Monday, April 30, 2007

The St. Joseph News Press' Bible Verse of the Day

Since moving to St. Joseph, I've been intrigued by many things, one of which, is the fact that our home town newspaper has a Bible verse each day on the editorial page. I'm not sure if this is a holdover from the days when people were less sensitive to the fact that we live in a pluralistic society or what, but it's always an interesting read, especially since the verses are utterly and totally random.

I wonder if one of the interns puts on a blindfold each day and opens up a Bible randomly and picks a verse that his his finger happens to land on. Sure, sometimes its a verse from a psalm or something from one of Paul's letters that at least seems like in and of itself it could mean something, but just as often it is something from 2 Kings or somewhere else that has something to do with genealogy or who knows what.

Today's verse is an excellent case in point:

Destruction upon destruction is cried, for the whole land is spoiled; suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment. Jeremiah 4:20

How often have I turned to this verse in my daily Bible reading for a little pick me up and encouragement. Nothing like the bitter and tragic destruction of ancient Jerusalem--including some dirty curtains--to make me feel like I'm closer to God and ready to take on the day.

Thanks News Press for aiding my spiritual life!

Grace and Peace,


Obama, Jeremiah Wright and Much Ado About Nothing?

On April 4, I posted about the political hay being made by conservative pundits over Barack Obama's home church in Chicago, Trinity United Church of Christ. The critics believe Trinity's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and they brand of Black Theology he preaches, amount to racism in reverse. I love that charge! It's usually made by rich white men.

There's an article in today's NY Times that seems to cover the story of Obama's conversion to Christianity as an adult during a worship service at Trinity, his involvement in the church and some of the controversial statements made by Wright about the war in Iraq and American foreign policy.

I don't know the back story here on the reporting, but I suspect there is one. The Times has sort of been playing the relationship up between Obama and Wright and its possible tensions. I'm really not convinced there is any controversy here, other than what far-right critics are making of it. For me it is not surprising to think that a candidate for President of the United States--especially the first credible black candidate--would speak from a more cautions perspective by necessity than would a prophetic African-American minister. I remain unconvinced that America really wants to have a conversation about race, oppression and economic inequality.
Grace and Peace,

Friday, April 27, 2007

Respect for the Dead and Those Left Behind

I'm in Atlanta for the funeral of Jennifer's uncle. It's been interesting, heartwarming and sad to be here for such an occasion. Everything went very well as the service and afterwards when Jen's uncle Perry was buried in the family cemetery plot. It's been good to see family and to see how family members support one another during a time of grief.

I got to hear a good old-fashioned Southern Baptist funeral sermon today. The minister was from Jennifer's grandmother's church. He did a fine job. Sermons like this are all about faith and not so much about the deceased. They're sort of a cultural thing and are generally expected. You are reminded of the fragility of life and urged to make sure that you have your own spiritual life in order--namely in terms of having accepted Jesus Christ as your savior. Brother Dennis did not cross the line into manipulation or anything like that. Instead, he held true to the form. Even though it was not my style, it was a comfort to Jen's family, especially her grandmother who buried a son today--so that comfort was greatly appreciated by me and all who care for her.

I've been reminded how much a church family can mean in times of grief. Yesterday, a car pulled up at Nan's house (Nanny is Jen's grandmother.), and a couple of women from her church got out and unloaded enough food to feed an army. There literally was not enough room in the refrigerator for it all, even though we all ate our fill before packing up leftovers. They comforted "Miss Vera" as they call Nanny at her church, and assured her that she was missed on Sundays since at 91 she can't attend any more for health reasons. It was touching to see the concern they had for her and the respect they showed her for all her many years of service to the church.
Similarly, at the service Brother Dennis was also very respectful and caring towards "Miss Vera."

Little things become big things when a family goes through a grief as Jen's family is doing. Her uncle was only 69 at his death last week from a three year battle with cancer. There's a lot of sadness to go around, and the love of my grandmother-in-law's church means more than I can say.

Today when we drove from the funeral home to the cemetery for the burial. I was astounded to see all the cars pulled over to the side of the road as the funeral procession drove by. I really didn't think in today's Atlanta people still did that. Men stopped on the side of the road and took off their hats. Such respect meant a lot to the whole family.

In our busy world where our mass media brings us pictures of the dead and dying every day, death can seem, well, routine. Yet, when it is someone you love and care for, it is anything but routine. I guess that's why I was touched by the care of people over the last two days--family, friends, church family, and strangers. When you are trying to put closure to a life of someone you love, every caring word and thoughtful action takes on an eternal significance.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Some Observations About Worship--Dialogue Column 2.24.07

Through a Glass Darkly—Rev. Chase Peeples

It’s been two and a half months since I preached my first sermon at First Christian. That’s not a very long time in the life of a church. I still have much to learn about why things are the way they are around here, when and where certain things happen and what to expect next. I am, however, beginning to get a sense of what our weekly worship services mean to the life of our church. I would like to share with you some of what I have observed about our worship together.

I have observed that when First Christian folks are together in one room there is a lot of greeting one another and catching up on each other’s lives. Many folks try to make the effort to be a little early in order to chat with friends and acquaintances, and likewise there are a good number who remain after the service to talk. This is a good sign! It means that members of our church like each other and understand gathering together as a community is a means of maintaining relationships.

I have observed that people understand our worship services to be a time to share joys with people they care about. During the announcement time at the beginning of the service, I am pleased to hear people share about the latest concert they are participating in or the charity events they are leading. I am glad that we can share in each other’s successes and congratulate students who have received special honors and adults who have received professional and community awards. Such moments help build up our church by celebrating the gifts God has given each of us and recognizing the connections our church has with the community.

I have observed that worship at First Christian is understood as a time to seek support during difficult times from God and from one another. During the Prayers of the People, concerns are shared about friends and family struggling with medical problems, grief over loved ones who have passed away, and problems in our community, nation and world that trouble us. I sense that we draw strength from each other and from God during this time. I believe our burdens become easier to bear just by giving voice to them among people who care. I also believe that when we give voice to our pain and troubles God hears us, and that is especially true in worship.

