By my side

I am so sad. This violent week in America has made me want to fall on my knees and weep in anguish. I don’t want to say much about it, because it already seems like everyone is talking and no one is listening. Believe me, my opinions are no better than yours.

And it is so hard right now to not pick a side. I examine every social media post and wonder, “Are they on my side? Am I on their side? Which side is this?” I am tired of sides. 

So I am asking you now, instead of being on my side, can you be by my side? Would you be sad with me? Can you sit by my side and be sad, too? Can you set aside the risk that you might not be “on my side” and just be “by my side”? Because we all have something in common. We are all sad. We are all heartbroken about the broken, dark state of this world. How about we stop worrying about being on the right side, and start being by each other’s side? 

So please sit by my side while I am heartbroken for the families of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile. They were loved. They will be missed. And that is heartbreaking. 

Please sit by my side while I am heartbroken over the loss of the officers in Dallas. Mourn with me that it was so senseless and evil and sad. Be broken hearted for the families. Remember the survivors and the long road of recovery for them.

Please sit by my side and be sad for mamas of young black kids who have legitimate concern for their children in this world. Be broken hearted with me for Baton Rogue and St. Paul, as they must do the hard work of rebuilding trust. 

Please sit by my side while I am heartbroken for the good and loyal officers who show up and serve to the grateful and the ungrateful. Be broken hearted by the betrayal they feel but ignore.

Friends, it is so lonely to be sad. Sit down by my side and be sad with me. And I will sit by yours and be sad with you.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Romans 12:14-16 (The Message)
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/94075184@N00/26535825126″>Had a bad day</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licmenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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Dead on a Hill

Here lies America, dead on a hill.

She was a beautiful, proud nation, violently begun with the blood of those who felt that the identity of ‘colony’ – of being a satellite of a far off sovereignty – was not to be tolerated. She needed to be her own.

She stumbled gloriously though history, shedding her own blood and the blood of others for her ideals, embarking on the grand experiment of democracy. Like all good experiments, this required a lot of trial and error, resulting in ragged progress forward and back, tremendous rights and wrongs. When necessary, there was no ally that was her equal, and her large, impetuous heart loved without end and oft times without wisdom.

mast-1130057_1920Her demise came not from outside attack from a greater nation, but rather from a poison born from within. It came when quiet, malevolent buds sprang up in her heart, the sweet smell of which was harmony- that all should agree on all things. Its blossoms bore the dark fruit that was discord, not over things disagreed upon, but for the insistence that harmony exist. But in the grand experiment- and in this world- harmony is not possible.
And so from within America ripped herself to shreds with the insistence that she agree with her schismed self. She died not from the difference of opinion, but from the absolute inability to allow there to exist a different opinion. From this was raised up leaders that represented not her absolute best, but her absolute worst, leaders that thrived on the dark, discordant fruit. Though they should have been outright rejected by all, they were instead championed by her people’s inability to back down from their entitled right to their personal ideals.

An old, old idiom asks the question so very worthy of all our disagreements: “Is this the hill you want to die on?” America has answered.

Here lies America, dead on a hill.

 

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Shelter for the Dangerous Heart

Okay, let me start by saying that this is not about what the U.S. or any other country should do about the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s a complex issue that has a complex answer, and I am just a simple science teacher whose opinion really can’t sway anyone, and I don’t have any answers anyway.

However, in processing the whole thing in my own head, I am struck by a metaphor that I wanted to share. The refugees as a group are lost, scared, and without a place to shelter. They are looking to leave behind them a place of brokenness, sadness, danger. It is a place that they realize is no longer home to them. They are looking for hope, and they looking for a fresh start. However, hidden amongst them is perhaps an an element of evil, individuals who could use the granted asylum to penetrate the defenses of a well meaning nation. Opening our country makes us vulnerable. There is risk. There is no guarantee that our good will while saving many wouldn’t be abused by a small fraction.

Here’s the metaphor that I just can’t shake. When I first approached Christ as my Savior, I was lost. I was scared. I was without a shelter.

I was looking to leave behind a place of brokenness, sadness, and danger, a place not home to me.

I was looking for hope and a fresh start.

And, hidden deep in my heart, is an element of darkness. I hope I would never be capable of the kind of violence that we have seen in our world of late. But though I might never murder, Jesus himself tells us, You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Be angry with my brother or sister? Uh-oh. Use sharp, cutting words that wound hearts and spirits? Not good.

Do I unfairly pass judgement? Do I reject? Do I exclude? Do I boast? Do I gloat? Do I covet? Do I contain some element that will wreak havoc somewhere to someone? I did, and I do. Be assured, I do.

 And yet despite the fact that God knew me, knew my deceitful heart, saw clearly the element of darkness that I tried so hard to conceal, He also saw my heart as lost and broken, in need of shelter. He saw my hope for something better, my hope to be better, and He never flinched. He never wavered or questioned. He saw me, saw mostly that I was wretched and alone and in need of a safe harbor, but also that I was dangerous and came with risk. He saw me and despite the fact that I would fail Him, He would not fail me. He took me in, and I was a refugee no more. He saw me, as he sees you and He says ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’

As I said, I have no answers for the complicated problem of refugees. It is a complicated problem with complicated answers. What I do know is this: I was lost and broken and a little bit dangerous. With full knowledge and understanding of who I am, I was taken in.

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Photo Op

This summer my family and I had the dubious honor of being at Disney World one week before they banned the use of selfie sticks. It was a good move by Disney. There were times in the parks that we couldn’t move because of all the selfie action. People were standing in two hour long lines to get a selfie with some of the characters. To be fair, I admit that I did take a fair number of pictures. But I was struck more than once by the idea that people were so intent on documenting their amazing adventure that they were actually missing out on experiencing it.

Fast forward a couple weeks into the summer. We are back from Florida; it is hot; I am bored and would like to do something productive with my summer, and I think about the pictures I took. Well, then I start thinking about the pictures I took in 2009- on my family’s FIRST trip to Disney. I had bought a scrapbook, cute Disney stickers, awesome crafty Disney stuff to make the perfect scrapbook of our perfect trip to Disney. Then a bunch of stuff happened and I never got that scrapbook made (does that sound familiar to anyone?).

xmas1So how could I possibly tackle our 2015 Disney trip photos if the 2009 photos weren’t done properly? I had frequently wanted to take them all out and make an awesome scrapbook, but you know what held me back? I knew if I took out all the stuff to make the scrapbook, my kids would be all up in my business wanting to help. And let’s face it, their pages would not be precious like my pages would! How could I possibly deal with their imperfect handling of my perfect Disney trip!?

Then I remembered the selfie stick ban. I remembered thinking that people were working too hard at getting the perfect shot and completely losing sight of enjoying the moment itself. Our 2009 trip to Disney wasn’t perfect, anyway. My kids were 2, 5, and 6. Naps were missed. There was crying. One of them “un”-potty trained herself because those self-flushing toilets scared her so bad. We didn’t get to ride any of the big rides because the trip was about our little family, not our big family. And yet despite all this imperfection, the trip was glorious. We met Minnie Mouse. And Lilo and Stitch. We witnessed magic and wonder and laughter and fun, and we did it together as a family. The trip was glorious because it wasn’t my trip- it was OUR trip.

image1 (1)With that thought in mind, I took out all the photos and craft papers and stickers and laid it all on the kitchen table one morning. The kids and I spent all day making pages, laughing, and remembering. The pages are cute, but not perfect. But those pages are OURS, and represent the togetherness that it took to make the memories. And now we also have the memory of the day we made that book- together.

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I Wish the Local Church Knew…..

Her.meneutics is sponsoring a writing contest, giving female Christian bloggers the prompt “I wish my local church knew…”

So I did some reading, thinking, praying, took an unscientific poll on Facebook (Hi, guys!) and here’s what I came up with:

I wish the local church knew that it was not Jesus. 

Why would I think the local church might believe that it was Jesus? Mostly because a lot of the time it  acts like it thinks it is Jesus.

