Monday, January 22, 2018

We all heard them cave today on DACA

“I have finally figured out what the real conspiracy is.”

In the 1970s I was a member of the Wyoming legislature and a member of Congressman Teno Roncalio’s staff. There was an eccentric fellow in Cheyenne named Charlie (I won’t use his last name) who came to talk to me regularly. Charlie was a member of the John Birch Society. He worked hard to persuade me of his multitude of conspiracy theories. He kept up with all of their positions and could articulate them perfectly and with great zeal.

But, one day something changed. Charlie walked into my office with a grim face. He informed me he had “finally figured out what the real conspiracy is.” It was, he said, to be found, not among democrats or Republicans but rather in the John Birch Society leadership itself. Charlie had “figured out” that all they wanted was his vote and his money while they willingly but secretly joined Democrats and Republicans in taking advantage of the foot soldiers like him.

I remembered Charlie when I watched Senators Schumer and Durbin cave in to the Republicans today and most Democrats follow.

I am not one to believe there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. There are significant differences on many issues, but it’s how they vote and not the positions they take that determines whether there is justice. Alas, many of the differences eventually dissolve into rhetoric and not action. Before you excuse them by saying they are in the Senate minority and can’t do much, I don’t recall there was much difference when they had 60 votes in the Senate. Even then, they couldn’t even include a “public option” in the Affordable Care Act because too many in their caucus were beholden to insurance company lobbyists.

We all heard them cave today on DACA. Schumer and Durbin stood and gave lofty speeches about DACA, gushingly offering up their thanks to the Supreme Leader for his gracious agreement to allow democracy to invade the workings of the United States Senate. They celebrated the occasion as though they really thought it meant anything. It doesn’t.

Isaiah, the great prophet of Hebrew scripture, once spoke of empty promises and celebrations. He used words that came to mind as I watched the spectacle of the Democratic Party leaders trying to convince us that they had accomplished anything.

You people of Gomorrah. "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" Says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?”

How appropriate are Isaiah’s words aimed at “you people of Gomorrah?” The great sin committed by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah has nothing to do with homosexuality as the false prophets teach. It had to do with the failure of those people to offer hospitality and what they did to cause harm to strangers among them.

The prophet Ezekiel explained why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed and the actual reason should cause us all to tremble.

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore, [God] did away with them as you have seen.” Ezekiel 16: 49-50.

The Democrats and Republicans are “you people of Gomorrah.” What Schumer and Durbin and the others did today was to offer a “burnt offering” to Steven Miller and the Freedom Caucus of the House Republicans. The DACA kids are those burnt offerings.

Like Charlie and the John Birch Society, I think we have finally figured out what the real conspiracy is. I can’t wait until the Democratic National Committee, or better yet the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, call again and asks for a contribution.

Charlie had it right all along.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday sermon@Highlands on Prayer

A frustrated doctoral student at Princeton once threw up his hands in despair and cried out, “What is there left in the world about which to write an original dissertation?” Albert Einstein answered him. “Prayer,” he said. “Somebody must find out about prayer.”

Hans K√ľng is a Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and author notable for his rejection of the doctrine of papal infallibility. He wrote a 702-page book on theology called “On being a Christian.” Not once did he mention prayer. The word appears nowhere in his classic book. Asked about why, he said that while writing the book he was under so much pressure from Vatican censors and his publisher’s deadlines…that he simply forgot about prayer.

I get it. Prayer takes time, time we don’t have. And besides that, between medical science providing the healing and technology making our lives simpler and political decisions taken out of our hands…prayer can seem to be what theologian George Buttrick called it, “a spasm of words lost in a cosmic indifference.”

I mean really…if God knows what we need even before we do…why bother to ask, right? If we want to bare our souls, we have therapists. And they give us the kind of immediate feedback that we don’t get when we pray. Feedback is important to us and we can never be sure we are getting it when we pray. Philip Yancey in his book Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference,” likened it to Ernestine, the telephone operator played by Lily Tomlin, “Hello, have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?”

And yet…we do it. We pray. Yancey says it’s because prayer is the place where God and human beings meet. What creates the crisis is the sense that God doesn’t respond the way we expect. Now, if that’s where you start, expecting God to give you the answer you’re hoping for, you are likely to get more frustrated than when you started to pray.

