Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The costs of committment . . .

     I am often asked “How in the world could you all spend more than three years in a study of one book of the Bible?” The questions come from laity and clergy alike. Who has the patience for such tediousness? Why not pick a book with better stories? Why not go faster? When I am asked those questions, I invariable point to this passage (and a couple others like the temptation story) in Matthew, and a few others in Luke and Mark, as justification. To be sure, we did not start out with that kind of time commitment in mind. But we did take our Lord’s assertion seriously. As a group, we tackled the book with the premise that every single commandment in the torah flowed from one or the other of these Great Commandments: loving God or loving the neighbor. As a group, we struggled mightily trying to figure out how a particular instruction accomplished one of these two commandments. Given that there are some 613 instructions, we probably should have been pleasantly surprised that we finished it in just over three years. Over the course of the study, we discovered that there were 248 do’s and 365 don’t’s. That is a lot of instruction. Now, imagine yourself trying to figure out whether one of those was loving or not loving God or was loving or not loving neighbor. That’s what we faced.
     When considered as a sum of parts, the torah certainly seems expansive and even tedious; but when one remembers its purpose, it becomes a very challenging teaching. Why? Because the torah, as described by Christ, ultimately points to Him. Remember, as we just read a couple weeks ago, the torah was given by God to a redeemed people to teach them how to live in full communion with Him. The torah teaches us both the things (248 things specifically) which we should do to love God and to love our neighbor and things (365 things specifically) to avoid which cause us to act against God or against our neighbor. Admittedly, such detailed study is not for everyone—that’s why it was a voluntary Bible Study (by the way, the members of the class selected it, not me). I can even say with certainty that we did not agree upon which Great Commandment from which each instruction hung. I can also say that, although each member of that study is, for the most part, able to chew meat rather than needing to be fed gruel, all of us came away with a greater sense of how we had sinned against God and just how magnificent the grace was that He showed us. Better still, as we have continued through other books and through worship, each of us has noticed just how foundational Deuteronomy was to Jesus’ teachings. In many ways, these intrepid scholars have plumbed depths which they never before knew existed within Scripture.

     Those of us, of course, who are not yet able to sit down for such an extended period of time in quite as exhaustive a study, might wonder at Jesus words this week. I say that because all of our ability to begin to keep God’s instruction flows from the idea of love. It is precisely in these discussions of love that we forget the meaning of what Jesus was teaching. For us, today, love has become almost synonymous with passion and feeling, little more than gratification. I love ice cream. I am in love with my sweetheart. I love chocolate. I just love your shoes. For us in modern times, love has become a fleeting passion or “feel good.” Witness the number of Christian marriages which end in divorce. Think of the number of so-called Christian parents who walk away from their responsibilities to their children. Consider for just a moment, the loss of perseverance in many aspects of our life. What Jesus is talking about in these Great Commandments, however, was something far more permanent, something far more important than good feelings.

     Jesus was talking of a love which more closely resembles commitment than it does passion. The Greeks distinguished between three different types of love, and Matthew chose the selfless love of agape, which could barely be considered as possible in Plato’s Symposium or other such works. Why? Who does not act for their own self-interest? Who does not prefer the tings which feel good? This idea of doing things at cost and no benefit to oneself is as foreign today as it was when Christ walked the earth. Yet consider Jesus’ model.  No greater love than this . . .

     Jesus is calling upon God’s people, in particular those students of the torah, to emulate the love discussed in the Old Testament. God, throughout the entirety of the Old Testament, is often described as loving His people. But His love is a unique love. The Old Testament speaks of God’s hesed toward His people. No matter what they do, no matter how they act, God stays committed to His people. Even when He is disciplining His people, God is committed to His people (like a Father chastising properly a wayward child) and working to redeem them. We might say, we should say really, God's love is a covenant love. Yes, God loves His people passionately. But no matter what His people do, God will continue to keep the obligations His love of His people places upon Himself.  That's part, I think, of why He uses the descriptions of a marriage to describe His relationship with His people.

     Compare that to the above mentioned way of marriage in this age. Marriage is hard work. Very hard. A number of us here have been through divorces and remarriages. perhaps some of us, or some of our loved ones are in the midst of these break-ups or newfound relationships.  We know that there are spousal behaviors which grate upon us. Worse, we know that there are substantive differences – we are, after all, two distinct persons in a marriage. We might find it inconvenient that he leaves the toilet seat up constantly or that she always wants to talk about serious things during the climactic finish to the week’s big sporting event, but those are , in the end, no big deal. No, the real fights begin when we start discussing how the I is to become part of the “we.” The less able we are to make a marriage into a “we”, the harder it becomes to see the point in staying committed to one another. The same lesson can be applied in parenting, at work, and in a number of life’s activities.
     The selfless love which you and I are called to offer to God and to our neighbor, by contrast, continues simply because we view such activities as a commitment. Some couples commit to staying married because, let’s face it, there are times when that lack of commitment would have driven them to divorce. The same is true of parenting. Who like the nagging, the screaming, teenage angst, and the general lip that children sometimes have? We do it, and try to do it well, because we are committed to the relationship. No matter what the child does, we still remain the father or the mother.  And we pray we survive those difficult ages, or perhaps, we pray that the kids survive those difficult ages.

     Jesus, in these two great commandments was calling us to that kind of relationship, that kind of love. Knowing that God has acted once and finally to redeem us, how can we ever not love Him? Yet, how many times do we withhold our love and choose, instead, to love ourselves and trust our own efforts? Knowing that He died to save us, how can we ever not reach a helping hand out in love? To be sure, neither of these committed or covenant loves are easy. Too often, the world makes God’s seem like He is anything but a Father in heaven. We begin to seek passion in the arms of lovers, balms to our pains and sufferings in an empty bottle or drug, and validation in our rung on the corporate ladder or the various material goods that we try to possess, rather than seeking to trust and follow and commit ourselves to God.  We think we have needs, we think we know the best time and best way for Him to help, and complian bitterly how rarely does He seem to act when we tell Him.  Does that still sound like His love?  Does that sound like something can draw others to Him?
     And who wants to risk truly loving His neighbor? If we get nothing back, why do it? Never mind the fact that sometimes, the best love one can show, is to say no. Just as a parent tells a child no, hopefully for the child's benefit (don't eat that and spoil your appetite, don't you dare leave the house dressed like that, yes, you must be home by . . . ), you and I are called always to act in the interest of the other. Who wants to tell a young couple that they should not live together even though everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to seem to prudish? How many of us really want to argue with a tax cheat and remind them that God has declared tax cheating stealing? It’s a victimless crime, right? Who really wants to speak the peace of God into a relationship that is about to be severed or about to result in war for fear that we might be considered “Jesus freaks?”  It sure is not easy.
     Following God, though, is hard work. He described it as a cross. Let's be honest, the perfect love for Him was the cross.  When we undergo that sacramental experience of baptism, we remind ourselves that we have died with Him. We ask God for the grace to bury our selves, the I, in the tomb with Him. And we ask Him to give us His eyes, His ears, and His heart -- we ask Him to give us life.  We have, in other words, committed our mind, our will, and our heart to Him and to doing what He wills. Committed love, brothers and sisters, is the love about which Jesus was speaking to the Pharisee. Committed love, brothers and sisters, is the love that God had for you and for me and which ultimately drove Him to the cross for our sakes. Committed love, brothers and sisters, is the only way that you and I can be freed from our bonds. Committed love, brothers and sisters, is the obedient love which leads to true freedom and true joy, both now and for all eternity!

A half dozen join the fray

It has been six days since any member of Congress decided to join the fight against Human Trafficking and 10 full days since any members of the House of Representatives got behind the TVPRA!  Thank you James Moran, Michael Doyle, Steven LaTourette, Hank Johnson Jr., and John Garamendi for lending your support in the fight against slavery and becoming a co-sponsor of the TVPRA.  Not to quibble or anything, those of us engaged in the fight would like to point out that it has been 25 days since the TVPRA expired.  That means law enforcement officials have lost the ability (and hammer) to charge perpetrators with harsher, more deserving crimes and that NGOs who work with victims have lost funding.  How about doing us all a favor and encourage your co-workers to get to work for a minute and pass this bill!  If your Senators are not listed at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:s.1301:# as co-sponsors or your representative is not listed at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:HR02830: as a co-sponsor, please take a moment to contact them and be the voice of those forgotten.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guess WHo is coming for dinner . . .

     Our community meal provided another one of those “God moments” which I have come to enjoy. As is our habit at St. Alban’s, I was asking those present what they preferred next month. In years past, they have asked us to avoid turkey because everyone kept bringing turkey. More recently, however, at least with the dip in the economy, turkey for November has been rare at the site. This year, they asked for a real thanksgiving dinner: “you, know, Father, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, the works!” The request by some of the “old guard” of the meal did not set well with some of the newer faces. “Who do you think you are to tell him what to bring?” “Had he not wanted to know, he would not have asked.” All I could do was smile and hope that Thelma had heard the exchange from her position near His throne. But, little did I know, there was still more teaching to come.

     Three of the so-called old guard asked me if I had a relationship with a particular pastor. I had known this pastor for almost 4 1/2 years. “Would you mind speaking to him about the quality of the food his church?” For the next few minutes, I heard story after story about how a church was outsourcing its service ministry. A food preparer was being paid by a wealthy church to create a nice meal for the homeless, hobos, and hungry. Knowing this pastor and a few of the members of his church, I have no doubt that this effort was well-intentioned. People are busy. Cooking for up to 135 people takes time. If one has the resources, why not farm it out? Plus, if a restaurant is given the business, they are usually well prepared to create a seamless meal for so many people. Those of us who still do it ourselves often end up with a hodgepodge of food. Even when we try and make the same things, we all have our personal flair to recipes which end up making some items a bit different. The problem, at least as seems to be according to the stories, is that the business tasked with preparing the meal is a bit more concerned with the profit and less concerned about feeding the hungry. The attitude seems to be “Beggars cannot be choosy.” Why was this a great teaching? Let me digress a moment and then I will get to the rest of the story.

     I had been at St. Alban’s less than two weeks when the invitations came. In the course of a couple days, Charlie, Robin, and Sue all invited me to go to the Community Meal. Being a new pastor and wanting to get an idea in which ministries the church and the members of the congregation participated, I quickly obliged. It was a well-oil machine. The food was set out buffet style, the bread was buttered, and servers were ready to go. I asked for an “out of the way job” and was handed a gallon of milk by Charlie and told to head into the dining area. I had a blast! People were asking for a drink, for blessings, and for prayer. Talk about an awesome ministry. Plus, I was accompanied by about 14 parishioners, and that didn’t include those who had made or purchased the food and were not there with us to serve. This was Gospel ministry at its best.

     Little did I know that my simple willingness to serve and watch would ingratiate me with the spiritual matriarch of the church. 45 years before I arrived (5 years before I was born), Thelma and two friends had noticed the hungry in our community and had decided to do something about it. The Catholic Workers’ House agreed to host a meal that these ladies would prepare. Over time, the ministry grew. It grew both in terms of numbers served and in terms of churches participating. Looking back on the history of the ministry, it is no wonder.

     Thelma shared that the ladies wanted to make it a meal. Some places did soup and bread. They wanted a meal. They recognized that the need was so great, more people, preferably more churches, would be needed. What could have been viewed as their personal fiefdom was, instead, thought of as an effort that needed way more help. It was also important to them that the meal be a sit-down meal rather than brown bag or take out. This, as one can imagine, can caused some logistics issues over the years. It is far easier to find places from which to distribute food than to find places where people, perhaps not bathed and a bit unkempt, can sit down and eat.

     When I asked Thelma about this last bit, she explained that the ladies had felt they wanted to get to know those whom they intended to help. Giving them a bag of food and sending them on their way kept the process too sanitary. They wanted to hear the stories, to get to know the victims of hunger, so they could maybe help fix some of the root causes. The ministry grew, she explained, and was able to survive attacks by local politicians because the recipients were no long anonymous faces. They were real people with real problems. I should add, as a by note, that Thelma was driven by her encounters to do, or make her beloved husband do, some amazing things for those placed in her path. Can you imagine washing the underwear of the homeless in your community? Thelma (via Norm) did it. Can you imagine helping the homeless in your community get a job? Thelma did it. Can you imagine going to the culverts and abandoned houses and delivering food to those too sick or too afraid to come to the meal site? They did it. Can you imagine taking individuals from your homeless community to the doctor and paying for the visit because you feared they had tuberculosis, pneumonia, or some other serious ailment? They did it. Theologically speaking, Thelma’s ministry was a restoration of dignity. Those ladies that gathered together with that new idea in the 1960’s understood, even if they could not articulate, that part of our job as Christians is to remind people whose image they bear. Said more simply, she simply tried to remind them of the dignity with which they were created and of the Father who loved them deeply.
Fast forward more than fifty years. Homeless people were speaking up and asking someone to speak gently about the food being served. While the new faces were telling them they had no right to criticize the food, the old guard was saying “yes we do. Like them, we are children of God and ought not be expected to eat garbage. If they are His children, they should be making or buying real food.” It sounds a bit ungrateful to the ears of some, but the man who runs they shelter says this particular third party food is by far the worst that they eat. But is it ungrateful for the hungry to call those blessed with food in abundance to account? I think not.

     As disciples of Christ you and I are called to be good stewards of whatever resources He gives us. We are also called to love our neighbors as ourselves. And we are to remember that when we clothe the poor or feed the hungry, we have clothed and fed Him. As it turns out, this other church simply was not doing quality control. Nobody there was tasting the food (they were making sure every bite was available for the hungry). Now that they know what is going on, I am sure the quality will improve or the contract will be cancelled. But how many of us, when we are serving the hungry the few times that we do it settle for “that’s good enough?” How many of us cut corners when fixing food for the hungry? How many of us serve food that we would not serve our families , let alone our Lord were He to join us for a meal? And how many reading this brief summary of a Wednesday night’s meal thought that the homeless were ungrateful to criticize the food? How dare they? In our faith tradition, the Eucharist becomes that “pledge” which reminds us of the bridal feast to which He calls us. In our ministry, the food that we serve at meals can serve the same purpose. Our meals, done right, can serve as moments of hope for the hopeless and as a reminder of the love with which our God holds them. IF WE REMEMBER HIS CALL AND IF WE REMEMBER IT IS HIM WHO WE SERVE IN THE FACES OF THOSE PRESENT. So, what are you making for your next effort to feed the hungry in your midst? Do you think He would like it? Or would He look at you with those knowing eyes and wonder why you settled for good enough knowing that the King was present?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One at a time . . .

Thank you, Jeff Merkley, for becoming a co-sponsor of the TVPRA.  That brings the Senate to 28!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More movement in the Senate

Senators Robert Casey, Jr., Al Franken, and Rob Portman became co-sponsors of the TVPRA yesterday.  Their participation now means that fully 27 US Senators are co-sponsoring the Federal Government's best weapon and support in the fight against slavery.  That means that more than 1/4 of the US Senate is now sponsoring the bill -- that's almost triple the number where this began at the end of September when Congress allowed the 2008 TVPRA to lapse.  So keep those phone calls and e-mails going!

With so many Senators participating, however, I decided it was time to take a look at who was helping and a look at who is absent.  Interestingly, both senators from the great states of Massachusets, California, Minnesota, Florida, Ohio, and New York have become co-sponsors of the Federal Government's best weapon and best support in the fight to end human slavery.  The Library of Congress, unfortunately, does not break the sponsors' names down by political party, but maybe blog readers can comment on whether the effort has crossed party lines in the Senate as it has in the House.  Certainly, each of those states mentioned has been touched by slavery cases which made national headlines, so their senators' support in this fight is understandable.

But that got me to thinking: who is missing that should not be missing?  In other words, what senators are ignoring those high profile cases which have occurred in the cities and towns of their constituents.  Naturally, given that I live in Iowa, I am very disappointed that neither Senator Harkin nor Senator Grassley has chosen to support the law.  I suppose our esteemed senators are simply unaware of the US vs. Bowie case, which originated in Cedar Rapids and was one of the earliest successful prosecutions in the United States with respect to modern day slavery.  Then I got to thinking a bit more (always dangerous).  Both Senator Harkin and Senator Grassley must never have heard of what happened here in the QCA with the Eagles' warehouse, must not be familiar with the Williamsburg Sex Ring, must have overlooked the Leonard Ray Russell case in Denison, and must have not noticed the husband and wife in Decorah who held girls captive for sex, the sex slaves in Council Bluffs, and even those that had been enslaved in Postville.  Of course, with so many successful prosecution in so many different parts of the state, one can begin to wonder what exactly the two are doing to help eliminate human slavery if these cases have gone unnoticed by them or their staffers.  With so many successful prosecutions under either the Iowa law against Human Trafficking or the TVPRA (depending upon the case), one would think that both would find the time to join us in the fight.  But, maybe they think these cases eliminated slavery in its entirety in Iowa.

Of course, the Iowa delegation is not the only one acting in a confusing manner.  Neither Senator from South Carolina has chosen to join this fight.  I mention the oddity of that fact simply because of the case of Miguel Flores and infamous "Red Camp" located near Manning.  Though the case was finally prosecuted in October 1996, authorities had been aware of some of the atrocities since at least 1993.  For almost 4 years, the case languished as prosecutor after prosecutor was assigned to the case.  Though, once the facts became known by the mid 90's, these camps were located in SC, GA, and FL and housed between 400-500 slaves, the government was painfully slow to act.  Witness interviews were scheduled at times convenient only for the prosecutors who, get this, were surprised the slaves could not always get free to come in when the appointments were scheduled.  When the defendants in the case finally pled guilty in the spring of 1997 to various charges, the case was acknowledged nationally as the largest contemporary case of Agricultural slavery in the three decades leading up.  Maybe the senators from SC think that the successful prosecution eliminated all human trafficking from SC and so they do not need to be bothered.

Also conspicuous by their absence are the senators from New Jersey.  Although there have been other cases, the Hondoran sex ring that was busted in late summer of 2006 comes to mind.  This ring was infamous in the number of minor girls that were brought to Hudson County and for the conditions in which the slaves were expected to work and to live.  Luckily for the sisters who were trafficking the Hondoran girls, they found a prosecutor that allowed them to plead guilty to charges of harboring and smuggling illegal aliens, forced labor, and conspiracy.  Had they been prosecuted under the TVPRA, the penalties would have been far more severe.  Bad timing for the criminals, I suppose.  Had they been busted in the past 18 days, the prosecutors couldn't even threaten some of the TVPRA penalties because Congress has allowed the law to lapse!

Other states' senators are completely missing from the list of co-sponsors of the TVPRA.  Maybe Alaska's senators have forgotten about the Chugiak man who brought Russian women and girls into the country and forced them to dance nude at a local strip club.  But where are Texas' senators?  West Virginia's?  Virginia's?  Oklahoma's?  The list could go on.  As of today, October 18, only 19 states have senators committed to fighting slavery.  Have yours joined the fight?  Or do they choose to let slavery thrive in your communities?


Monday, October 17, 2011

Whose image are you?

     Continuing our journey through the events of Holy Week in Matthew’s Gospel, we find ourselves this week in on the plot of the Pharisees and the Herodians. Remember, Jesus has taught in three parables, condemning the Pharisees and all the religious elite of the day for their efforts at self-aggrandizement and their unwillingness to follow God. So, during these confrontations, the Pharisees apparently leave to plot against Jesus. Remember, too, the tensions created by the Palm Sunday entrance of Jesus. The people praised Him upon His entry and seem ready at a moment’s notice to make Him king. The political establishment knows far too well what happens if Jesus plays out this string. Rome will send in its armies. Many heads will roll. What power and influence they enjoy will be destroyed. Amazingly, these two groups seem to have hated each other through history, but, in recognition of the threat posed by this carpenter turned rabbi from Nazareth, both unite to trick Him into either committing treason against the emperor or upsetting the populace, His base of support.

     Of course, the Pharisees are not stupid. They know that the game they are playing is dangerous. They know that if Jesus takes offense at them, their power is precarious. Jesus has healed all who have come to Him this week. His powers are renowned throughout a large portion of Israel. All He has to do is give the word, and they could be tossed out or worse. So they send in their students. It is a crafty ploy. If Jesus takes offense, they can apologize for the unbridled enthusiasm of their youth. They can promise to better instruct their students and end the threat against themselves. If, on the other hand, Jesus gives them one of their hoped-for answers, they can remove Him as a threat. It is a diabolical plan.

     So, the two groups come to Jesus and ask Him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Bubbling behind this question is a long forgotten controversy. Although you and I might not be able to relate with respect to the question, it was very important at the time when Jesus walked the earth. Believe it or not, people fought about taxes, a lot. Some groups argued that taxes were too high or should never be paid because to pay them was an affront to God. Similarly, some groups argued that the people enjoyed the benefits of the Empire and that taxes were necessary for all to enjoy the basics such as good roads, good bath houses, strong defense, and the like. It was a hotly disputed question, very much different from our own – yes, that’s right, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Although, all kidding aside, some researches claim that nearly half of all income in Israel at this time went to pay taxes. Think of that for a second. Half of your money going to taxes—can you imagine how mad you would be?

     The hope behind the question is that Jesus will be forced to answer one of two ways. If He says that they should not pay taxes, the Pharisees can go to the Roman authorities and claim that Jesus is committing treason be encouraging people not to pay taxes. If, on the other hand, Jesus says to pay the tax, the people will begin to turn on Him. Imagine yourself of average means. Half of your money goes to pay your taxes to Caesar, to the Temple, and to the local authority. And did I mention that extortion was rampant? How would you feel about taxes? Their hope is that if Jesus says the tax is legal, whatever goodwill He has generated will begin to dissipate as fog on the morning sun.

     And just so we understand how crafty the question, look at how they introduce the question. They call Him rabbi, a sign of respect. The talk about His lack of partiality and His unwavering commitment to teach the truth. Talk about buttering Him up!

     Yet, Jesus sees through their plot and their deception. He brazenly accuses them of doing what they really are doing. But, rather than yelling at them, He takes control of the conversation. He asks them to show Him a coin. Someone obliges Him. If you have ever seen coins from this point in history, you know what they show Him. On one side of the coin would be the profile of Caesar. On the opposite side of the coin would be the goddess, Pax (peace), and the words “High Priest.” Around the edge of the coin, at this time, would be the words, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” Naturally, the conspirators answer, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus gives the wonderful answer that we should give to Caesar those things that belong to Caesar and the things to God that belong to God. It is a remarkable answer, one totally unexpected in the minds of the conspirators.

     Jesus’ answer testifies to the fact that He is not a threat to the current political order. Yes, the Kingdom He is advancing is revolutionary. His kingdom will, however, be forced to operate within the current world, including the various political and economic orders, until His return in glory. Better still, the citizens of His kingdom, will have obligations to the authorities in charge in this world. Paul and Peter will both remind Christians that we have these obligations and that we are to submit to them, even as we understand that such obligations will one day fade into non-existence. Finally, while Caesar is concerned with and owed trivial things such as denarius, God is more concerned, and owed, everything. Just as Caesar’s image is imprinted upon the coins, God’s image is imprinted upon us. Subtly, Jesus’ answer harkens back to Genesis. The Pharisees-in-training certainly understand this. If we are “minted” in His image, then we owe Him everything. Even more profound, knowing that He has given us stewardship over the things that He has given us, we are required to offer up the entirety of our lives and our goods to God. No doubt this answer, when given in testimony to Pilate in a couple days hence, will help Pilate to understand that the charges about Jesus being an insurrectionist are untrue.

     Though the answer is simple, its application seems anything but. How often do we hear of “Christians” cheating on their taxes? How often do we, as Christians, fail to give everything in joyful service to God? How often do we forget that it was in His image that we were created? How often do we carve out areas in our lives which we think are sacred or more important to God and then spend time and effort and energy trying to fix for ourselves the things we think are beneath His notice? We might trust Him with our eternal souls, but do we trust Him with everything we are and everything we have?  Brothers and sisters, one of the amazing truths of the Gospel is the way in which you, and I, and everyone whom we meet was wondrously and gloriously made! Jesus remarks about the fact that God knows every hair on our head, He knows us so well. Yet we partition off part of our lives as “belonging to us” when, in reality, it should all belong to God. Jesus’ words ought to cause us multiple times each day to examine our loyalties and to prioritize them, not as seems good or best to us, but as He has already revealed to us. Our value to Him is incalculable—He has demonstrated that on the cross. His power to redeem all in our lives is sure – He has demonstrated that through His victory over death with the empty tomb. What will you give Him this day? That which He asks, or only that which you are willing to give up?



Drips of waters remove granite -- it just takes too long for victims' sake

We added Janice Schakowsky as a House co-sponsor late Friday for the TVPRA 2011.  Thank you, Rep. Schakowsky for joining the fight.  Now, let's get the bill passed and continue the fight to end human slavery!


Friday, October 14, 2011

The finish line is in sight!

Three more members of the Senate, Richard Durbin, Bill Nelson, and Debbie Stabenow, joined as co-sponsors of the Senate version of the TVPRA, bringing the total number of Senators to 24!  Better still, the bill was placed on the legislative calendar.  The finish line is in site, but there a bit more to go.  Keep nagging your senator if he or she is is one of the 76 Senators who, for reasons unknown, have chosen to ignore the problem of slavery in our age!  Those in Iowa reading this or hearing about it might well ask both our senators and all 5 of our Representatives why they ignore this problem, despite the court record which demonstrates the need for the TVPRA.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

6 more members of Congress join the fight!

     Thank you Sanford Bishop, Jr., Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Jay Inselee in the US House of Representatives and Johnny Isakson, Any Klobuchar, and Kay Hagan in the US Senate for joining us in the fight to end slavery in America and around the world through the sponsorship of the TVPRA.  Although the temptation for politicians to do nothing (see the Iowa delegation for a disturbing inactivity despite the numbers of convictions in our state) weighs heavy on many politicians, as the bill now seems poised to be re-authorized within days, these six individuals are taking no chances.  They are lending their support to help get the bill to the President's desk, so that we can get back to the important work of identifying and helping those enslaved around us.

     It is still not too late.  If your Senators or Representatives still are not behind this bill, contact them and let them know that you are watching . . . and voting in the next election.


What's your attire?

     Our Gospel lesson from Matthew this week would have shocked Jesus' listeners.  To remind you where we are in Matthew's narrative, this is during Holy Week.  Jesus has rode in on the donkey to the acclaim of the people.  Jesus has turned over the tables of the money changers and driven out all the vendors from the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus has healed those who have come to Him.  And He has been teaching in parables.  The religious elite in Jerusalem want to silence Him.  The people clearly adore Jesus.  Their honoring of Him with palms and shouts of "Hosanna" and His willingness to accept such adoration is dangerous to them.  They have worked out an uneasy truce with the Roman occupiers, a truce dependent upon their ability to keep the peace.  Jesus, to them, is clearly dangerous not just to the power and way of life, but to their very lives.  So they have accosted Jesus and asked Him, essentially, why a nobody carpenter from a backwater town would ever presume to speak to them or about them in this fashion.

     Jesus follws these questions with a series of parable about God's judgment of the religious elite.  We have explored them the past two weeks in the parable of the two sons and the parable of the wicked tenants.  Given those two parables, it is no wonder that in a few days, the religious establishment will conspire to put Jesus to death.  But Jesus is not finished.  He follows up the first two parables with another, transitional, parable.  I say transitional because Jesus is moving from His condemnation of the religious elite to the final instructions for His disciples and the crowds.

     But in this parable, Jesus tells the story of a king who plans a wedding feast for his son.  Thankfully, we are coming off a royalty wedding which might help us understand a bit of significance.  How many of us, independent Americans, made time to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate?  We who are heirs of those who through off the oppressive English basically became British citizens again.  We could not get enough information or camera angles.  What a dress?  Look at his uniform!  Look at the trees in Westminister.  Doesn't the queen look good?  I wish I could ride in a horse-drawn carriage.  Who designed that dress?  That hat?  On and on we were mesmerized by the event.  How many of us would have loved to have received an invitation?  How many weddings have tried to copy things seen in the royal wedding?  That is the kind of affair which Jesus is describing in the parable.  Weddings were huge events in the ANE, anyway.  But now the king is throwing one for his son!  Who would not want to go?

     But, apparently, many of the important invitees forgot about the feast or just do not care.  Maybe the kids knocked the invitation off the refrigerator, maybe the invitation was lost in the mail -- for some reason the people do not come to a wedding to which everyone would want an invitation.  So, once again the king send his slaves to remind them of the event and its opulence.  The feast is ready -- the oxen and calves have been slaughtered.  The wine is exquisite.  Hurry!

     In the parable, those who are reminded of this invitation simply ignore it.  Though it would have been unthinkable to his audience, the invitees are concerned about their businesses or their farms.  Some are apparently annoyed at being asked again and decide to mistreat or even kill the messenger-slaves.  Naturally, as the people hearing this parable would expect, the king is enraged.  He has been dishonored!  Not only have the people ignored the wedding feast, but they have mistreated His personal envoys.  Can you imagine the audacity of doing that to Queen Elizabeth in this day and age?  How much more powerful were kings in those days!

     So the king kills all those who dishonored him and burned their city.  Nothing is left.  So who will share in the feast?  The king sends slaves out once again and tells them to invite everyone they find to the feast.  Fortunately, the slaves find enough people, both good and bad.  That is not surprising.  Imagine had the aristocracy of Britain blown off William & Kate's wedding.  Given the sheer numbers of those lining the streets and outside Westminster and those watching at home on the telly, I'm thinking she could have filled her hall on short notice as well.  The wedding hall is stuffed with guests.

     Understand, of course, the implication.  As we have talked about repeatedly, wedding feasts were events.  Wedding feasts were times of great celebration and hope.  I know we don't have much of a dress code in the United States nowadays, but that has not always been the case.  There was a time when air travel or church meant that one dressed up.  There was a time when dark blue or black was the attire of funerals.  There was a time when one never wore white shoes in the time between Labor Day and Memorial Day.  There was a time when parties were held and women showed up in evening gowns and men in their dashing tuxes and suits.  It was like that in the ANE.  The crowds and disciples and religious elite knew that one always wore ones best to weddings.  And to a kings wedding--why that would necessitate the finest clothes one could possibly afford.

     Of course, the king comes down to the hall, sees the hall packed, but then notices one man dressed casually.  Everyone else has understood the significance of the event and of the one hosting the event.  They have taken the time to wear their best wedding robe.  This poor chap has decided that neither the event nor the host was worth putting on his best.  He has come as he wanted, not dressed for the ocassion.  I am sure that some of us sitting here may want to excuse his behavior.  Maybe the man was poor?  Maybe he did not have the money to buy new clothes.  Keep in mind the rest of those present, the good and the bad.  In Jesus parable it is clear that people are there from all walks of life.  Those respected and not, those wealthy and not, those in honorable professions and not--they have all shown up properly dressed.  All but the one man.  The implication is, naturally, he has the clothes available.  Had he been to poor to buy a wedding garment, he would have had an answer.  Had he been working in the fields and rushed so as not to offend the king, he would have had an answer.  Yet, standing before the king, he has no answer.

     Amazingly, the king approaches him and addresses him as "friend." This would have shocked the crowds within hearing of Jesus' voice. Those closest to thrown have already rejected the invitation. Many have been killed. The man addressed in the parable does not even have a name. Yet the king addresses him familiarly. Unfortunately for the man dressed inappropriately for the wedding, he has no words for his king. He has committed a terrible breach of etiquette. He has insulted and dishonored the king.

     Predictably, the king has the man trussed and tossed out into the darkness.  The man has not responded to the gracious invitation of his king as he should have.  So the king judges and rewards him for his behavior.  While everyone else will be enjoying the feast and all its spectacles, this man will be thrown out.  And the king observes that all are invited while few are chosen.  The king, of course, has the perspective of knowing that all have been invited and that some have rejected the invitation.  Yes, I know that our translators chose many for the Greek word polloi, but the Greek word without its article usually stands for the word "all" or "everyone."  People from all walks of life received the invitation to this feast.  Initially, only the aristocracy or the powerful rejected the invitation, but even the regular "good" and "bad" people have been called to respond.  At least one invited guest is judged for rejecting the invitation and judged for that rejection.
     How the parable applies to real life is not too hard to see.  The king is our Father in heaven.  Amazingly, He is preparing a wedding feast for His Son.  Those initially invited--Israel.  The slaves and servants sent -- His prophets who have called His people to prepare for His invitation.  Those invited in lieu of the rejection by God's people -- the Gentiles, those viewed as both good and bad by His people.  The robe?  Why many of us can easily see that it is the righteousness imputed to us by Christ.  But what of the man who refused to wear the wedding robe?  Who is he?
     Truthfully, we might be tempted to consider him to represent Judas.  Certainly Judas heard the invitation and seemingly accepted it, only in the end to betray His Lord.  It sort of fits.  But look again.  How are people in this story judged?  The king judges them individually based upon their response to His gracious invitation.  To those who should have been invited to the wedding, he gives multiple chances.  But he also shows graciousness to those who had no expectation of entry to the feast.  Buried within each response, of course, is the idea of personal accountability.  Both the initially chosen and those invited last minute have the identical invitation.  Each can choose to accept the invitation and honor the king.  Or each can reject it and worry about the things they think are more important.  The choice is theirs.  But so is His judgment.
     Brothers and sisters, one of the important lessons of this parable is personal accountability.  Each person, the polloi in the story, are invited to the king's feast in honor of his son's wedding.  Each has a response to that invitation.  Those who accept the invitation and embrace it, wear the appropriate clothing, are invited into an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime event.  Those who reject it, whether by rejecting the invitation outright or by ignoring what must be worn, are culpable for their hardened response.
     One of the great blessings of the Gospel and, perhaps, also one of its most terrifying aspects is the fact that we are each accountable for our heart's response.  Our invitation to the feast does not depend upon our relative importance in this life.  Our invitation does not depend upon a lottery, or our profession, or who we know, or whether our family is good or bad.  Our invitation does not depend  upon our illnesses, our infirmities, or even whether we are, when we receive it, good or bad.  It is dependent entirely upon God's grace, a grace that causes Him to extend the invitation to all.  Our contribution to this feast is minimal.  He asks us to bring no gifts.  He asks us only to dress appropriately, in holiness and righteousness.  Unfortunately for us, were we left to our own devices, our clothing would not be suitable for the ocassion.  And so, while we were yet bad and stinky and unworthy of such an invitation, He sent His Son to clothe us. And through His blood, you and I are cleansed and made worthy to stand before our King, our friend.
     And yet, the man with no robe ought to remind us of the seriousness of the decision.  If we show up at the party but forget to robe ourselves properly, He will still hold us accountable.  Like those who have rejected the invitation out of hand, neither are we allowed in if we do not respond from our hearts as called.  All He demands for entry is a repentant heart and an acceptance of His Son's offer to lead us in this life and all eternity.  It seems so simple, and yet it can seem too hard.  Trying to enter the party without the demanded attire is, in the end, no different to our Father in heaven that rejecting the invitation in the beginning.  So, whose robe are you wearing as you stand reading to enter into His house?  Clothes of your own fashioning or the fashioning of some other tailor?  Or are you bathing yourself in the righteousness afford by His Son, and clothing yourself in His righteousness.  In the end, only one answer enjoys the happy ending and the blessing of our King.  Which do you choose?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Now where have I heard this story before?

     Our reading from Exodus is very well known. While Moses was up on the mountain getting the torah from God, the people of Israel rebelled. What is worse, the rebellion seems awfully quick in our minds. Not too long ago, God delivered Israel and destroyed the chariots of Pharaoh. Heck, in the verses right before our reading this week, God is sharing the instructions of the tabernacle. How in the world do we go from such heights of deliverance by and communion with God to such sinful behavior so quickly?

     One of the problems that we face when confronting our reading this week is that it is cut off from the rest of its narrative. In truth, the story that we read this week belongs in an extended section that includes all of chapter 32, chapter 33, and chapter 34. Those three chapters, in an amazing way, teach us about rebellion, mediation, and restoration. And when we think of the reading in the context of that story, we perhaps get a better insight as to the questions of how and why Israel did what it did.

     For starters, Moses, at least until this point in the story, has been the only source of contact with God, and he has failed to return. So they come to Aaron with the request to make a golden calf. To be sure, what they did was wrong. God will punish them for their sin. In fact, they will be forced to drink from the gall of their sin and be killed.  But what is their sin? You and I might quickly be tempted to say “the creation of the calf.” But the creation of the calf is not as wild an idea in their context as it might seem to us. Calves and bulls were thought to be pedestals for the gods they represented. In other words, it is likely that Israel did not picture God in their mind as a calf or bull; rather, they probably thought that the calf drew God closer to them. Certainly, the text seems clear that they understand that God delivered them. Further, the day of celebration after Aaron complete the calf is dedicated to God. Perhaps the fact that the calf is made from gold suggests that they thought the calf like the ark, a way to stay connected even better with Yahweh, because the calf enthrones Him and associates Him with them, as if God was not always with them and did not always hear them. What they have done is to violate the second commandment, not the first.

     God, of course, is enraged, and rightfully so. Though He is meeting with Moses, He is fully aware of what the people are doing. Time and time again they have questioned God.  What will we eat?  Can't we get something better than manna?  How will we ever escape Pharoah?  He tells Moses that He will destroy them all and create His nation from the offspring of Moses. Technically, of course, the covenant with Abraham is still enforced by God.  Moses was a descendant of Abraham; so, were God to execute His judgement and "start over" with Moses, He would still be keeping His word to Abraham.  Thankfully, Moses steps into the breach. He intercedes on behalf of Israel and asks God to remember His promise (as if He could forget) and to remember His glory. If Israel is destroyed by God, the Egyptians and the rest of the world will not be in awe of Him.  Instead, they will point to the fact that God needed to lead His people into the wilderness to die because of a shortage of graves in Egypt.  In a world which believed that the order on Earth represented the outcome of the spiritual battles in heaven, such an idea makes sense.  Moses is telling God that Egypt and others will draw from the destruction of Israel the idea that Yahweh had lost to Ra.  Moses’ plea, of course,  is successful. God relents of the total destruction of Israel, which would have been righteous judgment, and sends Moses back down the mountain, where Moses, we might say, does not take his own advice.

     What follows, though riddled with many deaths, is eventually a good story. God’s people are eventually restored. Though their rebellion merited death, the mediation of one individual and the grace of God allows for restoration of God's people. Perhaps that is a story that sounds familiar to you?  It should.

     The truth is, this story in its redemptive arc, ought to give us hope. Too often you and I encounter people who think, by reason of their particular situation or sin, that they cannot possibly be loved by God. Maybe we even think it about ourselves. So many people keep buried, hidden from view, those sins which make them unlovable in their own eyes and, in their view, in God’s. Yet think on our story this week. The predominating sin was a question of trust: was God with them? Clearly, they were worried. Certainly their motivations were understandable. Yet their actions and behavior testified to the fact that they believed Him no longer with them--they could not trust Him. Though He had promised and kept the covenant, in amazing ways culminating in the experience of the Red Sea, they felt the need to take matters into their own hands. Perhaps, in that way, they are not so different from us. Though we live this side of the cross and empty tomb, how often are we or people we know seduced by the Enemy’s suggestion that we are not worth of God’s love nor His redemption?  How often are we drawn to "earn" our way onto God's good side by performing those good works mentioned in our collect this week?  And how often do we and others despair when we come to the realization that we can never balance our sins.

     It is precisely then, brothers and sisters, that the hope and the promise of the Gospel ought to come shining forth in our lives and in our hearts.  When we get to that level, when we begin to understand our failings in all honesty and all humility, that is when we really allow God to go to work on us.  It is only then that we can begin to realize the love that God has for each one of us and for all those whom we encounter in our lives and in our works.  Often, as Christians, we focus on the cross and the fact that Jesus died for us.  But how often do we focus on the fact that He did all that knowing your and my secret sins, those things we hide from one another and the world?  Think of the love He must have for each one of us.  He knew us better than anyone, and still He thought each one of us, and everyone else, worth saving.  If your reflection of that simply truth, brothers and sisters, does not drive you to shed a tear or two in joyful thanksgiving, there is something wrong with your heart.

     Brothers and sisters, this story written some three millenia ago really is for us. So often we judge our failures and our sins in our own eyes and in our own hearts, forgetting that amazing work which He has done for us, despite knowing us intimately, the good and the bad. But such is His grace that there nothing in our past or future cannot be repented of, and such is His power that nothing cannot be accomplished for His glory! From time to time, that is a truth worth remembering and always a hope and joy worth sharing!



Thursday, October 6, 2011

We can move mountains . . . and even Congress!

Yesterday ended up being a tipping point in this year's efforts to get the TVPRA renewed.  After sitting on its rear-end for the past several weeks and even allowing the previous law to expire last Friday, Congress got moving thanks to calls and e-mails of its citizens.  Unexpectedly, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs added the bill to its docket and passed it unanimously!  Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen specifically thanked all those "who took this unseen issue and made it a top priority." Better still, the chairman stated "I am committed to move this bill forward.
While that was happening, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary announced it would take up the bill today.  The hope is that the full House will vote today, the full Senate tomorrow, and that the President will sign it no later than Monday!
On top of all that, 6 more Representatives joined us in the fight against Human Trafficking by becoming co-sponsors of the bill.  Thank you Marcia Fudge, Bob Filner, Bill Johnson, Ted Poe, Peter Welch, and Brad Sherman for lending your support in so visible a way!  And thank you all who lobbied your Congressional delegation to make this happen!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thank you, Senator Heller!

Thank you, Dean Heller, a senator from NV, for joining us in the fight against slavery yesterday.  We are up to 18 co-sponsors in the Senate!  Unfortunately, it has now been 5 days since the TVPRA expired.  How many more people have been enslaved?  How many victims are not receiving the care we promised?  How much longer must their cries go up?


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Have you fallen on the Capstone or is it falling on you?

     For the second time in the last six chapters, Matthew has recorded a terrible judgment by His master on the religious elite.  In chapter 16, Matthew records that after denying the Pharisees and Sadducees their sought-after sign, Jesus left them and went away.  Seemingly, His offer of grace and repentance has run its course with those He knows to be hard-hearted to His call.  Similarly, after the parable of the Wicked Tenants, Jesus pronounces terrible judgment on the elite once again, even as He acknowledges what they are about to do.  Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  Wow!  Jesus has just told the religious leaders that the honor, power, prestige, and hope that were, by right of birth, open to them, will be taken away and given to others.  The very people who had been charged with pastoring God’s people will not inherit it because they have not produced the fruit demanded by Yahweh.  Can there be a more tragic and fearful judgment?

     Make no mistake, the chief priests and the Pharisees knew that Jesus was talking about them.  Matthew makes that clear.  But so afraid of losing power, so afraid of the very people to whom they were charged with pastoring were the religious leaders of the day, they were unable to protect that which they valued, wrongly, more than anything in the world.

     I mention this “taking away” as a warning to us all.  As many of you know, I had a few extended conversations with the founder of Angel Food during last year’s holidays.  This passage was one of those that popped into my head as we were talking.  What had started out as a wonderful ministry, a ministry which sought to help stretch peoples’ grocery dollars, had morphed into something else.  This wonderful ministry had become an opportunity for entitlement and enrichment.  A ministry which was based upon looking the needy in the eye, getting to know them by name and face, and feeding them in Christ’s name, decided it needed a private jet to avoid the crowds.  A ministry which sought to stretch dollars as far as possible, found itself paying incredible amounts to its officers, who were, as many of us here know, often unreachable.  A ministry which had sought to speak God's grace into a world that had become so skeptical of religious leaders that many participants expected a rip off a some point, was, at its winding down, choosing to keep its officers enriched at the expense of those food stamp families who could least afford the ripoff.  And the fact that God was taking this away from those whom He had gifted was plain for all to see, except those blinded by what they had forgotten.

     Despite the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, the national numbers of the ministry continued to fall.  Nationally, they experienced what we experienced locally.  As we were falling from 250 families served a month down into the 80’s and 90’s each month, the national ministry fell from over 700k families served to under 200k each month.  Was the quality bad?  No.  Was the value terrible?  No.  Then why the decrease?  In the midst of the worst economy in many of our lives, the ministry dried up.  As the need was increasing, the ministry was decreasing.  Therefore I tell you that thekingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 

     Brothers and sisters, even today God is at work in the midst of us and the world.  Where people are doing His work, often against all odds and expectation, He often blesses, but the converse is true.  If we, as His chosen people, forsake our inheritance, He will take it away and give it to others who will produce fruit.  And just as His blessing will glorify Him, so will His removal of those same blessings also serve Him.

     What do I mean by that?  Think of what has happened.  Despite the economy and despite the need, the ministry collapsed.  Look at the benefits of those low numbers.  How many of us had people tell us that it was now ok for us to steal their money?  They came into the ministry expecting us to steal from them eventually.  Once the amount of food they received was greater than what they ordered, they even bothered to tell us that it was ok if we stole their money because they were ahead.  Because we saw the warning signs, not a one was ripped off.  No one lost any money.  Could that have happened at its height?  

     Or consider the financial allegations.  The ministry was founded to serve and we were committed to serving those most in need, those who have to choose between food and other essentials.  Time and time again, the cost of the food increased because of "transportation" costs.  Diesel is up, so is the cost of food.  To be sure, most of the units were good values, but was the increase necessary?  During the period when we served as a host site, the four officers' salaries went from around a combined $200,000 to somewhere in the neighborhood of an estimated $2.2 million combined last year.  And did I mention the $1.1 million loan the family took out against the ministry?  How about the allegation that the family may have been using a nonprofit business to funnel revenues and income to an insider controlled for profit business?  In some ways, outsiders might rightfully argue that those leading this ministry enriched themselves on the backs of those who could least afford the cost.  Yet, thanks to the decline in the ministry, how few are the number of people who have heard of the seeming failures compared to how many it could have been!

     Now, while it may sound negative to our ears, this taking away, listen to the rest of His judgment.  He will give it to those who will produce fruit.  What was taken away from the Jewish religious establishment some two thousand years ago was given to fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes and Gentiles like you and me.  Why?  Because of our fruit, the fruit of repentance.

     When wrapping up His teaching against the priests and Pharisees, Jesus reminds us that there are only two responses to the Gospel.  Either we fall on it and are broken, or it falls on us and crushes us. And it is precisely when we are totally broken that He goes to amazing work in and through us!  Just when we seem most unworthy, when we realize our utter incapacity to save ourselves, He reaches in, circumcises out heart, and sends us out into the fields to plant, to nourish, and bear fruit of that understanding.  Thankfully and mercifully, He gives us a choice.  Will we serve Him and all those whom we meet in His Name, or will we serve ourselves and find ourselves, at the end, crushed by His judgment?  Better still, when we choose unwisely, and find that stone falling upon us, all He demands is that we repent.  He has already paid the price for our failure on Calvary.  It is not as if the religious leaders had no hope.  At some point during what you and I call Holy Week, some of these leaders had to wonder.  He knew what they were doing in secret and talked about it openly.  He faced their plotting and scheming like a lamb led to the slaughter. And then, when the “problem” His teaching and authority seemed to have been buried in the tomb with His death, the Lord did something marvelous!  He raised Him to new life and offered that life and His Spirit to all who would be broken by Christ’s work and ministry to us!

     Brothers and sisters, to what ministry is He calling you?  Late at night when you cannot sleep or during the days when you would rather be doing something far more significant than whatever it is you are doing, to what ministry is He calling you?  What ministry has He prepared for you, that His name might be glorified?  To whom is He sending you?  Will you answer that call and allow yourself to be used to grow His kingdom?  Or will you fight it, and risk the judgment of the priests and Pharisees?  He has given us each the opportunity to choose?  How do you answer Him?


Add one more voice to the fight . . .

Thank you, Barbara Mikulski, for lending your support to the passage of the TVPRA in the Senate!  S.1301 now enjoys 17 co-sponsors and H.R.2830 has 21!  If your Senators are not on the list at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:SN01301:@@@P# or your Representative is not on the list at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:HR02830:@@@P# , please take a moment and call or e-mail him or her and ask them to help stamp out slavery once and for all!


Monday, October 3, 2011

Senators join the fight against slavery . . .

Although thousands of people were abandoned by the inaction of our Congress last Friday, and hope has been allowed to expire for somewhere between 27 and 41 million people around the world, some Senators from around the country committed to helping in the fight against Human Trafficking.  To be fair, a couple were co-sponsors before last week's effort to get pressure Congress to pass the TVPRA through Social media, but your phone calls and e-mails encouraged them to make sure their names were added to the list of those fighting human slavery.  Thank you to Daniel Akaka, Richard Burr, Mary Landrieu, Mark Udall, and Ron Wyden for lending your support to the passage of the 2011 TVPRA.  And thank you to everyone who has posted the inaction and what to do on Facebook, Twitter, blogs or shared with friends, co-workers, and family face to face.  You hard work last week cause 16 members of Congress to join the fight.  Still, the bill languishes in Congress, so we have more work to do!  If your Representative or Senator is not listed as a co-sponsor, ask them why!  Let them know how you feel and that you will be sharing with your friends and family your feelings about their lack of support.  Maybe your grass roots effort can help get elected people who remember that this is the land of the free!
Christ's Peace,