Good news for a change

 

17805928_1485720409-2652_updatesYesterday I finally heard some good news for a change. It was in the follow up story about the Muslim temple destroyed by fire last Saturday in Victoria, TX. When it made the national news in the same week as Trump’s now infamous travel ban, there was a public outpouring for this community that had lost their place of worship. From all over the country, money started pouring in. to their Go Fund Me page. To date, they have over one million dollars donated. One comment from a donor said:

“I am so sorry for your loss. This is not the America I know and love. God speed healing to your community. Inshallah.”

Another said, “You know what ‘makes America great?’ The people over there…”

The local Muslims in Victoria have been overwhelmed by the response, the generosity and the support of their fellow Americans. They posted: “Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the tremendous support we’ve received. The outpouring of love, kind words, hugs, helping hands and the financial contributions are examples of the true American Spirit and Humanity at its best with donations coming in from all over the world. We’re so very much thankful and appreciative of everyone’s thoughtfulness and generosity.”

This gives me so much hope. But wait, there’s more. Thanks to their Jewish neighbors, the town’s Muslim population will not be without a place to worship while their building is reconstructed. The local Jewish community handed over the keys to their synagogue until their own temple is rebuilt, saying, “Everyone knows everybody, I know several members of the mosque, and we felt for them. When a calamity like this happens, we have to stand together.”

This restores my faith in humanity and the qualities that are noblest in each of us. Kindness, compassion, inclusiveness, generosity, gratitude, gentleness and humility are all alive and well, just when we might be tempted to think they were casualties of the current administration.

We need more stories like this.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”   Micah 6:8

Photo: GoFundMe

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding my way back

jpgI just discovered I haven’t written since July. I didn’t know it had been that long since I checked in. For a few months, I’ve been checked out. Ever since the election, I’ve hardly been able to watch or read the news. I was so disheartened, I had withdrawn from all forms of media, including and especially social media. I got so weary of people on both sides of the great divide condemning and criticizing the other side with no attempt to listen, learn or connect. It’s felt like a death of things I thought the majority of us held dear. Things like civil discourse, freedom and equality, regardless of one’s gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, caring for the earth, right on up to liberty and justice for all. We do still value that, right? Today, on the day we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and all he stood for, I realized that even though I’ve been disheartened by the direction our country seems to be headed, I don’t want to give up my voice. I want to engage again, and connect with and learn from those who voted and feel differently from me. Hopefully in a way that keeps communication open. And so I will continue to write about the things that matter most, especially now. Things like love, joy, peace, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, humility, goodness and self governance. Things that are in short supply everywhere I look. But it can begin with you and me, right? We truly can be the change we want to see in the world. And by doing so, we can hold that space for others, not by retorting or retaliating, but by following the Way of Love. As MLK Jr. said,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Amen. May it be so in us this day.

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The Place Where We are Right

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From the place where we are right

flowers will never grow

in the Spring.

The place where we are right

is hard and trampled

like a yard.

But doubts and loves

dig up the world

like a mole, a plough.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

where the ruined

house once stood.

          –Yehuda Amichai 

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Prayers for Orlando

“True prayer is nothing but love.”
— St. Augustine

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My heart and prayers go out to all who lost friends and loved ones this past week. We light candles and stand with you and mourn the loss of so many young lives. If prayer is love, I hope you feel it.

So much loss this week, it’s too much to comprehend. The best way I know to pray is just to hold up those I would seek prayer for, holding them loosely and wordlessly before the light and love of God. He knows what they need far better than I.

Praying comfort, love, peace that passes understanding…

 

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Feeling the Bern

I was astounded to read this week about the tow truck driver from South Carolina who refused to help a woman whose car had broken down on the side of the road, simply because she had a Bernie sticker on the bumper of her car. Seriously?

When did it become more important to score a point politically than to show compassion to someone in need?

I kept reading, thinking, “Please, may he not claim to be a Christian.”

