We all knew…and we did nothing…

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The mantras out of Hollywood these days seems to be, “We all knew…” and “Me too…” The intent is to demonize anyone who is accused of sexual misconduct by giving accusers support for their claims years…even decades…after an alleged event. Some accusations are very real and the aggressors need to be called out and held accountable.

I maintain that there are others who are accountable, although it’s not politically correct to call them out as well. I expect my opinion will enrage some, yet I am convinced we must honestly look at our ethical responsibilities in regard to knowing…and doing nothing.

Am I the only one who finds it amazing that there are those who have achieved status on the film industry star list who are just now claiming to have been abused as they made their way to the top? These are women who claim abuse when they were young and unknown, but chose to keep it quiet until recent events made it a popular choice to speak  up about their experiences and rage under the hashtag of “me too”.

Today a newsfeed told the story of male actor who claims abuse in the LGBTQ community…an abuse that occurred over 3 decades ago. The accused has no recollection of the situation, yet chose to apologize for the pain his accuser has carried for so many years. Outspoken members of this community have cried out in support of this young man with the claim, “We all knew.”

Really??? “We all knew!” The next logical statement is, “and we did nothing”.

This is how depravity continues. How can we justify experiencing something and saying nothing to preserve a career? How do we know of the abuse of a teen…a child…and say nothing? Personally, I can’t get over the inherent arrogance and self-righteousness of someone who purports indignation after an atrocity, or alleged atrocity, is made public. Where is the honor in that?

Let me explain further. I understand that we keep some situations hidden in our hearts because they are too painful to share. I also get that as we progress through the years following our horror that we choose not to open the wound by talking about it. Yet, even though we long for our experience to remain private, we have an overwhelming responsibility to those who come behind us to protect them from what we have experienced.

Who among us would allow a daughter or son to spend one-on-one time with a relative who abused us? Or with a teacher, coach or priest who tore away our innocence? We would move mountains to protect our own from the pain we carry day in and day out.

What keeps a well known actor or actress from speaking up? As we give to the future, are we not also responsible for the protection of those who come behind us? It’s more than adopting orphans from impoverished nations, speaking out on gun control or paying lip service to equal rights for women, minorities, and marriage rights. When push comes to shove, we must also find our voices when “we all knew” something wasn’t right or when we cry out “me too” after hearing about a shared experience of sexual exploitation at the hands of someone in a powerful position.

Is it easy to speak up? Absolutely not! But, no one promised us living life as an ethical, compassionate, loving human being would be easy.  God calls us to step into history. We think of Isaiah and Samuel with their hesitant, but definite, “Here I am…” Where is our response to those in need? Will it only come when it’s comfortable to say “Me too”? Or will we step boldly into history, leading the cry that resonates in and through our culture to change those things that are wrong? Will we be the one that steps out in faith…and fear…to challenge the powerful?

Or will we remain quiet to evil and wrong while untold numbers of others face our fate simply because to speak up might change the course of our own, personal history?

We are not called to save ourselves. We are called to love God and love our neighbor. We also know that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another. That doesn’t always mean we need to die for another. Sometimes it simply means that we step out of our own life dreams long enough to deliver another or others from a devastating situation. It only makes sense that if we know something or someone is abusive, we must speak out so that our story never becomes someone else’s story…even if it means not getting that next big movie or television contract.

So, my message to the indignant Hollywood types who are busy hashtagging and saying, “We all knew…”, well, you knew and did nothing. Where is the honor in that?

For the rest of us, we need to consciously see where we are called to change a distorted historical trajectory by responding, “Here I am…” to God’s plea of “Whom shall I send?”

 

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Right now…

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A group of vegans in Berkley, California protested a butcher shop until the owners agreed to put a sign in their window about animal rights. Their ultimate goal is to make it unlawful to sell meat anywhere in Berkley.

White supremacists protested the removal of a Civil War memorial statue in Charlottesville, VA and were met with a counter protest from anti-racist and anti-fascist demonstrators. A woman died as a result of an angry man focused on superiority.

The president tweets and the media pounces on ‘his intent’ by twisting each of his actual or missing words looking for an assumed intent to support their agenda of who he is and what he stands for.

Someone spews to a mutual friend distorted perceptions of another’s actions fueled by  anger, hurt and jealousy. The story spreads from friend to friend until it is so well known that it becomes a distorted truth.

