The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

On the occasion of the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States of America


When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade.
We’ve braved the belly of the beast,
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn’t always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished.
We the successors of a country and a time
where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes we are far from polished.
Far from pristine.
But that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge a union with purpose,
to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true,
that even as we grieved, we grew,
that even as we hurt, we hoped,
that even as we tired, we tried,
that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat,
but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time,
then victory won’t lie in the blade.
But in all the bridges we’ve made,
that is the promise to glade,
the hill we climb.
If only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth,
in this faith we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption
we feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter.
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert,
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be.
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free.
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation,
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain,
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy,
and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west.
We will rise from the windswept northeast,
where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sunbaked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

“Let Us Make Humankind In Our Image. . .” (Genesis 1:26)

The following quotes arrived in my inbox overnight:

“Like humility, generosity comes from seeing that everything we have and everything we accomplish comes from God’s grace and God’s love for us… Certainly it is from experiencing this generosity of God and the generosity of those in our life that we learn gratitude and to be generous to others.”

―Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, p. 86

You have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: “These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”

-Henri Nouwen

White Christians should be leery of our own judgments; we are primed by culture to oppress and primed by religion to think God is on our side. 

– Caroline McTeer

Genesis 1:26 is the passage of scripture through which I heard these quotes this morning. It underscores God’s emphatic decision not only to create humankind, but to create humankind in God’s own image. The idea is that we are all created in God’s image and that whatever it may mean that we are created in God’s image remains with us and in us as we live the life God has given to us. God has left a mark on us. We are bearers of God’s image.

At times, I struggle to see that image in the words and actions of some human beings these days. Much of our public discourse these day moves quickly to blur, deny, or obliterate the reality of God’s image in us all. We seem to find it easier to oppose someone that we are able to think of us as less than human. Yet, every time i see what I thought I would never see in our country, and every time I see what I never wanted to see again in our country, I try to remember what I believe. I try to remember that I believe all of us humans are created in God’s image even when what I am seeing and hearing makes me wonder if what I believe can possibly be true.

Obviously, being created in the image of God does not prevent us from making mistakes. Neither does it free us from doing ugly, awful, and criminal things to one another nor the necessity of being held accountable when we do such things.

Yet, at a minimum, what I think that it means that we are all created in God’s image is that there is something of God in each of us and that we are all loved and cherished by God. Those of us who voted for Trump are loved by God. Those of us who voted for Biden are cherished by God. Those of us who voted for a third party candidate or who did not vote at all are loved and cherished by God.

What remains to be seen is what difference it will make that we are all created in the image of God? What would it look like in this nation that many want to characterize as a Christian nation for the human beings living here to treat one another as they want to be treated by others?

White Privilege: Now You Know What It Looks Like

In recent years, I have heard some people question the existence of white privilege. They have been quick to deny that their white skin gives them any privilege in our country. Rarely have they been willing to acknowledge in any way that white skin grants anyone privilege.

I suspect a portion of the people I know who deny the existence of white privilege have their minds so made up that they will never be prodded to think beyond their wrongful conclusions. However, I believe most of the people I know retain a capacity for learning and growth.

Yesterday, we saw white privilege on full display in our nation’s capitol for all the world to see. When you can attack the Capitol of the United States of America and then spend the night sleeping in a local hotel or Airbnb, you are experiencing the privilege of being white.

There is little doubt in my mind that if the mob that assaulted the Capitol yesterday had been made up of people of color, today, many of them would dead and the rest of them would be in jail.

I say this because I have seen what we have all seen. If the shooting of a child of color holding a toy gun can be justified because the shooter felt threatened, or a child of color wearing a hoodie and eating skittles can be shot because the shooter felt threatened, or the killing of a woman of color asleep in her own bed can be justified because the shooter felt threatened, but a mob of white folks overwhelming the sanctuary of our democracy can walk away after documenting their treason with selfies, only the most obstinate among us can deny the existence of our privilege.

For those who are inclined to think that praying prayers of repentance is the way forward for our country, the white supremacist foundation of our country is the necessary starting point for such prayers. The fact that we as white folks are able to ignore or be unaware of so many of the ways that white supremacy remains embedded in our society and culture is itself an indication of our privilege.

