100°

 

Summertime.

 

 

North Carolina.

 

 

Heat … oppressive heat.

 

 

I am spending a long weekend at Dad’s here in sweltering North Carolina. It is so smothering it always makes me wonder why on God’s earth would anyone settle in these parts before there was air conditioning?

 

 

I came down to lend a hand with some projects around the house that Dad can’t do anymore at his age. Now, if these projects were indoors I doubt that Dad would really need my help. After all, he does have central air conditioning!

 

 

No, these projects would require a lot of time outdoors … in the heat … in the humidity. There was a storm a little while back and there was a lot of fallen tree limbs and debris in the back yard; the back yard is quite large and runs about 50 yards from the house to the river bank. The debris was close to the river and had to be cut up, gathered and hauled to the front of the house and piled near the street. Back breaking, sweaty work with many long trips back and forth.

 

 

Given the heat advisory of over 100° (yes, I picked the hottest weekend of the year to visit), it was essential to life and limb that I start out in the cool of the morning. So, I began. The back yard was sheltered from the sun on account of the tall pine and ash trees. I was thankful for the shade for it provided at least a 10° temperature relief for some of the work but the shade was little consolation for the misery that the humidity brought.

 

 

Although the back yard was shady I was not so fortunate for half of my journey dragging limbs and brush to the street. The front of the house provided nowhere to hide from the already blitering heat. So with each trip the shirt and shorts become more drenched in sweat. With each trip the sun beat down with increasing intensity as the morning wore on. By Noon, the job was done and I was spent.

 

IMG_20160723_111753384_HDR

 

 

I cooled off down by the river with a cold drink in the hopes it would revive me. By the river there was not only shade but also a cool breeze blowing in off the water. I felt myself returning to life but that was not to last as I still had to walk back to the house. Walking back to the house, the refreshment was short-lived and was replaced by the oppressive oven of heat a mere 10 yards from the river. The only air moving at this point was the incessant vibration in the air caused by the cicadas singing their summer song and the buzz of the countless dragon flies. It felt like someone had thrown a hot, wet, wool blanket over me.

 

 

I never really understood why people in the South moved so slow; I understand that I’m from New York and everything we do – talk, eat, move, think – is fast but Southern life always seemed to move in slow motion to me. I didn’t get it … until today. During the summertime in the South there isn’t much activity in the heat of the day. Even with air conditioning things slow down, way down, in the sweltering heat and humidity. I didn’t really understand why until I had to work in that heat today. It wasn’t until today that I understood the method to their madness. The slow-down was a matter of survival in the steamy heat of the Southern summertime. If you’re foolish enough to be working in that heat you won’t last for very long in this world.  I mean, there’s a very good reason the song “Summertime” is sung at such a slow pace!

 

 

So I got to thinking; if I could learn a little something about someone else’s culture and customs and get some insight into their way of life perhaps I could understand them a little better. I don’t think it’s enough to be tolerant of others (although that’s a start). Maybe we have to better understand where each other is coming from, walk in their shoes, to understand them a little deeper; understand the environment, understand the customs, understand the beliefs and behaviors.

 

 

Taking the time and making the effort to understand someone just might make us more human, make us act better toward each other and maybe, just maybe, allow us to see just how similar we are to one another. Instead of out-shouting each other we could learn to respect each other because we’d be able to recognize that there is no “other” there’s only “us”.

 

 

I think we could use that around here.

 

Civility in Brutal Times

It was a delightful, sunny afternoon and we were having a cookout in the backyard.  Spring had finally arrived and we were looking forward to hanging out in the back yard and spending some family time together.  We even invited Kris’ girlfriend and her younger brother.

Without warning, a tempest blew in.  Not a weather tempest but an attitude and language tempest.  The air was suddenly punctuated by a stream of profanities, profanities spewing from the neighbor’s back porch and over the fence.  It seems the teen son was disrespectful to his mother and the mom’s boyfriend was going to straighten him out.  Here he was, mixing spittle with the f-bomb, three inches from the boy’s face, teaching him a lesson about being disrespectful to his mother.  The irony of the situation was not lost on me.  The tirade continued for several minutes and was so intense that the guy did not hear me from the back fence calling several times for him to stop.  When he came up for breath, I interjected again, informing him that he needed to “cool it” as we didn’t appreciate being forced to endure that kind of language and verbal abuse.  That seemed to break the cycle and the verbal abuse stopped.