All the while we cling to noble reasons for our behavior. We are acting out of religious beliefs; secular altruism; distorted world views; personal frustration; boredom; elevated perception of self; crowd mentality; or an array of other twisted beliefs that fuel dangerous and twisted behaviors.

We use our understanding of God to justify atrocious behaviors when indeed God’s plan for creation had nothing to do with hate, lies, violence, exclusivity or superiority.

We ennoble ourselves when we align ourselves with a group that gives itself title to determining who is moral and who is not. Then, we shout our opinion never taking a moment to listen to the other who is, most likely, as quick to shout back their opposing opinion.

We spin local and world events in a way that fits our ultimate agenda. Have you ever looked at the headlines of a conservative media outlet and compared the same event to a liberal source’s headlines? It’s hard to tell it’s the same event making it even more difficult to find fact and truth.

In our personal relationships we become hurt when someone doesn’t cave into our perceptions. We rant and spew, hoping they will see our perspective…and when they don’t, we tell our side to the story to anyone who will listen – hoping to gain their allegiance making inappropriate categories of us against them.

We want to be special, exclusive and above the other. We claw our way to the top with words, demonstrations, religions, economics and war.

And for what?

We are created to live and love in God’s world…period. Not to convince, connive, plot, scheme or manipulate anyone into living life based on our personal litany of rules. We are to come together to correct wrongs by collaborating with those who have different experiences and wisdoms than we do. It means discerning who we are and Whose we are in this amazing creation and living as if that matters. It means understanding that we will all be better off if we make decisions based on what’s good for all – myself and my neighbor – instead of simply looking at what I want or need to be to gain power.

Don’t you know the Divine, by whatever name you call out to – God, Allah, Yahweh –  weeps when we distort our created need for love and relationship into a scramble for wealth, power, and superiority?

During the turbulence of the 60’s and 70’s, a group called the Youngbloods recorded a song written by Dino Valenti. The pleading lyrics never grow old…

Love is but a song to sing
Fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now

Some may come and some may go
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment’s sunlight
Fading in the grass

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now.

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand (listen!)
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command.

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now

Right now!
Right now!

This has to stop…now…

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The Kathy Griffin controversy has completely missed the point. Yes, we have freedom of speech in the United States of America. And, yes, when public opinion and sources of income cringed at her form of twisted comedy, she ‘apologized’. It was a general apology directed at no one. Just an ambiguous “Oh, gosh…I guess I crossed a line” form of apology.

I would like to suggest that Ms Griffin consider whom she affected with her twisted and dark attempt at comedy. The obvious victims are President Trump and his family. Unfortunately both sides of our country’s political war are to blame. We have hung presidents in effigy; we have maligned the integrity of our elected leaders through biased media; we have made those who serve our nation in the executive, legislative and judicial branch into dysfunctional caricatures ; we have impersonated grossly exaggerated traits in the name of comedy; and the list goes on.

Sidebar: And we wonder why we have a problem with bullying in our schools…another topic for another day…

There are others who have been deeply affected by her hateful and self-serving attempt at humor. Does anyone remember Daniel Pearl? He was one of many who was murdered by radical terrorists. His head was severed from his body and held for the world to see and absorb the depth of threat this savage group posed to all of us. There were others…James Foley, Peter Kassig and others who we never knew their names including innocent children. And this is a symbol to be used as a form of political comedy? Ask the families of the dead if they are laughing now. Ask them if they see the humor. Rather, a sincere and heartfelt apology might be appropriate.

A day doesn’t go by that we don’t read about another terrorist attack. Manchester, Brussels, Paris, Afghanistan, New York, Florida, San Bernadino, Boston…to name a few. Innocent people, including children, have been killed by terrorist suicide bombers. The headlines never stop. They keep increasing, terrifying and numbing us to the fact that this isn’t the way God, or by whatever name you call the Divine, created life to be.

I remember being a young woman and reading about bombings in Northern Ireland or conflicts in Israel. I wondered what it would be like to live under such circumstances – never knowing where it is safe. It seemed so foreign and unacceptable. Our worries started and ended with concerns about car accidents and cancer. Never did we imagine that no place, not even a house of worship, is totally safe. Yet, here we are today. We consider where we go and what we do based on the threat level and whether or not the chance is worth it. Some simply stay home. Some try to protect themselves with weapons. Most of us go about life as usual, only more aware of who and what is surrounding us.

