Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mustard Seeds

Mark 4:26-34

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

            We know that violence breads violence, that hate breads hate.  We know this, and this last year has shown us this in abundance.  As more and more school shootings happen, as the numbers of suicides grow, as the hate speech escalates… we are reminded and see again and again that negativity can be contagious and can spread like wildfire. The uncaring that is becoming so rampant, especially as children are separated from their parents and caged which is so incredibly inhumane, and the fact that people are numb to this, are not standing up against it, shows that the negativity has spread so far that people no longer care about the most vulnerable people in the world: our children. People are suspicious of each other, angry at each other.  We see this at a much smaller level every single day just in our cars: road rage causes more road rage.  And the negativity is growing, is spreading…

            But todays’ scriptures, such as these two beautiful parables from Mark also point out that the reverse is equally true.  God can take the smallest seed, the smallest bit of good, and once it is planted, it can grow and grow into things that are beautiful and wonderful and awesome!  The parables tell us that little seeds grow into big plants even without help.  God’s love is like that, God’s care is like that.  Our good actions are contagious.  With plants we don’t have to pull on the stem or say magic words. Plants grow because they have been made to do just that. We can choose to be part of helping them to grow by watering them, putting them in the sun.  But our care is minimal to the miracle of each seed becoming something wonderful, something big, something beautiful.  Even plants that aren’t cared for such as all the trees and plants in our forests and wild areas grow completely on their own. 

            So it is with all the good things we do, all the good efforts we make, all the simple acts of kindness.  Kindness, too, breads more kindness.  It grows, it spreads, it is contagious.  Warm hearts warm our hearts.  Sunny dispositions can melt the coldness in our beings and bring out the best in us, the best of who we are.

Thomas Merton put it this way: “Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in her or his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men and women.”

            We are invited into love, into justice, into kindness, into being mustard seeds.  Church services, by the way, are supposed to provide the soil for the seeds to grow, the richness of the earth so that after church we have the strength and motivation and energy to spread, to plant other seed, to go out in the world and to bring love and kindness, to do the work of God.  We should be producing fruit.  Church itself, worship itself, is not actually the point of our faith or the end of our faith.  It is merely supposed to feed us so that we can BE the church in the world, doing the work of God in the world.  If your faith ends here in this place, then the church has not been a fertile soil for you in which you are nurtured. Worship is just the resting, nurturing ground that gives us the strength to enter the world with conviction, with love, with compassion, to follow Christ, to do the call God has given us to do.

            Our acts of kindness, of compassion, of love and empowerment of others – our actions of care towards one another are little seeds which God can grow into big plants. I don’t know that we often take the time to think about what we want to spread, who we want to be in the world, what we would like to pass on and pass forward.  So I invite you into a time of reflection.  Who are the people that you most admire and why?  How do they handle adversity?  Confrontation?  Who do you want to be in the world?  Who do you think God wants you to be in the world?  Think about this past week.  What are acts you did this last week that reflect who you want to be?  What are actions in this past week that you wish you’d done differently.  And if so, how do you wish you would have behaved? 

            What are little things that you do…that are seeds which, when nurtured can grow into big and beautiful trees?  What are kindnesses that you don’t do that you might be willing to try, willing to challenge yourself to do?

God can take our acts of kindness and make them big.  God can take our good things and made them into things that feed others, help others.

I think about the people others have told me are their heroes, are their mentors.  These are people who changed us for the better by their actions.  And most of the time, it is their kindnesses, their actions for the justice and empowerment of others, their ability to put aside anger or respond to hatred with love and grace that move us, that change us.  We can choose to be like that as well.  God can take the desire within us to do good, to be kind, to have mercy and justice; and God can grow it into a beautiful blooming plant of grace.  I remember Mitch Albom’s book, Have a Little Faith.  He shares about being asked to walk with a Rabbi who wanted Mitch to do his eulogy at this funeral.  Mitch made the comment, ““And is often the case with faith, I thought I was being asked a favor, when in fact I was being given one".”  He went on to describe a man who was kind, who was generous, who was loving.. .and through all of that changed who Mitch was.  I think about my own heroes, one of whom is Mr. Rogers.  The way he dealt with hardships, the non-anxious, non-defensive presence that he used with others inspires me daily.  It is a seed waiting to grow, as many of you know, but one that gets watered and nurtured every time I read one of his quotes or see one of his programs.  We have that opportunity to be kindness for others, to teach that to others, to practice it and watch it grow.  There is a Facebook page called “clayton Kindness” that is just kind, nice words.  It is helpful too, as it reminds us to treat each other well.  Little seeds, that God can grow.

            Every time we do something God asks us to do: to bring justice and care to these children I mentioned, for example, we plant a seed that can change the world.  I remember a Joan of Arcadia episode in which Joan was asked to do a small thing: to join AP Chem by the God character.  She didn’t understand why, but she did it.  And in the end God showed her how that one act had changed so many lives for the better.  Because of meeting someone in the class, she had introduced that person to her father who was a police officer.  As a result, the father talked to the boy’s parents who knew about a car for disabled drivers.  As a result, her disabled brother had gotten the car.  The God character went on to point out other results: catching a murderer, building important relationships between people who had previously not trusted each other, bringing down a crime ring.  As God was explaining all of this, Joan turned to God and said in astonishment, “How far does this go?  How far does the one act of following your request by joining AP chem go?”  To which God replied, “It goes all that way, baby.  All the way.”  “Always for the better?” Joan asked.  “Yep.  That’s how it works with me,”  God replied.  That’s how it is with God.

In the story Lord of the Rings, there is one moment in which Frodo is so angry about Gollum still being alive.  He makes the comment, “It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.”  Gandalf replies, “Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.”  That kindness, that pity, that grace, that mercy… that was, in the end, the saving of Frodo.  We just do not know how far kindness goes, or in what way it returns to us.

God’s ability to help a seed grow can even use those parts of us that we see as flaws:

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. 'I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.' The old woman smiled, 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?' 'That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.' For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.'  Each of us has parts of ourselves we consider to be flaws, but when we give them to God, God can take even the cracked seeds and made beautiful flowers grow from them.

