Perception = reality

Several years ago my husband was caught flat-footed when some of his teachers told him that they didn’t feel like he was a particularly supportive principal. He felt he was very supportive and was hurt by their criticism. But when he stepped back and took time to listen and hear what they were saying, he realized that what he thought he was doing to be supportive instead wasn’t what they needed. He changed–and the relationship between him and the teachers improved significantly.

What he learned from that experience is that perception = reality.

We may be caught flat-footed ourselves when something we say or do is taken in a different way than we intended. We may intend something as a joke–but someone else sees it as hurtful. We may say something in what we think is a compliment–but because of life circumstances, it may come across as a put-down.

Our response might be “That’s not what I meant at all!” and we may be frustrated and irritated. We may say “You shouldn’t feel that way”…and perhaps that’s true.

But…perception = reality. And we need to learn to accept that.

It’s not always easy, and it requires a willingness to listen. We have to put our own defensiveness aside and try to put ourselves in someone else’s place. How we see and experience life is impacted by many factors, and it’s unique to each of us. We see the world through a constantly shifting lens, because our life experiences are constantly changing.

Our world is full of people who are convinced that everyone sees and responds to stimuli the same way…but we don’t. The more we are able to recognize that–and the more we are willing to understand that perception = reality–that more we have opportunity for meaningful interaction with and understanding of each other.

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Advent 4…

I did not get my article posted yesterday for Advent 4…but we are still in that week.

There were valid reasons for my delay. We had extremely cold and bitter temperatures…we had ice and snow…I had a graduation and a nursing recognition ceremony to play for…and our musician at church got sick and I needed to cover (and also take a couple of other responsibilities in the service as well)…

Valid reasons…but also in many ways a response to the theme and focus yesterday.

Our them for Sunday was “Emmanuel: God with us”…and we celebrated the emphasis of love.

“God with us”…God meeting us where we are. But it’s not just God doing that.

We meet each other for ministry where each person is.

Sometimes that means playing the organ for a celebration of a life activity, such as a graduation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work someone has put into that accomplishment.

Sometimes that means allowing someone else to take the time they need to recuperate.

Sometimes it just means being aware of what’s going on in someone else’s life.

And sometimes it’s pretty easy…sometimes it’s not.

Love isn’t particularly difficult when someone is lovable. But when someone is angry…or upset…or smelly…or any of the other myriad of reasons we don’t really want to have anything to do with them, it can be difficult.

But there’s a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti that I think catches up the theme…and the challenge…of this week:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Advent 3…

This Sunday is the day we talk about peace.

Peace…when there is war raging in so many places around the globe…when people are not safe in houses of worship…when we don’t seem to be able to see each other as brothers and sisters but as enemies or “other”…when we seem to have little care about taking care of the environment we live in…

Where is peace?

This isn’t a new question. It’s one that’s asked in every generation–and every generation has to find their own answer.

Peace doesn’t mean just the absence of conflict. Yes, that would be nice, but even absence of conflict doesn’t mean peace. It may just mean that the conflict has been driven underground where it will fester until it breaks out again.

I like this quote from the Dalai Lama: “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

And I also like the challenge that is given to me by the One I follow. Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” So peace is my responsibility as well.

The theme for the services this Sunday in my tradition is this: “Are you the One who is to come? or are we to look for another?”

Here is my response:

As we look around, we know that we have disagreements with each other. Some of them may be theological…some political. But our calling is to answer the question by both our telling and our living.If we can let the spirit of Christ bring healing and wholeness to our relationships…if we can let it help us find ways to work together despite our differences to bring peace…shalom…then we will show that truly this baby born in a simple stable far away from home…to a poor couple living in an occupied country…this baby did indeed grow into the One we were—and are—looking for.

May peace be yours on this third Sunday of Advent.

 

A place at the table…

I spent Labor Day weekend with a wonderful group of people at the GALA annual retreat…and the theme was “A Place at the Table.”

I was also responsible for our closing Communion/sending forth service…and one of the hymns we sang was one by Shirley Erena Murray that has become a theme song for this group of people who have so often been marginalized by those who claim to follow Jesus.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.

And God will delight
when we are creators of justice
and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight
when we are creators of justice,
justice and joy.

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that’s fair.

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong.

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.

It’s a wonderful song to sing–but also a challenging one! In fact, right after I got back from the retreat, I saw a discussion about some of these words that became difficult because of some of those challenges.

It’s fairly easy to welcome men, women, and children to our table. It’s not so easy to be willing to give up some of what we have so that others can have enough to live–clean water, bread, shelter…

It’s especially difficult when we talk about those who deal justly and unjustly…when there are both abusers and abused ones asking for a place at our table. How do we give folks a chance for redemption while being sensitive to those who have been deeply hurt, whether that hurt is caused by physical, sexual, emotional or mental abuse? How do we create a table of justice and joy, compassion and peace?

The first time we sang this song in our congregation, I was aware that there was an individual who had been abused for whom this might be difficult, so I went to talk to the individual. The response was one of appreciation for the heads up…and now that has become a favorite song for this person.

However, as I have listened to other discussions, I have become aware that there are other individuals dealing with similar situations. I cannot always go to them because sometimes that means letting them know that someone else is aware of their past when they may not be ready to share it. And sometimes I may not know who in the congregation is dealing with these issues, but I want to be sensitive to them.