Marko Javorac

Photo by Marko Javorac on flickr

We all lose our cool and say things we don’t mean during the heat of the moment but this was different.  This was a purposeful, disrespectful way of supposedly teaching a young man about being respectful to others.  That doesn’t work for me.  Not cool.

This made me think of the vitriol and disrespect we show one another in our society today.  I know – most people don’t behave like that but it seems that more and more people today think it is “okay” to use violence (verbal or physical) to settle disagreements.  More and more people have demonstrated an increased intolerance of differing views and opinions.

So why are people surprised that it shows up in our political scene? I’m not condoning it, not in the least.  It just seems to me that the political arena is a reflection of our society.  Perhaps politicians are intransigent because we have become intolerant of others’ viewpoints?  The politicians are merely reflecting the darker angels of our nature rather than the better angels like they should be doing.  Maybe that’s asking too much.  I don’t think so.

So where do we go from here?  Sliding ever lower into dis-ease and violence or do we turn it around and move closer to respectful discourse?  How do we do that? Wait for our leaders to show us the way? I don’t think that’s the answer.  We need to hold each other to a higher standard, one of mutual respect and dignity; but if we’re going to hold someone to a standard we have to ask ourselves this: “Where do fall on this civility spectrum?”

As Ghandi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we want a return to civility, respect and dignity we need to start living by those principles ourselves.  In other words, treat others as your would want to be treated. Still the best way to live even after all these years.

For more reading on the need for civility … I Am Second article

Follow Me

Undoubtedly many, if not all, of us have found ourselves in a situation, in a conversation or in a relationship that touched on the very core of a fundamental part of our belief system; those moments caused us to check on what we believe in – define it, discard it or alter it. If you haven’t had one of those moments yet … you will.

I’ve come across those “forks in the road”, those moments in our lives that make us ask, “What do I believe? What are my values? What is the true self? Is this the direction in which I want to go with my life?” Case in point, my political views.

When I was younger I was a staunch conservative. I identified myself by the tenets of “right wing” politics with a stubbornness that bordered on arrogance. Maybe that’s a function of my youth and inexperience in life. To me, everything was black or white without much gray. If you didn’t believe as I did, there was something wrong with you.  Now I’m older and perhaps a little wiser. My experiences with people, events and alternative thoughts have broadened, my political edges have softened quite a bit and there’s a lot more gray in the world. Recently, my spiritual beliefs and faith underwent a similar re-examination. I had to take a look at my faith and assess its core values.

I am Christian and as many of you know, I am a part of a wonderful, inspiring, challenging, sometimes goofy but always loving family of faith called Hopesprings Community of Faith in Bangor, PA. I first attended the gathering several years ago when I was young in my recovery from addiction. My history with “religion” was spotty and bland; I wanted and needed something more. In my recovery process I was searching for a deeper, more personal relationship with God as I understood Him. I didn’t understand God all that well at that point except that God loved me, never gave up on me (even when I was at my most despicable) and saved me from teetering into the abyss.

I began to question the old rules and dogmas, crafted and honed over millenia, and in which I was raised. They felt wrong, constraining. They felt like chains and weights that made it difficult to move closer to God. Now I understand that society creates some rules – guardrails, if you will – to keep us within a range of acceptable behavior. The rules are necessary to prevent chaos and to protect us from ourselves and others. But sometimes the rules hog-tie us and keep us from seeing the underlying value the rule was designed to promote; especially so when we elevate form over substance. So it was with me and “religion.”

So, I “stumbled” across Hopesprings one Sunday morning still hungry for something more. It felt like I had walked into an alien world.  Here was a group of people – inked, young, old, beaten, successful, broken, mending – joyous and loving on others and the community! Michael began the lesson that Sunday and by the end of the gathering I was in tears – Niagra Falls! This happened again and again, even today with Jonathan as the pastor, week after week. This was no aberration. This is what I was looking for – a community who believed in only two “rules”: love God, love others; here was a family who practiced those fundamental beliefs in real life, on the streets of the community, in small ways with lots of love.

