Decluttering From Church

I’m sure it’s the trial of many, many parents of kids in church.  They come home with reams of paper announcements about special events and wonderful, fun happenings.  If they’re involved in anything musical, there are stacks of CDs, built gradually over the years, often two or three a year – special programs and VBS.  Multiply that by multiple children, and that stack can be pretty impressive.

My “crafty stuff” board on Pinterest has new additions – things to do with old CDs.  Some of the ideas are incredibly gorgeous, but I know my schedule won’t allow the time to do them.  My teen and I loved the CD mosaic arts – tables, flower pots, and frames.  In fact, I’m thinking if there’s any way I could whip up some of these crafts in time for my next selling event.  Let’s see…  Two children times six years times average 2 weeks of Vacation Bible School each year, plus 2 children’s programs each year…  I could probably mosaic an entire wall of our living room at this point!

pic of CDs

About what this pile of children’s CDs looks like after a combined 15 years of programs.

Our children are getting to take part in a really fun event this coming week.  Our children’s minister emailed out the flyer for it a couple of weeks ago.  I loved that!  It’s right there in my email until it’s in the past, and it’s so easy to plug those dates into my digital calendar.  Best yet, no paper!  Churches love distributing paper.  In fact, I’ve been offered paper copies of that digital file four times since I received it.  You wouldn’t believe the “you must be the antichrist!” looks I received from some people when I declined it!  When I get paper flyers, I end up having to deal with them later – sort and recycle.  It’s kind of the same with paper bills, which only our utility company sends anymore; all the rest are electronic.  That’s great for me, because less paper means less waste.  Even paper recycling requires fossil fuel to process.  We’re trying our best to eliminate waste in our lives and our environment and working to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.  This is a huge part of our family’s environmental ethic as we live it out in our stewardship of God’s creation.

Stacks of CDs and full-color printed flyers that will likely get trashed or recycled…  I look at all this stuff and I look around at our community and can’t help but think, Is this really the best use of our church’s resources?  Posting flyers around the children’s center, an announcement in the bulletin, and an email would more than cover it, I think.  Could the paper/copies line item on that segment of the budget flip to some sort of family crafting event where we make stuff with all those CDs?  Could those be sold to create a scholarship fund for children to go to mission camp?  (I’m just brainstorming here.)  Or maybe that money could go towards one of the fab children’s’ charities we help support in our area.  The potential to create from the clutter is significant.

Take a look at my Crafty board and tell me what you think of the ideas I’ve pinned.  What ideas would you add?  Oh look!  What to do with CDs and 1000+ fish extender gifts.  I think I have time til our next cruise to come up with something brilliant between the two of those.


I Went to Mexico Last Week

A simple vacation changed my life.  My mom treated the girls and me to a week-long cruise last week, with ports-of-call in Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.  Costa Maya and Cozumel are in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.  A week ago right now, for example, we were just beginning an excursion to Mayan ruins in Cozumel under the expert leadership of our tour guide, Nico.

This was my first trip to Mexico.  This was my first experience being a minority in a predominantly Hispanic place.  Being there, both in Costa Maya with its gorgeous beaches and in Cozumel with its rich history and environmental initiatives, whetted my appetite to learn more about these areas, the people who live there, and their history.

I’m far from a naive traveler.  I know that tourism is the top industry in these areas, and the natives’ solicitous behavior was in the hopes – rightly so – of good tips.  We learned from Nico that the “high season” is November through April, so what income they earn through tours, excursions, and tips must carry them through the six-month “low season” when cruise ships are not as prevalent in their ports.

We had two days in Mexico, one in Costa Maya, the other in Cozumel.  We had planned to swim and snorkel in Costa Maya, but rough seas made it unsafe for my youngster to snorkel.  Still, we enjoyed the beach break and the hospitality of the islanders.  While we were swimming, I overheard a guide with a group of snorkelers ask his group, “And how do we say <indistinguishable> in Mayan?”  To which the group answered, and I thought, “The Mayan language is still spoken?  Cool!”  My mind immediately began humming with questions and trying to determine how to find the answers – not from books, but from people.  Maybe find random Costa Mayans on Facebook?  Yeah, possibly.

