Lent, leaves and new life…

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13078766-girl-walking-a-dog-in-park-in-spring-silhouette-layered-one-in-the-series-of-similar-imagesThe snow finally melted and an occasional robin could be seen rummaging through our bird feeder. My neighbor spent an unseasonably warm afternoon in his garden; gently raking away decaying leaves to reveal the bold tips of iris, crocus and tulips peaking though the soil, brilliantly green against the dark earth as if to herald the promise of spring and new life.

It gave me pause to ponder. Is there something like leaves forming a protective barrier in my life? A barrier that needs to go away so I, too, can welcome newness in life? I suspect most of us have them. They tend to flutter over us during times of emotional turmoil. I also suspect many of us keep our leaves a bit longer than necessary simply because they shelter us from something or someone we think we need protection from. Then, over time, they become such an entrenched part of us that we let them cover our potential for living renewed, restored and refreshed in this crazy world. Some of those leaves have names, like “fear of failure”, “over commitment”, “entitlement”, “complacency”, “impatience”, “blame” and the list goes on.

It happened at about 2:00am. My mind was twisting around the day that was theoretically laid to rest about five hours earlier. But, as it so often occurs in the female brain, closed eyes become a screen for an instant replay of the day. I suppose that means there is unfinished business or something hanging, like a task or conversation that needs to be resolved. Whatever the reason, it’s frustrating! This particular unsettled night revolved around more angles than a complex geometric diagram and refused to choose any predictable path. I finally put it, and my weary self, to rest by pulling out that indispensable iPhone and writing a note to myself. It read:

We go through life with the delusion that another’s perception makes us who we are when the only thing that matters is our understanding of who we were created to be in God’s world.

I guess the light of day filtered the depth of those thoughts a bit reminding me that there are things in our lives that make it difficult to recognize who we truly are. Through words and actions people tell us who they think we are or who they want us to be. Sometimes they are motivated by their own comfort or benefit; sometimes they are right and we are encouraged by their insights; and sometimes they are wrong, yet we begin to doubt who we are and Whose we are because of their words. Yet, like the fall leaves remaining in a spring garden, we need to take time to gently rake away the doubts so we can continue moving toward the self we were created to be.

This brings us to Lent and the tradition of giving something up for the 40 days leading toward Easter. I have heard this described as a spiritual discipline designed to let us know how deeply damaged we are and how desperately we need salvation. I have also heard Lent portrayed as a time to focus on our personal list of foibles as if pondering our inherent awfulness will lead to anything positive, let alone new life. It’s as if Lent is a time when we are supposed to brow beat, self flagellate and generally focus on everything negative we have ever been or done as a means to convince ourselves that we are nothing but trouble in need of a great deal of grace. Wow! That’s depressing…

Lent has also been more positively described as a time to let go of the things that hold us back, keeping us from becoming all that God created us to be. A time to reflect on the things that are keeping us from entering the complete fullness of the relationship God longs to have with us; to repent those things, which simply means to turn away from them, replacing them with a more positive behavior; and rejoice that God loves us unimaginably and wants us to shine in the world with the new life freely offered and given to us.

I have made several failed attempts at giving up chocolate for lent. I just can’t see the point in it and, as a friend told me, “Lent is not a diet.” Lent is supposed to be something like the leaves…something to remove so that something else can grow. Several years ago I gave up shopping, much to my budget’s delight! By the third week, the grip of the mall lessened. I found myself sinking into gratitude for what was and not continually longing for something I didn’t have. Another year I gave up an item every day. My closets have never been so clean and I was again humbled by the unnecessary abundance that can clutter the importance of life.

So, what about this year? What will actually make a lasting difference in my perception of who I am in God’s world? What warm and comforting leaves do I need to let go of so that I can fully embrace who I am and Whose I am in God’s world? What sprouts of new and refreshed life do I need to nurture and allow to bloom as I navigate, and often stumble, through life? All of these are deep and difficult questions, worthy of a long walk outside where the fresh air and new life of spring will most certainly add some clarity to the answers.

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What are you waiting for…

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UnknownThis week wraps up Advent, the liturgical season of waiting and preparation. Theology tells us we are waiting, as our ancient brothers and sisters did, for Emmanuel – the Hebrew word for “God is with us.” We, as they did, wait for God to come again as a powerful leader who will let us live our lives in peace, harmony, utopian perfection and all those things beauty queens talk about in their final interviews.  No doubt, we will be just as disappointed as they were when they finally came face to face with Jesus, the long awaited for king who was to take away all of their troubles and disappointments; who was to slay the enemy; and who was to make life in the land of milk and honey a reality. You see, we, too, have created our idea of the perfect savior and he…or she…most likely looks nothing like the model of compassion seen in the person of Jesus.

