Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Internet Rocks!!

The internet came through for me this week!

I think I was in 5th grade when I read a book from the elementary school library. Yusaf. I liked it a lot and later wanted to read it again, but then it wasn't on the library shelf where it had sat for so long. I looked high and low for it, but never found it. Why? Did someone decide it wasn't appropriate for the elementary library? It's not as though it was seeing a lot of circulation. I had seen it sitting on the shelf never moving many times before deciding to give it a try. What happened to it?

That was 50 years ago and I have looked off and on for that book multiple times through the years. Every so often it comes to mind and I wonder again about its disappearance and wish I could read it again, partly to see what has made it stick with me for so many years.

Last night, for some reason, I thought again about the mysterious lost book. Had I made use of my librarian super-skills and done a thorough search on WorldCat and Amazon? I decided to try again and typed the title into WorldCat.org with a publication date range of 1942 to 1970. No luck. Maybe I had it spelled wrong. An alternate spelling -- Yusef -- brought more hits, but not the book I was seeking. Then, I stumbled across another possible spelling and there it was! Yusuf by Grace Rasp-Nuri. After all these years, I found it! Seven libraries connected with WorldCat have a copy. The closest is in Montreal. The next closest is in Dublin. Two in the U.K., one each in Germany, New Zealand, and Australia. It was published in 1954 in German. The English translation was published in 1958, making it around ten years old when I first read it -- and probably ripe for weeding from the elementary school collection. Amazon will sell me a used copy.

But if I'm buying it used, why give Amazon my money? I have a couple of used book sources I like to support. I figured I should at least see what other prices I could find. So I went to Google and did a search on the title and author's name; and there it was at archive.org available to borrow for two weeks as an ebook!

Fifty years later, the internet has reunited me with this book I wanted to read again at age 11. I didn't remember much about it. An orphan boy on the island of Cyprus gets kidnapped by thieves and then a benefactor (an English gentleman) provides a living and education for him. I haven't finished it yet, but am pleased to discover it is still a good story all these years later, worth the effort to find it, even if every library in America seems to have discarded it. (The ebook is scanned from a discarded copy from the Allen County, Indiana Public Library.)

Thank you, internet!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

On being a progressive Christian in a conservative land

Have you ever had the sensation of moving when you were actually still while something large in your line of vision was moving? (If not, go to a Disney theme park and they will introduce you to the concept.)

Before Indiana adopted Daylight Saving Time so we could be like everyone else, I used to say the time change was like that. One day we were on Eastern Standard Time with Ohio and Michigan. The next we were on Central Daylight Saving Time  with Illinois and all our television/radio shows came on an hour earlier. It truly felt like we were the ones who changed time, even though we didn't touch our clocks and the sun rose and set within a minute or two of the day before.

I mentioned in a blog post a couple of weeks ago that, over time, I have found myself more and more out of step with the church I have called home for most of my life. That is partly due to change on my part. I have heard too many stories to stay the same. Compassion calls me to take a different view of my world.  It is partly due to change in the world. Technology has lessened the distance between me and those whose stories break my heart. The world feels smaller than it used to. Its people can more easily communicate with people like me in the rural Midwest United States of America.

I'm not sure how much of the widening difference is due to the church changing. Is the church less concerned about the poor and oppressed whom God favors or does it just seem that way as the culture changes around a church that adjusts slowly when it adjusts at all?

Regardless of who moved, I find myself to now fit the label of a "liberal" in a conservative land. Or to adopt another current label, I find much to like about "progressive" Christians.

But am I the one who has left conservative Christianity behind or is it the church that has moved away from its roots?

In a blog post on 12/31/18, Richard Rohr wrote:

Precisely because Jesus was a “conservative,” in the true sense of the term, he conserved what was worth conserving and did not let accidentals get in the way, which are the very things false conservatives usually idolize. As a result, he looked quite “progressive,” radical, and even dangerous.

I wrote a post last week about how Jesus  persuaded those ready to take the life of a woman caught in adultery to put down their stones. He then took the shocking additional step of treating the woman like a person of value, worthy of an invitation to share her perspective. Those testing Jesus' commitment to the law of Moses went away with more evidence that Jesus was soft on sin, or at least on sinners. They were conservative religious leaders. He wasn't like them. He was like his Father -- the Almighty God of compassion: slow to anger, abounding in mercy and love. (Psalm 103:8 is one of several passages painting such a picture.) He and the Father were one.

I want to be like Jesus. So do most Christians. By definition, to be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. So why do I feel like such a misfit in the church when I start talking about extending compassion, grace, and hospitality to "sinners"?

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Exclusion versus Inclusion

I love the story in John 8 of the woman caught in the act of adultery. She was dragged to Jesus as a test of his willingness to support the harshest aspects of the law of Moses. She was guilty, caught in the act, dragged away from her lover (an innocent man taken in by her wiles?), and presented to Jesus for condemnation to death by stoning. They had him in a corner this time!

