Being Thankful

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This week in the US we celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday. And then promptly go out and buy way more stuff the next day. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s what we have right now.

Today a good friend asked me what I’m grateful for and I gave truthful answers, but apparently he found them to be shallow and way too typical. I said friends, family, job, life, etc. I meant that. I know that 2016 has really sucked for a lot of people and for the world in general, but my year, which started out rough, has actually ended up rather well. But this friend wanted more. Our relationship is characterized by some pretty deep conversation so his prompting was warranted.

The Bible calls us to be thankful for all kinds of things that sound awful. For difficult times, for persecution, for testing. As I’ve gotten older those things have made more and more sense to me. I’m not inviting them, but I kind of get it. I have the benefit of more hindsight and I see how, as James says, the test of faith produces perseverance.

I do a lot of reading on neuroscience and how it relates to leadership and on Carol Dweck’s Mindset and all the research shows that intelligence really isn’t the best predictor of success. It’s perseverance. In the parable of the sower, Jesus talked about the seed that grew up in shallow soil and it sprouted quickly, but as soon as the sun started to beat down on it, it withered and died.

We’re about to enter some rough times in this country. White nationalists have been emboldened by the new president. Hate crimes have increased exponentially. People are being put in power who are unabashed racists, xenophobes, and Islamophobes.Tax plans are being put out that will increase taxes on the middle class and on single mothers and offer huge breaks to the most wealthy. The testing of our faith is coming and strangely, I am a little bit thankful. I am not excited about it. I do not wish for it to come sooner. But I am thankful because I know the result of testing.

The church in Germany in the 1930s mostly failed a similar test, although there were those who stood up. I am already horrified by the number of so-called “Christian” leaders who have embraced what is going on. The Church in the US has had it really easy for, really, ever, and it’s made us kind of soft. We have arguments about carpet colors and musical styles while the Church internationally is being persecuted to a greater degree than any other time in history. We have sought out religious liberty to be our warm blanket of comfort and protection, somehow inserting that idea into the gospel, when Jesus himself promised us the complete opposite.

So today I am thankful for the tests that are coming and the good it will produce. I am thankful for God’s peace and comfort in difficult times. I am thankful for the calming that comes with age and the ability to edit one’s life and only include the people and habits that bring health and healing. I am thankful for the surface stuff, too. It all makes up my life and as I try to infuse gratitude into my daily practices I find that gratitude comes more easily. I am thankful not just today but everyday. For the testing of my faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-5

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you

Whole-Making

You guys, I’m serious. I could not get through what’s going on right now without Richard Rohr, the lectionary and a splash (just a splash) of red wine. I get Richard Rohr’s daily email meditations and they are giving me life. They are timely, beautiful and hopeful.

Today’s was about how God is in the business of making whole. I remember hearing a Marist brother speak one time and saying that often we confuse curing and healing. People may not be cured of terrible diseases, but they always have the opportunity to move toward healing. In today’s reading, Rohr quotes a Franciscan sister called Ilia Delio. She says:

“Jesus is the love of God incarnate, the wholemaker who shows the way of evolution toward unity in love. In Jesus, God breaks through and points us in a new direction; not one of chance or blindness but one of ever-deepening wholeness in love. In Jesus, God comes to us from the future to be our future. Those who follow Jesus are to become wholemakers, uniting what is scattered, creating a deeper unity in love.”

The lectionary passages again deal with God creating something new.

Jeremiah 30:10

“‘So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
    do not be dismayed, Israel,’
declares the Lord.
‘I will surely save you out of a distant place,
    your descendants from the land of their exile.
Jacob will again have peace and security,
    and no one will make him afraid.

Revelation 21:5

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

The making of new things, the moving toward wholeness, those are things our country needs.* But I have to start with me. I have to move toward wholeness. I have to listen to my own pain, brokenness, and biases and extend kindness and compassion to myself first. I will be no good to the community otherwise. However, I’ll be doing this personal work and my community outreach simultaneously as there is, for me, a sense of urgency.

This is a song I’ve got on a loop right now. Hope you enjoy it and that today you move a little bit toward wholeness.

First, by Lauren Daigle

*you have no idea how hard it was not to say “bigly” at the end of that sentence.

How Are We Doing?

I’ve had a couple of friends ask me how I’m doing. I’ve also had a couple of friends feel they have the right to tell me how I should be feeling (you can imagine how well that went). A few more tell me how wrong I am about my view of the election. I’ve had a couple of people block me and I’ve blocked a couple myself. The results of this election are the end result of a dark eighteen months for this country. Conservatives have let the worst of their ranks rise up and control the conversation. They’ve succumbed to real and imagined threats against their treasured way of life. Liberals have lost the ability to communicate with the people on the streets and have spent a lot of time and energy lecturing instead of listening. Had we been able to get out into the red states and hear how people felt, the results would have been different.

We’ve had a lot of protests against the results of the election. Some peaceful, some not. Conservatives are crying “sore loser” and claiming that they didn’t protest when Obama was elected. What short memories they have. Tea party, anyone? Liberals are pointing fingers and posting memes about how they think less of people who voted for the Cheeto in Chief*. I am tempted to agree with that, but I don’t think it will forward the dialogue. We need to listen to why they thought things were so bad that they voted for someone with such blatant disregard for our civil liberties.

On a personal level, I am ready to get to work. The last 8 years have allowed those of us on the left to become a bit lazy because the government was on our side. Now we need to wake up and let our grief fuel action. Not against people, but against harmful ideologies of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, isolationism, nationalism, and islamophobia. But we can’t do it by posting smug things on Facebook. We have to get out from behind the computer and volunteer. We have to contribute to causes and politicians that support the mission to help make America stronger by making America kinder. I am personally going to volunteer with the International Rescue Committee because I believe refugees are in danger under this administration and I want to stand with them.

Making peace and beings silent are not the same thing. What is coming out of the mouth hole of the Microwaved Circus Peanut* is fascism, pure and simple. He is trying to quash dissent, isolate the US from the rest of the world and rule without accountability. He’s already violating many ethical standards by having his children join him at meetings with world leaders, setting up political alliances that will benefit his businesses and ditching the press so there is no visibility to his action. He’s also only appointed white nationalists, anti-immigrant, anti-gay people to his top leadership positions. I will not be quiet and wait and see what kind of President this is. I already know. He’s made it perfectly clear. I will resist this with every fiber of my being.

The trick is going to be making peace and also speaking up. That’s not going to be easy, but that’s my goal. I’m going to fight against this Tiny-Handed Man Toddler* and try to love the people who support him. Yeah, I know. But it’s a good spiritual practice for me. This is what it means to be the church. We have told the world we believe we can live in a different way. Let’s try it and see what happens.

*before you call me out on calling names, I have a few things to say: 1) I respect the office, if not the person. And he’s not in office yet. 2) I’m still processing. Give me a minute. 3) I won’t give him any power by using his name.

Walk in the Way of Love

Geez, lectionary! I get it! I’m not saying the lectionary is centered around US politics per se, but it really seems the Holy Spirit was colluding with someone when they mapped out Year C. Today’s epistle reading was from the ever-challenging Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4:25-5:2New International Version (NIV)

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands,that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example,therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

This is one of those passages that’s easy to use as a weapon but really tough to own. Yeah, the Dumpster Fire has run a campaign entirely based on lies. But my job is to shine a light on that in a way that builds people up. That’s harder than I can imagine and I am not sure how to do that. I can be angry, but not sin. I need to get rid of bitterness and rage. I need to be kind and compassionate. I need to forgive. I need to walk in the way of love.

