Thursday, July 21, 2005
We've lost one more member of pop culture. James Doohan, better known as the character he played, Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery Scott has gone on to the "Final Frontier".
I make no secret of my affinity for the Star Trek mythology. I was raised on it. I've been enchanted by it. Gene Roddenberry's vision of what could be summoned the best of humanity's capacity at a time when the world was falling apart.
We need more dreams and visions of what we can become. Lord knows, we're way too good at telling each other how we're all going to hell in a handbasket.
While most folks think that the Enterprise was Cpt. Kirk's ship, make no mistake about it, she belonged to her Chief Engineer. There had to be someone who could make it do more than the specs suggested it was capable of. There had to be someone to repair the damage done by the Klingons or Romulans. There had to be somebody to offer escape when the crew was in peril on planets below.
The line "Beam me up, Scotty," never appeared in The Original Series. Some folks find that hard to believe. It just seems like it should.
James Doohan was an actor. He was also a WWII vet who participated in D-Day with the Royal Canadian Army. Doohan has been quoted as saying that the part of "Scotty" was 99% Jimmy Doohan, and 1% Scottish accent.
We are not the characters we play, either in Hollywood or in life. As William Shatner suggested in an SNL skit some years ago, fanatic Trekkies really ought to "get a life." He's right on many fronts. One of the things about mythologies though, once established, there is a life and nature of them that transcends the individual. The role, the actor is a conduit to communicate larger, more universal truths.
Be we clergy or lay people, as we embrace the mantle of faith, it is not we who are holy, but Christ in us. We are conduits of grace in our living. Maybe we even surprise ourselves at our capacity to be graceful. Hopefully, we shock ourselves at our propensity to be disgraceful. But isn't it refreshing to think, if properly focused, that the spirit we bring to our varied roles can impact others? Isn't that evangelism? To let Christ be made known through us?
So, rest in peace, Jimmy Doohan - "here's to ya, laddie."
I appreciate your work, and your character.
We need warp speed, now, Scotty. Somebody fix the engines!
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
"The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."Martin Luther King Jr.
How can this be? How is it that national politics have become so, well, religious? Studies of the electorate show that 1 in 5 of the almost 120 million people who voted represented the conservative, evangelical Christian movement, and that, overwhelmingly, they voted for President Bush. On a purely political basis, that’s a formidable voting block, and the Democratic Party needs to wake up and realize that, and, unless it really wants to contribute the national dialogue on important issues for the generations to come, something’s gotta change.
Does God desire a particular candidate be elected? If so, does that not also make one wonder if God wanted the Red Sox to win the World Series (maybe God pitied them for losing for so long, I know I did), or Louisville to beat the Tigers (based on how our defense couldn’t make one stop, not one, makes me wonder about that one).
As I’ve come to think about it, I’m of the mind that we’re just as quick to credit God for some things as we are to blame God for others. What’s the difference in saying, “it’s God’s will” when the tragic and inexplicable occurs, and saying the same when we win – a ballgame or an election? It’s really two sides of the same coin.
Sure, the precedent of the theocracy is as old as the time of Samuel. The people of God decided they needed a king, an earthly manifestation of the One who demanded of them no idols and no other gods before the God of Israel. God seemed to be saying, “You don’t need a king, you need me, but if you want a king, you’ll get one, and everything that comes with it, including the human capacity for sin.” That’s when Israel’s problems started.
We don’t live in a theocracy. Never have. And let’s not confuse “freedom of religion” with theocracy.
Democracy at its best always has a little bit of the ugly in it. But even that is much preferred to some other form of governance, including a monarchy, which, as I recall my American history, revolt evolved to revolution because of a king. Ironically, wasn’t it King George the III?
In this comes my confession, I’ve come to believe that blind allegiance to any political leader is a dangerous thing. There is a difference between having a political preference, strong resonance in that candidate’s politics and policies, and speaking of that person in larger than life terms. And when I see “W the President” stickers, hats, and T-shirts, it smacks of idolatry to me. I don’t have a problem with W’04 stickers. They seem appropriate in a campaign. It’s the “the” that’s the problem.
What I understand God doing is instilling within each of us the capacity to make political decisions based upon what we see the Realm of God looking like. And on this point good people can disagree. That’s o.k. I don’t have to have a country where we are all in lock step.
So, whether your guy won Tuesday or lost -don’t blame God nor give God the credit for it. Now, Karl Rove? That’s another matter altogether. Even those who despise his politics have to admire his savvy.
