One of the Christmas hymns is "Love Came Down at Christmas." The first stanza goes like this:
Love came down at Christmas
Love, a lovely love divine
Love was born at Christmas
Stars and angels gave the sign
That is how I felt Christmas. First, Christmas Eve, celebrating the Service of Las Posadas with my church community at Riverton Park UMC. Then spending time with my family.
And finally, Christmas morning with incarcerated youth, in detention.
My thought was, "Indeed. Love did come down this Christmas."
There were significant "Love" moments in all three places. At Riverton Park UMC, where nearly every child attending Christmas Eve is homeless. We have a significant ministry with folks that would have no doors. The ministry ranges from tents to cars to sleeping in Sunday School classrooms to low-income housing utilizing the buildings that are on our campus.
Of course, my family is fabulous. What a long ways they have come! They are amazing young adults with compassionate hearts.
Most significantly, I think, is my morning and evening in detention. In the morning, I was the official photographer for the annual Christmas present extravaganza. Unna has been masterminding this gift exchange for fourteen years. When I reviewed the photos with kids faces in them (I printed them out for the youth), I see faces lit with incredible joy. The light shining from them is amazing. They are kids again.
Love came down at Christmas.
Except for one young person. He sat down in his spot with his stack of presents in front of him and looked incredibly melancholy. I stopped taking photos for a moment and asked him if he was okay. He, of course, in a brusque voice said, "Yeah." Well. Yeah. I'm not buying that!
So I simply stated, "You look really sad."
He looked at me startled that someone actually saw him. I let him know that there were people he could speak with if need be. He wasn't interested in that moment. But maybe he will know that he was seen and acknowledged someday.
Love, a lovely love divine.
The thing is, nobody wants youth to be incarcerated. Nobody. There is a strong movement in Seattle stop the building of a new Youth Service Center which will include a new detention center. I applaud their movement. Without it, we would be back in the old way of doing things that led to the building be maxed out at 212 full beds rather than having the 40 or so kids that are there now. The movement, coupled with downward economic pressure, has ensured that the county becomes more creative as they are tasked with doing more and more with less.
Love was born at Christmas.
There is a young man in detention who is in a pickle. At the early stages of gang involvement and with parents that are not strong leaders, he has chosen to stay in detention rather than to go home at Christmas because he does not want idle time. In idle times, he gets in trouble with his friends. And it was a choice. If the detention center was not there, he would be out bangin' on the streets.
Stars and angels gave the sign.
That is a sign that we do still need a Youth Service Center and a detention capability. And I admit, for the sake of all those kids like this young man, I want that building to be as good as it can be. So I do support the building of a new detention center. One that doesn't flood when it rains hard (hello, Seattle and rain). Or have an incessant squeak in the air ducts. Or unresolvable ceiling leakage. You can make lives better by having more humane building structures. But I digress.
Love will be our token.
After Christmas morning with the youth in detention, I scampered home, took a 3-hour nap, and then went back to detention for Christmas service with youth and with Beacon Hill First Baptist Church. It was their first time doing detention worship. The love that they have for the youth came through in every story that they shared.
Love be yours and love be mine.
In order to eliminate things like incarcerating youth, we have so much work to do. All the systems need to do better (medical, education, economic, etc.). But basically, we each need to do better. I wonder what the life of these kids would be if they felt cared for by the community? If the community loved more? If we took the time to listen? To notice when one of our youth is sad?
Love from God to all of us.
When I was in New York City last January, I was walking down Broadway, bundled up with my bright blue trench coat that goes from neck to toes. I saw two young men...they looked exactly like most of the youth in detention. They were on the street hawking CDs that they had made. I almost walked past them, but I thought, "These are the kids, like those in detention, that everybody walks past and nobody listens to. You need to stop and hear their story." So I stopped. We chatted a bit and they gave me my rap name. MC Blueberry Muffin. (The blue coat helped create the name).
Love for plea and gift a sign.
They were absolutely fascinated that we were from Washington, "Where weed is legal." They gave me autographed CDs which I'm sure are in my house somewhere. I share this, not to elevate myself, but to say that we should slow down and listen to whoever it is that is in our path. What if we looked at each person as a gift and as a sign of love?
That would forever change our systems of incarceration.
How will you let your love shine?
Today's practice brings AMAZING music from Common, a poem from Maya Angelou, and a quote from Bryan Stevenson. This is followed by readings from the Jewish and Christian lectionaries, the Qur'an, and the Buddhist tradition. And as always, we have our BIBOLOVE practice from Soyinka Rahim. (BIBO = Breathe In, Breathe Out). Our prayers for this week focus on Ghana and Nigeria.
Let my heart rise up to meet mercy, my voice to meet compassion, my hands to meet action.
BIBOLOVE: Breath In, Breath Out--hmmm
Letter to the Free by Common
Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
Jewish Daily Reading: Daily Study from Chabad
Christian Daily Reading: Revised Common Lectionary Daily Reading
Muslim Daily Reading: Daily Verse from The Only Quran
Buddhist Daily Reading: Daily Zen
Please bring your own sacred readings to the daily pattern. If there is something else you'd like to see, let me know!
“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it's necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.” ― Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Weekly prayer focus comes from the World Council of Churches prayer cycle. We know the world needs to be surrounded with prayer and positive thought. This allows us to work through the world country by country. We focus on one set of countries per week with the same prayer, lifting them up.
Focus countries: Ghana and Nigeria
Let us pray.
We know that we fail to live up to being makers of peace. Let us bring in rather than push out, be invitational rather than confrontational--seeing signs of life while decrying the desecration of hope.
For signs of hope and peace, we pray for
- Christians and Muslims who take risks to work for dialogue and reconciliation between the two faith communities.
- Talking drums and rattles.
- Ama Atta Aidoo, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro-Wiwa and others who tell good stories from an African context.
- Fufu, yams, cassava and peanuts.
For the oppressed and weary, we pray for
- The curtailment of deforestation.
- A more just distribution of wealth and power.
- Just and peaceful relations between members of different ethnic groups and between Muslims and Christians.
- An end to human rights abuses against minority groups.
- Those who suffer from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria, whooping cough and HIV and AIDS.
- Better stewardship of the environment and natural resources.
For those we love, those we hate and those we are indifferent to
For the transformation from ME to WE
Let peace prevail on earth.
So may it be.
Translation by Neil Douglas Klotz, Sufi
O Birther! Creator of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us— make it useful:
Create your reign of unity now-
Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.
Truly— power to these statements—
may they be the ground from which all
my actions grow: Amen.
May Peace Prevail on Earth. Amen. So mote it be.