A Final Word

This will be my last blog post as Hillsdale United Methodist Church Public Theology Advocate.  I am moving to New England, but the team lives on. 

We will continue to meet the 2nd Sunday of every month, 11:30am, after worship service.  Our meetings are open to all and will start with a reading of sacred text (any text) that speaks to your heart about justice and service.  After a brief discussion about the text, we will discuss projects, ideas, and support each other through our personal networks – connecting into justice work that is in progress and groups seeking to do more.

In time, other Public Theology Advocates may pick up this blog and continue the quest to share with you, through this medium, the events and work of social justice advocates near and far.  If not, that is also fine, because there is a wealth of material in the existing posts.

Please look to the homepage of www.HillsdaleNJumc.org for announcements and invitations to join in local justice work. 

And for those that missed our January 9th event – click here to read an NJ.com article about this amazing gathering:  Minister who marched with MLK leads social justice talk in Hillsdale

http://www.nj.com/bergen/index.ssf/2016/01/minister_who_marched_with_mlk_leads_social_justice.html

Please continue to pray for us in the role of Public Theology Advocate as we take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post

Finding Joy in Justice - a community event

Hillsdale United Methodist Church is proud to invite all those interested in "Coming Together & Finding Joy in Justice" community-wide event to discuss racism then & now, and realize the joy to be found in working for justice.  We will be serving snacks/finger sandwiches during the movie and break.  Please feel free to join us to watch the movie, or share in our refreshment break, or simply to participate in the discussion and book signing.

A Message From: Rev. Gil Caldwell - 

"Joy to the World". I believe that one of the greatest joys we as humans can experience is to be about the JOY of Justice Making. The divisions, angers, fears and hopelessness of these moments are unlike any I have seen in my 82 years. Yet, I believe that it is in gatherings like the one we will have on January 9th that will transform us as individuals and as communities! It is when we embrace the Civil Rights Movement and other nonviolent Movements and acknowledge how much better we are because of these Movements, that we erase our hopelessness.  I look forward to our sharing, our openness, our smiles and laughter as we meet for the first time on January 9th. What a great way to begin 2016! - Gil Caldwell

Rev. Gil Caldwell is an African American Methodist Pastor who has actively worked for Justice for nearly 60 years.  “When there is institutionalized prejudice against a person for one reason or another, how can we be at ease in Zion? The job of the church is to address these.”  Caldwell’s reflections are part of a series about United Methodists who shared MLK’s Dream, found at http://www.umc.org/mlk.

Rev. Gil Caldwell's book "What Mean These Stones? Lessons of Katrina, 9/11, The Million Man March, The Millions More Movement" can be purchased at the iUniverse bookstorehttp://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000031287/What-Mean-These-Stones.aspx or on Amazon.com.  A few copies will be available for purchase at the event.

Please join us and invite your friends and colleagues. 

Please continue to pray for us in the role of Public Theology Advocate as we take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post

Muslims, Jews, Christians Together

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us!

Four of us from Hillsdale United Methodist Church joined the overflow gathering of local Muslims, Jews, and Christians in a service that recalled Passages of Peace from the Quran 49:13, the Genesis Rabbah 24:7, and the Gospel of Matthew 5:3-9.  The texts reminded us that we are all made in the image of God, and we are all related to each other as God’s children, and even the least among us is blessed, and that we must care for each other as we would ourselves – as we would care for God.

We sang songs from all faith traditions.  We sang the American folk song “This Land is Your Land”.  We shared an extended moment of passing the peace by leaving our seats to greet people we did not know, introducing ourselves and offering a hand in friendship.  We were encouraged to share our contact information and to stay engaged with each other, after the event.  I am hoping that our Youth Group will connect with the Muslim Youth Group in Midland Park.

And we lit the 8th Chanukah candle with the command to bring the light of God’s love for all God’s children into the world.

A local TV crew and journalists were there to film and interview us.  You can view this short clip at: http://pix11.com/2015/12/13/interfaith-service-held-at-nj-temple-to-build-religious-wall-against-hate/

I ask this of you, my beloved congregation at Hillsdale United Methodist Church, and all those who read this blog:  Do not let hate and fear prevent you from being true to your faith.  We Christians must be Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Jesus faced his enemies without fear.  He stood firm in his understanding that we are all God’s children, even as he was betrayed with a kiss.  It is not easy to follow Jesus.  It is not easy to be a disciple.  But today, more than ever, we must hold on to our faith and care for those who are in need.  Today, more than ever, we must trust God and bestow love and mercy on ALL – even those we perceive as our enemies.  All people of other faiths are not our enemies.  People who murder and kill indiscriminately, no matter what faith they profess, are our enemies.   We must stand for Justice for all people.  We must be brave enough to embrace God’s love for all God’s children.

“Oseh Shalom”  May the One who makes peace in the heavens descend on us, and the world will say ‘Amen’.

Please continue to pray for us in the role of Public Theology Advocate as we take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post

Unity Gathering in the Pascack Valley

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us!

Please continue to pray for us in the role of Public Theology Advocate as we take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post

Are We Disciples?

So much is being written, tweeted, shouted, and blasted about refugees and terrorism. The anger and the fear and the absolute disrespect for our fellow humans breaks my heart.

I have nothing more to add to the noise. I simply wish to remind my church family of the United Methodist Social Principles we all claim to uphold.

And I ask, are we disciples? If we are, then the answer is simple - love God with all our hearts, trust in God and do not fear, and love those who need our love the most: the tired, the sick, the poor, the refugee, and our enemies. Love them ALL as we have been taught to love, by our lord Jesus Christ.

We are about to enter the Advent season, and as we recall the tale of a very young couple seeking shelter as they travel far from their home, remember Herod's fear and his actions and the countless families shattered by hatred and fear. Remember the baby born who changed the world.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!

Lisa Schoelles

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post

Reflect & Prepare

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You may have noticed that my weekly blog posts have dwindled down to a few posts a month.  This is because there has been much action and much reflection as our team begins to grow, and as we start to reflect on the accomplishments of our first year, 2015, and prepare for 2016.

Here’s what we’ve accomplished thus far:

  • I created this blog, hoping to engage you through understanding the difference between acts of mercy and action for justice, and by sharing with you what I’ve learned along the way.
  • I attended the Greater NJ UMC Annual Conference, and advocated for legislation to welcome LGBT persons into our church as fully accepted members.
  • I marched in GA with the NAACP “America’s Journey for Justice”, and a month later, my husband joined me in advocating in DC for legislation to address injustices in education, voting rights, economics, the environment and the criminal justice system.
  • While in DC, we met with the UMC General Board of Church & Society, bringing a personal connection to this amazing resource and receiving their support in our ministry.
  • I attended the NJ Anti-Poverty Network Summit and engaged with many local groups working on a series of interrelated justice issues.
  • I attended meetings of the newly formed Congregations for a Better Bergen in seeking a local inter-faith connection for our team.  This group was formed to engage with Metro-IAF projects.  We will stay connected with this group, but will not formally engage with them at this time because we are still forming our process and approach locally.
  • New members joined our team, while others have expressed an interest to help with specific justice issues in the future.

It has been an energized start for this ministry.   And the connections and research continues.

Here are our plans for 2016, thus far:

  • I’ve set a stretch goal for the Public Theology Advocates ministry: to engage 10% (a tithe) of the people who regularly attend Sunday worship at Hillsdale UMC.  That would mean 12 people from our local church would be actively engaged in, and supporting a project or more, during 2016.
    •  The plan is to have a team of leaders – addressing local justice issues with our community, and supporting each other.  We realize that the issues are interconnected.
    • The challenge is to have a cohesive ministry working together, and not to fall into the trap of single-mindedness.
  • We will be receiving some training in the fundamentals of community organizing from the UMC General Board of Church & Society.
  • We will connect deeper with local groups currently working on justice issues in our area.
  • We have three events in the planning stages, to be held at our local church, but open to our whole community:
    • Institutional & Structural Racism – a discussion
    • Consumer Fraud that creates Economic Injustices, particularly to our elder community – a presentation
    • Drugs, a local Epidemic – presentation, action

Will you join us?  What local justice issues worry you the most?  Please respond to this blog or contact me directly through Hillsdale United Methodist Church.

Please continue to pray for us in the role of Public Theology Advocate as we take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post

God Sends Resources

“God sends us the resources we need … often in the form of people.”  That is a statement made at a recent meeting of clergy and lay leaders that I attended in Paterson NJ.  These wise words have stayed with me everyday since I first heard them, and they have proven true in so many ways.

Two people have joined our Public Theology Advocate team and they are energized to get started – to work for Justice in our communities – to address our local drug problems, economic issues, structural & institutional racism, education injustices, and environmental concerns.  These two women inspire me with their honest and open stories, and with their willingness to take a “leap of faith” and design a program of projects that will make a difference.

We have a lot of work to accomplish in the coming months as we prepare to launch action plans in 2016.  We have three community events already sketched out.  These events will be informative and thought-provoking – and we hope inspiring more to join in action.

In addition, we are working with clergy and laity through the area as members of Congregations for a Better Bergen and Passaic.  CBB and CBP are new groups in the throws of the storming/forming stage of team development – a process that will result in a shared vision and shared goals, positioning us to take action in a meaningful way. 

We are also working with the United Methodist Church General Board of Church & Society who have offered training and support for our local church as well as Congregations for a Better Bergen and Passaic. 

And we are seeking to learn and engage with a variety of Justice advocacy groups across the state of NJ and within other faith-based organizations, such as the Lutheran and Catholic churches.  Through attending the Anti-Poverty Network of NJ, we have formed connections with a variety of advocacy groups that can help us make a difference as we, in turn, help them in their actions.

We are staying true to the mandate set for us at the 2002 United Methodist Annual Conference (page 374 in the Journal):  The Public Theology Advocate is the person in each local church who attempts to:

1.     Stay abreast of social issues

2.     Educate the local church

3.     Advocate for social change

4.     Identify specific local actions that can be taken by that church

5.     Act as a liaison between the local church and the Conference Board of Church & Society.

Our motto is:  “Public Theology is what we do about what we believe.”

In the coming months, as our action plans solidify, we will be asking for more volunteers to join our team.  Until then, please continue to pray for us in the role of Public Theology Advocate as we take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

"Do you best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post

Taking Time to Pause

AutumnFence.jpg

It's been a very busy summer, and today the weather is cooler and the sky a little grayer, as we move forward into the final quarter of 2015.

I have been writing and blogging and marching and learning and witnessing and singing ... and so have you.  And I think today may be a good time to take a moment to pause and reflect on why we have been so busy working for Justice.

We work because we are compelled by our faith.  Isaiah 1:17 ESV "Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause."

We work because God calls us.  Micah 6:8 ESV "what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

We work because we know that the Christ is in all persons.  Matthew 25:35-36 ESV "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

And now, let us rest for a moment so that we may face the next challenges with renewed energy!  Ecclesiastes 4:6 ESV "Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind."

I continue to ask that you pray for me in the role of Public Theology Advocate as I take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post

Pope Francis visits Capital Hill

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Last week, I wrote of our experiences with the NAACP America's Journey for Justice advocating for legislation to improve issues in five areas: voting rights, education, economics, the criminal justice system, and the environment.  These issues concern us here in the Pascack Valley, and in our nation.  And today, Pope Francis spoke of these same issues in a joint session of Congress.  You can read the full text of his speech at the end of this post.

I encourage you to learn more about the Americans that Pope Francis spoke about today - people who's lives inspire us to continue to bring justice to our nation and the world:  President Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.

I ask that you reflect in your hearts on these key phrases from Pope Francis' speech, in light of all I've written these past months about the need for us to advocate and work for Justice:

  • "Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face."
  • "I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day's work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and — one step at a time — to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need."
  • "... there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within."
  • "Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today's many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good."
  • "The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience."

Pope Francis's mass on Sunday will include these readings:  First reading: Numbers 11:25-29; Second reading is James 5:1-6; Gospel is Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48.  Let's read and contemplate God's word and seek God's guidance as we continue to work for Justice in the world.

I continue to ask that you pray for me in the role of Public Theology Advocate as I take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

click here to download a PDF copy of this blog post


Mr. Vice-President,  Mr. Speaker,  Honorable Members of Congress, Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in "the land of the free and the home of the brave." I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day's work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and — one step at a time — to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice — some at the cost of their lives — to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that "this nation, under God, (might) have a new birth of freedom". Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today's many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his "dream" of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of "dreams." Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our "neighbors" and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mind-set of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. "Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good." This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to "enter into dialogue with all people about our common home." "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."

In Laudato Si', I call for a courageous and responsible effort to "redirect our steps," and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a "culture of care" and "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature." "We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology"; "to devise intelligent ways of... developing and limiting our power"; and to put technology "at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral." In this regard, I am confident that America's outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a "pointless slaughter", another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: "I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers". Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue — a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons — new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to "dream" of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

    Capital Hill

     photo courtesy of HRC President, Chad Griffin

    photo courtesy of HRC President, Chad Griffin

    This week, my husband and I went to Washington DC to rejoin America's Journey for Justice in it's final mile.  We marched, attended the rallies, attended the teach-in and beautiful interfaith service, and we advocated on Capital Hill for continued support of important justice issues that effect Bergen County, NJ, USA and the world.  Here are a few photos from the week, with comments.

     photo courtesy of HRC President, Chad Griffin

    photo courtesy of HRC President, Chad Griffin

    This is a photo of us marching across the Arlington Memorial Bridge towards the Lincoln Memorial.  That is me, in the tan hat with the American flag tucked in.  We were 500-600 strong as we marched - people of all walks of life and beliefs - all marching together in support of an end to racial profiling as part of a reformed criminal justice system, restored and improved voter's rights, economic justice including a living wage and equal pay, education for all, and environmental justice.

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    The Torah that was carried from Selma AL to Washington DC is the Word of God marching with us.  To hold the Torah, whether you hold it on your left shoulder or the right shoulder, it rests on your heart.  The Word of God was in our hearts this day and throughout the 40+ days of the march - reflecting back to Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.

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    As we approached the steps of the Lincoln Memorial we saw Senator Bernie Sanders holding our banner and marching with us.  This very public support of a presidential candidate brought much needed press coverage.

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    The news coverage these past 40 days has been limited to local venues, which is a shame on the industry.  This march was peaceful and opened many minds and hearts to how injustice effects all of us - black, white, any color and any creed or non-faith, Republican, Democrat, Independent, rich, poor, middle class, young, old - all Americans.

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    After the march, my husband and I visited Arlington Cemetery to pay our respects to those who sacrificed more than their lives so that we may be free.

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    Tuesday evening, September 15th, after the marching has ended, we celebrated an interfaith service at the Washington Hebrew Congregation temple.  Pastors, Rabbis, Imans, and Speakers each read scripture, sang songs, and shared their prayers for a just future.  NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks gave a powerful sermon that touched all of our hearts and inspired us for the next day's advocacy.

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    The service included a tearful tribute to Middle Passage.  I was especially touched by the Rabbi's reflections on his encounter with Middle Passage at the start of the march.  I was struck how similar the Rabbi's experience was to my own brief time spent with Middle Passage.  I knew then what I always knew in my heart - Middle Passage was the same joyful, friendly, hopeful, and graceful man to everyone he met.  He made me feel special when he spoke with me - and he made everyone he met feel equally special.  This is a God-Gift!  He was a man who lived his faith fully and with the utmost integrity.  I am so very grateful to have personally spent a few hours with this man, back in August, on that night when I was so afraid of my own limitations and he talked with me, sitting on a cot in LaGrange GA, helping me to relax and feel welcome and safe in my convictions.  God Bless Middle Passage (he is so blessed!) and God be with his family who are grieving his loss.  http://www.chieftain.com/news/3938603-120/march-passage-middle-naacp

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    Wednesday, September 16th, we met at Senate Park for a rally before entering Capital Hill and meeting with our legislative representatives in government to advocate for justice on the issues of voting rights, education, fair living wages, and criminal justice reform.

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    Our first stop after the rally was to the United Methodist Building, which is located next to the Supreme Court building.  UMC hosted the NAACP team with a conference room where we could pick up copies of legislation and return our summaries of our advocacy meetings.

    We were impressed with the humble offices of the United Methodist Church offices on Capital Hill.  We visited with members of the General Board of Church and Society, who guide us as Public Theology Advocates - and we were warmly greeted.  A lasting connection was made.

    Joined by two advocates from the Temple Emanu-El of West Essex, Cantor Josh Finkel and Susan Cosden - we met with Senator Bob Menendez staff counsel, Andrew Geibel.  Andrew was an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation we proposed, listened actively to our stories and concerns, and shared stories of his own.  It was a great meeting to start our time on Capital Hill.  For the record, Sen. Menendez has a 98% positive voting record on these issues.

    Our next meeting was with Rep. Scott Garrett's legislative assistant, Nick Iacovella.  After such a warm and interactive meeting with Sen. Menendez's staff, we were disappointed by the lack of understanding of how these issues matter to us in Bergen County.  I will be writing to Rep. Garrett to seek a second meeting with him, in person, to advocate further and seek his support.  For the record, he has a 20% positive voting record for these issues, so we have some work to do to help him understand why these issues matter to us who live in his district.

    Our final meeting on Capital Hill was with Sen. Cory Booker's senior counsel, Roscoe Jones, Jr.  Our fellow advocates from Livingston were very happy to meet him because Sen. Booker has a strong relationship with their synagogue.  Unfortunately, we from Hillsdale UMC were not that happy with the lack of interest in hearing how these issues relate to our neighborhoods.  Yes, Sen. Booker is a co-sponsor on some of the important legislative proposals, and is an advocate for criminal system reform, but when we spoke of how Sen. Booker can help us effect change in our area, we were cut off mid-sentence and told to reach out to the NJ office in Newark. We were told the work was divided - in DC for federal legislation, and in NJ for NJ-specific legislation.  I said, "but Sen. Booker works for NJ and that this federal legislation effects NJ," but we were then dismissed with a repeat of we needed to see the Newark office to discuss these issues.  Yes - we will be requesting a follow-up meeting with Sen. Booker himself to advocate for our area.  For the record, Sen. Booker does have a positive voting record for these issues, but the data is incomplete in the NAACP scorecard because he joined the senate in October 2013.

    This piece of art hanging in the hall of the General Board of Church & Society inspired us as we headed to the first of our many advocacy meetings in the Senate and House of Representatives.  You can learn more about GBC&S at http://umc-gbcs.org/

    Our work is not done.  This is not the end but a beginning of the next phase of advocacy for justice.  We will be working with the Congregations for a Better Bergen to conduct a local listening campaign and create an action plan to address the justice issues that are most deeply effecting our area - including voting rights, education reform, environmental concerns, criminal justice reform, and an end to economical disparity - but we will also be looking for answers to our growing heroin problem and the alarming increase in suicides and the stigma left on the families.  We've much much work to do - and we will continue to reach back to the General Board of Church & Society and to our Senators and Congresspersons for their support and assistance.

    I continue to ask that you pray for me in the role of Public Theology Advocate as I take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

    Lisa

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