The question is, what exactly is it that we are waiting for? Is it that we long for time with God? You know, like the conversation starter, “If you could have dinner with anyone living or not living, who would it be?” I mean, who doesn’t have a list of questions for God all the way from the trivial to an explanation for the deeply painful events of life…things like why young mothers have to die or why hate is so prevalent in our world.

Or, are we stoically waiting for a time when we can live exactly as we think life should be. Maybe we long to be out of poverty; or we yearn for healing in a fractured relationship, for a child, health for an aging parent, or peace around the holiday table. Maybe we want the security of reassurance, as we fear for a loved one who is depressed; addicted to drugs and/or alcohol; or who is deployed to places we neither know nor understand. We might even be filled with anger at entire groups of people who don’t think, believe or live the way we do and we wait for our version of justice and wrath to change them so they see the world as we do without ever really understanding who they are.

We become absorbed with our ideas of what changes we would like to see in our world without considering that the next guy has similar thoughts. Often, we don’t even know the other guy…or gal. We just suppose they must be like everyone else who looks and acts and dresses the way they do. We vilify ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, genders, professions, bosses, politicians, neighbors, family members and anyone we can lump into a group of people that we perceive as different than us and the group we identify with.

And, we wait for God to let them know they are wrong and we are right. I mean, the world would definitely be a better place if only…right? And…we wait for Emmanuel to take care of our lives, our stresses, our frustrations and our anger.

There are those of us of a ‘certain age’ who remember the screech of a needle scratching across a record when someone quickly and recklessly wants the music to cease. It’s that sound of “stop” that should be playing in your head as you ponder these musings defining what we might be waiting for. Our wait should not be passive as if we are waiting for something outside of our control. Nor should our wait be narcissistically focused on self-interests and desires no matter how noble they may seem to be to our selves or those around us.

Rather, the question, “what are we waiting for” should be a call to action. What are we waiting for? Why don’t we cross cultural and ethnic barriers to learn about our neighbors? Why don’t we listen in conversation, a skill that can only guide us toward understanding, compromise and breaking down barriers? Why is our main action to point at another to magnify the splinter in their eye when we are suffering from a log in our own? (Matt. 7:3) What exactly is it that we are waiting for? Since the beginning of time we have been guided by God toward a better way, God’s way. Some call the place where God is in control heaven and they wait for the kingdom of heaven to simply happen. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is among you.” (Luke 17:21) Was he talking about his presence with humanity? About God’s presence with us always and everywhere? Or was it a call to us to consider how we might be instrumental in bringing this crazy thing called heaven into a broken, hurting world?

Maybe it’s all of the above. Why are we waiting for God, in the form of Jesus, to come into the world again at some nebulous point when all we have to do is look around us to see God’s constant joyful, playful, and beautiful presence, laughing, weeping and beaconing us to walk with him…or her…as we navigate this complex thing called life?  And, once we see God’s presence…once we believe that God came to us in the form of Jesus, and again in the form of the Holy Spirit…once we truly believe that God constantly and consistently calls us as his very own sons and daughters to live as only she could create us to live, then – and only then will we understand the answer to the question, “what are we waiting for?” We must not wait! It is time to come together, not to belittle, berate or judge some other person; nor to act out of arrogance, entitlement or exclusivity. It is time to love God more than anything imaginable and, out of that immense love, it is time to compassionately engage in all of God’s creation so much that we have no possible choice other than to nurture all that God so masterfully and beautifully put together on this humble little planet.

We have been created and empowered by God and taught through the example Jesus set before us how to be light in the world. As the Christmas story unfolds, we see kings and shepherds; men and women; rich and poor; powerful and oppressed all come together, united and awed by the presence of God. If they could do it, what are we waiting for?

 

 

 

A Rant about the iPhone and the Pope…

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I thought it was just a simple update for my iPhone. You know the kind…it will work better, faster, be more user friendly, etc, etc, etc. When the update was complete, I noticed an icon for a new app. The amazing people at Apple decided I might like the “News” app, the one that would allow me to get personalized news stories. You know the kind…the more I read the news, the more my News-feed will be tailored to my interests.

Wait…what??? So, now there is an app that will feed into my biases, blind spots, phobias and generalized interests without the clamor of thoughts, insights and opinions that don’t support my ideals and agendas? Is it just me, or does anyone else see the audacity and danger in this approach to cementing one’s worldview? The more you read about a given perspective, the more that perspective will show up in your News app to distort it into the only appropriate way to think, feel, behave or react.

We already have a problem with polarization in this country. We shove people into categories based in their political perspective, skin tone, language, age, gender, sexual orientation and, well…the litany of “us against them” divisions grow with each issue presented in our neighborhoods, the media, our families and even our churches.

