Unaddressed: Letters and Invitations

Dear World ~ We are a brilliantly diverse, endlessly fascinating population of people. Such unique ethnicities, languages and cultures… yet… one big global family, made in God’s image, meant to love and be loved. So where is the love? I fear we’re on the brink of a worldwide shortage. And I doubt there’s a single soul on this planet that couldn’t use some TLC right now. Let’s be gentle with each other… and give a little grace, shall we?

Dear America ~ You need to get your head on straight. Where’s the common decency? What happened to “we hold these truths to be self-evident… that all men are created equal.” We never even got there. And now it seems we’re slipping back. When did we lose sight of “liberty and justice… for all?” We have to do better. Which means, we have to be better. (God help us.) Only then will liberty, equity, security and justice prevail. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous.” Oh how far we’ve strayed…

Dear Church ~ When the Gospel becomes secondary, we’re undone. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing: Jesus. Not pontificating or politicking or pursuing the American Dream. You know what our nation needs? Hope. Help. Humility. Healing. We need less condescension/conflict/chaos and more Christlikeness: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.” Jesus taught us to pray and pull together, help shoulder each others’ burdens, tenderly care for one another – His very body. But we continue to inflict pain with repeated acts of self-harm. Let’s bandage our unsightly/self-inflicted/ superficial cuts and get on with tending the critically wounded around us. (In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a bloody battlefield.)

Dear BIPOC/Neighbors ~ I don’t even know what to say. Except… I’m sorry. I see your anguish and your anger. I hear your pleas and protests and prayers. But I admit I haven’t given you my full attention before now. I’m sorry my prejudgments and prejudices have hurt you. (In ways I’m becoming aware of… and ways I know I’m still blind to.) I’m learning that oppression comes in many shapes and sizes: profiling, poverty, limited access and opportunity, inadequate housing/healthcare/ education… I’m sorry I didn’t notice sooner, listen better, learn more, or love you enough to work harder – alongside you – to pursue God’s good and pleasing and perfect will: equity and justice.

Dear White Neighbors ~ I see you (many of you) trying. Trying to learn, understand, engage. Bless you. (I mean that. Because some folks don’t even bother.) But let’s be honest for a sec. We don’t get it. All this researching and reading and reflecting can’t duplicate experience. So let’s acknowledge that. (And by all means, keep researching, reading and reflecting.) If we really want to be allies of BIPOC, we need to shut up… and listen. Show up… and serve. Serve those who’ve been underserved for too long. Be willing to become uncomfortable… to make others more so. Start making room (in our boardrooms, family rooms and hearts) so everyone gets a fair shot. Let’s ensure that this land of ours becomes a land of liberty, peace and prosperity, not just for some or most… but all.

Dear Law Enforcement Officers ~ I’m sorry you’re suffering because of the horrific sins of a few (who happen to wear the same uniform). You already do a thankless job: upholding and enforcing the law in our communities (and yes, policing within your ranks). And now you’re being vilified for it. Enduring scorn and spite, suffering insults and assaults… just for going to work. I know nothing I say will make that easier to bear. I don’t have any magic words, other than these two: I care. Thank you for working to protect American lives… regardless of race/religion/ political affiliation/sexual orientation/immigration status/socioeconomic class. Please stay on the job.

Dear Jordan ~ So many times during your growing-up years I meant well, but didn’t do very well. Because honestly, I didn’t know where to begin. I saw the prejudgments and prejudice, witnessed bias and bigotry… but I didn’t allow my horror and heartache to be used for good by God, to spur action. Thank you for your unspoken forgiveness and forbearance. What a gift. My desperate hope is that you/I/our family will be conduits for healing, grace and peace in our community and world. I love you all the way up to heaven and back a million zillion times, J… and I’m praying for you always.

Dear Jesus ~ Forgive me. I so often do what I don’t want to do… and don’t do what I ought. You (always) love (everybody) perfectly. And I fall dreadfully short. With your life and death, you taught that loving means sharing, serving, sacrifice. For the needy and neglected, the marginalized and mistreated. You crossed cultural and racial and gender gaps. again and again, to personally deliver that love. Help me follow your lead. I don’t want to just believe; I want to do what you said. Because I know…

Faith without works is dead.

(And damaging too.)

Too often I’ve talked the talk… but not walked the walk. I’ve sat on the sidelines, out of faithlessness or fear. I’ve chosen my own personal comfort over compassion for others. I’ve made excuses, rather than sacrifices.

