Central America and the U.S. Immigration Mess

Many Christians like to think of themselves as political realists, people who separate their religious beliefs from their political positions. Religion is about salvation. Politics is about attaining economic and ideological gains.

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Wake Up Jeezus! Wake Up!

Mark 4:35-41

The raging storms are all around us. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that howl so ferociously that all we can hear is the sound of people’s fears as we see the very real possibility that the bottom might just fall out of the small craft we have fashioned to navigate the troubled waters that lie ahead.

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Theses Toward a Theory of Generative Death Anxiety: Thesis #5

Thesis #5 – Death fear refers to a response to concrete, actual and relatively immediate threats to life. Death anxiety refers to a more prolonged, smoldering response to the cognitive awareness of our vulnerable mortal condition. The heightened physical state of freeze/fight/flight condition in response to actual threat corresponds to death fear, whereas that same state brought on by imagination corresponds to death anxiety. Death fear calls forth active response and the heightened physical state is quelled by action. Death anxiety is potentially ubiquitous and the heightened physical state is quelled only by the regular employment of psychological defense mechanisms.

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Help Me Understand

I’ve written several posts about a book on Zen Buddhism I’ve just completed reading. I found myself becoming quieter and quieter as I read a brief section each day during morning prayer. Part of it was that Zen was telling me to shut up, just be. And part of it was that the whole enterprise had the effect of a Zen koan like “the sound of one hand clapping” to still the mind.

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Campfires For Conviviality

I’m working on starting an initiative on campus at USC to create the conditions for more conviviality, friendship, and compassion on campus. The symbol and the focus of this effort is the campfire. I hope it is something that catches on in churches and other settings as well!

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Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century

Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century was written out of a concern for the graying of the church and decline in church affiliation especially among younger generations. It promotes an understanding of Christianity that avoids literalism, dogma, and doctrines—all factors which many believe is driving people away from the church.

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Dismayed on the Fourth of July: A Ministerial Journey with Donald Trump

