In the last couple of days, I've had three different people ask when my next blog would be. I think it's because there is so much anxiety right now. I understand that. I feel it too. We need inspiration.
After meditation this morning, I asked of God, "What would you like me to say?" The above image came to mind.
If you haven't read my books, you may not know that that my brother John drew the above slightly before my maternal grandparents died (in the same nursing home within 2 weeks of each other). We used it as the cover of the bulletin of their joint memorial service.
What you probably don't know, even if you have read my books, is that my grandma was like a second mom to me. I loved all of my grandparents dearly but she was my hero. She had a faith that grounded her no matter what. When she got knocked down, she'd kneel and then rise. She knew God could work things toward good in ways we sometimes can't even imagine. She kept that spirit as my grandpa finished his 12 year struggle with Alzheimer's and as she was dying from cancer for the last 8 months of her life.
I had a job within a mile so I went for lunch with her many times weekly during her final 6 months. She didn't eat much but I did. I received sustenance for my soul from being with her. She had something I wanted - a good disease I wanted to catch.
My grandma knew how to trust God despite genuine pain, concerns and fears. She knew what to do to get back into alignment with the creative love of God despite fears. She knew that getting back to loving was the most important thing when we feel disappointments. Grief, yes; despair, no. She knew that God's Love is like an underground river that we tap into by the choices we make in how we think about ourselves, others and the problems we face. She had learned to live what Jesus taught about how to cultivate our own personal well-spring within through faith, trust and getting to loving the way Jesus did. She understood that it's a lifestyle, an internal process that produces fruit, not a slogan with which to slap anybody.
Love is a movement of spirit we must value if it is to make any real difference, especially when fear makes other movements of spirit seem more powerful. My grandma could have been angry at the doctors who put her through what turned put to be meaningless surgeries. She could have been angry at those who'd advised and treated her when the chemo did little if anything. Instead, she loved them and gave genuine thanks for all those who cared for her. They cried when they shared that things weren't working. They weren't alone in that.
She told me to go to the fireworks on July 4th, 1991, though we knew she was close. She said, "Go for me. See you tomorrow." At the fireworks, a rush of inspiring energy beyond description overwhelmed me during the finale. My girlfriend at the time asked me, "Are you alright?" I couldn't understand it myself: The finale was good but it wasn't that good. As tears streamed down my face and I felt more wonderful than I ever had up to that point in my life, I really wasn't sure what was happening, but in response I gave thanks for my grandma, my family and our country - this place built by people like her, where we're encouraged to worship God however we chose (or don't) and treat others the way we want to be treated. For my grandma, the two went hand in hand, loving God led to loving others. Feeling the Hand of God in her life led her to reach her hands out to others. I was just amazingly thankful for all of it, especially over the previous six months, as I bawled for a minute or so overwhelmed by love and gratitude.
When I got home, there was a message on my machine. I knew what it meant. It was my brother gently saying "You better come quick if you want to say goodbye." When I got there I asked when she died. It was just before the finale.
Going to God and getting to loving is everything. It works in ways beyond understanding. That's why I celebrate it so much. When we're struggling it often feels like there isn't much to celebrate, but as we keep tapping back into love, we realize love itself is worth celebrating. It makes the journey worthwhile and also produces the best fruit. That's why those who know, know God as Love.
Thanks for journeying together. More power to you.
My heart goes out to all who are hurting this week, and especially those who have lost loved ones (black men shot and killed in what should have been non-violent traffic stops; police officers murdered in Dallas). None of that should have happened.
The above picture speaks to me right now.
It speaks of Respect for those who have lost loved ones. Respect that mourns with those who are grieving, as we all should be in the aftermath of this week's tragedies. Respect that leads to resolve to work together to truly establish equal treatment under the law. Respect for officers of the law who are trying to work that way.
I know that the situation is complex, but I think white people should start by realizing that we can't fully understand what black people have endured, which connects with what many are going through now. Humility and a willingness to listen, learn and work for change seems essential from whites toward blacks. (The posturing of politicians should stop immediately).
I pray for humility on my part alongside decisive action, especially in electing officials who get the importance of respect.
As we pay our respects, please pray with me for the wisdom, heart and courage to live with the kind of thoughtful respect God offers us and wants to offer through us. Respect is one of the first steps of love. Genuine respect leads towards treating others as we would want to be treated if our roles were reversed. (Anyone who doesn't get that has yet to truly love).
Please keep praying for our country and for guidance as we try to act in ways that are for the highest good of all.
I don’t usually do this, but I have to recommend a magazine to you. Pictured above is the cover of a current double issue from Time Magazine entitled “240 Reasons to Celebrate America Right Now.” I love what I've read so far.
What makes any country great still beats from America’s heart. It’s not hate or a condemning spirit; it’s a creative, life-giving spirit of respect and brotherly/sisterly love that encourages everyone to go after life in healthy ways.
In his famous work “Democracy in America” (1833) Alexis de Tocqueville may not have directly said, “America is great because America is good” – but it’s the gist of his observations and there is truth in the idea. Goodness of heart is our deepest treasure. Mining the gold there takes being thoughtful, especially when fear is high. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said so well, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Action driven by fear without the creativeness and care of respect and love tends to do more harm than good. History is full of examples, including some recent ones which created more problems for us than they solved.
One of my parishioners once gave me a flag quilt and called me the most patriotic pastor she’d ever known. That meant a lot to me at the time because it was after I’d publicly read part of a United Methodist Bishop’s letter asking President Bush not to invade Iraq (a month before we invaded). The letter recommended moving forward slowly with the thoughtful process the United Nations was recommending at the time (February, 2003). The gist of the letter was - Slow down. Be thoughtful. Make sure. Don’t make things worse. Strengthen the team of those who are trying to be about what would be best for all and then work together. That’s how to face evil in whatever form evil presents itself. (You can read the letter if you want at http://bwcumc.org/letter-to-president-bush/).
Being thoughtful is not a weakness; it is a strength that looks down the road. It is about being careful or full of care for ourselves and others the way God cares for everybody. One of the first steps in doing so is making sure that we are not reacting fearfully with a malicious spirit that is blind to anyone’s heritage as a child of God, even if they are lost in fear and/or hate. The goal is to invite people back into the respectful, loving ways that create a sense of being at home with one another - or at the very least - keep them from destroying the homes of others while we try to honor their right to a home too (which reduces their fear of us). One of the under-girding goals of love is to reduce fear, not increase it. We should never be out to demonize anybody.
I've only read part of it but I already value the issue of Time Magazine above; it captures the spirit of home-making respect and creative love that is at work in many communities around our nation. That spirit is truly a beautiful thing that is bringing out beauty among us. Let’s feed efforts like those rather than feeding fear. That's where further greatness lies for America and our world.
Thanks for journeying together.