Farewell, Mr. President

 

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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

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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:

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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?

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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

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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.