Forgive me… and give me a fresh start.

Yours (truly),

Wendy

P.S. Friends, if you want to do a little good but aren’t sure where to start… pray.

I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do… I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things. (Mother Teresa)

Let’s get on our knees… and then roll up our sleeves.

In Order to (Re)Form a More Perfect Union

I don’t know about you, but my heart can’t take much more. It’s battered and bruised… And bracing for worse.

It feels like 2020 could be the year of our undoing.

Collectively, we were already reeling from the deadly destruction/ ecomomic devastation/overwhelming despair of COVID…

104,000 dead.

Millions unemployed.

Suicide attempts.

Overdoses.

Isolation.

Burnout.

And then came three consecutive stories of black Americans killed… for no apparent reason.

Amaud Arbery… out for a run.

Breonna Taylor… in her own home.

George Floyd… pinned to the street, gasping for air.

Three human beings created in God’s image… beautiful and beloved, all.

I haven’t seen the video of George Floyd’s last minutes. I cannot bring myself to watch it. (Because just reading about it nearly gutted me.)

A Gospel-sharing, bridge-building, neighbor-loving “gentle giant,” George Floyd took his last breath on earth Monday. Now he’s safely home in heaven with Jesus… and his mama.

But his death begs the question:

How are we still here? In America? In 2020?!

Stuck in this cesspool of racism, injustice and needless violence?

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to stay afloat. The flood of emotions is coming fast and furious. I’m grappling/praying/hurting/ fuming/crying/pleading/grieving. Deeply. Sometimes all in the space of five minutes.  But the deepest, darkest valley I keep finding myself in is… fear.

I’m afraid for the people I love whose skin just happens to be darker than mine.

Afraid they will encounter the wrong person at the wrong time… and wind up injured.

Or jailed.

Or dead.

And that’s why I can’t just sign a petition or post a meme and move on. I know I need to ask God’s Spirit to search me and uproot my own prejudices and pre-judgments. I need to confess my own predisposition to dismiss or devalue some of my neighbors. I need to pray against my tendency toward complacency-by-comfortableness.

I need to listen more, learn more, do more. Where I can, when I can, however I can. Because…

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)

A couple days ago, I re-read Reverend King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to some of his fellow clergymen. His words are haunting:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

He goes on to write:

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

Oh LORD, help me be bold for you. Because…

Equity and justice are the foundation of your throne. ~ Psalm 89:14 (NET)

Help me be brave for my neighbor. Because…

No life is more “valuable” than another. (No life is more “disposable” either.) Our immeasurable worth is God-given and intrinsic (because we were made in His brilliant, beautiful image.)

Help me live and love like Jesus.

Genuinely.

Generously.

Help me do the right thing. Even when it makes me – or someone else – uncomfortable.

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives…
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

~ Isaiah 58:1-8, The Message

Let’s be justice-seekers and bridge-builders and hope-givers. Right where we are. However we can. 

Let’s be humble repenters… and revolutionaries for love. Lavish, lifesaving love.

Right in our own little corner of the world.

Maybe that won’t be the catalyst for sweeping change… but it will make a difference.

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.

Approaching the boy he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”

The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

The man laughed and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then smiling at the man, he said …

“I made a difference to that one.”

2020 could be the year of our re-making.

Let’s get started.

Wendy

P.S. Condemning oppression and police brutality doesn’t make me anti-law enforcement. I am praying fervently for our police officers, firefighters and National Guard tonight too. Calling for an end to violent, destructive rioting doesn’t mean I don’t support the protestors or understand (that I don’t understand) their outrage and grief. I’m praying for peace… and change. Join me?

Pacifists and Warmongers

The nations rage. Kingdoms totter. 

Sounds pretty accurate.

An engulfing fire. An erupting war. A trembling world. It’s like we’ve been holding our collective breath for days…

I feel faint.

And the background noise is deafening.

Moments like these beg for discernment, restraint, prayer.

Instead, provocation and contempt threaten to overthrow us. (If our socio-political divide grows any wider, we’ll likely do ourselves in. Our enemies need not exert any effort at all.)

I went to journalism school… and I can’t stomach the evening news. But I can’t bear not knowing what in the world is going on either. I find myself taking little sips of headlines and big gulps of scripture. (Which is where I read the line about nations raging and kingdoms tottering. Prophetic, don’t you think?)

Peace on earth ought to be the prayer on every tongue and the hope in every heart. (“Love your neighbor” leaves no room for the bloodthirsty as far as I can tell.)

