RIP

Two men died yesterday. One was a friend; the other I never met. But both had a profound impact on many people who may not have even known their names.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee 1922-2018

Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Man…and so many more. Superheroes…but with a twist. Many of them became superheroes because of an unexpected event in their lives. They had human flaws, characteristics that allowed us to identify with them. They raised moral questions…they deal with society as it is…as it may be…as we might like it to be. They were many colors, sizes, genders…

With Stan Lee’s death, Marvel Comics has lost a creative genius who allowed kids to have role models who looked like them…to encourage them in their dreams.

Dale Jones

Dale Jones 1951-2018

For a couple of months every year, my friend went by the name of Santa. He ate breakfast with kids…he saw them at the mall. He loved them…made them feel valued…and encouraged them to be the best they could be.

Many who saw him in his red suit at the mall or in other Christmas settings never knew that his “other” name was Dale Jones…or that he was a gifted musician and minister. They didn’t know that he had a family and friends who loved him. They just knew that he made them feel special.

So…as we move into the season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I want to give thanks for these two men who have touched so many lives…as well as the many, many other individuals who touch lives in ways they may never know.

Rest in peace.

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Words matter

Do you remember that childhood rhyme that went “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?

I think it probably was created with the best of intentions…to try to encourage people to be strong. But the sentiment is not true.

Words can…and do…hurt.

They resonate in our minds long after the echo of the sound waves has disappeared, and they reappear when we may least expect them to.

They can encourage individuals to release inhibitions and allow the ugly part of themselves to come out.

They have the potential of marginalizing entire groups of people.

They can place individuals in physical danger.

Jean-Paul Satre said “Words are loaded pistols”…and they can have the same horrific impact.

But words can also bring healing and hope.

They can expand our circle of relationships.

They can help us learn more about each other and this wonderful world we inhabit.

They can bring inclusion.

Words matter.

What do your words say?

Quotes About Words Matter

 

How long?

Another mass shooting….

Another round of thoughts and prayers….

Another series of “conversations” about whether or not changes in gun laws would have saved lives….

Another insistence that a “good guy” with a gun could have stopped the shooting…

Another time of red flags missed…

But people are still dead.

What should have been a time of peaceful worship…of celebration of the naming of a child…is destroyed in a rain of bullets and hate.

There will be more vigils….

And we will say “never again”….

But deep in our hearts we know it will happen again…because we are too in love with our guns to make any changes. Too in love with our ideas of “freedom” to work together to make our schools and places of worship safe for everyone. Too enamored with our freedom of speech to acknowledge that words of hatred and division have an impact.

How long?

And how many more will have to die?

How long…?

 

Shouldn’t church just be … church?

“Why does political ‘stuff’ have to get talked about at church? I come to church to hear God’s word; I can get enough of the other stuff the rest of the week. Shouldn’t church just be…well…church?”

That depends.

My father, who was a full-time minister in my faith tradition, had a saying that the responsibility of the church was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

I’m not sure we’re really accomplishing either of those responsibilities very well today.

There are a lot of hurting people who would like to find a place where they are accepted, loved, and told they are people of worth. Unfortunately, far too often when they step into a church, they are told that they have to change…that their lifestyle keeps them from being loved…that God hates who/what they are…and they leave feeling worse than when they come.

And those who are comfortable far too often find themselves able to nod in agreement when they hear words that confirm that their comfortable lifestyle is proof that God loves them and what they are doing meets with God’s approval.

Too often church means we close the doors on the world as it is and the rest of the week, making a nice, safe shelter for us and those we like and agree with.

But those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus need to take a closer look at this one we follow.

He started out his public ministry by quoting an older prophet (Isaiah 4:18-19 CEB):

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When his followers asked him to teach them to pray, he included this as part of his prayer (Matthew 6:10 Good News Translation):

may your Kingdom come;
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Both of those teachings sound to me like we have some major responsibility towards those we share this earth with.

And there’s an even clearer message. Many of us who claim to be followers of this Jesus may be surprised when we face him. Here’s what he said about that (Matthew 25:31-45 The Message):

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, “Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.”

Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?”

He will answer them, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

So…should church just be…well…church? If that means that it calls us to care for our brothers and sisters, whether they are in our social circles or not…whether they are the same religion…whether they are the same color…sexual orientation…gender…race… whether we agree with their politics or not, then I’m for that kind of church!

Do not erase…

For some reason, we humans seem to want to make the world in our image. We want it to be ordered and fixed the way we want it to be–and we seem to be willing to do almost anything to make it that way.

But science shows us that there is an infinite variety and diversity.

And for those of us who call ourselves Christians, our sacred book of scripture talks about the process of creation–that God created this wonderful diversity, including the diversity of human beings who are made in God’s image.

We don’t understand the reasons for all that diversity in creation…and maybe there isn’t any real reason. Maybe God just enjoys creating that variety!

If that is the case, then why do we keep thinking that we need to erase everything and everyone that doesn’t fit into our nice neat boxes? Why can’t we just delight in the varieties in our wonderful world?

