Compassion is as compassion does.

Back in 2005 the hub loaded his table saw, planer and a bunch of other heavy woodworking equipment into a small u-haul.  We were headed to Vero Beach, Florida with a group from the church we attended to help repair a church that had been damaged by a hurricane.  Since the hub had major carpentry skills – and major equipment – he was in charge of that aspect of the trip.

I was in charge of activities for the church’s children.

While we were there we hosted nightly cookouts at a park near the Vero Beach church and invited its members to come, relax, eat and share their hurricane stories.

Because I thought sharing their stories might help.

Turns out it did.  Turns out listening to their stories, hearing what they had been through was the best, most restorative thing we did all week.

It helps to know someone cares.

It was hallowed ground in a Lansing courtroom when Larry Nassar faced his victims.  God bless Judge Aquilina for patiently giving each one of them the opportunity to tell their stories.  God bless her for giving us the opportunity to listen compassionately.

It helps to be heard.

The White House recently invited community members and victims from Parkland, Florida as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings to a listening session.

God bless our President for giving them a chance to speak and for giving us a chance to hear their hearts.

There are those who hate our President no matter what, who would refuse to give him a nod of credit for an act of compassion, who would refuse him the opportunity to speak and the opportunity to be heard with compassionate ears.

In their minds he is morally “less than” they and therefore he isn’t worthy of their compassion.  They just want to see him destroyed.

Actions speak louder than words.

If we want our country to heal, and it’s looking like the collective “we” don’t, we’ll have to put down our self-righteous hate and pick up an olive branch.  Or at least a hearing aid.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.




Fun With Parables: Political Edition

On one occasion a political pundit stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What does the Law say about it?” He replied. “What’s your read on it?”

The pundit, quoting the Law, answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You nailed it,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the pundit, wary of the implications, said, “Define neighbor.”

In reply Jesus told His now-famous parable:

“A democratic superdelegate was heading to Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center when he was attacked by a mob. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead in the middle of the road.

A senator from Vermont happened to be walking on the far left shoulder of the same road, and when he saw the man, he inched a little further left as he passed. No way was he going to be seen anywhere near the middle of that road.

So too, a long-time representative from California, when she came to the place and saw him, hugged the far left edge of the left shoulder a little more tightly as she hurried past.

But a conservative republican, as he traveled along the far right shoulder, came where the delegate was; and when he saw him, he braved being seen in the middle of the road.

He went to him and bandaged his wounds and then carried him several blocks to Kindred Hospital.

‘Do whatever it takes to save him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any expenses his insurance doesn’t cover.'”

“Now,” Jesus, asked, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to that superdelegate?”

The pundit replied, “The one who was pro-life.”

Jesus nodded, “Exactly!”


Pills, Poetry & Prose

I think I have been following “A Journey With You – surviving schizophrenia” for about a year now.   I read every post that comes up on my Reader. Not because I have schizophrenia, or because I am caring for someone who has it, not because I am particularly interested in the disease. I read each post because I enjoy well-written words. I read because the author is a lot like me.

We only have a few things in common: We were both social workers when we were young. She worked in Child Protective Services – investigating reports of abuse and neglect and removing children from their homes if necessary.

I worked in Foster Care, supervising the care of the children once they were placed in foster homes, and working with their birth parents toward the goal of reuniting the family, if possible. It was rarely possible.

We are close to the same age.

We both care. She cares more, I think, because she knows more. She is teaching me.

I read her blog for the wonderful slices of her everyday life. My favorites involve her relationship with her husband.

I’ve thought a few times of buying her book, Pills, Poetry & Prose: Life with Schizophrenia (by Rebecca Chamaa). I thought I might add it to my Amazon cart when I do my Christmas shopping.  And then in late October Rebecca posted that she was giving away a copy of it. So I left my blog address in the comment section of her post and I won the drawing!

My husband brought in the mail Saturday and handed me a padded envelope, “Someone from California sent you something.”

“Oh, oh, oh, it’s the book!” I tore open the envelope and pulled it out. I opened the front cover, “Dang it, I should have asked her to sign it.”

Yesterday, before church I read the first eleven pages. When the hub and I returned home from church, I found my daughter reading it.

