A Pledge for Human Rights

The year was 1948. The United States was just starting to look ahead after the exhausting period of Word War II, preceded by the Great Depression. The world had changed in those years.   Together the country, with their allies,  had defeated the scourge of Hitler. A door had opened to working together across the races. The Democratic National Convention was underway. Two reports were before the convention.  The Majority Report chose the safe path of States Rights where race relations were involved. The Minority Report encouraged the party to take on the challenge of civil rights.  Everyone knew in their hearts which way the decision was leaning. Then Hubert Humphrey stood up, the young upstart from Minnesota. No one expected to be moved by his words, yet his words  recorded in 1948   speak to us today.

“Sure, we’re here as Democrats. But my good friends, we’re here as Americans; we’re here as the believers in the principle and the ideology of democracy, and I firmly believe that as men (and women) concerned with our country’s future, we must specify in our platform the guarantees which we have mentioned in the minority report.

Yes, this is far more than a Party matter. Every citizen in this country has a stake in the emergence of the United States as a leader in the free world. That world is being challenged by the world of slavery. For us to play our part effectively, we must be in a morally sound position.

We can’t use a double standard — There’s no room for double standards in American politics — for measuring our own and other people’s policies. Our demands for democratic practices in other lands will be no more effective than the guarantee of those practices in our own country.

Friends, delegates, I do not believe that there can be any compromise on the guarantees of the civil rights which we have mentioned in the minority report. In spite of my desire for unanimous agreement on the entire platform, in spite of my desire to see everybody here in honest and unanimous agreement, there are some matters which I think must be stated clearly and without qualification. There can be no hedging — the newspaper headlines are wrong. There will be no hedging, and there will be no watering down — if you please — of the instruments and the principles of the civil-rights program.

My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights. People — human beings — this is the issue of the 20th century. People of all kinds — all sorts of people — and these people are looking to America for leadership, and they’re looking to America for precept and example.

Let us do forget the evil passions and the blindness of the past. In these times of world economic, political, and spiritual — above all spiritual crisis, we cannot and we must not turn from the path so plainly before us. That path has already led us through many valleys of the shadow of death. And now is the time to recall those who were left on that path of American freedom.”

Hubert Humphrey was a hero in my family when I grew up.   He later became Vice President and ran for the Presidency.   I think back on his life and his courage and think of the unfinished work that remains that all people are able to live in places of justice.  After he spoke the convention narrowly supported the Minority Report and put Civil Rights as a significant part of that platform.

The entire speech can be found here:   American Rhetoric: Hubert Humphrey 1948 Democratic Convention Speech  

Posted in Faith & Politics, Immigration | Tagged , , , ,

God Keeps On Loving

*First published October 14, 2015 as “God Never Stops Loving”  on A Pastor’s Heart

“I was such an awful person, I knew God couldn’t love me. So I chose Satan as my higher power,” was the way one young woman expressed herself to me. She went on to relay a history of chemical dependency and sexual promiscuity.

The idea that God could care about her was a strange and alien thought. Why should God care when her parents didn’t? Why would God care when none of her relatives did? How was it possible that God could care when even those she had thought of as friends, had left her?

Accepting God’s love, with all of God’s forgiveness and grace, does not come easily when we are ashamed of our actions. We wonder how the God, who is good, can care about the “me” who has done wrong. When our lives are in shatters through our own mistakes it is difficult to believe that we matter to God.

Yet the assurance of God’s caring is found throughout the scriptures; “Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will care for me.” (Psalm 27:10) “Far as east is from west, so far has God put our offenses away from us.” (Psalm 103:12) One day Jesus told a story about a lost sheep. One so precious to the shepherd that all the others were left behind to go search for that missing sheep. The way that Jesus tells the story, he talks of the joy of the shepherd in finding the missing one. Then he tells us, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

God’s great desire is that all are embraced in God’s love. God wants us to know that each of us, no matter where we have been, however hard our lives or how far we’ve run away from God . . . that each of us are loved. Each one of us is precious in the eyes of God. We are loved just as we are in this moment today. God may lead us to healthier places, better relationships, some soul-searching and positive changes in our life. But for today, the message of scripture is that we are loved. God loves us enough for a Savior Shepherd to come searching for us, to bring us home . . nestled in the love of God.

