Fusion: The Art of Glass and Grace

“All the arts we practice are apprenticeship.  The big art is our life.” 

–M. C. Richards

The Fusion Retreat that Armandee Drew and I are leading Nov. 15-16th (as part of the Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta) uses the metaphor of glass as a way to enrich our spiritual lives. While retreat participants learn new spiritual techniques, they will create a fused dichroic glass art piece as a reminder of the wholeness and unique depth of their spiritual work.

My first Fusion experience was illuminating. I had placed a lifetime of blame on certain people because of child safety issues in my past. Physically walking through my timeline, I realized that this is why I fill with rage when I see children in danger, and why I’ve given my life serving at-risk youth. My brokenness was always working for equilibrium, always trying to maintain the security that I had lost at such a young age. My inner (insecure) self was always screaming: “Notice me!”  This is why I’m so rattled now with what is going on in our world. The things we have held dear and relied on for security seem to be crumbling.

As we “take notice” of the various materials and components in our lives, moving us apart from our creator and each other, the impulse is to work harder, longer, and more fervently. Yet the real power is in solitude. The real power is facing the joys, fears, doubts, and pains and affirming them as the pieces that make us who we are, and bring us to where we need to be.

Our openness, and attentiveness to our inner selves brings us face to face with God’s grace–God’s unmerited favor.

As we attend to the things (experiences, emotions, fears) that have made us who we are and even welcome them, then we can lay them on the kiln floor and ask God to do God’s work, rounding out the sharp edges, subduing the bold colors and bringing forth the overlooked.

God promises that when we offer our lives to the kiln of God’s spirit, the distinct parts of it will be integrated into a unique whole. It’s as if God is saying, “Notice Me. Lay it all out and watch me work.” 

I love the squeals we hear when people take their fused glass  pieces out of the kiln. “How did God do that?” is what they are really expressing. And that is what grace is, isn’t it?  It’s us placing our shards and junk in a pile, and God making something beautiful out of it. God does it every day. But when we take notice and squeal at the absurdity of it all, we are participants in God’s grace. That’s when the connection is made. God gives us favor that we didn’t deserve and we finally take notice.

When we notice our life as a work of God’s art, it is a step into graceful living. And when we see it happening over and over again, we start to see with a new set of eyes. Before long we want to invite others along on the journey of grace. And as we take action and share the grace we have freely received, we see it playing out on a global level as well.

Join us. You will meet new friends, see with new eyes, and even have a fused glass piece as a way to remember that ours is a God of grace, wonder and hope. God fuses our lives with others to form the most beautiful intricate creations!

TIKKUN OLAM-3 STEPS TO REPAIR THE WORLD

The question this season is: What are your New Year’s resolutions?

My answer is: Asking people, “How are you moving toward health this year?” I believe the more we ask each other that question, the more we will move toward the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam–World Repair.

 

Tikkun Olam is interpreted in Wikipedia as “an aspiration to behave and act constructively and beneficially,” but I believe Michael Jackson’s song, “Man in the Mirror” puts the timeless message best: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message can be any clearer: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”

 

My step toward health this year will is to order my calendar and life around things that are restorative: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, humility and self-control.

 

You see I have a tendency to get way over-involved in life. I offer unwanted advice to my family and friends. I jump in and take charge in situations where others have a different timetable of progress. And before long, I am so over-engaged in things I am passionate about that I am exhausted and resentful. I chastise myself. Why do I keep doing this?

 

My answer is—I love all these people, causes, and engagements. But I keep piling them on the plate until I get sick, so much so that I explode into resentment, envy, and judgment. The problem is not the things on my plate. The problem is my lack of priorities and portion control.

 

Nutrarians prioritize meals by putting healthy things on their plates first—salad, veggies, fruits. Then you add the proteins, fats, etc. to make sure you are getting the proper nutrients. Spiritual health is the same way. I need to put things on my plate that bring health first. Those should take up most of the space.

 

The Jewish tradition spells out 3 major ways to accomplish Tikkum Olam—world health:

Observing Sabbath

Ethical Behavior

Tzedakah—charitable giving

 

My family has kept Sabbath for 30+ years now. When the children were young we called it “Family Day”. When they were teenagers it morphed into “FFF-Forced Family Fun.” Whatever the name, the message was clear: delighting in the things that God created for us to enjoy was restorative. Whether we walked in the woods, went to a museum, or had a picnic together, the day was a marker in the hamster wheel of life, when we stopped, took notice and gave thanks for the things most important to us. Sabbath reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. The world can turn without us for one day without falling apart. It’s hard to believe and coordinate, but once you begin, you can’t live without Sabbath because you arise restored and ready to give life to the new week.