Costa Maya

My first view of Mexico in Costa Maya where guests are greeted in a village setting

The next day saw us in Cozumel.  Truthfully, I liked Costa Maya as a place more than Cozumel; the latter was Americanized touristy.  I get that they must present like that in order to keep the Spring Breakers and tourists happy, but I was desiring a more authentic experience.  Both places have awesome stuff to see, however.  In Cozumel, all those questions found their answers, thanks to Nico.  Unfortunately, those answers just spawned more questions.  (Ahh, the joys of being a lifelong learner.)

Ancient Mayan ruins

The ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. The pillars represent the Sun and Moon.

Yes, the Mayan language is still spoken.  Forty percent of Mexicans are direct descendants of the Mayans and are distinguished by their short stature, straight hair, and high cheekbones.  (What about the other 60%?)  After the Spaniards conquered the Mayans, only a few dozen remained to preserve their culture, history, traditions, and customs.  The written Mayan language didn’t last, but all other aspects of the people did.  Mexican religion is a hybrid of Christian Catholicism and Mayan paganism.  I still have questions that I’ll hopefully get to pepper some of the soccer parents with.

Something else happened last week that wormed its way into my mind.  On Disney Cruise Lines, there is a room host for small groupings of staterooms.  These hosts make the beds, tidy the room (Jhe, our host, even folded a couple of my older daughter’s clothes that she was going to take care of after dinner), create the towel animals, replenish bath linens, turn down the beds, and leave chocolates.  Another thing that happens on DCL is, your servers at dinner follow you all week from restaurant to restaurant.  This way, they learn your likes, dislikes, and preferences.  After our first night, our little one never again had tomatoes on her salads, though she did have double cucumbers.

Our servers, Charles and Wayan, were from India and the Philippines, respectively.  Jhe, our host, was from Indonesia.  It struck me that the “brown-skinned” cast members had the least desirable, more grunt-service jobs, whereas the lighter skinned cast members from Australia, Europe, and North America were higher up in the hierarchy – just under the captain, for example, or working directly with the kids in the youth clubs.  They often held supervisory positions as well.  Yet, we seldom saw and interacted with those cast members.  It was Jhe who took care of our stateroom all day, every day, and Charles and Wayan were the ones providing us with exceptionally attentive dinner service.  Being a White American lady, I am aware of the glamour – or lack thereof – of service jobs.  I can also see the color and cringe at what seems to be unfairness.

My youngster only saw “people.”  All of us spoke to the room hosts along our hall on our way to the stairs and elevators.  Whether in her Princess Elena dress or tee and shorts, my eight-year-old dropped a curtsey to Jhe every time she saw him.  She doesn’t know that you only curtsey to nobility; to her, he is a noble person and worthy of her honor and respect.  In the simple act of the curtsey, she elevated him above his position of bed-maker and clothes-folder.  That’s beautiful to me.  How often do we elevate people by our actions each day?  Or would we rather they just keep in “their place” to which the White majority has assigned them?

It takes surprisingly little effort to raise someone up.  Let’s all take a moment to lift up someone in the coming week, regardless of who they are.

It’s Just Too Much!

The emails and announcements are beginning to roll in.  VBS at our church is this particular week in June.  The previous week is VBS at my parents’ church.  My younger has already determined that she wants to attend at my parents’ church, because afterward, Grandma will take her to the park and Grandpa will take her fishing.  There may also be ice cream and shopping in there somewhere.

Yet, our own children’s minister will expect her to be present at VBS at our church, and that VBS will likely be the exact same theme as that at our local church – and my little one LOVES that church’s minister.  What all these VBS directors see:  An opportunity for children to come and learn about Jesus and biblical truths through Bible stories, activities, games, crafts, and songs.

