Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blessed Are The Peacemakers...

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Matthew 5:9

Sarah Bessey called it the "summer of sadness" and that resonated within me. We saw Boko Haram kidnap schoolgirls from their beds, ISIS chasing villagers up the mountain to die, civilians in the Gaza strip dying by the hundreds, over 50,000 children traveling thousands of miles in hopes of a better existence being detained in camps...the list goes on and on and on. I felt all of it. And even more so, I felt my helplessness in the face of it. I wasn't sure that anything I did would make a difference. One afternoon, I was in my room, praying, processing, thinking in blog (I do this more than I should admit) and wondering what-if anything-I should do. 

On my nightstand there was a Relevant magazine that I'd looked forward to reading for weeks but hadn't had a chance yet because of the move, work schedule, etc.

I'd looked at this thing for weeks but somehow at that moment, the title hit me harder than it had before. "Blessed are the peacemakers" I realized two things almost simultaneously.

1) Peace doesn't just happen. It's made.
2) As much as we are called to be advocates, abolitionists and bearers of justice...we are more called to be peacemakers. Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount that the peacemakers will be called children of God. 

I had to admit...quite painfully...that I wasn't sure how to be a peacemaker. I was pretty sure I had the role of "activist" down pretty well, but peacemaker...

In an article by Lynn Hybels, she says "there is a huge difference between being an angry activist and being a peacemaker" and goes on to explain that one can cause more harm than good-to herself as well as the people she wants to help. The truth of it that hit home but I was hoping for a list or a character summary or something that would help move me from one to the other. Lynn Hybels suggested 1 Corinthians 13 as a start. You know, the love chapter. Apparently Jesus actually meant that being known by our love thing since it keeps coming back to that.


For the record, angry activist is easier. Especially this week. 
My heart is breaking and I'm angry and disgusted and discouraged. Social media has me so disgusted that I refuse to log on in the fear that if I do, I'll lose all hope in humanity. But, at the same time, I don't want to remove myself completely. Because, if we need anything right now, we need peacemakers. And I'm still learning, still wobbly, and completely and totally imperfect. But I'm trying. And I think that slowly, if there are enough peacemakers, there will be change.

If you, like me, want desperately to see peace...if you are working toward being a peacemaker...but you wouldn't mind a list, here's what I have so far...

1) Being a peacemaker doesn't mean not speaking truth. In the 1930's world leaders, desperate for peace, allowed Hitler to do things they should never have stood the hopes he would be satisfied and there would be no war. Obviously, that didn't work out. Being a peacemaker doesn't mean not standing up for what is right. I think it's the way we take our stance that makes a difference. There is a huge difference in taking a stance with our hands out than with our fists up.

2) Jonathan Sacks says "The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation" Here is my experience and I believe it is a universal is a lot harder to judge a minority, a "side" or a person when we know them, when we have relationship with them. And the way we build relationship is through conversation. The way we understand the other "side" is through conversation. And by conversation, I mean two way communication. In which there is talking and listening...and attempting to understand even when you don't agree. I don't care if you don't believe racism exists in this country...if the person you are talking to believes it, then that is their perception and therefore their reality and you arguing with them without any attempt to understand why they feel that way isn't going to change anything. If the person you are talking to doesn't believe racism exists in this country, calling them names isn't going to change their mind. All the yelling, name calling and finger pointing in the world isn't going to change anything. It just sends people to their corner, ready to come out fighting.

3) Step out of your conventions, your boundaries and your comfort zone. We serve a Jesus who walked through Samaria, talked to women in public, and touched lepers. So maybe a conversation with someone who identifies as LGBTQ, sharing a meal with an immigrant (and not worrying about their legal status) or going into neighborhoods we wouldn't normally step foot in (for some that is the poverty stricken areas...for others the home of a "soccer mom").

4) Stop identifying the "issue" and see the humanity behind it. This is one of my biggest problems right now...especially in the Christian community, we discuss the LGBTQ community, the situation in Ferguson and the immigrant community as issues to be debated rather than seeing the people involved. It is telling to me that in Darren Wilson's interviews that were released this week he identified Michael Brown as "it" more than "he". In warfare the military dehumanizes the other side giving them common nicknames like "Charlie" because it is harder to kill an individual. Likewise, it is a lot easier to debate issues than people. Recently in my public speaking class I was to give a presentation...before the presentation I asked three questions and after the presentation I asked the same three questions. Before I gave my presentation, the answer to "describe what you think the average person on food stamps is like" went along the lines of "drug dealing, ghetto, welfare mom" (seriously, those were the answers). After my presentation, after finding out 25% of our military families are on food stamps, after hearing about how I'd been on food stamps...the answers were drastically different. The issue had been humanized.