 

Sabbath-keeping is the first step in the start of a promising new year. The Rabbinical Assembly’s Prayerbook, Siddur Sim Shalom, published “A Prayer for Our Country” that includes the powerful verses which are an example of ethical and charitable living, a great model for Tikkun Olam:

 

“May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony to banish all hatred and bigotry, uniting all people in peace and freedom, helping them to fulfill the vision of your prophet: ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war anymore.’”

 

May this be our prayer for 2019. May we join together in Tikkum Olam. I ask you, “How are you moving toward health this year?”

PARADISE LOST

Suitcases were packed, to go boxes were stuffed, and smiles were fading as we started our goodbyes. It’s the hardest part of family get togethers. Being a planner, I start the process with spreadsheets of food delegations and lodging possibilities weeks ahead. Everyone can say they had a part in the feast from the pies to the turkey, although the prized dish in our family are the stuffed grape leaves and cabbage rolls we make together.

 

Did it all go perfectly? No. I eliminated “perfect” from my vocabulary long ago. Did it go smoothly? Not really. But that is not the point. Gratitude is the point.

 

Before the holidays began, I shook my hand at God and asked why everything that I had worked for years to accomplish had to happen in a two week span. Couldn’t God have adjusted the timetable a bit? My book, The Sea Glass Gift, was launched in ATL and Melbourne with release parties and a book fair. Nearly 700 people came to an Inter-Faith Thanksgiving event that has been in the works for months, and my husband’s 60th birthday party all happened within the same two week period! Add to that his extended family, my extended family and our children were staying with us for the weekend. Really God!?!

 

In all of these events I learned myriads about patience and gratitude. For instance, on Thanksgiving, I could spend my time focusing on  the late guests or the insufficient amount of oyster gravy we made, but instead, I choose to see neighbors family and friends sharing stories of blessings. My neighbor could focus on his cancer, but he chose to celebrate with us his last chemo treatment. We could focus on our dogs who chased each other into the clubhouse and almost knocked people over, but we managed to smile as we recollected how it is the closest thing we have to watching our infant children play together on the floor, now that there are no children around.

 

There are many things on my wish list I didn’t get to this year: long conversations with my very deep children, a good game of Catan (I was too emotionally exhausted at night from the holiday coordination), more than one good healthy political conversation where we hugged and thanked each other for the ability to talk civilly across “enemy lines”, and more of that oyster gravy for the stuffing. But gratitude is all about focusing on what we have “in paradise” instead of what is “lost” in our dreams of perfection. With family, friends and food around, I’m always in paradise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mismatched

Last Sunday I put on a stunning outfit–an expensive hand me down top (from a friend) with a pair of pants from my closet–and I walked out the door proudly. I taught adult Sunday school at church, and even led the children’s sermon. It was not until coffee hour, when I realized that my top did not match my bottoms. The mismatch was glaringly obvious in the sunlight.

My spirits dropped. How could I have been so blind? I recalled how dark my bedroom was. It is safe and comfy—my favorite place of refuge. But the light has never been adequate. I had never noticed how that affected my vision until then.

A very sweet woman came up and said that I looked beautiful. I thanked her, and said, “Even when my clothes are mismatched.” She laughed and said, “I do that sometimes too. The light in my room is totally different than the light outside where I see the true colors.”

That event has stayed with me all week. It started me thinking…how many other times in my life have I been blinded by the dark cozy security of my room? And I’m not just talking clothes.

I select the right top (thought/belief system) for each occasion. And then I put on the bottoms (actions) to match. Now, on most days, the window’s light in my room allows me to look good. I am well integrated—what I say I believe matches how I act. But on other days, wow! I really blow it. When I walk into the sunlight, it’s disturbing how mismatched I am. And people can see it.

It’s like what I see happening in our present political situation. If our top is being a good Christian American, then our bottom needs to match. If we say we are a Christian nation, then we need to stay consistent. Jesus’ words in Matt. 25:34-40 clearly say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me.” The scriptures are filled with decrees about the poor, alien, stranger, and oppressed (all which apply to refugees and immigrants) (Jeremiah 22:3-5Zechariah 7:8-10Isaiah 16:4Matt. 25:34-40Heb. 13:1-2James 2:5).

