Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.


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A Psalm of Hope

It has been a REALLY long time since I posted. Lots of reasons, and that is not the point of this post, but I am very conscious of how much I need this medium for words today. I need the healing of exploring my own soul and sharing that exploration in the belief that I am not alone. And, what is more, I need the belief that this sharing can be a way back to humanity, and compassion, and most of all HOPE.

And so, this is me sharing my soul. It is written in the form of a Psalm, because a psalm is what I needed today. So, I read the first 24 verses of Psalm 18 (I am very inconsistently working my way through the psalms as a self-care practice at the moment, and this was the next one up) and from that inspiration, I wrote my own.


Psalm January 29, 2017 (Loosely inspired by Psalm 18:1-24)

I said “I love you, God, my source of safety.”

God is the one I can always rely on – the one who is always there, who never rejects me.

God is my support.

I don’t have to prove myself to God.

God protects me from myself and from my need to demonstrate my worth.

I am safe with God.

Because God is so completely trustworthy, I came to God in prayer, begging,

and God filled my soul with the assurance that God is bigger than everything I am afraid of.

I was scared of so many things –

of pain for myself and for others,

of failure,

of coldness in my soul,

of people feeling abandoned and my guilt for that abandonment,

because I am relatively safe.

In my tears and fear, I prayed.

I cried out to God, “HELP!”

And God heard!

In the truth of God’s glory, and power, and perfection, my  fears and tears were NOT too light a thing to claim God’s attention.

God paid attention.

 

And when God responds, that response cannot be ignored.

God’s power, and truth, and righteousness are far beyond control.

God it not tame.

Even when I might get nervous about God’s righteous anger, it’s not for me to hold it back.

God’s love is fierce.

God’s commitment to creation and to each precious person will not sit back;

God will not wait and see;

God will not be conciliatory where there is evil in the world.

God’s love can burn like wildfire when it needs to.

And God’s truth can be as invasive as the darkness –

working where we cannot see

in preparation for the painfully revealing light.

When loud voices speak lies, God will speak louder,

and the enemies of God will be scattered.

They will be exposed in the places they thought they were safe –

in the center of their assumed power –

they will be shaken.

Nothing can resist God’s righteous anger.

 

God does not stay remote.

God has already touched me, grabbed me, and pulled my spirit to safety.

The quicksand cannot pull at me

when God has hold of me.

It tried –

it surrounded me with lies and fears and memory-scars of pain.

But God is stronger and God saved me.

God loves me and shows that I am worth saving.

God knows my failings, but God also knows my heart is turned toward love.

God has given me faith,

and so I seek God’s will,

and I reject fear and self-protection that denies God’s sovereignty.

I seek to know and understand how God’s way of living works,

and then I follow that way, imperfectly, through grace.

And so, God has protected me and given me this life –

to live in joy with love

keeping God’s way.

AMEN

 

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Worth vs. Status- a message for Pharisees and 21st century Americans.

So… the blog has been pretty quiet this summer. As in … silent. I haven’t posted a single thought or poem since early May. I don’t flatter myself that there has been a whole host of people checking their blog feeds and panting for fresh words from me, but in case you were wondering I didn’t actually fall off the face of the earth, I just got swallowed up by CPE.

CPE, more completely known as Clinical Pastoral Education, is one element of the training process that many religious denominations include in the path to ordination. It involves serving as a chaplain in a relatively intense primary care setting (in my case, serving as a hospital chaplain at a level 1 trauma center), and combining that service with a lot of self-analysis/group reflection time that most closely resembles an emotional pressure-cooker. In other words, you really can’t explain CPE; you just have to live it to understand.

But this doesn’t mean I wasn’t writing this summer. I just wasn’t writing blogs. I wrote some things for myself, some things that I may share eventually, and a whole lot of sermons.

And the sermon I had the privilege to preach today, at my wonderful home church, seems like a good way to re-open the blog. For one thing, because it was the sermon I needed after my summer, and for another because I suspect it might be a sermon some other people need to.


Worth Vs. Status

The second to last verse of our gospel* today reads like this: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

I promise I did not ask to preach this Sunday just because of this verse, but this is seriously my kind of verse, right? Anti-poverty advocacy has been my life’s work for the last decade and a half, which puts this passage right in the middle of my ethical sweet spot.

