Changing the Season of Darkness into the Season of Light…

When we lived in the city we had a strategy for homeless people or those on the sidewalks with signs. We carried gift cards for Subway and gave them out one or two at a time. It seemed mostly satisfactory, until one day a guy asked how much was it worth. Later that same week I discovered a “cash-in your gift cards here” machine in the local grocery store.

We have since moved to a small town/rural area, and the people with signs aren’t so frequent. I don’t carry gift cards any more, and I rarely have cash with me, so I mostly just feel bad when I see someone with a Need Help sign.

I was thinking this morning of something that happened last fall before 2020 happened: I had made an uncharacteristic stop at Walmart to get Burt’s Bees chapstick. While there, I bought a rotisserie chicken for dinner. As I was leaving the parking lot, there was an older man standing at the curb. I could barely read his sign; all I got was “Need Help, Lost Job…”

I drove by.

I had a twenty dollar bill in my purse and a chicken for dinner. Playing on the car audio system was “More Like You” by Scott Wesley Brown. If you don’t know that song, the chorus goes like this:

More like you, Jesus, More like you, Touch my lips with holy fire, and make me more like you.

At the bottom of the hill, I turned around and drove back to where he was standing. I gave him the twenty dollar bill and prayed that he would use it wisely. I don’t know. I’m not writing this for any praise from you because it wasn’t my first thought to be generous. It wasn’t even my second thought. And for all I know, he went out and bought drugs or whiskey with it. But the story that keeps coming to mind is from C.S. Lewis: he was walking with a friend and he gave a generous amount of money to a street person. The friend gently chided him, saying the standard remark, “You know, he’ll probably just drink it up.” To which Lewis replied, “Well, so would I.” (This is from a biography of Lewis by Owen Barfield — who actually was that friend…)

But there’s another quote that’s not so well known in Letters to an American Lady.  Lewis writes, “It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been “had for a sucker” by any number of impostors; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need.”

I’m not suggesting we give money to every homeless person; we all have to figure out  how to live generously and thankfully, and what that means is different for everyone. But the events of this year — from pandemics to hurricanes and wildfires to racial unrest to large scale economic upheaval — have left so many of us feeling overwhelmed by the need. And feeling overwhelmed, I am trying to figure out what I can do.

sunriseToday is the first Sunday in Advent. As we await the light coming in this dark year of dark years, I suggest we choose something to do about it. It could be giving anonymously to someone in need. It could be making a meal for someone who is alone. Maybe every Thursday in Advent, you call someone you’ve been thinking about. Yesterday I read a suggestion–that instead of buying Christmas presents this year, we all donate to food pantries or agencies that are struggling to help people in need. We’re considering this: I’m thinking about making cards to send to family members explaining our strategy. Now, more than ever, is a good time to reconsider our spending habits and instead of spending our money on Cyber Monday, let’s spend it on Giving Tuesday instead…

I’m interested to hear if you have any plans to make this Advent season of 2020 different. To bring joy. To bring light. To this hurting world.

Tikkun Olam: where would i begin?

Just this morning my Bible reading brought me to chapter one of 1 Peter, where two verses jumped out at me: Be holy because He is holy (1:16) and …love one another deeply, from the heart. (1:22) They loomed large because they feel so impossible for me these days. I confess to having difficulty in loving my neighbor–and I use the word neighbor loosely. Kind of like asking Jesus, Who is my neighbor? and getting the reply that you know, but you don’t want to hear… What! Those people who call themselves Christians, yet still voted for Trump? They are my neighbors? Yes. That’s really how I feel… (And that is, realistically, almost half this country???)

My ruminations led me to remember the book  Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha;  so I pulled it from my bookshelf and started paging through it again, a couple of years later, in this time of Covid-19 and anger and racial division and conspiracy theories and chaos.

It didn’t take long to find the chapter I remembered, “Repair.” She writes about a Jewish term, tikkun olam, which means “repair of the world.”  Tikkun olam calls us to do what we can to sacrificially act for the good of our neighbors, even if those neighbors might be our enemies. Even if those neighbors are belligerent about mask wearing; even if those neighbors have a nasty-language-sign in their yard; even if they somehow think the person in the White House is good for the country. How can I love them when I think what they believe is abhorrent? (For a Jewish discussion on the concept, you might enjoy this article from My Jewish Learning.)

Nikondeha then relates several stories of the Batwa tribe in Rwanda who, when faced with having their harvest of carrots stolen from their neighbors, gave them potatoes too. When they were falsely accused of stealing cabbages, they gave twice as many cabbages back. Can you hear in these stories of one of the most difficult messages from Jesus:

…But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. — Matthew 5:39-40

Perhaps we ignore this instruction because it is just too difficult to wrap our heads and hearts around? There are many difficult “red-letter” passages in the New Testament, but none so absolutely unachievable as this one. Don’t fight back, instead say yes, here, hit me again. Someone is suing you for $5,000? Give them $10,000. Your neighbor’s car just died? Give them your second car that you just finished paying off. Forgive the person who treated you so grievously a few years ago that you haven’t spoken to each other since. Wait; don’t just forgive them, invite them to a luxurious feast at your house…

It’s radical, this concept of tikkun olam. But just think of what needs repairing in this world. More accurately, in our own small worlds–our families and our communities.

I suggest that another reason we ignore the reparations that we need to make is because they are SO HUGE as to be daunting. This is not only Love your Neighbor (which is hard enough!) but this is Love your Enemy. How can we do this? Where could we start? The poet philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Yes, this is the road right outside my door…

Jesus’ version of this thought is recorded in the gospels of Luke and Matthew–the parable of the mustard seed: “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) ESV

Although probably no one actually stole your carrot or cabbage crops, it is likely that someone stole your political yard sign. Or it is likely that your neighbor (or family member) voted for the other side. I suggest that to repair America, we need to take that first step toward tikkun olam. And the road begins right outside our door…

thirty biblical reasons to vote democratic in 2020: #13 Pro-life?

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16 (NRSV)

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” — Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

Painting by Leah Saulnier, The Painting Maniac

So there’s an elephant here in the room. A reader asked about it a few days ago, and I said I would get to it. So here’s the elephant (an appropriate metaphor for the GOP, yes?)

Most Christians who vote for Trump are voting for him because of one issue: abortion. I have thought long and deep about this issue. My sweet husband would not be here if his 17-year-old-unmarried mother had not chosen, at great personal cost, to give him life and adoptive parents. On the other hand, I did not become a believer until I was in my forties–too late to prevent the abortion I had in my twenties. I know that I am forgiven for that sin, but it still does not wipe away the grief and sadness I feel today for that lost child. I understand the passion of those who are pro-life because I am too.  I used to be a one-issue voter but not any longer. So here are some thoughts*:

    • Abortion has been with us forever. Laws about it will not make it go away. Laws did not keep God’s people in the Old Testament from breaking them. What makes us think that our laws are any different?
    • God’s laws are meant for believers. It is a sin for a believer to have an abortion, yes; but not everyone who lives in this country is a Christian who believes that God has made all life sacred. Can we force our laws and beliefs on them? What this really tells me is that we Christians have failed. God calls us to love people, to tell them about Jesus, and when they accept Him, God gives them a new spirit; they need to believe abortion is killing a child before it becomes a sin to them. It is actually easier for us to say, ‘Let’s make a law against it’ rather than try to witness Christ to them.
    • Pro-life means more than protecting life in the womb. Pro-life means supporting families and not tearing them apart in immigration camps. Pro-life means supporting poor women who simply can’t afford to lose the job they just got and will have to give up because they are pregnant. Pro-life means being pro-people of color who live in the hard section of town. Pro-life means not ending health insurance plans for those who can’t afford it. Pro-life is against the death penalty and assault rifles. Pro-life means being supportive of mental health treatment and addiction programs, and prisoner re-training programs…Dr. Lodovico Balducci, an M.D., writes in his article, “Why I’m pro-life but not pro-Trump”  why pro-life means more than the abortion debate:

Under our American brand of capitalism, human life has become a commercial good that can be disposed of when it ceases to serve the prevailing power. If you doubt that, look at the administration’s willingness to sacrifice the lives of the poor, the front-line workers and the aged during this pandemic to “open up the economy.”

  • Can we overlook all the other “abominations” of this president’s policies and character in favor of one issue?
  • Our founders and writers of the constitution guaranteed us freedom of religion. That means freedom for Christians, freedom for Jews, freedom for Muslims, freedom for Hindus, freedom for atheists… We cannot codify Christian moral laws as the absolute. We can do our best to follow those laws, and we should do our best to witness to others, so they also can live in the freedom of grace and truth that we have. But we cannot legislate Christian laws in a plural society.  Instead of trying to force our Christian values on those who don’t believe (which makes us look like morality police) we should let our lights shine before others, so they can see our good deeds, and our joy, and want what we have… (See Matthew 5:16 above.)
  • As Christians, we are not to judge unbelievers, only our brothers and sisters in Christ. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?1 Corinthians 5:12 (ESV) That’s why we get called hypocrites all the time. If we spent more time loving people into the kingdom instead of judging their behaviors, the world might be knocking down our church doors to get in.

This post is longer than usual, and I hope that if you have even the smallest doubt about casting your vote for the current president — if you are that one-issue voter — then this will encourage you to look into his policies more closely. Stephanie Krider resigned her post as Executive Director of Ohio Right to Life because she could not support his reelection. She said, ” I can’t look at any of his behavior and see evidence of the Holy Spirit in his life. Nothing about his words or actions are kind or gentle or faithful or full of self-control.”

We aren’t to judge his actions by the same standards as ours because he obviously is not a believer. But we can sure as heck vote him out of office…

*These are my thoughts, and if you’ve read this far, I hope you can tell that I’ve struggled with this issue, and what I’ve written down is my humble attempt to get readers to think about it too. Just today I heard Republican pro-life former governor John Kasich say that he is voting for Joe Biden because at this moment in time we have to be Americans first. That Joe Biden is reasonable. He listens. He is good at reaching out to everyone. He just might be a peacemaker. And this country needs that now more than anything.