by Rev. David Rommereim
After the Tragedy at the Boston Marathon, A Bold Prayer for healing is needed.
Erin Niemela is a graduate student in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University. She is also a syndicated journalist. In her journalist role, she shared a wonderful thought on recovery after the horrible bombing at the Boston Marathon. She said, "We are better than this."
After such an event, our intinct is to become confused, then angry. Why does this happen!? Why such violence!? Then we surge forward to find the perpetrator(s) so that we may extend the full weight of justice. An angry justice refers to "getting even."
As a Biblically literate Christian, I am aware that the narrative of Jesus' ministry fully testifies to the good that is in us. I am fully aware that Jesus is cognizant of mean people. After all, he shares the parable of the "Rich man and Lazarus" (Luke 16.16-31). He speaks about the abusive political systems he is encountering in both Galilee and Jerusalem through stories like Mark 3.6. There he reminds us that there is the conspiracy of the religious leaders who went out to conspire with the Herodians against him. Jesus is also aware that you and I deceive one another and ourselves, especially when we are most challenged to maintain our own limited sense of power. Just meditate on Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" Matthew 5 and 6. You will be overwhelmed with insight that we get ourselves clogged in the things that we think are important (what I am to eat, wear, or do). However, I am happy to report that you will seldom find the biblical Jesus trying to "get even." Justice in the Jesus' narrative refers to the value of a reconciled peace. The Jewish Jesus calls that form of peace, shalom.
Humanity is more creative than this eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth form of justice. Humanity has a creative energy that moves beyond the knee-jerk reactions. People of faith know God created. People of faith know that when She was pregnant with creating, God was not inventing (sticks, stones, earth, sea creatures, etc). She was making new out of old dark chaos; light in the middle of the dark, peace in the center of violence.
In the narrative of the first Creation Story (Genesis 1-2.4) we are told that, "after the seventh day God blessed the day and named it all holy/sacred (gadosh)." Have you ever felt or known yourself to be gadosh? Try it. It does not get any better than that.
After a massive tragedy like the Boston Marathon, or the same April 15, 2013 bombings in Bagdad and Afghanistan, we can angrily slip into the easy road to "go get 'em, lock 'em up, and throw away the key." Christians, however, are not asked to participate in this retributive form of justice. We are better than this. We are asked to change the cycle of violence. Jesus' blessings found in Matthew 5:1-12 share this imaginative form of living toward the best of us.
As a member of the faith community, the Church, and as a member of a community dedicated to following behind the prophetic wisdom of Jesus, we are challenged to make better, make good, make holy. To seek this sacred value does not mean we are naïve nor think everything will be ok in the sweet bye-and-bye. Rather, it means that we are challenged to act our way into a new way of being. We accomplish this through ending any participation with violence, the subtle bullying through simple nonchalant gossip, or the large-scale harm that could be done by retaliating and injuring other innocent people.
This week I invite you to watch yourself. If, after the news of this tragic horrible event in Boston your knee to jerks toward retribution and opinions that will satisfy the "full scale of justice," then remember, "we are better than this."
Our faith response is not simple. It is informed by the fact that Jesus did not ask God to hurt those who crucified him. He told the reactive disciple who cut off the servant's ear to put the knife away while he touched the ear and healed it (Luke 22.49-51).
The power of our story is that Jesus asked God to loosen the burden that the violence caused rather than be bound by that burden causing more violence. His prophetic job, the one shared in the Gospel narratives, was to change the cycle of violence by a new way of responding to tragedies like the ones we've witnessed Monday and over the last few months. Jesus knew the well-being of his followers was at stake if they reacted without any soulful power. Jesus taught his followers that, "we are better than this." Jesus is even quoted to pray, "Abba, Forgive them." And this form of forgiveness ~ from the middle of the horror of the cross ~ means that we no longer will allow this violence to control our living and make us as bad as bad is. It means we change the cycle of violence by practicing our way toward a world without violence. This is what we are made for.
I remain, Pastor
David H. Rommereim
by Rev. David Rommereim
Since Easter, I have taken a sojourn to visit my mother. I thank the stellar and sensitive leaders of Good Shepherd for their wonderful ministry. I have traveled 2,400 miles over the last week. During that time, I have rejoined my family after the second Easter season since my father's death.
Through the travel, I have listened to the rhetoric on the news about our country and the desire to discuss and decide what to do about guns and gun violence. I have also listened to the prophet Jesus, the resurrected Christ, teach through his intended verb for Christian ministry he calls, peace-making (Mathew 5.9).
While studying the issue, I have learned that three thousand three hundred forty six individuals have been killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook community experienced the rapid fired magazine clips that kill so many innocent lives in a matter of seconds. I have a very difficult time fathoming the additional 3,346 lives, families, and friendships that have been broken. That is a stark number of souls snuffed out of breath. I had to say the number twice even in this letter.
When I return from my little sojourn I will ask our community to pray together for the end of this madness. I will ask our worship leaders to provide our prayers, so that we remember the grief that is born by these families around our country.
