Forty for Forty

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Proofs from my HS senior portrait

My fortieth birthday is in two weeks.  Am I freaking out?  Absolutely not.  Since I was in high school, I have felt like a forty-year old in my head.  Stick me in a coffee shop with the Sunday New York Times or a hefty historical biography and I’m on cloud nine.  That was me at 18 and that’s me today….  Still, for whatever reason, it’s an American tradition to make a big deal out of 40th birthdays.  So, deal me in.

Grand Emancipation

A few weeks before my 39th birthday, I sent my youngest child off to kindergarten.  I called it my Grand Emancipation.  In the months since then, I’ve been on a journey to figure out who the hell I am (when I’m not wiping runny noses and going to Mommy and Me music class) and what on earth God wants me to do with my life (I think it’s more than Pinterest inspired chore-charts for my kids and a full BSF schedule for me).  I wasn’t one of those moms with a lot of extra help during those years in the trenches, so these have truly been transformative months.

I have learned, for example, that my Micah 6:8 journey is indeed the path that God wants me on….that my faith is best expressed in a life built around love, justice and mercy – particularly to those who need it most.  Living with a Trump president.  Coming to terms with my own white privilege.  Confronting a faith that has been complicit in the face of racism and injustice.  These months of wrestling have not been easy.  But, questioning (and sometimes discarding) old ideas has been both healthy and liberating.  The more I learn, the more confident I am that this – the path of God-inspired social justice – is the right direction.

So, in the midst of all this heavy soul-searching, I’m launching my Forty for Forty campaign.  Put simply – it is a list of forty fun activities or treats that I’m proactively pursing in celebration of this milestone birthday.  Is it super cheesy?  Absolutely.  Is the nerd in me totally psyched?  You bet.  Am I done with justice?  No way.

What the hell do I like?

A few days ago, I started making my list.  I whizzed through the first 10-15 items. Then, I started running out of ideas.  Crap.  What the hell do I like to do?  Has it been that long since I’ve let loose and had fun?  Confession: You know you’ve not engaged in extensive ‘self care’ when you’re struggling to think of more than a dozen things you enjoy doing.  As silly as this exercise is, I AM learning a thing or two about myself in the process.

Realizing I needed some inspiration, I googled….’forty things to do for fortieth birthday’.  I had no idea whether the internet would come to my rescue or not.  Sure enough, there were tons of websites, blogs and even entire books!  I doubt that my list (which we will get to eventually!) will appeal to many, but can I just say to Estee Stanley at MyDomaine, you lost me at #4 on your list: Take care of your friends’ kids for the day.  Are you serious?   That idea is even worse than my daughter’s suggestion that I run a marathon.  To both of these, I say, I’m trying to treat myself – not punish myself!

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MyDomaine.com – Forty AWESOME things to do when you’re 40

So, back to the drawing board.  I clicked on another link, this one for Best Life.  Is that a men’s magazine?  I’m not even sure, but I needed ideas….ANY ideas that did not include killing myself with exercise or going insane watching other people’s kids (remember, I’m just barely out of the mommy trenches – maybe the idea will appeal more for my 50th….maybe).

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Best Life – 40th Birthday Ideas 

As you can see, we barely got past #4 this time, when the dudes at Best Life tossed out ubering a private plane as a legit suggestion.  I’m sorry…does that idea come with a winning lottery ticket?  And, if I may: THIS, friends, is a perfect example of the aspirational privilege of white men.  Anyways, back to the list….

Suffice to say I clicked through many blogs and articles, finding little inspiration.  I had no choice but to simply think about what brings ME joy.  So, here is what I came up with.

Dayna’s Forty for Forty List

  1. Eat a Mademoiselle Colette Chocolate Croissant
  2. Have a nice birthday dinner with husband
  3. Have tea or coffee with friends
  4. Schedule a lunch date with a good friend
  5. Get nails done
  6. Take a long walk with friends
  7. Go to a coffee shop, order a grande cappuccino and then just sit and read the Sunday New York Times or a historical biography
  8. Treat myself to Tinpot ice-cream
  9. Listen to live music
  10. Eat Mexican food (Can you ever have too much chips and guac?  Seriously.)
  11. Visit an art gallery or museum
  12. Get my hair done – maybe even try a new style
  13. Plan a spa day/get a massage
  14. Watch one of my favorite movies
  15. Spend an entire day in PJ’s
  16. Get a realllllly good, dense chocolate cake – like a flourless chocolate cake
  17. Look through all my photo books
  18. Buy a new lip gloss
  19. Go to the movie theater while the kids are at school
  20. Drink a really good red wine
  21. Take a bubble bath
  22. Enjoy my favorite Asian dishes
  23. Eat Chicago style pizza
  24. Spend an entire afternoon reading
  25. Drink a root beer float
  26. Enjoy a super long Skype chat with my Irish BFF
  27. Go to a bookstore without a ‘to buy’ or ‘to do’ list – just look at books (maybe buy a few)
  28. Yelp ‘best eggs Benedict’ and then go eat it
  29. Give myself permission to do NO CLEANING on my birthday
  30. Try a new food
  31. Update my will (I know, it sounds morbid but it’s truly reassuring to know your life, family, estate, etc., are in order)
  32. Reassess and possibly change where I give my time and money
  33. Take a family photo (okay, like the will, not so high up on the ‘fun factor’ but still something that’s worth it in the long-haul)
  34. Make plans to see friends who live further away
  35. Write down blessings
  36. Create a bucket list – things I want to do in my next 40 years
  37. Take time from all the spa days and indulgences to go to the homeless shelter, remembering that I am always so happy when I spend time there
  38. Spend a weekend away with my hubby 
  39. See Hamilton 
  40. Write a birthday blog post 

Sure It’s Grand

In the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Abraham Lincoln changed the federal legal status via executive order of more than 3 million enslaved people in the designated areas of the South from slave to free.  For many abolitionists it was cause for “grand emancipation jubilee.”  Frederick Douglass even called it a ‘death blow’ to the slaveholding rebellion.  But, the devil is in the details, which headlines and tweets often miss.  And, a quick review of our Civil War unit from American History class reminds us that ‘grand’ is far from ‘complete’ or ‘total’.  In fact, the 1963 Proclamation applied only to the 10 states still rebelling – it did not cover nearly half a million slaves in border states.  Other states under Union control, namely, Tennessee, as well as most of Virginia, West Virginia and Louisiana were exempted.  Though African-Americans gained the constitutional right to vote in 1870 via the 15th Amendment, the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, allowed Southern states to effectively disenfranchise black voters. Thus, it wasn’t until 1965 – just 12 years before I was born – for full participation to be guaranteed with passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  

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Or not????

#WTF

So, what the hell is a civil war history lesson doing in the middle of my otherwise lighthearted blog post about my 40th birthday?  Well, once a history buff, always a history buff.  That’s why I love to use witty phrases like ‘Grand Emancipation’ – which connect my life to fascinating historical topics.  But, here’s the problem: this last year of studying racism and bias has taught me that it’s only through the lens of my white privilege that I can casually employ euphemisms like, ‘Grand Emancipation’ to describe my transition from ‘stay at home suburban mom’ to ‘still stay at home suburban mom….with more time’.

If you are one of the millions of African-Americans in our country, not only is it highly probable that you remember FINALLY getting the right to vote, just 52 years ago, but it is almost certain that you still live with the remnants of America’s ‘original sin’ which lives on in the form of daily encounters with racism, bias and privilege.

Who’s Rescuing Who?

Yesterday, I finished a book titled, Rescuing Jesus, How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism.  And, it is true…..the margins are where revival will happen.  The trenches are where the holy ghost is alive and well.  And, it is in loving the least that we are most likely to see God at work.  In the pages of books written by an Asian woman and in the lyrics of rap songs sung by a black man, I am rediscovering Jesus and with it, a whole new view of the gospel.  One of my favorite songs to blast in my minivan, as I run around town, is Tell the World.

Now, I’mma tell the world, tell the world, tell ’em
I’mma tell it everywhere I go
Tell the world, tell ’em
Yeah, I’m a billboard
Tell the world, tell ’em
And I’m broadcastin’ like a radio
Tell the world, you ought to know
I’m brand new

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Rewriting the ‘church clothes’ rules 

I’ve been thinking a lot about that…..  What does my billboard say?  What does my life say about my faith?  There is indeed much about me that is largely the same – from that 18 year old me in the senior portrait, to the nearly 40 year old me now.  I still love history and coffee shops.  I still love chocolate and root beer floats.  I still love Ralph Lauren (I know, I know, so very preppy but I now also have a Black Lives Matter hoodie – progress!).

 

The line from Tell the World, I’m brand new, references a verse in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that says: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Folks who knew me back in high school probably would have described me as ‘nice’.  God, I hope that’s largely still true.  But, what’s also true is that (to borrow a phrase from Lynne Hybels) nice girls don’t change the world.  And, nice is not a spiritual gift or heavenly calling.  And, in my next 40 years, I pray God would continue remaking me.  I want to be the kind of person who not only knows the past history of racism but is presently working to tear down organizations and institutions that perpetuate systemic injustice.  I want to ruthlessly look at my own attitudes and assumptions, figuring out both where my privilege gives me a platform for helping others, as well as where I can learn from the oppressed and marginalized.

American culture offers a tradition 40th birthday celebrations that includes everything from private airplane rides to big birthday bashes to running marathons or watching your friends’ kids (well, according to one blog).  Americans weren’t the first to give special attention to the number 40.  As I wrote in my Lent post, 40 has special significance in the Bible, occurring 146 times and generally referring to periods of trial or testing.  Another confession: I think eating my favorite foods and hanging out with my favorite people sounds much more appealing!  But, I also know that a life limited to superficial niceness is no life at all.  So, if trial and testing mean leaning more intentionally into the life God created me for – I say, bring it!  Forty, here I come….holding my ‘Micah 6:8 Mission’ in one hand and my cheesy ‘Forty for Forty’ list in the other.

P.S.

With this blog post now published, I’ve officially crossed off an item from the list.  And, my husband justifiably argued for the inclusion of our SF weekend (last month) on the Forty for Forty list – it was pretty awesome.  You can read a bit about that weekend away, along with some other reflections on Year One of my Micah 6:8 life, here.

 

 

Option B

AD12A6F8-3D36-4510-96E1-70BE77C2EFFCI recently returned from a family trip to Mendocino, a small town on the northern coast of California.  It was lovely in all the ways you’d expect: unspoiled, rugged, breathtakingly beautiful…and, for our family, the added bonus of super-cool temperatures.  Sun-worshippers, we are not!  Anyways, part of the charm was its remoteness.  We quickly realized *how* remote when we discovered our cottage had no wifi or cell coverage.  I had no choice but to turn off Facebook and Twitter, focusing instead on the stack of books I’d thrown into the minivan.

I’m probably the LAST person in Silicon Valley to read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg.  Friends had told me that it was quite good, and since she lives down the street and has kids in class with mine, I added it to my vacation reading pile – which is otherwise dominated by social justice books (these days, at least!).   On a foggy Mendocino morning, I cracked it open, reading about her journey after losing her husband suddenly in 2015.  Into her own personal narrative, she integrates research and lessons learned in facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy.  In the midst of her grief, a good friend told her….

“Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Post-Eden: Option B

Church, we are living in the era of Option B, Biblically speaking.  This broken and hurting world is NOT as God created it nor is it the way He wants it.  Option A was Eden.  This side of heaven, there will never be full shalom.  But, that in no way means that we are meant to circle the wagons around our holy huddle and wait for the rapture.  We are called to bring ‘up there’ to ‘down here’.  The other book I read in Mendocino, was Love Mercy, by Lisa Samson.  Given that Micah 6:8 has become my own mantra, I was keen to dive into the personal story of another believer trying to put this verse into practice.  She writes about the moment God met her on the pages of Isaiah 58, solidifying her conviction that she was to orient her life around loving the least.  She shares:

God keeps sending me this message because I keep doing a half-baked job of following.  Expend your life on behalf of the poor?  Expend means to be be worn-out, dried up, caved-in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned & tattered.

I read that and paused.  I am on the same journey, but what will it cost me?  What is it going to ultimately lead me to?  It still don’t fully know.  But, I am more convinced than ever that it is time for a revival of love, mercy and justice.  It is indeed time for the church to kick the shit out of Option B.

Swimsuit Season

Screenshot 2017-07-28 15.36.56So, part of the reason Mendocino sounded great is that I did NOT have to worry about being ‘swimsuit ready’ come June.  With temps in the 50’s and 60’s, I stayed mostly in jeans and sweatshirts.  No matter where you spend your summer, I can assure you that most moms out there watched the hilarious video by Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley, “I Swimsuit Season So Hard.”  It went viral, in part, because all women can identify with the crazy expectations modern life throws our way.  And, let’s be honest, when you’re juggling ALL that and then someone wants to give you a lecture being ‘worn-out, dried up, caved in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned and tattered’ for the poor…..I mean, seriously.  It. Is. Too. Much.

But, faith doesn’t always make sense.  Jesus makes these outlandish claims, like we are to lose our lives in order to find them.  But, how do you do that and still pay your bills and raise your kids?  What ‘exactly’ are moms meant to lose?  Tell me.  This chica needs details.  I read these amazing books and blogs by the likes of Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans.  It looks and sounds so good, but how do you make it happen, a truly missional family and life?  Do we go to Africa?  Foster kids?  Work in the inner city?  Must everything we eat, drink and wear be fair trade?  What happens if I suck at composting and my kids don’t want to donate their birthday money to charity?  Seriously.  Where do you draw the line?  What does it all mean for a regular family, like ours, just trying to get from one day to the next?  How do you make sure you’re stumbling forward in the right direction? 

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My TWO minivans (Not Option A)….

Don’t ask me for answers.

The “control-freak, Type-A, hoping to impress you” version of me would love to unveil my journey as a roadmap that others could follow.   But, all I have is my story…a messy one, at that.

Exhibit A: In my last post, I shared how God opened doors for me to donate my car (I truly thought life and faith were all falling neatly into place.)  Would you believe that my brand new car was recalled!?!?! As in…I CAN’T DRIVE IT!!!!  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been driving around a rental while my new minivan sits in the driveway.  That was not Option A!

But, even in these headaches especially in the headaches, God is teaching me.  It seems faith falling into place does not equate to life going smoothly.

Damn.

I’m not sure my messes and lessons will be helpful.  But, I’m nonetheless going to walk through some of the lessons God has taught me since I began my journey, nearly one year ago, to *actually* live a Micah 6:8 life.

