Death and Taxes.

pr3404-p74_00001As the saying goes, the two things you can bank on in life are death and taxes.  Daniel Defoe, who wrote in The Political History of the Devil, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.”  About 50 years later, in 1789, Benjamin Franklin said in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

benjamin-franklin1Franklin would be happy our constitution still lives.  Hopefully, our nation survives this current election.  Ordinarily, the first Presidential Debate falling on my birthday would have been manna from heaven, for a political junkie like me.  But, so many moments in the back and forth between Trump and Clinton left me sick to my stomach.  What is both fascinating and frightening about this election is that it defies all norms.  Analysts and writers have tried to offer fact-based assessments.  Conservative thinkers and writers, like David Brooks, have lamented the Trump candidacy for months.  But, their warnings have little impact.  I won’t try to succeed where so many have failed, but I will speak to how this election and recent debate impact me as a white, evangelical, female voter.
This election sits in the hands of evangelicals.  According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of self-identified white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump in the fall (78%).  These are my people.  But, lately – not so much my politics.  To be fair, they aren’t happy about it – this is more of a vote against Clinton than it is FOR Trump.  Still, we are on the precipice of electing a candidate unlike any other – with the credit going squarely to people who I grew up with, go to church with, am related to…my people.  Therefore, I think the role of faith, influence of money and desire for change are three factors worth discussing.
FAITH 
6963679-crossSo, the faith ‘can of worms’ is an admittedly scary one to open, since folks feel so strongly.  Most of us agree, neither Clinton nor Trump are saints.  Period.  But, since this election sits in the hands of those who have made faith a factor at the ballot box in so many elections to date (and are poised to do so again), I would say two things.  Number one, I don’t know how Evangelicals can say with a straight face that Trump passes the character and morality tests they’ve applied to countless Democrats (and, many moderate Republicans too!) for decades.  Philip Yancy joins many Never Trump evangelical leaders who are baffled by the evangelical allegiance, saying,  “I am staggered that so many conservative or evangelical Christians would see a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs, that they would somehow paint him as a hero, as someone who we could stand behind,” Yancey said. “To choose a person who stands against everything that Christianity believes as the hero, the representative, one that we get behind enthusiastically is not something that I understand at all.”  Another voice from the Never Trump camp, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a recent interview with Jonathan Merritt,  “If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”  Merritt lists the character and morality standards conservative Christians have employed for decades but in this election, have quickly abandoned.  Guys, we look like hypocrites.  Scratch that – we ARE hypocrits, as it’s no secret that Donald Trump makes Bill Clinton look like a Boy Scout.
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Khan Family at DNC

Second, even if you believe Trump’s recent conversion to a deeper faith (sans repentance of sins) you still cannot deny his continued penchant for lying and his zeal for humiliating others.  He is the most dishonest candidate in all of US Presidential election history, uttering complete falsehoods at a rate of once every 3 minutes.  By comparison, Clinton lies once every 12 minutes, according to Politico.  Fortune reported that during the debate, “Trump made more than 34comments that were either lies or mis-statements of fact during the debate. Clinton, by comparison, was tagged with four.” I guess we are somewhat used to dishonesty in politics, but what really distinguishes Trump is his disregard for others.

Conor Friedersdorf has a very thoughtful article just out, where he not only lists the usual examples of Trump’s cruelty, from mocking John McCain to attacking the Gold Star Family that spoke at the DNC, but he also shares examples from Trump’s own family; his

trump-reporter
NYT Reporter Mocked by Trump

cruelty knows no bounds.  Friedersdorf ends, writing, “Giving a cruel man power and expecting that he won’t use it to inflict cruelty is madness. To vote for Trump, knowing all of this, is to knowingly empower cruelty.”  Ummmm….that doesn’t really align with Mark 12:28-31 or Matthew 22:36-40.  (I’ll save you the time of clicking on the links….The greatest commandments are to love God and love others.)  Even if GOP voters acknowledge they’re not picking a saint, the turnabout has not gone unnoticed by the general electorate nor nones (I’ll come back to that).