It has become acceptable for some groups to point fingers at other groups and refer to them as supremacists, homophobes, idiots, greedy, self-centered, rich capitalists while denigrating the targeted group for looking in another direction to make equally absurd assumptions. Really? Are some stereotypes okay? Does it depend on what’s politically correct? How big your groups of followers are or how big your voice is? Is it ever okay to categorize people, no matter what you think you may know?

And, Apple wants me to use this silly app that chooses articles for me based on what I am already reading without counterbalancing those thoughts and opinions with equally important views that I may or may not have considered?

The Pope is in town. Oh, not the town I live in. He has come to visit our country and all forms of media have brought him into our homes so we can feel his presence wherever we are throughout the nation. You would think his presence would remind us to celebrate our diversity and think in terms of unity, reconciliation, grace, and working together on the problems that plague us.

Nope.

Open any Facebook page and you will find rampant finger pointing and scathing comments that only work to divide us even further into our exclusive niches. “Did you hear what he said about…?” “Have you read his perspective on…?” “He didn’t address my concerns about…?” “He’s changing…” “He ate with…” “Did you see how he reacted to…”

It seems to me the Pope isn’t actually taking sides. Smart man! Instead he is speaking from his understanding of grace – what loving God above all things and loving neighbor as self looks like.

Read that again. Instead he is speaking from his understanding of grace – what loving God above all things and loving neighbor as self looks like. Maybe we need to read that again and again and again. Instead we, in our antithetical views, have twisted his words to be about us and our egocentric agendas.

This beautiful creation that God entrusted us with, this place we call home, the people around us – the ones we know, the ones we only read about, the ones who we love and the ones we take issues with – these are our neighbors. These are the people we are to see as children of God, whether they are living in poverty, or wealth; look like us or not; share our political convictions, concept of religion or the constitution…or not; relate to an understanding of gender and family in a conservative way…or not; drive a Prius or a gas guzzling SUV; believe in global warming, climate change, non-GMO foods…or not; are vegetarian, card carrying members of PETA…or not; demonstrate for gender equality in religion or embrace traditionally roles for clergy; speak out on abortion and divorce, or realize that simply navigating life can lead us to places we never expected to be in and don’t know how to maneuver; prefer lemonade or a martini, cats or dogs…or neither…these, friends, are our neighbors. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

We need to accept the lessons of the Gospel and live as if God’s gift of grace to each and every one of us matters. We need to remember Jesus walked and partied with women, outcasts, adulterers, rich tax collectors and lepers without condemning any of them. He showed compassion for all, not just those who deem themselves to be politically correct. Actually, he had little time for those interested in making and enforcing rules. He was more concerned with people and how they learned to live joyfully and with limitless love for others. He even broke the rules when they led to oppression. Imagine…

I am glad the Pope is here. Maybe he can refresh our perspectives, help us move past our limited views and politicized agendas and encourage open conversation on difficult issues that may guide us toward truly compassionate living and grace which can only be defined as living as if God and the message of love given to us through the life of Jesus mattered.

Epilogue: I have tried to delete my News app. No such luck. Apple made sure it’s there to stay. Maybe that too is a good thing. When I see the icon, I will use it as a reminder of how dangerous it can be to limit exposure to those things that can be used to divide us into dangerous, exclusive groups.

Remembering…

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It was my first day of seminary. Classes were cancelled for an impromptu chapel. The first meditation was simple. John 11:35…”Jesus wept.”

Certainly, God’s weeping occurred many times before that day and it continues as we trudge forward, making our mark on time.

You see, 2000 years ago Jesus came to show us something…he modeled behavior for us about what it means to be joyfully alive in this crazy world we find ourselves in; to care for those who look and act and understand life differently than we do; and to know that every minute of every day we are surrounded with the spirit of God who loves us more than we can comprehend. And, just as a loving parent cries for the naive mistakes their adoring child makes, God weeps over us when we make absurd assumptions about people; when we disrespectfully misuse any part of this amazing creation; when we destroy others in a misguided attempt to gain power; and when we forget who we are and Whose we are.

The thing is, we talk about remembering 9/11…but for what purpose? To continue hating the perpetrators? Or is it to remember what it felt like to let disagreements fade away because loving our friends, family, business acquaintances and neighbors is more important than petty arguments? We pulled together…skin tone didn’t matter, nor did sexual orientation, religion, culture, ethnicity or gender. Families made time to be together. We cared for our neighbors and those who were in distress. We prayed more and worshipped more. We became united as a nation – as people who were involved in something greater than individual or personal ambition. We were a team, without self interest, focused on working and living together. In the midst of our suffering we saw the beauty of what we could become.

And…that is the very thing we must bear in mind if we choose to remember anything about that day and the weeks, months and years that followed.

