Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thankful Thursday

It has been too long since I've written a Thankful Thursday post.
Not because I haven't had anything to be thankful for.
Not because I've forgotten to give thanks for the goodness of life.
In any case, I'm back now.

Tonight, I am thankful for:

* the upcoming opportunity to be involved with a retreat at Montreat this coming August.
Never heard of Montreat? Check this out. I've never been there before, but I have heard fantastic things about the center and the programs it hosts. We shall soon see.

I am honored to be involved in leading the conference book discussion for Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans' fantastic book about her experience both inside and outside of the church. I look forward to talking about and walking through this book with the attendees of the conference. I also look forward to meeting Rachel and hearing her speak.

In addition, I will be leading a workshop on journaling as a spiritual discipline. I love, love, love to journal - gratitude journaling, travel journaling, art journaling, making journals, buying journals, decorating journals, taking sermon notes in my journals, reading old journals... One could easily argue that, for me, journaling is a bit of an obsession. Being invited to share that obsession with others, encouraging them to pour out their hearts and minds on paper (or at the keyboard) is one of the things in my life that gives me great joy.

* our son had a fantastic first year at Wingate University. He was chosen as the MVP on the tennis team and was chosen as the best "freshman" male athlete of the year. His grades aren't out yet, but he thinks he will have a 4.0 average. It is a thrill for me to watch him mature into a young man that I would be proud to have as a friend.

* this absolutely fantastic recipe for Mediterranean Farro Salad, given to me yesterday by my dear friend, Heather. I love grain salads - quinoa salad, farro salad, salads with rice in them. Yum yum. I made this one for dinner tonight - but I tweaked it in all kinds of ways. I omitted the red onion. I added toasted almonds and pine nuts, goat cheese (instead of feta), dried cranberries, a chopped fresh red pepper, and used balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. (I very rarely follow recipes exactly as written, unless I am baking cookies or cakes...) So good!

* Last week, I attended the Define American Film Festival on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture here in Charlotte. Wowza - what a great event. Films and panel discussions. Swag bags and all the Kind Bars we could eat. (I love Kind Bars and that company was one of the sponsors, so they were giving the bars away by the handful. Literally! And if you know anything about me, you know I'm frugal/cheap - and I love freebies.)

How do you define "American"? Does that word refer solely to people who were born and raised in the United States? Or are all the people who were born and who live in any country between Canada and Argentina "Americans"? What about people who were brought here as children? People who arrived here seeking safety and refuge from abuse and danger in the countries where they were born? Are legal documents necessary in order to be American? When you hear the word "American," if you were asked to picture "an American" in your mind's eye, what would that person look like? When you see someone who appears to be of Asian descent, or someone who appears to be of Central or South American descent, do you assume they are not American? Do you wonder about their "immigration status"? These and other similarly challenging questions and concerns were the focus of the film festival.

My daughter and I saw "Dolores,"
"Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America"
"Am I too African to be American or too American to be African?"
And by herself, my daughter saw "Residente."
I had already seen "White People" and "Meet the Patels," so I didn't watch them again last weekend.
The panel discussions following each film were recorded and are available for view.

My ears and eyes were opened to stories and circumstances I had never thought about before.
One of the directors said it well: "Citizenship is another layer of privilege."
I know more than a handful of people from Central and South America who are here in the US without documentation. I have heard many stories of nervousness and fear about deportation. But I know far more "real Americans" who rely on the hard work and dedication of those same undocumented residents to keep their homes and places of work clean, to cook and clean dishes and tables at restaurants where they like to eat, to build our new homes, to put roofs on our houses, to mow our lawns, to run the stores we like to shop in, and to take care of their children. And every single one of us, documented and undocumented, native born and foreign born, each and every one of us peers into our refrigerators, our pantries, our bread baskets, and our fruit bowls at the products that are planted, tended, and harvested by those that many politicians and law enforcement officers and far too many unreasonably intolerant citizens of this country think should be deported back to their counties of origin. What would we eat if we sent them away? "Real Americans" aren't interested in or willing to bend over in hot fields and orchards in the relentless heat for eight and ten hour shifts. Nor are "real Americans" interested in allowing these brave new arrivals to bring their true skills to their new country. Imagine the competition if foreign-born business people, lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, chefs, scientists, researchers, writers, and politicians were able to work in their chosen fields of expertise here in the US - many of us would rather not face that kind of competition.

I am enormously grateful for the stories I heard, the tears we all shed, the hugs exchanged, the questions asked and answered, the hope that was raised, and the relationships that were deepened at DAFF. What a gift to our city and our country. So many stories already told, so many yet to be told.

* Speaking of farro salad and under-appreciated farm workers,
I am grateful tonight for strawberries and romaine lettuce,
for grain and flour and bread,
for milk and cheese, for kale and cucumbers.
I am grateful for turkey burgers and potato rolls,
for barbecue sauce and homemade vinaigrettes.
I am grateful for clementines and pineapples, for mangos and lemons.
I am grateful for the electricity that keeps powers the refrigerator,
dishwasher, stove, and microwave oven.
I am grateful for dish detergent and cutting boards, knife sharpeners and silicone spatulas.
I am grateful for almonds, pine nuts, dark chocolate, and hard apple cider.
I am grateful for fried fish, hush puppies, cole slaw, and tarter sauce.
I am grateful for farro, quinoa, brown rice, and veggie bouillon cubes.
I am grateful for mojitos, lemon drop martinis, and red wine.
I am grateful for ceiling fans and air conditioning.
I am grateful for gas stations and bus stops, for traffic lights and exit signs.
I am grateful for friends, for companions, for travel mates.
I am grateful for airplanes, airports, and passports.
I am grateful for chances to teach and to preach.
I am grateful for puppies, photos of puppies, and older dogs too.
I am grateful for invitations to Kentucky Derby parties, to dinners, and to discussion groups.
I am grateful for my pillows and my slippers and my bed.
So much to give thanks for.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Just another mindless Monday

Well, not exactly mindless. Perhaps forgetful...

I joined my We Walk Together pals this morning for The Liberty Walk here in Charlotte. Following signs and plaques related to the role Charlotte played in the Revolutionary War. I confess that I didn't pay full and complete attention to the history lessons because I was caught up in conversations about freedom, liberty, independence, and people who don't feel free in our city and our world. The poor. The immigrant community. Gay and queer people who don't feel free to fully live out their hopes and dreams. Women whose words and lives are demeaned and diminished. Nothing mindless about that, I suppose. Quite mindful and stimulating, if I am to be completely honest.

Then I drove to a nearby greenway to meet a friend and go for a walk. Unfortunately, she forgot. Not exactly due to mindlessness, though. She and her family had the good fortune to be able to spend an extra night outside of Charlotte, enjoying Mother's Day weekend. Based on the city where she spent the extra night, I have reason to believe that she ate some delicious food, drank some strong and tasty drinks, and enjoyed herself tremendously. No worries, dear one; we can reschedule.

From there, I went to the mall. I've got a Belk gift card that has been burning a hole in my wallet for the last three or four months. I perused the sales racks, looked at dresses and tops and jeans and sheets and towels and shoes and socks and purses and luggage and work out equipment and came to the conclusion that there isn't a single, solitary thing I need, even if it is on sale. I settled on a set of small rubber spatulas for use in the kitchen. I put my cell phone down on the waist high shelf across from the cash register. I put my backpack on top of it. I pulled out my wallet. Pulled out my gift card. Ran it through the machine. Put the gift card back in my wallet. Put my wallet back into my backpack. Accepted the bag with the spatulas in it. Turned and walked away. Twenty minutes later, when I was sitting at a traffic light just a few blocks from home, I reached into the pocket of my backpack to add something to the grocery list on my cell phone... where is my cell phone??? WHERE IS MY CELL PHONE!?!?!?

