Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Community Center

There is some talk in this neighborhood about building a community center. I like the idea but here at Keystone we are not waiting, we are a center for community. I just counted and right now eleven different groups use space at Keystone Church, twelve counting Keystone’s congregation.

Though working in different ways and on different issues, each of these groups is dedicated to making the world a better place. Two choral groups rehearse at Keystone one promotes peace the other justice, two meditation groups come to meditate, two groups work on issues of peace in the Middle East, one parent support group, one pre-school, one social justice movie gathering, The Heifer Project's office and two church groups gather here.

On top of these groups which regularly gather here, Keystone has hosted many events promoting peace and justice, like the advocacy training session that happened a couple of weeks ago for people seeking to end homelessness.

Though we have much more to offer the world, and even more that we can do with our building and grounds, this openness with our space is a good thing.


Proper 27 Year A
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
By Rich Gamble

It has been an eventful week in the nation. A new president elected and an election filled with emotion and hope. The nation has made a choice. It was a choice for change and away from fear. It was gratifying to see how often the old tactics of smear and scare did not work. It was good to see so many young people so invested in a political outcome.

And it makes for a good time to reflect on what our faith brings to the celebration of the week.

Joshua in this passage has led the Hebrew people in a successful campaign to claim the Promised Land from its inhabitants. The way the story is written it sounds like a conquering horde flowed out of the desert to battle, defeated and claimed land from those who lived there. I like to think of this in a different way. One theologian has posed the idea that what happened wasn’t that an outside group pushed people of a different ethnic background off the land. His theory is that the escaped slaves were few in number but mighty in their faith. They entered the Promised Land with a belief that God was on the side of the lowly folk like slaves. With this God these people gathered up supporters among the oppressed and outcast members of Canaanite society and together they toppled the power of the kings who ruled Canaan. Not conquest but revolution.

In either case those who identified themselves as Hebrews carved out a place in Canaan for themselves. But before they settled down, Joshua wanted to make something very clear: Before they settle, they first need to clearly and openly make a choice about which God they will follow.

I admit that Joshua doesn’t make this God sound all that appealing, a “jealous” God who “will not forgive transgressions” does not sound like Jesus’ understanding of God. The understanding of God seems to have evolved from Joshua’s time to Jesus’.

The important point here though is that a choice needs to be made. Not a choice of which person will lead them but which God they will serve.

This all sounds like superstitious mummery to modern readers. We all talk about God as if there is really only one and the choice is whether you believe in that God or believe in no God at all. Joshua’s choice is between Gods and it is just as real a choice for the world today as it was in his day.

A god is the dynamism of ultimate meaning or to say it another way. What Joshua calls gods are for us the active center of how we understand the nature of life and meaning. We may not call such things god any more, in fact we rarely if ever sit back and examine our ultimate meaning. We rarely if ever are forced to hold these beliefs out at arms length, examine them, compare them to others, and then choose. We just have such ideas affixed to us as children in a culture and never take such lenses off, much less look at other ones and choose. And since we don’t go through the process of examination and discernment and choice we walk through life thinking that our notion of reality and meaning are universal. Many of us believe that everyone understands things the way we do or else they are odd or heretical.

Joshua was right, at that important time it was vital that the people choose their God and understand that such a choice has vast implications.

For some time now we have been trying to get our minds around just how much the lens of the Domination System molds our view of ourselves, the world and God. The God of the Domination System is called by the names of every religion including Christianity because we humans have harmonized the perspective of domination to our understanding of God.

Ultimately the choice of gods is down to two: the god of domination, or the God of ultimate liberation. And what Joshua is doing here is forcing the people to hold those beliefs out at arms length, and choose. If we don’t do that then we just float along on the current of the beliefs and practices of the world around us, and that, within the cultural, political, economic, social and religious systems inside what we call civilization is Domination. Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Moslem they all can be co-opted by the god of domination.

That is what I find troubling about the election this week. We didn’t pull out our core beliefs, examine them and choose the path of liberating agape love. We were not given that choice and none of the candidates represented that choice. What we chose was a president. One who will rule a political, social, religious, and economic system of domination and that system will do more to determine the direction of the leader than the leader will determine the direction of the system.

As followers of the God who embodies love as power and not greed or violence or other forms of domination we can see that though a president has the power to make the world a worse or better place for millions of people, ultimately they are a tool of the god of domination.

President Obama is a moderate who will probably govern in a moderate way. Moderation these days sounds like radical change but we are the people of a truly radical alternative. The word radical comes from the Latin for root. The root of our civilization is domination. True change would be to change the root, to embrace agape love as the power upon which we build communities.

When we grow a world from that root, everything really changes.

I was moved by the joy of our African American sisters and brothers in the election of President Obama. I am glad for them. Many in the media have been waxing eloquently about that as being the fulfillment of the dream of Martin Luther King.

The dream that humans be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character was realized in part by President Obama’s election but there was a bigger dream of Dr. King that this election has not touched.

I want to read to you a passage in the middle of a speech Dr. King gave one year before his assassination. As you hear it, substitute the word terrorist for communist.

“In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy [applause], realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.
It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I'm not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. “

I didn’t hear this sort of vision during the long political season. This vision of the radical shift to the power of love, undermines our popular ideas of national power and pride. This vision doesn’t get someone elected president. It gets them murdered in Memphis and hung on a cross in Jerusalem.

This vision of Dr, King remains untouched by Tuesday’s election. We chose a president but we did not face the choice of power and ultimate meaning.

The passage today calls on us to bigger choice.

The good news is that in choosing our God we are standing at the crossroads where real change, real hope resides.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008