Posts Tagged ‘God



25
Feb
11

In the Bulb there is a Flower

In December you read about the Christian Peacemakers Teams, my friend Mark Frey and his friend Glenn who has been on death row for 25 years. The post was titled,  Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas.

Today Mark writes to say:

Glenn called this morning, saying “It’s a bad day, brother. They gave me a date: March 31.”  That’s when Alabama (but really it’s our society) will kill him at 6:00 pm.

He was task-focused, trying to figure out what he needed, and wanted, to do before the end of his life. He was filled with regrets about all the things he’d wanted to do and letters he’d wanted to write before the end, but just wont have time to do.

He asked me to call his “soul-mate” in England, so that she’d find out about his date from a friend rather than through the internet. She took the news well: “We knew this was coming.”

“Yes, but it’s real now,” I said.

She and Glenn are devout Christians. She responded, “He’ll be with the Father, in a much better place.”

“Yes, I know that……” I said. Her voice full of emotion, she emphasized for me and herself, “He’ll be having a party, talking to old and new friends….He’ll be in GLORY!”   Amen!

Later in the day Sara and I shared with Glenn the hymn text from, “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” (The composer Natalie Sleeth dedicated it to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer soon after she wrote it.  And a few years ago Sara and I participated in a memorial service choir for a close friend’s father who was taken very suddenly by an aggressive cancer.)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads and hearts around this news that we knew was coming.

We are trying to arrange things so that we’ll drive as a family to visit Glenn the days before his execution, and hold a prayer vigil while the execution takes place.

Please pray for an end to the death penalty.

If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

03
Feb
11

longing for home

I’ve been away too long. My last posting was nearly 7 weeks ago on December 20th. Not sure what all happened in that time to keep me from writing. Seems like a dark time in many ways, nothing to do with Christmas, but a lot to do with the intricacies and vagaries of church polity. Whether it’s broadly denominational or narrowly congregational, the church world is a complex one where I simply do not find the promise of the Gospels all that often. What is wrong with this picture? Is it me? Some would say yes. I have said yes on far too many occasions. In fact, for most of my lengthening life, I have tended to come to this conclusion. Now in my 7th decade, with some degree of history to call upon, I know that I am a very small cog in a very large wheel. I am not the elephant in the sanctuary.

What I am is a cracked jar—a crystal clear, cracked jar lying in an old river bed, muddy with the millennia of human misdeeds—some of them mine, some of them yours. I am not alone, everyone is some sort of a cracked or broken jar, and yet I feel quite alone way too often. I long for a community of caring where, when necessary, friends lay down their lives for one another (John 15:13). This does not mean standing in front of a Mack truck so your friend can saunter across the street. But if the truck is an offensive ideology, bias or untruth that causes great harm to your friend, and you can do something about it, do it! Stand up, speak out. Risk your comfort zone for your friend’s safety, dignity and well-being. That is what Christ followers are called to do. I do not see it happening very often in the church world. What I see is self-interest and a lot of maneuvering for a slice of some kind of store-bought pie.

I am a cracked jar, many times broken and many times packed back together, forming glue seams and stress points that never quite forget themselves. I am a cracked jar standing open, filling with rain until the weight of it overturns me into a bell ringing its song along the river. Some days the sound is clear and resonant. Some days not, and I am once again standing upright in the river bed. Inevitably, I fill with rain and it seeps out through my seams and cracks onto the mud in which I stand. I long for home.

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

God in me and me in God, passing through the narrow gate together. It is harder than the righteous would have you believe. It is Home.

22
Nov
10

cost of truth telling

Roberta Showalter Kreider has published compilations of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender faith stories in three editions, From Wounded Hearts, Together in Love and The Cost of Truth. I read the first two during my personal encounter with church exclusion in 2008/09. I ordered the third but couldn’t manage to read it without succumbing to memories of my own painful experience, still searingly fresh into the winter of 2009/10. When a friend expressed interest in learning more about LGBT people, I gladly sent all three off with her. She simply didn’t know much and that is not uncommon. Whew! Out of sight, out of mind…or so I thought.

Then, one evening a few weeks ago, dear friends came to dinner. They are the only friends who spoke up as boldly as we did at the church that didn’t want us. We all left that church tattered and torn—the cost of speaking one’s truth—and we’d not seen each other in many months, so there was a lot to share. During the conversation one friend mentioned that she had just finished reading The Cost of Truth, and urged me to read it. Having completely forgotten the title of the book, I said I would. Before I knew it there it was in my mail box and still I didn’t recognize it until I opened the cover and saw that this was the third in the Kreider series—the set I’d given away. I was ready to read it now and have done so. I know some of the people in this book. I may not have known them three years ago when I first ordered the it, but through time and travail, I do now. These are stories of Mennonite and Brethren, LGBT people, whose dignity and leadership gifts were not honored by their denominations. One story in particular spoke to me. The writer shared his story and then his lingering sadness in a poem that resonates for me as well:

LGBT inclusion just may be the last strong-hold of the patriarchal church. The Mennonite denomination—traditionally dedicated to peace and non-violence—has yet to understand the violence to heart and soul that punishment and exclusion produces. Such treatment of brothers and sisters in Christ stands in opposition to the core values of the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. I have written about this many times and will likely not stop any time soon. If you are interested in this issue and have little experience with LGBT people, try one of these books.

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves….
-Rainer Maria Rilke

For now we see in a mirror, dimly but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. -I Corinthians 14:12

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

13
Jul
10

beginning and ending

The day started with what I thought would be an early visit to the doctor for a cholesterol blood draw, followed by a pleasant, sweet-treat breakfast and chat with one of my dearest friends.

I drove up to the medical building somewhere between 8 and 8:30 this morning, parked my car in the nearly empty lot (lucky me), phoned my friend to say that I’d be at the cafe shortly and smartly proceeded to gather my belongings from the front seat of the car. Oh, oh, no purse…everything else, but no purse! That meant no driver’s license, no insurance cards, no money and no credit cards. Bummer! I (not so smartly) phoned my friend again to say that I would have to drive back home and start again. She was gracious as usual. I was feeling the result of having been too pre-occupied with a challenging email I’d read before leaving the house to think straight. Multi-tasking had eluded me once again.

I drove home, picked up my purse and started out again traveling back the toll road route, which is faster but unpleasantly nerve-wracking. The parking lot had filled in a bit, but miraculously the space I’d vacated 40 minutes earlier was invitationally still there! Still more miraculously, I didn’t have to wait an hour at the lab, only about 15 minutes. What luck!

“Are you fasting” the technician asked?

“No one told me to fast; I had one cup of coffee,” I said somewhat reluctantly.

“Black? That would be fasting,” the technician’s supervisor announced.

“Cream and sugar,” I said.

“Sugar? Sugar? That’s non-fasting…write non-fasting and go ahead with the test,” the supervising lady replied, while keeping her gaze directly on her computer screen.

I was given the choice of right or left arm for the poke and so it was done. I got out of there quick without caring one whit what the test said one way or the other, and called my friend to say that I was on my way to the cafe, where we would have whatever looked good to us. Coffee with cream and with sugar, for sure! We had a fine time eating, enjoying each other’s company, and celebrating her birthday. It was a lovely couple of rejuvenating hours, then time to say goodbye and head home—richer and deeper for the shared time together. What is better than that?

I drove home along the same road I’d gone  back on the first time around. It was 3 hours later. I was mulling over some things we’d discussed, and generally feeling happy, when suddenly I saw a tiny, furry body on the road. It was a small kitten about 6 weeks old—small enough to fit in the palm of the hand—black with a triangular patch of white on its chest. The kitten was lying limply on its side with legs outstretched. How does an infant cat find its way to the highway? It wasn’t there 3 hours ago when I drove this road home the first time. How did it get there? Was it feral? If so, where was its mother or litter mates? Worse case scenario: someone dumped it out the window for whatever reason. This happens, I am sorry to say. Some people think animals can fend for themselves and are better off out there. (This, of course is never true of older animals who have had human companions, or of the young who haven’t yet learned survival skills.) I have heard all sorts of reasons for the inhumane treatment of animals. Humans do not yet realize that God is incarnate in every living thing.

I gasped as my car passed squarely over that baby kitty. In that instant I felt jointly responsible as a member of the human race, and my heart broke completely. Prayers for the kitten all the way home…prayers and tears and helplessness.

Am I an animal nut? No. I am not wed to the idea of  no-kill shelters or heroic measures for the diseased and deformed. There are millions of unwanted animals in this country. I am an advocate for spaying and neutering and responsible stewardship of God’s creatures, which would include responsible and compassionate euthanasia…not the gas chambers until they are dead that often happens in county animal facilities. I do not like to see an animal suffer, just as I do not like to see human beings suffer…do not like factory farming, just as I do not like warehousing of the elderly or mentally infirm.

As I remember that lifeless little body lying there, I feel a nagging sense of guilt mixed with shame and sadness. Although life is more manageable for us now with only 2 (perfect) cats, I am filled with an urge to add another…one not so fortunate as my Ben and Bella—the prince and princess of our towerless castle. Crazy…guilt driven and compulsive…maybe I’ll just pray some more for the kitty and for all those people out there with whom I am connected as a human being, like it or not.

P.S. There will be more postings about the wedding and grandchildren…and pictures too…eventually.

29
May
10

beyond pentecost

A great deal has happened since I last wrote. A dear friend of mine advised me to speak to my community…to tell them what I need to feel at home with them. I took his advice, and although painful to be so vulnerable, I believe doing so has released the bird in me from the wire that held me fast, and has provided freedom to move…eventually to fly once again. This time I must learn a new flight pattern—a slow and easy circling pattern that allows for the inevitable waiting that is often the life of faith. I am a bird flying carefully and quietly so that I hear God’s voice and feel the leading of the Spirit. I have a lot to learn at the same time that I have so very much to give. Holding the Both and the And together, while walking forward with a basket of life balanced on my head.

Tonight I went to bed early but couldn’t get to sleep. Night can be a very difficult time for those of us who are loss-prone. All the needles and threads of daytime busyness fade into the deep, velvety-blue, darkness of night and there is no covering. I deeply miss adopted daughter, Bettina, whose let’s get it done energy melded so well with mine, allowing me to venture forth in foreign lands with bravery. There are birds who fly on the loft others create in flight formation. I am learning to fly solo and grateful for the several friends whom God has provided as air traffic controllers during this time of transition and initiation. They are my angels. I think they know who they are…

At night I turn on my Taize music, take my meds, turn off the light and wait for Bella, my little orange cat, to come join me. I talk to God. I say everything and nothing. I pour out wordless thoughts and painful experiences. It is my most intimate God time. I ask why and I ask how. I mostly ask for help. There are always tears. After a while Bella comes and with her comes Bettina to say, Goodnight Mamma. I like that.

My soul aches…not for any one thing or any one person. My soul aches for something it needs…God.

I am a bird circling high overhead, hoping it does not rain…preferring the clear blue of a sunny sky.

22
May
10

Pentecost Sunday

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday. It is a day of commemoration and celebration of the 50th day following the resurrection of Jesus—the day (according to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2) that the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and other followers of Jesus. It is considered to be the birth of the Christian Church.

Today, as I prepare to dress the altar in my current place of worship, I am painfully reminded of Pentecost Sunday, 2009, a day that began beautifully and joyously in the church I was attending, but ended in gut-wrenching pain and confusion for Big Dawg and me, as our request for membership was euphemistically burned at the stake. The church was in turmoil. We were in shock. The young, inexperienced pastors were immobilized, despite having been largely responsible for the disaster. Since that time nothing has been okay. There has been no respite, no core reconciliation and no going forward. This church has added another sad chapter to it’s history of passive/aggressive behavior. And we languish in the field wondering where we will ever find a comfortable fit in the Body of Christ. There is something so glaringly wrong with this picture. BD and I initiated and expressed forgiveness to the pastoral leadership, yet no confession of responsibility has reached us…sorrow for loss, but not accountability.

I live in a church world I do not understand. There is a bedrock of discipleship, but it is in dire need of a face-lift. No one likes change, but change it must and eventually will. The question is: how many dead and mangled bodies will be piled up along the way? I’m feeling pretty mangled right now. I’m so messed up that I actually miss the church that threw us out! But it is not the same and one cannot go backward. Everything changes and everything stays the same. What a conundrum! I am once again a bird on a wire, and it’s not a comfortable place to be.

At the church I currently attend, I am accepted, but I do not feel affirmed. They don’t seem to see the difference. It’s a cultural thing, I guess. Teutonic peoples are very different from demonstrative middle easterners. When AD was with us, we were a unit. Now I am feeling alone. They tell me it takes longer than a year to feel a part of things. Now why on earth—in God’s Good Church—should that be the case? Why indeed? I have no acceptable answer, but it appears to be my problem.

I am a mass of painful memories, losses and lack of purposeful direction.

If you have a suggestion, please pass it on.

My prayer is very simple: Please help me.




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