That's where the mindlessness/mindfulness kicked in.

I remembered stepping up to that counter and putting my phone down.
I remembered thinking: "Don't put your phone there, Gail. Put it in your bag."
I remembered ignoring my intuition.

I pulled into a nearby church parking lot to do a more thorough search of my backpack -
even though I already knew that my phone wasn't there.
Shaking my head at my mindlessness.

Then I thought, "Let me call the number and see if I hear my phone ringing.
Maybe it fell down between the seats in the car."
Well, you can't call your cell phone if you don't have a phone.
And you can't call your cell phone from your cell phone.

My next thought was, "Let me call Belk to see if they found my phone."
Well, you can't call the store where you left your phone because you don't have your phone.

The next thought was, "Let me call my daughter to let her know I'm heading back to the mall to get my cell phone."
Well, you can't call your daughter if you don't have a phone.

Finally, my mindless thoughts began to subside.
I decided to drive the rest of the way home, call the store from the house
(thank God we still have a land line!)
and decide on my next move from there.

I was not looking forward to the conversation in which I informed my husband that I needed a new cell phone because I left mine at the housewares counter at Belk while buying rubber spatulas that were on the clearance table - less than six months after getting this iPhone. Nope - we don't have insurance on my phone. Cuz I'm the mindful grown up who keeps track of my stuff. I don't drop my phone. I don't leave my phone in random places. Until I do...

When I arrived at home, I told my daughter the tale of my mindlessness,
and then I called the store - thankfully, mercifully, Theodora,
the woman who had helped me there, had found my phone.
So my daughter and I left and drove back to the mall.
Picked up my phone.
And I have checked for it every few minutes since then.
Just making sure...
I don't need any more mindless phoneheadedness today.

Today's incident revealed how attached I am to my cell phone.
How much I take its presence and usefulness for granted.
How often my first response to many of life's various situations
is to pull out my cell phone and text somebody or call somebody
or add something to a list
or take a photo of something.
It felt beyond strange to not have it for more than an hour.

Did you catch that last phrase - "for more than an hour"!?!?!?!?!?
I think it's time for a day or two of being unplugged from this dastardly, addictive thing.
I've got an all day meeting tomorrow; perhaps I will leave it at home.
Or in the bottom of my bag, on silent, and not check it all day.
Yes, that's what I'm gonna do. Not check my phone all day.
(Is such a thing even possible? What if my kids need me?
What if my husband tries to reach me?
What if??? What if??? What if???
Hello! My name is Gail, and I think I'm addicted to my phone.)

I am grateful that Theodora found my phone and kept it safe for me.
I am grateful that I back it up to my computer regularly.
I am grateful that I don't use it to pay bills or buy anything,
so it is far less likely that someone else can buy things with it.
I am grateful that I even have a cell phone.
I am grateful that if we had needed to replace it, we could have done so.
Just another mindless Monday.
Still shaking my head at my absentmindedness.
And bowing my head in gratitude that I got both my phone and my mind back.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Grab a cup of something hot and set a spell...

Two women I have known for more than ten years, Kelley and Tinesha, own a hair salon, teach yoga, lead personal development gatherings, write books, and also do weekly podcasts on getting and being well. Appropriately, it is called The Get Well Podcast.

My amazing, courageous, fierce, intelligent, marvelous daughter allowed me to accompany her in the recording of one of their podcasts last week. We got to tell our story, and now you get to hear it. It's just under an hour long, so grab a cup of something hot or sweet or strong (or all three!) and set a spell.

And then, I beg you, begin to think about your story,
your family's story,
how you've overcome,
who walked with you on your path,
and tell your story.
Others will listen.
And they will tell you theirs as well.
Our stories are gifts we give ourselves and each other.

This podcast is a gift Kristiana and I have given to each other
and now to you.
I do hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Calling it what it is...

This past Sunday, I had the honor and privilege of joining two dear friends, Catherine and Addison, to lead an adult Sunday school class at Myers Park Presbyterian Church about our We Walk Together Charlotte efforts. In case you don't know what WWTC is all about, here is a brief explanation. Back in 2015, just after the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, a group called Meck Min (Mecklenburg Ministries) began a series of  conversations here in Charlotte called "We Need to Talk." Held weekly for more than two months, those gatherings drew people from all over the city of Charlotte together to talk about race and racism, and to learn about the history of race and racism in Charlotte. They were powerful conversations that pushed all who attended, black, white, Latino, Asian, male, female, and everybody in between, to think and rethink our racial experiences and assumptions and find new ways to be a community. Catherine and Mary, two of the attendees of those early gatherings decided that they wanted to do more than talk. They decided to walk. To walk together. To map out 100 miles of walks in our fair city and get to know some of our Charlotte neighborhoods and some of our Charlotte neighbors. At one of the Meck Min gatherings, Catherine and Mary announced their plan and invited others to join. I was one of the first people to sign up. We started walking a couple of weeks later - and we are still walking. Now we walk on the 15th of each month and serve at a Charlotte non-profit organization on the 30th of every month. What a fantastic opportunity to walk, to talk, and to give of our time and energy to the needs of this city we call home.

Anyway, this past Sunday, three of the four main leaders of the WWTC group shared stories and entered into conversation with some folks at Catherine's church. Great group of people, challenging questions, piqued curiosities about what we can do to be better and more engaged members of our community. 

Following that class, I attended the 11 am "contemporary" service with Catherine and her husband. By contemporary, I mean they don't sing hymns from hymnbooks. Their music is accompanied by guitars, drums, and electronic keyboard, rather than pipe organ or grand piano. The sermon was transmitted electronically by the robe-clad senior pastor who was preaching at the traditional - read, hymn singing, choir led service - in the sanctuary to those of us in the contemporary space and contemporary service. At the time of the offering - which is both contemporary and traditional - a young man sang a song entitled "Call it Grace." 

Call it Grace
It's the light that pierces through youTo the darkest hidden place
It knows your deepest secrets
But it never looks away
It's the gentle hand that pulls you
From the judgment of the crowd
When you stand before them guilty
And you've got no way out
Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it's a miracle
It's nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace
Call it grace

It's the breath that's breathing new life
Into what we thought was dead
It's the favor that takes orphans
Placing crowns upon their heads
It's the hope for our tomorrows
The rock on which we stand
It's a strong and mighty fortress
Even hell can't stand against

Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it's a miracle
It's nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace Call it grace Call it grace

Amazing, Unshaking
This is grace, this is grace
Unchanging, Unfailing
This is grace, this is grace

Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it's a miracle
It's nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace
In those brief moments, I heard what I now claim as my latest theme song. Mind blown. Tears flowing. My entire life has been an ongoing example of what this song so eloquently expresses:
Call it what it is - call it grace. 
I have known grace. Personally. So have you.
It's the friend who forgives you after you had an affair with her husband. It's the husband who forgives you after you gave your heart away to someone else. It's the classmate you forgive when she says something racist and mean - even though she didn't bother to apologize. It's the pastor who extends the right hand of fellowship to the person who has been most critical and insulting. It's the child who forgives you after you make yet another parenting faux pas. It's the business owner that doesn't kick you out of their establishment after you make a scene. It's the deep conviction that God loves you, even when you do all of the above and more. 
It's the peace that passes all understanding, even when the kanswer comes back, when the child is back in the hospital, when the ambulance drives away with someone you love in the back, when the police car drives away and everyone in your house is still alive and well, present and accounted for. 
It's the absolute, indefensible, unfathomable certainty that Jesus was talking to you when he said, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" After you say, "No one, sir," he says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin." More than that, it is the unshakable knowledge that, even though I will never be able to leave my life of sin, Christ still does not condemn me. Christ loves me, forgives me, welcomes me back home, after each time I set out on my adventures in wandering so far from home. I call that what it is, I call it grace.
Grace is inexplicable.
Grace is unearned, unmerited favor.
Grace is knowing that you are seen in all your messiness - and loved anyway. Accepted anyway. Invited anyway. Held anyway.
How can you explain true forgiveness any other way?
How can you explain fearlessness in the face of injustice any other way? The ability to check your own prejudices and fears, and move forward into trust and welcome. The courage that walks back into the darkness to rescue others who are stranded there. The will to stay present when it would be far easier to say "I'm done. I'm out of here." The decision to walk away, but without acrimony, without gossiping, without inflicting damage on the one from whom you withdraw. Call it what it is, call it grace. 
Grace is miraculous.
Grace is scandalous.
Can forgiveness and welcome after infidelity be anything but miraculous and scandalous?
Can reconnection and reconciliation be anything but scandalous after acts of violence like the shooting in Charleston?
Just think about how often we ridicule and shake our judgmental heads when we think about people we know who have forgiven their unfaithful partners. Think about how often we plan revenge against those who have hurt us, our children, or other people we love. Scandalous. Miraculous. Call it what it is. Call it grace.
Lent is behind us. Easter is behind us.
But resurrection and new life, are before us and happening now.
Every day presents us with another opportunity to experience the fullness of life, the goodness of life, the grace of life. To give thanks. To stand in wonder and awe of the beauty of spring and all that it brings. It is also a time to acknowledge that not everyone is experiencing the hope of spring. Not everyone is excited about what they see ahead of them on this journey of life. 
 The mother of one of my son's former tennis competitors is dealing with breast kanswer again. One friend is back in the job market after leaving a position that left her depleted. A young mother I know is about to undergo a hysterectomy for recurrent kanswer. Anxiety issues have reared their ugly head for her. He is still reeling from the agony of divorce. They are mourning the loss of a dearly beloved dog they shared life with for twelve years. His post-surgical recovery isn't going as smoothly as everyone had hoped. He has already lost most of his mojo and isn't sure if he wants to exert any effort to maintain the little that remains. She is wondering how much more of her unfulfilling, uninspired, unsatisfying marriage she is willing to put up with. 
But grace still shows up. Grace still prevails. Grace shows up in the warm trays of delicious food that are brought by friends to feed the family. Grace shows up through conversations on phone lines and words of encouragement via text messages. Grace appears in the mailbox in the form of handmade cards and carefully chosen gifts. Grace is the ongoing prayers offered up to a loving, ever-present God by distant friends and family. Grace is the silent presence of people who know they cannot do anything to fix the problem, but they offer their silent shoulders and strong hands anyway. Grace is the wisdom of the spiritual director who listens closely, asks questions, and ushers you back out into the fray of life, reinforced, bolstered, and unexpectedly hopeful. Again and again. Call it what it is, call it grace. 
Grace is foolish and impossible.
Except that it happens every day. Every single day.
And it silences the wisest among us with its profundity.
My rescued, healed, spacious heart knows the miracle of its unfailing power and its unlikely persistence.
Grace restores my hope - which I lose huge chunks every day.
Grace reawakens my dreams - which I abandon every day in pursuit of far less noble desires.
Grace pulls me out of despair and fear,
out of doubt and rage.
Grace reminds me of the battles I have already won,
the fears I have already overcome,
and grace puts me back on the path to wholeness, healing, joy, and courage.

I don't know if there is any other name I can give it.
So I won't even try to come up with something clever or original.
Calling it what it is - call it grace. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

It's Friday...

Good Friday. Perhaps the least appropriately named day of the Christian calendar.
Nothing good about the day on which The One who Came To Live Among Us died.
Was unjustly accused. Tortured. Executed by the empire in which he lived.
Three of the Gospels say that upon his death, darkness fell for three hours.
From noon until three pm. Darkness. Sorrow.

Those who knew him best and followed him most closely were gobsmacked, shocked, horrified, and terrified. If the one who walked on water, fed five thousand, healed the sick, and raised the dead himself had died, then what hope was there for them?
What hope indeed?
So that Friday night, they scattered. They hid. They locked themselves away in a secret place.

Which is exactly what I do when I get scared or worried.
I hide. I lock myself away in the secret place of fear. Of doubt.
But in reality, it's not so secret. And I am not alone.
In fact, at those moments when I feel most afraid and most alone,
I am learning to open my eyes, lift my eyes, and
take in all the ways that goodness is showing up in the world and in my life.

Here are a couple of beautiful examples of hope and love and resurrection
right here in my home town.

The Grove is a church I have admired a great deal. The pastor there, Kate Murphy, is one of my pastoral mentors. Look at how they are showing love to their Muslim neighbors, to our Muslim neighbors. In response, the folks from the Muslim community center made dinner for the folks at The Grove last night. Because it was Maundy Thursday, the day on which we remember the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples, because that is also the night on which many churches practice the ritual of foot washing, the folks from the Grove washed the feet of the Muslim people who had brought them dinner. So much beauty and grace, humility and courage, recognition and tenderness. We need more of this kind of welcome in this world at this time. My Colorado based friend, Kathy Escobar, wrote an encouraging and hope-filled blog post suggesting that we all do exactly what happened at the Grove last night: While the bombs drop, keep washing feet.

Here's a story of two young couples, connected by a donated kidney. Facing death, one young man was given the gift of life by another young man. Truly new life. Resurrection. The wife of the young man who received the kidney is a new friend of mine. Funny, courageous, exhausted, hopeful, and eternally grateful for her husband's new kidney.

Tonight, my spiritual heroes, Anthony and Toni Smith, will continue with their reconciliation work in Salisbury, North Carolina. One of their many activities is called "Night Crawlers." Every Friday night, they head out into the streets, together, walking, talking, praying, working and calling for peace in their city. Standing in the way of violence. Offering other options. Most importantly, walking together, both bringing and being peace in their city.

And tomorrow, the We Walk Together Charlotte group that I have been a part of for almost two years is heading out for another walk. If you're in Charlotte, please come join us. Let's walk and talk and get to know our city. Let's share stories of hope and grace, mercy and love. I don't know about you, but on this dark Friday night, on this dark day, I need some good stories and some good company on the road. I suspect you do too.

While I'm walking tomorrow morning, one of my beautiful nieces will be talking - on NPR - about her first album - Hard Won. She has worked so hard and is getting the acknowledgement and support she has always hoped for. Truly hard won. NPR, people!!! How cool is that!!!!

Deep gratitude. Deep breath. Deep sigh.

It's Friday. The end of a week in which our nation expressed our anger about the gas attacks in Syria by dropping bombs on two countries. At least, two. Because there are some people who still seem to believe that violence resolves violence.