Much as I would love to preach a sermon that focuses on the call to “help the poor,” however, I can’t.

For one thing, I don’t think that’s the sermon this congregation really needs. This church is a community that already takes seriously God’s call to respond to the needs of the poor and outcast, and while that is something to be celebrated, if all this text does is congratulate us for our good deeds, then it’s not really the gospel. The gospel is meant to transform us – to challenge our formulas for living a good life and to pull us instead into the amazing grace that God offers us through Christ Jesus.

Plus, when I started looking for that transformation in this text, I realized that the story it tells is much deeper and more fundamental than instructions on how we should act. The gospel in this story – both the challenge and the grace – lies in the contrast between status and worth.

You see the context of this story is ALL about status.

Jesus is a guest at a party in the home of a Pharisee (otherwise known as a rule-abiding member of the religious upper class).

Jesus and a number of other guests are all gathered together for a meal, which brings in a whole bunch of rules related to status.

The place you sit at the table tells how important you are,

and the fact that the guests were invited in the first place is a sign that they were considered to be in the same social strata as the host,

and it also creates an obligation on the guests to reaffirm the host’s status by inviting him to one of their parties.

Except Jesus, of course.

He was an itinerant preacher, so he clearly couldn’t return the host’s invitation.

He was there for another reason – but that reason was still all about status. The story tells us that the Pharisees were all watching Jesus closely, and we can be pretty sure that wasn’t because thought he was so cool.

Rather, in this high stakes context with so many rules, they were trying to catch Jesus breaking the rules. By doing so, they could knock down some of the authority (some of the status) that the unruly masses have been giving this upstart and reassert their own.

This is the context where Jesus tells his two parables.

The first one is frankly confusing because it doesn’t seem to challenge the whole status system at all. It’s just a bit of cagey advice about not risking your honor by claiming importance, but instead putting on a show of false humility so as to maybe coerce a nice dose of public recognition.

This seems quite out of character for Jesus, unless we consider that what Jesus is really doing is drawing a contrast – A contrast between the world of rules, and strategies, and scrambling after status, and the way God operates.

You see, parables always tell us something about “The Kingdom”, which is a theological way of saying “the way God interacts with God’s people.”

And when we read these two parables together we see that they form a contrast between the Pharisee’s way, and God’s way.

In the second parable, Jesus tells the host that he should have abandoned the rules of scheming, status-seeking society and instead should have invited guests to his banquet who could never repay the favor,

because the repayment will then come not from the guests, but from God …at the resurrection.

That reference to the resurrection is a clue that this parable is the one that teaches us about the Kingdom of God, in contrast to the first parable.

The first parable painted a picture of competitiveness –

of scheming to come out on top and to be set apart as special

The second parable, in contrast, paints a picture of equality –

Of everyone sitting down at the same table, regardless of social position, and enjoying the same meal as an expression of God’s resurrection kingdom.

The details of these stories are not familiar to our 21st century American context – but the contrast between status and worth could not be more relevant.

Every day we are bombarded by messages about status.

For us, maybe it is at work that status is determined by where we sit – whether our office has a window, or is even an office at all;

Or we go to school and we can’t just sit at any cafeteria table, because there are unwritten rules about who can sit where, and there are consequences for our reputations if we break those rules;

Or we turn on the TV and we see commercials that tell us people will judge us by the cars we drive, or the clothes we wear, or the color or our American Express card;

Or even when we fast-forward through the commercials we have endless shows where the focus is on out-surviving, or out-performing, or out-scheming, or out-talenting everyone else to win the big prize.

Or we look in the mirror, and we can’t help but compare ourselves to every impossibly beautiful or hard-muscled, air-brushed magazine picture that has ever told us we are less-than.

The markers of status may be very different for us, but the world of the Pharisees is not really that different than ours, is it?

It’s still about ranking and competition – judging better and worse, higher and lower- and any middle schooler, or pinterest addict can tell you how hard we all try to win that game.

And because of that our world is so incredibly insecure. When everywhere we look we are surrounded by reminders that we are being judged, that we have to win or we will be losers, that we have to be better than others to prove that we matter… Even being at the top can be terrifying – because what if we fall?

Our standard of living is unparalleled in history, and yet we are plagued by depression, and anxiety, and self-injuring behavior whether that be cutting, or substance-abuse, or workaholism.

