The Human Condition: Me Too

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The stories that make us up and influence who we become often reveal the equal opportunity to be wounded by the ways and words of others who have power or misuse their power. When I was young I observed many injustices to just about everyone. Stories of injustice, humiliation, bullying, and disrespect for another were commonplace: a young boy picked on by the larger boy, girls denied the opportunities so easily offered to boys, a church youth minister running away with another man’s wife, a sexual assault, three church splits over a variety of issues, a divorced woman ostracized by other women, a teen date rape, an unwanted pregnancy, sexual harassment in the workplace, eating disorders, messy integration of the school system, segregation alive and well in the church pews, relatives that didn’t return from Vietnam, gas rationing, Watergate, less pay than that of a male counterpart, females denied entrance into seminary, and verbal assaults on the soul if one got out of lockstep in the expectations of family or faith life as dictated by those who had the power. And that was before I turned 20!

For me, the study of the book of Luke was instrumental in noticing what Jesus said and did long before it became the WWJD question on jewelry, t-shirts and bumper stickers. In the book of Luke, Gentiles and Samaritans are discriminated against, Jesus challenges the religious leaders of his own culture and their misuse of power, and the hypocrisy of the day that harmed the widow, the poor, the woman, the broken man, the words of harm slandered against those too powerless to fight back. Jesus had critics who followed him throughout his ministry striving to quiet his words and challenge his human/divine authority to usurp the misused power they refused to give up or acknowledged their participation in such suffering outcomes.

Every generation will have to face the injustices that humanity does to one another. For all the good work and ways that have been accomplished there remains the need to press on, do more, and absolutely do better. The news is full recently of the stories of women harmed by Hollywood moguls, the inappropriate relations of Presidents, the words and sick mindset of powerful men in the Southern Baptist lineage that limited and harmed the value of women, and the recent exposure to the sexual harm done to boys by priests in South America. There is a hypocrisy of both the secular and sacred places in our society. Our society in all areas of the sacred and secular spaces need to take a long look at this duplicity.

Jesus taught throughout the book of Luke the need to heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he lived and modeled in his own journey. (Luke 4:1) He made clear that much of our need to improve in our humanity rested in the authenticity to love one another. This type of living with one another requires a respect for others. To show disrespect to others is a form of dis-respecting God and your own self. In Luke 17:21, Jesus say’s, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Jesus also said we shall know another by their fruits (habits, character, ethics) they produce. (Mt.7:15-20) Self-examination and self-awareness would go a long way in examining our agendas, treatments, and dispositions toward our fellow human beings.

Today, I am in my late 50’s. The injustices of harm and the beautiful inspiration of those who offer compassion, empathy, and challenge the status quo and reform needs continues. There is in this messy life the opportunity to choose the fruit of the Spirit that can inform, transform, and reform us with resilience, tenacity, generosity, peacemaking, joy, hope, love, perseverance, positive use of power, self-control, and love. When I answered the pastoral care calling to become a minister in 1979, it did not come to fruition for another 27 years when I began the academic work of seminary. I was ordained in 2006. Since then, I have become board certified in chaplaincy, and completed both masters and doctorate in ministry. There is a righteous anger I still hold at the insulting loss of time to the call God and I knew was true in 1979. However, I am doing soul care to others in their woundedness. Author and priest Henri Nouwen offers us in his writings, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” Reader, this man has left behind books of great encouragement for living a spiritual life of wellness in a hurting world. His legacy of words has meant so much to me over the years. If you have not read his works, I encourage you to start with The Inner Voice of Love.

Nouwen coined a phrase years ago: ‘wounded healer’. To be a ‘wounded healer’ is to know how to sit with another in their pain and offer presence of silence, words of hope, and care for their spirit without the need to fix or explain the suffering away. A wounded healer is healed from their own woundedness and simply knows the way out through presence, prayer, perseverance, and power of self-respect to begin again. And, only one who has been wounded can model the way of forgiveness, hope, renewal, and face down injustices done to one’s mind-body-spirit. The Cross of Christ is modeled and offered for all of us! What greater love and sacrifice is there than to bleed out your own blood for the cause of another to live. Jesus did such a level of suffering love! There remain stories told and untold of parents who have done such for their own children, bands of brotherhood/sisterhood in war, advocates fighting for change in injustices, and the cost of discipleship in striving for Christ’s higher standard of wearing such a name as Christian.