For this momma, though, it gets to be way too much!  Don’t get me wrong:  My daughter loves going to VBS.  She has fun and is such a social bug that being around other kids just compounds the fun for her.  Yet, she’s exhausted every afternoon, and with back-to-back VBSes, halfway through the second week, she’ll be tired and cranky, and her behavior will be tanking abysmally.  She is an extrovert and an empath, so being around people drains her emotionally.  The problem is, she doesn’t yet know this about herself, so she doesn’t realize she needs downtime to give herself a chance to recover.  This, then, becomes a battle as I struggle to convince her to take some alone time in her room.

The fun times are great for her, but she often complains she doesn’t learn much.  A pastor friend of mine once said of my daughter when she was six, “She’s smart.  She gives good answers in Sunday school, and not just catechism answers, either.”  When our Bible discussions deal with why Jesus was angry with the moneychangers at the Temple and how Jesus turns the status quo on its head and then how we, too, can do that, a simple story about Joshua or David isn’t going to excite her a whole lot.  Noah filled an ark with animals, but what about the cursing of Ham?  Balaam got mad at his donkey, but when will the lessons cover how boldly he refused a king’s request that he curse the Israelites and, in fact, blessed them, speaking the words of God?

The pressure will be on, with various people mentioning VBS right in front of my child, leaving me the choice of either saying, “No, you can’t go” or being the “bad guy” who tells her she needs to spend some peaceful time in her room.  When our summer break is only 6-7 weeks long (and that often feels way too short), the rush and hustle of 3 weeks of VBS is anathema to enjoying the cognitive and physical downtime that is a huge part of break.  So, please, give us parents a break.  For parents who work, I often hear how getting kids to a morning VBS and picking them up puts a strain on their work days.  For us parents who work from home, these hours can be either the blessing of a few hours to work with no kids, or they can be time wasted that we need to be working.  They’re mornings of getting everyone up and out the door when the kids would really rather be sleeping in.

So this year, I’m going to do what I feel is best for my child.  By the time VBS rolls around, she’ll be newly baptized.  In our household, talking about Jesus, the Bible, our faith, living the Christian life, etc., aren’t 180-school-day activities.  They’re not something that happens at church on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and five mornings in the summer.  They’re daily things.  They’re examples, questions, discussions, and applications.  These are things they learn as we go about our daily life.  Two non-consecutive Vacation Bible Schools is fine, but I’m not going to force her to endure two straight weeks of hustle.  After all, she doesn’t have but so much time to be a child.  And if I’m insisting she attend all these VBSes because other people want her to, what message is that sending to her?


A Prayer for Christmas Eve^2

Thank you, God…

Thank you for rowdy days and silent nights.

Thank you for peace, though, with two girls alternately fighting, squealing, laughing, and giggling, it’s not terribly peaceful.  There’s peace in my heart, nonetheless.

Thank you for that fall two years ago.  It was a great lesson for my family in all I do, both expensive and invaluable.

Thank you that I seldom have to ask them to work with me anymore.  Thank you that they take that initiative.

As I read and soaked in a not-warm-enough bath and my older came in to talk to me – then apologized and left – thank you that she’s here and excited about the helpful thing she’d done for her sister.

Thank you for time this Advent – time to spend with friends, time to bless people around us, time to hang out with my family, time to play games on the Santa Trackers.

Thank you for all those Jesus moments, especially in the random words of my daughters as they speak the love of you for us.

Thank you for movies that make us cry as they remind us of what’s truly important this season and every season – that You became flesh and dwelt among us, that you love even the smallest and imperfect of us, the importance of putting our fellow humans over our material gain, the importance of family, the wealth found in friends.

Simply put…  Thank you, God.

