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“Love’s Dark Healing,” May 3, 2015

“Love’s Dark Healing”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
May 3, 2015


Editor’s note for those new to ASBC: Rhianna is Pastor Tom’s first wife’s ten year old daughter who died suddenly of natural causes related to an undetected heart conditions. The Gospel reading is the story (found in Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke) of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years who made her way through the crowd to touch Jesus’ garment at which point she’s healed.

Here’s the second sacred reading, from, Anam Cara, by John O’Donohue:

“In nature we do not see the trees, for instance, getting seriously involved in therapeutic analysis of their root systems or the whole stony world that they had to avoid on their way to the light. Each tree grows in two directions at once, into the darkness and out to the light with as many branches and roots as it needs to embody its wild desires.

“Negative introspection damages the soul. It holds many people trapped for years and years, an ironically, it never allows them to change. It is wise to allow the soul to carry on its secret work in the night side of your life. you might not see anything stirring for a long time. You might have only the slightest intimations of the secret growth that is happening within you, but these intimations are sufficient. We should be fulfilled and satisfied with them. You cannot dredge the depths of the soul with the meagre light of self-analysis. The inner world never reveals itself cheaply. Perhaps analysis is the wrong way to approach our inner dark.

“We all have wounds; we need to attend to them and allow them to heal. A beautiful phrase of Hegel’s is apposite here: ‘Die Wunden des Geistes heilen, ohne dass Narben bleiben.’ ‘The wounds of the spirit heal and leave no scars.’ There is a healing for each of our wounds, but this healing is waiting in the indirect, oblique, and non-analytic side of our nature. We need to be mindful of where we are damaged, then invite our deeper soul in its night-world to heal this wounded tissue, renew us, and bring us back into unity. IF we approach our hurt indirectly and kindly, it will heal. Creative expectation brings you healing and renewal. If you could trust your soul, you would receive every blessing you require. Life itself is the great sacrament through which we are wounded and healed. If we live everything, life will be faithful to us.”

-John O’Donohue (Anam Cara, pp. 122-123)

While in the northwest for the anniversary of Rhianna’s death and the gathering of the community surrounding Lynette and her family, I had the opportunity to attend worship at local UU church there on Whidbey Island. It was really something to suddenly be a parishioner. Not just that, but to be in worship at a time when I was really in need of comfort and spiritual sustenance.

So what a wild surprise that the meditation with which the service started involved a hieroglyph from New Zealand, a beautiful spiraled work of art traceable to that Island’s indigenous peoples, the Maori. (This was the tribe featured in the film we discussed a few weeks ago in the context of the film The Piano.) The preacher’s message revolved around some of his favorite bumper stickers and the cars he put them on, including one of his all time favorites, “LOVE HEALS,” which happened to be on a VW bus he still had and was selling! As tempting as it was to drive back in a VW bus with that bumper sticker, I held off and am just borrowing the sticker for my sermon today.

The healing power of love is something we encounter over and over again throughout sacred scripture (in a multitude of traditions). In the story of Naji and the mirror Didi, Rumi tells the beautiful story of a seeker’s battle with Ego, which is beautifully interrupted by the appearance of love. Today’s story of the healing of the bleeding woman is a case in point. We could also describe it as the healing power of faith, since she clearly had the necessary faith to seek Jesus out.
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March 22nd: Suffering & The Feminine

Wounding, Healing and Transformation
Suffering & the Feminine
Rev. Tom Martinez
March 22, 2015

Lent IV 2015
Ancient Text: Luke 7:36-50
Film Text: The Piano, directed by Jane Campion (1993)

Since we’re exploring suffering and the Feminine today it feels appropriate to follow the lead of the great German poet Rilke, who was so deeply in touch with the Feminine dimension of existence, both as an artist and simply as a human being. I bring up Rilke in the spirit of “living the questions,” which is what he encouraged a young poet to do. So in relation to today’s sermon and in the spirit of Rilke I have three questions for your consideration:

How has my inner Feminine been wounded?
Where have I encountered healing for my inner Feminine?
What might my own personal transformation look like?

