I have had some requests for the text of my message this past Sunday addressing the tragedy in Paris and the violence in our world.
I have been working on a rocking horse in preparation for Christmas for our granddaughter Kadee, well my intent is to modify the rocking horse patter very slightly and create a rocking unicorn. It is in process.
Friday afternoon I was in the garage working on this creation. I am at that stage where most of the large cutouts have been made and the body actually looks like a horse, it has no horn in its head as of yet. What is required now in the process is a lot of sanding. Sanding not only so the surface will be smooth, but sanding all of the joints and places where the layered wood pieces do not quite match because I don’t have ability to cut them our simultaneously, but rather individually and then glue. As a result there is at times significant wood to sand away depending on how accurate I have been able to be with my jigsaw or band saw.
Sanding, even with a two or three different types of power sanders, is tedious work, it is not my favorite part. It moves too slowly, I have to stand in one place longer than I wish on a concrete floor that gives me a backache, and it creates that very fine dust that is not as easy to cleanup as the larger saw dust from the original cuts. However it is some of the most important work on the project, not only for beauty sake but for safety. Without the sanding the stain and/or paint lacks the luster and the grain is dull and not accentuated. Without the sanding, there is danger of splinter, rough edges, and mismatched edges that can cause discomfort at best and injury at worse. Sanding is my least favorite, because it takes time and attention to detail, in an instant gratification kind of world, it is the most difficult part of the project to remain focused upon.
I was stopping for the day as I had an invitation to speak at a WSU event on campus early Friday evening and wanted some time to think about and process what I was planning to say. I dusted myself off and picked up my phone from my work bench that had been playing my favorite tunes as I worked. I noticed I had several news alerts from one of my news apps and went in and sat down with a cold drink on the couch. I began reading the breaking news about Paris, as I read there was a deep, deep sigh that escaped from my being, I can’t even say I shook my head or said anything out loud, it was just a deep sigh and sadness that came over me. Not again, I thought, not again.
I had a direction for my sermon this morning but Friday and Yesterday, the nagging sense that one cannot choose to ignore this all too common event in our world. I opened my social media on my phone and began reading the comments from friends, family, news organizations, and political organizations. And like my friend Rev. Karyn Wiseman in her blog shared, there were basically two threads of conversation. One were those people lifting earnest prayer for those suffering violence in the wake of the horrendous event. Comments from Christians, Jews, Muslims, and persons of no faith tradition condemning the act of terrorism and lifting prayers of support and compassion. And some not only for Paris but for other violence laden areas of our world including the U.S.
The other group of comments I read were those who were quick to judgement; blaming an entire religious and faith tradition for the heinous acts of a few, blaming politicians, blaming the refugees who were trying to escape this very kind of violence, posturing and calculating comments to further their own political agenda and career but instilling fear and blame in those who would choose to listen to and believe them. At times like this I think it can become too easy to resort to blame, hate, suspicion, revenge, and scapegoating. Some of the comments were so vitriol they were difficult and painful to read.
As one comment shared, “All we have to do is open a paper, turn on the news on any given day” and not only Paris, but our world our country is saturated in violence and terrorism. Paris, a College in Kenya with over 100 dead, Lebanon, Iraq, these where Muslims and non-Muslims have died at the hands of a group that while they claim religious affiliation, only exist to instill fear and terror, Muslims from around the world condemn them and their actions. But not only ISIS, but our own country where a Syrian hospital is bombed by U.S. forces, racism and bigotry are alive and well where a young white male sits in a church for bible study and then proceeds to kill his black hosts in their church. Over 150 school shootings since December 2012, all acts of terror and violence.
We live in a world of extremes, we live in a country of extremes with little or no room for a middle of the road, moderate, thoughtful position. Rather it seems we as a culture, as a society, would rather stand at a distance from one another and point our fingers at them, and deny our own participation in the fear and dread mongering. We see it in our world, we see it in our country, our State, our community, even in our churches. A willingness to shift to blame passing, fear, and anger when we find ourselves in crisis and afraid. We are all too often are willing citizens of an us vs them world. And I believe, in an us vs them world, our fear and distrust, our anger and hate, our suspicion and blaming will only serve to transform us into the enemy that we think we oppose, fear and hate and distrust will only serve to consume us in the end.
I had originally planned on an extended exegesis and explanation of this parable of Jesus and the yeast. And though I am sure he tried to explain it to his disciples and the crowd who was listening, while they thought it odd he would use a symbol of something they had long considered as a bad thing, yeast, for talking about the Kindom of God, he pretty much left it be, to rattle around in the heads of those who first heard the story. I had a seminary professor once say, on some level, as soon as you try to explain a parable, you have already screwed it up, leave it be. (That might have been a paraphrase).
Let me just say this; yeast is a fungus, it eats at the sugars and nutrients present. In some sense its purpose is the rot the dough, or whatever else it is placed in. (that is if you do not tend to it) it is a corrupting agent. So for Jesus to have told his audience that the Kindom of God was like a woman, first odd and ludicrous piece of this parable for his audience, like a woman who put yeast in 3 measures (50 pounds) of flour… those listening would have found it laughable at best and offensive at worse. Maybe this… the Kindom of God is like a woman who kneads yeast into 3 measures of flour… and then has a choice to leave it to fester on its own until it rots the entire 50 pounds… or kneads it… lets it rise… and then finishes the project by baking the bread that feeds to Kindom and all those within. We, the church, the world, those who follow the one of Grace, Justice, Compassion, and Love have a choice, do we allow the yeast of faith, the yeast of religion, corrupt the world into a never ending spiral of fear, hate, and unchanging violence? Or do we do something with it, for good…for the good of the whole, not just ourselves, but for the good of the whole of the Kindom?
Where will we expend our energy as individuals, as the church, as a country, as a world? How will we spend our time and effort, will we immerse ourselves in fear, conspiracy, hate, and vengeance… or will we find a better way, a way to move together to build up the whole of our churches, our country, and our world? When we look within, when we look across the landscape of all that should be good and well and it is not, when we open the maps of our land and places of faith and a world torn in fear and violence… when we as was shared in a Social Media quote from Warsan Shire last evening…
“later that night I held an atlas in my lap, ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered, “where does it hurt?” it answered, “everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.”
On what will we choose to focus? I want to focus, I want us to focus on the good and authentic faith of the one we follow, one of grace, one of reconciliation, one of justice, one of compassion, trust, humility, and love. Like my friend Karyn writes, I want to focus on the Sikh temples in Paris who opened their doors for those seeking shelter, taxi drivers turning off their meters to drive people home from the areas of attack, thousands who are donating blood today in Paris, the young man playing an impromptu “Imagine” in the streets of Paris, people who opened their homes to those seeking safety, … I want us to focus on ways to reach out to one another in compassion and grace not fear and dread. I want us to find ways to educate ourselves about that which we fear and do not understand rather than making assumptions that labels an entire group with stigmatization that is misinformed at best.
I want us, the church, the country, the world to finish the work that was started. To do the difficult work of coming together and staying together. I think about the rocking horse/unicorn being prepared for my little Kadee and I want us all to focus on the tedious work of sanding the church, the country, and the world into the beautiful and safe place and space we know it can be. Not just for our own good, the immediate good, the common good here and now, but for our children, our children’s children, and beyond. I want us to focus on the Divine within and the Divine without, the one who through whom the community said, “I am bringing peace, not like the world gives, but as I give.” I want us to focus on the Divine who brings “genuine love, rejoicing, weeping, peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness” to the table, an open table for all.
We can do this, but it is not enough to simply pray…we cannot be content with the corrupting of the world around us that finds itself rough, jagged, and rotting in fear and unfounded blaming and hate… we have to do the tedious work of smoothing that which is rough and jagged, need and finish the work to prevent further rotting of our souls and act as well, we have to LIVE a life of reconciliation, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and love, in the world around us… right here…right now. Active agents of change to save our churches and other communities of faith committed to that same difficult time-laden work of grace, compassion, understanding, and peace…
The world came together after 9/11
The world came together after Paris
The hope is in the fact that we can come together. We know how to do this, but the commitment is often found untried, difficult, and too brief. Our judgement is that we too easily and quickly slip back into the numbness of the droning fear of us vs them, of our individualistic culture, of what is in it for just me and those like me rather than embracing the opportunity that tragedy, change, and struggle offers us, to cling to together, to cling to the fullness of US, … ALL of us rather than fear and hate, blame and violence of word and deed. That the words, “Not again, not again,” need never be spoken by we who have the power or by our children who have the power to change the world for good. When will we learn, Lord have mercy, when will we learn? May it be so. May it be soon. May it be now. Amen.