Joy and choice

Since my last post, I’ve thought long and hard about sources of joy and my commitment to serve and build the body of Christ. I fully realize that there are differing “opinions” about many different subjects out there. I put the word opinion in quotes, because the distinction between opinion and facts still seems to be an issue in today’s world. Phrases like “I heard”, “Someone who is (insert position of some sort) said…” are not always factual, if you bother to check up on them. Also, just because someone states something on cable news, or posts something on the internet, doesn’t make it a fact. In the alternative, “facts” are increasingly hard to come by, when the volume of information differs depending on a host of factors: bias, resources and incomplete understanding. I feel dizzy at what to believe sometimes. My personal strength lies in being prudent, cautious and researching claims and potential bias. It takes a lot of time and effort and while I’ve felt exhausted doing so, it brings me joy to do my due diligence.

There are plenty of people out there who may disagree with my ability to disseminate fact from fiction, and truly, that is of no consequence to me, which further brings me joy. Choosing to challenge unfounded information (info I did research on) and suffering consequences as a result, strangely brought me great joy and freedom, which is pretty new for me. It is a relief to exclude those who refuse to acknowledge, parse words and always demand the last word, (again, my words, my take on it). The removal of those who refuse to be challenged and or continue to misconstrue opinions as fact, view as persecution or anti whatever, and at the very minimum are never open to differing opinions has lightened my load considerabley. My youngest son challenged me by saying, “Mom, you debate and argue logically and succinctly better than anyone I know, you have spent your life studying and understanding the complexities of what is happening right now, why would you associate with people who live on conspiracy theories, misinformation and hateful rhetoric or even care what they think?” I had a pretty weak response initially, but deep down it was because I truly want to be open to differing ideas and am firmly committed to building the whole Body of Christ…to which my own internal dialogue said…so if there was a sickness or cancer in the Body that threatened its very existence you wouldn’t address it? The challenge should be on how to move forward, with different ideas and yet still cleanse the Body of disease which is horribly hard to do with the limitations of a single perspective of which WE ALL SHARE. Its why we must listen to each other. So here is what I finally and uncomfortably realized: functionally, I am declaring that I am beyond or more evolved than some people, the reason being that I am continually challenging my faith. That idea doesn’t sit easily with me because of incorrectly associating being evolved with thinking I’m better than someone else. I really don’t think I’m better, down to my core, which is why I feel joy in finally understanding the distinction. I also embrace understanding that my personal evolution also means that I am aware that I am demonstrably more flawed than I was yesterday, because of exposed holes in my belief system that are a direct result of questioning. But before I let myself spiral downward a bit at recognizing those flaws, words my father wrote to me popped into my head as I continued to ponder this challenge:

I am glad you disagree with fundamentalism because to be narrow as they are apt to be, leads to a narrow frustrating life. They tend to gather around others like them and fail to find goodness in those who are not like them or put their own faith to tests of honesty. They’re good people but they stay status quo, with no growth. It seems to me they put limits on God. To me theology is a process of change which goes on continually in a life time. One must continually grow by learning new things, theologically. As you learn more your life changes in accordance. Everything you learn, in turn, must be challenged and tested. This is how you arrive at growth, or truth. I do not judge how others believe because ultimately we are responsible for our own Christian lives and we must act according to what we know to be the Truth at the time. Over a time we may prove to be wrong but only because we had insufficient knowledge or our logic was faulty. There is always so much we don’t know but we have to have faith that somehow God will reveal to us how right or wrong we are, and with way we grow. I’m sure God does not abandon us and sometimes things happen we cannot handle alone and we give it up to Him. I see you in everything I have said. You plan your own path well enough.

I have worked really hard at this, and rereading my father’s letter brought me such joy. There are too many people who refuse to test their faith and embrace evolution. Happily, I know that I am getting better at it everyday (this is not the same as people arriving at a different conclusion, I still welcome them with open arms, our paths are all different, challenging each other is how we all grow). But those who refuse to evolve, embrace illusions and lies to be superior and refuse to be challenged? They bring me no joy, and I am gratefully releasing them from my life. Challenging my faith on issues of privilege or what personhood means and how better to be a custodian of this beautiful planet and to make necessary changes to evolve my faith are only a few that I’ve embraced. There are so many more powerful truths that are sweeping me up in the current of growth to help me evolve beyond who I was yesterday, and who I will choose to be tomorrow…and it brings me joy.

