random musings...

Category: Current Events Page 2 of 4

A Radical Welcome

Providing a radical welcome to marginalized people, especially the LGBTQ community, was a founding goal and principle for Phoenix Community Church. Of course, to welcome folks is about more than tolerance. Radical welcome is about providing a place of belonging, compassion and support. A radical, inclusive welcome remains as important as ever as we see renewed attacks not only on LGBTQ folks, but on many marginalized groups. Immigrants in particular have become a scapegoat for our nation’s problems and insecurities and are regularly demonized and persecuted. A recent public letter from the national officers of the United Church of Christ denounces governmental persecution of immigrants and reminds us that we are called to respect and honor the humanity and sanctity of all people.

It is important that we stand up and speak out, especially in this current stormy period in history that feels increasingly dangerous. As we more and more see the ugly shadow side of humanity on display in places of power, it is easy to feel frightened and panicky, much like the disciples who were caught at sea in a storm in Mark 4. In their fright they wake a sleeping Jesus who calms the storm and then challenges them: “Have you no faith?”

In their panic, the disciples reveal their lack of trust in God. On the other hand, Jesus in this story models faith for them by displaying the courage and audacity to confront the danger. His question “have you no faith?” implies the disciples should have handled the situation themselves. One might think the disciples had faith because they turned to Jesus in a time of trouble but by looking to Jesus to solve their problem for them, they actually showed how much they doubted God. Faith doesn’t mean trusting God will swoop in and perform miracles for us like Superman or the Lone Ranger. Faith means that God is already with us, guiding us, empowering us, ready to perform miracles through us.

But, how do we remain centered like Jesus and find the courage and audacity to act when the world feels like a deadly storm bearing down on us? How do we find the courage and audacity to stand up in the current climate against racism and homophobia? How do we find the courage and audacity to stand up for the rights of immigrants who are the beloved children of God as much as we are? Another way to ask the question is, what reminds us of God’s presence in a time of trouble? When panic, fear, and unfocused anger threaten to overwhelm us?

Unfortunately, we each have to answer that question for ourselves. One suggestion might be to choose an image we have for God and then picture that image merging with our own body. Perhaps the image is Jesus or a bright light or a flame. It doesn’t really matter what image we use for the Divine, but focus on that image (which is, of course, a symbol for God and not actually God) merging with us so that we become one with it. If we fix the merged image in our mind then when our seas are feeling too stormy we can call this image again into our minds to remind ourselves of the Divine that resides within us always, to remind ourselves that we are worthy and sacred, that through this Spirit of God within us we have the courage and audacity to perform the miracle of facing our fears, that we have the courage and audacity to stand up and speak truth to the powers of this world as we seek justice for all people.

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The above reflection is inspired by my sermon from June 24, “Stormy Seas.” Audio recordings of sermons are posted at www.phoenixchurch.org/sermons.php for about 6 months.

Thoughts on incivility, restaurant service and homophobic bakers

The issue of civility in no way compares to human rights violations. I also have no interest in hearing complaints about civility from Trump supporters as such complaints are completely hypocritical. On the other hand, there are good reasons to try to remain civil and respectful. Rude behavior can also demean one’s humanity. Perhaps the question is what constitutes incivility versus truth-telling, because truth-telling is dearly needed right now and to the oppressor it is going to sound like rude behavior. I despise everything Sarah Sanders and Trump stand for but I still believe that they are children of God worthy of love and respect. Of course, I also believe I have a responsibility to challenge their dishonesty, their constitutional violations and their crimes against humanity. But, incivility also widens the divide. In reading anecdotal articles about those who have made inroads and helped transform people who were white supremacists, it seems to happen through showing compassion and love, not getting in their face about the evil of their ways. I might also note that Jesus challenged religious authorities over their corruption but was also known to go to their houses for dinner. Is it possible to challenge immoral behavior and still remain respectful of their humanity (i.e. be civil)? If we not, then we put ourselves in danger of becoming them – incivility is a major tool of Trump and his followers. Kicking Sanders out of a restaurant could be construed as some dramatic truth-telling rather than incivility but what if, instead, the manager had pulled a chair up to Sander’s table and started engaging in a little verbal truth-telling, face-to-face? Maybe there were better ways to handle it (and maybe not).

