Those of us alive today owe a tremendous debt to the American women and men that over the course of the last century worked to create a more perfect union by establishing basic worker rights, breaking the back of Jim Crow, shattering some of the strongest glass ceilings for women, and even making equality for gay and lesbians an issue to be addressed and not kept in the closet.
Still, we are not that perfect union we hope to be. Baltimore reminds us of that today.
Before Baltimore it was Ferguson and in between we struggled with a crisis dealing with race and law enforcement in New York City. In recent years, both Seattle and Portland have faced similar issues.
As I have noted in previous forums, for all the gifts of our democracy we are a nation not fully free. A broken system allowed the loser of the popular vote to take the presidency in 2001. Our political system has never fully recovered.
Since then we have given corporations the rights of people and taken away from certain people the right to freely vote. We are not fully free.
We invaded a nation under false pretenses and then tortured our enemies in violation of all international norms, all the while economic policies that benefited the top 1 percent of Americans were enacted, leading to a historic collapse of the economy from which we have yet to fully recover.
The United States keeps company with nations like Russia in incarcerating large numbers of our fellow citizens, and in America those jailings are disproportionally based on skin color and not on crime.
We are not fully free in Missouri or New York or California or Oregon when unarmed African-Americans are killed by uniformed police officers and we know the process of investigation will be neither fair nor balanced.
Ours is a disconnected reality. We live in an age where an African-American can be elected president of the United States. We live in an age where a Latino can serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. We live in an age where a woman can be a serious contender for the presidency. All of these people serve based on the content of their character.
But we are less free when our people are hungry. We are less free when our children are homeless. How can we make the claim that we are the "greatest nation on Earth" when 20,000 or more students will experience homelessness just in Oregon this year?
All of this and more leaves me worried for my daughters and the students I serve at Pacific University. Will the legacy of this generation be one of progress?
The crisis of Ferguson was not an isolated incident but indicative of larger social ills that infect the whole body of our nation. Neither party has done enough to address these morally complex issues but worse is that some politicians seek to use these issues as tools of division instead as opportunities for reform and reconciliation.
Only when we recognize the common humanity that we all share will we all be free. We cannot treat one another as if we can do without the other. We are too interconnected.
In his letter 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote about the church being the body of Christ. These are the words his used, as translated by Eugene Peterson:
For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn't be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, "Get lost; I don't need you"? Or, Head telling Foot, "You're fired; your job has been phased out"? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way--the "lower" the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it's a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn't you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
These are words that would be understood by nearly any faith traditional or moral philosophical school.
And if you are waiting for a great prophet from God to arise and lead us from darkness to light, remember that God is calling us all to this struggle. We are the inheritors of the dream and whether we like it or not, whether it is convenient or not, whether we are ready or not, for the future of our children and their children and their children, for the future of creation itself, we must loudly answer God's call by saying: Here I am, Lord! Here I am!
So I close with this prayer, one based on a prayer organically penned by Phillips Brooks, that we often share in the United Church of Christ:
Jesus said, "You ought always to pray and not to faint." Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger women and men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, but for power equal to your tasks. Then, the doing of your work will be no miracle - YOU will be the miracle, and every day you will wonder at yourself and the richness of life that has come to you by the grace of God.