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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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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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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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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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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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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Using All The Crayons

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‘God has no favorites’–Romans 2:11.
‘Masters, hear this: act in kind to your slaves. Stop terrorizing and threatening them. Don’t forget that you have a Master in heaven who does not take sides or pick favorites’–Ephesians 6:9.
Peter speaking: ‘It is clear to me now that God plays no favorites, that God accepts every person whatever his or her culture or ethnic background, that God welcomes all who revere Him and do right’–Acts 10:34-35.
‘My brothers and sisters, I know you’ve heard this before, but stop playing favorites! Do not try to blend the genuine faith of our glorious Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, with your silly pretentiousness’–James 2:1.

“I don’t see color.  I see people.”  That’s what we’re told is the correct way to speak and think.

This post is not a judgement on police, Ferguson, Michael Brown or any other headline of how the legal system fails people of color.  I know precious little about how the legal system works in these cases, or what evidence juries hear and how attorneys spin facts and opinion.  However, as a country, we have to start listening to each other.  White people in particular need to stop trying to ‘fix’ or dismiss these situations, and we need to learn to listen to the reality that people of color live.

Without defensiveness.

With complete humility.

Admitting our shame.

Repenting of our inaction.

As a white female, I feel ashamed to bring up race relations with people of color … which I’m not supposed to acknowledge.  I know I come from a place of societal privilege; and the view I enjoy from farther up the heap gives me a comfortable perspective.  I rarely think about the people I may sit upon who afford me that view.  I read a commentary this week where a panel of 10 black mothers spoke honestly and openly to a full auditorium about the reality of how they have to raise their sons.   It’s not enough for them to teach their children to respect authority, be kind to others and work hard.  No.  They have to teach their children how to stay alive by taking extra precautions because of the color of their skin.

“I get tired of hearing all the whining about how tough their lives are.  Slavery was abolished over a hundred years ago.  They have civil rights.  Their lives are better.”  I hear these statements all the time.  I’ve probably made at least one of them in my lifetime.  I remember living in Alabama where the South has found ways to get around civil rights laws.  Exorbitantly priced private schools that offer ‘scholarships’ to acceptable families (white) keep black families from affording a better education for their children.  Some towns and neighborhoods won’t publicly list homes for sale–you find out by word of mouth who wants to sell a house–so that ‘certain elements’ can’t move into the neighborhood and drive housing prices down.  My husband and I lost over $20,000 in the sale of our home because black families had started moving into the neighborhood, making our neighborhood ‘mixed.’  We lost that money because of the color of someone’s skin.  Not because of anyone’s quality of character.  Not because drug dealers moved into the homes.  Not because crime increased and houses fell into disrepair.  Although, I would have moved out of the neighborhood if the military hadn’t transferred us to Colorado because of the white family that moved next door–sandwiching their boat between our houses, parking their truck in their front lawn, and not controlling their dog that would attack us when we tried to enter our house (it even ‘treed’ my husband Christmas morning when he went out to retrieve a gift hidden in our car).  In Arizona, some friends moved into a predominantly hispanic neighborhood.  They would not allow their sons to associate with the neighbors because the neighbors might be drug dealers, and at the very least, couldn’t be good influences with the music and gatherings they had.  Our friends found an acceptable (white) neighborhood less than a year later.  Where their son experimented with drugs and other frowned-upon activities….

*Sigh*

Yes, racism and prejudice are alive and well all over our country.  Which is the first admission we need to make.  We have to stop pretending tolerance of others ‘not like us.’  We are not tolerant.  We are racist and prejudiced.  Toward people of different colored skin.  Toward people of different colored sexual orientations.  Toward people of different colored genders.  Toward people of different colored socioeconomic backgrounds.  Toward people of different colored physical, mental and emotional capabilities.

I remember the part of the start of each elementary school year that excited me the most was opening the new crayon box.  If you were lucky enough to have the 64 color box with the built-in sharpener, whoa!  You just became popular!  Everyone wanted to use ‘Burnt Sienna’, ‘Orchid’, ‘Melon’, ‘Raw Umber.’  ‘White’ rarely got used–unless we were trying to make clouds or colors more watercolor-y.  The more colors we had available meant our imaginations could take over the picture we created.  Sometimes, we would take 5 or 6 colors and swoosh them just to see how they blended.  Glorious times!