I have observed that music matters to First Christian folks. I can tell that people find comfort in familiar hymns. It is also apparent that all present feel blessed by our wonderful choir, which far surpasses much larger choirs in talent and ability. We are fortunate as a church to be led in music by Amber Welter and Jeremy Gregoire. Jeremy’s stylings on the piano and organ set the right tone throughout the service and stir the soul at all the right times. Amber’s leadership of the choir and congregation in song, along with her own considerable vocal talent lift the spirit in the manner that only beautiful music can.

I have observed that at First Christian worship is a time to demonstrate that youth and children are valued. I am proud that our church actively seeks out youth to participate in worship through serving as acolytes, deacons and worship leaders, so that they can learn how to use their own talents in the life of the church. I am grateful that our church makes time for our children in worship, so that children can literally be a part of the church body not just in spirit but through physical presence in the same room. As a parent of two children, I am appreciative of Matthew Gregg’s evident concern for our children and his fun way of relating with them. It pleases me to know that my children will grow up always experiencing worship as a place they can know the love of God through the many adults who care for them.

I have observed that preaching matters to the people in our church. First Christian has a history of ministers with strong preaching skills. It is not up to me, however, to decide if I fit within that history. So far you have been very gracious to me in regards to my sermons, and if you have any strong complaints, you have kept them from me. My prayer each week is that my sermons would be inspiring and thought-provoking, as well as a comfort in times of difficulty and a motivation to stretch beyond personal comfort zones. It is an honor for me to share my reflections upon scripture, theology and culture each week.

I have observed that communion matters deeply to First Christian folks, as is only appropriate in a Disciples congregation—a church that dares to take the chalice as its symbol. First Christian takes seriously the command of Jesus to remember his sacrificial love for us, just as it takes seriously the grace of Christ by allowing all to come to the Lord’s table by partaking of the bread and cup. I sometimes wonder if you realize how radical an act of hospitality we are practicing as a church. If you have ever talked with someone who has been refused communion at a church of a different denomination, then you will realize just how painful such exclusion can be and just how wonderful it is to demonstrate the boundless love of Christ by including everyone.

I have more observations about worship at First Christian, but these are at least a beginning place for a healthy conversation about this essential part of our church life. During Lent, I issued a challenge for every church member who is physically and geographically able to attend worship to be present on Sundays. You responded, and we averaged over 100 in attendance each week. Attendance is always high on Easter, but it was higher this year. The last two Sundays have been a different story, however. Perhaps, I need to issue another challenge…

I am well aware that after the lingering cold of winter it is great to be outside and to travel. In no way would I begrudge or disparage such blessings. Also, I am aware of some of the struggles both physically and emotionally some folks have gone through in recent weeks, and I would encourage such people to take the time they need to care for themselves and their loved ones. For others, however, who are physically able to attend worship and who are in town, I wonder what is keeping you from being a part of our church’s worship service? I do not wish guilt or shame upon anyone for missing a church service, but I would hope that there would be at least a realization that during weeks when worship is missed something essential in life is also missing.

My prayer is for everyone who attends worship to find encouragement for life’s journey, strength to overcome life’s difficulties and the kind of meaning that can only come through an experience of the divine. I hope to see you next Sunday.

Grace and Peace,


Friday, April 20, 2007

Hope for a Violent World

Approaching my sermon this week, I have been full of questions given the horrific events at VA Tech. This Sunday I had already planned on preaching a sermon to commemorate Earth Day, but I have debated changing my sermon to respond to the violence of the week. In the end, I decided to go ahead and preach about the Christian duty to care for God's creation, even though I know the images of VA Tech will be in the minds of my listeners.

I chose to stick with my original plan in large part due to the fact that on Easter I preached a sermon that essentially says what I would say this week. It's entitled "Hope for a Violent World" and addresses how difficult it can be to believe in the power of the resurrected Christ in the face of the violence present in our world. Some day I will have all of my sermons on our church web site, since we don't have that done yet, I'm posting the sermon here in hopes that it might be helpful to some who may struggle with some of the questions it seeks to address.

Grace and Peace,



Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18 NRSV

I’m sorry but I simply must interrupt this beautiful Easter service with its triumphant hymns, hallelujahs, Easter lilies and other symbols of life and joy. I need to remind everyone of the audacious nature of what exactly we are doing this morning. We are daring to celebrate Easter—the resurrection of Jesus Christ—the power of God over death even though we live in a violent world.

Do you realize that there is a war on? There are terrorists carrying out suicide bombings right now. At this moment there are generals contemplating how many deaths of civilians can still be considered “collateral damage.” This morning in cities across our nation there are people mourning the victims of violent crimes. In our own city today, there are children who are afraid of their own parents.

In addition to these things that we normally consider to be violence, there are still many other things that may not involve a weapon or a clenched fist but are nonetheless forms of violence. There is the violence that can rage inside of a person’s body when cancer rots out their internal organs or when Alzheimer’s disease distorts a person’s brain. There is the violence that occurs when people have no access to the food, shelter and medical care they need. There is the violence that occurs when a person is shunned or persecuted because of the color of their skin, the country they come from, their sexual orientation or their beliefs. Violence abounds in our world.

So, why would I, as a minister, get up on Easter morning, a day of beautiful flowers, colorful eggs and new clothing, and bring up all this depressing stuff? “ Good grief, haven’t we just slogged through Lent? Wasn’t that enough of a downer for you, pastor?” I do not want to put a damper on the day, far from it. I just want us to make sure we know what we are celebrating.

To stand up on Easter morning and sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” takes guts, especially in the face of the suffering so common in our world. Do we really mean to read the headlines of people suffering and dying all over the world, including our own community, and then get up and profess that God raised Jesus from the dead as the beginning of God’s kingdom here in our world? If we are honest with ourselves, it is a bold move to make such a declaration.