But sure enough, Ken Shupe, a 51-year-old from Travelers Rest, South Carolina, spoke up about his principles. “I’m a conservative Christian, I’ve just drawn a line in the sand,” he said. “I’m not going to associate or conduct business with them.”

With them. Wow. And it gets worse. It turns out the young woman he refused to help was disabled and suffered some serious health conditions and truly needed help after her car was hit and wouldn’t start. His response as he drove off was “You can call the government for a tow.” Unbelievable. And we wonder why people think Christians are judgmental and hateful. That is pure meanness for the sake of chalking one up against “the liberals.” It is blatant judgment of a whole group of people rather than really seeing this one young woman in need, standing right in front of him. She is not a group, she is a person. She is not the enemy. And even if she were, Jesus had a story or two about that. Like this one, from Luke 10:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

About halfway through this post I realized I’m doing the same thing as the tow truck driver. In judging him for not being compassionate, I’ve become just like him! God help me, and help us all. It’s the human condition, and the thing we most need saving from: ourselves and our small ego minds, always weighing and comparing, especially when we feel we are in the right.

The rule of the day to live by from Richard Rohr is “Make sure your medium is the same as your message.” If we want our message to be love, we better live it out. Here’s what I think it looks like:

Love the Bernie supporters.

Love the Trump fans.

Love those in Hillary’s camp.

Love the Muslims.

Love the conservative Christians.

Love the atheists.

Love those who identify as LGBT.

Seek to love ALL who cross your path, whether their beliefs line up with yours or not.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love never fails.” (from 1 Corinthians 13)

May that be true of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Face of America

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A confession: I admit that I used to be disinterested in politics. I know, right? Hard to believe, given the current wacked out race for the presidency. Everyone is paying attention, if for no other reason than to see the latest outrage from the reality TV candidate.

Now I not only keep up, I’ve joined the growing ranks of those who support their candidate of choice with time and money. This election matters, and it seems critical to keep the most important job in our country from falling into the wrong hands.

While I’ve always cared on some level about governmental policies, I have no patience for bureaucratic posturing by those pursuing only their own agendas. Statesmanship, in the current political arena, is seemingly a thing of the past. As is common decency, emotional maturity and respect for others if your name rhymes with Drumpf.

In defense of my former disinterest, I felt it mattered more how I conducted my own affairs, how I went about making a difference in my own community and town. Washington is a long way off. So why not focus on loving my neighbor and those less fortunate and spend my efforts where I could see visible results?

Let me be clear that I still see that as important. There are so many needs everywhere we look that it’s good to plug in somewhere and do what we can. I also see clearly that I have very little influence by myself. It is the people I elect and the policies they enact that impact our nation and the world.

Some who would be king seem to have forgotten that this nation was built on the efforts of  little people and immigrants. These are the face of America, not one of white privilege and power. We are who we are because of them, and to talk of closing our doors to any nation, race or religion is anti-American. As we are subjected to diatribes again and again about building walls, the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty are the best rebuttal:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

I was reminded in Christian Century this morning that our President is the face of the nation. Whose face do I want to represent our country? Who do I want to represent me? If I get to choose, I want a face that is strong, self controlled, and compassionate. I want someone of depth and decency, with defined character. I would love to see someone ascending who can be honest about mistakes, take ownership and be a responsible citizen of this planet. I would want that person to love mercy as well as justice, to seek to include the marginalized, and to build bridges rather than walls. I would want a person who seeks humility, who sees all of us as one, and seeks common ground and understanding. As Rohr wrote in his 12 steps for living out the resurrection, someone who “seeks just systems and policies over mere charity.” I hope to support this cause with my vote and my voice.

Charity, which can be defined as love or acts done in the name of love, is a rare and beautiful thing. As valuable for what it does within me as in the world. If we could get that going from top down, how great would that be? It gives me hope. That may be the one thing we need in this multifaceted, multicultural nation of ours to make America really and truly, great.