This morning I sat down with the book and a big mug of hot coffee. Just as the coffee was growing cold, I finished it.

And I learned that we have another thing in common – rejection by a spouse and the pain of divorce.

If I hadn’t been reading her blog, if I didn’t know that she is remarried and has such a wonderful friendship with her husband, such a strong and supportive bond with him, I would not have been able to bear the poem on page 28.

Saturday, when I let Rebecca know that the book arrived, she replied, “Ohhhhh, please let me know how you like it.”

Okay, talented, sweet, wise and wonderful woman, if you are reading this, here’s how I like it:

I only like poetry when it says a lot, with a few concise, masterfully chosen and arranged words. I only like poetry when it is not so obscure that I can’t figure out what the poet is saying.  I like your poetry, Rebecca. I love it.

And I love how you used prose to flesh out the details. I loved the glimpse into your childhood.

On page 45 you wrote, “I am a ghost that only certain people can see.”

One of the best things about your blog and your book is that you are giving shape and form to ghosts; you are stirring understanding and compassion in people like me.

Your book is your story, artfully told, and I love true stories.

I used to show clips of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” when speaking to high school students as an example of true love. I showed them the scene in which Alicia and one of John’s former co-workers were walking and talking, Alicia pushing a stroller. After talking a bit about John’s current condition and limitations, the former co-worker told Alicia that John was a lucky man (to have her). Alicia replied, almost in a whisper, that John was so unlucky (to have the disease).

I showed them the scene in which John’s psychiatrist advised Alicia to leave home for her own safety. Instead, she decided to stay. She kneeled in front of John, who was seated on the edge of their bed, and said, “I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible.”

And the final scene when John, accepting the Nobel Prize, said to Alicia, “I’m only here because of you.”

I don’t know how true to life the movie is, but “Poisonous Thoughts” on pages 52 and 53 reminded me of those scenes.

And it pinpointed why I read A Journey With You – to watch extraordinary love unfold in the big and small of your everyday life.

To watch love and commitment – in sickness and in health – play out in the lives of two ordinary, extraordinary people.

Pills, Poetry & Prose is a collection of poems and essays that tell a beautiful, poignant, hopeful, insightful, scary, honest story. And I am privileged to have read it.

Jesus, life, Light

Abundant Love. Abundant Compassion. Please.

A little boy named Isaiah is on my heart and in my prayers.  His siblings are, too.  But not often enough.

The Tuesday after Easter my friend, Linda, who heads up an after-school tutoring program at his inner-city school, asked him why he wasn’t at the easter egg hunt at church.

“We had our own easter egg hunt,” he beamed.

After several years of living here and there, with this aunt or that, with this friend or that, some siblings here, some siblings there, he and his mother and all of his six siblings had finally moved into a home of their own – all of them under a single roof.

Isaiah was so happy, so proud of this step up that his mother had taken.

A few days later the kids were upstairs in their bedrooms.  Their uncle was on the sofa in the living room watching television.  Their mom’s boyfriend walked quickly through the front door.

“Where’s Kenyetta?”, he asked.

“In her bedroom,” the uncle answered.

The boyfriend climbed the stairs to her bedroom and shots rang out.  Kenyetta was dead – shot several times in the chest.  Isaiah’s two-year-old sister, who had been standing next to her mother’s bed, was shot in the leg.  But alive.

The new house is vacant now.

Isaiah and his three siblings-who-share-the-same-father are living with his father now, along with another sibling, who has a different father.  He wouldn’t/couldn’t take the oldest, who is 15 and pregnant.  The seventh sibling is in detention at Children’s Village.  He and his anger issues.

The lesson in Bible study this morning challenged us to look for the beauty in the ugly.  To thank God in the midst of the mess.

I can’t think of much that is uglier and messier and more heartbreaking than a little boy beaming one week and absent the next.  Crushed.  A happy, proud step up followed immediately by a crushing crashing down.

At Kenyetta’s funeral – at Isaiah’s mother’s funeral – the pastor implored the 500 in attendance to turn the tragedy around – turn it into an end to domestic violence, an end to drugs.  Amen.

I am having trouble seeing the beauty in the ugly right now.  All I see, all my heart feels is the crushing blow to a little boy’s joy.

