Monday, July 3, 2017

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

It was bound to happen.

I’ve tried to be so careful about walking with our dog since he’s become so sensitive to loud noises. Loud noises seem to paralyze him. He freezes where he is, refuses to move, begins shaking and wildly panting. Thunder, trash collection trucks, lawn mowers and blowers, and construction noises all seem to have the same impact. And that means that our walks are largely limited to evenings – after all of the noise except birds, bugs and other critters has gone away – and then he’s literally pulling me down the street, anxious to get out and enjoy his long-awaited walk.

So last night was bound to happen: We headed out for a brisk, long, winding walk through the neighborhood. As darkness fell on an otherwise quiet evening, the sound of fireworks in the distance sent our sweet dog into a panic. He froze, unwilling to budge, even to get out of the street.

The problem was that we were a few – four or five – blocks from home when he was spooked. We might as well have been four miles from home, given the fact that I can’t carry a spooked 65-pound dog. And, not having a cell phone with me (because I hadn’t anticipated fireworks on July 2!), I couldn’t call my husband to ask him to pick us up.

So there we were, mama and scared dog, quite literally stuck just minutes from our front door. And I hoped that someone else who had decided to take a late stroll might happen by.

Just a couple of minutes later, as I was still trying to comfort our dog, someone did walk by – a man I’ve seen almost every single day of the fourteen years that we’ve lived in the neighborhood, out on his daily walk. So I thought that surely he’d recognize me (or at least recognize our dog!) and I spoke to him, asking if he might happen to have a cell phone so that I could call my husband. He barked back (no pun intended), “What’s wrong with you?” I tried to explain quickly that my dog had been spooked by the fireworks and that we couldn’t make it home. And he quickened his pace as he walked by me, quipping, “Lady, you’ve got small problems.”

I can't argue with that; he was right. In the grand scheme of problems in the world, I had a small (first world) problem in my terrified 65-pound dog who refused to move. And in all fairness, it wasn't as if it were a life-threatening problem: Eventually, my husband would have wondered why we'd been gone so long and would have driven around to look for us.

But a couple was approaching from the opposite direction as the man rushed away. I called out to them. “Excuse me, by any chance would either of you have a cell phone? My dog got spooked…I need to call my husband.”

The first gentleman who passed me without stopping had now stopped and turned around in the street, watching to see if the other neighbors would come over to me. Was he stopping now because he might need to assist them, just in case my five-foot-two-inch self with my cowering, now slobbering dog, posed some danger? The couple stopped. They came over to me, introduced themselves, petted my frightened dog, shared a cell phone, offered to wait with me, and commented that they were glad that they had decided to take a late walk and were able to help. We hadn’t met before – but when I mentioned the block on which I lived, we talked about all of our common neighbors and friends. We talked, like neighbors meeting each other on the street. Today, I’m sending a thank-you note to my neighbors – and new friends – and I’m making a gift to their worshipping community in their honor.

No doubt, in this day and time, many of us would be leery of someone (yes, even a 5’2” non-athletic-looking me with a cowering dog) on the street asking for help. We might think twice, uncertain if it’s a trap or a scam.

I think that’s what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when, in his retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, he commented that the priest and the Levite who passed by the injured man may only have considered what would have become of them if they stopped to help, while the Samaritan asked a different question: What would become of the injured man if he didn’t stop to help?

Who is my neighbor? Yes, my neighbor is the hungry neighbor with whom I can share a meal.

Yes, my neighbor is the neighbor without shelter, with whom my worshipping community can share hospitality through Room in the Inn.

Yes, my neighbor is the child in the failing school, where I and others can help read, tutor and provide a strong, mature, and loving presence.

Yes, my neighbor is the person looking for employment who I can connect with those who have jobs.

Yes, my neighbor is the refugee with whom I may share the far-too-many items in our home that we no longer need and use ourselves.

But, yes, my neighbor may be the person who lives just blocks away, whose gender, faith tradition, or skin color is not the same. That’s my neighbor, too.

