I Have a Dream – A Prophetic Speech now 50 years old.

Martin Luther King

Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous I Have A Dream speech. So often we sanitize the speech, editing it down to a few small quotes that don’t cause any discomfort or disturbance to our way of life. But there is far more to Martin Luther’s speech than that. I reflected on this on Matin Luther King Day this last January in my post Let Us Do What is Right
but wanted to remind us of this auspicious day and implications this week too.

Read through this quote and then the short liturgy that follows. Think about the places you know of where this dream is still unrealized. What can you do to change this?

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

May we dream of a world made new,

Where together we shout for justice,

And as one we fight against oppression.

May we dream of a world made new,

Where together we seek God’s righteousness

And as one we sing God’s praise.

May we dream of a world made new,

Where together we climb God’s mountain,

And as one we enter the promised land.

May we dream of a world made new,

Where together we proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom,

And as one we enjoy its peace, and abundance and love.

(Adapted from Psalm 72:1-10, & Amos 5:24)

God let your justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry

Please help those of us who are rich to be honest and fair just like you, our God.

May we who have such abundance be honest and fair with all your people, especially the poor.

Let peace and justice rule every mountain and fairness flow as a river that never runs dry.

God let your justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry

May we your people defend the poor, rescue the homeless, and crush everyone who hurts them.

May we be as helpful as rain that refreshes the ground, to those who are treated unjustly.

Let the wholeness and fairness of your kingdom live forever like the sun and the moon.

God let your justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry

Because you our God rescue the homeless and have pity on those who hurt

May we who are rich stand up for the poor and let peace abound until the moon fades to nothing.

Let God’s kingdom of justice and fairness reach from sea to sea, across all the earth.

God let your justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry

Amen. 

Are We Capable of Compassion?

Peggy and Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis At Ron Sider Roast.

Peggy and Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis At Ron Sider Roast.

Tom and I have just returned from the Evangelicals for Social Action conference Following Jesus 2013. It was a very impacting conference for both of us. At one of the panels, Lisa Sharon Harper raised the question Do we have the capacity for compassion?  Soong-Chan Rah followed it up with a discussion on the importance of lament in the the Psalms. Evidently 40% of the psalms are Psalms of lament yet less than 10% of Christian worship deals with this theme. 

Are these facts related? I think they are. Without lament there will be no compassion. Our ability to respond with compassion depends on our view of God and in part our view of God is shaped by our ability to lament, grieve and suffer with God when injustices are done either to us or others. Only a God of love can be broken hearted over the injustices and horrors of our world. Only a loving God can ache with compassion and grieve the results of sin to such a depth that no action, including the death of a beloved son, becomes too great a price to pay to overcome it.

Last week, I reread How God Changes Your Brain, which helps, at least neurologically, to explain this, The authors contend that the personality we assign to God has distinct neural paters that correlate with our emotional style of behavior.

Envisioning an authoritarian or critical entity-be it another person or God-will activate the limbic areas of the brain that generate fear and anger. Thus the brain is primed to fight. (111)

People with this world view tend to favour the death penalty, build up of military poer, punitive action towards illegal immigrants and “insist that prayer should be allowed in public schools.”

However when you perceive God as a benevolent force, a different part of the brain is stimulated in the prefrontal cortex.

Loving, compassionate images, faces, or thoughts activate a circuit that … suppresses the impulse to get angry or frightened. It also helps generate feelings of empathy towards others who are suffering or hurt.

I am not trying to reduce God to some neurological changes in our brain, but it does not surprise me that God changes us through neurological pathways. And according to this book, moving from an authoritarian to a loving God is easy.

1. One of the keys is meditation. Focusing on God as love, God as compassion, God as grieving and broken hearted. These images can literally change our minds. Simply focusing on compassion of an image of peace as we breathe deeply and relax, holding this thought for at least twelve minutes a day, builds and strengthens our neural circuits of compassion in a matter of months.

2. A second key is optimism, or perhaps for Christians, gratitude.  Gratitude, thankfulness, being able to see the goodness of God in the midst of awful situation, believing that God is at work, comforting, caring renewing and looking for those signs makes a huge difference in our own ability to respond with love and compassion to those around us.

3.Listening and dialoguing with others. When we do not interact with the poor, the unjustly treated, the abandoned and the marginalized, it is easy for us to ignore their plight. Speaking creates and changes neural pathways. Dialogue can literally change our brains. The more we talk about peace, harmony, justice and abundance for all, the more we imagine these possibilities as realities, the more our brains are changed to believe the seemingly impossible is possible.

