A Holy Mission . . . A Possible Mission

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A post card created by the Syracuse Cultural Workers Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Beloved Community.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of β€œbeloved community” he was describing the ultimate goal of non-violent activism for peace and justice β€” a global community of caring where poverty, hunger and in justice are no more.

As a person of faith, how do I respond to injustice? Where do I find the impetus, the courage, to confront evil? How do I go deeply into my soul to find the inner strength to stand against that which is wrong in the world? How do I work to help realize the dream of a beloved community? How do I meet the challenge of so holy a mission?

Brian McClaren recently wrote about what he saw and experienced in Charlottesville. A part of his article includes a straight-up call to people of faith.

All of us, especially people of faith, need to proclaim that white supremacy and white privilege and all other forms of racism and injustice must indeed be replaced with something better – the beloved community where all are welcome, all are safe, and all are free. White supremacist and Nazi dreams of apartheid must be replaced with a better dream – people of all tribes, races, creeds, and nations learning to live in peace, mutual respect, and neighborliness. Such a better world is possible, but only if we set our hearts on realizing the possibility.

– Brian McClaren

Oh, how we long to experience β€œthe beloved community.” How we long to see our dreams of peace become a reality. Yes, we do set our hearts on realizing these dreams. Yet, we still feel the reticence of fear and inadequacy. We still tend to hide inside of our religiosity, the kind of religiosity that prevents us from responding to God’s call to wage peace. The Apostle Paul spoke to the religious people of his time. His words are instructive to us.

Paul stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: β€œPeople of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.Β For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worshipβ€”and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

β€œThe God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else . . . For in him we live and move and have our being.”

– From Acts 17:22-28

Therein lies the answer to my questions of inadequacy and urges me to go beyond my own β€œobjects of worship.” Paul’s prompting urges me to move outside of my own religious temple into a hurting and warring world. How can I find the will and the courage?

In God I live and move and have my being. That makes every holy mission a possible mission.

May God make it so.

Raise Beautiful Trouble!

IMG_5737Raise beautiful trouble!

Resist! Resist all actions that hinder peace and cause the madness of warring. Women have long dreamed of peace, dreaming of a world without war, hatred, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all forms of injustice. Our Jewish brothers and sisters proclaim “TikkunΒ Olam” calling us to heal the world. Tukkun Olam is a jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings andΒ is often used when discussing issues of social policy.

Raise beautiful trouble!

Diane Wilson climbed over the fence at the White House, skinning her stomach on the steel barbs.Β Two weeks later she got a visit from two guys in black suits, black shoes, and wearing sunglasses, Secret Service agents who wanted to know if she had an authority complex.

Diane is active in the organization, CODEPINK, a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs. (http://www.codepink.org)

Century after century women have yearned for and worked for peace. Through the years, women have walked hand in hand as they reflected on ways to create a just and peaceful world. Maybe it’s just a woman thing! Julia Ward Howe proclaimed these words in 1870.

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of tears! . . . We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, β€œDisarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

β€” Julia Ward Howe, 1870,Β From her Mother’s Day Proclamation for Peace

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Art by Ayla Mahler

The dream persists. The peacemakers persevere, longing for a day when all people will β€œhammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.” (Isaiah 2:4 NASB)

The words of T.E. Lawrence offer stunning hope for better days.

. . . the dreamers of the day are dangerous men and women, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.

Sisters (and brothers too), continue to dream of peace with eyes wide open. Raise beautiful trouble! Resist! Persist! The peace of the world is your reward.

 

 

Persisting with God

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When spring arrives, I remember the anniversary of my ordination to the ministry. March 22nd . . . this year marked 25 years since that memorable day. I arrived at that ordination service held at a Baptist church in El Paso, Texas, battered and bruised. The path to ordination in the Baptist church was, in those days, a grueling experience. My home church in Little Rock, Arkansas, had tormented me for several months, adamant about their refusal to ordain a woman.

Nevertheless, I persisted. It was the first life experience that taught me that, in order to live out my fondest dreams, I had to learn to persist. It was a good lesson actually, one that I had to embrace. Yes, I was hurt by my church, by the people closest to me. My prayer was, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” That had to be my constant and sincere prayer so that I could genuinely forgive those who had hurt me and follow God into meaningful ministry.

God led me to hospital chaplaincy, to ministry as the pastor of a Presbyterian church, to founding a nonprofit organization that served victims of violence and abuse and to the pastorate of a Baptist church where I served for nine years.

So, yes, I did learn to persist and to follow God into unlikely places of service. Most importantly, God persisted . . . walking with me, guiding me, ennobling me to ministry.

The Bible reveals a God of infinite persistence, a God who never gives up on us. There are, of course, many portraits of God throughout the Bible, but my vision is of a God of extravagant grace, patience, and persistence. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Happy Ordination Anniversary to me . . . persisting with God for 25 years.

She Gave Me Wings!

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She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible.Β She walked with the universe on her shoulders and made it look like a pair of wings.

This quote makes me remember Ethel, one of my most cherished friends. Ethel was my hero. She inspired me to dream and always held hope high so that I could see it. She walked beside me during difficult days and challenged me to stay the course. “Tie a knot in the rope and hang on,” she would often say. And when I would fall into the dust, despondent and exhausted, Ethel gave me wings.

Most people knew Ethel as someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother, because she always loved them more than she loved herself. She always used her energy to raise them up, to push them forward, to champion their hopes.

To me, Ethel was my dearest and most loyal friend, almost like a mother. I could not be despondent for very long around Ethel. She wouldn’t allow it. I could not be broken and stay that way. Ethel would gently pick up the pieces and help me find beauty in my brokenness.

Ethel was the matriarch of Providence Baptist Church of Little Rock, a new church start, and the first Baptist church in Arkansas to call a woman as pastor. I was that pastor. I moved into that ministry position after a grueling ordination process that lasted for almost a year and ended in my home church refusing to ordain a woman. Their refusal to work with me toward ordination was a devastating blow.

But Ethel was certain that ordination would come in time, at the right time. She quoted this verse from Habakkuk, one of her favorites, every time my resolve faltered and I was ready to give up.

For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay.

– Habakkuk 2:3

Although Habakkuk was surely not writing about the denied ordination of a Baptist woman, his words rang true to Ethel and were encouraging to me. Together, Ethel and I “hastened toward the goal” that did not fail. We waited for it and it did come, seemingly out of nowhere.

On a Sunday evening, I received a phone call from the pastor of a church in El Paso Texas, who was the former Executive Secretary of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. After a brief getting-to-know-you conversation in which he told me that he had become acquainted with my ministry through a colleague who happened to be my hospital chaplaincy mentor, he stunned me with these words.

“Our church voted this morning to ordain you.”

“But you don’t even know me,” I said, shocked, taken aback and just a little confused.

Oh, but we know you very well. We have talked about you for weeks in our church. We know you are a chaplain. We know where you went to seminary. We know you can preach and even sing. We know you were a Southern Baptist Foreign missionary to Uganda. And if you were appointed a missionary by our Foreign Mission Board, you are qualified to be ordained so that you can continue your ministry.

I could barely respond. I knew only that I needed to think.

“Let me think about this for a few days and send you some information about me.”

And so I sent them a copy of my life story so they could be sure, even if I was not. Ethel said, “‘Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.’ Now let’s pack up and go to El Paso.”

Thirteen friends, members of Providence, traveled to El Paso. My family drove 953.4 miles, and I was ordained in El Paso, Texas on April 29, 1992 by a church I did not know that became my community over a weekend.

Ethel left this world many years ago, much too soon. But she is still my hero and I miss her terribly. Does she watch over me? Is she, as some people like to think, an angel of God with a pair of wings? I’m not at all sure of that, but I know one thing. Every time things get hard, I hear her words, “Tie a knot in the rope and hang on.”

She gave me wings!

An Opening in the Ordinary

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Often I complain to my husband about every day being ordinary. For us, very few events break up the time, making each day seem pretty much like yesterday, tomorrow too. It is a sad state of affairs to have stopped expecting anything extraordinary.

But there is a remedy for me when all seems mundane. I get out my watercolor paints and lose myself in creativity for a few hours. It works. . . not creating any masterpiece to be sure, but letting my dreams loose so that they flow out from paint brush to paper. The colors, one blending into another and another, is my passage out of reality and into the possibility of transformation.

It is definitely, as Bishop Stephen Charleston writes, “an opening in the ordinary.”

Here’s how he expresses it.

An opening has occurred in the ordinary, a passage between the reality we have always accepted and the possibility of transformation . . . This is the day, the everyday, the extraordinary day, when we step over doubt to trust, over resignation to hope, over now to forever.

So in the midst of my ordinary days, I can still hope for an opening in the ordinary, for the possibility of transformation. I can find extraordinary moments smack dab in the middle of an ordinary day. Β I give thanks to God for the grace of transformation.

Seeing the Dawn

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What do you do when your dreams have died, when you realize that what you hoped for and dreamed for just isn’t going to happen? Sitting with the shards of broken dreams is not a good place to be. We are, deep inside of ourselves, dreamers that look toward a bright future filled with hope. We plan. We set goals. We dream. And we keep on dreaming.

The problem is that sometimes the world around us disrespects dreamers. “It’s impossible. It can’t be done. That’s a futile dream.” The voices of discouragement are incessant. Sherwood Anderson wrote:

β€œYou must try to forget all you have learned,” said the old man. “You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices.”

Haven’t we all experienced it? The roaring of the voices that tell us our dreams are not possible? The voices that insist our dreams have died? Of course, we have heard those voices. But we have dreamed on, longing to realize our “impossible dream.”

We who are dreamers envision a better world. We look into the dawn of realized dreams. We hold fast to our dreams, hearing through the years the echo of the words of Langston Hughes.

Hold onto dreams
For if dreams die
Life is like a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

– Langston Hughes

So keep on dreaming. Cling tightly to your dreams. Ignore the voices that discourage you. Find your most excellent way by moonlight. And always remember that, because you are a dreamer, you really do see the dawn before the rest of the world.

New Light Chases the Darkness Away

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It was an old dream proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah. He dreamed of an earth filled with justice, righteousness and peace. He dreamed of a world where children do not fear, a world where all people live in God’s light. The people of God have dreamed the very same dream, just as we dream it today. Hear the words of the Prophet:

With righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them . . .

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

– Isaiah 11:4-6, 9 New International Version (NIV)
We must keep dreaming, seeking the dream with hearts and hands, giving ourselves to the work of justice. Bishop Steven Charleston, as always, eloquently expresses the thought.

I dream the old dream, the one that has been with us for centuries now, passed down from heart to heart, shared by great leaders and simple believers alike, the dream of a day when the scales of time will tip, when the long suffering will end, when justice will finally bring the peace we deserve. The tyrants will be history. The wars only a distant memory. The Earth will sparkle beneath clear skies, every hungry child will be fed. I dream the old dream, the one you have dreamed too, the one that arises in the long hours of night, before the new light chases the darkness away.

We dream of the day when tyrants will be history, wars a distant memory, where every hungry child will be fed, and the long night of suffering will end for every person. Though we may experience the deepest, harshest darkness, it is the new light of our dreams that chases the darkness away. May this be our prayer.

A Star in the Night

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Look up to the skies.
Who created all these stars?
He leads out the army of heaven one by one
and calls all the stars by name.
Because he is strong and powerful,
not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:26 New Century Version (NCV)

The other night, I took a minute to look into the sky. What I saw was the sliver of a moon and the most sparkling star I have ever seen. Fred, bringing me down to reality, said, “That’s not a star. it’s a planet.” I dismissed his statement, continuing to look at the star and marveling at its light.

There are more than enough hard realities in this world, so I chose to see a star, a sparkling star that lit up the night. I allowed my imagination to win the moment this time. It was worth it, even for a brief moment.

The truth is that I really want to imagine what might be, to dream of what the future might bring my way. I discovered this when I was so ill, for it was during that time that I needed to learn to dream again. I was living a harsh reality. My only hope was to allow myself to dream of hope and healing and stars in the night. The thoughts of Bishop Steven Charleston give life to the idea of dreaming.

Dream on, even in this world of hard realities, even when the future seems to be clouded, dream on, let your imagination continue to see what might be, what could happen, what can be changed, dream on, for by your dreaming you are not hiding from some harsh truth, but giving yourself a glimpse of the alternative, giving those around you a star to see in the night, dream on, because your dream is hope, it is an affirmation of possibilities, a defiance of diminished life, a vision sacred and healing. Dream on, for from your dreams a new creation will be made.

– Steven Charleston

Look up to the skies.
Who created all these stars?

The answer? The same God of grace that brought me through my harsh days, prompted me to see a star in the night, and helped me dream again. Amen.

Still Time to Dream

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It’s still early in this new year, still time to embrace fresh, new things. Sarah Ban Breathnach describes a transformative year of dreaming. I love her insight.

A fresh start. A new chapter in life waiting to be written. New questions to be asked, embraced, and loved. Answers to be discovered and then lived in this transformative year of delight and self-discovery. Today carve out a quiet interlude for yourself in which to dream, pen in hand. Only dreams give birth to change.

There is still time to dream. There is always time for self-discovery and transformation. Indeed, for me, it is necessary to keep dreaming and to follow God’s prompting that helps me discover all the ways I might be transformed. Life change is never over, never halted by aging or illness. For that, I am grateful.

I have faced off with both, aging and illness. I have navigated both, and have emerged stronger and wiser for it. So I am moving forward into 2017, carving out quiet interludes along the way, interludes for new dreams and continuing personal transformation. The words of the Psalmist give me courage and comfort.

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

– Psalm 16:11 New International Version (NIV)

Thanks be to God for a constant, faithful presence, for opportunities for transformation, for the courage to dream new dreams.

Our Stories

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Stories move through our lives, especially when we are willing to tell them. There is great power in the telling. Telling our stories makes us better and stronger. It helps us create our lasting history. It allows us to open ourselves to others.

C.S. Song writes about stories in his book, In the Beginning Were Stories not Texts. He writes, “Stories are conceived within the womb of dreams and developed and nurtured within it . . . If the story is good . . . it will be told from one generation to another.”

Happy stories and sad stories weave through our lives and are a part of making us who we are. Then when we tell them, we share who we are with others. We risk being authentic, being known. We give to the hearer the gift of genuinely knowing us. Telling our stories is the seed of true friendships and relationships.

Out of our dreams emerge our stories, stories that must be told and retold. The telling is a gift we give to our children and their children. It is a precious gift, and the only way to give it is to open up our hearts to let our dreams go forth in words.

So I urge you to open up your life and tell your stories. You will be stronger for it. Generations will be blessed by it.