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You Should Care

Being asked or told to wear a mask is not trampling your rights. It’s asking you to do what you always should have done in the first place: care about people…

Real strength has to do with helping others.

Fred Rogers

Are you tired?

I am very, very tired.

No, it’s not my twin three year old boys with all their crazy energy. No, it’s not my husband recovering from a near-fatal encounter with sepsis last month. No, it’s not working for the Gospel in a conflict-ridden world. Though all three have their moments that make me weary and worn, that is not the fatigue to which I am referring.

I am tired of people politicizing whether or not people should care about each other.

It is not a political issue. Stop making it one.

It is a human issue. It is a faith issue. And, since I am a Christian minister, it is a Jesus issue.

Actively caring about our fellow human beings is our job as humans.

Full stop.

That’s it.

At the end of the day, everything else pales in comparison. Money, success, prestige, ambition, power, beauty – none even begin to compare.

It is our human right to live and breathe. To live free. And to thrive.

For far too long, in human history, we have intentionally chosen who deserves to be free to live and to thrive. We have systematically removed rights from humans that were born looking different than we do. Who were born with different realities. Who have this body part instead of that one. Freedom has long been denied to our neighbors of different race, sexualities, and genders – and that’s just talking about the differences we are born with in our bodies. That does not even mention the differences in thought, belief, and resources. Oh yes, we have a problem with keeping people from being truly free in this world.

But a little piece of cloth has nothing to do with your freedom. What is more, studies have shown that it has little to nothing to do with your safety.

That little piece of cloth has to do with your neighbor’s safety and their right to live and breath, to have freedom, and to thrive.

That little piece of cloth is a statement that you care as much about others as you do about yourself.

Of course, there are some who are facing real health issues – from COPD to PTSD – who should not be forced to wear a mask. That is reasonable.

The problem is, there are far more people not wearing masks than those who legitimately shouldn’t. There are far more people more concerned with their comfort than another’s life – because, again, that mask does not protect you. It protects everyone around you.

And yes, this is a very personal issue to me. My husband is extremely high risk. He already nearly died three weeks ago of something else. If you expose me, then you expose him. If you expose my children, you expose my husband and me (with my own moderate to severe asthma). If you expose my nanny, you expose all of us – and remember that children and healthy people are still being brutally maimed by this virus that we do not fully understand.

I am tired of people not caring.

I am tired of people telling me that I am afraid for no reason, when we’ve lost over 165,000 people in this country alone – with some amount of mitigation. Those numbers would have likely quadrupled if we had done nothing these last six months.

This is not a hoax. It is serious. Deadly serious. And life-long maiming serious (because this disease appears to be more dangerous to those who survive than to those who do not).

Required discomfort to help out your neighbor is not the same thing as having your rights trampled. Having your rights trampled is being held at gunpoint  when you were the one originally in danger. Having your rights trampled is being run over by cars and hit with tear gas (which is a war crime) when you are using your right to protest that people’s rights are not being upheld. Having your rights trampled is dying in your own bed at the hands of those who should be protecting you when you did absolutely nothing – and then to have your killers never be brought to justice.

Being asked or told to wear a mask is not trampling your rights. It’s asking you to do what you always should have done in the first place: care about people.

So wear the piece of cloth. Care about your neighbors – because, yet again, that mask protects them. Not you. It is not about you.

It is about all of us surviving this with as much health as possible. Only then can we truly live and breathe fully. Only then can we continue to fight for freedom. Only then can we find the flourishing that God desires.

More Than Words

Sometimes, for someone to truly know they are loved, it takes not only active intention, but also concrete actions…

Mr. Rogers once said that “love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now – and to go on caring even through times that may bring us pain.” A good Presbyterian minister, he was trying to point us toward that intentionality that is meant to exist in all of our relationships. Be they romantic, sibling. friend. neighbor, or even a stranger or enemy.

But sometimes, for someone to truly know they are loved, it takes not only active intention, but also concrete actions – as Extreme’s 1990 classic loves to remind us.

There is more to love than simply words. Or feelings. More than hugs and kisses. It takes standing with someone when trouble comes. It means being the silent worker behind the scenes so that those without a voice might finally sing. Its deliberate purpose to see others flourish, even when the world says they shouldn’t.

The first step is to work for these things in our relationships with those we love who are closest to us. Easy enough.

