Justice

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream                        Amos 5:24

This is hard. As I sit to write today’s reflection, I don’t know where to start- yet I feel that I need to. Our beloved nation faces daunting problems everywhere we turn. The COVID-19 crisis has wrecked health and the economy. Now, the incredible public viewing of the death of an African-American young man- another one- has revulsed the nation.

Cries for justice fill the air, and rightly so. The Minneapolis police officer who did this act was recently charged with 3rd degree murder and manslaughter. Some say that this is not a high enough charge for the heinous act, however, prosecutors are tasked with bringing a charge that is likely to bring conviction. Even if the officer is convicted, however, will that bring justice?

Once you have seen a video like we saw on the death of George Floyd, you cannot “unsee” it, as much as we would like to. It stands as the latest example of brutality in an American history of it toward African-Americans.

The vast majority of America’s police officers are dedicated, caring people who daily risk their lives in trying to bring peace and order to their community. Some of them fail.

Those who have gone to the streets in protest have reason for anger. The long history of racism in America stands as a running thread that defies our ability to provide true justice.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often used the quote from the book of Amos about justice.

 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The preceding words to that verse describe how God sees justice. God does not care for religious ceremonies, songs of praise, offerings, or other trappings of worship.

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream

If we fail to provide justice to people, those who are oppressed and marginalized, God does not care for anything else we have to say.

Prayer: Lord, help us to seek justice. Help us to see people how you see them, Amen

Fragile, But Strong

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well                                                                                                                                               Psalm 139:14

During this COVID-19 health crisis, we have all been challenged in various ways- in changed lifestyle, in coping with isolation, social frustration, loss of job, perhaps even grieving a death. There will be, and have been, profound changes in our society because of it, some of which will be helpful and culture changing. Currently, however, we are still essentially in the middle of it. Or, perhaps, as Churchill once stated early in World War II, “…Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Wherever we are in it, we must come out of it with positive changes in our attitudes about life and about other people. The very nature of the illness shows itself to be insidious and at times baffling. We know that this virus, as do all living things, tries to prolong its own life. It invades its host and does its best to reproduce itself and proliferate.

Our bodies, “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the Bible says, fight this virus, and all such invaders with ferocity. The fact that some people are able to fight off the virus from the brink of death is amazing and gratifying. The fact that some people, seemingly healthy and vigorous, succumb to it, is terribly sad and discouraging.

Our bodies are incredibly strong and formidable, and at the same time, fragile. That same phenomenon exists in all types of assaults on our bodies. My daughter, a trauma surgeon, works on people who have been grievously wounded, and sees them recover from massive injuries. At the same time, some people will die from a seemingly innocuous little infection that turns into a septic disaster.

Life is precious, life is a gift. We had nothing to do with our conception, our life was just…a gift. So, what do we do with this precious gift we have been given? We cherish it, we try to preserve it, and we are grateful for it. We honor it fully by finding meaning in it greater than ourselves.

So, COVID-19, you came to destroy by overrunning our bodies. We respond with an increasing appreciation for life, and we will overcome this crisis.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the gift of life. Our bodies, fragile and strong, are amazing. Help us to persevere and grow in that life you give us, Amen.

This Day in History…

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart                                                           Psalm 15:1-2

Sojourner Truth delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. The life of Sojourner Truth is fascinating- a heroic story that really cannot be fully appreciated in modern times. She was born into slavery, not in the deep-south, but in New York, where she was enslaved by a Dutch family.

She has a painful story- all slavery stories are painful and shameful- but her response was a God inspired miracle. She was not born with that colorful name. She had the given name of Isabella Baumfree. She took the name Sojourner Truth on one Pentecost Sunday when she heard a call from God to speak her truth- God’s truth- to the world.

How does this happen? An African-American woman, born into slavery in the middle of America’s great battle over that evil practice, becomes a famous voice in that struggle.

She was an example of meeting God in the place of obedience, then letting Him take over and do the things we cannot do. When we respond to what God would have us do, knowing that we cannot do it, but trusting that He can, that is where miracles happen.

I believe that principle works. We cannot see the end game of what we are called to start. I cannot imagine that Sojourner Truth could have possibly conceived that we would be commemorating an extemporaneous speech of hers 169 years later. She simply obeyed what God had given her to do. She did it, then God did His work.

A salute to Sojourner Truth, who would say to me, “Don’t give me the glory for what God has done”.

Prayer: Thank you for people who respond to your voice, and how you use that for miracles, Amen.

 

Physics and Faith

So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead. But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.”                                                                                                    James 2:17-18 (Good News)

I have a love of science, and I am fascinated by physics and chemistry. However, I am a complete amateur at these subjects, and my fascination with them does not mean that I understand those topics well. In high school, I was just glad to barely pass physics, the final exam in my senior year. I tossed the physics book into the trash can as I was leaving the building, glad to be finished with that course! As I got older, I was drawn to the subject, and now I love to read about it- now that there is no grade attached!