But here’s what I don’t understand.

The pacifists.

Don’t get me wrong. With every fiber of my being, I long for peace. I pray for it. That peace would prevail on earth… as in heaven.

(Pretty sure that’s what God wants… His Hebrew name literally means Prince of Peace.)

But in case you haven’t noticed… this ain’t heaven. And there’s a whole lot of dark and ugly going on around here.

And while I ache for peace and global good will, it seems spotty at best. (Yes, a few bad apples can – and do – spoil the whole bunch. And the wormy, rancid, rotting remains are creating noxious fumes. *Insert poison warning here.)

Sometimes there’s good reason for anger.

Cruelty ought to invoke an outcry.

Atrocities ought to elicit outrage.

Evil ought to evoke opposition.

And while I’d love it if throwing up peace signs and sending good vibes and hashtagging #cooltobekind would solve those vexing problems, the reality is…

Sometimes we’ve got to fight.

Please understand, I’m not saying unequivocally that this is one of those times. I don’t know if it is. I’m not privy to all of the information… and I’m certainly not omniscient. (Nor are you, by the way.)

But I know this:

If no one will take up arms to serve, protect and defend… we leave ourselves vulnerable to any and every power that rises up against us.

And ultimately we will succumb to oppression.

Or annihilation.

(That’s the story where no one lives happily ever after… because no one lives.)

The end.

*******

Then there’s the warmongers.

Not only can I not understand them; I can’t conceive they’re anything other than stark raving mad.

War is horrific.

Those who’ve been there say it’s a living hell.

(You can take their word for it… Or you can Google PTSD and suicide rates among combat veterans. Both provide a pretty clear picture.)

Even for the “right reasons” (combatting genocide, for instance), war is ghastly and sickening and barbaric.

And anyone who thinks otherwise is certifiable.

And dangerous.

(Given my preference I like people who are serene… and sane.)

Our democracy (imperfect as it is) bestows on us vast freedom. Freedom to say and do and be who we want: pacifists… warmongers… or anything in between.

We can disagree about every topic under the sun. (And boy, do we.)

But can we please agree on this:

Common decency.

You know, good old-fashioned respectfulness… bestowed civilly on one and all. The people like us. The ones who aren’t. And the folks who afford us these freedoms…

Our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines.

They aren’t the ones starting the wars. They’re the ones trying (desperately) to finish them.

So they can return home.

And so home remains safe… secure… free.

JFK put it this way:

Word to the Nation: Guard zealously your right to serve in the Armed Forces, for without them, there will be no other rights to guard.

Well said, Mr. President.

The brave souls serving in the Middle East and around the world (and those ready to deploy) deserve nothing less than our deepest gratitude and our strongest support.

To those flesh-and-blood heroes, I simply say:

Godspeed.

And I cover them in prayer.

(My youngest son will soon be among them. I’m both proud… and petrified.)

When I was a young girl, I learned a beautiful song in church.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. With God as our Father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.

If we truly wish for peace, we’d all do well to start there.

Blessed are the peacemakers…

And the peacekeepers.

Praying for their protection… and peace on earth.

Join me?

Wendy

P.S. For what avail the plough or sail, or land, or life, if freedom fail? ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Intersection of Politics & Religion

The way I see it, there’s a four-way stop at the intersection of politics and religion.

In order to move forward, everybody in every lane needs to come to a full and complete stop, look both left and right (double-check those blind spots) and proceed with caution…

Otherwise there’s bound to be a horrific crash.

(With casualties.)

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying the two shouldn’t intersect. I’m simply saying we should be cautious. I cherish the far-reaching rights our democracy has afforded us, including freedom of speech. We are a country of ideals and ideas. (And yes, a handful of idiots too. < Let’s just try to ignore them.) You have the freedom to believe what you like and speak your mind about it, anytime, anywhere. And so do I. And that’s a good thing.

But we need to be careful or we’re going to lose the graces of mutual respect and collective strength in all of our clamoring to be heard and heeded.

Once upon a time, common courtesy was…

Common.

*sigh*

In the heartbreaking aftermath of 9/11, we witnessed something truly extraordinary. The profound comfort and consolation our country found in this one (big) little gift:

Togetherness.

(Remember that?)

Somehow that solace succumbed to an outbreak of sputtering, spewing, ranting and reviling in the public square. Cable news became a round-the-clock purveyor of angry rhetoric, relentless accusations, and irresponsible/inflammatory/biased/bombastic reporting. And the emergence of social media provided a platform for all sorts of strife.

It’s an alarming cultural shift…

And it’s effectively eroding the “United” in our States.

There’s a rising tide of “us” versus “them,” rather than “we the people.” And it’s threatening to flood/drown/destroy America the beautiful… from sea to shining sea.

I know there are some folks that share my faith who struggle to accept those who have rejected it. (And as much as I’d love for everyone I know to experience the amazing grace and peace I’ve found in Jesus, I willingly acknowledge that each one gets to decide for themselves who He is and what they believe.) Many of those same folks can’t fathom how other people who do share their faith can disagree with their positions and politics. Christians on both sides of the political spectrum seem stunned that their brothers and sisters could possibly oppose what they perceive is the “right” way to think and vote.

And that’s when they/we/I tend to get reckless, run a red… and T-bone a big blue Buick.  Underneath all the wreckage, there’s a mangled mass of pride, prejudice and judgment.

Not saying our deeply-held convictions shouldn’t influence our political views. Not at all. I’m simply saying we shouldn’t be trying to manipulate our theology – or worse yet, scripture – to “fit” our political views. (Though some try mightily, manipulating God is not an option… Thankfully, He cannot and will not be crammed or contorted into a manmade container.)

Abraham Lincoln said this during the Civil War, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

And I daresay the only way to know what and where God’s side is… is to walk with Him.

Pray. Soak up His word. Follow His example. (If we really want to know WWJD, we can read His authorized biography in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.)

In order to align with God’s cause, we’ve got to abide by His Book. We have to search it, study it, ponder it, pray it and (here’s the hard part) live it. The whole of it… not just the “sliver” we select to serve our purpose, promote our cause, advance our agenda.

There’s a notable difference between religion and a relationship with Jesus. One is subject to the whims of mere mortals. The other isn’t.

“Will Christians turn once again toward an approach that imposes its will on the rest of society? By doing so we would betray our founder, who resisted a temptation to authority over “all the kingdoms of the world,” and who died a martyr at the hands of a powerful state. In the words of Miroslav Volf, “Imposition stands starkly at odds with the basic character of the Christian faith, which is at its heart about self-giving—God’s self-giving and human self-giving—and not about self-imposing.” ~ Philip Yancey, Christians and Politics: Uneasy Partners

I think there’s some pretty clear directives in scripture about who’s supposed to do what around here. And I think some people (myself included, more often than I care to admit) think it’s their responsibility to do God’s job. But the older I get, the more I understand that I can’t possibly. (I don’t have enough foresight, strength or smarts. And besides that, I’m sorely lacking in mercy and patience.)

So I’ve decided to let God be Judge…

Jesus be Savior…

His Spirit be the One who corrects and re-directs.

(None of the above is in my job description.)

My mission is simply this:

Love God.

Love people.

(All of them.)

Whether we agree or not.

In middle age, I’m finally learning something I wish I’d learned a long time ago:

How to lovingly disagree.

Loving well doesn’t mean never getting angry. Jesus did… particularly in the face of hypocrisy, injustice and greed. At one point, He got so furious He flipped over tables in the temple and drove out hucksters trying to turn a profit in the name of religion. (Hmm. A handful of media-mogul/mega-church preachers might want to keep this in mind.)

Absolutely, there’s a time to fight for what you believe in.

But I’m convinced that some people want to fight about everything. They don’t choose their battles; they invite – or incite – conflict. (Not sure why. Attention-getting? Anger problem? Power grab?) They’re habitual pot-stirrers/troublemakers/flame-throwers… and that’s not doing anybody (including them) any good.

But here’s the beautiful thing. We don’t have to take the bait.

We can simply ignore the insults/irritation/idiocy and just keep swimming…

Surfing…

Scrolling.

And if we choose to engage in meaningful, constructive conversation – and why bother with anything else? – we need to…

Listen.

Really listen.

And learn the fine art of loving disagreement.

Or we’re going to do ourselves in.

If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. ~ Jesus 

Listen, we don’t have to agree to stick together. We don’t have to share political views to care about one another. We don’t have to see eye-to-eye on every issue to stay united. We don’t even have to like each other… to be respectful and kind.

May we pledge ourselves to remaining…

Indivisible.

May we celebrate both our diversity and our unity.

To those with whom I vehemently disagree, I just want to say this (loud and clear):

I’m happy to be stuck with you!

Wendy

P.S. “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” ~ St. Augustine