Beauty in the Breaking

I just returned home a few days ago from spending four days at my sister’s house in Michigan. She and her husband purchased the house after many years of living in a very nice suburb of Grand Rapids. My sister had wanted to downsize to a smaller house now that her kids are grown, and they finally got a wonderful house on Campbell Lake.

Last month, I had the experience of an emotional break due to years of pushing ahead and trying not to feel the pain that had been building up inside of me since my daughter’s passing. While the episode was difficult and painful, a lot of good came from it. I finally realized that I need to stop and listen to my own inner self. I realized that I had been neglecting my own needs in an attempt to look strong to others and to myself. I also discovered that I had not communicated just how much I was suffering to those closest to me – not my husband, not my family – not even myself. The painful crash was my spirit’s way of calling for help. So, I began to seek help for myself for the first time in a long time. And, it’s been wonderful. I can’t tell you just how joyful and freeing it is to actually be able to express my truth to those I love and to have them listen. This journey toward healing is truly a joyful one.

The trip to visit my sister was part of my healing. I needed to just be somewhere without any expectations for awhile. I needed to be surrounded by love, and beauty and peace.

I took the train to Grand Rapids and arrived late on a Monday evening. The next day, my sister had to babysit two adorable kids. One of her neighbors had a farm and invited us to come to pet her two horses and get fresh eggs from her chickens. Right away, I knew that God had designed this special time for me. Since Amber’s death, I had strongly felt that I would find healing in the company of horses. I have always loved them. Touching them is something that speaks to my soul. Not only that, but I got to be around children. I love being around children. They really bring healing and light with their innocence and fresh ways of seeing the world.

Being with my sisters and mom was also wonderful. We were able to share honestly, and lovingly. I have never felt closer to them than I do now, after this time together. I know that I am loved and cherished. I have experienced the love of God through them.

As the weight of the false need to please other people, to jump through hoops to prove that I’m good and worthy to others and to myself, and to save everyone but myself, was lifted, life started to look brighter than it has ever looked. It’s as if I’ve been wearing dark glasses and I’ve now taken them off. And, that’s why I have begun to see beauty in places I never did before. I sort of laugh a little at myself because one of the favorite things that happened at the lake was the time I spent communing with minnows. You read that right – minnows. Something about them spoke to me for the first time in my life. I’d always just sort of ignored them before. But now, I started watching them and hoping they would come up to me. While I used to try to avoid having them nibble my toes, this time, I invited it. It took a long time of me sitting mostly still in the water before they would get close enough to touch me, fleetingly. I loved their tiny bodies, eyes and fins. They darted around so quickly. Their touch felt like kisses from angels. I have been very puzzled at my reaction to these unobtrusive, almost invisible creatures for a few days. But, looking back, thinking, I see that its a symptom of my healing. I am noticing the little things again. I am appreciating the small joys life brings and I feel abundantly blessed.

I still have a lot of work to do until I can overcome the weight of years of pain, trauma and neglect. I am learning though, and I feel ready finally for this journey. Yes, I have been broken. But, you know what? These cracks, as I’ve heard said many times, is how the light gets out. I hope that all of the healing light I’m receiving can spill out in beauty from my life and bless other people who need healing too. We all need each other, cracks and all.

No to Barbie Doll Jesus

My little girl liked Barbie dolls. A lot of children, and even adults, like them. Since 1959, there have been billions of these dolls sold. There have been Barbies of every type, from Malibu Barbie and Cat Burglar Barbie, to Princess Barbie and Star Trek Barbies. When it comes to dolls, it’s nice to have variety. But, when we’re talking about Jesus, the savior of humanity who died on a cross to save people from their sins — there is only one. At least only one that is real.

Most people who are Christians agree that there is one Jesus written about in the New Testament of the Bible. They believe he was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, that he had 12 disciples, did miracles, taught people about God, threatened the religious establishment and eventually was arrested, tried and executed via crucifixion. We (I claim to be among this number) believe that his death was a saving sacrifice, taking away the sins of the world. We believe that he was buried, and after three days, was raised from the dead, showed himself to many people and then ascended to Heaven. Sounds pretty simple really.

But, maybe it isn’t. Since the time of Jesus, there have been questions about who Jesus is, and there has been mountains of material written about him. Yet, the Christian church has had some basic agreements about who we believe Jesus to be. The problem is that in order to finally tame the unruly, rebellious Christ followers of the early years, Roman ruler Constantine decided to legitimize and co-opt Christianity to become a state religion. I learned this from a few books I’ve read, one Brian Zahnd’s Farewell to Mars and Mike Slaughter’s Renegade Gospel. Suddenly, Jesus wasn’t Lord and Savior, Teacher and Resurrected Living Master, but he was State Jesus, Jesus who is on OUR side, a Jesus who cares about what we care about, loves who we love, hates who we hate, and who looks very little like the Jesus of Scripture.

So, now this rebel, this One who tamed the seas and raised the dead has many identities thrust upon him – identities that I don’t think are accurate, or reflect who Jesus is.

We have Sunday School Jesus — everybody loves Sunday School Jesus. He’s meek, he’s mild and gentle as a lamb. He loves the children, he is everyone’s friend, and he glows white. He is not Middle Eastern. And, he does not make waves. There is some truth in this one. We read about his gentleness, and how he blessed the children in the Bible. We hear him talk about love and turning the other cheek. And, we hear him called the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God.

Then, there is Hippie Jesus of the Jesus Movement. That’s the Jesus I sort of grew up to embrace. I turned from Sunday School Jesus to a hipper, peace/love dude who looks like he came straight from Godspell or a grunge rock music video. He loves Christian rock, the beach, bare feet and rap sessions where we all just tell him our problems and he listens. He is totally cool with whatever we do, as long as we’re “cool” with each other. He’s still white, btw, but, he’s got black friends, so that’s pretty progressive. And, there is some truth in this picture. We do read that Jesus tells people to love their enemies, to not take revenge, and we read where he turned water to wine and didn’t fit into the establishment. He even surfed, dude! Well, I guess you can call his walking on water hanging ten.

There is Superhero Jesus. I remember a pastor made waves by saying he couldn’t worship a wimpy Jesus, a Jesus that he said “he could beat up.” He wanted a manly, he-man Jesus who could flip a table with one hand and punch a bad guy with the other. This Jesus glows, rides the clouds, and is ready to zap out some retribution on all the evil types that we are prepared to sic him on – all those people we don’t like. We get some truth to that somewhere too. His miracles were certainly displays of power. Demons cowered before him, and the Scriptures do talk about him turning over tables in the Temple. They also say he’s coming back to judge people one day.

Irrelevant Religious Jesus. This is a popular Jesus these days. He’s the one who keeps in his place, a little religious box we’ve set aside for him. He’s the Jesus who politely stays quiet while we do what we want, and who we can then take out on Sundays or other religious events, and wave around to show we are Christians. He is interchangeable with Bumper Sticker Jesus, except with this version, you don’t have to remember not to drive like a jerk. This Jesus might also be called Stealth Jesus. He’s there when you want him, and invisible when you don’t. This Jesus isn’t really found in Scripture, but, he’s popular anyway.

