I cry a lot these days …

“When you first got here, did you cry a lot?”

A friend asked me that as I prepared to lead yet another wake service the other night, the fourth wake service of five this week, for the three funerals I did just this week.

She wondered if all the funerals we did in the first months after my arrival on the Rosebud Reservation caused me to crumple with grief. 

“Wasn’t that overwhelming?” she asked.

I told her: It’s actually harder now, because I know so many of the people now. When I first arrived, I was burying strangers, people whose stories I did not know.


It seems I know most of the people I bury. If I don’t know them personally, I know their families. 

I cry a lot these days.85F73377-5B85-4CEA-8912-B11B8334D827

I cry for those whom I bury … so many of them, young and old, often in bunches so close together that it seems that all I do is wakes and funerals, and wakes and funerals, and more wakes, and more funerals. 

I cry for all the violence in the world: For the people of Yemen. And Gaza. And South Sudan. And Mexico. And Cameroon. And Haiti. And just about every place around the world where people settle arguments and confront fear with war.

I cry for all the violence in this country. Right now, my tears are for the faithful Jews of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. For Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice Stallard, two innocent African Americans murdered in a Kentucky grocery store simply because they were African American. For police officers gunned down while doing their jobs. For women killed by domestic partners who had no business having access to guns. For our soldiers and Marines killed in combat. 

I cry for our children, especially this latest generation which one 18-year-old has labeled the “Massacre Generation,” because massacres – massacres! – make up the majority of their memories.https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/11/01/i-am-i-belong-massacre-generation/?utm_term=.d09d6608d0a0

I cry for the migrants who so desperately want a better, safer life – and whose journeys end, instead, in death in the desert. Or separated from their children. Or thrown in jail. Or deported without their children.

The tears suddenly fill my eyes, and I have to take a deep breath, and – if I’m preaching – sometimes pinch my fingers together to make a focal point for my body.

I am not depressed.

This is not a medical issue that can be treated with drugs.

But I do have a big heart, a heart that sometimes is too filled with love, too filled with hope, too filled with a desire for goodness and grace and mercy and justice and simple kindness.

Sometimes, my heart breaks.2B091120-8D6E-4D93-9D9A-D5BE93B43CCF

And then the tears come, unbidden.

I believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, that we, who are all created in the image of God, really are good people.

I believe in that goodness because I have seen it, because I see it every single day, when people reach out to help each other, when a friend unbidden reaches out to me and asks, “how are you doing today,” when another friend texts, “You are loved.”

I think that because I know there is goodness in the world, when I see the bad stuff – the shootings, the racism, the hatred, the vitriol, the fear-mongering, the blatant lies, the attempts to make some people lesser than others – my heart cracks and the tears come.

I don’t mind the tears. 

They remind me that I am human.

They remind me of God’s love.

They push me to do better, to be better.

They remind me that I care.

They remind me to never stopcaring.

So, yes, I cry a lot these days.

And then I wipe away the tears.

I remember the quotation from the Talmud, tattooed around my left arm as a prayer: Do not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s griefs. Do justice now. Love kindness now. Walk humbly with your God now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but you are not free to abandon it.

And with the tears wiped, I get back to work, to God’s work, trying as best as I am able to fulfill what Verna Dozier, quoting Howard Thurmans, called the “dream of God”:  “A friendly world of friendly folk, beneath a friendly sky.” 

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Opening Our Eyes to the Way of Love

My sermon today, 28 October 2018, on Mark 10:46-52, in the wake of the atrocities of pipe bombs in the mail, two people killed in a grocery store because the shooter couldn’t get into a church, and 11 killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

We are numb. We are afraid. We are grieved. But we need to listen to the lesson of Blind Bartimaeus.

The text of this sermon is posted below the recording.

I pray my words are helpful in some way.


Preached on the Rosebud Episcopal Mission (West)

EyeIn this morning’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ clarion call to open our eyes and follow Jesus on the Way.

We hear the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who, even though he is blind, shouts for all to hear that Jesus is the Son of David, and asks for mercy. Those who know him – who know that he has been a blind beggar for years (but not his entire life) – tell him to hush up, but he won’t be silenced.

Bartimaeus might not have sight, but he has insight – the knowledge that Jesus, this itinerant preacher from Nazareth is no ordinary preacher, no ordinary teacher. Bartimaeus knows that Jesus is the one who can open his eyes and give him his sight back.

Because of his faith, Jesus does restores Bartimaeus’ sight. His eyes are opened, and he followed Jesus as a result.

If – if – we are going to follow Jesus, we, like Bartimaeus, need to have our own eyes opened.

Not because we are physically blind, as he was.

But because we are far too blind to all that is going on around us.

Unlike Bartimaeus, we – and by that, I mean all of us in this country right now, not just those of us who are sitting in church right now – we as a nation are not seeing the injustice, the hatred, the stubbornness that is taking over our country.

Look at what has been going on this week alone:

  • Fourteen people threatened by bombs mailed to them by a man who simply cannot abide by those people who disagree with him. Fourteen bombs were mailed – to people from the opposite political party of the bomber.
  • Two people – Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice Stallard – were shot dead in a grocery store on Thursday in Kentucky. They were killed – at random – because their murderer had tried to get into a predominantly black church but he couldn’t get in the door, so he went to the grocery store nearby and he randomly opened fire at two African Americans. Walking out, he was confronted by another man who had a gun, and who was crouching down by a car, and who asked the shooter, What’s going on? The shooter said to the bystander, “Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.”
  • And yesterday, 11 people – the oldest of whom was 98; two brothers – were shot and killed, and six others, including four policemen, were wounded in yesterday’s atrocity – I will not call it a tragedy, because a tragedy is an accident – when a gunman attacked a synagogue in Pittsburgh during Shabbat services and proclaimed, as he was shooting, “I want to kill all the Jews.”

All of that – in just one week.

Yesterday’s shooting is so eerily similar – in the worst possible way – to the massacre of 26 people in their Sutherland Springs, Texas, church last year.

And to the massacre of nine black parishioners in their church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

And to the six Sikhs killed in their temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012.

And yes, even to the four African American girls killed in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.

Never mind the 17 killed and 17 injured in the Valentine’s Day massacre at the high school in Parkland, Florida.

Or the 59 dead and 500 wounded in the concert massacre in Las Vegas.

Or the 49 dead and 58 injured in the party massacre at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando.

Or the 14 dead and 22 injured in the office massacre in San Bernardino, California.

Or the 26 children and teachers killed, and one injured, in the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Or the countless other massacres I have decided not to list here and now.

Never mind the racism that Natives face, especially here in South Dakota and up in North Dakota, every single day.

Or the countless people of color who are shot and killed by police in this country, in disproportionate numbers, seemingly because they are, by God’s grace, people of color.

Or the hatred spewed when random white people call the police on black people for the audacity of sitting in a Starbucks. Or mowing a lawn. Or moving into their own homes. Or out campaigning during the election season. Or driving down the road. Or selling lemonade.

Or the hatred spewed when random white people attack Latinos and Asians and Africans for having the audacity to know more than one language.

Or the hatred spewed by people of all races at those who follow Islam as their path to God.

Or any of the acts of hatred and racism and sexism and hyper-nationalism and gay bashing and attacking transgender people that happen every single day in this country.

As the Washington Post editorial board said in its editorial following the atrocity in Pittsburgh yesterday, “Violence is a normal part of life of American life. The abnormal has become normal.”

Oh, my friends, we need this Gospel this morning.

We need to hear of Bartimaeus, a man who once could see and then could not, begging on the streets until Jesus comes along, and then begging – at the top of his voice – for his sight to be restored.

We need to remember that in the days when Jesus walked the earth, a man who once could see and then could not was thought to have sinned – to have done something wrong – and that his blindness was God’s punishment for that sin, whatever it was.

We need to realize that that is why those around him told him to shut up, to leave Jesus alone.

Because he was, after all, a sinner.

And yet …

Jesus heard his declaration of faith.

Jesus healed him.

And as a result, Bartimaeus, whose eyes were opened and sight was restored, followed Jesus.

He didn’t get up and go back to his family, he didn’t go back to a job, he didn’t find a job.

His eyes were opened.

And He. Followed. Jesus.

And if we truly want to follow Jesus, we, too, first need to have our eyes opened.

We need to look at the world around us, to see what is happening, and to act, as Bartimaeus acted.

We cannot sit idly by and say, “These things can never happen here.”

Because “these things” are happening here.

Look at what meth is doing to this reservation – people are hurting each other, stealing from each other, killing each other – over a damnable drug.

And if you think hatred isn’t spewed on this reservation, you read social media: Every single day, people publicly attack other people – often by name – and threaten or carry out violence.

Every. Single. Day.

We can say, as one person did in Pittsburgh yesterday, that these things happen in other cities, implying that they could not happen there.

But yesterday, that thing did happen in Pittsburgh. That atrocity occurred because of hatred. Blind hatred toward one particular portion of our population.

We need our eyes opened … so that we can act. So that we can love. So that we can be the ones to change the world, to make it a better place, to stop these atrocities.

These massacres? These acts of hatred? They are not normal. They are not how we are called to live.

Yes, the Washington Post acknowledged this morning: “The abnormal has become normal.”

“But,” it declared, “we must not accept it. We must not become accustomed.”

When the editorial was published last night, the headline read: “Refuse to become accustomed.”

My friends, I can tell you this: I. Refuse.

I will not become accustomed to hatred and to atrocities.

I will be upset – every single time.

And I will fight back.

I will, with God’s help, do my best to fight hatred with love.

With God’s love.

And I ask you to join me in that fight.

I ask you to join me because we are followers of Jesus. We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.

We are the ones called to love.

That’s why Jesus opened Bartimaeus’ eyes, and that is why he is opening our eyes as well.

We cannot pretend that what is happening all around us has nothing to do with us. For if we do pretend that all of this hatred has nothing to do with us, then hatred wins.

NiemollerThe German theologian Martin Niemoller was clear about that:

“First they came for the Jews,” he wrote, “and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

“Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

“Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

So what are we to do? How can we stand up and speak, before there is no one to speak for us?

I suggest that we begin by listening to our own Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who in his faithful wisdom reminds us:

“There is power in love. There is power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live.”

Let us grasp that power and figure out how we can live in love.

Let us listen again to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who lived in hate-filled times and lost his life to that hate:King

“When evil men plot, good men must plan.

“When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind.

“When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”

Let us grasp the that glory and figure out how we can live in love.

And as for that hatred itself, which attacks our lives every single day?

I offer you this prayer from theologian Marianne Williamson, who yesterday morning wrote this “open letter to hatred, on this day of tears in Pittsburgh …

“Hatred,” she wrote,

“You shall not defeat us.

“You shoot children in our schools.

“But you shall not defeat us.

“You shoot people in churches.

“But you shall not defeat us.

“You shoot people at concerts.

“But you shall not defeat us.

“You shoot people in synagogues.

“But you shall not defeat us.

“You shoot our children and you shoot our protectors.

“But you shall not defeat us.

“For the Lord our God

“Is with us.

“We shall endure, we shall transform,

“And in time Love’s light shall be so bright that your power shall be no more.

“The reign of hatred is terrifying

“But it’s reign shall not endure.

“For God is the power

“and God is the glory

“forever and ever.

“May we so devote our lives to Love

“that the reign of terror ends on earth

“As it is already done in heaven.

“Dear God,

“Please bless and comfort the victims

“And show us what to do.


My prayer for us is that in the sure and certain knowledge that love will triumph over hate, and that the light of God will overcome the darkness of evil, may we be like blind Bartimaeus, whose eyes were opened by his faith in Jesus Christ, and have our own eyes – those of our heads, our hearts and our souls – opened so that we, too, may follow Jesus on the Way of Love.


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