Why I Won’t Be Watching Tonight’s Presidential Debate

prayerI won’t be watching tonight’s Presidential Debate.  Oh, it’s not because I don’t care deeply about the election. Nor, is it because I don’t care about what the candidates have to say. I won’t be watching tonight’s Presidential Debate precisely because I do care. I care deeply about this election and what it will mean for the future of the country. I care so much that my anxiety about tonight’s debate is at an all time high.

So, I got to thinking about the debate and my anxiety and how I need to respond. The truth is, I already know the candidate for whom I will be voting. I also know that nothing that happens in tonight’s debate is going to change my vote. Now, for those who haven’t made up their minds I encourage them, by all means, to watch and listen openly and carefully. It’s just that I know that watching tonight’s debate, while it won’t change my mind, will raise my anxiety even further. And, I just don’t need that for my health and emotional well-being, or for my family’s peace of mind, and I certainly don’t need to add any more negative energy to the cosmos.

Instead, I’m going to spend my evening in silence, in peace, and in prayer. I’m going to be praying for tonight’s debate, that it will be free from vitriol and ugliness, that the Holy Spirit will fill the space where the debate is taking place so that the candidates and the moderator will be able to do their best. I am going to pray that those who are present at the debate and the countless people in our country who will be watching will be moved to register and to vote in the coming election. I’m going to pray that everyone will be open minded as they listen to the candidates respond to questions and that they will carefully discern who it is they will support and vote for President of the United States on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

Robert Benson, in his book, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, tells of a Hebrew tradition, “a story told of the thirty-six who are faithful—so faithful, in fact, that God refuses to have the world come to an end as long as they are alive. It is their devotion that holds the world together. No one but God knows who they are; even they themselves do not know.” (p. 128)

Tonight, I am going to try and join the thirty-six and pray and discern and seek to be faithful, so that our world can continue to be held together. Oh, and by-the-way, I will also ask God to help me to continue to find ways to lower my anxiety about the coming election and yet keep me committed to action, and that the Holy Spirit will work in me to keep me from becoming complacent. I will ask God to help me to be open to those with whom I disagree, to listen carefully and thoughtfully to their views. And then, it is my hope, starting tonight, that between now and election day I will faithfully put peace out into the cosmos instead of unnecessary anxiety. May it be so.

-Jo Hudson

 

 

Weekly Devotional: You, Me – “Thou” Together

celebratediversityA legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”     –  Luke 10. 25-27, Common English Bible

I have struggled, as I’m sure you have, with how to address the violence that has taken place in our country over the last few days – homemade bombs in New York and New Jersey, police shootings of black men, peaceful protests turned to riots. No doubt the issues of religious extremism and indoctrination, as well as systemic racism are a part of why some of this is happening. I have heard local, state and even our presidential candidates offer little in the way of solutions. I’m not sure any of us have real answers, and it is easy to feel helpless, but we aren’t helpless. Far from it!

For those of us who take the name Christian, for all who profess a benevolent faith and even for those who profess no faith, but believe in the goodness of humanity, there are things we can do. In our own City of Dallas, well-known musical artist and actress, Denise Lee, has started a series of gatherings called, Community Conversation, to bring people together to talk about race.

And if you want to know about other conversations you can go to Dallas Faces Race and sign up for their e-newsletter to find out about all kinds of events and opportunities in which you can participate in order to make a difference in our community and world. And if you want to know more about how you can help bridge the gap in the conversation on religion, check out Dallas Area Interfaith.

Of course, underlying all the conversations and events we must have within us a desire to understand those who are different than us, those who we see as “the other.” At New Church UCC we are in the midst of a book study and this week I was re-introduced to the work of Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou. Buber, an Austrian Israeli Jewish philosopher suggested that human life is structured around two different word-pairs, “I-It” and “I-Thou,” meaning that we have two ways of being in the world. First, we experience and encounter objects, things, and the world in a one-way relationship in which the individual “I” uses “things.” The second is that we experience relationships in which there are two subjects, two people. Buber also suggested that God is the “Eternal Thou,” that God is not an object, but a living God.

Jesus in conversation with a legal expert affirmed that we are to love God, in relationship as the “Eternal Thou,” with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and also love our neighbor, in relationship as “thou” as we love ourselves. We are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, which also implies a love of self.

It seems to me that we can go to all the meetings, conversations and events offered to help heal our nation, but unless we begin to see “the other,” those who are different than us, as “thou,” a relationship to engage, a living, moving, changing relationship, we will never truly find our way to peace. Our engagement with one another in true relationship, and our commitment to action, are both needed if we are going to stop the violence and hate in our corner of the world and across the world. May it be so, for you and for me.

