I can’t watch anymore

I can’t watch any more. I dread turning on the news because I never know if there will be more pictures of flashing lights, tear-stained faces, people huddled with their arms around each other, more anguished parents and more heart-broken children.

I can’t listen any more as yet another mayor states (correctly) that this town is a nice town, a peaceable town, maybe the safest town in America.  And the mayor can’t imagine – how could anyone –  that something like this could happen here.

I can’t listen again as earnest reporters ask breathless and pointless questions. What was going through your mind? Can you describe how you were feeling? What was it like?

I can’t hear again how this gun or that piece of equipment was legally bought but illegally used. Or how this legally purchased weapon was illegally modified to increase its killing power.

I can’t listen to another devastated parent tell the world about their beloved child and just how loved, precious, and treasured that child is. I don’t even want to hear about the heroics of the first responders who bravely, incredibly, run toward gunfire instead of to safety. I can’t look at the pain etched on faces of police officers as they describe their colleague as a “cop’s cop.”

I don’t want to see another homemade memorial with flowers and candles and teddy bears, marking lives interrupted. And I can’t even listen to “Amazing Grace” (a hymn I used to love with its profoundly meaningful history) that has been taken over as the official mourning cry of a nation who doesn’t know how else to respond.  No matter how well sung, the song grates on my nerves as we mourn our dead but seem paralyzed as to other responses or solutions.

It happens again and again and again.

I am so tired.  I can’t watch. i can’t listen.

Because I know exactly how it will look.  I know precisely what people will say.

And I am so tired of it all.

The Rev. Eric Anderson wrote a song that expresses my thoughts beautifully. He writes, “I wrote this song after Las Vegas, and fifty-nine candles blazed across the front of our church. I recorded it after Parkland. I could have sung it again LAST WEEK. I don’t want to light another candle.”

I will think and I will pray.

I will work for gun control.

But I won’t watch those images any more.

 

The Face of America

The American women’s gymnastics team won first place in the World Gymnastics championships last week in Qatar. These fabulous young women vaulted, tumbled, leaped, and braved death-defying moves to outshine competitors from across the globe. While I often feel like I should raise my arms in victory any Sunday I manage the three steps up to the pulpit without tripping – yes! She stuck the landing! – they perform gravity-defying moves daily.  And they smile while doing it.

Their faces are captivating

When I watch this group of accomplished, determined, strong young women, I feel a sense of hope.

Their gymnastic ability is unparalleled.

They are world champions.

And they are the face of America.

Gymnastics 5

This team with skin tones of varying hues, with a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds – this is America. The true face of America is a collection of people from a wide variety of backgrounds who come together for a common cause. Our country has never been “white”. When the first immigrants arrived on these shores, they discovered native people who did not look like them.  And that was the beginning – for better or worse – of a new America.  Perhaps America was once racially pure – but that was long before European settlers came to this land.

Our country has a complicated history with race – the displacement and slaughter of Native inhabitants, the brutality and horror of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the ongoing racism against people of color. Our country continues to struggle with race.

But our gymnastics team demonstrates what is possible. They remind us that people from different backgrounds can work together to make a difference. They set an example of building bridges, of being united, and of finding (or creating) common ground.

Most of us will never cartwheel on a balance beam or fly between uneven bars. But all of us can be inspired by the determination and hard work of this young team and vow to represent our country with the same grace and unity.

Glimpses of God

I saw God today. It was not a dramatic, come-to-Jesus moment. It was just a glimpse, but it was enough to warm my heart and give me hope.

I looked out my window and noticed the sunlight filtering through the trees. As the autumn days get shorter, I am increasingly aware of the beauty of sunshine. So I dropped what I was doing and took these pictures to capture the moment.

These are not stunning vistas. They don’t really highlight spectacular fall colors. But this view spoke to me this morning.

As I took the time to really notice the sunshine hitting the branches and illuminating the few remaining leaves, I could feel my spirit lifting. That simple moment reminded me, oddly enough, that despite everything, the world is still spinning, the sun is still rising, the seasons are still changing. That constancy and dependability comforts me. There is an allure in knowing that God and God’s creation remain unchanging. It reminded me of the psalmist’s assurance, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

Although I would never turn down a dramatic landscape or a trip to a spectacular overlook, what I need is God breaking through in the everyday. I need to be reminded of God in the ordinary. I need to realize that I don’t have to travel someplace different or wait for a picture-perfect moment to find God. God is right here, in the messiness of my life.