American Patriot Jesus. This is the Jesus I consider to be the most dangerous and annoying of them all, but, I will take a look anyway. I’ve actually followed this Jesus a bit in my life because he looks darned good to most red-blooded (white) American evangelicals. This Jesus backs every political opinion we have. He supports our favorite TV pundits, radio hosts, televangelists and political candidates. American Patriot Jesus loves our troops, supports us in war, roots for our sports’ teams, waves our flag, supports our rights to own guns, and he hates who we hate. He cares a lot about un-born babies, hates criminals (and believes that anyone a policeman targets is in deed a criminal, no need for a trial), and he does not tolerate any gay people, except maybe if they vote Republican and are white. He also is white but he likes people of color who show the proper amount of respect for their white superiors (meaning, they are people who spend a lot of time burying their own identities to fit in with the establishment), and he has a real fondness for Independence Day parades. He is the one who finds politics life or death important. He is the one who can’t stand all of those fancy, think they know-it-all scientists who think the earth’s climate is changing, who think that evolution is actually a thing, and who want to use stem cells to try to cure diseases. He also thinks poor people are freeloaders that you cannot trust, that those living in certain neighborhoods with certain skin colors are most probably drug dealers or prostitutes (aka thugs). He thinks that Christians are indeed persecuted in the good old U.S. of A. because stores consider there are other people besides Christians in the country and don’t all say Merry Christmas and they put bunnies out for Easter — oh, and they make them make wedding cakes in their open-to-the-public bakeries for gay people (gasp!). That stuff makes American Patriot Jesus steaming mad. This Jesus gives white Christian evangelicals special blessings that nobody else gets, like sunny days when they want to golf, forgiveness if they’re male leaders who do inappropriate things to women (because it is always the woman’s fault anyway), and extra raisins in their raisin bran. I am not exactly sure where this Jesus came from, but he is hugely popular, and is one good guy for a good ol’ boy to hang out with. Oh, and he ALWAYS votes Republican!

Here’s the thing about Jesus though. He doesn’t come in a box, and you can’t pick and choose what parts you want to add on to him. The Jesus that Scripture gives us is a man who is first of all from Israel, a Mid-East country where people have darker skin tones. Secondly, Living Jesus is Lord and gets to tell US what to do if we are Christians, and we are supposed to actually obey. This Jesus, the only real Jesus, DID teach us to turn the other cheek. He DID tell us to love our enemies (and killing them is not loving them). He also taught us that what we do the least of these (Matthew 25) we do to him. (Deporting Jesus are we?) Jesus didn’t punch anyone. He did turn over tables. Turning over tables is not our excuse to be jerks (we’re just being like Jesus!) unless we are doing it in protest of the poor being taken advantage of. Jesus didn’t come to support an earthly (worldly) government. He brought the kingdom of heaven. He is not endorsing people for president. And, he most certainly isn’t endorsing someone who has no Christian values of any sort. The most public thing Jesus did was die. When he performed miracles, he told the witnesses not to tell others. He was not showing off his power. That wasn’t his purpose. His death was public. His humility and sacrificial love took center stage there and proved once and for all who God is. God is master, but he is also love. And love serves and gives. Love gives everything if it has to to save the object of its passion.

I want to follow a real Jesus. I want to walk in those footsteps of humble, sacrificial love, as I serve others to help bring about a just kingdom, ruled not by greedy billionaires, but by the Prince of PEACE. The Prince of Peace weeps over Jerusalem, and over us all, and says, “If only we had known the things that make for peace, but we would not have it…”

Lord Jesus, be lord again of all of us who have blindly followed the wrong Jesus. Forgive us, master, savior, merciful one, for our lack of mercy, our stubborn certainty, our embrace of evil and our lack of love. Restore a right picture in us of who you are. Don’t let us exchange the beauty of your reality for something made in a campaign headquarters. Forgive us for sullying your name and presenting such a false picture of who you are. Lord, I pray for our world, let us love it like you do. Don’t let us remain puffed up in our own pride. We pray in Jesus’ name – Amen.

Taking a Break

I’ve been trying to make a mindful activity for every day of Lent this year, hoping to move people to think outside of themselves, especially Christians, and to re-orient their inner selves. We all need to do that from time to time. And, I should have a third part to post today, but, I don’t. I don’t have it done and there is a reason for that, besides being really busy. Another reason is that I need a break.

Some people may know that March 28 is the 6th anniversary of my daughter’s death and I am not healed. Far from it. What can ever heal a gaping hole left by someone so very dear? Yes, I do believe Jesus heals, but this is a huge wound. I have tried to fill it with doing more and more things, soldiering on to prove that I’m strong, but these things don’t fill me. In fact, they drain me. I have a disease, and it is called depression. Others suffer this too, I know. The fact is that every day is a struggle for me. I am in therapy, and that helps, but I need to do more. And, I need to do less. I need to find ways to care for myself and I need to actually face the huge loss and trauma that I’ve endured instead of trying to perform for what I think others want to see from me. God knows who I am, and God loves me the way I am. God heals in many different ways. He uses people with talent and skill and he uses medicine. Yes, sometimes, healing happens magically, but that doesn’t mean that other types of healing are not just as special or as much of a blessing. Needing others, needing help, is not something to be ashamed of. It is the way God made us – to be interdependent, not independent.

So, I am taking a break for the rest of this month from trying to fulfill expectations of what I think people want from me. Sure, I will do essential things. I’m a secretary. I have a job. And, I have other responsibilities. But, I am freeing myself from this drive to be perfect.

My daughter, Amber, was (and is) Beauty, Joy, Laughter, Purity, Honesty, Unconditional Love and my best friend. She was my world for 23 years. When she died, I was thrust from a place where I felt safe and loved into a world that I was a stranger to. I am a toddler in this world that I have been born into since her passing. So, I’m going to need to navigate it the best way I know how – learning, growing, taking steps, and maybe falling down sometimes. I am going to try to give myself grace to do that.

And, if any of you are also suffering from mental health issues, depression, anxiety, phobias, PTSD, etc., please, do not be ashamed. It is not a failure. It is a struggle. Everyone has struggles, and each person has a different struggle than their neighbor. Whatever the case, reach out for help because we do need each other. That is how God (or Love) works.

So, for the rest of Lent, just re-read the first two parts of my Lenten blog and repeat some of the days. That’s the best I can do right now. Peace and blessings.

Giving Up Privilege for Lent Part Two

This is a continuation of my 40-day challenge to help us all seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God during the season of Lent. I want to especially thank Jacqueline Menjivar for allowing me to use her work, a true blessing.

