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.
I’m not a tentative person…never was, never will be. While that may have caused me considerable consternation in the past, I don’t worry about that anymore. I do worry, however, about the state of the world and those who command our attention. I wonder how differently they would speak if they read these words everyday:
A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil. I tell you, on the day of judgement people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Just saying…I’m sure there would be a lot more silence.
It’s been awhile, and the reason is simple: life happens and sometimes life is hard. Events occur and people we love grow ill and the future teeters in a precarious balance that seems beyond everything but hope and prayer. The world is fraught with crisis and to weigh in demands I make a choice. Will I be a glass half empty person or a glass half full person. I choose to stand on the side of the half fullers. For me its not a Pollyanna thing but a hard stance in the face of negativity and dare you to defy my hope kind of thing. Ultimately, it is a requirement of my faith…for without it, I am just a seed on rocky ground. This world is so good, and so full of great things happening every day, and not the apocalyptic nightmare purported over the many means of media.
It’s also a science thing for me…in a quantum situation, i.e. light can exist as a particle or a wave depending on how its observed (note, prior to this double slit experiment, it had to be one or the other, light could not exist as both). Life can be good or bad, I as the observer determine which…and that determination matters more than anything. I can affect an outcome through faith, hope and love. Words matter, telling the truth matters, prayer matters, looking to the future no matter how daunting with God, in whatever form, augmenting our weakness with deep abiding love and strength matters. It ultimately distinguishes who gets up and moves forward.
For you glass half empties…I offer you my prayer to learn to see with hopeful eyes
When there are no words, I am called to listen. This week I listened to stories of love and loss, hardship and unexpected graciousness, and I felt sadness but also hope. I also listened to stories of anger, bias, ill informed and ignorant claims about “what really happened,” questions about character and worth and I felt despair but also deep anger. I heard people speak of those participants in the horrors of Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas with deep love about those who were lost. I listened to my pastor speak about a phrase from Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I listened to my son, impressed by Jane Elliot’s ground breaking, “blue eyed, brown eyed” experiment in the 1960’s, speak with laser accuracy about racism. I listened to social media friends talk about white privilege and black lives matter and knew that I could never understand with any depth what people of color go through in this country. I listened to friends in law enforcement and blue lives matter and the fear that follows them each and every day, and yet work with deep honor and pride as well. I listened to a mother with a biracial child speak about the subtle and not so subtle ways racism affects her daughter. I listened to a story about a woman who was able to comfort a frightened Muslim grandmother who was afraid at an airport in the most beautiful and simplest way. I listened to people effortlessly bash our president with unmitigated hatred after, what I thought was one of the most beautiful memorial speeches ever, he spoke in Dallas. I listened with even more sadness when I heard the news of another attack in France.
It is a disturbing point of tension, caught in the middle unable to say anything that would begin to change another’s mind or heart. To hear so many perspectives that seemed to speak over each other, cancel each other out or in anonymous condemnation made me want to stop listening. So I sat in silence and remembered the words of Isaiah when he heard God in a whisper. And in the quiet of those moments I could feel God present in my struggle, and could hear God in a whisper, and he asked me to magnify my struggle as much as I could and think of how much bigger my struggle could be…and he told me even then I am there. He is present in every place where there is crisis, even in my small and seemingly insignificant one. I listened to God and realized that we haven’t really been listening to him when he said that nothing could separate us from his love. When we listen, we can hear God through each other. I told God that I wanted to be the seed that was planted deep and not on shallow, rocky, or thorny ground. And then I listened to the words of Christ who said that I need only love the Lord my God with my heart, mind and soul, and my neighbor as my self. And the way to do that was to see Christ in them, understand them by walking a mile in their shoes, and work with them to become the Body of Christ. I am a holder of his Grace, I have no need to fear, and yet I do. I fear the lies that are being spread, because we don’t want to listen to painful truths. I fear that the Devil is craftier than I ever knew in eliciting strife and discord, and people are buying it hook, line and sinker, under the guise of faith, patriotism and righteousness.