It’s exhausting to be constantly playing the status game, because underneath all the ways the game shows up in our individual lives, they are all based on the same lie.

The lie that our status defines our worth.

And that’s why our text today is the desperately needed gospel – for Living Waters, and for every child, woman, and man who is bombarded every day with the rules of the status game.

Because Jesus describes the insecurity, and dishonesty, and shallowness of that game, and then he describes the opposite.

He describes a table where all are welcome NOT because of who they are and what they bring to the table, but because God calls them worthy.

God calls us worthy.

By invoking the resurrection, Jesus is talking about worth. A worth that is absolute. There is no more or less worthy in the kingdom. The same perfect gift of self-sacrificial love on the cross is what Jesus offers to each one of us. And that source of worth – the worth proclaimed in our baptism which echoes the resurrection – invalidates the status game.

Jesus was showing the Pharisees, and Us, that the entire framework of better and worse, higher and lower is absolutely irrelevant to God’s way of acting.

And so, it should be to ours, as God’s resurrection people.

Worth – not status.

  • Worth that sees all bodies as valuable, regardless of their weight, or illness, or disability, or age, or color.
  • Worth that sees all workers as valuable, regardless of their level of responsibility, or education, or remuneration.
  • Worth that sees all lives as valuable, regardless of their country of origin, or religious practices, or past crimes.
  • Worth that does not ever allow us to see ourselves (or others) as better than, or worse than.

It is a serious challenge because it calls us to genuinely let go of our desire to prove ourselves – whether that be proving we are better than others, or just proving our own value to ourselves by reaching some idealized goal.

We share what we have and we invite everyone to the table because the worth that ALL of us have flows equally from the God who made the table for us, without reservation and without limit.

And this is where we pull in that beautiful image from Hebrews** of being “held together by love.”

God’s table is about rejecting status, and competition, and fear, and instead sharing in the community of love. The community that is generated within the love of the Triune God and into which we are all invited to enter, not because we have earned it, but because God has called us worthy. God has called you worthy.

When we gather at the table in a few minutes, we are all there by God’s grace. We did not earn it and we are welcome there whether or not we are coveting after status in our hearts. And I, for one, am thankful for that, because I am preaching this sermon to myself.

But when we are there, I encourage us each to take that bread and wine as an invitation to know our own worth, and the worth of every other person whom God calls worthy – no matter what you or I might think of them – We are welcome at God’s table because God has called us worthy.

Amen

*    Gospel text: Luke 14:1, 7-14:  On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

**    Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1 : “Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love.”


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Racism and Cheesecake, or Revisiting the Golden Rule

Yesterday I had the chance to have an intentional conversation about racism.

The context was statewide Synod Assembly, the annual gathering of the New Jersey congregations of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). As part of the agenda, there was set-aside two hours of intentional time devoted to struggling – through listening and conversation – toward a better understanding of how we as individuals and communities are called to respond to the realities of racism in our society. The conversation was opened by viewing the Ted-x talk by Jay Smooth about how we talk about race (well worth the 12 minutes, by the way). We then broke into randomly assigned small groups to respond to a series of prompts.

At least from where I sat, the dialogue in my group felt thoughtful and encouraging. We were young, old, and in between. We brought a range of experiences and perspectives, and each member had the chance to share from that experience. We talked about racism existing on a spectrum, rather than as the binary opposites of racist/non-racist. We explored the power of recognizing the many lenses through which we all see the world. Several of us have had some level of exposure to anti-racist training, and there was a positive ebb and flow between story and analysis. I have been part of many such intentional conversations, especially in the past two years, and this conversation, though certainly not perfect, felt generative.  I felt incredibly hopeful about the capacity for listening and learning.

And then…

In the last five minutes we were asked to consider action steps: what do we actually plan to do about what we have been talking about when we go back into our congregations?

Five minutes is clearly not the right amount of time to engage that question in a group of ten people. I’m not sure what the ideal time allotment would have been, but I do know this question posed a deep, challenging task that we needed to grapple with.

Several of us in the group took a deep breath. I assume that the others were, like me, trying to get our heads around how to approach this challenge with thoughtfulness and integrity, consistent with the preceding conversation.

