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Mother of Exiles

Freedom” is a painting by Tamer and Cindy Elsharouni which was uploaded to Fine Art America on March 5th, 2012.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
. . .

From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome;
her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.


“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips.


“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

— Emma Lazarus


In the year 1883, Poet Emma Lazarus wrote this sonnet, “The New Colossus,” to raise money for the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty would stand. The sonnet ends with the poignant, passionate words that were added to the base of the statue in 1903: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

For me, these words always held deep significance, first of all, because both of my parents emigrated to this country from Greece and secondly, because I worked as an advocate and trauma counselor for victims of human trafficking, both adults and children. My work was not merely a job; it was a calling that took me into emotionally and physically dark places that challenged my theology of good and evil. It opened my eyes to the intrinsic evil of politics, wealth, greed, inhumanity and depravity. As I toiled with broken, traumatized women, men and children, trying to help them change their lives, my own life was changed, transformed really.

Lady Liberty spoke to me in those days. I know she is a mere statue with no human attributes to admire, but she is to me a powerful symbol. The Statue of Liberty has been called “Mother of Exiles.” People who have been exiled for so many different reasons have found inspiration in her, in this inanimate sculpture that comes alive in people who yearn for freedom. Lady Liberty is sculpted from the inspiration of Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty with broken shackle and chain at her feet. The Statue of Liberty became an icon of freedom, a symbol of welcome to immigrants, especially immigrants arriving by sea. I remember hearing my grandmother’s many stories of sailing to America, and one of her memories was seeing the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming light.

I’m writing this today as my commemoration of July 4th, a day that represents freedom, yet not for all. For if you ask your African American brother or sister, “What does July 4th mean to you? You will get an answer expressing something like this: “Are you asking me, a descendant of the American slave, what the 4th of July means to me? I answer: It is a day that reveals to me, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which I am a constant victim.”

So I am always uncomfortable “celebrating” the 4th of July with fireworks and cookouts and a proliferation of mini American flags. Instead, I choose to commemorate, not celebrate. So I will acknowledge the day, yet never forget its full meaning, its meaning not just to me, but to my brothers and sisters — descendants of slaves, immigrants fleeing from oppression, victims of human trafficking.

Are you asking me, a descendant of the American slave, what the 4th of July means to me? I answer: it is a day that reveals to me, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which I am a constant victim.

So think of Lady Liberty for a moment. The image of a woman, not a man — a woman who is standing tall and steady, with her torch lifted to offer light to all who need light. She is an image of a woman who represents compassion, invitation, protection, acceptance, freedom. The broken shackles at her feet declare the end of enslavement, cruelty and bondage for all people as she proclaims welcome for the tired, the poor, the ones who yearn to breathe free, the homeless, those tossed by the tempests of their lives. “Send them to me,” she says, “I lift my lamp to light their way!”

In our country, we entertain hard questions in these days, questions about our nation’s borders, about how welcoming we will be, about equality and equity and whether or not black lives really matter. So today I wonder. Will we lock our gates of welcome? Will we turn away persons escaping tyranny, danger and oppression seeking a land of freedom in our homeland? Will we act as if black and brown lives truly matter? Will we act in the spirit of the Lady, the “mother of exiles” who stands in New York Harbor? Or will we pick up the broken chains at her feet, forge them back together and use them to enslave?

These are the questions we should be asking in these days. Of course, political debate continues dissecting our nation’s immigration policies, as always. Politicians do that, often with little thought about the real people, the real families who bring their children to our nation for safety, protection and freedom. Politicians will do what they do as they always have, but I must ask my American compatriots, “What will we do? Will you and I speak in solidarity with the people who seek to live free in our country? I pray that we will show up when it matters and speak from our hearts of compassion, advocating for a nation that will always say, “Give me your tired, your poor.”

Mother of Exiles, may we stand in welcome with you, and in the spirit of our loving God, may we always love the stranger as we love ourselves. Amen.

You shall also love the stranger,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 10:19

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The Car at Magnolia Court

Magnolia Court Motel, Macon Georgia

In my normal outings, I frequently ride with my husband past the Magnolia Court Motel. It’s the one with a gas station in its courtyard where a pool used to be back in the 50s. It’s not a place you would want to stay on your vacation. In fact, I doubt anyone goes there for a vacation. Still, it’s always at capacity, because people live there. It’s not in the safest part of town. Magnolia Court itself is not safe. I know that because TV news frequently reports that homicides happen there.

