Just One Vote: The Power of Relationships

June 14, 2011 @ 03:05 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Hello everyone. Today several of my staff and I went down to City Hall to join our voices to those gathered in support of marriage equality. As we watch and pray for an affirming vote, read these words from my colleague Tricia Sheffield.

And, when you finish reading, go to Marriage Equality New York to reach out to your legislator to encourage them to vote yes.

Jacqui


Just One Vote: The Power of Relationships Dr. Tricia Sheffield, Research Consultant, The Middle Project

When many U.S. citizens (and not just white, middle class women!) were agitating for women’s suffrage, it all came down to one vote. Several states had ratified the constitutional amendment, but after the ratification in Washington, the amendment languished. As the decision went state to state, it all came down to Tennessee. If this state ratified the 19th amendment, then such an amendment would become national law. But the vote was tied 48 to 48. It was then that a young legislator, Harry Burn, just 24 years old, stepped onto the stage of history. He had previously sided with the anti-suffrage movement, but his mother had urged him to vote for suffrage and the amendment. She wrote: “Dear Son: Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification. Your mother.” Burn voted for women’s suffrage, and on August 18, 1920, Tennessee ratified the amendment and the 19th amendment, the right for women to vote became U.S. law on August 26th. It wasn’t an ideology, an argument, or an under the table deal that changed Harry Burn’s mind. It was a relationship.

I tell this story because we are now at such a time in U.S. history, with another kind of vote being debated in New York: the right for same sex people to be legally married. The arguments have been filled with vitriol, using naïve and unfounded religious arguments, quoting Scripture out of its cultural context, and asserting slippery slope arguments that are, well, just silly. But our civil servants in Albany aren’t necessarily going to vote “yes” for marriage equality based on a persuasive argument; they will vote in the affirmative because of a person, a story, or a relationship. As one of my friends once said, “It is easy to hate an ideology, but it is a lot harder to hate a person who is standing right in front of you.” It is the Mrs. Burn of history that will change minds, a woman who told her son to be a good boy. We can translate this phrase to say, “Do what is on the side of justice and love.” Now, I’m not so naïve that I don’t think there are many issues driving this debate, but in the end, it I believe it will be relationships, our living together in a peaceful, loving and civil society that will sway Albany to the affirmative for marriage equality.

I know the power of relationships. I myself was once a fundamentalist Southern Baptist, a person who went out to malls and beaches, proselytizing, trying to win souls for Jesus. I was raised in the racist South, hearing the “n” word on a constant basis. I also heard that gay and lesbian people were choosing to sin, and only the power of God could “cure” them of their hedonistic ways. But, as much as these viewpoints were a part of my story, this intolerant world in which I lived never felt comfortable. I felt uneasy when I heard from the pulpit, Sunday after Sunday, how women were not really made in the image of God, but in the image of man. I didn’t understand how women couldn’t be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament just because they were women, especially since the women in my family were such strong, independent people who basically ran the family. I felt disturbed by the racist remarks; something seemed wrong, off, not God-like, although these statements usually came from so-called God-fearing people. I know the power of people’s stories, for it was my relationships with individuals, and a challenging education that changed my worldview. After I went to seminary, I disavowed the type of Christianity that said only people who believed in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior would be saved and enter into Heaven. I rejected the racism of my former world, vowing to work against racism for the rest of my life. This meant I had to first deal frankly, and oftentimes painfully, with the inherited racism in my own body. And I learned that one’s sexuality is a fearfully and wonderfully made God-gift, a way to love and be in this world.

So, love informs what I do now. It was no one person, no Mrs. Burn that made me view the world in a more loving way and to work for justice, but many people with her same spirit, many encounters that moved me to examine my own soul. I listened to people, their stories, their pain, their joys, and in those relationships I found a part of myself. In my community, we believe that none of us are saved until all of us are saved. That is, salvation is not an individual position of whether you are part of the elect of God and are assured of your place in Heaven, but salvation is communal; salvation is now. Salvation involves having enough food to eat, enough clothes on your back, having a safe place in which to live; in other words, salvation is loving others as you love yourself, doing justice, loving kindness, and making sure that everyone has equal rights before the law.

We stand on the eve of a vote for marriage equality in New York. We only need two more “yes” votes for it to pass. And I’m hoping that the spirit of Mrs. Burn shows up again.

Pride. Power. Praise.

May 12, 2011 @ 04:45 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Dear Friends,

The children in our congregation have been rehearsing a play with some theater students at New York University called Creation Stories. It was written by the students to help our children think about how different cultures have different stories and theologies about creation. You can see it on Sunday May 22 after worship at 2PM. I am excited that we are teaching our children early that people see and understand God’s work and God’s purposes through different lenses. Our God talk informs our views on human sexuality.

