Activism, Advocate, Anger, Child protection, Children, Despair, Disconsolate, grief, Gun violence, Mourning, NRA, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Robb Elementary School, Sandy Hook, School shooting, Uvalde, Texas, War, War on Children

War Against Children: America’s Heinous Sin

Digital Art by Kalliope

How would you feel about a phrase like, war against children? Virtually no one would like such a phrase, but isn’t that exactly what happens when someone bursts into a school brandishing an AK-15 assault rifle? When someone uses a weapon to kill children inside a school room, and when a nation refuses to change its culture of weapons and bullets, then we need to own it: America wages and perpetuates war against children!

The total lack of regulation of firearms and ammunition in America is the source of the shooting that held nineteen children and two teachers hostage in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in the hands of a murderer. The ultimate ”perpetrator” could be called the National Rifle Association (NRA), the group who promotes the idolatry of lethal weapons. Protesters at the site of the NRA’S National Convention this weekend were joined by Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who listed previous school shootings and called on those attending the convention to make sure that gun violence would no longer harm children in this country.

“The time to have stopped Uvalde was right after Sandy Hook,” O’Rourke said. “The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Parkland. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Santa Fe High School. The time for us to stop the next mass shooting in this country is right now, right here, today with every single one of us.”

Gun violence in schools is not a national scourge in every country. There are examples of gun control our nation could follow if we had the passion and political will to do so. A case in point . . .

About a month after the Parkland school shooting, a letter of condolence addressed to the survivors arrived from survivors and parents who had endured a similar tragedy 22 years before when a local shopkeeper walked into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and opened fire, killing 16 five and six-year-olds and their teacher.

Writing the letter to Parkland survivors was a act of solidarity. Offering hope for change, they told of their successful campaign for gun reform. They wrote, “Laws were changed, handguns were banned and the level of gun violence in Britain is now one of the lowest in the world.” 

Since the 1996 Dunblane massacre, they said, “there have been no more school shootings in the United Kingdom.” Because of a grassroots campaign led by the parents of Dunblane students, leaders in the U.K took decisive legislative action. By the end of 1997, Parliament had banned private ownership of most handguns, enacted a semi-automatic weapons ban, and implemented mandatory registration for shotgun owners.

The signees ended with words of encouragement, “Wherever you march, whenever you protest, however you campaign for a more sensible approach to gun ownership, we will be there with you in spirit.”

Here in “the land of the free,” we have become callous to gun violence. We hear of mass shootings on streets, in churches, synagogues, temples or mosques, and we move on. We are becoming immune to shootings in night clubs, stores, shopping malls, military bases, restaurants, theaters and homes.

Violence inside schools, though, is on a higher, more lethal level. People who grapple with making sense of school shootings strain to come up with “reasons” that such heinous acts of violence could happen. People choose to go into restaurants, clubs and theaters, but children in school classrooms are mandated to be there.

War against children.

Do we dare look at the list of school shootings since 1969? I studied the list today, lamented over it, I guess. There were fourteen school massacres that left 169 dead children.

After every single incident, people cry, “enough is enough.” After every horrific mass murder, lawmakers and power brokers say, “enough is enough.” And then comes the question, “Why?” Why is this violence happening? The following answers for “why”—some good and some preposterous—emerge from the national dialogue.

mental health problems; delinquent youth out of control; inattentive parents leaving guns accessible to children; weapons and ammunition too easy to get; untrained resource officers. It’s because the adults in the schools don’t have guns. They need guns.

Franklin Graham blamed school shootings on “a nation that has turned its back on God,” and on violent video games, the entertainment industry and on “taking God out of our schools.” James Dobson blamed the shooting at Sandy Hook on God’s wrath over abortion and same-sex marriage. 

War against children.

This is a sad season, but it is also a sad time for Christianity. Just days after the tragic slaughter of innocent children and their teachers, the National Rifle Association meets in national conference to celebrate themselves only 300 miles away from Robb Elementary in Uvalde. Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood name it and explain it in a recent article published in A Public Witness.

“Even after Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, and now Robb Elementary — not to mention the numerous other mass shootings at churches, theaters, concerts, restaurants, grocery stores, homes, and basically any other place in our society — some Christian leaders still try to baptize the death cult that will gather in Texas this weekend.”

Shane Claiborne, co-author of Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence, criticizes pastors who “bless this group that is literally contradicting nearly every word of the Sermon on the Mount.” He continues, ”I’m going to go straight to Jesus and say we cannot serve two masters. And we really are at a crossroads where we’ve got to choose: Are we going to follow Jesus or the NRA? And literally, you couldn’t come up with much more contrasting messages. The gospel of Jesus — turn the other cheek, love our enemies — stands in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the NRA — stand your ground. The gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power.”

His words are true, as are words written by Dr. Obery Hendricks in his recent book, Christians Against Christianity. He writes a fiery epithet about what he describes as “the unholy alliance between right-wing evangelicals and the NRA. Their annual prayer breakfast,” Hendrick’s writes, ”tries to add a veneer of Christian religiosity to the NRA’s deadly agenda.”