So, Ms Griffin, here are several more groups of people who deserve your apology. We have to remember all of the souls that have been lost to these vicious barbarians and the families who suffer their loss. We have to think of the women who have been brutally victimized simply because they are women. We have to think about the children who have been tortured and killed, or those who have been brainwashed into becoming the next generation of merciless beasts. We have to think about the men who have been butchered because they couldn’t and wouldn’t join the ‘forces’. A lame “oops” isn’t going to soothe their pain.

Finally, we cannot forget the armed forces that fight daily to change the course of this scourge. There are young people from most countries in the free world who sacrifice to allow us the comforts of freedom, including free speech. I might also add to this list the families of these young soldiers and sailors; the families of the commanders, admirals and generals; and the mothers, fathers, children and spouses of the fallen as those who need to hear your humble gratitude for all they have given to you so that you ‘have the right’ to defame them in the name of free speech. Which, I might add, is exactly what you did when you used an exceedingly savage symbol in your ‘funny’ hate-filled picture.

This has to stop…now! It isn’t about a comedian making fun of a president whom she doesn’t agree with. This is about each and every one of us understanding how our actions affect others. It’s about living with compassion and character. It’s about humility. It’s about living in relationship with those around us, even when we don’t agree with them. It’s about changing the wrongs in the world through working together. It’s about so much more than getting the last laugh no matter who it hurts. It’s about knowing that no person or group should be the butt of our jokes no matter what! It’s about knowing that we have the right to disagree, but never the right to maliciously malign another person.

Ellen DeGeneres once said she would never make a joke at someone else’s expense. This, friends, is a great comedian and compassionate woman.

Ms Griffin? Not so much…

 

 

 

 

Leggings, rules and anarchy…

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Several recent news articles have gone viral. One, in particular, tells the story of three teenage girls who were not allowed to fly on a large, national airline because they were wearing leggings. Another is about a family in Georgia that was denied the right to pick a surname for their daughter. Other articles emphasize the right of cities to claim they are sanctuaries for those who live in our country illegally. All of these stories have something in common. They are all stories people who deny that the rules apply to them.

The fact that three girls chose to wear leggings while flying from Denver to Minneapolis isn’t the issue. The small print clarified that the girls were flying on corporate passes, a benefit enjoyed by those who work for most of our national airlines. The airline in question was interviewed and specified that they have rules to be followed when such a pass is used. The rule was either ignored or disregarded when the young ladies showed up, ready to board the airplane, wearing spandex leggings.

A young family in Georgia would like to choose a surname for their child that isn’t either the mother’s or the father’s last name or a combination of their names. This is not consistent with Georgia law. A unique surname can be selected if the parents apply for a name change after the child is originally named based on the law. In this case, the parents disagree with the law and are fighting to not comply with it.

We have cities in this country that offer sanctuary to immigrants who crossed our nations borders illegally. This creates a huge emotional and legal conundrum! Yet, the underlying message is that our laws mean little to those who have come here illegally as well as to the cities who refuse to follow federal guidelines for immigration.

Of course, there are profoundly agonizing reasons why people have risked their lives to cross our borders; why they did not have the time or resources to recognize and proceed through the ‘proper’ channels; and why cities choose to offer them sanctuary without the fear of deportation.

Please note, this is not a dissertation on opening our arms to the weary, weak, and those in dire need of a safe haven they can call home. This is about rules and who is bound by them and who is not.

You see, when we pick and choose the rules or laws that we follow based on what we agree with and what we don’t agree with, we are walking into a dangerous landscape. Leggings on an airplane are not a problem. Choosing a name for a child is not a problem. Offering hope and a home for someone who is simply looking for a better life is not a problem.

However, embedded in each of these situations is a quandary that should garner all of our attention. The problem is when individuals decide what rules and laws should apply to them and which ones should not.

My daughter was driving to work today and came across an intersection with a green light in her direction. A bus was in the right lane, stopped for passengers to get on and off. As she approached, a man walked into her lane from in front of the bus. Yes, he was in the crosswalk. No, the light in his direction did not give him the right to cross at that point in time. He chose to cross against a red light on a busy city street. Because of good breaks on my daughter’s car and his quick reflexes, he was not injured. However, his decision to ignore the rules almost cost him his life. He knew the rules, but – for whatever reasons – chose not to follow them.

You see, dear reader, we as individuals cannot pick and choose which rules and laws we like…or not…and follow them accordingly…or not. Our obligation is to understand that rules and laws were made for a reason. If they are outdated or inappropriate, it is our privilege and right to go through the proper channels to change the rules that need changing. To repeat, that is indeed our right!

