About kathymfindley

I am a wife, mother, grandmother, friend . . . An ordained Baptist minister, trauma counselor, teacher, writer, watercolor artist, chef and blogger.

Times Terrifying and Beautiful

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These days are terrifying and beautiful. After all, in times when we are harried with work responsibilities, we might just say, “I wish I was home in my pajamas!” So here we are at home — maybe in our pajamas — settled in, comfortable, rested, and maybe restless. At least some of us are settled in at home. Some of us are rested. Others, no doubt, find themselves restless. It makes me wonder if the opposite of rested is restless. So I turned to my trusted thesaurus to find out. It turns out that the antonyms — the opposites — of “restless” are peaceful, quiet, relaxed, settled, calm and unworried.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be an antonym of restless. That is, if a person can even be an antonym in the first place. I doubt it, but what I do not doubt is the existence of the kind of human resilience that can weather pandemics. Be assured that human resilience is not a “grin and bear it” state of being. Resilience is not merely being resigned to a situation or just sticking it out. Resilience is not passive acquiescence to challenging situations. Resilience resides in a soul that is able to persevere, to rest calmly through struggle, to abide in a state of mindfulness, to meditate on the goodness of God, to walk in the darkness until the light reappears.

I can certainly identify with the quote that has recently been going around: “And the people stayed home.” It’s striking that, in the midst of the fear and anxiety people feel in these pandemic days, many have recalled and published parts of this quote. Let us spend a few moments contemplating the quote in it’s entirety:

And The People Stayed Home

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

– Kitty O’Meara

To be clear, I am not suffering this pandemic as one who has contracted the virus. I am suffering the forced isolation, the inability to reach for someone’s hand, to touch a friend, to embrace my grandchildren. And I have not been isolated only because of this pandemic; I have been isolated from others since my kidney transplant on November 12. That’s a very long time to be separated from my community. Through that time, a friend or two visited me, but we could not touch one another or be in close proximity.

And now the coronavirus has isolated virtually everyone, and I suddenly realize that we’re all in this together. It makes me wonder what everyone is doing at home. And it makes me hope that at least a few of us are doing as Kitty O’Meara writes, “Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows.“

On the idea of meeting our shadows . . .  I consider Lent to be a time of confession, a time of looking into my heart of hearts, my soul of souls, confessing my sins to God and receiving God’s mercy and pardon. I emerge from my confession with my soul cleansed. Only then am I ready. I am ready to steel my heart and set my face toward the journey with Christ to the cross. and then prepare my heart for glorious resurrection.

My confession today is that I have cursed my isolation rather than giving it to God and allowing myself to enter into a place of rest and re-creation, a sacred space that would heal the anxieties of my soul. I confess that I did not dance or pray. I did not rest or make art. But the pandemic changed my soul’s response to my isolation. I found that I was no longer in post transplant isolation, I was now in pandemic isolation and it felt very different to me. It felt dangerous and potentially fatal. It felt far-reaching, pervasive and rampant. It felt lethal, at least potentially lethal.

In the face of the pandemic’s imminent danger, my soul stopped its complaining and began its healing, my healing. It was the healing I needed all along, but now an ominous virus flipped a switch inside me. I did art again for the first time since the transplant. I sang, I prayed, I meditated. And I met my shadow and re-discovered the hidden place where fear reigns within me. That was not a bad thing. Rather, it was a good thing that said to me, “Do not give power to your hidden fear. Let your hidden resilience have the power and let it rise up within you. You will be healed!”

I believed those words — literally, as I hoped for physical healing after my transplant; and completely, body and soul, as I accepted the spiritual and emotional healing my soul craved. I want to leave you with a poem written on March 11, 2020 by Lynn Ungar.

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Blackdeath.   Wikimedia Commons

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath —
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love —
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Lynn Ungar is a poet, and wrote this poem on March 11, 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

 

 

 

 

“Crimson Contagion,” Grace and Eternal Hope

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Today of all days, with the entire world embroiled in a real live pandemic, I will not write out of political bias. Instead, I want to open our eyes to some very troubling present realities. My focus is on the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and how circumstances have transpired, both on a logistical level and a human one. I read a Huffington Post article this morning revealing that last year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a months-long exercise that showed that the nation was unprepared for a pandemic. The exercise, code named “Crimson Contagion,” had chilling similarities to the current real-life coronavirus pandemic. That fact got my attention!

microscopic magnification of coronavirus that causes flu and chronic pneumonia leading to deathThis pandemic has taken a toll on so many Americans. Mothers are struggling with children being at home, some having to learn on the fly how to home school them. Families grieve the loss of loved ones who died from the virus. Older adults fear their increased vulnerability and their body’s inability to fight the virus. Immunosuppressed persons like I am are terrified to leave home and are incessantly washing their hands, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer. Many people have lost their jobs while businesses all over the country have shut their doors. Churches have suspended worship services and other gatherings indefinitely. That is merely a tiny snapshot of the human toll the coronavirus is taking.

On top of any list we could make describing loss, inconvenience or isolation, there is widespread, overwhelming fear that has made its way into our very souls. This is a pandemic that has descended upon all of us — real people with real fear.

I’ll get back to the human toll of this virus, but I want to say a bit more about the “Crimson Contagion” exercise, which involved officials from more than a dozen federal agencies. The Huffington Post described the “Crimson Contagion” scenario:

 . . . several states and hospitals responding to a scenario in which a pandemic flu that began in China was spread by international tourists and was deemed a pandemic 47 days after the first outbreak. By then, in the scenario, 110 million Americans were expected to become ill.

The simulation that ran from January to August exposed problems that included funding shortfalls, muddled leadership roles, scarce resources, and a hodgepodge of responses from cities and states . . . It also became apparent that the U.S. was incapable of quickly manufacturing adequate equipment and medicines for such an emergency . . .

According to a New York Times report, White House officials said that an executive order following the exercise improved the availability of flu vaccines. The administration also said it moved this year to increase funding for a pandemic program in HHS.

But Trump’s administration eliminated a pandemic unit within the Department of Homeland Security in 2018. And weeks after the first real coronavirus case was diagnosed in the U.S., Trump submitted a 2021 budget proposal calling for a $693.3 million reduction in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There you have it! In the throes of our real time pandemic, we hear of a “play-like” pandemic — a simulation conducted in 2019 that might have prepared us all, including our nation’s leadership. That didn’t happen, and those of us who have been in the world for so many years know the saying well: “Don’t cry over spilt milk.”

