A Walk to Remember

April 8, 2016

32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

DSCN3537 A walk can be good for the soul. A walk in the woods especially. When I am feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated by life and all that I have going on, I head for a wooded trail and walk awhile, which I find clears my head and reenergizes me. One of my new favorite trails is at Doe Run Lake park near Covington and Independence KY, which travels the perimeter of the lake. It isn’t “wilderness” like the Great Smoky Mountains national park is, but it is the next best thing. Just enough up and down to feel I’ve had some exercise, just enough quiet to quiet my mind.

The walk to Emmaus might have had a similar effect on Cleopas and the other disciple. It was the day that they had discovered the reality of Jesus’ body being missing from the tomb, and with everything going on it must have seemed like a good idea to hit the road. Maybe they were going home. Maybe they were going to share the news with other disciples who weren’t in Jerusalem. Maybe they just needed to clear their minds, find a way to recharge their spirits after all that had happened.Whatever the reason, there they were, on the road to Emmaus.

As they walk a stranger approaches and asks what they are talking about. They sadly tell the tale: their leader and teacher, Jesus, had been put to death three days earlier; they had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel, but it seemed that that was not to be. And now they had heard he had risen from death and they were just not sure what to make of this story.

While they were walking they didn’t expect to see Jesus. They didn’t know him when they did see him, at least not at first. But they opened up to this sympathetic stranger about all that had happened, sharing their sorrow and confusion with him. Then grief turns to joy as they break bread with Jesus and realize it had been him all along. in their joy they rush back to Jerusalem, their steps more sure, their mood not somber, but excited. It was a walk to remember, full of joy, astonishment, excitement and hope. Hope for a new future, hope that their dreams weren’t dead because Jesus wasn’t dead, but alive.

In times of discouragement, disappointment and grief we might not expect to see Jesus either. And yet, if we pay attention, we might see him anyway– in the face of a stranger who asks if we’re ok; in the face of a loved one who hugs us and lets us cry without trying to fix us; in the quiet solitude of a wooded trail where we can speak quietly or loudly with God, sharing our sorrow as the psalmists so often did. We feel his love, we feel his comfort. We know we’re not alone and we realize that hope and joy await us in our grief process. We see that new life is possible.

 

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5 Reasons to Go to Church

January 18, 2016

Over the years as I have been involved with church and religion, the question has continued coming up, “Why should I go to church?”

Most of the time the question is followed by “I can worship God just as well at home.” Or sometimes “Church doesn’t do anything for me.” Or even, I don’t like the music, the children are loud, or the preacher’s sermons put me to sleep! These days it seems that more and more people are using these or other excuses for not going to church or being involved in a religious community.

But there are good reasons to go to church, even today. And so I have put together what I see as the top 5 reasons to go to or to be involved with church.

5. Discipline  Not discipline as in “punishment” but discipline as in “practice” or “mastery.” We go to church because it helps us to know what it means to be human, to learn how to be compassionate people in the world, and to have opportunities to practice being compassionate human beings in the world. It is possible to learn and do this on your own, I suppose, but it’s easier when we practice among people who can hold us accountable. Better yet, do both– have private devotionals and group study, to maximize your learning power!

4. Learning about ourselves and others– and God  At church we have opportunities to study and discuss theological and spiritual works with other people who are interested in theology and spirituality too. Many people in congregations have a wealth of knowledge to share or a thirst for the kind of knowledge you have. Learning is more enjoyable and easier when done with others, and it gives us a chance to get to know them on a deeper level. Also, during prayer time we hear what our neighbors are facing– the job loss, the divorce, the sickness– and are able to offer our support and share our struggles and receive support. Bible studies and sermons help us learn about God working in the world, and hearing the stories of how our ancestors in the faith encountered God we also learn to understand our encounters with God.

3. We are moved outside of our comfort zone  Just the act of going to church may cause you to step outside of the normal, everyday routine you’re used to. Getting involved in Bible study or mission activities or fellowship groups can shake things up for you, help you see the world in new ways, change your way of thinking about the world and the human beings around you.

2. Good food abounds!  I’ve never been to a church that didn’t have good food and good cooks. From potluck dinners to ice cream socials church people know how to share the best of their culinary ability. Congregations might make food the focus of their ministry, hosting a weekly or monthly dinner that the whole neighborhood or community is invited to. By sharing our food we share ourselves, growing in faith as we go.