It does not remove me from our violent and despairing world. But it reminds me I am not alone.

When I catch glimpses of beauty – in sunlight, twinkling stars, a child’s smile, a friendly greeting – it is an invitation to pause and give thanks. I believe God wants to offer encouragement every day. The only question is whether we notice.

Gratitude 1

Church of opposites

Can we agree that we live in troubling times? It’s hard to watch the news when we hear about

  • Bombs in the mail, spreading anger, fear, and threats.
  • Increasingly powerful storms causing widespread destruction and suffering.
  • Thousands of refugees seeking safety, food, and a better future for their children.
  • The pre-Election Day noise when candidates seem to thrive on mocking one another.
  • Rude interactions when people find it difficult to be patient, take time to listen, or pass along simple courtesies.
  • A growing opioid epidemic that is ruining the lives of too many people.

I don’t have an “app” for that.

But I do have a solution that gives me hope. The church. In this day and age of declining church attendance, waning interest in organized religion, and disdain for the damage done by too many church leaders, the church still has Good News of hope, forgiveness, and new life. I celebrate the difference the church can make in a sad and hurting world.

I would like to introduce you to the “church of opposites”. The world does not get the final word on what is true – God does. The church is called to proclaim that truth, which is often opposite of what the world seems to believe.

Just imagine what this “church of opposites” gets to say:

  • Instead of division, we offer unity.
  • Instead of indifference, we offer compassion.
  • Instead of anger, we offer peace.
  • Instead of isolation, we offer community and fellowship.
  • Instead of exclusion, we celebrate God’s welcome.
  • Where there is darkness, we will lift up God’s light.
  • When everyone just seems exhausted, tired of mindlessly rushing forward – let us offer Sabbath rest. Let us breathe in the goodness of God.
  • When people are tempted to fly off the handle, we can take a breath. Perhaps say a prayer, but at least take a moment to remember we are not alone.
  • Instead of ignoring or drowning out voices of pain, let us listen to the forgotten and lonely.
  • In times of despair, let us speak of God’s hope and God’s refusal to ever (ever!) give up on us.

This is the church of “opposites.” We are a vital voice in today’s noisy, angry world. We are called to offer God’s healing love and a welcome that values all of God’s people.

Sometimes people consider “church” to be a quaint, outdated notion that no longer matters. But I consider the church, filled with the power of God’s Holy Spirit, to be a force of powerful change and everlasting hope. Strength, courage, love, and compassion – those are “opposites” we need today.

Carefully choosing our mentors

Who is someone you admire? Who is someone you have learned from? Our congregation enjoys a mentorship program with the 9th and 10th graders in our confirmation class. Adults meet monthly with the teens to wrestle with the concept of living a faithful life in a sometimes chaotic world. They talk about Scripture, current events, and the joys and challenges of listening for God’s voice. These different generations listen and learn from one another.

I was blessed with a wonderful mentor as I prepared for ministry. The Rev. Dr. Bruce Bunker was the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Wallingford CT. When I was a young seminarian, he recommended thought-provoking books and essays and made time to listen to my questions and doubts. He welcomed me to the pulpit of our large downtown church so I could offer my first faltering attempts at preaching and then would diplomatically review the results. He arranged for speech lessons so my high-pitched, nervous squeak could evolve into a lower range that could convey authority and confidence. In an age when women clergy were still relatively rare, he encouraged me to pursue a solo pastorate. He believed in my call to ministry and that helped me believe it, too. His encouragement and faith in me was life-changing. His ministry was an inspiration to my own and I am forever grateful.

I wish everyone could have a mentor like that. Sadly, these days there are few public leaders I would wish to emulate or that I would recommend as a role model. If we believed the mocking tones of so many politicians, one might be tempted to believe that it is acceptable to callously ignore the feelings and worth of others.

This is a time to choose our mentors carefully. The loudest or most powerful person may not be the wisest choice. Dangerous, uncaring messages and hate-filled rhetoric fill the news. We are being asked to believe that callous indifference is the “new normal.” We may be tempted to think that our small efforts can have no impact on the growing tide of anger and division. But that is not true.

