Proverbs 14:15 MSG
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It had been agreed by the two governments of France and the United States that the French people would pay for building the statue that would become known as the Statue of Liberty and shipping her to the U.S. The Americans would raise the money to have her reassembled and erected, to create an appropriate location, and to build a pedestal for her to stand on.
But, in 1885, just a year before the work on the statue was to be completed, fundraising in the United States was going poorly. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World started a drive for donations to complete America’s end of the project. It attracted more than 120,000 contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar, but it was enough.
As part of that drive, poet Emma Lazarus penned the sonnet above. Once the money was raised, however, the poem was largely forgotten. Then, in 1902, the family of Lazarus, who had died in 1887, sought to memorialize her work and her dedication to the statue and all that it stood for. To that end, the last five lines of the poem were inscribed on a bronze plaque and placed inside the pedestal upon which the statue stands.
For over a hundred years the poem and the statue in which it now hangs has been a symbol of hope and possibility for the world, but now, sadly, the lamp beside the golden door has gone out. The door, itself, closed. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched, human refuse, the homeless, the tempest tossed are being turned away.
Well, say those who have dimmed the glow of her torch, it’s only for a few months, and that was a fine sentiment back in 1886, but things have changed. Those people are potentially dangerous. There are people in the world, out there, who want to see the United States destroyed. So we have to shut the door to immigrants, to refugees, and especially, to Muslims.
One cannot help but wonder how Isaiah might have responded to their fear and cowardice.
You invoke the name of God when you pledge allegiance to your flag but you turn away the tired and the poor?
You pride yourselves in the religiosity of your people but you turn your back upon the huddled, fearful, mistreated masses who yearn to breathe free?
You claim to be the most generous nation on earth but you make people wait and jump through hoops for a long as three years before you let them wade ashore? And now you want to extend that another four months?
Dangerous? Of course it’s dangerous. What act of charity has ever been without risk? When has generosity ever been totally free from danger? Where has hospitality ever been safe or empathy ever secure?
Name one person of faith in the Scriptures who didn’t live dangerously, in a constant state of threat, and the possibility of imprisonment or death. Did Abraham take the safe route when he picked up his family to start walking until God told him to stop? Did Moses do the safe thing when he said to Pharaoh, “Let my people, go?” Was David safe when he stood before Goliath or when he challenged Saul? Did not Esther take her life into her hands and agree to go before the king saying “…and if I die, I die.” Did Daniel waver even when faced with a den of lions?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “Our God can save us from your furnace of blazing fire, but even if he doesn’t, oh, Nebuchadnezzar, we will not bow down to your image.” Jesus new full well the dangers when he set his face toward Jerusalem. And Paul, well, I’ll let him speak for himself:
“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?
In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas set a guard on the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11: 24-31,33)
Being the People of God is, by definition, a dangerous business. Count, if you can, the number of Christians who have perished at the hands of nature or human persecutors, having committed no greater crime than sharing the good news off a loving God. Number, if you can, those who have been and are, even now, imprisoned for simply breathing Christ's name in places where it is forbidden. Yes, the work of the gospel is no less dangerous now than it was two thousand years ago, and it is to that very dangerous work that we are called. But we are not called to it alone. The promise of God is that an army of saints and martyrs will go with us. We will stand with the legions of righteousness and be named among the throngs of the faithful.
And God, the creator of the universe and master of all that is, will walk beside us and dry every tear from our eyes.
For whom should we pray? And how should we pray? And for what?
As Christians we believe in the efficacy of prayer. We believe that prayer changes people and things. That is to say God changes people and things and sometimes those changes happen in response to our prayers. And we believe that no one stands outside the transformative grace of God, so we pray for all to receive, be touched, and be transformed by that grace. We pray for God’s grace to reach into every aspect of their lives.
That, as they say, goes without saying.
Grace is unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Sometimes it is affirmation. Sometimes, not.
If someone we love is addicted to drugs, we can love, accept and forgive them. We can even affirm them as children of God and people of infinite worth. But we cannot affirm their behavior when they are using and doing those things which enable their addiction. Neither would we pray for them to succeed in those endeavors. Indeed, we might rather pray that they fail, for their own sake and the sake of all who love them and even those who don’t.