The end of a week in which I spent time both alone and with the church family, remembering Peter's denial that he knew Jesus. Remembering Judas' betrayal of Jesus. Remembering the many times I have denied and betrayed Jesus and myself and life itself.

It's Friday. The day we remember what happened to the One many call Lord.
Body broken. Blood shed.
That was then.

This is now.
Bodies still being broken.
Blood still being shed.
Empire. Violence. Executions.
Greed. Thievery. Loss.
Injustice. Despair.
Life taken. Life given.
Hopes dashed. Hearts crushed.
Then and now.

It's Friday. But Sunday is coming.
Resurrection is coming.
New life is coming.
Hope is coming back.
But for now, tonight, darkness has fallen.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Wasted Beauty, Wasted Hope

Several weeks ago, back in February, we had a couple of weeks that were unseasonably warm. Flowers began to bloom. Trees too. Gorgeous flowers too early in the year.
Welcome to life on a warming planet!

I mean they were beautiful, but the timing was all wrong. At least that's how it seemed to me.

Not long after these blooms appeared, we had a "snow storm." Two of them, actually. 

On the day that we had the snowpocalypse captured in the photo above, we lost power in our house for nine hours. NINE HOURS! It was half an inch of snow!!!

On the night before the snowmaggedon event captured below, I stayed in a hotel one block from my church because that's how worried we were that I wouldn't be able to get to church for me to complete my morning responsibilities that day. The most dangerous part about that solo slumber party was having to dodge the drunken millennials who were celebrating St Patrick's day a weekend earlier in the hotel bar. Well, that and the middle of the night fire alarm that forced all the hotel guests to walk down the stairs to the frigid outdoors. I had to walk down eleven flights - but because it was on the night we turned our clocks ahead, I didn't even get the credit on my iPhone pedometer because the walk registered in the hour that was lost! Oh well... The good news is that I survived the snownado.

Anywho... I spent a lot of time staring at the trees and flowers that I was convinced had blossomed and bloomed before their time and I was saddened by their beauty because I was convinced that they would die in an ensuing cold snaps. I was convinced that theirs was "wasted beauty." 
Wasted flowers that would die before spring even arrived. 
Wasted color because it wouldn't last. 
Wasted miracle because they would disappear before we would have the chance to marvel at them. 
What a waste! 
I found myself feeling anger because global warming was messing up my preconceived notions of when and how spring and color and beauty could and should arrive. I'm not exactly sure who I was angry at, but I was mad. And sad. And frustrated. And more than a little bit hope-deprived.

On one morning unnecessarily warm February morning, my husband and I went for a walk.
It was another "too warm day for February." 
Too many trees and too many daffodils were in bloom too early.
I murmured something snappy about "wasted beauty," and my preposterously patient husband said, "What's wasteful about it?" 

Great question. 

How can beauty be wasted when we all get to see it and bask in it?
How can the miracle of flowers blooming, over and over, year after year, be a waste?
There is so much beauty all around us. Between us. Among us.
There is color and brightness, joy and so much to celebrate.

Certainly there is deep suffering.
A dear friend, a young, vibrant mother of four children under the age of ten, has been diagnosed with kanswer - again! 
Another friend is awaiting DACA documentation that will allow her to get back to work.
Someone I was recently introduced to is recovering from a kidney transplant - at the age of 27.
War continues in too many places to name.
Gun violence kills too many people every single day.
Political unrest. Injustice. 
School segregation.
Fear of overt racism on the rise.
Hunger. Abuse. 
You can name more than I can.
Yes, there's a lot of pain happening in the world.

But in the midst of all of the heartache and heart break
in the midst of the fear, the loathing, and the sorrow,
there is so much beauty.

There are snowmen to build in the few hours before it all melts.

There are tasty meals to consume while reading about how to do biblical exegesis. Fun fun!

There are heart-breaking and hope-restoring exhibits to see at local museums.

There are lectures and question & answer sessions by inspiring people like Krista Tippett and Clint Smith to attend and take copious notes about.

There is new music to listen and dance to. (You rock, Lizzie! That's my niece, folks.)
There are letters to write. 
There are sermons to preach.

There is moan-worthy poetry to soothe your soul. 
There is Easter poetry to prepare you for celebration resurrection. 

There is love to make. Or at least mow into the front lawn.


There is grace to receive.
There is forgiveness to grant and to be granted.
There is hope to nurture.
There are friendships to deepen.
There are connections to make.
There are hands to hold.

There are puppies to wean and give to new families and train and love.
There are children and grandchildren to tend.
There are babies to give birth to and welcome into the family.

There are some podcasts that make you laugh and live better 
and some podcasts that make you laugh and live deeper.
There are flowers to gaze at and birds to listen to.

There are double yolked eggs to eat.
There is morning coffee to sip slowly.
There is warm lemon water to enjoy.

Thanks, Steve, once again, for snapping me out of my hope-challenged mood.
There is no such thing as wasted beauty.
No such thing as wasted hope.

Nothing is wasted.
None of it is wasted. 
Not one bit of it. 

Thanks be to God! 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Thankful Thursday - A Day in My Life

Is it me or is this year absolutely flying by? How can we already be in March?
I have no idea how, but here we are.

I wanna share with you a story about my Tuesday, this past Tuesday.

My terrific Tuesday began at my kitchen counter, sipping warm lemon water (delicious), and hot sweet coffee (delicious). Both mugs were at precisely the right distance from my computer so that when I picked either one up, I could steady my tired hand before the mug passed over said computer. I neither wanted nor needed to fill in any "lemon water/coffee meets computer keyboard" incident forms.

From my computer came the sound of the voice of Rob Bell, a long time, long distance pastor and mentor of mine. His Nooma videos introduced me to entirely new ways of reading and understanding the Bible. His books, especially Love Wins, changed the way I think about God and love and hope and those of us who claim to be followers of Christ. And I am looking forward to the imminent release of his next book, What is the Bible? Recently, my daughter discovered his "Robcasts" - his podcasts. Not long before her discovery, a dear and wise friend of mine recommended that I listen to his podcasts. I'm a firm believer that if a message comes to me several different times from several different people who don't know about what someone else has recommended, then I need to take the hint and check out whatever is being suggested. So there I sat at my kitchen counter on Tuesday morning, sipping and listening, taking furious notes, and rejoicing that I had rediscovered someone who has taught me so much in the past ten years.

After losing track of time listening to Rob, I leapt up from my seat, and ran upstairs to get dressed and ready to go meet up with a friend I hadn't seen in more than seven years. A hairdressing friend who had come to our home years ago when my daughter was sick and had done her hair here at the house. No extra charge. Nothing but joy and tenderness, hospitality and kindness. A mutual friend recently re-introduced me to her via Facebook - and we met up at a bakery at 10 am this past Tuesday. Three hours later, we hugged each other, bid farewell, and promised that it won't be seven years before our next get together.

As we sat together there, we talked about parenting, food stamps, pediatricians who overstep their bounds, marriage, learning to love our mothers-in-law, healthy eating, her podcasts, money, prayer, meditation, and yoga (she's an African American yoga teacher whose classes I cannot wait to start attending. Care to join me?) for starters. She is a beacon of beauty and light, of hope and determination, of power and messiness. She is aglow with joy and grace and dignity and love. She is exactly what I want to be when I grow up - and she's at least ten years younger than I am. What a gift!

