When Were You the Stranger?

 

You know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

                                                      -Exodus 23:9

At different times in our lives, we are all the stranger, standing at the threshold hoping for a word of welcome. As children, when we enter kindergarten we are indeed the stranger – to new surroundings and new expectations. Later as adults, we often find ourselves in the role of the stranger – in college, in the workplace, in new communities. Being the stranger is fundamental to the human experience. Simply being, living, moving through the life cycle, we will at times find ourselves strangers in an alien land – confused, seeking, and hoping for a warm welcome.

Perhaps it is for this reason that some of us find ourselves in the story of God’s people. For our Hebrew mothers and fathers were indeed strangers in an alien land. Their physical journey from bondage in Egypt, through the wilderness, toward the Promised Land, parallels our own life journey with many twists and unexpected turns, taking us to lands unknown, both physical and spiritual.

There is a life-altering debate in our country right now regarding immigration – who to open our doors to and who to keep at arm’s length. Which religious minorities to let in and which to keep out. Whether to build a wall or not to build a wall. To separate children from their parents or to keep them together. Even to provide a toothbrush and soap or not to provide a toothbrush and soap!

Cradled within these discussions often lies xenophobia, a fear of that which is foreign or strange. This sense of the ‘other’ lies at the heart of racism, sexism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and more.

Send Her BackThis fear has now spread beyond those seeking entry into the US, to those who are already American citizens of many years but were born in another country. Chants by thousands of Americans at yesterday’s NC Trump Rally of “Send her back! Send her back!” are alarming and dangerous. Shouted in reference to Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar, the chants represent the height of fear of the other, a fear that has reached a frightening pitch in our country, a fear many of us never thought to see expressed by thousands of chanting Americans in the 21stcentury.

There is an urgency to heeding these words from the Book of Exodus that has not existed since the Civil Rights era when these same chants were used to taunt African-Americans who longed for equal education. People of faith, regardless of political persuasion, cannot look the other way. This depth of hatred for those born in other countries must stop and it must stop today.

How different the response might be if we could connect with our own experience of being the ‘other’, the stranger. It is not us versus them, it is all humankind together, struggling to find the common good. It is the most damaging kind of Fake News when we are made to believe that some people are more worthy than others, that some have the right to label and belittle others, that some have the right to stir up hatred and fear. Events in our country might look very different if viewed through the lens of this passage.

Can you remember a time when you were the stranger? How did you feel?

Posted in Immigration, Justice Issues, NC Trump Rally, Reflections on Life | 2 Comments

Longing

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”
-Psalm 42:1

 


Living in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, my husband and I are blessed to be surrounded by acres of forests and an abundance of wildlife. We often see deer sauntering up to our pond for a drink of cool water and they downloadcome back again and again. Once is never enough. How blessed they are to have found the sustenance they seek!

In his book Something More, John Pritchard shares, “I write in the belief that ‘God’ keeps leaking into our lives but that we have difficulty finding the language to describe the experience. I think many of us have intimations of ‘something more’, something that might even have on it the fingerprints of divine Source, but how can we admit that or pursue it further?”1

Do you long for satisfaction deep in your soul that seems just out of reach, a connectedness yearned for but unfulfilled? If so, you are not alone. Some people try to fill this empty space with work; others with alcohol, drugs, serial relationships, or frequent job changes. Advertisers prey on this sense of need, promising fulfillment if only we will purchase their product. This Fake News permeates our newsfeed and airwaves. Yet regardless of our actions, at the end of the day, there is still the aching feeling that there’s something more just around the corner.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Written by Augustine over 1600 years ago, these words are profound. Our hearts are restless until we connect with the divine Source. Whatever words we use to describe the reality of ‘something more’, the reality is the same and once we tap into that, our lives will be forever changed.

How to do that? We can sit quietly and meditate or pray. Or we can open our eyes to the Divine in our midst every day – in the majestic beauty of a sunset, the smile on a child’s face, the friend who is always there, the encouraging word spoken to us at just the right time. Our Creator is all around us, hoping our hearts will rest in her divine embrace.

Where do you see ‘something more’? Can you rest there, even for a moment?

1John Pritchard, Something More: Encountering the Beyond in the Everyday (Great Britain: SPCK, 2016). Pritchard is the Anglican Bishop of Oxford, retired.

