Author Archives: snesbitt

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.

Advertisements

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.”

 

 

What Do We Stand For?

No news here…  I’m a Baptist, moderate in flavor, slightly left of moderate in my theology.  We moderate Baptists are a young branch of the Baptist church – less than 30 years old, and we have a history, probably more reactionary than we’d like to admit.

In the late 1980s, there was the “fundamentalist take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention.”  At the time, the majority of white Baptist churches in the south were Southern Baptist – conservative, faithful, evangelistic.  We cared about the saving of souls, sharing Jesus, our beloved Broadman Hymnal (can I get an Amen?), and each other.  Our church was missional both in beliefs and actions.  It’s a tradition I could be proud of, and I’m happy to claim my home church as the builder of my foundation as a Christian and a minister.

When the fundamentalists took over the Baptist church, things got uncomfortable for us.  “Good Baptists” had to believe things that we didn’t necessarily believe and interpret scripture in a way that no longer used Jesus Christ as the criterion by which scripture should be interpreted.  The Bible went from being a holy book of Spirit-breathed scripture that guides, inspires, and teaches and became itself an object of worship – an idol [though every far-right Baptist would have denied that reality with his dying breath (Women’s opinions didn’t matter; we were to be “quietly submissive” as it says in the Bible – though nowhere does the Bible actually say that.)].

The evangelism that was such a strong hallmark of the Southern Baptist Church of old now took on a sinister, judgmental, condemning tone.  “You’re a sinner and need to get right with God!”  Gay, divorced, adulterer, thief, atheist, convict, person of another faith group, drunk, drug addict, feminist, liberal theologian…  Whatever your “sin,” you needed to get on your knees and beg God to forgive you of your sins, turn from your evil ways, and ask Jay-sus to come into your heart, or you’re going to hay-ell.  (It loses its impact if you don’t say it with two syllables and a deep southern drawl.)  Throw in an abundance of Bible thumpin’, and you get the idea.  This approach really overlooked the reality that we’re all sinners, and Jesus says not to judge.  It also – no surprise – turned a lot of people off from church.

From this arose a new kind of Baptist in reaction to the fundamentalist take-over, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was born in 1990.  The CBF went back to our Baptist roots, ordaining women who were called to the ministry and refocusing on both foreign and domestic missions.  In that first decade, decade-and-a-half, I remember a lot of relief work in response to natural disasters around the globe.  The CBF did and still does amazing things, but we didn’t jump on the evangelism very well.  You see, the far-rights evangelized, and their brand of evangelism was rife with condemnation.  We didn’t want to be associated with that at all, so we just didn’t do it.

On the other end of the spectrum in the world of Baptists, we have the American Baptist Church, generally quite liberal and passionate for social justice.  The South has some ABCs, though they’re more numerous in the North and West.  The churches which chose to embrace the more moderate views of the CBF were still pretty conservative at heart; I, myself, belonged to three churches that supported both the SBC and the CBF.  It took a while for churches to transition fully.  Because of these more conservative roots, the CBF churches weren’t entirely comfortable swinging to the more radical viewpoints that undergird a passion for social justice.

The conservative Baptists stand for something – the winning of souls for the Lord.  The liberal Baptists stand for mercy for the disenfranchised and “least of these.”  Although these two groups exercise their Baptistness is very different ways, they at least stand for something.  The moderate Baptists didn’t seize hold of evangelism, nor did we seize hold of social justice, so we’re here in the middle, standing for nothing.  Sure, we want to see people make their professions of faith and be baptized, and we can participate in ministries for the homeless, but don’t ask us – please don’t ask us! – to step out and share our faith with people.  And, please, take our money to donate to this homeless ministry so we don’t have to get our hands dirty in relating to them on a personal level.

Cheap grace, anyone?  We are so content to sit back on our blessed assurances and take in all the awesome grace that God dishes out to us.  After all, we deserve it, right?  I mean, we did earn it with that check we wrote to the homeless ministry and how loudly we said, “Amen!” when the pastor asked who celebrated that new decision for the Lord.  We can’t earn grace, because grace by its very definition cannot be earned.  So as we’re not sharing with people how our relationship with this Jesus dude has changed our lives, and as we’re not on the front lines helping people escape abject poverty and fighting for change, this grace is coming into us, but we’re not sharing it with others.  We’re also not responding to it in a matter of humility or gratitude.  In this way, we’re cheapening the grace of God.

