Welcome God’s Love

Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us.
Let not my doubts or my darkness speak to me.
Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us.
Let my heart always welcome your love.
Jacques Berthier
©1998, Les Presses de Taizé, GIA Publications, Inc.

 

Over 40 years ago I flew to Colorado to visit my grandparents. It was an unusual week, because the sun didn’t shine. That week was one gray day after another. I was there in the early spring, and it certainly didn’t match my childhood memories of hot, sunny summer days. I enjoyed my time catching up with family, but I missed the sunshine. As I was flying home, the plane broke through the clouds, and there was the sun. I knew, of course, that it had been there all along, but the clouds had seemed so overwhelming that it was easy to forget.
There are times when we allow clouds to obscure our vision, so that we fail to recognize the light of Christ. There are times when the clouds threaten to overwhelm us. These clouds take so many different forms, from personal challenges, to family struggles, to the news and what’s going on in our community and the world. There are times when we allow our doubts or our darkness to speak to us. There are times when our hearts find it hard to remember God’s love, let alone welcome it.

When we open our hearts to God’s love, it is like breaking through the clouds and seeing the sun. Even better, we can leave the clouds below us. As we move into the holidays, it is easy to become so wrapped up in the preparations and activities that they block out the whole meaning of the season. We get so caught up in all we have to do, that it gets in the way of seeing that Thanksgiving is about celebrating our blessings, and Christmas is about remembering God’s great love for us in giving us Jesus. Open your heart and welcome God’s love this holiday season. Soar above the clouds.


	

Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

As I write this the news of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton is still fresh.  I suspect that like the other mass shootings, they will soon be pushed off the news by another one.  They will be forgotten, except by those who were directly impacted.  I heard a statistic about the number of people in this country who were directly impacted or have a friend or family member that has been directly impacted.  It was horrifying (and of course I can’t find it now to reference in this post.)

It’s time to move beyond thoughts and prayers.  Yes, it is a difficult, emotional conversation when we talk about what to do about these situations.  We must find ways to address the issues while showing respect with those with whom we disagree.  Here are some of the issues I think we need to address:

Us vs. Them Thinking

We are all children of God created in the image of God.

  • Those who worship differently than we do are not terrorists.
  • Those who are a different color are not dangerous.
  • Those who have different political views don’t hate the country and are not the enemy.  They are not stupid.
  • Diversity is not a threat and does not weaken us as a country.

Mental Health

We talk about the importance of mental health care, yet are reluctant to fund it. It can be very difficult for people to get the help and support they need.  There is a critical shortage of psychiatrists in many parts of the country. There is still a stigma to mental health treatment that results in people being reluctant to acknowledge mental health needs for themselves and/or family members. This is not the first disease to be stigmatized, and just as we have removed the stigma from cancer and various other conditions, we need to remove it from mental health issues.

All or Nothing Thinking

One of the arguments that is used to argue against any kind of gun legislation is that any regulation will lead to the confiscation of all guns.  Much of the legislation being proposed is supported by the majority of gun owners.

  • Closing the background check loophole that allows private and gun show sales without a background check
  • Putting restrictions on military weapons.
  • Limiting the size of magazines.

Acceptance of the Status Quo

It’s easy to think that there is nothing we can do to change things. Yet if we look at the history of our country, we see a very different story.

  • Women campaigned and won the right to vote.
  • Civil rights activists ended “separate but equal” and opened up voter registration. (Even though racism is still a challenge, we are ahead of where we were in the 1950’s.)
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving were successful in getting stricter drunk driving laws passed.

Take Action

  • Educate yourself about the issues.  There are laws that have successfully reduced gun violence in other countries and other states.
  • Write your legislators to express your views on the issue.
  • Join groups addressing the issue.  Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence is a good starting place.
  • Pray, not just for the victims and perpetrators of gun violence, but for the wisdom and courage  to make a difference.