And so it is that after decades of struggle around God talk on homosexuality the Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to ban language condemning LGBTI persons from the Book of Order, which contains confessions of theology and church law. As a Presbyterian clergy, I am amazed and thrilled that my denomination has moved to include my theology–God has created us all, I believe, just exactly as we are and we are awesomely and wonderfully made. So, Amen! And in my celebration I am praying for those who feel somehow that we have turned away from God’s plan. Theology and God talk reflect deeply held convictions, some so deep that congregations will split from the PCUSA in protest of this decision. That will be painful for families and long-held relationships. I am also praying for a team of Collegiate people working on a conversation with our denomination, the Reformed Church in America, about how the Collegiate Church differs so radically from the RCA on full LGBTI-inclusion. We are there, the RCA is not. Kevin Scott Hall is our representative from Middle Church.

Closer to home, our Pride Planning team voted to use a cross in their logo this year. Outstanding!! We are unashamedly Christian, unabashedly clear that there are many paths to God AND we will march down Fifth Avenue representing the Spirit of Middle: Pride. Power. Praise. I love the re-appropriation of a symbol that has meant rejection by the Church to so many.

Back out in the world, last Sunday we screened a Believe Out Loud promotion (see the ad here) created by our sister, Intersections International. Lovely piece. Sojourners refused to run an ad for Believe Out Loud. I was only a little surprised and there has been a firestorm. This conversation and controversy poses the question: What is progressive God talk and activism?

Can Sojourners or any of us be for economic justice, be against racism, and not be for LGBTI equality?

What do you think? Let me hear from you.

Jacqui

The Believe Out Loud ad:

A Call to Healing following the death of Osama Bin Laden

May 4, 2011 @ 09:37 am by Jacqui Lewis

On Monday morning, May 2, I woke to the news of Osama Bin Laden's death at the hands of US Military forces. My first thoughts went to my family; my brother is an Army Colonel, who now works for the Under Secretary of Defense. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, flying helicopters to keep other soldiers safe. We held our breath almost every day that he was away. Most of his troops survived their tours of duty, but every single death was a nightmare for their families and for my brother Ron, their commander. So many lives have been lost: soldiers on both sides of the war, women, children and old folk who just happen to be in the line of fire. Even more people have been wounded, seen their lives disrupted, or become refugees of the war on terror.

There is a huge cost to war. There is a huge cost to terror.

Every single person who lost their life on September 11, 2001 was a tremendous tragedy, a huge loss of life and presence. Their families, friends, loved ones, coworkers; their companies, their synagogues, churches and mosques lost the uniqueness of that person, that soul. As a nation, we lost something that I think we can't quite talk about. Something like faith in our borders, like self perception as unassailable. We were outraged, stunned. And after the shock, many of us became keenly aware of the way our global neighbors see us. This tragedy heightened our resolve to commit to interfaith dialogue and understanding.

There is a huge cost to terror. There is a huge cost to war. Billions of dollars in spending, the alienation that resulted when extremists turned planes into bombs and many of us turned our suspicions of what we do not know into fear and hatred. And in the midst of the anger and grief, what has given me hope is the ways communities have committed to connect across religious and ethnic differences to walk to the future hand in hand, like the apostle Paul says, "forgetting what lies behind [us] and pressing on to the... upward call..."

I admit that I felt deep in the pit of my stomach a sorrow at this news, and a concurrent feeling of relief. Osama Bin Laden is no longer out there, eluding authorities and adding to the grief and fear of so many people. I am also really disappointed at the celebratory tone we have seen in these past days. I have, though, been heartened by the reflections of the people in our community--somber, hopeful that a new day is dawning.

I have hopes. I hope for healing and for the end of war. I hope that a new Middle East is emerging and along with that a new consciousness about what it means to be a global neighbor; that we will respect the sovereignty of nations, that we will see ourselves as inextricably connected. I hope that we will, as a nation, understand the impact our policies have on the little Muslim girl in Pakistan and on the Muslim shop-owners in Brooklyn.

And while I hope, I pray thanksgiving that my brother is alive--it is really personal at that level. And I pray prayers of comfort for those who are not so fortunate as me, who will never see their loved one again.

It might be a radical act of love to pray for Bin Laden's family; perhaps we could add that to our prayers for peace, for safety from retaliation, and revenge, and for continued interfaith connections.

