operation Streamline & Shackles

“take the shackles off my feet so i can dance… i just wanna praise You, i just wanna praise You.” Shackles, by MaryMary

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The lyrics of this song invaded my soul as I sat for the first time in the DeConcini Federal Courthouse in Tucson this week.  I was invited to go with a group of women from First United Methodist Church in Tucson, and although it wasn’t on my calendar, it had been on my heart, so I just went.  I was thinking of all the other things I could do…but there I was riding the train to the courthouse.  It was a beautiful, sunny day in Arizona…

We entered the court room, and immediately, my senses were troubled.  At the front of the room were rows of pews, not unlike what we sit on in church, and a group of men and women were already there.  The number of people was in the 70’s by my unofficial count.  Two of them were women.  The rest were men.  Except for one or two, most were young: I’d guess they were mostly in their 20’s or 30’s, though I did wonder if a few of them were teens. The mass of young people waiting to receive prison sentences was destabilizing. I first smelled the odor of bodies that had not had access to a shower or clean clothes.  And then I heard this sound.  It was a quiet tinkling with no rhythm.  I looked closer to see where it was coming from, and I saw that their feet and hands were shackled with chains.  For the whole of the time we were there, we heard the chains clinking as groups of young adults were brought before the judge.

They were there because they crossed the border illegally.  In this court, they didn’t have any other crimes to contend with, save the “crime” of “illegal entry” or “re-entry after deportation.”  They were told by the Honorable Bernardo P. Velasco that they could either enter a plea of guilty to illegal entry/re-entry, or they could reject the plea agreement and have their case go to trial.  All of them, every single one of them, decided to take the plea agreement, which was between 30 – 180 days of prison before they were deported to their countries of origin.

This matters because now they are sentenced and become “criminals.”  This is how we criminalize the immigrants among us.  This is what we do in America with peoples who are migrants.  We may have a heart for the Syrian migrants “over there” and we may even criticize other countries for not welcoming those fleeing from horrible situations; but meanwhile, in our own backyard, we are not only unwelcoming, we throw those who are asking for help into prison, and we stamp them as “criminals.” We do this to young men and to young women, and we have not even shown mercy to the young children who cross the border unaccompanied by parents.  Well…

There is, of course, the matter of illegality.  They are breaking the law.  Yes. That is true.  But that fact speaks to the insanity of our “laws” and our lack of movement around immigration reform; and our refusal to see the dirt on our own faces as we pay “under the table” for cheap labor and then throw them in prison; and our privatization of prisons that profits off, and perpetuates crazy laws to make more profit, from those who are seeking sanctuary and safety and connection with their families.  Those who are suffering. These facts are also true.

On the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, the statue of a woman with the lamp of freedom, who is called “Mother of Exiles,” is the quote from the poem written in 1883:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I will lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

I guess we have stopped believing in receiving the tired, poor, huddled masses seeking freedom and family.  I guess we decided that slavery still is ok, and that sending people en masse to prisons is just fine, and that the history of Jews being sent away on trains can be replaced with a current story of Latinos and Latinas being shipped away on buses and planes.  I guess we don’t believe in freedom and love and kindness and care for our neighbor.

In our holy scriptures, in Leviticus 19:33-34, it says:

When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them.  Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were on of your citizens.  You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land if Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”

I guess we don’t believe in that either.  We cheat them out of due process, kindness, and family.  And we treat them as criminals instead of citizens.  We don’t really care that God requires love.

We got back on the train, and it was still sunny outside, but suddenly, the world seemed shadowed and cold and heartless.

“take the shackles off my feet so i can dance…i just wanna praise You…i just wanna praise You.”

 

 

 

Peace on Earth

images 5.12.47 PM“Peace on earth, goodwill to all humanity.”  It’s a saying we know well.  It’s a place we wish to dwell.  It’s a sacred thought, and a world-wide desire.  We all want peace.

But it seems that peace is illusive this season of Advent. We continue to see more mass shootings, and we continue to have our hearts stunned in shock and grief.  San Bernardino was the latest.  I had two family members (cousins) who were either close by in a lock-down, or could have been in that very building.  It hits close to home, and it makes me stop in my zapatos.

