not our power but the power of God working in us and creation. God does not want our sacrifices. True religion is alleviating the suffering and misery of others.

Two weeks ago we talked about the marvelous story of the universe flaring forth from God almost 14 billion years ago. As matter clustered and formed stars the stars carried on the work of the Creator. We and all the universe came from stardust. God’s presence is the DNA of all that exists—millions of galaxies with billions of stars. The Bible captures this in metaphor—we are created in the image and likeness of God. Every human being comes forth from the primal stardust. The bottom line is that every person is worthy of respect.

I am reading another biography on Pope Francis. As Bergoglio in Argentina, he recounted the story of a woman who lost her husband. She could find work occasionally. To support her children, she turned to prostitution. Bergogilo and his church provided food baskets to help her out. One day she showed up and asked to see the future pope. He thought she was coming to thank him for the food. Instead, she said, “I want to thank you. You always called me senora. You always called me senora. In spite of her lifestyle, he always showed her deep respect.

Martin Luther King reminds us that the universe bends toward justice. The Risen, Cosmic Christ is working through the power of the Spirit to bring all things to completion. All religions are based on justice—right order—and compassion—waling in another’s shoes.

Hospitality was a key component of Old Testament religion. Abraham greeted three strangers and offered them hospitality—it was really a visit from God. Christianity continues this tradition of hospitality, especially to the stranger. Benedictine monasteries are special places of hospitality—places where the stranger is welcome. The Rule says, “Let everyone that comes be received as Christ.”

Jesus continued this tradition of justice and compassion by welcoming the stranger and outcast. He partied with tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus also crossed social and religious boundaries and accepted strangers. Jews and Samaritans were at times deadly enemies. In one incident, Samaritans massacred Galilean pilgrims who were going to Jerusalem. Instead of going the long way from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled through Samaria. He met the woman at the well. He broke the rules by talking to her. Despite her having had 7 husbands, Jesus respected her and told her to go sin no more. On another trip, Jesus cured 10 lepers—only the Samaritan came back to thank him. On another occasion a Phoenician woman from Syria sought healing for her daughter. She challenged Jesus’ calling Syrians dogs and Jesus granted her the healing she sought.

Jesus makes his message very clear in sheep-goat judgment scene in Mt 25—when did we see you, Jesus. When you welcomed the stranger. Jesus’ life tells us that we cannot discriminate against others on the basis of religion or national origin. In Luke 6 Jesus sums up his mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Today we have a tremendous refugee crisis in our world. Refugees are described in the Bible as “stranger”—the Hebrew word for refugee is ger. Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament we find stories about refugees. Abraham left Ur of Chaldea. God delivered the Hebrews from oppression in Egypt. In fact, Moses told the people to treat the refugees among them with respect because they we once refugees in Egypt. The numerous conquests and deportations when the Babylonians and Assyrians invaded Israel created refugees. Jesus and his parents were once refugees in Egypt when the fled Herod’s wrath.

As Christians, we are called to care for refugees. Note, I am not talking about immigrants. Refuges are a special class of immigrants. They are fleeing religious, ethnic, or personal persecution or warfare and civil strife. Refugees can apply for refugee status and the host country then vets them for security purposes. This is the case with Syrian refugees. Pope Francis has warned us that we cannot call ourselves Christians if we refuse to accept refugees. The Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and the United Church of Christ have made statements about our moral obligation to accept refugees.

I stand before you today because my paternal and maternal grandparents were refugees. Patrick and Catherine Mahon came from Ireland in 1860. They were fleeing religious persecution and starvation in Ireland. They came on coffin ships Often over half of the refugees on these ships would not survive the crossing. Patrick became a coal miner in Pennsylvania only to die in a mining accident in 1880.

Heinrich Bitting came from Southwestern Germany in 1735 because of religious persecution and constant warfare with France.

My wife’s forbears came from Ireland and Italy. In this wave of immigration, they suffered greatly. Like the Chinese immigrants before them, they were disrespected. Irish were depicted in turn of the century editorial cartoons as simian apes and often saw, “Irish need not apply” signs in storefronts.

I am indebted to my refugee grandparents who came to America to make a better life for themselves and, ultimately, me. I am glad they were allowed to come to Ellis Island where the Statue of Liberty now stands. Ironically, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi originally designed a statue for the Suez Canal using an Arab woman as the model. When that project failed, he clothed the woman in Roman-Greek garb. The Emma Lazarus inscription on the statue begins:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Unless you are full-blooded First American, you are descendants of immigrants. If you go back into your family history, you may find out that your forbears were refugees.

