Sanctuary

For many Christians, the word “sanctuary” refers to the space in which they gather for worship. It’s a holy space, set apart for the radical, intimate encounter we have with our Lord when his Word is proclaimed and his Sacraments are shared with God’s people.

Parroquia San Germán de Auxerre, San Germán, Puerto Rico

A sanctuary is where God’s promise is revealed to us most clearly. A sanctuary can be a centuries-old Gothic cathedral, a simple church building built ten years ago, a living room, or the hood of a humvee for Soldiers deployed overseas. If God’s promises are proclaimed there, that space becomes a sanctuary – a place of holy encounter with God.

Some Christians, citing 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, emphasize that our bodies and our lives are a sanctuary. A popular praise song intones, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.” I first sang these words at a church camp I attended as a young adult. Perhaps you’ve sung this tune at camp or at worship. “With thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”

What does it mean to be a living sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true? We often connect these ideas to worship, devotion, and prayer; and, often, to how one behaves in their interpersonal relationships. If we listen to the prophets, we hear in their cry that worship and sacrifice is nothing but vacant, blathering words without actions that honor God by caring for people who suffer.

In Isaiah 5 we hear the prophet sing a love song about God’s tender care for his people. Isaiah uses the metaphor of a vineyard for God’s chosen people, and describes how God tilled the ground, built the watchtower, and cared for the vineyard that is his people.

Yet despite all of the care that God has given the vineyard, it yielded rotten grapes rather than an abundant harvest of good grapes. The prophet laments that God’s possession had failed, and thus speaks God’s promises to destroy the vineyard. But just a verse later the voice shifts from judgment back to lament. You can hear the prophet’s sorrow and weary disappointment in these words:

“The vineyard of the Lord of heavenly forces is the house of Israel,
    and the people of Judah are the plantings in which God delighted.
God expected justice, but there was bloodshed;
    righteousness, but there was a cry of distress!”

God expected justice, but there was bloodshed.

Earlier in Isaiah (chapter 1, verses 10-17), the prophet puts an even finer point on it:

Hear the Lord’s word, you leaders of Sodom.
    Listen to our God’s teaching,
        people of Gomorrah!
What should I think about all your sacrifices?
    says the Lord.
I’m fed up with entirely burned offerings of rams
    and the fat of well-fed beasts.
    I don’t want the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
    who asked this from you,
    this trampling of my temple’s courts?
Stop bringing worthless offerings.
    Your incense repulses me.
New moon, sabbath, and the calling of an assembly—
    I can’t stand wickedness with celebration!
I hate your new moons and your festivals.
    They’ve become a burden that I’m tired of bearing.
When you extend your hands,
    I’ll hide my eyes from you.
Even when you pray for a long time,
    I won’t listen.
Your hands are stained with blood.
    Wash! Be clean!
Remove your ugly deeds from my sight.
    Put an end to such evil;
    learn to do good.
Seek justice:
    help the oppressed;
    defend the orphan;
    plead for the widow.

The prophet here quite literally calls out the prayers and sacrifices that take place in the temple – in the sanctuary – as inadequate without the accompanying works of justice. That work is clearly defined as helping the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow (vs 17).

It is not enough to pray when your hands are stained with blood and your lives betray the grace that has been given to you.

Words are not enough in the face of human suffering. Saint James tells us that words of faith aren’t worth a hill of beans without faithful action (James 2). Christians are called to action that flows from faith in the One who defied how things are done in this world, and calls us to follow him in a life of faithful defiance.

Our Lord defied death and rose from the grave. He defied illness by healing the sick and raising the dead. Jesus defied hunger and oppression by filling the famished with good things, and by including those whom society excluded. Our Savior’s words were defiant against those in authority, and generous for those who suffered. As followers of this defiant Prince, we are called to lives that reflect the values not of this kingdom but of the coming Kingdom of God. As citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), our priorities come not from man but from God (Acts 5:59).