Unfortunately, as a nation, we have forgotten. Some stand on their interpretation of Biblical principles to shun others. Some feel it is appropriate to target entire groups of people for the mistakes of a few. We generalize, stigmatize and stand on some misdirected concept of self-righteous political correctness that changes from day-to-day depending on who is featured most centrally in the media. Getting along means finding like-minded people to hang out with while ranting against anyone not part of our exclusive group. “Jesus wept…”

We need help, as individuals and as a nation, to remember…

Lessons while hiking…

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Seriously, how bad can a hike be? Particularly when you have the right gear! We had hiking boots, daypacks, layered clothing, and gloves along with the questionably essential cell phones and cameras. The brochure suggested the trails would be strenuous. In all reality, strenuous is a relative word. Strenuous compared to what? To whom? We were in shape, although I should have learned years ago that ‘in shape’ can also be relative based on variables like age and the activity one finds one’s self confronted with. I remember having a similar attitude years ago when challenged with a 50-mile bicycle ride. I was ‘in shape’ for running and aerobic exercise as well as soccer and tennis. Bring on the co-ed league softball! Being active wasn’t the issue. Being ‘in shape’ was and I wasn’t ‘in shape’ for serious bicycle riding. 50 miles hurt…a lot!

Our guide met us with a small boat and his springer spaniel, Daisy. He outlined that we would travel to his float house/office to get ready for the hike, boat across the cove to his canoe and paddle into shore to meet our trail. He directed us to multiple pairs of high rubber bog boots, packets of trail mix, bottled water and granola bars. We were instructed to pick out a pair of boots and load our daypacks with water and snacks. Wait…what??? We had the latest and greatest waterproof hiking boots that could withstand any amount of rain or wet trail we had ever encountered. Didn’t he understand that we were ready just as we were? He insisted and we eventually complied. Then, as we loaded back into his boat, he handed each of us a walking stick. I took it, thinking it was rather silly and cliche, but what the heck???

We reached the canoe, which could only hold 3 at a time. He instructed us how to step into it so it wouldn’t tip and made the 3 necessary trips to transport six of us to shore and our hiking adventure. Daisy made sure she was in the first load and barked anxiously until we were all ready to hike. This was her day to shine! Her job was to run ahead of us and warn our guide if a bear chose to use the path…the path carved through the wilderness by bears and deer…a path our guide, our group of six and Daisy shared with them. Instructions were given regarding our best response should such a meeting occur. Our guide was outfitted with a rather large pistol to use as a last resort should the potential bear not choose to not leave us as he found us. It was his philosophy that it was better to have the gun should he need to use it than to not have it and need it. Ultimately, the best option was not to have to use it.

My city-loving, height-fearing, mud-hating, worry-hearted self should have heard bells screaming a warning in decibels requiring earplugs at this point. Yet there was something about the calm reassurance of our guide as he casually explained our hike was only about a mile in and about a mile out with a 450-foot elevation. Hey, I can do that!

He instructed us every step of the way…where to place our feet, when to use the walking stick, what branches to cling to as we made our way through a minute piece of the temperate rain forest in Alaska. This was no ordinary hike. Rain forests have bogs and a muddy, mossy, wet concoction that will suck you in well past your ankle and can suction the boot right off your foot. Moss can be found on almost every limb and exposed tree root. Soon we were adept at finding the horizontal roots to gain footing and avoiding the vertical, more slippery roots. We jumped over what appeared to be narrow creeks, learning that they can be deceivingly deep. A twist of the boot released it from the grasp of the sludge. His gentle instructions encouraged us as we ascended the trail, the same one used by indigenous animals as they foraged for food and water. We didn’t know what we were walking towards, we only knew that we were going somewhere with someone we literally trusted with our lives…someone we had only known for a short time…yet, someone whose gentle guidance encouraged us to keep moving forward, literally through the muck, when our natural instincts would have kept us anchored in one spot.

And there it was!!! Just in front of us was a clearing with a small, perfectly clear lake. Our guide had built a temporary shelter to welcome us to his utopia. Split logs made comfortable benches, a fire pit provided heat and a tarp provided a ‘roof’ to protect us should it rain. A separate area several yards away was surrounded by tarp and made into a makeshift latrine complete with more comforts than any Johnny-on-the-Spot has to offer. We were ready to pull out our trail mix and waters when our guide took off his pack and presented us with hotdogs, marshmallow, chocolate bars…both milk chocolate and dark chocolate…and graham crackers. A hammock hung between two trees and kayaks were available for those who wanted to explore the lake. It was simple; it was unexpected; it was hospitality beyond our expectations; and it was all and everything we needed.

The hike back to the water’s edge was spectacular. One step at a time, don’t worry about ten steps ahead, simply think about where your foot is going to land on the next step…then the next step…the next step… And, before you know it, you are out of the wilderness…changed…the same…but different…calm…grateful for it all…connected to the beauty, the challenge, the guide, Daisy, the others…hopeful for what is to come next, knowing that there will always be another wilderness to encounter.