 

 

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Watching New Hampshire

images-2Everyone likes a winner. We line up behind people who are successful in areas we think are important. So the current political polls showing Donald Trump leading the Republicans reveal a great deal about our values as a country. Trump will be the first to tell you he’s a winner (though he was the first loser in Iowa.). He has made billions, over ten by his estimation, building an empire. (Although Forbes estimates a figure less than half that, only 4.5 billion. The Donald asserts that the Trump name alone is worth far more than they credit.) Regardless, he’s made a lot of money. A HUGE amount. And he’s going to make America great again by excluding a lot of people who are different from him. And this qualifies him to be president… how?

Moderators at the recent debate raised the issue of character. That’s good, if a bit belated. But don’t we already know his character from his many insulting tweets, media sound bites and reality TV appearances? Jerry Springer may have started it, but The Donald is The Donald. The more troubling thing is how many Americans are saying they might support him as Commander in Chief of our country. Even more inexplicable are evangelicals who back him when he exemplifies none of their values.

This talk of character leads to a topic that doesn’t come up in many presidential debates. It’s the one Jesus modeled for us, the one that involves thinking of others more than ourselves, of caring for widows and orphans and those in need of a good Samaritan. It’s more than being a good neighbor, it’s laying down our rights to our lives for the sake of others, even if they may look different from us or practice a different faith. Didn’t we learn this in grade school, if not church? One thing that isn’t taught is that the path to a deeper spirituality is one of downward mobility… of letting go, of learning empathy, of inclusion, of letting our actions match our words when we say we are followers of Christ, who died to show us what God’s love looks like.

One way to practice that love is to “give preference to those in pain, excluded or disabled in any way.” This is one of Richard Rohr’s many suggestions for ways to live out resurrection. Do I practice it? Honestly, I’m just a beginner. But I’m learning. I spent decades going faithfully to church and Bible study and being involved in church leadership without understanding the importance of this one principle. I could boil it down to “practice kindness to those less fortunate.” The point is to have compassion and practice love, especially to those in need. Is it for them? Maybe partly, but the thing I know for sure is that it’s for me. It changes ME when I give time to visit with addicts in a rehab hospital. It changes ME when I sit and talk with my friend in her 90’s who is actively dying. It changes ME when I serve a hot meal to the homeless. Or when I reach out and listen to someone who struggles with depression. On the surface it may sound like sacrifice, but each one of these gives to me much more than I give to them. By being in it with them in a very real way, I learn what love looks like. As I share in their suffering, it becomes the place where the God who is love meets us. It’s an opportunity for transformation, if I choose it. It does not look like success. And not many of us will line up for it. That’s why it’s called the narrow way. Compassion is what makes us most like God. I am still learning.

In his book about St. Francis Rohr says, “Francis told us to identify not with the upper class and the climb toward success, power, and money, but to go to where Jesus went–to where there was pain, to the excluded ones. We were to find our place not in climbing but in descending, not at the top but at the bottom, not among the insiders but with the outsider.”

I’m certainly not saying we need to be Mother Theresa, although that’s another life worth emulating. But if these things aren’t even on our radar, we are missing the message Christ showed us with his life.

I can’t tell anyone how to vote. But I do know character is everything. So whether we are voting Democrat or Republican, let’s choose thoughtfully who we elect to represent us in the coming election. New Hampshire, all eyes on you.

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:3-12

 

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Seeds of peace

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“Spread harmony.”

 

It was the hopeful message of a recent Microsoft commercial during this year’s holiday season. If you missed it, the spot showed Microsoft employees walking out of their NYC retail store singing “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” As they walked, it soon became clear that the intended audience was their biggest competitor. The commercial ended with the Microsoft choir being hugged and thanks by employees from the nearby Apple store. It was a lovely moment and a beautiful truce, if only for the holiday. I loved the sentiment though.