The next step is to do this work to bolster and support our neighbors and communities, most of which we also love with great camaraderie and energy. Especially for those of us who live and work with people we have grown close to, this should not be too far of a stretch.

Now here is the hard step: doing the active work of love for those you do not know.

Jesus taught us that if something should not happen to him or one of his disciples, then it should not happen to anyone. Put it another way: if you don’t want a certain thing done to you, then you should not only not do it to others – you should work so that no one ever has it done to them. Period.

Christ took the golden rule and put it on steroids.

Because it’s not just about what you do as an individual. It is also about what we do as a community. The choices we make, the leaders we support, the ways we structure our lives – all of it is our responsibility.

So, to follow a bit in the footsteps of my favorite Presbyterian pastor, let’s put this in the simplest of terms: all the world’s a playground and here are the rules…

  1. Treat each other with kindness.
  2. Wear clothes that the given season calls for: if summer, enjoy your shorts. If winter, don’t forget your snow boots. If hurricane, bring an umbrella. If Covid, wear your mask.
  3. Throw your trash away and recycle everything you can. We only have one home, so take care of it.
  4. Don’t throw stones and don’t call each other names – it’s just bad form.
  5. Do use your voice to ask questions and raise up problems that need to be addressed.
  6. Do stand up to bullies. Stand together and they cannot break you.
  7. Remember that our words have power, to heal and to hurt. Choose them wisely.
  8. Most importantly: you already have the strength inside you to make the world a better place. A kinder place. A more loving place. The world God desires to see.

Simple enough. Now go and do likewise.

Which Jesus…?

Jesus is not who much of the church pretends he is. He would not even recognize himself in the portrayals that are often given…

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever considered the question: which Jesus do you follow, worship, serve?

Whether we want to admit it or not, Christianity in this world has quite often been coopted by the world around it – leading Christians to look nothing like the Lord they swear to serve.

Why?

Well, there are numerous reasons. But a key one is that the real Jesus does not fit the mold we want for our God.

We want a God that is all-powerful and takes advantage of it like we do. We want a Jesus that is meek and mild, upholds the status quo and the religious practices we love because that will make us comfortable. We want a Holy Spirit who tells us we’re doing everything right and never bothers us with things like pushing us into real work for the kingdom. We want Jesus, and God, to look like us.

But we creations are responsible for all of the evil in the world. Our Creator is not. We are complicit in structures that allow a few to thrive while most remain crushed. Our Savior did what he could to overturn them. We are so focused on the splinter in everyone else’s eye that we never see the log in our own or the tweezers sitting in our hands. Our Sustainer is a holy fire consistently working to open our eyes, ears, hearts, and hands.

Jesus is not who much of the church pretends he is. He would not even recognize himself in the portrayals that are often given.

So who is this Jesus – the real One?

Jesus was the brown-skinned child of an unwed (or barely married-in-time) teenage mother. He lived as a refugee and foreigner in another land for much of his childhood. He cared for the sick. He touched the untouchable and reviled by society. He empowered women and children and those without resources, to learn, grow, teach, and change the world. He said that he desired profligate mercy and service to others, rather than self-righteous prayer or sacrifice. He spoke truth to power, like his mother did before his birth. He called out the religious establishment for supporting the status quo. He also called out numerous systems for perpetuating injustice. He welcomed foreigners with open arms. He embraced the guilty with grace. He taught non-violence, but he still caused a riot when there was no other way to make people pay attention to the harm they were causing. He died because of the life he lived that displayed justice-filled-love with every breath.

That is the Jesus of the gospels. And he is worth getting to know, because that is the God we are meant to serve when we say we are Christians.

Our God chose love, rather than domineering power.

Jesus consistently displayed a ministry of justice for the oppressed, rather than comfort for the powerful.

The Holy Spirit’s fire is meant to refine us and push us out into the world to continue Christ’s ministry, not to do what we tell it.

So which Jesus, which God do you serve?

Be careful how you answer, because God might just turn your whole world upside down from your answer.

The Long Wait

…don’t give up. You are not alone. You are loved. You can do this.

Waiting.

It’s something that all of us have to do at some point in our lives.

Sometimes it’s waiting on a difficult diagnosis. Other times it is waiting for a loved one to return home. And still others it is waiting for an answer that may never come.

Throughout history, God’s people have often had to wait. (Remember the forty years in the desert?) Much to the disquiet of some, God rarely gives quick fixes for much of anything. However, God’s promise was never that God was going to make everything better right now. Now now.

