Monday, September 18, 2017

Born Anew


From a sermon from Cindy this weekend...

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.
~John 3:1-9

I started to do a search on the internet, but after seeing that the first page of googling didn’t reveal my answer, I gave up. I’m not a very patient googler. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. What I was searching for was, “must be born again craze.” I was wondering when that began. Well, it really began with Jesus, of course, because he’s the one who said it. But when was it that it became such a huge thing in American religious culture? I think it had to do with Jimmy Carter, and that was when I was a teenager. I don’t remember exactly when, but what I do remember is that it was very confusing to me. You must be born again, preachers would say, meaning, you must become someone else. You must become someone else. That’s how I remember them preaching it, anyway. And that was hard for me to integrate, as it probably was for some of you. “Are you a Christian?” Yes…  “Have you been born again?” Well, not really. I’m still just me.

And I think that’s why my heart sang when I heard John Philip Newell talk about this passage at Lake Junaluska this summer. 

Because he said that Jesus wasn’t saying that we need to become someone else. He said that Jesus, in saying that we must be born again, or anew, was saying that we need to be born into our true selves. We need to be born into our true selves.

He pointed out something that we already knew, which is that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. He wasn’t a Christian, and so he didn’t adhere to the Christian doctrine of original sin. 

The idea of original sin, for those of us who might not be familiar with the term, is one that, whether we’re familiar with it our not, pervades our lives. When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, after having sinned, all of humanity was put in a state of separation from God, and it’s only through Jesus that we are reconnected. That’s the idea that many of us grew up with. You might remember the little picture that we sometimes used when we were trying to “save” someone. There are two cliffs with a great gulf in-between. God is on one side. Humankind on the other. And then you draw a cross in-between to connect the two? Does anyone remember that? Used to be an evangelical tool that we would use to share the “good news” of Jesus Christ. But Jesus Christ didn’t preach that kind of good news. Jesus didn’t preach about how we are disconnected from God. Jesus preached about how God is within us…

The concept of original sin didn’t come from Jesus. 

Newell said that he was on an interfaith panel with some other religious leaders awhile back, and someone asked them to comment on original sin, and the Jewish rabbi on the panel said that when someone Jewish hears the term “original sin,” they are prone to think, now that was really an original sin! In other words, original sin wasn’t, and isn’t a Jewish concept, but rather came around years after Jesus’ death. It was first alluded to in the second century by Iraneus, Bishop of Lyon, and was later developed by St. Augustine. It retained its popularity through church reformers such as John Calvin and Martin Luther, and is very popular to this day. One of the founders of Celtic Christianity, Pelagius, was kicked out of Rome, first, and later, Italy, largely because he refused to accept the concept of original sin, by the way. 


We spend a lot of time as Christians, not in this church, maybe not enough in this church, confessing our sin. We are bad, bad, bad. We were born in sin. But as Newell points out, what would it look like if we acted that way in one of our most important relationships? What if we were constantly apologizing and feeling guilty and less than? It would be totally unhealthy. And yet, that’s so often the way that people view their relationship with God. You must be born again. You must become someone else. Because who you are is never good enough...

You must be born again, Jesus says, calling us back to our true selves. You must be born from above. You must be born anew. Born anew into that of you which is the essence of God, the essence of your true self...

Now, I’m not an artist, and I can’t draw it. But I can tell you that I saw a very clear picture of this on Wednesday when our Diane - our homeless/hospitality minister - told me about what had happened at the Hospitality Program the day before. It was a busy day, she said, and in the middle of all of the busi-ness, a man brought in a woman in a bathrobe. He had found her a few blocks away. She was wandering around, lost and confused. She didn’t know her name, and, said the man, she was (made a motion with his finger to indicate craziness). Diane had the woman sit down with Kari, who talked with her and kept her calm while Diane made some phone calls. It took about an hour for the police to get there, and when they did, they confirmed that the woman was on the missing persons list. Her son had been looking for her. She had parked her car and left her keys and her purse and her i.d. somewhere, and they tried to find it, and they contacted her son, and they eventually took her to the hospital, where we are hoping that she received the care she needed.

