Posted by: Renee | February 26, 2013

Putting an End to Violence

by Renee Sappington
I write this knowing that I don’t have a strategic plan for how to make this world, this country, or this state I live in a less violent place. I write this more than a decade after 9/11 and less than 3 months after the Newtown massacre. I write this as the debate on gun control escalates, even within faith circles. I write this knowing that people who are otherwise gentle people insist they would use violent means to protect their own lives or those they love. I also write this with a clear vision of what my faith, as an aspiring follower of Christ, calls me to.

Among others, I’m grateful for Alan Storey of South Africa, whose reflections on the great flood story and whose prophetic words to the Church have compelled me to speak out on the critical condition of our violent world.

As an adult, I have often wrestled with the great flood story in the Book of Genesis and what it says about God. I invite you to read it to refresh your memory – Genesis 6-9. I encourage you to listen and look deeper than the animals boarding the ark in pairs or the dove coming back with an olive leaf. I challenge you to hear the cries of people and their children as they’re drowning and to see the carnage of decaying bodies as the waters recede. And I ask you to please notice that despite the plan for the flood to wipe evil off the face of the earth, wickedness remained. This master plan – based on the all-too-familiar idea of dividing the good people from the bad people and destroying the latter to make a better world – this plan failed. What becomes evident is that even God could not use violence successfully. Let me say it again, even God could not use violence successfully. And unlike much of our world, God repents and promises to never use such a weapon of mass destruction again. As Alan Storey so aptly put it, the flood story is the great narrative of the disarmament of God.

As we read the Gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus, we find that God has indeed laid his weapons down and asks nothing less of us. No matter what rules we lived by before, Christ commands us to not just love our neighbor but also our enemy (Matthew 5:43-48). And he proved he meant it on the cross. The cross is, for me, a most unsettling yet clear symbol of God’s commitment to nonviolence – there we see that God would rather die than respond to our violence with violence. But not only did he refuse to retaliate or defend himself, he prayed for the forgiveness of those who hung him on that brutal tree. He responded to the perpetrators of such violence with compassion, aware that they were acting out of ignorance (Luke 23:34).

Honestly, I believe all violence is carried out in ignorance – out of a tragic lack of social and soul consciousness. Yet, how long will we remain so ignorant? When will we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hearts to hurt for each other? I’m not the first to ask this question, Bob Dylan was asking it in the 1960’s with his powerful protest song “Blowin’ in the Wind”, and Shane Claiborne offers a powerful evangelical voice crying out in our present-day wilderness.

Many of us have not known what it’s like to be a victim of physical violence or to lose someone in our personal circle of friends and family to murder or war. And many of us don’t know what it’s like to personally know a perpetrator of such violence. But if we draw our circles wider, which God continually calls us to do, we will find our own hearts breaking for the pain and loss our human family suffers.

For a brief moment after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., Americans had a window into what it might feel like to live in a war-torn Middle Eastern or third world country. We were faced with the painful opportunity to love our enemy and become a better neighbor to the world. But the vulnerability was too much, so we boarded up that window, replaced our cross with the flag, and prayed for vengeance rather than the forgiveness of those that terrorized us. And then we proceeded to take thousands more civilian lives than were taken from us. That’s not even an ‘eye for an eye’, much less loving our enemy.

And then there’s the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut this past December. I can’t talk or write about it without the tears welling up in my eyes. I mourn for the 20 young children, for the 6 courageous staff, and for all their families and friends. And I mourn for Nancy Lanza, a mother killed by her own mentally disturbed son. And I mourn for Adam Lanza. I grieve at the thought that throughout the nation, most church bells rang only 26 times. Some rang 27 times, but few rang a 28th time, to acknowledge Adam’s own tragic death. It’s as if his life and death don’t count, as if he didn’t belong to us, too. But he did, and until we can claim the Adam Lanzas as our own, I’m not sure we can really find our way out of this vicious cycle of violence we’re caught in.

You see, we look with horror at the tragedy of Newtown and we call the gunman a monster. We look back at 9/11 and call the terrorists evil. But we refuse to acknowledge our own role as gunmen and terrorists. We fail to hold ourselves or our government accountable for the deaths of civilians in other countries, including many children, as a direct result of our bullets, our missiles, our drones…not to mention the indirect results of our military strikes. Were the lives of the 178 children killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan and Yemen any less precious than the 20 killed in Connecticut? Desmund Tutu speaks truth to America when he says “Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.” Actually, I’d say it already has.

