I bring greetings of peace and hope, both of which are in short supply during this holiday season. Two years ago we elected a leader who campaigned with a message of hope--the audacity of hope, he called it--but it's hard to see signs of hope in this dark political climate:
- The US has the highest rate of child poverty, homelessness, and incarceration in the industrial world.
- The US has the highest health care costs and the poorest health outcomes
- The US is still the "largest purveyor of violence in the world"(to use MLK's phrase)--with the lion's share of our budget going to war--and our country still practices torture, despite claims to the contrary.
- When we learn the dirty secrets of the US empire and transnational corporations through the courageous expose of Wikileaks, our government tries to destroy the messenger rather than take seriously the message.
- Taxes are cut for the rich and the middle class, and raised for the poor, while benefits for the poor are slashed. And our president has the audacity to tell us this is the best we can hope for!
I am also inspired by Melissa and Shaun, a homeless couple who have embodied faithful love and hope in spite of tremendous challenges. Melissa doesn't let her disability get her down, and Shaun also remains cheerful despite life's vicissitudes. I plan to take them out to lunch on Christmas this year since I can think of no more fitting way of celebrating the birth of Jesus than by sharing a meal with those He dearly loves.
Many of us have been led to despair because our hopes in Obama were based on a delusion-the delusion that we can transform our society simply by electing a new leader who will "fix" our problems.
This hope was not well grounded. We need to be the change we want in the world, and we need to put our faith into action. Hope without faith in the Divine--the Divine in each of us--is vain, and faith without love (faith in action) is dead.
Love and faith are what empower us to do what needs to be done to justify hope.
What gives me hope is not an idea (though clear thinking and sound analysis are very important), but the Spirit embodied in people. People committed to making this a better world are the ones who are helping to bring the Heavenly Kingdom down here to earth, where it is desperately needed
So instead of talking about my own efforts, as I often do in my holiday letter, I'd like to share with you the people who give me hope. Let me begin with the people in the top picture: the members of the Parliament of the World's Religion (sccpwr.org) who went with me to Melbourne, Australia, for the largest interfaith gathering in the world. These dedicated peace makers work unceasingly to create interreligious understanding both locally and globally
The next picture shows Dick Bunce and Steve Rhode, both members of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP.org). As former president of the So Cal chapter of ACLU, Steve has been an courageous defender of civil liberties. He also works with Progressive Jewish Alliance, Death Penalty Focus and other good causes. For the last couple of years he has served as our first Jewish president of ICUJP and brought to our group his amazing intellect, compassion and passion for justice. Dick Bunch, a Methodist pastor, has also worked tirelessly for peace and justice, and for the welfare of the mentally ill.
Pictured on the left are two other dear ICUJPers: Grace Dyrness and George Regas, pastor emeritus of All Saints and founder of ICUJP. George is such a well-known and beloved interfaith leader that nothing needs to be said about him other than he is a joy to be around. He radiates honesty and joy (and also happens to be Greek, like me). Next to him is Grace Dyrness, a professor at USC, and a community organizer, who works for the homeless and other marginalized groups both here in the USA and around the world. She deserves to be called Amazing Grace!
Two other dear members of our Beloved Community showed up at the ICUJP holiday party: Shakeel Syed, the ED of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, and Peter Laarman, the ED of Progressive Christians Uniting. They are both champions of justice and peace, and dear friends.
Next are two pastors, Pastor Diane Rehfield (a Methodist) and Pastor Judy (a Presbyterian) from the hotmeal program at Walteria UMC. These dear people not only do good, but also inspire others to do likewise. They are the salt of the earth, the leaven in the loaf, that Jesus spoke glowingly about. God bless them!
Finally there is the Rev. Louis Logan and his daughter Angelique. Louis arrived late for the ICUJP Christmas party this year because he had spent the night in jail. His crime? Protesting against the predatory practices of banks that have devastated the economy of disadvantaged communities like the black neighborhood he serves. He carried a sign that read: WE GET NOTICES, THEY GET BONUSES. The spirit of Dr. King lives on in this courageously faithful pastor.
There are just a few of the many people who are part of the Beloved Community here in Los Angeles--people I know and love. These are the people who give me hope--people whose Light shines in the darkness.
May all of us take time to pray, reflect, and connect with our own Inward Light. Take time to listen to what that Light is telling you to do. And then have the audacity to love, and to let your Light shine--in your family, your neighborhood, and around the world. Then truly the living Christ will be born where it really matters, in your heart and in the hearts of those around you.