Agents of Grace

Last weekend my husband and I went away with another couple for a mountain retreat. We had a wonderful time- ate delicious food, did a little Scotch tasting and the best of all- engaged in deep and meaningful conversation.

While we really do not need any “starter” conversations with this couple, we did bring along a video- Letters to the Exiles, which has 7 short videos with discussion questions to ponder. The videos are so thought provoking. Partly because it has a quirky vibe to the filming: there are all sorts of gems and nuggets of hidden treasures and meanings, almost a grown-up version of “I spy”. But mostly because the content has us thinking about our faith and our purpose in the world in a different way.

One of the segments that spoke to me was about justice in the world: justice is hospitality. Justice is all about how we treat one another. “We don’t give dignity to the other person, we see the dignity inside them.” That set me back on my heels. Even though I try and not portray it, I know that when I see someone less fortunate than myself (and I realize that even using that term “less fortunate than myself” exemplifies the issue) I am thinking, “poor such and such.” My reaction may not be through eyes of compassion but through eyes of comparison: they are less than me- whether the comparison is emotional, physical, or spiritual. Yet for me to be a part of justice in the world, I need to see each and every person with the dignity he deserves because we all are made in God’s image.

When I do so, I see the frailty, humanity, and the potential. I also recognize the log in my own eye. It is when I remove it that I begin to see people as God sees them. I am moved towards compassion and understanding and away from comparison and pride.

I wonder if we truly grasped that concept, where would the hatred and misunderstanding go?

After the Pittsburgh shooting this weekend, I heard someone talk about people coming together to push back those deviants to the basements and their lonely lives. I certainly understand the sentiment. However, I think that would only keep the hatred bubbling up. Jesus called us to pray for those who persecute us and I believe that it is only through God’s power that we can. Anything short of prayer is just simmering hatred.

I am looking forward to watching the movie “The Best of Enemies” when it is released next year. Watch the trailer here. The movie tells “the true story of the unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater, an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a local Ku Klux Klan leader. During the racially charged summer of 1971, Atwater and Ellis come together to co-chair a community summit on the desegregation of schools in Durham, N.C.” What is somewhat alluded to in the trailer is the faith of the woman. I am sure that the change in Ellis was due to the many prayers that Atwater and her fellow congregants lifted. His heart change is nothing less than a miracle.

What about you? Have you seen any videos or read any books that have been thought provoking for you? What was your reaction to the shootings of this past week? As I write this, there are too many recent shootings to mention in addition to the PA one. That fact alone should cause us to pause and take a long look at where we are headed as a society.

In the Letters to the Exiles, it reminds us that, as followers of Christ we might live in this world but we are not of it. We are to be agents of God’s grace in a broken world. A daunting task in today’s society but necessary if we are to survive one another.

Doing the Right Thing

I don't know about you, but the protesting from the last couple of weeks has really gotten to me.  I am distressed that people will speak and act so violently against other people. It seems as if both parties can incite their own and each other.

I wonder if I were part of a protest, would I get carried away? The log is in my own eye because there is a part of me that just wants those with whom I don't agree to just shut the heck up.  Hopefully I would never resort to violence to have them be quiet.  But are those who protest seemingly reasonable any other time?

I am a firm believer for freedom of speech so I would hope that my desire for that universal freedom would override any "mob" mentality.  If I start picking and choosing who may speak, based on my preferences, then I am no better than the dictators or absolute rulers of this world.  I hope that I would choose and do the right thing when it comes to dealing with individuals whom I may not agree.

Last week there was a story that exemplified someone who was choosing and doing the right thing.  A news reporter, Al Letson was in Berkeley California, reporting on a protest of white supremacists and its counter protest of anti-fascists or antifa. As Mr. Letson was watching things unfold, he saw a white supremacist fall to the ground and an angry group of antifa approach the fallen man with what appeared to the journalist intent to harm or possible kill the fallen white supremist.  So the journalist broke the journalist code of "not becoming part of the story" and lay on the man, covering him with his own body so that the left-wing, antifa protesters would stop.  The journalist was hoping that the anti-protesters would see him, a black man on the ground and not harm him or the gentleman underneath him. 

What a hero and a testament that as humans, we can show compassion, understanding and empathy even if we do not agree.  

But, I wonder- would I be as brave as the journalist?  Would I stand up for someone even if I did not agree with the other person? 

I haven't been part of any protests, nor have I been put in a split second decision to offer my life for someone else, but I have had opportunities to sign petitions or statements for various groups.  Most of the requests I would say I agree with the sentiments but there is generally some statement or statements that I cannot completely agree.  I find that almost every issue has nuances and is not so cut and dry.  Some of the sentiments are quite true but once "on board", I find that there are other sentiments that are not quite in keeping with the intention.  

And so I struggle.  How do we know what to believe?  How do we, as Americans, get out of this negative, all or nothing, vile hatred of other's beliefs and in turn of others?  How do we protest without being violent?  How do we agree to disagree?  How do we get the other side to listen to us?  How do we get institutions to revoke policies and practices that are not equal to all Americans? How do we not remain bitter when that happens? 

I was thinking that I need to look back.  I am wanting to read about forgiveness and grace.  How did South Africa turn the tide of apartheid?  Certainly there was blood shed and much hardship.  But how did Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu work with the same people who imprisoned and hurt them?   How do we work, live, play beside the people whom we do not agree?  How can reconciliation occur? 

