Things I Wanted Senator McCain to Say

Like millions of other Americans, I heard Senator John McCain’s impassioned speech to his colleagues in the United States Senate today, July 25, 2017.  It was quite uplifting to watch him enter the Senate Chamber to cast his vote on the healthcare debate after having undergone surgery last week to remove a cancerous tumor from his brain.  When I consider the time Senator McCain spent as a prisoner of war and his brave effort to confront the vicious form of cancer that has invaded his brain, I realize that he has forgotten more about patriotism and valor than most of us, including the president who once criticized him, will ever know.

Having established my respect for Senator McCain, I must state that over the years I have found myself in sharp disagreement with him over many issues including the Affordable Care Act, a law he has enabled to be gutted if not repealed through his vote and those of 49 other Republican senators and the Vice-President cast before his speech today.

I applaud the Senator’s call for bipartisan efforts to arrive at a workable replacement for the ACA, and I receive with gratitude his sense of personal and corporate confession for the divisive tone and progress-canceling actions that have imprisoned the Senate for several years. In addition, I deeply appreciate his call for his colleagues to disregard the “bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet.”

However, what I wanted to hear this legendary leader say had to do with the way large numbers of members of his party steadfastly refused to work with then President Obama in crafting the Affordable Care Act.  I wanted to hear a straight out confession over the ways he and his colleagues seemed to express no desire for the poor and most vulnerable members of society to have access to health insurance, even as they enjoyed such coverage themselves.  I wanted Senator McCain to confess the way his party prioritized the concerns of businesses and their own political viability over the needs of everyday constituents who were left on the sidelines of adequate healthcare because of excessive insurance company premiums and denials over pre-existing conditions.

Senator McCain, I wanted you to confess how your party made its attack against the Affordable Care Act personal in nature, relentlessly identifying the law as “Obamacare” not in honor of President Obama and his historic achievement but as an attempt to stir its base into a politicized and certainly racialized toxic stew of fear and bitterness against him.  Confess the ways your party responded to President Obama’s political gains by conspiring to strengthen its support not by the creativity of its ideas but by the craftiness of its ability to enact voter suppression laws designed to weaken if not cancel the voices and votes of African Americans and other people assumed by your party to be supportive of President Obama and the Democratic Party.

To be sure, I am praying for Senator McCain with hopes that he continues to receive the best healthcare possible, and that the aggressive form of cancer in his brain is decisively defeated.  Cancer claimed the lives of my mother and each of her siblings.  It is an ugly disease that has in one way or another impacted the lives of almost everyone I know.  However, my hope for Senator McCain is one that I have for everyone in our great land: that people of all income levels have access to the best healthcare possible.

As successful as the Affordable Care Act has been in enrolling millions of Americans in health insurance plans, it is not a flawless law.  However, when it is examined and tweaked by lawmakers who have flawless commitment to the health and well-being of all people, especially the poor, the Affordable Care Act will be avoid becoming part of a party-driven scrapbook of contempt and repeal and will instead become part of a bipartisan honor roll of compassion and respect as crafted by people who value human life and affirm human dignity. When Senator McCain and his colleagues vote yes to compassion and respect for all, political integrity and true progress will be the result.


“I thirst,” by Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr. A Good Friday homily

“I thirst,” by the Reverend Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr.  A Good Friday Homily. Text: John 19.28.

Three years ago, I preached a sermon while using crutches.  Be assured, they were not props!  They were honest to goodness crutches.  You see, my wife and I had been in a car accident nearly three weeks before.  Our car was totaled but miraculously, we were not.  We escaped with no broken bones or cuts, only bruises.  In fact, a bruise to my left knee was significant enough to require me to use crutches.

The interesting thing about crutches is that when using them, people cannot hide the fact that somehow, they cannot move forward without the assistance that such equipment provides.  The presence of crutches robs us of our ability to play along with America’s most thrilling and captivating reality show called, “Let’s Pretend I’m Perfect!”

Before the wreck, people could extend to me our well-worn cultural greeting/question, “How are you?”, and I could respond with the well-worn cultural response, “I’m well, thanks…and how are you?”, even though I may not have been feeling well at all.  Days after the automobile accident, someone asked me “How are you today?”  With my crutches being visible for all to see, I had to take the risk of honest disclosure and admit that not all was well with me.  This left me feeling vulnerable.

We live by an unwritten and unspoken social contract that calls adherents to project images of strength and self-reliance, and thus avoid at all costs, any public signs of weakness, pain, and vulnerability.  All of this makes me wonder about our society’s portrayal of Jesus.  While I continue to be amazed and somewhat amused that Jesus and other biblical characters with African and Mediterranean roots are almost always cast as European in art and in film, what makes me shake my head even more are the ways Jesus is presented as being accepting and uncritical of patterns of discrimination, racial privilege, poverty, and greed that make visible the deep fissures that divide the human family, fissures that seem to announce that we think our ways of living are above critique.

The sincere spiritual attentiveness of many Christians during Lenten and Holy Week observances indicate that we know our ways of living are not above critique.  Lent set the stage for us as for 40 days, we live our lives under the intense inspection of a Holy God and our faith communities, while seeking to align ourselves more closely with Jesus.  Then, on Good Friday, we contemplate his public death/crucifixion/execution.  How interesting it is that Jesus, the one we call Savior of the World or Immanuel “God-With-Us,” with all the power he possessed and had access to, had the audacity to allow himself to show what we dislike the most: vulnerability, being at-risk, feeling pain, experiencing humiliation, and being assigned a cruel and unusual public death on a rugged cross.

As the life force slowly exited his body, Jesus had the nerve to show a sure sign of his humanness and vulnerability by admitting to people whose job was to destroy him, that he was dehydrated, weak, and dying as he issued these words: I thirst.  He who had the power to quench humanity’s thirst for life, dignity and worth with the living water of love, was signaling his own thirst to those who had already signaled their intent to carry out the state-sponsored cancellation of his life.

The request just opened him to more ridicule for in no way would the soldiers give him water.  Instead, they would give him drops of sour wine from hyssop branches. Yet, no one in the crowd had any idea that God’s subversive conspiracy for human wholeness was unfolding right before their eyes.

On April 15, 2017, one day before the glorious Easter or Resurrection Sunday, Major League Baseball will once more celebrate Jackie Robinson Day.  Management, players, and fans will take time to remember that on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, living a life of vulnerability, shattered the ill-conceived apartheid system in baseball by becoming the first African American to play in the Major Leagues.  He endured vicious name calling, segregation in accommodations, threats on his life, just to name a few of his obstacles.  Even so, he displayed dignity, grace, and skill, and would not let the often baptized, unrepentant hate of his era consume him.

During baseball games set for April 15, every player on every team will wear a jersey with the number that Jackie Robinson wore as a player, Number 42.  In this act, Major League Baseball players will identify with a man who through being vulnerable, forever removed the asterisk of racist illegitimacy that had tainted the game, while transforming a nation, and thus enabling Major League Baseball to truly be major.

When Jesus allowed himself to be hoisted up on that cross, in effect he put on our number.  He identified with broken, hurting, and disgraced humanity, and all past, present and future lives disrupted by self-inflicted wounds of arrogance or by private and systemic attacks rooted malice and grounded in contempt.  Jesus put on our number, and thus, embodied God’s subversive conspiracy for human wholeness.

Through the public vulnerability of his execution, punctuated by his admittance of thirst, Jesus gave a clear and compelling message that would ripple across the oceans, echo from mountains to the plains and sweep through every valley, announcing that we need not live in fear and isolation in our homes or in our schools or in our nation.  No longer must we project the veneer of wellness with a make-believe sense of perfection.  We need not live by the spear nor depend on the “mother of all bombs.” Instead, the cross tweets out to us that we must take the risk of being vulnerable, and admit that no matter how rugged our individualism may be, it is not enough.  We need God and we need each other.  We thirst.

When we, the body of Christ, can admit that we thirst, that will be the time when we claim our God-given power to break free from the limitations of party politics, to dismantle oppressive practices carried out under the guise of religious freedom, and to replace the disabling policies of self-interest with liberating concern for all of God’s children. When we can admit that we thirst, we will be able to allow God’s transforming love to not only tweak us but transform us, and help us live more authentically Christian lives, where we put on the number of those who have been held hostage to hate and hopelessness, and pushed to the sidelines and margins of society.

As we embark upon this grand course, we will simultaneously be fitted with a new number, Christ’s number. We will then declare on Public Square in every city and town, every county and every precinct that we will find true and lasting security not in arms designed to kill and maim, but arms designed to hold our neighbors, all of them, and thus heal our land.

Then we can sing with renewed hope for the present, with our eyes on the prize of on a stronger and more faithful future, words made immortal by Isaac Watts, “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.  Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”  Amen.

The Reverend Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr. is Senior Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Findlay, Ohio

Racism: The Continuing Contaminant

One of the most difficult realities for many to accept is that the contaminating sewage, which is racism, continues to seep into social, political, and religious systems and remains there, untreated and very lethal to African Americans and other People of Color. It goes undetected by many power/privilege-possessing people because their perspectives, values, and fears form so much of what is called valid or “mainstream.”

Mainstreamed racist contamination leads to institutional callousness and arrogance that discount the realities, perspectives and aspirations of African Americans and other People of Color, and nullifies their existence except in fields such as arts, entertainment and sports. This happens every day, even in the church. In fact, church racism is quite debilitating because people confuse smiles and “we love you” sentiments with justice. They are not the same! The presence of an African American president or as other senior leaders in church and societal realms DOES NOT mean there is no racism in their systems. In many ways, it just gives license for many to believe that systemic racism is cured. I can tell you, it remains untreated and deadly in church circles.

Fixing systemic racism in public education, church organizations and society requires power/privilege-possessing people to admit they hold these advantages, while using their positions to create avenues for anti-racist power analyses, listening, truth telling, and power sharing en route to building and maintaining diverse, multicultural systems that have justice at their core, valuing all while trivializing none.

From Fear and Self-Preservation to Faith and Goodwill

On July 4, 2014 my family and I were part of a massive crowd of people that attended an outdoor concert when out of nowhere the elements of fear and self-preservation were released into the crowd causing a stampede.  Several people, including one of my daughters and me, were knocked to the ground.  Scores of people on a nearby hill stood motionless as they watched the rampaging crowd.  For a moment, I thought my daughter and I would be crushed!  By God’s grace, we collected ourselves and sprang up in time to witness a small yet bold and dedicated security crew diffuse the mayhem and prevent serious injury and loss of life.  After calm was restored, my daughter and I had our injured knees bandaged by Red Cross personnel visibly on the scene.

Four learnings: 1.  Fear and self-preservation can lead people to believe they must engage in irrational, unjust acts that can harm the life and well-being of those around them; 2. Many people stand and watch as others are consumed by fast moving, dignity-nullifying groups who have numbers on their side; 3.  It doesn’t always take a large group to end chaos and establish justice.  Small yet bold and dedicated crews of people, motivated by a sense of goodwill and fairness, possess the ability to effectively work for change; 4. People who are injured by those who have numbers and power on their side need places to go for healing.

I pray that the church of 2015 and beyond will never allow fear and self-preservation to give it the ill-conceived view that it must lead or be part of stampede-like actions that hurt others, or even to live as bystanders to social and ecclesiastical mayhem, for such inactivity erodes Christian credibility and gives consent to systemic misbehavior.  Instead, I hope we follow Jesus and adhere to the love-justice ethic of our faith and work together to establish and maintain human dignity and to end injustice wherever it exists – in social and economic realms, and within church operated corridors.  I hope we will acknowledge the brokenness of people all around us and position our churches as visible stations of healing and hope for victims of the stampedes of life.

Thanks be to God, our knees are better now!  Praise God for the security crew and the Red Cross personnel on the scene.  Amen