True enough, the people have spoken. And democracy as process must be honored and respected. The presidency is an office to be honored, but the person in it should never be exalted to a place higher than the office intended. Our founding fathers could have established a monarchy, but intentionally chose otherwise because their own experience showed them how dangerous it could be. Certainly, though, given the times in which we live, we absolutely should be in prayer for all of our leaders, including President Bush.
Oh, the other thing about biblical theocracies with earthly kings, God also raised up prophetic voices, a kinda “check and balance,” if you will. If your candidate lost, and you’re angry about it, get over it. If there is any anger to be had it must be that which is born of righteous anger whenever leadership (Democratic, Republican or whatever) instills policies that harm the least among us, or whenever power is self-serving. When that happens, prophets will rise up and the call will sound forth. Be sure that it’s a righteous anger you bring and not your own, otherwise you perpetuate a cycle of “slash and burn” politics that further marginalizes the forgotten.
Monday, July 18, 2005
There's a scene in the movie, "Mass Appeal," that lives with me as I serve in ministry.
Therefore, be it resolved, that The United Methodist Church dedicate itself to a ministry of Christ-like hospitality and compassion to persons of all sexual orientations, and to a vision of unity through openness to the spiritual gifts of all those who have been baptized into the Body of Jesus Christ.
Adopted 2000, The United Methodist Book of Resolutions
The story, written by Bill C. Davis, is of a popular parish priest, Father Tim, who fancies his popularity more than preaching the radical nature of the Gospel. Deacon Dolson, an upstart, edgy seminarian with a past that frames the story is all about being radical. Father Tim is charged with softening the rough edges of Deacon Dolson. As you might expect, they each learn something from the other, and, in the end, the deacon teaches the priest something of ultimate meaning.
After Deacon Dolson's first sermon, that started as a warm, "feel good about life" homily, but then gave way all too quickly to one of righteous indignation, Father Tim, unwilling mentor to his assigned apprentice, asks the young deacon about his anger at the congregation:
"Why do you hate them so much?"
Dolson responds, "I don't hate them, I love them because I can see what they can be?"
Father Tim asks, "But what about what they are? Can't you love them for what they are?"
The great irony here is that it is from the mouth of the one more interested in keeping status quo and remaining popular comes the prophetic word that he would have to embrace himself toward his student when truths come out later about who he is and the life he has lived.
These past weeks, the stories of people whose sexual identity has been placed in the forum of the public arena through the work of a "ministry" called Love in Action, has not been lost on me. I serve a congregation that seeks to live out Christian hospitality as expressed by our Lord and confirmed by The United Methodist Church. And as I understand it, that includes people who are gay and lesbian. To be sure, the UMC is conflicted over this issue. I understand that. Our Book of Discipline contains words that are at once prohibitive and welcoming on the question of homosexuality.
Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons. PAR. 161. II. THE NURTURING COMMUNITY - THE 2004 BOOK OF DISCIPLINE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Some might call it equivocation. Taken together with the resolution that appears at the top of this post, it's easy to think that way. I believe it to be more the honest tension in understanding and living the mandates of the Gospel. I've come to believe the reasons for such conflict have more to do with politics, power and fear of human sexuality than they do the Gospel of our Lord Christ.
Love In Action, a program to "de-gay" people whose identity is a certain way (that is, not the way they think they should be), is, in short, a tragically misguided use of energy. The sad thing is that I believe these folks think they are doing something good.
But what of loving people for who they are, not what you prefer they be?
Granted, we have some words in the Hebrew Bible and Paul's epistles that are prohibitive. But that's a bit of pick and choose, isn't it?
C'mon, you know that we don't practice the Levitical codes as prescribed - and Paul is, well, Paul (to that point, however, I want it clear that Paul's contribution to the Church is often discounted by the progressive end of the church, and it shouldn't be). "Good Christian folks" may say they believe in the Bible from top to bottom (which is to say completely and inerrently), but you start enacting some of that code in your daily life and you'll start singing a different tune. I'm not suggesting we discard biblical passages at our pleasure, but as it is with much of this chronicle of faith, we must assess aspects of it from the standpoint of what was and what is.
Any issue of human sexuality make the Decalogue? Yes - adultery (dealing the breaking covenantal promises); and covetousness (discontent with what you've been entrusted and lusting for something/someone else).
What of the words of Jesus? What did he say about being gay?