If we know someone is going to commit a crime we pray for them but we do not pray for them to succeed. Indeed, we pray that they fail. It is the loving thing, the only loving thing for which we can pray.
If we believe that the leader of our country is going to do things that are contrary to the ethos upon which our country has been built, things that will destabilize our country’s standing in the world that will hurt many people, those we love and even those from whom we are estranged, then we pray for him. We pray for him whether his name is Trump, or Obama, or Churchill. We pray for him whether his name is Hitler, or Pol Pot, or Pinochet, or Mao. We allow that no matter what his name, he stands within the reach of God’s infinite grace and we pray for him.
But we do not pray for them to succeed.
At the very least, we pray that those who are liable to be harmed by the actions or inactions of their country’s leaders will be protected or given the strength to endure through the injustice that is done to them. And, if we are confident in our view, to the degree that we are confident we have no moral or ethical choice but to pray that those leaders fail.
God is, after all, greater than our prayers. If those prayers are misguided or in error, God will correct them and, in his grace and love, forgive us for our mistake. God will know and allow that those prayers, right or wrong, were offered from a sincere attitude of love and a deep desire for the greater good and God will take that into account.
This is the assurance that comes to us in Jesus Christ and as Paul said, it is, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” (Ephesians 3:1)
I'm a preacher. Have been for about 35 years, now.
I tend to think in terms of scripture. I'm not a fundamentalist. I don't believe that every word of the Bible was dictated by God to be taken literally by every human soul who ever reads it in any time or place. It doesn't mean I want America to be a theocracy. It just means that scripture, especially the red letters of the New Testament, is the lens through which I tend to view the world. So it's only natural that I, occasionally, quote scripture when talking about politics, or economics, or art, or life, or whatever.
Some people are offended by those quotes. They call it cherry picking the Bible. But all quotes from scripture are not cherry picking.
If you have read the text and studied to determine its original historical setting... If you have compared the different translations and worked to discover the geographical location in which it was written and the one for which it was written, the audience, the purpose, the intent of the writer… If you have considered the literary context, if you have done all of this and determined that your situation or your problem, or your issue, is a comparable one… And you have determined that the text is illustrative or illuminative, and you quote that text, then you have engaged in exegesis (reading from) and that is a responsible and appropriate approach to the text.
If, on the other hand, you have formed an opinion based on some other data, some other philosophy, some other consideration, and then you go to the Bible to find a verse or a story or a quote that, lifted out of all of its contexts, seems to support you’re a priori opinion and you use that quote to support your opinion, that is cherry picking, or what scholars call, eisegesis (reading into), and what preachers call “proof texting.”
Cherry picking, or proof texting, or eisegesis, whatever you want to call it, is irresponsible, unethical, inappropriate, inauthentic, immoral, illegal, and fattening.
There are so many stories like this one floating around the internet that this one may very well be apocryphal but, be that as it may, I know that it is true.
It’s about the famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who was studying a group of remote Pacific Islanders. The small tribe lived in horrible poverty managing to eke out a rudimentary survival and their diet consisted almost solely of the fish they caught from the ocean and some sweet potatoes that they grew.
They were undernourished and illness seemed to be an ever present reality for them.
Yet, they also seemed quite content and happy.
Once a week they would gather driftwood and dead wood from the island and they would build a huge bonfire. They would bring out some beer they had made from the sweet potatoes and some drums and they would drink and dance until everyone had passed out or gone home, usually around dawn.
Mead asked the village elder how it was that, living in such poverty and squalor, they could be so happy that every week they would throw a party and dance the night away.
The elder answered, “We do not dance because we are happy. We are happy because we dance.”
Sometimes God calls upon us to do things not because the doing of them is fun, easy, or even effective. Sometimes God calls upon us to do things because doing them is the right thing to do. Sometimes we are called to fight the fight that cannot be won and treat the illness that cannot be cured.
As we moved through the holidays many of us probably found ourselves doing things that we didn’t necessarily want to do but we did them because it was the right thing to do. We visited elderly family or church members who didn’t even remember who we were and wouldn’t remember five minutes after we left. But we did it because it was the right thing to do.
