Have We Met?

Holy mother of God, I got the shock of my life today. I mentioned earlier that the worship team and I decided to observe Children’s Sabbath this week, a worship service focused on children’s issues and organized by the Children’s Defense Fund. The theme for this year’s children’s sabbath is: “My Boat is So Small: Creating Havens of Hope and Health Care for All Children.” I wondered, in a week where my (I thought) largely Republican Congregation’s pet-president had vetoed and threatened to re-veto SCHIP and asked for 196 billion to, you know, kill people instead, they might not want me to speak about that topic.

But they asked for it. So I delivered.

I gave a disclaimer about politics and religion often being intertwined. I spoke a little about Jesus focusing his time and energy on the most vulnerable and powerless people in his society (in the case of the scripture I used, healing both a woman with an unclean flow of blood and a young girl). I insisted that as followers of Christ, we had a moral and religious obligation to do the same. I pointed out that we pay actors and athletes (no matter how fun it is to watch them kick butt in the World Series) and rock stars billions of dollars but pay teachers and nurses and social workers pennies. I cited some statistics about children’s healthcare. Then, I moved to my point. The sermon was not taped, so I will re-create it for you as best I can:

Here’s where I get myself into trouble, because I can’t speak honestly and authentically any further about this issue without naming the very large and glaring elephant– and there’s an ironic double meaning there– elephant in the room. The fact of the matter is that we live in– by population if not always by action– in the most Christian nation in the world. We have more Christians living in the United States than in any other nation. We have more people who identify themselves as Christian serving as elected officials in our government. And yet, we still have nine million uninsured children. We still have one of the highest infant mortality rates of any of the industrialized nations. We still don’t focus the majority of our time and energy and money on caring for our children, the greatest, most sacred trust we are given.

The fact of the matter is that our Congress not once but twice passed a bi-partisan bill that would expand health insurance for children, helping more children in low income families obtain insurance, and that bill was vetoed by a man who was elected on the platform and the promise that he would lead from his Christian ideals. As a person of faith, that makes me angry. What does it say about our nation that we tolerate such betrayal from our leaders? What does it say about us as a people that we are willing to throw all kinds of money at other things, but we cannot make protecting our children a top priority (yeah, I balked a little there, as I was going to mention the War Spending Bill, but didn’t think I needed to, and thought it would actually detract from the point I was making at that moment).

Later, discussing what we can do to defend children: The most important thing we can do is to make noise, to advocate for children, to hold our leaders accountable for the way they lead. We need to make sure that the people who represent us in government know how we feel about children’s health care. We need to make sure that we’ve communicated our commitment to protecting the next generation. We need to make sure that when we say we’re Christians or we say we’re people of faith, we back that up with our actions. If we can swim together, despite our difference of opinion, despite not always agreeing on how we might best protect our children, if we can swim together like the fish in the children’s story, we can make the ocean seem less daunting. We can chase away fear and disease and the pain of children needlessly suffering. We can provide children, our most precious gift, not only with health, but with hope in themselves and in the world they live in.

I was shaking like a leaf. When I picked up my paper to check my statistics, I had to put it right back down, because it was fluttering so badly. I felt one congregant, retired Navy and staunch Bush supporter, glaring at me. I saw several peoples’ eyes narrow menacingly. But I also saw several peoples’ eyes widen with strange and unexpected joy, as if I just announced that I would be handing out chocolate bars after church. When I mentioned the SCHIP veto, one woman broke into a face-splitting grin.

In the line on the way out of the door, the Navy guy did not mention the sermon at all, instead addressing a wish I expressed when one person brought up a particular joy: “You really want to see the Red Sox loose two in a row so they can win it in Fenway?” It was as if he knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on with any other argument.

That was the only negative (non)comment.

“I loved–and agreed with your sermon.”

“That was exactly what needed to be said.”

“You can name the elephants any time you want.” And when I said I got some scowls, “Not from my family you won’t.”

“That was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard– and I’ve heard a lot.”

“A sermon close to my heart. That was very brave.”

From a visiting son-of-a-congregant: “I try to stand up for what I believe in, but it’s hard and it takes a lot. When I see someone do it like you did today, it gives me courage.”

My 86-year-old organist: “You are creative and you are modern and you are relevant. You make the church go out into the world where we belong, but you also bring the world into the church.”

I need to stress that I was not being paranoid. When I got to this church 3+ years ago, they were die-hard elephants themselves. They insisted that Bush was a good president because he was a Christian, and that’s all the reference they needed to go on. They squirmed when I mentioned peace or anything remotely justice-oriented.

I see three options, and it’s most likely a combination:

1. Healthcare for children, as in Congress, reaches across party lines.

2. Bush really is doing that bad. He’s lost the support of the small Republican strongholds.

3. I’ve actually made a difference in this town.

In any case, these are not the people they once were. They’re little closet-liberals! Hehe. Now they’d better watch out. I have a whole case of sermons where that came from!

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