If we are to let out light shine forth, if we are to be light of the world, we must speak out. When refugees are not accepted, we have the responsibility to speak out. We may become strangers in a strange land. Remember that Christians from the early days have been persecuted because they were counter cultural. The values of the world are not always Christian values.

I recently saw the story of a sign language interpreter. As the state news station was broadcasting falsehoods, then interpreted signed the truth from the PIP box on the screen. I think this is a great analogy for being the light of the world.

Let us be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. In these troubling times, I conclude with words from the Desiderata:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

. . .

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

People in the entrance will have copies I made for you of the complete Desiderata.

 

Ramblings of a Republican

_DSC2133Ramblings of a “Republican”

I am completing a course in the Institute for Continuing Education at Young Harris College. Professor Eric Dickman entitled the course, “Reading Plato’s The Republic for Well-Being.” This is an intentional strategy designed to get us to read Plato as a guide to living fully human lives. Beyond an ideal blueprint for political regimes and personal psychology, The Republic is metaphor for living well. It is an invitation to wake up. Wake up to being and life, wake up to what really IS. Plato’s protagonist Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Plato thus is calling us to become philosophers who can look beyond images and appearances in order to understand Being, what IS. (God was introduced to the ancient Hebrews as I AM who I AM/will BE.)

Plato is calling us to live just lives. Thus ends the book: Continue reading

Memorial Day Reflection

Let a new day dawn!

Let a new day dawn!

This Memorial Day, like Memorial Days past, has prompted numerous social media reminders and public memorial services for us to honor and not forget those who have given all. And it is well and good that we should do so.

However, my mind has been reeling all weekend. I think I have grasped part of what is making it whirl. Memorial Day degenerates into sheer sentimentalism (which assuages our guilty consciences for having put people in harm’s way) unless we, individually and corporately, take steps here and now to end the madness which is was. Sentimentalizing the day also allows the military-industrial-congressional complex to promote militarism–camo at ball games, etc… Continue reading

Evolutionary Prayer

2Y7A1685.jpgwm

Hope = the other buds will bloom.

After much reading and reflection, I have come to the point where I can no longer pray to a tribal god, sometimes warlike, who is up there and out there, ready to rush in a rescue me from the powers and principalities, any evil which may befall me. William Cleary best describes the God I have found—an evolutionary God:

But Evolutionary Faith reminds us that “divine inspiring energy does not emanate from some external heavenly realm, but from within the depths of the creative process itself. The creative energy is an unambiguously inspirited and inspiring life-force.” In other words, we find the spirit of God everywhere and can speak to it and pray to it there-if we have situated ourselves firmly within the evolutionary story and realize the presence everywhere of a God alive and available. If evolution happened and is happening, then God-the spirit mother of life, the spirit father of creation, the Loving Mystery behind and within everything-is at work in it, around us, near us, within us. (William Cleary, Prayers to an Evolutionary God, location 267) Continue reading

The Dawn Deacon

2Y7A1610.jpgwmHere is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it: we are off “one to his farm and another to his merchandise.” Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static. “Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend. (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 184)

If he were alive during this draconian election, I think Merton would have added, “power-hungry, disingenuous politicians (with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders) babbling over incongruous sound bites.” I excepted Bernie because he is flying above the fray as he deals with issues that are muting the dawn deacon. He is talking issues which strike at the heart of imperium–endless war, gross greed-driven consumerism, and rule by self-serving oligarchs and he has a consistent record from which to speak.

Whether you agree with my assessment of the candidates, one thing is certain. We have lost our moral compass. We know not where morality lies. True north is not on our radar scopes. Consumerism and technology have blunted our ability to hear the dawn deacon. We live in a culture of death and cannot find our way out of the moral quicksand. In the words of Daniel Berrigan, we are “blind, deaf, and, worst of all, heartless.” (Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears, 33)

The politicians offer us modern versions of the old Roman bread and circuses ruse to keep us content but morally bankrupt as we snuggle in our little comfort zones. Churches, rather than preaching the Gospel, comfort the comfortable using an outmoded tribal god the assure us that the God of ALL is only on our side. The Gospel is about inclusion but they, churches and politicians, preach division scapegoating those who differ from them. They promise to keep building walls instead of bridges. We really are one but they want us to be many. All are not welcome at most communal tables, religious or secular. Our license plates read, “In God we trust,” but we spend over half of our national budget on security. Congress, in a rare bipartisan show (to distract us?), is passing legislation to deal with heroin and opioid addiction. (Have they ever thought about the factors in our warped culture that contribute to addiction?) We incarcerate inordinate numbers of minorities. We execute some of them mainly in Bible Belt states (where is the oxymoron here?). We continue to plunder our environment without regard for the terrible consequences. We murder innocents in the womb, on our streets, and in foreign lands. We let people starve fetid gutters in the Land of Plenty.