Day 8 – Mindful Activity
This one is simple but not very easy to do.
For every person you walk by this week, if you can, look into their eyes. Acknowledge that they exist. If you feel inclined, smile at them. Say hello if your heart feels the desire.
When you talk to someone, don’t watch their mouth, stare into their eyes. It’s overwhelming how a person can disarm you this way.
Stop staring down at your phone and look at every person that you can. Then take the activity I gave you guys before and give yourself a moment to think about their life.
You become human when you feel on a human level towards someone else. Be human this week, be raw, real and open. Jacqueline Menjivar

Day 9 – Think About Christianity and Justice
There are areas where evangelical Christianity has fallen short – very, very short when it comes to the issues of racism, justice and equality.
Recognizing this fact may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary if we are ever going to change what we know to be wrong. Correcting wrongs, REPENTING, is God-honoring. Repentance is more than just saying “sorry” and continuing in the same direction. It is TURNING AROUND, and working to undo the wrongs you have committed. Obedience is key here. So, please, plow ahead in the spirit of prayerfulness, humility and obedience.
Read one, or all of the following links that address the issue of racism and/or injustice within Christianity, especially in the United States.
Disparity in Christian Publishing

Or read this article from from Fuller Studio
Reconciliation

Day 10 – Giving Up the Center
As Christians, we very often talk about who is on the throne of our lives. Is Jesus on the throne as Lord of our life, or are we on the throne and living for ourselves (carnally)? Part of growing up in a society of white centeredness is instinctively centering our conversations, and thinking around ourselves, rather than on others. But, when people of color are constantly drowned out by us, their very real needs and their humanity, is hidden from us. It takes work to de-center ourselves, but as Christians, we have some help – and that help comes from God.
Practice for the rest of this season of Lent consciously stepping down off of the throne and recognizing Jesus as your Lord, and then practice being humble and thinking of others first. Paul writes about this in Philippians 2:3-11 When he says that we should think of others first and be humble like Christ.
Here I am posting it from the Common English Bible translation. Feel free to read it in whatever translation you prefer – or read it from more than one translation.

Philippians 2:3-11
Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Day 11 – Fast and Share
A lot of people fast during Lent. The practice of fasting is an important part of our spiritual journey. It reminds us that spiritual food is just as (or more) important than physical food. It reminds us to put our needs, wants and cravings aside to humble ourselves and seek God above all things.

Even Jesus fasted. Remember the famous story about how Jesus was led into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days, when Satan came to tempt him? The first thing Satan tempted him with was food. How shrewd. He knew how hungry Jesus must have been. He told him to turn the stones to bread so that he could eat. What could be wrong with that? What is wrong with us pursuing and seeking what satisfies our own hungers and cravings?

It isn’t wrong to eat. Far from it. God created us to need food. But, obeying Satan would have been destructive to Jesus’ ministry and spirit and Jesus knew that. When we throw aside the service of God to satisfy ourselves, that destroys our ministry and wounds our spirits. It moves God off of the throne of our lives. Fasting is another way of moving ourselves off of the center throne of our lives so that we depend on God to save us.

Of course, we don’t have to fast for 40 days. But, how about fasting from junk food for a day and donating the money you would have spent for it to a charity that feeds people who really need food? How about donating non-perishable food items to a local food bank?

I leave it to you to figure out how you might fast on this day, but however God leads you to fast, share with others the food that we so easily obtain – but others struggle to possess. And, while you fast, please remember to fast from hate, fear and a spirit of judgment against others. Instead, feast on love, humility and reverence.

Read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Luke, chapter 4, beginning with verse 1. Pray that God would strengthen your spirit while you deny your flesh.

Day 12 – What About Our Enemies?
Do you have enemies? Are there people you fear? Are there people who you think might consider you their enemies? When Jesus walked the Earth, he had many enemies. People regularly wanted to kill him, and eventually they did. He and his people were occupied by Rome and the empire was often cruel, harsh and destructive to the people they occupied. Crucifixion was a terrible, tortuous punishment. Floggings were brutal and debilitating.

So, Jesus, as the Son of God, did he advocate that his followers seek to overthrow the enemies that ruled them? Did he suggest that the kingdom of heaven would be a place where all injuries and injustices would be avenged?

How many Christians today see Muslims as enemies? How many feed themselves on a constant diet of scandalous news and teaching that highlight cruelty by extremist Muslim groups? How many Christians condone torture, drone strikes, and all-out war against Muslims because of this? How many condone banning Muslims from entering our nation? How many Christians have labeled all Muslims as the Enemy?

What did Jesus say about what our attitudes should be toward enemies?

I believe any Christian who has ever been to a worship service or a Sunday School class has heard the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus lays out his (and God’s) will for how people should treat one another if they are to be followers of The Way of Jesus.

Read Matthew 5 for yourself and ask yourself this – Was Jesus a savior with his head in the clouds? Do you consider his teaching on the Mount to apply to others but not to you? Do you feel as if our government cannot really follow the way of Jesus, but that it’s still Christian anyway? Do you consider that Jesus is incompetent to run a government? Consider these questions as you read this and ask yourself if you’ve truly been honoring Jesus in your attitudes toward others, in what you accept, support and even celebrate from our government.

Matthew 5:38-48 (CEB)

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.[e]39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor[f] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Day 13 – Repent by Loving Others
After yesterday’s study, you may feel convicted about attitudes that might be off-center of Jesus’ teachings. Maybe you’ve been following Christian leaders who have ignored these teachings and haven’t questioned them. It can happen more easily than you imagine. Our enemy, Satan, is wily and deceptive. He spreads the cancer of hate through so many subtle ways that we often embrace it without realizing it.

But, thankfully, God is a forgiving, merciful God. The Bible says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins. So, pray with me to repent – and THEN, don’t let that repentance stop with a simple prayer.

In order to truly be obedient, I challenge you today to pray for someone you consider an enemy today. Don’t pray that God strikes them dead, either. Pray for their lives. Pray for their well-being. Pray that you would learn to love them.

Then, perform one act of love for someone, or some group, that you consider at odds with you or what you believe. That loving act could be to donate to relief agencies that help people in a people group that you feel is hostile, such as those in Muslim nations. Perhaps it could be to speak up, or call your representatives to denounce the ban of Muslims flying into our nation. Perhaps it is doing something to support refugees fleeing war-torn areas. Let God’s Spirit lead you into this mindful activity that will be in obedience to the rule of love.

Day 14 – Refresh and Take Care
While we work to transform our person, our spiritual outlook and our world, we need to take care of our spirits and emotions. When I think of the vast amount of injustice and heartache in the world, I can get overwhelmed to the point of feeling helpless. The one thing we want to make sure of is not to let our emotional wounds hurt other people, especially people who are already hurt by the unjust systems of our world. So, as you come to more honest realizations about your own privilege and what is happening in the world, you have to take time to process your emotions in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone.

The best person to go to with any hurt is God. But, God has also given us other people, and institutions to help as well. Sometimes, talking to your pastor or your Bible Study group helps.
Today, I urge you to talk with someone you trust about what you’ve been learning and feeling. Rest in the peace of God and remember, God is the peacemaker (through us). Know that God will not give you tasks without giving you the strength to complete them. Rest in God. Trust Jesus and pray about everything.