Yet there are also abusers who need to know that there is a place for them as well.

How can we be sensitive to the needs of all of them?

I think that sometimes it’s simply acknowledging that this is difficult…and that it’s okay. It’s important to have folks who are willing to be present with those who need someone to stand with them…to walk with them. We need to get to know each other better so that we create safe places where we can share our deep needs and fears.

Is any of this going to be easy? No.

Are we going to make mistakes? Yes…

But we have to keep trying.

Everyone deserves a place at God’s table…everyone deserves a safe place…and as a follower of Jesus, I am called to be uncomfortable…to work with others to create a place of justice, joy, compassion, peace…and safety.

Prayer

Our congregation (Open Arms Community of Christ), in cooperation with GALA and members of the Welcoming Community Network (WCN) held a prayer vigil on the World Plaza at Community of Christ Temple on Friday night, June 17.

While we were not touched directly by the shootings in Orlando, we have many friends who are part of the LGBTQ communities and who have been shaken and made afraid by the shootings.

We recognize that action needs to be taken…that far too often we say “Never again”…but do nothing to make those words real.

However, we are also a people of faith who believe in the power of prayer. And so Friday night, we gathered together…at a place where the world is laid out before us…at a place dedicated to peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit. We hugged each other…we worshiped together…we remembered the names of those whose lives were lost…and we prayed–individually (leaving written prayers on a prayer wall) and as a body.

I was privileged to offer the prayer for the body. These were my words last night, and they continue to be my words today…and for the future.

Oh, God…

There are so many names! So many families left in shock and despair. So many hopes and dreams left in ruins…

And we wonder…what can we do?

We gather together in this place dedicated to peace…healing…reconciliation…as a community in pain. So many have lost friends in the past and had begun to hope that things were changing…only to wake up to the news that hate had claimed yet more lives.

And we wonder…what can we do?

Sometimes what we can do seems so little. And yet, when we do small things with great love, we begin to heal…we begin to reconcile. We hug each other, remembering that you healed people with a touch…Give us faith that we can help bring comfort and healing into bodies and spirits that have been broken by violence.

Yet we wonder…is it enough?

When we are afraid to speak out for justice, remind us that there can be no peace without justice…and that sometimes it only takes one person to give others the courage to speak.

And we wonder…is it enough?

In times like this, it is easy to be filled with anger towards those who bring violence and oppression. Yet you call us to pray for them…and it is in that praying that we see them also as wounded sons and daughters.

And we wonder…is it enough?

Loving God, we pray this day in thanksgiving for those first responders who brought immediate care for the wounded and hurting. We pray for comfort for those who mourn the loss of sons, daughters, parents, lovers. We pray for peace for those who survived…who still see the nightmare of those hours.

And we pray most of all that we will each of us find ways to be peacemakers in our families, our communities, our world. In a time when it would be easy to give in to the toxic visions around us that spawn cynicism, suspicion, and violence, may we choose to live in the reconciling, healing, saving vision of Christ expressed through Christ-centered community…a community where tears are shared when in pain, but also a community where hope can be found…a community that can live in such a way that the day will come when we can say, “it is enough.”

May we be that community, we pray in the name of Jesus the Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Amen.

When the thin places open…

What happens when the thin places open? when the division between sacred and secular no longer exists…and the worlds become one?

A new community is created–one unlike any seen before. A community made of people from the varying tribes and cultures of the earth…of people with widely divergent beliefs and perspectives. ..yet a community united in a desire to create a world based on God’s shalom.

That world delights in the diversity of ALL creation. It honors Mother Earth, treating her with respect.

It is a world we dream of…hope for…yet seems unattainable.  But is it?

Why are the thin places so hard to find? so hard to pierce?

Is it because of our fears? our comfort with the status quo?

The thin places are around us and waiting for us–if we open our eyes to see them…and are willing to be vulnerable to who they call us to be and where they challenge us to go.

Why not music?

I grew up in a generation that seemed to be surrounded by music…classical music. It was in concert halls, churches, movies…and cartoons.

Yes, cartoons.

There are some pieces of music that even now I can’t listen to without seeing the characters…

I didn’t know what the music was at the time, but I recognized it when I heard it in its musical context in concerts or on our FM radio station. And I think that surrounding of us with these pieces gave us an appreciation for music without it being forced on us.

Then things began to change.

I don’t remember what the name of the cartoon was (perhaps a Batman cartoon?), but I remember that there was no music…or at least, none that  I was aware of. Instead, there were word clouds: “Bang!” “Pow!”

It didn’t take long before that became the norm, and music was shoved aside. Not just in cartoons, but also in school as well.

And we’ve become poorer for it.

Music has become an “extra” far too often in schools…something that is first on the chopping block when budgets need to be cut.

And, at least in my own denomination, music–at least classical music–is often seen as something that might be nice but that doesn’t relate well with the “average” person (whoever that might be!). To sponsor a fine arts program? well, if there’s money in the budget, we might be able to do that…but what’s the purpose? Where’s the value?

There have been lots of studies that show that music (and the other arts) help children learn. They help us connect to other people…to the world around us…to the creative parts of who we are.

Music is a language…a language that helps us express emotions and feelings that we have no words for. It helps us connect to the Divine. It is a universal language, even if it is expressed in different forms.

And so…why not music? Why not…in our schools, our homes, our churches?

Music is the voice of the soul