            Sometimes we don’t see or understand the gifts God has given us, the seeds God has given us to plant.  I heard about a woman, recently, who has the gift of dance.  She is a wonderful dancer, but more, her dancing gives her great joy.  However, she became convinced that God wanted her to give up this gift because she loved it so much.  I don’t believe in a God who asks us to give up the very gifts God has given us.  We are called, always, to use our gifts for good, for love, for joy for others and ourselves.  That does not mean giving that gift up.  You may all be familiar with the story of Cat Stevens.  A similar one: he came to believe that somehow his singing was not what God wanted and he stopped sharing the amazing gift he had that had brought so many people joy, and had brought so many people close to God.  I think about his piece, “Morning has broken” and the joy that has given to so many, the invitation to appreciation of all God has done and made that invites each of us to be our best, most grateful, most aware selves.  I felt at the time he stopped singing that he had misheard God’s call.  Fortunately, he, too eventually came to that realization and he is singing again.  But he missed years of using God’s best gift to him and to those who would hear his words, his voice and his commitment to faith.   I’ve shared with you before about a woman I knew who refused to allow laughter into her home, feeling that silliness was also ungodly somehow.  Laughter, too, is a great gift from God: the gift of joy, the gift of relaxing, the healing that comes from laughter.  Squandering God’s best gifts – that is a sin.

We are called to use the gifts that God has given us.  But Kindness is a particularly wonderful gift because we can all claim it.  We can all GROW it.  And that kindness can change the fate of the world.  God can use it and grow it beyond our imaginings.

            God gives us seeds, gifts, beauty to use and to share and to plant.  God can take the best, and even sometimes the worst, of each of us, the seeds, the gifts and will grow them into something magnificent.  All we have to do is plant, and watch, and pray and wait.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Attacking what we don't understand

1 Samuel 8:4-20

Mark 3:20-35

The people of Israel didn’t understand God enough to trust that they could have only God as king and not need a human king.  And when they didn’t understand, they responded by attacking what they didn’t know, demanding something different, refusing to listen to the warnings coming their way. The Pharisees assumed that even though he was actually healing people, Jesus must have been doing this by the power of Satan.  They didn’t understand how Jesus could successfully have driven out the demons, so they attacked and accused him of evil, even in the face of the amazing good he was doing.  Even Jesus’ family, when they didn’t understand his behavior, decided he must have been crazy and tried to get him away from the people. 

We do this too.  When we don’t understand another person’s perspective, or what is happening around us in the community, in our country, in our world, it is so easy to simply attack that which we don’t understand.  If we can vilify the other, then we don’t ever have to understand it.  We can simply discount it as evil or crazy.  How much harder is it to actually listen to another opinion, to actually pay attention to what someone else says just for itself without our preconceived ideas.  How much easier if we don’t have to look, don’t have to listen, and don’t have to be open to learn or to grow when we can just discount the other as evil or crazy or just completely wrong.

We all do this.  No matter where we stand theologically or politically, there are things all of us don’t understand and therefore refuse to even consider.  These may be things that scare us, things that don’t fit in with our vision or our worldview, things that may challenge us at our core, things that make life feel that it might not be the safe, contained, organized world that we know – all of these we may refuse to even consider. I would like to invite you to take a moment and think about what you won’t even entertain.  What will you not allow your mind to even consider as possibly true?  As possibly accurate?  As possibly good? 

I want to remind you that as we see in Jesus, that it is in the unknown, the uncomfortable, that which we would never consider in which we find God.  God shows us this in Jesus, who was completely other than what the people of God, the religious people of the time, expected.  He healed those deemed unworthy and rejected by the people.  He cared for those whom others knew it was illegal by law to even interact with.  He appeared crazy and even evil to the Pharisees, who again were the religiously righteous of the day, and even to his family.  That’s where God is: God is in the unexpected, the unknown, the unseen.  God is in the mystery, those things we don’t understand: those things that are beyond our understanding and sometimes those things we refuse to consider. The Israelites were God’s people but they could not see or accept God as the only king they needed. The Pharisees were the religious people of the day and yet they who were most faithful to the synagogue and the religious laws of the time could not see that the healing Jesus did was by the Spirit.  If we think that we are better than these faithful people, we need to look at ourselves again.  What is it that we block out that God could be saying to us, speaking to us, calling us to notice, see, love, and take in as God’s people?

I shared with you before that Scott Peck describes evil in his book, “People of the Lie.” He has a psychiatric practice, but he is also a strong Christian who believes in the existence of evil, as well as the power of love to confront it, overcome it, and change it.   As he worked with people, both the victims of evil and those who perpetrated it, he came to believe that people who do evil are people who simply cannot accept truth.  They cannot accept the truths of their own sinfulness and they project it out onto others and then try to destroy it in others.  As he puts it himself, “it is characteristic of those who are evil to judge others as evil. Unable to acknowledge their own imperfection, they must explain away their flaws by blaming others. And if necessary, they will even destroy others in the name of righteousness.”  We see this happening on a regular basis: televangelists who condemn and criticize a certain behavior only to be discovered engaging in the very behavior they condemn.  Politicians similarly who push for certain rules only to be found engaging in the behaviors they are working so hard to make illegal.    We see the truth in this as we learn that people like Hitler who may have had Jewish blood himself.  We see this reflected in our literature, such as the way Voldermort was trying to kill anyone who was not “pure blood” when he himself was only half-Wizard.

Dr. Peck also put it this way, “evil is…the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion – in order to avoid spiritual growth.”  And also, “(those who do evil have) a brand of narcissism so total that they seem to lack, in whole or in part, this capacity for empathy…..This narcissism permits them to ignore the humanity of their victims as well….There is only one particular kind of pain they cannot tolerate; the pain of their own conscience, the pain of the realization of their own sinfulness and imperfection….  They never think of themselves as (doing) evil; on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others…evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil.  The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil.  Instead of destroying others, they should be destroying the sickness within themselves.  As life often threatens their self-image of perfection, they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying that life – usually in the name of righteousness.  They are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity….  Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world, they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault.  Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad.  They project their own evil onto the world.  They never think of themselves as evil; on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others.”

