Monthly Archives: December 2015

Happy Sheep Ranting (nothing like Good Will Hunting, I promise)

Matthew 25:31-40
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Would you mind being patient with me for a moment?  I need to rant just a little.

I am sick to death of attending worship services.  I am tired of being told that I need to worship the Lord and praise Him for His mighty works in some prescribed way on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.  I am also weary of all the talk about worship you hear from church leaders.  I am weary of hearing people talk about how we need to have more passionate worship.  I am sick of church leaders discussing how to increase the quality of our worship so that we can increase the number of people attending worship.  I don’t want to hear one. more. word. about. WORSHIP!!

Am I making myself clear here?  I am done with worship.

I guess that I am struggling with the theological implications of what it means to worship God.  I struggle with the theological implications of having a God that wants to be worshipped. If God is my father, then I think my experiences as a parent tell me a lot about God’s experiences with me.  As a parent, I just want my kids to love me…not worship me.  It’s not just that I don’t deserve worship (because I don’t)…it’s that worship doesn’t do anything for the relationship between me and my kids.  I don’t want to have my kids ‘adore’ me…I just want to be loved and to have them be in a relationship with me. Heck, I want my kids to want to be in a relationship with me and not feel like it’s an obligation.  If God is my father…yeah, that again…it just makes sense that He might feel the same way. The older I get, the less sense worship makes to me, and the less I relate to worship, at least worship in the traditional sense of worship.

This last week has been a week filled with family and friends.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were huge celebrations, with 19 people cramming into my mom’s house to celebrate dinner as a ‘framily’.  The framily is what my mom calls her blood relatives along with the friends who are so close that they might as well be family.  The next day I had 10 framily members at my house for presents and dinner.  Then yesterday we got to visit with more framily when my godson Reid and his father Dave came through Phoenix on their way to 29 Palms military base where Reid is stationed.  After my yoga class this morning I stopped by to hang out at a good friend’s house for a while.  She had made soup for my mom who is about to have back surgery and I stopped by to pick it up and chat. Later on I caught up with another friend while looking up medical information for her online; half the time we giggled about stupid stuff and the other half of the time we discussed really serious stuff.  It’s kind of nice to talk to someone and know that you can giggle and weep in the space of only five minutes and be certain that things will still be cool when you’re done.

Why am I telling you this?  Because…after each visit with my framily, I found myself praising God and thanking Him for the blessings of family and friends, for the joy and peace that I feel when I’m with them, and for the freedom to laugh and cry and find comfort and support in those relationships.  I am acutely aware of how deeply blessed I am; just how much God is present in my life through the presence of these people.  I feel God when I am with them because they love me and I love them back…and God is in that love, every time.  If God produced metrics and tracked how often and how much I praise Him, God would be able to tell you that I praise Him long and loud after hanging out with the people I love.

And that’s where I suddenly start thinking about ‘worship’ again.  Because I enjoy the beautiful music, the corporate prayer, and the great sermons I hear at church, but nothing really transports me into the joy of God the way that relationships can.  And it isn’t just close relationships with my friends and family, either.  I am one of the pastors at my church and I spend a lot of time with the people who attend services there either simply catching up with them or listening as they share their current challenges and sorrows and then taking time to pray with them.  I am not close friends with each and every person at my church, mostly because there are so many people there that I wouldn’t have enough time in the day to be friends with that many people. I’m definitely a people person, but that’s pushing it, you know?  I’m know that Kim Kardashian has over 1 million ‘friends’ on Facebook, but I’m betting she doesn’t have time to get personal with each and every one of them, and if she does…well…she is married to Yeezus.  Maybe he’s helping out somehow.  Yeah.

Anyway…

Even in the small encounters I have with people at church, I am uplifted and feel the joy of Christ.  I come home from church each Sunday high on the joy that comes from serving the family of God, blessed to be allowed to be with them in their triumphs and trials, and blessed to find my best friends among the people who call God their father and Jesus their friend and savior.

