privilege…or choice

Privilege…or choice

this is raw, and probably going to convey both my ignorance and the ugly places in my heart. but I’m going to share it – in case anyone wants to have a dialogue. I welcome your reasoned feedback, because I am still trying to learn.

my dad had one brother. their father came home from the service and later died in a mental institution. his brother died of alcohol related illness. their step dad was an alcoholic. i’m told a neighbor took him under his wing, so to speak.

my dad was a marine in world war II. he saw the plumes from the bombs in japan. he came home and tried to make a living – he had pretty much sent all his military pay to his mom, expecting there to be something for college when he got back. sorry…

he sold farm supplies. i’m told a kind man he met along the way told him he was smart and should go to college. he asked an uncle for help – who said…NO

maybe a GI bill helped, I’m not sure.

my dad CHOSE – not to be an alcoholic.

my mom taught school – and loved more kids than you can count.

they CHOSE to love each other, they CHOSE to be kind, and they told us if we couldn’t say something nice, or constructive, to CHOOSE to not say anything at all.. and they told us we had to figure out a way to get along, as we were going to be ‘family’ for a long time…i suspect this constitutes ‘my privilege’

they CHOSE for us to work, and we chose to obey. when our hands were only big enough to carry one chicken, or 6 ears of corn, that’s how many we carried. we were allowed to work, just like the men did, but in kid-size ways. the house chores belonged to the kids. so did the run of the farm. they shared the natural abundance of running room, and the meager abundance of finance with neighbors in the country, and from the city. UNDENIABLY…this was a privilege.

my dad stuffed mailboxes – with 50$ here, or a day’s work there – for someone in need.

my mom, in all her free time, when she wasn’t canning or preserving or sewing to make ends meet, chose to champion programs at school that would provide educational, and recreational opportunities for everyone. she is still training leaders. I got to go along…i suspect this constitutes ‘my privilege’

when farming wasn’t enough, my dad got another job. and when he suspected his UPS truck carried drugs – he reported it, even though he could have lost his job, so one more kid wouldn’t be ruined.

i studied…and went to college…and applied for financial aid…and got a job. i dished spinach in the dining hall, and became friends with the rest of the crew. i, too, by some divine mercy CHOSE not to be an alcoholic

i married a man who thinks his job is a gift from God. every day since 1986 – he has chosen to get up at 5 AM, go to work, and give his employer and his family, the best of what he’s got. He feels privileged to play a stewardship role for the environment.

He chooses to pay his taxes. so do my brother, and my 2 sisters, and my brother and sister in laws. and their taxes help pay for roads, and schools, and healthcare, and food. and they hope the government will be smart about how they spend that money.

my younger sister takes care of people in need – like with depression and stuff like that. she saves their jobs, and cares for their families. She’s a CPA – go figure…i suspect she thinks that is part of her ‘privilege.’ she is also funny an plays the piano like a warrior angel – just in case the world needs a little more beauty.

my other sister manages little kid sports, and scout programs, and volunteers with habitat for humanity – in her free time. at work she handles all the finances for second language school programs and assists harried moms and teachers.

my brother supports disabled adults employment, and fundraises for MS. At work he fixes machines and problems, and takes care of his team – advocating for their health benefits. he takes wounded vets hunting, and listens to their stories. if he saw you on the street, and you were hurting, he’d pick you up. i suspect he considers that…his privilege.

my dad had white skin…he was never a slave…i suppose you can guess the rest. He made a CHOICE

 

Question to ponder:

what color is a neighbor ?

what if I started with the title, privilege…and choice? Would it read differently to you? It does to me. How does that help, or hinder the thought process?

 

jfig/2017

 

 

 

 

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Prayers in the Margins; a reflection

In her book, An Altar in the World,(1) Barbara Brown Taylor begins with a poem.

“The tender flesh itself

will be found one day

–quite surprisingly—

to be capable of receiving,

and, yes, full

capable of embracing

the searing energies of God.

Go figure. Fear not.”

Dear God, today, to whatever extent my tender, broken flesh is capable of receiving your energies, may I extend them toward the reconciliation of man and Maker; that reconciliation which invites mystery: the mystery of Gentile as neither inferior nor superior, but as ‘same’.

Mystery, indeed…

Sear, they do, these mysteries; lining the walls with question in the cathedral of one’s brain. Sear, not seethe, I implore thee. For I surmise that seething, unremitted, comes to a common, bitter end… Surely, I am not worthy to seethe, in this body of broken flesh.

May our skins look neither anemic, nor aged, alongside one another, but rather illuminated by fiery contrast, hands folded against one another. And I will love my color…and hers. I wonder if our pain is not that we sometimes hate our hue; Oppression’s ‘ other’ face.

