Tag Archives: politics

Is This War?

Sometimes I think we are at war. At war with the environment. At war with each other. At war with other countries. At war with whoever disagrees with us. At war with those who are different…even with those in our own families.

Yesterday, we all got word of another mass shooting, in another place where people are supposed to be free and safe. Shortly after that, the predictable war of words started because no one can agree on what to do. People immediately started criticizing one another about Why This is Happening Again. Someone even lashed out at the fact that someone else invoked prayer because “if prayer helped, people wouldn’t be shot in worship.”

All I know is it feels like more than any one of us can bear. It is too much. It is wrong. We are wrong. Nothing we are currently doing is working. Tearing one another apart is certainly not working either.

This Texas church shooting hits home for me because I’ve served the last 30 years as a pastor in a variety of churches in Texas. In the last decade or so, I sat in on meetings where we talked about what to do if this kind of unthinkable violence happened during worship. The sad truth was that no amount of security would help because churches are such open and welcoming places, filled with all kinds of people with all kinds of issues. Our doors, lots of them are open. I believe the same could be said of concerts, sporting events, parks…well, everywhere.

One expert said, “The best thing I can tell you as a pastor on the platform is to hold up a Bible or a hymnal and maybe you can deflect a shot…and then run.” I remember thinking, “I’m pretty sure I could not deflect a shot nor would I run from my people if that was happening. Never.”

I can’t even find words. I’m writing today to say, I can’t even find words.

In Isaiah, there is a glimpse of how it might be without war and it has to do with living more into the way we were created. As a person of faith, I still believe in that vision…where God’s reality includes no war. Swords, spears and even guns, vehicles and other things that destroy us turn into shovels, plows and hoes…tools for growing things and feeding people. Isaiah 2:4

God, today, I have no words. Can you please help us stop these wars? We cannot do it on our own.

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When Hummingbirds Argue

Jesus was a master storyteller. He loved tackling tough topics with stories about common things that every one could relate to. Lots of time he wouldn’t even try to explain what he was talking about. He would just tell his story about the crops, the wedding, the farmer or the feast and leave it there, trusting people to figure it out. It’s kind of funny when you read scripture knowing this because you can see how many people didn’t get his parables. This didn’t seem to bother Jesus at all. He just kept telling stories.

I like to preach like that. It’s especially fun when I’m not even sure about the full point of the story I’m telling. Sometimes, as the storyteller, you have to trust that the listener will glean more from the story than you could even imagine. It’s an exercise in trust.

Last week, I purposely spent the week alone, away from my usual distractions. I wanted to do this because I believe it is a good spiritual exercise to learn to be alone with yourself and your thoughts.  I also wanted to get some writing done for a couple of upcoming projects.

At first, I had to struggle with the usual discomfort of hanging out with myself. I found I talked to my dog a lot. She didn’t say much. After a while, I listened better to other things: the sound of the wind, a storm rolling in, the difference in the birds morning noises and how they sang in the evenings. After a day or so, I started paying more attention to the hummingbirds and the buzz they made when they whirred by.

Then, I got pretty good at noticing their chirping. Mostly, though, they just argued. They had access to three full feeders. There was plenty of room around the base of each feeder for 4 or 5 to land at once and feed (They do land, by the way). The hummingbirds would have no part of group dining. They dive bombed each other and argued all week about who should feast at any given time.

There was plenty of food and plenty of room for every hummingbird. Instead they argued. Soon some started posting on social media about how fed up they were with each other and how offended they were by the stance of their fellow hummingbirds. Video clips were shared of who was right and who was wrong. Whole news channels popped up around each differing hummingbird point of view. The leader type hummingbirds spoke out and made everything worse. Protests began. Outrage was high. Pretty soon they didn’t even treat each other like hummingbirds, but enemies.

All along, my dog and I just shook our heads and wondered why those silly hummingbirds couldn’t see The Truth more clearly.

Infuse Me With Peace

I walk every day. It is partially for physical reasons, partially for spiritual and emotional reasons and partially because my dog is addicted and will not let me do otherwise. She does not understand the concept of a day off from walking or rain or hot or cold. So, we walk.

Sometimes when I walk, I listen to silence. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts. Sometimes, I listen to Christian music. I can always get a soul-read on myself by paying attention to what I listen to. Lately, my soul has been thirsty only for music.

I’ve needed the music of my faith to guide me, to anchor me, to answer my prayers, to provide leadership to me in these trying times.

