Wednesday, November 8, 2017

God With Us

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with these words burning in my brain. When it became clear that sleep was no longer going to be a thing, I got up and wrote them down. We've all been here, this misery of our own making. Maybe it'll speak to one of you.

Emmanuel - God With Us

He is with you,
In that misery of your own making.

He will not yell over the noise.
He will not interrupt.
He will likely not intervene.
As you create yet more misery.
But He is there.

Listen closely.
His words will be quiet.

He will speak Love,
When all around there is hate.
He will speak Hope,
When all around there is condemnation.
He will speak Peace into chaos.
He will speak Truth into lies.
He will speak Healing into addiction.
He will speak Forgiveness,
Even as He is mocked.

You may not hear Him there.
He will not shout,
He will not force,
He will not beg,
He will not manipulate,
For He is Love.

But He has made a way out for you.

In the whisper of the wind through trees,
In the lapping of the water against shore,
In the crackle of a fire,
In the dark of sleepless nights,
In the brightness of a sunrise,
In the midst of wordless prayers,
At the Table - Bread and Wine, Body and Blood.

When you stop,
When you sit in silence,
When you are still,
There. You can hear Him.

Be silent.

God With Us - Emmanuel

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Rushing to the End


I did not grow up in this tradition. As old as high school, my only experience with it was that my Catholic friend couldn't order meat on his pizza during Lent, and even then, I had no idea why. For many years after, it just wasn't anything I thought about or even heard about in the faith tradition we were a part of.

A few years ago, I decided to participate in the part of Lent that encourages you to "give up" something for the 40 days prior to Easter - to use that time that you would usually be doing that thing to contribute to something good, or to use cravings for the thing you gave up as a prompt to consider Jesus and all that He gave up for us, or to use the money saved in the giving up to contribute to a worthwhile cause - you get the jist. I found this beneficial - it did cause me to be more thoughtful in the time leading up to Easter, and I continued for several years this way. Two years ago, I went to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time, and followed the Liturgical Calendar a little closer as we moved through the season and found this even more contemplative. As many of you know by now, last year Brian and I began to visit different churches. We landed for the longest period in an Episcopal church and have, in that experience, followed the Church calendar very closely. 

Today was Palm Sunday. I've known forever what Palm Sunday was, but I don't remember ever really observing anything particularly different on that day. I knew it was the day that Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, as the crowds laid palm branches on the road and sang His praises - only hours before the whole crowd would turn and scream for His crucifixion. I knew this - but I rarely paused to consider. I have never taken the time to walk through this week. Slowly. Deliberately. In the tradition I grew up in, my memory was business as usual, until Easter Sunday, when we would dress in our Sunday finest, gather together, often hear a sermon detailing the horrific details of Christ's crucifixion, move quickly to the Resurrection and all that means to us -- and celebrate!

Observing Lent, walking up to Easter slowly, deliberately, has been something I needed. I've been reading a book throughout this season that has daily reflections. It has moved slowly through the scriptures surrounding Jesus last days on earth. I've found myself wanting to rush to the end, wondering why we have to linger here so long. But the lingering has been good. Necessary.

This morning, the service I attended laid palm branches down the center aisle at the beginning of the service, we sang hallelujah, we welcomed Jesus with Psalms read aloud together - we experienced His triumphant entry. Then, during the gospel reading, we went through the story in a narrative form - still all scripture, but read almost as a play. The congregation read the parts of the crowd. So here's what I heard today: My voice - singing hosanna. My voice reciting Psalms welcoming the long awaited Messiah. My voice, shouting to free Barabbas. My voice shouting for His crucifixion. It was sobering, to say the least. 

It sent me to thinking about the various characters on site that day....

  • Peter: He would set himself up as judge and jury both at their last shared meal and in the garden, only to hide in the shadows and then flatly deny Him just hours later.
  • Judas: His trusted friend - then His betrayer.
  • Disciples: They ran, they hid, a few slunk back to watch from a distance. Only John returned to stand at his feet.
  • The Crowd: They followed when He was popular. They sang His praises. But when it got scary, when it got hard, they scattered...a few watching silently from a distance, many changing their shouts from "Hosanna" to "Crucify" because it felt safer, perhaps.
  • The Religious and the Romans: They simply wanted status quo. Any threat to that had to be destroyed. 

And Jesus?