But I pray that Isaiah will one day see it; that the city will one day see it.

In the meantime, Father, will you fill every caregiver, every adult that Isaiah and his siblings encounter with an abundance of love and compassion for them?  Abundant love.  Abundant compassion.  Not just today, not just this week, but every day and every week and every year until they are all fully healed.  Until they all see the beauty in those fragile ashes.

Thank You for love.  Thank you for redemption.  Thank you for healing.  Thank You for bringing life from death, beauty from ashes, I know You will.

Thank you that we who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.


More Bad Acting

When I posted Bad Acting the other day, I wasn’t preaching anything and I wasn’t putting forth a theological dissertation.  It was just little old me sharing my little old stream of consciousness.  There were a couple of things floating in that stream: 1. What makes some people mean? 2. Why do some Christians believe that we are all wretched sinners?  I knew when I pushed publish that my thoughts were only a rough draft and I was hoping it would generate some discussion that would help me bring what I really wanted to say into focus.  It did.  So thank you for your comments, they furthered my thinking.

I decided to get a little more serious, bring some quick research into the equation. So first thing I did was bing “Original Sin”.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is the Christian doctrine of humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam’s rebellion in Eden. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.

The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by IrenaeusBishop of Lyons in his controversy with certain dualistGnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine also developed the doctrine,[2] seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalm 51:5.

Okay, right off the bat I learned a couple of things:

First, there is a spectrum of beliefs among Christians about original sin.  We don’t all believe that original sin equals total depravity.  Good to know that leaning toward a more moderate “sin nature” position is a legitimate Christian belief.  Though I’m guessing that some in the “total depravity” camp would say that those in the “sin nature” camp are not real Christians.

The second thing I learned was that the doctrine of Original Sin was not put forth by Jesus (my “go to” for everything God related).  It was put forth by men, based on, of course, Paul.  And David’s Psalm 51:5 confession that he was born sinful.

Okay, so let’s think about that little bit for a second.

Before meeting Jesus, Paul was morally depraved.  Even though he was well-schooled in Jewish law, he had no real understanding of God in his heart.  He cruelly sent Christians to brutal deaths.  All the while thinking he was pleasing God.  He was a terrorist.  So of course he is going to write from a knowledge of total depravity.  But just because he was once totally depraved does not mean that his depravity must automatically be extrapolated to everyone else.

Same with David.  Yes, committing adultery with another man’s wife and then having that man killed in order to cover up his sin was a morally depraved thing to do.  But not everyone commits adultery and murder.  Not everyone is morally depraved (defined wicked).

Look at Abraham.  I find no wickedness in him.  I find no wickedness in Job.  Or Moses.

God tucked Moses into the cleft of a rock, passed before him, and declared His nature.  And of all the things He could have said about Himself, He said this:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34 NIV

God forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin.  They are three different things.

All wickedness is sin.
All rebellion is sin.
But all sin is not wicked.
And all sin is not rebellious.

Sin is anything that falls short of God’s standards.  Anything that is not-God.
You can sin and not even realize it.

Rebellion is knowing that something is sin and doing it anyway.
You cannot rebel without knowing it.

Wickedness is deliberately causing harm to another.
You can be wicked without rebellion. (If you grew up in a morally depraved atmosphere and you think wickedness is the acceptable norm.) But it is still sin.

Before I became a Christian I sinned every morning without even realizing it.  I read my horoscope.  Then I read Deuteronomy 18 and I learned that reading my horoscope was sin. So I stopped reading it.

I told my mom – who taught me to read my horoscope every morning, who used to read it to me when I was a child – what I read in Deuteronomy. She said, “I know.” I was flabbergasted. She knew and she read it everyday anyway? That was rebellion. And wickedness because she was knowingly causing her children to displease God.

So what I was trying to say on Wednesday is that everyone sins. We all like sheep have gone astray. We all like dumb, clueless sheep have gone astray. Sheep aren’t wicked, they are just greatly in need of a Shepherd to guide and care for them. Lest they get lost and maimed.

And I would dare say that everyone is rebellious at times because none of us obey God perfectly, even when we know what He wants us to do/not do.

But I find no Scriptural support that everyone is wicked. That everyone has a mean side.

