A Time to Dance

I was on the 15th hole of my Tuesday golf game with friends who I have grown to appreciate so much. Usually I ignore my phone when it vibrates that a phone message or some news of the day has come through demanding my immediate attention. On any other day I would have ignored it. Yet, on this day I reached into my back pocket and saw the news, a verdict had been reached and we would soon find out if there would be any form of justice for George Floyd and his family. Would the fervent prayers of so many of us be finally answered?

I continued my game and let my friends know that about the time we finished the verdict would be announced in Minneapolis and we in Boise, along with the rest of the world would know. I had an opportunity to par each of the three remaining holes, but my thoughts had left the game and focused on what might unfold in the next few minutes. We finished and took our seats on the deck and poured ourselves a cold frosty beverage and waited. Within seconds it seemed all of our phones were now going off. The verdict was announced, guilty, not just on one count, but on all three. The rest of our party was finishing up and for once I wasn’t asking them how’d they score, but “Have you heard the news?” None had and our scores were forgotten and smiles were seen on all our faces, a palatable relief was seen and felt by me and the others, all white men older than me. We lifted a glass, we remembered George Floyd and all the others who had died at the hands of the men and women who we entrusted to care for us, not kill those who posed no threat, who cannot breathe because of the choke hold or the knee to the neck. Who are shot because of the color of their skin.

We rejoiced that day. It was a time to dance! We were empowered to do so because a diverse group of 12 men and women heard the evidence, saw what they saw for the 9 minutes that Derick Chauvin placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck, they and we saw the light go out of his eyes and his spirit leave his now lifeless body. Those 12 were the best of us, they were not 12 angry white men, but a reflection of our country as a whole. The lawyers who prosecuted the case were as well, no second rate presentation to let another police officer off for killing another black man. The people of the city marched, they protested, they did more than the typical thoughts and prayers bullshit that is the mantra of the white privileged in this country. They and we demanded a semblance of justice for George and his family. Our President, a man I continue to admire called his family, showed his compassion and set an example for us.

Is this a seminal moment? Is this when we finally turn the page of White Supremacy and the systematic racism? It is my deepest hope, but not my assessment yet. There is so much more to do. It took the combined efforts of the best of us to reach this guilty verdict. It will take the best of us to make the kind of difference that we know needs to be made. Are we ready?

I rejoice with so many of my African American friends who now can breathe a sigh of relief, albeit a temporary one. I knew on that beautiful Tuesday afternoon there would dancing in the streets. There would be vigils at churches and homes as candles were lit and thanks was given. Lots of Amens were shouted out that Tuesday along with some other colorful descriptors. This was a time of relief as tensions were released with emotions of joy, not disappointment. For once there was justice and not the denial of it due to someone’s skin. We are not finished, there is so much more to be done, but on Tuesday we got to celebrate we got to dance! Now it’s time to go back to work!

Cost of Freedom

In May of 1970 shots rang out on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio as protesters against the Viet Nam War and National Guard troops clashed. In the aftermath it was found that 4 had died that day. I was 15 at the time living in far away Eastern Washington. A few weeks afterwards came a song that may or may not have been a direct reference to those who died that day or perhaps it was to remember the young men dying in the rice paddies of a faraway land. Crosby, Stills, and Nash sang a song with hauntingly harmonic sounds that still can move me to tears 50+ years later.

“Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground,
Mother Earth will swallow you,
Lay your body down.”

https://youtu.be/3YUkiAU7aRM

It seems the cost of freedom remains high these days, multiple mass shootings continue, almost always done by young white males, a city in turmoil as another young black man is killed by police, a trial in that very city is going on to determine if another police office murdered a helpless black man. White Supremacy has taken hold of our country once again as seen in the events in this state and our nation. We are filled with fear that somehow we are going to loose our freedom.