It is also the right of others to have their voices heard. And, whether or not we like the outcome, it is our responsibility to follow the rules and laws that come about as a result of our collective conversations until said rules and laws are changed. It is also our responsibility to speak out and work relentlessly to change those laws that oppress anyone’s undeniable rights and freedoms without deference to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any of the litany of labels we use to demoralize or marginalize others.

I am not naive enough to think that all of our rules and laws are perfect. I also am not foolish enough to think that it is an unjustified assault on our personal freedom when we are held accountable to a standard. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we can speak out about injustice and work toward change – through the proper channels. If we make unilateral choices and personal preferences the determining factor about what rules and laws we decide to follow, no matter how seemingly unimportant the rule or how deeply nobel or necessary the cause, we are paving the road to anarchy one decision at a time.

 

 

Relationships only work if…

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Relationships only work if…

The fill-in-the-blank on that one seems obvious. In reality, it is subject to many deviations from reality. Children come home from school professing to hate a former best friend because they didn’t agree on something. Group mentality prevents one faction from embracing another because of loyalties to the club, gang, team, religion or whatever chasm divides them into rivals or enemies. A spouse has expectations that aren’t met and withdraws rather than entering conversation toward understanding. Relationships…

We rant about those who think, look, speak, worship or love differently than we do, all the while circling ourselves with those who reflect our views and attitudes in a disturbing attempt to be on the right side…as if that alone gives us worth as a person. Indeed, that thought process simply causes us to diminish the perceived worth of those who do not meet our beliefs and expectations. Relationships…

We have come to a place in our society where groups pride themselves on polarization and vilifying those who don’t share their mandated common cause. I read a news article today that gave permission to hate someone who voted for a candidate the reader didn’t like. Seriously!!! Our freedom to vote for the candidate of our choice was leveled to a school yard fight. It’s the old “my way or the highway” concept of how to get along in life – a philosophy that has never worked to promote a healthy relationship.

What ever happened to listening? You know, two ears and one mouth…use them proportionately? What about listening to another’s views, beliefs and attitudes openly and honestly to understand what they think, feel and love? What about finding common ground and growing out of that commonality? What about recognizing that life experiences lead all of us in different directions and to different understandings? And, what about sharing our collective wisdoms to find solutions that are cooperative and greater than any one perspective could ever produce? Relationships!!!

Instead, we tend to dig in our heels and deny that any mindset other than the one we share with our cronies has validity. We jump into conflict and believe resolution will come only when we get our way. And, we believe this at all cost. Friends, it is where we are at in our country, our neighborhoods, our families, our churches, our offices, our schools… We have become the Polarized States of America. Unity is gone and we believe it won’t return until  everyone else buys into our narrow-minded rhetoric. Be very clear, it is all narrow minded rhetoric when it becomes a rabidly held belief, no matter how liberal or conservative the motives are.

Our demise will come from our inability to listen…to understand…to believe in the good of someone who disagrees with us…to respect differing opinions. All we really need to do is listen and understand that our own hot air professions aren’t the only game in town. Finally, the goal shouldn’t be about who wins and who loses…the goal should be about how we nurture relationships.

And, relationships only work if…

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   – Maya Angelou

When the march is over…

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We march for racial equality; for candidates and against candidates; for women’s rights; for refugees; for immigration; for border walls and for no border walls. We march for causes that affect a few and causes that affect many. Some marches are joyful, and some are filled with sadness and pain. Some marches destroy businesses, homes and cars while others are peaceful. Some stop traffic. Some perpetuate caustic and potentially unrealistic perspectives, while others promote excitement and hope.

But, at the end of the day…what happens when the march is over? What happens to the children, the women, the immigrants, the refugees and the causes we marched for? What happens to the racial divide we hope to bridge and the politicians we hope to silence? What happens when we go home to our families and our lives…when the march is over?

I am not a demonstrative person. A personal philosophy of mine is, “When you know what red tape you are facing, figure out a way to cut through it.” Red tape doesn’t go away through demonstration. Most often it becomes a red ravine with ‘we-uns’ on one side and ‘you-uns’ on the other. We polarize and spew disbelief and hate at those who don’t think the way we think or believe the solutions we propose. The more we demonstrate, the deeper the ravine becomes until we can’t even see that our way is not the only game in town. We become encapsulated in a solution that solves our agenda without realizing that said solution may be cause for another to demonstrate just as earnestly and violently as we just did.