Today, I am grateful for good neighbors who wondered what would become of me if they didn't stop. And today, I pray that I may always be that good neighbor.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Week Musings..."They will know we are Christians by our love..."

We began this Holy Week by remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem - where the cheering crowds welcomed him, waving palm branches and strewing cloaks upon the road to honor the King. This King’s entry was humble - on a donkey, not like a warrior on a mighty steed. He had come in peace, in sharp contrast to the brewing furor of the religious authorities and the Roman Empire.

In no time, the tide would turn, and the adoring crowd would become an angry mob, demanding Christ’s crucifixion. And Jesus, who had come to serve, to heal, to give hope, to bring peace, would die a violent death on a cross in Jerusalem.

We are reminded of this stark contrast between the ways of Christ and the ways of the world in the events of the last several days. On Palm Sunday, in Alexandria and Tanta, Egypt, nearly four dozen Christians were killed in attacks in Coptic Churches, and over one hundred more were injured.  These attacks are the most recent in a six-month period during which more than seventy Christians have been killed in churches in Egypt while worshipping.

These attacks are a sobering start to Holy Week. For Christians who are privileged to worship largely without fear, we take for granted our ability to openly profess our faith. We take for granted our ability to raise our voices together in song and prayer in our churches.

But for those whose profession of the Christian faith is not without consequence - including the Christians in Egypt - the attacks become just another reminder that the decision to follow Jesus isn’t promised to be a safe one. The cost of discipleship is great. Jesus told his disciples, “’If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’” (Matthew 16:24-25)  Jesus’ words can be hard words for us to hear - particularly for us in the Western world, where our relative freedom to express our faith may too often have lulled us into a false sense of both comfort and complacency - and silenced us in the face of injustice and oppression for which our voices should have been raised.

This Holy Week will bring our Lenten journey with a Jesus who was neither comfortable nor complacent to its close. And as we prepare our hearts for a joyful celebration of Easter, my prayer is that we do so remembering that, perhaps more than ever, our strong witness to our faith is needed in the world. The world needs to see in us the tremendous love that Christ has shown, in our actions, and in our standing in solidarity with those who suffer for our faith.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

In Christ,


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"Checking the box..."

Image result for checking the race box

When I was in high school, certainly not understanding the consequences of my actions, I "checked the box," identifying myself as black (The “label” wasn’t African American then…) when I took the PSAT (the preliminary SAT and qualifying test for the National Merit scholarship program).

I did well on the test, well enough, in fact, that my teachers expected that I would be entered into the National Merit Scholarship competition.  But instead I received a letter advising me that I had been entered into the National Achievement Program competition.  What is that, one might ask?  Well, that would be the National Merit Program recognition program solely for students of color.  

Some folks might call the National Achievement Program affirmation action at work, leveling the playing field for disadvantaged students.  But the "action" didn't feel very "affirmative" to me. With that one checked box, at age 14, I had a new definition of what it meant to be black in America: Separate, and clearly not equal.     

Soon thereafter, I read an essay by a black freshman at an Ivy League college, advising fellow black students not to “check the box.”  She, too, had made the mistake of checking the box when she had taken the SAT, and she had also had been entered into the National Achievement Scholarship Program, even though she had outperformed a white classmate who had been named a National Merit Scholarship winner.

From that experience, I learned what has been a valuable-for-me lesson: Never, never, never “check the box.”

When I took the SAT the following year, I didn't check the box. And as fate would allow, I got a second chance; my unwitting mistake from the PSAT didn't follow me.  This time around, I was entered into the National Merit Scholarship competition; later, I would be recognized as a National Merit Scholarship winner.  At least for that one moment, my worth had been determined not by the color of my skin, but by objective performance on a test.

I temporarily felt encouraged.

And so, as I began the college application process, I didn't check the box.  And as objectively as such things happen, with transcript, resume and National Merit ranking preceding me, I was invited in for scholarship interviews at all of the colleges to which I applied.

