Monday, July 9, 2007

Global Belonging

What is the challenge we’re called to rise and meet?

Our eleven friends on the Bolivian medical mission trip are facing challenges today, what was to be their second day in Cochabamba, altitude 8392 feet, three-fifths of a mile higher than Denver. I say it was to be their second day there. They left here early Friday morning, and it was going to take four flights (three transfers) to arrive in the Garden City of Bolivia, eighteen hours of air travel…

But yesterday afternoon this e-mail arrived: “Due to a delay in the American Airlines flight out of Miami, we arrived in Lima too late for our Bolivian connection. The upshot is, we are staying in a luxury hotel in Lima recuperating for the next leg, delayed by one day. Not so bad, except that due to missing our Santa Cruz-Cochabamba flight and the lack of available seats on that route, we’ll have to take a bus tomorrow instead of the plane. Twelve hours instead of forty-five minutes, but I suppose we’ll get to acclimatize to the altitude gradually. We’ll update to the blog soon (”

I don’t know firsthand what the first couple of days’ experience is likely to be in one of these short-term clinics, but I’ll bet the learning curve feels as steep as Cochabamba. No shortage of challenges: communicating across a gulf of language, offering the best that is in you, interpreting puzzling behavior, taking the right risks, avoiding the wrong ones, finding your way, becoming a team, learning from mistakes… In general, probably no different from what those apostles encountered, the seventy Luke tells us about today.

To them our Lord says, “You have within you a power to share. I know, because I put it there. I free it and guide it. This power of peacemaking, peace-bestowing, won’t diminish you: it will strengthen you, and none of it will be lost. Those who are open to you will receive me, and those who receive me receive the One who sent me, the One whose reign of justice and peace is being built by the likes of you. And what goes around comes around: you will be blessed in the giving. At the least, your peace will come back to you. And more: as you bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill my law, you are sharing in the very nature and presence of God. Life will never again feel limited to the ways of the world. You’re helping the way of God come on earth as it is in heaven—my new creation is happening in you!

I believe that our medical missioners will hear a message something like this, whispered by the Spirit as they guide patients to and from surgery, as they sterilize instruments and wipe foreheads and hold hands in recovery, plunge toilets and dispense medications.

Our eleven friends stand on a front line of global belonging. They aren’t the only members of St. John’s standing in such a place of opportunity and challenge, this summer. Three sisters—Paola, Lili, and Alex-- are in South Africa and Lesotho, working with Grassroots Soccer, a program that uses the international culture of sports to educate young Africans about HIV and AIDS, making testing available, breaking taboos by talking about cause and effect, building relationships, dealing truth that can set people free. What a paradigm of global belonging these three young women present: Mexican-American Episcopalians finding their vocations in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s a paradigm with a future. Let’s pray that it becomes a common one.

Crossing cultures and borders willingly was uncommon in the ancient Middle East, and we hear that in our story from II Kings. A Syrian army commanded, Naaman, is urged to travel to Israel to find the prophet Elisha, to cure his leprosy. He’s indignant that he should have to leave his homeland, his superior homeland, his homeland right or wrong, and cross into inferior Israel for treatment. But he goes, and his meeting with Elisha disappoints him. Without the slightest trace of drama, the prophet tells him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River, to do what any number of Jewish peasants would be doing at the same moment (and what our Lord Jesus would one day do, to cement his bond with ordinary human beings), to strip down and wade in and be made clean. “Fine rivers flow through Damascus—why should I not bathe in them?” he asks his servants in a rage, and they calm him by observing that it’s such a simple thing he has been told to do—wouldn’t he rise to the challenge of doing anything that was truly hard to regain his health? Then why not something as simple and basic as this?

Let’s keep that question in mind, since it’s the one I announced at the start: What is the challenge we’re called to rise and meet?

That question has been raised and answered by this weekend’s international Live Earth concerts. On seven continents, over the 24 hours of 7/7/07, yesterday, more than 100 music artists were expected to perform, and two billion people expected to participate either remotely or in person, to mark the beginning of a multi-year campaign led by the Alliance for Climate Protection in the U.S., the Climate Group and Stop Climate Chaos in the U.K., among others, to inspire people, corporations, and governments to rise and meet the challenge of solving the climate crisis.

