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Sojourners Verse and Voice – 18 March 2021

Verse of the day   Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2she
Voice of the day 
True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. – Arthur Ashe
Prayer of the day  
O God, we pray that you would cultivate within us a soul that finds joy in our service to others. May we always have eyes that see the needs of our communities and the will to strive to meet them.

Antidote to Violence

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In 2005 I was deployed to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan for just over four months. The picture above is the control tower at Bagram Air Base.

I left Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota on January 1st, 2005 and arrived at Bagram in the very early morning hours (3am) of January 3rd. At that point, US and Coalition forces had been there just over four years. We were called out of an in-processing briefing at 7am to form up along the “main street” of Bagram that led to the flightline. The bodies of three Special Forces members were beginning their last journey home. As I held my salute a lot went through my mind as I thought about the families on the other side of the world and about their fellow forces members. That deployment offered many insights to a young Chaplain, Major. Insights about war, politics, the military-industrial complex, and the innocent victims of war.

Just over twenty years later, forces are still at Bagram and there is still a state of war, even as talks about leaving Afghanistan go on at the higher political levels. At the end of June, I will have been retired from the Air Force for ten years. My views on war, the military-industrial complex, and corporate/political corruption have continued to develop and deepen. Part of my own inner struggle and journey has been guided by Thomas Merton. He wrote during a time in our country’s history when division and hatred were very prevalent. Sixty years later, his writings are eerily relevant and prophetic as this nation and world continue to be dominated by division and hatred.

These words of his from a posthumous collection of his writings (Love and Living) struck me today. In our modern world the fascination of violence has become, through TV, magazines, movies, radio, etc., almost irresistible. There is. now so much free-floating terror and hatred in the moral climate of the world that the slightest and most ridiculous of actions can be interpreted symbolically and instantly unleash mass hysteria on a global scale… the crude symbolism of violence has gained its power precisely from the fact that the symbolism of love has been so terribly debased, cheapened, and dehumanized.

In today’s sermon, I explored the call to extravagant love which Jesus calls us to. The Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about in the parable of the mustard seed is a kin-dom where love, justice, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are more than simply buzzwords on a t-shirt. The mustard seed of Jesus’ day can easily be compared to kudzu today. It is invasive and takes over quickly. Justice, kindness/mercy, and humbly walking with God are just some of the products of such a way of living. Don’t we need that sort of response today? Our response to hatred, greed, fear-mongering, fear, etc., must be different from what we are seeing far too often today.

A Reflection – Who am I?

As the church emerges from over a year of challenges, this Padre is emerging as well. To say that the last fifteen months have been a challenge would be a massive understatement. Unfortunately, as the US and other nations appear to be emerging, there is still much of the world without access to vaccines where deaths are skyrocketing.

In the midst of all of this, I firmly believe that the church is at a crossroads. Will the church return to “situation normal” 2019 or will something new emerge? With the present state of religious and political division… with hatred, racism, sexism, grotesque nationalism, and the rejection of life which we all hold in common… where are we and how we will move forward is at the core of who we are.

Thomas Merton asked the following in his book, My Argument with the Gestapo: If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.

So what are we living for? Are we living for love and life? Are we living for fear and hatred? In his 1967 address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr King had the following to say: Returning hate for hate multiplies hate… Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only love can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. I have decided to stick with love… hate is too great a burden to bear.

Sitting with these reflections from Dr King and Thomas Merton offers a challenge to me, and I hope to you as well dear reader. Who am I? Who are we? How will we choose to live? There is much to consider as we choose how to live day by day.

Pace e Bene – 11 June 2021

image and quote courtesy of Pace e Bene

“Transcending violence is forged by the capacity to generate, mobilize and build the moral imagination. Stated simply, the moral imagination requires the capacity to imagine ourselves in: 

a) a web of relationships that includes our enemies;
b) the ability to sustain a paradoxical curiosity that embraces complexity without reliance on dualistic polarity;
c) the fundamental belief in and pursuit of the creative act;
d) and the acceptance of the inherent risk of stepping into the mystery of the unknown that lies beyond the far too familiar landscape of violence.” 

—John Paul Lederach

Pace e Bene – 10 June 2021

image and quote courtesy of Pace e Bene

“Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful and whatever is powerful may be just.”—Blaise Pascal

Nonviolence – Thomas Merton

These words from Thomas Merton are from an article he wrote for Fellowship of Reconciliation’s pamphlet dated May, 1967. They are as relevant today as they were when he first wrote them. In a world of increasing divisiveness and violence, we need to hear these prophetic words and follow them.

Christian nonviolence is not built on a presupposed division, but on the basic unity of humankind. It is not out for the conversion of the wicked to the ideas of the good, but for healing and reconciliation… Nonviolence must be aimed above all at the transformation of the present state of the world, and it must therefore be free from all occult, unconscious connivance with an unjust use of power. This poses enormous problems—for if nonviolence is too political it becomes drawn into the power struggle and identified with one side or another in that struggle, while if it is totally a-political it runs the risk of being ineffective or at best merely symbolic.

We have much to do, dear reader, if we are to truly be the instruments of peace God through the voice of Saint Francis of Assisi calls us to be. The question for the church is this—is the church willing to divest itself from divisiveness and fear-mongering? Are those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers willing to take the necessary steps? Will our work be merely symbolic or will it be meaning-filled… Spirit give us strength and lead us in that path.

How to Make a Difference – Jake Owensby

I was beginning to feel discouraged the other day. Oh there’s plenty of good news. Loads of compassionate people devote themselves to making this world a better place for everybody. 

Still, I can’t help but see the persistent violence, hatred, want, and misery. It weighs on me. Maybe you can relate.

Jesus taught us to walk the way of love. He warned that this way would be hard, but promised that it would change the world. I’m all in. And yet I found myself wondering, “Are we really making a difference with all this love stuff?” read further in Jake’s blog (link below) or in his book, Looking for God in Messy Places

What I learned from a Concentration Camp survivor.

How to Make a Difference

Evening Prayer – 8 June 2021

The sun has set and the Vesper Lights flicker and glow

It has been a long day, Lord

Vacation Bible School was a blessing

Afterwards, a lovely lunch with my sweetheart

A wee health scare with our sweet puppy yet all is well

Thank you for the good people at Carroll County Animal Hospital on Oak Mountain Road

Their love and care for all of us was such a blessing

Now as my eyelids grow heavy

I lift this humble prayer to you

Dona Nobis Pacem

Grant Us Peace

A wee prayer from the heart of your Padre…

Pace e Bene – 7 June 2021

“I have come into this world to see this: the swords drop from men’s hands even at the height of their arc of rage because we have finally realized there is just one flesh we can wound.”—Hafiz (image and quote courtesy of Pace e Bene)

Family – A Brief Reflection

Bluebird at Kennesaw Mountain National Park

From today’s church bulletin and my message… family can be diverse and sometimes messy. However, at the end of the day, aren’t we called to love?

We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family. – Desmond Tutu

Pace e Bene – 6 June 2021

image and quote courtesy of Pace e Bene

“When shall we have the courage to outgrow the charity mentality and see that at the bottom of all relations between rich and poor there is the problem of justice?”—Dom Helder Camara