For the less ‘wordy’ types….here’s a diagram.  But, suffice to say that those who truly love me and/or God will read to the end. (JK)

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Lessons

I’m Privileged

Sorry, white, evangelical, upper-middle class American church – you’re not being persecuted.  On the contrary, you’re privileged beyond what you fully realize (Note: central to understanding privilege is acknowledging our own blindness to it).  The full extent of that privilege in my own life – born out of my race, nationality, education, income, etc., is what I’ve come to more fully understand and appreciate these last few months.

Screenshot 2017-07-28 16.31.46Research shows that people like me credit ourselves for fortunes, rather than factors outside our control.  This hindsight bias, as economics professor Robert Frank explains in his book, Success and Luck, Good Fortune and The Myth of Meritocracy, describes our tendency to think, after the fact, that an event was predictable even when it wasn’t.  A similar myth pervades much of Christianity, most blatant with proponents of the Prosperity Gospel.  Even Christians who don’t ardently propagate such dogma, still outwardly praise God, while inwardly crediting ourselves.  Naturally, we then rationalize stinginess with the rest of the world, citing laziness or bad decisions or immorality, etc., as the explanation for their misfortune.  If we get the credit for successes, they conversely deserve the blame for failures. (Or so the logic goes.)

If Americans are good at either not seeing or not caring about suffering at home, they are even more indifferent to the injustices beyond our borders.  Folks, concepts, such as manifest destiny, are not Biblical.  Americans are not *entitled* to some material global hegemony or economic prosperity or made sacred by our mere desire to justify our excesses at the expense of or in the face of other’s need and suffering.  Our brothers and sisters of every tribe and nation carry equal weight with our Father, and so too must they with us.

I’m Complicit

Remember high school?  I’m turning 40 in a few weeks.  My boys (ages 6 and 9) declared the other day in the car, that they did not believe I was EVER a kid.  Precious, huh?!?  Contrary to their belief, I can remember being young.  Books were my BFF’s.  I remember reading Emerson and Thoreau, finding an inner resonance and harmony between these great transcendentalist thinkers, my adolescent desire for independence and my sincere patriotic belief in American exceptionalism.  I saw no conflict between these ideas and my faith, and there is a good reason for that.

The ‘American’ Christian mentality has made subtle but significant shifts overtime, elevating individualism far above the collective.  (Note: the worth of an individual should not to be confused with Individualism as an ideology.)  Even as Jesus came so that we might enter into an individual relationship with Him via the Holy Spirit, we recognize that Jesus came to save us all.

“For God so loved the WHOLE world, that He gave us only Son…”.  

While we are saved individually, we are called collectively.  Christ said we will be known by the love we have for one another, not for ourselves (John 13:35).  Even the personhood of God testifies to a harmonious duality of One God in Three Persons.

So too must we look for a similar balance between the individual and the collective in our own faith.  Sadly, individualism as an ideology within the church has facilitated an unholy indifference to entire communities, from people of color to immigrants to even the poor (and many more).  I include the poor because I know most Christians bristle at the suggestion that they or their church don’t care about the poor.  What church hasn’t organized a charity drive or two?  The problem is that even as WASPY types publicly profess regret and even compassion, they privately support (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) the institutions and systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice.

This is not who we are.  In Matthew 22:38-39, Jesus clarifies the essence of faith:

This is the first and greatest commandment (Love God). And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’   

To the natural follow-up question of ‘Who Is My Neighbor’ Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, which paints a picture of God’s heart for the oppressed, marginalized and forgotten.  These days, we look a lot more like the Priest and the Levi than we do the Good Samaritan. The Bible is explicit in its call to love the least, calling out women, children, migrants, the poor, etc.

Sadly, American Evangelicals are quicker to wag a finger at individual failings than offer a hand to marginalized communities.  By our own doing, we have projected ourselves into the public square, with our moral majorities and our compassionate conservatism.  And, now that we are married into these often unholy alliances, we cannot wash our hands.  To the vast majority of America and the rest of the world, being an evangelical means protecting our individual interests above the needs of the communities where we live.

Even before #45 (who has taken indifference to a whole new level), evangelicals consistently backed policies and politicians that too often help themselves at the expense of those already at a power disadvantage.  To that end, Beth Moore recently tweeted:

“We keep empowering the powerful/equipping the equipped/saving the saved/feeding the full/helping the helped and we wonder why we’re unfulfilled.”

Even worse, we not only excuse, but as Judy Wu Dominick calls it, we Christianize our pagan practices.  God help us.  Thankfully, He does.  And, writing about the alternative faith mindset and practice, author Erin Straza advocates what she calls a ‘Comfort Detox‘ (which also happens to be the title of her book.  She writes:

“There is too much to do and too much brokenness in this world for any of God’s people to sit idle, amused by life pursuits that benefit only ourselves.”

A church that gives a damn about a world, cares more about meeting the need than counting the cost, loving the broken rather than admonishing the sinner….and, in the midst of it – seeing our OWN need and our own brokenness.

“If your theology prevents you from changing your mind when confronted with the immense suffering it causes, your theology is your God.” – Rachel Cohen

At the end of the day, the gospel is inherently about reconciliation of ALL things….not the well-behaved, polished or polite….but, the ‘as far as the East is from the West’ Redeemer of ALL.

 

I’m Called

Crap.  This is rubber hitting the road.  It isn’t easy.  But, discipleship is key to spiritual wellness.  And, in the same way that physical wellness requires effort (do those damn planks and try to like kale) – so does this effort require carving out space from our crazy lives.  We all want a magic wand, to make the problems go away or to create more time.  But, sometimes what we need is not a magic wand but an eraser.  We have to let go of something else in order to make space for new practices and mindsets.

Resources

Read

I love to read.  And, there is a growing library of literature on justice and/or faith.  Truth be told, much of it’s been there for a looooong time (starting with my favorite, Old and New Testament scriptures!).  But, once we find our bubbles, it’s astonishing how little we see outside.  Even if you’re not ready to physically step into the margins, you can begin your journey as I did, with a book.  I started with white, female Christian authors – women not that different from myself.  But, overtime, I’ve found some of the most moving and perspective shifting lessons to be from people NOT like me…..people of color or people with a completely different life story and experience.  So, even if you don’t pick a book off of my ‘Favorites’ List – please break your bubble and look beyond your own clan or comfort zone.

Favorite Scriptures

  • Isaiah 58
  • Matthew 25

Favorite Books

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
  • The Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
  • Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk
  • Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
  • Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
  • Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
  • Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Favorite Folks to Follow – Twitter & Facebook

Some of these categories overlap but they nonetheless provide some categorization.  And, this is also the tip of the iceberg!  This is a large and growing community, that I was blind to till a couple years ago.  It’s been like pulling back the curtain and discovering an entirely new universe.

  • Faith and Justice: Jim Wallis/Sojourners, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, DL Mayfield, Eugene Cho, Sarah Bessey, Laura Ortberg Turner, Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, Judy Wu Dominick, Red Letter Christians, Jonathan Merritt, Jonathan Martin, Joy Beth Smith, Lisa Sharon Harper, Katelyn Beaty, Mihee Kim-Kort, Jenny Yang, ACLU, Preemptive Love Coalition.
  • POC: TruthsTable, SafetyPinBox, Efrem Smith, Deray McKesson, Shaun King, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Terri Givens, Austin Channing, LaTasha Morrison, Trevor Noah, Charles Blow, April D Ryan, Charles Blow, Bryan Stevenson.

Summer Reading

  • Rescuing Jesus by Deborah Jian Lee
  • Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart
  • Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield
  • Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil
  • Comfort Detox by Erin Straza
  • The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
  • God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
  • Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan
  • Wake Up White by Debby Irving

Write

For Yourself

Sheryl Sandberg writes about the value of journaling, in her book, Option B.  I’ve never been good at journaling.  I start a journal, write for a few days, and soon completely forget about it, as To Do Lists and Cranky Kids overshadow the empty pages.  I began blogging because it was a way to hold myself publicly accountable to this journey.

For Others

There’s a Japanese proverb that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Folks who go out on a limb, usually take a beating.  #JenHatmaker It takes guts to call out injustice or speak truth to those with power or privilege.  If you see someone taking a risk, say ‘thank you’.  We need to be allies who stand first and foremost with those in the margins.  And, next, we need to be allies to those who are advocating for others, be it a pastor teaching to his white congregation about racism and privilege or the young reporter writing in the wealthy town’s local newspaper about persistent poverty of neighbors next-door.  And, as recent months have demonstrated during the current health care debate – your voice makes a difference.  Call.  Write.  Tweet.  We cannot afford to be silent.

Gather

It doesn’t feel like I’ve made much progress, but God help me – I was so blind, with so much to learn.  And, thankfully, it’s been a year of wrestling and questioning and painful growing.  Much of it began with a crazy invitation to a handful of girlfriends,

“Hey, would you be willing to meet regularly to study racism and white privilege with me?” 

Amazingly, even though they’re all super busy moms with 101 things to do – they all said YES.  And, so began a journey that has been broken and transformed all of us.

Go

At the beginning of this journey, roughly one year ago, I honestly didn’t know where God wanted me or what I was supposed to do.  But, I could not stand before God and attest for my life, given the delta between what I KNEW the Bible taught about loving the least and what I was actually DOING about it.  I needed to take going OUT into the world as seriously as took going to church each Sunday.  I needed to take listen to the stories of marginalized or oppressed people as often as I listen to Christian radio (if not more!).  I needed to get my head OUT of the books and blogs and INTO the margins I claimed to care so much about.  It was time to check my Savior Complex at the door, and just humbly GO.  Like the scales that fell from Saul’s eyes, once I walked through the door, there was no turning back….I could see with painful clarity the pain and suffering of so many.  While many questions remain and I still feel woefully inadequate, God keeps calling ME back to a few groups.

WHO: People of Color, the Poor/Homeless, Immigrants, Children  
WHAT: Education, Social Justice and Anti-Poverty Service Organizations 
WHERE: Bay Area
HOW: Launch Community Equity Collaborative, Continue volunteering with Life Moves and Live Able

As a busy mom, trying to ferry kids to appointments and activities, it is easy to fall into ‘paralysis by analysis’.  Seriously, there is a lot brokenness out there.  Where do you start?  How do you decide what issues to pursue or partners to work with?  Here’s how I’ve made my choices:

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Need

Read books, read your local paper, drive to the other side of town.  Identify the areas of greatest need in your community.  Here are categories frequently mentioned in the Bible that you can use as a lens when looking at your own community:

hungry/thirsty, strangers/foreigners/immigrants, poor/homeless, sick, prisoners, women/widows, children/orphans.  

I loved the way Nish Weiseth put it in a recent tweet:

“Regardless of your theology, when there’s pain (ESPECIALLY in the margins) that’s always where the church should go first.  Always”  

The margins are holy places.

Effectiveness

Charity is a cheap substitute for justice, and God knows, many well intentioned charities have done more harm than good (Check out, When Helping Hurts).  Pick organizations that are not only alleviating present needs but also working to knock down barriers and create better opportunities for future wellness.  For your sake and the sake of the folks you’re trying to help, be smart in picking partners.

Gaps

What places are either my community or my church turning a blind eye too?  How can I help fill that gap?  Frankly, Evangelicals are largely MIA from the margins (POC, immigrants and LGBTQ folks are more common targets than recipients, recently!), so I highly recommend going with a humble heart, ready to listen, learn and help there.  And, here’s the crazy thing about the least….even if we have to leave our usual church activities in order to love the least, the margins are where we find Jesus.  As Jonathan Martin puts it,

“Theology that cuts you off from the messy reality of human experience ultimately alienates you from Christ, too.”

Looking back on my life, I’m struck by how desperately I’ve tried to sanitize my life when I actually should have been leaning into the mess of myself and others, for at the foot of the cross, we are all broken.

Schedule

What can I actually do?  What days of the week or times of the day work for me?  For me, with young kids and a husband who works long hours in Silicon Valley, my availability is while my kids at school.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  I want to find new rhythms of life that can become my life-song for many years to come.

Last Shot

578E1614-E39C-46AF-82F3-59CAE0B1A170A few days ago, I saw Hamilton with my husband in San Francisco.  Brilliant show at the beautiful and historic Orpheum Theater….which happens to be located in what can best be called, a ‘gritty’ part of town.  Even my sincere desire to see worthiness in the homeless who encamp nearby, with their needles openly littering the ground and the stench of old urine hanging in the air – does not inoculate me to the deeply engrained norms of my lifelong privilege.  If this blog sounds preachy, know that I preach to myself first and foremost.  I still fall into my old ways of thinking, but I catch myself….I pivot.  Bit by bit….that’s the only way.

Screenshot 2017-07-28 16.07.27There’s a refrain in Hamilton that is often repeated: “No, I’m not going to give away my shot.”  And, this is the line that reverberates in my mind….I cannot give away my one shot at a Micah 6:8 life…for myself and for my family.  I’m leaning that God isn’t asking me for the answers – just willingness to follow, one day at a time.

I’ve matured in my posture to Thoreau, since those high school days long ago.  Though, there is much that still resonates, including this quote from Walden:

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”  

We cannot say we value and love others and yet be unwilling to make significant exchanges to their end.  Loving the least means taking your shot and kicking the shit out of Option B, no matter the cost.  Ditch the bracelet.  Pick up the cross.

Fingerprints of God

img_3331I think God needs a two-by-four when dealing with me.  His fingerprints are all over my life, but He’s gotta regularly “hit me over the head” with the blatant obviousness of His presence in my life.  One way He’s done this, is with dates.  Now, before I go any further – I’m not a theologian, but even I know that this isn’t the only way God speaks….even to me!  But, God has managed to show up on significant days in my life, with a conviction or a provision or an experience that point to Him.  And, I have begun to slowly realize, that God is not only alerting me to the places where He’s at work in my life, but He’s doing it in such a way that I will forever remember the exact time and place when God showed up.  

Dates

img_3334The first time I noticed a connection between a possible message from God and significant date, was about 5 years ago, in 2012, when my husband and I were feeling a tug to move from the San Francisco South Bay to another community up the peninsula.  Reason?  We wanted to be closer to our church.  It was a short commute on Sunday mornings but it could take over an hour (one way) during the work-week.  I didn’t want to live in an evangelical bubble or holy huddle, but I did want an ecosystem that facilitated regular connections (on days other than just Sunday!) and overlaps between our our various circles….of neighbors, schoolmates church friends, etc.  We wanted to be part of a fabric that included threads of friendship, outreach, service, worship, etc.