Or did they? Jesus takes time to consider and then comes up with a response that sends the accusers on their way. (You can read the whole story here.) That part is good. I wish I were half so clever. But what makes me love the story so much is Jesus' conversation with the woman after her accusers are gone. He has been writing in the sand with his finger rather than watching as the accusers slowly fade away. Now he looks up and, with surely a glint of humor in his eye, asks the woman, "Where are they? Has no one condemned you?" He looks at her. He talks to her. He asks her a question and waits for a response. A few moments ago she was a dirty, no-good sinner in the hands of religious leaders objectifying her in order to make a point. Ashamed, she didn't dare look at any of them. Now she is recognized as a person of value, a person able to speak words worth hearing. Jesus looks at her, sees her, waits for her to look up at him, and then asks the question.

"No one, sir," she replies.

They're gone. How sweet it must have felt for her to answer Jesus' question with the obvious. She then waits to see what Jesus will say. After all, this is the man to whom her accusers took her for a verdict. How strong will his rebuke be?

Then Jesus softly says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."

Many people skip past the lack of condemnation and point out the command (in KJV language) to "go and sin no more" as though it negates the lack of judgment on Jesus' part. They can't handle the idea that Jesus was nonjudgmental of people caught up in unhealthy situations. They pounce on the fact that he identified her actions as being sinful.

Religion teaches us that God condemns sinners. However, Jesus -- God made flesh -- was called "a friend of sinners" by his critics. He saw the adulterous woman and wanted more for her. He presented her with a better option. And he clearly told her he did not condemn her. He treated her like a real person, worthy of his attention and even friendship. They shared a moment of humor at the disappearance of the oh-so-self-righteous accusers.

One of the things I have struggled with is being part of a group that closes people out rather than inviting them in based on a certain set of unacceptable sins. We can overlook offenses such as pride, ambition, envy, gossip, greed, self-indulgence, self-righteousness, and being short-tempered. We even toss out the 4th of the "Big Ten" commandments -- Sabbath-keeping -- as impractical in today's society. But sins such as adultery ... well, we think, people involved in that sort of thing need to know that their actions are completely unacceptable in the sight of God. In condemning others, we forget how short we ourselves have fallen when measured against the law of perfect love for God and others. We can't see that the sins we condemn in others are mere specks compared to those we ignore in our own lives. (See Matthew 7:3-5)

One of my goals for 2019 is to learn a better way of life from those Jesus says are entering the kingdom of God ahead of the religious people. (See Matthew 21:31b) A first step along that path is to truly believe we all fall short of any perfect standard by which God would measure us. Some of us are just better at fitting into the culture of religion than others and start to think our own unloving actions aren't as serious as the sins of others.

Am I going to leave behind my "clean living" lifestyle in order to become a "friend of sinners"? Probably not. Perhaps a better step is to look more closely at the ways I live a life of privilege in a world of suffering. I need to be more fully aware that only grace stands between me and condemnation by the God who loves and favors the poor and oppressed.

Still learning.

Monday, December 31, 2018

On to 2019!

I love fresh starts -- planning new projects, dreaming of possibilities, setting goals. New Year's Day has long been my favorite day of the year. New year, new calendar, blank slates everywhere to fill with new plans!

2019 is all this and more. I am making perhaps the biggest move for me personally since Dave and I graduated from college and moved 250 miles to new jobs and a new community almost forty years ago. When we needed a place to rent, it was the pastor of the local Church of the Nazarene who found us a home. Members of the church sat on the front lawn waiting to help us move in when we drove into town. We joined the congregation and soon found ministry roles. We have been active church members since, through thick and thin.

In November, I was made aware that I would not be in a leadership position in the church music program going forward. That's all right. Although I am listed in the church directory as the music director, someone else had taken it on as their ministry. I wasn't looking forward to picking up the responsibility again when that person moved away. While I have enjoyed making music with my friends for the past decade and more and like having input into what type of music we do, I have gladly relinquished the leadership role whenever someone else was available and willing to do it. The manner in which I was pushed aside was disturbing, but the release itself was not unwelcome.

As I reeled under the way this was handled, however, being excluded from all discussions about the matter, and as it turned into neither Dave nor me being involved in worship music at any level, I realized several things.

1. I am being told I am no longer needed here.
2. I don't really fit here anymore.
3. I have options!

In December, I submitted my resignation as church treasurer and adult Sunday School teacher. Knowing it will take time to find and train a new treasurer, I set the end of January as my end-of-service date.

The unexpected release from music ministry was definitely a factor in this. It opened a door I wouldn't have considered pushing open. But that in itself wouldn't have prompted a move this momentous for me. As noted above, we have stayed through thick and thin for almost forty years, and there have been plenty of thin times before. What is different this time is the realization that for several years I have been moving in a different direction than the Church of the Nazarene at both the local and global level. I have been a Nazarene for most of my life and, until now, felt like I could work within the organization for what I see as needed change. However, being unexpectedly steered toward the sidelines concerning the music -- along with other recent decisions by local leadership -- has both disillusioned me and opened up new possibilities.

I'm hoping to write here more regularly in 2019. My plan is to focus on what lies ahead rather than on the past. The past is past, what is done is done. It's time for a fresh start.

On to 2019!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Out of the heart ...

