Only a Pawn in Their Game

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Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain
Only a pawn in their game”  [2]

When twenty-two-year-old Bob Dylan sang before the gathered masses at the Washington Mall in August of 1963, Civil Rights Activist and World War II veteran, Medgar Wiley Evers, had been buried just two months before.   The victim of a racially motivated assassination, Medgar was just two weeks shy of his thirty-eighth birthday.    Having just arrived home, Medgar was shot through the heart moments after getting out of his car.   Still, Metgar managed to stagger thirty feet before collapsing just outside his front door.   This is where his wife and three young children found him.  [3]

While decrying the barbaric and inhuman cycle of victimization, Dylan’s lyrics also point to its pervasiveness.   Chances are it is far more contagious than we’re comfortable admitting.    Throughout his lyrics, Dylan points out that hatred and divisiveness are intentionally stoked by those who crave power.   What better way to reduce people to pawns?   Like the police who watched while an officer kneeled on George Flloyd’s neck as he gasped for breath, are we not bystanders when we fail to recognize our complicity in systemic oppression?

Are we not pawns in someone else’s game?

 

[1] Bob Dylan, Civil Rights March, August 28, 1963

[2] Bob Dylan, Only a Pawn in Their Game, Folk, blues

[2] Wikipedia, Medgar Willey Evers, 1925-1963

Lessons Taught by a Robin

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“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —”  [2]

Just outside our window and nestled within the leaves of a cherry tree, a young robin sits atop a nest.    Since it takes about a month from the time the eggs are laid up to when the fledglings leave, she vigilantly broods over her young.   Throughout the dark of night, and all during the day she remains, steadfastly keeping her young warm and protected.

It was earlier this week when I first spied the robin brooding over her nest.   Here I was, weary of this pandemic and its physical distancing guidelines, sick at heart as to the state of our democracy and fearful for our children and children’s future in the face of ongoing ecological degradation.   But nevertheless, the little robin just outside my window continues to do her stalwart best – despite predators, harsh weather, and an uncertain outcome given the fragility of her young.

Wrote Emily Dickens, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – that perches in the soul.”  Author and Rabbi, Naomi Levy suggests that most life questions are actually soul questions.  When we are lost and confused; when we feel ‘cut off’ from the best part of ourselves; when we are despairing and wonder if we’ve hit bottom; while not dismissing the intensity of the pain – could this be a manifestation of the soul’s yearning?  [3]

It is now noon, and still the robin remains.   Looking at her steadfastly atop her nest and protecting her young come what may,  I realize that what she needs to do – is nothing remarkable in and of itself.   But what is remarkable, is that she does it moment after moment, hour after hour, day after day.    Watching her, I think of God’s face brooding like a bird over the watery abyss from the Book of Genesis.   The Maker of Souls who continues to hover over all creation.   Giving substance to hope, that perches in the soul.

[1]  Image – Barry McArdle, photographer

[2] Emily Dickenson, “‘Hope’ is the Thing With Feathers,” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson.

[3] Naomi Levy, Einstein and the Rabbi, (New York: Flatiron Books, 2017)

John Prine’s Paradise

And daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away
by Singer, Songwriter, John Prine, “Paradise”

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When the late singer and songwriter, John Prine, wrote the song, Paradise, Kentucky had long been one, if not the epicenter, of the coal mining industry.    In 1820 the first commercial coal mine in Kentucky opened in Muhlenberg County, the Western Coalition, whereby 1879 the state produced one million tons of coal.   Then in the 1900s another area within Kentucky, the Eastern Coalition, also began producing coal.  Such that by 2006, Kentucky was the third-largest producer of coal.

Though the coal industry provided for thousands of jobs through direct employment or indirectly over generations, the environmental impact upon the land, air and freshwater has been devastatingly consequential…particularly as concerns public health.  In communities that engaged in mountain top mining, there are elevated mortality rates for lung cancer as well as for chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease.  Tragically, these threats do not appear to go away after mining has ceased nor after land reclamation has taken place. [1]

From the opening chapter of Genesis, we hear these words, “…and God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.”   Scripture unequivocally asserts that first, creation belongs first and foremost to God and God alone, and second, as created by God, it is very good.   Likewise, Jesus’ actions (such as in showing solidarity for those on the margins) signify a deep and lasting caring, for those in the present and future generations.   His actions demonstrated a deep kinship and love for neighbor and all of creation.

