The Cult of Winning & the Faith of Jesus

I must begin with an important qualifier. As someone with a Baptist background, the separation of church and state a la that Baptist forefather Roger Williams, is essential to me. Explicitly tying religion and partisan politics together in church is a dangerous game. SO I will explicitly avoid talking about the politician Donald Trump or his politics. In fact, we might refer to the verb "trump," as in "to trump someone," instead of the name Trump, as we think about Trumpism. This makes sense because both the word "trump" and the philosophy of trumpism predate Donald Trump.

Trumpism is more a philosophy of life than it is a political philosophy. Trumpism is a way of being, a way of living in the world. 

Some have noted that hardcore supporters of Trump have a cult-like devotion to him. The reason this may be true is that philosophies of life are as close to religion as one can get without it being a religion.

So the philosophy of life called Trumpism, which undergirds political views that arise from it -- what is it about? What is Trumpism?


The core value, the ultimate concern of Trumpism is what? It is winning. Trumpism worships Victory, Winning, being the king of success. From this, Trumpism honors the winners, the victorious, those at the top with their trophies.

Remember that game we used to play as kids this time of year. We’d find big hills of plowed snow in parking lots and play king of the mountain. Whoever go to the top first was the king, and the king at the top of the mountain felt, well, kingly – powerful, victorious, invincible. “I am king of the world!” Well, Trumpism is a grown-up, real-stakes version of King of the Mountain where the point is to be the king at the top and to have everything associated with you be at the top too. 

The worship of winning and the focus on the symbols of winning – wealth, fame, power – is certainly nothing new. It is telling that Trump as a businessman once wrote self-help books, Art of the Deal being the best, or shall we say most known, example. It is not insignificant that the man behind Trumpism often said just below the Bible on the greatest scale was Art of the Deal. 


A big strand of the self-help movement, a strand that has been around from the very beginning of this country, is the glorification of success. Often its tied to spiritual attainment. However, material attainment – worldly success – is the point and proof of spiritual attainment. 

Linked to this focus on self-improvement and self-help is a school of thought called Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism preached that it’s a man eat man world out there, it is a fight for survival, and only the powerful and the successful will survive. Society and culture have their own form of natural selection. They favor those who win and reward them. So empower yourself so you can do battle in the world, a world built on competition and a “to the victor go the spoils” mentality. In this world, a key goal is to Win friends and influence people. 

Trumpism is basically a subgenre of Social Darwisnim. We might call Trumpism the New Social Darwinism. And Trump himself, who again and again points to himself as the ultimate winner, is New Social Darwinism’s most powerful preacher and evangelist and executive.

Sadly, segments of the Evangelical church, the megachurch segment especially, has bought – literally – into this philosophy. The prosperity gospel and its sibling, the salvation for self-improvement’s sake gospel, is foundational to most of the megachurches around. They mostly signed-on to Trump, surprise, surprise. He is an example of being prosperous, so he must be doing something right, he must be blessed by God somehow. If God is a God of winners, then he must be favored by God somehow.

Our society these days eats up the cult of winning. We love our sports, don’t we. We want our sports teams to win it all. What Patriots fan rooted for them to lose the Super Bowl? I think of the Vince Lombardi quote, "if it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?" Even the Apostle Paul talked about fighting the good fight and winning the race.

Fine and good. Sports are sports. Competition in sports can have its benefits. The problem arises when everything becomes a sport. The problem comes when we mix the fun of sports with the cause of public service. Public service, leadership in the public sphere, should not be about some winning and losing but about the commonwealth, about shared wealth, shared success, shared responsibility, shared community. The service in public service, the serving the need of each other, is essential for any commonwealth to truly be itself.


What about the Progressive church? What about Unitarian-Universalism? What is the gospel we offer? What is our alternative to the Neo-Social-Darwinist gospel?

If we wanted a polar opposite philosophy of life to Trumpism, we wouldn’t have to look too long or too far. Despite Evangelical Christianity’s sell-out and buy-in of Trumpism’s Cult of Winning, the very person they supposedly worship provided that polar opposite philosophy of life some 2000 years ago in the face of Empire. If there were ever a thing more anti-Trumpist, it would be the teachings and life-lesson of Jesus.

Jesus continually exalted the most vulnerable, the least among us, the losers, the lost, the last-placers, the lesser-thans. 