That August, I lost a beloved uncle to Leukemia.  This heartbreaking loss was a wake-up call: we needed authentic community, one that would come around us during tough times.  My husband was from Singapore.  I was from Chicago.  We had no family in California.  We’d have to build a community of friends.  And, we believed our faith community was a natural place to start.

A month later, in late September (my birthday weekend), our pastor John Ortberg, gave a talk called the Divine Go.  It was based upon the story in Genesis, of Abram leaving Ur to follow God’s command to go to Canaan.  Sitting in church, it hit me – we need to move to Menlo.  I sobbed through most of that sermon.  I am sure that most folks sitting around me thought I was nuts.  But, I just knew.

You might be wondering, ‘why didn’t you just move churches?’.  Good question!  We tried visiting several churches closer to our home.  They were fine, but we could not shake an  inner unrest.  So, we called a realtor and moved forward, praying God would open doors – if this was indeed the path He wanted us to take.  In December, we learned of a house coming on the market, and jumped at the opportunity to put in an offer  – not thinking we had any chance of actually getting the house.  For those outside of the Bay Area, we live in what is unquestionably a seller’s market.  Many had tried to prepare us for what surely would be a long process, where we’d likely put in a dozen or more offers before finally landing something.  But, amazingly, on December 19th – the same day we submitted our offer, we got a call that our offer had been accepted.  December 19th also happens to be my middle child’s birthday.  A few weeks later, we closed on my father’s birthday.  A few months later, we closed escrow on our South Bay home AND submitted our renovation plans to the city (the new house needed some updating) ALL on my daughter’s birthday.  A couple of weeks later, Jay’s father passed away suddenly.  In provision, we saw God’s hand at work, allowing  the pieces to fall into place more perfectly than we could ever orchestrate.  In loss, we saw confirmation that we desperately needed community.  

I have repeatedly confessed here, that my husband and I are Type A Control Freaks.  Making this move defied all logic….it was not the decision that our well-designed spreadsheets or financial advisers recommended.  But, our hearts knew what our minds couldn’t explain: we needed to go.  I am learning, that often, we have to trust God before we can hear God.  And, I think this move was a lot more about God taking us on a journey of trusting Him, than it was Him needing us to change our geography in order to do life with Him.  He used dates, to make it abundantly clear that He was the one setting our path.  John ended his Divine Go sermon, saying, “All around the Bay Area, up there is coming down here….God still says Go.  And, when you say ‘yes’ you become part of something magnificent.”

Something Magnificent

We moved because we wanted to strengthen our relationship with God and His people.  And, sure enough, I found natural landing pads within the Mothers Together ministry at our church.  It was great!  I made friends, used my gifts, served.  (Confession: I loved the well-heeled mama’s, many with impressive resumes and lives.  Many remain dear friends.)  But, after a couple of years,  I started feeling this tug again….as if God wanted me to make another move.  This time, it was a heart move – not a geographic relocation.  As I have written here, God led me to a group that serves lunch to the homeless.  (Interestingly, the same gal who gave me advice when we made our move, was the one who invited me to serve lunch at the shelter).  The rest, as they say, is history.

In my head, I’d long known that faith wasn’t meant to be just for me or my own circle – it needed to fuel an outward activism for the world around me.  But, that head knowledge hadn’t really translated into meaningful engagement or love for the least….if I’m being totally honest.  (Thank goodness for the two-by-fours!)  God kept hitting me over the head…..with books, with people, with fresh eyes to the Bible itself…..you name it…..the arrows all pointed to a Micah 6:8 mission.  And, while it’s not always easy or pretty, that journey to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly led me to the ‘something magnificent.’  

Matthew 25 is a two-by-four kind of verse…. Jesus says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  If you want a ‘with God’ life….if you want to see up there come down here, you gotta open your eyes to the people and places that Jesus points to repeatedly….the poor, widow, orphan, foreigner/outcast, sick and oppressed.  

Cars

Minivan Madness

In my last blog post, I shared how God moved my heart during Lent.  Long story short, we decided to donate my car to a charity, Able Works, in East Palo Alto.  There were other spiritual lessons, but this decision was the most tangible.  Still, I felt so spiritually clumsy.  Here, I knew that God was asking me to literally and figuratively surrender.  Yet, with every twist and turn, in the days while we waited for everything to fall into place – I’d find myself falling back into Control Freak mode.

Exhibit A: In March, we ordered a minivan through a nearby dealer.  Unfortunately, the delivery date kept slipping.  Not surprisingly, I panicked over whether we’d stick to our original donation date (and have no car) OR disappoint everyone at Able Works by asking to push out the date.  Then, one week ago, we got the call that the new car had arrived.  We rejoiced for a few hours, till they called back to say they couldn’t find the car on the lot….I cried.  What the hell was going on!?!?  FINALLY, they found the car and said we could come pick it up.  So, last weekend, we did.

On Sunday, it occurred to me that our slipping date was not only a pretty clever test of my faith BUT it also put the timing for getting our new car – right on Mother’s Day.  It was as if God was again weaving a tale, in such a way that I’d always remember His faithfulness in watching the pieces fall into place just in time.

Donation Day

In Surrender, I wrote: Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car? The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.   And, finally the day came when we got to give our car away.

Initially, I didn’t realize that I’d be meeting the recipient.  I’ve done enough reading on the problematic ‘savior complex’ of so many well intended Christians (check out When Helping Hurts or Overrated for more info!), that I preferred to just hand the keys to the charity and let them pass the vehicle to their chosen recipient.  But, that wasn’t the way the process worked: we were to all go to the DMV together so that the title could be simultaneously transferred from me to the charity and from them to the recipient.

When the morning came, my stomach was doing somersaults.  I so wanted this to be a moment of surrender….not just of a car, but of control…..that God would be present as my path and the path of this mom crossed.  As we waited our turn at the DMV, we chatted.  It turned out, she had a 6-year-old – just like me.  And, she had a daughter, turning 12 years old this weekend – just like me.  More fingerprints.  Finally, it was our turn, and in a few minutes, the papers were all signed and we were walking out to the parking lot.

img_3295-1When she saw the car, she started crying.  All I could do was hug her.  After pointing out a few of the car’s features, it was time to hand over the keys and be on my way.  A good friend was with me, since I needed a ride home!  She took a few pictures, which was good.  It wasn’t till I got home and sat in my kitchen, that I could truly process those moments.  On the one hand, it felt as though that DMV parking lot had become holy ground….at least for a few moments.  Up there had come down here, and I was overjoyed to have been part of it.  On the other hand, it felt so normal…..as if, this were the way life was supposed to be.

On earth….as it is in heaven

When Jesus taught us how to pray, one of the key elements of the Lord’s Prayer was to ask that Up There come Down Here…..that bits of heaven would come into the broken places on earth.  Of course, full and final redemption won’t come in this life.  But, the Bible is pretty clear on our duty to love others (especially, ‘the least’) in this life.  As I’ve clumsily walked down this Micah 6:8 path, I’ve become convinced that loving the least isn’t something we do to get EXTRA CREDIT in heaven – it is THE ticket to heaven…..it is ESSENTIAL to faith.  If you keep reading Matthew 25 (which I cited above) you’ll get to a part where it talks about separating the sheep from the goats.  Don’t be a goat.  Wanna know how: feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, give to the needy, help the sick, show compassion to the prisoner….love the least.  It is impossible to love God and yet be indifferent to what He loves.

Lighting For Literacy

I was struggling to reconcile my feelings, as I sat at my kitchen table, staring at the pictures my friend had taken at the DMV.  I opened up Facebook and saw this post by a South Bay friend named Jessica, writing soon after her return from Mexico, where they delivered and installed solar lights in impoverished communities.

When we got home, a waitress in LA heard our story and said “you must feel so good about yourselves”. We all just kind of looked at her and didn’t know what to say. I mean, ya we felt good, but not necessarily because of our actions. The people of Colonet gave us as much as we gave them in love, friendship, gratitude, and life perspective.

Her father, Doug McNeil, started a group called Lighting for Literacy.  In just a few years, they’ve done amazing work, empowering Bay Area youth to create a sustainable, renewable solar technology that provides opportunities for literacy img_3330and education around the globe.  It is truly amazing what they’ve accomplished (they’ve even been recognized a few times by the White House!).  But, at same time, I get what she’s saying….doing this kind of work shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the rule.  Heck, it IS the rule – if you call yourself a Christ-follower.  

The ‘Actual’ Divine Go

img_3333So, as it turns out, God called us closer to church, so that He could send us out into the world.  Walking with God often creates this clash of the ordinary with the extraordinary.  We see His fingerprints and we marvel at His provision.  And, as amazing as it is – it also feels incredibly normal….like this is ‘as it should be’.  The Jews have a word for this: SHALOM. The word embodies many meanings, but often refers to peace, restorationwholeness and and prosperity.   The ‘with God’ life is simultaneously magnificent and messy.  But, if you dare to do it – you experience shalom…..bits of Up There come Down Here.

I’ve frequently referenced my Pentecostal upbringing.  Back then, we talked a lot about the Holy Spirit, the gift given to early church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38).  We talked less about the way those who received His Spirit lived.  Just a few verses later, in Acts 2:44-45, it says of the early church that they,were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  God’s temple is now in us.  And, our most beautiful worship isn’t in a sanctuary with lights and videos – it’s is when our life-song is one of outrageous, magnificent, messy love for the world around us.  As 1 Corinthians 13:1 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  

Don’t be a goat or a cymbal.  Do Go.  These are the things God is teaching me.  His fingerprints are most noticeable in the places that move me closer to the least.  And, while it truly doesn’t matter the day or the place that God calls – the point, is that He calls.  God shows up.  Those two-by-four encounters with dates pointed to His blessed assurance.  This is my story.  This is my song.  Praising my savior, all the day long.  The glory divine, is that in magnificent and yet mundane ways, God comes.  So, we GO.    

 

 

Surrender

So, Lent happened.

It wasn’t perfect.  But, it was good.  By perfect, I mean, I didn’t succeed in sticking with the 40 Acts.  However, those 40 Acts….the daily emails and Instgram reminders of folks around the globe making Lent personal and real in their lives, inspired a journey in my own.

I Fired Donald Trump

FullSizeRender 2In my last blog post, I shared my commitment to ‘give up Donald Trump’ for Lent.  I was inspired by Diana Butler Bass, who wrote in the Washington Post on Ash Wednesday, about how her mind had been ‘politically colonized’ by Trump.  She vowed to reclaim her mental geography during the 40 days leading up to Easter.  I took the pledge with her…..and, it worked.

Trump had become my gateway drug to a daily overdose of worry and stress.  During Lent, I permitted myself to still read the news.  But, guided by my new abstention, I steered clear of anything that was solely about Trump.  It wasn’t easy!  Yet, as the days passed, I could feel my anxiety level going down.  Mind you, I was absolutely not falling into a mindset of ‘God’s in control, therefore, I don’t need to do anything’.  Rather, to go back to the mental geography analogy – I had to create ‘real estate’ for God to come in and show me where and how He wanted me to respond to the world around.  It was a little hard to do that, when my mind perpetually horrified over Trump’s latest executive order or offensive tweet.  It didn’t take me long to find answers to the HOW and WHERE.  God definitely had a few nobler alternatives to Trump.

Cars

More often than a booming voice from heaven, the voice of God typically comes as a gentle prompting or ‘still small voice’, as 1 Kings describes it (when God spoke to Elijah).  I could fire Trump but I couldn’t fire myself from the job of being a mom.  Even as I created space for God, during the 40 days of Lent, I was still doing mundane mommy stuff, like shuttling my kids to their countless activists, playdates, doctor appointments, birthday parties, etc.  In the midst of shuttling little people, I began to get frustrated with my car – more than I ever had in times prior.  Something had to change.

We purchased our Volvo XC90 in 2007, WHEN THERE WAS ONLY ONE CHILD.  Now, there are THREE cherubs riding along.  And, not just three tinies….there are kids who steal and actually fit into MY clothes (not saying which one, but there’s only one girl…..).  When we bought the Volvo, I was convinced those three rows would suffice for as long as the car ran.  But, talk to my poor mother, who endured a few road trips with us, and she will tell you that rows two and three are as bad or worse as an economy seat on United.  Even quick trips around town seem long enough for WWIII to break out in the rows behind me.  Still, while I have long suspected that we’d one day need to trade our medium-sized SUV for a mini-van, 2017 was NOT the year our spreadsheet said we should make a change.

Why is any of this rambling relevant?  I had a perfectly good, low-mileage vehicle – it worked, even if we were all about to kill each other.  Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car?  The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.

Here’s the long answer…..

Willow

God bless Bill Hybels.  Truly.  I remember vividly, being an adolescent Chicago-girl going into Willow Creek for the first time.  I’d grown up in the Pentecostal church, where faith manifested itself as a list of rules and standards blended with charismatic worship.  This place was almost other-wordly to me; it was a complete 180 degree shift in what I’d known.

Exhibit A: we left the Pentecostal church because we were no longer welcome.  My mom was getting a divorce, and that was a sin.  I always tell the story, with the emphasis on my mom.  But, a friend recently pointed out to me that the injury was also to my brother and me…we were part of the collateral damage, stemming from this kind of dogma.  On the flip side, here was Willow Creek.  Not only was there a support community for folks going through divorce, but instead of showing you the door, they’d give you a car.  Literally.  They had a cars ministry, where donated cars would get fixed up and distributed to single moms from the community in need.  WOW!

My mom didn’t need a car.  But, we DID need compassion and a safe space to sort out our ‘next-steps’, after losing our church, house and father/husband.  Willow Creek gave us that.  And, many years later, my mom was able to donate her car.

Since then, I’ve dreamed of donating a car.  Maybe it is because of this personal history.  Maybe it is because of the shrieks of joy when an Oprah audience hears those fabled words, “YOU get a car and YOU get a car….”.  Maybe it is because of my growing heartache for those who’d been dealt a really rough hand.  To give someone a car….it seems so tangible.  It’s a vehicle.  IT TAKES YOU PLACES.  Literally, and figuratively.

Able Works

The last few months, I’ve been connecting with an organization in East Palo Alto, called Able Works.  They equip individuals with financial education, life skills and assets that enable one to live free from oppression and poverty.  On a whim, I asked they whether they ever took vehicle donations.  It’s not on their website, so I suspected they probably did not.  But, that ‘still, small voice’ was unrelenting.  ASK.  So, I did.  And, they DO.  And, better yet – they don’t just sell them at auction via a 3rd party – they actually allocate them to people from our community in need.  In fact, they had a woman in their LiveAble program, who desperately needed and had been praying for a car.  It’s hard to win an argument with the Holy Spirit.  This pretty much sealed the deal, in my heart, at least.

