1) A City Tour – Have you ever taken a tour of your city or town? It’s a transformative experience. We toured our city (Richmond, Virginia) this week. No pictures of the James River this time around or any of the actual “tourist sites”…[I did write about our gorgeous Capitol building visit here]. Just neighborhoods this time. What about you? Comment below about your city/town.
2) Best Organizing Tips – OK, full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Marie Kondo (link to my blog on decluttering and relationships). I think what she helps people downsize gets repurchased. So it is a constant cycle. However, I get the stress that clutter can bring to moms of small children. Our children understand that I will downsize until it starts getting painful, and then they can just hire an estate clearing company, for the rest one day.
When I come across an article that shows wisdom in dealing with the strain of stuff, it encourages and empowers. The Pioneer Woman has a list of 76 tips for organizing our households. Some of the tips have affiliate marketing attached which means buying stuff to store your stuff. Still, among the 76 tips, there are great helps for anyone. I love the ideas on beautifying and functionalizing the foyer/entryway of a home. Also, her tips on managing toys and their cleanup were great!
3) Rise and Fall of Mars Hill – I don’t usually recommend sad things unless it causes such a stir in me, it seems necessary to share. The church doesn’t belong to people. The church belongs to God. He established it, and He will care for it. If judgment is required, He will judge. However, some situations may need to be examined, not to judge, but to avoid going there. We are all vulnerable. It can happen to any of us as collections of people. Power and ego can soil anyone. None of us are immune.
Our small but growing church in Richmond, Virginia, loves God, loves His Word, and loves the world. Hopefully we love each other and our neighbors as well. We will want to do our part in keeping our church on track with God’s mission.
Mission drift can occur to any organization. Watch out for it. Put guardrails around what matters.
4) On Being Heard – Just before doing the city tour above, a documentary focused on our city was recommended to me. The local film company responsible for this Emmy-award-winning gem is Belltower Pictures.
“Heard”– PBS Documentary – “HEARD captures the inspiring stories of five people who grew up in ‘the projects’ (Richmond, Va.), surviving and thriving in spite of, and often because of, the challenges they’ve had to overcome. Now they’re giving back to their home communities, trying to make a better life for those who come behind.”
I watched this documentary after the city tour.
It was an amazing opportunity to listen to residents of Richmond’s subsidized housing who talk about what they loved and hated about their neighborhoods and how they were able to take those foundations to launch into positive futures. So glad I listened. You will be, too.
In a few days, it will be 5 years since this non-smoker received a lung cancer diagnosis (Stage One, fortunately). When the blog below came around on my Facebook memories this week, it reminded me of the profound condition of good health and how easily it is to take it as an entitlement. My lung cancer diagnosis was an incidental finding. It will be forever grateful to God for the blessing of that early find. The event reported below happened months after the unremarkable surgery and recovery from the lung cancer. I adapted this piece and repost it today as a reminder of the great grace we have for each day we live.
Over these last several months, breath and breathing have become something very precious to me. You can tell when you search my blog archives for either topic. We take breathing so for granted, even when we acknowledge that every breath’s a gift. That rhythmic rise and fall in our chest that strengthens and refreshes us. Breathing just happens.
Until it doesn’t.
There have only been two times as an adult that I couldn’t get my breath. The first was eight months ago (now 4 years & 8 months ago – you can read about it here.) The second time was less than 48 hours ago [now 4 years ago as I repost].
For the second time in my life, I was surprised, just before bedtime, by a rapid and terrifying development of shortness of breath and quickly got to the place that Dave had to call 911. He was still talking to the dispatcher when we heard the sirens.
So thankful for our local fire department and rescue squad.
We live in a quiet neighborhood, and most of the residents are older. The rescue squad shows up often here, and, of course, no one really wants to be the one on the receiving end of their excellent care. Every time it happens, a neighbor or two stand sentinel in the road watching and hoping for a good report. While the rescue squad was getting me stabilized and Dave was waiting in his car to follow to the hospital, he would tell me later of neighbors standing in the shadows. Not wanting to intrude but standing watch. It’s a comforting thing.
From the first hours in the emergency room through the next two days in the top floor ICU, I received excellent and thoughtful care at St. Mary’s Hospital. The crisis was averted, and the testing began again to determine the cause. The same testing that was done previously. The findings were not so much different as they were the first time it happened. Maybe they were taken more seriously with it happening twice. Anyway, I am now in the care of a cardiologist with some meds on board that will hopefully help me NOT to go through this experience again.
[Praising God, four years this month, that it hasn’t happened again.]
To go from thinking you’re going to die to feeling pretty much as well as ever, within hours, is a strange and wondrous experience. We will all die one day, so it doesn’t always end as it did for me these two times of not being able to get my breath. For this, today, I am so grateful to God for breath…and I am reminded it is His to give.
