Monday, March 26, 2018

Were You There?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

This is an African-American spiritual about the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and our part in it. 
Watch a powerful version sung by Marion Williams here: v=xu_GW2osRVA

There's some real emotion behind her singing it. "Oh! It causes me to tremble." It shakes me up in the core of my being that the one we call the Son of God was so brutally murdered. That his best friends deserted and betrayed him and an angry mob screamed for him to be executed. 

Were you there?
Were you there when innocent lives were ended much too soon? When God's children screamed for help and no one came to their rescue? Were you there when they bled to death? Were you there when God's children were kidnapped, tortured, beaten and left for dead? Were you there when those who were supposed to protect them became their oppressors?

Or have you become numb against the pain because of all the news of violence and shootings? Just one more statistic. 

It would do us good to tremble though. It would make us more compassionate and, possibly, more angry. It would give us the passion to work against violence and for justice. And it would help us appreciate how much Jesus really does love us. 

And then, on Easter Sunday, may we all tremble as we shout: Halleluiah! The Lord is risen! 
May we tremble for joy that love is stronger than death, love stronger than hate, and God stronger than all evil. 

Were you there? 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Personal Freedom

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

I can think of a lot of "yokes" that we submit to, or are submitted to. What are yours? No matter what it is that holds you down, keeps you captive: I believe Jesus Christ has freed you from it. Living in freedom is something most people strive for. But it's also pretty scary! It means leaving behind what we know, what feels safe, and growing into the freedom that we are given. Yesterday we talked about the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. These are the four agreements that he calls "A practical guide to personal freedom":

Be Impeccable with Your Word.

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. 

2 Don't Take Anything Personally.

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3 Don't Make Assumptions.

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. 

4 Always Do Your Best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret. 

Most people found this some very powerful advice. But we also realized how hard it is to live that way! All we can do is keep working on it and acknowledge that we are often held captive by our own thoughts and feelings. That's where true freedom lies: in ourselves.

As we approach Good Friday, the day that Jesus died to free us from all human bondage, it is a helpful reminder that we are only unfree as long we allow ourselves to be. Freedom is possible. It needs to be worked at and practiced. But it is possible.

"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."  

Monday, March 12, 2018


Yesterday we talked about when it's okay and necessary to say "no." We talked about trusting your own gut and setting boundaries about what you are and are not comfortable with. If someone touches you, even to shake your hand or give you a well-intended hug and that makes you uncomfortable, it's okay to say "no, I don't like that." We also told our kids how important that is. We teach them to be polite and do what adults ask them to. But if it makes them uncomfortable or just feels wrong, they need to know that they have the right to refuse. 
Thousands and thousands of women have been coming forward and said: "Me too. I have been assaulted or sexually harassed." And there are thousands more who have not come forward. Something basic in our society needs to change. We need to teach our children (boys and girls) that it's okay to say "no" and that "no" means "no." We need to ask permission before we touch someone, and not be offended by the response. We don't know what our touch might trigger in them. It most likely has nothing to do with us but with a past experience. This will take a major shift in our thinking as a society. But we need to start somewhere. And we need to start now. 
Jesus protected the dignity and safety of every person he encountered: men, women and children. He didn't make any assumptions on what they wanted or needed. Instead he asked them, "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10:36 and 10:51.) I think that should be our model. 
I pray for healing for all who have suffered, and are currently suffering, sexual abuse or harassment. I pray for those who seem to know no healthy and respectful way of getting their needs met and use their power to threaten and intimidate. I pray for our children that they may grow up with confidence, loving themselves enough to speak up. And I pray for all of us, that we may take the lead on this, to set clear boundaries and respect the boundaries of others. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

This has almost become a sarcastic term. Innocent children are massacred and people respond with thoughts and prayers. Earthquakes, floods, political turmoil, hundreds of thousands of refugees with no place to go, and churches respond with thoughts and prayers. 
Yes, of course we think about all those people. Of course we pray for them. And we believe that God will hear our prayers and something will happen. But many now are saying, thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need to do more. And people are starting to. High school students are speaking up and calling out those in power. Consumers are boycotting businesses whose practices they don't agree with. Plans for school walk-outs and marches are underway. 
We are in the midst of the season of Lent, the time when we focus on Jesus' innocent suffering and death on the cross. Jesus didn't fight back. He was making a statement. He believed this was God's will, that he die. He prayed that God would deliver him but he didn't fight his enemies. He gave his life into God's hands. Some believe his death was a sacrificial death for our sins. Others, that he died to show us God was stronger than death. And still others, that he died to show the absurdity of violence. To show that it leads nowhere, only to death. Personally, I focus on the latter two. I don't believe God needed to see innocent blood shed before God could forgive us. I believe this is how some people interpreted Jesus' death, and I give them every freedom and respect to do so. But for me, Jesus' death means that God knows what suffering feels like. God knows physical and emotional pain. God knows weakness, fear, loneliness. That's the kind of God that I need. I believe God hates suffering and God hates violence. 
And this is why I will march on March 24. I will march for the lives that ended much too soon, I will march for the lost souls who pick up weapons of mass destruction to feel heard and seen, and I will march for the many lives that we cannot afford to lose. 

I'm not saying: Don't pray. Please, pray! But also, march. Speak. Boycott. Write postcards. Call your representatives. Organize. If not for this cause, then for any other that is important for you. It's time God's people stood up for what they believe in. 

 Psalm 13

Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
    my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.