God’s promise is that God will be present. God will give us the strength to face what we must. God is in this for the long game and though we will always receive momentary respite (whether a laugh, a hug, or a helpful stranger), we may not see the results we think we want right away.

Part of the reason for this is that God wants us to actively wait.

Yes, sometimes we do need to wallow for a bit. However, the rest of the time spent waiting is an opportunity to do something. To look for others who are hurting that we might aid. To see the people who are often unseen and unthanked. To open our hearts for a broken world that needs more love in it.

Our world is waiting right now. It’s not easy. It’s incredibly frustrating. And yet, look at all the opportunities we have now to look and see the world through new eyes. Think of all the ways we have been opening our hearts to one another. That is God giving us a wondrous variety of chances to make a difference, even on the days we feel ready to give up.

So, don’t give up. You are not alone. You are loved. You can do this.

 

Whom do you serve?

What are the modern gods we choose to worship in our world?

A few years ago, I came across a daily devotion calendar that had this as an inspirational quote: “if thou therefore will worship me, all shall be thine.” It’s pretty obviously from the King James Version and the gospel of Luke. And on its face, it sounds nice enough.

In reality, however, it is the words of Satan to the Word of God made flesh. It is bait, some that Jesus does not take. But let’s put this in a modern context.

What are the modern gods we choose to worship in our world?

Money. Power. Superficial beauty. Force-filled strength. Blind comfort. Simple answers. And the list goes on from there.

We make our gods whatever we find most appealing to us.

However, that is not who our God is.

Our God is one who has revealed God’s self throughout history. In the scriptures there are countless times God sets the priorities God truly desires: caring for the unwanted, poor, and oppressed. Welcoming the stranger and the alien with open arms. Standing up to the systems in this world that keep the powerful on their thrones and others under their footstools. Seeking justice for the silenced. And using love as our constant lens through which we check every decision.

Not romantic love. God love – self-sacrificing, abundant, radical, willing to do anything to serve another love.

Anytime we choose to believe or do something that is in direct or indirect conflict with the purposes God has made abundantly clear, we are choosing the gods that look like us. We are choosing to worship something else. And our God will have no other gods before God.

So, I ask you – choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, to quote Joshua and Micah, we will serve the Lord by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

The Great Unfinished Symphony

…please hear this post for what it is: a plea. I believe in America. I believe in all that we can be. I believe in the true American dream: that one day, we will live up to our ideals that all humans are created equal. I pray for that dream daily. But I also know that prayer without action is useless.

This weekend we will celebrate independence in our country.

There will be fireworks, fun decorations, and hopefully some really good food.

And yet, in the midst of everything that is happening right now, it is a day that should cause us to pause and reflect on where we started. Where we have been. Where we are. And where we are going.

In recent days, I came across a quote from the Vice President of the Confederate States of America that shed some light on the tug of war that’s been happening within me of late:

“The Constitution… rested upon the equality of races. This was an error. Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Though this statement is disturbing on many levels and lays bear the truth behind the most divisive war our nation has ever fought (no, it was not about state’s rights), it did raise up one very helpful thought: the Constitution was created with an opportunity to do and be better.

Even as our founding document literally wrote white supremacy into law – stating that people of color were worth only 3/5 of a white man – it also left an opening for us to evolve. Unfortunately we have been caught up recovering from this horrifying statement of value (not rights, since they were afforded none and the 3/5 was to make their white masters have a better vote) ever since.

What we are witnessing in this country is a new kind of revolution. This time, instead of taking it on piecemeal, we are finally naming the virus that has been invading and sickening our nation since its very inception: white supremacy.

Racially-motivated police brutality is merely a symptom. Racial slurs, also a symptom. White people thinking they have authority over BIPOC is one of the most egregious symptoms. And there are countless more.

In order to truly. move forward, it is going to take more than simply winning hearts and minds. We need to take on the system this time. We need to change our laws to reflect the ideals we strive for – that all people are created equal.

The good news is that there is hope. We have the opportunity to change the reality in our country. But it will take a whole lot of hard work on multiple levels.

So, where do we begin?

It depends on who you are as you read this.

If you are a BIPOC, please know that you are beautiful, stronger than many can understand, and I (and so many others) are truly grateful for your witness. Your actions in these coming days are something I have no right to speak to.