This morning, I give God His breath back in praise. So thankful for a husband who acted quickly for me when I couldn’t, for trained professionals and volunteers, for watchful neighbors, for kids who show up (physically and in prayer), for praying friends and family, for all the many employees at St. Mary’s (including my own youngest son) who were kind in their care …for all of this I’m grateful.
Most of all I am so very thankful for the God who gives us breath.
I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me; the terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “Please, LORD, save me!” How kind the LORD is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! The LORD protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again, for the LORD has been good to me.– Psalm 116:1-7, NLT
Would you worship with me praising God for His healing and for His helpers?
You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only
You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord
All the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, Lord*
1) Beyond the Guitar – Beauty to the Ears & Mind – We think of beauty more in what we experience visually, but there is a powerful connection between music and the mind. Beautiful music soothes the soul and lifts our hearts. Moves us. Often it is because of nostalgia attached to the music, but even without that emotional connection, music can bring our minds to a better place.
Nathan Mills, of Beyond the Guitar, has that way about his craft. Moving our hearts with the beauty of his arrangements and performance. I don’t know any of the pieces in his medley of 4 Underrated (but Beautiful) Video Game Themes, but something happens when I listen. Shoulders drop; breathing slows; wonder sets in. Beauty has its way with our ears and our minds.
2) Mental Health Awareness – May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme message for 2021 is “You Are Not Alone”. Our need for connection is bigger than ever, having gone through so much COVID isolation. Whether mental health issues are our own personal struggle or we are family, friends, caregivers of those who struggle, helps abound. We just must be aware and utilize them.
Suicide and death by drug overdose have increased during COVID. They are shocking for us and real losses, either for us or for friends. We can’t keep isolating ourselves from each other. Finding ways to help is imperative.
3) Antidote for Self-Deceit – Self-deceit (or self-deception) is “a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. Self-deception involves convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth) so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception”.
I’ve allowed myself to be deceived (either with the help of outside influences or from sheer will and desire, wanting something to be so, or not be so). It’s not pretty. One of my strongest memories was sitting in a circle of friends who essentially did an loving intervention with me. I was in a self-destructive (but non-abusive) relationship, and they had the courage to point me to the changes in my life and thinking. I will never forget it. The life I have now is much impacted by their willingness to go to that place with me. Forever grateful.
Regarding deceit, it is way too easy to get into our own heads and assess life with a self-tuned receiver. I wrote about this before (the practice of noticing). A somewhat dated video (with a still fresh message) speaks to this so well.
During the particular season of self-deception (described above), I got to the place that lying in my bed at night, when I would usually pray, it got impossible to pray. That was terrifying. It’s like all the desires and my rationalizations for them had crowded out any space for God. Especially for a holy God. Like I said, terrifying. No matter how loving God is, I couldn’t justify praying when my own desires trumped His for me.
As the video illuminates, as we get out of our own heads, and start seeing other people around us, we find the antidote. Caring more for others than ourselves, we can actually clear our heads some. Self-deception causes us to “circle the wagons” and keep others at a distance. As we determine to get close to people again, especially to genuinely listen and serve, our own deceit can be more readily understood/recognized. Of course, our neglected relationship with God will take its own time and action on our part. He is ready, when we are.
4) Showing Up…or Not – Showing up is a good thing. For all of us. Keeping commitments. Being present. Choosing to lean in. Listening.
So much is said about listening and its positive impact. To listen requires proximity.
On the East Coast, this week, we had a gas shortage (or a perceived gas shortage…not sure which is more accurate). Everyone was making decisions about filling their tanks and sorting out needful car trips vs. those that can be jettisoned for another time.
I was a part of a couple of meetings where some folks didn’t show up. Without a phone call, text, or email message. Was it the gas shortage? Or did it display something else? Honestly, I also wondered how often I’ve done this same thing myself.
We are in a culture right now when a RSVP yes can turn to no without a word. I’m showing my age…but does this matter?
Below you’ll find quotes from three different authors on this and what it can mean. The showing up…or not. After you read their observations, I’d love to hear what you have to say in the Comments.
“Standing someone up is a personal attack. You are saying that you have no respect at all for this person’s time, energy or feelings. This person set aside time from his or her day to hang out with YOU.
And maybe he or she didn’t feel like showing up. But no, this person had enough respect for you to feel as though he or she couldn’t bail on you. Then how did you repay the favor? You didn’t show up. With no warning.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that if this person cared about you enough to make and honor plans with you, odds are that he or she would probably be WORRIED about you when you don’t send a message. Because falling off the face of the Earth is a little alarming….You get the picture here.” – Candice Jalili
“There are commitments you are not going to keep no matter how hard you try, but even if you fail to keep them, you can still honor them. How do you do this?