Richard Rohr echoed these ideas in his column, “Jesus: Forgiving Victim.”  He wrote, “Fighters are looking for the evil, the sinner, the unjust one, the oppressor, the bad person "over there." He or she "righteously" attacks, hates, or even kills the wrong-doer, while feeling heroic for doing so (see John 16:2). Philosopher RenĂ© Girard sees this tendency to scapegoat others as the central story line of human history. Why? Because it works, and it is largely an immediate and an unconscious egoic response… We are all tempted to project our problems on someone or something else rather than dealing with it in ourselves. The zealot--and we've all been one at different times--is actually relieved by having someone to hate, because it takes away his or her inner shame and anxiety and provides a false sense of innocence.  As long as the evil is "over there" and we can keep our focus on changing or expelling someone else … then we feel at peace. …Playing the victim is a way to deal with pain indirectly. You blame someone else, and your pain becomes your personal ticket to power because it gives you a false sense of moral superiority and having been offended. You don't have to grow up, you don't have to pray, you don't have to let go, you don't have to forgive or surrender--you just have to accuse someone else of being worse than you are. And sadly that becomes your very fragile identity, which always needs more reinforcement.   (Another way to deal with our pain is to)… refuse s to live in the real world of shadow and contradiction. (Some) divide the world into total good guys and complete bad guys, a comfortable but untrue worldview of black and white. This approach comprises most fundamentalist and early stage religion. It refuses to carry the cross of imperfection, failure, and sin in itself. It is always others who must be excluded so I can be pure and holy.… These patterns perpetuate pain and violence rather than bring true healing.”

Richard Rohr goes on to explain how Jesus is the opposite of this because he takes our hatred without returning it, nor does it use it to play the victim. He suffers without making the other suffer..

 The thing is that most evil works from a place of fear.  We fear our own sinfulness.  We fear the other out of a place of not knowing them, refusing to really get to know, understand or have compassion for the other, for that which is different.  But as we know, fear leaves no room for beauty or grace or anything truly good.

I found myself thinking about the movie, “The Devil wears Prada”.  The movie’s main character, Andi, starts as a person with goals and integrity.  She wants to be a journalist, and she has written about injustices such as poor work conditions.  She is in a committed relationship and values her time with her friends and family.  Her values do not include high fashion, expensive things, or working to the exclusion of everything else.  She is down-to-earth, centered, and knows where she is heading and what she wants.  When she first applies for the job as Assistant to the Director of Runway Magazine, she is appalled by the value system that surrounds her – the emphasis on accessories that make no real difference to one’s well-being, the insistence on being thin, on looking “right,” on dressing “right.”  But when she takes the job, she finds her values and her identity being slowly pushed, slowly and subtly undermined.  She finds herself giving up more and more of her time with her friends, family and significant other.  She finds herself being pulled into the drama of fast paced work and eventually into valuing the clothing and accessories she didn’t used to care about.  The choices she is faced with – to choose depth and relationships, or to choose appearance and achievement are subtle, but she finds herself choosing for the latter again and again, and she finds herself saying to those who would challenge those choices, “well, I didn’t have a choice!” She says that when she hurts her friend by going in her place to France because the boss asked her to do that.  She says that when she misses her boyfriend’s birthday.  She says it when she has no time to spend with the people who love her.  She loses and gives up more and more, and slips down the slope into being a person who has thrown out her own deeply held values, all with the phrase, “I didn’t have a choice.”  She didn’t realize that she was choosing “evil”, even when she did something that devastated another human, that took away another human’s hopes and dreams.  She told herself that she had no choice because she had to keep her job.  But that lie that she told herself, that the job was the most important thing, that lie led her more and more into “hell”…she lost her friends, she lost her significant other, she lost her sense of self and her values.  She refused to see the sin in her own behavior and projected it outwards, harming others.  As her boyfriend breaks up with her, she receives a phone call from her boss, and she says, “I’m sorry.  I have to answer this,” STILL not realizing she is making a choice.  She couldn’t see evil.  She couldn’t see she had a choice.  She couldn’t look at herself or consider the idea that maybe there was a different choice for her to make.

Bonhoeffer put it this way, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” 

While the talk of evil or evil people may not be comfortable language for you, I think it is something we have to look at.  We attack what we don’t understand.  We attack what we are UNWILLING to understand – sometimes parts of ourselves that we are uncomfortable with, parts of ourselves that we would deny, parts of ourselves that simply make us uneasy.  But in attacking what we are unwilling to understand, we refuse to confront the sinfulness or errors or bad choices in ourselves, to change it, to grow.  We ignore the opportunities to grow more deeply with God.  We also injure others, we attack good things, as the case of Jesus and the Israelites show us, we attack that which is godly, which is holy, God’s own children who are different from us but whom God still loves.  We attack that which is bringing life to others of God’s people. 

If the Pharisees had been willing to consider that Jesus was a man of God, their lives would have been changed for the better; they would have met God, they may have found healing for their own souls.  If the Israelites were to have relied on God alone to be king, they might have learned faith and trust at a much deeper level, they would not have risked being exploited by their leadership, as Samuel warned them they would be, they might not have found themselves exiled over and over again.  And if we might be willing to consider that which we refuse to consider, we might find ourselves making friends and crossing bridges with those who are different from us, we might find ourselves called into action that helps those we normally don’t even see, we might see God’s face in an unexpected stranger, and get to know God at deeper and fuller levels. 

An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all.  One is Evil.  It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego.  The other is Good.  It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.”  The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”  The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”

But the good news in this is that there is hope, even when we don’t want to see, even when we don’t choose well.  Because God is a God of love, of healing, and of hope.  And if we turn it all over to God, to really spend time LISTENING to God, there is hope, there is movement, there is possibility for us as well.  Love truly can overcome evil or pain or hate or fear.  We just have to be open, and let God do God’s work within us.  Amen.