Intentional Damage

Image result for Immigrant children in Clint, TXOver a year ago I wrote a post on my old blog about my concerns about the family separations that were going on at the border. After protests and lawsuits, it was agreed that children would no longer be separated from their parents.  There was also a promise of “safe and sanitary” facilities to hold these children and their families. Yesterday I heard attorneys talking about what they had seen in a particular border station in Clint, TX.  I have not been there, so I don’t know how accurate their account is.  I do know that there is some truth to it after hearing a government attorney try to defend what’s happening in court: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QGLh7JOQHc&t=326s

I am increasingly concerned about the intentional damage that is being inflicted on these children.  I don’t care what their parents may have done, no child deserves to be treated the way these children are being treated.  Many of these children will receive damage through these experiences that will impact them for the rest of their lives.  I know, because I am the parent of a young adult I adopted as a child.  Our lives are still heavily impacted by what she experienced those first 3 years of her life.  Here is my blog post from June of last year:

My daughter had a rough start in life.  She experienced what are now known as A.C.E.’s:  Adverse Childhood Experiences.  (Here is a page on the CDC website where you can find more information: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html)   As a result of these, she has numerous educational, emotional, and physical problems.  She has not been able to hold down a job, she cannot live independently, and the medication that she needs to deal with her medical and emotional issues runs thousands of dollars each month.

As I watch the news, I am horrified to see our government separating children from their parents.  I look at these children and wonder what the future will hold for them.  I begin to count the A.C.E.’s they have already experienced:

  • Whatever it was in their home countries that led their parent(s) to decide they had to flee for their safety. (One ten-year-old boy was told if he didn’t join the gang, they would kill his mother and sister).
  • The long journey to the U.S. border.
  • The separation from their parents, for many the only stability they have had in their young lives.
  • Once in custody, the workers are not allowed to touch the children. Toddlers cannot be held, rocked, or comforted.  My daughter experienced healing through the hours I spent rocking her in the evenings.  After experiencing nightmares, she would come climb in bed with me.  These children are left alone in their fear and terror.
  • Some parents have been deported without their children.

I understand the need to have secure borders.  I understand the need to assure people charged with a crime don’t disappear.  In the past, ankle bracelets were used to track individuals who had entered the country illegally.  This seems to me like a better (and probably cheaper) alternative to sending parents and children to separate detention facilities.

Some families are crossing illegally rather than wait for days to cross at a border station and request asylum.  Again, I suspect it would be more cost effective to add the additional staff needed at the border to deal with the demand in a more timely manner.

We need comprehensive immigration reform, and I hope both parties will work together to come up with a good plan.  However, we need to stop traumatizing these children now.  We need to keep families together now.  Please consider writing your members of Congress to express your concerns. Jesus said, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’  Matthew 25:40

Pride Reflections

On Saturday, my daughter, Lena, and I went to Michigan Pride in Lansing.  The church is considering participating next year, so we went to see it and decide how we could be a part of it in the future.  Lena expressed some concerns about going, “What if people come with guns?”

I offered her reassurance, “I don’t think they will, but if it looks like there is going to be violence, we will leave.”

Lena has some cousins who are out, and her main issue with them coming out has always been concern for their safety.

Saturday morning, we headed downtown.  We went to the end of the parade route, in front of the capitol building, where the speakers would be following the parade.  Lena took in the people who were gathering.  “Mom, look at the way she is dressed!”

I said, “This is somewhere it is safe for people to be themselves and so they dress in ways that they might not ordinarily.”

She continued to watch the people.  We saw some friends and went over to talk to them.  We cheered as the parade started.  There were politicians, various organizations, and an impressive number of churches, including one United Methodist Church, which was a pleasant surprise given the recent General Conference actions.

I could tell Lena was anxious, because she held onto my purse strap so we wouldn’t be separated.  We listened to some of the speakers and watched as the children were invited to join one of the speakers on the capitol steps as she talked about them as the future.

Finally, we headed back to our car.  Before we reached the corner, Lena was crying.  I was a little surprised and asked her what was wrong.  “It’s not right!  People need to look at their hearts, not what they are wearing.  They are people, and they are beautiful inside.  God made them!”

As we walked along, I rubbed her back and listened.  I told her she had a good heart, and I was proud of her.

As I reflected later that day, I thought about her anxiety about going.  Even once we were there, she wasn’t completely comfortable, as evidenced by the tight hold she kept on my purse strap.  Yet she was able to look beyond her fear and discomfort and see the image of God in the members of the LGBTQ community.