After saying good-bye to her, I drove a few blocks to my favorite prayer space - 24-7. I was only there for half an hour, but it was long enough to eat the soup I had brought from home for lunch, to finish a green juice I had made, and to take several deep breaths, all while giving thanks to God for the wonder-filled day I had already experienced... and it was only 1:15 or so in the afternoon.

Then it was off to an upper floor of an upper crust office building in uptown Charlotte, where I sat for an hour with a friend who is waking up.  Waking up to injustice and fear, to racism and privilege, to powerlessness and vulnerability. Waking up to his own dreams, his hopes for himself and his family and his city and his world. Waking up to the justice work that has been happening for centuries and the justice work that still needs to be done. He is waking up to his own misunderstandings and blind spots. He is full of questions and doubts, despair and sorrow.

What he doesn't yet see is how far he has already come. How much of an influence he already has on the people around him. He doesn't yet see how much of an encouragement he is to me, how much his questions challenge me and others to think more deeply about how to respond, how to welcome, how to encourage, and how to push people like him deeper into the darkness, into the pain, into the suffering of others - all in order to work together and walk together towards the Light, towards the future, towards peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Sitting with him, I was reminded that there is good coming out of the Tr*mp fiasco.
There are hearts that are being broken.
Eyes being opened.
Fears being unearthed.
Injustice being exposed.
And there's a lot of new energy in the arena.
New participants in the long march to wholeness and healing,
folks who had no idea just how sick we are as a nation and as a community
and had no idea just how much healing we need to do.

We sat there for an hour, asking questions, encouraging each other.
Fighting despair, pleading with God and each other for new direction and new hope.
We hugged one another and said our farewells -
once again, promising that it wouldn't be our last conversation.
There is so much work to do -
but the only way forward, the only way out, the only way up
is together.

I literally ran from that office building to my church, just one block away, for a 3 pm meeting.
For the next hour, I sat with someone I deeply respect and thank God for on a regular basis -
and we dreamed together.
We dreamed about hope and a future. A next step.
The body of Christ growing. Expanding.
Something new. Something daring. Something beautiful.
Something hard. Something painful. Something dangerous.
But we kept coming back to the question - "What if?"
But what if this dream is possible?
What if a few of us really can work together to create a community that looks different than anything any of us has experienced before?
What if God really is in the resurrecting business - and things that look dead or dormant, can be raised to new and abundant life?
What if this seminary journey I'm on is all about preparing me for this new thing,
this new place, this new adventure, this new life journey?
What if my whole life, all the challenges, all the trips, all the joys, all the brokenness,
all the failures, all the dreams come true -
what if all of it has been leading me to this moment in time?
For such a time as this?
What if?
Do I dare dream this big?
Do I dare not dream this big???
How dare we not dream in big ways?
Do we or don't we serve a huge God, one who is able to do over, above,
and beyond all that we can ask or imagine?

I am reminded of the passage in John 11 where Jesus is standing with Martha four days after the death of Martha's brother, Lazarus. She said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." What huge faith. What a challenge to the one in whom she had placed her faith. She believed Jesus could have prevented the death of her brother - and she told him so. Jesus can handle the truth. Jesus responded, "Your brother will rise again." To that Martha consented: "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." In other words, I get it, but that's way down the line at some unknown and unpredictable moment. Jesus quashes that thought with: "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

It's that final question from Jesus to Martha that has stumped me and stopped me and challenged me over the past few years. I have read the Bible a lot. I have prayed a lot. I have taught the Bible a lot. But the question is this: "Do you believe this?" Do I believe this? Do I believe that new life is possible here and now? Do I believe that borders can be crossed and walls broken down in the work of reconciliation in the world and in our city? Do I believe that new connections are possible, that new relationships can be forged in a world and at a time when so many are calling for rejection and expulsion? Do I believe that there is reason for hope at a time of despair and desperation for so many? Do I believe that resurrection still happens in the world - resurrection of dying marriages, of churches on the decline? Resurrection of communities that seem hellbent on destroying themselves and others? Resurrection of people with hard and calloused hearts that no longer break because of the violence that they themselves perpetuate? Do I believe in the resurrection of all that is good and beautiful, peace loving and restorative? Do I believe that resurrection is already happening, right here and right now?

Do you believe in resurrection? Do you?

From one office in the church, I walked to another office in the church. In the second office, I was given a chance to look at the church's new website - it will be launched next Monday, March 13th. It is quite a revision, a renewal, dare I say a resurrection of something that desperately needed a makeover (click here to see the old site before March 13th. If you are reading this after the13th, click over and check out the new site)?!? So much creativity and light and beauty. Information and formation. A place of welcome for newcomers and welcome back for those who are already part of the church community. I was enormously grateful to have been invited for a preview and I was enormously excited about how this new portal will be used as a point of entry into our faith community, a faith community that we hope will grow both wide and deep "for Christ in the heart of Charlotte."

From there, I staggered down to the church library where I sat in awe at the beauty of the day. After a few moments of stunned silence, I pulled out one of my seminary books and began to study, to read, to jot down notes in anticipation of a paper that is due before class on Saturday. Somehow the note taking felt different Tuesday afternoon after all the conversations I had had. Somehow studying felt like it might actually be preparation for an actual call into actual ministry of Word and Sacrament for the actual people of God here in Charlotte, NC. No longer simply abstract thought about an abstract future, what swirled in my head and heart as I pondered a book chapter entitled "The New Community" (how perfect is God's divine timing in the coordination of my theology class syllabus and my terrific Tuesday!) were deeper questions about how we move, how I move from theological discourse in a comfortable seminary classroom to getting my hands dirty and wrinkled and stained and weary in the work of community building and strengthening. I felt a clear sense of direction to and a more visible goal for my thinking and my writing that I had not experienced before in seminary.

I didn't spend a long time there in the library because I was scheduled to meet up for tea with two new friends, two African American Muslim sister friends I met a month and a half ago. One had recently returned from a trip to Mecca and she overflowed with stories and showed the us dozens of photos of her time in Saudi Arabia in Medina and Mecca and Mt Arafat. She spoke about the spiritual uplift that came from being at the religious home of the Prophet who is central to her faith. She spoke of the crowds, the prayers, the mosques, the food, the beauty, the deep and abiding peace she felt. Her joy was palpable, as was her yearning to return there sometime in the not too distant future.

What a gift it was to meet them a few weeks ago and what a gift it is to get to know them, to listen to their stories, and to tell them mine. To speak and live and grow together. To knock down the barriers that others are trying to build between people of different faith practices. To defy all calls for fear while heeding all calls for peace and for prayer.

I had the privilege of telling them about when my daughter and I stood outside of the Muslim American Society center here in Charlotte with 15 or so other people almost two weeks ago, holding up signs of support and peace and love for the several hundred Muslims who were entering their mosque space for Friday prayers. Some of our signs said - "Peace be with you" "Peace" "You are what already make America great" "Christians from The Grove love you" Some of the folks who had come for worship came over to us and hugged us, thanked us for being there, for the encouragement, and some asked if they could take pictures of us. Needless to say, I spent most of the half hour or so we were standing there as a welcome team with tears in my eyes. Such a simple act made such a profound difference for them - and for us.