When did we start celebrating using only a few colors in the crayon box?  Isn’t it time to remember childhood and celebrate all the colors around us?  Celebrate how the different colors create nuances and depth to our lives’ pictures.  Primary colors set a great foundation to outline a concept; but we need all of the crayons in the box to flesh out impressions to make the image real.  God made man in His image.  God’s image exists with breathing, multi-dimensional, sentient life.  So, how do we begin to take ownership of how we contribute to the inequalities in our nation?

  • Take some time in the last weeks of 2014 to observe your own prejudices.
  • Recognize them.  What is the basis for them?
  • Analyze them.  Why do you have them?
  • Then find people you normally would judge and observe the image of God in them.
  • Really listen to their experiences and what has shaped them.
  • Celebrate that facet of the Eternal you may have never recognized.
  • Let the presence of God wash over you in holy awe and wonder as you see with His eyes the beauty of His world’s colors.

And maybe … just maybe … our world will become a little less ‘white privileged’ and a little more equally privileged.  We don’t need a pyramid ‘heap’ to have a great view.  When we all are on the same level and see eye-to-eye, that’s a position that should take our breath away.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Amazing Grace

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“Grace is central in God’s action here, and it has nothing to do with deeds prescribed by the law. If it did, grace would not be grace” –Romans 11:6.

Grace.  Such a big word.  Super theological.  Filled with deep meaning.  And, I believe, deeply misunderstood.

As I’ve pondered grace throughout my life, my viewpoint has broadened.  I’ve had my seasons of ‘Grace is all well and good, but we need the law to keep people in line, too.’  At some point, my thinking changed to ‘Grace doesn’t negate the law.  Grace just means that God still accepts us as we disappoint Him.’  Around my 30s, I started believing, ‘Grace is where we start for salvation purposes; but we have more responsibility as we walk through sanctification.’  That thought morphed into ‘As Paul (and therefore ‘we’) walked through life, he started on a broad road that got narrower and narrower until he walked a tightrope at the end of his life.’  I looked forward to the tightrope … I’d practiced my whole life and had excellent balance!  I knew I could show others how it was done ….  *sigh*

In the last several years, I’ve needed a definition of grace that held less shame, less personal responsibility, more freedom … I looked for a definition that gave God less disapproval, more control, more power, more … well … God.  This year, I’ve focussed on shame, humility, freedom and how all of those relate to living as Jesus lived.  I’ve mentioned the idea that Jesus sets us free from shame–because the power of ‘sin’ is shaming us into living according to someone else’s rules.  In recent months, I’ve come to believe that grace frees us from the shame that belongs to hierarchical systems.

By definition, a hierarchy is a lot like a pyramid scheme.  Only a few reside at the top of the heap.  The rest of us only hope to clamber closer to them, and if (joy of joys) they take a tumble, we might replace them–if we’ve hidden our faults proven ourselves above reproach more than the next person.  I’ve heard many in the upper echelons of the power hierarchy say things like, ‘We can’t let grace get out of hand.  How will we maintain control?’  I’ve heard many songs, sayings, and bumper stickers proclaim, ‘Grace isn’t cheap.’  I say now, ‘No, it’s not cheap.  But it is free!  I wish we dealt with the problem of too much grace, too much liberty, too much tolerance in churches.  Instead, we have churches that want to harden grace and burden others with a limit to freedom.  We don’t want to let grace be grace in all its messy, complicated, freeing glory.  It’s harder to lead organizations if there aren’t set ground rules.  It’s harder to corral people if we can’t use shame as a tool when they cross lines of decency.  It’s a lot easier to pull out the rule book than to live in relationship with people and allow them to learn at their own pace from mistakes made.

