All week long I have been trying to write my reflections on hunger, and unlike many articles I write, this time I have been having an extremely difficult time. Usually writing about hunger is easy. I have a lot of personal knowledge of hunger due to the medical condition of my youth. So I always feel a need to help since most hunger is as easy to cure as getting nutritious food to where it needs to be.
Though in our country, where there is seemingly so much, Hunger is not a priority even though globally, it is one of the largest killers of children worldwide. In fact, according to Bread for the World, one child dies every 5 SECONDS due to hunger, not to mention the learning and physical disabilities that result from chronic malnutrition. This fact is often lost, since hunger is rarely part of the national discourse. Many years ago, to heighten the visibility, churches banded together do the CROP walk, a sign of solidarity with people who have to walk long distances for basic needs.
So on Sunday we gathered at the City Hall to have our walk to raise awareness for hunger. As I participated in the walk, we talked and strolled and had a pretty good time. There were even delicious homemade cookies halfway through, but I wonder the impact. Across the entire Bay Area, from Napa to San Jose, every region held their CROP walk though if it hit the news, it was buried. Then again, we often do not recognize hunger as a real need.
Instead, we focus on things like the terrorist bombing in Boston. While, yes, this is an important story, and something we need to be aware of, we often forget that acts of terrorism every year globally claim few lives and when compared to those who die of hunger-related deaths are not statistically quantifiable. Though it makes for good news and ratings, however, some sociologists and historians are beginning to publish studies and research arguing that the overabundance of attention we give to acts of terrorism breads more terrorism.
I could not help but be struck by how this suspect looked; it was as if he could have been one of my friends when I was 19. I can say without any hesitation that his actions were pure evil (and, by the way, would be seen that way too within the teachings of Islam), but is he? I began to wonder, since he is a child of God, how could he do this and why?
Though I was troubled that before finding out the whole story, we already are calling for the death penalty (something, by the way, for a religiously motivated person is a welcome gift, think Jonestown, Waco, Suicide bombers). Before seeking understanding we jump to judgment. Moreover, the time and money that will ultimately be spent on this whole thing are really going to be amazing. In the end, what difference is it going to make, other than to possibly make us “feel more secure.” But if we look into the statistics, that is not a realistic result.
Way before any act like the bombing starts we can see a pattern of rejection, judgment, bullying, etc. as part of the suspects' lives. Being friends with many minority groups, particularly Muslims and African Americans, the persecution they face (while some try to laugh it off) can be quite intense, especially since they have to justify themselves constantly because of harassment of various types. I find this most difficult when I hear many “Christian” politicians talk and wonder to myself where is the connection to the love and Justice that Jesus Christ has taught.
Unfortunately, from the moment that Christianity was coopted to become a Militaristic movement (The Battle of Milvian Bridge), we have used strength to concur and force the results we want. Historically, this is problematic because we know that when you have power and are not wise, those without power will resort to “terrorist” means because they feel there is no other choice. This was true even in Christ’s time, though the tools of terrorism were not as deadly! One of the things that we see in the political message of Christ is his call for Justice and love as opposed to judgment and law, creating a peaceful approach to Christian social order.
This is where hunger and terrorism meet, both problems are things that we can stop if we really want to by acting justly and lovingly. On of my favorite verses for the whole of the Bible is “what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” just think, how our priorities would be different if everyone followed this principle.
So when I think of hunger, even stopping terrorism, I realize that while I can never control or directly change others, I can spread and teach a message of grace and love. And even if my actions cannot or are not seen by others all the time, I can hope and pray that my impact will help others, and together we can really change the whole world and feed Christ’s sheep in all the ways in which they need to be fed.
Yours in Christ,
On Monday morning, upon recommendation from many folks in the congregation, I went and saw the new movie about Jackie Robinson “42”. My eyes watered through the whole show! It was a powerful movie with an incredibly upfront Christian message about Justice and strength.
The witness of what Jackie Robinson and Mr. Rickey did was incredible and moving. In making these choices, they changed the world. Unfortunately, both also had to pay a heavy price in their lives, and they received regularly terrorizing and threatening letters and actions towards them. However, even with the persecutions both men faced, they found the strength to which we know from the movie was deeply guided by their faith.
As I walked out of the movie, I felt renewed with a hope and the energy that comes with a story so witnessing to the power and presence of God. I felt the call for justice and was asking myself how I can be more just in my life. Unfortunately, that was short lived: I turned on my car and the second bomb in Boston had just gone off, and my heart sank.
