Faith, Power and Love - Rev. Isaac Miller, October 17, 2010

Downloadable PDF -“Faith, Power and Love”

Rev. Isaac Miller Rector (retired), Church of the Advocate

Heeding God’s Call Call to Faithful Action Philadelphia, October 17, 2010

First of all, let me thank Rabbi Holtzman for her introduction. Were they with us, I am sure my parents would be proud. I suspect though that they might have doubts as to whether you were really talking about their second child.

I also want to thank Heeding God’s Call for its invitation to speak to you this afternoon.

I assume you asked me to speak because of the almost 21 years I was associated with the ministry of the Church of the Advocate. These are years for which I am grateful and by which I am blessed. Many of the events associated with the founding of Heeding God’s Call occurred at the Advocate, for which, again, I am grateful. In these hard pressed economic times, please pray for places like the Advocate and for judicatories like the Episcopal Diocese. There are too many places where people of faith gather that are crucial to efforts like this that are facing difficult straits.

Let me begin by enumerating three or four general things that people of faith might do to end gun violence. I do not want to be too specific because part of what draws people to efforts like this is the excitement of debate about strategies and tactics, debate in which all of our ideas stand a chance of helping to make a difference.

First and obviously: Keep the Faith.

We live in a world which, I fear, is increasingly closed to the movement of faith. This is a world in which religious institutions are seen function primarily in the private sphere of life. In a world closed to living faith, religious institutions are confined to marriages for adults, baptisms and rites of initiation for children, and burial for old folks (and increasingly young ones). In a rough world this privatized faith gives us something to hold on to—something, like the Blues, that may even (thank God) lift our spirits in dark moments of despair.

But a living faith says that there is something that can be done—there is something to which we are called by God—in the midst of this mess. Faith is about something that is beyond the mess that takes the lives of children. Living faith says we can do something more than preach eulogies and hold one another’s hands in the aching pain.

Second: What we seek to accomplish, this vision of what is possible with the vision of faith, is made real only in terms of power. I grew up in the segregated South. Faith did not make sense to me until I saw, before I was a teenager, people of faith acting to make the humanity of all of us real. There is all sorts of good stuff written that will only become real when we act, when we exercise our power, to make it real. Some where it says “All men (and women, too) are created equal”…this does not become real until we act, until we exercise our power to make it real. There is no good idea, no lofty idea, that becomes real simply because it is a good idea. None!

Some of us as religious folk are uncomfortable with the notion of power. I believe this discomfort grows out of our culture’s relation to slavery. There was a debate early on about baptizing slaves. Some folks argued against it because they questioned whether black slaves had souls—it would like baptizing a plow or a hog. It was ultimately decided to baptize them because baptism would make slaves more malleable, more obedient. This perversion of faith has come to poison us all to believe that as people of faith we must be good little girls and boys. Living faith, especially among the slaves says this is baloney and repugnant to God.

Third: Love is the basis for the power that is needed to go up against the very real power of the gun industry in this culture.

It is love that is needed to go up against the very real and deadly power that is worshiped in this culture, as seen in the power of the NRA. Love recognizes that we are all children of God, created in the image of the Holy One. When we can love one another, regardless of race or class, regardless of sexual orientation or religious conviction, we become more powerful than the NRA can reckon with, more powerful than a violence-worshiping culture can reckon with.

Finally: We need to love and include children in what we are about.

We need to include young people because their lives are disproportionately at risk here. I do not recall that many stories about 67 year old men like myself being shot, but there are too many heart-breaking stories about young people and children’s lives snatched away. I do not know of any movement for any fundamental social change, including the movement that I grew up in, that did not include young people, in which young people were not part of the leadership.

It is not just for the sake of power that young people need to be included and lend their leadership. It is not just for the sake of power that we seek the leadership and inclusion of young people. It is because the struggle to which we are called by God’s love is a long one. What God calls us to is more than work for one or two or three generations. We need the young people. We need to hear their stories and they have to know that we love them.