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.

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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!

Love…death…holes

Loving is difficult. It makes us vulnerable, and we’re not good at that. We want to be in control…because so much in life is out of our control.

But life without loving is also difficult. It isolates us…keeps us locked inside ourselves.

Both giving and receiving love is important. We sometimes love with conditions, but there are times when love is completely unconditional…and that often occurs with our pets.

Rascal

Rascal was a member of our family for about 12-1/2 years. He came to us already named–and we laughed about the fact that he often lived up to–or down to–his name. But he crept into our hearts. He knew when we were hurting, knew when someone needed a hug. He was independent–but willing to lay down that independence when someone in his pack needed him.

At his last checkup, we discovered that he had potential heart problems. We could have had more testing done–but even if we had found out for certain that there were problems, there wasn’t anything that could have been done at the time. So we knew we were looking down the road at the end of our time with him, but we thought it would still be a while.

That wasn’t to be, though.

Friday night he started having breathing problems–and Saturday morning at 7:00, he crossed the rainbow bridge.

I’ve been grateful that he was with us all night…and that he was snuggled up next to me when he took his last breath. He was not alone…he was with his pack.

But now there’s a hole. We keep looking, expecting to see him snuggled in his blanket on the couch…or sitting in the chair, watching and ready to bark at intruders who enter “his” space…or looking at us when we leave, waiting for us to say, “It’s okay, boy, we’ll be back in a little bit.”

The house feels empty.

I know the hole will fill…down the road. And I know we have lots and lots of memories of fun times with him. But we still feel the loss. He is not the first fur baby we have lost…just the most recent.

Loving is difficult. It makes us vulnerable. But, as Anatole France said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” Without loving, without both giving and receiving unconditional love, we are not whole.

 

Church? When?

I grew up at a time when life was–in many ways–less hectic. And there were some times that were sacrosanct…kept free. Wednesday nights and Sundays were reserved…for church.

And the blue laws were still in effect. For those too young to remember, that meant that stores weren’t open on Sundays either. If you’d forgotten to buy something on Saturday that you were going to need on Sunday, that was too bad. You’d have to improvise!

But time moved on…and religion began to take a less important place in our lives–at least, in some ways. And sports began to take a bigger part. There were more and more opportunities for kids…and because more kids wanted to take part, the times when sports were scheduled began to expand…and moved into those previously sacred times.

So here we are now. Often there are rehearsals on Wednesday nights…and games on Sundays.

And yet, we seem to do church the same way we did all those years ago. And it’s not working…not well.

So…what do we do?

Yes, there are many people for whom Sunday morning church still works. I’m not advocating doing away with it, because I know that time and experience are still important parts of their schedules.

But there are many, many others for whom “traditional” church and traditional church time don’t work. Maybe because of jobs…maybe because of school activities…maybe because of sports or dance or other activities that their kids are involved in.

So can we look at some new possibilities?

  • Does church have to be on Sunday morning?
  • Does it have to be formal?
  • What if we set up some meetings in homes (house churches)?
  • What if we didn’t actually have a sermon?
  • What if we did a “chat and chow” activity?
  • What if we met at a bookstore? a Starbucks?
  • What if we met in the evening?
  • Could we create online communities of worshipers?

I’m sure there are other possibilities…I am still tied enough to traditional understandings of church that I find it a bit difficult to think outside the box. But I think it’s important to, because there are a lot of folks who are searching but not finding a spiritual home in our Sunday morning services.

I still love those services–they meet many of my needs. But I’m also excited about the possibilities that are out there…and trying to listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us (me…) to go.

A resurrected church…

As we begin to move beyond Easter towards Pentecost, I’ve been musing a bit.

At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I know there are many perspectives on that experience…but it got me wondering.

What would a resurrected church look like?

I wonder if that’s what we’re experiencing today?

I hear many people bemoaning the fact that “Christianity is dying”…that congregations are closing…that young people are leaving (in droves)…. Maybe so.

But maybe what we’re experiencing is the death of something that has to die in order for a new, transformed movement to arise. A movement that truly lives out the Golden Rule…that bases its life experiences and worship on what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments–to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. A movement that delights in the diversity of God’s creation…that sees humanity as stewards of creation, not consumers.