You see, we are not all the same. We all come into life innocent and full of hope. Life, then,  pulls us in a myriad of directions to form us into the people we are today. For some, life is full of freedom and trust. For others it is merely something to survive. Some are strong, while others succumb to less desirable paths simply to make it from day to day. Marches happen when the stronger people see the injustices placed on others and take on the cause to improve opportunities for the marginalized. That is a noble cause!

However, I continue to ask – What happens when the march is over?

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent questions is, ‘what are you doing for others?'”

When the march is over, what are we doing to promote our cause? What are we doing to improve racial relations? Are we lifting men and women in poverty up so that they are able to find the freedom from financial devastation? Are we teaching and mentoring children who are struggling with horrible home lives to see the value in who they are as individuals in this world? Are we doing something as simple as meeting our neighbors?

Unfortunately, when the march is over, many will go home and talk about the march as if the event alone will improve deplorable conditions. They will build a coalition of people who think as they do and march again and again, just to prove a point.

But, what does the march do for those in need of change?

John F. Kennedy aptly said, “No amount of laws can make a man do right.”

We can lobby congress, meticulously select judges, and write platforms at caucuses. We can campaign for our candidates and put signs in our yards. Yet, all of this is simply relying on others to do what we should be doing ourselves. Each and every one of us has the ability to roll up our sleeves and to start or join organizations focused on giving hope to those who have none. It can be a food pantry, a youth program, substance abuse mentoring, volunteer tutoring, prison counseling or simply participating in an organization with people who see life differently than you do because of who they are and where they come from.

And – we need to do it without judgment. We all have a story to tell. When we listen to others tell the story of who they are and where they come from , we will expand our compassion beyond our limited experiences and see the world through a different lens. Little by little we all will grow together as God’s people, loving others as we love ourselves.

The march may or may not be step one. What I know for sure is that work needs to happen when the march is over. The surest way for change to occur is when we step outside of our lives and enter into the lives of others as individuals who care, who can offer hope, and who can help one another navigate this crazy thing called life. The challenge is staggering, but it can happen if we take it one step at a time and, quite realistically, one person at a time. Mistakes will be made and we will all need to seek forgiveness and grace…one step at a time, one person at a time.

Where will you be when the march is over?

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ and I said, ‘Here I am, Lord.'”     Isaiah 6:8   

On coffee shops and listening skills…

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imagesIt was the typical, “May I take your order?” Sure! I ordered three beverages – one for Don, one for myself, and one for Lucy the Puppy-girl. The summer weather finally gave us a reprieve from the heat and we took the opportunity to walk to our local coffee shop. Lucy loves to drink her water out of the plastic ‘grande’ cup. No ice please, and save the lid for someone else. Really, she doesn’t care. By the way, we haven’t been able to teach her the finer points of using a straw. It’s something about the oral musculature of a mature canine that makes the straw an impossibility. You can save the straw for someone else, too.

The barista smiled at me, thanked me for my order, which, by the way, included directions for Lucy’s plain cup of water and a request for ‘room’ in my iced coffee. Coffee without cream is like bread without butter. It’s okay, but it definitely falls short of being that spectacular blend of great taste and complete personal comfort. You know, that ‘ahhhhh’ moment when the first taste passes you lips. I am a Minnesota girl. Believe me, cream and butter make our Scandinavian hearts happy!

One of our beverages was completed as requested. One out of three. One. Only one.

Now, the caveat here is that the coffee shop was not crowded. I was the only one in line to order. Another customer was waiting for a beverage and the drive through line was virtually nonexistent.

Only one of our beverages was completed as requested!

This in and of itself is not a big deal. Through conversation we eventually reached a place where I received the drinks I ordered and life went on.

The thing is, only one out of three – and I might add, three simple drinks – was initially prepared correctly. This had nothing to do with the skill of the barista. It had everything to do with the ability to listen. Listening is becoming a lost art.

Take the evening news, for example. Conflict is main topic. How often do you see someone yelling to be heard about something? How often do we hear about this side or that side or some side that disagrees with something someone else says or does? It’s rampant! Whether it’s about racial relations; political agendas; a neighborhood riff; changes in educational structures, boundaries or agendas; or a myriad of other person-to-person conflicts, the method of dealing with it is to cling to one’s own perspective while devaluing the beliefs, thoughts, or rights of another.

Sometimes, in the midst of conversation or conflict, we don’t even know what the other perspective is simply because we refuse to listen.

Cell phones and ear buds connect us to the world, yet we tend to spend our time listening to things that we already agree with. Is this really listening? Or are we simply reinforcing what we already believe?