To realign our moral compass, we must begin with the Sermon on the Mount. Our call is to make feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, educating the citizens for democracy (not oligarchy! We cannot afford to let the Tea Party dumb us down.), and setting prisoners free our highest priorities. We follow (not worship because Jesus never said, “Worship me.”) the Living Christ who taught us nonviolence, justice, mercy and compassion. This is the very Cosmic Christ who danced as Wisdom before the dawn of creation. Wisdom incarnate is the dawn deacon beckoning us to recognize that we are all really one. As true disciples, we must dismantle the insane perpetual war machine which divides, conquers, and murders.

Daniel Berrigan says that we must imagine the impossible in the face of the overwhelming odds set up by the powers and principalities. We dare dream impossible dreams. We dare to charge at windmills which will grind us to grist. We chance opening our eyes and realizing that Paradise is all around us. We know that the sword has been taken away.

Compassion and justice are the true north on our moral compass. We shall plant trees under which we will never shelter. We are about being faithful, not necessarily being successful.

I write this on Pentecost. Pentecost is about hope mid despair. The once fearful disciples who abandoned Jesus and went underground boldly proclaimed the Gospel message in the public square. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Risen Christ (which has been at work in matter and spirit since the beginning of creation), they answered the call of the dawn deacon. They put away their swords.

Daniel Berrigan wrote:

Indeed, the degradation of America serves to underscore once again the ancient stereotype and impasse of the nations described by Isaiah—imperial nests of sanctioned, perennial violence, of wars that are proclaimed “necessary” and, of course, “just.” Isaiah understood his times and ours—a world laden with memories of war and perennially prepared for another war, clumsy and indifferent in the skills of peace. It is an unlikely time indeed to offer a word of hope and imagination. Yet, the worst time, Isaiah dares say, is the apt time. (Isaiah, 18).

Will we answer the call? Will we let the coals that seared Isaiah’s lips sear ours so that we will speak out boldly? If we do not speak out, who will? Will we proclaim Gospel truth to the powers and principalities? We must allow the Spirit to inspire us with a sense of “the fierce urgency of now” (Martin Luther King); otherwise the universe will stop bending ever so slightly toward justice and compassion.

Tribute to Daniel Berrigan

My eyes are flowers for your tomb. T. Merton

My eyes are flowers for your tomb. T. Merton

Daniel Berrigan, priest, poet, protestor, died yesterday at the age of 94. Along with his brother, Phillip, and his sister-in-law, Liz McAllister, Daniel was a stalwart leader in the American peace movement. Liz and his protégé, John Dear, will continue to be prophets of peace and justice.

We had the privilege of attending a retreat led by Dan and Liz in 2007. A portion of Dan’s reflection on the first Servant Song in Isaiah is copied below. A previous retreat with John Dear had opened my heart to the peace and justice message in the Gospels. Dan’s and Liz’s reflections on Isaiah and the servant songs further opened my heart. Most of all, I came away from the retreat knowing that Dan was such a peaceful and gentle man.

Thomas Merton is my anam cara. He was the voice of the American peace movement in the Vietnam era. Within the walls of the Monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Merton spoke for justice in the face of war, violence, and racism. So much so that his Cistercian superiors once silenced his prophetic voice. One of my favorite photographs of Merton is one where he is gathered with Dan and Phil on the monastery grounds to discuss the peace movement.

At one point I was inclined to nominate Dan for the Presidential Medal for Freedom, our nation’s highest award for civilians. I contacted Liz and she said you has better check with Dan. I did. Dan replied and thanked me but said that, if he were selected, he would have to be “on stage with war criminals,” namely government officials waging war.

Dan we will miss you. You were a gentle giant among us. Your legacy will live on in our hearts and actions. I think the recent Vatican conference on peace is the result of the persistent efforts of Dan and many others to open our eyes to Gospel values. Reports indicate that the church maybe abandoning the just war theory, a theory it never followed in practice.

I will now let Dan speak for himself. As he reflects on Isaiah 42. This portion of his retreat talks is vintage Daniel Berrigan.

Let the servant be born, summoned. Let him stand there, speak the truth, face the murderous music.

Thus our text is like a holy manual of instruction on the vocation of the servant, upon whom the spirit of God dwells. ‘Justice. To the nations.’ Announce, so live in hope, “don’t get tired!” (Phil)

Meantime – live in the meantime. So that, here and now, and despite all, in face of opposition and terror, there exists a trace, a hint, a foreshadowing, of that most unlikely, defamed, dreaded realm – justice; the justice of God.