Two rules – love God, love others. So, is this what Jesus meant when he told Matthew, Peter and others “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9; John 21:19, 22)? I mean, the very definition of “Christian” is one who follows Jesus the Christ, right? What does “following” entail? What does it look like in real life?

Todd Van Hoosear

Todd Van Hoosear

Now I can complicate the hell out of making a PB & J sandwich and I know that something as deep as my faith can be made very obtuse, twisted and overly complicated. But Jesus was anything but complicated although we do a really good job of making His message complicated. Case in point – the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The scholar knows the rule of “love your neighbor” and Jesus confirms this. But the scholar is uncomfortable with what this is asking him to do and he attempts to incorporate exceptions to the simple rule. “What do you mean when you say ‘neighbor’? Who is my ‘neighbor’?”

I am no Bible scholar and I don’t have to be in order to determine what “following” looks like in reality. I can look no further than the way Jesus lived His life. In all matters, the bedrock of His actions and His words was this: loving God and loving people, without exception! He was unconcerned about their socio-economic status; unconcerned about society’s opinions of the poor, the sick, the nameless and the voiceless; unconcerned about the rules that got in the way or obscured the people from connecting with God.

He not only broke the rules but chastised those who created the rules to bog down the people’s hearts and bodies. He repeatedly called out the elite and the pious who elevated following the letter of the law but refused to acknowledge or show mercy to the unfortunate. He shined a light on the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be religious on the outside but whose hearts were black and cold on the inside.

Act justly, love mercy and walk with humility (Micah 6:8); love God, love others (Mark 12:30-31). Simple, easy to understand “rules” to live by. For me, this is what it means when Jesus says “follow me”. Don’t overcomplicate this – when He says “follow me” He’s saying “Watch what I do, listen to what I say, see how I treat others and do the same thing. I lead by example” This is the way to live a life of connection with God and others. Don’t get caught up in the rules that will weigh you down and prevent you from acting justly, being merciful, being humble or serving your neighbor.

So many “Christians” seem to get tied up and entangled in the rules. They equate “Christianity” with a straightjacket of rules – rules about what music to listen to, rules about what clothes to wear, rules about what prayers to say, rules about what sect to belong to, rules about what TV shows to watch … and the list goes on. Too often they treat others who don’t fit in their box as “less-thans”, flawed in some way. They can be judgmental and arrogant thinking that their way is the “true” way. The same could be said of political parties, other religions and cultures. They can be harsh and unforgiving. They seem to fail to consider where they would be if God was as unforgiving, impatient and unmerciful as they were.  In short, a lot like me in my youth.

So what brought all this on? I was presented with a situation that forced me to examine what my faith was all about. I had to look at my values, my beliefs and ask “Who am I? What’s important to me? What am I made of?”

This wasn’t a life or death struggle that prompted these questions. It was a simple meeting in a principal’s office to discuss ramifications of an occurrence at school. This was a meeting where I learned very clearly the difference between law and order, rule-bound, harsh Christianity and the merciful, compassionate and sometimes uncomfortable version of Christianity. I learned that some people’s interpretation of Christianity can be focused on being judgmental, unforgiving, harsh and lacking in patience; what was even more frightening was how they seemed completely comfortable with calling themselves Christian while justifying their rigidity.

I’m all for there being consequences for one’s actions and, in this case, there were. What I was not at all comfortable with was these “Christians” who gave up on my son, who failed to see the potential in him, who saw him as one who should not expect much in his life as he will not be successful, who gave up because things got a little hard. They quit on him and in the process quit on Him; they effectively said that God was not able to do good works in him. Their lack of faith in God was both blatant and astounding!

Where would we be if God have up on us? What would it look like if God threw up his hands and said “This is too hard. These people keep screwing up. I don’t have the patience for this anymore?” What if God got tired of pursuing us? How hopeless, desperate and bleak would our lives be? I shudder to think of where I would be if God had given up on me!

