Making History

This post was first published on May 5, 2013.

Today on the NPR program Morning Edition, historian Charles Emerson was discussing his new book 1913.  He made a comment that literally stopped me in my tracks to reach for a pen and paper:  “Make the history you want to live in.”

Making the history I want to live in propels me from hand-wringing and complaining to proactive involvement. What kind of legacy do I want to leave? My history is my grand- children’s present. How do I step into the fight against the raping of the planet I live on, the violation of human beings though sex trafficking and slavery, the deaths of millions of young children because of unequal distribution of wealth, the rampant racism and assumptions of white privilege. . . . the list goes on and on.

Making the history I want to live in also is a prod to never give up on difficult relation- ships.  Do I really want to consign a friendship or a partnership or a dysfunctional family to history without doing what I can to make it a healthy relationship?

And finally, what do I want my personal history to look like? Am I willing to take on Dallas Willard’s challenge for transformation: VIM (vision, intention and means)?  Or will I lazily walk through my relationalfuture with no thought about the history it will become?  What is my vision for my relationship with God?  What is my vision for how I will become more like Jesus?  Am I willing to be intentional about my personal transformation and thus my family’s transformation, my church’s transformation, my neighborhood’s transformation, my country’s transformation, the world’s transformation? And what are the means (methods, strategies, plans) I can intentionally choose to make that happen? This is fodder for every committed Christ-follower’s journey

What if each of us took a step every day to make the history we want to live in?

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From My Reading

“As soon as [the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] began to spend more time understanding how people live their lives, we saw that so many of the barriers to advancement – and so many of the causes of isolation – can be traced to the limits put on the lives of women. In societies of deep poverty, women are pushed to the margins. Women are outsiders. That’s not a coincidence. When any community pushes any group out, especially its women, it’s creating a crisis that can only be reversed by bringing the outsiders back in. This is the core remedy for poverty and almost any social ill – including the excluded, going to the margins of society and bringing everybody back in” (Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift, How Empowering Women changes the World).

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“Wholeness does not mean perfection.  It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life” (Parker Palmer).

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“If Christians practice brotherhood among Christians, this would be one limited step in the direction of a new order among men. Think of what this would mean. Wherever one Christian met or dealt with another Christian, there would be a socially redemptive encounter. They would be like the Gulf Stream or the Japanese Current tempering and softening the climate in all directions. Indeed the Christian would be a leaven at all levels of the community and in public and private living. Of course, such a situation may lend itself to all kinds of exploitation and betrayals—but the Christian would be one of the bulwarks of integrity in human relations in an immoral society” (Howard Thurman, The Luminous Darkness: A Personal Interpretation of the Anatomy of Segregation and the Ground of Hope).

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“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion” (Paul Coehlo). 

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“Our sociology is predictably derived from, legitimated by, and reflective of our theology. And if we gather around a static god of order who only guards the interests of the “haves,” oppression cannot be far behind. Conversely, if a God is disclosed who is free to come and go, free from and even against the regime, free to hear and even answer slave cries, free from all proper goodness as defined by the empire, then it will bear decisively upon sociology because the freedom of God will surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion. . . ”  (Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination).

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Specific Love

This post was first published on December 3, 2018.  I was reminded of it when someone unexpectedly “liked” it last week.  I like it, too. It still speaks to our chaotic world.

How can I be a life-giving presence in a world that is so desperate for love and compassion? How can I even begin to serve the broken people whom I hear and read about? Dallas Willard, spiritual leader and author of many important books on spiritual formation, comments that “it is very important to understand that the command [love your neighbor] is not to love everyone. God does. You can’t even begin to. Love can only be specific, and love cannot exceed our resources.” That reassurance is priceless to devoted Christ-followers who sometimes bear guilt about not loving or doing enough.

So the question is “How can my love become specific?” How do we stop trying to “exceed our resources?” Persian poet and theologian, Rumi* (1207-1273) has some beautiful images to help us here.

Be a lamp or a lifeboat or a ladder.  Help someone’s soul heal.   Walk out of your house like a shepherd” (Rumi)*.

Be a lamp –  Think a minute about the purpose of a lamp or light.  What  does a lamp do?  It turns darkness into light. It helps you find your way.  It can enhance fellowship. It can make a place safer. Some lamps are works of art; they beautify their surroundings. Every day we can look to light someone’s path, share knowledge, give direction, and inspire lives of beauty. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father” (Matt 5:16; NIV).  The light we bring reflects  the love of  God.

Be a lifeboat – the purpose of a life boat is to rescue. As God’s lifeboats we can ensure the liberation of  others. We can also make sure we are inclusive. God’s lifeboats are for all people; we can make room in our lifeboat for anyone who needs relief.  We can help others ride out their stormy seas.

