Friday, December 30, 2016

Joy to the World! Really? Now? Yes, enjoy one another

It is still the Christmas season. Therefore allow me the room to stay here a bit and bring back into view the words of a very common Christmas hymn.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart, prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing (3x).

Here within the everyday-of-our-lives is born unto us - the fullness of our humanity. It comes to all. It comes to the earth - the whole thing. It comes that we might enjoy the gift which we created to be - God's Beloved.   To enjoy this gift (God's Beloved) is to live into our humanity and embrace our humanity for it is the reality in which we are able to reflect the image of God's love and grace.  To be a part of this joy-filled reality as God's Beloved is to also enjoy this image in others - even the ones we call buttholes. That is not always so easy. And yet, joy comes to the world - the whole world.

It may be that as we are caught up to appreciate that which always-has-been-and-will-be, we will find the presence of other stories vying for our life and attention. The Lord-that-comes is the vision of the creative power of our humanity that becomes manifest within all the crap that seems to win the day. Joy comes as God's gift to humanity - being made in the image of God - so that the whole earth will be transformed here and now. The image in this hymn comes as a child - a real child - God's image unfolding within ordinary days that are usually filled with visions quite contrary to the Image of God becoming alive among us. 

Joy does not come to the world in order to show us a way we can get out of the world or be delivered from the world or escape this life for another place and time. Joy is life in which we are introduced to the wonder and blessedness of being human - simply human. For within that reality will come the makings for peace and healing and forgiveness - or more simply put - the restoration of the image of God as portrayed in the story of creation. It is available to the world - every heart - every life - without limit or conditions. It comes within the wind - the mere turning of the earth - the breath we share. To sing of such joy is to sing of a gift that is out of our control. For if it was a gift over which we had control, it would not be for the whole world. Rather it would be just for the world as we want it - just to save our butts from those buttheads over there. 

Enjoy our humanity as it is created to be - in the image of God. At the very center of our lives - within our hearts, so to speak - is room to imagine life that is not owned by any power of the world - even the power of our own desires. The joy about which we sing may bring into our lives situations and experiences that do not resemble the self-serving happiness and contentment the world often associates with joy. This joy-to-the-world that comes among us may bring about actions not appreciated by governing powers (family - business - politics - religion). To see God's image in the lives of the rejected ones - those displaced and push out - those ridiculed - those shamed and belittled, is to become in the eyes of these governing powers  ones who must be likewise rejected - displaced -pushed out -ridiculed - shamed - belittled. For when we enjoy our humanity, we find joy in all of humanity. When we - as God's Beloved - see others as God's Beloved without condition (that is as we are able to enjoy them) our warring madness - our violence against others - our fear of others - our desire to control our world will cease. The incarnation - the story of the birth of Jesus - announces with a brilliant light - a way to enjoy the world without limit. It unfolds in nothing more than the ordinary day-to-day vision of God's image available as those around us - all of them. All of the sudden, the world doesn't simply change - we change also. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

We just love our holidays and expect everyone to do the same

When I think of Jesus, I think of an unimaginable inclusivity. Like one who would love the enemy - welcome the nobodies into a feast for only the somebodies in town - forgive those labeled sinner and helping to move those who label others as sinner into a place in which they might see themselves in those they choose to condemn. That - is all an upside-down world in which there is no manufactured differences that create hostility or isolation or indifference. When Jesus was on scene, there would be inclusivity even if no one approved of it - even if it meant folks were ready to kill him for his odd way of being within the society of the day.

