Category Archives: Faith

Embracing ourselves as God’s masterpieces requires a bit of faith

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.

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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.”

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.

My Two Cents’ Worth

Sunday and Monday, I was pounding the pavement, rocking my almost-three miles each day, getting the heart pumping happily.  Both days as I walked, I found two pennies on the street.  Finding these on Sunday was remarkable, but I shrugged it off:  I’ve been walking those streets 3-4 days a week since October and had never found money before.  Finding these coins two days in a row, though, seemed to be a sign that needed attention.

As I walked Monday, those two pennies clinking softly in the pocket of my running pants, I thought about two cents.  What good, of what value, is a mere two cents?  It depends on your frame of mind, I guess.

To a millionaire, a couple of cents would be dispensable.  What’s two cents out of hundreds of millions?  To most of us, we can take them or leave them.  Maybe we wouldn’t want to touch dirty pennies.  Or, if you’re like me, you toss them in a jar until you have enough to roll – or save them to use as math manipulatives.

English: Large amount of pennies

English: Large amount of pennies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For one woman in the Bible, though, two cents was absolutely everything she had.  Mark relates the story of Jesus and his disciples standing in the narthex of the Temple, watching people placing their tithes and offerings in the offering box.  Most placed their ten percent, the Pharisees making a production of such.  One poor woman put in a whopping two mites – two small coins, probably worth a cent each.  What are those worth compared to the tithe of a rich person?  Jesus commended her offering to his disciples, for she had put in far more than anyone else; she had put in everything she had.

Those two cents made me remember, we need to give everything we have.  Some have the sheer faith literally to turn over everything they have to the Lord and trust God for all their provisions.  Others (I fall into this camp) recognize their blessedness in all they have, however much it is, and strive to honor God in how they use and treat it.  In doing this, I have come to see the blessings even in the clutter (God did give me those children who make it), but I have also taken it as a discipline to put the stuff in its proper perspective.

Our church has been doing a study the past few weeks on living generously, and we spent an easy two weeks talking about how we can live more generously if we don’t think we always need more.  I pretty much mentally checked out of the study at that point, because I don’t want more, I don’t need more, and I don’t think I need more.  In fact, we are steadily getting rid of stuff, putting perfectly good furniture we were storing at the curb for others to take and selling and donating clothes (with monies going towards the girls’ soccer this season).

We also need to dedicate our work and play to the Lord.  We need to play in a way that points people to the Lord, and how we go about our work needs to be a witness to God.  This means working with integrity and not trying to get by with less-than-responsible behavior.  It means not trying to get by with stuff.  My older daughter and I discussed how I could do something and no one would ever know.  I could get by with it, technically it wouldn’t harm anyone, but it still wouldn’t be right.  Integrity – doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

In our play, we also need to give all we have to God.  This manifests itself in good sportsmanlike conduct in team sports, discipline in practice, and, for those of us crazy fortunate enough to coach, modeling the right behaviors.  Coaching soccer is like ministry to me, and I am constantly aware of how I can show the love of God to my players, both on and off the field.  Giving our play to God also shows up in how we treat others, even in our casual pick-up games.

As you go through your days, give you all to God.  Our offering is more than just 10% of our paychecks; it’s time, talents, and gifts – all which come from God and all which we can use to glorify him and lift others up.  As for those four pennies…?  They’re going in the offering plate.  I’m trying not to denigrate them as “just four cents.”  I’m going to trust God will multiply them as the Lord has done before, and those four pennies will end up being far, far more valuable than four cents.

Reflections on #NCCPilgrimage16

This week, my 13-year-old, Mary, shares her thoughts and reflections on this year’s Pilgrimage, a weekend-long worship extravaganza for United Methodist youths. 

I had been looking forward to Pilgrimage 2016 since last year, when I went to Pilgrimage 2015.  The youth conference was only for United Methodist youth and was located in Fayetteville, North Carolina at Crown Coliseum.  The youth could bring friends, which almost all the youth in my small church youth group did happily last year.  We arrived in high spirits and had a joyous time singing and worshipping together with 5,000+ United Methodist youth from all over North Carolina in one place, youth of different colors, languages, and pasts.  I learned that we all made “Pilgrimage clothespins,” which were plain, wooden clothespins with inspirational messages on the sides.  We would then clip them onto the clothing of other people and merge into the crowd, knowing later they would read it and it would make them smile.  Getting clipped was an amazing thing, reading at night encouraging and uplifting messages of hope, love, and God.