I remember that Joseph and Mary left their hometown and traveled across the lands to register for the census when their baby was about to be born.  It might have been a dangerous trip, but they were surrounded by other travelers who were also just trying to register and then get back home.  Our own nativity story is one of being displaced, of hiding from danger, and of finding some sort of peace and goodwill to all humans…in a manger.

It was just a moment of peace.  Not a month of peace, nor an era of peace, but it was just a moment.  Mary had her baby…they found some ratty shelter, and it was better than being outdoors.  And she survived the delivery.  And so did Joseph.  And the Babe was born:   the Babe-that-would-change-the-world was born.

You could call him Prince of Peace, though he lived in a time of turmoil and chaos.  You could call him King of Kings, though his reign was not of this world.

You might just call him Savior, or Jesus, Son of God.

He came to bring peace in the middle of turmoil.

And this season of the Nativity, I am praying for Peace most of all.  It’s what I want and work for.  It’s what I preach and pray for.  It’s what will make a difference in the world we live in.

Pray with me.  Hope with me.  Work with me.  For Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Everyone!

Faith, hope, & love,…and Peace,

Dottie

 

Circuit-Driving

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I’ve thought a lot lately about my great-grandfather, Rev. George Strause, who was a Circuit Riding preacher in the Kansas and Oklahoma area back in the 1800’s.  He’s buried in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the town where my husband, Jim, grew up.  It was quite a coincidence to find out that his burial place was so close to my would-be husband’s home.  My grandma always told me that I should find a good man from Oklahoma when I went to college in Tulsa.  I used to balk at the idea….but look what happened!

I can imagine Grandpa George riding around on horseback, and then in one of the first automobiles with a rumble seat facing backwards for the kids to ride… Grandma told me some stories about the rumble seat, and how her dad preached on the “evils of the rumble seat,” where grandma and her friends were caught “making whoopee.”  Makes me smile.

Now that I’m serving as DS, I’m driving around my district and conference, and putting more miles on my car than ever before.  I’m seeing the land, and learning the town folklore stories, and seeing things from the ground up.  It is a great way to experience what is happening in the world and in the church.

I’ve noticed that the church has a central place in many locations.  And yet that center has shifted.  She is becoming the important historical marker, and the place to go for special family moments, as well as the gathering space to connect with people.  She still draws people to her sanctuaries as sacred gathering spaces.

Like at Christmas.  This time when we wait in Advent longing, for the birth of our hopes and dreams to come true,  people will gather in the sacred spaces.  The land and the people of the land all have hopes…  Hopes for peace.  Hopes for finding loved ones lost.  Hopes for meaningful work.  Hopes for any work.  Hopes for family and love and life….

I wish everyone could experience circuit-driving.  And peace on earth. And goodwill to All.  May your Advent-Christmas be the experience of dreams made real. And, oh, be careful of the rumble seat…

 

 

Oh, Ferguson, Ferguson…

The spot in the middle of the street...covered with teddy bears.

The spot in the middle of the street…covered with teddy bears. Ferguson, Mo.

by Cherie Martin

God Counts the Tears of Women                      by Cherie Martin

A few days ago I spent some time in Ferguson as they came upon the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown.  I walked the streets where Michael Brown laid for “4.5 hours.”   I saw the business district where buildings were burned and destroyed, some still showing the effects with boarded-up windows and fences, while other businesses were repaired and open to the public. I listened to the people and pastors tell their story. I heard what they experienced a year ago, how it affected them, and how hard they worked this year to make peace in their town.  The people of Ferguson have truly done good and difficult work to bring peace to their town.  And today, I am watching the news that Ferguson is reeling in pain again, and I’m thinking the people I met are praying for peace.

Jesus had a time of lament in Matthew 23.  He takes himself away from the crowds and cares of the world, and cries and agonizes over Jerusalem.  He grieves over their treatment of their prophets, over the hypocrites in the religious circles, and over the rule-keepers who forget the parts of the law that include justice, peace, and faith. And he cries out his wish to gather those who have lost their way under his wing, like a mother hen gathers her chicks.  This gathering under his wing is for a purpose:  to protect, shield, and reform… Jesus’ cry-out came from the depths of his love for Jerusalem, a town that mattered.

Ferguson matters too.  The people of Ferguson are valued and cherished in God’s eyes.  They are people of worth, with hopes and dreams, with children and grandchildren, and with an innate desire for peace.  When their town is in danger, they cry out too.