At Giants Stadium in New Jersey, Wembley Stadium in London, Aussie Stadium in Sydney, Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg, Makuhari Messe in Tokyo, the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, and HSH Nordbank Arena in Hamburg—and in countless church halls and school auditoriums around the world—the world rocked, yesterday.

For what purpose? To foster global belonging. To get us to recognize that we all stand on the front line of responsibility, and to encourage and challenge everyone, all of us, each of us, to sign the Live Earth Pledge which you’ll see on the green sheet in today’s worship leaflet. Seven points. One powerful message. Answer the call.

What is the challenge we’re called to rise and meet? I want to let former Vice President Al Gore answer that question, from his July 1st op ed piece in The New York Times:

“Our children have a right to hold us to a higher standard when their future—indeed, the future of all human civilization—is hanging in the balance. They deserve better than a government that censors the best scientific evidence and harasses honest scientists who try to warn us about looming catastrophe. They deserve better than politicians who sit on their hands and do nothing to confront the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced—even as the danger bears down on us.

“We should focus instead on the opportunities that are part of this challenge. Certainly, there will be new jobs and new profits as corporations move aggressively to capture the enormous economic opportunities offered by a clean energy future.

“But there’s something even more precious to be gained if we do the right thing. The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: a generational mission; a compelling moral purpose; a shared cause; and the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge.”

I hope I’ll see few green sheets left here, this morning. Whether it’s here in church or later at home, read the seven points of this pledge. We’re all in the sandals of Naaman today, a man of courage and conviction who had to lay aside his business-as-usual approach to life in order to accept an unlikely commission, a task on which his very life depended.

Like him, we’re hearing a prophetic voice calling us to bathe seven times, to take seven steps. Like Naaman, we can object. Our challenge is steeper in that no one’s telling us that all seven of these steps will be easy to do. But surely they’re basic to our future, and to the healing of the earth.

To read the seven pledges, go to

Monday, July 2, 2007

Finding our Right Mind on Immigration

I’ve been a student of the Bible since I got hooked reading it as a teenager. That was a long time ago, and still I get surprised by features I notice for the first time, especially in the four Gospels. Today, I can’t hear this story about hot-headed disciples wanting God to strike dead some cranky Samaritans without recalling the story Luke told us last Sunday about the man who lived in the country of the Gerasenes. He was severely tormented by demons, we’re told, wore no clothing, and had to be chained by his neighbors because he was violent. Jesus called him to his right mind, a dramatic healing that didn’t work out so well for that herd of pigs that got spooked by all this and rushed over a cliff into the sea.

So there we have a famously crazy man whose life is reordered by the Spirit of Christ. In the end, he asks Jesus if he may follow him and join the band of disciples. “No way,” answered Jesus. “I have enough crazy men as it is. You go home and tell your neighbors they can put their chains away. I put you in charge of homeland renewal right where you live.”

And today, on the heels of that story, we get a glimpse of how crazy the disciples of Christ can be.

But before we revisit that story, I hope you noticed that long list of what St. Paul calls “works of the flesh”. When he’s done listing them, he warns his hearers that people who do such things will find that they don’t fit the new created order that God is achieving through the death, resurrection, and Gospel authority of Jesus Christ. Fifteen destructive behaviors are listed, though some seem to be repeats. In that list, first to be heard, are fornication and impurity. That appears to match the fervor of some Christian disciples today, who are convinced that matters of sexual politics and purity are the most important agenda for the Church and the world to resolve. Farther along on the list is another pair, dissensions and factions.
Which of these does our Gospel story address? How people behave sexually? No. As important as that subject is in a spiritually ordered life, Jesus doesn’t tell his story about that—in fact, that isn’t a topic he tells stories about, as a rule. It’s factionalism we hear about this morning. Age-old grudges between Samaritans and Jews explain why Jesus and his companions are not welcomed in that village—and the disciples are about to add to this long history of animosity. This is the front line of the new created order our Lord has come to achieve. He wants to do it by healing and teaching and feeding—we might call it the approach of humanitarian assistance—but his disciples want to take that front line by supernatural military might, not manna from heaven but mayhem from heaven.

