“God has a plan”…

Several times I’ve heard people say “Well, God has a plan for you”…

Sorry, but I don’t agree.

Saying that God has plan for you implies that there is only one way of getting to a particular point that is acceptable to God…and I don’t buy that.

It’s like climbing mountains. Often there are multiple ways of climbing that will get you to the top.

If God has a plan for us, I believe it’s for us to enter into a loving relationship with the Divine that will help us become what we have been created to be…and there are multiple ways to develop that relationship.

We were created with the ability to make choices…to make decisions for ourselves. Not to be puppets.

I believe God wants us to use the minds we were created with…and I also believe that God will bless our journeys.

I know the path I have chosen to take–and it is the right path for me at this time. It has had twists and turns, some of them caused by decisions I have made, some by situations beyond my control. Early in my life I could have said that I was sure of God’s plan for me…but as I’ve gotten older, what I am sure of is that God’s plan is for me to come to know of God’s love for me and to fulfill the potential within me…and that how I get there is not as important as continuing the journey.

So maybe…just maybe…God does have a plan for each of us–and that plan is to continue our journey to a closer relationship with the Divine, no matter the path.

Humans vs. the earth

I grew up–and am now a minister–in one of the many faith traditions that tries our best to follow the teachings of Jesus.

What that also means is that the Bible is a foundational book of scripture for me…one I see as a record of humanity’s attempts to understand the Divine.

In the first book (Genesis), there are two stories of creation. I’ve always loved the imagery in them…of a creative and creating God who calls that creation “good.”

But there’s also a portion of those stories that has bothered me. It comes after humans have been created in the image of the Divine…and is translated as “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion…over every living thing.” Unfortunately, I believe that translation is a misunderstanding of what we are called to do with our earth–and it has impacted our decisions for many, many year…especially recently.

“Subdue”…common synonyms are to conquer, defeat, overpower, overcome. To “have dominion” in our day carries with it similar connotations.

Some contemporary translations instead call for humanity to have stewardship over the earth–and I think that’s more in line with what was intended. Stewardship calls for responsibility…for handling what we have wisely.

That’s hardly what we’ve done. Instead of working together with the earth, we have tended to be more like “humans vs. the earth”–and have made animals extinct…have destroyed environments…are in the process of continuing that destruction and changing our climate…and seem unwilling to go any other direction.

Do we not understand that if we destroy our environment, we destroy ourselves? I hope and pray it’s not too late for us to stop and reconsider our relationship to the earth–so that it changes from “humans vs. the earth” to “humans in partnership with the earth”…as I believe was intended.

 

 

Who gets to make the decision?

I tend to try to not wade into political matters in my blog (at least, not very deeply), but this post is definitely going to get deep. I know some of you will not be happy that on a blog identified as a “preacher kid’s weblog” I’m getting into what many see as a political issue rather than a religious one–but I believe it fits both categories.

And so what is that issue? It’s one that’s been a hot-button issue for at least 20 years…and seems to be getting even hotter today: abortion.

Let me state up front that I am supportive of a woman’s right to a medically safe abortion–although I would prefer that abortion became more rare.

Over the years since Roe v. Wade legalized that right, there have been movements that have chipped away at it, making it more difficult…more expensive…more humiliating for women who have chosen to go that route. In some cases there is only one clinic in a state where women can go. In other cases, women are required to go through a waiting period before they can have the procedure, creating both additional expense and frustration. And in yet other cases, women have been required to go to court before they could terminate the pregnancy.

One of the frustrations for me as I have watched this process is that those on both sides of the issue have tended to act as though the decision to have an abortion is an easy one…and that it is a black-and-white issue. No, it isn’t.

There are many factors that play into a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Criminalizing it or making it less available aren’t going to bring the rates down. If we really want to make abortion more rare, we would be better off by:

  • ensuring better access to birth control for women
  • providing comprehensive sexuality education that includes medically accurate information about abstinence and contraception
  • requiring insurance coverage of family planning services
  • providing access to emergency contraception
  • providing access to education / training that will help young women have the means to provide for themselves
  • funding programs that curb domestic violence and sexual abuse
  • encouraging / requiring parental leave
  • providing and funding services for disabled children
  • making child care a priority

Until we are willing to look at better ways to lower the abortion rate, the decision to have one should, in my opinion, be dealt with by the woman, her significant other (when appropriate), her doctor, and (if desired) her spiritual advisor. Not those who don’t know what’s led to that decision…but who would easily condemn her as a murderer for it.

Treat others like we would like to be treated…?

