Resurrection!

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“Art: Resurrection Morning” by James Martin

As people often say, things come and go. Today the resurrection came, so clearly in our worship service and especially in our Sunday School class. When we are gathered in community, the sharing of our lives becomes resurrection for us all. So for us resurrection came, but it did not go.

It remains in the resurrection stories we share and in the ways we bear witness to the grace-full acts of God. The stories around the circle were about places of darkness and death and about the resurrection that always follows. For some, physical health reaches a dark place and we pray for the resurrection to come in their lives. For others, emotions around fear are on the surface and we pray for the resurrection to overcome the fear. Still others grieve for friendships that feel like the end, and we pray for the resurrection they need. Others mourn the loss of friends to death and, as we pray for the healing of those left behind, we also rejoice in the promise of resurrection for those that leave their earthly life.

Death comes in myriad ways. But resurrection comes, every time, to shatter death’s darkness in ways that seem like mighty wonders and wondrous acts of God. Ready or not, resurrection comes to us and makes its home in us. We are resurrection people because we made the choice to proclaim to the world that Christ is risen! 

The Scripture gives us so many stories of resurrection. Sacred texts allow us to look into the lives of many people who have looked at death and have come through it to resurrection. And in our own lives, we can bear witness to the glorious reality that we know the One who is “the resurrection and the life,” that because we believe in the Christ, we will never die. (John 11:25-26)

As you enjoy Easter and lean into the resurrection that never leaves you, think on these Scripture texts:

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” 

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

— John 20:11-18 (NRSV)

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

— 1 Peter 1:3-7 (NRSV)

 

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

— Acts 4:33 (NRSV)

 

*James Martin’s art is available at http://www.veritasse.me.uk/artists/james-martin/

Inner Warrior

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I got in touch this week with my inner warrior. She was in me all along, in a deep place inside, just waiting for the summons that I needed her. If you have read many of my blog posts, you know that I have been terrified at the thought of having a kidney transplant. For almost five years, the frightened part of me was able to put the transplant possibility away, tucked in a place inside that kept it off my mind. When I did consider transplant — like the times when my nephrologist told me that it was by far the best treatment for me — I reasoned that it was not something I was willing to do.

Why would I want to change anything? Dialysis has been good to me and, most of the time, I have felt well. So I have struggled with the transplant decision, but at the same time, I went through the medical evaluation that kept me on the transplant list. My nephrologist has insisted for years that I would feel better and live longer with a transplant. I remained unconvinced, and then I participated in a webinar that pushed my decision. The physician who was presenting said something that got my attention. He said that patients with end stage renal disease must be on dialysis, and dialysis is essentially end of life care that includes palliative care. If a patient has an illness that cannot be cured, such as end stage renal disease, he explained, palliative care keeps the patient as comfortable as possible by managing pain and other physical challenges, and by providing psychological, social and spiritual support. He went even further by saying that patients who stop dialysis live about two weeks on average.

I have been on the transplant list for five years, and in that time there has been no movement toward a transplant. The last time I went to the transplant center to update my medical evaluation, they told me that a transplant was not likely to happen in the next two years. I was okay with that. Nothing to get anxious about. The transplant decision was not going to happen in the near future. 

And then, out of the blue, I hear from an old friend who tells me he is contemplating the possibility of being a living donor for me. That was March 12. As of Monday, April 15, he had completed the thorough donor evaluation at Piedmont Transplant Institute in Atlanta, and by Wednesday of that week, Piedmont had called me in for testing.

My heart began to race this week and has continued, on and off. I would describe my current state as much, much more than anxious. I texted this week with a friend of mine and shared my fears. She told me about her multiple back surgeries and about how frightening surgery was for her. Then she said this: “I was really afraid before each back surgery, but I somehow dug down deep to a warrior place inside of me.”

Oh my! How well she described my current emotional place! I am certain that, indeed, there is a warrior place inside me. I reached it this week after the racing heart episodes eased up a bit. It is a surprise to me that now I find myself in deep peace, with a sense of calm. Not always have I been able to let God take control of my path. I am a person who will do almost anything to stay in control, to the point of fairly powerful wrestling with God for the proverbial reins of my life.