Holy One, surely you know we are lost. Turn your face to us once again so that we can find our way back to you, we can better see, understand and love our neighbor and we love ourselves. And grant us your peace. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: The Soul-Reviving Sound of Spirit

muteBy contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.                                                 – Galatians 5. 22-23

If you’re like me, you have grown weary of all the political news and advertising about the presidential election. The name-calling, hate mongering, vilifying and lies are more than most of us can take. It is not only bad for our minds, it is also bad for our hearts and souls. I truly believe that the work of evil in our world works this way. It eats away at our souls, so that we grow so weary we are unable to do the things that can make a difference in our world for good, like vote!

So, I’ve taken to muting the television sound when the political reports begin. Even so, that doesn’t seem to help much. If you watch closely, you will see that the spirit of the politico who is talking is evident in facial expressions and gestures and for the most part, it isn’t pretty.

In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul talks quite a bit about the things that can separate us from God, things that he says will cause us to miss out on the kingdom of heaven. Then he writes, “By contrast.” Do you hear that? Paul is contrasting the spirit of hate with the spirit of love. He lists those things that are indicators of a spirit of one who has committed to loving God, loving neighbor and loving self: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We haven’t see much of that in this election, have we?

I wonder how we would vote if we turned off the sound on all the political programs and just watch those who are running for office and their representatives. I wonder if we could discern the true spirit of those running for office by watching their facial expressions and actions. I don’t know, but it might be a way to see more clearly, a way to discern more carefully. Oh, it’s not that words and policies don’t matter—of course, they do—but hearts and spirits also matter, don’t they?

We still have weeks before the election. In that time, I hope you will do a few things. Pray for our country, its people and leaders. Listen carefully to what those running for office are saying and ask yourself if what they are saying, and how they are living, is truly representative of what following in the way of Jesus is all about. Watch the facial expressions, gestures and mannerism of those who are running in order to discern the true spirit of the candidate. Then, commit to vote.

In her devotional today, a colleague of mine quoted a line from a song she heard while on a trip to the Holy Lands. Young people of Jewish and Arab heritage sang, “God is not responsible for everything. If we don’t accept each other, even the One above won’t save us from ourselves. God is not responsible for everything.” In the end, maybe that is all that really matters, that we accept each other. Would that it were so.

Holy One, help us accept each other as You have accepted us. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: A Clean Trunk Brings Peace

2012_toyota_prius_v_trunk_emptyTherefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . .     Hebrews 12.1

Last week, I made an interesting discovery. When I go to my workout I sometimes leave my purse in the trunk of my car. Last week, I had been away from my workout for about a week and a half, so when I went to put my purse in the trunk I discovered that my trunk was full of items I had cleaned out from our church. I had put those things in the trunk thinking I would take some of them to storage and others to the recycle bin at home, but that didn’t happen. I put the items in my trunk and forgot all about them. Yes, I’ll admit it, I had “junk in my trunk,” but it got me to thinking.

I believe that sometimes things happen in our lives that frighten us, hurt us, confuse us or trouble us. And because we lead busy, busy lives we don’t take the time to think through the problems and ask ourselves questions like, “Why am I hurt by that?” “What do I need to do to resolve this issue?” “Why am I frightened?” We file the problem away in the back of our minds with the thought that we will deal with it later. The problem is, we don’t. We get busy with our lives and forget about the issue, but the issue doesn’t forget about us.

You see, when we don’t take the time to think through, write through or talk through issues that frighten, hurt, confuse or trouble us the issues remain unresolved, not only in our minds but in our hearts and souls as well. The issues remain imprinted there. In short, we have forgotten the “junk in our trunks.” And that junk, those issues weigh us down without our even knowing it.

The truth is, until we can confront our fears, hurts, confusions and troubles, we will not be able to do as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews counseled, to “lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely.” We won’t be able to recognize that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are praying for us, pulling for us, hoping for us and loving us so that we can, “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

So, maybe it is time to clean out our trunks. What issues have you left unresolved? What heartache have you stored? What fear have you not faced? What confusion are you secretly harboring? Now is the time to think about, write about and talk to someone about those issues and then follow the writer’s advice and get on with the race!

Holy One, open my mind and my heart by the power of your Spirit, so that I may follow faithfully in the way of Jesus, so that I may run the race before me with perseverance. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Sign Up to Love!

Stop-In-the-Name-of-Love-Alan-James-2003Jesus continued, saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Abba, who is God in heaven.                                                                                    –Matthew 5. 43-44

During my sermon at New Church – Chiesa Nuova UCC last Sunday, I preached about the insistence of many people to interpret scripture in a way that creates judgment and hate, that divides rather than unites. Clearly, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, teaching the multitudes from the mountain, asked us to do just the opposite. He challenged us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” In my sermon, I also spoke about the shifting attitudes of some Evangelical Christians. In contemporary American culture, Evangelical churches have often been more conservative in how the Bible is interpreted, and generally more concerned with individual salvation rather than social justice.

However, in the last few years a growing number of Evangelical churches and Evangelical leaders, teachers and pastors have embraced a more open, gracious and generous Christianity. Some of the leaders of this movement include Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt. In fact, there is now a new movement being advanced that is bringing together progressive Evangelicals, progressive mainline church leaders, and progressive Catholics, and a new coalition of these leaders have formed and are forming the Open Network. It is exciting to see this type of coalition being created in an effort to awaken our world to a gracious and generous Christianity.

This month, in an effort to push back against our current negative political season Open Network is inviting people of all faiths and those of good will to sign on with the We Stand for Love campaign. In his blog launching this effort, Brian McLaren ends with these words: “Do you want to do something truly revolutionary this election season? Then make it your highest ambition to become a truly loving person. And join us this week in learning to love beyond. Because love becomes powerful when it moves beyond. Beyond ‘me’ to ‘us.’ Beyond ‘us’ to ‘all of us.’ Beyond ‘all of us’ to ‘all creation.’”

I believe that this is a movement worth becoming a part of, a movement trying to live out the teachings of Jesus to “love our enemies,” and I am going to sign on today. Let’s do something revolutionary in this election season. Won’t you join me? You can click on the link below, read more and sign on to be a part of “We Stand With Love.”

Holy One, in this season of uncertainty and heartache as we listen to politicians tear each other apart, help me be someone who helps to heal the brokenness. Help me to stand with love. Amen.

Read Brian McLaren’s full blog here:

 

Weekly Devotional: Hold Fast to What Is Good

WelcomeLet love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

                                                                                   — Romans 12. 9-18 NRSV

This passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is among my very favorite. In some Bibles you will see a heading above it that reads, “The Marks of the True Christian.” As I read through these words again it strikes me that so often we want to find answers for our lives—past, present and future—outside of us. We try to find answers to the problems we face in our families, churches, schools, cities, nation and in the world by pointing at others and blaming them or calling on them to be super-humans and fix everything.

The Apostle Paul had a very different idea of where we find answers for the challenges and problems we face. He gives specific instructions to the people he was pastoring in Rome and also to us. Notice how the passage is filled with action verbs: hold fast, do not lag, rejoice, be patient, bless, and so on. Paul is clear that we, you and I, are to take responsibility, participating with God, in creating a better world.

As I look at the current political landscape in the United States, these words of the Apostle Paul ring in my ears. I believe people of faith are called upon to look for these qualities and characteristics Paul lists for us, as we go to the polls. Are the people we are voting for loving genuinely, holding fast to what is good, showing honor, extending hospitality to strangers, associating with the lowly, and so far as it depends on them living peaceably with all? Those who at least try to do this will be people I will vote for come November.

In the meantime, and it does seem like we are living in mean times, I will turn the microscope on my own living and see where and how I am doing the things Paul admonishes us to do, and where I have failed. So, I wonder if you would join me in this journey of seeking to become a true Christian. Perhaps then we might receive the blessing that the Apostle Paul offers later in his letter, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” May it be so.

Weekly Devotional: Help Our Children Thrive

back to schoolSince there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”                                                    — Deuteronomy 15. 11

In the earliest pages of the Bible we read the Laws of Moses. Throughout the Biblical books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy we hear words like those above: “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth.” Years later, Jesus would remind us of this reality, teaching, “For you will always have the poor with you . . .  (Matthew 26. 11a).” Of course, neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the Christian Scriptures leave us with that reality. Instead, throughout our sacred texts are admonishments, commands, instructions and appeals to the people of God to care for the poor. In fact, to do so is to receive the blessings of God. Jesus said to his followers, “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven . . . ” (Luke 18. 22a) This is not the Prosperity Gospel that teaches if you give away your resources (usually to a particular pastor of a particular church) you will become financially rich, but is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that offers to those who care for the poor the mystical treasures of heaven.

This week and next week, children all over our nation will be returning to school. And I believe it is safe to say that within no more than a mile from all our churches, there are children who will start school without enough to eat, will go to class without necessary school supplies, go home to empty houses and apartments, and go to bed hungry. Can you believe it? In the United States of America, the acknowledged wealthiest country in the world, many of our children will not have enough food and school supplies to be successful. Surely if we are going to say that we sin, this is a sin.

To help stem the tide of poverty in our own city, New Church is collecting school supplies for low-income students and will provide supplies and 40 backpacks to our local school. Now, I know that everyone, churches, schools, businesses, city governments and even the barbershop next to our church will be giving away school supplies this week and next, but don’t let that lull you in to thinking that there is enough to go around.

Instead, let us—you and I—commit to participating in whatever way we can to ensure that the poorest of our children have food, school supplies and a safe place to be the children that God has created them to be. It won’t just be a one-time-a-year commitment; instead it will be a year-round commitment. And why would we do such a thing? Well, I can’t think of anything better than receiving the mystical blessings of God, not to mention the smile and happiness and success of a child.

Holy One, teach me once more to open my hand to the poor and the needy. Let me be a blessing to those most in need. Amen.