Monday, June 4, 2018


(For those actually in service yesterday, you will notice that I really didn't preach this... but here is a part of what I intended to say...edited so it is slightly closer to what I actually preached.  (sigh).  The challenges of not reading a manuscript...)
Luke 6:20-26  

Luke 18: 9-14

               Life is a circle, we have times that are full of joys and times that are full of pain.  Which of these are the blessings?

               I want to read to you an article that I found that I think says it better than I could:  (Scott Dannemiller article).

               I say the same thing pretty regularly – that our challenges are also blessings, though this can be hard to recognize. 

               But I also want to say what I have said many times before and that is that this doesn’t mean that I think God intentionally causes us hurt.  I think hurt happens in this world and God wants to bring the highest growth and highest good out of that.  But I don’t experience God as Santa Claus rewarding the good and punishing the bad. I also don’t believe God is just a mean school teacher, testing us, and sitting up there somewhere saying, “Oh, you thought you could handle that?  Well let’s see how you handle this!”  though I’ll admit sometimes it sure has FELT that way to me.  And while I think the beatitudes are an accurate description of what happens to us in life – those who are in pain will find comfort, those who are comfortable will find pain – I don’t believe this is because God is wielding out punishments and rewards.  I think, instead, that it is an accurate description of life. 

               But God in this is about teaching, healing, growing us into the most whole people we can be, if we are open to that.

               Frankly, it is really bad theology that describes God as a kind of Santa Claus, rewarding the good and punishing the bad.  And scripture shows us something very different.  We have the beatitudes, which do not discuss deserving and people getting what they deserve, but rather describes that those who are in pain will feel joy, and the reverse.  We have the story of Job, who, despite his righteousness, lost everything that mattered to him.  We have Jesus reminding us that the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous.  We also have passages such as Mark 10:17-31: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”  Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”  The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  This shows that it is not God rewarding us with riches.  Those riches come, and will be taken away.  They impede our ability to connect with God.  They themselves are not blessings from God.

               The reality is that we who are comfortable have a hard time feeling, knowing, experiencing our real dependence on God.  It is often only through the struggles, through the times of difficulty, the times of loss, that we learn to experience God fully and to depend on God for everything.  But it is hard for us to feel blessed by those hard times.  I understand this.  It is tough.

               We celebrate the good things, calling them our blessings.  But when it comes to the hard times, we complain and feel life is unfair.  We focus on the pain and forget to be grateful for the challenges or to seek out the possible gifts or learning or growing that we can do through the pain.
It is hard for us to rejoice in, learn from, or really self-reflect and grow into the challenges.  But that is the call.

               So we can take the beatitudes as a message of fear: only if you really suffer will you then find “blessings” by which we mean good things, riches, comforts, luxuries.  Or we can take them as a description of life, reminding us that God is with us whether we are focused on the joys or focused on the pains. We can take them as a reminder that often it is through the gift of the hard and painful times that we remember to turn to God and to really come to trust God and the deeper gifts of community, support, and help that are available.  We can remember that in being in solidarity with others who are struggling, as well as through helping to empower others and improve the lives of others, that we come to know and experience God at deeper levels. We can learn to let go and to truly depend on God.  But we also learn that blessings can come in many forms and that we are surrounded by them every single day, just as in every moment we are surrounded by God’s love. 

               Those blessings we experience in this way, in times of great need, are often the ones that we also learn most deeply to share with others.  There was a social experiment done a few years back in which a man went around asking strangers for hugs.  “Normal” people would not hug strangers.  But when the homeless were asked, none said “no”.  They gave to others, probably from that place of knowing their own lacking, experiencing their own rejection, knowing what it was to not “have” what many of us take for granted.  From that place, then, they were able to bless others.

               Henri Nouwen also tells the story of coming to understand blessings differently when he began to serve as a chaplain for a community of people with intellectual disabilities.  He talks about a woman, Janet, who was struggling and came to him asking for a blessing.  He tried to make the sign of the cross on her forehead, but she wouldn’t accept it and said, “I want a real blessing!”  He didn’t know what to do but that evening at their prayer service, he told the community that Janet had asked for a special blessing and he invited her to come forward.  She came forward and wrapped her arms around him, giving him a tight hug.  He was surprised but hugged her back and said to her, “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s beloved daughter.  You are precious in God’s eyes.  Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in your house, and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are.  I know you feel a little low these days and that there is some sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you.”  Janet left with a huge, satisfied smile. Afterwards the other members of the community all raised their hands asking for a “blessing” too.  That giving of love; that giving of time, and care, and attention; that seeing of one another; that appreciating one another – those are the blessings that God has given to us and that we can pass on to others.

               Going back to the first article.  I don’t believe it is wrong to say, “I have been blessed” or “I am having a blessed day.”  When I am challenging here is the idea that “blessings” are only the good things we experience and have in life.  In many ways, as the scriptures we have read today and the stories I have shared point out, the greatest blessings we can have and experience are the challenges we face in life.  I remember a wise woman once saying to me, “A blessing is something that brings you closer to God.  It is not something that brings you closer to fulfilling American cultural values.”  Material wealth is not a blessing, your car and your house – these are not your blessings, your gifts from God.  What are your blessings your gifts from God, are the times you have with God, the opportunities to grow, the gifts of love, faith, appreciation, gratitude, peace, hope, compassion, grace, trust.  These are the blessings that God gives so freely.   

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

God Above, Among and Beyond

Matthew 28:19-20

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

               There was a three generation household in which James, Sr., was living with his son, James, Jr. and young grandson, James III.  One day the phone rang and the caller asked to speak to Jim.  The response was, “Do you want Jim the father, Jim the son, or Jim the holy terror?”

