Wild Hopes

Wild Hopes

Do you have any wild hopes,
or tame ones for that matter?
The possibility of acorns
becoming towering oaks,
or caterpillars
blossoming into butterflies,
or dawn that will chase
away midnight fears?
Wild hopes!
That all creation will learn
the dance of joy,
and all humanity might taste the wine of peace,
and that our loving God
will become transparent
through love.
Robert F. Morneau

Isaiah 5:1-7
What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

Luke 12:49-56
Jesus said: "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze!

* * *

Last Sunday, you may remember, we lamented our nation’s mass incarceration rate, the highest per capita in the world. We are 5% of the world’s population yet hold 25% of its prisoners. Our prisons are bursting at the seams and we just keep building more and more. It’s as though we have no imagination, common sense or backbone.

Last Sunday we also lamented the racially biased way the war on drugs has been waged plus the cruel and unusual punishments, mandatory long-term sentences for relatively minor, non-violent crimes. That was last Sunday.

On Monday morning, the very next day, the Attorney General of the United States announced a revision of federal sentencing formulas and a national effort to find humane alternatives to imprisonment. Our current practices, he said, are bankrupting us morally and financially.

Someone called me Monday afternoon and asked if Attorney General Eric Holder had been in the service last Sunday. No, I don’t think so, I said. But he still may have heard what was said here that morning. Remember, I told the caller, the government is allegedly listening to everything we say these days. So if you speak up for peace and justice these days you will be heard!

Our current practices, said the Attorney General, are bankrupting us morally and financially. The Attorney General!

Wild hopes sometimes blossom into butterflies.

There’s something happenin’ round here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

Twenty-two years ago on March 3, a black man was brutalized by white policemen in Los Angeles. When our nation saw the video of Rodney King’s beating, cries of rage resounded across the land. A year later all four policemen were acquitted. Rage exploded in LA. 53 people were killed; 2,000 injured. Rodney King pleaded on television: Why can’t we all just get along?

The day after that acquittal my friend and colleague, the Rev. Ernest Lyles, called me. At that time Mr. Lyles was pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Shepherdstown. He called and asked if I would co-sponsor a public forum to bring whites and blacks of our community together. I agreed.

That night the Asbury church fellowship hall was packed. Whites and blacks together in one room.

It was an occasion to raise awareness, to become aware of insidious, chronic racism lingering in our society. It was also an occasion to explore ways of mitigating or eliminating this national disgrace.

That forum left a lasting impression on me and made me forever after sensitive to and vigilant against overt and covert racism which in part led me to Michelle Alexander’s book: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness.

How can we tolerate such unrighteousness in our beloved nation?

As the Old Testament lesson for today from Isaiah puts it: the LORD God planted and cultivated seeds of love and kindness in our hearts but hateful things keep growing up. What’s the LORD to do? What are we to do? What can we do to cultivate the seeds of compassion, freedom, justice and peace?

Cooperation with our black sister church in 1992 didn’t come out of the blue. Our congregations had been working together for some time before that.

We had co-sponsored the first ever Martin Luther King convocation in this town. Our youth had traveled together on a mission trip to the Mexico border. One Sunday morning we exchanged members instead of pastors. A dozen or so of us went to Asbury; a dozen or so came here from Asbury.

We were learning from each other. We were learning that you didn’t have to literally attend the same church or worship in the same space to be one in the Lord, to get along, to work together.

Walls came down. Bridges went up.

As you might have noticed as you drive out Rt. 480, the Asbury church is now under reconstruction. The congregation is meeting temporarily on the campus of Shepherd University. Yesterday Pastor Lyles’ daughter’s wedding was held in this sanctuary. It’s what bridges make possible.

To be sure, transformation like that doesn’t happen overnight. Inch by inch, row by row, we cultivate the garden of love, equality and justice. It takes work and perseverance.

Peace without justice is not the way of Jesus. And both take hard work.

This past Tuesday the current pastor of Asbury and I spoke about the forthcoming discussion of the issues raised by Michelle Alexander’s book. [Wednesday, August 28 at 7:00 p.m.] Even though it is short notice, the Rev. Bropleh is urging his congregation to participate. He also agreed to join Dr. David Didden and me in finding a way to bring Michelle Alexander to our community because the mass incarceration of young black men troubles him deeply. Together we are lamenting this on-going tragedy in our nation.

Wild hopes sometimes blossom into butterflies.

There’s something happenin’ round here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

This past Monday Fairness West Virginia showed a film in Martinsburg. It featured several faces and voices from West Virginia’s 57,000 GLBT persons, including a former coal miner who was bullied out of his job. The film is on tour across the state and will be shown in Shepherdstown in September. It advocates passage of a certain law in West Virginia, a law that most states already have on the books, a law to protect GLBT persons from discrimination in employment and housing.

Oh, if they would only shut up we might have some peace and tranquility in our land! Can’t they just let us be?! Can’t they just accept things as they are for a while?

Tranquility is not the way of Jesus. Tranquility keeps the lid on a boiling pot. The way and work of Jesus is peace with justice. And, yes, it takes a certain kind of “fire” to transform our souls and the soul of our nation. It takes more than just “being nice.” Cruelty and injustice must be confronted.

This past Monday “Fairness West Virginia” showed a film in Martinsburg. That very same evening by coincidence (??) our Peacefest planning group met in the Fellowship Hall for the third time this summer.  We are creating a special program for November that will invite our congregation and larger community to lend its prayers, hearts and hands to cultivating equality for all peoples in West Virginia and throughout our nation. Several members of our parish will offer testimonies, a witness to the harsh reality gays face in the current climate but they will also offer a witness to wild hopes.

Wild hopes sometimes blossom into butterflies.

This past Thursday morning I met with Donald Johnson, Richard Jentsch’s widower. He and Richard were legally married in Maryland this past February. The marriage was blessed here before a full church on April 27.

I have officiated more than 200 weddings and I can tell you this: I have never seen so many radiant faces or tears at a wedding. And in this case, all tears of joy. A week or so before their wedding Richard and Donald told me they never ever thought they’d live to see such a day.

For decades as young adults, in separate worlds, they had cowered in the closet. Then when things eased a bit in society, they came out in their separate worlds. Each found a long-term partner. Each partner died.

Years later Richard and Donald met and fell in love over a bridge game in Shepherdstown. In their wildest dreams and wildest hopes, they never thought they would ever marry legally and then celebrate it with a wedding in their own church.

Richard died last Sunday. According to Donald he died with a heart full of peace, joy and gladness for he had indeed lived long enough for his eyes to see the dawning of a new day—a new day born of God’s grace.

Wild hopes sometimes blossom into butterflies.

There’s something happenin’ round here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

I don’t know but I’m guessing it’s a “spirit thing.” Or as Jesus put: something is blowing in the wind. And if that’s so, heaven only knows how it will all turn out.

* * *

HYMN
“Spirit of God” by Steve Garnaas Holmes