Non-Essential?

My heart goes out to those people who, in the recent government shut-down, were referred to as “non-essential.” These people were not able to do their jobs, nor were they paid, and to heap upon them one more thing, they are considered to be unnecessary as far as their work is concerned. The amazing thing to me is that it is those “non-essential” workers who were absolutely essential for having the government be “opened.” The fact that they were not working is part of the reason the government was shut down for 35 days, and nothing got done.

How would I feel if everyone around me thought that my job was “non-essential”? What’s the point in putting in my time for doing work that others, including my boss, think is non-essential? My self-esteem plummets and my morale sinks to below the floor if the things that I do are thought to be unimportant. Yet, the government is shut-down and the “non-essential” people are not working. How important are the “essential” people? Even some of them were working but not getting paid for their work. How important did they think their jobs were? Not important enough to get paid for what they do.

It seems to me that the non-essential workers are essential. The people who clean the bathrooms in the national parks now seem pretty essential to me, particularly because when those bathrooms were closed during the government shut-down, the parks were desecrated and messes were made.  I believe that the person who cleans restrooms and the President of the United States and the Bishop of the ELCA are each essential as they see their vocation as serving God and serving the needs of people.

Martin Luther writes in “The Freedom of a Christian”,

“I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me; I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable, and salutary to my neighbor, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ.”

Jesus says that there is no one who is “non-essential”;

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

People are the central focus of God’s creation, and people are the reason for Christ’s death and resurrection. People, no matter their position in life, are essential, vital, indispensable, particularly as we begin to grasp that our meaning and purpose in life has much to do with how we treat one another as gifts of God to us. Whatever we do, whether we think our position is high or low in human standards, we are never “non-essential” to God. We are able to look at each person as “essential” in God’s value system, which is also our own way of valuing people. Everybody is essential!

 

 

 

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Aspirational Signs of Hope

I need a new direction for my writing, and hopefully I have found one in looking for and writing about signs of aspiration that I see. “Aspiration” is a strong desire, longing, or ambition toward a desired goal. The word appeals to me because it contains reference to “breath” and “breathing”.

I believe I need to take a breath, not to retreat from the world as I see it, but to aspire to a new breath or hope for the future. There is so much that is going on in the government and the wider world that takes our breath away, and can draw us into a spiral downward. I can fall into that breathless state of sadness and just remain there for a while. Sometimes it is just hard to believe that our government and the world are going the way that they are. The words and actions of the President, the disfunction of our government, the ways in which common people around the world have their aspirations frustrated and crushed, can suck the breath out of me.

I believe that God is leading us to take a breath and see the signs of hope and aspiration in the world. As much as I can get caught up in the sadness of the news for each day, there may also be signs of hopefulness that I need to see as well. Maybe these signs can lift my spirit; our spirits; and fill our lives with new life and new breath. The Spirit of God is still active in the world promising that Jesus Christ is among us to open our eyes to resurrection and new life.

Today the aspirational sign I see is the people who keep on coming to our border, or borders of other countries throughout the world, in order to find a new life, to breathe freely and act upon their hopes and dreams for themselves and for their children. I am heartened and amazed that so many people risk everything in the quest for their aspirations. Walls may be put in front of them to prevent them from reaching their goals, but they persist because life is so precious and their hopes are so real. I am constantly inspired by their determination in the face of an equal determination to suck the breath out of them.

After the resurrection, Jesus came to the disciples, who were locked in a room because their breath had been knocked out of them and they were afraid. Jesus then breathed on them, filling them with a new Spirit, maybe giving them new aspirational goals for their mission in the world.

I am continuing to look for signs of aspiration and hope in our world, and I intend to write about them in this new year. Maybe you might look for the those signs too. God bless those immigrants and asylum-seekers. Could it be that they are signs of aspiration and inspiration for us all?

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“We’re At That Age”

“We’re at that age” as people say

when friends and family pass away,

when cards or texts or e-mails too

may bear the news that brings us to

our knees, in shock, that those we love

and thought would stay forever young,

may now be struggling to survive.

 

“We’re at that age,” O Lord we pray

upon our knees, when life brings changes

hard to bear;

when all we know will pass away

and we, not spared the fearsome fray.

 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,

into our time when we need hope

to face the struggles now and then

that life can throw into our path.

Come to us, who may be blue

while all the world seems bright with light.

Come and hold us in your love,

especially now when people say,

“We’re at that age.”

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A Captive’s Confession

As I stare back at myself in the mirror each morning, I am aware that who I am includes the person who is self-indulgent and generous, thoughtless and thoughtful of the needs of others, fearful for myself and yet caring, cautious and yet courageous, and they are all wrapped up in me. I am captive to all of these at the same time. I look at myself and I consider other people, and I confess that I am no better than anyone else. I think that this intensional introspection helps me to accept and expect diversity, because I am more accepting of the fallenness and brokenness we all share as human beings.

I remember one of the hostages who was an Associated Press journalist who was held captive in Lebanon for 2,454 days. He was blindfolded and kept in the darkness of his own mind, confined with chains to keep him in place and interrogated for long periods of time. He finally told his captors that he was being treated like an animal and he couldn’t live this way any longer.

He was asked what he wanted, and Anderson told his captors that he wanted a Bible. A heavy object soon landed on his bed and he discovered that indeed it was a Bible.

Terry Anderson and his family were Roman Catholics, but he had drifted away from the influence that the church had had on his life. The Bible came to him as a gift that drew him back to what was central to being a whole human being. He pondered his life and saw that he had much for which he needed confession and forgiveness. He had made many mistakes and had neglected his wife and daughter. His arrogance toward others was filling his mind now and he did not think he liked himself and what he had become.

Anderson discovered that there were other people being held prisoner where he was held captive. Other hostages were being held in the cell next to his, and one was a priest, Father Jenco. Terry Anderson had not gone to confession for 25 years, but he asked his captors if he could see the priest next door and confess his sins to him.

Father Jenco did come to his room and they each were allowed to take off their blindfolds. Father Jenco listened and Terry Anderson poured out his soul in relation to the sins that were weighing heavily upon him now. He told of drinking too much and his own arrogance in relation to other people. He confessed to his shortcomings and deceit in relation to his marriage and family. All of the dross from his troubled soul came flowing from him in this precious moment of confession. He was seeing more clearly who he was. The mirror was showing him himself, his failings and his strengths, the brokenness and pain that was his reality.

Both men in tears, Father Jenco, fellow captive, laid his hand on Terry Anderson’s head. “In the name of a gentle, loving God, you are forgiven,” he said.

There is One who comes into our lives, and has already come. Jesus, captive to join us in our humanness, knows who we are and how all that goodness and brokenness bind us all in captivity. Fallen and broken as we are, Jesus comes and lays his hand on our heads and says, “you are forgiven and I love you.” We are set free, even in our captivity. Now we can live hopefully and generously in this world of such beautiful diversity, trusting that we are all shadow and light at the same time. We can be signs of hope and light to our broken world.

 

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God Shows Up at Wal-Mart

There are some times when we get permission to enter more deeply into the story that is another person. Each of us matters as human beings, and as we listen to another person’s story as someone who cares, we are given the power to change the world, our hearts are softened and we get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. Often in our churches there is a Presence Light, or an Eternal Light. It is a candle that is always kept burning as a sign of God’s presence in this place. I think sometimes we get to carry that light of God’s presence, or we see it burning in the shared story of another person.

This evening my wife and I were on a mission at Wal-Mart. We went to  purchase twenty-one flannel shirts, some underwear and other items to be combined with similar things that other people had purchased. Homeless men in St. Louis will be offered these items in a bag that can be a blessing to them on their journey. We had a gift card that came with a stipulation that we could not go over the amount on the card. Barb kept calculating the  total but the tax was an unknown amount which we would not know until we got to the cashier. After our patient and helpful cashier had helped us work everything out, we took our cart full of shirts, etc. in plastic bags and went to a nearby bench to make sure we had everything in order.

A young man was sitting on the bench when Barb asked if she could join him there. We went over what we had purchased and, reading the check-out slip, we found that we were short of our total by about three dollars, which was a good thing. The young man spoke up saying, “I couldn’t help but overhear you talking. Do you need some money to help you get what you need?” We explained the condition accompanying the gift card we had, and that we purchased these items to give to homeless men, and being a little short of the total was a good thing.

He then told us that he had been homeless too, but he was getting his life together and that he now had a job. This homeless man was offering us money to help us in our time of need. I wonder if he still may be homeless and living with a friend until he could get a place of his own. He told us that he sometimes had to sleep outside but that he was also able to live with friends to see him through. I asked him if he ever had to sleep outside in the frigid temperatures that we have, and he said that he was fortunate to be helped by friends and churches so that he did not have to be sleeping on a sidewalk hoping for a blanket in bone-penetrating cold.

Then he stood and gave each of us a big bear hug and thanked us for our ministry to the homeless. He said, “I love you and God bless you.” He was grateful for what we were giving to homeless men, but he did not seem to need anything for himself. We both were feeling teary at that point and we walked away with the thought that God had given us a glimpse into what the Kingdom of God is all about.

We would never have known his story if my wife had not wanted to sit down and get organized. We would also have missed this opportunity if he had not broken in to offer us money in our seeming time of need. We still have much to learn about one another, but God keeps showing up in some unlikely places to speak to us through homeless people or people who are struggling with life’s challenges. We are each and all God’s people who need one another, signs of the loving and caring Kingdom of God.

 

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Everything Is Not OK

“Everything will be OK in the end, and if everything is not OK, it must not be the end.” Anne Lamott in her most recent book, “Almost Everything”, attributes this quote to John Lennon. There is some hope in this statement, but how do we make everything OK? Maybe that is what we are hoping our elected leaders will do for us; make everything OK. But is that fair? When we know that things are not OK with us, or with our country, or with the world, we then can place blame on someone who should be a better leader, a more moral person.

We can always find something that needs to be fixed, or corrected or changed because it is not alright. As long as there are needs of people for justice; as long as there are people who are hungry for food or love or care or a safe place to live; as long as there are people who are oppressed and in need of mercy, then things are not OK, and it is not the end. God still has work for us to do.

Psalm 146 speaks to us this day after an election saying, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal human beings, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.” After all these elected people are not our source of salvation, healing or lasting peace. Finally, our hope is in the Lord.

Psalm 146 goes on to tell us something of the Lord’s platform, list of accomplishments and plans for the future for all God’s people:

” . . . whose hope is in the Lord their God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;

who keeps faith (promises) forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners (captives) free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the strangers; the Lord upholds (sustains) the orphan and the widow . . .”

Isn’t this the kind of leadership we are hoping for these days? We know that trusting in human beings will not bring lasting hope or peace. Human beings, great as they may be, are fallible and flawed. Human beings will die and their grand plans will come to an end. Throughout the centuries there have been widows and orphans, and people who need justice and mercy. Still we have wars, and fears of all kinds abound. Everything is not OK and it never has been. It must not be the end yet.

Filled with the Spirit of hope in Christ, God’s ways can become our ways. We get to watch for and welcome the stranger, not meet them with armies and weapons, but help them with a process to move them to safety. We get to set the captives free, care for those who are abandoned and alone, and feed the hungry with good things. We don’t need to live in fear of those we don’t know. We don’t need to live so separated and divided from those with whom we may disagree. The ways of the Lord will last forever.

We know that everything and everyone are not OK, and it must not be the end. Trusting in the Lord, there is much to be done.

 

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“How Long, O Lord?”

This is a brief reflection on the killings at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, the two black men killed in Kentucky, and the pipe bomb packages sent to those who have spoken against President Trump:

I writhe, I cringe, I cry out to God, “How long?”

when yet one more shooting brings us all to our knees in hope

that soon all this killing, generated by fear and hate, will end.

 

I watch, I wonder, I cry out to God, “When?”

as we see out our kitchen window hundreds of middle schoolers,

of all races, cultures, religions, abilities,

running a cross-country race on the school property behind our house.

When will these young ones lead us to see one another

as people, human beings, of all colors and creeds,

who are longing for hope to overcome hopelessness,

and life to overcome death and hate?

 

And Jesus said, “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”

And 1 John 2:9: “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light’ while hating his brother or sister, is still in the darkness.”

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What About Telling the Truth?

Recent news stories surrounding the testimony of Dr. Ford and the Brent Cavanaugh confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, along with the death of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, cause me to wonder about and question the integrity and truthfulness of people in positions of power in our country and our world. I continue to be amazed and embarrassed by the actions of priests who have violated the boundaries that would prevent clergy people from abusing their authority and power, and then cover up the truth rather than confess their fault. Why are women treated so shamefully by men who abuse power and trample on the truth so that they can get away with whatever their desire leads them to do, free of condemnation? When truthfulness is met with loud pronouncements of denial, rather than a sincere attempt to get at the truth, I wonder about the integrity and veracity of those people who give voice to those statements.

I have been heartened recently by the desire of so many people to get at the “truth” behind the death of Jamal Khashoggi. This desire has been met, however, with the reality that money and power can threaten to take the primary position over the death of an individual. The overarching priority of a “one hundred and ten billion dollar” deal for military aircraft sold to Saudi Arabia, overcomes the life and death of one individual. How much is a life worth? Not much in today’s value.

I still am amazed when our President calls people names and ridicules people in the press to the applause and delight of people sitting in the audience. What has brought us to this point where we have lost a sense of desire for justice and truth for all people, and a commitment to listen to one another out of sheer decency and morality?

What is truth? It seems to me I remember Jesus asking that question at his own trial. He was not believed either by those who were in positions of power. Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life.”

Truth-telling is a spiritual issue. Jesus lifts up those who are at the bottom rung of society, loving those who are poor, broken-hearted, sinful, women, hungry, thieves and murderers, and those who are powerless. Jesus also says of those who abuse power in order to get their own way, (The Message) “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, and when people get a little power how quickly in goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great among you must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served–and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”

I wish I could say that I am an exemplar of a truth-teller, honest and without fault when it comes to abuse of power. I know that I have nothing I can hold up to God that needs no redemption. I hold on to the Promise that God is delighted with me through faith in Christ alone. The truth is that you and I are loved and made whole, and it comes to us as a gift of grace.

The truth is that this love is for all people, even for those who keep abusing their power and authority in order to get their own way. These people don’t have to try to justify themselves or cover up their guilt for fear that their is not hope for them. They and we can be truthful about what we have done and said. God knows it anyway.We are not hiding anything from God.We can give our lives away for the sake of the other person. This One is the way, the truth and the life. We can have a new life where power is not abused and people are not debased or ignored, and that’s the truth.

 

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“Please Don’t Forget Me!”

“Please don’t forget me!”, she says

as she sits uncomfortably in her wheelchair,

searching for familiar faces,

hoping to be remembered,

needing to be pushed along

by the loving members of her family.

 

“Please don’t forget me!”, she thinks,

as people come to greet her,

remembering her from before the stroke

that keeps much of her, and who she is,

bottled deep inside.

 

Who is this person whom we are not to forget?

What are her likes and dislikes?

Whom has she touched in her life?

What are her gifts and talents?

her joys and sorrows?

her hopes and dreams?

 

“Please don’t forget me!”, we plead.

Isn’t this the hope for each of us,

that we will not be forgotten?

Remembered, cherished, loved, honored, treasured,

held in esteem by those we touched

and those who reached out to us?

 

“Please don’t forget me!”

Child of God, marked with the

cross of Christ, and the rainbow,

washed, marked by God

so that God will never forget us,

never leave us alone.

 

“Please don’t forget me, Lord!”

In the midst of my broken body and mind,

when my thoughts seem confused,

my legs won’t work,

my body no longer responds to my mind.

“Please don’t forget me!”

when I may even forget myself,

when everything I used to be and do

is no longer working the way it did.

“Please don’t forget me!”

when I can’t remember,

when names and faces no longer come to mind,

when I am dependent on others

to do for me what I always did for myself.

“Please don’t forget your child!”

 

When I seem to be forgotten,

when cards and phone calls no longer come,

when silence is all I hear

from those I have loved,

then it seems that You also have forgotten me.

 

When someone comes,

a long-time friend,

one whom I touched, or who touched me,

or maybe someone I don’t even know,

or a card arrives in the mailbox,

or the phone rings and someone

is calling just to inquire,

to ask how I am,

to check in on my well-being,

to visit me, or to come to me

wherever I may be,

then maybe I am remembered, cherished

honored, treasured, marked

with your love forever.

 

“Please don’t forget me!”

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Kintsugi

Kintsugi is an ancient Japanese art form which uses gold leaf to repair and embellish valued possessions that are cracked and broken. Rather than throw broken vessels or pottery away, they are honored by valuing the bowl enough to repair it with gold leaf. The cracked piece is put back together and the seams are made obvious by the gold leaf which holds the pieces together. The valued and honored piece is brought back to usefulness and beauty, showing that that which is flawed and imperfect can still be beautiful.

We, who are flawed, imperfect, broken and cracked, are made beautiful with the golden gift of God’s life-giving grace and mercy that heals our lives. God honors us and values us. We are not thrown away or ignored, but in God’s loving compassion, God opens his hand to show us kindness and mercy in Jesus Christ, and that is enough. By “mercy” we mean compassion, empathy, and a heart for taking time to be with people like us who are broken and troubled. Psalm 145 echoes this theme when it says, “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.”

Now we get to mend broken lives with the gold-leaf of God’s abiding love in Jesus Christ. No longer do we need to live in suspicion of one another, keeping our hands clenched in a fist out of fear. Psalm 145 speaks of God’s open hand; “The eyes of all wait upon you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” As we share God’s love with others, our hands are opened and we are a part of God’s never-ending work of loving and valuing the world that God loves so much; moving away from “What’s in it for me?” toward sharing and caring for all of God’s people.

This is why I get so irritated with our government when we are encouraged to look at people of other races, cultures and religions with suspicion and fear. We don’t need to be living in a world of a zero-sum game, where we think that if others get something it takes away from what we think is ours. We are all suffering, broken, imperfect and it is Christ’s way to welcome the stranger, no matter who it may be. Maybe we can see one another as filled with gold-leaf, our cracks and imperfections accepted and celebrated and made more beautiful through the love of God for us. What a gift it is to have someone lay gold leaf into our broken lives by taking the time to just be with us and listen to our story. We need more of that in our world, uplifting and sustaining one another, honoring and valuing one another, and seeing the gold in each other.

(I have not been writing on my website recently because I am putting together another book that I hope will be published in the Fall. I will continue to be writing blogs that I hope can be helpful for you. Thank you for continuing to come to this website and find some  gold in the blogs that I share. I will let you know when the book is available. Christ’s peace be with you!)

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