It is so bold, in fact, that I have to wonder if we really know what we are doing this morning? For some of us, the idea of a literal resurrection is too much to believe in. For others of us, the resurrection remains a confusing thing that gets talked about at church without anyone actually explaining what it means. Yet, for some of us, the resurrection is less about solving a puzzle but about living a spiritual reality in a violent world. In a sense, each of us, no matter our perspective on the resurrection, stands outside the empty tomb like the people in our scripture passage this morning. Each one of us must decide what we will make of the empty tomb that confronts us.

Mary Magdalene comes first to the empty tomb. Seeing that it is empty, she runs to tell the other followers of Jesus that someone has taken away his body.[1] Her response was to naturally conclude that there was a rational explanation for the empty tomb. Even later after she sees angels in the tomb and meets a strange man whom she takes to be the gardener, Mary assumes that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this. It is only after Jesus calls her by name that Mary realizes that Jesus has risen from the dead.[2] Only when she has a personal experience of the risen Christ can she look beyond the limits of reason alone. Seeing the risen Lord requires the eyes of faith.

Having said that, I have to admit that daring to act upon what you perceive through faith involves risk. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” If you’re going to take that step, you had better do so with the understanding that you could end up falling down a flight of stairs.

Faith inherently involves risk, but it does not have to mean turning off your brain. I tend to think that the trend among liberal protestants to not believe in a literal resurrection is a reaction to the ignorant and outlandish claims made in the name of faith every day by Christians. Such claims ignore the gains of science and medicine. Such claims ignore the suffering of the masses in our world promising wealth and pleasure to all who have enough faith. Such claims ask you to turn off your mind and just accept whatever the preacher says. To one degree or another all of the arguments against the resurrection from the recent TV special produced by James Cameron purporting to have discovered the bones of Jesus to The Da Vinci Code to the Jesus Seminar to the 19th century philosophers to the Deists and so on going back to the Enlightenment and beyond are all reactions to a type of faith that says turn off your brain and believe.

Like Mary, such folks look for a reasonable explanation—something that fits into the natural order. Yet, I would offer that having faith in Jesus and believing in the resurrection does not mean turning off your mind or putting on blinders to avoid seeing our violent world. Instead, I would say that we use our brains to interpret our experience so that when we take that step of faith we actually realize what we are doing. Understanding the limits of logic and reason does not mean disregarding them. The resurrection, by its very nature, is supernatural and outside the natural order of things, but we can choose to believe in it based upon reason and experience. We just have to be honest about where rational proof ends and faith begins.

When we return to our scripture passage, we find that the next person at the tomb is Peter. He runs to the empty tomb and goes all the way in. He sees the burial cloths laying there and the absence of a body, and then he turns and goes away. No explanation is given for Peter’s reaction. We don’t know what he made of it all, probably because he didn’t know what to make of it all. Maybe that’s how you feel this morning.

The resurrection is a big deal and it is at the heart of the Christian faith. It is something that is just sort of assumed among church people but rarely is it explained. An explanation of the relevance of the resurrection takes more than a lifetime, but in the few minutes I’ve got this morning, I’ll take my own meager crack at it.

William Sloane Coffin, the long-time pastor of Riverside Church in New York, said, “We live in a Good Friday world.” He lived those words too. His son died in a car accident. It’s a true statement about our violent world. We live in a world where innocent people suffer and where violent death is a daily prospect for millions of people. Yes, the crosses we wear around our necks and hang in our churches are symbols of Christ’s sacrificial death for us, but they are also reminders that suffering and death are a part of our world—such a great part that even God experienced it when God became one of us. One of the reasons I can call myself a Christian and still look at myself in the mirror each morning is that at the very least I can say that I believe in a God who knows what it is to experience the pain that people feel. The God I believe in does not remain distant from the people God created, but instead chose to be intimate with them, so intimate that God even suffered and died along with us.

For me, the empty tomb of Easter is inseparable from the cross of Good Friday. I have no use for one without the other. On the one hand, Christianity, if it is practiced honestly, through the lens of Good Friday stares at the violence and suffering in our world without blinking. There should be no delusion here that the world is without pain or that the innocent do not suffer. Look at Jesus on the cross!. Yet, that is not all Christianity offers. There is the empty tomb as well. Through it, God declares, “Yes, there is violence in our world, but that is not all there is and it will never have the last word.” Even though the crimes committed against people are sometimes beyond measure, somehow, somewhere, some-when, some-way God will bring new life out of it all. In spite of all the Good Fridays, there is still room to hope for an Easter for each of us either in this life or the next.

How can I dare say such a thing when one merely has to pick up today’s paper to read of events that seem to scream such hope is beyond reckless? I only repeat what I have heard from those whom I have seen Christ in. I have heard it from people who have had lives of deep suffering—victims of abuse, crime and natural disaster—and who still manage stare me in the face and tell me of how God continues to work in their lives. Who am I to argue with them when God speaks through them to me in such a way?

Perhaps, confusion over theology isn’t the issue for you. Maybe like Peter, you carry shame for past acts around with you like a suitcase full of bricks. Either you are the victim of some type of violence done to you or the perpetrator of violence upon others or both. It’s worth noting that Peter gets his own appearance from the risen Christ later and he is forgiven for his denials of Jesus.[3] Could it be that this Easter you need to experience the forgiveness of God and let go of that shame in order for you to believe in the resurrection?

Finally, there is the Beloved Disciple who also stands outside the empty tomb.[4] He sees the empty tomb and the burial cloths and he believes. He does not have all the facts, and at this point in the story he has not seen the risen Christ, but his intimate relationship with Jesus allows him to draw a conclusion that Jesus is not dead. Like the “disciple whom Jesus loved” we may not have all the answers about the mechanics of the resurrection or have worked out all the theology of what the resurrection means, but we have experienced the risen Christ and we believe. That faith allows us to continue to ask the questions of what exactly this resurrection is all about—to use our minds to study scripture, tradition and our own experience. That faith allows us to believe that the violence present in our world shall not win out but instead shall be vanquished. The suffering shall one day end and until that day comes God will use us each in our own part of the world to put an end to it.

N. T. Wright, the British preacher and theologian, writes, "The living God in principle dealt with evil once and for all, and is now at work, by His own Spirit, to do for us and the whole world what He did for Jesus on that first Easter Day."[5] The resurrection of Jesus is a demonstration of God’s ability to bring life out of death. That same power is manifested today in the lives of believers who choose to work for justice and peace.

The writer and scholar Diana Butler Bass tells of a conversation about the resurrection that took place at an Episcopal church she attended in Santa Barbara; a congregation which was led by a bishop who worked for social justice and liberal causes. One Easter a parishioner asked if the bishop really believed in the resurrection. Bass listened closely, suspecting that like many members of his generation of liberal Protestants, he would describe the resurrection as “an allegory or spiritual metaphor.” Instead, the bishop answered without hesitating, “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I've seen it too many times not to."[6] In his work caring for the poor and the oppressed, he had seen miracles happen—lives saved and brought back from the precipice. That experience enabled him to believe. It is only when we have an experience of the living Christ that we can take our steps of faith and believe.

My own experience as a witness to the resurrection power of Christ occurred during my time at my last church in New York. Twice a month we took our youth group to a homeless shelter in Queens. In addition to the wonderful children we worked with, I also got to know the staff who worked there on a daily basis. One of them was named Theresa.[7] She inspired me with her warm smiles and care for the children living in the shelter. Only after coming to visit the shelter for two years did I learn that Theresa had at one time been a resident in the shelter. Prior to that, Theresa had her children taken away from her because of her addiction to illegal drugs. After years of struggling to overcome her addiction and time spent living on the streets, Theresa had slowly but surely turned her life around with the help of caring social workers and family members, along with the grace of God. She went from being a drug addict living on the streets to a caring mother who provides for her children and inspires hope in the children society has forgotten about. Thanks to Theresa and others like her, I can say, “Alleluia! Christ has risen! There is hope for a violent world!”

Rev. Chase Peeples
Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007
First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, St. Joseph, MO

[1] New Testament scholar, Gail O’Day, writes, “In confessing her ignorance of Jesus’ whereabouts (‘we do not know where they have laid him;), Mary ironically echoes one of the decisive misund4rstandings of Jesus’ ministry: whence Jesus comes and where he is going (e.g. 7:33-36, 8:21-23).” Gail O’Day, “John” in The New Interpreters Bible, vol. 9 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992), 840.
[2] O’Day notes that when Jesus calls Mary by name, he is doing exactly what he said he would do when he described himself as the “Good Shepherd” who “calls his own sheep by name” in John 10:5. Ibid.
[3] See John21:15-19
[4] Church tradition and the evidence within the Fourth Gospel point to John the son of Zebedee, one of the disciples, as being “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the author or shaper of the writing we call the Gospel of John. For a thorough review of the evidence in the Gospel and from tradition, see Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (i-xii) (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966): LXXVII-CII.
[5] As quoted by William Self in his sermon “Is There Any Hope?” on the Day 1 radio program:
[6] Diana Butler Bass, “Believing in the Resurrection,” April 4, 2007 entry on the God’s Politics Blog:
[7] I have changed her name to protect her privacy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What do Imus and the Duke Lacrosse players tell us about our culture?

Since last week, I've thought about writing something about the case of Don Imus and his sexist and racist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball players, but it's been difficult to know what to say. Imus' remarks were reprehensible, but the reasons why he got away with saying similar remarks for so long and why this time things turned out as they did are complicated.

I have only listened to Imus a few times, so I don't really have an informed opinion about him. I have read that this is not the first racist and sexist comment made by Imus. If so, I really don't understand why so many politicians and journalists went on the show. My sense is that Imus is probably insightful and known for making outrageous comments, and therefore people excused his offensive behavior as showmanship. The line between entertainment and offensive behavior is always moving in our culture. This last week Imus ended upon on the wrong side of that line.
I have heard that the difference in this case is that the Rutgers women were not celebrities or politicians to be lampooned but champions who overcame personal and athletic odds to reach the top. In this case, remarks that denigrate women and African-Americans were without excuse. I have to ask, however, in what cases would such language be appropriate? Even if the objects of Imus' ridicule were lacking in virtue or were criminals or prostitutes, would it then be appropriate to denigrate them because of their race and gender?

The most offensive thing about this whole episode for me is not Imus' comments about a winning women's basketball team, but the fact that little regard, if any, is given to the way women, especially women of color, are marginalized through speech and action in our culture. Are these particular remarks that different from the kinds of things said about women by Howard Stern for years on a daily basis, or that "shock jocks" have said on morning shows around the country? Our media is filled with images and language that demeans women. The question is not why did Imus get called out this time, but why are people silent in all of the other cases?

At the same time Imus was getting canned, the charges were dropped against the Duke lacrosse players. I sensed that these two stories were related, but the only connections I saw being drawn between them were conservative commentators decrying the attacks upon poor defenseless white men. (The editorial in the St. Joe News Press this past Sunday was a prime example.) This nation's history is filled with white men viewing black women as nothing more than sexual objects to be exploited. The same is true of both of these cases.

I've been searching for someone to draw some intelligent connections between the two stories, but I found little if anything worthwhile being said. That changed today when I read a column by Diana Butler Bass. I quoted her in a recent sermon and I'm growing to really like what she has to say. In this case, she critiques the pornographic nature of our culture and says that our tacit acceptance of sexual exploitation explains a lot of what is going on behind these stories. She writes the following:

The Rutgers and Duke stories are not only about race and gender. They are about pornography. As a result of the Rutgers case, some journalists promised to address the pornographic tendencies of rap and hip-hop. But what about pornography in general? Can we sensibly critique – and offer sound policy solutions regarding – the pornified culture? A culture where privileged men can think it is acceptable to hire a poor black woman to perform sexual acts for them? A culture where adult entertainment companies, X-rated Web sites, and “gentlemen’s clubs” rake in huge profits?

