Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thankful Thursday: I am grateful

I am afraid.
I am encouraged.
I am also grateful.

I am grateful for these articles and challenges, these posts and laments in response to last week's horrors.
On black bodies in motion and in pain.
On white anti-racists who must speak up and act up
On refusing to be comforted at this time of grief
This piece on the long term legacy of racism, terror, and violence in this country
The reminder that what happened in Charleston is NOT unthinkable or unspeakable
Jon Stewart's segment on the shooting in Charleston
A Lament written by a Native American about what happened in Charleston
This prayer written by a Pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the same denomination as Mother Emanuel in Charleston
I am grateful for difficult but necessary and overdue conversations
I am grateful for the protests and actions being taken against the confederate battle flag

I am grateful for the relentless reminders and challenges that talking and praying and crying and blogging (!) are not enough - my friend, Anthony Smith, said we need to move beyond "being mousepad activists"
I am grateful for the discomfort I feel, for the grief, for the sorrow, and also for the hope
I am grateful for the vulnerability and honesty that tragedy often engenders

I am grateful that I don't have to stop crying or praying or speaking up
I am grateful for the time I am giving myself to grieve
I am grateful for the ways that my heart and mind are being softened by the stories I hear, the tears I have shed, the words others have written
I am grateful that I will begin seminary in just a few weeks - I can learn and prepare myself to answer the call to serve, to teach, to challenge, to act for peace, justice, righteousness, and redemption
I am grateful that I don't have to wait until I receive the diploma to get started on the work of peace making

I am enormously grateful for long phone calls, for lunch dates, for tea parties for two, for text exchanges and for every other means that allows me to reconnect with dear friends

I am grateful for friends to cry with, laugh with, tell the tough stuff to, listen to, and walk alongside on this treacherous and dangerous, delightful and treasure-strewn journey of my life

I am grateful for pastors and teachers, for prophets and leaders, for every person willing to teach and lead the way towards healing and restoration, wholeness and transformation
I am grateful for the invitations that are being issued and accepted to join the movement for justice, equality, peace, education, understanding, unity, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and other basic human rights

I am grateful for the conversations, the laughter, even the challenges that my kids bring into my life. They don't let me get away with much anymore - and I need to be pushed off my sacred cows more often than I would care to admit

I am grateful for the hundreds of journal volumes in my study, just feet from where I am sitting as I type right now. They remind me of the trials, the tear-soaked hours and days, the trips overseas, the hospital visits, the surgical consultations, the love, the loss, the doubts, the fears the foolishness, the fruitfulness of my life, as well as the goodness, the protection, the provision, the silence, the unfathomability, and the mystery of God.

I have seen many places and faces.
I have heard many stories and songs.
I have tasted earth's bounty.
I have been touched by tender and gentle hands.
I have smelled honeysuckle and lavender and sandalwood and bacon and coffee.
I have wept. I have been in pain. I have lost loved ones. I have been left, lost, and last.
And I have survived 100% of the challenges I have faced thus far in my life.
(So have all of us.)

I have been blessed.
I have been loved.
I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I'm encouraged

Last night, I was afraid.
Tonight, I am encouraged.
Actually, I was encouraged last night and the night before that too,
but I waited to write about it until tonight.

On Monday night, my daughter and I joined 300 other people for a conversation on race and racism in the Belk Chapel at Queens University here in Charlotte. It was hosted by Mecklenberg Ministries ( as the first of a series of "Community Conversations for Healing and Change." Here's what was written on the handout: "We Need to Talk...about Charleston, yes, but also about our shared life together in this community. We need to talk about who we are, where we have been, where we want to go, and how we get there. But mainly, we just need to talk. 

This series is a unique opportunity to speak and be heard in a safe place. Come as you are with something on your mind - things that may be hard to say and hard to hear. The conversation each week will be based on themes, stories and perspectives from our local community, from our nation and, most importantly, from what each person present brings to share."

Black people and white people.
Muslim, Jewish, Christian and non-religious people.
Angry, sad, brokenhearted, courageous, frustrated, outraged and inspiring people.
There we were, seated together, standing together, laughing together, groaning together, applauding one another's courage and wisdom.

One by one, dozens of people stepped to one of two microphones and shared their insights and feelings and questions and challenges with the audience.
They did exactly what the flyer said - they spoke and were heard in a safe place.
They came, we all came with things on our minds,
with sorrow in our hearts,
with stories to share,
with chants to energize,
with perspectives that challenged our own.

One beautiful brown skinned mother spoke of the way her daughter is treated at the pool club they are members of. She said that white children swim away from her because "they are taught there's just something not right about not being white." Is that what parents are teaching their children - either by speaking ill of others or by speaking nothing of others? I was encouraged because her words stirred us all to think about how we parent and what we are teaching our children with our words, our actions, and by who is and is not included in our circles of friends and neighbors.

Another woman asked the audience why there were so few young people in attendance. Did we leave our children at home watching television and playing video games? Why not bring them to hear the stories and testimonies being shared? Isn't it about time for our children, all of our children to hear what's happening in our country and be in conversation about all that has to change? I was encouraged because parents and teachers and every other adult in the room were reminded of our need to stop protecting our children from hard truths and to start to teach them the hard truths so that together we can make the hard decisions to bring about change in our world.

