community, love, racism

Don’t Let Love Be Silent

August 13, 2017

Stand with me against racism.Let grace find you, and please, let it move you.

Tell me that you care more than a head-nod about people who live lives, not like yours. If you call yourself a Christian, tell me you get it – that the cross Jesus was crucified on, binds your faith and stands at the intersection of pain and people, justice and partiality, faith and fear. Tell me you understand systemic racism, broken educational systems, social and economic polarization is your responsibility to not remain silent. Tell me you’re listening; tell me you’re speaking up.

Tell me you’ll stop the apathy, and you’ll love louder than the roar of hatred right now.

Please. Stand with me against racism.

community, love, transformation

The Heart of Disunity is found in two words: Us and Them

February 15, 2017

Us and Them: the heart of disunity

In the squarish mile-and-a-half suburb of NYC where I grew up, right near the western approach to the George Washington Bridge, its proximity to the city afforded me glimpses into very ordinary lives of the children of “chosen” artists, writers, university professors, movie, television and Broadway actors, musicians, white collar workers and laborers drawn to its small footprint, culture and location. Everyone seemed to know each other. There was a strong sense of belonging, plenty of ethnic blends and flavors, and what felt like ten mamas who had their eyes on you at all times.

In my childish mind it was very much a “we” community. Mrs. Pilkington, the British crossing guard, ushered all of us from one curb to another with her accent, and we’d giggle and repeat her like we were all queens of England that came in a myriad of pigmentation, tones and ethnic backgrounds. Color, race, nor class never seemed to be a primary issue, but culture clearly was an assimilation process. I actually didn’t consider my hometown to be discriminatory, until I reflected on the discovery that my grandma was born in a house on Spring Street. “How could that be?”, I wondered with all the practicality of an eight-year-old who lacked judgement. My grandma was a white woman and Spring Street was the one street where only African Americans resided. I questioned, how did she manage to be born into the exclusive (excluded) neighborhood of Spring Street on the edge of our small town?

Many years later I look back without youthful naivety, and with deep sadness. We all learned together, played together in the neighborhood parks, swam together, shared pizzas together, laughed and cried together. But none of us questioned why “we” went one way and “they” went another to get home to Spring Street.

My lead pastor, Brian Bennett recently made a statement that triggered my memories of the unspoken segregation on Spring Street. “Jesus frees us to identify with others inclusively.

Deeper than class, culture, color, ethnicity, gender, religion, or political affiliation, the term “they” seems to be the fundamental problem to anything that masks to divide us. The heart of disunity lies in the polarizing pairs of these words: we/us and they/them. Playgrounds, sports fields, workplaces, nations, and yes, churches have become battlegrounds over the words “us” and “them” at humanity’s expense with devastating consequences.

Yet God chose us, not to be exclusive, but inclusive.

Look into the clashing cultures of the Jews and Gentiles in the book of Ephesians; is the church in Ephesus even separated by one degree from whom we are today, as we learn to live out our multicultural calling? Paul wrote to the six-year old church as a reminder that Jesus chose us (inclusive) before the foundation of the world, and we have obtained an inheritance. The law-abiding, Jews emerged from a legalistic background, and worshiped whom they thought was their exclusive God. They suddenly had to learn to shift to “us” and “we” alongside brothers and sisters in Christ who had recently walked away from occult activity, promiscuity, superstition and pagan worship. But if they hadn’t figured out a way to love one another and work together, the church in Ephesus couldn’t stand. Unity was only obtained through God’s enabling power and a shift in their minds from ‘they/them’ to ‘us/we– one church’.

And today, unity can and will again be obtained through God’s power, Christ’s peace and an important shift in our language and understanding of personal identity. We can actually be known by our love, not going separate ways, but opening up our neighborhoods, homes, and lives to learn, embrace and celebrate the differences in all of us, in Christ.

faith, hope, soul care, strength, trust, truth

Dear 20-someone

December 29, 2016

The creativity, fun and independence I pursued didn't conform to rules of religion. And then there was real God.