Our world is in conflict. Our country is in conflict. Our political system is in conflict. Many of our churches are in conflict. We are craving leadership, but who can we trust?

Sometimes I think it might just be me. Maybe I’m interpreting “how things are” in an overly negative way.  This morning however, even my local newspaper had a picture of the events of the weekend along with the headline “A Nightmare Scenario”.  Maybe it’s not just me.

I also know people who are personally going through difficult and trying times. They are living nightmares they did not choose to be in.  Other people, myself included, are just riding out normal life rites of passage that are not easy.

All these reasons are causing me to drink in the songs of my faith.

Everyone seems to be calling for statements, guidance and reassurance. I’ve tried to imagine if I had to issue some kind of statement right now, what it would be. No words seem adequate for all that is happening.

So, instead of issuing statements, I pray, for all of the above.

God, your ways are higher than my ways. You see all things and you know the layers, the complications, the history of all.

Help me now to be a loving, light-bearing citizen of this planet, this country, my family and friendship circles. Remind me again of what Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…but, take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

God, have you overcome hate? Because it seems to still live here. I don’t want it to live in me, but it does. Have you overcome racism? I see it and feel it and know it lives in me as well. I know darkness lives in our systems and that I’m a part of those sick systems. Have you overcome disease? Because it still seems to be attacking people I care about.  

It feels like too much. It feels like more than my heart can bear. It feels out of control and wrong.

And so I lift it all to your Light and ask that you guide my feet, my actions, my words.

This morning, on my walk, your song penetrated me, “Peace, peace be still. And like a child my heart obeys.” Infuse peace into my heart, O God. Give me an iv of it if you have to…not the kind of peace the world gives, rather, your kind. These nightmare days require your supernatural peace. I know I absolutely need it. Amen   

 

Breaking News: I Care

Have you ever had one of those seasons with so many conflicting emotions swirling around inside you that you feel you might just explode or implode? I feel that way lately.

It is Holy Week. This is the first Holy Week in many years that I have not worked in a church. I am newly aware of how distracting being on a church staff can be especially during the peak seasons of faith. It is hard to focus on Holy Week when you are working in a church because you are busy doing church so that everyone else can experience the wide range of emotions from the Palm Sunday Parade, the Last Supper, the Cross and finally the Resurrection. Yesterday was the first Palm Sunday in decades that I was really able to pray and meditate about Palm Sunday.

As I walked, I thought about all the people waving branches and walking alongside Jesus. I tried to imagine what he was thinking. I tried to think about all the conflicting political issues of that day; all the agendas. I couldn’t help but reflect that not much has changed. Religious leaders entangled in politics. Power plays. Injustices.  Politics colored by religious agendas. Human rights in question. Chemical attacks. Tomahawk Missiles flying. Warships poised. Much discussion over what to do and who is right. A massacre in places of worship. And, that is just this week. Lord, have mercy. Seriously.

Holy Week contains every emotion. After the seeming Joy of Palm Sunday, came that little incident where Jesus lost his temper in the temple courts, overturning the tables of the money changers. No matter how much we’d like to believe Jesus was above anger, this shows he wasn’t. Matthew 21:12-13 Next thing we know he is cursing that fig tree causing it to wither and die. Matthew 21:19-22.  This all happens in this same week when everyone betrays him. He cries out to God, sweats blood mixed with tearful angst. The week gets worse for him from there.

In an interview on Beautiful Writers Podcast, I heard one of my favorite women talk about writing, faith and the wide range of emotions of our time. Anne Lamott confessed she gets hopeless regularly. She said when left to her own devices she dreams of  her next book being be called “Doomed” about how things are bad and only going to get worse. But then she says this, “Thank God, I am not left to my own devices. Thank God we are called to stay in community and in solitude so we can to stay grounded on that fact that Holy moments are happening in our midst.” When asked how she does this, she said, “I just take an action. I give money to organizations I believe are making a difference. I put feet to prayers and show up somewhere. I look up. I go outside. I flirt with older people and little kids. I just do the next expansive and loving thing.”

Her words reverberated through my soul. Thank God, we are not left to our own devices in Holy Week or any other week or we would surely get stuck in a “doomed” part…the anger, the fear, the betrayal, the angst, the death and miss the rest of the week. Thank God we can take the next expansive and loving action.

