You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2013.
Many years ago, when my father was in the hospital, he was tended to by a wonderful nurse. She was so good that I wrote a letter of appreciation to the director of nursing. I let the director know that this nurse took care of him so warmly, even going so far as to clip his nails for him. Well, apparently, nurses are not allowed to clip patients’ nails because they may inadvertently cut the patient with the clippers, which could lead to litigation. From that point on, she no longer interacted with any of us, even as we tried to wave hello to her. She’d been reprimanded and re-assigned.
I felt terrible, but knew I had to leave it alone. There was no way to fix it and all I could do was walk away.
In the news today, it seems that Kathie Lee Gifford was planning to take out a full-page ad in support of Matt Lauer, whose reputation took a hit when Ann Curry was re-assigned. This ad was signed by every Today show employee… except for Ann Curry, of course.
After Lauer said he wouldn’t feel comfortable with the ad running in the paper, Gifford abided by his wish not to run it; instead, she went on entertainment news shows and recounted her own largess. I can’t help but think she missed his point on purpose for a little bit of time in the spotlight. She’d probably say she was just trying to help.
In the same way, sometimes it’s hard for us as people of faith to think that our best intentions are unwelcome. And that sometimes, the most gracious thing we can do is just walk away. It happens to everyone, even politicians and billionaires, as this article shows.
Once, when a neighbor was sick, I wanted to post a prayer request on a faith website. Luckily, I ran it by a relative of his first, and he recoiled visibly. “Oh, no, no, no. He would never want that.” Good thing I asked. You can’t force someone to accept a prayer as a good thing if they see it as a bad thing. I ditched my plan and re-assigned myself to other, more productive tasks.
Sometimes, our good intentions just don’t pan out, and we have no choice but to walk away. We can still pray silently for people, but if our best effort results in something negative, it’s best to re-assign yourself. Plow your own field and let God plant seeds in your neighbor’s yard. Or, more simply put, let go and let God.
In her last post, Lori called on all of us to seek God outside of hatred and those who harm others in His name. She reminded us that God is with the helpers.
When someone mentions helpers, I tend to think of Martha and it’s easy to imagine Martha passing around blankets and water, making space in her home for those whose family members are in the hospital and seeing that everyone is fed.
I understand Martha which is probably why I’ve always resented the story of Martha and Mary. Yes, I know most people say Mary and Martha but I identify with Martha. It’s always bothered me when a minister or priest preaches a sermon about how Christ called Martha on her busyness and told her to be more like her sister.
Then I read Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver. I discovered that when a Martha like myself reads this book, she tends to start it with an attitude. “There we go. Holding Mary up again and putting Martha down. I bet Weaver would still accept a meal that ol’ Martha made.”
Yep, that was me. Attitude. A lot like Martha.
But as I read the book, I made a discovery. Weaver calls on us to be both Martha and Mary. Mary without Martha is all meditation and no action. While it’s great to sit at Christ’s feet, there are people in this hurting world of ours who need to feel His presence.
There are people who were injured in that bomb blast who face physical uncertainty and big scary bills. Insurance companies balk at the expense of top notch prosthetics. They sometimes question that people will need them long term. “How long are you going to need the prosthetic hands?” Yes, insurance companies have actually asked people that. These people need a Martha or maybe even a dozen Martha’s.
But, for her own wellbeing, Martha needs to be a little like Mary too. Without God at the center of her actions, Martha comes to resent all the thankless labor. It feels pointless and becomes burdensome busy work. As Weaver helped me see, Christ understood Martha. He wanted her to find balance and later scriptures show that she did as did Mary.
What would God have Martha do to help in the world today? What words would Mary hear from Christ? I can’t tell you what their specific task would be but I think we all know that it would be a labor done bearing a message of Love.
I won’t lie to you: I’m finding it difficult to write about the events of last week. When I get emotionally bottled-up like this, I turn to poetry. Let this be my contribution to the discussion.
It was a week
to shake the faith
right out of our bones.
But faith cannot fall
to such a small god:
a god of bombs, bullets, ripped limbs.
Seek God elsewhere.
He is there in the helpers.
In solace, yes, and mourning, too.
In healing hands, in hope.
Look to those who know the truth:
What is not love
cannot be God.