Neither of my two new friends had been able to attend prayers that Friday, but they were overjoyed that we had been there for their faithful friends. Grateful that there were so many who wanted to express our love and support at a time when there is so much venom and fear and hatred being spewed in their direction and in the direction of so many other undeserving folk. Given the chance to spread a different message, a message of peace, of community, of openness of heart, we have to take the chance. We have to extend the right hand of fellowship, of shalom, of salaam. We must. How dare we not?

It was raining when we left the coffee shop on Tuesday night. But the chilly rain could not dampen or chill the warmth that had been fanned between the three of us. Nothing could stop us from planning our next tea date, from hugging each other, and from promising that we would lift one another in prayer. No fear mongering, no "alternative facts" about who is and who is not really a Muslim, no sideways stares at their colorful and regal hijabs, none of that had or has the power to defeat or diminish our newfound love one for another.

That night, as I drove home in the rain, I was reminded that, in the end, love wins.
Love has already won.
Love is winning.
Love will win.
It may not look that way at the moment;
in fact, in many corners of the world and of this nation and of this city,
even in some of the corners of my own home,
it feels like love is on the retreat.
It feels like hate and fear and despondency are winning.
Like exclusion and derision and lying are a new way of life.
But I have not, I will not, and I cannot give up hope.
Love wins.

This past Tuesday, in my little life, love won.
Over and over and over.
In one conversation and exchange after the other.
Love won.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thankful Thursday - Looking back and looking across

A year ago tonight, on the third Thursday of February of 2016, my daughter told her story, a story of fear and pain, suffering and illness, to a group of new friends at a local church. She was so brave, as she always is. She told the truth. She told it plain. It was a story about the crazy love of God in a crazy time in her life eight years before. A time when she couldn't think clearly or sleep or sit still, nor could she (or any of us) understand why she couldn't think clearly or sleep or sit still.

The verse that we chose as the theme verse that night last year was this:
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. 
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

As she told her story a year ago tonight, we listened attentively.
We laughed. We groaned.
We cried - well, I sure did.

When she was done with telling her story, some of the people in the room asked questions. Some complimented her for her courage. Others just sat in quiet respect for my dearly beloved child.

Then I prayed. This is what I prayed that night -

Dear loving, cradling, singing God,

We thank you tonight that you are indeed mighty to save, that you take great delight in us, that you quiet us with your love and rejoice over us with singing. What an image that brings into our minds - a gentle, loving, patient mother/father/parent God, singing your troubled children to sleep, calming our anxious hearts, showing us that you are right here with us, at all times, even when things fall apart. 

Lord, we acknowledge now that we are all facing challenges, we are all dealing with things that are falling apart, things that have fallen apart, and every single one of us worries about things that we think will fall apart in the not-too-distant future. Please forgive our persistent fear and worry. Forgive us for thinking that we can insulate ourselves from failure, pain, illness, and loss. Forgive us for being more concerned about ourselves and our families and friends and children than we are about other people and those they love. Forgive us for not caring enough about other people - whose worlds are falling apart - enough to get involved and make a difference, even when it doesn’t affect us directly or personally. 

Thank you, Suffering Lord, Weeping Christ, for meeting us in the graveyards of our lives, for meeting us in the hospital rooms, for meeting us at the lawyers’ offices, for meeting us in our lonely, fearful, broken, sorrow-filled, most fallen apart places - and just being there with us. Thank you for the many times when you heal those broken places. Thank you, that even when you don’t fix it all, you stay with us through it all. Thank you for walking with us every step of this journey we call life. 

As we leave this place tonight and return to our worlds, patched and stitched, stapled and taped together as they are, please increase our awareness of your presence. Please open our ears, our eyes, and our hearts to perceive your hand at work in us and through us. Please continue to intercede for us beside the throne of grace, and please hear us now, as together we lift up the prayer you taught your disciples to pray, saying - (and here we recited The Lord's Prayer together) Amen

The very next morning, a new chapter of her story began to be written. 
She entered into the most difficult three month period of her life.
Sorrow upon sorrow. Buckets of tears. 
Dozens of appointments with too many doctors.
Endless days and sleepless nights. Deep sadness. 

During more than one hospital visit, I spoke the words of our theme verse to her -
"The Lord your God is with you, my sweet girl.
Mighty to save. God can and will quiet you with love
and rejoice over you with singing.
I will believe this for you until you can believe it for yourself."
I don't know how much she heard or understood, 
but I kept saying it and I kept praying it.
I kept pleading and interceding on her behalf.
And so did countless others. 

During an especially meaningful conversation with one of the pastors of my church about half way through that difficult season, I showed him the prayer I had written for that fateful church gathering and he suggested that I return to it and keep praying it. Why hadn't I thought of that before? So I read and reread that prayer for weeks - tears flowing, heart breaking. 

I thanked God for giving me the prayer, but I screamed at God for giving me the prayer. I thanked God for the love and care of doctors and nurses, but I wished I had never had any reason to meet any of them. I thanked God for the hope that my family and friends kept encouraging me to hold on to, but I was extremely angry that hope was all I had to hold on to. 

Looking back, my heart still breaks with the weight of all that we carried together for those three months.
Looking across the family room where I am sitting right now, my heart breaks with the joy of seeing how well my daughter is doing now. I know I write about her a lot. I know I've written chapters of her story before. But looking across the room now, I see a cum laude college graduate with a degree in sociology. 
Looking back, I remember the fear I lived in, the fear that one of my favorite mantras - "All shall be well" - might not be true after all. 
Looking across, my hope is restored. My joy is abundant. My daughter is back and she is happy and she is stronger than ever. She has absolutely no idea just how amazing she is. Just how strong. Just how remarkable. 

Looking back and looking across, I recognize and acknowledge that there are no guarantees of ease or protection or perfection or safety or good health in her future. Or mine. Or anyone's. 
But looking back and looking across, I am reminded of God's comforting presence. I am reminded of the verse that we chose for a year ago tonight: 

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord our God is with all of us,
with each of us, mighty to save.
God takes great delight in us,
quiets us with his love,
rejoices over us with singing.

Looking back and looking across, I am grateful, so very grateful.
For life itself. Being alive is a gift.
Being alive and being loved - priceless. Truly priceless.
For joy and laughter.
For healing and wholeness.
For companionship on the journey - especially during the tough times.
For hope, hope that does not disappoint.
For hope and a future.

Looking back and looking across, I think I'm gonna get up and
go hug her and then I'm gonna go get both of us a piece of the
dark chocolate bark we made for Valentine's Day.
We have a lot of love and healing and courage and hope to celebrate.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

"Nevertheless She Persisted"

Our national government is a mess.
A disaster. One fiasco after the other.
Alternative facts. Just making stuff up as they go along.
Executive orders. Executive disorder. Horrific.
And no one can convince me otherwise.
Some said, "Wait and see. Don't judge him before he gets to the White House.
Give him a chance. Your fear means you have attributed too much power to one man."
Now we have waited and seen. And what we see is ridiculous.
Outrageous. Deeply disturbing.
On every level.

Yesterday, a senator was silenced in the chamber.
Silenced by a rule that says one senator cannot criticize or insult or badmouth another.
A woman silenced by a man. For speaking against a man who has shown himself to be untrustworthy around issues of race and equality and justice.
He can say whatever he wants to say, but she cannot.
He can make life difficult for black voters in the south,
but she cannot speak about what has been said about him.