Of course, when I arrived for visits at these prospective colleges, it quickly became apparent to me that since I hadn't checked the box, and there hadn’t been any “dead giveaways” to the color of my skin, everyone assumed that I wasn't black - that is, until they saw me.  And I learned valuable-for-me lesson number two: Even the most loving and well-intentioned people who aren't black often carry around far too many stereotypes about people who are black that simply aren't true.

Case-in-point: When I applied to law school, I didn't check the box.  Without being the wiser, the law school chose to admit me solely on the objective basis of undergraduate grade point average (GPA) and law school admissions test (LSAT) scores.  I didn't realize at the time that the law school was still operating under a desegregation mandate; there was a mandatory quota for African American students for each year’s entering class.  So when I showed up, without having checked the box, I messed everything up.  In the law school's effort to increase retention among black students, we were automatically identified for additional course work in research and writing to improve our chances of success.  Everyone had been accounted for, except for me, and all of the names appeared on a list on the message board, with the date and time for the first of the mandatory sessions.  Since I hadn't checked the box, I wasn't on the list; but once the heads were counted, the folks in the law school admissions office who cared about the numbers realized that the numbers were off by one.

So, by the end of the first week, my name was added to the list, and the professor who was responsible for the study program hunted me down to inform me that my attendance was required at the next day’s mandatory study session. When I asked (nicely!) how I had come to be invited to this special study session, the professor muttered something about the law school's efforts to retain high-quality minority students.  Call me naïve, but what law school just assumes that all black students – regardless of their academic background or LSAT scores – are somehow in need of additional “help” in order to succeed? Clearly, the law school did not assume before identifying me as a black student that I needed additional coursework to help ensure my success. 

And so, I said no, for the same reasons that I hadn’t checked the box in the first place: I’d either make it – or I wouldn’t – on equal footing with other students. It may not have been the politically-correct course of action (Considering the number of phone calls that I received, I can only guess that no one in the law school's administration was happy with my decision.), but it was the only action that I could justify.

I don’t believe in “checking the box.” All of us should be greater than the sum of color labels that might be attributed to us. In my humble opinion, checking the box is a requirement that should be abolished in all academic admissions processes. There certainly must be better ways to ensure diversity and identify students who may need additional support in order to succeed. It is time for us to move toward judging one another by the content of our character – and not by the color of our skin.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Help Wanted: Be the Light. Share the Light

A Christmas Eve from my childhood really stands out in my memory: I was maybe nine or ten years old when a mother of three young boys – the oldest of whom was about my age – was killed on Christmas Eve morning in my home town. She had stopped by a dry cleaner to pick up some cleaning, and as she was about to get in her own car to leave, the driver of another car lost control of her vehicle, and the mother was struck by the oncoming car as it plowed into the parking lot. Her three young sons were all in the car as this tragedy unfolded. The entire community was stunned by this family’s loss: Television shows were interrupted for a broadcast of the news, and even the news anchor was wiping away tears as he shared the story. We learned quickly that the family lived not far from us and worshipped at the Methodist church that was just a couple of blocks from our home.

For the next several days, I could think of little more than those young boys. Like Charlie Brown, in A Charlie Brown Christmas, I, too, was searching for the true meaning of Christmas at that point in my  life; I waited eagerly for the show to air each year, and watched it attentively, but even Linus’ impassioned speech still hadn’t helped me comprehend its meaning. And envisioning the sorrow in that nearby household left me at even more of a loss.

I finally asked my mother if I could take my allowance and buy the boys some cookies, just something to take to them to say that I was sorry for their loss, that lots of other kids were grieving with them, that even in the midst of all of the emptiness that they were experiencing, they were all still loved. My mother suggested that since we didn’t know the family, perhaps the best thing that we could do was pray; she felt certain that people who knew them had taken them more than they could use. I remember reading Luke’s account of the Christmas narrative before falling asleep, and offering prayers that the Christ Child would bring the best gift of all – healing – to the broken hearts of a grieving father and sons who were certainly expecting Christmas to be something very, very much different. My prayers, though, still didn’t feel like “enough.”