 

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Why Jump In the Pond?

Why should we care about supporting and educating children in developing countries, when so many children in our own country need help? As a nonprofit entrepreneur building a residential high school in Africa, I am often asked this question. And there are many answers!

In the Hebrew scriptures the prophet Isaiah tells us, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). In the New Testament, St. Paul encourages Christians to reach out to others in this way, “If one member [of the body of Christ] suffers, all suffer together with it . . .  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:26-27). At baptism Christians are grafted into the body of Christ, and as such have a responsibility to other members of Christ’s mystical body throughout the world. When one suffers, all suffer.

Educating children in developing countries also helps tackle some of the global challenges everyone in the world needs to address:

a) Preventing diseases that flow across borders
b) Protecting our environment, which knows no artificial borders like on maps
c) Enhancing global security – violent extremism is less likely to take root in countries  where there are a greater number of opportunities.1 Education is one of those opportunities.

In addition, sometimes we forget how much collective wealth we in the developed world truly have at our disposal. The UN Development Program estimates that Americans spend $8 billion on cosmetics each year, and that annually Europeans spend $11 billion on ice cream and $50 billion on cigarettes.

In contrast, globally we only need $6 billion annually to provide basic education for everyone, and $9 billion to provide clean water and sanitation facilities to people living in extreme poverty. We do indeed have the money to make small lifestyle changes that can radically improve the quality of life for the world’s neediest people without diminishing the quality of our own lives. These conscious changes can profoundly increase our ability to give with no inconvenience to ourselves.

In The Life You Can Save, Princeton philosopher Peter Singer tells the story of a man walking by a pond dressed for work who sees a drowning toddler. Will he jump in the pond to save the child’s life, becoming soaked and making himself late for work? Of course he does. Yet how many children die every day from hunger and the effects of poverty in developing countries because we ‘walk on by’, not giving of our excess?2

Simply put, education saves lives. Education is the difference in developing countries between a life of abject poverty and one of economic independence. Education is the difference between life and death. Yes, we are to defend the oppressed, wherever we find these beloved children of God.

Why help children in developing nations? Why jump in the pond and save the child?3

IMG_1423

1Rebecca Winthrop of the Brookings Institute on the video “The Education Crisis in Developing Countries”.

2Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save, New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2009

3Elizabeth Geitz, “The Academy – Frequently Asked Questions”, ImaginingTomorrow.org

 

Posted in Global Justice Issues, Justice Issues | 7 Comments

In the Dark

Advent, the Christian season that leads up to Christmas, is about hope in the midst of darkness, hope in a better future, hope in a better tomorrow in spite of the darkness that surrounds us.

Our secular calendars fit perfectly into the season. The shortest darkest day of 2018 is December 21st, known as the Winter Solstice. We are immersed in literal darkness as we await the coming of the light of Christ.

solsticeWhat does it mean to expectantly wait in darkness? In means that in spite of all the Christmas jingles, blockbuster sales, Santas on every street corner, and one party too many we are meant to take time to reflect, to sit in darkness. Rather than fighting the last light of December evenings, we are meant to embrace it, to use it for the gift it is.

I don’t know about you, but this is a tough one for me. I much prefer brightness, sunshine and the long lazy days of summer. But that’s not how God created our world! As we await the in-breaking of God’s kingdom coming to us as a tiny baby, we are meant to be in a receptive, contemplative state rather than so exhausted we’re relieved when Christmas is finally over and the last dish is cleaned, the last ornament is safely stored, and our house is quiet once more.

During this time of darkness, of contemplating the birth of Jesus, we are meant to not shy away from those dark places in our own lives. “Christmas reminds us that faith in the future does not erase our pain in the present”* – whether it’s the pain of Christmas without a dear loved one, pain of not knowing where our next meal is coming from, pain of knowing we’ve lost our health insurance, pain that consumes us when we worry night and day about our children, pain over the fractured state of our country and the world, pain of alienation from loved ones we shared holidays with long ago.

If you’re feeling out of sync with the outside world right now, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re experiencing this season as it is meant to be, without all the commercialism that we humans have added to it. So let us embrace those silent moments, those times of darkness and quiet, as we make room in our hearts to receive Jesus. Whether you view him as God incarnate as do Christians, a wise rabbi as do Jews, or just a pretty savvy guy who is a great example of kindness and compassion – get ready.