A man of color has his life taken from him for selling cigarettes on a street corner. A white man unlawfully enters a congressional office and takes a picture of himself smiling at what he has done. Perhaps he will show it to his grandchildren and regale them with stories of how he was a part of assaulting the seat of our government. White privilege, at least in part, is the difference in the way these two men were treated when they broke the law.

The events of yesterday should put the question as to the existence of white privilege to rest once and for all. We all saw what we saw. What remains uncertain now is whether we have heart and head enough to address what we saw.

2021: Another opportunity to do the good God calls us to do — or not.

This is what I am afraid the church in America will be known for in 2021: Christian nationalism’s Covid vaccine doubt threatens America’s herd immunity (nbcnews.com)

This is what I hope the church in America will be known for in 2021:https://sojo.net/articles/poor-people-s-campaign-progressive-caucus-outline-people-s-agenda

Greensboro United Church of Christ: Remembering our Open and Affirming Covenant

In 2015, the members of Greensboro United Church of Christ entered an Open and Affirming Covenant. They did so two years before I came to serve as their pastor. That they had done it was one of the reasons that made me want to be their pastor.  After much prayer, discussion, and believing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, they spoke these words together:

Because we the people of the Greensboro United Church of Christ believe that all persons are loved and valued by God, all are invited and welcomed into our church family.  We are committed to following the teachings of Jesus to love all people, and we seek to be an expression of God’s love in the world.

We invite and welcome into our community persons of every sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, ability, age, race, nationality, ethnicity, economic and social status, faith background and family structure.

All persons are encouraged to participate in the life, leadership, ministry and mission of this church as we seek to grow together in a safe, nurturing community of faith.

What is made clear in the second paragraph of this covenant is that “. . .persons of every sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” are welcome in our congregation.  What that means is that “. . .persons of every sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” are welcome to be who God created them to be in our congregation. It means that we love you the way God made you. Yes, if you have found another with whom you want to spend the rest of your life, we will gladly witness your vows, celebrate your love and bless your journey.

We feel this way and seek to live out this covenant not because of a law that was passed by Congress or a decision that was made by a court, but because this is who we understand God calling us to be.

To our LGBTQ+ siblings, we know that these words will not undo the hurt you have endured nor prevent the hardships that may be in front of you. However, we want you to know that we see you and we love you. More than that, we want you to know that you are not alone. Holler if you need anything, 802.533.2223.

A Creation Justice Covenant

This summer we read Jim Antal’s, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change, at Greensboro United Church of Christ. We gathered for five weeks to discuss our planet and our responsibility to care for it. The experience was rich and sobering. We took account of the ways we have already accepted the task identified by Thomas Berry “. . .to be a more benign presence” on our planet. We also concluded that there was more for us to do. The statement below is a work in progress. If you have feedback that would make it more useful, please share. We came out of our summer study with a deep sense of urgency. Yes, we could have and should have done more sooner. We have not done many of those things. Therefore, what we want for this document to help us do is, in the words of Wendall Berry, to “make the world a better piece of ground?”
We are calling it a creation justice covenant. Creation, because we believe that life is God’s gift to us all. Justice, because we know harm done to our planet impacts the most those least able to cope with such harm. Covenant, because this crisis is serious enough for us to solemnly and intentionally promise to do something about it.

A working document
Greensboro United Church of Christ
Creation Justice Covenant

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?  Ezekiel 34:18-19

Because creation is a gift from God entrusted to our care and we want to safeguard that gift for future generations,

Because we have begun to see the value of living and acting in ways that improve the health of our planet and are ready to exercise vision instead of convenience,

Because we know that the burden of a degraded planet falls heaviest on those who are least able to respond to such changes,

Because we know that we only have one planet on which to live,

And Because the UCC General Synod, Vermont Conference, and other faith communities have acknowledged the crisis of climate change,

We, the Greensboro United Church of Christ, recognizing that the world is in a moral and environmental crisis, commit ourselves to learning and discovering new ways to improve the health of our planet, acting with hopeful perseverance in order to stop the destruction and foster rejuvenation in our hearts and in our world. Acting as disciples of social justice, we commit to applying what we learn in the life we share together as a congregation. This commitment is both a testimony to our trust in God and a witness to how we hear God calling us to be together as a community of faith.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. Revelation 21:3

God is Still Speaking

After a wonderful week of camp with some amazing middle schoolers and totally committed camp staffers. . .

