Look Up!

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If you had told me just a few years ago that in the summer of 2019 I would be planning our fifth trip to the Holy Land, I would have laughed at you. Life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it?

We had an opportunity to go way back in 1985 when we were first married. Mike was in seminary and a trip was being planned for students. I said no. We really didn’t have the money but mostly I was afraid. So neither of us went at that time. Four churches and three children later, in 2012, we were offered a trip to the Holy Land. It was a gift. There would be no cost to us. Now, I don’t know about you but when someone presents an offer like that to me, I don’t take it lightly. How can you accept such a monumental gift? And how could you turn it down? We humbly accepted the gift not realizing how it would change our lives.

It seems odd to me now that I was so afraid of going there. I think it’s because we only know what we have seen and heard. What I had seen and heard about Israel/Palestine was war and bombs. There was so much I didn’t know. We fear the unknown, don’t we?

That is the reason why I try my best to get first-hand knowledge about issues. If I can’t see for myself then I try to talk with people or read people’s first-hand accounts. That is how I make decisions about issues. I don’t listen to the news. I ignore social media memes and I take breaks from Facebook fairly often. It’s good for my soul and relieves anxiety and then I can go back and share and love my people well.

I want to encourage people who are going on a trip to the Holy Land to enjoy the Holy sites, feel those deeply religious feelings about walking where Jesus walked and learning more about how he lived on this earth. But I also ask you to look up and around at the people living there today. Ask about their lives. Get to know them. Don’t just look at ancient stones but look at the living stones! Your trip will be much richer if you do. And this is true anywhere we travel, isn’t it? Even if you stay in your own country. There are beautiful places all over the world but don’t forget the beautiful people!
The following is a poem I wrote about this.

Look up.
Look up from Holy places.
For the sacred may surprise you.

Can you see them there, beyond the shadows of barriers, iron bars, razor wire?

Look up!

Seek and you shall find that they are not faceless and nameless.
Holiness personified, they live and breathe, hope and love.
They greet you with a kiss and warm embrace.

Knock and their door will open to you a brand-new world of understanding.

Not bystanders nor aesthetic scenery, but hearts beating out the rhythm of the land,
deeply rooted in exile.
Misrepresented.
Misunderstood.

Fragile hearts threatened from birth,
planted in struggle,
nurtured by identity,
girded with steadfastness,
wounded but unbroken,
the old die but the young do not forget,
and never lose hope.

These are your sisters and brothers.

In the name of all that’s holy,
Look up!

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Tribute to a Friend

I took some time away from Facebook during Lent. It was a nice break, but I always miss interacting with people that I never see except in that space. While I was away, I tried to allow myself time to meditate, contemplate, and rejuvenate my heart and mind. It was a good break and I’m glad I took it. When I take time away from Facebook, it gives me the opportunity to evaluate and I seem to be able to look at things differently. I have to resist the urge to share my thoughts and feelings about events right at the moment. I have time to think, feel, and truly experience passing through the event without expressing my feelings about it immediately and openly to everyone I know. Even though I love interacting on Facebook, I really appreciate time away from it.

I did experience a significant event while away from Facebook this time. I lost a friend. He became sick, couldn’t recover and passed away. I didn’t see him in person very often, but we interacted on Facebook frequently. And we almost always disagreed. Our last conversation on Facebook went on most of one whole day. It left me sad and exhausted. But through all of it, we always made sure to let each other know that we loved and respected each other. That means the world to me now. And even though we disagreed about almost everything, there were things we had in common. We both loved sunsets and once in a while we would tag each other in our photos of them, there are many happy memories of our youth,  and we both love and treasure many of the same people.

