Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Prayer


My own life is going pretty well, and I thank you for that. But some of my friends, well, they are hurting. Really hurting. They are battling illness, or they've lost loved ones, or they are overwhelmed by responsibility, or they have anxiety, depression, or other serious mental illnesses. And every time I turn on NPR, I hear about more suffering. War. Hunger. Human trafficking. Racism. Neglect. Abuse. Hate. Murder.

So many of your children are hurting, and I know that hurts you, too.

My prayer this Christmas is for all your children to feel your love. Show each of us how we can be your love in the world, your hands, your ears, your heart. Make us like Jesus, Lord, so that we grow from helpless infants into powerful forces of your endless love and amazing grace.

There is so much good in this world, and it all flows directly from you. You are all over the place! I've seen good deeds, read about amazing discoveries that will make life better, worshiped in a church filled with your love and joy. I see kindness, gentleness, mercy, compassion, patience, peace, joy, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control everywhere. You are in those fruits, and you nourish your children through them.

To those who are hurting, bring comforting hearts. For those who are joyful, give them generous hearts so that they may magnify that joy in your name.

Most of all, Lord, I thank you for Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. The light of life. The Savior. Our example and our king. Let his light shine through us into the dark places and leave them dark no more.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Are We All Afraid of?

Something strange is going on, something sad and real, and we need to sit up and pay attention.

It simply doesn't matter which candidate gave the victory speech. 

Fear won this election.

Fifty-five percent of Democrats say they are afraid of the Republican party, and 49% of Republicans feel the same way about the Democratic party (Pew Research). 

What are we all afraid of? Are we afraid that the Republicans are going to bring back Jim Crow and make pregnant women stop working and carry us into a fascist dictatorship where all Blacks and Hispanics and LGBT folks will be forcibly rounded up into ghettos? Are we afraid that the Democrats are going to take all our money and guns away from us and make us commit suicide when we get old and sick and carry us into a communist revolution where we all have to wear the same ugly pajamas and go to work camps for questioning the party?

I think some people do fear these things. This morning, a liberal friend pointed out that this is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and a conservative friend celebrated that she doesn't have to worry about the death squads today. So much fear. 

About the same time as the Pew findings, Gallup reported that the numbers of Americans reporting to identify as Democrat or Republican are near historic lows: 29% identify as Democrats, 26% identify as Republican, and 42% identify as independent. 

Who wants to belong to a demonized party? Not me. I've identified as independent for years, ever since I realized that as both parties drifted further to the right and left and shut out compromise and cooperation, I was anchoring myself in the middle. 

But just how demonic are these parties? 

The answer, I think, is this: they are a demonic and radicalized as our fear makes them. The more we react in fear, the more demonic they become. The more we react in love and build bridges of understanding, the more we realize that those so-called demons are a lot like us. We might come at things from different directions, but we all love freedom and peace and sharing a hot cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie.

My last post pointed out that God tells us repeatedly in scripture to fear not, but last night fear won. Fear would have won regardless of which candidate won because so many on both sides are reacting out of fear. Fear's victory began two years ago along with the trench digging of this epically-long-fought election and when we became more focused on our fear of losing to the demons than on our joy of the freedom to shake the other's hand and move forward as Americans.

The other. Those people. When we demonize them, we are lost to God's love.

Nelson Mandela said, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." Thankfully, I see so many people working hard and praying hard to diffuse the fear, to celebrate freedom for all, to push kindness and cooperation, and to speak the truth in love. I am not a weird lone voice crying out in the wilderness for peace. 

There are legions of us.   

We are all, quite literally and also figuratively, in this together. 

For the love of God, jump on the bandwagon and start building bridges, folks. Ignore the media divisiveness and sensationalism and misrepresentation and lies, and follow the example of those who are already doing the good work of unification. Reach out to your neighbor in love and compassion and a spirit of freedom and unity-in-difference. Speak up against the fear and speak clearly with healing words and hearts. The view from the bridge is extremely beautiful. 

You can do this. I can do this. We can do this. Together.

Because that's what America is all about. 

Today's Prayer

Restore our souls, O Lord our Shepherd, that we may love and be loved, support and be supported, care and be cared for, heal and be healed. Prepare your table for me and my enemies, that we may become partners in Your community of grace and love. Amen.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fear Not

With the election just next week, I've been thinking about the opposites of democrat and republican. How important are they when we walk into the polling booth next week? Can we as citizens of a democratic nation sensibly limit ourselves to two polar extremes? Where has that brought us? To a place of healthy debate and compromise, of legislative and executive action for the common good, of fair and equitable justice for all? Really?