And into that silence stepped the group member who had, perhaps, been the most binary in his understanding of racism; the one who had been the most defensive about how he didn’t have a problem because he got along with everyone; the one who raised the straw man of political correctness and suggested “they” were being too sensitive.

He raised both hands in an expression of self-congratulatory confidence and declared: “really, I think it all comes down to the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we all just do that… problem solved.”

It was placed on the table like a perfect, gift-wrapped package, complete with the over-sized red bow. Nothing more need be said. I’ve got it all boxed up nicely for you. No need to thank me. We can all be on our way.

Except, we couldn’t. This was not at all where our conversation had been leading and so I tried to explain why our answer needed to be more thoughtful. I tried to explain how “doing unto others” doesn’t work if you impose your preferences on them and treat them how YOU want to be treated, rather than treating them how THEY actually want to be treated. I tried to explain that really listening has to precede doing (and certainly doing for) when there is a gap of culture, or experience, or opportunity. I tried to gently but firmly challenge the presumption of hegemony contained in the simple-formula solution. In essence, I tried to pack several hours (or days, or years) worth of consciousness-raising about privilege, equity, and listening for the perspective of the oppressed into what was left of our five minutes. Of course I failed utterly.

A few other ideas were thrown out about books to read as a congregation, and ways to be intentional about listening. The group broke up with warm smiles and affirmations of the work we had done together. The jarring note of the conclusion did not irreparably mar what was otherwise a strong, equipping conversation.

But I am a perfectionist, which means I have a hard time letting go of my failures. I have been mulling over those damned five minutes all evening and trying to figure out what I could have said more clearly that maybe, just maybe, could have broken through this brother’s consternation about how I could possibly challenge his presentation of the Golden Rule as the definitive answer.

So, this is what I have come up with.

The Golden Rule presents us with two people or groups of people: “others” and “you.” So far, so good, if you are using this rule as a guide for your interactions with other people. All involved parties are included in the premise. But we run into a problem if that inclusion is only cursory. The “other” has to really be considered, in their own right, and not just as a blank slate on which to superimpose your own desires.

I hope an example will help to explain what I am talking about. (This is where the cheesecake comes in.) I LOVE cheesecake. The sweetness and creaminess, combined with just the right amount of buttery, crumbly texture from the graham cracker crust…perfection! I could actually, probably, write a whole blog post just about cheesecake if that would not seriously sabotage my healthy eating plan.

So, given my passion for cheesecake, what I would “have others do for me” is to give me cheesecake. At least, if the doing has to do with preparing a special treat for me… please, cheesecake!

However, my husband dislikes cheesecake. I really cannot understand it, but given cheesecake as the only dessert option, he will pass. He just doesn’t like it.

So, in the event that I want to prepare a special treat for him, I don’t make him cheesecake. I make him lemon meringue pie. That’s his favorite, so that’s what I make (although not nearly as often as he would like, I must confess).

In so doing, I think I am fulfilling the Golden Rule, even though I am not, in fact, doing unto my husband as I would have him do unto me. If I were, I would give him cheesecake, because that is what I like. But he would hate it. That’s why “doing unto others” doesn’t work if you impose your preferences on the other and treat them how YOU want to be treated, rather than treating them how THEY actually want to be treated.

And that’s why the Golden Rule isn’t a simple answer at all, when it comes to trying to reach across the reality of the racial divide in this country: because it requires you to actually find out how the other wants to be treated. I have been married to my husband more than 15 years, and in that time I have learned a lot. Even in our relationship, though, there is still so much left to learn. And our stories do not even start all that far apart!

Unfortunately, the reality of racial inequity in America creates a strong likelihood of a much larger divide in life experience when I am interacting with a person of color. This is not to say I should ever assume total dissimilarity. We may very well be more alike than different in any number of ways. But I need to take the time to find this out. This is the problem with “color-blindness” as a solution to racism. If I try to be color-blind, I am intentionally seeing less, not more of the story of those who, in one way or another, are “other” than me.

If the person I want to “do unto” is coming from a position of vastly different life experience, no matter how sincere my intention, I am liable to make a big old mess of things if I don’t start by listening. This is particularly true because our culture sees me as White, and therefore I have lived my whole life in a context where my needs and wants have received priority.