I’ve thought about those three young boys every year at Christmas. For them, and for others for whom Christmas may be a reminder of loss, it is especially important that the light of Christ be ever burning in our lives. Sharing that light of God’s promise of hope and love in a world in which there is far too much darkness is the best gift that we can offer to those who cannot see the light. Slowing down in the midst of the busyness of our lives to offer a smile, a hug, a phone call, a visit, a hand to hold, a word of encouragement, or time to share a prayer together – helps to remind us all of the One who came to dwell among us and bring healing and peace, and keeps the gift of the Light of Christ burning. 

Please look for every possible opportunity to share the light; and pass on the light that is shared with you. God is counting on us all.

Said the king to the people everywhere,
“Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people everywhere!
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night,
He will bring us goodness and light!
He will bring us goodness and light!”
From “Do you hear what I hear?” (lyrics by Noël Regney)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Labor Day 2016, members of St. George’s, together with members of Germantown United Methodist, Germantown Presbyterian, New Bethel Baptist and Kingsway Christian Churches, gathered to prepare to go out on our third Labor of Love experience. As now has become our custom on those days, we greeted one another, and met neighbors that we’d not met before, and then we sat together for a time of reflection and prayer before our work in God’s world began.

It had been quite the summer:  From a massive earthquake in Italy, to devastating flooding in Louisiana, to an unprecedented killing in Orlando, to a lone Dallas gunman’s heartbreaking response to police shootings of several African American men in other cities around the country, the summer had been one to remember, but for all of the wrong reasons.

But even amid the sadness, rays of hope shone. Relief teams from throughout the world responded to Italy, to help locate survivors and provide aid. People who called themselves the “Cajun Navy” responded to neighbors in Louisiana, rescuing the stranded, preparing meals, providing shelter, and caring for one another as the reality of the number of people who were without homes settled in. People throughout the country responded to the Dallas mayor’s call for prayer for their city, and in communities like Wichita, police and civilians came together to begin to forge new relationships and break down barriers that had existed for far too long between them.

And so, on Labor Day, a couple of hundred Christians in Germantown came together, too, to show God’s light and love in a weary and tired Memphis community that needed to see that love. And we did it - neighbors coming together with other neighbors - with smiles and laughter, and grateful hearts. We delivered lots of meals, cleaned some yards, created 1,000 care packages for those among us who are displaced, and packed 10,000 meals for MidSouth Food Bank, through the MemphisFeeds Initiative. Coming together, we were able to accomplish more than either of our churches would have been able to accomplish alone.

Going forth into the world to serve God is what we are called to do. We are reminded of that pledge in our Baptismal Covenant, and we are literally sent forth each week when we leave the Lord’s Table.

But this year, our shared time of service seemed to take on new meaning, as we all searched for ways to make a difference when the needs were so great and the task before us almost seemed insurmountable. And we discovered yet again that while any one person’s hands are capable of doing mighty work for God, when we come together and work together, we accomplish so much more.

And so it is that we who are people of God are called to come together and work together, so that all of God’s people may know justice and peace. We must renew our commitment to serve God and God's people, and to break down the walls that separate us and work together for the good of all.

By now, we know that the work of breaking down barriers isn’t work that someone else can do for us. It is the work of the people, all of God’s people. The need could not be greater. The time could not be more imminent.

And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ here at St. George’s, we pledge to renew our commitment to make the world around us a better place by shining the light of Christ’s love, as it radiates from us, into the darkness. That’s the best response that we can possibly make to the world. And by shining God's light into the world, we continue to show just how relevant, and just how important, the Church continues to be. We can’t stop now. We can’t afford to be disheartened. We can’t love too much. God is counting on us all. And when we continue to shine the light of God from our little corner, and walk hand in hand with our neighbors, we will make a difference, one life at a time. 