Facebook posts and memes are often followed by visceral, angry comments from those who disagree and feel free to hit out words on a keyboard that let the person who offended our sensibilities know how naive, silly, uneducated or just plain stupid they are. Yet, did we actually read with the desire to understand a view point different than our own? Or was the intention to prove how right we are at another’s expense?

Who we are and what we think come from a lifetime of experiences. Some folks allow those situations to become a wall around their understanding that brick by brick…thought by thought…constructs a limited perspective of indignant self-righteousness. We have all been around those who refuse to listen objectively to concepts that are not familiar to them. They become closed minded, encapsulated in an understanding of the world that belongs only to them and those who agree with them.

The thing is, we live in a huge, messy community of people who have even bigger and messier life experiences to draw on. Those big, messy experiences lead to understandings about life that are as different as the colors in a jumbo box of Crayola’s. Any child knows that weaving those colors together in and around a design or picture can lead to something better than any individual color offers by itself. Yet, the colors have to work together in harmony or they will become a dissonant hodgepodge.

Life is like those colors. We all have something to offer. Our beauty as a society is dependent on weaving our diverse ideas, beliefs and perspectives into a tapestry that represents the diversified hopes of all who walk this crazy path called, ‘life’.

To do this, we need to listen. Maybe it starts with a coffee shop barista learning to look a weary customer in the eye and hear the words that make up a simple order. Maybe it’s a conversation between friends about political beliefs that are diametrically opposed, but each one is intent on understanding the other and how they came to believe what they know to be true. Maybe it’s a journalist who attempts to capture both sides of a emotionally charged story. Maybe it’s simply letting our ego’s take a break long enough to realize that someone else has a perspective that we must consider.

Maybe…maybe…maybe, it’s about listening quietly and intently. Listening as if there is nothing else we need in the moment except to understand the voice of another.

 

 

Pink popsicles and Biblical perspective…

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UnknownIt can be a struggle to deal with theological interpretations simply because our individual worldview determines the lens through which we understand the words our ancient sisters and brothers penned, quilled, or carved in stone. Unfortunately, it is as common for that lens to be myopic as it is for it to be just a bit foggy, knowing that whatever we think is ‘right’ is affected by our life experiences. Who we are and where we come from determines how we understand and respond to that which we call The Divine.

You see, God is more than we can possibly comprehend and when we try to wrap God and God’s will in a neat package of rules-to-live-by we will miss the deeper concept of living a life of compassion for those around us.

Let me explain. The ancient texts for the world’s great religions are written by…well, people who were inspired by The Divine. Some conclude that this inspiration was given to selected individuals as a command to document exactly what was dictated to them by God. Others suppose that the sacred writings are recorded events to tell the story of those places where God and humanity rub against each other.  The lens through which we read these stories will determine our perspective on who God is and who we are in God’s world.

Think of it like interpreting the following story.

One day a little girl asked her mother for a pink popsicle. The girl’s mother tried to find pink popsicles at the grocery store, but couldn’t. There were green popsicles, red popsicles, orange popsicles and even blue popsicles, but no pink popsicles. The mother decided to make pink popsicles. She bought sticks and popsicle molds to make the classic double popsicles like she found at the store, only this time they would be pink. She mixed water and flavorings with just the right amount of food color to make the most perfect pink popsicles. The next day the little girl asked for a popsicle and was delighted to have a pink popsicle. Now, the little girl wasn’t alone when she asked for the pink popsicle. Her friend looked longingly at the pink popsicle. At that point the girl quickly snapped the popsicle into it’s two parts and presented her friend with a pink popsicle. They sat side by side on the back steps, enjoying all that they had been given.

Now, some will read this simplistic story and determine that pink popsicles are the only color or flavor we should desire because that’s what was described in the story. Others may see the love of the mother for the child. Still others may see it as a story about sharing and gratitude for what they were given.

In reality, the details mean nothing without understanding the big picture. The pink popsicle could have been replaced with a cheeseburger, a bag of chips or a paisley umbrella. It simply doesn’t matter what the object was. The objective of the story is to experience the mother’s love and the child’s gratitude and sharing.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The final words are, “Now, go and do likewise.” We understand this to mean that when we see a need in another, we are to do what we can to help them through their time of struggle. The details set the stage for a story about the deeper meaning of respecting and loving others in a way that surpasses our cultural, and sometimes religious, norms. It’s about cleaning the lens through which we view the world long enough to see all that God created and know that it is good.