There is your answer.
Recently Ruth brought up the impact that doubt has on our relationship with God. If God is indeed sovereign, Ruth asked, who are we to doubt?
We are His children plain and simple. That means that we are His with all of our questions and our worries and our inability to see the big picture.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about the reader’s theater our choir performed for Maundy Thursday. The characters ranged from Mary to Martha to Saul and more. Each of them questioned the role that they played in Christ’s ministry and Resurrection. One of the central characters, and perhaps my new favorite, was Thomas. You most likely know him as Doubting Thomas. As depicted in this play, Thomas wasn’t doubtful because his faith was weak. Thomas was the kind of guy who looks at any given situation and sees the possibilities, the ‘what ifs,’ the ‘maybes.’ “But if this happens, then what about that?”
Did Christ put Thomas aside because of these questions? Of course not. Not only did Christ call Thomas to be one of his followers, he called him to be one of the Twelve, the Inner Circle.
But Thomas isn’t the only one who asked Christ questions. Christ also called the children.
Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
If you’ve ever spent any time with children you can’t overlook one trait in particular. Children question everything. Why? Why? Why?
I don’t think that Christ would have called the children to Him if this was an issue because you know He was getting an earful. “How?” “Why?” “Why not?”
Children ask questions as they explore and learn about the world around them. Adults who ask questions are doing much the same thing.
Christ called Thomas. Thomas who had his doubts and voiced his questions, but he also paid attention to the answers. We know this because he recognized Christ. He wasn’t the first and he did demand answers, but he also paid attention when these answers came.
Doubting and questioning God can handle. Just be sure that you are ready for the answers when they come.
Terror and tragedy have been so rife in the news lately, it’s enough to drive one mad. But what’s more maddening are some of the responses to these disasters. Read the online comments section after any calamitous news story — Boston, Texas, the ricin attacks, you name it — and what you will read is blame. That’s where our minds go, instantaneously. Something bad has happened. Someone must be blamed.
All too often, we let the blame fall widely, ludicrously. I’ve seen the Boston terror attacks blamed on Obama, on liberals, on Illuminati conspiracies. The Westboro Baptist “Church” (and yes, they deserve the ironic quotes) would have you believe that our own godless acceptance of gays is at fault. Enough already.
Even worse is the sport of blaming victims. In the wake of Steubenville, two young women (Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott) committed suicide after being raped and finding out their attackers took and distributed photos of the attacks. Read the comments sections related to their stories, and you will see the word “slut” featured prominently. There is a consensus among some of us that these girls got what they deserved because they drank too much alcohol and passed out at a party.
To these people I would like to say this: If a girl deserves to be raped because she passes out at a party, what then does a boy who passes out at a party deserve? What do you yourself deserve when you make a foolish mistake? Girls who drink too much are guilty of nothing more than youthful stupidity. Since when does that carry the death sentence?
More radically, I want to say this: No one deserves to have violence done to them. Even if I decide to strip naked and walk up and down the street carrying a sign that says, “Rape me,” I do not deserve to be raped. I might need to be taken to a mental health facility for intensive therapy, but I don’t deserve rape. No one does. If we judge others with narrow-minded harshness, what are we saying about ourselves? What happened to forgiveness, to mercy, to empathy? For a so-called Christian nation, we seem to have forgotten the very basics of Christian love and charity.
In the weeks ahead, a lot of blame is going to be bandied about. Let’s make sure not to rush to judgment. Let’s make sure we don’t dump our blame on whoever is convenient or politically expedient. Let’s not blame the victims.
We will need a sober head and a cool temperament to deal with all the evil that’s going down. Here’s hoping we remember that.
Prayer is a choice. For us to pray to give thanks, or to voice our questions and doubts shows that we are choosing to leave an opening in our spirits. Without this opening, there is no vessel, no place into which God can breathe.
I’ve often wondered if expressing doubt to God in prayer is an oxymoron. Or even sacrilege. The whole premise behind praying is that God exists and that He is sovereign. Who am I to throw pebbles at Him and question his ways?
A month ago, I had an exacerbation of MS and came home from the hospital ready to heal. Then last week, I fell down in the hallway and had a setback. I was frustrated, distraught, even hopeless.