Let’s be bluntly honest with one another. Our actions have consequences. Our freedom comes at a cost and so far in this second year of Covid the cost has been the lives of those we love. We, with the help of irresponsible leaders decided that our freedom was greater than our neighbors and the hell with wearing a mask or self distancing. We decided that freedom has no cost. Well the 5 people who I knew personally who died of Covid just might disagree. I suspect the 561,000+ people in this country alone who have would echo that disagreement and sing that song.

Martin Luther, flawed man that he was, wrote a lot about freedom and perhaps his words can speak to what is really true when it comes to the freedom of a Christian. “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.” Wow that sounds like a freedom I can embrace, I don’t have to answer to anyone, but wait, Luther doesn’t stop there he adds these words immediately after, “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Oh my, Luther believes as we should that our freedom is always in the contest of the other. It is a freedom found in the care of the neighbor. He makes no distinction between who we should serve. We are servants and that means our freedom is always in a living relationship. Remember Jesus only gave us two commands, love God and love neighbor.

I ask you can you love your neighbor if you refuse to wear a mask or listen to doctors? Can you love your neighbor when you refuse to care about those whose health is being endangered? Is that freedom? No it is not! No one is perfect and we won’t do this perfectly, but we can get it done. I’m an extrovert who hates being closed up. I venture out more than I should, though I am now fully vaccinated and put the mask on when needed.

Our country is not perfect either, the specter of gun violence, White Supremacy on the rise, racism infecting the hard work of being a member of the police, and our refusal to care for the other are signs that the cost of freedom is one we’d rather not pay. But if we won’t pay the ones who will pay are the very ones we are to love. That’s a cost I hope we don’t have to pay. Jesus died in solidarity with us, we all will die, but we don’t have to do it this way. We can turn and embrace a freedom that cares, a freedom that loves the neighbor and grieves for those who had to pay or will pay the price.

Let us pray…

Holy One we come to you this day asking for help, help to love the neighbor, to speak out against the senseless gun violence and racial hatred that continues to infect us, just as Covid has infected us. Empower us to care and to love as Jesus revealed that way to us. Amen.

John Hergert

John Hergert

Retired ELCA pastor

Something happened

No other words necessary!

Take Off Your Shoes

by DesiréeUhrich

Something happened to me and I will never be the same.You know what happened, Lord. I don’t need to write it down.

But I was broken, shattered, really – a ghost of my former self.And I prayed that you would heal my pain. I pray that you will heal my pain.

It’s not gone, but its voice is no longer shrieking and threatening to tear my house down.Now pain speaks with its inside voice, but I still get an earful every single day.

Lead me through this valley.

Deliver me from the pit.

Send your angels to tend me in the wilderness.

Lord, I trust you.

Help me to trust.

My faith falters, and I sometimes wonder if you see me, if you hear my cries.

Help me trust that joy comes with the morning. Help me trust that you will turn my mourning into dancing.Help me trust…

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A prayer for the innocents

Take Off Your Shoes

by

Donna Arington Petraits

March 17, 2021

An ordinary day. Sun sinking on an early spring evening. Warm for March, and perfect for playing hide and seek in the woods. Small feet crush brittle leaves that hide the soft, green shoots of new life. A six-year-old dressed in purple; her soft brown curls tumbling out of a rainbow hair tie. Big brown eyes scan the trees and shrubs, heart races, hoping to catch him, her playmate.

Hundreds of times they had played the games that children play in the woods by the apartments. Hundreds of times they had scampered out of the woods when mothers called for dinner. Not that night. Only one of them came out of the woods that warm spring night.