Because of some family issues, I wasn’t able to attend Mike’s memorial service. But here are a couple of memories of Mike that come to my mind: First, I met Mike because of a practical joke. I was maybe 16 or 17 and living in Kansas City with my parents. I listened to the radio constantly. A certain radio station in KC, WHB I think, used to call random people and if you answered the phone by saying “WHB plays the best music!” you would win a prize. So one day our phone rang and I answered it, “hello.” A deep, male voice told me if I had said the right words I would have won a prize! I don’t remember my exact words, but it was some sort of disappointed surprise. I found out later that it wasn’t the station who called, but the voice was Mike’s. Some mutual friends had put him up to calling several of us from our church because we didn’t know him and wouldn’t recognize his voice. They had recorded all our responses. After I got to know him, I learned that this was typical of his personality. He loved to joke around and make people laugh. I’ll always remember his imitations of Robin Williams as Mork from Ork. He was so funny. Another vivid memory I have of Mike happened at a youth Bible study. I was wearing a sweater that had a small slit at the neckline which was tied together by a ribbon. We were sitting on the floor in a circle, Mike was across from me. He flipped his pencil up in the air and it came toward me and took a perfect nose-dive right into that slit and down into my sweater. Everyone laughed and I was so embarrassed but also impressed with the accuracy of that pencil! Those youth group Bible studies were great and even back then we did quite a bit of debating back and forth.

I can’t write this without choking up because it’s still so hard for me to believe that Mike has left us and I’m definitely going to feel his absence even though I didn’t see him very often. If you participate in social media, I’d like to ask you to consider your words when disagreeing with someone. I know we all get stuck sometimes, not knowing when it’s time to speak up or be silent. And I’m not asking you to be silent about your convictions, I don’t intend to do that either, but I do ask you to measure your speech and comments, not only what you say directly to others, but also things that you share. I know that I sure am going to try to be more careful and more sensitive and I’m sure going to miss my old friend chiming in with his opinion.

The Birthmark

He entered the sanctuary quietly and timidly sat down. He still had not completely healed from the hurtful treatment he had received most of his life. Unwanted and unloved by his parents, family, and friends, he had hidden away in fear. He could only faintly remember the love of his grandmother. She told him how beautiful and special he was, a beautiful child of God. But she had been gone for such a long time now and he felt so alone.

He had heard that this was a place of love, but he wasn’t sure because of all the times he had tried to become one of them but had been driven out. But this place seemed different. The music was soothing and the message was reassuring. He basked in the warm embrace of this self-avowed unconditional love. “We love you with an everlasting love,” was the chorus he heard repeatedly. Over time he began to feel relaxed and comfortable. He finally felt accepted, like he did with his grandma. He sighed to himself, “I am finally home.”  

Listening and learning in this place produced growth in him like he’d never experienced before. Many gifts within his soul were revealed to him and he soon longed to share those gifts with others. The longing became a faint voice. The voice became louder over time and then he felt a hand take his, inviting him to something new. He began to have visions of himself standing before groups of people, sharing about this love that he had found. Did he dare to believe that he could actually help others experience this same affirmation that he had come to know? Recalling the taunts, he was nervous about approaching anyone about this calling but the voice was speaking so loudly now that he had to share his experiences with someone.

He waited on the sofa in the quiet office until it was time for him to speak. He began slowly, expressing his gratitude for the goodwill that had been bestowed upon him. The voice behind the desk was kind and asked him to share more about himself. He was timid at first, but soon he was confidently expressing ideas about using his gifts to help show others the love he had encountered and how he felt the hand leading him into something more.

Suddenly a sharp chill swept through the room. A shadow passed over the desk. At once he didn’t feel as comfortable as before. Something shifted, he could feel it on the back of his neck. He noticed a slight change of tone from the voice behind the desk. “You want to share with others?”

“Y..yes, I have felt so strongly for some time now that I am being led, called, to share with others.”

“I see,” said the voice cooly, “let me be completely honest with you. If you truly want to share with others here, in this place, you’re going to need to remove that,” pointing to a birthmark on his face.

He quickly put his hand on his face, which had lost all its color. “Don’t you think that seems a bit extreme?” I was born with it, it’s a part of me, trying to remove it would be very painful. It could never be completely removed, anyway. It would still be there even if it appeared to be gone. Are you sure I can’t share with others just the way I am? Are you sure genuine love would not allow me to share as my true, authentic self?”  

“We love you, my child. We don’t wish to hurt you, but you need to understand that sharing with others comes with certain, um, regulations. What if you covered it up, use heavy makeup, hide it with a scarf? If you keep it a secret, don’t let anyone know, and never allow it to be seen, maybe then it would be okay. Maybe then you would be acceptable.”

