From My Reading – August

“Trevor Hudson shared about seeing a neighbor moving bricks in his driveway. Being Trevor’s only day off, he hoped the neighbor would decline his polite offer to help. Instead, Trevor went home four hours and many bricks later. That Sunday the neighbor attended Trevor’s church and went on to become a disciple of Jesus. Trevor wasn’t trying to get him to church or “seal the deal” of his salvation. He simply responded to the invitation the Holy Spirit (and the encouragement of his wife!) to show tangible love to a neighbor (Brian Morykon, Renovare Weekly Digest, July 24, 2020).

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“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves” (Carl Gustav Jung).

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“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should, therefore, be the subject of our most personal attention” (Henri Nouwen).

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“When the waves close over me, I dive down to fish for pearls” (Masha Kaleko).

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“One of my friends was in crisis. He was walking through the valley of the shadow. A small group of friends gathered and yielded the floor to him. We were in no hurry. Tears began to stream down his face. “This has easily been the most difficult year of my life,” he said. We felt the weight of his words. We did not try to positively “spin” the moment. No one tried to manipulate the moment by reminding him of all he had to be grateful for. We let our friend speak like one of Israel’s psalmists, who cried out in pain and exhaustion. After an appropriate amount of silence had settled over us, this came out of me: “You have permission to live the most difficult days of your life in the safety of our presence.”

What I told him is a pretty good description of what a Christian community can be when things are working as they should: a safe place. A Christian community should be a place that grants permission to feel the loss, permission to grieve, permission to be where we are, and permission to tap into the pathos of the God who feel” (Daniel Grother in Chasing Wisdom).

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“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace, and a soul generated by love” (Coretta Scott King).      

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We are Safe

(This devotional first appeared in the July, August, September 2013 issue of Words of Hope. It is reprinted  with permission. Each day in 2020 and beyond we need to remember the magnificent claim of the writer of Hebrews as paraphrased by James Bryan Smith: “We live in the unshakable kingdom of God.  No matter what happens we are safe.”)

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Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God” (Hebrews 12: 28 in The Message).

My father volunteered to serve as a chaplain during World War II.  He left behind a wife and three-month old daughter – me.  After three years as a medic’s assistant, he was faced with the challenge of his lifetime:  stay with the wounded men he was treating and face certain capture or retreat with the rest of his unit.  He chose to stay.  He was captured and eventually liberated.  However, he was killed by friendly fire while marching to freedom.

A few years ago, as I prepared to share this story at a Memorial Day worship service, I felt the familiar tug between pride and anger.  Here was a man of integrity and valor!  But didn’t he know that when he stayed with his men he left me behind?  And then the truth of this verse hit me.  My father believed in the “unshakable kingdom.” He knew that no matter what happened to him he would be safe.  He also knew that I lived in that kingdom as well.  No matter what happened to him, I would be safe.

We all live in a world where fear and the unknown can shake our faith and destroy our dreams.  But God is in control of his kingdom. And what is to be our response to the wonder of that kingdom? Gratitude and a life “brimming with worship.”   

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From My Reading – July

‘The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,’ says Shakespeare, and you can just see him standing up there with his paunch and his black robe citing it. As somebody once said, comparing the church to Noah’s ark, if it weren’t for the storm without, you could never stand the stench within” (Frederick Buechner).

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“Something is authentic when whatever claims it makes for itself are consistent with its own interior reality.  Songs are authentic when they express something their writer actually feels. Mexican food is authentic when the ingredients and recipes used to make it really do come from Mexico. People are authentic when their hidden motivations match the things they actually say and do . . . . For the disciple of Jesus, authenticity is not so much a buzzword – it is a destiny” (Carolyn Arends, Renovare Weekly Digest, February 10 – 14, 2020).

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“When I bring myself into the presence of God, I imagine him in many ways: as a loving father, a supporting sister, a caring mother, a severe teacher, an honest judge, a fellow traveler, an intimate friend, a gentle healer, a challenging leader, a demanding taskmaster. All these “personalities” create images in my mind that affect not only what I think, but also what I actually experience myself. I believe that true prayer makes us into what we imagine. To pray to God leads to becoming like God. . . .” (Henri Nouwen).

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“Difficult times have helped me understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever”( Isak Dinesen).

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The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But the mystery of transformation more often happens not when something new begins, but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level, and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place. Most of us would never go to new places in any other way. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, dark night, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God.  We will normally do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart, yet this is when we need patience and guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, July 5, 2020).