In the article in A Public Witness, Kaylor and Underwood describe ”the NRA’s Hell” in scathing commentary. ”As the blood of more slaughtered children cries out from the ground, preparations continue for this weekend’s NRA convention.”

War against children.

There is no lack of commentary following the terror at Robb Elementary School. Stephen Reeves, executive director of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Southwest, also criticized Christian leaders who bless the NRA, saying, “I don’t know how you pray in the name of the Prince of Peace and ask for God’s blessings on the mission of the NRA. No other country sacrifices their children on the altar of the gun.”

Yet, the prophets and the mourners somehow coalesce this weekend, in solidarity with one another regarding weapons of war and slaughter. While a Texas community mourns grievous loss, righteous prophetic critics stand on their behalf to call out sin, complacency, greed, self-interest and idolatry and those who champion the evil of it. ”As our children are killed at the altar of a semiautomatic idol,” Kaylor and Underwood write, ”high priests like Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Jonathan Falwell help the NRA damn us all to this hell.”

Meanwhile surviving parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members and friends are oblivious to the rhetoric, to the NRA, and to anyone or anything else. Theirs is to mourn, to keep vigil over the memories of the children, and I suppose, to continue asking, ”why.” Why did this happen? Why in our school? Why did it have to take my child?

The “why” questions? Could the answer be because America is waging war against children? The ”why questions” are literally unanswerable, no matter how long we sit before them waiting for answers, for reasons. Some cataclysms have no reasons or explanations, at least none that are worth anything. One needn’t ask ”why” to pure evil, but must instead try to ease beyond ”why” to a more answerable question.

Still, getting beyond “why” brings another question that hovers over us like an ominous cloud: “What can I do about it?” 

That is the question that remains. It pierces us. It drives the conversations we have and the prayers we pray. 

“What can I do about it?” I can only answer with possibilities to consider. Here are a few.

  • Make a commitment to stand courageously against violence in the ways you are able.
  • Become an informed activist, aware enough to help influence the passage of legislation that protects children.
  • Communicate constantly with members of Congress, by phone, letter, email, text. Go to their webpages and keep on prodding them to do right.
  • When your activism seems small, know that it helps wage the big war against violence.
  • Be open to acts of tenderness. Hold a mourner in your arms, when they feel nothing and when their crying will not stop.

Many parents of the Texas children are in in shock, in trauma-induced silence. Without voice, without tears, without any emotion at all. It will be a while before they can make any audible expression of grief.

Other parents are crying uncontrollably. They will cry at the funeral home, in the church, in the graveyard, at the store, in their beds in the night. Their bodies will literally shake as grief pours out from their deepest places. It will be a while before they can stop crying.

Most of us, in fact, cannot stop crying when we see and absorb this war against children or begin to grasp the utter senseless evil of it.

In my work as a victim advocate and trauma counselor, I was present with those who were trapped in silence and with those who could not stop crying. That was the thing I could do, and after the crying, being with them in marches and sit-ins or just for a cup of coffee. In a 2021 article for The Trace, Journalist Ann Givens interviewed me about my victim advocacy and my activism to end violence. She asked me about God, about how God responds to us in a crisis to help us move beyond trauma while we are still facing so much suffering. This was my response:

“God is a God of peace. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but God helps us take the deep, excruciating emotions that come with bad things, and do something with them.”

In the very middle of this war against children, can we take our powerful, intense emotions and do something even more powerful? Can we persevere until the war against children is over and we can see the bright hope of children lying down with a lion and a lamb in places of peace and safety?

May God empower us to say, “Yes, we can!” and fill us to overflowing with a living hope that empowers us to say, ”Yes, we will!”

Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
May 26, 2022

Please take a few moments of prayer and meditation to listen to this song, Precious Child.
Precious Child – Words & Music by Karen Taylor Good

Hope, Sorrow, Despair, Comfort, Brokenness, Emotions, discouragement, Disconsolate, Depression, Come, Ye Disconsolate

A Lenten Invitation . . . Come, Ye Disconsolate


“Come, Ye Disconsolate” is one of my favorite hymns. You might ask why. In every person’s life, there are times of sorrow that fall very deeply into the soul. There is a sense in which deep sorrow communes with us like no other emotion. Being disconsolate can be a beautiful experience.

It is a beautiful word — disconsolate — a word full of depth and full of meaning. Yet, it is not a word we often use. It sounds a bit like an ”old” word to me, perhaps more widely used in decades past. The definition? According to Merriam-Webster, the word disconsolate means “cheerless.” I don’t find enough soul angst in that definition, but the word has many soulful synonyms.


Synonyms for disconsolate can be as heart-rending as the word itself: downcast, inconsolable, dispirited, desolate, crushed, despairing, destroyed, despondent, hopeless, heartbroken ~
comfortless


So many words, so full of sorrow. Still, I love the word disconsolate. It has been my companion on many a journey and, although I did not welcome it as an emotion, I learned to own it, which is surely the most important way to have full awareness of your spirit. The truth is, when one is disconsolate, it is an opportunity to imagine being wrapped tenderly with a soft blanket of hope. Wrapped completely, face-under-the-covers wrapped!

