Journey to the Center

IMG_2252.JPGAs a child, my son loved mazes.  His logical, visual, analytical mind could see the paths through the convoluted twists and turns as if there were flashing neon arrows pointing a straight path, detouring past the turnings that would eventually lead to cul-de-sacs and dead ends. For me, mazes were an exercise in patience.  And I do admit to, occasionally, starting at the exit in order to find the right path through to the starting point.

If you look in the dictionary, a maze and a labyrinth are synonyms; however, in spiritual practice, they are quite different. The Labyrinth in this context has only a single way in.  It has many twists and turns.  But the twists and turns always lead you forward.  They alwayslabyrinth.png lead you to the center. You can’t get lost in the Labyrinth. And the center is representative of the very heart of God. Once you reach the center, you can rest in that moment of love, peace, and acceptance, before returning to the entrance, which is also the exit. A part of the experience of walking the Labyrinth is contemplating the variety of meanings and symbols inherent in this imagery. Entrances that are exits. Rest at the center. Twists and turns that, just when you think you are almost there, take you back along the edges. Some people have trepidation about entering the Labyrinth. Some don’t want to leave the comfort of the center. Some don’t want to take that last step back into the world. Some race through the paths. Some move slowly, carefully placing their feet on the ground, inch by inch. Just like our journeys in life, each experience of the Labyrinth is unique.

One pattern for walking the Labyrinth is

Remember that which needs remembering as you enter;
Release that which needs to be released on the inward path;
Receive that which is from the Ground of All Being in the center;
Return holding what you have received, free from what was released; and
Reflect on your journey as you exit back into the world.

As I journeyed with others walking the Labyrinth recently, two more “Re” words came to my mind, words that we take into the world with us: Relate and Reconcile.

Because the journey into the Labyrinth and back again changes us, the way we relate to others changes, too. This can be an intentional shift in how we approach our relationships; however, the more radical shift may be in how others perceive our very being in the world. My experience of late is that when we allow ourselves to connect with the Ground of All Being, we ourselves become grounded and become open to others in a way that is palpable. The world is a place of conflict and struggle.  We have a dire need for community, for someone else in this world to whom we may relate. Other people notice when we are filled to the brim with God’s love and acceptance. All ground becomes holy ground.  I’ve learned to be open to holy conversations in some of the most unexpected places from people I have never met before. Holy moments of communion can take place standing at a grocery checkout line or in the bustling lobby of an office building.

This refocusing for our relationships often leads toward reconciliation. John Paul Lederach in Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies asserts that relationship is the root of both our conflicts and the long-term solutions to those conflicts.  He writes that reconciliation is not best “pursued by seeking innovative ways to disengage or minimize the conflicting groups’ affiliations.” In other words, we don’t get reconciliation by hiding away in our like-minded groups or by carving out territory with rigid boundaries as ideological or physical enclaves. Instead, reconciliation happens as both sides in a conflict share and hear stories, acknowledging the pain (and I would add the fears) experienced within the stories of the past, and then each actor determines to use imagination to envision an interdependent future. Lederach, through his efforts at building peace around the world, has found that reconciliation is, in the words of the Psalmist, the place where truth and mercy meet, where peace and justice kiss. Without truth, conflicts are not resolved; without mercy, healthy relationships are not possible; without justice, brokenness continues; without peace for all involved, true harmony and unity cannot be achieved.

The journey through the Labyrinth is a journey of reconciliation. It is a journey to find and accept our truths and to wrestle with the truths of our neighbor. It is a journey to accept and share mercy. It is a journey toward justice, where wrongs may be truly rectified. And finally, the Labyrinth is a journey toward an interdependent peace.

Maybe what our society needs these days is a giant Labyrinth that our communities could enter together. A place where we communally Remember, Release, Receive, Return, Reflect, Relate, and Reconcile. And, from a community perspective, I will add one more…Respect.  The word respect literally means “to look again.” Re – again; Spect – to look or see. If we are to journey in the communal Labyrinth together, this both begins and ends with Respect. In the beginning, we commit to truly looking and seeing those in our communities. Then we listen to stories, share our own stories, acknowledge hurt and fear, commit to stepping outside of our own need for security or control to build bridges toward a more just future for all people where truth and mercy live, and where peace and justice kiss. And when we do this, our eyes may open wide, re-spectacled if you will, to see a vision, and to build the reality, of the kingdom of God in front of us, around us, and within us.