This year, I began to count down the days until Pilgrimage 2016.  I was excited, as was my entire youth group.  This year, we didn’t bring friends and instead of a hotel we stayed in a camp.  We were looking forward to arriving at the coliseum for a life-changing experience, as we had last year.  I spent half the summer making Pilgrimage clips, painting them in bright colors and putting brilliant life quotes and Bible verses on the sides.  My buddy and I passed out a few of our clips Friday night, feeling grand knowing we made people smile.

Saturday morning, again, my buddy and I passed out clips, giving away my remaining twelve.  We sat down, ready for the hope of an amazing second session of Pilgrimage.  Instead, we were told that if we had a Pilgrimage clip on our being we would be immediately sent home.  The speaker of this year’s Pilgrimage sessions dished out hate at the clips.  Everyone was told to throw away their clips at the trashcans near the entrances; whether or not everyone did and instead risked their time pocketing the clips, I don’t know.

That evening, when we arrived at the coliseum, the cheerful atmosphere was missing from the entire building.  Everyone was more subdued than normal, not much chattering was going on, everyone in almost a thoughtful silence.  Passing out those clips was tradition, and in fact, taking that away angered many adults.  The knowledge of not being able to do that anymore took out half the joy in Pilgrimage, because with those clips, you knew you’d make someone smile.  We all took our seats half an hour before the third session started.  Once it had begun, one of the Pilgrimage coordinators went onstage and explained why we couldn’t have the clothespins.  A few Hispanic, Latino, and Asian youth groups had gotten bullying pins that said, “I love Trump!” on one side and “Build that wall!” on the other.  One of the chaperones from a Hispanic youth group – Stacy – got up and took the stage.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fpastorjlvillasenor%2Fvideos%2F10211430020285673%2F&show_text=0&width=400

The beginning of Stacy’s speech was good, explaining how she felt unwanted because of harassing clips her youth group had received and stares that greeted her the day before.  She made mention of how she’d grown up being bullied and understanding how it felt to be an outsider.  In school, she had to teach herself English, because her family didn’t know the language.  During recess, when everyone was playing dodgeball, people would say, “Get out that Mexican girl!  Get her out so she could return to where she came from!”

She explained how hurt she felt as she walked into the coliseum when people were looking at them as if to say, What are you doing here?  You don’t belong here.  However, then she started to make comments, such as how “the message of the red hat and the message of the wall is not the message of the gospel.”  A few youth that greeted her were wearing red Make America Great Again hats, which she found offensive.  “The message of the red hat was not a message of inclusion and welcome; it was a message of disinclusion (sic) and discrimination.”  More of the speech told us that the hat represented a person whose message was unwelcome and discriminatory toward women, Latino, African American, and Hispanic people as well as others.  “And this is not the message of the gospel,” Stacy told the many thousand youth listening.  “So today, we wanted to tell you, if you really believe that the Holy Spirit is here, if you really want to welcome the Holy Spirit, then take off your red hats.”

Being a true American citizen, she had a right to say that.  The freedom of speech is still true, no matter where you are.  But many of us believe that she was speaking to the wrong people.  Here we were, in a place supposed to be a destination to learn more about God and worship together, only the chaperones able to vote, getting politics in our faces.  It seemed as if all us Caucasians were labeled as Trump supporters and racists, even though there were only a few people at fault.  We were labeled as haters towards anyone who is darker colored, and I know that that is not the truth about most of the youth present that night.

See, as Christians, we are supposed to be loving towards everyone, not just people with the same skin tone as us.  Stacy judged us in her own stereotypes, taking the little she knew from the few minutes they stayed the first night and running and accusing all of us of being like that, when I know that loads of youth groups there would’ve welcomed her in.  She tried to blame us all for something only a few people did.  You don’t know the past of the youth who wore those hats.  No one in our youth group saw them.  They might have been using them as warmth, given that inside the coliseum was still really cold.  They might not have had much money, so since it was cold around the coliseum and outside, that one hat may have been the only one in their family.  We never know what the inside story about people are until we get to know them, but we often don’t take time to and instead make snap decisions.  Stacy was willing to tell us about her back story, but she didn’t take time to know the stories of others.  We as people have our own opinions, and if we want to wear a hat with our opinions on it, why should we be stopped?  What Stacy did was right in the respect that she did have freedom of speech, but wrong in many respects.

1) Wrong place, wrong time.  She should not have thrown politics into the matter.  She started off strong, but she quickly fell.

2) How many of us youth could vote?  That’s right, next to none.  Again, she shouldn’t have put in politics.

3) She didn’t respect the fact that we all have our own opinions.  Instead, she made a bigger issue out of it all.