“The difference between “keeping” and “honoring” is key: keeping a promise is about the letter of the promise, while honoring a promise is about the spirit. It is even possible to keep a promise while not honoring it. People will forgive an honored but un-kept promise, but it takes a real saint to let go of an un-honored promise—kept or not.
So what are the practical aspects of honoring a commitment? They are:
It’s uncomfortable to take responsibility (for a failed commitment), but discomfort is a lot easier to shoulder than disrespect or disappointment. Even if you failed to honor a commitment up until now, it is not too late: disrespect and disappointment can be rolled back or even erased in the face of genuine honor.” – Kenneth Vogt
[The two writers above have very different tones to their pieces. Both worthy of note. I especially appreciated Vogt’s distinction of honoring a commitment (whether you’re able to keep it or not). Honoring the person by communicating your inability to keep the commitment…as well as the honoring that goes on by making the effort to keep the commitment whether easy or not. We don’t really know what goes on for another who does the work of keeping a commitment or the one who just can’t. What we do know is what it is like for us to keep or not keep a commitment; to honor or dishonor a person in the commitment. So much more understanding and care come out of the smallest communications. Something to think about.]
Below Rachel Macy Stafford posted an image and (in the link) a Facebook story about sitting in a line for gas this week, and an elderly man, just ahead of her, deliberately nodding her way (as he chose not to completely fill his tank, doing what he could to “leave” some for her). No RSVP’ed commitment. No relationship. But a deeply kind gesture to her that she was seen. We all need that…that being seen.
It’s…“a deliberate decision to look out for the person behind (you)…It’s not about us. Even though it’s hard not to think only of our own needs, there is someone behind us…and someone behind that person…with their own set of struggles. If you can…will you look out for them? A wave will do, just so they know they are seen…it’s the kind of gesture that takes people farther than a full tank of gas.” – Rachel Macy Stafford
5) Unmasking – Get ready for another new culture shock thanks to the Coronavirus: unmasking!!! I am so excited myself.Photo Credit: Pexels, Gustavo Fring
Based on this week’s CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks or physically distance anymore (except in rare defined situations). This, of course, is still only a recommendation and each state must give direction at a local level. Our governor just announced that we will align with the CDC recommendations.
Now, no one is going to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t. If we have learned anything from COVID-19, it is to be wise in dealing with the viral world. Those not vaccinated will probably forego masks as well. The freedom feels intoxicating, honestly, but possibly fearful to some, even some who are fully vaccinated.
I hope we can leave fear behind us. COVID is still rampant in some parts of the world and that is tragic. As we in the US and other countries get past our own experiences with this virus, hopefully we can be a help to those still battling the disease.
The culture shock part is real. I will have my mask with me, and see what the signs say on the doors of each business, store, school, or community space.
Once upon a time, we didn’t have smartphones, or tablets, or Netflix.
Once upon a time, life slowed down to include exploring new towns, meeting new people, listening to stories nothing like our own.
“Once upon a time” can still be now. When we put aside our screens, and get ourselves out the door…be it our house, dorm room, or office…we can engage with real people.
If we don’t take social precautions, COVID will turn us into hermits. Even if we are out full-time, in work or school, we may still have tuned-down sensitivities to what’s going on around us.
Our situational and social awareness has about a 6-ft. circumference. Beyond that, we don’t notice. Also, isn’t it odd how masks seem to dull our hearing and sight? We don’t look into people’s faces or start up conversations with those around us, like we did once upon a time.
So…what measures can we take to tune in more intentionally?
Here’s one big one: commit to walking. Not just in our neighborhoods, although that’s a good place to start…but anywhere there are people.
When we leave our screens somewhere out of reach, our vision and our mind clear.
Now that I am back in stores and other buildings (post-vaccination), I’m trying to speak to people, ask questions when appropriate, and really listen to what they’re saying. I want them to know they are seen, heard, and they matter.
The walking part means I had to get up out of my comfy chair and go where people are. We can do so much online now, we don’t need to see faces. So unfortunate.
Walking requires intentionality. Engaging with people, the same.
We can calendar such things to get started. A walk in the neighborhood could include a friend…or a neighbor. If alone, look for neighbors in their yards. It’s ok to stop and talk a bit.
When calendaring your life, what kinds of interchanges that you might do online or on the phone can be changed to in-person, face-to-face? I know it takes more time…but the time would be well-spent.
Besides all the social benefits of walking and engaging with others, we get tremendous health and memory benefit as well (see links below).
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4:4-5, 8
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,and give no opportunity to the devil. – Ephesians 4:26-27
“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighborand hate your enemy.But I tell you, love your enemiesand pray for those whopersecute you,so that you may bechildren of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” – Matthew 5:43-45
Watch his very different, almost politically incorrect, 3-minute acceptance speech below. [Full transcript here.]
