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.

Today, I stayed home….

Today, I stayed home….

img_0894This blog has been about coffee and wine.  It is about the things I love.  It is about the things that break my heart.  It is about figuring out when I’m meant to grab that extra cup of coffee and get out into the world, trying to live out my mission to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  Other times, living out that mantra means being still, resting in Him.  Today, I stayed home.

I was supposed to go help at the Life Moves Opportunity Services Center in Palo Alto today.  These last couple months, few experiences have shaped my mindset around compassion and serving as much as the handful of meals I’ve served there.  But, today I needed to stay home.

My mom has cancer.  She’s been waging her courageous battle for over a year now.  Her strength in the face of this horrible disease, and yet simultaneous trust in God, has been an up close and personal masterclass in true faith.  Lucky for me, I’ve had a front row seat my entire life.  We got to spend some time with her over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The day after she returned, she was being rushed to the hospital (I swear, we didn’t undercook the turkey!).  The last 72 hours have been tough.  It’s not easy to watch from afar, completely powerless.

img_0895I was reflecting today, on a story that Kevin Kim told earlier this week.  Kevin and Bea Takasugi from NU2U came to speak to our Mothers Together group for Missions Tuesday.  In fact, I had just gotten the news that my mom was being rushed to the Emergency Room, as we were kicking off our morning at Menlo Church.  Being there was exactly where God wanted me; their testimonies were both a salve for my battered soul.  Kevin shared a bit of his personal story, how he saw the hardships his mother endured as a single mom, running a small hotel.  At just 5 years old, he vowed to one day be rich, so he could take care of his mom.  He succeeded in getting himself into med school, but then started to feel God calling him into ministry.  But, if he wasn’t a doctor, how could he fulfill that childhood promise to take care of his mom?  You could have cut the air with a knife when Kevin shared with us the message God had given Him: I’ve taken care of your mom her whole life.  Don’t you think you can trust me to keep taking care of her?

I am convinced that this is a moment when we need to actually go BE the church OUT there.  We need to get out of the pews and make our faith tangible to a hurting world.  We need to drink more cups of coffee and leave nothing on the table.  But, even in the midst of the doing, there must be surrender….there must be trust.  Do we actually look for God in the midst of it all?

Sometimes, He doesn’t move the mountains or part the waters.  Sometimes, He doesn’t say, peace, be still.  Sometimes, instead of calming the seas, He comforts His child.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the 1st week of Advent, as we prepare our hearts for the Christmas season.  I am reminded of the name the angels gave Jesus, calling him, Emmanuel.  Maybe, this Advent, God’s calling me to rediscover not just the sufficiency but the beauty of God With Us.  Because, let’s be honest….most of us, no matter how many times we paste the calligraphy version of Emmanuel on our walls and Christmas cards, will actually be content with that promise.  We want the omnipotent god to change things.  We want the omniscient god to reveal things.

img_0892Right now, the control freak in me yearns for the God that can heal my mother or end poverty or stop racism.  This afternoon, I had planned to go serve the homeless.  As I admitted to my husband, going there would be a useful distraction from my worry.  And, sometimes, useful distractions are good and productive.  But, as the time neared for me to leave home this afternoon, I knew that my place was by my computer and next to my phone, where I could stay on top of things in Chicago.  I initially stayed home because I felt like I couldn’t entertain any distractions that would delay my replies to the folks on the front lines of my mother’s care.  But, I think the real reason God wanted me home was to sit me down at the foot of the cross…..to remind me through the stillness of this moment, through the beauty of sunlight filtering thru the autumn leaves in the backyard, that no matter what happens, He is Emmanuel.  And, today, that’s more than enough.

40084029-4fa6-41ad-a16d-b264a5542025-18407-00001a67a15dcfa1_tmpOn Tuesday, Bea introduced us to a story first told on the How I Built This podcast.  This episode features Jim Koch, the first Samuel Adams employee.  He talks about the difference between scary and dangerous, saying, “There are plenty of things that are scary but aren’t dangerous and there are plenty of things that are dangerous but not scary, and those are the things that can get you.”  He then goes on to give the examples of rappelling (scary but not so dangerous) vs walking on a snowy mountainside on a sunny spring day (dangerous…avalanche!).  One feels scary, but poses little real risk – the other feels delightful, but could be life-threatening.  Bea connected the dots for us, relating Jim’s story to her own testimony.  Only after she left her old life, did she realize how much she’d actually put on the line by playing it safe.  Confession: I think most of us, myself included, waltz into the dangerous as we side-step the scary.

It can be scary to trust in Emmanuel…to say, it is enough to know that He is God.  Period.  But, surrender is truly the least dangerous, most prudent path.  The question is whether I can embrace it at such.  Sometimes, walking humbly has as much to do with my posture towards God, as it does my posture towards people.  Sometimes, God’s mercy is greater in the valleys than the mountaintops.  Sometimes, justice by heaven’s scales looks completely different than what a democratic system or American culture could ever deliver.

