Posts Tagged ‘Anger’

Jesus and American Exceptionalism

July 3, 2017

I have been pondering this morning’s message for some time now. I wondered, considered, even asked, what Jesus might say about the notion of American Exceptionalism, especially Exceptionalism in terms of superiority. I think there is a positive sense of understanding the country one lives in as being the best, or at least the hope that it is true. Not unlike a sports team chanting “We’re Number 1” even when it might be quite obvious to other teams that literally in the standings they are not #1. There is that healthy notion of pride in one’s country, a patriotism that loves country and works for, hopes for the best of it. An understanding of pride, patriotism, and hope while acknowledging its place in the world.
The best of this “pride” so to speak is not an arrogance or exceptionalism that states we are better than every other country in the world, but that we are proud of who we are in the midst of the other countries in the world.
So, to some degree, when I asked Jesus what he thought of the idea of American Exceptionalism, his answer was, “Meh, it can be a good thing, it can be a terrible thing.” and then he said, “You might want to unpack that a little.” It is important as part of the global community to consider how and where we fit in the grand scheme of the world.
You know, while the world has ever expanded, it is also shrinking exponentially even as we speak. We read the history books, that were written by the “winners” for the most part, that is important to point out, but we study history and realize how the world expanded from those early tribal understandings of a limited world, and suddenly the great expanse of what was out there was almost more than some could take. That lasted a long time, it is still true for some.
The great expanse of the world around us can be overwhelming. You know I think just for myself, I have lived in Kansas all my life. I have never lived outside its borders. While I have visited from coast to coast a couple of different times, and while TruDee and I hope to be able to go to Ireland sometime before we are 90, the furthest I have traveled outside the USA is Tijuana, Mexico.. Woohoo!
It is still a big world to me, and it is important for me to consider how my country and how I fit into this world in which I live. And at the same time, with the marvels of technology, I can talk with a friend in Australia, Canada, Britain, and Japan all at the same time and in real-time and even see their face while we are talking if I choose. And while these are reminders of how expansive our world is, it is also a reminder of how the world is shrinking around us. In 2001, a Boeing 787 flew around the world in under 43 hours. That sounds like a lot of hours, but think how long it takes you just to drive across Wichita! The world is shrinking and we have instant access to worldwide information that is delivered to us in a heartbeat.
One would think it would draw us together as a world, as a country, and yet, with the advent of technology, internet, computers, laptops, and smart phones, we have returned to a very isolated existence. We can, if we choose, almost never leave our houses. And it has affected, I believe, not only our individual lives but our life as a world, our life as a nation. Nationalism is on the rise once again. Isolationist policies are being debated and legislated in our governing politics. This kind of isolationism infects a more positive understanding of American Exceptionalism, and is dangerous.
It is an exceptionalism that touts – We Are Self-Sufficient… We are Great, and everyone else is the lesser. If you don’t like it here, if you criticize our nation, you can leave. It is an arrogance that says, “America – (as if we are all of America…which diminishes Canada, Mexico, Central, and South…. America) – the kind of arrogance that says “America” as in the US of A is the greatest nation on earth, and mean it in a supremacist way that belittles and diminishes every other country of the globe.
So, what does this have to do with Jesus… all this American Exceptionalism talk?
And Jesus said… “Let me tell you a story…”
‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
It was common knowledge in Jesus day the road to Jericho was dangerous, rife with thieves and robbers. And here we have, we might suppose, a good upstanding citizen of the country, traveling the way. He finds himself accosted, beaten, robbed, and left for dead lying in the ditch.
Along come two religious leaders who do not stop and help. Now, before we are too hard on these two, we really don’t know why they didn’t stop. Perhaps they had good reason. Perhaps it was their religious tradition that prevented the chance the man was dead and they did not want to be made unclean? Perhaps it was because they were afraid, they didn’t want to be robbed, beaten, and thrown in the ditch alongside this poor fellow. Or perhaps they are thinking what was that fella doing in this part of town anyway? Or maybe they assumed he lived in these parts and so got what he deserved? There are a variety of possible reasons, and however well-intentioned or not, these two opted for safety rather than compassion.
And then the third one comes along. This Samaritan, is outside the bounds of the Jesus faith, they don’t practice, worship, follow God “right” … this Samaritan, is a heretic. Kind of the bottom of the barrel if you will. Think of who might fit that for us if we found ourselves lying in the ditch; A Muslim? An undocumented worker? A Politician? One who we might look up after the two religious leaders have passed us by and our first thought is, “Crap, now I am really done for!”
But here in this telling, Jesus says in this story, what this has to do with exceptionalism is about the other. And, an unexpected other. How do we see, how do we treat, how do we care for, how do we understand, how do we encounter, the other? How do we view the other when we are lifting up the notion of American Exceptionalism?
You know I have watched church advertisements via social media, read articles, looked at blogs of churches who are celebrating this day, this Sunday, in preparation for the 4th of July. There are red, white, and blue decorations, we even have them here this morning at CHUM. There are flags, and Uncle Sam’s, and talk of patriotism, and national pride, and independence day, and I confess, every year, while this Sunday is always special for me here at CHUM. This Sunday is one of my favorites, because eight years ago, when the 4th of July fell on a Sunday, it was my first Sunday here in your midst… this Sunday holds deep meaning for me, but I confess, even though I love this country deeply, and I am as patriotic as the next person, and I love the church, the whole church, and this one in particular, I confess when I see all the flag waving and patriotic fervor in the church on this Sunday closest to the 4th, I always get a case of the hebee jebees… I am uncomfortable because I am, as I believe the founders of our country were, a firm advocate of separation of church and state. It doesn’t belong in the church any more than the church belongs in our politics.
That being said, let me ponder this for a moment as I continue to hear and listen to the voices who still say we are supposed to be a Christian Nation. So, I pondered with Jesus, what if? What if we really were a Christian Nation? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we really were a theocracy founded and grounded on the Christian faith? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we were a nation committed to, and passionate about following the Way, teachings, mission and ministry of Jesus? What if….