Perhaps this is what sanctuary looks like. Pure and holy, tried and true, any who seek to be a living sanctuary for our Lord do so by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, welcoming the outsider, healing the sick, comforting the downtrodden, and defying the forces that degrade human dignity. That’s sanctuary.

My church – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – recently declared itself to be a sanctuary church at its triennial Churchwide Assembly. In this case, the term refers to the historic practice of churches being places where fugitives could find safe haven from apprehension. Offering “sanctuary” has been a ministry of the church since medieval days. In our own country churches have extended sanctuary as part of the Underground Railroad sheltering African Americans fleeing (legal) slavery, and defying northern laws requiring the capture and return of escaped slaves. More recently, congregations opened their doors to Central American refugees fleeing civil wars and political persecution in the 1980s.

This calling to be a place for fugitives – from the Latin fugitīvus, fleeing – places the church in a unique position in society. Called neither to be beholden to the shifting opinion polls of society, nor to be a tool of governing authorities, the church fixes its gaze on the vulnerable who flee unfathomable horrors and it seeks to offer its balm in obedience to God’s command to care for people who suffer.

More than many churches, the Lutheran Church in the United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. As an immigrant church whose faith and practice came to this land from Northern and Western Europe, North American Lutherans had for generations reached across the Atlantic to help their families and coreligionists make their own journey of faith to a new land.

After World War I, Lutherans began organizing to support refugees fleeing war in their ancestral homelands. Their work expanded with the massive refugee crisis spurred by World War II. Throughout the 20th century – from Cuba to Vietnam, Hungary to Uganda, Central America to the Balkans – Lutherans partnered with the federal government to resettle refugees and help them find a welcome home in the United States of America.

Care for the immigrant is, at its core, a practice of faith. Besides all of the examples of Jesus calling us to care for “the least of these” (see Matthew 25:31-46, among others), the Hebrew Bible is filled with exhortations by God to his chosen people Israel to honor immigrants and strangers, “because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt.”

Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
– Leviticus 19:34

This construction – “because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt” – shows up at least five times in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, extolling the Israelites to treat the immigrants as one of their own. Leviticus 17:8 and 10 call for the equal punishment of Jew and immigrant if they bring the sacrifice before the Lord in an unworthy or unholy manner. Deuteronomy 10:18 tells us that the Lord “loves immigrants,” and Deuteronomy 24:14-15, 17-18 call for the Israelites to protect fair pay and legal rights for immigrants. In Leviticus 25:23, the LORD even tells the Israelites that they, too, are immigrants. “You are just immigrants and foreign guests of mine.”

What does it mean that the ELCA has declared itself a “sanctuary church”? The details are still being worked out, but at its core the declaration by the Churchwide Assembly is an affirmation of our church’s longstanding commitment to welcoming the immigrant and refugee as an expression of our faith in Jesus Christ.

More, it is an affirmation of our church’s 2016 AMMPARO mission strategy of accompanying and supporting migrant children and their families with legal, humanitarian, and advocacy support; and, of working with partners in the United States and in Central America to understand and advocate for resolutions to the systemic violence and poverty that prompts so many families to risk everything to leave their homes in the first place.

Does “sanctuary church” = “sanctuary city”?

The sanctuary that our church offers is not the same kind of sanctuary that some “sanctuary cities” are offering – namely, a refusal by local and/or state law enforcement agencies to partner with federal agencies to enforce federal immigration laws. Making the comparison between “sanctuary cities” and our “sanctuary church” is nonsensical – the church in this country never has been, and never will be, a governing body nor a law enforcement agency. Our church simply does not interface with the federal government in the same way that cities and states do.

The call by our Churchwide Assembly declaring the ELCA a sanctuary church is not a call to break laws, but instead is an invitation for agencies, congregations, and members of the church to care for the immigrant with steadfast faith, love, and sacrifice. It is true that some congregations might welcome undocumented immigrants, house them in church buildings, and provide legal aid. Others will provide financial and in-kind support to relief efforts along both sides of the US-Mexican border. Others will advocate for changes in immigration policy or funding for refugee resettlement. And yet others will commit themselves to prayer for families fleeing violence and poverty, and for leaders in the United States and in Central America whose words and deeds will have significant impact on the welfare of millions of people for years to come.