Read Philippians 4:4-7 here in the CEB or in your own Bible.
4 Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! 5 Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. 7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

Philippians is my go-to book for a lot of great advice for living.
After my daughter’s death, my emotions were so raw and painful that I could not pray. I could not stand to read the Bible. I wasn’t angry at God, but I was hurting badly. During that time, God gave me Psalm 4. I’m not sure how I knew to read this passage, but I did, and I read it over and over until I had it memorized. I share it here for you, so that it might minister to you as it did to me.

Psalm 4Common English Bible (CEB)
For the music leader. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.
4 Answer me when I cry out, my righteous God!
Set me free from my troubles!
Have mercy on me!
Listen to my prayer!
2 How long, you people,
will my reputation be insulted?
How long will you continue
to love what is worthless
and go after lies? Selah
3 Know this: the LORD takes
personal care of the faithful.
The LORD will hear me
when I cry out to him.
4 So be afraid, and don’t sin!
Think hard about it in your bed
and weep over it! Selah
5 Bring righteous offerings,
and trust the LORD!
6 Many people say,
“We can’t find goodness anywhere.
The light of your face has left us, LORD!”[a]
7 But you have filled my heart with more joy
than when their wheat and wine are everywhere!
8 I will lie down and fall asleep in peace
because you alone, LORD, let me live in safety.

Thank you for sticking with me. Stay tuned for more, and may our gracious Lord bless and keep you this Lenten season. And, may he make us all more just, so that we can change the world to look more like the kingdom of Heaven.

Giving Up Privilege for Lent, Part One

Privilege is a part of society, not necessarily something you’ve done intentionally.
It is part of who you are, in a society that values whiteness and maleness above all other states of being.

Most of us have varying level of privilege granted us, even if you are also part of a marginalized group. If you are a white woman, for instance, you experience marginalization in the form of sexism, but you also have the privilege of whiteness.

Think about how society interacts with you. Do you generally think of police as the good guys? Or, do you fear police because of your experience with how you and/or people like you, have been treated by police? Do you see people who look like you on television and in movies that portray those like you as predominately good, heroic, or high achievers? Or, do you have to look hard to see anyone who looks like you in any media? And, do those portrayals paint those like you as generally honest, in predominately negative roles, such as criminals or dangerous people?
Privilege blinds you to the experiences of people in marginalized groups. Without realizing it, you see things through a different lens, one of unconscious (or conscious) superiority.

So, for Lent, in solidarity with those who suffer injustice and oppression (and in solidarity with Jesus himself, who was NOT white, and who spent time as a refugee and an occupied person), let us lay down our privilege like Jesus did.

Day 1 – Reflection and Invitation Prayer
There’s a form of meditation that cultivates compassion. It involves envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by transforming them through compassion.
If you could just for a moment out of your Day think about where you live. Think about someone outside of yourself. Someone outside of your religion, your race, or your ethnicity. They don’t have to be a real person but it helps to put a face on the thoughts I’d like you to have.
Think about their life. Think about how their morning begins. Think about some of the trials they face daily. Think about their joys. Think about how humanly raw they are and what type of things they face that you may not have ever encountered.
Move through that today and if you feel inclined, write about that experience and share it. – by Jacqueline Menjivar

Day 2 – Learning
Please, read this article which is a transcription of an event called, “Living With Unjust Legacies: Race, Justice, and Privilege” at Fuller seminary — Living With Unjust Legacies

After reading this article, spend some time thinking and praying for greater understanding of how privilege affects you, and how, if you are privileged, you can lay down your privilege (at least your defensiveness, and sense of entitlement) and realize that others have real stories to tell that you might not have considered before.

Day 3 The Least of These
Because we are Christians, we need to come back to the words and teachings of Jesus, to help guide us through our interactions and thinking. So, today, please read Matthew 25:33-46 – sometimes called the Parable of the Sheep and Goats.

Ask yourself the following questions afterwards, and pray about your answers:
1. Why do you think Jesus told this parable? What was he trying to teach?
2. Who are the people separated into the category of “goats?” Are they people guilty of sexual sin? Are they people who are of other religions? What makes them unacceptable? Conversely, what makes the sheep acceptable?
3. Why do you think Jesus says, “When you’ve done it for the least of these, you’ve done it for me?” With whom does Jesus identify himself with? Why did Jesus, the very son of God, identify himself with strangers, the poor, prisoners, the sick and the least? Ask yourself, and pray – if Jesus has such love for the least of these that he identifies himself with them, what makes me think I am too good to do so?
4. Do you think that this important story was taught by Jesus to teach us how God will judge us and our nations? If so, what might we be doing to ensure we are sheep and not goats?

Day 4 Repentance
If you are like me, the story of the sheep and the goats can be frightening because the people who thought they were so godly and accepted by Jesus, were told, to their utter shock, “Go away, I never knew you.” To think you have claimed Jesus as your very own your entire life and then realize that you were mistreating him for your lifetime! What a wake-up call that story is. So, today, I want us to confess and repent. God offers us forgiveness, but he also requires obedience, as this parable illustrates.

Pray with me:
Dear Lord, forgive us for the great and horrible ways we have turned our backs on Jesus, our Savior, when we have allowed our fellow men and women to suffer injustice, poverty, illness and hatred. We throw ourselves upon your mercy as we confess that we have gone our own ways, and have mistreated the least of these and so have actually misused our own Lord. We cannot change our past, dear Lord, and so we ask you to forgive us. But, we can change our present, and our futures because of your grace. So, help us Almighty God, to keep the vows we pray to you right now – and so we vow (asking for your assistance to keep these promises) – we will not see the hungry and not feed them, we will not allow the prisoner to suffer without ministering to them, we will not turn our backs on the stranger, and we will not continue to allow people to be degraded, dehumanized and used as political pawns because we acknowledge that your word is truth. And, your word has told us that when we allow these things to happen to anyone, even those we see as the least, we allow them to happen to Jesus. We offer you our humble obedience, confessing that we cannot rightfully carry out our vows without your Spirit to guide us. Thank you for your mercy to us. Please let us show this same mercy to everyone else. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Day 5 – Going Deeper
Now, it’s time to do a little work. I challenge you to do a search online and read at least three articles about privilege, racism, feminism, or civil rights today, and discuss what you’ve learned with one other person at least.

Or, you can click on the following link and read three of the articles (or more) that are listed here: how white people can learn about race.

When you talk to someone about what you have read, make sure that this person is not a member of a marginalized group so that you are not using them as a mentor. People in oppressed groups already have enough on their plates without educating privileged people who are capable of learning in other ways.

Close your day by simply praying: Lord, thank you for helping me to learn and step out of my comfort zone. Thank you for giving me a mind, and a heart that is open to you. Please, help me continue this journey so that I can honor you and my neighbors in healthy ways. Amen.

Day 6 – Love is the Key
Today, reflect on the fact that God is Love, as 1 John 4:8 states.

What is Love? Read 1 Corinthians chapter 13, commonly called The Love Chapter. It describes what Love is, and it tells us that no matter how much we think we know about God, no matter how much we feel we give of our money, no matter how much we think we sacrifice for God, if we don’t have Love, we are nothing.