See, the Day is Coming

Boy, the lectionary was on point today, no? I have felt so disheartened since the election. Kind of numb and raw at the same time. I feel like I am all the stages of grief all at once, except maybe acceptance. Already the rhetoric of the campaign and the “winner” have brought out the worst of our society and there have been hundreds of attacks on people based on race, religion and ethnicity. I am skimming headlines but avoiding getting into the weeds on this stuff because I am trying to process my own emotions and not get whipped up into a frenzy every time I talk about this.

Today’s lectionary readings brought me back to where I need to be, even while I’m still dealing with the implications of all this.

Isaiah 65:17-25
65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Let me get this out of the way: No, I don’t believe this was written to or about America. This passage was a perfect reminder to me that God is all about creating new things in the middle of crappy situations. There are a few things I get from this:

  1. We’re supposed to rejoice in God’s act of creating, even though we’re not at the end result.
  2. God is all about economic equality. The fact that in God’s ideal, people are living in houses they built and eating food that they’ve grown says to me that the current state of polarized economic realities is not God’s ideal.
  3. It is possible for people who seem to be enemies to come together. That’s what we’re going to have to do in this country. But, as this scripture says, the only way for that to happen is for God to change the nature of the predators.

Malachi 4:1-2a
4:1 See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

4:2a But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

This one is self-explanatory, I think 😉

I have to cling hopefully to “see, the day is coming.” Because I can’t see right now. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know who God is. The world has changed. It’s less safe. But we were never promised a safe, comfortable world. Our character will be revealed in how we handle this and how we care for those who will now be oppressed under this administration. God’s doing a new thing and I want to be part of it. Let’s get to work.

 

May I Use the Restroom?

Apart from liking some things I’ve seen on the Facebook, I’ve not said much about the bathroom laws and yesterday’s Obama Administration edict that public schools must allow students to use the bathroom and locker room of the gender with which they identify (side note: love. that. man). But I’m kind of done being quiet now. I am so over the Chicken-Little-esque cries of “THEY’RE COMING FOR OUR CHILDREN!” Because “I don’t think transgender people are necessarily pedophiles” is the new “I’m not racist, but…”

Today someone I know, who is an honestly smart and good-hearted person, posted their concern for the safety of children if we allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice and I had to say something. Not because I think that he is wrong about wanting to protect children. I think all children should be protected without qualification. But I think that this question of bathroom use and gender is the greatest gift to child molesters that they will ever see. The folks who now are fastidiously eyeing who goes in and out of bathroom stalls have taken their eyes off the other adults in their children’s life who are much more likely to be committing these atrocities. When have you ever heard a survivor of sexual abuse say, “Yeah, it was a dude in a dress in the bathroom at Target.” Never. It is always a family member, a friend, a coach (Hello, Dennis Hastert), a teacher, or a pastor. I’m not advocating we take one form of paranoia and re-focus it on those closest to us. But the hyper-vigilance, in this case, is misplaced.

Here’s the full text of the comment I posted. I wanted to share it here, mainly because I know that like 2 people read it and it will be easier for me to find it:

The fact that this is just now coming to light as a concern means that the folks who are freaking out about this do, in fact, equate transgender people with pedophiles. Don’t you think that someone who was sick and twisted enough to mess with children would have already thought about dressing as the other gender and entering public bathrooms for prey? This is not AT ALL giving people the right to dress up and go into a different bathroom for any reason at all. It is incredibly difficult, and in some states illegal, to change the gender on a birth certificate. The trans people I know look like the gender they identify with, not the one on their birth certificate, so it would cause way more chaos if they went into the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate.
 
Which brings me to my next point – how is this supposed to be enforced? I’ve heard stories of people going into restrooms at Target and then having other customers trying to look into the stalls WHILE THEY’RE IN USE to determine the gender of the person in there. Seriously. So which is creepier? To let someone just go in and use the restroom and be done with it? Or to look in ALL THE STALLS before you select yours to make sure you and your children are safe? Again, to spy specifically on people who appear to be transgender is to equate transgender people with pedophiles. Not. The. Same. 
 