The Lutheran Church’s commitment to welcoming the immigrant and refugee predates the current global migrant crisis. Our commitment to the immigrant and the refugee is born out of our own experience as an immigrant church, and is rooted in the command of God and example of our Lord Jesus Christ to care for the outsider and seek the welfare of our neighbor in need.

What a Week

(My weekly church blogpost shared here, as our church website is in transition)

Remind me not to take vacation during the last week in June ever again.

I remember watching the Phil Donahue Show one summer in late June as a kid, shortly after school let out (I was a really fun kid. Really.). They were talking about the constitutionality of burning the American flag in the wake of United States v. Eichman, a case that ruled as unconstitutional laws that banned the desecration of the American flag on free speech grounds.

The guests were passionate. The audience members were opinionated. There was lots of energy around this issue.

From that moment I got more and more interested in both politics and in the flag, and I learned quite a bit about both. I read the Constitution and the Flag Code, and various opinions about both. One of the lessons I learned is this: even though school is out and summer has started, late June – when the Supreme Court releases its most anticipated rulings – is one of the most consequential times of the year for our country.

In the past week, the Supreme Court has ruled on marriage, healthcare, environmental protections, fair housing, and congressional redistricting, among other issues. Together with the outrage following the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the heated – yet very important – discussion surrounding the Confederate Flag, it was a significant week for our nation.

Now, in the midst of all this news and critical issues before our country, the church cannot be silent. At the least, the church and its leaders should seek to make sense – in terms of faith – of what our society is experiencing in this moment. Even more, the church and its leaders should be public voices for justice. After all, a lamp isn’t lit to be set underneath a bushel (Matthew 5:15), the call of a prophet is to cry out loudly against injustice (Isaiah 1:23, for example), and the kingdom of God is not a matter of words but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20).

Cries for the church to stay out of politics, and for preachers to speak on matters of faith not politics, miss the point. Jesus engaged in ministry publicly. Jesus spoke about how people treat one another. Jesus died at the hands of government – publicly. The prophets of old decried how society neglected the widow and the poor. Faith without works is dead, and one work of faith is to seek a more just society that improves the health and welfare of any who suffer injustice, indignity, poverty, hunger, and oppression of any kind. Faith is inherently public, and is inherently concerned with public things.

After all, Jesus’ main way of speaking about God’s intent for humanity was to speak of the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is like ….” Kingdoms are societies. They are inherently social, public, corporate. The life of faith is not just something we keep to ourselves, individually.

Even more. Faith is not just one part of our lives, but informs the whole of our lives. We do not put faith on and take faith off. Faith is not just found in one box in our closet, to be taken out on Sundays and holidays. Faith is part of all that we do. Faith informs all of our actions. Faith – and the God in whom we have faith – is concerned with all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Thus faith led me to weep when nine African Americans were murdered while at prayer. When one member of the body of Christ suffers, I suffer. Faith led me to ask tough questions about the legacy of racism, the power of symbols, and the unfulfilled promise of “we the people” seeking to form “a more perfect union.” In faith I read where Scripture tells me that “love bears all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), and that we are called to “bear another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Looking at the burden of racism and the legacy of oppression that my sisters and brothers bear, I grieve and ask, “How can I bear this burden with them?” I don’t have a very good answer. The question gnaws at me. The status quo is not working. Racism persists. This sin, and the structures that were shaped by it, need to be dismantled.

Faith led me to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on marriage, extending marriage rights to same-gender couples in all fifty states. For years couples and families have lived without the dignity and legal protections of marriage. Medical decisions, estates, health insurance, shared property ownership, and so many other protections and opportunities were denied to same-gender couples and their families, to our neighbors and friends, to Soldiers wearing the uniform of the Armed Forces, to our fellow human beings and sisters and brothers in Christ. Legal prohibitions created a hardship for millions of people. Faith celebrates when hardships are alleviated, when “the lowly are lifted up” (Luke 1:52). Faith rejoices at wholeness and healing and justice.

