“A Reasonable Threat”

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A Word About the Verdict of Michael Brelo and the Deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams

by the Rev. Allen V. Harris

May 24, 2015

[Note: the sections in brackets were not able to be read in worship due to time constraints.]

 

I cannot in good conscience preach today without also saying a word about the events that took place yesterday here in Cleveland in the announcement of the verdict of Michael Brelo in regards to the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in November of 2012. It is poignant that I came to you 14 years ago still with the death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man shot 39 times by the police in New York City, on my heart. I leave you with Tamir Rice, Timothy Russell, and Malissa Williams on my heart, a black man, woman, and child shot collectively with 141 shots, here in my beloved Cleveland.

 

On the street yesterday I chatted with a lawyer friend of mine who said it was fairly well known in the legal community that there could have been no other verdict given, certainly one that would have withstood legal appeals, than the verdict given announcing Officer Brelo as not guilty on all counts. The ability to prove out of 139 gunshots to the car that the ones fired from Officer Brelo’s gun were the very ones that killed the victims would have been impossible. This observation came from an African American lawyer.

 

As a caring person who wishes to be engaged in the world around me, I have reflected deeply on what has happened, as I suspect have most of you. I am not a lawyer and I was not present for any of the testimony given thus I cannot and should not attempt to make a legal judgment on something I am not qualified to do so. What I have done is to take a step back and look at some of the larger, more societal issues that I believe led us to deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, and, I would add, Treyvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo, and many others. Likewise I have on my heart and mind the many police officers who died in the line of duty, including Brian Moore, Rafael Ramos, and Wenjian Liu. I do think I have some wisdom to share from this perspective, particularly as a pastor of a diverse urban congregation.

 

As I listened to the entire hour of Judge O’Donnell’s verdict, several things went through my mind that I think we, as a country and as a culture, should consider seriously and certainly we, as people of faith, need to address more seriously. One of the things we need to consider is the conversation about what is a “reasonable threat” in moments that are tense and moments that are even dangerous. Clearly, this was a significant line of reasoning in the judge’s decision, insisting that there was a “reasonable threat” to Officer Brelo’s life, and to the life of the other police officers’ lives, which he believed therefore warranted their actions.

 

And this concern, that is what is a “reasonable threat,” runs through almost every story we have heard recentlly regarding the shooting of unarmed suspects and the accusations of police brutality that have occurred recently, and really for many years, even decades. “Reasonableness” is a hard point to argue because we understand instinctively that police officers are put, by the very nature of their job to fight crime and catch criminals, in the most tense and dangerous of spots. It is almost impossible to ask people to consider what constitutes a “reasonable threat” when we know we would never want to second guess what is dangerous or what might kill us were we in that position.

 

So my concern isn’t each individual officer’s decision-making, but, rather, how our society came to the place where the level of a “reasonable threat” seems both so incredibly elevated AND which seems so very different when we are approached by some people compared to other people. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke a great truth when he said, in reference to war, the only thing we had to fear is fear itself. Fears, left unchecked, can rule our lives and reshape our society.

 

We must come to grips once and for all with what it is that engages our fear, fear to the point of killing someone. Here is one thing that has become absolutely clear to me: we have an inordinate fear of blackness. I can only speak of this country and the western culture in which I leave and breath, but it is obvious that somehow a mindset has been shaped within us that those whose skin colors are darker than our own are to be feared more than those who the same tone as ours or that are lighter than our own, and, consequently, we are primed to distrust more those who are blacker than we. And let us be clear, this disproportionate fear of people blacker than ourselves crosses racial lines, as the “brown bag” test of our African American sisters and brothers revealed in the earlier part of the last century.

 

This fear of darkness is not a new phenomenon, and perhaps even goes back to the dawn of humanity with things in the daylight being easier to see and things in the darkness being harder to see. But we have carried what may have been a generally useful fear for survival and magnified it, transferred it, and undergirded it in multiple and horrendous ways that have brought us to the place where we cannot but help ourselves in perceiving blackness as that which is to be feared more than lightness. A dark night is very different a black woman.

 

We live in a culture that reinforces this daily. Ever single time we dress our kids up at Halloween in “scary outfits” that are more black than white we reinforce this horrible idea. Every time we talk about frightful things, like zombies and vampires, coming from “the dark side,” we instill and strengthen this terrible image. When we use black to illustrate negative concepts – even “evil” – and white to portray positive concepts – even “sacred,” – we not-so-subtly emphasize this unhealthy way of thinking. Conversely, when we dress our children up to be christened in all white or our brides to be married in white, or go to Easter Sunday in white outfits or put our clergy in white albs we reinforce that white is the purer color and thus better, holier, more trusted color.

 

But let me press this even further: we don’t just fear blackness, we fear black rage. And, more pointedly, black men represent to us white Americans the epitome of black rage. And while Judge O’Donnell couldn’t mention “American’s Original Sin,” slavery and the racism born of it, I will. I believe every single one of us, whether we admit to it or not, understands on some conscious or unconscious level that because most of the people in our midst whose skin is brown have ancestors who were enslaved in this country they have a certain inalienable right to be angry about that horrendous fact. Our African American citizens, many sitting within these pews, have ancestors, who can be traced back only a generation or two on their family trees, who were transported to this country against their will, in unspeakable conditions, treated as chattel and property to be branded and sold, and who may or may not have been the lucky ones to survive. We therefore know our African American sisters and brothers have every right to have a burning coal of rage red hot within them. This possibility and probability of this rage is inescapable.

 

And then to add to it the unconscionable history of Jim Crow laws, segregation, lynching, “urban renewal,” unequal criminal sentencing laws, and mass incarceration, we walk the streets wondering why on earth there isn’t complete (perhaps even rightful) chaos all of the time!!! The last series of high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement agents has simply become the straw that broke the camel’s back.   And we question why this rage has turned into protests, violent and non-violent? It should be of no surprise to any of us.

 

So of course when a police chase ensues a car for 12 miles and suspects are ramming police cruisers, then the “reasonable threat” becomes, I believe, even more intense, more volatile, when the suspects are black than if they were white, and at least one of them was a man. And one has to wonder whether or not the erratic behavior of the suspects themselves was also a result of their own understanding that their blackness represented a heightened sense of “reasonable threat” in this society that would most likely cause them more harm and more repercussions if they were caught. Who knows, and again I cannot second guess this particular case, but I do know that there is a systemic cultural fear of blackness and black rage that makes wise and thoughtful instantaneous decisions about what is a “reasonable threat” almost impossible.