Not this time. This time, in this season of my life, I have taken a hands off approach, replacing my tendency to hold tightly to the reins with a sense of trust that has covered me like a soft blanket. I have thought in the last few days of the many passages of scripture about trust, but the one that stands out is the simplest one, the short one that we learned to recite as young children.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in you.

— Psalm 56:3

I am certain that there is a warrior place deep inside me. It brought me out of my year of life-threatening illness in 2014. It pushed me to get stronger. No doubt, it will be in play as I move closer to a kidney transplant. I am grateful that my friend reminded me this week of that deep, down warrior place. But I am also comforted in the assurance that, along with my inner warrior, there is in me a heart that can still trust God.

Seeing God

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I am thinking about what faith asks of us. I think I can find a beginning place in the words kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, all listed in Galatians 5:22-25. The Galatians passage is certainly a good measuring instrument for living our faith, but there is one specific, and very important, thing our faith demands.

Our faith asks us to find the face of God in every person. Every person. Doing this is not easy. Any of us can be self-absorbed at times. We can be exclusive, engaging with only the people we prefer in our circles of friends. We can be high-reaching, choosing to see only those who can increase our status. We can be too busy to truly see another person.

Most troublesome for us is the tendency to demonize people who don’t fit into our preferred theology, our accepted social mores or our politics. The current social and political climate certainly plays with our sense of right and wrong. When we hear dehumanizing rhetoric every time we tune in to television news, we lose just a bit of our own humanity. When we hear our political leaders dehumanizing one another for the sake of their own political agendas, we become just a bit more accustomed to words that hate and harm. We can almost become comfortable with words and acts and images that dehumanize persons.

In this environment, it is always possible to cross an invisible moral line, even inadvertently. Perhaps we are in danger of also crossing the line of faith and thereby betraying our humanity.

Certainly, I am not advocating that we leave our courage at the door when we confront power brokers intent on harming people. On the contrary, I am saying that when dehumanization is occurring, when oppression is bringing harm to vulnerable people, this is where we speak from the core of our faith.

From the core of our faith, we must stand against dehumanizing rhetoric that promotes xenophobia, homophobia, racism, mysogyny and any ideology that vilifies the “other.” From the core of our faith, we must create open spaces for all persons with full respect to racial, sexual gender and ethnic identities. From the core of our faith, we must approach with open arms all persons with varying abilities, economic status, social standing and age. From the core of our faith, we must see in every person the face of the Creator.

In her blog, Brené Brown writes about the great harm inflicted by dehumanizing rhetoric and images. She says that dehumanizing starts with language, and she gives us a warning about speaking or acting in ways that harm others. She days, “When we desecrate their divinity, we desecrate our own, and we betray our humanity.”

That means that, even in the presence of the words and acts of dehumanization we witness every day, our faith compels us to see the face of God in every friend, every stranger, every enemy, even in people with whom we most vehemently disagree.

Brené Brown describes the line we must not cross, and she describes the dire consequences of crossing it:

There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.

As people of faith, we have our mandate. People of faith — people of every faith — must always lean into grace, cherishing the humanity of every individual, seeing the face of God in every person. To encourage and inspire, I leave you with a portion of a prayer published by Reverend Dr. Whit Bodman, former Associate Professor of Comparative Religion at Austin Seminary.

O Beloved of the Beloved, what can we say to thee?

We are as we are . . . 
Seldom having sought thee seriously;
Seldom having listened to thee earnestly;
Seldom having followed thee faithfully . . .

We are as we are. 

Enter us, O spirit of power and gentleness.
Astonish us. Overcome us. Uproot us.

We are as we are, but not as we can be.

Bend us toward one another — Jew, Baha’i, Muslim,
whatever the shape of our faith. 
Lift us beyond the terror of difference to the delight of difference.
Nourish us now on this sweet fare of our neighbor’s words and smiles,
for in them is a taste of the feast that is to come,
once we are no longer as we are.

Amen.

And amen.

May God make it so.

