Saturday, December 23, 2017

Still Waiting in Hope

On Thursday, in darkness, I read the words of Isaiah
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyesand clever in their own sight.  . . who acquit the guilty for a bribe,but deny justice for the innocent.
In darkness I read of the tax bill passed and celebrated by those elected to serve the common good: a bill written by lobbyists, approved by legislators who didn't take time to read it, guaranteed to increased the national debt and to deepen the obscene divide between wealthy and working poor. 

In the celebration I heard echoes of Isaiah: woe to those who call evil good and good evil.

2700 years ago, in a period of disruption and deepening injustice, prophetic voices, Isaiah among them, spoke out against dishonest leaders, corrupt business practices, oppression of strangers, misuse of workers. 

They warned of famine, drought, barren land, social upheaval, danger from all sides. The situation they described was bleak; the days beyond, they said, would be harder still.

But somewhere in the future, beyond the hardship and destruction, they foresaw a new leader, a righteous shepherd, someone who would bring healing instead of harm, light instead of darkness. They spoke of a future day of justice, of plenty, when even the poor would have their own land to farm, their own homes to live in, when those who had been hungry would be filled with good things, when those who had oppressed would be brought low, and equity restored.

Hundreds of years later,in another time of disruption and injustice, in a time of almost global corruption and oppression, new voices spoke: angel voices, saying “The time is now.” “The promised one is coming.”

And a young woman from the edge, a powerless no one, found herself waiting as the angel’s voice took shape within her, then gave words herself to what she knew was coming:

Virgin of the Annunciation,
Fra Angelico, Florence, 1400s
“From now on all generations will call me blessed,
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
   holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.”

Her son Jesus - the promised child, the “word made flesh,” strange man of love and kindness who faced down the powerful, welcomed the outcast, healed the sick, raised the dead – Jesus fulfilled some of the prophecies made, but not all. He brought healing, but not justice. He restored individuals, but not nations. He calmed the sea, but left the desert places dry.

He spoke of his kingdom as here, but coming. Now, and not yet.

So some rejected him. He was not the One they’d been waiting for.

And some accepted the partial kingdom and assumed that was all there was: individual salvation. Personal healing. A promise of eternal life in the sweet bye and bye. 

The rest that was promised – justice, restoration, redemption of nations, lands, all things – too good to be true. Leave it for heaven.

Advent, these days of waiting for Christ to come, of remembering the weeks before his birth, is a time of longing. 

“Come thou long awaited Jesus, Come to set thy people free.” “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”

We smother the waiting, the longing, in hurry: gift lists, parties to attend. Decorations, Christmas cards.

And we lose the connection between this time of disruption, unrest, injustice, and the promises made so many years ago.

Nativity, Fritz Eichenberg, 1954
But when we pause, we find the longing lingers.

For a way of life more satisfying, more fair. 

For leaders more concerned for those they lead than their own financial gain. 

For a wise use of resources, that leaves the land more healthy than it started. 

For real community, real connections, honest conversation.

What am I waiting for this Christmas? What am I longing for?

Much of this post was written in 2011, during the Occupy movement, during my own first steps into political engagement. 

I'm amazed to see how much further into inequity we've gone.

And far I've been drawn into the political dynamic.

And how much more deeply I'm longing for the vision Mary sang of. 

I’m longing for those who claim the name of Christ to live as agents of his kingdom. 

Yes, there are some, faithful followers, using their gifts, resources, time, energy, to demonstrate the kingdom Jesus told us was unfolding among us. I've been blessed to talk with leaders in POWER Interfaith, working for a living wage, for equitable school funding.

And encouraged by colleagues involved with the Pennsylvania Council of Churches - Advocacy, daily overwhelmed by the challenge and need.

And I'm always, ever thankful for my own church community, quick to feed the hungry, clear in opposition to oppressive policy.

But there are others, far too many others, who claim the name of "Christian" while promoting agendas of greed, environmental harm, penalties to the poor, more and more and more power to the rich. I carry that grief with me: "Woe to those who call evil good." 