Okay, so he isn’t a saint – none of us are.  But, please don’t tell me that it’s his policies, because Trump fails the policy test nearly as badly as the character one.  The Hill recently published a list of 10 areas where the Republican nominee strays from the position of House Speaker, Paul Ryan.  That list includes: 1. Ban on Muslims  2. Raising taxes on the wealthy  3. Trade issues  4. Easing restrictions with Cuba  5. Planned Parenthood  6. Immigration  7. Minimum wage  8. Eminent domain  9. Social Security  10. Medicare drug negotiations.  And, we could even add to this list, if we wanted.  CNN, The LA Times…many have documented the disparities between traditional GOP policies and the Trump platform.  So, it’s not is strong moral fiber that makes him appealing.  His positions don’t fit the traditional Republican mold.  So, what then, is it?
CHANGE
Change - Blue ButtonAside from the fact that he’s not Clinton, the number one reason evangelicals say they are voting for Trump is that they want change, according to Pew.  To be clear, to desire change is fine.  Heck, I want change too!  And, democracy is inherently about the rights of citizens to vote….to have a voice for change.  However, my years reading and studying history have taught me a few things.  And, one of those lessons is that not all change is good.
China.  Germany.  Britain.
We can learn a thing or two from these countries.  Let’s start with China.  The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) wasn’t just about the rise of communist power – it was also the decimation of Chinese education and culture.  Mao expertly employed cruelty and humiliation.  He attacked intellectuals and destroyed everything associated with academia/higher education.  And, whether it’s on the massive scale of a country like China or in a small African nation, when knowledge and reason are sidelined in the embrace a strong man, we open the door to very scary outcomes.  Millions of Chinese were brutally persecuted during this decade and the ripple effects can still be felt in China today.
Millions.  We throw that word around without really thinking about what it means.  My husband’s country of Singapore is roughly 5.3 million people.  Under Hitler, more Jews were killed than there are people presently living in Singapore.  What I find so shocking about Hitler, is that he was elected through a democratic process!  Germans actually voted for this man.  Why?  Hitler came to power in the aftermath of the Great Depression.  The more moderate political parties were not working together and people were genuinely frustrated.  In came Hitler.  His message, in the context of dysfunction and instability resonated.  He sounded strong.
brexitFast forward to Britain and the Brexit vote of this spring.  Voters went to the polls with legitimate frustrations and concerns.  Nigal Farage and Boris Johnson channeled their angst, offering withdrawal from the European Union as a solution to the problems and means telling the powers that be that they were fed up.  But, in the aftermath, as many as one million voters reportedly wished they could change their vote.  There was a genuine sense of, ‘what the hell did we just do?’.  In an article called, The Folly of a Protest Vote, Charles Blow writes of our own contest, “This election isn’t just about you or me, or Clinton or Trump. This election is quite literally about the future, all of our and our children’s and their children’s futures.”  And, that’s what the British realized the day after their vote; their remorse, as they considered the future impact vs their past frustration was palpable, even on this side of the pond.  Now that they’d made their protest vote, they were going to have to live with it.  And, their children will have to live with it.  Since the Brexit vote, the economy has shrunk, the currency has fallen, there have been no new trade deals and hate crimes are up.  While the debate is still raging as to how the Brexit process will impact the UK and Europe over the next few years, most agree that in the best case, Britain will suffer only a little; in the worst case, there will be long-term economic hardships ahead.  Either way, few if any of the pro-Brexit promises are coming true, and reality is proving to be rather harsh.
So, what does this mean?  These cases share a common thread: they are countries that opened the door to change + a strong man while simultaneously eschewing reason/intellectualism….and, it did not end well.  This combo has proven catastrophic in the past.  Why would we be any different?  Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”  Trump has shown us many times who he is.  Even if you are merely voting against Clinton, and for change, you cannot say that any change is good.  Sometimes, change is bad.  Sometimes, change = Trump.  And, he is anything but benign.  He looks a little like the men in China, Germany and Britain.
MONEY
17309480255_a16a130b05_bRight up there with, ‘he’s not Clinton’ and ‘he represents change’, people list Trump’s economic policy as reason for giving him their vote.  And, if you listen, one of the most popular lines Trump used in the debate was that we need to lower taxes to stimulate the economy.  I hate paying taxes like anyone else.  I mean, really, who enjoys parting with their hard-earned income?  It’s painful, whether you believe in the causes that our tax dollars support or not.
But, I also can’t help but feel this tug on my heart…this quiet voice that says that the loving others bit in the Bible wasn’t really a message about buying Hallmark cards at Christmas or dropping change into the Salvation Army bucket.  It was about sacrificial giving.  It’s about writing a check so that kids have schools and roads get paved and the poor get help.  It’s imperative that those of us who don’t worry about a roof over our heads or where our next meal will come from, actually consider Jesus’ words in Mark to the rich man:

21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard[b] to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

We can talk forever about our values, but at the end of the day – the way taxes will positively or negatively impact our pocketbooks, is a factor for many at the ballot box. Put another way, Jesus says in Matthew, where your treasure, there your heart is also.
ceasarThe Bible talks about taxes.  And, while I’m not a Bible scholar, the Bible and the GOP/Conservative politics do not align in my mind.  Yet, the message has been loud and clear for decades: a good Christian votes Republican. Still, we know from the Bible that Jesus paid taxes (Matthew 17:24-27).  Mark and Luke BOTH record the famous line, when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus and he replied,  Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  Folks, Jesus did not have a love affair with the Romans.  The Romans, when Jesus said this, were ruling with merciless brutality and extreme taxation.  Ninety-seven percent in the Roman empire lived in poverty, while three percent enjoyed being in the economic elite.  And, it was in this context that Jesus made his statement on taxes.  The New Testament is clear, that Jesus taught his followers not only in words, but by example, to give to the government any taxes that are owed.  If Jesus supported taxes, even in the context of injustice – don’t you think he would have also supported taxes that actually went towards helping the poor, educating children or assisting the elderly and widows?
In case you missed the debate, Trump says he’s ‘smart‘ for not paying taxes.  (Gotta wonder what that makes Jesus plus the rest of us for giving to Caesar…)  Let me be clear, lower taxes is a very legitimate fiscal policy stance, and we can have healthy debates over tax reform, economic growth, etc.  But, do not paint low taxes with a religious brush.  At the most macro-level, the Bible paints a picture of generosity that plays out on both an individual and societal level.  It wasn’t a nice idea or optional practice – it was part of Jewish culture and governance.  Hebrew law institutionalized assistance to the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10).  Proverbs offers blunt instruction, saying, He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. (Proverbs 28:2)  In the New Testament, this theme of giving continues. When crowds asked John the Baptist about this, he replied, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Just to clarify the math – that means giving half of what you have.  (Luke 3:10-11) One of hallmarks of the early Acts church, was their willingness to give:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
I love the way Jen Hatmaker puts it.  She says, “We cannot carry the gospel to the poor andweb_handsopen lowly while emulating the practices of the rich and powerful. We’ve been invited into a story that begins with humility and ends with glory; never the other way around.”  You may not love the politics or the values of the left, but studies are clear that Evangelicals are not known for mercy, justice, kindness or generosity – that mantle goes to the left.  According to Pew, 52% of people surveyed believe Democrats are concerned with ‘the needs of people like me,’ compared to just 35% for Republicans.  That’s a 22 point margin.  And, for the record, this trend goes back to 1988, with respondents also saying Democrats are generally more honest and ethical.    And, in nominating Donald Trump, the Right has solidified in the minds of many, a view of Christianity that does not look at all like Jesus.  Jen Hatmaker goes on to say,

 “Sometimes the best way to bring good news to the poor is to bring actual good news to the poor. It appears a good way to bring relief to the oppressed is to bring real relief to the oppressed. It’s almost like Jesus meant what He said. When you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter. These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract or Christian performance in the local park. They convey, “God loves you so dearly, He sent people to your rescue.”

