All children of God…

I’ve been trying to figure out how to say what I am feeling. Yesterday I unfriended someone on Facebook. I was sorry to do that, but I did so because they posted a meme that was a slam at those who find God through Islam. I cannot and will not tolerate comments against another’s faith journey.

I am a follower of the Way–of the one known as Jesus. That is how I have found my path to the Divine.

But I am not arrogant enough to believe that this is the only path to the Divine. It is my path. But the Divine is bigger than I can comprehend…than any of us can comprehend. As the Apostle Paul (from my tradition) said:

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us.

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (I Corinthians 13:11-12 The Message)

All religions…all faith traditions…have adherents who allow that tradition to bring out the best in them. Likewise, all religions…all faith traditions…have adherents who use their beliefs to dominate, to attack those who are different.

But at the end of the day, we are all children of God. When we are willing to listen to each other with open minds and open hearts, we can learn more about who God is–and who we are.

The One I worship calls me to share what I have found to be true…but also to listen to what others have found to be true.

Bearing false witness?

Sometimes as I scroll through my FB feed, I find myself just shaking my head and wondering what on earth I can say.

I don’t have a problem with people sharing opinions–there are many things we can have different opinions about. And often as we share those opinions back and forth, we may discover new insights…find out new things about each other…look at the world in a different way.

But there is a difference between sharing opinions and encouraging conspiracy theories! When I see someone sharing something that is described as “the real truth” or a “tell-all documentary” the red flags go up for me. Yes, there may indeed (and often are) different valid interpretations of scientific information…but interpretations that have been vetted and peer reviewed are far different from “they [whoever ‘they’ is] don’t want you to have this truth.”

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you know that I am a follower of the one we call Jesus. What does that have to do with this? Quite a bit, actually.

He showed his followers a new way of life–a one in which they didn’t need to be afraid. Use wisdom in our behaviors, certainly–but not to be fearful of anything and everything–and certainly not to cause others to live in fear.

As an observant Jew, he also lived according to what we call the Ten Commandments–and–this is the important one for me–one of those commandments is to not to bear false witness.

Conspiracy theories are a manifestation of that false witness. They come from living in fear.

I choose to live in trust. Yes, I will research information…yes, I will be wise in the actions I take during this pandemic. But I will not listen to those who claim to have some kind of hidden or secret information that “they” don’t want me to have.

That is not healthy. It is not wise. It is immoral, and I will not condone it.

 

…for in their welfare resides your welfare.

The title of this blog is a portion of a statement from some counsel given to my faith tradition back in 2007. There is more that precedes it; I’ve talked about that part of it before (dealing with immigrants and refugees) and probably will again–but this time I want to just focus on this phrase.

We’re living in a time and situation that’s unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. The closest we can come to it is looking back at the 1918 pandemic–for most of us, a couple of generations removed.

It’s not an easy time. People are upset and worried about the future–rightfully so. Many have lost loved ones and are mourning–both for the loss and for the fact that they weren’t able to be with them as they died. Children have lost the opportunity to interact with schoolmates–and for some, the closing of schools has also meant the loss of a safe place. Parents are struggling with how to work at home (if that’s what they’re currently doing) while also keeping children occupied. Or if they’re considered essential workers, they’re concerned about child care.

And then there are the many who are essential workers…who are on the front lines of dealing with this pandemic…who worry not just for the people they treat but also for their own and their families’ health.

Mayors and governors are making hard decisions to try to keep people safe. They’re often decisions that no one is happy about…that some feel go too far.

People who were overlooked have become important to us…those in service industries who struggle with surviving on minimum wages…migrants who do the hard work of picking crops…

So what do we do? How do we behave?

We do not live in a bubble. Maybe we used to be able to say that–but nations and people are interconnected now in ways that could not even be imagined in 1918.

And that’s why I think this title phrase is so important.

If…when…we see our interconnectedness, we will see that all people and the jobs they do are important to and for us. We will see the inequities in our own communities and nation…and begin making the changes required to bring justice and equity. We will begin to truly see our brothers and sisters.

This statement is a contemporary stating of the prophets’ call through the ages…and also a contemporary version of what Christians call the Golden Rule–a version of which is found in every major religion.

Our welfare affects the welfare of those around us…and their welfare affects us. We must learn to live that…or we will die.

 

Let’s get serious, people!

I’m furious today! Furious…appalled…disappointed…there aren’t enough words to express my feelings.

Why?

I’m furious at people who are not taking COVID-19 seriously. This is not just like the flu we deal with every year. It’s more like the 1918 pandemic.

I’m furious at those who continue to congregate in large groups, ignoring requests and orders to avoid gatherings or shelter in place because they don’t think it will impact them.

I’m furious at religious leaders who see no reason to stop services because they believe that they are somehow protected because of their beliefs.

I’m furious at an administration that frittered away weeks when we could have begun taking actions to mitigate the spread of this virus…and who continues to minimize its seriousness.

I’m furious at those who are asking first responders to put their lives–and their family’s lives–on the line without appropriate and necessary protective equipment as they deal with individuals suffering from this virus.

I’m furious at those who consider the elderly and vulnerable as “collateral damage” in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Yes, I know the economy is important–but not at the expense of our humanity.

I don’t know what alternate universe some are living in. How in God’s name can you look at what’s been happening in other parts of the world and believe that we’re not as vulnerable? Those areas that have taken major (and difficult!) steps to try to stop this virus have been doing better; the areas that have waffled and delayed…that didn’t think it was any big thing for weeks have been hit hard.

