Prayer for Pittsburgh

God of Grace, God of Mercy,

We pray today for the people
of the Tree of Life congregation
in Pittsburgh.

We pray for all those
who suffer from violence,
for those who grieve,
and for those who have died
because of a hatred that
has no point,
and makes no sense.

May they find comfort in
the knowledge of your love,
and healing in the support
of the community.

We ask forgiveness
for the ways in which
your word has been twisted
to support acts of evil.

Give us the courage
to challenge the evil rhetoric
that supports hatred and violence,
and to speak the truth boldly,
that your love, grace, and mercy
extend to all without limit.

May the love of your people do the same.

Amen

My Oklahoma Home

My latest song:

VERSE 1:

I-40 East, on a cloudy day,
Memphis up ahead, had to get away;
Had nothing in mind
Just looking for a place to roam.

Thought I could see, but I was dumb and blind;
Gave no thought to what I left behind,
The people that I love,
and my Oklahoma home.

CHORUS:

They say that heaven’s paved
With streets of gold,
There’s no more tears
Or so I’ve been told
No more pain,
And no one feels alone.

But by those streets
Where the children play,
I hope to find
just a little red clay
To remind me
Of my Oklahoma home.

Verse 2:

Mind starts to wander when you drive for miles,
You think about faces, remember the smiles,
And you realize you’re old,
But you’ve never ever really grown.

So you turn the car into the setting sun,
The journey goes on, but the running is done.
God help me back
To my Oklahoma home.

VERSE 3:

You can’t leave, even if you tried,
When you’ve got red dirt deep down inside,
No matter how much you wanted
To leave it alone.

When you’re running away to another town,
No road is straight, they all circle around,
Bringing you back
To your Oklahoma home.

BRIDGE:

Okemah up ahead, the tears are making me blind,
And I hear the voice of Woody deep inside my mind,

And It’s taken thirty years, but now I understand,
That these are my people, and this is my land,

And these Oklahoma hills will always be home.

Thurman on Christian Power

Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.

Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, p.11.

Prayer for Labor Day

Father,

We pray for those who labor,

For those who are blessed
to do what they love,

For those who do what they must
in order to simply survive.

For those with hands as rough
as the son of a carpenter,

For those with backs as bent
as the one who bore a cross
through the streets of Jerusalem,

And for those who have been
shamed, despised and humiliated,
while serving at earthly tables,
patiently and humbly waiting
for a seat at the heavenly banquet.

Amen

An Ancient Christian Epitaph

Here rests C. Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus. The rank of sexvir was given him in absentia. While he could have been a member of all the clubs in Rome, nevertheless he didn’t want to. Pious, strong, faithful, he rose from little, left behind three hundred sesterces, and never listened to a philosopher.

Benediction

In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky uses the slanting rays of the sun to represent the love of God that can flow through each of us, transforming lives as we interact with each other with genuine love.

Now, may the slanting rays of the sun
light the path before us,
as the love of God surrounds us,
to guide us on our journey.

May God guard our hearts
from anything that might separate us,
and shelter us all in his love, forever.

Amen

Pascal on Might and Right

On the birthday of Blaise Pascal, consider this wisdom from The Pensees:

Right is open to dispute, might is easily recognized and beyond dispute. Therefore right could not be made mighty because might challenged right, calling it unjust and itself claiming to be just. Being thus unable to make right into might, we have made might into right. (L 103)

Family Separation at the Borders

I tend to find most political issues to be difficult and intricate, requiring complex and nuanced responses. So, I believe that there is generally room for rational disagreement when evaluating particular policy decisions.

This, however, is not the case with the current administration’s family separation policy — it is simply heinous, cruel, inhumane, and contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

We should not return to the Obama administration’s lesser evil of locking up children with their mothers. It is past time for Congress to undertake the difficult task of immigration reform.

If God is both just and good, then justice and goodness are not incompatible. We could develop an immigration policy that is both just and good, if we were but willing to do the work.

I expressed this today to the offices of my congressional representatives. To find yours, go to whoismyrepresentative.com.

The Art of Taxation

The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.

Attributed to Jean-Baptiste Colbert,  Finance Minister to Louis XIV

Homily for Maundy Thursday

With the end of every semester comes the last day of class. It’s the perfect opportunity to sum up everything that is important about the subject, and leave students with a final word, something so profound that they will remember it the rest of their lives. In over 20 years of teaching philosophy at the university level, I’ve never been able to do it. One of two things tend to happen. Generally, I’m so far behind that I spend the last class period cramming material in that they need to know for the final exam. At the end of an hour, which I spent talking as fast as I could, and they spent writing as fast as they could, I say something like, “We’re out of time. Good luck on the final, and may God have mercy on your souls.” At other times, I’m just worn out at the end of the semester, and halfway through the last class, just say, “I guess that’s enough.” To borrow a phrase from T.S. Elliot, this is way the class ends, not with a profundity, but with a whimper.

Over the past few days, I’ve had the opportunity to think about the context of John chapter 13. My father will be admitted to hospice care tomorrow. He is expected to live for, at most, another week. He is now non-responsive — he cannot speak, and we do not know if he can understand anything we say. So, I am confronted with the realization that, for all I know, my dad and I have already had our last conversation. There is always one chance that is the last chance, but we hardly ever know that it was indeed the last chance. We want our final words to be meaningful, but, because of the ignorance of our human condition, they rarely are.

Fortunately, Jesus had an insight that I lacked. Chapters 13 through 17 of the Gospel of John are called the “Farewell Discourse,” and record his final words to his disciples before the events of Good Friday. John tells us that Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe, and tied a towel around himself. He poured water into a washbasin, then knelt and began to wash the feet of his disciples. When he had finished, he said this to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Then, after he foretold his upcoming betrayal, he got to the heart of the matter. John 13:33–35 records what I believe to be some of the most important words in the Bible:

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

From this phrase, ‘A new commandment,’ or in Latin, mandatum novum, we get the name for this day in the church calendar, Maundy Thursday. I can picture the disciples nodding their heads in assent as Jesus said these words, for a commandment to love was nothing new. It was already something that every Jew meditated on, and knew by heart: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus though, did not command his disciples to love their neighbors as themselves; instead, he commanded them to love each other as he loves them. This might have looked easy on Thursday, but it became practically impossible once the events of Friday unfolded.

If we are so commanded, it must be possible to fulfill that command. How, though, can we ever hope to love like Jesus? If we only open our eyes to see, Jesus himself shows us what must be done.

When a Jew dies, a small group of people who are known as chevra kadisha prepare the body for the upcoming burial. The body is first, very reverently undressed, and any wounds on the body are carefull cleansed. Any rings, bracelets, and jewelry are removed. The body is then bathed and purified with water, then wrapped in a white sheet and maybe a prayer cloth. The sheet is tied with a sash that is fastened with a sacred symbol. Only then, is this body ready to meet the living God.

When I think of this ritual, I think of Jesus who laid aside his robe and tied a towel around his waist. Today, he is stripped to serve, but tomorrow, he will be stripped to die. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, facing his own impending death, wrote this in his letters from prison: “I think that even in this place we ought to live as if we had no wishes and no future, and just be our true selves.” That is the key, we must strip away all of our pretensions and our pride. We must even, for a moment, forget that there will be a future, and be only who we truly are at this single moment in our lives, with all of our failures, pain, and loss. It is then, and only then, that we can truly love and be truly loved. If we were to live like this, we would find that we never miss a chance for those final words, for we will have been saying them our entire lives.

Amen