1. Good people abound as well!  Yes, there may be drama in church and yes, sometimes people aren’t as nice and compassionate and loving as we might like. From outside of the church we might see them as hypocrites; but from inside the church we realize that they’re good people who struggle sometimes, just like everyone else. When we spend time with someone on a mission trip, at dinner before choir, in a Bible study we come to know them, sometimes better than we know our own families. They might even come to feel like family. We see where we have things in common. And we might see God working in their lives, helping them to become better people– and helping us to become better people too!

Sure, it’s easy to not go to church, easier than it was in the mid-20th century when going to church was just what you did. It’s easy to stay at home on Sunday morning, or go to the lake or to a ball game; it’s easy to point fingers at people who go to church but who seem so unpleasant sometimes. It’s easy to let the world convince us that it doesn’t matter it we don’t go to church. Still, I encourage you to go, and see just what we might find good about going to church.

Walking through Darkness to the Light

December 23, 2015

The following is a reprint of an e-votion I wrote several years ago.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of great darkness—on them light has shined.                                                                Isaiah 9:2

 

At it’s best, the holiday season can be a happy time, a joyful time, a time of wonder and magic. Christmas is a time of celebration, a time when we remember the birth of the Christ child and how his presence changed the world forever. Christmas is also a time for giving to others, to the special people in our lives; we buy presents and bake cookies and generally do things for other people to honor them and show our love for them. It’s a great time to go caroling with friends, to visit people we haven’t seen for awhile, to go to parties and gatherings, and in general have a merry old time.

But for some people the holidays are not so merry. For some people the holidays are a reminder of what they’ve lost:   a loved one, a friend, a spouse. The tragedy of loss may have happened long ago, or it may be recent—I think of the families of the hikers who are lost on Mt. Hood—but the pain the same. For some people the financial stress of gift giving sucks the fun right out of the season. Everywhere they look they are encouraged to buy, buy, buy! and they end up doing so—even if they can’t afford it. And there are other people who don’t know why Christmas is celebrated, but only know the Santa part, who are missing out on the real source of joy that we as Christians feel. For these people and many others, the holidays may seem like a dark time, a time of sadness and stress rather than happiness and joy.

We all walk in darkness from time to time; but somehow if we’re walking in darkness at this time of the year, when it seems like all of the people around us are ridiculously happy and merry, it can be even tougher. It’s no wonder that suicide rates rise at this time of year, that domestic violence rates go up, that alcoholism and drug abuse rates rise. But there is hope. Hope is the reason that people find joy in the Christmas season—hope for the future, for our future and the future of all who suffer—hope that came to us in the form of the baby Jesus and who lives in each of us even now, 2000 years later. For those who are suffering or lonely, Christ teaches us to pray for them and visit them, to give of ourselves to them. If we are the sad ones, we may find that visiting others who need us will bring the hope and joy to our hearts that we’re missing. And if people are walking in darkness because they haven’t heard the Christmas story, Christ sends us out to them to tell the story of our experience with the good news of Jesus Christ—so that they too may have the hope and joy that comes through him.

If you are lonely or suffering and in need of prayer and fellowship, I encourage you go to a Christmas Eve service. Or visit a neighbor. Or call someone. Or write to me and I’ll pray for you. Let’s light up Christmas by giving of ourselves and giving Christ to others.

God of miracles, I look to your love at this time to bring the joy and love to my heart, and to give me hope for the future. Help me to share this hope and joy with others so that they may move out of the darkness and into the light. Amen.  

Advent: Season of Hope, Peace, and Joy

December 15, 2015

hope peace joyWe are well into the season of Advent– only one Sunday between us and the special event we wait for. Advent, in the church world, is a season of waiting and watching for Christ to come in his many forms. We watch for the baby in the manger, we watch for the Christ who will come again. We look behind to the prophets of old who foretold the birth of the Messiah, and we look ahead to the life, death, and ministry of Jesus.

For the first Sunday of Advent we celebrate Hope. Hope is an expectation and desire that something will happen. It is the thing that keeps us going; hope makes us stand up and raise our heads. As Andy Dufresne wrote to Red in The Shawshank Redemption“hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

The Psalmist writes, “Our hope is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We hope in the one who created the universe out of nothing, who made the sky and seas, the earth and all that is in it. Our Advent hope is for the one who is and was and is to come– the Messiah, the deliverer, who will heal our brokenness with compassion and grace. This year’s gospel passage for this Sunday features John the Baptizer, pointing the way to Jesus the Christ, and the hope that comes with him.