As I was driving around listening to the story, I could not help but let my mind drift back to an assembly I went to when I was in Junior High. One of the counselors in our school, who was an avid runner, went to the Boston Marathon, and he was talking about this experience. The focus for us students was what it meant to set a goal and reach it. That can be hard for 12 and 13 year olds!
Interestingly, as he talked about the training, he did to prepare, the time and expense, we were all expecting him to tell us that he won or was one of the best. Nevertheless, he did not go that way with the talk, even though he was in one of the first groups to finish. He said the Marathon was not about winning, rather it was about finishing, and finishing was the greatest feeling in the world. He spoke of the fact that there were people from all over the world, young and old, even some with disabilities, and he said that it was something that anyone who was willing to train for could do.
I hated and still do hate running. I will do it if I have to, but I would rather do anything else. What touched me at that time was the image that when I put my mind to something positive, it might actually come true. In the same light as Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking, focus, mindfulness, and a goal I wanted I had the power within to achieve! At that time in my life, it was something I needed to hear, because I was being terrorized by a few bullies and made to feel as if I was worthless.
Moreover, there was another teaching that he had, and that was one of sportsmanship. He told us that in sports, we should always try to do the best for ourselves, but we also always want to be supportive of those who are around us, even if they are our opponents. He then talked about his friend whom he was trying to beat and the healthy competition that made both stronger. Every time I think of the Marathon I think about this lesson, of how we need to focus on our goals, but be supportive of others along the way.
When my mind returned to the events that were (and are) still unfolding, I felt a deep sadness for the many levels of loss from life, to limb, and most of all to spirit. When I got home, I turned on the television news trying to grasp a better understanding or really some understanding at all. It was unhelpful and frustrating, more like watching a car wreck then really coming to terms with what was happening.
I turned off the TV for a while and began to think. I do that a lot lately! Then I began to think more about the movie, the story the marathon from my youth and of the bombing. I began to make a connection between Justice and fear, faithfulness and evil.
To me, the root of Evil is the human assertion of being superior to one another. In terrorism or bullying, corporate greed, even politics, the assertion of superiority over another creates derision, hate, anger, sometimes pushing us to a place where we can justify causing pain. To listen to the stories of the Jim Crow South, what happened was no less terrorism than what we see today. In fact, in many ways, it was worse, because for many years the greater society either explicitly supported it or condoned it through turning a blind eye to it.
At the end of the day I realized that we may never really know why. We may even look upon the people who did this with hate and anger, but ultimately what will that do? It may solve this problem, but I can tell you that it’s not going to change the systemic problem of terrorism within our society both here and abroad. The only way to combat hate and evil and win is for the people in the world to stand up and say that there is a better way.
We can struggle to show love and compassion for one another. We can look to ourselves and think about what we do, how we treat each other, how we lift each other up. We can revel in the stories of justice, and see the strength that can come when we let God guide us, and we can see the power of love as we did when we saw the first responders and individual heroes step in. For ourselves, we can be just in our lives striving for more and supporting each other along the way. If we really want to stand up to evil in this world, it truly is the only way.
Walking through New York one Saturday afternoon a few years ago, I ran into a salesman with a table filled with little boxes all of differing sizes, shapes, and colors. I was curious and while trying to kill some time before meeting some friends, I asked, “What are you selling?”
He pointed at the sign which read “GOD IN A BOX $10”
“Really?” I asked as I reached for one of the flashier boxes.
His large hand stopped me just before touching it “Ten Dollars” was all he said.
I looked at him and began to notice a strange mix of emotions in his eyes, though deeply sad, there were contentment and peace even a little Joy. “What is a God in a Box, anyway?” I asked.
“Well, everyone wants God to conform to what they want God to be, so I said ‘well, people need a place to put him, right?’ so I made these boxes, each unique so that people can carry around the God they created. Most of all, then they don’t have to worry about losing him, people seem to really be concerned with that these days”
“How does one put God in the Box?”
“How many have you sold?”
I found out that the guy was a pastor of a local congregation who did this partly as an artistic critique and partly as an evangelism tool. We talked for a little while, and I found out that he hit a spiritual wall in his congregation because he was trying to teach them about Jesus eating with the poor and one member got up and said, “My God would never sit with someone who refuses to help themselves.” He was dumfounded and began to pray. In his meditation, this idea popped into his mind as a way to get people to think of how we could ever get God to conform to our understandings. He said some really got it but others, including that member, bought a box, and still did not.