If you are white (as I am), dismantling white supremacy starts with you. It starts with me. Start by naming it as the reality that it is. Then actually read the books on it – not to make yourself look good, but to truly learn. Then find what ways you can get involved in BLM, Poor People’s Campaign, LGBTQ rights, or any other movement supporting the previously denigrated, demonized, and destroyed lives that calls to you. Speak up and out. Donate to organizations working for these movements. Wear their symbols as a sign of solidarity. Wave flags and signs. And yes, protest (especially once the pandemic is over if it is unsafe for you now).

This is a fight for the very soul of our nation. And none of us is free until we are all free.

So please hear this post for what it is: a plea. I believe in America. I believe in all that we can be. I believe in the true American dream: that one day, we will live up to our ideals that all humans are created equal.

I pray for that dream daily, for I know the symphony that Lin-Manuel Miranda spoke of is not yet finished. But I also know that prayer without action is useless. So I will speak up. I will stand with all those who our nation has cast out or cast down. I will do everything in my power to support these movements.  I will do all I can to dismantle and eradicate white supremacy from our systems and our hearts.

The real question is, will you join me?

A Universal Principle

Displaying kindness and generosity towards others, caring for their immediate needs, and offering whatever service one can do – that practice has been around since time immemorial…

Hospitality is a universal principle.

Displaying kindness and generosity towards others, caring for their immediate needs, and offering whatever service one can do – that practice has been around since time immemorial.

Unfortunately, we, as a society, have largely lost this concept.

Sure, we sometimes throw parties and think about people’s needs in those cases. But true hospitality is what happens in our daily lives. It is the way we show care and welcome to others.

Why do we have such a difficult time with this practice?

We have gone so far down the rabbit hole of extreme individualism that we have forgotten we are meant to care for others, as much as and even more than ourselves.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” People all bear Christ’s image. People, and their lives and livelihoods, are all holy.

Something that all of the ancient religions understood is that we all are strangers at some point in our life. We all need help sometimes. None of us is able to get through this life without either the support of others or on the backs of others. And for those of us who would claim to follow Christ, we should never use people as a means to an end for our benefit.

We need to return to our roots and remember the holy practice of hospitality. It is universal and appears across almost all religions (and humanism). It is what we are meant to do as humans on this planet.

That means suffering inconvenience to ensure another’s safety. That means focusing on the set of lives being oppressed in order that all life might flourish. That means doing what you can, everyday, in order to see your neighbors (and strangers) live the lives they were meant to live.

Hospitality. Learn it. Do it. Love it.

 

Growing

Growth is hard. It can hurt. It can make us face our fears. It can bring out every fighting defense we have because change makes us afraid…

Have you ever considered those times in your life when you have grown the most? Most likely they were times that were full of challenge, in some shape or form. This is because our very best growth in this life occurs when our barriers are broken down in ways we weren’t fully expecting.

It takes vulnerability to grow. To evolve. To become who we are meant to be.

It takes a willingness to face those places that are not what they should be. To let them go. And to seek something better.

This growth process happens with individuals to be sure. But it can also happen with communities of people. When God spoke to the ancient Israelites, it was about growing together. When Jesus spoke the beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, it was about a group of people facing life together. When Paul wrote to the churches, he was writing to the body, not individuals.

Growth is hard. It can hurt. It can make us face our fears. It can bring out every fighting defense we have because change makes us afraid.

And yet, it is so incredibly necessary. Because we are meant to grow. To transform. To become who we are meant to be.

Sometimes it may feel like the world is closing in around us when we see a change that needs to happen but cannot quite climb the mountain. It may feel as though others are heaping mud and mire on top of us for daring to reach for a better world. It may feel like our strength is gone.

But never forget the words of Greek poet, Dinos Christianopoulos: “they tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Growth will happen, but only when we are willing to do that hard work it takes to pursue it.

The world is trying to grow. Are you willing to be vulnerable enough to join the fray?

Sin or not?

Now here’s the really difficult part about all of these issues: they are all a part of the culture we live in. They have been intrinsically interwoven into the very fabric of our society and governance to keep some in power…

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Throughout history, theologians, professors, pastors, and priests have debated the nature and definition of sin in the Christian tradition. Some have focused on a list of acts. Others have chosen to point at specific people and professions as “sinful.” Still others have chosen one or two “sins” to deem as worse than all the rest.

