Raising the Minimum Wage

Last night I spoke to City Council regarding the Legislative Priorities for 2017. There were seven of us who did. Topics addressed by the speakers were ethics reform, restoring balance to the Clean Water Commission, Medicaid expansion, capping the interest rate on predatory lending and raising the minimum wage. In fact, ethics reform, Medicaid expansion and minimum wage were all lifted up by Councilman Mike Schilling as priorities that needed to be included or amended in order to give the Missouri Legislature more guidance, but his changes were subsequently voted down by the majority of the other council members. It became very clear that the majority on City Council are not willing to advocate for something if they believe the Missouri Legislature will not take up the cause. But here’s the thing: If we all adopt that attitude, nothing will ever change. Medicaid will never expand to include people who make more than $5,000 and less than $12,000. Minimum wage will stay so low that people cannot support their families on it, even if they are working full-time. Legislators will continue to receive campaign contributions from predatory lending institutions that disguise their true identity. Nothing will change and so people will continue to get sick and not be able to afford healthcare, costs of living will continue to rise as wages remain relatively stagnant, and big money will continue to control and shape the laws of our city, state, and nation. No one wants to talk about these issues because they’ve been labeled as “political.” It’s time we stop letting people silence us with that claim. Don’t allow our legislators or anyone else to call the issues that matter most “political.” Because what they’re doing is playing politics with people’s lives and that is unacceptable.

And so yesterday, fully committed to raising my voice in solidarity with those who are not paid enough to support themselves or their families, I spoke the following words to the Springfield City Council:

Good evening. I am Rev. Emily Bowen-Marler and my address is on file. Over the past couple of years, Springfield has really opened its eyes to the reality of poverty in our city, recognizing that having a hole in one end of the boat affects us all. As a clergy person here in Springfield, I applaud the efforts that the city is taking to tackle the symptoms and, in some cases, the root causes of poverty. I’ve attended a number of meetings and presentations where the data has been laid out and the call to do something about this as a city has been issued. But there is one thing that seems to be missing from the conversation and I notice it is missing from the legislative priorities as well. We know that the poverty rate in Springfield is double the poverty rate in the whole state of Missouri. And we also know that Springfield has a lower unemployment rate than much of the rest of the state, so what gives? The elephant in the room is the low wages that are paid to workers in Springfield. The low wages in this city directly correlate to the level of poverty we experience in our community. Which results in people having their utilities shut off, being evicted from their homes, running to a predatory lending company… I don’t understand how we can claim to take the alleviation of poverty seriously without addressing the low wages that the citizens of Springfield are making. You want to decrease the levels of poverty in Springfield? Raise wages! Even when adjusted for our low cost of living, our wages are too low. When people work over 40 hours a week and are still not able to pay for food, housing, transportation and clothing for their families, something is wrong. When parents have to take on 2 or 3 or more jobs in order to make ends meet, something is wrong. When people have to choose between turning on the heat and eating a meal, something is wrong. Too often people are tempted to lay all of the blame on the low-wage earners, to accuse those who live in poverty of being lazy. When we find ourselves tempted to say such a thing, I would challenge us all to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. To participate in a poverty simulation, to try living on food stamps for a month. But instead of seeking to understand the plight of those living in poverty, our legislature continues to take punitive measures by further limiting the government benefits one can receive, by reducing SNAP and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits, by failing to take advantage of the money set aside for Missouri to expand Medicaid. I understand that there are many who are against the government extending benefits to those in need. If that’s that case, why not advocate for people to be paid a high enough wage so that they wouldn’t have to draw on government benefits in the first place? Our religious and charitable organizations are doing a great job trying to address the symptoms of poverty, but all the available has not lowered the poverty level in Springfield. This can’t be fixed by Convoy of Hope or by the Council of Churches of the Ozarks. There is a problem with our laws. When employers are allowed to pay people such a low wage that government assistance is required to make ends meet, there is a problem with our laws. When we lift up the cause of business at the expense of people being able to escape poverty, there is a problem with our priorities. We should not stand for that. Springfield is better than that. Businesses cannot survive if the people perish. It’s time to stop ignoring the root of the problem and start paying people a living wage.  I sincerely hope you will reconsider adding raising the minimum wage to the legislative priorities for 2017. Lives in our community depend upon it.

