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 opensecrets.org).

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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Here I Stand; I Can Do No Other

I have a confession to make. I let Donald Trump silence me.  I had started my blog back up during Lent last year.  It began much as it had in years past.  And I was writing about faith and life.  Mostly, I was writing about Grace. And then Donald Trump made his comments about Mexicans and about building a wall.  And about women.  And about Muslim people and the need to ban them from the country. And people were responding to him and his candidacy in a way that made me want to scream.

It felt like grace was slipping away from our grasp and the anger and blame and hatred that were replacing the grace were simply unfathomable to me. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…simply not important anymore.

And so this loud noise, like a scream, started in my mind and it drowned out any coherent thoughts.  I think my whole system went into a form of shock.  And I couldn’t write.  I was in a mental and spiritual panic about Donald Trump’s candidacy and what his popularity meant about who we are as Americans.  And, for those supporting him within the church, who we are as Christians.  I was in a panic about what this meant that even people in my own life whom I love with all my heart would be willing to vote for a man who, to me, stood for everything that is abhorrent, the ugliest parts of who we are as humans and as Americans.

And so here we are.  I lost my voice and Donald Trump is now our president.  And that whirling vortex in my brain has coalesced into a laser sharp point of clarity and words just seem to be tumbling out faster than I can capture them.

In the confession that we recite in worship each Sunday, we confess to the sins of both commission and omission, to the things we have both done and left undone.  I confess today that I left a lot undone.  I left a lot unsaid.

As I have searched for my voice this last year, I have continued to read and study.  I keep coming back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of my heroes.  Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Nazi Germany.  He was eventually jailed and executed by the Nazi regime.  In his sermon from July 8, 1934, he says, “Perhaps you are startled by this text and think it is just too relevant today and thus dangerous for a worship service.”  This sermon was preached after the bloody events of the so-called Röhm-Putsch, or the “Night of the Long Knives,” where the Nazi regime ordered the murder of several government officials in order to consolidate Hitler’s absolute power. The gospel, preached in the face of oppression, is most certainly relevant and dangerous!

Bonhoeffer’s sermon goes on to say, “We really want to get rid of the world of newspapers and sensational news” when we walk into the church.

The more things change the more they stay the same.  People in 1930s German were wanting to retreat into the church, hoping to spend a couple of hours away from their everyday reality, to experience solace. They didn’t know quite what to make of the newspapers.  I wonder what they would say about the myriad voices of truths, half-truths, and lies that constantly compete for our attention?!?

In his sermon, Bonhoeffer denies them this retreat.  He says that closing our eyes to the suffering right in front of us is not the Christian way.  He also says that finding someone else to blame or fault is not the Christian way, either.  The long and short of it is that the Christian way is to say, “these events took place in my world, the world I live in, the world in which I commit sin, in which I sow hatred and unkindness day by day.  These events are the fruit of what I and my family have sown…Therefore let us repent and recognize our guilt and not judge.”  He says that recognizing and acting on this way of renewal and repentance is quiet, slow, and even strange.  It is not natural. But, it is the only way to “overcome the world of the newspaper, the world of terrors, and the world of judging.”

I am making my confession to you all here today. There are things I have done and things I have left undone. I have worried and I have dithered. I have lost sleep.  I have paced the floor. I have yelled and I have wept.

Singer/songwriter Jewel Kilcher captures the words in my heart when she sings, “Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom.  No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.  Fill your lives with love and bravery and you shall live the life uncommon.”  I have, for nearly a year, given my strength over to “that which I wish to be free from.”  No more. On these pages, I will continue to wander in wonder.  I will also share with you on the days I am stumbling around in utter confusion or despair.  It helps me feel less alone. Maybe it will help you as you wander or stumble or stride along on your journey, too.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived his life with love and bravery. I pray that my life and my words may stand as a witness to the gospel of love and of peace that is such a mystery in this world.  I will lend my strength to the cause of justice, to the fight against oppression. I will not let terror, fear, anger, hatred or indifference have the last word.  I will use my voice to speak and to help give voice to others who have been silenced.  I will not stand in judgement. But by and in God’s grace, I will stand. In the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other.”

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Grace Groove

Grace is the word that we’ve heard. It’s got groove.  It’s got meaning. Grace is the time and the place and the motion. Grace is the way we are feeling.  Doot, Doot, Doo, Doo, Doot…Is the word, is the word, is the word…

Once I got going with that thought, I couldn’t really stop.  It’s catchy isn’t it. But seriously, grace really does have a certain groove to it.  I think we realize this when we talk about someone being “graceful,” as if grace and movement somehow float along together.

I was blessed several years ago to be given the opportunity to learn something new, something people my age rarely undertake without previous experience.  Ballet.  Yes, ballet.  As a youth, I attempted cheerleading which did require a modicum of coordination.  I remember failing at that endeavor quite miserably.  My elementary school also offered a session of after-school lessons in baton twirling. I twirled my heart out practicing at home, but alas the glistening silver devil of a stick just wouldn’t obey my commands. Exercise in my college years and since has focused on physical movement that could be easily performed with little coordination: step aerobics (up, down, up, down, cross over, repeat) and stationary bicycling (which I could also do while reading, a bonus for most any type of activity for me!).

So, what possessed me to try ballet, you might ask.  IMG_0451 (2)Yes, I still am asking that.  My daughter had been taking classes for several years. Her instructor and the owner of the studio is not only a graceful person, she is also very gracious and grace-filled.  She invited me to take their Adult Beginner Ballet class, and for some reason, I decided, “Why not?”  I ended up at the dance studio most Saturday mornings for a golden age of time before my children’s activities encroached on that hour.

I can tell you that I LOVED the experience of dancing.  Ballet has a sort of disciplined fluidity to it.  It has the specific movements: the plie, pas du chat, the ronde de jamb, each requiring the precise placement and movement of the various parts of the body.  But even when you are simply moving through the exercises at the barre, the way the movements flow one into the other takes on a meditative quality.

When I combined the discipline and precision with the art and soul, I felt like I was embodying something other, something beautiful.  I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a great dancer.  But in dancing, I felt the very real presence of grace.

Learning something new is hard, whether it is dancing or writing or swimming or loving or giving.  That feeling of grace didn’t come the first or second class.  In the beginning I felt very awkward.  And the awkwardness never fully went away.  But after I let go of all my worries about perfection and control and became fully present in my own body, Grace was able to find me even in my awkwardness.

Trying to define what grace is can be elusive.  Sometimes grace is simply that feeling of oneness within myself, a word of acceptance for my imperfections.

I look back on my early adult years, about how I would look at people who are where I am now and wonder why they couldn’t hold it all together. For one thing, they were older and much more experienced than me.  They should have it all together, right?  Why are they late for meetings?  Why can’t they get their children to behave? Why does their car look like someone has been living in it?  I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years.  20 years later, I don’t have it all together.  And I never have.  Sometimes I’m late for meetings.  Sometimes my kids say things that make me say, “where on earth did they hear that?!?”  Sometimes (well, most of the time) it looks like wild animals have ransacked my car and it is far beyond habitability.  Sometimes I don’t say or do the right things.  It’s taken me 20 years to understand that no one is perfect.

My son helped me learn this lesson.  When he was 6 years old, he attended a Montessori school.  Each year, the school had “Mom’s Night” where Mom or Grandma could come to school and the child would give the mom lessons and share their “school world” with Mom.  (They also had “Dad’s Night” at a separate time).  We had been at the school since Ryan was three years old and we always looked forward to Mom’s Night.  I was in my second year of theology school and Tuesday was my full day.  I left the house at 5:45 to beat the traffic into the city.  I was in school all day, until dinnertime.  I picked him up, we had dinner.  Something was unsettled in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t put my finger on what was not right. And, as I was putting him to bed, we snuggled in to read a book before lights out. I suddenly realized that we had missed it.  I gasped and said, “Oh no!  Tonight was Mom’s Night!” I told him how sorry I was that we had missed our special night together.  He calmly patted my shoulder and gave me a hug and said, “That’s OK Mommy, we all make mistakes sometimes.”

Being accepted in the midst of our most imperfect moments, the moments where we have disappointed, or hurt, or simply missed the mark in some way…that is grace.

How much better the world is when grace is leading the dance.


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