A Rabbi told a funny and profound allegory - Several people are drifting along the water in a boat. One of the people pulls out a drill and begins to drill a whole in the floor of the boat. The others protest. He says, "What are you so upset about? I'm only drilling under my seat." Ouch. We too are allowing others to drill holes in the boat of our nation, our faith traditions, our political system, our health care system, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our environment - just to name a few. Companies that don't care for the planet but only exploit it. Businesses that don't care for their employees or customers but only take advantage of them. Adults who neglect or abuse children. We who ignore the hungry and the imprisoned, the homeless and the lonely - we are all drilling holes under our seats and wondering why we are drowning in sorrow and violence and greed and anger and poverty. We are all in the same boat and we are all working pretty hard to sink it. But I was encouraged because I have a better understanding that every problem around me is my problem.  I was encouraged because many of us are waking up to our responsibility to lay down our drills, to patch the holes we have created, and also to rescue folks who have fallen out of the boat and are drowning.

I wish there was time to respond to each of the comments, to engage in quiet reflection, to take it all in more thoughtfully. I was encouraged that so many people had so much to share and that the conversations will continue. I know I won't be able to get to all of them, and I hope that many people will attend and that, indeed, the conversations will continue long after the final talk late in August. I am encouraged that there will be safe places to gather to grieve and to hope, to ask questions and to seek answers for the next couple of months - and beyond, I pray. I am encouraged that the shooter's hope for a race war might indeed come to pass - a war against race and racism, a war against hate and fear, a peaceful struggle openly waged against violence.

This lovely lady with me is Coretta. Her husband came to our house recently to do some painting. He returned with her yesterday morning to pick up a piece of furniture we were giving away. She is a sister breast kanswer survivor. She also chose a double mastectomy without reconstructive surgery. A flat chested sister. Her kanswer was far more aggressive than mine - but her joy and her courage, her stories of grace and wigs, of prayer and miraculous healing (a spot on her rib cage that literally disappeared without any traditional medical treatment - so miraculous that even the PET scan technician spoke of how amazing it was that the spot was gone) lifted my spirits in ways she cannot imagine. We laughed at one point when she talked about wearing a wig and having to take it off in church because it was giving her a headache. I followed that story with an account of my battles with hot flashes. In true church speak, she said, "Hot flashes were not my portion." I laughed out loud. "Not my portion," I like that way of saying that she didn't suffer with hot flashes. Lucky her - those horrendous power surges most certainly were "my portion" during chemotherapy.  I was encouraged by her contagious peace, her victorious spirit, her vivacious personality, her refusal to be shaken by the fact that she didn't have medical insurance while all that was going on. I was encouraged because Love showed up in my garage yesterday morning. Laughter showed up. Tears came, but so did joy.

Last night at the service where I was afraid, the front of the sanctuary was a somber sight.

Two tables with photographs of The Nine who died in Charleston.

One table with nine candles that were lit during the service.

And in the middle - a casket. Open. With a mirror inside it.

Because any of us could have been at that church that night. Or our own churches. Or our homes. Or in school. Or walking down the street. Or in our car. Or in a movie theater. Or in the mall. Or on an airplane. Or any of the many presumably safe places where innocent people have been gunned down in this country of ours. We could be in that casket. One day each of us, every one of us will be in a casket. What will we have lived for and died for? I was encouraged as I stood in front of that casket because the brave men and women at last night's service understood and explained the importance of living and dying for justice and righteousness' sake. I know I'm going to die - it may as well be in service to the world, to the community, to my family, to God.

This afternoon, I sat with two of the pastors of my church talking about Charleston and what we need to do in response. We talked about anger and fear, about racism and how to counter it, about hope and the future. After one of them left the room, I sat with the other for another hour talking about our church's upcoming fall festival. We brainstormed ways to keep the congregation and the community talking about these difficult issues and incidents when it is far too easy to forget how we feel right now and just get back to "our normal lives." What do we want to say to each other about racism? How do we discuss our fears? What can we do to be people of justice in a world where injustice is the order of the day? What does the church have to offer to a needy and hurting world? I was encouraged because there is much to be done and both the will and the desire to move beyond talking into action. Our church is active in the community, in partnership with two schools, with ministries to those who are living with homelessness, feeding people who are hungry, building projects with Habitat for Humanity - and so much more. I am grateful for what we are already doing. But it is easy to hide from so much of what is going on around us, to deny the existence of institutional racism and injustice, to pretend that we are doing all we can do to combat the problems we choose to address, and when all else fails, we convince ourselves that what we do won't make any difference anyway. I am encouraged because our eyes are open now, perhaps more open than they have been in a long time, to the vast needs of our city and our world. I am encouraged because we are determined to do more and serve more and love more even when we are uncomfortable and afraid.

I am encouraged tonight because in the aftermath of fear,
in the aftermath of anger,
in the aftermath of sorrow,
in the aftermath of grief,
in the aftermath of everything that breaks our hearts every single day,
justice is on the march.
Righteousness is on the march.
Hope, faith, and joy are on the march.

With tears in my eyes and deep sadness in my heart,
with prayers on my lips and plans on my mind,
I am encouraged.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I'm Afraid

For the first time in my life, tonight I was afraid in church.