A friend of mine went through a messy divorce years ago.  Because her self-image took a beating during her marriage to an abusive husband, she kinda went overboard on exercise, provocative actions and wearing revealing clothing to get attention from men.  She relished the ‘freedom’ she experienced after such a repressive life.  She needed to let her pendulum swing from one extreme to another until she could find balance.  I offered challenging questions to her, trying to help her reflect on how healthy her life choices were for herself and her daughters.  Often, she received the questions I posed and changed a decision.  Often, she went ahead with her plans and suffered some consequences.  Many people judged her appearance.  Many friends walked out on her.  Few bothered to understand her motives and what needed healing in her heart.  Fewer trusted that God would finish her story and would reveal more of Himself to her through offering her His grace as she stumbled along the path of emotional healing.  She found balance.  Not overnight.  Not without pain.  But, she found balance in God.  She learned from His humility and grace.  Now, years later, those earlier times have shaped her heart with empathy and compassion toward others who stumble in their own soul’s darkness.  She offers her light that God ignited in her to help them see Him welcoming them to a smoother, well-lighted path.

I believe that as we learn to rest in the fullness of God’s grace, we become humble.  As we become humble, we offer grace to others in their lives.  We want to live compassionately, gently cherishing the journey of another’s soul.  Because we no longer base the success or failure of our own lives on accomplishments or good/bad behavior, we no longer try to make ourselves look holy based on shaming another person … and clambering to the top of the heap just seems like so much work.  So, we content ourselves with being just like everyone else–a blend of mature and immature attitudes, altruistic and selfish actions, and changing and unchanged beliefs.  Instead of anxiously walking a tightrope fearing someone may notice if we fall, we’ve learned to skip along with skinned elbows, hands and knees on a path filled with uneven spots.  And we stop with a smile to help those who have fallen.  Because if we didn’t, grace would not be grace.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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All Are Welcome

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‘“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life!’ –Revelation 22:17 (The Message)

Last Wednesday, Jud and I attended a gathering that discussed how to have a conversation between opposing viewpoints.  The 1  hour 15 minute drive took 2 hours in Denver rush-hour traffic.  Why did we go?  We feel desperate.  Desperate for spiritual nourishment.  Desperate for unity (not uniformity).  Desperate to meet at a table where others can disagree and still like each other.  At The Refuge, we found a diverse group–a lawyer who’s a pilot, ‘FedEx’ who’s a pastor of a biker church, a man who runs a ministry for homeless youth, a man and woman who are friends and co-pastor equally this group of normally unconnected people.

We felt refreshed.

We felt for the first time in a long time that we belonged.

We felt hope.

The co-pastors don’t agree on how to live out controversies over same-sex marriage; but neither of them walk away from the discussion.  Neither of them have trumped the other with hermeneutics or the-Bible-clearly-says conversation killers.  They have both put their friendship first; and out of that love and care for each other, they disagree on a few things.  I found myself tearing up often during the evening because I realize most of my more conservative friends refuse to open the conversation.  It seems that they believe that to admit there may be another way to view and interpret the Bible opens the doors to Hell.  Just the discussion becomes ‘a slippery slope’ and puts us in league with Satan.

How did the conversation become so ‘evil’?  When did people decide to shut down discussion at all costs, because to entertain another viewpoint means we affirm it?  When did our integrity become so fragile that we will only associate with those of homogenous thinking for fear of someone labeling us ‘guilty by association’?  When did the ‘issues’ become the line in the sand that we will not cross?

In talking with a friend the day after the event, it dawned on me how difficult it is to find people in the conservative camp willing to dialogue in a respectful way (and I am sure there are many in the conservative camp that feel the same way about the progressive camp).  The ones I know believe that just the dialogue compromises their beliefs.  One thing that sticks with me from the gathering on Wednesday is that we define ‘unity’ as black and white meeting in the middle and both becoming gray.  In reality, one of the co-pastors said that it’s more like polka dots on a solid background.

How do we learn to co-habitate with one another without fearing our polka dot will dissolve into the background color?

We can focus on God–Father, Christ, Holy Spirit.  He is the background color (which probably is gray).  All our black and white polka dots (and every other color in the spectrum) are found in Him.  We all, no matter our views on ‘issues’, carry a piece of His perspective.  Every time I want to yell IDIOT! because I think some policy unjust or unfair in the Christian world, I can breathe and remember that the person who created the policy or procedure comes from a sincere belief.  I can remember to respect the person’s heart–as I’ve wanted others to respect mine in my growth.