In Christ,


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Your kingdom come...the words of Luke 11

"Your kingdom come" is not a passive prayer. Prayer changes us, and we in turn, change the world - and help bring about God's Kingdom. We invite you to hear this sermon on prayer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Yet another mass killing: Can only our faith communities save us from ourselves? On loving more, and hating less...

I visited Auschwitz as a seventeen-year-old college freshman. To say that the experience was a powerful one for me would be a gross understatement. Seeing what remains of a camp in which over one million people were killed was gut-wrenching. It was impossible for my young mind to comprehend that any human beings could harbor such hatred and commit such acts of cruel violence against any other human beings. I could only imagine the suffering of those who were held in a place where the best conditions were not compatible with human life. It seemed that the smell of burning flesh still emanated from the crematorium.

Visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, just two days ago brought all of the painful memories flooding back. The names Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka – the six Nazi extermination camps in Poland – have become synonymous with massive death and suffering. I continue to wonder how any group of people could have justified the calculated killing of others made in the same image and likeness of God with seemingly no sense of concern or remorse for the taking of human lives.

As a seventeen-year-old, I really hadn’t connected the atrocities of the Holocaust with other horrid examples of “man’s inhumanity towards man”: the enslavement of Hebrews by the Egyptians; the enslavement of many during the Roman Empire; the participation in the African slave trade by Great Britain, a number of European countries, and ultimately, the United States; the killing of an estimated 10 million Congolese during the exploitative reign of Belgium’s King Leopold; and the genocide in Rwanda. Today, I look at all of these events along our historical continuum and surmise that our disregard for the value of other human life is astonishing.

And it seems that history repeats itself over and over again.

In our country today, it's not the names of death camps, but rather the names of communities like Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Charleston, San Bernadino, and now, Orlando that have become linked with acts of violence and senseless loss of life. (A sad compilation of mass shootings in this country since 1982 can be found at

I suppose that if one sees another human being as less than human, it becomes much easier to make a decision to take another life.

I’ve said before that we can legislate lots of things, but we can’t legislate hearts. I truly believe today that what we need our government (executive, legislative or judicial branch) can't give us. What we need today can only be given by our faith communities being at work in the world, as an example of a better way of living, and encouraging us all to love more and hate less. If our faith communities aren’t opening their doors to invite in those who are lost, and if we who are inside aren’t stepping out, going about and showing love to those who need us, then it seems that our communities of faith serve no purpose at all. We need to make our presence felt in schools and offer children both help and hope. We need to provide food and shelter to the poor. We need to bring all of our resources to bear to help connect people to work, and to accessible care for physical and mental illness. But more than anything, we need to erase the lines that divide us into races, classes, ethnicities, “groups” and abilities, so that we all may look at one another as children made in the image and likeness of our creator God. We can’t leave to government the work that has truly been given to us who are part of faith communities to do.

It’s been quite some time since the song, “Wake up, Everybody,” (recorded by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, lyrics by John Whitehead, Gene McFadden and Victor Carstarphen) was a popular hit, but its message still rings true: It’s time for all of  our communities of faith to wake up, and get to work.

Wake up, everybody,
No more sleepin' in bed.
No more backward thinkin',
Time for thinkin' ahead.

The world has changed
So very much
From what it used to be
There is so much hatred
War and poverty.

The world won't get no better
If we just let it be.
The world won't get no better.
We gotta change it, yeah,
Just you and me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The house isn't decorated, the cards aren't mailed: Doing what really matters this Christmas...

