Sept 20, 2021
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. [John 10:10]
After President Biden, in an attempt to curve back down the Covid surges across our nation, started the process of a possible national mask mandate, the Governor of South Carolina put out a belligerent Tweet on Twitter and said he would fight to the ‘gates of hell’ to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian. Fight to the gates of hell? Really? Not only is that antiquated hyperbole, but I thought, “Gov’ner, look around you! Your policies have created more drastic spikes than any other time during this pandemic, which have overwhelmed our hospitals! Your persistence to fight municipalities that have tried to issue mandates has manifested South Carolina’s highest death count with over 130 deaths in one day! Sir, forget about President Biden, you, yourself, have taken South Carolina to the “gates of hell!” Yes, that too is a hyperbolic statement, but sadly the facts are true, and it is certainly not the abundant life.
Yes, the most simple mitigation effort of wearing a mask, which has been promoted by his own state health and education officials, he has turned into a political mantra of state rights and freedom. The governor has even supported a proviso that withholds state money for schools who use mask mandates for students. In the meantime children are taking the virus home to their parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends.
A South Carolina teacher, Nicole Walker told Associated Press, “This is one of those times where the adults should’ve risen to the occasion and been able to do the right thing and really been able to create an environment where kids felt more safe, We have failed them miserably, in my opinion.”
For me it is very simple. Wearing a mask is NOT a political statement about freedom, it’s NOT even a religious statement on whether you believe your god can protect you. Wearing a mask is an example of empathy and compassion, and when did that become a wrong thing to do? Jesus’ miracles of healing and wholeness were driven, not motivated by power or religious aspirations, but instead by compassion.
When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [Matt 9:36]
When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." [Luke 7:13]
I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. [Mark 8:2]
Gov’ner, please… put your political longings aside, and let us be like Jesus!
August 18, 2021
With all that has been happening in our nation and around the world, and I feel so overwhelmed, I’m reminded of what Jesus said to those following and weeping for him as he was approaching his crucifixion.
A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” [Luke 23:27-28]
Jesus reminded them they should not weep for him, but for themselves and their children. Why? Because the inequity that we participate in today does not usually unfold fully on us but on our children and grandchildren. That fact is, whether we’re a politician, citizen, scientist, or clergy, we reveal the truth about our hearts as we respond with decisions that will affect our children and grandchildren more than us. Sadly, as we watch our recent regional, state, national, and international decisions unfold, we expose our hearts.
Jesus is recalling the words of the Lord in Exodus story. When we worship business, politics, military, or religion, and forsake the stewardship of our society, and environment, well, the Lord laid it out for us, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting iniquities of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” [Exodus 34:5-6] This is not a curse, but an ancient sociological and environmental observation.
In late spring and early summer, there was a surge of early Covid vaccinations, there were declining numbers of cases, the restart of in-person gatherings and worship, and hopeful plans for the 4th of July, but then reality hit. There were and are those willing to promote misinformation, hyperbolic-fear statements, non-factual data for some sense of political gain by undermining the vaccine. Now, I know there are people who are truly waiting for the various vaccines to be approved by the FDA, and even though I chose to receive the vaccine before its approval, I understand and respect their position. But, I do not believe those individuals are the crux of the surge we are facing.
I’m concerned about those who hold a public office and yet go completely against the science of medicine for their own gain. Governors who refuse various communities within their own states to use mask mandates to keep the public, especially children, safe as we begin a school year in which they are requiring in-person schooling. The simplest mitigating and proven practice is being refused. That… I do not understand! From all that I hear from the medical field, we have yet to see the full ramifications that will cause even more weeping as pediatric hospitals fill with our children and grandchildren.
Internationally; I have just witnessed a withdrawal from a battlefield that, for me, was reminiscent of our withdrawal from a Southeast Asian war we were involved in some 40 years ago. Neither one of those wars was rightly pursued, but neither one deserved the withdrawals that took place. In each of the cases, we used people in those countries who were willing to side with us. They were interpreters, ears on the ground, and just supportive allies. In our haste to withdraw we just abandoned them. I’m not a policymaker nor do I pretend to be one, but even if these people we abandoned survive the incoming regime, they will never trust us again, and quite possibly become supporters of the terrorists who will fester in this country we abandoned so quickly. I fear these iniquities may be visited upon us, but far more likely on our children and grandchildren. Does this not touch our hearts?
Environmentally; as fires blaze across the North American continent as well as Europe and Asia, we continue to deny climate change. As oceans warm, and glaciers melt, we deny climate change. As ecosystems collapse and extinctions increase, we deny climate change. We can’t even think about what this will mean for our children and their children’s children?