Regardless of what some Christian leaders proclaim, I do believe that we can find a ‘third way’ of unity.  A way where all are welcome, respected, given dignity.  The co-pastor that represented the more evangelical thought said that policies are conversation killers.  As soon as a church forms an official policy, how can there be open dialogue?  Yet, in our institutional, systematic approach to church, how can we not have policies to help people decide if they can live with the beliefs of the particular church.  Ideally, I’d love to see more churches and pastors able to set policies and personal beliefs aside in order to have messy, potentially-offending, learning-humilty-and-other-focussed-living congregations.  Maybe it’s a Sesame Street dream; but I choose to dream.

I don’t believe that all churches can become ‘third way’ churches.  I’m not sure it would be healthy.  If we really believe that following Jesus is a journey, we need all sorts of gathering places to accommodate all sorts of belief systems.  How can a person with strong conservative beliefs suddenly be expected to worship alongside a gay couple (without malice, distraction and a hardening heart)?  How can a person passionate and committed to advocating marriage equality suddenly be expected to worship in a community that denies church membership to gay people who are in relationships (without malice, distraction and a hardening of heart)?  I may be romantic in my thinking; but I’m also pragmatic.

Many need to know the stability of boundaries with controversial issues; but some of us need the messiness of ‘third way’ gatherings.  We need the opposing views, because we believe what makes us different, makes us interesting.  We find safety in seeing unity in the midst of disagreement; because if God isn’t threatened by our humble questioning, then why are we so threatened by opposing thoughts?  We want to truly believe that all are welcome without shame and without restrictions.  We want to believe that we are one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.  We want to believe that opposing views don’t eject us from the faith, and that brothers and sisters really do live in unity.

Or, at least, that it’s possible.

I’d love to hear from you!  What do you think of the growing ‘third way’ gathering?  Is it possible to live in unity with opposing viewpoints?  

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Family Resemblances

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‘Now let Us conceive a new creation—humanity—made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness. And let Us grant them authority over all the earth—the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, the domesticated animals and the small creeping creatures on the earth’ –Genesis 1:26.

I have my maternal grandmother’s nose and my father’s eyes.  I look more like my father’s side of the family.  Some have seen my maternal grandmother’s picture and thought that it’s me as an old lady.  I hope I look like her in my 80s–she was ADORABLE!!  I hope I reflect all the good parts of both sides of my family in my temperament; but I know that stubbornness runs on both sides.  Thankfully, that trait skipped a generation with me…. I do hope my heart reflection continues to change into more of what I think Jesus looked like on earth.  I definitely can’t claim even a smidgen of perfection in that area; but I hope people see me growing and learning.

I took a Bible study years ago that I hated.  I don’t use that word lightly.  In it, the thesis statement was, ‘There is no feminine in the Godhead.’  Not shocking why I hated the study.  Every lesson reminded me that the core of my being is not found in God.  I had many … um … discussions … with the leaders of the study.  Finally, unable to hang with my mental and scriptural gymnastics, they pawned me off to one of the pastors.  He was doing a study by the author’s husband on men.  He told me that while he hadn’t actually read the one on women, the one on men was terrific.  “I’m sure I’d love that one too–you get to relate to God!  According to this study, we are an anomaly to Him!” I replied, forcefully.  He didn’t discuss much with me after that.

I’ve read several articles about racial inequities in churches.  I recently listened to an interview with Muhammad Ali where he talked about why he became Muslim.  He humorously asked some poignant questions about the ‘whiteness’ of Christianity.  I had pondered some of the questions before, but not really understood the significance of the messages that are sent to minorities.  Since I belong to the group in power, I never had the images we present act as a dagger in my spirit.  I never internalized the messages that because of the color of my skin, God would not use me to the same degree as He would white people.

Until I took that study.  I finally understood what it felt like to have my voice diminished.  I finally understood what it felt like to have people say that God doesn’t look like me.  That I don’t look like God.

