Updated: Aug 2
August 2, 2020
Rev. Lorrie Gaffney
John Lewis: Badge of Honor
I cried when I saw the image of Congressman John Lewis’ body being carried across the Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time - this time with rose petals lining his path. It wasn’t just the image though, it was also hearing that Alabama state troopers were leading the way and saluting his carriage as it passed.
It was a different story on March 7, 1965 when 25 year old Lewis was on the front line of over 600 activist crossing the bridge from Selma to Montgomery, demanding voting rights for Black Americans when Alabama state troopers used tear gas, clubs, horses and dogs to attack the marchers and prevent them from crossing during what is known now as Bloody Sunday. Lewis was beaten unconscious and suffered a skull fracture.
There is so much we can learn from this deeply spiritual, man of faith and love-in-action, that I want to reflect together and consider what we might take away and live more fully from how he lived his life. In particular, I want us to look at how he lived the prophet Micah’s words:
God has told you what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Representative James Clyburn, the Democratic majority whip for S. Carolina, said that when he told his father he would not be following him into the ministry, his father responded: “Well, the world would rather see a sermon than hear one.” And Clyburn considered Lewis “both a minister and a living example, who demonstrated what it means to follow the moral compass directed by one’s faith. “
Lewis was born the third son of sharecroppers in a family of 9 children, working brutally hard as a child in the fields of Alabama- and as we heard preached to his chickens! He had a loving family and was powerfully influenced by church and scripture.
Lewis' words and life make a beautiful sermon and here are some of my favorite examples. In a 2004 interview with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Lewis shares the grounding for his actions.
“At a very early stage of the movement, I accepted the teaching of Jesus, the way of love, the way of nonviolence, the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. The idea of hate is too heavy a burden to bear. It’s better to love. When we were involved in the sit-ins, in the freedom ride, on the march from Selma to Montgomery, we were not struggling against people but against customs, traditions, a bad way of life, and we were trying to win people over and be reconciled to each other. I think I had maybe what I call an executive session with myself, and maybe an executive session with God Almighty, and said, “I’m not going to hate. I don’t want to go down that road. I’ve seen too much hate, seen too much violence. And I know love is a better way.” You feel so different, and you feel so much better. You sleep better. You rest better. When you don’t have any ill feelings, you don’t have any hate or malice to people who maybe arrested you, beat you, jailed you, or tried to kill you. We all are brothers and sisters, we’re all a part of the same family, we all live in the same house — the house of faith.”
Lewis shared his concern that the grounding of the civil rights movement be understood, saying:
“I’m deeply concerned that many people today fail to recognize that the movement was built on deep-seated religious convictions, and the movement grew out of a sense of faith — faith in God and faith in one’s fellow human beings. From time to time, I make a point, trying to take people back, and especially young people, and those of us not so young, back to the roots of the movement. During those early days, we didn’t study the Constitution, the Supreme Court decision of 1954. We studied the great religions of the world. We discussed and debated the teachings of the great teacher. And we would ask questions about what would Jesus do. In preparing for the sit-ins, we felt that the message was one of love — the message of love in action: don’t hate. If someone hits you, don’t strike back. Just turn the other side. Be prepared to forgive. That’s not anything any Constitution says anything about - forgiveness. It is straight from the Scripture: reconciliation. So the movement, the early foundation, the early teaching of the movement was based on the Scripture, the teaching of Jesus, the teaching of Gandhi and others. You have to remind people over and over again that some of us saw our involvement in the civil rights movement as an extension of our faith.
On so many occasions during the past two years I wished and prayed and somehow want to go back 40 years ago when the ministers, priests, rabbis, nuns, bishops, and others stood up. And sometimes I feel today that maybe, just maybe, the religious leaders are too quiet. They need to make a little noise. Need to push and to pull and [need] to be prophets. You know, Dr. King and others had the ability, had the capacity to rally people, to get people together. I will never forget, after Bloody Sunday in Selma in March of 1965, after we had been beaten and tear-gassed and trampled by horses, two days later, more than a thousand religious leaders — priests, rabbis, nuns, ministers — came there. Not just to Selma, but they got in the streets of almost every city in America, at the Department of Justice, at the White House, preaching the good news.
Today on some of the big issues, moral issues, [it] seems like we have been so silent. Somehow we need to find a way to reclaim our position as people of faith. We don’t need to sort of give up, or give out or in, or get lost in a sea of despair, become discouraged; we just need to get out there. When I was growing up, my mother and father and grandparents used to tell us, “Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.” But during the ’60s, the religious community got in trouble. We got in the way. And it’s time again for the religious community to get in the way. To get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.”
In a conversation with Krista Tippet from On Being Lewis shares more of his convictions:
“First of all, you have to grow. It’s just not something that is natural. You have to be taught the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. And in the religious sense, in the moral sense, you can say in the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine. So you don’t have a right as a human to abuse that spark of the divine in your fellow human being.
