Common Ground


In these days when political correctness is not politically correct …
When pundits talk of two sides in their own bubbles …
When we are so reticent to share what we believe, concerned that things we say not hurt or offend someone else …
In these days of polarization …
Is there no common ground?

Is not the common ground tolerance and understanding?
Is not the common ground justice and equality for all?
Is not the common ground abhorrence of hate and embrace of love?

Once upon a time, a year or so ago,
I thought there was a wide, beautiful river of common ground
running through our hearts, our world.
I yearn for that time before I saw
the truth of what we have become.

God, have mercy on us
and give us wisdom and compassion.
God, have mercy on us
and give us courage to speak truth and act for justice.
God, have mercy on us
and show us the way to redemption.

Hate, Emboldened

Hate, emboldened,
Steps out of a closet,
Packs a suitcase,
And drives to Virginia.

Hate, emboldened,
Does not feel the need
To cover up with hoods or robes.

Hate, emboldened,
Marches in the light of day,
And illuminates the night
With torches and spotlights.

Hate, emboldened
By “free speech”
And “take back what is ours.”

Hate, encouraged by anger,
By fear, by prejudice.

Hate, empowered by the silence
Of political leaders,
Of church leaders,
Of ordinary people
Like me.

Rise up, voices of truth,
Voices of light,
Voices of courage.
Embolden Love.

What Have We Become?

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I usually wake up early,
Turn on the news,
And go back to sleep.

This morning I was shocked awake
By the news of further violence.
The targeting of police officers in Dallas.
A suicide attack at a Muslim shrine in Iraq.

God of Love, what have we become?
We need you now.
We are broken, torn apart,
Permeated with a violent malignancy.

Come, quickly.
Come, now, and heal this hurting world.
Amen.

A prayer for today.

#kellyonmymind

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A few weeks ago I found myself deeply affected by the impending execution by the State of Georgia of Kelly Gissendander who was convicted of participation in the death of her husband. My denomination, The United Methodist Church, and my personal beliefs are against the death penalty, no matter who the person is or what they have done. I have not been an activist against state executions in a number of years.

But hearing the story of Kelly Gissendander and seeing pictures of her smiling face in her graduation from Chandler School of Theology hit me in a different way. I found myself watching the clock, refreshing my Twitter feed in order to find out what was going on, and praying, praying, praying. Kelly was not put to death that evening and has had a temporary stay put on her execution.

I have been wondering about why I was so captivated by Kelly’s story when there are so many facing the same fate. I confess: I think it was because she looks like me, she’s not that different from me. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, it could have been me facing death on death row.

I was reminded of this quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-1956), The Gulag Archipelago

I truly believe that we all have within our own hearts the capacity for both good and evil. So how can I condemn and condone the state killing of someone on my behalf?

Since that evening of Kelly’s reprieve, Manuel Vasquez was killed by the state of Texas and I didn’t hear a thing about it. There are 13 other executions scheduled in the United States this year. Thirteen other children of God facing death on my behalf as a citizen of the U.S. Lord, have mercy. Show us the way.

Let’s continue to fight for life. In the name of the executed and risen Christ. Amen.
Shane Claiborne

Death penalty information.

3 Things I Learned When Answering the Upper Room Prayer Line

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This morning when I got to work, The Upper Room Prayer Line was forwarded to my phone. After I panicked for five minutes trying to figure out how to make it stop, I accepted that I would be the Accidental Prayer Volunteer from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Acceptance. Sometimes things just get thrown my way whether I asked for them or not. I can get all excited and throw a fit. Or I can just accept it and do the right thing. Answering the prayer line and praying with the callers was the right thing to do.
2. Openness. I was afraid about what would happen when I answered the call. So I said, “Upper Room Prayer Center. May I pray with you?” And then people started talking about what was troubling them. When I let go of my fear and had an open heart, my mind, my heart, my mouth knew what to say.
3. Prayer time with people is holy time. What an honor it was to answer the phone and pray with a complete stranger, a person who trusted The Upper Room to hear the big and small, intimate details of their lives. They had a need and they reached out. And we were there — I was there — to say a prayer for that person. We sat together and God was present there on the phone — and in Nashville, Texas, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. God is present and sends God’s comfort right then and there through the voice at the other end of the telephone.

You can be a prayer volunteer. I recommend it. Learn more at the Living Prayer Center’s website.

Black Lives Matter

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I’m wearing black to church today. I learned on Friday that today, nationwide, black churches are observing Black Solidarity Day or Black Lives Matter Sunday and wearing black to church.

At the Black Lives Matter prayer service in The Upper Room chapel, my colleague and friend, Candace, gently explained: Of course, all lives matter. They do! But we want to say that Black Lives Matter. It is Black children being killed in our streets, not all children.

I want to affirm that Black Lives Matter. Today, on this Gaudete Sunday in Advent, Black Lives Matter. Every day, Black lives matter.

Remember that Mary sang:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

– Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Art from http://blacklisted matter.com.

On Injustice, Advent, and Jubilee

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Repost from the Alive Now blog.

I was standing on the street visiting with an African-American friend when a car containing mutual acquaintances pulled up about ten feet from us. The folks in the car motioned for me to walk over to their window to talk with them. I won’t go into the details of what happened, but when they drove away without acknowledging the presence of my friend on the sidewalk, I realized that I had been given the gift of glimpsing the racism that he sees, experiences, and lives every day. In those awkward moments after they drove away, we stood in silence. I finally said, “Well, that was rude.” And then I had a further gift. The barrier was breached, and we were able to talk for just a few minutes about his experiences of being a person who is treated differently from me because of the color of his skin.

In this world, in this time, when there is so much hurt, so much injustice, so much anger and despair, I still live in a place of privilege, protected from the small and large slights, injustices, and downright dangers of looking different, of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jesus came to bring release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. That’s the message of Jubilee, the message of Advent — and I’m mostly on the privileged side of that equation. Most of the time, I’m the free one rather than the captive. Most of the time, I don’t see the daily injustices of racism and classism that oppress persons of color or those who live below the poverty line. It’s uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as the fear of a mother who, when her black son leaves the house, prays that he will come home again safely. It’s not as uncomfortable as a community who feels threatened by the very system created to protect it.

I pray for wisdom to know how to be a Christ-follower today — in this place and in this time. To live faithfully and with courage. To be God’s heart and hands in the world. To have the opportunity to speak truth, to acknowledge that things are not right. To be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I want to make a difference in this hurting world. And I wonder, how can we be prophets, healers, followers of Christ when a world of hurt, injustice, and anger is boiling over.

Break into this world, God of Light.
Open our shuttered eyes, shuttered life,
to the stories of injustice.
Open our locked-up hearts
to your spirit of love and compassion.
Give us courage to speak truth to injustice.
Guide us as we seek to be bearers of hope
in places where there is no hope,
Bringers of comfort where there is despair,
Sources of courage where there is only fear.
Come quickly, Emmanuel.
Amen.

Share with me your hopes and dreams, your thoughts and actions.