The picture above is titled, “God Counts the Tears of Women.”  My sister formed it with her strong hands and compassionate heart.  Psalm 56:8 says that God counts or collects our tears in a bottle.  There’s a whole lot I could say about that, but mainly the “bottle of tears” are signs of exteriorized love and pain.  And often the women cry out, wishing we could gather our loved ones under our wings to protect, shield, and reform…  It is intuitive in us…

Our collective hearts go out to the beloved and beautiful people of Ferguson today, and we do what we can:  tell the story, allow safe places for lament, and create avenues for peace.  And we pray.

And we hope. My hope is that all forms of racism and violence are removed from each and every person alive.  It is time for racism to die.  It is time for Love for All to win.  #weareallferguson Amen.

 

 

 

Inspired…

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I don’t think I could be more inspired.  Yesterday I attended a DreamWorks seminar with the United Methodists in the Western Jurisdiction, and I sat with my mouth open as they detailed the joy and sorrows in storytelling. I wondered if we had lost our long-practiced art of storytelling in the Church.  I remembered that our faith is grounded in our sacred stories. I wanted to learn more from the every-day storytellers, so that I could tell the best story ever.

At one point, a raw confession was expressed about the Church:  there is no experience of challenge within the Church.  Have we gone soft?  Have we given over the power of story to those who do it so well?  Have we forgotten to follow in the footsteps of the greatest storyteller that ever walked this earth?

My head and heart are full of questions and wonderings. And while I question, I am inspired to begin again.  To refine my craft of storytelling that is sometimes called “preaching.” To tell again the story of the One who loves enough to live and die for us. To tell the story of Love and ReBirth and Forgiveness and LoveAgain. To tell the story of God’s presence and why it matters. To tell the suffering, the strength, and the courage to live fully.  I’m working to be better at storytelling. I hope you’ll join me.

EASTER!!!

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The women were disbelieved by the men.  I could say a lot about that, but I won’t.  The men disciples were at best, confused.  At least they had some idea that something crazy might have happened, though their brains couldn’t comprehend it.  Peter, at least, looked at his doubts, and perhaps remembered some of Jesus’ words, and ran to the tomb.  But the real moment of understanding came when Jesus walked with two of them on a road, and then appeared to all of them in a room.  He showed them his hands and his feet so they could believe.  He explained their own scriptures, especially the parts that pointed to this very moment.  And they experienced joy beyond-belief.  That’s the kind of joy that comes when you don’t need CNN-factoids to understand.  What they knew for sure was that Jesus was here, that Jesus stomped over death, and that their worldview had taken a seismic shift.

Jesus asked those beloved women and men disciples to do one thing:  to preach a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins to the world, but starting at home.  Whoa!  Starting at home?  Really Jesus?  That means I need to forgive mama, and uppity sister, and mean cousin?  Start at home?

The good news is Jesus is alive and well, and our very own homes will go through a seismic transition from tolerance to deep binding love.  The good news is that the good news is meant for me and mine as well as for everyone else in the world.

Sometimes we still don’t believe.  But today, on this gorgeous Arizona Easter morning, I do believe! I can see my own transformation and I can see it in those I love and in those I don’t know too well. And I’m sure it matters to the world, and to me.

He has risen!  He has risen indeed!

FRIDAY – Noon to Three

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The part of Good Friday that strikes me today is how the elements responded to Jesus’ death. The curtain in the sanctuary ripped in two, and the earth shook, and the lights in the sky went out.  The darkness happened at noon, when the sun is normally bright in the sky, and the light disappeared for three hours. I can imagine the people murmuring together in fear because the sun had left their view, and I can imagine the runs to the store for candles and extra food in case this disaster lasted longer than their preparations. I can imagine the sight and smell of fear, because the sky responded with a declaration of “Lights Out!”

Today I think about that.  And a part of my soul senses that loss.  i wasn’t there, but I can feel Mary’s pain, and I can imagine the disciples’s confusion, and I can relate to fear.  So, from a distance of over 2000 years, I still recall the image of the lights going out for a long period of time.  And I wonder what our world would be like if we knew that feeling of light-lessness and if we could see, sense, smell the sorrow that changed the nature’s response to its order.

I will stop there.  There is nothing more to say today.  Except, my soul wails along with the women, the sanctuary, the earth, and the sky…