The time is almost here.

*Kelly Flanagan, “The Most Wonderfully Painful Time of the Year”, Christianity Today, December 10, 2018.

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“I Love You, Too”

“I love you, too.”Are there any more comforting words to hear, regardless of the situation? Are there any more comforting words to say? These last words spoken by George H. W. Bush before his death last week, to his son George W., touch a deep chord within me.

In 1999, I had the privilege of hearing a mother give a speech whose child had been killed in the Columbine High School massacre. She ended her moving talk with these same words, “I love you, too.”

They were the last words she spoke to her daughter as she left for school that fateful morning. The last words she would ever speak to her beloved child as she walked out of the house on a seemingly normal day.

IMG_7832“I love you, too.”

Whether we are saying what we suspect may be our last goodbye to a beloved family member or friend, or just interacting on a daily basis with those we love, there are no more important words we can utter – both for the person who will hear them and for ourselves.

To say that life is uncertain goes without saying – whether we live in America where gun violence is at an all time high, or in a country with political instability that has escalated to the point of rampant killing like Cameroon, West Africa. Life is uncertain. We do not know what tomorrow will bring or if we will have a chance to say these words of care, comfort, and love ever again.

And how can we say them with surety? Because God loved us first and loves us still. We are surrounded by the unconditional love of God who is love itself. When we can embrace and take into our very being that we are loved unconditionally, we can reach out and say to others, “I love you, too.”

Regardless of what may have transpired between us and our loved one, regardless of how they may have hurt us or we may have hurt them, love abides. Love lives on. Love is unconditional. Love is eternal.

During this season of Hanukkah for Jews and Advent for Christians, let us remember to share God’s love for us with those around us – those we love dearly and those we may never meet. This is the season of giving and saying, “I love you, too” to those near and far.

Who needs to hear these very words from you today?                             

    (Photo by Elizabeth Geitz, 2018, Natural Rock Formation @ Machu Picchu)
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Bucket List Surprises

I just checked it off my bucket list – Machu Picchu that is. And how much I learned! This 15th-century Incan citadel is located in the Andean mountains of Peru. Built of carefully constructed stones with no mortar, it has withstood centuries of earthquakes and outlasted many stone structures built after it.

The engineering genius of its construction melded with the precision-like placement of its buildings, aligned with the sun at the Winter Solstice, is inspiring. Its location, nestled among and surrounded by 9,000 foot high Andean mountains, is breathtaking.

There is a deep spirituality to this place in which numerous gods and goddesses were worshipped. There’s the God of the Sun, Inca Sapa; Goddess of the Moon, Mama Quilla; and my favorite, Pachamama, Goddess of the Earth.

ViracochaIn addition, displayed prominently throughout Peru is the God Viracocha, creator of the earth, the sky, the other gods, and humans. He is depicted as a fierce warrior, frightening to behold, with weapons raised in each hand. His intent is to scare, to frighten, to protect one from harm. And he is displayed everywhere, in every market, shop, restaurant, and hotel.

Mingled within this Incan culture are soaring Roman Catholic cathedrals built by the Spaniards who conquered the Incas in 1532, filled with elaborate, baroque depictions of Jesus, Mary, the saints, and more. In the entrance of one hangs a painting of the crucified Christ, bleeding, writhing on the cross and to my surprise upon seeing it, I suddenly burst into tears.

I’m not one who is drawn to ‘bleeding Jesus crucifixes’. Yet, here I was literally moved to tears. Why? Upon reflection, I think it was the pure vulnerability of the One I call my Savior. Here was no depiction of power. Quite the opposite. This was raw pain, powerlessness, vulnerability on full display for all the world to see.

It is this vulnerability in the person of Jesus that marks Christianity as unique among world religions. At its heart, Christians have a crucified and risen Savior. Jesus rose victorious, but first he suffered pain to the point of death.

On the cross, Jesus embodies powerlessness, pain, abandonment. His words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”* are ones many of us have uttered at some time in our life. And that moment can be one of deep and abiding connection.

This is why Christians are mandated to care for the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger in our midst. It is why Christians are meant to reach out to the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized wherever and whoever they may be – whether black, white, Hispanic, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, none of the above, gay or straight.