These last few weeks, it has felt that the pillars holding up my life are shaking; my faith in my country, my religion and even the assurance of health and well-being, have all been tested.  After the election, I was completely despondent.  Perhaps, it is typical for anyone going through the stages of grief.  My tears are fewer these days, as my resolve grows stronger.  Now, more than ever before, we must stand up.  We must make our faith real.  We have to get out of the pews.  But, today, I am reminded that serving the world OUT there can never replace or usurp the moments I spend alone with God.  Today, I am practicing being still…at home, knowing that I can trust God to take care of my mom….to take care of me.   There’s that old hymn that says, my faith built on NOTHING LESS, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness….On Christ, the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.  Maybe, tomorrow, He’ll call me back out to the world….to do something more tangible.  But, not today.  Today, I stayed home.

I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

dayna_005Dear Ana, Aaron and Nathaniel:

Oh, my.  We are REALLY sad.  We thought that we would be celebrating the election of the first female president.  Instead, we are wondering what life will be like with President Trump.  Even after a couple days, we are all still a bit numb and shell-shocked.  I don’t think I’ve done much to quell your fears; so, I return to the place where I make sense of and peace with the tangle of thoughts and emotions in my head.  I write.  I write, because today YOU need me.  I write, because tomorrow we ALL must remember the lessons of this election.

IT HURTS

I still choke up, reflecting on that moment when you woke up on Wednesday morning, asked me who won, and learned the news that similarly shocked so many across the country.  You all wanted to know if we were moving to Singapore.  I wanted to say, yes.  We all search for a response that tells the world, ‘this is not okay with me’.  But, instead, with my heart still beating out of my chest and stomach still in knots, I told you we would stay….that we must cling to all that is good, and strive to make our nation even better.  Ana, your fear and tears will haunt me for a long time, in the best possible way.  It was you that motivated me to ‘go public’ with my beliefs, even though they went against the grain of what many in our Christian circles espouse.  And, it is you and your brothers that will fuel me to keep searching for God’s place in this messy life; out of these broken pieces, we will build something.  This is not the end.

MAKE A PLAN 

bidenI showed you guys that funny Joe Biden video clip, where he encourages voters to make a plan to get to the polls.  Well, sadly, our plans didn’t work out…..THIS TIME.  But, there will be another time.  Quick lesson in American government: mid-term elections occur every two years and the next presidential election will be in four.  Let’s make a plan.  

More than half of your generation (well, those that are old enough to vote but still young!), voted for Hillary Clinton.  Many of your values, from the way we take care of our planet to compassion for others regardless of their race, gender or religion, will likely be more commonplace in the years to come.  We had thought that year was this year.  But, we were wrong.  Clearly, there is work still to be done.

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  Well, we need to come up with new plans and new people.  Our nation is hurting.  You can be part of the healing.  As your mother, I am telling you it is more true today than ever before, that God invented (created) you for such a time as this.

WHEN THEY GO LOW, YOU GO HIGH 

103816023-gettyimages-580960452-600x400Ana, you and I watched Michelle Obama give a speech during the Democratic Convention, where she said a line that became a bit of a mantra during the rest of the Clinton campaign: when they go low, you go high.  Well, it’s a good line!  And, we’re gonna keep using it.  And, more than just saying it, we need to do it.  Part of going high means that we need to listen.  It is clear from the election results and exit polling that we are a divided nation…urban vs rural, rich vs poor, young vs old, men vs women, etc.

One of the groups that voted overwhelmingly for Trump was evangelicals.  So, guess what?  We have to be a bridge.  We fall into a category of folks who are strong believers in the Bible AND progressive politics.  Please know that we are not alone, but we ARE in the minority.

Let’s change that….by listening to others and by our fruits.  In Sunday School, you’ve learned about the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The Bible says, they’ll know us by our fruits – this is what it means to be a Christian.  PERIOD.  More than our church attendance or political affiliation, these are the qualities that define us.  The world is watching, so let’s cultivate those fruits.  To be more specific, we are not moving to Singapore.  We are not giving up.  We are not going to be silent.  We re-double our commitment to the greatest commandment, loving others.

BE LIKE WILLIE

This morning, I put on my black dress and pearls, stuffed a huge wad of Kleenex into my purse and went to the funeral of Willie J Mackey.  I didn’t know Willie well, but when I heard of his passing, I knew I had to go to his service, especially since it was occurring on the very day I was already scheduled to serve lunch at OSC….it’s like God put it on my calendar.  Today, I heard Willie’s story, and it changed me.

