Sunday, December 25, 2016

[hymn rewrite] Away in a Manger

In this humble feed trough still half full of grain,
placed there by his mother, worn out from her pain,
lies Jesus Messiah his first night alive.
Through groaning and bleeding our savior arrives.

Though Mary's exhausted the baby won't sleep.
He whimpers and fusses and then starts to weep.
With weary arms Mary lifts him to her breast,
croons, "Jesus, I love you, but please let me rest."

The baby who's crying in fresh, itchy hay,
will grow up to teach us, for he is the Way.
Christ loves us and leads us and helps us to learn
to build up God's kingdom until Christ's return.

Monday, December 19, 2016

[remarks] Building Hope

Remarks delivered at the No Divide Kansas City Social Causes Benefit Concert and Fundraiser on 2016-12-18

I am here this evening on behalf of my church. We are one of the beneficiaries of this fundraiser, and we are so grateful to the organizers for reaching out to us.

We know our church name, St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, is a mouthful. But we try to say the whole thing when we can, because hope and peace aren’t just nice churchy words for us. They are our mission – building hope and proclaiming peace.

And we are so honored to be part of the diverse group of people gathered here today to share what building hope looks like, and to be one of the organizations whose hope-building work will be benefitted by this fundraiser.

One of the tasks of religion is to make meaning out of events, so I'm going to share some of my thoughts about the No Divide benefit, what it means for us to be here together, and what might happen next:

It’s freezing cold outside, friends, and I am so glad that you’ve come in from that cold to be in this place where we are creating warmth together.

So many bodies, here in this place, close together and lending each other warmth, creating warmth between us, sharing warmth and love and light.

Midwinter is a time when we build hope – now, when it’s bitter cold, when it’s dark, when it’s difficult. When most trees have lost their leaves, we notice and honor evergreens. When it’s coldest, we wrap ourselves in brightly colored fleece and light fires in our homes. And when the night is longest, we mark the solstice, and know that the nights will only grow shorter and the days longer. And against darkness and cold, we light candles.

For many of us who are religious, those candles remind us of God's presence with us in the world -- the God who makes one day's worth of oil burn for eight nights, the God who enters the world in a newborn infant, the God who is reborn at the solstice as the sun returns to us.

Here in this place, at this moment, we’ve come together to light candles of hope

I imagine some of you here today are teetering on the edge of despair. Those of you who worked hard campaigning for candidates who didn’t win, those who invested love and energy and hope in a vision that has been at the very least delayed, those of you whose livelihood and lives, whose homes and families, are immediately threatened by the promises that Trump has made.

If your candle has gone out, then look around, and borrow light from someone whose candle is still lit. If the anxiety in your head has drowned out every other voice, then I hope that this afternoon, you’ve been able to hear music alongside that fear, and that you will carry that music in your mind as you go back into the world.

If your hands are chapped and frostbitten with the cold, then I hope that you are able in this place to wrap them in the warmth of someone else’s hands.

If you are without hope right now, then look around, and listen. Feel the heartbeats of your neighbors, and see how beautiful all of us are together, many people, many colors, creating space for beauty against the cold --

If you are tired, borrow strength, and if you are hurting, borrow peace. If you're not sure that you'll be okay-- borrow certainty. And if you're sure that things won't be okay, borrow doubt.

borrow hope from the people around you, and know that we’ve come together today to build hope with each other.

Step into the warmth.

For many people who make building hope and proclaiming peace their life's work, it can be hard to balance the work of activism with -- well, with anything else. Self care, personal relationships, sleep.

So if you are here today as one of those people, I hope that the music and warmth of this day remind you of the world that you're working toward. That can be hard to remember too, caught up in the need to think strategically and the whirlwind of organizing and protesting and fundraising and rallying. That is incredibly important, necessary work, but it is also important and necessary that we hold onto the hope that drives us.

Hope is believing that tomorrow could be better than today. Sometimes it's only that -- "better than today" is the clearest vision that we can summon.

But for the long haul, for the justice movements that are actively, collaboratively building a new world, it's vital that we imagine that world as clearly as we can.

So whether the election has rekindled your zeal for activism or left you bereft of hope, whether you know the work that's in front of you or you're still finding your way, whether you've given your life to working for justice or attending this concert is the extent of your commitment -- or whether, like most of us, you're somewhere between those extremes -- let's all of us, whoever we are and however we came to be here -- imagine a tomorrow that's better than today:

It's so good that all of us are here, where it's warm and safe, where we're protected from the bitter cold and the icy streets. In the world we're working towards, everyone will be warm. No one will live on the streets, and no one's gas bill will go unpaid, and no one will have to choose between heat and food or medical bills. The warmth that we're sharing today is a foretaste of that future.

And it is so good that we are all able to gather here on a Sunday afternoon. In the world that we're working towards, everyone will have a sabbath -- a day to refrain from working, a day of rest. In the world we're working towards no one will have to work more than their body or mind can endure. No one will work two or three part time jobs just to keep afloat, and workers' health and safety will be more important than profit. As we rest together this afternoon, remembering the labor movement that brought us the weekend, we look towards a world where all weary people will be granted rest.

It is good to see so many bodies, many colors, many shapes and sizes, pressed together into one space, bodies hugging, bodies dancing. It's good to see and hear and feel this mass of bodies, to know that diversity is not abstract. And in the world we're working towards, all bodies are honored, always, treasured and respected. In the world we're working towards, people aren't killed as they walk down the street. In the world we're working towards, people are touched only when they want to be. In the world we're working towards, people choose what they do with their bodies. In the world we're working toward, people make choices about when and how they will have children, and in the world we're working towards, transgender people have access to the hormones and surgeries they need. In the world we're working towards, people have access to mental as well as physical healthcare, and there is no shame or stigma attached to either.

So as we gather here together honoring each other and the beautiful variety of bodies we come in, we imagine a world in which all choices and bodies and people are given honor and respect.

It's good to hear so many different voices singing, opera and roots, classical and psychedelic, new voices lifting up old songs and new songs being born in this space. Artists of all kinds -- musicians and painters, poets and dancers -- have the responsibility to reflect reality and to create new visions. And the sampling we've seen today is only the beginning -- a vision in its own right and a preview of a world where all people are free to create, to give form and voice, color and voice, shape and texture and reality, to the worlds they dream.

So as we listen to music today, we catch a glimpse of a future where no one has to surrender their dream because of the demands of practicality, a world where people have access to the education and resources they need. We imagine a world where all voices are cherished -- voices speaking many languages and praising many gods, honroing many heritages and singing many dreams into being.

And it is so, so good that we have all found our way to this city, just as it is good that Kansas City natives have been joined by people from Mexico and Burma, Somalia and Sudan.

So, friends, let's kindle hope bright and warm enough that it can be felt in Aleppo, hope that criss-crosses the world with peace.

It is good that people who grew up feeling isolated in rural America or stifled in the suburbs found their way to a city that welcomes them. It's good, that we've found our way here, that we've found the people who feel like family, the people who don't laugh at our genders or look away from our lovers. It's good that we've found our way home, and now it's on us to let the homelights burn for others.

Let's kindle hope bright and warm enough that it envelops scared, lonely queer teenagers from small towns in red states, that they might know that they're loved by strangers far away.

Let's kindle hope for those whose disabilities kept them home today, whose wheelchairs wouldn't navigate the slick streets, whose anxiety wouldn't permit them to venture outdoors.

It is good that all of us are here, lifelong liberals or zealous converts, committed to progress and convinced that the world is made better by people of many races and religions, every age and gender and sexuality, living across the street from each other, working side by side, sharing our stories and our music, our talents and our dreams. It is wonderful to see how many we are -- the people who are still here, the people who've been in and out this afternoon --

and in four years, in two years there must be more of us. And tomorrow, there should be more of us, because, "Diversity is valuable," shouldn't be a controversial opinion, because the freedom to say who we are and share whom we love and worship as we will shouldn't be limited in the United States, and in a nation that claims to be Christian, care for the poor and welcome of immigrants shouldn't be contested values.

So let's make hope that's clear enough and bright enough to be visible by people of every political persuasion. May the hope that you carry with you tonight be strong enough to open hearts and change minds, to call people into a coalition of movements that by its nature welcomes everyone.

Maybe you came here with hope, maybe this event has built hope in you, maybe you've borrowed hope from the person sitting next to you -- let's take the hope we've brought and built and borrowed, and stoke it into a bright, blazing promise of a better tomorrow, and carry it from this place into the winter night, into our homes and neighborhoods, into the whole wide beautiful world.