May the tendrils of incense, one pale and one burnished prayer; entwine as they climb, reaching toward your wisdom.

May brother’s glaring weakness be bridged by my strength, and my blind spot navigated by his story’s light.

May your mercy weld the two together into faith weightier than our differences. Weighty, wise, whole in wisdom. For we ARE weak, and spoiled of flesh, without both the wisdom, and the mercy…

And , then:

“Therefore, the flesh

is not to be excluded

from the wisdom and the power

that now and ever animates

all things. His life-giving

agency is made perfect,

we are told, in weakness–

made perfect in the flesh.”

These lines taken from Scott Cairns (2) adaptation of Capable Flesh by St. Irenaeus

I am convinced that I have not the answer, and neither do you. We must go searching the answer, together. For the prisons of color and gender are not the only oppressions we bear; nor poverty, nor pain. The oppression we bear, is ‘human’; and unless we bear this cross  together, this same one borne by Christ, it will be but a ‘beating stick.’

And from the middle of the poem:

“For even at its beginning

the humble clay received

God’s art, whereby

one part became the eye,

another the ear, and yet

another this impetuous hand.”

 

And so, ‘life-giving agency’ becomes our quest. Are any of us capable, then, without first being given breath? And can we deny the life that presents right in front of us, the breathing broken… and not wonder also at its source.

jfig/11-15-2016

 

1) Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)

2)Scott Cairn, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007)

 

Blue-light Special

Little Miss Sweetness and I walk to the bus in the dark these late fall mornings. (She has never been afraid of the dark, adventuring out-of-doors at all hours when she was truly little – another story, for another time). But now cocooned by her backpack and raincoat, she would like to see that big leaf maple leavings are not flying insects, that the rain debris is not a snake underfoot. She is suspicious of little piles of decaying pinecones. She does not want to step on slugs…period. In my hand is a metallic blue flashlight. She’d like it to cast its beam about 24 inches in front of her two feet. Even though other wonders lie ahead, that in the daylight she impatiently loooongs to see, like deer and her friend Florie and the neighbor dog; in the dark of night, she is content to focus on the next step. This may seem like a subtle difference, but to one who watches her every day, it is a dramatic change in how she approaches these contrasting moments of life.

Afraid of the dark???? Me? Naaah. How frustrated we grow, with God shining his narrow beam of light on what stands right in front of us, in the way of growth, or healing, or further relationship with him. We are offended at the obstacles (I think I swore 4 times on the way down this morning.) We’d like the benefit of daylight shining on the distant FUTURE, so we know what to expect, how to guard our hearts, how to prepare.  We clutch our clumsy baggage, soggy raincoats, and attempt to muscle through the ‘discomfort’ toward a better dawn. But in fact, there are slippery slopes, downed power lines, things that would harm us if we don’t navigate carefully. God is patiently, presently, effecting His preparation in these moments. He wants us to know what is in the way of our knowing Him. He is subtly adjusting attitude, unravelling resentment, clarifying our knowledge of who He is; so we can learn how to do what He does.

Trudging back the lane after meeting the bus; the dark lingered, the rain continued. The quiet felt beautiful,  cocooned in the safety of in his Presence

Tuesday mornings…psalm of hope

The Psalms have become a refuge in the milieu of mounting prayer needs and a sense of woe. I am reminded that it is not our circumstances that will sustain joy, as circumstances change. Nor can we manipulate them entirely to our satisfaction. I’m not suggesting one just give up; but hope, sustaining, abiding hope, needs to come from a  place stronger and deeper than that. The one who can manipulate our circumstances is God…and He has done so.

Psalm 32:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let everyone who is Godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (1)

At first draft, I made a glaring typo: I will confess my transgression… singular, rather than plural. Often, I try to continue through my day, throwing off( read ignoring) my missteps and failures, only to be weighted deeper by their depressing company. Having trusted God for a long time, it is not so often glaring, overt sins that shape my struggle, nor even my tongue in public. It is subtle mutterings, attitudes of my heart, and distorted justifications of my mind. These things get in the way of any real kingdom work, effective prayers. As I finish reading this psalm, it makes me want to sing….Jesus is the answer for my trouble, my internal behavioral problems. Hallelujah! There is a Savior. He is so much better company, than my own broken thoughts. Praise his Holy name.

Jesus, today we beg your forgiveness, knowing that you welcome our sorry confession, our company. Will you brighten my countenance by your company, that I might offer YOUR hope to the world. Amen.