I still had to persuade my husband.  But, here’s the crazy part.  Even though we’re both Type-A Control Freaks…..even though ‘The Plan’ had not included a new car anytime soon (let alone the donation of our old car), my husband and I both felt an odd (for us!) peace, as we quickly switched course.  In the span of just a few days (which is faster than we ever make major decisions!)  we signed on the dotted line for a new minivan and committed to the gifting of our old car.  Looking back, it makes complete sense (especially, with the multiple road trips we plan to take this summer with our 3 kids + 1 dog!).  But, before Lent, we had no such plans.  And, I’m not sure my constant fretting over Trump would have ever facilitated such a decision process…..actually, scratch that – I am sure, it wouldn’t.

Messes

Lent was messy.  On Day 1, I confidently created a spreadsheet for tracking my #40Acts…..I only got to day 5 or 6.  Pathetic.  Right?  By my old standards, yes.  Lent is about confession.  So, here is my mine: the ‘Over Achiever’ me was already planning on day 2, the Easter blog post where I’d share my beautiful #40Acts spreadsheet.  No wonder, God derailed my grand plans after just a couple days!  They were my plans – not His.  But, in those early days, God  planted seeds for my ‘No Trump’ rule, which opened the door for our car donation.

Still, it didn’t happen overnight.  As the days and weeks passed, the blogger in me struggled….  I had nothing to say, nothing to write.  Everything was a jumble in my head.  There were so many moving parts and lingering question marks.  It didn’t fit into a neat, pretty package that I could easily translate into a coherent blog post.  That’s my ugly truth.  Even as I wholeheartedly build my life around justice, mercy and humility – I perpetually trip over myself.  No wonder, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, we must die DAILY to our sins.  God wasn’t looking for 40 entries on my little spreadsheet.

In the midst of my mess, Jen Hatmaker posted a quote from her upcoming book, Of Mess and Moxie,

You are not required to save the world, or anyone for that matter, with your art.  It isn’t valuable only if it rescues or raises money or makes an enormous impact.  It can be simply for the love of it.  That is not frivolous or selfish in the slightest.  If the only person it saves is you, that’s enough. 

Whoa.  That quote was like a life-preserver, thrown into a sea of doubt and confusion.  I remembered that I started blogging, as a way to have public accountability for my personal spiritual journey.  Period.  It wasn’t about how often I posted or how many hits I got or even whether my writing opened doors down the road.  It was about making faith real, for my family and for me.  God put me in this world for a reason, to go OUT to the least, and live a Micah 6:8 life.  But….I must look UP….often.  Soon after this quote, Jen published a brutally honest blog post – her first in many months.  She wrote,

This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ.

The Old Me put the cart before the horse.  I wanted the blog post script that I could reverse engineer from a list or some sort superficial spiritual practice.  But, here’s the thing: I don’t think my blog is very high up on God’s priority list – especially, if it becomes a vehicle of the Christian Machine.  My soul, however, is.  God had called me to lean into Lent, which meant embracing some soul-level messiness.   CS Lewis taught that, if you want to live  in God’s image, then you have to live a truthful existence.  It turns out, the only way to truly experience God’s love is to bring my own story and brokenness into the light.  

FullSizeRenderSo, here’s where things stand now.  We are STILL WAITING for the new minivan.  I haven’t yet donated my car – it still sits in my garage.  (Hopefully, that will change in the next couple weeks!). But….  The Me that felt I should say nothing till the whole thing was a done deal, and I could present my complete journey as a pretty package….that ME lost.  The Me that felt anxious over the weeks going by with nothing to write about, opted to ‘be still’ in the silence.  God had graciously entered my mess, and answered my HOW (create space for God) & WHERE (give a car to Able Works) Lent Prayer.  God reminded me that the death and brokenness of Good Friday always precedes beauty and provision of Resurrection Sunday.

Redemption

FullSizeRender 4Easter.

Remember that?  Easter Bunny.  Cross.  Lilies.  Peeps.  Ring any bells?

Funny, how fast we move on.  I’m sure a professional ‘blog consultant’ would say that there’s no sense writing about Easter, a whopping week after the holiday has come and gone.  But, see, that’s the problem.  Easter isn’t a holiday.  It’s everything.

Easter is not only the cornerstone of Christian faith, it’s also the day, over 60 years ago, that my grandmother was murdered.  Every year, when I celebrate a Risen Savior, I remember a lost mother and grandmother, a women I never knew, yet desperately miss.  If ever there were a motivation to find beauty in the broken, this has been it.  I’ve wanted my life to somehow bring meaning, inspiration and purpose out of her death.  Parts of my life look neat and tidy.  But, many parts are a big mess.  Sometimes, you lose someone you love, waaaaay too soon.  Sometimes, marriages end and dads disappear.  Sometimes, the doctor confirms your worst fear, and you join the cancer club.  Sometimes, ‘religion and politics’ clash in ways that are messy and painful to untangle or understand.  Sometimes, life reminds us, ‘why Easter’.

This post wasn’t intended to be an ‘Ode to Jen Hatmaker’.  But, the words from her last blog cut to my core, on so many levels.

I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.

Every. Single. Time.

FullSizeRender 5Every time I read that paragraph, I cry.  That’s why I had to share the whole freakin’ thing.  God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death.  He did it once, so that we can claim it over and over and over again…..like, when your Grandma is taken on Easter Sunday.  God still wins.

Redemption is defined as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.  Only God can do that.  But, now He has extra help.  I believe that my Grandma watches over me….that her spirit is no longer where her tombstone sits, but that she is in heaven, with Jesus.  Now, she is one of the angels.  And, over sixty years later, her story propels me to nobler heights.

Surrender

FullSizeRender 6Daily, we die.  That’s surrender.  Some days, it’s Donald Trump.  Other days (if you’re crazy planners with detailed financial spreadsheets, like my husband and me), it’s a car.   Sometimes, the Trumps and the cars remind you of that verse in Romans:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.

Indeed, when we pause long enough to stop tripping over ourselves, God shows up in the most unexpected ways.  That’s the most concrete thing I can say.  This story isn’t finished, but I’m trying to let it be God’s story – not mine.  I’m trying to let the lessons of Lent and significance of Easter seep into the deepest parts of me.  It’s the only way to write the next chapter in my Micah 6:8 life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaning into Lent

Running

No joke, I could employ someone nearly full-time JUST to deal with my family’s health issues.  It’s not that we’re a super sick bunch!  But, it all adds up!  My daughter, who broke her ankle in three places, right after Christmas, is STILL in an orthopedic boot and needing regular trips to the specialist.  This same lovely child, also has ear issues, so has been making near weekly trips to the ENT.  Just this morning, she asked me at the breakfast table, if I could make her an appointment with the Pediatrician, to freeze off a plantar wart.  (Side-note: am I the only mom who’s given up eating breakfast on school days?  Just give me my STRONG coffee, so I can be half awake to drive you to school.  I’ll eat when I get you little monsters, I mean loves, to school.). Anyways, my middle child is at the orthodontist almost weekly, these days.  Thank God for my youngest, who has zero health issues….well, that we’ve noticed.  That kid has learned out of necessity, how to ‘go with the flow’.

This is the first year that my three kids have been at school ALL day, so you would think that I’d have tons of time as a stay at home mom.  Think again.  Life is still crazy, whether it’s with these never-ending doctor and dentist visits, in addition to the usual assortment of after school activities.  Every mom, whether she works in or out of the home, can tell you that the BUCK STOPS WITH US, when it comes to family life.  When you learn that cute kid who came over yesterday has lice, guess who does 20 loads on the sanitary cycle THAT DAY?  MOM.  When you need someone to take you to the doctor to get that wart frozen off, who takes you?  MOM.

This is not intended to be a slight to men.  My husband is an amazing cook.  From the first day my kids entered this world, he’s been the designated nail clipper.  (I’ll never forget him showing up at the hospital with about 3 baby clippers, not sure which one would be best for our little bundle – we all remember how sharp yet how delicate those tiny fingers nails can be!).  He helps around the house and he’s an excellent provider.  But, at any given moment, it’s MOM who carries the insanely long ‘to do’ list related to the people they love.  We never stop running, for there is always someone or something to catch.

Day 1

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  What is lent?  Not too long ago, I could not have told you.  As I’ve written here, I grew up Pentecostal.  We did not follow a liturgical calendar.  Heck, we doubted Catholics were true Christians, and were probably not going to heaven, since they weren’t ‘born again’, as we were.  I’ve come a long way since then!  These days, whether it’s the writings of Nadia Boltz-Weber or the latest statements from Pope Francis, I’ve found my brothers and sisters from the Catholic and Episcopal faiths to be some of the most inspiring and faith-filled figures in Christianity today.  Yet, the Liturgical Calendar eludes me.

Since it was never my practice to eat fish on Fridays or celebrate Lent, I’ve often given myself a ‘free pass’ on these traditions, even as I’ve attended a Presbyterian church for the last 10 years, where services for Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday (among others) are offered.  But, as I pursue a deeper, more authentic faith, I have to ask myself, ‘why not’?  Why not practice Lent?

What is Lent?

Part of the reason I didn’t practice Lent, is because I didn’t understand it.  Ignorance isn’t always bliss – often, it’s just ignorance.  And, this is also true in faith.  So, here’s the answer: Lent is an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter.  I love the way Katelyn Beaty describes it, with what it is NOT, in her recent Christianity Today article:

Lent is not about making ourselves miserable for its own sake, inflicting pain for sins committed throughout the year….The crazy and wonderful news is that, in Christ, we have been declared fit before God….A Lenten observance without this knowledge can easily reinforce common Protestant critiques (and caricatures) of Catholic or Catholic-ish rituals.

Beaty goes on, quoting Puritan theologian, John Owen, to explain what Lent IS:

Lent can become a practice in calling Christians to mortification instead of believing.  It goes without saying, anyone who chooses to observe Lent must do so in a way that puts front and center “the power of God and the mystery of the gospel.”

fullsizerender-34Now, I understand lent to be a season for remembering, in word and deed, the primary pillars of the gospel.  One of the pillars I hold most dear, is grace.  But, grace can so easily be cheapened when we skip confession.  Confession is at the heart of today, Ash Wednesday.  Nadia Boltz-Weber explains this first day of lent:

Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone. We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: “Remember that you are dust and to dust and to dust you will return.” It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.

Truth showed up big time, over a recent cup of coffee at Mademoiselle Colette.  We were supposed to be having a ‘happy birthday’ luncheon.  But, somehow, we ended up talking about death.  We talked about our own mortality and that of people we love…about what really matters and whether we’re living our lives and raising our families in ways that align with our core beliefs and values.  And, I don’t mean this in the way Christians often interpret *values* or *morality*…that I don’t swear or drink too much alcohol or skip church….I mean it more in the, do I pray for those that offend me  (Donald Trump) or do I give sacrificially to those in need (even those of a different religion, like Muslim refugees) or am I willing to see my comfortable life get turned upside down for the sake of justice and mercy (to advocate for the undocumented or fight racism)?  Lately, I’m leaning into the prickly places.

My Confession

I intentionally said ‘lean’ and not ‘jump’.  I am not jumping into these things.  Control freaks, like me, rarely jump.  But, I am leaning.  Serving lunch to the homeless has been one of the ways I’m trying to ‘lean into’ loving the least.  But, let’s be clear – God’s still got a lot of work to do in me.  Here’s an embarrassing example.  The homeless shelter has asked that volunteers, like me, fill out a bunch of forms.  I mean…A BUNCH.  I’ve still not finished my Live Scan (background check) or the TB test, because, honestly, it’s inconvenient.  I’ve not had time.  This weekend, I was running through my mental checklist for the week, and remembered these two items for the shelter, which I STILL need to do.  And, there was this moment, when my thoughts went to that dark place….“they’re JUST homeless people….why must I do so much for THEM….I don’t even do that much to volunteer at school!!!!!”

Not pretty, I know.

But, sometimes we need to see the truth in ourselves.  In the next moment, God quietly and gently reminded me of just how much He loves them (the homeless who come to the shelter).  He reminded me of the posts I’ve written, where I waxed eloquent on the immeasurable worth of each one of us, and how God’s gospel, over and over again, is one of love for the least….for that is where God’s heart is.  He reminded me of the truth I know, but so often forget.

Who needs Lent?  Me.

My Practice

Generosity

So, how to practice lent when you don’t have any traditions, and you REALLY don’t want to give up chocolate, coffee or wine for 4o days?  Well, a couple of days ago, the same friend who  invited me to the shelter, posted a link on Facebook to a movement centered around Lent, called 40 Acts of Generosity.  She asked folks to join her.  Confession (yes, another one): my first thought was, I’m too busy, and I really don’t want to fail.  Not only am I a control freak, but I’m also a perfectionist.  If I’m going to sign-up, I want to get an A, goddamnit.  But, today, God tugged at my heart with a tenderness I don’t deserve.  He nudged me to go back to the link, and just check it out.  As I watched the video, I realized that this was the kind of thing I was saying I wanted to build my life and faith around….now, here was a chance to bridge the ‘knowing/doing’ gap….to turn my words into action.  So, I’ve signed up!

A Different Denial

In writing this post, I stumbled upon an article published today in the Washington Post, titled, Seriously, I am giving up Donald Trump for Lent. Here’s how. Reading it, I knew – this is something I need to do.  Diana Butler Bass writes, “In recent years, more of my friends have taken something distracting out of their life to add a practice that is more life-giving.”  She explains WHY Donald Trump, confessing, “For the past three months, I had gone to bed thinking about the president and often woke up in the morning doing the same. I realized my soul had been politically colonized, and that it was taking huge effort to think and talk about other things with family and friends.”  

When I read this, I immediately thought of the wise words a friend, who recently told me it was okay, even as you seek God’s guidance on where He wants you in the world, to pull away for a time.  She encouraged me to simply draw near to God, that maybe my life and present pursuit were starving me of His love.  I know, I know, I know….this sounds like typical ‘Christianese Speak’.  But, I assure you , it was not; she read my heart and offered me an invitation to let God find me in the midst of a difficult faith season.  Lately, I question why evangelicals are silent when the world is hurting or how I can best to navigate conversations with my own pastors about what the role of the church should be, etc. or if my ‘best yes’ is in partnering with community organizations, rather than the usual ‘church service projects’????  As I grapple with these questions, and more, she gave me two great questions to ponder:

Lord, who are you?