  • He encouraged Peter - He rebuked him, but he also told Him he was praying for Him, even as He knew what was coming for them both.
  • He called Judas Friend, even as Judas delivered the kiss of betrayal.
  • He washed the feet of His disciples, knowing that they would turn tail and run in a matter of hours.
  • He accepted the praises of a fickle crowd. He knew they were weak and would soon turn on Him, yet He still accepted them where they were that day. And after they turned on Him, He prayed for them. He forgave them, even as they shouted their threats and curses.
  • Even as he hung dying, he took the time to commission John with a job to do. He cared for his mother and John, even in the midst of astounding personal agony.

And here was my biggest thought this morning... Who am I?
In this cast of characters, who am I?

I have been all of these. I have set myself up as judge and jury of others, only to fail miserably in my own personal journey. I have turned my back on my greatest Love. I have hidden when I was afraid. I have praised when it was easy and remained silent when it was hard. I have wanted the status quo - I have fought change at all cost.


Yet, He loves. He prays. He encourages. He suffers.

We know the end. We want to rush to "He lives!"

But let's not. This week, sit with Him in the suffering. Think about who you are in the cast of characters. Think about what He suffered for Love.

We so want to rush to the happy ending. There's plenty of time for that next Sunday. 

But this week, let's not rush.
Let's slow down.
Sit in it with Him.

Who are you?

Who is He?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

No Man's Land

I used to have a vision that by the time you reached this point in life, you pretty much had your crap together - you knew where you stood on most everything, your plans were set, your opinions had matured into wise, unmovable truths, your kids grown and your responsibilities few.

I remember being a teenager. I remember the anxiety, the angst, the turmoil, the insecurity...sometimes I feel like I'm there again. Except back then, we had the blessed, ignorant bliss of truly believing we knew EVERYTHING - just no one would listen to us... Now, I KNOW that I don't know - yet people expect me to know. 

I find myself feeling less "pulled together" rather than more. I've no doubt that the hurricane of changes at this stage of life brings this on for many of us. We are beginning to deal with aging, both in ourselves and our parents, our kids are growing up, leaving, scaring us to death with adult decisions. Add new jobs, moves, new church, difficult relational issues. In varying degrees, it's life for us all. As I've maneuvered through this maze, I've begun to ask questions...Questions that I think I've asked, on the inside, for as long as I can remember, but never felt free to voice them. In the midst of that questioning, I find myself in a weird place - my conservative friends think I've lost my mind and gone liberal. My liberal friends think I'm still freakishly conservative.

No Man's Land.

That's where I feel like I am - belonging no where, yet feeling deep connections with people all along this continuum. It doesn't feel like there's much space for those that don't have a particular nitch. Everything is a battle these days...and as I watch the battle lines being drawn and the weapons positioned, I feel like I'm never standing in a good place. Where do you stand when the guns are blazing from every direction? From my vantage point, I can see validity in much of what is said from both sides, but so few listen to someone with a different opinion, a different point of view. Matt Walsh or Bill Maher, Tomi Lahren or Michael Moore become weapons, hoping to change minds with their excessive rhetoric. But it doesn't work. It never works. Sometimes it feels like we've blazed right on past trying to change opinions - we just want to fight now - not change, not grow, not connect. FIGHT. 

I haven't always stood here. I've been fully on one of these sides, guns drawn, ready to fight if necessary. I had the answers and I was ready to woo you to my way of thinking with my vast knowledge -- armed with prearranged arguments, scripture and the Constitution - and if that didn't work, I could, as one of my children likes to say, "bring you down with my vicious rhetoric". And honestly, it was more comfortable for me there. I knew where I belonged. I had my tribe, I knew the rules and I followed them unwaveringly (I don't think that's a real word, but I'm using it anyway). I did not feel "other". While I am no longer comfortable with a lot of my well-worn, time-tested answers, I am also not comfortable on the other side of the battle field. They seem to have all the answers too - they are just the opposite answers. It often feels there is no place for those that don't know where they stand on everything. There seems no place for people that can see valid points being made from opposing views.

I recently watched a video making it's way around the internet of Marco Rubio giving an impassioned speech about the importance of not attacking one another in our differences. And it was awesome. I wanted to stand up and cheer. But I didn't. That sense of agreement was quickly followed by a deep sadness, because here's the deal - he can say that right now because he's on the "winning" team, so of course the other side should play nice, of course they should just move on... 

But I remember. 

I remember how many of those people now saying to play nice and just move on treated, and what they said, about President Obama, Hillary Clinton, President Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and a myriad of others when they were on the "losing" team. --(In fairness, I have no idea how Mr. Rubio spoke when on the "losing" team - perhaps he was amazing and his words recently were spoken from an honest heart - but I KNOW many on his "team" were not playing nice when they found themselves on the losing team). The criticisms are often deserved, but never the disrespect, the lies, the mocking. There is a difference in respecting someone and treating them with respect. When someone has not earned our respect (and perhaps, especially then), as followers of Christ, we are still to treat them, and speak of them, with respect. 