We pray, week after week, in churches around the globe, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” then hurry on our way with no thought of what that might mean, now, here, in this place we call home.

Isaiah prophesied seven hundred years before Christ:
   “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,    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus, standing in the synagogue at the start of his years of visible ministry, read that passage, then told all listening: “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But not all prisoners and oppressed were set free. Not all blind recovered sight. The poor are still waiting to hear the good news.

Jesus healing a leper, sketch by Rembrandt
I’m waiting for that. Longing for that.

And I’m waiting for those of us who follow Christ to live out the knowledge that while Jesus met, and meets, with people one by one, the intent was always to knit them into communities, families, the inter-woven, interdependent body of Christ, a visible community of light that extends around the globe, that reaches across time.

“Love each other,” Jesus said, again and again. And showed how to do it: touching lepers. Eating with sell-outs to the Roman regime. Allowing known prostitutes to touch him. Calmly crossing divides of race, religion, gender, to welcome and restore those who were rejected.

That’s what the church is supposed to look like. I see glimpses, now and then. But for the most part, the church is balkanized by race, politics, income level. Divided again and again over things like women in leadership, forms of baptism, liturgical nuance, exegesis of Genesis and Revelations.

Love each other? We look past each other – amputated body parts, ineffective in every way.

I long for Christians, myself included, to be real reflections of Christ. And I long for the church to be the church he had in mind a place of welcome, love, healing and generous equality.

And  yes – I long for, wait for, pray for Christ to come. I pray for him to come, to me, in me, through me, every day.

And I pray for him to come to his church, his people, to be visible, to be known.

But I pray, too, for him to come again as the righteous judge, the king of glory, the great I AM: the one who will hold the unjust leaders accountable.

To set this mess right. To restore justice. To set the prisoners free.

What am I waiting for, this advent season? I’m waiting for the fulfillment of the vision of the prophets so long ago, working toward it, longing for it, praying for it every day, living toward others as if it's already here:
He will teach us his ways,
  so that we may walk in his paths. . .
He will judge between many peoples
   and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
   and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
   nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
   and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
   for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

I set this blog down last spring as my work in Fair Districts PA became more demanding. 

You can find out more about that work on our website,, our Youtube channel, and a media webpage, Over the Line?, created by media outlets across Pennsylvania. 

I'll be speaking about Justice and Gerrymandering: Faith Perspectives on Redistricting Reform at my home church, Church of the Good Samaritan, on Feb. 4, to be videoed for use in adult forums in churches across the state. 

Please pray for me! God continues to lead, but I miss having time for reflection and fellowship and often feel far beyond my depth. I resonate with Isaiah: often overwhelmed, but willing to say "Here I am."

Earlier Advent posts:
Advent Three: Repentance and Return, Dec. 11, 2016

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Think. Pray. Vote.

As the righteous grow powerful, people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, people groan...
A king brings stability to a land by justice, but one who exacts tribute tears it down...
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern...
Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger...
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise quietly hold it back...
When a ruler is listening to lies, all of his officials tend to become wicked...
(from Proverbs 29)

The Bible is a highly political book, with a great deal to say about goals for good governance.

Again and again, prophets and psalmists make clear the unshakeable connection between justice, righteous behavior and shalom.

Rulers and nations, according to the prophets, are inevitably judged on how well they care for widows (powerless women), orphans (children without privilege or protection), aliens (immigrants and those without legal status), prisoners (guilty or not).

By any Biblical measure, we are not doing well.

Justice, righteousness and shalom are badly shaken.

The financial inequities in our country are staggering. The US now has the greatest income inequality of any developed nation. The top .1% has a larger share of income than at any time in history - edging out the robber baron era that preceded the Great Depression. Half the US population is now considered low-income, or in poverty.   

Yet policies under consideration in Washington, both for tax reform and health care, would channel more money to the wealthy, with little benefit, if any, to the poor or middle class.

Racial disharmony, allegations of sexual abuse, fraud and allegations of corruption, another mass shooting, and another: these are symptoms of deep brokenness.

Confidence in our democracy is at an all-time, dangerous historic low.