Not one thing.
Plenty about false piety, use/misuse of money, failure to keep promises. Plenty still about misuse of power, exploitation of the powerless, especially children - but anything about who you can and cannot love? Not so much.
The Church has come to a place of understanding human sexuality as a gift of God. Granted, it is too often exploited and demeaned (as are far too many of God's gifts).
For Christians, we are guided by that which Jesus said is most important. Framed in the Hebrew Bible and recast as only Jesus could do - "Love God with all you have and are, and love your neighbor as yourself."
That's it. All this focus on gay and straight folks, activitst judges, blind support of a president and a war is so much diversion from this one simple, yet ultimate expectation of God for us. As a teacher of mine once said, "it's not that this Christianity thing is so hard to comprehend, it's just so darned inconvenient."
I'm honored to serve a church that, contrary to some of my own colleagues who suggest otherwise, is not the "gay-Methodist" church. Rather, it's the Church where being gay doesn't matter any more than it does whether you're white, black, Latino, old, young, male or female, Democrat or Republican. We're hardly perfect, and we're struggling to live into the fullness of what Christian hospitality means, but I think it can be said with integrity that our hearts, minds and doors are open.
Brandon, one of my parishioners, a gifted child of God (who sings with a heck of a lot of soul for a white boy!), has offered himself in profound ways to stand against the LIA tide of fear and homophobia to basically say the he is both gay and Christian. I'm proud to be his pastor. I'm proud of him not because he's gay, but because he's come to that place we all seek - to know who we are and whose we are, and from that, be compelled to make a witness in a world of self-righteous judgment and fear, to announce that there are sanctuaries, few though they be, to take in the refugee (by that, I mean those who've been told they no longer have a place to belong).
Despite what he has endured, or maybe because of it, he has truly put God's LOVE through him, IN ACTION.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
In other words, he earned it. He maximized his gifts, honed his skills and matched that with the moment. And this is not about whether I'm a Yankee fan or not (and I'm not). It's about an era of the sport that has not lived up to the best of the legacy it was entrusted. But really-- Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in the same lineup. Are you kidding me?
It's not that current ball players are bad guys. But when the records achieved by Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron are shredded as they are, somebody's got to say "yea, but the game's a bit different." It truly is not the same game being played.
This weekend, Jack Nicklaus finished his professional golf career. In his mid 60's, feeling like he's no longer able to compete, he'd rather walk away than be ceremonial in the game he championed. Tiger Woods is halfway to Jack's major tournament victories. That is the record he covets more than any other. And make no mistake, Tiger is a phenom. But Jack is the first to say that the game is not the same as it was in his time. Equipment is different. Courses are different. The game is much more about power than creative finesse as it was then. Still a great game to watch, just different. And as dominant as Tiger can be in today's game, even if Tiger surpasses Jack's record, to think that Jack was second in 19 of the majors he didn't win bespeaks a level of skill in a game the likes of which we'll not see again. And while we honor what was, it really is o.k. to move on. I think that's Jack's witness in letting go.
So, too, can it be said of baseball (and maybe so, too, can it be said of life - what's that t-shirt say? "Baseball is Life"). Change is not bad. In fact, it is necessary. But change never forgets where it came from - and the nature of the change pays honor to the ones who went before.
And of this point there can be no doubt - honor, integrity and character must remain constant.
For without them, you cheapen the legacy left you by those who've gone before, and you've left nothing of meaning for the ones who follow you to pick up. In "churchspeak," we're called to be good stewards of what we've been given.
Like I said, Roger Maris is still the man!
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Wasn’t that long ago – maybe six weeks. He said it. I don’t know what clicked in him, but out it came from his mouth – Jack, our three year old, passed by me on the couch, reached up, hugged me, and said, without any solicitation from me, “I love you, Daddy.”
By way of reminder, his previous response to our expressions of love was, “yes, you do love me.”
Well, it goes without saying, that little twerp melted my heart, again. And while he still says, “yes, you do love me,” on his terms and in his time, usually the unexpected one, that he’ll tell me of his love for me. I’ve come to believe it’s the time I most need to hear it.
There’s something remarkable, even miraculous, watching your children grow up. In this, though, experiencing him “speak love” is so enchanting – so heart stirring.
He’s growing in so many ways right now – claiming the “I” pronoun is among the most surprising. This little conversationalist is right there in the middle of what’s going on and participating in the dialogue. He’s not only present – he’s engaged in the dynamic of our family. And while we’ve done this twice before, it’s still just as amazing with Jack.
