Our game has been removed…

civil war game

I recently saw on Facebook that a Civil War game, Ultimate General, had been removed from the AppStore. Now, I don’t own or play this game. I personally remain in favor of Confederate Battle Flags being removed from public places out of love for my neighbors who are dismayed by it. Yet, here is an example of what I find a regrettable; the impulsive reaction to very real racism, violence and hate in our world – such as banning a history based game.

Context in use of the flag should matter: in museums, art, education, and yes, even in some games (as they can teach history too). Will we burn all books that have the flag in it? Should all movies – even offensive one’s such as Birth of a Nation or Gone with the Wind still shown on American Movie Classics (AMC) and university classes – be deleted, banned or destroyed? Should all the Civil War print shops be closed indiscriminately in Gettysburg, PA or Fredericksburg, VA? Will we pretend the war never happened or abridge history to make it more palatable?

All the iconography of the Confederacy is not equally toxic. It is intimately entwined into our history and culture, and some symbols have lost their sting over time. This complicates our rightful discernment over these many signs and symbols of the past and how we use them (if at all). Still, we shouldn’t seek to cleanse our society of all our historic memories of things we find abhorrent. We can instead seek to place them in a more proper educational context and expand upon them with new memorials of yet unsung African American heroes in the 1860’s conflict, the 1950’s and 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, and since. We can appreciate their artistic, historical or educational merit even as we explore and reflect upon the evil and sin these items reflect.

Yes, the battle flag in particular has been used for hate, and the stories of the historic South have at times been grossly romanticized. (Consider reading the article How the South Lost the War but Won the Narrative to learn more.) Yet, this legacy and its images can still be used to educate and inform discussions in the academic disciplines of sociology, theology, history, political science, military science and more. It can be helpful as used by Richmond’s Slave Trail to sensitize us to the continued ramifications of such evil, much as the Holocaust Museum does with the atrocities of WWII. Even as art, some items such as the Confederate War Memorial at Arlington Cemetery or stained glass at the National Cathedral or Richmond’s Monument Avenue can be admired for their beauty even as we learn of their use as historic propaganda and a reflection of a culture and prejudice now passing. Or as with me, such games, books and art might serve to inspire an interest in history, public service and racial reconciliation.

Ancient ruins such as Palmyra (now being destroyed by Islamic extremists), the ruins of the Roman Empire through the Axis Powers (imperial powers associated with historic evils), and even the Confederate monuments of Richmond and elsewhere have something to teach us. In fact, a number (not all certainly) of the Southern monuments were put up as a sign of reconciliation and/or healing at the time.

For example, I’m proud and thankful to be a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute which fought in the war as part of the Confederacy. Yet, it also created leaders that fought for the Union. Before and after the war, it helped produce the likes of George C. Marshall (look up the Marshall Plan), Jonathan Daniels (Civil rights martyr), and educated countless military, civic and business leaders serving all parts of our nation and other nations as well. Its Jackson Memorial Hall was built at the instigation and funding of past Northern soldiers who fought the Corps and paid for by the Federal government out of respect for the bravery and military competence of the young Corps of Cadets during the Battle of New Market.

As a community, we need to try to avoid oversimplified, dualistic responses – life has never and will never be so clear cut. We are all “sinner-saints” in a sense; neither all bad or all good, some more bad or more good than others. This year, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s end. The United States of America won the Civil War (not just the North), but the truth and excesses of that war is found somewhere between the blue and gray of history. This painful period was no game, but along with the evil of segregation afterward, we need to teach about it, encounter and wrestle with it. We must seek to remember no matter how painful at times.  

Let us listen to one another as we seek to honor ancestors and history or as we seek to share the pain of historic injustices. While we do, it would prove prudent for all of us to use thoughtful discernment as we evaluate any remaining Civil War iconography and seek to move forward together. 

Sensitivity and compassion to our neighbors is one thing, but revisionist history proves to be everyone’s enemy.

Respectfully offered,
A descendant of Union soldiers, a member of an extended interracial family, and history buff. Ultimately, an imperfect child of God just like you – still listening, learning, and repenting.

The above post is edited from what appeared earlier on my personal Facebook page. It is a personal opinion and should in no way be taken to reflect the opinion of any other agency, organization or church. I’m solely responsible for any errors or sin. As of June 26, 2015, the game was restored to the AppStore. Yet other cultural artifacts and educational tools remain at risk of what I deem an imprudent cleansing. 

Regarding the ongoing work of racial reconciliation and issues of the Civil War, I recommend the wonderful work of Ben Campbell, Richmond’s Unhealed History and the many offerings of the Richmond Hill Community. I also offer this essay on reconciliation from the Taize’ Community in France:  http://www.taize.fr/en_article6398.html

Please join my prayers for healing, justice, reconciliation and peace. Better yet, let’s all strive to love justice, offer mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). 

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Day of Repentance and Mourning – Sunday, June 28, 2015

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“The church proclaims Christ, confident this good news sets at liberty those captive behind walls of hostility.” (cf. Luke 4:18) – Bishop Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has called for a day of repentance and mourning on Sunday, June 28, in response to the tragic shooting in Charleston, S.C. Two of those who died were educated and served alongside ELCA seminary graduates – some right here in Richmond. The shooter was an ELCA member, baptized and confirmed. Beyond this, this violent incident hits too close to home on many human levels.

We have already spoken about racial reconciliation and our call to resist violence and injustice in our Sunday school classes and Bible studies. [Some resources remain available on our website’s “Update” page.] This ongoing issue in our fallen world has been extensively preached about and discussed. We have prayed together for God’s justice and peace. We have sought to welcome all without hesitation or fear. We have worked together for equality and justice. As a community and individually, we must continue to do so.

Please spend some time in remembrance and reflection this day. Confessing our communal and individual sin, in what we have done and what we have failed to do, we ask God’s forgiveness. Remember the victims and all those hurt by racism and violence. We ask you to pray for our brothers and sisters of Emanuel AME Church and all those who mourn, especially the families and friends of the nine shooting victims: State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41, the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Church; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and DePayne Doctor, 49. Please also lift up in prayer the people and pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran (Columbia, SC). As difficult as it may be, please fulfill our Lord’s command to pray for our enemies, including the shooter, Dylan Roofe, and all those under the active spell of the sin we call racism and hate.

We are Christians, one body in Christ; called to be agents of reconciliation and peace, healers in a wounded world. We suffer when any member suffers and rejoice as they rejoice (1 Cor. 12:26). Wherever we stand in politics, our love of Southern traditions or hot button issues, let us commit to love one another. Let us continue to be gentle and compassionate as we listen to one another and share of our own experiences and in that of our neighbors. We are called to be one as we prepare ourselves and the world for Christ’s return. Thus despite imagined or real threats or any discomfort, we will raise our voices in supplication, hope, and confidence, “Come, Lord Jesus!” and seek to walk arm in arm with all our brothers and sisters into a future full of hope where reconciliation and peace will be achieved.

As we wait, Peter exhorts each of us, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6-11).

Christ’s peace be with you always,

Pastor Lou

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Who said growing in grace was easy?

3108_1920x1080There has been a great number of people to pray for of late. Both people in my family and our family of faith faced serious hardship. Some dealt with a reality that so often comes with age – the deterioration of our mortal bodies, some even facing death. Farther afield, too many folks remained hungry, cities burned in upheaval, the earth shook, and war and terrorism was much of the news. Some reported the shrinking of Christianity while an RV on the road was covered with threats: “Repent! The end is near! Jesus is coming in judgment!”

Is this really the abundant life Christ promised us or our doom? Ponder Paul’s words: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:18-19). He’ll go on to say that like birth pangs presenting new life, the Kingdom of God is both here and on its way.

If we focus on our suffering – if it is all we meditate on and what shapes our decisions – then, no, we aren’t likely living the life Jesus intended nor experiencing the fullness of God’s grace. That false “reality” misshapes our lives. To Paul, Christ’s resurrection has changed our world and our lot. We shouldn’t trust gossip or the news. We can’t trust our senses. We need to trust in the promises of God alone. A new heaven and new earth are on their way – as certain as the fall harvest even though we might find ourselves presently under the most blistering sun.

Here and now, the seeds of God’s love are germinating and beginning to sprout, but the harvest day isn’t quite here. That’s right, we aren’t just waiting for heaven in some far off future, but we are surrounded by heaven breaking into a very real and difficult world. It’s being revealed in the signs of comfort offered us and sustaining grace experienced during trial. It proves manifest in new life – creation itself, the birth of new children or opportunities, but also in the transformed and still changing children of God. Peter agrees with Paul writing, “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

This true reality is rooted in faith and a certain hope that feeds the hungry, ministers to the sick and dying, welcomes the stranger, or can love in the face of death. I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking here but radically trusting in the power of God. While we wait, we choose to believe. We seek to trust and follow. We only try to act on the certainty of eternal love around us and in us – not the uncertainty of our passing, present experience. Our Triune God does the rest.

Amidst wars and rumors of war, Jesus will come again. He is coming here and now. Yet, that’s not a threat. It is a new reality that has the power to redirect and bless every minute of our lives.

I pray your summer prove a time of fun, refreshment and new growth.

Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (June 2015).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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We hasten in darkness…

As I think of and pray for the struggles in Baltimore, this simple chant from Taize’ presented itself once again. It provides shape for my deep, inexpressible cries.

I cry for those who mourn the death of Freddie Gray, for the police involved and those declared guilty by association, for those hurt by the riots and those hurt by historic, ongoing injustices, for all in Baltimore or places like Baltimore, for all the children of God who wound each other from their own woundedness out of ignorance or intentional malice.

Yes, we hasten in our darkness and amidst the darkness which surrounds us. We seek easy answers when love is never easy. The love of Christ calls us to love one another – even our enemy. We are to do good even to those who persecute us and always desire reconciliation. Is this possible? How shall we know if we don’t seek for it together?

People are thirsty for peace, all people. Yet for peace to happen, we need to first listen to God and one another even when difficult – without all the finger pointing and name calling; loving each other without preconditions even as we strive for justice. I have experienced such peace and witnessed such improbable miracles during and after my first sojourn with the Brothers of Taize’. It was a love that changed my life and called me out from isolation.

I learned peace is possible even now – an inner peace as well as with one’s enemy, a peace not of this world and yet within our reach. It begins with our humble and contrite heart, one we dare open to others who might reject us. Christ, too, was rejected, and yet he chose to love us to the end.

Let us search for this peace together no matter how hidden or distant it seems. We should not give up in our thirst, but instead be led onward. The darkness need not crush us.

Choose to love to the end, for the light who is Christ will reveal himself in such love. We will be refreshed. We will find new life where there was none. We’ll discover that we need not walk alone and afraid. We never did.

Lyric translation of De noche iremos: By night we hasten in darkness to search for living water, only our thirst leads us onward, only our thirst leads us onward.

God of compassion, we give you thanks for Brother Roger’s life. In a world often torn apart by violence, through his life and those of his brothers he created a parable of communion. We give you thanks for his witness to the Risen Christ and for his faithfulness right up until death. Send your Holy Spirit upon us, that we may also be witnesses to reconciliation in our daily lives. Make of us builders of unity among Christians where they are separated, bearers of peace among people when they are opposed. Help us to live in solidarity with those who are poor, be they near or far away. With Brother Roger we would like to say: Happy those you abandon themselves to you, O God, with a trusting heart. You hold us in joy, simplicity, mercy.
(Prayer written by Brother Alois to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Brother Roger’s birth)

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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A difficult way…but true

baltimore 2As I write this, Baltimore is in flames. Pundits are spouting off. Peace seems a mirage; very much out of reach. Yet the peace Christ offers us isn’t of this world. It is both available to us here and now but also on its way.

If we say we want peace and justice, I found through the years that it isn’t achieved by pointing fingers of protest or in harsh judgments. It begins with a searching, fearless and ongoing look at my life and how I contribute to the injustices around me. Then, I make amends where I can.

It requires listening to the voices, pain, and problems of those I disagree with or who might not wish to listen to me. It comes from loving your enemies, and doing the good to those who hate you.

This is all difficult, but I think it is the only way for real and lasting change – Christ’s way.

We don’t offer such a love based upon people deserving it. We love because Jesus loved us even when we were his enemy. It is a conscious, heart centered choice. We make this offering even though we might be rejected, made fun of or worse.

This doesn’t mean we become doormats, for even the first disciples needed to dust off their sandals and walk away at times. Yet we might at other times be called to a form of martyrdom, where our pride, prejudice and preference are surrendered to the will of God despite the cost.

Our relationship with Christ calls us into relationship with others, even our enemies. That has to be our intentional goal. We need to seek them out. Again like the early disciples, we might have to return multiple times to try just once more to offer our faith and friendship. The person we seek to love might never get it. They may never understand and remain suspicious of us. Yet, change is possible.

If nothing else, you’ll witness the peace of Christ breaking into your heart and your world in a new way. Christ promised this. And maybe…just maybe…one who was your enemy might become your brother and sister, an unexpected gift in your life and to the world.

This is a difficult way, but it is true. Let’s seek to walk this way together, no matter what others might choose.

Christ’s peace,
Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (May 2015).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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A Resurrected People

“I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:7)

Recently, I finally broke down and bought a smart phone. After eight years with my old phone, it was sadly necessary and overdue. One of its many features is the ability to play a musical alarm. Recalling my past joyful experiences with the Community of Taizé as well as the many prayers shared between All Souls Episcopal and Messiah Lutheran, I immediately thought to make a Taizé chant my alarm tone. Of all the many choices available, I selected Psalite Deo (Praise God), based on Psalm 118. [Listen below]

What a blessing it has proven to have my first conscious thoughts each day be of God’s love and the great things done and being done in my life. “This is the day the Lord has made” with all its opportunities. “Sing a new song to the Lord for all the wonders God has done.” It is another day for me to give thanks and praise with all the earth. “Sing out for joy!” No matter what happens in this day, “I shall not die but live!” “For God’s love endures forever.” “Alleluia! Alleluia!”

With such affirmations thrust upon my mind and heart, my day begins somehow differently than before. I recognize once again that God is always doing something new in my life. No matter the adversity laying before me in wait, I need not be afraid. It is truly time for me to awake from my slumber and witness to the new, joyful reality of the Risen Christ in my life.

In our Lenten class on grief, I mentioned that life can often seem like a number of “little deaths” with its many trials and losses. Yet as we might rightly grieve, we should never forget that through Jesus we have access to an abundant life. Our “little deaths” will be used by God to show love for us. Blessing will surely come, and so, we can live in hope. We are called as a resurrected people where we trust God is doing new and wonderful things in and through our lives. We need not get stuck in our doubts and darkness. We can instead embrace the resurrection dawning in our lives.

“In my distress, I called to the Lord. God heard my voice and set me free. God is my strength. God is my song.” How shall I proclaim this Good News? How can I not? It is humbling to think that our extraordinary God is breaking into our ordinary lives in such a joyful, intimate way.

Yes, we have access to God through the Risen Christ. The tomb is empty. Let us not linger there, but instead run and tell all we know through word and deed. Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed! A new song and new life lie before us.

In thanksgiving, I want to live for him and those he entrusts to our care. I intend to lift my voice to the Lord for he is surely good, for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 118). I pray your life will join mine and the lives of all the saints in singing praises to God forever.

Happy and blessed Easter to you all!

Pastor Lou

Posted again (after an earlier, recent post on Psalm 118), here is Psalite Deo the Ecumenical Community of Taizé

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (April 2015).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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In Christ’s Defeat, Our Victory: Meditation on Psalm 118

Psalm 118 is perhaps the consummate psalm for Palm Sunday and as we enter Holy Week. Throughout the Gospel According to Matthew, the gospel writer has lifted up how Jesus was the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the Jewish scriptures. For example within the text, Matthew recounts five major lessons of Jesus’ teachings; much as there are five Books of Moses. When Jesus delivers his first recorded teaching in Matthew, Jesus gives his commands called the Beatitudes from a mountaintop; much like Moses was given the Decalogue on a mountain. Fourteen prophesies are explicitly connected to the actions of Jesus; fourteen being the traditional number of generations between Abraham and the establishment of the Davidic Dynasty, fourteen from David to the exile in Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus’ birth. It isn’t much different with Psalm 118. As with many, this psalm reflects aspects of the life and death of Jesus.

Psalm 118 is often recited as part of the Hallel, a Jewish prayer consisting of a verbatim recitation of Psalms 113 through 118. The Hallel is used for praise and thanksgiving on holidays such as the Passover, when the Jews recall the Angel of death passed over Jewish homes in Moses’ time leading to their freedom from Egyptian slavery. As Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, he deliberately enters “mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This fulfills the apocalyptic prophesy of Zechariah 9 regarding the coming ruler of God’s people and the judgement of Israel’s enemies.

To an oppressed people under Rome’s authority, Jesus was considered by many a messianic figure in the political sense. They quote Psalm 118 (verses 25-26), “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Many likely expect Jesus to precipitate their freedom as Moses did long ago and reinitiate a Davidic kingship. In celebration, they will “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar” – the way to the Temple where Jesus will come into his final conflict with his adversaries.

Yet, Jesus hasn’t come to be king in that sense. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” (v. 8-9). Like the ritual sacrifices in the Temple, Jesus will become a bloody, final sacrifice for our sake. Throughout the week, Jesus will remain in conflict until he is finally betrayed. He will be surrounded by adversaries like bees, pushed hard, and find himself crowned with thorns (v. 12).  He will die on a cross like a rebel, falsely accused of proclaiming himself king. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” The Temple will be destroyed in 70 CE, but the church, Christ’s body, will rise in its stead.

Thanks to God’s steadfast love, we will never be rejected. Through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, we have access to our Father in Heaven and forgiveness for our rebellion in sin. With Jesus, our lips and hearts can pray with confidence, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” Through the events of this upcoming week, we become conquerors with Christ (see Romans 8). We can rightly sing a song of victory – the victory of Jesus for our sake.

Christ’s peace be with you as we enter Holy Week together, Pastor Lou

 

Please enjoy a musical meditation on Psalm 118 from the Ecumenical Community of Taizé

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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