Instead, look for the behind-the-scenes workers – the ones who are feeding the hungry, visiting the lonely, and caring about the forgotten. Notice the people whose smile or kind words lift someone’s spirit. Those mentors are all around us – people making a difference despite the increasing odds against them. Look for those who faithfully live lives of compassion – not for recognition or glory, but because they feel called to care for God’s people.

Many people in positions that were traditionally revered as positive role models simply do not deserve that title. Let us not be discouraged by the multiple examples of indifference. Instead, let us be inspired by those who are acting in life-giving, hope-providing, difference-making ways. Let us choose our mentors wisely and be courageous enough to pass on a legacy of caring.

Celebrating friendship

Today I celebrate friendship. In our transient, temporary world, I have a real treasure – a lifelong friend, someone who has known me forever. Patti’s mother and my mother knew each other during their pregnancies, sixty years ago. They dreamed about their children becoming friends and growing up together.

And that’s what happened.

We rode the school bus together, went to Brownies (our mothers were co-leaders), and walked from school to our church for junior choir rehearsal. We rode bikes, climbed trees, and went trick-or-treating. We celebrated birthdays, went to Girl Scout camp, and spent snow days sledding and building snow forts. Our orthodontist scheduled our appointments so we could carpool; we assured one another that the embarrassment of braces would eventually pay off.

We were thrilled to be in the same fourth grade class with an eccentric, fascinating teacher, an older single woman who encouraged us to read, ask questions, travel, and learn. We survived middle school with stories of teachers that still make us laugh. High school included all the usual teenage drama but finally led to graduation.

By then we were ready to try something new so we went to separate colleges. Another friend realized how much we missed each other, so her birthday present to both of us was a bus ticket from my college in Pennsylvania to Patti’s college in Indiana (thanks, Suzanne). Our first college summer was filled with adventures as we worked as camp counselors at beautiful girls’ camp in Wisconsin.

And in the years since then? We have laughed and cried. We celebrated each other’s weddings. We supported one another through divorce, career changes, parenting, unemployment, and great loss.

While we are not yet “old,” we are wise enough to realize that our friendship is a gift. Despite living in different states, we make a point to see one another at least once a year. We started celebrating milestone birthday years – at 40, we traveled to a friend’s vacation home for a weekend getaway, at 50, we relaxed on a weekend cruise from Miami, and last week, to celebrate our 60th birthday year, we spent three days at the King Arthur Baking School in Vermont, learning how to bake pies and tarts.

Because the years seem to be going by more quickly, we’ve decided that we need to step up our birthday celebration game – we’re already thinking about what to do for our 65th.

Friendships change our lives.

Friends, those still living and those who are now a memory, are a gift.

Let us give thanks for friends.Patti 1

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
(Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10, NIV)

Time for compassion

Just for a moment, let’s leave politics out of it.  It’s been a long, trying, emotional couple of weeks as we have testimony from Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh.

I believe Dr. Blasey Ford, but even if you don’t, it is time to look at the women and girls around us with compassion.  Saint Paul talks about putting on an “armor of faith” (Ephesians 6). He describes it as including a breastplate of righteousness, a helmet of salvation and a sword of the Spirit.

Right now I would settle for a heart of compassion and a gentle hand of mercy. It’s time to put our armor down and instead experience vulnerability of listening to one another. Let’s stop drawing battle lines based on which testimony we believe. Instead, take a moment to recognize the millions of women and girls who are suffering flashbacks to their moments of powerlessness, their experiences with violence, and their journeys into shame and degradation. Forget about arming ourselves for further arguments and division. Let’s hear those who are saying #metoo.

I have heard from many women who were either unable to listen to Dr. Blasey Ford’s description of attempted rape because of the painful memories it recalled or who found themselves riveted as they heard someone else describe the terror they thought only they knew about.

You can discount Dr. Blasey Ford’s words if you wish. But you can’t ignore the legions of women who have experienced violence and who remained silent because of fear or humiliation.

If someone has a story to tell, the greatest gift you can offer is simply to listen. You don’t need to have answers or wisdom. You probably don’t need to say anything except, “I hear you. I believe you. I’m sorry you experienced that.”

In the compassionate version of the world I yearn for, we offer one another solidarity, a listening ear, and a tender heart.  We assure women and girls who have not been heard or believed that we are now listening. And we remind them that they are beloved children of God – strong, valuable, lovable, and deserving of dignity.

That’s the world I want to live in.  We create that world every time one of us opens our hearts to compassion and caring.