In reality, when Jesus taught about sin, he took it a step further than all of these. Christ taught that the intention to cause harm counts as much as any act. Lust and anger become adultery and murder because the avarice in our hearts impacts what is ultimately important.

And for Christ (and God) the most important part of our lives and being human is the relationships: with God, with ourselves, with one another.

Why? Because we are made in the image of the Triune God to love and be loved.

God’s ultimate purpose is and always has been love.

Sin is breaking that purpose – breaking our relationships. Which is also why the intent can cause sin even without any action. Because when anything takes our central focus away from the healthy, loving, equity and justice-seeking relationships God desires, that creates cracks in the connections we are meant to build.

So let’s use some of the real issues facing our world right now as examples of sin or not?

  • Racism – the systematic denigration and destruction of a group of people because of the color of their skin = sin. It breaks our ability to see all of God’s children as being made in God’s image. Worse, it causes harm to that very image in the people who have been harmed.
  • Sexism – the systematic subjugation and abuse of a group of people because of the sex of their body = sin. It does a similar number to racism, except this time because of the way someone was born in terms of their physical parts. It causes harm to the bodies and psyches of those who it attacks.
  • Bigotry – the systematic vilification and abhorrence of those who were born with a different a sexual or gender identity than what has been deemed “acceptable” by the powers that be = sin. Again, it attacks those who were born different for something they cannot control, wreaking significant damage both mentally and physically.
  • White Supremacy – the belief that one race is superior and therefore should rule all other races = sin. This one is particularly problematic because its very foundation is that the majority of God’s children are less important, there to serve those in the ruling race, and are things to be used as the ruling race deems appropriate.

Now here’s the really difficult part about all of these issues: they are all a part of the culture we live in. They have been intrinsically interwoven into the very fabric of our society and governance to keep some in power while keeping others under “control.” They affect the way we see every single thing that happens, because we have been taught to normalize all of them since our youngest days on this earth.

Jesus spent his life here on earth intentionally dismantling systemic issues in his own time (racism and sexism being two of particular import). He not only fought to see individuals’ needs fulfilled, but also fought against those systems we have created to keep some in control while others are subjugated. He worked to undo their damage and to stop them from causing more.

That means that those who would follow Jesus are called to intentionally identify and dismantle systems of oppression, purposefully support and empower those who have been oppressed, consciously realize the ways we have internalized and benefitted from these systems, and then deliberately do all in our power to mend the relationships we humans are so good at breaking.

Like all problems, the first step is naming it.

So say it together: racism is sin. sexism is sin. bigotry is sin. white supremacy is sin. We all have a problem.

And by God’s grace, we can and must work together to solve it.

A bit of fabric

Because while God loves everyone, God has always been specially protective and active in the lives of those who were born different or do not have what they need. Jesus was one who fought for social justice with every breath he took…

Have you ever considered the moment when something becomes a social justice issue?

It is that place where personal choice begins to impede another’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because of something they can’t control.

Masks are a social justice issue.

They are there to protect the lives of those who have chronic illnesses or who have reached an age that puts them at risk. Not just their physical lives, but also their ability to have contact with anyone right now. The opportunity to go out at all. The chance to actually live, not just survive.

In the midst of a disease that we know so little about, the scientific community has found that a simple bit of cloth can make the difference in keeping the disease spread down. Along with physical distancing, of course.

I’ve heard many around me say that it is a very personal choice for them to make as to whether they are going to wear a mask or not.

Thanks to the liberties we are afforded in this country, they are correct.

Nevertheless, every time I hear that I realize that they are (usually unthinkingly) saying that their right to do what they want matters more than their neighbor’s right to have a full life.

Jesus spent his life on earth preaching and doing ministry with those whose lives have been deemed less important by others. Women. The poor. The marginalized. And especially the sick. He cared for their physical bodies as much as their afterlife. He taught us that followers of Christ are meant to care for the weakest and poorest before we care for those who have what they need. Because while God loves everyone, God has always been specially protective and active in the lives of those who were born different or do not have what they need. Jesus was one who fought for social justice with every breath he took.

My family is one of those at high risk of getting the disease. Many of our neighbors are telling us that our life is unimportant – not just the physical one, but the flourishing one we’re meant to have. Stay home, they say. But we did not choose to be high risk. It comes from something that is out of our control.

All we need is a little piece of fabric. That’s it.

Jesus has proven on which side he would be. The question is, how many will join him.