It doesn’t take much to realize the metaphor for life in this simple hiking experience.

  1. There will be plenty of muck, but the right tools will help you get through it. 
  2. Sometimes all you can do is think about the next step. 
  3. It helps to have someone to guide you, someone who has been there before and can encourage you to keep going.
  4. There will be a place of unimaginable beauty and hospitality when you reach the clearing.
  5. The wilderness will is always waiting…just ahead, but this time we know that we can keep going. 

You see, God lives in and through all things – even the things that make us anxious, overwhelmed or scared – always sharing with us the essence of who we are and Whose we are; beaconing and nudging us to live as if God matters; compelling us to reach out and walk with someone who needs us or to let someone guide us when life drops us into the middle of the wilderness. Even the muck can become beautiful when we realize that there will be a clearing complete with all we need…a place that is peaceful where we can laugh and share life…a place where we can hear the gentle giggle of God as she threads her majesty and love into our stories, amused by her creation and how beautiful it is when we find her.

Oh, and one more thing…a dog will always help you on the journey!!!

Sense and Non-sense…

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The world is changing. Nothing new there! This has been the lament of many, the inspiration for others…the plea, the angst, the hope, the frustration, and the divide among generations; races; genders; countries; religions; neighbors; brothers and sisters; spouses and…well…change can cause conflict wherever 2 or more are gathered…

Wait! Isn’t that supposed to be a statement of unity and love? Matthew 18:20 states:

For wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Of course, theological scholars will say this was meant for the church. You know, for those times when turmoil surrounding rules and laws cause people to argue and fuss about what should be done…or forgotten…or forgiven. Everybody has an opinion! So often those assumptions are based on personal interests, individualized worldviews and self-centered desires. Sometimes our opinions change and evolve when we dare to remember who we are and Whose we are, a practice that involves stepping outside of ‘self’ and into understanding we are part of something huge and amazing; something we can’t fully understand; something bigger and better than me or mine or the small perspective of an isolated group of people that I might be part of.

Peter, Paul and Mary sang about it in The Wedding Song, taking the appropriate liberty to swap the word “love” for the phrase “I am there among them.” After all, God is the author of love, thus streamlining the phrase into one word still says it all. God is with us when ever we are with others. I guess that means God is there when we meet in worship; when we go to the mall; when we drink wine with the neighbors; when we argue with our spouse; when we walk past the homeless; when we scream horrible things at people who love someone we wouldn’t choose for them; when we make despicable assumptions based on race or religion; and when we simply choose not to share our time, talents and resources with someone in need. God is there, always and everywhere. Sometimes God smiles and, most surely, sometimes God weeps as she attempts to get the attention of our heart by peeling back our selfish, limited vision of what it means to live in her perfectly created world.

The problem is, we don’t allow love to show up in so many of our interactions. We cling to prejudice; political stances; the ceaseless yearning to be right; and world views that exclude those who are different, even though to them we are the ones who are different. We migrate towards people who share our limited thoughts and we talk about others who are not like us. Sometimes we laugh about their shortcomings, as if the log is in their eye and not ours. (Matthew 7:3-5)

This brings us back to change. In recent weeks we have had reports of riots over racial issues; protests and celebrations over Supreme Court rulings; supposed religious groups randomly killing innocent people; political rhetoric aimed at polarizing groups of people; and the list goes on. In each instance, one groups clings to a viewpoint that isolates another group. Rarely do we hear about honest conversations between individuals with the sole intention of understanding rather than condemning or persuading.

I stepped in the proverbial ‘pooh’ this week by entering a conversation that has polarized women for years. The odd thing is, perspectives are so opposed that finding enough middle ground to begin a necessary discussion is almost impossible. We know we must try, but how do we calm our own perspectives long enough to hear thoughts that are difficult for us to embrace without hurling our “log” at another person? How do we peel the differences between us away long enough to hear and to see the potential beauty in life’s inevitable diversity…and change?

You see, what makes sense to one can be utter nonsense to another. What we accept as sensible is the composite of our education, news feeds, social interactions, region, country, heritage, family values, religion, conversations, and life experiences that churn together until we are able to rationalize any and all of our behaviors so completely that we forget the One who created us also created the one who makes no sense to us…the one we snub, or isolate…the one who is different than society’s norm…the one who thinks differently…worships differently…loves differently…

“Wherever two or three are gathered together, I am there with them.”

Oh that we would remember that! Wherever…whenever…however…as two or three or five hundred or thousands of us gather, let us humble ourselves long enough to feel God’s presence. Then, may our interactions with others be energized by love for God, neighbor and self rather than by our limited sense and combined non-sense.

A rant on politics and truisms…

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Writing-Clip-ArtIt doesn’t take much to make me crazy – particularly when I hear or read something that attempts to make absurd generalizations truisms. You know truisms, those statements that seem to be obviously true or things that we have heard so often that we accept them as truth without consideration for the source, the scientific quality of the claim, or the motivation of the speaker.