Only 20% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (4%) or “most of the time” (16%). 

This week, an American Psychological Association study on stress in America found: 
Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, slightly more than perennial stressors like money (62 percent) and work (61 percent), according to the American Psychological Association’s report, "Stress in America™: The State of Our Nation".
More than half of Americans (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember — a figure spanning every generation, including those who lived through World War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Yes: there's a connection between justice, righteousness, shalom.

The reverse works as well: injustice, unrighteous leadership, shattered shalom go hand in hand.

Tuesday is Election Day.

It's a year since our last election and I still find myself grieving: when we vote, we affirm and endorse the character of the one we vote for.

Last year many of my fellow Christians chose a vision of the future tragically at odds with the kingdom of God I've been working toward since childhood.

They affirmed behavior in direct contradiction of the virtues I faithfully memorized and pray to practice: gentleness, patience, goodness, self-control.

We are living through the fruit of that election and the political climate we've been sowing: anger, division, deepening distrust, policies cut loose from any pretense of public good.

Not that the 2016 election was the cause of our downward slide, but part of a troubling narrative: Loss of discernment. Failure to engage wisely. Eagerness to place blame. Willingness to swallow simple answers.

I hear from friends: "It's too hard to vote. I don't know the races, I don't know the people. It takes too much work to sort it out." 
All true. Completely true. 

We should not be voting for judges.

Or coroners.

We have too many races, too little information.

Even so: every judge will be deciding issues that impact our lives in ways beyond what we can see.

And every local official will set policy that will impact our communities for good or harm.

For any who claim to follow scripture, the calling seems clear, repeated in both Old and New Testaments (Isaiah 11 and Luke 4): 
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners.
We are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves: neighbors near and far, known and unknown, like and unlike.

Called to put their needs before our own, as the good Samaritan did on the dangerous road to Jericho.

And we are all called to live and work and pray toward a beloved community where slave and free, Jew and Gentile, every language, every shape, every beautiful shade of brown and beige is welcome, valued, nurtured, loved.

We are called to love rather than fear, listen rather than condemn, act as agents of reconciliation, mercy, peace and healing.

And since we are called to use the gifts we've been given for the good of others, we're called to use the political agency we've been given, which includes the privilege of voting.

Which means we're called to pray for wisdom and discernment.
It means noticing when our news commentators' voices shift to a tone that invites hysterical response and turning them off rather than fall prey to anger and division.

It means taking time to check out outrageous stories rather than trust slick mailers or partisan propaganda.

Or choosing not to believe the bad report when we don't know for certain if it's true.

Loving our neighbor means voting for the good of those we're called to care for: widows, orphans, aliens, prisoners.

Not just myself, my family, my party, people most like me.

So I'm looking for candidates concerned about affordable housing.

Good stewardship of land and water.

Reform of our inequitable school funding and our immoral bail/bond practices.

I no longer look for candidates who say what they think one party or the other wants to hear.

I'm looking for candidates whose biographies, activities, words and tone suggest an understanding of service, of commitment, of kindness, of grace.

Is there any evidence that they've served the poor?

Any evidence they've made hard choices?

Any hint of wisdom or mercy?

Please vote on Tuesday.

There are people who died to give us that privilege.

And there are millions of people around the globe would give anything to have that chance.

Please don't vote the party ticket.

Please take time to pray, think, read, decide.

And vote!

  • For information about statewide judicial races in PA, check here: ( In some states, and some parts of PA, this will give you a complete ballot. In most parts of PA, it won't).
  • Check here for information on the PA property tax ballot question.
  • For information on local races in PA, google your local League of Women Voters Guide 2017 with the name of your county. Some provide local information, some just county and statewide information.  
  • In Philadelphia, check the Committee of Seventy Voter's Guide.