We, from time to time, would discuss if you see someone attacking you, beating you, spitting on you, you have to think of that person, you know, years ago that person was an innocent child, innocent little baby. And so what happened? Something go wrong? Did the environment? Did someone teach that person to hate, to abuse others? So you try to appeal to the goodness of every human being and you don’t give up. You never give up on anyone.
Well, I think in our culture, I think sometimes people are afraid to say I love you. But we’re afraid to say, especially in public life, many elected officials or worldly elected officials, are afraid to talk about love. Maybe people tend to think something is so emotional about it. Maybe it’s a sign of weakness. And we’re not supposed to cry. We’re supposed to be strong, but love is strong. Love is powerful.
The movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you. I know Dr. King used to joke sometimes and say things like, “Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love ’em.”
Krista Tippett asked Lewis about an African proverb that is found in both of Lewis’ books: When you pray, move your feet. One of the marchers said that he felt like he was praying- his feet were praying - as he marched.
Lewis shared that “the freedom rides were love in action, the march from Selma to Montgomery was love in action. We do it not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s love in action. That we love our country, we love a democratic society, and so we have to move our feet.” Lewis, who became a congressman in 1987, prayed with his feet through his involvement in American politics - involvement which he sees as an extension of his faith, just like his involvement in civil rights.
Lewis saw the humanity in everyone - even those who were attacking, beating or spitting on him. For me, his legacy is summed up by a story Krista Tippett told of interviewing Lewis during a civil rights pilgrimage he led in 2013 through his native state of Alabama alongside a delegation of over 200 people that included the Republican House Majority Leader, the daughters of Lyndon Johnson and George Wallace, and civil rights luminaries like Ruby Bridges -the first African American girl to desegregate an all-white southern school. Tippett says that the five-day pilgrimage to the holy ground sites of the civil rights movement was one of the most transformative experiences of her life. She describes her experiences of walking through the auditorium doorway where Gov. George Wallace barred entry of the first two African American students in 1963, leading to intervention of the federal government. Worshipping in Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, where four little girls were killed in a KKK bombing in 1963. Walking across the bridge from Selma with a nun who had ministered to the marchers when they were beaten back violently on Bloody Sunday.
But it was in Montgomery that the real legacy of John Lewis’ love in action might best be experienced. Tippett sat down with Lewis and the chief of police as the police chief offered the first ever public apology to John Lewis, and he shared his efforts to bring the truth of that history to upcoming police officers. He didn’t just offer him words however, the chief of police also gave him his badge, bringing both men to tears.
It was the power of love in action. Lewis has cautioned about patience saying that what we work for may not happen in our lifetime... but it will happen in someone’s lifetime. And he is emphatic that “you must do all you can do while you occupy this space during your time.”
And I’d like to close with classic John Lewis- and his open and whole-hearted wisdom:
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
May it be so. Amen
What stands out about John Lewis’ life?
What does good, necessary trouble look like to you?
Have you ever considered seeing someone difficult as the young child they once were? How does that change things?
How does the life of John Lewis inspire you to live differently?
July 19, 2020 Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Contagious Joy
Lurking in the back of my mind is this idea - it’s an idea that I know isn’t quite right, but it gets stuck there - it’s the idea that this is not a time for joy. I mean really a pandemic - people suffering, over or under-worked? And doesn’t it seem careless to have joy in the midst of such racial angst, transgender people being murdered, and on and on.
And yet I know it doesn’t serve anyone to join in anxiety, sadness, fear and hopelessness. But still - joy at a time like this? Won’t it seem selfish, uncaring, insensitive?
Have you wrestled with how to be in this complicated world like I have? How to take care of your own emotional well-being and still care deeply?
Well, as I wrestled with a sense of needing more delight, more joy, more sparkle in my life, I found myself turning to some incredible teachers. Take Maya Angelou. She is a leader of black lives that matter and she has known much suffering. Yet she also glows with strength and a delightful, full-throated laugh! Her life and her words invite us to live a deep joy. In her younger days Angelou danced in nightclubs for pay. She danced with Alvin Ailey on variety shows. And there is a photo, published in the New York Times of Angelou dancing with fellow poet Amiri Baraka, just for the joy of it. However the caption said these two great American poets were dancing a traditional African mourning dance over the remains of Langston Hughes at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. When Angelou saw that she telephoned Amiri Baraka and asked if he was doing traditional African dance. Baraka said, “NO I was doing the jitterbug!” Angelou responded, “yes and I was doing the Texas hop!
Michelle Obama is another one that similarly inspires me toward the joy that surpasses all understanding; reminding us that “when they go low we go high.”
How about you? Who do you think of that finds and shines joy in the most unexpected circumstances?
Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach tells a story of a family that went to a restaurant for dinner. Listen carefully. This story has a valuable message for the young at heart in all of us.