It’s a sad story, but a precious one. I hate to think what might have happened had that man not have found her. 

And here’s the thing that touched me most deeply about the story: The man who brought her in, said Diane, was drunker than anyone she’d ever seen. And note: this is our homeless minister talking. He was drunker than anyone she’d ever seen! 

And yet, this man, as drunk as he was, was able to connect with the very essence of God within, with the love-longings of God, to share with this woman that there is a place where you can go where they will help you, and not just to share that with her, but to accompany her, stumbling alongside her until he had delivered into Diane’s care. 

And in that experience, I believe that that man was born anew, not in the way we used to talk about, becoming someone else, but in that, even in the midst of his brokenness, he reconnected with the very essence of God. You must be born anew, says Jesus.

I am reminded of the voice that we hear in “The Help,” the voice of Abileen, a family maid, who babysits little Mae Mobley. Mae’s mother usually ignores her, and whenever she pays her any attention, she criticizes her. So Abilene sits her down everyday and says, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

The heart of God is beating within each of us. May we listen for it, may we hear it, may we be renewed in its rhythm. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sanctuary




This Summer, Jeff St is looking at ways we can be part of engaging in solidarity with those who need sanctuary. As part of this, we've had a large Sanctuary Stone set up in the church meeting space (or "sanctuary," if you prefer...) and today we added smaller sanctuary stones for us to take out into our daily world, to remind that we need to be about sanctuary wherever we are.

As another part of this push, we've had various people offer reflections about immigrants and their reality, based upon people we personally know. Today, Maria (who works with immigrants/refugees) shared the following...

My current work is with the refugee resettlement program. A program that was formalized in the U.S. in 1980 and you used to never hear much about in the news. Today it has become a political issue. The U.S. originally planned to welcome 110,000 refugees this fiscal year. The Executive Orders by the Trump administration slashed that number to 50,000. While the courts eventually blocked this part of the order from being enforced, the uncertainty led to a major slow down in processing refugees overseas and their arrival in the U.S. Refugee resettlement agencies have lost funding, laid off staff and some have closed down. It has also left many refugees wondering if they are still welcome here. Or if they will ever be able to reunite with their family members still overseas. 

Does the United States want us?

This fiscal year the U.S. will likely resettle around 70,000 refugees, but the ceiling will probably be set at 50,000 next fiscal year, the lowest a president has ever set. And that is being optimistic. And this is happening in the midst of the world’s worst refugee crisis. More than 65 million people have been displaced from their homes, including over 21 million refugees outside of their country. Over half who are under the age of 18. It is hard to wrap your head around these numbers. Less tahn 1% will have the chance to be resettled in any given year. Millions are living in uncertainty – either in refugee camps or in countries where they are unable to obtain legal immigration status.

For those that make it to U.S., I think the story of a colleague and friend of mine from Afghanistan shows how complex our immigration system is. He came to the U.S. in September 2014 on a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, – a status available to Afghani or Iraqi nationals who worked for the U.S. army or the U.S. government for at least one year, and because of this work, their life is in danger. 

The paperwork to get this visa isn’t easy – which probably goes without saying. He spends his free time helping others who are still in Afghanistan navigate the visa application process. My colleague came by himself and was originally resettled in California. He moved to Kentucky because his fiancé was on a student visa and attending college here to become a nurse. He worries for his family back home in Afghanistan every day. 