Both the Rutgers women and the Duke men are victims of pornography – the women were overt victims (don’t forget the woman in the Duke case); the men victims of culture that stresses control over women and easy sexual gratification. It is tempting to see the men only as perpetrators of a sin (hence the silence); yet that seems too simplistic. The lacrosse players “bought” an idea about porn and sex that has been culturally “sold” to them. Ultimately, pornography victimized them all – their self-esteem, sexuality, gender identity, wholeness, and in these two cases, public reputations.

When I usually come across condemnation of pornography, I groan and keep moving, because in my experience, such screeds are usually by people who paint all sexuality as sinful and who use their soapboxes to promote their own puritanical visions of America (I'm thinking here of Focus on the Family, The Family Research Council, etc.). Yet, I think in this case, Bass has a point. Our culture does cheapen sexuality and peddles it as a commodity rather than as a meaningful and sacred form of intimacy between people. Most especially, our culture presents sexuality in a way that demeans women, especially women of color. Any time a person ceases to be viewed as a person and instead is viewed as an object to be used and exploited to gratify others, that person is dehumanized and God's creation is abused.

No matter how appropriate or inappropriate the earthly punishment, this sin of dehumanization occurred in both the case of Imus and the Duke lacrosse players.

Grace and Peace,


Grieving Along With VA Tech--Dialogue Column 4-17-07

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY by Rev. Chase Peeples

As I write this column today, my mind is on the mass killing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. The news reports and video footage is disturbing and it provides no satisfying answers for why such an event could happen. I find myself having to stop my imagination from going too far in thinking about thirty-two students and professors cut down while going about their normal schedules on campus. I have to rein my thoughts in, because if I dwell too much on this horrible act then the world begins to seem too frightening and no place seems safe.

This shooting has struck me a little bit more deeply than other such acts of violence in the news. After growing up in Grandview, MO, when I was sixteen, my family moved to Richmond, VA where I graduated high school. It seemed like half of my graduating class went to VA Tech. During my college years in east Tennessee and seminary years back in Richmond, I had several occasions to be in Blacksburg, where VA Tech is located. Although the university is large (23,000 students), the town is not (only about 16,000 residents besides the students). The location of the school in the mountains of Virginia and the small town atmosphere make the murders seem very incongruous with its location. I find myself thinking that if it could happen there then it could happen anywhere—even in a place like St. Joseph.

On a day when I have so few answers, it feels appropriate to revisit the name of my weekly column in our church newsletter. I have titled it “Through a Glass Darkly” because this is the phrase that the apostle Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 13:12 to describe our imperfect understanding of reality. More recent translations say, “For now, we see in a mirror dimly”, but I prefer the earlier language for its poetry if not its clarity. No matter how it is translated, Paul writes here about the fact that this side of Christ’s return we see only a hazy reflection of how the universe operates. I chose it as the title of my column, because I am always aware of how limited the answers are that I as a minister attempt to provide. Today, the events at VA Tech surely remind me of how incomplete my knowledge really is.

Paul was writing to a church in the Greek city of Corinth. Among that community were some believers who claimed to have special insight from God as manifested in spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. Thus has ever been the case in religious circles, especially among Christians. Someone will always claim to have a superior connection to God and then dare to speak for God, usually to gather power and wealth for themselves. In the aftermath of September 11, there were many TV preachers and religious leaders who claimed to know why God allowed such a tragedy to happen. Similarly, I predict that from pulpits this Sunday, on web sites of conservative Christian interest groups and on TV and radio programs of evangelists, this particular tragedy will be a means for demagogues who claim a superior relationship with God to advance their particular agendas.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul refutes such spiritual arrogance by pointing out that in the present era before Christ’s return, we know only in part. Even dynamic spiritual experiences only reveal a small part of the big picture. He writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” On the day that we meet God face to face things like senseless tragedies will be made clear, until then we must operate by faith and believe that God is still at work in our violent world.

It is important to note, however, that Paul is not advocating that we should give up trying to make sense of our world, far from it. His writings are the evidence of his own attempts to make sense of God’s activity in the world. Paul is saying that all of our attempts to understand the deep theological mysteries of existence must be matched with humility. When we claim that we have all the answers, we in essence claim to know as much as God. Through the grace of God we may make some sense of our lives and our world, but we must always remember that our insights are bound by our limitations as humans. Imposing our worldviews upon others, especially in times of tragedy and grief, tends to reveal our own limitations rather than our knowledge.

The blogs and articles I have looked at over the last 24 hours since news of the murders at VA Tech broke have offered a variety of viewpoints on why God allows such events to occur. Some writers have emphasized the cross as evidence that God shares in our sufferings. I appreciate such writings, because as I mentioned in my Easter sermon, one of the things that helps me to look at myself in the mirror each morning and still honestly claim to be a Christian is the knowledge that at least God knows what it feels like to suffer as humans do. At least, thanks to the cross, God cannot be accused of remaining distant from our pain. This is a comforting thought for me, but it is not an answer.

Some writers claim that such events are God’s will. I bristle at such views, because I believe they fail to consider the compassionate love of God. Any God who wills that dozens of college students be shot is not a God I want to believe in.

Other writers offer some variety of explanation based upon free will. They offer the idea that God cannot intervene in each and every circumstance, because doing so would undermine the free will God has given us as humans. The amount of intervention God can do without undermining free will varies from thinker to thinker. I guess that if I had to be nailed down on my own understanding of why God allows evil in the world, it would be something along the lines of this type of view. I tend to believe that God is constantly negotiating between demonstrating compassionate care to God’s creation on the one hand and allowing for us humans to be free to love or not on the other hand. I certainly do not have the mechanics of such a theology worked out in any concrete sense. My understanding of God’s interaction in the events of our world is truly a dim reflection.

When Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians about our limited understanding as humans, he emphasized that more than knowledge we should pursue love. I would offer that trying to demonstrate love to others and to God is the only true way of gaining any knowledge worth having. As we seek to live out our own faith right here in St. Joseph, our actions and our words should be guided by love and humility. As we speak with one another about tragedies like the one at VA Tech, we should do so without rancor or simplistic accusations. As we reflect upon the grief in Virginia and then turn to those who grieve for other reasons right here in our own community, our first priority should be trying to listen to people who are hurting rather than trying to explain away their pain. As we reflect upon the terrible actions of one disturbed young man, we should reach out with more determination to people in our own community who are the “loners” or the “strange ones”, the kind of people who are in need of acceptance and inclusion.

Our understanding of tragedy may be incomplete, but we can be certain that God wants us to be a church that acts with loving humility rather than hurtful arrogance.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Loving your enemy in the "War on Terror"

In this past Saturday's NY Times, there was an op-ed from Robert Wright that I found worth reading. I don't really know who Robert Wright is--the by-line says that he is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation--which doesn't tell me anything other than he works at a Washington thinktank. So, I don't know from what perspective he is writing from, but his ideas intrigued me, because if I understand them correctly, I think I agree with them.

He writes about Jesus' teaching to love enemies and argues that from a strategic perspective it is a means of overcoming your opponent, because you reveal yourself to be better than them--you refuse to lower yourself to their level. This is a bit problematic, because I think Jesus' teaching was more about developing a deep love for others--even enemies--rather than trying to overcome an enemy. Nonetheless, I think if we are speaking strictly in a strategic sense--in terms of what enables you to prevail--what enables the ideas you believe in to prevail--it is worth considering whether or not responding to an attack or affront in like manner really will accomplish your goal.

I've read many scholars who consider Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount to be in some sense a field manual for an oppressed people to respond to the Roman Empire. The question Wright asks if the same tactics and strategy can work from the other end of things. Can the nation that acts like an empire--the United States--respond to its enemies in a manner where we do not sink to their level and instead respond in others in a benefiscent manner. Can the battle of ideas in the war on terror be won with acts of goodwill and humanitarian assistance rather than bombs?

He notes that a Hallmark card to Osama bin Laden probably won't cause fits of remorse, but on the street and in the marketplace where young jihadists are recruited it might.

Here are his concluding thoughts. (I copied them here, because unless you are a NYT subscriber or subscribe to their on-line feature you can't get the op-ed.)

The key distinction is between man and meme. Yes, a great power can always kill and torment enemies, and, yes, there will always be times when that makes sense. Still, when you’re dealing with terrorists, it’s their memes — their ideas, their attitudes — that are Public Enemy No. 1. Jihadists are hosts for the virus of hatred, and the object of the game is to keep the virus from finding new hosts.

The Internet is fertile ground for memes, and jihadists are good at getting the brand out. One of the few things Osama bin Laden has in common with the Jesus of the Gospels is belief in the power of viral marketing.

The ultimate in viral marketing was Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Deemed a threat to the social order, he was crucified under Roman auspices. But the Romans forgot one thing: If you face a small but growing movement that threatens the imperial order, you shouldn’t attack the men in ways that help the memes.

Mr. Bush says his favorite philosopher is Jesus. One way to show it would be to spend less time repeat- ing the mistake of the Romans and more time heeding the wisdom of Christ.

Grace and Peace,


A Reason to Believe--Dialogue Column 4.10.07


One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, writes the following about faith:

Almost nothing that makes any real difference can be proved…I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the beautiful. I cannot even prove my own free will; maybe my most heroic act, my truest love, my deepest through, are all just subtler versions of what happens when the doctor taps my knee with his little rubber hammer and my foot jumps. Faith can’t prove a damned thing. Or a blessed thing either. Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (San Francisco: Harper, 1973).

Like the love found in any good relationship, faith cannot be proven only experienced. I was trying to get at this point in my Easter sermon when I spoke about different responses to the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection cannot be proven; it can only be experienced. Our belief in the resurrection of Christ is not based upon scientific evidence but our own experience of the risen Christ in our lives.

Faith as a concept is spoken of in pretty cheap terms in our culture. Most often, “faith” is contorted into a three-syllable word by some TV preacher asking you to trust him with your checking account number. In such circumstances, faith becomes merely a lack of responsibility. Although we cannot prove God exists or that Jesus rose from the dead, we can make reasonable judgments about our lives and our behavior based upon our experience of Christ. Having faith does not mean ignoring the risks of belief or the evidence that seems to work against belief. Instead, having faith means looking at our lives and our world in all of their beauty and tragedy. We do not ignore the pain and suffering in our world; nor do we ignore the beauty and wonder of our world. We hold both together as we make the decision to believe based upon our experience of God.

Such a process begins with asking such basic questions as “Why do I believe in God?” and “Why am I a Christian?” (You might be surprised how rarely these questions are asked in churches.) If you can come up with an answer, the next question becomes “If I really do have a compelling reason for believing in this God stuff, what does this mean for my life?” Answering that question in words and actions is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.

It is a bold thing to look at the suffering and violence of our world and declare that hope exists. Yet, if we do confess that we believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead, then we are saying just that. For people of faith, the resurrection means that death and suffering do not have the final say over our lives or over our world. Such a belief also necessitates action. If we believe that God is at work in our world, especially in the most painful circumstances, does not that also mean that we as the ones supposedly committed to God must also be a part of that work.

Recently, I prayed the Prayer of St. Francis at a funeral. At that moment when we celebrated a person’s life and affirmed our faith in God’s eternal care for her, we acted upon belief in God’s ability to take a single person’s life and make an eternal difference through it. We could not prove all that we were saying in that funeral; we could only confess our belief.