Now, I know it’s hard to determine what the “Christian” thing to do is in certain circumstances. The Bible can be complicated. But perhaps its because we are dressing in inadequate light. So let’s simplify it. Let’s keep the words and actions of Jesus as the light to guide our way. We say he is our savior. We say our lives should be a reflection of his, so at the risk of being called a Bibliologist instead of a Christian, let’s keep Jesus at the center.

I understand we need to take measures for security. But at what cost?

Make no mistake: the world is watching. Our children are watching. Our nation has always been a beacon of liberty, freedom and justice for all people. Our statue of liberty holds a torch that illuminates the world. Her bottom has engraved “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses….But let’s admit it, at this time in history, our clothing is ill-fitting, mismatched and filthy. We may feel safer, but is it at the cost of thousands of lives fleeing retribution and injustices from the same people we are fighting? At the cost of alienating our allies or creating even more enemies.

We have lost the basic thing that made us who we are—a land of immigrants, a melting pot–where all are treated equally, with the same unalienable rights by our Creator for the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our court system’s foundation is “innocent until proven guilty”.

We have lost the very compassion and embracing arms of Jesus who said in Luke 4:18 “The Holy Spirit has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor,

freedom for the prisoners,

recovery of sight to the blind,

to set the oppressed free, and

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That sounds pretty close to refugees and immigrants to me! Those are who he came to free. And if we are not standing for them, then we are not standing for Jesus.

If we are more concerned about our own survival, security and comfort than we

are for the very people that Jesus says he came for, then our clothes are horribly mismatched.

The wardrobe we choose right now as a nation will represent us beyond our lifetime. I see us putting on suspicion, division, hatred, and bullying, and I ask: Are those our true colors? When we build walls to imprison others, are we doing that to Christ? (Matt. 25:40) Again, I ask you, do you think our America’s wardrobe is matched? Are we dressing in adequate light?

It seems to me our new administration is choosing the wrong wardrobe for all that I believe Jesus and our Constitution hold dear. I’m not sure how to proceed. I’d like to be graceful like the lady after church and say, “You look beautiful today.” But frankly, I can’t keep quiet anymore. We do not look beautiful or radiant.

America, our children are watching. Our world is watching. We may be working toward someone’s definition of “Great Again.” But at what cost? I say it’s time to shine a light in our closet.

Let’s come to the table to discuss Jesus’ words. Let’s analyze our mismatched clothing, admit our distorted vision, and make some changes. I’d love to come to a Table of Hope to discuss these things civilly, and I encourage you to do the same. But please, with the guidelines we use at our Table Talk Theology program at our local pub. 1) Listen more than you speak. 2) Seek to understand more than to be understood, 3) Speak as if Jesus is in the room, because he is.

Perhaps we need to take off some garments first (and be vulnerable). Let’s lay down our animosities. Let’s walk into the light and humbly ask how Jesus would proceed. When asked what the greatest commandment of all was, Jesus said, “Love the Lord, God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

I believe Paul said it best in Col. 3:12-17. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. “

When we put on love as our clothing, our vision changes. Our bottoms match our tops. And when they match, the people/communities who wear them bring light into the dark closets of life so others can find their way (and appropriate clothing). That’s what the statue of liberty’s torch stands for…illumination for the world.

Perhaps if we step into the sunlight, we can see the true colors that our country was built upon. Perhaps we can come to the table with new ideas like: instead of building walls and keeping people out, we could be using the same money to hire more INS workers to vet and process all the ones who want to come in. The sooner they are processed, the sooner they can become part of this already great nation–paying taxes in exchange for a rich community just like we enjoy.

Let lady liberty’s light shine. Let Jesus’ light shine. Walk into the sunlight, America!

Black and Blue

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I’m a mandated reporter, “one who is required by law to report reasonable suspicions of abuse.” As an educator of at risk youth for over 30 years, I’ve seen just about everything with regard to children and abuse. Things that still haunt me at night if I don’t pray through it. I’m here to report another abuse today.

The symptoms: black and blue marks all over the victim. I’ve noticed them before but they were like old wounds. These are very distinct and new. My problem is I don’t know whom to call. I’ve spoken up before, many times, to all the right authorities. But no one will really listen, and nothing gets done. And this child is in danger, real danger.