A 14 year old boy, small for his age and thin. “Challenged” is how they describe him. The questions are many, but “WHY?” burns in the…

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Racism alive and well in the age of Trump

I’m Re blogging a post from June of 2015. Well before the age of this man who has rekindled our nativism, our fear and the racism that never goes away. It never goes away because it continues to lurk just below the surface of each of us who are white. Many will disagree vehemently with that statement, but the truth is there for all. The law enforcers who treat blacks differently and throw them onto the ground or shoot an unarmed black man on a cell phone. The members of a golf course who call the police when they see two black women on the course. Turns out the women were members, merely on a walk on the course. Then there is the white college student who sees a black young woman who is asleep in the lounge of the dorm. She calls campus security and they find out the black woman was also a student. It happens every day in the lives of people of color. It is demeaning on so many levels, for as we are now being given permission to be racists from the highest office in the land, we merely have to scratch it a little and it comes spewing forth from inside our fearful selves. It, of course, demeans the person of color who has to go through it and it demeans us who inflict our racism on others for it is not what we are created to be.

I as I did in June of 2015 I repost again for yes it’s still true and I am a racist.

“John, look at how you are sitting? What are you doing?” It was with those words that I was prophetically told that I was indeed a racist, someone who was from the dominant culture and power structure was suddenly thrust into a world that I didn’t expect to see. Let me give you a bit of context. The place was a bar, see Bob Ahern I do have these incredible bar experiences, it was in Queens, New York and it was the day before I was to get onto a plane and fly to South Africa. I should tell you it was 1985. I was part of a mission trip to that troubled land to gain information, travel the country and see for ourselves what the dominant white culture was doing to the blacks in their own country, it was to be a time when we came back and tried to galvanize a country that was being led by a conservative president who liked doing business with South Africa.

That night I was filled with my own sense of purpose and feeling pretty good about myself. Just three years out of seminary, newly elected leader of a World Mission Committee for the Eastern District, American Lutheran Church, I was proud to be going, proud to soon to able to say, “I have seen oppression and we need to speak out against it.” I had all the marks of white privilege and sadly didn’t even know it.

I was blessed that night though. I was enlightened that, while it was a good thing to be going to South Africa. It was, more important to find out what I was, rather than tell others about what I was going to experience. You see, my good friend, Pastor Stephen Marsh, who was and still is an African-American pastor in the ELCA, then LCA, was with me this night. He took me out to that bar, something we had done many times before in Columbus, Ohio at Seminary. Most of the time we went to places in German Village or some place near the Seminary, the Leipzig House was one I remember. We went there with a mixed crowd, well mixed in that Steve was there and probably one of one or two African-American classmates were also in the crowd. This time it would be different, this place of good liquid refreshment was in a neighborhood that Steve served so well at that time. I suddenly realized that I was the only white person in the bar, which should have been okay, but it wasn’t. It  seems that I was the one who suddenly felt more than a little uncomfortable. Steve could see it and he called me out and said the words printed above. Why? Well, because I was sitting there straight-backed against a wall, facing all those other people, not with open arms welcoming conversation and getting to know some people Steve knew, but with my arms tightly folded against my body. It was then that my eyes were opened and I knew it was true. I only had played at being enlightened, but actually was just hiding my true self too well.

So I discovered that night, thanks to Steve, that I am a racist. Now perhaps you might say I am being hard on myself since I had named my sin and confessed it as you will. But I don’t think so. I believe it still hangs with me. The events of the past few weeks have moved me to think again, to confess again, to acknowledge again that I still participate in that white privileged culture. I am and always will be a racist. I won’t be burning any churches down or calling for repeal of affirmative action programs, but I still am one. If I don’t examine myself and my motives often I suspect I will always be finding excuses for my occasional uncomfortable feelings when I am in the minority.

You see for me I was more than just uncomfortable that night, I was afraid. I who was filled with the indignation of a middle class white male at what South Africa was doing to their blacks that I didn’t know we were and still are doing it to our African-American brothers and sisters in this country and I was part of the doing of it too. Fear does that to us, doesn’t it. It makes us circle the wagons, in this case encircle my arms, to try and be safe at any cost. My luck and blessing that night was I was with someone who called me to a better understanding of who I was, a more honest understanding of myself.