This week, I started to globalize that thought more.  It’s what underlies all our culture wars and gender wars in the church.  Some churches would say (probably not out loud), “We don’t want God to look like a woman; therefore, the Bible clearly says that women are not to lead men.”  Others might say (probably not out loud), “God can’t look like a person of color; therefore, we will exclude their voices from the music industry, from our upfront ministries, from anything but their own churches.”  I actually heard people in the South say, “Why would black people want to come to our church?  They have their own.”

Why would we want God to look like anyone who makes us uncomfortable?

Is this attitude one of the reasons we don’t want to consider that we have it wrong with Christians who are gay?  Are we afraid that God might look ‘gay’?  (Whatever that means….)  Have we chosen to interpret a very few Bible passages in a way that excludes some because we don’t like what the repercussions are to our view of God if we look to broader interpretations?  One pastor of a mega church said that we had feminized Jesus too much, and he couldn’t serve a Jesus that he thought he could beat up.  What disturbed me most was that this Christian pastor actually thought about whether or not he could beat up Jesus.  I realized that I’ve mostly thought of Jesus in an asexual sort of way.  But, I consider Him cutting-edge when it comes to honoring and respecting the voices of His society that those in power diminished and abused.

So what image do those who do not look white or act heterosexual reflect?  Do we tell them covertly that they do not reflect God’s image?  Yes.  We do.

It may not be consciously or with evil intent.  But the message rings through, nonetheless.  Those who identify with Christ should never feel excluded within churches.  We have to do a better job of using our power for including all people–because all people carry God’s image.  And we need all those reflections of God’s image so we can see the fullness of God’s heart in our world.  Will this make us in power uncomfortable?  Probably.  But isn’t a little discomfort worth the freedom of Christ for all?

It may scare us.  It may make us uncomfortable.  But only for a time.  Soon, all of the fear and shame would dissolve as we see the beauty of God’s full image.

I’d love to hear from you!  What does God’s image look like to you?  Have you subconsciously created God in your own image?  

I recommend The Shack, if you want to see a broader image of God.

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Just As He Said

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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. … 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. … The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone.  The messenger spoke to the women, to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, ‘Don’t be afraid. I know you are here keeping watch for Jesus who was crucified. But Jesus is not here. He was raised, just as He said He would be’“–Matthew 28:1-2, 4-6 (emphasis mine).

CHRIST IS RISEN!  How can we not feel the thrill through our hearts?  As I reflect on the heart-stopping awe that all the Marys in the various resurrection accounts must have felt, I rejoice with them and all the others that paved the way for me to celebrate today!

For many years (and probably decades) I have reveled in the angel’s words, ‘just as He said.’  Because Jesus told all the disciples outright that God would resurrect Him.  None of them believed it at the time He said it, let alone once He died.  The women watched and remembered at the tomb; but they seemed to believe that He would stay physically dead.  The whole exchange between the women and the angel fascinates me.  In that culture, women were not considered credible eye-witnesses.  Yet, the angel does not address the soldiers; the angel addresses the women.

The women who worshipped.  The women who financed Jesus’ work.  The women who waited.

The women who believed what Jesus said.  

Yes, God gave one of the highest honors in history–proclaiming the resurrection of Christ–to the least valued voices of the culture.

Humbling.  Validating.  Awe-inspiring.

In life, Jesus brought honor to women and other less-than people in His society.  In death, the Gospel writers honor the oft-forgotten women.  In resurrection, the angel commissions the lowly women to proclaim Christ’s new life!  A beautiful picture of healing the power struggle between genders.

In the beginning, when the world was innocent, God created all humanity in His image.  A balance of power.  We created the power hierarchy.  We needed Someone to free us from the shame environments that hierarchy created.  Only He could show us how to embrace that image once again.  Only He could rescue us from ourselves.  Only He could invite us to join His way of life.  Only He could teach us how to risk without shame and live bravely, even when others don’t approve of the freedom we gratefully receive from the unconditional love and grace of God.  Only He could show us how to die to the facades we’re told we have to exhibit so that our truest parts can resurrect and bloom!

Christ’s resurrection life created a better way–one where everyone gets to play.  Just as He said from the beginning.

I’d love to hear from you!!  How can use your voice to proclaim freedom in Christ to others?

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The Forgotten Disciples

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“And then, starting at noon, the entire land became dark. It was dark for three hours. In the middle of the dark afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘… My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ … And then Jesus cried out once more, loudly, and then He breathed His last breath.  … So Joseph [of Arimathea] took the body, wrapped Jesus in a clean sheath of white linen, and laid Jesus in his own new tomb, which he had carved from a rock. Then he rolled a great stone in front of the tomb’s opening, and he went away. Mary Magdalene was there, and so was the other Mary. They sat across from the tomb, watching, remembering”–Matthew 27:45-46, 50, 59-61.

I wish churches would focus on the women who followed Jesus more.  The women of the Gospels play an often overlooked role in showing us today what it means to follow Him.

The disciples scattered.  The disciples doubted.  The disciples missed so much.

The women worshipped before Him.  The women financed His work.  The women waited.  The women watched and remembered.

No, this post is not idolizing feminism or women.  However, what we have focussed on is the humanity of the male disciples without balancing those thoughts with the spiritual intelligence of the women who also followed Jesus.  Yes, we all scatter, doubt and misinterpret.  BUT, the women show us that we can reflect and grow into steady, focussed, faith-filled Believers.  We need both examples; but too often we glorify the earth-bound humanity of the disciples without challenging ourselves to become Jesus’ other disciples.

The overlooked disciples.

The forgotten disciples.

The female disciples.

As we ponder the wonders of the final moments of this Passion Week, let us also honor the women who followed Jesus by waiting, watching and remembering.  Let us allow God to fill our hearts with hope and faith that will help us process the confusion, tragedy and fear in our lives.  Because the story is only beginning …

I pray that we will learn equally from those who walk with Jesus, regardless of gender, social standing, identity or background.

 

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Voices In The Heart

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“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Dear Weary One,

I know you have heard many things spoken against you and people you love in My name.  

Those words assault Me also.

Some people speaking those words love Me and desperately want to know that I am proud of them.  So they speak words that they think are Mine because others with authority in their lives have said they are My words.  I know those words hurt.  

They hurt Me also.

Hear My words.  I speak healing over you.  I speak grace over you.  I speak acceptance over you.  I speak love over you.

I speak the same words over them.

Does that shock you?  Offend you?  If it doesn’t, it should.  I came to bring unity and accessibility back to God.  For everyone.  Not just you.  You are not the only wounded one I see.  Remember, your words have also brought pain–sometimes unintentional … sometimes with great intention.  I spoke healing, grace and acceptance over you then, as I do with them now.

So learn from Me how I lived without shame before all the ones who tried to kill Me … how I live now.  Let Me remind you of all the exciting adventures we’ve experienced together.  Let Me give you a glimpse of the future as I see it.  Have you forgotten the breathtaking awe of walking alongside someone who didn’t know how much I love them?  Have you missed the joy of watching the light bulb go off in a person’s soul as we work together to show how life could be?  Remember all the times you wept and prayed and didn’t know if I saw what was happening?  Remember how you laughed when you realized I did see and accomplished what you thought impossible?  Remember and learn from our past encounters and take heart now … laugh now … because you must know I see now and am working now.

The other voices have grown strong in your mind.  You have exaggerated their power.  Come away with Me.  I will show you a place that silences them.  I never meant for you to fight their war.  I never meant for you to live on their terms.  I created you to live like a child–freely, joyfully … including anyone who would play.  

Don’t listen to the other voices.  Mine is the only one that matters.

I love you, My beloved–Jesus

Have you given your heart over to discouraging voices that want to engage you in a war you don’t feel equipped to fight?  Is God calling your heart to live like a child? How can you focus on the ones who want to play, and ignore the bullies on the playground?

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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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A Time to Breathe

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In the news this week, the Boy Scouts voted to allow openly gay kids into the organization.  I’ve read many of the comments on the news articles, and one would think that every disaster proclaims God’s disgust with that decision.  Hearing adults who claim Jesus as their example projectile vomitous hatred and vitriolic arguments frightens me.  Hearing vindicated glee in the tone of people, whom I assume have felt the freedom from shame and the power of God’s amazing grace, directed toward anyone’s suffering turns my stomach.  Hearing the terror in their hearts over ‘the moral decline’ in our nation rage against a group of people–especially children–causes me to gasp in disbelief.  Hearing my own arrogance as I rail against my own kind humbles me.  Why would anyone follow that kind of religion or that kind of God?  Have we fallen so far to have lost the ‘good news’ of Jesus that angels ‘harked’ to shepherds?  Have we forgotten all of Jesus’ parables and teachings about how to treat people?  Have we trumped the teaching about being ‘innocent as doves’ with being ‘wise as serpents’?

In my discouragement with myself and people who claim to follow the same God I do, I searched my soul and prayed for God’s heart.  Here’s what I concluded:

1)  God doesn’t need us to defend Him.  He doesn’t even ask us to defend Him.  Jesus got pretty upset with Peter when, in trying to defend Jesus, Peter took out his sword and chopped off a guy’s ear.  It’s hard to ‘make disciples’ when we’re on a soapbox.

2)  Changing someone’s theology?  Forget about it.  In my experience, no one has ever decided to follow Jesus because I out-debated them.  “It’s Your kindness that leads us to repentance.”  (Romans 2:4)

3)  Arguing the ‘black and white’ view of the Bible goes both ways.  Just as I may see my interpretation of the Bible as obvious, so others see their view.  Slashing someone’s character because they don’t have the same interpretation doesn’t make them wrong and me right.  It means that God is bigger than all of us and His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.  (Isaiah 55:9)

4)  Jesus’ sacrifice released us from the power of sin and death.  (Romans 8:2)  When we see something that offends us, we tend to overshadow the cross of Jesus and His sacrifice for ALL.  Jesus got offended–at religious leaders who declared impossible expectations on people so that the leaders looked more holy.  In a world where so many news stories tell us of adolescents bullied because of sexual orientation and the suicides that accompany that bullying, we need to proclaim freedom in Jesus and emphasize His power to release us from shame!

5)  We tend to pick and choose sins.  We want grace for our ‘sins’; but condemnation for our definition of sin in others.  Jesus addressed this attitude often in his parables and teachings.  (Luke 6:42)

6) The Holy Spirit gets to convict–not us.  Only God changes people’s hearts to His will.  I am not responsible to ‘save’ anyone or do much more than offer counsel when asked.  How arrogant am I to think that I know what and how God needs to change in another–especially if I do not have a relationship with that person?  (John 16:8)

7)  Why do differing viewpoints threaten us?  Romans 14 offers great insight to this point.  “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right” (Romans 14:22).  Paul advocates letting God’s Holy Spirit decide in each person.  Some will accuse me of interpreting this passage as ‘situational ethics.’  My ethics have never changed in any situation–regardless of the person, I try to treat each one with equal empathy and understanding (admittedly, I fail more than I wish).  I want respect for my deeply thought out interpretations, and I give respect to anyone with opposing, equally thought out interpretations.

So, what can we do?  Ask questions and don’t sermonize.  Jesus did.  He also taught with story.  He understood its power.   We tend to focus on correct doctrine.  In making that our passion, we forget that there are real people with real lives, real feelings, real beliefs behind every ‘issue.’  Behavior that one person may believe the Bible condemns, another may have a different  interpretation or insight.  Before drawing a line in the sand, perhaps we can listen to each other’s viewpoints and experiences without trying to win a debate.  Shaming a person or a group of people to prove ourselves ‘right’ reminds everyone more of the Pharisees than Jesus’ actions.

As my blood-pressure rises when I hear people in my own faith tradition making blanket statements at the expense of hearts (we are all guilty of this, regardless of our viewpoint), I breathe.  in. and. out.  slowly.  methodically.  silently.   And I focus on Jesus.  And I remember how much He loves us, how competent He is to fulfill His purposes even though we are not perfect in communicating His life.  As I see again myself in His vastness, I stop attacking those that see the world differently (even if they speak unkindly and irrationally) “and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”  (Helen Lemmel, hymn).  May the grace of Jesus overflow in our lives as we all work out our own salvations.

 

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