A Prayer for Freedom of Expression

On Friday, January 23, 2015, I will be part of the 2nd Annual Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity. This year it is hosted by Lakewood Church. You are now part of the lucky who can already read my prayer today. But still: Please make time to join us on Friday at 7pm.

Mocking Jay hand salute banned in Thailand
I am free to do this hand sign right here, right now.
Being a demonstrator in Thailand such an act of defiance will get you arrested.
Military dictatorships are afraid of movies that promote freedom of expression.

When The Interview came online I couldn’t resist but watch it and it really turns out to be hilariously offensive. Do you have to love it? – No! Is it important to have that kind of artistic expression out there? – You bet! Or as Evelyn Beatrice Hall put it in the mouth of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

As we gather this week to work toward Christian unity let us join our voices in prayer for freedom of expression:

Holy One: Your Word called the world into being. Your Word became flesh among us. When you express yourself in all your awesome and holy freedom everything changes. A voice like thunder, the loving whisper of a mother – a word can affect so much and you have freely spoken to all your people through the ages.

When Jesus came to the Samaritan woman at the well your Word was expanded to include even those Samaritans which have never been any good. Ultimately gentiles from all around the world were called into your beloved community. Like an author publishing a book you have set your Holy Word free.

You want our words to be free also:
when we laugh at ourselves for our shortsightedness,
when we poke fun at each other for our denominational oddities,
when caricature educates and enlightens the political public.

You call us to stand for freedom of expression: With Charlie Hebdo, with protesters in Thailand, with our Christian brothers and sisters in Brazil and all around the world. It takes loud people with radical symbols that keep on yelling: “Let my people go!” Holy One, hear our supplications that we can express so freely. Amen.

Rev. Daniel Haas

Welcome to the Future

Last weekend they announced the concert lineup for the Rodeo Houston. Brad Paisley is going to perform. That is big for Mirjam and I for we really admire his work. On Saturday the tickets will go on sale and you have to pre-register and wait for an hour in an online waiting room before even being considered for the privilege to fork over your money. Can you tell it’s our first year at Rodeo Houston? – Very exciting times.

I need to share this this week for two reasons:
a) I don’t want you to miss your opportunity to get your tickets. Think of this as a public service announcement or a friendly reminder.
b) Next Monday is Martin Luther King Junior Day. And it is so easy and pleasant to remind ourselves of great thoughts from the past: “I have a dream”. But who is brave enough to tell a story of racial injustice that has happened in your own backyard? Well, Brad Paisley is one of those people who dare to share in his song “Welcome to the future”:

From this musical excursion let’s go to the cold hard facts of demographics. According to solid projections there will be fewer blacks and hispanics in Fort Bend County in five years. Whites are the only ethnical group with substantial growth:
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Did you have a spontaneous gut reaction to those numbers?
What do those feelings tell you about race relations in America 2015?

How deep are your roots?

When I drop off the kids at school in the morning I drive past two churches that could not be more different: One has a full fledged sanctuary with educational buildings attached. The second rents a store front in a failing strip mall. And I must admit I am partial. I have a hard time envisioning church life in a store front. I know the church is first and foremost the body of Christ, second the congregation and the people it is comprised of and only in the third place the church is the church building. But in my little thinking all three go hand in hand. I need a sense of sanctuary to connect me to the ancient roots of our faith. I need the sound of the organ to lift up my spirit beyond what I can hear on the radio every day. I need ancient canticles, time-tested rituals and historic places. No, I am not against change. The church has always evolved: From a radical preacher healer whose gang of twelve was persecuted and prosecuted to the established religion of the greatest empire the world has ever known. The house church has been the go to style of worship from the beginning and still has its merits in a variety of settings. But this week’s watchword is a nice reminder that God wants a nice place:

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“Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.”
(Psalm 29:2 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 11 January 2015)

It makes sense to invest into the church building and put on a new roof. It makes sense to upgrade the Hymnals. It makes sense to tune all the pianos scattered around the buildings. It makes sense to change the paraments and restock candles and tapers. For worship we use things and words and gestures that are not necessarily part of everyday life. They are special, they are set apart, they are holy. I would not want an elaborate candelabrum at home but it serves its purpose in the sanctuary. Are all those bells and whistles really necessary? It depends! Do they prepare our hearts and minds to listen to the still speaking God? That is my litmus test. Tradition only makes sense as long as it accomplishes its mission to make straight the paths of our God.

All this tells you more about me than it tells you about the nature of the church. I hunger for the connection to the ancient roots of our faith and since you all have chosen to worship in this place in this style it is safe to assume that some of my reflections resonate with something inside of you. But how about the storefront worshipers? Their faith journey is just as sacred and valid. God does not need a traditional setting to reach hearts and minds. It just may be the case that people there do not need the deep roots of faith but are better at enjoying the moment and facing the challenges of the here and now. Maybe I envy them after all for being able to live life without the constant reminders that keep me rooted.