Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thankful Thursday - "No One is Coming to Save Us"

The title of this blog is from a book that my daughter is reading, a book by Stephanie Powell Watts. A book about the lives of black residents of Pinewood, North Carolina (which I assume is a fictional town being that this is a novel) and how they deal with wealth and loss, family and pain. Full disclosure: I haven't read any part of the book other than the inside of the cover flap. But the title was enough to capture my attention and get stuck in my thoughts.

I just came in from the first of a six-part series on The New Jim Crow, another book with a thought-provoking title. The series is being facilitated by a new friend, Patrice Funderburg, who is already a soul-sister, mentor, co-conspirator, and inspiration in my life. Check out her facebook page and feel the burn of her spirit fire here. This woman is lit, engaged, and unafraid to speak the truth as she has come to understand it.

There were approximately 25 of us in the room, talking, listening, asking questions, telling stories, laughing, groaning, and committing ourselves to being open-hearted, quick to listen, slow to speak, welcoming, receptive, and also challenged, changed, and charged to go out into our community, our city, our work spaces, our faith spaces, and even our more intimate spaces and engage in transformative dialogue.

Because no one is coming to save us.

The first chapter of this book, The New Jim Crow, gives a brief history lesson about the birth of slavery in this country and how it has evolved, morphed, and transformed into the mass incarceration system that holds millions in captivity not only behind bars, but also under the authority of the parole and probation system. We read about dozens of laws, hundreds of laws, written and unwritten, that have been used to oppress, suppress, murder, torture, and imprison black and brown bodies on this continent since the arrival of Europeans. It's not a pretty history, but it is American history.

Most of the people in that room tonight didn't learn this history in the classroom. Most of us are learning this as adults. Most of the people I have spoken to about race and racism in the past two or three years are learning these brutal truths for the first time in adulthood. But don't be dismayed: better late than never. And it is never too late to get a real education, a good education.

We are arming ourselves with information so that we can do what Patrice so succinctly stated tonight: educate truth, expose systems, and engage action. Yes, we need to learn a lot. We need to expose and examine the systems of oppression that are active in our nation, and we need to engage in action to make a difference, to make a change.

Because no one is coming to save us.

Harriet Tubman came.
Fannie Lou Hamer came.
Rosa Parks came.
Martin Luther King Jr came.
Malcolm X came.
Medgar Evers came.
Countless uncelebrated people came.
They realized that no one was coming to save them either.

So they sacrificed their lives, their families, their homes, their livelihoods.
Sacrificed their reputations, their anonymity, their safety.
Sacrificed their comfort, their ease, their most intimate relationships.
And many of them were murdered for their efforts.
They were vilified.
They were ostracized.
They were criminalized.
But they didn't give up.
We won't give up.

We will gather five more times - feel free to join us.
We will read one chapter of this powerful book each week.
We will ask and answer questions.
We will hear and tell more stories.
We will bring our whole selves to these gatherings and to this work.
We will commit ourselves to engaging in justice work, intervening when we hear and see racism at work, challenging ourselves when we are complicit in oppressive systems, and otherwise find ways to both "step up and step back" as we are educating ourselves to engage.

Because no one is coming to save us.

We have to do the hard work that our nation needs, that our state needs, that our city needs, that our neighborhoods need, that our family members need if we are ever going to be the land where all are free and a home where all residents feel safe, regardless of skin color, religion, country of origin, gender, sexual identity, and every other category that has been used to separate and isolate us.
We have to read and learn, research and study on our own, for ourselves.
We are not going to sit back and expect someone else to teach us what we need to know.
We are not going to rely on the facilitator to bring all the answers or even all the questions.
We are not going to wait for "them" to show "us" what to do and when.
We are going to work at eliminating "us" and "them" categories all together.

Because no one is coming to save us.

Politicians aren't interested in saving us; they seem to only want to increase their own pay, eliminate our protections and medical care, while forcing us to pay for their medical care and protection (but don't get me started on politics in this country...).
The government isn't going to save us. The government can barely contain, control, or save itself.
Schools aren't going to save us. We can't even agree that all children deserve the same quality of education.
Churches aren't going to save us. Full disclosure: Yesterday, I finished my second year of seminary. And I know more than ever that churches aren't going to save us. Churches have spent way too much time protecting and maintaining the status quo in this country - going all the way back to using the Bible to justify the slaughter of the people who lived here when Europeans arrived, to justify chattel slavery, and to justify segregation and Jim Crow laws. Churches need to emerge from their fortress-like silos, repent of their collusion and silence when they should have been active and outspoken, and commit themselves to engage in action that will bring about the justice, peace, and salvation they claim to want for all people. (Again, don't get me started...)

