WWTKD

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The tears well up and drip down my cheek.  I feel the warmth of the salty liquid begin to cool as the evening breeze dries my face.  Soon, they will not just drip.  Soon, they will flow freely. Soon, my stomach, already knotted, will convulse and breathing will become gulping gasps.  Struggling to unite both right and left sides of my brain–knowing I need to focus and work through how to write something more graciously, yet feeling the heartbreak of a group of people struggling for acceptance–two worlds collide in my soul.

When a church leader asked me this week to try to rewrite a policy that I found problematic, I told her that it would be difficult because I don’t agree with the point of view.  How do I maintain a sense of integrity and look myself in the mirror when someone asks me to bring some heart into a policy I find offensive.  Surprisingly, I found myself asking, ‘What would Ted Kennedy do?’

Raised in conservative church culture, I didn’t have a lot of respect for Ted Kennedy while he lived.  He was extreme, liberal, not-on-our-side, someone to distrust.  Amazing how much propaganda influences our young minds.  As an adult, I see him from a different perspective.  When he died, I listened to many people from various walks of life tell their stories about how he influenced them and the humanity he brought to our legislative branch.  I heard many Republicans say that if Ted Kennedy gave his word, it was as good as gold.  I heard one congressman say that after a devastating car accident with his family, Ted Kennedy and his wife stopped by the hospital to visit with him … then followed up with phone calls to learn of the progress.  Ted Kennedy was the only person of Congress to make that personal connection.  The man, a Republican, said that no other colleagues made time to visit.  Others talked about the phone calls he made to all the Massachusetts’ families of people killed in the 9/11 attacks … and he followed up with them … all 176 families … every year … with a personal and personally signed note … until his death in 2009.  Another talked about how he had negotiated with international kidnappers to get their child home.  Story after story after story talked about the unreported deeds, compassion and sacrifice of this man.  A friend who grew up in Massachusetts and lives in Boston had not heard these stories until his death.  WOW!  Most of us would have camera and crew on retainer so that all could see our acts of kindness, or at least our PR team could use clips for re-election campaigns.

That’s humility.  That’s the kind of leader I want in government.  Someone willing to negotiate with the differing points of view.  One of his colleagues said that Ted Kennedy knew where the Democrats wanted policy to go and would then work backwards to figure out what to compromise so that Republicans could sign-off on it.  His goal was progress–not soap boxes, not making a point.  Not arrogance.  Was Ted Kennedy imperfect?  I’ll answer that with these questions:  Aren’t I imperfect?  Aren’t we all?

So, as I face my own smallish soapbox compared to national policy, I find this follower of Jesus asking the question, “What would Ted Kennedy do?”  Because wars aren’t won from just one battle.  It takes many battle successes, retreats, covert spy operations and a lot of divine intervention to win wars.

And that’s when I see my problem.  I view ‘it’ as a war.

Ted Kennedy saw ‘it’ as our country, united.  Jesus, in my paraphrase, said, “Treat others how you want them to treat you.”  I don’t want anyone to treat me or my perpsective as ‘a war.’  We all have to ask ourselves if we will consider compromise a beginning to change, or if we will insist on only our way.  Do I want to be ‘right’ and battle it out until others see me as right, and I am the only one left standing?  Isn’t that what we see in the stalemate in Congress over the budget right now?  Or do we want to make a difference and pave a smoother path for the next time we butt heads?

I hope to unclench my fist, lay down my arrogance and simply bring some heart and opening for a conversation into a divisive policy.

What is your part?  Have you found yourself forcefully pushing your own soapbox?  What can you change in yourself that may create change in others; or at least open the door to discussion?

 

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The Lonely Places

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‘But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ (Luke 5:16, NIV)

I used to wonder … a lot… about Jesus choosing the lonely places.  As a flaming extrovert who sucks in all the energy from a room and has about 500,000 words to release on a daily basis, I could not comprehend Jesus seeking out ‘lonely’ places.  Oh, I know that in translation, the ‘lonely places’ are really just out-of-the-way, no-one-around, I-need-solitude-to-recharge-because-I’m-an-introvert places.  But, I love the Bible translations that call those wildernesses ‘the lonely places.’  Now that I’m not as much of a flaming extrovert and crowds can actually tire me out, I appreciate solitude more.  Now that I’m older and have more awareness of the bigger issues and cultures in our world, many of our debates in the political, social and religious realms leave me exhausted.  I find, more and more, that I crave solitude when my heart breaks over others’ pain.  I actually enjoy feeling lonely when the alternative involves entering the fray of treating people like issues.

I loved Pope Francis’ quote this week:  “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives…A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality, I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person” (emphasis mine).  Pope Francis had to have come to that wisdom from time in his own ‘lonely places.’   That level of compassion and grace are forged in our loneliest times when it’s only us and God.

So this self-acknowledged extrovert begins to ask, “How do I steer conversations about gut-wrenching subjects–gut-wrenching because they involve people’s lives, souls and spirits; yet, people try to debate them at only an intellectual level–back to the humanity of people?  Back to how God views their existence?  Away from the issue and back to the person?”  I find those answers away from the noise of society and in solitude, in the lonely places.  In the lonely places, I understand that these ‘issues’ are not issues, they are people.  In the lonely places, I focus not on the intellectual arguments, but on the heart of God.  In the lonely places, my attitude and responsibility become clear:  Jesus emerges as my standard of how I relate to everyone–with respect and awe that we are all created in the image of God.

I have felt lonely often this year, and definitely haven’t appreciated it most of the time.  Now, I have a different perspective.  I may make Luke 5:16 one of my ‘life’ verses and say, “Maggie often withdraws to the lonely places and prays.”

Have you encountered God in the lonely places?  How have those experiences influenced your perspective?

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Choice of Weapons

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“We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” –2 Corinthians 10:4

I appreciate Pope Francis calling people of all faiths to fast and pray last weekend for the crisis in Syria, the Middle East and the rest of the world.  I thank everyone who participated in that call to whatever extent.  Those of us who identify with our spiritual selves believe that as we practice some ancient traditions like prayer and fasting, God can affect change in our world.  In the Bible, Paul and others equate the use of these traditions with military weapons.  As those of us who fasted and prayed with others across our world, we hoped that God would bring a non-military solution to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.  Monday morning, hope sprang where there had only been dry, dusty hopelessness just days before.  The change started with a religious man using his public platform to humbly pray for peace and ask the rest of the world to join in.

Not all who read this post will agree that worldwide prayer and fasting had anything to do with the change of heart in Assad or throw-away comment by Secretary of State Kerry that perhaps if Syria agreed to give up all their chemical weapons, the United States might abort a military strike.  Whatever your beliefs, I hope you can take a moment to breathe a thought of gratitude that we are not facing imminent war.  I know I have said, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for your peace.  For your hope.  For your humility.  For breathing your spirit’s humility into Assad, Putin, Kerry and Lavrov–even if it’s just for this moment on the chemical weapons.”  Truly, we saw a miracle in having the leaders agree to do what they can to avoid war.  Once again, my heart is humbled by the knowledge that our human reasoning and political posturing failed; but when Pope Francis offered the humility of asking God what He could do and people responded, within 48 hours hope lived.

Thank You, my God, for opening hearts to hear alternatives to force.  Thank You, my God for giving humility to negotiate acceptable terms for all.  I trust You, my God, to continue working in our world leaders’ hearts.  Let ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:10).

If you don’t have a view of God working in our world, I ask you to be grateful nonetheless with those of us who do.  Our world is not at war.  While our world still lies on tenuous agreements, at least today there is hope that this crisis may not become bloodier than we have seen already.  Today, all players can save face.  Today, each side has heroes, and no side needs to make an example of the other.

Today, I rejoice that my God gave us weapons that do not propagate bloodbaths, but that engender life.

What are your weapons of choice?  

 

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The Power of Humility

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“Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” –Matthew 11:29

This week, I discovered that a friend ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook.  Oh, it didn’t surprise me.  Not really.  While we knew and liked each other years ago, geographical distance had taken its toll on our lives.  We rarely had seen each other outside of church when we lived in the same state; but I truly had thought of her as a kindred spirit when it came to family and passion for God.  I knew we didn’t agree on much politically, and perhaps interpreted certain Bible verses from different angles; however, none of that mattered to me, because those differences didn’t define who she is to me.  She has gone toe to toe with me on some of my more political comments.  She challenged and engaged me with scripture.  She encouraged me to use my writing for good and not evil.  It appears that I crossed a line in my views that she could no longer tolerate.  Apparently, she didn’t share the same attitude that what makes us different makes us interesting.

So, she did what has become the schoolyard snub and ‘unfriended’ me.

I don’t know that she hates me (that would be un-Christian); but if she secretly reviles me for my views, I’m not offended.  I’ve been hated and reviled before–at times, even I can admit it was justified.  Because I’ve always loved words, and especially creating them on blank canvasses, words tend to get me into trouble.  Being an extrovert, words flow out of my mouth, often before I think through the thoughts.  So, I have apologized time and again and will continue to apologize, I’m sure.  However, I don’t ask anyone to apologize for their opinions and I offer no apology for mine.  I do offer a seat in my home for discussion–even heated discussion–without fear of shame or rejection.  Don’t put me up on a pedestal.  I can be more sophomoric than the next person (and I have a few friends who can attest to the lengths of my immaturity); but in situations of differing philosophies, ideologies and interpretations, I am broad-minded and tough-skinned.  I don’t think my friend will invite me to share her table any time soon.  Too bad, because I still make her mother-in-law’s sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving every year–delicious!

In reflecting on my friend’s snub, I wondered why it bothered me so much.  I don’t often get caught up in rejection–not that it doesn’t bother me at all; but rejection isn’t one of my prominent insecurities or issues.  So, as I sat with my feelings of loneliness, my thoughts turned to Syria, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, America and all the dead-in-the-water negotiations our world has tried to garner diplomatically.  If ‘friends’ can’t get along with differing views, is it possible to expect national leaders to act reasonably?  If only ‘they’ could see ‘our’ point rationally.  Surely, we can talk it out and break the cycles of tyranny, oppression and revenge.  Surely, people (especially leaders) want good for their people and the rest of the world.  Surely, national leaders envision the consequences of their actions.  Surely, people want to eradicate evil in our world.  Except that most people don’t admit we have to eradicate that evil from within ourselves, and not others, first.  Part of the problem we face is that we want to see humility in the person we face, while we keep our own pride.  Do you see that in leaders like Assad who defiantly assert their power regardless of whether their actions are humane or sane?

I remember conversations in our last presidential election and all the issues debated privately and publicly.  At one point, I stopped caring about the issues and said that I was tired of arrogant men.  I would vote for a person with some humility.  My candidate didn’t come close to winning.  In our schoolyard tussles, aren’t pride, arrogance, superiority and power the driving forces?  If we can’t stop our own selfishness, how can we hope to eradicate global selfishness?  It always begins with us.

As I follow-up with Pope Francis’ encouragement for people of all faiths to fast and pray this weekend for Syria, the Middle East and the rest of the world, my heart prays for humility in our global leaders, humility in our spiritual leaders, humility in my own heart.  Humility is the foundation for understanding another point of view.  Humility creates an atmosphere of negotiation.  Humility begets flexibility, kindness and reasonableness.  Humility won’t allow one-upmanship and doesn’t do anything to teach “them” a lesson.

And I find that as I exercise these ancient traditions of prayer and fasting, my own heart softens toward my friend.  My knee-jerk reaction to reject her at a higher level and ‘block’ her on Facebook (because that would really show her) loses its power and I can let go of the hurt.  I begin to realize that if all of us would take time to regularly humble ourselves, we really can affect change in our world–end hunger, global warming, genocides, sex-trades, prejudice and hate crimes–because the problems our world faces are problems in our own hearts.  The more we find our own selfishness unacceptable, the better chance we have of electing officials who have done the same, the better the chance that we will work together to find answers that don’t include weapons of mass destruction.

For my part, I humbly offer a seat at the table for my friend’s point of view.  Because I still believe that our differences make us interesting, and we need those differences to help us see the whole picture–and not just our own little corner.

Have you experienced the power of humility either in yourself or through a leader?  What are some other traits that you appreciate in relationships?

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Back To School

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My youngest started his senior year last week.  He’s taking a few college classes and his final few high school classes.  As I reflect on my final time graduating from high school (when he graduates, I will have graduated 4 times total), I remember all the back-to-school shoppings, disagreements over uniforms and the bags upon bags of well-ordered supplies for the individual teachers’ classrooms.  I will NOT miss the ‘midnight runs’ to Walmart in search of the ever elusive items on the supply lists.

As a microcosm for the world, school serves as a great analogy.  Sadly, enough of us don’t learn the lessons that recess and lunch time should teach us.  We focus on academics–which are important (VERY important, if my kids are reading this post).  But can we all agree that navigating the awkward and painful social setting of school can make or break us as adults?  I remember schoolyard posturing: A couple of people (usually guys, but the girls could get into the cat fights too) would disagree about something–usually territory which included girlfriends/boyfriends, sports team positions, clothes, opinions, sports equipment, hairstyles.  Really, anything except academics.  The disagreement would escalate into a heated argument where said people would amass their ‘armies’ (everyone at the school could pick a side and if you didn’t, one was picked for you) by overblowing the offense, then they would puff out their chests like a rooster and start the trash talk which usually ended with, “I’m going to mess you up.”  I actually never saw a real-life fist fight.  I know they happened because I did see the black eyes and the bruised knuckles.  Many times, it all ended with the trash talk.

*SIGH*

Not much has changed in our world and it seems that these schoolyard tussles are universal to all cultures.  As I watch our country on the cusp of another war, a war many political pundits say could become a WWIII, I wonder what lessons we didn’t learn in school?  How do we avoid war when grown-up bullies have so many more dangerous weapons at their disposal than fists, knives and even guns?  When a leader like Assad doesn’t care about what happens to his own people, callously uses chemical weapons on a school and arrogantly defies the Geneva Convention, how do we stop him without stooping to his level?  Why has it taken 2 years for the world to do more than pontificate and threaten Syria with action?

As a parent, I know I learned to use my children’s ‘currency’ to shape their behavior and help them learn civility.  What is Assad’s currency?  Power?  Ego?  How do we make bullies back down on the schoolyard?  We call their bluff, we don’t engage in their antics or we fight and overpower them.  I have to ask again:  How do we stop him without stooping to his level?  Because, ultimately, this question separates us from terrorist inhumanity.

I wish I had sane answers.  Hindsight is 20/20 and if the world had executed a plan before now, perhaps we would not face war. Perhaps if we had learned our lessons from the Hitlers, Stalins, bin Ladens or Gadhafis, we would have acted sooner and more diplomatic solutions may have worked–or at least lessened the severity of the situation we now face.  But, we didn’t execute a plan  and haven’t learned our lessons and now Assad has crossed a line that the world should not ignore.  He has bullied his people and will soon bully the world.  We know he will not act reasonably.

 I’ve heard so many analysts say that our country is war-weary.  I agree, and we have not had to deal with it up close and personal–except for our military who have the external and internal scars to prove their sacrifice.  However, weariness is not a reason to let victims stand alone.  Weariness will not excuse us of turning a blind eye.  Weariness cannot be a decision-maker.
So, while I don’t have any answers (and I’m glad I’m not making the decisions), I watch with a sober spirit as this chapter of our world’s history unfolds.  I shed tears thinking of the loss of life that has happened and that will happen–regardless of our response.  I pray that God remains in control of history and will look compassionately on the innocent people caught in the crossfire.  I pray that peace will come and that cooler heads will prevail.  I pray that all sides will listen to reason and want to work toward a humane solution.  If nothing else, I pray a swift end to war.
Will you pray with me for peace in the Middle East?  What are some solutions to world  or personal conflicts that you have employed?

 

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