After news of tragic violence in El Paso, Dayton and other places. . .

After sharing bread and cup with a faith family that seeks to love others as Christ has loved us. . .

After coming to the realization that while mass shootings still sadden me, they no longer shock or surprise me. . .

After waking up on another Monday wondering what in the world we have become. . .

I open my worship plan to see what biblical text I choose weeks ago to be the focus of our worship this coming Sunday —BAM! — there it is, God is still speaking!

For those who have ears to ear and eyes to see. . .

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

If you are in the neighborhood, join us Sunday as we listen for God.

 

Leaving and Following (Continued)

Yesterday I mentioned Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, VA changing its name from R.E. Lee Memorial Church as an example of Leaving and Following. They are not alone. From the first capital of the Confederate States of America, comes the news that members of St. John’s Episcopal Church will no longer honor Jefferson Davis with a plaque and pew in the church’s sanctuary. God is still speaking to and through the hearts of faithful followers.

Leaving and following may take some time and may be difficult for a variety of reasons, but it is never too late to follow Jesus.

Keep Micah in Christmas

December is here. That means Christmas is here. Of course, between now and Christmas, there is Advent. Advent may, at times, feel like what we do while we wait for Christmas, a sort of spiritual twiddling of the thumbs or a kind of contemplative doodling.

We need more from Advent than merely filling space or marking time. Like each of our days and all of our seasons, it is an opportunity for us to deepen our connection with God and what God is doing in the world. In that regard, this time before Christmas may be more important than our celebration of the day itself.

“Christ is born,” is the Christmas acclamation. What difference does it make in my life, that Christ has been born is an Advent question. What impact does the birth of Christ have on my life, my community, in my world? Does that birth move my thoughts, actions, hopes and dreams closer to God’s vision for God’s creation?

Arriving at Christmas without asking some questions and examining our motivation leaves us open to sentimentalizing or worse, belittling Christmas. If we make no attempt or see no need to reconnect our lives to God’s vision for them, it is easy for us to conclude that Christmas is just about God loving us.

On the 4th Sunday of Advent, worshipers in many churches may hear Micah 5:1-5. Christians have long read this passage in anticipation of Christmas because we hear in its mention of Bethlehem and a woman giving birth, a reference to the birth of Christ. To get at the heart of what God wants for and from Christmas, we need to start reading a chapter earlier.

Micah 4:34 speaks of God’s purpose for Christmas and vision for God’s creation as well as any two verses of scripture. It reads “… they shall bent their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit under their own vines and under their own Fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.’

Jesus echoes the heart of Micah’s words when he speaks about the Kingdom of God. He is thinking of that time and place when God gets what God wants. He teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. With that prayer, he is teaching his disciples and us to live for, work for and pray for a life on earth where we all have a place to call home, enough to eat and no reason to be afraid

Through the centuries, many Christians have resigned such visions to the afterlife, thinking such a vision of life together impossible this side of heaven. Such a view leaves Christmas present sandwiched between a long ago birth and the future return of Christ. Understanding Christmas in this way allows us to celebrate a historical event and anticipate a future one without engaging the radical implications of Christ’s birth in our present day. It may leave us wondering if a child has been born at all.

Anyone who has children knows that the birth of a child changes everything. Nothing is ever the same after she is born. Yet, whether by our acquiescence, apathy or accommodation, we abide a system that allows a few to have more than they can use while too many do not have what they need, we are acting as if Christ has not been born. We surrender to a view of the world where there are too few fig trees and not enough vines for us all. That is neither the world God created nor the Christmas God wants for any of us.

Advent, at least in part, is a time to discover what it will look like for us to live together in a world where Christ has been born.