For the past five years, I have seen a dingy, old, light brown car in front of the last unit of Magnolia Court, closest to the street. The same brown car, day or night, is in its parking space. I don’t think the car ever moves and I have wondered if it needs repairs. I assumed that the owner of the brown car didn’t have a job, because the car never moved. I hoped, though, that the owner of the brown car worked an 11 to 7 shift somewhere. I wouldn’t have known that, because I would never go past Magnolia Court at that time of night. Not in that neighborhood!

For five years, I never once mentioned that car to my husband. For five years, I silently looked at the dingy brown car and wondered who was in the motel room. Who was he or she? I always thought it would be a male, so let’s go with that. Why is he living there? Does he have a job? Is he young or old? Does he need food? Is he ill or disabled? Does he have friends or family? What does his room look like? Is it decent or dirty? How does he feel about his life? Does he know about Jesus and God? Is he okay?

My next thought was, “I would never go up to his door at Magnolia Court, knock on it and ask him if he’s okay or if he needs anything or if he knows about Jesus.” Just as quickly, my thoughts switch from the man (or woman) with the dingy brown car at the Magnolia Court to these hard questions . . . What could I do, as a Christian, to see if this man needed help? How could I help? What would I do? And what do the answers to those questions say about my faith?

I don’t know, of course, but I imagine that in a similar situation, Jesus might have gone straight to the inn and checked on the people. Finding out how they were doing might have led him to heal one, encourage another, give another a basket of food or do all the blessing-kind-of-things Jesus always did.

Last week, we drove by Magnolia Court. The dingy brown car was not parked in its place. I looked around the Court to see if he had changed rooms, but the car was not there. I felt my heart quicken and my mind rushing through scenarios of what might have happened to the man in the end room of Magnolia Court. I was sad. Guilty. After about ten minutes, I managed to move on with my day and not think too much about the man.

Today, we again passed by Magnolia Court, twice! The car was gone. The man was probably gone too. I never saw him. I never checked on him. Why would I? Who would do that sort of thing in the violent, unsafe world we live in?

I don’t want to be trite about things like faith, but honestly, I really did wonder “What would Jesus do?”

“WWJD” might be an old, overused, trendy slogan, but for me this is just being concerned about a man I never saw.


I don’t have any idea what Jesus would do, but I suspect he may have done lots of things, including something similar to what he did with the tables of the money changers. You see, turning over those tables was about doing what is just and right. Jesus might have turned over some tables or lamps or nasty mattresses at Magnolia Court Motel, because it is a place of violence, drugs, and all manner of things that harm people.

I felt my heart quicken and my mind rushing through scenarios of what might have happened to the man in the end room of Magnolia Court. I was sad. Guilty.

Kathy Manis Findley

I have to wonder now, probably will always wonder, what became of the car at Magnolia Court and, more importantly, what became of the man who lived in a room at Magnolia Court Motel. As far as I can tell, he never left his room until the day he left. My thoughts of him over five years of trying to eavesdrop on his life yielded nothing for him. For me, it became an examination of just exactly what kind of faith I have and in what ways am I willing to go out into a world of need where God’s people live in shadows like Magnolia Court. It became a self-examination that prompted me to ask myself, “What do you intend to actually do when you proclaim yourself as a Jesus follower?”

So this is not a morality tale to urge you to examine your faith. It is for me. I am the one who needs to examine my faith, to ask what Jesus would do and then to admit what I will or won’t do. As for the old, dingy, brown car and the man who owns it . . . well, I did do one thing that Jesus would do. I blessed the man I never knew, whispering under my breath as we passed by this morning, “May God go with you and give you peace.”



This is one of my favorite Christian songs. It brings me to tears every time I hear it, especially on the day of my ordination in 1992. As the words were sung that day in a duet by my husband and best friend, my heart sang, “Here I am, Lord.”

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THOSE WHO DREAM

Copyright A Sanctified Artsanctifiedart.org

A passage of Scripture that encourages me every time I read it came up this week in my Advent devotional booklet entitled, “Those Who Dream.” The beauty of reflection I have found in this booklet has definitely awakened dreams in me. As I reflected on Advent Scripture each morning, God never failed to remind me that the world is in chaos in so many ways. In the year we will remember as 2020, people languished and lamented through a seemingly uncontrollable pandemic. Many people prayed, many died, many wept, and some were even able to dream.

