Friday, July 18, 2014

¿Qué haría Jesús?

Because I'm easily baited, and never afraid to be an easy target...

IF thousands of homeless, destitute, unskilled, "un-Jesused" people were fleeing a country in which daily they were plagued by war, sub-sub-standard or no medical care, poverty, persecution, and a murder rate that makes a certain American city's Fourth of July weekend look pedestrian, what would Jesus do?

Jesus would help them. It's just that simple. Here's a lesson from history:

About 2000 years ago, the Jewish population was looking for a hero. They read the prophecies; they knew the timing was right. And they were desperate. Once again, they were not free to populate their own land and carry on with their own affairs as they saw fit. Though they were not slaves in the sense they had been in Israel, they paid taxes to a corrupt government, and were subject to laws beside the ones their God had given them. These were God's Chosen, and yet, they feared deadly persecution, harassment, corruption of their children by Roman ways, and a general disrespect and disregard for all they honored and believed. Though they were on their home turf, they were "the Visitors."

God sent a Rescuer, a Redeemer, a Savior. I think you know the rest of the story. They collaborated with the Romans and others, to murder Him. This Savior did not want to release them from the bondage they recognized; this Redeemer wanted to release them from the bondage of their own making, the bondage in which their hearts were captive. They didn't want to hear it. "Do what we want. Do things the way we want it done. We want it all, and we want it now!" They were too selfish to realize that, even through the cruel death with which they sentenced Him, Jesus was saving them.

So, would Jesus help them? Absolutely. Would He help them cross the border illegally? Nope. Would He help them steal from someone else to gain what they want? Nope. Would He release them from a life of poverty and corruption so they could be happy? Yes, and no. Just like the Jews circa AD30, He would release them from the grip of poverty and corruption, without necessarily releasing them from the scenario.

Christian proselytes sit in jail cells all across the world. Are they behind the bars of a cell, but still free? Absolutely. Christians suffer everyday with cancer, ALS, physical disabilities, poverty, and abuse. Captives? Nope. Free, in a difficult situation? Yep. It's a crappy, broken world. If Jesus had released the Jews from Rome, what would they have gained? In a crappy, broken world, they would have simply lived until their next struggle tormented them and threw them into despair -- or coerced them into illegally crossing a border. Jesus' redemption yields far more than that -- the ability to live victoriously in a crappy, broken world because He has proven our lives are not only eternal, but so much more than this!

I'm not evading. I'm getting to it. If you are asking me, "What would Jesus do about the thousands of children streaming across America's unprotected borders, and therefore, what example should we follow?' my answer is this: We should be as compassionate as possible. We should be as Christlike as possible. We should take them in. We should offer our homes. But we have already proven -- with our "own children" -- that we cannot. will not. They should be processed, and subjected to our laws, and made to learn English, and pledge their allegiance, and pay taxes, and do all the things we Americans must do, and gain all the rights we Americans have. But we have already proven -- with our own citizens -- that only certain people pay taxes, and must know our language, and are subject to our laws, and have rights.

Luke 6:42 says,

" How can you think of saying, 'Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can't see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye."

This doesn't mean we have to be perfect before we help others -- that would be the opposite of what Jesus is instructing. In our imperfection, He uses us to help others who are just like us. But we cannot help someone addicted to alcohol if we, too are addicted. We cannot pay someone's way out of debt, if we, too are strapped to the hilt. Likewise, we cannot help these people out of corruption until we clean up our own. We cannot help these people out of poverty until we feed our own children.

What would Jesus do? Jesus can and would do it all -- He was perfect. No sin. No debt. No disabilities. But we are not Jesus. Heck, I'm not even sure we're a "Christian nation" anymore. And we can't emulate someone we don't even recognize.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jury Doodie

"All jurors, please report..." the recording droned. All. As in, standbys, high numbers, low numbers, rescheduled -- the whole shmegegge. And we did. All at once. Converging on the top deck of the parking garage like locusts in Egypt. I don't think locusts know how to drive in reverse either. After assuming the role of the jerk that zips past everyone, and takes the first spot available, and actually makes it in a single back-up (primarily because I am not on the phone), and doesn't cause a complete bottleneck doing it, and actually follows the directions the guard is spouting off as we walk by (once again, primarily because I am not on the phone), and holds the door as if I am not the only person remaining on Earth, and forms a line away from the revolving door, so people coming in don't get taken out by it, and completely empties my pockets as I was instructed to do the first time (primarily because I am not on the phone), I find my way to the jury lounge. ("Are you looking for 118?" another juror asks. "Yes," I reply. "Well, all these rooms here are 'G's.'" "Oh, OK. That means we're on the Ground Floor; we have to go up one," I reply. "Do you think that's what it is?" she says. We were not off to a great start.)

