Encountering and Serving Christ Present in All Creation

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-pzrhw-845ef9

karen-richardson-dunn-bcbs-grant-news.pn

 As the roads clear from snow and ice here in the south-land, with folk trading in hoodies and mittens for lighter clothes as things thaw after our winter storm, our monthly Progressive Redneck Preacher podcast highlights the voice of a fellow southerner who has thought deeply about our relationship with nature, Rev. Karen Richardson Dunn.

Karen Richardson Dunn is an ordained minister with the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ, and the facilitator for the conference’s Creation Justice Network. She is also the forward-planning program coordinator for the Wake Forest University School of Divinity Food, Health and Ecological Well-Being Program. She lives in Asheville, NC, where she enjoys Creation in abundance.

In this month’s podcast, we talk about the call to care for God’s earth, the many ways we can recognize all creation as bearing the image of Christ, and the many exciting things she and others are doing here in the south-land to work to keep God’s good earth green.

For more information on Rev. Richardson Dunn’s ministry and opportunities to explore creation justice, check out  https://www.soc-ucc.org/soc-ministries/

Thanks for joining us at the family table yet again. Y’all come back now, ya here?

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Advertisements

Christ and Criminal Justice Reform

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-v9dn5-81405d

 

In our most recent podcast, we speak with Rev. Angela Roberson about her work surrounding race, criminal justice reform, and the example of Christ who was targetted, mistreated, and ultimately executed by the criminal justice system of our day.    I hope her words challenge and inspire you as they did me, as we confront with how to work to bring justice and mercy into these systems of oppression in our time.

Finding Your Heart Song: Charles Pettee and Folk Psalm

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-pnnbn-7dd0b2

charles pettee

As we end Thanksgiving, a season traditionally set to celebrate harvest time, and turn toward Advent, I am excited to share a podcast interviewing  bluegrass, folk, and Americana musician Charles Pettee, about his “Folk Psalms” project.  In Folk Psalms the Biblical psalms are re-cast in the style of bluegrass music and  language of average working people.  These songs are not only delightful to listen to but also rooted in deep theological reflection on the connection between the spiritual life and  both the struggles of ordinary people and especially the land.  In addition to discussing these connection, Charles gives us a listen to some of his favorite FolkPsalms.

Catch our newest podcast and earlier podcasts  at: https://progressiveredneckpreacher.podbean.com

Keep posted on our podcast, on iTunesTwitterfacebook, and our blog for further podcast!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

A Week in the Word: Confronting Roots of Abuse in Evangelicalism

One of the big pieces of news in the south-land right now is the wave of accusations of Roy Moore, an evangelical leader running for Jeff Session’s Senate seat in Alabama. I thought it would be to share some thoughtful words about something many people are often puzzled about it: How is it many evangelicals who flock to figures like Roy for their commitment to memorials to the 10 commandments and claims of defending traditional family values, are willing to look the other way about his and even President Trump’s history of young women coming forward saying they have been sexually harassed or assaulted?

A recent article in the LA TIMES puts it well:  http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-brightbill-roy-moore-evangelical-culture-20171110-story.html

I found this article very helpful in exploring why.   Such events challenge us to continue to lift up our voice about the way in which Micah 6:8 challenges us that as people of faith we cannot claim to walk humbly with God while doing injustice to either children or victims of oppression, and while not acting with mercy or compassion to them.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

 

Rising from the Ashes of Abuse and Discrimination

https://progressiveredneckpreacher.podbean.com/

Just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, traditionally “Halloween”, and the last night of Domestic Violence Awareness month, is our newest podcast interview. You can access this and other podcasts at https://progressiveredneckpreacher.podbean.com/  In this interview we talk with Rev. Dian Jackson Davis, pastor of Mt. Zion United Church of Christ and author of The Phoenix – Rising from the Ashes, a novel about the experience of a woman overcoming the odds against abuse, racism, sexism, and embracing her life again. In her normal courageous way, Rev. Jackson Davis explores these issues and the many others often deemed as too “scary” to take head on in ministry.