The Prayer of St. Francis seems to get at this idea that our belief in Christ demands something of us. It does not ignore the suffering in our world, on the contrary it acknowledges it and asks God to use us to bring healing in response. I believe it is a prayer that arises not out of scientific proof but out of a deep belief in the goodness and mercy of God. The prayer is worth reciting in this season when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Grace and Peace,


Sunday, April 8, 2007

Believing in the Resurrection

In my sermon this morning, I shared an illustration from Diana Butler Bass. She's contributing to the God's Politics Blog led by Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Her writings, as well as most of the others, are well worth reading. I found her thoughts about why good old liberal Protestants have difficulty believing in a literal resurrection of Christ to be helpful in preparing my own sermon about various responses to the empty tomb.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, April 5, 2007

Local Minister Begs for Money

Okay, Okay, I get hit up for money all the time by every which way and when ministers ask for money I'm really, really suspicious. BUT...I'm asking for money anyway, because I've been nominated to be a part of the MDA Lock Up next week. Just read below to see my mass e-mail and should you feel so moved, feel free to contribute--none of the money will pass through my greedy little hands anyway--100% of the money will go to a kid with a neuromuscular disease. Like I said, read below.

Dear church member, friend, or whomever

I've only been in St. Joseph for two months and I'm already begging for money. The money, however, is not for me. It's for the local MDA chapter. Another local minister--who shall remain anonymous for his own protection--nominated me to be a part of the 2007 MDA Lock U{. I believe previous ministers at First Christian have been "locked up" in previous years, so they must know that FCC ministers are suckers for this sort of thing.

Next Wednesday, I'll be locked up at the Stony Creek Inn. My "bail" has been set at $650 which is the cost for sending a child with Muscular Distrophy to summer camp. If I raise that amount, I get a free Omaha Steaks package, which I will happily split with the person who gives the most--give the whole thing and you can have the Omaha Steaks package all to yourself!

Below you'll find the official "form letter" made for me by MDA. There's also a link to my own web page which allows you to give to MDA directly online.

So, if you have some money left over after all of your other chairitable and church donations or if you were planning on giving to MDA anyway, how about making the new minister in town look good by springing me from the lock up?

Grace and Peace,



This year, I have the honor and pleasure of participating in MDA's 2007 St. Joseph Lock-Up, Day 1 to help "Jerry's Kids®". To reach my goal I need your help!

I'd like to include you or your company on my list of contributors who are helping me reach my goal. Your donation would help MDA continue the important fight against muscular dystrophy. Check out my web page by clicking on the link above. There you'll find all kinds of information about MDA, and be able to make your tax-deductible donation on-line using your credit card.

MDA serves people in our community with neuromuscular disease by providing clinics, support groups, assistance with the purchase and repair of wheelchairs, braces and communication devices, and summer camp for kids. MDA also funds research grants to help find treatments and cures for some 43 neuromuscular diseases that affect people of all ages, right here in our community.

I sincerely hope that you'll take the opportunity to support MDA. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call or e-mail me.
On behalf of the families MDA serves, thank you!

Warmest Regards,

Rev Chase Peeples

Click here to visit my Participant Page.

If the link above does not bring you to my Participant Page, cut and paste the address below into the address bar of your internet browser.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Obama and Black Theology

Today I received an article by Martin Marty, University of Chicago church historian, about recent criticisms of Barack Obama and his home church in Chicago, Trinity United Church of Christ. The church has been criticized--and Obama by association--by conservative pundits, not only for its left-leaning social stances on issues like gay rights and opposition to the Iraq war, but for its self-identification as "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian" church.

The church and its pastor, Jeremiah Wright, subscribe to Black Theology, a form of liberation theology made popular in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The movement is perhaps best expressed in James Cone's powerful book God of the Oppressed. In his work, Cone states one of the crucial tenants of Black Theology--namely, that Jesus is black. Cone writes:

Christ's blackness is both literal and symbolic. His blackness is literal in the sense that he truly becomes One with the oppressed blacks, taking their suffering as his suffering and revealing that he is found, in the history of our struggle, the story of our pain, and the rhythm of our bodies...To say that Christ is black means that black people are God's poor people whom Christ has come to liberate. And thus no gospel of Jesus Christ is possible in America without coming to terms with the history and culture of that people who struggled to bear witness to his name in extreme circumstances...Christ is black, therefore, not because of some cultural or psychological need of black people, but because and only because Christ really enters into our world where the poor, the despised and the black are, disclosing that he is with them, enduring their humiliation and pain and transforming oppressed slaves into liberated servants. (James Cone, God of the Oppressed, rev. ed.(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997) 125-126.)

The idea that Jesus is somehow mystically in the oppressed person is not a new idea, at least not if you've read Matthew 25:45: "Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me." As someone who has been deeply impacted by Cone and other liberation theologians, I'm not surprised that white right-wing pundits don't like this understanding of Christ, because for them Christ is a rich, powerful, white man. Such pundits are exactly the kind of people, Black Theology was created to confront. All of us white people have grown used to seeing a Jesus who looks like a California surfer--historically he looked nothing like that--is it that much different to think of Christ as black? From the perspective Cone writes from--the idea that Christ identifies with those who are oppressed--there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so. (As the father of two boys who are bi-racial: African-American/Caucasian and whom I happen to believe are beautiful, the concept of a black Christ--in an artistic, symbolic, theological or literal sense--does not frighten me at all.)

Before coming to work at a Disciples of Christ church, I was a minister in the United Church of Christ, of which Trinity is a part. The two denominations are not that different. In fact, at the national and state level, they work very closely together. The U.C.C. is described well by Marty in his article as an "ex-Congregational (think Jonathan Edwards) and Reformed (think Reinhold Niebuhr) mainline church body." While in New York, I heard Jeremiah Wright, Trinity's pastor, speak at The Riverside Church, and I have to say, I was shocked at how conservative he was in some ways. I would agree with Marty's assessment: "Wright sounds almost literalist about biblical texts when he preaches." There's nothing far out here.

When you go to Trinity's web site and look at their Ten Point Vision, there is little there that is particularly different than what any church worth its salt would be preaching. Other than points 4 and 7 that have to do particularly with the African American community, I just don't see what the big deal is.

