Rainbows are for the moment.  A brilliant one appeared outside my window a few minutes ago.  I grabbed my camera but decided to first share the moment by announcing it to family members downstairs.  By the time I returned to the window, it had faded.


Kelsey came upstairs, distraught about life and the world, needing a hug.  We snuggled on the sofa.  As we talked and prayed, the rainbow reappeared three more times, closer and brighter than before.  Whales spouted in the channel.  My arms wrapped around my daughter, I didn’t take any photos. There was really no need.  In the islands, as in life, there will always be more rainbows. More moments to cherish. 


God is our provider.  He provides expansively, extravagantly, every day.  If we are zeroed in on one thing, we may not notice His gifts in our day.  Today I pray for awareness, the ability to notice all He gives me within this day.  I want to receive each gift, to delight in it, as God delights in giving it to me.


As a kid, the concept of appreciation was synonymous with shame in my mind.  I was told to appreciate what I had, not ask for more.  I was told I didn’t appreciate enough all my parents sacrificed for me.  I was forced to write thank you notes, expressing appreciation which I may or may not have felt. Gratefulness was forced upon me like boiled spinach soaked in vinegar.  


Those experiences make me shrink, even as an adult, from words such as appreciation and gratitude.  These words still reflect an overwhelming SHOULD, an obligation that shouts that I am not enough.  No matter your income level, reminding your children how spoiled they are (especially compared to your upbringing) will likely instill guilt, perhaps a sense of indebtedness, but not thankfulness.  Shaming a person does not produce true gratitude. Gifts that come with strings are not true gifts.


The gifts God offers are not conditional upon our response.  It is shame-based thinking that turns the free gift of grace into a transactional proposition.  God does not trade His forgiveness for our good behavior.  We don’t submit our lives to His authority in exchange for the reward of heaven.  The blessings He offers, He offers freely.    


Today, the anxiety in the air around me is nearly palpable.  It is within my household, due to a variety of circumstances and body chemistries.  And it is in the world, as the pandemic continues to devastate lives and as Trump supporters storm the Capitol in an attempt to dissuade Congress from certifying election results.  For me, there is a very strong temptation to sink into the mire and muck of despair.


But today, there are also rainbows. Whales spouting and breaching.  The one year-old next door repeats an excited “Da!” as he toddles toward his father.  Birds chirp sharply in response to one another.  Are they oblivious, these creatures, of the world’s troubles? Or do they know a deeper truth, that our world is under the watchful eye of a loving Creator? That no matter how we fuss, we are being tenderly held in our doting Parent’s arms.


Does it seem naive to speak of Maui rainbows and birds when gun-wielding rioters are smashing through windows in Washington?   Perhaps. Yet, today is also Epiphany.  The day we celebrate the Magi’s gifts to Jesus.  Valuable treasures laid before an impoverished family.  A small child standing solemnly in the face of a narcissistic king, a cruel Empire, a corrupted church and a suffering world. Was it naive to think God’s gift of His son could change the world?  Despite what today’s news feeds suggest, I trust His plan.  God’s kingdom has come to this earth.  Hearts are changed, one at a time.  Love conquers fear. Kindness overwhelms hate.  


Rainbows fade.  Epiphanies stand.

My husband Michael wrote the following poem describing his experience working within a group of bright software engineers.  In his Netscape management days, I frequently heard the term “herding cats” spoken with frustration. As he has grown older and wiser, Michael can now approach these issues with more patience, kindness and a lot of humor:


there will always be someone


there will always be someone

who thinks things are going too fast

and believes more attention to process

is the only way to win


there will always be someone

who thinks things are going too slow

and thinks that increased procedural precision

is killing us


there will always be someone

demanding to know

  who is in charge?

with the certainty that if the chain of command were clear

things would get done


there will always be someone

who wishes everyone would just get out of the way

and let the goodness emerge and grow



there will always be someone

describing the lack of regular, scheduled, communication

and the ensuing chaos,

as the root of all evil


there will always be someone

who starts to mime ritual suicide

at the suggestion of a meeting

just to make sure everyone is on the same page


for each person who believes in small incremental change

there exists a newtonian equal and opposite force

demanding that anything less than revolution

is a waste of time


i work with

and love

all of these crazy people

these dreamers who know

deep deep deep in their bones

that they are right

and i

am wrong


there will always be

great stuff happening

when we have these very arguments

because amazing things happen

when you are laughing

and when someone is really pissed off

they can be really, hilariously, funny


Except for the final two stanzas, Michael’s description sounds fairly similar to the political arguments I have witnessed this year.  Conservatives frustrated with feeling alienated or forced to concede issues they haven’t yet explored.  Progressives equally frustrated, feeling stymied by the lack of cooperation. Too fast, too slow, authoritarian, permissive, revelation, revolution….disagreements devolving into name-calling, entrenched politics exploding into violence.

The absence of those stanzas is key.  Even in moments of impasse, at the base of everything, Michael encounters his co-workers with respect and love…and the disarmament of shared humor.


As November 3 draws closer, the anxiety growing around us is nearly palpable.  No poll can predict what may engulf our country following this election.  Perhaps it will be like Y2K, all hype and little substance.  Perhaps not.  But as we hold our collective breath, as the intensity continues to build, it helps to remember we all have held as our ideal “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We the people hold the power of that indivisibility, no matter who is in the White House or Congress.

How we treat one another is more important than election results.


I love The Message translation of Michah 6:8 — “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.”


Take God seriously. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7 gives some clear direction on God’s expectations for our behavior and attitudes.  Reading these words, hearing them in a lifetime of sermons, means little if we are not truly humbled by them, if we are not desperate to work them into our lives.


I’m reminded of two incidents that occurred concurrently, almost four hundred years ago. Two interpretations of Scripture, gripped and preached with iron certainty, sometimes with lethal consequences:

In 1616, Galileo was ordered to desist from teaching the “heresy” of heliocentrism (the theory that the Earth orbits the Sun). An Inquisition council insisted the theory contradicted Scripture which they believed clearly taught geocentrism (the theory that the Earth is the center of the universe, that the Sun and other planets orbit us.) Galileo wasn’t the first person to suggest heliocentrism. Nearly a century before Copernicus’ mathematical model, expanding upon an ancient Greek theory, brought the theory forward into the Renaissance.  Kepler, Newton and a host of other scientists continued to add further proof, despite the consequences – a very real precedent of dissenters being beheaded or burned at the stake. 

Because of the church’s (both Protestant and Catholic) insistence on geocentrism, both theories were taught in schools throughout the 1700’s.  With massive evidence piled upon the side of heliocentrism, however, most schools had already dropped geocentric teaching by 1800. Except in the church. In 1822, the Catholic church finally permitted the inclusion of heliocentric teaching in their college of cardinals. In 1835, the ban on Copernicus’ and Galileo’s books was lifted, but it wasn’t until 1992 that Pope John Paul II officially acknowledged Galileo’s contribution to the scientific world. 


It’s difficult to admit that our opinions may be wrong.  It seems especially difficult for us as Christians, perhaps because our opinions are interwoven with our faith.  For some Christians in my generation, the call to arms against secular humanism has sometimes superseded the words of Jesus. It has been ingrained in our theology and our psyches. “Worldliness” is our enemy and “churchiness” is our comfort zone.


Four hundred years ago, in 1619, a group of Africans were sold to some Virginia colonists.  Thus began a series of atrocities that have continued throughout four centuries into this year’s headlines. From colonial slavery to George Floyd’s murder, white people who name themselves as Christian continue to use the Bible and the American legal system to justify outright persecution and apathy toward our black and brown brothers and sisters.  In my youth, I can remember hearing both Nixon and Reagan speeches about our desperate need for law and order. I didn’t see the Wild West outside my door but I did hear my dad and uncles talking about how awful it would be if colored people moved into our neighborhood, destroying property values and bringing in crime and drugs.

A couple states away, in Chicago, Michelle Obama was growing up at the same time. In her book, Becoming, Michelle talks about visiting older white people’s homes during campaigns and noticing familiar cotton-lace doilies on Midwest tables. The same kind of doilies that used to cover tables in her own relatives’ homes. The connection she recognized in that moment was about what we all share as Americans, as humans.

My family had those doilies, too. 

Michelle probably heard frightening things about white people at her family gatherings, too.


Conservative and progressive politics often involve two sides of the same coin. We all want safe environments and good education for our children. We all want reliable healthcare and financial security. We all want the freedom to walk our streets without fear. We all want access to nutritious food, clean air and water that is safe to drink.  Some Americans have never felt a lack of these “basics.”  Some of these privileged ones have believed lies designed by those in power – that the people who don’t enjoy these basics have only themselves to blame. Lies designed to separate, so the haves can congratulate themselves on their own virtuousness and distance themselves from the have-not’s.  So the roots of the lies are never exposed. Racism, greed, exploitation for political and economic gain have lain hidden for decades, for centuries. But God has always seen. Luke 8: 17 claims, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

2020 has been a year of revelation. Not just the political and societal cracks. The pandemic has leveled us to our shared vulnerabilities. How will we respond to what has been revealed?  When the threat of Covid-19 is lessened, will we all return to the same prejudices and platitudes? Have we learned anything about compassion? About our shared humanity?


Michael says the manager’s job is to get out of the way, to provide what the engineers need to accomplish the job –  the communication, tools and resources, environment and encouragement to be successful.  Michael sincerely believes most people want to do a good job; if they’re not, it’s usually because the manager hasn’t provided what they need.  

What do our elected officials need to do a good job? Do they have a co-operative work environment? Are we encouraging them to be successful in meeting the needs of all Americans or just the ones who share our opinions? Are they more concerned about keeping their jobs or doing them? 


If we, as Americans, continue our in-fighting on social media, if we continue to click on inflammatory headlines and listen to provocative podcasts designed to fuel our outrage at each other, we are merely inviting more of the same.  News media and advertising rates are based on market share.  The more we gobble up, the more there will be.

I, for one, am tired of arguments that do little more than entrench both sides.  We are not victims of marketing, we are consumers.  If we stop eating, they will stop cooking.  


There is a place for reasoned discourse.  We face serious issues that need serious contemplation. Listening to each other, working together to find acceptable solutions, can lead to (in Michael’s words) “great stuff happening.”  If we can laugh together as we do it, even better.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were a Supreme example of close friends who did not allow their disagreements to affect their relationship.


Whatever the election results, I don’t anticipate any of the current rancor to suddenly cease.  While we can hope that those we elect will lead us toward greater cooperation, this has not been true in recent years.  Perhaps you, like me, now regret having abdicated civic responsibility in previous years, leaving politics to the politicians.  Common decency has been hijacked, turned into wedge issues that are held hostage for political gain. Things are a mess right now, and the fractious obstinance displayed by our leaders (on both sides of the aisle) is a reflection of us. 

We must stop treating one another as enemies.   

Jesus said “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” (Luke 11:17)  Patrick Henry echoed these words, as did Abraham Lincoln.  It’s time to be reminded again that only American enemies gain anything by our division. There are those who advocate for another American civil war, who want to tear it all down and remake a country in their own image. Like before, they use inflammatory rhetoric, fear, even Scripture to justify their hatred for those whose differences offend them.