Dismayed on the Fourth of July: A Ministerial Journey with Donald Trump
Growing up in a small town in southern Indiana, the Fourth of July meant friends coming to the house for a cookout, sitting on the front porch, devouring large chunks of sweet and juicy watermelon, and watching an Independence Day parade moving slowly down North Main Street. An American flag gently swayed in the afternoon breeze. The Fourth of July was about celebrating our country. It wasn’t about nationalism. It wasn’t about proclaiming that the United States was better than the rest of the world. Perhaps most notably, it was not a politicized holiday. It was a simple day, naïve to be sure, but a simple day of enjoying one another and remembering the founding of our nation.
I share these memories because I’m painfully aware of how differently the Fourth of July feels to me this year under the presidency of Donald J. Trump. I’m guessing it feels differently for many Americans this year. I’m also thinking about it because a few weeks ago I received an email criticizing me over how I have been mixing religion and politics in my sermons, Facebook posts, and in a few of my Take a Breath blogs. But the one word that caught my attention in his long vituperative email was dismayed. He stated that he was “dismayed” that I would make a negative comment about “our” president, President Trump.
No minister likes to receive this kind of email on a Monday morning, especially after preaching a sermon the day before, followed by the Coffee Fellowship hour (and fielding a variety of complaints about the anthem and altar flowers), and then a few committee meetings held later in the afternoon. Like most clergy, I prefer everyone to think that my sermons are brilliantly written and eloquently delivered. While I know a few clergy who thrive on stirring the pot week after week, I’m not one of them. I love the people in my congregation, and I also like it when they love me in return. (There. I said it.)
Yet my skin has been crawling the past few weeks because of that word “dismayed” and the upcoming holiday of the Fourth of July. The word dismayed literally means the negation of something that is true. Or at least potentially true. Yet it’s more than that. It suggests that I had crossed a social, ecclesiastical or theological line. It’s a word that carries with it overtones of disappointment and shame. He wasn’t merely saying that he disagreed with me; he was saying I should be ashamed of what I was saying regarding faith and the political realities of our world. To be dismayed doesn’t mean a difference of opinion; it suggests anguish, hurt and pain.
I’m too much of a curmudgeon these days for a scathing email to derail me. But it did throw me into a state of self-reflection over what it means to be a minister of the Christian faith during the Trump presidency. It has been a cloud, to be sure, or more like a fog, that touches everything about how I approach my work as a clergyperson.
I don’t want a church where everyone agrees with me. I have repeatedly urged my congregation, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, to be a “journey” church and not an “answer” church. I love the diversity of thought and feeling in our congregation. As for myself, all I can do on a Sunday morning is preach the best message I know how to preach at any given moment of my life. I’ve changed my mind through the years. I’ve made mistakes through the years. But in the end, when the bells chime at 11:00 AM, it’s my job to say something about God and what is happening in the world. Or as Paul Tillich used to remind his students, my job is to help the gospel make contact with the world.
Knowing he was dismayed caused me to re-check my capacity for empathy. I don’t mean to suggest that I’m right and he’s wrong, or that I feel sorry for him because he hasn’t evolved to my point of view. I honestly want to understand what he thinks and believes. When people say they don’t want “politics in the church,” they may be acknowledging how stressful political discourse has become in our society, and that when they come to a worship service, they want to find something inspiring to help them make it through another week. I understand that. My view of faith is a little broader, because I happen to think Jesus was political. Faith should always be about interacting with our real world. I also think there’s a way to find refreshing spiritual renewal, while at the same time caring passionately about what is happening in our nation.
That said, after receiving his email, a new sense of clarity began taking shape inside my consciousness. I realized that I, too, am “dismayed.” Deeply, passionately, and theologically dismayed. I’m dismayed because of the presidency of Donald J. Trump. I’m anguished over what I see happening to our nation. In fact, I’m dismayed that more church members aren’t dismayed along with me, feeling a sense of outrage over issues of injustice and indignity that happen regularly in the political circus that is the Trump presidency.
I’m only now realizing that my feeling of being dismayed has shaped everything about who I am as a clergyperson for the past two years, including my sermons, posts and blogs. I’ve tried to restrain my feelings. I have had to talk myself off the ledge numerous times after writing vitriolic posts or deleting whole paragraphs, and in some cases, entire sermons on a Saturday night. But at a certain point, even a minister has to be honest about his or her real experience. I believe churches deserve our honesty.
My real experience is that I am dismayed . . .
I am dismayed because, at least according to the Washington Post, this president has lied to the American people over 3000 times, and that it is now to the point that no one knows what is true and what is false, what is spin and what is fact. The White House cannot be trusted. This is a fundamental loss in our country. The idea of not bearing “false witness” is essential to the Jewish and Christian faiths, and in fact, it is an essential dimension of morality found in all the great religions of the world.