Well, I don’t subscribe to that nonsensical version of Christianity. I am a member of the merciful, just, loving, forgiving and graceful family of the Christ; he has infinite patience and never gives up the chase. The God of my understanding is one of love, mercy and forgiveness.

Follow Him, I will, to the best of my ability.

Offer Up Your Hearts

I read a very interesting article the other day. It was a short article in Time’s online edition. Short on length but long on depth and meaning. The article discussed Pope Francis’ different perspective on the traditional Lenten fasting. Most of the time when we give up something for Lent, it’s a personal sacrifice; that’s true but rarely does that sacrifice translate to benefiting someone else. That’s where the Pope’s calling upended the traditional view.

The Pope’s call for Lent? Fast from indifference towards others.

Indifference by Son of Groucho

Image by Son of Groucho

What does it mean, indifference? Mirriam Webster defines it as a “lack of interest in or concern about something.” So what is His Eminence asking us to “give up”? Well, give up being apathetic to others’ problems; stop walking past the derelict on the street; give up our complacence towards others’ pain; stop the coldness, hard-hardheartedness and callous disregard toward the plight, the anxiety, the homelessness, the hunger, the poverty … the fear of our brothers and sisters. We need to show concern for others. “Concern?” “A marked interest or regard usually arising through a personal tie or relationship” is how the dictionary defines “concern.”

So what the difference? Simple. Let your sacrifice have some depth, some heart, some meaning. Let it not be just a veneer – let it sink in a permeate every nook and cranny of your being. We need to hear those inner voices that trouble our conscience; something that causes us to squirm from discomfort.

Indifference by quoteseverlasting

Image by QuotesEverlasting

The longer we harden ourselves to the world outside the more our hearts and souls become encased in and encrusted with hardened steel and barbed wire, impervious to the needs of others. We become incapable of feeling compassion, sympathy and empathy for the troubles and pains of others. We tend to believe and act as if “all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” That belief tends to reinforce the hardness and coldness of our hearts and further distances ourselves from those around us. In the meantime the suffering of others gets progressively worse and unbeknownst to us, our own suffering of spirit spreads like a cancer. Our souls leak as our humanity rusts and withers. Finally, when we are alone we wonder why no one seems to care, no one seems to notice that our hearts are as black as night.

Look around. Take notice. Take action. Give up the indifference to the plight of others. You don’t have to solve the problem – you just have to let them know they’re not alone. Just be their friend. The effect is more long-lasting than giving up chips or chocolate for Lent.

Indifference by Erich Ferdinand

Image by Erich Ferdinand

So eat your chips and chocolates, keep binging on Netflix. Give your heart and attention instead.  Rend your hearts not your garments.

Ever Northward

It is late November.  I can feel the muslin shroud begin to descend over the holiday season – dulling my senses.  The Christmas season is my favorite time of year and my least favorite. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

I can feel the tug of “the journey” begin to pull at my heart strings.  December 22nd has come and gone fifteen times already; fourteen Mother’s Days and fourteen July 11ths.  During the past fifteen years, I’ve made this passage dozens of times.  Sometimes it was multiple excursions in a year, especially in the early years but not so much in recent times.  For two years during my battle with my inner demons, my addiction, I didn’t make the trip at all; too ashamed to make an appearance on those “holy grounds”.

I travel northward, ever northward, like the snow geese above me.  Passing the Canadian geese heading south with their incessant honking.  Over the same pathways as before, through the barren and bleak winter countryside.  Past the familiar hamlets and lakes that dot the route of PA 402 through the mountains.  I pick up US 6 through Wallenpaupack and Hawley and Damascus.  There is very little in the way of traffic except in the villages.  Not many people are making this trek.

As I approach Narrowsburg I cross over the Delaware into New York.  Sometimes it feels like I’m crossing the River Styx for nothing awaits me except for reminders of death.  Nevertheless I push onward through Lava.  All around is evidence of a region that is long past it’s prime: unkempt lawns, cars on blocks in the driveways, paint peeling off the ramshackle homes.  Depression epitomized.

I am close.  The summer camp sites that surround Lake Huntington are the harbinger that my pilgrimage is nearing its end.  The three hour journey ends when I pull into the cemetery in Fosterdale.  Fosterdale is so tiny a town that one would miss it if one blinked; it doesn’t amount to much more than a gas station/convenience store, a church and a flashing traffic signal. An unlikely backdrop, I admit, for this blog post but there it is.  This is where she “resides” now.  The car comes to a stop and I turn off the engine.  Silence.

1421201_1080531148645569_8212019660481486229_o

Not much has changed since last year.  I remove the dried out decorations and memorials from last visit and replace them with fresh ones.  No doubt they will be there next year and I will repeat this little ritual.  I brush away the dead leaves.  My aunt, Margaret, rests nearby.  I silently pay my respects to her memory as my cousin, who has accompanied me on this trip for the past five or so years, places her Christmas memorial greens on my aunt’s resting place.

She used to live not far from here, my Mom.  I can’t be sure for how long but it was long enough for me to have visited several times.  The truth is, I think I’ve visited her more since her untimely passing than when she was living in the area.  There was always going to be plenty of time to visit … maybe next Mother’s Day … maybe next summer … maybe next Christmas.  There wasn’t going to be any more “next times” after December 22, 2000.

Honestly, there were several trips when I felt “obligated” to make the trek – six hours of traveling for a 15 minute visit – but this trip felt a little different.  This time it felt as if she were saying, “It’s ok. You don’t have to do this anymore although I do appreciate the effort and the thought.”

But as I write this I feel something else.  I feel that gentle tug on the heart, that flash of the memories, and I reach a place of serenity and coalescence.  For as long as I am able I will make this pilgrimage to that holy place.  Her memory deserves it and I need it.

 

 

Mission Bells

I was heading into a smaller version of a big box mega store with Kris. It was the midpoint of the Christmas season and the shopping frenzy was in full swing.

We had already passed by several monolithic monster stores, noticing the extraordinary amount of cars in the parking lots. “No way” I thought to myself. Visons of madness at the checkout lines danced in my head. By today’s standards, the one we chose was tiny.  So there was hope that we could get what we needed with a minimum of stress.

12309573_505176152993603_1273298714650191804_o

Kris the Elf meets Elsa

 

Our mission that evening – find a few gifts for Peter from Kris.

As we walk from the car toward the front doors, we discuss the types of things Peter would like for Christmas. We decide that cookies and Goldfish crackers would be good choices. We can hear the familiar jingling of the Salvation Army bells.

“What is the story of those bells? Why are they ringing?” he asks.

I explain what the Salvation Army does in God’s name – help the poor, prepare hot meals for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and special Christmas and Thanksgiving meals.

He takes in what I’ve said. “Hmm, that’s good.”

We purchase our items and as we walk out the doors he asks me to carry the packages. I comply and walk ahead of him toward the ringing bells. I make a small donation and head to the car. Kris follows a few steps behind me.

“That man was very happy with me.”

“Why is that?” I ask.

“I gave $10.”

“Why did you give $10?”

“Because I like to help people.”

I smile.

Yes you do, Kris. Yes you do.

Friends With Benefits?

“Friends with benefits”

When I hear that phrase what I actually hear is: “Friends with benefits … (wink wink, nudge nudge, snicker snicker)”.  The phrase connotes a certain self-centeredness. It is a one-sided, one-way description of relationship.  When the phrase is used by the one speaking it, that one is never the one “with” the benefits. Rather they are the one “receiving” the benefits, right? It’s definitely one of “what I can take from the relationship” not “what am I contributing to the relationship”.

It’s not a very positive message, in my opinion, but it got me thinking.  What does that phrase sound like, what does it look like, from the third-person point of view?  Is there any difference if it is used to describe a person without the self-centeredness undertone?  What if we insert a comma in just the right spot? “Friends, with benefits.”  Looking at it in that light, the tone and meaning changes dramatically from selfishness to one of recovery, redemption and grace.  It turns into an apt description of those progressing toward wholeness in life.