You know, our Lenten journey culminates in a week depicting the most dramatic elements of the Christian narrative. Through it, though, don’t you hear God, our Heavenly Parent, saying in more ways than we can count, “I love you?”
And if this Lenten time is one of growth for each of us, and for all of us, how then are we able to claim that love of God expressed so powerfully for our sake – so that we can chart trajectories of reciprocity? (Boy, doesn’t that sentence sound a bit elitist!?)
The freedom and release of Easter is not just Jesus from the tomb, it’s for us to live as resurrection people in the now. It is for us to not only claim love, speak love, but live love in the name of the One who loves us.
My children are guiding my spiritual formation. And Jack reminds me again and again, that I must speak love and live love.
“Loving One, Holy God, Mother, Father, Friend – I love you, may I be the love I claim in you.”
You know, videotape, a rather recent convention in the documentation of the affairs of the world, is helpful only to a point. After a while, we no longer are witness to history. It becomes undignified, even strangely voyeuristic as we watch the last moments of the unsuspecting. How many home videos do we need to see of death’s unstoppable approach to understand that something cosmic, psychic, and yes, even spiritual has and is occurring?
And while many would prefer to wrestle with theological issues of theodicy (that old question stating that if God is good then why do bad things happen - surely, Rabbi Harold Kushner has helped us get a handle on that one), I’d prefer to focus on something that has inspired me as to the truth of humanity’s better angels.
There’s a moment in Star Wars that I’ve thought about since this happened (actually, I’ve thought about a parallel in an original Star Trek episode, but I don’t want to freak you out by the fact that I could name the episode and it’s airdate in the late 1960’s). In Star Wars, there’s this moment when the Empire tests their planet obliterating weapon on an unsuspecting planet, and, in an instant rendered it dust. Jedi Knight, Obi Wan Kenobe, half a galaxy away, “feels” it. He feels the loss, the “disturbance in the force.” He didn’t have to witness it personally to know its impact not only on the innocent, but on the relationship on all that is, including him.
Have you felt it? Do you feel it? This is hell. Death in unfathomable numbers – children, blessed children of God swept away. Perhaps we might know something of biblical lament when we think upon this text used in response to Herod’s slaughter of the innocents:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’ Matthew 1.18And yet, in this the darkest of moments, there is a light that pieces it. It is the light of empathy that motivates monetary aid (and folks need to back off the President on his timing of response – this is no time for politics). It’s the light that comes in the dogged determination to get to the suffering and relieve them. It is the light of millions, maybe billions of members of the human race, who, in the ways they know how, have taken a moment of pause to pray for the lost, the suffering, and grieving. Why? Because they “feel” the loss on a level that is personal, it is the expression of the ties that bind the human family one to another.
I read an article last week about the earthquake that produced the tsunami. One scientist said that its magnitude and location literally impacted the rotation of the planet. That’s an awesome and scary thought. But, in matters of the spirit, I couldn’t agree more in its truth.
Jesus said that we are “the light of the world,” and that such light should never be hidden. If we’ve interpreted that reading only in evangelistic terms, we’ve missed it. We are light called to pierce the darkness of humanity’s condition and respond to what we find with overwhelming care and love.
Maybe our empathy and the light of concern that shines for those we don’t know can inspire us to more fully respond to our neighbors we do, whose devastation may not be of global scope, but whose universe is racked with suffering, violence and oppression. You are the light – so let it shine!
Last week during the Bruce School Essay contest (Bruce Elementary School is our partner school and neighbor in midtown Memphis - the children of this school, of diverse ethnicities, and socio-economic classes make up the parish geography of the church I pastor), I mentioned to gathering that Saint John’s was in prayer for the Bruce School family as they grieved the loss of one of their own, nine year old Acquiria, who was killed in her home the previous week. Compounding the trauma of the death for her family was that while they were tending to her and saying their goodbyes, someone broke into their home and robbed them.
An account was set up at First Tennessee to help this family. Among the family Acquiria left was her identical twin sister, Acquirius. We’ve heard much about the mystical link between twins, one can only wonder what this little girl is thinking, feeling.
I offered prayer the night of the essay contest, and sent the gathering on their way, when Laurie Graves, who coordinates much of the after school work we do at Saint John’s, came up to me and said, “Johnny, you may not remember, but Acquiria was here almost every time we did something. She was one of St. John’s Brownies. Laurie wanted me to be sure to let Bettye Masters know the connection because as you know, she loved all the children of the community so much.
