How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?
Witness by Ariel Burger and Night, by Burger’s teacher, Professor Elie Wiesel.

Are you an activist? Is activism something you do – or observe?

Last night I finished Night by Elie Wiesel. It’s a short book I meant to read for years, and I put it off out of selfish knowledge that its contents would rattle me. And they did, because every word is true. I felt physically ill. I don’t remember the last time I read something this painful, powerful, important, or necessary.

In the very unlikely case you’ve never heard of it – Night is a harrowing first-person account of survival in the Nazi death camps. Taken – along with his family and the entire Jewish community of Sighet, Transylvania – to Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel recounts with lucidity, humility, and eloquence the unforgettable anguish of passing through hell and leaving behind every person he had ever loved. Deeply observant, this Jewish teenager faced a prolonged dark night of the soul unimaginable to most. I defy anyone with a heart to read this book and remain unmoved.

You will read Night and feel bereft. But there is a mighty epilogue. Elie Wiesel was much more than a survivor. Before his passing in 2016, he wrote 40 books (both fiction and nonfiction), was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and most notably, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. He taught Humanities at Boston University for nearly 40 years.

In conjunction with Night, I recently devoured a sort-of primer on moral education – Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger, who was a student of and later an assistant to, Elie Wiesel in Boston. It’s the next best thing to being in Professor Wiesel’s classes, pondering eternally significant questions such as, “How can we make the world a more compassionate place?”

Which brings me back to the whole point of this post – the steps we take after we are consumed with sadness and fury over the injustices in the world.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Professor Wiesel said he had faith. “Faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.” (emphasis mine)

To sit on our hands and do nothing when we are outraged is to fuel evil’s fire.

We may feel powerless, but we are not.

“Walt, a retired academic dean who [had] attended Wiesel’s classes for over a decade, [said], ‘My problem is, I do something small, write a check or something, and I feel better. I don’t want to feel better; I want to hold on to the outrage so I can do more. How do I do that?’

[Wiesel replied,] ‘The question is, how real are other people to you? Do you feel their suffering?…We can feel overwhelmed….And you can remain asleep to others’ pain. We need to find a balance between sleep and paralysis. Start with one person. A person is not an abstraction – we must be against abstraction. Six million pairs of shoes taken from children in the camps are a statistic; one is a tragedy.

But don’t just write a check; help them somehow with your own effort, your own energy. Buy them food and bring it to them. Help them find shelter. Speak to them, take the time to really speak and listen. Who will listen to them? We must be the ones who do. This means that your feelings of anxiety or calm, your presence or lack thereof for another person, your smile at a fellow human being or your turning away, your feeling overwhelmed and how you manage that – all of these little, internal things contribute somehow to the destiny of the world.’” (Witness, p. 176)

We cannot live lives of vicarious righteousness. We must step out and take action wherever we see a need. Big steps. Small steps. Forward steps.

So I ask you, and I ask myself, “How I am doing this new year, living an activist’s life? Am I obeying the daily, divine call to love?”

Am I feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Giving shelter? Speaking up – loudly – for the defenseless and oppressed?

Am I listening without judgment to the person who suffers from addiction? Am I offering compassion to the one who is sick, the one whose marriage is failing, the one whose child is estranged, and the one who has lost his job? Do I give rapt attention to the one who talks aimlessly because she’s been lonely for ages?

Who will welcome these battered hearts, if not me?

Am I asking God for help in discerning my next steps, and am I willing to accept that I am part of a greater whole, and that because God so loved the entire world, I must as well?

Or am I avoiding pain, because getting involved might cost me something?

These are questions for the would-be activist. Questions for you and me.

“We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them,” wrote Elie Wiesel.

So – how are we doing?

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

Today is World Kindness Day. I wrote another blog post about it yesterday, but the real question is this: How will we mark this day?

We all know from experience that…

A good seed planted in darkness can burst forth to produce a tree large enough to host entire communities in its colorful branches.

Things that start small can become big.

So what seeds of kindness will you plant today? Tomorrow? For the rest of this month? I want to know.

Are you making soup for a neighbor?

Giving more than usual to a charity of your choice? Which one? Why?

Mending a relationship because you know you’re not guaranteed tomorrow?

In November, we focus on gratitude. And gratitude is good. Very good.