On Being Soft

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Lent for me was quiet this year. I was sick through most of it, and I spent it pretty much alone, except for the sweet presence of my husband. I didn’t write much. I didn’t paint or craft anything. I was just quiet, and as the forty days passed, I was aware at times of being led by still waters.

Still waters was a spiritual and emotional space I discovered after I was diagnosed with end stage renal disease and throughout my lengthy hospital stays in 2014. So today, I am thinking about some life-sustaining words that were a part of my recovery —  the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, my own version of it.

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. I have around me and within me everything that I need.

The Lord invites me to stop and to lie down in lush, green meadows.
He leads me beside still waters, 
He restores and refreshes my soul.

He guides me along good and safe pathways for his name’s sake. And for my sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 
the valley of death’s shadow,

I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your grace and your care comfort me.

You prepare a place for me, even in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with the oil of gladness.

My cup overflows.

Surely your grace and and your love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell with you forever.

We know the words of this Psalm far too well. We skip past it as a common text we memorized when we were young. We recite it easily. But the Psalm came to life for me during my year-long illness. It was in my heart, and often on my lips, during long, sleepless nights in the hospital. I experienced the Psalm’s comfort as never before.

As we near the beginning of Holy Week, my thoughts are of the resurrection that comes after the passion, for Christ, yes, but also for me. I’m not thinking of “us.” My thoughts tonight are focused on me, how I experienced my illness in 2014 as my own kind of passion, the passion of confusion, grief, worry, fear. I experienced an expansive and disconcerting view of my mortality, and I did not take to the stark reality of it.

I cannot, of course, even begin to compare my passion to the passion of Christ. Yet in some tender way, I experienced suffering. Palm Sunday comes this Sunday, and in Christian churches everywhere, the people of God will celebrate Christ’s “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. We will raise our palm branches and shout “hosanna,” as well we should. But Palm Sunday moves us abruptly into the week of Christ’s passion, every pain-filled, grace-filled moment of it. We must not skip that part.

But back to my own passion story, the one that happened the year I thought I was going to die. First you must know a bit about me before the illness. I was persistent and stubborn, a fierce advocate for abused women and children. I did not flinch in a courtroom. I did not shrink when I faced-off with an abuser’s defense attorney. I did not cower standing between a woman and her batterer. I searched the nation to find legal advocacy for abused women and their children. I stood my ground against court-ordered child abuse that would consistently place children in the custody of an abusive parent. I railed against a system that refused to protect children. I was hard. 

The illness came and went over the course of a year. I did not die. Resurrection did come to me, in bits and pieces, slowly, but with the certainty of faith. I was no longer hard. I was movable, malleable, able to be blown about with good and gentle, life-giving breezes. We settled into a new home in a new state, and mostly, I embraced it over time. I fed hummingbirds, listened more deliberately for birdsong, and discovered the way of mindfulness.

When I recovered — slowly — from my illness, I remember the feeling of being soft, though I was not sure what that meant for me. Most certainly, God granted me the patience to move into my resurrection, to embrace it in God’s time, and to wait for it gratefully.

My family said that I emerged from my illness with a change in personality. I was quiet, they said, not like me at all. Inside myself, I knew that they were right. I felt the change. I sat in my own quiet for months. And even now I sense a quietness that wraps me softly as if it were a warm, light blanket. It’s a good place for me, this soft, warm, comforting place.

It’s a good place to continue my resurrection, to learn more about what it means to be soft. As it often happens, I stumbled upon this quote as I wrote this piece. I love the thought it expresses. It resonates with my soul.

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard.
Do not let the pain make you hate.
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.

— Iain Thomas

These days, I am sensing that a kidney transplant is imminent for me. So to go through that process, I will lean even more into my soft side. That will be a good emotional and spiritual space for me. Soft! Soft facing change and fear. Soft facing uncertainty and new, scary medications. Soft facing the hope of a healthy kidney bringing me a new beginning, a resurrection.

May God continue to lead me beside these still waters. It’s a good place for me to greet resurrection.