Regarding the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, I’m not convinced the situation is really different. Both were refusing service based on their personal sense of morals. The only difference I see is that I agree with one of them and not the other. I’m also probably in the minority of gay people because I’m also not totally convinced that he should be forced to bake that cake (although I understand the arguments for that and don’t oppose them). Frankly, if a baker doesn’t want to make me a cake, I’d rather know that up front. I don’t want to eat a cake made for me by someone who despises my very being. What if, instead of suing the homophobic baker to force him to bake cakes in the future, folks engaged in protests and boycotts instead? I think we always have options on how to react to injustice. It’s not always easy to figure out the best way.

Ghazal for America, 2018

Ghazal for America, 2018

Tell another tale: build a wall high and thick, brick by brick.
Kill the sick, grab the chick. That’ll make us great again.

Parched of reason, we’re Jonesing for more Kool-Aid.
Guzzle it down, quick now. We’ll never be sated again.

Men with power suffer blood drain from the brain, get too
keen on their peen, can’t they just stay home and masturbate again?

Editors drop fly attracting dung bombs defining reality in six words
or less. Fire all the headline writers and tell it straight again.

Send Sherman to march on Congress, leave no regulation unturned,
un-spurned, burn it all down faster than dems can create again.

Elected hoods robbin’ from the poor muse: sure would be nice
to tax ‘em and leave ‘em, to the rich we can donate again.

Politicos drain from swamp, leave billionaire snakes,
racist rats and nationalist alligators to alienate again.

Jesus must have said love your guns and your money as yourself.
How else would the Christians fall for the bait again?

Sticks and stones might break our bones but AR-15’s are harmless –
just ignore the dead children – can we ever close the flood gate again?

Not my fault says the bitter twitter assault. So bad, so sad
our prez eloquently opines. Will the abhorrent torrent ever abate again?

Go grand with your claim, never accept the blame: surely it must be
the black guy or that nasty woman. See how easy it is to hate again?

From seeds of integrity we harvest trees of fake news,
putting truth beyond our ken – and so we obfuscate again.

©2018 Kenneth W. Arthur

More Prayer, Not Less

One of the lessons Christians take from the teaching of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is that senseless violence is no match for the love of God. Although the world may reject love way in favor or greed, violence, and a thirst for power, we put our trust in the promise that love, forgiveness, and peace will win out in the end. This does not negate our grief or our anger over tragedies of violence that make no sense. It doesn’t lessen our call to act to make such atrocities less likely. Indeed, it offers hope and renews the call to act, to live out of the love of God that is rejected by the world and build the kin-dom with faithful action, compassion, and resolve.

In the face of tragic heart-breaking violence I understand the frustration behind the sentiment that people don’t need our thoughts and prayers, especially when the prayers come from the mouths of politicians who refuse to otherwise act to reduce the violence in our culture. But I’m a little confused when people of faith say we don’t need prayers. We actually need more prayer, not less. Of course, although I think prayer is indeed necessary, prayer alone is not sufficient. We also must act.

I think those who speak against prayer have a basic misunderstanding of what prayer is and is not. It is true we don’t need empty prayers. Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:5-8 that we should not pray empty prayers meant only to put on a show for others. Unfortunately, these are the prayers we get from politicians who want to look like they care but who refuse to act when it is in their power to do so. However, sincere prayer, understood properly, is needed more than ever from people of faith. Prayer is not a magical murmuring that calls upon God to solve all of our problems for us. Such prayer is also useless because it actually discourages us from acting. Prayer is not a magical solution and it never absolves us of the responsibility to care for the world. Prayer is meant to help us act and not avoid acting. Prayer is meant to express our compassion, to open our hearts to God’s call to love and justice, giving us the courage and strength to act. We are the instruments of the Divine. We are God’s voice and hands in this world. We are the means through which God acts in this world. We need more prayer, not less, that God may work through us to end the madness of our culture’s violence. Let us pray for healing, for forgiveness, for wisdom and for courage and when we’re done praying let us take action.

What Must the Trees Think?

What Must the Trees Think?

Anger that we lumber their siblings?
Terror when the ground we frack?
Pity that we have brought ourselves to the brink?
Befuddlement at our human quibbling?
Despair that they can’t fight back?

The willow, bent in mourning,
weeps for her children
and the aspen quakes,
whether from fear or rage.
I do not know.

Having dreamt of brilliant sun
and gentle rain, will the trees wake
from their deep winter slumber
surprised at what has become?
Or do they know, from the frog boiling
of the earth, what we have done?