In the midst of the powerful, warrior god of the Incas, it is the vulnerable, crucified Christ who reached out from the painting and into my heart. May you, too, find a deep and abiding connection to something or someone beyond yourself that speaks to the very depths of your soul.

Wherever you may find it.

*Matthew 27:46

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The Magic of Scars

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

                                                       -2 Corinthians 4:8-9 

“I will never recover from this,” lamented Constance. “Never. I knew my daughter had been depressed. I knew something was troubling her deeply. But somehow I didn’t let her know I was a person she could talk to about her deepest, darkest feelings. She ended up taking her own life the day after my last conversation with her. How could I have failed her so terribly?” she said, with tears streaming down her face.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that we may be struck down, but we are not destroyed, regardless of how devastated we feel, regardless of what society and others may tell us. How easy this is to forget when we are feeling persecuted or struck down.

Can you remember the last time you felt that way? Was it a sudden economic setback? Unresolvable conflict with a child or partner? Devastating diagnosis you received? Unexpected loss of a loved one?

If we can only remember in those times that we are loved beyond measure, that God loves us especially when we are at our lowest, especially when we feel that our emotional scars will never heal, we can have hope for a new tomorrow.

466894main1_celestial-fireworks-670Prize-winning author Amy Ferris is fond of saying, “Wear your scars like stardust.” She adds, “I think scars — whether they’re physical, or emotional — are signs of huge massive bravery and courage. They often mean that someone has come through, walked through, run through, the fire.”1
How brilliantly she turns a deep wound, either physical or emotional, into something beautiful, even magical.

As women we are especially vulnerable to thinking of our scars as negatives in our lives, parts of ourselves to be ashamed of. Yet all of us have scars of one kind or another. All of us.

How might you turn yours into stardust?

 

1Marcia G. Yerman, “Amy Ferris Takes on Depression in Shades of Blue”, HuffPost, December 6, 2017.

For a powerful, spiritual song about the healing nature of scars see lyric video, “That’s What Scars Are For” by Mandisa. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Gvt__r9EU0

 

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Temptation of Our Day

Can anyone in America see beyond partisan politics anymore? Have we all become so blinded by the current climate that we can’t even think beyond party affiliation?

“So what do you think about yesterday’s NYTimes article on Trump’s alleged tax fraud and inheritance of $400 million from his father, contrary to the claims he has made for years about being a self-made billionaire?” I asked. “I haven’t read it,” my friend replied, “but it’s total BS.” “How can you know that if you haven’t even read it?” I asked, frustrated and incredulous. “It’s total BS,” he replied, and that was the end of that conversation.

“So do you think Kavanaugh is guilty or not?” I asked another friend last week, genuinely interested in her feelings. “He’s definitely guilty,” she replied emphatically. “No question about it.” “But the FBI investigation hasn’t started yet,” I said. “So what? He’s guilty. No doubt in my mind.”

I am worried about the state of our country. Not only because of what some of our leaders are doing or have done, but because their extreme behavior has engendered extreme behavior in us. Americans have become so polarized that we seem unable to think through each situation, carefully reviewing it in its own light, in its own right. Instead, we seem to be unable to entertain a point of view different from the one held by the majority of our chosen political party.

And this does not bode well for our country. Not for any of us. Not so long ago, we used to care enough about each other to genuinely listen, to genuinely care what our neighbors had to say – those who think like us and those who don’t. No longer.

People on both sides of the aisle are filled with rage and self-righteousness that says, “I don’t even need to hear what you have to say. I know you’re wrong before you even open your mouth.”

But by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, one person did not succumb to this temptation of our day, Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake. At a critical time in the history of our nation, he did something that is almost unheard of in today’s climate. He tapped his Democratic colleague on the shoulder and nodded his head, “Let’s go talk.”

across the aisleSo they went into a back room and reached a compromise, together, a compromise that regardless of the final vote on Kavanaugh has shown our country a way forward, a way out of the seemingly entrenched quagmire we are in.

Let us learn from their example. Let us reach across whatever aisle we find ourselves in. Let us not succumb to the temptation of our day.

Posted in Dialogue, Justice Issues, Listen With the Ear of the Heart, Reflections on Life, Unspoken Truths | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Inhumane Misuse of Holy Scripture, Yet Again

There are times when one cannot keep silent without losing all personal integrity. This is one of those times. Infants and young children seeking asylum in the US are being separated from their parents by US immigration agents at the US/Mexican border.