So before you plant your feet too firmly, take a walk to the other side, and listen. You may see things differently.
When I have no words to express the sadness, the shock, the shame that I feel when I am witness to events that I find unconscionable, unreasonable and unacceptable, I turn to scripture to find comfort. I came upon this verse in the gospel of Matthew 10: 28-31.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
In this moment, with grief and anger regarding senseless loss of life, I pray for our national soul. In this moment, we need to be our best selves, and that will look different depending where we stand. Wherever that is, it is counterproductive to focus energy on blame and vengeance. In this moment, those of us who stand on the outside must shine light into the darkness with love and support. All are essential in God’s eyes. That has to be the foundation in finding a solution, one nation under God. A nation that is not just one color, religion, or political ideology. Unless you stand for the freedom of every citizen, you do not stand for America. As for your faith, unless you see God in the eye of every citizen, you do not stand for God.
We have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about racial inequality and gun violence. We are becoming an angry, fearful, judgmental and self righteous violent people. If we truly believe that we all matter, then a change in attitude is the only possible solution. It starts with me, and it starts with you. None of us can stay the same…we all have to move forward, together.
One of the observations that Jesus makes both comforts and convicts me in equal measure. Jesus first warns his disciples:
Be on guard against the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and love greetings in marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.
He then goes on to make this observation:
When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.’
I’m not about to get close to the subject of people and their money. No one thinks they have enough, and certainly don’t want to let go of it…to their detriment anyway. At my core, I’m no different, and it is with great effort and sometimes with great ease, that I consciously release the hold it has on me every day. It expands my faith and my trust in God that I will have enough…that I will be enough and it actually makes me walk in the world differently.
I want to explore other kinds of want, and that has been the greater task for me this year. Loving when I don’t feel loved, being respectful when I don’t feel respected, empathizing when I don’t feel empathy, offering hope when I don’t feel hopeful, trusting someone when I am plagued with distrust, extending peace when I am full of rage, all lessen the need itself. The distinction is subtle…but like the widow, when I give out of my need, with all my present resources, I not only see that I have enough, but the need loses its hold on my soul.
Exhausting needs, and offering all I have to another, allows God to replenish me and create a surplus that wasn’t there before. The mystery of letting go and letting God is manifested. Otherwise it’s just talk. Otherwise we become like the scribes who never lessen their wealth, but gain all the accolades for their holiness. Otherwise faith, hope and love lose and fear wins. I won’t let that happen. Today, I give from need and not want.
You know what I find so troubling? I find it troubling that the internet/social media, while doing so much good to connect people and help them access information, also does a lot of damage in making it easy to rip people apart without any real consideration for the truth, or what it does to someone’s spirit, and, moreover, what it does to the often faceless, feckless, and feeble-minded people who perpetuate damaging rhetoric. It will never make you a better person to disparage someone anonymously or behind their backs. I have seen first hand what it does to people, nipping away at one’s soul, in varying degrees perhaps, but adding to the darkness nonetheless. I’ve posted before regarding an important lesson I learned, that no one can hurt you without your permission…a wonderful and freeing exercise that saves me everyday. However, I also think its important to address what it does to the one who doles out the damage. It just builds up the anger and angst.
Perhaps people are truly unaware that what they say or do has any affect on another, and that if they knew how hurtful they were being they may actually feel bad about it. I know, I’ve unwittingly hurt someone before, it is part of my process to rectify the situation any time I’ve been made aware of it. That’s why face to face conversations are so important, except the internet often makes it impossible to know the direct effect someone has on another…it is just too easy to click, send, or post, without ever looking someone directly in the eye and never face the repercussions of their actions. Ignorance is never an excuse, because the damage occurs anyway. My last post spoke about letting your light shine. But know this truly, when you condemn, disparage or judge another darkness spreads. Jesus speaks very clearly about this:
Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother or sister’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye. How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me remove the splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye. You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother or sister’s eye.
None of us is perfect. And we are all in this together. So let’s focus then, on what we can do to spread light and not darkness. Looking in the mirror, with humility and grace and judging by the measure with which we want to be measured is the place to start.