But it isn’t enough to be thankful – to sit around enjoying the fullness, ruminating on all that’s pleasing or teaching us. We are called to share what we have and know.

If we have love – we share love.

If we have hope – we share hope.

If we have means – we share our treasure.

If we have time – we give hours or moments – with intentionality.

If we have hands, or feet, or ears, or eyes…..If we’re alive, friends! (so that’s all of us) we offer ourselves. Whole and present when nudged to do so.

When you hear the whisper in your heart….Help her. Go to him. Say this in peace….Do it. And make a mental note.

This is God’s work in the world.

And then, please share your stories with me. I’m saving them for an end-of-the-month blog post, where I’ll offer a few tips about the ways we’ve all found to share love throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

Your kind acts will inspire others. And wouldn’t more love and kindness be a nice gift for the world?

Tomorrow’s “World Day of…”

Tomorrow’s “World Day of…”

Photo by Dawn Lamper. creationswap.com

Do you know what tomorrow is? November 13?

It’s World Kindness Day.

Haven’t heard of it?

Neither had I.

Not until I saw it on a “Content Calendar” created by Amazon for bloggers and other creatives like me. But apparently it’s been around since 1997 and even has an official flower, the Cosmos bipinnatus. Pretty little thing.

(In other news, National Button Day is coming up on Friday, November 16. Don’t miss it.)

Humor aside, perhaps we really do need a day every year to reconsider the merits of kindness. Especially now.

For clarity’s sake, let’s review the word’s definition.

Kindness is the quality or state of being kind – and that is, having a sympathetic, helpful, forbearing, or gentle nature. (Combined definitions from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.)

We can all think of someone we know whom we consider to be kind. And a few whom we think are not.

We also know what it feels like to extend kindness, and to be on the receiving end of such a gift.

(A door held open, a garden bouquet, or some of Mom’s fresh cookies come to mind.)

And all too often, we write off certain people as “unkind.” The truth is, they probably do the same to us. We can all seem cold and unfeeling at times.

We know what kindness is and what it isn’t – and that we don’t see true kindness nearly enough.

In today’s world, strength and power are prized over self-sacrifice and humility – two components that are necessary to make an act kind.

Kindness goes farther than tolerance, which is also touted as a modern virtue. But tolerance of others – simply living side by side with them without doing them harm – does not require the deeper level of compassion that kindness brings to interactions.

Kindness creates connections; when it’s sustained over time, it builds bonds.

Kindness is about extending grace and love. It’s meaningful because it’s a movement of the heart.

The giver’s heart touches the heart of the receiver, and both feel the tug of something more.

A vastness…the Truth.

Our hearts are connected to our souls, friends, and our souls know what’s what….

That every person is to be valued beyond measure. Every person is imprinted with the eternal.

We are here to love and be loved. And acts of kindness remind us of that.

Few of us are actually cold as stone. Most of us beat with warmth at our core.

Imagine…. if we were really convening with our hearts, souls, and Maker before we set out each day….

If every decision was based on the principle that each person unequivocally mattered….

If we always took the time to look into one another’s eyes….

And listened for as long as necessary to find common ground until we could say in all sincerity, “I sympathize. I understand.”

That would be a kind world. We wouldn’t need World Kindness Day.

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The tiniest phrase in a recent article about the latest massacre – the one at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh – infuriated me.

It said the shooter “raged against Jews.”

Who are these “Jews”?

I’ll tell you who “they” are. Over the course of my life, people – who happen to have Jewish heritage and espouse a time-treasured faith – have been to me one or more of the following: family members, neighbors, classmates, teachers, doctors….friends.

They are people I love, respect, and deeply admire – just as I would anyone of integrity and goodness who seeks to do unto others as he or she would do unto himself or herself.

And over this week, as I cried for the beautiful people who lost their lives while worshiping God, I considered the state of things…a nation where “raged against Jews” still seems an apt phrase.

Our world repeats many lies to its constantly thrumming drum, but the biggest one is this…

There is a “they” – separate from us – that we can treat as “other.”

The list of self-identifying groups and sub-groups is endless….Christian (i.e., Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical and hundreds of denominations in-between), Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Democrat, Republican, Men, Women, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Straight, LGBTQIA+, Graduate of Such-and-Such College, Having X Degree, No-Degree, Hard Worker, Slacker, Pro-this, Anti-that – you follow?

Add on your own tags – the ones you apply to yourself – as many as you can think of – and stand in your circle to see how many fellow humans are left there with you. One? Two? None?

When we push outward we discover we are all alone.

There is NO “they.”

They are us.

And we are them.

Mother Teresa said it best when she declared, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.”

I don’t know much about the shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue, but I do know this: his hatred was homegrown and it started as a seed in his heart.

The call to action for us as citizens of the world is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

There are no caveats in that.

No exclusions if we think the person has strange ideas, smells, does her hair in a funny way, or is infringing on our space.

And whether you happen to agree with me when I say that God created each person – and in His own image – formed to be imperishable for all eternity, unique and sacred as an individual – I would venture this…

Deep down you know that freedom from self-absorption and egotism – those inclinations that isolate us and proliferate fear by pushing others away – means reaching out and extending the thing we all want most. Love.

We all play a role in making this world the place we want it to be.

Call out the darkness and bring it to light.

The darkness within each of us is where the battle is waged.

There is no THEY.

There is only US.

And LOVE that surpasses us all.

When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy

When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy

Photo by Jake Hills. Duke of York’s Picturehouse, Brighton, United Kingdom. Unsplash.com

You’ve seen it this week. The steady stream of women coming forward on social media to say, “Me too. I too was a victim of sexual harassment or assault.”

I can’t say that I was.

I was not raped.

I was not assaulted.

But I can’t think of a single woman who hasn’t felt “objectified” at some point – seen as a thing, rather than as the person she is – beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

And so, like you, I sit in the storm and yearn for healing and hope, praying for those who continue to suffer.

I also caught myself thinking back to a time when I felt more vulnerable than I do now.

Twenty-six years ago I was dating a film buff who believed Martin Scorsese’s art should be appreciated at the first available opportunity. So, one Saturday night, we went to see his 1991 remake of Cape Fear. Not far into the film, a young woman named Lori (Illeana Douglas) is brutalized and raped by the ex-con and murderer Max Cady (Robert DeNiro).

By the time we got to the scene, I was already nervous. Scorsese’s cinematic tendency to jerk the camera around gives me headaches, but then, the gratuitous display of violence on a woman completely unraveled me.

I cupped my hands over my ears, bent my head down into my lap, and tried to drown out her screams.

When the scene ended, my body was shaking from head to toe.

With a quavering voice, I said to my boyfriend, “I have to leave. I can’t stay here.”

He said impatiently, “So go out. But I want to see this.”

I want to see this.

FULL STOP.

In that moment, I knew something was wrong.

There was a disconnect between my reality and the fantasy world he was living in, and he wasn’t going to come to my aid.

He stayed.

I left and waited for him in the PG movie next door.

He chose the virtual, horrific storyline over the real woman who needed him.

And me?

I had identified with the woman on the screen.

‘And why?’ I asked myself.

I had not been raped.

I struggled with this issue for years afterward, trying to talk myself out of my body’s response – trying to ‘think’ my way out of it so that I could steel myself for the barrage of visual assaults that were sure to come in the future.

But I never succeeded.

And now I understand.

My discomfort – the way my stomach clenches, adrenaline surges, muscles tighten, and I prepare to run – this surge of physical empathy whenever the topic of rape emerges is a form of crucial wisdom; it is a God-given sensitivity that has heightened my awareness of the preciousness of the gift of Life itself.

Each person on the planet is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).

Any violation of another human being is the desecration of something holy. And if you’re paying attention to real beauty in the world – if you haven’t lost your natural in-born ability to marvel at the wonder of creation – your own and others’ – you can see that.

Back in the theater, my shaking body was pleading with another soul to walk away with mine from the glorification of rape. To walk away from the depiction of the sacred being violated.

At the time, I didn’t know that’s what the moment was about.

But whenever we stand up and say – “Let’s not make this person an object. Let’s not pretend she (he) doesn’t have thoughts or feelings. Let’s not give this unnecessary and graphic violence a nod. Let’s not portray her (him) as less than,” we are one step closer to clearly seeing the divine in every person. We are one step closer to creating a safer world for women, men, and children alike.

Can you glimpse God’s reflection in the person sitting next to you?

Let’s ask for the eyes to see.

Let’s speak up for what’s good, stand up for what’s holy, and walk away from what’s not.

