Friday, November 28, 2014

All at the Table

Many of us reacted with outrage at the verdict to not indict Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO last week.  While that verdict may have been a foregone conclusion,  it still spoke to the outrage of racism in our country; not just in the outrage of African Americans who face the danger of being killed every day but of the white outrage of citizens who expect more from their government. The answer to this outrage is to hasten a change, not just in laws and policies but in the way we deal with others.  It’s not so much class warfare as it is a journey of the soul. The stories that were not shown from Ferguson teach us that there are many ways to get to the table together. Blacks and their white allies standing guard over businesses to prevent looting, and the scores of young people, black, white and brown who came in after the riots to clean the streets. You see, we can hasten what I believe is a coming change. Just as the immigration issue will be sorted out by a changing American population, so too will there be justice.

After the Ferguson verdict, there was a spate of people standing on Freeways and stopping traffic.  In Los Angeles, police arrested 131 people, after stopping up traffic for miles on the 101.  In San Diego a group of UCSD students stopped the I-5 for twenty miles before the police negotiated for them to get off (interesting that in LA they were arrested and in SD they were urged to move on).  I was interested in the commentary especially from young people, including people of color, Michael Brown’s age.  While they understood the outrage, and they understood that by only inconveniencing the status quo would change occur, they also believed it was na├»ve and hurtful to target innocent working people who were only going to work. “The people who make the laws” one young person explained “don’t drive on the freeways.”  “Besides” said another, “we are all going to get to the table someday. The rich white oligarchy will crash in the revolution of the coming generations. That is what the hunger games movies are telling us.”

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first, proclaimed Jesus. Jesus, the apocalyptic Jewish peasant who invited everyone to his table at thanksgiving realized the inevitability of balance in the cosmos.  Change occurs because empires must fall. It is in the nature of empires to topple, wrote Howard Thurman, and so it is with us here:  The Table For ALL is coming.  Maybe not in our lifetimes but it is coming.
Blessing to you this advent season,  John

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Called to Tranformation

I hesitated stepping through the door of the old temple in Mysore India.  I was twelve years old at the time, the air was hot and humid, the smell of dung and incense thick enough to almost see. I hesitated as if some unknown force was holding my shoulder; there was something very powerful beyond this door, something perhaps I did not want to see. It was so overwhelming I can feel it still.  I swallowed my fear and stepped in.  It took a few moments to adjust to the darkness of the unlit ruin.  No longer home to Brahmins and bulls but monkeys and mangrove leaves.  The carvings of Shiva, Ganesh, Sita, Rama all stared down at me.  I walk into the next room and knew before I stepped in what I would see there, and then the next, and the next, each time knowing before seeing what was beyond the corner.  I started to race through the rooms, feelings of joy and sadness, knowing each corner before I turned to it.  And then I knew it was time to get out of there.  Breathless, I stepped back into the bright sun.  I ran to find my mother.  She was outside. I tried to explain to her that I had been in this temple before, not as this boy but before.  She smiled and silently thought I needed psychiatric help. 
Perhaps I did.  Crossing that threshold moved me in several ways; the first was to confirm for me later my belief in re-incarnation.  The foreknowledge was so strong that I had to have been there before.  But my personal belief in re-incarnation is a post for another day.  Perhaps even more importantly, that earliest religious experience led me eventually to enter our ministry.  I have been following a calling to the religious life ever since; the worn wooden threshold of my first business, the oak transoms of our first house, the worn marble of my first church, the bright finish of a new door in our new church building in Frederick, MD, the familiar chalice mats of our own sacred ground here at Pacific Unitarian Church.  Crossing any threshold is an act of transformation in courage and hope.  And I am so deeply blessed to have been transformed by so many.  And I invite you into that transformation today.

My entire ministry can be summed up in that one word:  Transformation.  My calling as a minister is to transform congregations into beloved communities of hope and action.  My calling is simple.  It’s the work that takes a bit more time.  Because transformation is something we all think we need but few really want.  It’s scary and hard and dangerous. And its some of the most important work we will ever do.  How are you called to transformation?

With Grace and Grit, John

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Grace of Place

Last week I testified before the Los Angeles Port Commissioners in support of the independent port truck drivers on behalf of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (C.L.U.E.).  These drivers almost all of whom are immigrants are required to lease their trucks from the trucking firms, pay all the expenses and are paid on miles driven regardless of how long they have to wait in the port to be loaded.  The result is that they often work for less than $80 for a 12 hour day, and if "their truck" suffers a breakdown, the truckers can end up owing the trucking company money.  I testified that this is not only illegal but immoral, amounting to indentured servitude.

As I sat there in that large and well appointed council chamber, I heard trucker after trucker testify to this injustice.  And then, I heard the people of the port community testify on their behalf as well.  Everyone of them would preface their remarks with a lineage: "I am a fifth generation San Pederian, my ancestors came from Italy, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece."  It was as if those who ancestors immigrated to the port, were standing in solidarity with the next generation of immigrants who came to work hard and make a living.

I was unsure of where the Port Commissioners stood on this issue.  Finally, after the public comment period closed, the commissoners spoke.  Three of the five echoed their concern for the drivers; a bold move given that the shipping and trucking companies paid for much of the infrastructure that these commissoners depended on.

I realized that at the end of the day, it is the grace of a place that has been home to some of these families for generations that inspired the commissioners to speak out on behalf of the truckers.  While it remains to be seen if anything will change, I could feel grace abounding in that room.  Hope abides.

With Grace and Grit,  John