By my estimate, the jury lounge must accommodate four hundred jurors, and still they brought out the plastic chairs usually found in hospital cafeterias. These they placed around the perimeter and in any vacant spot they could find. Worldwide, canned sardines were Tweeting about their elbow room. #jurylounge  There's never a Fire Marshall when you need one. During orientation, they actually mentioned the possibility of evacuating in the event of an emergency. "Court officer will lead you...stay calm...listen for instructions...orderly fashion..." I thought, these people will stampede like charged cattle! You obviously haven't seen what goes on atop the parking garage!

I chose a seemingly benign older gentleman by which to sit. I've never had much luck with jury duty. On one occasion I ran into an old neighbor who assumed we could just "pick up where we left off," despite not having seen one another in about twenty years. Once you've talked about the neighbors on the other side of you, and the ones across the street, and the one on the street behind you, and reminisced about the big flood of 1971, your relationship has pretty much fizzled like a damp Fourth of July sparkler. On another occasion, it was a guy I'd barely known who figured we'd share a foxhole and "keep all the other weirdos at bay." He was the type of weirdo I was trying to keep away; I'm not quite sure what his plan was. So, this quiet, unassuming gentleman looked good for the duration. Two seats to my left was a woman, probably in her late thirties, early forties with a perfect pedicure, great hair, a cheery coral skirt and adorable strappy sandals. We could probably not kill one another before lunch. That is, until Chadds Ford housewife came and eased herself between us. In all fairness, though, to CFH (that's Chadds Ford Hou-- you get the picture), she didn't chat, she didn't complain, she didn't ask stupid questions -- and just for the record, there is such a thing as a stupid question; spend any amount of time with the public en masse, you'll know I'm right! But, it seemed as though this wasn't going to be one of those agonizing, mentally exhausting days, where you spend most of the day trying to decide between suicide and homicide.

As Kelly and Michael chatted it up in the background and Rachael Ray assaulted my common sense, I sat there praying that, after two changes of clothes and countless handwashings, no one could smell the clinging aftermath of Tinkerbell's early morning altercation with a skunk. Although, I'm pretty sure it was more of a first round knockout than anything else. But, you know Emily Post's perfume guidelines: "Do not over apply. If you can smell it, others can smell it." Oh, and could I smell it. I began to feel sorry for Benign Guy beside me. At some point, he even scooted his chair a bit away from me.

So, it was time for the questionnaire. This is a tool used by attorneys to eliminate possible jurors in the initial process. Sixteen questions, and I've watched Academy Awards that crush this operation in brevity. The nice part, the part I took completely for granted at the time, was that no one had any questions. Perhaps this was because the judge who was reviewing the questions beat the life out of them until there was absolutely no room for speculation. Perhaps this was because inquiring minds had not yet finished their coffees. But the best was yet to come.

After the questionnaires were completed and passed to the left of the row, a la grade school, the judge gave a little talk on our responsibilities as jurors, what we could expect for our next several hours as county chattel, the fabulous remuneration we would receive, and the needs of the court specific to the day. "If you have any concerns for hardship regarding a case for which you have been chosen, the sitting judge will handle them before voir dire. I cannot answer specific questions about hardship because I do not know how long a specific case will take and how long your services will be required." And that, Folks, was the opening of the floodgates and the liberation of the torrent:

"I'm scheduled to travel on Saturday. Do you think that will be an issue?"

"I have a doctor's appointment this week? Do you think I should reschedule?"

"Will we be home for Christmas?" OK, I made that one up, but c'mon Folks! What part of "I do not know" or "I cannot say" is so beyond the grasp of simple adult reason? How is this man to determine your circumstances four days from now, when he cannot even say you will be selected fifteen minutes from now?

I have to say, God, in His mercy scheduled me for jury duty at exactly the right time. My voice is such that in no way could I be heard or understood by anyone, had I offered even one of the thoughts that were running through my mind throughout the day. Thank God! It would have been a disaster had I been able to speak.