I guess what never ceases to amaze me is the response of the majority power establishment (in America its rich white people) to any idea of Christ as being on the side of the poor. Sure, charity is good and all that, but there is something really threatening about the idea of what God's identification with the poor and oppressed could mean for those with material and political power. I guess I shouldn't be shocked. Jesus did end up crucified by political and religious figures who were threatened by his teachings about love, justice, compassion and humility before the power of God.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A Matter of Life and Death--Dialogue Column 4.3.07

Through a Glass Darkly—Rev. Chase Peeples

Holy Week is such a strange time. It is a jumble of emotions, rituals and remembrances. We parade around the sanctuary on Palm Sunday, read of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering on Maundy Thursday as we turn out the lights, meditate on Jesus’ last words and his horrible death on Good Friday, and then we sing Hallelujahs on Easter morning. Holy Week is a roller coaster ride emotionally for those who choose to take part in it.

I believe that the reason Holy Week seems so schizophrenic is because we are intentional about focusing upon both life and death. On the one hand we ruminate over humanity’s potential for violence, betrayal and evil. On the other hand, we reflect upon God’s ability to bring good out of the most tragic and painful situations. If we are honest with ourselves, these are things that run through our minds all the time, but during Holy Week, the thin line between life and death just seems more pronounced. This week we take off our blinders and realize that both life and death are a part of reality for every human—including ourselves.

In the example of Jesus during his last days, we see a life fully lived, even though death lurks nearby. Jesus demonstrates what living is all about, because he is willing to suffer and even die for those who he loves. The theologian Langdon Gilkey wrote about life and death from a Christian perspective, and I find his thoughts helpful as we contemplate both Jesus’ last days and the days of life that God gives to us:

“It is impossible to be fully human unless one is ready to face the prospect of death. No person or value can be defended unless one is ready to suffer and if necessary to die for that person or value—whether we speak of one’s family or the integrity of another person or of freedom and justice in the community. None of these values of life can be effectively furthered without courage, the readiness to risk oneself for that in which one believes or for those to whom one is loyal--and this means facing the prospect of death. Hence courage is the basis of any virtue, the courage to sand where we must stand. In this sense, there is no real life unless it confronts and absorbs, takes in and makes a part of itself, death…For this reason the biblical God is the Lord of life but also the Lord over death; God is the giver of both to God’s mortal creatures. Life and death in God’s world are thus not completely antithetical, and the value of life depends in part on our faith and our courage in facing the certainty of death.” (Langdon Gilkey, Blue Twilight: Nature, Creationism, and American Religion, p. 171.)

Death is a part of everyday reality for most people in the world. Even those of us who believe in eternal life must still deal with death. As Gilkey notes, what determines whether or not something really matters to us is our willingness or lack thereof to suffer and die for that person or thing. We cannot avoid death. That is one big reason why Holy Week is so important to our faith. We believe in the hope that the resurrection offers to us—hope in a God that can bring something wonderful out of death, even a violent one like death on a cross—but we do not ignore the pain and death present in our world. In order to appreciate the value of life, we must be aware of the presence of death.

In Jesus’ last days, we see a person who lives courageously for the sake of those whom he loves, so courageously that he ends up dying. If we are to learn anything from Jesus’ actions, we must consider what those values are and who those people are whom we would be willing to die for? Only then, can we begin truly living for them. Would we be willing to die if it would mean someone we loved—our spouse, our children—might live? If so, then are we making them a priority in our lives? Would we be willing to die so that others might not suffer from injustice, poverty, disease and hunger? If so, then what are we doing in our daily lives to help those people? Would we be willing to die for the sake of making the love of God known to those who are oppressed and in need of hope? If so, what time do we actually make for God?

Thankfully, we do not live in a society where we are forced to regularly make life and death decisions regarding our families, our neighbors or our faith, but there are people around the world who do not have such a luxury. Perhaps, one of our problems as Christians living in an affluent Western culture is that we have so many ways to insulate ourselves from death or at least to pretend that we do not have to face death. Holy Week reminds us that death is a part of life, and that like Jesus, our best lives are lived courageously on behalf of others and in the face of death.

Grace and Peace,


So Much for the Huddled Masses

I was pleased to offer a prayer in the prayer service on Friday which was called in order to foster dialogue on immigration issues in St. Joseph. I was a little disappointed in the turnout, but it was at noon on a Friday, so time had to be a factor. Also, I've learned that there almost has to be a tragedy to get people focused on a complicated issue like immigration. Let's hope a dialogue can be started without one here in St. Joseph.

The speaker on Friday was Dr. Socorro De Anda of the Lydia Patterson Institute, a school for Latino immigrants in El Paso, Texas. The school has an exciting partnership between themselves, Methodist colleges and universities, and local churches in sponsoring interns who do ministry to Hispanics in a local church setting. It was inspiring to hear about the work of the school in helping children move from poverty in Juarez, Mexico to becoming college graduates. It was also good to hear her speak about the problems of immigration policy in our country and the inadequate and often inhumane ways immigrants are being treated. It seems current policy fails to guarantee security, meet the needs of business for laborers, or address the human needs of immigrants--legal and illegal--who are in this country.

One needs only to read of the cases of families torn apart by immigration policy to see that our current policies are completely inadequate to address the needs of the real people who are often fighting just to survive. A story in yesterday's Washington Post is a good example.

I've been reflecting on Jesus' words in John 12 following his anointing by Mary. (I mentioned this in my sermon on March 25.) When he utters the now infamous phrase, "The poor will always be with you..." Jesus is NOT saying, "Ignore the poor." Instead he is quoting part of a verse from Deuteronomy 15:11, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” In fact, I used this verse as a jumping off point for the prayer I prayed on Friday:

Loving God, Our Creator and Sustainer,
Open our fists that have been clenched in fear and anger,
Open our hands to offer welcome, greetings and hospitality,
Open our hands so we may give materially and financially to those in need,
Open our hands to offer a hand up to those who have been pushed down by economic forces beyond their control,
Open our hands to greet newcomers as equals, as children of God,
Open our hands, open our hearts, open our minds, Amen.

Grace and Peace,