It’s time…no, it’s past time…for us to get serious about this. This is the time to listen to those who have studied past pandemics and viruses…who can give advice based on science and facts.

For the sake of everyone, please listen to those who know what they’re talking about–and then follow them!

 

This is Sabbath time…

I woke up this morning–Sunday morning–and I don’t have any place to be. My place of worship is closed, and that’s where I normally spend my Sunday morning.

Where to go? What to do?

I could worry and stew.

Or I could accept it as a gift…a time to step back, to let go of all the “stuff” I think I have to do.

I can stop and think. What is my relationship with others? family…friends…those I just bump into at the store or on the street. What do my interactions with them demonstrate? that I am concerned and care for them? or just myself?

What is my relationship with the Divine (whatever name I use)? Do I see the Divine as some kind of a Santa Claus to give a wish list to once or twice a year–but basically ignore the rest of the time? If the Divine somewhere far away who doesn’t really care what’s going on in my life? Or is the Divine my foundation? my friend? the One who walks with me every day in every situation?

How do I use my time? Do I prioritize wisely? or just fritter away?

This virus is changing our lives. It’s creating challenges for all of us.

But it’s also providing an opportunity…an opportunity to take Sabbath time…to think…to rest…to refresh and renew.

The best teachers are agitators against the norm…

The best teachers are agitators–and I mean that in a positive sense. They challenge the status quo…what we think we know.

As our children begin to learn about the world they live in, teachers encourage them to explore…to ask “why”…to figure out how things work. Yes, there are some basics that just have to be learned, but children learn by experimenting…by questioning.

As they get older, the best teachers encourage them again to ask “why”…to question the status quo…to seek to understand how the world works…why people act (and react) in specific ways…

And as they get even older, again the teachers who agitate encourage them to think for themselves…to discover what they believe and why. They encourage them to challenge doing or understanding things the way they always have been…to discover new ways of seeing…new perspectives. They encourage them to experiment…to see how previously “impossible” things can be made possible…

If this didn’t happen, we would still be in a world in which space exploration was impossible. We would believe the world was flat. We would not have medicines that have made the world safer. We would not be able to see that there are many ways of understanding the Divine…or enjoy reading and watching movies.

We still have a long way to go. But I am grateful for those agitating teachers who have challenged me in the past. It’s because of them that I am more certain of my faith…that I can honor those who have studied the natural world to better understand how it works. It’s because of them that I can go to doctors when I am sick and be treated out of knowledge, not myth. It’s because of those agitating teachers who challenged the status quo that I can look back and see the progress we have made.

They’re not perfect–and neither are we. There are still many areas in which we have much to learn–and unlearn. I am aware that the history I learned is not a complete history–there are many untold stories that may very well change what I thought I knew. There are lessons to be learned from other cultures…other faith traditions.

But I am also grateful that my faith tradition has scripture that calls for us to “seek…out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study, and also by faith”…that calls me to be willing to learn “things both in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth [all the sciences]; things which have been [history]; things which are [current events]; things which must shortly come to pass [future planning]; things which are at home [my country’s history and events]; things which are abroad [world history and events];…a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms…”

So I want to say thank you to those teachers who agitate against the status quo…who spend hours encouraging…grading…challenging…to reach beyond…to reach for the stars.

Do we ever really know someone?

Last Sunday morning our congregation held a memorial service for one of our congregational “characters” who died last Christmas Eve.

She was known as “the can lady” because every time she came to the congregation, she hunched over her cart which was filled with cans to donate to our fundraiser.

She was deaf…gruff…cantankerous…stubborn (she refused to let anyone give her a ride anywhere and walked all over town in all kinds of weather, hunched over her cart)…but she considered our congregation her home church.

We didn’t know much about her. We knew she was a hoarder because we helped move her after she had been evicted. We knew she had been homeless. We knew that when she married a few years ago, it was in many ways a marriage of convenience for both her and her husband–but that it also brought joy to her. We didn’t know if she had any other family. We knew that our congregation meant something to her and that she wanted to give in return. We knew that we missed her when she had to move into the nursing home.

At the service, there were folks who shared from the nursing home she had had to move into as well as the community center she had gone to as often as she could…and we found out more about her because each group knew something a little bit different about her.

We learned where she had been born…where she moved with her family…why she ended up in our part of the country. We discovered she had gone through four years of college (although we don’t know where or what she studied for sure). We learned she had worked at one point as a CNA–and that she had gone on disability about 35 years ago with extremely severe scoliosis. She had had back surgery for something else and it never took, so she was living with constant pain. We learned that because of her evictions, she was not eligible for subsidized housing, so she had to pay rent from her disability income. Her income was only about $1200 a month and rent and utilities left her only about $350 to live on. One month she lost even that, and so then she carried it in quarters–figuring no one would steal that bag of quarters because it was too heavy! But that also explained why she wanted so much of the extra food we were able to provide to those who needed help, courtesy of a local grocery.

But we also learned that when you were able to connect with her–which took time and perseverance–you were a friend forever. We learned that there were things that really tickled her…and that occasionally she would just let go and laugh in joy. We learned that she loved going to devotions and Bible study…

And so by the time the service ended, we realized how much she had touched others…and how much we had been touched. We learned something important as well…we never really completely know someone else…and grace is important!