The waitress arrived at the family’s table and the parents gave her their orders. Immediately their 5 year old daughter piped up with her own order. “I’ll have a hot dog, french fries and a Coke.”
“Oh no you won’t, interjected the dad, who turned to the waitress and said, “She’ll have meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and milk.”
Looking at the child with a smile, the waitress said, “So hon, what do you want on that hot dog?”
The family sat stunned and silent when she left.
But a few moments later the little girl, eyes shining, said, “She thinks I’m real!”
Real happens when you look another in the eyes and see someone or something as fully beloved, valuable, sacred, important. Real is a gift you offer - especially someone who has been told they are not real because their skin color is “wrong” their choice of who to love or be is not ok; or those who feel they are inadequate or flawed. Real is the gift Becca Stevens offers women who are survivors of trafficking, prostitution and/or addiction through Thistle Farms. Just this week I saw this clip of women graduating from Thistle Farms two year program where the philosophy is Love Heals. Their true graduation is from an identity that they are broken and worthless objects to real beloved beings - and their joy is contagious!
Jesus' life and teachings are all about helping people know who, and whose, they are- regardless of anything done or undone. Jesus let people know they were “real” and deserving of his living water of joy. Being seen as real, and living joy, go together like two sides of a coin. I’d love to know your favorite Jesus story of this. Is it Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well? Perhaps Jesus having a meal at the house of the much despised tax collector Zaccheus? Or his response to the Pharisees wanting to stone a woman accused of adultery that we heard in our Gospel reading today, saying: “the one without sin is the one who should cast the first stone.” Or perhaps it is his admonition to allow the children to come to him?
Jesus knew that children were the key to living real - living with joy. Children know how to laugh out loud, twirl, be fascinated with a tiny bug, and give koala bear hugs.
Maria Shriver, in her blog The Sunday Paper said she “posted a picture on instagram of a young girl having a blast.
The caption underneath reads: Remember her? She is still there... inside you... waiting. Let’s go get her!
Or picture a young boy. Remember him? He is still there... inside you... waiting. Go get him.
That young child that was made for embracing life with joy is still inside me and you. The wholeness of that child you were born with didn’t go away with age. Let’s tell stories of that fun, loving child you remember. The one who danced, ran through sprinklers, cuddled on laps and gave pat pats or high fives. Can you still connect with that child’s spirit and play together?
Shriver set a goal for connecting with her inner-child joy during her retreat time in August when she takes a break from the news and daily routines of working life. Shriver writes, “It’ll be my goal because I know that I’ll need that little girl’s sassiness, laughter, spirit, strength, and playfulness as I head into what will undoubtedly be an out of control Fall.”
So what does it look like to connect with one’s inner child? How about finding joy in the simplest of things: an oreo cookie? Don’t forget to eat at least some of the middle first! How about laughing just a little louder - maybe even squealing when talking to a friend on the phone. Shriver decided to play catch with her grown daughter. How about finding a hula hoop or jump rope? Or organizing a social distance egg race! Play. Make someone laugh and laugh with them. Watch Pluto the talking dog on YouTube. Feel your toes on the grass, and find shapes in the clouds... other ideas????
Do what you can to break up the breaking news, the routine, toss off the heavy blanket weighing you down. Find that childhood spirit with mouth wide open, eyes sparkling, hands outstretched. Pablo Picasso said: Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
Friends, it is not just for you and your emotional well-being. Those around you, the world, needs your spirit of life, of joy so that the work of God-with-us, God-among-us can begin the healing that is needed.
I’d like to close with this wish from Maya Angelou to you:
My wish for you is joy. When you wish someone joy, you wish peace, love, prosperity, health, happiness... all the good things.