I grew up in the church. I'm sure that I was taken to church several times per week in my mother's womb. Baptist church. Evangelical Free church. Non-denominational church. Presbyterian church. Most of the churches I have attended have been integrated - sometimes mine was the only brown face in the space, but there I was. Even in those moments when I was a visitor to a church and mine was the only face in the crowd that wasn't white - "the only fly in the buttermilk" as some folks have said - I was not afraid.

Tonight I was in a black church, a Baptist church, in Salisbury, North Carolina. The service was long, powerful, convicting, encouraging, and inspiring. I almost didn't go - why drive an hour for a prayer vigil? Why drive an hour when I know I will get home late and probably be tired tomorrow? I am sooooooo glad I went - for many reasons.

I arrived early - more than thirty minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. I sat in my car eating fruit and almonds, watching parents pick their children up at a side door of the church. Beautiful mothers and handsome fathers reunited with their beautiful children.

Then he walked up to the church. A young white guy. By himself. With a backpack. And a beard. He stood in the shade of a tree in front of the church drinking water. He adjusted his clothing several times. He tugged at something under his shirt a few times.

I got nervous. I got scared. I pulled out my phone and took several pictures of him - just in case.
I wondered - What if he's here to commit another atrocity?
What if he's carrying a gun? What if he has other weapons in his backpack?

Some people in this violence-obsessed country think that perhaps those nine people wouldn't have died in that church in Charleston last week if some of the victims of that racist attack were carrying guns themselves. Is that what we want - people who claim to follow the Prince of Peace carrying guns into the house of  God to kill others? What would people on Fox News be saying if the Pastor had pulled out a gun and killed that racist who was in their midst? Would they be talking about it being an attack on Christians or another example of blacks being violent and carrying weapons? Some of the people I've seen posting that kind of rhetoric on their social network pages are the same ones who I know wore those bracelets a few years ago - you know the ones: What Would Jesus Do? Well, I may not know what Jesus would do in every situation, but I do know this - Jesus would NOT be carrying a gun into the synagogue to kill people, even people intent on evil. Sure, he turned over tables and got angry in the synagogue one time - but he was mad at the people who worked in the temple, not the visitors or the worshippers. Jesus with a gun? I think not.

Anyway, there I was, in my car.
Afraid of that young white guy.
When I entered the church and took my seat, I spotted him across the sanctuary.
I watched him.
I checked him out several times before the service began.
I was afraid in church.

After a few minutes, the music began. The prayers began.
Challenges were issued from the pulpit by several speakers -
Do not be afraid.
Die to your fears.
Stand up for justice.
If you are gonna die, die standing up for what is right.
Know your history.
Speak up for peace and justice.
Take bold and strategic actions.
Expose corrupt politicians.
Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked.
Set captives free. Proclaim good news.
Restore the sight to the blind.

Help the blind to see injustice all around them and within them.
Help the blind to see ways in which we can all stand for justice.
Help the blind to see the legacy of racism in this country.
Help the blind to see how politicians and pastors are so often acting for their own gain and not the good of the communities they are supposed to serve.
Help the blind to see how comfortable we have become and how uncomfortable we need to be in order to change the course of our nation.
Help the blind to see that we cannot be selective in when we demand that people be forgiven for their wrongdoing - forgive this young man? then forgive young black men too. forgive the police who shoot unarmed people? then forgive looters too. forgive corrupt politicians and warmongers and greedy capitalists? then forgive those who defend their countries and those who fight back when we invade and those whose politics we don't begin to understand.
Help the blind to see that they cannot be pro-life only until the child is born - and after the child is born, we become a nation that is pro-death. We must be pro-life for all people all life long. We must make sure that children are fed, clothed, housed, educated, and provided with health care.

Shortly thereafter, my fear subsided. I looked over at the previously "suspicious young white male," and he was nodding his head, clapping, laughing, participating in the service just like everyone else. And I had to confess to God and admit to myself that I had allowed fear and ignorance (due to not knowing him) to cloud my heart and my spirit. I had allowed fear and prejudice to cause me to pre-judge him. I had allowed fear to steal my ability to welcome him into a service of prayer and peace and healing.

But Perfect Love cast out that fear.
Because love wins. Love always wins.

It may not look that way all the time.
It certainly didn't look that way late last Wednesday night.
Love looked defeated when those shots rang out and those bloodied bodies fell.
But Love laid down its life - and rose again. Love won.

It hasn't looked that way as I've read articles and watched the news.
But Love has stood up and demanded to be seen and heard in churches and gatherings all over this nation since last Wednesday night's massacre. Love is still standing. Love is wrapped around those who mourn - those who mourn for Mother Emanuel AME Church. those who mourn for the children killed in Sandy Hook. those who mourn for Trayvon and Michael and Tamir and Akai and Yvette and Rekia and Shereese and Ezell and so many others. Love is demanding an end to the use of the confederate battle flag here in the South and elsewhere.

Love will win. Love has already won.

I am still afraid tonight.
I am afraid that I've been bitten by the bug of fighting and speaking and teaching for Justice.
I'm afraid that I've got a lot to learn, a lot to do, and a lot to change in my life.
I'm afraid that people are gonna get sick of me asking questions.
I'm afraid that I'm gonna cry even more than I usually do as I ask my questions and make changes in my life and speak up more for Love.
I'm afraid that my very comfortable life is about to get uncomfortable.
I'm afraid that my blindness is about to be healed.
I'm afraid of all the injustice I am going to start seeing much more clearly.