 

We are the people.  And, we are officially MIA.  This is partially why young people are leaving the church in droves.  They look at the Bible and then they look at Christians and the two don’t align.  So, they bail.  As the GOP gets older and whiter, so does the church.    And, this is wrong .  We are losing elections AND we are losing believers.  Evangelicals could learn a thing or two from Pope Francis, who has become increasingly popular in the US.  Pew research indicated that his biggest jump in popularity came from liberals.  When respondents were asked to describe the Pope, the most commonly mentioned words were “good,” “humble,” “kind” and “compassionate.” And, what a shocker – these are the very things that the Bible tells us we are to be…but, we are not.
#40 
ostrich-head-in-sand-ostriches-not-stick-its-head-in-the-sand-when-in-dangerI am a Christian because I believe that the credibility of the Bible and the personhood of Jesus are worth staking my life and eternity on.  I do not blindly enter into this relationship with Christ.  Proverbs warns, ‘Do not let a fool carry your message’, yet unbelievably Trump carries a majority of the evangelical vote, even while thoughtful people and institutions that have been staunchly Republican voice serious reservations – Trump’s record and personhood are not only wanting, but offensive.  It leaves me wondering, are you blind?  We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand.  Some Republicans are waking up, looking around and taking a brave, unprecedented stand.  The Arizona Republic just issued this statement on September 27th:

Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. This reflects a deep philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals and Republican principles.  This year is different.  The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified.  That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.

The day after that, The LA Times stated Trump ‘badly’ fails the Commander and Chief test.  Over 110 Republican leaders have said they won’t vote for Trump.  We have never had a moment or choice quite like this.  Even still, evangelicals stay.  Why do you cling to such a buffoon?  You may not credit your faith for this allegiance, but many do.

I doubt that I’ll change any minds this election season.  But, as a mother, I have to make the plea that folks take a moment to consider – what this means for not just our country today, but for young people tomorrow.  These are young people who will live with the ripple effects of this next president’s policies for far longer than us.  And, more importantly, young people are looking at the way our faith informs our world view, and then looking at the church through that lens.  I’m sorry to say that many of the filters we have put on the lens have more to do with ideology than true Christianity.  Christian millennial

View More: http://lambentphoto.pass.us/amy-gannettblogger, Amy Gannet says, “Evangelical leaders are going to lose an entire generation of Christians in the wake of our current political and social climate.”  She continues with a plea to Evangelical leaders, “It’s a request to leaders in our communities to speak out against the evils that surround and are supported by Trump. Because you’re losing us, and we don’t want to be lost.”  If Trump loses, this will be the 3rd election cycle where the GOP has failed to win the vote of young people.  And, current polls show Trump losing with women and minorities, as well.  As a woman, I will never forget the way Trump has talked about women.  And, I will never forget the way both the GOP and Evangelicals did nothing.  No thank you.  Not me.  Unfriend me on Facebook.  Take me off the Christmas card list.  I don’t care.

While I may not escape death or taxes in this life, I will do whatever I can to steer clear of Trump.  He has called women unattractive (inside and out), beautiful pieces of ass, fat, ugly, disgusting animals, pigs, dogs, slobs and more.  In contrast, regardless of age, gender, nationality, political party, wealth or achievement – just as you are – God calls me chosen, beloved, His child, friend, His workmanship, His treasured possession, His daughter, His heir, the apple of His eye, blessed and redeemed.  One day, my kids will ask about this election, this era.  One day, my Savior will look at my heart, He will know my true treasure.  I will be accountable.  Damn it.  I want to be accountable.  Search me, Oh God.  I may never have a perfect candidate, but I can choose the lesser of two evils.
40-day-bible-challenge-liquid-churchInterestingly, there are roughly 40 days left in the election and 40 is a significant number in the Bible.  It appears 146 times, usually associated with a period of testing or trial.  The Children of Israel were in the desert for 40 years.  Noah was on the ark during the flood for 40 days.  Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days.  You get the picture.  God used these periods to test His people.  And, in these 40 days till we elect our next president, we still have time to reconsider what this election means for both our country and our church.  Nothing in this world will ever be blameless.  But, everyday, we vote – for one thing or another.  We consider our broken and flawed options, and we take a stand. Albert Camus said, ‘Life is a sum of your choices.  So what are you doing today?’  With forty days to go, I look this election through the lens of my mission to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8).  And, the choice is clear: I am voting for Hillary Clinton.

This Little Light of Mine

1052bad6c069e0b293dce2e12e1feba6Anyone who grew up in church, remembers singing this song.  The lyrics come from verses found in Matthew:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

We all have a light, but not all of us shine.  David Brooks recently published a book called, The Road to Character, in which he contrasts eulogy virtues with resume virtues.  Just this last Sunday, pulling the thread on many of his book themes, he wrote an article in the New York Times, called the Moral Bucket List.  He begins,

‘ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.’  

Whether you agree 100% with David’s depiction of the folks who shine, I think we’d all acknowledge that some folks seem to really radiate…others, put their light under a bushel.  Here’s the thing: it’s not always easy to shine.  If it were, the world would much different. Like many, I’ve struggled to find my place.

41p3wpqpsnl-_sx327_bo1204203200_Why is it so hard to be ourselves?  There are probably thousands of reasons.  But, just a quick glance at the titles of some popular Christian books (many of which are in my favorites!) and you see a trend….

  • The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are OR I Thought It Was Just ME (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” by Brene Brown
  • The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg
  • Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton

Clearly, these books, and their popularity, substantiate the reality that many of us are walking around as dimmed version of our true selves.  We recognize that being authentic (maybe even vulnerable) matters.  Still, few of us feel like we’re anywhere close to shining.

There’s this verse in Psalms that describes God’s word as a light to our path.  And, quick history lesson: there were no fancy LED flashlights….just oil lamps at best, which likely illuminated only a few feet ahead.  I realize with hindsight, that the only way to get here is through some narrow and rocky roads, with lots of wrong turns and tough lessons along the way.  Often, I’ve questioned where the hell I’m going and what I’m actually supposed to do with my life?  In stumbling along the path, I’ve begrudgingly learned the value of sifting out what I DON’T want.  Friends, houses, careers, towns, churches, serving projects, forms of exercise (no SoulCycle for me, sorry)….you name it….much of life is testing to see what works and what doesn’t.  Like it or not, we all learn more from our mistakes than our successes.  While books, like the ones above, can be enormously informative and encouraging, they can’t replace the messy process of putting yourself out there and just doing it…of trying and testing, making mistakes, falling down and then picking yourself up and getting back at it…hopefully, a little wiser.  All of that, while God usually gives us clarity for only the step before us (not the many after).

So, my apologies but there’s no magic formula to be replicated here.  But, the song we sang in Sunday school + the verse in Matthew offer some tips for shining, which happen to be true to my own story.

Let Your Light Shine Before Others

It’s not just Jesus.  Even modern science validates that helping others makes us happy.  According to author, Jenny Santi:

Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.

