This is what democracy looks like…

“After” the March… beginning to spill out on the National Mall!

“There is an old saying that the course of civilization is a race between catastrophe and education. In a democracy such as ours, we must make sure that education wins the race.”President John F. Kennedy

Today I participated in the messy, noisy, and occasionally inconvenient work of democracy. With over 500,000 other people in Washington, DC, we brought the area around the National Mall to a complete standstill. Apparently, due to permitting issues with the National Park Service, the Trump inaguration committee, and other arcane rules (the source of which I do not know!) the Women’s March on Washington was not allowed to congregate on the Mall. Instead, the organizers were allotted a street corner. One stage. The limited PA speakers and Jumbotrons meant that unless you were were within a block of the main stage, you couldn’t hear or see a thing. 

Wait?!?!! Is that the Jumbotron?

And you know what? It was fine. It was more than fine. 

Because of the YUUUUGE turnout, the barriers were removed between the streets and the Mall in many places. The estimated number of marchers tripled (at least) what was expected. There was no real “march” for many of us, in part because it would have taken hours for us to clear the parade route. 


Yes, the lines for the porta-potties were long. Yes, there were no places to get food or drink (there may have been… but we didn’t see them.) Yes, the cell signal was poor to missing, which one would expect at such a huge gathering of people. And YES there were so many people that we could not march!! 

My friend Karen’s sign was a hit!

We stood, sang songs, shared food, laughed at witty signs, had thoughtful discussions with strangers, and generally found ourselves caught up in something MUCH bigger than we are. 

Tonight my aging bones feel every step and hour of standing in the damp cold air. It does not matter. I feel hope and a sense of purpose.

Trying on my rainbow stole on Friday night, pinned with the names of friends, family, co-workers and patients. I marched for them too.

 
There are hard conversations ahead. There are many who did not feel included in the March’s planning. There are deep social, political and systemic ills that one March will not change. There are significant roadblocks to progress in the new administration (ponder JFK’s quote…)  

BUT… 

Our voices were loud and clear. We will be watching. We will speak out. You have poked the sleeping giant, and She will not be stilled. 

The Relentless Pursuit of Beauty

  

  

I came across a blog post that reminded me what I need to do to continue to do this work of hospice chaplaincy. Hugh Hollowell quoted the advice given him by Bart Campolo:

He told me that if I knew I was going to walk across the desert tomorrow, I should be gorging myself with water tonight. Likewise, he said, if I know that tomorrow I will be surrounded by ugliness, I should strive to gorge myself with beauty to prepare for it. My days are pretty ugly at times. So he insisted I hang at museums, read good books, watch good films, read poetry and play in my garden. All in the relentless pursuit of beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness I will encounter.

Stunningly simple. But so true.

On a daily basis, I sit with patients, families and other staff as we walk the final chapters of someone’s life. There’s hard questions, honest reflection and a lot of grace. I’m grateful I have the job that I do, but it becomes wearisome.

I felt the weight of my work this morning when I woke up. It took me a while to get moving and start the weekend’s chores. None of the work was rocket science, just the necessary tasks of any other full-time worker. Stuff like laundry. Vacuuming. Sorting through piles of crap. The final vacuuming and straightening after the Christmas decorations were packed away. But I just didn’t have the energy. The last week has been incredibly stressful… Not necessarily because of the work with patients, but the accompanying …uh… Fertilizer that seem to stink up the air. (I’m sure you know what I mean!)

So I asked myself… What are the things in my life that allow me to gorge myself with beauty? What do I need to keep myself focused, content and energized?

I came up with a short list… Perhaps I’ll add to it as the weeks go by. As I read over the list, I found it intriguing that the list was mostly activities of an introverted nature. For an extrovert, it gave me pause. It is because the nature of my work is challenging at times? Do I need a balance of group events and quiet reflection? Yes… I think so. I have been engaged in my activities of choice and it hasn’t been “enough.”

What’s on your short list? Inspire me!

