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Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tradition, Advent is one of the seasons in the church calendar. In this particular season, we celebrate Christ’s first arrival and anticipate his second. It is a time of reflection and waiting.
Each Sunday in Advent, we begin our church service by lighting a candle on the Advent wreath. Tomorrow we will light the candle of Hope. That seems especially appropriate this year given the darkness of the preceding weeks.
I’m sure I’m not the only one whose been asking myself as I watch the news – where is God in all of this? Where is Hope?
Hope is wherever you find God’s helpers. Look closely and you will see them moving through the darkness, holding out a helping hand. There is hope in the actions of our local International Institute as they prepare to aid Syrian refugees. Those who arrive in my area will have help finding an apartment to call home, furnishing it, learning English and finding a job. God’s love is at work.
Hope can be found with those who transport food from the church’s that collect it to the local food pantry.
Hope sits alongside a friend who is making baby blankets out of recycled sweaters. The proceeds help people in Haiti.
Hope is all around us but it can be incredibly hard to see when it is the darkness that holds our attention. Instead, look for the flickering light of His People doing His Work. Look for them and you will find Hope.
This headline amused me: Mr. Ugly Contest Turns Ugly. As it happens, the front-runner for the Mr. Ugly contest lost, and a fight broke out.
It’s one thing to possess an aesthetically unpleasant countenance, but it’s quite another to show the ugliness we’re seeing from some pundits lately.
As SueBE wrote in her spot-on post, many are calling for a limit on Middle East refugees, and pandering politicians are tapping into this fear.
Exhibit A: GOP Presidential Nominee Donald Trump, claiming that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after the towers fell.
Well, I’ve got a bone to pick with that one. I live in New Jersey.
On that day, I was at work in East Brunswick, and driving like a bat out of hell down Route 18 to get my son out of daycare and take him home to Somerset, what I saw was quite a different story. Through the “moon roof” of my Passat, I saw fighter jets in formation, flying over me. Out the side windows, I saw other petrified drivers drifting from their lanes, racing to get somewhere safe – wherever that might be. When we got home, I saw neighbors on porches in a daze, asking if I knew what in the world was happening, and what we should all be doing now.
Celebrating? I didn’t see it on my block. I didn’t see it on the highway. I didn’t see it on the local news on television.
It’s a sickness of the soul to demonize people that don’t look like you, worship like you, or think the way you do.
Being from Jersey, I could throw a few choice words at the windbag, that is, the candidate, but I will refrain, because that would be an ugly thing to do. And I do believe, he’s got that part of the block covered.
Between Thanksgiving being just around the corner and the Senate vote to limit Middle Eastern refugees, I’m sure we’ve all been doing a lot of soul searching. It’s hard to be grateful when people make unjust decisions.
I understand this better as an adult than I did as a child. In the mid-197s when I was in grade school, another school district folded into ours and the impact was huge. I’m not sure how many elementary schools there were or any of the stats. That’s not why it was a big deal. It was the makeup of the district. That’s a nice sanitary way of saying race.
My district was largely working class Catholics. My family was the minority because we were Protestant. Do I need to point it out? The vast majority of us were also white.
The new part of the district was also working class. I suspect there were more Protestants than Catholics, but they were black. Plans were immediately put into place to desegregate the combined districts. K-4 would be taught on my side of the district. 5 and 6 would be bussed to the new part.
What was the school board thinking? People reacted strongly to this plan. Many people moved away. This may have been the beginning of white flight although no one used that phrase.
My parents talked to me about their decision to stay. “God made us all. The white ones and the brown ones. They’re just as scared as you are.”
I found that hard to believe. I had heard more than once that as soon as I got off the bus OVER THERE, I would get knifed. It’s just how those people are. I wanted to believe my parents. I really did. But people were moving. They were putting their kids in new schools. What did they know that my parents didn’t?
I was terrified when I got off the bus that first day. I’d love to say that I immediately had an epiphany, but I don’t remember my first day. It must have been pretty normal. I got to know my fellow students. These were the girls who taught me to turn double dutch. They tried to teach me to jump. Don’t blame them for my two left feet. They honed my jacks game. They taught me to sled on a piece of cardboard in a trash bag (easier to bring to school than a sled). This was also the first time I saw somebody stand up to a bully. I still remember him strutting across the playground behind the teacher. Sure, he was in trouble too but he’d done the right thing and no one could convince him otherwise.
My parents had done the right thing too. It wasn’t an easy decision but I know they prayed about it.
Back to today. I wish that our Senate had made the tough decision but they caved in to fear. Fortunately, you and I can still make a different decision. There are bullies out there.
I’m just grateful my parents taught me to go with God even when that choice doesn’t look safe. All too often, the danger is the product of our fevered imaginations.
In Carson McCullers’ play, “A Member of the Wedding,” young Frankie searches for the “we of me” — the people to whom she belongs, who will lift her up and help her soar to her highest heights. Maybe that’s what we’re all looking for. And maybe that’s what makes us break ourselves down into groups by ethnicity, skin color, religion, political affiliation and the like. We all want to find the we of us.
Often in pursuing this goal, we end up hurting others — the key word here being “others.” We reject those who are not the “we of us,” sometimes violently. It is what ISIS seems keen on doing. They do not seem to understand where this will lead them. Even if every “infidel” were wiped from the face of the earth, they would not stop killing; they would merely turn on their own. ISIS, if given what it claims it wants, would eat itself alive.
They are not the only ones. We base our exclusivity, our hatred, on the most random and outward of appearances. I find it worrying that in a season that celebrates the birth of a savior born to a Middle Eastern couple in search of a place to stay, many people are using the actions of a minority to support a decision not to welcome Middle Eastern refugees.
But don’t they see? Origin of birth, differences in faith, variations in skin color — none of these things should exclude belonging. In fact, if you believe that we all originated from a single pair of ancestors — a common Adam and Eve — then we are all related to one another in a very real way. They are we, and we are they. We are the we of us.
The best thing we can do in an often weary and wicked world is to hold out a hand, extend an open palm. Perhaps no one will take it. But maybe he will. And maybe that person will extend her own hand to another. And another, and another and another.
Small lights in the darkness don’t do much. But bring enough of them together and maybe, just maybe, we’ll all see clearly. We belong together. We belong to one another. Nothing — no one — can make that untrue.
This sign was sitting in the front of the gift shop over a year ago, and it really caught my fancy.
A sign! One that says, basically, so, you’re looking for a sign from God, eh? Well, here it is! Clever.
I wanted to buy it, but couldn’t justify the price.
A few months later, it was in the middle of the shop with other random bric-a-brac. I picked it up again, but put it back down.
Finally last month, it was on clearance. This time, the price was right, so I took it home. (Just to clarify, I paid for it first! A kleptomaniac, I’m not.)
It has a light-hearted message, to be sure, but the words on the sign really resonated with me.
You see, every so often, I find myself waiting for a nudge from God and end up in a holding pattern.
Like the time I wrote a short story some time back, but didn’t submit it to any markets because it wasn’t my usual genre. It was science fiction, and I figured the editors would take one look at it, exclaim, “novice!” and toss it into the slush pile.
Finally, over the summer, I took the advice of this silent, wooden sign and took a shot. I submitted my story to Analog, a science fiction magazine. Chances are, it may well end up in the slush pile. Even so, it’s higher on the evolutionary scale of getting the piece published than it would be gathering dust on my computer (virtually speaking, that is.)
That sign is a silent sentinel, saying: Don’t wait any longer to walk toward your dreams.
You don’t need an engraved invitation from God.
I believe that the minute you take a step toward that goal in your soul, you’ll find that God shows up on the path and walks with you.
Of course, in truth, he was there all along. You’re the one who finally took that leap of faith and met him halfway.
But if you’re like me and you need a sign, there it is, good people. It’s no burning bush… just a friendly nudge in the right direction.
Last Sunday, Pastor Sean finished a sermon series on Ruth. This time, he discussed Naomi and Ruth finding a place with Boaz. If you don’t know this particular Bible Story, you can find it here.
What impressed me about this story, and was emphasized in Pastor’s sermon, was the fact that here was God at work but there were no big miracles. No one was healed. The sea didn’t part. Water was still water, and not wine, at the end of the day.