The revered oak, Mayflower witness,
attests to the best and worst
we have to offer this earth.
How disappointed it must be
should it even deign to notice
our self-serving exertions.

To the Great Sequoia who
watches five generations of oak
come and go we must be nothing
more than malaria filled mosquitos.

The Bristlecone Pine birthed high
upon mountain before the first stone
of the first Egyptian pyramid was laid
looks daily into the face of God.
It most likely cares not one whit
about humanity.

I can almost hear, on a quiet day,
the trees wheeze and cough,
choking on our smog,
whimpering at the ill taste
of pesticide cocktails
as they suck at the ground,
a child with straw searching
for the last bit of nourishment
in the bottom of a glass.

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur

Hate in America

For better or worse, some personal ruminations on this weekend’s news events… What happened in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend is horrific. There is no question about that. Racism, white supremacy, neo-nazism are all evils. There can be no justification for acts or doctrines of hate or violence. Nor for a President that empowers and emboldens these hate groups. Yet, as I’ve been following the headlines and people’s responses I’ve wondered a lot about what I can do personally about this infestation that has plagued our nation for so long. Should I post a condemnation on Facebook? Part of me, in my privilege, is still in disbelief that I would actually need to state publicly how and why racism is an evil. Shouldn’t we all know that already? And does posting on Facebook really do any good? At least in my case, it’s mostly preaching to the choir. Or sign another petition? Does that actually help? Of course there are things we can do: we can speak out, not just to people who believe like us but to everyone; we can write letters to our government representatives; we can attend an anti-racism workshop; we can attend a local or even a national protest (or even start one); we can contribute to worthy causes: NAACP, SPLC, etc.; we can try to be aware of where we encounter racism in the little events of our everyday lives and not be afraid to speak up in the moment. Perhaps others can add their ideas…

Too often I take the easy route, doing nothing but sitting back and shaking my head in anger, disgust, and shame, wondering what has happened to the world I thought I grew up in. Basically stewing in my privilege as a white person because the world as I fantasize it was and should be has never existed. But as a Christian I’m also all about hope. I really think that world can exist and I think we are called to build it – a world founded in love, respect, and compassion instead of hate and fear. But it takes the courage to step out for justice and love. May God give me that courage.

Having said all that, I’m also struggling with some of the responses that people make to events like Charlottesville. Responses like “if your preacher doesn’t speak about Charlottesville this Sunday, you need to find a new church” or “if you’re not speaking out you’re part of the problem.” Both of these may (or may not) be truthful statements but they can also be distractions, coming across as shaming and self-righteous (i.e. my response is better than your response). That doesn’t mean they don’t need to be said. Sometimes they do. But I struggle with them. Maybe that’s my own guilt / shame about wondering if I do enough?

So, I have a lot of failings and insecurities when it comes to being an “activist.” But I do want to live in a world where there is peace and hope, love and compassion. And it’s partly up to me to help realize that world.

All Hail the Pandersquat

I wrote this one for a poetry workshop. The assignment was to write a non-sensical poem, but it makes all too much sense in light of our current political situation.

All Hail the Pandersquat

Along the grundle vodamen slither,
sprickety sprocks shroud 'neath the gobblespot
and hippity hocks flee the pandersquat
passing ghastly as the hoopsnot wither.
Rising snuffle thumps have drawn him hither
to hoop, holler and blither garblesnot.
His bangles and boogles dangle goldrot,
drop the yorsier folk in a dither.

But one spartled sprocklet towers and truths:
“Mister pandersquat,” she upstarts, “your aur
snuffles the vermest. Scour that squawker.”
“What gespittle and guspah,” he retooths.
With crowdly hurrah the vodaman corps
sprangle the spree sprocklet off to slaughter.

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur

Alternative Facts: Escher Meets Kafka

One of my poems was posted on The New Verse News. Along with last week’s current events, the Escher lithograph “Ascending and Descending” partially inspired the poem (not the image they posted with the poem).

A Christmas Reflection – 2016

On this day is born a child, the savior. On this day, the light and love of God takes our form that we might be healed and made whole. That is reason to rejoice! This Christmas morning I woke filled with happiness at just being alive. For a few seconds anyway. Then I remembered what’s happening in our country, in our world, and immediately felt my chest tighten, that happiness dissipate. Anxiety was back. Persistent anxiety seems to be the new reality as 2016 comes to a close. As I lay in bed I wondered what it means for Christ to be born into a world that is becoming ever darker.