Somebody said that courage is fear that has said its prayers.
Somebody else said that courage is fear on its knees.
I'm grateful for the infusion, transfusion of courage I was given by those bold and prophetic speakers this evening as an antidote to the fear I felt earlier.

Jesus, Prince of Peace, Fearless One, Righteous One,
please let your perfect love continue to cast out all my fears
so that I can participate in the advent of peace and righteousness
here in my home, in my city, in my world.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sorrowful Thursday

Nine black people were gunned down during Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina last night. I heard about it for the first time this morning on my way to visit a friend.

By a 21-year old white guy who sat with them for an hour before saying that blacks were "raping our women and taking over the country." Then he said it was time for them to go.
Then he took out his gun and shot them. In church.
He sat with them. Listened to them.
Then he said he was there to shoot them.

So much sorrow.
So many tears.
So much anger.
So many prayers.
Too often.

A black woman stood behind two CNN reporters and asked them if they were angry.
She said black people need to get off our knees and stop praying.
I wonder what she would want us to do - start shooting back?
Buy guns and carry them everywhere we go?
Stay angry all the time? Afraid? On the defensive?
Anger is appropriate, for sure.
But anger that is channeled towards justice and peace.

I am angry.
I am sad.
I am praying too.
Cuz if I weren't a praying woman, there's no telling what I would be doing and saying instead.
But I will tell you this - it would be very ugly, angry, and probably violent.

Shaking my head.
Breaking my heart.
And the heads and hearts of so many more.
Why? Why? Why?

I typed these names as they were announced by the coroner in Charleston.
Killed in Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Clementa Pinckney, 41
Cynthia Hurd, 54, Librarian.
Susie Jackson, 87,
Ethel Lance, 70
Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49 years of age
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Daniel Simmons Sr, 74
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Myra Thompson, 59

May tears flow.
May comfort come.
May hope survive.
May love prevail.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Trusting the Journey

In Madrid, there is a park called El Retiro.
In the Retiro, there is a glass building called El Palacio de Cristal - the Crystal Palace.
In the Palacio de Cristal, there is a tent, a jaima.
Made of fabrics designed and dyed by women in a refugee camp in the Saharan Desert.
The name of the collective and cooperative work that created the tent is
"Tuiza" - a word "that refers to the act of gathering, participating, and constructing
something with everyone's involvement... This great tent is presented as 
a space of hospitality and conversation between cultures."
(Taken from the brochure handed out to visitors in the Palacio.)

The first time I visited the Bedouin tent in the Retiro, I was with a dear friend, the one who worked a flight from NY to Madrid so that we could spend six hours together. (I am so thankful for her love and friendship...) She and I sat and talked, shared stories, took photos, marveled at the wonder of the handiwork and creativity of the refugee women who had created the colorful panels. Dozens of people sat and lay and stood nearby, taking it all in, resting, reading, talking, and enjoying the serenity and beauty of the tent.

The second time I visited - I will share about that a little later.

The same night that we discovered that gorgeous space in the Retiro,
my friend and I met up with another dear one
and we had dinner together. Outside. 
Sharing wine and food and stories and laughter.
Sharing our hearts and our hopes, our dreams and our dreads.
Sharing ourselves.
What a gift. 
Thanks be to God.

In the main cathedral church in Avila, Spain, the day after seeing the tent.

This is what I want - to be pierced through the heart with love and passion for God.
Wait - that has already happened to me.
So much love. So much passion. So much faith.
So many questions. So many doubts. So much fear.
It's all in me.
And I'm grateful for how every emotion, every experience,
every trip, every adventure hollows out deeper places within me,
teaches me, transforms me, and heals me.

Just beyond the statue seen in the previous photo is this small sign,
one of Santa Teresa's most famous, oft repeated prayers.
"Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
Everything passes/changes.
God doesn't move/change.
Patience accomplishes everything.
The one who has God lacks nothing.
Only God is enough/God alone is enough."
(There are so many ways to translate these poignant and powerful words.)

In my moments of fear and doubt and worry,
like this morning when I was out on my morning walk,
I need words like these to come back to my mind and heart.
Speaking of which, while I was out on my walk this morning,
asking God lots of questions, listing my concerns and prayer requests,
I listened to Rezandovoy - a daily prayer that is recorded in Valladolid, Spain, 
the hometown of my favorite Jesuit (Te echo de menos, AA)
 and posted on the internet.
What was the final portion of the prayer this morning?
These very words by Santa Teresa de Jesus.
Thanks be to God.

One of the tiny details that caught my eye in Avila -
These tiles that say, "Footsteps - Teresa de Jesus."
I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to walk in the tiny footsteps of that giant of the faith.

"So two nuns and two priests walk into a bar..."
Or meet up with each other on the street and talk.
Ask after each other's health and then ask for prayer.
I wished I was bold enough to approach and listen to what else they said to each other.