Long ago, after 15 years as an account, Willie lost his job.  As the months without a paycheck passed, he used up all of this savings.  When he couldn’t afford to keep his home, he moved into his car.  Eventually, he was forced to sell his car, which left

willie
Willie at the Santa Clara Medical Respite Program

him with nowhere to go but the streets.  The hardship of those years, took a major toll on his health.  Thankfully, he found Hotel de Zink, which provides emergency meals and housing to the homeless, with the hosting rotating through churches throughout the bay area.  Willie also connected with much needed health care resources, which helped him diagnose and treating his diabetes.  So many years without care resulted in what would be the first of many partial foot amputations.  Once Willie found long-term housing through the Opportunity Services Center plus much-needed health assistance, he was able to start an entirely new chapter.

The first time I remember seeing Willie, was at church, where he served for six years as an usher.  To be honest, till today, I just knew him as the guy who was lucky enough to find help from our church, which allowed him to turn his life around. This morning, God hit your mama over the head with a 2×4.  Unsuccessfully, I tried to hide my tears; at one point, someone actually handed me a stack of paper towels.  Kids, I was so ashamed of my false assumptions and pride.  Sitting there, I was saw that Willie had given all of us, far more than what we ever gave him….that he was the one with a life worth emulating, not vice versa.

The courtyard at the Opportunity Services Center where I sat, was packed with people from across the Bay Area.  Some were community leaders.  Some were priests and pastors.  Some were homeless.  All loved Willie.  Speaker after speaker got up to tell their story; it was astonishing, how many considered Willie their right-hand man; he was indispensable to countless organizations.  As it turns out, Willie had been active in the community for years before he lost his job, volunteering with organizations that provided African American youth with STEM programs/scholarships.  Willie had a big heart before hardship came his way.  His personal experience with homelessness merely reoriented his focus and intensified his passion, with most of his involvement in later years focusing on poverty, homelessness and health related organizations.

stepup_logo_horizontalCheck out Willie’s LinkedIn Page.  There, you see the very long list of organizations where Willie served as Board Member, Commissioner, Volunteer and Member/Participant.  It was clear, in listening to people talk about his technical expertise, his compassion for others and unwavering willingness to help – Willie could have easily returned to a paying job, once his life stabilized.  But, he leaned into the very place he’d once shunned.  Shame had once upon a time prevented him from asking for help from those he’d previously worked and volunteered with.  But, eventually, he found purpose and peace in going all over the bay, to advocate for the very community he’d once been so afraid to be associated with.

There is a verse in the Bible that says the first shall be last.  I realized how profoundly true this is, when you look at a life like Willie.  Listening to people speak, I saw the beauty in being last (by our modern, American standards).  I want to be like Willie.  I want you to be like Willie.  Better to surrender your life to service, than to chase promotions or titles.  In your world, as kids, this means that kindness must come before good grades or the extra curricular activities we hope will one day help you get into college.  You must ruthlessly carve out space in your life for the broken.  It may not be easy, but it essential.

It is easy to judge or make assumptions when you don’t take the time to ask someone their story.  Hearing more of Willie’s story broke me in the best possible way today.  For pincamwalker01example, I learned the reason why he often wore an orthopedic boot.  As your mom, I’m embarrassed to admit this, given how much I preach about compassion or not judging others.  But, I confess that when I’d see the boot (month after month, year after year), I’d think, “why doesn’t he get that checked?  Is there some part of his health or recovery he’s not managing well?  Why does someone wear a boot for years?”.

Now I know.  He wore that boot because of his ongoing battle with diabetes, which required multiple partial foot amputations….first the toes, then a bit more….and a bit more.  Some of the ushers he served with, told stories today of how diligent he was in his work as an usher, often staying late to help with one more thing, or straighten one more area.  One lady told of how she could see the pain on his face, but somehow he still had a smile; he refused to stop.  At church or Hotel de Zink or the many other organizations in which he served.   He never gave up.  And, I never knew…

I think that is part of the lesson here.  Everyone has a story.  When folks talked about Willie and the influence he had on organizations that served the homeless, one of the repeated themes was his insistence that clients be part of the conversation.  Even serving, should not be something we do FOR people….it is something we do WITH people.  Ask questions.  Hear the story.  Listen to learn, not to respond.  Remember always that we are all broken, and you never really know who is helping who.

When people talked about Willie, the adjective they used over and over again was GENTLE.  His gentleness did not impede his impact; it facilitated it.  To be sure, there are moments you have to stick up for yourself or others.  But, whatever the circumstances, be kind.  I saw a phrase online today: Make American Kind Again.  Yep.  Let’s.