 

[And on top of this concern about racism, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that we also live in a heightened militarized culture. I am the first to tell you how proud I am of my father, a career army man, for risking his life in World War 2 and in the Korean Conflict in order to make this nation more secure and stronger. But we have allowed our respect for the military to get so out of hand that everything from the budget of the United States government to the way our police react on our city streets is completely out of proportion and focused more on exacerbating our fears than calming them, and then demand us as a society to pay mightily to respond to those heightened fears. Living in a post-9-11 world has only intensified exponentially!

 

Because, you see, as proud of my father, the Army Lt. Colonel, as I am, I am also equally proud of my mother, the nurse. I think my mother did as much to make our world safe and the nation secure as did my father, when she gave her all in the Operating Room, the Emergency Room, or the nursing home. As proud of my father as I am, I am equally as proud of my sister, the teacher. I think my sister did as much to make our world safe and our nation secure as did my father, when she gave her all in the classroom, especially on the dangerous and poverty stricken part of town where she served most of her career.

 

But if we have an understanding that the highest calling, the most noble career, is always the military, and we spend a huge amount of our nation’s and city’s resources for undergirding the military and the police, and many of our police officers come from military backgrounds, then are we not also setting ourselves up to be a war-oriented society? A warrior is taught to kill the enemy, no questions asked. A police-officer is charged to keep the peace, with discernment and negotiation always an option. Can we truly see those as separate in America? I don’t think so, and the anger at the decision yesterday is a sad result of the mixing of those two very different philosophies of life.]

 

So, as a pastor, I always ask: “what can we do to be the change we wish to see in the world?” Let me offer a few possibilities, and these are just a beginning:

  1. Change your language and retrain your viewpoint away from the dichotomy of white and black, good and evil. Stop dressing your kids in black on Halloween. Dress them up as characters from history or literature. Buy a beautiful yellow dress for your niece for her christening or a fun green outfit for your nephew for his baptism. Imagine brides with colorful dresses and pastor’s with non-traditionally colored albs!
  2. Get to know someone of a different race on a deeper, more personal level and for the long term. And not just one person, several persons, for we are all diverse. Invite a co-worker who has a darker skin color than yours out for coffee or tea this week and talk about the Brelo verdict. Go out for dinner with people from church of a different race and ask them if they have relatives who were slaves and what the family history is about that.

[3. Stop glamorizing war. Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a toy gun for your child. Make sure you and your children have conversations, if not training, in gun safety. Celebrate Teachers Day and Nurses Day and Artists Day and, and… as much as you do Veteran’s Day. Give money to organizations that work to help integrate our veteran’s back into culture and write to congress to make sure money is available for veteran’s health care, especially counseling and therapy.

  1. Honor mediation, conflict reduction and resolution, discernment, dialogue, as well as being at peace with ambiguity and uncertainty. Give money to organizations that do mediation and those that celebrate peace and justice.]

 

These are just a few thoughts on what happened in Cleveland yesterday, as well as a few positive suggestions for trying to reshape our culture so that what happened to Tamir and Timothy and Malissa never happen again. I welcome your responses after worship, but also this week, via e-mail or a phone call.

 

Blessings,

Allen

 

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“Ham Sandwiches, Hashtags, And Handshakes” ~ May 3, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For May 3, 2015 ~ “Engaging Justice”

Luke 4:14-30 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=297508523 )

“Ham Sandwiches, Hashtags, And Handshakes”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

More and more in my life I have become extremely suspicious of dichotomies.  A dichotomy is a contrast between two things that are or are being portrayed as being One waycompletely different from one another.  Melanie Morrison, United Church of Christ minister, in her wonderful book, The Grace Of Coming Home, uses the phrase “mutually exclusive opposites” to capture this.  Classic dichotomies are: black and white, rich and poor, man and woman, body and soul.  I am not just hesitant to use them, but am downright cynical of them because quite often they are presented as undeniable fact or unquestionable truth when they are in fact thinly veiled attempts to promote a particular political, theological, or social position.  Sadly, quite often folks who make a habit of using such polarities condemn honest intellectual inquiry and ridicule anyone who might have an opinion or state a truth different from their perspective or that doesn’t fit one or the other opposing position or contrasting label.

OnlyOneWayConversations around justice, righteousness, and equality are rife with dichotomies, and they are perpetuated by people on all sides of the issues.  I have committed my life not only to casting doubt on the trustworthiness of mutually exclusive opposites, but to work diligently empowering others to think critically about important issues.  My call is for us all to disregard the many voices trying to convince us that it is this way or that way, that it is all or nothing, up or down, red or blue, right or wrong, my way or the highway.  I believe this not because of some innate rebel spirit – although I do have a bit of that blood in me – but because it is how I see God works, especially God made real in the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My life is committed to helping folks see that ambiguity, mystery, exploration, evolution, and change are all grace-filled possibilities, and that the Divine actually specializes in leading us through such non-hierarchical, non-dichotomous places.

There are two misunderstandings and two particular false dichotomies that are perpetuated about justice issues that I think are extremely harmful to living life fully and which put our faith in danger.  One misunderstanding is seeing benevolence as the same thing as justice AND the corollary false dichotomy is thinking that you can have one without the other.  The second misunderstanding is that justice is purely political and not faithful, and the offshoot false polarity is to see work and advocacy for justice as being antithetical to evangelism and witness for the gospel.  Let me take these one at a time.

GoodDeedFirst, the misperception that benevolence and justice are the same thing.  Benevolence, also known as charity, philanthropy, and compassion, are the acts of kindness and service that help a person in the moment.  We have many such programs here at Franklin Circle Christian Church, from our Benevolence Fund to our Disciples Clothing Closet, weekend Community Youth Program, our Third Sunday Community Meal, and our end of the month Food Bag Ministry.  All of these are powerful and wonderful programs that help real people in real need.  But we must not confuse them with justice.  Justice asks the questions behind the service: why are so many people in need of clothing, a hot meal, groceries, something for kids to do on the weekend?  It’s running up the river to find out why there are so many babies falling into the river, to reference an old and much used story.

