November 14, 2015
So many friends and colleagues have written in the last 18 hours expressing support, promising their prayers, and asking what they could do. I cannot tell you how incredibly important this has been to all of us at the American Cathedral. It is a very fearful time, and we are still bewildered and unsure. Knowing we have prayers coming from around the world, that we have a cloud of witnesses, and that we are so inextricably connected in the Body of Christ makes all the difference.
What can you do? First of all, I ask your prayers:
– for the victims, those who died and those wounded
– for their families
– for all those who have helped and are helping
– for all who protect us
– for the city of Paris, and especially our Cathedral community
– for all those whose anger, fear and hatred lead them to commit such acts
– for hope, for light in the darkness, and for peace
Secondly, I urge you to give some serious thought to next steps. Your expressions of support are strong and genuine – but where do they go? We have all held each other up before – after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, for instance, and after 9/11 – and shared a strong sense of unity. I’m not sure where I am going with this; I only mean that our prayers must lead us to action. Here in France I suspect there will be a very, very strong anti-Muslim sentiment, and one thing we must do is stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and foster conversation and understanding. I think we also need to work harder to care for the flood of refugees fleeing terror in their own countries – work for immediate care and for political solutions. You will need to find your own mission in the US, but I know that it must involve continued dedication and commitment to making justice and making peace, and being a light in the darkness.
Thank you again, my brothers and sisters.
Dean, The American Cathedral in Paris
Maybe I should just stop here and we should have a conversation about that What next? and What can we do? But our working through those questions might take more pondering and more prayer and more living with all we are feeling right now.
So, as we do that, let me add this to the mix.
I don’t mean this to sound flippant. It is not.
While seemingly so different, I believe these two news items are, in fact, related. The news of the terrorist attacks on Friday in Paris and the other religious news story that has captured headlines this week. If you don’t know what that story is, this morning’s bulletin cover provides a hint about that story. In case you missed it, earlier this week Starbucks began using its holiday cup. A simple red cup with the company’s logo. The response, from some quarters, was immediate. Because the cup was devoid of snowflakes or tree ornaments, Starbucks was accused of being the latest iteration of the war on Christmas. And, the war on Christianity.
Like me, you probably roll your eyes.
But Starbucks’ red cup made the headlines in the news, several of NPR’s weekly news round up discussions, sound bytes from candidates for the presidency, morning talk shows and late night television monologues and any number of viral Youtube videos. As a follow up, Dunkin Donuts scored marketing points, at least among some, by releasing their own holiday cups later in the week. Cups which include what looks like a Christmas wreath and the word Joy.
But here’s the truth.
And what these two news stories have in common.
Most people look at both the terrorist attacks in the name of God and the Starbuck’s controversy in the name of God and think or say:
“If this is what religion is about…
If this is what Christianity is about…who cares?
I was in Pittsburgh for a couple of days this past week helping my parents as they face health issues. As I was reading the paper one morning I happened to glance at the Letters to the Editor section. One of the letters was a response by a Catholic priest to what must have been an article or previous Letter to the Editor. What caught my attention was the reference made to what was in the first article or letter which must have argued that churches should begin to pay property taxes. The reason being churches and religion don’t matter that much anymore. Especially to the younger generations.
As I read the letter I thought of that old axiom.
If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.
Which leads me to the question:
What do we stand for?
As a serious counter-balance to a made up cup controversy and the God awful attack on Friday in Paris, to say nothing of 47 people killed in attacks in Beirut and the 147 killed at the university in Kenya, what are we going to stand for which matters and which makes a difference in the lives of others?
We face an inherent tension in this thing we call church or faith or religion or God. We want it be safe. We need it to be safe. We come to church and we turn to God often looking for quiet and comfort and support and affirmation. I get that. “Come to me all you who are weak and bearing heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” the Gospel declares.
Yet, the witness of Jesus is about more than that.
The witness of Jesus is about what he names as the Kingdom of God.
What the world would be like…
What your life would be like…
If God were in charge and not Caesar.
I borrowed the title of this morning’s sermon from the mission statement of Auburn Seminary in NYC because I think it points the way.
Trouble the Waters. Heal the world.
Those two statements have to stand together.
It is easy to trouble the waters.
Everything from a made up controversy over red cups to terrorist attacks which maim and kill trouble the waters. It is the healing the world part which they miss and which is the challenge.
Healing the world.
Making the world safer.
Showing more respect.
Feeding the hungry.
Making room for the stranger.
Rebuilding the streets.
Yet, getting to the healing part often means troubling the waters.
Squirming in our seats.
Having your assumptions challenged and our niceness called into question.
Stepping out from the safety we crave and into the messiness of the world as it is and towards that promised and longed for Kingdom of God.
Trouble the waters. Heal the world.
What was it Dean Laird wrote about next steps and where do we go and prayers leading to action and about continued dedication and commitment to making justice and making peace, and being a light in the darkness?
If we are going to matter, what are we going to stand for?
Our way or no way?
Violence in the name of God?
Or doing the REALLY hard work of standing for something more. Something better.
Trouble the waters. Heal the world.
And, this postscript…
Beyond the recent headlines in the news, the first seeds for this sermon were planted because tomorrow night we are being a five week discussion with members of Antioch Baptist Church and others in our community around the book The New Jim Crow. I both hope and imagine it to be the first step in what will become an ongoing conversation about race in our communities and in our country. Hearing we are having this conversation some have asked why because, they claim, race is not an issue here. Others have said, “Better late than never.”
Maybe that is why.
Trouble the waters. Heal the world.