Be a ladder – a ladder helps a person climb. Who do you know who is “climbing” and needs your support? A ladder is used to rescue someone who seems beyond help. Have you given up on someone who could benefit from your love and care? For example, at times it seems as though the three teens I support through Compassion International have so many strikes against them that they are beyond help. But with God in the equation, no one is beyond help. 

Lamps, lifeboats, ladders. All of these are symbols of the ways we can help others heal. Rumi concludes this poetic line by encouraging us to walk out of our houses “as shepherds.” A shepherd is someone who provides for the needs of others.  Someone who can see the way ahead and lead in the right direction. Someone whose rod and staff create safe boundaries. Someone who knows others by name – personally and deeply. Shepherds light the way, rescue from harm, and support those persons or those causes that seem beyond our help. There is no more important role for a Christian to play in a world that becomes more and more angry, vengeful and  hate-filled  every day.  

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*Rumi was a Muslim scholar and poet who took Islam seriously, but the depth of his spiritual vision goes beyond sectarianism. According to Professor Majid M. Naini, “Rumi’s life and transformation provide true testimony and proof that people of all religions and backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony. Rumi’s visions, words, and life teach us how to reach inner peace and happiness so we can finally stop the continual stream of hostility and hatred and achieve true global peace and harmony.”

Shahram Shiva, performance artist and Rumi translator, asserts that “Rumi is able to verbalize the highly personal and often confusing world of personal growth and development in a very clear and direct fashion. He does not offend anyone, and he includes everyone. . . . Today Rumi’s poems can be heard in churches, synagogues, Zen monasteries, as well as in the downtown New York art/performance/music scene” (Wikipedia).

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No Matter How Life Turns Out

“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. It is an orientation of the spirit and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. . . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” 

How many times a day do we need to remember these stunning words by Vaclav Havel?Havel – Czech playwright, poet, and political dissident, who, after the fall of communism, became president of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and of the Czech Republic (1993–2003) – certainly had many opportunities to try make sense of something regardless of how it turned out.

We all have experiences that don’t turn out well. Why did my father (and many fathers) not return from World War II (or Korea or Viet Nam or Iraq or Afghanistan), leaving a void that could never be filled?  How do you learn to love life with a mother who grieved for 60 + years?

How do we receive an incurable cancer diagnosis or regroup after a flood takes everything we own or lose our sight from diabetes or a child from a car accident?  Our hope for life is buried in our tragedy.

After the crucifixion, the disciples and followers of Jesus of Nazareth argued over what was to happen to their movement now that Jesus was gone. How could it be that all his  promises would not be kept?  How could they go on without their beloved leader? This was not how it was supposed to turn out! But the disciples didn’t know the end of the story. And even after the resurrection, they still struggled to “make sense” of what had happened to their lives.

We don’t fully know the end of our stories either.  Like the disciples, we have to cling to the hope that life will make sense no matter how it turns out. We have to live in freedom not because everything will end in success, but because we have been assured that life will all make sense in the end. If we live in the light of hope and grace, we may learn that:

  • our biggest mistakes become our greatest blessings
  • our most painful heartaches become our greatest joys
  • and our greatest losses become our greatest gains.
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“First, Sandra Day O’Connor, An Intimate Portrait of the First Woman Supreme Court Justice”

The news has been brimming with tributes to Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens who died this week nine months shy of his 100th birthday. The comments did focus on his 35 years of important opinions on landmark Supreme Court Cases. But they also described a man of generosity, courtesy, intellectual curiosity, and willingness up until the day of his death to re-think his opinions and adapt to new ideas.

A week ago, I probably would have let this man’s death float away with the flotsam and jetsam of political news.  However, a few days ago, I finished a remarkable book about  Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor (known as FWOTSC: First Woman on the Supreme Court) by Evan Thomas.  My knowledge about the Supreme Court, our bulwark in an era when President Trump and his administration demolish the norms of  our constitutional democracy on a daily basis, has increased exponentially. 

For example, as I was wiping my eyes during the testimonials of people who had loved and respected Stevens, I flashed back to a story in the book about O’Connor’s first years on the court when she was trying to adapt to the lack of communication between the judges outside of oral arguments and the actual court sessions. The author describes O’Connor’s excitement and pride when Justice Stevens walked down the hall to her office to praise her for an opinion she had written. The walk, the office visit, and the praise were rare oc- currences for her.

When I heard Chris Hayes, the host of the MSNBC  TV show All In, say that he and his wife, a law professor who had clerked for Justice Stevens, recently attended a reunion of former Stevens’ law clerks, I had the background from this book to know and understand the role and importance of law clerks, the cream of the crop of law school graduates. They are not glorified secretaries.They research case law, prepare their Justice for oral arguments, and write drafts of majority and dissenting opinions – often without significant revisions from the Justices.  Evan Thomas, the author of First:  Sandra Day O’Connor,  An Intimate Portrait of the First Woman Supreme Court Justice, conducted in-depth interviews with dozens of the one hundred  plus  O’Connor clerks, many of whom became life long friends. Their personal stories gave me a real “feel” for how the Supreme Court operates, both in the courtroom and in the unseen offices and conference rooms.

Thomas’ book is more than a tale of important court cases.  It is a gracefully written story of a beautiful woman who grew up on an Arizona cattle ranch, developed thick skin under the teaching and criticism of a much-loved father, left her family for nine months of the year to attend a school where her precocious intelligence could flourish, refused a proposal from William Rehnquist (which caused some awkward moments when he became Chief Justice he joined the Supreme Court), and married the love of her life, John O’Connor, who essentially gave up his law career to follow her to Washington to be her life partner – and her dance partner at hundreds of glittering Washington D. C. parties. (Thomas writes that people would stop to watch John and Sandra dance.)

Sandra was extremely athletic; her favorite place to be was on the back of a horse cutting cattle, but she also excelled at tennis (one of her weekly partners was Barbara Bush), golf, hiking, fly-fishing and skiing. The mother of three boys, she was determined to create balance in life between her work and her family. She was a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals, the first ever female majority leader of a state (Arizona) senate and considered running for governor.  And then came the challenge and constant scrutiny of a quarter of a century as the first female Justice of the Supreme Court.

This is a heavy book in many ways.  The 476-page tome is literally heavy to hold, especially if you are reading in bed! It can be heavy reading – especially as court cases are described. But every time I began struggling in the weeds of constitutional law, the author would again bring in the delightful details of this delightful woman, and I would be back in love with her and her story. It is also heavy because it is so important. The personal, political, and professional story of the first female supreme court judge whose influence before, during and after her quarter century on the Supreme Court is a model for women who want to be taken seriously in what is still a man’s world.

Most importantly, it is a book about the rule of law, the interpretation of the Constitution, the differing visions that justices bring to a case, the compromises and lack of compromises on difficult cases, and – most importantly – the need for justices who are not political partisans, or who are not swayed by constituencies, but are willing to decide each case on its merits and in line with an interpretation of the constitution. Nothing in our chaotic political times is more important than a fair justice system, an independent Justice Department, and judges who live up to their high calling.

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We Are Our Own Worst Enemies

Once again, I pleaded with my husband to stop smoking – not just for my comfort and health but for his health. And once again he conceded that he was spending money on something that would kill him – that, in fact, is already killing him.

The next day a friend sent me an excerpt from one of my favorite Frederick Buechner books, Secrets in the Dark. Buechner describes a cigarette ad featuring beautiful people in a beautiful place smoking cigarettes. At the bottom of the ad is the surgeon general’s admonishment that cigarettes kill. Buechner’s message is that we are our own worst enemies:

“As nations we stockpile new weapons and old hostilities that may well end up by destroying us all; and as individuals we do much the same. As individuals we stockpile weapons for de- fending ourselves against not just the things and people that threaten us but against the very things and people that seek to touch our hearts with healing and make us better and more human than we are. We stockpile weapons for holding each other at arm’s length, for wounding sometimes even the ones who are closest to us.”

In my imagination I pictured Frederick Buechner and Frederick Bables meeting for coffee  and marveling  with disgust and foreboding the truth of a cigarette ad: what we love and protect the most can kill our bodies and/or our spirits.

Think for a moment of the thing and activities we love that can kill us physically or emotionally:

  • collections of favorite things that can become a hoarder’s (and his/her family’s)night- mare.
  • constant activity (resulting from individual responsibilities that may be good for us and beneficial for the world) that leaves us physically and emotionally exhausted and drained.
  • devices that connect us to the world but seem to require constant checking; social media messages that triple hourly; likes and comments that leave us wanting more and more.
  • food or drink which brings pleasure, but creates  a need which must be satisfied.
  • obsessive control of our children which rises from a heart of love but pushes us constantly checking up on them (no matter what age) advising them, preaching to them, or confirming in some way that they still care about us.

You can think of many more good things that can end as bitter pressures. And Buechner goes on to warn us:

“We need no urging to choose what it is that will destroy us because again and again; we choose it without urging. If we don’t choose to smoke cigarettes ourselves, we choose at least to let such ads stand without batting an eye. “Buy this; it can kill you,” the pretty picture said, and nobody on the train, least of all myself, stood up and said, “Look, this is madness!” Because we are more than half in love with our own destruction. All of us are.”