This reinforces some of David’s assertions, that eulogy virtues (the ones that matter and are remembered at the end of a life) are usually the ones like kindness, bravery, honesty, faithfulness or humility.  Serving is something that taps into all of these.

Confession: Remember the tripping and falling?  That’s true in helping others too. Even though it’s scientifically proven to make us happy, and even though we know they’ll write a nicer eulogy if we build a life of service, there’s no guarantee that the first time you sign up to help others, you’re guaranteed a ‘happiness high’.  I’ve signed up for plenty of projects, after which I left saying, ‘nope….not gonna do that again!’.  But, you never know for sure till you try.  As with so much else in life, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I am not trying to be cliché.  We persevere with much in life….we will try a dozen diets or change our careers, you name it.  Why not this?

I gotta admit that this latest opportunity feeding the homeless has surprised me.  I’ve done service activities before that just fell flat.  Maybe it wasn’t the right time.  Maybe it wasn’t the right group of people.  Who knows.  But, keep trying because you will shine much brighter in serving others than in serving yourself.

220px-fresnel_lighthouse_lens_diagramA Town (or Tower!) Built on a Hill     

You know what makes a candle shine brighter?  Reflectors.  The first ‘Ah-Ha moment’ for seafarers long ago was in putting light on a hill.  Storms and dangerous coastlines are inevitable, but light can illuminate your path.  However, the major problem with early lighthouses was the small output of light from the wood or coal fires then being used.  It didn’t matter what they changed, re: the fuel, lamp designs, etc. – the light could only shine so far.  The second ‘Ah-Ha’ was in discovering the power of reflector designs.   William Hutchinson developed the first practical optical system in 1763, known as a catoptric system. This rudimentary system effectively collimated the emitted light into a concentrated beam, thereby greatly increasing the light’s visibility.

People are reflectors.  We all need folks in our lives who can reflect our light.  And, let’s be honest.  I’ve had seasons of my life when the people around me made me just want to put my light under a bushel.  Vulnerability is hard.  Relationships are tricky.  This advice definitely falls into the ‘easier said than done’ column.  But, I’m going to beat this dead horse and say it again – keep trying.  Your light will only shine so far on its own; it will shine much brighter with the reflective power of other people in your life.

This past Saturday, ten women gathered to celebrate my birthday.  I share this not in boasting, but in praise to God for answering my prayers for community + gratitude to the friends who loved me and been reflectors in my life.  I have known lonely birthdays.  I have sat and wondered if I mattered or if I had a place.  You cannot be truly loved unless you are fully known.  And, I think that what’s made the difference with these women is that I was finally brave enough to just be myself…and, it has meant the world to me that they still loved me.  The other key factor, has been our shared passions for making a difference in this world – it is our glue.  They inspire and motivate me with their own efforts, big and small.  Our bond has cemented over mugs of coffees and glasses of wine, as we share our broken hearts in the face of a hurting world; we dream and pray and think about the ways we can try to make a tiny dent.

3757491Last Saturday, felt like a celebration of the real me.  The friend who planned and hosted the night, brought out two trays at cake time.  She had pastries from my favorite Menlo Park shop (Mademoiselle Colette) AND blueberry muffins.  She shared with everyone, how she loved the blog post about the man at the shelter who was so excited by the blueberry muffins.  I could have cried.  Instead, I decided to just savor the moment.  We drank wine and ate pastries (and muffins!).  It was a sacred moment of God’s goodness in answering so many prayers….prayers for community and prayers for purpose.

fullsizerender386812The next day, I opened their gifts. One of the first that I grabbed, had the best box.  A gift of fair trade products resonated with my love of both beauty and justicefullsizerender379597.  A beautiful journal affirmed the value of my words.  An adorable coffee cup with tea candle both celebrated my blog AND planted the seed for THIS post….that even a tiny light can shine brightly.    fullsizerender379382

 

 

 

If I do say so myself…..This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.  Thank God for the women who have become friends (and reflectors!).  The road leading up to this blog or the Saturday birthday party has been bumpy, for sure.  But, those challenges along the way make these moments all the sweeter.  And, while it seems incredibly surreal and awkward to write about my birthday party, the story would be missing an important chapter sans this milestone in my pursuit of the people and purpose God wants me to align my life with.   This blog is about the ‘ah-ha moments’ over mugs of coffee and glasses of wine.  I started it, not really sure if I had a light…and, if so, how brightly it burned.  Blowing out the candles Saturday night, I knew I had a light.  And, even if it is a little light, these ladies make me shine.  I love you guys.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Went Back

Last Thursday, I learned what was across the street from Town & Country: a homeless shelter.  Actually, it is a homeless drop-in center (there’s a difference).  This world is new to me; I’m still figuring out how it works and how best to navigate it.  It’s another world, even though it is right in the middle of ‘my’ world.

I had to go back.  These are my observations from yesterday’s return visit to the Opportunity Services Center (OSC).

  1. That song again….  Am I the only one who has conversations with myself in my head??  As I’m getting ready, I’m asking myself….  should I wear less make-up today…..would it be better if I wore plain clothes, etc….???  The men out there probably have no idea the process women go through in deciding what to wear.  #TheStruggleIsReal.  As I’m contemplating my choices, I recall the song that hit me like a ton of bricks last week….You/they are my treasure and my reward.  I realize God and these folks alike could care less whether I’ve opted for minimal makeup or not.   What matters a whole lot more, is whether I still see them as people who are precious and worthy, regardless of where they are in life right now.
  2. 1021124-01Just Ask  On a mission to NOT valet park my car again, I arrived super early, with time to grab a bite to eat at LuLu’s.  Sometimes, the center gets donations from restaurants at Town and Country.  As I’m sitting there, enjoying my chicken and brown rice soup, the thought occurs to me, ‘You should ask them if they have anything they’d like to donate!’.  It only takes me half a millisecond to think of five solid reasons why that’s a BAD idea.  Maybe someone has already approached them!  I have no idea what kinds of donations we can and can’t take!  And so on!  But, here’s the thing.  The real reason I hesitated, wasn’t because of my smart questions – it was because I was embarrassed.  God tends to have a way with timing.  As luck would have it, while I was eating my soup, I had just started reading a
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    Lunchtime Reading Material

    book called, Doing Good is Simple.  Lovely.  Thank you, Lord.  You give me no choice!  So, I swallowed my pride, and asked the guy behind the counter if there was anything he could donate to the homeless shelter across the street.  No….I didn’t secure donations for the next year.  I didn’t even walk out with a bag of free chips.  But, I did learn that I need to sometimes stop over-thinking and just ask.

  3. Some people really like blueberry muffins.  The main components of the meal we serve come from a place called Loaves and Fishes.  Last week, we had meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  This week, we had roasted chicken and rice.  We usually supplement with fruit that we bring, or other donations.  Yesterday, we had a bunch of day-old pastries from Starbucks, plus some Costco muffins.  As this one gentleman made his way thru the line, he spotted the blueberry muffin….I wish I could adequately describe the expression and tone of his excitement.  He was over the top in his gratitude, thanking me and repeatedly saying, ‘God bless you’.  It’s a muffin.  Just a muffin.  But, it made his day.  And, his joy made mine.
  4. SONY DSCSome people can’t eat apples.  As I said last week, there are many folks who come thru the line, and they look like super normal – they don’t look like your stereotypical homeless person.  But, other folks have been living with poverty for a long time, and it has taken a noticeable toll.  Minus proper dental care for many years, some folks don’t have a full set of teeth.  I always ask folks if they want an apple, orange or grapes….it finally dawned on me why some decline the apple.
  5. It’s sad….he’s a nice kid….  I got to meet the director of Services Center, Philip Dah.
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    Philip Dah

    He came over to say hello, just as a young man was making his way through the lunch line.  After the young man walked away to find a seat, Philip, said, ‘It’s so sad….he’s a nice kid.’  He went on to explain that this fellow had lived for years with his grandfather, who recently passed away.  At some point long ago, his parents had divorced and started new lives.  After his grandfather passed, he had no place to go and his parents didn’t want him disrupting their new lives and families.  So, the dad drove him to OSC and left him.  Thankfully, there are people like Philip.  But, the world needs a lot more Philips.  One of the most famous verses in the New Testament comes from Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

  6. kqed-logoKQED does it again.  Whether they realize it or not, my local NPR station inspires my spiritual growth.  Their reporting through the years on issues of poverty, racism and injustice has motivated me to take my faith from the church into the world.  As I drove home from the OSC, I heard an author and poet talking with Fresh Air host, Terry Gross, about his latest book, Blood at the Root.  The author, Patrick Philips, writes about an event that took place in his own hometown of Forsyth, back in 1912.  White mobs set 29215193fire to black churches and black-owned businesses. Eventually the entire black population of Forsyth County was driven out.  I missed the first part of the interview, only catching the end, as he talked about his family and faith.  Patrick says,  “I don’t go to church anymore, and I don’t have faith, so I miss it in some ways.”  That line struck me – I don’t have faith, so I miss it….  He goes on to share how his father was a Methodist minister, who also left the church.  It seems father and son held similar sentiments. He ends the interview saying,  “So in some ways, my father also had a rift with the organized church, and I think that is not unrelated to the Civil Rights movement and some real disappointment and disillusionment about the response of white churches during some of those darkest days.”  Where we are on the darkest days says a lot.
  7. Today, I met three Philip’s.  The first Philip was Philip Dah, at the Services Center, who added a story to the face of the man in front of me.  The second Philip was the Philip tabghamosaicloavesfish-1on the radio, the one who told both the story of racial cleansing in America, as well as his own narrative of how he lost his faith in the face of Christian indifference to racial injustice.  The third Philip was in the Bible.  Actually, there are several Philips in the Bible, but two play a prominent role (stick with me here, folks).  The first was Philip, the Apostle, who had also been a disciple of John the Baptist.  Philip is the one who calculated how much it would take to feed the 5,000 (Interestingly, it is Philip who coordinates services at the shelter, including meals….which come from a place called Loaves and Fishes).  There’s a second Philip in the Bible, called Philip the Evangelist.  He went out, he cared for the poor, he preached.  He met and baptised an Ethiopian man, a eunuch, in Gaza, marking the start of the Ethiopian Church (Acts 8).  I’d forgotten the details of the Biblical Philip(s) – but, we got reacquainted today (thank you, Google+Biblegateway).  We are all Philip.  Maybe we are the young man struggling.  Maybe we are figuring out how to feed or assist those in need.  Maybe we are out there, trying to share our faith.  Maybe, we have lost of our faith.
  8. His words haunt me.  Radio Philip has stuck with me….I don’t have faith, so I miss it.  There’s a hole in our heart that only God can fill.  Religion will always disappoint, but Jesus will not; the chasm between the two lies in mistaking modern Christianity with true discipleship.  Philip is not the only disillusioned by modern Christianity and disappointed by the white church.  Google ‘Nones’ and Pew Research Center.  Dallas Willard said, A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do.  And, newsflash – it’s not wearing a 1398525WWJD bracelet.  Jesus stood with the oppressed.  He fed the hungry.  He loved those everyone else had rejected.  Brandon Hatmaker, husband to the very-popular Jen Hatmaker, writes in his book Barefoot Church“We live in a world that is watching the church with one eyebrow raised. When Hollywood is viewed as doing more to feed the hungry and fight human trafficking than the church, we need to take a hard look at what we’re doing and ask if it’s enough. Jesus taught that when others see our good deeds they would assign value to God (Matthew 5:16). I can’t help but think that the same is true for his church.”  

You are my treasure and my reward.  It’s more than a song; it’s a mantra.  If it stays on the radio, then I am but a clanging cymbal.  Go back.  Try again.  Ask the question.  See the humanity.  Let your heart be broken.  Let your life be the song.  Change the story.  #BeginWithHumilityEndWithGlory

 

The Day After

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Menlo Park Fire Station

Last night, I was driving my daughter to a birthday party when we passed a fire station.  In honor of September 11th, there were literally hundreds of flags on display.  ‘It must have taken them a long time to put out all those flags,’ she commented.  ‘Tomorrow, they’ll have to pull them up and put them away’.  There are anniversaries, and then there is the day after.

It’s been a season of anniversaries.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I celebrated my 14th wedding anniversary on September 6th.  This weekend, I reflected on multiple anniversaries; it 15 years ago that the towers came down in NYC and it was one year ago that a pillar in my life became a little shaky, shall we say.  It was on September 10th that my mom went to the ER with abdominal pain, only to find out that in the ensuing hours that she had Stage 4 cancer.  I caringbridgecan hardly bring myself to go back and read those CaringBridge posts from the early days; it was and still is, so scary – I could not wrap my mind around losing one of the greatest towers in my life.  But, I am relieved and incredibly happy to report that my mom has responded well to the immunotherapy treatment.  She is not cured, but she is alive, and she is inspiring me with the way she has approached life in the days after her diagnosis.  She fights but she has peace.  It is a motivating combo…to be resolved and yet surrendered.

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Menlo Park Fire Station

Not all anniversaries are sad.  This weekend, I got to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday.  As we sat on the patio at the Rosewood Hotel, looking out over the mountains, we went around and shared a special memory related to the birthday girl.  Let’s all be honest for a moment: often, we are going through the motions as we commemorate a day or a person.  But, what made this exercise meaningful was the multiple stories of how this gal had quietly shown up in someone’s life, to be a pillar in a time of need.  There were accounts of her single-handedly unpacking an entire house when a friend was 9 months pregnant…or caring for kids when another was with a husband in the hospital.  Actually, come to think of it, I think she helped two friends unpack after a move!  We can talk about hands and feet – she’s them.

Being married to a Singaporean for over 14 years, I’ve gotten an up close and personal view of Chinese culture.  One of the things I’ve learned, is that they tend to be less verbally expressive than Americans.  Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate this commitment to not just saying the right thing but DOING the right thing.  Or (since it seems everyone is copying this phrase), another way to put it would be:’Your word is your bond’.  Quick aside, the origins of this phrase are actually in the Bible, when Moshe says to the tribes of Israel: “When a man … swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”  More recently, the phrase garnered an entirely new meaning during the slave era.  According to Rachael Ferguson, an ethnographer and professor from Princeton University, the principle “word is bond” allowed merchant traders in the late 1500s to make agreements legally binding before the advent of written pledges.  Your word was as good as a contract.  But, I digress.

credit-ny-daily-news-zadoga-act-extension-front-coverMy point is that actions matter and words should not be meaningless.  When these ladies gathered, their words were full of emotion and gratitude because they articulated a truth we already knew, and now merely repeated in order to bless this friend on her special day.  But, this is not always the case.  We may ask first responders to stand in our church services on 9/11, and we swear to never forget, however, reality is that it was an uphill battle to secure passage of the Zadroga Act, Federal legislation intended to provide health monitoring and financial aid to sick 9/11 workers.  In fact, for a long time, the hashtag, #WorstResponders was trending online in response to congressional resistance; even celebrities like Jon Stewart went to testify, in order to essentially bring attention to and shame legislators who opposed the bill.

Yesterday, our pastor talked about the distinction between ‘Christian’ and ‘Disciple’, pointing out that the word ‘christian’ appears only 3 times in the Bible while the word ‘disciple’ appears 269 times.  The best synonym for disciple would probably be apprentice.  To be an apprentice implies work and commitment – it is more than a label.

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra 125th Year

Fun fact about me: I play the flute.  When I was in 5th grade, at Grove Avenue Elementary School (go Grayhounds!) in Barrington, IL, I joined the band.  I was lucky enough to live near a lady, who was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and editor of Flute Talk magazine.  I became her student, her apprentice.  And, I can assure you that you cannot bullshit your way into being a good flutist.  I remember, she used to make me play with big chunks of carrot between my back teeth, so I could learn how to keep my mouth open – not fun, especially after several hours of practice.  Even attending Chicago Symphony concerts was did not make me a musician, although they were fantastic for inspiring a young flutist like me.  You had to commit yourself to the trade.  You had to embrace the carrots.  It was more than a title – it was a life.

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All of this leads me to believe that THE DAY AFTER is almost more important than the DAY OF.  You see, it is the day after the birthday party that we get be a real friend who shows up to help with a move or take care of a sick kid, even when it’s inconvenient.  It’s the morning after the candlelit dinner when we acknowledge love is hard but we vow to daily recommit to cherishing one another.  It’s the day after a diagnosis when we find a new way to live.  It’s the day after the concert we get out the carrots and tuner, and spend hours practicing.  It’s the day after the parades, when we are putting away the flags, when we decide whether to be there for our national heroes, the way they were there for us.  It’s the day when we decide whether we are content with a label or we want to be an apprentice.  It’s the other 364 days that make the one day matter.  That’s not to say that parties and memorials and ceremonies are bad; it just means that they’re that they’re that much more meaningful when our word is our bond…and, we actually know what that means.

Here’s to September 12th.

 

 

Next to Town & Country

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Town & Country – Palo Alto

If you’ve been to Palo Alto, you’ve probably been to Town & Country.  If you haven’t actually visited, trust me….you’ve driven by this bustling shopping center.  It’s located across the street from Stanford University and is a popular destination for students and peninsula residents alike.  My family goes nearly once a week; you’ll find us at either our favorite sushi spot OR at Gott’s.

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Gott’s Roadside

As the picture implies, Gott’s is the kind of burger joint you’d expect in an upscale part of Silicon Valley; kids get their organic Niman Ranch hot dog while parents enjoy a grilled ahi-tuna burger and glass of wine.

No, my blog is not slipping into the food and lifestyle genre.  Remember?  #NotThatCool.  So, what’s my point?

My point is this: today, I learned what’s next to Town & Country.  Across the street, in what looks like a completely normal building, there is a homeless shelter.  After reading my blog post yesterday, a good friend who has been a ‘missions mentor’ of sorts, sent me an email saying, ‘I’m feeding lunch to the homeless tomorrow.  Want to come?  I can give you a ride.’  It was mid-afternoon.  I was in the middle of what felt like my 30th trip back and forth across town to get my precious kiddos to and from their multitude of afternoon activities.  I decided to just jump-in and say ‘yes’ before I over-thought it too much (that approach seemed to have worked with the blog).

Fast-forward to today.  It’s late morning and nearly time for me to leave for the homeless shelter.  I pull up the address on my computer, so that I can figure out where this place is located.  I knew it was in Palo Alto, but I wasn’t sure exactly where……that’s when I realized….this shelter is just feet away from the place I’ve been shopping and eating for YEARS.  I had no idea.  So, here’s what I learned in the last 24 hours, since I decided to ‘go public’ with my pursuit of a more missionally-minded life.

  1. Tell someone.  If I hadn’t talked to people or posted this blog, I would have missed out on both the fellowship and accountability that come from getting outside of my own head.  And, frankly – it makes a difference when you’re doing something with a friend.  I might have never made the leap, without that loving but direct offer: ‘I’m going tomorrow, want to come?’.
  2. The need exists RIGHT WHERE WE ARE.  You don’t have to cross the globe or even railroad tracks (not that you shouldn’t, but just sayin’).  People in our own community need help.
  3. Not all homeless are the same.  Sure, some look like they slept under a bridge.  But, the first guy to walk into the cafeteria where I was working with others to serve lunch, reminded me of my husband.  He was a clean-cut Asian man, dressed in nice athletic gear, carrying some kind of tablet.  Had you dropped him into the sushi or burger joint, nobody would have thought twice.  But, he wasn’t there – he was here, at the homeless shelter.  I could have cried.  It makes you rethink the assumptions we walk around with.
  4. The shelter is busier at the end of the month.  Today, we fed 53 people, which they said was a bit on the low side.  Why?  Someone explained to me that the checks poor receive from the State, come at the start at the month.  So, in these first couple weeks, life is less dire.  But, by the end of the month, the food line is much longer as greater numbers are desperate for a free meal.  I just don’t have words.
  5. They like eggs.  This could be their only solid, hot meal for a while.  A hard-boiled egg is a great source of protein they can take with them and eat later.  I eat what I want to eat or what seems healthy….I don’t make my choices out of fear or worry about where my next meal is coming from.
  6. #FirstWorldParkingProblem.  I’m putting this near the end of the list for the very
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    Claim Ticket

    logical reason that I’m embarrassed.  You see, I was rushing to get there on time.  I figured that I’d just park at the shopping center, like I normally do when grabbing a bite to eat.  Except, this time, I couldn’t find a parking spot.  So, I used valet parking (cringe).  Talk about God hitting me over the head with a 2×4 (again!) – it was like He wanted to make it ABUNDANTLY clear, the blessings and provisions that He’s lavished upon my family and me.  I might not be running around town in a Rolls Royce, but I’ve got a very functional car that I can afford to run/insure without hesitation….  You get the picture.

  7. Make it work.  Today was early dismissal day for my kids at school, so I was scrambling to get from the shelter to their school.  I was a few minutes late.  But, it was okay.  There were plenty of mamas who are part of ‘my village’ who watched my boys till I could get there.  And, when they asked me ‘why were you late?’ – I couldn’t wait to tell them.
  8. Tell a story.  The hard part for missionally minded moms, is that not all charities will let you bring your kid.  The next-best thing to bringing your kid is telling them a story.  Yes, as early and as often as you can – get them out there!  Nothing can replace first-hand experiences.  But, realize it or not, we tell our kids a narrative about what matters by the things we choose to do and talk about in the time we are with them.  If all we talk about is good grades, guess what they’ll think is most important?  If all we do is watch, participate in or talk about sports, guess what they’ll become obsessed with?  If we are so busy with our careers that everything else comes second, guess how they’ll rank order our priority today and theirs tomorrow?  Even if they can’t participate, I think the stories we tell around the dinner table as we debrief our days, can still make an impact.
  9. We see what we want to see.  I had never known that such a shelter existed just 5 minutes from my neighborhood.  Then again, I never looked.
  10. Keep Trying.  This wasn’t my first time feeding the homeless or participating in some sort of charity or service related activity.  Clearly, the existence of this blog is evidence of my struggle to get it right.  But, don’t quit.  I refuse to believe that some of us don’t have a place.  #WeAllHaveAPlace

A few months ago, KQED partnered with dozens of organizations to do in-depth stories for two weeks, just on this topic of homelessness in the Bay Area.  I remember being struck by stories that challenged my assumptions.  For example, there are over 500,000 homeless children in the state of California (not all homeless are like that drunk dude on the corner).  Not all homeless people are unemployed.  To be fair, the main reason many are on the street is because they lost their job.  But, many others actually have jobs and are functional member of society – they just can’t afford housing.  (They’re not all lazy or unwilling to try to pull themselves out of hardship.)  I could keep going….

There’s this great Lauren Daigle song called First.  She sings about letting God be the thing that leads all else.  So, as I’m getting ready this morning, First, is playing in the background.  I hear that line, ‘You are my treasure and my reward’.  For a second, I reflect on the power of that line…that it challenges me to reorient my view of blessings…that He’s it, better than anything this world could ever offer.  A split second later, I think about how this line could be flipped as God’s love-song to us, that WE are HIS treasure.  For a moment, I’m overwhelmed that God might see ME as that.  And, then, God flips it one more time.  In my heart, I hear Him telling me that these folks that the world has forgotten….THEY TOO ARE HIS TREASURE AND HIS REWARD.

I think I’m going back.

 

Rick Warren, You Were Right.

It’s Day Two.

School started on September 1st, which lead straight into a long weekend, and now we are on Day Two of this post-Labor Day weekend.  I know that some send their kids back to school with much weeping and wailing.  Not me.  Even though I was sentimental about these major milestones….of launching my oldest into middle school and my youngest into kindergarten, I was still very ready to send them back.  On days before school started, I nearly tied them to a tree outside, with notes attached: ‘Please take this child into school on the 1st day.  His mother loves him but was just done.’

It’s odd, right?  Those last few weeks are hard, in part because we psych ourselves up for it.  We condition our minds.  When summer approaches, we think, ‘I cannot wait one more day….thank God it is finally summer!’.  Then, when it is time to send them back, ‘Praise the Lord, they are back in school….now, I can go back to my routines.’  I am a routine person.  I am not very spontaneous…aside from that time my friends wouldn’t stop bugging me about blogging, and so I actually did it sans much forethought or planning.

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Do not be impressed…we are not as regular with our devotions as I’d like!

So, hallelujah, we are getting back into the swing of things.  Being the mother of good intentions that I am, that included cracking open our Jesus Calling devotional for kids during breakfast.  Today’s devotion, September 7th, reads:  I did not come to this earth to make you feel guilty.  I came to free you from guilt.  And, I don’t like it when others use guilt to get you to follow Me.  I want you to come to ME out of love.

I’d been toying with a blog post along these lines.  Reading this devotion with my kids felt like God hitting me over the head with a 2×4, as if to say, ‘yep…this is the topic.’  With the kids back in school (for more than 2 days in a row!), and now with this nagging sense that I had my next topic – I’m left with no excuses.  So, here we go.

Pride.  

(This is your moment to grumble…..I know…..another one of those ‘feel good’ topics…)

We’ve all heard the verse from Proverbs, pride before a fall.  It’s so commonplace, I don’t even think we stop to actually reflect on its meaning.  CS Lewis spells it out a bit more directly, saying in Mere Christianity: “For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”  Damn.  That harsh.  But, unfortunately – true.

If pride is bad, then the opposite must be good.  And, most would probably say the opposite of pride is humility.  Yet, even for this life-long Christian, I learned something new this Sunday that really made me rethink my understanding of humility.  In talking about relational vital signs, Scott Scruggs listed humility as a valuable posture for gauging our attitudes towards others.  The part that I’d long gotten wrong, was that humility isn’t about thinking poorly of myself or fixating on my weaknesses.  In fact, it’s not about me AT ALL.  Scott read Philippians 2:3-4 , which says:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Now, I’ve read this verse many times.  But, I seemed to have habitually missed the main message, that humility isn’t about how I see myself – it’s a commitment to how I see others.  There are about 101 reasons why this matters, but here a few.

#1) Many people like our Christ a whole lot more than they like Christians (to quote Gandhi).  Pew Research data just published last month says this about ‘nones’:

Perhaps the most striking trend in American religion in recent years has been the growing percentage of adults who do not identify with a religious group. And the vast majority of these religious “nones” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood.  

img_9248Care to take a lucky guess as to what one of the top reasons young people give for leaving the church??????  The majority of nones say they were disenchanted.  I’ve got a daughter in 6th grade, so let’s momentarily revisit those middle school vocab lists.  Disenchanted is defined as: disappointed by someone or something previously respected or admired.  When asked why, one of the reasons they give is that too many Christians are doing un-Christian things.

#2) Christians are in denial about being un-Christian.  I know that reading my post on racism is about as appealing as going for a colonoscopy.  So, let me give you the Cliff Notes on one key message: we suck at art of seeing ourselves as we really are.  The fancy word for this tendency is unconscious bias.  Since I like fancy words/terms, I’ll give you another: motivated reasoning.   According to Amanda Marcotte, psychological research shows we almost never look over a bunch of arguments and choose what to believe based on reasoning – instead, she says we tend to defend what we believe, rather than trying to better understand the world. She cites Chris Mooney at Mother Jones, “We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close.”

#3) We’ve got it all wrong….ourselves + world.

I may need to rethink my blog genre (so far, not so funny).

At the rate I’m going, if you actually believe what I’m writing, you’ll want to just throw in the towel by this point.

Don’t.

Spoiler alert:  In the end, God wins.

God’s got this.  As a great man of faith, Martin Luther King Jr said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  Fortunately, in addition to God’s overarching hand, young people seem to be more inclined to learn about the world, accept others, fight poverty, etc…in certain places, we are bending towards justice.  But, are we bending towards Jesus?  In the end, God wins.  But, I think the question for our generation is whether it matters to us if every year, the ‘nones’ increase.  Because, let’s be clear – the increase in nones is not due to Muslims migrating from Syria or folks who crossed the Mexican border and are staying in the US illegally.  Nones are the folks who were raised in the church and then decided that it was not a religion they could call their own.  They left because of us.  So, do we care?

START SOMEWHERE

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Nerd Alert: I could spend all day in this aisle.  #lovebooks  

Yesterday, we had our first Mothers Together gathering.  It was awesome.  Not so awesome was the moment when I was introduced as a member of the teaching team and co-leader of the Missions Team.  Now, it’s suddenly *for real*.  Fabulous.  I put myself out there this year – not because I have everything figured out, but because I know the only way forward is accountability and vulnerability.  And, I don’t write this as some sort of pseudo humility bull shit.  Missions is one area where I am definitely not a poster child.  I’ve never been on a missions trip.  The homeless make me uncomfortable.  Shall I continue???  My Achilles heel is my intellectual pride…the fact that I’m far more comfortable with my books, academic journals….of knowing the right thing to do.  But, I’ve been slow to convert that understanding into actually doing the right thing.  Sounds familiar?  It’s been the constant struggle.  Paul writes in Romans: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  

Please don’t hold your breath for amazing stories on how my family has suddenly transformed into missionally-minded Christians on steroids.  But, we’re going to try.   I love the way Rachel Held Evans puts it, in her book, Searching for Sunday: “Sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.”  Books and blogs have gotten me this far (which is a start!) but it is time to exit my own safe certainties and intellectual pride, and get my hands dirty.

Rick was right.

The Purpose Driven Life was first published in 2002.  I got married on September 6th of that year – 2002!  (Yep, yesterday was anniversary!)  I remember reading the 40-day devotional, which has sold over 30 million copies since it was first published.  I have to admit that I forget much of what it said.  But, I remember the way it started: “It’s not about you.”  As beautifully simple and true as this is, we read this and then can turn even something like humility into a matter of ourselves.  So, here are a few tips that I’m going to try to follow myself.

#1) Make it a family goal to go do something, anything, to serve others by the end of this year (2016).

#2) Help the harassed and helpless.

mother-teresa-of-calcutta-bare-feet
It’s more about the heart than the feet.

 

For sure, we need to be smart about figuring out what works for our family, assessing our gifts, yada yada yada…..  But, let’s be careful to not fall into the trap I often do….paralysis by analysis.

This week, I was convicted by a photo of Mother Teresa, who was just granted sainthood by Pope Francis (who is a rock star, by the way!).  Her feet are deformed because she would always choose the worst pair of shoes for herself.

Definitely feeling a bit guilty.

But, quick reminder…that’s not God’s point.  I love the way the ‘grown-up version’ of Jesus Calling puts it: I grieve when I see grace eroding.  His main message is love – for us and for others.  Mother Teresa’s feet changed because her heart was moved.  The world won’t be better if our feet look like hers – it will be better when our hearts do.  And, what’s clear from her life is that she wasn’t striving to be humble, she was just overwhelmed with compassion for those around her.  Matthew 9:36 says (speaking of Jesus), that He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless.  So, maybe consider leaning into the places you’re not comfortable…the people that the world has either forgotten or is picking on….maybe them.  If we can psych ourselves into the changing seasons of life, maybe we can psych ourselves into changing our hearts.