So having said all that, where and how does gratitude show up?

* I am grateful for Patrice, for her passion, her compassion, and her insistence on action.
* I am grateful for every person who showed up to that space tonight, committed to learning, listening, and getting involved in the work of healing and wholeness.
* I am grateful for Michelle Alexander's difficult and necessary book - The New Jim Crow.
* I am grateful for the time and ability and freedom to go to these sessions.
* I am grateful for the thousands, the millions of people who are doing the work, speaking up, standing up, writing letters, writing essays, writing books, marching, working, advocating, pressing for changes in laws, and otherwise pushing for justice.
* I am grateful for friends, for pastors, for neighbors, for church mates, for non-religious people, who are committed to not stopping, to not losing hope, to not walking away from the neediest among us right here. Here's a fabulous example of a new friend doing something to make a difference in the lives of homeless women. Go, Donna, go!
* I am grateful for the ways in which we can encourage and support each other as we do this work.
* I am grateful for down time too, for time with family and friends, over food and wine, to decompress, to laugh, to dance, to celebrate new babies, to witness to the formation of new families in matrimony, all while taking time to disconnect from bad news, and turn away from videos of people dying in their cars in front of their children, and repeated acquittals for brutality and murder. Even if only for a few hours or a few days at a time.
* I am grateful that "no one is coming to save us" because maybe, just maybe, having realized that this is the only country we have, this is the only planet we have, this is the only life we have, we will work that much harder to walk together, to work together, to come together to help one another and to save one another.
* I am grateful for the fact that those of us who claim to be Christ followers, those of us who say that Jesus saves, we have absolutely no excuse for NOT getting involved in the work of mercy and justice. If we are followers of the prince of peace, we have no justification for advocating violence of any kind. If we are believers in the light of the world, we need to bring our own sins and our nation's sins into the bright light of justice and fairness, forgiveness and repentance. If we are disciples of the great physician, then we ought to be fighting for healing and wholeness, for medical care and coverage for all people who need medical, mental, and rehab care. If we are truly pro-life, then we ought to be advocating for all lives, including Muslim lives, immigrant lives, poor people's lives, black lives, the lives of those who are homeless, the incarcerated, and even people whose politics are not our own - yup, even them. We who say we believe in Jesus are without excuse. Because no one set a better of example of including the excluded, touching the untouchable, welcoming the outcast, and of actually living like every life mattered than Jesus. Without exception.

Silence is complicity. Sitting on the sidelines is complicity. Claiming ignorance is complicity.
It's time to speak up, to stand up, to get yourself educated to engage.
Because no one is coming to save us.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Thankful Thursday

So much to be grateful for, my friends.

* gorgeous bright sunny day today - and not too hot.

* the fact that when the tree fell from our yard onto our neighbor's car (yikes!), there was no one in the car and, in fact, they were planning to get rid of the car anyway. PLUS the woman who lives there works with a tree cutting company and she said she can get the family discount to have that tree (and a couple of others that need to come down before they fall down) taken care of.

* my third grade tutee and I had a fun last session together today. School ends for the public schools here in Charlotte tomorrow. I am grateful to have had time to read with her, review math with her, and also talk to her about how not to be a bully, how not to fight, and how to be a better friend, sister, and daughter. I hope HT has a fantastic summer. I will miss her stories and her smiles.

* my daughter made carrot cake for dessert tonight. We didn't have cream cheese for her to make the traditional cream cheese frosting, so she made a glaze with fresh squeezed orange juice, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Can't wait to taste it - which I will do as soon as I publish this post.

* time spent by the lake with my dear friend and her rambunctious puppy. Laughter and stories, training and Portuguese water dog antics in the lake and the swimming pool (I seriously wish I could live his life!)

* new friends, long walks, and soul connections

* old friends, lunch dates, and deep conversations

* attending a session this past Monday evening put on by MeckMin related to Charlotte Uprising, the rallies and marches, protests and other public responses to the September 20, 2016 shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Their stories of fear and hope, courage and determination in the face of injustice, violence, and mistreatment by police officers unnerved us all. Those men and women demonstrated both poise and anger, both hope and frustration - and they are all still standing strong, still doing their work on behalf of those whose voices go frequently unheard, hugging one another, sharing essential oils to keep each other calm, and laughing between their tears. They inspired and challenged me as well as everyone else who sat under the sound of their quivering voices.

- Here are a few of the quotes that caught my attention and have given me much to ponder:

+ For far too long, we've done far too little.
+ Listening is an act of love. We have to listen to people's pain all the way down to the bottom. We cannot turn away just because we get uncomfortable.
+ I am brave - and sick and tired of this conversation about race and racism.
+ Is it impossible to stop killing people?
+ The uprising didn't start last September.
+ I was never in front, but I stood beside some beautiful souls out there.
+ It's my duty to fight for freedom - and it's also yours.
+ We had to be prepared because every second counts in a war zone.
+ I showed up because I love my people.
+ I'm not a religious person. I'm a Christian. There's a difference.
+ I didn't see Christ out there. I saw hate.
+ You need to use your voice. You need to have the courage to act.
+ Shame on us (in the church for not doing more and being more courageous.)
+ You created racism; you need to fix it.
+ I will keep showing up, no matter how tired I get.

* attending another MeckMin-sponsored event last night - at one of the mosques here in Charlotte several Muslim brothers and sisters spoke to a curious and attentive crowd about Ramadan and what it means to them to fast from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. There was also a Baptist minister on the docket who spoke about fasting from his experience and perspective. An older Jewish gentlemen rightly pointed out the oversight of not having someone Jewish speaking about their faith and the practice of fasting.  In response to a question I asked, young women and older women, talked about their pride and joy in wearing hijab.

Just before 8:30 pm, the Muslims in attendance were offered dates and bottled water to break their fast. They remained in their worship space for their prayers while most of the non-Muslim attendees headed for their large cafeteria to wait. My daughter, my friend, Kate, and I stayed and watched them as they prayed. My daughter later told me that she was deeply moved by being in the space with them as they knelt and bowed down in prayer. There is something sacred about bending the knee in supplication and thanksgiving. When the prayers were concluded, we joined them for iftar, the rather elaborate and absolutely delicious meal they had prepared.

We sat at the dinner table with two Muslim women, one an adult and the other a teenager, who talked to us about both the courage it takes to wear hijab these days and also about the mounting concern about praying in public. The teenager reminded us about their commitment to praying five times a day, regardless of where they are. She said it used to be safe to just kneel and pray, even outdoors. Nowadays, she said that if two people are together in a public place at prayer time, one will kneel and the other will keep watch. Shame on us - that this nation that claims to have been founded in response to a lack of religious freedom elsewhere has become a place where its citizens are no longer confident that they can safely practice their religion.

 I hope to have more opportunities to sit with people whose experiences are so different from my own; there is so much to learn from everyone I encounter. Everyone.

As we ate and talked, children ran around the tables and chairs - and tripped and fell.
Food slipped from overloaded plates onto the floor and was ground into the carpet.
Plates were left on tables and napkins drifted down to the floor beneath.
Mothers admonished their children to finish their food and wipe their mouths.
Teenagers chatted while they nibbled on cupcakes.
Men moved chairs from one place to another.
Someone talked too long.
Someone didn't get to talk enough.
It was life in community. Life in a community of faith.
It was funny. It was hopeful.
It was beautiful. It was messy.
It was prayerful. It was sobering.
It was human. It was holy.

I am grateful.
So very grateful.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Joining with all nature in manifold witness

One of my favorite hymns is "Great is Thy Faithfulness." 

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with thee
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not
as Thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.

Chorus - Great is thy faithfulness
Great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed, thy hand hast provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Summer and winter and spring time and harvest
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside

[Here's a longer, more gospel styled version of this great hymn -
that is actually a medley of several songs of praise and gratefulness.
And he is accompanied by a few thousand people who could and would surely
provide many examples of the faithfulness of God.
Here is another version if you want to listen to a shorter version than the other two.]