I have often wondered in my appreciation and love of history, how others who have gone before weathered the injustices done to them in their timeline of living. The bible is full of injustice stories. Hagar, Tamar, Vashti/Esther, Joseph/Potiphar’s wife, King David/Bathsheba/Uriah, Daniel, Jesus, and the martyrs of the first century church.  In American history there is the struggles of Native American Indians, Revolutionary War, slavery, women’s right to vote, child labor, labor unions, Depression, poverty, and more wars. I held a newspaper in my hands everyday throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. In those twenty years the headlines spoke of drug cartels in South America, drug war growing in America, the infighting of Northern and Southern Ireland, Energy crisis, Vietnam, Three Mile Island, Watergate, Cambodia, Apollo 13, IRA bombs, The Challenger explosion, Sandra Day O’Conner, Royal wedding, Inflation issues, Olympic politics, ERA- equal rights amendment, and so on…
I did not know the name William (Bill) Self in 1979. But he did not get to be the President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979 because of his stance to include women as equal in their vocational callings into ministry as that of men. In 1997, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia and after a few years I readdressed this calling and Bill Self was my pastor. He wrote my endorsement letter to enter seminary. I met John Claypool in seminary. He was a professor and he became an important mentor to me. Henri Nouwen’s words around wounded healer’s and spiritual self-awareness were positive ingredients in our many conversations. We both had a story.

Both men were significant to my pastoral identity. Both men weathered difficult harms to their personhood and personal journey in this life too. Their story that shaped and influenced their own pastoral identity resulted from the harms and injustices done to them too. Both men forgave their adversaries that hindered them. I have forgiven mine in family and faith that honed my pastoral identity in their lack of support. And I hold with great gratitude those family and faith individuals that invested in supporting my journey into this ministerial calling. Both the just and the unjust sharpened me spiritually for the timeline of life I am living.

The scriptures remind us that it rains on the just and unjust. (Matt. 5:45) The reality is that everyone and every generation will face the injustices done to one’s mind-body-spirit. The spiritual tools needed to walk in such places that hold unholy moments requires the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5: 22-23), heed Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), practice an unceasing prayer life with God (Matt. 6: 9-13), remember God’s with us and for us (Psalms 139), and find solace in scriptures and other peoples stories that inspire you and challenge you to live well in your own.

Many poets and writers inspire me. These quotes are from a woman I admired for years in her story of advocacy, faith, survival, and wordsmith ways. Thank you, Maya Angelo, for so many well said words worth reflecting upon and relevant still today.

“You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’”

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” 

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 

“If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” 

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”

“Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.” 

“Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.” 

“Determine to live life with flair and laughter.”

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, however, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” 

“People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

 

 

Begin Each Day

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“When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”
Eleanor H. Porter (Author of Pollyanna, 1913)

 

When I was younger, 1970’s to be exact, I loved getting the newspaper into my hands with a cup of coffee. I sat on the end of a long sofa in the fancy sitting room area and enjoyed turning the pages to the life section. Sipping the delicious black roasted drink that was ‘’good to the last drop,” I would read the quote of the day, Ann Landers column, and human-interest stories. Starting each day in the optimism of a positive read from scripture and a quote of hope or wisdom to ponder from the newspaper was a way of youthful intentionality to combine faith and world matters from another’s story into some harmonious hope. I was a realistic pragmatic type who believed in solving problems in a preventive and realistic effort for the most positive outcome. I looked for the good in each situation or person. When I read Ann Landers column I would imagine what I would say to encourage or challenge the problem presented in the column. Then I would read Ann’s remarks for comparison and contrast to the insights offered.  There was no sense of judgmentalism in my analysis. Much of the overview I held about a dilemma offered in a story-line or Ann Landers column fell into a category of helping good people find a better way through. The old soul within me felt a constant need to learn about human behavior and give grace in the effort of seeking and learning the art of offering wise advice. What my family saw in me was this Pollyanna need to help others with a sunnier disposition than they valued.  But, I persevered and started each day with such pondering’s and search for purpose in the realistic dilemmas and events reported in a morning paper.

This first paragraph offers me much in the reflection of being true to one’s self. It also reminds me that I seemed to be an old soul type. I was drinking black coffee by the time I was nine years old. Not that coffee drinkers are old souls necessarily, but I don’t know many kids today who would begin their day with coffee at age nine. In the 1970’s I was a teenager and young adult. To reminisce about the routine of this first paragraph was to begin my day first at five in the morning for a three-mile run. Take a shower, dress for school, get my morning coffee and reading scripture and the newspaper. That was the rhythm I used to center my day.