Immediately the warmth vanished, evaporated like steam into the air and then into nothingness. He turned and walked away in emptiness, broken, unacceptable.  

“But we’ll always love you,” the voice trailed off.

The door closed. The voice at the desk cleared its throat, stood up, and shook off the bewildering feeling of sadness.

Sunlight beamed through stained glass as musical words joyfully danced, “We love you with an everlasting love!” and floated away like dust particles as he silently slipped into darkness.  

Trump Rally

My plan for this morning was to be writing a blog about my experience at the Trump rally last night. I didn’t actually get into the rally, but here is a description of my experience trying. I had decided to go just a day or so before. When I heard he was coming to town my first inclination was to either protest or be far, far away. To be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to join the protesters, not that I don’t vehemently oppose most of this administration’s policies and this president’s way of communicating and almost everything about his behavior. I’m also not comfortable with protests that name-call and take potshots at the way people look. During the eight Obama years, I observed so much hate-filled rhetoric, (I don’t agree with everything from his administration either, by the way) name-calling, ugly memes, insults,  I just knew I didn’t want to do that.

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So being far, far away seemed like the best choice. But then I began to think about a rule that I try to live by: get first-hand information when possible. Since I am a citizen of this country and so many of my friends seem to support this presidency, I decided that I needed to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears.

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My friends didn’t want me to go alone, so our good friend, Bob, agreed to go with me. I had no idea what to expect about waiting in line. I knew it would take time to get in considering the heightened security a rally with the president would require. The rally start time was 6:30 so we decided to arrive at 5:00. My husband was our driver and dropped us off because we didn’t want to waste time looking for parking. He got us as close as possible and we walked the rest of the way. We made our way toward the arena and happened to be near the street where the presidential motorcade came by.  I’m not going to say it wasn’t exciting, it was.  Law officers of all sorts, state troopers,  Springfield city police, county and even police from other towns were stationed about, performing their duties. The motorcade included a group of police motorcycles, various military and government-looking vehicles, the long, black limousine which everyone believed was carrying the president himself, and an assortment of emergency vehicles with flashing lights.

The crowd was large. A jumbotron provided Donald Trump’s website address and promised to be a source of “real news.” We began searching for the end of the line. We could see people standing in what seemed to be several lines but the end wasn’t in sight. We finally realized that the multiple lines were actually the same line which was snaking around the buildings and streets of MSU campus. As I looked at all those people in red maga hats, red clothing, I’m not gonna lie, my heart ached.

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I felt like an infiltrator. I saw someone I knew and they said, “What are YOU doing here?” But these were not my enemies. They were friends. It was a lovely crowd of people, respectful and kind. They were Springfield neighbors and folks from small towns. They work at Modot and sell real estate. They sit next to you in church. They dress their children in red, white, and blue tutus and take videos of them dancing. They are mild-mannered, that is until a protester walks by. They can get fired up, and that’s when I felt a bit uneasy. I began to imagine my eulogy, “trampled to death at a Trump rally.”

Okay, so so I can get overdramatic.

The truth is, Bob and I spent nearly 3 hours with these neighbors, never making it to our destination. Despite the humidity and the actual reason these people were all gathered, at times the journey seemed almost pleasant. By the time we got near the door, it was nearly 8:00 and the rally was winding down. We did hear a little bit of Donald Trump’s speech over a loudspeaker. I don’t know why it wasn’t live-streamed on that jumbotron. It was just as well, though, because even though the crowd of Trump supporters seemed to be good, honest, well-behaved people, what I heard from that speaker was ugly, hateful, dishonest, half-truthed and ill-behaved and I still grieve for my country.

Home

I’ve never owned a house or land. My parents owned a home when I was a small child, but for most of my life, I’ve lived in parsonages or rental homes. “Home” for me means something different than for my husband, who spent most of his childhood years on a family farm.

In the past, I have dreamed of owning a home. In my dream, I would have dogwood and redbud trees, and a lilac bush in my yard. I’ve lamented my lack of home ownership, but I have appreciated the freedom that comes without it. My husband and I agree that it doesn’t seem practical to think about buying a home now that we are close to retirement age. We do realize, however, that it makes for uncertain future.  