I am not Muslim, but I am calling us to prayer. Prayer and acts of justice-making will heal our world.

Care About All God's Creatures

May 2, 2011 @ 10:47 am by Jacqui Lewis

by Jacqui Lewis

The Middle Project Conference is in full swing. We had a great day with Ivan Petrella on Saturday helping us to think about economic justice from a global perspective and from the perspective of Liberation Theology. Gary Dorrien and Jim Forbes will started us off on Sunday with amazing wisdom and excellent preaching. Our own Tricia Sheffield and Chad Tanaka Pack ended our day with talks on spirituality and money and a culture of consumerism.

I have been busy with Easter and getting ready for this event, but I have not heard or seen as much about Japan in the news as I would have thought. There is so much heartache in the world. The recent storms in the south make me think about climate change and global warming. We have simply got to care about our Mother Earth, our brothers and sisters and God's creatures. Go to MSNBC to see how to help care for the storm victims here and donate to Japan here.

Here are words from our sister Saho, an artist in Japan.

Dear Middle,

I can not stand thinking about the pain those animals which did not do anything bad to humans. There are 360 cattle farms within a circle of 40Km around the nuclear power plants. 63,000 hens,1,000 horses, (don't remember their nunbers) cows, pigs and so have starved to death in these 50 days after that explosion. There were their owners who sneaked in and fed them, but most of them did it against the government's command. All the roads, wide or narrow, to those farms have been closed.

I do not have any means to save them. I will do my best to save dogs and cats around me, which have been mistreated. That is the only thing I am capable of doing. We are wondering what has happened to the 100,000,000 yen donated and why those victims are not receiving it. Victims need cars right at this moment to visit those places where the unknown dead have been gathered to check if their family members had been taken there, and to get jobs they have to drive to companies. They need cash. One of my students said most of it may be used by the government for the cleaning up of towns.

I hope the good friends of Middle will read what I have written.

Love, Saho

Err On The Side Of Love

April 28, 2011 @ 02:06 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Hi everyone. I got a really interesting letter the other day from someone asking about our theology of full LGBTI inclusion. It was fascinating, and raised good questions. I won't print the letter because that is not fair, but here is what I wrote back.

 

Register for the LGBT Equality and Justice Day today AND let's remember that love is the law.

One thing I never argue about is that these words you quote are in the Bible; they are. And, so are words that would prohibit either you or I to speak in church, words that might suggest that my ancestors should have been enslaved, and words that would make capital crimes out of things that today we find ridiculous. I speak in church every Sunday as an ordained clergy, and I am not clear if you are ordained or not, but most denominations would allow you to be and would encourage your voice in leadership as a lay person. Most of us have ceased using the Bible as justification for bigotry. And, the church no longer keeps kosher, let alone killing people for committing adultery.

God's Word has always been interpreted with Holy Spirit - in the oral transmission, in the writing down of the scriptures, in the selection of the canon, in the preached word. We bring our whole selves to these Holy words, as we seek to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Human laws are also interpreted by enforcement agencies, by lawyers and by the courts.

What seems to me to be core to the Judeo-Christian law is this: love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Per Jesus the Christ, love is the ultimate law. If for some reason I have to answer for loving the folk in my congregation, all of them, and loving my brothers and sisters in all of God's creation, no matter with whom they have sexual relations, then I am prepared to do that, now and in eternity. I will err on the side of love.

In the meantime, at Middle we bring people together to learn more fully how to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. We teach others to err on the side of love.

Journey Toward New Life

April 15, 2011 @ 09:57 am by Jacqui Lewis

Friends, in the Christian tradition, Palm Sunday begins a very holy journey toward new life. It is a journey of remembrance of events that happened in ancient Palestine, when a Rabbi named Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the Holy days of Passover. He rode in on a borrowed donkey, and was greeted with palms and excitement from those who thought he was the much awaited Messiah. What also awaited him was a trial, torture and an execution, because many believed him to be a heretic, a rabble rouser and an enemy of the state.

I don’t think the historic Jesus was trying to create a new religion, but I do think he took exception with the religious and political authorities of his day. I think he was offering a radical re-visioning of culture and the praxis of a life of faith. I think he was crossing cultic and cultural boundaries– welcoming women, children and the disenfranchised into more power-full relationships with authority. And I think he held a deep critique of economic disparities present in the Roman Empire. This is why he addressed the issue of money so many times in his preaching and teaching.

Beginning April 30th through May 3rd, Middle Collegiate Church and The Middle Project will hold their fifth annual conference for leaders in multicultural/multiethnic congregations. This time we will focus on faith, justice and the economy. This conference may not feel as warm and fuzzy as some of our others, where we have celebrated the joy of worship in our congregations, highlighted the use of the arts, and encouraged leadership development and intercultural relationships in congregational life. But it is no less important; in fact this may be one of the most important conversations we can have as multicultural/multiethnic congregations in this moment in time. We understand that we can change our culture as we rehearse the reign of God in our congregations. We understand that race, class, ecological, economic, gender and sexual orientation justice are inextricably intertwined.

And so, yes, we will have an amazing worship celebration on May 1, with Jim Forbes preaching, stunning music, dance and powerful fellowship. And we will talk about how worship, education, community organizing and leadership development can help grow our congregations and have an impact on culture. But we will also be engaged from Saturday through Tuesday by an extremely gifted and multidisciplinary team of presenters from theology, sociology and organizing who will help us to examine, both theoretically and in practice, what faith communities should do and can do to follow in the footsteps of that Rabbi. We will think together about how to critique and improve the climate of economic justice in these United States, to make a small dent in the problems of empire, and to transform the hearts and minds of our congregants toward a more just society. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, we have been told.

A small band of folk got activated by the powerful message of Jesus, perhaps best “preached” on a mountainside, when before words were said, people were fed.

Come to this conference. Let’s talk about feeding the folk.
Learn. Do. Act. Heal the World.

Here are some resources for our journey toward a more economically just society:

The House of Representatives will vote Friday on a budget that would radically slash Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP/food stamps, slash funds that cover almost every other domestic human needs program, and wreck the promise of the new health care law. Click here to tell your US Rep to Oppose the House Budget Proposal.

[MoveOn.org]

Join the Circle of Protection at HungerFast.

Embrace the Darkness, Eric Law’s latest blog post.

 

Clouds

March 31, 2011 @ 09:10 am by Jacqui Lewis

After two days of work here in Capetown with brothers and sisters trying to move toward reconciliation in their churches, despite centuries of apart-ness, I feel both tired and encouraged. These people, the twenty five we were with, want to make it happen. They are experimenting, they are trying to make partnerships, and they are doing this work without the blessing of their hierarchies. They are pilgrims on a journey, like we are. I was frustrated, moved and ultimately blessed by these conversations.

At the end of the day today, we drove into the center of Capetown, and a cloud was nestled at the breast of this giant rock called Table Mountain, soft and misty; it seemed to want to nurse at the strength that comes with time. Or, it was nourishment itself, for the city below, full of Living Water, ready to cascade on this city and this region to bring God's healing Grace. If you read my not-regular-enough blog for secular content, hear this: Only God's love can do what needs to be done. It is both Living Water and a Rock in a weary land; it is a shelter in the time of storm. And if you don't believe there is a God, what force can make beauty like these clouds.

I have looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow...

I think God is able.

To be Living Water and a Rock in a Weary Land

We need healing; God is able to help us.

Words From Our Friends In Japan

March 14, 2011 @ 09:04 am by Jacqui Lewis

What can we say when the earth pushes up from the ocean floor? We know that God is with our friends in Japan. We pray for those who are lost and for those who have lost so much. Here are words from two of our family and ways you can help.

Dear friends,

You must have heard about that largest earthquake in Japanese history on March 11th at 2:46pm, M8.8. If you have not, pls. see CNN. What is hard to believe is happening in eastern part of Japan and all the sea coasts are being attacked by tsunami. Highest tsunami is over 10M which is not possible to measure.

I live in western Tokyo prefecture, which is quite away from Sendai town (which is closest to the core) and yet have been greatly affected by it.

Fortunately I had arrived home 15 minutes before it started to occur and was with my mother. Cupboards were shook and alter got opened and inside spilt, glasses and pottery got broken and was hard to keep on standing.

It was hard for me to lift my mother and take her to safer corner but I managed. Frequency has gotten less but I feel the tremor almost every 5 minutes even now. The major quaking was so strong and long time; I was mumbling “Please stop” while holding the pottery of sideboard not to fly out. My mother was quiet but kept on eating her lunch and said “Turn the TV on”. Since then unbelievable sights have been shown on TV screen.

They assume more than 1,300 are dead or missing. Some towns were burned down or washed away by tsunami and they do not look like there were houses a day ago.

As for my house, damage was not severe but my studio’s was something to me. About 45 minutes after the measure shaking I left my mother alone at home and rushed to my studio. Liquor stores on the way smelled very strong sake. Some buildings’ signs fell on the pavement and wall tiles came down. I managed to open my studio’s door and could not move, seeing the sight inside. And I am still picking up the things on the floor and pieces of glass and china vase, trying to put things in safer places in the studio since it is still shaking. I could not reach to my computer because my piano had moved and together with pots of plants and so force blocked my way to my desk (on which computer is). I asked 2 men to help me move them and now I am writing this to you. I have mirrors on one side of my studio and they were shattered and I asked a carpenter to come tomorrow. I cut my right hands cleaning the pieces of glasses.

There are so much more work to do to clean up so I thank you for reading this and wish you a good day.

Your friend,

Saho

Dear Jacqui,

I’m just letting you know that I just arrived home, in my hometown Nagoya, which is not affected at all. The trip was very smooth. I’m realizing now, how much I was encouraged because of messages of the people in New York, having friends and being in the Middle community-it’s a big difference. I’m truly blessed and lucky.

And I was awed how quickly the US issued, ‘How to Help’ list when I sat there helplessly crying and not knowing what to do. My prayer extends to the US too, which has suffered also, and is still ongoing.

With love,

Junko

You can make a donation to Reformed Church World Services for their Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami efforts here. To see how Reformed Church World Services handles their disaster work, head over here.

Earthquake in Japan

March 11, 2011 @ 11:11 am by Jacqui Lewis

Dear Middle Family:

This is like something out of a disaster movie, except it is real. Our friends in Japan have been absolutely decimated by a massive earthquake, measuring at an 8.9 magnitude, a tsunami with waves as high as 33 feet, and then two more aftershocks at 5.1 each. The photographs, shocking as they are, can’t possibly tell the story of the fear and loss. Already, 88,000 people are reported missing, so far. Please pray and, if you can, help the Red Cross address this emergency: you can donate online or text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to give $10.

God bless you, and God bless the people of Japan.

Jacqui

On The Peter King Hearings

March 10, 2011 @ 04:25 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Sometimes someone says just what you want to say. Check out my colleague, Bob Chase, on the Peter King hearings, and do take it to heart.

Fear and bigotry fuel the fires of terrorism.

Take this to heart.

Get informed. Get involved.

March 6, 2011 @ 12:21 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Have you been paying attention to the Wisconsin and Ohio conversations on collective bargaining? No matter where you are on the subject, check out this really smart research, Why Wisconsin is Ground Zero For Democracy in America (PDF), from Dean Hubbard and Rober Toussaint. They are on the ground, not on the tube, and I think what they say is important.

Get informed. Get involved.

Read. Get engaged. Pray. Act.

February 24, 2011 @ 11:10 am by Jacqui Lewis

Friends I am taking a few days off but have to write how excited I am about President Obama's actions in support of Gay marriage. I think this clears the way for more organizing on a state level and Middle is gearing up for that in May and June. Much work to do.

It is Black history month and we still have work to do. Check out the Color of Change and sign the petition protesting the brutal treatment of 15 year old Chad Holley.

Read. Get engaged. Pray. Act.

Turn it Around

February 22, 2011 @ 03:32 pm by Jacqui Lewis

I am with my family today, staying up way too late talking to my siblings, listening to stories shared by my mom and dad. These past two days we have laughed and cried; cooked and eaten great food; washed dishes and shared stories; and we had a family meeting about the things we need to do to stay close. And, we were entertained. No kidding, we can watch my nephew RJ dance, imitating Michael Jackson and Usher, for hours! He is two years old, and his ability to mimic is stunning. You say, “Wow!” and he says, “Wow!” He spins like Michael Jackson and has Usher’s halftime show down cold.

How young we are when we imitate others, mimic others. How very young we are when we learn to do the thing people affirm; how very, very young we are when we get it that the thing that delights people and makes them clap is a good thing to do.

I would like us to each think that people are watching us. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. We need to imagine that we are a lantern on a hill and that people are gazing upon us to see what God is all about. I don’t want us to be self conscious but I want us to be other conscious, and to take seriously that we are leaders in a movement for change. What is that change? We are working to transform our culture into the Reign of God.

So, look at the person in the mirror, and know that each day we start a revolution. RJ likes to say, “spin! Turn around.” This is good advice. Let’s turn this thing around.

I know you want to tell me things are getting better all the time. Yes, you are right. Yet, last week a 15-year old kid in Houston was kicked and beaten by police while others watched. We still have some things to turn around.

We have work to do. A two year old watches television and mimics the dance. Someone is watching you and will imitate your activism, your kindness, the way you are faithful to your values and the way you choose to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.

Come on, turn it around; we can do this together. Do something, one thing, every day, to make it a little better.

Freedom Has Come

February 11, 2011 @ 02:59 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Friends,

I was on the phone a little while ago with my mother. She is on the way to the doctor, to discuss a regimen to address her cancer–will she need chemo and radiation or just one?

It is not an easy conversation, but I send her phone love and kisses as she walks out the door with my dad.

My mom is a fiercely loving and generous person, and she is afraid right now. She is afraid that we are worried about her, she is afraid that she might not be here long enough to see RJ grow all the way up. She is afraid the doctors may not save her, not for long enough, and I understand that.

Sabrine, another mother, another brown mother a world away was afraid this week, too. Afraid for her son. Afraid for the violence and for his life.

“He kissed me goodbye and said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Then he looked me in the eye and said, ‘You are not my real mother. Egypt is my real mother. I must go save her.’ He gave his life for his country.”

– Sabrine, recounting her son Mohammed Badr’s goodbye as he left for the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo, where he was shot and killed. (Source: Los Angeles Times

Mohammed laid down his life for his country, for freedom.

There is a song, Sweet Honey in the Rock sings it, known as “We Who Believe in Freedom Will Not Rest Until it Comes” (Ella’s Song).

Muhammed can rest easy now, an eternal rest. His mother Egypt is free. He did help save her.

And Sabrine, his other mother, can let fear go, release it to the wind, release it in the shouts and cheers.

Freedom has come.

Jacqui Lewis

A Prayer Heard Around the World

February 5, 2011 @ 11:03 am by Jacqui Lewis

I was riding in the car this morning, running some errands and thanks to the ease with which news travels around the globe, I felt like I was in Tahrir Square, a square whose name means liberation. I can hear the chanting of the protestors. I don’t speak the language but I know that they are saying, ‘Leave! Leave! Leave!” They are saying, “Mubarak is illegitimate, The National Democratic Party is illegitimate…” It’s Friday, 11 days into the revolution, and the protestors want Mubarak out. Today. Now. But not until after evening prayers.

Today is a peaceful day, relatively peaceful. Not like two days ago, when violence took the lives of 13 people and left 1,200 more wounded. The NPR reporters are being harassed, but not threatened with violence like their colleagues have endured, not today. There is an old woman poking her finger at them, “You make Egypt look bad! You are spies,” she says, but they can shake off words from an old woman.

Today the crowd moves with more care, aided by the police and the military. Today they lift up one man in a wheelchair, up over the crowd into the square, so he is close to the protest, which is pulsing with the energy of liberation and freedom. He waves his fists in the air and I am reminded of the friends who lower their disabled buddy right through the roof of a house so Jesus could heal him and make him free.

Today is a different day; it is the “Friday of Departure.” The protestors have been assailed by police on camels, had cement hurled at them, endured a rain of bullets, and still they are undaunted. They can smell the freedom they desire. If Mubarak loves Egypt, they say, he will leave.

Right after evening prayers.

Right after evening prayers, the Mubarak regime says, they will squash the rebellion.

And the sun has gone down on Cairo, dipping into the night sky. Mubarak is still in power. The protestors are still on the square called liberation. They have come across the Nile River, they have camped out with their children. They are hoarse from singing and shouting. They are determined to live in a new way.

The deadline has come and gone. But not the prayers; they will pray again tomorrow, five times on mats facing Mecca. And in between, they will pray with their feet, and with their voices. They will pray with their stamina and their actions. They will hold each other up and keep each other standing. They will shout and march and sing the national anthem and wave flags and insist on democracy.

We should pray, too. For change, for hope, and for peace.

Do something: get informed, sign a petition, ask great questions, and get involved.

Pray.

Jacqui

Want to stay informed? Here are some links:

From Greed to Need

December 20, 2010 @ 03:12 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Dear Friends,

Greetings to you and your loved ones in this season of light, love, and hope! We here at Middle Collegiate Church and The Middle Project pray that no matter what tradition you celebrate, this time of year will be one of peace and joy and a time to refresh your soul and spirit.

It seems that now more than ever we need some glad tidings of great joy. I was listening to NPR yesterday, and the radio host was interviewing Santa’s top ‘elf’ at the United States Post Office here in NYC. This elf was relating how the recession had definitely influenced the children’s wish lists. Gone were the letters of greed, he said, and instead was now the palpable sense of need. He told the host how often the volunteers who open Santa’s mail will get quite a chuckle when reading the requests. But this year, he said, volunteers were crying. It’s quite simple: our down-turned economy has affected our children’s most dearly held fantasies and wishes. So, now more than ever, we need prophetic voices to prepare ethical leaders for a just society. The prophets and writers of Holy texts depict an alternative reality to the status quo, one in which justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. In this reality, the Divine requires us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. What does that look like in our lives of faith? What does “doing justice” mean in today’s economy? We hope you will register for our 5th annual conference The Leading Edge: A National Conference for Leaders on Faith, Justice, and the Economy, April 30 – May 3. You may register right now at www.middleproject.org. We have special rates for groups of 2 or more and we also have a special student rate.

In hopes we will continue to do a bold new thing here on this earth together, I wish for you many, many blessings, now, into the New Year, and forward looking on into 2011. See you in April!

Peace be with you,

Jacqui

Welcome Home to Middle

September 28, 2010 @ 10:37 am by Jacqui Lewis

Every now and then, in these past few weeks, I have been nostalgic about vacation. I’ve thought, wow, just four weeks ago, I was on the beach reading. Or, just ten days ago, I was walking in the park with John. I still hold the wonderful peace that was our sabbath in my heart (I think I even still have a tan!!) Mostly, though, these weeks back at Middle have been a great adventure of re-entry. Our staff is, quite frankly, jammin’ together. They are supporting each other, working as a team. I came back to their excitement about the new program year, and I am excited too. Our first worship celebrations together–our Interfaith worship, our worship on September 19 and our Homecoming Celebration Sunday was filled with great music, wonderful prayers, great art and, dare I say, meaningful sermons.

What was extraordinary about this past Sunday was the feeling of Home. A special art presentation focused on the road home to Middle – a journey we have all taken from many origins. Both choirs just rocked it! Many of us were back. And I think we were all feeling the sense that we had come home; home to a table that God has set for us; home to a place of shelter and safety – a place that, while not perfect, is a place where “mistake” is not the last word; home to a place beneath God’s wings; home to a place where we are free to rehearse new behaviors, to encourage the best in each other, to forgive the flaws and failings. A place called home in which we can find grace and peace and hold each other accountable for the self that God created to emerge and shine. Our choirs, the artists, the staff – all of us felt like we were participating in the beginning of a new thing: a bold new way to be the People of God.

I hope you had a summer full of adventure, healing, fun, meditation, exercise, making up, playing, and praying. I hope that if you had disappointments and setbacks, you had people to care for and about you. I hope that when things were amazing, you had some folk to say, “You GO!” I hope that you will make your way to Middle soon (and again) and get a warm hug during the passing of the peace and a great big dose of the Love of God. I hope you know that the Vision that God has given to us in our hearts needs you to make it happen, and that you will plug in to something; give a hand, mentor a kid, sing a song, teach a class, fold and stuff bulletins, pack and serve food, donate clothing, send a kid to New Orleans, write an article, support someone who needs help, advocate for justice – you get the picture.

Mostly, what I hope you know is that Middle is more Middle because you are here!

A Call to Reconciliation

September 10, 2010 @ 03:37 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Friends, a call to reconciliation is a high calling, but one not too out of reach for us. I believe, despite some evidence to the contrary, in the resilience of the human spirit to find goodness in the “other” and also to find it in oneself. This is my hope, and the reason I believe that we will overcome the walls that divide us and create a more perfect union. See this call from the clergy of the Collegiate Churches. Pray for peace and wisdom; learn about the things that confound you; believe we are more alike than different.


WAYS TO ACT FOR RECONCILIATION

This weekend will be a poignant time for the people of the United States, and especially for those who live and work in New York City. We want to make you aware of four positive and peace-seeking events which will take place this weekend.

All of these events express support for our Muslim brothers and sisters in this difficult time, and support the vision of the Park51 project in lower Manhattan.

Candlelight Vigil
Friday, Sept 10th at 7:15 PM
Church Street and Park Place
Please bring candles and American flags, but no signs.

Sponsored by New York Neighbors for American Values – a coalition of more than 100 community groups (inclusing Intersections International, Inc.) in support of the American Constitutional values of religious freedom, diversity and equality, and the rights of Muslim Americans to build a community center in Lower Manhattan.

Interfaith Worship Celebration and Panel Discussion on Interfaith Reconciliation
Sunday, Sept 12th at 11:15 AM
Middle Collegiate Church

Join Middle Collegiate Church for their annual Interfaith Celebration (Eid ul-Fitr and Rosh Hoshana). Jacqui Lewis will preach, and she’ll be joined by special guests Rabbi Burt Siegel (the Shul of New York) and Fred Johnson (Intersections International, Inc.).

Stay after worship for a Conversation on Interfaith Reconciltion, a panel discussion with Fred Johnson, Jacqui Lewis, Tricia Sheffield, Burt Siegel, and Chad Tanaka Pack; moderated by Bob Chase.

Liberty Walk
Sunday, Sept 12th at 3 PM

An interfaith “Liberty Walk” supporting Religious Freedom in the USA, that will gather for an initial program at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 12 at St. Peter’s Church, 22 Barclay Street in lower Manhattan.

Again, people have been asked not bring any signs. Rather, they ask that you bring American flags to show support for religious freedom in America.

If you would like to travel with Middle Church, please meet us in the church social hall by 2:30 PM on Sunday afternoon.

Screening & Discussion
“On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly”

Sunday, Sept 12th at 6:30 PM

A special bridge-building dialogue and film screening at Park51 on Sunday September 12 from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.. This event offers a constructive way for New Yorkers of diverse faiths and backgrounds to come together for an enriching educational experience and to learn about their Muslim neighbors, and to reflect on the bigger picture. A screening of the film, On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly offers a whimsical approach to the very serious issues that surround us.

Following the screening, discussion groups will consider a broad range of topics, including stereotyping, faith, and identity. Reserve space here. Presented by Unity Productions Foundation and Park51.

Balm in Gilead

August 27, 2010 @ 12:53 pm by Jacqui Lewis

As I continue my Sabbath, I am also listening to the conversations and controversy about Cordoba House/Park 51. You know that at Middle we believe strongly there is more than one path to God. Further, we hope for a reconciled world in which our faith and the faith of others will be a "Balm in Gilead."

The staff and I believe it is important that as you listen to all sides of this conversation, you hear some words directly from the source. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in his own words.

It is also our prayer that Ahmed Sharif and his family feel God's arms-around Grace in this season and that he fully recover. Further, we pray for Michael Enright, whose actions stand in stark contrast to his previous volunteer efforts at Intersections and their sense of the kind of person he is.

Please plan to join us on September 12 for an Interfaith Worship Celebration that gives us the chance to think, love and pray together.

The Leading Edge 2010: A National Conference for Leaders on Faith, Justice, and the Economy

August 18, 2010 @ 10:14 am by Jacqui Lewis

I wrote these words last week for Middle Church’s Listserve as I went off the grid for my vacation:

…(We) share our stories, we learn about folk, we read their Holy texts, and we read our own. We find out that the One God is the God of everyone. God is on the side of justice and mercy and peace and reconciliation. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little prayer, is my belief. And the place of prayer should not matter. We have all come “over a way that with tears has been watered . . .” walking a path “through the blood of the slaughtered.” May hope and prayer heal our world.

These sentiments are still on my mind today. It remains my hope and heart’s desire for our world to be healed from racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism. I’m listening to NPR right now, and sighing as I hear the stories of war and floods and intolerance. Despite the news, I, without a doubt, believe that God calls us to peace and reconciliation. We’re all still walking that path . . .

One of the ways The Middle Project ‘walks that path’ of hope and reconciliation is by coming together and learning from one another. The prophets and the gospel writers depict an alternative reality to the status quo, one in which justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. In this reality, God requires us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. What does that look like in our lives of faith? What does “doing justice” mean in today’s economy?

Building on the success of four annual national conferences for leadership in multicultural congregations at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, The Middle Project is proud to host a three-day conference for clergy, seminarians, and other congregational leaders, The Leading Edge: A National Conference for Leaders on Faith, Justice, and the Economy, April 30–May 3, 2011. Our confirmed speakers are Dalton Conley, Gary Dorrien, Miguel de la Torre, Jacqui Lewis, Ivan Petrella, Tricia Sheffield, Chad Tanaka Pack, and Roger Touissant.

Participants will not only engage in deep theological reflection about these issues, they will also do practical work as they—
• Deepen their understanding of economic justice and the widening disparity between the rich and the poor (power analysis).
• Find power and purpose in the narrative of the progressive movement’s historical involvement in economic justice (labor movement, etc.).
• Discover practical tools for congregational education, activism, and advocacy.
• Create strategies for developing leaders and organizing their communities for justice work.

Conference Offerings: All speakers will do implications and applications as part of their presentations.
• American Empire, Militarism, and Economic Justice
• A Liberation Perspective on Global Economic Justice: Learning from the Margins
• Creating a Culture of Critical Consumption
• Building a Movement for Economic Justice
• Race, Immigration, and the Economy: Why the Rage?

Middle Church and The Middle Project is in the ‘business’ of training ethical leaders for a just society. I hope you will consider attending the conference in April. For more information, or to register now, please click here.

About This Blog

Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.

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