What follows has, to my knowledge, never been captured in a stained glass window. Like the scene where Jesus throws over the tables of the money-changers in the temple, this scene of his rebuking his disciples hasn’t yet caught the Church’s imagination as being worth remembering in her visual arts. We might be better off, if we did keep before us this dressing-down, this scolding that is meant to deliver to all believers the message, “Don’t be crazy: you aren’t going to heal and overcome long-stewing factions by means of violence.” The right approach, the right mind to have, the mind of Christ, will express itself in healing and teaching and feeding, forgiving and freeing, justice meted out in mercy.

This is timely stuff for a nation sharply divided in factions over the complex subject of immigration. To call it complex is to respect diverse viewpoints and opinions. To call it complex is to hope—even insist—that people on opposite sides stop to deeply listen to one another. But it ought to trouble us all is that what’s driving our society’s handling of this subject is an unmistakably violent spirit that seems ready to command fire to come down from heaven and consume. Isn’t it time to rebuke this spirit?

I commend our two senators in Washington for rebuking the policy of Homeland Security that was actively deporting Yaderlin Hiraldo of Lawrence, an undocumented immigrant married to Army Specialist Alex R. Jimenez, one of three soldiers kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq, presumed dead. May our senators be successful in their attempt now to expedite the path to citizenship for all other undocumented spouses of American military personnel risking their lives on our behalf.

Massachusetts has also provided the stage on which the fire-from-heaven faction is earning rebuke from across the nation. In New Bedford on March 6th, Immigration and Customs Enforcement—ICE—agents carried out a long-planned raid on a leather goods factory where 360 undocumented immigrants were arrested. Almost two-thirds were handcuffed, jailed, flown to Texas and jailed again, all within twenty-four hours. Almost all were women, “smuggled away, terrified, and unable to contact family members,” reported The Boston Globe.

Hundred of thousands of our tax dollars got spent renting planes and Texas jail beds in this assault on hard-working Latino families, six months in the planning. ICE wanted to get these “criminals” as far away as possible from Massachusetts, where 95% of detained immigrants are released on bail (in Texas, it is under 60%), and bail in Massachusetts is one-fifth what it is in Texas. You might call our two states poster children for the factionalism and dissent that divides our nation on immigration.

I am the son of an immigrant, my father having passed beneath Lady Liberty’s torch in 1909, when she, herself an immigrant, was just 23 years old. This was a time when poverty in the north of the British Isles drove many to come here. Poverty, war, persecution, and ambition always ensure this country its place at the receiving end of a steady exodus, requiring intelligent and compassionate laws on the subject to be revised in every generation, to ensure justice.

You know that on the base of that statue the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” are inscribed. I’d like her words to be heard today.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

It is time to expect our legislators to polish these brass letters, so that we may see them again: not surrounded by yellow police tape, red tape, barbed wire—but shining as bright as the torch above.

To be a citizen of this country is to have a history that stretches four hundred years. To be a Christian is to belong to the Body of Christ at work in the world nearly two thousand years, that work shaped in large part by our Jewish heritage which adds at least another millennium to our long view.

By that long view, we see that many human societies undergird their common life by depending on the labor, the affordable labor, of foreign workers who cross their borders. Sometimes this is migration driven by poverty or by ambition. Sometimes it is slavery. By dependence on cheap labor, a society takes care of certain of its needs while freeing itself to grow and flourish—or to fiddle while Rome burns.

That we have twelve million undocumented residents in this country is evidence of two realities: their need to work, and our need to have them work. Whether we can send them home, fine them steeply, tear apart their families, force them through hoops of years of procedure, and still enjoy the standard of living we do, is a question we may not yet know how to answer. What the long view does teach us is that the humanity of our society will be shown and shaped by how we treat them.

One thing unites a compelling majority in this nation: We would not be here without Lady Liberty’s welcome. To be a citizen of this country is to belong to a society of immigrants, a society which has yet to honor its debt to the original inhabitants of these Americas, south, central, and north. It could quiet all factions in our current dissent to stand rebuked if they have forgotten this. Remembering this could help us find our right mind and compassion to end the craziness.