Jesus was in the wall tearing down business not the wall building business.

Jesus was in the woman empowering business not the woman controlling business.

Jesus was in the universal health care business not the shift the money to the rich immoral health care business.

Jesus was in the taking care of the most vulnerable business not the shaming the poor business.

Jesus was in the welcoming the stranger and alien into our midst business not the banning business.

Jesus was in the lifting people up business not the tearing down business.

Jesus was in the resisting the powers that be both political and religious oppressor business not the colluding and greed business.

Jesus was in the open hand open arms business not the closed fists business.

Jesus was in the including business not the excluding business.

Jesus was in the diversity business not the white supremacist business.

Jesus was not in the hate and bigotry business… Jesus was in the business of love.

That is what a nation grounded in the life, mission, and ministry of Jesus would look like! Not some twisted and warped sense of American Exceptionalism and Christian Exceptionalism that is far too rampant today!

Thank God, we have a nation founded on separation of church and state.

Thank God, we have a nation founded on freedom of religion!

Thank God, we have a nation should not give preference to Christianity or any other religion.

Thank God, we are not a theocracy!

We are not a Christian Nation!

However… you are Church!

You are the Christian Church, grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus! And it is this kind of love that is the resistance to the kind of exceptionalism that promotes and breeds oppression, supremacy, bigotry, hatred, exclusion, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, sexism, …

You are the church! The resistance to the powers that be both politic and religious in a world that excludes the other.

You are Church! You are the Christian Church… grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus!

And I think it is time for the church… not just the church… but all religious communities who long for justice, inclusion, compassion, grace, and love to … well… to start acting like it.

We must work together… live together… and so in this context we should not just be acknowledging our country’s independence

We should be celebrating our inter-dependence!

We need one another… the church of Jesus Christ is not isolationist… we know we need one another… EVERY. SINGLE. OTHER. To make a difference in this world!
We know…. MLKJr said it well… we… the church… should be the conscience of the world politic… but never its tool… it is time to act like it… otherwise as he also said… if we do not learn to live together as sisters and brothers… we will perish together as fools.