A fuzzy photo of an ornate altar at San Francisco el Grande -
one of the largest and oldest churches in Madrid.
I had done some reading before this last journey and came to realize 
that there are many churches in Madrid that I've never seen.
This was one of them.
Three weeks ago today, I planned and walked 
a pilgrimage between several churches,
covering over 12 miles on foot that day.
Entering, wandering, sitting, listening, praying.
Taking photos. Taking notes. Taking notice.
Marveling at the thought of how many thousands
of pilgrims and worshipers and tourists and beggars and 
priests and painters and other curious souls have entered those same buildings,
sat on those same benches and cried out to the same God.
Wow. Glory be.

San Antonio de los Alemanes Church.
(Saint Anthony of the Germans)
There is a work of restoration going on behind the altar.
I loved this covering, this curtain.
Reminded me of the separation between the people of Israel 
and the Holy of Holies in the temple.
Reminded me to be grateful that those curtains no longer exist.

Standing under an orange tree in the courtyard of a museum
in the middle of Madrid.
So much beauty and bounty and nourishment
and quietness and peace and growth.

The second time I returned to what I dubbed "the tent of meeting," 
I entered it with the desire to be alone with God.
I knew I wouldn't actually be alone - that other people would be present -
but I wanted to have an experience of being alone with The Alone.
And I did - I journaled and prayed and thought and shed a few tears,
all while being surrounded by people,
all while a woman was giving a talk about Spirit and being heard
and being seen and how we all need and desire to be loved.
And I was able to capture this photo - 
it looks like the tent was empty, but it wasn't.
I simply had a few seconds when no one was in my line of sight,
a few seconds when I could look straight ahead and see nothing and no one -
but The Alone.
That place felt mighty holy that day.
I almost took off my shoes. Almost.

I followed this woman past the estanco - the pond in the middle of the Retiro.
She stopped several times and took photos.
She was as fascinated by the beauty of the day and the place as I was.
I was grateful for her presence, her grace, her elegance, her life.
I was grateful for the three people she joined up with soon after I took this photo.
They looked like they were having a great time together in the park.
I confess to being fascinated by the hijab, the abaya, the caftan,
the head coverings, the tunics, the saris, the modest attire, 
the ways in which women adorn themselves
and choose not to adorn themselves because of their faith and traditions.
Oh, that we would learn to respect one another,
to accept one another, to welcome one another -
especially those whose traditions are not our own.

From the first day until the last day of this trip,
I embraced the motto on this tee shirt
(a shirt I saw in Asheville a few months ago):
I trusted the journey.
I trusted the strong women I walked with and ate with.
I trusted the Tour Guide I walked with.
I trusted that when a church or a museum was closed,
I wasn't meant to see it.
I trusted that when I missed a train
or a flight was delayed
or a conversation lasted longer or shorter than expected,
that I could trust that all was well.
That I was not alone.
That there would always be reason to give thanks.
How can I not be grateful?

Monday, June 08, 2015

Why do we care?

Caitlyn Jenner is all over the news.
Articles. Interviews. Magazines. Radio broadcasts.
Criticism. Sarcasm. Insult. Derision. Condemnation.

Why do we care?
Why do we, especially those of us who call ourselves followers and lovers of Christ,
engage in these gossip-fests?
Why do we try to "educate" ourselves by reading and sharing links to websites that vilify those we don't understand or with whom we disagree?

Where is the grace and mercy?
Where is the love and acceptance?
What happened to the wisdom of that old song and the Scripture that say -
"They will know we are Christians by our love"?

Why do we care so much about Caitlyn Jenner's story but have been curiously silent about the missing girls in Nigeria? Or the thousands of children who arrived in our country from Central America last year seeking asylum from gang violence and sexual trafficking? Or the internally displaced peoples in nearly every country on this globe? What about the victims of our misguided wars and other military actions? Why don't we care as much about them or their fate? Why didn't we post links to stories about them? Or educate ourselves about what was happening to them and why?

I hear other voices. "But the Bible says..."
"But we cannot tolerate..."
"But if we allow and accept and tolerate, then our nation... then our families... then our neighborhoods..."
"But if all we talk about is love and grace and hope, then they won't understand the judgment and the demands of God." (This last one makes me shake my head the most because I cannot say that I've ever encountered anyone who has spoken about hearing too much about the love of God or the grace of God or the hope of eternal life and salvation. Certainly I don't know anyone who has every experienced too much love or grace or hope. But maybe I run in the wrong circles.)

When I hear those voices, those concerns, I too come up with statements that start with "but" -
But God...
But grace...
But mercy...
But love...

Imagine this - imagine if we loved people and let ourselves be loved as we are.
Imagine if we welcomed people and accepted words of welcome from others.
Imagine if we extended grace and allowed ourselves to receive grace.
Imagine if we touched people gently and tenderly.
Imagine if we allowed ourselves to be touched.
Imagine if we fed people and ate with them.
Imagine if we housed people and lived with them.

Imagine if the only people we got angry at, if the only ones condemned were those who refused to love and welcome and feed and visit and walk alongside others and listen and receive the poor, the needy, the wounded, the blind, the desperate, and the dying - which mostly likely includes all of us, each of us.

Imagine if we received and included all the people Jesus received and included.
The liars, the deniers, the zealots, the doubters, the ones who work for the corrupt government, the ones who have no jobs at all, the rebels, the adulterers, the lepers, the outsiders, the insiders,
the misunderstood, the mistaken, the mistreated,
the least, the last, and the lost.
Imagine if we rejected and excluded all the people Jesus rejected and excluded.
Imagine that.

