Justice & the Jericho Road

“We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside…but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.”

Those words, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were the focus of an ecumenical MO Faith Voices forum on poverty issues I attended yesterday.  How appropriate, too, as Monday is MLK Jr – Day.

One of the most profound moments was a discussion of the “Two Feet of Social Justice” – Unfortunately, we live in a world where even the term “social justice” has become politicized, and so I like to think of it as not a Democrat or Republican thing, but as a “hands and feet of Christ” thing.  The two feet of social justice represent my favorite part of being a Christian:  ACTION.

two-feet

One foot is for Justice and one foot is for Charity.  This is a beautiful illustration of what we are called to do as God’s workmanship – created to do GOOD WORKS, prepared in advance for us to do, y’all!  I’m referencing one of my favorite scriptures there, from Ephesians, but truly the Bible is full of references to Justice.

(I speak from a Christian tradition because this is my faith, but I truly feel this is applicable no matter what a person’s religious tradition is, what God they pray to, or whether they even believe in God.  Anyone with a loving heart and a strong sense of right and wrong can get involved in this “hands and feet” business.)

We, most of us, are beautifully charitable.  We support food pantries, and shelters, we hand some cash to the homeless man on the overpass.  Charity is immediate and gives us the electric buzz of a job well done.  Or, perhaps, of love well expressed.

Justice is taking this a step further – why do so many need food pantries or shelters?  Why is that man homeless?  Why are payday lenders allowed to prey on the most vulnerable in our society?  Why is there no access to critical dental care for the working poor in our community?  How can a single mom working full time for minimum wage get by?

And once we analyze those questions, we arrive back at the critical “step” – ACTION.

These forums on poverty issues are emotionally exhausting and overwhelming.  The problems are overwhelming.

But at the end of yesterday’s forum, after we’d picked our five critical issues to try to tackle in 2013, we all went around and said one word to sum up our feelings for the day.

My word?  INSPIRED.

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Red

Being an adoptive mom makes me so happy that I WAS infertile.  I still haven’t figured out a way to be happy I AM infertile.

It’s complicated, like so much of life, but every now and then I get a stark reminder that I’ll never feel life stir inside of me.

If we wanted to give our boys a baby brother or sister, we couldn’t.  Well, we could, but we would need to come up with $20,000 – $30,000 and get a bigger house to satisfy the social worker we had enough bedrooms to adopt again.  Even though our house is fine, and we would manage like any other family if we were to “get pregnant.”

‘Cept we can’t do that.

Having these children of ours is the greatest delight of our life (mine and my husband’s), and we appreciate them exponentially.  Embarking on the emotional turmoil of another adoption would take attention and energy from my sweet kids, and that seems unfair and impractical.

Tonight I succumbed to a series of indicators and begrudgingly took a pregnancy test.  Taking those tests is the worst.  It’s the absolute worst feeling to take them and get the single red line, the big red F.  And so tonight I was staring at that test in our bathroom and working up a good cry when I heard a little voice.

“Where’d mommy go?”

Another tender mercy floated my way.  I’m a Mom.  Even better I’m a Mommy.

When I sat down to pour out my thoughts on paper as I normally do when emotion begins to envelope and drown, a little warm body squeezed next to me in the recliner.  And then a red crayon snuck onto my thoughts…

A red crayon beats the hell out of that red F any day.

Signing off now to do something I never take for granted – hold my kids.

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Magic

When I was a kid, I was so overcome with despair at the end of the holidays I would descend into a month-long grieving period, spending all of my free time in my bedroom listening to my dad’s Bing Crosby Christmas album on my turntable.   And I played that baby over and over.  I would feel physical heartbreak, not that the gift receiving was over (although, I was a kid, so, c’mon), but that the magical season was ended.  Every single detail of the Christmas season brought me joy.  The lights, the smells, the music, the merriment, the school programs, the church pageants, and especially my family’s tradition of attending the Christmas Eve service at church, singing Silent Night by candelight, returning home, eating homemade soup with my brothers, my parents and grandparents, and then opening some gifts before rushing to bed and trying to make ourselves go to sleep.

My brothers and I always had a deal- whoever woke up first would wake the others so we could sneak in and peek at our gifts.  Years later, when I was in my early twenties, at Graduate school and hundreds of miles away from my family, I remember being reduced to sobs in my studio apartment at the Time Life Christmas Treasury infomercial, with home movies of kids playing together in the snow and opening presents.

Now that I have kids of my own, I actually see the end of “the season” quite differently.  When you’re the “mom” in the scenario, you don’t just get to attend your school Christmas party, you actually get to help plan it, schedule to miss work for it, and purchase goodies for it.  Still magical, but also busier.  When you’re the “mom,” you don’t just get to enjoy the decorations, you get to try to clean around them, to keep the dog from eating them, and figure out where to store them.  Still wonderful, but more time consuming.  And when you’re the “mom,” you don’t just get presents – you budget for presents, you make lists, you buy tape, wrapping paper, more tape, those tag thingys, tissue paper, etc and so forth.