I wonder sometimes if God isn’t more interested in seeing His children come together and love on each other than He is in hearing us sing songs to Him and praise Him in worship.  There are times when I wonder if God isn’t a lot like any parent whose idea of a great Christmas gift is to have all of their kids come home for a visit at the same time so that they can bask in the glow of all that love and laughter.  There is something about having the whole family together that makes everyone feel stronger and life feel easier and sweeter.

I wonder if God feels on Sunday mornings much like I felt watching my family and friends hang out together on Christmas Eve.  I took in the scene, watching all 19 of us laughing and sharing stories, and I felt deeply peaceful and filled with joy.  There was so much love!  So much laughter! Even when there were a few tears (because life is difficult even in the best of times) there was comfort and peace and so much love. God must look at moments like this and think “This is why I created humanity! To love each other like I love them…to love Me and be loved by Me in return.”

The passage of scripture that opened this blog entry is frequently quoted and often the subject of sermons.  What we do for others we also do for Jesus Christ himself…and of course Jesus wants us to give not just to the people we love but also to the people we don’t even know and don’t love, to people that we wish we didn’t have to know, and to people who will never really want to know us“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40) In almost every sermon you hear on this passage, the preacher will focus on caring for the people on the edges of society: the marginalized; the immigrants; the widows and orphans; the disabled; the veterans; the homeless.  Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more with that interpretation.

But I want you to also hear this interpretation:  true worship is not about singing songs or reciting scripture passages or remembering to thank God for what you have been given in a litany of prayer on Sunday morning.  It is about coming together in love and friendship, loving each other freely and in doing so, loving God.  Can you imagine what it feels like for God to watch us gather together and laugh with each other, love on one another, cry with one another, and pray for one another? Each prayer, each hug, every single word of comfort, every moment of laughter—each and every one is actually shared with Christ Himself.  These aren’t casual moments and they aren’t trivial encounters.  There is no such thing as casually laughing with Jesus.  Believe me if Jesus showed up in your living room this afternoon to share some holiday cheer with you it would not be something you would think of as casual or trivial; you would remember that moment as a pivotal, life changing encounter!  You would also remember that moment as one where you asked yourself if you were hallucinating or if the world was coming to its end…but you’d get over that soon enough.  I’m guessing when Jesus says “Fear not!” that his proclamation pretty much ends whatever panic attack you started having when he walked through the door (or the wall…I’ve heard he does that.)

Coming back to where I started, I don’t want to hear about worship—I don’t want to discuss how to make it passionate, or how to draw more people to attend.  You might as well ask how you get more people to come and visit you in your home, or how to be more passionate in your relationship with your kids (doesn’t THAT sound weird and disturbing?)  Don’t ask those questions because they aren’t useful and they won’t change anything.

Stop asking about worship and start doing what Jesus told you to do.  Love one another.  Love one another. Love. One. Another…just like God loves you, and that means unabashedly, without limits, overmuch.  Infuse your love with laughter and joy, with tears and honest sharing of your pain, and with a true commitment to serving one another.  You want passionate worship?  Start there…with LOVE.  You want more people attending ‘worship’?  Love.  Start with love.  You can’t go wrong with love. Love is passionate and it will draw people to you.  No matter what you do, you can’t go wrong with love.

I’m done ranting now.  Thanks for listening.  I feel better already.  I’m going to go get ready for this evening’s festivities because the framily is getting together for worship, so to speak.  We won’t do much singing, and we might not do any praying, but we will love on one another quite a bit and where there is love happening there is worship.

Happy New Year and many blessings in 2016!

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Christmas Trees In Hell

Luke 1:29-56

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.”