When Steve and I and our friends would go out in Columbus, I never detected any of that from him. He never had his arms folded, stiff backed against a wall. He found a way to adapt, to be a part of, to accept his own differences from us and us from him. He who has every right to be afraid of white people did not give into fear. He chose love instead. It was out of love that he spoke to me that night. He was and is the better human being than I am. I thank him for his courage and honesty even after all these years.

I am glad I went to South Africa that year, I even got to meet Bishop Desmond Tutu while there, I talked to him and received communion from this joyous man. I was able to tell two white Americans, who if they weren’t CIA they were something even more secret, that they were, wrong for advocating more not less constructive engagement, actually I said, after they had made their pitch. “I grew up in a small town in Washington State and where I come from we call what you just said as Bull Shit!”  I am most glad though that I went into that bar with Steve before I had even left and experienced the power of a prophetic and spirit filled word that continues to be with me now 20 years later.

Yes I am a racist and I daily ask God to transform me from being a fearful, white privileged older male to something brand new, someone who truly does believe and act like all are welcome. I believe God sent Steve into my life so that I could continue to wrestle with the Lord. I need those voices and memories more than I would like to admit, but am glad they are there still.

Allegiance Pledging

Good thoughts.

Take Off Your Shoes

The Pledge of Allegiance has been in the news a lot lately. People are arguing over whether or not the Democrats are being disrespectful by not reciting the pledge in session, or whether they are simply exercising their rights. Students have been reprimanded for not reciting it; other students are told they need not recite it, but they do need to stand.

Frances Bellamy, the ordained minister who originally wrote the pledge in 1892, did not include the words “Under God” in the original, and at that time, the posture children were taught to use when they recited it looked like the photo at the top of this post. Fortunately, that posture was soon abandoned for today’s more humble stance, standing, hand over one’s heart.

Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance hoping it would be recited by students in any country, which is why the original read, “I pledge allegiance…

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Justice & Joy

A wonderful sermon that is filled with peace and joy and courage from all who took part in this day of great joy!

Take Off Your Shoes

(Sermon from Nov. 19, 2017, King of Kings Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan)

The headwaiter called the groom 10 and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.” –John 2, The Wedding at Cana, Common English Bible

New Things. New Beginnings. A New way to express who we are, as we work together through changes that have come upon us as if in a wind-tunnel. The news in our lives as a community, as a country and individually have come on so hard and fast in the last year that at times, it takes our breath away. Every day it seems we have to accommodate something new. We even have a name for this phenomenon: the New Normal.

We have new people with us today. We did not have long to anticipate…

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Hijacking Trumped

Some valid points from a friend. Thanks for your continued courage Marie.

Take Off Your Shoes

I was reading a story from the BBC News, about the unholy alliance between the United States President and “Evangelicals.” You can read the storyhere.If I was not a member of a mainstream Protestant church, or if I had not ever been introduced to the concept of Evangelical, I might avoid anyone who links that word to their faith.

Evangelical comes from the Greek word meaning “Good News.” It was originally used to describe the act of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed; in writing and in speaking; in working for justice, in serving one another in the way that Jesus modeled while walking the earth.

As a pastor in the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America], one of the largest Christian denominations, with about 4 million members across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it is deeply disturbing toread…

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Living through now

Take Off Your Shoes

A therapist I know told me last week that THE distinctive feature of stress in the United States right now, the thing she has not seen in her many years of practice, is the way the results of the 2016 election have divided families, friendships, and marriages. She said, “we have lived through tough times before. Many of them. Many equally if not more difficult than this time. What we haven’t seen before is the pain being so great that it divides relationships, even in families, across the entire country.

I’ve thought about this a lot. It hits quite close to home for me. And I think if I had to distill the sense that I feel and that others seem to lament it is a constant feeling of Betrayal.

When one sees the current administration in Washington as not just incompetent, but frighteningly vengeful, angry, and irrational. Also impulsive…

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