Our Beloved Country, Divided

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I considered writing a light fluffy article this week.  I wanted to write something sentimental, funny, carefree … unimportant.  But,this year, Jud and I have declared ‘the year of living brave, but afraid.’  The year that we choose not to let fear determine what we try.  The year we take the risk and face possible rejection or failure.  The year we begin to remember and act on dreams.  The year we ‘fan into flame the gift of God, … for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control’ (1 Timothy 1:6-7).  With such a passionate desire to throw off the chains of the past, how can I ignore the historic moment of the Supreme Court overturning DOMA this week?  Why would I want to gloss over such an important event?

Because I’m afraid.  But this year, I vowed to live bravely.  Despite fear.

I wept with others, as I read their stories in news articles.  People who finally had hope.  People who had fought so long and for decades to have our great country consider them equal and not separate.  I heard voices rising up strong, reminding me of the 1960s Civil Rights advocates.  I wept because laws cannot change hatred in hearts.  I wept as I heard fear gripping so many as change sweeps across the country.  I wept for the innocence that once was, the turmoil that is and the hope of peace that is to come.  I wept with joy, triumph and prophetic understanding of the real battle to come–the battle for unity in our country.

In remembering history class, conflict surrounds most, if not all, of our nation’s history.  The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, The Great Depression, Vietnam, Civil Rights and countless other political battles.  Unity does not equal agreement.  My dear friend, Jules, and I have known each other for more than 25 years.  We met at church during our college days.  She was one of my bridesmaids and we’ve kept in touch over the years.  We share a deep love of the Bible, Jesus and living His gospel in this world.  We have different ways of viewing some scriptures.  We have different approaches in living out those interpretations.  Yet, we love and respect each other like sisters.  We share unity regardless of our heated debates, because at the end of the day, we know each other’s hearts and we love each other.  We’re family.

In Sunday school, back when I viewed the world more innocently, the stories swelled in my heart.  Yes, the adventure stories of people who followed God’s call and faced death and destruction for that obedience.  I love action and adventure stories!  But the ones that I continue to mull over and that bring tears to my eyes even though I know them by heart explode with God’s passion for all of us.  Stories of the people Jesus healed and took time to know.  Stories of the people who the religious leaders called ‘unclean’ and ‘unworthy’; but Jesus proclaimed God’s true nature of inclusiveness–not exclusiveness.  Stories of ‘the least of these’ becoming leaders.  Stories that go against all our human wisdom so that we look to God with sacred wonder and treat each other humbly and graciously.  Stories that remind us that because God created us in His image, we stand united–even when we disagree–because we share His DNA.

Most of the time, we feel the need to demonize people standing on a different side than our view.  If we create an ‘us vs. them’ environment, we don’t have to acknowledge that maybe we have accepted an overly simplistic view.  We draw lines in the sand and say, “Anyone on the side where I stand is right, good and intelligent.  Anyone on the other side is delusional, deceived and our enemy.  They deserve whatever it takes as long as we make our point.”  Anyone on the other side of our line is fair game.   Some of us have forgotten how to play fair.

But how can we stand united with such strong emotions on both sides of any given issue?  How can we ‘reach across the aisle’ when our leaders don’t guide us?  Perhaps we can acknowledge the fear in many that we have neglected what our forefathers originally desired for their new country.  Perhaps we can try to defuse the anger by calling out the fear in tenderness?  Perhaps we can acknowledge the gaping wounds from intentional or unintentional attitudes.  Perhaps we can try to ask each other to tell our stories.  Perhaps we can see each other as neighbors and love each other as ourselves.  Perhaps …  perhaps … Please, God, let us live the ‘perhaps.’

So, I weep.  I weep tears of deep gratitude and victory with my brothers and sisters who finally got a bone thrown to them.  I weep tears of great empathy with my brothers and sisters who fear so deeply what they do not want to accept.  I weep because I feel the victory and discouragement simultaneously.  I weep because I feel the relief of souls at peace, who had labored long and hard and will never know the fruit of that labor.  I weep for all my brothers and sisters who have ‘suffered mocking, and flogging and even chains of imprisonment…  [Who] went about…destitute, afflicted, mistreated–of whom the world was not worthy…  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect’ (Hebrews 11:35-40).  I weep for unity.

Will you allow yourself to weep with those in this country who are weeping over this decision, and at the same time rejoice with those who are rejoicing over this same decision?  Divided we have no choice but to fall.  United we have a shot at standing and overcoming our differences–ushering in a greater United States of America, one nation under God.

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Remembering Jane: A Tribute

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The church I attended from birth to high school graduation received Dr. Jane Tews as an Associate Minister around 1978 or 1979.  As the first female Methodist minister in the Phoenix area (perhaps the first official female minister in AZ; but I don’t remember the statistics from so long ago), she challenged stereotypes and created opportunities for women in the church.  I learned she had a massive stroke while I lunched with a dear friend, who had been in youth group with me.  The following is my tribute to this pioneering woman.

Dear Jane–

I know you’ll never read this note.  I had lunch with Jennie while my family visited my parents in Phoenix.  She told me about the stroke you’ve had and that you are not expected to live. I’m sorry for all of those you currently minister to and those of us you mentored in the past.  We will miss you.
I remember when you came to the United Methodist Church near Arizona State University.  You were fresh out of seminary and the first woman minister I had ever seen.  I remember the newspaper article about you.  Being a female minister was a BIG deal back then.  I think I was in 7th or 8th grade when you arrived for your new position.
I wonder if you knew how important you were to us girls in the late 1970s?  The women’s movement had gained much; but most of us didn’t have real-life role models of what it looked like to have a woman in a leadership role.  Thank you for letting us watch you and learn how to navigate through ‘a man’s world’ and make it our own.  Thank you for showing us that we didn’t have to sacrifice faith in order to have an intelligent voice in our world.  Thank you for showing us how, as women, Jesus lived through us.  Thank you for modeling how necessary women are in leadership positions and not just support positions.
Thank you for pioneering the way for us to believe that we really could embrace whatever calling God had for us and never had to believe that we had to conform that calling to gender stereotypes.
I’ve thought of you over the years and what it must have been like for you to be a lone woman in a traditionally male position.  To our eyes, you seemed so natural and confident.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy at times.  You and a few other women in my life developed my confidence to know that I am not lower than men.  In 2013, it sounds silly to even think that was once a common belief about women.  But, I and others remember the late 1970s/early 1980s, and know how ground-breaking having a woman in a leadership role was.  I remember how young teens desperately needed role models to understand not just our culture’s changes, but to understand how to live out what Jesus offers to ALL believers.
Thank you, Jane, for being that role model.  Thank you for your life.  May you know fully God’s joy as you pass into His tangible presence, as you have been fully known by Him in this life.
Sincerely,
maggie
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HAPPY MANHOOD DAY!!

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Since I did a post celebrating all women and how we ‘parent’ regardless of our biological child status, it seems only fair to do the same for men.  I’ve had many men in my life who represent true manhood.  Let me define ‘true manhood.’

My father grew up in Manchester, England, with a father who typified Northern English manhood.  He was stern, distant and unemotional.  He died when my dad was 8.  My dad lived through WWII in England and survived the aftermath before immigrating to the United States.  He could have become a stern, distant man.  Instead, he embodied compassion to me when we visited relatives in Texas one year.  We always stopped in my mom’s childhood town to visit Elizabeth who cleaned and cooked for my mom’s family.  This one year, Elizabeth wanted to buy a used car and asked my dad to check it out for her.  Elizabeth needed a better car to take her ailing mother to doctor’s appointments.  My dad gave his ‘okay’ after looking over the car, then before we left Elizabeth, he gave her the rest of the money she needed to buy it.  When he and my mom discussed it, he said that he didn’t want Elizabeth to wait until she could save up the rest of the money–she had already made a couple of payments to ‘hold’ the car from the woman selling it.  My father embodies ‘true manhood’ with his compassion.

John Mark pastored a church in Alabama.  I’ve mentioned the congregation in a previous post–‘holiness’ people on one side of the aisle, AA people on the other side.  I can’t imagine how John Mark walked that tightrope and led such differing people!  He tempered the ‘holiness’ people with grace and gave the AA people boundaries.  Two pastors remind my heart that God really does make His home with us.  Tom, who married Jud and I, and John Mark.  Having the ability to make both ‘holiness’ and AA people feel accepted and at home while defending truth and grace, John Mark embodied ‘true manhood.’

My sons remind me that youth, also, man-up.  Both J and Jon have hearts that break for injustice.  I’ve watched them both stand up in different ways for people that society disapproves.  My heart swells with pride when I hear their stories and they don’t know how much their efforts mean.  Their hearts make their actions natural and without arrogance.  Their humility and natural way of living embodies ‘true manhood.’

And, of course, Jud.  His respect of all people and cultures, his openness to new thoughts and his desire to always grow in character, knowledge and wisdom makes me want to be a better person.  His ability to speak kindly and steadily has helped my impetuous nature become a little more intentional (no small task on his part!).  I remember one time, a friend asked several of us to offer counsel on a job opportunity he was considering.  All of us had vocal opinions.  Except Jud.  For about an hour, we all dissected the options from every angle.  It reminds me of putting a puzzle together.  We all had our pieces, but didn’t know where to put them–or even what the puzzle picture looked like.  Jud listened.  Especially to our friend.  After the lengthy discussion where nothing showed our friend clarity, we needed to leave.  But, before we left, Jud spoke amazing wisdom to our friend’s character and then proceeded to put all the puzzle pieces from the discussion together.  The rest of us, our mouths gaping, sat in silence and awe until he finished.  His ability to assess situations and speak wisdom into them embodies ‘true manhood.’

So, for all the men out there who have ‘fathered’ others–biological children, step-children, adopted children, teens, adults, and those of us who have yet to outgrow the sophomoric phases–I honor you!  Those of you who are unsung because you live your life quietly, with integrity and compassion, I applaud you.  Those of you who don’t fit into the ‘stereotypical’ mold of what a manly man is and haven’t always felt respected, yet you keep living your life by respecting others, I weep in gratitude.  For all the unsung men and all the sung men who strive to make our world a more just, kind, generous place for the coming generations, today is your day!  May you feel CELEBRATED!!

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Thank You, Wayne Brady

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Way back in the day, our family used to watch ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway,’ an improv show with a brilliant comedic ensemble cast of Drew Carey, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady (others, also great comedic improvers, joined; but these four were our favorites).  All of those guys are on the permanent invite to Thanksgiving.  That’s a special honor in our family.  Ellen Degeneres, the cast of Modern Family, Maggie Smith, my kids’ dermatologist all grace that list.  It’s the way our family describes people we don’t really know but consider them family.  And, by the way, I make an outstanding Thanksgiving spread!

Recently, I saw Wayne Brady on a talk show.  He’s still every bit as funny and fun as he was on ‘Whose Line.’  But, how he answered one of the questions posed to him made me respect him as a person and not just a performer.  The host asked, “What kind of woman do you want.”  Wayne said that he really wanted to find a woman who is intelligent.  Now, a lot of men say that–especially when they’re on a national platform.  No one (who’s intelligent themselves) is going to admit that physical appearance drives their relationship radar.  However, Wayne Brady went on to say that yes, of course, he wanted someone attractive to him; but at the end of the day, he’s a single dad to a daughter and what kind of message would he send her if he went out with women who were just physically beautiful but not much else?  He said that he couldn’t tell his daughter to develop her mind and then bring home a woman who couldn’t discuss relevant issues.

Now that’s a real man.  A man who thinks about what he’s teaching his children.  A man who lives out his principles and doesn’t just say the politically correct rhetoric.  A grown-up man.

I’ve mentored several women as they traversed divorce, dating and remarriage.  Many of them wanted the ‘bad boys.’  ‘Bad boys’ are exciting.  ‘Bad boys’ are edgy.  Most of the ‘bad boys’ reminded them of previous love interests in a relationship’s beginning when everything excited them and the possibility of adventure loomed.  ‘Bad boys’ excite the fantasy that comes with many of the insipid ‘chick flicks’ which glorify relationships where men treat women badly, but the women change them in the end.

*sigh*  Can we all take a moment and bask in the glory of stupid, I mean ‘young’ love?

Okay, back to reality.  The only time ‘bad boys’ work well in relationships is in fiction.  When someone else takes charge of their plot, everything works out splendidly.  When someone else writes their dialogue, they wax poetic and actually grow to empathize with the love interest.  When someone else develops their character, they don’t cheat or stray.  All of this relates to ‘bad girls’ too; I just haven’t had as much experience mentoring that arena.

Can we all take away a bit from Wayne Brady?  Can we strive to be role models for the next generation?  Can we leave behind the whole ‘do as I say, not what I do’ philosophy?  Can we work toward thinking about future generations and how they will process what a man or woman is, then live in such a way that they can springboard from our examples and become real men and real women? Perhaps if more of us embodied that character, the world could become a kinder, gentler place.

Oh, and Wayne, if you ever read this, you and yours have a standing invitation at our Thanksgiving table!

 

 

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Loving Church

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“So, what do you LOVE about your church? (Or THE Church?)”

Rachel Held Evans, whose blog I follow, posted this question on FaceBook.  Great question.  I read about 100 of the responses trying to remember what Jesus loves about Church and that there are congregations out there that my cynical heart cannot dilute.

One church that we attended amazed me.  I’ve never been a part of a congregation like it before or since.  On one side of the aisle sat the old-timers who still practiced ‘holiness’ teachings (women shouldn’t cut their hair, no make-up, modesty in dress, no/little television, no shopping on Sundays–basically trying to keep your life ‘pure’ from ‘worldly’ influences).  On the other side sat the people in AA.  I’m not kidding, and the irony was not lost on me.  The two groups seemed to cohabit well.  I hope I never get the image out of my head of one of the older ‘holiness’ ladies going to the alter, kneeling and weeping,  in support of a head-to-toe tattooed and pierced owner of a tattoo parlor whose marriage was failing.  The tenderness and compassion embracing two people from such different worlds took my breath away.  The memory still takes my breath away.

Hoping to see more incidents like that one from 17 or 18 years ago keeps me going to church.  Oh, I have a deep theoretical love for THE Church–Jesus’ bride, the Body of Christ as a whole.  The local community of faith trips me up.  Theory becomes application in the local congregations.  Personalities conflict in the local churches.  Theologies collide in our ‘home’ churches.

I’ve grown cynical and need to remind myself that not all who follow Jesus fall into the ultra-inflammatory camps that make the news.  Sometimes in a fit of self-pity, I fall into the same delusion that Elijah believed–that only he was left (1 Kings 19:10).  Of course, in the previous chapter, Obadiah had told Elijah that he had hidden 80 of God’s prophets.  The cause was far from lost.  But Elijah, in his weariness of fighting the good fight, felt abandoned.  I have felt abandoned and need a reality check.  I need to remember the many every day examples of how to live out the gospel of Jesus.

So, what have I loved about local churches we’ve seen?  I love the people who just want to help their corner of the world.  I love the challenges of loving difficult people and maybe getting to see them become lovable.  I love knowing that, more often than I care to admit, I am that difficult person receiving grace from others.  I love worshiping with people of all ethnic, cultural and ability backgrounds and how united we become in the presence of God.  I love the hope that fills my soul and spirit that the Good News of Jesus can still change the course of personal and collective history.  I love that, even if it’s for just the duration of a church service, humility takes me down a peg and I can allow the Spirit to convict hearts, the Father to judge hearts and Jesus to heal hearts while I stand in awe full of love toward those hearts and their journey.

I love that in a tangible, congregational presence of God, away from the spiritually theoretical life, I know that I don’t have to have all the answers, the person next to me doesn’t have to have all the answers, the pastor doesn’t have to have all the answers; but God loves all of our imperfect selves and smiles over us.

 

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