This child’s name is Liberty. She is beautiful–dark skinned and blue eyed. She has a captivating smile and a heart that loves and helps everyone. That’s what gets her in trouble. She hangs out on the lower edges of society—so she sees a lot of police, caseworkers, and EMT’s.

Her life has not been and easy one. She has seen some pretty grueling things–riots and war, and even her own family pulling triggers on each other.

But Liberty still hopes.
She presumes everyone’s innocence above their guilt.
She gives people second chances, time and time again.
Her teachers and preachers keep telling her she can be anything she wants to be and everyone is equal in America. But she is starting to wonder if it is all a lie.

What if the things you put your hope and security in start to fail you?
What if you can’t trust anything anymore? What if all the systems are broken that you once believed were put in place to protect you? Then what do you do?

What if each day you wake up to find that people are blinded by their own fears, guilt, and shame to notice your cries? You have become black and blue from the blows of hatred, cynicism, greed and poverty.

I, as a mandated reporter, am horrified because I am beginning to see the world that she sees. We have been so busy blaming each other, choosing sides and demonizing the other, that we didn’t hear her screams. We have done the worst thing we can do for her health. We have turned on ourselves. We have beaten each other up until the hatred has festered and oozed on to our children. It has bled into our government, our political candidates. It has infected our school systems, our media, our healthcare systems and even our protective systems.

Now Liberty is in critical condition. What she needs most from us is to join together in solidarity for truth, justice, and peace. She’s in the ambulance now… and now I’m tired of pointing fingers at whom to blame. I just want her well.

We have the power to save her. It’s called prayer, hope love, encouragement, respect, and unity. It really is her only hope.

Let’s come together in a safe space and take time to shout out to the people in blue, who put their lives on the line every day for our safety and security. Let them know you care about their well-being. Pray for them, their safety and the safety of their children.

Pray that they will have the courage to speak out against the brothers in blue that taint their good name. It’s a risky proposition. It hurts to speak up…you could lose your job, your life your means of supporting your children,

But then again…they are all our children…black, red, white, and blue…all deserve respect, honor, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s what our country promises…regardless if they follow the same religion, political or sexual persuasion or same color of skin.

But then, we need to shout out to the black men and women in our lives, like my friends who are fellow social workers, teachers and preachers, who honestly are fearful each day for the safety of their husbands and sons on the streets.

When I used to teach teenagers their rights, specifically about how to respectfully refuse a police search of their car, my friends asked if I was trying to get their children killed. Their very words, “You may have that right as a white person, but as a black male, you are putting your life in your hands, refusing a search, no matter how politely you say it.” These are professionals voicing their concerns, not thugs or gang members.

There is true fear in the air, and it is affecting our children, our very precious Liberty.

If we want to do something, we can unify and speak up. We were taught how to do it by Dr. Martin Luther King. He cared that our children were suffering …
their fathers and brothers were being hung from trees because our country was caught in the circus of hate. I’ve lived through that once. And I will do anything in my power to keep us from going down that road again.

America, let’s be honest with ourselves long enough to open our eyes to the racism and demonization that is killing us. The police are not the enemy, nor are the blacks.

What is the enemy is the hate, disrespect, and intolerance for others who don’t look or act like us. Because we have not lived the culture of another, we judge it as wrong. We have scales on our eyes – which are our own biases against other generations, religions, cultures and systems. Whereas once we all held high and waved the flag of diversity proudly, now we separate and create new flags of division– Black, blue, and rainbow colored. There is nothing wrong with those flags. It is good to identify and have a sense of belonging. But not at the cost of being united. Not if waving those flags are killing our children.

But we can change that. We can educate each other. We can listen and open our eyes to our own judgments. We can be the miracles that this world, this country, this generation so desperately needs. How?

Let’s call out hate. Peacefully, though, on our streets, in our churches, in our schools, in our police departments, even in our political campaigns. Let’s face the anger and fear that fuel it, with the peace that passes all understanding, with forgiveness and reconciliation just like the man we claim to follow would do.

Let’s form relationships before judging. Let’s stop the viral Facebook posts and media coverage. Only share that which is unifying. Let’s talk over coffee or a meal. Let’s listen before responding. Check to make sure you have relationships across the lines of age, race, religion or sexuality, so you can see with new eyes. Seek to understand rather than to tear down, all the while refusing to tolerate evil, hatred, and bigotry. Bring back integrity in all aspects of life, by listening to each other, praying for each other and recognizing that we are seeing things from very many cultural perspectives. It’s part of what makes America so special.

If we don’t act soon, this bruising could become a deadly hematoma. Our precious Liberty could die.

I’ve spoken up many times worried about Liberty’s safety, and well-being.

How about you?

 

Pulse

Pulse

In medical terms it represents the direct measure of the mechanical function of the heart. In musical terms, a pulse consists of beats in a repeating series. It is generally what people tap their feet to. The tempo of a song is the speed of the pulse. I find it fitting that it measures things so important to humanity–our music and our heart—our lifelines.

 

How interesting– the nightclub involved in last weekend’s massacre in Orlando is named Pulse. I believe it gives us an accurate reading of our society and it’s health. And just like with any data–it’s what we do with the information that counts.

 

When your loved one is on the floor surrounded by the EMTs, you are glad they are trained to read the signals and respond. You don’t interfere, or call them idiots for not responding in the manner you would. They are the professionals—trained to take the readings and respond with a plan of intervention.

 

In this nightclub shooting, all the vital signs point to the following—cardiac arrest. There is hatred, fear, religious extremism, hypocrisy, and judgment. Any way you look at it, whether from the Facebook responses, the political policy debates, or the LGBTQ community outcry—we are in a state of emergency.

 

The shooter, Omar Mateen, interprets his faith’s teachings to mean he can demonize others for their “incorrect” beliefs. He believes he is justified to rid the world of the evil. I always cringe when “ridding the world of evil” is being used in the name of any religion or country. It doesn’t matter which weapons are used—gas chambers, nooses from trees, bombs in abortion clinics, or assault weapons, the implications are the same. We find ourselves getting out the labels (depending on our perspective) and attaching them to others. You know the drill—gays/straights, liberals/conservatives, Muslims/Christians, Black/White, rich/poor, us/them etc. We begin to categorize and isolate the other until the point that they are no longer human—but the enemy—the demon that needs to be addressed.

 

Demonization is the most deceptive of all diseases. It is the infection that disguises itself as an antibody. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad there are anti-bodies because there is real evil in our midst, and we need to be able to diagnose and dispel it. But sometimes, in our haste, we don’t read the vital signs correctly. Sometimes, we react instead of respond, and before we know it (acting as our own agents) without the counsel of trained professionals, we have gotten so far off the course of treatment, that we lose sight of the big picture of health. Each of us is operating to the pulse of our own prejudice, and sometimes this can produce a sort of ventricular fibrillation—an erratic, rapid, “freaking out” of the heart. That’s why it is “shocked” (defibrillated) so that it can reset itself and synchronize again so the muscle can respond in a functional way.

 

And that’s where I believe we are right now, America. It’s time for us to step back, take our pulse, and read the vital signs. They are pretty glaring: 133 mass shootings in the past 6 months, lagging economy, income disparity, unsecured borders, joblessness, homelessness, hopelessness, hatred, and greed.

 

How far we have come from what this nation was built upon: immigration (give me your tired, your poor), religious freedom (first amendment), and representative government (rather than being controlled by the rich or the monarchs). Our constitution was designed to be dynamic. That is why they included the ability to amend it such as exemplified with the Bill of Rights and the 13th amendment. Our political leaders were expected to compromise on laws and policy, putting their own politics behind the good of the whole. If they didn’t like a proposed bill, they were to offer corrections and negotiate. Instead, fear, mistrust, entitlement and blame are spreading like a virus. And instead of a nation of collaboration, we have become a nation of inflammation.

 

Latest researchers from the Cleveland Clinic have found, ‘Uncontrolled inflammation plays a role in almost every major disease, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and even depression. Chronic inflammation can trigger disease processes destroying the very tissues it was designed to protect.”

 

Sound familiar? When mass shootings turn into political debates comprised of inflammatory remarks such as “All Muslims are terrorists—we need to ban them from entering our country” or “The gays got what they deserved because of their sin,” “If only we had gun control, secure borders, prayer in schools, or a godly president”, then we are becoming part of the problem.

 

Before long, we have a nation of inflammation– a fevered nation poisoned like a body with a deadly virus. Everyone is the antibody. Everybody is the pathogen. The only problem is, if everyone is the antibody, who is the body?