Did we learn nothing from the Crusades? from the Spanish Inquisition? These dark periods in church history emphasize a lesson we seem doomed to repeat – it’s not our job to force others to submit to our own convictions.  

Jesus taught us a better way. Love can conquer fear. Kindness can conquer hate. True spiritual fruit evokes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Obvious, perhaps, but not easy.  It feels risky to trust a person who you’ve been told wants to take advantage of you.  It feels riskier to trust someone who looks and sounds like the people who want to kill you.


We can make our country stronger together. Systemic change is not nearly as complicated as those in power want us to believe. Let’s follow Jesus’ lead.  He spoke the “house divided” words to religious leaders who accused Him of working with Satan. Instead of constantly trying to name the Antichrist and determine who’s in and who’s outside of God’s kingdom, what if we Christians worked together to do what Jesus did? What if we were encouragers instead of accusers?  What if we actually were known for our love, instead of for our judgmentalism and hypocrisy? 

We the people can choose to lead from behind.  We can show our elected officials that we will not support them with our votes until they prioritize the people Jesus prioritized. The people pushed to the margins of our society – the poor, the stranger, born and unborn children. If you identify as pro-life, your Congressional representatives need to understand we can’t make a society safe for babies until it is safe for the women who carry them. (thank you, Vanessa RyerseToo many of those representatives spout Bible verses to win your vote, and then endorse policies that are the opposite of what Jesus advocated.  

If you have not already voted, pray for God’s Spirit to give you discernment. Don’t assume ticking all Republican boxes is affirming God’s team.  Are you voting for your own security at the expense of others’? Are you voting for corporations to be enriched and single mothers to struggle, unable to afford childcare or healthcare? Do you fear corrections of social and racial inequality will mean you will have less?

Do you cross the Jericho road to avoid the victim, fearing inconvenience or being robbed yourself? Or are you the good Samaritan, taking care of a fellow human even if you disagree on religious issues?

If we only vote to protect people like us, as Jesus said , what credit is that to us? What will it cost us to give others what we want for ourselves? To give generously and graciously, trusting God to be our provider?

Do your elected representatives truly represent your values?   Do you represent Jesus’ values?

Daniel Dietrich sings it best in his “Hymn for the 81%”.

Come home.



One of the not-so-terrible things about this year’s isolation for me has been the brainspace.  Right now I have the time and space to consider if I’m living the kind of life I want to be living. I pause to note that I’m acutely aware how privileged I am; I realize very many people do not have the luxury of choice that I enjoy.  


However, the thinking to which I’m referring crosses the lines of privilege.  Everyone can ask themselves, “What do I like about my life?  What is working? What isn’t working?  What would I like to do / be / enjoy? What would have to change to see that happen?”


Every life contains challenges.  Every life has the potential to know joy.  While economics, systemic racism and social hierarchies dictate many challenges, only our souls can choose between bitterness and strength.  It would be easy at this point to acknowledge I know little of true suffering and therefore should slink away in shame for even having the audacity to speak.  Indeed, my finger remained poised above the delete key for quite a while.  After all, I’ve been poor but I’ve never been black and poor.  I’ve held loved ones’ lifeless bodies but never as the result of violent hatred.  I’ve known the utter darkness of clinical depression, my own body’s chemical imbalances and failing health but I’ve always had options in medical care. 


Comparing hardship is a battle no one wins.  However, sixty years on this planet has taught me a few things.  One is that every life matters. Not in the sense of the Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter controversy (BLM wins that one, hands down.)  I believe God has created each soul to learn and teach, grow and nurture, to depend on one another and live together, becoming more ourselves as we share with each other.  


We really do need each other.  As an extreme introvert, my appreciation for the peace of solitude would’ve made me a great monk.  But even monks live in community.  There are many worthy things we cannot achieve alone.  God invites us into the fellowship of the Trinity; it is an active, loving, ever-expanding fellowship.  


And, as C.S. Lewis wrote, Aslan is not a tame lion.  We cannot control God, just as we cannot control others.  Despite our (badly limited) ideas of perfection, we cannot make anyone in our own image (even ourselves). God made us in the image of the Trinity.  What that means exactly takes a lifetime of individual learning and communal working out.


For me, it has meant: I do not stand alone.  Perfection is the enemy of good.  Love is what you do. I deserve honor, as one lovingly woven by an attentive Creator.  And I am always a member of a larger body.  My marriage. My family. My social community. My city, state, nation. 


In the United States, as in many so-called “developed” nations, the emphasis on individualism has gradually eroded our sense of community.  “I, me and mine” have replaced “we, us and our.”  Many people in third-world communities recognize their lives depend on each other for survival.  I think we’ve lost something vital in our development.  Paul (from a less “civilized” society) compared the church to a body – when one member feels pain, all suffer.  Humanity is God’s body on earth; we all bear His image.  We are connected.  We feel one another’s pain, even if we refuse to acknowledge it.  We were created to be in community.  Unfortunately, in the American church, we continue to narrow our definition of “who is my neighbor?” 


In the following poll results, conducted by evangelical Christians, two things strike me:

  1. The evangelical Christianity in which I was raised reflects American individualism more than it reflects Jesus.
  2. Jesus’ words in Luke 6 – 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.

https://lifewayresearch.com/2020/09/29/most-evangelicals-choose-trump-over-biden-but-clear-divides exist/ fbclid=IwAR1QcI_eo_LkFw7oarmKIrue3n5jqAowqofXDsdvsAepWuVjiEsljmoLJko 

Compare how you believe Jesus would answer these questions to how today’s evangelicals answered them.

Still in the midst of reading Jesus and John Wayne, I can already highly recommend it. For those who have felt the flickers of cognitive dissonance between the words of Jesus and those of evangelical leaders, Kristin Kobes Du Mez does a wonderful job parsing both the history and practices of the white evangelical movement.  For people who can see so clearly the fallacy of Islamic extremists who take out of context a verse in the Qu’ran to “kill the infidels,” we are loath to look at our own extremism in “Christian nationalism” (was there ever a greater oxymoron?)


When one grows up with a distortion taught as intertwined with faith, it can be disorienting to see that distortion revealed.  It can feel like your very faith is being threatened. It can feel like you are tumbling in a continually-breaking surf and you can’t get a breath of air before the next wave hits.  A lot of people are having that experience this year.  


For me, it has been well over 15 years since that first tug began unraveling my faith.  That’s how it felt – unraveling.  Or perhaps threshing, with the chaff flying into the wind.  Recognizing one distortion led to another…and another…until it was just me and Jesus.  It has been a refiner’s fire experience – all the impurities being melted away until only pure gold remained.  There were a lot of impurities, a lot of manipulation masquerading as truth, a lot of my own self-interest being revealed.  The fire is still burning, especially this year as I’ve had to face my own apathy toward others’ suffering.  


At this point, however, I have to say I’ve never felt more free.  The burdens of guilt and shame, of feeling “never enough” are gone.  The impurities that had attached themselves to my faith through teachings on purity culture, Biblical patriarchy, family values, racist practices in fundamentalism, the re-branding of patriotism with faith, the self-segregating justification for Christian marketing — all these and more God has extracted, examined with me in love and tossed into the flames.  At times, I felt like there was nothing left.  I despaired that I had spent my life in dross.  But the things that have remained — faith, hope, love — are solid.  The fear is gone.  The doubt is gone.  I am no longer burdened by self-doubt or self-certainty; I have God-certainty.  If I get it wrong, I trust Him to set me right.  He is faithful that way.

If you are beginning this journey in exploring your own cognitive dissonance, know you are not alone.  There is freedom on the other side.  There is a stronger faith than you’ve ever known.  I think of my favorite allegory when I was a young Christian – Hind’s Feet on High Places. Much-Afraid had to take the hands of Sorrow and Suffering to reach her journey’s end.  Only there did she discover them to be Joy and Peace.  It is not easy to trust when it feels like everything you’ve always believed is being stripped away.  But if that still small voice is whispering to you, I encourage you to keep listening.  Don’t be afraid to see what’s behind the curtain.  Love is waiting there; a greater love than you’ve ever experienced.

     “Strike the rock, and water will come out of it,

              so that the people may drink.”

                                                                    —Exodus 17.6

Awful journey. Barren place. 

Deep thirst. Despair, looking back.


Imagining this is where the journey ends.

Dry rock. Hard place.


Yes, and this: there’s no water in it—yet.

But there will be, if you strike the rock.


You don’t have to believe. Just swing. It’s not

the rock. It’s God’s grace and your willingness:


not knowing, foolish as can be,

only trusting. Courage.


There will be water.

Strike the rock. 

Unfolding Light, September 25, 2020


This poem by Steve Garnaas-Holmes spoke to me today. It wasn’t the staff, or the rock, but Moses’ belief in God’s provision that God imbued with power.  

Years ago, I had the privilege to spend a few hours in that Israel wilderness, among those rocks.  Our guide said that with the extremely limited rainfall, the bedrock absorbs the moisture and stores it.  It was no less a miracle that God led Moses to the exact place of stored water (and I suspect some loaves-and-fishes multiplication was happening to provide enough water for all those people.)


In America right now, it feels like there is a dearth of faith, hope and love.  My friends at  Vote Common Good are striking rocks this month in the last leg of the bus tour they began in January. Today, as I listened to Vanessa Ryerse’s passionate speech (#votelikeamother), I was reminded that God has pockets of water in the bedrock throughout this nation.  These people don’t make a lot of headlines, but they have a fierce belief. They love with all that is in them.  They proclaim hope for us all because they trust that God’s promises are based on His character, not our behavior.


Hope might seem foolish right now, in the midst of grief, civil chaos, entrenched hatred.  But now is when we need hope.  Not a tenuous “I wish things were better.” Not a denial or avoidance of problems.  We need the solid hope Jesus provides.  The hope that sees things clearly, without hype or agenda.


A friend recently remarked how surprised she has been to see the depth of hatred expressed by people she has known for years to be pleasant and polite.  The permission, modeled by our president, to mock and ridicule others has unleashed public ugliness. “Has it always been there?” my friend wondered aloud. “That much animosity?”

I can remember eye-rolling comments about “political correctness” from my conservative friends in the past twenty years. They felt frustrated to not be able to say in public what they thought because it could be considered offensive.  

Not anymore.


Faith, hope and love are touchstones God has provided for us.  In such a time as this, we can base our actions and words on these criteria.  No human is perfect; we all have darkness within. But God has provided us all with the will to choose how to behave.  In every moment, we can choose.


As a country, will we choose four more years of ugliness? I think this presidential election will reveal the heart of our country.  It is no longer about just wanting change.  That is no longer a valid excuse; we know what to expect from this president.  It is not about stacking a conservative Supreme Court to overturn Roe. Despite what some evangelical leaders are saying, it is certainly not about choosing God’s side.  Jesus is not honored by this man. 