And, as God would have it, we were all -- each and every one of us -- dismissed immediately after lunch. Another judge came in and apologized for wasting our time. He talked about a "perfect storm" of events which caused jury selection to go from a possible three hundred jurors needed, to zero. Waste my time. Storm away! I didn't look back. I was already planning my escape from the parking garage.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It's Time the Rabbit Died

I am incensed.

So, you want to know exactly what about that is new. Well, I'm jumping on the "body image" bandwagon.

I firmly believe health and appearance are personal issues -- issues that remain and should remain between you and your Maker. Please do not mistake this with the issues of modesty or propriety -- in no way do I want to see everything your Maker gave you. Personally, I believe health is important; I don't believe that people who agree with me should be persecuted any more than people who disagree. As a matter of fact, several months ago, housewife and mother Maria Kang came under fire for attempting to motivate others to get moving and get healthy. She was accused of "fat shaming" because she called people out on their excuses for not exercising or eating properly. I agreed with her, and came under little fire myself. I never said everyone should be like Maria, and I definitely didn't say I was in any way like Maria. I did say that I have more excuses than Carter's has pills. I did say I was convicted, but not nearly enough to put down the Entenmann's. And I guess, I did say Maria was challenging people to be honest with themselves even more than she was challenging them to lead a physically healthy lifestyle. And, poor, poor Maria should have known what a terrible thing honesty really is in today's society.

Back to my ire. The Huffington Post was celebrating Corey Harrison (of Pawn Stars) for his dramatic weight loss. Kudos to Corey, but that's not what got my goat. Some celebrities have very publicly discussed their weight loss; Jennifer Hudson, for example, looks stunning and healthy. She and several other celebs were acknowledged in the photo gallery below the article about Harrison. Other celebs including LeAnn Rimes.

LeAnn Rimes. The one Huffington Post labeled "Scary Skinny" in March 2011. Then cheered in 2013 for no longer looking "alarmingly thin." Well, the Huff is cheering her again -- this time for "slimming down":

BEFORE                          AFTER

Are you seeing "scary skinny" on the right here? Are you seeing LeAnn circa 2011? 'Cause that's what I see. And now, that is a good thing? Now, that is "slimming down?" Let's ignore the fact that thirty more pounds and "AFTER" would have been labeled "INVISIBLE." Let's ignore the fact that we are holding women to an entirely different and unhealthy standard than we hold men. Let's, please, address the fact that we obviously don't even know what that standard is!

In high school, I remember taking a class in which I was taught how to properly interview for a job. "Never wear brightly colored nail polish. Use a natural shade or, no nail color at all is really preferred." I realize standards change. I realize we're talking a difference of fifteen -- twenty -- thirty years (!), but today, manicures are such a "thing", you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a nail salon. And not just a simple manicure -- tips, acrylics, gels, silks, embellishments; it's all part of the deal. Our eleven year old knows more about this nonsense than I care to know. The pressure on her to have long, luxurious, custom nails is such, that she has been begging for them for the last three birthdays or so. "Go be a kid!" We've gone from "natural" to "the more shocking the better." We have imprisoned, enslaved, inhibited, and objectified women more in the last two decades than ever. And frankly, it disgusts me.

We are forever "upping the ante." Tormenting ourselves with the idea that last year was not good enough, last week was not good enough, and we will never be good enough. Sad for us; terrifying for our daughters! This is not a simple paradigm shift. This is about social acceptance. This is about what makes us "normal" versus what makes us Amish -- or worse. One misstep in the other direction, and you're a ratchet, a ho, a skank, or any other of a plethora of names we give each other. (What do we do when we hear guys talking down another girl? Defend her? No way! We add a few more names to the books. Do you honestly think those names won't find their way to your bio at some point?) We are breeding entire generations of women who have to think about what others want rather than deciding what's best for the individual. We are teaching our daughters to seek the approval of those around them over anything else. Today's ideals of beauty and success are nothing but a rabbit, and women merely greyhounds running and chasing, never actually attaining, and left exhausted and old at the end of the race.

Ladies, the approval of our peers is such a tenuous objective. Why? Because "IN" changes with the wind, society's concept of truth is entirely relative, and not a single one of your peers is going to pay your bills because you spent your money on the latest fashions or starved yourself half to death just to look like ____.

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." ~Ephesians 5:1-2

Jesus is the Truth. Jesus is the Benchmark that does not change. Jesus is Love -- for one another, for you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Facebook: Giving Your Church a Boost?