               Today is Trinity Sunday.  It is a day when our service and our sermons are supposed to focus on the concept of the trinity.  Supposedly the trinity is one of the most important theological concepts for our faith, but it is also one that most people find challenging to understand.  So much of our faith we grasp and internalize because it meets with our experience of God.  So much of our faith is tied in with stories, both from the Bible and from our own lives, stories that say in ways that theological statements or ideas about our faith often cannot, what it is we believe, what it means to be children of God, who we are as a community of faith, and who we are as Christian believers.  But the trinity often seems to me to be an intellectual concept which is up there somewhere; high above our experience of God, outside the realm of stories, or even of intuition.  The trinity is proclaimed to be a great mystery of our faith.  But in the theological headiness of the concept it can lose what is most important about our faith, which is that the meaning of our faith comes when we experience it and live it out.  Discussion and debate, while interesting, ultimately do not make us the people of God, something that should claim every bit of our lives and everything that we do with those lives.

               As I have studied the trinity, hoping to find something that would make it a more accessible concept, I found myself more and more convinced of this division between those ideas that we intuitively understand and which help us to live our lives more fully as Children of God, and those ideas which belong in theological and biblical studies, but which do not seem to communicate the Good News to us, which do not help us as a people to truly give up all we have in pursuit of that one pearl of priceless value that is God in our lives.  Additionally, the first thing that every theological book, article and commentary I read had to say about the trinity was that this is not a concept found in the Bible.  The two passages that we read today are the sole basis for the theology of the trinity: two tiny verses that use a “trinitarian formula” but which don’t explain it as a trinity, never mention the idea of three persons in one God-head, never define those relationships between the “persons” of the trinity, or even define them as unique persons.  The idea of trinity, or three persons in one God-head first seemed to have arisen at the council of Nicea in 325 AD.  It simply did not exist before then.  And it is one of the great concepts that separates us from Jewish brothers and sisters who argue that they in fact REALLY have one God whereas Christians have a 3 God in one God-head thingy.  The first division or complete split in the Christian church was in fact a division over the nature of the trinity.  And the discussions, arguments, divisions over this concept which began at that time have never ceased.  Indeed, while most the books and commentaries I have read on the trinity were written by renowned Presbyterian theologians, no two of them agreed about the trinity meant or how it was to be understood.  For example, one commentary said that the trinity is like water in its three forms of ice, liquid and steam: all made of the same substance but in very different forms.  Another commentary completely disagreed with this declaring that this understanding of the trinity is a kind of modalism: that instead each person of the trinity is water in all of its forms.  According to this theologian, if we stick with the analogy of water, one person of the trinity is the plasma within our bodies, where as another is sea water: apparently both have just about the same make up chemically, but they simply exist in different places.  One theologian reported that the different persons of the trinity involve different jobs: there is the creator, the redeemer and the sustainer.  Another said that this was inaccurate because each person of the trinity was fully creator, redeemer and sustainer all by themselves.  One theologian said the mystery of the trinity was that there were three persons within the one God.  Another disagreed saying the mystery of the trinity is that there is one Godhead that encompasses three distinct persons.  Almost all of the theologians used scientific analogies are a way of describing their understanding the trinity.  The simplest example was that of the three forms of water I described earlier.  The most complex involved quarks, the smallest known particles of matter, and the interdependence of quarks who cannot exist, apparently, as single beings, but must exist in community with one another.  And again, it was interesting intellectual fodder for budding brain cells.  But when it came down to how this concept would help us to live our lives as Christians, how these ideas would bring us comfort when we are afflicted, or how these concepts would challenge us when we are falling short in our ability to forgive or to heal or to love God, self and each other, theologians had very little to say.  The books and discussions on the Trinity were strangely and starkly mute on what this had to do with our lives as people of faith.

               Many years ago, I was sitting in on a 6th grade Sunday school class in which the kids were all invited to make collages of their images of God.  As I watched the kids work, I noticed that each child had a very different collage in front of them.  David’s collage was made up of magazine pictures of angels: statues of angels, pictures of angels, in child and adult form, covered David’s picture.  Carlie sat next to David and her picture was made up entirely of nature scenes.  She had drawn rainbows and sunsets, beautiful flowers and strong animals like lions.  She had cut out a picture of the beach and had glued a feather onto the top of her collage.  George for his part had put pictures of people and names of people all over his collage.  Some of the pictures had no names, some of the names had no pictures, but his collage was people of all different kinds.  Megan for her part had the simplest collage.  Her picture was hard to figure out at first, but when I asked her she said that it was a voice; a voice inside, which she didn’t know how to draw except through wispy lines, like whispering.  My question to Megan, while simply inquiry began an argument among the children.  Carlie looked at Megan’s picture and frowned.  “You don’t really think God is a voice inside of you, do you?  God is much bigger than that!  God couldn’t fit inside of you!  Look at the wonderful things God has created!” And with that she showed Megan her own picture of the nature scenes of sunsets and beaches and great majestic beasts.  David jumped in at that point and said, “You haven’t created a picture of God, just a picture of what God made a long time ago.  If you want to see God now, you have to look at the angels.  The guardian angels all around us who look out for us and care for us.” To which George replied, “I don’t believe in angels.  I think God acts through people around us.  There aren’t really angels, you know.”  I was about to step in and encourage the kids to think about all of these images as important, when David said, very quietly, under his breath, “I have a guardian angel.”  The other kids all looked up from their work and David continued, “Not that I’ve seen him.  He always stays hidden, but I know he’s there.  Last week, for example, I was running home from school and was about to cross a street without looking when I heard someone call my name.  I stopped and turned around and just as I did, a car went careening into the intersection without stopping.  There was no-one behind me.  I know it was my guardian angel protecting me form that car.  Lots of stuff has happened like that.  I know I have a guardian angel and that is God in my life.”

               George jumped in, “A couple weeks ago my mom got fired from her job.  My dad’s been out of work for a while and has stayed home to take care of us.  So when my mom lost her job it was really scary.  But one of the women in church heard about it and she offered my mom a temporary job at her work; the job lasted just long enough for my mom to find a permanent position.  I know God was working through that lady in our church.”

