Monday, February 27, 2012

When Will It End?

Today I awoke like everyone else to hear about another school shooting.  This one was in Chardon, Ohio where one student died and four others were shot by a classmate who opened fire in the school cafeteria.  It has been an all too common thread in our society – mass shootings at school, in church, at home, and in the workplace.  Mass shootings taking place to supposedly right some wrong – perceived or real – are happening far too often.

On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, 12 students and one teacher were killed by two of their classmates.  Another 21 students were injured.  Watching the chaos was disturbing and haunting.  Today brought back memories of that day in 1999.

It was a horror to watch then and many talked about ways to combat the violent responses by teens who are outcasts, from broken homes, depressed, bullied, into violent gaming, etc.  Yet here we stand again in the midst of another mass shooting.  We don’t yet know all the details but early reports suggest this young man was angry, bullied, and an outcast.  Whatever his reasons for shooting his fellow classmates – it was not the answer.

The obvious questions will continue to be asked – where did he get the gun?  Was it a legal purchase?  Was it an unsecured gun?  What had happened in his life to bring him to this point?  Where was his family?  What role could teachers and counselors in the school have played in preventing this horror?  What could other students have done to reach out to this young man?  What made him target those particular students?

But there are no easy or fast answers.  

Right now I pray for the family of the student killed, for those who were injured and their families, for the alleged shooter and his family, for those students who escaped injury, for the community of Chardon, for the teachers and staff of the school, for the parents who worried about their children, and for God presence in all of this.

I wish I could snap my fingers and end bullying.  I wish there was not a way these troubled and bullied people could get their hands on firearms.  I wish these situations would become a tragic memory of the past never to occur again.  I wish bullying would never end forever.  I wish violence was not seen as an answer to slights and pain.  I wish all gun violence would end.  I wish for peace in the midst of this chaos and pain. 

Until then – we pray for all of those involved and for our hurting world.  We pray for a faith that sets us free from violence and pain.  We pray.  Lord, in your mercy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

40 Days of Looking at Ourselves

‎"In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves."  ~ Frederick Buechner

Spending the 40 days of Lent each year pondering one’s life and faith is a wondrous thing.  Spending the intentional time reconciling oneself to their sinful nature and their need for redemption is essential.  Spending time in prayer and fasting is good for the soul. 

Spending time differently by adding reading scriptures, working at a charity organization, or taking on some other self-reflective or activity is an important part of a Lenten Journey. Some of my friends and colleagues take on some very special projects during Lent – thereby giving up other things they might be doing during that time of service.

Spending time pondering life and faith during a time of sacrifice and denial can be amazingly renewing.  Although giving something up you dislike already can be less inspiring – in my humble opinion.  (A friend is giving up mean people, artichokes, and standing in line.)  Many folks give up very significant things during Lent to remind themselves of the sacrifice needed to prepare for Easter still to come.

Asking oneself, as Buechner suggests, what it means to be oneself is good for the soul.  But it can be a difficult thing to do.

Looking within is sometimes tough.  Looking within means seeing the rawness of our sinfulness, the wounds of our mistakes, and the abject need of redemption and reconciliation in our lives.  Looking within can bring us to a place of serious need … to examine our lives and to recommit to the journey of faith.

This Lent my prayer is that you take the time to look within, to evaluate what your life is about, and to find a way to see yourself differently when Easter Morning comes this year.

The time is now – to spend the next 40 days looking within.  You might not like all that you see, but now is also the time to change that. 

Asking what it means to be you as a person of faith can be tough but it can also be a gift.  May your Lenten Journey of self-discovery be a blessed one. And may this season bring you closer to the One who created all that you are.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Silencing is the First Step of a Slippery Slope

I have been baffled, angered, and disturbed lately by the lack of women’s presence and voices on TV news, in other media outlets, and at the GOP Oversight and Government Reform Committee panel discussing women’s health and contraceptive issues.  The absurdity of excluding the one group of people who are most affected by their decisions and opinions is ridiculous.  I have friends who are Pro-Choice and Pro-Life and most from both groups are outraged by the silencing of women on this critical issue. 

"What I want to know is, where are the women?" Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked Issa before walking out of the hearing after the first panel. "I look at this panel, and I don't see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventative health care services, including family planning. Where are the women?" (from HuffPost). 

Too many times in our culture the powerful people of politics, media, religion, etc. make decisions that relate to others without seeking their input.  It happens in churches and synagogues, meeting halls and parking lots.  It happens in local, state and national politics by the powerful listening to only those who can donate big bucks to their campaigns.  It happens in denominations and work places by silencing those who disagree with the majority or those in power.  It even happens at the altar and around the table of our Lord when some are welcomed and others are kept away. 

It happens in homes when the powerful deny the voices of the weak to be heard.  It happens in bullying and betrayal.  It happens when people speak of inclusion and acceptance but act contrary to those words.  It happens when groups refuse to even consider including someone from outside of their circle for inclusion.  It happens when games are played and some are left out. It happens when the needs and opinions of some are drowned out by the wants of the majority.
The slippery slope of silencing “the other” leads to exclusion and oppression.  

We have too much of this in our society already.  It happens too much!

We are called to do better!  We are called to be better!

