The Truth We Cannot Always See

As I tackled Bobbie to the ground and grabbed his jacket collar I wasn’t thinking about Sunday School lessons or Bible hero stories.  When I dragged him down the alley  I was just enjoying meting out  swift justice.   I stood by Sally’s back gate and watched him knock on her door.  I wanted to be sure that her hat was returned.  I wanted to hear him apologize as I had instructed him to do.

Bobbie was a tiny boy who lived in the next block.  Bobbie was a bully.   That day on the bus he had crossed the line of what I would silently tolerate.  I typically bit my tongue and looked out the window.  It wasn’t my place to right all the bus ride wrongs!  Keep to yourself and you will be safe. 

That day he stole my neighbor’s hat as we lined up to depart the bus.  She chased him and was nearly hit by a car as it approached the intersection.  Watching her slip on loose stones and slide between the wheels of the sedan was terrifying. The squeal of the tires made my heart skip.   I reflexively took off after him as soon as I saw Sally stand and brush herself off.  The bully would not win today.  Not if I could help it.

Bobbie was still a bully after that.  But not to Sally.  He even smiled at her when he walked to his bus seat.

I had totally forgotten about that incident until recently.  I forgot how I stood at a distance and watched him right his wrong.  I forgot how my legs turned to jelly after I reached my home.  I forgot my mom’s subtle smile when I told her what had just happened.  (I’m fairly certain that she would not have openly approved of my brutish methods.  But she approved of my defending the awkward girl from down the street.)

I stood in my kitchen last week and told my husband that I think I may have  always been a social justice warrior without realizing it.  Never.   Never connected the dots from the little girl who chased the bully to the woman who calls out societal wrongs.  I never connected the little girl who gathered up the kids on the sidelines of the playground  with the woman who searches crowds for lost faces.

My parents taught us to look out for those weaker than us.  We were to care for those who lived in the shadows.  We were to help without being asked.  And never, ever seek recognition.  Do good just because it’s right.

That is strangely like teaching us to follow the example of Christ.

Years after the great hat chase,  I recall arguing with my father when the Clintons introduced healthcare reform.  I, the idealist twenty-something, thought it was a wonderful idea, no matter where it came from.  Everyone should have healthcare!  Everyone should be taken care of no matter their social class or income!   Families shouldn’t have to watch loved ones die because they can’t afford treatment.  Those who had the means should help care for those who didn’t!  I thought he would agree.  Take care of others.  That is what we had been taught.  That is what my parents silently did for many throughout my growing years.   But for some reason this idea was not even worthy of exploration.  It was not up for discussion.  This was a source of anger.

Since I adored my father and considered him to be one of the wisest people around, I decided that he must be right.  He must have known more than my young self.  He surely had studied some scripture that I had yet to discover that taught separation of  spiritual self from our social and political self.   I quietly decided that he had to be right.  Stop being a silly kid and thinking that social justice is straightforward— All people deserve dignity and care.  Or at least keep my mouth shut.

I gradually stopped paying attention to politics.  I naively assumed that those in power were there for altruistic reasons.  They were called “public servants” after all.  That title alone proved that they had the best interests of the masses in mind in all decisions.  They were aware of the weak and powerless.  Right?  Let the professionals take care of the citizens.  Right?

I married, bought a home, had children.  I had a comfortable life.  My focus became insular.  As long as my tiny family was safe and secure, all was right with the world.  We never lacked food.  The children were nicely dressed.  We had a cozy home.  Good neighbors.  Safe cars.  Secure jobs.

We taught our children to be kind to kids at school.  We taught them to do their best in whatever they were asked.  We tithed to our church.  Hey, we even occasionally gave to charity.  What stellar humans, we!

Gradually, I found myself echoing some sentiments of conservative friends and family.  Questioning the contents of someone’s shopping cart when I knew they used food stamps.  Wondering about why that person wasn’t working (but never actually asking them).  Assuming that all prisoners were awful humans who deserved to be punished harshly.  Condemning a beloved friend when he told me he was gay.

It’s very easy to become calloused and distant when living a comfortable and privileged life.  It’s easy to never notice the disadvantaged, the poor, the sick.  I could just drive my car through nice neighborhoods and pretend the broken down apartment buildings don’t exist.  I could shop at times when only people like me were in the store.  I could choose a doctor’s office who didn’t accept Medicaid.  I could look the other way at the stop light when the homeless man holds his sign up to the car.  Pretend he’s not even there.

I was a church worship director for over ten years.  I became part of the Christian machine.  The Christian machine looks shiny and nice on the outside.   It claims righteousness and the love of God.  But it will grind up anyone who does not stay in their designated box.  As long as I was an unquestioning conservative, Republican, church member I was in the fold.   I even  sat in on meetings where good people were vilified and scolded for mistakes made.  I watched beautiful families disappear only to find out later that they had felt unwelcome, unwanted, not good enough.  (How could  we have mistreated people in God’s name?  They must have misunderstood.)

Then good riddance to you!  If you can’t see that this is the way God wants things to be, we don’t need you here.  Shape up or move on!!!  You must be running from God.  You cannot see that you are blind.  

It’s a gradual, subtle decline to becoming a hard and judgmental Christian.  We should have standards for who can be a church member, right?  We should be all able to dress respectfully for services (Please don’t ask me exactly what this means because I truly don’t know).   Proper language please!  Don’t be political (unless it involves abortion–then you must be willing to march against it at rallies and clinics).   Every life is sacred and precious.   But, the Bible says “an eye for an eye” so we should also be pro death penalty.  After all, those people deserve to die.  Israel must always be supported regardless of the humanity (or lack there of) that they display.  And the LGBT community is never to be accepted.