The thing is, we can get caught up in the details of this story as well. We can read it in a way that the Pharisee becomes an example of all that is wrong with Jewish leaders, as does the Levite for those who make the laws. We might see the Samaritan as a claim that those marginalized in the world are really better people than those in power. None of these are the intended message! They are details that can divert us from the depth and truth of this story if we let them. It’s kind of like making our focus pink popsicles instead of love, gratitude and sharing.

These are easy examples. The difficulty comes when we read passages that seem to speak to the issues that divide our communities today. It wasn’t long ago that slavery was supported, and condemned, by religious people – depending on how they read the Bible. Women have been excluded from ministry and leadership positions in many denominations based on Biblical interpretation. Hate has been spewed about issues of sexual preference and sexual identity…again based on the lens through which we read these beautiful, complex, ancient writings. We live in a world divided by religious perspective when indeed the ancients gave us stories about God’s love for all that God created and in knowing that, we should be inspired to live life embracing and sharing that same kind of love.

Instead, we point fingers and divide ourselves into groups that we feel are acceptable to God. Of course, the group we find ourself in is always the group that we think is somehow special to God. We, in our broken human form, continue to power-grab for God’s love as if it is limited and we need to claim it as our own for our little, exclusive group. No wonder God weeps.

It is time to sit on the back steps and share that pink popsicle with gratitude for all that has been given to us by God the Father, the Mother, the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer. And…we need to understand that, even though the story tells us about two little girls sharing and enjoying the day, it could have been two little boys, a boy and a girl, a girl and her mother, a boy and his father, a child and an elderly neighbor or any combination of humanity. The intended message is not in the details of who experienced the gift, it’s in the message of how the gift was freely given, received and shared.

And that, friends, is how we need to read scripture. It’s about meeting God, the author of love, the creator of all that we know. God, who was truly delighted by God’s own creation and claimed that all of it was good. God, who loves us more deeply that we can know and longs for us to walk with God. God who gives freely. God whom human words can never fully describe…

It’s always about the deeper message of who we are and Whose we are…and living as if it matters.

 

 

 

Surprise in a prayer…

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Mike offered to start the class in prayer. It was the standard variety giving thanks and asking for guidance as we began our discussion. Then he said something that caught me completely by surprise. His words were, “Give us questions to our answers.”

Think about it a minute. We all find ourselves engulfed in moments when we want to pummel God with a bazillion questions blasting The Divine for our grief, frustration, depression, anguish, loneliness…well, the list is endless. And, we want answers! Life isn’t fair and we tend to point out to God just how unreasonable our circumstances are.

Yet, what if we actually found embedded in our discontent a litany of questions designed to shake us out of our arbitrary assuredness of what life should be? What if, like Job, we faced a series of questions designed to let us know that God loves us so much that in spite of our rhetoric, God continues to nudge us toward becoming all that God created us to be? What if those questions shifted our understanding from self-magnification to that of what it means to live in God’s world as a single part of the fullness of God’s creation? And…what if we lived as if that mattered?

Questions to our answers.

We can become complacent in our understanding of right behavior based on doctrines and dogmas. We have answers for what we believe and in whom we believe in an attempt to justify why we do what we do…sometimes to the point of rationalizing horrible behavior. I read this morning about a family…and I use the word loosely…in Pakistan who strangled and burned an 18 year old daughter and sister because she eloped with the man she loved, a man who was not accepted by the people who shared her DNA. “Family honor” had to be restored. What??? And this is somehow based on religious precepts?

Most world religions have a base of compassion. Radical interpretations of sacred texts can result in factions that pull away from the concept of getting along with each other. Even in Christianity we have crazy people who think it is somehow acceptable to preach hate and violence. And for what??? To preserve an answer??? To keep thinking that we are right and the rest of the world is wrong??? To give us exclusive membership to the Righteous Club???

What if we put our rhetorical answers to a simple test? Are we clinging to a concept that belittles another or a group of others? Does our ‘answer’ give us justification for verbal or physical abuse of another? Do we hide behind our perceived notions of religion to exclude those who share different beliefs? Do we take time to listen and understand those who see life in a way that is unfamiliar to us?

Questions to our answers.