I am dismayed that this president has created foreign policy chaos, including breaking alliances with longtime allies and friends and making our world a more dangerous and unpredictable place. As a clergyperson, I believe we live in a global village, and now more than ever the complexity of the world must be approached with wisdom, insight and intellectual rigor. The survival of the planet now depends upon the moral reasoning of our global leaders, and this is a special burden of responsibility that the President of the United States of America must carry. Even his handshake diplomacy with North Korea feels nervously shaky and unclear.
I am dismayed that this president, during a real-time climate disaster, has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, not to mention leading an administration that continues to roll back important regulations and environmental protections. My faith moves me to understand the earth as the body of God, and how we treat the earth is how we are treating the great Spirit of love that is in all things, through all things, and above all things. Furthermore, it has been proven again and again that those who suffer most from a collapsing environment are the poorest of the world’s poor. This is not a political issue; climate change is a moral issue.
I am dismayed that this president regularly diminishes the American justice system, including the work of men and women in the Department of Justice, CIA and FBI, and that he has continued to use the Attorney General as his personal piñata. Many of these people kept our nation safe after 9/11. We are a nation of laws, and these laws have their roots in a democratic vision established in the original founding of our nation. While I believe in the separation of church and state, and I have never publicly endorsed a political candidate, I know enough about American history to note that religious faith fundamentally shaped our democracy that is based upon law and not personality.
I am dismayed that this president continues to undercut the work of the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, and is now arguing that, as president, he is above the law, immune to indictment and empowered with the authority, not only to pardon his friends, such as Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, but is able to pardon himself. I am old enough to remember the crisis of Richard Nixon and Watergate. I had come to believe that our nation understood that no one is above the law, including the president. As a clergyperson, I understand that the misuse of power is one of the great moral issues of our time, and that all power, whether political, ecclesiastical or corporate, must be used judiciously and with unblinking self-honesty.
I am dismayed that this president regularly diminishes women, and for that matter, almost anyone different from himself. Evidently he as bought the silence of many women in order to protect his reputation. My faith embraces an egalitarian view of women, believing that they have every right to make contributions to the church and world, and when this president diminishes one woman, he is diminishing all women. Moreover, his vulgarization of women provides a cultural permission slip for other men to do the same, something that is regressive and reprehensible, especially given the realities of the “Me-Too Movement” at the beginning of the 21st century.
I am dismayed that this president has offered no humane, compassionate, constructive solution to the challenge of immigration in our country. Building a wall is not a solution; it is only a clichéd campaign slogan. Again, my faith encourages me to love my neighbor as myself, especially caring for the stranger and those who are most vulnerable in life. Even as I write, parents and children are being separated at the southern border of America, all in the name of American justice. If this is American justice, then it is an America I clearly do not recognize. This strategy betrays everything good and true thing about Jesus, who said centuries ago, “Let the little children come unto me.”
I am dismayed that this president has not exhibited the moral capacity to understand the anguish of African Americans in our country, especially when he argues that there are “good” neo-Nazis and white supremacists, not to mention publicly shaming black athletes protesting police violence by peacefully kneeling during the national anthem. Of course, his personal endorsement of disgraced actress Roseanne Barr, who was recently fired because of abhorrent racist tweets, is deplorable enough. But when given an opportunity to respond to her incendiary remarks, the president turned it into a narcissistic complaint about his own sense of injustice. My faith teaches me that all people are children of God and that every human being deserves respect and dignity.
A few months ago I was watching the television show “Morning Joe,” and they were lamenting the troubles of the day as they do most mornings, but that day the conversation turned to religion. The panel went back and forth until someone asked: “Where are the ministers now? Are any of them speaking up?” These are important questions. Jim Wallis? Of course he’s speaking up. Al Sharpton? Yes, he always speaks up. William Barber? Yes, he’s leading the Poor People’s Campaign. But when you’re in a parish, seeing the same people week after week, it’s not easy to speak up. We love our people and our people love us. People want all kinds of things from their church, including spiritual renewal for their challenging lives. And yes, I’m guessing that a few people in my church voted for Donald Trump.
Yet people also want some truth. From time to time I think people need (and deserve) to know what their minister really thinks and feels. It’s risky, to be sure. And it’s challenging. Maybe it can’t be done every Sunday. I don’t know. The full spectrum of life has to be honored in a parish context. But every now and then I’m convinced it’s good for the church and good for the minister to just say it, to stand up and say what he or she is really thinking and feeling and believing. As for me, on the birthday of our nation, July 4th, 2018, it seems like a good day for me to say what I am feeling – I am dismayed. I am dismayed on the Fourth of July.

R. Scott Colglazier is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles and the author of the popular online blog – “Take a Breath” (www.rscolglazier.com). His work as a religious leader has been featured in The New York Times, the CBS Morning Show and CNN.
I’m painfully aware of how differently the Fourth of July feels to me this year under the presidency of Donald J. Trump. I’m guessing it feels differently for many Americans this year. I’m also thinking about it because a few weeks ago I received an email criticizing me over how I have been mixing religion and politics in my sermons, Facebook posts, and in a few of my Take a Breath blogs. But the one word that caught my attention in his long vituperative email was dismayed. He stated that he was “dismayed” that I would make a negative comment about “our” president, President Trump.

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God Needs a New Image

As a clinical chaplain and grief counselor, I am often confronted with images of God that create more suffering than solace when people have experienced a traumatic loss. The question they usually ask is, “Why would a loving God let this happen?” Or they will say, “I thought if I was a faithful Christian and pleased God, nothing bad would ever happen to me, so why did my child die? What did I do wrong?”

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Embracing Death: A New Look at Grief, Gratitude and God

Terri Daniel’s work has been praised by theologians, physicians, grief counselors and the bereaved as providing revolutionary insights into death and dying. Her unique form of “radical mysticism” explores cultural and religious myths about birth, death and the afterlife, and offers a path to alternative perceptions via the use of intuitive tools such as meditation and after-death communication.

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Moon-Walking Bears, Jesus and Nicodemus: a sermon on John 3:1-17

I am indebted to Jim Kast-Keat, a pioneering preacher who inspired me to open this sermon with the video below. I am also indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for teaching me more that I can articulate with words. His excellent book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic opened the Gospel According to John in ways that have helped me to see aspects of the Divine to which I was once blind. Much of the sermon consists of extensive quotes from chapter 9 of Jack’s book.

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Time And A Created Universe

I am speculating that few people would argue with the concept that all life forms exist as developing entities that are superimposed on an intangible flow we call time. As self-conscious humans, we seem to have an innate awareness of the advance of “something” where change can be perceived as rather sudden and dramatic or almost imperceptible. Our lives are lived with this backdrop of measured, forward advance in units ranging from nanoseconds to eons. We are all familiar with our time-reckoning devices such as clocks and calendars as everyday aids to help govern our daily behaviors through the passage of our lives.

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An Unequivocal Condemnation of Family Separation

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, essential to protecting the integrity of human beings within the family of nations, reminds us that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” History teaches us that this cruelty is at its worst when it is rationalized by leadership, justified by law, and made defensible by appeals to sacred writings. The voices of the many are responsible to speak out against such aberration from our shared humanity, wherever in the world it is found. Silence and inaction equate to complicity.
When a nation claims the mantle of self-evident truths “under God”, it bears a special responsibility to act in accordance with these truths under divine precept. And when a nation is made up of a multitude of families, each with their religious traditions, philosophies, and ethical beliefs, that nation bears a further responsibility to uphold the freedoms that families require to flourish.

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Alchemy of Healing

The courage we borrow, the courage we bring
Shall bind us in strength to the healing we sing
The courage to face any wound that we fear
Shall bind us in beauty and bless every tear

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A Word of Hope

A couple days ago, I asked my social media friends how they were feeling right now and if they were holding up under the stress of the news. More than 300 people commented. The most often used words were “exhausted,” “angry,” “sad,” “overwhelmed,” and “helpless.”

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The Battle for Human Decency Moral Outrage and the Politics of Chaos

Tearing apart families at the border has touched a raw nerve in the American psyche, finally. We have protested somewhat when cops shot young black men. We have responded with increasing acceptance as our children are murdered in their schools. We have done nothing as millions of our fellow Americans suffer infrastructure collapse in Puerto Rico. Each of these crises alone should have forced us into the streets to demand what human decency requires. But then the moment passes, and America continues its slow but increasing decline into incivility. The same decline may be happening world wide, but this is our country, our problem.

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Jeff Sessions’ Outrageous Bible Interpretation

The recent statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, defending the horrific separation of children from refugee parents on the basis of his tortured reading of Romans chapter 13, as well as Donald Trump’s recent statement that he wants Americans to treat him the way North Koreans obey their dictator, illustrate the critical need for our churches to stand publicly for a radically different version of the faith and for a very different direction for our country.

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Racism at our Core: The Divided United States

The US is built with layer upon layer of racism. The most obvious example is that the US was populated mostly by western Europeans who massacred their way across the frontier, wiping out whole cultures of people along the way.

Racism is a driving force even in our education and health care systems. How can this be?

We Americans just don’t see each other as members of the same family and society. If we did, it would be easy to convince each other of the value of investing in each other. We act very differently when we have that sense of shared commonality with others.

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King David the Louse

King David has long been one of my Biblical heroes—or so I thought. The story of David versus Goliath is a powerful metaphor for facing life’s challenges. The little guy takes on the big and the powerful—and wins.

I always envisioned the great King David as the prototype for who and what the Messiah should be: a powerful leader, admired by all, who would lead the chosen people to achieve the highest standards.

Then I bought the Great Courses DVDs on the Old Testament, which consist of twenty-four thirty-minute lectures by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a Biblical scholar from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

In lecture sixteen, Dr. Levine talked about who King David really was. That lecture was an eye opener—and not a nice one!

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