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about what it means to be “home.” We are currently living in a nice little duplex. Someone (we assume the owner) recently planted a redbud tree in the backyard. I received this blessing with much gratitude and glee. I saw it as a little gift from heaven. But as I look back, I guess it wasn’t really done for my pleasure. Nevertheless, I found happiness in it.

Last week we returned from a trip to Bethlehem to pick up our mail and find a notice from our landlord. The owner of our duplex is planning to sell it and we are required to move out by June 30. The day we picked up our mail was June 11. The news rattled me. I began to panic and to lament because I love our duplex, I just moved last summer and this is not enough time! The first couple of houses we viewed had me in tears, I always think I can be like the Apostle Paul, content in any circumstance, but when it comes down to it, I’m much weaker than I like to admit.

We were happy to find a place only three houses down the street with the same basic layout as the one we live in now. As I think about our home, moving, and how much this is going to stress me, I can’t help but think about the 65 million displaced persons in the world. As stressful as this seems to me, I can’t imagine the feeling of leaving everything familiar behind and fleeing for your life, knowing that there are not many places that will welcome you. What would home mean then?

And I think of my beloved Palestinian friends. We spent time with one family who lives as refugees as a result of their parents and grandparents displacement from their homes. This family is being forced to move from their home in a refugee camp and rent an expensive apartment in a particular area so the mother can keep her specific type of ID. Otherwise, her ID will be revoked. What does home mean to them?

World Refugee Day was just a few days ago. Families are being separated at our borders even as our government pulls out of the UN Human Rights Council. The US President relented to pressure and signed an executive order to prevent further separation of families, which was the result of his own zero-tolerance policy. Of course, that one act does not solve the horrific problem. By horrific problem, I don’t mean our country’s problem of an influx of immigrants. I mean the horrific problem that there exist 65 million displaced persons in the world. It seems to me that if most Americans would forfeit just a tiny bit of our own comfort, we could make room for those who need shelter. Couldn’t we, though? How would that change our idea of home?

All of these thoughts have led me to despair. I can find the strength to overcome my own slight discomfort. However, I am having every difficulty not feeling anguish for the world. I find myself relating to Ecclesiastes, “Whatever is crooked cannot be straightened.”  It seems most governments, especially my own, view immigrants as a threat and have stoked so much fear that there isn’t any compassion left. Do those 65 million people include some dangerous people? Of course, as does any group of 65 million people in the world. Are some immigrants criminals? Of course, as are some of our neighbors. Would I invite my duplex neighbor into my house while my husband is gone? No. But I also would not try to prevent him from living there just because he might possibly be a criminal.

My faith has been severely tested this year. Many times I have decided to throw it all away. I can’t align myself with the new policies of my government and I can’t understand why so many of my loved ones are able, not only to support it, but also to call it Christian. If it is Christianity to discriminate, to disrespect, to bully, to deny basic human rights of the most vulnerable among us, to consider my own wellbeing as more important than the hurting and oppressed, to consider the letter of the law above the humanity of our brothers and sisters, if that is what Christianity has become, then it is not for me. But I know this is just a cheap imitation, ugly tarnished brass, with hardly a resemblance of the genuine humility of unconditional love. The true, beautiful Gospel of Jesus doesn’t look anything like this.

The Way of Jesus is living and loving regardless of the political climate. As chaos swirls around it, this way gets up every day and reaches out, bestowing the Kingdom of Heaven on the poor in spirit, comforting those who mourn, declaring that the entire earth belongs to the meek, quenching those who thirst for righteousness, showing mercy to the merciful, showing God’s face to the pure in heart, and blessing the peacemakers. This is the way of Jesus, and this, my friends, is home to me.   

Sadness

Tuesday, May 15

All morning yesterday I tried to find words, any words. I have been reading the news headlines, the blogs, the Facebook posts. I have been sorting through my feelings of sadness and sorrow. Our current president and I agree on almost nothing. Although I am free to voice my disagreement, it seems worthless. My words seem to dissipate into the wind, evaporating into nothing.

The free and elite dance and toast while the oppressed offer their objection to having everything taken from them, even to their very deaths, picked off the earth like ripe olives falling to the ground. Nothing, they are nothing. How dare they object to what God has ordained? God has ordained their suffering, say some. Signs read “kill them all.” Some (not all, for sure) of the very ones whose grandparents endured unspeakable atrocities are blind to the suffering of others and are willing to snuff them out like a candle at dusk.

Unfortunately, the news media only provides a very small slice of the entire situation on the ground. When I watch the news and see Israeli and American politicians, I think of Israelis and Jews around the world who do not agree with this. When I see the young Palestinians hurling stones and burning tires, I think of my dear friends who greet me with a kiss and only want to live their lives in freedom and without fear. And I want to introduce all Americans to these precious ones who suffer because of the decisions of the rich and powerful, and sometimes it feels like almost everyone agrees that it is okay that they suffer, that they somehow deserve it. They must be terrorists. They must be intrinsically evil. And yet, those same people claim their rights to own weapons of war because they would fight to the death to protect their own homes, property, and families.

The following is a Facebook post from my friend, Mercy, who is currently living in Bethlehem, and has given me permission to share:

“I write this to the sound of tear gas and ambulances outside my window. Bethlehem is all closed due to a general day of mourning as our Palestinian friends commemorate the deaths in Gaza yesterday and the 70th anniversary of the “Nakba” (the tragedy) today. This anniversary just “happens” to coincide with the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, which is bitter salt in an open and bleeding wound that is less resolved and more precarious today than it was yesterday.

70 years ago, over 400 Palestinian villages—Muslim and Christian—were ethnically cleansed and destroyed, some 750,000 inhabitants forced out or fleeing for their lives in fear after several villages had been massacred by Jewish militias. Today these villages are mostly erased from memory, planted over with trees or rebuilt as Jewish towns with quaint and expensive “old homes” whose former owners “mysteriously disappeared.”

Many of the people who fled are now exiled from the land of their birth and not allowed to return home — essentially because they are the wrong ethnicity. They live scattered around the world but they have never lost their longing for the home of their parents or grandparents.

Others were moved off into refugee camps that have become new versions of the “reservations” that my forefathers put the first nations people into, only some of these are surrounded completely by walls. 70% of Gaza, for example, is refugees and their descendants. The reservation/ghetto that they have been locked into is jailed from the outside.

Although the hope of early Zionists was that the Palestinians would eventually forget and move on, the opposite has occurred. Palestinians are as tenaciously and fervently connected to living in this land and its holy places as Jews were for 2,000 years in diaspora. Will we have to wait 70 more years and countless more lives taken before this bleeding wound is healed and resolved in a righteous way? “The old will die and the young will forget” was the Zionist idea of how Palestinians would process the Nakba, but here we are 70 years later and that adage has decidedly not come true.

Friends of Israel, friends of Palestine, I beg you to commit to the principle of equality and justice for all under the same law in this land. Work out your conclusions from that starting point, but not before that. If we don’t, I can guarantee that war will continue here. Where there is no justice, there is no peace. That’s an irrefutable law of nature and history.

Unfortunately, Western Christians have not helped this situation as a whole, but rather enabled the dysfunction here, thinking that they were fulfilling biblical prophecy. I beg you to rethink your eschatology if you are of the persuasion that perpetual war is the prophesied future of this land and nothing can be done to stop it.

Most of all, please pray for everyone here in this land, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jew. I love the people here so much I feel I would tear out my own heart for them, any of them. And my time here has convinced me that their prosperity and peace is tied up with each other and not apart from one another. If you love them too, or even just “some” of them, know that you can only help some if you are willing to love and work for the equality of ALL. (And of course that lesson is not just here in this land but also true across this tiny planet).”

The Greatest is Love

It’s better to have a friend than to be alone because friends can help each other out. If one falls down, the other can help her get back up again. I feel sad if there are people who fall down with nobody to help them get back up.
~My version of Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Curb where I fell in Bethlehem

I fell down in Bethlehem. It seems like such a small thing, falling down, in the grand scheme of things, but from my perspective on the pavement in Palestine, it was pretty huge. I was in a vulnerable position, far away from home. I fell over my own two feet. My friends and family were worried about my safety in the West Bank because, frankly, the news we receive in the U.S. does not paint Palestinians in the best light. The thing is, I didn’t even spend enough time on the pavement to contemplate my condition before a Palestinian taxi driver pulled me up to my feet. He persisted in asking me if he could take me to a hospital and when I finally convinced him that I was not interested in going to a hospital, he and a friend pulled a taxi van right up to me, helped me into it, and drove me the short distance to my friends’ house, then helped me out and refused to take any shekels for their time. I must say I was overwhelmed by the way these strangers helped me. Once I made it inside the house, I had a loving family who took good care of me and though we had been friends, now we are family.

A couple of weeks before the fall in Bethlehem, I fell in Jerusalem. I fell right into the doorway of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the very spot where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried and raised. I cut my knee open and spilled my blood on the cold, hard floor of Golgotha. Gratefully, on that occasion I had folks with me, I had only met two of them that morning. My three companions tended to me, stopping the bleeding and making sure I remained alert and drank plenty of water. When I saw the blood, I got lightheaded and couldn’t gather my wits about me. All I wanted to do was sleep. I ended up going to a hospital that day. I rode in an Israeli ambulance, which seems totally ridiculous now, with a little cut on my knee. But I couldn’t pull my brain together and it caused people to wonder about me (haha) and we all decided not to take any chances.  

We all fall down. Sometimes we fall over our own two feet and sometimes circumstances knock us down. Life can be brutal and we can suddenly find ourselves languishing in the cold, hard unforgiving depths of pain and misery. When we get down there, it can be hard to get back up. We may want to just stay there and go to sleep. We have to depend on the people around us to keep us alert and help us get back up. Likewise, when we see others fall down, we can be the friends who help pick them back up again.

People from all over the world make pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulchre church. Some expressed concern that day and even handed us items like wet wipes. But most hurried right past, paying no attention to the person on the floor, emotions from once-in-a-lifetime visit to the holy place running high, not wanting to miss the chance to kiss the holy pillars and stones. My friends told me it made them think about the story of the Good Samaritan, when some good, religious people, passed right by the man who needed help. I have totally been that person. I am sure we all have at some point.  

Sometimes we put pillars and stones ahead of people. Our own needs and rights, whether religious or not, can be so pressing all-encompassing that we focus on the urgent and forget the important, even when we find ourselves at the literal foot of the cross.  We so desperately need mercy, love and grace that, for Christians, is represented by the cross, but the cross also symbolizes pain and suffering. I think the point of the Good Samaritan story is that we get so caught up in our own business that we don’t even see others. We see only our needs and wants, without looking around at the hurting people lying on the side of the road. And while we all need mercy, love and grace, we need to be willing to extend it to others as well. This may come as a surprise to some Christians, but we are not called to come to Jesus. We’re called to be like Jesus. Coming to Jesus is easy. Living his teachings is not. It requires self-sacrifice. It demands that we look around and give hurting people the grace we so freely accept for ourselves. Ironically, giving love, mercy and grace to others can be where our own healing begins. It makes it possible to look back at that massive, gaping, bleeding wound in our lives and see that it was only a small cut that no longer has any power over us.

This is how we create community. This, I believe, is the Kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t require his followers to be a group of people who follow closely to a set of rules and regulations and all believe the same way about it. He talked about relationships between people who were different. Don’t just love your brothers and sisters, but love strangers as well. My three Holy Sepulchre companions, the family who cared for me, the Bethlehem taxi drivers, the EMTs who assisted me in the ambulance, my physical therapist, have all become a part of my community. I love them and have a special connection to them, even if I will never see them again. They have all impacted my life. They represent at least three religions, and maybe no religion at all. But religion is of no consequence to the kingdom of God. Jesus was Jewish. If you want to follow the way of Jesus, he never required you to join any religion. He just required you to live like he did. Many Christians find it too difficult. And many others do it better. It’s dangerous, it’s frightening, and it could cost you your life. If you’ve ever loved someone, you already know that love requires sacrifice. Love requires acceptance, even if you don’t agree. It requires openness and honesty. When you love someone, you can’t possibly make them your enemy and you would never want to do anything to hurt them. The way of Jesus is love. And when we love like he did, we bring the kingdom of God to earth.

May it be so.