Where My Loyalties Lie

In the beginning, God created men and women in God’s image.  That’s according to Genesis 1, anyway.  In Genesis 2, a slightly different account, we’re told that God formed the man out of the dust of the ground, then God made the animals.  However, from these animals, no suitable helpmate was available to Adam.  So, short version, God created the woman.

This man and this woman were created to be in relationship with God.  Second to that, the man and the woman were created to be in relationship with each other.  They were family.  Out of this relationship, they had children; the Bible records the names of three boys, though I surmise that that’s not an exhaustive list.  The first couple multiplied and expanded their family.

Skip down several generations and about ten chapters, and we meet Abram.  Abram was an old man of 75, married to Sarai, and they were unfortunately childless.  God called Abram into covenant, a covenant which would extend to all of Abram’s descendents.  Abram and Sarai received new names and the promise of a child.  This small family grew – and would grow exponentially.

Three more generations, and the family of Abraham has grown exponentially, with his son Isaac bringing two sons, and Jacob having twelve sons and a daughter.  For his faithfulness, he received a new name:  Israel.  They acknowledged “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but otherwise, this god had no name.  The descendants of Jacob would be called in Hebrew ben-Y’isra’el, which means literally, “the sons of Israel,” but which refers to all descendants of Jacob.

Four hundred years went by.  The Israelites had moved from Canaan to Goshen, a fertile land under the purview of Egypt.  There they grew and flourished to the point where the Pharoah considered them a viable threat and enslaved them.  Four hundred years of just acknowledging the god of their fathers.  They worshiped at altars, but there was no true worshiping assembly.

After the Exodus, the Lord delivered through Moses detailed how-to instructions for worship, including everything from when, what, and how much to sacrifice.  The sacrifices were all given in gratitude for what the Lord had done, not as a bribe to make God do what they wanted God to do.  (This was different from the pagan deity worship practices.)  Even through the desert wanderings, the Israelites didn’t worship as a community as we understand it, but what is clear is that they are still a huge family – all descended from one ancestor – with separate, individual tribal, clan, and family units.

It would be another millennium (plus a few hundred years) before the church as we know it was established.  The church as a mash-up of people from different backgrounds, different families, and different beliefs wouldn’t emerge until the first century A.D.

The church is a vital part of the believer’s life, and corporate worship is a beautiful part of that life.  I feel bereft of something if I miss more than one Sunday of worship.  However, true to the original design, we were created first to be with God, and second to be in our families.  Someone from our church tried to lay a guilt-trip on me for skipping something at church in order to take my daughters home so they could have dinner with their waiting dad – and so we could be together as a family for the first time that entire day.  We were not created to be a part of an institution; we were created to be a part of our families.

And the church is an institution.  Early in our marriage, Peter and I both spent many Sunday afternoons helping out at our small church and engaged in various local ministry projects.  The problem was, between my two jobs and his job, we barely had any time together the other six days of the week.  We thought we were being “holy” by spending all this time at church, but in reality, we were damaging one of the best gifts God had given us and were failing to be good stewards of that gift.

When someone wants people – whether individuals, parts of families, or whole families – to give up family time for time at church, then the church starts taking on cult-like qualities.  Cults desire their members to sacrifice family loyalty for loyalty to the cult and the leader.  I refuse to go there.  If I have a choice between being home with all my family or at church with just part of it, then I’ll choose to be with my whole family every.  Single.  Time.  Sunday mornings are the exception; if Hubby is sick, then I’m perfectly fine taking the girls to church without him, and vice versa if I’m sick.  But any other time…  At the end of a long day of working and teaching, when all I want is to complete the 35-minute drive home, hug my hubby, and eat dinner, then no.  My first loyalty is to God.  My second loyalty is to my family.  Everything else comes after that.

God in the Box

Our new pastor (he’s a HUGE improvement over the last one) is starting a sermon series on boxes, and he began with talking about the boxes in which we put God.  This led to my affirming his outside-the-box thinking, evident both in his resume and the things I heard about him from a shared Div school professor, and sharing my own thoughts about why we put God in a box.  I’d like to share those with you.