She was right, I hadn’t remembered, or not ever sure I knew that. That is, until Laurie sent me some pictures of Acquiria and her sister laughing and making arts and crafts here in our building. Yes, they are ours. And yes, the grief of violent death of one so young should shock and outrage us.
It should also move us to do more than we’ve done thus far. For the next two Sundays, I’m asking you to consider an above and beyond gift. Place it in an offering envelope that you’ll find in the pew, and mark it for Acquiria fund. We will then forward what is collected to First Tennessee in her memory.
There’s a story I used to tell in sermons about a time during the war in Sarajevo when a man, holding a child injured in the fighting, hails a reporter in his car to catch a ride. “We need the hospital, now, my child is dying.” The reporter obliges, helps them in and rushes toward the hospital. But it’s too late, and the man holding the child keeps saying, “hurry, my child is dying.”
When they arrive at the hospital, it is too late, and the child is dead. The reporter, trying to console the man, overhears the man tell the doctors that he found the wounded child in the street and tried to get to the hospital as soon as he could.
The reporter interrupted and said, “I thought you said this child was yours.”
And the man’s response, “they’re all our children, they’re all our children.”
I became familiar with the song “Prayer of the Children,” through my band, Glad River. It was written by one observant in the hell of war in Sarajevo. The lyric seems especially appropriate today as we remember all the children who are ours, and especially today, Acquiria—
Can you hear the prayer of the children
on bended knee, in
the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry,
turning heavenward toward the light.
Cryin' Jesus help me to see the
mornin' light of one more day,
but if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take.
Can you feel the hearts of the children
aching for home, for something of their very own?
Reaching hands with nothing to hold
on to, but hope for a better day, a better day.
Cryin' Jesus help me to feel the love again in my own land,
but if unknown roads lead away from
home, give me loving arms, away from harm.
Can you hear the voice of the children
softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
blood of the innocent on their hands.
Cryin' Jesus help me to feel the sun again upon my face.
For when darkness clears, I know you're near,
bringing peace again.
Da-li cu-je te sve dje-cje mol-it-ve?
Can you hear the prayer of the children?
Lyric and Music by Kurt Bestor
There’s just enough “anti-establishment” in me to be dangerous.
My childhood was one where I saw the teenagers of the late 60’s – early 70’s rebel against a military police action in Southeast Asia. Protest was in the air. The death of Camelot shattered a perceived innocence made incarnate by Ward and June Cleaver – “and the Jerry Mathers as the Beav.”
The music of that era (still among my favorite) dared to protest the world. Amplification and Distortion were the metaphoric instruments of the perception of how things were.
The recent revelations of Mark Felt as “Deep Throat,” and the policy wonks of that time reliving, defending and revising the early 70’s has given me a view of the landscape of the past 30 plus years – and there’s often an a distrust of the base of power, wherever it sits, be it political or religious, because surely the axiom “Absolutely power corrupts absolutely,” is as true as true can be.
So, Wednesday of Annual Conference, as I stood before the body to offer our report for Lakeshore, I prefaced my comments with, “I’m wearing a suit four days running, now – this is either a sign that the end of days is come, or that I’ve sold out to the man.” Those in the house who know me, got it, and appropriately laughed. My dad, seated on the front row of the Conference, would more likely say, “no, he’s just decided to grow up, thank God!”
I share the back-story to say this. Despite the renegade I’d like you to think I am - I’m committed to the connection that is The United Methodist Church. I also believe that the connection is in dire need of reform. To that end, I’m calling St. John’s to become engaged in both commitment to our connection and reform of it in ways we’ve not since generations past.
One of the great issues of the connection at large, and our annual conference in particular is our lack of support for our “connected ministries.” This is among the things we do through our “apportionments.” The “apportionment” is our fair share of what the body had said is our mutual area of focus in ministry, our program, the support of our clergy, and the global reach of ministry to which we are called. The apportionment is that thing we accept not as “church tax” (which is a gross mischaracterization of what this is) but as opportunity to belong to each other under the banner that united we are more able to do great things for the Kingdom of God than we can individually.
It is through our apportionment that “we” have built Africa University. It is through the apportionment that we have continued to support historically black colleges built as institutions to advance the educational opportunities of African-Americans after the Civil War. It is through the apportionments that clergy who have given their lives for the service of God through the church have a pension. It is through the apportionment that we support Reelfoot Rural Ministry, Lakeshore, Lambuth University, United Methodist Neighborhood Centers.
