Why I Marched

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“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.” –Zechariah 7:9-10 (The Message)

I have strong opinions; but I’m not an activist. Mostly, I just imperfectly live my life under my interpretation of how Jesus lived. However, yesterday, I marched with thousands of others–7,000 in my city of Colorado Springs. Millions across the world marched.  Some, maybe most, marched in hopes that our government will take notice of the importance of keeping civil liberties for all Americans. Some marched out of concern for health care, immigrants, social security. Some, probably most, marched because our current president scares the bejesus out of them.

Lots and lots of signs.

Some made me laugh. 

 

 

 

Some brought me joy. 

 

 

 

Some made me tear up. 

 

 

 

But the energy in the crowd was hopeful! I saw unity amidst diversity. I saw people that don’t align with some of my political, theological, and social views; but we were the United States of America in that moment.

I marched for several reasons:

  • I marched because I’ve done much soul-searching about the 1860s and 1960s over my lifetime, and I always wondered on what side I would find myself–pro-civil rights, anti-civil rights, or just plain indifferent.
  • I marched because I, and my government representatives, need reminding that I have a voice that this ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ needs to hear.
  • I marched because so many in the minority groups are scared and need to know there are those in the privileged class who are allies and willing to give up some of their privilege so that they can rise.
  • I marched because orders already have been signed, and bills already have passed the House and are going before the Senate this week that sweepingly change aspects of our country, and most of us are not paying attention.

I haven’t paid attention.

That’s really why I marched. I needed see that this beautifully flawed country is made up of people from various perspectives. I marched with socialists, people who identify along the LGBT spectrum, atheists, Jews, Christians, and every other faith tradition, moms, dads, kids, grandparents, men, women, suburbanites, urbanites, homeless people, veterans, wealthy, poor, health-care providers, health-care users, every ethnicity in our city, able-bodied, ability-challenged, and some older people who remember their mothers voting for the first time.

I have forgotten our diversity, and am guilty of looking at things through my own narrow, limited view. For me, I hope this march was not just a moment. I hope I will continue with the movement to keep our government accountable.

So for any (and I’ve seen on Facebook that there are many) who don’t understand what these marches wanted to accomplish, you’re right that they didn’t change any legislation … yet. The goal was not a sprint to help people release some pent-up angst. The goal was to begin physical therapy so that those of us who have grown complacent can train for a marathon in keeping abreast of what our representatives are doing. The goal was to begin the long, difficult process of grafting in all the diverse people into a cohesive movement.  Across the board, our dissatisfaction with Congress, the Senate, and our government leaders in general has escalated over the last 6 years. I will continue to speak with my vote. But it will not stop with just that action. I will also use my voice and my presence with the offices of my senators and representatives.

I encourage all of us to do the same. Whatever gives you passion. Whatever your perspective.

Whether or not others understand or agree, marching yesterday gave me life.

**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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A New Year … A New Look … A Renewed Heart

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Create in me a clean heart, O God;
restore within me a sense of being brand new.
Do not throw me far away from Your presence,
and do not remove Your Holy Spirit from me.
Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You;
let Your willing Spirit sustain me. –Psalm 51:10-12

I have updated my website and included a photo of myself (which I have fought against adding).  Being technologically-challenged and artistically-impaired, I struggled to change a system that seemed to work ‘good enough.’  But, change I did.  I hope you like the new look.  For those of you who read my blog via email, visit the site and let me know what you think!

But, as I changed the aesthetics of the site, my heart broke again.  And again, I am tempted to fall into war-path patterns that I’m determined for God to change in me.  Another LGBTQ teen committed suicide.  Another time church culture failed someone struggling to find acceptance and people who would walk a rocky path with her.  How many have to die physically or spiritually before we wake up?!  Each time someone walks away from faith or commits suicide because of a perverse image of God we project, we fail in Jesus’ commandment to love and make disciples.  I read about this girl whose parents rejected her because of their faith, and I want to start swinging the sword.  I hear the statistics of LGBTQ teens and homelessness, suicide, bullying and my heart breaks in all too familiar tear-soaked convulsions.

The ‘good news’ and ‘great joy’ of Jesus’ life has to be good and joyous for everyone, or it’s not ‘good’ or ‘great.’  How do we find the promise of joy in God’s presence with such alarming stories?!  When will we stop trying to create people into our image of ‘christian’ instead of celebrating the image of God they already bear?!

I wish I knew easy answers and quick fixes for these heart attitudes.  For me, I have had to give up ‘Sunday school’ answers and listen to stories from the trenches.  I am learning to allow stories from people’s lives to determine how I express Christ’s life.  My hermeneutics (there’s a college church word!) have changed from an academic and linear focus of the Bible to a more fluid and relational focus.  People and how we relate to each other have to take priority over ‘correct’ and ‘static’ interpretations of the Bible that tradition has ingrained upon our minds.  I choose to interpret the Bible through the lens of:

  • Jesus.
  • grace.
  • humility.
  • compassion and mercy.
  • Good News and Great Joy for Everyone!

Jesus listened to people and their stories.  We get snapshots of him conversing with the ‘less-thans’ in society.  He didn’t quote the Bible at them or list all the ways they failed God.  He asked them what they wanted (there’s a thought) and never told them they weren’t good enough for God.  He encouraged them, healed them, and taught them about God’s vision for their lives and the world.  He offered grace to the oppressed.  He looked on people’s needs with compassion and mercy–not cynicism and self-righteousness.  He gave them hope that the future could be bright, joyous and full of freedom.  When I examine Jesus’ way with people, humility floods my spirit.  And I begin to view the world from a different perspective.  I begin to see how much I relate to life from a holier-than-thou/shame-based view.  I see myself as better than some–therefore, more deserving … and I diminish my shortcomings.  I see others who have more attention or success, and my mind fills with shame as I exaggerate my own insecurities.  When I humbly view myself, I look on others the way I see Jesus looking at those in his culture–weeping, empathetic, sympathetic, and giving all of himself to see life restored–allowing God to determine their path to His heart, and standing between them and the religious hierarchies of the day.

How often have I heard church leaders and church-going people sigh and profess in resignation, “I wish I could accept (fill in the blank of ostracized behavior in any given age: women in leadership, inter-racial marriage, divorce, homosexuality); but the Bible is clear.  I can’t go against God.  His ways are higher.”  We say these things and dismiss the thoughts of injustice and accept powerlessness.  In essence, we are saying that we are ultimately more compassionate than God.  Seriously?!  Even though God implores us to live in relationship with Him and ‘reason’ with Him, we believe we cannot question traditional thoughts of churches?!  Even though Abraham bartered with God for people’s lives, we cannot compromise church positions?!  We silence the Spirit’s efforts to unveil in us more of God’s image than past generations could exhibit because we have bought a lie that God, as revealed to past generations, has to remain as we have known Him.  We don’t allow God to broaden our view of Him, so we don’t build on previous knowledge and encourage the next generation to add their discoveries of faith to ours.  Is this the spiritual legacy we want to leave?!

And I fall, once again, into temptation of looking at my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.

… God’s enemy.

… my enemy.

And again, I see my own depravity and hypocrisy.  Because in judging attitudes in others, I have also sentenced them to righteous destruction.  How to grow and mature in assessing wrong attitudes without pronouncing penalties on their souls is what I hope for this year.

Wars of words have not proven successful in this social media age.  Instead of fighting each other to win a debate, can we agree to listen more and quote the Bible less as we navigate these conversations?  If we need or desire to quote the Bible to someone, can we quote Jesus more than Leviticus?  As we search for ‘biblical’ interpretations, can we focus more on how Jesus interacted with people and less on ‘issues’ and what is ‘unclean’ today?  Can we seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in shaping our theology, instead of relying solely on what pastors preach from the pulpit?  Can we seek out what is just and merciful, keeping our hearts humble, so that we refrain from shaming people and their actions to win a round in this vicious cycle we continue to feed?

Above all, can we try to remember that it is God’s will that none should perish–making it our goal each and every day to present Christ in a way that helps someone choose to live, and continue to figure out what it means to ‘work out’ our own salvation?  Let us treasure our interconnectedness as God’s image-bearers and journey toward unity of the Spirit.

Having someone commit suicide because of church teachings should humble us all into examining how much of the Spirit’s life we express to the world.  May we all cry out for God to create a new heart in the Bride of Christ that exudes the joy of living in God’s presence!

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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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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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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WWTKD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Lonely Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Choice of Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your weapons of choice?  

 

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Back To School

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

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

*SIGH*

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

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

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

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

 

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Where Beauty Blooms

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“I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end”  Ecclesiastes 3:10-11.

Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus.  Three women bonded for life.  Only they know the incomprehensible 11 years they survived.  I can’t imagine the courage they mustered to face Ariel Castro at his sentencing hearing this week.  The last victims of the Boston Marathon bombings have left the hospital.  Strangers bonding over survival and physical therapies that only they comprehend.  Soldiers returning from various conflicts in the Middle East with military honors and PTSD form a brotherhood of experience that their families don’t quite grasp.

We think of these people and their stories and laud them as heroes for surviving inhumanity at its worst.  I wonder how many of them feel heroic?  How many of them wish they felt as heroic as people hold them up to be?  How many of them want to scream, “That’s not me!  I’m scared!  Confused!  Broken!”?  While I haven’t experienced the level of trauma that these people face, I have my own ugly stories of trauma that may offer a little hope.

I remember telling my best friend from high school about the trauma of a 5 year abusive church relationship and that one good thing that came from it is that it forced me into counseling.  I had finally reached the end of me and my abilities to cope.  Humbled, traumatized and having a thyroid that gave out because of the stress necessitated professional intervention.  At my first appointment, denial filled me.  I thought I’d go in there, tell my story, have my counselor validate me and all would be well.  About half way through my sobbing and probably unintelligible rant, an epiphany washed over me.  In horror, I stopped crying and cried, “Oh, dear God, I have to come back!”  My counselor incredulously looked over her glasses at me and calmly replied, “Oh, Honey.  Yes.”

Going each week to my appointment, I fought back panic attacks.  Most of the time, the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme mocked me, “Humpty Dumpty sat a on a wall.  Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”  I knew I would never recover.  No one could save me.

Then, it happened.  About 6 months into my recovery, the mocking rhyme repeating over and over in my head, I practically screamed in my car for God to throw me a bone.  Okay, I actually screamed … and begged … and tried to cut a deal.  I hadn’t felt the presence of God in years.  I had disconnected from wanting to hear His voice.  But in my desperation, a tiny crack opened in my heart and I heard so softly, “The King can put you back together.”  That’s where my hope sprouted.  Maybe no human could save me, but God could.  He may use people to accomplish the healing; but the healing came from Him.  He planted eternity in my heart that day.  Oh, not gonna lie, all was not well after that.  Five years of intense work with my counselor and Jud ensued.  But, the hope began.  The forgiveness began.  Now, two years post-counseling, I can say I am at peace while I continue the journey.  I carry the scars.  I will always carry the scars.  The scars contain my healing, my wholeness.  Had the story ended eight years ago, I would have descended into fatalism.  My scars remind me to look on people with tenderness.  My scars remind me of human frailty.  My scars create compassion and empathy in me toward those just coming out of their ugly stories and those just entering them.

It takes a lot of work to turn a landfill into a garden.  The three women who must begin to pick up the shattered pieces, the bombing victims who must find it in themselves to rebuild new lives with limitations, the soldiers with PTSD who have to make peace with the nightmares, the adult who tries to make sense of childhood abuse all live over emotional and spiritual landfills.  But, their stories, our stories, don’t have to end in the decay of the garbage heaps.  We can allow God to set eternity in our hearts and wait for our story to unfold, believing that God’s ending is more beautiful than the hell we have endured.

I pray strength, courage and hope for all as they embark toward healing and wholeness.  May none of us ever settle for ‘good enough’ or a patch job.  Clearing the landfill of our hearts, planting seeds of hope in a future and tending that garden daily for blooms to appear are worth the effort.  Those hurting in our world are worth the effort.  YOU are worth the effort!

Where have you found hope to go on in the midst of your life’s tragedies?

 

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Dreams

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In second grade, I  read a book about Francis Scott Key and his poem that has become our national anthem.  The book enthralled me.  I remember telling my teacher, Mrs. Lash, all about it … for about 10 minutes … without taking a breath.  Finally, I paused a moment and she said, ‘Maybe you should write a book report about it.’  Whew, I’m sure she felt great relief.  Until I actually turned in the unassigned book report a day or two later.  From then on, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

Over the years, the dream of writing adjusted as I realized the likelihood of paying bills with that desire.  My plan entailed that I would write in my spare time and work in publishing.  After college, I would work at a small press in AZ, learning publishing from the ground up while getting my masters degree.  After that, I would apply (and, of course, get the job) as an editor at a big house in Chicago–Doubleday, Random House, Simon and Schuster–and work my way up to a senior editor position.  But wait, the dream didn’t end there.  I planned on applying (and getting) a transfer to a London office where I would work in the crime novel division developing new authors.  Of course the huge pipe-dream (because we all have those unrealistic hopes) was to win the Pulitzer by the time I hit 35 and the Nobel Prize for Literature at 50.  No one can accuse me of selling myself short….

In high school, I added winning Wimbledon to my list of dreams.  Never mind that while I won most of my matches for my team, I really hated practicing and did not have the desire to commit my life to the sport.  Regardless, my doubles partner and I would half-heartedly practice in the blazing Arizona sun, then break for a Diet Dr. Pepper (the just-developed soft drink at the time–yes, I’m that old.  I even remember when Diet Coke came on the market) and talk about life, love and dreams.  But, the writing dream continued and became a sort of ‘happy place’ for me.  I would have a winter vacation home in Montana–a large cabin by a lake with a huge overstuffed chair, lots of legal pads for writing (pre-computer age) and lots of books to while away the snowy weather.

So what happened to those dreams?  I fell in love with a man in the Air Force, we traveled to exotic places like Alamogordo, NM, and Erzenhausen, Germany.  Space Command didn’t send us to Chicago or London.  Jud worked mostly shift work and the high demands of military life didn’t afford much home stability when we had our kiddos.  So, I volunteered to stay home and give our children stability.  Now, everyone is grown and mostly independent (even though they still live in our home) and I can explore dreams again.

Except my dreams at 48 take a different slant than they did at 16.  But those childhood dreams help me remember my passions.  While I probably won’t win the Nobel in a couple of years and have yet to write anything worthy of it or the Pulitzer, I have discovered other outlets for those dreams.  Not working at a publishing house hasn’t stopped me from editing projects for friends and family.  Not winning prizes hasn’t stopped me from writing and growing in my ability to communicate through that medium. Just the narcissism has calmed down (I hope).

So when I read about the 3 Chinese girls who died because of the Asiana Flight 214 crash earlier this week, I connected with them.  Two of them were 16 (the age of the third girl wasn’t released; but she was a part of their group, so I’m guessing she was also a teenager)–the age when I believed I could be a rising tennis star.  I wonder what they hoped and dreamed for their futures?  What they hoped and dreamed the summer camp they were traveling to would bring to them?  What did they believe was within their grasp that at age 48 would seem utterly ridiculous?  They won’t have the chance of looking back at their lives and laughing at some of their impossible dreams.

Feeling the need to memorialize those girls and feeling nostalgic for my own dreams from youth, I drink a Diet Dr. Pepper in their honor.  Being 48 and responsible for my health, I’ve given up sodas (diet or otherwise) this year (my mom will think ‘I told you so’ when she reads this, yet, I throw her the bone anyway); but I break my decision this one day in honor of those girls.  I raise my glass of Diet Dr. Pepper and drink to their memory and all the lost dreams of youth.  I may even go out and hit a few tennis serves this weekend and dream of winning Wimbledon someday–just because I have life and can still dream.

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Leading By Example

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My goodness!!  Sometimes I wonder if we truly live in the 21st century?  I’ve read several articles about the Voting Rights Act, Paula Deen (and several other ‘celebrities’ who have let loose with racial and offensive slurs) and Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman over the past few weeks.  I can’t say that I understand much about the Voting Rights Act issue.  Being from Arizona and born in the mid-60s gives me little frame of reference for racial prejudice (illegal immigration didn’t really touch me back then).  Visiting my mom’s stomping grounds in Texas and living in Alabama for 4 1/2 years in the 1990s give me some perspective.  As a child, I remember the days-long road trips to Texas and staring out the car window in boredom.  I saw many signs on restaurants that read ‘Members Only.’  When I asked my parents what that meant, my mom responded, “Only white people can eat there–it’s how they get around the laws.”  Once, when I felt overly-bored of the car and hungry, I said, “So we could stop and eat in one of those places?”  Both my parents stiffened and said, “We will never go to a place with one of those signs.”  At 7, I began to understand prejudice and where my family stood.

Because of those experiences, I understand, from an ideological view, why the Supreme Court overturned the Voting Rights Act.  However, in order for that view to be just and fair, I believe we must repeal the electorate, have each individual vote counted and the majority vote of the people decide our elections.  “Our country has changed,” explained Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.  I want to believe that theory.  But, how can I?  I’ve also read many articles about Texas immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision putting into effect a voter identification law that previously had been blocked.  I read articles about egregious racism by international chef and personality Paula Deen.  The Trayvon Martin case breaks my heart.  And, so my friends from the South don’t think that I’m picking on them, a contestant from Philadelphia on one of my favorite summertime shows (MasterChef) tweeted some really offensive, racist remarks.  Don’t get me started on Alec Baldwin, Mel Gibson or the many other celebrities who while inebriated or just in rage have let loose indefensible insults.  Has our country changed?

Transitioning takes so much time.  I think of all the moves we’ve made with the military.  It took about 3-6 months to feel settled.  It took about 3 months to adjust to our first child, 6 months to adjust to our second child and 18 months to feel like we had control with three (notice I said ‘feel.’  I’m not sure we ever had control….).  Changing a whole nation and culture takes decades; but it does happen.  I look at South Africa, where we have dear friends, and how far they’ve come in 30 years since apartheid and how far they still have to go.  Our friends have said that they are not sure what will happen when the ailing Nelson Mandela actually dies.  He symbolizes grace and forgiveness in a volatile state, much like Gandhi did for India.  Much like Martin Luther King, Jr. in our country.  My heart grows weary and heavy when I think that many of our ‘symbols’ become martyrs.  Mandela’s long life is an exception to that rule.

So, I worry over the implications of not having the Voting Rights Act to protect minority voices in our nation.  I worry that our country’s stability rests on laws and not in the hearts of its people.  Discouragement surrounds my heart at all the injustices I see and feel.

But, I do have hope.  I read multiple articles about the first integrated prom in Wilcox County, Georgia.  How students at the high school went against the adult views of having a ‘black prom’ and a ‘white prom’ since the 1970s and organized their own prom.  My heart almost burst with pride at the courage and tenacity of these students.  I know so many youth and young adults who protect their peers who are bullied.  I cheer on the multitudes who will not accept another suicide in their towns and have befriended the ‘fringe’ kids in their schools.  May we learn by their example how to ‘work at living in peace with everyone … [and to] look after each other so that none … fails to receive the grace of God’ (Hebrews 12:14, 15).

Our country has a long way to go before we see stability with all the transitions.  We won’t know if overturning the Voting Rights Act corrupts the democracy process until we have an election.  But, I know our youth and young adults can accept the challenges that our generation gives them.  We have raised an incredible generation of young adults capable and willing to take ownership of their culture.  Let us celebrate our children and our children’s children as they learn to lead our country and our world.  Let us encourage their efforts to build bridges and seek to live in peace.  Let us stand confidently alongside them as they discover that the foundations we laid are actually springboards for them to go farther than we dreamed possible–just as we have grown past our parents’ and grandparents’ expectations (and perhaps desires).  Power and control are hard to give up; but for us to move forward, we must make room for the next generations to show us where to go.

 

 

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Our Beloved Country, Divided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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