Jesus was not afraid to let go of the biases and well developed ways of casting some people out of the party. In fact, he simply let go of all that bullshit. He lived as though it held no power over him or  those with whom he spent his time. Never was he afraid to let go of all that stuff and then make room for those who did not make the grade of the culture or the religion at hand. As one might expect - Jesus pissed people off - big time. For the well-being of any and all and as a vital incarnation of Jesus' God and the life within the Reign of that God, Jesus' hospitality had no limits. Jesus embarked on and persistently followed through with a death-defying inclusivity that marked his daily life and left marks on his body after the powers-that-be rejected his unbounded hospitality

I think I just describe something quite antithetical to many who claim to be the follower of Jesus today. The expansiveness of Jesus' loving hospitality, even to cover the enemy is,  too burdensome - too risky - too uncomfortable - too out of our control. Too often, the followers of Jesus want to be comforted rather than offer comfort - want to be included rather than include - want to be in control rather than give up control. So, are the followers of Jesus serving others in the way of Jesus or are we too easily simply wanting a self-serving doll baby that will comfort us?

I like the simple turn of the popular phrase from the 1970's. It was WWJD (what would Jesus do). It was a good way to make people talk - debate - turn the story into one that might fit us best. The turn is a simple one: WDJD (what did Jesus do). At every turn in the road, Jesus resisted the violence of exclusion - Jesus ignored the way the privileged defined life. Instead, Jesus made available a loving kindness and mercy and forgiveness that made all the holy-rollers crap in their pants (possibly a reminder that, yes, we all are unclean at times so just stop throwing your crap at others). It is the same today. Those who like to be seen as holy-rollers (and they think that is a good thing) soil themselves in their own inhospitality when Jesus shows up among us today. For the self-righteous holy ones - those who claim to be the chosen - those who claim to have earned their place and therefore feel that they are called to put others in their places - those whose bumper sticker theology is more than willing to bump those of their choosing out of the family, miss the Jesus who is in the midst of the people religious folks feel free to cast out.

So, today I wish you Happy Holidays so that life is not merely about me and my own and how we want the world to be. The wish-you-well world of Merry Christmas is one that wishes well to their own kind and then expects everyone else to take part in their notion of well-wishing. This world  is really the culture that loves to wish well to some - not all. It is the religion that calls blessed only those who adhere to exclusive religious practices so that they can point out who is in and who is to be left out. Happy Holidays reminds me of a Jesus who actually did something that followed the way of God's Reign rather than use the seasonally-trimmed words of a culture that claims to define the character of that Reign. What did Jesus do?  Go back to the story - Jesus made the left-out, the welcome guests - the blessed assured - the favored ones - the stranger and alien no more. So, we may do well to lean into the lives of our neighbors and embrace them at every turn - rather than bitch about them not respecting us and our ways. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Year of Being Away

I just wept my way through that bright and clear voice of the young soloist who begins the Lessons and Carols from King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England. It always grabs me. I always wait within a wonderful aura of anticipation to hear the first note and then, to smile at how those young boys are able to bring into the day a brightness that I count on every year. It could be that the anticipation amplifies those first notes. I could be that I have arrived at a place I have never been - one year of being away from church - one year without all the seasonal work that makes each of the seasons of the liturgical year a reminder of whose I am.

This week as I was talking to one of my Uber customers she asked how long I have been driving. I told her on and off for about a year - ever since I retired. She asked what kind of work I did. I told her I was a Lutheran pastor for thirty-seven years. She immediately said, I didn't know pastors ever retired. I said - yes we do. She followed with - not in my church.

For one year, my status has been changed. At first, when I went to meetings or rallies or inter-religious action groups, and even social events, it seemed like I still fit in - like I was still a part of it all. As time has moved along, I now see myself standing more and more on the outside of that group of religious leaders. I have no home - no place I serve as a leader - no place in which I am, by my role and title, a necessary aspect of the full frontal of a congregation. Lately, when I introduce myself at those meetings, I leave off the reference to Redeemer and my position. I am retired - I am now involved because I am involved - I am now an activist simply because that is what I do. I am retired from a position and now available to be a part of the witness of the followers of Jesus in a whole new way. It is quite different and at times I find it difficult.

But when that young boy started to sing, I was reminded again of the timeless chain of people who have been touched by a story of unbending and unending love that not only touches us - it shapes us so that our touch will be filled with the same good news that is relentlessly offered up for the well-being of all God's beloved - which by the way is all of humanity with no exception.