Daily Devotional: Praying Truly and Living Faithfully

Some years ago I did a series on the Lord’s Prayer.  I think this prayer focuses on the heart of our faith and call to do justice, so I am sharing these thoughts again to help ground us in the trying times we are in.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

JN931 Our Father (The Lord's Prayer)

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

 

Today I want to focus on the last word of this prayer “Amen”.

amen 1I can’t speak for you, but growing up “Amen” is a word I learned to say at the end of prayer, with little thought for what it means.  Saying “Amen” felt like signing “sincerely” or “yours truly” at the end of a letter.  If I had grown up in the day of cell phones, I think “Amen” would have felt like pushing the “end” button on a call.

I think as we come to the end of reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer and prayers that have pulled us through, it is important to take a moment and reflect on what we are saying when we say “Amen”.

Amen is the transliteration of a Hebrew and Aramaic word that in other forms is often rendered “truly”, “faithfully”, and “securely”.   Its basic meaning is “so be it”, or “let it be”.

The fact Amen is related to words rendered “truly,” “faithfully,” and “securely” suggests to me that in our saying of amen we are making a claim, even if only in hope.  The claim is that in our praying we are being true, faithful, and secure.

amen 2On the one hand we are being true and faithful to ourselves, so that the words we speak are a true reflection of who we are.  This is an interesting thing for me to consider.  Growing up in the tradition I grew up in within Adventistism and coming to faith for myself among evangelicals, there was a big emphasis on speaking to God from the heart, just as you would a friend.   For me, learning to do that was freeing.   I didn’t need to worry about fancy language, big theology, or getting things right.  God knew my heart and knew me.  God would accept whatever I needed to say.  What God sought was my authentic self.

I still think there is some wisdom to this approach to prayer, even if it is not exactly what my prayer life always looks like anymore.  If you read the model prayers of the psalms carefully you will see they show the full range of human emotion – joy, sorrow, belief, doubt, anger, rage, vengeance, love.  Though the psalms themselves are beautiful works of poetry they do not shy away from what often looks and feels like the uglier sides of who we are.

I was speaking with someone recently who shared, a spiritual but not religious person I’d met, about their uncomfortability with the communities focused on spirituality around her.  “It feels like they are trying to appear more together than they are, and just using spirituality to avoid their own less pleasant emotions”.   That is not just true in her community of spirituality, but true all over.   In Christian circles it is easy to overlook the lesson of the Psalms and this call to be true and faithful to ourselves in prayer and present ourselves through prayer in ways that are escapist, leaping outside ourselves beyond our amen 3experience of pain, rather than truly bringing our pain or even our temptation directly to God, just as it is.  The example of extemporaneous prayer from the heart is one way we free ourselves to do this type of making space for uncomfortable emotions in our spirituality.  For, as I wrote about earlier, when we suppress those emotions they do not go away but simply take on lives of their own which, like the wild beasts of the wilderness and the Tempting Enemy of the desert which Jesus confronts, can trip us up.

This way of hearing “amen” can make it not seem to fit in a pre-written prayer like the prayer Jesus teaches us here.   But we can pray such a prayer truthfully and faithfully.

In fact, I have grown in the last few years to appreciate the way in which praying the ancient words of others, especially as a part of my mindfulness practice of Christian meditation, can be an aid to truly making space for sides of my life and experience I can then offer to God which I otherwise would not.   The model used to teach extemporaneous amen 4“prayers of the heart” which I learned in Adventistism and evangelicalism was to speak to God as a friend.  But in reality, do I really open up about all of who I am with friends?  I might do this with my therapist, perhaps, but I know there are aspects of my life my friend might not find interesting.  There is a heartache too heavy for them to bear.  And there are things I don’t want to think about, from which my conversation with them even then can be an escape.