A Trump election, at its heart, is about protecting a system of exclusive power. Historically, Americans have divided themselves into separate classes using false constructs of race or ethnicity, affluence, etc..  Correction: the ones with the most power (usually rich white men) did the dividing.  The others knew the divisions were false, knew their inherent worth, knew that all people are created equal (even if the person writing that Declaration didn’t really believe it) because all carry God’s image.


The Lie started in colonial America because of greed (any surprise there?)  Because we didn’t learn from Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant.  In 1600’s America, persecuted Puritans and defeated royalists, still resentful from their own mistreatment, subsequently mistreated others.  Africans, captured from their villages, sold and stolen and sold again into an unknown world, didn’t know to insist on contracts like the white indentured servants from England.  The first indentured Africans worked frantically to buy out their freedom as they saw their human rights gradually, inexorably disintegrating.  It began with Africans being given harsher sentences than their fellow white servants for the same offense.  (sound familiar?)  Female Africans (but not white females) had to pay a tithe (tax) to the government that declared their children property.

African workers were in high demand for farming tobacco because, unlike the impoverished English city-bred immigrants, the Africans had field experience and a strong work ethic.   Plantation owners calculated with greed the advantage of lifetime indenture, soon turning the African ignorance of contract negotiation into slavery laws. Interracial marriage was banned, couples separated or driven from the colonies if they were already free.  The Lies – that Africans are less than human and that whites are created to rule over them – wormed their way into our legislation, our churches, our families, our entire social structure. 

From the beginning of American slavery, God’s name was invoked by the very people who cheated, abused and legislated to continue the abuse. God’s name was proclaimed, even used as a twisted missionary justification for enslavement.  It is a testament to the actual Truth of Jesus that Christianity could flourish in black culture given its introduction.


I am mortified when I hear Christian evangelists proclaim God’s judgement on America for its abortion practices and then stand silent or condemning of social justice issues.  Do they really believe God hears the cries of the unborn and does not hear 400 years of tears from black men, women and children?  Do they think God, who created beautiful Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery, did not hear their cries for help when they were being hunted down on suburban streets? If the blood of Cain’s brother cried out from the ground, how can the blood spilled on American streets fail to move our Father?


White American Christians — we who stand silently as families are separated, confused women are sterilized, black and brown lives are repeatedly abused and protesters are prosecuted while people who threaten deadly force are hailed as heroes — our silence is the rope we have taken to hang ourselves.  The hypocrisy is our own.  If we don’t repent now, when it is all so obvious, what excuse can we offer in a time of judgement? 

 We’d all like to believe we wouldn’t have participated in the egregious actions during colonial slavery or Nazi Germany. Some of those slave owners or German citizens wholeheartedly perpetrated those horrors, but I believe most were people like us.  People who suspected, perhaps even acknowledged, the wrong in their hearts but didn’t speak up.  Perhaps they didn’t want to encounter the censure of their neighbors; they didn’t want to become a target themselves.  Perhaps they felt powerless against the wave of certainty being proclaimed. Perhaps they wanted to believe their pastors and leaders who assured them it was God’s righteousness being manifested.  

I can’t imagine Jesus wielding a whip across a slave’s back.  I can’t imagine Jesus raising his fist to hail Hitler. And I can’t imagine Jesus waving a flag at a Trump rally.  


I write this with tears in my eyes because I don’t want to offend anyone, least of all my friends or family.  I don’t want to damage our relationship. But I cannot stay silent.


 As a nation, we are in transition. It is painful.  There is fear.  The fear mongering is stoked by a nationalist agenda, by alarmists claiming we must protect what we have or it will be torn from us.  Some white Americans panic at the thought of no longer being the majority, believing the stories that hoards of brown people are teeming outside our borders, scheming to overtake our country.  These stories have been designed to agitate and they accomplish their purpose.  In reality, the truth is the divisions between races and ethnicities are finally beginning to relax. Biracial and multiracial families are developing from once-separated Americans who have lived here for generations. The statistics of a surpassed white majority are simply reflecting those choices. All the white grandparents I know who dote on their little brown grandbabies do not fear those grandchildren.  They do fear what might happen to them in their own grandparents’ neighborhood. 


As a nation, our saving grace has been a policy of welcoming refugees (even if we do take advantage of their labor when they get here.)  This year I discovered my Angolan (many greats-) grandmother had been in Virginia for almost 20 years when she welcomed my Cornish (many greats-) grandfather in 1637.  They met when he was indentured on the plantation where she worked. The African woman and blonde, blue-eyed Englishman lived on the property she had earned with her freedom from extended indenture. They continued working on the plantation to earn their children’s freedom as well.  I got the blonde hair and blue eyes and until this year, never hesitated to check “white” on survey boxes.  Today I wonder about my relatives who retained more melanin in their skin.  After 400 years, there must be a lot of us. And I have a pretty good idea of how our lives have diverged.

Learning this history has helped my perspective this year. I stand a little taller, knowing I’m as American as it gets. Before the Mayflower, my grandmother was here. Black, white and native American, my tri-racial ancestors have fought for our freedom in every American conflict from the American Revolution to Vietnam.  One grandfather fought under Washington, was at Valley Forge that winter. All this history has reminded me that although the battles between men continue, Jesus has won the real war. Jesus has defeated death.  Jesus has defeated fear and hatred through faith, hope and love.  


Jesus has bedrock people across this nation. People who have not been swayed by Fox News, by Russian subversion; people who may just be beginning to question The Lies.  Some people are turning to Him in the midst of the current chaos and comparing what Jesus says to what others in their churches may be saying.  Some people have been fighting these battles for years; they are weary and can use some encouragement today.  


This morning, Jesus let me taste some of that rock water.  I was feeling discouraged, grieving death and personal loss. I was also feeling deeply the sadness of having people I love clinging to the lies we all used to share, not yet recognizing them as lies. The mental gymnastics necessary to justify mistreatment of asylum seekers reminds me of the twisted missionary approach to slavery.   

But today, I listened to others coming out of the desert.  I listened to people who are experiencing relief in their discovery that being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to vote Republican all down the ballot.  People who admit to that disconnect in their spirit every time Trump speaks. 

Today, Jesus reminded me He has bedrock people everywhere and no election results will change that.  Truth stands, whether it’s among slaves on a plantation or in a nation that has abandoned its call to kindness.  Truth stands with Jesus.  It is not the property of any political party or any church. Truth can be twisted, counterfeited, even crucified,  but it will get back up and stand with Jesus.

That, my friends, is hope.  That is solid rock water.

In July 1986, I moved from Cincinnati to Silicon Valley. Michael and I had been engaged for three months. Since the bulk of our courtship had been conducted through letters and phone calls, we decided to actually date for a few months before planning our wedding.  On a late September afternoon, I walked along Escuela Avenue toward downtown Mountain View. I was homesick. The thrill of being in a new place had worn thin; I was tired of adapting.   Instead of a cool fall day, it was over ninety degrees.  Instead of a shower of red maple leaves, I walked past rows of palm trees.  I turned the corner onto Villa Street, trudging past Chiquita and up Mariposa Avenue. As I crossed an intersection a block away from El Camino Real, I found myself hating the Spanish street names, the palm trees, the fact that I couldn’t walk through a grocery store without seeing men shopping in the middle of the day (why aren’t they at work?) and hearing five different languages.  In Ohio, women ruled daylight shopping, men worked regular hours, everyone spoke English and streets were given proper names like Oak and Maple. In Ohio, things made sense. 

(I probably needed a snack and a nap.)

When your world is turned upside down, it’s easy to blame the obvious without uncovering the true causes of your pain. In Ohio, there was a homogeneity to life I missed in the multicultural Bay Area.  In Ohio, I had left my family, dear friends, a church community I loved, wooded trails I roamed without fear and a job where I felt valued.  At that point, I could’ve let my resentment fester toward the “un-American” (at least my view of America) aspects of Bay Area culture.  I could’ve kept my anger on the surface and never looked further to what was really going on.  In truth, I actually liked palm trees and warm weather and the variety of cultures.  Michael had offered to move to Cincinnati but I chose to make the transition.  

After two months of daily togetherness, however, the realities of my choices were beginning to sink in.  I was feeling the loss of all I had left, beginning to encounter the challenges of marriage and building a new life. My worldview was expanding; for someone who thrives on control, this is a very uncomfortable experience.


Little did I know on that day that I was only on the cusp of more transition, that I had yet to learn the meaning of stress.  Within the next 18 months, there would be several more address changes, job changes, cross-country wedding planning, first mortgage, first pregnancy……the unmatched agony of stillbirth. Two young people trying to hang on to their year-old marriage, grieving dysfunctionally. Clinical depression, unspeakable loneliness, a loss of faith in their small god of easy answers, not yet recognizing the actual presence of a God bigger than they knew who quietly held them.


Today I awakened to a phone call from a dear cousin.  Age-mates, we were best buddies as children and still enjoy time together. Our children are close in age as well. When I heard her sobs, my first thought was “someone’s died.” But the last name I expected to hear was that of her youngest son.  His 30th birthday is tomorrow. Thirty years ago, she celebrated her 30th birthday with his birth. They were together to celebrate their shared birthday. A heart attack at 29.  No drugs or alcohol involved, no foul play, no immediate signs of Covid. He had overcome much in his young life. Was doing well, active.  They were supposed to go on a bike ride together, then a Zoom call with his brother in New Zealand. His parents are in shock, traumatized.


In a year of unprecedented disaster, this one shakes me to the core.  I feel raw.  As my cousin described cradling her son’s head, whispering her love, above a body growing cold, I was taken back to holding my own son, my own whispers.  Covid death statistics lose meaning as numbers, but to imagine 200,000 Americans (almost a million people worldwide so far this year) whispering goodbye to sons and daughters, to parents and grandparents ….  Even non-Covid-related deaths, from heart attacks and cancer and car accidents, are affected by pandemic restrictions on funerals and travel, border closures and hospital access.


We are a world in transition, a world in grief.  We are raw. We feel the loss of what we’ve left behind.  We feel the loss of the freedom we once enjoyed to ignore dire words of warning. Some of the things we’ve experienced this year we could never have anticipated.  Others we chose not to acknowledge; perhaps some are still making that choice. 

There is a lot of anger in grief.  It’s easy to hate the messenger, the latest upset in the news.  It’s easy to hate street signs.  It’s harder to acknowledge what’s going on inside.


Between the pandemic and politics, our nation’s stress fractures have been revealed.  In my life, stress has been an unwelcome companion. Similar to this year, there was about a decade when it seemed one momentous crisis after another came crashing in —  the rise and fall of finances, special-needs children, my parents’ unexpected deaths within the same year. Some of the crises proceeded from my own inability to acknowledge my limitations as I tried to continue living up to my own impossibly high standards –  a perfect wife, perfect parent, perfect Christian, perfect home school teacher, etc.  (perfectly exhausting).  I ignored all the warning signs of stress fracturing and ended up with serious health issues. It has taken another decade to begin to repair all the metabolic damage.

Some of us only learn the hard way.