 

Where is this peace on earth we sing about and long for and pray for in our churches? Is it possible for us to have even momentary peace? Will we ever learn to get along with those who are different from us? If you turn on the news, there’s evidence almost daily of increasing racial conflict and discrimination against those who aren’t Anglo. All too frequently we learn of the latest tragic mass shooting in America and take sides on what should be done about it. As our role models, we hear of presidential hopefuls tweeting vicious and hate filled messages contrived to please their voter base and attract momentary attention. Whatever happened to statesmanship and allowing for differences of opinion? For that matter, what happened to common decency and respect for persons? When we label others as “stupid, stupid people” simply because we don’t agree with them, we can be sure that’s pure Ego talking, probably out of fear. These noisy and unnecessarily aggressive displays are likely a smokescreen for fear of losing face. They are irresponsible and undignified, and in no way lead to peace on earth.

 

With all this and more as our starting place, what would peace on earth even look like? What about making it less global and more local? The last verse of the song says, “and let it begin with me.” So what can I do to encourage peace in my little corner of the earth? Richard Rohr has another helpful guideline for us in saying, “Whenever possible, seek the common good over your mere private good.” Maybe peace begins with basic human kindness, with focusing less on ourselves and looking for ways to show mercy and spread love, to forgive when we are offended instead of reacting, to let things go and choose the higher road. Maybe we could try to understand others and have compassion, to find common ground with those who are different from us. We might find we are not so different after all.

 

Maybe it will come from the next generation.

 

I just read in the Sunday Globe about a local group of teens in Natick, Massachusetts coming together to create a community garden to supply food to local shelters. It was the dream of Rev. Eric Markman to produce a garden that “grows peace as well as food.” Markman said, “It’s fear that causes us to become violent with each other. When religious groups work together instead of against one another, we can create heaven on earth.” Recently he must have felt his dream had come to life. Over Thanksgiving weekend, 60 or so teens and adult supervisors gathered from Temple Israel of Natick, the Islamic Society of Framingham, Eliot Church of South Natick, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Hartford Street Presbyterian. Together they prepared 60 raised beds for growing vegetables for local food pantries. As they worked, they discussed faith and service and the link between the two in their respective traditions. The article said, “By discovering common interests and goals while working, talking, eating and laughing together,” Markman believes, “these future leaders learn tolerance and respect for others’ religious traditions that will last a lifetime.”

 

That sounds a lot like peace on earth. It makes me want to look for ways in my own community to be inclusive and sow seeds of kindness. Compassion is the one thing that most reflects God’s love to the world.

 

So let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

 

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Service record

12241495_10207788765985976_8956098483880091956_nToday is a day to honor those who have served our country. If you know any service men or veterans, make it a point to say thank you for serving and for the part they played in guarding our freedom.

I was thinking today about serving and all the ways that word is used… serving our country, serving the poor, serving God, serving a meal, serving a sentence. The common ground here is giving of ourselves in some way that serves a greater good. Albert Schweitzer said “… the only ones among us who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”   Serving doesn’t just give us a warm fuzzy feeling. Service allows us to practice self forgetfulness as we focus on fulfilling a duty or obeying a higher order or meeting the needs of another. Service is next on the list of 12 ways to live out the resurrection. Number 7 on Rohr’s list says, “Choose as much as possible to serve rather than be served.”

I know I have much to learn about serving and what it looks like to lay aside my claims to my life and my time. I can get so steeped in the entitlement our culture says I deserve. Lately I’ve been trying out some new ways to serve, and I’ve noticed a few things. One is it doesn’t come naturally to lay down my life. Even with all the best intentions, I bring my ego in with me. When serving a meal at a homeless shelter recently, I learned to my dismay that when I’m giving of my service and time, I expect something in return, and that is gratitude. The meal we were serving was home cooked with care by several parishioners, all of whom are good cooks. I was impressed by both the quality and quantity of the food. Some people we served were grateful, to be sure, but others were unappreciative, critical and downright demanding. At first I was quite taken back by this. Shouldn’t they be thankful to have a free dinner? But as I stepped back, I wondered about their situation. I wondered what kind of day they’d had. I wondered what it must feel like to have to accept charity just to survive, to take whatever people offer you, whether you like it or not. How grateful would I be if I walked in their shoes? This was a free meal, and they didn’t owe any of us anything for it, not even gratitude. Hopefully I can take what I gleaned from this as well.