On Saturday, we had a job fair in our community for those seeking employment. Because I wanted to take a step toward the light, I offered my time for the afternoon. I was assigned resume reviews and mock interviews. I sat with people of all types from teenagers to professionals and we talked about how to polish resumes, sell themselves and shine during an interview. I met people of all cultures, religions and walks of life. I used every bit of my work, life and people experience to meet people where they were and to encourage them a little.

Toward the end,  a young woman came in wearing a hoodie that said, “Breaking News, I Don’t Care.” I don’t know everything about job seeking but I do know this is probably not the upfront message job seekers need to lead with. I wasn’t able to give her feedback on her hoodie because she wasn’t seeking any.

In my swirl of emotions this Holy Week, in this current America we live in, in my understanding of faith and humanity, here is what I know: we have to care. We have to wade through all our emotions from apathy to anger to be able to move beyond our own devices. We have to take that next loving step. We have to help each other. We have to hang out with God through a whole bunch of rough and horrible things in order to get to Easter.  Our faces, our clothes and our actions have to say, I care. Otherwise, we are doomed.

I pre-ordered Anne Lamott’s new book “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy” before she ever even wrote it. It arrived at my house just as this Holy Week began. Thank God I’m not left to my own devices.

Wear Love

I just made a homemade Valentine for my husband. I’m a left-handed person who has always been terrible at cutting things out. It all goes back to elementary school when they gave lefties those green-handled scissors. Why did they do that? What magic were those rubber green handles were supposed to create? Whatever it was, all they did for me was create havoc on my artwork.

So, the glittery construction paper heart I made him looks, well, left-handed. I made it, though, because I have a greeting card aversion. I can’t believe cards are $7 now. And, they don’t say what I want to say. I rebelled and made my own. He will like it.

Valentine’s Day is a love day. Every day is a love day. Right now, lots of people seem to be trying to figure out ways we can express love better to each other…beyond race, beyond culture, beyond religion, beyond political differences. Because a lot of hate is coming out right now, and anxiety and fear, it seems super crucial that we love.

When I walk each day, if I go really far, I end up under a highway. I think it is scary there. My dog really hates it there because it is loud. There is graffiti there which is sad. However, it is the nicest graffiti I’ve ever seen. It says, “I Love You” in big white letters. I don’t know who wrote it but whenever I see it, I imagine it is a message for me and one I’m supposed to share.

love

How do we do it? In the Message translation of scripture, Colossians 3:14 advises that we wear it. “And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”

Wear love. That’s it. Let it wrap you up like your favorite yoga pants and soft t-shirt. Take comfort in it…but then wear it. Let it be the part of you that people see.

Love…feel it, wear it, share it, live into it. Imagine the people you are finding the most difficult to even like right now and picture what it would mean to love them. Love when it is scary, when it is difficult, when it is fun.

Make somebody a heart. Wear love. I believe it is our way forward.

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The Under Toad

I’m finding comfort in reading John Irving novels. Currently, I’m reading The World According to Garp. I like Irving’s writing even though I’m sure I don’t understand parts of it. His work always intrigues and challenges me.

In this novel, the Garp family talks to their young sons at the beach every year about the under tow. They describe what it can do to you. One of their boys becomes particularly afraid. Finally, they get to the bottom of his fear. He believed all along they were saying, “Watch out for the Under Toad.” He was picturing a massive frog-like toad, lurking under the dark of the water, big-eyed, slimy, ready to grab him by the legs and steal him away.

After that, whenever anxiety popped up in their family, they called it the Under Toad.

I’m seeing quite a bit of the Under Toad lately, are you? I see it in the news, in my Twitter feed and other forms of social media. I see it in families and friendship circles. I see it in schools, churches and in the community. Last week, I had a conversation with a relative over politics at her initiative that sent me rushing out the door, emotional, sweating, uttering bad words and covered in Under Toads.

One of the ongoing lessons I have learned in my adult life is that the Under Toad does not help anything.  It is bad for marriages and parenting. It is bad for leaders and followers. The Under Toad moves us from being thinking, calm people to overly emotional, reactive ones.

I hate it because it is so much fun to blame others, but the truth is we cannot manage other people’s Under Toads, only our own. When anxiety is high, all you can do is manage your Toad.

Sometimes our fears are real and based in fact. There really is, for example, an under tow out there which we should know about and respect. But, it is not a huge, amphibian-like monster plotting to get us. Millions of people do not die each year because of Under Toads. In fact, no one has even been hurt by one, ever.

How do we manage our Under Toads?

Everyone is different, of course, but here’s my list of anxiety-busters:

Establish some spiritual touch points and routines that anchor you like prayer, journaling, meditation, scripture. Do these whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait until inspired. That is not how it works.

Engage with nature. Creation feeds our souls. The colors, the smells, the wonder of outside eases anxiety. Sunrises and sunsets are my favorite twice a day Toad repellent.under-toad

Music works every time.

Comedians. Thank God for the funny people. Did you know, laughter cannot co-exist with Toads?

Babies. Children. Find some. Rent some. Volunteer near some. According to Psychology Today, 4 year olds are reported to laugh 300 times a day. 40 year olds? Only 4. Find a small person, play and just laugh when they laugh.

Disconnect. I’m beginning to think our media feeds our hungry Under Toads and when our Toads are large and scary, we keep going back for more. When they see what sells it is like supply and demand. Maybe we should take a little break.

Breathe. Mary Oliver, the poet, writes, “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget to breathe deeply, especially when being pursued by Toads.

Exercise. It is amazing how we are made. Exercise is good for us and breaks the anxiety chain. It helps us feel better, look better and sleep better. I walk. Every day. Outside, in nature. I breathe there. I disconnect there.

Act. Do something. Go ahead and act. Today, I spent a couple of hours with some amazing women strategizing about how we would help serve the economically disadvantaged students in our public schools with school supplies and other resources. It kept the Toad at bay.

Love. Love people. Love strangers. Love your family. Love those who feel differently than you do. Try to listen but also take care of you. Learn to say, “Can we change the conversation? I’m having an allergic reaction to a personal Toad problem right now.” I promise they will stop talking.

Thank you, John Irving, for your writing. You showed me the power of the Under Toad…and more than that, you showed me it is not even real.

 

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Sloppy Wet Baby Kisses

No matter your politics or religion, we can agree that things are tense and unsettled right now. We can likely agree that we do not know how all that is currently happening will play out in our country, our world or with us personally. Christianity is being bandied about in a myriad of ways and as a Christian pastor, I feel called to speak out. The problem is, I do not know what to say. People who disagree and who think I’m an anomaly of beliefs will only keep not understanding and shaking their heads. I don’t believe my words will change anyone’s mind.

I believe we need supernatural help. I believe we need guidance that comes from a greater power than any one of us.

I’ve just returned home from a few days with our precious seven month old grandson. He’s learning how to kiss. Do you remember how young babies kiss? They open their mouths wide and come at you. They can’t pucker up yet or smack their lips like older people do. When I ask my grand baby to give me a kiss, he understands me. It takes him a little while to act on it and then, he moves, mouth open, approaching my cheek like a sloth. When he delivers his kiss, it is all drool, super sloppy and the most delightful thing I know.

He will even do it on FaceTime.  I ask for a kiss and slowly, sloth like, the screen changes from his face to his approaching wide open mouth. Those sloppy kisses anchor me. They bring me to the joy of the Present Moment. I know he won’t kiss like that forever. I know now that drool won’t kill me so I just savor it.

And, I think it is supernatural. It is grace. It is new life. This person who didn’t even exist before is now here, kissing me. This messiness is God in the daily sweetness of life.

A few days ago, awash in his sloppy kisses, I remembered a worship praise song called “How He Loves.” The song, in some versions, has this line “Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.” The reason it is different in some versions is that evidently some people were uncomfortable singing about sloppy wet kisses in worship. To them, I say, “Are you kidding me?” This is it.  This is faith. This is the supernatural colliding with this physical, pretty screwed up world. It is supposed to be messy.

In the new hit show, This is Us, which is a great show about real life, Kevin is explaining to his nieces about life through a painting. His painting is a collision of colors and textures, lines and shapes. It looks like this super colorful, vivid, rainbow explosion. Kevin tries to explain it and ends up saying “I think life is just one big, sloppy, colorful, magical thing that never ends.”

There’s that word again, sloppy.

Here’s what I’m trying to say as words pretty much fail me. These are uncertain, anxiety-ridden times. If we look too long or too hard on what is happening and what people are saying, we will be lost in anger, paralyzed by fear. We need supernatural help. That help is all around us and it is delivered, strangely enough in the sloppiest of ways. When heaven meets earth, there is messiness, drool and discomfort.

My prayer for all of us today is that we will stop in the chaos and receive a grace beyond us…like a baby kiss. It is the only way forward. .

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