I am calling on all my Baptist sisters and brothers to join me in standing for something.  Let’s stand for the winning of souls, sharing our faith stories and how God’s love interrupted and changed our lives.  And let’s fight for justice and mercy, desiring to effect change in people’s lives through various socio-political systems and through the amazing grace that God gives.  Only in doing this can we rightly pray, “Thy Kingdom come… on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

The History Lesson

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I’m writing this in a darkened hotel room in Arlington, Virginia on Memorial Day 2017.  My teen daughter is still asleep in her bed.  The morning has dawned misty and grey, the lights fuzzy blurs below us, our peek of the Potomac barely visible.  We have been in town to minister, though we also took time to be tourists.  Friday was Arlington, Saturday was the Vietnam Memorial, the WWII Memorial, and part of Air & Space.  Sunday was ministry to bikers, a good number of them veterans, especially Vietnam Vets.  Because of the timing of our homeschool year, Saturday was my older daughter’s last day of school for the year, and we made it a field trip.

When we were at Arlington, I looked out over the acres upon acres of tombstones, and I cried.

Acres of tomb stones at Arlington National Cemetery. There are so, so many!

At the Wall, I looked at the cards left by children, the pictures of the dead left by families, and I cried.

The Vietnam War Memorial

Thank you card from a child at the Wall

I cried giving the history lesson.  Standing in the Pentagon parking lot yesterday, watching women from their 30s to their 90s astride motorcycles in the parade – Gold Star Mothers and Wives – I clapped and I cried.

Gold Star Moms and Wives

I began this post with the oath that soldiers take on enlisting in the Army.  The oath doesn’t change if one is drafted, nor is it different between the branches of the US Military.  In the years following WWII, the primary foreign enemy was the Soviet Union and its desire to spread communism throughout the world.  There was fear in this Cold War era of imminent nuclear war that would wipe out the entire world and, given the former USSR’s growing nuclear arsenal, an American victory wasn’t necessarily guaranteed.  To the American people, the spread of communism threatened the loss of our capitalist economic system, the loss of all the freedoms we enjoy, the end of democracy as we understand it, and the beginning of totalitarianism.

Vietnam happened in this Cold War Era.  Ho Chi Minh had gone to Europe for college and had discovered communism while there.  His beloved country was under imperial rule, first by Japan, then again by France after the war, and he had a genuine desire to make things better.  (Even the world’s worst leaders start off with a desire to make things “better,” whatever that looks like for them.)  The US could not stand by and watch communism take over our South Vietnamese allies, and after success at thwarting the communist threat in Korea, involvement, I’m sure, seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.

Although the Republic fell, some still think of us as allies.

Republic of Vietnam & the US – Allies forever

The US enlisted some and drafted some.  In those days before the draft lottery, the government would draft the number of men they needed, starting with 1 January birthdays and going until it had its quota.  If your birthday was after 1 September, your chances of avoiding the draft were pretty good.  Then 1970 came along, and with it, the draft lottery.  At this point, it didn’t matter when your birthday was.  If you were smart enough and your family wealthy enough to send you to college, you could take an educational deferment, but once you failed out, dropped out, or graduated, your deferment was history.  In your four years there, you hoped and prayed for an end to the war.  Sadly, a disproportionate number of minority and poorer young men didn’t have college as an option, so to war they went – thousands of miles away from home, momma, family, and all that was familiar and comfortable.

In fulfilling the oath they took, they fought the “foreign enemy,” the growing spread of communism.  Yet, the Viet Cong were fighting a foreign enemy, too, and they were fighting for their own independence and “independence” for all of the Vietnamese people.  (We know with our 20/20 hindsight that “independence” doesn’t exist in totalitarian governments, but such a perspective was not in their grasp at the time.)  Not only did our men go and fight in a foreign land against an ideology that was anathema to our American ideals, but some of them died for it.  Do you get that?  In fighting against the spread of totalitarianism and communism, in the struggle to protect and defend our constitution, they diedThey.  Died.