               Megan added, “My little brother has some problems.  He’s kind of slow and a lot of the kids at school pick on him and give him a hard time.  One time a bunch of kids had surrounded him and were yelling names and closing in on him.  I thought they were going to beat him up and I was all ready to jump in there and defend him.  I’m sure we both would have ended up hurt if I had.  But just as I was about to jump in, I heard a voice inside of me say, “Why don’t you invite all the kids over to your house and they can see what Kevin can do at home and how important he is around the house.’ So I did. And they all came over and my mom ended up telling them a lot about Kevin’s situation.  Now they take care of Kevin and make sure other kids don’t pick on him.  I know I didn’t come up with that idea on my own.  God told me what to do.  And I did it.”

               Carlie had been quiet during all of this.  And there was a moment after the other kids finished that I wasn’t sure if she would speak up.  Carlie lived in a foster home.  She had been moved around a lot, and didn’t have a regular family taking care of her.  She never talked about this with the other kids, so I wasn’t sure she would say anything that day.  But she surprised me.  “I don’t have any parents,” she said, “but I do know God loves and cares for me.  Every time I see a sunset or get to go to the beach, I know that God made all of this and God made me and that everything is going to be okay.”

The kids continued to share and talk.  But it was no longer an argument over who God was or how God acted.  Instead, they were learning that people experienced God in different ways.  Perhaps more importantly, they were learning to be open themselves so that they might also experience God in different ways.

For myself, this is where the concept of the trinity finally meets experience.  I believe the theological concept of the trinity began as a way for people to try to explain a complex experience of God.  And that experience is that God is not just a distant creator, though God is creator and has done that.  God is not JUST present to us in the person of Jesus, though God was present to us in Christ and still comes and lives and walks among us.  God is not JUST present in the stillness of our solitude, in our prayers, in our community, in our reading of scriptures, though God is very active and present there as well.  God is all these things: God is above us, God walks among us, and God is within us.  The good news of the trinity is the good news that we celebrate every Sunday.  That God in all of God’s actions and forms, in all of God’s persons loves us beyond life itself and is present with us in that love to the end of the ages.

I also believe that part of the reason trinity continues to be so controversial is because it, too, is a human construct that cannot and does not completely capture God.  God goes beyond all of our human descriptions.  And our experience of God also goes beyond human explanation.  For me, trinity is a powerful way of describing the powerful, amazing, love-filled experience of God who made us, walks among us, and is within us; all at the same time, always caring for us, upholding us, and challenging us to be more loving.  Trinity does not need to stay a difficult theological concept.  It can become again what I believe it was meant to be; a way of understanding an experience that can’t be described adequately by words.  A metaphor for an experience of our God as real and tangible to us in many ways, in many forms, in many situations.

If we see the trinity as a metaphor for our experience of God, the image of trinity opens up to us many different layers and gives many more insights into God and our relationship to God as well.  The trinity becomes more complex than just the understanding of God above, among and within.  It also reflects other truths about God, one of which I find especially wondrous, but perhaps even harder to put into worlds.  What makes us persons is that we are relational.  If we were not in relationships to other people, we would not be persons, but simply beings acting out of animal instincts.  So, too, while God is one, God is also relational with God-self.  That relationship is what makes God persons, what makes God desire to be relational with us as well, and what allows God to be communion in being within God-self.  God, like us, is community which holds diversity within itself.  That, to me, is the greatest wonder and greatest mystery of the trinity.  Like the Bible which is one book and yet a book of distinct and different books which relate and inform one another, like a church which is one in its mission statement and yet holds within it a community of persons, God is community within God’s one-ness.  I think that this mystery too is one which must be understood and worked out through one’s own experience of God. 

Two people went up in a hot air balloon.  The balloon went way off course and the couple ended up totally lost, having no idea where they were until finally the balloon came down in the middle of an open field.  One of the people in the balloon called out to a man who was standing watching the balloon, “Say, can you tell us where we are?”

“Sure,” the man answered, “You are in a hot air balloon.”

The woman who had asked the question turned to her companion and said, “that man must be a preacher.  What he said is completely true and has absolutely no relevance to our situation.”

I hope that the concept of trinity does not stay for us an intellectual and irrelevant mystery that is above comprehension.  Rather, I hope for all of us today that the beauty of Trinity, of one God in community with God-self, will inspire you with its beauty to ponder ever more deeply, and to live ever more faithfully in the presence of our incredible loving God who is above, among and within.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Broken Systems