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We Always Have a Choice

Well, I have arrived at my husband’s antiquated computer, figured out my Word Press password, and am here ready to post.  It has been a long journey.  One day a week ago or more ago, I logged off my computer after doing some e-mail.  About four hours later I logged on again – and had no wi-fi.  I could not e-mail, send a blog, print, do a web search. I was puzzled, then discouraged, then depressed, then ANGRY, then hopeless.  It was less than a year ago that my last computer died and my son had chosen this new one for me.

I think it was the hopelessness that got my husband out of his sick bed long enough to figure out his computer password and turn over his computer to me so I could at least connect with the world by e-mail. (No, I don’t have a smart phone, and even the flip phone I have isn’t reliable. But I have been on a “live chat” when it shuts down often enough so that I can fix it myself – which also happened in the week I am about to describe.)

But I am getting ahead of myself.

After concluding that I had no idea how to fix this particular problem with my less-than-a-year-old computer, I called my son, a computer science professor at Hope College who can fix anything on a computer . . . except, as it turns out, this problem. He took it home, worked on it, came up only with the fact that the device that connects to wi-fi must not work. He checked with the gurus in the Hope College tech department.  They agreed with his assessment. He took it to the Geek Squad at Best Buy.  They said that Ryan and friends were “probably right” so, since it was under warrantee, they would send it to Dell to be fixed.  However, it might take two or three weeks . . . you know, because shipping stuff is such a problem due to COVID 19.

So . . . here I am with my slow-as-molasses substitute computer with an external hard drive on which my son has loaded all my files ready to work – only to discover that my husband had never loaded Microsoft Office, so I can’t use my files.

But I have figured out how to blog.

Those of you who follow this blog may have noticed that my tendency is to turn every issue into a spiritual formation puzzle – what can I learn from this that will help me in my journey to be an apprentice of Jesus?

As I was mulling this question over, I started a count down of the other issues we have tackled in the days before the computer disaster:

♦   a water heater that went on strike.  Our wonderful maintenance guy (Lonnie) for the apartment complex installed a new element in less than two hours.  Voila!  Hot water.

♦  a toilet that was grossly plugged up twice – same wonderful Lonnie snaked it out twice.

♦  a napkin or kleenex that found its way into the washing machine and shredded over and on all the clothes.  Figuring that wonderful Lonnie wouldn’t fix this, I shook out each piece of clothing and hoped the dryer lint trap would get the rest.  It did.

♦  a food delivery service that  somehow  charged me for four cans of mandarin oranges when one can  was delivered.  Do you think I could find a number or e-mail address for the delivery service on the Meijer website?  You’re right.  So I called Meijer customer service for three straight days and heard “All our lines are busy now. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received).  I must have been caller number 1,349, because I never got through. When the Meijer delivery person came this week (not the same one as last week, of course), I asked him for a number to call to get this fixed and he gave me one.  Excitedly, I called it and got: “All our lines are busy now . . . ”  I gave up.

And then today, my  husband and I decided to visit a beautiful park on Lake Macatawa and “get away from it all. ”  As I backed out of the garage, torrential rain poured on us – all the way to the lake and the whole time we were there.  We had to use the windshield wipers to even see the  lake -and the two unfortunate boaters who had also been caught in the rain.

I walked into the house a half hour later in a very unspiritual mood. And then I remember-ed a quote from Henri Nouwen that I had saved (and evidently ignored) in a draft post weeks ago:

“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. . . . The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. . . . 

Ah. Yes.  I have a choice.  We all have a choice.  I can choose to be grateful for the blessings rather than rehashing all the complaints.  I learned this long ago, but it’s funny how all our spiritual lessons fly out the window when life doesn’t seem fair. So once again, I am choosing to be grateful for a boatload of blessing and shutting the door to complaints as tightly as I can until my computer arrives – or until something else goes wrong.

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The Tracks We Leave

He knocked on my back door with authority. He was was wearing a backwards baseball cap,  a T-shirt, and khaki cargo shorts.”My name’s Daniel. Are you expecting a delivery from Meijer?” he asked. I nodded.  “Can you bring the bags to the door?”

“Sure,” he responded.

I watched as he walked quickly back through the garage to his van and  opened the door to the cargo area. Immediately, as if they were straining to be released, a carton of Sunkist pop fell and broke in half. Twelve cans rolled around the parking lot. Quickly he scooped them up.  “Sorry,” he yelled.