Donald Trump is our president-elect, the future leader of my country and soon to be one of the most powerful people on this planet. This is a man whose rhetoric is filled with anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-muslim vitriol. This is a man who behaves like a prepubescent child, where any criticism isn’t met with reason or discussion but with insults and twitter tantrums. This is a man who seems too busy to be bothered with facts and evidence. Instead, whatever comes out of his mouth is expected to be taken as truth – and many do so without question. This is a man whose advisors and future cabinet include white supremacists, homophobes, corporate shills, climate change deniers, an education secretary nominee who is an enemy of public education, and on and on. This is a man who, while his team plans the future of his administration, goes on a victory tour so he can continue to enjoy the cheers of adoring fans. This is a man who lambasts US intelligence agencies while praising a Russian dictator. This narcissistic, treasonous, emotionally stunted demagogue, who cares not a whit for you or me or our country but only that his pocketbook is full and his ego has been properly stroked, is our president-elect.

I find a little hope in the knowledge that the majority of voters did not vote for this man but that his electoral victory was an artifact of our particular and peculiar process of electing a President. And I’ve pretty much given up trying to figure out why anyone voted for this man. Every justification I’ve heard rings hollow. Clinton was in bed with the banks and corporations, you say? So the solution was to elect the banks and corporations directly, I ask? Take a look at Trump’s proposed cabinet. It’s filled with billionaires, people who care about nothing but maximizing their quarterly profits. Why we have done this to ourselves makes no sense to me but it is the reality we are faced with and it fills me with anxiety. Frankly, everyone who isn’t a wealthy, straight, white, “Christian” male should be a little afraid.

Frankly, one of the most discouraging and depressing aspects of the 2016 presidential election is how many of Trump’s supporters claim to be followers of Christ. We cannot proclaim to be Jesus’ followers, to be Christians, and not follow what he taught: to love one another. To love our neighbor as we love ourselves is the foundation of everything Jesus stood for. It is simply not possible to support Donald Trump and his actions, both real and promised, and truthfully call yourself a follower of Christ. Simply not possible.

So what does it mean to me to say that into this world is born the light and love of God? What does it mean to affirm the spiritual reality of this Christmas Day? It means there is hope for the future, that there will always be hope. If there is still love in the world, and there is, then there is hope. It means I can put my trust in God because, although it may sometimes feel like it, God has not forsaken this world but God is born into this world. And like Jesus was born as God’s love incarnate 2000 years ago, today God’s love is being born into each of us should we choose to make room for it in the stable of our hearts. Each of us is being asked to give birth to love this Christmas. That we will say, as Mary did, “Here am I, the servant of God; let it be with me according to your word,” is where my hope lies for we are the voices and hands of God, the servants and prophets of the Divine. We are the hope for the world.

Yes, that scares me a lot too. It’s a daunting responsibility. I’m still living into the idea, still trying to figure out what exactly I’m called to do and be in this new reality. I’ve never claimed to be an activist of any kind. I confess I don’t want to be an activist. But this Christmas, I pray that God’s light and love be born anew in my heart. I pray that light not only brightens the darkness, but that it reveal what lies hidden in the darkness, that it reveal how I may serve my loving God.

Merry Christmas! May God’s love abound in all of our lives this Christmas Day that there may be hope and healing in the world, that the evils of our world, the misogyny, the homophobia, the racism, the xenophobia, may whither and die in the light of our love. Amen.

Living on a flood plain (v2)

Living on a flood plain

Some days it drizzles – 
a black man's tail light fails him;
a toddler finds daddy's new toy.
Some days it pours – 
the music stops pulsing for late night dancers,
revelers storm the Bastille for the last time.

But every day the waters rise,
stalk their unwitting prey.
The boot strap cracks widen,
threaten to breech the dam,
to drown us in post-disaster anarchy.
As the red waters fill our basements
and soak our carpets
we retreat to the rooftops
throwing daggers with one breath – 
someone must be at fault, after all,
someone must pay – 
and in the next desperately calling help, help
as we wait for the helicopters and rescue boats
that never seem to come.

Used once or twice and put away,
the Starcraft stored in the garage,
upon whose bow we had proudly
painted its name in our piety:
The Golden Rule,
slumbers,
a forgotten gift.

©2016 Kenneth W. Arthur

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