Liberty and Justice for ALL

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‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality…’ (2 Corinthians 8:14).

The story of little ‘Maria’ over the past couple of weeks strikes at my heart.  We may never know exactly what happened with her–her Roma mother, who lives in Bulgaria, and the Roma couple, who live in Greece and have cared for her, say that the mother ‘gave’ her to the couple.  The police believe the story has holes, but may never know the full truth.  ‘Maria’ may never know her birthdate or her exact age (tests show she is either 5 or 6).  Time will tell where ‘Maria’ will live–the mother lives in squalor and has had two other children taken into Bulgaria’s Child Protective Services because of the living conditions, the couple lives in squalor and face charges with the police.  For now, she is with a Greek charity.

In my White-ness, my American-ness, I want to see this precious child taken in like ‘Little Orphan Annie’ and given a home with a room painted pink and an overstuffed down comforter to sink into at the end of a long day–a place of safety, cleanliness and opportunities.  A good home.  Which, of course, I interpret as one that fits Americanideal standards.  I saw her biological mother on the news.  She was illiterate and dirty.  I saw her ‘adoptive’ parents on the news; parents who are now in jail.  They were illiterate and dirty.  Definitely not the American ideal.  With shame, I admit my first thought was, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if someone with means could rescue her and give her a shot in this world?”  When I heard my own gut-reaction, I wished for higher thoughts.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, all adoption (foreign and domestic) has its place; and for all who have adopted children, you deserve every honor for raising and loving children who have become your own ‘flesh and blood.’

But, not all children who need homes get adopted.

And it is for those children, I voice hopes and dreams for a better system.

I dream of a day when adoption and orphanages aren’t needed because we’ve figured out a way to share food, clean water and medicines with each other, so that families can stay together and not have to make agonizing choices about giving up children.  I hope for sharing of information with cultures who have destructive habits like child-marriages, hierarchy of male children over female children or able-bodied children accepted over disabled children so that all children will feel loved, welcomed and secure.  I dream of the day when Western thought has an epiphany that maybe we’ve missed something really important about life and need some of our ‘third-world’ cultures to teach us about simplicity, contentment and wisdom of sustaining and replenishing our environment and soil.  I hope for a future that includes less power struggles between rulers and more negotiations to make impoverished cultures able to feed, house and clothe their people and able to use their vast natural resources for the good of the community and not for exploitation to feed the greed in dominant cultures.

I pray for the ‘Marias’ of the world to have their hearts protected enough to break the dysfunctional cycles in their children’s generation.  I pray for our own ‘privileged’ children to have empathy and resourcefulness to end our hierarchical world-view by building on the research and vision of others who have willingly devoted their lives to sharing their status and power.

May we experience equality in our world where ‘[n]othing left over to the one with the most,
[n]othing lacking to the one with the least’ (2 Corinthians 8:15, The Message) becomes our legacy for generations to come.

What are your ideas on how to ‘level the playing field’?  How can we invest ourselves in beginning to solve some of the problems in our lives, communities, nation and world?

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Sinless Sinner

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“God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool….” (2 Timothy 2:24)

I ‘unclenched my fist’ and re-wrote the policy I didn’t like for my church leader.  I wish I felt clean and at peace, knowing I’ve helped.  But what have I helped?  Am I just sleeping with the enemy and offering gracious words to lessen the offensive message?  I want to succumb to sophomoric debate and prove myself right.  Once again, I want to resort to the methods I find unhelpful in others.  Once again, I don’t want to just make a little progress, I want to see God break their hearts and humble them–hurting them deeply–so that they see the error of their ways.  Once again….

‘Clean’ is not the word that describes how I felt writing the policy.  Dirty, sick, defeated, shamed come closer.  I felt no valiant celebration when I emailed it off to the leader.  I wanted to hide in a hole.  Bringing grace and peace into divisive subjects takes a toll on our own souls and we can wonder, “How much compromise is too much?”  

The answer I find surprises me.  I expected a ‘truth’ answer–one that integrates multiple Bible passages and gives a sound argument for the next debate I’m sure to face.  Instead, I find the answer in Jesus’ life and how he treated people.  Last week, I mentioned the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Jesus doesn’t condemn her.  As so often is the case with Jesus, he speaks something that appears totally obvious in its meaning.  But knowing the heart of Jesus and observing his interactions with people in his time reminds me that very little about what he says is ‘obvious.’  He says, “Go and sin no more.”  I touched on a couple of possibilities last week of what he could have meant in that phrase.  Yes, I know that most people interpret his meaning to be that she shouldn’t sleep around anymore.  But, that explanation never sat well with me as I read and re-read the whole interaction and think on the other interactions the Gospels record.  This week, I poured over that story and a couple of other ones–the man born blind in John 9 and the lame man by the pool in John 5–to try to understand what the sinless Jesus meant by telling this adulterous woman to not sin anymore.

With the woman, she had an obvious error to correct (she was, after all, caught in adultery).  However, the lame man in John 5 had no sin that the Bible records.  And Jesus told his disciples in John 9 that neither the blind man nor his parents had sinned.  So, why did Jesus tell the woman, “Go and sin no more”?  I began thinking of the ones who wanted to stone her.  Jesus told them that whoever wasn’t guilty of sin could start the judgment.  One by one (oldest to youngest–isn’t that beautiful?  showing the wisdom of the older who get it before the brashness of youth?), they dropped their stones and went away.  Then, Jesus, the only sinless person who had a right to judge, in the mercy and grace of the Father, tells her he gives up his right to condemn her.  I tear up even now thinking of what her heart experienced in that moment.  Jesus had just reminded the others of their own sin, probably secret sin (because we in church circles are VERY good at not letting people know our own character failures–or at least not admitting them ourselves … and certainly not publicly.), and then told her to not ‘sin.’  Do we really believe that Jesus was that naive?  Did he really expect her to never sin again?  Do we really believed that she didn’t sin again?

Jesus told the lame man in John 5 something similar in Greek …. Right after the religious leaders had chastised Jesus for healing on the Sabbath ….  Probably in the man’s presence.  As I’ve mulled over these passages this week, the heart of God tells me that Jesus wasn’t addressing lifestyle or behavior, but he wanted to make a point about the religious leaders and how they viewed ‘The Law.’  Perhaps we’ve focussed on the wrong people’s sins in these stories.  Perhaps the ‘sin’ we need to not do anymore involves judging people, making them subjects of our pet ‘issues’ that need God’s condemnation, forgetting what Jesus forgave of us to make us right with God.

Perhaps, Jesus, as was so often his way, looked toward the religious leaders and said, “Don’t be like that.  Don’t shame people or put conditions on how or when God works.”

How often am I like the religious leaders?

In my arrogance, I want to fight the battle intellectually.

In my arrogance, I fool myself into believing that I ‘fight for God.’

In my arrogance, I think God needs me to defend Him.

In my arrogance….

2 Timothy reminds me of humility, once again.  Ted Kennedy reminds me of compromise and progress as we journey toward the goal.  I truly appreciate all the voices who remind me to keep looking to the heart of Jesus–because it’s only there that while I continue to ‘sin’ (in errors of attitudes and judgments), I can be sinless in dealing with people.  I don’t have to retaliate in kind with arguments and debates.  In looking to God’s heart, we can all become less argumentative and simply live and treat people the way Jesus did, when our attitudes and actions align with his.

In what ways have you sunk to the level of those with whom you disagree?  How can you begin to progress toward common ground and building credibility?

 

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Coming Out To Play

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“For You shaped me, inside and out.  You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath.  I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.  You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.  You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You as I took shape in secret, carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before I was born from its womb.  You see all things.  You saw me growing, changing in my mother’s womb…” (Psalm 139:13-16).

Friday was National Coming Out Day for closeted LGBTQ persons to announce to family or friends their sexual orientation.  I truly appreciate the empowerment that this day represents.  However, my heart dies a little that we make people announce their sexuality at all.  I think of the suicide and depression statistics, the isolation and rejection that agonizes people’s minds, the fear and panic that can overcome the nerves when someone must finally open up to another the vulnerable part of their being that makes them different.

The pastor of the church I go to often talks about redemption and restoration.  He wrote a book that we use as a midweek class, Jesus’ Big Idea.  The premise of the book and the class is that Jesus talked more about the kingdom of God than anything else.  ‘Everyone gets to play’ sums up the theme of the book and Jesus’ take on God’s kingdom.  I can’t express enough how much I want to see that worked out as true in our lives.  My heart races when I think of a world that fully lives out that truth.  I try not to give in to cynicism as the reality that we put conditions on people and God that Jesus never did unveils itself.

Today, in the spirit of equality and fairness, I’ve decided to ‘come out.’

I confess that I am part of the privileged class of WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant).  It scares me to admit that I haven’t used that privilege often enough to protect and empower those my powerful class dismisses.  In my life I have said insensitive and repugnant things in ignorance, but acknowledge that wounds inflicted with good intentions can still be mortal.  I beg forgiveness from my brothers and sisters for the times I let shame come over me and I remained silent.  I am straight; but I come out today publicly that I endorse equality in civil rights for all, equal opportunity and treatment in Christian churches for all who follow the teachings and heart of Jesus, and am heartbroken over the treatment of any who do not fit what we in power have defined as ‘normal.’

Psalm 139 has been used often in the pro-life movement to stand against abortion.  What kind of message do we send if we hold up that scripture for the unborn, but ignore that psalm for those already living among us?  Today, I may be a minority voice in certain church circles, but I publicly proclaim with a humble heart that I do not have the right to make a blanket statement for any group of people how to live or how God’s glory is revealed through their lives.

I make this public confession with feelings of fear.  I know I probably can’t know the full extent of the emotions that others in powerless groups feel when they make their confessions; but shame is universal to all of us.  Knowing that I may lose even more friendships than I already have, I still must come out and stand alongside others who have lived in shame far too long.  Today, I offer my privilege and power to the voices of people who have stood stripped down and treated like an issue instead of a person in front of their accusers.  Today, I hope to begin to offer covering from the shame and humiliation and speak the words of Jesus when he dismissed the religious leaders accusing a woman caught in adultery by saying, “Let the first stone be thrown by the one among you who has not sinned.”  After all of them left and the woman felt protected, Jesus asked her who was left to condemn her.  She responded that no one remained.  Then Jesus said what we all want to hear, “I don’t condemn you either.”

And I now hear my fellow Bible aficionados proclaiming that Jesus also said to her, “Go and sin no more,” making that beautiful story about a weapon to use against anyone we deem is ‘sinning’ instead of Jesus’ grace.  So, I will briefly address this statement.  This story isn’t confirmed in any of the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel.  So, we’re not sure the story actually happened.  If it did (and I so hope it did–I LOVE this story in the life of Jesus), what does Jesus mean by ‘Go and sin no more’?  He has just announced to the religious leaders that only if they haven’t sinned can they stone this woman.  Could Jesus have been making a little joke with her about the ones who try to condemn us?  Or, could he have meant something like, ‘Don’t let choices in your life separate you from God’?  Isn’t ‘sin’ that which separates us from God?

I don’t have the patience for the nit-picking theological arguments.  But, I do know that I have publicly announced in my own stripped-down way that I do not have the right to condemn the core creation of people with whom God ‘approached even the smallest details with excellence.’   Today, I celebrate those with the courage to come out and throw off the heavy garments of shame–standing naked and unashamed before their Creator, letting God define their goodness, acceptance and value.  I just get to be a part of the standing ovation and pray that our cheers are louder than the accusing voices.

Because we all should get to play.

Do you need to ‘come out’ on anything?  What are your fears that stop you?  How do you see Jesus protecting you from your accusers?

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Life Poetry

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‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.’ –Psalm 34:18

My daughter has a close friend who found her brother’s body several months ago.  He committed suicide.  I often see on Facebook that she’s having a tough day–trying so hard to be strong and keep her faith; but, having a hard time processing horrific life circumstances at 21 or 22.  My heart aches for her heartache.

I cringe at times when I hear people say, ‘Time heals all wounds.’  In my experience, time heals nothing.  Time distances us from circumstances, but cannot guarantee healing.  I suppose it depends on how we define ‘healing.’  I define it as being without hardness and callouses–but we may limp, figuratively.  Often when we expect time to heal our hearts, we become hardened, cynical and calloused.  I do pray for my daughter’s friend that she gives her heart time for healing–makes space in her life to feel completely the spectrum of emotions without shame, trusting God to heal the brokenness.

I love the book of Psalms.  I love the raw honesty of emotions in its poetry–the joyful passion of praise and thanksgiving, the expressions of anger at injustices, blaming God for circumstances and not acting the in a desired way, the unabashed worship, the stillness of a resolute heart clinging to faith.  I love that the people who canonized the Bible recognized that God can consider poetry holy.  In these poems, we experience the life they lived from their perspective, even though they lived thousands of years ago.  I love seeing that the human heart hasn’t evolved much in thousands of years–we still feel deeply all the heartbreak when life doesn’t live up to our expectations, soaring joy and invincibility when things go well, deep awe and reverence when something in nature stops us in our tracks.  I remember my grandma saying that when she saw a plane in the sky for the first time, she whispered, ‘And I will shew wonders in heaven above’ (Acts 2:19, KJV).  She stood awestruck that God would allow such a miracle.

I love that having this holy book of poetry means that emotions cannot condemn us–no matter how long it takes for perspective to come.  Perspective can come.

I’ve written a few of my own psalms throughout life–some more ‘raw’ than others–and have discovered that the writing can release the power of the emotion more quickly than stewing over whatever creates the emotion in me.  I’ve burned a few as a symbolic act of letting go of the things beyond my control and allowing them to lift and float to God.  I’ve ripped a few to shreds in anger.  I’ve kept a few that still make me weep because the wound that caused the emotion hasn’t quite closed yet.

I have learned that we don’t have to write a poem to create a psalm.  Sometimes our lives become living psalms when our heartache is public.  My daughter’s friend creates a living psalm when I watch a few tears silently roll down her cheek in church before she brushes them away and breathes in new composure.  How many ‘psalms’ do we miss each day as we focus on our agendas?  How many opportunities do we miss to hear someone’s exuberant excitement, painful heartache, glorious revelation about life or love or God?  Will I learn to open myself to others’ vulnerable story and view their poetic life as holy?  Can that simple act begin to bring peace to our neighbors?  Our cities?  Our nation?  Our world?  Selfless understanding can create a bond of unity.  I wonder if that type of understanding could facilitate negotiation in governments?  But, the government shutdown is for another day, another post.

Today, my heart breaks for Eleah.  Today, I pray that the labyrinth of grief, with all its twists and turns, will give her peace as she continues to put one foot in front of the other and follow the path that has dead-ends and u-turns and seems to have no end.  Today, I pray for people to walk that path with her, at her pace and  join in her heart cry.  Today, I pray that all of us will find others on the labyrinth path of life who will help us turn our eyes to God and feel God’s presence in the midst of our own grief, joy, anger, peace, confusion–even when those emotions come simultaneously.

What is on your heart today?  What type of ‘psalm’ are you living?

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