Land of the Free?

A post from visiting writer Cliff Kroski. He teaches philosophy and pastors the Community of the Incarnation.

On the first Sunday in July, we celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day.

As we reflect on this day and celebrate this day, people will watch parades and have cookouts, watch and/or light fireworks, waive the flag and sing, “God Bless America.”

 I am always struck when seeing a bumper sticker on Sundays in the Unity Temple parking lot: “God Bless All Nations.” Yes, as Americans we live in a special country with far more opportunities than most people have in so many other countries. Yes, we are proud of the United States, but do we have the “market cornered” on God’s blessing?

At ball games and sporting events we stand for the “Star Spangled Banner.” Now, in many ballparks during the 7th inning stretch, people stand and sing, “God Bless America.” I am very uncomfortable with this custom. It smacks too much of what I mentioned above, God’s blessing belongs on the United States and no one else.

 Words like freedom and independence will be spoken a lot these days. People will honor our Revolutionary War ancestors and call them patriots. May we not forget that being called a patriot depends on which “side of the fence” one belongs. To the

British, our patriots were traitors; and if they were caught they would have been hung as traitors.

Can we as nation truly celebrate freedom and independence when words like Democrat, Republican, Conservative, and Liberal are battle cries and judgments in some people’s minds? Can we celebrate freedom when one person shouts down another person’s opinion when it does not conform to his or her own opinion? Can we celebrate freedom when segments of our society are treated with prejudice and disdain and not allowed to exercise their own freedoms (gay men and women, the elderly, the poor, the handicapped, etc.) Can we celebrate freedom when, thanks to the “Patriot Act” and “Homeland Security,” we have racial profiling against men and women of Mid-Eastern descent?

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” 

Can we celebrate freedom when unfair and prejudiced Immigration Laws are put into place? Many of these illegal immigrants work in our packing plants and as farm laborers for very little money under poor working conditions. They are imported by the same companies who abuse them. It is curious to me that many people who cry for tougher immigration laws do not complain about cheap prices due to cheap laborer.

The pedestal of the Statue of Liberty reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Only when we celebrate cultural and sexual diversity, understanding, compassion and tolerance, and acceptance of an opposite opinion, will we ever truly be independent and free.

Happy 4th of July! May God bless all nations!

The Circle of My Arms

Tomorrow, Sunday, is Pentecost, the culmination of the Easter Season. Although saying the Easter season is at a “culmination” seems a strange way to express what for many is the high point of the church calendar. Okay. We’re done. No more Easter. No more transformation until next year. No more rebirth into new life. Words are such strange things and seldom express what is really meant.  I guess what I’d like to say is that Pentecost marks a transition point – a point of turning from looking at what happened to Jesus to looking at what has happened to us.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I began the idea of a blog by taking on the Lenten discipline, back in February, of writing a spiritual reflection each day for our community.  And for the six weeks of Lent, I wrote every day. If you’re interested in seeing any of those writings, go to www.cotincarnation.org/blog. The experience helped me understand, again, how important daily practice is to my well-being and it helped others through their late winter, early spring challenges.

During Lent this year, Cliff and I focused on the elemental forces in our lives – the elements being earth, air, water, fire. It seems fitting that this culmination of the Easter season once more focuses on elements – fire and air – and the power of those elements in our lives. Focusing on the elements also helped me focus and write about what was really elemental in my/our lives. What did we need, at base, to get through the changes and difficulties that faced us over a winter that would never end? The “element” changed, but the need to look at those pieces of our lives that are the most important to us remained. It’s interesting to note that on this day of writing about Pentecost, a hot wind is blowing from the south, the sun is bright, and our temperatures are reaching for the upper 80s. Up to today, we’d barely made it past the 70s. Fire and Air.

The traditional images of Pentecost are tongues of fire from Acts and Jesus breathing on his followers to impart his spirit in The Gospel of John. The author of Acts sees the presence of Spirit acting out in historical people and places. In physical action. The author of John presents Spirit working in the internal life. At the same time, all the gospels and Acts are “written from a post-resurrectional viewpoint,” as Ray Brown writes in Christ in the Gospels in the Liturgical Year. He goes on to say that “John’s gospel has the most pronounced post-resurrectional reinterpretation” of all the writings. In other words, none of these writings are eye-witness accounts, rather reinterpretations of the stories that had circulated about Jesus’ life and written with a particular audience in mind.

Forgive me for wandering away from musings and into hermeneutics, but I find the idea that “tongues of fire” and Jesus “breathing” on his followers is couched in terms drawn from the elements. Don’t we, most of the time, need to return to the elementals to make sense of words and experiences? It was as hot as fire;  it was as cold as ice. It was as hard as a rock. Sometimes we just can’t get much farther than that in our explaining.

How do we make sense of “send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth’? It looks, to our physical eyes, as if the world is more in a crumbling mode than a renewal mode. Each day, I scan the headlines of the NY Times just to keep abreast of what’s going on: oil spill in the Gulf; mining accidents; earthquakes; the volcano in Iceland – Iceland! – shutting down air traffic; an immigration law in Arizona that has people in an uproar; unemployment figures that don’t get any better; Wall Street having another meltdown; Europe now in a financial mess; the list could go on and on. Where is renewal in this? Where, one could even ask, is God in all this!

I’m reminded of an experience when I moved to Germany in 1973. I’d been active in politics, worked for McGovern, involved myself in civil rights and the woman’s movement, despaired at the Watergate mess that wouldn’t end. And then, our family was transferred to Germany. The only news I could get was in German on German television or in the Army’s newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. One could not call that a liberal news outlet. I despaired. I could not fight. I could not protest. I was removed from action.

I read. I read every book I could get my hands on in the military library system. And I remember reading Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, and while I don’t remember exactly what brought me to my breaking point, somewhere during that book, I decided I would no long man (or woman) the barricades, no longer fight, no longer protest. The world I would change would be the world within the circle of my two arms. I would change myself and those who came within that circle. I have held or been held to that decision ever since. Occasionally I inch myself out into some political cause or issue, but it never extends very long – or successfully.

I guess I could say I’m still changing the world that comes within the circle of my arms since my laptop, regardless of the wide reach of my readership, still fits within that space.

Which brings me back to Pentecost and to sending out Spirit. Perhaps the greatest gift we could offer the world right now is sending our own spirit into the world. Few of us can change what’s happening underwater in the Gulf or in Iceland or Afghanistan or in any of the other troubled areas of the world. But at the same time, I’m not suggesting apathy or disinterest. I’m not suggesting you get under the covers and wait all this out. I am suggesting that despairing the effects of others’ actions, of raging impotent at the world, is not effective. Too much rage against others’ actions turns to rage or despair against our own inaction or the actions of those near us.  It makes us blind to that which is around us. I’m suggesting that each of us can facilitate transformation where we are by our reactions and by simple, concrete acts of kindness. It is in those simple acts that we send out our spirit.

Think about it: how might the world change is we were to practice kindness? If we were to continue the transformation of the Easter season into transforming our lives? Now that’s an element we can all live with.