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Dance when you’re broken open.
Dance when you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.

Dance when you’re perfectly free.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside
her, like a wave that crests into foam at the
very top, Begins.

Maybe you don’t hear that tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.

Close the ears on your head, that listen mostly
to lies and cynical jokes.

There are other things to see, and hear. Music.
Dance. A brilliant city inside your soul!


My daughter, when she was younger, had a hard time sitting still for long worship services.  Anyone else have that problem? Even the periodic sitting and standing and kneeling did not provide enough movement to satisfy.  So, when we would sing, she would edge out of the aisle and twirl to the music, like one of Rumi’s Sufist Whirling Dervishes. The Sufis understand how the movement of our bodies can form a pathway to releasing that which would hinder us to allow for connections with the Divine.

Lent is a season where we are encouraged to figure out what is holding us back from having our being with, and in, God, what is holding us back from being in right relationships with other human beings and with this beautiful world we call home.

We are broken people surrounded by brokenness. In trying to heal our wounds, some of us choose to rip off our protective coverings, laying open the wounds, leaving ourselves vulnerable. Fighting surrounds us. Brokenness, vulnerability, bickering, violence…a perfect recipe for anxiety and fear.

Whenever God shows up in the Bible, the words “do not fear” are not far behind. Our fears are powerful drivers. I’ve learned in my year of listening that which I need most to understand in the midst of conflict: fear. So many harsh words are spoken because of our fears. So many entrenched beliefs have grown from the seeds of fear. Any of our divisive political issues can be traced to our fears, and to leaders who play off of them. “Us versus them” arises because of our fears. Because of the fears of the perceived “us” and “them.”

And the idea of “us versus them” is not the only false dichotomy at play in our society today. It seems that we can’t get out of “either/or” thinking. I keep hearing advocacy for single-point solutions to complex problems.

Take the most recent debate following the violence at the school in Florida.  It would be great if common sense firearms regulations would end all deaths from firearms. But they won’t.  At the same time, that is no reason to dismiss regulations as an integral part of a holistic solution. It would be great if video game manufacturers took responsibility and stopped pushing violence as recreation. And what about if we treated violence as something just as obscene as sexual pornography. That alone won’t end violent acts, but it could certainly make a difference. And what if each person got support from their communities to get their mental, emotional, and spiritual lives in order? That would help, too. And what about education reform that emphasized smaller community schools where there are enough teachers to be able to care for each student like a valued member of a family. Maybe that would move us in the right direction.

But maybe the first step towards the end of violence is naming our fears.  Why are we afraid of common-sense regulations on guns? Why are we afraid of ending violence in video games, television, and movies? What scares us about working on our mental, emotional, and spiritual lives? What is stopping us from creating de-institutionalized educational communities? What is holding us back? What is broken in our systems? What is broken in us? What are our fears?

I will tell you that in being a fly on the wall, listening to my group of 6th grade Girl Scouts talk about lock down drills and active shooter drills as if that was just the way life is, my fear is that this violence becomes normalized, that we somehow accept it as “the way things are,” and we give up on committing to the hard work of making a difference. I fear that our politicians have already given up on public schooling and this “hardening the target” version of public schools is just another way to kill public education because what child can be expected to learn with the ever-present fear of attack constantly lurking, because without a fundamental change in how our society functions there simply aren’t enough funds in the world to make our public schools “safe.”

And the lies and cynicism to which Rumi refers. Well, they would tell me that it is futile to resist.  It is futile to continue to work against this behemoth that is urging this crazy, confusing death-dealing agenda onward. There is that voice that says “who are you to think that you can make a difference?”

But, as Marianne Williamson reminds us,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

And Rumi’s response to these fears? It is a liberating response, too.  Rumi tells us to dance! Step out into the aisle and start twirling. He doesn’t say to wait until the brokenness is healed, or the wounds are once again protected. He doesn’t say to wait until the fighting ends. He says that when the sounds of the tambourine reach our ears, when those sounds strike us, that is when the dancing begins. For Rumi, the time for mourning and the time for dancing are the same time! Feel God’s presence in the innermost parts of your being.  Shine. Make Manifest the glory of God. Be liberated from  your fears. This is how the world changes.

To dance is to be in community. There exists no “us” and “them” in the dance. In the dance we all become one with God and are, therefore, one. We realize that there are truly other things to see, and hear. Close your ears to the outside noise.

And when we learn to be discerning, to block out the incessant chatter, then we can hear the music, then God’s rhythm wells up within us, playing for us a harmonious symphony from that brilliant city inside the soul, and then, in truly perfect human and divine union, we dance. We dance in the face of the fear. We dance in the presence of the pain, from old wounds laid bare. We dance in our vulnerability. We dance in the midst of fighting. We joyfully dance in the truth of perfect freedom.



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Ending our Sacrifices to Molech

You must not hand over any of your children to have them sacrificed to Molech.  (Leviticus 18:21)

It was not my intention to ruminate on politics in America in my blog posts this Lent. I am committed to “Wandering in Wonder,” but sometimes my wonder becomes overshadowed by the pain and sadness in the world. After yet another school shooting, I don’t feel I can ignore the intersection of faith and social justice in our political system.

Over the last year, I took time to listen to the variety of voices in our highly-fragmented political climate. I regularly attended my local Georgia legislative district representative’s open forums.  He seems like a good person who wants to listen to all of his constituents. People from a variety of political backgrounds came to the meetings and aired their thoughts and concerns. It gave me hope for our society.

We were meeting, ironically, in a local high school, gathered in a home economics classroom. We were discussing the “campus carry” bill that was pushing its way through the Georgia House and Senate again, after it had been vetoed by Governor Deal the previous year. One woman, a college professor, expressed grave concerns. An older couple who had attended every meeting sat directly on my right, fuming as she spoke. When she was done, the man lashed out, declaring it was his “God-given right to carry a gun.” I turned to look at him, dumbfounded. Since when did God give us the right to endanger the life, or worse take the life, of another human being? I don’t remember reading much about that right in the Bible.  Maybe this man worships a different god? Maybe his religion is one that I’ve not come across before? Maybe it is one where child sacrifice is regularly practiced? Because that is where we are now. 18 school shootings in the first 45 days of this year, including both homicidal and suicidal acts.

And as Christians, our faith has something very specific to say about this. Heidi B. Neumark expresses this perfectly in her book Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx and so I will not try to improve on her words…

The biblical prophets unequivocally denounced the god Molech to whom human sacrifice was made, especially children. Molech was also associated with uncontrolled greed and economic gain. Isaiah condemns those who bring offerings to Molech: You journeyed to Molech with oil and multiplied your perfurmes (Isaiah 57:9). Evidently an investment in Molech was good for one’s net worth, but Molech’s thirst was not satisfied with oil. Molech exacted a higher price: You that slaughter children in the valleys and under the clefts of the rocks…you have poured out a drink offering…your children’s blood. (Isaiah 57:5-6).

Republican candidates who are now our representatives take millions of dollars in support from the gun lobby, either directly or indirectly. And yes, some Democrats do, too. Of the 289 Senators and Representatives who have taken net positive financial support, 17 of those are Democrats. So neither party is completely innocent here, but I focus on the Republicans because they are far and away the largest beneficiaries of the expenditures. (If my math is correct, the top 10 Republicans have netted over $54 million during their political careers from the NRA or those connected with it; all 17 Democrats combined total just over $260,000.  If you want some details you can look at this link…Following the Money with

For Republicans to claim that they are the ones who represent “Christian Values” is ludicrous in the face of this blatant disregard for human life, and especially the lives of our children. And the spin on social media has already begun. In a reckless attempt to turn the focus from the heinous act of violence and from the causes of the tragedy (and I do believe more than one exists, but that is a conversation for another day), a source called “I Carry” suggested we should focus on the stories of heroism and ignore the “coward” who attacked the students and the faculty. We have had enough deflecting. The best way to honor those heroes is with a true commitment to change in our fundamental policies.

The founders of the United States valued human life. This is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness… The framers of the Constitution valued human life. When they wrote in the preamble that the purpose of the Constitution was to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, it seems clear that recklessly endangering the lives of children and their caretakers would have been assumed to be unjust, a vulnerability that would undermine the common defense of the citizens; fear of violence in our schools would surely disrupt domestic tranquility, hinder general welfare, and significantly limit liberty. And even the 2nd Amendment protection of a “well-regulated” militia, signifies that regulation was certainly not out of the question. So, even if you are more enamored with our founding documents than you are the Christian scriptures, you are entitled to expect more from our government. We must stop hiding behind a warped interpretation of the Constitution and use it to enact legislation that is true to its very spirit and nature.

As Christians, we have an imperative to act. As Americans, we have an imperative to act. And while Lent is a time of reflection, it can also be a time to use that reflection to spark action in the world, a time we organize our voices, repent our past, and look to God to be our partner in doing something new.

Today, I pray for those directly affected by the violence in Florida. I also pray that God will light in us a flame of righteous anger and indignation. It is time to put an end to sacrifices to Molech.

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Love from the Ashes

OneIMG_2799 of my great joys is spending time with a fantastic group of girls as their Girl Scout troop leader. Contrary to what some may believe, cookies are not the official dessert of Girl Scouts, at least not for my troop.  Nothing beats the decadent flavor of a marshmallow, still warm and gooey from the fire, combined with the chocolate, gently melting from the heat of the marshmallow, sandwiched between two crispy graham crackers.  S’mores are the best!

It was during the many years of roasting s’mores that we learned that the best way to clean our metal toasting forks when the marshmallow goo becomes troublesome between batches is to expose them to the flame, to let the fire do the work for us.  So, we would insert the fork, covered in lumps of white molten sugar, into the heat of the flame.  The molten lumps would swell and ignite, grow more bulbous, pulsing like some living being, then fade to crusty lumps of black ash coating the end of the fork. This is the image that came to mind for me today, Ash Wednesday.  The end of the toasting fork: clean, ready for action, but covered in ash, charred and scarred from previous encounters with the flame.

On Ash Wednesday, we remember that from dust we have come and to dust we shall return.  And in the middle, there’s a lot more dust.  We are birthed from all the elemental dust of the universe, shining and new.  We head out into the world. We live. Sometimes life is sweet. Sometimes life is hard. And every now and then, we need to return to the fire, let the breath that fuels the flames urge on the fires around us so that they burn away the sticky residue of our past until we are covered in ash. The toasting forks that have seen a campfire or two might look rough.  Even after a trip through the dishwasher, they don’t recover that shiny metallic fresh-from-the-store finish.  Their trip into the fire has changed them.  As we are marked with the cross of Christ today, we accept that we have been changed, too.

Walt Whitman in his poem There was a Child Went Forth intones, “There was a child went forth one day; / And the first object he looked upon, that object he became; / And that object became a part of him for the day, or part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.” Each day, our experiences become a part of us.  On Ash Wednesday, as individuals,we recognize those objects that have become a part of the self. We get to name them, one by one. Objects of beauty and sadness, anger and grief, pain and love, confusion and joy, and myriad other impressions fill our days. As a community, we recognize our shared story, those celebrations and challenges that have become a part of us. We face them and have an opportunity to accept that they are a part of us. And then we can turn and place them in the fire. While they continue to exist as a part of us, they are transformed through the burning fire of God’s spirit.

On the doorsteps of another Lent, we begin the journey towards wholeness, applying the salve offered by the restorative work of a loving Christ. Scarred by life’s experiences, yet also indelibly marked as Christ’s own beautiful child, we go forth each day, or part of a day, for many years, or stretching cycles of years, gratefully proclaiming God’s healing love from the ashes.