The author, Eleanor Porter, who wrote Pollyanna did not see her main character Pollyanna as a naïve child but rather as the type of person who directed her optimism to some of the qualities of an old soul who needed to address and absorbed the negative, critical, or difficult emotions of the adults that inhabited her life with a dose of pragmatic reality. I feel Pollyanna was an old soul. Old soul types tend to gravitate to those older in years, tend to be less materialistic, like to be in relationships that have depth, avoid emotional nonsense of others who feed on crisis and need for attention. Old soul types live harmoniously within themselves and less satisfied with people and systems that misuse power and are ego driven in manipulating the lives of another. Old souls need to be free to be themselves without judgment, criticism, and limitations put on them. According to the research on old soul types, they are approximately 11% of the population. They are not the mover and shaker types that enjoy the latest and greatest trends or technology. They are an anomaly to most who encounter them and thus most find them an oddity. This oddity factor is the uncomfortable awareness that old souls ‘see’ them.  Some people are uncomfortable with being ‘seen’ or ‘known’.  Pollyanna looked past the curmudgeon, prickles of distant others, cliques and clans that exclude. She simply saw past the masks and pushed to belong and help them to belong.

The beauty of these old soul types offer wisdom and are nonjudgmental of others. They simply want to help others accept and see themselves as they impact not only those they encounter, but most of all themselves. It saddens old soul types to be misunderstood in this realm. Most of the time they simply want to enjoy and be enjoyed in the company of another without the pressure of performing or entertaining another. Simply be.

Today, I remain optimistic within the value of learning from life experiences that are both negative or positive. There is a balance to be appreciated for what both offer. The aging Pollyanna that I am, rests in the hope that an old soul with a youthful gratitude will always appreciate what life must teach us all.

Dr. Martin E. Seligman studied optimistic people (Pollyanna types) and finds they take adversity as temporary outcomes, they persevered in difficult times, and are more proactive and persistent or tenacious in times of trouble. They are the sort that will never give up hope.

Today, I begin each day with a cup of coffee, a prayer journal, scripture and kindle for reading. It is over forty years since those days of beginning each day as a teen with such a routine. The opinions and sentiments of many voices have studied Pollyanna, pragmatism and old soul types. This voice simply chooses to appreciate the continuity of beginning each day with the structure and disposition that is timeless from scripture. Face each day with steady surety, acceptance of things one cannot change, live true to God, self, and care toward others rests in 2Tim. 1: 7. “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and self-control.”

The essence of this is verse challenges me to be real about the authenticity of real love versus manipulated and withholding love, the integrity of utilizing power that is genuine in respectful mutual rapport versus misuse of power and the desire to control others, and finally in self-control to look to the personal authority of productivity and owning one’s own character cards versus authoritarian rule of being right and another person, group or ideology is all wrong.

When Pollyanna, loses the loss of her legs from an accident, the grief overwhelms her at first. The emotional intelligence of resilience rises in her when the people she has striven to boost with hardy hope and optimism give her the realty check that she must continue to follow her own mantra of hope. The story ends with her healing. Healing that came from looking for the good in every person, situation, and personal mirror. I pray we all can begin each day with the reality check that God loves us, empowers us, and implores us to produce positive lives worth living. Like Pollyanna, I am tenacious enough to begin each day in such a hope.

 

 

Decorating with Love

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Recently, we have had our fair share of mishaps with trees falling on our home. Within one year we have had three trees to crash into our house. Within this year timeframe the end of life ministry work I do and the insurance business my husband addresses has gone through major restructuring. Our family has added in this year timeframe two new grandsons and a set of beautiful twin girls. I have wrapped up a five-year journey of a doctoral studies in Christian Spirituality with a focus on grief and loss impacts. Finally, within this year we have enjoyed making memories with family and friends as we celebrate the calendar events around the year.

A Golden Rule of decorating for me is to live with what you love. Do life with those you love. Live the life you love and love the life you live. Find comfort in those who love you in return. That seems to be a good way to live a life that is decorated with love!

But, in the book of Luke Jesus challenges his disciples and listeners hearing his Sermon on the Plain to follow ethics of daily living with blessing and woe language. The Golden Rule of love extends to enemies, the challenging, the unfair, the unjust, and those who simply do not love me or you. What?!

When I decorate, I design with concepts around rhythm, flow, function, repetition elements, focal points, and symbolism. The chaos of destruction done by disasters, individuals, accidents, or circumstances cares little about ordering one’s life by such design concepts. Hurricane Irma certainly didn’t care about chaotic destruction and collateral damage. We, as people also contribute to costing chaotic outcomes into one another lives too. But, Jesus reminds us that God is still the Creator that takes chaos and makes something beautiful out such. It is the Joseph story (Genesis 50:15-21). It is our own human story.  The main element in God’s designing spiritual tool box is the design element of love. The reality of losses from intentional or unintentional may result in ostracism, division-ism, elitism, egotism, racism, sexism, materialism, poverty, denial, greed, want, naivete or ignorance will not limit a Holy God who can resurrect, rebuild, redesign, remodel, redirect, rejuvenate, restore, refurbish, and rise to something new with the use of love.

Jesus reminds us in his Sermon on the Plain that living a blessed life is not about an easy life. Living a life with love is about our own internal peace and contentment. It is about rooting for wholeness and wellness and belonging for everyone. His woe language is warning those who create chaos, loss, and harm to beware that there is an end game.

Singer Gary Allan reminds us in Every Storm lyrics that every storm runs out of rain. When the destruction is over we do best to keep on going and face the wind knowing that every storm does run out of rain.  Jesus points us to decorate our lives with the love of God. And whenever the storms of life hit, and they will, we can stand on the promises of a God who loves, creates, and makes all things new again. That said, I must go now and pick up a paint brush. God does create beauty out of chaotic lives and He invites us to co-create with Him in this loving beautification of living. In my imperfections I strive to live with the colors of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, perseverance, long-suffering, kindness, gentleness, meekness, peace, and generosity. And I hope both my home and my life reflects a life decorated with love and offer such beauty into the lives of others. “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.”  Mother Teresa

 

Fact Rather Than Fiction

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There is a humorous jabbing at my expense in our family. If a true story is made into a movie then the laughs begin regarding, “mom must go see that one.” That is fine with me! All my life I have been a collector of biographies and people’s stories. The one constant in all the labels I have on a resume is within the common denominator of seeking truth that informs, transforms, and challenges us all to rise up, press on, be real, get honest, and be wise because our stories have come together. The defining truth in the details of one’s story acts like iron sharpens iron as we encounter one another’s story. (Proverbs 27:17)

Reader, you know by now my love for history. In the details of a historical timeline I am keen on drilling into the motivations that drive the story in history. I seek answers, character traits, personality and goodness squeezed from bitter bites of living. What impacts one to choose within a tragedy the attributes of optimistic triumphs? Do we learn from life’s ease and celebrations as much as we do in the difficult and traumatic ones? Are the stories of struggle or ease; of equitable influence in the shaping of human beings? Can we be ethical and balanced in all circumstances?

One of my first true stories I ever read was the Diary of Anne Frank. A young girl hidden with her family by Miep Gies during WWII. This Jewish family’s story is woven into historical fact with the life of Christian compassion by Miep and her husband Jan Gies. There are many stories of this kind of heroism of hiding, resistance, and soldiers fighting for freedom over oppression. Good reads include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, Louis Zamperini, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, and Oskar Schindler to name a few true stories from this historical timeline. These stories are a challenge for the rest of us to be inspired to simply show up bravely for one another as human beings. There is something sacred in the witnessing, telling, and inspiring others with the truths within one’s personal narrative. To know another’s story is not for consumption of opining opinions, frivolous entertainment, or line the pockets of authors or film makers of the story.

At the heart of the purpose of gleaning truth from another’s story is to collect the truth about yourself.   Would I in my own freewill choices be brave enough to stand up for another being oppressed? Do I live a daily life of appreciation for the calmness of ordinary days? When chaotic events hit do I stay the course of being true to God, self, and others? In the midst of grief, disappointment, tragedy, loss, and lament will I sell out God, myself, and another?

Recently, I sat on the deck of a beautiful lake home. The waters were sparkling in the sunlight. We had music, food, friends, and laughter swirling through our days together. Routinely, as a hospice chaplain I see death often. As a human being I have my losses and death stories too. But, I sat in the beauty of that day and proclaimed the one true lesson that death and loss teaches me. I have come to this place in my life that I can separate fictional influences like denial, naïvetés, and the cost of false optimism in daily living. Instead, I can hold the truth of living in celebration and the truth in crisis with equal respect and equal appreciation for what the story holds for me. I no longer live for the calendar events worth celebrating and dread a loss or death of someone I loved or love still. I strive to live each day with the freedom that truth and fact finding offers me.

This truth allows me to keep perspective, live out the values and beliefs that influence my attitude and ethics, and be responsible for owning my own reactions and responses to any given event or saga.  The outcome is to rest in doing life with a balancing act of gratitude, advocacy and encouragement to others, and self-awareness for empathy sake for others and true to self. Whether I am enjoying a celebration with friends at a lake house or sitting with God in prayer over another in illness, crisis, or declining to death: I simply breathe. And remember the words Anne Frank reminded us to live by, “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Now, that is a fact!

 

 

Watch the Children Grow

Downton Abbey is an all-time favorite show of mine. When PBS did the special interview show with the actors there is a consensus of appreciation for the fans who ‘went bonkers’ for this show. I remain one of those fans. There are many lines in six season’s worth of this show that is memorable. One of those lines in the last season is when Cora tells her husband that she just wants to enjoy being around to watch the children grow.

This family of characters offer us a glimpse into a historical timeline of family dynamics and historical events. Following the angst of upstairs aristocratic society and downstairs support staff in positions no longer a part of the vocational norm in this historical timeline; I did marvel at the evolving inclusions to get to know one’s children, the letting go of children, and acceptance of imperfect siblings who made a way for each other in their hearts.

Mother Teresa is quoted on love of family, love of the hurting, love begins in the home, love is a paradox of hurt because of love and love until it hurts. Today, I am watching adult children take on the task of family life in the twenty first century and it is vastly different than the era of this PBS program. What does not change from generation to generation is the need for us to heed the main ingredient of love for another. Jesus said it was the one commandment I leave with you. (John 15:12)

What would the 21st century family dynamics look like if we actually practiced the art and spiritual wellness of loving one another in family life? What level of respect and rapport would change if we found ourselves serving one another in love rather than expecting to be served our way? Can ‘love’ change the hurt and harm done in generational patterns of family life? Isn’t love more than healthy boundaries, positivity of self-esteem building, and meeting basic needs? Isn’t love a part of sacrifice, nurture, and awareness? How do we define this four letter word of complexity?

It is my contemplation on the defining of love that had me hear those words jump off the dialogue of a beloved program I do love. How easy that word comes up in our daily language. I love you. I love dogs. I love ice cream. I love that color. I love that!  Does such love carry with it the love that Jesus commanded of us? Is it the same concept as Mother Teresa challenges us to consider in the doing of daily life with one another?

Another grandchild is about to join our family. Our son and daughter-in-law is about to welcome a son. He will be the sixth grand-one to join us. Without having met him, he is loved. There is mystery in love. This is something of God’s divine nature in welcoming new life into the world. There is hope in love. It will be fun to watch these grand-ones grow. But, what I will really enjoy watching is the children I birthed grow into an awareness of loving their own in every stage of doing life with their own deeper abiding love. For love is endless. Real love is unconditional even if the relationship requires some healthy conditions. I look forward to watching the children grow and learn the lessons love has to teach us all.

Being Free!

   dragonfly  Lately I have been reintroducing myself to historical writers on the Revolutionary war era. History is this snapshot in time that captures the colliding factors of people, places, and events driven by the need for change or struggles to not change. The impasses and determination to have a voice and the winner gets to tell the story that will go down as history. Whatever factors historians place on determining the definition of history and all its accounts in dry dates, dusty references about ideas or ideology, evolving cultural mores, or ways of living; the common denominator is around freedom. All struggles worth recounting is about the fight for freedom. Aristotle say’s that history is about the unchanging past. Within these many reads on the struggles around or during the Revolutionary War era there is one book I read titled ‘Independence Lost’ by historian Kathleen DuVal. This author sheds light on the Native American Indians and how these many different and differing tribes fared in the fray and within the fringes of this historical timeline. I was intrigued by this read because of the location of war efforts from the Gulf Coast and Panhandle of Florida and the influence of the Upper and Lower Creek nation from Alabama. My great-great grandmother was a Creek Indian from Alabama. I lived in the Panhandle of Florida for nearly thirty years. The academics of my day never told me much about the stories of women, Indians, Gulf Coastal people, or people of color during the Revolutionary War. But, this author offers us a reflection on the issue of truth. Most people pick a side in the fight in hopes for a gain or as an influence to the outcome. The gain and the influence rests in being free. In being free, Aristotle is correct about an unchanging past in history. Sift down the issues, lower the shouting polarizing voices, and drill down to the truth within the story and one will find the golden nugget is a ticket for being free. This is where change is always the catalyst that nothing ever remains the same except the struggle to be free and tell the story of that struggle from the lens of the storyteller. This storyteller believes the only fight worth fighting over is the need to be free. This website of blogs, poetry, and postings by this authorship will mostly rest from this premise of being free. I have remained in my clergy identity with a group of daring, determined and at times in history difficult Baptists because of this very identity in freedom. Scripture offers us in John 8:32 ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ To know truth and to be free requires some honest reflection and introspection of the story of you, of me, and of all of us as we encounter one another and expect to be free or offer freedom to another. Maya Angelo said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” This first blog is a promise to tell a story of love, self-awareness, spiritual direction, grace, forgiveness, hope, faith, and freedom. It is an invitation to simply sojourn with this woman and maybe somewhere in the history/her-story the Spirit of God’s grace can offer some truths about being free.