The church (local) and the Church (ecumenical) are the most popular God boxes today.  The God in the box is the God we can control, letting God out when we need God.  For the last 2000 years, the Church has been afraid to allow God outside the box (OTB), because they can’t control that God, nor can they control the populace with God.  Brother Bruno was tortured and torched by the Catholic Church in the 16th century for daring to think and teach that God was too infinite to be contained.  Since God invites us into relationship, when God is out of our boxes, then we must step outside the box to be with God, to close the gap.  When we do so, we start seeing the broken; the hurt; the impoverished; the incarcerated; the sick; and all the other “leasts of these,” and that is uncomfortable to us.  The Spirit compels us to be present to these folks, though.  It feels safer just to stay inside our cozy, predictable little boxes.

Box o' God

The safest God is the one who stays in the box.

I challenge you as I often challenge myself to step outside the box.  It’s not at all crowded out here, so there’s lots of breathing room.  There is a lot of room to grow in faith, too, because God resides here – outside where the broken are – and we are free to take our brokenness outside our God-boxes to heal and be healed.


The End of Blissful Ignorance

Sixteen years ago this morning, sixteen years ago right now, four passenger planes wrecked the blissful ignorance in which we Americans had been living since the last time we were attacked, on a Sunday morning in December 1941.  In 2001, we were riding high.  We’d survived Y2K with nary a blink, far from the worldwide technological Armageddon dooms-sayers had predicted.  George W. Bush had taken the oath of office in January, and things were good.  Then September 11th came, and with it, new ideas of terrorism and fear entered the American conscious, and new names became known to us – Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.  Our innocence was shattered.  Things were no longer good, we were no longer safe, and our fighting men and women soon were going to war.

A view of the Twin Towers under attack on 9/11 2001.

Sometimes in life, we have our own personal ends of blissful ignorance.  Mine came on 11 September last year.  Like the catastrophe that happened in America on that fateful day sixteen years ago, my own end of innocence was brutal and tough, and it taught me to be more cautious.

I had a good friend, a best friend, someone I’d entrusted with much.  He and I had been friends for several years and always enjoyed spending time together.  The night before the end of my blissful innocence, I took the plunge and dared to share something precious and scary with him, the first time I’d shared anything of the sort with someone outside of my own nuclear family.  What I shared isn’t important to relate here, but sharing it opened up an old wound, leaving me feeling raw, vulnerable, and tired.  We were doing this by text, and he texted back his gratitude that I’d shared that and his understanding of how important it was.

I returned home the next day, tired and happy from a weekend trip to the beach.  Along the way, my friend had sent a text that he had something to show me and to let him know when I was home.  When I got home, he told me he’d added something to Dropbox and wanted me to see it.  I opened the file, and my heart plummeted to my toes before shattering with the bitterness of betrayal.  I called him in tears, and he got mad at me for feeling hurt.  Didn’t I love the way he’d rubbed salt in the newly reopened wound I’d showed him?  Didn’t I appreciate his efforts?  He’d worked so hard on it, how could I not love it?  You see, he blamed me for feeling hurt, like I wasn’t a good enough friend.  But to make it better…  “Here, let me just toss a careless apology at you.  Not that I did anything wrong.  Let’s wash that salt away – with some acid.”

This opened my eyes to something I had been reluctant to acknowledge:  I needed to cut this person out of my life.  This friendship had ceased to be healthy for me, and if I were going to grow into my next phase of life wholly, then it was necessary to start with a serious pruning, cutting away the dead parts of my life that weren’t helping the good parts flourish.  With some sadness, admittedly, I severed all ties with this person – everything from phone calls to the more inane Twitter follow.  I was sad for a little while, but once that passed, I felt lighter, fresh, healed, and whole once more.