There reaches a point when I just have to turn off, or I will take a header down the rabbit hole. Whether it is social media, the TV, or random conversations. I can’t stand the blind polarization…and it is blind, because I spent all of yesterday just checking out the many links, and total SHIT put out there to see if everyone is as off base as I thought they were. Don’t hate me because I fact checked. Don’t hate me because I am shoving all of the hateful, paranoid, holier than thou, I’m more American than you, or I’m in tune with the real truth rhetoric back in your face. And I am calling out EVERYBODY. You know the one thing that will destroy our country?…your own self interest. You hate Trump, because he’s a racist, thin skinned, narcissistic hack. (More than anything I do believe he is an unfiltered opportunist). You hate Hillary because she is a liar and a woman (I checked, I can’t say she is anymore a liar than those who are doing such a good job at convincing you she is a liar…I was one of the few people who actually watched all 11 hours of the eighth Benghazi hearing) and she is a career politician that is ruining Bernie’s chance to bring down Wall-street (who you believe she secretly supports), You hate Bernie because he’s a socialist and wants to give everything away for free and is ruining Hillary’s chance to be the first woman president. So, instead of perpetuating all the bullshit, and don’t send me a bunch of links that support your “stance” or call me blind-fully ignorant (which I am soooo not), or a typical liberal (which I am soooo not), or one of those Intellectuals who think they know more than the average person (which I sooooo am), let’s stop seeing just what we want to see and try our damnedest to try and be more objective. So let me put my big brain to work and try to appeal to the real you that usually exists until someone starts talking about politics. We are all passionate about the future of our country. It just shouldn’t be so polarized and so desperately mean. To support one candidate doesn’t mean we have to vilify another.
Let’s look at it from another angle. Trump seems to attract people who are tired of politicians, they are enthused by his “I say what I want” and want to feel proud of a country that honors hard work and patriotism, and I think are really afraid. Hillary has been a career politician, but one who has constantly worked for women, children, and stands for many women as an example of breaking the glass ceiling. Bernie gave a voice to young people, who just want a chance to reach their dreams without debilitating student debt. He also called out the money makers who have been bailed out and yet suffered few consequences for the devastation they caused. Regardless of who you vote for, cause we all have issues that matter more to ourselves than others, comes the responsibility to speak about them in a way that honors what America stands for. There can be civil disobedience and peaceful revolution, there can be respect even with clear disagreement. There can be tough debates without name calling and character assassinations, that focus on issues. We, the people, can define the tone of this election. So next time you feel compelled to lambaste someone, or share an unchecked link that focuses more on smear than issue, conspiracy over truth, watch the baby bird video I posted first. How can you hate after that?
When a scholar of the law asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him what the law said, to which the scholar responded: “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responded that he had answered correctly and said “Do this and you will live.” The scholar then asked who his neighbor was, and Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. For those of you who don’t know the story…let me tell you some history first. The Samaritans were people of what had been the former Northern Kingdom that had been conquered by the Assyrians, resulting in a mixed race people comprised of both Jews and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh, as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. Because of a lack of strict adherence, and pagan ancestry they were despised by ordinary Jews.
So the story then goes as follows:
A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with instruction, ‘Take care of him, If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, Jesus said, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? The scholar answered, ‘The on who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
This timeless story couldn’t be more prevalent in facing today’s volatile atmosphere. In America there is a movement, like the Jews with Samaritans, of defining standards that limit who fits into a narrow definition for what an American is. And it goes against the root of the message that Jesus was trying to convey. The funny thing, though, is that no one really fits this limited definition, its all an elaborate illusion. We are all of mixed heritage and history. But I still believe we all have more in common than we have differences. That should be the end of the story, but its not. So I ask the question that scholar asked…who, then, is my neighbor?