Dear 20-someone,

The recently silenced soundtrack of another 80s pop icon brought back realities and memories of my own 20s, prompting my letter to you. So many changes are going on in the larger world – and your own world too. I can’t speak how this right-now-crazy world will affect you with all its mixed-up changes, but I think I can speak to the life changes and confusion in your first quarter-life decade…the search for significance and purpose…hopes of making a difference…making your mark and the future that’s in front of you…surviving it all. I think too, that I can speak a little bit into the small world that’s right in front of you, that might matter a little too much than it should to you right now, the friends, the trends, the drama. Three whopping-fast decades ago, I’ve been there. And yeah, a lot has changed. But some of it remained the same.

Is every onramp to the twenties launched on a portion of luck, fierce independence and a small dose of angst…or was it just mine?

I entered college at seventeen, ran a fast pace through school and before my senior year, accepted an invitation to work in the field of my dreams and finish school at night. Before my twentieth birthday, I stepped into a pretty cool career not fully knowing how it all happened but whisked into the wonder of it all. The world of advertising handed a new rhythm of crazy-creative antics with people who thrived on fresh ideas and very big budgets, to this young designer who probably had more chutzpah than promise, but right-brained zaniness with left-brain practicality.

I audaciously adapted to working hard, and, at the end of our long days, playing harder. It was the decade of excess…music drove culture; drugs and sex drove music. Everything was at our fingertips or only a delivery guy away.

As I began searching for who I was, the beginnings of that quarter life decade brought a ton of fun as independence birthed new hopes and dreams, fueled on travel, relationships with the wrong people, relationships with the right people, champagne, frustration, loneliness, ways and means to numb it, preachy people, adventure, and frankly a lot of sin. I found myself in the middle of intense tension with heartache, on the edge of a future that I had never fathomed, and was convinced I didn’t want. Funny how you grasp at pleasure in the pressure, isn’t it?

But God…

I didn’t want Him. I knew what was best for me. God had rules in that book of His that I didn’t want anything to do with. The creativity, fun and independence I pursued didn’t conform to rules of religion. I knew about the God behind all the rules, the one I learned of in grade school religion classes, the one I was graded on. The one I put on the cross. The one who looked down on me with a painful-looking, accusatory scorn on his face, hanging from a crucifix against a two-story red velvet curtain as incense made me gag and sometimes throw up. The one who was stuck hanging forever in a cold, echo-y church that they wheeled dead bodies into in caskets and sang in Latin. That God was untouchable and mean…just like the hypocrites that followed him, and I didn’t want any association with them.

I bought into the lies when the world said there was no God. And if there was, I didn’t want him, her, whoever or whatever. I didn’t need God to mess up my life.

“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction… So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 and 20)

However, there was this subtle love that kept pursuing me in my own crazy mess and I didn’t quite understand it. He kept showing up. Annoyingly. In little, gentle ways. Until things got under my skin to the degree that I went out and got my own bible to actually read and to prove that it too, was hypocritical, outdated and biased.

But I couldn’t.

God continued to pursue me. In my fight for independence, I found freedom: Jesus, the real person. He wasn’t a statue who hung with scorn on His face, and He wasn’t something made up by a bunch of yahoos who continued a myth like Santa Claus. But instead I got to know the person Jesus, who, out of love, offered living, open arms to hold me.

Jesus is as real as my husband sitting next to me right now. He’s as real as the three children I have raised, and as the parents who raised me with my brothers and sister. He’s the friend who meets me for coffee every morning that I ask Him to, and He’s the gentleman who waits to be invited in. He’s not trying to hide. He’s just waiting to be noticed.

I thought I knew better. In acutality, I didn’t need God to mess up my life because I was able to manage that all on my own. Can you relate? On the crest of this new year, I challenge you to just explore Him. He’s pursuing you and simply waiting to be seen.

“Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-31)

The world offered so much to me in the first part of my twenties. What it delivered though, was heartbreak.

But God…
He extended grace I never knew about through Jesus, delivered my life from anguish and remorse, and replaced it with peace that I can’t describe. I truly don’t know how I would have made it through the past three decades without Him.

