In the in-between

Advent. That season in Christendom where we wait. Wonder. Yearn. Dream. Pray. And then, we live with the fact that we do not have the answers we so desperately long to hear.

It’s true in my Hospice work. Knowing that death is coming (or not). Wishing there were absolutes and clear prognostications (and being shocked or disappointed). Wondering “how much time…?” When we do not know, and can never know.

In times like this, in the in-between, God uses pictures and moments to remind me… that the Divine is intricately involved in my life. That my short life is cradled in the span of Infinite wisdom. That it’s in the waiting that God Calls and leads me.

Tonight I needed reassurance. I needed hope. I needed encouragement. I needed a reminder of my relational and caring God. And then, this song came across my desktop. It’s by Kina Grannis, and is called “In The Waiting”. I think it’s the official heart song for my Advent season this year. Take a listen… the video is as powerful as the lyrics.

May we each know peace and LIFE in the waiting…

O Come Emmanuel.

 
“I’ve been working on patience
trying to trust in the timing of my tiny existence
I come alive
I sat still in the twilight
I found peace in the quiet things
How could I wish away all the in between?


And all this time
Ive been staring at the minute hand
Oh what a crime
That I can’t seem to understand that life
Is in the waiting.”

The world is not a safe place

Gun violence makes the world feel  unsafe. Gun violence in a house of worship, even more so.

But the world is not a safe place. 

That seems obvious. But we cling to this ideal of peace, love and happiness. All you need is Love. Give peace a chance. We are the world. Let there be peace on earth.

I can sorta-kinda cope with violence in random public places, on public transportation, in shopping malls. Workplace shootings are rampant. Sadly, I have an expectation that it just might happen in some corner of my little world. It boggles my mind that I have to be vigilant for my personal safety in a public place, but this is the world we live in now.

I’ll be honest… I don’t get it. My mind can’t process this kind of hate. I see what evil has done. And I am numb.

Shootings in the public square are bad enough, but what about the attacks in churches? It seems ages ago since the attack in Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. How do we ever process the seemingly random violence of a shooter, assasinating the very folk who welcomed the stranger into their midst? Then to discover that, according to investigators, he plotted this for weeks?

Then I think about the violence at other places of worship. What about the mass shootings at a Sikh temple in 2012 in Oak Creek, Wisconsin? Or the six  people shot in a mosque in Quebec?

The churches in California, Tennessee, and now, Texas?

I don’t have answers for this kind of blind hate and prejudice. Lord knows I have enough unkind thoughts for some specific politicians today… but then I realize…

I am no better than the perpetrator of a mass killing if I let hate fester in my heart. 

Let me be clear: Am I looking for justice for the Charleston 9? Absolutely! But responding with violence? May it never be!

The stories will trickle in over the next weeks from the Sutherland Springs tragedy. We will read about families and shocked townspeople. We will get the pablum of “thoughts and prayers.” And we will hear the horrible theology of God needing another angel (ugh!!) and a diversion to a diatribe about mental illness instead of finally addressing gun control.

It has happened yet again.

The rhetoric swirls yet again.

And the world will continue to be unsafe.

And I will continue to wonder why any private citizen should own an assault rifle.

Holding in the brokenness

By request: Trigger warnings for sexual assault and harassment.

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It happens in an instant. The moment gets replayed, again and again. You learn to shut off the cycle, to get help to process the anger and embarrassment, to feel safe.

But the bottom line is that it never should have happened. Never. You did not deserve it. You did not cause it to happen. 

There are ways to re-glue your brokenness. There are ways to disguise the cracks, the signs of repair. But you will always know they are there. You will forget them for longer and longer periods of time. You will still have a kick in the gut when you remember.

It’s OK. It will be OK. 

You tell people you trust. Really trust. It’s hard. And you learn you can trust people to support you.

But then… You tell people you shouldn’t have trusted. And they accuse or shift blame to you. Sometimes, without your permission, they tell other people. And you feel the cracks again. And you grit your teeth and pursue healing. Again.

Sexual assault is real.

Sexual harassment is real.

Sexual microagressions are real. 

If you are reading this and have a burden of brokenness too big to carry on your own, please find support, get an ally, or look for help. You are worth it. You are loved. You are lovable always, forever, completely, as you are, as you will be.

There are many pastors, counselors and friends who will stand with you. They will listen. They will believe you. They will provide tissues (when you need them) and a strong shoulder (when you need that, too). I am one of them, or I will try to be. But there are many, many more…

It’s OK to be broken, by the way. It’s OK to have “a history” that makes others sad or uncomfortable. It’s more than OK to not have things all figured out (the “why me” moments are raw and real.) It’s also OK to have that brokenness out there, untended, wild and raw. It’s OK not to have your hurt “fixed” or “held in.” I’m not suggesting that’s your goal. And people will try to shush you. Don’t. Speak up. 