4. Faith. In How God Changes Your Brain, the authors suggest that the number one way to change our brains and our behavior, is though faith. Trusting our beliefs, thinking positively about our God of love, decreases stress, improves health outcomes, an improves our ability to cope with difficult situations. “Faith is essential for maintaining a healthy brain. ” affirm the authors – not something that should surprise those of us who are Christians.

But it is what we believe that really impacts our responses. I will finish this post with a prayer that you too might like to pray – and maybe meditate on the strengthen some of those neurological pathways. On the way home in the plane last night I wrote the following prayer – to remind myself of what kind of a God I believe in and why compassionate, loving responses are always necessary.

I believe in a broken hearted God.
Pain sharer, sin bearer, justice carer.
I believe in a love centred God.
Redeemer, reconciler, renewer,
The restorer of all the broken pieces of our universe.
I believe in the God of life,
Justice bringer, peace maker, abundance provider,
For this is the image in which we are being remade.
Amen

 

 

What Do We Give Thanks For?

Today I give thanks

Today I give thanks @Christine Sine

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving, a tradition that I have embraced with great enthusiasm since I have lived in the U.S. I have already posted a Thanksgiving – Harvest prayer for 2012 and decided there is really no need for another. Yesterday when I posted the above prayer on Light for the Journey’s Facebook page, one of my friends responded:

I want to be able to feel warmed by those words.I want to find faith and hope – right now I can’t! They don’t fit some of us in the UK- for today is really tough and full of pain for those of us who are female priests in the Church of England, and are facing yesterday’s grim decision that our gender still cannot be Bishops. I was in the first wave of women to be ordained as a priests over here.

It made me realize that even in our thanks and gratitude we live in the tension of God’s kingdom now and not yet. The glimpses of God’s kingdom that fill us with awe and wonder, that bring us to our knees with shouts of praise and gratitude are unfortunately just that, glimpses of a world that we desperately long for but do not yet see fully realized. The pain of my sisters in the U.K. who are so devastated by the General Synod no vote to women bishops is my pain. Oppression in Syria, Israel, Columbia, and North Korea oppresses my soul. The environmental degradation that devastates rainforests in Brazil, contributes to the destruction of hurricane Sandy, and wipes out species in Africa, these degrade my spirit.

Our celebrations at thanksgiving. Our gratitude and praise to God for the many blessings we see in our lives should not blind us to the suffering of others. In fact it should inspire us with the desire to see others rejoice and celebrate in the same ways that we can.

So my question for all of us at this season is What are we doing to bring thanksgiving and gratitude into the lives of those who are suffering, oppressed or marginalized? 

For more Thanksgiving prayers check out these from the last few years:

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2011

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2010

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2009

A Franciscan Blessing

Worship station at Soularize 2005

Worship station at Soularize 2005

Tom and I head off to Wild Goose West tomorrow morning so it seems fitting to share this beautiful prayer that I was given at the last festival we attended – The Creative World Festival in Mission B.C.

A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy
And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.

Amen

The Creative World Festival Was Great Fun

Aaron Strumpel on the mainstage

Aaron Strumpel on the mainstage

Tom and I and our MSA intern Chris Holcomb have just returned from the Creative World Festival in Mission British Columbia. It was a great opportunity to renew friendships with some of our Canadian friends and collaborators and to begin some new friendships as well.

I love getting together with friends

I love getting together with friends

Such a great group of people – grassroots advocates for God’s concerns for justice and reconciliation. Great music by Aaron Strumpel, great poetry by Joel  McKerrow and lots to think about from Pete Rollins and all the speakers.

Aaron Strumpel and Joel McKerrow at Creative World Festival

Aaron Strumpel and Joel McKerrow at Creative World Festival

There was a particular focus on concerns for aboriginal people in Canada. My heart ached to hear about the thousands of missing and/or murdered women who have disappeared with little or no public outcry. And I wept to hear stories of the atrocities that have been carried out against aboriginal children in many countries who were stolen from their families and moved into residential schools. Many of them never saw their families again.

Praying for the missing, murdered and stolen ones

Praying for the missing, murdered and stolen ones

In justice comes in so many forms and I so appreciate those who keep us aware of these important issues and challenge us to respond.

Have We Settled For Cheap Faith?

Death to the World

This morning in my post The Ugly Tomato, I included a link to a post that I did on Cheap Faith a few years ago. I have been thinking about that ever since and decided that I would update and republish it. Part of the reason for this is that I am struggling because more and more speaking invites expect us to work for free. The real cost of a conference or event is not really taken into account. And Christians don’t want to have to pay the full cost. Yet I know that in the secular world people expect to pay much more because they know and accept what it costs to put on a conference.

MSA has not held a large conference in the last few years mainly because of some of these concerns. We have always liked to start planning a conference by asking “What are God’s kingdom values we want to represent at this gathering?” It is often an uncomfortable conversation, hopefully not just for us but for everyone who is involved.