5) Approach everything with and in love...if we are to be known by our love, 1 Corinthians 13 is how we should be approaching every one and everything we encounter. If the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control...what are we exhibiting on our Facebook feed? We don't do this in our own power. I am certainly not going to be able to love the prejudiced truck driver making racist comments in my front lobby without the help of Jesus. For those wrestling with this, I suggest a lot of prayer and maybe a word study in your Bible ( Lynn Hybels....reading 1 Corinthians 13 every morning and evening until it starts to work).

6) Be willing to get your hands dirty. In the current situation, the town of Ferguson needs to know it is loved. The library is providing a safe haven for students, the food banks are open, and there is a lot of clean up to do. If you can't be there to get your hands dirty, provide resources so others can. It's important that our words and actions match. But don't do so to take sides. I love what Elias Chacour, an Arab priest, said to a group of women coming to Palestine "If you are here to pick sides, then please leave. We don't need you. But if you're willing to figure out what it means to be a common friend to both Israelis and Palestenians, we welcome you." We are there to help, to work for common good...and to do so, we need to be a "common friend."

Be willing to let your heart be broken. If the stories we are hearing aren't breaking your heart, you aren't listening. Or maybe you are afraid if you let your heart be broken, it'll never come together again. But God is the God who can put can put Humpty Dumpty (and our hearts) back together again. And I'm convinced that to be a peacekeeper, we must feel the hurt of the broken, the angry, the oppressed. 

Carry On, Peacemaker

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Art of Sabbath

I'm reading Jonathan Merritt's book Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined and he is talking about spending a weekend at a monastery observing a vow of silence. In exploring Zechariah, he makes this statement "Having first encountered this passage as a chile, I assumed God was punishing Zechariah thgourh Gabriel for probing the prophecy further. After all, I thought, God dislikes being questioned. But after encountering the Bible more broadly, I think more might be happening here...I now wonder if striking Zechariah mute was both a punishment and a gift. Rather than simmering over being questioned, maybe God knew Zechariah better than we...God knew he needed to stop talking in order to fully hear what God was saying, in order to receive what God was about to do in his midst."

Recently, I have been flailing against the life that surrounds me. Part of it is sheer exhaustion from working two jobs. Part of it is desperately missing the sense of purpose and mission that I had when I worked in non-profit. Part of it is just everyday human selfishness. I began this season sure God was doing something...but I also believed it would be short lived. I've been out of non-profit for over a year now. Maybe to God, that is a short time me, it's a freaking long time!

The crazy thing is that every time I stop and pray, I get an undeniable sense of peace...but for some reason, that didn't make sense to I flailed anyway. And I began desperately trying to apply for jobs in non-profit organizations and I put my boss on notice that I was looking for another job and I begged "please God give me this" and bargained and wheedled. I told God that since I didn't get to be married or rich, I really needed this. I reminded Him that my kids were old enough to leave home and it would be really, really nice to have a sense of purpose to distract me from empty nest syndrome (yeah, I did actually go there). And I stressed about it. Like, really stressed. And I was already stressed and tired. So it got ugly. Like the ugly where your kids see you come out of your room so they run to theirs ugly.

And then, suddenly I got it. And I didn't have quite the words for it until I read that particular chapter in Merriitt's book. I was feeling as though I was being punished. Like I did something that made me unworthy of the job so God basically 'muted' me. But He isn't punishing me at all. He is giving me the space for silence.

He is giving me the space for Sabbath. More than just a Sunday but a prolonged period of time to know Him, hear Him, and be with Him. And maybe it's because He's about to do something in the midst and maybe it's because God's more concerned with our relationship than He is the good works and the advocacy and all of those awesome volunteer groups. And that is a huge issue because, to be honest...I was more concerned with what we were going to do next, about who God wanted me to be, etc, etc. It was more about the doing, less about the being.

"When I pray am I truly trying to find out who God is, or am I trying to find out who I am?" 
~Oswald Chambers

Sabbath is about more than going to church, it's even about more than resting, it's a period of time to seek God in order to better know Him (that "Be still and know that I am God" thing). And it can be a longer season than 24 hours. I've failed to understand the season and have filled it with more work, school, etc. The sad thing is, as much as I love both my jobs, I can't say that working them both has made us more financially stable. If the car hadn't broken down or if we hadn't had to move twice in a six month period...maybe. But it's not worth the time I haven't spent with my kids or the fact that my friend-after years of praying and hoping-became pregnant and I didn't get to see the baby belly in person until her third trimester. It's certainly not worth the burn out and constant exhaustion and unhappiness. 