This happens to all of us at one point or another.  Someone in our lives is more of a burden than a blessing.  Perhaps it’s that grown child who’s always asking for money.  Maybe it’s that sibling who doesn’t like the way you’re caring for Mom and Dad, though they’re always “too busy” to help.  It could be that person at church who keeps asking and asking and asking you to do something, refusing to take “no” for an answer.  It quite possibly could be that family member who hears your “no,” but then pulls out every manipulative trick to guilt you into turning it into a “yes.”  Maybe it’s that friend who takes everything you have to offer, then when you’re tapped out or refuse their demands for more, they claim you never give them anything.  There comes a time when we have to say, “No,” and walk away.

That’s what I did in this situation.  I said “no” to the emotional blackmail, gaslighting, and blame game.  Putting up with that mess just wasn’t worth what was passing for friendship.  Walking away often isn’t to punish the other person, but to save ourselves.

When I started this blog several years ago, it was with the intent of helping other women, especially moms, find their wholeness, to remind them that none of us is alone in this journey we call life, and to help all of us remember that we are God’s masterpieces.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we are responsible for what we do with our createdness.  We are responsible for living full, whole lives, walking with our God in all humility, exercising mercy and practicing justice.  (Sounds like a great lifestyle change regimen!  Spiritual exercises!)

If there is someone in your world who is preventing or hindering you from living into your wholeness and fullness as one of God’s gloriously created beings, it’s time to get out the scissors and cut them out of your life.  It’s time at least to say “No” with meaning and walk away from their soul-sucking behavior.  Live into who you are meant to be.

Sara’s Psalm #2

I originally wrote this 1 December 2001.  There was probably a late night communion with God on the beach involved.

Lord, you made each star.  You make the seas, and you made the sand.

You made each creature that flies through the air, that swims in the sea, and that crawls on the beach.

And you made me.


Lord, you set each star in place.  You know the exact coordinates of each one, its name and its age.

And Lord, you know the ocean.  You know every grain of sand and bit of salt in the sea.

You know every creature that lives in the sea, from the smallest microorganism to the largest whale; you know every plant in the sea:  The algae and the seaweed.

You know every grain of sand on the beach.  I cannot count the grains of sand in one handful, yet you, Lord, know not only how many grains of sand are on the beach, but where each one came from.

You know how it was made, and if it came from a hurricane, a bird, a crab, or a bulldozer moving sand from one place to another.  Or even if that grain of sand has been here all along.

And you know me.


Lord, you know when each star is going to burn out and when a new star will take its place, and this is your plan.

You know which wave will be the next to crash on the beach.  You have ordered the changing of the tides and the ripple of the waves.

I look out at the ocean, and I cannot see all the waves on the horizon.  I see the waves close to shore and think I know which one will crash first, only to be proven wrong.

I see my life, Lord, and I cannot see what is on the horizon, but you do, and you have a plan for what is there.

I see my life close up, thinking I know what is going to happen next, but often do not.

Just as you have a plan for the stars, the seas, and the sand, you also have a plan for me.

Help me to yield to your plan for my life, Lord, remembering not to worry about tomorrow, but to deal with today.

Help me also to see your plan for my life.  My heart is willing, but my mind keeps worrying and wondering.  Bring comfort to my mind, and help it to accept what my heart already knows.

The Sin of Racism

I’d like to talk a bit about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. There was a lot of hate in the name of Jesus, and there was a lot of fear in Jesus’ followers who felt that they were going to die, just for their beliefs in justice or their skin color. The sad part is, the events that unfolded over the weekend and are continuing to unfold throughout the week have been fomenting for a long time. I mean, no one learns this deep darkness of hate overnight.

As we usually do, my family and I went to church on Sunday. We visited my parents’ church, and while it’s theologically different from my beliefs, there is no denying that their preacher does a great job with the Word, preaching it faithfully and authentically. Knowing this about him and excited to hear a word in response to the events of Friday night and Saturday, we sat and waited. I was disappointed that the pastor himself wasn’t the one who brought up Charlottesville and our nation during the time of prayer requests. I was further disappointed in the incomplete way the pastor did address it.