We hosted parties and went to school programs and wrapped gifts and cooked special meals and spent more money than we intended to spend not because we were all gung-ho about doing any of these things but because, as it turned out, they were the right things to do.
It’s the same in the community and the church. We take on tasks that don’t excite us but need to be done. So we do them because doing them is the right thing to do.
The only question is not whether we should do these “right things,” but how do we know when a thing is the right thing to do? How do we know that, in doing these things, we will “fulfill all righteousness,” as Jesus put it to John the Baptist.
Well, that one, it turns out, is pretty simple.
We know when a thing is the right thing to do because it harmonizes with the red letters in our Bible. We know it’s the right thing to do because it’s something Jesus would have done. We know when it’s the right thing to do because God says so – in the scriptures, in the still small voice that comes to us in our moments of thought and reflection, in the sudden epiphany or the long sought after answer, in the voices of friends and family, in the witness of the historic church, and through our own faith experience.
One of my favorite pastors and teachers of all time was the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Barnadin.
More than anyone else, it was he who influenced my thinking about not just abortion but all life and death issues which Christians must face. He called us to what he called a “Consistent Ethic of Life.”
It is not enough, he said, to tout the sacred value of life when taking about abortion and then forget about it when talking about war, capital punishment, care of the terminally ill, genetics, and how we treat the poor.
If life is sacred in one area then it must be sacred in every area. One life cannot be “less sacred” than another. It is not enough to be pro-life on one thing; we must be pro-life in everything.
Cardinal Bernadin used the metaphor of a “seamless garment.” This, he said, is how the Christian ethic of life is constructed. It is a whole. There are no gaps or weaknesses.
We may disagree on the practical applications of this ethic. We may argue about how this ethic is to be lived out in the day to day world, but we all agree on the basic premise that all life is sacred.
I, for instance, believe that abortion is a tragedy and that we should work fervently to reduce the number of abortions in this country. But the lives of the unborn children are not the only lives that have value, here. The lives of the mothers and the doctors who treat them are valuable as well.
So I do not agree that we should use violence, intimidation, and the threat of prison to force these women to bring their pregnancies to term. I believe, instead, that we should be offering them alternatives and love and help and support. And I do not think that is contrary to a consistent ethic of life.
I believe that a consistent ethic of life requires us to actually live the commandment of Jesus to love our enemies and not shoot, bomb or torture them, even if that means that we will suffer for our choice.
I believe that a consistent ethic of life calls us to love people who aren’t like us -- people who have different color skin than ours, and people who have a different sexual orientation than ours, and people who belong to different political parties than we do.
I believe that a consistent ethic of life calls us to care about not just the length of a person’s life but the depth and quality of it as well. I believe that we are called to heal those who are sick or injured, and feed those who are hungry, and educate those who uneducated, even if it means that we have to do with less.
I believe that to do anything else is to be inconsistent in our Christian ethic.
Jesus had a word for inconsistency.
He called it hypocrisy.
And he considered it one of the worst sins of all.
Thanks to Cardinal Bernadin for calling us out of our hypocrisy to a consistent ethic of life.
The election of the Orange One vexes and troubles me.
How shall I respond to this attack on all that I value and hold dear?
Shall I become hateful and mean, filled to overflowing with the bitter bile of disappointment and resentment? I must admit that it is tempting. It would be nice to be on the offense after being on the defense for these past 8 years. It would be fun to make up ridiculous, absurd accusations to hurl at the Orange Pretender, knowing that no matter how unbelievable, how untrue they are, there will always be someone who believes them.
It is tempting not just because it would be fun, though. It is tempting because it would take no large amount of imagination to justify such behavior. I truly believe that our beloved republic is about to enter a dark and dangerous time under his leadership.
The danger lies not only in the bad judgement, the shortsightedness, the avarice and hubris, and simple meanness of which he has shown himself to be capable during the campaign. The greater and more realistic danger lies in the possibility that those who voted for him will see in this election permission to be as prejudiced, as proud, as mean spirited and crude as their candidate. They will, in their rush to spurn that which is “politically correct,” embrace apathy, insult, rudeness, and an utter lack of empathy as constitutionally protected rights, rights to which they are entitled and to which they can be proudly immune to critiism.