May joy be yours and may it become what is really contagious. Amen
May 10, 2020 reflections by Lorrie Gaffney “Birthing Love” On this Mother’s Day holiday, I would like to celebrate mothering - in all the life-giving forms, ways and the people who offer it. And I realize that not all mothering is life-giving. Spiritually or emotionally wounded mothers can be a source of pain and suffering to their children, often unintentionally. But as I reflected on mothering, I thought of my daughter and the way her eyes light up when she sees her now two year. And I think that all really good mothering has to do with delight that recognizes the amazing sacred image of God in the other. And guess what! The good news for today is that we all get to be mothers! We can all give birth to delight that brings alive the image of God in another. As you will see this goes beyond gender. The person I thought of as my favorite mothering figure was a man named Andre Trocme. He was a pastor in a small French village called Le Chambon during World War II; a village that looked just like the neighboring protestant village, except that this one, Le Chambon, was responsible for saving over 5,000 Jewish lives. I dragged my family to the middle of nowhere to sit on a bench and visit the cemetery of this small village. I looked out at the woods where Jews, hidden by the villagers, could escape when the farmer’s dogs barked warnings of approaching Nazis. I saw the Presbytery door where Trocme invited the SS guards into his home for a home cooked meal before they took him away on arrest. It looked like every other village, so what made this village so willing to take on this risk? When Trocme first arrived the people were not especially friendly or connected. Like many villages, they were in dire need of a source of income, so Trocme started a school. He recognized a practical need as well as spiritual needs. What I most admire about him is that he led by example. He would never ask anyone to do what he would not do. After the war, when the village was recognized for all the lives they saved, villagers were interviewed about what made it possible for them to do what they did. Over and over the same response.... Oh how could we not, I dont’ know what you are talking about, these were children of God, what else could we do? They felt there was only one possible option. When someone is recognized as a child of God they must be cared for, protected. Trocme mothered the people of the village to give birth to the awareness that they were children of God - and so were the fleeing Jews. And the villagers gave birth to the image of God in the Jews they were protecting, nurturing, keeping alive, even at great risk to themselves. That is what good mothers do isn’t it? Their nurturing glance says “I see you and I delight in you. You are a sacred child of God to be protected, loved, valued, encouraged to thrive.” Who needs that mothering today? Well everybody. Truly, we all need that life-giving mothering so that we can grow to be our best. As a young girl I was feeling a little lost when my first grade teacher took me under her wing and encouraged me by letting me know she saw something in me - she saw me! Who might not be getting adequate mothering? Maybe you know a family that is struggling. Next week we will look at some of those who are inadequately seen through the lens of love; those in the margins and in the LGBTQ+ community, whose differences aren’t fully valued, welcomed and delighted in.
I love this verse by poet William Blake: And we are put on earth a little space That we might bear the beams of love.
This is our purpose in life, friends. But what does it mean to bear the beams of love. Isn’t it interesting how hard it can be to bear - to accept onto us- the beams of love. Something cheaper, like ease, or comfort or thrills are more readily chosen.
The poem is asking us though: Will you accept the love that is radiating into you, calling you beloved. Or will you turn away and say you aren’t worthy?
Jesus could bear the beams of the cross because he carried the beams of love in him. Jesus wore the beams of love well!
What if you are here to bear - accept, hold and travel within your very body - the beams of love? And then if we are to bear the beams of love within us we are to also bear forth the beams of love to others.
This is the task of mothering: to give birth to love within and to be midwife to birthing love in another.
Now when I physically gave birth to my first child I swore I would never do it again - it was that hard. And the thing about giving birth is it isn’t something we control and make happen in our timing. It is a process that happens through us, but isn’t about us. To say we agree to give birth to love is to say we agree to not being in control, to messy unknowns, to pain, to the possibility of loss. We agree to make space for another besides ourselves and our agenda.
And of course we can always find ways to say no to choosing mothering. Overworking or overplaying, drugs and alcohol and any number of fears or distractions are ways of keeping our heart numb and our eyes closed.
But love has a way of breaking through given the least opportunity. The mothering instinct of love is strong. And it feels like life.
Who has helped birth love in your life? What were you taught about love? What did you experience? Have you been a midwife, helping birth love in another?
Song Nobody’s Fault but Mine
● What has a “mother” taught you about life-giving love?
● What are your experiences of ‘mothering’, of nurturing and caring for others?
● When has God, like a mother, intervened in your life to offer the nurture and care you have needed?
● To whom, might God be calling you to reach out with a nurturing and caring spirit?
April 19, 2020
Rev. Lorrie Gaffney April 19, 2020 Peace Be With You: The Rainbow Jesus A few years ago we were just ending a party at our house. It was about 10 or 10:30 pm and the last few people were leaving, but the lights were all still on when the doorbell rang. Now anything after 10 is late for us, so who could it be? Maybe someone left something and was returning for it? But at the door was a little girl, about 10 or 11 years old and I recognized her as the delightful neighbor girl who, a few years earlier, had borrowed an egg and then later brought us chocolate chip cookies! What a deal! She looked anxious though on this night. She asked if she could stay at our house with us because she was home alone and was scared. Of course she could. And I was grateful she felt our home was safe for her to reach out to. It brought back memories of my own of being home alone, about that age, after some scary news story had been on TV. I was so scared I went into a closet and hid. How about you? Have you ever felt that knot of fear that just won’t go away? In our text today the disciples were feeling fear - for good reason. Their leader had just been cruelly handed over by an angry mob and murdered. Would they be coming for them next? The disciples hid out in a locked room, anxious and afraid. And then suddenly there was a person amongst them. How did he get in? More fear! And then Jesus, knowing their fears, reassured them by showing them the signs on his body of who he was. And he gave them the one gift that could never be taken away - the gift that could always bring peace in any circumstance - the gift of God’s spirit breathed into them - the spirit of love. Jesus had already given them, just before he died, the new commandment - rules for life - to “Love one another as I have loved you.” And now he adds a part of what that love looks like - forgiveness. Jesus wanted his disciples to forgive others, but he especially wanted them to know they were forgiven. There was nothing held against Peter for his denial, or the rest for their fears keeping them locked away. 1 John 4:18 says it well: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. Jesus was saying “there is no punishment in me- only love.” Fear and punishment are connected, but I also think fear has to do with a broader desire to control life. To control not getting punished, not having pain, not looking bad... All real concerns. The problem we humans struggle so much with seems to go back to the garden of Eden. We want to be in charge of our lives. We want to be God, making things happen our way- in our timing. Think about the couple who prays it doesn’t rain on their outdoor wedding, at the same time the farmer is desperately praying for rain for his crops. It’s human nature to want to control our lives; to have comfort rather than pain, be rewarded rather than punished.