Moving towards resurrection is not easy. It’s hard to allow something to die, to let go of something that has perhaps formed us for many years.

But maybe…just maybe…it’s necessary. After all, a seed is just a seed until it dies to what it was…and becomes something else…something new and transformed.

And maybe…just maybe…in the dying of the church, we’ll regain the transformative experience of Pentecost when lives were changed…when the world was changed.

Music…sacred time

This last weekend was busy. There was a funeral visition, a baby shower, watching the news coverage of the “March for Our Lives”…and I attended three concerts in three days. Not something I normally do, but  the music just happened to fall that way.

They were three different concerts. The first was an organ concert on a new organ. The second was a symphony concert with Yo-Yo Ma as the guest soloist. And the third was a choral concert of film music.

All three were enjoyable. All three had moments that touched me.

But there was one moment that reminded me that music can create sacred space and sacred time…and brought me to tears.

One of the selections in the symphony concert was by Leonard Bernstein, whose music I enjoy. However, this was music of his that I had not heard before–“Three Meditations” from Mass, arranged for cello and orchestra. The conductor gave us some background, both of Mass and of these specific pieces–that are the reflective times as the mass celebrant is struggling with a faith crisis…when all he has known / believed is being shaken.

They’re powerful pieces–and Yo-Yo Ma presented them with soul and passion.

But…and this is the sacred experience…as the last one quietly ended, leaving questions hanging in the air, there was a moment, a breath, and then the ‘cello began the “Prelude” from Bach’s unaccompanied Cello Suite #1 in G Minor .

There was a hush in the hall…a sacred hush.

When the piece ended, I think everyone recognized that we had experienced something special…a sacred time. And it somehow seemed sacrilegous to break the silence with applause…although we eventually did.

We shared in moments of questioning…of, perhaps, our own faith crises. We had seen young people asking–no, demanding–help in creating safer places. Much of what we have known in the past doesn’t seem to hold true any more, and there seem to be questions…more questions…and yet more questions, perhaps without answers.

Yet in that sacred time in Helzburg Hall in Kansas City, Yo-Yo Ma and Bach acknowledged those questions–and responded with a prayer…the music of hope.

“Do you want to be healed?”

A number of years ago, I wrote a poem based on the incident in John 5:1-15–when Jesus encountered an invalid at the Pool of Bethsaida who had been waiting for thirty-eight years for someone to help him into the pool when the water was first stirred up (according to tradition, by an angel) so that he could be healed. I’ve found it interesting that Jesus’ first question to him was “Do you want to be healed?”

I thought of that this week, as I began reading a book that I’m going to be working through with my spiritual advisor – Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merritt. As I was spending some intentional quiet time after reading the first chapter, I started to do some journaling, a spiritual practice that has been effective for me.

To my surprise, the first thought that came to mind was the title of this post: “Do you want to be healed?”

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you know that I went through a very difficult dark night of the soul a few years ago…a dark night that lasted about three years. By the grace of God, I was able to come through it–and I have felt very much that significant healing took place.

But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that healing is not a one-time event or activity; it’s a journey.

My journey of healing actually began about forty years ago, when–due to some circumstances that had taken me to the end of my rope–I had several sessions of counseling that helped me uncover some areas of pain I had not even been aware of. My counselor helped me bring them to the light so that they could be healed.

So when I was trying to find a way through the dark night, the idea of counseling was not something I balked at. Instead, I recognized that–again–there were areas of woundedness that needed healing…that I could not heal on my own. My counselor at that time was a great help.

And so, as the time has gone on, I had thought that the wounds in my life had all been healed.

But then I borrowed this book from the library and–as I read through it–felt that it was one I needed to spend more time with. So I bought it…and now am beginning working through it.

So…do I want to be healed?

Sometimes that’s a difficult question to answer. Sometimes it feels easier to hang on to the hurts we’ve experienced; they’re comfortable, in an odd sort of way. And healing may require confrontation–with myself and with the past. It may cause me to discover things about my attitude that I don’t really want to know.

But life without healing isn’t really life.

So yes, I do want to be healed. It’s not necessarily an easy journey or process…it takes courage and trust. But yes, I do want to be healed–to be made whole…to live in the spirit of shalom.