The Tree of Life Massacre – One Year Later

Yard Sign

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since the unconscionable slaughter of eleven innocent worshipers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill (a part of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’m reminded of my first feeble attempt to “do something” and to “take a stand” after a senseless tragedy that left me both numb and speechless each time I see the sign in the front yard of my home.

We have been challenged to think and to reflect in the last year. Many of us have grown and have been changed as we took a more honest look at ourselves in the mirror and as we’ve wrestled with what we believe about other people. Faith leaders in the Pittsburgh area have traveled for many miles – coming from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – to join in both open and honest conversations that have helped us to better understand each other and the faith traditions that we represent. God has been at work in our communities to challenge us, to soften our hearts, to open our ears and hearts to the voices of others, and to stretch both our patterns of thinking and faith.

The last year has, also, been a time when leaders and members of spiritual communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania have worked hand-in-hand to create a Statement that we, as leaders of different faith traditions, believe expresses the principles and beliefs that we can embrace together. I am providing a copy of this newly released Statement to you, and am hoping that you will take some time to read it, to reflect upon it and even to pray about it. We, as faith leaders in Southwestern Pennsylvania, believe that our faith traditions challenge us: to recognize the dignity and worth of those around us; to speak boldly and clearly against racial supremacy, demonization of those from other cultures and religions, and the violent acts that grow from those bitter roots; to stand in solidarity with minority and marginalized communities; and to repent from our own complicity in words and deeds that have expressed individual and systemic bigotry, racial and religious supremacy, and oppression.

We have committed ourselves to building more loving communities and neighborhoods that uplift the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual, and that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times even as we continue to both recognize and accept the fact that we believe many different things about both God and our world because of our different faith traditions.

I am now presenting this Statement to you hoping that you will take some time to read it, to ponder it, to pray about it, and to allow it to both challenge you and lead you toward the new kind of life that God calls us to embrace in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Living Faithfully with One Another

As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to interpret and draw guidance from sacred texts and traditions.

The sacred texts of the world religions all affirm the created dignity and worth of each individual and our sacred responsibility toward those in need. As we interpret our own sacred traditions in preaching, teaching, meditation or prayer, we will lift up these values.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in support of the dignity and worth of each person.

With sacred texts and traditions as our guides, we reject the theories and rhetoric of racial supremacy, the demonization of those of other cultures and religions, and the violent acts which grow from these bitter roots. We embrace the right of all people to worship (or not to worship) according to the dictates of their own consciences, and we expect the government to respect this freedom.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in solidarity with those in need.

We turn with compassion toward those in our midst who have the greatest cause for fear and insecurity. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized and minority communities, especially those who have been targets of injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and hate. When any of us are attacked in word or deed, we promise our support, help, and protection.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak truth to those in positions of power.

Our voices must be spoken and heard in public discourse. We seek to bring the perspectives of sacred traditions to bear in our shared public life. We call upon and remind elected, appointed, and professional leaders throughout our community to uphold and enforce the values of justice, fairness, nondiscrimination, and dignity.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to high standards of self-reflection.

We call upon ourselves, our faith communities, and our institutions to acknowledge and repent for complicity in words and deeds that express individual or systemic bigotry, racial or religious supremacy, and oppression. We are committed to growing in wisdom and inclusivity as we learn from one another.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to live abundantly, joyously and harmoniously with one another.

We will work resolutely to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times. When and where we disagree in our understandings, we commit to acknowledge, listen to, and value the perspectives of others even as we respectfully present our differing opinions.

We covenant to create, expand and nurture a community of mutual support throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Seeking Divine help and guidance, we commit to building the beloved community, a neighborhood of neighborhoods that lovingly uplifts the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual.

October 3, 2019
Pittsburgh, PA

The Mission Interpreter

VZM.IMG_20150822_114146

How are choices and decisions you make each day connected to your journey of faith?

You live in a complex Age where change surrounds you. You probably feel overwhelmed by a constant stream of news and information that summons your attention by sending the invasive pop, ding, or silent vibration that invades every part of your daily life. You most likely believe in God, but you may have decided that you don’t want to be affiliated with a local church, synagogue, mosque or temple. And yet, you still want to make some sort of difference in the world. You still want to believe that God is somehow working in your life and in the lives of the people that you love. Perhaps, what you need are stories that remind you that God’s at work in our lives and in the world, and mental morsels to challenge you to think about the relationship between your daily living and faith?

I believe that there’s always a next step for us to take in our journey of faith, and I am dedicated to working with people who want to take the next step forward in their journey of faith with confidence and courage. And, that’s why I’ve added a link to the menu on this site that takes you to my newest blog entitled: “The Mission Interpreter”.

This is a place where you’ll discover ways that God’s people are making a difference in the world, right now. This is a place where the leaders of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples will be challenged to reflect and to grow. This is a place where you will be challenged to think about the relationship between daily living and the kinds of choices and commitments you make each day. This is a place where you’ll be challenged to explore the ways that choices and decisions you make are connected to your journey of faith and to your relationship with God.

You can receive updates every time new material is added to “The Mission Interpreter” by following the blog itself as a regular user of WordPress – or you can provide an email address where links to new material can be send. I hope you’ll also share information about this new blog with your friends, so that they can, also, be encouraged by the fact that people of faith continue to do life-changing things in our quickly-changing world.

To get started, why not take a moment to investigate “The Mission Interpreter” and to read one of the newest, thought-provoking posts: “Stewardship, Stoles, and Suicide” – a piece that tells the tragic story of a pastor who recently committed suicide and that offers some ideas that can help congregations to support and encourage pastors who struggle with issues of sadness, discouragement, depression and anxiety – just like so many other folks do in the Church. You can, also, find several inspiring stories that point to the power of prayer and that lift-up the good that God’s people do when they join hands and work as a team. You’ll even find a thought-provoking piece that challenges Church leaders to remember the importance of storytelling as they prepare to make financial appeals.

I hope that “The Mission Interpreter” will provide something helpful for everyone who visits the site. You’ll notice that there’s, also, a CONTACT ME link on the site. Please let me know if you; the congregation, synagogue, mosque or temple that you attend; or a group of people that you know are joining hands to do something that points others to the God who continues to call us to express our faith in a way that touches and changes lives.

Freedom in Christ

broken-chain

I’m a person who was raised in the Church.

I have a little pin that proves that I had ten years of “Perfect Attendance” in Sunday School as a child. I still remember standing beside my father during worship services and learning to follow the service by watching his finger move across pages in the hymnal. And, yes…! I was raised in the Church because I was taught to believe that good people to go worship on Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights) because “that’s just how it is.”

Christians can be drawn to noble causes when they spend time in worship. Christians can be inspired to live their lives in the “proper way” – and learn that a journey with Christ is one that’s filled with rules, expectations, and words like “should.” In fact, when we live our lives with just the “little bit of religion” that we gain during hour-long times of weekly worship on Sunday mornings (or on Saturday night), we actually become quite dangerous!

But then, we begin to hear Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when people slap our face. We begin to hear Jesus tells us to give-away money that we’ve earned in an effort of help other people. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and to be “as perfect as God.” And, we are pretty quickly left wondering when “good enough” is actually going to be “good enough.”

There’s a different way to live-out your life with Christ; and that’s what this weeks short message – “Freedom in Christ” – is all about. It’s a message that challenges us to come out of the “spiritual castle” that we’ve built for ourselves – a place where we can feel good about ourselves while firing cannonballs at other people. It’s about discovering that the Church is a place where I don’t need to try to be as perfect as you are pretending to be – and where you don’t need to try to become as perfect as I’m pretending to be. And, when we grasp that truth, Christ sets us free! The Church becomes a life-filled place where I can come to be forgiven, to be nourished, to be embraced and to be led by God. And the Church becomes a life-filled place where I can invite other people that I know to share that very, same kind of “holy” experience with me.

“Freedom in Christ” may be a message that helps you to understand the Church in a very different way; and it might even be a message that encourages you to lower the drawbridge of your own “spiritual castle,” so that you can walk more intentionally – and authentically – into a world filled with people that God’s called you to love.

Blessings!

Living into Your Destiny!

blog-pic

I suspect that we’ve all thought about our “purpose in life.”

The Bible tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) We read in that same psalm: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; and in your books were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me.”

God has created us with a purpose and with a destiny in mind! You might even say that our lives and our journeys of faith are an adventure – where we somehow try to make sense of what is means to be created by God and to be touched by the Holy Spirit. That’s what this week’s message, “Living into Your Destiny!”, is all about.

As we listen to a story about Jesus being washed by John the Baptizer, we’re magically transported through time, and we are taken back to the time and place where we were washed – in the waters of Holy Baptism – and to the time and place where we were touched, just like Jesus was, by the Spirit of God.

The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God moved over the waters in the midst of unfolding Creation, and touched God’s people on the day of Pentecost. The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God “blows wherever it wants to blow” (John 3:8) and that the Spirit of God will touch whoever God wants to touch. And God touched YOU…! You have been filled with the same Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus, and you have been touched by the same Spirit of God that drove Jesus into the world to fight the forces of evil and to proclaim the dawning of the Reign of God.

What does that mean?

Perhaps, your deepest calling in life is to discover what God created you to be? Perhaps, your deepest calling in life is to discover what it means to a representative of the Reign of God in a world where many folks believe that everything’s just falling apart?

Blessings!