Again, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Yes, we should be weeping, but not only weeping, we should be part of the healing that will leave our children and grandchildren the HOPE of a world that is whole. If we cannot be moved, either within our families, on the local, state, national, or international level for the sake of our children and grandchildren, then we are a species to be most pitied… BUT! I believe there is a universally Genesis-goodness within us. We just have to have the courage to open our hearts to it and let that goodness lead us to do what’s right.
Lord in Your mercy.
July 20, 2021
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture… It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. ” [Jeremiah 23:1&2]
In Jeremiah, we have the prophet reminding us why every nation gets scattered… selfish leadership. From the time of Samuel’s sons’ corrupt judgements, to the kings and their priestly courts, it was the leadership that, throughout Israel’s history destroyed the soul of a nation and scattered them. For the prophets, it was the kings, each proclaiming their lineage, with their religious courts backing, that deeply divided a nation to a point of no return, drove it into a civil war, and watched first the north, then the south collapse under the weight of predatory empires. That’s pretty much the road map for almost every nation since.
Case in point, our own nation followed that path during the antebellum period leading up to our civil war that divided a nation into north and south, once again. That civil war became the bloodiest time in our history, with leadership on each side seeing a divisive war as a viable alternative. Each side had their leadership, both political and religious blessing the destruction and dividing. The war ended with a military victory for the North, but the cost was devastating. Not just in the destruction of property, but the horrendous human toll. The estimated death toll is between 620,000 to 850,000 lives. It was a divide, that superficially was erased, but mentally, culturally, and religiously never healed.
The reality of that divide was first geographically identified with the Mason-Dixon Line as it’s marker. It later morphed into an ideology with the Dixiecrats of the 20th century, and migrated from one political party to another, taking its fundamentalist religious beliefs with it. This ideology’s ramparts are, “Win at any cost, if God is for us, who can be against us? Destroy if we must, then build it up again.”
We saw that ideology play out during the Covid pandemic and the capitol insurgence this past January 6th. The politicization of a deadly pandemic was a deliberate attempt to further divide an already divided nation. The simple mitigation of the virus by wearing a mask became a political battle cry. “If you wear the mask, your letting the government run your life!” So for a year and a half both politicians and their religious cronies were willing to be dividers for their own political gain, while over 620,000 U.S. citizens died. Yes, the number of people who have died in that year and a half period has match the Civil War’s death toll. Deplorable…
On January 6th, in an attempt to attack and stop a legitimate election, at the behest of the then President, an ideological driven mob attacked the nation’s capitol, killing a police officer and wounding many others, while hunting Vice President Pence, and Speaker Pelosi. They chanted biblical verses and racist slogans, along with the then president’s name. It’s clearly an ideology of win at any cost, even at the cost of division, destruction, and scattering.
Then, just a few weeks ago a conservative PAC met in Dallasand revealed how far a group is willing to go to win elections. When one of the speakers announced that President Biden did not reach his goal of 70% of Americans being vaccinated by July fourth, all who gathered there burst into a resounding applause. That’s right, they applauded over the failure of a goal which would save thousands of lives. Why? Because over 620,000 lives ain’t enough?? All this for the sake of their own goal to win elections. That is not just wrong, that is diabolical. I believe with their religious-right ethos, they need to hear Jeremiah’s “woe” which I began this Mustard Seed with, and take it to heart. They are literally doing the same thing ancient Israel did during the time of the prophets, destroying a nation, by taking and scattering lives!
We cannot accept this as a new normal. We must continue to cry out for justice. We must continue to fight the good fight, to finish the race for the soul of a nation. We must live the righteousness of the prophets found in the love of Jesus and do good for the sake of many.
Lord in your mercy!
The dangerous practice of conversion therapy
May 17, 2021
As a pastor who resides in Columbia, SC I wish to express my concern about the possible tabling or voting down of a ban on the dangerous practice of conversion therapy within the city. From what I understand, this comes under the pressure of those —
who mostly reside outside the city of Columbia
— decrying the auspices of religious freedom.
First, conversion therapy is a barbaric and terroristic process, in an attempt to force children to choose a life-identity that is not where their psychological, body, hormones, and chemical makeup is leading them. A few years ago Reformation took a group to watch “Boy Erased”. It was a movie based off a true story about a boy who was forced by his family, especially his pastor father to enter a Conversion Therapy program. These so called “therapies” used biblical text to attack, harm, and dehumanize this young man, “God will not love you the way you are.” So they could rebuild him into their perception of what a “biblical” male should be. It was horrific.