In neither of these issues am I directly implicated. I am not black. I am not gay. Yet that is precisely the point. Faith is not primarily concerned with the self. Our faith is primarily concerned with the whole of society and the care of the other. “Love does not insist on its own way,” writes Paul, speaking to the faith community in Corinth (1 Corinthians 13:5). Faith is oriented toward the justice and renewal of the Kingdom of God and those who live within it. Justice is experienced – and enacted – in community. Faith is inherently interested in the community and the world.

So too, I believe, is the American Experiment. The United States was established by “we the people” to establish “a more perfect union.” The Bill of Rights was written to restrain society, its government, and its majorities from trampling on the rights of individuals. But more than a mere restraint function or a statement of the rights of individuals, the Bill of Rights and the eloquent call to create “a more perfect union” speak to a positive view of a society in which “liberty and justice for all” is the goal.

In the critical conversations about race that our nation has begun since the Charleston shooting, and in the celebrations and hand-wringings and questions of “what’s next?” following the Supreme Court’s ruling, our nation is one step closer to realizing its calling to form a more perfect union. Such steps are difficult, and ours will never be a perfect union – sin will make sure of that.

Yet we strive ever forward, as Christians and as Americans, to make ours a more perfect union. Such a more perfect union begins to take shape when our focus turns from self to other, and we recommit ourselves not to insisting on our own ways but instead to bearing others’ burdens … to seeking liberty and justice for all.

Right to Religious Freedom? Yes. Right to run a business according to your faith? Not necessarily.

Our nation’s commitment to the free exercise of religion is unwavering. Religious organizations are tax-exempt, and gifts to religious organizations are tax deductible, lest the tax code be seen as a burden to the free exercise of religion. Americans are free to assemble with people of like faith and to practice their faith in community without fear of government intervention. People can generally dress, worship, eat, practice morality, and otherwise structure their lives in accordance to their faith. This is a great strength of our nation.

And even the Armed Forces support a Chaplain Corps that provides service members with Chaplains who perform religious services and provide for the free expression of religion of service members. Chaplains also advocate for religious accommodation – to include provisions for a religiously-defined diet, the wearing of particular religiously-prescribed clothing, religiously-defined grooming standards, required head coverings, etc. – within the highly structured and uniform environment of the military.

We are a nation committed to the free exercise of religion.

In this spirit, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in the 1990s to guarantee the free exercise of religion by members of minority religions whose religious free exercise was unintentionally burdened by laws that otherwise had nothing to do with religion. So committed to the free exercise of religion are we that we wanted to make sure that minority religions could practice their faith without other laws would hinder their religious practice.

Yet, just over a week ago, my state passed a law that was designed to protect members of the majority religion (Christianity) from public policies they perceive as burdening their religious beliefs. What began as a law to protect the free exercise of religion from unintentionally burdensome laws has become, in its most recent state-law versions, a law to allow corporations to seek exemption from public accommodation laws on religious freedom grounds.

Of course, we’re talking about businesses owned by Christians who feel it a violation of their religion to provide services to gays and lesbians, particularly to gays and lesbians seeking same-gender wedding services (flowers, cakes, photography, etc.). They believe that providing such services would be an endorsement of a marriage that goes against their religious beliefs.

Yet, there is a big difference between ensuring the free exercise of one’s faith, and guaranteeing that a religious person who owns a business can operate that business with religious exemptions to key public policy commitments of our nation – including that of public accommodation (ie, businesses must serve all customers who walk through the door).

To this degree, the Armed Forces offers a helpful lesson.

The Armed Forces provides a Chaplain Corps to provide for the free expression of religion, and to perform religious services (worship, prayer, sacraments, rites, counseling, etc.) for service members. Yet, this commitment to religious expression within the military does not – cannot – accommodate a service member whose religion forbids the carrying of arms or engaging in combat. Such a citizen simply cannot be a soldier.

Ultimately, there is no constitutional right to join the Armed Forces.

Perhaps this is instructive for Christian business owners who seek exemption from serving certain customers. While there is a constitutional right to practice religion, and while free enterprise is central to our nation’s culture and economy, there is no Constitutional right to be a baker, or a photographer, or a florist. If conducting business according to the laws of our nation causes the business owner to violate their faith, perhaps the business owner need to find a new line of work.

The pacifist Christian cannot expect to keep a job in the military without violating her faith.

The orthodox Jew cannot expect to work in a pork processing plant without violating his faith.

Likewise, the conservative Christian perhaps should not expect to work in the wedding industry, if such work might require her to serve couples that offend their religious sensibilities.

The life of faith requires people of faith to make hard decisions. Will we tithe, spending less on consumer goods, house, or sports for our children? How will we raise our children? What choices will we make for engaging the culture – do we participate in civic holiday celebrations or not? What happens when religious practice conflicts with school or work schedules (an issue of particular concern for minority religions)? For some Christians, perhaps, one new hard decision they face is to find a line of work that would not put them in a position to violate core tenets of their faith.

I do not share the concern about same-gender marriage that some conservative Christians have. Yet, as someone committed to the free exercise of religion, I support the right of people to believe what they feel they are compelled to believe by their faith. Yet, their right to believe does not translate into a right to conduct a business in a way that sidesteps certain laws and commitments of our nation.

Just how are gun owners, and the NRA, oppressed?

Gun owners, NRA members, please help me out. I’m having a hard time understanding something.

At the NRA’s news conference yesterday, Wayne LaPierre characterized gun advocates and gun owners as victimized by a liberal media, as an oppressed segment of society simply advocating for their civil rights. They feel as if undo blame has been thrown their way for gun violence, and they are afraid that the government will come to take away their guns. I find these fears really hard to understand.

Just how are gun owners or gun advocates oppressed? The laws, the lawmakers, and even much of public opinion are completely on their side. Our nation has the most permissible gun laws of any in the industrialized world.

We who support reasonable gun restrictions are the ones who have a beef about not being understood. We who support reasonable gun restrictions haven’t had a legislative victory since the 1990s. We who support increased waiting periods and purchase limits are the ones who have public opinion against us. We who disagree with the Heller decision of the Supreme Court are the ones who have legislative and judicial majorities against us.

But it is more than just about policy. Those who are directly affected by gun violence – which is facilitated by the ease of access to weapons, legal and illegal, in our society – are the ones who are truly oppressed.

I truly don’t understand the feelings of oppression of a lobby that is very well funded, that gets its legislative way, and that even has the bulk of public opinion on its side.

So, just how are gun owners, and the NRA, oppressed?

Morning Prayer Following the Elections

Tomorrow at my congregation, Grace Lutheran on the East Side of Saint Paul, we will gather to pray for our state and nation following the elections. Please join us – in person, or in spirit.

Morning Prayer On the Occasion of Local, State, and National Elections
Wednesday, November 7, 10am
Grace Lutheran Church, Saint Paul, MN

Order of Prayer adapted from the Church of England’s Common Worship materials. Hymns numbers refer to Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Prelude

Gathering Dialogue
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Your faithful servants bless you.
They make known the glory of your kingdom.

Let us pray.
Silence for reflection
Blessed are you, Sovereign God,
ruler and judge of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
In the darkness of this age that is passing away
may the light of your presence which the saints enjoy
surround our steps as we journey on.
May we reflect your glory this day
and so be made ready to see your face
in the heavenly city where night shall be no more.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever.
Amen.

Hymn #771 God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens

Scripture refrain (Philippians 3:20)
Our citizenship is in heaven,
and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalmody
Psalm 42

As the deer longs for the water brooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, even for the living God;
when shall I come before the presence of God?
My tears have been my bread day and night,
while all day long they say to me, ‘Where is now your God?’
Now when I think on these things, I pour out my soul:
how I went with the multitude
and led the procession to the house of God,
With the voice of praise and thanksgiving,
among those who kept holy day.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul,
and why are you so disquieted within me?
O put your trust in God;
for I will yet give him thanks,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.

Prayer
The night has passed, and the day lies open before us;
let us pray with one heart and mind.
Silence is kept.
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.
Amen.

A Song of the New Creation
Isaiah 43.15,16,18,19,20c,21

I will make a way in the wilderness,
and rivers in the desert.
‘I am the Lord, your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel, your King.’
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
‘Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
I will make a way in the wilderness,
and rivers in the desert
‘Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
‘I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
‘The people whom I formed for myself,
that they might declare my praise.’
I will make a way in the wilderness,
and rivers in the desert.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.

Scripture refrain (Philippians 3:20)
Our citizenship is in heaven,
and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.

Message

Hymn #887 This Is My Song

Gospel Canticle
The Benedictus (The Song of Zechariah)

Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel
who has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets God promised of old
to save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all that hate us,
To show mercy to our ancestors,
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath God swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of all their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.

Prayers
Let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need. In particular, we pray for our state and nation, asking God’s grace and blessings following yesterday’s elections.

God of the heavens and the earth, you are Lord of all. Give us the strength to resist putting too much hope in any one political party or ideology, for you are the hope of the world. Fix our hearts on you and on those whom you love. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, you raise up leaders and give those in high office great responsibility. Bless those whom we have elected to office, especially (names). Grant them your wisdom and grace in their holy calling of leading this nation. May they use their authority to seek not the narrow interest of small groups, but the interest of all. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of reconciliation, bring together the people of this land to accept, embrace, and pray for our newly elected officials. Give us the eye to see this nation not as a people divided by Red and Blue, Republican and Democrat, but a nation that strives together to live into its greatest hopes of liberty and justice for all. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of healing, unite the people of this state under the banner of your love. Grant your wisdom to the state legislature as it seeks to implement the state constitutional amendment(s) approved in yesterday’s election. May (any) legal challenges or re-counts proceed fairly and justly, and may all who advocated for or against the amendments seek the best for this state, and interpret the actions of their political adversaries in the best possible light. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of the poor and marginalized, you sent prophets to call out on behalf of the poor, and your own Son proclaimed Good News to the poor and captive. Give all who hold positions of authority, and the citizens who elected them, the will to use their power for the good of the poor. Give your wisdom and care to business owners and community activists, to church leaders and to school officials, to managers and to laborers, that we might all contribute to alleviate the plight of all who suffer. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

All these things and whatever else you see that we need, grant us, O God, for the sake of him who died and rose again and now lives and reigns with you in unity with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Uniting our prayers with the whole company of heaven,
let us pray with confidence as our Savior has taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

Scripture refrain (Philippians 3:20)
Our citizenship is in heaven,
and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hymn #888 O Beautiful for Spacious Skies

The Conclusion
May Christ, who has opened the kingdom of heaven,
bring us to reign with him in glory.
Amen.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Postlude

I got a MN drivers license – and voted – without any proof of living here

But Voter ID is a bad fix to a legitimate problem.

Shortly after moving to Minnesota last August, I got a drivers license and registered to vote without ever showing any proof of residency. I didn't have to present a utility bill sent to my address in my name. I didn't have to show a signed lease or mortgage agreement. Nothing of the sort. I had all that paperwork and more with me at the Driver and Vehicle Services office, but I didn't need it. I filled out a form, wrote a check, took a computer test, got my photo taken … and voila, in a few weeks my drivers license appeared in the mail at my house. And with my drivers license I also registered to vote, and in November I voted at my local polling station.

I got my government-issued drivers license – and registration to vote – without ever once demonstrating that I actually live in Minnesota. Sure, I had to list a home address to which the license would be sent, but I never had to offer any proof that I resided there. That address could have been my cousin's house. Or a friend's house. Or a random house where I could gain access to the mailbox.

That seems strange. In fact, after moving between five addresses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia over the past ten years, this is the first time that I can recall not needing some proof of residency – a utility bill or lease agreement, for example – when applying for a drivers license or when registering to vote. Either my experience was a fluke, or Minnesota does not require any proof of residence in order to receive a drivers license. I'm not sure which.

In a day and age where a drivers license is used for much more than simply demonstrating that someone is legally licensed to drive – it is used to track purchases of pseudoephedrine at pharmacies, and is used to verify identity before boarding airplanes, neither of which have anything to do with being licensed to drive – I am surprised that I was able to get a license in Minnesota without showing where I live. (I did show my Virginia drivers license, through which they punched a hole, but clearly my Virginia license did not show my new Minnesota address.) Minnesota should require some proof of residency before handing out a drivers license and registering someone to vote.

That being said, I wholeheartedly oppose the proposed Voter ID constitutional amendment passed by the Minnesota State House last evening. This proposed state constitutional amendment would require voters to present photo identification at the polling station each time they desire to vote. Rather than require voters to carry and present identification at the polling station, Minnesota should require that residents demonostrate proof of residency before they receive a government-issued identification and register to vote in the first place. But, once a person's residency is substantiated by some sort of proof – a utility bill sent in the mail, a lease or mortgage agreement, etc. – requiring a government-issued identification card at the polling station is an excessive requirement that would disproportionately harm those who don't have or regularly use government-issued identification. Again, if legitimate proof of residence is used to demonstrate residency in the voter registration process (and thus get one's name on the poll book), there is no need to require a voter to present a government-issued identification each time they wish to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to vote. Too many legally-registered voters simply don't have government-issued identification cards, particularly the elderly and the young.

There is no proof that voter fraud is a significant – or even a minor – problem in our state. It is a non-issue. This proposed constitutional amendment doesn't succeed in eliminating (non-existent) voter fraud. Instead, it only succeeds in establishing a barrier for voters to clear before entering the voting booth.

Voter ID doesn't address the problem I discovered, but instead it creates other problems.
If the legislature would like to protect or enhance the integrity of the voting process, perhaps they can look at the process of gaining a government-issued identification and registering to vote in the first place. In my own experience – which might be unique, or might be widely shared – there is a legitimate problem to fix in voter registration and the issuing of drivers licenses, but not in voting itself. The state can fix a problem by requiring some proof of residency in the voter registration process, but it only creates problems by requiring identification cards at the polling station.

Celebrating our Enemy’s Defeat

Maybe I just need a few more jingoistic friends.

On Facebook and Twitter I'm surrounded by many friends who, almost immediately upon hearing the news of Osama bin Laden's death, seemed conflicted by the celebrations erupting around the country and online. Bible verses about desiring not the death but conversion of the wicked were shared (including Ezekiel 33:11), and a quote wrongly attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. made the rounds. Links, from personal blogs and from Huffington Post, chided Americans for celebrating Osama bin Laden's death.

I don't believe that most Americans were celebrating bin Laden's death. I believe that most of us were celebrating his defeat. As one guest on Monday's broadcast of The Diane Rehm Show commented, the crowds gathering at the White House and Ground Zero were not calling for blood and macabrely reveling in death. They were celebrating the defeat of an enemy, and a victory for our military. They were celebrating our country's resolve to bring the head of Al Queda to justice, and its successful efforts to do so.

Bring bin Laden in alive and I think the celebrations are no less enthusiastic. The head of a once-powerful organization that brought terror and death to countless communities across the globe is no longer able to direct or fund campaigns of terror. Al Queda, already weakened, lost its figurehead and most inspirational leader.

Are the wars over? Does this make ammends for the many missteps taken by our nation's leaders over the past ten years? Is Al Queda forever defeated and our mission accomplished? No, no, no. But this is a great symbolic victory that we should not be begruded to celebrate.