Senior Minister Dr. Jacqueline Lewis at a special service for Trayvon Martin at Middle Collegiate Church, New York City

Senior Minister Dr. Jacqueline Lewis at a special service for Trayvon Martin at Middle Collegiate Church, New York City

But the tendency is for people, and many congregations do this, to pit one of these against the other.  Some congregations, like ours, focus on benevolence and meeting the human needs of the moment.  Others focus on advocacy, learning about the larger issues of poverty, violence, sustainability, food-scarcity and waste, racism, sexism, homophobia and heterosexism, especially by talking with, working alongside, and empowering those who are most affected by the injustices and exploitation.  These congregations translate what they learn into letter-writing, lobbying, marching for justice, and even non-violent protest.  Our Anti-Racism Team does some of this important work.  What would it mean for a congregation to be comfortable with both service and advocacy, benevolence and justice?

The shame is that we – for reasons of ego and hubris or just plain limitations on time, energy, and vision – pit benevolence and justice against one another, rather than celebrate both of them.  A classic false dichotomy is perpetuated in the old saw, “give a person a fish and she can eat for a day, teach a person to fish and she can eat for a lifetime!”  I like to say, “Well, if you haven’t fed them for today they’ll never live long enough learn to fish!  You have to do both: give and teach!  Plus, if they don’t have access to a fishing pole or the water isn’t clean enough for the fish to live in it, teaching them to fish is pointless!  So it’s gotta be give, teach, advocate!”

bothandWe need to have a Benevolence Fund to get people in great need through the day, but we also have to be asking tough questions about the predatory tactics of Payday Lending companies, or what are the policies and fee-scales of local banks that might keep our low-income neighbors from ever having the chance to save up money, or why there are so few living-wage jobs in our city.  We need to have a healthy hot meal and bags of “lovingly prepared groceries” so that families don’t go hungry night after night, but we also have to ask what city laws and regulations say about having gardens in our front or backyards or that make it harder for smaller, ethnic grocery stores to easily open near the people they might serve, or why there are so few living-wage jobs in our city.  We need to have a place where our young people can come and be safe, and have a professional basketball coach teach them skills in the sport and in life and to get good food and loving guidance, but we also have to be asking the tough questions about whether or not all of our children are equally getting a quality education, about why we live in a society where our young Black and Hispanic youth feel celebrated when they look to a future in sports but ignored when they look to a future in science, or business, or health care, or about whether all of our youth, no matter what tone of color there skin is, are equally safe on our streets.  And we should ask why there aren’t more living-wage jobs available.

helder_camaraWhich leads me to the second misconception and false dichotomy.  The misconception is the accusation that justice is not faithful, but political.  Bishop Hélder Câmara is famously quoted as saying, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”  The moment that a preacher like me starts to ask the “why?” question, we get labeled a “radical” or a “trouble maker.”  The moment we start talking about gender issues we are labeled a “feminazi.”  When we describe people as Black, Brown, White, Hispanic, Asian we are told we’re playing the “race card.”  And God forbid we talk about realtime real life economics, for then we are promulgating “class warfare!”  I maintain that if I do so, then I stand in the grand tradition of most of scripture and the essence of who Jesus of Nazareth was!

There are two Hebrew words that are used to describe what it means to “do justice.”  One is mishpat and occurs over 200 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably.  It means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty.  But mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means giving people their rights.  Author and pastor Tim Keller notes, “Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.  This is why, if you look at every place the word is used in the [Hebrew Scriptures,] several classes of persons continually come up.  Over and over again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor—those who have been called ‘the quartet of the vulnerable.’” (1)

But the second word used in the Hebrew Scriptures for justice fills this out even better.  Keller says it well, “The word is tzadeqah, and it refers to a life of right relationships.  When most modern people see the word ‘righteousness’ in the Bible, they tend to think of it in terms of private morality, such as sexual chastity or diligence in prayer and Bible study.  But in the Bible, tzadeqah refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.  It is not surprising, then, to discover that tzadeqah and mishpat are brought together scores of times in the Bible.  These two words roughly correspond to what some have called ‘primary’ and ‘rectifying justice.’  Rectifying justice is mishpat.  It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment.  Primary justice, or tzadeqah, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else.  Therefore, though tzadeqah is primarily about being in a right relationship with God, the righteous life that results is profoundly social.” (2)  That’s justice!

Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners community and magazine, often tells the story that he once took two old Bibles and in the first one he cut out all the verses that dealt with the “sins” on which most churches of our day spend their time, energy, and money: homosexuality, abortion, etc.  He said you could flip through it and never notice the missing passages.  He took the other old Bible and cut out all the texts dealing with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant… and said it barely held together so many verses were applicable!

Jesus began his ministry making it crystal clear that justice, in all it’s forms, was going to be fundamental to his work of salvation.  Today’s text of Jesus’ proclamation in the synagogue, only days after his wilderness sojourn which began his ministry, is almost exclusively about justice:  good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the acceptable year of God’s favor!  His words should sound familiar, in that Mary’s magnificat, sung upon learning of her pregnancy with him, speaks also of justice for the oppressed and a righting of wronged relationships.

And note, Jesus has little time for exploring what people did to get into the condition in which he found them.  When he found the woman caught in adultery about to be stoned, he spent no time examining her past, but pointed her to the future.  When people discussed who had sinned to cause the man to be born blind, Jesus ignored their finger-pointing, healed him, and sent him off into a new future of possibility!  Oh that we would spend less time blaming victims for their situation and more time righting the wrongs that got them there and empowering them to new life!

revolutionary-jesus2So the second false dichotomy is that we ought not be about the work of justice because it works against the primary call of the gospel to “go and make disciples.”  I cannot tell you how many times the work of justice and the work of evangelism are pitted against each other in mortal combat.  I tell you now this is a lie and no such conflict nor schism exists.  In fact, I believe with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength – and  is illustrated by everything that I’ve done in this congregation for the past 14 years –  the belief that a community of faith that is serious about benevolence and justice is a congregation that will grow and, more importantly, will “empower disciples to serve and glorify God!”  I don’t want to “make disciples of all nations” if those disciples don’t have a heart and a spine and a voice!  I don’t want to grow the church if it means the sanctuary is filled with a bunch of “know-nothings” who have no interest in their faith transforming the way they live in the world nor in taking their faith to the streets and changing the lives of those around them, even if they never darken the door of the church!

