Friday, March 30, 2018

Something is Terribly Wrong: a Good Friday sermon

photo Associated Press

Something is terribly wrong here.

Jesus, the man who has healed and cared for the sick, taught and preached a message of love to people living under the oppression of the Roman regime, a man who prodded the powerful to remember that they are serving God and not the letter of the law, hangs rejected and mocked on a cross to die. He was betrayed by one of his own. He was abandoned by most of his friends. He endured what was basically a trial by the kangaroo court and found guilty of the crime of being an upstart and one who dared to speak truth to the worldly powers of his day.

Jesus knew his entry into Jerusalem was going to cause a stir. In an act of defiance and highlighting the disparity of the prevailing power structure, he came down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. And while throngs gathered to greet him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna in the highest,” the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, and his army were riding into Jerusalem on horses in a show of military might.
The lines are drawn and the contrasting images are clear.  
Let the showdown begin.

While in Jerusalem, Jesus enters the temple and sees that it has ceased to be about praising the glory of God the Father and instead has become in worship of God the Barter. This is the Wall Street of Jerusalem. In one of those few moments where we see Jesus exhibit the very human emotion of anger, he is flipping over tables and chasing out the money changers. It’s not hard to imagine that those most concerned with commerce were alarmed and resentful of what he did, and might want to put an end to this preacher and his “Get back to God” message.

The religious authorities also were not too keen on what Jesus had to say either. They would come to him and challenge him:
“By what authority are you doing these things?”
And Jesus, imbued with Godly wisdom, uses his rabbinic knowledge to turn the tables on them. The Evangelist Mark captures the exchange in this way with Jesus posing a question of his own,
 ‘Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’(Mark 11:30-33)

Now he has shown the religious leaders to be hypocrites, and offended their place of power and importance. Risky business indeed. In no time, he has made enemies of the religious, political and economic powerful in Jerusalem.
Jesus was encouraging people to return to the premise that God, who is Love, should be the center of praise and the basis for how they lived, moved and had their being.

Love would free them from the bondage of sin and death.
Love would heal them and give them strength.
Love would empower them to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Love would bring them life!

And so for these offenses…Jesus is nailed to a cross to die because he was calling for a new way. They mocked him. They pierced his side. They left him to die. He had challenged the religious, political, and economic status quo. And they didn’t like it. At. All.
As our presiding bishop noted in his sermon at this winter’s revival at Honey Creek, “Always be careful when religious, political, and economic interests come together. It was trouble in the First Century, and it’s trouble today.”

 If we think back to Ash Wednesday of this year, we might recall the image of a woman named Michelle. We don’t know Michelle’s last name. But we know the anguish on her face. We recognize the black ash cross prominently displayed on her forehead. She is holding another woman, and they are in shock and horror as they await word of what had happened to their children attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It was a powerful photo and came to symbolize the tragedy that unfolded in that community. It was a stark reminder that the idea of “we are dust and to dust we shall return” is a literal truth and can come when we least expect it and in ways to terrible to contemplate. It is the same pain so many mothers throughout America, across racial and ethnic lines, have found themselves having to endure after learning that their children have been victims in a mass shooting. We have witnessed their suffering so many times now that one could almost become numb to it.

I imagine that the Blessed Virgin knows their pain. She has been there, standing hopelessly, watching her son in agony as he seeks comfort in the words of Psalm 22. As Mary, and the other women, stood at the foot of the cross more than two-thousand years ago, they might have looked broken and devastated…felt their knees buckling under the enormity of their grief. Holding each other close, the women stare up at the cross and wail, “Something is terribly wrong here!”

But here is the “Good News” and the reason we can call such a long and terrible day, “Good Friday.” As God has done many times before, what was meant for bad, God will redeem and make it good. Love may be patient, and kind, according to St. Paul (1Corinthians 13) but it’s also stubborn and will not be so easily vanquished.
Love will have the last word…both with the resurrection of Jesus and even in post-Parkland America.

So how do we live into the call to love more deeply and do the heavy lifting so that the kingdom of God is on earth as it is in heaven in light of such difficult and troubling times?

Jesus’ death…as terrible and gruesome as it was…would be a transformational moment for the women and men who had been his disciples. Despite their fears, Joseph and Nicodemus would give Jesus a proper Jewish burial. Mary would visit his tomb and discover him resurrected. The resurrection did give the disciples, who were frightened and worried that the Romans were going to kill them next, the courage to be bold and outspoken…taking up Jesus’ mantle of preaching Love. His death upon the cross for them, as for us, is not just a terrible and awful death; it is the gateway to a bigger, bolder, and brighter life. Even now…some two thousand years later…Jesus’ act of selfless love is calling us into our own version of the Jerusalem movement to see that when something in our world is terribly wrong, it is our mission to make it right...even at the risk of being at odds with the status quo.

This is the way that Love conquers death.
This is how Love makes things new.
This is how Love is the way of life.
Choose life.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Their Jerusalem Moment

I had a thought as I woke up this morning, the day when, once again, people will be taking to the streets for the March for Our Lives:

This Sunday, Christians the world over will be marking Palm Sunday. It is the day that we celebrate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem for his final showdown with the ruling Roman oppressors. Some theologians have characterized this moment as an act of defiance and protest by Jesus. He entered the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, a show of humility, while the Romans and Governor Pontius Pilate rode in on horses in a show of might at the opposite end of the city.

Today, we will participate in and bear witness to a march led by teenagers, many of whom are not yet old enough to vote for or against the political leadership in this country that has allowed for such porous gun laws that make mass murders possible.

They will not be riding into Washington, or other cities, on donkeys. There will be no palm branches strewn in the streets in front of them. And yet, this is an act of defiance and to raise up the needs of those who have suffered for too long with the threats of death by military-style assault weapons in the hands of civilians. And at the DC march, the teenagers have turned away the powerful who have almost a pathological need to be "seen" at these events in favor of those who must be heard: teens and young adults raised in what they call "the Mass Shooting Generation."

Think about it: today's sixteen and seventeen year old was not alive at the time of September 11th; hence they have never known a world where people could pick up and drop off at the airport curb without harassment from police. They have never known flying where there weren't TSA agents. They don't remember the days where you didn't have to take off half your clothing just to go through a metal detector or store your shampoo in a zip lock bag in tiny travel-size bottles. They were all born after the 1999 shooting at Columbine. They have had to do fire drills AND active shooter drills. They have watched countless shootings happen at shopping malls, movie theaters, concerts, night clubs, schools. And all the while, they have watched adults try to reason their way out of taking any action while those who have cried out for stricter gun control have been made to accept that their political leaders will never do anything because they fear the NRA more than they do the voters. We have been too complacent. And our complacency has made us appear complicit with this acceptance of body counts. In other words, these teens have grown up in a fear-filled world; therefore, they do not fear standing up for their lives in hopes that we might end this insanity.

These teens have now called B.S. to all of it. I couldn't agree more.

This is their Jerusalem moment. And I say, "Hosanna in the highest!"

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Taking Up The Cross and a Cause

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.--Mark 8:34

It was one week after the Valentine's Ash Wednesday massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the word had been spreading far and wide throughout Tallahassee: come to the state Capitol and show the students that we are going to fight for their right to go to their public school and not be mowed down by a semi-automatic weapon. Our school board and school superintendent thought this rally was important enough that they granted excused absences to any student wishing to attend. Marches organized on both the Florida State and Florida A&M University campuses, approaching the Capitol from south and the north sides. And then there were just the ordinary, work-a-day folks like me, who laid aside whatever was on the day's agenda to make this event the priority.

I don't have kids. I have never wanted to have kids of my own. The "biological clock" that I, as a woman, supposedly have built into my system must have broken back when I was a teenager because I haven't felt less feminine or upset that I didn't experience pregnancy and birth and then the responsibility of raising a child. All that said, I still have a tender spot in my heart for children. I delight in their successes (often shared with me by their proud parents), and I feel empathy for them when the world knocks them around because I remember that for my youth. But I never had to practice what to do in the event of an active shooter entering my school. And I never had to worry about someone wielding an AR-15 or other weapon firing multiple high-powered shots at me and my peers. Today's children are facing greater dangers than I ever did. And it's not OK.

So, just as I have done for Black Lives Matter, and standing up for Muslims in the face of a travel ban, and joining in silent peaceful protest for indigenous people fighting the Dakota Access pipeline, I went to the state Capitol not for me and my kind, but for those who are under attack: kids in public schools.

And what an experience! I arrived about ten minutes after the appointed gathering time of 11am. Already, there were probably about 300 people at the state Capitol, many of them teenagers from the local schools. I felt my heart swell with love and pride in these kids as they led chants of "We Want Change!" and "Vote Them Out!" Their voices were clear and loud and there was an urgency to their calls for action. The crowd kept growing. More people, young and old, and even a man in a WWII veteran baseball cap being pushed in a wheelchair carefully made his way through the growing throng of people. By the time the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School arrived, there were more than 3,000 people crammed into the area in front of the Old State Capitol. It was amazing. The crowd was so large that the PA system they were using wasn't quite powerful enough for the people standing out in Monroe Street to hear the speakers. But it didn't matter. The speeches weren't "the thing"; it was the presence, the witness, and the commitment to the Parkland students that we, the grown-ups, won't let them down again.

Because we have let them down before. As I said, we have accepted a society where the children of today must not only practice how to leave the building during a fire drill, but must know what to do in an active shooter situation. Really? Shouldn't we be about making sure that there are no active shooter situations? Is there a reason that we have tolerated the expansion of the gun culture?

One day after the rally in Tallahassee, and a follow-up town hall on CNN, the National Rifle Association was peddling its agenda of fear and horror to conservative voters at the CPAC meeting. NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch actually said that the mainstream media, or what she called the "legacy" media, enjoy mass shootings because it's a ratings booster to show "sobbing white mothers." NRA leader Wayne LaPierre tried to feed into the paranoia that the Democratic Party is attempting to use a "new European socialist" approach to taking away everyone's guns. Some NRA members have decided to make death threats against the kids from Parkland, FL, who are speaking out about the shooting at their school. How ugly can you get?

But the voices of the children are vibrating at a frequency much higher than what we've seen before. Corporate America, which had been offering all kinds of membership benefits to people who flashed their NRA card, have started dropping the gun enthusiasts like the hot potatoes that they are. Politicians, refusing to cut loose from their NRA overlords, are feeling the pressure from voters in ways they are not used to experiencing. They're hearing from teens, parents, grandparents. But they are also hearing from the childless people such as me. Because this issue is bigger than me, or any one individual. This is a collective fight for the restoration of sanity to our country. I will pick up that cross and carry it into the streets, and into the voting booth this fall. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ash Wednesday: Mortality Too Close to the Surface

I was going to write a post yesterday noting that Ash Wednesday this year landed on Valentine's Day and my 50th Birthday. Fifty--the Jubilee Year--a year to celebrate freedom and returning to one's roots.

But I made the mistake of looking at Facebook. And there was the live stream from one of the south Florida TV stations doing coverage of the 18th shooting at a school in the United States, this time in Broward County at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

Two dead. Then seven. Finally, the number climbed to seventeen. The shooter, a 19 year-old former student, was captured after initially eluding police. The details about his life and what was known, and not known, about him are coming to light and will continue to surface over the next several days.

And then, the story will fade from the headlines. People won't be talking about it. News crews will leave Parkland, Florida. Nothing will change.

One of the most striking images I saw from Parkland was that of a parent holding her teenager, arm around her, rushing her away from the scene with the unmistakable black ash of a cross on the mom's forehead. 

Wow. That's right: it was Ash Wednesday. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." But do we really believe that a child at 14, 15, 16 years old or even an otherwise healthy thirty-something year old adult are going to return to the dust? Does a parent really think that kissing their child good-bye and sending them off to school is akin to sending them to a war zone? 

This sobering thought was on my mind for the rest of the day and into my own trip to an Ash Wednesday service. I couldn't stop thinking about the image of that mom, the terror that must have filled the hearts of both the kids and the adults. Tears came to my eyes as I watched a family go forward for the imposition of ashes. As the rector traced the sign of the cross on the forehead of the toddler, it felt like a punch to my gut. I looked at that and thought, "Newtown." 

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a 40-day journey into self-examination and reflection. And while I can't do the spiritual work of anyone other than myself, it seems we are dying--literally--to examine our political leaders inability to do anything to address the wide-spread availability of semi-automatic weapons and reflect on whether we want something different. 

The Broward County Sheriff, the Governor, and several politicians described Wednesday's massacre as "evil." I agree. And a mentally-disturbed person armed with a semi-automatic weapon is more dangerous than a mentally-disturbed person who is unarmed. Refusing to acknowledge and address the issue of guns is like Peter in the courtyard pretending he doesn't know Jesus in those hours before his execution. The good news about Peter's betrayal is that he felt remorse and he had the opportunity to undo his denial by affirming his love for the risen Jesus. Perhaps this could be something for our political leaders to contemplate while they are down on their knees praying for the victims of gun violence. Maybe if they listen closely they'll hear a call to stand for something other than the money they receive from the NRA.

Lent would be as good a time as any for lawmakers to change their ways and take this issue seriously.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Going Quiet, Remaining in Love

It has taken me awhile to get to a place of writing this particular piece. I have had to take a week of processing the experience of, once more, having to face-off against Nazis masquerading as simply loving their Southern heritage. I'm talking about the League of the South. When they were here in Tallahassee two years ago, they were proudly displaying their confederate battle flags. This time, they were flying their black and white Southern cross, and displaying their SS symbols on the colors of their black shirts. When I say they are Nazis, I mean it. When I say that I have to face-off against them, I mean that, too.

There were no guns present at this rally, except for the hundred or so police officers from different law enforcement agencies. State troopers, Tallahassee and Capitol Police, and the Sheriff's Department put their bodies between the two groups and made sure everyone knew that they could hold whatever demonstration they wanted, if everyone kept to their quarters and didn't attempt to attack each other. Luckily, unlike what happened at Charlottesville, everyone complied.

There is a spirit that is deep within me that says that these ideologies that promote racial superiority for whites and extermination of Jews, Muslims, and LGBT people cannot be ignored or pretend that they aren't out there. This is especially true since the election of our current president who has defended people who are bigots as "good people," has advocated divisive policies that ban Muslims from entering the country, has attacked the military service of transgender people, and is threatening to deport the children of illegal immigrants back to countries they've never known. To remain silent, or turn a blind eye to this is simply not possible for me.

At the same time, I can't meet the hatred of the fearful bigoted Nazis with anger and rage. Yet there I was, amidst people screaming, "Nazi Scum: Fuck you!" I needed to be there, but there were certain things I couldn't shout. Singing? Yes. I could even join in chants of "Shame!" and "Read a Book!" (which I actually thought was a funny answer to some of the whackadoodle things being said back at us from the other side). But as I was holding my handmade protest sign made from the brown cardboard flat of LaCroix club sodas with it's simple message of "One Love," I couldn't bring myself to yell obscenities or descend into anger.

Next to me was a very tall black man. He was wearing the traditional colors of African nations...with black, green, red, and gold. He never said a word. He just stood and stared at the smirking and taunting white men and women on the other side of the line of state troopers. I decided that he was going to serve as my guide. If I felt myself slipping into mean-spirited snarkiness, I would glance up at his face, take a breath, and then join him in staring back at the bigots. Another young man was on the other side of me with a bouquet of flowers. He wanted to offer them to the Nazis, but the police wouldn't let him pass. So instead, he shouting to them, "I love you!"

I had been live streaming the demonstration on Facebook. At one point, I looked at one of the comments left on the stream from a stranger, informing me that one of the main screamers on the Nazi front was named Ken Parker. He had been banned from the University of North Florida's campus. I shared this information with the young man with the flowers.

"Ken Parker! Hey Ken!" 

Ken looked in our direction, and seemed a bit surprised that someone knew his name.

"Ken," the man continued. "Why are you so angry?"

I watched Ken's face. For a few seconds, it changed. He probably had never contemplated that question before for himself but having it posed to him in this moment by a stranger holding flowers  made his face soften. For this brief moment, Ken's face revealed that he, indeed, is one of the many wounded people of the world. Whatever has happened to him, whatever has influenced him from the time he was in utero to now, has shaped him into a screaming, Dixie-playing angry young man. And much as Jesus had compassion for the people who were executing him, I found myself looking at Ken with a sense of sadness and remorse for him. What in the world took place in his life to make him adopt such hate-filled and nasty disposition? What fears have forced him to think other people inferior so that he can feel better about himself? I looked at all of the LOS people. Some appeared to have faces that were deformed from carrying so much anger. Others looked like they could be the white guy in line behind me at Publix. Every one of them needs love.

And the same applied to the compatriots I was standing alongside at the Capitol. They are young and they are refusing to let an older fear-filled philosophy hold them down. For some of them, that heads in the direction of anger because that's a powerful emotion that shows they won't stand for any more racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic crap. But while anger rages like a wildfire, it doesn't have enough fuel to sustain the fire needed for this long haul struggle for the soul of our country.

My spouse and I have talked about this some. The answer for me...and for the need to get spiritually grounded before we head out to the next one of these demonstrations. Because, sadly, there will be a next one. Less shouting. More quiet. More singing, less screaming. Remain in Love because it is the love that drives out hate.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Resistance is Spiritual Work

One year down.

That is all I really want to say about the first year of the Donald Trump administration. 

One very long, difficult, sometimes demoralizing, quite often maddening year. Lies became rebranded "alternative facts." And they were abundant. One newspaper kept a tally and found that the president lied more than 2,000 times and that doesn't even count this past month. He lies when the truth really would be acceptable. His spokespeople...he has had three in the course of the year...rattled off one fairy tale and fib after another from the crowd size at his inauguration to whether or not this man, who expresses sympathy for Nazis and refers to Africa as a 'shithole,' is a racist. He's fickle. He's reckless. And his constant provocation of another loose canon leader, Kim Jong Un, leaves many of us concerned about the possibility of nuclear war. Hawaiians got a scare when a false alarm of an attack on the island state sent people scurrying to find shelter. We live in "interesting" times.

It would be easy to throw in the towel, or curl up in a fetal position as the things I hold dear get trampled on or destroyed. But I'm not about to do that. What keeps me going, and what makes me resist the temptation to give up is Love. 

Today, on this anniversary of this presidency, I chose not to rally at the state Capitol building, but instead to take with me a group of faithful Christians to the Episcopal diocese of Georgia's tent revival with our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. (Yes: Episcopalians under a tent for a revival. Will wonders never cease, right?). I knew I needed to be there along the banks of Honey Creek more than anywhere else. I have been longing for how to express my faith in this work I am now engaged in with others "to hold fast to that which is good" and was created for good in this world. And our church leader provided the words:

"On a biblical level, the opposite of love isn't hate; in the New Testament, the opposite of love is self-centeredness. It is the mother of hate...Jesus was executed by an unholy alliance of religious, political, and economic establishments, oriented toward self-centeredness...Always be careful when religious, political, and economic interests come together.  It was trouble in the first century and it’s trouble today." - Bishop Michael Curry

This. THIS. The work of the resistance, those of us who are visiting our elected officials, writing post cards, sending emails, making phone calls, going to rallies, donating time, money, and sweat to campaigns for various candidates in an effort to stem the tide of backlash against the progress we've made since the 1960s is holy work. Self-centeredness is what makes politicians do the bidding of their corporate donors because they are allowing money to tell them what is good, right, and just rather than serving the needs of the people who are the least, the lost, and the disaffected. Self-centeredness is overshadowing the work of the spirit when Christians can look away from the horror of Roy Moore's behavior that gets him banned from the Gadsden Mall or shrug off an outrageous statement made about African nations and people from Central America and Haiti because the party or the person is more important to them than the greater good of God's creation. Self-centeredness is the key ingredient to the greed that is causing more painful disparities that affect people of all races and making the income gap greater and greater. This self-centeredness is the wages of sin. Resisting the temptation to serve self, and not others, is the holy work of the Resistance.

Now, most of the Resistance movement is areligious. Not necessarily anti-religious, although there is a lot of that, too. When you believe that religion is about bullying people or belittling anyone who doesn't measure up to some mythical idea of perfection, I wouldn't want to be part of that either. That's an entirely different blog entry and I've written on it on this blog (you can search my "faith journey" and get a sense of my Queer Christianity). Most people in the resistance don't see themselves as doing spiritual work. 

I do. I see how when one grounds their work in Love...whether they want to call that Love by the name of Jesus or is still a work in Love. And when we do works that are grounded in that Source we are necessarily doing the work of what Bishop Curry calls the transformation of The Nightmare of this World into God's Dream. I have many times in my activism looked to the example of Jesus to give me the boost and the hope that I need when I find myself faced with what seems like an impossible and intractable opponent. I let myself go into that experience of his arrest on Maundy Thursday, and the chaos and the fear and confusion that must have been present in that moment and--as the old hymn says--"it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."  I look at how Jesus, who had moments of private confession of his fear at knowing what was coming at him, and still he overcame his own concerns because his mission was not a self-centered one; it was for all humankind. Maybe my own struggles aren't quite that big and lofty, and yet taking a stand for justice and mercy for Dreamers, for my trans siblings, for people of color is plenty big. I visualize a future where we care about not leaving the planet in worse shape than when we were born. The way to make a country great is to educate children and to invest in improving the lives of women, especially women of color. This is what I believe the words "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" are all about.  

Time to count resistance as a spiritual work.    

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ask Not What Country You're From

I had the privilege this week of attending a countywide forum called "Created Equal." It was an opportunity to gather with others to look at issues of race and discuss them in table talk sessions, and to hear the stories of those who feel their differences constantly. There was a panel made up of Leon County men and women of different ethnicities and religion. The one representation missing from the panel was a person who is LGBTQ+ identified, but the truth is, when I listen to someone of color and someone of a minority religion, I hear the echoes of my own experience both as a lesbian and as a woman.
There were definitely things I was hearing that touched me at a visceral level because I know what it is to be made to feel unwelcome or suspect. The black man returning from a visit to his native Nigeria described that feeling of being free from "feeling black" when he was in Nigeria and having it shoved in his face when he landed at JFK in New York. I have a similar experience when I travel between my native New Hampshire and where I live now in the south. I don't feel my orientation when I am in the northeast, but here, I can't go a week without being gender misidentified because of my more masculine appearance. I see the looks. I feel the stares from people. And I know the issue is not so much with me: it's the fear inside the other person of me.
One of the "a-ha" moments expressed during the evening was the increasing tribalism in America. And it's that tribalism that is helping to tear us apart. Our diversity of color, religion, ethnicity, orientation, identity is being seen as something that divides us to the point where we can't get along. Our history of Europeans taking the land away from the native indigenous people and enslaving Africans and other minorities to farm and build the country is full of torment and murder and wounds we have ignored. Unlike the "Created Equal" evening, we, of the white majority, haven't really listened and understood the depth of the injury to people. And when those pains have been raised up, the tribal response has been to lock down and see all non-white people as "others" who need to "get over it." Similarly, I have experienced the feeling of my whiteness being the reason to exclude me from a group of predominantly black activists. It hurts, and yet I understand the suspicion.  
Unlike this tribal mentality that breaks us up into silos of sameness, I see the cultural diversity of our country as patches of fabric that add to our national quilt. We are different. We have different experiences. We have different languages. But if you're living here, working here, paying your taxes here, then as far as I'm concerned you're from here...the United States of America.
Which brings me to the soundbite of the week from our president.
During a meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders on Thursday to discuss the looming issue of deporting children and young adult immigrants here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), our leader asked why were we trying to keep people from "shithole countries" such as Haiti and the continent of Africa in the United States? This comes after the president's decision to expel El Salvadorans and Haitians still in the country because of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Furthermore, he wondered why we didn't accept more people from places such as Norway. 
It really doesn't take a whole lot to figure out why the president would prefer people from Norway over Haiti...and it isn't for the lutefisk. 
Once again, our president is promoting an image of our country where what will make us "great again" has to do with white supremacy and treating people whose ancestry is not Northern European as "not one of us." 
Interestingly, our daily office and Sunday readings have been taken from the Gospel of John. And as I thought about the president's insulting-half-the-world comment, I thought of the evangelist's story of when Philip tells Nathanael about having found the Messiah and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’--John 1:45-50

If this were today...and in our tribal America...I suppose Nathanael could have wondered if anything good could come out of Nazareth because, afterall, it's a shithole.
But then that would be the point. 
Nathanael had his own tribe and it definitely didn't include those from Nazareth. And the it always is in John's that something very good has come out of a place seen as a backwater pit by Nathanael: Jesus. That should tell us today a lot about how we might view people who come from nations that have endured oppressive regimes and natural disasters and famine. Just because a country is impoverished doesn't mean that the people are not just as worthy and capable as people from wealthier nations. The reason most people come here is to seek opportunities or because they are in danger. The immigrants coming here bring with them skills, knowledge, and resiliency that benefit all of us and they become part of that patchwork quilt. 
"Jesus" or "God" is within every person, so the answer to Nathanael is "Yes. Good things do come out of Nazareth." Human potential and the ability to contribute to society has nothing to do with skin color or what language you speak or what your spiritual journey looks like. Instead of trying to kick people out, we ought to 'come and see' and discover the benefits of a multicultural society and expand our notion of what it is to be an American. This was the vision Dr. King was laying out there and inviting white America: to experience their tribe could be so much more if they would recognize and respect the dignity of every human being.
Perhaps other nations are looking at us now and asking "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"