For me, I know I’m lucky. Growing up, I was in a neighborhood where the moms watched each other’s kids in a pinch and there were enough of us for two teams of whatever the game was of the moment. Our house may have felt too small for our large family, and while none of us were rich, with a pitcher of Kool-Aid, a bike, a ball or wading pool, who cared? We helped each other out when sickness came, or death, or just relaxed on a hot summer evening. We were a little village, and we felt safe and had each other’s backs. As an adult, I always made a point to meet my neighbors, because we were breathing the same air, and they or I may need help some day. Most importantly, life is so much better when you’re not isolated, or alone. I was always surrounded by people who were different from me, in ways that always expanded my universe. When mercy is offered, most often it is returned with mercy.
Loving your neighbor begins with you. You have to extend the hand first. That was my attitude when I landed in the latest, and greatest neighborhood of all. My neighborhood is the gold standard, as neighborhoods go, with grand functions we’ve entertained in the 21 years we’ve lived here. We’ve had chick parties, boccie ball and bowling and golf tournaments, pool parties, spooky paths, Christmas Caroling, Dance Camps, World War II simulations, Jelly stone camping excursions, bonfires, road trips and Oktoberfest romps. we’ve grown and mourned together, read books together and laughed until we snorted, OK, until I snorted, we celebrated life events together. Most importantly we all pray and celebrate the goodness that God offers us. We don’t all pray the same way or in the same building, but for Buck Ridge, where we start is the simple dictum Jesus taught us: “love your God with your heart, being, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” We extend mercy in so many fun and wonderful ways, and mercy is what is given in return. It is that simple platform that makes our neighborhood so wonderful, and uncomplicated and oh so easy.
The greatest truth? It isn’t how lucky we are, I already know that. I just want to point our that when you extend the hand of mercy, and treat another as your neighbor, all the fears that life brings, dissipate just a little bit. Isolation breeds fear, being a good neighbor breeds love. It isn’t contingent on anyone else, just you. Perhaps when we can master this practice in our own small neighborhoods and towns, it will leech into the larger picture, calm the fray and lead us to a time when all Americans will be seen as neighbors.
This Memorial weekend I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sacrifice. To all the veteran’s out there, I thank you and words cannot express the deep gratitude I feel for your service. We are able to continue our great American Experiment due, in large part, to the great sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. I believe most Americans, regardless of which side of the fence they sit on, honor you for that. Regardless of the lowlifes out there who capitalize on this weekend to breed ever more hatred for their opponents, claiming “ownership” of being a real and true American, I believe all Americans shine with pride on this day for our brave men and women of the military. It does a disservice to politicize it…even if you are in uniform, you are not sacrosanct to vilify your fellow citizens either. No one gets a free pass to condemn anyone. It defeats the purpose of the sacrifice, which is to maintain freedom for all. I tread carefully here, because while I will never undervalue those who fought in war, there are also other ways to fight, to lead, to serve, to evolve our country into something even better that demanded the sacrifice of life too. Their sacrifices are no less valuable and I honor them on this weekend too.
While I have not served in the military, I have spent my life in service. The model I have used was the core to my vocation, from the Gospel of John 13:12-15:
So when Jesus washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at the table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master and nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
Throughout all my life though, as my understanding grew, this model Jesus set for us is so much more than humbling oneself to wash another’s feet. It is how we must look at each other…the master equals the servant. In one simple motion, Jesus disassembles one of the most embedded notions of cultural hierarchy, that there are those who deserve privilege and others who don’t…and says that we are all the same, no one is better than the other. No amount of societal consequence, propriety, adulation or even condemnation can make any set of eyes looking into mine any greater or lesser. I can honor their gifts or challenge their flaws without placing them above or below my gaze.
So when I celebrate this day, I do so not only for those who have sacrificed their lives, but to honor that sacrifice by holding myself to the highest standard for what a real American looks like: a beacon to the rest of the world, while acknowledging my power as a citizen of the most powerful country in the world, I embrace the model that Jesus set for me, not lording over, or looking down on, but helping others to rise up to their greatest potential. Our greatness depends on an America committed to building the strengths of its citizens and on leaders who are not kings, but who model the example of humility and service and return our gaze with equality and respect.