Yes, we are facing so much loss right now.   Schools remain shuttered; unemployment and poverty are looming; graduation, wedding and travel plans have been put aside; the death toll continues and we remain sheltered in place, wondering how long this will last.  Figures larger than life, on the frontlines and those who lived quietly, have succumbed in the wake of this devastating illness.

Yet even as our hearts break due to the terrible toll this pandemic is taking, even as we’re overwhelmed with the plundering of God’s beloved creation, let us never forget that we are uniquely called to exercise solidarity.   When we wear a mask, when we keep physical distance to protect others and even phone a neighbor to see if they’re alright – have you considered how consequential even simple acts of courtesy and kindness are?    And when you compost, recycle and even resolve to go without meat one day a week – have you considered how simple steps can demonstrate a kinship with this fragile planet, we call home?

[1] Wikipedia, Coal Mining in Kentucky, en.wikipedia.org

[2] Image from – onlyinyourstate.com/kentucky/ghost-town-ky/

What Will Be Said of Us?

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Earth Day 2020

This past week has marked the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.   Notes Jim Antal, environmental activist and public theologian, “Fifty years ago, some rivers were so polluted that they caught fire.  The smog in major cities was so thick it was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.  Thirty-five miles of pristine beach from Santa Barbara to Ventura were covered with 3 million gallons of crude oil from a recent spill.” [2]

It is hard to fathom, but in the 1960s there were no environmental regulations or laws in place to protect even our water supply or the air we breathe.   Perceived as a hindrance to the nation’s economy and a stumbling block for consumers, nothing was in place to protect the very ecosystem that sustained us.   It was in this context, that the first Earth Day was conceived and gained widespread support.

In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), came on the heels of a bi-partisan commitment that enacted numerous laws including The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.  It was wholeheartedly adopted because it recognized that clean water and clean air, the safeguarding of wilderness and the species that inhabit it, are wholly necessary for health and well-being; no matter what side of the political aisle you sit on and what demographic you belong to.

Yes, this pandemic has shaken us to the core.  But the onset of this devastating virus has also exposed a dangerous dualism, perpetuated by those who insist on returning to business as usual.   As if the care of God’s creation AND protecting public health are two entirely different issues.  As if being a good neighbor to current as well as future generations and all species on this planet, IS AT ODDS with protecting our children from asthma and contaminated drinking water.

In the months and years to come, what will be said of us?  Will it be said that out of expediency and fear – we like Pontious Pilate – washed our hands of injustice, abdicated responsibility, and turned our backs on the destruction of God’s people and creation?   Or will it be said of us – that we did not yield to the temptation of returning to business as usual – but instead built a more just and sustainable world.

[1] Image is from whatsnewindonesia.com.

[2} Jim Antal, Earth Day Sermon, Sunday, April 19, Riverside Church, NY

 

 

Experiences from the inside

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   “The seat of the soul is where the outer and inner world meet” [1]

Last summer, I traveled down the Aberjona River by canoe.   Loaned to us by a friend, we packed within its hull a few belongings and began our journey in shallow waters just north of the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes.   A well-made vessel of solid wood, the canoe silently carried us while the banks on either side became denser with grass, brush and small pine.

We had only traveled a few minutes when a mother deer and her fawn came into focus.   She stood with her young off the bank to our right, surrounded by tall grasses but within a space of the surrounding vegetation.  Looking at us, they stood perfectly still.  Transfixed, we placed our oars in the water to stop midstream and held our breath.

Author, Belden Lane, speaks of such fleeting experiences as moments of non-separation, where we see everything with sudden familiarity and intimacy – from the inside.   He writes, “In the Jewish scriptures, the deepest realities of existence are always concrete, earth-related and wild.  One might best think of the soul, then, as the place where the body and the rest of the vibrant world converge…when we discover a vital connection with the ordinary details of everyday experience.” [3]

In the wake of this time of social distancing, it is easy to lose sight of this vital connection.  Assuming the connections we must have are those in close proximity to loved ones, friends and neighbors, we forget that the soul’s longing is deeply embedded in the seemingly most ordinary.   The illumination of morning’s light filtering through our window.   The texture of the African Violet leaves, soft to the touch.   The sound of our own breath reminding us, that indeed, we remain very much alive in this world.