Thoughts on What’s Happened in Orlando

Thoughts on What’s Happened in Orlando

We were in the 8th grade and sitting on a school bus in Florida when my friend, Michelle, gave me special gift.

I opened the tiny white box she pressed into my hand and found a gold “Chai” pendant. The look of surprise and questioning must have been all over my face. image

Michelle explained that in her faith tradition, Judaism, people often wore the “Chai” – pronounced similarly to “hi” in English – on necklaces. It is the symbol of life. The Hebrew word consists of two (2) letters in the alphabet: Chet (ח) and Yud (י).

“I thought you should have one,” she said, leaning her face close to mine, as she often did when sharing something deeply personal with me.

“But I’m not Jewish,” I said.

She merely shrugged her shoulders and smiled,

“But it means life,” her dark brown eyes twinkling.

As I asked her more questions about it, I learned that her deeply religious parents were very surprised by her desire to give me this. And that it was basically only worn by Jews.

In retrospect, I think Michelle was a sort of ambassador. She equated “Chai” with Love, the kind that God has for every person on Earth, and she was sharing His love in a way that seemed perfectly natural to her.

Shiva.com – The Resource for Jewish Mourning explains it this way:

The Symbolic Meaning of Chai

Traditionally, the Jewish religion, similar to many other religions and cultures, place an emphasis on the significance of life. As such, the literal translation of the word “chai” to “life” is meaningful on its face. In addition, individuals who observe Judaism or identify with the religion are generally guided by basic principals which include characteristics such as kindness, thoughtfulness, selflessness and remaining good natured, both morally and ethically during life on Earth. 

I wore that pendant every day for years, and I was very sad when I couldn’t find it this morning to share with you.

Many people, of many faiths, backgrounds, races, creeds, nationalities,  sexual preferences, and so on display the qualities of kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness, and adhere to moral and ethical codes that celebrate life in all its fullness. But as humans, we are quick to draw lines and boundaries where none need exist.

My first thought on the public reaction to the deaths of 51 people in Orlando was: Where is the empathy?

Social media is usually lit up with cries of prayer and pain for the lives that were lost and the families and friends affected, and yet it seemed comparatively quiet in the last two days. We could blame it on the fact that this happened over a weekend, but I believe it’s because people don’t want to step out of their comfort zones to extend sympathy to a group they don’t understand. We’re hearing lots of words about the hate that fueled the attack, and more calls for gun control, but not enough words of Love.

The LGBT community is reeling in shock and trauma right now, and the beautiful people in it deserve our compassion, concern, and endless prayers for peace.

While we may not always share the same experiences as our neighbors,  every single person alive is called to be an ambassador of Love.

“Chai” means life. It’s a gift that was given freely to all of us. And it is meant to be cherished, honored, and preserved.

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

-Mark 12:31

Election Conversation

Election Conversation

Photo by Michael Browning, www.unsplash.com.

My goodness the candidates and pundits are busy these days. The election conversation just never ends. TV, social media, magazines, newspapers – everyone is putting in their two cents. It has never been easier to promote your point of view, or to ask questions intended to make someone else defend or reconsider theirs.

People like to say that this election year is “the worst,” and in some ways, it just might be. The characters are sure colorful, and the mudslinging seems to be getting worse every day. But then again, my own personal history reminds me that division along political lines is nothing new, and it often becomes ugly because arrogance and self-righteousness run deep in our human hearts.

Around 8 a.m. on November 8, 2000, I went to my voting precinct in Arlington, Virginia. There were, of course, many candidates on the ballot that day, but two were attracting the lion’s share of attention. Bush. And Gore.

The line to the precinct door snaked around the side of the building and then back and forth in gentle curves like a fat roll of ribbon candy. I got in line and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be there for awhile.

About 10 minutes into my wait, I somehow started chatting with the elderly black woman in front of me. She was a beautiful, petite woman with salt-and-pepper hair, bright eyes, and an easy laugh. We talked nonstop for at least 30 minutes about where we’d grown up and our current lives in Northern Virginia. Naturally, she told me all about her grandchildren, and I could see how proud she was. I felt a deep enough kinship with this sweet woman, that when we ascended the steep steps leading into the building, I was perfectly comfortable encouraging her to be careful.

A yard or so from the precinct door, she looked at me with an earnest smile and said, “So I guess you’re voting for Gore.”