An excerpt follows:
“My mother taught me to refuse hate. She taught me to refuse blanket judgment. And in this time and with all of the internet and social media and algorithms and everything that wants us to think a certain way—the 24-hour news cycle—it is my hope that all of us will teach our kids—and not only to remember—just refuse hate. Don’t hate anybody.
I refuse to hate someone because they’re Mexican or because they are Black or white, or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they’re a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I would hope that we would refuse hate.
So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle, to refuse hate, to refuse blanket judgment and to help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one is for you, too. God bless you and thank you Academy, I appreciate it.” – Tyler Perry
As followers of Christ, we cannot join the throngs of people who hate. We may want to block or cancel the words or actions of others. Yet, we are confronted ourselves by the truth that we were all once the enemies of God…and He forgave us. Do we presume that our indignation is more righteous than His? Do we consider our being wronged as more needful of judgment than His own? God have mercy!
What is the response of the believer toward those we are tempted to feel hate?
Only love. Spoken and acted out in kindness and mercy.
Do we stomp and kick the dust at that calling and command? Do we hold tighter to our stones? Do we give lip service to “forgiving” but everything in our actions and attitudes tells a different story?
How thankful we can be to a God who is all-wise and all-loving! He understands us completely. He walked among us, in the sandals of the incarnate Christ. He experienced hatred and persecution, even to His last breath on this earth. Yet…He forgave, He loved, He administered the greatest kindness possible – His life for ours.
In His loving mercy, He has taught us how to live in this life.
We are to love. We are to forgive. We are to keep our own hearts from sinning against another. We are to remember that we and our neighbor (enemy or friend) are both made in the image of God. We are not to forget our own bent toward sin…the very sin that caused Jesus to take the cross upon Himself…for us. Not just for another.
God calls us to remember whose we are. He is at work in our hearts, in that of our neighbors (and enemies), and in the nations.
We can join Him…through revolutionary acts of kindness.
I’ve just recently discovered the writing of Lois Tverberg. She teaches the Scripture in context, meaning within the culture of the world in which it was written. We might think Jesus’ command to us to love our enemies is hard. Yet, if we recall our own struggle with sin and how neighbors and enemies are not so different from us, we can access the grace of God to love…and show kindness.
Instead of striving to be right…what if we strove to be kind – loving, serving, and praying for those our flesh cries out to hate? This is the way of Jesus.
Josh Wilson (with a team of other songwriters) gave us the song “Revolutionary” in October 2019, having no idea what 2020 or 2021 would hold. It was a prophetic call to the church to love…all.
“It seems natural, almost effortless, to focus on our differences with others rather than our similarities. Drawing attention to those differences keeps us glued to the news and social media because of the moral outrage we feel towards the “other.” I think there’s a better way though, and that’s the way of empathy and understanding, the way of kindness….No matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on, deep down I know that we are not as different as we are led to believe. There is peace to be made, there are names to be learned, meals to be had, chasms to be crossed, and it all starts with kindness.” – Josh Wilson
I’m turning the TV down
Drowning their voices out
‘Cause I believe that you and me
Can find some common ground
See maybe I’m not like you
But I’ll walk a mile in your shoes
If it means I might see
The world the way you do
Let’s take some time, open our eyes, look and listen
And we’re gonna find we’re more alike than we are different
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
“‘Revolutionary’ is all about kindness,” shares Josh Wilson. “I believe that kindness matters. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the negativity we see in the world and on the news, and this song is a reminder that we are called to more than that. We’re called to love as Christ has loved us. I am so encouraged by the acts of kindness I’ve seen recently, even amidst a worldwide pandemic, even in an election year. In many ways, our struggles are actually bringing us together. We’re learning that we all have a lot more in common than we thought, and it’s beautiful to see the ways people are serving each other. The lyrics are a prayer for God, through us, to start a revolution of kindness. Will you join us?” – Josh Wilson
Josh Wilson also wrote “Dream Small” which I covered here. He capturing how God has wrapped all commands into two – for our good and to the glory of our magnificent God:
“Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. – Romans 12:9-10
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.– 1 John 3:16
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”– John 13:34-35
Our world is so full of words…so many voices. Too many are divisive and blaming. Too many propose solutions that seem beyond our capability or capacity. Beyond our understanding even.
Especially in the issue of racial inequality, racial reconciliation, and racial healing. When we look at the proposals made by politicians and even some educators, we are stunned and bewildered.
What will it really take for things to get better? What actions can bridge the racial divide? The words blasting through our news outlets seem more hurtful than healing. We as the church are wrestling with what to say…what to do. I have found that so puzzling given how the Lord has told us how to live and how to love…but we seem challenged especially in this dark dilemma of our times.