I read a quote on gratefulness.org the other day: There are no guarantees. From the viewpoint of fear, none (no guarantees) are strong enough. From the viewpoint of love, none (no guarantees) are necessary. No guarantees living, is what Jesus knew all too well. And Jesus knew that with love, no guarantees were required. Love was that real and that powerful. There is a story of a king who wanted a painting that depicted peace. He offered a contest with a prize for whoever could best show peace in their art. There were lovely scenes of tranquil waters, loving relationships, gentle animals. But the artwork that won the prize was one of chaos: churning high waterfalls with large rocks below, dark clouds, and small bird’s nest with newly hatched babies perched on a limb of a tree extending precariously over the edge of the falls. It looked anything but peaceful to most of the artists. But the king explained the reason for his choice: “peace does not refer to a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means being in the midst of all those things and still being calm.” So how do we get that kind of peace? I want it but it often seems elusive, even in the less important interactions of my day. So sometimes, a more challenging example of one who chose peace can help us reflect and consider what is going on. This story comes from Frank Rogers Jr. in his book, Practicing Compassion. “It was January of 1995, when Azim Khamisa awakened to find a business card tucked in his door from the homicide division of the San Diego police dept. Azim called the number on the card, and an officer shared with him the tragedy. Azim’s only child, a 20 year old college student named Tariq, was delivering a pizza during the night in a neighborhood known for occasional gang violence. As Tariq sat in his car, another car pinned him from behind. Two teens got out. Tony Hicks, all of 14 years old, was handed a gun by the older teen, the gang leader. Tony was ordered to take down the unknown deliveryman. Tony obeyed. He shot Tariq one time, the bullet piercing Tariq’s heart. Within minutes, Tariq suffocated in his own blood. The officer had come to inform Azim that his son was found dead at the scene. In the months that followed, Azim struggled with rage, helplessness, despair, even thoughts of vengeance. A devout Muslim, he also struggled with the Islamic invitation to resist being consumed by hatred and to find a way to forgive – even the unforgivable. He took care not to act out in his anger, but he didn’t suppress it. He found time to be still. He meditated prayerfully and sought therapy for his grief. Over time, the pain subsided, and Azim felt a sacred presence sustaining him. That sacred presence was expansive. It held him and his family. It held his slain son, Tariq. And it also held the boy so troubled that violence toward a stranger felt attractive. Azim came to realize there were victims on both sides of the gun. Not only was his son killed, but an African American 14 year old boy- raised fatherless in poverty and racism
– was being tried as an adult and tossed away into a prison cell for the unforeseeable future. Azim decided that the cycle of despair and violence must come to an end. He quit his job and created a foundation, named after his son, dedicated to eradicating the conditions of youth violence and teaching young people a peacemaker’s path of non-violence, forgiveness, and restorative justice. He invited the teen-age killer’s grandfather to join him. Then Azim visited Tony in prison. Though he had already felt some forgiveness in his heart, Azim grew anxious as he waited in the jail’s gated visiting booth. He was unsure what he would feel when his son’s slayer sat across from him. He imagined looking into the gang member’s eyes and seeing a cold-blooded killer. He became still and prayed for mercy. The boy entered the visiting booth, and Azim looked into Tony’s eyes. He did not see a killer. He saw a terrified child, beaten down by a world stacked against him. As Azim described it, he gazed straight into Tony’s soul and saw the boy’s humanity. In that moment of connection, both of their hearts broke open and both hearts were touched by a sacred grace. Azim shared- without malice or accusation- the grief of losing a son. And he listened to Tony share the pain of growing up fatherless in a gang-ridden ghetto. He wept for Tony. Tony wept as well, expressing how sorry he was and how he ached for some way to make it up. Azim offered Tony a way. Indeed, he did more; he offered Tony a job. Upon his release from prison, Tony could work as an advocate against youth violence through the foundation named after the very boy Tony had killed.” Eckhart Tolle has said: You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level. Azim had kept his heart open through spiritual practices and grief work. And then he allowed the Spirit of love to fill and surround him and extend to all. His faith allowed him to experience, at the deepest level, the truth that he was a child of God, his son was a child of God, and even the troubled youth that caused such pain was a child of God. Dr. Maya Angelou shares that she has had a lot of clouds in her life - challenging times. And lots of people who were rainbows in her clouds that continue to bless her with peace. Listen to her wisdom for your life: Dr. Maya Angelou: Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud https://youtu.be/0nYXFletWH4 Tom Szalay shows us something about being a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. (Photo of Evelyn.) Evelyn was frequently seen by Tom, panhandling at the gates of the downtown Temple. Tom had befriended her over time and heard many stories of the difficulties she faced in her life. Abusive relationships, begging for money on the streets and more. You can see a rather weathered and worn face. And yet... look at her eyes. There is a sense of peace and strength in her. She
never would let Tom photograph her face until that day. What changed? I think she has that special look of peace because Tom gave her the gift of being seen and valued. He listened to her. Took her out to lunch. And gave her some money to get on a bus after learning she had decided to go to Chattanooga TN with money she had saved - the place chosen because she liked the way it sounded!