“That’s okay,” I yelled back.  “At least the cans didn’t burst open.”  I went back inside and got my sturdy grocery-hauling walker. As he brought the bags, I put them on the walker always trying to beat my record of five bags in one trip. On the way back to the garage, I pulled  a $5 bill from my pocket.  He was putting the last bag on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” ‘he said, “They didn’t have any 2% milk.  Actually they didn’t really have any milk. And they were out the cheese you wanted.

“I’m not surprised. “I responded.  “They were on sale this week.”

“And who would have thought they would be out of Meijer croutons!’ he said apologetically.

“I’ll get them next week.” I said.

I pulled the $5 out of my pocket.  “Do you mind getting your tip in person?” I asked.  “I can never get the on-line process to work.

He grinned, “Actually, I prefer it that way!”  I handed him the money, he turned to leave, and I went into the house to put the groceries away.

I never really thought about the missing items until a few days later when I heard a knock on the front door.  I opened it and there he stood, holding two white plastic grocery bags.

“Hi, Daniel,” I said in surprise.  “Here,” he said handing me the bags. “I was at another Meijer store and I found the things you needed.”

I looked in the bags:  four packages of chunk cheese, two half gallons of 2 % milk, and a package of croutons. “You didn’t have to do that,” I responded.

“Yes, I did.  I do this to be a blessing and I didn’t think I was much of a blessing to you the last time I came.”

Tears came to my eyes.  “Well, you were a blessing then and you are a blessing now,” I replied.  “How much do I owe you?”

“I told  you, I do this to be a blessing,” and he turned and left.

I gathered the bags, went back into the house, and collapsed on the puffy blue recliner. These last months have been filled with bleak days of  illness and financial concerns.  After much discussion, my husband and I decided to spend money we don’t have to have our groceries shopped for and delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The shoppers for the Meijer program have never been repeat visitors – at least not yet. But they all have been good shoppers and friendly people. After our second delivery, I found a note card at the bottom of last bag.  It read, “Thank you for trusting me with your family’s shopping. Remember you are loved and prayed for.” That one brought me to tears as well.

I do hope that I see Daniel again, but even if I don’t, I will remember his “blessed to be a blessing” attitude.  His gift of grace brings a Dakota proverb to my mind, “You will be known forever by the tracks that you leave.” And those words remind me of the last verse of Psalm 23: “Surely goodness  and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”  This “goodness and mercy” is usually interpreted as God’s gifts to us. But as in Daniel’s case, it can refer to the goodness and mercy that each of us can leave behind for others.  In these times of fear and anger and loss, let’s remember Daniel’s gift and try to leave tracks of goodness and mercy.

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Confessions of a Racist (White Privilege – 2)

This is the second of two posts on White Privilege that I have re-posted today. This one was written in 2013.  Each post rings very true in today’s world. I hope both posts challenge and encourage you.

This morning I read a wonderfully warm and authentic article* by a local pastor on racism which, he called ” a slippery snake that pokes its head out of the rocks and then slides back into the labyrinth of our thoughts.”  In the article he comments, “More than once, we have seen public figures look into the camera and say, ‘I am not a racist.’ Who would dare to admit that, if they were?”

Well,  I’m always up for a challenge. So – I admit it.  I am a racist. And I bet you are, too.  I am also prejudiced.  And I bet you are, too.  Before you click out of this blog, let me assure you that now that I realize it, I do everything in my power NOT to act on racist or prejudiced thoughts that come, seemingly unbidden, to my mind. I hope you do, too.

I learned I was a racist nearly 30 years ago when I married a proud black man. At the time, I thought that  our relationship proved that I wasn’t a racist. (You know, like the way the people say, “I’m not a racist.  I don’t even see color.”)  However, as we have lived life together, we  have learned that we are each racist and prejudiced.  It has been a fascinating adventure for the past decades to look more deeply at my  initial responses to life and see how often they are prompted by a subconscious pre-judgment.

For example, living near Flint, Michigan for many years, I  absorbed the notion that when a big black man  comes down the street toward me, I should immediately head to the other side of the street.  When I realized what was motivating my crossing the street, I stayed right where I was no matter who was coming. This upset my husband who believed that because we were in a dangerous part of the city I should always be on the lookout for danger from any source – black, white, or purple.)  But that lesson taught me to look more deeply at the thoughts that poke their heads out of the rocks before I speak or act.