Sure 20-someone, I know the church is full of hypocrites, and you don’t need the institution. The church has made mistakes and we’ll continue to trip up and make mistakes. But instead of looking at our failures and missteps, will you take a chance and look to Christ, whom we follow? We still have decades ahead to learn and grow in holiness in this lifetime…through Him, through His love, together. And we have so much to learn from you.

Follow HIM, He’s waiting quietly for you. You have so much promise ahead. And there’s a lot of fun, creativity, and freedom in Jesus; more than I ever found without Him. Encounter Jesus, and don’t go it alone.

Much love,
An Old(er) Friend

 

hope

Our Weary World

December 11, 2016

the weary world rejoices

 

A colorless, heavy sky touched my face as I stepped from the warmth of the car, suddenly jarring me into a heightened awareness of time. This was not the typical attention to my clock calibrating the hours or minutes between this and the next color block that filled my daily calendar, but the acute recognition of the speed by which pages turn. The moisture of the bitter wind slapped my cheek, stinging with the reminder that the hot sun on our backs and the warm river on our ankles as we launched kayaks, was not yesterday, but suddenly a full season ago. Now the winter bleakness served as a reminder of the tired feet held captive to thick socks stuffed in boots; a metaphor to the season, this next chapter I just woke to.

Trudging from the darkened covered garage toward the sidewalk path, I found myself walking to a slower tempo than my norm, aligning my steps with a handful of others following the columns of lights, heading in the same direction. Who was there for support, and who was there for them? A pleasant warmth of light in the gray morning beckoned each towards our destination, double doors automatically opening to usher us in. For an instance, I felt I was somewhat of an inanimate object on the conveyor belt of life. I followed, entered where they did and turned where they turned, then shared my name with the receptionist. Imagining to be a disconnected photojournalist, not part of that tribe, I took a seat, watching the others, searching for signs in their expressions that might provide clues to understanding this particular season, as well as where they were in this journey. But I am not a photojournalist.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, I heard in one ear as the other responded to the call of my name.

I was weary. The passing year felt like a moving river I was required to cross with bare toes gripping onto each stepping stone. Every step needed intentionality and effort in determining the stability of the rock to place my foot and hold my balance. And not just me, but we, the community I move with and love and cry and celebrate alongside, we were, and are, weary.

Losses, twisting, with unexpected bends in the river. There’s been sickness, lament, lies, surprise endings, shootings, doubt, suffering, mourning…we’ve experienced a lot of messiness this year. Like the confused young husband questioning his new bride’s growing belly and the gentle virgin who embraced the assignment, together, endured a long, dangerous journey to bring forth a child at the most inopportune moment, in a holding place for domestic animals…we too are tired.

But for the thrill of hope.

I scan the waiting room at the tired faces. Does anyone in this place have a thrill of hope this Christmas? Is the beauty of the season, halls decked and lights twinkling, made even more magnificent when the weary world allows the heavens to break through its gray skies and biting winds to provide a firm footing on the rock, the fortress, the deliverer, my God, the rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and horn of my salvation, my stronghold? I am never alone. Are they?

“Good morning”, I smile to the man with the shirt caught halfway up his back. “May I fix your sweater for you?” His smile grows large with gratitude as he explains an incision that is preventing the mobility to reach. “Thank you”, he replies and delightedly shares the goodness of Jesus. I too join in on the praises. Then another adds to our conversation. And for a few minutes this tribe, drawn by time and circumstance becomes a unified, fortified and strong body of Christ in the middle of a little messiness and a whole lot of hope.

Let the weary world find strength, wake and look up to the hope brought through that child laid down in the mess surrounding that manger, who chose to live, work and love in the midst of our fatigue, stink and grunge. It’s time we rejoice. He knows messy, and He’s here to redeem it.

 

 

community, strength, trust

I’m Not Like You, But I Need You

October 31, 2016
We're disconnected lives with little in common but the gossamer fiber of Jesus and a willingness to become a braided cord of community, and Jesus shows up

When the battle’s the hardest

…it’s love that fights the strongest. Don’t go it alone.

As I clicked the latch on the front door near the noon hour on Saturday, the quiet of the room echoed the holy hush of God’s presence. He dwelt with us. We went well over the time we committed to run back into the busyness of errands, celebrations, sports and activities of our weekends. But we barely noticed, as the viral threads of love stitched hearts and souls, and hemmed us in at the edges to keep each one from unraveling. I sat and wept over the sheer witness of transformed lives in the midst of battle. How does God do this?

I later asked my friend, “How do you duplicate this?

What I was asking myself was, how do you share this experience–Jesus in the midst in big ways–and hearts so wide and so pliable that it exposes triumph and tragedy…

and we all win?

How do we transfer what happens between my kitchen and living room as ten to sixteen weary warriors trudge in, choosing to re-create an Acts 2 community over hot coffee instead of the warmth of a comforter on a dark morning, because the great Comforter offers so much more in the context of community?

How do I convey to the church that it’s missing so much by making community elective when we choose to be so selective with our time and our choice of people outside of Sunday mornings? This is so much more than Connect Groups. It’s disconnected lives with little in common but the gossamer fiber of Jesus and a willingness to become a braided cord of community, who make room for Immanuel to step in and break down walls of independent, self-sustained cocoons…and make them stronger. The bravado of stepping out into community returns more than just discipleship numbers. It rewards the one who says I’m not like you, your age nor your color, I don’t understand you, but I understand why I’m here; I’m an adopted heir of Jesus, and that makes me your sister or your brother.

And the reward is an encounter with the living Christ.

All we do on Saturday mornings is come with transparency in our souls and a longing for more than what we walk in with. But we come to connect; then God shows up. Some carry cumbersome burdens, some hidden insecurities, some secret sins, some silly stories and all we seek is to know and be known. Yes God shows up in, through and around each other.

How do I convey to the church that it’s okay to let down your guard… that it’s okay to need each other? …That yes, it’s important to gather as a large Sunday body and collectively honor and worship the risen King, but you pour out your heart in a large, darkened room, with an empty seat positioned between one another…and that’s not Christ’s best for you? Your Sunday check-in and polite smile is not going to pick up your self-contained, self-maintained brokenness when life kicks your butt and no one’s there to take your hand but maybe a spouse or parent if you have one.

Sweet church, it’s okay to need each other.

community, equipping, love, trust

To my sisters: Lady lessons on the battlefield

August 28, 2016
She's not the competition but the contributor to your victory.

Peaking through the needles and scant branches of the pine, my heart pounded a little faster. The sting of the last hit to the neck accelerated my adrenaline enough to acknowledge I was determined to apprehend our flag, but I needed help. As one sister took offense, snapped the band on her sling and catapulted her ammo, the other took to defending me. I lunged ahead for the flag, grabbed it and ran. My sisters had me covered. It wasn’t a typical day of ministry for the three of us: a women’s ministry leader and two female pastors; yet our strategy as women should be.

Our leadership team gathered this weekend for its annual “Advance”, a time set apart for deacons, directors and pastoral team to reflect on the past year, celebrate God’s hand on it, and seek His direction and guidance for what’s ahead. Worship, prayer, praise, laughter, a few tears, coffee, and the words “I love you” weaved through our days and evenings. A bit of planned down-time did too, and that’s when I found myself bouncing on the back of a pickup truck riding across a field to our destination: a battlefield, for a few friendly games of wrist rocket paintball. Three men against three women: prepped and ready to fiercely protect, encourage, and cheer one another…as if our lives depended on it.

Because our lives should.

But women, we see each other as competition and we fight against each other instead of with each other. Why is that? Do we believe deep down there’s only one open chair at the table? We measure and mark, compare and contrast each other as if another woman is going to pull back the sling and snap us in the neck, instead of seeing her as a contributor and cheerleader towards our victories. Ephesians 2:6 says, God “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places…”

There’s room for every woman to sit at the table, so Jesus can share His riches with us together. Instead of jealousy and judgment, self-doubt and scarcity, we need to celebrate the successes of each other, defend one another and appreciate all the seats in the heavenly places. Yes, historically there’s been less room in business, and far fewer doors open or chairs available in ministry for women, but we have to link arms with each other and confidently get out there and play strategically, with love.

Pull up your seat my friends and please, join me at this great table.

 

And by the way? The women lost a few battles on the paintball field, but we ended up winning the war.