Have we lost our souls?

I grew up understanding that I should live by the Golden Rule. In modern terminology, it might be expressed this way: “Treat others like you want to be treated.” When I was older, I realized that there is a version of that in all of the world’s major religions.

I also grew up with the understanding that love is the greatest commandment of all. “Love God with all your being…love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

And this…”Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

I also grew up reading (and in choir, singing) the last part of the poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. But the entire poem is worth reading today:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And then I look around my country today…and the religion I have claimed…and I don’t recognize either of them.

Christianity–or what claims to be Christianity by so many people–seems so far removed from what I learned as a child. And my country–a place of freedom and hope, even if / when imperfectly expressed–now seems to have turned its back on the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

do recognize that there are problems that we need to deal with re: immigration. But to separate frightened children from their one source of comfort? and then issue directives to staff that they are not to physically comfort them? To tell parents who are fleeing violence and oppression that if they come into this country–whether illegally or legally seeking asylum–their children will be removed from them without them having a chance to explain what is going on (if they can even understand themselves what is happening)…and to tell them they don’t know if they will see their children again?

I used to wonder how good people could have done what many Nazis did. What happened to their consciences? Did they not have any empathy for those parents and children? How were they able to separate parents from children and then go home without a qualm to play with their own children?

I used to think that we would never be like that. But I’m afraid that I’m wrong.

My own faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us today. When I go back to re-read some of that contemporary guidance, I am challenged and convicted.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

I pray that we will find our souls again before it is too late…for all of us.

 

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Love on four legs

I am a dog person. Always have been, beginning with Lucky, the toy Boston bull terrier we had when I was a kid.

Our most recent dog was Rascal, a schnoodle. We got him when he was about six months old and had him for thirteen years. He died a couple of months ago of heart failure. We knew that was probably coming; we just didn’t expect it so soon.

I knew I wanted another dog. But I was thinking that I would probably wait for another month or so…get through some major activities I have coming up. But…

Some friends who volunteer at a shelter called and said they had a dog that they thought would work. I wanted a small lap dog, and they had one. So we went out to see.  They brought her down the hall to the meet-and-greet room–and she was perfect! She and I immediately bonded, and she came home with us.

Her name at the shelter was Little Girl–but that didn’t seem quite right. So she is now Little Bit, and she is happily making herself at home. The only challenge is that she has staked such a claim on me that she doesn’t want to let another dog around…and we had planned on allowing another dog to join the family for our grandson. But that’s apparently not going to happen–at least for a while!

She is mine–definitely mine! She is excited to see other people, including Charlie and our grandkids…but I am hers!

She’s 3 years old, a terrier mix, and she’s working at figuring out all the newness around.

There are times when you just need love on four legs…love that is unconditional, that claims you regardless of anything else. And so…meet Little Bit!

 

WWJD

WWJD? Remember those wristbands that were popular a few years ago with those letters on them? WWJD?

What would Jesus do?

If you wore that wristband, what did it mean to you? Was it just a nice thought? Or were you wearing it to say “I am the representative of Jesus to those I meet…and so how should I behave so that they see Jesus in me?”

Jesus wasn’t an easy person to follow! He didn’t just go along with the way things were…he challenged the status quo big time! He spent time with the marginalized…those who were considered unclean, who weren’t welcome in the “nice” settings. He wasn’t particularly concerned about keeping the letter of the law; he was more concerned about the spirit of the law being in the heart. He saw all people as being worth God’s love–and he made sure they knew it.

So…

WWJD? What would Jesus do today?

If you are his follower, what are you doing today so that people see Jesus in you? There aren’t easy answers to that question. But it’s an important question to ask.

There’s another question that I think goes along with this…If you were arrested for being a follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

We’re each going to respond differently to those questions. But for those of us who claim to be followers of this guy who spent his entire life upsetting the way things were, how are we upsetting the status quo in ways that acknowledge the worth of each individual? What would Jesus do? What are we doing?

Whose church is it?

In Germany in the 1930s, Christianity had in many ways become a partner to the Nazi movement. Many pastors agreed with the Nazi ideology and supported laws and statements that were issued by its leaders. A major focus of this partnership was a reinterpretation of Christianity as an Aryan religion that had no Jewish influences–and that there were “undesirable elements” that weakened the country and should be removed for the “greater good” (i.e., mentally and physically disabled, members of the LGBT and Romany [Gypsy] communities, Jews).

There were others who watched this co-option of German Christianity with horror, and at Barmen, representatives of various Protestant leaders came together to create a declaration now known as the Barmen Declaration that defined their opposition to any interpretation of Christianity based on racial theories. This placed members of their churches in direct political opposition to the government.

Today there are leaders of American Christianity who see a similar need. Far too many who claim to follow Jesus are supporting statements and actions that are in contradiction to what the Jesus of the gospels preached and how he acted.

In response to this concern, a number of American church leaders gathered in a retreat during Lent 2018 and have created a declaration for this time and this political environment. It is a call to the followers of Jesus to think again about what it means to truly live as his followers.

As in the Barmen Declaration, there are six specific declarations in the document titled Reclaiming Jesus. You can read the entire document at the link, but a short version of the concerns and responses follows below:

  1. We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness….Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.
  2. We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class….Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.
  3. We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself….Therefore, we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.
  4. We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives…Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.
  5. We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination….Therefore, we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.
  6. We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community….Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.

The creators of this document call us to think again about whose church it is that we belong to…and what it means to go deeper into our relationship with God and with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines–and deeper into our relationships with those who are the most vulnerable.

Many of us believe that we are living in a time of darkness–but we also have hope in the one whom John calls “the light of the world.” This declaration calls us to share that light…and to live in response to the commandments to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

What will we do?

 

The Power of Words

I’ve been reminded again this week of the power of words…power to wound and power to heal. I’m not going to go into specific examples, because we can each think of those times when we have been deeply wounded by someone’s choice of words and–hopefully–also those times when someone’s words have brought healing.

I don’t believe that most people intentionally to hurt someone else with words. But it happens.

So then what?

Sometimes the comment is “Well, just get over it.” Sometimes it is just that easy.

But often it’s not.

When the wound goes deep into the soul…when one’s hurt is dismissed…when one is made to feel “less than” because of what someone has said…it’s a far more complicated and lengthy process. And even if one is able to find healing, there is still a scar.

One is fortunate if they are blessed with someone who is willing to be present through the journey towards healing. I have been.

I went through a very difficult time when my concerns were dismissed…actions and statements made that cut deeply…and I was left wondering if I even belonged in the faith tradition I had spent my whole life in–and was very involved with. I was blessed by someone who expressed concern every time we met…who did not let me hide behind the mask that I presented to everyone else. I did not see her all that often, but every time I did, I knew that she heard and cared–really cared.

And her presence–her “being with”–pulled me through.

It bothers me when someone is hurt–and those who did the wounding, even unintentionally, dismiss the pain.

We often think that it’s the responsibility of the person who is hurting to make the first move. Again, sometimes that can happen. But for those of us who follow the one we call Jesus, we are called to behave differently. The modern translation The Message puts it this way in Matthew 5:23-24:

If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.

Even if I think I did nothing wrong, if I’m aware that there is a division between me and someone else, it’s my responsibility to try to make things right. Not always easy–in fact, often not easy because it goes against common behavior.

But if we want to be healers, then we are called to recognize the power of words to wound, but more importantly, to heal.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough…

I can’t believe that I’m writing about another school shooting. There have been so many this year–have we become numb to what’s happening?

We are hearing again “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims”…but I’m tired of hearing that. Not that thoughts and prayers aren’t important–they are. But that’s not enough.

We’ll hear again “It’s too soon to talk about what can be done”…but for those who lost their lives, it’s too late.

And what’s frightening…what’s appalling…is that one of the survivors of the shooting in Texas wasn’t surprised. She figured that sooner or later it–a shooting–would happen at their school. Not because she had any particular insights into her fellow students, but because it’s become so ubiquitious.

Folks, these are our children and grandchildren we’re talking about. Do we have to wait for something to happen to our flesh and blood before we take action?

More guns aren’t going to solve the issue. More thoughts and prayers aren’t going to solve the issue.

We need to talk together…to listen…to decide that our children’s safety is paramount…to take common sense actions that will help. Will those actions stop all shootings? Probably not, but they certainly would help.

When I hear people in leadership saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with you”–but then sit back and take no action…even action that the majority of Americans want–I’m reminded of something that Jesus said, and I think it’s an appropriate statement to share, since so many of those who talk about thoughts and prayers claim to be followers of his. This translation is from The Message (Matthew 7:21-23), because I think it helps us get the vehemence with which Jesus spoke:

“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Our children need and thoughts and prayers, yes. But they also need us to put actions with those thoughts and prayers–to act as the adults whose responsibility it is to protect them, to nurture them, to help them grow up.

And right now, we’re failing.

Little pitchers…big ears…long memories!

Yesterday was a hectic day. Actually, it was the culmination of several days of frustration and  busy-ness…and by the late afternoon, I had about had enough. I reverted back to a family statement when someone has had enough and said, “I’m going to go outside, dig a hole, jump in, and pull it in after me!”

I didn’t think anybody was paying a lot of attention, but I was sure wrong!

My 4-1/2 year old granddaughter looked at me and asked if she could jump in the hole with me…

A little later, we went out onto our back deck to enjoy the lovely weather…and guess what? Ladybug wanted to know if this was when we were going to dig the hole? When I told her no, she heaved a big sigh at the thought of having to wait, but went on to do other playing. Before we came in, she wanted to dig the hole again…still frustrated at having to wait.

I have some bulbs to plant, so Charlie bought a “digger” yesterday so that it will be easier to plant them. And guess what?

When Ladybug arrived today, she immediately found it and wanted to know if that was what we were going to use to dig the hole! Again, frustration at having to wait…and again…and again…

I’m not sure how long it’s going to take before she forgets about digging a hole…jumping in…and pulling it in after her. Maybe never… Little pitchers have very big ears…and long memories!