You know what I find most disgusting, most disgraceful, most galling, most heartbreaking?  They died fighting for those freedoms that their fellow citizens used to verbally and physically assault their comrades-in-arms when they returned home from the war.  They died so that a bunch of idealistic college students and housewives who’d watched the war come into their living rooms each night could spit on and cuss at and revile the men with whom they served and even the men and women with whom they didn’t serve.  In a totalitarian government, spitting on or insulting an employee of the government (e.g., a soldier) would be cause for severe punishment, anything from being sent to a “re-education camp” to instant death.  (By 1970/71, my dad’s CO told his men not to wear their uniforms off-base for fear of assault – and my dad never even went to ‘Nam; he served state-side.  But he still would have been accused of being a “murderer” and “baby-killer,” because the media portrayed all soldiers as such.)

Those soldiers, sailors, airmen, corpsmen, and nurses whose names are on the Wall in Washington died to protect our freedoms.

Vietnam Nurses Memorial. This is so poignant, so perfectly capturing what they must have felt and done!

Those soldiers, sailors, airmen, and corpsmen who are memorialized in Washington, DC and various other memorials around the country died to protect our freedoms.  Every single one of them diedThey died to protect us, they died fighting to preserve our American ideals and our American way of life, one of which is the freedom of speech we take so dreadfully for granted.  They died so we can protest injustice, they died so we can articulate our opinions about the sitting government officials (whoever they may be and whenever they may serve), they died so we can share our faith and beliefs with others, they died so we can respectfully disagree, they died even so some cowardly dip-shit celebrity or clueless college kid can burn, step on, and disgrace the flag under which they served, fought, and died.  They died for the freedom I have to key these words, sharing my own opinions and beliefs.

Part of the WWII Memorial commemorating those who fell in the Atlantic Theater

As my daughter and I stood together on Saturday morning, our elbows resting on a segment of the WWII Memorial, looking at the states and territories represented over on the Pacific side of the memorial, observing all the people, listening to a band play music against the backdrop of the fountain, I shared these thoughts with her, shared with her that there is no freedom we have as citizens in our country for which someone has not sacrificed their life.  It’s for us.  I struggled to teach this all-important lesson without breaking completely down in tears; it was hard.  I had to pause and regain my composure a few times.  It’s important, though, that she understands and appreciates how she came to have the freedoms she does in this segment of history in which she lives so that, hopefully, she’ll never take these freedoms for granted.  She must understand how our nation’s history has brought us to this place and these privileges – and responsibilities – we enjoy.

On Sunday, we ministered to bikers, most of them veterans, and a large percentage of those were Vietnam vets.  If you’re like me and didn’t study the Vietnam War in school and/or were a baby or born after the war, you may or may not be aware of the lack of welcome these men received when they returned to the States.  After WWII, there were ticker tape parades, and a grateful America welcomed the soldiers home with open arms and tumultuous cheers.  The Vietnam vets returned home to cold shoulders and tumultuous… jeers.  Our weekend road captain instructed us to “Welcome them home.  Give them the welcome they never received.”  I quickly got adept at identifying the Vietnam insignias and looking for the armed services pins and patches.  Hearing, “Welcome home, Marine.  Thank you for your service.  I’m very grateful” proved to be so transforming to the men who heard it.  Their faces changed, relaxing into ones of reflected gratitude and deep humility.

Just a small fraction of the bikes at Rolling Thunder

These men deserve our gratitude, our warm welcome, our warm reception.  It doesn’t matter what side of the war you’d have been on.  My daughter and I determined that we’d have likely protested the war, likely have disagreed with US involvement, but coming from a long family tradition of military service – going back at least to the US Civil War – there is no way we ever could have shown disrespect to the men wearing the uniform; they were doing their jobs, fighting for their country, fighting for our rights.

When you see the uniform, see the hats, see the insignias, stop and say, “Thank you.”  When you see the distinctive yellow and red bars that denote a Vietnam vet, welcome him home.  Sure, it may feel weird to say that to someone you don’t know 40+ years after their homecoming, but do it, anyway.  Say, “Thank you” to all who serve or have served.  Remember that they likely lost someone on the battlefield they cared about and respected.  Show the love, show the appreciation.