Do you have a running commentary in your head? What is it like? Is the voice in your head kind or mean? Is it a monologue, a dialog with itself, or does it draw in other voices to form an imaginary conversation?

Jesus taught that our words come from our heart. (See Luke 6:45) How often are the words coming out of your mouth an outcropping of your inner dialog? Is that dialog a reflection of what is in your heart? Where do we begin to reshape inner dialog to better fit what we desire to have come out of our mouths?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Making of a Liar

One of my earliest memories has two scenes.

In the first, I notice a little knob on the inside of the refrigerator. It has numbers on it. I wonder what it does. When I turn it nothing happens. I shrug and go on about my 5-year-old business. End of story.

In the second scene, my father is enraged. He rounds up his four children and roars, "WHO TURNED THE KNOB IN THE REFRIGERATOR??!!" I am speechless with fear. Who knew that turning the knob was an offense on this level?

"Did you do it?" he asks my oldest brother?
"No," comes the answer.

"Did YOU do it?" he asks brother #2.
"No."

"Did YOU do it?" he asks me.

Oh my. What to do, what to do? Obviously, 'fessing up is going to result in serious pain.

In the split second of considering what to do, it occurs to me that the penalty for turning the knob and then lying about it can't be much worse than for just turning the knob. Plus, my 3-year-old brother is next in line and he seems like the one most likely to have done it AND to lie about it. I decide to take my chances. In a tone as close to my innocent older brothers as possible, I say, "No." He moves on to the littlest brother, who, unsurprisingly, also denies doing the deed.

Now what will happen? My father is still in a rage. "If the one who did it doesn't confess, I'll spank ALL of you!"

Now my 5-year-old mind is spinning again. There are two brothers to my right and one to my left. I figure I have a couple of things going for me.

1) I'm in the middle. If this plan is carried out, I will not get the initial fury. There's a chance he'll tire by the time he gets to me, even if he starts with my younger brother.

2) I'm the girl. Surely, that will bring me a bit of mercy.

3) I'm not the prime suspect. Apparently, my lie has combined with my general good behavior to keep me in the clear. Little brother is much more likely to get the blame.

I stand my ground. Not guilty!

I don't remember what happened next, but I know it didn't involve any spankings, probably just a warning to NEVER touch that knob! It also did NOT include any explanation as to what the little knob in the refrigerator does. I don't remember when I finally found out its purpose, but it wasn't in that moment. What I learned in that moment was that I had the ability, with enough fear involved, to look someone square in the eye and deny the truth. It wasn't the last time I practiced that skill. In a time when I had almost no power against the flaring tempers of the adults in my life whom I tried so hard to please, when any attempt to justify my actions was brushed aside as back-talk, I had this one weapon of self-defense. I could lie!

Interestingly, enough, despite my general commitment to being a good girl, my conscience was satisfied that truth was not a practical option in a world where curiosity, ignorance, and occasionally tossing aside the rules for a little innocent fun resulted in harsh punishment. Even now, as an adult who loves honesty, I am satisfied that my younger self made the best choice given the environment. I have often expressed my commitment to the truth in these words: "I will be as honest as people give me space to be." What a blessing it is on the rare occasion I find someone willing to make space for true honesty.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The stories we encounter

I have lived in the same small town for close to 40 years. My children were students in the local public school system from kindergarten to graduation. That is a lot of history with a community. Two of my three children have moved elsewhere, but many of their classmates are still in the community.

Last night my church hosted a "Parents Night Out" for local families. When I looked at the registrations, I recognized one of the parents as someone slightly older than my own children. She brought her sons and they were great additions to the group. As I interacted with them, I figured out who their father was. And then I began to count the deaths in their lives. As one after another came to mind, it struck me how much tragedy is in their history.

1. We interacted with their grandfather when we bought our land in 1980. He died of a heart attack a few years later, leaving a wife and three young sons. Those sons grew up and have struggled in many ways.

2. One of the three fatherless sons was the father of these boys. Before they were born, he was at fault in a fatal car accident and went to jail for several years. Less than two years ago, he died in another accident, which sent another person to prison for similar charges. A few months later, I was talking to his aunt who said her sister was deep in despair, saddled with grief not only for the deceased son, but also for those who still lived. She died soon after. So the boys I met yesterday have lost both their father and grandmother in the past two years. They never knew their paternal grandfather.

3. As I thought further, I realized the maternal grandmother of these boys was the victim of a rare shooting death in the area when their mother was in high school. Hardly anyone around here has lost family to homicide. They are among the few.

Two personable boys at a church event. It was our first encounter with them. Only my long history in the area combined with a few clues I picked up here and there filled in part of their story for me. Otherwise, I would have never guessed.

Maybe it would be better if these boys could go through life and never encounter anyone familiar with their history. I wonder how many people like me see them and are reminded of all the public tragedies in their lives.

Of course, I don't know about the less public tragedies. Nor the victories and accomplishments of their family that haven't merited news coverage.

In cases where one meets new people, is it better to know nothing or something? Should we simply assume that everyone has challenges in their family and needs to be treated with tender, loving care?