Sure, old fashioned words and phrases and titles of God appear in its lyrics 
- words like thee and thy and thou in it - 
but the meaning of those words and phrases, the acknowledgement of the goodness of God, 
the faithfulness of God, and the reminder to pay attention, to take note, 
and to join with all nature in manifold witness to God's great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Our silly little dog is a great example of faith and faithfulness.
She's twelve years old - and she's showing signs of her age.
Limping. Ear infections. Hearing impairment. Bladder challenges.
But she is unrelenting in her love for us -
actually, for my husband;
the rest of us, she tolerates when he's not around.
On her short strolls, as she sleeps peacefully through much of every day,
she demonstrates the utmost faith in our faithfulness and our provision.
She never worries about where her next meal will come from.
She never worries about the mortgage or the bills,
kanswer or heart disease.
She eats, sleeps, walks, and lives in this present moment
every single moment.
May my faith someday be as vast and as deep as hers.
(There she is, on the other side of our driveway, next to our neighbor's house -
can you even see her?)

At the foot of our driveway lives a magnolia tree.
Recently I have taken notice of its magnificent magnolia blossoms.
Their fragrance unforgettable.
I've never picked any of the magnolia blooms.
They are too big, too fragile, too perfect for me to tear from their perch.
I stare at them. I sniff at them. I practically bow down to them.
And, of course, I thank God for them.

As I made my way home from someplace the other day, 
I came upon this terrific turtle crossing the road.
Certain that I didn't want any cars to run over it,
uncertain about how I would keep that from happening,
I managed to flag this woman around my new turtle friend.
She pulled over, got out of her car, and bravely picked it up,
moving it to a safe and shady spot off the road.

I wish I could have spoken to it - 
Where are you going, little one?
What adventure was calling you across this road?
The woman who picked you up was convinced
that you would meet greater challenges on the road ahead.
I'm sorry she didn't put you on the side of the road that you were heading for.
What do we know about turtle thinking?
Absolutely nothing.
Thank you for being a sign and symbol of the provision and protection
of the earth and of nature itself for its own.
Clearly you lived well before meeting up with us - the ignorant do-gooders.
I hope we didn't divert you too seriously from your appointed rounds. 
I hope you are safe and happy and well wherever you are today.

As I look back on the past few weeks and months and years, 
I am reminded over and over of the great faithfulness of God.
Recovering from kanswer
- it has already been four years since my surgery.
This November will be five years since my diagnosis - FIVE YEARS!!!
My daughter is a college graduate.
My son is a successful college student.
My niece has released her first album and is making waves and headlines with it.
New babies will be born. New families will be formed.

Beyond the borders and boundaries of those I know, love, and hold dear,
there is the manifold witness of so many folks whose lives and work,
whose passions and activism are manifold witness to
the justice, the righteousness, the wholeness, the healing that 
God wants for all people,
not just the folks who look and live like them,
not just the folks who were born here and live "legally,"
not just the folks who agree with them politically.
There is work to be done towards reconciliation and peace
for all people everywhere, starting right here in our broken and beautiful city.
And they are doing the work.
What a witness to faithfulness, hope, and the future.

Remaining alert, being attentive, staying 'woke
in a world, in a nation that so desperately wants
the most active and passionate and determined among us
to go back to sleep,
to slip into a consumerism-induced coma,
this kind of commitment takes a toll.
Wears us out, breaks us down, trips us up.

We need strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
We gain that, we regain that in community,
on the yoga mat,
listening to music,
dancing when nobody is looking,
filling journal pages,
reading poetry,
talking to, laughing with, and creating art with soul sisters,
eating good food,
slipping between clean sheets with dreams already swirling,
playing with puppies,
holding newborns,
planning getaways and "do nothing days,"
flipping through Bella Grace magazine,
sharing dreams about what church could look like if we dared to
abandon some of the old ways of doing things,
drinking tea, coffee, Fresca, and watermelon mojitos,
falling to our knees in prayer,
giving thanks for the many blessings that we have already received,
and taking note of the ten thousand beside.

Great is God's faithfulness.
Morning by morning.
Day by day.
Hour by hour.
Even in the darkest hours.
Perhaps most especially then.
Thanks be to God.

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.