      I woke up upset this morning.  Okay, admittedly there actually was a good reason for this.  I was awakened at 5:30 this morning by a woman insisting that I needed to file a whole mess of papers so that I could continue to get the $1.33 per month in child support for my eldest daughter for the next 3 weeks (so really $1 total) since, although she has turned 18, she still has three weeks from her birthday yet to graduate from high school.  When I told her it would cost me more to file the papers than the $1 I'd be receiving on Jasmyn's behalf, she laid this bizarre and weird guilt trip on me about how it wasn't the money that mattered, but the support they got from their father, and that I should care more about the kids than about money.  Um...
     I just published my Pentecost sermon which was about striving to understand those we really don't understand.  I believe that my best sermons are the ones I write to myself as I struggle with the reality of deeply held beliefs that are difficult to live up to.  This, while very short (since we had a play that filled most of the sermon time), was one of those sermons.  I believe we are called to look deeper at each person we encounter, to get to see beyond what people say and do to the reasons why they say and do those things... I believe, in other words, that we are to strive to mirror the loving Divine who knows us more fully than we know ourselves and loves us not only into being but through all of our mistakes, our pains, our struggles because of that deep understanding of who we ultimately are, what we have experienced, and what we are striving to become.
    So, as is often the case for me, when I am struggling with something, I am given quick and direct opportunities to practice what I preach.  In this case, I've been given the opportunity to try to see beneath, beyond and through what this woman was saying and attempt to decipher why she was so quick to judge and so pushy about me filing these papers so Jasmyn could receive this extra $1 in child support. In reflecting on our conversation, I think she was simply trying to get the paper work her job requires her to obtain.  She is probably used to working with people who don't pay their required support, who don't fulfill their obligations, and as a result, she has probably learned to use guilt as an affective weapon in order to be able to do the job she is paid to do.  She doesn't know me, she doesn't know our situation, she doesn't know the big picture here.  She undoubtedly was not paying attention to the fact that a phone call made from Ohio to California meant that when she went to call me at 8:30am her time, she was in fact calling me at 5:30am PDT time.  She simply had a job to do and she was trying to do it to the best of her ability.  That is probably why the guilt trip is working a bit on me as well.  While I cannot justify all the time and effort it would take to file the papers she requires in order to receive that extra total $1 in child support, I know that it would be helpful to her in her job to have that neatly tied up by having the proper papers that track my daughter's graduation from high school.  So I debate... do I do this for this woman?  Or do I let it go knowing that I will in fact just be one of the many who don't do the final paper work for various reasons, including a lack of time or the resources necessary, or (as in my case) no real incentive to fax the appropriate papers.
        More than this, then, I felt called to look more deeply at my own upset this morning because I felt it was an extreme reaction in response to a woman just doing her job.  What about this really pushed my buttons?  Why did this simple request set me so far off this morning?  There are layers and layers here... frustration, anger and despair built up over the last few weeks that has a long list attached to it: divisions, hate and anger of others, the increasing violence, the fear for my children in just going to school now, the nastiness of comments on social media (not aimed at me, but affecting me none the less), the outrageous behavior of human beings who, I used to believe were moving towards more compassion, but who instead, with the anonymity of social media and the current political atmosphere seem actually much more attuned to judgment, hate, violence, an inability to empathize and a desire to harm those who are different from "us".  All of that gets in, turns, twists, hurts and, in the face of a sense of helplessness to heal it or to bring insight and compassion to this broken world, expresses itself in extreme emotional reactions.  But more than that, this specific situation raised in me all the upset, once again, at a justice system that has taken so much from my family and myself.  The fact that I have collected $4 a month for my kids, while paying out about $150 a month for the last 6 years, and almost $100K in legal fees before that is overwhelmingly difficult for me to swallow right now as I look at the cost of education for my three kids over the next 9 years and the fear of the huge debts we will incur to get them through school.  The reality of being a 50 year old adult who has had to, once again, rely on family for financial help, is shaming and humiliating.  The struggle of being a single working mother in a career that was never meant to pay well but which requires more than full time attention is still overwhelming at times, even now when I have a very helpful fiancĂ©.  And the pain I deal with in my kids, still, that will never go away, that will be their defining story of humiliation, of isolation, and of loss still breaks my heart on a daily basis.
        The point I am making with this?  My own story is only one, a small one actually, a small example that is just a tiny part of why I do not believe in retributive justice.  Retributive justice does not work, as we know by the huge recidivism rate in the United States.  Retributive justice is an acting out of anger, a desire to hurt those who have hurt us. It does absolutely nothing to bring healing to the victims, but instead usually revictimizes them through the court systems.  It also does nothing to change the perpetrators so they might choose something different in the future.  The system creates more victims: families and communities of both the victims and the perpetrators are deeply harmed by the retributive system itself.  Additionally, conservative estimates say that one out of every ten incarcerated persons are completely innocent, (which, since, as of the Dec 31, 2016 justice statistics said there were 6,613,500 people under the corrections institutions in the US means we are looking at over 600,000 innocent people unfairly incarcerated).  But while they may have been innocent before going to prison, their chances of remaining so after being released are slim.  What prison teaches is how to survive by crime, how to seek revenge through more outrageous behavior, how to respond to a violent world with more violence. And since it is extremely difficult for a person with a criminal record to be employed, options become limited for self-support after incarceration.  Add to this that much of our "justice" is bought. The lawyers we interacted with were unanimously quick to tell us that justice was a theological concept, and that what we have in our country is simply, no more and no less, than a business.  Therefore the poor and those with less resources cannot buy their way to "justice" (even those who are guilty are often guilty of a much lesser crime that what they receive punishment for, and mitigating circumstances are seldom considered) and those with resources can get away with anything if they pay the right people enough.
         This does not mean that I believe there should be no consequences.  Of course there should.  But a restorative model works for consequences that genuinely bring healing to victims, understanding across the board, and "punishment" that heals and restores both individuals and communities.  This is a quick summary of a very complex system, but I believe in it very strongly.  Having lived through and experienced the retributive justice system up close and personally I feel this more strongly than ever.  Our retributive justice system is a racist, classist, revenge-punishment business that harms more people, percentage wise, in the United States than in any other developed country.  It is barbaric, and when I think about it the rage within me is strong.  The phone call this morning was just the end of a long list of reminders of a broken and destructive system.
      I will write more about restorative justice in the future.  But for now, let me just say that as I navigate the emotional storm that I'm experiencing this morning, I know the only solution to these feelings is to fight for change.  I hope to do more work towards restorative justice.  If you are interested in joining me on this path, let me know.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Seven Gifts of the Spirit

Ezekiel 37:1-6

Revelation 5

            The play that our members performed this morning focused on seven gifts of the spirit.  While the play emphasizes that these are really Christ's gifts, I think they are also our gifts, though, as was pointed out, they look different than we might expect.   Riches, for example, as a gift from the Spirit, doesn’t look like material wealth, it looks like a wealth of spirit and a wealth of community, a wealth of faith, a wealth of trust, love, grace. 

            So while I do not believe that we should have faith based on what we hope we can gain from our faith, what we hope God will give us because we believe (that may be common theology, but it is bad theology by the way, to believe because that’s the way to manipulate God into giving you things…), I do think that Pentecost is a time to celebrate the gifts that God does give, not only to us as individuals, but to each community, to the Church as a whole, to the people. 

            We can celebrate that community is itself a gift, as are faith, the ability to love and grow, the ability to forgive, the ability to trust and to love.  These, too, are gifts of the Spirit.  We can celebrate friendships, connections, the ability to be grateful, appreciation, vision and understanding are also gifts of the Spirit.  We can celebrate that compassion, grace, insight, understanding, discernment and wisdom are also gifts of the Spirit.