The current administration is considering a policy that would effectively erase the identity of transgender individuals:

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” reads the memo, according to the Times. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

But that ignores what we have been learning about the science of gender identity and sexual orientation…and insists that doctors ignore what is in the best interests of their patients simply because a government policy (created by individuals who have had a habit of ignoring scientific evidence that they don’t like) decrees that something doesn’t exist.

Transgender people do exist. They are our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sometimes parents, friends…. They have the same hopes, desires, dreams, fears as the rest of us–and they do not deserve for their identity to be erased by the government.

Who Am I?

I keep reading and hearing posts about how “all these Democrats” and “liberals” are ruining the country…are anti-God…are anti-patriotic…who hate anyone who disagrees with them…want to take away everybody’s guns…and on and on. You know the kind of language I’m talking about.

Well, I’m not sure who all these Democrats and liberals are that are being talked about. While I am a registered Independent, I tend to vote Democratic, and I would consider myself liberal. But I tend to get lumped into that group.

You might be interested to know that I am an ordained minister who believes in God’s love for all people. And while Christianity is the path that I have chosen, I have also enjoyed sharing with friends and family members who have followed different spiritual paths (or none).

I love the country of America. I lived for a few years of my childhood in another country, but America is my home, and I love it.

I have a number of friends I disagree with politically and theologically–but I don’t hate them. Disagreement doesn’t equal hate; it just means I disagree with you.

While I don’t want a gun in my home, I’m not trying to take away everybody else’s guns. My daughter has a concealed carry permit. I have family who hunt. I’m fine with folks having guns for target practice…for hunting…and even for self-protection if that is their choice. But I think it’s well past time for some common sense gun control so that we don’t keep having to send “thoughts and prayers” to the families of people killed by someone who thinks they have a right to carry a weapon whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible.

I believe that climate change is real, that we–as human beings–are major contributors to it, and that we must make major changes to try to reverse it before it is too late. I don’t believe we have much time, and I am concerned that a refusal to acknowledge it is far too prevalent today.

I believe that education is more than merely indoctrination…that it should challenge some of our understandings rather than merely confirm us in our prejudices. I want teachers to be allowed to teach, to encourage thinking in our children rather than helping them prepare for test after test after test.

And yes, I support legal abortion. I remember back alley abortions, and I don’t want to go back to that time. There are a lot of reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion, and I believe those decisions should be made by her in consultation with her doctor, her significant other, and a minister (again, if that is her choice).

I also support equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t always…but I have grown in my understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation, and I can no longer deny individuals the same rights and protection that I have.

Although, as I indicated above, I am an ordained minister, I believe there should be a wall of separation between church and state so that all individuals can worship in safety, without the government breathing down their necks.

I believe that women should be able to feel safe when they walk down the street–and that their experiences should be believed. Yes, I know there are sometimes false accusations, but those are few and far between. It’s far more likely that a woman will not share an experience of sexual assault because of how she has seen other women attacked and demeaned while reliving a traumatic experience.

I also believe that there has to be a better way of working out our differences with other governments than going to war. However, I appreciate those individuals who choose to join the armed services as their way of helping to protect this country that I love. My husband served in Vietnam, and two of my grandsons also served in the military. One was a Marine who served in Iraq and who died far too young. The other was in the army and served in Afghanistan.

I would love for us to return to a time of civility with each other…with a willingness to engage in true conversation with each other as we search to find common ground. I would love to see lawmakers be willing to reach across the aisle to work together…to understand that “compromise” is not a dirty word.

I do also see some posts and comments making similar comments about “Republicans” and “conservatives”…so this issue is not one-sided. We are all guilty.

But can’t we please start seeing each other as individuals? Complex individuals with whom we may agree on some issues and disagree on others? Can’t we please start focusing on finding common ground…some places where we can work together?

We have to, before it’s too late. Before this country becomes so terribly divided that we cannot find our way back together. I just hope it’s not too late…

 

 

When is the dawn?

There’s a rabbinical story that I have always liked. There are several versions, but it goes something like this:

A rabbi was talking with his students. He asked them this question: “How can we know when it is dawn–the time at which the night ends and the day begins?”

The students were puzzled. One asked, “Is it when you can look from a distance and tell whether it’s your house or your neighbor’s?”

“No,” the rabbi answered.

“Is it when you can tell your animal in the field from your neighbor’s?”

“No,” answered the rabbi again.

“Is it when you can see a flower in the garden and distinguish its color?”

The rabbi was frustrated. “Why do you think only in terms of separations? The dawn has come when you can look into the face of another human being and recognize that they are your sister or your brother. Until then, it is still night.”

That story seems particularly appropriate in light of the last couple of weeks…when we seem to have been unable or unwilling to see the humanity of those we disagree with.

For some right now, it seems as though we are in night, a night that feels as though it will never end.

And yet…

There’s another saying as well that seems appropriate. It first seems to have appeared in 1650 and has been used in various ways, including in a recent movie about England in World War II: “It’s always darkest right before the dawn.”

And that’s what gives me hope.

In what appears to be a very dark time, I have hope that the dawn is not far away…that there are those who can help us see it coming as they help us see the sister and brother in “the other.”