I spoke with a good friend today who is going through hell.  If it can go wrong, it has gone wrong.  Serious problems with her health.  Idiots at the doctor’s office that pay no attention to what they are doing, making the same mistakes over and over and over and causing delays in her treatment. Serious problems with her kids. Idiots in the school system who seem to think that parents can solve all the problems their child has if only they will try hard enough, even when the problems are beyond the parent’s control (hello, genetics!)  Problems with her house, that like all problems with housing take a good deal of money to solve.  Problem upon problem, and none of them have easy solutions.  I called her after reading her Caring Bridge journal entry.** All of my friend’s journal entries have shared her frustration with navigating the medical system, but this is the second journal entry in a row that has been filled with serious signs of despair.

I have to admit that it’s tough listening to someone whose problems are so big that there are no cute solutions to suggest; it’s hard to hang in there when there are no resources to offer that will help the situation. After a while, you realize that the best thing you can do is be present in the midst of hell.  There are quite a few people who would pay good money to avoid hell in their own life and do everything they can to escape reminders that hell is real and active in other people’s lives; this is how I came to realize that there is value in simply hanging out with a good friend whose life has hellish places.  When half the people you talk to turn tail and run from the hell in your life, hell starts seeming like a very lonely place to live.  Having someone to sit with you in hell, while it doesn’t change the hell at all, makes hell that much more bearable.

Except that hell is never as bearable as you’d like it to be.

Today’s scripture bears witness to that.

Today’s scripture passage is about Elizabeth and Mary; the mothers of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.  One was ridiculously young, unmarried and pregnant. The other was way, way too old to admit to having sex, let alone admit to being pregnant.  Elizabeth is estimated to be 88 years old at the time that she conceived John.  I have no idea if that was true, but she was old enough that when the angel Gabriel declared to her husband Zechariah that they were going to have a child, Zechariah replied “I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” (Luke 1:18b)  Zechariah may have just as well have said “Look man, Viagra hasn’t been invented and let’s just say that my wife doesn’t need tampons anymore.”  The fact was that Zechariah and his wife had prayed to conceive a child for many, many years without any luck; at this point both Elizabeth and Zechariah had given up. After this many years stuck in the hell of infertility, they had built a house there and given up on anything ever changing.

God loves moments like that, because those are the moments when His intervention yields the greatest change.

The moment when you think everything is broken. The moment when what is happening isn’t supposed to be happening and you just want to die.  The moment when what isn’t happening was supposed to be done a long time ago, and you are so humiliated that you want to fade into the woodwork. Moments when everyone knows that everything in your life is wrong.  There you are: you are in hell, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do to get out.

But you’re wrong, and God knows it.  God loves moments like that, in fact, God excels at working through moments like that.

And this is the whole point of today’s scripture.  You see, today’s scripture is the moment when the young, unmarried, and embarrassingly pregnant Mary comes to visit her old, decrepit, and embarrassingly pregnant aunt Elizabeth. The two women, neither of whom should be pregnant, greet each other with joy and sing songs of praise to God for what neither woman ever expected could happen.

Luke 1:41-49

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’  And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.’”

Doesn’t it sound like Mary and Elizabeth are happy beyond words? And they are…for this moment.

Despair and hell are places where we wait for moments like the one Elizabeth and Mary had together, moments when everything that is going wrong is placed in a framework where it all makes sense, where our suffering and our struggle begins to come together in a coherent picture that no longer seems to be filled with random tragedies but instead is filled with events coordinated by God’s own hand to bring us to a place that we didn’t believe actually existed.

These kind of moments are never fun while you wait for them and they often aren’t fun when they are happening.  They gain their meaning only in retrospect because at the moment they happen, you’re still kind of in hell.

Think about it: Mary is about 13 years old, unmarried, and pregnant.  The standard wisdom of the day is that Joseph should have refused to marry her and she should have been taken outside the city gates and stoned to death.  Her whole family is humiliated, and her husband looks stupider than stupid for not kicking her to the curb.  Mary looks like a tainted woman (and that’s saying it nicely.)