To stick with the earlier metaphor, I’ve already had dinner served to me, so what I want is dessert. But I can’t just assume everyone else wants dessert. Any other given person may be hungry for some protein, or fresh vegetables. Or… maybe what they actually want is a table of their own before they worry about what food is on it. Maybe what they want or need is a whole lot more complicated that whipping up a cheesecake, or even a lemon meringue pie.

Complicated is hard, but it is important, and I think the Golden Rule actually calls us to this kind of complicated.

And part of that complicated is confessing when we screw up.

By my own standard of Golden Rule love, I screwed up yesterday. I failed my own test – I didn’t listen carefully to the man across the table from me. I did not listen to his earlier defensiveness, which suggested a clear need to be heard – to know that his intention had been understood, even if I had a different perspective to offer. I jumped right into correcting without affirming, and that’s a pattern that derails so much of the necessary conversation about racism.

So, for what it’s worth, I want to recognize what I heard of his intention here. What I heard was a desire for unity, and mutual self-giving love. That’s a beautiful desire, and one I share. It is an important goal for us all to hold before our eyes as we do the hard and complicated work of struggling with racism in our society and in our church. That’s the dessert we can hopefully get to, once we build a table big enough for everyone, and make sure everyone is fed the meal they want and need.

And once we do that, and it’s time for dessert, I’ll bring the cheesecake.

 


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Relative Gratitude?

[warning – do not plan to enjoy thanksgiving leftovers while reading this post. It involves plumbing problems…]

The last few days have not delivered the Thanksgiving break I was planning on.

I suppose I had some warning. This past Sunday, when a load of laundry flooded the basement due to a blockage in the pipes, it was a foreshadowing of the dangers of home ownership. But an evening visit from the Joe the plumber (his real name), and a few hundred dollars later, it was supposed to be fixed.

Three days later Joe was back. More laundry. More water all over the basement. He diagnosed a blockage in the septic tank. That would be a few hundred more dollars, and we couldn’t get anyone out until Friday, but it was still a manageable crisis. It seemed that only large amounts of water were a problem. We could still wash dishes, flush the toilet, even shower. We could make it a few days without doing laundry.

And I really needed that to be the solution because I  didn’t have time for any more significant disruption of the household routine. Work has been so overwhelming lately that I regularly have to fight back panic tears if I let myself think past just the next urgent task. And then…Thanksgiving.

I love Thanksgiving. I discovered fresh turkeys and focaccia stuffing when we lived in Italy, and I am now embarrassingly proud of my Thanksgiving spread. I wasn’t cooking for a crowd this year – just my own little family and a dear friend from church – but still. It’s Thanksgiving, and that means The Works.

And I was already facing one challenge to this plan: a pesky little degenerated disk in my fifth lumbar region. It has been acting up off and on over the past few months. In recent days even the minimal exertion of 5-10 minutes standing on the hard tile floor in the kitchen prepping the kids’ school lunches leaves me with lower back spasms that take my breath away and make the task of holding back those stress tears a whole lot harder.

But…Thanksgiving.

I defy anyone to successfully prepare a full turkey dinner without spending significant time on their feet. So, I bought a second gel-cushioned kitchen mat, said a few prayers, and started basting.

A couple hours in I could tell I was going to be hurting pretty badly by the time we sat down to eat – but that wasn’t the worst part of the day. That came when Princess Imagination yelled up from the basement. “Mommy! You need to get down here right now, there’s a big problem!”

I hobbled down as fast as my gimpy back would allow. This time the backflow was from Tyler’s shower. Ugh! I guess this problem is bigger than we thought. At least the septic people are coming tomorrow. Tyler might have to rinse the conditioner out of his hair with the garden hose (thank God for the unseasonably warm weather), but the septic flush would fix everything.

Looking back, I’m glad we were still under that delusion during our Thanksgiving celebration. We had a lovely meal with our friend, and we even washed up all the dishes – cautiously –  without catastrophe. My back was definitely hurting, but I hoped that a good night’s sleep with good supportive pillows in strategic places would do the trick.

Then came Friday. I woke up to intense pain. And by pain, I mean that it felt like a metal clamp was slowly tightening on my lowest vertebra.  Even sitting completely immobile hurt. But try telling that to two enthusiastic little bundles of love hopped up on no-school-holiday-weekend-time-to-decorate-for-Christmas excitement. The fifth or sixth time one of them jumped on me in an overflow of glee there were more than a few angry words.

