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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There’s a Movement Afoot

Political authorities are anxious. There’s a movement afoot. Hierarchical norms are being threatened. And by whom? A young upstart, a radical who refuses to follow their long-held rules, who speaks of a new way, a better way that bypasses familiar authoritarian structures firmly in place. A young man no one had even heard of a few short years ago.

Now thousands of people gather around him, listen in awe to him, as he speaks words of wisdom well beyond his years. Words that make sense. Words saying that clearly something is wrong, very wrong. Something has to change. The old ways are the way of death and destruction.

He and his friends speak of the marginalized, those who are left out, pushed aside by a society that focuses on the educated, the wealthy, those from the right families. So they include them, make them part of their message in a profound way, and people listen. Intently.

Yes, he knows that money often changes hands in the power structures that be. Money he wants no part of. Even those who clamor after him and hang onto his every word do not fully comprehend. He wants no part of earthly power as it presently exists – corrupt, compassionless, evil.

To proclaim loudly and boldly for all to see that he is a different kind of leader, he rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. No kingly procession for him. Just a humble one, befitting the humble servant of all humankind that he is. A humble servant who has come to spread a message of love, life, and liberation.

They treat him with disdain, dishonor. He is spat upon, mocked, whipped, and killed. Killed by Roman authorities in the most painful, excruciating way – by crucifixion. The authorities think they have won, but how wrong they are. How very, very wrong.

Because you cannot kill a movement, no matter how hard you may try. With opposition, movements grow, leaders are born, people find their voice. Momentum propels it forward as more join the movement because it is right. Because they too, are weary of the way things are. Because they too, know that new life lies ahead. Because they, too, have had enough.

His name is Jesus. The year is 33 AD. Or is it?

This Holy Week, as Christians remember Jesus whose death and resurrection started the Jesus Movement that is still going strong over 2,000 years later, may we all, regardless of our faith tradition, be emboldened to join new movements of justice in our own time.

Our voices are needed. Our commitment is needed. Our unfailing hope in a new tomorrow is needed. Desperately.

Because now, as then, enough is enough.

enough

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Olympic Dream Born

There’s nothing like the Olympics. Nothing. The best athletes from around the world gather to represent their countries, to give it their all, to get to know one another, and of course, to compete.

olympicsHowever, the competition this year feels different, contains within it a seed of hope. As South and North Korea process in together under a unified flag even as nuclear threat looms, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself.

Gone is the posturing. Gone is the fear. Gone is the threat of the annihilation of literally millions of people. In its place are smiles, waving young people joined together in spirit if only for a moment. If only this could be the reflection of life today instead of military parades on both sides of the Pacific. If only nations could compete not on the battlefield, but on the sports field. If only.

One Olympic athlete excels beyond their dreams. Another has one mis-step that costs them everything. People are meant to compete in sports where hard work, skill, and relentless training all play a part, as can chance. Not in an arena filled with drones, nuclear warheads, and ICBMs where innocent people have no chance and all the skill in the world is utterly useless.

As Kim Jong-un’s sister smiles and waves seated a stone’s throw from Mike Pence, I can’t help wondering what is going through her mind. Does she grasp the reality in which her people and the South Koreans live? Does she see the pain behind the smiles? Does she see the worry? Does she see the abject fear?

An invitation extended. A small step taken. A tiny spark ignited. God at work.

An Olympic dream born.

The ancient Greeks had it right. Let the games begin.

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Things That Have Never Been

Creating Anew“And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

How daunting and thrilling it is to realize in a profound way, that the days ahead of us have never been. On the one hand, of course they’ve never been; we all know that. But the deeper question is what does or can that mean for us?

The reality that each day that lies before us has never been gives each of us an opportunity to join our creator in the act of creating. For you see, it is we who have the power, and I would assert – the call – to create something good and holy and life-giving from the days that are yet to be.

It is up to us. Each and every one of us. Are we going to allow others to define our days, who we are, what we do and how we shape them? Are we going to be merely reactive in a world that baffles and confuses us, or proactive?

In our country and world, where so much is at stake, I believe we are each called to not let others set the agenda for us. For whether we view Jesus, born anew this Christmas, as the Son of God (as do Christians) or a prophet (as do Jews and Muslims) or a good and decent human (as do many), our world would be a far different place if we followed his teaching and life.