I had a first grade teacher that was a special rainbow in my life. I don’t remember a thing she taught me. But I do remember the way she made me feel. and often think of her. I invite you to welcome rainbow people into your life and to give thanks for them. And then to be a rainbow in someone else’s clouds. Your homework this week has two parts. 1. Make a list of those who have been rainbows in your life. Don’t forget to include beloved pets. Keep the list of names where you will frequently see it. What did they do? What touched you? What was it about them? 2. Pray a prayer of gratitude for them. Choose one you might do something special for (a card, a small gift, a phone call...). Extra credit. Cut colored squares of fabric or paper. Put a name of your rainbow people on each of the squares and attach to yarn to make a prayer flag. These don’t have to be super heroes - just caring peacemakers. Take a photo and send it to me, or post on Facebook! (Jesus and your own name are good additions!) Philippians 4 is the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi. HIs letter begins with a greeting: Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. He continues in verse 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Listen for Paul’s closing words for you: 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen (in me), and the God of peace will be with you.
April 12, 2020
Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Easter 2020 Broken and Empty: Being Resurrection
I know that the reality of our lives is one of vulnerability- all of us share that- and we certainly understand that now during the pandemic. And if you are one that fully loves and lives vulnerability then feel free to go get some coffee right now. However, if you are at all like me - one that often fights feeling vulnerable- then let's talk. I was raised in Texas. You are to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Take care of yourself. Don’t let anyone see your weaknesses. Pretend. Appearances are what matter. Put on a mask if necessary. Safety is important - so close and lock the door to others. But friends, this isn’t just a Texas phenomenon. It is our independent “you can’t tell me what to do,” American culture that teaches us this at an early age. And it infiltrates our churches. And yet, this dominant way of culture (and it is about dominance) wasn’t the way of Jesus. Now I have a long history of not welcoming vulnerability. For many years I would not even say the word vulnerability. I was fine on the streets of Hebron with snipers on the corner, but do not ask me to share my weaknesses, fears, longings, or especially, needs. It has been a long journey towards accepting the gifts of vulnerability. How about you? What does vulnerability look like in your life? Who has shown you the gifts that vulnerability can bring? Researcher, story-teller Brene Brown’s exploration of vulnerability has been helpful to me. Brown says that the myth of vulnerability is that it means weakness. Yet vulnerability actually requires us to take courageous risks of letting our true selves be deeply seen; of offering wholehearted loving, with no guarantees. Brown has come to believe that vulnerability requires three things: courage, compassion for self and others, and desire for connection: courage, compassion, connection. And no where do we see that courage, compassion, and connection better than Jesus on the cross. Church people often talk about those C and E Christians. Do you know what I mean by that? The folks that only show up on Christmas and Easter. It’s often referred to rather judgmentally. Like they ONLY come on Christmas and Easter, unlike good regular church attendees. But I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber recently speak of Jesus’ incredible vulnerability and how she felt Jesus wanted to be forever known by a cradle and a cross. Maybe C and E Christians are on to something. Maybe we should all be known as cradle and cross Christians who prioritize living Jesus’ way of vulnerability. We all know a baby, born in a manger to an unwed mom, is a place of vulnerability. But think about the vulnerability of the cross. Jesus was mocked for not saving himself. What kind of king dies like that - without putting up a fight for his life? And he certainly didn’t look like the all-powerful God they imagined calling forth a legion of angels to make things right. In this setting Jesus, God With Us, didn’t react by trying to protect his ego as others mocked him. He didn’t fight. He didn’t run. He entered into the sad reality of humanity by choosing the power of vulnerability (staying with courage, compassion, connection) even in his suffering. So what allowed him to make such a choice? Brene Brown began studying people who lived whole-hearted lives of vulnerability. She interviewed and studied thousands of people over many years, looking for patterns in people who really went “all in when it came to their relationships.” She wondered “what qualities did these people have that made them so capable of both receiving and giving love?” And her research led her to the discovery that people who lived lives of love and belonging were people who deeply believed that they were worthy of love and belonging - regardless of the circumstances they found themselves in. They didn’t believe that one day they would be worthy of love and belonging if... if they could only lose 20 pounds, keep their marriage together, get pregnant, stop saying stupid things. If they could just get and stay sober, get a promotion or raise, be a better parent, have parents that understood and approved of them... then, then they might