Joy and Sorrow

I wanted to start with sorrow, because it is the most prevalent emotion I feel everyday…but that isn’t the focus of my year, its joy. So I think that in this shit show of a world right now, where the condemnatory gifs and memes that condemn the year 2020, I am choosing to live in the “darkest before the dawn” sentiment and imagine that this is exactly the kind of year that will lead us to deeper and greater joy.

Perhaps the joy lies in not taking things for granted, like societal connections both strained and limited by a disease and challenged to transform because the horrific death of George Floyd. The greatest joy would lie in the belief that we really are all in this together. As Jesus says:

God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Perhaps the joy comes when people of all colors and backgrounds unify and walk the streets peacefully claiming that black lives do, indeed, matter and that we need to have difficult and necessary conversations about securing the safety and welfare of all our citizens.

Perhaps the joy comes when there is a renewed effort to practice kindness…even when that kindness isn’t returned, because people don’t always act appropriately when they are overwhelmed and afraid.

Perhaps joy comes with realizing that the pandemic and racial violence also offers the opportunity to rebuild what was burned down, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit the lonely especially those in prison.

Perhaps joy comes when empathy and compassion circumvent the need to demand perfection first. All of us are flawed and fallible at any given point in our lives…we should all be worthy, just like the good Samaritan deemed the thief worthy.

Perhaps joy comes with using your voice to ring out truths that are deemed inalienable by the founders of this great country, and continue their work to be our best selves by exercising one of our single greatest powers, the power to vote.

Perhaps joy comes with the freedom to wield our faith with impunity regardless of those who try to proclaim the belief that we cannot. There is no structure big enough, no limitation strict enough to keep us from engaging in grace and loving as Jesus commanded us to: To love your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Structures and services are not the priority, the loving part is. The rest is just subterfuge perpetuated by fear mongers. For scripture also says:

If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God 5 whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love their brother or sister.

And lastly, perhaps, joy comes from having eyes to see and ears to hear the necessary truths shared by all our brothers and sisters that will set us on the road to building a better future. We are all creations of God with unique and singular gifts. To think that we can accomplish any greatness on our own…is folly and contrary to what makes humanity great.

Joy and Revelation

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Amidst scrubbing for the umpteenth time, dried food on pots and pans and the ratsin’ fratsin’ that kept pouring out of my mouth, I had a revelation that brought me peace among the crust of other people’s garbage. The revelation pulled so much of my journey over the last few years together, amidst a pandemic, financial upheaval, polarizing anger and judgement…it all became so very clear. And to begin with, this has nothing, well mostly nothing to do with partisan politics, those of you who think differently than me should know by now how dear you are to me…if not, I’m sure I will be rethinking my ability to communicate that better. Secondly, I really don’t give two hoots in hell if I make some people angry. Do you want to know why? I DID THE WORK…and when I didn’t get it right, karma came crashing down until I got it right. (my relationship to God stems on a quick turn around so I waste no time) please check this reference on “standing in the middle” https://maryfrancesflood.com/?p=7930. Third, because I did the work, I am emboldened to tell you what I think is important information kind of like a philosophical/ theological explorer of sorts. And Forth, and maybe the most important of all, the possibility exists that I am totally fuc@#$g completely off base, and like Thomas Merton said “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” And also my obsession with Job; https://maryfrancesflood.com/2012/04/25/the-patience-of-job/ I am perfectly aware that I don’t have the omniscience that God has, so if I’m wrong about any of this, it certainly wasn’t for failed effort. I don’t think God would allow me to keep such delusions. Anyway, here we go.