My social justice warrior self slowly disappeared and was replaced by a flimsy copy of the ideal evangelical.  The drive for social equality dies a slow and painless death when you only talk to church friends.  When you only  go to nice places you can pretend that all is fair.  All people are given equal opportunities.  It’s just that some people squander their chances.  It’s just that some folks choose drugs over their families.  It’s just that poor decisions land those people in a slum apartment and dependent on government handouts.

 

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”  (Matthew 11: 25-26)

My childish way of interacting with my community was actually pure.  It was based in love.  It was based on the assumption that all people were special in God’s eyes so they should be treated as such.  It was able to look beyond clothing, beyond greasy hair, beyond unbrushed teeth.  The childish me saw the person underneath.  The childish me never stopped wondering what it might be like to be in their shoes.  The childish me reacted according to what I would want others to do for/to me.

The childish me followed Christ’s example.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9: 12-13)

I recently visited with a childhood friend after reconnecting on Facebook.  As we jumped from topic to topic I mentioned to her that I recently discovered that I have become a social justice warrior.  I said it not with pride, but with a sober sense that this choice demands sacrifice.  I wasn’t sure if she might be one of those people who I might lose again. This vocation will create anger and distance with some.  My speaking out will cause others to call me hateful., regardless that my motive is love.  I have seen the disappointment in some family member’s eyes.  I can no longer be a cog in the Christian machine.  I frequently feel alone in a sea of people who think I’m lost.  It’s been a heavy realization, honestly.  I haven’t always wanted it.  I have tried to put it down occasionally.

She looked at me with kind eyes and simply said, “I’ve not been surprised by a single thing you have written.  I have seen my old friend.  You have always been this way.”

She had no idea that I would treasure that remark.  She had no idea that she reassured me that I was not wrong in changing direction.  She may never know that those words were a balm to my wounded soul.   “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”  I understood what it meant to truly follow Christ when I was a child.  She saw that.

As I grew I made it complex.  As I grew, I bought the traditions over the simple gospel.  As I grew, I looked down at those who didn’t believe like me.   I judged those who weren’t as fortunate as me.   I would not admit that to anyone.  But, really, I didn’t need to hide it because my friends did the same.  Of course,  they would never acknowledge it either.

My childhood friend never saw this phase of my life.  She never saw me get lost in the machine.  She never saw me choose rules and judgement over grace and love.  I’m glad she didn’t.

I wish I never saw my father lose some of the simplicity of pure love in favor of some church traditions.  I wish I never saw the pain in his eyes when I speak out on certain topics.  I wish his pedestal was still as high as it was in my youth.    Truth be told, he is a very loving and kind man.  He is a pretty darned stellar example of a Christian.  He is a thinker.  He is still my hero.  But like all of us he has some blind spots.  I wish I had never noticed.  I wish I never knew he was a fallible human.  I wish he was completely outside of the machine with me.

And some day when my children meet with old friends over coffee, I hope they remain true to who they are now.  I hope they keep the simplicity of the gospel in their hearts.  I hope the greatest commandment is etched on their hearts.  I hope they always fight for the poor, the lonely, the fringe, the lowly and despised.

Kind of like Christ did.

And if they get swallowed up by the machine, I pray they find their way out.  Just as I pray my father finds his way in those tiny areas he is blind to.  Just as I did when I started really digging into scripture with the lens of a loving and forgiving God.  I pray to never slide down the slope of rules and traditions again.

Because Jesus, God himself incarnate, said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If Jesus called these the greatest commandments, then I suppose we should listen.

 

 

Noticing the Unseen

So, here’s the thing.  I had plans for my day.  I had a clear to do list.  But sometimes you just need to sit and listen.  Sometimes you need to change your plans.

Those who’ve read this blog before know that I tend to focus on the blindspots that thrive in our churches.  I tend to ask questions in order to encourage us to move through the uncomfortable and unsettling ugliness contained in all of us in order to reveal something more lovely.  Someone more loving.

Today my fingers were typing a different message before I ever sat at this keyboard.  My mind was swirling with different thoughts.  What about those among us that are blind to our good?  What about those who need a word to encourage them to stay the course?

I have a friend who has always dreamed of being a missionary in a far away land.  This friend longs for sacrificial service and dramatically impacting forgotten lives.  He yearns to be with, love, and support people that most of the world doesn’t even notice.  He loves getting dirty and messy while building others up.  Short term mission trips have buoyed him on many occasions.   But he still cries out to God to be given the chance to be a full time missionary.

The answer has always been no.  The answer has been trust me.

But still the desire burns bright.  I want to do more!!!

Today my friend needs to know that he is exactly in the right place.  He is unassumingly and quietly reaching those very people that the world doesn’t notice.  His willingness to have coffee with a homeless man goes without fanfare.  His willingness to feed strangers while listening to their stories flies under the radar.  That family budget stretched by purchases for others is a private and personal thing.

He may never get to a foreign and untouched land.  He may never learn the obscure language of a remote culture.

But he has found a mission field that very few even see.  He has become the embodiment of love to the addict, the smelly, the stubborn, the forgotten.

His sacrificial service to the least of these does not earn newspaper articles or convention speeches.  It’s not the flashy subject of Christian biographies.

But it means the world to that man under the bridge.  It means life to the teen cut down from the noose.  It means healing to the woman divorcing the cold man she still loves.

It means the honest to goodness hands and feet of a loving God are among us.  It means that those with open hearts have an example to follow.  An understated and unassuming example.  A person content in the shadows.  A flesh and blood example.

And, to me, that’s a pretty darned good missionary.

 

Love Under a Heat Lamp

As I watched the tiny hairless creature suck formula from an artist’s paintbrush at 3:30 AM I smiled.  What the heck is wrong with me???

Last week we found a nest of three itty bitty mice in the curtains or our camper.  I was not thrilled with this discovery, nor with the accompanying holes in said curtains.  I naively called the children after discovering the source of the faint squeaks.   “Look!  Baby chipmunks.  Or mice.  Or something.”

I knew where this would lead.  But I wanted to show them these tiny miracles anyway.  Immediately the chorus of “We have to save them!!” began.  The girls quickly googled websites about newborn rodents’ care.   Off I went to pick up pedialyte and puppy formula (who even knew that existed before?!).

Gently, the girls placed the see-through-skinned treasures in soft bedding and watched their wiggling.  I got worried texts while at the store.  “Mom, how soon will you be back?”  “I’m worried that they might be cold.”  “I’m worried they might be hot.”  “I think the mom must be looking for them.”  “Do you think the mom will ever come back?”

Let’s pause here for a little family history lesson.  When we started to  remodel our current house we discovered that it had been infested with mice.  That led to us completely gutting the home and starting over.

Completely.

Gutting.

One year of demolition.   One year of redesign.  Two years of rebuilding.  Four years of limbo.  From mice.

The finished product is far more wonderful and perfect for our family than our original plans.  But that doesn’t negate the years of work, tears, upheaval, and expense.  From mice.  (And horrific wiring; but that’s another story.)

Our home is surrounded by rodent bait boxes.  Our barn is surrounded by rodent bait boxes.

But we must feed these three every two hours.  With a tiny paintbrush.  We must dampen  q-tips and stimulate their bottoms to make them poop.  We must do our best to help these three grow and mature.

The first night created three sleep deprived people in our home.  The babies must eat!  My husband even woke at one point to come check on them under their glowing warm light.  My son slept like an unconcerned baby.

Day two’s activities were determined by the amount of time away from home things would take.  Day three Squirmington, Pixie, and Bubs went with us on a trip to visit family.  Yes, they had names.  Yes, we warmed their formula and cleaned their bottoms.

Regularly, my husband and I reminded everyone of the saga of Baby Bird from a few years ago.  “It’s very hard for people to help tiny creatures survive, you know.”  My middle daughter cried for days after the demise of Baby Bird.  I dreaded this inevitable outcome.

Day four brought the loss of Squirmington.  By then, the only child truly interested in the well-being of the mice was my middle child.  And she was all in.  She watched the remaining two babies like a hawk.  She googled what to do about air bubbles in the belly.  (You can see through their skin to their organs.  Yes.  They are THAT tiny.)  She patiently massaged his/her? belly with a vaseline covered q-tip to try removing the gas.  That’s what google said to do.  Worry appeared on her face.  Eventually, Pixie joined her brother in the tiny box coffin.

I found myself reassuring my daughter regularly that she was doing all she could.  I gently reminded her that we can’t save every delicate tiny creature.  No matter how diligently we try.

So, here I found myself babying an arch nemesis in the middle of the night.  Because one I love valued them.  Because one I love could not let go yet.  Because my child needed rest.  Because my parent’s heart broke at the pain in her eyes.

And then it dawned on me.  Sometimes God does that too.

Sometimes He allows us to stay in a hopeless situation because we aren’t ready to leave.  He allows us to gradually release our grasp on damaging habits, people, beliefs.  He doesn’t pry our fingers from the  fraying rope.  We must willingly let go for real change to happen.  Sometimes He peels one finger at a time away from the problem.

But only if we allow Him to.

He is the perfect parent.  He is not a forceful puppet master.  Even when it pains Him to watch His child struggle needlessly, He patiently watches and waits.  He holds our hand as we take one more step toward Him.  He cuddles us as we weep from the peeling away of people, thoughts, beliefs, things.  He understands our pain.

And when we finally are ready to move forward, He is there.  Arms outstretched and smiling.  He helps us bury the destructive thing.  He posts a marker to our progress.  He allows our memories to remain so we can reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going.

So, for now I will continue setting an alarm for the 3:15 feeding.  For now I will store two itty bitty bodies in a small jewelry box in my freezer.  And I will wait for my love to let go.  I will hold her when the grief hits.  I will tell her I am proud of her.

I smile at her growth.

And God smiles at mine.

Living in the Red

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matthew 5: 3-11 NIV)

 

I was thinking today about those pesky red letters.  The words written down that were spoken by Jesus.  The words that flowed directly from the mouth of God himself.  They were uttered by God.   Directly to people.  God’s thoughts.

Every other passage written was first filtered through the mind of a fallible human.  Someone with their own experiences.  Someone with their own selective memories of events.  Someone with their own views, biases, and strongly protected beliefs.  Yes, I know that the red letters were actually written down by normal humans too.  But these words are the closest we can get to God’s own infinite mind recorded.

So why are so many Christians hesitant to live by them?  Why instead do we favor rules and laws?  Why do we quote Old Testament Law to support our stances on various topics?  Why do we often favor the teachings of Jesus’s followers rather than His own?

Why do Christians like to demand punishment and sometimes even death for people who wrong us?  How can Christians be adamant supporters of the death penalty?   Why state these outcries couched in righteous indignation?  Why is it Christian to support bombing our enemies out of existence? 

Is that what Jesus demonstrated?  Might I remind you of the commuted death sentence for the adulterous woman.  Jesus showed that grace is greater than law.  Love is greater than judgement.

Maybe the red letters of Jesus are harder to act upon.  Maybe it feels better to strike an “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” than it does to “turn the other cheek”.  Maybe?  Who am I kidding?  It definitely is more reflexive and natural to attack than to calmly say NO, the hurting stops here!  

Or how about the difference between “love your neighbor” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”?  Which one requires more energy?  Which one goes against every fiber of our selfish beings?  I have days when it’s all I can do to stop muttering under my breath at people, let alone pray for them!

Why has divorce become accepted in churches but LGBT people are not?  How is it that a remarried man can become a church elder but a gay man cannot?  Did Jesus teach a hierarchy of “unmentionables”?

Why has it become commonplace for Christians to consider the poor lazy and weak?  Jesus taught over and over and over again that it is our job as followers of the gospel to care for the poor and marginalized.   He told parables where poor people were held up as examples for their faith and sacrifice.  Yet we look down on those who are beneath us financially.

Don’t tell me you haven’t.

Have you ever considered the poor American just as worthy of our help as the poor African child?  Why is supporting one a point of pride for Christians?  Yet supporting the other is evil socialism?

What makes our hearts ache at the sight of a  Haitian boy’s bulging, malnourished belly?  Yet berate the parents of the American child who gets free lunch?  Sending donations for foreign farmers is commendable.  Yet growing a garden for the hungry in our community is a waste of time and resources.

When is the last time you looked an unmistakably poor person in the eye and saw only a beautiful creation of God?  Not a person who obviously has issues.  (Spoiler alert:  not all poor people are there due to bad choices.)  When is the last time you saw a homeless person and could imagine yourself in their shoes?  (Another spoiler alert:  we are all merely a few unfortunate events away from living on the streets.)

Why are addicts less worthy of being fed than veterans?  What if they are both?  Would a war veteran lose our support if they were also a drug addict?  Does that negate their worthiness?  Did Jesus ask the crowd to disclose what struggles they were dealing with before handing out the free bread and fish?  Did he withhold food from those who drank too much?  Can someone more righteous than me point out where that teaching is in Jesus’s ministry?

Christians are selective in their outrage.  Selective in their grace.  Selective in what they see as the most heinous of sins.  Selective in their memories of Jesus’s teachings.

Because Christians are humans.  Fallible, changeable, emotional, humans.

We like rules.  Order.  Hierarchy.  Merit based rewards.  Strength.

Until we find ourselves on the wrong side of those rules.  Disorder.  Unfair hierarchy.  Random rewards.  Weakness.  Then we aren’t as crazy about those systems.  Then they can’t possibly be of God.

But Jesus preaches that we are blessed when humble.

Comforted when we mourn.

Rich when we are meek.

Fulfilled when we earnestly seek after truth.

Cared for when we show mercy.

Enlightened when we seek God with innocence and openness.

Called God’s children when we broker peace.

Heirs of a heavenly reward when we are persecuted for living out Christ’s example.

Blessed when people insult us, lie about us, and try to discredit us.

Because Jesus rules over an upside-down kingdom.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9: 12-13 NIV)

What?!?  Isn’t sacrifice demanded?  Aren’t sinners messy?  Why wouldn’t we want to surround ourselves with the righteous?

Jesus repeatedly poked at the religious leaders.  Jesus scolded the church teachers.  He rebuked their rules, piety, and judgmental attitudes.  He wasn’t here for the powerful, the rich, the church elite.  He didn’t ask for temple sacrifices.  He demanded mercy.

He was here for the prostitute, the tax collector, the crippled, the widow, the sick, the lowly fisherman, the leper, the lonely, the confused.   He was a champion of those the modern church likes to shame.  He stood with the marginalized in spite of the Pharisees’ opposition.  He broke the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law.  He did the right thing even when the leaders said He was wrong.  He repeated His teachings again and again to the crowds.  And to His disciples.  Yet, even those disciples didn’t truly get it all—with God Himself, incarnate, telling them His ways.

But Jesus patiently kept loving.  Kept giving.  Kept healing.  Kept nurturing.

He’d get away from the crowd to rest, think, pray.

And then He’d do it all again. And again.  And again.

And so should we.

We are not here to continue church traditions.  We are not here to sing pretty praise songs with other believers.  We are not here to fight for the right to protect ourselves and our righteous ways.

We are here to hold the hurting.  Love the cranky.   Sit with the lonely.  Bring comfort  to the ill.  Give to the poor.  Clothe the naked.  Protect the refugee.  Wipe the tears of the mourning.  Feed the hungry.  Love.

We are here to love.  To live in the red.

 

 

I’ve Decided I Don’t Like Your God

It all started with a meme.  A hideous image of  a person submerged in lava, hands stretched over the pained expression on her face.  The caption read, “The question is NOT ‘Why would a loving God send anyone to hell.’  The question is ‘Why would anyone choose hell over a loving God.'”  I did my normal thing.  I rolled my eyes and scrolled on by.  But the meme stuck with me.  It gnawed at my brain.  It irritated me and I couldn’t think of why.  (Other than the fact that most non-church folk would find it foolish and ridiculous).

But, you see, tonight it came to me why that meme got under my skin so much.  I wasn’t convicted.  I didn’t feel guilty.  It didn’t scare me.  I was angry.

I was angry because that question is asked by people who claim to worship a very loving and kind God.  This is the God I worship.  This is the God I love.  These people are talking about MY God.

But these same Christians also like to point out how the poor are lazy, the addict is weak, and the homosexual is an abomination.  I’ve done the same “eye roll and scroll on by” nearly daily to posts that come through my Facebook feed defending political policies that would hurt the marginalized, risk the health of the poor, and hurt refugee children.  I see meme after meme, article after article, comment after comment, coming from these same Christians in support of  these things.

I’ve seen comments appear defending our current president as he blatantly lies, attacks  people who challenge him, and blames everyone else for his struggles.  “We need to give him a chance.”  “The press is being unfair like never before.”  “We Christians are to pray for and defend our president.”

I will accept that we are to pray for our leaders.  That was clearly taught in the Bible.

But I have yet to find any scripture passage where Jesus implored His followers to defend Caesar.  I see no evidence of the disciples being taught to come to the aid of those in power.  Jesus did not go on a speaking tour to drum up support for Rome and it’s policies.

Jesus sought out the marginalized.

Jesus ate with despised tax collectors.  Jesus touched the leper even though this would have made him unclean in the sight of the church.  Jesus healed the hemorrhaging woman without concern for what others would think.  Jesus forgave the adulterous woman and scolded the crowd who was all-too-willing to kill her by personally throwing stones at her until she crumbled to the ground.   Jesus welcomed children to come to him when other adults tried to brush them away.  Jesus fed the hungry crowd.

Jesus displayed pure love.  Why would anyone turn away from a loving God like that?  Huh?  Maybe that meme was right after all!

 

 

“We may be the only God that someone sees today.”

Ever hear that phrase?

We may be the only God that someone sees today…..

We may be the only God that someone reads the posts of today.

We may be the only God that a hurting LGBT person hears rant about those crazy trans people in the military today.

We may be the only God that reacts with anger at the article about paying for someone else’s housing or food through our taxes today.

We may be the only God that types out that “addicts chose their lifestyle so we should just let them overdose” today.

We may be the only God who our struggling neighbor hears mutter about that undeserving lady with the SNAP card at the grocery store today.   Did you see what she bought?!?!

We may be the only God that the teen struggling with their sexuality sees laugh as the effeminate guy walks by today.

We may be the only God who fawns over the nicely dressed child while ignoring the little girl with the hand me down stained pants today.

We may be the only God the woman who had an abortion  hears call those people awful baby killers today.  We may be the only God who doesn’t care to hear the story behind the choices she made today.

We may be the only God who consistently complains about our rights today.

We may be the only God who is quick to be offended by different views today.

We may be the only God who harshly criticizes poor choices instead of reaching to help the homeless person today.

We may be the only God who claims to love while displaying judgement and superiority today.

Would you choose a God like that?  Would you listen to anything they had to say?  I would run far away from that God.  I would scoff at those who claimed to follow him.  I would be astonished that they could think of themselves as loving and kind.  I would not believe a word they said after observing all that hypocrisy.

I do not like your God.  Please stop tainting mine.

The Tale of Cindergarden

What’s a little numbness in my hands while I sleep?  Dinner?  Who needs food when there are weeds to destroy, flowers to deadhead, and shrubs to trim?!  “Just one more section and I will come inside.”  “Yes, I know it’s starting to rain.”  “No, I didn’t hear any thunder.”  “I can see well enough.  It’s not completely dark yet.”

I have a slight garden obsession.

But I may have gone a little far (even for me) when I chose the 80 by 23 foot oval section of our yard to create my newest happy place.  Yes, that is the actual size of the mixed shade and sun garden-to-be amongst a charming grouping of trees.  It all started with a twenty five foot wall of buttery yellow irises that stun as you make your way down the driveway.  I didn’t plant those.  But I insisted they now needed plant friends to join them!

The trees and all that lies beneath had been neglected for many years.  I made dozens of trips back and forth to the discard pile with  wheel barrows full of obnoxious (and sometimes painful) weeds.   I discovered that virginia creeper gives me an itchy rash and that a certain viney demon spawn stuck to me like velcro while slicing my arms when I yanked it out.

But I persisted.

I took nearly a dozen cinderblocks out of the area once they were found under the weeds,  strewn randomly around my soon-to-be garden.   Pay no attention to the pile of roof shingles and broken bricks that were uncovered too.

But I would not be deterred!  A friend visited bearing a potted perennial that would become the first addition to this labor of love.  I gathered up my shovel and compost to create the perfect home for this lovely gift.    My shovel made a crunching sound as it sliced into the dirt.  I reached down and pulled out a fistful of broken glass.  And then another.  And another.   Was that a rusty nail?

I filled a  bucket with the debris from this one  hole.  A five gallon bucket of glass, metal and globs of plastic were replaced with rich dirt and a happy little plant.  A sense of accomplishment washed over me as I stepped back to peruse my handiwork.

Then came the window screen pieces.  And  nails.  And fuses.  And roof truss supports.  Was that a door handle?  A toy car?  Wire?  Nails.  Glass.  Plastic lumps.  Repeat ad infinitem.

Most normal people would have given up by now and declared this area a junk heap.  But I imagined a glorious garden on this spot, and THERE WILL BE A GARDEN HERE!!!  I shall soldier on through the mess!

I planted hostas taken from around the foundation of a house that was slated for demolition. (That is a story in and of itself that we will save for another time.)  They were free and they covered some of the newly bare ground.  More buckets of nails, glass, and unidentifiable globs.

Then the deer discovered how delectable and convenient this garden was.

I planted clearance rack coral bells to add color variety.  The rabbits found them quite tasty.  ‘Deer resistant’ bushes were apparently –not.  And yet I insisted this would be a garden to behold.

This garden is on a major and long established route of many furry friends.

And, as it turns out, the irises that started it all were  planted in front of a mobile home that used to be on this very spot.  I unearthed large metal bolts and hooks that were most likely trailer tie-downs.  They would stay in the cement squares where I found them.   The previous land owner had purchased the lot and had the fire company burn down the trailer for training purposes.  Whatever remained from someone’s old home was now in a shallow grave that I had stubbornly declared my newest garden.  Should I throw in the towel now?  (Coincidentally, there is a towel bar sticking out of the ground that is unmovable since tree roots have grown around it.  I find it charming and unique in its trashiness).

I was fully committed to rehabilitating this land before all the trash was discovered.  I was determined that beauty would grow on this site.  It’s somewhat silly to battle animals, poor soil, and a modern archaeological dig site.  But I do.  I want the garden that I see in my head.  I want  lush green covering the ground for small animals to hide in.  I want meandering paths to slowly walk along while admiring the flowers.  I want to work in the shade as birds chirp their warnings above me in their nests.   I see the potential.  I see the garden-to-be.

And that is much of what God does.

He chooses to love us  long before our ugliness is revealed.  He chooses to  take away bucket after bucket of debris from our lives as it is unearthed.  He untiringly pulls the weeds from our lives.

They grow back.

And He patiently pulls them again.

And again.

And again.

But His hands never tire of the task.

We are so beautiful when He finishes pruning and tidying.

Then He waits for the rain to bring more broken pieces to the surface.  And He gently pries them free from the mud.  He carries them away.  Far away from the beauty He is trying to create.

Some debris may take many years, many storms, and even some digging to come free.  Some (like the towel bar) may forever remain where they were placed.  We don’t know why.  From our perspective it seems crazy and pointless.  But He has a reason.

I’ve changed plans on occasion for my garden dependent upon unexpected barriers.  Sometimes a flower  just needs to go somewhere other than where I originally planned.  I’ve avoided planting in spots where too many stones and roots run underneath.  Let’s try this spot instead.

I think God does this too.  Sometimes we choose to be or do something other than what He chose.  Sometimes we just aren’t strong enough to break through a barrier yet.  And sometimes He allows us to go where He didn’t prefer.  It can create a different, yet pleasant, path.  And sometimes it can cause us much pain.

And He will be there to prune the broken branches.  He will be there to pry the rusty nails from the ground when they poke through.

I have named my difficult garden Cindergarden.  It is where new life grows over the ashes of destruction.  I’ve created a sculpture from some of the larger treasures that have been unearthed.  It sits, proudly, in the center of the garden.  It is a reminder of where everything began.  It is a reminder that beauty can come from difficulty.  It is a monument to the gardener who has toiled countless hours to rid the soil of debris.

And I like to imagine God stepping back to gaze at the pile of debris He has tirelessly removed from our lives.  He smiles.   And He grins at the beautiful creation yet to be.  He beams at the image of the person we are to become.  The picture only He can see.

The junk fades into the shadows as the blooms fill the air with their aroma.

And the Master Gardener smiles at His creation.

 

Comfy Confessions

I’ve been absent from writing lately.  The reasons have recently started to clarify in my head.  I’ve been behaving a bit like Jonah at the end of his story.  Allow me to explain.

Most church people learn the Bible story of Jonah being sent to Ninevah to preach.  (Good Prophet)  He chickened out and went the opposite way.  (Bad Prophet)  God then created a huge storm and Jonah ended up being tossed over the side of the boat. (Powerful God)   Self sacrificed to save the other men on the boat.  (Good Prophet)  He was miraculously saved by being swallowed by a whale.  (Huge God)  There he stayed for three days and nights.  After being spewed out by the whale on a beach, Jonah chose to finish what God had started.  He preached to the people of Ninevah.  Hooray!  (Good prophet!) The people listened and did what they were told.  Double yay!  Happy Jonah because God wouldn’t end up destroying people as He had threatened!

Only not.  Jonah got mad.  He went up on a high hill hoping to watch the display of God’s wrath on those lousy, disobedient people.  Get ’em God!

But God didn’t wipe out the people of Ninevah.  He showed them amazing grace.  He showed His mercy.  Jonah had succeeded in saving the people from the jaws of death.  Way to go Jonah!

And Jonah then asked God to let him die.  He was angry.  He was disappointed.  He pouted.

Why?

This part of the story is often omitted–especially in the pre-k Sunday School version about the nifty whale and the guy who did what he was told (eventually).   This part is confusing.  This ending is messy.  Why would the man who was miraculously saved from certain death be mad that others had been similarly saved?

I’ve been pondering this for a few days.  Given what I know about me and other humans I have a few possible ideas.

Well, maybe Jonah wanted to see a fireworks show of God’s awesome power.  Wow!  What a testament to the neighboring towns!  Obey God or be wiped from the earth!   Sobering.  Scary motivation to remain on the righteous path.  Who wouldn’t take that seriously?  What numerous and obedient puppets God would have created with that one move.  What was God thinking by passing up that wonderful opportunity???

Or, maybe Jonah wanted his own threatening words to be fulfilled.   Wouldn’t that be awesome!  Tell others “Forty more days and Ninevah will be overturned.” (Jonah 3:4b)   Then sit back and say “I told you so.”  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’ve had moments when I would have loved to watch my words of warning play out.   Of course I would never say “I told you so” out loud.  I’d just smile and repeat it in my head.  And silently gloat.  (That would be the more Christian thing to do).  Imagine the respect, power, and legitimacy Jonah would have had for his remaining days.  He could have been like a god!  “Better listen to what that guy says!  Have you heard about Ninevah?!”

There’s another thing I saw differently than ever before when I read this story today.  A glimpse of self-righteous pride in Jonah’s prayer while in the belly of that whale.  (Of ALL places to be self righteous!)  It all started out well.  Praise to God for hearing and saving him when he was drowning.  But then he said this: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.  Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2: 7-9)

Could he have thought that those people in Ninevah had forfeited their chance at grace?  They had clung to worthless idols after all.  They had earned God’s wrath.  They did not follow the tenets of Jonah’s faith.  Heathens!

But, after hearing Jonah’s words, the people of Ninevah listened.  They obeyed.  They “sacrificed to God”.  They tore their clothes in grief.   They wore sackcloth as a sign of humility and repentance.  They fasted.  They changed their behavior.  And God turned away His wrath.  He let them go free.

Kind of like Jonah.

But Jonah was a man of God!  He deserved God’s forgiveness!  Everyone makes mistakes!  Give the guy a break.  He was just an imperfect man.  You reap what you sow.

But those Ninevites…no.  They were awful humans.  Screw ups.  Violent.  Nasty.   Perverted.  They deserved exactly what they got!  You reap what you sow!!

Time and time again in scripture we read stories of God choosing grace over punishment.  We love when we are the recipients of this undeserved grace.  Isn’t our God wonderful?  Isn’t our God loving?

But when God chooses to show that same undeserved love and grace to those who believe differently than us, who think differently than us, who behave differently than us….then….What could God possibly be thinking?!?  I go to church.  I give.  I help others.  I am a good Christian!  

I.  Have.  Earned.  More.

And there it is.

The  undeserved grace and love shown us is more earned than those other people.

Only that’s not how undeserved things work.  Only, that’s not the way God works.  Because He is just.  Just–to a level our tiny human brains can’t grasp.  All who choose Him win.  No matter how late in the game.  No matter what a mess they were before.  No matter if it makes others happy to see; or if it makes them want to rant and rave at the injustice of it all.

So here’s where my Jonah moment comes in.  I think Jonah just gave up.  As he sat there under that tree he may have been thinking–What’s the point?  Things didn’t work out the way I had expected.  Why did God do things this way?

I was thinking–This whole speaking out thing isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.  People get angry.  People get defensive.  People don’t listen and think.  People look at me differently.  When I look around I see folks entrenched in their little camps.  Little, if any, grace is extended to those who think differently than them.  Nothing seems to get through.

So I quit.  I gave up.  I even pushed away some of the thoughts that normally are swirling around my brain.  I enjoyed floating along the surface for a while.  I liked pretending that maybe I was mistaken about the nudges from God.  Those who encouraged me to write must have been wrong.  I didn’t have to say anything.  Others will do it.  I’ll just sit here in my garden and give up.

But, I want a different ending than Jonah.  I like to imagine that he eventually stood up, admitted that he was being selfish and silly, and went back to his work.  I like to imagine that he accomplished wonderful things once his pity party was over.  I like to imagine he impacted all who knew him.  But I don’t know.  Did he ever realize that grace was better than destruction?  Did he ever acknowledge his stubbornness?  Did he ever shake his head in disbelief at his obnoxious behavior toward the God who saved his life?We can’t know.  It’s not written.

But I can keep writing my story.  I can leave the garden and get back to work.  I can welcome the uncomfortable reality of a life awake to the pain surrounding me.  I can speak when I am compelled to.  I can speak up when the established church goes astray from their original mission. (Where is that forest anyway?  All I see is these pesky trees.)  I can endure the changes in relationships to do what I am called to do.   I can seek answers rather than following traditions.

Temporary Jonah moments are to be expected.    There will be more.  Life will get in the way at times.  But, I’m in good company.  And there are no whales nearby.

 

 

 

 

Joyous Lament

Lord, I find myself walking, sitting, driving, living with a heavy heart.

Tears never far from my eyes.

A sting in my throat as I shop for groceries  for my overstocked pantry.  Walking past the mom with three young children in tow.  I hear her say “No, we don’t have enough money for that cereal right now.”

My heart aches when I see the child with holes in their sneakers while mine have several pairs. Is that wrong?

Instead of seeing greasy hair I see someone who can’t afford shampoo.  Do they have access to a working shower?

I see people walking along the road carrying their small shopping bags.  Notice their large calves.  They walk a lot.  Do they not have any other way to get around?

I notice the shy smile.  Hiding their rotting teeth.  When is the last time they saw a dentist?  Have they ever seen a dentist?  Do they have their own toothbrush?  Not shared with family?  Their very own toothbrush.

Can that child see the whiteboard in class?  Do their parents notice her squinting?  Are they able to get her to an eye doctor?  Are they lost in their own addiction?

I am awake.

My heart  literally aches.

Is this how God feels when he sees His creations in need?

I don’t wish to make small talk with friends after the smell of poverty just walked by on the sidewalk.  You know the smell.  Clothes heavy with hair grease and cigarette smoke.  Stale alcohol and fried foods.

I’m not always as much fun as I used to be.  I’m lost in thought.

I want everyone to see what I now see.  That’s not always pleasant to be around.  I know.

I want those who claim the name Christian to stop bemoaning some of our taxes going to help the least of these.  Can we help all the poor simply through charity?  Do we now?  Can the average church financially sustain paying rent, food, and medical bills for a family (or a few families) in need?  For how long?

I want those who claim the name Christian to stop complaining about their rights and their minuscule persecutions.  How dare they whine about wedding cake baking or prayer in schools while brushing by their struggling neighbor.   Why do we fuss about the little things?  Did Jesus whine about how he was treated?  Or did He reach out to the poor, the stranger, the hurting?

I wish for those who claim the name Christian to be inviting to strangers (as our namesake was) instead of being fearful of our safety and security.  Don’t we trust God?  What if we aren’t able to “Go and make disciples of all nations…”?  But those nations can come to us through seeking refuge and asylum?

I am saddened daily by those who claim to know the Truth defending obvious lies coming from our president and those surrounding him.   We should pray for our leaders, yes.  But nowhere are we commanded to become their apologists.  Didn’t Jesus shun political power?  Why are Your people so drawn to it?  Why is the evangelical church seemingly more Republican than Christian right now?

I cringe when I hear (or read) Christians react with notions of vengeance and hate.  Is that what Jesus spoke of when he said to turn the other cheek?  To walk further than asked to?  To give away our clothes when asked?

I am puzzled by the anger aimed at those who question long held traditions.  I am confused at being labeled a blasphemer or heretic when espousing the direct teachings of Christ.  Doesn’t the entire Old Testament point toward Him?  Isn’t the New Testament all about Him and His church?

Lord, why are Your people so very defensive?  Why so quick to anger?  Why so eager to be offended?  Why so “me” focused?  And most importantly, why can’t they see themselves?  Why didn’t I see my contradictions in action and belief before?  Why do I now?

Why is it that friends are surprised to discovered that I am a Christian?  Does kindness and empathy not fit the mold of what they are used to seeing?  Is it odd for a Christian to treat homosexuals like equals?  Is it wrong for a Christian to avoid “church people speak” because it often rings hollow?  Is it weird for a Christian to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers?  That life is full of grey?  Is it unusual for a Christian to truly believe that we are to genuinely love others?  All others?  Didn’t Jesus?

Lord, there are days when I am burdened.  There is much I cannot fix.  Many needs I cannot meet.

There are times when words sting.  Strained relationships  hurt.   Whispers and glances are seen.

There are times when I dream of being oblivious to hypocrisy.  Oblivious to the way the church is perceived by my friends.

Oblivious to all the poverty surrounding me.  Oblivious to the pain in others’ eyes.  Numb to the horrible things I’m powerless to change.

And I sometimes wish to lose this sight, this bleeding heart, this raw example to my children.  Oh, the pain it has already caused them to notice, to care, to question.

Yet there is joy.  Joy in having clear purpose.  Joy in finding new meaning in the scriptures.  Joy in prayers muttered as I go about life.

Thankfulness for tearful eyes.

Peace amidst the chaos.  Peace when the news is bad.

Humility in seeing Your heart.

Confidence that You are in this.

Gratitude for the chance to be Your hands and feet.

Love for those who are unseen, unimportant, unloved.

So, Lord, may my eyes always be open, my hands always ready to reach out, and my heart willing to be broken.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Modern Liturgy

Today, we come before our Maker with prayers and petitions.  Lord, in your mercy…..

For those who question:  May we give them room.  May we trust that God already knows their confusion, (so they might as well say it out loud without judgement)…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For the hurting:  May we never, ever tell them that God doesn’t  give us more than we can handle.  Instead, may we acknowledge that sometimes we find God when we have run out of “us”…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For the angry:  May we never scold them for yelling at God.  Sometimes we need to because we hurt that much.  God can take it…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For the unity of Your Church:  May Your people accept differences in others.   Differences in personality, in preferred types of interactions, in beliefs, and in opinions…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For the teaching of Your Word:  May Your people have the humility to accept that there may be different, and yet valid, interpretations of your scriptures…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For the never-ending search for Truth:  May we look to You and Your Word more than any teacher or preacher, no matter the pedigree, for we humans are fallible…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For persecuted believers:  May we realize that we are not persecuted in this country.  May we refrain from pretending to be so because it minimizes those who truly suffer (or are martyred) for their faith…..Lord, hear our prayer.

And speaking of–for the Palestinian people:  May we stop the foolish belief that Israel can do no wrong while ignoring the pain of our flesh and bold Palestinian brothers and sisters…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For our tendency to create rules for godliness:  May we just knock it off and trust You to lead us where we need to go…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For those suffering loss and pain:  May you make us temporarily mute if we ever again start to say “there’s a reason for everything.”  Instead, may we seek to comfort and console…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who have lost their faith:  May we listen, may we love, may we pray.  But, Lord, may we never preach at them (or, again with the mute thing)…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who sin against You:  May we stop saying that you command us to “love the sinner and hate the sin”.  You never said that.  Ever…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For those in the LGBTQ community:  May we stop using  the word “abomination” toward them.  May we stop blaming hurricanes, terror attacks, and floods on these brothers and sister.  Because–that’s just insane and heartless …..Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who do not believe in God:  May we trust that You are big enough, loving enough, powerful enough, and awesome enough to show them Your presence…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For our choice of evil sins of the day to vilify:  May we get our heads out of our collective asses and drop the man-made hierarchy of awfulness…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For those living on the margins:  May we trust in Your greatness and power to heal  people regardless of their situation.  May it not matter if it is due to unfortunate circumstances or poor personal choices.  May we help anyway…..Lord, hear our prayer.

For those times when we are unsure of the “Christian” response:  May we always compare our impulse to Your greatest commandment and it’s partner commandment.  Does this action or word demonstrate my love for God?  Does it demonstrate love for others?…..Lord, hear our prayer.

And finally, for each and every one of us:  May we stop trying to play God, because we all suck at it…..Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord, in your mercy.  Amen.

A Special Guest

I’ve invited a guest writer today. I thought he had some powerful words for our country and the church.

▪️▪️▪️▪️▪️

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. “Why have we fasted,” they say, “and why have you not noticed?”

Yet on the day of fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
-To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
-To set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
-Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–
-When you see the naked, to clothe him, and to not turn away from your own flesh and blood?

THEN your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
Then the righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;
You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

▪️▪️▪️▪️▪️

I would like to say a special thank you to my friend and mentor, Isaiah, for his wise words today. It seems that there are many voices saying the same thing: feed the poor, clothe the naked, shelter the wanderer, stop oppression.

I will continue to bring words from other voices besides my own to reinforce this mission. It seems as if God really, really, really wants us to get it through our thick skulls that helping others is a giant key to everything. To relationships–with God and with people. To peace–with God and with people. To correcting wrongs–with God and with people.

Seems pretty straight forward and obvious. Cutting support for the poor is not what a Godly nation would do. Denying entry to those fleeing oppression is not what a Godly nation would do. Crying about OUR rights while stepping on others is not what Godly people would do. Social justice is not a new and evil cause championed by the progressive church. It had much larger and more important champions long before us.

So again, I’d like to say a special thanks to Isaiah for stopping by with his inspired words of wisdom today. He truly is a gift from God.