 

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Oppose Right-to-Work – Sustain the Governor’s Veto of HB116/SB569

I shared these words in our local newspaper a while back, but this issue has resurfaced in the wake of Governor Nixon’s veto of “Right-to-Work” legislation (HB116/SB569). In light of that, I feel it necessary to lift up why I, as a person of faith, oppose such legislation and support the Governor’s veto of it. In order to stand with middle class and working families and to express our commitment to our calling as people of God, I encourage people of faith and especially the legislators of Missouri to sustain the governor’s veto.

As a person of faith, I am concerned that once again a deceptively-titled piece of legislation is passed that does the opposite of what the average person might believe it does.  This legislation does nothing to ease the ability of Missouri citizens to work and in fact, undermines wages and the ability for workers to stand up for themselves and have a voice in the workplace. What “Right-to-Work” does is give CEOs, special interests, and corporations the right to pay low wages. That isn’t fighting for Missouri families. That does not honor the dignity of our workers.

Throughout scripture, the prophets cry out for economic justice. In the Gospels, Jesus reaches out to the oppressed and the marginalized. In our time, the oppressed are those who cannot support their families because of low wages. The middle class is shrinking and wages have remained stagnant for far too long, even as corporations and CEOs are taking in more and more money all the time. It is my fervent prayer that we work together to strengthen Missouri families, that we value the dignity of every worker in our state, and that we recognize the ways in which Right-to-Work will undermine all of that.

4 Days ‘Til Election Sermon

All week, I’ve been searching for my elusive Easter sermon (I think it’s hiding with the Easter bunny), and on my run route this morning, I found, not my Easter sermon, but my 4 Days ‘Til Election Sermon! I saw 22 signs for NO Repeal as I ran and two Vote Yes on Question #1 signs. Completely unsurprising given the part of Springfield I live in, but I did find it heartening given the knowledge that none of those NO Repeal signs would have been handed out at a church where the average Sunday morning attendance is around 9000 people (which is the case for the Vote Yes signs). So all of the people who had the NO Repeal signs in their yard had to do more than just get up and go to church on a Sunday morning. They had to make a concerted effort to get that sign. They had to reach into their pocketbooks and make a donation to help offset costs to get that sign. I know because I had to wait two weeks before I was able to get my NO Repeal sign!

But the potential influence of that mega church paired with an article I read in the News-Leader yesterday about a letter sent to 35 pastors urging them to vote yes to repeal got me thinking about a parable Jesus once told. He talked of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. And those of you who are familiar with mustard plants know that they don’t actually grow into trees, but they are prone to taking over a garden. In a culture where keeping things separate and pure, it would have been crazy talk telling a story of a man who would plant mustard seed in his garden. That would wreak havoc in the garden and infest everything! But see, that’s the cool thing about Jesus. He likes to take things and flip them on their heads. He uses things that might be seen negatively as an illustration of the kingdom of heaven. How’s that for provocative preaching!

The article I reference mentions that the superintendent of the denomination expects there to be 30,000 people worshiping in those 35 church on Easter Sunday. I would be lying if I said that didn’t make my heart sink as I read it. But today, on my morning run, I saw all those NO Repeal signs and I started to think of that mustard seed. How perhaps this NO Repeal campaign is the mustard seed planted in a garden full of people who like to keep things just so, no ruffling of the status quo because things-are-working-out-just-fine-for-me-thank-you-very-much. Maybe NO Repeal is like the kingdom of God, spreading a message of hope and love to all people. It starts out small, and in the face of 30,000 people who may be standing in opposition to us, we feel insignificant. But we are not. The seeds are being planted. With each conversation we have, the seeds are being planted. With each story we share, the seeds are being planted. With each phone call we make, with each door we knock on, the seeds are being planted. And these are seeds of love, seeds of compassion, seeds of justice, seeds of hope, seeds of care for neighbor, seeds of equality, and they will grow and grow and grow until they take over the field of 30,000 and become the largest of the garden plants. We’re infesting the garden with love, compassion, justice, hope, care for neighbor, and equality. These seeds cannot be unplanted. The conversations we’ve had cannot be un-had. Whether the seeds will germinate in time for the election on April 7, well, only time will tell. But know, that regardless of the outcome, the work we have done has been important work. It has been holy work. And it cannot be undone. Justice will come. Hope will rise. Take comfort in that.

Pridefest, Rent, and the World We Live In

So a couple of Saturdays ago (June 16), Travis staked out a corner of the Greater Ozarks 2012 Pridefest in the Square to take some photos for Queen City Faces. It seemed like a great idea at the time, a perfect way to capture some of the faces of Springfield. He talked with a couple of people, shared the purpose of Queen City Faces, and took some great shots. After he’d been there for a while, a woman approached him and asked him if he’d considered the fact that some of the people at Pridefest could potentially lose their jobs or face alienation from their families if these pictures placing them at Pridefest ended up online (you can read Travis’ account of this story here). I’m not sure if the woman who talked with Travis was lesbian herself or if she was concerned that even being publicly associated with an event like Pridefest could hurt her career, but I do know that she believed that she could lose her job if her employers saw a photo of her at Pridefest. The whole thing got me thinking…we really do still live in a world where even those who associate with the LGBT community or stand in solidarity with them by attending events like Pridefest can face negative repercussions, and those repercussions pale in comparison to those who are actually lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. What year are we living in? Why is it still OK to persecute these children of God? Why are we still finding reasons to denigrate, dehumanize, scorn, and shun those who need to experience the tangible love of God more than anyone else?

As Travis was taking photos at Pridefest, I saw Phil talking with some “Christian” protesters who were in attendance at the event. Without even approaching them, I knew that Phil was engaging this man holding up a large wooden cross in conversation surrounding the subject of homosexuality and scripture, talking about the love of God and the hatred being spewed by the church. I don’t know the exact words that were being exchanged, but Phil’s oldest son informed me that the guy with the cross was saying that it was bad to be gay, so his dad was talking to him about that. I don’t know that Phil’s words made any difference to the man, but they made a difference to his kid, and I do know that his willingness to offer this man another Christian perspective meant the world to some of my gay and lesbian friends who saw what Phil was doing.

Now, the reason I wasn’t able to be part of the conversation Travis had with the woman concerned about losing her job or the conversation Phil had with the cross-carrying man was because I was preparing to perform with Springfield Little Theatre’s cast of Rent on the Pridefest stage.  Rent has long been called a controversial musical. In fact, I know I myself have given a few disclaimers to people from the church who have expressed an interest in coming to see it. Not to discourage them from coming, just to prepare them for what they were going to see. Rent deals with AIDS, drug addiciton, and sexuality. There are three romantic relationships that run through the musical, one between and man and a woman, one between two men, and one between two women. In Springfield, MO, that’s controversial. But the more I think about it, the more I want to say, you know what? Rent isn’t controversial! Maybe it was back in 1996 when it was released, but this is 2012! The world is a different place! We live post Will & Grace. We live in the era of Glee. We watch TV shows where violence is glorified and murder is celebrated (as long as you’re killing the bad guys, right?). And we think Rent is controversial? 

Which also gets me thinking… Why is showing up at an event that supports the LGBT community controversial? Why is standing up for the rights of a marginalized and demonized and dehumanized segment of our society controversial? Why is a musical that celebrates love and the ways it ties us together in the face of heartbreak and disease controversial? Conversely, why isn’t it controversial to claim to be Christian as you stand for discrimination and hatred? Why isn’t it controversial to spiritually abuse our LGBT brothers and sisters, all in the name of God? Talk about taking the Lord’s name in vain. 

So yeah, these are some of my musings early on in my sabbatical, in the wake of Pridefest. I lament the fear with which our LGBT brothers and sisters live, the fear that leads them feeling they even need to hide their faces a bit at Pridefest (because this is, after all, Springfield, MO), the fear that keeps them out of our churches because of the abuse they have had to endure, the fear that has shut off belief that God could ever love them, the fear that keeps them locked in closets of loneliness and despair, the fear that has them believing that there may not be a safe space for them. My heart aches. And so I stand in solidarity, in the hopes that some day these fears can be assuaged, that the controversy and disgrace will be laws like the one passed in North Carolina, the hateful language upheld in church doctrine, and the wholly un-Christian practice of dehumanizing and denigration of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Standing Against the E-Verify Ordinance

Some time ago in the Springfield News-Leader, there was an op-ed piece that called into question clergy and church involvement in the efforts to defeat the E-Verify ordinance.  Here is my response to that editorial:

In response to John Main of Pleasant Hope who wrote the words, “Shame on the local churches who are protesting E-Verify.  It’s not Christian that an unemployed American should have to compete with criminals for a job.  Since churches enjoy tax-exempt status, they ‘don’t have a dog in this hunt’ and should remain silent.”  To be Christian is to be a follower of Jesus and a follower of the way of Jesus.  As a member of the clergy, I am compelled to point out that the way of Jesus is the way of compassion, of reaching out to the least of these, of extending care to the poor, to the outcast, to the marginalized.  Members of the clergy and members of local churches who stand in opposition to the mandatory implementation of E-Verify do so precisely because they “have a dog in this hunt.”  They, like I, recognize that such a system targets a minority population in our country.  Such a system does nothing to encourage employers to hire only documented workers, it just drives the illegal hiring practices further underground.  Whether people want to admit it or not, our economy is dependent upon the work of undocumented workers.  They are often doing the jobs that citizens of this country won’t do and they are doing that work for less.  There is an unfair hiring practice in place on the part of many businesses that hire undocumented workers and then pay them in cash so they can get away with hiring workers for less.  And because such practices are done under the table, there are no protections in place for the workers.  These are the practices that lead to modern day slavery, which is one of the many reasons some Christians feel compelled to speak out against this ordinance.  When people claim that E-Verify will solve this problem of modern day slavery, they are failing to recognize that E-Verify does nothing to address the problem of employers paying their employees under the table.

Is illegal immigration a problem in the United States?  No doubt.  But I have to say one of the biggest problems is how it enables businesses to exploit human beings for the benefit of cheap goods and services.  We all want a good “deal.”  Sales at the supermarket or the mall drive many of our purchases.  Until we recognize that the great “deals” we come across each day are often made available to us because of the unfair employment practices of businesses by hiring undocumented workers who are not paid a fair (much less living) wage in order for us to have those great deals, and then work to do something about the exploitation of the undocumented worker, much of the problem of illegal immigration will remain.  E-Verify is not the solution to this problem.  And that is why I can call myself a Christian as I stand in opposition to its mandatory implementation.

Why I am Going to Vote No on Question 1 (E-Verify) on February 7

These are the words I shared on August 30, 2011 at a rally to stand against the E-Verify Ordinance that was going before City Council.  The ordinance did not pass the council’s vote and is therefore going before the people in an election this coming Tuesday, February 7.  I attended one of the Civility Discussions on the E-Verify Initiative last night at Central High School and I have to say, the blatantly racist comments of Jerry Wilson in his closing remarks (the racist nature of which, I am sure, he was oblivious)) have further compelled me to speak out against this ordinance and urge people to stand in opposition to politics and policies of fear and hate when they vote this coming Tuesday.

I invite you to hear these words from Scripture.  In Exodus 22:21, we find, “You shall not wrong or oppress the alien among us, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  And in Exodus 23.9, “You shall not oppress an alien among us; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  Leviticus 19.34 tells us “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” And finally, in Deuteronomy 24.14, we find these words, “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.”

When I heard that an anti-immigrant ordinance initiative was being put before the people of Springfield, one of the least diverse cities in the country, I must admit, I felt grave disappointment in yet another attempt to play on people’s fear.  There is so much fear-driven legislation being pushed through at city, state, and national levels and it all runs so contrary to my faith as a Christian.  I am against this initiative that seeks to further marginalize the Latino community by unnecessarily arousing the suspicions of employers and neighbors simply because of the color of a person’s skin or the presence of an accent when they speak.  My faith compels me to welcome the stranger.  My faith compels me to reach out to the outcast, to the marginalized. My faith compels me to speak out against hatred and fear-mongering.  And so I come here today to bear witness to the call of Jesus to welcome the stranger.  It’s right there, in Matthew 25, when Jesus addresses the judgment of the nations.  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was a sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  The call to compassion, to welcome, to love, is a much bigger call than we often live out.  Too many of us live out our lives as though that call extends only to those who look like us or sound like us.  But God is so much bigger than that.  Jesus also said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?…And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?”  We are called to do more.  We are called to live lives of greater love.  That is why I come here today.  Let’s work to make Springfield a community built on welcome and compassion, not a community built on fear and hate.

Blinded by Emotion

Preached on Sunday, May 8, 2011, using the text from Luke 24:13-35

It had been a hard couple of days. And now the dawn of this new day made the previous days’ events confusing as well. As two companions walked down the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they tried to make sense of all they had been through. At some point along the way, a stranger came up to them. He saw they were deeply engaged in conversation, so he asked them, “What are you talking about?” The companions stopped in their tracks, their sadness overwhelming them. One of them said, “You really don’t know what we’re talking about? Are you the only person inJerusalem who does not know what has taken place over the past few days?” The stranger continued to probe, “Tell me about these things.” The companions let the words tumble out of their mouths, as if somehow explaining it all to this stranger might help make some sense of all that happened. “Jesus of Nazareth, have you heard of him? He was a prophet and spoke of God and God’s kingdom, his words were hard and true, he healed the sick, he dined with outcasts, he was mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. But this very week, the chief priest and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and he was crucified. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” They paused when they said this, their crumbled hope lying around them in pieces. After a few breaths, they continued the story. “And yet, this morning, it seems something incredible has happened. Some of the women of our group went to his tomb to attend to his body, but his body was not there! They had a vision of angels who said that he was alive! Some of the men went after them, to see if it was true, and they also did not find his body.” But something in their voices told the stranger that they didn’t quite believe it. And so the stranger said to them, “You were told that this would happen.Did your teacher not tell you it would be so? That it was necessary that the Messiah suffer and then rise again?  Let me share some things in scripture that might shed some light on this, some things in scripture that have been a part of your lives since you were very young and yet somehow, you have failed to integrate into your living and your being.”

Of course, we know this stranger who joined the companions on the road was Jesus. Jesus saw that they were being overwhelmed by their sadness, that they could not see what was right in front of them, even though Jesus had tried to prepare them for this, even though they could see this would be the inevitable conclusion to a life lived as Jesus lived. Challenging the powers that be, that’s dangerous work. But Jesus also knew that this work was so important, that this message of God was so transformative, death could not silence it. Thus Jesus said things to his disciples like, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.”  However, we shouldn’t be surprised that these words of Jesus did not sink in for his disciples as, in reflection upon these words of Jesus, the writer of Luke’s Gospel says, “But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” We are not so unlike these disciples, you and I. There are many things that Jesus has said to us that we have not understood, that we have not grasped, that we have failed to actually integrate into our ways of living. And I have to say, a prime example of this occurred this past week, in response to the death of Osama bin Laden. Now, please do not hear what I am about to say as condoning the terrible acts of violence and manipulation that bin Laden committed and was behind. His methods were reprehensible and he apparently did not feel regret over the many thousands of deaths he was in some way or other responsible for. Also know that I have seen and heard people from all sorts of political leanings different than my own express something similar to what I am about to say.  What disturbed me this week was the very public rejoicing that occurred in response to bin Laden’s death. The celebrations in the streets outside of the White House and at Ground Zero inNew York City. Hearing of these public celebrations (and again, when I say public celebrations, I do not mean the relief or even joy that flooded through many upon learning the news of bin Laden’s death, I mean dancing and singing and chanting in the streets), hearing of these public celebrations, I couldn’t help but think of the images of people in other countries rejoicing on 9/11 when they learned of the terrible attacks inflicted upon civilian targets in the United States. I thought such celebration then was shocking and sickening, and my response to the public celebrations over this past week was no different. Now, I don’t say these things out of a desire to be holier than though, but rather because it seems to me our faith in God as followers of Jesus compels us to respond in another way.

In Proverbs 24:17 we find the words – “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” And in Ezekiel 33:11 we read, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. And of course, whether we’ve integrated them into our lives or not, we know that Jesus shared words like these as well. Jesus himself said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Why did Jesus say this if he didn’t mean for us to follow it? I don’t think he was kidding. I don’t think there’s some cryptic message in these words. In Jesus’ words is a clear recognition of the fact that violence begets violence. As our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins reflects, “Maybe that’s ultimately in part why Jesus told us to love our enemies. Not just for the principle of the matter, but also because in practice, hate will circle back and strike at us again.” In her thoughts on the response to bin Laden’s death, she goes on to say,

“In the midst of these conflicting emotions, there is the reality that we can choose which [emotions] we act on. Jesus witnessed to the power of love and life. He brought his message into a violent and repressive empire. He expected his followers to resist evil with all their strength – but not by adopting evil’s methods of fear and hate. He called his followers to love at all times and to call upon the power of love to overcome evil, thereby being the sign posts of God’s empire of healing, hope and wholeness.”[1]

What I find even more powerful is that Jesus didn’t just say these words. He lived them. On that terrible Friday, as Jesus hung on a cross, spikes driven through his wrists and his ankles, a crown of thorns pressed into his flesh, people deriding him, spitting on him, on that terrible day, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Father, forgive them.” Such love in the face of such hate. Do you think the Roman soldiers felt remorse when Jesus uttered these words? My guess is they thought he was crazy. Was Jesus looking for their remorse before he asked for their forgiveness? No. Jesus just loved. And such love cannot be silenced by death.

As the companions walked on the road to Emmaus, they had Jesus there with them on the road, and though he drew upon scripture, upon their sacred texts that they knew and loved, their blindness continued, blinded by the emotion of loss and devastation in the wake of their beloved Jesus’ death. It was not until he broke bread with them, doing the thing he had always done with them, that their eyes were opened to his presence in their midst. On that Tuesday morning almost 10 years ago, as I watched the Twin Towers crumble, the first thought that flashed through my non-violence oriented mind was, “What do I think of the death penalty now?” In that moment of overwhelming emotion, I felt my stance against the death penalty wavering and it gave me pause. But over the past ten years, in the wake of warfare and further terrorist attacks (both attempted and carried out) and, I must admit, in my fear of the inevitable retaliation for Osama bin Laden’s death, my eyes have been opened to the fact that true justice cannot be brought about by human beings.  Many say justice was done last Sunday. Was it? One definition of justice is

“the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offence.”

In light of this definition, could justice ever be achieved in the case of 9/11? Can a person really be proportionately punished in a proportionate way for the violent death of thousands? Such justice is not possible. Once a heinous crime has been committed, nothing can be done to make it right. Nothing. Does that mean that the perpetrator of the crime should not face consequences? Of course not. But we do need to recognize that the punishment will not make it better. It may give us relief, it may bring some modicum of joy, but it can never erase what has been done. The death of Osama bin Laden does not bring back any of the people who died in this country on September 11 or elsewhere in this world over the years as a result of his leadership in al Qaeda. It doesn’t really set anything right. Thus my conviction that justice cannot be brought about by human beings. It is only through the grace of God that justice can be achieved. Which my human mind wrestles with because I then wonder if perhaps true justice must have an element of forgiveness…

Something I have really been struggling with in the aftermath of last Sunday’s announcement is where my true allegiance lies and whether that’s something that can really be put out there for all to see and know. However, I feel compelled, no, I feel called to stand before you and say I am a Christian first and an American second. This does not mean that I do not love my country or that I am not proud to be an American. Not at all. But it does mean that when I say Jesus is Lord, when I proclaim Christ as Lord, those words need to have some implications on my life. It means that I need to take what Jesus says to us through scripture seriously and reorient my life accordingly. And my belief that Jesus is Lord goes hand in hand with my belief that God can bring about justice in ways that human beings could never dream of doing on their own. I think of God’s justice when I read about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, set up by President Nelson Mandela in the wake of the dissolution of apartheid. When I hear stories of confession and forgiveness that came out of South Africa during this time, I can’t help but believe God’s hand was guiding the process, for it seems so beyond what we as human beings can accomplish on our own.

And so I pray for God’s hand to continue to guide us. I pray for the risen Christ to be known among us in the integration of his words into our lives. I pray for our eyes to be opened to the One standing in our midst, inviting us to the Table to experience the fellowship that is shared when we break bread with one another. I pray for the wisdom to act on the emotions that compel us to love and forgive and reconcile rather than the ones that compel us to seek revenge. I pray for us to recognize that when we proclaim Jesus as Lord, our lives can never be the same.  Amen.