They The People

Lately, I catch myself avoiding the news. It’s not just that it all seems bad; it’s that I feel so helpless in the face of it. I realize that I can’t do anything about violence everywhere; the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer; recession, unemployment, and so on. Oh, I write my Congresswoman but she responds with platitudes and blames the administration for everything.

For a person who likes to fix things it’s very frustrating. Then I remember a lecture I gave many years ago. It was while I was teaching at Louisiana State University – Shreveport. The student government sponsored a “Last Lecture” series, in which they asked various faculty to deliver the lecture they would deliver if they know it was their last. I was flattered to deliver the first “Last Lecturer.”

I called it “They The People,” and began by referring to the United States Constitution and the powerful and dramatic beginning to the Preamble: “WE THE PEOPLE.” I talked about how this was the first time in history that the people had created a government, not had one imposed on them. I went on about how that spirit of “can do” had tamed the wilderness, built the Panama Canal and rescued Europe form the threat of Nazism.

I referred to “The Little Engine That Could,” a children’s book featuring the phrase, “I think I can, I think I can,” as the little engine pulled the train over the mountain.

But, I commented, it seems that today in place of “I think I can.” I hear more and more, “Why don’t they?” Why don’t they do something about the economy? Why don’t they do something about war over seas? Why don’t they do something about poverty and hunger?

And I confess that I am also guilty of this litany.

But.

Then I realize that while I may not be able to solve the problems of violence, injustice, and poverty in the world, I can do something about it in my world. I live in a world that is bounded by what I can see at any moment. I call it “my sphere of influence,” and in this smaller world I do have power. I can do something about the hungry man on the corner. I can do justice and teach my children to do justice, I can be peaceful and a peacemaker. I can spread joy and happiness to those I come into contact with.

If we all did that, perhaps the world’s problems could be solved as well.

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Fanatics and Extremists

Today’s post will go from the ridiculous to the sublime. First, just because I promised it, today’s pun:

I recently stayed at a hotel which was hosting a chess players conference. I spent the entire time in my room and never went into the lobby because I didn’t want to encounter chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.

Now for the sublime. Recently I posted my brief reflections on the anniversary of the terror attacks on 9-11. I wish I could have been as eloquent at the Dean of Grace Episcopal Cathedral. I was most proud that my parish invited the local Islamic and Jewish congregations to join our memorial. The service was absolutely beautiful including Jewish, Christian and Muslim scripture and prayer. As the host, Dean Steve Lipscomb delivered his reflections. It was so eloquent and so moving that I asked for and received permission to post it here.

I encourage you to read it. If you prefer, you can listen to it here.

 Interfaith Memorial Service      10th anniversary of 9/11/01      Grace Cathedral      Steve Lipscomb+

 On September 11, 2001, a group of religious extremists hijacked four passenger planes. Two of those planes were crashed into the World Trade Center towers, another into the Pentagon and another, with a suspected target of the Capital Building or the White House, crashed into the ground in a field in Pennsylvania after some of the passengers tried valiantly to take back control of the plane from the hijackers.

In all, over 3000 people lost their lives that day and hundreds of others since have died from injuries and exposure to the event—from the dust and debris and poisons that filled the air around the wreckage of the buildings.  Policemen and firefighters and EMTs and volunteers sifting through the carnage to search for any possible survivors as well as the bodies of loved ones lost; the many persons who gave their lives or their health in service and duty; the grieving and heartbroken whose lives were torn apart and forever changed by their loss; they are all to be remembered on this day of commemoration—this 10th anniversary of 9/11/01. Perhaps the single most tragic day is U.S. history.

 And so we gather here today for this interfaith memorial service. Representatives of the three great Abrahamic faiths have come together to remember. But we also gather as God’s people to call the faithful—all God’s people—to peace and unity and prayer.

God never intended for us to be the same. He does call us to be one people—his people—but part of the wonder of God’s creation is in its diversity. All three of our faiths from their beginnings have been trying to tell us that diversity is a divine gift from God. Through sacred scripture, through tradition, through God’s blessed gift of reason we are told to love one another, to welcome the stranger, to respect differences. When this country was founded, a main tenet was in its acceptance of all who seek God’s gift of freedom.

 Yet, there are those, in all our faiths, who hate freedom. That is another tragedy we must remember today. There are many in all our faiths who would be appalled that such an interfaith meeting as this would occur. There are many misguided people in all our faiths who see sameness and control and religious domination as God’s will and the only end goal of religion. These are the ones who judge and condemn and hate (and even kill) in God’s name. These are the things that God has specifically told us not to do, but instead to love and forgive and welcome (and give life to) one another.  

These that distort and subvert God’s words and God’s will are religious (and political, really,) extremists, fanatics that will have no other than the destruction of their neighbor, whom they see as their enemy and, therefore, God’s enemy.

We can see this kind of religious extremism every day in Topeka with people who hold up brightly colored signs that say, “Hate,” “Separate,” “Condemn,” “Judge.”  –Yet, these people, too, we must and will remember and pray for today.

  What brought us to this day, when we remember the tragedy of 9/11 is the tragedy that we cannot / we will not live together in peace. It is the tragedy that our religions of love and acceptance and peace can be twisted and used to promote hate and destruction and war in God’s name.

 So, today, together, in this place, in God’s name, we—faithful Jews, Muslims and Christians—gather to say, “ Enough!” Enough of hate; enough of destruction; enough of war. We gather to say: we will have peace. We will have love. We will have acceptance and respect for one another as God’s children.

 We will walk together in a spiritual discipline that involves all of us, not attempting to subdue the other or become just like each other, conforming to one mindset, personality, political identity, belief or religion, but journeying alongside each other with respect for each other, becoming comfortable with each other by getting to know each other, learning from each other, all of us staying the course even in difficult times, because we know, and understand, that we are brothers and sisters and children of one God. We are citizens of the same nation, stewards of the world and subjects of kingdom of God, walking together a path that encourages a shared journey. 

We need not fear the extremists in our faith who call us to separation and hate, violence and oppression. They cannot win. They have never won. For they do not speak the truth. They do not walk in light. All that they do is in vain. For, in the end, it is God’s truth and God’s light and God’s people that will prevail. In God’s time justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Today, we pray for those who have died and we remember them in joy. Their mortal bodies may have fallen to senseless acts of darkness, but their spirits live in the light of God’s eternal kingdom –and love and peace and care. 

We pray also for all who live.

Let us today commit ourselves to God’s ways for his people: the way of love, not hate; the way of hope, not despair; the way of truth, not lies; the way of belief, not doubt; the way of faith, not certainty; the way of tolerance, not arrogance; the way of diversity, not bigotry; the way of freedom, not oppression.

  The way of peace, where we can beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall not rise up against nation. And we will study war no more.

 In the Name of God,

Let it be so.

Amen. Amen. And Amen.

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