Jesus called some people – even some generations – wicked, but He did not call everyone wicked. And He didn’t preach self-condemnation. He preached from a place of compassion and restoration and gentleness. He led by positive example – showing us what His Father is like.  And that is what I would love to see some of the young bucks who climb the pulpit on Sunday morning do.

And that is what I would love to see the harsh doctrine-loving bloggers do: Lead by gentle, loving example. Without all the browbeating.

The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What about you guys? Would you say that you are ever mean or cruel? I’m guessing the majority of you are not.

faith, Light

Selma, Kinda’

This post isn’t really about Selma, and it’s not really about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But it occurred to me as I watched the movie the other day, as I watched this scene:

Coretta:  If I ask you a question will you tell me the truth?
Martin:  Yes.
Coretta, mustering courage: You know I’m not a fool. Do you love me?
Martin:  Yes.
Coretta:  Do you love any of the others?
Martin, with a slight gulp: No.

Apparently that scene stood out to my daughter as well.  As we were discussing the movie (which was hard to watch but which I highly recommend) on the way home she asked, “Why are leaders so often cheaters?”

“I don’t know, some women throw themselves at power and perhaps it’s too much to resist.  Perhaps powerful men think they deserve a few perks. It’s too bad the moral character and determination of which Dr. King so eloquently spoke did not extend to his own sexual  conduct.”

I thought of King David as I watched that scene, specifically I thought of God’s words to David, via Nathan:

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.  Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?

And if all this had been too little, David, I would have given you even more. 

That is one of the saddest sentences in the entire Bible.

I wondered if God would have given Dr. King even more.

How many of us have missed out on the more?  How many of us have disqualified ourselves from doing, having, being more because of sexual sin?

Reuben did:

While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it. Genesis 35:22

Perhaps Reuben thought it was no big deal, his dad heard about his antics but may not have done anything about them.  Scripture does not record a confrontation, or consequences, until chapter 49:

“Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my might, the first sign of my strength,
excelling in honor, excelling in power.
Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel,
for you went up onto your father’s bed,
onto my couch and defiled it.”  Genesis 49:3-4

And then there’s Esau:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Hebrews 12:16

It’s interesting that Scripture pairs sexual immorality with squandering an inheritance.  I can’t help wonder how many young people, who are squandering their purity, will one day weep bitterly, “Bless me—me too, my Father!”

I’m not saying that God doesn’t redeem and forgive.  I’m just saying that there is a constant tension in my heart and mind between God’s holiness and His compassion.  And I think that tension is supposed to be there.  Holiness is the vertical beam and compassion is the horizontal beam.  Tension and balance hold them in place.

[Duncan], Creative Commons

[Duncan], Creative Commons

Without holiness there is no need for compassion.  Without compassion there is nothing upon which Jesus can outstretch His arms.

I love Christians like Glennon Doyle Melton who encourage us to embrace and enjoy our messy lives.  Who show us that it’s okay to give ourselves a break and accept that our lives are going to be hard and good, that we are going to make mistakes and it’s okay.  Because there is no joy in serving the taskmaster of perfection.

At the same time I cannot ignore the Nazarite vow.

And I cannot ignore Jesus when He said,“When much is given, much is required.” And, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Or His Father, who said, “Be holy, because I am holy.”

There is a beautiful scene recorded in Revelation chapter 5.  I highly recommend reading the entire amazing chapter.  Here’s a snippet:

But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain….And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

I wonder if this heavenly scene took place just as Jesus was fresh from the cross.  The Lamb, looking as if He had been slain.

“I wept and wept because no one was found worthy.”

There were a whole lot of people who were not mentioned in the Bible.  A WHOLE LOT of God’s people who did nothing to contribute in any notable way to His purposes.  I don’t want to be one of those people.

“Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes?”

“I would have given you even more.”

Sexual sin diminishes spiritual effectiveness.  It just does.

There is freedom, grace and joy in cutting myself some slack and there is power, effectiveness and close fellowship with God in pursuing personal holiness.  May the tension within me maintain an effective balance.

I don’t know whether this stream of consciousness will make sense to anyone but me, but may we all maintain an effective balance.

Because this dark world needs SO MUCH more.

© 2015, The Reluctant Baptist