 

We have lost our body, our ability to function as a system. And that, my friends is when you have a Code Blue situation. We lose our ability to function as a body when we start believing that our part of the body (tissue or organ) is more important than the others. That other organs are worthless, useless or need to be removed for the good of the whole. That’s when our antibodies start to destroy the very tissues they are trying to protect. That’s how we get to a Code Blue situation. But Code Blue doesn’t mean our life is over. It just means we need to enact emergency measures.

 

Here are a few solutions to ponder:

 

How about we regularly measure our pulse? You know, ask ourselves whether our words and actions are leaving behind a trail of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, humility, faithfulness or self-control. Those are the vital signs of a healthy nation, religion, school, or leader.

 

How about we pray together for healing—across religious lines. I don’t have to believe we worship the same God to pray at the same time for healing and wholeness of our land. It has been done in foxholes for eons.

 

How about we take time to educate ourselves on what could be causing the problem, instead of self-diagnosing a heart transplant? If we use our time to examine our own lives, we may just find the root causes like gluttony, greed, apathy, consumerism, and lack of compassion. We might find the real enemy—a nation divided against itself instead of an embodiment of our motto—e pluribus unum (out of many, one).

 

If our treatment is causing chronic inflammation, then perhaps we need to change the treatment. I know it’s not too late. I know a lot of Christians, Muslims, Jews, gays, blacks, Hispanics, rich, poor, conservative and liberal…who are more determined than ever to make this body work as a whole. We are becoming more vocal, more deliberate, more hopeful, more prayerful, and more unified. And we will be taking our pulse regularly to ensure that the treatment is not destroying the body. We will be collaborating around tables—talking, listening and praying together for amenable solutions.

 

Let’s measure our pulse America.   If we don’t stop the hate, it will stop us. Perhaps this incident was the “shock” that can get our heart back in line. I believe our pulse can be in line with the God of Love who beckons us to dance. If only we will listen and tap our feet.

 

June 16, 2016

 

Soul Feast

Women in ministry see it all: families torn apart by addiction, mental illness, poverty and greed. We hear parents anguish over what they should have done differently. We try to bring light and hope in the midst of deathbed regrets, and newborns with feeding tubes. We long to sit at Jesus’ feet and rest for a while. But after a busy day at work, tending to the needs of others, we then go home to the daily struggles of our families—meals, bills, and errands. The weight of the world is strapped to our backs, so we smile, say a prayer and do the next right thing–put one foot in front of the next, and carry on.

 

That’s why our denomination offered a Women in Ministry Retreat this week. They probably figured we could relate to the Mary and Martha scripture passage we studied (Luke 10:41). You know, the one where Martha basically calls her sister “lazy” for sitting at Jesus’ feet and leaving her with all the preparations. We wrestled for hours over which is more important—serving others or resting at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn. What began as creative imagining—plopping ourselves smack dab into the middle of the story–ended in a gut wrenching self-examination of our lives and our faith.

 

I can easily relate to Martha. I love to entertain and live for the smiling eyes as guests go for that second helping. So Martha’s pleas to Jesus are not that new to me. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work. Tell her to help me.”

 

Our newscasts and office buildings are filled with these laments. “Why are we the ones doing all the work around here when there are able bodied people just sitting around? Or why are we working so hard, when they are reaping all the benefits?

 

Do you hear the edge in the voice, that self-righteous tone of resentment that pierces the skin? I imagine the inner voice of Mary getting ready to reply, “I am not lazy. I’m just taking a rest while I listen and learn from the master. He is so amazing; I just want to be near Him–to enjoy his presence for a while.”

 

Perhaps, Mary is too tired and battle weary to do anything else. She has to sit for a while to recuperate. I feel that way every day, which is why I need two hours of quiet time in the morning before I even face the day. Sitting in darkness and watching the moon set, I meditate and pray. I gain strength from the One who places the sun and moon at opposite ends from each other, rising and setting in tune like the grand symphony of life. “A gift,” my PawPaw used to say. “God gives us two gorgeous gifts each day: a sunrise and a sunset. But most people are too busy or too tired to notice.”

 

But Mary doesn’t have to say a word. Jesus speaks on her behalf. “Martha, Martha.” His term of endearment is saying her name twice. “You are worried and upset about many things.”(Of course I am Lord. Can’t you see I am trying to hold your world together while others around me are sluggards? If I stop, everything will be ruined.)