We must be comfortable questioning, questioning and questioning again what compassion looks in each and every situation we find ourselves in to limit the extreme division and polarization plaguing our culture  One day it may simply be holding the door at Target for that mom struggling to corral 3 small children. Another day it may be joining a conversation with someone who is struggling with the trials of life. Hopefully there will also be a day when compassion pulls us to the other side of the city; to the other side of the aisle; to the other place of worship; to the other perspective on life long enough to question our answers and realize that others also have answers that may be contrary to our own. Then, we must pray that we can find answers to our questions that are formed out of and through our conversations and the resulting realization that our previous answers may be painfully wrong. Maybe then we can form new answers that are broader and less exclusive. Maybe then we can live harmony where compassion constantly and consistently  leads us to question our answers, allowing us to find that sweet spot of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

We-uns and you-uns…

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imagesWe-uns and you-uns. Us and them. Republicans and democrats. My neighborhood, school or church and your neighborhood, school or church. Christian or Muslim or athiest or Jewish. American citizen or immigrant. Male or female. Haves and have-nots. Baptist or Episcopal. Liberal or conservative. Straight or gay. Black or white.

Whatever group is identified lets us know where we belong and where we do not. We have successfully developed a world seeped in separation. You are either part of ‘us’ or you are one of ‘them’. When you get right down to it, we either don’t really like ‘them’, or, even worse, they are simply invisible to us. It is easier and gentler on our egos to cling to those whom we know, the groups where we understand the rules or those who accept us with all of our foibles and warts. Oh, it gets worse. Our human nature causes us to inappropriately elevate our group above the others making us and ours special and right. The others are simply naive, wrong, stupid, silly or naive. We have come to a point where we neglect to respect the fact that life experiences lead us to different places and understandings, ultimately internalizing the bogus opinion that we cannot possibly learn from or learn to love others who are ‘not like us’.

We-uns and you-uns. The underlying implication is that if you aren’t part of us, you are one of them and they aren’t worthy of our time.

You disagree with me? Think about it. We are caught up in recent worldwide bombings. Our media tends to focus on how many Americans are killed. It’s as if those are the only lives that matter. Tell that to the Pakistani families who are engulfed in sorrow or the Belgium survivors who are preparing to bury a loved one. Us and them…

Polarizations constantly challenge us. Who do we socialize with? What parts of town do we visit? Where do we spend our time? How well do we understand the perspectives of others that are not familiar to us? How much time do we spend talking through problems with the very real understanding that our view point is not the only viable alternative. Do we cling to our degrees and positions so mightily that we forget someone outside of our group could have insights that will make a difference? Whom do we listen to? Whom do we shun?

The very real problem is when we surround ourselves with similarly thinking others, we can become locked into a uniform perspective that tends be narrow and prejudicial. We begin to think that all people who are part of another group think, act, talk, dress and eat the same. They like the same things, make the same mistakes and listen to the same music. We forget that the ‘others’ are like us with unique skills, insights and ways of looking at life. Instead, we pigeon hole them into categories based on something other than what we actually know about them as a person, most likely because we never took the time to actually know them as a person.

We recently celebrated Easter. Families dressed up in pastel dresses and seersucker suits, enjoyed brunches, planned egg hunts, and slowed down enough to celebrate this Christian holy day. Some even took time out of their holiday events to spend time in worship. It’s as if we have forgotten who and what we are dedicating this day to. Is it the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?  And…knowing that how we live our lives is the greatest thing we can do to honor him? Or is it a chance to kiss winter good-bye with thoughts of bunnies, flowers and spring clothes?

Jesus was the great equalizer. He didn’t care if you were a Samaritan, a woman, a tax collector, a child, a Roman soldier or an invalid. He didn’t cling to his merry band of 12 and make jokes about those who weren’t part of his ‘in’ crowd. Instead, he spoke with whomever he came in contact with…not shunning, not judging…rather listening and accepting.

He didn’t know the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

I am cynical. I listen to ‘good Christians’ bash those whom they have decided are not worthy. Jesus never did this. I see educated people slam others for their ideas, stating that ‘the other’ doesn’t know what they are talking about. Jesus didn’t do this. Our media pounces on differences, inciting people to pick sides and hate those who are part of the opposition. Nope…not Jesus. We can verbalize what he taught, pontificate on how he lived his life and theologize the depth of his love and compassion. Yet, when we observe the actions of those around us… and, if we are honest, of ourselves…it’s easy to question who or what we actually memorialize on Easter.

I wonder how many more Easters we will need to celebrate before we realize that it’s not about we-uns and you-uns. The real message asks us to ponder who we think we are in God’s world and how we will show love and respect for all who occupy it.