People should not be shouted down for speaking up when they feel rights are being violated, when they feel the Constitution is being violated, when blatant lies are being thrown about as truth. People should not be summarily dismissed as racist, misogynistic bullies because they agree with a particular political party. AND they should, likewise, not be dismissed as baby-killing, selfish, entitled, snowflakes because they align more with another party. Yet, it happens every day. From all sides. 

(Sidebar: Short history lesson - our nation started with, and we hold dear, a bunch of crazy people that snuck on a boat and destroyed the cargo to make a point to the government they felt was oppressing them - we've been being ugly to one another for a looooong time.)  

We behave this same way in the Church too. It is crushing to watch when you see the hearts of people on both sides - people that truly desire to follow hard after Christ, yet they cannot see Christ in the other because they're too busy being right to really look. In the Church, perhaps even more than in politics, there seems to be no space for those in between - those struggling with doubts, in either direction. Saying, "I don't know how I feel about ... anymore" is anathema. It's not safe on either end of the conservative-liberal spectrum. The Church, of all places, should be a safe place to say, "I don't know." I have watched people (people that I KNOW, not world-stage people, but everyday people), finally be brave enough to say out loud, "I'm struggling with ... " or "I don't know if I believe ... " or "Maybe they're right about..." -- and suddenly, everything ever known about that person, their character, their faith, their reputation, no longer matters. They're labeled and pushed aside. This doubt casts suspicion on everything they say and do from that point forward. They are "other". This plays out on a national level as well, when Christian leaders and teachers are blasting each other over differing, non-essential, beliefs - all while the world watches. (The rub here is "non-essential", as that list of "essential" beliefs gets longer by the day, on both sides...much longer than I believe it is for God.)

For the last year, we have wandered a bit aimlessly through many different churches, ranging from those that would be labeled very conservative to those that would be labeled liberal. (I hate the labels.) We've had the advantage of sitting toward the back and just, for the most part, watching. And you know what I've seen in all those places? Jesus. I've seen Jesus. In faces, in words, in songs, in liturgies, in sermons. The last few months, we have mostly settled at a small Episcopal Church in Ada - a place that, quite honestly, I would never have imagined myself worshiping. Yet, we have. We sit, we kneel, we cross ourselves, we bow, we recite liturgies and sing unfamiliar hymns. We take Communion in a way we've never done before. But you know what? We've seen Jesus - every. single. week. Last week was probably our last Sunday there and, surprising even myself, I'm going to miss them. They gave us a place to heal, to question, to be quiet. And they loved us every week. Hugged and fed, smiled and blessed, passed peace, a stale piece of bread and wine. They gave us Jesus.

I really don't know what I want to say here, what point I want to make.

I want to feel like I belong somewhere again. I miss the familiarity of a "tribe".

Maybe I shouldn't though. In the wrestling, I've found others that are wrestling... a kinship of sorts, though not really another "side". Jacob wrestled with God and scripture leaves us with no indication that was a bad thing. Jacob seemed to do a lot of growing up from that point on, actually. Maybe this will ultimately be a good thing. I hope so. 

It's uncomfortable here - I'll tell you that. But it's also a little freeing. I'm gradually becoming a little more able to say, "You know what? I don't know. And, for now, I'm okay with that." I don't think God is freaked out by my wrestlings - or yours. 

I guess I just wish we wouldn't be so freaked out with each other.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Struggling Back to Joy

I have a confession to make: Over the last few months, I've grown cynical. (Those of you that know me well - stop laughing, right now.) I've begun to lose Hope. I struggle for Joy. The events that have unfolded in our country over the last year have hit me hard. I'm not sure why I was asleep to much of it in years past, but I was. Waking up has been difficult. I am, however, fighting my way back to Joy. And here's some practical thoughts I've had in that process...

Life is really getting out of control around here. 

We should not be blocking our new Secretary of Education from entering a public school. Whether we agree with her appointment or not (and I, personally, do not), it IS now her appointment, her job - blocking her from doing her job is only hurting us all. But, neither should we just sit back in resignation and not pay attention to HOW she does her job. Let her do it, but be alert. If we see public schools being hurt by her leadership, speak up. If we see special needs kids being pushed aside, speak up. Get involved in your local school, support that overwhelmed parent, love your kids' teachers (their jobs are ridiculously hard), reach out to the kids in the margins, speak loudly and clearly to our legislators that education is a priority for their constituents, let them know that if they do not listen to us and represent us, we will work to see that they are not reelected. In the mean time, find ways to help your local school that doesn't require our legislators finally listening to us. We don't have to wait for the government to save us - we can start without them. These things will do more to bring change than blocking the door to a school and screaming your anger. Do something.