“Uhm, no actually,” I replied.

Her eyes grew wide. She seemed startled.

Then, she turned away from me.

As she squared her shoulders and faced the front, I heard her murmur under her breath, “I thought you were nice.”

I stood there – stunned and uneasy – for the next few minutes until we were finally admitted and each assigned a voting booth.

At the time, I worked for the Close Up Foundation, a nonpartisan civic education group, and I wrote books about federal policy for high school students. Our texts were designed to encourage young minds to think about issues from myriad points of view before forming political opinions. From that experience, I learned that issues are not simple. There are no easy answers. And NO candidate is a perfect choice. We all do the best we can with the small minds and limited information we have, and the experiences that form our consciences.

At Close Up, I worked with many people whose political opinions differed from mine, and a few of them became beloved friends.

Because when you live in close proximity to others and take the time to listen – really listen – to their stories, it’s nearly impossible to develop resentment and hatred toward them.

If we think we know more than the next person…

If we think we have perfect solutions…

If we think ‘our guy’ is going to make everything better…

then we are arrogant.

And we are wrong.

“Those people” – the ones I don’t hang out with – the ones who seem different from me – God made them, and loves them, and has called me to serve them with His Love.

So before I enter into another tense conversation, before I send that snarky email or post an incendiary link, I’m going to think…

What does Love require of me?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” 

-John 13:34

My Facebook Problem

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2009 was the year. I signed on to Facebook and so did just about everyone else I knew. It seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork. Men and women from high school, college, jobs I’d had, and my community, all became ‘Friends.’ It was nifty really, to find that despite all of the dreaming, planning, and working we’d done, we had similar lives. In essence, we all cared about the same things.

Like most people, I typically only post good stuff on Facebook. Or the things in my life for which prayer or consolation are appropriate. I hope they are events that my ‘Friends’ see as relevant and noteworthy, because we all want to find that others relate to us. But we don’t need to share everything. No one wants to see dog vomit, right?

Several years ago, my dad asked me how many ‘Friends,’ I had. When I answered, he probed a bit.

“Do you actually know all of them?”

I told him, “Yes. Or I knew them fairly well at some point in my life.”

That all changed sometime in the last couple years, because now I have ‘Friends’ of Friends. They are people I have minimal knowledge of. People who really don’t know me. You probably have some ‘Friends’ of the same sort.

If, in real life, I would usually have no idea that ‘Jen So-and-so’ vacations in the Caribbean twice every year, why in the world am I spending time viewing photos of her beachy getaways? And if ‘Dave What’s-his-name’ has political opinions that unnerve me, why am I allowing his caustic comments to get under my skin? I have learned to switch my news feed settings, but there is A LOT of stuff out there that doesn’t pertain – in any way – to me.

I justify my time on Facebook by acknowledging its value. There is useful information that helps my writing and guides my reading. And if it weren’t for this social medium I wouldn’t have known that an old, dear friend lost her niece to suicide, or that the prayers of thousands are helping to heal another friend’s husband – a Marine who was gravely injured overseas. I want to know what’s going on, and if I can contribute something worthwhile to my friends’ lives, however remote they might be.

But instead, I am sucked in by catchy (though not original) everyday truths about coffee, friendship, parenting, or the mourning process. ‘LIKE’ and Repost if You Agree!

Last week, I shared my woes with a friend. A “real-life” “in-the-flesh” “we met for coffee” friend. Together we renewed our vow to only look at Facebook at certain times and for certain reasons (mine having to do with participation in a writer’s group). My efforts have been valiant, but I am still not following through on that promise. I have wasted time – scrolling.

This morning, the Word spoke to me loudly.

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.

-Ephesians 6:10

As a Christ follower, I have been made a new creation and given the enormous power of the Holy Spirit to overcome my flesh, which is prone to stray from the abundant life that He has envisioned for me. If I’m struggling in my inner battle, it’s because I have NOT relied on Him.

This life is a concrete, physical life – NOT a virtual one. God designed it that way. He gave me, you, and all my ‘Friends,’  bodies with which to taste, touch, smell, hear and see the physical world. In these ways, we can truly experience the richness of life, and by extension, the richness of Him.

Lord, renew me today. Help me to dispense with the wasted time I spend dabbling in worldly chatter – which I KNOW diverges from the fullness I have in You.