In turn, he sought to unmask humility in the rich, the powerful, and the arrogant. He called on them to let go of their prized-possessions, their pride, their ego, and become poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit means know our own vulnerabilities, our own sadnesses, our own suffering. To be poor in spirit means to see ourselves in the poor, and to be servants at heart.

And Jesus called on all of us to let the children and the most vulnerable teach and guide us. “The last shall be first.” “The greatest among you should be the child.” “The humble will be lifted up.” “The poor” and “the poor in spirit will know the kingdom of God.” “Those who lose shall find God… What does it profit us if we win the whole world but forfeit our souls?” A Samaritan – a Muslim, a Mexican, an African-American, whatever is the Other for us – shows us what it means to be a citizen.

Jesus not only spoke to the hopes and fears of the most vulnerable among us, he lived among those hopes and fears and among the down-and-outers replete with those hopes and fears. He dined and walked with outcasts, punks, and has-beens. He became one of them. Not to lift them out of some gutter per se but to show them that they, in their glorious diversity, were the ones worthy of God’s kingdom and the ones to build that kingdom right where they were. 

Simply put, Trumpism represents everything Jesus stood against. Trumpism preaches the win-at-all cost and belittle-at-every-turn mentality that Jesus rejected and was rejected for. 

Yes, Jesus is the easiest and hence best place to look for the antithesis to Trumpism. Our culture on the whole still values Jesus and give his words tremendous weight. So pointing to Jesus’ teaching is a powerful vehicle, an expedient mean as Buddhism puts it, that potently helps us counteract the dangers of Trumpism. And as a UU Christian I look to Jesus’ teaching and his life as a teaching as my guide. 

But this gospel of losers being winners, this dharma of the last-placers being the first, resides richly in other religious traditions as well. The Tao Te Ching, verse 42 says this:

"What people loathe the most
Is to be orphaned, desolate, unworthy.
But this is what princes and kings call themselves.
Sometimes gain comes from losing,
And sometimes loss comes from gaining."

Tao Te Ching verse 8 says:

"The highest motive is to be like water: 
water is essential to all life,
yet it does not demand a fee or proclaim its importance.
Rather, it flows humbly to the lowest level, 
and in so doing
it is much like God."

The Buddha in the Dhammapada, vs. 201, says this:

“Victory begets enmity; the defeated dwell in pain. Happily the peaceful live, discarding both victory and defeat.”

On a bit of a side note, if you had to choose three sacred texts to help a spiritual community thrive, it would be the Sermon on the Mount, the Tao Te Ching, and the Dhammapada.


So here we are. Trumpism has made its way to the height of power. What are we to do? First, we must come together as religious communities and do what religious communities do – ground ourselves in the rich soil of compassion and wisdom and mindfulness and/or prayer found in our traditions. Then we need to cultivate, cultivate, cultivate. Cultivate communities ready to do the work of doing justice and loving mercy, walking humbly though not quietly, transforming the world around us as we actualize in Love.

Part of cultivating community is cultivating real friendships and connections. Breaking bread together, listening and dancing to good music, laughing together, experiencing and choosing to experience joy in the many blessings both simple and profound we know. Levity and laughter is a necessary element of spiritual nourishment. We too often forget that. Here’s an idea – “I Love Lucy” nights at church!!

We also need to start preaching loudly in word and deed the gospel of compassion, a purposeful and potent compassion that says the poor first, the hungry first, the refugee first, the ill first, the hurting child first. The most vulnerable must come first and even lead us. We must not only practice compassion and exhibit care toward the vulnerable, but we must join them in spirit. This is what Jesus meant by being poor in spirit. Our solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the refugee, the ill, hurting children must be the benchmark for any, for ANY worldly success.

"Blessed are the poor" and "the poor in spirit," as Jesus envisioned it, "for theirs TOGETHER is the Commonwealth of God." Let us serve the poor, the hungry, the refugee, the ill, hurting children, and let our faithful solidarity move mountains.

A Progressive, Universalist Prayer of Salvation

So growing up, the work of the Christian was primarily to engage in something called “witnessing.” Witnessing amounted to telling others – your neighbor, your waiter, your town’s homeless – about Christ and his saving grace. Basically, witnessing amounted to getting people to convert to your understanding of Christianity. The end result hoped for, the ultimate goal in the venture of witnessing was a person converting via a prayer known as the Prayer of Salvation. While there are numerous renditions, the theme is the same – acknowledge our need, repent for what prevents us from meeting that need, and accept Jesus as savior.