The funny thing is the longer than I am in the ministry and the more I stay mindful of Gods Presence, the more I realize that God is so much bigger then I could imagine. The truth is that every time that I try to reduce God to something small God surprises me in new, bigger, and powerful ways.
This past weekend I took a moment to stay at the Bothe-Napa state park. Now it is neither the most glamorous nor largest park. Really it is not much of a park at all, But I like it! It is quiet, secluded, with plenty to keep me occupied, and if worse comes to worse, there are literally hundreds of wineries close by. This is a special time for me to be mindful and seek a connection to God. No matter what happens, every time I go, something happens that reminds of the sheer vastness of God.
In many ways, this was not the trip I had hoped for, being too short, too wet, and well, some noisy neighbors. . . But something happened to me that was glorious as I began to see God in a different light in the moments of quiet, and darkness (did I tell you that I found all of my flashlights to have bad batteries?)” As I laughed at my silly misfortune, I could not help but reflect upon the day.
That was a day that started with a tense Presbytery meeting full of power plays and political maneuvering a surprisingly relaxing and event-free drive through San Francisco, and a superb meal cooked on the fire pit. In a lot of ways, I realized that I could begin to think of God playing tricks on us or create in our minds and vengefulness, but being out there sitting under a redwood, I realize that just as I can only see a portion of that tree at any one time, so is true for God.
I can think God is acting against me, only to find out that while I might have temporary pain God is doing something much bigger. Moreover, I realize that often our feelings are more ours then God’s. What God wants for us is to be focused on him and be thankful for the life he gives to us. Most of all God wants us to be happy.
So often in debate or politics we strive to prove God to be on our side or our interpretation of God is the only one, this is the definition of keeping God tied down or small, boxed up. However, when we connect and are mindful of God, allowing God to grow within us each day, allows us to marvel like a child at the wonders of God’s presence and to sit in the awesome wonder of life. Moreover, we are also able to begin to see the bigger picture, how our story fits within the larger story of our life, and with the support of the community can witness to a deeper more connected and fulfilled life.
The time between Easter morning and Pentecost is called Eastertide. Eastertide or the Easter Season is recognition of the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost. We set it aside to focus on that time in the Gospel witness that we remember when Christ continues to walk among the disciples ultimately departing at the assentation, just before Pentecost which is the celebration of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Church, and the inclusion of all people into the ministry.
Eastertide is important because as lent was set aside to ask, “How are we preparing ourselves for the coming Christ?” Eastertide is asking the question, “What are we going to do about it?” Or even better, “Now that you have Christ, what are you going to do about it?
Now many will point to John 3:16 as the Gospel summed up.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
When I first was taught that verse, it was presented as the “Most important verse in the Bible.” Now, that gives a lot of weight to a very basic sentence, and while that is important, it merely gives us an understanding of why Christ came into the world and how and why the world is saved, but it leaves off a very important aspect of Christian faithfulness. The call to action.
The call to action spelled out within the Great Commission also the conclusion to the gospel of Matthew lays the foundation for how we are to go forward as Christians:
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefor and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In this passage, we see the ties back to each teaching of Christ. But more importantly, it points to the bigger reality that the church is not called to stay and revel in its salvation but to go forward into the world being active within God’s mission.
There is a balance in faith that is very real for a healthy faith. To be focused exclusively on one’s individual faith is to miss both the growth and depth of Christian Life. Conversely, to focus on only the action divorces your own spiritual needs and growth from the faithful expression. Without that balance, we can get lost in faith and left often times feeling incomplete. In fact, when we look at the teachings of Christ all of them in some way point to the great commandment. In short, we are called to Love God and our Neighbor. The balance of faith, therefore, is laid out to be faithfulness (love God) and action (love your neighbor).
It is interesting that when balance is found between faithfulness and action, each tends to build up the other. Moreover, when one side is weak, often the other is strong. The trick to balance is to recognize both and let the stronger side help the weaker side get stronger. Once balance is achieved, often those are the moments when we see and can witness to the fullness of Christ in this world.
The reality of our faith is that when we wake up each morning, we are called to remember the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. However, we must not stop there! We must also question our calling, making sure that we are being faithful to our commission as Christians to go out.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen