A Tale of Two Immigrants: Welcome, Lent Part 4

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Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free [Republican or Democrat]—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. –1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (The Voice version)

As part of my Lenten practice this year, I want to do a few of posts on refugees and immigration. 4 stories. 2 about refugees. 2 about immigration. 2 from a welcomed perspective. 2 from an un-welcomed perspective. The subject is complicated, varied, and divisive. I don’t know anyone who thinks we should ‘throw open our borders to anyone,’ nor do I know anyone who touts that we should close our borders to all. I will not solve any of the issues in my blog; however, I want to share some stories. I hope the stories will help us remember that while we debate and discuss immigration issues, we affect real people’s lives.

My husband and I have some unusual things in common for our generation. We both come from families who didn’t divorce. We both share a strong faith.

And we both come from first-generation immigrants.

In the past several weeks, I’ve explored stories of my life of feeling like a refugee, of friending a refugee family, and of my mother-in-law’s immigration. Now is the time to talk about my father’s immigration. I feel fortunate that my father wrote his memoirs for us. It has helped me understand the soul of the immigrant and anyone who is ‘other.’

My dad grew up in England during WWII, in the Manchester area–which was one of the most bombed areas during WWII. He remembers the air raids–a bomb went off 2 blocks from his house, throwing him from the bed. He suffers from tinnitus as a result. After the war, my grandmother finagled a way for him to go to boarding school because, as she said, ‘If there was any food to be had, they would give it to the children.’

My dad and grandmother (who was widowed) did not have much. Food heavily rationed, my grandmother (Granny) had a hard time putting food on the table. Luxuries like meat, butter, sugar and eggs didn’t see many English tables. I remember Granny telling the story of wanting to bake my dad a cake for his birthday. She went about the neighborhood collecting ration cards so she could acquire enough sugar at the ration office.

Community played a huge part in surviving the war and post-war years.

My dad’s sister married an American she met at a USO dance during WWII, and they moved back to Texas where my Uncle Harry lived. 11 years older than my dad, she and Uncle Harry prepared to sponsor Granny and my dad so they could immigrate to America. In the early 1950s, England still reeling from WWII, Granny told my dad they would leave when their quota number came up.

My dad was not pleased.

As difficult as life in England was, it was home. He had friends. He had activities. He was training for his life-saving certificate. His play-reading group had just elected him to play a main character that they all described as ‘the most typical Englishman.’  

So, grudgingly, my dad came to grips with leaving–vowing that he would return in a year or two.

My grandmother also left life behind. She had family, a boyfriend that my dad believes wanted to marry her, and a culture she understood.

My dad says he’ll never forget the ship on which they had passage. The HMS Mauritania. It had food! Glorious food! (any other Oliver Twist fans out there?) My dad hadn’t seen such feasts–meats, eggs, ice creams. The steward saw how thin my dad looked, and brought him 3 desserts the first night. My father loved it! (Before getting a little ill from all the richness.)

And they saw the famous White Cliffs of Dover. A few days later, the Statue of Liberty.

Then, they realized how much they had to learn.

Exchanging their British money for American currency, the rates had tanked for the British pound. Granny’s already meager savings dropped 40% upon arrival in New York City. Not understanding the coinage or tipping, Granny gave a cab driver a $0.10 tip, for which he berated her. So she continued to give him coins until he seemed satisfied.

Wearing his wool suit in the summer while traveling to Texas proved unbearable for my father; but, they didn’t have any summer clothes from England that would have worked better. They suffered through the humidity and the heat. Definitely a different climate from their home in Manchester.

They had a lot to learn.

But, they had definite advantages:

  • They were white.
  • They came from an Allied country.
  • They had family who took them into their home.

My dad has said that when he saw the segregation in Texas (he went to the ‘white’ high school), he realized that he had it better than any person of color in his town.

Even though he had a lot to learn.

Even though he was an immigrant.

Even though he had few resources. 

My dad talks of the insecurities he felt in the first year. He didn’t know the sports. America didn’t share his love of English sports: rugby, lacrosse, cricket. He determined to learn baseball and football to fit into his new home (basketball came later…). He worked as a soda jerk where learned social skills and a new way of talking. It took him 3 or 4 times to pass his driving test; but he passed. He made a life here, and began to dream other dreams.

And never went back to England.

As he has told my brother and I many times, in the class system of England, he probably would not have gone to university. Here, he seized the opportunity and became a professor. He worked for Boeing, GE, Motorola, and other companies. Because he could.

America embraced him as an acceptable immigrant.

But, he’s still British.

I remember asking him many years ago if he wanted to see Mel Gibson’s movie, The Patriot, about the Revolutionary War with my husband and I. His response, ‘You know, we lost!’ 

I believe many immigrants feel the same tension. Embracing their new home. Believing in the hopes and dreams of a better life than what they have in their homeland. Despite feeling scared at not knowing the culture, and possibly wondering if anyone will befriend them, they come seeking well-being and life.

Sometimes I can still hear his Northern English accent–Arizoner in particular, since that’s where they live.

And now, thanks to cable and modern postal services, he watches cricket matches, Manchester United soccer, gets his beloved Express newspaper once a week, and even watches some of Parliaments’ sessions.

I wonder if it helps him feel a bit closer to his original home.

**Next week, I will sum up my musings. I’d like to address that the two stories of immigration I’ve shared are legal; however they share similar reasons and feelings for those who are undocumented.**

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A Tale of Two Immigrants: Un-Welcome, Lent Part 3

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Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free [Republican or Democrat]—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. –1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (The Voice version)

As part of my Lenten practice this year, I want to do a few of posts on refugees and immigration. 4 stories. 2 about refugees. 2 about immigration. 2 from a welcomed perspective. 2 from an un-welcomed perspective. The subject is complicated, varied, and divisive. I don’t know anyone who thinks we should ‘throw open our borders to anyone,’ nor do I know anyone who touts that we should close our borders to all. I will not solve any of the issues in my blog; however, I want to share some stories. I hope the stories will help us remember that while we debate and discuss immigration issues, we affect real people’s lives.

The last 2 weeks, I’ve told the stories of refugees–me, who felt like a refugee living in Germany, and a family in our town who were Romanian refugees living in Germany.

This week, I’ll tell the story of my husband’s mother who married an American, thus becoming an immigrant in America. I don’t have all the details. Just bits and pieces from a letter she wrote 30 years ago, and stories I remember her telling us.

My mother-in-law grew up in Japan during WWII. She knew of the bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I only know snapshots of what she experienced. She didn’t open up about the war years much–which seems common in that generation. My husband never knew much about her life during the war–except that her father lost almost all his wealth. My sister-in-law may know more. I know in my family, I tend to ask more questions about our history than my brother does…

I have a long letter that she wrote to me after my husband and I got engaged. In the 9 or 10 pages, she talked about her hopes and dreams for her son, and alluded to some of the difficulties she’d experienced in America. She wrote it in Japanese, and then had her husband and another friend translate the finished project to send to me.

Her life started out seemingly idyllic in her island village. Her father loved her. She came from a  well-respected, well-off family descended from the Samurai. But, underneath the photos of the beautiful young girl lurked a hidden past. A mother who left for reasons unknown. Images of her mother in photographs destroyed–slashed. In her era of Japanese culture, the family removed all semblance of the spouse who left, and never spoke of that person again. Her father remarried a woman who acted out abusively because of jealousy toward her stepdaughter. She did not want to share her husband’s attention with anyone–especially not another female.

In school, she began to learn English … for about 6 weeks … until WWII broke out … when English became ‘the Enemy’s language.’ All forms of English schooling stopped. Japan became nationalistic and cut off Western education and culture.

A striking beauty, my mother-in-law dreamed of marrying an American so that her children would be tall and have blue eyes. (No one seems to have taught her about genetics. While neither of her children have blue eyes, two grandchildren do.) She had other offers; but she held out for a tall, American.

My father-in-law served in the military for several years. His service took him to Japan where he met this lovely Japanese woman. Almost a decade from the end of WWII, the world had begun to heal and rebuild. They married, and thus began my mother-in-law’s new life in our ‘Land of Opportunity.’

Except that she was Japanese.

She bombed Pearl Harbor.

She aligned with the Axis Powers.

She ended up on the wrong side of history from an American viewpoint.

Even though she was only a child during the war.

In a few conversations, she spoke of the prejudice she encountered from strangers, and her new family members. Her own mother-in-law did not accept her until much later in life. She spoke of having to learn ‘the Enemy’s language’ by conversing with people, learning this new culture so foreign from the one she left. People expecting many different things from relationships. In the Japanese culture, people rarely expressed their emotions.

She spoke of regrets that she had to leave jobs she loved because her husband’s job changed. She had no choice. No say. No recourse.

She could not make it on her own. And she felt very alone. Probably frightened.

And her new country did not want her.

She was the enemy. And she lived in her enemy’s world.

She spoke the wrong language.

She practiced the wrong religion.

She ate the wrong foods.

She laughed at perplexing times, because she had a different sense of humor.

Put yourself in her shoes. How would you fare uprooting to Russia, China, Botswana, or Haiti? How would you feel leaving the culture you love and hold dear, and moving permanently to a place that didn’t welcome your culture? Your beliefs? Your perspective?

Many immigrants come here because they hope for a better life. Many of those do not find a welcoming space here. Especially now. I hear stories every day of people born and raised in this country hearing ugly remarks like, “Go back to Africa!” (one man, who has Turkish heritage, was told, ‘Go back to Mexico.’). So imagine if we’re mistreating people who actually come from this culture and know how to navigate life in America, how those from other countries must feel.

My mother-in-law learned to hide some of her Japanese pride in public. In the safety of her home, she had many remembrances. With her Japanese friends, she spoke her native language animatedly. But, she didn’t draw attention to her heritage publicly. She couldn’t afford to show that pride. She didn’t know if she was safe.

May we become ‘safe’ people for those who have left everything they love and hold dear. May we remember that our country is a melting pot of cultures. Let us celebrate those differences. Unity amidst diversity makes us great.

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A Tale Of Two Refugees: Un-Welcome, Lent Part 2

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Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free [Republican or Democrat]—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. –1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (The Voice version)

As part of my Lenten practice this year, I want to do a few of posts on refugees and immigration. 4 stories. 2 about refugees. 2 about immigration. 2 from a welcomed perspective. 2 from an un-welcomed perspective. The subject is complicated, varied, and divisive. I don’t know anyone who thinks we should ‘throw open our borders to anyone,’ nor do I know anyone who touts that we should close our borders to all. I will not solve any of the issues in my blog; however, I want to share some stories. I hope the stories will help us remember that while we debate and discuss immigration issues, we affect real people’s lives.

Last week, I told the story of how I felt like a refugee when we lived in Germany. This week, I tell the story of actual refugees that lived in our small village of Erzenhausen.

Another family living in our town did not receive the same tepid welcome that we did. They were refugees from Romania. Ovidios had been on Ceausescu’s hit list. When that regime fell, the country was in disarray, and Ovidios and his family fled for their lives. He was an internationally recognized artist. He had won international awards for posters he created for the International Red Cross and for the United Nations. I had seen these posters in the media, symbolizing world peace.

He was somebody!

But, he was also a refugee.

His accolades meant nothing in Germany. The posters he’d created, which hung on the walls in the small home he and his family were given by the German government, did not give him peaceful living.

This story plays like a Hollywood movie:

The little home fellowship we called ‘church’ took them in. We tried to find them asylum in America; but we found that the immigration laws prevented them from coming here. For America, they were required to have $1,000,000 and have a sponsor in the country who could provide Ovidios with a job that no other American could do.

Our borders were closed.

We didn’t want them.

An internationally known, award-winning artist.

But one who was poor and came from an eastern-european-communist-block country.

The immigration standards changed depending on the country you left.

We finally found asylum for them in Canada. Our group of about 20 families raised $20,000–the amount Canada required. Remember the time–early 1990s, long before GoFundMe pages, Paypal, and wifi! We raised the money the old-fashioned way–we wrote letters to friends and family and churches, we sacrificed our own finances, we contacted government officials and embassies.

One woman in our little group LOVED crafting. She got us all to make 5 quilt squares each so that we could make a queen-sized quilt for them to take to Canada. I am NOT craft-sy. But, I dutifully made my quilt squares (with her substantial help). Ovidios, Tania, and their little daughter would be able to remember us.

Oh, and we gave them Cheez Whiz (or ‘Cheez Wheez’, as they pronounced it). Ah, yes, this delicacy is what we’re giving the world. Canned spray cheese made them so happy.

That’s the end of the story. The joyous, Hollywood ending!

(Naturally, Emma Stone would play me, and Steven Spielberg will direct… Ooooh, or maybe it could be a musical!! Lin-Manual Miranda, are you reading?!)

But I digress… 

But the middle part of the story also has the tension and drama of the Hollywood script:

Ovidios, Tania, and their little girl (I believe she was 3 or 4) were refugees.

And the little German village did. not. want. them.

The local baker refused them service.

Anonymous people would vandalize their home, and send them notes of un-welcome.

They did not feel safe.

They had no transportation. The nearest city was about 10 miles away. The closest bus stopped in the next town over, a couple of miles away. They often got rides from some of us. And several of us would get extra groceries at the commissary to give them.

In short, they relied on the kindness of strangers.

Because they had fled Romania, they had precious little in the way of clothing and creature comforts. Because they were refugees, they had precious few people to offer them support … of any kind–financial, emotional, mental, spiritual. Because they were refugees in a country who didn’t want refugees, they didn’t know whom to trust. Because they were refugees, they had precious little in the way of finances and ability to earn money to help them live. The German government gave them a subsistence for housing and food; but they found it hard to make ends meet.

Even in our little house church, people quoted Scripture (out of context) and said that we shouldn’t help them because the Bible clearly says, ‘For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat”’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

**And how they actually quoted that verse: ‘Why should we help them? The Bible says, “If a man don’t work, he don’t eat.”** 

Ovidios wasn’t lazy. No one would hire him. Because he was a refugee. Employers considered him an enemy.

Still, I’ve sanitized this version. I wish I had done more, realized more, offered more. One family in our house church lived very close to them in our town. They really bore the brunt of helping them. They exhibited more of Christ’s life to them. They sacrificed themselves and their young family to make room for them. (Emma Stone would play Leslie, not me…)

So, our current tensions over refugees hits home for me. I know what it’s like to feel like an unwelcome outsider in a foreign country–even though I had many comforts because of access to the American military bases. But, I’ve also seen the hardships of a refugee’s life as a friend to one.

Most refugees don’t pick the country where they will resettle. Survival-mode describes the trauma they feel as they escape war-torn tyrannies. Terror cloaks these children … women … and men. All they want is a friendly gesture of welcome. Because most of the gestures they receive do not acknowledge their humanity.

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

**Next week, part 1 of an immigration story.**

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A Tale of Two Refugees: Welcome, Lent Part 1

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Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free [Republican or Democrat]—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. –1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (The Voice version)

As part of my Lenten practice this year, I want to do a few of posts on refugees and immigration. 4 stories. 2 about refugees. 2 about immigration. 2 from a welcomed perspective. 2 from an un-welcomed perspective. The subject is complicated, varied, and divisive. I don’t know anyone who thinks we should ‘throw open our borders to anyone,’ nor do I know anyone who touts that we should close our borders to all. I will not solve any of the issues in my blog; however, I want to share some stories. I hope the stories will help us remember that while we debate and discuss immigration issues, we affect real people’s lives.

When my husband served in the Air Force, we lived in Germany for 3 years. We experienced a culture so much older than our American one. We lived in a farmhouse that was built in 1910, had survived 2 world wars, had added-on indoor plumbing, no room was square, and if you put a marble on the floor it would roll. And in our small village we heard the rooster crow, cows moo, and church bells ring as we woke to meet the day.

**sigh** Drink that in. Mmmmm. Even at the time, it seemed idyllic.

Okay, back to reality.

We lived there in the early 1990s. The Berlin Wall had fallen the year prior to our arrival. The first Gulf War, Desert Shield, was ending, and the second, Desert Storm, commenced days after we arrived. Germany welcomed accepted refugees flooding from Romania and other countries because Ceausescu’s government had fallen a couple of years before. Like our current climate, the world felt uneasy.

About 200 homes populated the little village. Many wanted nothing to do with us–we were interlopers, a reminder of WWII concessions because of defeat. However, I never felt unsafe. And no one ever denied me service. While some may not have liked the situation of having an American military presence in their country, they recognized the profit that they could have from our business; and for the most part, recognized that as individuals, we did not create the policies of our government.

When we arrived, I was 7 months pregnant with our first child. I had never lived so far away from home. Loneliness fell heavily on my shoulders. Jet-lag took ages (okay, probably a week) to get over. The excitement I first felt at living in a new culture began to give way as the stark reality set in that I knew no one here, and all of my support systems had stayed in America.

We felt like refugees in this foreign land.

We weren’t. And I do know the differences. We had many privileges that refugees don’t enjoy. We had a commissary on the military base which gave us subsidized food prices, we paid the American prices for gas (about $1.20/gallon vs. what-I-remember-the-German-price-per-liter of about $1.20), we paid US postage for packages/letters. But, most importantly, we had income. And a military community where we could retreat at any time.

In short, we had many more privileges than refugees.

However, the feeling of living somewhere foreign, not my familiar surroundings or familiar culture, helps me relate on a smaller scale to how a refugee feels.

We chose to live off-base, on the local economy. We didn’t speak the language. We didn’t understand the life-rhythms of the country. Small town stores closed during the afternoons, then reopened only to close by 6pm. Thursdays had a different shopping schedule, also; but I don’t remember if they stayed open later, or closed early. Saturdays, stores closed at 2pm. Unless it was a ‘long Saturday’ when certain times of the year stores remained open a little longer. I could only keep straight Sundays. Stores never opened on Sundays.

In the larger cities, we felt more at home. More people spoke English (at least better than we spoke German). We especially enjoyed the diversity of cultures. One of our favorite restaurants served Mexican food, but was owned and operated by people from India. Dogs came in with their owners. I watched, a little horrified, when one poodle piddled on the floor, and its owner just mopped it up with the cloth napkin… No one else seemed to notice.

I remember in our small village, we had a ‘Gasthaus’ (restaurant) that served Greek food. Often we ordered pizza from there–some of the best pepperoni I’ve ever had!–but sometimes we would dine-in. I always noticed one or two tables would clear out immediately when we sat down.

As a foreigner, I remember the few people who rejected me and my family because of our nationality. But, mostly, I remember the people who made me feel welcome. The people whom I felt I could exhale around. The ones who smiled and greeted me. The ones who spoke to me even though I couldn’t understand most of what they chatted about. The ones who made me feel like we belonged.

I remember the woman across the street from us, Elsa, who had a Labrador, Amore. She gave chocolates to my daughter when we went for walks. Elsa beamed as she talked with me and my daughter.

I remember our landlords who lived behind us–separated by an apple orchard and a small stream on the property. Monica spoke some English and helped us figure out where to shop, and how to navigate directions. She also gave my daughter chocolates. Most of the older people in the country seemed to carry around candy in their pockets on the off-chance they would see a child. My husband and I laughed thinking that in America, we’d accuse these people of nefarious motives. In Germany, we let our child eat the candy from strangers!

I remember our landlord, Dieter, who spoke almost no English. Our elderly next-door-neighbor had fallen on his stoop one night, and we didn’t know what to do. I called Dieter, and he must have understood the panic in my voice as I cried into the phone, “Karl is hurt!” Dieter came running, helped Karl up and into his house, and reassured us that he was fine. The next day, Monica explained that Karl was drunk and was fine; but he really liked that we covered him with a blanket…

I remember feeling secure knowing that our landlords and neighbors looked out for us.

Welcome. Belonging. A smile. Such small things. Yet, those ‘small’ things created an atmosphere that encouraged me to feel less lonely, less homesick, less foreign, less ousider-ish, and more confident to explore this new country.

Next week, Part 2.

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Why I Marched

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“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.” –Zechariah 7:9-10 (The Message)

I have strong opinions; but I’m not an activist. Mostly, I just imperfectly live my life under my interpretation of how Jesus lived. However, yesterday, I marched with thousands of others–7,000 in my city of Colorado Springs. Millions across the world marched.  Some, maybe most, marched in hopes that our government will take notice of the importance of keeping civil liberties for all Americans. Some marched out of concern for health care, immigrants, social security. Some, probably most, marched because our current president scares the bejesus out of them.

Lots and lots of signs.

Some made me laugh. 

 

 

 

Some brought me joy. 

 

 

 

Some made me tear up. 

 

 

 

But the energy in the crowd was hopeful! I saw unity amidst diversity. I saw people that don’t align with some of my political, theological, and social views; but we were the United States of America in that moment.

I marched for several reasons:

  • I marched because I’ve done much soul-searching about the 1860s and 1960s over my lifetime, and I always wondered on what side I would find myself–pro-civil rights, anti-civil rights, or just plain indifferent.
  • I marched because I, and my government representatives, need reminding that I have a voice that this ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ needs to hear.
  • I marched because so many in the minority groups are scared and need to know there are those in the privileged class who are allies and willing to give up some of their privilege so that they can rise.
  • I marched because orders already have been signed, and bills already have passed the House and are going before the Senate this week that sweepingly change aspects of our country, and most of us are not paying attention.

I haven’t paid attention.

That’s really why I marched. I needed see that this beautifully flawed country is made up of people from various perspectives. I marched with socialists, people who identify along the LGBT spectrum, atheists, Jews, Christians, and every other faith tradition, moms, dads, kids, grandparents, men, women, suburbanites, urbanites, homeless people, veterans, wealthy, poor, health-care providers, health-care users, every ethnicity in our city, able-bodied, ability-challenged, and some older people who remember their mothers voting for the first time.

I have forgotten our diversity, and am guilty of looking at things through my own narrow, limited view. For me, I hope this march was not just a moment. I hope I will continue with the movement to keep our government accountable.

So for any (and I’ve seen on Facebook that there are many) who don’t understand what these marches wanted to accomplish, you’re right that they didn’t change any legislation … yet. The goal was not a sprint to help people release some pent-up angst. The goal was to begin physical therapy so that those of us who have grown complacent can train for a marathon in keeping abreast of what our representatives are doing. The goal was to begin the long, difficult process of grafting in all the diverse people into a cohesive movement.  Across the board, our dissatisfaction with Congress, the Senate, and our government leaders in general has escalated over the last 6 years. I will continue to speak with my vote. But it will not stop with just that action. I will also use my voice and my presence with the offices of my senators and representatives.

I encourage all of us to do the same. Whatever gives you passion. Whatever your perspective.

Whether or not others understand or agree, marching yesterday gave me life.

**I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.**

 

 

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‘Give Him A Chance’? No.

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“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God.
“With gentle words, tender and kind” … (Isaiah 40:1-2a)

**If you voted for Donald Trump, for whatever reason, you may not want to read this post. If you choose to read it, please remember it’s not aimed at you. Notice I intentionally use the word ‘we’ throughout the post.**

Our election, like the painfully long election season that preceded it, has shown how deep the divide is in America. While our president-elect won the electoral vote, he did not win the popular vote. Protests have arisen. Some have become ugly with violence. I don’t condone the violence. I do support the right to protest and appreciate that we live in a country where we can express our discontent.

I’ve heard people who voted on all sides of the aisle call us to unity and peace. I’ve heard many voices say things like, ‘Give him a chance.’

No.

Wow, that felt incredibly freeing to write. Incredibly empowering. Incredibly cleansing. Like seeing sunshine after a long, dark winter. Like walking away from an abusive relationship. Like shedding dead skin.

I don’t dispute the election results or our future president’s legitimacy. I dispute that I have to give him a chance. I’ve given him a chance. For 18 months of the campaigning. For more than 30 years in the public eye. He’s had every opportunity to prove he’s a changed man, or take advantage of a second, third, fourth, ad nauseam chance. We don’t have to give him another one.

He has to prove himself to us.

And we don’t have to make it easy for him.

We don’t have to make nice at the first bone his administration throws to placate his opponents. The bone he’ll throw first will not be a meaty bone that has lots of marrow. He’s already said that he wants all three of his kids to head up areas of his transition team, and he’s earmarked Ken Blackwell of a designated ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center to head up domestic issues in the transition team. He has never given an acceptable or sincere apology for the abusive remarks and actions that flooded his campaign. He’s never condemned the deplorable actions of some of his supporters in a timely manner.

And that’s why I will not give him a chance. I would not ask abuse victims to make nice with their attackers–especially not 2 days after the rape of their bodies or their minds. I would give them empathy, space to feel the full range of grief–including anger in all it’s glory–and I would give them power by saying they never have to see that person again.

Our president-elect may be all over the news for the next 4 years. But I don’t have to watch. I don’t have to tune into the Inauguration. I don’t have to watch any State of the Union Addresses. I don’t have to encourage anyone to show him grace. I respect the office of President. I do not have to respect the person.

Some may cry, ‘Foul!’ or ‘Sour grapes!’ on me. I’ve never disputed the results of any election, including this one. I’ve had candidates lose before, and I haven’t felt this way.  I’m disappointed another candidate (seriously, any other candidate!) didn’t win; but that’s not what underlies my decision.

We elected a bigoted, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist, and said his character was less important than a Supreme Court nomination. We elected policies over human dignity. One friend told me that he thought America ‘gave the finger’ to D.C. politicians.

No. We ‘gave the finger’ to every minority/marginalized/oppressed group in this country.

Did I agree with all of the policies of the other candidates? No. Do I agree with some of the Republican policies? Yes.

It’s not about policy. It’s about people. And we just gave the utmost power in our nation to a man that has incited fear to the point of death in many groups of people. In many of our own families. In many of our neighbors. In many of our friends. In many.

In my own circles, I’m aware of 14 suicides and counting. I’m aware of numerous, ungodly slurs hurled at people by ‘christians,’ because these abusers feel legitimized by a president-elect who’s ‘one of them.’

And I hear nothing coming from his camp telling them otherwise.

Instead, he took to Twitter (when will his handlers take that privilege away from him) crying, ‘Unfair!’ when people protested. The next day, another more diplomatic tweet showed up. Perhaps, one of his camp took his phone away. Any editor worth their salt could tell you they weren’t his words.

It’s too late for him to apologize. Or for the far-right evangelical leaders who endorsed him to apologize, dismissing his comments and actions because policy and platform trumped people’s rights and dignity.  Apologies aren’t enough. We need actions. We deserve actions. Many, many actions.

Looking at his agenda for his first 100 days doesn’t encourage me that those actions will do much, except create an America where white-straight-males rule, and ‘liberty and justice for all rings hollow. The ones already feeling like their nation doesn’t want them, now have a bully in office who has begun to prove their feelings are not unfounded.

So where’s the comfort from God?

All I can offer is my solidarity.

If you feel fear, anxiety, sadness, weariness, anger, numbness, or whatever spectrum on the grief scale, I stand with you.

And so do more than half the people who voted.

So, reach out to a non-white/non-straight/non-majority ‘other’ today. Ask how they’re doing. Invite them over. Make a coffee/snack date with them–even if it’s Skype or FaceTime. Just reach out. Let someone know you’ve got their back.

None of us have to be alone. We have a God that welcomes all who come–regardless of what other voices may say. And we have a tribe with open arms to receive you. And when it feels so dark, a community will shelter you. And that’s the comfort. That’s the hope. In community, we can feel safe. In community, we can find unity of humanity. In community, it doesn’t have to matter who is president. Because in community, love trumps fear.

**sigh** It’s going to be a long 4 years, isn’t it?

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Pains In Our Backsides

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Therefore, to keep me from becoming overly proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from the Adversary to pound away at me, so that I wouldn’t grow conceited. Three times I begged the Lord to take this thing away from me; but he told me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a)

  • Yes, Donald Trump’s video sickens me.
  • No, I wasn’t okay with Bill Clinton’s behavior back-in-the-day.
  • Yes, Hillary Clinton is a flawed human being.
  • No, I won’t vote for Donald Trump.
  • Yes, Benghazi was horrifying.
  • No, I don’t believe Benghazi or the emails discredit Hillary Clinton.
  • Yes, I have substantial reasons for all of these statements.
  • No, I won’t write a blog about them.
  • Yes, I have read the same articles and have the same facts that others have.
  • No, there isn’t just one way to interpret that information.
  • Yes, I am thrilled to have a civil conversation with anyone about them.

As a matter of fact, I have had several conversations with friends on the-other-side-of-the-aisle from my leanings. And I learned things about them, and myself. And I have great respect for them and their interpretations of the facts in our current political mess.

But, sometimes, we just need a funny story that relates to the bigger picture:

The other day, I finally had a morning to sleep in after a month of travel and catching up after travel. My son had to work early, my husband had breakfast plans with a friend, and I would have a silent house that wouldn’t wake me.

Mmmmmm. Best. Laid. Plans.

As I enjoyed a dream devoid of politics, I felt a sharp pain in my backside.

And then again.

prick. prick. prick.

It became an unpleasant part of a dream that had started off as a party with friends, then became a horror movie scene where someone took a knife to me–in my backside.

Ssssslooooowly entering into the non-dream world, I realized there must be a needle or a pin in my bed. I felt around; but couldn’t find anything sticking in me, out of me, or on the sheets. I tried going back to sleep; but I kept feeling the needle pricking me.

Finally, sleep completely gone from my mind and body, I got up and looked around my bed. Something was moving; but my eyes hadn’t quite adjusted to ‘awake’ reality. Fading into focus, I saw the ugliest weirdest spider I’d ever seen!

THEN IT TOOK FLIGHT!

And I couldn’t see where it went!

I screamed!

To no one since everyone was gone. Thoughts flew fast and furious through my crisis-heightened logic:

I could make a 911 call because surely this was an emergency but maybe the more rational thing to do was to call my son and have him leave work to come rescue me because he works only 5 minutes from our house so he could be there before the monstrosity killed me and surely his boss would understand of course I had no idea where my husband was having breakfast but I could call him and he would rush to my defense because he’s gone 100mph before and surely that experience was in preparation for this very moment!

Then I came up for air.

Somewhere in all my panic, my eyes snapped into clear focus and I saw it on the wall.

Thank God!

It was only a wasp…

Yes, as my backside burned with the fire of fresh stinging, I breathed a sigh of relief.

It wasn’t a mutant spider.

It was a normal wasp.

**I felt the same relief long, long ago when I went to Mexico on a short mission’s trip. We had been told stories about the mutant roaches that grow to the size of small rodents … and were albino because they lived in the sewers … So, my mind was prepped when I saw the white eel-like creature slithering behind a pot. Not ashamed. I totally freaked. I begged my brain to let me pass out; but what if there were more on the floor?! I just stopped breathing and pointed. Someone said, ‘Oh, that’s just the rat that comes in at night, looking for food.’ I’d rather face a normal icky thing than a mutant creature. Normal icky may creep me out; but I don’t have nightmares about it.**

But back to the scheduled program…

Those of you who protect all living things, and who are vegans, may want to skip this next part…

I bravely killed the wasp.

Our election coming up is a little like that wasp. Irritating. Threatening. Painful. Fear-inducing. But, like my interaction with the wasp, our election process will come to an end.

We will go back to our business at hand.

We will have ample opportunities to complain about the next president.

We will see that America has problems that are too big for our government.

And we will have a choice to get involved in the healing of our country’s wounds, or let them fester like a bee stinger stuck in our backsides.

May God’s grace continue to be sufficient.

I welcome comments. Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Elections of the Privileged

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‘Love … does not seek its own interests … When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. ‘ (1 Corinthians 13:5, 11)

While I hope all who read this post will benefit, my focus centers on my more conservative past. I don’t often talk about my life before social justice took over my heart; but in this election I felt I had to address some of my past, and growth. Maybe, just maybe, others can hear this perspective from someone who used to be one of them.

I’ve voted across the spectrum. I’ve registered as a Democrat, Republican, Independent throughout my voting career. I’ve voted for candidates. I’ve voted against candidates. I’ve voted from a place of hope. I’ve voted from a place of cynicism. I once even handed my mail-in ballot over to my daughter who had neglected to register for her first election.

Common denominator? I vote.

However, most of the time, I vote for myself. My interests. My comfort. My beliefs. My privilege. I haven’t thought about how policies, politicians, platforms affect those not in my white, middle-class-or-above, conservative-evangelical society. After all, American society would function better if we all got on board with white-middle-class-or-above-evangelical-thought, right?

*sigh* … I’m embarrassed to even write that, or admit it out loud. But one reason I started this blog was to say things out loud, and as honestly as I could. The good, the bad, and the ugly of our humanness.

This election season, I’ve watched all the usual stumping, preening, and blustering. But, I’ve watched the candidates through a different lens. I’ve watched them through Black Lives Matter. I’ve watched them through the eyes of LGBT+ family and friends and allies. I’ve watched them through the eyes of the physically-challenged and the developmentally-challenged. I’ve watched them through the eyes of women. I’ve watched them through the eyes of a dead Muslim soldier’s family. I’ve watched them through the eyes of a 25 year old girl about to get citizenship after living here illegally, unbeknownst to her, for 23 years.

This election year, I see (what I hope is) a last stand of white, middle-class-or-above, conservative-evangelical tradition. Bullying people into a mold of that status-quo. Where white privilege rules, and we keep our power–trying to force non-white, non-middle-class-or-above, non-conservatives into our social order. A tradition where we don’t mind others, not in our group, moving up. We just don’t want to move down in the process. We’re proud, white Americans. And we’ve always had this god-given standard of living. We deserve it. America gave us this right. And we won’t be like Esau who sold it for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25).

*sigh* … I do that a lot lately …

And I hear the fear in all those statements. Fear that if we give up any of our power and privilege, then our country will no longer honor Christian traditions. We fear that our country will become less-white, and our conservative-middle-class-or-above culture will fade–which means we failed God and betrayed His call on our lives and our country’s life. We fear that our God won’t defend Himself

 … won’t defend us … 

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? We fear losing our way of life. The way of life that we believe God mandates. We don’t want God to become bigger than our box. We don’t want God to expand. We want to keep Him static, because our view of the Bible is static. (But that’s another post for another day…)

As the first debates start this week, let us finally listen to the whole of our country, and not just our own agendas. Let us finally see the smallness of our pet issues, and begin looking at America as a true melting pot. Let us live out our beliefs, faith-traditions, and ideals by really walking in another’s shoes. Let us vote our conscience. I just pray that our conscience doesn’t only benefit the already powerful.

This year, I have determined that I will cast my vote to share my privilege … even if that means reducing my power … even if that means reducing my standard of living. If it means our country’s playing field is a little more leveled, I’m all in.

This year, I will vote for the ‘others’ in our country. I will vote for the oppressed, the marginalized, the powerless. I will vote for the non-white, non-middle-class-or-above, non-conservatives in hopes that we will begin to level our society and learn from all walks of life. I will vote my theology–the teachings of Jesus–in hopes that in living out my beliefs, my theology will lead others to ‘life and not bondage,’ as a friend once said. I finally get it that politics and voting is not just about my special group. I finally get it that if my fellow Americans can’t live without fear of discrimination and oppression, then we don’t live in a free society. I finally see through their eyes.

I finally grew up.

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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An Unexpected Sabbatical

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“I am as good as dead,
     like a strong man with no strength left.
They have left me among the dead,
     and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
     cut off from your care.
You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
     into the darkest depths.” (Psalm 88:4-6, NLT)

I published my last post over a year ago. I didn’t expect to go silent. I fully expected to continue with a series about anger and healing. Instead, life happened and flung us into a rollercoaster that crashed into an abyss.

And I lay there.

For about a year.

In silence.

Alone.

A traumatic death brought our son and 2 large dogs back home. Months of trying to re-home 2 other dogs. Inheriting a cat from a 95-year-old friend who had to move.

Empty nesting, then full-housing. And inadequately helping our son move through grief and put some pieces of life back together.

While the puzzle of our life is starting to take shape, I am only now starting to look around the abyss for a way out.

I don’t know yet how often I’ll be writing; but I know I must write. It’s my ‘safe place.’ My processing place. My refuge. And in sharing, I find hope and community. Connections with people who feel the same, but may not have words.

I have words. It’s one of my gifts.

Then others share their gifts with me, because I gave them words.

While this short post only cracks the door as I begin to search for sunlight and slowly examine how damaged my heart is and do I have the stamina to begin the arduous journey upward, I must begin.

Will you begin again with me? 

Have you experienced levels of trauma you didn’t know existed? Has your life taken a toll on you, and you wondered if you would ever recover? Let’s explore baby steps together!

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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The Supreme Court Ruling, ‘Biblical’ Marriage, and Grace

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Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. –Romans 14:1 (The Message)

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” –John 14:6-7 (The Message)

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. –Ephesians 5:32 (NASB)

I promise I will get to some more on anger; but current events keep happening…

A couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States gave a landmark ruling on marriage equality.  So much division, among the justices of the court as well as across our nation.  I don’t know how we can get beyond the diatribe and vitriolic soap boxes both sides are lobbing; but we must try.

I’ve addressed my own feelings about marriage equality and LGBT relationships here and here; but for this post I’d like to process through some of the arguments that trouble me the most when I hear my brothers and sisters use them in a holier-than-thou tone, and the implications of the statements:

  1. I believe the Bible and what it clearly says:  The implied statement is that only those who agree with my interpretation know what the Bible actually says.  This statement breaks my heart because I’ve studied and taught the Bible most of my life.  Not just my adult life; but since I could sit up.  I know it’s scary to change long-held beliefs of what we’ve been taught the Bible says.  I’ve had to trudge through those murky waters too.  I’ve had to look at passages and stories from other facets (as the Hebrew writers of the Bible intended), and ask hard questions about cultural and historical perspectives.  And then, come to my own understanding of how to live out the life of Christ with integrity–because ultimately, Christ is truth.  Not the Bible.  The Bible can show us Christ; but the Pharisees knew the scriptures, and didn’t really understand how to live them out.  I’ve found there are many credible Bible scholars with differing interpretations.  All of us need to find the one that we can in good conscience follow.  Even if that means we don’t agree.  And then we must respect each others’ views.  Holding that tension of differing interpretations leads to unity.  True unity in the Spirit.
  2. I believe in the biblical view of marriage:  The implication with this line of thought is that ‘biblical marriage’ is what our culture defines as ‘normal.’  But in reading the Bible, biblical marriage can be anything from polygamy to concubines to women-as-property.  Solomon speaks of lusty love; but remember he also had about 1000 wives and concubines.  The Christian New Testament has a few references to marriage; but in that day, women were property–it wasn’t what we think of as marriage in our country today.  And most of the references to marriage aren’t about human marriage–but analogies of our collective relationship with God.  Working with Bible translators in different cultures and tribes on different continents has made me question what our role is in proclaiming the gospel.  Do we try to ‘convert’ people to our way of life, or to Christ’s life?  What do we do with polygamous tribes?  Do we try to make them change to our views of living, or do we allow the Spirit to decide when and how their cultural beliefs change?  Would we say to a man with 12 wives, “You have to pick one,” and then leave the other 11 to live unprotected and stigmatized outside the community?  What about in our own country?  Would we actually say to children with 2 mommies or daddies that it’s better for their family to be torn apart and for them to experience the trauma of divorce because God hates the love in that family?  Christ, have mercy!, if that’s our stance.  If marriage is representative of how Christ and the Church treat each other, then I’m not sure that gender matters. I’ve known heterosexual, Christian couples who don’t treat each other very Christlike. Are we saying that those marriages are better representations of Christ and the Church than a same-sex relationship that honors and respects each other?  I’m not saying that all Christians have to support marriage equality; but, people, let’s have a little compassion!
  3. The Bible doesn’t condone same-sex relationships:  The implication being that anything the Bible doesn’t condone is sinful?  The Bible ‘clearly’ doesn’t condone birth control of any kind, modern technology, medical research of any kind, most of the lifestyle choices we make in the way of ‘success’ and ‘prosperity’, interracial marriage.  The list goes on and on and on.  We do ourselves a disservice when we try to conform our beliefs to the Bible, instead of allowing the Spirit of God to transform our hearts through informing us what the Bible says about God’s intentions toward all people.
  4. Same-sex relationships aren’t natural:  The implication here is that whatever comes naturally is okay?  Because to a person with same-sex attractions, opposite-sex attractions are ‘unnatural.’  Also, scientists have found at least one entire species that is 100% bisexual, and at least 1500 species with a percentage of same-sex attractions–it will be more; but they’ve only studied 1500 species. Those statistic references are in my aforementioned blog posts.  Often, this argument is followed by, “If we support same-sex marriage, then accepting bestiality and pedophilia will follow.”  It’s discouraging to hear so many arguments that are borne from fear.  I had a conversation with a friend who asked, “So is everything ‘gray’?”  I could hear the fear of instability in her voice as she wrestled with how to view life if we don’t see controversies as black and white.
  5. Acceptance of marriage equality dooms America:  I feel the weight of this statement crush so many each time I hear it.  Can you imagine if you were told over and over and over again that your existence, your very being, can bring down a nation?  Did we hear that same phrase each time a pastor or priest has abused his position?  Has anyone ever heard those words and said, “Tell me more about this Jesus you say you follow”?  Seriously, if that is our ‘good news’, I want nothing of it.  Callously and arrogantly fixing this weighty yoke on anyone reveals our own fear.  The Jesus I know never told us to live out of fear.  He showed us how to treat people–even when they didn’t match the religious norm or who God chooses.

Again, I am not suggesting that anyone who is against marriage equality is uninformed or unenlightened.  On the contrary, I know many who read the same Bible verses I do and interpret them differently.  I’m not even suggesting they are wrong.  I’m saying it’s not about winning a debate or proving a side right.  The Supreme Court ruling shouldn’t change much about our lives.  Jesus wasn’t frustrated by governmental or religious laws.  He lived his life in full submission to God.  How would he respond to this modern-day ruling?  He would continue to heal, teach, show compassion, eat with sinners, chat with societal undesirables and desirables alike, cry out against injustice, weep, laugh, pray.  Regardless of what we believe about subjects and theories, we can agree to follow Christ’s example.  But we have to stop the bumper-sticker arguments that just aren’t helpful to anyone.

So how do we live out the life of Christ with integrity if we don’t agree on biblical interpretations?  Romans 14 is a great place to start.  Practicing with trusted people with differing points of view

Of course, that implies that we actually have people in our lives with differing points of view….

Reading other perspectives with an open mind–not with a goal to change your mind or solidify your beliefs; but with a goal of understanding the complexities of the topic, of learning to hold in tension the various perspectives which leads to true unity of faith.  Faith that God is the same yesterday, today and forever; but we are constantly growing out of our own boxes of understanding.  God gives us the grace to grow into a broader understanding of Christ’s life as our knowledge of the universe, human body, human psyche, scientific discoveries expands.  

How exciting to be privy to revelations about scripture and God’s nature!  How exciting to learn to live with one another in unity without having to force conformity of thought!  How exciting to travel this road with others with different images of God than we have known!  How exciting to travel on the road of grace!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Prayer Vigil For 9 Martyrs

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The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us. –John 17:21

This week, I was going to process through some thoughts on anger that I’m pondering.  However, that was before a young man brought a gun into a church and gunned down 9 people.

I’m still wrestling with my own ‘white privilege,’ racism in America, ‘black lives matter’, how we can still be struggling for equality in the 21st century, and how far we still have to go in looking past people’s skin tones as a judgement on their character.  

For this post, I simply want to give some space for solidarity, unity, and lamenting.  On Friday night, I attended a prayer vigil at a local AME church.  Several leaders from the community, other congregations, other faith traditions spoke about how Sunday morning continues to be the most segregated time of the week in America.  How every Sunday should look like that gathering–men and women leading, black and white intermingling, all being welcomed.

The joy and fervency of the AME congregation, as well as the other ‘black’ congregations represented, expressed conviction that they (the black Christian community) would rise victorious because they ‘had been here before.’  People spoke of Selma, Juneteenth, Ferguson, and more recent events.  My eyes began to flood.  They spoke of forgiveness, of needing the white people to act, of wanting true equality–not separate equality–in their lifetimes.  My eyes could no longer hold the tears.

Others spoke.  A Jewish rabbi.  A Baha’i leader.  A Buddhist leader.  An Anglican priest.  A Baptist preacher.  The head of the local NAACP.  Another Jewish leader.  Men.  Women.  Black.  White.  All united in wanting our world to be better.  More tears.

Then came the roll call of the 9 people who died.  ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ sung in a hushed hum.

(‘When peace, like a river, attendeth my way)

Clementa Pinckney

(‘When sorrows like sea billows roll’)

Tywanza Sanders

(‘Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say’)

DePayne Middleton-Doctor

(‘It is well, it is well with my soul’)

Cynthia Hurd

(‘It is well’)

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

(‘With my soul’)

Susie Jackson

(‘It is well’)

Ethel Lance

(‘It is well’)

Daniel L. Simmons, Sr.

(‘With my soul’)

Myra Thompson

Then, in resounding and swelling volume, we all sang in unison the chorus again.  I felt the Holy Spirit in that gathering.  It felt like how ‘church’ is supposed to be.  And the call that we can’t let this be a one-off event.  We need more gatherings like this one.  I believe other churches are planning on having gatherings like this once a month in my area.  I plan on attending those efforts.

I left with a bittersweet feeling.  I couldn’t shake the sulphuric taste in my soul that it took the martyrdom of 9 people to get us to integrate a congregation for one night.  We can’t wait for other martyrs to continue integrating.  We just can’t!  The time was 150 years ago.  The time was 50 years ago. The time is NOW!  Will we continue to pass on this separation to future generations? Or will we finally say, “ENOUGH ALREADY,” and actually do something to change our corner of the world?

What can we do?  Well, glad you asked:

  1. We can intentionally attend a church or meeting of people who are not our skin color.
  2. We can ask our pastors and leaders to work with congregations and organizations of people who are not our skin color–and support those efforts with our presence, money, time.
  3. We can support community events that celebrate all our skin colors.
  4. We can have conversations over coffee, over lunch, at our dinner tables about racial injustice in our own nation.
  5. We can admit to our own prejudices (not necessarily racial), discomforts, fears, and hopes publicly and privately.
  6. We can vote for candidates that have a track record of taking injustices (not just racial) seriously and have pledged to use their influence to enact change in our country.
  7. We can get to know our neighbors, of any color, and build community again in our towns.
  8. We can support Emanuel AME church with donations, or find a church or organization in our communities who struggle because they are made up of minorities and don’t have the resources that more privileged organizations enjoy.

I’m sure there are many other ideas.  Please share them with me!  Because I don’t want to go to bed another night weeping because more lives have been lost due to hate or in the name of ‘purity.’

We don’t have the luxury of getting tired of these conversations and ignoring the Facebook posts and news articles.  Lives are at stake.  Our country is at stake.  Our humanity is at stake.  Our souls are at stake.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A Wake-Up Call … In No Uncertain Terms

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The word of the Eternal came to me with a message for Israel’s leaders … Meanwhile you don’t take care of the sheep at all. You have not sought to nurse the weak. You have not gone out to tend to the sick. You have not bandaged the injured. You don’t bring back the strays or look for the lost. You have led them with neglect, ruled them with harshness, shepherded them with cruelty! They had no real shepherd, so they have scattered; the entire flock was prey for wild beasts. My sheep drifted aimlessly through all the mountains and up and down every hill. My flock was scattered all over the world, scattered like the stars in the night sky, and not a single shepherd went looking for them.” –Ezekiel 34:1, 3-6 (The Voice)

I’m in the middle of a month-long course called Walking Wounded.  The on-line forum is designed to share stories of church and life experiences with others who have been deeply wounded by churches and Christians.  Each week, we have exercises to complete to help us understand the traumas and (hopefully) help us process through them with the goal of healing.  We have journeyed through all the stages of grief.  This week dealt with anger.  So, this post exposes some of the things that make me angry–because it’s healthy to express anger when things are unjust.

I’ve never really legitimized anger in my life.  Judging by the class and interactions with people throughout my life, I don’t think I’m alone.  We deal better with denial, fear, sadness than we do with anger.  I need another week to process through some of the things I began to learn this week; but for this post, I want to expose some of the inconsistencies I see in the churches that I’ve been a part of, and validate that we should be angry over them. 

My last post encouraged women and men to not accept the status quo of power.  I get a little irritated when I hear women accept the power-system and not realize just how much power we wield.  If we choose not to insist on being treated with respect and honor, we have no one to blame.  Because we have the majority numbers in churches and could actually change things, if we want to stop complaining.

Part of my angst over the male/female power struggle is that there are true minority groups in churches that do not have the numbers to command much power.  A pastor once said to me that he didn’t understand why I was so passionate about a particular issue in the church because others didn’t get so emotional about it.  Why should I, who was not affected by the policy, get so worked up about something that the majority didn’t feel was that important?  Frankly, people who see the injustices and don’t get passionate about them should concern us.  Lack of empathy from the people who have a trump card concerns me deeply.  If we don’t stand up for those who cannot change the system, what does that say about us?

That we are entitled, spoiled hypocrites who put the ‘anti’ in ‘anti-Christ.’

Yeah, I know, ‘Them’s fightin’ words…’

Well, then, since I’m on a roll, let me give you a few more strong words.  But notice that I include myself in all these statements. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone from a self-righteous stance. It’s a ‘we’ problem:

  • Shame on us, church, for pandering to white/Western/consumerism.
  • Shame on us, church, for growing fat off the poverty of others.
  • Shame on us, church, for letting others drift away instead of running after them and showing them how valuable they are to God.
  • Shame on us, church, for closing the doors on some because they make us uncomfortable, and we don’t want God to look like them.
  • Shame on us, church, for so piously giving a token amount of money so that we don’t have to actually see or touch someone in desperate need.
  • Shame on us, church, for elevating theology over people and relationships, and for using the Bible as an excuse for our prejudices.
  • Shame on us, church, for protecting a system and a building and salaries over the people our system, buildings, and salaries have destroyed.
  • Shame on us, church, for not acting like the Body of Christ.

I know it’s harsh.  I also know it’s true. And I know it doesn’t have to be this way.  We really can do better.  But we have to look at the problems in all their ugliness.  We have to admit the ugliness without caveat that ‘But, there are so many good things we’re doing too.’  The good things cannot whitewash the ugly beliefs and systems we keep perpetuating.

We have to admit our guilt … dare I say it? … Our sin … against God and those created in God’s image.  In humility, we have to ask forgiveness from those we’ve offended and repent–make a hard 90° turn.  We have to admit that we don’t have to look to the future for THE Anti-Christ.  We are the anti-Christ.  Complete with an agenda for a one-world government and belief system. 

But more on that in a few weeks…

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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The Trump Card

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We Are we back to page one? Do we need to gather some recommendations to prove our validity to you? Or do we need to take your letter of commendation to others to gain credibility? –2 Corinthians 3:1 (The Voice)

My parents instilled a great gift in me.  The gift of equality.  My dad, in particular, treated men and women as equal.  No small fete since he was a professor and department chair of Industrial Engineering.  From the early 1960s-the late 1990s.  Not exactly a woman-friendly era or subject.  But he judged people based on their competency and integrity.  So when the first woman came to the department in the early 1970s, my dad was one of the few that showed her tremendous respect.

Because of that upbringing, it’s always confused me how many churches will let women do all the ‘dirty’ work, but not have any real power or ‘permission’ to preach from the pulpit or anywhere that men are present.  I’ve had all the scriptures tossed up at me whenever discussions get to the point where my perspective is ‘winning.’

In the game of church, there are two decks. One for men, one for women. The decks are mostly the same with the exception of one card. The men have it in their deck, and it can be played at any time and as often as needed. It never runs out.

Usually, the card is thrown in a declaration, “Oh, yeah, well the Bible says that ‘women are to keep silent in church.'” Or, “Oh, yeah, well Paul said ‘I don’t permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man,’ so you need to back down.”  And most recently, “You may have a point, but can you submit to my authority.”

There’s really no answer to it.  It’s designed to put a woman in her place and secure the established order.  All under the guise that it’s what God has declared, so we can’t question it.

The trump card has been played.  And women have lost the game.

Frankly, I’ve wondered why women get married, if all we have to look forward to is a life of submission to our husbands and our pastors.  Why would a woman want to follow Jesus, if that’s the message?

Okay, so this post could go to an ugly place of soapboxes and ‘My sisters in Christ ARISE.’  But what good comes of that type of ranting?  Instead, let’s look at solutions.

Women:  

  • We need to stop accepting this treatment.  Seriously, if we stop volunteering or going to church, eventually the establishment has to listen to us.  We comprise more than 50% of church attenders.  We comprise 75% or more of the volunteer force.  We can throw our own trump card which carries greater weight than the ‘submission/authority’ trump card.  And we can in good conscience play our non-compliance card.  Shadrach, Meshach and Adbednego were in full submission to the king when they refused to bow down to the idol.  We have bowed down to the male-dominance idol long enough.  
  • We have to value ourselves, our voice, and think about the future generations of women us who deserve the treatment that Jesus gave women.

What we give or don’t give (financial and time) can make a church flourish or fail.  Am I suggesting blackmail? Maybe?  But haven’t we been held hostage long enough.  I am suggesting how to pay-off the ransom and negotiate freedom.

Men:

  • We need you and your support!  It starts with how you treat the women in your life.  And how you value what we offer.  Do you believe that women are equal (not the same) to men?  Do you believe that God speaks to women at the same level and with the same authority that God speaks to men?  Do you believe that God is only masculine? Because I can give you a plethora of scriptures to refute that thinking.  We have to see ourselves as ‘one’ and not as opposing sides.
  • If you are a man in leadership:
  1. Look for opportunities to encourage women to use their giftings.
  2. Hire an equal number of women to men–and have at least one woman in a senior-level leadership position (pastor, co-pastor, assistant/associate pastor, etc.).
  3. Listen to their ideas, thoughts, interpretations … and act on some of them.
  4. Back them with resources and your mentorship to give them a shot at succeeding.  This way may require you to sacrifice a little of your time spent on other church matters, but the rewards will be great.
  5. If there is opposition to women having more power in the church, stand with us and be willing to fight for us!  Do your research in the Bible and use your sermons to validate women in the Gospel story.
  • If you are not in leadership:
  1. Use your credible voice with the leaders.  Male leaders will listen to another man, because you have greater access to relationship with them.
  2. Have coffee with them and talk about how to make room for more women to teach, preach, lead.
  3. Share how women have shaped your life and that without women’s instruction, presence, leadership, perspective you would not be whole.
  4. Explain that the Body of Christ needs us all.
  5. Offer to look at Bible passages and various interpretations with them.
  6. You also can withhold money and volunteer time. Again, without those resources, churches will have to change their policies to conform more to the teachings of Jesus and the biblical attitude of God toward women.

It will take time–more than one coffee meeting.  And it will be hard.  But worth it when you think of how your mother, sister, aunt, daughter, granddaughter, female friends have been or will be treated in the name of Christ.

We have been led to believe that we don’t have much power.  We have compromised our own value and bought into the lie that ‘God doesn’t allow women to lead if men are involved.’  Both men and women have suffered from this lie.  Isn’t it time we ‘trump’ the trump card?

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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The First 50 Years

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With every sun’s rising, surprise us with Your love,
satisfy us with Your kindness.
Then we will sing with joy and celebrate every day we are alive. –Psalm 90:14

I turned 50 this past week.  (I know. You’d never guess it to look at me….) For the past 10 years, I’ve celebrated anniversaries of my 39th year.  This year, I ‘fessed up to my actual age.  I don’t fear aging–just kinda liked the shell-game of ‘how old am I’.

’50’ doesn’t mean much to me.  Except that I told my husband, “It just sounds so grown-up.  I guess I should act more grown-up now … But that’s probably not going to happen.”

One of the many things my mom taught me was that birthdays should be celebrated.  I don’t think she ever used words to convey that message–just the joy she exuded with every birthday.  She had ovarian cancer back in 1970, and she’s considered a medical miracle.  Ever since, she has celebrated ‘as long as people will let [her] celebrate.’  I love that she’s passed that idea down to me.  

None of us know how long we will live.  I’ve got long live-ers in my family.  Most of my immediate line have lived into their 90s.  However, with military life came realities of lives cut shorter than was natural.  I think of my husband’s best friend, Bob, who died in the first or second year of our marriage. His funeral initiated me into the gravity of military life.  Many others would follow through the years. Length of life comes with no guarantee.  However, regardless of how long or short our lives run, we can live them fully and without fear.  Which brings me back to my running theme for 2015:  the tree of life vs. the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  As I pass what very well could be the mid-point of my life, I want to continue to eat from the tree of life.  

With so much life behind me comes so much opportunity for shame and regret. How do we choose Life every day? How do we identify every day with Christ and not with shame? How do we oppose the shame–even when others tease without realizing the effect on us … on me…  I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak recently.  She distinguished between ‘shame’ and ‘guilt.’  She said something like, “Guilt is good.  We should feel guilty when we do something wrong or hurt another person.  Shame is an identity.”  I never want to identify myself or others with shame.  Shame is not nourishing.  Or life-giving.  Or joyful.  It sucks all the life and joy and sustenance out of us.

And shame makes it really hard to CELEBRATE ourselves!  

With living in the midst of my 51st year, I celebrate who God has made me.  I celebrate my best qualities.  I roll my eyes at some of my not-so-best-but-ever-diminishing qualities. I humbly accept the love and patience of my family and friends, and I offer them my love and patience in return.

We need each other to remind us of our best qualities and our amazing potential.  We need each other to fiercely stand with us when all we see are (and others remind us that they see also) our short-comings. 

Before I go and savor another piece of cake, let me encourage all of us to ask God for perspective on ourselves and our lives.  God can satisfy our need for love and kindness, and give us a reason to sing and celebrate.  Choose to believe the truth about yourself.  Choose to believe that God loves you.  That God treats you with kindness–even when others are unkind in our every day lives.  Find friends who will build you up and help you to discover your value and worth.  Life’s too short, whether it’s a few hours or a hundred years, to experience without grace.  So, I offer a toast of thanks for today, yesterday, and any days to come for all of us.

And now … cake!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Mother’s Day: A Snapshot Of Reality

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My dear children, I feel the pains of birth upon me again, and I will continue in labor for you until the Anointed One is formed completely in you. –Galatians 4:19

If St. Paul can know what it’s like to birth and raise children from a spiritual standpoint, I think all of us can celebrate Mother’s Day without shame or regret.

Mother’s Day looks great in a greeting card.  But, real life rarely looks so functional and pretty.  A friend of mine and I privately came up with ‘honest’ Mother’s Day card sentiments.  Things like: “Happy Mother’s Day to my mom who taught me to feel so guilty in life.  My therapist thanks you!”  Or: “Thanks, Mom, for exemplifying a strong woman to me.  A woman of strong character and fashion sense.  It’s not every woman who can pull off a red flowered shower cap in a motel swimming pool.  My therapist thanks you!”

…DISCLAIMER…

NONE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED SENTIMENTS HAVE ANY BASIS IN MY OWN UPBRINGING.  

I LOVE YOU, MAMA!

And now, with my 3 adult (well, semi-adult) children, they give me some fodder for ‘honest’ sentiments.  My just-married daughter has multiple commitments today and my older son has finals that he has to study for, so I’m told we’ll celebrate later in the week.  But, my 19-year-old son will live in infamy for many years to come.  Here’s the conversation:

Son: I have to work on Mother’s Day.

Me: Seriously?!

Son: Yeah.  The restaurant expects a lot of people to come in with their moms to celebrate.

Me: REALLY? Huh! 

Son: (looks at me completely perplexed) Oh, did you want to do something?

*sigh*

Yes, Happy Mother’s Day to all who nurture, sacrifice, love, and give companionship to others.

I hope for those that feel the weight of this day, you will find comfort in this prayer I found online by Amy Young.  Often, churches overlook the many stories of the Bible’s women.  At least today, find yourself a hero in one of these women who understood whatever circumstances you walk in.  May you feel encouraged that God doesn’t overlook your story.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Non-Violence In A Violent World

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God speaking:  Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die. –Genesis 2:16-17

I am a violent person.

I have violent thoughts and violent dreams.  I tend to have homicidal sleep-walking occurrences.  Which is one of several reasons we don’t have firearms in the house….

I have a warrior’s spirit, which served me well when I played on the high school tennis team.  In Phoenix with 100° or higher weather, I would deny myself water if I started to lose.  I played mind games with my own body–which led to mind games with my opponents when they would see me pass up water breaks.  Out of desperation (or dehydration), my body would submit to my mind and begin to make un-returnable shots for survival.

While I have never fought anyone physically, I have destroyed many with my words. In the fight-or-flight psychology, I’m a fighter. I fight to win. I rarely back down. You want me in your corner, because I will go to the mat for those I love. And I almost always win. Almost always.  I’ve honed my injustice/hypocrisy radar to near perfection, and my craft in shaming a hypocrite are alarmingly sadistic.

And I enjoy it.

How did I get this way?  I ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Like everyone else, I chose the fruit that would put me in control of my own soul.  While some didn’t get the homicidal gene, even the ones who would prefer ‘flight’ over ‘fight’ have eaten of the tree that brings death to our souls.  Fleeing does not equate to a non-violent approach to life.  It just means that you may live in fear of being over-run by those of us who live homicidally … I mean … assertively ….

Over the last several months, I’ve thought about the world events that flood my newsfeed.  Boko Haram and ISIS still rear their ugly heads.  Israel/Palestine relations continue to devolve.  Ferguson and, most recently, Baltimore divide people’s passions.  In the midst of these discordant stories, I’ve felt torn in understanding the desire for justice (really, vengeance) and wanting to embrace a non-violent approach to conflicts.

How do we live out eating from the tree of life in the midst of so many who live by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Because the people I see in history that held to the tree of life philosophy were crucified, assassinated, martyred.  How many of us are willing to die, accept rejection or even exile from those we consider friends for what we value?  How easy compromise seems in keeping everyone happy!  Yet, that compromise brings a slow death.

Death of integrity.

Death of soul.

Death of innocence.

Death of hope of a better way of living.

What I see in Jesus, many of the Hebrew prophets, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and all our peaceable heroes who died violently is an uncompromising spirit that embraced non-violence regardless of how others treated them.  They forsook the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in favor of letting the fruit from the tree of life sustain them–even in their own physical death.  And the life they struggled to actualize for the world, blossomed and grew exponentially because they would rather die than see the world continue to divide over selfish pursuits of who-is-in-charge-of-everyone-else.  They sought unity over power-systems, human dignity over winning, equal-standing over hoarding–hoarding wealth, knowledge, opportunity.

Over the years, I’ve mellowed and am learning the grace of humility. I think it’s a life-long lesson; because when I sense injustice, I feel the fighter in me rising.  While most of my verbal assaults take place in my head these days, I still regret how easy it is for me to ‘slice-and-dice’ a person’s soul.  In recent years, I’ve seen firsthand how a less defensive mode can defuse a tense situation.  When I go on the offense, relationships suffer and tensions escalate.  When I take a moment to breathe and deny my primary desire to win, relationships grow and each person feels respected and esteemed.  How much more does this way of treating people play in world events?

Would we rather have a hothead with a knee-jerk reaction in charge?  Because that’s mainly who we’re putting in office.

But I digress….

How much do I practice that skill on myself?  If I train myself to use words against me, how will I learn to do the opposite with others?

And there’s a big part of the problem.  The more I destroy my own value, the less likely I am to see others as valuable.  If I view myself as created in the image of God, I would be less likely to destroy God’s image in someone else. The hope, then, is that if others can see themselves as the image of God, perhaps they will not be so quick to use their power to savagely sacrifice others.  But it all starts with recognizing the image of God within us and loving that image.  Until then, we will continue only to hope for non-violent resolutions while perpetuating the violent cycle.

I wish I had more answers; but then I would struggle even more with arrogance.  I know I only have a small piece of the puzzle.  Together, we need to share our ideas of how to live free and victorious while humbly helping those who remain trapped in shame and anger from the circumstances of their lives.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Life Is Good

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With wedding stress behind me, I’m still recuperating from the lack of sleep over the last few months.  I’m reposting this piece from January because I want to remind us all of what I started the year off pondering.  I hope to continue to examine the two trees of Eden’s garden next week.  Thank you for your patience!

Then God surveyed everything He had made, savoring its beauty and appreciating its goodness. –Genesis 1:31a (The Voice version)

Suddenly their eyes were opened to a reality previously unknown. For the first time, they sensed their vulnerability and rushed to hide their naked bodies, stitching fig leaves into crude loincloths. Then they heard the sound of the Eternal God walking in the cool misting shadows of the garden. The man and his wife took cover among the trees and hid from the Eternal God. –Genesis 3:7-8 (The Voice version)

I’ve often reflected on what the world must have looked like at the dawn of creation.  In the past, I’ve bemoaned living in a ‘fallen’ world.  A world where Evil reigns and goodness is tarnished.  A world that disappoints God.

My perspective is changing.

I don’t know why I never saw some of the things I’m now seeing in the Bible.  I hadn’t seen, for example, that no evil existed in the Garden of Eden.  God proclaimed everything good! Even the serpent is called ‘crafty’ not ‘evil.’  Peter Enns, a noted Bible scholar, tells of a conversation he had in graduate school with a Jewish friend from Israel.  You can read it here.  So, Jewish interpretation doesn’t necessarily agree with our ‘enlightened’ western-thinking minds interpretation of creation.  The Genesis creation story may not be all about how we-messed-up-the-world-and-God-got-so-angry-that-He-disowned-us?  The evangelical, protestant assertions may be … wrong?  Or, to say it more gently, at least incomplete? Huh?!

As I continue to ponder the ideas from my last post, my thoughts gravitate to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.  If no evil existed in the Garden of Eden, why would God need to caution mankind away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Maybe because our minds are pre-disposed to thinking our own way (free-will).  If we stop relating to God, we focus on pecking orders and rankings and a need to play ‘king of the hill’ to prove our worth and relevance.  In order for us to have worth, some have to be worthless.  In order for us to be good, some have to be evil or ‘not good.’  When we obsess over value-judging people, intentions, or behaviors, we hide ourselves in shame–because our personhood, intentions and behaviors are up for grabs for God and others to judge ‘not good.’  Interesting that knowledge is the tree’s focus.  Interesting that the Pharisees focussed on knowledge of the Law (good and evil).  Was their religious system the embodiment of that tree?  Their religious system certainly created shaming, judging and a desire to one-up others to be considered ‘righteous’ before men and God.  Sound familiar in the 21st century?

Interesting that Jesus never said that he was the knowledge.  Instead, he claimed he was ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’  We have equated ‘truth’ with ‘knowledge’ in our reasoned thinking.  Jesus didn’t seem to define ‘truth’ in that manner.  He challenged teachings that we could find life in behaviors, rules, choices–that if we could just figure out the formula, all would be well with us and God.

Then, where and how do we find true life?  The Sunday-school-answer is Jesus.

There, isn’t that helpful?

All clear now?

Okay, maybe the following ways that I find joy and life in Christ will help you consider what brings you life:

  • Living the teachings of Jesus. I focus on how Jesus interacted with people in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  I try to filter the rest of the Bible through his example and interpret passages based on his teachings.  I fail often; but I’m beginning to recognize more quickly when my heart seeks my own ego and not Jesus’ example.
  • Learning to love God and walk with Him in all of life.  Seeing all of life and its seasons–nature’s seasons, life-cycle seasons, the soul’s seasons–as ‘good’; because all of life and its seasons reveal different facets of God’s infinite complexity, infinite wonder, infinite grace, infinite wisdom.
  • Learning to love myself–warts and all (that’s one of the hardest for me!).  Learning to love others out of the humility that comes with loving myself and the grace of loving God.
  • Sitting in silence and learning to abide in the presence of God (in prayer, meditation, contemplation)–which means turning off computers, phones, and television….
  • Listening to others and their experiences with God.  Never underestimate the profundity of life stories and how they create openings for the Holy Spirit to heal and grow our understanding of God’s ways and thoughts.
  • Looking for opportunities to make another’s life better.  Remember ‘random acts of kindness’?  Doing that–not as a fad, but as life-giving investments that may lead others to open their hearts to the magnificence of God and how they find the tree of life.
  • Savoring moments of accomplishment.  My daughter got me hooked on hiking ‘The Incline’–an extreme hiking trail which is the remains of narrow, steep railway tracks.  The first time I hiked it with her, my legs felt like Jell-O.  I had to stop every 25 steps sucking air due to low-oxygen altitude and gulping much-needed water.  About half-way up and feeling intimidated by the steep grade before me, Em stopped and told me to look behind us.  ‘Look how far we’ve come.  How small our car looks in the parking lot.  How beautiful the view of Manitou and Colorado Springs is from here.’  It took my breath away in awe (not oxygen-deprivation) to enjoy the fete of endurance we’d accomplished to that point … and it kept me going to the trail leading back to the car.  I love thinking of that seventh day as God savoring, relishing and delighting in His creation … and then telling us to do the same!

These suggestions serve as some examples of how I find the life in Christ.  You may be thinking of others that work for you.  I’d love to hear your suggestions!  This year, I’m trying to recognize when I fall into the judging habits that come from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Eventually, we will have to deal with the reality of evil, suffering, and pain in this world.  Because we see atrocities every day in the news that have nothing to do with the tree of life.  I need more time to formulate thoughts on those traumas.

For now, I want to experience more and more of the joy and freedom that come from the tree of life!  And help others find that there is another tree from which to eat.  One that enlivens and makes us unashamed of our vulnerabilities.  One that beckons us, ‘Come!’, without fear–because God’s favor rests on us!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.us

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Waiting For Resurrection

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After the Sabbath, as the light of the next day, the first day of the week, crept over Palestine, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb to keep vigil. Earlier there had been an earthquake. A messenger of the Lord had come down from heaven and had gone to the grave. He rolled away the stone and sat down on top of it. He veritably glowed. He was vibrating with light. His clothes were light, white like transfiguration, like fresh snow. The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone. –Matthew 28:1-4

I used to love Easter sunrise services in Arizona.  As a teenager, many from our youth group would gather in the church parking lot and climb ‘A’ Mountain (the little hill with a giant ‘A’ embedded in it for ASU–Arizona State University).  We would sit in silence facing east, waiting for the sun to rise.  We each reflected on our own thoughts.  I’m sure some thought, ‘Why did I get up so freakin’ early?!’  I’m sure I thought that at least one year.

But most of the time, my thoughts on Easter reflected how much I knew God loved us.  The gratitude inside me would well up to almost bursting and coincided with the sunrise.

I miss those Easter sunrises.  Here in Colorado, the warmth of the blankets usually keeps me snuggled and asleep at dawn.  I miss the camaraderie, the community, the connection between ‘us’ and God.  In recent years, I haven’t felt very ‘together’ with other church-goers.  Instead, I’ve felt disconnected, and at times betrayed.

Isolated and ignored. 

Dead and buried.

Our American evangelical church-system hasn’t figured out yet how to encourage once-mighty-leaders and allow us to question and expand our Sunday-school-answer view of God.  We haven’t learned how to walk alongside people and keep them company as they live their journey of faith.  In my experience, our best solution has involved putting people in their own corners and telling them that ‘we’ll be over here when you’re done with your time-out.’  

*sigh*

The disciples must have felt similarly.  When Jesus died, they must have felt a part of them died.  The part that believed like children believe in magical endings.  The part that hoped for a fulfillment of all the stories they’d heard in their childhood about God and saviors and finally putting the world right (with them on top).  The part that believed all things were possible, like Jesus told them.  The part that kept them connected to each other.

It took them less than a day to disperse and disconnect from each other.  Only the women remained together, united at the tomb, sharing their grief.  

Then, the angel at the tomb said, “He is risen.  Just as He said.”  And in a moment’s flash, hope was restored.  Mary encounters Jesus, and He tells her to gather all the disciples.  They experience Christ’s resurrection, and their own resurrection of soul.  They spend many days together before Christ’s ascension.  It’s a glorious ending to the Gospel accounts!

An ending worthy of celebration!

I didn’t go to church this Easter morning.  The thought of celebrating resurrection weighed heavy on my heart when I feel like my spirit is still waiting for the stone to be rolled away.  Faith growing-pains are arduous and take more than a few days to complete.  I see glimpses that resurrection will come.  And I wait with anticipation in the midst of fear and grieving that the poignancy of the old ways have tarnished and rusted.  Because they need to give way to a faith that’s deeper than youth’s naive heart.  Because they don’t contain the profound wisdom that comes with growing older with God.  Because Christ’s resurrection gives us maturity to be peers with Him instead of constantly expecting Him to take sole responsibility for our spiritual hunger and entertainment.

The benefits of growing up definitely outweigh the benefits of remaining as a child.  The more we choose to accept the process, the more freedom we experience.  Children think they have freedom; but their parents (if they are wise and good) keep strong boundaries so that when the children are old, they will know how and when to expand those boundaries.  

So, I wait by the tomb.

I wait for my spirit to expand enough to contain Christ’s resurrection for this season of my life.

I wait with those who no longer find their childhood church systems fulfilling.

I wait in expectation to hear ‘just as He said’ and receive the fulfilled-promise of new life, renewed joy, restored equality in Christ for everyone.

I wait for Easter morning to come.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Dawn … Before The Darkness

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I am still in the throes of wedding planning and feeling exhausted.  I’m republishing this post from last year’s Palm Sunday reflection because I think it’s still relevant.  

Then the blind and the lame came to the temple, and Jesus healed them. Rings of children circled round and sang, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’  But the priests and scribes didn’t understand. When they saw the upturned tables, the walking paralytics, and the singing children, they were shocked, indignant, and angry, and they did not understand. –Matthew 21:14-15

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem a week before his crucifixion creates a stark contrast to the events later in the week.  Healings, children singing, the powerful called-out on how they treat people.  What’s not to love?  I suppose it depends on your point of view.  To the ones healed, released from the torments of a dictatorial religious system, and the children who saw an opportunity to play in the temple area, they rejoiced and basked in their new-found freedom.  To the religious leaders who felt their power and control endangered, I doubt they felt the same exaltation.

The religious leaders needed to find an opportunity and fast to get the focus off Jesus and his message of freedom from shame, forgiveness and equal standing with God.  They will do whatever it takes to save their power and control … of course, for God’s glory ….  Underlying the victorious celebration of Jesus entering Jerusalem is the sinister plotting of those who fear losing their hierarchical standing with people and God.

Holy Week brings a sacred focus on Jesus’ passion, his suffering.  God offers us a front-row seat showing us the lengths He’s willing to go to in order for us to know His true character of forgiveness, compassion and power–He will do whatever it takes for us to understand He uses His power and authority not to shame or create a king-of-the-hill game between all of us, but to level the playing field and bring liberty from unbearable life systems that crush the spirit.

The difference between the two attitudes of ‘whatever it takes’ challenges my own soul.  Do I have the attitude of sacrificing myself to see freedom come to others?  Or do I have the attitude of sacrificing others to ensure my own status?  Meditating through Lent on Jesus’ life convicts me of my selfishness and self-absorbed comfort.  My prayer has become that as we get closer to Good Friday, I will see my own narcissism and desire for status crucified on the cross with Jesus.  As I reflect on Jesus’ last days and see the fickleness of humanity–one moment giving him glory, the next calling for his death–I clearly see my own changeableness and am humbled.

Jesus’ disciples must have relished His entry into Jerusalem.  They sat at the top of the heap of this bold leader who exposed the arrogant rulers and elevated the oppressed.  They probably celebrated, cheered and sang with the children and the ones healed.  They exalted in the dawn of a new day where God would finally reign on earth and overthrow the evil governments!  The day Israel had waited for since Abraham.  This triumphal entry would prove to all their doubters and bullies that they truly were God’s chosen people!

But they soon would find out that wasn’t God’s point in the story ….

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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What Does God Look Like?

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The Eternal went on ahead to guide them during the day in a cloud shaped like a pillar; at night He appeared to them in a fire shaped like a pillar to light their way. So they were able to travel by day and by night. The Eternal did not remove the cloud pillar or the fire pillar; by day and by night it continued to go ahead of the people. –Exodus 13:21-22 (The Voice translation)

… I came to give life with joy and abundance. –John 10:10b (The Voice translation)

Leonard Nimoy passed from this world several days ago.  Most remember him best as Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series.  He was raised an Orthodox Jew (and remained active in the Jewish faith).  Upon hearing of his death, I watched a video someone had posted on Facebook about how he’d created the split-fingered gesture of greeting for his Spock-character.  He spoke of his Jewish roots and Yiddish rituals.  In giving a benediction, the rabbis would spread their middle and ring fingers apart as they chanted the blessing.  The hand gesture symbolized the Hebrew letter Shin which is the first letter in Shaddai (a name of God), shalom (God’s peace, completion), and Shekhinah (the name given to the feminine aspect of God which is said to have been created to live among humans, and gives blessing).  He goes on to express the profundity that he experienced in that moment.  He wanted to add that gesture to his character’s people group as a salutation.

As I watched the video, I felt an awe wash over me.  The glory of God which rested in the Holy of Holies in the temple, and appeared as a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to the Israelites on their way to the promised land, was, according to Jewish tradition, feminine.  The blessing of God is feminine.  The tangible presence of God among mankind is feminine. In Christian traditions, we call that glory, blessing and presence: The Holy Spirit.  Most of my life, I’ve heard God is masculine.  Rarely have I heard that God is feminine.  When I read The Shack several years ago, it was the first time I’d seen in print God portrayed as a woman.  The book revolutionized many people’s view of God.  And many others condemned the portrayal of God as a woman.

During this Lenten season, I’m trying to practice the fast in Isaiah that I referenced last week.  I’m trying to focus on how to give of myself to my ‘neighbors’ more … what sacrifices I can make for the good of others.  This week, I want to do some inner work on how I view God.  How does it sit with me to have God look differently than a white, straight, successful, male?  Can I worship a God who resembles a homeless teen, a transgendered man, a battered woman, a person of another race?  In the churches I’ve participated in throughout my life, God is seen as all-powerful, financially blessing those who live a certain way, being ‘always on my side’ (to quote a popular worship song).  I believe that perspective of God has a place for us.  We need God to rescue us.  We need to have confidence that God will provide for our needs.  But how do we continue to worship God when God seems powerless … or worse, silent … in the midst of terroristic groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, or when we only have enough money for either rent, food or medications?

What do we do with our faith when God looks like those we’ve put at the bottom of the religious power heap?  Will we give their perspective of God credibility?  In the agony of lost dreams, lost lives, lost innocence, how do we ‘keep the faith’?  How, indeed …

A friend’s husband died.  They had a strong faith that God would heal.  Healing didn’t come.  Instead, devastation, grief, and helplessness encircles a widow’s heart.

But, peace is coming.  Sometimes, only for a moment.  Sometimes, a little longer.  Sometimes, only to be flooded out by a wave of doubt and anger.  But peace is coming.  Shalom is coming.  And her view of God … of life … of death … is broadening.  And that broader perspective of God brings healing to her soul.  Peace, shalom, heals.  In evangelical churches, we’re not taught enough about the problem of suffering or powerlessness in our world.  We’re not taught how to sit with or live through chronic illnesses or disorders.  We’re taught to fight, have faith, not accept those experiences.  When we don’t get the outcome we’ve hoped for, often shame floods our hearts.  We didn’t pray correctly … we didn’t believe enough … we didn’t do the right things.

It’s our fault.

But if we can humbly acknowledge to God that we don’t understand, then we can begin to just beBe in the presence of God … Be in the presence of others … Be human ….  In that be-ing, maybe we can experience shalom and Shekinah … experience God in a way we never dreamed.  A way that makes us want to share our material goods, and that shrinks the gap between the haves and have-nots.  A way that enlightens a path to live less focussed on outer appearances and behaviors, and allows us to live in community with all of the reflections of God’s image.  An image that isn’t limited by human standards.  An image that is more than straight, white and male.  An image that exudes an abundance of joy and life.  An image where all are found in God.

A God worth worshipping.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Fastings of Lent

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God speaking: [W]hat I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family. –Isaiah 58:6-7 (The Voice translation)

Lent began last week.  Last year, I wrote about doing what we can.  This year, I want to expound on the idea of fasting and sacrifice.  Traditionally, fasting of meat was the sacrifice of choice.  However, in recent decades, as people wanted to connect more with the ritual, Lenten sacrifices have become more broad.  I know some who fast just from sugars or other delicacies, media of all sorts, consumerism.  Some fast from things difficult to give up … others from easier habits.  Religious or spiritual fasting should enliven our spirits and deepen our connection to God.  The discomfort we feel in giving up something in our daily lives can help us focus on those who, not by choice, give up necessities and niceties … Every. Day. Of. Their. Existence.  Because many of us in Western nations enjoy a privileged life of having access to food, water and health care, we forget how many more in other countries (or down our own streets) live in want–want of shelter, clothing, food, water, medications, companionship.

I’d like to encourage us all to participate in the 40 days of Lent in some way.  However, let’s participate in the fast God calls us to in Isaiah.  I’ve got some ideas to get us started.  Pick one, more than one, or come up with your own:

  • If you fast from food, consider giving to Heifer International, deliver Meals on Wheels, serve at a soup kitchen, donate to a clean water project, or donate to a medical charity like Doctors Without Borders.  In this world, we throw away enough food to feed 3 billion people … almost half our planet’s population.  We really can (and should) end world hunger.
  • If you fast from consumerism, consider donating gently used (or unused) clothes to domestic abuse shelters or thrift stores that employ challenged people, volunteer at a homeless shelter or domestic abuse shelter, volunteer at a food pantry.  Often consumerism makes us self-absorbed, so branching out to experience other stories of those who don’t have physical wealth can help us see our own poverty of soul and spirit.
  • If you fast from social media, electronic media, paper media, consider visiting with an older or lonely person in your neighborhood, volunteer at a neighborhood school to help children read, offer tutoring for math or other subjects, or help a teacher grade some papers.  Get out and have actual conversations with flesh-and-blood people.  If you physically cannot get out, pick up a phone.  In our ‘virtual’ world, we often forget how to have conversations out loud and not just at our keyboards or in our heads.
  • If you fast from entertainment, consider giving to organizations that pay for schooling, fund a project for a documentary that brings awareness, volunteer as a coach or coach’s assistant with boys and girls clubs or YMCA.  Too many children in the United States go to school hungry.  I know teachers who work in disadvantaged schools in my city and accept non-perishable food donations so their hungry classroom kids can have a meal over the weekend.  The more-than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram remain missing.  Their story haunts me 9 months later.  The terrorist group targeted them because they went to school, sought an educated life.  Many wanted to be doctors, lawyers, teachers to help their communities grow and succeed.  Now some of the girls who escaped are courageously accepting scholarships to continue their studies amidst the threat that Boko Haram will come for their families.  Often we make education entertaining in Western civilization.  We forget what it costs many families in other parts of the world.  Let’s use some of our wealth and privilege to make learning easier for those less fortunate.

The charities and non-profits I’ve mentioned are not exclusive and very possibly not the best ones.  There are so many smaller groups who tirelessly work in their local and global communities.  The ones I mention are a springboard to help us begin to live a life worth living … a life that makes a difference in another’s life.  The more we make a difference in our corners of the world, the more global change has a chance to succeed.

Whether you participate in Lent or not, consider sacrificing to make life better for someone.  However you live, pray for peace in your neighborhood, your community and our world.  Lent is about Jesus’ life and how he lived.  He made the most of his life … so much more than 40 days.  Let’s make the most of our lives.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Life’s Love Letters

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I am deep in the throes of planning for my daughter’s wedding in April.  So, I will be less-than consistent with my blog each week (did you miss me last week when I didn’t post?).  I will post when I’m inspired, but am giving myself freedom to take a break when wedding details overwhelm me.

But now faith, hope, and love remain; these three virtues must characterize our lives. The greatest of these is love. –1 Corinthians 13:13

Valentine’s Day has come and gone again.  I’m not big on celebrating it–not because I’m against love or fun or chocolate; but because it just doesn’t hold any significance for me.  I never really dated before I met Jud, and our ‘dating’ life involved long-distance communication for most of the year and a half before we got married.  I still remember our phone ‘dates.’  We would both order the same pizza (pepperoni and pineapple) and talk on the phone for hours.  That was back in the day when you actually had to pay for the long-distance minutes you used.  I think we topped out at $650 one month. I nearly choked when my dad showed me the bill and told me I needed to pay it within the week….  But, with our anniversary in January and the holidays so close to that event, Valentine’s just seemed like too much work.

However, this year, I started getting really excited for Valentine’s Day–or at least the post-Valentine’s-chocolate sales.  With our daughter’s wedding in April, I need to amass some pretty chocolate hearts wrapped in pretty red or purple foil for some gift bags.  This week, they will all be on sale!  And I like the idea of not having to pay full-price for anything wedding-related these days!  As I’ve scoured some of the ads to try to find good deals throughout the city, I have thought about love in our lives.

As I’ve said, Jud and I had a mostly long-distance relationship before we got married.  A week after we started dating, the military, in all it’s wisdom, transferred Jud from Arizona to New Mexico.  We still have all the snail-mail letters we wrote during that time, since the internet didn’t exist.  Someday, our kids will find the boxes that hold those cards, letters, cassette tapes and drawings and see how our relationship developed.  But those items only hold the beginning of our love story.  Most romantic comedies confuse romance with love, and then they end at the beginning of love.  Ah, those beautiful times when love is new.  The grass has forsaken the winter snow and hibernation and has become green again.  The trees are brimming with birds singing and new leaves unfolding.  Can we take a moment to deeply sigh longingly in the romance of young love?

Okay, that’s enough.

The reality that those of us who have lived-longer-than-our-teens know is that love encompasses so much more than the shallow depths of its newness.  Love grows to depths we couldn’t imagine in the beginning–and would completely scare us off if we knew the ugly paths we’d have to traverse to strengthen love for one another.  We find an everlasting beauty and depth of love in our scars–the times others had to help us, and the times we had to shore up our own strength to help another.  I think of the parent who tries to talk a child off a literal ledge to (hopefully) save the child’s life.  The spouse who takes care of a dying partner.  The woman who courageously chooses to leave an abusive relationship, rather than have her daughter grow up thinking that love destroys the body, mind and soul.  The man who embodies integrity, kindness, gentleness when he’s at his best, and humility when he fails.  The couple who weather the decades of life-issues, children-issues, health-issues, job-issues and allow those circumstances to grow them up individually and bond them collectively.

If you’re in love’s newness stage, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you’re well-rooted in love, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you express your love for others as a single, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you have lost a loved one, remember the heart-soaring, heart-breaking times, and let the remembrance of deep love accompany you in your grief and allow your heart to heal, in its time.

Too much of the news fills us with the knowledge of evil, injustice, dream-squashing in this world of ours.  It’s easy to forget that God’s image in us makes us capable of brilliant acts of courage:  staring down the powerful when they forget the breaking backs upon whom they stand, gently caring for the orphans and diseased, tirelessly teaching the challenged ones who are often overlooked.  Those who vulnerably open their hearts to receive the pain and fear of others to show that God’s love really can bring hope to mirthless places and rekindle faith that God has not forgotten us.  Those are love letters we all need to find!  Those are love letters we need to live!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Celebrating Life!

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So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1 (The Voice version)

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. –Philippians 3:12 (The Voice version)

This past week, I went to the funeral of one of my mom’s dearest friends.  I used to babysit for him and his wife before they moved out of the Phoenix area.  While my mom kept up with them–through fairly consistent weekly phone calls with his wife–I only heard bits and pieces of news from my mom through the years.  Missions trips, marriages, birth of a baby for the now-grown children; and retirement, travel and spiritual epiphanies for her friends.  Traveling to the funeral, memories from childhood to adolescence flooded my heart.

Funerals gather an interesting assortment of people–people who knew the person from all aspects of his life.  My mom’s friends had started attending a church with Messianic influences several years ago (I don’t know if it’s an official ‘Messianic Jewish’ congregation or not).  They had studied Hebrew and travelled to Israel.  I didn’t know them in this context.  As photos of them and their family scrolled on an overhead, I didn’t recognize the later pictures of their life.  Then, the earlier pictures repeated.  Ah, there was the man I knew.  There were the kids I remembered.  There was his wife whose laugh always sounded so musical.  There was the family I went to the drive-in with during a rainstorm and ate popcorn while watching The Cat From Outer Space.

As people told stories of his influence in their lives, almost all of them (except for his children’s stories) came from people who only knew him in recent years.  They described a man who sounded bigger than life.  A great man.  An encouraging man.  A giving  and selfless man.  His daughter finally spoke and reminded everyone that he was human–with faults and insecurities.

That was the man I knew:  the human one.  Not that he wasn’t a great guy when I knew him; but he hadn’t yet matured into the man these people knew.  He still had edges that needed softening.  His God-given gifts needed some humility and training.  His life in Christ was new and uncultivated.  I recognized a piece of the man his friends described–his best qualities had been well-seasoned with humility over the years.

I thought of another death of a family friend from long ago.  I remember my mom and dad talking about his funeral.  I knew him from a child’s perspective and loved him.  He asked my mom if she would call me ‘Maggie.’  (‘No’ was the answer.  I had to wait until I moved out of the house to take on that nickname.  Another story for another time…)  He was loud, funny and wore bow ties.  At his funeral, his first wife came and said, “You all act like you really liked him.”  She knew him as an unkind alcoholic.  We knew the person he became, and he looked precious little like his former self.

I reflected that night on the conversation my parents had about their other friend’s death, and the conversations I had with family and friends at this recent funeral.  I knew the man he was becoming.  His friends from later years knew the man he became.  I got to see some of the hard-work-of-his-soul.  They experienced the fruit of his journey with Christ.  Together, our memories contained a fullness of his total person.  I began to feel so much joy from the knowledge that he continued to mature and didn’t stay static–even though in my mind he remained a young father.  That joy overflowed through my being as I realized we all have the opportunity to change.  No season of our lives, no event in our lives, no person in our lives has to define our identity.  We can grow.  We can change.  We can become our best selves.  In my belief system, we need the presence of God and the Holy Spirit to develop that identity and constantly revise our thinking to become more like Christ.  We need God to remind us what His image looks like and that all of us carry His imprint. I appreciate the reminder to once again celebrate the people we once were, the people we are now, and the people God has yet to reveal in us.

I grieve my mom’s loss of a friend, his wife’s loss of her beloved husband, his children’s loss of their honored father, his community’s loss of his wisdom and generous spirit.  I rejoice that he now stands with the cloud of witnesses, having run his race well.  I pray we can all live our lives in similar fashion–with integrity, humility, wonder, and reverence–leaving a legacy worthy of celebration!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Trees, Life and Death Choices … Oh, My Head!

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‘The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.  In this garden, He made the ground pregnant with life—bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. He created trees, and in the center of this garden of delights stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … God speaking: Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die’ –Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17.

Several times in the Bible we are encouraged to choose ‘life.’   In Genesis, we have the conundrum of the ages:  tree of life vs. tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But what did God mean when He gave us that choice?  I’ve mulled over this mystery through the years without a satisfactory conclusion.  When a friend opined that our minds are the key to understanding the Bible, and the Bible is the only reliable source for living–over experience, intuition, and traditions–I balked, cringed, and threw up a little in my mouth….  So, I decided I needed to spend some intensive time pondering in my spirit, soul, and … yes … mind … as to why I reacted so strongly to a very common thought in Protestant circles since the Enlightenment era.

First, I have to emphasize that I respect our ability to think rationally and dissect arguments logically–even when it comes to spirituality.  I come from a highly educated family that has valued education for at least 150 years.  I also respect the Bible and the wisdom it contains in learning to live out the heart of God.  I’ve studied it my entire life.  However, I learned long ago that our rational minds have limitations.  I believe in living a more integrated way with ‘checks and balances.’  When we elevate or compartmentalize the mind, we devalue intuitive knowledge and experience.  When we elevate and isolate the Bible–asking it to contain historical and scientific facts, moral and rigid conduct codes, societal and religious blueprints–we risk narrowly defining what ‘biblical’ means and putting God in a nicely ordered box.

So, when we look at the Garden of Eden in Genesis and hear God’s command to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because we ‘will certainly die,’ what does that really mean?  What is the difference between the two trees?  One offers life and one offers death.  We’re told in 2 Corinthians 3 that the Spirit gives life, but the letter of the law kills.  Do you see what we’ve missed?  I have heard sermons about ‘the spirit of the law.’  The verse doesn’t talk about the ‘spirit of the law’ at all–but refers to God’s Holy Spirit.  Could it be that God wanted us to forsake a rules-based system of justice in favor of a relational-based way of living?  Could it be that our minds need transforming to a more childlike development because children are more accepting, more intuitive–more like God’s kingdom?  When we use our brains to figure out the formula of someone’s spirituality, aren’t we missing the point?  Isn’t the point relationship with God–a relationship that God desires and initiates?  A relationship that Jesus embodied?

The vast majority of the books of the Bible record people’s experiences with God.  To devalue spiritual experience in favor of rational thought baffles me.  I believe Jesus encouraged all of us to integrate experience, reason, scripture, church traditions with the Holy Spirit so that we can finally celebrate unity with one another.  We may have differing perspectives on Bible passages; however, we need to allow other views to renew our minds like a breath of fresh air.  When we fight against another’s thought of how to interpret the Bible, or look to the Bible as a rule-book or owner’s manual for living, are we not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … and choosing death over life … for ourselves … and for others?  The fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil assumes there is only one logical/rational way to interpret the library we call the Bible.  The tree of life beckons us into a messy, intangibly real relationship with an infinite and unlimited God!

So how do we eat from the tree of life?

  • We take the log out of our own eyes before removing the speck from another’s eye.  Jesus encourages us to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions without pointing the finger at others.  I don’t get to tell anyone–especially not an entire group of people–how God expects them to live–especially when the standards/rules are different than the standards/rules for myself.  I’m not the one who has to live with the consequences of those decisions, so I don’t get to force them on anyone.  That’s grace!
  • We constantly evaluate whether we are living out rules and regulations of behavior. Do we believe our worth to God is based on our choices? Do we believe that we deserve grace; but others deserve judgement? We must allow our minds to be transformed and renewed into a childlike state so that our whole being can integrate with the Holy Spirit. That’s grace!
  • We walk alongside.  Offer companionship for the journey.  Offer kindnesses like food, water, safe shelter–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  Earn your right to speak into others’ lives by proving you actually care for them and don’t want to change them to your way of thinking.  That’s grace!
  • We ask questions–sincere questions:  What is it like for you to hear…?  Why do you want to make this choice?  Is this decision giving you life?  Do you feel God smiling over you?  Whatever the answer, it’s their life.  If the decision turns out to be unhealthy, refrain from voicing an ‘I told you so’–just help them to get up and learn from that choice.  No shaming.  That’s grace!
  • We rejoice and ache equally for others’ successes and failures–even if our own theology is challenged.  If someone experiences a life-giving relationship that you don’t like, rejoice with him/her anyway.  If someone experiences a break-up of a relationship that you believed ungodly, weep with her/him anyway.  That’s grace!
  • We constantly guide toward life … always.  If the message you offer causes people to want to harm or kill themselves, it’s not fruit from the tree of life.  Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil turns people away from Christ.  Let your gospel-good-news-great-joy message draw people to the life of Christ.  That’s grace!

I want to learn to live in one-ness with the Holy Spirit.  I want my whole being transformed into God’s presence!  I want to eat from the tree of life!  Here’s hoping more and more of us desire the joy and freedom of humble walking with God and each other!

That’s grace!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

 

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Playful Vacations

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This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes and will sit together in the city squares.  And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play. –Zechariah 8:4-5 (bold for emphasis)

This past week, our family took a vacation with just the 5 of us.  It’s the last one we’ll ever have (and one of the few we’ve taken) before my daughter gets married in April and our family begins to expand.  Since her engagement back in September, I’ve experienced the bittersweet joy of helping to plan her bright future and feeling nostalgic for childhood.  I miss the days of make-believe and playing with dolls, cars, balls, pots and pans.  So much of raising my children involved me getting to play with their toys and entering back into their world of childhood.  As they’ve become young adults and no longer need me as a playmate, I forgot that childlike playing remains important at every age.  Playtime helps relieve stress, combats jaded thoughts, requires silly laughter.  Children don’t carry the responsibility that the adult world forces upon us.

For 5 glorious days, we played.  We walked till our feet could go no more … and then we walked some more.  Riding amusement rides, singing-a-long with princesses and snowmen, laughing ourselves into exhaustion.

For 5 glorious days, I unplugged from technology–leaving my computer at home and only answering calls and texts from my family in the amusement park wondering where I had wandered off to in the crowd.

For 5 glorious days, our friend who works at the amusement park gave us the tour-guide treatment–telling us fun-facts, allowing us to use her discount at the stores, mapping out our day in the park.

For 2 glorious hours, we relaxed on the beach before our flight home. Digging our toes in the sand, listening to the waves as the tide came in, feeling the 80-degree-sun beat on our skin–knowing at the end of the day we’d be back in land-locked Colorado with temperatures in the teens.

So, as I walked toward the ocean confidently in my airplane-ready outfit with my jeans rolled up so I could dip my feet in the cold Pacific, my mind flooded with memories of the 5 glorious days.  Yes, I saw the tide coming in.  Yes, I knew the odds that my clutzy ways just might trip me into the waves.  Yes, I know you shouldn’t try to outrun a wave on shifting sand when you’re not used to the beach.  Yes, I went anyway.  The first large wave just took me off-guard and got my pant legs wet.  Never deterred, I got up and continued walking.  I knew they’d dry before the airport.

Then, the second large wave came with more power, and I tried running uphill …

Without success …

You see where this is going, don’t you?  …

I fell on my butt.  I would have had time to get up and at least just stand there getting my pant legs more wet; but I was laughing so hard at myself–and everyone else was laughing too!–that the wave just washed all over me.  Sand, sea water, denim … there was no way my pants would dry.  Looking through my luggage, I realized the drawback to ‘packing light’:  I only had shorts and t-shirts.  Great for sunny California, not-so-great for snow-packed Colorado.  Well, good thing I almost never get cold.  So, donned with shorts, a t-shirt and my son’s hoodie, we returned home.

Real life.  I heard someone say that we must focus on our mind and the Bible in loving God.  I began to lose my 5 glorious days of playfulness.  Because, once again, all the silenced voices expressed their defeat to me.  The ones who have heard they aren’t smart enough and who struggle with reading the Bible.  The ones who experience the heart of God through empathy, but don’t always have a Bible verse to back up what they feel.  The ones who passionately and sacrificially serve the poor, but haven’t been to Sunday school and don’t know all the stories.  I heard them cry out as the breath was forced from their lungs like a punch in the gut.  Because once again, their view of God was less-than.  Once again, their piece of the spiritual puzzle wasn’t valued.  *sigh*

Perhaps next week I’ll focus on the topic of the Bible’s place in living out the gospel of Christ.

For now, I need to do laundry and maybe rub some sand from my jeans in my hands.  For now, I’ll remember the taste of churros and the thrill of roller coasters.  For now, I’ll envision my 6’5″ body-building 19 year old wearing the oversized, white, padded mouse hands as we frolicked through the park.  For now, I’ll remember the lightness of playing.

For now I am free.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A New Year … A New Look … A Renewed Heart

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Create in me a clean heart, O God;
restore within me a sense of being brand new.
Do not throw me far away from Your presence,
and do not remove Your Holy Spirit from me.
Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You;
let Your willing Spirit sustain me. –Psalm 51:10-12

I have updated my website and included a photo of myself (which I have fought against adding).  Being technologically-challenged and artistically-impaired, I struggled to change a system that seemed to work ‘good enough.’  But, change I did.  I hope you like the new look.  For those of you who read my blog via email, visit the site and let me know what you think!

But, as I changed the aesthetics of the site, my heart broke again.  And again, I am tempted to fall into war-path patterns that I’m determined for God to change in me.  Another LGBTQ teen committed suicide.  Another time church culture failed someone struggling to find acceptance and people who would walk a rocky path with her.  How many have to die physically or spiritually before we wake up?!  Each time someone walks away from faith or commits suicide because of a perverse image of God we project, we fail in Jesus’ commandment to love and make disciples.  I read about this girl whose parents rejected her because of their faith, and I want to start swinging the sword.  I hear the statistics of LGBTQ teens and homelessness, suicide, bullying and my heart breaks in all too familiar tear-soaked convulsions.

The ‘good news’ and ‘great joy’ of Jesus’ life has to be good and joyous for everyone, or it’s not ‘good’ or ‘great.’  How do we find the promise of joy in God’s presence with such alarming stories?!  When will we stop trying to create people into our image of ‘christian’ instead of celebrating the image of God they already bear?!

I wish I knew easy answers and quick fixes for these heart attitudes.  For me, I have had to give up ‘Sunday school’ answers and listen to stories from the trenches.  I am learning to allow stories from people’s lives to determine how I express Christ’s life.  My hermeneutics (there’s a college church word!) have changed from an academic and linear focus of the Bible to a more fluid and relational focus.  People and how we relate to each other have to take priority over ‘correct’ and ‘static’ interpretations of the Bible that tradition has ingrained upon our minds.  I choose to interpret the Bible through the lens of:

  • Jesus.
  • grace.
  • humility.
  • compassion and mercy.
  • Good News and Great Joy for Everyone!

Jesus listened to people and their stories.  We get snapshots of him conversing with the ‘less-thans’ in society.  He didn’t quote the Bible at them or list all the ways they failed God.  He asked them what they wanted (there’s a thought) and never told them they weren’t good enough for God.  He encouraged them, healed them, and taught them about God’s vision for their lives and the world.  He offered grace to the oppressed.  He looked on people’s needs with compassion and mercy–not cynicism and self-righteousness.  He gave them hope that the future could be bright, joyous and full of freedom.  When I examine Jesus’ way with people, humility floods my spirit.  And I begin to view the world from a different perspective.  I begin to see how much I relate to life from a holier-than-thou/shame-based view.  I see myself as better than some–therefore, more deserving … and I diminish my shortcomings.  I see others who have more attention or success, and my mind fills with shame as I exaggerate my own insecurities.  When I humbly view myself, I look on others the way I see Jesus looking at those in his culture–weeping, empathetic, sympathetic, and giving all of himself to see life restored–allowing God to determine their path to His heart, and standing between them and the religious hierarchies of the day.

How often have I heard church leaders and church-going people sigh and profess in resignation, “I wish I could accept (fill in the blank of ostracized behavior in any given age: women in leadership, inter-racial marriage, divorce, homosexuality); but the Bible is clear.  I can’t go against God.  His ways are higher.”  We say these things and dismiss the thoughts of injustice and accept powerlessness.  In essence, we are saying that we are ultimately more compassionate than God.  Seriously?!  Even though God implores us to live in relationship with Him and ‘reason’ with Him, we believe we cannot question traditional thoughts of churches?!  Even though Abraham bartered with God for people’s lives, we cannot compromise church positions?!  We silence the Spirit’s efforts to unveil in us more of God’s image than past generations could exhibit because we have bought a lie that God, as revealed to past generations, has to remain as we have known Him.  We don’t allow God to broaden our view of Him, so we don’t build on previous knowledge and encourage the next generation to add their discoveries of faith to ours.  Is this the spiritual legacy we want to leave?!

And I fall, once again, into temptation of looking at my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.

… God’s enemy.

… my enemy.

And again, I see my own depravity and hypocrisy.  Because in judging attitudes in others, I have also sentenced them to righteous destruction.  How to grow and mature in assessing wrong attitudes without pronouncing penalties on their souls is what I hope for this year.

Wars of words have not proven successful in this social media age.  Instead of fighting each other to win a debate, can we agree to listen more and quote the Bible less as we navigate these conversations?  If we need or desire to quote the Bible to someone, can we quote Jesus more than Leviticus?  As we search for ‘biblical’ interpretations, can we focus more on how Jesus interacted with people and less on ‘issues’ and what is ‘unclean’ today?  Can we seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in shaping our theology, instead of relying solely on what pastors preach from the pulpit?  Can we seek out what is just and merciful, keeping our hearts humble, so that we refrain from shaming people and their actions to win a round in this vicious cycle we continue to feed?

Above all, can we try to remember that it is God’s will that none should perish–making it our goal each and every day to present Christ in a way that helps someone choose to live, and continue to figure out what it means to ‘work out’ our own salvation?  Let us treasure our interconnectedness as God’s image-bearers and journey toward unity of the Spirit.

Having someone commit suicide because of church teachings should humble us all into examining how much of the Spirit’s life we express to the world.  May we all cry out for God to create a new heart in the Bride of Christ that exudes the joy of living in God’s presence!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Living Christmas All Year

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Jesus speaking: ‘The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance’–John 10:10. 

I’m not sorry to say goodbye to 2014.  The last few years have seen a plethora of difficulties and life-altering events.  A friend of ours once told me that he believed I must be in God’s ‘special forces.’  He noted that I tended to do spiritual search-and-rescue missions for people’s souls and spirits.  And I don’t give up.  In some ways, he may be right.  I don’t fear hell on any of the levels I’ve experienced in my own life or the lives of others.  Oh, I ache, throw temper-tantrums, and have tremendous unbelief that I won’t heal from some of the falls I’ve taken; but I’m not afraid of what I may face in helping people see healing is possible for their hearts’ devastations.  I’ve seen depths of hell I know God never intended us to see.  But, in my own life and the lives of others, I’ve always had the confidence that God will show the way out of the maze to His light.

But, this year, I got bogged down in hell and lost my perspective of the abundant life Jesus promises us.  I became too comfortable living in the darkness searching for lost ones to embrace back into God’s presence.  And no one could find me … or maybe more truthfully–I wouldn’t let anyone know I couldn’t find my way out this time.  I’ve got the heart of a warrior when it comes to expressing who we are to God, and I go to great lengths to try and communicate God’s favor to all people.  When I think ‘church people’ are too theologically-focussed that they have begun bullying certain types of people, I want to go to war.

… And fight to the death.

… Because I know it won’t be my death….  

I’m learning that God can fight His own battles quite successfully and with significantly fewer casualties.  A gentle word … a kind act … is all I need to offer the war-effort.  No one can stand against those weapons.  And yet, no one’s spirit is crushed by them either.

So, as I reflect on 2014, I see how I viewed some of my brothers and sisters in Christ as an enemy whom I needed to destroy.  Living in the dark places with others will give that perspective.  I need to let Christ’s light shine on me again.  I need to live Christmas throughout the year.

What does that mean?

Christmas reminds us to look at the world as children–with awe, wonder, hope and expectancy.  I crave the world of childhood’s dreams, possibilities and unbridled joy.  Jesus’ birth created quite the stir; but then, Mary and Joseph had to get on with the mundane years of child-rearing.  No stars, no shepherds worshipping, no wise men giving gifts every year, no angels harking and heralding.  Just dirty diapers, skinned knees, colds and flus, temper tantrums.  (Seriously, do you think Jesus never threw a temper tantrum at age 3 or 4?)  And yet, in the mundane living, the promise remained.  In Luke 2, we are told that Mary pondered and treasured all the memories of Jesus’ birth.  I want to ponder and treasure all the memories I have of God’s presence–even when life is dull.

So for 2015, I want God to restore joy.  I want to gasp in awe at life, even if no angelic choir visits me.  I hope for a bright future, even if it takes years to grow up in me.  I choose to live expectantly, even if I continue to journey through the hellish mazes of people’s lives to offer healing and rest for their weary spirits.  I will remember to lift my eyes up more and let the warmth of Christ’s gaze envelop me, giving me strength and confidence to fight our real enemies of injustice, oppression, poverty–enemies that silence voices and create impossible standards and expectations of living.

May we all experience the joyous abundance of Christ’s presence in our lives in 2015!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Good News! Great Joy! For EVERYONE!

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“Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!  

Messenger: ‘Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.'”–Luke 2:9-12 (The Voice version)

I can almost hear the urgency in the angel’s voice trying to calm the shock the shepherds experienced.  The message God sent the angel to convey to the shepherds would change the way mankind related to God.  Looking through the Old Testament, man seemed to filter life events, natural disasters, outcomes of wars through a lens of a wrathful God … a God who just waited for mankind to mess up so that He could unleash destruction on every infraction … a God who enjoys setting us up for failure.  Even though that interpretation of God is misleading when we carefully read the prophets and many of the stories where God expresses His love of mankind and desire for relationship with us.  So, as the birth of Jesus unfolds, God sends a messenger so that mankind cannot miss His heart for us:

GREAT NEWS!

GREAT JOY!

GOD IS FOR US!  GOD WANTS TO SET US UP FOR SUCCESS!

‘Don’t be afraid!’ The angel declares.  Because up until that point, God terrified people.  I think most of us continue to wait for the other shoe to drop with God.  We know we can’t live up to His standards and hope He won’t notice us.  We just need to keep our heads down.  But, the angel comes and lifts up our heads to see Someone who is all smiles, warmth and delight.  Someone who wants to show us how to aim for a higher goal than ‘just don’t mess up.’  Someone who will teach us how to live freely, without shame, without fear–how to be our true selves without the false protection of socially acceptable personas.  Someone who is accessible and not so intimidating that we try to hide from Him.  Someone who beckons us to His presence.

Someone who is … a baby?

God amazes me in all of His eternally surprising ways.  Who else would have thought that taking on the form of a human was a good idea to show Himself to the world?  And not just human-form, but actually starting from the beginning of human life.  Choosing to be totally human.  Experiencing life as we experience it.  Yet showing us in that humanity a fuller way to live.

A way to access the image of God that we bear.

A way to intertwine the divine with the created.

A way to live in humility (not humiliation) and without shame.

Wow!  That is good news!  That should well up within us great joy!  Everyone gets access to God.  The angels told the shepherds that God wants everyone to succeed.  Shepherds, who had a low rank in society.  Telling the lowly of this awe-inspiring plan makes my heart pound in expectancy because God … once again … levels the playing field by entrusting the unveiling of His glorious plan to the least likely members of society.  The thought leaves me breathless.

So, as we prepare for Christmas this week, may we all experience the pulse-quickening anticipation of God’s favor in our lives.  Embrace the good news with great joy that God liberates us to succeed in relationships … in loving God … in loving ourselves … in loving others!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Angelic Hosts Proclaim

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“At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
‘Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him'” –Luke 2:13-14.
 

The heavenly host singing is my daughter’s favorite part of  the story of Jesus’ birth.  I imagine what the shepherds may have seen.  Did it appear that the stars all came to life?  Did angels materialize?  Did their song sound like Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus?  I imagine the whole incident taking moments but seeming like hours.  I imagine breathlessness and hyperventilations as the shepherds gasped in awe, reverence … and fear.  Often, when angels appear in the Bible, the first words out of their mouths are, ‘Fear not.’  Often, I have put myself in the place of the person receiving an angelic visitor, and I doubt seriously that being told not to fear would calm my heart beating out of my chest.

We find angel figurines everywhere in Christmas decorations.  There’s a house not too far from mine that goes over-the-top decorating with nativity scenes, ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ banners, and angels galore.  Lighted angels ‘flying’ on every fence post.  Statues of bigger-than-life angels.  Angels ‘keeping watch’ over manger scenes.  Angels trumpeting.  Angels harping.  Angels … angels … everywhere.

It’s ridiculous in it’s gaudy, tacky, in-your-face-Jesus-is-the-reason-for-the-season showmanship.  After seeing it every year (and every year, the owners add to the display–making it so much more than the last year’s display), I feel the need to go home and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas because I need Linus in his simplicity to remind me what Christmas is truly about.  I love to hear the Peanuts crew sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing in childlike purity.  Because with all the grandiosity of a heavenly host, a baby was born in a lowly, smelly, dirty stable.  Only heaven understood the royalty of Jesus’ birth.  Because only heaven recognized their king despite the humble setting.  The angels saw no shame in the feeding trough.  They saw only God.  The angels saw no shame in this poor, unwed mother.  They only saw one upon whom God rested His favor.

Makes me wonder what the angels see in the events of our lives that we find shameful.

What does Jesus’ birth mean to you?  To us?  I see in His birth a blending of lowly (shepherds) and mighty (wise men).  A blending of the irrelevant (shepherds) and the learned (wise men).  A blending of the chosen (the shepherds were Jewish) and the pagan (wise men were not Jewish).  A blending of the holy people of God (shepherds) and the secular people forsaken by God (wise men, because they weren’t ‘chosen’ in the Jewish sense).  I see God giving honor to unexpected guests.  He invited the most unlikely people to weave into His story of redemption.  He used what the Jews would have considered foolish to herald His coming–confounding their logical wisdom.  I see God leveling the playing field by not showing a bias of whom He invited.

A heavenly host heralded the shepherds to Jesus. A sign in the heavens led the wise men to Jesus. Do we look up enough to see what lowly, overlooked, insignificant person or circumstance might invite us to Jesus? God issued an invitation those shepherds would never forget–one that compelled them to go see a baby in a feeding trough and worship there.  Another heavenly invitation issued to wise men in Eastern lands that compelled them to give their wealth to a humble carpenter, his wife and child–and they worshipped there.

As we reflect on who Christ is, what He promoted, whom He honors, may we hear an angelic host invite us into the life He offers in abundance.

And may we see and experience God in the most humble of places … and worship there.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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