Here is a fairly typical Prayer of Salvation I found via a Google search:


Dear Lord,

I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself only. I am sorry, and I repent. I ask you to forgive me.

I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life; I give it to you. From this day forward, help me to live every day for you and in a way that pleases you

I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you.

Amen.


If you say this prayer sincerely and faithfully, you are counted as one of the saved, one of the born again, a true Christian.

Now, the specifics of this prayer are problematic for me. There is an unbalanced focus on one grace-filled moment in history to the exclusion of all other grace-filled moments in history. I believe God’s grace breaks into time and place in myriad ways. While Jesus’ love and forgiveness on the cross is to me the ultimate picture of grace, and while as believe, as I’ve preached before, that somehow in the mysteries of mysteries all examples of grace throughout are embodied by Jesus on the cross, I cannot deny that indeed grace moves and has moved in mysterious ways and in myriad ways throughout time. And I cannot deny that people who internalized this grace were changed, transformed, enlightened, saved. God’s grace cannot be confined to one point in time, whatever that time. Grace saves us, yes, but there are and have been countless examples of God’s grace reaching out to humankind. 



In other words, God’s grace is universal. I am a Grace-Universalist. Jesus on the cross embodies grace, yes. But God’s grace moves beyond embodiment, moves beyond just the physical, moves beyond time and place, beyond history or single moments in history.


Now, I acknowledge this is not a traditional view of the Christian message. I accept that. But I also know that that traditional view can still teach us. I have been arguing that the notion of conversion, of the heart turning from sin to salvation, is something I feel the progressive and mainline churches are missing.

So what would a Grace-Universalist prayer of salvation look like?

Let me go through the traditional salvation prayer and see what we come up with.

"Dear Lord"

First, we must call on God. The name Lord is an interesting one. It has a couple meanings in Hebrew and Greek. The proper name for Israel’s God - Yahweh – is translated as LORD in our Bibles.

Another name for God, Adonai, is also translated as Lord.


Yahweh as the name of Israel’s God developed in time. The people of Israel’s understanding of who Yahweh evolved from the warrior god of a tribe to the creator God of the cosmos. 

In the Old Testament, the origin of the name Yahweh comes from God answering Moses is Exodus 3.


Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ – what should I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am that I am.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘Yahweh – the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you. 

In this passage, God responds to Moses’ simple question with a poetic phrase, “say I am that I am” and that “I am who I am sent you.”

Now think of how Moses would say this to someone. “I am sent me.” Sort of like the Abbot and Costello routine, who’s on first? For Moses to say, “who sent me? I am sent me” is really awkward and even humorous.

So God gives the third person rendition: Yahweh sent you.

When you breakdown the Hebrew, Yahweh translates as The One who is or the God who is present. Who is it that sent you to us Israelites, Moses? It is God who is present that sent me. That is what God commands Moses say.

So Lord in this case is the God the ever present one.

A second Hebrew word translated as Lord is the more common name for God used in everyday speech, Adonai. Adonai is eventually translated into Greek as Kyrios. Jesus is often referred to as Kyrios. Another translation for the word Adonai in Hebrew of Kyrios in Greek is Master. The root of kyrios is kuros which means power and authority. So we might say Lord in this case means the authority on all matters of life. Lord means the authoritative one or the Master of all Masters. Indeed, when it comes to life of the Spirit, God who is Spirit is the authority, the authoritative one, the author of our spiritual lives.

Dear Lord is fine. But how about "O God, the Ever-present and Authoritative One."

Next in the salvation prayers comes the admission piece:

"I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself only." 


The word sinner is a loaded term, isn’t it? Sin simply means to miss the mark or to err. What is the mark? Continuous connection and at-one-ment with God. To sin means to miss the aim of God and of good. The word sin here also has the sense that it is our missing the mark is not just a one time thing. Our missing the mark, our imperfect actions and ways of being, stick with us, become habitual, and become like negative baggage we carry around with us.

Yet this missing the mark, this missing the aim of God, what does that mean exactly? What does it mean in real time?

Well, let us think of the metaphor behind the word sin. The word sin in Hebrew was originally a sports-related word, the sport being archery. An archer has the goal of hitting the bullseye, the center of things. When an archer misses the bullseye, misses the center of things, the archer sins. The archer misses his mark, misses his aim, misses the center of things.

Now, what in spiritual terms is the mark, the aim, the center of things here? It is God. Spiritually, speaking, we as archers of the spirit aim at reaching God. God is the mark we want to realize, the aim we want to actualize, the center of things we want to come to. When we miss the mark of God, the aim of God, the center of God, when we sin. And when we miss the mark of God, the aim of God, the center of God, when we sin, we miss connection to God, we are separate from God.

But what are the reasons an archer misses her mark? What goes on when an archer does not hit or come close to hitting the bullseye?

Think about. Well, the obvious thing is that if we are amateurs and are not experienced in archery, we will almost always miss the mark. So we need practice hitting the mark of God. We need practice in reaching and realizing the center of God. We need spiritual practice

But what does practicing archery mean? What is the most important thing an archer needs to do when practicing his art? The archer needs to be mindful, needs to focus, needs to center herself on the center. Mindlessness, absent-mindedness, taking one’s eye off the goal is the root of the archer missing her mark.

Being mindless and being absent-minded about God, taking one’s eye off God, forgetting the aim of God, is the root of our missing the mark and our disconnection from God.

The moment we forget, the moment we are not mindful of God being ever-present right here, right now, we miss connection with God.

Sin means meaninglessness toward this Moment right here and now where God is and always is. Sin means forgetting that God by definition means grace here with us.

So "I admit I am a sinner, I have done man things that don’t please you, I have lived my lived my life for myself" becomes this.

I admit that I miss the mark, that I do not practice making God my aim, that I too often lose my focus on the center of all things, You, O God. I am too often live mindlessly and ignore You, remembering only myself.


The third element of the salvation prayer is the repentance piece:

"I am sorry, and I repent. I ask you to forgive me."

The word sorry has no direct translation in the Greek. The closest we get is an expression of sadness or sorrow toward something.

The Greek word translated “repent” is the metanaeo. It literally means to think differently afterward. In its everyday usage, it means to change one’s mind. Strong’s Concordance includes another definition: “to change the inner man.” Here’s is how I put it: to repent means to change from the inside out.

We often talk about Luther focusing on the fact that good works don’t save us, only God’s grace. But it is a bit more complicated than that. External works, external deeds don’t save us, true. But internal work does. Internal action does. That internal work, that internal action amounts to seeing the world in a different way, it means changing from one way of being in the world to another way of being. Repenting means seeing things differently and changing from the inside out.

In the context of sin, in the context of not centering on God, in the context of being absent-minded and ignoring God, to change one’s mind, to repent means this – centering on God who is Love!

We change from centering on ourselves to centering on God, from forgetting God to remembering God who by nature is Love everpresent.

And the word forgive. In the Greek it is the word “charizomai.” It literally means "to give grace, to freely show favor," to graciously bestow something.

So I ask you to forgive me becomes I ask you to offer me your grace
So here is the first half of a progressive, mainline, Universalist salvation prayer, and with this I close:

O God, the ever-present and authoritative one,

I admit I am imperfect, that I too often miss the mark, that I lose my focus and do not center on Thee. And I forget Thou are always here, always now in this present moment.

I am deeply sad by this. I now center on Thee and put my heart’s aim on Thee. I am moved by Thy presence in this very moment. I want to change from the inside out. So extend to me Thy amazing grace.


Next week we will look at the second half of the salvation prayer and how the figure of Jesus fits into a progressive, mainline, Universalist version of that prayer.

A Moral Response to Refugees


Leviticus 19:33-34
If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not do wrong to him. You should act toward the stranger who lives among you as you would toward one born among you. Love him as you love yourself. For you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

You’ve all seen the deeply, deeply tragic photo of the 4 year-old Syrian boy who drowned trying to flee that war-torn country with his family. His tiny, vulnerable frame on the sandy shore lifeless, waves ebbing and flowing – it is heartbreaking, soul-breaking. A child refugee in a family of refugees fleeing a madman and a mad war, a victim of humankind’s destructiveness. This image is an iconic reminder that, like some of our Universalist brothers and sisters teach, hell is here on earth. Especially in places like Syria.

When I saw that photo, my breath was taken away for a few moments and then tears joined breaths' return. As I thought about all of it, and as I think about it now just a few weeks from the celebration of Epiphany, I thought of the often forgotten fact that Jesus when he was a toddler was like this boy, a refugee with his family of refugees fleeing a madman and mad violence into Egypt. The moment the photo captures could have easily been Jesus at another time in the same general area of the world as Syria.

Jesus’ famous words as an adult strongly resonate when considering Jesus’ own past reality as a child refugee. Those words come from Matthew 25: 

‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the commonwealth prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a refugee and you welcomed me.”

When Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, he was giving a portrait of the Commonwealth of God, a clearer translation of the Kingdom of God. Jesus in Matthew 24 and 25 lays out what the Commonwealth of God looks like, who is included from the get-go and who is not and must do some work. Jesus finishes his long teaching with an allegory about being hungry and being fed, being thirsty and being given drink and being a refugee and being welcomed. Those listening are confused. They say, Lord, but these things didn’t happen. You weren’t ever hungry and we fed you. You weren’t thirsty and we gave you drink. You weren’t a refugee and we took you in.”

Jesus famously responds, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the most vulnerable among you, you did it to me.’” 

And Jesus also goes on to say the opposite, when you do not do these things for the most vulnerable among us, you fail to do them for me.

How you respond to the most vulnerable among us defines how you respond to Jesus. Actions toward the most vulnerable are actions toward the Christ residing most potently in the most vulnerable.

We often hear that we are a Christian nation, especially from our Evangelical brothers and sisters. Sometimes it is said explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Please note, I disagree with this perspective. We are not a Christian nation. We are a nation of religious freedom. But how can anyone claiming Jesus as their own treat him so badly in the form of the Other? Jesus is there in the face of each refugee escaping war and devastation. Jesus is there in the lives of children fearful and in danger fleeing a madman? Jesus is there in the immigrant fleeing poverty and hunger for a better life across a border. If we don’t welcome them, we are in no way a Christian nation, we are in no way a nation that applies, as Waitstill Sharp put it, Christian intentions.

Thankfully, people like Rev. Waitstill Sharp and Martha Sharp Cogan give us a model for seeing past the clamor and seeing the least of these and their struggles.

Maybe you saw the documentary a few months ago about the Sharps produced by Ken Burns. But if you didn’t, Waitstill Sharp was a Unitarian minister who began his ministry in 1933, the very year Hitler consolidated his power in Germany and began his reign or terror. His wife Martha joined him in ministry. 

The Sharp’s most important calling was that of refugee advocates and justice workers. Together, applying the tenderness of pastors and the tenacity of spies, they saved a number of Jews fleeing Nazi occupation and genocide. For their heroic actions, which they humbly called simple, human behavior, Israel named them in 2005, Righteous among the nations, two of only five Americans to receive this honor.

Simply put, the Sharps offer us a picture of what it truly means to treat all, especially the most vulnerable with compassion, with dignity and an open heart and an open door, even in dangerous times. 

We should note that the Sharp’s actions happened at the very time when America was strictly limiting the number of Jewish refugees allowed into the country. Instead of the immigration policy becoming looser during the Holocaust it became more stringent. 

Today, as we face another refugee crisis, this country’s newly elected president has mirrored our stance during the Holocaust where we said to those seeking refuge from genocide, “sorry, there is no room in the inn.”

The moral response, the compassionate response, the American response, is the Sharps' response: “make room.” Sacrifice the need for perfect security and comfort, as if that ever existed, and make room. Make room firstly in your heart, clear the floor of compassion, dust the dressers of care, remove the cobwebs from the high ceiling of empathy.

It is clear what the moral response is: be human, be humane.

Yet, maybe a larger question than what is the moral response is this question? What differentiates people like the Sharps or even the less courageous among us who cannot fathom turning a refugee away and those who can fathom it and make it a reality?

What marks the difference between those who say, “make room” and those who say “there is no room?” I believe it comes down two things, ignorance regarding the other and fear of insecurity.

Ignorance of the other: Most people who want to severely restrict refugees fleeing war have most likely never met a Muslim, have never sat down with them and had a conversation, have never heard their stories, their experiences, their hopes, their dreams. There is so much ignorance about Muslims and refugees. 

This kind of ignorance about and lack of familiarity with the other easily turns into a demonizing of the other. 

This demonizing effect means that the other is seen more as material object labeled "Muslim" than human soul practicing an Abrahamic faith. Only knowledge of and relationship with the other can remove this. But there must be a willingness to obtain such knowledge and have such a relationship. Openness to relationship with the Other, that's the foundation to peace.

The fear of insecurity only propounds things. This fear sadly coincides with this ignorance about the other, an ignorance that leads to a demonizing of in this case Muslims.

The worry is that the refugees coming here will turn out to be terrorists in disguise. Most “no-roomers” will point to the Paris massacre where ISIS terrorists were disguised as refugees.

We must be honest, not all refugees are Saint Theresas. Like us, refugees are full human beings. Like us, a small percentage come with anger and violence in their hearts. Indeed, there is always some risk allowing someone to reside in the inn.

But, to borrow Jesus’ question, “what good is it to gain a false sense of security, yet lose your soul?”

Or his words in Matthew 5, “If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even the Rome-bought tax embezzlers love their friends. If you welcome only your brothers and sisters, what’s so great about that? Don’t even those who believe in nothing do that?”

The soul of our nation says the same thing our churches should say, there is room for you here. “Bring me your tired, your poor muddled masses.” The open arms and open heart of Lady Liberty is fundamental to who we are. This foundation of our nation indeed is Jesus-like - making room for the refugee and the immigrant.

What is missing in our defiance of who we were? What are we missing now that makes hospitality to the stranger controversial?

Simply put, we are missing Love in its ultimate sense. In an example where the cliche is absolutely true, what the world needs now is love, sweet love.

But what is required for real, godly love is something we often don’t think about. What is required for godly love is something Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhism sage, calls “interbeing.” Interbeing means seeing that we exist together and a little of me exists in you. 

Dr. King describes it this way: “We are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

I am because you are. This is because that is. We inter-are. We exist entwined together even if we are an ocean or two away. 
Borders cannot stop this. Walls cannot stop this. Illegal executive orders cannot stop this.

Without an insight into our interbeing, real love, godly love, lasting love that can change the world is unobtainable.

The Sharps certainly understood this truth. In the desperate, worn faces of those seeking refuge somewhere safe, Rev. Waitstill Sharp saw congregants in need of pastoral care, in need of a shepherding to a place of safety. In the scared, vulnerable faces of French children, Martha Sharp saw her own children and her own students needing a protective, sheltering love. The Sharps lived-out the meaning of interpathy, a deeper empathy that knows we innately share each other’s pain. 

It is telling that the Sharps life-saving work involved helping children. Children so often lead us to see the truth and necessity of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls interpathy. The children shall lead us, to quote the words of the Hebrew prophet. They shall lead us in this way of interbeing and interpathy. We must follow.

Maybe remember Alex. He is the 6 year-old from Scarsdale, New York who wrote a compassion-soaked letter to President Obama after seeing that haunting, heartbreaking photo of another Syrian boy, Omar. Maybe you remember that image of Omar being torn from the rubble of war and stunned in the loss of loved-ones. I am going to close my words with Alex’s words in his heaven-reaching letter. Though written to former-president Obama, I offer them as a prayer. I hope those in the halls of power, especially our new president will hear.


Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]? Park in the driveway or on the street and we will be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties and he will teach us another language. We can teach him English too, just like my friend Aoto from Japan.

Please tell him that his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy, just like him. Since he won't bring toys and doesn't have toys Catherine will share her big blue stripy white bunny. And I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math. And he [can] smell Catherine's lip gloss penguin which is green. She doesn't let anyone touch it.

Thank you very much! I can't wait for you to come!

Alex"

BENEDICTION

God which art Breath, Light, Love, help us to in spirit join the Refugee, the Pilgrim, the Stranger, those fleeing war and poverty and chaos. Help us in spirit to sit with them and hear them and see their plight and plea. Help us, O God, recall or somehow experience, even to a small degree, what it is like to be lost, without a home place, seeking a safe space, looking for a welcoming face, needing a sincere embrace. Help us to sense in our souls some semblance of their fear, their stress, their anxiety, their memories of the horrors they are escaping, their hope for a better future. Help us to show as Jesus embodied “compassion toward them.” Help us to stand with them, and walk them to a warm home, a hot meal and tea, and a soft bed to rest in. Help us to look past what separates us and see what unites us – we are all sojourners just passing through and thou art a God of mercy and Thou joins us along Thy way as Thy Breath, Light, and Love. Amen.