Making a Difference – The Power to Bless

(First Published October 29, 2015)

In her book “Angels in the Workplace,” Melissa Giovagnoli tells the story of a man who was homeless. There was a program in that city to help people get off of the streets by earning money selling newspapers. So every morning, a formerly homeless man went down to his street corner to sell papers. Rain or shine, in cold weather or warm, he was there. He began to wave at the familiar faces of people who were driving past.

One day, he was startled by a woman who stopped her car, jumped out and gave him a big hug. She said to him, “I want to thank you for simply being here.” She went on to tell of the difficult time she was going through. Every day was a struggle. There were days when she really didn’t know if she could go on. But each day, as she came to that intersection, there he was standing and waving to her. His simple gesture of warmth, gave her the strength to get through the rest of the day.

Often, we look at our lives and tell ourselves that we can’t make a difference anywhere. We really don’t fully comprehend the impact we have on another person’s life. Simple kindnesses can make a significant difference to a person starved for affection and love. A note, a phone call, a visit, a word of encouragement, a smile or taking time to listen can show that you genuinely love and care for that person. Your prayers can touch a life and join with Gods for a person’s well-being.

You have it in your power to bless somebody’s life today. You can make a difference. You can be a part of God’s Kingdom of love and kindness. Look around you. Who needs you to reach out as a friend to share God’s love today?

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On the Path to Easter

(First Published, March 2016)

As Jesus travels through Holy Week, he is surrounded by a sea of human need. He sees heartache and sorrow, the mingled tears of humanity. He confronts evil, challenges systems, restores hope. Compassionate eyes search for those he can bring hope to. He offers the wisdom of one who knows these are to be the words his followers will remember.

The path to Easter is a mixture of celebration and pain. Good Friday inevitably stands in the path to Easter. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. A crowd will shout its praises on Palm Sunday. The greedy and powerful are confounded when they and their trade are cast out of God’s sacred space. Healing occurs and some are blessed with restored health. One we love is betrayed by a close and trusted friend. Ugliness, the ugliness of a crowd that lets itself be swayed away from truth and into violence takes over. And the heart cries, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Whenever fear, death and darkness appear to win the day, we stand by Good Friday’s cross, asking the questions of faith. We do not have answers for most of our Good Friday questions. What we do have is One who walks with us through the Good Friday’s of life… One who stands with us when we encounter its pain and harshness… One who embraces us in the darkness of our personal Good Friday.

Easter stands forever as a reminder that God has the final word. Death is not more powerful than life. Easter comes with its joyful message! Its certain response to Good Friday’s heartache. “He Is Risen!”

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An Apology for a Former President

(First Published July 31, 2015)

New York Times Columnist, Nicholas Kristof, offered an apology on behalf of the media to former President Jimmy Carter in 2015. Carter only served one term as president. It was a time of rapid inflation. World oil production was cut back because of the Iranian revolution leading to shortages, long lines at gas stations and high prices. The media never really took to Carter. His Southern background wasn’t a mix for Washington insiders. Jokes about peanuts were frequent. His presidency was covered by the media in a way that indicated that the Georgia peanut farmer, belonged back home on the farm.

But life for Carter since the presidency, has been an amazing story of living life with significance and meaning. Nicholas Kristof ended his July 9, 2015 apology to Jimmy Carter saying, “We in the snooty media world owe him an apology.” He pointed out that this former president has improved the lives of more people, in more places in the world than any other recent president.

From the time I first heard that former President Jimmy Carter led a Bible Study at his home church in Plains Georgia, it was on my bucket list of things to do. Which is how I found myself in that little church on a Sunday morning in June of 2012. Then, age 87, the former president was just back from monitoring the election in Egypt.

I discovered that Jimmy Carter exudes joy when he shares his deep faith. The day I visited, his Bible Study was based on the book of Matthew, that section where Jesus’s disciples ask him how to pray. Jesus in turn taught his disciples the prayer we know of as the Lord’s Prayer. Carter said he believes that when Jesus told his disciples to pray the words. “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus was asking them and us to envision the world God wants for us. “It certainly,” he said, “would be one of peace.” Then he told us what he has come to believe, that “peace cannot come apart from forgiveness.”

Carter said that the years of his presidency were those when he prayed most fervently with the most emotion because he felt an obligation to the American people to not make a mistake. Given political realities, we could argue about the success of his presidency, but I’ve always admired the way he chose to live after he left the white house.

Instead of sitting back and resting on some quite significant accomplishments in life, he decided to take that segment of life left to him and do whatever he could to make the world a better place. He created the Carter Center with it’s mission to “Wage peace, fight disease, and build hope.” He has frequently been invited to monitor elections around the world, to insure the integrity of those elections

He left us the day I visited with these words, “Our prayer should be to find out where we fit into the universe.” I think that last piece is one that is a lifetime quest. Where does God want us to fit into the universe? How does God want us to serve in this stage of each of our lives?

Posted in Faith & Politics, Peace & Justice | Tagged , , , , ,

Integrity in Washington – Fixing What is Broken in Health Care

I breathed a great big sigh of relief when the repeal and replace health care law was pulled yesterday and wondered if President Trump secretly did too. The American Health Care Act, the bill that would have replaced the Affordable Health Care Act, was opposed by almost every medical organization in the country from the American Medical Association to Hospital Associations and every specialty in-between. Millions were projected to lose their health care coverage. It would have put a greater burden on the working poor and given tax breaks to our wealthiest citizens. The bill was a train wreck ready to devastate the country.

In the months since the election many people learned that the Affordable Care Act, they or family members have found help and relief in, was the Obamacare they loved to hate. I have both friends and family who have been helped through tough stretches because of this law. I am personally grateful that it stays in place. I also know people who have experienced too high premiums and deductibles. What has been a blessing for some of my friends is neither affordable nor available for others. Clearly, the law which exists needs help.

Now that the replacement law has failed, I hope and pray that Washington decides to fix what is broken in the Affordable Care Act and not spend any more time playing political games with Health Care. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2009, all efforts to repair the bill have failed in congress. What is forgotten are the hurting people depending on this Congress to come up with genuine solutions which will work for everyone. They live in every district in the country. They are not just Democrats or just Republicans they are Americans, representing all political parties and those who have none. The people who are hurting are not the wealthy in these districts and probably not big donors. This group will never carry the political muscle of billionaires and their threats to financially support another person carry little weight. But, they are those “salt of the earth,” hard-working people who are the essence on which our nation has grown and flourished.

When Medicare became law there were any number of issues which arose in the following years. Back then, we had a Washington that was more concerned about fixing the problems than playing political games. Our representatives and senators worked across the aisle to make the new Medicare law work. It’s called integrity. Would that there was more of it in our nations’ leaders today.

The psalmist in a difficult and challenging time promised God, “But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.” Psalm 26:11-12

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Living as a Christian Nation in the Post Election World of 2016

(First Published – November 14, 2016)

The election of 2016 has torn at the very fabric of our nation. Words and actions have brought out our darker angels. Facebook posts tell both sides of the long battle for the White House. Some of my friends are deeply troubled by the outcome. Others are celebrating. I know people who are afraid, while some feel misunderstood in the backlash of being labeled a racist.

What I have learned in this election is that all of us need to begin listening to people who have different political beliefs. Until we hear the pain, we will never understand what lies in the hearts of people we differ with. What are the hurts, hope and aspirations of our neighbors? What is the source of anger that rages? Are their common values that can guide us?

I dare to believe that our Christian faith can show us the way. First of all there is love. Love for God and love for each other. If our nation is to resolve our vast differences, it will be because we take time to listen to each other in love. For in listening we gain empathy, compassion and understanding.

Back in the first century, the apostle Paul, wrote to a group of people in the city of Corinth urging them to start living the Christian faith they claimed. In simple eloquence he sent words to bring about understanding and reconciliation, saying, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing . . . Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” * Love includes respect, compassion and caring. Love treats the other as we would want to be treated.

We say that we are a Christian nation. Votes were cast based upon Biblical values. Perhaps, the best way for us to bridge the distance between us, is for all of us who claim to be a Christian, to live and speak like one.

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

*Scripture is taken from I Corinthians Chapter 13.

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Jury Duty and the Question “Isn’t Christianity all about Forgiveness and Redemption”

(First published November, 2015)
“Isn’t Christianity all about forgiveness and redemption?” was the question I was asked, as I sat as a potential juror in a courtroom in the Hennepin County’s Government Center. Hennepin is Minnesota’s most populated county. Criminal court would see a steady stream of trials that day. My trial would decide the guilt or innocence of a man who had been charged with conspiracy to receive stolen property, through a sting operation.

The prosecutor continued his questions by asking if I would be able to make a judgement about guilt. “How,” he asked, “would you feel if you had to make a judgement of guilty?” The man in front of us would face devastating consequences if he were found guilty. Not only the possibility of prison, but his immigration status would change. He could be sent back to West Africa where he would be separated from his family. From the prosecutors questions I knew what I had only suspected before, there would be no way that a clergy person would be serving on this jury. Our prosecutor was weeding out anyone he thought would tend towards leniency.

Until then, I was curious about our system of justice. My last experience of being contacted for jury service for a different court was during a very busy season in my life. I was relieved when my name wasn’t drawn for any actual case. But this time was different. Being retired has given me more time. My love of a good mystery fueled my interest in court proceedings in the actual world. I had not really asked myself how I would feel about finding a defendant guilty until that moment. What came to mind was a sense of heaviness – heaviness in my spirit, in my heart.

Not surprisingly, I was one of those who were sent back to the larger jury pool that day. The question asked of me, however has stayed with me. It’s not that I’ve never judged another person or made decisions that have impacted another’s life, through my judging. Jesus may have let us know that judging others put us in some shaky territory when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV) but it hasn’t kept me from being quick to judge way too often in my life.

I don’t know how it is possible to go through life without doing some judging. Being a mother of seven put me in the position of deciding who was guilty and who innocent on any number of occasions. Trying to be fair and just was difficult and challenging with competing stories. We make judgements when we decide who to trust and who not to. Throughout our lives we find ourselves in a position where it would seem the only response is to make an honest judgement, given the information in front of us.

I think that Jesus was getting at another type of judging . . . The way we too quickly blame the poor for being poor, or the sick for being sick. We cast our stones at those we perceive have been bigger sinners that we are. We like to think of ourselves as superior to others. Casting our eyes about us on any given day, we are likely to size ourselves up as somewhat better human beings than others we are looking at. And when there is a scandal breaking in the neighborhood, office or on the political front, (especially on the other side of the political spectrum) we can quickly throw in our lot with those who criticize, while we secretly celebrate the downfall of another.

The problem is . . . We have this Jesus who called us to accountability. He asked then, as he asks now, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 NRSV) God who knows us better than we know ourselves, is well aware of our faults and our failings. Marianne Williamson, in her book “Illuminated Prayers” writes these words. “Dear God, When they accuse me falsely, help them see the innocence in me. And when I judge, Lord, help me see the innocence in them.”

The prosecutor was onto something that day. Christianity “is all about forgiveness and redemption.” The forgiveness that allows us to live our lives washed from the stain of failure, mistakes and our own sins. And a Redemption which lifts us above yesterday’s mistakes, giving us the joy of a new and better life.

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What is a Christian to do in this World of Alternative Facts, Values, Assumptions and Differing News Sources?

What is a Christian to do in this world of alternative facts, values, assumptions and differing news sources? How do we stand as people of faith, living our lives with the hope of Christ? Does it matter what our neighbors think? If it does, then is social media the best transmitter of transformation? Has anyone’s view of the world changed because of someone’s political post, or has it only reinforced one’s own view?

My younger brother is using humor to cope with the barrage of political differences on social media. His Facebook posts have sported a variety of comics which lighten the spirit. A recent Friday night was an especially potent day of competing views of the new President and the series of executive orders that have been signed. Some posters were asking for tolerance in the expression of their view point. One wrote with dismay about people who had de-friended her after she had posted a political post. She said that she didn’t want to lose friends who disagreed with her position. She would much rather have a conversation and hear what her friends believed.

In the midst of the Friday barrage an old friend had posted these words of Madeline L’Engle. “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” The definition of a Christian is still, to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus had a lot to say about the way we treat each other. He was heavy on the bit about loving one another. He didn’t limit that to people who shared our particular expression of faith or our politics. In fact, he directed us in an entirely different direction. “Jesus said, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbors and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus never said that this would be easy. What he said, was to love.

So, in that light, can we be gentle with the people we disagree with? Can we show God’s love to each person and not just those in our political camp? Do we have to agree with each other politically, to be friends in this new era? Are the people we disagree with, really our enemies? Or are they simply people who view the world differently? Can we respectfully disagree with one another, have a conversation and not slam those who don’t believe like us? Can we pray for people on the other side of the political divide? Certainly, those misguided souls need somebody’s prayers. Does that mean that we can’t find a way to fight for our values and beliefs? Of course not. But do we really need to leave that divisive mean-spirited post in the comment section of our newspaper? Or the equally nasty one on social media? Or would we be far more effective communicating our concerns by contacting our elected leaders, through phone, email, actual letter or a visit to their local office? And doing all of that with respect.

The late Madeline L’Engle was wise. We are drawn to those whose expression of Christian love radiates out of them. We bask in their light, in the loveliness of it. When I think of people who have altered my view of the world, it has been those who were shedding kindness and light who have had the greatest influence. In this seriously divided time, may we be the people who spread kindness, compassion and love.

For you see, as Christians we do have a common news source. We call it the Bible. We have the words of Jesus to guide us. We have the truths of Scripture to reflect on. We have reminders of how we are to live and speak and be with each other. Jesus said it best, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

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