A prayer for peace

How long, O God? How long before we realize that each life is of worth? that the world we inhabit is incredibly diverse and beautiful? that we are not just consumers but are called to be stewards?

Forgive us, God.

We have looked for ways to divide into groups that call others “less than.” We have said that some lives are not as important as others. We have ignored the beautiful diversity you have created in humankind.

Forgive us, God.

We have trashed and misused your creation. We have exploited the earth’s resources, and we have hunted some species to extinction.

Forgive us, God.

We have decided that because we are humans, we can do anything we want–and we have ignored your call to be stewards of all you have given us. We have instead consumed to excess, leaving some with nothing while others have far more than they need.

Forgive us, God.

Remind us that we are dependent on each other–that what hurts one will ultimately harm all. Help us realize that we must be stewards or we will none of us survive.

We–all of us…humans, animals, our world, our planet…all of us yearn for the time when all the world will live in peace. Give us the courage to work to make it so.



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?

Am I a Christian?

For many years, the easy answer would have been “Of course!”

Now…I find myself wondering just how to answer that question in a way that most accurately reflects my thinking. And it’s difficult.

First of all, let me be clear on one thing. I am a follower of the One called Jesus the Christ. I’m not a perfect follower…and I struggle sometimes with where I sense Jesus calling me to be and what I sense myself being called to do. But I have found in him the best example of the love of the Divine…the way to live with integrity…and the one who challenges me to do the best I can to create a world where diversity is welcomed, where people are seen as individuals and not classes to be demonized, where the worth of all people is seen as paramount–even those who seek to destroy me.

But a Christian? It depends on what you mean by that, especially in today’s political climate.

Many people I see being described as “Christian” hold values and attitudes that I find diametrically opposed to the one whose name they claim. If being a Christian means supporting policies that tear families apart with no empathy…or swallowing values in order to be close to the seats of power…or believing that one skin color is superior to all others…or that the poor deserve no safety net…that the rich are somehow supremely blessed by God and deserve everything they have–and everyone else be damned…that those whose gender or sexual expression is different from my own understanding makes them worthy of being killed…then no, I am not a Christian.

The term “Christian” began as an epithet. Then it became a positive descriptive title…and today, for many, it has again become an epithet. I would like to reclaim its positive values, but I am afraid that is going to take many, many years.

But again, am I a Christian? There’s a wonderful portion in the Gospel of Matthew that–in many ways–gives my answer. But for now…I think I’m more comfortable using an earlier description used by those who followed this path…”followers of the Way”…the way described in the passage below (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 those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it 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.’”



Ugly American

Back in the late 1950s/early 1960s, a book titled The Ugly American became famous (and, in some quarters,infamous). It was an unflinching look at how Americans were often perceived throughout the world…and it was not pretty.

While not true of all Americans, nevertheless, it was true that far too many Americans working or traveling abroad came across as loud, obnoxious know-it-alls who were convinced that they were God’s gift to the world and had no need to listen to/learn about/be aware of any other culture’s history, beliefs, or perspectives. In practice, what this often meant was that rather than listening to what people said they needed, Americans rode in on their white horses with a predetermined set of policies to be implemented, regardless.

It has taken us 50+ years to move past that stereotype…and less than a year to slide back into it.

We now have a leader who has used shameful and obscene language towards those who are brothers and sisters in other lands. He has celebrated those who believe that the mere color of their skin makes them better than others of different skin tones. He has lied–and then lied again to cover up the original lies. He has bullied other world leaders…and refused to work with them in any way to help our planet. He has denied policies that were put in place to protect those who are vulnerable.

It would be bad enough if if were just him. But he has made it acceptable to be cruel to others…to be divisive…to bully.

The America he wants to create is not the America I want to live in. I have no desire to be one of the ugly Americans portrayed in that book–and being recreated in today’s culture.

The America I want to create is memorialized on the Statue of Liberty:

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!”
I hope and pray that it doesn’t take us another 50+ years to understand what we have done to ourselves and our relationships in the world with our embrace of the ugly American stereotype…and that we will be able to again live the promise of Lady Liberty.

In a stable

Nobody wants to give birth in a stable—
	smelly and dirty…
	noisy with animal sounds…
	nothing private or pleasant.

But maybe that’s just why it happened that way--
	Emmanuel…God with us
		not just in pleasant-ness
		but in the dirty-ness of life.

Maybe we seek you in all the wrong places--
	failing to see you in those who are “other”…
	searching again in Herod’s palace
		when—if we open our eyes--
			we find hope in the stable.

Opening lines

When I was in college, my American lit teacher told us that our final would include 50 quotes to identify. We would have read 49 of the items, but there would be one quote from something we had not read in her class–but that it would be very recognizable. It was.

“Call me Ishmael”…from Moby Dick. That’s probably one of the most famous opening lines in a book…along with “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Many years later I read another book that had an eye-catching opening line. The author, M. Scott Peck, received the Community of Christ International Peace Award in 1994, and I was reading his book The Road Less Traveled. The title had caught my attention because it was taken from one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost. To be quite honest, I don’t remember a lot of the book–but I do remember the opening words: “Life is difficult.” Peck went on to say

Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Those first three words have stayed with me because there is profound truth in them. We want life to be easy…we want things to go our way without us having to struggle. Sometimes I think we envy those who seem to have no problems, no challenges–but that’s only because we haven’t walked their paths.

“Life is difficult.” That doesn’t mean that we have to give up. Far from that! But once we understand that we will face struggles…that things will not always go our way…then we can be prepared to meet those issues and challenges and be ready to find ways to get through them.

Sometimes life is difficult because of things beyond our control; sometimes it’s because of choices we have made. Yet it’s in struggling through those challenges that we have the potential to grow. I’m reminded of the story of a man who saw a butterfly struggling to get out of her cocoon. He watched for a while and then–feeling sorry for her–cut the cocoon open for her. But instead of opening her wings and flying away, she remained shrunken and shriveled, living only a short while. She needed to struggle in order to grow strong and become what she had the potential of being.

We do need support from others–and we need to be available to support others as well. Even though life is difficult, we cannot use that as an excuse to turn our backs on others in need. But in doing so, we need to be sensitive to the kind of support needed–a support that builds and strengthens rather than taking away initiative.

Powerful opening lines stay in our memory because they speak truth…because they challenge…because they can bring hope. “Life is difficult”…but once that is accepted, we can learn to live with it–and it is no longer important. It just is.