The same for our new president. Most of you know how I feel about him as a person, as a leader. But, as sad as I am about it, he IS our president and should not be blocked at every turn from doing his job. I'm not against the peaceful protests. NOT. I understand them and often agree with much of what they are saying. But the hate, the mocking, the disrespect, distorting the truth, even as we accuse him of lies, ultimately hurts us all. Let him try to do his job. Watch him closely. Do not stop paying attention - I, personally, do not think he can be trusted to be left unchecked. I think he has surrounded himself with mostly yes-men and we need to pay attention. Call him out when it's necessary. If he breaks the law, let's be paying attention. If he stays within the law and simply operates in a political ideology we do not agree with, we will survive and we can exercise our right to vote for someone more in line with our thinking in four years. Our country is strong enough to survive a bad president - we've done it many times before. We are not strong enough to survive the growing hatred in this country. If all we do is hate - if we just continue to become angrier and more abusive in our speech, then we are no different than what we accuse him of. We will destroy our country. Giving back what you feel like you've received only drags everyone down into hell together.

If our posts and conversations mock his looks, his marriage, his kids, his hands, for goodness sake.... what is gained there? It increases the polarization and the hate. When you spend more time reading of what he's done wrong than you do personally living out righteousness, who wins? And I get it -- I've spent more time reading news articles in the last four months than in several years combined - much of the time, trying to discern truth from lies (and it's near impossible)... and here's what I've learned. All that reading did not change him. He's still the president. I still don't like him. My eyes are a little more opened, but I could have read a 1/4 of what I've read and still accomplished that. So... here's what I've decided, at least for now -- I'm going to read a lot less and DO more. I will still read, because I DON'T trust him. I will watch my legislators because I don't believe they always want to represent us as much as they want to play the party game. They will hear my voice, they will know how I plan to vote. I will protest if it feels like the right way to speak into the moment. I will do my best to speak respectfully - not because the one I speak of and to has done anything to earn my respect, but because I am a follower of Christ. As such, I am called to speak to, and of, others as someone made in the image and likeness of God... no matter what. But mostly, I will try to DO.

If I feel he has promoted injustice, I will be about the work of acting justly. We can't, as individuals, change his executive orders, but we can let our system of checks and balances take care of that - and in the mean time, we can love the Muslim in our neighborhood, we can invite the immigrant in our church into our home, we can be the business that won't turn someone away because of how they look or worship or marry or vote. THAT will make a difference. If you feel he has stirred up hate, then counter with love. If you feel he has degraded women, then you lift them up - you teach your sons to be a different kind of man, your daughters to know they are valuable and strong. If you feel he has stirred up bigotry then, cross lines and practice inclusion. If you believe he will strip rights away from those in the minority, then get involved locally - see that YOUR home and YOUR neighborhood and YOUR community won't play that game. 

I need to get back to practicing Hope. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control. Love.

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Some Important Questions

Just a disclaimer - I'm weary. And I'm likely to make every single one of you irritated with me before I get to the end of this... so you've been warned.  

The next time you want to post a meme or share an article or a personal post that expresses your opinion on a subject, here's some questions that might help us clean up our social media feeds a bit...

  1. Have I checked reputable sources to make sure this is true? No? Don't post it. 

We don't need anyone, anywhere, for any reason, sharing any more blatant lies, slanted truths, biased crap. We've had enough to last a life time. No more. We say we hate the fake news, yet we are the reason they keep growing. We read it, we share it, we click on it, we help them succeed by spewing their false stories, simply because it supports our view. We watch our favorite news outlet, because they tell it to us like we want to hear it. We're perpetuating hate with this. Media follows money and popularity and ratings.  If we stop tolerating it, stop feeding it, they will stop doing it.

  1. Do I personally know a real, live, human being that holds the opposing view and have I sat down and had a conversation with them about this topic? No? Don't post it.

It's easy to spout a whole host of things in ugly, sweeping generalizations when you don't know someone sitting on the other side. How many have posted something opposing the Women's March without having a personal conversation with someone you know that attended the March and asked them why they participated? How many that attended have had a personal conversation with someone you know that actively chose not to participate and asked them why? No? If we don't even know someone on "the other side" well enough to have a conversation on the topic, we really don't have any skin in the game, and could probably just be quiet.

  1. Have I evaluated how I would want someone that disagrees with me to speak on this topic? No? You should probably not hit "Share".

You right leaners, eight years ago, when Obama won, what were you saying on social media? What did you say about the Tea Party (and others) protesters? Did you support them? Where you silent? How does that compare to now that you're on the winning team? Would you like to have been heard by the other side? Did their gloating and celebration "win you over" or drive you further away? How did you feel when you were told to "get over it" and get behind the new guy?

You left leaners, eight years ago, when Obama won, how did you feel as you read post after post of ugly, untrue, racist memes and opinions about your candidate? I'll be the first to admit, our new president makes it easy to have negative things to say, and we should be defending the rights of those in the margins and standing next to those who are afraid - I'm not talking about that... but who are you helping when you mock his outward appearance, or his family or his supporters or when you quickly hit share on an article or meme that may or may not be true simply because it maligns him? Stick to the issues. Were you "won over" by people's hatred of your president eight years ago?

  1. Am I promoting a stereotype that likely doesn't represent the majority in this group? Yes? Maybe? Don't post it.

Not all, or even most, Trump supporters are racist, sexual predators.
Not all, or even most, of the protesters are unemployed, criminal anarchists.
Not all, or even most, of the participants on the women's march are vulgar, child-hating, men-hating women.
Not all, or even most, of the people opposed to Trump are sensitive little snowflakes that just can't cope with reality. 

If you are a part of any of these groups, you hate being stereotyped by the worst of those among you, so why would you perpetuate that in others?

When you post snide comments about same-sex marriage, or welfare, or protests, or women's rights, or immigration, or pro Trump, or anti Trump, or faith issues, or politics, or gun rights, or the Affordable Care Act, or Obama or pro choice, or pro life, ... the list is endless really, ...but when you post them without actually knowing someone effected by them, or without having mature, adult conversations with people that sit on the other side of whatever aisle you're currently on, it's much easier to be ugly. When you know and love someone that disagrees with you? You think a lot harder. You work a lot harder.

When I see those awful comments?

I see the face of someone I care deeply about that is gay. They're not gonna "stop being gay" because of your meme.

I see the face of someone I care deeply about that has been sexually assaulted. Their pain and scars do not go away because someone has called them a "snowflake" that needs to realize that "locker room talk" is just a reality they need to toughen up and deal with. They also don't go away when your life experience of never having been assaulted or discriminated against seems to invalidate their experience.

I see the face of that Trump voter I love, and they are not the horrible, racist, uncaring, vile person you've painted them to be. They just are not.

I see the face of people I know that are in a minority class - and their feeds are packed full of reasons to feel marginalized, dismissed and afraid.

I see the face of someone I care deeply about that will lose their health care while we have our abstract fights. It's a mess - everyone knows that. What we have isn't working. We all know that.The answers won't be easy. Everyone knows that...but we're so busy "being right" (on all sides) that we forget that there are real live families who will be utterly devastated by stupid decisions, made in the heat of battle, by people with plenty of money and insurance, who just want to win.

I see people that sit opposite me on issues like abortion, but still wrestle in gut-wrenching ways with the ethics of it all. I will stand my moral ground on the sanctity of life for all of my life, but I can still stand next to someone that sees it differently and we can both agree that abortion is a horrible choice and find ways to work together to reduce it. We can all get behind reducing it, can't we? Are we so determined to be right, that we'll allow abortion rates to increase for a lack of willingness to work together?

I'm just weary, y'all. I want to just bow out. I want to close my social media accounts, crawl in a hole and stop talking to people. The ugliness polarizes and paralyzes - and honestly, there's too much important work to be done for us to feel that way, for us to treat each other this way. I want to see pictures of your babies again. I want to know what good movies you saw and what you had for dinner. I want to see your vacation pictures and your wedding pictures. I want to be able to pray for you when you've lost your mother, or your husband gets sick or you've lost your job. Those are the things I want to see on SOCIAL media. 

Let's discuss the other stuff primarily in living rooms and coffee shops and town halls - with respect and dignity, while we look real people, with real feelings and real stories right in the eye. Very few of these people we are maligning are truly horrible. We're all a jumbled up mess of right and wrong opinions. We all have something to bring to the table. I'm not saying we shouldn't ever have some of those conversations on social media, but if we're NOT having them in real life, with people different from us, we probably should just be quiet about it on here. The problems are vast and multi-layered and complicated. It's much harder and scarier to do it this way, in real life - but I believe it's where things will change. Memes aren't going to fix it. Hateful rhetoric isn't going to bring anyone to "our" side.

Could we just stop?