4) She labeled us all incorrectly instead of just the people with the hats.  She labeled us all as haters and Trump supporters, not Christian people who would welcome everyone gladly.

I was grateful when our livid youth leader said that we were leaving after the speech was over.  We decided that since the Pilgrimage pins were taken from us, we would make up some and return to church the next day where we knew we’d be accepted lovingly so we could clip these pins on people.  We were up bright and early Sunday morning to get on the road, and we had fun clipping others.  I have made up my mind that every time I visit that church, I’m going to clip a handful of people.  I can also do it at general places such as grocery stores, restaurants, and gatherings.  I can spread love easily through a simple clip.

On a closing note, I believe that our image of what the weekend was going to be was different from God’s plan.  I was really grateful that we returned to church early, because we made many people smile with the joy we shared and the enthusiasm we brought with us at the sheer idea of returning.  Our pastor was absolutely livid, something I’ve never seen before in my life, and she explained that what happened should not have and that there was no place for it in a church setting.  Everyone went out of their way to show us some extra love after the horrible time we’d just had.  We all learned things from that experience, but the most important of them all was just how it feels to be labeled as one thing when only a few people were the cause.  Such as how Hispanic people are all being labeled as illegal, lazy, and/or drug dealers, when I know many who are perfectly legal, have great jobs, and hate the idea of drugs.  We think that Muslims are in support of ISIS, and that Blacks are associated with gangs and ‘hoods.  But really, it’s not true.  There are White gangs as well, and yet we never want to look at them.  What we don’t want to realize is that there are actually only a few immigrants who are illegal, and yet we want to say that every one of them is here illegally and subject to deportation.

 

But Boys Will be Boys, Right?

I’m keeping this blog nonpartisan, choosing only to address underlying issues.  Please don’t assume endorsement for any candidate.

The media is all abuzz this week after a video came out from over a decade ago featuring Donald Trump saying some pretty vile, disgusting things about women and how, because of his wealth, he was at full liberty to touch women inappropriately.  He blew it off as “locker room talk.”  As I’ve never been inside a men’s locker room, I can’t say if it is or not, and if I ever were to hear men speaking that way with all that false bravado or sheer cockiness, I would assume their big mouths were overcompensating for a significant lack in penile endowment.

BRMHS boys locker room 1

BRMHS boys locker room 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This type of talk, though, only perpetuates the whole concept of rape culture.  In the aftermath of this video coming to light, women started talking about when they were sexually assaulted by men who thought they could get by with it, usually because of their seniority in some way (age, position, wealth).

I remember being 13 when it happened to me, though mine was by a classmate.  It was the last day of school before Christmas break, and as I walked down the hall to class, a boy – one of the popular, cool kids – came from behind me and groped my breast.  I never told anyone – never have until now – but I remember feeling so ashamed.  And helpless.  This guy thought that, because I had large breasts – larger than any other girl in my class, anyway – that they were available to be grabbed.  He further thought that, being one of the popular boys, he could get by with it.  (Karma, anyone?  She found this guy.)  I didn’t say anything, because who would believe me?  Boys are gonna be boys, right?  No harm done.  Nevermind that I was painfully self-conscious of my breasts already and that a lot of less-developed girls hated me for them.  I never asked for that particular genetic “blessing.”

The proliferation of images of naked women online perpetuates this idea that women’s bodies exist only for men’s pleasure and consumption.  I have a guy friend who shall remain anonymous who enjoys looking at nude pictures of barely legal young ladies online, and he gives positive reinforcement to those who post those images by downloading, sharing and liking them.  Who are those ladies, though?  Desperate college students who needed a few bucks eight years ago and never thought their pictures would be plastered all over the internet?  Someone’s ex-girlfriend who posed for her boyfriend, never knowing that he’d sell her pictures after the breakup?  However those pictures came to be there, the message is the same:  The woman’s body is only for the pleasure of men.  It does not belong to her at all.

Ten years ago, out of boredom and because I like showing off my creative endeavors, I wrote erotica and posted it online (under a pseudonym, of course!).  The feedback I received was very rewarding for the most part, though some of it was less-than-welcome.  I was honestly surprised at how many men thought I’d want to hook up with them for sex, just because I wrote about sex.  They assumed that, since I put a few sexual fantasies out there for public consumption, that I was eager to put my whole self out there for whoever wanted it.  Absolutely not!  (And my husband has always loved reading these stories, so don’t go thinking that I did this behind his back.  We also laugh at the not-so-subtle requests for sexual favors.)