So we wipe up the milk that’s all over the table in front of us, and then we go about making our way through the dark, murky waters of this pandemic. We wash our hands, distance ourselves from others, stay at home, figure out how to handle our children who are now at home, cancel our travel plans, mourn those who have died, pray for those who are ill from the virus, grieve the loss of the life we knew before and pick up the pieces of what’s left.

What’s left? Well, what’s left is our ability to find ways to help our neighbor, to feed the hungry, to comfort the sick, to reach out to the lonely, to love the children and to pray for one another without ceasing. We may have to learn to do those things by phone or online chatting, but we will find a way.

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Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.; public domain; St. Quirinus of Neuss – for those affected by bubonic plague and smallpox; Edwin the Martyr (St. Edmund) — for victims of pandemics; St. Anthony the Great – Patron of those affected by infectious diseases

Those of us who are religious will pray without ceasing — imploring God to be merciful, asking various saints to intercede for us, lighting candles to express devotion and sitting for a moment in the flickering light that reminds us that God’s promise is about light overcoming the darkness.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
(John 1:5)

In the end, perhaps we will have discovered that, through this terrifying and expanding virus, that we have learned how to care more and to love deeper. Perhaps we will find that we have a more heartfelt capacity for compassion. For that, God will pour out grace upon our weariness and renew our eternal hope.

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
(Isaiah 58:10 ESV)

May God make it so. Amen.

 

 

Peace, Pandemic and Love

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What a time in the story of our lives! In my lifetime, I have never been personally affected by a pandemic. I have lived a little over seventy years without having this troubling and potentially deadly experience. My prayer is that once the pandemic of year 2020 has run its course, we will not have to live through another one for at least seventy years.

In the past few days, I have heard from students lamenting the loss of their senior year. I have commiserated with friends who feared for their elderly parents, especially those in nursing homes. I listened recently to a discussion about how we could possibly keep incarcerated persons safe from this virus. I have listened to friends and family express deeply held fears about how the virus might affect them and their families. I have heard almost daily from my adult son (an unprecedented number of calls in such a short time) who is worried about his parents and about his wife and their new baby to be born in early April. I have heard from friends my age who are quarantined at home fearing for their health. I have communicated with post transplant patients like me expressing their most intense fear because of their suppressed immune systems. As a recent transplant recipient myself, I completely understand their angst of being on immunosuppressant medications. Like them, I know I have no immune system right now.

There is no doubt that all over the world people are frightened. People of faith, however, know that faith is stronger than fear, God is stronger than despair and love is stronger than death. Of course, even though we might have great faith, we must admit that we don’t know what God will do or how God can protect us. That is not unfaith; it is the reality of our humanity. Oh, we can take the easy way out and proclaim words like, “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason.” But doesn’t the past suffering and pain of your life convince you that those words are not your reality?

One of my former seminary professors taught and preached often about the experience of Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Dr. Frank Tupper’s answer to the question about how a loving God could allow Christ’s suffering went something like this: “because before the foundation of the world God had chosen the way of self-limitation.”

Dr. Tupper also said some things that some people might consider blasphemy: 

I do not believe that God is in control of everything that happens in our world. Indeed, I would argue that God controls very, very little of what happens in our world. God chose not to be a ‘do anything, anytime, anywhere’ kind of God. In every specific historical context with its possibilities and limitations, God always does the most God can do.

In my mind, and through the crucible of my life, I believe that God wanted authentic and honest relationships with humankind that affirm both divine love and human freedom. God built that kind of relationship with me when, through every life storm, every time of despair, every disappointment, every fear, every loss — and through my life-threatening illness — God did not change any circumstance of my suffering, but God promised me a love that would not let me go, ever.

In these days, God is not stopping the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic. God is not stilling our current storm. God is not taking away our very real fear. God is not telling us, “Go on out to that social gathering, I am in control.” Instead God has promised us peace through the words of Jesus recorded in John 16:33:

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world.

I pray that you will find peace in these troubling days and that your faith will be even a little stronger than your fear. I pray that you will not experience economic hardship and that you will have all you need. I pray that illness will spare you and those you love. I pray that your children will thrive even though their schools are closed. I pray that you will find ways to worship God even if the doors of your church are shuttered. Most of all, I pray that you will feel God’s love as a love that will never let you go.

The words of one of my favorite hymns express these thoughts so well:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that follow’st all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow thro’ the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red,
life that shall endless be.

— Author: George Matheson, 1842-1906

Perhaps you would like to spend a few moments of quiet meditation listening to this beautiful hymn arrangement.

World Kidney Day and . . . My Four Month Transplant Anniversary

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March 12th is World Kidney Day.

World Kidney Day is observed every year. All across the globe many hundreds of events take place from public screenings in Argentina to Zumba marathons in Malaysia. But for me, the day means something personal and very real. March 12 will be exactly four months since I had my kidney transplant at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Five years on dialysis presented its own challenges. But these past four months post transplant have been grueling, challenging and confining. In fact, for various reasons including bouts of infection, I am still quarantined at home. I deal every day with the harsh reality that powerful immunosuppressant medications have decimated my immune system to the point that getting out among people is not possible, for now. On top of that, the side effects of my drugs are harrowing at times. There are so many things I love to do are now very difficult, if not impossible. I knew, of course, that a transplant is not a cure. It is just a treatment, the best treatment available. All of the post transplant realities have been bewildering and unsettling. I sometimes describe post transplant reality as the disarrangement of my way of life.

At the same time, I celebrate the miracle of the living gift I have received. I am deeply grateful and humbled by the living donor who contacted me months ago to offer his kidney — my long-time friend Greg Adams of Little Rock, Arkansas. After almost two years of testing at hospitals in Atlanta and Jacksonville, Florida, Greg was approved to donate. He was not a match for me, so the matching began. I was eventually gifted with a kidney that traveled to me from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, from a kind and lovely woman — Corita. Greg gave his kidney to Autry at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

But that was only the beginning of the miracle. Greg’s willingness to donate his kidney to someone he did not know created a chain of eight donors and eight recipients. His altruistic donation enabled eight patients to receive new kidneys and new lives.

For all of this, I say: Thanks be to God, the Giver of Life.

11288B80-C8EA-479A-8676-ECC196FAC925It is a difficult prospect to ask someone to consider donating a kidney. I can not forget that they experience the pain of surgery and recovery, as well as feeling the loss of losing a vital organ. So when someone like Greg appears out of the blue and offers his kidney, I can only respond with heartfelt gratefulness and deep humility. Because it is so difficult for most everyone to ask another person to donate, the National Kidney Foundation offers this word of encouragement: A CONVERSATION CAN SAVE A LIFE!

Whether you need a kidney or are considering donation, I encourage you to start the conversation, first with a trusted friend or family member. Get comfortable with the idea of asking someone for a kidney. Begin “the conversation” with anyone that might consider donating. For thise of you who might consider donation, again start the conversation with someone you trust. Then visit some of the websites below to learn all you can. Start the conversation because all of us want kidney health for every person.

Understanding Living Donation

Relatives, loved ones, friends and even individuals who wish to remain anonymous often serve as living donors to spare a patient a long and uncertain wait. In 2019, more than 7,300 transplants were made possible by living donors. If you are considering living donation, it is critical to gather as much information as you can from various sources. Start here for living donor information: https://unos.org/transplant/living-donation/

So celebrating March 12 — World Kidney Day and my own kidney transplant anniversary — is a way to create awareness. Awareness must be about preventive behaviors, about risk factors, about how to live with kidney disease and awareness of the possibility of becoming a living donor. Consider these alarming statements:

    • 15% of US adults—37 million people—are estimated to have Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).
    • Most (9 in 10) adults with CKD do not know they have it.
    • In 2016, nearly 125,000 people in the United States started treatment for End Stage Kidney Disease (ESKD), and more than 726,000 (2 in every 1,000 people) were on dialysis or were living with a kidney transplant.
    • Over 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.
    • Every 14 minutes someone is added to the kidney transplant list.13 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.
    • In 2014, 4,761 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant. Another, 3,668 people became too sick to receive a kidney transplant.
    • There are currently 121,678 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the U.S. Of these, 100,791 await kidney transplants.
    • The median wait time for an individual’s first kidney transplant is 3.6 years and can vary depending on health, compatibility and availability of organs.
    • Every day, more than 240 people on dialysis die.
    • In 2014, 17,107 kidney transplants took place in the US. Of these, 11,570 came from deceased donors and 5,537 came from living donors.

 

F7B90784-D9FE-4923-9795-A284C51E6730We don’t want to know this part, but here it is anyway:

— About 1,400 children began care for kidney failure in 2013.

— The number of children with kidney failure is increasing every year.

— About 9,900 children were being treated for kidney failure as of December 31, 2013.

— The most common initial treatment for kidney failure among children overall is hemodialysis (56%).

— Peritoneal dialysis is the most common initial treatment in children younger than 9 years and for those who weigh less than 44 pounds (20 kg).

— There were over 1000 children waiting for a kidney transplant as of November 27, 2015.

— The number of children receiving kidney transplants was highest in 2005 at 899.

— About 700 children received a kidney transplant in 2014.

— About 70% of children with kidney disease will develop kidney failure by age 20.

— Children with kidney disease have a greater chance of dying than children in the general population. 

The organ shortage continues . . .

EE027B6E-5AF0-449D-8682-79B6894E4276Each year, the number of people on the waiting list continues to be much larger than both the number of donors and transplants. Perhaps we can make a difference by supporting persons on dialysis, persons who are making the decision about dialysis, persons who are recovering from a transplant and persons who are considering donating a kidney. Perhaps we could start conversations.

Still, there is good news:

Yes, there is good news in 2019 statistical information for persons who have suffered with kidney disease for years, maybe even their entire lives. I do not exaggerate when I say that thousands of persons languishing on dialysis really need good news!

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I can definitely celebrate these statistics. But I will never forget that Jalen, my youngest grandson, was born with kidney disease and went on dialysis. I will never forget the fear and frustration his parents felt. I will never forget the sheer joy we all experienced when his kidney disease resoled itself as his little body grew.

As I celebrate World Kidney Day on the 12th day of March and my day — on the 12th day of November, it is fair to say that my life has changed in ways I know and in ways I do not yet know. Yet, on this day I will think of Greg’s words about donating and receiving: “We are forever connected in a special way — and that’s a good thing.” On this day, I will know that healing for me will continue. I will be propped up by my dearest and closest friends, by my friends all over the world who pray for me, by my loving church family, by my dear caregiver husband and by my family near and far. 

I will say again: For all of this, thanks be to God, the Giver of Life.

 

For more information about kidney disease and about Living Donor programs, please visit these links:

https://www.worldkidneyday.org/facts/chronic-kidney-disease/

https://www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease/publications-resources/2019-national-facts.html

https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/answering

https://www.organdonor.gov/statistics-stories/statistics.html

https://www.kidney.org/news/newsroom/factsheets/Organ-Donation-and-Transplantation-Stats

https://optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/news/organ-donation-again-sets-record-in-2019/

 

 

 

The Path to Inner Peace, Joy and Freedom

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Peace, joy and freedom.
All three are needed things, soul things that make us content. They are not easily gained, however, as the daily routine we call life attacks them on a regular basis.

How troubling it is to lose one’s sense of peace. A number of life situations can result in a loss of soul-peace — worry about illness, financial concerns, difficulty with children, caring for aging parents, moving to another home. It would be impossible to complete the list of things that can steal our sense of peace.

F96B5DE4-5888-46C4-8956-5E9B8C79538EPerhaps we should go one step further, though, and acknowledge that our loss is not merely the loss of peace, it is the loss of peacefulness. That loss can be disconcerting at best and devastating at worse. All of us long for a deep and abiding sense of peacefulness. We sometimes cry out “peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)

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Joy! 
At times, it can be hard for us to feel joy. I think it is because we’re not at all sure what joy hidden inside the soul feels like. For joy is not simply happiness over something that has come to us — a new house or car, a life milestone like graduation or a wedding, a celebration of the birth of a child. Such things seem to bring joy, but our actual response to such events is a brief burst of happiness. Genuine joy — soul joy — happens when something inside of us deeply responds to
joy and we tuck it away safely in our hearts. And that kind of joy is not a brief response to a happy event, it is an abiding, spiritual state of being that comes with a grace-filled assurance that Christ came to make sure we live our lives ‘more abundantly.” The message from Jesus comes to us using various words:

I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.
(John 10:10, paraphrased)

I came to give life with joy and abundance.
(The VOICE translation)

I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.
(The Good News Bible)

Living “Life in all its fullness” seems to be the end result of abiding joy, in the soul and in the heart. Even when we listened to the song our children learned to sing, “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” we somehow knew that true joy was internal not external. That joy resided in our hearts and in our souls.

CCBEBC8B-56E7-44EF-A9D0-C73F395A35E6Finally freedom — the kind of freedom we have when peace and joy is hidden in the deepest recesses of our being. Freedom does not leave those who practice gratefulness, prayer, meditation and confession. It is at the altar of confession that God offers us assurance of pardon. It’s the opposite of the soul’s bondage. I cannot help but recall the words of the Apostle Paul about the nature of Christian freedom that so boldly introduce the 5th chapter of Galatians:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)

Frederick Buechner added a new dimension to our longing for peace, joy and freedom with this powerful thought:

Unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you,
there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me.

Therein lies the crux of living the Christian life: an interconnectedness among those who follow Christ, a community of faith in which each one supports the other. It is an interconnectedness that transcends differences of opinion, different ways of practicing faith, disagreements about which hymns are more appropriate in worship or, even more trivial, what kind of light bulbs should we use in the sanctuary.

Our interconnectedness ensures that each of us will have the will and the faithfulness to enjoy the kind of peace, joy and freedom that abides in us when we “do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together and when we exhort and encourage one another. The Message translation by Eugene Peterson calls it “spurring each other on.” (Hebrews 10:25)

Perhaps caring for one another — exhorting, encouraging and “spurring each other on” — is the message of this beloved hymn that so often informs our worship and our community when we sing it together:

Brother, sister, let me serve you;
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey;
We are family on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the miles and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping;
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joys and sorrows
Till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in Heaven
We shall find such harmony,
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony.

— THE SERVANT SONG, Words and music by Richard Gillard

In our deepest time of prayer and contemplation and in the sacred refuge of our community of faith, our souls find peace, joy and freedom — for all of us, for each of us.

May God make it so. Amen.

On Rearranging Things: 2020 International Women’s Day

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March 8 — 2020 International Women’s Day

Commemorating 2020 International Women’s Day seems important. It is important to me to pause on this day, because I am a woman who has struggled for equality. My female friends and colleagues have had similar struggled.

In the past weeks we have watched one woman after another end their candidacies for president of the United States. Senator Elizabeth Warren commented that Americans still may not be able to see a woman in the role of president. She said it with obvious sadness and with a catch in her throat, displaying the disappointment of many women and girls. Those of us who are older lament that we will not see a woman as president in our lifetimes, while little girls, teens and young women were hoping beyond hope for evidence in 2020 that dreams are possible. Lily Adams, granddaughter of the late Texas Governor Ann Richards, said this on Thursday night in an MSNBC interview: “Women have to run faster to get half as far.” How true that is!

6ABA8DA9-32CD-49DC-B9A7-BEB584D83D27International Women’s Day gives me an opportunity to celebrate women who are all-in, working tirelessly for equality, justice and positive change and constantly rearranging things. This years theme is “If you can see her, you can be her.” It is an appropriate theme for women who struggle daily to be seen and respected as equals.

In these days, we are seeing, right before our eyes, so many stunning examples of women who champion various causes.

FC5FBE11-6734-47C6-A38E-933B9D902D1FSarah Tenoi
Activist Sarah Tenoi is leading the charge against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya.

 

92066DDD-0F40-4E55-98AD-AB30B1A9D94BMalala Yousafzai
In 2012 at the age of 15, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan. The assassination attempt was a response to her stand for the right of girls to gain an education after the Taliban banned them from attending school.

 

DD465146-0702-479F-A8E9-67C6EAEF42D3Helena Morrissey
Helena Morrissey is a British businesswoman and mother of nine who is helping to change the face of British boardrooms.

 
6E324393-F712-4FE2-AD26-04DC9FEE1425Sarah Hesterman
As the founder and acting president of Girl Up in Qatar, Sarah Hesterman works with the UN to provide young girls with education in developing countries. Hesterman hopes that providing greater opportunities will allow girls to grow up with more self-confidence.

D50E2B31-E103-4C36-8BE9-9A07B452E4AFGreta Thunberg
Greta is a Swedish environmental activist on climate change whose campaigning has gained international recognition. She is known for her straightforward speaking manner through which she urges immediate action to address the climate crisis.

“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she says, tugging on the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt. “That is all we are saying.”

It’s a simple truth, delivered by a teenage girl in a fateful moment in our time. (Time Magazine) 

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In the early years of my career as a graphic designer and then through my years of ministry, I was often accused of being aggressive. Now you need to understand that “Aggressive” would be the last word I would have used to describe myself. But like many women, I often found myself biding my time, playing the game of acting “ladylike” around my male colleagues, and choosing my words and my demeanor carefully when I wanted to make a point.

That was Stage 1 of me.
Stage 2 of me is the one that was labeled aggressive. Those who know me well would say that there is not an aggressive bone in my body. And that is true (unless I have to defend my child or my grandchildren). But I can be as aggressive as I need to be when injustice rears its ugly head or someone I love needs defending. Stage 3 of me has learned to be respectfully assertive. “Respectfully assertive” behavior helped to open doors that once were closed to me. That’s a good thing.

But here’s the caveat — as other women have, I have been compelled to learn how to be aggressive/assertive along a continuum, examining my situation and wisely choosing what my aggressive/assertive level should be at any given moment. The continuum looks something like this . . .

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Like many, many women, I know that in order to effect positive change in the world, positive assertiveness is key. It’s all a matter of being self-confident enough to step up even if others criticize, speak out even when others try to silence you, persevere even when your detractors try to stop you from moving forward, hold on to your dreams even when dream-less persons tell you that your dreams are impossible.

My path to ordination was riddled with people around me telling me that ordination for a woman was impossible. At that time, there was only one ordained Baptist woman in the state of Arkansas and she was ordained in another state. My ordination process required enormous change in almost every person and institution around me. That change was not pleasant for anyone. It went on for months with lots of chaos and no resolution in sight. At the time, I thought I had only two choices: to abandon my desire for change or to stay in the struggle until change happened. I faced off with criticizers, silencers, discouragers and dream-less persons. Perseverance won that time!

My ordination quest was only one of many situations in which I had to fight for positive change. So I was almost always on the bad side of someone, and most unfortunately, I earned a reputation of being persistent, stubborn, insistent, resolved, Tenacious, determined, single-minded, resolute, uncompromising, annoying, troublesome, unconscionable and — wait for it — aggressive. I actually like most of those labels!

During a particularly discordant struggle with Little Rock city government about advocacy programs have for young people, a friend and mentor, who was the city’s Director of Community Programs, shared with me a Sierra Leonean Proverb that turned out to be an incredibly practical piece of wisdom. I immediately framed it and put it in my office so that I could see it often. She gave me that proverb in the late 90’s and, to this day, it is visible and prominent in my space.

She who upsets a thing should know how to rearrange it.
— a Sierra Leonean proverb

I seemed to upset lots of things in my lifetime. Often, I had no idea how to rearrange them. So I want to tell you about a woman who achieved what seemed impossible in her life and rearranged many things — discrimination, injustice, racism. She definitely upset things in her workplace, in the people around her and in NASA’s algorithms for space travel. She also rearranged those algorithms and helped send our astronauts into space.

625274F6-C5B5-47FD-A72E-3B8A4BEC9983Today I celebrate and remember Katherine Johnson, famed NASA mathematician and inspiration for the film “Hidden Figures.” She died a few weeks ago at 101 years of age. For almost her entire life, her brilliant work in American space travel went unnoticed. She was a pioneering mathematician who, along with a group of other brilliant black women, made U.S. space travel possible. And no one noticed for decades.

In fact, her work went largely unrecognized until the release of “Hidden Figures,” a film portrayal of Johnson’s accomplishments while the space agency was still largely segregated. Only the film, which was released in 2017, resulted in international recognition of Katherine Johnson’s genius.

Interestingly enough, her talent was evident early on. Her natural aptitude for math was quickly evident, and she became one of three black students chosen to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools. After graduating from high school at age 14, Katherine Johnson enrolled at West Virginia State, a historically black college. As a student, she took every math course offered by the college. Multiple professors mentored her, including W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African-American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. Claytor added new mathematics courses just for Johnson, and she graduated summa cum laude in 1937 at age 18, with degrees in mathematics and French. She started her career as a teacher but had her sights set on mathematical research.

Following an executive order that prohibited racial discrimination in the defense industry, Johnson was hired at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor. She was one of several black researchers with college degrees hired for the agency’s aeronautical lab through the initiative.

Johnson was part of NASA’s Computer Pool, a group of mathematicians whose data powered NASA’s first successful space missions. The group’s success largely hinged on the accomplishments of its black women members. Katherine Johnson was tasked with performing trajectory analysis for Alan Shepherd’s 1961 mission, the first American human spaceflight. She co-authored a paper on the safety of orbital landings in 1960, the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division received credit for a report.

In 1953 she worked in the facility’s segregated wing for women, but was quickly transferred to the Flight Research Division, where she remained for several years. But midway through the ’50s, the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to intensify. So did Katherine Johnson’s career. Without the precision of “human computer” Katherine Johnson, NASA’s storied history might have looked a lot different. Her calculations were responsible for safely rocketing men into space and securing the American lead in the space race against the Soviet Union.

After the release of the book “Hidden Figures,” which was published in 2016 and turned into a film the following year, officials lobbed heaps of praise on Johnson and two other black women mathematicians in the agency’s Computer Pool, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. NASA renamed a facility for Johnson in February 2019. A street in front of NASA headquarters in Washington was renamed “Hidden Figures Way” for the three women in July.

In November of 2019, the three women — plus engineer Christine Darden — received Congressional Gold Medals for their contributions to space travel. Vaughan and Jackson received theirs posthumously. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine called Johnson an “American Hero who helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space.”

President Barack Obama honored Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her pivotal work in American space travel. Yet, Johnson’s work was still minimized and unrecognized by her male co-workers. Around her NASA workplace in the 1960s, she and her colleagues were known as “computers in skirts.”

I saved for last the best story of all! In 1962, John Glenn actually demanded Katherine Johnson’s help before his orbit around Earth. He was skeptical of the computers that calculated his spacecraft’s trajectory, so he told engineers to “get the girl” and to compare her handwritten calculations to the computer’s.

“‘If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,'” Johnson remembered Glenn saying. She gave the OK, and Glenn’s flight was a success.

Not to be flippant about the 2020 democratic presidential nomination process, but here’s a good message to send to whichever white guy gets the nomination: “When you are choosing your running mate, ‘get the girl!’”

And to all the women who hold up far more than half the sky, I honor you on this International Women’s Day and cheer you on toward your dreams and toward your mission of rearranging the world.

 

 

A Different Kind of Blog Post: Reviewing the Enneagram

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Settle in! This is a lengthy post. If you are interested in information about your personality type, the Enneagram is a helpful tool. And if you are interested in the Enneagram, or even curious about it, read on! If you’re not interested in any of that, wait for my next blog post.

“What’s your number?
That is the most frequently asked question about the Enneagram.

The second frequently asked question?
“What in the world is an Enneagram?”

Here’s the official definition according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

en·ne·a·gram
noun
en·​nea·​gram | \ ˈe-nē-ə-ˌgram \ plural : enneagrams

Definition of enneagram
1. a regular geometric figure with nine points : the figure inscribed within a regular nine-sided polygon
2. a system of classifying personality types that is based on a nine-pointed starlike figure inscribed within a circle in which each of the nine points represents a personality type and its psychological motivations (such as the need to be right or helpful) influencing a person’s emotions, attitudes, and behavior).

 

Imposed Isolation and a Compromised Immune System

When one system is weak — my immune system — why not work on boosting another system? In this case, I mean my psychological system (which actually needs constant attention). So while I am in an immunosuppressed state of imposed isolation inside my house, I have taken some time to look back on the Enneagram notes I have used through the years. When I first studied the Enneagram, I was asking, “Who am I?”

I’m still asking! I now know that determining who I am is a life-long proposition, so I still need a season of introspection from time to time. Hence, I pulled out my Enneagram diagrams and notes. Let me say at the outset that no system can tell you who you are. The best the Enneagram can do is to offer a bit of insight into various personality types. It has been helpful for me, so I decided to share an Enneagram overview today.

I recently read several of Father Richard Rohr’s daily meditations focused on the Enneagram. He understands the Enneagram not merely as a personality typing system, but as a tool for personal transformation. In one of his daily meditations, Father Rohr says this about the Enneagram:

If you know the Enneagram already, my hope is that you will learn something new about yourself, someone you care about, or even someone you don’t care for very much. Compassion, empathy, and forgiveness—for the self and the other—are some of the great fruits of this labor. And if you aren’t familiar with the Enneagram at all, know that these meditations are simply pointing in the direction of a much greater wisdom to be explored.

 

Some History on the Enneagram

In the late 1960s, Oscar Ichazo began teaching the “Traditional Enneagram” as we know it today. The Enneagram is widely taught as a way of understanding personality, addiction, relationships, vocation and other areas that all of us need more fully understand. However, the Enneagram symbol has roots in antiquity and can be traced back at least as far as the works of Pythagoras. The philosophy behind the Enneagram contains components from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy (particularly Socrates, Plato, and the Neo-Platonists)—all traditions that stretch back into antiquity. The Enneagram of Personality Types is a modern synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom traditions. (The Enneagram Institute)

People who know the Enneagram in a superficial way think it’s about putting people into boxes, but it actually works to free people from their self-created boxes. While there are tests and quizzes that can help individuals identify their primary Enneagram type, finding our “number” is just the first step. We get to know our “number” so we can begin freeing ourselves from the passions, fixations, and fears to which our ego has become attached.  — Father Richard Rohr

As Father Richard would suggest, we should remember that the Enneagram  does not definitively determine one’s personality type. Its nine categories are not meant to restrict us to a certain way of being or “name” us. Rather, it is  a dynamic system that recognizes that humans are far too complex to fit easily into simple categories. It does, however, offer insight.

The Enneagram  can be  a powerful tool for self-discovery and spiritual transformation, but it shouldn’t be our only tool. The Enneagram is most helpful when used in conjunction with other practices like study, contemplation, therapy, spiritual direction, and life in community with others. The Enneagram’s most important purpose  is  to help us uncover the traps that keep us from being our best selves. That kind of insight is invaluable.
— From the Daily Meditations of Richard Rohr published on February 23, 2020

The Nine Personality Types

85EE4E48-DD90-454E-A9E7-A505DB185E1ELet’s begin by looking at a traditional Enneagram. The types are normally referred to by their numbers, but sometimes their “characteristic roles” are used instead. There are also  “stress” and “security” points which are the types (called Wings) connected by the lines of the enneagram figure and are believed to influence a person who is in more adverse or relaxed circumstances. According to this theory, someone with a primary One type, for example, may begin to think, feel and act more like a Four type when stressed or a Seven type when relaxed.

 

The Enneagram Wings

Most, but not all, Enneagram of Personality theorists teach that a person’s basic type is affected to some extent by the personality dynamics of the two adjacent types as indicated on the enneagram figure. These two types are often called “wings”. A person with the Three personality type, for example, is understood to have points Two and Four as their wing types. A person may be understood, therefore, to have a core type and one or two wing types which influence but do not change the core type.

 

The Enneagram at a Glance

The table below offers some of the principal characteristics of the nine types along with their basic relationships. This table expands upon Oscar Ichazo’s ego fixations, holy ideas, passions, and virtues, primarily using material from Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types (revised edition) by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

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Every single person has access to all nine numbers. Based on nature, nurture, and discipline, you express the values of each number at varying degrees of intensity based on your lived experience. You are not one thing; you are complex and multifaceted; you are interconnected. This is a vital paradigm shift. When you consider having access to all nine numbers simultaneously, you increase and expand your capacity for thriving.  [1] 

Considering what you know of the Enneagram so far, in what numbers do you experience ease, or in Jerome Lubbe’s language, sense “efficiency”? Where do you feel less efficient? Great insight can be gained from Richard Rohr’s February 29th meditation that speaks of understanding the Enneagram as a Whole-Identity Profile instead of a single number personality “type,” He says that by seeing the Enneagram as a Whole-Identity Profile, one can expand their capacity for growth in infinite ways.

 . . . When you shift the Enneagram Framework from being a number to having efficiencies in all nine numbers, the Enneagram language shifts with it. It becomes about nature and values instead of type and reductive behaviors. For example, number Seven, traditionally associated with the title of “Enthusiast,” is instead represented by the innate human capacity for “Enthusiasm” as well as the value of “Experiences. 

“I am an enthusiast” becomes “I value experiences” which allows more room for nuance, invites growth and begs the question, “. . . and what else do I value?”. . . There is no human who is defined by a single number.

If you have resisted being “pinned down” to any one Enneagram number, perhaps Lubbe’s approach will help you see all of these qualities within yourself. Take a few minutes to read the statements below aloud slowly, pausing for reflection after each one. Notice any sensations in your body. Observe the difference between the impact of “I am” statements versus “I value.” After reading all nine, where do you feel the most energy and resonance? What values are especially meaningful to you? What values do you want to spend more time cultivating?   [1]  https://cac.org/enneagram-part-one-body-center-weekly-summary-2020-02-29/

 

Jerome Lubbe’s Enneagram as a Whole-Identity Profile

Eight: I am a Challenger = I value Autonomy 

Nine: I am a Peacemaker = I value Serenity 

One: I am a Reformer = I value Justice 

Two: I am a Helper = I value Appreciation 

Three: I am an Achiever = I value Creativity

Four: I am an Individualist = I value Authenticity  

Five: I am an Investigator = I value Clarity 

Six: I am a Loyalist = I value Guarantees 

Seven: I am an Enthusiast = I value Experiences   [2] 

When we understand the Enneagram as a Whole-Identity Profile instead of a single number personality “type,” we expand our capacity for growth . . . You are not a personality. You are not even multiple personalities. You have an identity—and what creates and characterizes your identity can be charted by the nine numbers of the Enneagram.

6F063E55-B677-43FB-92DD-CBEA902AD935The anatomy of the brain reflects this: we are not left-brained or right-brained, we are whole brained. [3]  The same is true for the Enneagram.

To put it more plainly, you are not a personality type or number on the Enneagram. You are a whole person who has a whole identity — you are all nine numbers.

https://cac.org/enneagram-part-one-body-center-weekly-summary-2020-02-29/

 

Too Much Information?

This post may have been too much information for you. Or you may be interested in looking further into the Enneagram. If so, there are many excellent books on the subject as well as online information. You may also be asking how you can determine your Enneagram type. Online you will find many life coaches, spiritual directors, counselors, ministers and others who use Enneagram types with their clients/parishioners. Also at the end of this post I will list some websites that offer free tests that many be helpful to you, with the caveat that after you complete your test, they may offer you further information at a cost.

What’s most important is that whatever personality work you engage in leads you to a deeper knowing of yourself. The goal is to you know who you are, understand your behavior and use the information you have to guide your life journey and follow your dreams. No! The Enneagram test — nor any other personality test — will not make you into your best self. Only you can do that, through self-examination, prayer, contemplation and a process of clearing your soul of anything that might be holding you captive. My prayer for you is that you might search patiently and persistently for whatever brings you inspiration, insight, self-understanding and transformation.

P.S. — I’m a “Three!”

 

 

Online Enneagram Tests

The Enneagram Personality Test – Truity
This personality test is based on the Enneagram personality theory, which describes personality in terms of nine types, each driven by their own set of core emotions, fears, and beliefs. This basic 105 question test is free and takes about 10 minutes to complete. https://www.truity.com/test/enneagram-personality-test

The Fast Enneagram Test. https://enneagramtest.net/

Eclectic Energies Enneagram Tests
Offers two online Enneagram tests help you to determine which personality type you are. Your wing will also be indicated. https://www.eclecticenergies.com/enneagram/test

Additional Resources

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Book: The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth; 
Paperback – published September 5, 2017 by Christopher L. Heuertz(Author), Richard Rohr(Foreword) Also available: The Sacred Enneagran Workbook.

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For Further Study

Chris HeuertzEnneagram MapmakersExploring the Interior Landscapes of the Ego (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), podcastcoming March 24, 2020

Richard Rohr and Russ Hudson, The Enneagram as a Tool for Your Spiritual Journey (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CD, DVD, MP3 download  

Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types (Bantam Books: 1999) 

Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2001, 2013) 

 

References

[1] Jerome D. Lubbe, Whole-Identity: A Brain-Based Enneagram Model for (W)holistic Human Thriving (Thrive Neuro: 2019), 30-31. Artwork by Aimee Strickland; used with permission.

[2] Ibid., 32. Dr. Lubbe’s upcoming book, which will be available May 26, 2020, The Brain-Based Enneagram: You are not a number (vol. 1), will share his latest work on whole-brained interpretation of the Enneagram. See https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Based-Enneagram-Jerome-Lubbe/dp/173329452X/

[3]  Dr. Jerome Lubbe, a functional neurologist and co-founder of Thrive NeuroTheology, has developed a science-based method to understand the Enneagram which he explores in his book, Whole-Identity: A Brain-Based Enneagram Model for (W)holistic Human Thriving 

 

 

A Picture of Good Hope

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Photo credit: A group of black medical students posed in front of the slave quarters on a Louisiana plantation for a powerful photo. (Brian Washington Jr./Doyin Johnson)


It happened in Wallace, Louisiana on December 18, 2019.

On that day, a group of Tulane University medical students posed in front of the slave quarters of a Louisiana plantation for a powerful photo. Sydney Labat, one of the students, said this in an interview on Good Morning America:

Standing at the Whitney Plantation in front of the slave quarters of our ancestors with my medical school classmates . . . We are truly our ancestors’ wildest dreams. I think I speak for myself and my classmates that it was an extremely humbling experience, to say the least. We would not be here without the strength and determination of those enslaved and their strength to live and to press on.

Labat speaks of the resilience of her ancestors and she credits her ancestors’ resilience for her ability to pursue an education. I shared the photo (above) because it represents the realization of dreams that many people might label “impossible.” But seeing Labat and 14 of her Tulane University classmates in their white coats looked to me like a portrait of the realization of dreams, persistence against all odds and an emulation of the determination of the ancestors Labat spoke of. This photo of the students was posted to Twitter and was liked more than 65,000 times.

I like the photo, too —  a picture of good hope.

I cannot adequately express my emotions about seeing the photo of these students. No doubt, it brought up my deep concern about the well-being of black children in this country and the many disparities they endure. I can not begin to lay out those disparities in a coherent way, but I can cite this troubling research.

Black adolescents and young adults are at higher risk for the most physically harmful forms of violence (e.g., homicides, fights with injuries, aggravated assaults) compared with whites. In addition, black adults reported exposure to a higher number of adverse childhood experiences than whites.Disproportionate exposure to violence for blacks may contribute to disparities in physical injury and long-term mental and physical health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30139709

A study regarding youth and suicide revealed an age-related trend in racial disparities in suicide rates in elementary and middle school–aged children. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, showed that suicide rates for black children aged 5-12 were roughly 2 times higher than those of similarly-aged white children. https://www.ajmc.com/newsroom/racial-disparities-seen-for-black-children-age-512-in-youth-suicide-

A significant amount of research has documented the overrepresentation of certain racial and ethnic populations — including African-Americans and Native Americans —in the child welfare system when compared with their representation in the general population.Although disproportionality and disparity exist throughout the United States, the extent and the populations affected vary significantly across States and localities. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/racial_disproportionality.pdf

This researched information is definitely not a picture of good hope. The research deepens my concern, but what troubles me the most is that my grandchildren are growing up in a raciallly and ethnically divided world. When we raised our son, we certainly experienced racial discrimination. It was painful for all of us, and I hope beyond hope that my young grandchildren will not face the evil of discrimination. But I know better! I do not want to be pessimistic about it; I want to be optimistic that my grandchildren will not be “judged by the color of their skin” and that they will know the freedom to live out their dreams.

Tulane University Medical Students

So these Tulane University Medical students have given me a gift — a picture of good hope. And the photo of these students also introduced me to another place of hope: the Whitney Plantation, the only plantation museum in Louisiana with an exclusive focus on the lives of enslaved people.

73294CDC-A48F-4E27-ABE0-4DD30A9E02FFThe Whitney Plantation has restored buildings designed to encourage guests to enter the world of a Louisiana sugar plantation and to remember those who built and worked this property. Through an hour-and-a-half guided walking tour, a guide shows guests through slave cabins, a freedmen’s church, a detached kitchen and outbuildings, a 1790s owner’s house and memorials built to honor the enslaved.

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A stunning bronze memorial at The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana *

Guests learn about the lives of 350 people who were held in bondage on these grounds for over 100 years.

Visitors are able to view beautiful memorials built to honor over 100,000 people held in slavery in Louisiana.

Tickets for the tour are available at the Whitney Plantation’s website: https://www.whitneyplantation.org/

Information overload and emotional response

This blog post has included a bit of information and research. That’s the informational part. The truth is, though, that the harsh realities of divisiveness caused by racism, xenophobia and a host of other factors that divide us are not a part of the information we have. Instead, the realities of racism are part of our emotional angst. If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that we receive informational material with a yawn. We have heard so many statistics and seen so much empirical evidence in our communities and schools that we have become numb to it. We have heard so much about disproportionate minorities in the criminal justice system and mass incarceration that perhaps we just try to block that information out. But we cannot block out our emotional response.

The only thing that will get our attention is a soul understanding of the pain of racism. Only then will we become agents of change, persons of conscience and advocates for justice. For me, this is a calling from God who desires that we “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

Consider these passages of Scripture.

In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.  — Colossians 3:11

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.  — Hebrews 13:1-3

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  — Leviticus 19:34

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.  — Zechariah 7:9-10

You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
— 
Matthew 5:43-44

May each of us listen carefully to the words of Scripture and allow those words to inspire us and may that inspiration compel us to end divisions that harm. May we be inspired to promote unity and justice. May we be inspired to paint a picture of good hope to guide our world.

* Photo credit: https://www.whitneyplantation.org/photo-gallery/

 

 

 

 

War!

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WAR  noun, often attributive
(1)  a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations
(2)  a period of such armed conflict
(3)  a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism
(4)  a struggle or competition between opposing forces for a particular end

In a time of turmoil across the earth, I am reminded of the many ways we long for peace and the many times we fail to achieve it. As I hear reports and human stories of the warring among peoples of many nations, I am also very aware of the wars that often rage within. War and peace are complex ideologies that spurn people to action — either action to plunder and kill or action that insists upon peace and tranquillity. The British peace advocate John Bright (1811-1889) gave a speech at the Conference of the Peace Society in Edinburgh in the summer of 1853 to oppose the forthcoming war against Russia (the Crimean War 1854-56). 

What is war?

What is war? I believe that half the people that talk about war have not the slightest idea of what it is. In a short sentence it may be summed up to be the combination and concentration of all the horrors, atrocities, crimes, and sufferings of which human nature on this globe is capable . . . injustice of any kind, be it bad laws, or be it a bloody, unjust, and unnecessary war, of necessity creates perils to every institution in the country.   — John Bright (1811-1889)

Profound truth rests in Bright’s words, and it is a truth every person would do well to contemplate. At some point I recall seeing a provocative image on the poster for Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket. It was an image of the soldier’s helmet with a handwritten “born to kill” slogan . . . and a peace symbol, a provocative juxtaposition of reminding us that human beings have the capacity for both killing and peace.

Who can forget the words of the Prophet Isaiah?

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

So why talk of war after Ash Wednesday and into Lent? Perhaps the subject of war occurred to me as I moved closer to this season of repentance and self-reflection. Perhaps I felt a need to consider the futility of war because of Ash Wednesday’s dictum, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

One who came from dust, and who anticipates returning to dust, must certainly feel a longing for peace, peace in the world as well as peace of the soul and spirit. Neither examples of peace are easily achieved. The machinations of war between nations, and the eternal quest for finding inner peace, are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps it is those persons who have a dearth of inner peace who seriously contemplate making enemies and making war. War flourishes, at times, when the cause seems righteous, while at other times, the cause is greed, lust for power and human depravity. Either way, the losses of war are enormous beyond imagining.

I have been intrigued by the writing of Sebastian Junger in his book War (published in 2010). He echoes the famous words of Winston Churchill:

We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

Junger also offers interesting insights into war:

The cause doesn’t have to be righteous and battle doesn’t have to be winnable; but over and over again throughout history, men have chosen to die in battle with their friends rather than to flee on their own and survive. 

The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you, but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is not negotiable and only deepens with time. The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.

Three Christian denominations have positions on war.

Roman Catholic
The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.

The Southern Baptist Convention (Adopted on June 14, 2000)
Peace and War. It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The United Methodist Church (2000 United Methodist Book of Discipline)
We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as a usual instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

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A map of Afghanistan with bullet holes at a school in the Kandahar Province. Photo by Bryan Denton for The New York Times

No doubt, this is probably more information on the deplorable subject of war than anyone needs to contemplate. And yet, war is not just “far off” in other countries where we can’t see it. “War” is all around us — in this divided nation, in the hate speech that is so prevalent, in the gun violence that takes lives, in violent acts within families, in racial division and the re-emergence of white nationalism. One can scarcely complete the list of the many ways war affects us, within us and around us.

We must remember that war is not only the catastrophic expectation of a nuclear bomb or chemical warfare, it is also a war that could raise its head in our communities, in our churches, even in our hearts, wreaking havoc on our souls. War is famine, homelessness, poverty, racism, family violence, child abuse, trafficking, homophobia and xenophobia. War is the destruction of humanity and all that we know to be right and just. The example of Jesus must be our guide and inspiration. No, Jesus did not explicitly warn against war, but he said so many things about peace.

The words of Jesus

Matthew 5: 38-48 (selected verses)
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also . . .

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor 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 . . . For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Mark 12:28-31
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The early Christians took Jesus at his word. They closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war and bloodshed; they appropriated to themselves the Old Testament prophecy which foretold the transformation of the weapons of war into the implements of agriculture; they declared that it was their Christian commitment to return good for evil and to conquer evil with good.

Might we all do likewise!

What is critical for us is to fully understand that war among us or within us creates profound loss . . . always. The current political divisions are taking a toll on everyone. We no longer live in a time when political leaders held all the divisiveness. In these days,  fractured politics have reached communities, churches and even families. When support for political candidates creates deep separations one from another, we have reached a dangerous and divisive environment. When we live in such a divisive environment, we risk losing relationships with those who “don’t vote like we do.” What a senseless, unfortunate and tragic loss that creates  — breaches between friends, alienation among family members, rifts in communities of faith, deep schism in neighborhoods and communities.

Our spiritual intention must be a quest for peace, reconciliation, unity and respect. This is God’s intention for people of faith. This is God’s intention for the world, that nations, tribes, villages, cities — all the peoples of the world — shall not learn war anymore!

May God make it so, globally and personally!