            Today as we celebrate the birthday of the church, the gifts of the church, the gifts of the Spirit, we also recognize that one of the deep gifts we are given is our diversity.  On Pentecost, all voices were heard – but more, all voices, with their different languages, different cultures, different view points – all were understood.  One of the things I love about this is that people did not become something else.  They weren’t all speaking the same language, they were just understood speaking in their different languages.  We, as Pentecost people are invited to do the same – to hear and to understand one another, despite our differences.  That includes people of different ages, of different languages, cultures, different orientations and genders, and view points – we are invited to listen to their words and their ideas, and to take them seriously. 

Are there people that you have trouble understanding here?  If so, Pentecost is a great time to recommit to listening, hearing and loving one another. 

I think about one of the learning and listening experiences of our last church that actually had to do with Jasmyn joining the church.  When new people join the church, the session is required to “examine” them to make sure they are “fit for membership.”  Usually this just means that we ask them why they want to join and then bless that joining.  I think there is an assumption, probably based on our own experiences and our own ways of being in the world, that says that when someone joins the church, they don’t want to be pushed too hard, confronted, challenged or to feel threatened by our questions.  Jasmyn told me though, when she joined the church both here and first in Ohio, that she really wanted to be taken seriously enough that the interview, the examination for membership was real – not token.  Convincing the session, though, to listen and to understand that request took some work.  They had to hear in a different way in order to trust what she was saying and ask questions that had some depth in them.

I also think of a story I heard recently from a pastor who noticed one Sunday a couple women who had been fighting for years in the church huddled together in a corner, hugging and crying.  One had just lost her spouse, the other had lost a spouse years earlier.  They connected over something they both now shared that allowed them to hear and support each other despite their differences.
I served as organist/music director for a small church while attending seminary.  After I left, I received a call from the new music director who felt that the pastor's wife hated her.  Shortly following that phone call, I received a call from the pastor's wife saying she did not know what to do because everything she did was interpreted by the new music director as a slight.  While both had good intentions, while both wanted the relationship to work, both were struggling because they had trouble seeing, hearing and understanding each other.  With help from me and others, though, they were able to work through some of it to understand that they just communicated and expressed themselves differently.
           On Pentecost, we celebrate our diversity within the church.  We honor that by celebrating the gifts the Spirit gives us.  And we honor it by striving with those gifts of compassion and grace and forgiveness to really hear and understand one another.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

some thoughts on different prejudices

        I've found myself thinking often about prejudice lately as I've been reading terrible newspaper articles about the different prejudices that are raising their heads more and more often, it seems, in horrific and violent ways.  I think we probably all have certain prejudices, certain biases, some ways in which we are blind or unaware of things that hurt other groups of people, some stereotypes that affect the way we treat others, understand others or imagine others to be.  Even people who work really hard to confront prejudices still have to begin that fight within themselves: looking at our own behaviors that still cause people of color, women, LGBTQ+ folk or others to be treated unfairly, to be pushed down economically or in terms of access to resources, to be treated as inferior or "less than" in one way or another. Some of the standard prejudices that are more often named in my own personal circles include racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, Islamophobia, prejudice against people of differing abilities... but lately I have been intrigued by the reality that even people who make their livelihoods fighting certain prejudices still often carry and enact other prejudices, usually ones they can't see, own or name.  I know far too many people, for example, who are actively fighting racism, who are completely unaware of their own sexism and the behaviors they exhibit that harm people who are not cis-male.  Others actively fighting sexism are prejudiced against LGBTQ+ folk.  Some of this I struggle to understand.  I have been contacted repeatedly recently by someone who has been harmed by and struggles to fight the prejudice against people with differing abilities and illnesses.  At the same time, she is one of the most condemning and hateful people I know towards LGBTQ+ folk.  Her words are venomous and her actions spiteful.  And I am absolutely convinced that she does more harm towards these folk than she does good for the people with disabilities whom she is trying to help.  It is even harder for me to understand when people are hating in the name of God.  I've come to believe that we actually worship different gods.  My God is accepting, loving, wants wholeness and justice and healing for all people, for all creation.  The god some of these other people worship seems to be focused on judgment, condemnation and cruelty.  I don't know that god, thankfully, and have only encountered him (yes, necessarily male, in this culture at least) through the eyes of those who worship him.  Their worship of that angry, hateful entity scares me and I believe is the cause of much harm in our world.
      I've also found myself becoming, once again, more aware of other, more subtle prejudices: ones that are not yet in the focus of our society, ones that are much more "acceptable" but every bit as harmful and may be a big part of the cause of at least some of the violence we've been seeing recently.  It has been acceptable for quite some time now, for example, to express prejudice towards people who aren't as talented or gifted at social skills.  There is a strong prejudice towards introverted people as well, a strong bias for those who are more charismatic and outgoing in our culture. I've found myself reflecting on this as I remembered a conversation in which an extremely socially gifted person wanted to start a support group but informed me that he did not want to invite "W" because... well, "W" just wouldn't fit in.  Right.  "W" has Asperger's.  So, no, he would not fit in with this socially charismatic, popular, charming group of people.  But he does need the support such a group would offer.  He does need that friendship.  He does need that care.  The other folk in this group?  Well, again, they are all charming, popular, charismatic folk.  They don't actually NEED this support group, unlike the person being excluded.  The person organizing the group prides himself on his awareness, on his care for the underdog, on his ability to empower the marginalized.  But he fails to see this particular marginalized group, or to feel they are worthy of his support and care.
      I am not immune to this either and I know this.  I work hard to see, accept, love every person and to try to understand the ways in which I contribute to their well being or their marginalization.  But I'm not always going to see it, it will always be something I work on, and sometimes, probably even often, I will get it wrong.  Still, I try.  I think learning our own prejudices and working to fight them is something God would call us to do.  The call to love our neighbors as ourselves is a call to see them, understand them, empower them as we would want done for ourselves.  My challenge, then, for all of us is to always look deeper at who we love, who we reject, and for what reasons.  My challenge then is always to strive for more compassion, greater grace, and deeper commitment to empowering and uplifting one another.