The prayers spoken by others in the history of our faiths, such as this Lord’s Prayer, can push us to make room for aspects of our lives we can face into and offer to God we would not think to share on our own.  I know, for me, the prayer each Sunday we do at United Church confessing our failures and frailties often lead me in the moment of silence that follows to think about, face into, and offer to God parts of myself I did not realize until saying such words I had been working hard to avoid facing all week.    So pre-written prayers which have guided others in their spiritual life can also lead us to more truly pray, if they open us to face sides of our hearts, lives, and world we have not been facing so we can offer those to God.
Another way in which we can pray faithfully such prayers is letting such prayers shape us.   It is said that Pope Francis one quipped that we pray for the hurting, then we help them.  That is how prayer works.  Such a simple yet profound truth!   When we pray, it is not just about wishing for things to happen to us, others, and our world.  It is about us being changed by the encounter, so that we begin to change how we look at and engage both our inner worlds and the world in which we live.

For example, truly praying the Lord’s Prayer means not just repeating empty words but also beginning to become mindful of the concerns it lifts up.  So I cannot pray it truly without becoming aware of my need to be a part of the “us” it continually mentions, to see myself as not just the atomistic pulling-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps Western culture particularly here in America teaches me to see myself, but instead to see myself as a part of this wider community in which I find myself.     I cannot pray truly this prayer until I let myself embrace the call to be a partner in building the shalom, the peace which flows from wholeness within and in my web of relationships, about which Jesus’s language of Kingdom speaks.  To truly, faithfully, pray this prayer may not be to perfectly express it, but it certainly is to allow it transform us.

amen 5In this way praying is not just asking for things for me, others, and the world.  It is not just venting my concerns to God as a friend.  It must also become a practice of mindfulness, in which I allow myself to become more fully aware of myself, God, and my world while also allowing the words of my prayer to cause me to encounter all of these in new ways.

This leads to the final significance I can see this morning to the word “Amen”.  Amen means “so be it”, or “let it be”.  At first glance, this makes it sound like some magic incantation.  “God, make what I want and ask for happen for me”.  Kind of a hocus-pocus, abracadabra for our magic spell.

Clearly, if that is what prayer is for, it doesn’t work.

But if prayer is about repositioning us and our relationship to our inner and outer worlds as I suggested above, “so be it” or “let it be” can be something else.  It can be agreeing to partner with God in the work God is doing to birth the reality we are brought in touch with through our prayers.

One of my favorite saints, preachers, and activists, the late Walter Rauschenbusch, oft said “the kingdom is always but coming”, speaking of the reality we pray to be brought into this world in the Lord’s Prayer.  He suggested that we people of faith have a calling to partner with God in working to bring this social reality into our world, into pushing down oppression and building up the community around us so it becomes life-giving.

To say “Amen” is to commit to partner with God as God is always, ever, at work to do what this prayer pictures – to repair the web of life, to birth shalom, to bringing healing in relationships, in lives, in God’s earth.

pray for workYou see, as Pope Francis suggested, to pray is also to commit to be one who shares a part in that prayer being answered.  This is as true for prayers of healing in our inner worlds, which though only possible through the grace present in the universe which Christians call “the love of God” but other faiths know by other names.  Sure.  But it also is only possible as we do our part, doing the work that brings healing.

Similarly as we face broken relationships, hungry people, people without health care, those facing oppression, and the systemic destruction of the web of life upon our planet, we must if we pray God’s kingdom to come in this place, both trust that grace will be present to make our work possible while also taking up that cause.

Let us be the “Yes” to the world’s prayer.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Pain Not as Enemy but Teacher on Life’s Journey

Some years ago I did a series on the Lord’s Prayer.  I think this prayer focuses on the heart of our faith and call to do justice, so I am sharing these thoughts again to help ground us in the trying times we are in.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah
Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:
“Our Father,
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Today I want to focus on “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.
When I hear this prayer I cannot help but think “what is evil?”

Often in the face of loss, trauma, and pain, it is easy to identify these painful experiences with evil. The childlike part of ourselves that continues, behind the scenes, in our psyche even into adulthood still can react to pain as if such pain itself is evil. As children, we often come to associate pain with evil, for we are told it is “bad” to touch the stove for it might hurt us and many of us had punishments like spankings that caused physical pain growing up.
Yet most spiritual teachers and those who embark on a spiritual path of any type eventually conclude pain need not be viewed as an enemy. It can even become a kind of friend on our journey.
Notice what St. Paul says in Romans 5:
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Jesus seems to share a similar sentiment when John records Jesus as saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).
Richard Rohr, writing of suffering, says:
“It is not that suffering or failure might happen, or that it will only happen to you if you are bad (which is what religious people often think), or that it will happen to the unfortunate, or to a few in other places, or that you can somehow by cleverness or righteousness avoid it. No, it will happen, and to you! Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences—all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey.” (in Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life).
He goes on to talk of how suffering can actually, when approached using the resources a spiritual life can give us, open us up more fully to life:

suffering as teacher2

“Until we walk with despair, and still have hope, we will not know that our hope was not just hope in ourselves, in our own successes, in our power to make a difference, in our image of what perfection should be. We need hope from a much deeper Source. We need a hope larger than ourselves. Until we walk with personal issues of despair, we will never uncover the Real Hope on the other side of that despair. Until we allow the crash and crush of our images, we will never discover the Real Life beyond what only seems like death. Remember, death is an imaginary loss of an imaginary self, that is going to pass anyway.” (in Near Occasions of Grace).
As Rohr, Jesus, and Paul all point out, to live in this world is to live open to suffering. There is not a person that can bypass this experience of loss and pain. Every one will experience deep wounding in their lives. The question is not if we will suffer but how we will engage our suffering.
Evil, on the other hand, which we all will also experience, is something we can choose to participate with in greater or lesser ways. In Christian spirituality at least evil exists on a personal and communal level. The path of holiness is described throughout Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Scriptures all has having a similar shape to what is described in Micah 6:8’s summary of holy living:
“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 The Holy one has told you, O mortal, 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?”

micah 6 8
Holiness is a life of loving kindness, of justice, and of humble connection with God, self, others, and our world. Lovingkindness, mercy, or compassion (depending on your rendering of Micah’s words) is this commitment to treat others around you with a sensitivity, compassion, and respect that recognizes others are valuable. To use the imagery of the New Testament, they are precious children of the same Creator who made the worlds and spoke over Jesus “this is my child, whom I love, in whom I am well-pleased”. It is recognizing that each person we encounter is so viewed by our Creator and ought to be viewed so by us. There is not a person we encounter who does not have this sacred worth, whom if we take the time to truly know and connect with will not shine with a limitless glory, beauty, and potential. To treat each human life with such honor, respect, and value – where we see their feelings, needs, points of view, as of equal worth to our own and to those society deems as “great” and “important”.

I would add, listening to our Native American, Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu brothers and sisters who teach us to value the sacredness of the earth, the life of other living creatures, that you know we ought to also learn to exercise lovingkindness toward nature itself – to the earth, the seas and rivers, the skies, the plants and animals around us. In the Christian Scriptures we are told ultimately the earth is the Lord’s, and that God’s presence can be uniquely seen in the thunder of the skies, the crash of waves, the towering cedars, the cry of birds, the hunting of the wolves, and the playing of the massive sea creatures in the ocean. We must learn from these brothers and sisters in other faiths in our spiritual journey to learn to exercise compassion, lovingkindness, and respect for all of life. Too often as Christians we’ve wedded language of “dominate” and “rule” toward nature more with the colonial, imperialistic mindset of ancient Rome, imperial powers in Europe, and capitalist materialism than with its original context: our call to be gardeners, caretakers, of a world that is not our own but rather God’s creation of great beauty.

Jesus Redeemer of All Creation
Ultimately our failure to see the breadth and this message has led us to the brink of ecological collapse. The example of our Buddhist brothers and sisters who often refuse meat and, like Christian saint Francis of Assisi, are taught to be gentle to even the smallest plants and animals, calls us back to the wider ethic of Scripture, messages we have overlooked, about our role being caretakers not exploiters of creation. The example of Native Americans, Hindus, and Jains who see other living things not as commodities to be used and exploited but as brothers and sisters together with us in this spiritual journey with lessons to teach us and a spiritual life of their own, invites us to see afresh Scriptures like Psalm 104 which put us not on top of some food chain but rather in the midst of community of creation in which the life of the birds in the sky, the creatures of the sea, the wild deer and wolves of the forests and hills, are of equal value to God as our own. In this Psalm God delights not in our dominance over other forms of life but are finding a harmonious place within it.
For many of us, though, exercising such lovingkindness toward other people and other living things comes through learning to work through the traumas, the shaming, the guilting, of our backgrounds so that we see ourselves as the Christian Scriptures say God always and ever sees us – as, like Jesus, children of God who, before and beside anything we can do right or wrong, are beloved and in whom the Creator delights and is well pleased simply for who we are. One goal of the spiritual life is to learn to lay aside the damage that teaches us we are too much or too little – too smart or too dumb, too strong or too vulnerable, too masculine or too feminine, too queer or too straight, and so on – to be of worth. To embrace instead our own intrinsic worth.
In many Eastern faiths a beautiful practice called lovingkindness or self-compassion meditation is often used to re-awaken this self-compassion which makes compassion toward other people and other living creatures, even the earth itself, possible. In Christianity we also can engage in prayer, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude practices, journaling, aimed at awakening this same awareness – and should! For learning to love ourselves enables us to love others.

talmud quote
The justice which is at the heart of spirituality here is as Martin Luther King Jr. says: ““Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” One could also that justice is what love looks like when put to action in our relationships.
And so to do justice is to work to resist and remove systems that oppress, abuse, destroy, and harm ourselves, other people, and other living creatures (even the earth itself). In every aspect of our lives – in our workplaces, our schools, in our nations and towns, even in our families – there exist patterns that scapegoat others, push out those viewed as “not worthy”, that abuse or exploit someone or some part of nature. These patterns and systems dishonor the true sacredness of the lives of others, of nature, of ourselves.
The spiritual life is this humble walking in connection with God as found in our own inner life, in connection with other people, and in connection with the life found in nature and other living things.
Evil is that which both on personal levels in our attitudes and actions, as well as in systems and patterns in our families, schools, work places, communities, neighborhoods, cities, nations, and the world at large overlooks or dishonors the sacredness of other people, ourselves, and other living things and which so excludes, oppressed, abuses, and exploits such ones.
The interesting thing when we consider our experience of suffering is when evil and holiness are viewed in such a way, one can see how when we embrace our suffering not as an enemy but as a teacher on our spiritual journey in the ways in which St. Paul, Richard Rohr, and Jesus seem to treat it, how much sense this begins to make. Since whether choose the path of compassion all our spiritual paths teach is holiness or the path of self-interest and indifference all our spiritual paths teach is evil, I will suffer either way, I can choose to pay attention to my own pain and let it open me up to what their suffering is life in the lives of the people around me and even in the experience of other living things.
If I do that my experience of suffering truly can be my best teacher. For as I endure the inevitable pains of life I am being given an education that can help me learn how to be mindful of others’ pains, sorrows, and joys.
This in fact is the Christian message on suffering. As 2 Corinthians says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.”

beloved (1)
Such insight is not unique to the Christian faith. When asked how he could respond to the Chinese people with such understanding and compassion in light of how they had historically abused, exploited, persecuted, and pushed out the Tibetan Buddhists to whom he was responsible as spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama once said that in his practice of meditation, he pays attention to his own experience of suffering, using it to understand his people’s suffering, and then meditates on the suffering of the Chinese people. As he does so, he says it enables him to transform his pain not into vengeful rage but into a deep identification with their unique experience of pain which is not unlike his own, an identification that is the birthplace of a compassion for them.
Let us hear the call of this prayer, to embrace each experience without judging it as evil or good even if is painful but instead as something which can teach us. For all we experience and each person or living thing we encounter, including this living world on which we live, can if we let it be another shining light on our path to living with lovingkindness and compassion, justice, and humble walking with God.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah