Changing Seasons–Autumn

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‘For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven’ –Ecclesiastes 3:1.

I love autumn.  Growing up in Phoenix, autumn meant a respite from the sweltering 110º+ summer heat.  Autumn meant the beginning of gentle, warm 90º to 100º breezes during the day and breathable coolness after sunset.  It meant trips up north to Oak Creek Canyon and buying apples from the roadside vendors.  I can still smell and taste the sweetness of the crisp mountain apples that we’d eat in Coconino National Forest with our tuna sandwiches that Mama had packed.

Living in Colorado now, I love seeing the leaves change on the aspen trees and getting apples and pumpkins from The Happy Apple Farm.  Last year, my 6′ 5″ 17-year-old son asked me if we could carve pumpkins.  I found the biggest pumpkins available.  The Saturday we chose to carve happened to bring in a cold front.  Our fingers froze as we gutted the giant gourds … and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!  Probably one of the last times (if not the last) I will make that memory with one of my kids.

Autumn is a time of ending.  Not quite the finality of winter.  More of a last burst of life and color before things go dormant for another season.  We have many autumns in our lives, because we have many new beginnings as we grow and mature.  We need autumnal times to shed our old selves and celebrate the dying vivid colors of who-we-once-were.  Because who-we-once-were gives birth and creates the nutrients for our new growth to come.  I feel God bringing on that change for me.  Learning to shed my previous skin.  Learning to embrace listening to the heart of God and not having to rationalize every thought and feeling for it to be valid.  Learning to live with all the paradoxes and complexities of life.  Like with trees in autumn, I feel the life-force inside me drawing me inward for a season.

Not gonna lie.  I don’t really embrace these seasons.  As an extrovert, I crave living out loud–REALLY LOUD!  But, as I age, I’m beginning to understand the benefits of quietness and contemplation–especially when voicing my thoughts creates misunderstandings.  Thankfully, I can offer apologies sincerely and quickly.  I’ve had lots of practice (see my comment above about living out REALLY loud!).  I wish more of us would learn to apologize sincerely, humbly (and not just the ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ style).  Not apologizing for our perspectives, but taking responsibility for how we communicate those views.  I wish more of us could be honest when something someone says or does hurts us.  The world would be a kinder place, wouldn’t it?  If we could live honestly with each other, without shame or shaming–not whining or complaining or accusing–but in gentle ownership of how our hearts process interactions.  If we could receive another’s heartfelt vulnerability and give that person dignity, honor and respect by validating what caused him/her to hear our words or actions in a certain way.

Yes, I know what I describe sounds a lot like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood or Sesame Street.  I long for community like we saw on those shows.  We should all cherish the idea that creating places with those ideals is within our grasp.  Maybe we all need to have an autumnal season to allow all that we’ve been a chance to become something bigger, broader, wiser.

For now, I will watch the aspen leaves change to translucent golden and ponder what changes God is bringing to my soul.

Mmmmm.  And I may bake some apple cake.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Members … And Everyone Else

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Special Messenger:  I want you to call him Ishmael because the Eternal One has heard your anguished cries.  

As a result of this encounter, Hagar decided to give the Eternal One who had spoken to her a special name because He had seen her in her misery.

Hagar: I’m going to call You the God of Seeing because in this place I have seen the One who watches over me.  –Genesis 16:11b, 13 (The Voice translation)

‘Kingdom Partners.’  That’s what my church calls it.  ‘It’ may have various names; but the meaning is the same everywhere.  Membership.

Today, one of the pastors at my church good-naturedly approached me.  He knows my story.  He knows my beliefs.  He treats me graciously.  But, he’s assigned to the membership classes, so he has to ask when new classes start if I’m ready to become a member.  He told me during the awkward ‘meet-and-greet’ time that church services seem to believe obligatory that I am on his ‘to-call’ list for the classes, and should he bother.  I told him with a smile that I welcomed his call, but no, I wouldn’t attend the classes.

The rest of the service I thought about the weight of that question.  While I have several reasons for not becoming a member, I don’t fault anyone who enjoys that status in good conscience.  My reservations with membership stem from my upbringing with parents who lived in segregated communities and some of their experiences.  Even though I’ve attended this church for years and actively support several groups in leadership roles, embracing membership eludes me.  I love this church and the people who attend.  But, I can’t reconcile membership and the implications of excluding certain groups with the teachings of Jesus.  We proclaim confidently in church that ‘everyone gets to play’ when it comes to the life found in Christ.  Unless … that life includes an LGBT-spectrum relationship.  We proclaim loudly, joyfully that we are all saved by grace through faith! Except for the rules that you must live by to prove to us that you deserve Jesus’ sacrifice.

None of the unspoken rules used to bother me.  They didn’t condemn me, and in my immaturity, I couldn’t imagine others who wouldn’t agree to them.  Being white, straight and moral by church standards, I had no reason not to propagate the biblical standard interpreted by my kind.  Then I met others not like me.  Others who came from divorced homes.  Others who grew up churched, but harbored personal truth they couldn’t reconcile with church doctrines.  Others who carried shame because they didn’t conform to church standards.  Others who embodied Christ’s life to me, but didn’t embrace traditional interpretations of Scripture that the church taught me as infallible.  Others who created doubt in my church tradition, but enlivened my faith in God.  Others who showed me love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control without the weight of shame and protective masks of the soul.

Until a few years ago, I never thought of the people to whom the church denied membership.  I didn’t understand what it’s like to worship God, but be treated like an illegitimate sibling.  I never identified with Hagar and Ishmael.  Until my own power and privilege in a system I’d always supported crashed down upon me, killing my ego-centered religion; and God resurrected my humbled self.  I remember reading the woman at the well story of Jesus and becoming overwhelmed with empathy for her. I felt Jesus speaking to me as He treated her with respect and honor.  For the first time, I understood that I had been treated as the proverbial ‘church whore’ by an abusive pastor.  While I had never compromised my standards or my church’s beliefs, the pastor had the church community shun me because he couldn’t control me.  Much like the Samaritan woman Jesus met.  Her community shunned her because she didn’t measure up to their standards.  While we can make the argument that she made poor moral choices, I believe I related to her because her choices led to ungodly shaming.  Her encounter with Jesus reconciled her within her community.  He removed the shame that the community placed on her and freed her to live as a true child of God, instead of as a bastard child of religion.

We all need to see ourselves as the excluded ones at some point in our lives.  We need that experience to humble us and help us understand that none of us deserve the life found in Christ.  We must identify with the Hagars and Ishmaels in order for others to believe the good news of God that He hears our anguished cries and is the One who sees us and welcomes us all, as we are and without condition, into His kingdom.  All God requires of us is to humbly believe we cannot earn His love and to treat all others–as equal siblings–with the same grace He gives us.  When we learn those lessons, people will beg us to tell them more about Jesus and our God!

And membership will become obsolete.  Because everyone will get to play.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Growing Up Into Childhood

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‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ –(Micah 6:8).

Seems so simple.  Growing up in the 1970s, we played with all the neighborhood kids. We didn’t choose who moved into our neighborhood or who went to our school.  We made allowances for ability and age.  We just wanted to play.  Everyone got to play–even if they weren’t very good at the game.  Unless they cheated, played dirty, or flaunted how good they were and didn’t give others a chance.  We all belonged.  We all brought strengths and weaknesses to the game.  We all accepted each other–even when we lost and disappointment tempted us to blame our teammates or ourselves.

Then we grew up.  Winning became the only measure of success.  And we brought that attitude into church.  We need to be right.  We need to prove we’re the best.  And we do that by creating a loser.  I think we can all name a few losers in church systems these days.  Why have we decided to make them losers?  Because we can.  Because they’re an easy target.  Because they showcase our strengths.  Instead of using our strength to protect them, we shame them.  Instead of including them, we reject them.  Instead of recognizing our own weaknesses that need another’s strength, our bloated ego bullies them into hiding.

It’s time–past time–to grow up into mature adults who live like we did as children.  I haven’t found a passage in the Bible that tells us to win people over by proving their beliefs wrong, to shame people into obedience to our way of living, or to reject whole groups of people because how they live before God makes us uncomfortable.

There will come a day when we no longer have the power privilege.  Do we want them to treat us the way we’ve treated them?  Seriously, think about that thought.  Do you want others to use the Bible to justify rejection, loathing, one-dimensional defining of you?

It’s not too late.  Instead of  sustaining an Us vs. Them culture, we can play on the same team.  We don’t have to agree with each other on everything.  We just have to play fair.  We have to include even the ones we don’t think can ‘win.’  We have to realize that we’re just kids on the playground.  And God gets to figure out who plays on the team.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Contributing Factors and Solutions

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Jesus speaking:  “‘So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways.  Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others'” –John 13:34-35 (The Voice translation).

Boko Haram.  ISIS.  Syria.  Gaza.  Russia vs. Ukraine.  Ferguson.  Our world looks bleak.

Boko Haram continues to kill and kidnap people in African villages with no apparent end to their terror.  More than 200 Nigerian girls remain missing.  Some of the original 276 kidnapped girls have died.  Some, the abductors reportedly have married off.  After their abduction in May, hope for their release or rescue diminishes by the day.  How many of us continue to remember them?  Because no new activity in the story appears to happen, our news has moved on to more current stories.

The terror group, ISIS, has become more powerful than we imagined.  In America, we don’t believe that they can make good on their threats … yet … but adding them to the many disturbances in the Middle East certainly complicates our world.

President Putin and his bold attacks presumably to take over Ukraine border on insanity.  Especially when we remember it all started under the shadow of the Olympics.  Seriously?  The one time in 4 years when all the world’s countries celebrate camaraderie  and goodwill?  As your country hosted said athletic events?  That seemed like a good time for you to invade another country?

Ferguson, MO, and all it represents.  Sometimes I feel like I’m back in the 1960s.  Have the last 50 years of civil rights changed nothing in the hearts of our countrymen?  I have no idea about the legality of the matters in MO, TX, AZ (with the profiling of hispanic people) and all the other places that racial prejudice seems to influence the laws and courts.  But, I hope we can all agree that we can do better.

We must do better.  But the issues are so global, where do we start?

We start with ourselves.  We learn to grow up and act like adults, regardless of how anyone else acts.  We learn to forgive and show grace–not because anyone who slights us deserves it, but because we deserve to live without the baggage of bitterness.  We need to realize that we are not big enough to handle the world’s problems on our own … nor are we able to handle our own problems by ourselves.  Part of the problem in our world is our own arrogance.  Embracing humility and admitting that we don’t have the capacity as human beings to fix global terrorism and hatred without the help of God is a good first step.  In all of human history, we have not figured out how to live peaceably with other cultures.  Isn’t it time to confess that we don’t have it in us to figure it out?  But, maybe if we actually pray and contemplate the sacred teachings of God, we may feel more peace within ourselves–and if more and more people live peacefully with themselves, perhaps more and more of the world’s cultures will live at peace with each other.

We give up the ‘us vs. them’ mentalities.  Peace doesn’t happen because one side proves itself ‘right’ and the other side ‘wrong.’  Peace unveils itself when we concern ourselves more with understanding and less of jumping to conclusions about situations.  Few, if any of us, have enough information to pass judgment on any of the situations in the news.  The complexity within the borders of Israel transcend our western ideologies and theologies.  Yes, educate ourselves.  Yes, read the articles.  But, allow ourselves to read opposing viewpoints with an open mind and heart.  We may grow and mature in our understanding of all that is at stake.  We lack empathy in our world of right and wrong information.  We need the stories of real people to help us show compassion to all.

We do our homework. We research rumors and refuse to post inflammatory rhetoric that we have not confirmed. So much of what we get riled up about has little basis in fact. Educating ourselves and looking for multiple credible sources before passing misinformation on to others will go a long way in curbing revenge-seeking passions in our hearts and minds. Also, we must discuss more of world events and less of Kim Kardashian’s fashion. How many of us still carry a passion for the Nigerian girls who remain missing? How many of us sigh and turn the page looking for a nicer story than ISIS teaching children how to behead people? If we don’t insist on action at the global, governmental levels, how does our government of the people, by the people and for the people decide how to prioritize the atrocities taking place?

We look for solutions.  Most of us can’t go to the international conflict hotspots (and we have nothing to offer, if we could go); but we can go downtown to the homeless shelters, the soup kitchens, the domestic violence agencies, the animal shelters, the low-income schools, hospice care, the hospitals and volunteer our time and skills.  A smile, a kind word, offering hope to someone who sees only hopelessness in life goes a long way in changing our own attitudes toward people in the world, as well as those whom we help.  The leaders in those organizations need people who lighten their load.  We can give money to ministries and groups who have credibility to affect change within local and international circles.  A quick search on the internet lists thousands of reputable sources.  Believe that we can make a difference and change our world.  Accept that change may take years.  Celebrate the small victories–the children that are saved from sex-trafficking, the laws that equalize the rights of all, the countries that educate girls, the leaders who sacrifice so much to negotiate for peace.

Finally, we recognize that we can influence only one person at a time.  Global change starts with us and how we treat the person on the street, in the store, or driving in a car down the road.  Preaching to myself here.  I want peace to all the world’s problems; but I want everyone in my little corner of the world to cater to me.  How much more peaceful would I live if my neighbor didn’t practice drums, the person in the store didn’t stand in my way, the guy in the truck didn’t cut me off.  All of that brings us back to the beginning of this post.  We start with ourselves.  I start with me and my attitude toward others–even when I’m right and they are obviously wrong.  I take responsibility for how I contribute to the selfishness in the world.

We may or may not end terrorism in our world.  But, if we begin to implement some of the things listed in this post, maybe our world will become less scary and terror-focussed.  Bridges built between cultures start with humanizing the cultures … one face at a time.

I welcome comments!  Please remember to keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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