Imagine if we are not as isolated as we presume?   What if the divine source actually dwells within, rather than being a distant and intangible entity?   For if what the monastic traditions have been insisting for centuries is true, then “this flesh we inhabit is actually a necessary vehicle by which everything in creation connects.” [4]   Could it be then that our physical bodies and the deepening of our souls are not separate realities but were created to be intrinsically, wondrously and vitally connected?

Writes chaplain, Lisa Steele-Maley, who speaks to this longing for connection:

What love and peace will hold us aloft?   What belonging will sooth our isolation?

What bridges will we build as we spend more time in our homes and communities?

 As we reflect on the impact that our lives have had on the lives of others:

Will we claim our participation in the web of life?  

Will we claim that the deepening of our souls may have ensured our survival?

Will we remember that one day we will be the ancestors in someone else’s story?

 As we recognize the depth of responsibility to the interconnected human family:

 Will we also take note of our interconnection with all living beings?  

Will we be reminded of our interconnection with the living, pulsing earth?  

Will we affirm that we are, in fact, one? [5]

[1] Novalis, 18th-century author, poet, mystic and philosopher

[2] Wildlife image by Meta Aller

[3] Belden C. Lane, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pg. 8

[4] ibid. Pg. 13

[5] Lisa Steele-Maley, lisa.steelemaley, adapted

 

It ebbs and flows all around us

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The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can’t depict or domesticate emptiness. You can’t make it into pageants and string it with lights. It doesn’t move people to give presents to each other or sing old songs. It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide.  [1]

I wondered if Easter would come this year.   “How can you even ask this?” I chided myself.   “Of course Easter will come!”   But the doubts remained.   How could it possibly come, given all that is happening now?

The Spring Equinox had arrived.   Of this I was certain.   The pink and white cherry blossoms, purple hyacinths, and tulips touched with morning’s dew joined in heralding its arrival.   The dazzling blue skies and crisp air, the song of the sparrow and the Blue Jay’s arrival with its resplendent plumage, confirmed that spring is upon us.

But what of Easter?   Would it, could it, come?

Wrote Frederick Buechner, “The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb.  You can’t depict or domesticate emptiness.”   This is true.   As much as we tried in the past to domesticate Easter – with chocolate eggs and images of bunny rabbits – there is a dimension of it that refuses to be tamed, to be put in a box and conveniently put aside until the next year.

Instead, Easter came.   It came because it was the last thing Jesus’ followers would have ever expected, much less believed.  It came because, in a jaded world all too accustomed to harsh realities and bad news, Easter happened.

Easter came then and comes still.    It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide.

The Season of Easter.

 

[1] Frederick Buechner, from Whistling in the Dark, and later, Beyond Words

[2] Image from Unearthing the World of Jesus, Smithsonian Magazine

Morning Star Rising

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“…You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19

You, the lamp that shines in a dark place.  You, the morning star that rises in our hearts.   You, who awakens us, having spoken through prophets of old and your people in this time and place.

Yet faced with the trepidation of yet more chaos, we acknowledge our anxiety and fear.  Unable to hear you above the cacophony of divisive and egocentric speech, we resort to apathy or downright cynicism.  For while there was a time we dwelt securely, we find ourselves at the whim of those who are ruled not by conscience but the unconscionable.

But it is not just darkness that overwhelms us.  Unable to make out even the faintest glimmer of your distant star, we see no future canopy to guide us.  Overcome and in despair, we stumble.  O Divine Maker, what will become of us?

But you – you in your creative power, you in your mercy, you in your paradoxical vulnerability – have not left us without recourse.   Formed in your image and likeness, you do not abandon us, but equip your servants to disempower the diabolical forces that threaten humanity and all creation.

So summon us, we implore you, Sovereign God.    Issue your authoritative warrant, the one we cannot ignore.  Wake us up from stupefying slumber so that we, with eyes wide open, may serve you all the days of our life.  We ask this in the name of the One who was, and is, and is to be.  Amen