I do not know the details on all these deaths. I only ask our God one thing, is there a way out of this violence?
As a person of faith, I know violence is wrong, period. Jesus remains the prince of peace. Jesus teaches that good, solid, relations have to do with how each one treats the other. He uses the Levitical formula to teach that we are to "do unto others what ye would have them do unto thee." In addition, since I want no violence done unto me, I then must treat the other likewise. Such a prophetic voice should guide the legislation about guns and ammunition. Some say this is naive. I say it is powerfully Christian. Stopping the cycle of violence begins with each one of us and expands prodigiously. The prince of peace you remember was assassinated because he refused to arm himself with nothing other than the power of God. This is none other than the power of love.
As a citizen, I am also guided by the desire for a "more perfect union." It makes good sense that the union of our pluralistic country means we must be, or become, accountable to one another in ways that do not infringe on our earned freedom. However, freedom is never individuated. Freedom is plural. It says, "we" the people. Thus, we remain accountable to the freedom each of us aspires. Such freedom demands justice and its kindred spirit, accountability. The fact that there seems to be a wonton disregard to the freedom of my neighbor, if in fact others say it is proper to own a gun without regard to responsibility and accountability, then gun freedom takes precedence and freedom is not free. On the other hand, freedom should refer to being accountable to one another, rather than free from the other. It is not unlike owning a driver's license. I had to earn my license so that I travel wisely knowing that my drive could harm another if I am irresponsible or negligent.
As you think about how you wear your Christian values and your role as a partner in this country, I ask us to remember the responsibility that freedom demands. We are a people eager to make good.
Our Prophet Jesus knows violence is an end of our life together. After all, as the Prophet Jesus worshiped he often prayed Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when kindred live in peace. Shalom.
a Pastor practicing Resurrection.
By Rev. David Rommereim
On Easter Sunday at Good Shepherd, I shared the fact that the powerful resurrection story looks more like a "spiritual tsunami." I believe we are experiencing such a spiritual wind at Good Shepherd. I also shared that the women at the tomb are some of the most powerful women in the Bible. They refused to be intimidated by the Roman police, the temple elite, and the political hegemony which kept people buried in a sea of fear. They confronted the fears that could have kept them home safe and quiet. Jesus was lynched by the Roman police because he was a prophet, and they knew what was at stake in going out to attend to Jesus' dead body.
These women are my heroes to the Gospel resurrection narrative of Luke. Luke reports that they came to the tomb at early dawn to complete the burial of the crucified Jesus. Their trepedations about the future rendered them "scared to death," yet they ventured out to the tomb. The women - Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women received the power to push up against their darkened boundaries and the force of death. They were accompanied by the two who enlightened the tomb and rolled the stone away. In the same way this awesome God entered the deep (Genesis 1.1-2) and spoke light into darkness, so the Abba of the Prophet Jesus entered the darkness of the tomb and placed an unquenchable light in the midst of the dark.
This is the God who is at every center of our lives. This is the God who Jesus taught these women to pray "OUR ABBA." And they became courageous and powerful because there was no "I" in their work. It was all "Our."
At the Easter Sermon, I also spoke about the impact of the resurrection through the metaphor of what is called "The Butterfly Affect." This metaphor was developed by the father of Chaos Theory in physics. His name is Edward Lorenz, an MIT meteorologist from the mid 20th Century. He puts the theory of The Butterfly Affect in a simple verbal chrysalis. He says: "Tiny differences in input could quickly become overwhelming differences in output; hence the notion that a butterfly stirring in air today in (Bay Ridge) can cause an avalanche in the Himalayas next month."
The story I shared in the sermon was told by the climatologist, James Hansen of Columbia University. He was trying to explain to his grandchildren how everything is connected and why we need to stop using up so much of the earth's resources, thus endangering many species, like the butterfly. He was trying to explain to the kids a story which could help them understand how to deal with their fears about the future of climate change, even with the chaos of bad news when it comes to global conglomerates of the fuel industry paying for their politically hedged bets on keeping fossil fuels at our beckoning call. Dr. Hansen's grand kids want to face their fears, and care for the precious, delicate earth, and grandpa is trying to help them by using this wonderful metaphor of the butterfly.
You may think this is sounds like a childish trick, to talk about the Butterfly Affect at a Resurrection Sermon. But I am here to tell you these women, these delicate butterflies, took two steps back, filled up with the energy of the light, and then flew. Like a soul tsunami, they began to fly after facing their fear, peeking into the dark tomb, and letting God speckle it with his shining light.
Good Shepherd is alive today because these courageous women bushed up against the boundaries which kept them on the outside. God shined light on them to enable them to emerge as butterflies; simultaneously delicate and powerful. They may have felt like caterpillars - easily squished by the Roman police, or a temple tax. However, they were transformed in the chrysalis of faith and flew from there to the ends of the earth.