Futbol is Family

The notification comes as you’re walking out of the hair salon:  “Alyssa came home from school with strep.”  Immediately, your mind snaps away from the glorious feel of your new cut-n-style to the reality of that night’s soccer game.  OK…, you think. That brings us down to 6.  We can do 5+1 with no subs.  Rough, but doable.  Thankfully, it’s not a terribly hot day.

It’s 5:45 and you arrive at the fields for warm-ups and drills before the game.  You’re walking to the field when you’re intercepted by another player’s older brother, a baseballer.  He informs you that his younger sister had come for the game but got sick and went home.  Now the cuss words start flipping through your mind.  The absolute minimum you can have and still play is five, and that’s what you’re looking at.  And they’re going to have to play the entire game, no subs, no choice.

Your coaching assistant has let you know she’s pushing it to get there and she’ll have to leave early.  She’s not happy about it, but it’s outside of both your controls and your older daughter is happy to stand in as assistant – not that you really need one.  She says, “I don’t know what to do as assistant,” to which you flippantly reply, “Help if someone gets hurt, cheer, and make sure I don’t cuss.  Loudly.”  Then the ref shows up, and you’re beginning to wonder if you’ll make it through this game without drawing a card.  He’s young, inexperienced, and has more desire than skill.

You confer with the other team’s coach and ask if he’s willing to go 4+1 or if you should reschedule.  Since everyone is out there already, you decide to go ahead and play.  The game goes well.  It’s not a total shut-out.  Your five players are incredible, and you switch them around between goalie, offense, and defense in order to give your hardest runners a bit of a respite.  By the fourth quarter, they’re dragging, you know they’re dragging, and it breaks your heart to have to run them this hard.  They’re strong of spirit, though, and they keep pounding through.

The sweetness of the ball in the goal

At one point during the game, your spouse side-line coaches your daughter to “cover 9,” referring to a player on the other team.  She’s in front of said player and can’t read her number on the back of her jersey.  You know her as the other coach’s daughter and a former teammate of your child’s from last season, so you call her by name.  Your daughter sees the other girl and starts chatting her up.  Oy…  Like defending on a corner kick is the optimal time to catch up with old teammates.  Then again, distraction is an excellent defensive strategy.

The ref is as frustrating as ever, though he has improved some.  Beside you, your teen daughter keeps asking, “Can I cuss, yet?”  “No,” you respond.  So she just mutters, “Period.  Period.  Period” over and over.  It’s her G-rated version of “bloody hell”; you just let it go.  Your team takes hits; one of your goalies takes a ball to the face with enough force to make him cry.  Leather slamming against chilled skin is enough to make anyone cry.  Your daughter’s arm gets cleated accidentally by a teammate.  You want to throttle the ref for calling tripping on one of your players (coincidentally, your child) when the player had tripped over his own feet – a particular skill he practices much throughout the game.  From that point on, it’s like this much bigger boy has it in for your daughter.  You grit your teeth, but amidst the irritation is the reality that this is soccer (a very physical game), and that he must feel threatened by your little soccer diva, so a vein of pride creeps through, because, hey, she’s good.  By the time the game ends, your older daughter says, “If you won’t email the president about how bad he is, I will!”

The game ends, and by the time the last whistle sounds, you’re pretty sure that, if there were superlatives given to coaches, you’d win “Most Likely to Draw a Red Card.”  But once more, you’ve successfully filtered; successfully held on to your temper; and poured out some serious pride on your tired, battered, happy team.

Your team is scheduled for a game for the next day.  Your daughter takes an herbal bath and sleeps hard through the night.  The day dawns grey, and this is the first time you’ve ever wished for a rain-out.  Your team gathers before the game and runs through a few drills before lining up for the ref’s check.  You’re delighted to see that it’s another young ref, but one who does a good job.  You’re still at 4+1 fielding with no subs, though the little girl who’d gotten sick the evening before is feeling better, per a text from her mom.  You have no idea how this is going to go.  Your team is still recovering from the night before; thankfully, there’s another cool day for them.