One last thing. You do not have to tell your story to everyone who asks. You can simply say #MeToo (full stop).

Please take care of you. You’re the only You we’ve got.

LINKS and HELPS

There are many, MANY links out there. Too many. Here’s four sites that I trust, and I think that you can, too.

 

 Another day, another stole

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My stole from Amani Ya Juu (Peace from Above)

Today I took a quick trip into downtown DC, to the plaza in front of the US Supreme Court building. Before I started my rounds with my hospice patients, I put on my collar and this stole. The stole was made by refugee artists from Amani Ya Juu. It was the first stole given to me when I was ordained, and has a special place in my heart.

(Make sure you visit their website — see the beautiful things they have created, and read their stories!)

The artisans of Amani Ya Juu use their love of African textiles, their commitment to their community thriving, and their skills in creating beautiful items. My stole is just one of the items they make. But the beauty of their craft is just part of what I have learned from these women.It is their example of faithfulness in the face of horrible injustice. It is how they move past those experiences and find “the peace that surpasses all understanding.” They have learned to survive life’s twists and turns, and to make sure their community thrives with them.

It is this selflessness, this desire deep within them to serve others that inspires me in my ministry. I do it so imperfectly… but their example challenges me.

So I stood on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court this morning, with flurries and a stiff, cold breeze. There, I gathered with many other faith leaders to speak out…

…for those who are unjustly detained

…for those who are denied due process in our courts

…for the attack on our civil liberties — ALL of our civil liberties — by those who refuse to obey court injunctions, who defy our Constitution, and who act for selfish gain. 

…for eviscerating the progress made under Loretta Lynch in defending the rights of all persons of color. #BlackLivesMatter

I am compelled to respond because I believe the God I serve demands it. I am compelled to respond because I believe in the worth and value of my fellow humans. And I am compelled to respond because we have done enough waiting. We have given enough “chances.” The actions over the last ten days are sufficient.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

I am angry. Angry that the powerful do not use their power for the common good. Angry that elected officials are not governing in a way that benefits ALL of us — our country, our world, our future.

I am motivated. I have called, written and tweeted my elected officials. I have encouraged them to stand firm and defend our Constitution. I have pleaded with them to uphold “liberty and justice FOR ALL.”

On Sunday, I led this prayer… and I stand by every word, knowing that God will be with us as we stand up to injustice and bigotry.

LET US PRAY.

Lord God, we gather in your Presence, aware of your care for us and for the world. We ask for your Spirit to guide our words and our worship this morning.

Gracious God, the hungry are all around us. May we faithfully share of our pantries and cupboards, our money and our time, that they will be bountifully fed.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

Lord of all, we pray for our elected officials, that they will serve the people and defend and protect our Constitution. We hear the words of the spiritually empty, the proud, and those who abuse their power. We pray you will burden their hearts with your Truth and convict them by your Holy Spirit.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

God of all nations, we pray for those in legal limbo, whose immigration status is wrongfully blocked, who are doctors and teachers, researchers and laborers, parents and children. May your justice prevail and may your angels take charge of them and liberate them.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

Healer of the broken-hearted, we your children humbly repent for the ways we have not cared for the aliens and the strangers in our midst. Forgive us for our short-sightedness and selfishness. Give us courage to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. May our actions make a difference as we join with others who follow Christ.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

We pray all this in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Amen.

I do not understand the whys and breakdown of common decency that led to our country’s situation today. I lean on hope in a God who is more powerful than the power-obsessed. I am resting in that Peace from Above.

Pray with me, friends…

We must stick together and believe in God’s love for us and for all humanity.

Forgiveness and Alligator Shoes

shoes

EPhoto Credit: “Alligator Shoes”, © 2014 Robert Sheie, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

It was quite a shock to run into this man. I was getting some charting done with an eye on the clock, hoping to squeeze in one last patient for the day. I did not expect to see a nemesis from my past in a nursing home’s administrative suite!

At first I didn’t know for sure… for he always was a person who had a bit of swagger and bravado. He was a  man of high-priced, tailored suits and fancy alligator shoes.

And this man? He was looking desperate, slightly shabby, and selling photocopiers…

Really?

I blinked. Glanced over at him again…

Nope. That was the guy, all right. Could I leave without him seeing me? Maybe if I kept my head down and my focus on the charts…

Our eyes met. Crap. I smiled and went into my “public face” mode. (I confess. I acted polite, all the while dying inside.) We exchanged pleasantries. I managed to escape moments later, bemused by the emotional journey I traveled in just a few seconds. I was shaken at how all those feelings came boiling back up…

It was not a good memory. The feelings were slightly raw. Still.

He had lied about me to our superiors. Lied about me to our peers. Made every veiled, misogynistic remark he could about women in ministry. Put me into tears on more than one occasion with his snide remarks about my weight. Or judging me because I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom. Or smirked at my age. I felt self-righteous anger begin to rise…

And God said, “Forgive him.”

Lord, are you kidding me? After all I went through? And people were fired… And…

“Forgive him.”

I stewed about it the rest of the day. And then… I began my studies for an upcoming sermon, and read through the verses for Holy Week, including the Crucifixion. The passages on demonstrating forgiveness, from the heart, hit me… hard.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25. NIV

Yikes.

I prayed for this man, asking God to bless him (and knowing that he will never know). I prayed for my attitude. I prayed for my anger. And, true to the promises of God, I felt my burden of hurt lifted from me.

I have a focus and purpose in the Work of God in this world… and I am moving on to do it. God is merciful.

Blessed be.

Mercy: Stop for Human Beings

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Blessed are the merciful.
BUT… I don’t feel very merciful. I want to engage in some self-righteous holy kick-butt.
And that runs opposite to the call to be merciful.

For they shall obtain mercy…
Wait. Wait. WAIT A MINUTE! But what if they don’t deserve it?

I’m pretty sure Jesus did not say anything about “deserving” mercy. Quite the contrary.
I know, I know. But really? This person is… an idiot. A prejudiced asshat. A judgmental and mean-spirited person.

And by saying this… you are…
Ack. Great. Yeah… you’re right…


 

This is how my mind runs, anyway, as I deal with a situation that seems so UNFAIR. Even… (dare I say it??) Unbiblical.

My blood pressure goes up. My heart rate increases. I get that lovely feeling in my gut like I’ve tried to digest nails.

And in this moment, you have just witnessed what every preacher, pastoral counselor and chaplain face every time they think about offering good advice or a needed critique. Every time they honestly want to speak truth… but hear “hypocrite!” echoing in the back of their minds.

How can I possibly be this angry and hot under the collar? I am so unworthy of the grace of God! How can I preach justice and love kindness and walk humbly… when I’m so caught up in who I am and what I want?

Perhaps mercy demands acceptance that I carry this with loose hands, with an acceptance that this is not my situation to solve. There is no way to make amends. And there is no way that I can force a resolution, a reconciliation. I must accept that this is a God-sized task.

It is a moment to STOP for other human beings and allow God to work. (Hence, the photo at the top of this post.) Maybe it was googly-eye stuck on the sign, but I realized, as it caught my attention, that far too often I will walk right by (or OVER) a situation that demands… MERCY.

In the Latin confession, there is a prayer that is sung or chanted as congregants prepare for Holy Communion.

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

The root of eleison is translated oleos or mercy in the Greek New Testament. And even more striking is the connection to the Hebrew word, hesed. Translated as “love” or “lovingkindness”, hesed represents the convenient, ever-faithful love of God. In fact, it is so much a part or Essence of the BEING of God that it can’t be distinguished from the Presence of God. And even more importantly, hesed is how one demonstrates one’s  connection to God, living it out in the world. Giving to those who can’t give back. Not responding in kind with an angry,  cruel, or unnecessary rebuttal.

So when I internalize all this… it comes back to my sense of personal injustice and entitlement. For I expect, no, demand my rights. And I am asking for far more than I deserve, not considering the wants or needs of others.

The question is this: Can I release this moment or action to God’s Hands? Can I gently, carefully extricate myself from the burst of self-righteous, frustrated anger?

Blessed are the merciful… for they shall obtain mercy.

That’s something I know I need. And want to give back.

Watch out for human beings. Show Mercy.

 

Merciful

Photo Credit: “Blessed are the merciful_0894”, © 2007
James Emery, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

 

 

Unfinished: A perpetual state of being

 

This blog started with a title that (occasionally) makes people wonder. “Are you a composer?” They ask.

Uh… No.

I was fascinated by the story of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony when I took music history in my undergraduate studies. He wrote the first two movements and sketched out a possible third one. Though he lived several years after beginning the composition, he never completed it. What frustration he must have felt…

I know that feeling. There are dreams and goals that I have in mind for the year ahead. I know that by the end of the year, some of them will not be completed. It’s hard to accept that I’m constantly a work “in progress.” The perfectionist in me doesn’t like it. The realist I me knows I have to get over it.

We all have to learn how to live within the tension. I’ve thought a lot about this, and decided that I am more successful when I enjoy every moment of the journey, every aspect of the creative process. Even this meditative coloring has beauty in its unfinished state as I remember God walks with me on each part of this journey.

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
Isaiah 43:1-3a NIV