Today, while reflecting on the reality of the “unbiddenness” of racist thoughts and attitudes, I was reminded of a lesson in the Bethel Bible Series from years ago which taught that when sin came into the world (there’s that “slippery snake” again),  harmony left.  Before sin, we humans lived in harmony with each other, with God, and with the rest of creation. Even our souls were undivided.  But with sin came a desire for control and with the motivation to  keep or gain control came the urge to look at everyone and everything else as “other.”  We have perfected that caution about “the other” so  well that we don’t have to consciously make a choice to fear.  In fact, we have to make a choice to not fear.

So, yes, I have to admit that sometimes I look at “others” and prejudge their actions, their motivation, and their probable reaction to me based on what they look like and what color their skin is. But I am learning to disown those thoughts and am rewarded daily with deeper understanding of the harmony that God intended for his creation.

*Casting out Fear and Loving one Another by Chris DeVos in the Holland Sentinel (Sept. 14, 2013).

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For a brilliant description of the disease of white privilege and a superb suggestion of how to treat it, read Melissa Stek’s essay from the Reformed Journal – The Twelve.

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“I Just Don’t see Color” (On White Privilege – 1)

I’m taking an unusual step – re-publishing two posts at the same time.  This one is from February, 2017. It describes my journey in uncovering the the stain of white privilege and the horror of the assumptions, openly shared or deeply hidden, it motivates. The second post continues that theme.

In the recent film, Hidden Figures, Katharine (played by Octavia Spencehidden-figures-4r), a black woman who is in informally in charge of the “black computer group,” has been repeatedly denied promotion to supervisor by her white boss, Vivian. In my favorite scene in the movie, Katharine encounters her boss in the public restroom, which has been recently been desegregated. After an awkward pause, Vivian says, “Despite what you think, I don’t have anything against y’all.” In response, Dorothy fixes Vivian with an unforgettable gaze and delivers one of  the film’s most stirring lines: “I know you probably believe that.” 

In a scene from my life, a group has come in to give our staff “sensitivity training.” After nearly an hour of discussion about racial inequality in the work force, a staff member who has been looking puzzled finally says, “I really don’t understand what you are talking about. I just don’t see color.”  Several others smile and nod their heads.

With a huge sigh, the leader says, “That’s just the problem. We need to see color.  We need to see and accept differences.” Now I’m nodding my head.  For more than 25 years, I have been married to a black man. Before we began sharing life, I would have said the same thing:  “I don’t see color.” To say we don’t “see color” sounds inclusive and accepting. It implies: “I don’t treat people differently because of their color.” But to a person of color it says: “I don’t see you.” And, unfortunately, it means that white people do treat people of color differently.

I have learned from living in a black/white world, that I, a white American, have an attitude of privilege. White privilege means that being white is the ideal. “People of color,” a young black man recently mourned on the PBS News Hour, “are all trying to achieve whiteness. White is the default race.” As my husband  says, “‘If you’re white, you’re right. If you’re black, get back.’ For example, if you are white and you are going to an interview, all you have to do is put on good clothes.  If you are black, you have to change your color.”

The term white privilege refers to the way white people subconsciously assume the world to be – assumptions that are not part of the life of people of color. Activist and author, Jim Wallis says, “Whether we or our families or our ancestors had anything to do with the racial sins of America’s establishment, all white people have benefited from them. No matter who you are, where you live, how you have acted – and even if you have fought hard against racism, you can never escape white privileged America if you are white” (American’s Original Sin, p.35). 

As “educated” as I was about the world I lived in, my white privilege was so ingrained that I didn’t see it until it was brought to my attention by my loving but often impatient husband who frequently said, “You just don’t understand!!”

My White Privilege

Here is some of what I learned about my white privilege:

♦  My family assumed that I would receive a good public school education and graduate from college. I expected the same thing for my children. My husband Fred’s family taught him to find a job (with General Motors, if possible) and keep it all his life! “That is all that a black man can expect,” was their message. “Don’t even try to go to college.”

♦ My parents taught me to call a policeman when I am in trouble. The last thing my husband would do is call a cop! He, and all blacks – especially males – have been taught, “If you see a cop, hide!”

♦ I assume that I can drive down any street in any city with no harassment.  My husband has been stopped by police more times than I can count – for no other reason than he is black. I have been in the car with him some of those times. Some of those times, he has been searched for no reason.

♦ I assume that I may live wherever I want, as long as I can afford it. When we were first married, we learned about an apartment complex in a small town and went to look at it. As we turned off the highway to enter the city, Fred noticed that a police car which had been going west turned at a crossover and followed us into town. He said, “That cop’s following us.”

I said, “You’re crazy.  Why would he follow us? You weren’t speeding.” (White privilege rears its ugly head!)

The cop followed us to the apartment we had planned to look at and parked across the street while we debated going in.  Finally Fred said, “I’m not going to live anywhere where the cops follow me when I drive by.”  We left the town and headed toward the highway, followed by the cop.  When we turned onto the highway, he went in the opposite direction. I learned that we would have to go separately to check out rental properties; after one of us signed on the dotted line, the other could look at the property. Fred wasn’t wanted in the suburbs, and I wasn’t wanted in the segregated downtown. As a bi-racial couple, we weren’t wanted in either place together. 

♦ I assume that when I am interviewed on the phone, offered a job, and told when to report, that I would have the job. Fred was offered a job at 5:00 by phone and told to come in at 9:00 the next day.  I went with him because I was familiar with the town, and it was a long drive.  When he gave his name to the receptionist, there was a loooong pause. She said, “I’ll go get the boss.” After a loooong time, she came back. “The boss said that you are not what we expected after all. I’m sorry, we’ve hired someone else for that position.”  My husband just turned and left, tears rolling down his face.

♦ I assume that I will be waited on when it is my turn at a retail store counter. Fred is often ignored until I come up and stand next to him  . . .  and then I am waited on. The first time this happened, we had been shopping separately, and I wondered what was taking him so long. I finally went to find him. The sales woman turned to me and said “May I help you?”  I said, “No, but you can wait on my husband who has been standing here totally overlooked.”  (At least she had the grace to look embarrassed).

♦I assume that I will be welcome in church. When we moved to the town  where I had been raised, I proudly brought Fred to my former church. After the service, a woman came up to him and said, “You must attend the seminary here.”  Fred looked at me in confusion and said that he didn’t attend the seminary.  “Then you must be a visitor from Africa.” He turned to me again and then said, “No I live here.”  Now she looked confused. “Then why are here at this church?”  He said, “I’m with my wife.” She quickly turned and walked away.  A minute or two later, a man came and shook hands with Fred. “Welcome!” he said.  I smiled at him. Then he offered, “Did you know we have a second service?  Most people like you prefer that service.”

The next time you hear an interview with someone from Black Lives Matter or with a civil rights protester or with a mother of color complaining about her child’s poor education, stop and listen to what they are saying. Can you see that your assumptions about life are based on your white privilege? Can you understand why others are upset when they are denied the fulfillment of those same assumptions? And the next time you see a person of color, really see them.  Maybe even strike up a conversation and find out who this person really is.  We are all different, but we are all the same in God’s eyes.

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For a more complete treatment of the idea of white privilege, read America’s Original Sin, Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis. Better yet, gather a group of people and study it together.

For a black woman’s view on the presence of white privilege in the church, see this post in the blog Literary Hub.

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From My Reading – June

“It’s important to remember that almost everything we receive along the Christian road—   freedom—comes by degree. We don’t get it, we grow into it—like lava layers become ocean islands or infant limbs become sprinting legs. Freedom flourishes inside us as each of our root desires are reordered and reformed and redirected toward love”(jonathan@ jonathanrbailey.com).

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“Lying to God is like sawing the branch you’re sitting on. The better you do it, the sooner you fall” (Frederick Buechner).

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“The ‘self-denial’ many Christians practice is born of fear—fear of God’s punishment and others’ rejection. It’s the kind that denies our worth and belovedness, thinking we’re doing God a favor. The fruit is self-pity, resentment, and depression. 

“But the self-denial of which Jesus spoke is borne of love—love of God, love of others, and love, in the healthiest sense, of self. It is saying no to needing our own way (now!) to saying yes to God’s way and the interests of others. The fruit is life and peace” (Brian Morykon, Renovare Weekly Digest for February 3 – 7).

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“Darkness deserves gratitude.  It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight” (Joan Chittister).

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“But when the Bible is read through the eyes of solidarity—what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the margins”—it will always be liberating, transformative, and empowering in a completely different way. Read this way, Scripture cannot be used by those with power to oppress or impress. The question is no longer “How can I maintain my special and secure status?” It is “How can we all grow and change together?” I think the acceptance of that invitation to solidarity with the larger pain of the world is what it means to be a “Christian” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, May 24, 2020).

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Service doesn’t start when we have something to give – it blossoms naturall when we have nothing left to take” (Nipun Mehta).

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“When somebody you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience. When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence” (Frederick Beuchner in Wishful  Thinking).

 

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