Do we care enough to love Caitlyn Jenner and President Obama and Former President George W Bush and John Boehner and Hilary Clinton and Former President Bill Clinton and megachurch ministers and Buddhist monks and corrupt politicians and the drunk driver who kills both children and the homeless man outside the office tower and the death row inmate and the neighbor about to lose her home and the executive about to buy it and knock it down to build a mansion? Dare we figure out how we can love the whole dingdang lot of us? All of us? Do I? Can I? Dare I love that much? Is that kind of radically inclusive love even possible?

Do we care enough to leave the judgment to the only one who knows the truth about who we really are and what we have done? Do I? Will I?

Deep sigh.
Deeper questions.

Lord, please have mercy on us.
And help us to have mercy on each other.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Spain 2015 edition

Let me start with this - I am thankful to be alive. 
Life is short. Getting shorter by the minute. 
I am grateful to still be here on this planet, living this life, 
loving and being loved.

I am grateful, profoundly grateful for the opportunity, 
the tremendous privilege that it is to travel internationally.
To fly across the ocean. To figure out the subway system in the city I love most of all.
To stay with friends. To wander around without a plan or a goal.
To pack lightly enough to carry all I need on my back.
I am grateful to be healthy and wealthy and strong enough to live this life I have been given.
I do not ever, ever, ever take it for granted.
Thanks be to God.

I am grateful for the architecture and arches in Madrid.
I am grateful for bricks and light fixtures.
I am thankful for quiet places in the midst of noisy cities.
I am thankful for this unexpected hidden gem right alongside the widest and busiest street in Madrid.

I am grateful for traffic circles.
I am grateful for fountains in the middle of them. 
I am grateful for El Palacio de Cibeles -
which was the city's main post office the first time I went to Madrid
in the fall of 1986.
I am thankful for its current exhibitions of art
and quiet spaces to read and write and surf the worldwide web.

I am grateful for the opportunity to accompany my friends to their voting place.
On a Sunday morning.
Yes, Spain holds its local and national elections on Sunday!
So everyone can go. No excuses.
Not that everyone votes - but still. 

I am thankful for cafe con leche, toast with jam, and fresh squeezed orange juice.
I am thankful for thick paper and juicy pens.
I am thankful for long morning walks that end in brightly lit cafes.
I am grateful for the bakers and coffee makers and milk truck drivers and strawberry pickers -
and everybody else who made that breakfast possible for me.

I am grateful for fresh salad - although I could do without the white asparagus and tuna.
I am grateful that I could sit outside and enjoy my lunch.
I am thankful for white wine, water, olive oil, vinegar, and friendly waiters.

I am thankful for the Retiro Park.
I am thankful for the turtles that sun themselves on the tiny pier
and then parade themselves across the grass when the sprinkler system in activated.
I am thankful for the bands that play in the park and the musicians that panhandle.
I am thankful for the hundreds of small bookstands set up in the park for the annual book fair.
I am grateful that there are still so many people in Spain who attend the fair,
buy the books and (presumably) read them.

I am grateful for indoor soccer games for eight and nine year old boys.
I am thankful that the parents of both teams applauded at good plays, 
regardless of who made the good play.
I am grateful that no one yelled at the referee.
I am grateful that there were no cheerleaders and no halftime entertainment.
I am thankful that there were no snacks or juice boxes or gift bags 
or gatorades provided at the end of the game.
The kids played. And then they left. What a concept.

I am thankful for strong towers and fortresses and city walls
and for how they remind me of God and faith and strength.
I am grateful for visible reminders of safety and courage and community.
I am grateful for the quote from The Chronicles of Narnia,
the one about Aslan, the Lion that represents God -
"Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn't safe - but he's good."
No guarantees about safety or ease - but presence, goodness, forgiveness, and love? 
There's plenty of all that.
Thanks be to God.

I am thankful for Santa Teresa of Jesus, her deep faith in God, 
her love for her sisters and brothers,
and her desire for all to know the deep passion for and connection with God that she felt.
I am grateful for her quote: Solo Dios Basta.
God Alone is Enough.

I am thankful for the many hours I spent walking in Madrid and Avila - alone and with friends.
I am grateful for the ongoing sense of welcome and warmth I feel when I am there.
I am thankful to and for Leticia & Eduardo and their children, who welcomed me into their home for the duration of my stay in Madrid.
I am thankful to and for Jorge and Elena and their children, who took me out for a fabulous dinner and time of reconnection.
I am grateful to and for my husband and our two children who understand and accept my passion for Spain and my need to go back there so often.

I confess that it is not as easy for me to take these trips as one might think.
I feel guilty about spending money on a trip like this when there are people I know who cannot pay all of their bills.
I feel guilty about spending money on a trip like this with two kids in college.
I feel guilty about leaving my family and going off on these jaunts where I spend most of the time thinking almost exclusively about what I want to do and what I want to eat and where I want to go - without having to take other people's desires into account.
I wonder what excuse I could give for such trips if something happened to one of my loved ones while I was away.
I worry what people think of me, of us, of my lifestyle, of our choices.

And then I remember...
It doesn't matter what I do or don't do.
It doesn't matter whether I go or don't go.
It doesn't matter how much I spend or how much I save.
It doesn't matter if I go to Spain or I go to South Africa or I go to an orphanage in Nicaragua.
No matter what I do or where I go or what I say or what I write, someone is going to criticize me.
Someone is going to point out my hypocrisy, my selfishness, and my greed.
Someone is going to shake their heads and say, "..." - whatever they choose to say.
No matter what I don't do or don't say or don't accomplish, someone is going to have something to say.

So I went to Spain. I ate. I drank. I laughed. I cried. I wandered. I wondered.
I journaled. I prayed. I asked questions. I answered questions.
I asked for directions. I read maps. I put the maps away and just let myself roam.
I talked. I listened to stories of life and death and drugs and travel and food and romance.
I wrote postcards. I read. I took more than 1500 photos.
I watched election results I didn't understand. I listened to political pundits and ordinary citizens talk about candidates I couldn't identify.
I slept well. I played with Legos. I watched children play games and blow bubbles.
I shopped. I visited several museums. I sat on benches and watched people.
I made a pilgrimage to several churches and cathedrals in Madrid. I walked nearly 12 miles on the day of that pilgrimage.
I visited the home and convent and church of Santa Teresa de Jesus in Avila.
I flew to Bologna, Italy, for two days to visit a former teaching colleague of mine who has retired and moved back to her hometown. (She is fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English.)
I walked and talked and ate and attended a poetry reading with her.
I met beautiful, interesting, talented, kind-hearted, curious, intelligent, creative people there.
I ate great pizza, pasta, and gelato - in Italy!
I drank strong coffee, strong wine, and bubbly water.

And every day, every night, nearly every hour, I gave thanks to God for the gift of life, of my life.
For the gift of travel. For airplanes. For taxi cabs. For freshly baked bread.
For sunshine. For rain. For borrowed raincoats and strong umbrellas.
For elevators. For staircases. For cars. For the subway.
For getting back and forth from every daily adventure safely.
For not getting sick. For not getting lost. For not being taken advantage of.
For bounty. For beauty. For friendship. For love. For shared experiences.

How can I say thanks enough? How can I say enough thanks?
Life itself is such a gift. Travel is icing on the cake.
Travel to see and stay and hang out with dear friends - it brings almost too much joy.
Did I mention that one dear sister-friend of mine, who is a flight attendant, worked a flight from NYC to Madrid in order to spend six hours with me there? Truly she is a soul-sister.

Who am I to deserve such miraculous plenty? I do not know.
But I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Walking in the light

One of the things I love about my friend, Leticia, the friend whose home I stayed in while hanging out in Madrid, is how much she talks about light. One morning as we drove in the car towards her sons' school, she spoke of how much she likes the light in May and June in Madrid. The length of the days. The brightness of the sun. I have known her for more than 20 years, and she has always spoken that way about the light.

She's right. The light in Madrid is fabulous at this time of year.
The smog isn't thickly layered under the summer heat. Yet.
The sky is mostly cloudless.
The sun shines majestically about the skyline.

Here are two photos taken on my second day there.
They were taken at 9:36 pm - I know the exact time because I wrote it in my journal just after I took them.

How can you NOT love that much light
at that late hour?

Or the light that is bouncing off that church facade?

I remember being in Orvieto, Italy, back in 2001, and seeing the light bounce of the facade of that town's magnificent cathedral. I took photos that couldn't capture the beauty, but at least they reminded me of it. After capturing the images with my camera, I pulled out a postcard I had purchased and wrote it to myself - Is the light of the Son reflected from my facade, from my face?

This was the view from a table where I sat eating lunch.

Light and shadow. Alone and together. Brightness and darkness. 
All at play. All right there in front of me - and also within me.

Later the same day, I visited a museum and this is the courtyard just outside the front door.

Walking in the light. Sitting in the light. 
Feeling my way through the darkness.
Knowing, remembering, being reminded, that even when it's supposed to be dark, there is light.
Even when there is no light, light still exists. 
Light is coming. The sun will rise again.

When my father was dying of kanswer just over fourteen years ago, I clung to the hope of light and life.
When my daughter was in the hospital nearly seven years ago, I clung to the hope of light and restoration.
When I was on my own kanswer journey two years ago, I clung to the hope of light and healing. 

Two weeks ago today, when I landed in Spain,
two weeks ago tomorrow, on my first full day in Spain,
I walked in the light of the bright Spanish sun.
I also walked in the light of the Bright and Morning Star, the One who loves me most.
I hope and pray that some of God's light, some of God's peace, some of God's grace, some of God's joy was visible in me and on me and through me.

I miss my dear friend, Leticia, and her welcoming, loving family.
I hope and pray that she continues to see, to acknowledge,
to honor, and to live in the light she loves so much.
And The Light I love so much too.
Te echo de menos, amiga mia. Un abrazo fuerte a ti y a los tuyos.

Monday, June 01, 2015

"Toca Seguir Caminando"

Two weeks ago right now, Monday, May 18th, at 10:33 pm, I was sitting in my seat on US Airways Flight 748, on an overnight flight, headed for my beloved Madrid. Twelve days to wander and wonder, listen and learn, spend time alone and spend time with friends. I didn't get to connect with everyone I usually see, which made me sad, but spending time alone with The Alone, walking and sitting, watching and waiting, rejuvenates me like nothing else in the world.
the garden outside the 

While wandering around in Madrid two days later, on Wednesday, May 20th, I realized that ten years ago right now, in May of 2005, I was in the same city, walking on the same streets with my two children. We had embarked upon our greatest and most daring homeschooling adventure - a month in a rented apartment in Spain's capital city. And quite the adventure it was.

the arched doorway in the middle of the photo
is the entrance to the apartment building we lived in that month

As I walked up and down those ancient streets,
remembering our experiences from a decade earlier,
pondering all that has transpired since then,
considering all that is yet to be - 
seminary for me,
college graduation for my daughter,
college enrollment for my son,
financial devastation after all of those things transpire,
(only kidding, sort of...)
as I reflected on this life journey I'm on,
I was grateful that I was wearing sunglasses.
I was grateful that no one could see the tears brimming in my eyes. 
I was grateful for the countless blessings I have received in my life.

following the footsteps of Santa Teresa de Jesus

All the trips to Spain and back.
All the taxi rides and subway rides and bus rides and flights and walks.
All the trips I've ever taken. Anywhere. Anytime.
All the meals and cups of coffee. 
All the reading.
All the journal writing.
All the shopping.
All the museums visits.
All the church tours.
All the unexpected encounters.
All the friendships and love and laughter and tears.
All the rendezvous.
All the names and faces and shared stories.

following Leticia

All the near misses.
All the times I didn't get hit by a taxi.
All the times I didn't get lost.
All the times I didn't get mugged.
All the times I didn't lose my money or my passport.

I was enormously grateful.
I am enormously grateful.

following Leticia's entire family

In March of 2008, I tore this poem out of Skirt magazine and refer to it at the end of each of my solo adventures. It was written by Nikki Hardin. 

flying home, starting over,
having soul lag, waiting for it
to catch up with my body, the
dislocation of being Here There
Somewhere Nowhere, of being
between heaven and earth, of
flying and landing and waiting
and taking off and going in 
circles, when every new wait-
ing room is filled with middle
of the night regrets and yester-
day's news and strangers and 
you're a stranger too, flying
so far you break the barrier of
your own fear, flying so high
no one can reach you, flying
home and learning to kiss the
ground I step on every day.

I returned to Charlotte on Saturday afternoon, just over 48 hours ago.
Jet lag makes me sleepy before 8 pm and wakes me up before 3 am.
Soul lag makes me reflect on what I was doing two weeks ago right now, 
one week ago right now,
seventy two hours ago right now. 

I am starting over, dealing with jet lag and soul lag.
I am relearning to kiss the ground I walk on,
the faces I love, the relationships I cherish,
this life that is mine.

One of my favorite people in Spain has written several books about El Camino de Santiago, the Pilgrimage of Saint James. It is a 500 mile journey undertaken by thousands of people each year from the northeastern corner of Spain (some begin the trek in France) across to Santiago de Compostela. Many people spend four to six weeks walking the Camino. 

Walk. Think. Wonder. Reflect on life. 
Stop for the night in albergues, hostel-style residences, 
that have been established for pilgrims to sleep in. 
Wash your clothes. 
Air out the blisters on your aching feet. 
Figure out dinner. Sleep. 
Get up and do it all again. 
Keep walking.

In his descriptions of the Camino, Jose Maria Olaizola, writes about the challenges of the journey, the physical, emotional, relational, spiritual challenges that this pilgrimage engenders. He ends his Camino journal, Peregrinar por fuera y por dentro (To make a pilgrimage both inside and outside) with a poem that he calls, "Toca seguir caminando." I love that title. It's a little tough to translate, but essentially it means, "Keep walking." 

Toca seguir caminando,
más allá de la sombra y la duda,
más allá de la muerte y el miedo,
bebiendo palabras prestadas,
confiando en las fuerzas ajenas
si acaso las propias se gastan

Toca seguir caminando,
acoger al peregrino,
relatar tu historia,
escuchar la suya
aliviar tristezas,
compartir mesa y vida,

Toca seguir caminando
con los ojos abiertos,
para descubrir al Dios vivo
que nos sale al encuentro
hecho amigo, pan y palabra.
En marcha, pues...

Here's my very, very, very rudimentary translation -

Keep walking,
beyond the shadow and the doubt,
beyond death and fear,
drinking borrowed words,
trusting in the strength of others
when one's own runs out

Keep walking,
welcoming the pilgrim,
telling your story,
listening to hers,
relieving sadnesses,
sharing table and life,

Keep walking
with your eyes open,
in order to discover the living God
who meets up with us
as friend, bread, and word.
So let's get underway...

following Graziella

This journey we're on might hurt. 
It will hurt.
Blisters happen.
Broken hearts happen.
Disappointment happens.
Getting lost happens.
Sadness happens.
Illness happens.
Loneliness happens.
Loss happens.
Death happens. 

All those things happen on the road, on the Camino.
They happen at home, within marriage and family and friendship.
They happen at church and in the neighborhood.
They happen in the workplace and the marketplace.
But we must press on. 
I press on. I keep walking.

It is good to travel.
It is good to come home.
It is good to write about my travels.
It is good to ponder them for weeks and months to come.
Whether here in Charlotte or over in Madrid,
visiting friends in Connecticut or making new ones in Bologna - 
Toca seguir caminando. 
Keep walking.