Category Archives: current events

United to Love: Rally Day 2018

We knew they were coming. The group of white supremacists had been issued a permit to gather in Lafayette Park, on this, the one-year anniversary of the “unite the right” event in Charlottesville. At their 2017 gathering, Heather Heyer, a counter-protester, was killed, while others were physically injured and their city was left scarred and deeply saddened. Now they were coming to Washington, DC.

A call was initiated by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church to respond to the white supremacist rally with a rally of our own. I’d heard that there would be a group from Floris UMC going. Something inside inclined me to sign up.

Let’s be clear: I am not a very brave person. I am no risk taker. I am not foolhardy. I have never stood before the barrel of a gun, never truly feared for my life, and certainly never placed myself intentionally in the presence of someone I knew would be spewing hatred, shouting racist epithets or chanting anti-Semitic slogans. (Heck, I don’t even like the unruly crowds at Redskin games.)  All of this swam in my mind as I boarded the Floris bus to head downtown.

IMG_0844There were 12 of us on that bus: 10 courageous women, one pastor and bus-driver extraordinaire, and me. During the ride down, organizers of our group delivered our “marching orders.” In case we were confronted by hostile protesters or situations that posed harm, we were to defuse any altercations, assist anyone subjected to harm and were NOT to engage any form of hatred. Our job was to sow peace, the peace of Christ. But, just in case something untoward occurred, we arranged for an alternate meeting spot, shared phone numbers, and signed into event alerts. Maps indicating the nearest metro stations were distributed, just in case we couldn’t get back to the bus.

This, you might imagine, did NOT assuage my fears. There I was, sitting in the back of a church bus, apparently headed straight into what might be harms way.  I sat pretty quietly during that ride in spite of the lively chatter which surrounded me. This was a pack of peacemakers with a purpose! I was completely out of my league.

IMG_0848The plan was to collect for a pre-march pep rally at Christ United Methodist Church, so after Bob’s miraculous parallel parking on DC city streets, we poured out of that bus and onto the sidewalk to head to church. First, prayer. Circling to hold hands, Sara Greer even convinced a group of kids walking our way to join us. All prayed up, we headed to church where we were greeted warmly, welcomed magnanimously and inspired by word, song and fellowship. They handed us a lunch – our last meal? – as we gathered behind the banner to begin our march.IMG_0934

Our police escort immediately surrounded us. They proceeded to stop traffic (!!) so this little band — multi-racial, multi-ethnic, broad-ranging in age and mobility — could all find its way safely.

As we spilled onto the grassy lawn of the mall, instead of the hatred, weaponry, and harsh words I feared, we were greeted by nothing but love. A beautiful stage had been erected right in front of the Capitol building, its banner announcing our common purpose: United to Love.IMG_0889

Kicking off this rally, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling told us, this was not a meeting of counter-protesters. In fact, it came about in response to a request directed to the bishop imploring her to lead the effort to deny the “unite-the-right-ers” permission to rally. “Absolutely not,” she told them. “If we take away their rights, they will have the right to take away ours.” Instead, we will rally under this banner. Not as counter-protesters, shouting down hatred, but as representatives of a force stronger than hate, because, as Dr. King said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

United to Love had a permit, too — for the mall, not Lafayette Park, thank goodness! I would not be standing eye to eye with white supremacists, but surrounded by love in all colors and denominations. Relief! I even saw a bit of humor in this. As we staked out our place on the grass, we were instantly dive-bombed by dozens of large flying bugs that resembled dragonflies. One in particular hovered so close to me and held me with such intent focus, I imagined him a dragonfly-drone collecting data on this new species of invader. I waved a happy so-long, as he buzzed off.

IMG_0874Then I settled onto a borrowed beach blanket to enjoy the spectacle: song and word, prayer and praise, fellowship and message. A rally it was, to God be every bit of the glory. Yes, we knew that hatred and bigotry was gathering just a few blocks from us but we couldn’t hear them and we couldn’t see them; it was only from news reports via digital media that we heard they were there. Instead we were focused on the future, on ways that moved us forward, on a path we could chart together. We, a diverse group of interfaith worshipers, gathered in support of our common humanity and each other. That, I felt sure, was not what was happening in Lafayette Park.

Then the funniest of thoughts creeped in. What if all these dragonflies really are drone-spies sent by the “unite the right” rally organizers to report on that “other rally” down on the mall? I wondered what they’d think of what was being shared here: messages of hope, commitment, and unconditional love, amid preaching and teaching affirming that we, in our diverse array, are each expressions of a God whose nature is love.IMG_0884

OK, now that I’m relaxed and amused and my life doesn’t feel quite so endangered, this out-of-doors praising God inclines me to worship with a bit more abandon — to raise my hand in affirmation, clap my hands in rhythm and raise my voice in response. I’ll be honest, I feel WAY more free to really worship here than I feel inside a sanctuary on a Sunday.IMG_0851

Our times make it clear that now is the time we need to raise our hand when we see injustice and raise our voices to stand against it. From Micah 6, we take our marching orders… what does the Lord require of you?

As I look behind me and scan the gathering of the faithful around me, a peace that passes understanding settles over me. The trepidation I came with is gone. No, I’m not a risk-taker by nature, but I’m no standby-er either. I rise to wander through and greet a few folks, but mostly to snap photos of the amazing expressions of God’s mercy, love and justice, on display right there on the DC mall.

