I’m tired…

I am tired…emotionally and spiritually. And it’s not the kind of tiredness that can be resolved by a good night’s sleep.

It’s a tiredness that is deep in my soul.

I’m tired of our refusal to acknowledge our part in creating the hostile and violent environments that many people are fleeing, hoping to find a better future for themselves and their children…only to be met here with violence and separation.

I’m tired of all the gun violence. I’m tired of the news opening up with how many murders have taken place overnight…

I’m tired of wondering when the next mass shooting is going to take place…how many people will die…how many families will be destroyed.

I’m tired of “thoughts and prayers” that aren’t linked to a willingness to have the hard discussions about ways of making weapons less available…of common sense ways of decreasing the violence, even if it doesn’t stop it.

I’m tired of the anti-intellectualism that says that people who have studied areas of science for years somehow really don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m tired of the refusal to make changes that will help our earth heal.

I’m tired of the hatred of “the other”…of anyone who doesn’t look like us…doesn’t speak the same language we do…doesn’t worship the way we do…doesn’t love the way we do.

I’m tired of the ideologies that place one race on a pedestal built on the backs of another race…that says that only one color of people have rights.

I’m tired of women’s health concerns being negated…of others making decisions for them who have no ideas of the struggles they are going through.

I’m tired of the domination of those who call themselves pro-life…but who are comfortable cutting the programs that would help support women during pregnancy…and babies and families after birth.

I’m tired of hearing the God I worship being used to attack others…a God of love who created all of us in God’s image. I’m tired of having my faith misused by those who would claim that “God hates…” (insert any one of a number of groups there).

I’m tired…and sometimes I want to just give up. It seems so difficult to open up any kind of dialogue, because we seem to live in completely contradictory world views that don’t have anything in common.

But I can’t give up. If I give up, then I’m letting the hatred…the division…win. And because I believe in a God who gave us minds to use…a God who wants us to work together to heal the world’s wounds…a God who calls us to be good stewards of what God created…a God who has given me the choice to be a divider or a healer…I have to continue trying to build bridges.

I don’t know if I will succeed. I may never know that. But all I can do is keep trying…because I follow a Carpenter who builds bridges.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said.

“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”

I met God today…

I met God today…and God didn’t look at all like I expected!

God smiled at me…in the guise of a small child playing on the playground.

God asked me for help…as a homeless man standing on the corner of the intersection near my home.

God challenged me…in several disguises:

  • as a protestor challenging unjust policies,
  • as a policeman trying to create a safe environment,
  • as someone at church whose political beliefs are very different from my own,
  • as an immigrant struggling to speak English,
  • as a young woman wearing a hijab,
  • as a drag queen reading stories to children in the library,
  • in an angry person, afraid of losing the privileges they have grown accustomed to,
  • as a white supremacist,
  • as a military veteran.

God needed me to stand with her…as a scared young woman who needed to tell her parents she was gay.

God asked me to share in rejoicing…as a same-sex couple committing themselves to each other in marriage….

God asked me to read other books of scripture in which God has shared Godself…telling me that each book of scripture is incomplete because none of us understand God completely.

God asked me one simple favor…to open my eyes so I can see God in every person, because each is created in God’s image.

 

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?

The indomitable human spirit

I’ve been enjoying watching the 2016 Olympics. Yes, I know there are problems–sometimes very serious ones–that can be found related to the games…from the cost of creating the site to some of the training methods used. But there are also some wonderful stories of the indomitable human spirit. These are some that have impressed me.