But in his silencing of Elizabeth Warren, Mitch McConnell gave a whole lot of women a new mantra.
A rallying cry. A goal that we are now gonna work towards.
If my sources are correct, this is what he said:

"She was warned.
She was given an explanation.
Nevertheless she persisted."

I have read that some women are now feeling motivated by his words to live in such a way that those words are on their tombstones. Some have said that we should have tee shirts made that say: "Nevertheless she persisted." (Apparently that is already happening!)

After being cut off by Mitch, Elizabeth Warren stepped out of the Senate chamber and read the Coretta Scott King letter she was prevented from reading. That video has gone viral and has launched a wave of reactions that Mitch would never have had to deal with if he had just let her read the letter in the chamber. I sure hope he regrets that decision now.

How many times in your life have you been warned, been given an explanation?
How many times have warnings and explanations stopped you from pursuing what you wanted, dreamed, and hoped for?
How many times have the warnings and explanations prompted you to persist?

When I was a kid, growing up with three older brothers, I was told that there were sports things I shouldn't do and couldn't do. Play two hand touch football. Play basketball. Play catch. Play hide and seek. Hang out with boys. I ended up being invited to join the high school track team when I was in seventh grade and kept on running through most of my college career.

She persisted.

When I was in junior high and high school, I heard that most college students gave up their faith practices in college. Who has time for church and faith and prayer when there are track practices to attend and exams to take and papers to be written? I attended the Williamstown Baptist Church all four years of college, attended and served as a leader of the college Intervarsity Christian Fellowship group, and regularly attended campus prayer meetings at 7 am. I confess that I often showed up at church after only a few hours of sleep following late night parties on Saturday nights. I didn't always wake up in my own dorm room on Sunday mornings. But I still went to church - not out of a sense of obligation, but because I loved being there. I loved the people. I loved the sense of community. And I loved the old hymns of the church. So off I went.

She persisted.

A classmate of mine from college made the decision to take Sundays off from studying. She and her then boyfriend, now husband, felt convicted about keeping a sabbath day, taking an entire day off every week. I told her it wouldn't work. I was the one who gave her a warning and an explanation. She proved me wrong. They both proved me wrong. They were outstanding students - even though they didn't do school work on Sunday. They are both college professors now.

She persisted.

People who claimed to know us and love us told me and Steve that our marriage, our interracial marriage wouldn't last. Our children would suffer because of our selfish decision to cross race lines and be joined as husband and wife. At least one of those people chose not to attend our wedding. But here we are, thirty years after our first date, more than twenty five years after our wedding - still together. The same cannot be said about several of our loudest critics way back then.

She persisted.

Even before our children arrived on the scene, we made the decision that I would be a full-time, stay at home mom. When our daughter was three, we made the decision that I would homeschool her. I was told that it wasn't a good idea to homeschool because I couldn't protect them from all the harm and danger and bullies in the world. I was told that they would be introverts and social misfits. I was told that they wouldn't know how to deal with people outside our home. One is a college graduate. The other is in college. One spent sixth grade at a local Christian school, but then decided to come back home and graduate from high school here under our roof. It wasn't easy. There were many, many days when I wished I could put them onto a school bus and watch them head off to be taught by someone else. I wanted to be alone in my house. I wanted to know what it was like to have a martini at lunch time.

She persisted.

Not long after beginning seminary last year, I was informed by someone who was offended by something I said in a class that my opinion was not welcome in the seminary classroom. That for the next four and half years, I needed to keep my personal feelings and convictions to myself. Essentially I needed to just talk about God and the Bible and other non-offensive subjects. I responded that if I was wrong, if I was misinformed, then seminary was the place for my wrongheaded ideas to be corrected. If I was indeed racist and anti-authority, what better place for me to be set straight than in conversation with other seminarians and our professors?

She persisted.

I have a dear friend hard at work trying to bridge the enormous divide between the church where she pastors and a dangerous apartment complex across the street from her church. Gun shots. Drug deals. Frightful residents. Gang members. Much prayer. Much persistence. Much hope.

She persists.

I have a dear friend and family member who is preaching and teaching and writing and raising two children and learning new ways to love and support her husband in spite of all kinds of health challenges and work demands. She is one of the strongest, most determined, hard working, God-loving people I have ever known.

She persists.

Two nieces of mine, beautiful and inspiring sisters, have worked their way through college with their mom's help, support, and love. They are musical. Artistic. Multi-lingual. Smart. Articulate. Did I mention that they are gorgeous too? Even between bouts of anger and sorrow, job searches and apartment searches, they seek reasons to remain hopeful. Another niece was recently married in Virgina. Another has a one-year-old daughter that she and her husband absolutely adore. Two nieces by marriage have gorgeous babies of their own. Such powerful women. Such commitment to mothering and working, writing and running businesses of their own. They inspire me more than they know.

They persist.

We have all been warned.
You can't do this. You shouldn't do this.
No one does this.
There is no way to do this thing that you want to do.

We have all been given explanations.
Because it's too hard.
Because other people won't like it.
Because it's dangerous.
Because women don't do things like this.
Just because...

Nevertheless we persist.
We must persist.
Because if we don't persist, the terrorists win.
If we stop speaking up,
if we stop acting up,
if we stop living the lives we have been called and created to live,
if we allow fear-mongering to silence and sideline us,
if we give in and give up and give over to despair and defeat,
then the terrorists who are taking over our government,
the haters, the thieves, the liars, the silencers,
the racists, the xenophobes, the gangsters in government,
they win.
We cannot let them win.

I refuse to be defeated. I refuse to be silenced.
I refuse to be subject to mansplaining without telling the truth as I know it.

So warn me if you want to.
Give me an explanation if you must.
But know this - nevertheless, I will persist.
Nevertheless, we will persist.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thankful Thursday - We Gather Together

Two weeks ago, I sat with a dear friend in her family room.
She gave me two thoughtful and beautiful gifts.
I gave her as much love as I could muster.
Then we sat in silence - twenty minutes of silent prayer.

This morning, I sat with another at 24/7. Talking. Journaling. Crying.
Offering each other words of encouragement and words of hope.
Then we walked to Sabor and shared an entree while we talked some more.

A week ago tonight, eleven people joined us in our living room to talk.
To reflect on gratitude and groundedness.
We told stories and asked questions.
How can we show God more love?
How can we fall deeper in love with God?
How can we pay more attention to what God is doing in the world?
Do we even notice what God is doing?
How can we help each other see, notice, and appreciate what's going on around us and within us?
We honored each other's stories and we encouraged each other to keep telling them.
We ate and drank and laughed and listened to each other.

There's something beautiful and powerful and soulful about gathering together.
In each other's homes. In the places where we are most comfortable and also most vulnerable.
To come together to open ourselves up to each other.
I look forward to getting to know them more.

Early on Sunday morning, I met up with the We Walk Together group.
Outside of a place here in Charlotte called Hope Haven.
This is the brief word of inspiration I shared with that group before we set out walking together -

Hope Haven. This is the perfect place for us to be on the weekend when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. As we look back at his legacy, as we look ahead to the inauguration of a new President, as we consider our changing place in the world, as a nation, as a city, as individuals, we desperately need a haven for hope. We need a place where hope abounds, where we feel safe, and where we can find calm and peace when our hope fades. Now more than ever before, I recognize that we must be havens of hope for each other. No one “out there” is gonna do it for us; we have to be the hope havens, the peacemakers, and the change that we want to see. As we walk together, let’s share some of the ways in which we see hope growing in our lives, in our city, and in our nation. Let’s encourage each other to stay strong, to keep working, and to remember that, indeed, we walk together. Let there be hope, folks, and let it begin in us and with us. 