Here are some things to chew on as we attempt to navigate the madness of our world: Am I obsessed with something that will harm me? Is my family headed toward self-destruction because we don’t see the dangers in what we love? Is the western church so consumed with good things such as worship styles, raising funds or ratings, giant, well-appointed auditoriums that we miss the point of a spiritual journey all together? Are political parties so focused on the value of their partisan politics that they accept the narcissism of a president who causes havoc in our nation and the world? 

I recently  read a quote by William Faulkner:  “A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says,’This  is where I was when I moved again.'”  The example and spirit of Jesus will not help us build monuments to the things we love, but it can encourage us to walk away from them before we destroy ourselves.

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From My Reading

“You cannot make God love you any less, either—not an ounce less. Do the most terrible thing and God wouldn’t love you less. You cannot change the Divine mind about you! The flow is constant, total, and 100 percent toward your life. God is for you. We can’t diminish God’s love for us. What we can do, however, is learn how to believe it, receive it, trust it, allow it, and celebrate it, accepting Trinity’s whirling invitation to join in the cosmic dance” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, May 22, 2019).

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“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” (Rachel Carson).

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“When you can’t go far, you go deep” (David Steindl-Rast).

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“Abundance is not something we acquire.  It is something we tune into” (Wayne Dyer).

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Just as God cannot be ‘caught’ or ‘comprehended’ in any specific idea, concept, opinion or conviction, he cannot be defined by any specific feeling or emotion either. God cannot be identified with a good affectionate feeling toward our neighbor, or with a sweet emotion of the heart or with ecstasies, movements of the body, or handling of snakes. God is not just our good inclinations, our fervor, our generosity, or our love. All of these experiences of the heart may remind us of God’s presence, but their absence does not prove God’s absence. God is not only  greater than our mind; he is also greater than our heart, and just as we have to avoid the temptation of adapting God to our small concepts we also have to avoid adapting him to our small feelings” (Henri Nouwen in  You are the Beloved). 

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“Gentleness is a cultivated habit of sensitivity, founded on strength—not weakness. It’s a powerful skill sourced from God’s kind of love. An ability, a strain of inner toughness that can weigh anger and reason at the same time. It has the resilience to consider, at the moment, what’s at stake? Is it my inflated ego that’s been frustrated or has justice and fairness actually been violated?” (jonathan@jonathanrbailey.com, May 5, 2019). 

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The God Who is always There – Jeremiah 29: 1-14

Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this letter to the Hebrews who are in exile in Babylon, Jeremiah speaks the hard truth. The exile will be long. They will have to adapt and adjust to the situation in Babylon. However, he promises, God will always be there with them. This post was originally published on May 24, 2015.  It seems very appropriate for today’s world. 

  THE GOD WHO IS ALWAYS THERE – Jeremiah 29: 1-14

“This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. .  . . . This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bJeremiah 29 3ring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.'”

“CHEWING”

♥  From the time he was called, (“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you I appointed you a prophet to the nations”) Jeremiah spoke a dual message of judgment and of hope.  In this passage he tells the exiled people that they will be in exile for 70 years, but that God’s will is for them to make the best of it  –  including praying for the welfare of Babylon.  Jeremiah never minced the truth whether it is bad news or good.

♥ Life today is frighteningly reminiscent of the period when Jeremiah spoke. Our culture is enmeshed with false goods, misplaced hopes, and evil practices. We are in exile in enemy-occupied territory. We, too are called to live in the land and “seek its welfare.” And, like Jeremiah we are also called to be a “peculiar” people; we are to look different from the culture that surrounds us. We are to live in the hope and trust that God will not forsake us even when we are angry or in despair or feel forsaken.  God promises that when we search for God  and call upon God, God will hear us.  God’s ultimate plan is for our good – “to give us a future and a hope.”

DIGESTING

♥  This passage speaks of exile.  Our world is full of people who are displaced within their own countries or refugees seeking a new homeland.  exileWe also live in a culture when we can easily feel uprooted or dislocated or wrenched from the familiar.  Grief and loss can also create those feelings.  Endings and beginnings and transitions make us question who we are and who God is.  If you feel this way, take God’s promise to heart and listen for his plan to give you a future with hope. Memorize Jeremiah 29: 10-14 and repeat it every morning before you get out of bed.

♥ Look for a moment this week to speak a difficult truth into some situation, trusting that God will be there for you in those moments just as God promised to be there for Jeremiah. Others may not like your point of view.  They may even reject you along with the truth you tell.  You will be in good company; most people who heard Jesus rejected him and “rewarded” him with the death penalty

PRAYER

♥  My Father in Heaven, help me to become more like Jesus so that I will look different from others in my world who do not follow him.  Help me to speak the truth in love.  Help me to believe that you are a loving and nurturing God and that your dreams for me are my hope for the future.

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

“God only comes through doors that are purposely opened” (Rufus Jones in The Double Search).

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