His teaching that when we do something, anything, for the least of these our sisters and brothers, we do it to him – whether visiting the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, the lonely; whether feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or welcoming the stranger. (Matthew 25) His teaching to love our neighbor as ourself. His actions of breaking taboos and reaching out to women, time and time again.

Imagine our world. Just imagine. In this year ahead “of things that have never been” it is we who will write the script and live the life. It is we who can join with our creator in creating anew that which is good and holy, if only we will do so.

Yes, opposing forces are all around us. They have been so from the beginning of time, and they always shall be. It is up to us to resist them and join together in creating a 2018 that follows the example of the One sent to us in a tiny manger over 2,000 years ago. He came and dwelt among us for a reason.

What will your 2018 look like?

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Following the Light

starI recently attended an Advent gathering at an Episcopal Church in Florida. It was held outdoors, under the stars, on a pitch black night. While walking in, I saw what I thought was a homeless person standing next to a wall. He had a beard, long hair, and was bent over wearing a baggy garment. Approaching with care, thinking of what I would say and how I would welcome him into our church community, I suddenly realized it was not a man, but a statue.

Rounding the corner, I saw a camel led by another man who was guiding the lanky animal down a winding path. Further ahead was a person crouched down, looking up at the stars. I then realized that these were life-size figures in a nativity set making their way to the Christ child and suddenly, I found myself on the journey with them, right in the middle of the seeking and wandering, wondering exactly what lay ahead.

It was a holy moment as I experienced for a short while what it might have felt like to those early travelers following the light of the star, following their hopes and dreams of a savior, a new tomorrow. My heart began to beat more rapidly in anticipation of the promises foretold and I was captivated by the moment.

Oh how we have lost that feeling in the busyness of our days filled with shopping, preparation, troubling news day in and day out. Yet how much we need to recapture it, reclaim it for ourselves, for our very souls.

For what is at stake is, in fact, our soul. I am convinced that when we read and watch a 24-hour news cycle filled with hate, discord, enmity among our sister and brother Americans, it can be and is soul-destroying. In the midst of the stark partisanship and focus on the sins of others while ignoring our own, we lose a piece of ourselves.

And what we lose is literally peace. The ability to reflect. The ability to see the Christ in others, especially those with whom we disagree. This season of Advent, of waiting for the Christ child, is one in which we are meant to reflect on what it means that Christ came into the world over 2,000 years ago as a tiny, vulnerable baby. Vulnerable to all the vicissitudes of the world. Vulnerable to the forces that seek to divide and destroy and tear apart.

It is ultimately those very forces that led to Christ’s crucifixion 33 years later, seeming victim of the hatred of a world gone mad. But we know the end of the story. Christ was victorious and rose again to say ‘no’ to the principalities of evil and destruction, ‘no’ to that which destroys and breaks down and tears apart.

We who seek him now must follow him in the days ahead. Regardless of the personal cost. Regardless of where it leads us. For if it is Christ we seek this Christmas, then it is Christ we must follow in the days to come into the way of justice, truth and light.

On that dark night, those who wandered and wondered were led. They followed.

Will you?

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Thoughts & Prayers?

Charleston, SC church shooting. Nine dead.
My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

Las Vegas massacre of fifty-eight innocent people at a country music concert.
My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting. Twenty-seven dead.
My thoughts and prayers are with all in the community ravaged by this tragedy.

What does it mean to pray? Does it matter? If it does, why does nothing seem to change?

Prayer does matter; it can move mountains, change hearts and minds and souls. But….prayer without action is less than it can be, less than we are each called to do, less than what is needed in our world.

Action is needed and act we must…or truly nothing will ever change. Lives will continue to be lost, senselessly. People will continue to grieve the loss of innocent loved ones, and we will be left on the sidelines shaking our heads saying….

My thoughts and prayers are with you.

thoughts and prayersSo what can caring people do? We can discern, carefully, how God is calling us to act. We can keep up with legislation and contact our representatives. We can email them when relevant bills come up and urge others to do the same. We can educate ourselves on the complexities of the issue. We can go to meetings, join groups, witness to others, and more.

On a more personal level, many in our country are feeling overwhelmed, unable to absorb yet one more senseless tragedy. Our presence and friendship matter, especially now. We can be a listening presence, a loving friend who says, “I’m here. Let’s get together.” No act of kindness or caring is too small. Your presence can and does make a difference.