I’ve been think a lot about this particular scripture when Jesus talks about the separation of the sheep and the goats. When Jesus comes back in all his glory, he will separate the sheep from the goats…basically those who understood the point of his ministry and utilized the power of grace to inherit the kingdom of heaven (which is super goal oriented, I guess). The bottom line is that the prize will go to those who treat the least among us like they were Christ…there is a lot fodder for discussion for what that means, but let me assure you it has nothing to do with the recitation of the phrase “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” and then keep kicking the least among you because you think they are sinners and disgusting, and well basically because you said the magic phrase and I’m in the club now, and gives you license to be God in judgment and jury. Love is more efficacious than that…which is evidence why I can love people who stand on a different polarity than me…their love is efficacious (look it up, its a cool word…you’re welcome).  Also, the least among us may look differently to each person see:https://maryfrancesflood.com/2015/01/02/of-consequence-and-consequences/. What makes us a sheep and not a goat, is how we respond to the people we think are of no consequence, or using my reference from the beginning of the post, who throw cooked on dried on food container in the sink for us to clean up. Jesus taught me in a dream, that if I really wanted to keep true to that message I had to be willing to wash someone’s feet that I think is so off it would be painful to do so, and I’m also reminded of  that question that my eldest son posed when he was eight that rocked my world, “Mom, there isn’t a place even in hell that the love of God can’t reach, right?” This is where my frailty comes in and my deep dependence on God to do the right thing when someone has spiritually knifed me in the back…while the anger and all that comes with that is justifiable and all I want to do is eviscerate them with my velociraptor like vocabulary…I recommit to refusing to let it turn me into a goat. (even though for the record this metaphor is lost on me because I love me some baby goats…I understand Jesus meaning though).

The joy comes because of the work that I’ve done, work for which I WILL NOT AND NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR, even if you call me a pontificating freak (which in so many words people have said a lot).I have the war wounds to show for it, and the wisdom to know what is self inflicted and what is not. The joy comes because I have walked and listened to a multitude of perspectives…again, here is the reference: https://maryfrancesflood.com/2018/02/15/truth-and-perspective/. The joy comes because I am so much more than those people that are stuck in one position and refuse to broaden their perspective by simply moving and opening their eyes to a different angle. I have joy because I recognize clearly those who are stuck and understand that it is as impossible to change their minds as it is to have someone color blind understand the color purple. The joy comes because “I” am so much more, because my eyes are open and God has shown me a multitude of colors I hadn’t seen before…and that does make a difference. As the little prince says in St Exupery’ great book: words are often the greatest source of misunderstanding…and then goes on to say “What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly” Jesus says it too: they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another. The joy also comes even amidst the anger that I feel when someone else’s stupid fear (and or just someone’s stupidity) creates havoc in this world. I have joy even amidst the sadness of so many life changes and losses, because the crux of my faith is when God is with me, nothing can keep me from his love…and those who don’t live by that are becoming or already are goats. And I can’t change that, except to treat them, and the least among my particular world as I would Christ. I can only change my response to them, and see if that makes a difference. And sometimes that response looks like wielding a sword, and others like washing feet. The joy comes when I simply do what the Gospel asks me to do, and the promise that I am not alone, even if I am physically in any given moment.

The joy comes, also, because for the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel alone. I feel connected to the great source that connects us all, and in my prayers I feel you, (even though I may not physically know you), struggling to become or stay sheep. I feel joy in praying for you every day too.

Love and Money

I never anticipated using the word “hate” so much in posts about love, but here it is…I hate this year’s task, because it appears that….in order to wield love effectively, I must be whittled down to a mere wisp of myself, with all pride thrown aside (and I hemmed and hawed about the level of sharing, to keep some semblance of pride and decided, no, I am all in with this commitment). From a boil on my butt (I’ve never even had a pimple anywhere else but my face, and that was 35 years ago) that left me not only humiliated, but unable to do virtually anything, to paper cuts on every finger (it was -55 below zero with windchill after all, every scintilla of moisture gone from my body) I struggled through last week, having to make a conscious choice to get out of bed and resurrect the optimism I once had about facing the day…and I did, bully for me. I was going to title the post about it “Love and the seven plagues” but instead am just using it as a prelude to another more challenging lesson.

And so I reiterate that an interesting tidbit I learned about these silly little obstacles, in my life anyway, is that it is more often than not, that it is the “small things” that undermine my ability to wield love in the world. I am a tigress when demonstrably bad things happen. I can champion a cause better than most. I have learned to gird my loins and run into battle in defense of justice and righteousness. The embarrassing things, like those mentioned above, including but not limited to intestinal distress, and other vanity challenges have felt like a sword through my armor and it was with greatest effort that I tried to move in the world with my integrity in tact.