I'm not happy about writing this, but this theme, this question keeps coming back around in discussions with friends, family, basically anyone I know who prays for others or has recently been in need of prayer:

When you need prayer, where do you go? Are the prayer warriors you know, found in your church, or do you forego the traditional list and head right for the little blue and white icon?

I have spoken in front of groups, petitioning congregations for prayer or encouraging praise for answered prayer, only to watch eyes fall to the floor, or hear the winsome chirp of crickets as my words hung out there like Wile E. Coyote, run out of cliff. I have never felt as prayed for and lifted up as I did recently, when the prayer warriors I solicited and the brothers and sisters in Christ who stood with me and for me, were intentionally sought. I grant you, I have matured in my faith, and I was much more vocal about my need for prayer and specific things that were being accomplished through prayer, but this is not only my story, but what seems to be the story of many.

I found prayer on Facebook. Now, in my case, as I am sure with others, it is difficult to define where my FB friends end and my church friends begin -- they overlap considerably. And, I know I had prayer warriors in two churches lifting me up, in addition to my FB friends. But in the past, as I said, I have solicited prayer strictly from previous church families, and have not exactly experienced the same phenomenon. As a matter of fact (and I have mentioned this before also), when I announced my daughter's departure to Army boot camp, and asked for prayer, she was repeatedly wished "good luck" after the service. One person said they would pray; not a soul offered to pray with her or me. Do not misunderstand: I am not trying to judge, but merely point out where some of our church members and, therefore, our churches have their heads these days. The folks at the firehouse wished her "good luck." The ladies at the hair salon wished her "good luck." Shouldn't our churches look different, sound different, be different?

A friend of mine, a member of her church for over ten years, and someone I consider to have a much better grip on this whole "Christian life" than I do, said to me a while back, "I'm not sure what it takes to get on the prayer list at my church, but..." Her point being, not only had she asked for prayer and felt as though her request had been ignored, but she couldn't even seem to make it on the list for people to ignore! She then followed with, "I'm just going to continue to use Facebook; I know who my prayer warriors are, and I will just seek them out."

Another friend had simply said, in reference to church prayer chains and prayer lists, "Oh, I can't be bothered with that; sometimes things change so quickly or happen so unexpectedly, I just post it on Facebook, and I know it will get handled in prayer."

And just a week or so ago, my brother and I were texting in reference to his wife's current health issues. I asked about his church's prayer chain. He said they'd left the church they had been attending, were still looking for a church that was strong but not impersonal -- "In the meantime, there's Facebook."

I said before I was not happy about writing this. I could be. I could be ecstatic if a prayer storm blew over Facebook in addition to the one blowing through our churches at any given time. I could be ecstatic if the FB prayer phenomenon was an overflow of the prayer movement bubbling and alive in our local congregations. I could be ecstatic if this was simply a life of prayer and devotion to God lived out on FB, the same as it is in our churches, our places of employment, our ball fields and grocery stores. But from what I'm hearing, none of these is the case.

Facebook has largely become an instead of, rather than an addition to. Facebook is a place to reach our "target audience" because our churches are not. On Facebook we find those who will kneel before God and faithfully intercede for us in our times of need, and will lift their faces to the Lord in gratitude and endless praise, because those who are sitting down the pew from us week after week, sadly, will not.

Scott and I have begun attending a church and from what we have seen so far, we are very hopeful. I've met some of the folks from this church who were praying for me during my illness, and in speaking to some since, I feel assured they are still praying for my continued recovery. The prayer life within our Sunday school seems vibrant and successful. It is my prayer that twenty years from now I can give the same report.

But, what about you? Where is your church in all of this? Has Facebook given your prayer life a boost, or has it given your church the boot?

Monday, July 14, 2014

What I Wish I Didn't Know About Cancer

Did you ever see something that you wish you hadn't? I don't mean like seeing your 70-something neighbor's underthings hanging on the line in her backyard, or the legion of flies that descends on a dead bird baking on a city sidewalk in the June sun. I mean something that is so momentous, maybe a bit disturbing, definitely thought-provoking, that it causes you to wonder why you were privy to the event in the first place -- so much so, that you wish you hadn't been.

A few weeks ago I had an appointment with an oncologist at a cancer treatment center. Walking in the door, I was met with one of those metal-framed signs with rolls of felt, where you jam the pegs on the back of white plastic letters in between the black folds. At diners, they usually function as a source of information for "Today's Specials," or tell you to "Please Wait to Be Seated." This one read, "Winners Enter Here," or some kind of motivational blather. The waiting room was bright, but modern, with Mainline and Shore Life magazines lying all about. They take your "mug shot" on your first visit; I assumed it was to post on some wall as a sign of success, "beating" this terrible disease. The nurse did everything but a pelvic exam and a credit check, then seated me in this comfortable little living room, decorated in French Provincial, a sanitest border, and decorative tissue boxes to match.  She gave me all the proper literature, which I promptly laid aside; "So much fuss for someone who doesn't have cancer," I thought. Despite my arrogance, I did have cancer; despite my arrogance, God blessed me with some very praiseworthy news -- no further treatment would be necessary.

As I walked to the receptionist's desk to make another appointment, my seamless getaway was impeded by an appreciably "present" man whose emotional and physical disposition consumed the entire front portion of the office. A small half-wall lay between us, and I stopped dead in my tracks to keep it there. The man walked with a cane, but even that did not lessen his obvious strength and stalwart comportment. He was, maybe, in his mid-fifties, of Middle Eastern descent, with a large build. His voice was not raised or agitated, but it too, seemed to fill this fairly spacious area. I'm certain, in his younger days he was a man who, even seated, towered over those who rode next to him on the subway; a man who expected -- and received -- consideration from employees and children under his charge; who commanded attention from complete strangers in a waiting room -- he still did! But now it seemed, for entirely different reasons. His wife was sick, and her cancer was spreading -- quickly, from what I could gather. His grief sucked all other emotion from the room, and cried out for reckoning.

What brings a man of such stature, of such ascendancy, to a place where short of weeping like a child, he is broken and capitulated before virtual strangers? What sort of insidiousness and desperation could so saturate and threaten the mountainous demeanor of a man like this, that he would seek comfort and answers from "plebeians," "mere hirelings?"

A month or so ago, as I looked over the shoulder of a doctor who was explaining to me the necessity of being immediately intubated, I saw the face of my husband. Ashen. Withered. Eyes like saucers. The face of one watching his life transform in an instant; his entire world emptying itself out like sand through fingers too numb to close. An aide touched his arm, offering him solace; he said he felt as if it was God Himself, leading him from a valley of despair toward a verdant lea of hope.

I saw it again in this man, wandering and waiting for God to "show up," and lead him to hope. As if talking about it would yield even the smallest solution. As if by struggling to understand it, he could somehow capture it, limit the carnage and decimation cancer can bring about. As if by rewinding through the last few days, or weeks could change the outcome of anything; could take him, like some cosmic flowchart, to a place quite different than where he was standing at that very moment.  As if, sooner or later, something that crossed his lips would be persuasive or embraceable in such a situation. His thoughts were rational; his vernacular, medical. He even spoke of hope and possibilities. But his emotions were flat and his spirit was empty. Terminal illness does that to people -- the people not commonly identified as "the victims," the people we know as "the surviving." Who, exactly, would opt for this kind of survival? I would guess, no one. Certainly not the man I saw before me. And my heart ached.

As he eventually noticed my presence and moved to the side to allow me a place before the window, I wanted to say, "No, please. You take all the time you need." I said, "Thank you."

As he talked and talked, and those behind the window spoke of prayer and happy thoughts, I wanted to ask, "What is your name? I'd like to pray for you." Instead, I said to the receptionist, "Anytime Monday is fine."

As I heard the grief of the present mingle with sweet memories of the past, I wanted to exchange places with him and his wife; I wanted my news to be maybe not quite so good, so theirs could be maybe not quite so bad. I quickly gathered my things and raced to my truck, wishing I'd never laid eyes on this man, and that stupid metal-framed board with its stupid motivational motto, and those dumb magazines -- as if someone with terminal cancer is waiting for her appointment and cheerily saying, "Honey, I feel like going to the wine festival this weekend." And I sobbed. Maybe torrents of tears would wash the vision away. They haven't.

I wish I had done more. I wish there was more I could do. I wish I could think of how blessed I am without thinking of how this couple is not. I wish I knew why I'd seen all that in the first place. (I mean, I pray for this couple regularly, but what's the point if I'll never know the end of their story? Or, maybe, one day I will.) But, most of all, I wish I didn't know this is not an isolated incident. I wish I didn't know that this goes on everyday, every minute of the day, all over the world. That people are dying, and people are watching them die. That the bodies of people wracked with pain, are outnumbered by the hearts of people torn to ribbons by it. I wish I didn't know that.