Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!

Wishing all of my readers and visitors a Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Seeing God in schools

The call is going out, drummed up by public conservative voices, to “Get God back in schools”.

"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," said Governor Mike Huckbee on Fox News. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"
Fischer said that God could have protected the victims of this massacre, but didn't because "God is not going to go where he is not wanted" and so if school administrators really want to protect students, they will start every school day with prayer.
I reject this understanding of a God who makes or allows bad things to happen to teach us a lesson.  It is a manipulation of scriptural text and understanding used by people in power or seeking it.  

God’s role in tragedy has been authentically expressed in numerous essays and prayers, including ones by Diana Butler Bass and Ian Douglas.  There is my own offering as well...

I do know that there are some who do not see God as causing or orchestrating tragedy who still think the call to “get God back in schools” is a good thing.

This is based on a false premise:  that God was driven out of schools.  This is simply not true.  God is not banned from schools, as this sad and abusive t-shirt suggests.

Mentioning God in a forced pledge each morning says nothing of God’s presence.  Neither does any mandated time of prayer.  Teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design as science is misguided as well.  One dominant group forcing their particular understanding of God actually dishonors our vast understandings of the divine, and suggests how divisive religion is when brandished as a way to control.  Students will see the hollowness of this practice, and reject it as another means by which adults attempt to gain unquestioned authority.

This is not to say that somethings should be done to change the cultures of our schools.

One thing that might be helpful for those in schools is a commitment to the sacred.

This is not achieved by requiring or elevating the use of the word “God”, or that everyone should be Christian, Jew, Muslim or Atheist.   And yet, ironically, banning or avoiding those words and distinctions is unhelpful as well.

Young people experience the sacred when they value themselves and the people around them.  They have the opportunity to learn this in multiple ways:  in the care and concern for others, in the space for exploring honest questions, in the moments where adults take them seriously, and, yes, in the faithful (but not mandated) practice of religion where difference and common values are held in esteem.  They find the sacred in a structure that manages their time without overwhelming them.  They encounter the sacred in athletics when they witness the desire to do one’s best, but not in the win at all costs mentality.  They experience the sacred in communal opportunities like clubs, teams, and ensembles.

Do you really want room for the sacred in our schools?  Stop mandating the focus on standardized tests and school status.  Let go of the power struggles between administrations, school boards, and teacher unions.  Work to create an environment where educators can get back to teaching critical thinking, life skills, exploration of the world through history and literature, an appreciation and experience of art and culture, and valuing respect and dignity for all life.  Allow the truth to be told concerning our American history:  good and bad.  Broaden our sense of wonder for the fragility and the resilience of people and the environment.  

Trust that in the opening of hearts and minds, the vision of God’s dream for the world will indeed be worked out.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Risky business

(A sermon preached at All Saints' Littleton on December 16th, 2012)

Sustaining and redeeming God,

In sadness and in the tragedy of awful loss, we offer before you those young lives lost as a consequence of human violence this past week.

We raise in the distress of this time the families of whose children are no longer to share life and joy with them.

We mourn those other families also fractured by the needless killings of that day.

As Jesus first came to his people and lives of the young and innocent were lost in the cruelty of one individual upon others, so now 2000 years on we stand alongside those whose similar grief is beyond our imagining.

Holy and loving God bring all consolation that can be brought to those most in need of your presence today, and never cease to make your presence real in this their hour of need.

To you we voice this prayer, Amen. 

Written by The Rt. Rev. Robert Gilies, Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney in the Scottish Episcopal Church for their companion Diocese of Connecticut, and shared by Ian T. Douglas, Laura J. Ahrens and James E. Curry, the Episcopal Bishops of Connecticut


It is the place we all begin when faced with a horrible tragedy.  

We often look to God to answer this, but we do so in vain.  God didn't allow this to happen:  human beings have free will.  For all God hopes for us, even as we are called to be part of God’s vision for the the world, human beings have the capacity to act out God’s nightmares.

Risky business:  creating in one’s own image.

For those of us trying to make sense of it all, it helps to begin with the truth:  there is no making sense of this. It is not surprising that we don’t know what to say:  we usually don’t when it involves the death of children.  

I am no different than you. 