Nursing babies literally ripped from their mothers’ breasts, screaming. Young children grabbing their parents’ legs in a last-ditch effort to hold on, while stone-faced ICE agents stand by. Parents crying while trying to comfort their overwrought, terrified children.

ICECan you imagine escaping your home after seeing your own parent beheaded by a gang only to find there is no safety waiting, only more fear, more uncertainty, more outright disregard for humanity? Can you imagine your incredulity when you learn that there has been a major US policy shift as of last month that no longer allows children to stay with their own parents in such situations, regardless of age? Can you imagine the Sophie’s Choice of choosing between possible murder of or certain separation from your children?

In my mother’s heart, I cannot even fathom the nightmare of such a choice, knowing that not only will my child be ripped away from me but will be put in a cage or locked up for 22 hours/day in the new US jails for innocent children, abandoned Walmarts.

There is no justification for such inhumanity. There is no finger-pointing blame that lets anyone off the hook. And there is most assuredly no mandate for such cruelty in the Bible.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Press Secretary Sarah Huckaby Sanders citing Biblical precedent for following the law in Romans 13 as justification for such soul-destroying policy, instituted by the Trump administration, is appalling and dangerous.

Holy Scripture has been misused throughout history to justify slavery, women’s oppression, and anti-gay policy. To now use it to justify separating innocent children from their vulnerable parents is an abomination.

To engage in this kind of travesty involves what is called proof-texting, or taking one Biblical verse out of context to support one’s position. Any student of scripture knows how misleading and inaccurate this is.

The Bible can only be correctly interpreted in its entirety, not piecemeal. For Christians, Jesus’ words trump all – not Old Testament passages or parts of Paul’s letters to the Romans or other communities, taken out of context.

Here these words of Jesus.

Then he [Jesus] will say to those at his left hand…’I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” Matthew 25:41a-45, italics added

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40, italics added

All who call themselves Christian stand judged by these words of Jesus. Anyone who would twist the Biblical message for their own political purpose needs to stop talking and get on their knees and pray. For their very soul.

Please join me in praying for the soul of our nation.

Posted in Justice Issues, Prayer | 1 Comment

See, I Am Doing a New Thing!

Something magical, liberating, and life-changing happened on Saturday. Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, an African-American divorcee. The stiff upper lip stuffiness of the royals was forever wed with a young woman who dared to declare to the world, “This is who I am. Take it or leave it.” No posturing. No mask. Just raw, outspoken acceptance of identity in the midst of overwhelming reasons to remain silent.

With the selection of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as their wedding preacher, I knew a new day had finally dawned. As the first African-American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and an internationally renowned preacher, whose life has focused on issues of racial and sexual justice, there was no doubt the royals were in for a rollicking ride. And he did not disappoint. He gave them, and the world, a sermon that will be remembered for generations to come.

Nineteen-year-old British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason also wowed the crowd with a breakout performance. Winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year Award, he is the first black recipient. A new day has finally dawned.

As the Kingdom Choir sang “Stand by Me”, “This Little Light of Mine”, and the traditional gospel song “Amen”, the message became increasingly clear. A new day has dawned. Our love extends beyond ourselves to embrace a hurting, divided world. A new day has dawned in a world where race and nationality do not divide us one from another. A world where we are all God’s children. A world where we are equally loved by and valuable to the One who created us all.

“This is who I am. This is who we are as a couple,” their choices proclaimed for all the world to see. In his sermon, Presiding Bishop Curry was clear about what makes this possible. “The reason has to do with the source,” he proclaimed. “We were made by a power of love and our lives were meant – are meant – to be lived in that love.”

419775bd0fb95876fd526215607fe70bFor you see, God has been at work ushering in new life and new realities since the beginning of time. In the Book of Isaiah, the LORD says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19) God is always at work to bring about new life from worn-out ways, love from hate, healing from division, life from death. And just as surely as God was and is at work in the lives of Meghan and Harry, God is also at work in you and me.

God yearns for, longs for wholeness, self-acceptance, healing and love for all of us. God wants nothing but the best for each precious child of God. The LORD tells us, “You are precious and honored in my sight” (Isaiah 43:4). And so we are, each and every one of us.

God is doing a new thing! Do you not perceive it?

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