You take the field.  Earlier in the week, you’d been at the fields working with one little girl, and this led to a half-field pick-up game in which other girls joined you.  One of them is on the team you’re playing today, and she gives you a big smile.  She’d been a sweet, shy flower when you first met, but she’s a fierce little dynamo on the field.  Dang, little soccer divas are cute!

The game begins, and your team gives it its all.  You make an allusion to Star Wars to your assistant; she comes back with Harry Potter.  Laughing, you comment about what geeks you are.  Your team draws first blood, and their team quickly brings it to a tie.  It’s an awesome game!  The ref misses a few calls, but it’s little stuff and balanced.  You notice one of the other team’s players is delivering some high kicks, and about the third time he nearly takes off a player’s head without the ref calling it, you bring him to the ref’s attention – very discreetly.  You, again, swap players between offense, defense, and the box, doing everything you can to maximize their strengths while giving them slower playing zones in which to rest.

Your daughter is hustling, and she and a little boy on the team have developed this super-sweet combo; they move like they’ve been playing soccer together forever, and they intuitively work together extremely well.  You haven’t spoken to his mom, yet, but you really, really hope he stays with soccer and will be on your team again next season – and every season until the two age out.  All throughout the game, they set up combos which lead to some goals.  You work an offensive strategy you pulled out of your butt at the previous week’s game – which worked beautifully – and you hear a parent from the other team say, “Good hustle, number 5!”  The thing is, the other team doesn’t have their #5 on the field; she was complementing your #5.  Do I even need to mention that this is your child?  Soccer is family.

The other team has a player who’s a few years older than any of the other kids.  A slightly built boy, he is on the autism spectrum with minimal soccer skills.  But he’s happy to be out there, and he just loves to play.  The other coach has him on defense, and you’re proud of and happy for him when he gets his foot on the ball and breaks up some plays; he’s improved.  If he gets the opportunity to drive the ball and go for the goal, your offense will become a little bit slow, your defense will soften, and your goalie will just miss nipping the ball.  You see, giving this boy the opportunity to score will be well worth whatever your team has to sacrifice for that point.  In debriefing after the game, you’ll have the opportunity to impress upon these 6- and 7-year-olds about kindness and compassion, and the all-important lesson that the point is to have fun.  It is, after all, simply rec league soccer.

It’s somewhere in the second quarter.  One of your players obviously hasn’t recovered from the previous night and is barely moving.  She finally engages, breaks up a play, then gives a little roar of “Girl power!”  It’s delightful!

Third quarter comes.  The teams swap points back and forth.  You’ve identified the other team’s weak points and coach your players to exploit those without shame.  Your daughter has the ball and is driving to the goal.  She kicks, and as soon as the ball leaves her foot, the referee blows the whistle, signaling the end of the quarter.  The ball is technically still alive, and it sails past the goalie into the net.  You’re whooping and hollering with joy and pride, because it’s her first goal of the season, and it was perfectly executed.  She’s beaming, too, and you pick her up for a little proud-parent spin.

Fourth quarter…  The score is once more tied, this time at 5-all.  The other team is driving towards the goal, delivers a strong kick, and your defender’s head gets in the way of the ball before it goes out of bounds.  Your player is still standing, but the ref is on it and stops play while your assistant and you do a quick neurological check.  You don’t like that the ref gives the other team the throw-in since your player was the one getting hurt, but you concede that it’s a fair call.  Reluctantly.  Your team regains possession of the ball and scores one last time, bringing the score to 6-5 and giving your team the win – their first win of the season.

You’re yelling with your team, you’re giving out hugs and high fives and cheering.  A part of you will worry later that you were maybe celebrating too much, that you perhaps were being a bad sport, but truth is, in those brief moments, the other team doesn’t even exist for you.  This isn’t a celebration that they lost; this is a celebration of pulling out a win under the most unlikely circumstances, against seemingly unbeatable odds, at the end of a really good game against a strong opponent.  It takes an incredible team to have played like they did, but it takes an extraordinary team to pull off such a win.