For a list of past post on political issues check What's Your Platform

Some election highlights: 
Justice Matters October 15, 2015
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections  August 7, 2016
The Dance of Democracy  Nov 11, 2012
We the People   Sunday, November 13, 2016Love Your Neighbor, Vote with Prayer October 28, 2012

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Nightmare of Empire

Our church has been studying the last half of Genesis. My morning reading with Encounter with God this week landed in the same chapters. The title for yesterday morning's notes was ominously titled The Temptations of Empire:
As the famine continues and extends its reach across the whole region, Joseph achieves the pinnacle of his power in Egypt. He devised a system which kept mass starvation at bay, and the writer records that “he brought them through that year with food”. However, this success came at the price of the liberty of the people who were “reduced… to servitude”. The devising of an economic system which kept the population alive was a great achievement, but it resulted in a dangerous centralizing of power which, as the story of Exodus will reveal, led to oppression and slavery. 
Walter Brueggamann makes this point in a sermon called "The Fourth-Generation Sell-out." He asks why, given four sets of ancestral stories in Genesis (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph), God is spoken of repeatedly in reference to only three: “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." 

Why wouldn't Joseph, most powerful of the four, be included?

According to Brueggemann, Joseph’s name was dropped because he conducted the imperial work of Pharaoh. Given opportunity to be a blessing to the nations he became instead an agent of empire:  
Joseph proceeds to do more than interpret. He advises. He is a "consultant." . . . Joseph achieves for Pharaoh, by his rapacious, ruthless wisdom, a monopoly of food that becomes for Pharaoh an economic tool and a political weapon." Joseph victimized the Egyptians and eventually his own people as well.
 According to Brueggemann, "he becomes the manager and chaplain of the nightmare of empire." 

We are in a nightmare of empire of our own.

Our democracy, our country, our state, our political parties are all in upheaval: all held captive by powerful men who have compromised with evil and used privilege to harm those they promised to protect.

I believe many of our leaders start out, like Joseph, determined to serve well, then fall prey to temptation.

Surrounded by privilege and power, it's so tragically easy for them to lose their way.

I met one state representative who never stays in Harrisburg because, he says, "It's too easy to be sucked in. To think it's normal to be wined and dined by lobbyists. To think it's okay to use power to maintain my own position."

I've spoken with legislators who were genuinely thankful when they lost a race for re-election: "I'm not sure I realized how dysfunctional it was until I was forced to step away."

The people of Joseph's day had no choice about who ruled them. 

They had no say in the way the drama played out. 

Struggling to survive, they acquiesced to Pharaoh’s power and Joseph's ruthless greed.

We do have a choice.

And the moral responsibility to watch, pray, learn, speak, vote.

Our choices impact not just us but those who have far less choice: children in impoverished communities, men and women incarcerated without fair trial or reasonable bail, refugees fleeing oppressive regimes, people in nations across the globe who watch with alarm as our country careens toward war with Korea or capriciously withdraws from carefully drafted attempts to manage pressing concerns.

On a global scale, our voices are loud.

Our choices matter.

Even off-year elections matter. 

They determine what kinds of policies will move forward, what tone will govern party platforms, what kinds of leaders will be encouraged on their way.

And conversations matter.

What we repeat. Who we applaud. What we hope for. How we pray.

I pray for leaders who demonstrate humility, wisdom, courage.

I pray for Christians able to hear, discern and speak the truth.

I pray we remember the command to love our neighbor and the promise that perfect love casts out fear. 

I pray for a platform of justice and mercy, a church that remembers God's heart for the poor, the defenseless, the stranger, the worker. 

We bid you, stir up those who can change things;
do your stirring in the jaded halls of government;
do your stirring in the cynical offices of the corporations;
do your stirring amid the voting public too anxious to care;
do your stirring in the church that thinks too much about purity and not enough about wages.

Move, as you moved in ancient Egyptian days.
Move the waters and the flocks and the herds
toward new statutes and regulations,
new equity and good health care,
new dignity that cannot be given on the cheap.
  (From Walter Brueggemann: A Prayer of Protest, 2010)  

Some earlier posts about political issues can be found here: What's Your Platform

Several that consider Walter Brueggemann's discussion of scripture and kingdom:
Anxious in America, February 19, 2011
An Alternative Narrative, February 10, 2013 

And one on voting: 
Who Is Allowed to Vote? September 21, 2014