We can also pose these questions broadly to our society writ large:

How has the Feminine been wounded during the history of Western Civilization?
What have been our sources of healing the wounded Feminine?
And what does the transformation—we might add liberation—of the Feminine
look like as we look out onto the still mostly blank canvas of the 21st century?

Our Gospel reading today tells the story of the woman who poured expensive perfume onto Jesus feet. This might strike you as a bit of an odd passage with which to explore the suffering of the Feminine. At first glance we see a “sinful” woman making a bit of a scene, pouring such costly perfume onto Jesus’ feet that—as one of the disciples points out—it could have fed several hungry people. What’s more she actually uses her hair to soak up the mess, causing a religious leader looking on to surmise that Jesus is certainly no prophet since, if he were, he would surely know the kind of woman who was touching him. Add to all this that because the woman is described differently in different Gospels there’s an ever-growing mountain of theological speculation re her identity and how best to resolve the inconsistencies.
Of course another way of viewing the passage is to see this woman’s actions as a profoundly embodied expression of love from a place of radical humility and vulnerability. Jesus’ response in all Continue reading

“Some Pig”

“Some Pig”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
First Sunday of Lent
February 22, 2015

“Some Pig”

A Lenten reflection on the movie,
Avatar, and the E. B. White story,
Charlotte’s Web. The Biblical passage comes from
Paul’s letter to the Philippians about Jesus humbling
himself, even unto death on a cross.

I wanted to begin with that New York Times article (see below for link) about the Keystone Pipeline in order to broaden our reflection on the meaning of suffering to include the Earth and all her creatures. Traditionally the time of Lent focuses our attention on the suffering of Jesus. In the past we’ve explored how he suffered at the hands of Empire due to the radical nature of his teachings. Using the language of the Unitarian Universalist Association we could say he was persecuted for having the courage to stand on the side of love.
Jesus saw those on the margins of society and was drawn to them. Sinners and outcasts, people who suffered physically and emotionally and spiritually, whose value was diminished in the eyes of the world, were especially important to Jesus and his message of all-inclusive love. We could even point to sayings attributed to Jesus in defense of our expansion of this circle of concern to include all of creation. For example he reportedly said not one sparrow falls to the ground without God’s knowledge, which implies an omniscient creator, intimately aware of and concerned with Her entire creation. Continue reading

“Good Morning Promised Land”

“Good Morning, Promised Land”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
February 15, 2015

I was tempted to cut off that last verse about Elijah rounding up the prophets of Baal so they can be killed, but figured I should leave it in to remind us that all the Abrahamic religions contain stories and teachings that appear to advocate or at least sanction violence. In fact it’s worth noting that we all share the prophet Elijah, who is found in the Quran, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (as we saw in today’s NT account of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus shines as if illuminated from within, while Moses and Elijah appear on either side of him).
So in the end I kept that verse we all have to contend with in which Yahew appears to be orchestrating violence (prompting us to ask as we must always ask, is this part of the Divine plan or the influence of the human plan?). But of course the main start in this story is the Divine fire that came down from heaven and consumed the altar. Continue reading

“How Does It End?”

“How Does It End?”
A sermon on: Groundhog Day, The Truman Show and a Boat
Sunday, February 15, 2014
Rev. Tom Martinez

Never get out of the boat.
Absolutely…right. Never get out of the boat
unless you’re going all the way.

—Captain Willard, Apocalypse Now

Camus once wrote that, “myths exist for us to breathe our imaginations into.” That’s found in his essay on “The Myth of Sisyphus,” a powerful myth into which Camus breathed his imagination. Mention of Sisyphus today conjures the end of the great mythic figure, whose fate was to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down.
I don’t know about you but life sometimes feels like that. I get up in the morning and make my coffee, just as I’ve done a thousand other times. One day fades into the next as days turn into weeks, which blend into months and years. Before you know it decades are passing by and you begin to wonder where all the time went.
These thoughts are on my mind as it’s the time of year when we reflect on the movie, Groundhog Day, in which Phil (played by Bill Murray), is trapped in a time loop, fated to live the very same day over and over again. He can make whatever choices he wants, do anything he wants, but the next day he’ll wake up and it’s Groundhog Day all over gain. Bill Murray is of course both brilliant and hilarious so the movie’s a lot of fun. But the reason we keep returning to it has more to do with the power of the film’s message. It’s a sort of celluloid Song of Solomon, only Phil doesn’t conclude life is simply a chasing after the wind, but rather an invitation to love and blossom into the person he was always meant to be.
Continue reading

When Children are in the Crosshairs: a Faith-Based Response to American Sniper

“When Children Are in The Crosshairs:
A Faith-Based Response to American Sniper
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
February 1, 2015

The Conversion of Saul (i.e., Paul)

        9 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
      10 [Then] Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

— Acts 9:1-19

       There’s a powerful scene at the heart of the controversial movie American Sniper, the Oscar-nominated film directed by Clint Eastwood that stars Bradley Cooper as the real-life Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle. While providing protective cover for an advancing platoon of Marines on patrol in Iraq, Kyle shoots and kills a woman and a young boy, two of his 160 confirmed kills.
       It’s a disturbing, provocative scene, used in most of the film’s trailers. As audience members we want to believe these two deaths meant something, that Kyle was justified in shooting this woman and this child. After all, we were attacked on 9/11 and are only “taking the fight to them, so we don’t have to fight them here.” That’s how Kyle sums things up. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter that Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11, or that we invaded and occupied a former ally without provocation.
       I can’t help imagining how Texans would react if a foreign power had invaded the US under President Bush, assassinated him and occupied the country. Would the average Texan cooperate with an occupying power? The emergence of an armed militia of “insurgents” would surely be inevitable. Would its women and children be part of the resistance? Imagine say a North Korean sniper overlooking a North Korean patrol going house to house in a Texas suburb. A mother and child decided to die rather than endure the occupation, Would the North Korean sniper be justified in killing the woman and her child?

       It seems so clear when you look at it that way.
       Maybe that’s why in telling Kyle’s story Clint Eastwood left “politics” out of the picture. He seems to have immersed himself so completely in Kyle’s worldview of that whether we had a right to be in Iraq at all becomes somehow irrelevant. Embassy bombings and the collapse of the Twin Towers are conflated to create an us vs. them mindset and, once in Iraq, it goes without saying that this is “them.” Kyle was ordered there. He’s a good guy, braver and tougher than most, and for that reason inspiring. And yet there’s something unsettling about the shooting of a child and then his mother. On a human level, you sort of feel like, “How has it come to this? How is it possible that this is what we feel the need to be doing in the world?” Continue reading

“Guiding Lights & Hidden Doorways”

“Guiding Lights and Hidden Doorways”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
January 25, 2015
Brooklyn, NY

“Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people”

—Exodus 13:20-22

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8″For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

—Matthew 7:7

Whenever I hear the verse in Matthew, “knock and the door shall be opened,” I think of Herman Hesse’s novel, Steppenwolf, in which the protagonist Harry Haller discovers a hidden world on the other side of a vanishing door. It’s one of those imaginary, magical-realism details that really gets at the nature of the spiritual life, where opportunities for deep connection sometimes present themselves like magic doors we can either walk through or walk on passed.
Over the years I’ve noticed there are certain places where this sort of thing is more likely to happen. Judson Memorial Church has certainly been one of those places for me. So I suppose it’s no surprise that I begin there, not at yesterday’s stupendous ordination celebration for Micah, but a few days earlier, at Rosalind Gnatt’s Ecclesiastical Council. For those of you unfamiliar with what an “EC” is, it’s basically the final hurdle on the way toward ordination, where the candidate shares their theology and faith journey and takes questions from the larger Church.