You take a moment to thank the ref for the good job he did as you line up for the handshake.  You are facing the shy-flower-turned-soccer-diva, smiling at each other as you begin the walk.  Then the rest of the celebration happens.  You congratulate your team on a job well done, and secretly you think to yourself that you’ll have two players back the next game if all goes as planned.  Yet, if you’ve learned nothing else this season, it’s that not everything goes as planned.  One of your players could only cheer from the sidelines for this game, but she comes over to join in the celebration.  You hug her, welcome her back, and tell her she was a part of this win.  You remind them of the next practice and, as it’s the day before Mother’s Day, you tell them to ask their dads to help them wash their uniforms.  Jahaziel, a sweet Hispanic boy and one of your goalies, tells you he already knows how to do his laundry.  He’ll make someone a good husband one day, and your esteem of his parents ratchets up another notch.  You drop the word about an end-of-season party to the kids, and you’ll work out the planning with the parents in the coming week.  You take a few to talk to Jacob’s parents, advising them on a plan of care in case he’s suffered a mild concussion; it involves Tylenol for headache, ER if he starts throwing up, and keeping him awake for at least four hours.

Now it’s time for your other daughter’s game.  You take your place on the bleachers and prepare to watch.  As you catch the end of their drills, you wonder why the coach takes so much time doing goal-kicking drills when only a third of the team will ever be in the position to drive for the goal, anyway.  Sure, it gives the goalie practice, but this team needs more passing work.  You’ve noticed their sense of “team” has eroded some since early in the season, and their heavy-footed kickers are more likely to score field goals through the uprights behind the net than points in the goal box.  Unfortunately, despite many pleas and petitions to the league’s management and the refs, they won’t let the teams nab a quick three points when that happens.

Oh, now this is interesting.  Both of the refs from your games are on the opposing team, and they’re excellent players.  Your daughter’s a defender, and you wonder if she’s caught on to the fact that the ref who’d irritated her so badly the night before is a striker on the other team.  You know that, if she can just break up one of his drives, she’ll feel like the universe has been realigned and all will be right.  Sadly, it doesn’t happen, just from lack of opportunity.  And miracle of miracles, you see that the frustrating ref actually can follow a ball.  You hear a comment that your team gave it more in their game than your older daughter’s team of teens did in theirs, and you can’t help but agree.  The ref in your second game is goalie in this one, and even though it’s his first season reffing, you think he does a better job than these more experienced refs – and there are three at this level.  Although your daughter plays well, a win isn’t to be for them this week.  It’s time to go home.

In the midst of your time at the fields, you’ve dealt with the administrative aspects of coaching, texted the moms of the sick kids to find out how they’re doing, done all the in-game-coaching things, and loved up on your team.  You’ve cheered your other daughter’s team throughout their game and looked over to see your younger daughter playing in a pick-up game involving players from three levels.  You’ve chatted up another team parent; she’ll be on the opposite side next week.  You’ve felt anger at the bad ref anew when you found out he let play continue in the day’s first game, despite a downed, crying player.  You took a few to talk to one of your friends – an opposing coach.  And you’ve talked to former players and former team parents, because soccer is family.

Then Mother’s Day dawns.  Actually, it’d dawned two hours ago, but you’d woken up in the wee dark hours of the morning thinking about your amazing team and gone back to sleep.  Two texts await you, one from your coaching assistant, the other from another player’s mom, both wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day.  The player who’d taken the ball to the face is fine, the one who’d taken a ball to the head has a slight headache, but nothing worse.  You reply to their texts, returning the wishes, and then post such wishes to the whole team.  This is the first time this has ever happened to you.  This year, more than any other, you truly feel that soccer is family.  Or, to put it more alliteratively, football is family.

Being Present to Black Friday

We don’t call it “Good Friday” here, because, in those moments, there was nothing good about it.  After enjoying dinner, twelve disciples watched their leader get arrested.  Then what happened to them?  All we know is that Peter followed along, likely staying close to hear what was going on but even so, denying knowing Jesus at all.  Judas committed suicide out of remorse for his betrayal of Jesus.  As for the rest?  They probably scattered in fear.  Likely we all would.