 

No Punching

“NO!” I yelled, a bit too forcefully. “That is NOT funny.”

I turned to face my little boy, whose eyes grew large with trepidation.

“We DON’T say things like that. We DON’T do that. EVER. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mommy. I’m sorry, Mommy.”

Admittedly, I was only half-listening moments earlier when he was telling me about a kid in his class who had been annoying him that day. He was reenacting the schoolroom scene with typical little kid smiles and giggles, and fantasizing about how he could respond, when suddenly he said, “And then I’d punch him in the face.”

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I try not to overreact to my kids being kids. But when a line is crossed, I want them to know they’ve crossed it, and violence is NOT funny. Left unchecked, childish dreams of handling situations with fists can slowly and subtly become acceptable possibilities. And until I can have rational discussions with them about self-defense and what might constitute a “just” war, they need to know that hitting someone is not OK. They need to learn self-control.

That said, I probably overreacted because I’m feeling a bit raw.

I don’t want to wade too far into political talk, here. I am not versed in government theory and feel rather inadequate amidst political discussions. But I do vote and therefore believe it is my responsibility to stay reasonably informed about issues affecting my community, state, and nation, and I have to say that this year I am more disheartened than ever before.

It all came to a head last night when I saw a clip of Donald Trump at a Nevada rally saying he would like to punch a protester. ‘I can’t believe this,’ I thought. ‘I just dealt with this here in my kitchen 4 days ago!!!’

Some would say Trump was just speaking off the cuff and didn’t really mean it, but I’m teaching my kids to mean what they say and – call me idealistic or overly-sensitive – I expect the same from a presidential candidate. This man’s behavior is decidedly un-presidential. It is childish.

Don’t think for a second I’m letting the other candidates off the hook. I’m falling back on my values of hard work, honesty, fairness, generosity, freedom, and goodwill to all people – regardless of age, race, gender, religion, income, or status – and I’m not finding anyone who should get my vote without me significantly compromising on the ideas I’m trying to instill in the 3 members of the future generation who live in my home. Instead, I see candidates who are appealing to an angry nation. And this is an even bigger problem.

People are angry. And under that anger, lies fear. Fear of the future. Of new laws. Of old laws being revised. Of new people. Of protected people becoming unprotected. The list goes on and on. As a nation, we are fearful of change – change in any direction.

Where do fear and anger reside? In the heart.

And what is the remedy? Divine intervention.

Scripture resonates with one message more than any other, and it is this: BE NOT AFRAID.

Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God.

I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.  

-Isaiah 41:10

To find peace – freedom from fear and anger – it is up to each one of us to recognize that we are not in control. That we don’t even dictate the beating of our own hearts. That there is Something greater.

In recognizing this, we become aware. We develop an appropriate perspective. We become “right sized” in relation to this Greater Power, and we see the same relationship between other people and this Power as well.

The experience is humbling. It is also enriching. Because no longer do we look to other people as our saviors. Or our servants.

The uneasy truth of this life is that people – ALL people we will ever know – will let us down. Only the Something Greater – Someone Greater – could not.

Only a perfect God could promise that He would strengthen us, provide for us, and protect us. And the only way to really know Him, is to allow Him in.

“Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”

-Revelation 3:20

How do we know that we’ve really allowed God into our hearts? No amount of adherence to earthly laws can confirm it. The evidence is found in the yield of our lives.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy….[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.

-Galatians 5:19-26

If we reap what we sow, we get what we deserve. And the roster of candidates represents our fruit.

Shame on us.

It is time to once again open wide the doors of our hearts. To humble ourselves and connect with Perfection. And to ask that He will forgive our failings and renew us – each of us – as individuals – once again.

 

For another article on Christian responsibility to critically view candidates positions, consider this:

Before Donald Trump, the sad history of when Christians anointed another political bully

Holy Moments – Day 22 – Dawning Light

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“Mommy – What does ISIS stand for?”

Her blue eyes peeked out at me from behind her purple bedspread. It was time to turn out the light. Not the time to launch into a discussion like this. And what did she mean “stand for?” I took the literal route.

“ISIS is an acronym. The letters I-S-I-S are short for the longer name of a group calling itself the Islamic State.”

“Some boys on the playground were talking about it and what they did in Paris.”

“Hmm.” My mind reeled. What did she know? I didn’t want her to worry. We work so hard to keep her safe, happy, carefree…

I asked her what she’d heard and it was just vague details about attacks. She’d heard of Islam, so we discussed the fact that there are people in all religions who can become extreme and bend their views into hatred of others who have different faiths. I stressed that this is wrong, that God loves every person, that He created every single one.

“Will they come here?”

“There are people in our government and all over the world working very hard to protect us.”

“We’ll be warned, right? And we can run to our house and lock all the doors. Do we know what they look like?”

“Some of them. But it’s more like we’re watching their emails and telephone calls. Get some sleep, ok? I love you.”

Oh, Lord. I couldn’t tell her the whole truth….What do they look like?

They look like my friend from middle school – Mary – whose mother was Syrian and father was Lebanese. They look like guys I dated in high school and college – Italian. They look like the Greek guy at the deli around the corner from my office building in New York City. And they look like Zaidan – the Lebanese gentleman I worked with for years at a nonprofit civic education group in Washington, DC, where our mission was to encourage young people to participate in the democratic process.

What do they look like?  They look like us. And what’s on the outside has nothing to do with it. 

My daughter’s questions, posed on the first day of the week, led to 6 days of soul searching, long-bouts of reading articles on Facebook, and a general unease. I wanted to say something about this historical moment. But what?

On Saturday, as my daughter and I were listening to Christian radio and she was singing her little heart out, she gave me more to chew on…

“I want to sing a song for the talent show later this year, but if I choose one of these, I’m afraid everyone will laugh at me or think I’m weird.”

It wasn’t bedtime. It was time to dig deep. I’ll spare you the details of that discussion. But as I tried to bolster her spirit for a lifelong journey of faith, I was also coaching myself. In a time like this, when the world feels akimbo, maybe it’s appropriate to get out a wrench and tighten up the nuts and bolts.

All of the events of the last week have reminded me that choosing to walk through the narrow gate is never easy. It requires a daily commitment, a re-surrendering of my will to God’s will, because for me and for most of us, the natural instinct is to “run to our hous[es] and lock all the doors.” The world is quite frightening, and the Lord’s commands aren’t easy either. If we truly try to follow any one of Jesus Christ’s teachings we quickly find that he was, in every sense, radical.

But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who hurt you, pray for those who mistreat you.” – Luke 6:27-28

ISIS is no exception to this command. Each terrorist deserves God’s mercy as much as we do – which is not at all – and still God offers it, freely. Yet, how often do we hear prayers for our enemies from our altars? How often do we pray for them as we close our eyes and ask for protection?

Every time I publish a blog piece, I expose myself as a believer. I wonder sometimes how much of a risk I’m taking in proclaiming the Bible as Truth. I remember that Christ’s message was not one of perpetual comfort in this life, but of eternal peace in the next.

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.”  – Luke 12:4

If anyone proved the veracity of this statement, it is Jesus himself, for if we do not believe in the truth of the Resurrection – the Son of Man literally brought back to life and walking the earth in his flesh and blood – we are not truly Christians. And the power Christ invoked is the same power promised to those who love Him.

I pray…that you will know what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead… – Ephesians 1:18-20

If I could say only one more thing to my daughter, it would be the one thing Jesus says most often: “Don’t be afraid.” And this is not some self-help advice meant to puff up her ego. NO. Why? Because God never meant us to face our fear alone. From the Old Testament to the New, scripture is consistent on this – there is no place we can go to escape God’s loving presence, and He wants us to call on Him. When we admit our need for Him, he is endlessly forgiving of our failures – of our desire be self-sufficient and to ‘go it alone,’ of our judgments and anger toward our enemies, of our hiding from His power, of our foregoing His assistance, and of our acting as if He doesn’t exist. He stands ready at all times, offering us the safety of His eternal love. We need only to surrender to Him again. 

Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too. If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, Even there your right hand hold me fast. – Psalm 139: 7-10

I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, I ‘will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. – Psalm 32:5

Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:8

As I have told my daughter, sometimes carrying this message of hope will make me unpopular. But I remember these words of Christ as well, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.” (John 15:18). Knowing that He is with me always and experiencing His powerful love has created within me an unshakable joy and peace that is more than enough to get me through the tough moments. See, I can only serve one master, and I learned some time ago that serving myself is a dead end.