I have found that in a year of being away is bringing me closer to the story that is meant to be my story. It has led me away from any notion of a 'holy land' or a 'holy city' or a 'chosen people' who claim something but unfortunately their holiness is rarely offered up for the well-being of the other - the outsider - them and those. I have found that the moment at hand like - the hand extended - the hand often too shy to reach out - the hand that holds no power or influence - is vital to understanding and taking part in the healing of a self-centered world.

During this year of being away, time has been filled with the flurry of political advertisements that have become a trademark of our society. Without going there, I have come to see that the church is just as vested in its just such advertisement. Branding, for example, is the way to build ones influence, gain a bigger piece of the marketplace, sell oneself or one's church as the best, and thus, the place and people a person should consider adding to their life. Branding is an art form - and it appears to work. I love words but find that words too often instigate nothing more than emotion - sentimentality - none of that is necessarily negative. My tears over the hymn sung by that young choirboy rattled a whole bag of emotions I could not even begin to attach to exact memories - positive or negative. But being away is teaching me to press those words and extract from them a visible, present, meaning that leaves me as a witness to the peaceable Reign of God - just by being me - the beloved - in this place and time in which I find myself.

The only branding involved with the Messiah of God was - a touch of reassurance when a life was unstable - a word of acceptance when a life was facing only rejection - a step over a boundary line when a life was being pushed out and away - a reminder of one's place within God's eternal embrace when  a life is being put out to dry - a stand for new life when a life was labeled unforgivable - a journey into death's dark brutality when a life was being marked as useless and disposable.  We actually live this life - it is the life we each have in hand -  one that needs to hear that the life that comes in the  shape of the Messiah of God - is our life. I know it sounds like nothing more than they will know us by our love. That is correct. Yet, that love is what gives voice and substance to the hymn of praise and celebration and hope that is born again among us - like a thrilling voice raised up in a worldwide liturgy - like a gesture to others that assures them that they need not fear the powers of the day - for the Messiah of God is with us - as us - through all and in all things.

This year of being away will continue to be unwrapped like a babe in a manger - full of that which is yet to unfold to reveal the face of God - the character of the truly human one - the beloved-ness of the ones usually cast as our enemies. Just now I thought that maybe - just maybe - being away is helping me to be a bit closer to you - all of you.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gun-packing, conceal-carrying followers of Jesus - no chapter and verse on that

It appears as though Evangelical education at its best pops up within Liberty University's shooting range. Just as Jerry Falwell never led a moral majority - as it was neither - so now his son, Jr., is helping the students at Liberty follow Jesus with a sidearm ready to protect their lives. Once again, this form of Evangelicalism doesn't know the meaning of Jesus Saves. Jesus doesn't save my skin. Jesus doesn't save me from the demons I condemn for my advantage. Jesus doesn't buy into the whole notion of God and Country because this is usually a god and not God. Jesus doesn't brew anxiety about all those people out there. Rather, Jesus of Nazareth saves us from our warring selves - our desires to do anything to have life as we want it - our self-indulgent and consuming lifestyles that always, always, conflict with the life of the Reign of God.

But, Jr. is raising up an army - quaint. The idolatry of weaponry has always been a sidearm of frightened Christians. Rather than follow the Jesus -who spoke of the healing and radical love of the Reign of God in both the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain and then put to life his own words - it appears Jr. wants to follow the way of self-defense and self-preservation. Pick up those guns and be a packing follower of Jesus. I don't think it is Jr.'s idea to assist the students out in the woods and fields during hunting season. I think it has more to do with the notion that a pistol or a rifle can make you a hero for Jesus - or simply keep your ass alive. Wow, never heard that notion in the teaching of Jesus. But then, there's much within the Jr's Evangelical business that seem to bother with the sacrificial love of Jesus that is meant to become our love and our way.

I wonder if the gun-toting students and faculty are preparing for Armageddon - another blunder in biblical interpretation. But that end-time violence really triggers good-old, Christian violence against anyone and everyone who is not in on that interpretation. Bad theology is always at the root of violence in the name of a god or a prophet. Many folks point at the people of Islam as being raised up as agents of violence in today's world. I would simply say that Christian, Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths who instigate violence or think they must arm themselves against others are all involved in teaching the faith without the heart of their faithful leaders in their own minds and hearts. In other words, we are being left to drown in a mire of poor theology and a self-serving reading of Scriptures that leaves the world on the edge of bitterness and hatred. Unfortunately, when folks are in that position, violence seems to be the only antidote - yet it never is. When we read holy books for our own good and for our own advantage and for our own protection, we become nothing more than another agent of a world turned-in-on-itself and ready to kill. Doesn't sound like Jesus to me.

Onward Christian Soldiers is a terrible metaphor for the followers of Jesus that is taken quite literally by many 'good news' people. But we are not a people to be marching off to war. We are invited to stand in the midst of the shit that may be around us and prayerfully consider how the love of Jesus makes for peace. We are a people who step into the shit - not plow through it - side step it - or start flinging it at others. We step into it to make sure no one is there alone - forgotten - left to die a smelly death without a loving hand to comfort them and - if need be - to die alongside them as the beloved within God's Reign. Falwell Jr. can sow all the seeds of violence he wants, but when he does that he does it without being a Good News (Evangelical) school. I would encourage the followers of Jesus to put down the false gods that continue to lead us toward violence and then - risk living the love of Jesus - without limit. That is Evangelical - in a biblical sense.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What is Ohio trying to do - again?

Each of the following paragraphs became a letter-to-the-editor to various newspapers in Ohio. None of them may be published - so all'ya'all get to hear the rant.

Ohio legislators and the Governor seem to be devoted to protecting that-which-is- not-yet. Yet, too often, there is little concern for that-which-is-right-in-front-of-us. Go ahead and ask your State Representative or Senator how many bills - trying to limit women’s access to health care - have been run through the legislature over the past handful of years Then ask them about the timing and the manner in which those bills are often set forth. Just as in the past week, from the statehouse to the governor’s office, there is a fixation on denying women access to reproductive heath care. I find it to be an unhealthy fixation. 

I will accept the concern for the sanctity of life when that concern embraces the health and well-being of women and the children who are right-in-front-of-us. That will entail listening to the truth about reproductive services and abortion and the litany of stories of women who face decisions with thoughtfulness, courage, and dialogue. If we listen to the majority of stories about those who are right-in-front-of-us, we will hear about the love, support, comfort, and unbiased care that is offered to women seeking care and - at times - moving into the decision to end a pregnancy. These decisions are not taken lightly by women seeking care and by the medical staff. Rather than be drawn into the graphic artwork of abortion protesters and some of the one-in-a-million stories used as orchestrated propaganda shows against women’s choice, it would be good to hear about some of the wonder- filled, compassionate care offered to women and the maturing fetus. 

In my imagination, I wonder about all the good our state legislature and governor could do if they ventured into the well-being of the environment - housing - healthcare for all - creating jobs - equitable voting districts, with the the intensity they pursue limiting reproductive choice. Yet, we have such a love affair with that-which-is-not-yet there is too little concern for the well-being the beloved who are right-in-front-of us. I trust the women I know to choose life - quality of life within the complexities of the reality in which we live. Please don’t attempt to negate and dismiss women’s prayerfulness and thoughtfulness as they face life that is right-in-front-of-them by placing legal restrictions on their ability to make conscientious decision. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

NO to god-on-our-side. Always God is Love.

In  a seminar I have been attending, we tossed around the title god on our side. In my notes I capitalized the word God - that was a mistake as I look back at my notes. This note was about the god that humanity creates - it has nothing to do with my understanding of God. The distinction in my notes was a simple one. The God of those who are called the followers of Jesus is the God is love God - the God who is not under the control of the whims and want of humanity. This God cannot be changed to fit our needs and wants. This God cannot be shaped into a power that will destroy our enemies or those with whom we do not agree. In some ways, the lens through which we need to read Scriptures is through the lens that leads our vision to this God is love. Don't get me wrong, there are piles of shit in Scripture that appear to portray a god who is violent - out to get us - full of violent anger - almost excited about vengeance and retribution - and the maker of war and death.

One question might be: who created that image of this god on our side - and why has it had such a grasp on humanity? Duh. If ancient folks are anything like us, then like them, we want our stories to: control the world around us as we want it controlled - make sure stories keep an order we think will keep us safe - justify our violence against the other - manufacture enemies upon whom we can lay the blame of all that goes wrong - create a culture imprinted with a divine seal of approval and blessing. As I've said many times before this is the sports god. The one who is acknowledged at touchdowns - when a run is scored - pass completed - game won. "Hurray we won! Thanks be to god." It is also the god we acknowledge as the one who gives us what we want and allows life to go on as we claim it should. This god on our side is our creation - it is not the God of Creation who operates out of enduring and eternal love.

God is love heals the broken-hearted by bringing all side to a place of reconciliation and peace. Your heart may be broken yet the power of this God inspires me to lean in and so care for your healing that my heart may become broken also. Together though, love sews up the wound. The miracle is called a relationship of love. This God moves us toward our enemies in order that we will treat them and see them as sister and brothers with whom we may have conflicts and disagreements - but we will never leave them or work to get rid of them. For me, this God is love is displayed in the life of Jesus. The guy just never gave in to the powers that be - powers that generated our fear, anxiety, and the power of death. In the stories of his life (not just the part of his death on the cross) he took that long journey - that slow process - that within reach presence, to make sure one word was known about him. Love. There is no magic there. There is simply a life that endlessly seeks wholeness and healing and the reconciliation of all things. This God is the God of outsiders and insiders who make sure that no one is left outside even if it means those once inside step outside to bring about this God's peaceable Reign.

So as we read Scriptures or as we hear people talk about how they read Scriptures - listen. Take note if it is the god on our side or God is love that is being lifted up so that we can follow. I would also say take the time to read our culture our nation. What god is out there? Most often, I think we will hear the words and stories and message of the god on our side. It will appear like a good god - a god with whom we can agree - a god that creates success - a god that is fearful of outsiders and those not on our team. Maybe even read and listen to our families. Too often, that unit most close and dear to us quite easily becomes the breeding ground of god on our side. This is a tough one - but do not turn away and ignore this creation of ours.

God is love never turns our world or our lives into that which we want. This God is always inviting us to give ourselves away so we can be the active agents of a gracious love. Remember also that the god on our side has mastered the way to turn the images and words of this God is love into a self-serving god. So be watchful - listen well - look at what is being done, and then, ask how love for all may be enacted.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Masterful Metaphor - Enduring Loving Presence

 I like a passage in Scripture that is often used by those who preach and teach on behalf of the Anti-Abortion groups in our state - and others. Most likely, I do not read it as some of them do.

Jeremiah 1:4-5
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.' 

First of all, I would like to submit that they abuse this passage not use it. It is metaphor - wonderful words for the encouragement for this prophet who is already in the midst of his life and yet is facing the amazing decisions that will come upon him. When we must face taking up our part in the life of God's Reign in the everyday world - it can be frightening - confusing - distressing. As we know, the great prophets, like Jeremiah, were wading into a call for justice and mercy and love in the middle of a people who had been living quite contrary to such a life. That meant the Prophet needed to be a person of substance - a person who had a ground upon which he could speak and act and even die. That ground was Jeremiah's God. This is the God who creates with words - who orders the chaos - who forgives that which people often call unforgivable. Those comforting words - that amazing image - were to create in one who may be afraid of what was to come - a bit of courage.

It is a though he hears the truthfulness of God's promises that have been the power for new and expanding life since the beginning. That powerful Before erases all that Jeremiah could say and think about what he could or could not do. It is as though God is saying, 'Honey - my beloved, I am already on your side. I the Creative One - I the One who Rescues and Delivers - I the One who keeps promises, have been and will be with you as your rock and your stronghold. You cannot think your way into this journey or plan it out. I am for you -eternally. It is meant to diminish any thought Jeremiah might have as to why another should be chosen or why he did not have the skills or ability to follow along the way of God's promised Reign.  In other words, before you even were - before God  was even a creative agent - so definitely before you are who you think you are, Jeremiah - I am yours and you are mine. This is metaphor - emphasis - blessed assurance, for the life at hand. To make this passage into some argument about abortion is to prove one's lack of biblical imagery and power. It is easy to abuse Scripture in order to make the image of God into our image - but to keep God as God we must appreciate the wonder and encouragement of images that bring forth a truthfulness that is not dependent on our ability to make sense of the world.

Secondly, I would like to suggest that this word of encouragement to Jeremiah could also be a word of hope and encouragement to the women who face the everyday life decisions to which they must attend - even abortion. Too often, preachers love to tell everyone - that which needs to be and that which should not be. Religious folks often love to think they are the ones who possess the ability to know that which is good and that which is evil. Unfortunately, in the righteous heat of their minds-made-up and their certitude-of-how-the-world-is-to-be, they actually lose a grip on the beauty and freedom of God's creativity. I often will tell young people that if they hear the Scriptures being used to diminish someone - brutalize someone - persecute someone  - blame someone - call for hate against someone (this list can go on and on), they need to turn and walk away. Actually, I have suggested they shout 'baloney.' Ancient writings, tribal assurances and controls, and sacred tools to keep things as is, must never remove the wonder and beauty of the poetry of Scripture that is meant to take us above and beyond our rigid interpretations and notions about God's will.

Our God is one who says: You, my child - you, my beloved - you, with whom I have always been and always will be - you, are mine in and through all of your life. This is - as is so clear in Scripture - through any and all things we will encounter. It is a love and an embrace that lasts even as you are persecuted for what you have done or left undone. It is a love with arms ever ready to embrace and hold and comfort in all times that may be distressing. This God is not the one so many folks like to paint as one who condemns - one who blesses if we are good and curses if we are not (that is the cultural Santa Claus by the way).

Finally, I must say that I an always amused by the men who use Scripture to place themselves above women - who know what a woman needs to do and should do - whose love of an ancient patriarchy continues to belittle the wonder and power of God's creative genius displayed in the women around us. Oh how valiant they love to appear - how righteous - how powerful - how loud. Maybe it would be good for their daily devotion to contain the constant reminder of the God whose love orders the day and calls forth a blessing - for all. They would do well to remember fine words by a Canadian theologian, Douglas John Hall: God Reigns - all contrary evidence notwithstanding. It may then be that the warring madness embraced by many legislators might become a compassionate brilliance.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Between Now and Then (part 6)

Favored One - All Along the Way

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with your.’ But she was much perplexed by this words and pondered what sort of greetings this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God….’   (Luke 1:26-31)

The world has a way of changing all around us. Between now and then, we can count on that. We may have our plans and expectations and - even demands. Yet, right in the midst of the creation of our world-as-we-expect-it-and-want-it, things change. This is not simply a once-in-a-lifetime event. This is not even those changes we can expect as we age - for we often have a glimpse of what they will bring. Just the other day I looked down at my arm and saw the skin of my mother as I remembered her aging. The smoothness vanishing and the web of wrinkles so tiny it looked a bit like scales. I expected that - aging happens - live with it.

To be alive is to live within the domain of change. We can attempt to push change off by saying ‘this too will pass’ - but we soon find ourselves facing still another change in our lives. Many people flee from change. We can flee by actually running away - taking off for another life that will not have to face the change at hand. Yet, even in running off - things change no matter how hard we attempt to flee from change. For even in this running away - there is change. We also can flee by holding on - staying put - claiming a ground as though it is ours. Though this appears to be quite the opposite of fleeing, I would suggest it is how many of us flee the movement of world as it is handed to us

As I read the story of the angel coming to Mary to announce the birth of her first child I also understand that this power of God to deliver Good News remains in the story right through to the end. Even as Jesus spits-up, won’t sleep through the night, demands constant attention, and only knows how to take - in some way, shape, or form - the angel must have been standing alongside Mary with a banner: Be not afraid. Then,as is the case for most mothers (and parents), there comes the terrible-twos that merge ever-so-smoothly into the thwarting-threes or the fractured fours or the fickle-fives. This angel, or this vision as I see it, is there at every age - even when puberty begins to tip over the world. There is no intervention - there is merely a presence - a promise - a word of forgiveness and encouragement even as the changes become almost too much to bear. Even at the cross, there was Mary - facing yet another change she could have never imagined.

We have a close-to-three-year-old granddaughter. Yes, she is special and we think she is the best and the cutest - but that girl can change on a dime. After a day that went quite well, I made ready her nightly bathwater. The liquid soap near the tub gave me an idea. I would put some in the water so that it was already soapy - not full of suds - just soapy. As Lou came into the bathroom to get into the tub she pointed at the water, started crying, and made sure I knew that this was not right - at all. ‘That’s not the way mommy does it.’ The world had changed for her. To maintain order and make a way forward into the evening routine, I drained the tub and refilled it. She was pleased.

We learned over and over again during our stay that Emmylou was a change-agent. Yes the world was changing for her everyday, but she was also changing the world around her. Children will be children and we will try to understand them as best as we are able. We will even turn to the wisdom of others to help us through their changes as they become changes in our own lives. Yet, change will never stop and sometimes it can appear to be so overwhelming and out-of-control that parents, grandparents, and friends can be frustrated, full of fear, and unsure of what will come. That is how I look at the story of the Annunciation. We all need to hear that voice that acknowledges the complete change taking place in this time and place and yet it is coupled with that assuring vision ‘Do not be afraid.’ 

I must admit that I do not hear that assuring angelic voice when I am in the middle of those moments that are not running as I want them to run. I become confused. I react rather than respond. I am too willing to play power-games. Bedtime with Lou can become a war-zone rather than a time of mutual comfort and joy. I can be confounded - short tempered - at my wit’s end. Most difficult for me is how easily I let the changing character of the moment rule me. I found that I must work at maintaining a sense of humor - continuing a dialogue - understanding the distress at hand and not fearing the antics present. 

So today I tip my hat to Jamela and Jamie for they demonstrate the influence of a vision that must be touching them and saying ‘Do not be afraid.’ With an admirable consistency they form a team that keeps entering the moment with a vision of how things can be. They embody how change that seems to be the end of the world (or at least the bath) can become a time to hug, listen, comfort, or teach and shape. They also seem to understand that this little one - this wonder living with them and demanding their every moment - is changing and that one who is to come may be a gift that keeps changing the whole world. 

I must agree it is good that grandparents can leave and take a break. For soon there might be no grandparents alive to spend time and spoil grandchildren. But day in and day out - most of us remember those days - the world and our families are blessed with parents whose love for their children helps them hear the voice of a vision that is with us all to see us through whatever changes next. 

In my faithful imagination, Jesus must have drove Mary and Joseph nuts at time. Even as he grew there were times of distress and fear in which he tried their patience and simply made them wonder if they were doing the job that had been handed to them. Yes, I’m sure that if Joseph was a carpenter - they had a woodshed. Maybe it became a place of punishment at times. Maybe it became a place of teaching and understanding and dialogue. I don’t know. Yet, in those years of change, a character was produced. It was not brought about by a miracle or magic. It was brought about by parents who embodied a love that would become the shape of their son - no matter where that love sent him. It was brought about by friends and family who did not let the fear of the moment or the day overwhelm the vision of loves creativity in the middle of the strange and changing world that is taking place between now and then.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Between Now and Then (part 5)

Double Dipping Death - Not Around Here

(Herod - that fox)

An ordinary visit - expected - on the calendar - a part of the job - and yet, the beginning of a great adventure. There was the usual greeting at the door - big smile - and the ritualistic turning down of the television. The discussion would take off from there. Most often it was full of political updates. Always animated - always robust. Yes, there was the discussion about physical ailments and the list of doctors she had to see and of course the adventures with her car. It was a big car - a yacht - an ocean liner. By that description, you may already envision an older model - it was. Yet she would steer that thing back out of the garage - turn it a bit to make it between the fence posts and then turn it again to straighten out to move down the driveway to the street. It was not always a successful journey. That is another story for another time. 
On this day she interrupted our conversation with a troubling story. Two men from a major cemetery in Columbus had come to the door the previous week with concerns about her purchase of a funeral and burial package - including the gravesite at this cemetery. She mentioned it because she thought she may have made a mistake - or worse - been taken. Evelyn already had a fully paid-up funeral package but these two salesmen - yes, if you can believe it cemeteries have salespeople - attempted to convince her that her previously paid up plan might not fill the bill for opening and closing the gravesite and other costs at today’s prices. They emphasized how long ago she bought the package

So, she took the bait - paid quite a sum to update her package - and now - after reviewing her original agreement realized she had been misled. Yes, she was misled and it was no small sum. This was a classic story of a company taking advantage of a senior. I was disgusted. It was then that we spent time conspiring.  This was fun. With a few phone calls to the cemetery and a discussion with the manager  we underscored the fact that there was a miscommunication and Evelyn should be able to back out of the recent deal and her funds returned to her. He did not see things that way - he refused to hear that the salesmen did what they did. The cemetery was not going to refund any money.

Ha. Again I say - Ha. We decided that we needed to meet with the cemetery manager to discuss this further - in person. It was then that the fun - in pursuit of justice - took off. I would go with her - we laughed as I suggested we rent a limo - have two of her young female visitors/neighbors dress up in suggestive outfits and be our driver and escorts. Evelyn and I would be driven to the cemetery - doors would be open for us so we could exit from the back seat - our escorts would take us to the front door. After great belly-laughs, we settled on simply a dynamic duo. We were psyched,  This woman who knew what was just and right and good was ready for plan A. 

Arriving at the cemetery we were invited into  the board room. The manager laid out his paper work and started to spell out his understanding of the events that had taken place. Evelyn was precise with her account - I simply pressed the questions of ethics. When the manager would not give in, we all agreed to do a conference call with the owner of the funeral home - with whom Evelyn had worked for the original burial package. This was golden. The cemetery manager had no problem belittling us at every opportunity. 

The funeral director knew Evelyn. He was gracious. I asked him about the original contract made with Evelyn and explained the sales pitch about her needing a more updated package to secure all the bills that will arise. I then quoted the amount of money Evelyn paid the cemetery. The director paused as he checked the original documents and then said that her account was so full - due to the years since it was purchased - that her heirs will probably receive funds back rather than have to pay anything extra. Ha! Evelyn looked at me - a proud nod - a  smile - a  curled lip showing her confidence. Even the gift to the pastor - that the salesmen had said would never meet today’s standards - would be more than any pastor would expect. The manager was dumbfounded. 

Weeks later - Evelyn received a letter and a check. Ha! We both gained an deeper respect for ethical funeral directors and a complete disrespect for cemeteries that have gone corporate and sell plots like timeshare salespeople. I have never forgot that energy and hopefulness and sheer willingness to see that justice prevailed. This elderly woman was not going to be stopped and in the meantime there would be a bit of fun and laughter and joy.  In addition, there was now an understanding that there are foxes who dress up in the clothing of sheep in order to take whatever they want. There are those who will use anything in order to make a profit no matter how it is done. This woman stood up and inspired me. Herod that fox!!

The saints of God are a vulnerable people. We admit to mistakes. We draw into questions our actions. We ask for help. We rise up and face the profit-seekers who have no respect for our beloved seniors - or for that matter - anyone from whom money can be taken. A simple afternoon visit - an ordinary passing of time - a connection to something bigger than the powers that try to run the world, and there joy is unveiled - justice comes alive - and we all learned that between now and then the powers of the world need not win the day. We must stand up and resist the power of deception, greed, and lies.