Saturday, January 16, 2010

What to Pray for Haiti

Here in Brooklyn we have a very large Haitian community, and we meet up with Haitians everywhere. So I have been asking the Haitians I talk to for one name to pray for, and that means that now I am praying for Alfred, Margaruite, and Desiree. Aflred is the uncle of one of the custodians at Congregation Beth Elohim. Margaruite is the aunt of a friend.

Desiree is family of the woman who served me coffee at the Burger King at the NY Thruway rest stop yesterday. Her accent sounded Haitian, and I could see she was having a bad time of it, so I said to her, "You've lost someone, haven't you," and she said yes. So I'm praying for Desiree.

I don't know what specificially to pray for. That's okay, cause I don't know the people personally. I just repeat their names. To the God who created the world which has tectonic plates which have to move and cause earthquakes.

We're all stunned and numbed, of course. Some people are saying that some good will come out of this for Haiti, such as better buildings (when rebuilt), massive investment, and new attention from the world. Maybe. Maybe. I have no idea.

After 9/11 in New York we could blame the Terrorists. But where can we go with our anger over the death and destruction in Port-au-Prince?

I can't explain it, I can't justify it, all I know is that it drives us all into the depths of our faith and the deepest realities we know. I find that it doesn't shake my belief in God one bit, but it forces us beyond our limits and to the face of God.

It's not that I blame God, or even that I hold God responsible. I mean I do hold God responsible for creating this world with physical and chemical laws, and I thank God that the laws of nature are binding, and I know that the rock formations in Haiti were just obeying the law. So in a sense I do hold God responsible for this earthquake and also for allowing us the freedom to live our lives. So this does not at all cause me to lose my respect and honor for God.

By now you have been revulsed by Pat Robertson's idiot words about "the pact with the devil." (What is this guy like at home?) It wasn't the French they kicked out, it was their slavery. Their slavemasters were the ones, if anyone, who had made a pact with the devil. Not that the phrase makes any real sense, but for a Christian people to keep slaves and use slaves and support slavery as acceptable is, as the Bible says, "to make a covenant with death."

So where should we go with our anger? Well, it might be better to turn our anger against the inequitable effects of the political-economic systems which we support and which give us comfort and profit but which have their grinding underside and their usual victims. We have met the devil and he . . . is us?

But more important than that, I'm guessing that the people who are busiest in the work of relief have the least time to get angry or to look for someone to blame.

I'm also praying (I really am) that God will speak to me in my own life for how best I can do my part. Why don't you do the same. (And donate. See the entry below.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reformed Church Responds to Haiti Earthquake

Reformed Church World Service

has responded with an initial contribution of $10,000 to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

How You Can Help
Pray for the people of Haiti, especially for those who are injured, homeless, or have lost loved ones. Pray also for the hundreds of rescue workers and disaster recovery personnel.

Donate to provide water, blankets, temporary shelter, and food to the tens of thousands who are homeless. Send contributions, designated "Haiti Earthquake," to Reformed Church in America, P.O. Box 19381, Newark, NJ 07195-1938 or, in Canada, to Regional Synod of Canada, 201 Paradise Road N., Hamilton, ON L8S 3T3. To donate by credit card, call (800) 968-3943, ext. 247 or go to the Haiti Earthquake Donation Page.

Assemble hygiene kits and baby kits and ship them to Church World Service. Detailed information on creating and shipping of kits is available at
Check for updates on the RCWS website:

"The people of Haiti have urgent needs rights now," says David Dethmers, coordinator of Reformed Church World Service, "basic needs of water, food, and shelter. We make this contribution on behalf of the members and friends of the Reformed Church in America, confident that in the longer term we will be able to do much more."

The initial support will be directed through the RCA's partner, Church World Service (CWS), which has staff permanently placed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and therefore is able to mobilize quickly. In the early days of the response, CWS will be providing blankets, water, and hygiene and baby kits.

In a conference call with CWS communions on Wednesday afternoon, Donna Derr, director of emergency response programs for CWS, highlighted the urgency of the need for donations to address the crisis in Haiti.

"We are emptying our warehouse in Maryland," she emphasized. "We're intending to ship over 25,000 hygiene kits and several thousand baby kits. That's almost everything we've got. There's a desperate need to replenish our supplies. I urge churches and individuals who are seeking a way to help to put these kits together and ship them to us as soon as possible."

RCWS Partners with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee

On Friday, David Dethmers will travel to Haiti with a delegation from CRWRC, the relief and development arm of the Christian Reformed Church. "It's a sign of the growing relationship between our two communions," Dethmers says. "Within hours of hearing about the disaster, we were in communication with each other. Very quickly it became clear that it made sense to travel and work together."

In Haiti, Dethmers will meet with a wide variety of local partners of both Church World Service and CRWRC. He is also hoping to meet with the RCA's new partner in the Dominican Republic, the newly emerging Reformed Church in the Dominican Republic. The recovery in Haiti will be a long one. "The goal of the trip," he says, "in addition to encouraging and supporting RCA partners in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is to listen to local partners, developing a mid- and long-range strategy that will support the Haitians as they plan and implement their own recovery and plan their future."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Parrots On My Street

One morning last week, when it was "ridiculously cold" (in the words of WQXR's Jeff Spurgeon) I noticed a pair of Monk Parrots in the tree outside our building on Seeley Street.
These are two of Brooklyn's famous feral parrots. They're also known as "Quaker Parrots."
Well, at last they've arrived on my street. I've seen them in Greenwood Cemetery, of course, and at Brooklyn College, and at City Island, and last year near the Fort Hamilton F stop, but this was the first time I saw them on Seeley Street. I'm assuming they're expanding their territory.
They are an invasive species. But I love them. Their energy, pluck, and intelligence. Tropical birds who manage to survive and even flourish in this foreign environment. And it was so flippin' cold outside!
They're quintessential New Yorkers. Immigrants making it. They belong in Brooklyn, don't they? I guess they have as much right to be here as any of us do.

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

This morning I am working on my sermon for the second Sunday after Epiphany. The gospel text is the story of the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine. I am reminded of an event in my own life.

I am quite content to be a parish pastor. But for most of my life it had been my dream to become a seminary professor. Twice I got very close. In 1991 I was one of the finalists for a position in teaching liturgy at the University of Toronto.

In the final interview with the search committee, one of the theologians asked me something like this, “I wonder if you could teach our students some new traditions and new kinds of sacraments. I am thinking of a kind of sacrament that is not violent. You know, Holy Communion uses violent symbols—the broken bread for a broken body and the poured out wine for bloodshed. What would you think about teaching a non-violent sacrament?"

I remember not answering right away as I tried to figure out what I would say.

Then the theologian added this: "What about teaching a sacrament where we all ate fruit together?”

At that point I knew I would not get this job. But I did control myself—I did not say, “You mean like in the Garden of Eden,” or “I wonder how the fruit feels.”

Inventing new traditions is not my gift (or my desire). And as for the violence (maybe they were testing me because I was American), the violence signified by broken bread and poured out wine, well, it’s not the violence itself, but that we find ourselves in the middle of violence and brokenness and grief, the reality is that our lives are constantly poured out.

The tradition of Holy Communion is so powerful because it allows us to accept the reality of our lives and our suffering, and to believe that God meets us there, and goes through it with us. It is the acknowledgment that we are violent, and that God comes through our violence to bring us peace, that God passes through our mournfulness to bring us joy, and that Jesus wept so that we might laugh.

Oh how we fantasize of getting back to the Garden. But there's an angel with a sword of fire in the way. "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life." And, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." You know what I mean?