Do these exclude our commitment to what is local? No. Truth is, we need to be doing more for that which is local and global. Our Church budget does not even provide enough for “the gift of a day” at the Church Health Center. Our commitment to MIFA, School of Servant Leadership, Bruce School, Friends for Life and those things yet dreamed demand of us intentionality and resolve.
Love multiplies, it is said, and so, too, should our commitment to those ministries within our reach even as we reach with sister and brother United Methodists the world over making real John Wesley’s statement that “the world is my parish.”
As we participate in the connection, we have a valid stake in its reformation. Standing apart and wishing it were so demands no courage or faith on our part.
There’s another song of 30 plus years ago that comes to my mind when I think of what it right about our connected ministry:
For united we standDivided we fallAnd if our backs should ever be against the wallWe'll be together, together, you and I.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
"Thoughts and Reflections" has been the title of my pastor's article since I began in appointed parish ministry in 1987. At the time, there was a pastor of some reknown in the conference I serve who made hay with "these are my perceptions," and while I had some perceptions of my own, I, in no way, wanted to have my writings confused with his.
"Captain's Log, Stardate: 71205.2127"
Anyone who knows me also knows how entirely laughable that thought is that I'd be concerned about there being any confusion!
With the advent of this medium to communicate, I've found it much less needy to have something in hard copy to convey my thoughts. Truth is, over these years, I've had something to say--other times, like when it's deadline time for the newsletter, I just needed to say something!
I've long wanted to continue a conversation of my thoughts on issues relative to life (be it the story of my own or just life in general), politics, pop culture, theology, the church (be it the one I currently serve, St. John's, or just the church in general), social issues of our time, or just what it means to be a United Methodist minister in the Memphis Conference - one who aspires to be nothing more than that because I'm sure that's the role I've been called to fill.
This medium will now be my outlet for such expression. And it will be, if nothing else, a means to journal and reflect aloud, in the public forum. We need more avenues to confer, not fewer. This is what I hope to accomplish here.
This day, as I write my first entry into my blog, I also wrote my last hard copied "article" for my church newsletter. I'm adding it to this entry to hold the continuum of my thoughts. I'll also be adding previously written material to frame where my mind has been the past months.
So, we're off and running, and this journey will take me in many different places. I invite you to take it with me.
Oh, and thank you both for reading.
We Will Be Safe Harbor
What in the name of all that is holy are we doing to our children in this country? I used this line in my sermon last Sunday; it seems we’ve gone from praying for our children to preying on them.
It all hit me last week and I’ve not been able to get the images of children abducted, savagely violated, and murdered out of my head.
Did you see the video last week of Shasta Groene, the little girl from Idaho, who has abducted and rescued? It’s just been confirmed that her brother, Dylan, was murdered. Dylan was the same age as my middle child.
In this video, from a convenience store, she walks in, with her molester, and as he’s reading the newspaper, she’s walking up and down each row of the store. And whenever she comes upon an adult, she stops, looks up and gives a brief stare, as if to say, “Please notice me.” And no one does.
Are we even surprised by one more “Amber alert” anymore? Are we surprised that we have to have something called and Amber alert? Where is Natalie Holloway? And don’t you resonate with the pain of her mother when you see her on TV.?
And then, what of the many whose names we’ll never know, and whose cases will never make the news. Tragically, there are far too many more of those? What of the ones within arm’s reach of our congregation? What of the ones who live not with the abuse of individuals, but the abuse of a society that has pushed them to the margins and left them to learn life’s hard lessons alone?
What is it in our culture that creates the environment for adult to enact such violence on children?
Over the past year or so, I’ve asked Lora Jean to make us compliant with policies and procedures adopted by the Conference to insure that of all places, the Church will be a safe harbor for anyone, especially children, who come within the walls of the church, or within the reach of our ministry. It’s called Safe Sanctuaries. The policy was adopted by the Church Council in its Spring meeting, and I commend the task force who worked with Lora Jean to bring to this to the fore.
Unfortunately, such a policy is necessary because we’ve seen that the church has not always been a safe place for the most vulnerable among us.
There are far too many Shasta’s looking up at us and pleading “notice me, please.” Will you? Will we? At Saint John’s, our answer will be, so help me God, “yes.”