  1. The “Final Five”…Not only have each of them been wonderful performers themselves, it’s been clear that they really like and support each other. They have been genuinely delighted when someone on their team has done well–and genuine in their hugs when someone has had a problem with a routine.
  2. Aly Raisman…To watch Aly Raisman come back come back from disappointment four years ago, determined to show that she is one of the best in the world was exciting…and her parents were as much fun to watch as she was! It was easy to sympathize with their concern and nervousness for their daughter, but they way in which they showed it made each of us wonder how we would react in the same situation.
  3. Laurie Hernandez…She just bounces! She looks like she is having so much fun in her routines.
  4. Simone Biles…Who can ignore Simone her?! Her gymnastic ability is incredible–I can’t imagine bouncing as high in the air as she does. But the support of her grandparents (now her parents) through the years is special as well. I can’t imagine the pain of seeing your child lose custody of their children–much less making the decision to adopt them yourselves. But it says a lot about the special relationship they have.
  5. Ellie Downie…Her fall during her floor routine for the all-around qualifying was horrendous! I’m sure that everyone–including her sister–who saw it was scared for her and wondered what the prognosis was. But then to see her come back and insist on doing two vaults so that the team could qualify…and then to see her later do a wonderful repeat of the floor routine was wonderful.
  6. Kohei Uchimura and Oleg Verniaiev…Gymnastic decisions are often close, but the men’s all-around came down to the final performer on the final routine–and a decision of .99 point. Both competitors did wonderful routines and you sometimes wish that there didn’t have to be a winner and everyone else.
  7. 2016 Refugee Team…For the first time the Olympics acknowledged that the world is not a wonderful, peaceful place. Ten athletes are competing under the flag of the Olympics, highlighting the problems of refugees around the world. Just staying alive for some of these refugees makes them gold medal winners, even if they don’t win at the Olympics.
  8. Michael Phelps…Does anything else need to be said? I was delighted to see him come back in a better place than he was after the 2012 Olympics, and to see him delight not only in his own successes but also in the team success.
  9. Joseph Schooling…Each athlete has a hero they look up to. For this young man it was Michael Phelps. I cannot imagine how he felt when he beat Phelps out for a gold in the butterfly.
  10. Katie Ledecky…Does anything else need to be said about her? She absolutely blew everyone else away in the 400-meter freestyle…and she looks like she’s having so much fun as well.
  11. Simone Manuel…This young swimmer tied for gold with the 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle, with both of them breaking the world record in the process. She is the first African-American to win an individual event in Olympic swimming–and the background to her win informed me of some of our racist swimming history, history I had not been aware of because it had not impacted me.
  12. Mo Farah…Who? Not a runner I had ever heard anything about, but his run in the 10,000-meter race was incredible to watch. He started at the back of the pack…took a fall on the second lap…and yet came back to win.
  13. Keri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross…I used to enjoy playing volleyball at church camps, but these two women take it to a whole different level! They are so athletic and manage to pull off almost impossible saves!
  14. Ibtihaj Muhammad…When I was in college I took a class in fencing. I haven’t fenced since, but I remember what a challenge the sport is. At a time when so much hatred has been expressed against Muslims, I am pleased to see a Muslim woman representing the United States.
  15. Adilende Cornelissen…I’ve always loved horses. I don’t understand much about the sport of dressage, but I do know that it requires a close connection between the rider and the horse. Cornelissen was the reigning silver medalist, but when her horse became ill, she put his needs to recover over her own desires to win.

I know there are undoubtedly many more–and will be more before the Olympics are over.

Perhaps one of the major values of the Olympic games is to remind us of the importance of the opportunity to do one’s best…the importance of teamwork…the indomitable human spirit.

Winners…and lessons

World Series celebration

This week my hometown has been celebrating! The Kansas City Royals won the baseball World Series–for the first time since 1985.

It’s been quite an experience for a city whose team has often been pitied…or laughed at. We’ve sometimes been the “poor relations” in baseball–but not now.

And the run to the win has been an improbable experience. I’ve lost track of the number of times we were counted out during the regular season–much less during these post-season games. There were so many times when we were one or two outs from losing…only to find ways to come back and win…and win…and win.

There have been a number of articles on the lessons that can be learned from this team. I can’t find all of them, nor can I remember everything they have said. But here are what I think are the important ones.

  1. It takes a team. The Royals won without anyone one player standing out as a superstar who did it all for the team. Everyone on the team had a significant role at some point in winning this trophy, and the players themselves recognized that. After every game (regular and post season) they took time to celebrate and affirm all members of the team, even if they hadn’t played that particular game.
  2. Never give up. One news story I heard said that in either seven or eight of the games (I can’t remember which), the odds of the Royals winning that particular game ranged from 1% to 25%…and yet the Royals found ways to pull out a win. The developed a mantra–“Keep the line moving”–that kept them motivated. Rather than trying to hit a powerful out-of-the-park home run, they focused on getting hits that would allow the next player a chance to hit–and it worked.
  3. Welcome the stranger. Johnny Cueto had not been with the team all season; he was a player brought in specifically for the World Series. Yet he was welcomed to the team and made an integral part of it…not seen as “an outsider”. Even when he did not pitch as well as expected/hoped, he was not ostracized–and he ended up pitching an incredible game late in the series.
  4. It sometimes pays to take chances. The Royals found ways to win by sometimes taking chances. I’m thinking in particular of Eric Hosmer’s dash home in the 9th inning of game 5…with two outs. That tied the game–and led to the win. Yes, it was a chance–and to some it might have seemed a foolish chance. But it wasn’t as foolish as it might have seemed, because the Royals had done their homework. They had scouting reports on the Mets players and knew when it made sense to take a chance.
  5. Enjoy your job. Make no mistake about it–when the Royals play baseball, they are doing a job. They get paid very well for it–and they are expected to do their best. But it was also obvious that they were enjoying what they were doing. Even when things weren’t going well, they found things to enjoy–and because they enjoyed their jobs, they found ways to make good things happen. When things didn’t go as they had hoped, they didn’t let it get them down; instead, they seemed to be able to let it go and move on to the next thing they needed to do.
  6. Respect each other. Last year the Royals came up one game short. The local newspapers could have really pounded them–but one of the headlines read “Royally Proud!” This year the Mets came up one game short–and one of their local headlines read “Amazing Disgrace!” I know which team I’d be happier to be on…which city I’d be happier to do my best for.
  7. Celebrate the good things! 

Of course there are many other lessons that could be learned. But these are the ones that struck me–good life lessons for all of us.

…to be free…

There are a couple of quotes that have been rolling around in my mind this last week:

“…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

This above all: to thine own self be true.” – Hamlet”

I know…there are specific contexts for both of them, but there’s also a broader truth that I’ve been thinking about because of the stories about Caitlyn Jenner.

Bruce Jenner was a part of my extended family for a few years, although I did not know Bruce well because Bruce and Chrystie lived in a different part of the country.

But as I (along with thousands of others) saw Bruce’s interview with Diane Sawyer and then saw Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, I was struck by one thing in particular…the eyes.

I have an autographed picture of Bruce after the Olympic win. It is a pretty typical celebrity photo…and for many years I didn’t really see anything special in it. But when I saw Caitlyn’s picture, and compared it with this earlier picture, I was struck by the peace that I saw in Caitlyn’s eyes. They don’t look haunted, like I now see in so many of the pictures I see of Bruce.

And I was struck by Caitlyn’s comment that she is “now free”…free to be who she has thought she was for so many years.

I know that many people are tired of hearing about the Jenner transition. Others rave about how heroic Jenner is. And others just don’t understand it. I’m somewhere in the middle of all of this.

Would I call Caitlyn a hero? No…but I certainly call her brave. She has been the butt of jokes for a number of years, and to face them head on like she has…and to openly share the story of her journey…is certainly brave. And I salute that bravery. Not just for her but also for the many transgender young people who have felt like they have had to hide who they are…but who now have another role model for becoming real.

There have been many comments about how Caitlyn “of course” looks gorgeous…why wouldn’t she with all the help she had in preparing for the cover shoot? Is that really so wrong? Who of us wouldn’t want to look the best we could if going through something this important in our lives?

Some who knew Bruce as a younger person have commented that Bruce was not a pleasant person…so is Caitlyn going to be any different? I hope so. Part of that hope comes from Caitlyn’s comments that “I have high hopes that Caitlyn is a better person than Bruce. I’m very much looking forward to that.”

When one is true to oneself, then I think it becomes easier to be nicer to others. You cannot live a lie to yourself without being fearful of exposure to others…and that definitely has to impact how you relate to them.

The furor will eventually die down, and that’s good.

Caitlyn is now free to be true to herself…and I hope and pray that the days are not too far away when other transgender people who are hiding themselves will be able to be true to themselves…and to be free.

We don’t always know

Back in 1972, I played for the wedding of one of my cousins. It was a cold winter day, but she and her husband seemed to be a golden couple.

Four years later, after hours of training on his part–and lots of support on hers–we cheered when he became America’s champion…Bruce Jenner, the decathlon winner. They came to visit my parents shortly after, and we shared in the joy of his victory…oohed and aahed over his gold medal.

They lived in a different part of the country, so we rarely saw them…but we kept up with them both through news stories and through letters from my aunt.

Then…suddenly, it seemed…the golden couple was no more. They had separated…and then divorced.

Why? We didn’t know, but in our humanness, we blamed Bruce. And since it seemed not long after that he began dating…and then married again…we were angry with him. How dare he talk about family…and then leave and start another family? and later another?

We just didn’t talk about Bruce.

Then came the interview with Diane Sawyer…with all the jokes, the innuendo, the gossip leading up to it. Quite honestly, we vacillated a bit about watching it…but we did.

And that put a whole new twist on the story.

While I am still sorry for some of the decisions Bruce has made through the years, I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to try to live as one gender while knowing deep inside that your body and soul do not match. When you lie to yourself, how can you be truthful with others, even (or maybe especially) ones you love?

We don’t always know what is going on inside a person. And I have been reminded again of the importance of Jesus’ challenge to not judge others. Would I want to have been judged the way I judged Bruce? No…and I deeply regret that.

What will the future hold for Bruce and his family? None of us know. It is clear that there has been reconciliation and healing in many ways, and I am grateful for that.

I know there will be many who do not understand Bruce’s journey…and that’s okay. But can we all be willing to acknowledge that there is much about each one’s journey that we do not know or understand…and simply be willing to be companions on the journey?