 

 

 

 

Yiayia / Γιαγιά

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In my heart this week, I have held my grandmother, my “Yiayia” who came to America at age 25 with an older husband and two babies. One of them was my mother. December 16, 1916 it was when the ship Guiseppe Verdi reached Ellis Island. My Yiayia — line number 25 on the ship’s passenger manifest — had never envisioned coming to this land. She never considered she might leave the tiny Greek village on the island that was her home.

Her husband, wanted by Mussolini as a political detractor, had no choice but to flee in the dark of night in search of a place of safety and refuge for his little family. He had the courage to survive and to dream. But here’s the thing: my grandparents were welcomed into this country when they arrived to see the brightness of the Lady Liberty’s lighted torch. To be sure, their life in America was not all bright or easy. They worked hard to eek out a living and to become a part of a new community so very far from the home they loved. 

After I was born into the world, a toddler at Yiayia’s knee, I watched her struggling to learn English, to speak English well enough to be understood by her neighbors. One of my most vivid memories was sitting next to her at our kitchen table next to an enormous silver radiator that creaked and groaned, but warmed us famously. With The Birmingham News spread across the table in front of her, she drank her coffee, dipping her Zuieback toast and reading the newspaper, every morning.

She taught herself to read English, but The Birmingham News was not merely a reading primer for Yiayia. She learned from it. She understood the news events of her day. She knew that liberty was a gift worth protecting. So she studied the political climate and the political personalities asking for her vote. She would insist that you MUST vote, that you must know the candidates, that you must cherish the right to free and fair elections.

So Yiayia would dress in her finest clothing, simple but lovely dresses. She would put on her earrings and her brooch, her rings and her watch. Then she would dress me, and off we would go, across the street and down the block to the polling place. We would go together into the booth with the dark brown curtain. She would vote and I would stand in close to her with the view of only that brown curtain and her chunky shoes, heels of course.

Before we exited the booth — every time — she would look down at me and say, “We are Democrats! That’s how we vote, always!” And to this very day, I have followed her voting directive — always. The truth is that her definitive directive about voting had much more to do with the process than the political party she supported. It went deeper than any party loyalty, all the way back to reading The Birmingham News, seeing the beam of the Statue of Liberty, crossing the ominous ocean, remembering how it felt to have to flee from government oppression and grieving the loss of the island of her home.

Today, it’s not so simple for our neighbors who must flee their homes for so many reasons — safety, survival, fear, oppression. Our president says they are not welcome here. Many Americans say they are not welcome here. Just today, The New York Times reported that Mr. Trump’s growing migrant paranoia resulted in the forced resignation of homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned on Sunday. She is part of Trump’s wider “housecleaning” designed to appoint persons who will make sure migrants can not get across our southwestern borders. Only department heads who will enthusiastically implement the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy will keep their jobs. May we never forget the images of thousands of migrant children who were separated from their families.

The president, in a not so presidential tweet, took aim again Sunday night when he tweeted, “Our Country is FULL!” So yes, he says that our neighbors are not welcome here. Yet, millions of us, second generation citizens of the United States of America, will never forget where we came from. We will always remember that our roots spanned the ocean and survived in a new land.

In my friend’s blog last week, I found words that touched me in a profound way and caused me to grieve the land of welcome we once knew. Her words express a startling poignancy. 

“A country that unwelcomes the world,” she writes.

I want to share with you her entire blog post — Jericho Walk — because it is well worth your time to ponder it, but first I emphasize this portion:

Often there is a shofar
to remind us just how deep
are the cracks
in the foundation of a country
that unwelcomes the world . . .

Jericho Walk
by Maren

I return to the Jericho walk,
in Manchester,
having not been well enough
for a couple months,
and it feels like home —
this moving vigil, silent, but with signs
and grateful waving for drivers
who honk their support.

We travel around the large block
of the federal building
where people we love and
some people we have never met
come to discover
if this week they’ll be deported.

We walk around seven times
hoping the walls
will come tumbling down —

around this place
that sends into certain danger
kind, hard-working,
tax paying, family-loving people
who contribute so much
to our community

Often there is a shofar
to remind us just how deep
are the cracks
in the foundation of a country
that unwelcomes the world,

but today there is a flautist
playing “Siyahamba”
over and over again —
walking
in the light of God,

and I think of that less-military
Jericho story —
the one that defines neighbor as

anyone from anywhere
who stops to help vulnerable ones
fallen on the side of the road.

Thank you, Maren. 

Thank you, my dear Yiayia, for teaching me that God grants us the grace gifts of refuge, safe haven and freedom. And no human — not even a big, bad, bully president — can take those gifts from us and from the generations that come after us.

May God make it so. Amen.

 

 

To the Other Side of Silence

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Barbara Resch Marincel, lifeisgrace.blog

Today is another “Wordless Wednesday.” My friend, Barbara Resch Marincel, is a sister blogger, an insightful writer, and a photographer extraordinaire. You can see one of her amazing works in the image on this post. The image reminds me of a dark time that is slowly changing with the glow of new light. And in that light, the flying birds speak to me of the wind of the Spirit. Barbara’s images are a gift to me, always bringing up a range of emotions.

Here is a bit of how she describes herself on her blog, lifeisgrace.blog.

Blogger, writer, photographer, in varying order. Finding the grace in the everyday—and the not so everyday, while living a full and creative life despite chronic pain and depression.

If you take a few moments of your day to visit Barbara’s blog, you will find enchantingly stunning photography that speaks of joy, pain, life and grace.

Back to “Wordless Wednesday.” So many reasons to be wordless. Some people may not have adequate words to express joy. Others cannot speak of deep sorrow. Some of us have no words because of pain, while others are wordless because they have fallen into the depths of depression.

There is no end to the reasons people are wordless, no end to the seasons in which they find they are without words. I have lived in that season many times, and in that place I could not speak of my pain because words were completely inadequate. I could not speak the pain out loud to any friend, and even for prayer, I had no words. Silence was my close companion.

I love that my friend, Barbara, entitles her blog post “Wordless Wednesday” every week, because in the middle of every week, she reminds me of my seasons without words. Her art is a reminder for me to give thanks that I survived those times, and celebrate that I am now on the other side of silence.

But will not forget that it is no small feat to get to the other side of silence. I must remember that it is not easy to endure silent, grief-filled times and to the other side of them. While living in my seasons of unspoken angst, one passage of Scripture brought me comfort and hope.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 
— Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

When grief has stolen our words, when we cannot speak and find ourselves in silence, may open our lives to hope, trusting the intercession of the Spirit’s sighs that are far deeper than words. 

Thank you, my friend, for “Wordless Wednesdays.”

And thanks be to God for allowing me to move to the other side of silence.

Amen.

Freedom on the Journey and Hope Along the Way

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To live without roads seemed one way not to get lost.
— Naomi Shihab Nye

It might be good advice — traveling a journey without roads. It would eliminate the decisions one must make when roads cross. It would eliminate the uncertainty when the path ahead seems unclear. We wouldn’t have to plot a course and explore all the possible routes. We might experience freedom on the journey that we have never before experienced.

I have to admit, though, I am a person who is all about road metaphors for life. I am a lover of walking labyrinths and walking the sacred path. I am constantly assessing my journey by the many kinds of roads I travel. I rejoice on smooth, friendly roads and despair on rough, ominous roads. I walk my path with trust, experience courage and wise discernment at the crossroads, and believe that I will end my journey in hope.

So the idea of “off road” living is a new, and somewhat disconcerting, prospect. And yet I am intrigued by the quote of Naomi Shihab Nye, “To live without roads seemed one way not to get lost.”

So I spent a few minutes pondering her words. With no roads, we might find ourselves discovering new places and making new paths, never fearing that we’re lost, but leaning into the exploration with anticipation. Without roads, we might wander aimlessly, passing beside astounding wonders we have not seen before. Without roads, we might find ourselves leaning into the beauty we find on our uncharted and circuitous path, beauty once hidden from us because we stayed on the road. Without roads, we might experience freedom on the journey.

The poet says that without roads, we don’t get lost. That may be a plus for us, since the fear of getting lost keeps us from the sheer, unbridled joy of exploration. Once we have dismissed that fear, we are free to roam, to discover and to observe all the beauty that lives off the path.

I think Naomi Shihab Nye’s thought about the lack of roads is an interesting parable. Its a parable about real life, and the best lesson from it may be that it is our fear keeps us from the full and fresh experiences we could embrace. When we stick too close to the roads we have always travelled, we will experience only what exists on the roads and directly beside them, nothing more. But when we have thrown off the fear that holds us hostage, courageously take leave from our familiar path, and venture into the wilderness to wander freely, we might see and experience more than we ever thought possible.

I’m not so sure this will work for me, but I plan to try some wandering that takes me far beyond my safe path. I plan to experience the emotion that comes from the fear of being lost. I plan to allow myself to be forced to place all my trust in where my heart takes me, and in God, who always gives grace to wanderers.

So the poet says I will not be lost, because there are no roads on my journey. I will not know what things I will see until they emerge before me. I may not know where I am, but I will not be lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye wrote another poem that seems to speak to this very unfamiliar concept of traveling life’s journey without familiar paths to count on. These are her words:

Where we live in the world is never one place.
Our hearts, those dogged mirrors,
keep flashing us moons before we are ready for them.

― Naomi Shihab Nye

What does it mean that our hearts “keep flashing us moons before we’re ready for them?” It sounds like a gift, that our hearts flash moons before us. It sounds like grace that, on our journey, we will see the wonder of God’s creation glowing above us in the night sky. We will be compelled to look up, gazing into a moon that changes constantly, reminding us of the waxing and waning of our lives and giving us hope to hold on to.

Thanks be to God for the freedom of the journey and the hope.

Rough, Broken Roads

5E982E74-6C78-42E3-BA27-C642528A9C0CI think often about roads, the roads that take people where they want to go, or not. I think with deep fondness about the terribly rough and broken roads we traveled in Uganda. The time was immediately after the horrific reign of Idi Amin that left the roads, and the entire country, in shambles. I remember the difficulty in traveling those rough, broken roads — washed out, bombed out, neglected for years.

I remember the fear of traveling those roads, the frightening military roadblocks, the pointed machine guns, the soldier’s demand for all that we carried in the vehicle and even the vehicle itself. I remember how some of our missionaries were left in the bush with their vehicle “confiscated” by the occupying army. I remember the roadblock murder of the dear Ugandan man who drove our mission’s supply truck.

I think of traveling a road in the middle of the night that led to my brother’s funeral, made rough by grief. I think of the rough road I traveled in leaving my home of 32 years for a new and unfamiliar place. I can never forget my rough road through serious illness and difficult recovery.

I think of roads that take people where they do not want to go — to war, to prisons, to rehabilitation centers, to the sites of natural disasters. I think about the roads in disaster areas that are simply gone.

I remember a song in a Christian musical of many years ago titled “Rough Old Roads.” It told of the rough roads Jesus walked. The song’s climactic moment gave us these words: “the road that was roughest of all to walk was the road that led to the cross.”

It is appropriate for us during Lent to recall the rough roads Jesus walked, rough for so many reasons: rejection, danger, soul temptation, angry crowds and lynch mobs, and ultimately the rough road that Jesus walked to the cross, to his death. To learn of his roads means that we get a glimpse of our own. The roads we all walk.

None of us can avoid walking the rough and broken roads that appear before us, but it is in traversing those roads that we learn who we are. Rough roads force us to take the hard and narrow way, and thus become who we must ultimately become. Roads can wind around so that we are lost, thus inviting us to take the risk of vulnerability required for an unknown and uncharted journey. Our roads teach and challenge us. When the road ahead of us is rough or broken, our commitment to stay the course results in wisdom. I call it wisdom from the journey. Our rough, broken roads make us stronger and more resilient. The rougher they are, the more we change and grow.

I could bore you with even more personal reflection about rough roads, but instead I want to share a moving poem written by Maren Tirabassi.* In the poem, she writes of broken roads and calls for a God who attends to all who find themselves on broken roads.

Here are Maren’s moving words:

I was praying this morning, God,
for all the people in Mozambique
and Malawi and Zimbabwe,
in the midst of the terrible losses
from cyclone Idai —
the deaths and injury and destruction,
the ongoing need for rescue

and I learned that the roads are broken.

I should have known —

the roads between towns
are impassable,
the bridges smashed, ports unusable.
Also those other paths —
electricity, telephone, Internet,
are gone as well.

And I went from that
flat-hand-on-the-newspaper prayer,
to the jail and my meeting
for spiritual care
and walked among others
with no access

and realized that journey
is not a parable for Lent
for these,
your children on the inside.

And so holy Valley-uplifter,
Rough-place-leveler,
I call you to attend
to all who suffer broken roads —

broken highways or heartways,
or sometimes minds that cannot
find a way out of whatever
dead end they are in,

and teach me to pay attention, too,
put my back against
every road block,
become an opener of the way home.

 

May God make it so. Amen.

 

*Maren served as a pastor in the United Church of Christ for thirty-seven years in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and is the author or editor of 20 books. You may read more of her creative and soulful writing at her blog, “Gifts in Open Hands” at the following link:

https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2019/03/21/10101/

 

 

It’s the Gospel Truth!

8832BB06-FEB5-4DAA-A86D-F8C351B53CA6I was born and raised in the South and spent most of my life in the Bible Belt. In the Bible Belt, one can hear many sayings, expressions and idioms. One of the idioms I seemed to hear continually over the years was, “It’s the Gospel truth!” Always as an exclamation. 

I learned that in life there is truth and there is Gospel truth. I learned that we need both. For instance, in my life at this moment, there is the truth that I am afraid. And there is also the Gospel truth that God watches over me through my fear. 

Sitting on the cusp between daily dialysis and the possibility of a kidney transplant, I entertain varied thoughts and feel disparate emotions. One of them is definitely fear. Thankfully, I feel relatively well physically on most days, but my body never lets me forget that I’m sick. People who know say that a transplant would change my life, that I have become so used to being ill that I don’t know what feeling really well is like. I don’t know about that.

What I do know is that the idea of a transplant is both frightening and enlivening. I also know that it may or may not happen. So I tamp down my emotions, tuck away my fear and basically try not to think about it. Where I am these days is in the place of; 1) not knowing and 2) knowing that God knows. 

As I contemplated this today, I remembered a Gospel song I used to sing back in the day. I have not thought of the song in years, but today its melody ran through my mind over and over. Many well-known musicians have sung it, but the voice I remember most clearly is the voice of Mahalia Jackson.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw still closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me . . .

In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is sending his disciples out into the world. The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, begins with these words: 

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 

In the rest of the chapter, Matthew tells us that Jesus gives his disciples many instructions as he sends them out. Most importantly, he instructs them not to fear. 

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  (Matthew10:29-31 NIV)

Transplant or dialysis for the rest of my life? I don’t know which it will be, and that’s the Gospel truth! I do know that I am afraid, but whenever I fear the future, I am often reminded that I am never outside of God’s care. It is a good thing, an important thing, to know that to God, I am worth more than many sparrows. It’s the Gospel truth!

I thought you might enjoy hearing a contemporary arrangement of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” performed by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount at this link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=k7Pk5YMkEcg

Clothed in the Love of My Friends

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Tivoli Copenhagen Poster “Rare Masked Harlequin Boy” 1972 Richardt Denmark by Permild & Rosengreen

Tucked away in my memory, there is a charming tale of a young boy. I’m not sure from where I remember the story, but I have known a few versions of it for many years. It’s one of my favorite parables. The story introduces us to young Peter, who grew up in a very poor family. Peter loved going to school and playing with his schoolmates. 

On one particular school day, Peter noticed that his friends were laughing and chattering with excitement about the masquerade ball that was the yearly highlight of the town festival.

“I cannot wait for the ball,” Suzanne said excitedly. “I shall wear a beautiful costume of indigo silk, with a mask to match it.”

William said, “l’m wearing red, a bright shiny red.” 

And Victoria gave every detail of the gown of purple velvet her mother was sewing.

One after another, the excited children described the colorful costumes their mothers would make for them — green, purple, orange, yellow, pink, gold, silver. They told of the fine fabrics their fathers had purchased on their travels. Every mother had set aside the fabric for just this occasion.

One of the children noticed that Peter was not joining in on the gleeful conversation and walked up to him.

“Peter, what will you be wearing to the festival?” she asked.

“I’m not going to the festival,” Peter said, “I do not have fine clothes to wear and my family cannot buy cloth for a costume.”

“But you must come, Peter,” another friend said. And then others joined in.

Their mood changed from gladness to sadness, and since it was now a sad and somber time for Peter, he slowly started walking toward home.

After he left, the children talked among themselves, wondering what they could do to help Peter get to the festival. William, who had been thinking through the dilemma, finally spoke out.

“I know! I don’t need so much cloth for my costume,” William said. “I can cut a small piece from my costume and give it to Peter. Perhaps his mother can sew it into something grand.”

“Yes! I can do that too,” said another. And then another, until all the children joined in. So they devised a plan to help Peter get to the festival ball.

779892E8-E60E-4139-8F7D-BA79EABE8FFDThe next day William arrived at school with a twinkle in his eye. In fact, all the children had twinkles in their eyes as they went to find Peter. Each friend brought to Peter a small scrap of cloth they had torn from their costumes. One after another, they gave Peter pieces of cloth of every shape and size. Small scraps snd larger pieces, blue, red, yellow and purple — every color you could think of really.649A5787-671B-4447-9C81-453A595FB029

Peter was speechless, and if one looked closely, they might have seen a tear slide down his cheek. Peter took all the little pieces of cloth to his mother, who would take the scraps and do her magic with needle and thread.

The special day finally came, and the happy children arrived, each clothed in a bright, beautifully colored costume. When Peter arrived, no one recognized him at first, but there was a collective gasp in the room. He entered the room, tall and proud, wearing a black mask and a multi-colored, diamond patterned costume.

Who was this person?9C1F7151-7BE8-42F3-9A14-BE364EBACCFA

It was Peter, they finally realized, in amazement!

“Look at the beautiful red on his costume. It’s the same color as what I’m wearing!” 

Another child said, “There’s part of mine!” 

And each of Peter’s friends shrieked with happiness when they saw their own pieces of cloth cut into diamond shapes and sewn together on his costume. It was stunning — from the gold brocade, to the shimmering red satin, to the verdant hue of the green taffeta, to the sparkle of the royal blue silk. All the children were happy about what they were wearing, but they were even happier about the small piece of cloth they had shared with Peter.F76CB1DF-9191-4D1D-8C0D-0727F57C7CD1

Peter thanked them, having to speak very loudly to be heard over their happy exclamations.

“Everyone is happy tonight,” Peter said, “but I am the happiest one of all, because I am clothed in the love of my friends!”

From that day forward, Peter’s friends called him “Harlequin.” And that’s the tale of how Harlequin came to be.

So what does this little tale have to do with anything. Last week, I happened to pick up a fluffy, white blanket that’s in our extra bedroom. I held it and remembered that my friend had brought it to me in the hospital when I was so sick. Her church had prayed over the blanket in a church service and sent it to me with love. I was in bed for a long time, and each time someone covered me with the blanket, I thought of the echoes of the prayers it held and the love of the friends who sent it to me. Like Harlequin, I was clothed in the love of my friends.

As I wait on a possible kidney transplant and wonder whether or not a transplant will be in my future, the one thing that comforts me is the love of my friends. The truth is that I am covered with an abundance of love. My friends from from all over the world are praying for me, breathing prayers for my well-being and my health, offering me “colorful pieces of fine cloth” in the whispered blessings they send to me. 

Last night, the depth of caring that friendship can offer became very clear to me when I received an incredible message from a friend of many years. The message was that he had begun the process of donating a kidney for me. Stunned by his announcement, emotions tender, I remembered all over again that I am clothed in the love of my friends.

For that, I am incredibly grateful.