I suspect a lot of us have been yelling at the street signs this year.  It’s easier to blame what triggers our discomfort – differing political or religious views – than to acknowledge our own feelings of confusion, fear, loss and grief.  Blame somehow engenders a feeling of power even when everything else is spiraling out of control.  (I wonder sometimes if that is why our current president seems to blame others so quickly.)

Blame and critical judgments rarely lead to effective solutions.  We cannot force anyone to accept responsibility; that is a choice of will.  We can only accept the responsibility that is ours.

We build worlds that create and maintain our illusion of control.  Years like this one are a stark reminder of the fragility of that illusion.  It is the horrifying realization every young parent experiences – the moment you concede that you cannot possibly protect this child, who has overtaken your heart, from every danger out there. You would gladly give up your own life in exchange if the choice is given.  But sometimes, like my cousins are experiencing today, you don’t get that choice.


If today you are grieving a specific loss, or just feeling the cumulative stress from a year of emotional punches, pay attention to what is beneath your immediate emotions.  We tend to vent with anger or frustration, either directed outward at others or inward as depression. For some, like me, there may be a retreat into dissociation, a resistance to feeling anything. Negative emotions can get entangled with religious directives or perfectionism, a layer of “should’s” that drive the true feelings even deeper. Give yourself permission to feel whatever is there. Pay attention to the resistance; it helps to highlight where to focus.


Chronic stress can damage our bodies and minds.  We can’t control what happens out there, but we can do things to take care of ourselves.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with the basics: 

Physical choices – getting enough sleep, nutrition, water, fresh air and exercise. If you find resistance there, treat yourself as you would a defiant toddler. Gently and firmly. “I know you don’t want a nap, but we’re just going to lay down here together.  I know you’d rather have cookies for dinner, but your body really wants some vegetables.”

Mental choices – limit exposure to social media, news reports or whatever tends to trigger those punches.  Again, pay attention to the resistance.  Do you feel a NEED to stay informed? Does that come from addiction or from a genuine need for connection? Evolutionarily, we have catapulted from the concerns of a single village to that of the entire planet.  Our minds were not designed to carry such a weight.  

Emotional choices – we all need to love and be loved.  We all need to be heard and affirmed. Especially in this time of sorrow, being there for someone else is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow.  Don’t try to fix it, just listen and affirm. If you’re feeling lonely, try reaching out to offer your presence to someone else. If you are the one grieving a significant loss, don’t hesitate to accept offers of help.  In either case, choose carefully those you deem to be safe people and spaces. Keep strong boundaries around those who tend to trigger your defensiveness.

In everything, begin with an acknowledgement of where you are. Then think about where you want to be and how to get there.  The best path toward enduring change consists of minuscule, incremental steps. Literal baby steps involve a couple of tottering steps, some excitement, followed by a face plant.  Managing chronic stress is remarkably similar.  If you struggle with all the choices above, trying to fix them all at once will end in facial rug burn.  Pick one. One glass of water consistently every day is better than eight glasses one day and none for the next month. Momentum builds with success.  Success starts with a ridiculously easy goal achieved consistently.

With the upcoming election, stress is steadily increasing in America.  Choose today how to best care for yourself.  Ask God to highlight anything in the above lists that might be helpful, either in a sense of invitation or resistance.  This isn’t a time for big changes, but one small one may bring hope.

After residing over 30 years within the same five mile area, I can now report how much I enjoy the multicultural aspects of Bay Area living. Authentic ethnic dining and retail options, combined with the fascination of personal stories and variety of cultural experiences, provide numerous opportunities to recognize humanity’s many similarities as well as our differences.  Sameness has its comforts, but if I’m honest, it can also be a little boring.

Last year, some of my dear Ohio friends visited us. Dining together at a local salad bar, I remarked that on my previous visit to this particular restaurant, I had noted how cool it was to realize I was the only white face among a variety of Asian, Hispanic and other ethnicities.  “And you like that?” my friend asked. His unspoken discomfort evoked a memory of my inner-tantrum walk down now familiar Spanish-named streets. I realized that my friends, and people in a lot of American towns, were perhaps only beginning to experience the blending of cultures that now feels so normal to me.  I wanted to assure him that beyond the initial discomfort, there waits a greater appreciation for diversity, a greater love for others, a greater awe of God’s faithfulness and creativity.  I wanted to warn him that remaining in the comfort of the familiar – in the fear of change, in only looking back to supposed loss – would cause him to miss the wonders of present and future opportunities.  I wanted to say we can trust God to preserve what is essential to our faith and we can also trust Him not to let us stay in mud puddles when He’s offering us the seashore (thank you, CS Lewis).   Instead, I just replied, “Yes, I love it.”


Deplorable.  Conspiracy.  The n-word.


When Kelsey was five years old, as we were driving home from a playdate, she announced.  “Mommy, I know what the f-word means!” 

I tried to keep my face neutral as I glanced back at her in her car seat.  “You do, Kels?”

“Yes, it means ‘fat.’ At Cheryl’s house, you aren’t allowed to say ‘fat.’”

“Oh?” I replied, amused.

“Yes.”  Her face grew thoughtful. “But Caleb said that isn’t the f-word.  He says the f-word is fuck.  Is fuck the f-word, Mommy?”

“And here we are,” I thought.  Keeping my voice light, I told her. “Yeah, that isn’t a very polite word. You probably shouldn’t say that word.”

“Ok.” Silence filled the car as I exited the freeway.  Then, from behind me a lilting little voice sang, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck is a word you shouldn’t say…”

“Kelsey,” I added a little sternness to my voice.  “What did I just say?”

“But, Mommy,” she protested, “I wasn’t saying it, I was singing it!”


Ask any mom, you’ll probably hear a similar anecdote.  Children learn early what adults sometimes forget: there is power in words.


Sometimes words become symbols.  When Hillary Clinton referred to a segment of Trump supporters as “deplorable,” she wanted to differentiate between two groups –  the first: hate-filled, alt-right white supremacists intentionally spreading lies to seed distrust and stir up fear – versus the second group: “people who feel the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures; and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but — he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”


The differentiation was lost by the next news cycle.  The second group, the ones who Clinton said deserved understanding and empathy, were bombarded by the first to believe she had referred to them as “deplorable.”  Soon, it didn’t matter what the actual context of the speech entailed.  Deplorable had become an identity for disenfranchised Appalachians, for evangelical Christians, for anyone in a “flyover” state who has felt disregarded by their elected leaders.  When I recently heard a white, upper-middle-class friend refer to herself as a deplorable, I was a bit taken aback.  In the same conversation, when I said the word “conspiracy,” her eyes sparked.  “That’s a word they use when they want to shut you down,” she said, an edge of anger in her voice.


Some words connote a depth of meaning far beyond their dictionary definition.  In part one of Emmanual Acho’s guest appearance on The Oprah Conversation, there is a brief discussion about the history and use of the n-word, how it has been re-branded within black culture (although Oprah herself does not allow its use, no matter how it is spelled.)   


What gives any word power is the intention behind it.  A five-year-old singing about the f-word does not carry the sting of an adult screaming it at another adult. (Of course, after Kelsey’s song, we had a child-level discussion on the use of swear words.)


I think that most people who repeat what they have heard on the news or social media do so in this kind of innocence.  We might know it’s gossip.  We might not have taken the time to fully vet it ourselves but we trust the person who shared it with us.

Unfortunately, the source of the story or opinion may not be quite so innocent.  Tracing Pulitzer / Hearst yellow journalism through grocery market tabloids to what is sometimes presented today as serious news, some media outlets have vied for their market share by latching onto the most sensational, shocking, attention-grabbing headlines they can find (or create.)  In the digital age, under quarantine, those methods have overfilled a sorcerer’s apprentice bucket with scandal, dire predictions and lies designed to frighten us and enrage us.

And we buy it.  And click on it. And share it with our friends, as we shake our heads and gather our children to protect them from an increasingly dangerous world.


Unfortunately, we do have an enemy.  But it is probably not your neighbor or high school friend or relative, even if they have gone over to the dark side (whichever one that is.)   It’s probably not Bill Gates.  

Our enemy is the one who prowls around like a roaring lion.  That old lion who roars, frightening the prey into the path of the younger lions, the ones with teeth.  If Satan (or evil, if you prefer) is the old lion, the young lions are those who intentionally use his tactics to accomplish their goals.  “Satan only has about six tricks,” a pastor joked in a sermon that has stuck with me. “But he keeps using them because they work!”

The more I investigate the inner writings of some political strategists, the more chilling I find them. Cold calculations measure how much we will believe manufactured evidence when motivated by fear. It is no longer mistakenly crossing a line in our passion, it is obliterating that line and the next and the next in an inexorable march to gain more wealth and more political power.

As consumers, we have become accustomed to the blatant manipulation of product advertising.  Over the years, we have learned to be more discerning; most of us don’t jump up and drive to McDonald’s the moment a Big Mac appears on our TV. In recent years, we’re learning to recognize and resist getting seduced by “targeted” ads on our computers.

Our skills at detecting political manipulation may not be as well-honed.

Also in the mix is our pride.  How can we admit we may have been manipulated?  Was I concerned about socialism or immigrants or racial issues before stories began appearing on my Facebook feed? If Russian troll farms influenced how I voted, what does that say about me?   So we double down on our opinions, even when there’s a glimmer that wonders, “Could it be true?” 

Unfortunately, our pride is one of the factors in the calculations.  I do not believe Trump is God’s man for our time; neither do I believe he is an evil genius.  Is he a sociopath and narcissist as many psychological reports suggest? Is he simply a man unaccustomed to real adversity or a man in the grip of greed? What I do believe about Donald Trump is that his pride, and his desire to “win,” opens him up to extreme manipulation from others.  David Horowitz grooms a young Stephen Miller who writes Trump’s speeches and feeds him the same fear and hate-filled “evidence” that the President retweets. Media reports are horrified and outraged (which is the point) and what the President says has less and less meaning (also the point).  Meanwhile, the silent power sits back in the darkness and is delighted.  


Since Eisenhower’s administration, much has been written about the potential of misplaced power in the military-industrial complex. Organizations such as ALEC have been happy to stay in the shadows and pull the strings of our legislature.  The American Legislative Exchange Council labels itself (and claims a tax-exempt charity status) as an educational nonprofit. In “educating” conservative legislators, the legislators receive campaign contributions and invitations to attend closed-door meetings with corporate lobbyists where they craft model bills designed to benefit the corporations.  Many of these “models” are copied verbatim (your state name here) and passed into law.  From the NRA’s “Stand Your Ground” law which protected Trayvon Martin’s killer to mandatory minimums and three-strikes in the “Truth in Sentencing Act” backed by the private prison industry, our society is being shaped according to stockholder share value.  Big Pharma, oil, manufacturing, insurance and utility companies, along with a large host of federal and state government representatives, have mutually benefited each other for decades.  ALEC’s recent agendas address voter regulation, school privatization, exploiting the pandemic to deregulate federal statutes and create bigger tax benefits for corporations.  False reports re: voter fraud, healthcare and socialist agendas have been traced back to ALEC. As a student of the history leading to the American civil war, not to mention that of Nazi Germany,  I find their current rhetoric emphasizing the influence of judges and states rights (where the majority of their power is concentrated)  disturbingly familiar. 

For more on ALEC:






Perhaps the most chilling discovery in my research was the fact that ALEC founder Paul Weyrich was also a co-founder of the Moral Majority, as well two other well-known Washington think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation.  Excerpts from FCF’s strategic plan, The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement   published in 2001, highlights how effective their plans have been:

…the truth of an idea is not the primary reason for its acceptance. Far more important is the energy and dedication of the idea’s promoters… (Ideas) have an impact only insofar as adherents of those ideas are willing to take measures to propagate those ideas…

…We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs….

…We must be feared, so that they will think twice before opening their mouths….

…It is a basic fact that an us-versus-them, insider-versus-outsider mentality is a very strong motivation in human life….this has to be recognized and taken advantage of for the good of the movement…The strong appeal of a feeling of exclusivity and superiority will give our members a reason to endure the slings and arrows of popular disapproval…

…We must recognize that literature and philosophy do not appeal to the masses. This is why we must develop ways to spread our philosophy using non-rational means…

…If we cannot capture the imaginations of our members, then we cannot expect our members to make great sacrifices for us. There must be a common repository of books and movies that everyone in our movement is familiar with and inspired by….The films Braveheart and Gladiator are possible examples from current popular culture that could serve…There is no medium more conducive to propagandistic purposes than the moving image…The visual image allows us to illustrate our beliefs and arguments to our members and others in highly compelling terms…combined with our commentary, selectively edited and arranged for maximum impact.  (ed. note: this was written three years before social media gained widespread popularity; apparently the Internet has replaced their strategy for study groups and book clubs.)

…We have a dearth of human material (!) that shares our traditionalist values. These people must be created in our own institutions…..We will accomplish the goal of retaking our country only when large numbers of young people are educated outside of the indoctrinating environment of many public and private schools, universities, and of course, the popular culture…

…Our movement must be highly provocative. The thing we have most to fear is that we will be ignored…”sensible” people do not go to the barricades, they do not make great sacrifices for a movement…We must reframe this struggle as a moral struggle, as a transcendent struggle, as a struggle between good and evil… 

…Culture wars generally seem to inspire higher emotions…Our people must learn to have contempt and scorn for the wider society, and reject it in all ways. 

Note: the Free Congress Foundation is now known as the American Opportunity Foundation. All three think tanks are still tax-exempt, still incorporated as nonprofit educational entities serving the “public good.” 


Our feelings of confusion and not knowing whom to trust are part of an intentional strategy designed to erode our perception of truth.  It is an intentional strategy to represent perpetrators as victims.  It is an intentional strategy to claim victims are the real perpetrators. And so on…

In an article promoting her new book Hatemonger, Jean Guerrero writes, “Horowitz wrote that hope and fear are the two strongest weapons in politics. Barack Obama had used hope to become president. ‘Fear is a much stronger and more compelling emotion,’ Horowitz argued, adding that Republicans should appeal to voters’ base instincts.”



In my opinion, any person or organization that intentionally uses fear to manipulate, isolate and subjugate others are themselves being manipulated by the enemy of our souls.  Do not follow them.  Just don’t.


When it comes down to this year’s election, I’ve spoken with many friends who have voted Republican for their entire lives.  Some believe wholeheartedly in Republican ideals, such as limited government. Others believe they are still voting for traditional family values and against abortion. They may not approve of Donald Trump personally, but they cannot imagine themselves voting for a Democrat.

Does it matter if your goals, even Godly goals, align with people whose actions do not reflect your values?  I think this time, in this election, it does.  In the past four years, hate and fear have been given a place at the table.  The default retreat – “it’s just politics” – has worn thin.  We are shouting at each other but very few are actually talking to each other. The earth itself seems to be reflecting our disharmony in waves of disasters. Our enemy doesn’t really care which side of the aisle we support.  Our enemy delights in the terror, in the fighting, in the gossip, in our pride, in our weariness and hopelessness. 

This time, in this election, I think it’s important to sit with God and look into our own hearts.  Our right to vote is a precious privilege.  No one can see who you vote for, not your spouse, or pastor, or denomination leader. Only God sees.  Yes, your vote is important, but you are more important.  To God, you are not a chess piece to be sacrificed or manipulated.  You are His precious creation, His beloved. 

Our Creator doesn’t need us. He wants us.  Abba isn’t interested in utilizing you. Jesus told Peter his Father could send twelve legions of angels if needed; why would anyone think He needs us to battle other humans for Him? Abba invites you into fellowship to hang out, to just be with you. There is nothing you need to do to gain His acceptance or His love. Did God craft the universe or wildflowers or brilliant sunsets for peak efficiency? No, He simply provides beauty for our souls.  His glory is displayed for capitalists and socialists, for Republicans and Democrats.  No political party gets to claim God as their sole supporter. 

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

Yes. They’ll forget us. Such is our fate, there is no help for it. What seems to us serious, significant, very important, will one day be forgotten or will seem unimportant. And it’s curious that we can’t possibly tell what exactly will be considered great and important, and what will seem petty and ridiculous…And it may be that our present life, which we accept so readily, will in time seem strange, inconvenient, stupid, not clean enough, perhaps even sinful. . . .” Antov Chekhov

 “Truly, God does not see what man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) 


Ask God today, “what do you see in my heart?”  

Then stay long enough to hear the answer.



Several years ago, my church family went through a painful transition period as the founding pastor retired. There was no great scandal but there was plenty of disagreement, miscommunication and hurt feelings.  Having been at the church since its first Sunday gathering 22 years before, I had seen enough to recognize behavioral patterns in the church body.  Faces changed, but certain dysfunctional strongholds remained. 

At the time, I was not in a leadership position (much too introverted), but had good friends on the board, on staff and on the transition team.  One of the patterns I had noted was the tendency to keep control by limiting communication between the various teams. Couched in Christianese, stern warnings against “breaking confidentiality” and “gossiping” or promoting the need to “protect the flock” meant that often only one person had all the information.  What was presented to the church as “God’s will revealed” never indicated the power struggle beneath. As a somewhat neutral third party, I heard a lot.  I was often the safe space for people needing to process and I kept their confidence.  But what I heard broke me.

There was no conspiracy in my church.  No bad guys or good guys. Just people wrestling with the responsibilities of leadership. In the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in our country, the judges charged with ensuring equal justice research, discuss, debate and finally render a verdict by a vote.  If the majority vote does not reflect a particular judge’s interpretation of the law, he or she may write a dissenting opinion.  Usually this dissent voices the judge’s concerns about the process or interpretation or it may express the judge’s hopes for a future judgment to be considered differently.   


Dissent, voiced respectfully, serves a vital purpose in our society.  But often in our churches, dissent is not tolerated. If we question the “revealed word of God,” we may find an uncomfortable silence which can grow into our own faith being questioned.  We are not burned at the stake as heretics or even shunned as the Amish, but anyone who has felt the social pressure to join in on something you feel is wrong, knows that a church sanctuary can feel just as ruthless as a junior high locker room.


Jesus was born into a society where “might makes right,”  where the Roman Empire was the mightiest might the world had ever seen.  The Messiah was expected to be a King who rescued Israel from her oppressors.  But Jesus didn’t arrive as a conquering warrior.  Instead, He turned every expectation upside down.

It seemed the only times Jesus was aggressive, the only harshness he showed, was toward those who claimed to represent God but instead used their positions of power for themselves.  Jesus cleared the courtyard of God’s house of those cheating the worshipers who were trying to be obedient.  Jesus sharply challenged the interpreters of the law who layered heavy burdens on the people.


Fundamental change often happens slowly. Like yeast leavening bread dough, it can incorporate dissent over generations, readjusting as necessary.   I wonder if Jesus repeated warnings against the Pharisees’ leaven – the pride and perfectionism and legalism – because He knew that two thousand years later, we would still be battling against it?  How does one remove something so baked in, something that permeates everything?


Today many of our American churches tend to resemble either mini-kingdoms, headed by a benevolent dictator who continues patterns based on centuries of patriarchy, or mini-corporations with a business model (not exactly a bastion of functional human relationships). Both social hierarchies are based on position and power; neither is the servant leadership Jesus modeled.   


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a church meeting I attended in the midst of all the transition turmoil.  Members had been asked to pray regarding a proposed candidate for senior pastor.  Announced as a discernment meeting, it became clear to me fairly quickly that the meeting’s agenda was rather about convincing the body to accept an already-made decision.

There was a moment in that meeting where I experienced true bewilderment.  I had been asked to pray, and I had.  With fasting and groaning too deep for words, I had begged God for direction for our church.  He answered.  There was a depth to His direction that I knew was not mine alone.  I saw our church at a crossroads, similar to the Israelites’ decision whether to enter the promised land despite the report of giants.  The way of the giants would be more difficult, painful and untried, but I believed God was calling us to greater freedom in that choice.

As I sat in the meeting, we were told that God had spoken clearly to the team members that the other road (the one I saw leading to 40 more years of desert wandering) was God’s will.  Again, I knew the people on that team.  I knew they had love and best intentions for the church at their core.  So how, I wondered, if we were both seeking the same God for the same answers, were we ending up with so vastly different convictions?

I voiced my concerns in the meeting, and again to some of the leaders. I received nods and agreement privately, but somehow the train continued toward the desert.  Not long after, while the chosen one was rocking his audition sermon, I looked around at all the smiling faces being charmed.  “Is this what you want for us, God?” I asked, still confused.

“This is what they want,” the quiet voice said.  “But I have something else for you.”  At that moment, as everyone around me laughed, I wept.  I would be leaving a rhythm of twenty-two years, the greater family with whom I had raised my children.  At that moment, all I could see was the loss of all I knew.  Good people, loving people.  But my body was done, my health had been sacrificed.  I had nothing left to give.


Today I have a wider view of God’s kingdom, a more solid trust in His leading.  There are days, however, like yesterday, when I’m thrown for a loop. A person I respect, a mentor from my early days as a Christian, has been re-posting some of what I see as paranoid conspiracy material.  It leads me back to my question in that discernment meeting: How, if we are both seeking the same God for the same answers, are we ending up with so vastly different convictions?  

Is one person wrong and the other right? Are we both degrees of wrong and right? 


I used to be proud of being on the right side of politics. Fundamental, conservative, evangelical, right. These were solid terms, God terms, upholding traditions that have made our country great.

At least great for some. Never once did I hear a sermon on how our brand of Christianity was used to uphold white supremacy and racist social structures. Never once did I hear a contradictory opinion about the role of women not being subordinate to men. I did, however, hear quite a few sermons regarding the liberal left media bias. 


Jesus didn’t spend much time on the religious and political debates of his day.  Who had it right, the Samaritans or the Jewish purists? Was it right to pay taxes to support a pagan government? Jesus bypassed the rhetoric to arrive at the heart of each person he encountered.

Most people who came to Jesus wanted something from Him – physical healing, political leadership, religious guidance.  Some stuck around when they noted His compassion and His wisdom. As the crowds grew, Jesus observed they were “like sheep without a shepherd.”


It reminds me of us wandering through this time of Covid-19.  We look to medical experts and political or spiritual leadership, most of whom have been caught as clueless about this disease as we are.  We expect perfect answers, which they cannot provide.  In our uncertainty, they, and we, fall back on our old prejudices. Soon the experts are wearing the faces of our old fears and failures.

Many of us have been raised with so many sermon analogies of armies and battles that we easily equate spirituality with warfare.  It is not much of a leap to see other humans as enemies of our faith, to rage against not just evil, but people.  We may even have been told that we are on the side of good, and “the world” is bad.  

A friend showed me this poster from a QAnon follower:

The poster was accompanied by white supremacist propaganda.  Now I’m fairly certain none of my white evangelical friends would put this poster up in their church hallways.  But quite a few have railed against media “attacks” on the president, have shrugged off his lying, his boasting of sexual abuse, his racism, his misuse of presidential power. These friends sincerely believe Trump is on the side of right.  After his 2016 election, they celebrated that “our side” was winning and the liberal left were sore losers.  Some still believe the nomination of conservative judges is an acceptable exchange for the loss of so much more.


Dissent can be costly.  I never intended my blog to have political content but I find the issues that consume my thoughts are now being debated on the national stage.  I never intended to stand opposed to dear friends but I can no longer keep silent when l see some buying into lies misrepresented as God’s truth.  

  • Thirty years ago, I believed many things that have not held up well under scrutiny. 
  • Thirty years ago, I experienced God’s blessing; I was thoroughly loved and respected by my Creator. 

These two facts are neither causal in nature, nor exclusive.  Even if much of what I believed was, in fact, wrong, that did not hinder God’s blessing or love for me.  

I hope that all of us believe somewhat differently from thirty years ago.  It means we are growing. Neuroplasticity studies are just beginning to map how our brains form new neural connections based on new information and experiences.  Our brains change, we change.  This reminds me to stay humble, to hold lightly the ideas I now believe just in case another thirty years proves I’m not as smart as I think I am right now.


The danger I’ve encountered in a white evangelical environment is a blatant refusal to grow.  The same sermon illustrations, the same dire warnings (“Rome disintegrated from within, because of their moral decay” — not exactly historically accurate, by the way), the same prophetic promises (“there is a small remnant of the faithful, these chosen few must lead the battle”) are recycled with updated graphics and video footage.  It’s as if we have taken Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever – to mean (and yes, I’m quoting Adrian Monk) “Nothing should change.  Ever.”

From a PRRI report released today:  Among religious affiliations, white evangelical Protestants (72%) are most likely to say police killings of unarmed Black men are isolated incidents….Among all religiously unaffiliated Americans, 26% view police killings of unarmed Black men as isolated incidents.  Think about this for a minute: white evangelical Protestants — the people who claim to represent Jesus – are three times more likely to deny the patterns of injustice in our society. Yet, when confronted with documented evidence, with the myriad of incident reports and names of the slain, other unchurched white Americans are finally recognizing what black mothers have known for generations – their sons are not safe from the very people commissioned to protect them. These unchurched are the people repenting for their ignorance and apathy, these unchurched are the people risking their health to join the protests, these unchurched are the people asking “how do we make this right?” And the white evangelical Protestants? Some are there.  Others huff a dismissive “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter.” Still others start a counter-revival. (Oy vey!)

I believe God loves us.  All of us.  I believe He blesses us, irrespective of our theology or our political beliefs.  But I do not believe His blessing is an indication of His approval of either our theology or our politics. Jesus welcomes every heart turned toward Him.  


There are Truths. Capital T truths that are the same yesterday, today and forever.  These haven’t changed in thirty years or three thousand.  The Truth of God’s love, the Truth of God’s mercy, the Truth of God’s heart for justice.  Faith, hope and love.  The fruit of the Spirit.  

From these Truths, we build structures. As we work out how to put our faith into practice in each generation, we devise programs and organizations, scaffolding to uphold the building in God’s kingdom.  But we must always keep in mind, the scaffolding is not the building.  The building is the Truth.  The scaffolding can be taken down anytime.  Example: Compassion (Truth) for illiterate working children led two gentlemen in 18th century England to start Sunday schools to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Bible knowledge was included in the curriculum but the original intent was social justice — to give uneducated children the chance for a better life.

A hundred years later, after compulsory public education was established and child labor was regulated, churches still kept the Sunday schools but the focus gradually changed to center on Biblical, denominational and character instruction. Because many of us have encountered God through Sunday School, in our minds the church structure becomes enmeshed with who God is.  A suggestion to abolish Sunday School, because its original intention is no longer necessary, would seem almost heretical.  No Sunday School? How about no choir or Sunday worship or prayer meetings?!

Last year, to imagine having a relationship with God that didn’t include these things, would’ve seemed ridiculous to some Christians.  And today?  Perhaps one of the hidden blessings of this time of pandemic has been to jar us away from all we thought was God to reveal who our Creator truly is.  What are the true Truths?  What stands when buildings and meetings and programs are shaken?  If all of that came crashing down, when it is just you and God, what do you hear Him whispering to you?

The societal and structural issues we face today are complicated, but not unsolvable. We need consensus and dissent working together.  We need to recognize the immense value of whoever we perceive as “other.”  We are not being called to battle each other.  It’s time to lay down those rusty paradigms.  We don’t need watchmen on the walls; we don’t need to build walls with a sword in one hand.  We don’t need to march to “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

I get it, I do.  This has been a tough year for everyone; it’s natural to feel defensive in the midst of so much turmoil.  The pandemic. The social upheaval. Right now, a wildfire that is only 2% contained is burning a few miles from our Santa Cruz home.  It has only been three weeks since last month’s hurricane; I’m looking up sideways and saying, “Really, God?”


I have a choice right now.  I can growl at the climate change deniers who blocked meaningful legislation a decade ago.  I can be fearful and obsessively refresh the CalFire map (ok, been there, done that.) I can put on a plastic smile and say, “Oh, boy, here’s yet another opportunity to rely on Your strength.”  Or I can be real. And while I may cycle through all of these (minus the plastic smile), I really do know everything is going to be okay. Whether my stuff burns up or not.  Whether Covid-19 ends my life or not. In that place where it is just me and God, I know I’m being held and loved.  That solidness has been six decades in the making.   And it’s a lovely place to be.


A parenting program with this name – Love and Logic – was making its rounds through evangelical churches when my kids were young (perhaps it still is).  Its basic premise was that parents should allow children to experience the natural consequences of their behavior. Example: your dawdling child who doesn’t get dressed in time for the bus goes to school in her pajamas. Lesson learned.


Understandable in principle, perhaps not so much in actual execution.  Like most programs, it works well for some parents and some kids.  But not all.  Spectrum kids who are already suffering pain and shame, since their brains do not function like their peers’, will not benefit from yet another way to fail expectations they perceive as unattainable.  Authoritarian parents who already have an adversarial relationship with their children, who use the program as a system of punishment, will find the divide between them and their children growing wider.


In moments of quiet, I’ve queried further into the reckoning mentioned in my previous post. What are those “natural consequences” of our behavior?  And why this term, which is particularly loaded for me?


I know God is not an authoritarian parent, however much we have tried to shape Him into one in some of our churches.  All the fire and brimstone sermons, our endless cataloging of what a Christian is or isn’t (that changes with each generation in content but doesn’t change in severity), from the Old Testament to this morning’s Facebook posts, we shape a schizophrenic God according to our own understanding. We shape a God who is alternatively murderous and compassionate, who demands sacrifice and yet sacrifices Himself .   


God is Authority, don’t misunderstand me.  I have experienced Divine encounters that shut my mouth forever on issues of God’s existence and holiness. (another post for another time.)  And I don’t believe we have the capacity to understand either God or the spiritual realm beyond what He reveals to us.


But our Father (or Mother, if you prefer; gender is not an issue for God) is the parent who watches at the window for the lost child, who goes after the one lost sheep, who celebrates when a lost coin is found.  God’s kingdom, into which Jesus has invited us, is filled with freedom.  It is a playground of surprising treasure, hidden pearls of belonging and adventure, of finding new ways of being, of learning to fly.  We are all invited to be subjects in this kingdom today. Not in a harps-and-clouds, life-after-death scenario but today, in this moment, in the reality around us.


Jesus said God’s subjects in this now-kingdom are growing side by side with other subjects. There is an enemy, called evil, Satan, the fallen angel Lucifer.  This enemy recruits his own subjects, using his own tactics to further his own agenda.  For centuries, Christians have taken it upon themselves to identify who belongs to which camp. But as far as I can tell, Jesus said that is the job of God’s angels at the end of the age. That will be the time for sorting what is truly in our hearts and motivations.


I’m getting there…really….


Let’s bring the theological speculating down to today, in August 2020.  Here on Maui, the number of Covid-19 cases is rising, as in many places in America, due to the public’s noncompliance with social distancing guidelines.  At the beginning of the pandemic’s spread, I was grateful to be in a community who still hold great respect and care for ohana (family), especially kupuna (grandparents, the elderly). We have one hospital on Maui, with only 15 beds in the Covid-19 unit, for a county of over 150,000 people.  In the beginning, everyone complied. We stayed home, maintained social distance, wore masks and gloves.  Within six weeks, the number of new cases had dropped down to zero.   


And then.  As in many places in America, as officials advised cautious reopening around Memorial Day, some people decided the rules no longer applied to them.  Young people gathered in bars and beach parties.  Many Christians were convinced that scientists and government officials were acting in opposition to their faith.  Wearing a mask, complying with protocols became political, as if a virus distinguished the faithful from the “sheep.”  (Oh dear ones, who exactly is guiding you?)


So now the virus is spreading on Maui.  As in many places in America, the ones most affected are the ones who can least afford it – uneducated poor who must work to survive, who labor in service industries, catering to people who seem to care for little beyond themselves.


Yesterday, Maui’s mayor fumed at the blatant irresponsibility:  “Victorino said they have done enough education. Now it’s time for arrests. “I don’t think the education is necessary anymore. They will be cited or arrested.” 


“Natural” consequences.  You disregard the law, you will be arrested.  


Suddenly, I’m looking down a tunnel at the end of which infuriated Christians are railing, claiming to suffer for their faith.  Christians using precious resources, using the civic justice system, using social media to protest their violated liberties.  


And a weary world is further convinced followers of Jesus are empty, self-centered bigots.  


Does Jesus still get weary of our perverse and unbelieving hearts?  He said if we understood the least bit about faith, we could do mighty things.  Yet what are we doing? What are we focusing on?


Today, as I was washing dishes, I thought about a radio pastor’s comment on how churches can use the fear of Covid-19 to “bring people to Jesus.” I could almost hear Jesus slapping his forehead.  “Doh!”  (or maybe “Oy vey!”)  How far have we gone as Christians if we can’t recognize that manipulation and taking advantage of people’s fears is the antithesis of what Jesus wanted us to learn?  


In the first weeks of quarantine, churches got together and posted songs of blessing to a frightened world.  What are we posting now? Blessings or condemnation? Statements of love and caring or of warfare?


If there is an opportunity here, it is the opportunity for followers of Jesus to take the time to sit before Him and listen.  It is the opportunity to let go of defensiveness.  It is the opportunity to embrace our belovedness.  To know how thoroughly, how unconditionally we are treasured.  It is the opportunity to see Jesus offering that acceptance and encouragement to everyone around us.  Don’t worry about bringing people to Jesus.  He’s not keeping score.  Just bring Jesus to people.  Love your neighbors (and you don’t have to wear a Jesus T-shirt or even mention His name.) When love is genuine, Jesus can speak for Himself.   


This is our chance to get it right, my dear family of Jesus-followers.  This is our chance to step back, to examine our hearts, to, yes, repent.  Repent means to turn around and go a new way.  Jesus is calling us to come back to the heart of our faith.  Not the heart of our religion, which has gotten so twisted.  The heart of our faith was that moment when we said, “I don’t know anything else for sure but I want to know You, Jesus.”  


Jesus said,  “No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.  Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:27-30 , Message)


That’s our invitation, dear family.  Will you accept?  


Nothing heavy or ill-fitting.  No agendas or scripts.  First, accept the oxygen mask Jesus offers you.  Breathe in His love.  Again.  Again.  Only when that love is flowing in you as naturally as breathing can you help with anyone else’s mask.  Maybe that means wearing a literal mask even if you don’t think you need it.  Maybe that means looking deeper into the claims or assumptions of others, even those famous or trending personalities. Maybe doing your own research before sharing or forwarding a post.


My sister-in-law recently posted some guidelines that I think can be helpful:

How can each of us decide what’s reliable information, and what isn’t? Who’s in the Circle of Trust?
The Five Easy Es of source-vetting:
1. Exclusivity: Reliable sources don’t say they’re the only ones with the truth.
2. Emotionality : Reliable sources don’t use emotion words, or try to make you feel strongly
3. Expertise: A reliable source knows what they’re talking about.
4. Ego: None
5. Earnings: None
Distinguishing between sound reporting and conspiracy thinking or propaganda.
1. Is the presentation one-sided?
2. Is there an independent pursuit of truth?
3. Is there a careful adherence to the facts?
4. Are those accused allowed to respond?
5. Are all sources named and cited, and if not is the reason explained?
6. Does the work claim some secret knowledge?

We can each only respond to what we know at this moment in time.  We choose who we trust, often based on our experience. Why do some abused children grow up to choose abusive spouses? Why do we choose the familiar, even if it brings pain? Neuroscience has just begun to plumb the depths of how those firing neurons influence why we do what we do. Jesus reminds us we always have a choice. We are not victims of our body chemistry or circumstances.  

When we forward a post that promotes fear or “exposes deception,” who are we serving?  Can’t we trust Jesus to go over line by line with those willing to listen without our “help?” Don’t we need to be more concerned with the logs in our own eyes than the speck in our brother’s?  

Domestic abuse flourishes in our churches.  I’ve rarely heard a sermon mentioning it, but I’ve heard plenty about submission for women and children. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude that is so prevalent regarding uncomfortable subjects in our church communities isolates victims further. We like to pretend domestic abuse, gender issues, financial inequality, racial and injustice issues are problems out there in the world. Any hint of these things within our utopian sanctuary can quickly become fodder for gossip, victim-shaming or that excruciating wall of silence.

When some of my friends post about the need to love to Jesus the misguided liberals, others of my friends see only the empty words that surrounded them when they were being abused by a pastor or a teacher in their Christian school.


None of us like to see ourselves as the bad guy.  When we read the gospels, we’re on Jesus’ team; we’re not the Pharisees. But remember, the Pharisees thought they were on God’s team.  They weren’t corrupt; they were diligent followers of God’s laws. And most of them missed the Messiah right in front of them.  How many of us are so certain in our politics and our own church-view that we aren’t missing Jesus right in front of us? Have you asked Him?  Honestly? Have you sat down and listened, really listened, for His answers?


His answers might surprise you.


Last week, a category 3 hurricane swept toward Maui, where I am living at the moment.  I have experienced only one other hurricane in my life, in 2007, during my first-and-never-again time on a cruise ship.  The ship’s captain had to negotiate with Cuban authorities to shelter us behind, but not too close, to their island. Still, we experienced rough seas; the rolling deck reminded me vividly of Titanic films, as we hid in our bunks and prayed.


That’s what I do when a hurricane is headed toward me.  I pray.


Last week, about four days before the hurricane was predicted to make landfall, I received a text from my friend Shelley. Shelley lives in a faith and prayer life that I hope I can one day emulate. When she tells me something she’s heard from God, I take it very seriously. She has lived on Maui for many years. Like most Hawaiians, who have seen many dire predictions come and go, Shelley knows some people will hoard emergency supplies and others will do little to prepare.  It is a big ocean and Hawaii is a small chain of islands surrounded by cooler water.  The likelihood of a hurricane directly hitting land at top speed is small.


Still, it has happened.  So we prepare.  We watch the radar readings, we gather our supplies, we decide when it is time to drag in the patio furniture, when it is time to board up windows.


When Hurricane Douglas was still over 2000 miles away, when there was not much of a nod toward concern, Shelley sent out the following text: “There is a verse in Genesis (18:32) that is prompting me now. I am asking that ten of us will stand in the gap for Hawaii…certainly there are 10 of us willing to pray…specifically for forgiveness and repentance of hard-heartedness, fearfulness, unbelief, idol worship, apathy, spoiled-ness, being unlovely and unkind.  This prayer of repentance is for Christians first and not unbelievers. Praying the Lord will mercifully turn the storm.”  


What was amazing to me was that the night before, I had been on my face before God repenting for these very things in me.  I had just watched Ava Duvernay’s 13th and I was (am) facing my own hard-heartedness, my own apathy, my own willingness to believe what was convenient for me instead of looking into uncomfortable issues that stirred my fears.


I joined the ten and prayed for Hawaii and for the church.  I prayed for us who know with such certainty, who are so quick to judge.  I prayed for my friends who saturate themselves in a single viewpoint, who see the investigation of other opinions as dangerous and compromised.  I prayed for my sisters and brothers who rush to repost “proof” of the others’ conspiracies. My heart broke over the smiles of our triumph in the face of others’ suffering.  Our closed minds and our closed hearts.  The church divided not only along red and blue lines.  Christians using Scripture to condemn other Christians, using faith and Jesus as weapons to win an argument.


I’m not sure who coined the term first, but both meteorologists and software project managers use a visual aid called “the cone of uncertainty.” In tracking the trajectory of a hurricane, analysts forecast the most likely path of the storm; with constantly changing data, they acknowledge the factors that may change its course.  The cone of uncertainty is a predictive model reset at certain intervals to more accurately adjust expectations.


On Saturday, the day before Hurricane Douglas was expected to arrive, I ate breakfast under a beautiful deep blue sky graced with only a few puffy white clouds and a gentle breeze.  Before stacking the patio furniture, I sat with my face to the sun. Michael commented how blissfully unaware we would be without weather-tracking technology.


On Saturday night, the storm was 300 miles away.  It had not dissipated as much as anticipated; a wind speed of 90 mph was still predicted to “pass dangerously close to the islands.” We were smack in the middle of the cone of uncertainty.   I went to bed, cognizant that I was on a small rock in the middle of a big ocean.  What had felt like a place of safety from the troubles on the mainland was in reality, by its very isolation, vulnerable. 


“In this world, you will have trouble.”  No matter where you live, no matter how you try to insulate yourself from it, trouble will come.  It sometimes seems to me that we in the church spend a lot of our time and energy trying to rid ourselves of trouble rather than welcoming the growth that comes through it.  We haven’t been taught how to value our mistakes.  We haven’t celebrated our failures.  The tares of the enemy have grown up in our churches, tares of perfectionism and shame, pride and shunning.  We don’t know what to do with leaders who turn out to be human instead of the epitomes of piety we expect them to be. (Has there ever once been a church that has repented in this scenario, taking responsibility for failing to pray for and support a leader who fell to temptation?) Friends, we have carried such a burden for such a long time, this striving to be the light in a dark world, this striving to be godly in our every word, thought and deed.


I believe God is inviting us to lay that burden down.  He does not need us to appear godly.  He’s already God, He has that covered.  God doesn’t need us to be crusaders and warriors.  He wants us to be real.


I believe this pandemic isolation can be a gift for the church. (Please know I’m not saying Covid-19 itself is a gift. It is a devastating virus, the source of so much anguish.  My heart goes out to every person and family who has suffered from it; we must never minimize their pain.)  Right now, church leaders are reimagining what church will look like post-pandemic.  (Many educators and families are doing the same.) Some, I know, just want to return to “normal” ASAP.  But many are taking the time to examine why we do what we do.  With church, so much of our time and energy has revolved around a large gathering, with all its programs and performances.  I’m beginning to hear some mature leaders confess a relief in the interruption of ceaseless activity.  Others are starting to wonder who exactly our services have been serving. How much of our budgets are used for ourselves?  When did caring for the poor and lonely among us get relegated to just another line item or outreach activity? Just because we’ve traditionally encountered God in church services, is He not greater than these? Can God not bless new ways of being church?  Is it He or us so tied to these traditions?

These are uncomfortable questions.  But God loves a good question, especially one asked in humility, with the willingness to hear whatever His answer contains.


When I woke up on Sunday, the hurricane had passed just north of Maui. (I had actually slept through the tsunami sirens.) Michael showed me the radar picture which showed the storm literally skirting the islands.  “Looks like the hand of God to me,” the words escaped my mouth unbidden.

News commentary throughout the day ranged from relief to nonchalance, from “Twenty miles south and it would’ve been much different; hopefully, we’ve learned to be prepared”  to “It always happens like this; no big deal.”  I wondered, “Does it even matter if anyone else believes God’s hand turned the storm?”


Pondering this question, I recognized that while I did have a sense of urgency leading up to the hurricane, I didn’t have fear. (Except for that moment of anxiety when I realized we still haven’t gotten around to writing a proper will. Darn.)  I trusted that we were in God’s care no matter what happened, so I wasn’t surprised as the sense of urgency dissipated somewhat throughout the day.  I was surprised, however, when it returned the following day, along with the radar images in my mind.  

“What’s going on, God? The hurricane’s over.  Why do I still feel such a sense of impending doom?”


The image that came to mind was that cone of uncertainty. Except in the place of Maui, the American church was sitting directly in the path of a storm.  The church I had been praying for.  The stubborn, unrepentant, convinced-we-are-right family of Jesus-believers.


And the storm?  I think the storm is the consequences of our behavior.  I’m not talking about Judgement Day or the Apocalypse here.  And I’m certainly not talking about politics, although I suspect it will be dismissed as such.


I think what Jesus is indicating is that there is a brewing storm directly tied to the consequences of our behavior.  The unkindness, the angry rants, the satisfaction at others’ misfortune, the lack of compassion, the apathy, the pride…  we have let our fears drive our words and actions.  We have listened to men who claim to speak for God but who do not know His heart.  We have chosen what is easier over what is better.  We have not believed Jesus.  We have not listened to His whispers.  


I don’t know exactly what the storm will entail.  But I can imagine.  I can read the signs, even when it is still a beautiful sunny day.  I hesitate to write what is in my mind, because I fear that dismissal that comes with partisan politics.  Please know I’m not writing out of a concern for ballots right now, but out of a concern for souls.


Here goes: 

Some of you, my dear friends, believe that Covid-19 is, if not entirely a hoax, a matter of grossly inflated statistics and part of a conspiracy to withdraw support for President Trump by devastating our economy.  You may believe that any proposed vaccine will be used to erode your rights at best and at worst, become the very “mark of the beast.”  You may believe there is a cure, a simple, inexpensive protocol being censored off social media by big pharmaceutical companies.  You may believe masks are muzzles, a sign of compliance with overreaching government.  You may also believe that people who disagree with you are either foolishly deluded or actively harmful.


Or perhaps others’ disagreement doesn’t phase you. “What has light to do with darkness? The foolish things of the world will confound the wise,” you are assured by your church friends.  “The world has never respected us.”  


When you are offered a mask, you respond with, “If you die tonight, do you know if you’re going to heaven?”  You see yourself as agents of truth, standing against a sea of lies.


Except, dear friends, the world doesn’t see you as agents of truth.  They see you as incredibly selfish.  They see you shouting about your God-given liberties while bodies pile up outside morgues.  Maybe you don’t believe the statistics, but the world does and they see you as being callous in the face of others’ suffering.  They see you disbelieving empirical evidence, facts proven in laboratories by nonpolitical scientists, and embracing simplistic (sometimes ridiculous) claims and lies that are immediately disproved by minimal investigation.  Have you ever considered how your “witness” for Jesus is damaged by all the brazen claims you lump in with Him?


The world has lost respect for you, dear friends.  You’re right, it was never much to begin with.  You were always that quirky neighbor who spent so much time at church.  But you did help at community events and you were kind to children.  Maybe there was something in those prayers of yours…


But now.  For the past four years, your credibility has been deteriorating.  Back when Bill Clinton was caught in a sex scandal, you railed about accountability and personal integrity.  Now, when the same media reports increasingly outrageous moral failings of this president, you rail against the media.  You have traded your own integrity for political power.


True or false, this is what the world sees.  


And why should we care what the world thinks?  


Because, dear friends, Jesus cares about the world. 


Because, dear friends, you are wearing Jesus’ name when you belittle and mock and spread gossip.  You are wearing Jesus’ name when you turn your backs on asylum-seekers who want nothing more than to live.  You are wearing Jesus’ name when you shake your heads over Black Lives Matter protests, shrugging off any notion that it may have anything to do with you.


And lest my friends on the left get too comfortable here, you are wearing Jesus’ name when you  distance yourselves from your brothers and sisters.  You are wearing Jesus’ name when you are dismissive and refuse to listen.  You are wearing Jesus’ name when you are arrogant, when you use your education (or any gifts you have received) to assert your power over another.  


Our Creator loves variety.  We are each born into a personhood of inestimable value. When that personhood is not esteemed, when lies uproot the truth of our belovedness, we begin to treat one another as less than. We disrespect, are unkind.  We group into camps of us and them. We blame and allow falsehoods to grow. And we don’t acknowledge the wrong of any of it, not until a steely-eyed glare stares into a camera over the neck of a dying man.


Our differences are not dangerous in themselves.  We are created different, every one of us.  The danger lies in our discomfort with difference.   So, let’s listen to each other. Let’s talk about vaccine damage, about the role of government, about the role of the media.  Let’s talk about who is qualified to speak for us, if we don’t feel our individual voices are being heard.  Let’s talk about socialism and welfare reform.  Let’s talk.  And let’s listen.  It is only in the conversations between us that we can truly see where we actually agree and where we differ.


A storm is coming, dear friends.  Unless we repent, all of us, for how we have treated each other (Christian or not), we will bear the consequences of our behavior.  What has been kept in-house will be shown to the world.  It is a reckoning that will not pass us by.


Pray with me?


Just because we want something to be simple doesn’t mean it is.  And if you’ve been told your entire life that one viewpoint is good and the other is bad… if three times a week and twice on Sundays, you have had one perspective, stamped with Divine approval, drilled into your mind… and suddenly you encounter the opposite perspective in people you respect… when Jesus Himself counteracts what you have been taught…

…your entire world shifts.

Cognitive dissonance is the term psychologists use to describe the stress of trying to hold opposing beliefs simultaneously.  When your actions conflict with your beliefs; when you try to juggle contradictory views in your core.


The world in which I grew up had clear boundaries of right and wrong, rigidly defined gender and social roles, with little grace for those who broke the rules.  A little stark, perhaps, but ordered and safe.

There is a moment from my college years that I’ll always remember.  I had stuck my toe over the line to watch Hardcore, an R-rated movie, with my roommate.  The story centered on a Midwest pastor, whose daughter disappears while on a youth group trip to Los Angeles.  More graphic than Taken, the father eventually discovers his daughter was seen in a pornographic film.  Posing as a producer, he enters the seedy world of 1970’s porn to rescue his child.  The plot line reveals the girl had actually conspired to run away to meet the man she believed to be her boyfriend.  After our viewing, my roommate commented on how horrible it was for the girl character to be caught in such a situation.  My blithe response was that if she hadn’t run away, she wouldn’t have received those consequences. My roommate paused, looked at me curiously, and said, “That’s rather intolerant, isn’t it?”  I realized in that moment that my non-Christian friend had more compassion toward a “sinner” than I did.  My religion, supposedly based on love and forgiveness, had little room for those who diverged from the straight and narrow.  That comment took me aback. If I was the righteous one, why was she acting more like Jesus? It was bewildering.


Sometimes I can hear a bit of that bewilderment in the voices of my friends who post disapproving messages about protesters who pull down statues and chant Black Lives Matter names before unmoved federal agents. Why are these lawbreakers using words like “justice?” My friends don’t understand the depth of anger being displayed.  My friends have lived law and order lives.  Some of them cling to the belief that only people who break the law get in trouble with the law.

If you’ve ever made that comment or agreed inwardly with it, I ask you today to watch13th, Ava Duvernay’s documentary, or Immigration Nation on Netflix.  I ask you to read White Fragility or How to be An AntiRacist.  I ask you to encounter these pieces not with a mind set to argue but with humility, as a learner.  I ask you to pray before you watch, or read.  I ask you to set aside some space with no one else around, just you and God, and invite the Spirit to speak into your heart.


Perhaps your experience will be like mine watching 13th.  Perhaps, as you recognize yourself, or the absence of yourself in Duvernay’s history, you will be made aware of Jesus’ presence beside you.  He doesn’t say a word.  He doesn’t need to.  For me, I haven’t experienced heart-piercing conviction like that since I was a little girl stumbling up the aisle in a Nazarene revival meeting. I wept, for those brothers and sisters who have suffered such cruelty. I wept in the realization of my own oblivion and apathy.  I sat in growing awareness that Jesus has always known what I couldn’t see, what I conveniently dressed over with righteous words and critical judgement.  He knew the fear beneath, the casual disregard I had for suffering people.  As long as I was okay in my own eyes, as long as I stayed overwhelmed by my own burdens, then I couldn’t be expected to take on society’s problems. Like a puppy who has messed the rug, I avoided the eye of God. I avoided the uncomfortable notion that perhaps my privilege was somehow connected to someone else’s suffering.  I didn’t want to see it.


But it was there.


And now I know.  


When Jesus was asked why He spoke in parables, Jesus answered with a quote from Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;

    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

For this people’s heart has become calloused;

    they hardly hear with their ears,

    and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

    hear with their ears,

    understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.’


Now that I have eyes to see, I have explored further. I see how deeply and deftly racism is woven into the fabric of American society and in our churches.  As white Americans, we still see ourselves as superior to people of color.  It is not spoken overtly (usually) but it is blended into our laws and our social hierarchy.  In our churches, we are the first to donate our used clothing and food to the poor.  We buy toys at Christmas for children of prisoners and send shoe boxes stuffed with toiletries and secret surprises overseas.  We deliver furniture to needy families. The people we give to are the other, poor souls who have little to do with our daily lives.  We do not see our complicity in sending those children’s parents to prison.  We do not recognize that our casual consumption of resources contributes to the poverty of those in need here and abroad.


In episode one of Immigration Nation, a Honduran man whose three-year-old son was pried from his arms at the border, shares his heartbreak and worry as the weeks of separation continue.  He also speaks about Christian Americans coming to his church when he was a child.  They had been loving people, and had given him candy.  He believed Americans were good.   In tears, he now asked, “Where are all the good Americans?”  I wonder…Are the same Christians who handed candy to that little boy now cheering the wall built to keep him out? Does our mission cease when the poor dare to come a little closer?

In our minds (not spoken overtly, usually), we remain the great white colonial power bestowing privilege on good little darker people. The ones who are not loud or rude.  The ones most like us. We say all people are created equal but we do not live it.  Not when they emerge from our inner cities.  Not when they cross our borders.


In another episode of Immigration Nation, the filmmakers flew to Guatemala to interview a woman whose husband was locked in a deportation facility and whose oldest son was released to a relative who resented having to house him.  With her younger children surrounding her, she talked about her mother’s medical expenses which prompted her husband’s decision to journey north for an opportunity to work. Drawing water from a bucket in a communal hole in the ground, she shared her dream of someday owning a refrigerator, with incredulous laughter and the same wondrous reverie as others who speak of winning the lottery.

A refrigerator.

Despite Trump’s statements, Mexican immigrants and asylum seekers are not gangs of drug dealers, criminals and rapists, but simply people who are trying to survive difficult situations.  Both documentaries address many of the uncaring remarks tossed out in American dinner table discussions – “they should come in the right way,” “protecting our borders”, “separation is a deterrent,” or “blue lives matter,” “don’t do the crime if you don’t want to do the time,” etc.  We reduce very complicated issues into simplistic slogans to permit us to continue in our apathy.


Now I know.  I cannot un-know.  If repentance means turning around, how do I turn around from this?  How do I turn from lies buried deep in my country’s social structure? Lies woven into centuries of faith tradition? 


I am only one.  And thankfully, I am not the center of the universe.  Thankfully, the One who is the Center invites me to return to my core lessons: He is there.  He cares, more than I can imagine.  I can trust Him.  I believe God wants to heal us, all of us.  He wants to heal the pain of centuries of injustice engraved in the soul of black Americans.  He wants to heal the angry white conservatives who believe they are fighting for God and truth. Love, and ever more love poured out over people who have never had enough.  

Give us all eyes to see, Jesus, so we can understand with our hearts and turn to You for healing.