And simultaneously (and justly), – the abolition of the sword. An end to war. And end to playing God, the prevailing crime of the powers. That human institutions would claim life and death power over the living. And in the name of that power, wield the sword, from Babylon to here and now.

No more war, no more incursions, no more invasions. No more armed forces on the prowl, on the ready, on the trigger. No more nukes. No more “nuclear capable” bombers over Iraq, Afghanistan. No more horrible weapons research, and the savage experimentation on flesh and bone of the living. No second Iraqi war. No second Vietnam War.

Which is to say quite simply, no more injustice. Domestically, no more ‘justice system’, mocking true justice, delaying the realm of justice, masking the totalized, imbedded injustice. No more war, nor power to wage war; and all that follows.

erything starts there. The end of warmaking would signal at once the ‘spirit of God’ dwelling in the nations, and the coming of the Realm. No more death. Nor more nukes. Nor more abortion. No more capital punishment. No more Euthanasia. And then the other ‘abolitions’, of no less import. No more hunger and homelessness, rich and poor, expendable and high and mighty.

‘My spirit upon that one’ is thus to be understood as the spirit of life, justice, peacemaking. Practical and to the point; piercing the cover of crime in high places, the denial and caricature and scorn offered to the spirit. Injustice, the hallmark of the nations, the coin of the realm, the flag, the motto, the myth.

hus the justice of God is in a most radical sense, an import to ‘the nations’. And yet, justice is the vocation of the nations. In spite of all, in spite of themselves. They know nothing of it, it withers in their soil. (Should it appear there, in the person of the servant or a community, these must be cut down.

‘The works of the hands’ are entirely other; commonly, idolatrous forms of injustice.

Therefore bring justice, bear the burden, import it. A lonely vocation. A lonely spirit, this spirit of God, most often wandering in desert places, far from the ‘centers’ of power and recognition. A spirit often defamed, derided, dealt with in utmost harshness. As it was in the beginning, in the ‘case’ of Isaiah, slain by one of his own, and later, in the justice systems that seized on servant Jesus.

(http://www.jonahhouse.org/archive/BerriganDanA07.htm)

Christ our PEACE

Twin Brothers in Nicaragua

Twin Brothers in Nicaragua

When I was reading the scriptures in preparation for Eucharist, this passage from Micah jumped out at me:

He shall take his place as shepherd
by the strength of the Lord,
by the majestic name of the Lord, his God;
And they shall dwell securely, for now his greatness
shall reach to the ends of the earth:
he shall be peace. (Micah 5:4)

Eight centuries before the birth of Jesus the Christ, Micah proclaimed peace. The Hebrew word shalom has a richness of meaning that is hard to capture in English—health, wholeness, well-being, Micah is promising us total peace when the Christ reigns. Continue reading

Mockingjay and Advent

Palace at Knossos, Crete Lair of the Minotaur c. J.P. Mahon

Palace at Knossos, Crete
Lair of the Minotaur

Because it had been raining for four consecutive days, we decided to go to the theater and see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 2. More about that in just a bit.

Ours seem like apocalyptic times—Paris, Mali, San Bernardino, more bombings in Syria by more nations and all that is part and parcel of perpetual war. Prior to going, I had read a blurb on the internet. Donald Sutherland, the notorious President Snow, said that the movie was about war and how we are manipulated into war. We know that perpetual war is a reality for us. It is good for the economy—for a few fat cats without consciences who reap the benefits of war. We know that our leaders, in the pockets of the benefactors of war, play the old Roman game of bread and games. We cheer on the men and women who have been duped into the war game at golf tournaments, baseball games, football games and at airport welcomes. We and they are led to believe that they are fighting for our freedom. Then, in turn we are asked to give up our freedoms in exchange for security. Actually our freedom to manipulate other nations and their national resources is the root cause of war. The Middle East is all about oil and securing and controlling the rights to that oil. Continue reading

Reflection First Sunday Advent

winterplatAdvent has arrived. A new church liturgical year begins. We are on the threshold of a Year of Mercy as proclaimed by Pope Francis.

Advent, like the seasons of the natural year, has its own texture. It takes its texture from the season of winter. In the darkness of dreary wintry days, the sun shines fewer hours and does not provide enough heat to ward off wintry chills.

Winter represents a season when we, like many folk s/heroes, plunge into the dark abyss sometimes called hades or hell. Odysseus had to go into the nether world on his return home. Enter the myth of Persephone. Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus is abducted by Hades, god of the Underworld. She then reigns as the Queen of the Underworld. Hermes rescues her but she must return each year to Hades: Continue reading