Instead God was at work through day-to-day events. He was with Naomi as she chose Boaz’s fields to glean. He was with Boaz when he decided to welcome Naomi to glean with the women under his protection and drink her fill at their water jars.
How do we know God was at work? Because Naomi and Boaz married. Their son was the grandfather of King David, ancestor of Christ. All of this through day-to-day choices that at the time wouldn’t have seemed at all world changing.
It’s enough to make me wonder about the ho-hum choices I make each day. Who will be impacted because I’ve donated books to a sale, welcomed one of my son’s friends to the table for dinner, or taken homemade baked goods to a friend? None of them are big decisions.
It also mas me thinking about the many times that I pray and God doesn’t seem to answer. Maybe I just don’t see the answer because I’m looking for something BIG, something EARTH SHATTERING, something LIFE CHANGING.
But Naomi’s story shows me that God orchestrates even tiny, day-to-day events. I’ll try to keep this in mind the next time I pray and don’t seem to receive an answer. His response may be right in front of me because of a simple action I’ve taken or a choice I’ve made. It certainly gives “go with God” a whole new meaning.
In Hamlet, our droopy Dane laments, “O, that this too too solid [to drive home the theme, this should be pronounced to sound like ‘sullied’] flesh would melt!” I’m with you, Hamlet. When I am forced to look at myself — really look at myself — I see a fleshy mass of undesirable traits. Too much here, not enough there. A face that requires (to quote Sylvia Plath), “Soap, water and good Christian charity.” A pile of parts as mismatched — one leg longer than the other, one shoulder rounder and less broad — as Frankenstein’s monster.
And yet, we are made of the same stuff as the stars. “Little less than angels,” the Bible contends. Really? From the mites in our eyelashes to the sloughed-off skin bits we leave behind us like a crumb trail, human bodies are really pretty gross. But we are also formed in the image and likeness of God. I find it hard to imagine a God with ingrowing toenails or knobby knees. God ought to look like Paul Newman in his prime. Or like Lupita Nyong’o. What does God have in common with a common slob like me? (Not that I am, in any way slobby or sloppy. I give myself that much credit.)
These are the thoughts that plague me when I am forced to contemplate the link between humankind and God. Wouldn’t God do better to have the image and likeness of a graceful swan or sleek gazelle? If you could look like anything, why would you want to look like a doughy, clumsy, mostly hairless biped? There are better options out there.
Of course, the first Homo sapiens didn’t look exactly the way most of us look today. They were more hirsute, for a start. What if God looks more like that? What if God looks like a Bigfoot? (Author shakes head vigorously.)
What God is made of — what we are really made of — is more eternal than an ordinary body. Bodies wither, decay, are riddled with diseases. Ultimately, they do not stand the test of time. But something in us does, and that is the way in which we resemble God — in the speck of eternity that, in the end, defines and antecedes us. God is everything and forever. We are a little piece of that forever.
Maybe that’s the piece we should focus on. Oh, not that I’m advocating allowing one’s self to go to wrack and ruin. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — that is, try to keep your body well and safe. But give to God what is God’s — your soul — and make it the most beautiful soul you can. Beauty, even interior and hidden beauty, must be cultivated by hard work and consistent effort. And it doesn’t require the services of a high-priced plastic surgeon, either.
A new and more beautiful me! I won’t see it in the mirror. As long as God sees it, I’m good.
On my local weather site, meteorologists have been using a phrase that I don’t always associate with weather. “An energy system is coming in, and when it meets this other front, we’ll really have some weather!” said the energetic young weatherman.
I hadn’t really thought of weather as being about energy, but then again, maybe everything is about energy.
When I renovated my shower, the tile contractor came into the house with a lit cigarette in his mouth. I told him this was a non-smoking house and he put it out. Four hours later, I walked down the hall to see how the job was coming and saw that he was smoking again. “Caught me!” he said. I read him the riot act, but it was too late. He had smoked right into the grout holding the tiles in place, so even though I don’t smoke, my house smelled like charcoal in a chimney for months afterward.
Later that week, the plumber came in to upgrade the shower head, and the experience was vastly different. He was respectful and courteous, informing me every step of the way, even humming as he worked. As you can imagine, the outcome in this case was much more positive.