These last few days I’ve seen a couple of stories that I think have important lessons.

The first ones are deeply disturbing to me…personally as well as a follower of Jesus (who told us to treat others as we would like to be treated!). A Christian homeless shelter in Alaska is suing for the right to deny shelter to a transgender woman. Really?? Yes, they had the right to turn her away under the rules for everyone when she turned up drunk once and after hours another time. But now they are saying that even if she obeys the rules, they would not allow her a safe place from the cold?

Then–as Congress tries to deal with another major stain from our past with the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act–these “followers” are demanding that protections for LGBTQ people be removed from the Act before passage. Really?? As if it isn’t bad enough that over 4,500 people (mostly African-American) were lynched between 1882 and 1968 (that recently!), now this group is saying that another group of minorities who face significant threats of physical danger shouldn’t also be legally protected?

Whatever happened to actually living out beliefs? To actually following the example of the one whose name is being claimed? the one who said that the two most important spiritual laws were to obey God with everything we have in us and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves? If I look at how some of those who say they follow Jesus treat their neighbors, I think they must not love themselves very much.

But then there’s this story. A homeless man–yes, a man who has had run-ins with the legal system–saw people getting stuck on their way to the Chiefs playoff game last weekend. While he and his fiancée are living in his car–a car whose windows were broken and did little to keep out the cold air–he saw people in need and helped them.

What he didn’t know was that one of those he helped pull out was a Chiefs player who was going to be in the game. He wasn’t expecting any response other than a “thank you”…but now, a Chiefs fan who has never been to a game is going to get to go to the Chiefs playoff game against Indianapolis and take his fiancée. And a company that works on car windows has replaced the three broken windows for him.

When he was interviewed about his helping out the Chiefs player as he was helping others, his response was this: “I just looked at him like a normal person. I would hope that he would do the same for me as I did for him.”

So…when Jesus told the story about the Good Samaritan (the man who treated a wounded man after two other religious leaders left the wounded man by the side of the road), he closed it by asking “Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” To paraphrase it today–which of these stories shows someone being a true neighbor? And which one do each one of us truly relate to?

Living with an invisible illness…

This is a longer post than I usually write, but through the years these have been some things I’ve wanted to say. So…thanks for taking the time to read!

Everyone has issues they have to deal with. Everyone.

Sometimes they’re obvious—and often when they are, people are willing to give someone a break…to understand when they have to change plans or when something goes wrong.

But some of us live with invisible illnesses or invisible disabilities, and those are harder…for everyone.

Everyone’s life is different, but I’d like to just share some musings from my life with one of those invisible disabilities—multiple sclerosis (MS). I was diagnosed with it in 1976, so that’s a lot of years with it…and while I’ve been very fortunate (and blessed) in my life, there are some things that I would like to share.

I’ve been able to do most of what I want—at least in some fashion—for most of those years. But if I’ve gotten too tired, too stressed, or too hot, all my plans may end up going out the window. Not because I want them to, but because I simply can’t do what I’d originally planned. I know that those changes may impact others, and I’m sorry about that. But unfortunately it’s not something I can do anything about—not if I value my own health.

And that brings up another point…fatigue. I understand that everyone gets tired. But what I call “MS fatigue” is different. It’s difficult to describe, because it’s not something that can be taken care of by a nap or by a few nights of really good sleep. It may feel more like trying to walk through thick jello with 50-pound weights on my legs. Or it may feel like my eyelids have weights on them and I just cannot keep them open. That fatigue may last for several days (or longer) or it may disappear in a day or two…suddenly. I never know.

Part of my daily schedule since 1976 includes a nap. Not necessarily to take care of the fatigue, but to give my body a chance to rejuvenate on a regular basis. I can skip a nap one day—but if I do, I pay for it the next several days. I may sleep as little as 30 minutes…or my nap may go a couple of hours. It all depends on how hard I’ve been pushing myself. And because the nap is so important to my health, it makes retreats and day-long meetings challenging. My choices during them are usually either eat lunch or take a nap. The nap wins…always. Unfortunately that means that I miss the fellowship and visiting that often goes on—and that’s something I really miss. I’m always delighted when the schedule is designed so that there is some quiet time after lunch for everyone. Then I don’t feel left out or feel like the odd one.

I try to be vigilant about being around people who might be sick, because I can’t afford to have a fever. Even one degree triggers some of my problems with MS…so when I do get sick, it’s often a balancing act between letting a fever help burn away whatever germs are causing the illness and trying to keep my body from getting too hot and kicking in an MS exacerbation.

Speaking of sickness…there are a few comments I’ve heard far too often and that are not at all helpful. Please don’t insist that the regimen your aunt or a friend or someone else followed is the one I should also follow. Through the years I have had doctors that I trust and work with—and believe me, through the years I have asked about various “treatments” that someone has shared. My doctors have been willing to investigate alternative therapies along with conventional medicines—and I trust them.

If you are religious, please don’t tell me “I know if you have enough faith, you’ll be healed.” Of all the comments that can be made, I think that’s one of the cruelest. For someone who is already struggling, this comment places the “fault” for not being healed on their supposed lack of faith…and that is just another burden no one needs to carry. Just as an aside, while I still deal with MS symptoms and issues, I do believe that I’ve been healed—I just haven’t been cured. From my perspective, there are several different aspects of healing—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—and while I would love a physical healing, in my case I have found the other aspects to be more important.

I am appreciative when you let me know that you will be remembering me in thoughts and prayers. But don’t insist on making a public “spectacle” of praying over me. That’s embarrassing…and, for me, has little to do with your concern for me.

Remember the rest of the family. While I’m the one dealing specifically with the illness, it affects the rest of the family as well.

And one last thing…I am more than my illness. I am still me—someone who loves my husband and kids and grandkids, music, books, dogs, life. So please…let me be me.

If I were one of “the tired, the poor…”

I hear a lot of statements to the effect that people who want to emigrate to the US should do it legally…that there is no excuse for illegal entry. In a perfect world, I agree. But unfortunately, our world is not perfect.

Compared to many in the world, I live a life of privilege. I have had the privilege of a good education and been able to work at jobs that pay decently. I have a home, clothing, enough for my family to eat (and to spare), access to medical care…and I do not spend my days worrying about my children or grandchildren being targeted by gangs as drug runners or sex slaves—or dying from malnutrition. I do not worry about my home being shot up or about bombs going off in my street. I can drive around my town safely without worrying about IEDs or car bombs or random shootings (mostly, anyway).

I cannot imagine living in a place where that is not true.

I honestly do not know what I would do if I lived in a place with the opposite of those conditions. If it were just me, that would be one thing. But if there were any other option that I could see for my children and grandchildren, I think I would take it—legal or otherwise.

And for many of the world’s people, there is not a legal option. Either because of lack of education, lack of money, lack of access to government offices—or the corruption of those offices… If all I had was my feet—and the hope that there must be a better world somewhere—I think I would gather up what I could and start walking.

Yes, I think our immigration system needs to be overhauled. Yes, I think we need to do what we can to help stabilize governments where many of these folks are coming from.

But at the same time, I would hope that we would have some empathy for those who are trying to find safety and a better future for their children and grandchildren—and I would hope that we would read again…and be willing to live out…the poem by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

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!”

Having a dream

There are phrases and sentences that plant themselves in our memories and never go away. We may not always be aware of them–but they tend to surface at unexpected moments.

Sometimes they come from books and movies:

  • Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. (Gone with the Wind)
  • Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick)
  • We need a bigger boat. (Jaws)
  • A great man is passing by. (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Sometimes they come from songs:

  • The sound of silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • When will we ever learn? (Peter, Paul, and Mary)

And sometimes they come from political speeches:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. (John Kennedy)
  • We have nothing to fear but fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  • I have a dream… (Martin Luther King)

While they come to us in a context, we make them our own. And these last few weeks/months, the quote that keeps rattling around in my mind is Martin Luther King’s: “I have a dream…”

I dream of a day when we will see each other as brothers and sisters…when we will delight in our diversity–of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, age, religion…when we will honor what each one can bring to the table.

I dream of a day when economic disparities are a thing of the past…when each one has enough to meet their physical needs…when money is no longer what makes someone “important.”

I dream of a day when we understand the interconnectedness of all of creation…when we realize that we are not called to “subdue” the earth, destroying the environment we live in, but that we are called to be stewards.

I dream of a day when learning and knowledge are seen as important…and are available to all…when we see that both religion and science have something to teach us.

But all of this has to be more than merely a dream. Dreams can be ephemeral, vanishing in the morning when we wake up. For dreams to be more than words, actions have to be added to words.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine what those actions should be, because each of us is different. Some of us are able to be activists, in the forefront of pushing for change. Some of us work better behind the scenes. Some of us are wordsmiths, creating blogs/plays/poems/stories that challenge who and what we are and call us to be better.

And so I say with Dr. King,

I have a dream today….I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope….With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will he able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will he free one day.