He has allowed the camel’s nose to enter the tent and it will surely not be long before antisemitism, racism, misogyny, and other forms of prejudice are considered the acceptable norm.
So, how shall I respond to this attack on all that I value and hold dear?
Well, I will not let this election change me and those things which I hold to be good and true. I will not play the game by their rules, rules which allow half-truth, innuendo, and groundless accusation to be proclaimed as fact.
I will not lie even if I know that people will believe it.
I will treat even the women who voted for him no differently than I will treat those who voted for her.
And, no matter how many times I hear it, I will not "get over it" if by "it" they mean injustice, prejudice, or the disregard of the poor, the powerless, the ignored, or the forgotten.
I will continue to believe that our country and our community will be better served when we are driven by these five caring ideas:
1. A stronger country (state, county, city, neighborhood)
2. A Broader Prosperity
3. A Better Future
4. An Effective Government; and
5. Mutual Responsibility
More about these five important values in coming posts.
Backward Hieronymus Black
This guy that I know, named Hieronymus Black
Has the most amazing knack
Of turning his head so it faces in
The direction that he has already been.
So it’s hard to get where he wants to be
‘Cause his past is all that he can see.
He trips, he stumbles, he walks into walls.
He has the most horrendous falls.
But never does Harry turn forward his head.
He says he prefers to look backward instead.
And though it’s a marvelous, wondrous stunt,
It would be better yet if his face, faced front.
Then he could go walking or running so fast!
Into the future instead of the past.
He could open his eyes! He could take in the sights
Of all of the possibles, maybes and mights.
But it never will be. Oh, alas and alack!
For Harry insists that his head face the back.
For a few weeks, I didn't wear a safety pin on my lapel because I thought of it as an empty symbolic gesture and empty gestures that have no teeth tend to bore and frustrate me. But I just read a little piece that explained what they mean, at least to that writer:
Apparently, this practice of wearing a safety pin started in the United Kingdom. As refugees were flooding into the country. Many British folk welcomed the refugees and did much to help them make homes for their families, find work, get around, and make a home in their new country. Others, however, chose to mock, insult, spit upon, threaten and even throw things at the newcomers.
So people of faith and good will felt the need to identify themselves as friendly, safe people that others could come to if they were afraid or needed help. This would be something subtle, yet visible. Nothing loud and obnoxious, but something clear and identifiable.
They settled on the safety pin -- a cheap, little, obvious symbol that they could wear on their lapels that said to others, "I am a safe person. I am approachable. If you are afraid, I will walk with you. If you are anxious, I will sit with you. If you are lost, I will help you find your way."
When the pin made its way across the pond to the U.S. it's meaning was broadened. For some, of course, it became a sign of defiance after Hillary Clinton lost the election to The Donald. But for most, the pin is a signal to ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, poor people, and others who feel marginalized that "I am a safe person who is willing to help."
I wish the cross was a symbol that said that but, sadly, it has been misappropriated by some entertainers, bigots, and narrow minded hypocrites so you never know what you've got when you see someone wearing a cross. Often, it's only jewelry.
I don't believe that all of the millions of people who voted for The Donald are racists, or homophobes or misogynists or bullies or bigots. But I'm afraid that the racists, homophobes, misogynists, bullies and bigots will believe that they are and take that as an affirmation of their disgusting views and and encouragement to act on them.
So today I'm wearing a safety pin on my lapel. It's not a political statement for me It's a demonstration and an offer of the kind of love that Jesus talked about and asked us to share.
Grace and Peace,
I've been writing blog entries for more than 40 years. I just didn't call them that and most of them didn't appear online. They were sermons, essays, poems, articles, editorials, op-ed features and journal entries that never got published beyond their narrow audience.
This blog, however, will end that. Here, I will be publishing, observations, essays, homilies, and other literatures that I hope to share. I plan to publish once per week and we'll see how that goes. If I enjoy the writing, and you, dear reader, enjoy the reading, then we shall call it a success and maybe I'll step up my output a little.
I look forward to this process and hope you find it to be edifying and, maybe even, inspiring from time to time.
Grace & Peace -
Dean Feldmeyer is the author of 5 novels, 4 non-fiction books, three plays, and over 100 essays, articles, poems, and short stories, some of which can be found on this web site.