Elizabeth is old.  Maybe she isn’t 88 years old, but really…would 78 be better?  68?  58 and pregnant?  How about 48 and pregnant?  No matter how you look at it, at Elizabeth’s age, pregnancy is a problem.  It isn’t just that she’s so old that she’s not supposed to be having sex anymore.  It’s that she’s so old that carrying a child is a major problem.  She’s at risk for all sorts of things going wrong, including the death of both the mother and the child.  And if she lives through the birth, then she has to raise a child…and HOW old is she?  Can you imagine chasing a toddler full-time–not as a grandparent where you send them home at the end of the day but as a parent, where your raise them 24/7? Can you imagine dealing with a toddler at 48 or 58 years old?  How about at 78?  The idea of chasing a toddler at 88 years old is beyond imagination to me.  Elizabeth isn’t just embarrassed about being pregnant, she’s terrified of what this pregnancy will do to her old body and what raising a child will demand of her old body.

God has created what appears to be an untenable situation for both Mary and Elizabeth, and yet Christians read these passages at Christmas and we tend to paint them as happy, sweet moments of joy.  NO!! The rejoicing that happens in Luke 1:41-55 is nothing more than tiny little sparks of joy that flared up in the midst of what appeared to be very close to hell for both Elizabeth and Mary.

This turns out to actually be the greater promise of the Christmas season: that joy and peace and salvation appear as sparks in the midst of hell itself. When John and Jesus were being born to Elizabeth and Mary, so much of what was happening was all wrong. The government and the economy in Israel were bad.  Everyone was registering so that they could be taxed (yippee!)  Neither Elizabeth or Mary was supposed to be pregnant according to what was acceptable in Israeli culture. Neither of them was pregnant at an opportune time in their own lives.  For both of them their pregnancy was life-threatening (Mary due to Israelite law, Elizabeth due to her age.)  For both of them their pregnancy had the possibility of ruining their lives. Yet God used these pregnancies, endured in the midst of hellish times, to create salvation for all people, everywhere.

God tends to work best in the blackest of nights.  God’s hand is most visible when the night is so dark as to be a total blackout.  God excels in rescuing us from the most terrifying situations and the most horrific places.

Why am I willing to sit with my friend in the midst of her personal hell?  Not because I am such a good person—that is a ridiculous notion. I am no better than anyone else.  I am willing to sit with my friend in the midst of her personal hell because this is where God always begins to do His best work and I just want to have a court-side seat when He starts to turn things around for my friend and her family so I can join in the rejoicing.

The promise of Christmas is that no matter how much hell you have endured, God will take a single spark of hope and turn it into salvation so strong that everyone is swept up in the joy of it and is transformed totally.

God be praised as we wait for the birth of the One that change all things to glory.  Amen.

** Caring Bridge is a great way for people with serious illnesses to update everyone they love about their illness and their treatment with just a single journal entry.

Because I won’t be writing next week (so much to do before Christmas comes) I leave with you one of my favorite scripture passages.  We sang this every morning at Claremont School of Theology as we chanted our morning prayers.  It brought tears to my eyes every time I sang it, and it brings tears to my eyes now.  It is meant to give hope to those who are still suffering in hellish places.

Luke 1: 78-79

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Merry Christmas!  May the joy of the birth of the One Who Is To Come overwhelm you and end all your suffering and pain and lift you up until you praise the name of the Most High God.

Facepalm Jesus and the Teeny, Tiny, Father

Last week’s topic was fear; I guess this week’s topic will be fear as well.  You see, I start with the scriptures for this week out of the lectionary (which guides the scripture readings and preaching in most mainline denominations) and the majority of them deal with fear.

I am a counselor, and I am forever telling people not to judge their emotions.  There is nothing wrong with fear…as long as fear doesn’t become the thing that drives you.

Fear is an extremely powerful emotion, and a powerful motivator. This is why torture is so effective.  Not only are you consumed by pain when your captors are harming you, but you are consumed by fear of what they are capable of doing next when they are with you, consumed with fear that you will be killed before they are done, and when they finally leave you alone in your cell, you are consumed with fear of what they will do when they return.

Lest you think I am overstating the case, let me remind you of what fear does to ordinary people in everyday situations.  Fear of being alone is what keeps people in bad relationships, even relationships where there is violence.  Fear of harm is what causes parents to become overprotective.  Fear that their child will fail at life is what drives helicopter parents.  Fear of failure is what keeps so many people from trying anything new. Fear of looking stupid keeps people from speaking up. Fear of disease often keeps men away from the doctor (not that they won’t have a disease if they don’t go to the doctor, but they won’t know that they have the disease.)  Finally, fear drives codependents to save their beloved addicts over and over and over despite the growing evidence of the damage caused by the addiction.

Fear.  I’m a counselor and you can trust me when I say that I spend a lot of time dealing with fear and how it drives people to unhealthy behaviors.  I remember my mother telling me that a little healthy fear was a good thing and that it would keep me from doing stupid things…and then telling me in the same breath that too much fear was destructive and would keep me from enjoying my own life.

The thing that many people don’t know about fear is that it drives another emotion: anger.  You see, anger is a secondary emotion, in other words, it is an emotion that arises to help us take action when we are confronted with emotions that can leave us feeling helpless, emotions like fear, sorrow, and pain.  We often can’t do anything to eliminate the things that cause us legitimate fear, like disease, or the threat of loss.  Nor can we eliminate the things in life that cause us sorrow and pain, like losing a loved one.  Most of the time we just deal with our fear, sorrow and pain and skip using anger to help us, since a little time spent processing our fear, sorrow, and pain can actually alleviate the fear, sorrow, or pain entirely.

Not that I want to bad-mouth anger: anger comes in handy when we need to take action.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was created by a mom who lost her daughter to a drunk driver who had four prior DUIs.  She knew that very little was being done to prevent repeat drunk driving offenses, and she allowed her sorrow and pain to become anger…and she let her anger spur her into productive action.  The National Institute of Health states that “Since its inception, MADD has been successful in the enactment of more than 1000 new laws at both the local and national levels, including minimum drinking age, server liability laws and sobriety check points. A particularly effective measure was the production and dissemination of a widely published, annual comparative legislative “Rating of the States/Provinces”. In fact, MADD appears to have exhibited a stronger influence than the Breathalyzer legislation in reducing drinking-driver fatalities.”  This is what anger is for: to get us moving, to make us change things, to help us turn our fear, sorrow, and pain into something productive and good.  This is effective anger; it is anger worth having and worth using.

However, fear can lead to other kinds of anger that aren’t productive at all, like racism.  Fear leads us into the kind of anger that causes Donald Trump to proclaim that he wants to bar Muslims from entering the country and that he wants to register the Muslims that are already here.  Trump will tell you that Muslims want to harm people in the US.  But we’ve thought like this before about other people who scared us…and we were wrong then too.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum states that In late 1938, 125,000 applicants lined up outside US consulates hoping to obtain 27,000 visas under the existing immigration quota. By June 1939, the number of applicants had increased to over 300,000. Most visa applicants were unsuccessful.”  The US turned away the SS St. Louis, a ship carrying 908 Jewish refugees; later 288 of the passengers died in the German death camps; of the 620 who did not die in the Holocaust, only 366 survived the war itself.  Six million Jews died in the Nazi Concentration Camps; what did we have to fear from those people? Yet it was our fear that caused us to turn them away and let them die.

During WWII, the United States relocated and imprisoned between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry.  These people were forced out of their homes in the Pacific states and relocated into crowded camps in the interior of the US.  Many of these people lost their homes, possessions, and businesses when they were forced to relocate.  The interred Japanese people were often forced to live in squalor, living in buildings formerly used to house livestock. The Commission on Wartime Relocation of Civilians (1997) stated that “The forced relocation and incarceration has been determined to have resulted more from racism and discrimination among people on the West Coast, rather than any military danger posed by the Japanese Americans.”  These same people eventually were released; they moved into communities all over the US and there is no history of violent action by them against US citizens either before or after the war.  What did we have to fear from these people?  Yet our fear caused us to take away their freedom and treat them as our enemy.

In the years since these two actions, most US citizens have realized that our fear-driven actions were not only unnecessary, but that they were unkind and that our actions did not reflect the values that our country supposedly espouses, values like compassion and cooperation.

So…what does this have to do with you and what does this have to do with God?

It must have something to do with God, or the lectionary scriptures for this week wouldn’t all seem to focused in the same direction.

 Zephaniah 3:15b-19a
“The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. “

This directly says that when God is in our midst we should not fear disaster, that our God will remove disaster from us and we will not bear reproach for what disasters have happened in our past.  God also promises to deal with our oppressors.  Surely God is greater than ISIS, isn’t He?  At least, my God is greater than ISIS, greater than the evil they can do, greater than their rhetoric of hatred.  If your God is not, may my God bless you richly until you don’t fear ISIS anymore, for all things are in my God’s hands.

Isaiah 12:2-6
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

You might say “It’s easy for you not to fear—you haven’t lost anyone to terrorism.”  You are correct, I have not lost anyone to terrorism.  But I have a daughter who was addicted to drugs when she was only 15, and I could only put her in treatment—I couldn’t save her and I couldn’t guarantee that she would become sober and stay sober.  I have helped several parents bury their children after an overdose ended years of addiction.  When my daughter was addicted, I didn’t lie to myself about what was possible.  All I could do was rely on God to take care of my family and ask God to guide my actions.  It’s not terrorism, but if you’ve ever had a child lost in the grip of drugs, you know how terrifying it is.  I understand fear; I understand helplessness.  I also understand that my God is still bigger than anything I might be facing and I trust Him to lead me in the ways of peace.

Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

When the Apostle Paul talks about the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, he is not talking about the peace that comes when you have an arsenal of guns to protect your family.  He is not talking about the peace that secure finances and retirement funds can provide.  Paul is not talking about the peace that comes when your country is barring the scary immigrants from entering the country and taking up arms against people in other countries.  The peace of God that surpasses all understanding occurs when none of those things are present, when all indications say that you should be consumed by fear, when everything in front of you screams ‘Duck and cover!’  That is a peace that passes all understanding, and nothing you or I can do will create a peace like that.  It only comes from God and is granted when you place your requests before the Lord with prayer and supplication and thanksgiving.  The peace that passes all understanding comes from placing your trust in the only thing that does not fail.  This peace is not easily achieved and often must be granted again and again as petty (and not so petty) fears drive our peace away.

Luke 3:7-11, 18
“John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

The peace that passes all understanding also demands that you share what good you have with others who have none.  We can’t share what we have until we have no fear.  No one gives away the very things they have worked so hard to get when they fear that they do not have enough to care for their own family.  Charitable giving, inviting refugees into your country, helping others…all of these things spring from an attitude of gratitude and the awareness that we have more than enough to share.  If your heart is filled with fear there will be very little space for gratitude and even less space for a sense of abundance.

In case that wasn’t enough Scripture for one day, let me add a little more:

Matthew 8:26   “And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.”

Regarding a demon that the disciples just could not conquer…sound like ISIS to you??

Matthew 17:18-20  “And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

There are a million other examples, but it all boils down to this:

When your God is big enough to conquer anything, you have nothing to fear.  So, if you are afraid of ISIS…if you are afraid of the Syrian refugees…if you are afraid that Obama is coming to take your guns and you won’t be able to protect your family…if you are AFRAID, ask yourself:

When did the God I say I worship become so small and powerless?

When did my God get so small?

A Litany of Fear and Hope

Last night, my husband and I talked about fear.  Both of us think that the nation has been overcome by fear of violence; fear of terrorism; fear of refugees; fear of the government taking their guns; fear that the government will take their rights; fear that foreigners will destroy our freedoms in the US; fear of the unknown.  Can you blame people for being afraid? The litany of violence is overwhelming:

December 2, 2015            14 dead, 21 wounded in San Bernadino, CA, shot by a US citizen and his wife.

October 1, 2015                9 dead at Umpqua College in Roseberg, OR, shot by a US citizen.

August 26, 2015                2 dead, shot while broadcasting the news in Roanoke, VA, killed by a  US citizen.

July 23, 2015                       2 dead, 9 wounded at a Layfeyette, LA theater, shot by a US citizen.

July 17, 2015                       9 dead, 1 wounded in a church in Charleston, SC, shot by a US citizen.

October 14, 2014              4 high school students dead in Marysville, WA, killed by a US citizen.

April 2, 2014                       3 dead and 16 wounded at Fort Hood, TX, shot by an active duty US soldier.

Sept 16, 2013                     12 dead, 3 wounded at Washington Navy Yard, shot by a US citizen / former US Navy sailor.

Dec 14, 2012                       26 dead, 20 of the children, at Sandy Hook Elementary, shot by a US citizen.

July 20, 2012                       12 dead, 70 injured in a theater in Aurora, CO, shot by a US citizen.

Jan 8, 2011                          6 dead, 13 injured, including Congresswoman Gabriel Gifford, shot by a US citizen.

In case you are wondering, all of these guns were obtained legally, either by the killers themselves or by their parents (in the case of the Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza, who used his mother’s legally obtained weapons, and in the case of the Oct 14, 2014 shooting by 15 year old Jaylen Fryberg, who killed students at his high school.)

You may have noticed that this list is missing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris at Charlie Hedbo and the Bataclan as well as the shootings in Denmark. Why do I list these only these acts of terrorism? Because…all of these acts of terrorism were committed by US citizens on US soil with legally purchased weapons.  So much of the fear that I hear is of ISIS and foreign refugees.  It seems to me that Americans have developed a short and selective memory.


As a child, I remember watching the news with my parents.  My parents felt that watching the evening news, especially the World News, was something akin to a duty.  In my parent’s world, there was no excuse for being ignorant of the world around you.  My father repeatedly reminded me that those who were ignorant of history were doomed to repeat it; my mother echoed his sentiments by encouraging me to read about history and do my best to see the needs of other people, especially the poor, no matter where in the world those people were living.

All those nights watching Frank Reynolds broadcasting the World News gave me a view of the world I wish I didn’t have to remember: the 1975 LaGuardia airport bombing; planes being hijacked and diverted to foreign countries (so many I cannot remember all of them); Israelis taken hostage and killed at the Munich Olympics; US citizens held hostage in Iran for more than a year; people hijacked and then held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda.  This doesn’t include the many acts of terrorism that I witnessed after I became an adult, including the bombing of the Alfred P Murrah building by Timothy McVeigh that killed 168 people in Oklahomah City, OK in 1995.  I sat the couch nursing my newborn daughter Katie, horrified by the carnage that I saw on the TV screen.  I watched the television for hours on end, cuddling and nursing my baby girl that day, shaking my head and crying.  Again…this act of terrorism was committed by a US citizen, carried out with products purchased legally that created bombs of mass destruction, killing hundreds of American citizens.

Why am I sharing all of this with you?

Right now, thousands of Syrian refugees are praying that the US will grant them safe haven inside our borders.  At the very same time there are people who swear these refugees are terrorists waiting to destroy our country.  They will tell you that admitting 9,999 legitimate refugees is unacceptable if even 1 member of ISIS comes across our borders into the US, hoping to harm our citizens.  I am here to tell you that you have more to fear from your own fellow citizens than you do from any foreigner, to remind you that your own countrymen have taken up arms against you and slaughtered innocent US citizens in the name of their politics or religion, and that US citizens will continue to do so whether you admit thousands of Syrian refugees or not.  No matter who you ban from this nation, there will be plenty of people waiting to shoot you, hijack you, hold you hostage, or blow your body to bits and each and every one of them will be a US citizen.

Ted Kaczynsky (nationwide bombing campaign, 3 dead, 23 injured). Ted Bundy (30 homicides in 7 states). David Berkowitz (New York City, 6 dead, 7 wounded). Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City, 168 dead, 600+ wounded). Jared Loughner (Tucson, 6 dead, 13 wounded).

Is the litany of violence getting to you?  I’ll bet it is.  And yet…

The sun rises every day, revealing beautiful sunrises and later that day, another gorgeous sunset.

The world is filled with kind and wonderful people who love and serve each other daily. If you don’t believe me, go to your local food bank or your local hospital and watch as people come and go throughout the day.

Neighbors watch over each other, banding together in neighborhood watches so that the entire neighborhood can be safer.

Families take care of their children and adult children care for their aging parents, leading to ‘circle of life’ moments that are beyond beauty and that give testament to the depth of love we have for one another.

And it isn’t just at the macro level that we see kindness, generosity, and selflessness.

My daughter, who could be earning six figures working for a local micro-factory (yeah they really offered her that much money) instead chooses to open a business that helps other startups who are crowd-funding and prototyping their product; she and her partner and putting 2% of their profits into a vacation fund for their employees to encourage their staff to take their days off and be emotionally and physically healthy.

My friend, who could be a totally self-centered lawyer focused on earning a salary that would pay off her student loans, instead chooses to focus on serving Native American persons and joins the board of United Food Bank.

My colleague, now retired, spends her days volunteering at a hospice to help the dying and working with local Jewish leaders to create a new Synagogue where progressive Jews can gather and worship.  Her husband, a retired professor, spends his days rocking premature infants so that new moms and dads can take a break for a shower or a nap while their child gets the most loving care possible.

Another colleague, still busy with a full practice, works in the Buddhist community to create as much peace and reconciliation as she can create between wounded factions.

I provide low-cost (and almost no-cost) counseling to people who fall through the social safety net because everyone, no matter what their income level, deserves the right to mental health care.

My husband sits on the board of a local outdoor behavioral health organization, raising funds so that low-income families can receive the same high quality treatment for their children that the rich families get for their kids.

I suppose that I could list each and every person I know who is choosing to be a part of the solution instead of the problem, but I’d be here writing all night long.

THERE IS NOTHING WORTH GIVING IN TO FEAR.

There will always be terrorist, hijackers, murderers, haters, bigots, racists, and people who simply vote for anger and hatred over peace and reconciliation.  But that doesn’t mean that you and I need to give in to fear and despair.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”    Christianity    1 John 4:18

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Christianity    1 John 4:18

“When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.”  Hindu Bhagavad Gita 6.28-32

“Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, let him cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world: above, below, and across without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.”  Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 143-151, Metta Sutta

“Have benevolence towards all living beings, joy at the sight of the virtuous, compassion and sympathy for the afflicted, and tolerance towards the indolent and ill-behaved.”  Jainism. Tattvarthasutra 7.11

“A man is a true Muslim when no other Muslim has to fear anything from either his tongue or his hand.”   Islam. Hadith of Bukhari

“Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”  Isa Upanishad, Hindu Scripture

“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.”   Islam, Surat al-Ma’ida, 48

“Indeed, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed.”  Islam, Al Quran 16:91

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”    Gandhi

The world’s religions say it again and again: have compassion and love for one another, not fear.  When we let ourselves soak in fear of “The Other”, no matter who that other is: foreigner or citizen, male or female, rich or poor…none of it matters…when we let ourselves soak in fear of the “The Other” our decisions are made by fear, driven by pain, and not one of them is wise.

Only in unity can we be greater than all the bombers and mass shooters and terrorists that can darken our days with their violence.  Only in unity will greed be overcome by generosity.  Only in unity will we find the peace and contentment we seek.

For perfect love casts out fear…let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world…(have) compassion and sympathy for the afflicted…the enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.