How can such a word remind me of a soft blanket tenderly wrapped around me? How can the soft cover be called a blanket of hope? I will offer one reason that is a personal story about my friend and colleague in ministry, Donna. When I was desperately ill with end stage kidney disease, Donna came to visit me in the hospital often. Many of those visits I can’t remember, but she came one day holding a gift in her hands. The gift was a fluffy, white crocheted blanket that her entire congregation had prayed over as they petitioned God to restore me to health.

Every time, from that day to this, that I covered myself with that blanket, I would think of Donna and her church members and their act of love and concern. I imagined them nearby and sensed their prayers becoming a part of my soul’s lament. They did not leave me comfortless.

Whenever I feel disconsolate, comfortless, it helps me to remember these words from the Gospel of John, one of the most beautifully poignant passages in all of scripture:

16 And I will pray to God who will send you
another Comforter who will abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth;
Sadly, the world cannot accept the Comforter,
because it does not truly see her or know her.
But you know her; for she dwells with you, and shall be in you.

18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
19 In a little while, the world will see me no more;
but you see me: because I live, you shall live also.

25 These things have I spoken unto you while I am still present with you.

26 But the Comforter — the Holy Spirit — God will send in my name,

and the Spirit will teach you all things,
and bring all things to your remembrance, all the things I have said to you.

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you:
I do not give you peace as the world gives,

Instead I give you peace as if it were from God.
And so, my beloved children, do not let your heart be troubled,
neither let your heart be afraid.
— Jesus, recorded in John 14: 16-19; 25-27, paraphrased


During the times I felt disconsolate through the years, I have always been able to rest under the comforting wings of the Spirit, the Comforter who is with me always. Yes, it is true that many times my heart was troubled and afraid. The words of Jesus did not always repair the state of my heart or diminish my fear. But the promise of Jesus — that I would not be left comfortless — soothed and strengthened my heart.

The words of this hymn held for me a depth of meaning that has spoken comfort and truth to my disconsolate spirit — every time — easing my suffering and leaving me with hope.

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish; 
come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel. 
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; 
earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. 

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying, 
hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure! 
Here speaks the Comforter, in mercy saying, 
“Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.”

Here see the bread of life; see waters flowing 
forth from the throne of God, pure from above. 
Come to the feast prepared; come, ever knowing 
earth has no sorrow but heaven can remove.
Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

I have experienced the “joy of the desolate” many times. It is a joy that fills my heart, in spite of how deeply desolate I feel. As for what this all means during this Lenten season. For me, it means that a Lenten experience can help me see the ”light of the straying,” and that I will experience the ”hope of the penitent” and once again hear the words of the Comforter “in mercy saying, ‘Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.’”

From this time forth and forevermore. Amen.

As you spend a few quiet moments during this Second Week of Lent, the following video of this moving hymn may give you peace and hope.

The Georgia Boy Choir singing “Come, Ye Disconsolate” arranged by Terre Johnson.
This performance was recorded on July 24, 2021,
during the regional concert tour at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia.

Despair, Fear, Hope, Life Journeys, Life pathways

When There Was No Road

Superior National Forest emcompasses much of the Northeastern corner of Minnesota and is bordered by Lake Superior to the east, Canada to the North. Hiking trail to Eagle Mountain

Hope is like a road in the country;
there was never a road, but when many people walk on it,
the road comes into existence.

Author, poet, critic and Chinese literary giant Lu Xun. (Lu was a pen name; his real name was Zhou Shuren.)

I have stumbled upon places where there was no road and no way to move forward. I am mulling over the poet’s affirmation that ”Hope is like a road in the country.” I know a little about hope, a little less about country roads, and even less about walking trails in a forest. I also know many, many people who hang on to hope through every narrow, rocky path they encounter. These hope-filled ones follow the path ahead of them and persist on their journey, in spite of the reality that the path is steep, arduous and sometimes not beaten down enough to walk on.

That’s the important thing about paths—that travelers might walk on one for years when it is barely passable, beating it down for smoother walking. It’s called a beaten path. I imagine you have walked some beaten paths.


Even I have walked a few, like when I was just a wee girl. The path for me was a short one, but nevertheless ominous. It went from my back yard to Miss Martha’s back yard next door. But wait! You must know that the path also led us to Miss Martha’s plum tree, filled with delicIous plums just waiting for my brothers and me to devour. We felt hope every time we got to the tree and began to shake it so that the plums would come tumbling to the ground. We hoped—until we heard Miss Martha’s shrill, frightening voice yelling, ”Get away from my plum tree!”

Because we so feared Miss Martha, hearing her loud voice chastening us made us run immediately home and into the house. We also knew she would tell our Yiayiá (grandmother), and we feared that too. Like Miss Martha, Yiayia could give rise in us the most daunting fear of all. We hoped for plums that day, but got fear instead.

Fear can be the enemy of hope, which brings us back to our path. The poet says to us that hope is like a country road. While reading the poet’s words, I imagine reaching a place where is no road and no way forward—a situation of facing a path without much hope. But there is hope after all! Because many people had walked on the path, it was eventually beaten down. Now the people could travel on with hope. There was an open way, a possible path. There was hope.

What’s the message in this parable-like tale? Just this. All of us walk a journey that leads us to pleasant places as well as to sorrowful and terrible places. No one can make the pilgrimage we call life without encountering rough and rocky roads and impassable paths along the way. They are the places that hold the power to steal our hope and leave us paralyzed.

I know how it feels to lose hope. I have known abuse, violence, illness, betrayal, loss, grief. And I have known it first hand, these things that took my hope. I can also bear witness that my hope has returned many times, just in time, but not before I had to struggle with the real, deep despair of absent hope. When I stood at the entrance of the way where there was no way, at the beginning of the path that was impassable and impossible, I often thought of this testimony of hope and faith found in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 16-17.

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed;
we are perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
cast down, but not destroyed . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Even though we are outwardly perishing,
the inner place in us is being renewed day by day.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment,
is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Yes, you and I may feel cast down and almost crushed by the weight of the world. We may feel the strongest despair. But we must know that, even on this day of threats and pandemics, some of our paths will be smooth and passable. We will feel hope when we least expect it. Hope will surprise us and flood us with grace, directly at the juncture of our despair. A beaten path might appear before us today—right now—and invite us to travel from fear to hope.

May it be so for all of us.

All Shall Be Well, anxiety, Bewilderment, Brokenness, Comfort, Despair, discouragement, Emotions, Feelings, God's Faithfulness, Grace, healing, Heartbreak, Holy Spirit, Hope, life, Loss, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Sacred Pauses, sadness, Sorrow, Stories, Weeping

How Is Your Heart?

Yesterday I noticed a dogwood tree in full bloom, the first blooming dogwood I have seen this year. The sight of it did my heart good, because it reminded me that some simple and beautiful things remain. They return every year. They mark a season. They grow, and their blooms become ever more vibrant, or so it seems.

The dogwood has its own story, a lovely legend that explains the tree’s qualities. The legend holds that the tree was once very large, like a Great Oak tree, and because its wood was strong and sturdy, it provided building material for a variety of purposes. According to the story, it was the dogwood tree that provided the wood used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Because of its role in the crucifixion, it is said that God both cursed and blessed the tree. It was cursed to forever be small, so that it would never grow large enough again for its wood to be used as a cross for a crucifixion. Its branches would be narrow and crooked — not good for building at all. At the same time, the tree was blessed so that it would produce beautiful flowers each spring, just in time for Easter. The legend says that God it is gave it a few traits so that whoever looks upon it will never forget. 

81189983-8ADE-4D60-9088-C52DA3983583The petals of the dogwood actually form the shape of a cross. The blooms have four petals. The tips of each of the petals are indented, as if they bear a nail dent. The hint of color at the indentation bring to mind the drops of blood spilled during the crucifixion.
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Diana Butler Bass tells the story like this:

There’s an old southern legend that dogwoods grew in Jerusalem — and that one gave its wood for Jesus’s cross. Because of this, the dogwood was cursed (its short stature a ‘punishment’ for being the wood of death) but it also became a blessing. Blessing? For on each twisted branch burst forth petals of lightness and light.

So let’s leave the dogwood’s story and look at our stories — your story and my story. People often use the term “storied past.” Well, a storied past is something all of us have.

In talking with a friend a few days ago, I asked, “How is your heart?” She began to tell me her story, which was a long and winding one that included many mini-stories — happy ones snd sad ones — from her life’s journey. Toward the end of her story, she said, “I feel as if I am cursed by God.” That was her bottom line answer to my question, “How is your heart?” Hers was an honest, heartbroken response that instantly revealed that her heart was not all that good, but that was a critical part of her story.

If you and I are honest, we will admit that our hearts were broken and hurting at several places in our stories. Recalling our brokenhearted times is something we always do when we tell our stories, and it’s an important part of the telling. My story and yours is never complete if we leave out the heartbroken moments, for at those points, what feels like God’s curse almost always transforms into God’s grace.

If not for our heartbroken moments, the hurting places in our hearts might never “burst forth with lightness and light.” Our heartbroken moments change us and grow us. They set us on better paths and they embrace our pain with grace. Our heartbroken moments give us pause, and in that pause, we find that once again, our hearts are good. Our broken hearts are once again peaceful hearts — healed, restored, transformed, filled with God’s grace.

How is your heart? That is a question we would do well to ask ourselves often, because languishing with our heartbreak for long spans of time can cause our stories to be stories mostly of pain. Instead, stop right here in this post for just a few moments and ask yourself, “How is my heart?”

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Your answer may well be your path to a contemplative, sacred pause that can become a moment of healing, a time for God’s grace to embrace whatever is broken in your heart and to transform it into love, light and hope. So don’t be afraid to look into your heart when pain is there. In looking, you may find reasons, many and and complex, that are causing deep pain and brokenness. You may also find the healing touch of the Spirit of God waiting there for you and offering healing grace — a Godburst of new hope.

May your story be filled always with times when your was light with joy and times when your heart was broken with loss, mourning, discouragement, disappointment. Both create your extraordinary story — the joyful parts and the sorrowful parts. So tell your story again and again to encourage yourself and to give the hope of God’s healing grace to all who hear it.

I remember a beloved hymn that is a prayer for the Spirit of God to “descend upon my heart.” May this be your prayer today.

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

anxiety, Beginning again, Brokenness, Comfort, Contemplation, Despair, Emotions, Exhaustion, Liminal space, Liminal time, Pandemic of 2020, Transformation

BETWIXT and BETWEEN: THE LIMINAL SPACE WE DID NOT ASK FOR

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We did not ask to be in this liminal space — this liminal time in our lives — but we are in the murky middle of it — a liminal space.

We’re in the liminal space between Covid isolation and our former, normal lives. We’re in the liminal space between the policies and tone of our current president and the hope and change of a starting fresh toward a new direction. We’re in the liminal space between racial protests against injustice and a new day of justice for all persons.

Yet, right now many of us are in a space of discontent. Like me, you may be isolated in a space of safe distancing because of a seemingly endless pandemic. You may miss your grandchildren, your family, your friends and your community of faith. You may be in one of the high risk Covid categories, not daring to go out of your house. I am there, and if that is where you are, I’m there with you feeling all the emotions you might be feeling.

In addition to discontent, we find ourselves in a space we might call discouragement as we look around us and continue to see racial injustice, signs of misogyny and the disparagement of women, evil acts of white supremacy, immigrant children separated from their parents and disrespectful rhetoric from government employees who actually work for us!

As for me, I feel as if my soul is in chaos. I feel heaviness, loss, worry, even despair once-in-a-while. All of us, in these pandemic days, are most assuredly right in the middle of liminal space, a space that is not a comfort zone for any of us. So what do we do when we’re stuck in a space that is so disturbingly out of our comfort zone? The easy answer is: to know in your very soul that liminal space is always a temporary in-between space, a threshold to something ahead, a life “time out.” A more down-to-earth answer is: we languish or we transform. We languish, struggling and sparring with everything that keeps us from finding a way out, OR we stay calmly and contentedly in this cocoon-like space and wait patiently until our “wings” begin to emerge, spread out into the light and begin to flutter away to some delightful space. At that point transformation occurs, a transformed “me” and a transformed space I now occupy.53088146-1C34-475A-852E-56F2886E3DC2

Father Richard Rohr offers this description of liminal space:

Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.

Is it possible that instead of despairing in the space we are in at this moment in time, perhaps we can consider it just an in-between space and look ahead with hope for something new, better, brighter. Again I turn, as I often do, to author and theologian Richard Rohr who writes that liminal spaces should be introspective places rather than unsettling places. To him, “liminal” is a word meaning “threshold between one stage of life to another.” It is only within these liminal spaces that “genuine newness and the bigger world is revealed.”

The twentieth-century sociologist Joseph Campbell believed that the world was made up of sacred spaces and profane spaces in our lives. Profane spaces are places that we have to go, like our jobs, school, the grocery store or the post office. In contrast, sacred spaces are places where transformation takes place; where we encounter the world and each other to come to a deeper understanding of ourselves, and a world bigger than ourselves.

If you are in this space of betwixt and between, floating uncomfortably in this liminal space, trust that you will not stay here forever. Place your hope in the God of transformation and believe that you will see a transformation — of this current state of life, and of you!

Chaotic spaces in our lives ask us to enter into peace at a time when peace seems so impossible. Chaos urges us to seek out meditative moments of quietness, to open up our souls to God’s embrace and to let our hearts release the pain. I invite you to spend a few quiet moments listening to the music and the text of a reassuring choral anthem entitled God Gives the Song.   (Text: Susan Bentall Boersma Music: Craig Courtney)

When words are lost among the tears,
When sadness steals another day,
God hears our cries and turns our sighs into a song.

Sing to the One who mends our broken hearts with music.
Sing to the One who fills our empty hearts with love.
Sing to the One who gives us light to step into the darkest night.
Sing to the God who turns our sighs into a song.

Activism, Anger, Black Lives Matter, Breonna Taylor, Call, Change, Church, Comfort, Community activism, Compassion, Defiance, Despair, Hate, healing, Injustice, Lament, Persistence, Prayer, Racism, Sorrow, Soul, Spirit, struggle, The Christian Church, Transformation, Urgency, Violence, White supremacy

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.

Aging, anxiety, Confusion, Despair, discouragement, Faith, Fear, Feelings, God's Faithfulness, God’s promises, Grace, healing, Hope, Isolation, Loneliness, Loss, Music, Prayer, Psalms, Singing, Sorrow, Soul, struggle, Tears, Worry

When Branches Are Flimsy and Songs Cannot Be Sung

I have a certain fondness for sparrows and the spiritual stories we have ascribed to them. That my blog is named “God of the Sparrow” is no accident. I have aspired many times in my life to live like the sparrow lives. I wanted my human, adult, mature and seasoned self to know, beyond any doubt, that God is watching over me. I do not live the simple, sparrow-like life I always hoped to live. But my unshakable faith has always told me that the God who watches over my every moment is also the God of the sparrow. I remember well the words written in the Gospel of Matthew . . .

So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 
— Matthew 10:41 NRSV

Such a comforting passage of Scripture! Yet, its message to us often pales in comparison to all the things that so frighten us. The state of the world that surrounds us in these days seems to have even more power over us than Matthew’s words about our value to God.

How is it that we are valuable to God when God does not act to protect us from all of life’s slings and arrows? Yesterday in my blog post I listed our world’s bad and scary things, so I won’t list them again today. But I will venture a prognosis that many, many people are suffering in many ways in this confusing season. I am one of those suffering people, feeling a bit of hopelessness in these days of racial unrest, coronavirus unsettledness and political divisions.

I heard a moving choral performance this morning. Its text lifted up my helplessness before me and turned it into a prayer so attuned to where I find myself.

God of the sparrow, sing through us
Songs of deliverance, songs of peace. 
Helpless we seek You, God our joy, 
Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. 

Jonathan Cook

I need the sparrow’s God to sing through me. Perhaps you do, too. I need that God-given song because my own music seems to have become quiet, my singing turned to mourning. (Amos 8:10) But this week, I took hold of that mourning. With strong intention, I spent most of one day this week singing my heart out. 

You need to know that I had to choose a day when my husband would be away so that I could sing loud, with abandon. Why did he have to be away? That’s a long story, but in a nutshell, my singing is awful these days. Probably my vocal cords have lost some of their youthful elasticity and, on top of that, I did not sing at all for more than a year. Serious illness took my music.

When I (literally) came back from the dead in 2015, I realized that I had lost so many of my former abilities. Singing was one of them. It felt strange to me when I realized I could no longer sing. My former life was filled with song. Since childhood, there was never a choir I did not join, never a solo I did not sing.

Acknowledging my inability to sing was difficult, just as my life after kidney transplant and this coronavirus is difficult. My isolation has been lengthy, most of nine months, and it is taking its toll on my spirit. Prayer has become both a burden and a grace to me. My singing was my prayer for so many years, and I really need my singing in these hard days. I need to sing my praises to God. I need to sing my lamentations. I need to sing like the sparrow who doesn’t worry about her vocal chords. I need to be like the sparrow who sits on her branch — without fear, without worry — because she knows that if she happens to light on a flimsy branch that does not hold her, her wings will lift her. 

The end of this story is that I need the God of the sparrow to sing through me once again — to sing through me in shadowy days, in times of trouble, in isolation, in fear, in hopelessness. That’s what God does, after all. In a troubled and despairing soul, God creates music, tucking it into every crevice, filling it with songs that can sing out both mourning and celebration. As an added bonus, I have it on good authority that God also turns mourning into dancing.

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 30 11-12 NRSV

So as you sing, dance to the new rhythms of your soul! Because you can!

Thanks be to God.

Please spend your meditation time today listening to this beautiful song with text written by Jonathan Cook and music by Craig Courtney. The video follows the text.

God of the Sparrow

God of the sparrow, sing through us,
Songs of deliverance, songs of peace.
Helpless we seek You, God our joy,
Quiet our troubles, bid them cease.
Alleluia.

God of the sparrow, God of hope,
Tenderly guide us, be our song,
God of affliction, pain and hurt,
Comfort Your children, make us strong.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

God of the sparrow, care for us.
Speak in our sorrow, Lord of grief.
Sing us Your music, lift our hearts,
Pour out Your mercy, send relief.

God, like the sparrow, we abide
In Your protection, love and grace.
Just as the sparrow in Your care,

May Your love keep us all our days.

Amen.

anxiety, Despair, Division, Exhaustion, Injustice, Isolation, Lament, Mourning, Natural disasters, Prayer, Racism, Repentance, Violence

“If my people . . .”


I watched the news last night before bed. Not such a good idea! Halfway into the broadcast, I felt a pervasive sense of despair and became very nauseous. I’m feeling it again as I’m writing this. It was the very real and very current events that were so upsetting: hurricanes bringing destruction in Louisiana; California wildfires threatening yet again; protests after the tragic and unwarranted shooting of Jacob Blake; 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse, who took to the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin during protests, using a military-style rifle to kill two people; a president who is intent on meeting street protests with military violence; a president who gathers a crowd of supporters, not socially distanced and most not wearing masks; and the coronavirus hovering over it all to make situations even more devastating than they already are.

I turned off my bedside lamp and, in the darkness, pondered the news I had just seen. I could not sleep with the sorry, worry, desperation and helplessness I felt. There was not one thing I could do to change my world. My world seemed out of my control, engulfed in all of the events of our time. I wondered . . . how will we live with natural disasters, protests in the streets, killing, violence, military style weapons, police out of control, political rancor, a deadly pandemic and a seeming disregard for human life? How will I live with it? What can I do to change it?

In these times, we see before our eyes people getting very sick, people dying alone in nursing homes and hospitals because of COVID restrictions, people isolated and lonely for months, people divided by political polarization, people being killed by police, people protesting for racial justice, people pushing back hard, enshrined in their white supremacy, people losing their homes, people fighting out-of-control wildfires, people losing their jobs, people tired from working with so many hospital patients, people afraid to go back to school, people feeling angry and frustrated, people feeling complete despair. Most of all, people are hoping beyond hope for better days ahead.

My mind thought of nothing of any consequence I could personally do to reverse all of this destruction and despair. My heart memory, though, remembered some things God instructed us to do long ago. God addressed instruction to, “my people who are called by my name.” 

“I am called by God’s name,” I thought. “I know exactly what to do!” Of course, I could honor God by standing up for justice — engaging in political activism, contacting government officials to demand change or participating in peaceful protests. I could honor God’s creation by doing more to care for the earth. I could honor God by loving my neighbor and caring for those who have suffered loss. 

People of faith have God’s marching orders that dispatch those called by God’s name to practice all manner of good works. And this we must do. But the critical admonition from God that my heart recalled last night is found in Second Chronicles 7:14. If you are called by God’s name, you will likely know these words well.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (NRSV)

But wait, Second Chronicles 7:14 doesn’t apply to us. It was for Israel. Our Biblical interpretations must have a solid contextual underpinning. Right?

Of course, many Scriptures taken out of context have done great damage. The context of Second Chronicles is that when God brings judgment on God’s own people, Israel, as a result of their sins, that God would also heal their land. And God would re-establish their blessings when they would pray and “turn from their wicked ways.”

We may look around at all the destruction around us and say, “My sin did not cause any of this.” I don’t have military weapons. I didn’t shoot anyone. I don’t set wildfires, I always wear my mask in public. I certainly cannot stop the ominous storm surge of a hurricane.

True enough! Most of us didn’t sin by doing any of these things. Yet, we should remember two things: 1) While we did not commit those particular sins, we do not fully know the harm inflicted by other sins we may have committed; and 2) We cannot begin to know the transformative power of our sincere, repentant, intercessory prayer.

Instead of entertaining such deep and helpless despair, instead of feeling physically nauseous with worry, I think I will follow the admonition of the Chronicler who gave me God’s call to pray. Of course, the admonition in its historical context truly was for Israel, but if we intend to use the Holy Scripture to guide our lives, we cannot ignore a passage that begins with “If my people.”

Perhaps my prayers and yours will bring transformation, in our spirits and in our world.

May God make it so. Amen.


 

anxiety, Art, Comfort, Courage, Despair, God’s promises, grief, Hope, Life Journeys, Soul, struggle, Suffering, Transformation, Uncategorized

Hope and the Soul’s Struggle

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Struggles abound in this unwelcome COVID19 season we are experiencing. Most of us are touched by this virus in some way. We have struggled with so many life changes. I have watched strugglers of the soul work through the illness, others deal with the suffering and death of a friend or family member, often being unable to be with them at their death. Some parents are struggling with decisions affecting school for their children and teachers fear they will be unable to keep their students (and themselves) safe. Others long to see loved they have not seen in months of social distancing.

My circle of friends and family are feeling short on hope while they experience struggles of the soul. Yet, Herman Melville asserts that “Hope is the struggle of the soul.” I have been wondering what exactly that might mean. Perhaps hope gives us the courage we need to move boldly and full of hope into the place where the soul struggles, moving there with the assurance that the hope that led us there will also lead us to healing.

As I look closer at Melville’s words, I begin to see and understand that hope’s struggle eventually empowers us to break loose from the perishable things we hold on to — our wealth, our home, our “things” like cars, boats, RVs, whatever “things” we cherish. Looking at what this virus could bring, knowing that we are facing real life and death situations, cannot help but move our souls to throw off the things that don’t seem so critical anymore — perishable things we do not need. This thought prompts me to look at two of my favorite passages of Scripture.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors . . .

— 1 Peter 1:18-19 (New International Version)

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

— 1 Corinthians 15:54 (New International Version)

How do we get there? How do we get through the soul struggles that can bring us to our knees?

I don’t think there is a well developed plan or a series of definite steps to take. The path, the plan, will be unique to each struggler. But the soul struggles I have felt throughout my life have taught me to place hope where hope must be: in Comforter Spirit who hovers over me with her sheltering wings; in the Christ who lives in and through me guiding me as a good shepherd and empowering me to walk with courage in his footsteps; in the Eternal God who holds before me, always, my own eternity.

This is what is available to you as well as you lean into hope’s struggle of the soul and break loose from things that are not important as you bear witness to your own eternity.

May God make it so.

As you leave these words and move with hope into your soul struggles,

May the God of hope go with you and fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in God, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

— Romans 15:13 (New International Version)

Amen.

I hope you can spend a few minutes in prayer and contemplation as you watch this beautiful, comforting music video, “Still with Thee,” with text written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

anxiety, Community, Darkness, Death, Despair, discouragement, healing, Heartbreak, Indecision, journey, Lament, life, Life Journeys, Life pathways, Mystery, Restoration, Sorrow, Spirit, struggle, Tears, Thin Places, Yiayia

That Mysterious and Mystical Reality

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Watercolor art by Kalliope, Holy Ghosts

You might be thinking that both mysterious and mystical are the antithesis of reality. If you are thinking that, you might be wrong. So might I. But in my experience, life itself is a mysterious and mystical reality. That reality fills my spirit with hope in my darkest moments. Dark moments, hours of grief, dark nights of the soul, lamentations of the spirit — all have been part of my life journey. My pathways have often been rough and rocky. My life’s travel has often taken me to disconcerting forks in the road and confusing crossroads. I have known times of despairing and times of uncertainty — reluctance, despondency, angst, heartbreak, fear — “break-out-in-a-sweat times” that forced me into dangerous depths of anguish. For me, taking my own life was not something I could consider. Yet there was that one day — that span of just a few moments — when I was alone, afraid and very far from home.

IMG_5744
Japan’s Aokigahara Suicide Forest

One of the most thoughtful and intriguing movies I have ever experienced is The Sea of Trees. I was captivated by the film that tells the story of a despondent professor. After the death of his wife, he despaired of life and searched for a way to end his. His reflective, angst-filled search led him to Aokigahara, a forest in Japan known also as The Sea of Trees or The Suicide Forest. Aokigahara Forest has been home to over 500 confirmed suicides since the 1950s. It is called “the perfect place to die” and is the world’s second most popular place for suicide.

Don’t worry. This post is not about suicide. Rather it is about the people who loved us in life and continue to love us in death, those who watch over us in our times of deepest anguish. It is about the mysterious and mystical reality that between us and our loved ones in heaven, there is but a thin separation. Heaven and earth,” the Celtic saying goes, “are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”

To know that my sweet Yiayia (grandmother in Greek) and my Thea Koula might still be protecting me from harm and life disaster is soul-comforting for me. Perhaps the strength and hope I felt as I was chaplain to disheartened hospital patients came from them. Perhaps they sent me the staying power to comfort, protect and advocate for thousands of abused women and children. Maybe the deep grief of losing my brother to cancer was eased by their prayers from heaven.

I often wondered if my mourning of the loss of the life I knew — replaced by daily dialysis — was lightened by their loving presence with me in a horrible time. I wonder, Yiayia, were you watching over me on November 12th when I closed my eyes in the operating room to receive my kidney transplant? I wonder, Thea Koula, did your intercession save my life on those times when my life literally hung in the balance?

This life is not an easy one. No person gets through life unscathed. No one travels a path smooth and straight. Like me, you have more than likely walked on a rough pathway with stones in the road, dangerous curves and life-altering crossroads. Robert Frost wrote eloquently in his poem, The Road Not Taken, about someone standing at a fork in the road pondering a life-altering choice:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth . . .

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear . . .

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

My life is filled with “roads not taken,” some not taken by my choice, others thwarted by chance or fate or maybe even God. It is almost like traveling through a “sea of trees” that hide our view of the way ahead, causing us to lose our way. For my art today, I chose one of my watercolor paintings. A few years ago, I painted this “sea” of leafless trees against an ethereal, melancholy wash of color. Interspersed among the trees are ghost-like figures hovering. Actually I titled the painting Holy Ghosts. The painting was inspired by the words of a friend.

When the dead come to mind, they are like holy ghosts, as real as hope or faith, as tangible as trust and love.  – Ragan Courtney

This painting was never meant to be disconcerting or morbid. It represents just the opposite for me. It represents the souls who hover over me for protection, those with whom I shared love and life. It represents my aunt and my Yiayia and my brother because I am certain they protect me, pray for me, lift me up and cheer me on.

Who knows! Maybe my brother Pete, who died of renal cell carcinoma, hovered above me in a kind of holy kidney disease kinship and protected me when I was diagnosed with end stage renal disease in 2014. Maybe he prayed for me during my transplant surgery in 2019. I can, of course, never know that for sure. The veil between heaven and earth, between the dead and the living, is a mystery we simply do not understand. Our understanding does not reach that far, but what we feel in our spirit does reach that far.

In the end, my spirit senses that between us there is but a thin separation, that the spirits of my loved ones are are connected to mine, especially when I am disconsolate and in despair.

In the comfort of that mysterious and mystical reality, I can heal. I can rest. I can continue my journey of dangers, toils and snares. I can know the amazing grace that comes from sacred connections. I can know peace after sorrow. And so can you.

May God make it so. Amen.