A way in the wilderness, Alone, Bewilderment, Comfort, Dry seasons of life, Exclusion, Exhaustion, Hope

A Door of Hope

How often we find ourselves wandering in what feels like wilderness. We wander, and then wander some more, in barren places — in parched, dusty and dry deserts of the soul. We wander in aimless travel that moves us from one nowhere to another. The truth is that we have been nowhere and we’re going nowhere.

It’s a long, hard way, this wilderness wandering. I have found myself there at times. You probably know the desert, too. Like the people of Israel, we don’t much like wilderness wanderings. Remember their laments and complaints?

The Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them.
They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt
that you brought us to the desert to die?
What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?
It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Exodus 14:10-12 (NIV)

Other Biblical passages speak more favorably about walking in a desert wilderness and about finding there comfort and hope. One of my favorite passages is rather obscure, so I want to share it with you.

The Lord said, “Therefore, I will now persuade Israel,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
Hosea 2:14-23 (NRSV)

Finding ourselves wandering in a parched and barren desert can cause us to feel, not only exhaustion, but also exclusion. How bewildering it is when we are excluded, left alone to wander and feeling that no one is near, no one hears our laments, no one cares. My hope for you this day is that, whenever you have to wander in the wilderness, you will find on your way a friend beside you and at the end of your path, a door of hope.

I leave you with these words, a benediction spoken by a dear friend.

Aging, Exclusion, Freedom, life, Possibilities, Retirement, Women

I Refuse to Disappear

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I refuse to disappear! All my life, I have experienced forces and people and systems that wished for my disappearance. As an advocate for victims of violence in the court and criminal justice systems, powerful people just wanted me to go away. As a child advocate, the foster care system definitely wanted me to disappear. As chair of the Little Rock Commission on Children, Youth and Families, the city power brokers wanted me gone so that they could pretend rather than acknowledge the reality of caring for the real needs of children and families.

As a pastor, I spoke truth every week, often controversial truth that the congregation might resist. I was never one to shrink back or hide. I was never willing to disappear when proclaiming the Gospel compelled me to speak. I was always fairly brave.

But I digress. The past is the past, and even now, in retirement, I often feel very much like people want me to disappear. I am resisting the way people do “placement,” that is the way people place me in a category called retirement. It feels as if others are most comfortable acknowledging my past career but forgetting that I still have talents and gifts and creativity. So here I sit — placed in one of three slots: 1) a carefree retiree that enjoys a traveling, active lifestyle; 2) a retired “old person” who can’t really do much anymore; or 3) a shut-in who is too disabled to be an active part of society.

But sitting has never been for me. I’m terrible at it. I have never allowed others to set me aside. I have never allowed people to insist on my disappearance.

These days, though, it’s a struggle. Invitations to preach or speak or teach are few and far between. It is true that I have health issues that slow me down. It is also true that a part of retirement includes challenges. But I want to resist being dismissed as irrelevant. I want to urge people to pay attention to my abilities. I want to continue my career in ways that are possible and appropriate for me. I do not want to disappear.

I refuse to be small and quiet. I refuse to hide my fire. I am still capable of disrupting the universe. I am still going to do the next right thing. 

I love these words shared by women just like me who simply won’t disappear. And I love the writing of Glennon Doyle who speaks a lot of truth, inspiring and uplifting truth. She calls out to women, especially, inviting us to be the persons we want to be even when outside forces try to hold us back. “It’s not a woman’s job,” she writes, “to get smaller and smaller until she disappears so the world can be more comfortable.”

Amen, Glennon!

Clouds, Dreams, Exclusion, Freedom, Immigration, Skies, Stars

Make Room for the Unimaginable

C0F3E414-0365-4F43-890F-EAF928810C56Don’t you love skies . . . blues and purples, the sun’s brightness, the dark black of night, clouds and stars? It is good for us to look into the heavens and lose ourselves in the beauty of God’s creation, to make room for the unimaginable.

There is a beautiful poem in German by Joseph von Eichendorff, in which the poet says to God, “You are the One who breaks up above us those roofs that we so firmly build, so that we may see the heavens. And therefore I will not despair.”

We do build firm roofs that completely cover us, fences that separate us from neighbors, walls that divide us one from another. And we hear a great deal of talk these days about building a wall that is designed to keep people from other countries out. Visitors living in this country despair at the possibility of being deported. Even those who have been here for years and have followed all the rules.

There was a time when immigrants were welcomed here, encouraged to dream of better lives for their families. It was a time when their dreams brought them to a land of freedom, without oppression. My grandparents dreamed that dream when they came to America with my infant mother. And so life began for them here, among neighbors, in a safe and welcoming haven. My brothers and I are the products of that dream. 

So I am sad about the wall and hope in my heart that it will never be built. 

I am reminded of the Berlin Wall. It stood for 10,316 days, from 1961 until 1989. A guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin, it was sometimes referred to as the Wall of Shame. Over 100,000 people attempted to escape and over 5,000 people succeeded in escaping over the Wall. More than 200 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall, but it stood solidly, forbidding passage. It was a blight on Berlin’s landscape that proclaimed absolute division. I remember the day of the wall’s destruction, June 13, 1990.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB shares a beautiful truth:

Build the walls so lightly that you are still aware that you have neighbors. And build the roofs so lightly that you can look through and see the stars.”

That kind of roof God does not have to break. If we build our life in that form, we are people of hope. If we build any more firmly . . . we should expect that God shatters it all, to make room for the unimaginable, so that we will see the stars.

American Flag, Division, Exclusion, Freedom, Inspiration, Justice, Liberty, National Anthem, Patriotism

Freedom, Liberty, Justice, and the National Anthem

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Patriotism can be defined differently by different people. A plethora of actions and ceremonies cause a lump in the throat. For me, many ceremonies, sights and sounds can create a catch in my voice and a visceral emotional response. 

Singing “America the Beautiful” (1)

Watching the U.S. Navy Blue Angels paint the sky

Singing the song written by Irving Berlin in 1918, “God bless America, land that I love . . .” (2)

Hearing the stunningly beautiful words of Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor . . .” (3)

Singing the hymn known as the African American National Anthem:

Lift every voice and sing, 
‘Till earth and heaven ring, 
Ring with the harmonies of liberty . . . 
Stormy the road we trod, 
Bitter the chastening rod, 
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died . . .
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Till now we stand at last
Where the bright gleam of our bright star is cast . . . (4)

And finally, watching the flag billowing in the breeze while the melody of the National Anthem floods a football stadium . . . 

While National Football League players stand tall and sing as they gaze at the American flag; 

While other players place their hands over their hearts in an act of honor; 

While still others kneel because they long for America to be better.

The National Anthem should not be the focus of controversy. The American flag should not be a catalyst for divisiveness. Both are symbols of freedom and liberty that inspire deeply personal acts of patriotism. National symbols should never cause us to ostracize any individual whose patriotism looks different than our own. 

CNN’s Van Jones spoke definitively about what we know as the National Anthem controversy:

People who look like me have put blood in the ground, and put martyrs in the dirt for this country, to have it be liberty and justice for all… It is beyond insulting to have people lecture us about patriotism. (5)

   Van Jones on the NFL National Anthem controversy

Approaching the commemoration of Independence Day reminds me to look more intently to see the acts of patriotism all around me. It prompts me to ask myself what “liberty and justice for all” looks like in these troublesome days. It moves me be a more committed advocate for freedom in all its forms. 

As a Baptist for fifty years, I have been thoroughly immersed in the Biblical concept of soul freedom, an all-encompassing freedom that is, by the way, not just for Baptists. James Dunn provides one of the best descriptions of soul freedom

Soul freedom, all freedom and responsibility are God’s gifts to humanity. God created and endowed people to be free moral agents. Soul freedom and responsibility are not invented by government, or devised by social contract. All dignity and respect afforded persons comes from God as revealed in Scripture. (6) 

For me, a part of soul freedom allows me the right of expression — to worship as I wish, to honor my country as I wish, to exercise my freedom to be the person I was destined to be. I cherish the gift of such extravagant liberty and know full well that it is a tenuous and fragile freedom. That fragility is one cause for the unfortunate and unnecessary controversy surrounding the National Football League and the National Anthem.

My heritage compels me to advocate for the right of every person to express his or her patriotism as they choose. As a child of immigrant parents, I will forever honor the American flag and revere the National Anthem. I may do it as I sing. I may do it through my tears. I may stand proudly and face the waving American flag. I may kneel in solidarity. I may cry as I remember my grandmother’s frightening journey to this country with my infant mother. I may pay tribute in various ways, but I will do it in my own way. As should we all.

So let us move forward in freedom. Let us stand fast in the liberty (7) that has made us free. Let us persist in our resolve to demand justice for all humankind. And as we do, let us go forth boldly with freedom-words on our lips:

Oh, freedom! Oh, freedom! Oh, freedom over me! (8)

Sweet land of liberty . . . (9)

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free . . . 

Sweet justice, climb the mountain though your hands may be weary . . . (10)

Lift every voice and sing ‘till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty . . .

God bless America!

Amen.


(1) Lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates; music by Samuel A.Ward
(2) Irving Berlin, 1918
(3) Emma Lazarus, From the poem, “The New Colossus “ 1883; inscribed on a bronze plaque placed inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903
(4) James W. Johnson, 1871-1938; J. Rosamond Johnson, 1873-1954
(5) Van Jones on the NFL National Anthem controversy; https://cnn.it/2JxzD36
(6) Jamie’s M. Dunn, Soul Freedom: Universal Human Right in Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry, James M. Dunn and Grady C. Cothen, Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 2000.
(7) Galatians 5:1
(8) Traditional spiritual, arr. by Valeria A. Foster
(9) Samuel Francis Smith
(19) Jill Scott