Posted in Faith & Politics | Tagged , ,

Trump and the Challenge to Christianity

One of the most troubling aspects of the past year for me has been the way that Evangelical Christianity has embraced the antics of President Trump.  There has been no scandal, no foul tweet, no crassness, no callousness   which has turned  this group of people from blind support.   In the midst of all of this,  Christianity itself is  being  tarnished.  I have at times asked myself, if the people who are embracing the President, know the words of Jesus.*   I wonder if they are familiar with Jesus’s concern for the poor and how he said it was “Harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” Matthew 19:24   I  question  how well they are grounded in the foundational theology, vision and teachings of Jesus which give direction for life.

The apostle Paul writes “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.(the worship of mind and heart)  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2 NRSV

Our life in Christ is meant to transform us, to turn us into new people – more loving and compassionate. We are to allow the words of scripture to speak to our hearts, sink into our brains, renew our minds, transform us in such a way that we no longer look to contemporary culture with its self-centered focus to model our lives on . . . But to Jesus, the Risen Christ. We are to let his words grow in our hearts.

Last week we celebrated Easter, that day of joy, celebration and glory where earth and heaven meets and we taste for a time, something of the banquet God is preparing for us. We celebrated Christ’s victory over sin and death. As powerful and beautiful a truth that is, there is more to Easter than a belief that Jesus is our savior. The gift of Easter is so much broader, wider and deeper.

The message is that the Risen Christ walks beside us, drawing us ever closer to the heart of God – Loving us through difficult times, walking with us in the trials, tragedies and heartaches of life. Yet always urging us to love more fully, attacking our prejudices, asking us to let go of our self-centeredness. Nudging us to let go of our fear, to offer our lives as living sacrifices. So, we will have a greater insight into what is the will of God – what is good – what is acceptable – what is perfect in God’s sight. Always urging us to see all people as God’s children, precious in the sight of God. And always reminding us to know ourselves as God’s precious children too.

* The words of Jesus can be found in the Bible in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  A short version of Christian Ethics can be found in the books of Matthew, Chapters 5-7 in Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-37 and Luke 15.

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Easter Hope in a Good Friday Time

First Published March 28, 2015  as “On the Other Side of Good Friday”   at “A Pastor’s Heart”

“No Name” is what the woman called herself. She was in a locked ward of a psychiatric unit in a hospital, wearing a straitjacket. She was there because she had tried to harm her father after years of suffering from abuse . . . she was to say, “I am beyond the state of hope. I have no hope.” Once she wrote, “No name, no place, no love, no hope.” *

Hopelessness and its pain are not unique to our generation. The scriptures reveal the pain of the faithful who have gone before us. “My eyes stream with unceasing tears and refuse all comfort” wrote Jeremiah. (Lamentations 3:49 REB). The Psalmist would say, “I sink in muddy depths where there is no foothold; I have come into deep water and the flood sweeps me away. I am exhausted with crying, my throat is sore. (Psalms 69:2-3 REB)

The writers of scripture were no strangers to pain, suffering or it’s resulting hopelessness. Yet, they were confident of God’s continuing presence in their lives. They recognized a presence that lifted them from their despair. The 27th Psalm speaks to that hope. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? . . God will hide me and shelter me in the day of trouble; . . though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will take me up. . . . I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living . . . be strong and let your heart take courage.” To those burdened with guilt the 103rd Psalm promises, “As far as the east is from the west, so far God removes our transgressions from us.”

We are a resurrection people. Far from hopelessness we are gifted with the knowledge that God is one who brings life out of death, turns despair and hopelessness into avenues of new life, and makes our darkness become as day. Countless people, through the ages have discovered God’s new life surrounding them. Among them are people like myself . . . who having lived through the darkness, discovered God’s resurrection living.

We are in now in  Holy Week where once more we journey from triumphant through fear, despair and death . . . only to be surprised that after Good Friday’s pain, comes Easter’s joy. On the other side of our journey through the Good Friday’s of life . . . Easter and resurrection wait.

    * I heard the story of   “No Name” from a Seminary professor who had met her.


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Learning to Live in Community – the Family

Just like there are no perfect people, there are no perfect families, but it is there that we begin to learn how to live in community. Even the best of families have their moments of insensitivity, missed cues, self-absorption and blind spots. Each of us, goes through this life making mistakes, wishing we could change things in our past, feeling regret for words said or not said. At times we are wrong. We do and say what we will later wish we had not. Disagreements flare up. People who should know better hurt us. What we do with those moments of hurting and of being hurt can shape the rest of our lives. Our response can turn a life around, or bury one in resentment.

One of the saddest stories I hear as a pastor, are stories of adult siblings who simply do not and will not try to get along with each other. In one of the first churches I served there was a woman in her mid seventies who continued to hang on to a grudge against a brother that started when they were teens. Worst of all, her anger was based on a simple misunderstanding. Her children and her other siblings begged her to see her brother. The brother so wanted to make peace with his sister. No appeal could reach her stubborn heart. Her grudge and the anger she carried had become a way of life.

In another church there was a man who refused to see his very ill mother, not because he was mad at her . . . No, that wasn’t the problem. He was angry at his brother. Harsh words had been spoken by both. After the argument, he had decided he would stay away from his family. When his mother because seriously ill, he refused to visit her, lest his brother be there. I spent forty-five minutes one day pleading with him to visit his mom, who had only been given days to live. Still her son refused. But, sometimes God gives us the gift of extra time. His mother rallied. Then three months later, she was once again near death. I never knew just how God got through to her son. A couple of days before his mother died, he came to see her that one last time. Still simmering with anger towards his brother though, he would not attend his mother’s funeral.

One of the joys in my life is to have siblings who know and understand my growing up years. Shared memories bring peals of laughter and nods of understanding as a story begins. I think siblings are the only people who can fully appreciate your childhood. The know both the gifts and the flaws of your parents. There is a shared memory of what it was like to live in a particular family in a specific time of life. I know families that are terribly dysfunctional with a legacy of trauma, abuse and heartache. It can be necessary to leave the family of origin behind for one’s emotional health. But, the families I’ve mentioned here were not ripped apart by addiction or dysfunction. They were just ordinary people who made a couple of mistakes.

For most of us, the arguments would have been over in a few days or we would have found a way to get around the disagreements. Someone would have apologized, or made a phone call to break the ice. But for others . . . Well grudges can lodge in the hearts of some very good people. This is what makes me the most sad. I see families where siblings are upset with other siblings. Grudges are hung on to. Experiences which ought to have been left behind, forgiven or resolved years before have been carried into the present.  Pride gets in the way of love and stubbornness gets rooted in the heart.   I think of the joy that is being missed. The shared journey which is unique to ones sibling. I listen to those who have never had a brother or a sister and how they envy those of us who do. I think of how the person carrying a grudge is hurting themselves, denying themselves companionship, friendship and the joy of shared memories.

What I hope and pray for my children is that they always have each other and that they are wise enough to let go of the inconsequential to hang on to the precious in their relationships with one another. The psalmist says, “ How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head . . . It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life for evermore.” Psalm 133:1-2a & 3

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Jesus’ Inaugural Sermon

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus defined the limits and purpose of his life. Scholars refer to that as Jesus’ Inaugural Sermon. It is found in the gospel of Luke.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-23

When we look at the priorities of our nation, I think it is important to keep in mind the words of Jesus.   Jesus came, he said,  to bring good news – especially good news to the poor.   He came to bring release to any who are  captives of abuse, addiction or  exploitation.   He came for the sick and  those with disabling diseases or conditions.    Jesus came to free the oppressed and to announce the year of God’s favor.   The Jubilee year that Jesus was referring to, was one where everyone would return to an equal status economically and socially.  It was radical talk.  No wonder he quickly made enemies.

The question for us, as followers of Jesus,  is how closely do we follow the defined mission of Jesus?   In our conversations and in our politics do the poor have a priority?   Do we care about those who do not have affordable  health care coverage?  Are we advocates for people with disabling conditions?     Are we more interested in keeping for ourselves or in addressing the income inequality in our nation? Would Jesus recognize us as one of his followers because of our words and actions?  If not, what needs to change in our lives?

Posted in Faith & Politics, Poverty | Tagged , , ,