As I look back over my life, this is, unfortunately, the way I’ve lived my faith-walk at times as well.
It’s as if I see each challenge as the end of the road. That’s it! I’ve had it. As we say in Jersey, I’m too through. I mean, how can I possibly contribute anything to the world lying here in bed, feet wrapped in Ace bandages, barely able to hobble on crutches? Even writing a blog post takes forever for me now due to dexterity and visual issues.
The reality is that these are speed bumps. I’m not able to drive right now, but I’ll drive again at some point. When I was driving, I wouldn’t throw up my hands in disgust if I had to stop for a red light. I’d know the light would turn green again. It’s just a matter of time.
Some of the most important discoveries in history came from people who questioned the status quo. The world is flat? Somebody said, “Doubtful.” The earth is the center of the universe? Somebody said, “Are you sure about that?”
Lori is active in the Catholic church, and she’s written about voicing dissent within her faith community. In the news today, Catholic nuns are speaking up, even if the hierarchy doesn’t always listen.
During an intense time a few years ago, I wrote about coming to terms with doubt. I decided that it doesn’t negate my faith in God if I express confusion or doubt. In the end, it strengthens it, reminding me exactly what I believe and why. Once I’ve worked it out in prayer and in my mind, I can move forward with a measure of peace that I didn’t have when my doubts were unexpressed.
I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27
It also helps to know that we’re part of a faith community, and that we hold each other up in prayer, as SueBE said in her moving post last week. “Simply knowing that people are praying for us is a weight off my shoulders. I’m not going it alone.”
And that – no doubt – is the gospel truth.
When I saw this quote, I smiled because it reminded me of the sacrament of Holy Communion. If it sounds like a logical jump, that’s because you haven’t heard our communion liturgy.
As long as I can remember, my church has celebrated open communion. This means that you don’t have to be a member of Florissant Presbyterian Church, our Presbytery, or the Presbyterian Church USA to partake. You only have to be a Christian to approach the Communion Table.
Many other Christian denominations put limits on who can take Communion. You have to be from their denomination, their synod or perhaps even their congregation. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s always some church leader putting another limiter on who can celebrate. Support gay marriage? Do you use birth control? How do you feel about genetic engineering? Give the wrong answer and there’s no communion for you.
At our church, we only ask one thing — that you be Christian. It’s been that way for years.
Recently, our communion liturgy has changed and it now includes something that I love. Seriously. Love it.
As she welcomes everyone to the Communion Table, Pastor Carol reminds us that this is not Florissant Presbyterian Church’s Communion Table. It is not a Presbyterian Communion Table. It is Christ’s Table.
Wow. Think about how powerful that is? It isn’t up to our Pastor, our Session or even the General Assembly to say if you as an individual are welcome.
Christ is the one that calls you. It is up to God and only God.
Do you belong to Him?
Then come forward. You will find acceptance in Him.
I was in the midst of reading Elizabeth A. Johnson’s mind-blowing book Quest for the Living God, when I heard the news: Scientists now say there may be billions of Earths in the universe. Billions! When I think of a God who made all that, who exists everywhere these Earths exist — fully present in a billion places and in the hearts and minds of billions and billions of people (for I am certain that each and every Earth contains people who know and worship God)…I am more sure than ever that my knowledge of God is a tattered rag of a thing, the frayed hem of a wondrous cloth that spreads farther than anyone can imagine. Which begs the question: What am I doing here?
Not here as in Earth, per se, but here on this blog — why am I writing about God when my knowledge and experience of God is so small, so pathetic? That’s where Johnson’s book comes in. She likens our expressions of God to a finger pointing at the moon: The moon is not the finger, just as our expressions of God are not God. In fact, they will always be wrong. But perhaps, just perhaps, they might point the way to God, the way an analogy or a metaphor or a simile works in our everyday language.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’m pointing at the moon. Maybe somewhere in my words someone will catch a glimpse of the real moon, the real God. Or maybe I’m pointing at Mars by mistake. Still, a compulsion obliges me to point. I will use words like love, like acceptance, like understanding. I will hope that they land, meteor-like, in the general vicinity of what is unfathomable.
Recently our pastor warned us about speaking as Catholics about gay marriage. We must love the sinner but hate the sin, he said. We must understand that gay marriage can never be acceptable to Catholics. The bishop of Detroit went further: He demands that Catholics who support gay marriage not participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist because they are hypocrites.
To them I say: Love. Acceptance. Understanding. I also say this — I will not be quiet. My words about what I believe about God, namely that God loves and accepts all people and would never create them to love in vain, never shun anything done in love, may not be the right words. My finger may not accurately point the way. But maybe it does. And if I can guide one person to look in the right direction, then, well, it’s all been worth it. Look up in the sky, people! God is love!
I was tempted to give the socially acceptable response. “Fine.”
But the reality of the matter was very different. The last week had been rough with unexpected expenses and a cancelled trip. Then a family member had a cancer scare and her own share of unplanned bills and household disasters. Next came the icing on the cake with a phone call from the social worker. “It looks like dementia.”
Nope. I was definitely not fine, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to admit it.
I didn’t lie and type fine. I simply didn’t answer. Instead I kept the window open for hours. Every now and again, I’d click over to it but I didn’t answer. I even refreshed the screen a few times to see if that would solve things.
Finally, I typed out my response. I told my friend what was going on in my life. But I didn’t send it right away. If I just left it sitting there, maybe the computer would spontaneously reboot and the message would be lost.
At last, I clicked the mouse and my message was on its way. “I would appreciate a prayer or twelve.”
My friend and her husband are both devout Christians and her answer didn’t surprise me. They are both holding my whole family up in prayer.
And, you know what? It’s working. Simply knowing that people are praying for us is a weight off my shoulders. I’m not going it alone. There are people all around me holding us up. I am indeed part of a community of believers.
All I had to do was open my eyes and see them all around me, and then ask.
One of the sites I visit regularly to find words of wisdom is Bible Gateway. All you need to do is type in a search term and it pulls up quotes from the Old and New Testaments. I typed in “power” today and found a great passage from Exodus.
And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Exodus 32:11
So dramatic! Especially using the King James Version. And I realized how much dimension drama can add to our lives. A wonderful dramatic actor, like Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, can bring a classic tale to life. A dramatic singer, such as Andrea Bocelli can transport you to Tuscany.
Some of the greatest singers of our time are drama queens: Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, and Celine Dion, just to name a few. In Christian music, there are some wonderful singers who regularly go over-the-top and beyond, including Yolanda Adams, David Phelps and Sandi Patty.
Sometimes these dramatic singers may evoke an eye-roll or two as they go well over-the-top, up into the stratosphere, as in this clip of David Phelps singing “It is Well with my Soul.” Another singer in the Gaither group, Ivan Parker, can be seen in the background as Phelps sings, waving his hands dismissively at this divo display.
And again, in this clip of Donald Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers, singing “Encourage Yourself.” Singer Sheri Jones-Moffett has a dramatic moment at about two minutes in, and some in the audience seem to be mildly mocking her wide-eyed expressiveness. Most of them are appreciative, though, even standing as she sings.
What kind of world would it be without drama and divas? Maybe the antidote to a hum-drum life is to allow yourself to go over-the-top once in a while.
Most of the time, we’re constrained by the corset of decorum, afraid to make waves – even in our own hair. If you want a permanent… or a purple streak in your hair, why is this not an option? Is it because people of faith must all wear sensible shoes and hausfrau hair? (No offense intended to housewives, or comfy shoes, for that matter!)
And what about believers who express their praise to God in church with electric guitars, loud drums, and screams of exultation? I attended a Pentecostal church years ago, and its music was indistinguishable from rock music (just a note – I like rock music and listen to it often), but their joy was heartfelt.
Sometimes going over-the-top can be downright fascinating. This version of “Una Voce Poco Fa” by Cecilia Bartoli is lovely, but what makes it mesmerizing is that she’s not just singing the song with her voice, but with her entire face!
My favorite over-the-top dramatic song is Sandi Patty’s version of Dottie Rambo’s classic, “We Shall Behold Him.” Patty sings live in front of the Gaither group, using sign language to sign the lyrics as Rambo herself looks on in approval.
Going over-the-top is really not such a bad thing after all, is it? Give it a try sometime when the spirit moves you. It may well be that going over-the-top actually gets you halfway to heaven.