I had heard Rosalind’s story before and had read her paper describing her southern upbringing, the painful anecdote of her grandfather’s tombstone being engraved with the letters, KKK. It’s no surprise that part of her journey involved her drifting away from the early expression of organized religion she was raised in.
But I had forgotten another anecdote that jumped out at me when she retold it. She was listening to a lecture at an orientation for parents whose kids were starting college. Rosalind’s daughter had already studied abroad for a year so Rosalind was bored and began to doze off. She awakened moments later, jolted by a voice that said, “Apply to Union.” Continue reading

“Finding Hope, Where Hope is Hard to Find”

“Finding Hope Where Hope is Hard to Find”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
December 28, 2015
Rev. Tom Martinez

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” II Corinthians 12:9

“Finding Hope Where Hope is Hard to Find”

My step-son Aidan came home the other night while I was reading the new book by Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, and I couldn’t help but say, “Hey Dude listen to this.” Though Aidan is in many respects your typical eighteen year old, he has a precocious awareness of racial issues. So I read to him about Bryan’s experience visiting a prisoner facing life in prison for a crime he had committed after returning home traumatized by his combat experience in Vietnam. Prison protocol required that the prisoner had to await the meeting in a small holding cell barely much bigger than a phone booth. Only this prisoner was in a wheel chair and when it was time for the interview the guards couldn’t get him out. The wheel chair had somehow gotten wedged into the confined space and, try as they might, they could not get him out. As this was happening Bryan noticed the shoulders of the inmate begin to shake. The man was crying. Eventually they turned the cage on its side and were able to extricate the man from his predicament.
When I finished reading the story Aidan said something like, “Wow man, that’s fascinating, but that is way too heavy for a Friday night.” I figured I’d begin with that anecdote by way of warning you all that this is pretty heavy material. But given the killing of unarmed black men (and the boy and Cleveland) and the recent execution killing of two NYPD officers, I figure we’d be shirking the issues if we didn’t dive in deep.

Part of what hits you so hard about Bryan Stevenson’s book (Just Mercy), are the heartbreaking anecdotes concerning the lives of people crushed by the system. For example when that one man I was just talking about was finally freed from the cage, he kept asking Bryan for a chocolate shake. At first it just strikes you as odd that this man’s perseverating on a seemingly random and totally unrealistic wish for a shake, but then you come to see that this is indicative of the extremely limited mental functioning of this grown man who has been spiritually mutilated by the criminal justice system. When he finally sees a friendly face, that of Bryan Stevenson, all he can think to ask for is a chocolate shake.
But the book also illuminates the glaring, systemic racism of the criminal justice system. This is of course salient to the raging race debate in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, as well as the execution style killings of the two NYPD officers Liu and Ramos. In this regard it’s important to note that Stevenson’s book came out before these killings and is certainly not intended as an attack on police. Rather it seeks to call attention to the glaring racial bias of our criminal justice system by highlighting several emblematic cases.
Bryan Stevenson himself ends up being profiled one night after parking his car across the street from his apartment. Exhausted from having traipsed across Alabama defending the defenseless, he allowed himself a few rare moments of relaxation, enjoying a song playing softly on his car’s stereo. He had noticed a squad car pull up nearby, but assumed they were simply carrying out a routine patrol. But when he stepped out of his car the police came towards him with weapons drawn, ordering him against the car. Try as he might to explain he was returning home after work, etc., the two cops had clearly made up their minds that a black man out at night was guilty until proven innocent.
Adding insult to injury, Stevenson, who hadn’t lived in the area long, describes what happened next:

“My neighbors grew bolder as the encounter dragged on. Even though it was late, people were coming out of their homes to watch. I could hear them talking about all the burglaries in the neighborhood. There was a particularly vocal older white woman who loudly demanded that I be question about items she was missing.
‘Ask him about my radio and my vacuum cleaner!’ Another lady asked about her cat who had been absent for three days…” (p. 41).