IMG_0899How proud I feel to have marched behind the banner which is now draped over the fence with the Capitol building as backdrop. Midway through the rally, as the afternoon sun beats down on us, and most of the crowd have taken shelter in the shade to right or left of the stage (but not the hardcore like us!), Dr. David McAllister-Wilson, President of Wesley Seminary addresses those gathered. He wonders to us, What is unite the right? How are they right? He concludes that they have gotten it confused. Not unite the right, rather, unite the righteous. “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” ~ James 3:18

Many speakers refer to the distinction between our rally and that of “those gathered a few blocks away.” It starts me wondering if our times are something like the day in another capitol city, Jerusalem, some 2000 or so years ago when there were also two parades. Along one parade route people shouted Hosanna and waved palm branches, welcoming Jesus riding humbly on a donkey. Along the other rode Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea, adorned in his imperial majesty. One rally peaceful, one rally proud. The peaceful not a counter-protest but a different message, entirely. IMG_0901 (1)

Sometimes, when we as people who are not brave, not risk-takers, and not particularly well-suited to diffuse differences or sow peace, let the God of love drag us up out of our pews into our nation’s capitol on a Sunday, we are forced to see and hear what is going on in our day.

I marched and rallied on Sunday in order to magnify the message that Jesus reverberates through the ages: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Love is the eternal answer to the toughest questions of every age. 

The question that remains: what will the followers of Jesus do with the message of love? We’d best be love. 

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Collective Joy

Thailand soccer boysThey’re out. All twelve boys and their soccer coach are free. What is it about that news sends me to the verge of tears?

  • I’m a soccer coach. I have taken my teams on excursions as team building opportunities. None of these have gone badly wrong, but they could have.
  • I’m a parent. I cannot possibly imagine the angst of these parents and the roller coaster of emotions as they were lost, then found. Located and rescued.
  • I’m a human and I find human interest stories riveting, especially when the stakes are high and there is a happy ending. I am desperate for good news.

Yes, this captures all of me. And to have this play out, the rescue literally occurring between games in the Men’s World Cup competition, is just astonishing. At the one time when our collective sporting world has all eyes turned in one direction, the final week of matches, we all — and I mean all — expire the collective breath we’ve been holding.

They’re free! The boys are free. Hallelujah!

There is just something that happens to us when, in a time when all seems lost, a thing we desperately desire is found. Not by magic, but by effort, by toil, by ingenuity, by reasoning, by sacrifice, by teamwork, by capability, by prayer and by waiting. When the odds are stacked against us and we overcome them, it’s miraculous. This moment has captured us because we know it, even though we don’t know them.

We know that lives matter, that life matters. Though yes, we might pause to consider how to prevent these circumstances from repeating themselves in the future, today we hear the good news of their rescue and we cry out, unbidden, unprompted, and unrehearsed.  Pure JOY! It sounds the same in every language.

Oh, how I hope these boys are able to attend the World Cup championship game, to which, I understand, they have been invited. Just imagine the moment of their introduction. The moment when the love of sport and the love of children collide in a terrific outpouring of love.  When we join together in a collective roar from supporters of all teams, all children, all parents, all coaches, and all of humanity everywhere.

What joy there is in heaven, we’re told, when the one who has been lost is found. The news today is good news: the ones who had been lost are found and now free. What is that feeling I’m feeling and so are you? It’s joy. Pure joy.

I wonder what these boys will now do with the lives that have been given back to them, don’t you? One thing’s for sure: the Wild Boars will be tough to beat in their next game. In fact, one wonders whether any of them will make their own appearance on the pitch in a future World Cup match.

Starting today, don’t count out Thailand.

Dear Graduates, chart your own course

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Caps and gowns everywhere! Smiling faces. Proud parents. Adoring Grands and even congratulatory hugs from siblings. It’s a great occasion and we mark it with well-deserved fanfare. Pomp. and. circumstance.

So many graduates! I imagine each of them bouncing on their own personalized trampolines, springing giddily into the air, paying no heed to the creaking complaints of metal springs better suited to children’s play. These celebrants are ready to boing to their next appointment: be it career or college, military or volunteer service, or perhaps just promotion to the next grade or next level school.

Congratulations! Way to go! But, I pray, dear young people, that this day is more than lift-off for you. May it also be deflection pointtrampoline high jump

Because so much in your world to this point has demanded that you achieve maximum height: jump higher, score better, achieve more, set new records or perform the best aerial trick. Success on that life-trampoline rewards perfect landing and launching from the same spot. No deviation. Simply master the repetitive motion. That’s more tantrum than lift-off.

I pray that on this graduation day you may embrace a little deflection. Accept permission to stop jumping straight up-and-down.

On an Easter evening two millennia ago, the disciples of Jesus experienced a graduation ceremony of their own, but it was no cause for celebration. Jesus had been crucified, died and was buried. Up until then, when Jesus said, Jump; they said, How high? But now, without the one who was their teacher, leader, and counselor, they cowered in fear.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. ~ (John 20:19-22) 

The disciples needed deflection. Following the leader was no longer an option. To stay the course, they needed to chart it themselves. In the peace that only Jesus can bring, their Lord sent them.

Dear Graduates, congratulations on your arrival at this day. From its precipice, look into your distance to notice what calls you, and listen for what draws you. Breathe that in. Let it inspire you. Let it energize you. Allow it to bring you peace. And then, let it deflect you toward a future that has been designed for you. Play that angle. Even the slightest deviation, multiplied by your landing force, will send you into new air space that you have not yet sampled.

DSC_0344Memorize that feeling; it’s called courage. You’re charting new territory. Take your momentum with you and spring for all your worth. Hey, bouncing up and down on your backyard trampoline never had much growth potential anyway. Let the deflection take you — to scary places, challenging places, and into untrod territory that desperately needs new minds to solve old problems.

Go and may the peace of Christ be with you.

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