As Peter followed Jesus and the crowd as the guards dragged Jesus first to the Sanhedrin, then to Pilate, then to Herod and back to Pilate (in Luke’s account), he was scared to death.  Unsure.  Hesitant.  Too scared even to admit to knowing Jesus.

Then Friday dawns.  Jesus is bruised, beaten, bloody.  He hasn’t slept, opting instead to pray for hours during the long night after dinner.  He’s been betrayed, he’s feeling friendless – he’s alone, for all intents and purposes.  Soon he will be forced to walk the two miles from the Praetorium to Golgotha.  Some gospel accounts have him carrying his cross the whole way, others have the Roman soldiers conscripting Simon of Cyrene to carry it part of the way.  Regardless, he picked up his cross.  He accepted the death sentence.

And now it’s 9 a.m.  The soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.  They laugh and jeer, as do people in the crowd.  They divide Jesus’ things amongst themselves and cast lots for his robe.  For the next six hours, Jesus will hear the taunts and jeers of the soldiers, the religious leaders, and the rest of the crowd.  Even one of the thieves beside him would taunt him.  John tells us that Jesus looked down and saw his mother and his “beloved disciple,” giving them to each other, commissioning John to take care of Mary.  The rest of Jesus’ followers?  Who knows where they are.  Probably hiding out in fear, not wanting to be discovered, not wanting to be found guilty by association.

Noon.  Darkness falls over the land.  Jesus continues to suffer, breath coming harder.  The crowds and soldiers continue to watch and mock.  Crucified people slowly suffocate and die, eventually becoming too weak to push up against the nails or ropes, the weight of the body as it hangs preventing the lungs from taking in enough air.

Three p.m.  Jesus gives a loud cry and dies.  The Roman soldiers don’t need to break his legs to hasten death as they had to to the thieves.  The eleven remaining disciples are nowhere to be found.  Two members of the Council, secret followers of Jesus, now come out and one approaches Pilate, requesting the body of Jesus.  The other helps him take the body down.  They wrap the body in herbs and linens before laying it in a new tomb.  The women who followed Jesus follow the two men, noting where Jesus was before going home for Sabbath rest.

Sunset comes and with it, the Sabbath begins.  We don’t know what the disciples did, but we can imagine how they felt.  They would have felt fear and uncertainly.  They were heartbroken about losing their friend and teacher.  The disciples were crushed with disappointment, because they truly believed that Jesus was heralding a new messianic era, a time when the Israelites would rise up and destroy their Roman oppressors.

In the evangelical church, we grab hold of “Sunday’s coming!”  We want to skip right past the ugly, emotional events of Thursday night and Friday and get to the joy of Sunday.  As I was growing up, we went from Palm Sunday with its Hosannas to Resurrection Sunday with its Hallelujahs.  In fact, there was the unspoken belief that the suffering of cancer, miscarriages, and chronic illnesses was because of one’s sin, so such issues were kept secret and private to avoid judgment.  We didn’t talk about suffering at all, not even the life-changing suffering of Jesus Christ.

However, are we not first followers of Christ?  We need to embrace the pain that Jesus and his followers faced.  We need to understand the pain, sense of betrayal, heartbreak, disappointment, sadness, the mind-melting fatigue, and the fear of those first disciples.  But why?  Why do we want even to visit this place of darkness?  We do so, because we will visit this valley in our lives.  We will feel all of these emotions, and we will experience the paralysis that comes from overwhelming inundation of feeling many of them at the same time.

Yes, we have the hope of the resurrection and new life in Christ, but that doesn’t take away the reality of the pain.  Sure, “Sunday is coming,” but the disciples didn’t know that, or, rather, they didn’t believe it.  And Sunday coming two days later does not, in any way, change the reality that today is Friday and today is dark with grief and fear.

So let’s stay here for today – and tomorrow, too.  Let’s understand and feel the richness of the emotions of this day, even when they’re not all pastel, fluffy, cotton-tailed happiness.  Let’s be present to these emotions, realizing that we must have sadness in order to appreciate best the joy of the empty tomb and what that means for our lives.  To do less than this is to cheapen the value of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable.