A friend had been ill for a long time although I had no reason to believe death was near. But a heart attack changed all that. I'm so sad for a family who will have memories rather than the person in the days and years ahead. My heart is tender for her sisters in ministry who have been so blessed to know her, to learn from her sweet and gentle spirit, who have been the beneficiaries of her prayers and encouragement, her fierce love and prevailing faith. Fair winds and following seas as you go home before us, Mary.
Everything starts with prayer. Today we pray for Your Mercy Lord, that we might find our way to a more just legal system. The current situation is causing so much pain, leading to what seem to be never ending problems with brokenness upon brokenness. So we know that with problems this big we need You. We need You to draw us to a more God-pleasing, Christ-like system of dealing with the injustices of this broken world.
Lord, direct our prayers.
Romans 12:12—Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Be merciful, Lord, to all of us affected by crime, from the victims of crime to those who commit crimes, but also the first responders come when we are fearful, and all those along the journey through the legal system: judges and juries, prosecutors and defense attorneys, social workers, health care workers, and eventually detention officers and probation and parole staff and the family, friends, co-workers, church family, neighbors and acquaintances of all these because all are part of the ever expanding circles of damage caused by crime.
Lord, hear our prayers.
James 1:12—Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
We have all been wounded by crime, Lord. We are fearful, Lord. We long for our sense of safety to be restored and our longing for retribution to be fulfilled to our way of thinking. Yet, we acknowledge that even those who participated in the crime are still Your children. And we ask you to teach us to long for their redemption more than for vengeance. We acknowledge that “safety” exists only in You. This kind of deep healing is only possible in you. Praise God that You are bigger than all this.
Lord have mercy on us all.
Revelation 21:4--He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
We lift up the legal system, the criminal justice system up to you, Lord. We expect the legal system to stand in our stead, a thin blue line between safety and chaos – a process where we hope to be protected from those who seek to harm us and those we love. Yet we are learning more clearly each day the price paid by those who wade into chaos and sin on our behalf from the first responders through all the steps in the legal system and finally to the incarcerated folks who eventual return to the free world and their communities and families.
Lord have mercy on them all.
Hebrews 13:3--Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Lord, we have longed to believe that laws protect us although we understand that is not possible; for if laws protected us there would surely be no domestic violence, no vehicular manslaughter. We listened to the siren call of politicians’ promises to make us safe by being more harsh, yet now we are less safe than ever. Lord, how do we balance consequences with rehabilitation, balance honoring the pain and loss of victims with the call to prevent future damage by someone who lacks impulse control and the capacity to foresee the damage their actions do to others, both strangers and those they love, but are still your beloved child..
Lord, give us Your Courage and Your Wisdom.
Romans 8:38-39--For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Lord, the Pharisees believed they were “right” in crucifying you. Pilot believed he was making the right decision for the protection of his employer’s interest. The crowd provided the noise, the energy to make such stunning injustice seem not only OK but desirable. Lord we know we have been part of just such a mob as we have demanded to be safer while hiding our eyes from outrageous miscarriages of justice that such fear births.
Lord, break our hearts made hard by fear that we might have tender hearts for those seeking to serve you in new ways, living better lives, reaching back to help those still living in such darkness.
Micah 6:8--He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Christ’s rising announces that we are all restored, rehabilitated, renewed both from our sins and from the ways other’s sins and carelessness wound us. Yes, Lord, we acknowledge we are each and all in need of healing, healing from wounds of body and soul and mind and heart. Yes, Lord, we acknowledge that we are all in need of forgiveness given and received. We are exhausted from trying to care for ourselves. Today we choose to rest confidently in you. Teach us to forgive and to accept forgiveness!
2 Corinthians 5:18b--All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Prayer going forth:
Protect us Lord, from the lies fear would tell us. Fill our hearts with love for each other, for all your children. Make our tender hearts strong enough to look brokenness and fear and darkness in the face that your love might shine from You through us into a world that is in such utter need of healing, hope, peace, joy, love, truth and light….In need of You.
Lord, have mercy.
Over my lifetime I've been told I sometimes have an angry voice. You betcha. I'm passionate about trying to sow comfort in a wounded and distressed world. And too often I forget that my anger at stupidity and just plain meanness and selfishness can actually add to the wounds of the tender heart before me. It can even add fuel to the raging pain in the person causing the pain. Yes, I believe that most angry people are feeding on their own wounds, wounds so deep and fearful that ANYTHING is better than facing them...even wounding those they love most dearly.
And yes, I believe we are ALL wounded ... by so many things:
The meanness of others.
The thoughtlessness of others which might be more painful than the meanness if it means we are invisible.
Not getting things we believe we are owed or due.
Getting more than we think we are due (consequences).
Fearing that we are not "good enough" or important or have worth.
Fear of pain: physical, emotional, social, financial.
And, frankly I believe all those wounds are real, valid, rational. I have concerns about LIVING there, but we'll discuss that another time.
Today I want to consider that last item, fear of .... everything. For folks dealing with the aftermath of criminal behavior I see the fear being nearly consuming. When it blossoms from "nearly consuming" into consuming we become a part of the problem in sad and terrifying ways, which is why our human tendency to wallow in our pain is so very dangerous.
Victims and survivors of crimes have losses, from the loss of a loved one's life to the loss of quality of life to financial losses that can last decades. And in the wake of all that loss is the loss of security, loss of the belief that we can keep ourselves and those we love safe....and the loss of a sense of safety in our own homes, workplace or community...from bars to churches.
But here is the deal. That is also true for every person touched by the ever widening circle of fear and pain that emanates from a crime. First responders, neighbors, legal system participants from jurors to prosecutors to judges, attorneys, investigators, medical and social service professionals, churches, and corrections folks, those who commit crimes and those who are accused of crimes and their families. And lots of these folks can only hope to find any kind of justice if they wade into the swamp with the spectrum of victims. Today in my city we are reminded of that cost of that as a police officer succumbed to self-inflicted injury. Most folks in the legal system have three choices: (1) Ignore the pain, covering up with humor or gruffness; (2) Self medicate with alcohol, adrenaline or something even more quickly self-destroying; (3) Find some less soul assaulting profession; or (3) Crucify it. By that I mean have an experience similar to AA or NA, etc. where there is both a reality check (No you are not in control...but neither are any of us, my friend,) and a course of recovery in the arms of a healing and wise God.
Does that last sound familiar? Is that what we long for our incarcerated or criminally behaving loved one to "get"? Is this what we need ourselves?
So, no matter where we are in this life and the microcosm of life that is a journey through the legal system, the truth is this: we are all dealing with the same junk, with the same temptations to deal with the junk in ways both self-destructive and destructive to those we love the most, AND with God's ever-present love beckoning us no matter into what pain we have wandered or fled.
We are all in this together, my friends. And there is hope...abundant hope.....always.
I am not a crazed football fanatic, but I have enjoyed half a century of watching my local team play, giving us many moments of excitement and fun and lots of disappointments. We have spent most of that time trying to "make it to the Super Bowl again." For the past two seasons we have had hope riding high on a young quarterback setting NFL records and charming a city with poise unusual in someone so young. You may have heard of him: Patrick Mahones.
But amidst all the excitement building to the AFC playoffs, a friend died, leaving a beloved widow with a lifetime of precious memories and a new loss in a life that has known plenty of loss already.
So young Mr. Mahones's comment after the season ending loss was ringing in my ears as I thought about my friend's passing. "It hurts, but it is supposed to hurt."
Part of our physical survival and mental health resides in a primal desire to avoid pain. We spend a lot of time telling a young child to not touch a hot stove (ouchie!) or not to run on hard, uneven surfaces, or not to say mean things. And as adults a major responsibility is to count the cost of things we are considering doing: Can we make the mortgage payments? Is this business opportunity legal and, even more import, good for my family and my community?
So pain avoidance is very important. But this leaves us with problems when pain is unavoidable, when we lose something very dear to us whether it is in a failed professional goal, or in the aftermath of a crime, or at the death of a beloved one. Loss is unavoidable because we care about people. We care about making a difference. We care about our reputation and our future. And we suffer losses small and large all our lives. In fact, I believe that how we learn to deal with loss deeply affects our quality of life for all our lives.
My husband needed a medical procedure. It was important but not an emergency so we had to find a surgeon and hospital "within network". We matched a physician our doctor said had a good reputation with the information on the web to choose a doctor. Folks were surprised we chose a doctor who had paid a modest compensation for an earlier surgical error. But I have never seen any surgical team be SO committed to making sure that they were proceeding with great care and attention to detail. The physician had not allowed a mistake to leave him too fearful to use his education, training and skill to give my husband an excellent outcome. He did not become so overwhelmed with fear and remorse that he closed up shop; instead he chose to become a better doctor.
When my first marriage failed and I was a young single mother, I was angry, worried and frightened. But I chose to be very intentional in learning all I could, figuring out how to go forward and renewing my relationship with God. I figured out very quickly that I have NO ability to make someone else do what I wanted them to do. I had tried as hard as I knew how in every way I could imagine so I saw that relationship as a closed door that only God could open again and only as it was "for the best." I will be forever sorry that my children did not have the security of an intact family as they grew up. But I am forever grateful for all the blessings that they and I do have because, freed from the distraction of trying to superglue a failing relationship, I was free to let God rebuild my relationship with Him.
So much of that rebuilding and renewal was painful, but so much less painful than the path I was on, believing I could work hard enough, be strong enough, be smart enough, care enough on my own to do life fully, to protect my children from pain, to find the best way forward.
As I have gotten older I have tried to be more intentional in relishing "the moment" -- the first rays of dawn, a child's smile, sweet breezes, completed passes, a marriage renewed, the tenderness of farewells, watching love overcome fear. And I've gotten a bit better at remembering that pain comes with a potential for blessings, for gratitude that slowly outpaces the sorrow, gratitude for having had the blessing and for the comfort that God wraps around us and for the new challenges and blessings that lay before us as long as we reside in this world.
And I've come to thank God for the pain because it has always been fertile ground for shedding the unimportant and wrapping myself in God's consistent, tender and able care, and God's unending love.
I've been reading The Book of Forgiving by Bishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu. The background and powerful history of this book is fascinating and hopeful.
But this jumped off the page and grabbed my heart: "None of us wants to have our life story to be the sum of all the ways we have been hurt." Wow. Just WOW! How often I have welcomed, even clung to hurts and slights and disrespectful comments because it SEEMS like if I stay vigilant I can keep myself from being hurt.
Of course, it never works that way. Instead whether I let my wrath fly against my perceived and real dangers (often escalating the danger) or I stuff it down deep to "maintain control," the sad reality is that it takes up space in my life, either spewing harm to those I "take it out on" or eating a whole in my gut as I put on a "happy face."
The only relief for me has been to lay all my hurts on Jesus. But I spent three years trying to figure out what God was trying to get me to understand to help me forgive a grandmother for something I learned she had done decades before her death. I KNEW I was wasting seconds and minutes and hours and days into weeks, months and years wasting energy on anger that could only damage me. But I could NOT let it go! I finally found my way through so I can again remember tender moments with that grandmother and have compassion for the wounded little girl that grew into an angry, injuring adult.
And when I look back I realize that God was working me through the steps that Bishop Tutu formalized to help his people and nation move forward in ways that embrace our connectedness, our deep longing for peace and hope and love.
So, this Holiday Season, as nerves are frayed and we are sometimes expected to "make nice" with family and friends who get under our skin, we can consider something new. We now have a resource to help us consider where we can root out fear so joy can expand; where we can let go of resentment, fear and discord, and embrace a much higher level of peace, healing and restoration and/or release.
I got it from the library, liked it so much I wanted it as a personal resource so I bought a paper copy which I decided was better given to a dear friend who had shared a desire to understand forgiveness more, bought an ebook for myself then bought another audio copy for someone dear who indicated they would be more likely to read it in that format. I tell you this to stress this point: I believe in the power of forgiveness and I believe that is a wonderful resource for people looking to live life more fully, more courageously, more joyously.
"This may seem an unusual column for me to write, for I’m not a particularly religious Christian. But I do see religious faith as one of the most important forces, for good and ill, and I am inspired by the efforts of the faithful who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
Perhaps unfairly, the pompous hypocrites get the headlines and often shape public attitudes about religion, but there’s more to the picture. Remember that on average religious Americans donate far more to charity and volunteer more than secular Americans do.
It is not the bureaucracy that inspires me, or doctrine, or ancient rituals, or even the most glorious cathedral, temple or mosque, but rather a Catholic missionary doctor in Sudan treating bomb victims, an evangelical physician achieving the impossible in rural Angola, a rabbi battling for Palestinians’ human rights — they fill me with an almost holy sense of awe. Now, that’s religion." (Columnist Nicholas Kristof writing for New York Times News Service)
What does the way WE live say to folks who have not yet met our God? God meets everyone where they are, but we too often say "Come over here and believe we are always completely right and God will love you." This is such blasphemy! Get caught by a non-Christian doing something Christ-like today!
Domestic violence is often among the most destructive crimes for many reasons, but two stand out:
(1) Try as we might, it is hard not to blame the victims, at least adults, but even children are asked, "Why didn't you tell any one?" "Why did you not get help?" But such questions are the answer: domestic violence victims are often not believed, not comforted, not protected and are thereby violated again, resulting in their capacity to trust taking much serious and intentional rebuilding, often over years. (I understand that some of this happens because the person hearing the news is in the denial/shock part of grief plus we feel guilt that we did not protect our loved one -- but those very human but essentially selfish responses too often override basic human kindness causing addiitonal harm.)
(2) At one moment in time we are a family, maybe bickering or even fighting, but a family around a table with history present in the perspective and hopefully wisdom of our older family members, and hope for the future as weddings and babies and even funerals bring shared joys and griefs, and even shared disappointments form gossamer webs of family ties. But the moment that domestic abuse and violence comes barreling out the closet either because it erupts in such a public way that it can no longer be denied or ignored, or because formal charges are filed, suddenly the family has fractures along stress lines. We ask each other: Do you believe it? Is it possible we missed this? Whose fault is it? How can we protect the children, older adults, our image, our children's future? Too rarely does someone just sit with the injured person or with stunned parents and the children who have lived and witnessed all that led to this moment. The very people that we are most likely to expect to give us encouragement, love and support are divided, warring, taking too much blame, denying responsibility and generally too overwhelmed to find a place to be mutually supportive. And those who try to do that are often treated with great cruelty by other family member stuck in the blame and shame game.
For the Justice League of America quality super-heroes, often themselves recovering from domestic abuse, who work in shelters, run hot lines, conduct classes in finance, employment skills and self-care, play with and tutor traumatized children, find homes for traumatized pets and generally form a very fragile and under-supported safety net, we thank you. We honor your service. We are grateful for the resource you are to us, to our families and to our community for people seeking to find that most undervalued of blessings: a safe home for ourselves and our children.
I have been reading Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Shegnor. He is eloquent in telling a tale whose beginning is all too familiar of a young life gone stunningly wrong and his subsequent journey to victory and a productive life. But one statement has haunted me (I paraphrase): I was unhappy at the consequences and honestly wanted to "do better" as my choices began to become obvious, horrible, terrifying. I truly wanted to do better, be a better person....but I wanted that to be easy. So with each opportunity to make better choices I was careless and quickly slipped back into choices that "felt good" but were dragging me further away from joy, kindness, love and hope. It was not until I was WHOLLY committed to being different, doing different, at any cost, did permanent change begin to establish roots in my life. This freed me from my self-focus to begin looking for truth, for light, for wisdom. I was actually looking for love, for THE LOVE. And God drew me to a life I could never have imagined.
So this morning's reading in Psalms brought Mr. Shenor's journey to mind. "Anyone can come to you, [God], and you will hear their prayers. When our sins become too heavy for us, you wipe them away. Oh, how wonderful it is to be the people you chose to come and stay in your Temple." (PS 65:2-4 ERV). I think the phrase "you chose to come" might be better understood if we include a sense of beckoning, for God does not casually choose us as we choose a pair of shoes or choose an educational path or even as we often choose God, with limited initial understanding or long-term commitment. For God continues to beckon us, actively keeps God's promises and covenants, loves us (an active verb, not merely a state of being), guides us, teaches us.
God keeps the door open, even as we become more certain that we have gone too far wrong to ever be "OK" again. God sees our future, one of hope and purpose and rehabilitation, all possible even from the quicksand filled swamp we too often make of our own lives. Then when our longing for the "something better" that is our inheritance, our permanent right because Jesus has made it so, begins to tug at us, our broken hearts tell us the biggest lie of all...that we need to do better, be better before God will even listen to us!
But the truth is this: God's grace is available ALL THE TIME, even when we are running amok, self-will run riot, harming all who love us, and our selves most of all. When we are sufficiently weary, exhausted, utterly done with doing it our own way, we give way to God's way of doing things and God begins the healing in that moment.
Mr. Shenor's journey reflects this experience and I am very grateful that he has so generously shared his experience with a wider audience. And I praise the God who remade him into a force for good in his community. May this story be replicated in the lives of prisoners everywhere.
After the 9/11 attacks a study was done with students in urban Detroit. It found their anxiety level had not changed much. But I have heard friends and colleagues speak of the radical change in their lives after 9/11, a new sense of urgency or even fearfulness as though they had not expect this could happen "here" or to "us" or to "me". But these children in the crumbing inner-city of Detroit had never had such illusions, because their neighborhoods and schools were not safe long before Sandy Hook. Nearly all had had a near relative either killed or seriously injured in their run-of-the-mill chaotic world. They had seen teens try to avoid being involved in lawlessness only to be harmed by those they sought with a whole heart to avoid. They had seen parents and grandparents struggle with grinding poverty, crumbling school buildings, jobs fleeing the city, and the ever present specter of being one emergency away from homelessness, less than enough food or falling into an overcrowded foster care system.
For some of us, our beloved parent, trusted life-partner or dearly loved child begins making choices that cause concern; slowly trust is eroded and the relationship changes as a result long before the problem is generally known. Other times folks put on a "good face" and the sudden fall from respected community leader finds even their nearest and dearest wholly unprepared. Either way the new reality of legal troubles, financial ruin and public disgrace comes as a shock to family and friends. If it is a sufficiently public event we may have a camera and microphone shoved in our face when we are still reeling from the shock and the questions that trail into the years ahead, "How did this happen?" "What could I have done to prevent this?" And maybe eventually, as we share the journey of other families dealing with criminal behavior and/or incarceration, we begin to say, "Thank God it was not worse".
However it comes, a crime, news of a crime, response to a crime touches hundreds of lives from survivors to law enforcement to the person arrested, to the courtroom personnel and defense personnel, to the jail and prison personnel, to social workers and medical workers educators and community members who have to deal with the multiple layers of response and then add the families of each and every one of these folks who are touched in the ever widening circles of anxiety, expense, emotional exhaustion and destruction of one small act. It is not an act of kindness or courage that might be acknowledged by a grateful recipient, but rather acts of carelessness and wanton selfishness that get no benefit from the tsunami of damage it releases.
This is why it is so important to be thoughtful, the current buzz word is "mindful" of our choices. There are just too many people living in the aftermath of a moment, a choice that is remembered with confusion and pain and the cry "But I never intended for it to go that far!"
We each need to make a personal decision to "do no harm" as we seek response to the challenges of our culture, our lives is a step in the right direction, because reacting (rather than responding) can boost us right into legal trouble in a nanosecond. And the circles of destruction get a boost we never intended.
I had so hoped after the election we would have a space where sound bites and instant analysis would give way to well researched factual information. But months latter we still seem we take the latest "hot" news and have it ground out over days with every rumor reported, but little valuable information provided. Even false rumors seem to get a Rosana-Bananadana-esque "Never mind" rather than a clear retraction aired with corrections seeming to air for a fraction of the time spent pouring wild erroneous rumor mongering into our ears and eyes. We ruin reputations based on what someone or their family member did decades ago, but don't blink when people with clout are not held accountable in the most blatant and public misbehavior....just give them a golden parachute and send them on their way or announce they are going into "rehab" for whatever decades old crimes might have been uncovered -- whether a CEO or a politician or a media big shot or a star sports figure or a plunderer of charity funds.
I do thank God for the freedom of the internet to access a wide array of foreign news sources and credible research information so at least I can hear a broader perspective. But it only helps a little since this all just seems so insane. And into this has poured hurricanes, the catastrophe that is Puerto Rico, earthquakes, drought and raging fires, international political intrigue and tensions, and the barrage of shots fired in Las Vegas that rivals the Murrah Federal Building explosion in stirring fear. I can't say I am surprised that some folks wonder if this is "final days."
But amid the news cycle and the weather challenges and the human loss and despair we stand with the same choice we had a week ago or a month ago or a year ago. Do we turn to God and seek comfort and wisdom and courage to be God's hands and feet to a hurting world? Or do we continue to rely on our own understanding, which frankly I believe leads only to despair and a desperate sort of selfishness?
Will you turn outward toward God, and chose to act as God's servant to God's people? Or will you turn inward where fear causes pain to fester and wounds to grow more dangerous?
May the Lord of peace himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with all of you. 2 Thessalonians 3: 16
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