be worthy. These folks who were living whole-hearted lives of courage, compassion and connection were people who simply knew they were worthy, regardless of what they did or didn’t do; regardless of what others thought they should do or be. Jesus was clear about his worth and belonging even when there was no outside affirmation to lean on. When he was betrayed, denied, left to die alone, Jesus held his deep sense of worthiness. Jesus showed us what it looks like to hold onto the words, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” even when others were stripping him, mocking him and casting lots for his clothes. Richard Rohr has said church people have spent too much time worshipping Jesus, and arguing about the correct form of worship, rather than following Jesus. Friends, this might sound totally crazy, but listen carefully. If we really want to follow Jesus, then our path is one of claiming, every day, in all things, that we are worthy of love and belonging. We follow Jesus when we hear the voice whispering, “this is my son, this is my daughter, in whom I am well- pleased, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. And from that deep place of worth and belonging, like Jesus, we find the courage to allow ourselves the vulnerability of whole-hearted compassion and connection. . Nadia Bolz-Weber put it this way when asked “What do Christians do in the world?”. She responded, “Christians accidentally, despite ourselves, get to be agents of mercy and grace because we’ve been cracked open (by life). Broken and healed people from which that stuff comes out.” (Stuff I would call love and grace). We live resurrection anytime we allow our hearts to be broken open, emptied of ego self, so that the spirit of love can bubble up and land where it will land on the deserving and undeserving alike. (bubbles) I’d like to share with you a video message by Walter Brueggemann: But Not Held Christians are not those who identify as perfect and good people. Those who know and follow Jesus’ way are those who know well what it is like to be vulnerable -- held by fear and anxiety; those who understand the grip of grudges and resentment, doubt and fatigue. Those whose bones know what it feels like to be held too long by too much. Christians are those that know all too well the reality of the forces of darkness hold, and yet trust deep in their souls that the power of darkness or death will never have the last word. This is why we say in this church: Love always wins. The tomb is empty. Christ has risen. And you are held - in love! This is good news worth sharing. And may it be so through the example of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen This is a good time to let loose your love bubbles - allowing them to land wherever they will!
2020 What is in a Word? Rev. Lorrie Gaffney
Luke 8:43-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians,[a] no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter[b] said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
What is in a Word?
Dawn Hutchings, known as Pastor Dawn on her blog, is a Lutheran Pastor of Holy Cross church north of Toronto. She wrote a few weeks ago about serving on the church council of her home Parish when she was 17 in the late 70’s. It was decided, for the first time, that Council members could help serve communion with the pastor. Laypeople could now pronounce the words, “The blood of Christ shed for you.” However, the Pastor told her it wasn’t the right time for her to serve as Worship assistant. Was she too young? No. It was that women were not permitted behind the altar because women were not allowed into the holy of holies in Bible times because of their monthly cycles. So only lay men could be worship assistants. It’s a blood thing. Never mind that Jesus shedding his blood has been something to regularly speak of in worship - something sacred -but for women, shedding blood required social distancing from anything sacred.
Now historically, there was a different idea about why Jewish women set themselves apart during their periods. It wasn’t that they were unclean and unworthy. It was a time that women were allowed to set aside regular workloads and gather around life’s sacredness. It was meant to be liberating for women.
But oh how words can change and change us. The word taboo originally came to western civilization from Captain Cook after visiting Tonga in 1771. However, the Polynesian word was “tapua” meaning “sacred” and “menstruation.” Originally it referred to what was to be revered, holy. Wikipedia defines taboo as: “an implicit prohibition on something (an utterance or behavior) based on a cultural sense that it is excessively repulsive or perhaps, too sacred for ordinary people.” What does the word taboo mean to you today? The meaning has certainly changed from liberating to oppressive.
My head is spinning with all that has and continues to transpire and change each day. Think about all the new words we’ve learned in the past month. Covid-19, social distancing, self-quarantine, shelter in place, flattening the curve... and more. And even the words toilet paper have new meaning in our lives!
The bleeding woman in our text today knew very well the words social distancing. She was to stay away from people and shout “unclean, unclean” as a warning to anyone coming too near. But it is another word in the text that I am grateful for Pastor Dawn calling to my attention. It was the name Jesus called the woman after she had broken protocol - not only by approaching Jesus, but also touching him. Jesus didn’t get angry or afraid. He called this outcast unclean woman, “daughter.” He gave her a “dad hug.”