It blows my mind that anyone would think this radical and revolutionary Jesus, who called both everyday laborers and tax collectors into his inner circle, who treated women as equals, who acknowledged the faithfulness of eunuchs in the community, who listened to and healed foreigners, who refused to treat children as property, and who saw that God was calling all of creation to faithfulness and not just those who were the “in crowd…” it blows my mind that anyone would think this Jesus I follow would insist we never talk about changing the systems that keep people in subjugation and instead portray the faith as simply a personal, private, spiritual activity.

No!  Jesus wants us to make the ham sandwiches and feed the people!!!  Jesus wants us to Tweet the hashtags and get people out on the street in an uprising against injustices!!!  Jesus wants us to offer the seeker our hand in Christian companionship!!!  And justice means all of the above!  Ham sandwiches, hashtags, and handshakes!  May it be so!  Make it so.  Amen.

(1) Tim Keller, “What Is Biblical Justice,” in Relevant magazine, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/what-biblical-justice  (2) Ibid———-

 

“Following A PC Jesus” ~ April 19, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For April 19, 2015 ~ “Honoring Diversity”

Isaiah 56:1-8 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=296437574 )

“Following A PC Jesus”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To watch the video of this sermon, go online to: https://youtu.be/zXSHcRRcx5s

 

When the end of my short-lived marriage to my college best friend, Barbara, had been announced and word of my divorce because I had come out as gay began to work its way through our network of friends and family, I received a phone call one evening from the pastor of my home church. Ostensibly he was calling to check up on me, however by the end of the call it felt neither pastoral nor helpful. In it he would tell me that my news had caused my mother to have a “nervous breakdown” from which he had to help her recover. That report devastated me, and would haunt me for a long time. But the second thing I remember him telling me at first confused me, then angered me. This anger has lasted a lifetime.

 

bleeding-heart-liberalsIn that call the good pastor had not just insinuated, but had actually accused me of saying that I was gay because I had a “soft heart” and was always trying to take the side of those who were “down on their luck.” I was perplexed because this burning secret, this facet of who I am as a human being and with which I had struggled for almost all my young life he implied was a tactic, at best, or at worse a weakness that I had. He suggested that somehow I had the penchant for taking the side of the underdog, and the proclamation of my being gay and the subsequent complete capsizing of my relationships, my life, and quite potentially my future livelihood was a frailty of personality over which I, apparently, had no control.

 

It would be months, even years, before I realized the full import of his words. Of course, it was audacious to think that my decision to be honest about myself and the ensuing pain I knew this would cause my wife, my mother, and all my closest friends, classmates, and relatives, was the result of some young adult whim I had pass through my silly little head. I presume he was basing this on the conversations we had had the summer before when I was youth intern at my home church. In the middle of that summer, on July 4th weekend to be exact, I had preached a sermon that was, to be fair, less than well thought out on the evils of the Cold War and the need for America and Russia to get their collective acts together, forgive each other, and come back to the world table reconciled. I must presume that sermon – for which there was an expected fallout and public chastising – and the multiple conversations about my involvement in organizations such as the Disciples Peace Fellowship, Handgun Control, Inc., and several environmental groups was the basis for his evaluation of my “personality flaw.”

 

Of course, another way of looking at this was: I was gay. Thoroughly, consistently, constitutionally, completely gay, and my divorce and the reordering of my life was a difficult and woefully delayed but absolutely necessary response to the honesty I had come to acknowledge for myself and my world. It was the evils of a world of homophobia and heterosexism that had caused me to pretend to be other than who God truly created me to be and to try to build around me a false identity to be “just like all the other boys.” And the Church universal was complacent in that evil! I am who I am, and who God made me!

 

But here’s the thing that really angers me: there was also the implication that these social, political, and I would say spiritual commitments were passing fads, and also not part of who I am as a human being. This discounting of my deeply held religious beliefs and well-researched, prayerfully held, and thoughtfully lived-out values happens repeatedly and often. And it doesn’t just happen to me,Politically-Correct it happens all the time to people with similar commitments. One of the most frequent ways it is articulated, and I do not know where or by whom this catchy phrase was first coined, is by calling such values “politically correct,” or “PC” for short. “Oh that’s so PC!” or “You’re just being PC,” or “Well I guess I better be PC!”

 

I stand here this day to say that my commitments to diversity, to inclusivity, to hospitality, to equality, to fairness, and to justice have absolutely nothing at all to do with seeking to be politically correct, whatever that means! I call the world to cease and desist in using this phrase in order to belittle, discount, and seek to destroy the very real responsibilities I believe we all have to those who are oppressed, marginalized, and largely forgotten by society. I demand this because it is not some personality flaw by which I come to these, it is because my Jesus calls me to do it, and the moral arc of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures makes it a mandate for my life.

 

El Greco, “Christ Healing the Blind Man”

El Greco, “Christ Healing the Blind Man”

What if that good pastor had instead implied or even asked me, “Allen, are you doing this because Jesus is making you do it?” I would have to reply, “Well, yes!” Jesus calls me to be honest about who God made me to be! Jesus calls me to love my neighbor as I love myself! Jesus calls me to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those in prison, and thus proclaim the acceptable year of our God!

 

So I say to you today, if it is politically correct to sit at table with prostitutes and tax collectors and treat them with the dignity God imparts them, just like Jesus, then I am PC!

 

The logo for the All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles, CA.  Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AllPeoplesChristianChurch

The logo for the All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles, CA. Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AllPeoplesChristianChurch

If it is politically correct to believe that foreigners and sexual minorities are capable of faithfulness and can be counted amongst God’s favored people, just like Isaiah, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to know neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free but all can be one in the faith of Jesus, with no human distinction defining them, just like the Apostle Paul, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to turn the other cheek, give someone my coat, go the extra mile, give to those who beg, just like Jesus preached, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me, just like Jesus preached and lived, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to look out and care for those who society sees as the very dregs of society, the orphan, the widow, the stranger from another land, the poor just like it says in the law of Deuteronomy, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to let justice roll down like waters, to be a restorer of the breech and a repairer of streets, to seek the welfare of the city in which we live, to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God just like the ancient prophets preached, then so be it, I AM POLITICALLY CORRECT!

 

There is a rich diversity with which God has permeated all of creation. Thanks be to God for our differences! But way back in that first Garden, as our eyes and hearts were opened just like the divine eyes and heart, we began to know this diversity is also complexity, and there are forces within each and every one of us if, left unchecked, cause us to treat this diversity with disrespect, even violence. We must be reminded again and again that we are only stewards of this creation, and never owners. And one of the most precious gifts we are charged with, throughout Holy Scripture and culminating in the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, is to love, and to make love real by caring for creation, for our neighbors, especially those neighbors in need.

 

One of the guiding scriptures of my life is Luke 12:48: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Whether we like to admit it or not, this calls those of us who live a life of privilege, any privilege and no matter how much privilege, to be accountable for it to God. If this is not a mandate to care for those for whom the world determines is the least, the lost, the unloved, the lonely, and the less I do not know what is.

 

And if being responsible for the care of the world and loving my neighbor is PC, so be it. Me? I’m just following Jesus.

 

Amen.

“Recognizing Resurrection Through The Tears And The Fears” ~ April 5, 2015 Easter Sermontags social

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Sermon For April 5, 2015 ~ Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=295230253 )

“Recognizing Resurrection Through The Tears And The Fears”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To watch this sermon on video, go online to: https://youtu.be/9yAlXojg9do

 

Alexander Ivanov (1806 - 1858) (Russian) (Painter,   Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection 1835 oil on canvas

Alexander Ivanov (1806 – 1858) (Russian) (Painter,
Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection
1835
oil on canvas

I love this version of the resurrection story, from John. It is such a beautiful look at this faithful woman, Mary Magdalene, so maligned by super simplistic misinterpretations of scripture, not to mention a long history of misogyny. Mary exquisitely comes to recognize the risen Christ as her beloved mentor. But even as much as I adore this scripture, I have to ask the question, “Why did Mary not recognize Jesus immediately?” Why did it take so much time before she realized this one standing before her was none other than the one for whom she had been mourning these past three days?

 

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You can find this button, and many other wonderful and empowering items to inspire you, at https://www.syracuseculturalworkers.com/products/button-girls-can-do-anything

Well perhaps she doubted herself, questioned her own ability to know what was truth and what wasn’t. When Mary rushed back to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple, she might have been acting in the way we tend to train too many of our young girls to behave, to doubt themselves and always go to men as a higher authority. It may just be this Easter story is calling us to empower girls, as well as boys, women, and men, to have confidence in themselves and rely on what they hear, see, and observe.

 

Or maybe Mary’s inability to see the resurrected Christ right away was due toGardener her own prejudices and biases. The text says she “supposed him to be a gardener.” What about him made her think he was a worker in the cemetery? What if Jesus came back looking differently than she had seen him when alive, with a different accent, darker skin color, or dissimilar in some other human attribute? We humans have a tendency to make snap judgments about the reliability of information based on completely irrelevant factors. It may just be this Easter story is calling us to look for truth from persons we might otherwise have discounted or avoided completely.

 

Arnold Böcklin's Mary Magdalene Weeping Over the Dead Christ.

Arnold Böcklin’s Mary Magdalene Weeping Over the Dead Christ.

I also wonder if Mary had become so enraptured in her sorrow that she, quite literally, couldn’t see clearly through her tears or hear clearly because of her weeping. Surely she had every reason to be desolate, having witnessed the torturing crucifixion of her liberator and redeemer, and now finding the humiliation of his body removed from its tomb. But isn’t it true that sometimes we find ourselves in patterns of grief that become so familiar, so engrained, that they pull our attention away from the present, and we miss the life that is happening around us? It may just be this Easter story is calling us, not to avoid nor truncate our grief, but to seek an awareness through the tears of what is going on around us, so that we might not miss the life God offers beyond the sorrow, perhaps even because of the sorrow.

 

Jason Puccinelli's "The Shape of Sound" is an acrylic mural that adorns the free zone area of the Seattle Art Museum.

Jason Puccinelli’s “The Shape of Sound” is an acrylic mural that adorns the free zone area of the Seattle Art Museum.

Could it also be possible that Mary was fearful about the future, wondering how she and the other disciples could possibly go on without the one who had taught and healed and loved them through so much? She may have also been apprehensive about how this diverse and scrappy band of disciples were going to continue such important ministries beyond the one who seemed to keep them focused and mediated their disputes. It is such a risk to be beholden to one person to keep a community sustained and healthy, but if the leader has done his or her job of empowerment well, the followers will discover the abilities were always there within them, and the importance of the mission will ensure their success. It may just be this Easter story is calling us to not be overwhelmed by our fears, but to trust the wisdom, skill, and grace that is within us to carry on.

 

We don’t really know why Mary took so long to recognize her risen friend, the resurrected Christ. What we do know is that, eventually, she did. And what a moment that was! In fact, that recognition propelled her to go, and tell the good news: “I have seen the Lord!” Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!”

 

Amen.

 

 

“Surprised By The Abundance” ~ February 8, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For February 8, 2015 ~ The Season Of Epiphany

Isaiah 55:1-6 & Mark 6:30-44

A Season Of Surprises: The God Of Wow!

Sermon #6 “Surprised By The Abundance”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

[NOTE: The sermon text below was NOT preached!  As sometimes happens, the Holy Spirit invited me to a different sermon this day.  The video of the sermon actually preached can be found at: http://youtu.be/F8ZR-i6trgY?list=UUwvkAvkp6Ru5pgPu1kUpgqQ   Here are three pictures that come from that sermon and exemplify the three points at the end of this text.  ~Pastor Allen]

 

Introducing the United Christian Ministries group from Kent State University.

Introducing the United Christian Ministries group from Kent State University.

Gathering the Chalice Hymnals donated by Wickliffe Christian Church upon closing.

Gathering the Chalice Hymnals donated by Wickliffe Christian Church upon closing.

Offering the lap blankets to be donated to Franklin Plaza Nursing Home.

Offering the lap blankets to be donated to Franklin Plaza Nursing Home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How much is enough is an eternal question.  Epitomized by the now thoroughly mocked equation, “Is the glass half empty, or half full?” how we see life in terms of scarcity or abundance defines who we are and how we approach everything from raising children, to our job performance, to our faith.  Do we see our circumstances in terms of a struggle to survive, where we must eke out an existence, usually in competition (best case) or in battle (worst case) with others to get the resources we must have in order to live?  Or do we see our world as a cornucopia of opportunities, possibilities, and gifts, and our invitation is to work together to ensure that everyone has enough so that we, and others, may thrive.

Some would say that we are hard wired for how we look at life, that it is in the mystery of our DNA that we evaluate that glass.  Others would say that it is the environment in which we are nurtured and raised that determines if we we will be frugal and live life sparingly, or if we will be extravagant and life life abundantly.  Most likely it is a mixture of nature and nurture, and absolutely we are all a wonderfully complex blend of both ways of seeing our world.  But what I want to invite us to today is to see that God, while always painfully aware of the thin and hard places of life, calls us to be surprised by the abundance with which the divine has saturated our world and our lives so that ultimately all of us may live lives that are fuller, richer, healthier, happier, and, most to the sacred point: more faithful.

So we look at two stories from scripture that are representative of this divine summons.  The first, from the book of Isaiah, from the end of the second section of the text, which is the resounding conclusion of Isaiah’s call to be prepared for a new life after the exile brought on by the now waining Babylonian Empire has finally ended and the Hebrew people are able to be reunited with their land, their families, and their sacred center of worship.  You will recall that the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah, the first book of Isaiah really, was God’s scathing indictment on those who claimed Yahweh as the divine one but who had allowed the complacency of a comfort-filled life to get the best of them, and contains the warnings that the quickly arising Assyrian nation would bring God’s very own wrath to shake them from their smugness and pride.

But beginning at chapter forty, now many years after the Assyrians, then later the Babylonians who had decimated their capital, ravaged their land, and carted their leaders off to prop up their own economy, Isaiah takes a more pastoral approach to comfort the now humbled nation to assure them that though God’s anger had burned brightly at their unfaithfulness years before, so the divine love glows brightly to bring them back together.

But this new life cannot be the same as the old one they had been so savagely torn from years ago.  If they were going back to the life they had previously enjoyed God will have nothing of it.  Isaiah 56, one of my favorite chapters of all of scripture, which begins the third book of Isaiah, reminds the people that faithfulness is more about fidelity than identity, that what God seeks is a heart of devotion not a rigid adherence to rules and boundaries and who’s in and who’s out.  Here at the end of the book that began, “Comfort, comfort ye my people,” Isaiah sings a song of abundance that one could and should dance to:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live…

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back i peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands… and it shall be to God for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

These must surely have been words of great comfort and exhilarating joy for the people who had been devastated for generations.  What was Yahweh calling the people to?  Hebrew Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests, As an alternative to Babylonian junk food, Israel is summoned to listen… to the offer of the rich food of the gospel of Yahweh.”  Brueggemann maintains that the people of God had taken their complacent lifestyles from before the exile and simply replaced their own misguided ways with the “junk food” of their oppressor, rather than really understanding that their appetites needed to change.  Instead of just reliving the misery, oppression, and injustice that they had inflicted on “the widow, the orphan, the alien” they had done before, and rather than recreating the same misery, oppression, and injustice that the Assyrians and the Babylonians had inflicted on them, they could (SHOULD!) do things in a different way!  “This offer of fidelity (by God) is sharply contrasted with the Babylonian offer of exploitative, coercive, oppressive life that denies dignity, freedom, and security, and never yields abundance or joy… Israel has a wondrous choice to make: either the new future now offered by Yahweh or more submissiveness to Babylon that yields nothing of well being.  The choice seems clear enough.” (1)

The second scripture read today, that of the feeding of the five thousand from Mark, is an equally surprising call to live into God’s abundance and resist the claims of scarcity which seems so ingrained in us.  This story is found in all four gospels (which is completely unique!), and a similar story, the feeding of the four thousand, is found in two gospels.  Thus it must have been an exceptionally important story for the early church for it to have found its way into the stories of Jesus so many times!  And in it, we see both the clear choice to fall back into our ways of competitive, self-focused, austerity or to try to live into the copiousness of life lived faithfully to the God who will provide.

The story begins in the midst of the thin, hard places of life.  A tired Jesus is taking his weary disciples “to a lonely place” to try to get some rest and to retreat from the pressing throngs of people very much in need.  Somehow word gets out and the “lonely place” that was to be a refuge becomes populated with thousands of needy hungering followers.  The instinct is to pull back, withdraw inwardly, hold close what is yours.  But Jesus, eternally the shepherd, sees their need and begins to preach to them.  Suddenly, he understands that not only do the people need the “bread of life” which is the word of God, but they need bread!  They need to eat.  And, without missing a beat, and because he understood what abundance really was, Jesus turns to his disciples and says “you give them something to eat.”

Somehow all it takes is an invitation to be aware of the plentifulness of life.  Sometimes all it takes is the confidence of one who is trusted, one who knows the people better than we do ourselves, whose loving heart is so evident to say “go,” “do,” “be,” for us to see the world around us with different eyes, to be aware of the resources we have with hearts that have been changed.

And, like with Isaiah, this moment of sharing, of abundance, of enough-ness, becomes sacred.  Mark uses words that the author had to have known echoed those words Jesus would say at the very end of his life, “…he looked up…, and blessed and broke… and gave”  would become at the last supper “he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them…”

Author Lamar Wilson, Jr. writes, “Seen in this light, the story becomes a suggested sacrament… It sets us in the presence of Jesus himself… as we draw apart to a ‘lonely place’ and yet find ourselves part of a great throng there.  That crowd not only includes contemporaries who, like us, seek bread, but also hosts of folk both past and present who constitute the people of God and who anticipate God’s future.  By mediating this meaning, the story becomes part of the sacrament, its words become living bread that satisfies our deepest hunger and gives us strength to make it home.” (2) Isaiah couldn’t have said it better!

So in the midst of the dawning of the 21st century, and on the day that our congregation will receive the Visioning Report from our Official Church Board, we hear this inspiring call to be prepared for God’s Surprising Abundance!  I do not think it is any small mystery nor coincidence that these are pressed together.  There is an awful lot of challenge in the Visioning Report, and it will feel at times like we are being stretched too thin, that we do not have enough resources – within ourselves individually and within the congregation as a whole – to make the adjustments, changes, and dramatic shifts of perspective that will be needed to sustain the ministry of Jesus Christ working through this dynamic, historic, urban community of faith well into the future.  But we do, and God reminds us of this in no uncertain terms!

Isaiah 55:1-6 and Mark 6:30-44 are but two instances of God’s abundance surprising the people of God in scripture.  The history of our faith is replete with examples also.  The key, as always, is to

1. Acknowledge the gifts we already have!  (Too often we overlook the resources at hand.)

2. Look death in the face!  (In being spiritually ready for death, we open ourselves to life.)

3. Receive gifts as gifts!  (Often things that appear as insignificant or a burden are really resources for abundant life.)

And finally, can we also acknowledge these three learnings are found most poignantly and powerfully in the words, actions, and love Jesus shared at the last supper, and which we share weekly in Holy Communion.  Thus each week when we gather at the table to take and receive Christ’s gift of his very body and blood, we are participating in the most incredible act of divine abundance conceivable!

Let us thank God that the anxieties of our world and our personal lives do not rule the day!  Instead, when we relax, listen, and seek to align our words, actions, and thoughts with those of God as exemplified in scripture and in Jesus Christ, we can be surprised by the wondrous abundance of God!

Amen.  May it be so!

(1) Walter Brueggemann,  Isaiah 40-66 – Westminster Bible Companion, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louiseville, KY, 1998) pp. 158-159.

(2) Lamar Williamson, Jr., Mark: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary For Teaching & Preaching (John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1989) pp. 127-128.

“While Shepherds Watched: The Shepherd Moses” ~ December 7, 2014 Sermon

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Sermon For December 7, 2014 ~ Advent 2

Joshua 22:1-5 & John 3:13-17

“While Shepherds Watched: The Shepherd Moses”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To watch a video of this sermon, please go online to: http://youtu.be/5NsNVn3vTZ4

 

What makes for peace? This is the season, right, that we proclaim “Peace on earth, good will toward all?” This, the second Sunday of Advent, the word of the day is “Peace,” a word and a concept that has been proclaimed throughout history, and yet we still live in a world wracked by violence and war, and people of faith do not seem to be immune to either their effects nor their causes. Our texts for today, which highlight the great patriarch of the faith, the shepherd-turned-liberator Moses, seem to point us only to a kind of peace that is built on the straining back of domination and manipulation.

Coptic Icon, "St. Moses The Black"

Coptic Icon, “St. Moses The Black”

 

The epic story of Moses leading the Hebrew people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt into the “promised land, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” has bothered me deeply since I first realized that this territory into which they were led by God was a place already inhabited, a land that had homes and farms and mothers and fathers and children. Yes, the residents were people of another faith, but

"Joshua" Phillip Ratner, 1998. The Safad Bible. Israel Bible Museum.

“Joshua” Phillip Ratner, 1998. The Safad Bible. Israel Bible Museum.

just because one calls them “heathen” or “pagan” does not make them any less human. I struggle mightily with the basic premise that one people’s liberation must necessarily require another’s annihilation or subjugation. We must remember that as much as Moses began as a shepherd, Joshua was born and raised a warrior, and much of his tenure would involve clearing the land of its occupants so that his people, the “chosen people,” could inhabit it. The tension of this troubling beginning wrenches our world even today.

 

And John’s words, where he offers the enigmatic phrase about Moses “lifting up the serpent in the wilderness,” also sets forth perhaps the most memorized line in all of scripture, “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.” And, even when the subsequent sentence is included, “Indeed God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” this passage still sounds like a antagonistic line in the sand. It feels to me like John is saying, “Unless you believe in Jesus in the way in which we do, you will perish (i.e. go to hell) – and we’re doing you a favor by warning you of this!”

 

The words of the prophet Jeremiah ring in my ears, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace.” (6:14) I hear so many ministers preach and pray about peace, and yet I cannot see evidence that all this has made the world a better place for anyone, Christians or others alike. I struggle with understanding the real intent for peace in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the focus which the Advent/Christmas season puts on peace only brings it painfully to the forefront.

Slide1But what does give me heart are Jesus’ last words to his disciples, also recorded in John, which included the deeply comforting “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus’ distinction between peace as the world gives, or sees, it and the peace that Jesus brings is so profoundly helpful. Without overly spiritualizing this, or making this an excuse for continuing our horrible behaviors while placating victims with religious pabulum, I do believe Jesus was trying to tell us something about from whence comes true peace. Until we are at peace deep within our own souls, there will be – can never be – peace in our world.

 

+ Until we come to grips with the truth that God may have chosen all of creation into which to instill the divine approval, and that by blessing us as a people God’s hands are not tied, God’s will is not hindered, in blessing another people, or all peoples even, like a shepherd who goes looking for the one lost lamb – until then – we will never find peace between the nations.

 

+ Until we come to grips with the truth that God, in sending us Jesus to show us God’s love incarnate for us, does not prohibit God from sending other means for grace and truth and salvation to be made real for others, that God might be quite able and willing to seek redemption for every single last one of God’s children, like a father waiting for a prodigal son – until then – we will never find peace between the earth’s diverse peoples.

 

+ Until we come to grips with the truth that when we experience heartache and pain, profound sadness and deepest sorrow, that God has not done this to us, but rather God remains inextricably bound to us and experiences that agony and grief with us as if it were God’s very own pain, like a mother hen seeking to gather all her brood under her wings – until then –we will never find peace between us and God.

 

+ Until we come to grips with the truth that God really meant it when God told us we will never be forgotten nor forsaken, that there is in fact nothing, not-a-thing, that can separate us from the love of God that we experience in Christ Jesus, like a savior willing to take the slings and arrows and nails of the world to show us that love – until then – we will never find peace within ourselves.

 

I tell you, I struggle with this call to peace and the story of our faith that seems rife with examples of conflict, divisiveness, and warfare. Moses, the great shepherd of liberation, and his successor, Joshua, the one who would bring our forbearers of the faith out of one cauldron of oppression into another kettle of conflict, are not perfect ancestors, but they are our relatives. John, gospel writer and a theologian known for conveying the faith in ways that, interpreted poorly, have led to bloodshed of our own kinfolk, is still one of ours and cannot be easily dismissed. But if we listen deeply to Jesus, especially in this season of peace, and let go of the definitions of peace which this world gives, we might just hear a word of peace for our lives that also is a word of peace to all and to our world.

 

Amen.

 

“Enough Is Enough” ~ November 23, 2014 Sermon

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Sermon For November 23, 2014

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

“Enough Is Enough”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

 

A beautiful Thanksgiving table is set at the home of David & Geoff.

A beautiful Thanksgiving table is set at the home of David & Geoff.

“Enough Is Enough!” you proclaim as you push yourself away from the Thanksgiving Day table. You have eaten too much already, and far more than you vowed to yourself on the trip over to grandma’s house. She’s been plying you constantly with food, like a barker at the fairgrounds because she knows how hard it is to say “no!” to your grandmother! You marvel at the bounty of the feast, especially knowing the ups and downs of the previous year. Every November you marvel at how your grandmother magically unveils a sumptuous spread of the finest foods, even after years of leanness, even after recurring bouts of cancer, even after years where there were more deaths than births. But still, this body can take only so much ingestion before and explosion is imminent! And, besides, the tryptophan is starting to kick in. Enough is enough…

 

IMG_7997

A member of our human family brutally murdered.

 

Transgender Day Of Remembrance, Cleveland, OH City Hall, November 2012.

Transgender Day Of Remembrance, Cleveland, OH City Hall, November 2012.

“Enough Is Enough!” the mournful marchers proclaim as they slowly move toward the vigil site. The murder of any person is horrible, but the fact that the lives of our transgender sisters and brothers seem to be particularly expendable by the forces of evil in the world is especially despicable. “Sylvia,” “Benny,” “Rosa,” Jacqueline,” “Rayka,” “Prince Joe,” “Toni,” Cristal,” “Alejandra,” “Karen,” “Cris,” “Gizzy,” the names go on and on and on, and the causes of death are as horrific as any horror movie could depict. When will we as a human race finally see that the most important common denominator is that we are alive and we are human, and we all have a rightful place on the planet. As the placards with the pictures of those who have been ruthlessly murdered in the past year are set one by one at the front of the hall, each one of us whispers, “enough is enough…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retirement party for David, from the RTA Police Dept.

Retirement party for David, from the RTA Police Dept.

Ruth's retirement party, from Metro Hospital.

Ruth’s retirement party, from Metro Hospital.

“Enough Is Enough!” she shouts out through the laughter. She had suspected the retirement party was in the works, but she had no idea so many people would turn out for her, a simple elementary school teacher who only wanted to make a difference in one child’s life. Presenter after presenter went on far too long, extoling her virtues and accomplishments like she was a saint or a movie star. She must have had a permanent blush on her face the entire party, as former student after former student, grandchildren of former students who were also her students, administrator after teaching colleague after parent talked about her simple yet effective approach to education, her valuing each and every student like he or she were the only one she would ever teach, her willingness to stand up to self-important superintendents and speak out against hair brained educational schemes. As they hand her the gift, a huge mock check that shows the amount of money raised for the scholarship fund for disadvantaged children who need help with supplies and such, she bursts out into tears crying, “Dear Lord, enough is enough!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rally in the wake of the verdict in the death of Trevon Martin, Cleveland, OH.

Rally in the wake of the verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin, Cleveland, OH.

 

Protester at the rally following the verdict in the killing of Trevor Martin.

Protester at the rally following the verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

“Enough Is Enough!” the angry marchers chant as they march up to city hall. “Enough Is Enough!” cry out mothers whose children have been killed by violence on the street – random and calculated. “Enough Is Enough!” cry out fathers whose children have been shot by police mistaking cell phones for guns or playful teen mischievousness for criminal behavior. “Enough Is Enough!” cry out our African American and Hispanic sisters and brothers who see far too many dark-skinned faces on the newscast and on

God Before Guns march and rally, Cleveland, OH, May 2014

God Before Guns march and rally, Cleveland, OH, May 2014

the obituary pages than their population would naturally apportion, whether through the violence of disease, of poverty, or of racism. “Enough Is Enough!” cry out advocates against gun violence when the excuses outnumber the confessions, the self-preservation outweighs the soul-searching, the grand-standing outweighs the problem-solving, the gut impressions and knee-jerk reactions outweigh the statistics and the reality. “Enough Is Enough!” the people in pain cry out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastor Allen (photographer unknown)

Pastor Allen (photographer unknown)

“Enough Is Enough!” the pastor proclaims to the church that understands deeply God’s bountiful blessings. Being centered in the promise that “God will provide” and certain of the fact that “God has provided,” the congregation finds a focus in the mission they have been called to in this day and in this place and a confidence in the future whatever it may hold. The pastor smiles as he looks out on the faces of the people who give so much… so much time, so much energy, so much talent, so much wisdom, so much faithfulness, so much money… so much money. His heart is full to overflowing, knowing that his people – God’s people – give as much and as best as they are able, to ensure that the amazing ministry of this humble community of Christ happens day in and day out… children and youth are taught in the ways of Jesus; couples are counseled, the sick are visited, the dying are sent off with blessings as abundant as tears; people are fed not only with thoughtful study but food and fellowship; songs are sung to the glory of God and the celebration of humanity; clothing is giving – both the armor of salvation as well as hats and gloves and coats for a harsh winter; space is offered to a community in need of tumbling, yoga, tai chi, and discussions about bike lanes and zoning laws.

 

“Enough Is Enough!” the pastor whispers to himself as pledges of commitment flow in from the community to undergird the church’s work and facilities for the coming year, knowing full well that all the resources needed to sustain strong, vibrant, and true community are already present there – the only need is to inform and inspire and equip those with the resources needed to share.

 

“Enough Is Enough!” the pastor tells himself in the dark and fertile hours of prayer, when soul-searching and self-examination seem to

Allen V. Harris, human.

Allen V. Harris, human.

call him up short, when he feels inadequate to the tasks at hand, much less tasks ahead, when he feels more broken than whole. In those moments of prayer and meditation he is reminded, by the gentle warm winds of the Holy Spirit, that the very reason God chose this clay jar, this cracked pot, was so that it would be made clear to us that this extraordinary power belongs to God, and does not come from us. (2 Cor. 4:7)

 

“Enough Is Enough!” the pastor thinks to himself as he reads the words of thanksgiving for the day: And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Cor. 9:8)

 

Yes, enough is enough… this Thanksgiving, and always. Let us recommit ourselves to making sure that all have enough by sharing abundantly in every good work. And may it be so.

 

Amen.

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