Because of his work for the U.S. government, his whole family is in danger, including his parents and siblings. They have received threats from the Taliban. But there is no way for him to sponsor them to come to the U.S. until he becomes a naturalized citizen – which can happen at the earliest in September 2019. He and his fiancé wanted to get married in the U.S. in the presence of their parents. Her parents were able to get a vistor’s visa to come here. His parents were denied twice. My colleague explained if they think you have a reason to overstay your visa in the U.S., they will deny your application. So my colleague and his fiancé traveled to Afghanistan to get married despite the danger of going back. They did not want to get married without their parents there. The wedding was in late December and they went home for a month. When he told me the dates he was planning on traveling, the first thing I did was google “when does Trump get inaugurated”. He was getting back a few days before. Okay, it is safe to buy your plane tickets, I joked. Thinking I was overreacting. Well, the first travel ban was issued the first week Trump took office. While Afghanistan wasn’t on the list of seven countries, the executive order caused chaos at airports around the world and my friend does have a Muslim name. I was glad he was back in the U.S. safely.

His wife recently graduated and passed her boards. She has a job lined up at a local hospital – however, her student visa is about to expire and she needs an employer to sponsor her to obtain a work permit. It doesn’t seem like that will work out. Now they are trying to figure out how to maintain her immigration status in the U.S. so she does not become undocumented. They are trying multiple things. Starting an asylum application. 

My colleague applying for permanent residency for her now that they are married and both currently have status. These first two options will take years. So the third option is applying for a master’s program so she can get a student visa again. A recent consult they had with an immigration lawyer told them they could have applied for her permanent residency two years ago and might have it today, but that is not the advice they got two years ago from another immigration lawyer. The system is confusing to navigate – and they speak fluent English, which most refugees and immigrants that come here do not. So they are filling out multiple applications and paying multiple fees, while worrying about their families back home each and every day. I didn’t know what to say to my friend after the bombing in Kabul last month. I said I hope that your family is okay. He wrote back thanks, my family is okay, but hundreds of families are not. It hurts so much. If my family is okay this time, they might not be next time.

This is a very small glimpse into what our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters experience. A big lesson I have learned in my years of working with this population is how much privilege I have 1. because I am white, and 2. because I am a U.S. citizen. No one gets to choose where they are born. I have heard so many amazing and heartbreaking stories over the years. I could never share them all.
Refugee. Immigrant. Asylum Seeker. Undocumented. These are all immigration statuses but they do not define a person. We are all human beings and a citizen of the same world, just trying to survive and do what is best for ourselves and our families.



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bright Morning Stars


Bright morning stars are rising
Bright morning stars are rising
Bright morning stars are rising
Day is a'breaking
In my soul...


Happy Easter, all.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Happy 25th Birthday to the Urban Goatwalker!


We celebrated the 25th birthday of the Urban Goatwalker last Saturday. It was an amazing night. Thanks for everyone over the years who has made the Goatwalker the blessing that it is.


Welcome

Welcome to strangers
to friends, old and new
welcome to travelers
and welcome to you

Welcome to fans of Tupac
And fans of Thoreau
Bienvenidos a mes amigos que habla espanol

Whether you like guitars or drums
Or poetry by Rambo
You are welcome here
Even if you like banjo!

Whether you walked here on foot
or rode in on wheels
We are so glad you're here
you're kind of a big deal

Your smile when you smile
makes our hearts swell
but your tears and your frowns
are welcome, as well

The thing is, we like you
you're great, without compare
and we are so glad that you
you specifically
Have made your way here

Friday, January 20, 2017

Resist


I will find strength
where I have always found strength...

in the Community of those
committed to
Beauty and
Kindness and
Love.

Monday, December 26, 2016

O Holy Night



Merry Christmas, All!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Can't Take This Music From Me


A song written by the great guys in the Steel Wheels (check them out) and sung last Sunday by Donna and Kate, with the always magical Jon on viola...
 
" Hymns from the loudest voice til quiet ones rejoice Your bitter silence tasted
And to all the beaten down in those forgotten towns Let no more time be wasted
There are no words to sing this little song I bring I come here empty handed
There is no day too bright no darken night  There are no wishes granted
Can't take this music from me
music from me
can't take it from me..."