What about you?  Have you thought about the protests happening in our nation?  Have you participated in any?  What was the feeling of the crowd?  Would you be as quick thinking as the journalist to protect someone whom you disagree? 

Have you had the opportunity to do the right thing?  Or, by my using the action word, "doing", are you in the process of exploring the right thing? 

Click here to read the story of the journalist doing the right thing.  

Heart Check

How do you protect your heart?  Not just physically but emotionally and relationally?  Is your heart hardened to the situations of others?  Do you have chest pain when you think of your future?  Or when you think of your past?  Is your heart strong enough to withstand the onslaught of non heart-friendly situations?  Can it go the emotional distance?  How can we get others to be heart healthy? 

I was thinking of that this morning while I cogitated all the news and comments of fellow citizens.

There seems to be such an air of negativity, a lack of compassion, even hatred floating in our midst. Definitely it is a non heart-friendly environment. I am sure each one of you can think of a comment, quote or statement given by a politician, colleague, friend or family member that is polluted with dissension, disappointment, discord and antagonism. 

How do we stop that?  How do we improve the air quality?  How do we, as fellow travelers on this journey of life, get along with one another and improve each other's journey?  How do we help each other develop healthy hearts? 

I think it starts with prayer:

  • Prayer for ourselves.  We need to recognize our fallible and humble lives.  We need to recognize that alone we cannot make ourselves healthy and whole.  We need the presence of the Great Physician in our lives, not only for our physical well-being but for our emotional, spiritual and relational well-being.  It is only in our recognition of our weakness that we can begin to get strong.
  • Prayer for others.  We need to pray for softened hearts of compassion towards one another.  If we think of others as someone's beloved brother, sister, son, daughter we might be able to transfer those thoughts into our own.   If we recognize that it is only by God's grace that we exist, we can extend that grace towards someone else.  In praying for others, we move beyond just thinking of ourselves and into the realm of others being included in the possibility for change.
  • Prayer for the situation.  Seems like the emotional and societal heart disease that we suffer; racism, bigotry, meanness, mercilessness, animosity will always be with us.  I think that when we pray about the situation, we are changed.  Laying aside the spiritual element for a moment, praying allows us to focus on a specific aspect of a problem and helps us figure out what is important and not important.  Praying can slow down a quick reaction to a comment or problem.  

What about you? How is your heart?  Have you had a heart check-up lately?  

House of Memories

A while back there was a report on the radio about an unique museum in Denmark that doesn't really explain history as much as encourages the visitor to experience history. 

This museum is not open to the general public but to groups of elderly suffering with dementia and Alzheimers.  The museum is an exact reproduction of an apartment in the 1950's, during the time when those who visit would've been in their teens and twenties.  

It has been discovered that associative memories- smells, sights, sounds, touch that we associate with certain experiences- help retrieve the "reminiscence bump."- that teens and twenties time of early memories.   For those who are suffering from Alzheimers/dementia they need to by-pass strategic retrieval of the memories.  Instead they need to jump the executive process and go directly to that "bump". Sensual associations are the key to unlocking those memories. 

One of the reasons this retrieval is important, is that it allows those who are suffering from memory loss, feel as if they are still useful.  They can explain for what some of the past items were used and what they did.

"When people are old and with dementia, we are taking too much care of them," says Henning Lindberg, who came up with the idea for the House of Memories. "[We say] 'Sit down. Do you want coffee? Can I get a blanket?' No! If you want coffee, make it yourself! Of course, it will take double the time to make those things, but it doesn't matter because they will be useful again. It's what they tell us again and again and again — 'I'm so happy I could be used.' "

Who doesn't want to feel useful?  I know most people will express that if they cannot do "such and such" they might as well be gone.  The "such and such"  is usually an activity that makes the feel alive, human and useful.  

What is it about humans and our feeling of usefulness?  Is that what separates from all other living beings?  How about you?  Do you have loved ones that need to feel useful?  How would you go about including them into your day to day?  What things can they contribute to your household?  What are you learning from them? 

Are you building a house of memories?  

Sensitive Eyes

A while back I was in the eye doctor's office and I overheard another waiting patient say, " I can't look at that.  I have sensitive eyes."

Under my breath I did one of those guffaws.  You know the type when something you heard strikes you as funny.  Generally it is not funny to the person who said it.  In this case, the speaker must have heard my snort and looked over at me with a glare. 

I know the person was saying it in context of physically looking at something- like a bright light but I took it to mean more like a sensitive soul. I was imagining a bad theater production where the speaker would gesture with a hand thrust forward like stopping a car, "Oh no" she would declare, shaking her head and tossing behind her in a gesture of resisting temptation, " I couldn't possibly look at that.  I have sensitive eyes." 

In that context what would constitute sensitive eyes?  Things that harm our soul?  Pictures of violence, hatred, discord? Pictures of broken bones, shattered lives, crippled limbs?  Should we close our eyes to that or should we be outraged? 

I think of sensitive eyes as being in tune and watchful.  If I have sensitive eyes do I look upon others with compassion?  With understanding?  With love?  Do the upsetting things spur me to take action?  Can I see the good among the bad?  

May God give me sensitive eyes.  

What about you?  What type of eyes do you have?