AND

Where are you?

The Word(s)

Another dear friend, who loves me like a sister, unilaterally decided that the two of us would do an NT Wright study of Romans.  And, can I just insert here, that while I hate what’s happening in our country and the suffering across the globe, I cannot deny the way God has rallied the most dear friends during these difficult times?  I’m not sure we would have bonded the way we have, if we weren’t collectively heartbroken for the same things.  Anyways, back to the study….  we are just beginning, but this season of Lent is surely a time for shifting my gaze away from the words….countless tweets and articles… things that are not life-giving… to digging deep into the Word.  I am reminded so clearly of WHO God is and WHERE He is.

To go back to ‘Giving up Trump’….  I like the way Diana offers a nuanced approach to this abstinence.  Lord knows, a political junkie like me might not survive a complete severing with all current events ties.  She explains:

Politics is about finding new connections between people and working for the common good. If I stop fretting over a single individual, I can be more engaged in creating a community where love of neighbor matters. That is the purpose of Lent: giving up distraction and finding space for what gives life.     

This sounds like Lent, to me.  It is what my soul needs for a season.  In 41 days, I will return.  God did not make me to perpetually put my head in the sand.  But, today, I will make space for God’s love to lean into me.

Come as you are party

I will start with confession, and then move to a place of surrender to the power of God’s love and mystery of the gospel.  Out of that, I pray there’s a sincere outpouring of generosity.  I’m gonna give the 40 Acts my best shot.  Another confession: I’m sure to miss a few days.  But, I’m trying to be okay with the fact that this isn’t about ticking boxes – it’s about cultivating discipleship and practicing love.  It’s about remembering that God actually loves me.  As Anne Lamott tweeted on All Things Considered (for my fellow NPR lovers): “God loves us absolutely unconditionally as is.  It’s a come as you are Party.”  God takes us, plantar warts, and all.  When we’re ready to stop running, He’s ready to catch us.  The cross, which is what Lent prepares us for, is God catching us – now, and forever.

Take Time to Smell the Shit

img_1699It’s been one month and 4 days since we got our puppy….not like anyone’s counting!  In some ways, it seems like she’s always been part of our family…she’s already got her favorite spot on the couch.  She’s already knows the route to the kids’ school, and she practically sprints there when it’s time to pick up her boys.  It’s been a pretty smooth transition.  That said, this is our first family dog, and there are few things we’re still getting used to.

Case in point: dogs sniffing poop.  Now, really….WHY?  It’s gross!  I can’t even handle my boys delighting in each other’s noisy farts.  Now, I have a dog that wants to smell shit…her own, others, you name it…she wants to smell it.  Finally, yesterday, I had to google….WHY DO DOGS SMELL POOP?

Answer: According to Rover.com, ‘Dogs “see” through their nose. With their acute sense of smell, they distinguish individual components of smell to understand the world around them.  Vetstreet.com adds, “Other dogs who come upon the scent can discern a lot about fellow canines in the neighborhood. With one whiff of urine, a pup can determine how many dogs have been there, how long ago they were in the area.”

Some of you are probably thinking my head as gone to the dogs!  (So sorry for the bad pun!)…..stick with me.  With this new information, I studied my puppy the next time she went out.  I realized that she was less obsessed with smelling poop and more interested in just understanding her world.

How does ANY of this relate to theology?  So glad you asked!

Suffering Sucks 

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The BEST chocolate croissants

Today, I was back at one of my favorite spots, Mademoiselle Colette (they have the best chocolate croissants, but I digress…), eating lunch with a dear friend.  We talked about a recent health scare she’d had, made all the more scary by the growing number of friends and family members we know battling cancer or some other health ailment.

It is alarming, even for those of us who have all the resources to manage these scares – if and when they come.  In confessing our fears, we acknowledged how much more terrifying it would be if we were fleeing a war-torn country, or if we were forced to live even in the shadows (because we didn’t have papers for this country), or if we were a young black man, wondering how to respond to a nation becoming less tolerant, rather than more.   Our suffering matters….it is not easy.  But, in the same breath, we must see those who are suffering just as much, if not more.

David Brooks had a great a great post in the New York Times called, What Suffering Does.  He wrote:

When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is true on an individual level and it’s true on a broader scale too.  This is a defining moment for both our country, as well as the church.  I firmly believe that as hard and painful as it may be, we need to not only align ourselves with those who suffer, but we must be willing to suffer ourselves.  The Bible uses the analogy of the ‘refiner’s fire’ – indeed, we can be ‘formed’ into something much closer to the Matthew 25 vision for the church.

img_1775For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

The Bible is very clear about loving the least and speaking up for the vulnerable.  I was encouraged by the Washington Post article listing 500+ pastors, calling on the President and Vice President to support refugees.  Now, we need to not only add to that list, we need to keep showing up in tangible and vocal ways for all those who are suffering.  This call, it is not radical or optional – IT IS BIBLICAL.  As Ann Voskamp tweeted, “The call isn’t: deny your neighbor, take up your comfort and follow your dreams.  It’s, deny your yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.”  That’s the call.

Too Political??

fullsizerender-29Raise your hand….how many of you wish all the political posts on Facebook would go away and we could go back to watching cat videos and indulging in throw-back Thursday pictures of everyone’s cute kids?  ME, ME, ME!!!!!

Hands down!  Those were the days!  Right!?!?   fullsizerender-30I’m not even a cat person and I’d gladly take that over the video of an unarmed black teen getting shot or the image of a toddler refugee washed up on the sands.  We ALL would love to NOT see the suffering and heartache.

But, just because it hurts and it challenges on so many levels, doesn’t mean we can turn our heads.  Just because we don’t see the suffering, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  IT IS.  In response to some of the ‘I’m tired of political posts’ theme, a friend shared this:

I want my friends to understand that “staying out of politics” or being “sick of politics” is privilege in action….Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, your race, your abilities, your religion, or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.. It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka “get political”). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.

fullsizerender-28Ignorance is not bliss – it’s just ignorance.  And, to borrow from Bonhoeffer, silence in the face of evil is not just silence – it’s evil.  The white, evangelical church has allowed its privilege to blind its eyes to the suffering of so many around us.  Not surprisingly, we can find truth and guidance from African-American civil rights leader, Ida B Wells: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them.”  Or, as Jesus put it in the book of John, ‘the truth will set you free’.  Church, we cannot claim to be leaders or truth tellers in arenas we are too afraid to talk about from the pulpit.  It is not enough to take an offering for refugees or say a prayer of reconciliation on MLK Day.  For such a time as this, we were placed upon the earth, to hear the voice of God, and DO HIS WILL, WHATEVER IT IS!!!!!!

Forget Franklin and Focus

fullsizerender-31I joined twitter a few days ago.  That’s been interesting.  One tweet that caught my attention was from Franklin Graham: “We have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church.”  Say, WHAAAAT????

Shane Claiborne had the best response: “No.  It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.”  Reality check….not only is the President accountable, we ALL are accountable.

Similarly, the Atlantic just published the story of Joy Beth Smith, a Focus on the Family employee fired for sharing on her personal blog, her experience with sexual abuse and reactions to Trump’s comments about women.  Joy’s experience has been replicated countless times at churches and Christian organizations around the country.  As another woman shared, “It seems like there is this silencing of evangelical women if we don’t stick with approved talking points.”  Ummm….NOT OKAY.

THIS IS A TIPPING POINT.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about theology.  It’s about unapologetically loving the least.  This is about crawling into the trenches with those who are suffering, rather than offering token trinkets and words.  This is about resolving to not be goats or cymbals or whitewashed tombs.  

Back to that lunch with my friend at Mademoiselle Colette.  Call it morbid, but we both have been thinking about the day we stand before God and are held to account.  We’ve both wondered, will my reasons for why I didn’t do more suffice?  The short answer: NO.  We both have felt this deep conviction that it is not enough to volunteer periodically in Sunday School or put an extra $20 in the offering basket when there’s a collection for a missions partner or post an MLK quote on January 16th.  It is time to get down in the trenches.  To quote Shane Claiborne again, “all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  #WhyIResist.”  It is time for the church to resist.  We must lead by loving the least – it is what we should be BEST at! 

So, farewell to the Dobson’s and Franklin’s.  Never again will I send a dime to Samaritan’s Purse or Focus on the Family.  #WeAreNeverEverGettingBackTogether #WWJD  Franklin, you forget the very story, for which your organization is named.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, God praises the foreigner who had compassion on the man attacked by robbers.  The American church has become too much like the Levite and the Priest.  The whole premise of the story was to answer the question, ‘how do I get eternal life?’.  And, the answer was, HAVE MERCY.  This is our template.  This is how we can love the least.  To borrow from Matthew 25….we gotta lot of goats in America right now.

So, seriously… What Would Jesus Do?

fullsizerender-27In my last post, I shared Brene Brown’s comparison between sympathy and empathy.  When we sympathize, we look at the person in a dark hole and say, ‘gosh, that looks tough down there….want a sandwich?’.  When we empathize, we get down in the hole with them.

 

When Jesus came to earth, the angels called him, ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us.  Jesus got into the whole with us.  But, when that baby grew up, he took it one step further.  He said, ‘You know that dark hole that you’re stuck in….I’m gonna take your place.’  Jesus, the son of God, who was without sin, said, ‘I’ve got this’.  Or, as the old hymn puts it, ‘Jesus paid it all.’  He took our place.

Want to know what Jesus would do?  At the very least, we come alongside the hurting and oppressed….we get in the hole with the Syrian refugee and the African-American teen….when possible, we take their place.  I am honestly not sure what taking their place looks like, but I can tell you it looks a hell of a lot different from our posture to date.  And, I’d like to be part of a Christian community that can create safe places where we can talk about what that looks like and then actually go DO IT.

Shit Happens

Dogs smell because it’s how they understand their world.  And, while dogs cannot selectively smell, we humans have gotten pretty good at selectively seeing.  All too often, we decide what we want to see and what we want to avoid.  We have become blind to the poor, the undocumented, the African-American man, the LGBTQ teen, the victims of sexual abuse.  There’s nothing wrong with stopping to smell the roses, but there IS something messed up about acting like you’re in a field of flowers rather than a pile of shit.

fullsizerender-32As Ann Voskamp (who signed the letter in support of refugees) said, “I have felt it—how no one wants anything of anyone but to be honest and real and to trust enough to take off the mask.”  Wearing a mask won’t shield you from the stench of suffering.  So, wake up, church.  Shit happens.  Suffering happens.  Our avoidance won’t make it go away.  But, we CAN use this moment to reorient our faith around loving the least, not just in word but in deed.  If we think history will be unkind to our indifference, how about heaven?  (I suggest re-reading Matthew 25). As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  #StillShePersisted.

 

This weekend, my church is going to talk about how we as a Christian community respond to everything that is going on in our nation today.  We should all be praying for our pastors, as these are difficult days for them.  But, I know that I, and I alone will one day be held to account….there will be no excuses for what my budget allowed or what my pastor did or did not say or what my view of national security did or did not permit….there will just be ME.  And, so, we are back at Micah 6:8…

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

In this, we persist.

 

Make America Great Again

fullsizerender-14It doesn’t get much better than Jon Stewart on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We are less than two weeks into the Trump administration and I’m even more panicked than I was the day after the election. As Salena Zito wrote in the Atlantic, back in September, “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Well, guess what folks…he meant what he said. So, I guess it wasn’t so crazy for those of us on the left to freak-out over some of his more outlandish statements….it wasn’t hyperbole. Which, brings us back to Stewart and Colbert….two of my favorite satirists, always, but especially these days. Stewart ended his bit by saying that we’re gonna make America great again….just not in the way Trump envisioned.

fullsizerender-20I sat in Mama Coco, a Mexican restaurant in Menlo Park, the day of the inauguration. I was joined by friends who are studying white privilege with me. We were numb with sadness…..our usually chatty group had no words. We watched, as a large group of protestors stood along El Camino Real. Some planned to participate in the Women’s March in San Francisco the next day. Some were not sure whether protesting was something they were comfortable with. For a collection of left-leaning white evangelical women, the world of ‘protest’ is a new one. We all felt called to resist – we just varied on the ways in which we felt we could best make fullsizerender-18a difference. As we left, I told one of the gals that while I’d never in a million years wish for a Trump victory, I confessed that the silver lining was that now we’d have to actually put our faith into action. Now, it was time to be the Church and the People.

Since that day, we’ve begun exchanging ideas on how we can make an impact. For those who also reside in the lonely land between traditional evangelical alliances and progressive politics, here’s are some ideas for making America great again….just not in the way Trump envisioned.

Make the Church Great Again

As Shane Claiborn tweeted today, in response to a statement by Franklin Graham (don’t get me started….), “No. It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.” We are ALL accountable. I’m not sure why I even have to say that, but newsflash…there are no exemptions. For the those of us who love Jesus and are aghast at Trump’s first 12 days, we must stand up.  Even as we preach, we must hold ourselves to the same standards we’re asking of others. With that said, what shall we preach?

How does the church ‘show up’ in this moment?  We must stand with the oppressed.

1. IT’S TIME TO BE THE CHURCH.

Jim Wallis was in the Bay Area this weekend, teaching on Matthew 25. Here are verses 35-36:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

These verses are not only compelling on their own, but especially when read in the context of the rest of the chapter, where Jesus essentially explains how to get into heaven. Near the end of this chapter is where Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Church, there’s no ‘out’ for national security or political ideology or personal finances or any other consideration. What we DON’T do for the least, we DON’T do for Jesus.  As Jen Hatmaker tweeted this morning, your chance of being killed in a terror attack carried out by refugees is 1 in 3.6 billion.  Sit on that for a second…..

We probably don’t need lessons in public policies from the pulpit, but we do need reminders on what the scriptures actually say, as they relate to current events in our nation today.  Talk to your pastor or church leaders.  I am so grateful to the Pope, among others, for being respectfully direct in his statements on immigrants and refugees.  We need more Christian leaders to join him.  

You can take the Matthew 25 Pledge here.

2. Learn.  

Church, lives are at stake here.  The least we can do is educate ourselves.  If these ideas are foreign (pardon the pun) or scary to you, commit to at least educating yourself. A recent Christianity Today article provides not only a good summary on this issue, but some great links to books by Christian authors on this topic.  Or, here’s a great article in the Washington Post, just out February 1st, explaining the already robust vetting process.