But it doesn’t have to stay this way, we’re still writing our story – we don’t have to continue down this bloody road, a road that even God found futile. We can repent, reclaim our humanity and refuse to respond to violence with violence. We can draw our circles ever wider. For those professing to follow Jesus, it’s time to realize we can’t carry our cross and carry a gun or flag at the same time. I started this blog saying I don’t have a strategic plan for making this world a less violent place, but the Indigo Girls just reminded me – the plan is simple but profound: “lay down your weapons and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Posted by: Renee | January 21, 2013

I Will Not Keep Silent

– by Sophia Agtarap, ReThink Church, minister of online engagement-

to read complete blog post click here

…This God. Our God of the poor, of the afflicted, the enslaved, the abused, the outcast tells Israel–tells us today, of our chosennes. That not in spite of, but because of who we are, we are singled out and selected. Called God’s own. God’s preferred. God’s delight.

Who are they in our midst? Who are the silenced, the marginalized? What do they look like?

It is and always will be God’s consistent love that calls us in and through these times when we are tired of singing the same song. But we are, as God’s people and agents of change, called to be prophets in our time. We are called to sing those songs and issue those invitations to wholeness. To God’s shalom, until their voices, too are recognized.It is our charge to continue raising our voices for those who are not here, who haven’t found their place at the table, maybe for those who haven’t even been born but will be born into a world not ready to receive them.

Poet and activist, Audre Lorde, wrote:

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood…

She believed that our silence would not protect us; would not save us. She spent her life calling marginalized people in the LGBT community from the outskirts and closets to come and speak out and share the truth.  Our silence will not save us.

Larry Hollon, General Secretary of United Methodist Communications speaks of this silence in the context of  the absence of the voice of the mainline church regarding issues of justice and openness and inclusiveness. “Clearly, we have abdicated our responsibility to participate in the conversation where it is taking place.” We have left this conversation to someone else. We have been silent.

Our silence doesn’t let us off the hook, either. If we don’t speak, the exclusion that plagues our world and our church will not go away, for we are called to be the standard bearers of God’s justice and mercy, not those who settle for what’s convenient. And when we are working for justice, it will almost always seem inconvenient.

Those who have been cast off will be brought back. They will be given a new name and a new identity. Beloved. God’s delight.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.

 As we go forth as people called and chosen, may we also remember to continue to call others out from the closets and margins and hiding places where they find themselves or where they have been placed, reminding them that God is a God of love who will not keep silent. Who will not rest until all God’s people have found a sense of belonging and their hope restored. Amen.

 

thank you, Ryan, for letting us post your words for today’s tragedy

“We Pray to You Only Because We Do not Know What Else to Do”

Like many this afternoon, I am staring blankly at a screen, my eyes numbly moving across words and images of the horrifying scenes from Connecticut today.  There are no words, and yet we somehow need words.  I need words.  Words to make sense?  No, not that… never that… Words to explain or justify or bring meaning?  As if that were possible… Words to express anger and sadness and fear and confusion… Words to express that we somehow, in some way hurt deeply for these parents who have lost their children, for these students who have lost their friends and teachers, for these families who have been ripped apart, for these precious little lives so cruelly snatched away, for a world still so painfully soaked in violence and inhumanity?  Yes, I suppose… something like that…

Words seem so utterly useless in the face of such tragedy and evil, but I guess sometimes they are all that we have.  This afternoon, I am reading—and praying—this prayer written by Walter Brueggemann after another school shooting in another time and another place.  I don’t know if these words are “appropriate” for a day like today or not.  I don’t even know if there could be such a thing.  I do know that they express something of how and what I am feeling for/about a group of strangers across the continent today, whose pain is quite literally more than I can imagine.

Another brutality,
another school killing,
another grief beyond telling…
            and loss…
                        in Colorado,
                        in Wisconsin,
                        among the Amish
                        in Virginia
                        Where next?
 
We are reduced to weeping silence,
            even as we breed a violent culture,
            even as we kill the sons and daughters of
                        our “enemies,”
            even as we fail to live and cherish and respect
                        the forgotten of our common life.
 
There is no joy among us as we empty our schoolhouses;
there is no health among us as we move in fear and
            bottomless anxiety;
there is little hope among us as we fall helpless before
            the gunshot and the shriek and the blood and the panic;
we pray to you only because we do not know what else to do.
            So we pray, move powerfully in our body politic,
                        move us toward peaceableness
                                    that does not hurt or want to kill.
                        move us toward justice
                                    that the troubled and the forgotten may know mercy,
                        move us toward forgiveness that
                                    we may escape the trap of revenge.
 