He deals with the politicizing of the racial unrest in our country, and he calls us as Christians to love people…really love people. Wow! Why “Wow!”? Because we know what is the truth and yet we don’t do it. We talk about it, we react when others tell us what we should do, but…We already know what Jesus tells us to do…and He has shown us how by His own beautiful life.
Reverend Haney writes: “Genuine change only happens when we can change hearts, and only the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that. The community is begging for someone to step up and make things better.
What I hear the world really asking is this:
Dear Christian Church,
As I look at the racial pain all around and the way it is portrayed in the national media, it saddens me. The tone is so negative, and it is feeding into the darkness that is already out there in our sin-sick world. I don’t expect the world to have real solutions. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Dear Church, especially the Black Church, just as you answered the call in the Civil Rights Movement, you have a pivotal role to play. You have the Light. You know the only real Love. The world is lost without your voice. Without your direction. It is time to stand and lead. Now is the time to speak out.”
Then Reverend Haney further encouraged us: “…We are living in a broken world, and the racial issues only serve as a stark reminder of our need for a Savior, a healer, a reconciler.
There is a spiritual reason behind this racial rift. Church leaders you have the power to change things. Our Lord and Savior armed you with the spiritual weapons of God. Battle Satan’s lies the way Jesus did with the truth of the Scripture. All people have value because we are created by the same One True God. We all begin our journey at the foot of the cross and end our trip at the grave.”
We have a beautiful Savior who showed us how to really love each other. Not, as Senator Scott read from his devotional, “just pretend to love others”. We can state our beliefs about racial divides and racism. We can voice commitments as the church on where we stand. Words only (just talking about issues or doling out our opinions) do not take us to the cross…or to the grave.
Our Savior held nothing back. Maybe we don’t know what that means for us in specifics, given the problems we face as a nation, as a world today…but we know where to start.
We start with receiving the love Christ has given us, every one of us. We receive from His hands. Then we become His hands for one another. He loves…we love. He serves…we serve.
I don’t have sweeping answers but, after today, I am less confused… and less distracted by all the negative talk and virtue signaling. We don’t have to be led to answers, especially by people who have no interest in what Jesus says and does about injustices. He has given us a way forward…ours is to take that path.
Worship with me…to this song by Twila Paris on the beauty of Christ and the beauty of His church – How Beautiful –
How Beautiful the hands that served
The Wine and the Bread and the sons of the earth
How beautiful the feet that walked
The long dusty roads and the hill to the cross
How Beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the body of Christ
How Beautiful the heart that bled That took all my sin and bore it instead How beautiful the tender eyes That choose to forgive and never despise How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the body of Christ
And as He lay down His life
We offer this sacrifice
That we will live just as He died
Willing to pay the price
Willing to pay the price
How Beautiful the radiant bride
Who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes How Beautiful when humble hearts give The fruit of pure lives so that others may live How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the Body of Christ
How beautiful the feet that bring
The sound of good news and the love of the King
How Beautiful the hands that serve
The wine and the bread and the sons of the Earth
How Beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the Body of Christ*
My children didn’t grow up in the South. They are TCK’s (third culture kids) spending most of their childhood in other countries. They/we were minorities in those countries, so they understand some of what that means. A big difference is that we were still privileged minorities. We had the blue American passport. We could be forbidden entrance to those countries in the future but, once in, we would most probably always be allowed to peacefully live in and peacefully leave from those countries.
These children of ours have all now spent their college years and early adult years back in the US. Their understanding of racial differences has been impacted, having lived as “different” in other places.
Their parents, that would be Dave and me, taught them from a color-blind Biblical ideology. That’s how our parents taught us and I’m thankful for that kind of worldview. God loves everyone; we are to love everyone. Never based on what they look like, including skin color, an immutable characteristic. This is always a bent that moves people toward each other. We had been sheltered in life from the hardships and challenges of what it was for some to grow up black in the US. We didn’t know. We should have. Now we know more. What we may not know is what it is to love and experience love across differences (be it race or social status).
Our kids, since returning to the US, have found themselves in a culture of outrage, blaming, and unforgiveness. The push for academics and work environments to include Critical Race Theory and anti-racism is much more divisive than healing. Do not hear in anything I say below in support of such teaching.
What is the answer? What can we do? When a hardship or marginalization falls along racial lines? The Richmond Forum took us many steps forward by hosting Bryan Stevenson as speaker this weekend.
Stevenson is an American attorney who founded and directs the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson works with some of the hardest cases in the court system. He advocates for those who did not receive fair and right judgments and find themselves in long prison terms, some even on Death Row. He also fights the situation where children are tried and imprisoned as adults…when it is not necessary for the sake of society, at the detriment of the child.
He talked and we listened. Stevenson, without judgment or contempt, talked about what it would take to move forward. He listed four actions we could all, no matter our race or privilege, do.
