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Reliving Painful Memories

8/14/2017 8:05 PM

When I was in college during the early 1970's in Eastern Tennessee, I vividly remember awaking one night to the sight of men hidden under hooded robes and masks carrying torches.  I recall seeing them ignite and but a cross on our campus. Up until that night I had thought from my sheltered background that the KKK was just a myth.  But that night revealed the racial hatred and the KKK were real.

The visual remains of that burned cross, and the smell of its smoldering ashes lingered the next morning as a sensory memory of the cross, a symbol of God's undying love in Jesus Christ for all people had been blasphemed during the night.

I remembered after that incident some of us from the campus going to a diner for breakfast, and we were not served because a friend and fellow student was from Kenya.  We walked out and stopped going to that diner.  I do not know if the owner of that diner was one of those men hiding under the white hooded robes that burned a cross on my college campus or not.  But, I could not help but wonder.

As my spiritual journey has continued from that time and place,  I encountered others whom I have loved and respected that awoke in the middle of the night with crosses burning near the front steps of their homes.  I cannot begin to imagine what that must have been like for those cherished people.

I remember serving as pastor of a church in the northeast.  I for a period of time received anonymous mail spewing hatred and anger, because my congregation welcomed people of all skin colors and backgrounds with the love of Jesus Christ.

Once again, I am reminded that hate, fear, and anger, if left unchecked can be a deceitful and spiritually dangerous mixed drink for the soul to ingest.  It is a spiritually cancerous concoction that devours the soul, hardens the heart. It sows the seeds of violence and destruction and fosters division. The best antidote for this spiritual poison is a genuine love found in Jesus Christ.  It is the perfect love of Jesus Christ that overcomes and casts out all fear.  It's the love of Jesus Christ that brings people together in something that is both healthy and greater than one's self.  It is the light of Jesus Christ that has entered the darkness -- a light that shine in the darkness of our time -- a light that the darkness will never overcome. And it is the light of God's love shining in Jesus Christ we must turn to in our time, and not that of burning crosses, hatred, fear or violence.



United We Stand, Divided We Fall

8/14/2017 1:52 PM

The tragic events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia are most distressing to me.  As a Presbyterian pastor, I cannot denounce strongly enough the expressions of evil and racial hatred that were unveiled.

This great nation is not great because of great hatred and bigotry. Hatred and bigotry only serve to greatly diminish what the United States of America strives to become for all people.  When U.S. citizens pledge their allegiance to the flag they say: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all."  That pledge to the flag is about seeking a unity among us that is greater than divisiveness--about seeking liberty that is balanced with justice for all people regardless of race, creed, or ethnic background.

In the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence it states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

This is a nation that is not about fostering racial supremacy, but rather recognizes the equality of all people.  This is an ongoing labor for our nation.  Our history is full of tragic and painful pages recording our struggle to live into the vision this nation was founded upon.  Our struggle with racial equality from the institution of slavery to and through the civil rights movement is not a finished book.  Our struggle with gender parity with women's suffrage is still a work in progress as women seek equal pay for equal work.

The hatred that scapegoats and seeks supremacy over others holds America back from realizing it true greatness.  Hatred is learned and taught and is ultimately destructive as we have learned from the Nazi movement of the 1930s and 40's in Europe.

Those groups that hold supremacy doctrines claiming biblical and Christian authority, are false representation of the Biblical faith, and to be renounced as heresy.

The Apostle Paul wrote: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." -- Galatians 4:28.  St. John also wrote: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God who he has not seen.  The commandment we have from him, is that he who loves God, should love his brother also." -- 1 John 4:20ff.

I call upon my brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian Church USA to join me in reaffirming our confessional faith as expressed in "The Declaration of Barmen," In "The Confession of 1967," and most recently in The Confession of Belhar."

Let us strive for and pray for that day in our unfolding history as a nation where love overcomes hatred -- forgiveness overcomes guilt -- where unity overcomes estrangement -- and mutual concerns dissolves divisiveness.

Let us be united in praying for peace, justice and equality for all of God's people regardless of race, gender, or ethnic background.  Let us pray for those in our nation's leadership and for those called upon to maintain law and order, under the grace and mercy of God.




Praying for Wisdom & Peace

8/10/2017 1:03 PM

Nuclear threats from North Korea continue to escalate.  First, it was the missile launches near Japan.  Then it was an escalation of rhetoric and missile launches with some missile launches showing the capacity to strike the United States.

This was followed by tough new sanctions against North Korea from the UN with even China (at least on paper) sowing support.

Then, there were more North Korean threats from a young and brash leader who finds his stature supported by the international reactions to his blatant efforts to be taken seriously by world powers.  When verbally stating he will strike the United States, this undaunted leader who must think he has nothing to lose raises the stakes and the risks even higher.

To the North Korean threat the President of the United States announced there would be a response of "fire and fury like the world has never seen."  The result is not a backing away of the rising tensions, but rather North Korea threatening the U.S. territory of Guam.

While one might like to think that such threat and counter threat would force one side to stand down, this is clearly not the case.  North Korea wants attention, and now has it as never before.  North Korea thinks it may have nothing to lose as it plays nuclear hardball with the United States.  On the other hand, the United States takes all threats to the security of its boarders and people most seriously.  This is most understandable after the unexpected and unthinkable events of 911.  Since 911, many Americans have become angry and fearful at both its perception of perceived injustice from 911 and the constant threat of terrorists.

As the rhetoric on both sides seems to keep getting raised, each side wondering if the other will blink, on might wonder if one side or the other will back down.  Will one side or the other launch both into an irreversible and deadly realm of destruction that triggers WWIII?  Similar and parallel thoughts might be found when one remembers the Cuban missile crisis during the Kennedy presidency. Fortunately for the world, that political and military time bomb was quietly defused.

The question before the world today is will the leaders of both sides find a way to defuse the situation that is making the world so nervous?  General Omar Bradley once said: "The best way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts."

I call upon all people of faith to pray for our President and the leaders in Washington during these tense day.  I call upon all people of faith to also pray for the leadership of North Korea, just as Jesus once instructed his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.  This is not a teaching that condones what the enemy has done or threatens to do.  This is a teaching intended to reduce violence, for Jesus said at the time of his arrest, that "...those who draw the sword will perish by the sword."  As with the sword, so it is with nuclear missiles and bombs many times over.  Let us diligently pray--pray for peace not just for ourselves, but for the world and God's people everywhere.