Today we are asked to engage social distancing in order to stop the transmission of a deadly virus. And that makes sense. It is a caring response to protect ourselves and others. But we have to be very careful that social distancing doesn’t take on an oppressive meaning - one that dehumanizes others. Jesus is teaching us that fear and labeling of others is not the way. Jesus is teaching us that we are to call one another, “daughter, son, beloved” so that the actions that arise are those a good loving parent would offer the other.
Valerie Kaur, born into a family of Sikh farmers, is a civil rights activist, filmmaker, lawyer, faith leader and founder of Revolutionary Love Project. Kaur speaks of the practice of “see no stranger.” She encourages us to see people on the street or stores or bus and silently call them brother, sister, sibling, aunt or uncle, so that we see them as parts of ourselves - see them as family. Each person then becomes someone you imagine showing up to care about, someone to grieve with.
Now is the time to fan the flames of love. Anyone can fan flames of hate, anger or fear. Those flames easily catch and spread, causing great suffering and destruction. But fanning the flames of love is what Jesus taught and lived. It is why we choose to follow Jesus - and other great wisdom traditions that teach revolutionary love.
We will have difficult choices to make in the coming days. Choices that will require our deepest wisdom, rather than our reptilian brain fight or flight survival responses. Kaur writes:
“The blistering pace of the pandemic, the cacophony of commentary, the relentless barrage of breaking news without rest kills the root of our own wisdom, our ability to think clearly. It drives us to act on fear and panic — to hoard, to ban, to isolate, to self-protect, to act on racist impulses.
This pandemic will test who we want to be, as individuals and as a people. Will we succumb to fear and self-interest? Or will we double-down on love? Will we let social distancing isolate us? Or will we find new ways to reach out, deepen our connections, step up community care, and tend to the most vulnerable in our communities?
Is this the darkness of the tomb — or the darkness of the womb?
I believe this is a time to love without limit. This is a time to see no stranger. In doing so, we gather information for the kind of world we want, where no one is uninsured or disposable, where our policies and public institutions protect all of us.
And if panic or grief or rage seizes you suddenly, it's okay. It means you are alive to what is happening. The work is to breathe through it. It becomes a dance—to panic, then return to wisdom; to retreat then find the courage to show up with love anyway.”
Friends, what does doubling down on love look like for you these days? How might we reach out and actually deepen our connections even with social health distancing? How can we reimagine community care? I was speaking with Ruth on the phone the other day about my mom being in an assisted living that has locked the doors and allows no visitors and even requires eating in their own rooms. They are trying to protect the most vulnerable population but it is also so devastatingly isolating. Ruth responded, “What about sidewalk chalk?” Writing an encouraging message where it would be visible. Well that day, folks in my neighborhood must have thought similarly because I went for a walk and found lovely art and messages that said things like “we love our neighbors.” It is hard not to smile when you see things like that! Last week Monica said she did a zoom charades game with her family. This is a time to get creative!
We can be asking ourselves what things might form us into better, more loving human beings? What have we needed to shift, change, to slow down to better care for ourselves, our neighbors and our earth?
Arlene has shared this poem Lockdown by Richard Hendrick on our Facebook Page (see end)
Love is not for the faint-hearted. This is Lent. Look at what happened to Jesus! We won’t rush and bypass Lent... but we get through Lent by knowing in our bones what arises from the ashes. We carry the story of resurrection in us even as we wait with active hope for Easter time to arrive.
I’d like to close with a writing by Kaur on what love - revolutionary love - call us into: Consider that this was written by a woman whose long-time family friend was the first Sikh killed in a hate crime, outside his gas station, post 9/11. And Kaur later visited with the killer from his prison cell.
“Love calls us to look upon the faces of those different from us as brothers and sisters.
Love calls us to weep when their bodies are outcast, broken or destroyed.
Love calls us to speak even when our voice trembles, stand even when hate spins out of control, and stay even when the blood is fresh on the ground.
Love makes us brave. The world needs your love: the only social, political and moral force that can dismantle injustice to remake the world around us – and within us.”
“To pursue a life of revolutionary love is to walk boldly into the hot winds of the world with a saint’s eyes and a warrior’s heart – and pour our body, breath, and blood into others.”
Dear friends, love calls us to breathe and to breathe together as a community. Like any long labor we are going to take this together one deep loving breath at a time.
Breathe deeply. Engage all your senses one at a time. Go outside if you can.
Breathe in. What do you hear? Follow this with “what do you smell? “Taste?” “See?” “Feel?
Write what you are grateful for. Share your gratitude awareness with at least one other person
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighborhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbors in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Richard Hendrick March 13th 2020