Second, religious freedom is not the freedom to attack a person’s humanity, and misuse biblical text as a weapon to psychologically harm anyone who doesn’t conform to a said religious belief. I say misuse because I believe the Bible is an honest record of God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of disobedient and wayward children. It is not a document to reverence such human behavior. In fact when Jesus was asked about the law of Moses, when it was going to be used as a weapon by the teachers of the law, “He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted...’” But because the interchanged I reference started with the Pharisees question of divorce, those of the “conversion ilk” are quick to point out Jesus’ reference to male and female becoming one flesh to prove their heterosexual point. But... the question was not about their sexual relationship, rather it was about the absolute power of the male gender, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" Any cause?! That is a question of one gender’s absolute power over the other. Jesus shoots it down with one flesh language, which in the light of the question asked, is an answered of full equality.
I fully believe this theological exchange was not about sexual identity because a few verses later, Jesus finalizes their gender misconception with, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." Eunuchs are those who were described as sexually defiled by the Levitical laws, but as early as the prophets, the use of that law was being called into question... by God!
“...and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.”
Yes, Isaiah is so sure of this inclusiveness of God’s message, he puts it into a poem or song.
Yes, God’s righteousness calls all of us to be that inclusive. I believe this barbaric conversion therapy is completely opposite of where God’s righteousness is leading us, and has nothing to do with religious freedom.
My prayer is that Columbia’s City council will all vote to uphold the ban so that this city will continue to grow as an open and inclusive city.
PS. Some contacts to express our concerns:
Mayor Benjamin's office
Councilmember Sam Davis
Councilmember Tameika Isaac Devine
Councilmember Howard Duvall
April 16, 2021
For this Mustard Seed edition I want to look at the word justice in the Bible. What I have found so interesting is that both the Hebrew and the Greek words for justice have the same root word as righteousness. The Hebrew word for justice and righteousness is tsedeq; while the Greek word for justice and righteousness is dikaiosuné. This becomes very important when it becomes clear one cannot have justice without righteousness, which means living rightly with others, and living rightly with others can only happen when others are treated justly. As we struggle with unaccompanied children at our boarders, with people of color experiencing a disproportionate amount of violent and deadly arrests, and the alarming rise in Asian-American hate crimes; we who identify as Christians, need to grasp the depth of the biblical call for justice, and it’s close relation to righteousness.
First, how does this address the unaccompanied children at our boarders, especially with Governor McMaster’s executive order of refusing the federal call for states to receive these children for placement? I understand President Biden’s heart for these children; whose parents, in an attempt to get them away from the violent situation in their home countries, have sent them to the U.S. boarder; but to open the boarders without replenishing the personnel, which was depleted by the previous administration, for processing such an influx was ill-advised. With that being said, how can a governor refusing these children entry into their state possibly be seen as anything else but exacerbating the situation. I would like to remind Mr. McMaster — who claims to be a staunch Christian — what Jesus said about welcoming a child, “Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” [Mark 6:36-37]
Later, even in the face of frustrated disciples over the people bring children to him for a blessing, Jesus does not refuse them, “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” [Mark 10:13-14] Justice for the children at our border will only be realized if President Biden replenishes the depleted processing personnel, and the states’ governors, such as McMaster, start accepting the children and treat them rightly. It is the Christlike thing to do.
Second, when it comes to treating people of color unjustly, we have to remember what Jesus said about viewing those we may perceive as adversarial or lesser. After his discussion with a lawyer on loving God and neighbor, the lawyer tries to restrict his love, “But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
After two religious types passed by and left him for dead ...
... a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." [Matt.10:29-30; 33-37]
Samaritans were seen, by the lawyers and religious types as subhuman, you know like 3/5 human*, and were always suspect and criminalized. Sound familiar? But Jesus “blows” the lawyer’s precept of limiting love “out of the water”. The love Jesus speaks of, agape, sees no limitation; it doesn’t seek to minimize or criminalize anyone, but rather sees the other as equal. For our societal inequalities and to stem the violence minorities have experienced in this country for hundreds of years, we have to grasp the love Jesus commands us to live. When we do that, we stop seeing that which separates us or criminalizes each other, and find a commonality in our humanity, as we learn to love our neighbor, the alien, even our enemies as ourselves.
If we say we are a “Christian” nation, children should not be left at the border, but accepted by every state to alleviate the humanitarian crisis of their suffering. People of color should not be regarded by a constitutional mistake of a 3/5 compromise and be under constant suspect or criminalized. To live out the scripture’s righteousness and justice, we must speak out, write our legislators, help make a difference for the good, or as John Lewis, a man who was scripture-bound, use to say, “Get into some good trouble.” We can be that change. We can be that mustard seed.
*The three fifths compromise was a constitutional determination that slaves — for legislative consideration — were to be counted as three fifths of a white man because they were considered as possessions and not fully human.
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