More Than a Little Chaos

When I am among the trees, / especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally beech, the oaks and the pines, / they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself, / in which I have goodness, and                    discernment,
and never hurry through the world / but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves / and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, / “and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled / with light, and to shine.”

“When I am Among the Trees” by Mary Oliver

There is more than a little chaos in the world right now. We experience this chaos in all the distractions that separate us from our best and most authentic selves. It is whatever divides us, diminishes us, demeans us. And there are all kinds of chaos pulling us this way and that with loud and ungracious voices, battering us with anger and fear and badgering us with pain and grief. There are all kinds of chaos that would hold us captive, keep us up at night, and refuse to let us sink into that powerful Love that longs to set each one of us free.

And so, at some point, we intentionally have to step away from the chaos. We have to trust – as hard as it may be – that there is a robust source of Hope that lies beneath the chaos and calls to us, reminding us that a deep sense of Peace and connectedness are possible. When I remember this – and when I manage to step out of the chaos, even for a moment – I am able to exhale. I am able to release my semblance of tight control and rest in the comforting and inspiring presence of God. I am able to remember – like the poet reminds us – that God does, indeed, call each one of us to go easy into the world, to be filled with light, and to shine.

Even as we wrestle with the chaos, we are not alone. As heavy as the world may feel, it is not ours alone to lift. And as we go to the polls in the coming days to vest some of our peers with the authority to make decisions for the common good and to reign in some of the chaos, we do so as part of a much larger community, as members of God’s beautiful, beloved, and diverse family. I truly believe that as we work together, speak up for Justice, and support one another on our spiritual journeys, powerful and amazingly good things will happen.

See you in church,

Take Heart. . . Get Up. . .

From Mark 10:46-52

     Do you remember the picture? The famous picture of Nazis burning books?
     You may not have ever thought about the specific significance of that picture . . . about the specific books being burned. Like me, you may find the whole idea of burning books—any books—horrific. But the specific content of this particular image came back to me this week. The image shows Nazi-aligned vigilantes (not just government agents) destroying the library of Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science. Hirschfeld was the founder of modern transgender theory, and his displaced students are the ones who founded transgender advocacy in the United States. When the Nazis destroyed this library, they destroyed the first central hub of transgender advocacy in the world. This loss is not a mere inconvenience. Parts of that library can never be replaced.
In the 1910s, Earl Lind read one of the books from that library and wrote for a feminist magazine that mothers ought to raise their trans children according to their endorsed gender. Over one hundred years ago there was a movement to normalize trans people! It was based on scientific study and the assertion that the policies of a just society should be based on sound evidence . . . and sound evidence showed that gender variance was perfectly natural and perfectly healthy. . . . That movement is what was displaced when Nazis stormed the library and burned all the books they found.
So, early this week, as the current administration ramps up its efforts to suppress queer presence and to legislate trans people out of existence, I thought about this picture. And I thought about all that we lose when bigotry and fear assume any amount of power. . . .
But that was not the only piece of devastating news this week. . . . Then we had the MAGA Bomber—the current administration’s home-cooked domestic terrorist. And the white supremacist who shot and killed 2 black grandparents in a Kentucky Kroger. And the ongoing migrant caravan of people searching desperately for safety and hope for their families. And then the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre yesterday. . . .
HOW?! I wondered are we supposed to “take heart and get up” with all this chaos going on?! . . . But I had already titled my sermon. And so, I was left to wrestle with what it means to “take heart and get up” when we are faced with spiritual rot and senseless violence.
     “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” This is what the disciples say to the blind Bartimaeus after Jesus has called him. And Bartimaeus doesn’t waste any time. He wants some of that goodness. That grace. He’s had enough of the difficulty and trials—the spiritual rot and the senseless violence. He wants out of the prison that he had created for himself AND the prison imposed on him by others. He knows there has to be another way. So, he comes. With faith. And his faith makes him well.
     You remember, don’t you, that “we—without God—can not. And God—without us—will not.” In other words, we have to be significantly invested in the changes we want and need to see. God will not heal our social ills without our help. And we cannot create that needed change without the spiritual and moral grounding God provides. “We—without God—can not. And God—without us—will not.” Bartimeaus knew that. And so must we.
     My favorite writer, Annie Dillard, says, “I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.” That is what Bartimaus does. He puts himself in the path of light, and lets it wash over him and fill him and sustain him. . . . He trusts that light. He has faith that the light can nurture him and heal him. And it does. He doesn’t have to DO anything to merit it. He just has to BE. It is grace. Even in the midst of hardship. This is what I think it means to “take heart.”
     And even as we take heart, we also have to get up. There is a teaching from the Jewish Talmud that advises, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. This, I believe, speaks directly to us today.
  • How do we place ourselves in the path of God’s light?
  • And how do we pick up the work that is ours to do?
  • How can we refocus our attention away from the depressing, paralyzing news we hear and toward ways we can become part of God’s life-giving activity in the world?
      My hope and inspiration came in an article I read this week in the Washington Post. The headline read “Mexicans Shower the Caravan with Kindness—and Tarps, Tortillas, and Medicine.” While bigoted rumors fly about the threat of these desperate people and who is “financing” their migration from Central America through Mexico, the article talks about how residents of many small, impoverished Mexican towns along the route have eagerly embraced the responsibility of feeding, clothing and sheltering these several thousand migrants with care, compassion, and solidarity. These towns are full of crates filled with free bottled water, tables packed with ham and cheese tortas, and relief stations filled with medical supplies donated by the community to help the people on this grueling journey.
Outside her family’s hardware store, one woman set up a table to feed migrants lemon tea and stew, using meat from her son’s butcher shop. Down the street, her daughter was handing out fruit. “My family has been very blessed,” she said. “And we know that we are all [family]. What God gives us, we should share. And we do it with a lot of love.”
Many Mexicans understand the poverty and violence the migrants are fleeing and are willing to help ease their journey, even though they are poor themselves. One woman said, “Today it’s them. Tomorrow it could be us.” These are human beings with rights that need to be defended.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
The light, the grace, and the opportunities are all around us. “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Even when the spiritual rot and senseless violence feel overwhelming.
We have opportunities to feel God’s light and to dive into care, compassion, and solidarity. This is what Jesus challenges us to do. We are not alone. Even though we may have been blinded or simply refused to see. May we open our eyes. And may we see one another. May we truly see.