Those are strong words about Love. Too often our notions of Love are light, fluffy and frankly, nauseating to God, in my opinion. Because love is not the same as feeling affection. Love is not the same as not hating, or actively, physically harming someone. Love is not simply refraining from terrorizing others. If we love others, that means we have to actively seek their good. Many abusers in domestic violence situations “feel love” for the very people they are abusing. But, they do not really love them, because they are harming them.

Reflect today on whether you might be the cause of harm of those we are called to love, either by your attitudes, your careless words that cut, or through the way you back political systems that oppress them. Maybe you are causing harm simply by doing nothing while the ones Christ calls you to love suffer. That is not an easy thing to face, but one who Loves as Christ calls us to love would most surely face these facts and do what it takes to change. It is not simply enough to have good intentions. You might not mean to harm someone, but the harm is done, nonetheless – through carelessness, through self-centeredness, through vying for control of various situations, through refusing to listen and think about what someone else might be saying. When someone shares the truth of their life with you, the loving thing to do is listen and accept their truth – and the more loving thing to do is be there for them and join them in trying to end the things that harm them.

You are doing good. Stay with me. Remember, this is an exercise that will ultimately honor Christ as you learn to honor others.

Day 7 – Loving Acts
Today, I want you to join me in doing something to make the world a little more just. Step out of your comfort zones in love. Here are some activities that you might want to try, or find some way that you can help someone who is in a different social group than you are:

1. Call out a racist, sexist, or unjust comment, whether on social media, or in person. You can read casual racist, sexist and unkind remarks everywhere online. It isn’t hard to do. Look on Twitter, Facebook or some other website forum, and you are bound to read someone putting someone down for their gender, religion (anti-Muslim bias is at an all-time high right now), their sexual orientation or gender identity, their race, or their abilities. I’ve seen more than a few people online post an insulting remark about people being stupid by using the “r” word, for instance. I would remind them that using the “r” word is unkind. I’d ask them if they happen to know anyone who is mentally, developmentally or physically challenged and let them know that these people do have dignity. Find a way to remind someone that racism (or another form of insulting bias) is not accepted by you, and harms society.
2. Make a phone call: Call one of your representatives and stand up against unjust laws, harmful government actions, or other such problems. Use your voice to let them know that you care about immigrants, refugees and human rights. This is one place you can go to find out information about how – and who – to call about these issues. Call Your Rep
3. Donate to a charity that helps people who are marginalized. There are many to choose from – from Standing Rock Water Protectors to Refugees and the ACLU. There is even a way you can make loans to help others via a non-profit organization called Kiva. Check it out here: Kiva.
4. Volunteer at a local food bank, homeless shelter, school or charity organization. Get some information about how here: Volunteer

These are just some ideas. If none of these appeal to you, find SOMETHING to do that will make the world better for someone in a marginalized group. People need LOVE, and Love is a verb, so act out your love in a real way today.

Okay, stay tuned for more as we all work together to honor God by laying aside our pride, privilege and biases to help create a more just society. Thank you.

Waking Up is Hard to Do

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If you are white, like I am, and if you are someone who has become more aware that there is a problem with systemic racism in this country, then you have been going through some growing pains like I have been. People of color already know that our nation has been built on racism and has racist systems running through its veins. But, for some of us who are white, it’s ben a shocking time as we are confronted with the fact that, no: racism is not dead in the U.S. It is alive and well and now, has become downright acceptable. How did this happen, we wonder? We cry out with protest and surprise, because it feels as if we’ve been wakened from our cozy fantastic dreams where all is well — and it feels like the wake-up call has been accomplished with a bucket of ice water straight to the face.

Many of us have taken to social media, flooding it with shocked and frantic ideas of how we can change the terrible tidal wave that has hit the nation. We have just now discovered what black people and others who face injustice have known for a long time — racism is real and it sucks.

Personally, I admit that I lived in a fantasy for most of my life. Yes, I hated racism and was appalled by horrible jokes that I heard people tell, and nasty KKK attacks on people who didn’t deserve to be hurt or terrified. But, I am a lover of fantasy, and I actively seek to hide my head in the sand when confronted with realities that I don’t like. I am not proud of this, but, honestly, it is the truth.

I will never forget when I lived in South Carolina and the lessons I learned there about the realities of racism and how disconnected I was from the truth. Two incidents stand out to me that I now look back at and shake my head over.

In the first, I, as a civilian working with the Army I had once served as a soldier, wrote an editorial in the paper condemning what I saw as the glorification of hate groups on talk shows. I was a journalist, but I was incredibly naive at how my published work would be received in this place. My editorial was blistering and insulting to skinheads and the others who had been invited to appear on television to “raise awareness.” This was soon after Geraldo Rivera had his nose broken by a chair thrown after he had invited white supremacists AND civil rights leaders onto his show. It had been bedlam, and Geraldo seemed to eat it up. My point, in the editorial was that I didn’t believe these shows were beneficial in exposing these groups for what they were because none of their representatives ever really answered questions honestly. My view was that everything we needed to know about them was already known (that they were all idiots.) I was just plain stupid in writing this and having it published. I may have even been just as guilty as Geraldo now that I think about it. This editorial was me, venting in public. And, it was not smart. All the grief I got over it, however, was minor compared to what others suffered for broadcasting similar sentiments. A telephonic threat was it. It could have been much worse.

Another incident that shines like a beacon onto my white oblivion was when I helped take a soldier I worked with to the car repair shop to pick up his car. I loved this guy and his family so very much. And, he had his newborn infant daughter with him, so when he went inside to pay and get his keys, I was privileged to hold this darling tiny girl. Before he went inside, however, he startled me and warned, “don’t let anyone see you holding my baby.” I laughed and said, “Why?” He said, “Just trust me.” I did as he said, but, I wondered how anyone could object to me holding this lovely child? Maybe they shouldn’t object, but the fact is, there are plenty who would have objected, and who still do. I was naive, but he was not. He knew more than I ever could understand.

I am still fighting my own ignorance when it comes to race and society, and it is a never-ending journey. I know that in our white ideal world, many of us want to believe it has ended already because we have had a black president. But, it hasn’t ended. In fact, in many ways, it has gotten worse.

I know it’s disturbing to think that it is still alive and well. It’s even more disturbing to realize that we have done little to oppose it and in fact, have, by our ignorant bliss, helped it grow and gain power. White people who refuse to face the truth and do something about it have let people suffer great harm as they become victims of a system that we benefit from. I am one of those white people. I must admit it in order to move ahead.

Think about this.

When a police officer stops us, we don’t really worry if we’re going to make it through the encounter alive. We even think that the reason for this is that we’re polite and really, that’s all anyone has to do to get along well with law enforcement. But, I know white people who are anything but polite to police and they have never been attacked by them.

Yet, I also know of black folks who have been polite and compliant who have been attacked and even killed by police. But, when we are white and want to remain comfortable in our society, we cling to the idea that police are always heroic, and anyone stopped by an officer is probably guilty of something deserving full armed response.