For the second Sunday of Advent we celebrate Peace.  Peace can be understood as a time of quiet and tranquility, free from disturbance. It is a time without war, without strife, a time of harmony between social groups. In this year’s gospel for this Sunday John calls us to live peacefully with each other– not in so many words, but through actions: be kind and share what you have with anyone who has less; don’t cheat anyone; and don’t steal from others but be satisfied with what is yours.

In these times of seemingly endless war and conflict it is especially important that we look to Jesus the Christ as the Prince of Peace, and that we follow his way in seeking that peace. The ministry of Jesus was one of healing, of comforting, of loving– especially to the poor, the oppressed, those who had demons or other illnesses. Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and awakened the people around him to their own self-worth, bringing peace to their lives– and ours.

The third Sunday of Advent is Joy Sunday. Joy is a state of pleasure, delight or happiness– though being joyful doesn’t mean being happy all the time! To me, joy is more of a state of being, rather than an emotion. Joy can be fleeting, as when you receive a piece of good news; or can be longer lasting, as when you have an encounter with God or the Spirit. These mountaintop experiences can bring us a joy that stays with us always.

We see joy in this year’s gospel passage for this Sunday, which is the song of Mary. Mary sings of a God who will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. This is good news and a cause for joy for anyone who suffers at the hand of oppression!

Hope, peace, and joy all abound during the Advent season. Hope for a special Christmas with family and friends, peace on Christmas Eve when the children are asleep and the presents are wrapped, joy in the knowledge that this season is about the giving of ourselves to others.

These are all wonderful parts of Advent, but this coming week is the best of all– a more excellent way. I can’t wait!

 

Loving the Refugees

November 20, 2015

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome… who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.   You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.   -Deuteronomy 10:17-19

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”    -Luke 10:36-37

 

The rhetoric of the Republican Presidential contestants (whoops! candidates) is disturbing.

The vote of Congress yesterday is disturbing.

The willingness of our leaders to yield to fear is disturbing, and the willingness of our leaders to fear-monger their constituents is very disturbing.

We insist that we are a Christian nation. But it seems we’re only Christian when it’s convenient.

Thousands of Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives. Fleeing a war which has upended their lives. Courageously stepping into new lives in countries far from their homeland.

We sit here in America, in our big safe houses, with our guns at the ready. And we’re the ones cowering in fear.

But let’s forget that. Let’s forget that most of us live in very safe places, places that never see war or violence. Most of us will never know the heartache of knowing the home you love, the place you grew up, has been destroyed. Most of us will never know the heartache of knowing you can never, truly never go home again. Because there is no home to go to.

Some would say that keeping Syrian refugees out of our country is the smart thing to do, that to do otherwise is to invite terrorism into our safe haven. But Christ doesn’t call us to do the safe thing.

“You were strangers in the land of Egypt” God says to the Israelites, and to us. Therefore we must love the stranger in our midst; even more we must welcome the stranger into our midst. Welcome them as the Egyptians welcomed the family of Joseph. Care for them, share your grain with them. Offer them clothing. Love them as God has loved them. Be a neighbor to them by showing mercy, binding their wounds, providing them shelter.

Nowhere does Christ say to turn from danger. Instead he says that following him will be dangerous. So if America is truly a Christian nation, we must not turn from danger, but expect it, face it, accept it.

The problem is, many of us have our own brand of Christianity that is worried chiefly about “my salvation” and being in God’s favor. It is taken as a sign of God’s favor if we’re wealthy, powerful, successful. If we achieve these things, we must be good. And if we don’t achieve these things, we must be bad or sinful. And so, we can’t risk losing what we have because we’d lose proof that God loves us, that we’re in God’s good graces. We become afraid.

Afraid enough to deny access to the freedoms we enjoy to a group of refugees. Afraid enough to consider requiring Muslims to carry a religious ID card. Afraid enough to forget our call to show mercy to strangers, to welcome, feed and clothe them. To love them. As Paul writes,

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers , and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…

And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Consider the more excellent way that Paul proposes. And then consider how we must treat those fleeing from danger as well as those already in our midst who are different. Consider also what God, Christ and Spirit have to say about the strangers in our midst and being a neighbor to those in trouble.