The popular thought in rape culture is that all women are “asking for it.”  We’re “asking for” the leers, the sexual assaults, the gropes, the frotteurism.  It doesn’t matter how a woman dresses or what she does; none of us are “asking for it.”  So some women choose to show their bodies off; it doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to outside of the proper relationships, nor that we want the touches.

Here’s a novel idea:  Parents, choose to teach your sons the true value of women.  Now I get that there are people out there who totally agree with Mr. Trump about women not being worth more than a man’s thrills.  For the majority of people, though, that’s not the case.  Teach sons to grow up respecting women, teach them that women’s bodies belong only to us women, and teach them that women are not objects.  We are people created by God  in the very image of God to be co-equal and complementary to men.  (Sure, I’m not as physically strong as my husband, but he’s not as emotionally strong as I.)  God loves us women exactly as much as God loves men.  Jesus died for women just as he died for men.  Slowly but surely, generation by generation, hopefully we can eradicate the rape culture prevailing in our world and teach men a whole new appreciation for women.

 

The Compassion of a Child

I’m sitting in my home along the SE US coast, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pay us a visit.  Am I worried?  Not particularly, though I did feel a strong sense that we needed to do more to prepare for this storm than we typically do for others.  We’re prepared to this point, though we’ll have a bit more to do come Thursday and Friday.  Worst case scenario, we pack the kids and the cats into two cars and head west; the cars are fueled sufficiently.

This morning as the girls and I tracked the storm, we saw that some people weren’t so lucky.  As we pulled up the tracking map online, we saw that at that moment, the storm was right over Haiti and eastern Cuba, with a course dead-straight to the Bahamas.  While this is devastating for all these island peoples in the Caribbean, our hearts really went out to the Haitians.  It’s like they can’t catch a break!

So we prayed.  Then H, my seven-year-old who’s diligently saving up for a pink sparkly boat about the size of a massive cruise ship, started outlining her plan for rescuing people in such situations.  This plan involves using her boat to take them to safety on her own private island, complete with three hospitals, just to make sure everyone gets the care they need.  (I guess she’d need more than one island, so she’d have options depending on which direction the storms are going.)

As the pink sparkly boat is still quite a ways off, H spontaneously thought about what she could do now.  Her solution?  She wants to donate some of her shoes and clothes to children in Haiti who’ll lose everything in this storm.  I immediately grabbed my phone and texted the children’s minister at church, asking if there’s any reception for those sorts of donations.  No, but there are organizations, like Hope Changes Everything, who already have boots on the ground and need money to supply the Haitians with exactly what they need, be it clothes, food, or housing.  (That link will take you right to their site, and you can donate there.)

Our minister suggested a yard sale.  Truthfully, I don’t relish the idea of putting together a yard sale, but the weather will be good again, and there are a lot of things we can get rid of for this cause.  While I don’t look forward to the work and administration of doing this, I’m excited, because this is something H can lead off on.

I am understandably so proud of my daughter for having a heart that wants to reach out to people who have been so devastated by this storm.  More, though, is how she’s overcoming her own fears of the storm in thinking about others.  All morning, we talked together about what we need to do to make sure our home and property are ready for the storm.  I presented it as, “We need to be prepared, but we’re gonna be OK.  Worrying won’t change the storm at all.”  Still, though…  She is seven, and she’s not so thrilled with regular ol’ thunderstorms, let alone a hurricane due for a direct hit.  Once she started thinking about how to help others, she forgot to be afraid.

H is such a good teacher, even reminding her pastor momma about some truths that are easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

  • We need a change in perspective sometimes.  Things look challenging for us this coming weekend, but they’re much worse for thousands upon thousands of other people who have no evacuation routes and limited resources.
  • When we’re afraid, it helps to think about others and become unafraid.  I find it also helps remembering who controls the storm.
  • What we have can be used to serve other people.  This girl has plans for her life, plans that involve a good deal of education and helping vulnerable creatures.  Yet, her heart remains for people and desiring to help them.

The Bible tells us so many things about children.  “A little child shall lead them.”  “You must have the faith of a child.”  And the Psalmist writes, “From the lips of infants and children, You have ordained praise.”  We oh, so busy adults need to stop sometimes and listen.  The still small voice of God I’m hearing this week isn’t coming from a gentle breath of wind, but from the lips of a little girl.

God, Give Me Faith!

God, give me more faith!” I prayed in the shower this morning.  Yet, even as I prayed that, I thanked God for God’s provisions and affirmation the previous night.

As I did my rehab and exercises this morning, I reflected on that prayer.  Uh oh, I thought.  What if praying for more faith is like praying for more patience, where you don’t actually get it, but you get opportunities to practice and cultivate it?