And in the final analysis, yes, we can pray. Not only for victims, families, and communities, but for ourselves that we, too, may not let the darkness overwhelm us. That we may have the wisdom to act.

Prayer and action. Together. Try it.

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The Good, Bad, Loud, and Violent

I could feel it the moment I walked into the stadium. Big money, high stakes, and testosterone. The choreography of the day rivaled that of the best Broadway musical. From start to finish each second of the NFL game was meticulously planned from blaring rock music, neon lights circling the massive stadium, flashing beer and car ads, bouncy cheerleader routines (do scantily clad young women still prance around like that?), to fighter jets flying in formation, and the 75-yard long American flag.

Suddenly the players ran onto the field as the music rocked. A giant black inflatable Carolina panther spewed forth fire and smoke as the team literally ran through it, while cheerleaders gyrated in sync. Then the star players ran through one at a time like gladiators into the arena, filled with power, ready to annihilate the enemy.

Sheer power, male power, spewed forth as cheerleaders danced in unison with their pom poms and white go-go boots moving up and down in a mesmerizing unity and I found myself shocked. I had only attended one professional football game in my life and it was 25 years ago. Had I changed or had the sport changed? Clearly it was me. Nothing new here, except perhaps the sheer size and scope of it.

Next came the national anthem, beautifully belted out by a young cherubic looking boy. A dozen New Orleans Saints players sat or knelt during the anthem. One Panthers player remained in the locker room. But in the midst of the overwhelming sights and sounds, I missed their silent protest even though I was looking for it. And the massive celebration continued.

I let out a deep sigh. No wonder, I thought. The bubble effect, I thought. So many of us (women in particular) choose not to focus on what excites, moves, and stimulates many in the rest of our country. Opera and ballet are hardly great American past-times. Nor is theater. Nor are tennis or golf. Nor are basketball and hockey. No, far and away the king of American sports is professional football. And professional football is sheer, raw male power with ever present scantily clad cheerleaders, the epitome of sexism.

And it was equal opportunity sexism with women of every race, ethnicity and hair color included. Someone for everyone to ogle, to covet, to make them believe for just a moment that all women are between the ages of 26 and 33 with the figure of shapely models.

The coin is tossed and the game begins with a soaring kick into the end zone. Within 3 mtackleinutes, the Panthers star wide receiver is injured and taken out for the remainder of the game. My mind begins to wander to the many players who years later suffer brain damage due to the heavy, relentless hitting of the sport. Gladiators in the arena risking permanent, irreversible brain damage. For what? Stardom? Glory? Money?

My eyes return to the cheerleaders and I am taken back to my college days. One of my classmates was a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader in the Tom Landry glory days of the team. She, too, was tall and thin with long flowing hair. Beautiful, shapely, the envy of all. Ten years later she stepped in front of a moving train. What is the long-term effect on these young women of being objectified week after week, year after year with a smile plastered on their face, until they’re forced into retirement at the ripe old age of 33?

What is the long-term effect on the players? Concussions and other repetitive play-related head blows have been shown to be the cause of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) which has led to player suicides, memory loss, dementia, depression, anxiety and more (Meehan, Concussions, 2016). Seventy percent of America’s football players are youth, with 23,000 youth athletes suffering non-fatal traumatic brain injuries every year.

What is the long-term effect on the crowds viewing these games? A mindset is born. A mindset is perpetuated through the ages – one that is male dominated applauding aggression, violence, and sexism which spills over into many facets of American life, including politics.

And what of the millions of people watching the games at home? While many delight in an enjoyable Sunday afternoon with family gathered around, others are not so lucky. The Quarterly Journal of Economics reports that calls to police reporting men’s assault on their wives or intimate partners rose 10% in areas where the local NFL team was expected to win but lost, with assaults occurring during the final hour of the game or up to 2 hours afterward (Robert Wicks, “Crime and Football”, UCSD News, March 2011).

“Professional football, like no other American game, clearly represents America – the good, bad, loud, violent, ugly and beautiful” (The Wall Street Journal, 2014). The problem for us as spectators arises when we become inured to what we are seeing and accept it as normal, letting it eke out of the stadium and into our value system, our expectations, our very lives.

Naming the many layers of the complex game of professional football, calling it out for what it is, has the power to save us all – players, cheerleaders, and spectators alike.

If not now, when? If not you, who?

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