The season still has so much magic, and I admit, our beautiful, overly decorated tree is still up and sitting in front of me now, yet I am happy to have the travel, the gift giving, the many parties behind me.  I can see our floor, our counters are not covered with candy and cookies, and my kids will soon resume a somewhat normal schedule.

That doesn’t mean the magic has to end January 1st.  I don’t think so, anyway.  At the center of all of these beautiful memories are my people.  My parents, my brothers, my children, my grandparents, my church family, my teachers, my friends, my husband all make up the core of my happy Christmases past, present, and, I’m sure, future.  And come January 1, if we are very blessed (and we are), the people remain.  And so, to, the magic.

Ever since my kiddos came along, I have felt a surge of energy for organization and planning in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  I think it is my way of trying to re-gain control.  Not just post-holiday control, but any and all control that might of slipped over the past 12 months, since we sang Auld Lang Syne and rang in 2012.

I’ve given up resolutions, yet I do believe in taking stock when the new year begins.  Luckily, I’m living a beautiful miracle over here.  In truth, my only goal (not resolution) is to be present and enjoy every minute of it.  To try not to obsess and worry.  To endeavor only to bring joy to other people.  To practice self-control.  To watch for the magic.  And, yes, to listen to Bing Crosby sing “Faith of our Fathers” and “Adeste Fidelis” as much as possible.

I began the new year reading The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo, and so I leave you with his words.  Here’s to a magical new year.

“This precious human birth is unrepeatable.  So what will you do today, knowing that you are one of the rarest forms of life to ever walk the face of the Earth? “

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For My Son(s)

Re-Posting this letter I wrote to my son on my old blog during the last presidential election, very shortly after I became a mom for the first time.

November 4, 2008

Dear Son,

It’s election day.  My first election day as your mama.  I looked at my registration card today and realized that I registered to vote three days after I turned 18, which was many years ago.  Today, your dad and I got up early and took turns going to the polls to vote at 6 am.  I’m currently wearing a sticker with a flag on it that says “I voted.”  Feelin’ pretty good about the sticker.  Also feelin’ pretty good seeing all the volunteers who got up early to work the polls.  It’s part of our “civic duty” – not just to vote, but to volunteer.  I’ll save that lesson for another day.

I put a lot of thought toward the future as I voted today, because this is your world that we’re living in and I wonder what life will be like for you when you are 10 years old and 20 years old and 50 years old.

Most people are basically good, I will tell you that over and over again.  I believe that.  Elections can bring out a bad side in people, make them mean and hateful, and I just want you to know that is a minority.  Just because the media wants to report on a woman who turned away trick or treaters who said their parents were voting for a candidate that she didn’t like doesn’t mean we live in a bad world.  I guess it just means the mean people are more interesting.

Your mom and dad get pretty frustrated when we talk to our friends who are “single issue voters” – who are voting based only on a candidate’s stance on one issue.  But then, I realized that I am also a single issue voter.  At the core of my beliefs (and I will always encourage you to have your own), is my belief in Christ and my feeling that our job on this earth is to care for what the Bible calls “The Least of These.”  People who cannot take care of themselves.  Especially this means children, the sick and elderly.  If I am a single issue voter, this is my issue:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.  James 1:27

I have to look at the two parties and see which side has a history of cutting subsidies for children in Foster Care.  I have to look at the two parties and see which side has a history of cutting health care coverage for struggling single mothers.  I have to look at the two parties and see who has a track record of funding care for children with special needs.  The reason I have to look at these issues is not because I’m a “bleeding heart” (although, I guess I kinda am).  It’s because, at my job, I sit across the table from low income working families and try to help a single mother with four children and no child support who is employed full-time figure out how to feed her kids when she gets a 2% pay raise and loses all of her food stamps.

I don’t mind paying more taxes if it helps her feed her kids and encourages her to keep working and keep trying to be self-sufficient for herself and her family.

You receive a lot of special services and your dad and I happily pay a lot of money for additional therapy for you.  We have good jobs and are happy to do this.  I don’t want a low income working family to have to chose between keeping their electric on or paying for their child’s leg brace.

I don’t mind paying more taxes for that.

Here’s the thing, honey.  Both sides mean well, both sides think they’re right.  They’re both wrong.  No side is 100%.  We say “vote your conscience.”  It makes your mom sad to see one side calling the other side “evil” or “un-Christian” just because of their views.  You and your views are between you and your God.  Elections should be about hope and not hate.  And that goes for both sides.  Personal attacks and especially attacks on candidates’ families should be off-limits.  But it is accepted, our media drives it, and it clouds people’s opinions.  Lies are too easily mixed with the truth.  Rhetoric and talking points take the place of genuine ideas.

I don’t think either side is right.  I love and respect the friends and family I know that voted for the candidate I voted against.  They are good people.  I don’t call them or their candidate evil.  They voted their conscience and I voted mine.  People will disagree, the hope is that tomorrow, when this is all over, we all have to work together to try to get this world straightened out, just a little bit, for you and the friends you are playing side by side with at pre-school this morning.

This blog is always my love letter to you.  As we start this historic election day, I just wanted to let you know, honey –  Your mom voted today, and I voted on a single issue.  I voted James 1:27.

Love,

Mama

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Humility, Honor and Habitat Heroes

“A society grows great when old man plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” – Greek Proverb

Years ago – in the throes of infertility treatments and the resulting despair – I remember standing in our old kitchen and telling my husband that I didn’t really care about doing a single thing for anyone else.  It should have been a sign that my inner compass was tragically askew – especially for me, a neurotic and hyper-sensitive nerd who at the age of 9 had typed up a challenge to the rest of the world encouraging peace and environmental awareness.

But I was all used up and just WRONG all those years ago when my want for a baby overshadowed everything.

Fast-forward about 7 years.  I can honestly say, I have been humbled.  God has worked humility in me through the amazing men and women who I work with at Habitat.  What was once all about ME – my pain, what I wanted, what I needed, what I thought I deserved – has been turned outward.  There is something about these people who do all the real work at Habitat – the volunteers – that brings me to my knees in praise and humility because they are all people who have decided that they wanted to take the light God planted in each of them and turn it outward so that it can shine on everyone else.

I have volunteers at Habitat who are 80 years old, 85 years old, and 90 years old.  The majority of our volunteers are age 70 or over.  Many of them are veterans, some are disabled.  The majority of them probably vote differently from me in every election we have.  And you know what?  I love them.  And they love me.  They are not luxuriating in their retirements.  They are out in 107 degrees and working in a warehouse to raise money to build Habitat homes.  Or they are out working in 107 degree weather to actually build a Habitat home.  They are, if Teresa of Avila would allow me, the hands and feet of Christ.

In May I marked six years at Habitat – six years since I walked away from a safe state job and good retirement and health insurance to take a chance that the little girl who’d typed up her manifesto so many years ago was still alive inside of me, and that she could be revitalized in the midst of her despair.  Now I can say that I owe the strength of my faith to my Habitat family, because when my faith slips, I see Christ in them.  They are each of them working miracles every day – in themselves, in the people they serve, and in me.  C.S. Lewis (how I love, love, love him) once wrote:

 “When I first became a Christian I thought that I could do it on my own… and I wouldn’t go to churches… I disliked very much the hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.  But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.  I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.  I realized that the hymns (which were sixth-rate music), were, nonetheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.  It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”

On my birthday two days ago, as I fretted at my desk over fund raising and various work issues, I heard a shuffling of feet behind me and turned to see about six dudes in Habitat shirts – volunteers – crowd into my office.  And they serenaded me with “Happy Birthday” – reminding me once again why I work where I work, and that there are other benefits in life besides health insurance.

“I think our real doctrine is that doctrine that is born out in our character. I think you can profess the Apostles’ Creed until Jesus returns, but if you don’t love somebody, you never were a Christian.” – Rich Mullins

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one rude kingdom?

My Dear Lucy – I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books.  As a result you are already too old for fairy tales […] But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. C.S. Lewis to his Goddaughter Lucy Barfield, who inspired the character Lucy in the Narnia series

I love fairytales.  But I haven’t always.  Perhaps I, like Lucy Barfield, briefly outgrew them during my coming of age only to arrive back to them now.  I can appreciate mental escape as much now as I did when I was a child, curling up with Laura Ingalls Wilder or Ann M. Martin.

A few months back, the highly regarded scientist and author Stephen Hawking had this to say about the afterlife:

I regard the brain as a computer that will shut down when its components fail.  There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers.  That is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

When I initially heard this quote, I am sorry to say that it left me distressed.  While it is undeniable that Hawking is a genius, my first thought was – how can anyone be so sure of anything in this world?  Definitely that is his belief for him, and I’m sure he is basing it on years of analysis of universal concepts and science.  But just as he is sure that his brain will shut down like a computer, the free spirited and wistful circuitry in my over-sized noggin lends itself to something else  entirely –

I guess you can say I believe in fairytales.  But I don’t think I’m afraid of the dark.  Not the dark Hawking speaks of anyway.

My continued struggle with faith is that with so many believers walking the earth – of many different faiths – it seems to me that the world should be different.  Most of the major faiths have love as a central virtue, and yet has our planet ever felt more rude?   More hateful?  So lacking in respect for others in similarity or in difference?

At T@rget the other day I saw a tiny pink onesie for a baby.  This sweet t-shirt, that an innocent baby would wear, said “My mom doesn’t want your advice.”  In the parking lot I was next to a huge pick up truck with a huge sticker across the back showing a cartoon child urinating on the logo for I guess a competing truck line?  Seriously?  And then, on the radio I hear talking heads from the left and the right spewing lies and exaggerations that are going to make a compromise on this debt ceiling issue virtually impossible.  And if they were so concerned about the elderly and disabled getting their social security checks next month, I can’t help but think they would stop stirring the listening public into a “my way or the highway” frenzy.

Now that is darkness.  That is the kind of darkness that scares me.

And so I like to escape.  I like to read a good book.  I like to go with close friends to the midnight showing of the last Harry Potter movie.  I have to escape because when I really take a good look at the darkness that encompasses our culture, it can be too much to bear.  Or bare.  I’m not sure which.

I completely understand why non-believers judge the religious so harshly.  If we were doing what we should, we would be working to create the Kingdom of God here on earth, and not just sitting back and waiting to die, hoping upon hope for that ultimate of all fairytales to be true for us.

If we were doing what we should, heaven wouldn’t matter so much to us because we would be trying to make earth a little bit more like heaven is in our wildest dreams.  But that would mean more love and less hate.

In one of the Harry Potter film adaptations, the character Neville says,

Dumbledore’s army was supposed to be about doing something real.  Or was that all just words to you?

Being a Christian was supposed to be about doing something real.  Or is that all just words for me?

 

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good soil

We have been all about seeds at our house these days.  For Father’s Day we got my husband a squirrel feeder and a bird feeder.  Every squirrel in a five mile radius must be aware of both, as they are entirely emptied each day and the bird feeder is knocked down and rolled out onto our sidewalk each morning.  I don’t know if any birds are benefitting but my husband is literally the “Squirrel Man” of the neighborhood.

Our wee one, “Chewie,”  looks forward to re-filling that feeder every night.  We go out in the yard after he implores us over and over for seeds.  He calls them “wees” which somehow makes it even harder to say no to.  His baby hands clumsily dump seeds into the apple shaped bird feeder and when we go inside to escape the heat he cries out tearfully “Wees.  WEES.”  Later, as I rock him, he quietly sings “Nigh-night wees.  Nigh-night wees.”

We got a little extra “wees” this week.  At church on Sunday, our pastor preached a very touching sermon on The Parable of the Sower.  This is one of the parables of Jesus, found in the New Testament.  A brief summary:

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” – Mark 4 3:9

Seeds of faith are scattered on soil that is either good or not good.  In some places it thrives, in others it shrivels and dies.

I have always had a hard time with this scripture.  Because, after all, if I have rocky, dry soil, is it not the soil God gave me?

Where we live, the soil is hard and filled with rock.  Bless your heart if you have to do some digging in our yard.  It will require of you some heavy machinery.  The soil is not perfect here.  It takes work to cultivate anything in our soil.  Tilling, raking, and probably some equipment powered by more than just elbow grease.

Maybe that is what faith is supposed to be like.  Too often, I think, we expect faith to come easily and stay strong – to thrive – on its own.  Perhaps some people have that kind of soil.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if our belief in God resulted in delivery of a Hogwarts Acceptance Letter Owl type of message that read:

Congratulations on your recent decision to believe in God.  Guess what?!  You chose wisely!  There is a God!  Everything you believe to be true really IS true.  Don’t be afraid to die, because when you do, you will be chillaxin’ in heaven with God and everyone you love will be made perfect and whole.  All those things that seem unfair?  Some day you will understand all of it!  Congrats again, and go in good faith confident that all of those prayers you’re sending up are being received, reviewed and answered immediately!

If that is what faith was, it wouldn’t be faith.  Faith is, after all, belief in what we “cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1).  If faith were like that, everyone would believe.  And we would never have questions.  And we wouldn’t have to tend our spiritual soil either.

My faith takes work.  If I didn’t do the work to nourish and nurture the seeds of faith in myself, I have no doubt that it would shrivel and eventually die.

For me, faith is NOT easy… but it’s worth fighting for.

At night, in the hot summer hum of crickets and locusts, we scatter seeds for the squirrels.  And a lot of them slip out of my baby’s hands and fall onto the cracked pavement of our front steps.  I scoop them up and pour them into the feeders or throw them in the grass for the squirrels.  And the ones that fall through the cracks… the squirrels find them anyway.  Each one of them disappears and becomes miraculous sustenance.  The squirrels don’t leave thank you notes, but I’d like to think they appreciate the Squirrel Man, his family, and all the free “wees.”

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