Next – why are people sending unattended children into public bathrooms at all? For any reason?
 
Still more – there has historically NEVER been a recorded incident of someone trying to dress as the opposite gender and sneak into a restroom to abuse children. NEVER. So again, it comes up in conjunction with a conversation on transgender rights which means the subtext is that a transgender person must be a pedophile. Transgender people have been using the bathrooms of their gender identity since FOREVER and this is just now coming up?
 
And finally – before anyone cries “THEY’RE COMING FOR OUR CHILDREN” please tell me how many transgender people are friends of yours, people in your life whom you love, part of your family? How many have you spoken to? Did you know that when the NC law was passed , calls to suicide hotlines for LGBTQ people TRIPLED? Did you know that Transgender people are twice as likely to have a college degree than the cisgender population but also twice as likely to be unemployed?
 
The bathrooms of 2016 are the water fountains of 1956. This is fearmongering and nothing more. Last I checked, loving your neighbor didn’t mean spying on your neighbor when they try to use the restrom at a big box retailer. Children should be protected. Always. Unconditionally. But you’re barking up the wrong tree when you think that protecting them from transgender people in the bathroom is the way to do it. Unfortunately the culprits are people who are presenting as the gender on their birth certificate and show up in your lives as coaches, teachers, pastors, family and friends.
 
So while you’re watching the bathroom, who’s watching your kids?

The $10 In My Pocket

I have $10 in my pocket. It might as well be $1,000,000. I have that much of a clue as to what to do with it. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money but it is heavy with meaning and generosity

I’ve had a rough, well, let’s say year and a few months. I’ve been quiet over here because I am more of an internal processor when life goes south and in many ways it has. But in many ways, it’s pretty great. I am on the verge of a new chapter and over the last few months, I have spent a lot of time practicing the disciplines of trust, silence, meditation and prayer.

This morning I had the privilege (and I actually mean that) to lead worship at a service that is held weekly at Justa Center in downtown Phoenix. Justa is a day center for homeless senior citizens that is a ministry of the United Methodist Church. There were only a handful of people there but God was there, and the room was full.

The last couple of weeks has been pretty hectic for me, including an out-of-state job interview, final projects for a class, leading music at City Square and starting a business. I’m not going to say I phoned in planning the service at Justa Center, but it didn’t get my full attention until the night before. I had been reading the lectionary passages but nothing really struck me. As I went through past messages, I pulled out some thoughts on hope from John 20, which seemed appropriate as Thursday was Ascension Day and this was the last Sunday of Easter.

In John 20, the disciples have locked themselves in a small room, but even though the doors were locked, Jesus showed up. We talked about the importance of being hopeful and not allowing our perspectives to get small and trust that Jesus will show up. After the service, they asked me to do another song, so I pulled something out of my back pocket and sang for them for a bit.

It was so lovely and there was such a great spirit in the room. My heart was full and I was so happy to have been there. Then Nola came back into the room and pressed an envelope in my hand. She said had been blessed by the service and wanted me to have the donation she had put in the offering plate. She was thankful to have good news about possible permanent housing and felt God told her to give something to me. It was $10. A five and five ones. From an older woman who is in recovery, living in a shelter, one rung above homeless. I froze, thanked her, and then went to find the coordinator.

“What do I do with this?” I asked him. “I can’t take money from a homeless woman.” He said that she had felt very strongly that God wanted her to give that to me and that I should take it in the spirit it was intended, from a pure, generous heart.

So I have this $10 in my pocket. It’s the heaviest paper money I’ve ever had in my possession. I cry every time I think about it. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but I am going to spend a lot of time praying and meditating over it. She is the woman who gave all she had. To a woman who has stuff and who just this week was expressing anxiety about being unemployed. I am humbled and thankful. Nola is not a lazy taker. She is a woman with a generous spirit despite her circumstances who wants to contribute and has a heart to worship God. I have been taught a great lesson and will use my $10 wisely.