Recently I completed training to serve as a hospice volunteer. I’ve had several people ask why, and won’t that be so depressing? I’m sure that it will have sad days, but I know I will learn immeasurably from those who are letting go of life. As I practice my own version of letting go, it will become its own reward. The thing I love most about working with the poor in spirit is that they recognize their own poverty. The rest of us can ride a long way on pretense and illusion, but they have no such luxury. They have been broken open, there’s little to protect or defend anymore, and they’re just so honest. It’s freeing. I see their humanity alongside my own flawed nature, and it humbles me every time. It’s part of their gift to me, reminding me that we’re all the same.

Just like service has many faces, Christ does as well. He may appear today in a homeless shelter, or on a street corner begging for money. Tomorrow he may look like a rehab resident trying to find hope for a new start. He may show up behind a prison wall, or as an immigrant seeking refuge, or as one who has called in hospice. However he shows up, his teachings on service rock the status quo. He said, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” “The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve.” And when we wonder whether our service makes any difference, he says, “In as much as you’ve done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.” In identifying with the least of these, I hope these teachings become ingrained in me some day. I look forward to the day when laying down my life is second nature, and service is offered up with a smile, free of charge.

 

 

 

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Sweeping Up

imagesIn Twelve Step groups there’s a saying, “Sweep your own sidewalk.” Which essentially means work on your own problems, not someone else’s.  Seems much more common to see people pointing fingers, especially with elections gearing up.  A regular practice of compassionate self-examination allows us to see how much we need grace instead of looking over at our neighbor. If we’re brave enough to look in the mirror and be honest about it, the resulting humility makes it much less likely that we’ll attempt to run another person’s life.

Rohr’s sixth rule from 12 ways to live out the resurrection is, “Always seek to change yourself trying to change others.” I might tweak it to read “instead of trying to change others.”

Today I found a related post from an anonymous author that I’m going to repost. I don’t think I could say it any better than he/she did.   It’s titled, “Me and My Broom.” Here it is:

Life, someone once said, is about me and my broom. There is my sidewalk, and here is my broom. My task is simple: I take my broom, and I sweep my sidewalk.

If life were really like that, with each one of us sweeping our own sidewalk with our own broom, things would probably go pretty well. But as human beings we tend to fall into one of two camps.

The first camp is the know-alls. If I am a know-all, then not only am I an expert on how I should sweep my sidewalk, I’m also an expert on how you should sweep your sidewalk. So instead of staying on my side of the street, I come on over to your sidewalk. Now a variety of things may happen. Perhaps I start telling you exactly how you should sweep your part of the sidewalk. Or alternatively — particularly if I see myself as a doer of good works — I may start to sweep it for you. Regardless, there is going to be trouble sooner or later, because I have no business being on your side of the street.

The second camp is the incapables. If I’m an incapable, I don’t really sweep my side of the street — I dab at it with a pathetic expression on my face. Or I just sit down in obvious distress and make no attempt at all to sweep. Of course, incapables attract know-alls. It won’t be long before a know-all comes over the street and starts “helping.” This enables me to build up a nice, healthy resentment about the know-alls.

Step 10 says, “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong PROMPTLY admitted it.” This forms an excellent basis for reforming know-alls and incapables. When we practice Step 10 continuously, we can sense when we’re about to cross the road in frustration to help someone else to sweep right; we can sense when we’re developing an attack of the “poor-me’s” which will almost certainly tempt someone else to interfere with what we’re doing (or not doing). Step 10 teaches me that this is my sidewalk, my broom, my job of sweeping, my life.

The blogger ended with a quote: “The spiritual life is never one of achievement; it is always one of letting go.” Well put. I’m indebted.  I wish I knew who to thank, but since I don’t I’ll thank God for one more way he has guided me, prompted me and offered me strength and peace.

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