Kids, the closest you’ll ever get to a cold night without a roof over your head is a campinghomeless-3-750xx7360-4152-0-589 trip.  If Willie can pull himself up, so can you. And, let’s honor Willie and the many others who practice their faith by becoming ‘hands and feet’ by loving others.  If you want to find Jesus, you will find Him when you serve a meal, or help a child or wash feet or stand up for the oppressed or give shelter to folks like Willie.    

Love is not a box you tick.  It is an intentional choice to show up and give with all you’ve got, to the ones who need it most…maybe, sometimes, even the ones you feel deserve it least.  THIS, is what we must do over and over and over and over again.  That is our plan.  

CAVES   

Our pastor, John Ortberg, writes of caves in his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat.  In it, he recounts the story of how David, when fleeing Saul, took refuge in a cave.  The cave was both a physical and symbolic place of hiding.  He’d been stripped rpi-nqtpd-nottingham-caves-jan-enof all the power, security, wealth and fame and now here he was, fearful for his life.  But, God met David in that cave.  The Bible says, David strengthened himself in the Lord His God.  When we are in the cave, and we fear this is it, it is easy to get discouraged.  But, the phrase that gets repeated more than any other in the Bible is, FEAR NOT.  When Jesus came, the angels called Him, Emmanuel, God with us.  He is the God who meets us in the cave, and strengthens us when we are afraid.  And, when that baby grew up, they nailed Him to a cross and then put Him in a cave.  This was defeat.  This was the end.  Except, it wasn’t.  Because, God does His best work in caves.

Nobody likes the cave.  The cave is dark and scary.  But, that’s where we are right now.  And, we have a choice.  We can surrender to our fears and throw in the towel.  Or, we can look for God in this, remembering that sometimes the moments that seem the worst are actually when God is preparing us for His best work yet.  We can look to the testimony of great men like Willie, as examples for how we will live out our faith going forward.  As Charley Scandlyn said in his remarks during today’s service, Willie helped us to see others the way God sees them.  And, that should be how we move forward….loving others.  Nothing has changed since my last letter: we STILL believe in a God that loves us and everyone else with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

I started this blog because I was trying to figure out how to truly act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  And, a few days ago, my words became a letter to you.  My grief has left me hallowed; but, perhaps now there is space for God to come in even more powerfully than before.  It is true, that no matter who is elected, God is still on the throne.  What is also true, is that we are still on earth.  And, so long as there is breath in our lungs, we will work to bring heaven to earth.  We will open our hearts to hurting and broken, we will defend those without an advocate and we will give to those in need.  In the same way that democracy is not a spectator sport, so faith is requires our daily surrender the commandment to love God and love others.  That’s our plan.

Still love you to the moon and back,

Mom

 

 

I want Joanna and Chip to build me a house, Jen Hatmaker to be my BFF and Michelle + Melinda to let me help them save the world.

Admit it.

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#Shiplap

Maybe your list is different.  But, you have a list of celebrities that you’d love to have as your BFF’s….or, just hang out with for a day.  I think many of my friends would have at least one of these people on their list.  Joanna and Chip are so hilarious to watch; I feel the need to let them renovate my house, even though there’s nothing major that needs to be ‘fixed’.  Jen Hatmaker looks like so much fun…I can totally see it….her coming over, probably with chips and salsa (or some other yummy, Southwestern/Texas treat) and us ‘clicking’ from day 1.

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#SuperWoman

Oh, and don’t forget Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates – two strong women advocating for the rights of women and girls, using their position and power in admirable ways to fix what’s wrong in the world.  What I’d give to jump on that bandwagon.  Truly – I’d be in Africa passing out anti-malaria tents in a heartbeat, if I got to hang out with the likes of Melinda.

BELONG TOUR

There is something seductive about celebrity.  I happen to adore everyone on this list.  But, I’m trying to ground myself a bit, heading into a conference this weekend.  I am attending the Belong Tour in San Jose.  And, I am like a 6-year-old getting ready for their first trip to belong_brand_goldlogobasicDisney.  I AM PSYCHED!  This Christian women’s conference brings headliners like Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist together to inspire and teach women how to live ‘fun, faith-filled, purposeful’ lives.  It is going to be awesome.

In my post, The Day After, I talked about what we do after the big event.  And, this is true, even in noble pursuits, like a Christian conference.  I definitely credit the women in this line-up for changing the conversation in faith circles, advocating generosity and justice, and showing us by example what it looks like to be vulnerable about the brokenness in our world…and, even in ourselves.  Yet, the reality is that this (a conference) is not the end – this is just the beginning.  For sure, we all need the ‘ra ra’ moments…the moments that will motivate and inspire.  But, if I fail to take it one step further, I’ve done nothing truly spiritual.  I may as well call it for what it is, a girls weekend.  (Btw, there’s nothing wrong with girls weekends!)

LESS ‘RA RA’ – MORE CROSSES 

Faith is not about the ‘ra ra’ moments – it’s about God coming into the messy moments.  Ann Voskamp writes of an exchange with a homeless man, they invited to live with them:

The sun’s losing light as it edges across the floor. I can feel the world tilting a bit, its truth slipping right out and onto the floor between Gordon and me: Why do we rush to defend God to a broken world, and not race to defend the image of God in the world’s broken? Gordon’s eyes search mine. The light’s caught in his hair. Yeah, I’ve got no idea if he’s packing something, dealing something, trafficking something, but something holy’s caught in my throat. We’ve all got our crosses.

I love that.  We’ve all got our crosses.  What’s remarkable is that for so long, Christian culture has managed to stick a cross on everything….our Christian books, our Christian music, our Christian camps – even our churches.  Yet, most of the time, it’s symbolic – we’ve cheapened our faith to the point of forgetting what the cross actually means.  Let’s be honest.  If you are hungry.  If your parent(s) are in prison.  If you have no roof over your head.  If you are being trafficked.  If your country is falling apart and you are a refugee.  If your world is broken, you could care less about all the Christian conferences, camps, books, songs – you name it.  You just want help.  You just want someone to walk alongside you.  You’ve got an actual cross.

Read these brutally honest words, written by Mickey Maudlin, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor at HarperOne:

Eventually the scales fell off and I had to confront the uncomfortable truth that perhaps evangelical churches, books, personalities and programs were the most popular because the movement was the most accommodated to consumer culture. Seeing evangelicalism as a populist movement, subject to fads and personality cults, fit with many of the dynamics I witnessed.

Somehow, we so quickly forget that the real treasure isn’t in best-sellers or the number of congregants in the pews, it’s something much better.

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#ProofOfTheExistenceOfGod

OVER COFFEE AND CROISSANTS 

Yesterday, two friends came over for brunch.  We drank a pot of coffee, and ate a bag of croissants from Mademoiselle Colette.  It was divine.  But, the real treat was hearing their stories.  One shared stories of building schools in South America, while the other talked of how visiting orphanages in Asia and Africa has changed the way her kids see the world. I can’t help but think that this is church.  This is faith.  These are holy moments.

My Jesus Calling devotion for today, is titled Be Willing to Follow.  It says: “Some of My richest blessings are just around the bend: out of sight, but nonetheless very real.  To receive these gifts, you must walk by faith – not by sight.  It means subordinating the visible world to the invisible Shepherd of your soul.”

I have to be brutally honest with myself.  How often has my heart been captured by my eyes?  I am drawn in by the talent, the wealth, the intellect….  Like a shiny penny, my eyes quickly see that well-crafted package; it is so easy to open.  It is so lovely to read a book or listen to a song, and to feel good about my salvation.  On the other hand, if I let my soul be my guide, where would it take me?  What new things would suddenly become visible to me, if I saw beyond the safe and sanitary, tree-lined streets of Menlo Park?

LOVE WARRIOR 

Tuesday, I was at home with a sick kid.  After cancelling my appointments and plans, I suddenly had all this time I hadn’t planned on.  So, I decided to start a book that all my friends have been reading, Love Warrior.  Glennon Doyle Melton holds nothing back, in writing about her life and marriage.  As things fell apart, Christians were anything but helpful.  In the excerpt below, she’s at church with her daughter, when the judgment from folks there, revealed the gulf between our God and our religion:

I look away, farther down the hall, and I see Tish in line with her Sunday school class.img_01571692323  Tish sees me and her face lights up.  In that instant, I realize that I owe nothing to the institution of Christianity – not my health, not my dignity, not my silence, not my martyrdom.  I do not answer to this place, I answer to God, to myself and to the little girl in that line….She needs to learn from me that these four walls don’t contain God and that the people inside them don’t own God, that God loves her more than any institution God made for her.  She will learn this only if I show her that I believe it myself.  

I’ve been there.  I’ve been that little girl, Tish.  I am the collateral damage of a church that prioritized outsides over insides.  Jesus doesn’t mince any words.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, so that the outside may become clean as well. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity.

Tomorrow, I head to belong.  I can’t wait.  I don’t want to be blind.  I don’t want to be a clanging cymbal.  I don’t want to be that well-meaning woman in the church.  I don’t want a conference to be the beginning and the end.  The world doesn’t need any more books, CD’s (is that old tech now, should we say MP3’s?), camps or conventions.  The world needs us to just get OUT.  I’m nearly done with Brandon Hatmaker’s book, A Mile Wide, where he writes:

We become so consumed with our model or way of church, protecting our beliefs and fighting over doctrine that we become distracted from what’s most important….the Kingdom is for sinners, not the righteous…although Christ died for us and offers us what we cannot earn, we still spend way too much time trying to appear like we earned it.  