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Of Silence and Honking Geese

It starts around this time every year here in our little respite on Lake Berkeley.  I am awakened to the cacophonous sound of the Canada Geese honking just outside of my window.  A whole gaggle of them.  And their numbers seem to grow exponentially every day.  I know in the midst of their early morning tidings that their raucous honking is evidence that Spring is on its way. I also know that it is hard to keep sleeping with all that noise just outside of my window.  And the honking doesn’t stop at sunrise, it periodically returns throughout the day as the geese come and go.  I think sometimes that they leave only to gather reinforcements so they can honk more loudly!

Have you ever had that feeling that there is so much going on around you that you can ‘t even hear yourself think? Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that the church sets aside for for silence, for reflection, for penitence, for confession, for repentance.

It is an interesting time of year to demand silence.  Everything else around us is bursting forth with noisy signs of life.  It is not just the geese, but the songbirds and the squirrels, too.  Even the wind and weather want to get in on the fun with their gusts and storms.

And in the midst of all that energy, we take a day to sit in stillness. We take a day to remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. In the gift of our own silence, we take a day to hear the geese, and the birds, and the squirrels.  To hear the storms and the wind.  To hear the streams and the rivers and the oceans.  We take a day to remember that we are formed from the same stuff as all these things.

In the second chapter of Genesis, we hear of God forming humans from humus; dirt people from the dirt.  Ash Wednesday is the time we remember our calling to humility, to recognize that we humans are one part of an entire creation that God called very good.

Ash Wednesday is a time where humans are reminded that we need to take the time to be silent.  And in that silence, we need to listen.  And in our silence, it is possible that the first sound we hear is God’s voice saying, “Be still and know that I am God.”  God first tells us, “Take comfort in the sure knowledge that being God is my job, not yours. Your first job is to receive my love and my grace.”  Winston Churchill was not the first with the sentiment of “Keep Calm and Carry On”!  We can go boldly into the world knowing that God is God and we are not.

I have been re-reading Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I think we could all learn quite a bit from following Covey’s lead.  One of the habits that we Americans seem to have forgotten how to do is Seek first to understand…then to be understood.  It is interesting that if you put that into a Christian context where we are told to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” it would lead one to believe that maybe the kingdom of God has more than a little to do with understanding others!

Our public discourse has become something akin to the honking of the geese under my window, a bunch of one way shouting matches.  There are a lot people yelling all at once, “Let me tell you what I think!” All this honking is not steeped in humility but rather seems hell-bent on humiliation.

This year for Lent, I’ve decided to listen.  I’m going to try really hard to listen without thinking about my own response.  I’m going to ask questions.  I’m going to continue to share my ideas, my hopes, my concerns and my fears here on my blog, but I need for you to talk back.  I need to know what your hopes are.  I need to know what concerns you.  I need to know what your fears are. And I promise to listen and to seek to understand. And when I don’t understand.  I will simply say, “I don’t understand. Please help me understand.”

Growing up, my dad tried time and again to help my sister with her math homework.  On more than one occasion, the session would end with my dad throwing the pencil across the room in exasperation. To his credit, my sister did once tell her math teacher that she “did not do word problems.” It was an uphill climb, both ways, from the start!

As a homeschooling mom, I’ve worked diligently to educate two very different children. Math was not a problem for the first.  He seemed to naturally understand the most complex problems.  But the second, well, we’ve worked our way through tears during her lessons on more than one occasion.  What I have found with my daughter is that I have to get creative.  I have to think more deeply before I speak.  I have to find multiple ways of engaging the subject. I have learned that the tears mean, “I don’t understand.  Help me to understand.” And in that way, tears can be a good thing.  I’m pretty sure that if I simply called her a whiner and ignored her, she would never understand math.  And the same goes for us.  Until we stop calling each other names like “whiner” and “hater” and truly listen to one another, seeking to understand one another, healthy change will be a monumental struggle.

Listening is an act of faith.  It is a way of saying that even though I don’t understand you, I trust God to heal the brokenness between us.  I have faith.  Help me to trust. I believe.  Help my unbelief. I don’t understand. Help me to understand.

I will leave you today with the Lutheran Book of Worship’s petitions for the Ash Wednesday confession. I will be praying these words every day during Lent as a reminder of my call to humbly listen and to understand all the complex needs of every single, intricate part of creation.  Will you join me?

Most holy and merciful God,

We confess to you and to one another, and before the whole company of heaven, that we have sinned by our fault , by our own fault, by our most grievous fault, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.

We have shut our ears to your call to serve as Christ served us.  We have not been true to the mind of Christ.  We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Our past unfaithfulness, the pride, envy, hypocrisy, and apathy that have infected our lives, we confess to you.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, we confess to you.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to share the faith that is in us, we confess to you.

Our neglect of human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, we confess to you.

Our false judgments, our uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, we confess to you.

Our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, we confess to you. 

Restore us, O God, and let your anger depart from us.

Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great.

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Christian Liberty and Religious Freedom

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.
                                                                                              Martin Luther

Christian liberty is not about making others subject to us.  It is not about making others behave the way we want them to behave.  It is, especially, not about promulgating hatred for any person God has made.

In the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, God looked at ALL that God had created and said “it is good,” and at humanity, in particular, saying, “It is very good.”  This means that God did not create the adherents to any specific code or creed and call only those folks “good.”

God created humans in God’s own image.  This means that EVERY person is created in the image of God.  When we look at each other, we see God looking back at us through the other person’s eyes, through their very soul. When we understand this, it makes it much more difficult to look at someone whose skin is a different shade, or who worships differently, or who loves differently, or who disagrees with us politically without seeing God in them.

It feels that the push for Religious Freedom in our country wants to take the first part of Luther’s statement and run roughshod through the countryside, the typical American rugged individualist.  “You’re not the boss of me!” we cry.  “I can treat you this way because of my moral superiority.”

But it is the second part of the statement that we are conveniently ignoring. It is the second part that defines the “freedom” of the first part. Christian liberty calls us to be servants to one another, recognizing with humility that we are ALL humans and equal in God’s eyes, in God’s heart.  Luther says that we are free to be the most dutiful servant of all, subject to every one.  The freedom of a Christian necessarily causes us to serve others with love and compassion.  Especially those others who are different from us.  Hatred and contempt are not the ways we spread the good news of Christ.

In his book When Religion Becomes Evil, Charles Kimball writes, “At the heart of all authentic, healthy, life-sustaining religions, one always finds this clear requirement:” love of God and love of neighbor.  He continues, “Whatever religious people may say about their love of God or the mandates of their religion, when their behavior toward others is violent and destructive, when it causes suffering among their neighbors, you can be sure the religion has been corrupted and reform is desperately needed.”

I have observed the political events of the last few weeks: refusal of refugees in the name of “security;” killing of civilians, including children, in Yemen being dismissed as acceptable collateral damage; deportation of a mother in Arizona whose crime was, at its most fundamental level, attempting to work to support her family; and, the attempts at legitimizing hatred and discrimination surging forward in legislatures across the country in the guise of Religious Freedom.  I have observed the leader of my country use social media and public policy to bully judges, lawyers, leaders of other countries, reporters, businesses and business leaders.

We as citizens of this country have to admit our complicity in causing suffering and violence and destruction.  And for those of us who profess to be Christians, I have to believe that this is a strong indication that we are desperately in need of Reformation.

We need to recognize that violence does not birth liberty, violence engenders fear and animosity and hatred. Martin Luther knew the secret. Servanthood through love, compassion, understanding and shared grace ultimately bring about liberty.  It is a secret shared by others: Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jesus.

Freedom of a Christian has nothing to do with legalistic, dogmatic morality. It is not about using the political and legal system to force that morality on anyone.

Jesus asked his disciples a pivotal question, “Who do you say I am?” The answer to this question is just as important for modern Christians as it was for those first disciples.

In the gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells us to look in the prisons, at the hungry and the thirsty, at those who have no clothing. We should look for Jesus in those with the least, those with nothing, those without value to society, those on the margins, those labeled worthless or disposable by society, those who are the target of hatred, those most in need of care and compassion.  And when we find those folks, and we serve them, we have seen and served Jesus.

John’s gospel has a lot to say on this topic too.  Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke have their parables, John tells of Jesus’s teachings in terms of “I am” statements.  In today’s political climate, it is hard to ignore one particular “I am” statement from Jesus. In John 14, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If you want to see the way to live, look at Jesus. If you want to see what truth is, look to Jesus. If you want to see what life looks like, look at Jesus. How did Jesus treat the poor, the moral outcast, those considered unclean by the religious leaders of his day? And then realize that this is the truth that indeed makes us freed. The truth of service in love.

In his essay “Faustian Economics,” Wendell Berry writes that the word “freedom” is etymologically related to the word “friend.”  He notes that the Germanic and Sanskrit roots “carry the sense of ‘dear’ or ‘beloved,’” and “we set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. This suggests that our identity is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections.” Freedom comes from treating others like dear and beloved friends, making connections, acting selflessly.

The hard truth is that we feel threatened by people who are different from us.  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast had it right when the villagers attacking the Beast sang, “We don’t like what we can’t understand, it kind of scares us!” Different can be scary. And it is so much easier just to try to make a law to make that scary different thing or person just disappear.  Christian Liberty says “no” to this.  Christian Liberty says reach out, understand, care for, include, respect, love.

So if some feel a need to force others, by the laws of this country or state or city, to adhere to some form of life-crushing dogma, they may attempt to do so.  And they can call this “Religious Freedom.”  But understand that this is not Christian Liberty. And I would chose Christian Liberty over Religious Freedom any day.

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Wrestling with Complexity and Imagination

I am not a Republican or a Democrat. I am not a Conservative or a Liberal. And as I have grown in my faith over the last 40 plus years, I have come to realize that I really don’t need to label myself as a Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran or Episcopal, though I have been a part of the congregational life of each of those denominations at one time or another.  I am simply a child of God, trying my best to follow the way that Jesus showed us, the way to abundant life, to wholeness, to healing.

Labels can simplify things and simplicity seems like it would be nice because the world appears to be confoundingly complex. But labels often become distractions, dangerous distractions.  When we label someone, we objectify them.  We begin to think of them as only the label.  It opens the door to violence in body or spirit because it is so much easier to harm someone if you have taken away their humanity first.  I wonder if, in the objectification of others, we drag ourselves into the cycle and our limited thoughts begin to suffocate us, to deny our creativity and growth by limiting us to the enclosure of the labels we have chosen.

What I am seeking to do with my blog right now is to get us to see past the labels and to realize that real change can only happen through widening our perspectives, through deeper understanding of self and other.  I think that being able to see things differently is a gift. I think it was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who wrote that the gospel was “God’s gift to the imagination.”

Even within the Biblical narrative we hear different perspectives because it is telling the story of God’s relationship with humanity in a myriad of contexts and from diverse perspectives. Why have four gospels, right? Wouldn’t one be enough to get the point across? But each gospel writer gives us something different to think about, something different to value in the experience. They saw things differently. I don’t see that as a flaw in the scriptures or as insecurity of faith or as moral ambiguity. I see it as a starting place for dialogue. Maybe the answers we are seeking are informed by the scriptures but can only be formed through harmonizing all of our voices with those of our spiritual traditions and scriptures. I can benefit from hearing the life experiences of others and when I do, I might look at what the Bible says and see something I didn’t see before. And that can be really good!

I pray that we can begin to ask the right questions and that we, as a country, can learn to have respectful conversations. That’s what I want my blog to be. I don’t want a monologue. I don’t want to make proclamations. There’s plenty of that online already. I really want to understand the issues, to understand how others feel about those issues and, maybe more importantly, why. If social media is going to be something that brings us together, it can’t just be a place to tweet barbs at one another. It is impossible to understand something complex in 240 characters or less. So use the comments section here to share your story, share what is in your heart.  Be respectful. Be honest. Be thoughtful. Be vulnerable.  I know I plan to be.  And I want you to hold me to that!

I think the story of Jacob wrestling with the Angel until he got a blessing is a good metaphor for what we need. It is going to take a lot of hard work, some pulled muscles, some grunting and some groaning. But I think if we stick with the arduous task of looking for solutions together and we keep pushing forward with our imaginations, we will find that, in the end, we are all blessed. As Saint Julian of Norwich reminds us “All shall be well. All shall be well.  And all manner of things shall be well.”

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