Energy permeates the products we make and infuses the words we speak – indeed, energy is everywhere.
I’d love it if someone could invent a meter that we could wear around our necks, close to our hearts. It would show us what kind of energy we’re putting into the world, and might give us an idea of how we’re being received by others. Instead of a “FitBit,” maybe it could be called a “HeartPart.” Just a little nudge to remind us we’re all in this life together and a kind word never costs a thing.
This is my third or fourth attempt at a post for this week. None of the others came together. They didn’t feel genuine. But I knew I had to get the post done. And so the pressure mounted.
Then I reread Lori’s post. What is separating me from God? Review my use of time.
Nope. Nothing. Reaching to the other side of the desk, I tapped my son. “I don’t know what to write about. Help!” He tried to help me brainstorm but, again, nothing felt right. “Mom, what you need to do is take a break…” He’s sixteen so this wasn’t ‘out of the mouths of babes’ but he had it right.
Yes, I’ve been busy in general helping my Dad and the school choir, attending swim meets, etc. But I’ve also been super busy with work. Looking at the calendar I realized that I haven’t taken a weekend off for at least a month, but more likely two.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m taking this weekend off. As soon as I decided this, I got an e-mail from my editor. “Good start but turn in a whole new outline before you start writing the book…”
Part of my brain says I should work, but taking the weekend off was the right idea. Making that decision felt cathartic, so I’m sticking with it. I have to get rid of this pressured, shattered feeling.
When I’m shattered, I can’t connect with God. So I’m going to go back to my modified Sabbath practice. I say modified because I have to bake for church. I may help my husband drop the new bed in the pickup. Or wax the dining room floor. But these are all things I enjoy doing. Yes – even waxing the floor and working on the truck. I love working with my hands and lately I haven’t taken the time to do it.
When I work, I think and I pray. And when I pray? I finally connect with God.
There’s a potted plant growing in our church’s foyer. I couldn’t begin to guess what it is, as I have little knowledge of plants and even less luck growing them, but I assume it’s some sort of succulent. It is tall and spindly (much like me in high school), circuitously looping and twisting upwards and ending in a puff of leaves (not unlike the Lorax’s truffula trees) pressed hard against a window. It wants the sun. If the window were not there, where would it grow? Forever upwards, pointing its leafy face toward heat, warmth, light?
Our own spiritual journeys are a lot like that plant. They are seldom straightforward — they bend and reverse directions repeatedly. Yet no matter what occurs, we keep heading toward the light of God. Sometimes things get in the way. Our challenge is to discern which of those things are windows and which are not.
Windows are physical barriers that keep us from attaining unity with God. Some of those barriers might be time, family concerns, difficulties or differences with organized religions, or a lack of spiritual nurturing in childhood. But some barriers require a bit more poking to establish whether they are made of solid glass —or merely mirages.
If lack of time inhibits your spirituality, you may want to review your use of time: Are you putting God last, after the job, the dishes, even feeding the dog? It is quite easy to fall into the habit of associating your spiritual life with “spare” time. What’s more difficult is incorporating spirituality into the very fabric of your daily life, making it both warp and weft alongside more mundane commitments. My good friend SueBe has been marvelous in pointing out ways that I can do this — from taking time to walk a maze (or even just tracing a maze on paper with one’s finger) to prayer beads to simply stopping short of forming an opinion of someone else and turning it instead into an opportunity for reflection. My friend Alice introduced me to another one: Choose a prayer or biblical passage and read it aloud. Now repeat it, losing the last word. Continue to do this, dropping a word each time and pondering the changed meaning. Here’s a good quotation to start with, from Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Take time to examine your “window.” What is holding you back from union with God? Is it prejudices based on earthly (and therefore inherently feeble) interpretations of what and who God is? Are you letting someone else tell you what your heart knows is wrong? Or are you consciously setting up a barrier to God, putting God off, telling yourself you’ll “get to it” someday?
Is your window solid or a figment of your imagination? How can you get yourself “unstuck”? Take time to ponder your spiritual journey. Wipe out your windows — or at least wipe them clean — and get on with the business of growing. It is what we were put here to do, after all.