This spring, Bay Ridge butterflies will fill themselves with enough food (they especially like Milkweed) and make their way to a mountain in Mexico. Quite a journey! Then they begin the journey back through their offspring - generation to generation to generation. These women have offered us this same courage. Their "tiny differences in input quickly became overwhelming differences in output." The metaphor of butterfly affects my resurrection faith because it is delicate power. What better way to practice the radical prophesy of Jesus. Love is a delicate power. I rest on Jesus because it is none other than the faith of the prophetic movement. Jesus fulfilled that which broke through the darkened boundaries - the ones that have kept us impaired. God's ubiquitous light finds us home.
(I am presently on a two week study leave. I have a meeting in Chicago on April 3 where I represent the ELCA on the Inter-Religious Organizing Initiative. It is a multi- denominational, multi-faith organizing effort to assist church leaders in building strong congregations through the art of faith-based community organizing. I will return with the full force of the butterfly as I delicately spread my wings.)
This is the web site for the story by James Hansen, Dear Sophie: the Butterfly Report:
by Rev. David Rommereim
Good, solid relationships last. They give you the chance of becoming self-aware. With quality friends, you speak for yourself rather than for others. One of my rabbis, Edwin Friedman, calls that, becoming self differentiated. The prophet Jesus names it, you "love G*d with all your heart, soul, strength, and your neighbor as yourself."
Friends make self-awareness happen, carefully and deliberately. They suspend judgment so that you may be yourself. When conflict arises you, have a community to guide you rather than fight with you. If, perchance distance comes between you, the relationship may change, but rarely snuffed out. Strong relations abide through the bond of love (agape).
With friendship in mind, I remember my 9th grade math teacher. He presently lives across this continent. Remarkably, we keep in touch nearly once a year. One day, after a conversation, he said, "David, you're radical." At first, I was bewildered. I did not know what he meant. Then, after thinking about it, I learned he meant it complimentary.
He called me radical after I shared a story about a time I was busy assisting a congregation and a neighborhood, in a public ministry that needed G*d's prophetic voice. The plea was not about me. Rather, I was eager to hear the soul force of the Prophetic voices of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Moses, and Jesus in a cacophony of brute force.
I shared with my teacher, that violence was on the rise despite more cops hiding in dark tinted cars parked all around street corners. There was the plethora of guns and ammunition. I knew 30% of the community was armed (a normal NYC statistic at the time). There was also illicit chemistry infiltrating our neighborhood and distorting the lives of users. The church was nestled in a little corner of the block. Nevertheless, because of the prophet Jesus, and his prophetic community named The Way, we could not remain silent. We wanted things to change and peace to abide in our neighborhood.
The story was personal, but it was not about me. It was about G*d and the memory that G*d did not want to be mocked by the violence caused by silence, nor the empty voices, nor the violence of death defying ignorance paid by large financed political action campaigns (PAC).
When the math teacher called me, radical, it was not what you think. He did not refer to a radical that you may assume has to do with politics and social reform. He meant a radical that goes deeper. His notion is deeply rooted. It is a radical that is far-reaching, thorough, and fundamentally related to the nature of what it means to be a person of faith and a sojourner of the Prophetic ministry of G*d (Jew and Christian).
I remember that little encounter with my teacher, because this Lent Good Shepherd community returned to the roots of the Jesus story. We returned to the fundamental and thorough good of Jesus' prophetic mission.
We began the season remembering the meek and mild Jesus. We still love his image with a lamb carefully draped over his shoulders. We love the carefully groomed brown locks of that Warner Salzmann's portrait of Jesus that hangs in many basements of the remaining Lutheran churches along the 4th Avenue Local. Nevertheless, this Lent, many of us returned to the Jesus of the Prophetic Voice. Jesus enters our history with his mentors, Moses, Elijah, and others.
So, in the middle of this Great and Holy Week 2013, we return to Gethsemane, the place of prayer. We remember the trial in the praetorian of Roman occupation. We return to the temple and a religious hegemony that was as corrupt as the day is cold. We remember Jesus leading a peasant's revolt because the upper 1% horded all the resources and controlled a barbaric economy. (Sounds familiar?)
Daily bread was for the people of means, rather than for all people. Prophesy is why Jesus taught us to pray "give us this day our daily bread." It is why Jesus taught us to hallow G*d's Name, it is why we pray "Our Abba" rather than "My Abba," or why we ask, forgive the debts as we forgive the debtors. Jesus, the compassionate one, knew that a dysfunctional economy always hurts the ones whose back is against the wall.
The Prophet Jesus brings us back to the beginning, restores our lives, and teaches us without judgment. Ultimately, we ask him to lead us not into temptation, and to deliver us from the evil one.
We began Lent, remembering that James Baldwin challenged us to "do our first works over." He counseled us to "Go back to where you started, or as far back as you can, examine all of it, travel your road again, and tell the truth about it. Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself, but know from whence you came."
It is Passover and Easter, two faith cousins featuring G*d's soul force of justice-love. This week I thank G*d for the living memory of the Prophet Jesus. It is a good time to take a step back, re-member. Then leap forward.