 

“You are worried about many things (dishes) when only one is needful. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” OUCH! Just when Martha though she would receive Jesus’ praise for being such a hard and devoted worker, or his intervention with her lazy sister, Jesus turns things upside down.

 

It’s not that her work isn’t important, for we are all called to serve. Each of us has a role in God’s plan for the world. Perhaps what Jesus was responding to was the tone in Martha’s voice–that ring of resentment. As if to say, “If you are getting resentful, then stop. Come sit at my feet like Mary and enjoy our time together. We may only have one dish (or none) to eat, but the spirit of community, love, and wholeness will be our nourishment. It may not be the feast you have planned (which I know would be delicious) but why don’t you take a rest for a while and delight in our relationship and time together? You choose what you will, Martha, but Mary has chosen what is better, and I am not going to take that away from her.”

 

You’ve got to love Jesus! He turns the tables on things time and time again!

I can hear the pots stirring in her mind. It’s hard for the worker bees to hear that it’s okay sometimes to sit and refresh. It’s okay to listen for the quiet breath of inspiration, which renews, rekindles, and rediscovers that God has everything under control.

 

Every time I teach on Sabbath-keeping someone says, “There is no way I can take a day off. Our family/business/world would fall apart. It would produce too much anxiety and loss.” Those of us who know, just smile, remembering that some

Israelites said the same thing with the manna. “There is no way there will be enough for us to eat on Sabbath if we don’t collect extra. I’ll keep some until morning to tide us over. “ And what did they find the next day? What was the fruit of their labor? “Some of them paid no attention. They kept part of the manna until morning. But it was full of maggots and began to smell.”  Exodus 16:20

 

Why did it begin to smell? Because, you cannot hide lack of faith. It comes out in all kinds of ways: resentment, anger, fear, judgment, hatred, and greed.

 

“Come sit for a while, Martha. Only one thing is needful, right now.”

 

If only I had heeded his words as a young mother. My own vision for having a happy home was putting a gourmet meal on the table every night. My children beckoned, “Come see what I learned at school today, Mom.” “Come play with me.” But I couldn’t. I was steeped in sauces and vegetable gratins. I had too many dishes on the stove, when only one would’ve sufficed.

 

The reek of resentment probably wafted at the dinner table each night even though I tried to mask it with garlic. I loved my church work, but at home, I felt I was carrying the burden of shuttling kids, homework, and housework alone. (My pastor husband has always worked 60+ hour weeks.) What I found out years later when I gave up my ideals of perfection and served one-dish soups or tacos weekly was that our family’s soul was restored. I had so much fun with my children, that instead of the stench of resentment when Tim returned home, I felt compassion and care for him, for he was the one that was truly missing out. So rich was our concern for him that we devised ways to include him in our fun and refreshment even while he was at work.

 

That was probably what Jesus had in mind when he spoke to Martha. It’s not that he didn’t appreciate her hard work. (Who doesn’t love gourmet meals?) Actually, it is part of God’s design that all of us experience the richness of a job where we are appreciated and sought after for our God given gifts and talents. It’s when that doesn’t happen that our hearts are hardened. That’s when we become much more worried about ourselves rather than listening to what the Master has to say.

 

Remember the Sabbath. Trust me. For I know the plans I have for you: plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans for a hope and a future.

 

When we sit down, focus on God, and rest, our resentments fall away. Our souls are nourished. Delight will fill our hearts. And when we get back to work, we might find that others are so intrigued by our exuberance that they will want to join us in serving God as well.

 

God designed us as human beings, not machines. All we need to do is trust that God knows what God is doing. There is bounty enough for all. The world will still turn. The moon will still set and the sun will still rise. Two gifts each day are ours. Pay attention, rest for a while, and be prepared for a soul feast.

 

 

You worry about many things…when only one thing is needed. Luke 10:42

 

be still and know

Out of the Fog

 

It’s super quiet in the wee hours of the morning. The mist that has overtaken the night, thick with its heaviness and dread, dissipates with each new beam.

 

Imagine a world a little gentler, brighter and simpler. That’s what God intended. All it takes is a little attention to our center, our core, our soul. It’s easy to get distracted with the lights, whistles and bells. Like with the wrapping paper at Christmas, you look around to view the damage you have done to your credit, family relations, and schedule, and wonder if it was all worth it–the presents, the Amazon wish lists, the glitter, the angels and hope.