The Rev. Emily C. Heath was a chaplain assigned to the emergency department of a children's hospital with a level one trauma center, and saw so many senseless tragedies.  She also says she heard some of the worst theology of her life coming from people who thought they were bringing comfort to the parents. More often than not, they weren't.  And despite good intention, they often made the situation worse.
Here are five things not to say to grieving family and friends: 
1. "God just needed another angel."  Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God, nor helpful to grieving parents. 
2. "Thank goodness you have other children," or, "You're young. You can have more kids."  Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss, no matter how many other children a parent has or will have. 
3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.  The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents' hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief. 
4. God doesn't give you more than you can handle.  Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn't come from God. Don't trivialize someone's grief with a "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" mentality. 
5. We may not understand it, but this was God's will.  Unless you are God, don't use this line.
Loving God, when our heart breaks in grief, we know your heart is already broken. Hear our prayers for the community of Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

Receive the souls of the dead, into your merciful arms of love.

Heal the wounded in body and the savaged in spirit.

Bless all those who seek to calm a community in crisis: police, medical workers, government and school officials, counselors and pastors.

Soothe the fearful and dry the tears of all who mourn.

Enfold families in your compassionate embrace: little ones whose safe world has been invaded, mothers and fathers who must put frightened children to bed this night.

Help us to remember, when our knees go weak and our hearts melt like wax, that your arm is ever strong, and your loving kindness never fails from age to age. Draw us closer to one another in community, and closer to you, O God, so that the inhumanity of mankind, which threatens to destroy our faith in you, may somehow gather us all into the infinite heart of God, in whose name we pray. Amen.


Finding the right words is really hard.  But those who are grieving, for their own loss or in fear for their families, need our support and voices to help all of us go forward.  We must not be scared into silence.

1. I don't believe God wanted this or willed it.  A grieving friend or family member is likely hearing that this is God's will from a number of other people. Affirm the idea that it may very well not be. 
2. It's okay to be angry, and I'm a safe person for you express that anger to if you need it.  Anger is an essential part of the grieving process, but many don't know where to talk about it because they are often silenced by others when they express their feelings. (For instance, they may be told they have no right to be angry at God.) By saying you are a safe person to share all feelings, including anger, with, you help the grieving person know where they can turn. 
3. It's not okay.  It seems so obvious, but sometimes this doesn't get said. Sometimes the pieces don't fit. Sometimes nothing works out right. And sometimes there is no way to fix it. Naming it can be helpful for some because it lets them know you won't sugarcoat their grief. 
4. I don't know why this happened.  When trauma happens, the shock and emotion comes first. But not long after comes our human need to try to explain "why?" The reality is that often we cannot. The grieving person will likely have heard a lot of theories about why a trauma occurred. Sometimes it's best not to add to the chorus, but to just acknowledge what you do not know. 
5. I can't imagine what you are going through, but I am here to support you in whatever way feels best.  Even if you have faced a similar loss, remember that each loss is different. Saying "I know how you're feeling" is often untrue. Instead, ask how the grieving person is feeling. And then ask what you can do to help. Then, do it and respect the boundaries around what they don't want help with at this point. You will be putting some control back into the hands of the grieving person, who often feels like they have lost so much of it.
On this Shabbat, on this Seventh Night of Hanukkah,
When we crave peace and celebration
We stand in grief with the devastated families of Newtown,
We weep over the loss of lives of children
We weep over the deaths of their teachers,
We cry out with shock and confusion and pain 
with the devastated families of Newtown.
We mourn again over a senseless act of violence and destruction.

Be with us, God in this time of sorrow and fear. 
Help us, God, to offer comfort
To those whose hearts are shattered,
Rekindle hope and trust and courage within us and them.
Help us, God, to see in the lights of the Hanukkiah
The promise that even in the darkest times
That even when we feel most discouraged
There is reason to trust that 
love is never extinguished
and that light and spirit will prevail.

Help us, God to rededicate ourselves to building 
a world safer for all children,
On this Shabbat, on this Seventh Night of Hanukkah,
Bring comfort and peace and hope and light
to broken hearts and a still broken world.