The Wedding

I attended a wedding not too long ago. Two friends I’ve known for several years. Two friends I’ve been privileged to get to know on a deeper level. Two friends I met in recovery.  They met in recovery, fell in love in recovery and are building a life together … based on the principles of recovery.Wedding 1

Years ago, that kind of life would have been unfathomable. Years ago, addiction  tore, tattered, bruised and shattered their lives like it did mine.  It was unrecognizable from the whole life they experience today. Today, although it sometimes seems drab, mundane and unexciting, the possibilities are limitless in their new, redeemed lives.  Marriage, new careers, family, travel, adventures, friendships and hope are all blessings for them.

The Job

In recovery, especially in early recovery, we’re fortunate to be employed and employable.  Lord knows we weren’t the most trustworthy or reliable people when addiction ravaged our lives.  Because we weren’t dependable we were unable to hold down a job which led to feelings of worthlessness and despair. That, in turn, caused us to dive deeper into our addiction in order to numb those feelings.

Courtesy of flazingo.com

I ran into a young adult in town a while back.  She used to work at a local eatery but I hadn’t seen her there in a while.  I came to find out that she has a new job.  It’s a better job.  The job carries more responsibility.  She smiled as she told me she now works in a bank.  While she was describing her new job she was visibly animated and excited about the direction in which her life was heading.  I could see the positive effects on her self-confidence and self-image.  The blessings of improved self-worth was a catalyst to her further growth and she could sense it.

The Love

I was at a meeting recently.  A friend was celebrating 20 years in recovery and the room was filled with well-wishers and loved ones.  One of the speakers that evening related a recent incident that occurred in a market parking lot.  Someone called out his name and when he turned he saw someone he used with in the past.  She was drawn, disheveled and desperate as she begged for money.  It served as a reminder of where we were in our addiction – slaves – and that we have an obligation to help the still sick and suffering. How grateful we must be that we are free souls in recovery, one day at a time.

We don’t ever have to be suffering in addiction again.  We are people in recovery who get another chance to live again.  We don’t get a pass on the trials in life just because we are in recovery.  We just learn how to get through those tough times.  We are blessed to experience everything life has to offer – the good and the challenging.

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

The celebrant’s family were at the meeting too.  Mom had the opportunity to say a few words.  The gist of what she said was: lots of mistakes were made along the way but we’re in a better place now; just know that you are loved, then and now.  I could feel my own Mom speaking those same words to me that night, at that moment.

“I love you Philip.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Hugs and kisses across eternity.

Friends with benefits? No.

Friends with blessings.  I like that much better.

Knock, Knock

It’s Sunday evening. I am at the local supermarket doing the family grocery shopping. I push my cart up and down the aisles, skillfully negotiating the journey with the one wheel that pulls to the left and the other that just spins and doesn’t do anything. I’ve gotten almost everything on my list (plus a few impulse items) – all but the frozen veggies and the dairy items.

As I slowly approach the frozen food aisle I hear the voice of a little toddler. “Knock, knock.” Pause. “Knock, knock.” I see several adults wheel their carts out of the aisle toward the checkout. No one seems to be “biting” on the “knock, knock” joke.

As I turn the corner into the aisle, my hunch was confirmed. There in the child seat of cart with her hooded coat on was a beautiful little girl. She couldn’t have been more than two years old. Her dad was rummaging through the freezer, gathering up his frozen veggies.

As I approach she sees me. I smile at her. “Knock, knock.” she says.

“Who’s there?” I reply.

She is a little shocked. She was not expecting the interaction as no one else had paid her any attention. She paused for a second … deep in thought. Dad turned and looked, waiting expectantly for her response. Then she threw her hands in the air as if she were going to shout “Surprise!”. Laughing

“It’s me!” she exclaimed.

Dad just beamed, smiled and began to laugh. He couldn’t contain himself.

“Oh, isn’t that just wonderful!” I said to her with a big smile. “I’m so glad it’s you!”

Dad and I shared a smile, a nod and a silent acknowledgement of how precious this miracle moment was. Then he continues down the aisle.

“Bye” she says.

“Bye bye.”

Contagion of Hatred and the Risk of Love

No amount of laws can change a hardness of heart. No law can overcome the abyss created by hate, a hate that threatens our humanity, our existence. No amount of hand-wringing or committees or speeches can bring forth what is truly needed to bring about a fundamental and lasting change of how we treat others. No law, except one – “Love others.”  The only thing that will stem the tide of hatred towards others is changing how we see others – not as different or enemies but as the same as us.  That change in perspective comes from love.20643335423_8d8419abfd_z

But that requires us as members of the human family to go far beyond our comfortable borders.  We think “if we just bar the doors, shutter the windows and stuff cotton in our ears we can keep the wolves outside while we remain safe inside.”  We delude ourselves into thinking either the crisis doesn’t really exist or worse – that someone else will handle this mess.  “A boat is safe in the harbor but that is not the purpose of a boat.” – Paolo Coelho.  There is no one else!! The crisis is here, now, and it is not going away unless we each do our part in some small way.

21203320479_88c451465c_mAs a Christian I am called to be like Christ, a follower of Christ.  His early command was simple – “Follow Me.”  But what does that mean? Here’s what I feel it means for me.  It doesn’t mean to just walk behind Him, to be shielded by Him (although there are times when I need that shield).  “Follow Me” was a calling to live like Him, do like Him and love like Him.  It was a simple instruction on a way of life.  Do as I do … this is how to live a whole, healthy, connected life with God and each other.  Love God, love others … without exception!

Aahh, if only it were that simple, right? Loving others is easy if the “other” thinks like me, looks like me and believes like me.  It gets real up here when I am confronted with “others” who are different from me.  That asks us to take risks, to live on the fringes not because it is comfortable but because that is where the need is.  That’s where the hurt is. That’s where the war is. That’s where the sickness is. That’s where the fear and desperation are. That is where our neighbor is.

20769127773_1e7092a86b_z

Is it easy? Hell no, it is not easy but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.  “But I am only a small, insignificant force.  What can I possibly accomplish?”  I used to believe that rubbish, too.  I used to think the problems of the world were too big for one person to tackle and perhaps they are – for one person. However, when I try to make a difference I notice that there are lots of other “insignificant forces” doing the same thing and together a new world can be forged.  I just have to look back on history to see a long, long line of “heroes” – both ordinary and extraordinary – who refused to remain silent, refused to shutter their eyes, ears and hearts, refused to allow evil to go unchallenged.  Go ahead, think back yourself and you’ll see them too.20953116739_335c5fd0c8_z

Perhaps if we can manage to remember that we are all made in the image of God, we can remember those tragedies are happening not in some distant land. Those horrors are not happening to some faceless, nameless stranger.  The brutality and tears and desperation are those of our neighbors, our family, our friends … and it’s happening right here in our neighborhood.  Perhaps then we’d be a little less fearful and more courageous in righting wrongs. Perhaps then we’d pause before committing acts of violence against others in our homes, in our schools, at our jobs. Perhaps we’ll pause and see them as our brother, our sister, our pets and perhaps we’ll think twice.

Maybe what really scares us more than the differences is facing the possibility that we don’t really “believe” what we say we believe.  Because now we have to apply those beliefs (political, religious, spiritual and otherwise) not in the comfort of our hymns on a Sunday morning, bathed in stain-glass colored light; not in the comfort of the insulated halls of justice or government.  Rather, those beliefs get tested by fire in the trenches, in the back alleys with the addict, in the refugee camps, in the homeless shelters, in the Ebola wards, in the orphanages.  “Follow Me.”3039401455_92581783fb_z

If we don’t, we’ll have to face the uncomfortable, ugly truth – maybe we don’t believe the Gospel! Yikes!! We modify it to fit our comfort zones. “Jesus didn’t really mean for me comfort the dying in the hospital. He didn’t mean for me to open my home to refugees.  He really didn’t mean I had to feed the hungry at a soup kitchen.”  Really, He did.

35 You shall be richly rewarded, for when I was hungry, you fed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink. I was alone as a stranger, and you welcomed Me into your homes and into your lives. 36 I was naked, and you gave Me clothes to wear; I was sick, and you tended to My needs; I was in prison, and you comforted Me. – Matthew 25:35-36

The only way to combat the plague of hate and darkness of soul is through the light of love, without exception.  Will you do your part to chase the darkness? Will you help make this world a little nicer, a little kinder? There is no such thing as a small act of kindness, a small demonstration of love for even one small match will chase out the darkness.