We are not the tool….
But we have the tool…
And it is love.
Keep On Church… Keep On!
It will be so… It will. Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Side by Side

January 4, 2016

TruDee and I attended Arri Simon’s concert Sunday evening at the Unitarian Universalist Church. He is so very talented, gracious, and just a joy to hear and be in his presence. One of the songs he has written was entitled, if I recall correctly, Side by Side. I was moved to tears, a song calling us forward to our common journey, our common presence on this good green earth, the common air we breathe, our common humanity; a reminder we are all in this together and with all that is going on in our country and world today, it can seem all too often we have forgotten we are all on this train together. It was a beautiful call to peace and harmony.

It reminded me of my time at the Mosque this last Saturday I referenced in my sermon this Sunday, the song reminded me of my being invited to stand, kneel, bow, and sit side by side with my Muslim brothers in prayer, reflection, meditation, and fellowship. It reminded me of that longing deep in my heart and soul for that day when we will all stand side by side in our diversity and yet stand as one, with one voice, and one purpose of the common good for all.

 
At the request of a couple of folks at church Sunday I am going to share that telling of my time at the Mosque and the hope for a world and a humankind, side by side, in search of peace, understanding, and love. It is as follows.

I was back at the West Mosque early yesterday at the morning prayer gathering. I arrived a bit early and sat at table visiting with the others who were early birds like me. I have been there many times before to share in conversation, prayer time, some food, and building friendship. Each time I go I learn just a little more not only about Islam, my friends, but about myself as well.

Yesterday would prove no different. A number of things struck me yesterday morning as we gathered. One was the leader of the newest Mosque on McCormick who is almost always there as well, when he arrived I stood from my chair to greet him and he smiled, shook my hand, and said, “Good morning brother Kent.” It was not a huge thing, other than it was the first time I remember him, or any of them using the language of brother. I have always felt nothing but welcome and inclusion when I gather with my friends in the early morning light, but there was just something about the term of endearment yesterday morning that nourished a bit of my heart and soul.

When it comes time, they always gather together in a straight line facing the east for morning prayers. I have always joined them, only not in their line, I have always stayed just a respectful few feet behind them with my cheat sheet, an English translation of the Arabic language in which they chant their prayers to God/Allah. As they created the line, one turned to me and motioned me to stand next to him, “Come, join us here,” he said. The one leading the prayer motioned as well and said, laughing, “It’s my responsibility to make sure the line is straight though…” Another gesture of inclusion and welcome that nourished my heart and soul.

 

I had forgotten my cheat sheet yesterday so I simply joined the group, side by side, and listened, standing when they stood, kneeling when they knelt, bowing when they bowed, and finally sitting quietly when they sat. Some of the Arabic I recognized from watching my sheet before, “Allah is great. Praise be to Allah.”

 
There is a melody to the prayer each time, a cadence, a reverence that sounds almost identical regardless of which one leads the prayer. Something about the time in prayer resonated with me, though I did not understand the language, yet still felt in prayer with my brothers yesterday morning. We then spent time around the table snacking on cheese, crackers, and drinking coffee, laughing, sharing stories from our faith, talking politics, theologies, traditions, and practices.

 
We, CHUM, will be invited to their celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday when they get a date set. One said, “Not all Muslims celebrate the birthday, but we are ones who celebrate everything!” I said, “Well, not all Christians celebrate Christmas either, but we at CHUM tend to celebrate everything as well!” To which he said, “Oh, maybe you Christians are not so different than we after all.” Lots of laughter followed.

 
Maybe we are not so different after all…echoed in my mind. We all share the same sun, breathe the same air, we’re all on this train together, were some of the words to Arri’s song. I was moved to tears thinking about all the anxiety, fear, hate, anger, and violence that faces my Muslim brothers and sisters, all those who have somehow by some been deemed as different, unworthy, lost, or outside of God’s grace because of their sexual orientation, religious belief, non-religious belief, gender, race, age, healthcare choices, immigration status, and the list goes on and on of those who are considered other.

 
Thank you Arri for your light and calling us all forward through your gift of music. I hope and pray this New Year carries us closer to that reality of grace and justice for all, a compassionate and just world where difference is honored and celebrated and the common good of all is sought by those who are willing to make a difference. I pray you will join me on this journey toward love and let your light shine in all the dark places of the world. It is time to get on this train of peace, understanding, hope, and love.

 
Such is a way we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and our world here at the Hill, where you are one of the community. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. An Extraordinary Church with a Place for You. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

 
Peace and Light on Your Journey,
Pastor Kent