While he offers many tips for how to get out of our old beliefs and ways, two ideas stuck with me.  The first one, he learned from a friend, Alan, who regularly helped the homeless.  Alan, a church leader like Brandon, told him, “My job is to get as many people out of the pews sheryl-sandberg-facebook-cooand onto the streets of our city as I can, because I know it will change them.”  The second tip is that a deeper faith is rooted in trusted relationships…maybe like the relationships born over coffee and croissants, where families figure out how they can make the ‘love God + love others’ equation a reality in their lives.

I may love to dream big, of working with the celebrities of the world.  Heck, Sheryl Sandberg’s kids go to the same school as mine.  And, you can be sure that my ego sometimes whispers, that maybe I should try to find a way to get my ideas to her or see if I can get connected to her.  (For the record, I’m a huge fan of hers!)  But, that never seemed to be the way Jesus went about things….He almost always seemed to ‘go small’….to pursue hearts and minds, one at a time…to start with the people that are right in front of you.

This year, I’m kinda all over the map.  The homeless, low-income schools, my kids’ schools, a myriad of roles at church….and, now, a Christian women’s conference.  I’m trying it all….including, blogging.  And, I hope that the blogging never comes across as bragging.  Dear God, help me – if it does.  The blog is about accountability.  It is about documenting this journey, and letting others into the messiness.  I’m trying to see what faith actually looks like outside of the church.  If we are talking about belonging, I no longer want to belong to a cultural Christian club.  Rather, I think God is asking whether I am making space so the hurting, messy world can belong to me and I to it…whether I let my heart be broken, so that out of the pieces I may find how I’m supposed to live out my Micah 6:8 life.

It turns out, the real fixer upper is me.

 

P.S.

To the beautiful women I get to spend this weekend with, let me speak to you.  Let’s have fun.  We are hard-working mama’s who deserve a weekend away.  And, many of you inspire me with the way you’ve oriented your lives around helping those in need.  So, I’m kinda speaking to the choir.  But, let’s collectively commit to letting this weekend be the beginning of something bigger!  – Love, Dayna

 

 

Hello From The Other Side.

There is another side.

To the disenfranchised and disillusioned: not all Christians are finger-wagging, science-denying, ultra-conservative holier-than-thou hypocrites.

To the Christians who read the sentence above and are ready to stop reading, at best..or already have their nasty rebuttal ready, at worst – I’m here to tell you Christians are not a homogeneous, one-size-fits all block.  If you’ve assumed all these years that because you didn’t know anyone who was both passionate about Jesus and yet also a lifelong Democrat (gasp!), well, let me introduce myself….and, an entire community of progressive believers.

WHAT IF YOU DIED TONIGHT?

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Me, age 7, with my signature Shirley Temple curls.

My journey to the other side began about as far right as you can get.  I grew up attending a Pentecostal church with my family.  I remember lots of loooooong services.  I remember thinking that emotional displays were good, so I’d conjure up the saddest possible thought in my little girl head, so that I could appear as spiritual as the others.  I remember asking my non-Christian friends, ‘if you died tonight, where do you think you’d go?’.  (That’s a nice happy topic for 2nd and 3rd graders to discuss in the middle of a play date).  I don’t remember any teaching or efforts to reach beyond our holy huddle, to help the poor or hurting.  We’d sooner hand you a tract than helping hand.  Not surprisingly, nobody was converted by my best efforts.  The rules forbidding TV, dancing, drinking, secular music, pants for women, makeup for women, jewelry….those didn’t make for a very persuasive sales pitch.

My parents divorced during my teenage years.  My mom was dropped like a hot potato.  Thus began our search for a new church.  We decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try the new mega-church in our backyard, Willow Creek.

THANK YOU WILLOW

I am not sure I would be a Christian today, if it weren’t for Willow Creek.  Instead of condemning those whose marriages are falling apart, they offered support and community.  Instead of preaching fire and brimstone, they talked about love and grace.  Instead of building walls to keep the outside world out, they invited the best thinkers and leaders to come in and share their ideas.  Honestly, I had no framework for faith that included these concepts, until I heard Bill Hybels give his very simple explanation for salvation.  All these years, I thought I was better than other Christians.  Now, I realized I didn’t even understand the fundamentals.  But, watching a church that refurbished donated cars to then give to single-moms or kept food pantries stocked across the Chicagoland…I started to see the scriptures come alive.  In the midst of turmoil and confusion, I met Jesus at Willow Creek.

THANK YOU KANT & RAWLS 

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My own well-loved copy (now sans a cover), given to me by Dr Waite at Butler – I still have it!

About the same time that I was learning a new perspective on faith, I was also getting introduced to the world of history, government/politics and philosophy.  If Willow Creek saved my heart, Debate Team, Model United Nations and Junior State of America saved my mind.  Teens are like sponges and I soaked up as much as I could!  To this day, I still remember two theories that were my ‘go to’ arguments in values (Lincoln Douglas) debate matches.

  • Kant’s Categorical Imperative: act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were universal law. It’s ‘sorta’ like the Golden Rule, but with a concept of universality thrown in. 
  • Rawl’s Theory of Justice: In what he labeled, Justice as Fairness, Rawl’s advocated a principled reconciliation of liberty and equality, to be applied to the basic structure of a well-ordered society.  These notions of justice equalling fairness and liberty requiring equality have stuck with me.  Within the theory of justice, Rawl’s outlines the Original position in which everyone decides principles of justice from behind a veil of ignorance. This “veil” is one that essentially blinds people to all facts about themselves so they cannot tailor principles to their own advantage.

I’m not sure all teens readily dove into the study of deontological moral philosophy.  But, I found them incredibly illuminating; the principles of universality…of justice….of looking at life and others with a posture that questions, ‘what if I could not determine my wealth, intelligence, health, race….?’ – ‘how then might I want others to respond to me?’, were compelling.  These questions led me to a conclusion, that I would always error on the side of fairness and generosity.  These were not just values for Lincoln Douglas debates.  As I studied history, government, politics and international relations – they were principles for understanding the world.  We used to say in the Junior Statesmen Foundation, ‘democracy is not a spectator sport’.  That meant, my opinions could be more than just hot air – they could be the very oxygen upon which our democracy functioned.  And, the more informed and involved, the better we’d all be.

FALSE DICHOTOMY 

Justice and fairness were not just for the secular world.  They were theories that actually dove-tailed with my new understanding of faith.  Centuries before Kant, Rawls and many other philosophers, the pillars of these same tenants had been crafted in the words of the Bible:

  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah)
  • Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. (Zechariah)
  • Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.  (Proverbs)
  • Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.  (Jeremiah)
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  (Romans)
  • He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah)
  • But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John)
  • “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew)

Matthew’s words sound a little like the Categorical Imperative and View of Ignorance.  The plea for justice and mercy that flow from the Old Testament into the New are very much in line with a theory of justice and fairness.  You get the picture.

I do not mean to suggest that all secular ideas support Biblical principles or vice versa.  But, I do think that a posture that sees the outside world as wrong, dangerous and irrelevant is wrong.  To put it more bluntly, the holy huddle mentality is not just a false dichotomy – it is complete bull shit.  The great commission is about going OUT – not turning IN.  And, by the way, that commission was not about creating converts but about cultivating disciples.

HELLO DEMOCRATS

When I was college, I got the chance to go to Clinton’s inauguration.  I remember walking donkey-and-elephant-1around the mall and seeing information on Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes A Village, where she advocates for the well-being of children by encouraging groups to support families and kids.  I watched and listened as Republicans pounced.  During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Republican Party nominee Bob Dole had said: “… with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.”[6] Well, yes, OF COURSE!  But, not everyone has the privilege of growing up in a upper-middle class home with two parents that are healthy, hold good jobs, etc.  Some of us were growing up in broken homes.  Some of us were growing up the ‘wrong’ skin color and/or with parents in prison.  Some of us were growing up food insecure.  Not everyone got the Norman Rockwell life.  Go back and read those verses.  Go read where Jesus says,”Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  Or, in the chapter prior, “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”  I watched Republicans take low-blow political shots at ideas that were not only good, they were Biblical.  We are called to love and help one another.  It made no sense to me.  How was this the party of Evangelicals?

At this point, I’m sure there are many screaming at their computer (or iPhone), BUT WHAT ABOUT ABORTION!!!!!  This post would turn into a book if I tried to answer fully here.  But, here’s the short answer.  First, pro-life should mean that….a policy of valuing life from the womb to the grave, not JUST the womb.  Yet, too many want to scream about abortion, and then fall silent when it comes to assisting the children or single mothers who need help.  Too many scream about an unwanted pregnancy but do nothing about sex-trafficking or sexual abuse.  Too many scream about teenage mothers but want to cut funding to education programs that help keep kids in school.  Too many will condemn abortion one second and yet defend guns and wars the next second – even though those kill many more.  And, I’m not saying all abortions are good or all wars are bad or that I want to take your guns away.  I’m just saying that there should be some intellectual consistency.  Rob Shenck, a leading Evangelical leader writes in a Washington Post article, I’m an evangelical preacher. You can’t be pro-life and pro-gun:

I won’t be silent on this issue. The Christian gospel should quell our fears and remind us of our Christ-like obligation to love all people, even those who intend us harm. This generous view of the world calls us to demonstrate God’s love toward others, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what religion they practice. Assuming a permanently defensive posture against others, especially when it includes a willingness to kill, is inimical to a life of faith.And, more broadly, Republicans want to get rid of regulations and policies that protect life with safe working environments or fair labor laws, etc, but in the most personal of decisions – they want to stake a claim?  

We can argue till the cows come home and Jesus returns on what the ‘right’ policy is.  My goal here is not to say what I think the political views of others should be; rather, my goal is to share my journey of faith through the landscape of our American experience.  I don’t agree with Democrats on everything.  I don’t agree with Republicans on everything.  But, in picking 1-2 issues upon which our vote hinges, we’ve given politicians free license to legislate on an endless number of issues, and sometimes recklessly opening the doors to war, injustice and greed.  (For those interested in more indepth political analysis, read Where the Right Went Wrong.)  We cannot throw-up our hands, absconding all responsibility.  For me, I vote for justice, equality and compassion.  I vote for helping those in need.  I vote for education.  I vote for taking care of the world God gave us.  I vote for a love that casts the widest net.

THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S 

There is a God, and I am not it.  In my journey to live out Micah 6:8 (act justly, love mercy and walk humbly), I am reminded that my job is very different from God’s.  There are battles to be fought.  There are judgments to be made.  The Bible has many great exchanges between heaven and earth, but one of my favorites is found in the book of Job.  It is in the midst of this discussion in Job, when God reminds him who laid the earth’s foundations and the seas.  This passage is not only about God reminding Job of His awesome power and sovereignty, it was God reminding Job of His amazing, even un-strategic, irrational love.

As John Ortberg put it in a sermon called, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, he sites this exchange in Job, explaining God is a god of gratuitous goodness.  Why would God water a wasteland where no one lives?  Why would he make an ostrich with wings that don’t fly or delight in the behemoth? Answer: He is good for no reason at all, because He loves to give.  

With that in mind, why should we shower love on the undeserving?  Because, as the Psalmist says, teach me YOUR WAY…the way of gratuitous goodness.  Or, as Jesus commands in Matthew, the greatest commandment is to love God and love others.  God’s way, is that of love that is beyond comprehension.  The Bible is full of many teachings and principles, but it is imperative to not invert the order and priority of God’s commands to us.  There’s this great song by The Afters, called Battles.  A line in it says, Your love is my armor, I fear no evil.

I love that…your LOVE is my ARMOR.

THANK YOU POPE FRANCIS AND JEN HATMAKER

brand_bio_bio-shorts_pope-francis-mini-biography_0_172238_sf_hd_768x432-16x9Thankfully, I’m not alone.  In my journey, I’ve discovered a community of believers who believe in a gospel that leads with grace and mercy includes everyone from Pope Francis and Jen Hatmaker to Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans and Jim Wallis.  And, then some.  Much to my delight, I read that in the Pope’s 2015 Encyclical, he applied the first formulation of the universalizability principle to the issue of consumption:

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. … To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.[21]

Turns out, the Pope reads Kant too.  Beyond observations on consumption, Saray Bessey writes in Jesus Feminist: “I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even—or maybe especially—the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough.”  I love the phrase Brandon Hatmaker uses in his new book, A Mile Wide; he beckons us to what he calls a bigger gospel. There are plenty of seats at God’s table, and I suspect that it is not been Jesus’s gospel that’s too small to date – it’s been my own interpretation, born of fear and shame that kept it small and safe.

I AM NOT A HOT POTATO 

Thank God I found a church that didn’t drop the hurting and broken like a hot potato. In Matthew, Jesus says that if he sees the flowers in the field and notices even the sparrow, how much more does he care for us?  He promises a love that never fails, that won’t let go, no matter what.  Everything changes when we open our eyes to the outrageous love of Jesus.  It is a love that is bigger than kings and kingdoms, of politicians and political parties.  It is a love that sees us in our struggles and bridges the gap with grace.  I know a God who makes beauty from ashes, and who delights in my broken hallelujah.

To those who have bristled at most of my words, I’d urge you to re-read the Bible with the lenses of compassion, mercy and justice, to consider whether our present path is actually making a positive impact in the world – in either practical or faith terms.  I’d ask you to truly ponder what love looks like.  To those who have felt alone in a progressive faith, I declare you are not alone.  And, to those who have been skeptical of the church and possibly deeply wounded by it, I would say this:

Some of us believe taking care of our planet means just that.  Some of us believe taking care of the widow and orphan means just that.  Some of us believe that opening our doors to the migrant means that.  Some of us believe in science.  Some of us believe it is okay to not be okay.  Some of us believe that helping the poor or doing justice means just that.  Some of us love mercy.  Some of us believe that loving your enemy or extending goodness for no strategic reason means JUST THAT.

So, what if I died tonight?  I’d say, that I’d choose to bank my eternity on loving Jesus and loving others.  I’ll let God take care of the rest.

 

 

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.
rtsk69d-1024x744
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.