Find ways to get proximate to people who are suffering. – Stevenson focuses intently on proximity. We can’t presume to know what it is like to be poor, marginalized, abused, or excluded. We have to come near. Find meaningful ways to do so. True innovation is only possible when we develop real understanding of those who feel the burn of racial, societal, or socioeconomic difference. Stevenson encourages us to “wrap your arms around the excluded and affirm their humanity and dignity”. We know we live in a culture where “if you’re rich and guilty, you’re treated better than if you’re poor and innocent”. This isn’t a victimizing statement. It is simply true. Do you disagree?
Assess and change our narratives if they keep us indifferent to people. What is our belief, our story, about race in our country? Is there bias in that story? Does our story disbelieve racial injustice? Is our narrative meant to protect us from feeling any sense of responsibility, or even compassion, for today’s racial tensions? “A narrative of racial difference made us indifferent and comfortable with slavery. We had to create a false narrative to justify slavery. That narrative gave rise to white supremacy.” White supremacy is such an emotionally charged phrase in these days. Stevenson gives a space for us all to consider how that had impact in the past, and what lingers today in people’s narratives. What do we fear? What makes us angry? He asked the question, do any of us have“a presumption of dangerousness and guilt regarding blacks”? This may be what law enforcement officers wrestle with in their work in parts of our cities. Have we taken it on as part of our beliefs? To get to truth and justice, and that narrative, we must create space for truth-telling. Stevenson spoke of how other countries have very publicly dealt with their own unjust treatment of fellow countrymen. South Africa, Germany, Rwanda. In recent years, he and others established the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. In hopes that America one day can heal in this painful part of our past.
Stay hopeful. Stevenson talked about hope being our super-power. If we become calloused and cynical, we help no one. Least of all our children. For they will have someone’s narrative thrust on them – either through education systems or news media. Better for us to confront what is true about racial bias by listening and learning from those most affected. Listening and learning from each other, then incorporating that into our own narrative, life, and work. [I have a writer friend, an intelligent articulate young man, wise beyond his years, who happens to be black and who strongly insists the listening and learning must be in both directions. He actually gives me the most hope for what is possible in this American situation.]
Be willing to do what is uncomfortable and inconvenient. “There are no shortcuts…Truth-telling is the first priority. Healing is a possibility.” We can move forward with the smallest of steps that will grow larger as we persevere. One option is to get involved with the Equal Justice Initiative, from wherever we are. We can find out what agencies in our towns are working toward healthy communities and learn from them. Plugging in where we can. Embrace Communities is one of those agencies in our state. Also, as my parents taught me, we can be kind, lean in, vote for what’s right, and serve others…all others, for we all need each other.
Stevenson said so much more than I covered here. To hear this brilliant, thoughtful, hopeful black man speak on this painful and divisive issue was thrilling and captivating for us. If you’ve ever had one of those awakening experiences [not “woke” – that word has darkened the conversation politically for many of us] – like a black friend telling how he has been pulled over by the police on multiple occasions, having done nothing wrong; or reading Stevenson’s book Just Mercy (or seeing the film of the same name), or visiting someone desperately poor, or watching the documentary 13th, or what? You say…what are we allowing to gentle and mature our own narratives, reckoning with “the implicit and unconscious biases” of our lives?
I’d like to close with some of Bryan Stevenson’s remarks from an interview almost a decade ago. His honoring wisdom was not an outcome of the terrible summer of 2020. He’s been beating this drum for all his adult life. We are wise to listen and learn.
What is justice? I think justice is a constant struggle. That’s as good a definition as I can come up with. I think that injustice is evident when people are not struggling to protect the norms, the values, the goals, the aspirations of the entire community — for fairness, equality and balance. – Bryan Stevenson
When I talk about race and poverty, I’m not talking about doing things for African-Americans. I’m talking about doing things for the entire community. – Bryan Stevenson
St. Patrick’s Day – Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Wearing green. Corned beef and cabbage…and my family background is Scottish…so a bit of a mix for us.
I am also planning to watch the David Kidd documentary Patrick. A friend who heard David Kidd speak shared the following with me via email – notes from his talk on the real Patrick (legends removed):
He was born in 396 AD and died in 471 AD.
Patrick was brought up in a Romano British Christian home somewhere in southwest Britain (his father was a deacon and grandfather a priest).
He was kidnapped at 16 (didn’t really know God at that time), trafficked, and taken to the West Coast of Ireland where he worked as a shepherd and learned to speak Irish.
As a slave, Patrick came to see the hand of God in his troubles. God broke through his defenses, and Patrick faced his unbelief and pride. Later he described how he turned to God whom he realized had been watching over him all the time. He became aware of God’s protection, and he discovered that God loved him as a father loves his son.
Before this, he knew he had ‘sinned’ and believed that God punished him.
God spoke to him in a dream about a ship coming to take him home. At 22, he managed to escape slavery.
At home, he had another dream of the people in Ireland calling him back.
He was obedient to the Spirit and went back to West Ireland (“the ends of the earth” at that time).
He was beaten, harassed by thieves and robbers, admonished by his British superiors, but his work grew and he remained humble.
He protested against injustice, esteemed women highly, and identified himself as Irish.
His legacy was a vibrant Christianity which lasted hundreds of years while Britain and Europe fell into the Dark Ages.
On St. Patrick’s Day, what we can do to honor Patrick’s memory?
The Past: Remember a humble man who had been mistreated, heard from God, obeyed, loved his enemies, lived his life for Jesus, and made a significant difference – not just in Ireland, but much of Europe.
The Present: Use Patrick’s life to help people focus on what really matters…Christ Jesus.
The Future: Be as faithful as Patrick and live for Jesus and His Kingdom – making a difference in this world with fruit that lasts.
Through slavery, Patrick’s life was essentially taken from him. In the loss of his freedom, he ultimately found Christ. That glorious salvation brought him eternal freedom. He managed to escape his slavery, but then surrendered his life, this time in his love for and obedience to God. returning to Ireland for the sake of the Gospel.
But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ-the righteousness from God based on faith. [My goal] is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. – Philippians 3:7-11
The strongest memories I have of the old Irish hymn Be Thou My Vision are connected with worship in North Africa. We sang it across three countries in Heliopolis Community Church (Cairo), St. George’s (Tunis), and St. John’s (Casablanca). When our children were growing up, we expat families, from various Christian denominations, gathered once or twice a week to worship in English. We sang great hymns, old and contemporary, with guitar accompaniment, and followed worship leaders with more British accents than American. Photo Credit: Eurobishop
I remember our little family, strung out along a pew of these little churches. Our stair-step children, with shoulders squared, singing from hymnals in the early years and then with lyrics projected on the stuccoed front walls.Before our children all launched back into life in the US, we “attended” traditional church less and became a part of house churches. There we still sang Be Thou My Vision, still with guitar…less with a British accent.
Back in the US, when we sing Be Thou My Vision, we are still reminded of its great truths and of other years, in other places, where His truth was being made known. In places where we prayed to see people as He sees them…and to love them as He loves.
Worship with me to the rendition performed by Welsh singer Noel Richards. A bit slower than I’m used to but it allows us to soak up the words in worship. Also, all five verses are included which is important.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.*
Sally Clarkson’s daughter Sarah writes about creating community. She references the great “love chapter” in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13). In this text we are reminded what love looks like. Sarah goes on to talk about how she incorporates the character of love in growing community. In the coming aftermath of COVID – can you hear my hope? – three keys to building and rebuilding community come to bear:
Remember and rekindle – We have all known community, hopefully at its fullest. A place of being known and loved, just as we are. A place where we can serve and be served. A place of rest also. Post-COVID, our culture will be changed, but our need for community will not be changed. In fact, we may need it even more, but will we go after it? This is where we must rekindle, as Sarah puts it, our vision to reach out to one another in meaningful ways.
Renew and revitalize. Community takes effort and intentionality. We don’t have to do all the work ourselves nor is it even wise to do so. Find partners, neighbors, like-minded people who will add their own gifts and energy to the process. My husband and I actually live in a neighborhood with such folks. What a joy it is to know we are there for each other and will show up, regularly, when there is a need…or just for the pleasure of it. [Memorial Day parade in our neighborhood; May, 2020]
Really love and rejoice over each other. Community is not a project. It is a way of life, a mindset, a worldview. People matter. Life is short. When we truly invest in one another, our lives are enlarged. Both the giver and the receiver. I have missed the ease of pre-COVID community. I took it for granted. Now I value it more than ever. Hopefully it is a lesson that won’t be easily forgotten. Hopefully we go after community like never before, having learned in a hard way how much we need it.
In the book above, Sarah also writes a chapter entitled Saturday Mornings: The Girls’ Club Prototype. In this chapter, she describes “five progressive actions…central to the powerful cultivation of friendship”. They are imperative in building and rebuilding community as well:
Invite – Reach out and bring in a new someone to an adventure and your life.
Plan – Work out the logistics of an event, a meetup, an outing. Make it a welcome ritual or routine.
Provide – Show love, Sarah says, by preparing the table, so to speak. Whether it is the physical space itself (your home, for instance) or your own “mind and heart” to wholly receive the new friend.
Stay – This is huge! Whether distance or circumstance separate you, be a continual presence in the life of a friend. Be there. Show up. This takes effort and intentionality, and it’s not easy. It requires both forgiveness and faithfulness…no matter what.
Pray – When we remember that every single person we meet is an image-bearer of God, we are reminded of the value there. Even those “mean girls” in our lives didn’t get mean in a vacuum. “Hurt people hurt people”. They have God’s imprint like every other imperfect person… When we recognize our own frailty and that of others, we are drawn to pray. For our own hearts to love like Jesus. For eyes to see how God sees people…and to reach out in love…as only He has made us to do so.
So thankful for all the ways we’ve experienced friendship and community, both here and far from here.
I’d like to close with some wise words from Rosaria Butterfield from her incredible, autobiographical book “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”. Until you read the whole of it, soak up some of her quotes from GoodReads (written to Christians, but, honestly, anyone who longs to create community can take the good from this book).
“Hospitality always requires hands and heads and hearts, and mess and sacrifice and weakness. Always.”– Rosaria Butterfield
“Are Christians victims of this post-Christian world? No. Sadly, Christians are co-conspirators. We embrace modernism’s perks when they serve our own lusts and selfish ambitions. We despise modernism when it crosses lines of our precious moralism. Our cold and hard hearts; our failure to love the stranger; our selfishness with our money, our time, and our home; and our privileged back turned against widows, orphans, prisoners, and refugees mean we are guilty in the face of God of withholding love and Christian witness. And even more serious is our failure to read our Bibles well enough to see that the creation ordinance and the moral law, found first in the Old Testament, is as binding to the Christian as any red letter. Our own conduct condemns our witness to this world.” – Rosaria Butterfield
“We introverts miss out on great blessings when we excuse ourselves from practicing hospitality because it exhausts us. I often find people exhausting. But over the years I have learned how to pace myself, how to prepare for the private time necessary to recharge, and how to grow in discomfort. Knowing your personality and your sensitivities does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might.” – Rosaria Butterfield
“Living out radically ordinary Christian hospitality means knowing that your relationship with others must be as strong as your words. The balance cannot tip here. Having strong words and a weak relationship with your neighbor is violent. It captures the violent carelessness of our social media–infused age. That is not how neighbors talk with each other. That is not how image bearers of the same God relate to one another. Radically ordinary hospitality values the time it takes to invest in relationships, to build bridges, to repent of sins of the past, to reconcile. Bridge building and remaking friendships cannot be rushed.” – Rosaria Butterfield
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:3-8
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 9:23-24
I’m still making my way through a re-read of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Long over-due. Although the chapters are super short, each contains such a wealth of wisdom to think through and process.
In The Letters, a senior demon, Screwtape, is advising his nephew on how to draw away a young Englishman from his new-found faith in God, whom the demon calls The Enemy. The nephew is given strategies to muddle up “the patient’s” thinking on God and how one is to live, “loving our neighbors as ourselves”.
Chapter 14 (in just 3 pages) dissects the issues of humility, pride, and self-forgetfulness. We may think ourselves that humility is having and expressing a low regard of self, even self-deprecation. That is not humility. In the fullest sense, humility is a right understanding of God, other people and ourselves, in relation to all. God and others.
True humility is a growing awareness of how all things work together, including the hard things in life, and an appreciation of the good and glory in the world. Celebrating God, and His choosing to continue to display His goodness in all of life…in mine and yours, and throughout the natural world.
When we can pull our eyes off our own successes or, on the flip side, our challenges, perspective comes. Not puffing ourselves up or bringing yourselves down, but just seeing God everywhere. He purposefully and beautifully knit each of us together and His purposes are not thwarted.
Focused on God and others, we can live in a place of self-forgetfulness. Satan wants to destroy such peace by pressing us to ever compare, ever put ourselves down, or ever feel envy and longing regarding others’ good works. Or, if he can to even push us into pride, thinking more highly of ourselves, even though we operate out of the gifts and opportunities God gives us.
Here’s a bit of Screwtape’s instruction to Wormwood in the tempting of the young Christian:
“To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents – or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.“ – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 14
Let’s worship the God who frees us from self as we turn our eyes each day, and through the day, onto Him. Why this old song? It speaks to troubled hearts. If humility is not where we live, our hearts become troubled – either in some embattled state of self-loathing or self-obsessing. We can live free of all that.
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Chorus: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!
His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!
Why did I call humility “a small virtue”? Because it doesn’t draw attention to itself. It points to God and to others. However, it doesn’t leave us out. We also get to be on this grand journey. We are flesh, so when God gives us the opportunity to do something amazing, we naively may say, “Wow, I did that!” Pride rears its head, even for a moment. We can then either beat ourselves for the pride and make ourselves small in some sort of false humility or…we regain perspective. “Wow, I got to do that! Thank You, God!” If it was someone else who “got to do that”, we rejoice the same. It is the beautiful sphere of self-forgetfulness.
Room for everyone on the podium in a very real way…because God is at the foundation of every podium we will ever encounter. Actually, forget the podium. The ground is level at the foot of the Cross. We’ve all heard this. Humility is where we live it.
“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself…True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”– Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness