Why do I write?

There are several answers to the title question, and they change from time to time. However, my current reason for writing this blog is to give folks a different perspective of someone who claims to be a Christian from the vocal view that seems to dominate so much of our society today.

While I realize that there are different ways of understanding what it means to follow the one we call Jesus the Christ, I find some of the current interpretations in direct opposition to the teachings of the Jesus I know.

That Jesus was inclusive. His circle of friends and followers included people that other religious people thought should be excluded for various reasons. Even some of his own disciples weren’t particularly fond of some of the others!

He was willing to challenge the status quo and to upset tradition. Quite often people said to him, “Well, Moses said…” in an attempt to keep things the way they were. And his response was “Well, yes, Moses did say…but say…”

He didn’t hold grudges. Even when he was dying a cruel death, he forgave the ones who put him on the cross.

And when he was asked what the most important law was, he said it was the law of love. Love of God, love of others, love of self. Everything that I read and understand about Jesus is captured in that perspective.

And because the Jesus of inclusivity, of reconciliation, of continued growth is the Jesus I choose to follow…the form of Christianity I believe he asks us to follow…I choose to try to live through the lens of love. Do I always succeed? No…but I keep trying.

And because that Jesus of inclusivity and reconciliation is the one I choose to follow, I want you to know that I believe there is a place at the table for you. We may have some challenging discussions…we will not always agree…but you are invited to join with me in this journey of living life through the lens of love.

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?

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!”

Joy

Advent 4

On this last Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of joy.

What is joy?

Perhaps we should start out by saying what it is not. Joy is not necessarily happiness. Happiness can be fleeting, dependent on events happening in our lives–or the lives of our loved ones. If circumstances change, happiness may disappear.

But joy…joy is an emotion that comes from deep in our heart. We can find joy even in the most difficult of life circumstances…even when common sense says we should be completely down in the dumps.

So what makes the difference?

Joy may include happiness, but it goes deeper. We have joy when we know we have a firm foundation we can build our lives on–someone we can trust to always be with us through both good and bad times…someone who loves us, no matter what.

Joy acknowledges that life is not always easy, but it also knows that we are never alone, even when it may feel like we’ve been abandoned. Our human family, our friends may turn away from us–but the One whose birth we are preparing to celebrate never does.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite stories (and movies) this time of year–Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Cratchit family lacks much of the “things” that we tend to think are necessary to find happiness, and also are dealing with the illness of the youngest child–and yet when they are preparing for their Christmas dinner, Bob Cratchit (the patriarch of the family) is still able to offer a toast of thanks and gratefulness for what they have…the love of family. They have joy.

And so…as we light this candle of joy, my wish, my blessing for each of you is this quote from Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!” And may you be blessed with true joy, not just this day but throughout the year.

 

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.

RIP

Two men died yesterday. One was a friend; the other I never met. But both had a profound impact on many people who may not have even known their names.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee 1922-2018

Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Man…and so many more. Superheroes…but with a twist. Many of them became superheroes because of an unexpected event in their lives. They had human flaws, characteristics that allowed us to identify with them. They raised moral questions…they deal with society as it is…as it may be…as we might like it to be. They were many colors, sizes, genders…

With Stan Lee’s death, Marvel Comics has lost a creative genius who allowed kids to have role models who looked like them…to encourage them in their dreams.

Dale Jones

Dale Jones 1951-2018

For a couple of months every year, my friend went by the name of Santa. He ate breakfast with kids…he saw them at the mall. He loved them…made them feel valued…and encouraged them to be the best they could be.

Many who saw him in his red suit at the mall or in other Christmas settings never knew that his “other” name was Dale Jones…or that he was a gifted musician and minister. They didn’t know that he had a family and friends who loved him. They just knew that he made them feel special.

So…as we move into the season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I want to give thanks for these two men who have touched so many lives…as well as the many, many other individuals who touch lives in ways they may never know.

Rest in peace.

Truly blessed…

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the United States.

We had Thanksgiving dinner at our house–with all the local family present…Mother, son and grandson, daughter and son-in-law, and grandson and new granddaughter-in-law. I had decided that I wanted to do most of the cooking this year, and one of the things that made it possible was that I was able to take all week off of work (I had some vacation I needed to use or I would lose it).

So…Wednesday I got several of the dishes ready…cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, dressing, and sweet potatoes. All I had to do with them Thursday was put the marshmallows on the sweet potatoes–and then bake the ones that needed baking.

Thursday morning was putting the turkey in at 7:00…then setting the table, and getting the green salad ready…baking the casseroles and the mashed potatoes…and waiting for the rolls, pumpkin and pecan pies to arrive with other family members.

We had everything ready for eating at 2:00–and asked my 87-year-old mother to offer the blessing…not just on the food, but for our gathering.

While the food was delicious, what was more important was the fellowship. We shared family stories, initiated the new member of the family into our tradition of hand-knit Christmas stockings, played several games of bowling with the Wii–including getting the matriarch to bowl a game (and she bowled a respectable 124!)….

We were–and are–truly blessed. Our family members all like each other, and we live close enough that the immediate family can get together at these special times. But even more than that, we are blessed to live in a country where we can feel safe…where we have freedom to gather…

And so…as we shared together–and were also aware of the news coming out of both Bangkok and Mumbai–we realized again the blessings that are ours…and give thanks.