In all that we do, I grapple with how to provide resources, technology and events within the constraints of a limited budget. I struggle with how to live and operate our ministry sustainably without jeopardizing our concern for the environment and for the poor.  Fair-traded tea and coffee is more expensive than regular coffee.  Lunches from Fairstart that provides jobs for the homeless are more expensive than the local supermarket that only pays workers minimum wages. Environmental concerns create even more constraints as we struggle to reduce waste & provide environmentally friendly alternatives.  How do we bring in speakers and participants from around the world in fuel guzzling aeroplanes and still show respect for the environment?

I love the way Shane Claiborne approaches some of these concerns.  Whenever he travels he gets people to commit to reduce their fuel consumption in compensation for the additional fuel he is using by flying.  Not easy but I think it is a great way to show how seriously we take these issues.  Or maybe we should all cut back our fuel consumption for a month beforehand to compensate. Maybe we should hold more local events that don’t require a lot of travel or expensive accommodation and encourage us to cooperate with each other in what do.

Not easy but why should I expect it to be easy?  It is never easy to choose deliberately to live by God’s kingdom values in all our actions.  Unfortunately we live in a world that wants everything especially food, clothing, household goods and technology at bargain prices but, at what cost to the poor and the environment?  For us to have access to bargain priced food, technology and resources often means that those who produce and sell our goods are not paid a living wage.  Our bargain goods often are produced in conditions that devastate the environment and add to our polluted air.

What concerns me most is that our obsession with bargains extends to our faith as well.  We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change.

It is not surprising that in a culture like ours, few people practice fasting and self-sacrifice during Lent anymore.  Deliberately walking with Christ towards the Cross never comes at bargain prices, it is very costly.  In fact it demands our whole lives but it is absolutely necessary if we want to become the disciples God intends us to be.  It means recognizing that the true self is made in the image of God and reflects the characteristics that are true to Gods image love and compassion, concern for justice for the poor and freedom from oppression…considering the needs of others as more important than my own.

I think many will get a shock when they enter the kingdom of God.  It will be a real cross-cultural experience for them because the bargain price values they have lived by will be totally worthless.  Fortunately, Gods spirit continues to work within all of us enabling us to confront the false self and its cheap values.  It constantly breaks down the barriers that distort our ability to lead a life that is fully integrated with God and Gods ways.

The question I find myself asking this morning is “Where do I still go after a bargain and sacrifice God’s values as a consequence?”  Maybe you would like to ask the same question.  Where is the spirit of God nudging you to change so that your false self will be transformed into the true self that reflects the glory of God?

The Ugly Tomato

Yesterday I received notice from our friends at Soulsby Farm of their upcoming Ugly Tomato contest. It sounds like fun and I look forward to seeing the entries though unfortunately I am not sure that my own tomatoes will be ripe enough by the end of August for any photos at all. This is definitely shaping up to be an ugly tomato season here in Seattle, though I must confess I usually think that about this time of the year and am usually pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately there are other ugly aspects to tomatoes I have been learning about this week that are not quite so much fun. Like this story that International Justice Mission shared in their Recipe for Change newsletter this week.

Mariano’s Story

Thanksgiving week of 2007, Mariano punched his way through the ventilation hatch in the ceiling of a box truck in the farming town of Immokalee, Florida. He and his co-workers were held against their will for more than two years, violently forced to labor in Florida and South Carolina tomato fields, and padlocked into the windowless box truck at night. One worker was chained to a post by his employers, the Navarretes. That day during Thanksgiving week, after escaping, Mariano found a ladder and went back to help his friends get out. Read more here

It is hard for many of us to accept that slavery occurs in our own backyard. Yet it does and all of us can make a difference just by deciding where to shop and what to buy.

Today the nation’s largest retailers in the fast-food and food-service sectors have joined the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a joint effort with farmworkers and Florida’s largest tomato growers to confront slavery and other abuses on Florida’s tomato farms. Chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, McDonald’s and Subway have agreed to buy Florida tomatoes only from suppliers that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, designed to protect workers’ basic rights. We’re calling on Publix, Kroger and Ahold to join too!

Unfortunately it is not just the tomato industry that takes advantage of workers. As we shop at farmers’ markets and fair trade stores we realize the true cost of our food and consumer goods – if all those who produced what we eat were paid a fair wage. Christians should be at the forefront of movements like this that raise concerns about how we treat the disant neighbours who produce our food.

My biggest concern is that we look for the same cheapness regardless of the costs to others when we view our faith. Several years ago I wrote about this in Cheap Faith? 

We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change. Read more 

So what do you think? How does our quest for the easy life with cheap food, cheap clothes and cheap living extend to our faith and impact our values?