And then the septic company came, flushed the system, and concluded that “No. There was no blockage in the tank. Your problem is in the pipes.”

Re-enter Joe the Plumber (I swear that really is his name). Some trained listening, some experimenting, and we had a third diagnosis. Somewhere between the exit from the house and the septic tank, the pipe was compromised. As in – it will cost $3,000 to replace it.

But not until Saturday. It was a full-day job and it was after 3:00 in the afternoon.

I was very aware that it was after 3:00 in the afternoon, because I hadn’t used the bathroom since the night before. We were in a strictly no-flush situation and our two little ones needed the full remaining toilet capacity.

Now, in the long-term the $3,000 is going to hurt a lot more. But in the moment, my bladder was competing with my lower back for which could crack my pain threshold first. Which meant that I needed to venture out to find a public bathroom…on Black Friday…with a spasming back…not having showered since Wednesday morning.

As I tottered to the car, I was not in the most thankful mood.

Then I turned on the car, and NPR was on the radio with a story about Syrian refugees.

Perspective.

I was suddenly aware of the relative irrelevance of the hardships of my week. But more, I was suddenly also aware of just how hellish life is for the millions of people living for months on end without modern plumbing.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees there are more than 4 million Syrians registered as refugees in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and North Africa – 4 million mothers, fathers, aunts, children – most are in refugee camps.

I have been hearing these numbers for months, and the numbers are overwhelming, but also a bit emotionally deadening. My mind and heart can’t grapple with the concept of so many people fleeing for their lives. The pain of that imagined fear is too much. I can’t simultaneously think of them a people with the same kinds of physical needs that I take for granted being met everyday.

Until just a few are not met. Until my dishes pile up in the sink because I can’t put any water down the drain. Until I have to plan my bathroom breaks around trips out of the house. Until I am conscious of the grease in my hair walking into a coffee shop to buy an over-priced latte as an excuse to use the facilities.

Then I am aware just how quickly we humans can feel dehumanized by the loss of running water. Just water. I still have heat, and shelter, and a freezer stocked with ice packs for my aching back, and every other comfort money can buy. All I lost was water for a few days, and I feel just a bit subhuman. A day that I have been looking forward to – the decorate for Christmas day that was supposed to be a special togetherness time for my family – was marred by stress, and snapishness, and impatience. A little physical pain, and a disruption of our domestic conveniences, and the spirit of patience, love, and joy that is supposed to characterize this season was palpably missing from our house.

Just one, temporary thing can make such a difference.

And more than 4 million people have lost everything. Perhaps permanently.

The moral of this story is supposed to be how I have been reminded to be thankful for all that I have, but honestly that feels rather shallow. If all I learn from the devastation visited on 4 million of my brothers and sisters is to be more grateful for the incredible bounty in my life, then I am a callous and self-centered beast.

Their suffering is not about me. It is about them. I don’t know what I can do about it, and that is a heart pain that weighs heavily on me. But I do know one thing.

I know I can think of them as fully human. I can recognize that the relative safety of a refugee camp is not a solution to their problem. I can reject any narrative that says I shouldn’t care. And I can keep caring until every man, woman, and child has a home again. A real home, with running water.

 


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As hard as it should ever be

A few nights ago the Gigglemonster was having a rough time with the whole sleeping-when-the-lights-are-off thing. I can’t really blame him. He was dealing with a perfect storm of sleep-impairing factors:

  • first day of Kindergarten anxiety
  • nightmares
  • growing pains (I remember them from the teen years – they made me cry)
  • the knowledge that our house was missing that necessary element: Daddy (gone on a business trip)

Given all that, my little not-quite-six year old just couldn’t seem to settle, or stay asleep once he did. I was called into his room again and again, a call made difficult by Mommy’s own sleep-impairing reality of a looming deadline on a major grant application. Needless to say, it was a hard night for both of us.

At around 2:00am, when I had finally shut down my computer and dragged myself to bed only to be wakened by child cries, we were curled together on his bed as I tried to soothe him. He was beyond exhausted, but that made it all the harder to calm down and fall back to sleep. His legs hurt, and he was overwrought, and he just couldn’t take it anymore.