The author Joyce Carol Oates wrote on Twitter that there is a “Strange doubleness in American life. Grieving over "tragedy" is genuine--but does not convert into action to prevent the next tragedy.”
If we are truly a people of the light, then in the weeks to come we must follow our grieving with change. In this land where we have so much, it is also senseless that we lack the ability to keep safe these most innocent among us. We have the capacity to change that, if we can find the will. We lead the developed world in so many things; tragically, that includes gun violence. May the darkness of these hours lead to a light in which we see clearly our responsibility to change that and find the courage to do so.

It was, of course, a tragedy. Yet tragedies happen all the time. Terrible storms strike. Cars crash. Random violence occurs. As long as we’re human, we’ll never be invulnerable. 
But when a gunman takes out kindergartners in a bucolic Connecticut suburb, three days after a gunman shot up a mall in Oregon, in the same year as fatal mass shootings in Minneapolis, in Tulsa, in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in a theater in Colorado, a coffee bar in Seattle and a college in California — then we’re doing this to ourselves. 
We know the story. The shooter is a man, usually a young man, often with a history of mental illness. Sometimes in a rage over a lost job, sometimes just completely unhinged. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, the air was full of experts discussing the importance of psychological counseling. “We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House. 
Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens. We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god. 
This is all about guns — access to guns and the ever-increasing firepower of guns.
I am aware that I live in the North Country of New Hampshire:  Live Free or Die.  I do not wish to keep people from hunting game.  I am not saying that people should not be allowed to purchase a gun for protection.  I know people who collect historic guns, like my uncle, and I know firsthand how beyond responsible he is with his collection.  

I also know the often repeated saying:  guns do not kill people, people kill people.  It’s true.  But I can’t help but notice that, unbelievably, on the same day as the tragedy in Connecticut, a man in China attacked 22 children and one adult outside a public school.  He had a knife, and thankfully everyone there is still alive.

I know that this is in part just good fortune, but it also illustrates the reality that guns make it easier for people to kill people...and it is just too easy to get guns in our society.  In many places, there is more oversight required to get a dog, catch a fish, or to feed someone a meal.

Of the world's 23 "most wealthy" countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22, and has 80% of all of gun deaths of those countries combined.

In second place is Finland, with two entries.

Adam Gopnik writes that “Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.”

I find a summary by returning to the words of Gail Collins:

We will undoubtedly have arguments about whether tougher regulation on gun sales or extra bullet capacity would have made a difference in Connecticut. In a way it doesn’t matter. 
America needs to tackle gun violence because we need to redefine who we are. We have come to regard ourselves — and the world has come to regard us — as a country that’s so gun happy that the right to traffic freely in the most obscene quantities of weapons is regarded as far more precious than an American’s right to health care or a good education. 
We have to make ourselves better. Otherwise, the story from Connecticut is too unspeakable to bear.
We grieve with the many families and friends touched by this shooting in Connecticut. We mourn the loss of lives so young and innocent. We grieve that the means of death are so readily available to people who lack the present capacity to find other ways of responding to their own anger and grief. We know that God’s heart is broken over this tragedy, and the tragedies that unfold each and every day across this nation. And we pray that this latest concentration of shooting deaths in one event will awaken us to the unnoticed number of children and young people who die senselessly across this land every day. More than 2000 children and youth die from guns each year, more than the soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Will you pray and work toward a different future, the one the Bible’s prophets dreamed of, where city streets are filled with children playing in safety? 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop calls for prayer

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori calls for prayer following the tragedy in Connecticut:
We grieve with the many families and friends touched by this shooting in Connecticut.  We mourn the loss of lives so young and innocent.  We grieve that the means of death are so readily available to people who lack the present capacity to find other ways of responding to their own anger and grief.  We know that God’s heart is broken over this tragedy, and the tragedies that unfold each and every day across this nation.  And we pray that this latest concentration of shooting deaths in one event will awaken us to the unnoticed number of children and young people who die senselessly across this land every day.  More than 2000 children and youth die from guns each year, more than the soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Will you pray and work toward a different future, the one the Bible’s prophets dreamed of, where city streets are filled with children playing in safety (Zechariah 8:5)?

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church
Office of Public Affairs
Saturday, December 15, 2012