I know I’m just getting into the story so you don’t have a great sense of who this Bryan Stevenson character is yet, but suffice it to say this is like when Gandhi was thrown off the train in South Africa for refusing to ride third class when he had a first class ticket.
Another telling anecdote that heralds the almost unimaginable racism of the system Stevenson was wading into concerns the truck driven by one of the guards at one of the prisons. Stevenson noticed the a truck that appeared to be “a shrine to the Old South: It was completely covered with disturbing bumper stickers,” one of which read, “IF I’D KNOWN IT WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS I’D HAVE PICKED BY OWN DAMN COTTON.” Once inside the prison Bryan was confronted by a guard who boasted the truck was his and demanded on strip-searching him, a procedure attorneys are exempted from.
The experience reminded Bryan of an experience he had arguing before a judge concerning the racial make-up of a jury (prosecutors apparently have carefully devised strategies to keep them all white or as white as they can be). After hearing Bryan’s argument the judge remarked, “I’m going to grant your motion, Mr. Stevenson, but I’ll be honest. I’m pretty fed up with people always talking about minority rights. African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans… When is someone going to come to my courtroom and protect the rights of Confederate Americans?” (p. 193). Given that this comment came from a judge presiding over a courtroom, it’s no wonder Stevenson’s investigations into racially corrupted system garnered a stream of death threats.
In fact, when Bryan first began to look into the case of Watler McMillian, which turned out to be an outrageous miscarriage of justice, he received a phone call warning him not to proceed. Only the caller wasn’t some anonymous madman. No, the caller was the judge who presided over the original trial. But Bryan isn’t the kind of guy to shy away from a challenge. He continued with his investigation and what he found turned out to be almost beyond belief.

Walter McMillian was sentenced to death for the murder of Rhonda Morrison, the 18 year-old woman well loved by her small, southern community. So well loved in fact that the newly elected sheriff was under tremendous pressure to solve the murder. But instead of investigating the actual evidence and chasing down real leads, he and the prosecutor pressured a jailbird snitch (a man named Myers) to pin the murder on Walter McMillian.
According to Myers’ initial testimony, he was gassing up his car when Walter approached him and, brandishing a gun, told him (Myers) to drive Walter’s truck to the dry cleaners where Rhonda worked. According to Myers the men went into the dry cleaners to rob it, whereupon Walter shot Rhonda, then drove Myers back to the gas station. (Myers would later admit he had made up the entire story after having been threatened with death himself.)
Looking into the case further, Bryan learned that the State’s case rested entirely on Myers’ testimony. No physical evidence whatsoever tied Walter to the murder. In fact, at the time of the murder Walter’s large and extended family was holding a fish fry on Walter’s front yard, while he and a friend worked on his truck.
Walter wasn’t perfect. He was something of a lady’s man and had had an affair with a married white woman. In the Old South that would get a black man lynched. In the new South that gets you sentenced to death by a badly broken and thinly veiled judicial system that arbitrarily decides who lives and who dies. It’s no wonder the original judge on the case tried to dissuade Bryan from looking into the matter.

Because the entire African American community was aware of Walter’s innocence, when the case finally returned to court so that Myers could recant his initial false testimony, a throng of supportive friends and family members packed the courthouse to overflowing. Overwhelmed by this powerful show of support, on the second day of hearings the crowd was barred from entering. After all the whites they could find were allowed in, Walters friends and supporters were told they could go in, only now everyone had to go through a metal detector and pass by a mean looking police dog.
Bryan describes how one elegant woman named Mrs. Williams proudly entered, only to nearly collapse at the sight of the dog. She later explained she had seen people attacked during the height of the Civil Rights movement and was terrified of dogs to this day. The next day however, Mrs. Williams returned with newfound determination. She not only strode confidently into the courtroom, she was the last one standing after everyone had taken their seats. In fact there was an awkward moment during which the judge waited for her to sit in order for the haring to proceed.

“I smiled now, because I knew she was saying to the room, ‘I may be old, I may be poor, I may be black, but I’m here. I’m here because I’ve got this vision of justice that compels me to be a witness. I’m here because I’m supposed to be here. I’m here because you can’t keep me away.’
“I smiled at Mrs. Williams while she sat proudly. For the first time since I started working on the case, everything we were struggling to achieve finally seemed to make sense. It took me a minute to realize that the judge was calling my name, impatiently asking me to begin” (p. 181).

One of the more telling details of the story is that, after Bryan presented all the exonerating evidence and arguments, the argument had been so persuasively powerful the State declined to even offer a rebuttal. Walter’s conviction had been so clearly unjust and racially biased, so flimsily based on the lies of one scared convict, that there was simply no more to be said. Only his release remained. And that was a joyous occasion.

Joyful as the outcome of Walter’s story is, there is a certain residual sadness hanging over the whole affair. Walter himself demonstrated a remarkable calm throughout his ordeal, but you can’t put a man on Death Row for six years and expect everything to return to normal after you return him to the world.
Then there is the realization that comes through reading the book that Walter’s case is the tip of an iceberg of injustice. Bryan himself at one point nearly breaks under the pressure. Yet in his moment of greatest weakness, he finds a new reservoir of strength. He writes how “Paul Farmer,

the renowned physician who has spent his life trying to cure the world’s sickest and poorest people, once quoted me something that the writer Thomas Merton said: We are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis of our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion” (p. 289).

Bryan’s journey into the depths of human suffering has revealed to him an insight that is foundational to the Western Religious tradition, that in weakness, we can sometimes discover an entirely different kind of strength. It’s no coincidence that the ultimate symbol of Christianity is a man condemned to death with his wrists nailed to a cross. In that open embrace of the agony of the world, is an invitation to the power of love and the transforming gift of compassion.
And lest anyone accuse me of this being a little pie-in-the-sky pipe dream tagged onto a dark tale of our broken system, let me close with one final story also found in Just Mercy. Remember that mean guard whose truck was a shrine to the Old South? Bryan had one final encounter with him later on, after having sought to defend the man whose only wish had been for a chocolate milkshake.
The guard had pulled Bryan aside and apologized for his earlier behavior saying that he had heard what Bryan said on the man’s behalf and it had caused him to question a lot of things. Bryan later learned the guard quit prison work. But in this, their final conversation, he said to Bryan, “Oh, and you don’t have to worry about that chocolate milkshake.”
“Whattya mean,” said Bryan, confused.
“I stopped on our way back from court. Didn’t see any harm in it.”
Never give up hope, even when hope is hard to find.

May it be. Amen.

“Throwing Off the Chains: Reflections on A Christmas Carol”

“Throwing Off the Chains: Reflections on A Christmas Carol”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
December 14, 2014

I’m grateful to an actor buddy of mine, Ryder Dickson-Hobbs, who alerted me to these themes through his courageous decision to play the young Scrooge in a Seattle-based production of A Christmas Carol.

Once again we find ourselves tasked with the celebration of Advent amidst a world divided by race. Yesterday’s enormous rally here in New York City and replicated in cities around the world marked a watershed moment in which people poured out into the streets and said, to quote one succinct sign I saw, “enough!” How many more unarmed black men are going to be killed before we wake up to the racism endemic to our society?
It might seem counterintuitive, then, to be spending our time this morning reflecting on a story written by a white European who lived and wrote mostly in England. Truth be told I was wondering how I was going to make sense of that perceived disparity myself, until I discovered that Dickens wrote A Christmas Story soon after returning from America—where he had been invited to speak against slavery. The British Empire had already banned it, so abolitionists in this country were reaching out to Europe for support in their efforts to ban this barbaric practice in which human beings were being bought, sold, bred and tortured.
So despite the “all white cast” of A Christmas Story, Dickens himself was acutely aware of racism, which was part of his overall concern with the basic problem of oppression. One could argue in fact, that because the British Empire rose and declined before our own, the economic tension between greed and gratitude woven throughout the story of Scrooge anticipates the modern American scene, with our ever-increasing disparities of incomes and the vicious oppression of the poor. Viewed in this light the life of Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a fable on the nature and fate of society in general, with profound personal implications. The Jungian psychoanalyst Robert Johnson says that all great myths diagnosis the ills of the social world out of which they arise, while at the same time pointing in the direction of their cure. So let’s consider A Christmas Story as just that, a great myth with the power to diagnose our social ills, while pointing toward a cure. Continue reading

“Deep Calls to Deep: Racial Killings at Christmastime”

Sermon Pic1

A NOTE ABOUT THE SERVICE: We have an annual tradition during Advent here at All Souls Bethlehem Church of a Charlie Brown service. We watch the scene from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special in which Charlie Brown yells out during the rehearsal of a Christmas pageant, “Can anyone tell me the real meaning of Christmas?” That’s when Linus steps up and quotes the Gospel of Luke, “And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.…” This year the service coincided with the outrage over the non-indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. So our normally lighthearted service was balanced out by these tragic developments. In the service then, which began with a poem by one of our parishioners, Jacqueline Bediako, we sought to hold this tension as we journeyed deeper into the Advent season. I argue that when we follow the birth narratives on into the mature life and teaching of Jesus, we are confronted with a story of the killing of an innocent man (told not once but four times), a relevant touchstone for the times in which we live.

“Unarmed Men,” by Jacqueline Bediako

The black holocaust,
of course
it isn’t over.

Unarmed men
are destroyed,
by soldiers
by the government.
These soldiers
with golden bullets.
And the unarmed men
no longer work
cotton fields,
or build the houses
or stroke the stem of
sugar cane.

These unarmed men
no longer
take a whip to
the back or a
noose around their
But soldiers are
loose with their bullets,
ripping husbands
from wives,
from sons,
placing men
in the earth for

The men,
bodies brown,
minds tired
came from the
south to the
hoping for a new
oh freedom.
Maybe sweet promises,
of a beautiful
instead they
got rats,
rooms which showed
their breath,
and death between
the sheets.

Hoards of blacks
locked in the underworld,
hard lives,
lived in harder skin,
how can one win
in a vanilla-colored

Unarmed men,
wore invisible crowns,
as they stood
with their hands
up saying
don’t shoot.

In this dungeon of
pain and darkness
words are said
I can’t breathe.
I’m stopped from

The author of this poem, Jacqueline Bediako, was nearly arrested on Black Friday while protesting the killing of Michael Brown. Her account of the experience can be found here:

“Deep Calls to Deep”
Rev. Tom Martinez
All Souls Bethlehem Church
December 7, 2014

I’m not sure if you all have heard the story of Sal Pane (who also goes by “Pain”), who was on the news a bunch during the Ebola scare here in the US, presenting himself as an expert on decontamination and getting work for his company, “Bio-Recovery.” His “expertise” was called into question when he showed up at the home of one of doctors who contracted Ebola, Craig Spencer. Remember he was the MD who upon his return went bowling, etc., throwing Brooklyn into a bit of a panic. And what did the City do do quell the panic? They did what most any fan of “Breaking Bad” would do, they “called Sal.” Only in this case Sal was Sal Pane, who turns out to be a con man.
Prior he was found out while he was busy publicly touting his credentials, Pane reportedly said in reference to his qualifications, “This isn’t my first rodeo.” I begin with that story because I’ve always gotten a kick out of that phrase and I wasn’t sure how else to introduce it! No seriously
I mention this story because it reminds us that things are not always exactly as they appear. As I listened to this story on NPR they played a few clips of the guy prior to his unmasking and he sounded so convincing. If you were listening it would be hard not to accept him as an expert. He had everyone fooled. Like Bob Dylan said, “You can fool some of the people some of the time.”

Recently a Staten Island Grand Jury met about the death of Eric Garner and a very formal, careful process of “justice” was carried out, after which the public was told that there was no indication of anything unjust or illegal having happened, that the police officers involved were simply doing their job. (When I hear that kind of bs couched in legalese it reminds me of Thomas Merton’s remark that the end of the world will come about through an entirely legal process.)
So, just as in the case of Michael Brown, the formal finding of our legal process exonerated the police officer. Only, this is not our first rodeo. In fact we were just at the rodeo last week when another Continue reading