We’re a two-entrepreneur family now, and I told my husband last night in the midst of frustration and discouragement, “I know you’re doing everything you can.  No question.  And I still believe this is what God has led us to.”  There were no buts, no “if onlys,” just a simple assurance that we’re still on the right track.  Within half an hour, I received an order from a customer from whom I wasn’t expecting another order.  Yeah, I see it as a God thing.

“God, give me more faith!”  The story of the man with the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 came to me.  The father wants to believe.  In fact, I believe he truly does.  Yet, the doubts creep in; after all, his son had been possessed by this evil spirit for years, and it’d tried to kill the boy numerous times.  So the father cries out, anguished, “I believe!  Help me to believe more!”  Some translations have that as, “I have faith!  Help me have more faith!”  That’s me this morning.

It’s a pure, selfless request, the request of the striving, growing believer.  Those moments when our faith slips can lead in two directions:  One, we can say that God obviously doesn’t care and turn away completely; or two, we can pray for more faith.  Pray for it.  Ask for it.  We can’t do anything more than this to get it.  We can’t put our good works into some vending machine to get what we want back out.  All we can do is humbly, sincerely ask.  It is in humbling ourselves that we are most receptive to receiving greater faith.

In the Mark 9 account of this demon-possessed boy, there’s a request, there’s a faith lesson, then there’s healing, followed by God granting exactly what the father needed.  Both father and son needed something on this day.  This morning, I prayed a request, the Spirit led my meditations, there was a revelation (not so much a healing for us), then God gave me what I needed.  While I was doing my rehab, I’d heard my husband come back in after having left for work before leaving again.  I texted to ask if everything was OK.  He’d gotten two voicemail messages, both for estimates, one for a subcontract job with growth potential.  God gave us an opportunity to increase our income (always vital in the new stages of entrepreneurship), and God had affirmed that we were still on the right path.

God gave me more faith!

God in the Little Things

I prayed.  And I prayed.  And I prayed some more.  I prayed – admittedly – to calm myself down in order to fall back asleep when worries and anxieties woke me during the night.

I’m generally pretty casual when I pray.  No “Holy Father, thou art God.”  In fact, unless it’s a liturgical prayer, I pretty much never pray in the King’s English.  My husband had been trying to do something grand and wonderful, and there was roadblock after roadblock in his way.  So I was in the shower one day a couple of weeks ago, having a little conversation with God that went something like this:

“OK, God.  You know what’s been going on, and you’ve seen how frustrated Peter is getting.  Tell me something.  What’s your plan here?”

Then like a bolt – ZAP! – to the back of the head, the message came loud and clear:  “Get a line of credit on your business for him to use.”

There are a bagillion reasons why I would think that’s a bad idea, including the fact that I’m opposed to buying anything on credit.  But I didn’t argue.  I also didn’t run right out and go to the bank, either; my husband and I discussed it first.

The next business day, I went to the bank, and I applied for that line of credit.  And for whatever reason, it took over a week to hear about a decision that usually just takes 48 hours.  But I did hear, and I did get it.  As a result, he has a chance of seizing a dream that he’s held onto for at least 20 years.

It’s such a little thing.  Well, it’s big to us, but in the scope of the world – the universe – this is a pretty insignificant thing.  And yet, God heard my prayers, even the one from the shower, and God let me know God heard them.  Look back at what happened.  I asked God for guidance, not a cash infusion.  The choice was still mine as to what I did with that guidance.

We read in Psalm 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (NIV).  Darn if we don’t want that light for our path to be something like  high-beam headlights or those mega-watt halogen lights used for nighttime construction work!  Right?  Of course.  We’re “big picture” people.  But no.  It truly is a “light for [our] feet,” a tiny little keychain flashlight that illuminates a 24-inch circle, just big enough for our next step.  We don’t get to see the big picture, and we’re not meant to.  Instead, we see enough to take the next step, but no farther.

Taking that first step requires a great deal of faith.  It does get easier with each successive step, though.  Until it’s not so easy.  Until a crisis hits and our faith is shaken, and we’re not at all sure we can take that next step, because we can’t see far ahead.  We can’t even see the light for ourselves until someone – friends, family, minister – convinces us that it’s still there.

Every step, every little foot of ground covered, God is there.  In the exciting times, like starting a new business, God is there.  In the freaky-exhilarating times, such as departing to another continent on a mission trip, God is there.  In the dark valley of the hospitalization of a child, God is there.

I pray that you’ll let these words comfort you in the dark times and comfort you in times of uncertainty.  When you encounter someone who needs the reminder, share these words, share the message.