The Longing of our Hearts
By Charles Rush
January 8, 2012
Isaiah 60: 1-6 and Matthew 2: 1-12
(mp3, 6.7Mb) ]
e story of the New Testament opens with this drama of wise men coming from the East, what is today Yemen, on camels and horses, following a star in the sky in hope of finding a new leader of Israel that would bless the world with integrity and justice. What a beguiling image. And how important it is that we follow our dreams and hopes into the great unknown of the future…
One of the
workers out at the Raptor trust told me that if they have to fix a broken wing
on a buzzard, all they have to do is surround it with a fence that is 6-8 ft.
in diameter. They don’t actually have to put a roof over the top of the cage
because the buzzard won’t try to escape. It turns out that buzzards run about
10-12 ft, and jump before they spread their wings to
fly. But absent that short runway, they won’t attempt to take off the ground.
If the birds would look up, they opportunity for freedom is right above them if
they were capable of doing their take off in a slightly different manner. Alas,
they will remain imprisoned by the simple fence around them because they cannot
change. How often our lives are like that. We need a vision from above to give
us a new perspective and a new way out.
Jesus taught us
to pray for the future on two fronts like that, the bigger picture and our
place in it. Every week, or for many of us, every single day, we pray “Your
kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Remake our
broken and compromised world in light of the future healed world that you would
have all of us to live in. Fill us completely with your Spirit that we might
think like You think, that we might see like You see,
that we might heal and reconcile things in the world like You would.
comprehensive vision of a reconciled world is one of the few things that all of
the faiths from the Children of Abraham agree on in the broad picture. Jews,
Christians, and Muslims all look forward to a day when God’s Spirit is manifest
amongst us to such a degree that the world is healed and at peace. We are
Utopians, in the good sense of that word. And it is something to build on.
that, God must be somewhat confused by us in the meantime, seeing as how the
fundamentalists and the progressives are petitioning God to cancel each other
out in the meantime. Just after I’d penned my hopes and dreams for the coming
year, I happened to be looking at some Friday sermons from the Wahabi clerics in Saudi Arabia warning us of the dangers
modernity poses for our young women and why they needed to be protected from
independence that might undo them.
I read these from time to time, ever since I
came across an article several years ago, that described their inordinate
influence around the world. Wahabism is a
fundamentalist reform movement that is about 100 years old that seeks to
restore full strength Islam for the faithful. Almost all of them originate from
Saudi Arabia. They are inordinately influential because a very large percentage
of all mosques built in the past ten years anywhere in the world have been paid
for by Saudi Arabia and they naturally give their clerics input on the
development of their programming. Muslims are supposed to tithe 2% to charity
and this is how the Saudi’s have directed their tithes and 2% of Saudi Oil money
is a considerable pile of cash. Eventually, we must have a deeper dialogue
because at the moment, we are praying past each other. We may ultimately be
praying for societies that have strong families and respect between the genders
but just as they cannot escape their Mideastern mores
for what that looks like, I cannot escape my Western values either.
At the turn of
the century, when I was thinking about what this century needs more than
anything else, I skipped over climate change, nuclear bombs and a number other
important issues, to something most basic and universal, something so obvious
it is common sense. We need a group of women to seriously fund on a huge scale
an international movement for women’s equality. It will have indirect radial
effects that encourage humanity and our democratic sensibilities.
technology, our world is converging much quicker than almost any of us
anticipated. It increases the possibility that we might develop some
universally shared values about respect and understanding between men and
women. At the moment, we are feeling the pull of the future upon us, a world
where our daughters have the same access to education as our sons, a world
where their place in our families is equal, a world where access to economic independence
is the same for our daughters as our sons, a world where women have the same
control over who they will marry as our sons do, what their families will look
like as our sons do. We are moving towards a world of mutual respect and we
will all be the better for it.
We’ve all read
the details on women’s inequality over the past couple decades, as Nicholas Kristoff and his wife Sheryl WuDunn
have written so many first-hand reports on practices that simply must be banned
world-wide. In the Times, in particular, he has detailed the many different
faces of what he has taken to calling the international ‘sex slave trade’ from
Vietnam to Thailand to Russia to Northern Europe to the United States and
Mexico to India across Africa which pretty much covers the whole world, we
cannot have a lower standard for girls being sold into forced prostitution just
because they are girls. He has taken to calling for a New Abolitionist
movement. More than simply the injustice of the practice itself, what is clear
is that we need to transcend the world where one gender is subjugated by the
other, or where our cultures give one gender control over the other gender
through the generations. We need a basic respect that puts an end to a host of
barbaric practices- whether it is rape in war, rape in revenge for honor, and
the many other examples that Nick has written about that are difficult to read
let alone live. We’ve never tolerated them but tacitly we haven’t interiorized
the damage that they do in the same way in the same way we’ve interiorized
other acts of violence and the day is upon us when that is no longer good
When Kristoff collected all these columns into a book with his
wife, he gave it a wonderful title, “Half the Sky”. When respect looks out at
the same group of people that is what it sees. I thought of that title when the
Arab Spring was just beginning and you could watch those young people
explaining the movement on Youtube. I was struck by
the young women in Egypt, university students that spoke very good English for
their age, talking about how their country is not utilizing half of the talent
pool that it has simply because women are not given social opportunities and
that this was handicapping their ability to compete on the world. And they
weren’t willing to suffer this low standard of living for archaic social mores.
It was a Forrest Gump moment, like you were watching history in the making. How
inspiring that part of the Arab spring really was.
It is not just
about stopping harmful, barbaric practices, it is, of
course, much more positive than that. It is about releasing the potential
resident in women, the creative part too. I must have gotten five copies from
all of you of Greg Mortenson’s book, a few years ago,
“Three Cups of Tea” about developing education for girls in Afghanistan. Mortenson discovered how many positive social things start
to happen when you positively develop our girls and watch how they become women
who lead influentially in a productive way. (Illiteracy)
I’m glad to say
that book was popular in our church because he articulated what the women in
our church had already experienced for themselves. About fifteen years ago, a
group of women from our church went to Nicaragua to learn more about poverty
there. They made contact with a woman’s cooperative that brought women together
to take their skills and develop them so they could sell products and earn
their own money for their families, not having to be completely dependent on
their husbands anymore.
contact with a girls shelter that got girls off the streets of Managua, out of
prostitution, off drugs, and taught them a skill and helped them develop
self-esteem as the ‘children of God’ that they are so that they could become
independent adults. We kept going back and back to these groups with our
teenagers, with other adults over the years.
that take place are substantial. When women earned their own money, they had
more equal say in their families and that made a big difference in what took
place in their families as well. If the men made extra money, so the cliché
went, they spent it on getting liquored up with other men or visiting the
brothel or both, with instability and aggression at home the usual result. When
the women started earning their own money, they were much more likely to invest
it first in their children’s education, keeping them in school longer, getting
the clothes and supplies they needed in support. The family was stronger, more
stable, fewer fights.
So if you
educate women, develop their skill, open their economic potential, you also get
more stable families, shared power, dialogue, all of the things that are the
building blocks for genuine democracy and self-development, the very qualities
that are needed for third world countries to shape their own destiny towards
ago, Tom Loughlin took me to a conference with Mohandas Yunus
at the Grameen Bank who figured out that you could
leverage this social potential exponentially if you could only lend these poor
women capital to take their wee enterprise to the next level. He returned home
to his native India after teaching in the U.S. and started lending tiny amounts
of money, say one dollar a day, to very poor women in India.
were controversial at the time, because they were largely unsecured, as these
women had little collateral but their word and desire, so capital was simply
not available to them or only available at rates above 20%, the plight of a
large percentage of the world’s population. Yunus
wasn’t simply interested in developing a model of finance for the other half,
he understood that the indirect benefits of developing the potential in women
could democratize power in the family making them more stable and stronger,
again with better education for the children and more life-enhancing leadership
from mother’s in control of their futures.
And strictly on
the spiritual level, there is nothing more moving in the world than to see
these women interviewed, talking about their little businesses. They have a
sparkle in their eye and a confidence in their bearing that is irrepressibly
uplifting. It is the beauty of dignity and self-esteem. I had a chance a few
years ago to hear one of our girls choirs from Thailand. We have a missionary
over there that got so mad about the plight of the sex trade,
she started buying girls out of prostitution for $50 a piece.
That was all it took to buy them, so she got her friends in the U.S. to send
her money and she bought 50 to 100, opened a house, taught them a skill, and
started reading to them some of the passages from the Bible each day to build
their self-esteem and their self-worth.
Of course, they
sing like Angels, all of them just teenagers. One of them introduced a song by
saying that her favorite line from the Bible is when God speaks to Jesus when
he is baptized and God says, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well
pleased.” Those words remain the most powerful and redemptive words from God to
all of us, “You are my beloved child”. You matter. You count.
So, we hope for
something big. We start praying for something much bigger than ourselves,
something that comes to us from the future, the Kingdom of God when the Spirit
is moving amongst us filling us all with dignity and respect. We follow the start
towards a better world.
And we try to
find our place in it. What is it that is coming next in your life? Where are
you going just now? What is it that you hope for right now?
Kate and I were
travelling over the holidays and stopped at a little family seafood place to
eat. One of the waiters, no doubt a dedicated devotee of American Idol and
Glee, just broke into song for his table with a truly inspiring aria of
surprising quality about grabbing hold of your dreams and making a go for it
come what will. The whole place just burst into applause. I just love that
unabashed zeal for a hope and a dream that might end up one day… on Broadway. Another generation of ‘Chorus Line’.
And the truth
is, that is why most of us are here. We wanted to
compete with the best that our country has to offer, maybe the best that our
world has to offer. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…” You’ve
been following a dream your whole life.
What is the
better dream you have coming into view? What is the more mature dream that will
guide you in this next chapter of your life? Where do you need to go next?
I invite you to reflect on both this
morning. And to help you to pray tomorrow morning, and to call up your
commitment again, I want you to write them down. After we are done, when you
are ready, I want you to hang them on the tree and as you do, I hope that you
will remember that you, too, are a beloved child of God and that God wants the
very best to develop in you and that you are going to be a blessing to some other
people because God lives in you, and loves through you. Amen.