 

For a moment, we get a glimpse of the world as God intended, but then doubt creeps in. Was it worth it? Was it even real? Could that dream become a reality? Could peace be afforded by one little step toward another…that stranger, that foreigner, that unwed mother?

 

Just ask anyone who has been cleared of cancer, welcomed back into a family, or offered a new job–sometimes the loudest voice speaks from within. “I’m going to do it well this time.” In those thin spaces, when the fog clears, and all is well with your soul, you know what matters. Make it count! Happy New Year!out of the fog2

Breathe In

breathe in image

I wrote this on Christmas Eve. But today is the first time I could muster strength to post it, due to a weeklong bout with bronchitis…

Dec. 24, 2015

For the first time in three days, I woke up today and it didn’t hurt to breathe. When you can’t breathe, everything gets blown out of proportion. Desperation lurks at every corner. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read, and I love to read. I couldn’t have phone conversations without coughing fits of fury. When it hurts to breathe, there is no thinking rationally. You are tired, scared, and hurting. And all you want is out of it.

That pretty much sums up the world, today. If you take your wind from others, it looks hopeless. If you watch the news or read the newspapers, terrorism, war, cancer, natural disasters, refugees, rampant greed, hatred, and cynicism are lurking around every corner. And it’s quite evident by our politics that we are not thinking rationally either. I don’t know about you but I’m having trouble catching my breath this season. It hurts too much, really.

But the bottom line of this Christmas season is what the angels said to shepherds long ago. “For today I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all. For unto you this day, a Savior is born.” Even more angels joined to proclaim: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to all people and goodwill to all.”

What the angels were really saying was, “Can you believe it? If so, come see him.” And they mapped out how to find him– wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a feeding trough. Not the way I would have staged it. No king with military might. No soldiers fighting the evils of the world…just a scared teenage unwed pregnant girl in a land distant from her own. God is like that. Coming in unexpected ways. A feeding trough and an unwed mother.

How could she face the judgment and fear of the unknown that lay before her? How could she catch her breath in the midst of the toils, travels, and tears she would face with this child? I’d have trouble catching my breath, if I were she. I’d be sick with discouragement and doubt. But she chose purpose and meaning instead.

I keep hearing that voice inside–“Can you believe it–peace and goodwill to all? If so, come see him.” If I believe it, do I dare take the steps of the shepherds and go and find the Anointed One—the Christ? Not just say he exists, but actively, urgently, seek and worship him.

It’s when we start the scary trend of believing the words of angels–peace and goodwill to all–that we live into the meaning of what Jesus’ birth was all about: wholeness for our soul, for our community, and for our world.

It seems, we too, are lowly shepherds at that same juncture in the road. Are we going to live for meaning and purpose… or for our own happiness and livelihood? Will we be doing what we have always done the way we have always done it? Or are we going to follow God’s will with hope, generosity, and love—that all may have peace, goodwill, and joy—not just some, but all.

So I ask you. Can you believe it?

Then come see him. Come every Sunday, and every day. Come every chance you can get to sit at this amazing child’s feet because he is the Savior of the universe. He brings hope, wholeness and healing to all. He even proclaimed it as a teen in the temple saying:

“The Spirit (Ruach, Hebrew for breath, wind of God) of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:19

And again at the end of his life: “Whatever you do for the least of these, you did for me.” Matt.25:40

And he walked the talk. Healing lepers, teaching women, training disciples, and forgiving enemies—even those who nailed him to the cross. He proclaimed good news to all—the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed, the enemy, and even you and me.

Do you believe it? Then come and see…come and seek. Seek him with all your heart, mind, and soul. With all your breath, even if it hurts to breathe. Because none of us knows when that tiny voice inside will ask, “Let that young couple stay with you.” The other voices are louder—“they could be out to get you”, or “he has shifty eyes so I wouldn’t trust him.”

But hopefully, we will be intrigued by the smallness of the voice or the tug of the Spirit. And we will have the courage to risk and reach past our own security and happiness, to let the savior of the world move into our garage. For whatever you do for the least of these…

For while others in this world are hurting to breathe—we can breathe in meaning and purpose into our lives–God’s Spirit. Can you believe it? If so, come and see him…