3. Skip the BS. Consider actually doing something.

Seriously, don’t be a goat. (Read Matthew 25) God isn’t fooled and the rest of the world isn’t either. For heavens sake, we’ve seen more protests in the last few days than in decades prior. The Women’s March is being called one of the largest demonstrations ever. So, we can’t afford to sit on our laurels and do nothing. And, even as we do something, we must recognize that our credibility is one the line if we talk the talk without walking the walk.

To walk with others, especially migrants and refugees, here are some ideas.

  • First, churches can shed their reputation for being irrelevant religious relics by teaching about these topics and creating forums for conversation. If we can’t apply the scriptures to our present day, what’s the point? The word ‘sanctuary’ originates in the Bible, and it doesn’t just mean the fancy auditorium where we sing worship songs. In the scriptures, the words sanctuary and refuge are often used interchangeably.
  • Second, if we can’t have respectful dialogues within our faith communities, we should seriously close our doors.  How can there be reasonable hope in elsewhere if we can’t do it ourselves???
  • Lastly, in addition to talking about these issues from the pulpit, can become literal sanctuaries, of learning, support and protection by sponsoring immigration clinics or supporting refugee relief organizations (thanks to Laura Ortberg Turner for this list: CAIR, IRC, and The Bread Project) and to even physical protection and refuge. As one Methodist minister said in a recent RNS article, “It’s really key that people of faith be active, especially white America….It’s time to put your bodies, buildings and assets on the line.”

The Bible is pretty clear that we become great when we come alongside the least. Period.  Now would be a good time to put that concept into practice.  As we do, let’s remember to encourage one another.  Whether you take your stand on Facebook or behind a pulpit, progressive Christian leaders have been punished in recent months for their views.  There’s no getting around the fact that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump.  The 19% that spoke out before and after the election have paid a steep price, whether it’s Russell Moore risking his position with the Southern Baptist Convention in the wake of Trump criticism or Jen Hatmaker being pulled from Lifeway bookstores for her LGBTQ comments or Shauna Neiquist for her expressed enthusiasm over the Women’s March…  Visit the Facebook pages of Rachel Held Evans or Sarah Bessey, and you’ll find plenty of vicious attacks, all uttered in the name of Jesus, of course.  NOT OKAY.

So, let’s drown out those voices (the mean ones, not necessarily the dissenting ones) by walking humbly through this process, giving a lot of grace along the way.  There’s the phrase, iron sharpens iron.  We can do that for one another, but not so successfully when we are constantly trying to stab one another in the back.

Make America Great Again

I don’t know why young people or minorities don’t vote. Truly. I know that access has been seriously curtailed by a variety of factors, for African Americans, in particular. But, even still, that doesn’t explain why so many didn’t show up on November 8th.

But, that was November 8th….. I have a feeling that President Trump will inspire more young people and minorities to get involved than any prior voter-registration or citizenship drive ever could. Citizen participation in the last 11 days has been off the charts.  IT’S TIME TO BE THE PEOPLE.

According to the latest Pew Research Center polls, cited in NY Magazine, the Women’s fullsizerender-17March not only made a better impression than the tea party movement and marches of 2010, it made a BETTER one. In addition, 40% of democratic women say they plan to get more involved in political causes this year. Newsflash: women are busy….we needed another project as much as Alec Baldwin needs more Trump material. That’s huge that 40% would say they will make space for greater political involvement.

To paraphrase the Japanese commander Isoroku Yamamoto, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we may have awakened a sleeping giant.  If events of the last few days are any indication, we may have finally awakened a bigger chunk of our nation’s citizenry.  And, that’s a good thing.  Democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport. 

At the local level, folks on the Peninsula have a wide array of organizations they can plug into.  There are three near and dear to my heart that I want to plug here.

  • Able Works: This group, led by my friend Sue, equips individuals with financial education, life skills and assets that enable one to live free from oppression and poverty. FYI, they are hosting an event on February 9th, FINDING A WAY FORWARD: Mass Incarceration, Community Policing and The Effects On The Family.  Go if you can!
  • Life Moves Opportunity Services Center: This is the spot where my journey began in the fall, to help ‘the least’/Bay Area homeless by serving lunch.  There are lots of ways to plug-in; they do excellent work in striving to break the cycle of homelessness.
  • My New Red Shoes: Founded by one of my best friends, this amazing group works to give kids the tools they need to be confident at school.  One of the main reasons of absenteeism, is adequate clothing/shoes.  My New Red Shoes works with local community partners across the bay to provide kids with clothes and shoes at the start of each year.  They work year-round to prepare for the 1st day of school.  At Mothers Together last Tuesday, we donated shoes, sewed bags and made cards.  In addition, My New Red Shoes is one of the few charities you can bring your kids, if you want to volunteer at their warehouse.

There are countless ways to get involved.  These are just a few.  But, if the last 12 days are any indication, those at the bottom will get hit the hardest in the coming four years.  Some folks are taking the bold step of running for office.  Some are writing letters and making phone calls. Others are plugging into activist roles with various organizations.  As Americans, it’s time for us to wake-up, smell the coffee, and get involved.  Even if I don’t always agree with you, I believe in our democracy enough to know that if millions of Americans get engaged in the process, we will come out ahead in the end.

While I think engaging in person is the best way to get involved, I’d be remiss if I didn’t list a few ways to let your money do the talking.  You can support, with your purchases, these companies and organizations working to help refugees or immigrants:

  • The CEO’s of Netflix, Apple, Airbnb, Nike, Ford, Starbucks and many more have all been critical of the refugee ban.  Starbucks is also vowing to hire 10,000 refugees. fullsizerender-19 Airbnb is offering free housing to refugees.  Support companies that have taken a stand on this issue, even in the face of a president determined to punish those who oppose him.  I’m using this as an excuse to drink more Starbucks coffee!
  • One of my new favorite groups is Preemptive Love.  Refugees actually make these fullsizerender-16amazing soaps.  Your purchase helps support them.  I gave several bars out at Christmas, and folks loved them.  They also have some great t-shirts, among other things.
  • Support organizations providing help on the ground AND create a conversation starter buy purchasing a cool t-shirt from either the ACLU or Southern Poverty Law Center.

Make Our Families Great Again

Part of the reason I started this blog, was because I wanted to be publicly accountable in my effort as a mom to teach my kids what it looks like to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  I shared in my last post, how my kids aren’t always jumping for joy when I suggest a book, film or activity that isn’t somehow related to Disney, Marvel or Legos.  But, they also don’t like veggies.  That doesn’t mean I give up.  I keep trying.  I get creative.  This matters.

For me, this is my most important measure as mom….did I teach my kids how to truly love God by loving others?  Not in the, show up for Sunday school each week way….but, in the tolerance for others not like you or compassion for the person on the corner or in sacrifice giving to those in need….  We are called to love one another, regardless of how they’ve messed up or if they look like us or pray to the same God as us or the color of their skin…..loving God means loving ALL His people.

Since this is Black History Month, I wanted to invest in some books for my kids that would heighten their awareness of social justice issues.

I’m looking for options other than just books.  But, during these rainy winter days in California, it’s a start.  Going back to Black History Month, here’s a Frederick Douglas quote that Shane Claiborne tweeted yesterday: “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”  I guess some things take a long time to change….but, we must be the change we want to see (to quote Ghandi).

Be Bonhoeffer

One of my friends from the White Privilege study encouraged me to read Bonhoeffer’s biography.  While I haven’t read the whole thing yet, my initial inquiry into this storied leader in Christian history readily reveal why my friend felt we might be inspired today by his example.

It’s one thing to quote Bonhoeffer, it’s another thing to emulate the minister that stood up to Hitler.  Now, before some of you jump off the deep end….I’m not saying Trump is Hitler.  (I do wonder sometimes, but that’s not my point.)  My point is that we can’t pretend that if we could go back in history to the periods and people we extoll, that we’d be right there with them….but, then we have 101 excuses for why we can’t take the same risks or emulate in any fashion the courageous men and women we admire.  Not all of us were cut out to pick up picket signs and protest.  But, that doesn’t mean we don’t have spheres of influence and places where we can take a stand.  WE MUST TAKE A STAND.  Here are a few quotes from his biography that cut to my core:

  • Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
  • Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.
  • Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.
  • Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.

I’ve always loved listening to Christian music.  In my car, NPR, the classical station and KLOVE are the three stations I tune to most often.  But, these have been difficult days.  As one evangelical friend who is half-Indian recently told me, I’ve never felt so lonely at church.  I get it.  Sometimes, it’s like the WASPY world would love for the dust to settle, so we can get back to business as usual.  But, when your kids are half Asian or your husband has a green card and you worry whether he’ll be allowed back into the US when he travels or your African American best friend is torn apart by the racism in America or you find out that a precious child in your class is undocumented and living in daily fear….when you dip your toe outside of the WASPY world, you see things differently.

Whether I’m in the car or in church, I wonder if the words mean the same thing to others that they mean to me…if they take them seriously or just figuratively.  These days, I take them more and more literally.  As much as I feel somewhat alone in my faith, I am reassured by the small but passionate band of friends who share my deep devotion to the Jesus who came and gave it all for all.  The other day, a new song called Giants Fall by
Francesca Battistelli, came on the radio.  Its words soothed my overwhelmed heart, reminding me of who God is and what He can do.

Don’t you be afraid
Of giants in your way
With God you know that anything’s possible
So step into the fight
He’s right there by your side
The stones inside your hand might be too small
But watch the giants fall

I’m clinging to these words.  I am not afraid.  Anything is possible.  GIANTS WILL FALL.  It’s not just about America….it’s about all of us across the globe.  God always has been, He is, and He always will be GREAT…just not always the way we initially envisioned.

 

 

 

 

Farewell, Mr. President

 

fullsizerender-12
Medal Ceremony

We’re going through a lot of Kleenex these days.  First, there was President Obama’s Farewell Address in Chicago.  Then, there was the surprise conferment of the Medal of Freedom by Obama to his beloved Vice President, Joe Biden.  This morning, I saw a video of Obama visiting a homeless shelter where children were the recipients of Sasha and Malia’s playground set.  And, just now, Obama held his final press conference.  Cue the tears!  THIS WHITE, EVANGELICAL WOMAN IS HEARTBROKEN TO SEE OBAMA GO.

 

Coffee, wine and then tea…..

fullsizerender-3I love coffee.

I love wine.

Sadly, you can only drink so much of both.  It seems as though even Mother Nature mourns, as it has been an unusually cold and rainy winter in California.  And, so, I drink a lot of tea.  Last night, I stared at the tag: Comforting Camomile….if only.  If only it were so simple.  If only the clouds would part, and we’d realize it was all just a bad dream.  But, it’s not.  And, I’m left to sit with my emotions….to think, and pray and contemplate how I will respond.  And, honestly, I still don’t know.  That’s partly why I’ve not blogged.  What do you say?  Some of what we’re going through is unchartered territory; the other part is rooted in conflicts that have festered for decades, even centuries.

The other reason I haven’t blogged is because life happened.  My daughter broke her ankle in three places.  We got a puppy.  My mom was healed.

That last one isn’t a typo or even an exaggeration.  Today, my mom celebrates yet another birthday, laughing in the face of a cancer that has threatened her place in this world for over a year.  After a lifetime of loving others, the affection has come full circle, as friends and family have become the hands and feet of Jesus, taking her to appointments, bringing meals, saying prayers…..those prayers….they worked.  We never thought that ‘remission’ was a word we’d hear, yet it’s the word that the Mayo Clinic doctors gave – it’s a word we now cling to.

Remission isn’t just for cancer.  Remission is for sins.  I look at the church today, and our divisions are like a cancer.  It is a no-brainer that when a loved one is sick, you pray.  You gather, you organize, you rally, you contribute – one way or another.  But, these days, when our nation is sick and hurting, we seem to be tripping over one-another…sometimes, even making enemies when what we need are allegiances.  If only Obama could pardon our pains in his final days; but, the absolution we seek, is one only God can give.  And, while I believe strongly that there’s much government could and should do, my deep heartache comes in watching mainstream Christians wish to sweep discords under the rug and just move on.

Don’t Be A Dog

fullsizerender-2
Happy Go Lucky Kid

To be fair, I’m tempted to look for my broom too.  I’m tempted to sweep this moment and this heartache from my life.

 

We just got a puppy, Calli.  My husband used to say that in his next life, he wanted to come back as our happy go lucky six-year-old.  We envy his charmed life.

Then, Calli came….bliss found even higher heights!  The whole family is entertained by this pup who wishes for nothing more than to just be with her people.  She eats.  She plays.  She cuddles.  She pees and poops.  And, that’s about it.  Life is good.  Now, we joke that we want to come back as Calli.  What could be better?

fullsizerender-8Genesis.  Genesis tells us what’s better.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God had created many marvelous things to fill the heavens and earth; only one was created in His image.  Us.  Only one creation was made to be like God.  As John Ortberg detailed in a sermon at Menlo Church last Sunday, humanity’s very first commandments were essentially to go have sex, to enjoy the delicious fruits and foods and to go innovate, create and rule.  We are made in His image.  And, from Genesis to Revelation, the most constant themes are of love, grace and mercy…..not legalism or jugmentalism.  So, why do we lead with this when we go into the world?

We have a unique opportunity, to be like God.  This is a gift given to no other img_1371creation….even dogs (man’s best friend).  Being ‘like’ God and ‘being God’ are two entirely different things, to be sure.  Assuming that our collective calling is to be like Christ, then the proof of this pursuit is the fruits of the spirit, which are:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  As much as a big part of me wants to shrink back into my safe and comfortable life, to make cups of tea, pull my babies and puppy close and just shut out the world – I know that this is to miss out on not just God’s strongest commandments but also His greatest invitation….to be part of something that is worthy, holy and eternal.

Facebook Follies

I live in Menlo Park….home to Facebook.  I love it for the ways I can connect with friends across the globe.  I love it for the way I can efficiently share life events with those closest to me.  I love that I’ve found women like Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans….all through Facebook.  Facebook has its strengths.  It also has its weaknesses.  We’ve seen this in the last election.  We found our silos.  And, to our detriment, we’ve dug even deeper trenches.

On Monday, many of us availed ourselves of the feel-good exercise of posting favorite MLK quotes.  But, thankfully, women like Rachel Held Evans reminded us of our tainted Christian history:

“Reducing the struggles of the past to conflict between “the Christians” and “the culture” disregards the fact that slavery, Jim Crow, Native American removal, and all sorts of racial and gender inequalities have all flourished in a supposedly Christian culture…It’s easy to comfort ourselves with the thought that Christians of the past were only using religion and Scripture to support their oppression, but in truth those Christians rarely saw it that way. Often the difference between using Scripture to justify injustice and appealing to Scripture to support the truth proves clearest in hindsight. Pride, privilege, and confirmation bias are formidable adversaries on the path to justice, which is why we must familiarize ourselves with past justifications for oppression or inaction lest we make the same mistakes again.”

She spoke to an inconvenient truth that while hard to swallow, resonates because I know it is not a white-washing of history.  And, as they say, if we do not study and learn history in its truest form – we are bound to repeat it.  This is my great fear, as we head into the next four years.  I replied to Rachel’s post and she responded.  Here’s our exchange:

fullsizerender-7

 

So, there you have it.

It might not be an exhaustive list of solutions, but it is definitely a good place to start.  And, discussing solutions and paths forward is indeed where the church can and should set an example.

Sadly, without going into details, there were multiple white men who quickly replied to my question, feeling the need to say that Trump isn’t a racist, misogynist, Islamophobe, etc.  I was shocked.  This is MLK Day.  We are exchanging ideas on racial healing.  My question never labeled Trump as any of those things.  But, it clearly touched a nerve.

The day after MLK Day, a friend sent me these wonderful words written by Richard Rohr:

We see in the Gospels that it’s those on the bottom who tend to follow Jesus: the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, the foreigners.  It’s demonstrably those on the inside and the top who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers.  

Rohr goes on to emphasize the importance of perspective, saying that Western Christians “fail to appreciate liberation theology” thanks to so many years of seeing the Scriptures through the lens of empowered clergy class rather than the marginalized.  He reminds us that for the first 300 years after Jesus, Christianity was a religion of the oppressed.  And, this isn’t just a historical observation; it’s a reflection of the heart of God.  Over and over and over again, Jesus points us to the least.  As Dorothy Day puts it, we must live at the bottom.  

White Privilege

For several months now, I’ve been meeting with a group of white women, as we study racism and our own white privilege; I recognize my life doesn’t lend itself to truly living with or loving the least.  For those who aren’t ready yet for a year-long study, there was a really good article from 2015, circulating yet again on MLK Day.  One line in it, where a white woman like myself discusses her own white privilege, says: Acknowledging privilege is not admitting to be a racist.

So, church…..can we grow-up enough to create safe spaces where conversations like the one Rachel recommended can happen?  If it can’t happen with us or in our sacred spaces, where do we think it can or will happen?  Can we shut-up and listen to learn, not to defend?  For, if other spaces do manage to facilitate those dialogues, what does that say of us?  Jesus will never be irrelevant but Christians….we can be.  Let’s not.  For God’s sake!

Meet Katharine, Dorothy and Mary

On Monday, I took my kids to see Hidden Figures.  This film introduces us to Katharine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women who were not just involved with but essential to the early milestones in our nation’s space program.  And, till now, their stories were unknown.  But, thanks to Hollywood, we finally get to learn about the obstacles they overcame to work at NASA.  Given my lifelong love of history and recent interest in learning about racism and African American heroes, this was a no-brainer.

But, I have a confession: my kids didn’t want to go.  I am so embarrassed to admit thisfullsizerender-11, but it’s the truth.  In the end, my eldest liked it.  My middle child said his favorite part was the end, when the rocket carrying John Glenn is launched.  And, my youngest (the happy-go-lucky one), spent most of the movie with his popcorn bucket over his head.  I kid you not.  (God knows how to keep me humble.)  But, I am trusting that after a lifetime of leaning into opportunities to learn, whether that’s walking around Angel Island and learning about the Chinese immigrants who first arrived in America or the ‘hidden figures’ essential to our early days of space exploration, there will be a net gain in deep understanding and true compassion.  Reality is that empathy isn’t automatic, which is why it can’t be option in my family.  This is a non-negotiable.  As Martin Luther King wrote:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. 

Writer Judy Wu Dominick recently confessed on Facebook, how she’d come full circle from being an Obama detractor and critic to sincere supporter.  The turning point: when she switched to a more diverse church, one that was over 50% black.  Over time, her perspective and eventually her heart changed.  Our bubbles shape us more than we realize.

I have a dream…

Yesterday, I spoke to the Mothers Together group at Menlo Church.  It wasn’t my first time holding a microphone.  But, it was my first time teaching a large group in a religious setting.  All prior coaching and speaking was at universities or in corporate conference rooms and learning centers.  This year, I joined the teaching and missions teams, believing these were areas where I needed to stretch (you learn by doing)!  One of the passages I studied in preparing for this talk, came from the Book of Esther (credit to John Ortberg for his analysis and teaching on this book).  What’s amazing about this story, and what I shared with the ladies, is that the name of God is never uttered in Esther’s story.  As John puts it:

The writer (of Esther) wants you to know that even in exile…no Jerusalem, no temple, no Sanhedrin, far from home, surrounded by problems…God is right there. Even though in Esther’s story God’s name is never spoken, God’s heart is never absent. God’s arm is never missing. So don’t you give up. In your position, however important it may or may not look, however likely your success does or does not appear, whether you feel like your mission is going well or terrible, don’t you give up, because it’s God at work, not you.

So this is what I’m clinging to.  I’m not giving up.  I’m leaning into even those places and spaces that are awkward, even painful.  I’m believing miracles still happen but I’m not relying just on religious institutions or Christian forums.  Because, honestly, I think vast swaths are becoming holy huddles of privilege, be it economic, racial, educational, etc.  And, please know that I lump myself into that group!   But, as one mom shared during our Mothers Together gathering, be willing to do the little things….like, go to a playground across the railroad tracks or facilitate play dates with friends who may live on the other side of town.  Even though big strides are needed, little steps are far better than backward slides.  As the Franciscan prayer Sarah Bessey asks, may we be blessed with the anger, tears and foolishness.

So, my question isn’t whether you posted your favorite MLK quote on Monday….it’s fullsizerender-10whether you’re still talking about him and honoring his work today….just a few days later.  And, will you keep thinking and praying about how we the church can make his dream a reality?  Cause, here’s the thing…Dr King’s I Have A Dream speech is laden with inspiration borrowed rhetoric from the New and Old Testament.  The dream didn’t originate with Dr King….it originated with God.  It’s God’s dream. We know that this is the picture of heaven.  Frankly speaking, there will always be brokenness in this world.  But, God didn’t stop in Genesis.  He had a dream.  Why not be part of it now? 

What’s a cubit?

5ae0c50d-ed2c-4eb1-84cf-4714f2317aa4It’s just about time for Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin to ring in the New Year from Times Square in NYC.  If I could swap Anderson for another ‘newsy’ celebrity, I think I’d pick Stephen Colbert.  He makes you laugh, but he’s been incredibly transparent about his own election hangover.  Similarly, I’ve struggled to find the usual levity and joy that accompanies the holiday season.

I’m about half-way through Accidental Saints, by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  She contrasts our idealized, Normal Rockwell Christmases, with the actual story in the Bible.  I love her takeaway, saying this of the first Christmas:

It reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world would 16ab5b0d-1e59-4edf-93b4-52f45ee49065often wish it would be.  God’s love is too pure to enter a world that does not exist, even though this is often how we treat Jesus, like we are trying to shelter Him from reality.  We often behave as though Jesus is only interested in saving and loving a romanticized version of our selves, or an idealized version of our mess of a world, and so we offer him a version of our best selves.  

I have a long ways to go, but I feel like this has been the year when my eyes were opened and my heart was broken, by the world as it actually is. 

The bad news is that the world is still messed up.  The good news is that God is in the mess.  Just these last few weeks, that’s been the painful truth for my family.  My mom is over a year into her battle against cancer.  We were so glad she was well enough to make it out to California for what we’ve dubbed ‘Turkey Christmas’ (gift exchanges done at Thanksgiving).  But, the day after her return, she was admitted to the hospital and she’s been back and forth between the hospital and rehab ever since.  Just to add to the medical drama for our family, my daughter fell and broke her ankle in 3 places, the day after Christmas.  It is dangerous to sugarcoat hardship; you cheapen the real pain of the folks closest to the suffering.  But, it is also dishonest to omit the very real ways God showed up in the midst of it all.  

Just when things looked bleakest for my mom, the pieces started falling into place for my Mom to get to Mayo, with friends and family moving mountains to facilitate this endeavor and provide care in between.  For my daughter, there have also been some mixed f26f1a1e-a965-48df-94ad-e05f368b85a6blessings.  A little backstory to her injury helps…

She went upstairs to get her little brother, when he failed to show up and set the table (after being called no less than 23 times).  And, long story short, she tripped and fell, carrying him down the stairs.  Like all big sisters around the globe, she’s frustrated by her brothers’ frequent reluctance to pitch in and help.  But, it’s been baptism by fire since the day she broke her ankle.  I wouldn’t call either of them ‘Martha’, but they’ve definitely shouldered a larger chore load, and have even displayed more compassion and care for their sister, since the accident.  I have no illusions about the long-term durability of these lessons; it’s likely they’ll be back to their usual quarreling selves, about 5 minutes after the cast comes off.  However, that doesn’t take away from the lessons we can learn when we’re forced to just stop for a moment.  And, this moment, as we start a New Year, might be a good time for all of us to pause.

John Dickerson interviewed Stephen Colbert on Christmas Day.  Among other things, they talked about the 2016 Oxford Word of the Year: Post-Truth, an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.  Here’s a snippet of their post-truth exchange:

COLBERT: That scares me, the idea that facts don’t exist anymore is actually scary to me, whereas if there are no facts anymore, then there is nothing to agree upon and so we can’t agree. You can’t build anything.

DICKERSON: You’ve got to agree on the measurement of things if you’re building (INAUDIBLE)…

COLBERT: What is one kilo?

f240562e-beeb-4fb6-8448-e479ccd42c1f
Dickerson & Colbert

DICKERSON: Right.

Or one cubit?

COLBERT: Exactly.

What is a cubit?

Exactly.

Exactly…..what’s a cubit?

As Dickerson puts it, if we want to build something, we have to agree on the measurement.  in.  I think this is part of the reason why these last few weeks have been so disorienting.  It’s not just that we disagree on facts, our worldview or preferred prescription for the world….it’s this sense that everything has been turned upside down, and truth doesn’t matter.  What can you build when you can’t define a cubit?

The Bible talks a lot about weights and measurements.  Proverbs 11:1 states, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight.”  Too often, the church has either turned a blind eye to or been party to false balances.  And, the church will inevitably continue as a diverse body, with a huge variance of perspectives and prescriptions (and, this is good!!!). However, if we are to maintain any shred of credibility in 2017, we must agree on the cubit.  We must seek some common ground upon which at least a critical mass of Christians agree.  The church must go back to its Biblical roots to welcome the foreigner, protect the oppressed, help the poor, heal the sick, respect the elderly, defend women and children, etc.  If we can find that critical mass in 2017, maybe we can move closer to the tipping points that affect broader change.  We might not always agree on the details, but let’s not let politics or ideology of earth stand between us and the heaven’s plea to be light in the darkness.  And, quick clarification: light in the darkness has a lot more to do with those folks I just mentioned (poor, sick, foreigner, etc.) than it does well-crafted worship services or Bible programs.  The book of Amos has some harsh words, on the topic of scales:

Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,
5 saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
6 buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The chapter continues with this admonishment:

7 The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

8 “Will not the land tremble for this,
and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.
9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it.

Part of my pivot for 2017 is to look for the people and organizations doing the best work to help these groups, and then go join them….whether they’re affiliated with a church or not.  Being the church doesn’t require a steeple – just hands and feet.  In fact, we have spent far too much time quarreling with each other (case in point, recent criticisms of Russell Moore) or point a finger at others, when there’s so much common ground with both religious and secular groups that we could have used as a foundation for being hands and feet.  Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it this way:

That is the surprising scandal of the gospel, the surprising scandal of the kingdom: it looks like the same crappy mess that bumps us out of our unconscious addiction to being good, so that we can look at Jesus as he approaches us on the street and says, Man, you look like you could use a good meal.

I hope that the church will lean into those messy places, in bolder and more courageous ways than we have in a long time.  But, there will come a day when I am accountable.  And, on that day there will be nothing else to blame; ideology, theology, my calendar nor my finances, and all of life’s countless demands and perceived constraints….you name it….they won’t matter.  I, and I alone will be measured.  So, I’d better figure out what is a cubit.

Politicians and pundits might not agree on much, but I think the Bible is pretty clear on

5607bf45-318d-4849-b1d6-c9823764b832
From Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

measurements.  We are called to love God and love people.  And, we’re known by our fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And, the places where these commandments ring true and our true selves are revealed, are in our responses to the broken people and messy places.

The real question is not, what’s a cubit….the real question is what’s a person worth?  God’s already shown us what a person is worth to Him.  But, what’s a person….a young black man, a Hispanic housekeeper, a Syrian refugee, a homeless child or female pastor worth to us?  Is there room in our 2017 gospel for them?  Let’s make it so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Outsider’s Christmas

87b7b32c-f249-42f8-9f61-95302f9a19ec-28288-000025ad7be0ba74_tmpOver coffee and wine….  It’s not just catchy, it’s my life.  I need a solid two cups of coffee in the morning to be somewhat functional (sincerest apologies to my running partner who sees me 3x/week@6:30 am sans any caffeine…God only knows what comes out of my mouth!).  So, you can be sure that I’ll be holding at least a few of those red Starbucks cups this December.  For the second year in a row, Starbucks has been accused of waging a war against Christianity, with its cup design.  I have this crazy theory that Christmas is about more than what is or is not on our coffee cups.  Here’s how Rachel Held Evans puts it:

The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up—not with a parade but with the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalized, not to the demanding but to the humble. From Advent to Easter, the story of Jesus should teach us that God doesn’t need a mention in our pledge or on our money or over the loudspeaker at the mall to be present, and when we fight like spoiled children to “keep” God in those things, we are fighting for idols. We’re chasing wind.

The birth of Jesus offers so many lessons.  But, the central role of outsiders in the Christmas story demands a second look, as we consider the real reason for the season.  And, I pray, the lessons from that look, give us some new ways to celebrate this Christmas.

Foreigners in Bethlehem

3296142c-3ec5-4f2e-854c-9345e0211524-27975-00002563db99d8af_tmpToday’s nativity scenes are almost a dime a dozen.  We see them and shrug.  Mary and Joseph, in a barn with some farm animals standing around and three funny looking guys in the background.  Yep.  We know the story.  But, maybe the story has gotten too familiar?