I suspect that the problem doesn't lie so much in hostility between those labels of democrats and republicans as in our growing culture of fear.

In mental health terms, people are becoming increasingly rigid. Rigid individuals stop developing emotionally too soon. They are like teenagers who know everything with a certainty that defies logic; you can't tell them anything. And just like teenagers, rigid people are profoundly insecure. Their rigidity gives them an illusion of security, a sense that they have life all figured out. But their seemingly secure world is just a vulnerable house of cards that they must protect at all costs...even at the cost of peace, of love, of kindness, of compassion.

Rigid people are gripped by the fear that they might be wrong, so they absolutely, positively must be right.

When groups of rigid individuals get together and form parties, we're all in trouble. This is mental illness on a collective scale, and we're all reaping the fearful harvest in this fall's presidential election.

How should people of faith respond to this harvest? One of the most repeated sentences in the Bible is "Do not be afraid." When people of faith fall into fear, they separate themselves from God, they trust their own understanding instead of trusting His, and they produce fruits of the flesh: anger, gossip, divisiveness, hostility, and hate. They defend their house of cards instead of proclaiming the Good News of love and light and life in Jesus.

I stand in the love and light and life of the Christ, who tells me to love God, my neighbor, and myself.   I don't have all the answers (or even many of them!) but strive daily to walk humbly with Him. I don't understand what is going on in my nation right now, but I know that I need to hold tight to all my brothers and sisters, whether Christian or not, even those whose houses of cards are trembling and making them crazy with fear.

Especially those.

Have you become rigid in your faith? Are you feeling afraid and lashing out at those who are different, who have different political opinions or faith practices? Do you see them as a threat rather than beloved children of a God who is neither democrat nor republican but who created the stars and the moon and the very DNA that makes you a person. Have you forgotten that our God loves each and every one of His children?

Hear the Lord tell you, "Fear not!" Hear Christ's words in the gospel of John: "Love one another."

Hear the Lord, and act in love. Always act in love.

Lord of all, we ask your guidance and blessing on us in these strange days, that our acts in the world be pleasing to you and grow your kingdom of peace, love, mercy, and grace here and now. May your love reach fearful hearts and transform them into bold and faithful servants of the vine of life, to grow a rich and healthy harvest that nourishes all. In Jesus' precious name we pray, Amen. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Humility, Love, and Sacrifice

While perusing the latest issue of Discover magazine, I came across the single truest statement about science I've read in a long time. To start his article "A Cosmos, Darkly," Corey S. Powell wrote:

"Often in science it takes a long time to understand exactly how confused you are."

The more I thought about this sentence, the more sense it made...and not just for science.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem to hosannas and palms, the Jews had high expectations for the Messiah. He would be a military and political leader who would crush Rome and free His people. Expectation, however, is the mother of disappointment, and their disappointment made them yell "Crucify him!" just days later. The most horrible, humiliating death was meted out to the Messiah.

It's confusing when the truth isn't what we expect. What I see in scripture is a lot of people trying their best to understand God and repeatedly learning, sometimes over the course of centuries, that what they thought they knew, what they expected to be true, just wasn't so.

The Hebrews were thorough-going polytheists, but the Jews of Jesus' time ran into trouble with Rome because they had become thorough-going monotheists. Today, we see the polytheistic Hebrews as confused (they didn't think they were confused, though) and the montheistic Jews as seriously onto something.  The Israelites thought when Jerusalem fell to Babylon that their God had abandoned them, but He restored Jerusalem to them less than a century later. He is faithful, even when we are not.

Once Jesus died on the cross, everything changed, just as it changed when Galileo asserted that the earth rotated around the sun. Our understanding underwent a cosmic shift, but it strikes me as arrogant to assume that now, at this moment in history, we have everything figured out, any more than science has the nature of the universe figured out.

For now, it seems to me that God is leading us...somewhere. To His kingdom. Whatever that looks like. Our biggest step forward so far came on that cross, where expectations went unmet, where God surprised us spectacularly. On the night before He died, Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment for moving forward, one steeped deeply in the old commandments but made deeply personal for each and every one of us who believe in Him: "As I have loved you, so you should love one another."

Jesus loved us to the cross. This Easter, let us commit to humbly focusing on His new commandment and to avoiding the confusion of our times that seeks to distract us from that clear message with arrogant, politicized theology and divisive rhetoric.

The cross teaches us love, humility, and sacrifice. Where those lessons will lead us remains to be seen, but I, for one, trust my King. He said to love, and as often as I fail, I try, each and every day, to be an Easter person.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lenten Gratitude

Lots of people give up something for Lent, but in recent years, I've tried to add something. This year, I'm going to send a handmade card every day because telling people you love them with happy mail is a good thing. Also, I'm going to keep a Lenten Gratitude Journal.

A great way to show our gratitude for Christ's living sacrifice on the cross is to acknowledge all that He bought for us. Of course we have our sins washed away, our salvation bought and paid for. For me, right now, in this season, gratitude for salvation overwhelms me because I don't deserve it.

Which is the whole point, actually. Jesus loved us that much!

But in this 40 days of moving toward the cross and resurrection, I want to focus on celebrating those little, daily blessings and beauties and bounty that we too often take for granted in a distracting world, and also those challenges and difficulties that, through Christ, lead us to growth, to love, to victory.

Lent calls us all differently. This year, it's calling me to send cards and wallow in boundless gratitude. How is it calling you?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Be an Encourager


My husband, George, and I were discussing how worthless movie critics are sometimes when we need help deciding what movies to watch. Several times, movies the critics panned ended up being enormously entertaining to us, while critically acclaimed films left us groping for some vague semblance of pleasure. At times, it feels like the critics go out of their way to promote depressing, serious movies and tear down light-hearted, warm-and-fuzzy movies.

Of course, sometimes they are right, and not listening to them gets you fifteen minutes into Aloha and a wistful fantasy that the cable company will refund your $5.99.

When it comes to our relationships, however, criticism rarely helps. In fact, it often wounds, sometimes viciously.

I've noticed, too, that criticism is a contagious disease and can spread like mange over a whole community. Once it sets in, the best treatment is a healthy, long-term course of positive encouragement.

The other day, I had lunch with an encourager. I felt so lifted up, so capable and psyched and positive. That wasn't how I felt when we first got together. She brought about that change.

With encouragement.

She inspires me, and I am grateful!

What do you do to encourage others? Are you too often the critic? How might you shift your words to encourage rather than criticize?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

God Never Left

A few days ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw a picture captioned, "With God back in this country, we will succeed. Share if you agree."

I'm confused.

When did God leave leave this country?

This sort of rhetoric--not to mention the theology behind it--bothers me. The implication is that a vague and unnamed enemy ran God out of America, and, given that it's an election year, if we just vote properly, God will come back.

Is the Almighty truly such a powerless victim of a fickle electorate? Or is He the fickle one, turning His back on us when the best fundraiser of the bunch wins office?

I don't believe either of these things.

For the record, I'm a political moderate. I lean left on some issues and right on others, but my butt is usually firmly planted on the fence. Consequently, the primaries horrify me. The rhetoric on both sides inflames, divides, tears down, humiliates, rages, incites fear. Statements like that Facebook post show just how far we have been lead astray by angry rhetoric.

God isn't about politics. He's not an elephant or a donkey. He doesn't prefer red to blue or blue to red. He's not on anyone's side. He is the Great I Am. He is His own side.

We should focus on joining His side, not claiming Him for our side. His side isn't limited to the narrow confines of political ideology. His is the side of love, compassion, feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, housing the homeless, healing the sick, seeking peace with our neighbors, showing mercy to those who trespass against us, forgiving others as we are forgiven, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

And guess what? All of these good and wonderful things are happening in America each and every day. We are already succeeding with God. So many good, Godly acts happen all around us all the time, from small, unrecognized personal acts of kindness to government systems of support and care that may not be perfect but still do a lot of good.

How can anyone truthfully say God needs to "come back"? He's all over the place!

Sure, there are bad people doing bad things, and some of our systems are spectacularly broken, but that simply means we need to continue doing the good work God's already started of building a just, merciful, peaceful nation. We need to keep bearing spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And by we I mean each and every one of us as individuals and as a whole community, state, and nation.

God is in this country. He never left. God is in America because we are all His children and He loves each and every one of us, no matter how we vote or how ridiculous we are. And aren't we ridiculous to shout and yell and click "share" on Facebook to agree that we need to bring God back?

He never left.

Thanks be to God!!!