The year that our older daughter was born, we joined neighbors for a Christmas celebration. Their home was so beautifully decorated, and I had serious Christmas-décor envy. Not a nook, not a cranny of their home was untouched by my friend’s very creative and talented hand.
A couple of years later, as we were preparing to have friends over for an Advent evening dinner, I asked my friend for her help in getting our house ready. I hauled out the bins of items that I had acquired through the years, and she brought a few more lovely items to add. In one evening, she had helped me transform our house into a showplace, from the Christmas trees, to the stairwell, to the mantle, to the chandeliers, to lovely centerpieces for the tables. And she had done it with such great ease, patiently guiding me through all of the steps that I needed to make it all happen on my own.
Faithfully, I recreated her beautiful work for a number of years after, always giving her the credit for helping me put it all together. But somewhere along the way, the hours that it took me to do it all seemed to escape. There were Birthday Parties for Baby Jesus at our house, and with the kids at Emmanuel Center - time spent trying to teach children the true meaning of the season. There were gifts to wrap for children at Emmanuel Center, who otherwise might not have gifts at Christmas, and meals-on-wheels to deliver to seniors. And, in more recent years, there were homebound parishioners to visit, and hands to hold.
Our house isn’t decorated. The cards haven’t been mailed. And the shopping? Well, no, that hasn’t been finished yet, either.
A piece of me wonders if I’ve let our daughters down. As they arrive home from college, it won’t be to a Southern Living decorated home or an extraordinarily decadent dessert.
But I hope, as they mature, their own Christmas to-do list will better mirror the one above, upon which I recently stumbled, than the one to which I aspired years ago. I hope that hours that might be filled with buying presents will instead be hours during which they will be present with those who need them. I hope that the attention that might otherwise be given to hanging decorations and lights will instead be attention given to being a light in lives that are filled with darkness. I do believe that, in the midst of very busy lives and too-often misplaced priorities, this modified to-do list is one which will serve us all better in these days to come.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

For this one moment, we can choose to love....

The pictures that I hoped I would see from Charleston, South Carolina last Sunday appeared – just as I hoped I would see them.

Emanuel AME Church was packed with worshippers. Men and women, black and white, these children of God were all singing and praying together.

For one day, one moment in time, God’s people were united in worship and prayer, and it was a beautiful sight.

My heart wishes that it hadn’t taken the loss of nine lives, the murders of nine innocent people, to make that moment in time happen.

The group had gathered for Bible Study, when a young stranger came among them. The pastor and church members welcomed him, and he apparently sat quietly in their midst for an hour, as they prayed and studied the Scriptures.

And then the young stranger opened fire, taking their lives.

We all want to believe that this kind of violence shouldn’t happen anywhere, but especially not in God’s house. We all want to believe that God’s house is, of all places, a place of peace and love, not hatred and violence. We all want to believe that a young man like the man accused of these murders could not, in such a short life, have learned such hatred.

Our collective hope has been shattered.

Yet what this young man may have intended for evil has created for God’s people everywhere a singular opportunity to choose to bring about great good.

Jesus tells us, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” We are to love one another just as Jesus loved the man born blind and the lame man lying in despair, the leper and the demoniac, outcast from their communities, the hated tax collector and the Samaritan woman at the well. To love like Jesus loves means setting aside fears and misgivings about those who are different than we are – and to see the handprint of the Maker on all of God’s beloved children.

For this one moment in time, we can choose to love as Jesus loves. And when we do, we can expect great things to happen: Hatred cannot thrive when it is choked out by that much love.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Some thoughts on Ferguson....and the fallacy of an absent God....

I have been silent throughout the Ferguson ordeal.

Truthfully, as I have been trying to process it all, I could come up with no words to express all of the feelings that I had: tremendous sadness for the loss of a young Black man who should have had much potential, uncertainty about so many never-to-be-answered questions, lingering doubts about whether justice could ever have been served, and great disappointment and heartbreak that, in the aftermath, a community had been left in ashes and devastation, with livelihoods threatened.

Two things drew me from my voicelessness.

The first was hearing someone (well, not just any someone, but a scholar of scriptures…) comment that God is frequently absent and that the Bible was filled with examples of God’s absence.

The second was seeing two extraordinarily bright and talented young male cousins on Thanksgiving Day – two amazing young Black boys who need to have amazing futures in this world.

Had the man who spoke of God’s absence not been a scholar of the scriptures, I might not have given his comment much thought. But he is, and his comment left me to do some honest reflection. I wondered just how many other people truly have come to believe, in the face of inexplicable heartbreak and disappointment, that God must be absent, uncaring and uninvolved in our struggles.

Surely Moses’ people must have wondered if God were absent as they spent 400 years laboring under Pharaoh’s oppression and violence – and while Egypt thrived as a result of their labor. Yet, God heard their cries, and raised up Moses to deliver them from their bondage. God was not absent.

Surely Hagar must have thought that God was absent when she and her son, Ishmael, were abandoned in the desert to die after they were no longer of any use to Abraham, Sarah and their young son, Isaac. Yet, God heard her cries, and renewed to her the promise that a great nation would be made of her son. God was not absent.

Surely the people called Israel must have thought that God was absent when long after the prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah, they labored under the oppression and violence of a Roman Empire that thrived in large part because of their suffering. Yet, God heard their cries, and sent God’s own Son, in flesh and blood, to live among them and to give his life for them. God was not absent.

And I have no reason to believe that God is absent now… not in Ferguson, Missouri, not in Memphis, Tennessee, not from black or white, oppressor or oppressed, poor or rich, tattooed or bow-tied, well-heeled or worn-down.

To be certain, God’s justice may not look like “our” version of justice; it may not come in “our” time, or be delivered as we would have it delivered. It may feel unsatisfactory to us that God loves all of God’s people unconditionally, when in our hearts we may crave retribution. It may feel unsettling to us to think that, to God, no human life is less valuable than any other human life.

But the God who implores us to love one another as we are loved is not absent.

God is not absent, when the cries of business owners in Ferguson are heard by compassionate residents who stand shoulder-to-shoulder to protect those businesses from those who would wreak havoc and destruction.

God is not absent, when the cries of a Ferguson woman who poured all that she had into a small bakery that was severely damaged in the looting are heard by generous people from across the country who give hundreds of thousands of dollars to help her rebuild.

God is not absent, when the cries of the manager of Ferguson’s only library are heard by supporters who generously offer what they can to help, so that the library may continue to be a place for learning, for community meetings and for resources for children and adults.

And God will not be absent, in the days, weeks and months to come, as those who have never before engaged in honest dialogue sit down together to better understand one another’s perspectives – and to learn how to live in community with one another in a new way.

I look in the faces of our two young cousins with hope and expectation, that the world in which they grow up and live as adults will be an even greater reflection of God’s abiding presence.

They are counting on us – all of us who are made in the image and likeness of God – to remind the world that God is not absent.

 And I have to believe that we’re up to the task.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"I will not leave you orphaned..." Some reflections on John 14:18...

It’s been nearly 21 years since my husband and I welcomed our first-born daughter into our lives. Even today, the miracle of her birth still overcomes me. those first few days, I held her, staring at her for hours on end, amazed at God’s perfect creation, thankful beyond all words.

One of our first visitors at home was a good friend of ours. I was all too aware of the struggles that she and her husband were having as they tried to conceive – and pain that was only compounded by the sense of loss that she continued to feel after having lost her own mother as a very young child. She sat with me, holding our newborn daughter, cooing with her, smiling and taking it all in. Yet I could feel the full throes of her pain – even before she looked at me and said, “I’m really worried that I’ll never get to know this moment.” We both wept, and truly, words seemingly came out of nowhere as I responded to her, “I really believe that God’s plan is for you to be a mother. You have to believe it, too.”

Fast forward a few years, and my friend’s family had actually grown larger than ours: She and her husband adopted three absolutely beautiful daughters, the oldest being just days older than our younger daughter. We’ve shared a few good laughs about that over the years – and, yes, there have been tears, too, especially those that I hid from her when, before they began the process of adopting their youngest daughter, I read the poignant words that she had to share with a birth mother who might consider their home for her child: “We have so much love to give, and your child would help us make our family complete.” Having had two rather non-eventful pregnancies and given birth to two healthy babies, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what she was feeling.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you." This coming Sunday, many Christians will hear those words, and try to process what they mean for us in our daily walk with God. When I hear these words, it is my friend’s face that I see, from that day nearly 21 years ago when she wondered if she would ever know the joy of motherhood. It is her yearning, the love that she was so ready to give – the love that she has given so unconditionally for 17 years. God had not left her orphaned – not when her own mother had died when she was a very young child, nor when she had later found herself unable to conceive the children she so longed to love. Neither had God orphaned the beautiful daughters who have been entrusted to her mother-love and care, and who have grown into strong and beautiful young women with her nurture.

"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you…" Yes, he is coming to us…in the moments in which we least expect him, in the hours and days that seem the loneliest, in the nights that seem the longest, darkest and coldest, in the prayers that seem unanswered, in the pain that seems unbearable. No, he will not leave us orphaned.


Friday, May 16, 2014

On Motherhood, and Our Young Taking Flight…..

A few days ago, I had lunch with the mothers of some of our older daughter’s high school classmates.  It was a time to get together to talk about what we’d just experienced; within the past few weeks, we all have taken our daughters off to college.  For some of us, it’s the first child “out of the nest,” and for others, the nest is now empty.

The consensus from our lunch group was this:  No matter how ready our kids are for their independence, no matter how well-prepared we think we are for that day, no matter how excited we are for our teens to have a great college experience, the act of a mother leaving her child in a far-away (or not so far-away) place is gut-wrenching.

No one prepares you for this moment when you are holding your newborn in your arms.  Or when you’re reading your toddler the tenth bedtime story of the evening.  Or when you’re sitting up with your sick child all night.  Or when you’ve been at the soccer field, the pool or the volleyball court for hours on end, watching your child and her team.  Or when you’re struggling to be patient as you help your teen learn to drive.  You are there, right there with your child, keeping her safe.

In reality, no one can prepare you for this moment.  One mother shared that, as she and her husband began the drive home from the “drop off,” she told him that she felt that she’d just lost her job.  That nurturing job.  That wiping teary eyes and runny noses job.  That kissing boo-boos and doctoring skinned knees job.  That baking cookies and doing laundry job.  That listening and all-too-often having to bite your tongue job. That being right there to catch you when you fall job.

It’s a job that we inevitably have to lose, that is, if we’ve done it well.  After all, we’re here to help our children become confident, self-sufficient, capable, morally-responsible – and independent – adults.

But that doesn’t make the separation any easier.

I didn’t appreciate that fact when I left home for college – way back when.  I happily soared off for what would be an amazing adventure: I encountered inspiring professors who stirred my passion for learning, made lifelong friends, had my first experiences in community service, grew as a leader, and learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined.

It was all good – and the kind of experience that I wish for our daughter. 

But while I soared off without a care in the world, I know now that my mother was still at home being a mother – worrying about me being in a larger city, fretting about the dangers that I might encounter, wondering if I were eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and keeping up with my coursework. 

But all the while I was fiercely asserting my independence.  I recall now that as I prepared to drive home for my first fall break, I’d expected to leave around 10:00 that morning, and told my parents that I’d be home by 5:00 p.m.  The fellow student from my hometown who was riding home with me realized that he wouldn’t be finished with a test that he was taking until nearly noon, so we got a later-than-expected start.  I could have called my parents to let them know about the delay, but no doubt busy with my new life, I didn’t.

And when I pulled into the driveway just after 7:00 p.m., my mother’s tear-stained face in the kitchen window spoke volumes about motherhood: the worry, the fear, and the undying instinct to protect our young never go away.

And so, I’m hoping that our own fiercely independent daughter – who seems to be adjusting happily and well to college life – will forgive me for worrying, for fretting, for not being able to just kick that mother-job to the curb.  I’m hoping that she’ll know that I’m still there, cheering her on and watching her soar, albeit from a safe distance.

After all, she’s got beautifully-developing new wings to try out, and she needs to be able to soar and enjoy them.