Bridging the gap?

Individuals in many faith traditions are struggling with this question: How do we share and worship together in our diversity, still holding to our own personal beliefs while engaging with others who may believe differently? How do we build bridges? This guest post articulates those concerns. I share the desire to bridge the gap between myself and others whom I like but have significant disagreements with…but I also find myself wondering if that is still possible.

I have kept this close for a while now, these feelings and thoughts haunting my waking hours and shading how my eyes see the others in my life.  I was once asked by a friend and fellow Christian, to give space for their beliefs and interpretation, to not let my own view push theirs out or away.  I agreed with the validity of the point and their life experience and have attempted to do so over the last few years.  We have engaged on a number of topics and have found many points of agreement, even as we continue to disagree on many others.

However…

As our country and our shared faith has undergone tremendous change and stress over the last few years the gulf between us has continued to grow, despite (or maybe because of) our efforts to keep the bridge open and together.  I do not claim, nor can I know for sure their thoughts, and do not mean to put words into their mouth or intentions behind the actions I see, that is for them to share.  But for myself I am feeling less and less like there is room in our relationship for my way of being and believing.  As we have shared it has seemed (to me) to become less about listening to each other and more about being pressed to agree.  It does not matter who started it, I’m not even sure I could say for sure if I had to, and both of us are guilty of it at times.  But as their position has solidified, the ground between us has continued to move us apart and now, when I stretch out my hand, our fingers no longer touch and I can’t help but be saddened by that fact.  And wonder what has happened and if it’s even possible to cover the distance any more.  And this friend is not the only one this has happened with.

Social media has may positives, but in so many ways, I am not convinced it does anything to improve our lives or our communities.  I have trouble reconciling the people I see on Facebook with the people I see in church, at work, on the street.  For several, including the one mentioned above, I have to wonder that if they really believe what they post, how on earth do they tolerate being around me?  And then that questioning filters into how I interpret our physical interactions… and I wonder.  I also question how I can continue to be an ally to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and still want to maintain “peace” with those who refuse to see how our actions continue to hurt people of color, the LGBT+ community, etc.  Am I really an ally then?

Martin Luther King Jr’s words continue to haunt me – “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I no longer wish to be silent but I do not know what words to speak.  My prayer is that whatever words I use, may they be spoken in support of justice and love, of the Shalom of the peaceable kingdom, and of the worth of each person, even if those words require me to speak up in ways I find uncomfortable or even scary.

What…and where…is church?

I’m probably like a lot of you. I grew up at a time when talking about going to church meant going to a specific building on Sunday morning for Sunday school and a preaching service…possibly returning on Sunday night for another preaching service…and also maybe on Wednesday night for a prayer and testimony service. Then there were also special weeklong preaching series…church camps…youth camps…etc., etc., etc.

That was what…and where…church was.

But as I’ve gotten older–and as our society has become less overtly religious–I’ve had to face some questions. Is that the only way to experience God? Are there other ways to “do” church? What does “church” really mean? And I’m sure you can add your own questions to the list.

While I still appreciate Sunday morning preaching services, I’ve also become aware that Sunday mornings are difficult for many people. Families with young children…those who work all week and for whom Sunday is the one day they can sleep in…families with children involved in sports activities…

Yes, we can say that it shouldn’t be that way–but it is. And if we ignore that reality, we risk losing any opportunity of ministering to a large group of people.

So what if we put aside our own personal biases for a moment and think outside the box? Where…when…how can we do church?

What about sitting together around a meal? After all, that’s where Jesus did a lot of ministry…

What about playing games together? Sometimes that casualness allows people to be more open in their sharing…

What about just visiting? or going to an event together? or cleaning up a street or neighborhood? or…or…or…?

There are so many ways and places “church” is…if we’re willing to be open to them. What are some ideas you have?

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

These last few days have seen a lot of discussion and commentary over a viral video of a confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial. What was initially thought to be a simple situation has–in some ways–been shown to be more complex.

But there is one element of the situation that I think needs to be discussed–the concept of respect. One definition of respect is due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others…and that seems to have been missing all the way around.

Yes, there is the right of free expression–and that seems to have been on full display in the initial interactions between the small group of Hebrew Israelites. Then entered Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha tribe.

There are many videos of the situation, from several different perspectives. There have been many responses and analyses of what happened. What was in the minds of the individuals involved? The two individuals involved have each given statements sharing their perspectives. They disagree, but that is not unexpected, given that each of us involved in particular situations respond according to our backgrounds and expectations.

But what if respect had been at the foundation of the interactions? How might things have been different?

Well, obviously, first of all the Hebrew Israelites and the students wouldn’t have been throwing taunts at each other, raising the level of tensions!

When Mr. Phillips approached–from his perspective seeking to defuse the situation–he still might have been met with confusion from a group of teenagers who weren’t sure what he was doing. But respect would have suggested stepping back and trying to understand–not meeting him with actions that have been identified as offensive by many Native Americans.

Respect would have suggested that the chaperone(s) (who were meeting the students there for a bus ride back) would have stepped in and told the students to knock it off…to do their part in defusing the situation.

For all of us, respect demands that we take a deep breath. We are a community…a world…filled with diversity. For us to get along, to ensure that we can continue to live on this world in safety, requires that we be willing to have a regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. In other words, to follow a simple commandment that is found in the sacred writings of all the major religions:

golden rule poster

 

I have a dream…

In the United States, today is the day set apart for celebrating and honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a good time to look at ourselves…to see where we’ve been (both as a country and individually)…to see where we are (again, both as a country and individually)…and to consider where we want to be (as a country and individually).

I remember the days of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s…

  • the hatred that was apparent on faces of individuals who did not want people of any other color than white sitting at lunch counters…
  • the taunting and harassing of young people–some young elementary students–who wanted access to the same quality of education as their white peers…
  • the awful pictures of peaceful protestors being sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs…
  • the murders of individuals who were helping others with their rights to vote…
  • the murders of innocent children in a church…

Looking back, I can think that we’ve come a long ways. And yet…today I see so many situations that make us less than our best vision…

  • far too many African-American individuals being killed in their interactions with police with no apparent consequences…
  • demonization of individuals fleeing oppression and violence…
  • language from the top echelons of our government that promotes separation and division among races and ethnicities…
  • marches that promote white superiority…
  • mass shootings..
  • an unwillingness to listen to scientists and their concerns for our planet…
  • a brand of “Christianity” that insists on its superiority over any other understanding of the Divine…

You probably have your own list of concerns.

And yet…I also see hope…

  • in an increasing diversity of representation (at least in some areas)…
  • in young people who are standing up and saying “enough is enough”…
  • a growing community of people from a variety of backgrounds who are finding common ground even as they acknowledge their diversity…

And so, on this day when we remember a man who said, “I have a dream…” and who called us all to join in making that dream a reality, I also want to remember another challenge:

mlk quote on darkness and light

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.

Peace

Advent2

This Sunday we lit the Advent candle of peace.

That sounds a bit like an oxymoron in the society we are currently living in. We hear talk of wars…we see our environment being destroyed for short-term gains…we hear language that demonizes those who are different, whether that difference is due to race, ethnicity, gender, color, sexual identity or orientation, religion, politics, or any of the other myriad ways we can separate ourselves from each other. We see people dying for lack of basic needs while others have more than they could ever hope to spend in a lifetime.

So what peace are we talking about?

In English, “peace” is rather passive…an absence of conflict.

But I think the kind of peace being talked about when we light this Advent candle is more like the Hebrew word “shalom.” That means an absence of conflict, but it means so much more! It means healing…wholeness…reconciliation. It has to do with keeping promises…in our relationships with each other and with the Divine.

That’s not easy. It’s sometimes so much simpler to just sit back and wish for a time when there is no conflict.

But Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” A contemporary translation (The Message) says it this way: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

So lighting this second candle of Advent–the candle of peace–challenges us to do more than just sit back and wish. It commits us to modeling the kind of relationships we want for the world…keeping our promises…doing all we can to bring healing, wholeness, and reconciliation to a world in desperate need of those gifts.

Advent musings

As we are preparing to go into the season of Advent…and beginning our preparations for Christmas…I got to thinking about what we know about Jesus.

He was born into an occupied country—a country wracked by violence where one never knew from one day to the next whether they would be alive or dead…and where safety for the occupied community was really a mirage.

Besides the occupiers, his country was also torn by violence between competing groups who had very different opinions on how to deal with the governing authorities. Some wanted to just get along. Others wanted the invaders out—and were willing to use every method they knew to get them gone…along with those who had collaborated with them.

There was a large gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Some were secure in knowing they had a place to live, clothes to wear, and enough food to eat. Many, many more weren’t sure where their next meal would be coming from.

At various times, people fled their country. Some were running from the violence that surrounded them. Others were hoping somehow to find a better life. Jesus’ own family fled the violence and became refugees in another country.

As an adult, back in his own country, Jesus continued to face challenges. Violence, corruption in government and religion, fear, hatred of the other…

And yet…he did otherwise. He ate with corrupt religious leaders. He healed family members of the oppressors. He visited with those who were “other.” He talked about love…and challenged his followers to truly follow his example of all-embracing love, hope, and healing.

So this year…while I love my traditional and beautiful nativity scenes, I also want to look at ones that make me uncomfortable…that remind me that the One I will be celebrating did not live an easy life–and calls me to make sometimes difficult choices. I want to be reminded that when I look into the faces of “the other,” I am called to see the face of Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of when Jesus came 2000 years ago…and a time of preparation for when Jesus will come again…and I want to be reminded again and again of what he said–that when I bring ministry (food, water, shelter, affirmation) to any of God’s children, I am doing it to and for him.

See the source image