We are on the cusp of yet another election year. Doesn’t it seem that every year has become an election year? Just when we rid our media of hate filled political campaign rhetoric plagued with alleged truisms about the other candidate, we enter another round of ugly, despicable claims. Unfortunately, it seems that the more something is said and publicized, the more it becomes true in the minds of the public. Truisms abound…some that are not actually true.

It doesn’t matter on what side of the hypothetical aisle someone leans, there are plenty of not-so-truisms to support their agenda. I guess we believe what we want to believe then find truisms to garner support for our cause.

The problem with so many of our truisms is that they point out the flaws of the other guy, or gal, without making substantial claims based on science, economics, history, compassion and all those things we are supposed to learn during our growing up years. They simply show up again and again and again until we think they are…well…true, even when they are not.

Some ‘truths’ are the result of a sound bite taken out of context to prove how misguided someone is, followed by the process of repeat, repeat, repeat until that person’s media created character takes on a life of its own with very little representation of their actual statement, intent or beliefs. Yet, we find it okay because our agenda is supported and we can claim to be knowledgeable because we have proof in the form of a truism.

What ever happened to coming together and talking about an issue? Why don’t we take the time to meet and know the other person, you know – someone who isn’t like us or part of our club…whatever our club happens to be whether it is a neighborhood, religious affiliation, work setting, baseball team; where we shop, do business, or buy laundry soap; or if we resonate toward the affections of a dog or a cat? Why do we think we understand all we need to know about “the other” simply because of some  annoying generalizations that somehow become truisms…truisms that seem to allow us the right to judge anyone and anything that doesn’t agree with us…truisms that divide rather than unify…truisms that are used to justify horrible behaviors…truisms that corrupt our understanding of what it means to be a member of God’s amazing creation…truisms that have nothing to do with loving our neighbor, let alone loving God. Doe Zantamata said it well:

It’s easy to judge. It’s more difficult to understand. Understanding requires compassion, patience, and a willingness to believe that good hearts sometimes choose poor methods. Through judging, we separate. Through understanding we grow.

It’s time for growth.

Holy Week and mothering…

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imagesA friend asked me a series of perplexing question in the midst of a conversation about a single, young woman and an unexpected pregnancy. She asked, “What do we say and how do we support a mother through and after pregnancy? What is our role? Should our mothering solely be for our own children or is there a greater responsibility to extend our grace beyond the boundaries of our homes?” She continued, “I guess it goes back to God being in and around everything and God’s love not being limited to just the human form of Jesus, but to all his children.”

On the surface her statements seemed obvious and the answers simplistic. However, very few things in life are what they seem to be on the surface. In our polarized, egocentric culture the responses to her ponderings could range on a continuum from casting the young pregnant woman out of her place in life because of her…ahem…’situation’ to eliminating the ‘problem’ with a host of equally deficient alternatives in between.

What remains is a young woman who has entered a place in life that she never expected to experience and isn’t prepared for. She is in the proverbial wilderness and needs someone to walk through it with her; to listen to her angst, worries, hopes and dreams for her baby; to coach her; to guide her; and ultimately to help her forge a path through unknown and uncomfortable territory. She needs someone to nurture her and help her to quickly mature into a woman who, in turn, can nurture, love, guide and do what is best for her child. She needs to be mothered so that she can become a mother.

Yes, yes!!! We can agree with the grandiose notion in those words…but, whose job is it?

A contemporary version of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar portrays Christ on the cross agonizingly begging, “Where is my mother?” That particular line doesn’t show up in the traditional Seven Last Words of Christ. I suppose it’s Hollywood’s spin on the traditional, “Woman, here is your son” entwined with an interpretation of Matthew 12 when the disciples tell Jesus his mother and brothers are looking for him. He responds with, “Who are my mother and brothers?” and “looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”’

You see, Jesus’ entire ministry can be defined as living as if God matters. Oh, we believe in God…but where are we when hard times come to others? They might be financial; health issues; relationships problems; a lost job; or a baby that wasn’t planned or expected coming to a young lady who is closer to being a child herself than to being a woman. The age old question is, “What would Jesus do?” Unfortunately, some religious agendas have hi-jacked the answer to force followers into behaviors that don’t necessarily represent the living example Christ modeled to us and for us leading us to the last week of his life…something we uncomfortably try to get through as we wait to celebrate the joy of Easter.

I have wondered for years why this time in the Liturgical year, Holy Week, is referred to as “Christ’s Passion”. Dying a humiliating, excruciating and brutal death never seemed like much of a passion to me. The passion is more clearly seen in the life of Jesus. This man…God incarnate…came to walk among us simply because “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) Every event, every story, every parable that we cherish about Jesus and his interactions with those around him tell the story over and over again. “God so loved…”, “God so loved”, “God so loved…” God and all that God created and loved mattered to Jesus enough that Jesus lived as if God mattered – even when it wasn’t convenient…to the point of death. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Do you see the connection? Jesus never budged from his conviction that God’s love mattered and because of that belief he never deviated from a life of loving all of God’s people…not even when his own life was on the line.

That kind of love is hard to understand. I truly believe that’s why it is so important to remember Christ’s love – or passion – for humanity each year during Holy Week. As we walk through the events of that final week of his life, we are reminded over and over again that not even the threat and reality of death could make Christ deviate from that love. “There is no greater love…”

I think about the words moaned from the cross in Jesus Christ Superstar. Who hasn’t hit the depths of despair and longed for someone to hold them, to nurture them, to console and love them – and tell them that everything will be alright? We all have times when we long for a mother – whether it is our biological mama or someone who can walk with, or carry, us through our ‘stuff’. The unfathomable response of humanity to Jesus’ love is beyond most of our understanding, yet his basic cry was heard. “Where is my mother?” Where is someone who loves me enough to do the will of God? Where is someone who can lighten my load, hold me, care for me, nurture me, soothe me? Where is my mother? Who is my mother?

That brings us back to our young woman and my friend’s questions. Who is her mother? And, when her child is born, who is that beautiful and innocent child’s mother? Is it simply a gene pool that is expected to care for him or her? Or, if we truly embrace the teaching exemplified through the life and passion of Jesus, do we need to also look in the mirror to see the answer? Is it enough that we see our neighbor’s child in need and hope someone is there for him? Or is the answer in how we response to that need? Can we simply listen, love, nurture, care for, hold, soothe, and lighten the load of someone who needs a mother? Or do we judge behaviors and choices that led to the problem? Or do we simply look the other way because, quite frankly, it isn’t our responsibility?

What would Jesus do? Exactly what he did throughout his life, including when he faced sentencing and death. His actions were motivated by love and compassion for those in need. They weren’t about what was socially acceptable, convenient or even what religious agendas would dictate. Ordinary love and compassion…nothing more and nothing less.

My friend is there to mother those whom she encounters who are in need. The young, expectant mother is lucky to know her!

Benches, Lent and new life…

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imagesI have an old, wooden bench. It has been many colors over the years, the latest being a boring, mushroomy beige. Admittedly, the color seemed like a good idea at the time. Colorful pillows perked up its quiet and somewhat dull facade.  Time, complete with sunny summer days and brutal winter snowfalls, had their way with the bench making it appear old, worn out and uninviting. But, it’s a bench and its entire purpose is to be a place for the weary to sit and become refreshed enough to go about the rest of the day and the remainder of their business. To be uninviting is not what it was made to be.

Orange, specifically smoked paprika, resurrected its purpose as an indication that one should come, be still and sit for a while. Orange is welcoming, encouraging, social, enthusiastic, healthy, warm, and just plain happy.

I didn’t know it would take so long to cover that blah, deep mushroomy beige with smoked paprika. Benches can be interesting. This particular piece has wood slats for the seat and back, meaning there are four sides to paint for each slat. Had they been butted end to end, there would only be two. The back of the bench has a carved sunburst-like motif with nooks and cranny’s that almost spit the paint back at me as if mocking any intention I might have to perk up its appearance. Little by little the transformation continued. Stroke on the new color…brown appearing through orange…let it dry…paint another layer. When I retired my paintbrush for the day, I was satisfied that what was once dull and wasted had been restored to new life.

Those hours of painting gave me plenty of time to ponder, meditate and recognize life lessons could be found even in a simple activity like painting a bench.

You see, my bench became beaten down and tired – just as can one feel lost and troubled by the things life has an uncanny ability to throw our way. Maybe it’s an illness, the loss of a job or a relationship gone bad. Or maybe it’s simply the fatigue that creeps up on us from worry, a monotonous routine or our own lack of creativity to change the crappy things we encounter in life forcing us into our own version of that tired, old bench.

And…maybe that’s why Lent is so darn important. Maybe it’s not about chocolate – or the lack thereof – or penance and fasting, self-flagellation or denial. Maybe it’s something so much deeper.

You see, when we follow the story of Lent, we walk through the life and ministry of Jesus as well as with him in his passion and death only to be catapulted into his amazing resurrection and new life. It’s no mistake that this season occurs in the spring when we are surrounded by budding trees; new growth on old shrubs; flowers; the birth of bunnies and chicks; birds nesting and laying eggs; and a warmth that recharges the winter weary soul with energy. New life is everywhere, reminding us that resurrection is real and waiting for us let go of what is tired, old and dull to embrace all that is pleading with us to remember who we are and Whose we are. It’s sanding down the splinters of the past allowing that vibrant orange to seep into our hearts, just as it did into the crevices of that old wooden bench, soothing the rough and jagged pains from the past. New life transforms us back to that which we were so lovingly created to be.

New life…the magnificent culmination of the Lenten story…is real.

On becoming a grown up…

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It started with an essay question: “When did you first realize you have become a grown-up?”

Then came the Facebook message: “Happy Birthday! Hard to believe we are entering another decade…how is that possible?”

The “…” part of the message alluded to memories of little girls playing dress-ups or Barbie dolls; birthday parties with paper favors and pink party dresses; and neighborhood moms who knew when to offer a popsicle or a chocolate chip cookie. The children in those recollections were us – daughters from the 1950’s. Somehow we had become older than many of our grandparents were when we huddled with them around a single black and white television to watch June Clever vacuum in her dress and pearls and Ozzie and Harriet ponder the responsibility of rearing two rowdy boys.

I looked through my Facebook page. High school friends smiled at me from profile photos – pictures that looked more like our parents than the yearbook shots that showed up on our nametags at class reunions. Seemingly, we were grown up. Ask any of our children or – gasp – grandchildren. They will certainly tell you we are old! However, the question remains – “When did you first realize you had become a grown-up?” The befuddling answer is, “I don’t know…”

Was it high school graduation? College graduation? Marriage? First house? Children?

My daughter plastered herself against a glass door and sobbed when I took her to kindergarten. She was sure she did not want to be there – at least she wanted me to think that she needed to be with me. Day after day we went through the same routine. Her teacher, a kindergarten expert, told me how to respond to her when she clung to me, begging me to stay. The fact that she wanted me to stay was the good news! It indicated her desire was to be at school, just not without me. I was told to peel her off of my leg, tell her I would return for her after school and simply walk out of the door without looking back. How do you ignore your screaming child? How do you not look back? Her sobs became my broken heart. I stoically walked away. If she saw my tears, she would know I shared her preoccupation with our impending separation.

Her five-year-old understanding wouldn’t allow her to know the depth of my emotion. She wanted her mommy – plain and simple. My mind filled with memories of those intimate moments between a mother and child when all that mattered was cradling her in my arms while gently rocking her into peace and calm. Mothers know the look on their baby’s face when anxiety morphs into serenity, when sleep absorbs chaos simply because Mommy is there. There is no stress, no frustration – just peace and trust. Now, I was walking away from her when she knew only one thought – she needed me. The experts tell us that we must allow our children to feel emotional pain, to learn how to self-sooth. Life is not perfect and our job is to guide our children through their many life traumas so they learn coping skills for the next and the next and the next complicated moment. I thought the experts were crazy.

We lived through the kindergarten anxieties. Her teacher assured me she was fine within five minutes of my leaving. She played with the other children, learned the suggested curriculum and was considered a successful first grade candidate. I was proud of her accomplishments, although I longed for the lost tender moments we shared when I could hold her in my arms – the ones that changed so poignantly with her growth and development.

I certainly could have used some of her kicking and screaming when we dropped her off at college. Her final hug was filled with eager anticipation as she looked forward to an exciting new life as a co-ed. She dutifully hugged her father and I, displaying a smile that assured me she could conquer anything life presented to her. I was the one who wanted to plaster myself against the glass door of her dormitory building and cry out for her to come back to me. Instead, she strolled down the long corridor to her new room, new friends and new life. Didn’t she know how much I needed her? It was surreal to appreciate how much our roles had changed. Alas, once again the experts suggested that I bury my own needs and let her fly as she is intended to fly – to become the woman that God created her to be. I continued to question the quality of the experts’ advice. Was she ready? I knew in my heart she was. The real question was about me. Was I ready?

Maybe I was a grown up at that moment, although don’t think so. In my world “grown-ups” were those who had reached their place in life – people who were done being shaped and formed into a better understanding of life as we know it; those who had reached their potential. Letting my daughter go as she entered kindergarten, college and all the milestones in between prepared me to let go one more time as she pursued a career choice that would literally take her around the world. And, in like manner, I understood that each life experience prepared me for the unknown hovering in the future. My Facebook friends and I had more nuggets of experience in our chains of life than sweet June Cleaver had pearls in her cleaning day necklace. We have lived through times when our worst moments ultimately led to our finest hours. Likewise, we still have difficult times when we question all that is right and true and good. If we are wise, we recognize the continual process of renewal and the opportunity to grow closer to our own true essence, the one God created into us. Our job is to be open to the opportunities life presents, and sometimes bombards us with, so that we never become stagnant.

Grown up? Maybe.

Finished? Completed? Thank God for the courage to embrace life with all of its joys and hurts; its longed for as well as its dreaded changes; and the resulting wisdom that comes from the experience of living so that the only honest answer to those questions is a single word: “Nope…”