And then came this week, and the charge forth stopped. Every vehicle in my small family of four has just cost us thousands, within two days (in addition to the water crises and house calamities of the prior weeks). While I am thankful for Triple A, and no visible injuries…it is the very ability to actually move in the world being hindered and the financial challenges that followed (not to mention the punch the cold weather had on our business) that reminded me of all those stories in scripture when Jesus lectured us about serving God and money. It is money, the lack of it, the power of it, the injustice of it, and the corruption it brings that stands as my obstacle this week. The weight of money can cripple our ability to wield love in the world if we are not careful, and let me tell you it doesn’t matter how much you have, it may be a lot or hardly any at all. It affects each of us differently, but I have humbly learned that it can, does, and will stunt our ability to wield love in the world if we aren’t careful. The parts in scripture that I’ve held onto and so far have kept me from falling into panic are these three:

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money) Mt 6:24


Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Which one of you would hand their child a stone when they asks for a loaf of bread or a snake when they asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. Mt 7:7-11


Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Mt 19: 16-22

So, the test is: where do our loyalties ultimately lie? Do we embrace the love of God over the power of money? Do we trust that when we ask God for bread he will not give us a stone? And I think the most important is when given a choice do we choose God and all that that entails (loving God, ourselves AND our neighbors) or our possessions. I am learning this: to wield love effectively and well, I must continually weigh all three, many times every day. Vanity? shedding that is the easy part…the real strength and conditioning comes from choosing God over money, every day.

More prayers for you on my Birthday

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Today, I celebrate the anniversary of the day I arrived on this planet. Today I feel joy because: I am surrounded by a loving family, I am empowered by a loving God, I choose love as my focus and energy, and I embrace truth. justice and the American way 🙂 So here goes…

  1. I pray you be kind in thought, word and deed…the world is in desperate need of your kindness, make it your superpower.
  2. I pray for you to stand for truth in all that you do, especially when it may appear to be against your own interest, watch how it can transform that moment. In truth there is always greater freedom. Lies deteriorate God’s Kingdom in this world and we have the power to stop it.
  3. I pray you come to realize how important you are to the fabric of this world. Your golden thread holds many other threads in place to show and become an even greater beauty. Never underestimate God’s blueprint, every thread is counted.
  4.  I pray that you release fear in your life. It is a source of animosity and judgment, and inhibits your ability to be all that God intends for you to be. Find comfort in knowing that when God is for you, nothing will come between you and God’s power.
  5. I pray your eyes are open to the wonder of God’s creation and that you can take precious moments to let the beauty of our world sink in and nourish your soul and  in so doing you recognize your own beauty.
  6. I pray you see clearly the impact you have on those around you and that your love, hope, faith, kindness and truth do influence and affect them. I pray that you’re open to receiving the same from them. I know sometimes its easier to give all those things out than receive them.
  7. I pray that you can ask for forgiveness as well as forgive others for any intended or unintended  hurts. Most importantly I pray that you forgive yourself. We are all imperfect and our journey on this earth isn’t about being perfect but growth.
  8. I pray that you find happiness and contentment in all you do, and if what you do doesn’t make you happy, I pray for the strength to find what does and do that.
  9. I pray that you find a way to laugh everyday, it will do your brain good!
  10. I pray that this next year we all find ways to rise above all the negativity and work together to build the Kingdom of God. And I pray we remember every day that all things are possible through God

Truth vs Fear

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So here’s something all humans have in common…we are all afraid of one thing or another. Here’s another thing…it’s not always clear what exactly it is that we are afraid of, and that is where truth becomes essential, otherwise, it’s difficult to control the negative behavior that fear inspires. Just google: fear as a source of negative behavior, and you’ll see what I mean. From a theologian’s perspective…fear is the antithesis of love, and will impede the work, the gifts, the power of God.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love 1 John 4:18

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba,  Father!” Romans 8:15

Peace  I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

Truth, is the armament of love.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And truth will keep fear at bay…but not if we don’t face it, accept that we have it, and work to overcome it. At the core of Christianity is the belief that on our own, salvation is impossible, but with God, ALL things are possible. My struggle in my over inquisitive mind is this: If this is true, then after all this time, where is the ALL possible? What are we, as Christians, doing wrong? While the answer to that question is demonstrably huge and complicated, I keep coming back to fear and behavior. When we let fear dictate the course of our actions and behavior, we do not act in accordance with the belief that in God we can do all things. It is a direct affront against that basic tenet. And well, that sucks because I come face to face with fear every day. Questions like: Am I enough, Did I do that right, Was that unkind, should I do more…the list is endless. When I am truthful about my fears, however, and ask God to help me overcome them…the power of that fear fades. More importantly, when I face the consequences of fear based behavior, I become even more determined to not let that behavior dictate future decisions…because those decisions have never taken me to a better place, ever.

I will also say this: pretending that we are not afraid, or pretending that fear is justified gives it strength over our future behavior. And if we can’t handle personal fears and the behavior it inspires, there is no hope that we can conquer fear on a larger level. I just don’t think its possible. And I don’t mean any of this in the way of chastisement, not at all. It should be a source of great comfort to know that nothing will stand in the way of God’s love for us and any and all the fears out in the world. It should cause a huge wave of relief.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid?

Fallen Fruit

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In my year of bearing good fruit, today on Father’s day, I pause and wonder and pray for those whose fruit bearing was cut short, who, by our human tendency toward violence as a problem solving tool were shut down before their purpose and gifts in this life were brought to fruition. None of us can know just how other lives could have benefited and been saved by these individuals who were prematurely cut down, whether by the hand of another, or their own hand, but the future is affected nonetheless.

This year I have committed myself to be aware of those whose talents, gifts and influence have brought me thus far. They are a multitude. I am also aware of the tentative thread that connects all of these moments and actions together. What if one essential thread had disappeared, been cut short by violence? What if those God intended to be on my path at some future date were already gone? How are the many affected by a loss of a fruit that was meant as an essential benefit to someone long ahead in the future?

In a time when everyone is arguing about who deserved what, who caused what, and who ultimately is to blame, no one, it seems to me anyway, asks the very important question about what happens when human beings decide a life isn’t worth living, or redeeming, or is worthy only as a blood sacrifice. None of us are omniscient. None can know what the impact on our future will be. Yet, we are living in violent times. I understand the logic of self defense. I have heard all of the justifications. But….none of us know the mind of God or know the opportunity for redemption that could have come. As Christians, we should a least hold that as a powerful possibility too. We are told, when God is for us, who can be against us? Maybe if we had just a little more faith in that, we wouldn’t feel the need to use violence (both in words and deeds) to solve our problems.

We must do better. We must learn to work at problem solving with less vitriol. And because of all I learned last year about clarity, I must start with myself. And it is hard work. Before I went to sleep a couple of nights ago, I prayed hard that God show me how to move forward…and I didn’t like the answer. I am a vivid dreamer, and here was my dream:

I was on a rocky hill. Jesus, or my vision of him, was sitting on rock. I went and sat next to him and asked what I must do to help the world.

He smiled and said, “I have laid everything out in the Gospel” When I asked him to be more specific, he simply said “infrastructure”

Of course I wanted clarity, so I asked, “You mean like roads, bridges, foundations and things like that?”

He responded, “yes, infrastructure of the spirit. You must make roads and bridges and create a foundation all for and to the Kingdom of God.”

Feeling overwhelmed, I asked, “but how do I do that, where do I start?”

Jesus answered, “By being a servant first and foremost”

I got worried and asked, “But haven’t I been serving you?”

He looked somber and said, “it isn’t a question of past service, but what must be done to heal the wounds that are threatening the Body of Christ. The road ahead isn’t solitary, I require the Body, full and functioning. In order to heal it you must find the wounds first, and clean and remove infection so that it can grow in strength. It isn’t pretty, or easy but it must be done.”

Of course I’m all about healing (or so I thought) “I want to help heal it, show me what I can do.”

Jesus said “No servant is greater than their master, if you want to serve me then do what I have done.”

I was all in “I will, Lord” I responded. Then he handed me a towel and walked me over to a chair with a basin. I recognized the washing of the feet scenario…not too scary, I’ve handled worse. But then Jesus greeted someone behind me, and when I turned around Donald Trump was standing in front of me. My heart sank farther that I ever thought it could. Because, this is the first and last time I’ll say this, I despise him. Please understand it has nothing to do with a political party. I despise the man. I think he’s a narcissist, mean spirited, untruthful, a misogynist, weak in character and so much more. I looked at Jesus, and he looked really sad. He guided Mr Trump to the chair and asked him to remove his shoes. Thankfully he did was he was told and didn’t speak. (I’m sure my unconscious mind wouldn’t allow it). I looked at the towel in my hand and looked at Jesus with eyes that said “Really?”

He reminded me of something my son asked when he was a little boy, “Remember what you said when Connor asked you whether there was any place in hell that the love of God couldn’t reach?”

I said, “I told him that the love of God can and does reach every place in the universe”

And then Jesus said, “Show me that its true”

I literally got down on my knees and started sobbing. I picked up Mr Trump’s foot and started washing it. I suddenly realized how horribly misshapen-ed and wounded it was. Every time I squeezed the water on it, the wounds seemed to clear up a bit. Then he disappeared and it was Jesus feet in his place. They were perfect, even with the scar of the nail, they were perfect.

He said to me, “That what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” I was devastated. I had been schooled. Then I woke up. I committed in that moment to building a spiritual infrastructure worthy of the Body of Christ.

I have no clear idea of what to do. But I will work toward keeping the fruit of the future in tact, and I hope you will too. The time has come for us as servants to find the wounds and clean them and heal them, and not just the wounds we want to heal, or just the people that we believe are worthy of it. We must call out and stand in defense against any who would harm the Body of Christ…but our weapon is not a gun, it is LOVE. LOVE that flashes brilliantly to everyone to see, as proof that God can touch everywhere in the universe. We all benefit when we see Christ in absolutely every person out there. I know the journey will be hard and complex, but this dream will be forever on  my mind when I walk…for the love of God can reach anywhere.

Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall be shown Mercy.

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I’ve been quiet. I’ve been busy. I’ve been stretched. I’ve been focused. I have lingered on this beatitude for awhile. Mercy: I have yearned for it, received it, exercised it, celebrated it, and embraced the hope it brings. I have also, at times, stood with an aching sadness at the lack of it in the world in both small and large ways. Mercy was at the heart of my spiritual awakening and is the sustenance for my soul. And it is mercy both in its effort and absorption that keeps my house clean when I am tempted to throw it by the wayside and rage against the lies and cruelty and ignorance and ego and judgement and entitlement and fear. In desperate moments I remember Jesus in the garden sweating blood because his fear and anxiety was so deep yet was still willing to give his Godly heart for my flawed human one. My life transformed because he augmented my broken heart with his heart. And it was then that I became his fruit, a viable product of his extraordinary life and sacrifice, a means by which the power of mercy can live and stay palpable in our often sad and desperate world. When I allow his heart to be my heart, mercy is air, it is breath, it is life, it is everything.

Lydia’s Fruit

 

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A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.

After Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for freeing a girl of a demon, the jailer was converted when after fervent prayer an earthquake felled the walls of the jail, but they refused escape to protect the jailer. Overwhelmed, he asked what he needed to do to be saved, they told him of Jesus, witnessed and baptized his whole family and he bathed and addressed their wounds. After refusing to leave quietly, because they were falsely detained without trial as Roman citizens, they walked proudly out the front door and went directly back to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers and then left.

It took me a long while in my study and ministry to understand the power and gift of Lydia. Imagine the difficulty of traveling all these territories spreading the gospel. Foreign places full of strangers with nothing really to travel with. Those few lines in Acts bring it home. She offered them a safe haven, a generous hospitality that enabled them to face hardship, yet continue their ministry. I wrote a paper about Lydia in graduate school, using her simple, yet powerful gesture as an example of environmental leadership. What Paul and his entourage did was extremely difficult, and because of people like Lydia, they could stop, refuel, take a moment to regenerate to begin the journey anew.

I never underestimate the power of hospitality, especially in terms of leadership…because being a good leader is hard. But when welcomed in and nurtured in a safe haven, they can become their best selves, and that in and of itself can be the the greatest gift to the world, bringing out our best selves to build the Kingdom of God. Face it, the world can be a scary place and we as individuals and faith communities can be a powerful source of love and safety for those on their life’s difficult journey. Never underestimate the power of hospitality, even if it means just sitting next to someone who appears afraid, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or oppressed. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but compounded together these simple gestures can be beautifully transforming. Go ahead, be Lydia.

1988

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My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.

It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.

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I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.

We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.

There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.

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I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.

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Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.

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My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.

We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.

Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.

me and Diana    1988 gala dinner

Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.

That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.

Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.