So, I sat down with my boss. Told him I was staying if he wanted me to. He did. And-being awesome-gave me projects I could sink my teeth into and a great raise. It was funny how, in deciding to stay, I almost immediately calmed down. And have had the most fantastic sense of contentment since then. I also told Horizon that I needed to work a lot less (though I love working there so probably won't give it up completely) and now I've had time to rest, hang out with my kids, help care for a friend of mine's children while she recuperated from surgery, and I get to help organize a nursery! And I have time to be quiet, to reconnect, to know God.

I think we have lost the art of Sabbath. We've confined it to one day, decided what it needs to look like or forgotten it's importance all together. We've forgotten the beauty of it. The creativity that is found in the midst of it. The discipline of it. For me, at least, it was time to take that back.

Friday, November 7, 2014

On Raising a Man...and a Soldier.

When Trey was about six years old, I was given the book "Raising Up Boys" by James Dobson (it had been on my Christmas wish list). I read to a certain chapter where Dr Dobson detailed statistics and probabilities that seemed to fate my son to a life of crime, addiction, depression and suicide. Overwhelmed with despair, I crept into my sleeping son's room, knelt by his bed and prayed in desperation. And I heard God ask me if I trusted Him to see my son as more than a statistic. Of course I did. And I held on to that like a promise.
I have raised my son with a set of values, beliefs and principles. I raised him to believe in things, be willing to fight for those things, to hold on to his faith, to live life like an adventure. And now that he is 18, he is living out all of that...and, to be honest, I may have days where I wish I could take it back! Not all of it...just redefine "adventure" to something like "live really close to your Mom-always!" But it would appear it's too late. The course is set.

When Trey was four, he told me when he grew up he wanted to join the Marines and be a soldier. At some point, he'd stopped talking about it and I stopped thinking about it but a couple of years ago he told me that he planned to join as soon as he graduated high school. At my request, he agreed to wait until he was 19...he turns 19 this February.

By May...he'll be gone. He'll be in boot camp.
In the past few days, we've talked about it several times. I asked him if he'd finished registering for next semester and when he told me no, I started to chide him but he reminded me he's not going to school next semester...he'll be gone before the semester is over. Bree and I were discussing Thanksgiving when we realized that this is the last Thanksgiving for the next four years that we are guaranteed Trey will be home. And then I read that President Obama has approved the deployment of 1500 more troops to Iraq.

I have to tell you...I have had friends and family members serve in the military for as long as I can remember. I had friends in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and cousins fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've had friends who had family members-even their sons-serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines...and I have prayed for them, diligently. But I think I realized that I didn't pray for them nearly enough. I have been praying for my son as desperately as I did that night 12 years ago. And I realize that for the Mamas out there, I had no idea as I dutifully prayed for their child what they were going through. I still don't. Not yet. I just know the anticipation of it...and I am going to be bluntly honest and tell you that I don't fully trust the United States Government to make the best choices when it comes to my son. When I look at Korea and Vietnam and then I look at Iraq, Afghanistan, and ISIS I feel like we are making the same decisions and the same mistakes. I think we fail to fully understand the culture and the people and what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against when we make military decisions. As I am not a military strategist, general, soldier, etc I could be absolutely wrong...but that is the way it seems to me. And now, the decisions the military and Commander in Chief make affect me in a very personal way. And that is scary.
My son is-understandably so-one of hundreds of thousands to the US government and military. They don't know about his comedic timing, ability to take amazing pictures, love of Ultimate Frisbee and video games. They don't know that when he found out he was in the same college class as his Mom, he didn't run to his adviser and beg for rescue but actually enjoys it! They don't know that he is a favorite with all little kids and most dogs. That he hopes to make movies one day. That he is the best answer God could have ever given me in my prayer for a son.

And then God reminds me that He does...He knows all of those things.

I trust my son to know the desires of his heart and to go after them. Because of my raising, and sometimes in spite of it, because of the goodness of God, because of the love of so many friends around us my son has grown into a remarkable young man. He will make a fine soldier. And I will wave him off with pride when he leaves for boot camp and I won't cry until he's gone and each time he comes home and has to leave again I will do the same. Because that is the best thing I can give know he is loved, that I am proud of him, that I support him, and that I am praying...and that I trust him and God  that whatever they do is for the best. I'm holding on to that. Like a promise.

Mamas, I am praying so hard for your soldiers. For your hearts. For our leaders to make wise decisions. Because I understand more than ever how personal it is. Thank you for being brave, for being wise, for modeling how to do it right so that bumbling Mamas like me have a model.

Here's to hoping and praying for the day the sword is beaten into plowshares.