With his sweet little faced scrunched up against the ALL of it, he half-cried his hopeless protest.

“I’m just having a really HARD night, Mommy.”

As I cuddled him closer and told him I understood, I knew that this was true.

I also knew that there were so many little ones that night whose “hard” was unimaginably worse than the “hard” my little boy was fighting. The image of little Aylan Kurdi, and the knowledge of all the millions fleeing the terror that ultimately took his life, has been draining my soul all week. Lying on a soft bed, in a safe house, with all our physical needs met and no fear that they will ever be threatened, I was rocked by the recognition that even here “hard” can be too much. Hard can overwhelm, and leave a loving mother feeling helpless to give my child what he needs and desperately asks me for.

What must it be for a mother to not be able to even give her child safety? What must it be to not even have a bed in which to cuddle your terrified son? 

Reflecting on these contrast I felt grateful for all that we have, but more I was devastated for those who don’t have safety. Comparisons like this can too easily become a sanctimonious sermon about looking at what one has instead of what one lacks, but that take feels very selfish to me. Feeling grateful for what I have is wholly and utterly inadequate when facing the refugee crisis. The comparison that struck me while I comforted my son wasn’t about me. It was about all those who can’t comfort their children because the “hard” they are dealing with is just too hard.

For a five year old, missing his Daddy, and dealing with the first day of school, and waking up with nightmares and growing pains… all that is genuinely hard. And it’s as hard as it should ever be for little boys and girls. As hard as it should ever be. 

If you haven’t done so yet, please join me in doing what you can to help. Links for a few reputable organizations providing direct aid to the crisis are below. It’s can’t fix everything, but it will help parents who don’t have what they need to comfort there children tonight.

World Relief Disaster Response

Lutheran World Relief 

World Vision Syria Crisis Appeal

Ox Fam is also working to generate support for refugee resettlement. You can join that effort here


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Monet Musing

I have seen more than a little beautiful art in the last two days, and I wouldn’t like to pick a favorite, but there has been a “most inspirational.” Or rather, there have been 8 canvases in 2 rooms that win that particular prize. The Orangerie Museum devotes the entire top floor to two light-filled oval rooms built specifically to display the most famous of Monet’s massive Water Lilies. I spent the better part of an hour in this magical space yesterday, and the product of this time is the two poems I share here:





Room 1: The Water Under The Lilies

Water flows through sun and shadow – it is unaware? 

And when sunset lights a fire, can it see the glare? 

Can it feel the floating lilies play upon it face? 

Is it proud to know it’s beauty? conscious of its grace? 


If I floated with that water, could I rest at ease?

Would I be content to wander with no thought to please? 

I think not, and yet I wonder, whose the better part? 

For, with consciousness and striving comes an awe-struck heart. 


Room 2: Melancholy friend

In this room

There’s a reflection of my sometime mood – 

the darkness and the languor,

trailing branches dipping down to taste the water’s tears. 


There’s something of twilight and of mist

that does not look for dawn to rush in quickly

before the night has had it’s time 

to whisper necessary secrets with the voice of darkened waters. 


These waters know a subtle kind of light – 

a kind that mixes into murky water

ill-content to merely dance upon the waves

it sinks beneath – absorbs into the depths.


And in that secret, silent, submerged world

creates a healing, understanding beauty

that sits quietly with me

In this room. 


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Poverty and Worth – What Society Still Needs to Learn from Dr. King

Normally I keep this space for my personal reflections, but today I am breaking my own rule and cross posting a piece I wrote for the non-profit organization I am privileged to serve as executive director.

The piece is, in that sense, “professional,” but it is also very personal for me as it reflects on one of the influences that has shaped my own understanding of how to live out my faith in the world: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I was lucky enough to take a semester-long course on King’s theology and social action during my seminary studies and those studies encouraged my emerging belief that the work of social justice could emphatically be ministry. I am now living out the effort to engage just such a ministry. It is much harder than it sounded in the hallowed halls of Princeton Seminary, and the daily grind of e-mails, and website edits, and politically worded communications often feel nothing at all like the work of the Kingdom. That’s why it is so very meaningful to me to be able to look to the words of a great leader like King and see that the work I am doing is about something so fundamental and holy as basic human worth.

You can read original post here.