Be not afraid, for the God of love is with us.

 

Being Present in Prayer

November 2, 2015

Anytime I’m in a discussion about prayer, it seems like I hear the same thing: “I can’t concentrate, my mind wanders, I can’t focus long enough, and so I just don’t feel a connection to God.”  It’s a common refrain, and many times I have offered different methods or patterns of praying, because having a deep prayer life can enrich our faith lives. People seem to like the idea that they can “learn” to pray; even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray after they had seen how his prayers connected him with God. And it’s true, you can learn methods of prayer or different types of prayer. But if we want a deeper connection with God, how do we make that happen? Or can we?

Last week I read an article by On Being blogger Susan Salzburg called “Simple But Not Easy: The Right Effort of Beginning Again.” Ms. Salzburg is a Buddhist and teaches meditation; she has practiced meditation for years and studied under a Burmese master named Sayadaw U Pandita. She told a story in the blog I read about going to study with this master and having the assignment of meeting with him 6 days a week to discuss her meditation experiences with him. She diligently meditated each day, making notes and trying to remember how her sessions had gone. But every time she met with U Pandita and described her experiences with him, he always replied, “It is like that in the beginning.”

This article reminded me of how many Christians feel about prayer– as if we should just be able to sit down and pray, and connect with God with little effort. Or that it’s ok to be a beginner– in the beginning; but like our productivity-oriented society, we want to have something to show for our efforts; we want to feel as if something has been accomplished or achieved. In a similar way we talk about “growing” in discipleship or our spirituality– as if discipleship or spirituality is something that can be measured or weighed. And if we’re unable to focus on who or what we’re supposed to be praying about we feel we’ve failed; if we don’t see a measurable answer to our prayer or solution to our problem, we think God isn’t there, doesn’t hear us, or doesn’t care.

But maybe, like Ms. Salzburg, we can learn that it isn’t progress that we need, it’s presence. Being present in the moment whether we’re praying or working or exercising. Listening and watching and waiting for God in our everyday lives so that when we do sit down to pray we’re already clued into the rhythms of God’s world instead of letting the human world distract us. As Ms. Salzburg said, If we make a commitment to living in the present moment, we are always “at the beginning” of whatever it is we are doing, constantly presented with thoughts, judgments, observations, and/or sensations that interrupt up us amidst our daily activities. The challenge is in the choice to accept these things and simply “begin” again, returning to the present moment, or to grip tightly to some idea of what we should be doing and flood ourselves with judgment in the process. In the same way, when in our prayers we try to focus on God and we lose concentration, we can bring ourselves back to the present and begin again. We begin to worry less about “accomplishing” something with our prayers and more focused on being in the presence of God. Which to me, is the very essence of what it means to pray.

Guest Blogger– Jeff Carter, “Enough”

September 18, 2015

I can’t take it anymore… I thought I could make it through the next year plus of political posturing and be able to stay silent, but I realize not only that I cannot, but that I should not.

There is an evil wind blowing in this country right now, abetted by the 24 hour/7 day a week media frenzy. We have prominent political figures railing against “immigrants” and blaming “the other” for all of society’s ills. They claim that if only we can “kick them out” or “build a wall” everything will be perfect and we can “make America great again”. Obviously, there are multiple problems with this attitude… For one, even if you are from a Native American tribe, you are the ancestor of an immigrant. And if you are from European stock, your family tree has only recently planted roots on this continent, often after pushing out the people that were here before. Secondly, this is not a new strategy. Dictators and demagogues have used anger against “the other” throughout history to gain and keep power. Most notably in the 20th Century, by the Nazis in Germany. They blamed the Jews for the Fatherland being held down and for the dilution of the pure Aryan race. For them, the “Final Solution” was the answer “Kick them out, take them away. We don’t care what you do with them, just get rid of them and our society will be perfect again”.

Now the target for the demagogues in our political arena are brown skinned, primarily Latin, people from Mexico and Central/South America. Once again, according to the blowhards, “If only we can get them out and keep them out our society will be perfect again. I mean after all they are mostly criminals and rapists, the dregs of their home countries.” Unfortunately, it seems that there are large numbers of our fellow citizens who either actively or tacitly agree with this sentiment. Which brings me back to why I feel the need to speak out. Those of us who have known, worked with, and care about our brothers and sisters who come from other countries and cultures must not stand idly by and allow these misrepresentations and outright lies to go unchallenged.