We could all learn something from her, not just in our approach to the LGBTQ community, but all those with whom we are uncomfortable, whether it be because of their race, religion, or politics.  We are all children of God created in the image of God.

Showing Christ in Society Today

Strengthening Christ in us,
Sharing Christ among us, and
Showing Christ around us.
Delta Presbyterian Church Vision Statement

Showing Christ around us is not an easy thing, especially in today’s society.  For most of us, the thought that one of our neighbors might not know anything about Jesus seems ridiculous. Recently, a colleague’s daughter was part of a high school production of Godspell, a musical that tells the story of Jesus relying mainly on the Gospel of Matthew.  My colleague’s daughter was amazed by how little her classmates knew of the Christian story, “Oh, he dies!  That’s so sad.” At one point, the director was giving directions with which she disagreed, she asked the director, “Have you read the story?”  The answer to that is increasingly, “no.”

The results of a survey were released recently.  In the 1970’s the largest religious group in the United States was mainline Protestant (including Presbyterians), at 30% of the population.  Now, mainline Protestants comprise just over 10% of the population. Those claiming no religion, Catholics, and evangelicals all hovered around 23%.

It is increasingly important for us to show Christ around us.  The session and deacons have been working through the 7 marks of a vital congregation.  The second mark of a vital congregation is “Intentional Authentic Evangelism vs. “Jesus freaks”; “Christian” hypocrisy; a committee responsibility.”  We have had conversations about how difficult it is for us to talk about our faith.

To begin to overcome our discomfort, in February we began taking time to talk to one another about specific questions that we might hear from someone who is curious.  We started with, “Why do you get out of bed and come to church on Sunday morning?” and then moved on to, “What does Easter mean to you?”  If someone asked you one of these questions, how would you respond?  If you met someone who was curious about the events of Holy Week, what would you tell them?  I encourage you to take time to talk about these questions with friends and families.  Begin sharing your faith in a safe setting, so that when someone sees Christ in you and asks you about your difference, you will be prepared to answer and share something of what Christ means to you.

 

Winter to Spring

As we were walking into the church this morning, Lena noticed that the birds were singing. “Listen, Mom, birds!  Spring is coming.”  I agreed.  We’ve had some warmer days recently, and the snow is melting, but there are still piles of snow around, especially at the edge of parking lots and driveways and under trees.

Later we were having a conversation in the office about winter, and we agreed that it is a good thing February is the shortest month of the year.  We are now well into March, and we have switched to daylight savings time, and we are still waiting for sunshine and warmer days.  We know it will come, yet it is taking longer than we’d like.

There are times in the life of faith when it feels like we are in a never-ending winter.  We wonder if we’ll ever get beyond the current suffering, whether we will ever feel God’s presence again.  Just like spring will come, so will relief from our suffering.  It may not come at the time or in the manner we would like, but it will come.

As Christians, we are a people of hope.  Even death could not stop Jesus.  Even betrayal and denial could not stop his love.  God always wins, and as members of the team, we share in the victory.

 

The Opioid Crisis

It’s one of those things we never think will impact us.  Drug addiction is something that happens to other people.  It doesn’t happen to people with education, people from good families, people who have faith, or people….  We want to think we are safe, immune from that sort of thing.  We want to think that because we surround ourselves with good people, that they share that safety and immunity.

Then it happens, and someone we know and love becomes addicted, or we find ourselves struggling with addiction.  Or maybe we know nothing about it until our loved one dies of an overdose.  We have a growing addiction problem in this country, a problem that is not simply an inner-city problem.  It’s happening in rural areas, small towns, and suburbia.  It is impacting people of all ages and races.

opioids-infographic-640x495

What do we need to know about the opioid crisis?  What can we do to help address the challenges?  What is our responsibility as Christians?  These are some of the questions we will be considering in our next community forum, which will take place on Sunday, March 10, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Delta Presbyterian Church, 6100 W. Michigan Ave.

We will view a documentary, Stigmatic, that was filmed in Bay City, MI, and focuses on the opioid crisis.  We will have experts available to share their experiences and answer our questions.  Come and join us as we consider the opioid crisis together.