We think we are Jesus when we throw stones. In the public trial of the adulterous woman, Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Cue everyone to drop their stones and walk away. The only one there qualified to throw a stone was Jesus, because He was the only one who was without sin. So when we, the church, condemn someone for their sin, we are chucking a rock that we are not really qualified to chuck. And for those of you who like to cry “but then He told her go and sin no more!” Yes, he did. Jesus is like that. He brings change to hearts that need changing. He sure did it for me. But remember, church, we are not Jesus. We aren’t the ones changing the hearts. The lost world is lost. Why are we surprised that they act that way? Which brings me to my next point.

We think we are Jesus when we decide who does and doesn’t understand things that are Spirit-discerned. Paul said in 1 Corinthians “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. In plain language, this says that if someone is a “natural man” (not a Christian benefited with the Holy Spirit), they cannot understand the things that a Spirit-filled person can. Our bible may be complete foolishness to the natural man, lacking any credibility. This cannot be changed without the Spirit, which may sound like more foolishness to him. Conversely, that Spirit may be hard at work within that natural man. Let’s let Jesus understand the workings of a person’s heart, and not assume we do. So we need to be careful about taking too much responsibility, which is next.

We think we are Jesus when we take personal responsibility for someone’s acceptance or rejection of Him. The world feels judged by us, and they are right to feel that way. We judge them. Lots of times we unfairly judge them (remember that thing where we are not Jesus?). But the church could stop judging entirely and the world would still feel judged. That’s because God set up right and wrong and  He created us to be like Him, and when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the garden, all of us became aware of it. As a Christian community we could live by God’s law and just keep our lip zipped and it would still offend the non-believing world because it knows its own sin. That sin nature, born within each of us, is a wicked enemy of God. It doesn’t want us to know Him, so it works to reject anything of God. But when someone you have been talking to, praying for, and encouraging rejects God, it can feel awfully personal. Set that feeling aside. You are not Jesus. He tells us in John 15 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (Don’t get a big head about that though. It is also very possible that the world hates you because you are being a jerk.)

We think we are Jesus when we pretend to be perfect. Jesus is perfect. We are not. Pretending we are hurts those outside of the church because we look like a bunch of hypocrites (because they have figured out that we are actually NOT perfect. Gasp! What gave us away?) Perhaps as damaging, though, is the false perfection we portray within the church. Here is a secret for those of you outside the church: we on the inside are just as broken, wounded, and guilty as those on the outside. But the inside is better. That’s what we need you to know. On the inside you figure out how to become unbroken, healed, and made new. It’s Jesus. It’s His love. He makes us all whole and new. But inside the church, we sometimes act as if we are not all coming from the same broken place. We act as if we were never broken in the first place, and that isolates those who still need more healing. They feel alone. It also robs Jesus of His glory. He DID fix us. We are not in the church because we are awesome. We are in the church because God loves us and made us whole. He loves those outside of it, too, which is why we can never give up.

We think we are Jesus when we think we know who will love Him and who will reject Him. No one is beyond hope. God’s grace is for everyone. Not all will receive it, but we don’t get to decide if someone might or might not. That is a dangerous, arrogant position. We don’t get to decide who is or is not worthy of his grace, and we don’t get to decide who is going to be reconciled with God. Therefore we never get to give up and decide that this world is just too tough and too hard and too lost. We are not Jesus. We don’t know. Keep praying. Keep telling. Keep hoping. That is obedience.

So, local church: We are not Jesus. We are His imperfect church, His beloved children. What can we do in light of this? Love God imperfectly but yearn for His perfection. Love your neighbor imperfectly but yearn for His perfection. Live your life imperfectly but yearn for His perfection. In the end He will make you perfect. It’s what He does.

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July 12, 2015 · 11:02 pm

On the Hunt

spring10 027

I know this sounds silly, but one thing I hated when I was a kid was Easter Egg Hunts. To be competitive on the Easter egg hunting grounds, you have to be fast and you have to be competitive. Any Easter egg hunter worth anything knows that the hunt is pretty much over in the first few minutes. You can see it in the eyes of all the kids, standing behind the start line, waiting for some adult to yell “GO!” already.  The look in the hunters’ eyes says “You better NOT touch my eggs.”

The best hunters don’t pick up eggs immediately.  When they hear “GO!” they put their elbows up and out, leap over the two-year-olds in the way, and sprint out to the middle of the battleground, um, I mean field.  There they start collecting there where there is less competition. While the crowd is fighting over the eggs near the starting line, these skilled egg collectors have easy pickings on the other end of the field. In less than a minute or two though, the crowd of hunters will see that they need to spread out, and the field will be covered with kids pushing and shoving to get their treasures.

As a kid, I was slow (still am). I was mild mannered. I never had enough of a killer instinct to succeed at the Easter Egg Hunt. I usually didn’t get any eggs at all. I had to rely on the charity of my friends who, seeing my pitifully empty basket, would hand me an egg or two. Good thing I had fast friends.

The thing about the Easter Egg Hunt is that there is a limited number of eggs.  There is only so much to go around, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s it. That’s why you have to run as fast as you can, beat those who are around you, and grab eggs out of others reach. Otherwise, you might not get any.

What if God’s love was like that?  What if God made His love hidden, hard to find, and limited to who was fast enough to get it first? What if God only gave His love out to the fastest, the best, the most competitive, the cleverest? Would you get an egg? Would I? Would it make you compete all the harder to get it, or would it make you decide that it was too hard to earn God’s love and give up?

God’s love is not like that though. First of all, it is not limited. Ephesians 3:18 talks about how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  Secondly, God’s love is not given to you because of how hard you worked or “hunted” for it. It says so in Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And thirdly, God’s love for us is available to all who seek it, not just the fastest, or cleverest, or best. Like is says in John 3:16 For God so loved THE WORLD that He give His one and only Son so that whoever believed in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

Here is a similarity to the Easter Egg Hunt, though. Remember when I said that the only eggs I got were the ones my friends would give me out of pity? God’s love is something that you can share as well. Do you have a basket full of it? Awesome! Can you share with a friend that hasn’t got any yet? Even better.

 

Originally posted for PCCStudentMin, April 6, 2012.

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April 5, 2015 · 4:32 pm

Dear Mrs. White

photo credit: greenpoint vintage

 Dear Mrs. White, 

This is Mike from your first period class. I am the on on the lacrosse team, and I sit in the second row. I am really struggling to make a good grade in chemistry. It seems like no matter how hard I try, or how many times I come in for help, I still don’t do well on the tests. I am thinking about giving up and dropping your class.

It has been years since I got this email, but it still breaks my heart. Why? Because this kid wasn’t even sure I knew who he was. 

But I did know exactly who he was. I knew he worked hard to barely get a B, even though he had the effort to merit an A. I knew he took great notes, did all his homework, and came in for extra help. And yet he still barely hit a mid-C on each test. He was doing all the right things, but chemistry was still hard. I knew him, and I saw his struggle.

I see all my students. I see the ones who work hard and still struggle, I see the ones who don’t work hard and manage to get A’s. I see the ones that succeed and cheer them on. I see the ones who don’t do the work, but cannot make the connection between that behavior and their lack of success (those ones drive me a little nuts). But I see them all, and honestly, and have great affection for them even in their struggle. 

Sometimes, when we are struggling, and are trying hard to do all the right things, it can feel like God does not see us. Our soul cries out ‘Do you even know who I am, God? Do you see me slogging through this earthly mire? Because I don’t feel seen or known by you!’

But God sees us. He sees those of us who struggle and strain even though we are doing all the right things, and fortifies us through it. He sees us in the midst of our joy because He is the source of it. He sees us when we are suffering because of our own bad choices and loves us regardless, and waits for our return. But He sees us. He knows our successes and failures, whether they be our fault or out of our control. 

God sees you. He knows your struggle. He knows the good and the bad about you. He sees you, and He loves you.

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March 30, 2015 · 8:35 pm