You see, it’s so easy to look at ourselves, give ourselves a big ol’ happy pat on the back, and say, “I’m not a racist.” Maybe your best friend in the world is Black. Or Latino. Or Asian. Or Middle Eastern. Or whatever. Their skin is some shade of brown radically different from yours and people like you. You hang out all the time, go to each other’s houses, and have adopted the other’s family as your own. And I love that! That’s wonderful! That sort of stuff is what undermines racism.

But it’s not enough for us to say, “It’s all good. I’m not a racist. I haven’t committed the sin of racism.” And I say to you, “Think again.” So you don’t wear the white hood and burn crosses, or flash a swastika and the “heil” gesture. Maybe you’re from somewhere outside the South where the much-contested Confederate battle flag has no meaning for you – neither heritage nor hate. How vocal have you been in protesting racism? How loudly have you called out the racists – especially those who share your skin color – for their hate, their bigotry, their evil?

Racism is evil. Bigotry is evil. Hate is evil. All these things are so far away from God’s design for humanity! These attitudes and the actions that often follow them are sinful. There’s no getting around that. But also sinful is doing and saying nothing about them.

During this time of prayer, the pastor quoted II Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That was it. No word further, and that disappointed me. See, everyone so bent to their own complacency could hear those words, repent of their sins (“turn from their wicked ways”), and be forgiven, and voilá! God would heal our land. So close, and yet, so far.

As I said earlier, it’s so easy for us to sit back and smugly say, “Well, I’m not racist, so I have nothing to confess.” First of all, what about those who are racist? I would wager that at least 90% of the white supremacists in our country and around the world confess to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I would go further and say that every single one of those believes in God, reads their Bible, and can tell you chapter and verse where it says they are right in their bigotry and hatred. Now, granted, their Jesus isn’t the Middle Eastern Jewish guy history says he was in his humanity; their Jesus is blue-eyed, blond, strong, powerful – the perfect Aryan specimen.

Now, secondly, if we’re not overtly racist, what do we have to confess? We have to confess to being complicit in the racism. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Doing nothing to stand up against racism, bigotry, and hate is tacitly allowing it to thrive, silently giving assent to it. For this, we must confess. For failing to love our neighbors as ourselves enough to risk the opinions of others, we must confess. For silently giving approval and even our blessing to racism, bigotry, and hate, we must confess. For being so enamored of our own position and privilege in our society and culture that we refuse to see, to understand, and to walk beside the plights of others, we must confess. These are sins. These are sins against God and against those God also created in God’s image. My family and I were driving home from church one Sunday, cruising the left lane up the interstate, and we got behind a car doing 70 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone. The driver got over to the right lane, and my husband groused about this driver (unseen to us as yet) going the speed limit in the passing lane. As we passed the car, I looked over and commented, “She doesn’t want to get pulled for a DWB.” He asked what that is. “Driving while Black.” Understanding that this is a reality for people of color but not of whiteness is part of what it means to begin to walk beside them.

And we are all created in God’s image. Genesis 1: 27 through the beginning of verse 28 tells us that God created humanity in God’s own image – male and female – and that God blessed them. Nowhere does it say that God only made white people. Paul takes this a little further in Galatians 3:28 when he declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” This is where our understanding of humanity needs to lie. For all of us who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we need to see our fellow believers as just as human, just as created, just as loved as we are. For Paul, being a part of the heavenly kingdom was more important than the constructs of racial, gender, or social boundaries that tend to separate us into “they” and “us.” If any of us confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, then we need to make him Lord, and doing that means following his ways. His was the way of love. Jesus tells his disciples (which extends down to us), “Love one another,” a command echoed in I John. There are no conditions or stipulations; it’s a simple command, an expectation of Christ’s followers.

At the same time, we need to be intentionally proactive instead of reactive. Abolishing symbols only addresses the symptoms of the problem. This problem of hate isn’t a matter of flags or statues or gestures; the problem of hate that leads to bigotry and racism is a serious heart problem. We need our hearts to be broken so God can mend them. We need our hearts to be softened, so we can feel for others. And we need our hearts to be emboldened so that we might not fear standing up for peace and justice for all people in our land, not just those the same shade of brown as we.


You Can’t Drink From That Well

It’s midday, the sun is high overhead, the surrounding mountainous land is parched and dry, and she is hot.  The woman goes out to draw her water for the day, knowing she’ll be alone at the well this time of day, away from sideways looks and gossiping tongues.  With a sigh, she hefts her jar into a more comfortable position and, looking up, spies someone at the well.  It’s a man – a Jewish man – and she knows her men.  She gets to the well, and this guy dares to ask her for some water to drink.  He doesn’t have anything with which to drink and certainly nothing with which to draw water.  On top of that, he offers her this special water, living water, and claims that anyone who drinks this water will never be thirsty again.  She wants some of that!

They spend a little time talking, and this man knows everything about her, including her less-than-proper living situation.  Yet, he doesn’t ever judge or condemn her.  In fact, he reveals himself to her as the Messiah, and she goes back to the village and shares about this encounter.  Through her testimony, the entire village comes to realize that Jesus is their long-awaited messiah.

There was a well of water, a well that tradition held Jacob had dug.  It was in Samaria, a territory that most Jews avoided like the plague.  Yet, despite the fact that “Jews didn’t drink from the same containers as Samaritans,” the woman was willing to go against the grain of the traditional racism and give Jesus, a Jewish man, some water.  Likewise, Jesus offered this Samaritan woman “living water”; it was no longer just for Israelites; all people could have it.  (Am I the only one who’s noticed that those who are discriminated against tend to be more open, accepting, and generous towards those who do the discriminating?)

There’s an old saying:  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  However, if you make that horse thirsty, then he’ll want to drink.  But is that drink available to him once his thirst is whetted?

Very different water fountains with water coming from the same source

I wrote last week about our need as moderate Baptists to get out and share our personal faith stories, to tell people about how our respective relationships with Jesus Christ have changed our lives.  In short, we’ll make people thirsty.  We’ll make them want (hopefully) to have that relationship, too, and to accept the gift of eternal life.  But there’s another part to this.

Jesus commissions his followers to “Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  It’s not enough to share our faith stories, it’s not enough even for someone to say, “I believe.  May I now be baptized?”  If we are “making disciples,” this means we’re teaching them.  Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to “make apostles,” to make people to go out to evangelize.  He tells them to teach his ways to people everywhere.  Usually, we draw people into the church to be discipled.

Once they get into the church, though, folks approach these outsiders as “them,” the minority who are worthy of no more than the inferior water fountain.  It makes little to no difference that the source of the living water is the same for all people, just like the two water fountains in the picture above are fed by the same pipes.  No.  Their “sin” is different from ours, so therefore, it must be much worse, and we can’t have those sinners in our church.  Those sinners can never be allowed to walk our aisles, sit in our pews, or worship our God.  And they most certainly cannot be members with us, share communion with us, or taint the holy waters of our baptistery!!!

If we as Christians are going to say that all are welcome to the Kingdom, then all need to be welcome in our churches.  If we are going to claim that God’s grace is for everyone, then everyone needs to be able to come in and receive it.  If we are going to share our faith with others, then we must also be willing to share our pews with them.  If our churches’ websites and Facebook pages are going to declare, “All are welcome,” then we need to make everyone feels welcomed and accepted.  It’s time we stopped putting up barriers to the Living Water, time to make the wells truly equal and separate only for the sake of crowd control.  It’s most definitely time to say to all, no matter what, “Come and drink.”