Several years ago I was laid off from my job in the Atlanta, Georgia area. After several weeks of unsuccessfully looking for a job in my field, and finding it nearly impossible to support a family on state unemployment benefits, I got a job with a large landscaping company. I worked there for two years and stereotypically, many of my fellow employees were recent immigrants from Mexico, and Central and South America. I didn’t know their legal status, but some of the things I overheard during the work days led me to believe that not all of them had proper documentation. If you don’t know, landscaping is a low paying, backbreaking business. All day you are lifting, carrying, shoveling, walking, climbing, and driving. You get very few breaks and have to work in all kinds of weather for barely over minimum wage. During my time working there I came to know, and become good friends with many of my co-workers. My experience confirmed that people are people. There are good and bad in every group, however, the majority of the people I worked with were very hard working, with a generous and caring nature. We shared our toil, our food, and our life stories. The stories they told of their home countries and the often tangled journeys they had survived to get here, has often made me wonder… How bad would life have to be before I would leave my family, travel hundreds (if not thousands) of miles, to a country where I would live in a strange culture and not be able to speak or read the language? Then after fighting to get there I would be in constant fear of having my papers questioned, or missing a legal deadline, or in some other way making a mistake that would get me arrested and deported.

Now when I hear politicians decrying “free loading immigrants” I think of Anselma, who was a gourmet chef and had worked at a tourist resort in Cancun and was now planting flowers in the hot sun; of Jose who was always so happy and so proud of his new U.S. citizenship, but who came to work every day in tattered boots because he couldn’t afford new ones; and of all the others with their stories of dangers faced, families far away, and constant fears of making a misstep. When I hear this wind blowing, I weep and then I get really angry. I think, “These are real people you are talking about. Have you met them? Do you know how scared they are every day? Do you know how hard they work for so little money? Do you not realize that if you were able to make your words reality that much of the American economy would grind to a halt?”

That is why I cannot and should not stay silent, nor should you. Since we are a county of immigrants we must defend “the other” we must make America great again. Not by building walls or passing more restrictive laws, but by returning to the ideal of “Send us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to breathe free”. We must welcome the other, bring them into our society, work with them, learn from them, associate with them, and love them. Then, and only then, can we truly call America “great”. For that is when we will return to being “That beacon of freedom shining on the hill”.

Jeff Carter is a geologist working for a small consulting firm doing environmental investigation and clean up. He is also husband to Rev. Sharon and father of two grown children and currently lives in Kentucky, even though he continues to cheer for the Tennessee Volunteers.

We Let This Happen

July 24, 2015

Don’t tell me you’re shocked. Don’t tell me you’re surprised that this has happened again. Really. Because I won’t believe you.

Last night a middle-aged white man, same age as my husband, walked into a crowded movie theater and started shooting. Today, two people are dead, including the shooter, and more injured. The “silver lining” to this episode, I suppose, is that he didn’t have a large automatic weapon– reports say he had a handgun– or the death toll and injury list would be much higher.

But, really, are we surprised that this has happened again? How can we be, after Chattanooga, after Charleston, after Newtown, after Aurora. After all of the mass shootings that have happened over the last 20 years or so. After so many seemingly random acts of violence we as a nation have endured.

We lament over these events: why has this happened again?

We ignore the fact that it happens because we let it happen.

We let it happen any time a weapon gets into the hands of someone who has bad intent and/ or poor mental health and/ or an axe to grind. We let it happen any time we say “guns don’t kill people” or “the way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” and that becomes the end of the argument. We let it happen whenever we fan the flames of dissatisfaction in people who feel disenfranchised yet retain the actual power to make something like this happen. We let it happen when laws that are supposed to empower are used against us to instill fear and distrust.

We allow this to happen when we are fed by fear and distrust of our fellow human beings and we lap it up like mother’s milk.

We allow it to happen when we forget that the golden rule is neither “him who has the gold makes the rules” nor “do unto others– then split!” but is “do to others as you would have others do to you.”

We make it happen when we don’t educate our children, when we fill their minds with our own fears and our own skewed version of what is. When we allow our children to become steeped in the violent culture that surrounds us, a culture that devalues human life and dehumanizes the “other.” When we become so involved with our own lives that we forget to pay attention to the least of these.

So no, don’t tell me you’re surprised, or shocked that this has happened again. Angry, I’ll take, because maybe if we become truly angry we will take some action, we will take to the streets, we will raise our voices to the rooftops, not in lament but with a righteous fury crying out “No more!”

When a Terrorist Looks Like Me

June 19, 2015

My heart is heavy as I write this, as I’m sure it is for many of you out there.

I am an average person living a nice life in Northern Kentucky. I have a great spouse, two cats who keep me constantly entertained, two good jobs that pay my bills, two great kids (even if they do live in other states :)). I am priviledged to serve a small congregation of Presbyterians in Covington and be able to bring, on a regular basis, God’s word to them and to you who read my posts.

And as most of you know, I’m white.

I’m also appalled at the events of Wednesday night, when a young white man entered an historic black congregation, sat through a prayer meeting with them for an hour, and then stood up and started shooting, killing 9 people in attendance.

No, I’m more than appalled, I’m sickened. Furious. Deeply saddened.

To some, this may seem like one more mass shooting. To others, it’s a hate crime– or even worse, an act of terrorism.

And I must say, I have to agree. According to reports, the shooter went there with bad intent– “to shoot black people.” If that’s not a hate crime, if that’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is.

Terrorism doesn’t have to be jihad. It only has to inspire terror.

I can only imagine the terror those people felt when someone they welcomed into their midst and treated as a neighbor pulled out a gun and began to shoot. The terror of a 5 year old girl who played dead in order to survive.

That’s what terrorists do– they make people afraid and they do so intentionally and with bad intent. But when we think of “terrorist”, we white American folk, we tend to think “Muslim jihad” or “black gang member”, ISIS or Al Quida.

We don’t think KKK. We don’t think Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, Aryan Nations. We don’t think “fresh faced white American kid.”

I would call any mass killing, like the ones in Denver and Newtown, terrorism, based on the fact that they did inspire terror in thier victims. However, this to me fits the definition more closely because of the location and the victims chosen. In many ways it’s not unlike the bombing of the church in Birmingham in the 60s. We didn’t know what to do then. And we don’t know what to do now.

What do we do when the terrorist looks like us? It isn’t enough to call him deranged or mentally ill, unless we want to assign those labels to those who join ISIS or Al Quida. But we’re quick to make excuses when the terrorist looks like us. Instead, we need to look ourselves in the eye and admit that white culture breeds hatred sometimes, that Christian culture breeds hatred sometimes, just as other cultures do.

Our God is a God of justice, peace and compassion; but our God also speaks out of the whirlwind when we get things wrong, with a fierce righteousness that we can’t even begin to approach. If we can’t look at ourselves, at our white selves, and see where we are wrong and where we are complicit and where we are silent in the face of the racism and violence that goes with it, that exists in this country in the 21st century, then what kind of Christians are we? And how are we different than the ones who committ terrorist acts? I don’t know about you, but a whirlwind of shame with God’s voice coming out of it wouldn’t surprise me. (And I don’t mean the next hurricane or tornado or other natural disaster.)

Let us white folks, us white Christians, not be blind and silent anymore. Let us look at Dylann Roof and see him for what he is, and call him what he is, saying it outloud: He is a terrorist who looks like us.

Tiny Dancer

May 3, 2015

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.         -Psalm 149:1-3

My congregation  is mostly elderly but has a couple of young families with children. One of the children, Peyton, is high energy and sometimes a challenge to keep interested in what’s happening in church. She’s just one of those kids who seems to need to move all the time!

Lately, her mom has been singing in the choir, and I’ve noticed that when they are practicing on Sunday morning or singing the anthem during worship, Peyton just loves to move with the music. The choir practices in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, and Peyton will climb the steps to the chancel and dance around, moving in time to the music. Today I had put down an alphabet mat to help us with keeping still during the children’s time, and Peyton used it to dance on  while the choir was singing. No choreography or special movements, just joyfully moving the way she felt the music call her to move. What a wonderful way to express the joy she felt while hearing our choir sing– to me it is the essence of liturgical dance. She was expressing herself to the music and expressing the joy she felt in hearing it.

We don’t always have to sit still and quiet in church– even us Presbyterians! Often the music makes me want to dance as well, and I often sway to the music as we sing. We try to have quiet moments too, which gives us a chance to reflect, to pray and to feel the presence of God with us in worship. But sometimes it is good to move! And I’m so glad that Peyton can express her joy in this way.