While Joseph had family ties to Bethlehem, they were visitors in this tiny town.  And, they weren’t the only outsiders.  We often hear about the three wise men.  These magi or astrologers, came from the East.  So, these are men from a foreign land, with foreign traditions and faith.  They bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, gifts typically given to a king or royalty….not the typical ‘congrats on your baby’ gift.  These are wealthy, well-educated men who had a lot to lose, traveling to Israel, bearing gifts for a new king.

The gifts are not only symbolically significant, but they were likely life-saving financial resources for Mary and Joseph.  Herod becomes so paranoid by the news of this baby, that he slaughters baby boys under the age of two in Bethlehem.  Fortunately, Joseph and Mary escaped with baby Jesus, to Egypt.  But, consider all of the times we see an outsider playing a key role in the Christmas story.

First, Mary and Joseph are far from home, having come to Bethlehem at such a delicate time in Mary’s pregnancy to take part in the census.  Then, they receive gifts from foreigners from the East.  (FYI…unlike the little nativity sets we put up next to our Christmas tree, where the shepherds and wisemen simultaneously assembled in the manger, the wisemen probably didn’t arrive until roughly a year later.)  Finally, they become refugees in Egypt for a few years, likely surviving on the resources they received from the magi.  It isn’t until Herod dies, that Mary, Joseph and Jesus can return to Israel.

It’s not just this chapter in the Christmas story that highlights the role of a foreigner.  The very lineage of Christ paints a picture of a Savior who came for all.  For example, not only does the Bible include the names of 5 women in Jesus’s genealogy (unheard of in that day), but among them we find Ruth.  Ruth was a foreigner from Moab, whose entire race was a lasting reminder of the incest committed between Lot and his oldest daughter.  Over and over again, we are reminded that there’s no sin so big or person so far, that they are beyond the love of Christ.  Just in case we missed it in looking at his family tree, or in the story of his birth, Jesus repeatedly shows us that we are to love the outsider.  It is in His commandments to love one another.  It’s in His stories, like that of the Good Samaritan (despised foreigner).  It’s in His blood, which He explicitly states is for all, Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free…you name it, it’s there for each and every one of us.

Foreigners in the United States

Even though we are a nation built by immigrants, the present level of hostility towards foreigners is at an all-time high.  As a white woman, married to a Singaporean immigrant, parenting bi-racial children, I have some admittedly selfish and personal reasons for rejecting this posture.  But, there are reasons beyond decency that should give us pause, before we permit the nativist rhetoric to become normalized speech or worse yet, public policy.

Immigrants thru history

First, a quick history lesson.  In a book by Eric Weiner, called the Geography of Genius, he looks at civilizations through the years to identify the places/people that evolved into 1fde0261-ee3e-4af8-b0fc-2e71c8008017-28288-000025adc70f0b45_tmpthe most influential and productive centers for their time(s).  So, just to clarify, we’re looking across the globe, from the time history has been recorded.  And, one of the most consistent catalysts for growth, creativity whether it’s ancient Athens or Vienna and Florence during the Renaissance or Silicon Valley today: the influx of new ideas and perspective from immigrants.  Unless you’re Native American, the rest of us were at one time immigrants ourselves.  And, until the late 19th century, there were few immigration regulations.  There weren’t the visas, lengthy processes and countless forms of today.  Today’s undocumented can’t ‘do it the right way’ like our great-grandparents.

Immigrants in America today

So, let’s fast forward to today.  The election results do not somehow turn political rhetoric into statistical fact.  On the two hot topics of refugees and immigration, here’s the deal: refugees aren’t dangerous and immigration is not bad for the economy.  It’s tempting to cut and paste the hundreds of articles and studies validating the importance of foreigners to our own American society and economy – there is an avalanche of evidence.  I’ll spare you!  But, here are a few actual facts worth considering (don’t worry…..we WILL get back to the Christmas story):

  • Entrepreneurs: Immigrants are twice as likely to start a new business.  9903cdd8-2d20-44cb-b603-858458e027bf-28288-000025af99fb3ab3_tmpImmigrants (and their children) started such iconic companies as Apple, Google, Intel, Bank of America, AT&T, Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Pfizer, DuPont, eBay and Ford.
  • Individual Mobility/Wages: Immigrant children show extraordinary upward mobility, in terms of income, occupation and education.  In addition, studies find that immigrants raise wages for native-born American.  Interestingly, cities with the most immigrants tend to support a continuation of pro-immigrant policies.  On the flip-side, Rust Belt states with greater resentment at the “illegals” who are “taking all of our jobs” — actually have relatively small populations of them, with fewer than 2% of jobs held by illegal immigrants,” according to Rex Nutting.
  • Macro-economics: According to the 15bc62c8-9073-440f-bf37-8c8e475e2fe1-28886-00002639defed4cf_tmpmost-cited anti-immigration economist, Harvard Professor George Borjas, there is a small but positive contribution to the economy as a whole.  Even the George W Bush Institute published in the spring, a comprehensive report stating that the benefits of immigration outweigh the costs.  Speaking to the macro-economic benefits, they state: “When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the “immigration surplus,” and while a small share of additional GDP accrues to natives — typically 0.2 to 0.4 percent — it still amounts to $36 to $72 billion per year.”
  • Science/Tech: Immigrants are essential to critical sectors of the economy, including science, medicine and technology.  Again, according to the George W Bush Institute, Forty-four percent of medical scientists are foreign born, for example, as are 42 percent of computer software developers. Immigrant workers are also overrepresented among college professors, engineers, mathematicians, nurses, doctors and dentists, to name a few.  Research cited by the Harvard Business School indicates that although many tech firms do tend to favor employing younger workers, older native workers are not losing their jobs as a direct result of the immigrants being hired.  In fact, hiring young skilled immigrants raised the overall employment of skilled workers in the firm.  In a nutshell: we need these people!
  • Safety: For those who worry about safety and security more than economics, there are plenty of statistics proving that as a group, immigrants are actually much less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.
  • Refugees: According to national security experts, refugees from war torn places, like Syria, are not a security threat.  Treating them as such has turned what should be a humanitarian issue into a politicized policy of fear-mongering.
  • Terrorism: If you’re worried about personal safety, check out the CDC website for actual statistics.  Unintentional poisonings, traffic accidents and suicide deaths are the leading causes of death (not health-related).  You’re actually more likely to be killed by deer, cows, dogs or even falling out of bed – than by terrorists.  Back to the CDC, you are 77781e3e-1283-47e6-a5f2-3f40d561c70e-28288-000025adf3c2883c_tmp35,079 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack.  That means that all those Christmas cookies and egg nog are far more dangerous than the Syrian Refugees.
  • Costs: We also can’t ignore the real cost of deporting millions of migrants; estimates range from $400-600 billion, take 20 years to implement, shave $1.6 trillion off GDP and lower economic growth by 5.7%.

Up Close and Personal

Whether you look at the big picture or the individual stories, the take-away is the same: we benefit from welcoming outsiders into our great nation.  Here’s one of those individual stories, published in Time magazine, a couple

Liz Dong

days ago by Liz Dong.  In her story, titled, I’m an Undocumented Immigrant and an Evangelical Christian, she shares how she and her mother came legally, but their attorney forget to attach her papers to her mother’s visa renewal forms – resulting her joining the ranks of the undocumented.  Liz’s story is telling on a few levels.

  • First, she is Chinese.  Trump may rant about building a wall to keep out Mexicans, but according to an article in the Atlantic, migrants from Asia outpace Mexicans in terms of undocumented growth.  Chinese, South Koreans, and Indians among the fastest-growing segments of undocumented immigrants.  My husband is ethnically Chinese, so the last thing I’d want to do is shift the animosity towards Asia.  The point is that it’s hard to fix a problem when you don’t even define it properly.  And, the problem is definitely not Mexico sending its criminals and rapists, or Hispanics at large.  Nobody disputes the need for immigration reform, but let’s not build policies based on xenophobia.
  • Second, I know from personal experience how challenging the immigration process can be, going through it myself, when my husband applied for his green card.  I honestly don’t know how we could have done it, without the help of attorneys.  And, we don’t even have the added challenge of having English as our second language.
  • Third, in many instances, the children of migrants (legal or not) do not even realize they are undocumented until years later.  Many will question why someone like Liz doesn’t just go through the visa process, upon realizing she’s undocumented. The reason is that you have to immediately leave the country and then wait 10+ years before you can return (the backlog of cases for immigration 32cf2401-7de6-4cb5-bba3-5e3e05083e3c-28288-000025b07998a5fb_tmpcourts is in the hundreds of thousands, with wait times of several years to get a hearing).  For children who grew up in the US and know no other home, this is insane!  And, that’s why Obama signed DACA (after Congress failed to act, even though there was bipartisan support).
  • Last point, folks who trusted our government and surrendered their details, should not now have to live in fear of deportation.  It is our civic and moral duty to stand up for the 750,000 who jumped at the first chance they had to come out of the shadows and secure the proper permits to work.  Immigration has many facets, but this one should be a no brainer-for Christians.

b4946d74-0ca3-44df-9911-5430a48757af-28408-000025c183e56243_tmpFolks, from a patriotic standpoint, we would not be the country we are today, leader of the free world, without foreigners – we are a nation of migrants.  From a faith standpoint, we would not be trimming our trees and preparing for Christmas today, without migrants.  Jesus was himself a refugee, who was helped by foreigners.  No matter what angle you look at the Christmas story, you see foreigners playing a key part in the narrative.  And, as American Christians – we should not turn a blind eye.

What you can do

Mindset: Abby Odio, of Menlo Church, shared a beautiful Quaker definition to the word repentance: to think differently after being with.  Maybe this Christmas, there are some things we can think differently about, after seeing either old stories or present realities with fresh eyes.  Is it possible you’ve let the messy, scandalous version of the Christmas story be usurped by a cleaned-up, Norman Rockwell version?

There are also some really practical steps for ways we can help those among us, especially the undocumented, who are entering this holiday season with a lot of fear.

Risk: The shepherds had to leave their sheep to go see Jesus.  The magi said ‘no’ to Herod in order to say yes to Jesus. The shepherds could have lots their flocks.  The magi could have lost their lives.  We can’t claim to say YES to God but then a polite no to the people and places He calls us to love.  (Thanks, again, to Abby for these ideas.)  Are you willing to put some skin in the game?  Jesus never promised us safe or easy.  In Luke, he says: Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  It wasn’t meant to be cliche – it was meant to be made real in us.

img_0975Gifts: Your holiday shopping and gifts can this year be a gift to refugees abroad.   Check out Sisterhood Soaps.  Their gorgeous soaps, candles and crafts are handmade by refugee women, and help to fund job creation efforts in Iraq.

Just Ask: These last few weeks, I’ve started stepping outside of my comfort zone.  Whether it’s nannies, cleaning ladies, construction workers or landscapers, I’ve decided to move beyond pleasantries and just ask the simple questions: how are recent events impacting you and how can I help?  I want to hear their stories.  I want to learn.  So far, the consistent response is, ‘we’re afraid’…regardless of whether they’re documented or not.  It seems so inadequate, but I tell them that if there’s anything I can do to help – they should just let me know.  And, in an effort to bring substance to my words, I’ve begun looking for resources I can pass to them. Here’s an example of an information sheet anyone can print and share (post-election-community-info-sheet-nov-2016-final.

Prayer: Prayer is a double-edged sword.  To be clear, I believe strongly in the power of prayer.  But, I almost hesitate to list it because so often we say a half-hearted prayer and then move-on….even for me, it’s often a one-way conversation with God.  If we way, let’s commit to the tw0-way….let’s promise to listen to God’s answer back.

pinMake a statement: Wear the pin.  Yes, it’s imperfect and incomplete.  But, it’s a start!  I wear it each day, as a reminder to be a safe person for someone else.

Connection: There are many evangelicals who have actually been very vocal in their support of Syrian refugees.  Consider connecting with groups like, World Relief, who are actively working to engage churches and evangelical communities to come alongside refugees with vital services ranging from legal help to housing or education and employment.  Another great resource/organization is Red Letter Christians, whose goal is to take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings, tackling issues like racism, poverty, justice, immigration and more.  My prayer is that when folks think of Christians, they think of a people who stand for love, justice, grace, mercy, compassion…..folks who come alongside the broken and hurting.  Let’s start connecting the dots and building bridges with likeminded churches, organizations, business leaders, stay-at-home moms, community leaders…you name it, let’s rally.

Christmas is for the broken, the rejected, the powerless, and, yes….the outsider.  Christmas, in every way, says that there’s no distance too far, sin so egregious, place so img_0974dark, that Heaven can’t find you.  Are we more holy than Him, that we can claim some offense that He’s somehow immune to?  It’s fine if he wants to shower the world with his love, grace and mercy….but, we’ll take a pass.  Should not the people of God mirror His love for the world?

I remember learning that the Biblical definition of humility has more to do with how we see the world, than it is some kind of self-loathing or ‘woe is me’ posture.  In the same vane, I don’t think during the holiday season, God is as offended by our tinsel and lights, Santa’s and silly songs, as He is our ease in forgetting what Christmas is really about and who it is really for.  Put another way: I’m not suggesting that loving God means walking away from things we love (though there’s often sacrifice) – it’s about walking towards others; we are to share the love and joy of Christ, in ways that are meaningful and life-changing.

There’s this beautiful song about the name of Jesus, and in it there’s the line:

You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down

If Heaven wants each of us so desperately, that the son of God would come down to our broken world, why can’t we find it in our 75a4d4c4-1ae5-4fb6-b11a-82c8dbb0b0dd-28659-000026293d610498_tmp-1hearts to love one another, regardless of where they were born?  And, as the people of God, aren’t we now called to bring heaven to earth, each and every day of our lives?

The most famous cup ever mentioned in the New Testament, is the cup Jesus raised on the night of the Last Supper.  Jesus set the tone for that evening, by washing the feet of his disciples.  Then, he raised a glass and broke bread, telling those at the table that this was his body and his blood.  I don’t think anyone was fretting over what was or was not on the cup.  What mattered was something much deeper…something so much more profound.  He not only commanded them to love one another, He gave them the most perfect picture of the love we are called to emulate.  Maybe, this Christmas, we can celebrate by loving others beyond our normal circles or typical traditions.  Maybe, this Christmas, we can take Christmas to the corners of the world that most desperately need His love, joy and peace.