On the 30th of January, we will go back to Hope Haven and serve lunch to the residents who are working to overcome addiction and its ravages in their lives and families.
I am grateful for the chance we will have to gather together with neighbors we didn't know we had, neighbors we never had the chance to meet and serve before.

Last night, my daughter and I went to a workshop on implicit bias
at a predominantly white baptist church here in Charlotte.
The folks from Race Matters for Juvenile Justice led the workshop.
They taught us about the ways that our brains work in terms of responding to various stimuli.
How bias is natural for all of us - it can save our lives.
For example, if we run into a bear, our bias against dangerous animals could save us by forcing us to get away from that bear.
But bias can also end someone's life - if our bias prompts us to take out a gun and kill someone we don't know because our brain has triggered a fight response.
There we were, my daughter and I, two of only five or six black people, in a crowd of 75 people.
I was honored and grateful to sit in a space with so many white people who wanted to know more about bias, about the ways in which bias can bring up fear in us, even when it is unconscious, unintentional bias.
I was impressed by the fact that so many people came together on a Wednesday night to hear stories and see a video and consider the fact that each one of us has biases, but some of us have more influence over others and can impact the lives of others based on their biases. If I run a company, if I am a school teacher, if I am a police officer, my biases can cause me to hire or fire or not hire certain people. My biases can cause me to suspend or expel one student for the same offense that would cause me to send another student to after school detention. My biases can cause me to shoot and kill someone for the same act that prompts only a warning for someone else.
It was a sobering gathering.
But a vitally important one.
One that more people need to participate in and with.
It's time to dismantle our biases and our racism and all the other -isms that divide us.
But we must first admit that we have them.
And last night was a time to see our biases, to acknowledge them, to examine them closely, and to begin to work on dismantling them.

Tonight, my daughter and I went to a gathering at the Muslim American Society here in Charlotte. We sat with Muslim women from the US, Egypt, Malaysia, and elsewhere, and several Christian women, all of whom were born in the US, I think, and we talked. About the inauguration. About the future of our country. About hope. We talked about the importance of working together for peace. And then we held hands in a circle and we prayed. Out loud. To God. To Allah. We prayed for our incoming president. We prayed for our nation. We prayed for each other. We prayed that we would be united in love and hope and peace. We prayed that we will be beacons of light and hope and grace in a country and a world that need light and hope and grace more than ever. It was the most meaningful prayer gathering I have attended in a very long time.

Once again, we had gathered in someone's home.
Not the home where they live, but the home where they worship,
where they pray, where they eat, and where they welcome the stranger.
Where they welcomed us.
They gave each of us a Qu'ran.
They invited us to return for more gatherings.
It was clear that they were comfortable in their spiritual home,
but also vulnerable.
The glass door to the outside was locked, so people could not just enter the building freely.
Everyone who wanted to enter the building had to knock and be admitted by someone.
Comfortable, welcoming, warm, but also cautious, protective, and alert.

There we were - gathered together. From different countries.
Different faiths. Different racial and ethnic groups.
No hatred. No anger. No fear.
Just love. Just unity. Just peace. Just hope.

Tonight, I am profoundly grateful for the gift of gathering together.
The vulnerability of gathering together.
The gift of asking questions about what we believe and how we practice what we believe.
The strength that comes from gathering together.
The gift of standing strong in our faith practices, even in the face of bias.
Explicit bias and implicit bias.

I am grateful for the common ground on which we stand.
The ground of trust in God, that God is with us, that God loves us,
that God wants us to live in peace with each other.

I am grateful for the messages of hope and support I am receiving from friends and family members around the world. There is so much fear and worry and concern about what the next four years will be like under our new president and his cabinet. I am grateful for the knowledge that I am not alone. We are not alone. There is power and hope in our gathering together and being together.

I am grateful for the many circles of people I have the privilege of walking with
and listening to and crying with and loving.

I am grateful to and for the God that draws so many wise, courageous, thoughtful, generous, faithful, faith-filled, funny, challenging, welcoming, hospitable people together.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

She called it "a beacon"

If you look carefully at the photo above, you will see a green light on in the first building - one of the four towers in the Cuatro Torres complex in Madrid. About fifteen stories down from the top. If you look at the photo below, you won't see that light on. It's a flashing light - it flashes 24 hours a day in that building. It indicates that there is a chapel there, a space where prayer happens and mass is said regularly. All day and all night, whenever anyone looks up at that building, they are reminding of the presence of God, the presence of the Holy Sacrament, the prayers rising before the throne of grace.

During my recent trip to Spain, every time I was in the car with my friend and we drove past that building, I took a photo or a video. Every time I saw that flashing light, tears rose in my eyes. Who does that? Who builds a skyscraper in a major city and installs a flashing light, a reminder that there is always prayer, there is always a community of faith, there is always hope, there is always God? God is always there. Someday I am going to go up in that building and find that chapel. Find that place of prayer and add some of my prayers to the many thousands that have surely been said in that sacred space.

But even without going up there, I went up there.
I joined those faithful folks up there with my own prayers.
I joined them with my hopes and dreams.
I joined them with my tears and sorrows.
I joined them with my prayers for peace and safety in Madrid, in Spain, and all over Europe.
Prayers for peace and safety in Ghana, Swaziland, South Africa, and all over Africa.
Prayers for peace and safety in Haiti, Cuba, India, Australia, and all over the world.
I joined them with prayers for healing and forgiveness, for justice and righteousness.
All over the world.

I told a friend about that space a couple of days ago.
I showed her these photos and a couple of the videos I captured.
I couldn't come up with the word for that light.
She called it "a beacon."
It is a beacon. A sign of life. A symbol of hope.
A light to beckon the brokenhearted and the lost.
A light to remind everyone who sees it that there are those who have not abandoned their faith simply because they are at work.
A light to draw people into a quiet place, a safe space, a room where hope and grace abound.

She called it "a beacon."
Every time I saw it during my ten days in Madrid last month,
every time I look at the photos and videos,
I am reminded of the Light of the World,
the One whose coming we celebrated two weeks ago today.
I am reminded of the moments of loneliness and sadness and despair I have felt during my life.
I am reminded of the beacons I have seen during those times.
The light of the smiles of loved ones.
The light reflecting off their tears when they have wept with me.
The light of candles as we sing "Silent Night" on Christmas Eve.
I am reminded of the light. Drawn back into the Light. Grateful for the light.
So very grateful.

As we enter what might be a dark time, as we enter what might be a frightful time,
as we enter what is already a difficult time, already an unsettling time,
I pray that we will keep looking for the light, the light of hope.
I pray that we will keep our eyes lifted to the hills, from whence comes our help.
I pray that we will keep our eyes on the horizon, seeking the lighthouse to guide us safely to shore.

I pray that we will be light too. Light in the darkness.
Light in the fog of the war between the powerful and the powerless.
Between the rich and the poor.
Between the disenfranchised and the politically savvy.
Between every "us and them" that comes up in political, religious, social, relational conversations.

May our light shine, flash, raise heads, twenty-four hours a day.
In our places of work. In our homes. In our schools. In our communities.
May others look our way, point towards each of us,
and say about us what my friend said about that light.
She called it "a beacon."