The question I am asked on occasion is, “How should we pray?” Paul’s answer to that question is “unceasing.” Pray always. It reminds me of a professor I had in seminary who said that prayer is not something limited to those times when you bow your head but that everything you do, every thought you have, every action you take or fail to take…every one of them is your prayer.

Celeste Yacoboni, a curator of spiritual practices, reached out to dozens of theologians and religion writers and asked them a question that became the title of her book. “How do you pray?” The responses were as varied as they were inspiring and reassuring.

One responded, “I pray with my feet. I walk the farm between the cedar trees. I cross the creek on the flat rocks and look back across the water where I have been.”

Another said she had never had QUOTE a relationship with prayer until in a dark time of her life, she discovered “the power of speaking a poem that I love.”

One told that she prays by recalling the places where the Earth is unstable, out of balance and in need of healing. The environmental and spiritual writer Terry Tempest Williams said, “I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the message of my heart upwards, because the birds remind me of wat I love rather than what I fear.”

Ganga White is the founder of the White Lotus Foundation and is recognized one of the “architects of American yoga.” When asked “How do you pray,” Ganga White replied with a set of questions.

What if our religion was each other? If our prayer practice was our life? If prayer was our words. What if our temple was the earth? If forests were our church? If holy water was our rivers, lakes and oceans? What of meditation was our relationships? If the teacher was life? If wisdom was self-knowledge? What if love was the center of our being?

Yacaboni didn’t ask Bart Simpson how to pray but if she had, she would have gotten a primer on bargaining. When faced with a test that would decide whether he passed the 4th grade, attest for which he had not studied, Bart begged God for one more day even providing God with a list of alternatives for engineering the delay; a teacher’s strike, a power outage, a blizzard. That night it snowed so much that school was called off the next day. Bart used the day to study and passed the test and thus the 4th grade, though barely. Giving thanks, he prayed, “Part of this D minus belongs to you God.”

I am not much on using prayer to bargain or cut a deal with God…though “bargaining-prayer” is biblical. When God told Abraham that God intended to punish Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham bargained with God. His opening bid got God to agree that if he could find 50 righteous people in those cities God would not destroy them. Abraham then suggested saving the cities if there were 45 righteous folk … agreed …how about 40…well, okay…suppose there are 30, 20…how about 10, if there are 10 righteous folks, will you agree not to destroy the cities? and God agreed. "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." 

When you watch film of wildfires destroying peoples’ homes or hurricanes ruining entire cities or floods wiping out communities…do you give thanks that it is not your home, pray to God to end it or do you pray for the strength to demand your government act against climate change?

When you see homeless people on the streets or addicts begging for treatment or children abused or soldiers marching off to war or…the list is so long…when you see these sorts of things…do you ask God to intervene or do you ask God to give you the strength to do so.

What we should be asking is whether the time we spend in prayer causes us to respond the way God wants us to respond. A Zen master was once invited to a monastery for the purpose of instructing the monks who resided there in the practice of Zen.  The holy man exhorted the monks to meditate constantly. You really must put your hearts into it," he stressed. The monks listened attentively and smiled politely.

Finally, one old monk raised his hand and said, "Master, our way of prayer is a little different than yours. We spend our time in prayer asking God to intervene and solve the problems of our world. We beseech God to save people from the travails of life.

The Zen master laughed and said, "My dear fellow, the reason we Buddhists put so much effort into prayer for our own enlightenment is because we believe God has already done enough! Now it’s our turn."

Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Instead of asking whether God answers our prayers, we should ask whether we answer God’s prayers.

How should you pray? There are as many answers to that question as there are those who might ask it. Whether you pray over a meal or at your bedside before sleep, or by looking upon the natural beauty of the earth or through a poem that moves your heart, or while meditating or by giving thanks for another day of life…whether you are bargaining or simply expressing gratitude or hope or despair…

…know this. Our whole life…how we live it, what we do with our days and our spiritual and worldly gifts…how and whether we use our voices, where our feet take us and what we do once we arrive, what our eyes see or refuse to see…who we love and who we don’t, the way in which we choose to live in the times in which God has placed us…our whole life and all that we do with it…is our prayer as this sermon is a prayer that we each do what we can to answer God’s prayers for the world.