If we were even half awake, we’d be able to see that this just isn’t true. It’s blatantly obvious that there is something wrong, and yet, so many of us just refuse to consider that the system is rigged against people of color. It is a messed up reality that makes us squirm if we face it (and our role in it), but it destroys lives, so to ignore it is to be complicit.

We don’t like to admit that our nation was built on the backs of slaves. I never owned a slave, but, like it or not, I and my kind benefit from their forced sacrifices even today. We love to applaud soldiers who were killed as having given their lives for their country, and rightly so. But, where is the acknowledgement that slaves gave all to this nation even if it was against their will? Many grandchildren of slaves have served this country in battle, by the way. They were noble enough to volunteer to serve a nation that oppressed them, and their ancestors so horribly. Why do we fail to recognize this? Why do we focus on every negative stereotype we can about people of color and completely ignore all that they have given to this nation?

Racism didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation, by the way. It is only the start of a very ugly, real racist path that people of color have been forced to walk all these many generations. For every stride that black folks have made (many of which we wrongly assume we benevolently gave to them), white systems push back and make them pay. Black civil rights leaders and workers (some white too) gave their lives to gain rights that we want to take credit for giving them. The indignities and persecution of the black race (and Native Americans, Latinos, etc.) have suffered are so many that I cannot thoroughly cover them all here. Anyone who really cares can find these things out themselves with minimal effort (think Google).

My point is that I am starting to wake up and I understand the urge to just go back to sleep. I understand that it’s easier, and more comfortable to just keep going on as if everything is fine. Sure, we suffer too (and that fact comes up so often as a defense against the idea of white privilege), but, how many of us fear the police? (And, before you argue that all anyone has to do is comply, I can give you so many examples from my own life that this isn’t true. Once again, think about any white people you know who aren’t polite to police. I can think of some. None of them has been attacked for it. Or Google it, if you really want to be honest and know the truth.) How many of us white citizens of the U.S. know someone who is doing time (and is white) for a minor offense? (Again, Google and you will find out all about unfair sentencing in regards to race, profiling, etc.) If the police want to arrest you for something, they can always justify it, by the way. (And if they want you convicted? It isn’t that hard.)

We have to admit, if we are honest and actually take time to find out – that we are beneficiaries of an elevated social status due to being white. I mean, ask yourself. Would you want to be black in this society? Would you be willing to change places with a person of color? Of course you wouldn’t.

I hope you realize that slavery was just the start of black injustice in this country. Because even after slavery was “ended” we had Jim Crow laws classifying black folks as lesser individuals who shouldn’t dare to taint the spaces white folks inhabited. We have had lynchings, where mobs of angry whites decided which people of color deserved to die horribly for perceived crimes (or more accurately, demanding civil rights or violating Jim Crow laws.) White people were allowed to beat or kill black people without any fear of prosecution. White mobs would often start an evening of hate with a lynching and then move on to swarm over black neighborhoods, destroying property and even lives. People were actually burned alive. But, hey, at least they weren’t slaves, right?

People classified as negro, or black, weren’t even allowed to vote until the 20th century and even then, white powers that be (supported by white citizens) did everything they could to prevent black voting. This is still happening today, but this fact can easily be dismissed if you are white and want to avoid facing it or claim ignorance to how political candidates and parties can, and have, manipulated black votes to nullify them. If you want to know truth, it isn’t hard to find it, but waking up is so hard, isn’t it? Think about how hard it is to be a person of color, in a group of folks that must fight hard for every right, only to have it pushed back again. People died so that those of their race could vote, but, that right is so easily denied when we pretend as if there is nothing wrong. All is a level playing field now, right? I mean, we have let them have their black president, haven’t we?

Waking up is hard because we don’t want to let go of power. We don’t want to admit that we should never feel we are “giving” black people anything, because we haven’t. On so many levels this thinking is wrong. But, we still think of ourselves as lords and masters, benevolently “giving” these lesser people rights out of the goodness of our hearts. But, these are people and citizens who DESERVE every right that anyone has here. And, for another, every right anyone of color has was won at great, great price by activists and people that our race has killed, imprisoned, criminalized, fought against, and hated and yet we STILL want to deny them equality. Wake up to that, because it is truth. And, it should hurt.

There are so many layers and layers of racism on which our society rests. It takes a lot of work to uncover them and it is painful to admit the truth and to face the facts that your failure to recognize the problem has led to the great harm that has been done to people of color in our nation. We are not innocent just because we have not burned a cross or intentionally discriminated against anyone.

Yet, the point of waking up to our roles in perpetuating the system of racism that hurts people is not so we will hang our heads and carry unbearable guilt. For too long, history in this nation has been all about US. But, we need to wake up to the fact that our guilt (or our lack of right action) should not be the focus here, because that only perpetuates our belief (and our society’s structure) that everything is about US white people.

How about laying aside our preoccupation with ourselves altogether? How about focusing, instead, on what is happening to the other? That is where change and good can come from. We need to wake up that the situation is dire for people of color in our country. People are dying from this poison of racism every day, whether in body, or in spirit. It has to stop and we can stop it. We have the power to make a change if we only open our eyes and close our mouths for awhile.

It is an uncomfortable journey because we are not used to humbling ourselves and letting someone else have the last word. We don’t want to give up control. And, really, ending racism doesn’t seem to have that much benefit for us, does it? We are just fine with things the way they are. There is nothing to be alarmed about if you are white, is there? Maybe we worry about terrorists or our pocket books and bank accounts. But, we don’t really worry that our kids will be killed by police when they go out to play, or take a train to work, or drive in the wrong neighborhood. Not really. So why should we wake up and why should we care?

I cannot answer that for you. But, for me, it is important for many reasons. First, there are people I dearly love who do worry about their kids, with plenty of reason (and the reason isn’t that their kids are thugs either). There are kids I love who I worry about. They are good kids. But, what if the wrong police officer sees them out and gets the wrong idea about them based on their skin color? What if they find it easy to target them because they don’t know them and they have made assumptions that they shouldn’t have made because they have been raised in this nation with implicit bias? I cannot imagine the pain of that, but sadly, I can imagine the reality of it. That chills my bones. Secondly, I don’t think I could live with myself knowing that I could be a party to willfully discriminating against people based on skin. (I was going to say as superficial as skin tone, but then, I thought – no, because in reality, different skin tones are so beautiful and are part of who a person is, so it is not superficial.) I don’t want to be looked back on as someone like the slave owners of old, or the German people who ignored the Holocaust. And, I feel as if that is what future generations will see when they look back at us and wonder why we sat back and let people be executed by police (no jury trial for them!) who are supposed to represent justice, or why we let a school to prison pipeline be set up for black lives (where we once again put them in slave labor situations). I cannot really live with myself, or contemplate one day facing eternal judgment, if I just turned away and say nothing when black boys and girls are taught that they aren’t beautiful, smart, articulate or capable because they aren’t white. I just cannot go back to sleep, though I would never say I am fully awake.

I still have a lot to learn, and I make mistakes. I have been raised privileged and biased, whether I want to be or not so that is bound to affect my vision. So, there will be missteps and there will be times when I fail to see. There may even be times when I look away. But, in the end, I pray, that I will keep going forward to stand with those who are oppressed. Jesus stood with the least. How can I refuse to do so, even if it is uncomfortable?

My comfort is not the most important thing in the world after all. Justice — that is important. That is worth waking up for. It is far less comfortable to put myself in the shoes of those who suffer racism every day. They are the ones who feel the real pain. My pain is nothing in comparison. Besides, I think the real joy is in working for truth and freedom for all. What about you? Can you see the light, can you hear the cries for help, and will you get up from your pillow and do something?

D.A.R.E. to Be Peaceful

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When I was growing up, I watched shows like Dragnet, Adam 12, The Rookies and Mod Squad. I grew up believing that police officers are heroes. And, in many cases they have been. That’s one reason that being made more aware of police brutality against African Americans, Native Americans and others of a non-white skin hue has been so disturbing. Where are those heroes? Why are police so angry and over-the-top violent? Why are they so afraid?

When my daughter, Amber, was alive and in junior high, she had to take a D.A.R.E. class. She was excited. She, like me, believed police were heroes. That class taught her, and others, about the dangers of drug abuse, and how to avoid using violence in conflicts, among other things. She was so proud to graduate from the course and get her T-shirt.

If police departments and community leaders believe it is so important to teach children how to negotiate and use words instead of violence, why are there so many situations where police resort to violence over even minor disturbances? Why can’t they use the tactics that are taught in D.A.R.E. themselves, instead of violently slamming young girls to the ground for non-compliance? I have seen many people state unequivocally that the only thing people need to do is comply with police orders and there would be no problem. But, why should a police officer be allowed to demand unwavering obedience and then be sanctioned to meet resistance with brutality? That is not what trained adults should be doing with our children. Is it? That is what domestic abusers do. You say no to an abusive parent and you get attacked.

From D.A.R.E.’s own website it says: D.A.R.E. envisions a world in which students everywhere are empowered to respect others and choose to lead lives free from violence, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors.

So, how are police modeling respect for others, and steering clear of violence?

Another quote from the D.A.R.E. website states — The safety and health of children is the highest priority of the D.A.R.E. program. No one deserves to be the victim of bullying.

And, again I ask, how is the police system in our nation modeling this? Perhaps there are officers who need to take the D.A.R.E. courses themselves. I don’t know what the answer is to stop the rise of police violence against certain groups of people, mainly those who are not white.

Yes, there are wonderful, heroic police officers all over the country. There are police who do make a difference, who do care. When the church where I work was burglarized, the police were extremely helpful and have been wonderful to work with. I appreciate everything they do.

But, in order to uphold the status of heroism, police have got to begin respecting all people, and if they have issues with hating people of non-white skin, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have such sensitive jobs and access to firearms and the authority of the municipality. No cities should have racists representing them as police officers. Police are sworn to serve and protect, not just some people. Who is going to protect minorities from the police if the police cannot be trusted to properly interact with them? As I’ve said before, every person of color I know has stories of police harassment, and these friends of mine are not thugs or criminals. They are citizens who deserve respect.

I don’t know what all of the answers are, but things will only change if we demand that they do. So, we all have to hold our police departments accountable. When they commit crimes against citizens, they need to be prosecuted and properly punished, not given vacations. Police work is stressful, but, that is no excuse for unbridled violence. I was in the Army, and when I was put on guard duty, against terrorists who had done many acts of violence, I was given magazine rounds wrapped in plastic. The reason they were so wrapped, I was told, is to keep us from panicking, slamming in magazines and firing on people without thought. It seemed silly at the time. After the guard shift was over, you had to account for every single bullet. If one was missing, that was cause for a full investigation. The last thing the Army wanted was for a guard to get scared and accidentally shoot a citizen.

If the Army was that careful with what it allowed its guards to do, knowing that they could have been targets of hostile violence, why can’t police departments be that vigilant?

I only pray that things improve in the future, but I don’t think they will until people in our country feel as if even the lives of black and brown people matter as much as the lives of white folks, and those dressed in blue. Police officers get paid to take risks and are trained to deal with threats. Perhaps the training needs to be better about when to respond with violence, and when other tactics can be used. But, nevertheless, it’s the job of police to protect the populace and they can’t do that if they are the threat instead of the protection. I D.A.R.E. police to learn peaceful ways of de-escalating situations without immediately turning to violence.

To read about what D.A.R.E. stands for, click here: D.A.R.E.

The Hardest Blog Post Ever

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This has been the hardest blog post I have ever tried to write. I have written it over and over and over again. Most recently, I’ve been struggling with how do I communicate with people I love who don’t understand where I’m coming from? How do I put into words the turmoil within my heart, mind and conscience? How do I express that I might disagree with them about politics and religion but that I still love them very much? How do I help them understand why this is so important to me?

I could go on with the questions forever. But, here goes. This is my 1,819,816,116th time of trying to put into words where I’m coming from.

It’s been a complex process, so that is what makes it so tough to boil down into a few paragraphs. Where do I even start? How about here?

Change is painful, but it is always necessary. Change is growth. Comfort is the enemy. Lies are comfortable. Truth is not.

Time to unpack these statements. I hate change with a passion. I love comfort even if I have to live in a fantasy world to achieve it. Sometimes, I don’t want to know the truth. Change is a constant part of life. Not only have I changed, but my world has changed over and over again. Everyone I know has changed in one way or another. We have no control over the advance of time, but, we do have control over whether or not (and how) we let our minds grow and change. Knowledge is change, and knowledge is good. Ignorance kills. Just think of how we’ve advanced in medicine, for instance. Before we knew about germs (when we were ignorant), people died of infections and had all sorts of strange procedures done to them in hopes of curing them. Think leeches here people.

In my own life, I once thought one way, but since experiencing more life, and more pain, I have changed and grown. It’s because I have been forced from my comfort zone that I’ve seen and heard things that have changed me. I think I’m changed for the better. Some might argue, but, that’s not my problem. I want to please everyone. That’s a bad habit I deal with. But, I can’t – so I won’t bother.

The thing is, I have seen, and continue to see, that this election – the election of Donald Trump – threatens the safety and happiness of people I love and care about.

So, what does the election of Donald Trump say to me? It says this — a lot of people are comfortable with racism being a part of the fabric of the United States’ government. This candidate, soon to be president, was the most openly racist candidate I’ve seen in my lifetime (besides George Wallace), and still Christians voted for him. That tells me that they don’t care about racism very much. But, I think Jesus cares.

My Jesus was dark skinned, from the Middle East for starters. I wonder if Jesus were around today, what he might say about Donald Trump? I don’t think that I could look Jesus in the face and explain to him why I voted for Trump, if I had. And, I certainly don’t think I could look him in the face after I’ve elected this man and then gloated about it all over social media and called other people names who are understandably worried.

But, since I’m not Jesus, I have some explaining to do now anyway. You see, up until this election, I had always voted Republican too. I thought just the same way as many of my friends and family do. If things hadn’t changed in my heart and life, I too might very well have voted for DJT. So, I shouldn’t be too hard on anyone else.

I used to think Fox News was a prophetic voice, in line with godliness and right thinking. I used to think that gay people chose to be gay and that they were dishonoring God. I used to think that’s what the Bible said, so there was no arguing with that. I used to think one could love the sinner and hate the sin. I really did. I bought it all, hook, line and sinker. I couldn’t even imagine a Christian voting Democrat. What about all of those unborn babies?

I get it. I do. I still care about unborn babies – in spite of the fact my stance on abortion has changed. I still don’t want to see abortions happen, but I don’t want to outlaw it either. I want to create a society where the need for it would be rare. That is a discussion for a later day, however.

The reason I brought it up is because I want to explain that I do understand where people are coming from, to an extent. But, I have changed. Dramatically.

When you’ve lost your only child, the one you cared for 24-7, day in and day out, and you know what it feels like to have your sunshine go dark, then you will understand the kind of authentic reality you need from God. I can’t follow the same God I once did. I am barely clinging to life as it is – at least that is how it feels. At any moment, I could be swept away into darkness and despair. It’s ever looming over me. That’s why I need a God who is light. I need a God who brings me love, who is real. The God of hate is not real.

I refuse to believe in a God who would teach us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies and care for the least of these, and then turn around and support Donald Trump. Some have even suggested that God chose Trump! I can never believe that. That is not the God I serve.

Jesus is my lord – and I will follow him even if it means I go a different path than every single person I know and love. He is my life raft on this stormy sea. And, I will not close myself off from other people based on who they love, what color their skin is, what religion (if any) they follow. My God loves everyone, and has grace for them all. He is not petty in the least. My God is the one who holds me when I cry myself to sleep and feel that I have nothing to live for. My God is the one who tells me I do still have things to give. My God is also the one who is there in the darkness as a young gay teen cries himself to sleep and wonders if he has anything to live for. We have to be the ones who reach out in Jesus’ name and tell him that he still has things to give, and he is beautiful just the way God made him. My Jesus is also there when a young black man wastes away in prison for the same crime a white man did no time for, and he’s weeping over that situation because it is so unjust. And, we have to be the ones who stand against mass incarceration and throwing people away.

I have overcome a lot of pain in my life by following the Jesus that loves me enough to push me out of my comfort zone into new horizons. I devote my life to following that Jesus, wherever he leads me – to eating with (and loving) gay and atheist friends. I also follow the Jesus who shows up at protests against the systemic racism that threatens the lives of innocent people. My Jesus doesn’t think that black folks are less than white folks and he doesn’t ignore the pain of his children of color when they are threatened. My Jesus will come to their defense, and I will be there with him every step of the way.

(None of these sentiments make me noble. My gay friends and atheist friends honor ME by accepting me the way that I am. I am doing nobody any favors by standing against racism either. That is only common decency. I am still stumbling through life like a lot of people. But, I have to start somewhere.)

A True Example at Standing Rock

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Like many of you, I’ve been following developments in the struggle of Native Americans protestors, also known as Water Protectors, to peacefully resist the building of the North Dakota Access Pipeline through their lands. They have been trying to protect the water from the contamination that pipeline spills bring with them, and to keep the pipeline from desecrating their sacred burial sites and lands.

They have been met with violence, though they have committed no violent acts. They have been seeking help from the government, and people in their struggle. And, they have received help. Most recently, 2000+ veterans of the Armed Forces in our nation have made their way out to Standing Rock, the site of the protests, to help protect the vulnerable Native Water Protectors. I am a veteran, and know one person who was going to go out to participate. After getting information from her, I was privileged to be able to round up some donations and meet with someone so that these supplies could go out to Standing Rock. Being able to do just that one small thing brought me a great amount of joy. It was a significant act for me, because I felt compelled, as I was praying about this situation, to donate my late daughter’s wool poncho to the cause. This is an item that my girl, Amber, wore most of her life because she was wheelchair bound and it was a good way to add warmth since traditional coats were often too bulky to fit her in her chair. My mom got it for her in Mexico. She was wearing it when we took her into the ER the night/day that she passed away. I held onto it for these few years since her death because it felt like I was holding on to her. It was a sacred reminder of Amber’s presence in my life. But, it was now time to let it go, and let it be used for something better than sitting on a shelf. I know that Amber would approve.

Just a few moments ago, I read a story about the veterans at Standing Rock, kneeling before an officer of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and asking for forgiveness for war crimes and genocide committed against native tribes by the U.S. military. What a moment! What a moment of pure godliness. To me, it is a glimpse at what the Kingdom of God should look like – repentance, as John the Baptist preached in the wilderness. The kingdom of God is near, when there is this sort of humble spirit, asking for forgiveness and bearing the fruit of real involvement to try to change the world for the better. The offer of forgiveness was accepted by the tribes there, and then the tribes asked for forgiveness for any hurt caused by the Great Sioux Nation’s victory over the 7th Cavalry.

The entire article can be found here, and it is amazing.
Veterans at Standing rock shock tribe members

Out of the struggle, out of the ugliness that has been thrown at people who just want to protect their homes, comes beauty. The pinnacle of this event came, IMO, when all who were there, veterans and tribe members, joined in crying out for “World Peace!” Yes, Lord, we cry for peace in this world.

Sometimes, the people who claim they stand for the Kingdom of God look a lot less like Jesus than the people who don’t claim it, but show by their actions that they understand what the kingdom should look like. It should look like this – a place where people are brothers and sisters even though they may have different ethnic, religious or national backgrounds. We are all one in God’s kingdom, where there is neither man nor woman, Jew nor Greek nor slave or free. In the kingdom of God, nobody is an illegal immigrant. All are welcome. In the kingdom, nobody wants to take away another’s right to life or happiness even if it means lining their own pockets. In the kingdom of God, the Earth is respected and cared for. In the Kingdom, there are no political parties and no jockeying for power over others. Because in the kingdom, the last shall be first, the master is the servant, and Jesus’ face is found in the least of these. There are no enemies in the kingdom, only people who are loved.

Thank you, veterans, for your fine example of what true heroism looks like. Thank you, for showing the world what America should stand for (or kneel for)- for righteousness, for justice and a quest for peace. I have never been more proud to be a veteran than I am now. God bless this nation, in the face of what many (and I am one) see as an impending federal government focused on money, power and self protection. May we work together to show those who have lost their way, that there is a better road to travel. We travel the road of peace toward the kingdom of Heaven. We travel with the Prince of Peace, whose grace rains down upon all people, even the ones we might not approve of. Let’s work to make this kingdom of God shine brighter than any nation ruled by greed, or corruption. May we stand, with love in our hearts, hand in hand with our brothers and sisters, to stand up for their rights, peacefully, but, truly. Let us not grow weary in doing GOOD. Let us remember what goodness really is, by looking at the life of Christ, and his death. Make a way for him this Christmas, by throwing off the dead works of darkness and shining together for something better.