The sacred text for this past Thursday was from the eloquent Prophet Isaiah. I have always thought of this Prophet as a realistic dreamer who never failed to paint a true picture of a world both evil and good. Isaiah had a way of proclaiming the deep need for repentance while also calling the people to dream of all that could be better and brighter. The bottom line for this Prophet was sin followed by repentance, what that would look like and what a world of righteousness would look like. Thursday’s prophetic and inspiring word was from Isaiah 61.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

Isaiah 61:1-4 NRSV



For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, ffor he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61:8-11 NRSV


Standing in the midst of a pandemic world with all the grave challenges before us, Advent sends us a message. The last good word in these proclamations from Isaiah tell us that our Lord will cause righteousness to spring up before us, before all nations. When righteousness has her way in us, then — and only then — will we dream again. Our dreams empowered with God’s anointing will bring the advent of righteousness.

After repentance! Only after repentance!

Look closely at Isaiah’s words and you will see anew that God has anointed us to bring good news to oppressed people, to hold in our arms those who are brokenhearted, to comfort the mourning people, to set free people who are bound with chains of their own making and finally, as the Prophet said, “to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

What Isaiah tells us after that is my dream for this Advent 2020: “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

All around us are the ruins we have left behind from all that we have done to our world, collectively and individually. The politicians make war among themselves, increasing the chasm that divides them. The people put politics before unity and spew hate at one another. The white supremacists barrage our cities with evil. Some of our people protest the racial injustice they have long endured. Hungry people still wait in the cold for a morsel of sustenance. People who have no home shiver in cold porticos, in parks, under bridges. Violence with its many faces is ever with us. The Coronavirus ravages on. The teachers and parents languish in confusion and disappointment. The frontline health professionals fall in literal exhaustion. Our children ask us when life will be normal again.

Every year, I recall the text of one of my favorite Christmas carols, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The carol’s text, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day of 1863, is a poem in which he expresses the terror of peace evolving into a world of darkness, hate and war. Two years before writing this poem, Longfellow‘s personal peace was shaken when his wife of 18 years was fatally burned in an accidental fire. Then in 1862, during the American Civil War, Longfellow’s oldest son joined the Union Army and was severely wounded in November of 1863 in the Battle of Mine Run. Longfellow’s words reach deeply into my soul and plant sadness there. Yet, the words are real and true about his world and perhaps, in some ways, his words are real in the world in which we live.

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth,
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head ; 
“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 
    “For hate is strong
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
“God is not dead ; nor doth he sleep!
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

We do not fully understand the ways that Longfellow suffered when he wrote this poem. Yet, we might have an inkling that some of the words describe us, describe our world. In the end, when all is said and done, the carol proclaims that the bells are still ringing loudly and deeply, that God is not dead, nor is God sleeping. Instead God is speaking to us so that we will know, beyond any doubt, that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon us.” And with that anointing, we will fulfill a covenant with God — the mission God has given us to pray and labor and dream God’s dream of repairing the ruined cities, the devastations of past generations, as well as the devastations we are seeing before us in this moment in time.

May God make it so. Amen.

An version of Longfellow’s carol was sung by The Carpenters many years ago. Here is the video:

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Prayers of Lament



This morning, I prayed a prayer of lament. Lament was the only prayer in my spirit. It is difficult to express the deep sorrow I felt yesterday when I learned that no charges were brought against the police who shot six bullets into Breonna Taylor’s body.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020, Louisville police officers used a battering ram to enter the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who had dreams of a bright career ahead. She and her boyfriend had settled in to watch a movie in her bedroom on that tragic night. Police came to her door and minutes later, she was fatally shot. Her death sparked months of protests in Louisville.

Yesterday, six months after the fatal shooting — six bullets — a grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer on Wednesday for wanton endangerment for his actions during the raid. A grand jury delivered the long-awaited answer about whether the officers would be punished. No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for causing Breonna Taylor’s death.

For me, there was only lament. I imagine that for Breonna’s family, there was the deepest kind of lament. For her mother, lament was the only response she could express as she wept uncontrollably. And, even for the protesters who filled the streets, I believe there was lament. 

Theologian Soong-Chan Rah explains in his book, Prophetic Lament, that in the Bible lament is “a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and suffering.” He goes on to say that it is a way to “express indignation and even outrage about the experience of suffering.” Racism has inflicted incalculable suffering on black people throughout the history of the United States, and in such a context, lament is not only understandable but necessary.

Perhaps white Christians and all people of faith have an opportunity to mourn with those who mourn and to help bear the burden that racism has heaped on black people. (Romans 12:15)    — Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise


In the end, many people see only the rage, anger, impatience, violence of the protesters. Can we also see their lament for Breonna, as well as for centuries of racially motivated murder — beatings, burnings, lynchings and murder committed by police officers? 

People of faith — white people of faith — will we try to understand the rage of our black and brown sisters and brothers? Will we join them in righteous anger? Will we mourn with them? Will we lament when lament fills their souls and overflows in cries for justice?

We must, in the name of our God who created every person in God’s own image!

Last night, I heard an interview with Brittany Packnett Cunningham on MSNBC. Her words were eloquent pleas for justice. She spoke about how persistent and all-encompassing racism is in our country and about the murders and the protests and the political rancor that fuels it. She acknowledged racism’s strong, unrelenting hold on this nation, a hold that is virtually impossible to break. And she said something I have said for a long time, “Racism cannot be reformed. It must be transformed.”

To me that means a transformation of the heart and soul that compels each of us to lament, to comfort, to speak truth in government’s halls of power, to stand openly against any form of racial injustice.

May God make it so.

Will you pray this prayer of lament with me?

O God, who heals our brokenness, Receive our cries of lament and teach us how to mourn with those who mourn. Receive even our angry lament and transform our anger into righteous action. Hear the anguish of every mother assaulted by violence against her child. Hear the angry shouts of young people as shouts of frustration, fear and despair. Grant us the courage to persist in shouting out your demand for justice, for as long as it takes. When deepest suffering causes us to lament, grant us Spirit wind and help us soar. If we resist your call for justice, compel us to holy action. May our soul’s lament stir us to transform injustice, in every place, for every person, whenever racism threatens, for this is your will and our holy mission. Amen.

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Love the Stranger as You Love Yourself

My first mistake for this day — reading an article published in the Huffington Post written by journalist Rowaida Abdelaziz! Here’s the headline.

More than 5,000 people have contracted the coronavirus while in immigration detention centers, including more than 800 in the last week.

On a personal note, I must say that I’m very proud of my church’s ministries, especially our English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The teachers not only teach English, they also provide community for immigrants who often do not have family nearby, as well as many other acts of care and compassion. I could not help but give God thanks for our ESL teachers this morning when I read this headline from the Huffington Post. I can imagine our ESL teachers shifting into advocacy mode to do something about it. Not that any of them have the power to change the abysmal detention centers our government sponsors, but armies of advocates can and have changed circumstances of oppression throughout history

Back to the news article. Abdeaziz went on to further explain the treatment of immigrants:

Immigrants were given face masks only recently, but most of them are forced to reuse single-use masks without being allowed to wash them or receive new ones. Those held were not given soap or sanitizers and some were even exposed to pesticides and other toxic substances. 

And then we have the horrible reality of “caged children!” It’s a term I do not want to hear because it so deeply troubling to imagine. But children draw and thousands of them have drawn images of caged children. My mind tells me unequivocally, “Don’t look at the drawings!” My heart tells me, “You must look!” My soul tells me, “Spirit will be near as my Comforter when I do look!”

At heart, I have always been an advocate for children, a fierce one. For a very long time advocacy was my career. I cannot abide the ill-treatment of any person, but when I envision thousands of children in custody and in sorely negligent circumstances, it digs at me and pierces my heart like a Holy arrow sent from God. Denise Bell, a researcher at Amnesty International USA said this, “COVID-19 has revealed the fatal flaws and the negligent medical care that ICE has historically provided to people who are detained within its facilities.” Ms. Bell goes on to say, “What’s more disturbing is the carelessness, and I’d even say callousness, with which the government is treating people in its care and custody.”

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Despite global lockdown measures, ICE continued to detain, transfer and deport immigrants ― including thousands of children ― all of which has contributed to the spreadof the coronavirus nationally and globally. Foreign governments who accepted deportees said they brought the coronavirus back with them. 
Huffington Post, September 17, 2020


From a CNN article, “Pediatricians share migrant children’s disturbing drawings of their time in US custody.” Slide show above includes drawings shared by those pediatricians and other powerful images. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/03/health/migrant-drawings-cbp-children/index.html


How can you and I become advocates for these children? To me, it feels like a mandate from a caring, compassionate God. It feels like a mission following the footsteps of Christ who said something quite profound in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. 

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18: 5-6 (GNT)


And then there’s this:

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Jeremiah 29:33-34)

Jeremiah 2:33-34 (NRSV)


I need to make sure you understand that I know the drill: I cannot use Holy Scripture to bolster my opinions or take Scripture out of its historical context to prove a point. A learned Professor of Old Testament, James K. Hoffmeier, makes this stringent assertion, “Secularists and liberals, both political and religious, are typically loath to consult the Bible when it comes to matters of public policy. So it is somewhat surprising that in the current debate about the status of illegal immigrants, the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is regularly cited in defense of the illegal.”

I get that. I am a liberal. I even graduated from seminary. I am not using Scripture to prove my point. Nor do I intend to exegete these texts in an effort to thoroughly understand the translation in historical context. I am just pondering these Scripture passages as inspiration, meditation and perhaps an aid in discerning a call from God to mission. To use the texts in this manner, all I really need to do is read the words and listen for God’s voice. Never in my life, all seventy years of it, has God whispered back to me, “My child, you did not translate that text correctly, nor did you place it in its historical context.”

So where does this leave me? I think it leaves me asking myself, “What will I do? What must I do? Where do I begin in demanding change? How do I call out to my government, imploring them to end this oppressive inhumanity? How do I demand that all of us, including ICE, respect the humanity and the sacred worth of the immigrants in our midst, especially the children?

I hope that you, too, will ask yourself these questions, listen for the voice of God and become a fierce advocate for justice and humanity. If then you sense a call to do something to change the worlds of caged children held in ICE detention centers, visit this website:

https://endchilddetention.org/

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As Though I Had Wings

 

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I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings. [1]

I am continually inspired by Mary Oliver’s poetry, today by her phrase, “as though I had wings.” In the past six months or so — since my kidney transplant — I have felt a little wing-less. Not so unusual, because a transplant — before, during and after — is a rather big deal, like a super colossal deal! If I ever thought the enormous physical challenge would be the surgery itself, I was wrong. I think I deluded myself on that. The aftershocks of the surgery proved to be enormous and enduring. Hence, my lack of wings.

Everywhere, one can see eloquently expressed promises of wings. You and I can “mount up with wings as eagles”[2] or “take the wings of the morning.” [3]  There is even a wing promise that God will “raise you up on eagle’s wings.” [4]

I know the promises and I love them, but I also love how poet Mary Oliver brings it all down to where I live — on shifting sands in an ever-shifting world. She expresses it like this: “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things . . . to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.” [5]

All of a sudden, I have a critical assignment, something I must do myself and for myself. It seems to me that I must start by focusing on my mind, thinking again of things noble and dangerous. Then I must allow my mind (my will) to move through my heart and soul, to the very center of my being, because there is the place inside me where dangerous acts are weighed and noble acts can become resolve. In one of the common phrases of my faith — an admonition I heard in church over and over again — a pastor or teacher would say, “count the cost.”

Here’s where I am honest. So I must admit that doing noble things has seemed impossible for me in the past few years. Prior to my illness, my life was a constant journey of determining the danger of noble things and doing them anyway. I miss the life of being a pastoral presence to a dying patient. I miss keeping vigil in the ER family room with grieving parents mourning the death of a child. I miss offering a memorial service  for a dear congregant and friend. I miss comforting victims of sexual assault as police officers question them, sometimes brusquely and accusingly. I miss trauma counseling with persons who have endured horrific emotional and physical trauma. I miss forensic interviewing even the youngest child victim of abuse. I miss standing firm as a court advocate for child victims of sexual abuse. I even miss being thrown out of the courtroom by a persnickety judge who did not appreciate the intensity level of my advocacy.

I miss it all. It was dangerous. All of this work was dangerous and it was noble. I could do it because of wings — the wings God gave me when I determined I would do dangerous and noble things and do them with urgency.

What about now, this season of my life? What am I doing that’s dangerous and noble? Should I even expect to be able to face danger at my age, with my physical limitations? Last night, a friend listened to me list all the things I cannot do when very intently she interrupted me and asked, “Kathy, what can you do?” She continued, as she so often does, “Your life is not about the things you can’t do. It’s about the things you can do!”

She nailed it. Perhaps she even nailed me, albeit with some gentleness. So I have to sit awhile with that provoking question: “What can you do?” I have to sit with that question with God close by to guide me and Spirit near to remind me of Spirit-wind and Spirit-fire. I am not precluded from Spirit-wind because of age or Spirit-fire because of physical limitations. It is up to me to discern what I need in my life right now. Will I be satisfied with what I have done in the past and let myself off the hook? What dangerous and noble things will I take on?

I cannot help but think of so many nurses and doctors who are caring for persons with COVID19 — how they enter the ICU knowing that a deadly virus is there, believing that they could take the virus home to their families. Dangerous and noble! Somehow, Spirit-wind is raising them up for the task.

I wonder if you have thought about this for yourself, considering the cost of doing dangerous and noble things. Have you considered that the things you are already doing — feeding the poor, caring for the sick, taking a meal to an elderly person sheltered alone in her home — are all dangerous and noble things? That you show mercy to others as you go? That you weep for a broken world with so many broken people in it? That you share in Christ’s compassion?

“Dangerous and noble things! Afraid of nothing as if we had wings!” [6]

I’ve given all of this a lot of thought and I think we might get our wings after we have made the determination to give ourselves to noble things, no matter the danger. I think we get wings when we move to the urgency of Christ’s compassion, when our rhythms begin to emulate the rhythms of God. I think we get wings when we have determined in our hearts and souls to act — after we have counted the cost and have said “Yes!”

Again, the eloquence of the poet may most fully express my deepest longing and yours.

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings . . .

What I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world. [7]

May God make it so for us.

 



1 Mary Oliver, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
2 Isaiah 40:31
3 Psalm 139:9
4 “On Eagles Wing’s” composed by Michael Joncas
5 Starlings in Winter, a poem by Mary Oliver
6 Mary Oliver, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
7 The Ponds, a poem by Mary Oliver

anxiety, Comfort, Community, Compassion, Emotions, Faith, Fear, God's presence, God’s promises, Grace, grief, healing, Irish Blessing, Isolation, Life Journeys, Soul

You Do Not Walk Alone

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Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

— Joshua 1:9

Sometimes our reliance on Scripture fails us. We still believe. We still hold on tightly to our faith. We still delve into Biblical promises that we find throughout Scripture. Yet, the trappings of our faith seem to fail us. We feel alone, walking life’s journey alone.

In the past many weeks, several friends and former clients have shared with me intense feelings of being alone. Some of them are not physically alone, but others are. From every one of them, I hear the inner cries of aloneness. They have thought through what might be the source of their despondency and, without exception, all of them believe that the isolation of the coronavirus is causing their distressing feelings.

It’s not helpful, of course, to remind them that they do not walk alone. It does not help to assure them of my presence with them, even if separated by miles and circumstances. It does not help to tell them that they are surrounded by a community of faith. It does not help to tell them that their circle of friends will always walk with them in solidarity and comfort. It does not help to recite to them endless Bible promises that declare God’s abiding presence.

What they feel in their spirits supersedes any spoken assurance I could give, because aloneness is very real, very pervasive in the throes of this pandemic. It’s about many things: actual separation from friends and family; fear of contracting the virus; loss of normal routines of daily living; loss of employment; heavy responsibilities for aging parents; deeply held fears of the virus harming their children; pervasive uncertainty about the future. This list could continue for several lines of writing.

The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty — all of it is simply taking a significant toll on so many people. One effect is that sinking feeling of being alone.

One of my long-time friends said this to me last week as we chatted online: “Kathy, I am in this house with my family, so I should be grateful. But why do I feel so burdened, so despairing and, in the deepest recesses of myself, so completely alone?”

Of course, her words broke my heart. In years past when she was in crisis, I would simply go to her. Today I cannot do that. Even if we were not in this shelter-in-place situation, I could not go to her now. I am in Georgia and she is in the UK. Chatting online, talking by phone and Zooming will just have to do. That’s the best we can do.

Fortunately, I am learning a new pastoral care skill: how to be fully present with someone who is thousands of miles away. I am learning that compassionate care has no boundaries. I am learning that, if I am willing to enter into a soul-to-soul conversation with another person, we can be truly in one another’s presence. I think it’s a grace gift from God specially sent to us in these days of pandemic.

So if I can find my way into my friend’s person’s soul-space, in spite of miles of separation, she tells me that she does not walk alone anymore. And suddenly, by God’s grace, I do not walk alone either.

I must share with you a beautiful video I watched in our church’s virtual worship experience last Sunday. Please spend a few contemplative moments listening to the words from an old Irish blessing and watching the serene images. May it bring you peace and remind you that you do not walk alone.

Bible, Challenge, Comfort, Community, Compassion, Covenant, Emotions, Faith, Family, Fear, Friends, Friendship, God's presence, God’s promises, Isaiah, Isolation, Jephthah's Daughter, Judges 11, Life Journeys, sadness, Stories

The Sign at the Car Wash

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Every Monday morning my routine is the same: wake up early, go get weekly labs drawn.

I have memorized the routine and the route, so I rarely spot anything new or exciting along the way. Until today! It was at the car wash at the intersection just before we enter the ramp onto the interstate. Their colorful LED SIGN caught my eye. On the sign were words I had never seen on that sign before. The words?

Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

— Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Normally, I’m not a big fan of sacred scripture rendered in LED. It seems a bit sacrilegious to me. So why did it catch my eye today? And not only did it catch my eye, it reached right into my deeper place. It poked on my heart and grabbed my spirit today. As I mulled over this passage of scripture over the next few minutes, I determined that it was worth remembering, worth my time to dig a little deeper into what it means and why it captured my thoughts today.

It certainly wasn’t the setting or the art that illustrated it. The art, I recall, was bubbles! Just your everyday, predictable car wash bubbles! Not so inspiring. Yet the text lingered with me a while and, obviously, seemed blog-worthy.

So here I am in a place of just a little awe that I might have received a holy message this morning. I am in awe at receiving a word of comfort urging me not to be afraid and promising me the protection of the Most High God. The words were not, “God is with you.” The message given especially to me this day was, “I am with you. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up.”

And all of that on a car wash LED sign illustrated by bubbles!

Even in frightening days like these, days that have brought a deadly virus spreading across the world, we can bury this promise from God deeply within our hearts for the times we need it most . . . “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

Yes, I feel fear that the virus will come closer to home, as most of us do. I fear for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my church family. I fear because I know that if the virus does reach into my life, I must be separated from those I love. So all that remains is this comforting promise from God, “I am with you.”

Even for a hyper-religious person like me, that doesn’t feel like enough. I need my family close, and my friends, those who have comforted me throughout my life at different points on my journey. I think maybe all of us need that, even more in these days.

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Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.
  Albert Camus

My Sunday School class meets every Sunday night, religiously, because we need one another. Our relationship is a covenant between us and among us, and so we are never afraid to be vulnerable with one another and to tell the stories of where we are, how we feel, what we fear. Our stories are mostly about how we’re making it through days of isolation, what challenges us, what frustrates us, what causes us to worry, what we’re most afraid of . . . and our stories affirm two constants: 1) God is with each of us all along the journey; and 2) We are present with each other when our journeys lead us through times of faith and through times of fear.

My community — my sisters — often bring to mind the heartbreakingly beautiful story of Jephthah’s daughter from the 11th chapter of the Book of Judges. Jephthah’s daughter was in a place of deep mourning because her father inadvertently betrayed her. She was facing death, but before her time of death, she begged her father to give her time to go up into the hills with her sisters to mourn.

Grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept.

— Judges 11:37-38

Such a sad story! Like some of our own sad stories, stories we tell only to our special, safe people. This is a good day to remember and to give thanks for my sisters, those who are nearby and those with whom I share a deep connection across many miles and decades.

Today’s blog was a little bit about sad stories, yes! But it was even more about today — a good day for me to notice an LED sign with bubbles and the comforting message: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” There is hope in those words on the LED sign. There is comfort there, even if the words are among the bubbles!

I wish for you the peace of this same assurance, that you will know beyond any doubt that God walks with you on your most frightening pathways, and that your community of friends do, too.

 

anxiety, Calamity, Change, Comfort, Community, Compassion, Confusion, Darkness, Death, Despair, Fear, God's Faithfulness, Grace, Hope, Illness, Isolation, life, Loneliness, Loss, Love, Mourning, Pandemic of 2020, Sorrow, Suffering, Tears, Terror

“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.

 

 

Activism, Advocate, Community activism, Compassion, Discrimination, Division, Hope, Inspiration, Racism, reconciliation, Repair the world

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/