I think that principles of physics are true in every area of life, including mental and emotional health. There is a certain beauty and truth about the idea in the law that states

 … the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.

Isn’t that cool? The Bible says that there is nothing new under the sun, and indeed, that is true. Energy and matter can be transformed one into another, but we are not going to create energy. That has already been done. We are living off the sun’s energy, created long ago, in this “closed system” of our universe.

One of Newton’s Laws of Motion states-

…an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by a force

This law is true of human behavior as well. The principle of inertia says that unless I do something, add a force, supply some energy, I will stay at rest. Unless I make some decision to act, and then do it, I will stay at rest. In order to feel better, to lift my mood, I must add energy- act on my decisions. I must act to improve my mood and situation. It seems obvious, but how often do we wait for “some one” or “some thing” else to change so that we can feel better? Yeah, we all do that sometimes.

So, the principle is true in physics and human behavior. Do, then feel. It works, it’s a Law of Physics! J

Prayer: Thank you for the beauty and genius of creation. Your ways are indeed higher than ours, and I am amazed every day the exquisite plans of yours, Amen

Rejecting Evil

 Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil                                                                                                                                      I Thessalonians 5:19-22 

Earlier this month, on May 8, we commemorated an event that had happened 75 years ago. That was a celebration called VE Day. I trust that we still look with pride and appreciation on this day, because it was the celebration of victory in Europe in World War II. The celebration was especially exuberant, because war had been raging in Europe since September 1, 1939. The world had endured nearly 6 years of bombings, invasions, privations and mass killings. Every country in Europe was affected by this terrible war, especially Poland and Russia, and, of course Germany itself. The British people suffered nightly air raids which virtually destroyed several cities and killed thousands of civilians. Europe’s Jews, of course were persecuted and murdered in the most detestable and ghastly ways. In short, evil had overtaken the continent.

World War II cost millions of lives all around the globe. It destroyed communities, economies and cultures. It cost billions of dollars and untold mental and emotional distress.

Nazi evil was defeated, but not destroyed. There are remnants to this day of evil perpetuated by the ideas of racial superiority and hatred. Such ideas are evil, and there is a cost for combating them. We must recognize them for what they are, and not be complicit in accepting them. Evil can appear in ways that look innocuous and even enticing. We need to always be aware of the insidious creep of evil.

The Bible verse quoted today is from I Thessalonians chapter 5 where we are encouraged to allow the Spirit to guide our thoughts, and to hold on to what is good, and reject evil.

Today, we still have evil in the world- usually a lot more subtle than Hitler’s outright genocidal mania, but evil nonetheless.  Our collective response 75+ years ago was to combat it at high cost.

“…hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

Prayer: Help us to discern evil, to reject its poison, and deliver us from its presence, Amen.

 

Loving Father

 
As a father has pity on his children, so the Lord has pity on his worshippers. For he has knowledge of our feeble frame; he sees that we are only dust.                                                                                         Psalm 103:13-14

Psalm 103 is about my favorite part of the Bible. It has a lot to do with how we see God, and, more importantly, how He sees us.  So many times in my counseling practice, I have talked with people who cannot understand why God would love them. They certainly don’t feel it, and perhaps were never taught it.

They may have grown up with the idea of a judging, angry God. Sometimes this was informed by a father who did not show warmth or kindness, or perhaps was even abusive. However it happens, people often miss the understanding of God as a loving father.

Such an understanding colors our view of everything. If God is not a loving father, maybe he is an angry, judgmental one whom we can never please. Or maybe God is a distant, absent father who periodically checks in when we call for help, but really cannot be counted upon.

My understanding of the nature and character of God is one of a loving father who sees our frailty. He knows how we are made, but does not blame us for our failures to always do the right thing.

We fathers know how much we love our children. If God loves us like that, and He does, we can feel secure in that relationship. It changes how we see the world.

 

Prayer: Thank you Father for loving us right where we are, Amen

Sacred, Continued

 

You are the world’s light—a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see.  Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.                                                                                                                                                                      Matthew 5:14-16 (Living Bible) 

Today is Memorial Day. We remember those who have died in defense of their country, and we are right to honor them. Today, I want to recall what I believe is the greatest speech in American history in order to discuss sacred.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln was brilliant in the way he understood the idea of sacred. He knew that the battlefield in Gettysburg, just 4 months prior, had been a scene of bravery and death the likes of which is seldom seen. Lincoln was humbled by this courage and suggested that the dedication needs to be not of that burial ground- it had already been dedicated by the participants far better than that assemble could. Rather, the dedication, the making sacred of that sacrifice, could be made meaningful and be redeemed by the rededication of the living to the cause of justice and union.

So, sacred does not exist in “places”, it exists in us. It is our duty to make sacred the places that we go by our dedication to justice, and compassion. We are to carry on the message that Jesus gave in his sacrifice so that we can become “God Carriers” to all around us.

Prayer, Father, thank you for giving us the privilege of being your light in the world. Give us courage and clarity in doing so, Amen