Empower us to turn our weapons to acts of mercy,
            to turn our missiles to gestures of friendship,
            to turn our bombs to policies of reconciliation;
and while we are turning,
            hear our sadness,
            our loss,
            our bitterness.
 
We dare to pray our needfulness to you
            because you have been there on that
                        gray Friday,
                        and watched your own Son be murdered
                                    for “reasons of state.”
 
Good God, do Easter!
            Here and among these families,
            here and in all our places of brutality.
 
Move our Easter grief now…
            without too much innocence—
            to your Sunday joy.
We pray in the one crucified and risen
            who is our Lord and Savior.
Posted by: Renee | October 22, 2012

Who is important enough?

SERMON: “Growing Up and Growing Young”

© Rev. Bert Montgomery, October 14, 2012

Presented to University Baptist Church, Starkville, MS

Mark 10:13-16 (Dalen Jackson Translation)1

And they were bringing children to him so he could hold them. But his disciples scolded them. But when Jesus saw, he was indignant, and he told them, “Let the children come to me, and don’t stop them–you know, the kingdom of God is made up of people like them. I’m telling you the truth, whoever doesn’t accept the kingdom of God like a child won’t come into it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them and laid his hands on them.

~~~~~

Mother’s Day, 1997.

The young Montgomery family was living in Memphis. After morning worship at our church, we stopped at Walmart to pick up just a few items.

But when I got inside … there in a Memphis, Tennessee, Walmart … walking up and down the chips aisle talking on his cell phone … was one of my childhood musical heroes …

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top!

Billy was talking on his cell phone and pointing to various snack foods and soft drinks, and this big, burly, roadie-type of guy, who was pushing a cart, would grab whatever Billy pointed to and then toss it into the buggy.

I did what every ZZ Top would have done – I stood on the next aisle over and eavesdropped. He was talking about having a layover in Memphis, grabbing some grub, and where he’ll be the next day.

I put off my shopping for a few minutes and stalked (though, I prefer the word “followed”) from a distance, and when Billy and Mr. Burly Man went to check out, I ran outside and waited. As they walked out, I approached.

“Mr. Gibbons! Please excuse me, but I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. My older cousin turned me onto ZZ Top in the 1970s. I have all of your albums, some t-shirts, posters – I’m a big fan. May I have your autograph, please?”

Billy looked at me, paused for a moment, then looked over to Mr. Burly Man assistant. No words were spoken. Mr. Burly Man then pushed his cart between Mr. Gibbons and his adoring fan, saying, “we don’t know what you’re talking about.” And they went their way.

I was crushed.

My wife wanted to hunt them down and tell Billy Gibbons exactly how much money I had spent on ZZ Top stuff in my measly twenty-plus years of life, and how if it weren’t for idiots like me, he wouldn’t have a big burley assistant doing all of his unpleasant work for him …

But, we just went home. It took me a few years to get over that and to be able to start really enjoying the Top again.

~~~~~

Sometimes we just have to accept our place in society. Read More…

Posted by: Renee | October 6, 2012

Getting rid of the clutter

by Renee Sappington

Last year I had a recurring theme show up in my dreams.  I found myself working in old houses that I was renovating – perhaps they were abandoned because I was always sorting through the belongings left behind.  The little bit I know of dream work suggests to me that I am the old house and I had let myself neglect my Soul.  Indeed, I found myself in the waking hours of the past few years often confronted with experiences and conversations that challenged my previously held beliefs or assumptions – whether about God or relationships or myself – and I was faced with sorting through what to keep and what to let go.   The work has left me with a lot less clutter in my mind and heart, as well as a realization of how easily I accumulate thoughts and emotions that need not linger and take up valuable space.   

I read a great analogy for my predicament in Steve Hagen’s Buddhism: Plain and Simple.  Those things I hold on to way past their purpose are like a raft – “a raft is a very handy thing to carry you across the water, from one shore to another.  But once you’ve reached the other shore, you no longer need the raft.  Indeed, if you wish to continue your journey beyond the shore, you must leave the raft behind.”  Taking the analogy a bit further, we often attempt to carry the raft with us despite how cumbersome it might be, after all it served us well and we grew attached to it.   In fact, how many of us want to hold onto the raft even when we’ve discovered it has some holes in it?  Nothing a little duct tape can’t fix, right?  Actually some of us couldn’t patch our old rafts with a whole roll of tape!

Whether we’re talking about our house or what we carry on a journey, I believe we often have unhealthy attachments to ideas and beliefs that, while they might have served us for a time, eventually become confining, irrelevant, or misleading.  Theories of cognitive and faith development make it clear that certain ways of looking at the world and God are age-appropriate, so I’m not knocking where we’ve been or what we’ve believed along the way.  I am just asking that we not assume we have it all figured out – ever – because as Pema Chodron says “The truth you believe and cling to, makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” That statement might alarm some, sounding a bit too relative, but I think it’s worth saying that any Truth with a capital T would be large enough to welcome new information and not be threatened by it.  I think that’s the key to listening to others with the openness Connie spoke of in The Heart of the Matter.

I read a great blog this week about Jesus that pointed out our own need to struggle “against any and all things – even our religious commitments and biblical interpretations – that prevent us from becoming like Christ; all things that prevent us from showing the mercy and grace of God to others.”  When it comes down to it, that seems to be the ultimate test for me: whether what I believe or think causes my heart to expand or contract – does it make me, other people, or God smaller than we really are or does it invite me toward the Mystery that is in all of us?

Posted by: Renee | October 2, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

This was Connie’s speech for Gandhi Day at Millsaps College.

I was asked to speak today because they wanted to hear from folks of various faith traditions.  This puts me in a bit of a predicament since my Christian roots are steeped in violence – violence toward others and ourselves, from instigating to justifying to simply ignoring the suffering and oppression of others.  I have seen way too much about how not to go about “peace-making” from my own faith tradition.   Indeed, it reminds me of the sentiment I’ve often heard attributed to Gandhi – your Christ I like, your Christians, not so much.

So, today, I want to qualify that what I’ll be saying is not coming from Christian tradition so much as from the life and teachings of Jesus – a 1st century Jewish peasant who was so in tune with God that many, myself included, have viewed him as God among us.   

He was executed by the Powers of his day because his life and message posed a real threat to the world they had created – a world of domination by physical force, economic exploitation, and religion that bought into the status quo.   Wow, sounds familiar.  We just keep repeating that same old drama over and over again, at our own expense. 

So much of the world throughout history has bought into the myth of redemptive violence – not just the belief that violence can save and war can bring peace, but that the end justifies the means, retribution brings justice, and destructive words and hate-filled hearts are necessary weapons against our opponents.   But philosopher Sam Keen points out that “History is littered with the remains of civilizations that chose to die rather than change their organizing myth.”

But history is also arrayed with prophetic leaders like Isaiah, Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and with nonviolent revolutions that show us a better way to live in this world.   People who have showed us that we don’t have to respond to force with force, that an eye for an eye really does make the whole world blind, and that you can indeed stand up against oppression without hating the oppressor.  I believe at the core of this better way is the realization that we are all connected.  As Desmond Tutu says: “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours…I am diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”  I also believe we have to keep trying this better way, applying it both personally and globally, until it becomes our new organizing myth. 

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, if you’re attending a Gandhi Day ceremony chances are you’ve already realized the importance of nonviolent resistance in lieu of violent force.  Perhaps we don’t hurl insults at others or perpetuate stereotypes of groups folks like to hate, but what do we do when others do these things?  What do we do when our classmates, colleagues, preachers, or politicians diminish others? What do we do about the injustices in the world, locally and globally? 

Certainly, non-action and apathy are nothing new, they inspired Edmund Burke in the 1700s to say “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  How many times do we say in the face of injustice:  “somebody ought to do something” without owning that we are somebody

So, how can we get inspired to act?  A point of beginning is certainly interpersonal and intercultural competency, where we learn how to effectively communicate with others.

But knowledge and skill alone are not enough.  We are in dire need of moving from the safer territory of our minds to the more vulnerable territory of our hearts, where competency can give way to connection.  Where we are open to the stories of others – where we have a curiosity that allows us to hear another’s story without judgment and maybe even start to recognize ourselves in them.  I believe it is in this heart space, that we will experience the sense of interconnectedness that our world both testifies to and longs for. 

One powerful story about Jesus which is recorded in the gospels is when he was approached by a Syrophenician woman, a gentile, who asked him to heal her daughter.  His response in the moment was harsh and disturbing, saying, “it’s not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  But when the woman responds to Jesus with humility and truth, rather than anger or giving up, his eyes are opened to really see her and his heart expanded.  The power of this story is in both the woman’s courage to speak her truth and in Jesus’ willingness to listen and learn from her. He showed us what it means to really listen to someone – to stand, even in a moment of potential conflict, with an open mind and heart, allowing another to move you.  

Now it’s one thing to practice this kind of listening with those who differ from us but are not deemed an “enemy,” yet, practice it with our “enemies” is exactly what we must do.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks claims “The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope.”

Walter Wink points out “Violent revolution fails because it is not revolutionary enough. It changes the rulers but not the rules.”  And Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that changing the laws was not even enough, we have to change the hearts and minds of individuals. Gandhi understood this, for him nonviolent revolution was not about seizing power but about transforming relationships.  Nelson Mandela could not envision a new South Africa, free of apartheid, that didn’t include the very people who had kept that oppressive system in place for so long. 

The ultimate goal is not victory over an enemy but a transformation that only love can effect.  Therein lies the wisdom in Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies.” Listening to others tills the ground for love to grow.  As love does its transformative work, it may change us every bit as much as those whom we oppose.  It invites a miracle.

And miracles happen every day when we share our stories and listen to the stories of others.  When we listen with our hearts open, seeking to understand as much as to be understood, we set the stage for transformation.

I hope you will leave here today with a renewed spirit to be open to others.  To intentionally listen, engage in love, and “be the change you wish to see in the world!”

Posted by: Renee | September 4, 2012

She Inspires Me

I believe many of us have a ways to go when it comes to embracing the social and economically disadvantaged people around us.  Too often I hear more fortunate people focusing on how these people have ended up where they are – making assumptions and generalizations that allow us to blame the disadvantaged for their own plight and remove ourselves from any responsibility for what should be disturbing disparities in society.  Sadly, such conversations happen even within the walls of our churches – odd, since I can’t recall a single instance when Jesus debated why someone was in need or whether they would abuse the help as a precursor for whether they deserved to be helped.  

The following story was written by Heather Ivery, Director of Stewpot’s Opportunity Center, a day shelter for homeless people.  The Opportunity Center is one of several facilities operated by Stewpot Community Services, which can always make use of our donations and volunteer work. 

“She Inspires Me”

About three months ago a young lady came to the Opportunity Center. She stood out to me at first because she was a woman and there are very few women who come to the Center. But she stood out even more because of her attitude. She lacked that “beaten by the world, defeated, hopeless attitude that so often accompanies people when they first come to us. Instead, she seemed determined and focused on what she needs to accomplish in order to get on her feet. Kim, it turns out is a single mother form Cuba, MS. She is in her mid 20’s and came to Jackson after being laid off when the company she worked for closed. Her hope was to be able to find work in Jackson because it is a bigger city. She left her children with her aunt and came here with no more than a bag of clothes and the few dollars she had managed to scrounge up.

Now, I can hear some people saying now, “why would you come all the way here without a place to stay?”.  Some people even use this as a reason to not want homeless services in Jackson because they believe it somehow “attracts” people to come here and live homeless.

But Kim didn’t come here for that. She didn’t have any idea where she would stay when she got here. She only knew that she could not provide for her children in the place she was and had to seek out something better. If that meant sacrificing a roof over her head, it was worth it. If it meant going to a place she was unfamiliar with no way to return home unless she was successful in her job search, so be it. Her willingness to sacrifice her own safety and comfort for the welfare of her family was inspirational. It was also the drive behind her determination.

Once Kim found the Opportunity Center, we were able to help her get what she needed. She utilized the computer lab to search for jobs and fill out online applications. She was able to get the clothes she needed for interviews from the Clothes Closet and hygiene supplies so she could present her best self. We were even able to help her track down an extended family member in town that eventually allowed her to stay in their home for a while.

It still took almost 2 months for Kim to find a job. But, her persistence paid off last month with a part time job at Popeye’s. As excited as she was to get this job, she knows she needs much more than part-time minimum wage to get on her feet and provide for her children. She is still pursuing other job possibilities and I have every confidence she will continue to move on to bigger and better things.  She inspires me.

Posted by: Renee | July 30, 2012

We Are A Family

sermon by Justin White on Sunday, July 29, 2012  

** I had every intent on preaching a sermon on “Uriah, the Faithful One.” But my trajectory changed after the events of the past week. Between the Chic Fil A arguments that have taken over my timeline on facebook and twitter, and after the African American Couple who were blocked from getting married at Crystal Springs Baptist Church, I decided to go with, “We Are A Family.”  ** 

Second Samuel 11:1-27

 1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. 2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then [a]she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.” 6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house. 10 When David was told, “Uriah did not go home,” he asked him, “Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home?” 11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” 12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home. 14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” 16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died. 18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelech son of Jerub-Besheth [b] ? Didn’t a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Also, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’ ” 22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance to the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.” 25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.” 26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.

In our Old Testament lesson today, we see a King who had all the power and privilege in the world. He had his wives, he had his children, he had an army, he seemingly had it all, and then one day he noticed her, Bathsheba. He had to have her, so he seduced her, had her husband Uriah killed. It is a story of abuse, deception, and murder.

The King got his way, gained a new wife, and took over Uriah’s household. Bathsheba bore him a son and they lived happily ever after! Okay, so they don’t live happily ever after at all. It was one big mess. It was a mess that displeased God, because David had used his power and his privilege to take advantage of Bathsheba and to have her husband killed. It was a decision that would haunt the rest of his and his family’s life. There would be scandals. His sons would commit horrible crimes against women, David would be disgraced. Yet, Christ would be born out of this mess.  

 What does this sobering account of a family have to do with us here at Wells, and in Jackson? Read More…

Posted by: Renee | June 3, 2012

Real Victory

by Renee Sappington

I’ve been a bit surprised by how the recent United Methodist General Conference with all its disappointments has affected my mental state and mood because, truth be told, I feel strangely victorious.  Let me explain.  As I followed the reports from GC during the two weeks of the conference and as I’ve heard and read many conversations afterward, I have come away with a few important Truths. 

First and foremost, there’s simply no amount of doctrine, dogma, or church legislation that can lessen God’s love for me and other LGBTQ persons – or for our heterosexual counterparts.  God created us all in the Divine image and loves us all just as we’ve been fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Second Truth, the end does not justify the means – no matter how strongly one feels about their beliefs and vision for the Church, unholy conferencing and underhanded politics are sins against God, the Church, and all the people involved.  From what I’ve heard and read, folks seeking progressive changes in the UMC could walk away from GC knowing they had stood their ground with integrity, love, and a peaceful yet courageous witness.  No institutional victory is worth compromising the Christ in us. 

So where does that leave us?  There’s no mistaking that the United Methodist Church is perpetuating ignorance and prejudice with its denominational policies that discriminate against gays and lesbians.  Such policies and the sermons and counsel that stem from them undoubtedly contribute to the high numbers of hate crimes, rejections, and suicides of LGBTQ persons.   As a religious institution we have once again failed to heed a higher calling for Justice, and from all appearances we will be trailing behind secular society in living out what it means to claim all people are of sacred worth.  

But guess what?  We as followers of Christ – and many others whose faiths emphasize love and compassion and justice – we can still lead the way forward with our own lives.  We can stand in opposition to unjust and unloving policies and laws.  Some may choose to defy those policies – either publically or privately.  Some may choose to engage in dialogue with those who disagree.  Still others may choose to leave the offending institution.  No matter what we do or don’t do polity-wise, hopefully, all of us will choose to intentionally love and welcome the people the policies and laws exclude as well as – the real challenge – the people who fight to put or keep those discriminatory policies and laws in place.   For this is the final Truth I’d like to share – we will only have a more loving Church if we continue to learn and practice Loving.  I believe as long as we live that Love, we are victorious.

 by Rabbi Marshal Klaven

Torah Portion: Leviticus 16:1-20:27

Haftarah Portion: Amos 9:7-15 

Ladies and gentleman of the jury, Your Honor – the Holy One, Blessed be God, I stand before you today to protest a great injustice and to defend the unalienable rights of fellow members in our human family. Every day, our brothers and sisters – people created in Your Divine image – are having their basic human liberties restricted or altogether stripped away. They are often harassed and tormented; they are often barred from supporting loved ones in times of great need; they are often prohibited from marriage; and, in some places, they are legally thrown out of public places like restaurants and theaters.[1] Why? What supposed crime have they committed? Simply: falling in love with another human being of the same gender. 

And, frankly, it deeply upsets me that this injustice is perpetrated and perpetuated by people of faith, who claim that such blatant discrimination and unabashed bigotry are justified by Your Holy Word. Specifically, contained within the Holiness Code, part of a special section in the book of Leviticus, they point to a group of laws dealing with inappropriate sexual relations. According to just two lines in the entire Hebrew Bible, both of which are found within the double Torah portion of Acharei Mot/K’doshim, we are warned that “if a man lies with a man, as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done a to-eivah, an ‘abhorrent thing;’[2] they shall be put to death – their blood guilt is upon them.”[3] (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13)  Read More…

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