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.

 

Unity IN diversity…

Unity…diversity. Those two words seem to be complete opposites, and putting them together an oxymoron. In fact, if we were to try, most of us would probably try something like “diversity in unity.” That version might make at least some sense…

But to reverse them? to say “Unity in diversity”? How is that possible?

I’ve been thinking about that because of a class I just recently taught…and because one of the emphases in my faith tradition is just that: “Unity in diversity.”

So what does that mean to me? It’s difficult..but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

If we separate the two words, my thoughts might go something like this:

  • Unity – working towards the same goal; being whole.
  • Diversity – being different

And when I look at those ideas, it’s kind of challenging to see how they might go together.

But there are other aspects to their definitions, according to Merriam-Webster:

  • Unity –  a totality of related parts; an entity that is a complex or systematic whole
  • Diversity – composed of different elements

When I look at those ideas, then the concept of “unity in diversity” becomes much more possible and makes more sense.

We–as a society/church/group–can be unified when we recognize that we are part of a complex system, made up of related parts. But all the parts make one. Diversity recognizes that multiplicity of those related parts.

And when we put that together as a concept of “unity in diversity,” I can acknowledge our differences in background, life experiences, understandings, and even beliefs…but at the same time recognize that there is something as the foundation of that diversity that makes us a whole.

Hard to understand? You bet!

Hard to live? Oh yeah!

There are times when it seems impossible to achieve agreement, but at those times, we need to commit to ongoing dialogue–to really work at listening to each other and not talk past each other. And at those times, it is important for us to acknowledge that our inability to agree on issues that affect each others’ lives is hurtful–both to humanity and to all of creation.

But it can happen…it can be lived, if we allow the Divine to work within us.

 

A place at the table…

“For everyone born, a place at the table…”

That’s a line from a hymn by Shirley Erena Murray that’s become one of my favorites. There are some challenging lines in it as well, because it calls us to consider how we interact with each other as have connect in so many ways.

The hymn is a call for justice for all…for clean water and health–those things that ought to be available to all people. A call for equality…a call for the right to live without fear…to be able to speak out and be heard. Most of all, it’s a call for building communities of “justice and joy, compassion and peace.”

do believe there’s a place at the table for all people. But–and this is an important “but”–I do not believe there is a place at the table for theologies of exclusion, discrimination, hate…

All are welcome at my table–and I do mean all. I welcome those whose perspectives I agree with as well as those I disagree with. I enjoy learning from those whose understandings are different. In the process, I may even change my own mind! At the very least, I become more clear in my own mind what I believe and why.

But while all people are welcome at my table, all theologies and political beliefs/policies are not. Theologies and policies that tell people they are somehow “less than” and not welcome because of their race, sex, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender attraction, country of origin are not welcome. If you hold to one of those theologies or political beliefs, you are still welcome–as long as you allow others a place at the table as well.

In 2007, scripture was brought to my faith tradition:

Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s shalom, invites all people to come and receive divine peace in the midst of the difficult questions and struggles of life. Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation.

Generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can encounter the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community. The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

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.

There is a place at the table for all who wish to work together to create a community of “justice and joy, compassion and peace.”

Crazy…or dedicated…or both?

I always enjoy watching the Olympics–both the summer and winter games. But the winter games have some of the sports that I watch because I think the competitors are crazy! I can’t imagine hurtling down an ice track at 90 miles an hour on a very small sled with only a helmet for protection–but I love watching the luge. The bobsledders aren’t quite as crazy–but I still can’t imagine doing what they do. And don’t even get me started on the snowboarders doing the half-pipe…or the skiiers…not to mention being a woman being tossed into the air and coming down on very thin blades in the pairs ice skating!

Yes, I think they’re crazy…but they’re also dedicated. As I listen to their stories–the hours of practice they put in every day…the sacrifices they (and their families) make in order for them to fulfill their dreams–I am, at times, in awe of their dedication.

And it makes me wonder…what do I have such a passion for that I would give up everything else that is part of a “normal” life in order to have a chance to be the best in the world? After all, realistically the odds of any of these athletes making it to the top podium is pretty slim–less than 3%. Many of them know that they will never get any of the TV coverage that the superstars know…that they may go to multiple Olympics without making it to the podium…and yet they believe so strongly in their chances and their passion that they find it worth continuing the practicing and the competing.

What would our world be like if we had that same kind of passion for being the best person we can be? or for caring for our environment? or caring for each other?

Would we be considered crazy? or dedicated? or both? It would certainly be worth finding out!

The power of stories

Over the last couple of years, my spiritual advisor and I have been working with a book by Amy-Jill Levine–Short Stories by Jesus. It’s a look at the parables from a new perspective–or rather, from an old one. Levine takes us through a number of parables, helping the reader to hear them as Jesus’ listeners would have. Sometimes it’s been a challenge, because the way they have been shared or preached for many years has become so ingrained in us.

But when I have been willing to listen in new ways, there have been those “Aha!” moments–times when there are new insights…and understandings that have challenged what I thought I knew.

I’ve been reading the last story in preparation for our next meeting–the story about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). This one–at least at this point–hasn’t hit me with as many challenges to my understanding as previous ones have…but it has reminded me of the challenges I face as a follower of Jesus. Here’s a version of the story from the Complete Jewish Bible:

“Once there was a rich man who used to dress in the most expensive clothing and spent his days in magnificent luxury. At his gate had been laid a beggar named El‘azar who was covered with sores. He would have been glad to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table; but instead, even the dogs would come and lick his sores. In time the beggar died and was carried away by the angels to Avraham’s side; the rich man also died and was buried.

“In Sh’ol, where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Avraham far away with El‘azar at his side. He called out, ‘Father Avraham, take pity on me, and send El‘azar just to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, because I’m in agony in this fire!’ However, Avraham said, ‘Son, remember that when you were alive, you got the good things while he got the bad; but now he gets his consolation here, while you are the one in agony. Yet that isn’t all: between you and us a deep rift has been established, so that those who would like to pass from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house, where I have five brothers, to warn them; so that they may be spared having to come to this place of torment too.’ But Avraham said, ‘They have Moshe and the Prophets; they should listen to them.’ However, he said, ‘No, father Avraham, they need more. If someone from the dead goes to them, they’ll repent!’ But he replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moshe and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone rises from the dead!’”

There are so many ways this story challenges us. It’s very easy to say that the rich man got what was coming to him–but if I delight in his eternal torment, then am I any better? And do I listen any better than he did to the way I should live?

It’s also easy to find reasons to explain why Lazarus ended up poor and hoping for help from the rich man…but the story doesn’t give any–and none are needed for the story to have impact.

I think this parable–and Levine’s “unpacking” of it–spoke so much to me today because of what I see happening in this country that I love. Safety nets for the poor and vulnerable are being dismantled…the prosperity gospel is widely praised and preached…and so many who claim to be Christian take actions that to me seem so incredibly un-Christian.

Levine suggests that

The parable ends with a cautionary note. Heed the commands to aid the poor and the sick and hungry, or you will eventually suffer worse poverty, greater pains, deeper hunger. Do not just contribute to the food drive, but invite the hungry into your home. Do not just put money in the collection plate, but use your resources to provide jobs and support for those in need. Do not treat the sick as burdens, but as beloved family members who deserve love and care. Know the names of the destitute; each has a story to tell….

[W]e do not need supernatural revelation to tell us that we have the poor with us. We do not even need the threats of eternal torture. If we cannot see the poor person at our gate–in the street, in the commercials that come into our homes, in the appeals made in sermons, in the newspapers–then we are lost.

Will we listen?