Friday, February 10, 2012

I Am NOT Old!

I went to get my eyes checked this week and had to list my age, allergies, and current prescriptions on the patient information page.  (Five meds I take daily.)  I had to list my allergies to medications.  (I had a couple. Namely, penicillin)  And I had to do a glaucoma and cataracts test.  (Good for now.)

Then I started the actual eye exam.  And the 20 something Doctor said to me, "At your age ... needing to go up in the power of the reading level of your no line trifocals is normal."

"At my age ...". Seriously?  I am not even 50 yet.  How old does the young man think I am?

Was that a slap at my age or just a simple statement by the guy?  It could be taken as either but I took it as a little bit of a slap ... even though I laughed with him.  I do have very salt and pepper colored hair (although more salt than pepper these days), but I am not even eligible for AARP yet.  I do have arthritis and high blood pressure (but I blame sports injuries and my family genetics for those).  I am one of the older parents of kids in my son's class but not the oldest.  And I guess I do have friends from high school who are posting pictures of their grandkids on Facebook. 

But I am NOT old.

Then I started thinking about age.  Was it really a slap?  My parents are in their mid-70s and are the youngest 70+ people I know.  And despite the periodic colds, sinus infections, and aches from arthritis - I am in good health.  Yes, I need to lose weight, exercise more, and eat better - all 2012 goals - but overall I am in good health.

Age is something we joke about as a culture.  Some folks hide or deny their age.  Some folks get plastic surgery to not look their age.  Some even try unconventional remedies to stave off aging.

Me ... not so much.  I will be 50 this year and I relish it.  I am enjoying my Jubilee year.  I have pretty grey hair and I earned every single one of them.  I have creaks and groans but I am still moving.  I have laugh lines by my eyes and I am glad I took the journey that gave them to me.

I have a son who keeps me young (he has also aged me but I like the other fact better). I have friends who keep me laughing and enjoying life.  I have a family that loves me and inspires me.  I have a vocation that lets me share who I am and my gifts in ways that make me light up constantly.

I have grown in faith over the years, become more confident with who I am, and lived through some tough times that helped me to be who I am now.  I have deepened my relationships with my family and know my place in the world.  God has blessed me in numerous ways. And I am thankful for it all.

So, aging ... bring it on.  My life has only gotten better with age.   Just don’t call me old.  I’m just gently used … experienced … perfected with time.  

Whatever you call it … bring it on.

Ok, maybe I’d like to have a few less creaks and groans, but still ... bring it on.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sharing Something worth Sharing

One of my friends posted John Wesley’s Holy Club Questions today on Facebook.  I had not read them recently and they instantly brought me right back to my UM Polity and Doctrine course in seminary at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri.  It was an amazing moment of memory and connection.

If you are not familiar with them, here they are:

• Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
• Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
• Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
• Can I be trusted?
• Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
• Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
• Did the Bible live in me today?
• Do I give it time to speak to me every day?
• Am I enjoying prayer?
• When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
• Do I pray about the money I spend?
• Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
• Do I disobey God in anything?
• Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
• Am I defeated in any part of my life?
• Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
• How do I spend my spare time?
• Am I proud?
• Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
• Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
• Do I grumble or complain constantly?
• Is Christ real to me?

Several of these jumped out at me, but the one that constantly brings me up short asks, “When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?” 

Sharing something “important” in our lives takes place hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands of times, on Twitter and Facebook every minute of the day.  People tweet what they are doing in 140 characters or less even if it seems trivial or pointless to others.  People update their status on Facebook whether it is about an awesome cup of coffee, a gripe about their job, or a life changing event.  We sit around dinner tables at home and in restaurants telling others about things that we did during that particular day.  Sharing daily events happens all the time.

But faith is something we could be sharing more often than most of us currently are.  The question asks, simply, are your talking about your faith with others?  And more pointedly, when was the last time you did so?

My faith is vital to who I am.  Living my faith is a daily activity.  Walking with God is essential to my life.  Being part of a community of faith is my lifeblood.  Taking time to pray is a daily ritual.  Being a servant for justice makes my faith walk and talk in the world.  Following the example of Jesus is something I strive to do always.

But again, Wesley asks, When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?”  For me it’s easy.  I had a talk about my faith on the plane coming back from Texas earlier this month after my seatmate asked what I do for a living and got curious.  But before that - and outside of the classroom or pulpit - it has been a while. And I need to be better about that.

Sharing our faith is an important part of our lives as Christians.  But we often fail to do so.

Why?  Fear, lack of experience, discomfort sharing personal faith stories, lack of relationships with those who we could share with, anxiety about sharing too much, tensions in our own faith lives, and many others keep us from sharing our faith.

Sharing our faith starts with creating relationships – in our work places, in our communities, in our families, in our social networks, etc.  Being ourselves and sharing who we are as people of faith can be as simple as sharing a prayer on Twitter or Facebook, as personal as talking about our church or faith community with friends, or as profound as bringing another person to faith through our words and witness.

We have to start somewhere.  So this week … share your faith with others.  Do it in subtle, simple ways to gain confidence … then you will feel even more comfortable sharing your faith story with others down the line.

Sharing has to start sometime.  What better time than now?