Dragon Repellent (And other ways we face our fears!)

Many, many years ago, one of our daughters would wake up in a full-blown panic, calling for us:

Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons!
Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons! 

Tears on her face, she would curl up against us, while we tried to soothe her. She didn’t want to sleep WITH us, as much as she wanted the dragons to ‘go away.’ We had little success in persuading her the dragons had left until she fell back asleep.

This happened on and off for a couple of months. It was exhausting for all of us. Nightlights. Music. Aroma therapy. Stuffed animals. We would go a couple of nights and then… BAM. Her pediatrician noted it and said that it was a part of brain development. She wasn’t sleep walking.  It wasn’t night terrors. It was probably just “bad dreams.”

Except, these were not dreams from her perspective. There were dragons under the bed. And they hid when we came in the room. And they only came out at night… At one point, I even tried opening the window and shooing out the dragons before bedtime. (Yes. I was desperate. And pregnant.)

Funny thing, there’s nothing in parenting books about “dragons”…

Finally, I had a fit of inspiration. It was after we had come back from a camping trip and we used a lot of insect repellant. And there were no dragons. Hmmmm….

Before bed one night, I produced a can of “Dragon Repellant.” (It was actually a room deodorizer spray with a conspicuously hand-written label on it. Whatever. She was 3 and a half. It worked.) I sprayed the room and then under the bed and announced that the “Dragon Repellant” would keep the dragons away.

And, it did!

Since those early days of parenting, there have been other fears and tears that no amount of “repellant” would keep away. Gradually, we have all learned a lot about conquering fear. Or rather, allowing the Spirit of God to be a source of confidence, courage and coping. We read verses and learned songs. And mostly, we admitted when we were afraid and needed God to help us.

Isaiah 41:10 (Common English Bible)
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold youwith my righteous strong hand.

Joshua 1:9 (CEB)
I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Romans 8:14-16 (CEB)
All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.

There is a healthy kind of fear. It allows us to retreat and evaluate our safety. That can be healthy and life-sustaining. The fear that God battles for us is very different. It is the kind of fear that paralyzes and causes us to retreat from growing, or pushing past personal pain.

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The fear that God conquers is a fear that limits us.

It is a fear that binds.
It blocks.
It takes away our willingness to try something new.
It puts up artificial boundaries.
It creates barriers between us.

It’s been a constant growth experience as I face fears of different kinds. Of learning what kind of courage it takes to speak my mind. (Or to be silent and pray.) To express an opinion. (And to stand up to opposing ones.) To ask hard questions. (And to accept that we won’t agree on the answers.) To take a risk on a new venture. (Or use wisdom and decline.)

What’s so funny about all this as I face my own fears is that people have told me that I inspired them to try something new. And I laughed. Because, well, in the back of my mind, I am quaking in fear, praying, and fearfully spraying “Dragon Repellant” at all of the things that worry or scare me. I’m trying to have faith that conquers these fears.

And even in my fears, God hears and answers. In the saddest, angriest, darkest, most fearful moments, God has been there. I am grateful.

The Light dawns. Hope returns. Blessed be.

Blessed be the Name...
Blessed be the Name…
Matt Redman wrote a worship song years ago that reminds me…
Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name.

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord…”

Who Does Jesus Look Like?

I was running a little late for my overnight shift at the hospital. Running more than a little late, actually. I put my stride into “overdrive,” adjusted my backpack and tried to weave a little faster between the other commuters on the sidewalk.

Then I heard her singing,

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“Jesus, he looks a lot like me.
Oh brother…
Jesus, he looks a lot like me.
Oh sister…”

And I changed my focus from the stoplight (could I make it? 12 seconds left on the crosswalk timer!) to the woman singing.

She was in a wheelchair. She was wrapped in a couple of blankets. The cold wind whipped the blankets and she clutched them closer, adjusting one over her head. She had a small bucket on the ground in front of her chair with a sign propped up on it. And the sign said, “I just want to buy some dinner.” She was sitting in front of a grocery store, hoping to get enough to buy something from the “hot entrees” bar.

I slowed down and stopped. I reached for my lunch bag, opened it and said, “What would you like? I don’t have any cash.”

She looked in my bag, saw a salad, a bottle of water and among other things, 3 strawberries, big, red and luscious. (I splurged. They aren’t in season yet.)

“Them berries?”

I put them in her hand, and asked, “Anything else? Some yogurt? A sandwich?”

“No, honey,” she said, “that’s close enough to perfect for me.”

I closed my lunch bag, gently touched her shoulder and said, “Blessings.” And started to scurry on my way.

And I heard…

“Jesus… he looks a lot like you.
Oh, sister…”

And I cried all the way to my office. Because I know in my heart of hearts, the person who looks back at me in the mirror is not always acting or living with the purest of motives. But every now and then, Jesus shows up and reminds me that I can grow and change. And that we all can do just the littlest of things and look “a lot” like Jesus.

I thought about my Jesus friend all evening. As I talked to patients. As I walked with a nurse to her shift in the ICU. As I listened to a coworker talk about her miscarriage. As I skimmed a few posts on Facebook and prayed for a friend. As I prayed for people I love.

And I came to the realization that it’s true.
“Jesus… he looks a lot like you.
Oh, brother…
Jesus… he looks a lot like you.
Oh, sister…”

It’s your turn… Take a look in the mirror – see that family resemblance?

Thanks be to God.

Encouragement for the journey: Teresa of Avila

road inviting with God

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

― Teresa of Ávila

The Fourth Sunday After Easter: Sheepishly Dependent

This week was a whirldwind of violence, accusations, accidents, fear and loss. In the midst of the confusion, I knew I needed to turn of the news, step away from my computer and do some healing work in my garden. As I trimmed, weeded and transplanted, I was serenaded by the wrens who are checking out the new bird house, and the keening of red shouldered hawk, lusting after the baby chicks next door. (Said baby chicks are against our Home-owners Association covenant, by the way… and will be relocated.)

But in the yard, as I began to tend the plants and count the budding flowers, there was a sense of peace. Yes, a strong storm could indeed topple a tree right on top of the new roses. The predicted cicadas could chomp our lilac buds right off. I could forget and leave the gate open and find deer munching on my tomatoes, or trimming off the tops of the hydrangeas and hostas. But as possible as those gardening frustrations could be, I would still be OK. My family and friends could still be safe and healthy.

As I worked and reflected on life in general, I thought about how far removed we are, as a society, from the agrarian lifestyle of the Bible. Farming, tending sheep, sowing seed — they just aren’t part of our normal routines. So taking a step back from commuting and thinking about composting has its spiritual benefits!

For this week’s readings, in particular, we need this land-based mindset. The readings from the Lectionary point us to our dependent and needy relationship with God. The Psalm reminds us to trust that The Shepherd will be with us in “the valley of the shadow of death” and that we will be well-fed.

Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.

You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.

Sheep are silly things. They run away from danger without looking, without a clear plan of escape. Their lives can be expressed in a panicked flight from one fear to another. They will eat things which not only make them sick, it could kill them (think broken glass!) They balk from accepting things that are good from them. And when they ARE being cared for, particularly when they must be separated from the herd, they bleat their distress. Loudly. And often.

But sheep also have some instinctual behavior which helps protect them. They want to be in flocks. They keep their young on the inside of the flock’s perimeter whenever possible. They accept the protection of other animals (including other herding animals) and seem to keep a truce with their herding dogs. And they understand, even though they are raised in a domesticated setting, that the world is a dangerous place. And if they stick together and watch out for each other, life is a little sweeter.

By design, sheep are kept in a protected environment so that they can spend their days grazing, drinking, and resting. And growing wool. By preference, or perhaps centuries of domestication, they forget that their every need is met. They will test the boundaries, the fence-lines, and the herder. When I first learned this from a shepherd, I asked, “Wait! Sheep have sin natures, too?”

We had a good laugh.

Ah, I am so much like sheep. Eating, sleeping, reacting, engaging in ways that are not the best for me. Aren’t we all?

In a week of distress, real or implied, where our assumed safety is threatened and our previously “safe pastures” are invaded, it’s easy to react in a panic. To forget that there is a Good Shepherd who hears, who sees, who cares. To remember that there are real evils in this world and that the spiritual enemies we face invade hearts and lives and actions every day.

We can’t live in fear. Or panic. Or anger. Nor can we forget that the stronghold of evil in this world will come and do battle in our comfortable lives, whenever and wherever it chooses. We have to accept that this life is occasionally difficult, frustrating, and even full of evil. The difference is that as we band together, and watch over one another, we know Who eventually wins this battle. Consider these words from Ephesians 6:

11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace.16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

18 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers.

As members of One Flock, as comrades in times of pleasant pastures or dangerous valleys, the Church can’t become split or disintegrated when we are under stress. It is easier to scatter than to band together, to run in our own inclinations instead of moving across obstacles together. Being One Church means that we have to fight our instincts for self-preservation and  sheepishly depend on God.

Shepherds know this. And sometimes, pigs do too.

“My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says in John 10. “I know them and they follow me.”

The problem is, we listen to our own voices, or only each other in times of stress. We set up our own “passwords” and put contingencies on whether or not we think God really cares about us.

Two weeks ago, the Scriptures focused on the doubts and fears we all face. Last week, we heard Christ’s instructive words to Peter to tend the lambs and feed the sheep. It’s a journey we take together, with our questions, our anger, our cries for justice and for peace.

The words of Psalm 23 are so familiar that we can gloss over them. Yet they invite us to stop and lean in…

Listen. Stop and breathe in the rhythms and heart of Grace. The Shepherd’s voice speaks over the chaos, and cuts through our complacency. You will hear the tender voice of the Shepherd. Calling you. Inviting you. Reminding you that though is a valley of death, there is also goodness and mercy and a place of Eternal Safety.

Thanks be to God!

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In closing, listen to this arrangement of Psalm 23, created by Bobby McFerrin. The Trinity is offered in a feminine voice, and the rich chords bring a sense of safety, wholeness and love. I invite you to turn up the sound, close your eyes, and feel The Shepherd’s warmth and care — for you.

Shalom.

NO Alligators Allowed in the Pool!

I’m kind of done with the election rhetoric. Of my party. Of the other party. Of the parties of the second part and the third part. Of parties, talking heads, editorials, commercials, PACs and committees. Enough.

It’s easy enough to say that “you don’t have to go there.” But that assumes that everyone can read the sign.

It’s really NOT that obvious.

Sometimes when the “hot button” issues are being tossed about in an election cycle, it’s hard not to want to dive into the arguments. So much muck, so little time.

Then, when the elections are over, we’re back to the same tired arguments of theology. It’s not easy, but you can thoughtfully and graciously articulate your position, while remaining considerate of the opinions of others. I appreciated that in a couple of blogs that I read this afternoon.

First, Kurt offers a guest post by his friend Alan Molineaux, who discusses the conundrums of “discussing” anything related to complementarianism and egalitarianism. (Note: if this isn’t something that interests you, please feel free to move along and watch an NFL game or something.) 🙂

From there, I found Caroyln’s blog where she shared an excerpt from Dr. Roy Ciampa, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, on his recent article “Ideological Changes for Bible Translators”. The full text of his discussion is here.

After some of the recent comments by Dr. Dobson and others, I am encouraged. I am encouraged when I read the thoughts of well-read, thoughtful people. I am encouraged when there can be dialogue and we don’t automatically assume that one of us is “not a Christian” because we have different hermeneutics.

I am encouraged because it does not depend on me, but on the work of the Spirit to bring the same edges of the conversation together for a cohesive whole.