Psalm 32 Zondervan Study Bible NIV. Grand Rapids 1984

Tuesday mornings…extreme measures

Psalm 31:6  I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the LORD. (1)
I hate those who cling to worthless idols… This phrase caught my attention in my reading today. Hate is rather a strong word for me, but I felt deep inside the frustration of this sentiment: what a waste. Yet I sometimes look up from this ironman swim in the ocean called life, only to find myself clinging to …a worthless idol, piece of Styrofoam, or waterlogged remnant of another person’s dream, only to find that it does not float.
But I am still far out at sea… Life lately seems like perpetual hurricane season. So much so, that my usual framework of ‘trust in the Lord’ seems inadequate. When a friend encounters struggle after struggle after 5 yr struggle,  that story is repeated in the trauma experienced by a stranger, and yet again with an acquaintance with whom I chance to explore deeper; my human scale of trust starts looking for percentages. My just saying, “God is able,” even though it is grounded in firm belief that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and is able to heal; seems insufficient when one does not see healing, or progress, or growth…now. What’s wrong with my lifeboat?????
My husband and I have worked more overtime than usual the last couple years, to realign some dysfunctional patterns in our communication. By the grace of God; and with the help of some detailed teaching and the company of committed friends, we were able to make some positive changes. One pivotal evening, I had the stunning realization that all the indicators that I had been using to assess how we were doing 25 years into the journey, were worthless idols. When I reassessed using scriptural paradigms, I was overcome by the grace and goodness of God in both who my husband is, and how God had, and continues to specifically and strategically position us in each other’s lives. Obviously, that could be a much longer story, but the point is that my frame of reference was all messed up, and by clinging to it, I was making myself miserable and depressed: one soggy, sinking piece of drift.
Care help 1)  Realign assessment of the situation to match scripture. The psalms have been richly helpful in this, because they don’t dismiss honest emotion, rather step through them to the safety of God’s love and care. Whether the emotion is fear, or discouragement , or frustration, or grief, God is able to come alongside and acknowledge this emotion with us.
Deflated, or sinking trust, has also caused me to reassess how I pray for others who are in trouble. As one with absolutely no mechanical skill whatsoever, I still would like to fix things. Surely I could offer some wise words of comfort? EXTREME COMFORT, is provided by God, sometimes through us. He is the one who knows deeply and intimately the needs of another’s heart, mind, soul. I have come to rely upon these simple phrases, taken from a prayer litany written for those in need of healing:
” The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy: I(Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10. ALMIGHTY GOD, we know that this life to the full is your plan for _______. Your kingdom come, your will be done.LET NOT ONE of your plans for ______ fall to the ground unfulfilled.
Care help 2) Praying for God’s plans, ALL OF THEM; rather than my temporary fix, is powerfully more reassuring for the longterm well-being of a friend or loved one. With sustaining power behind it!
Father in heaven, we offer praise to your Holy Name. Will you establish heaven on earth in the life of our friends and family today; for those in need of extreme comfort and healing, extreme rescue form the thievery and destruction of the enemy. Let not one of your plans or purposes fall to the ground unfulfilled or forgotten. Your kingdom come!
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart by faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3: 14-21 NIV (2)
Amen
jlf/2015
(1) “Psalms 31:6 (New International Version).” Blue Letter Bible. Sowing Circle. Web. 14 Jun, 2015. <http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Psa&c=31&p=0&rl=0&t=NIV&gt;.
(2) “Ephesians 3: 14-21.” New International Version, Holy Bible. Zondervan Bible Publishers. Grand Rapids 1983

tuesday mornings…steel magnolias

Today, neath spectacular sea-blown skies, I met with an old friend to catch-up on family doings. There were some fair weather reports, mixed in with storm after storm after storm. I was reminded anew, what a frontline guerilla warrior she has been, is, and seeing the need, still asks for more. More because she knows God is faithful. More because the call to answer God-spoken needs is in her DNA.

Another friend encounters health challenges and in every other ‘update’ asks for divine appointments.  I prefer to think of these and other friends as Steel Magnolias, but as the world asks if women are really ready for combat, experience tells me that the women of God, are guerilla fighters, not because of a passion for war, or hand to hand combat, but because of a passion for God, and a passion for the people they see underneath the clouds and smoke. I see a friend who hesitates to speak before crowds, yet lays out the defining truths of God’s love in no uncertain terms. I don’t know what the garden really required when it welcomed Eve, and after 25 years of marriage I am still with God’s help, figuring out in practice what my Adam needss, but in these ‘Eves’ I see the quiet turning over of a woman’s heart to God, and him, by His Spirit fashioning hearts of great strength. Sacrifice and passion molded in His hands to change the world. Because of love.

A couple things have helped to shape my prayers recently:

My vision is cleared to see others with compassion when I am on my knees, perhaps physically, but more so, spiritually. Landing there sometimes entails a painful stripping away, but God has used it for good, both in me, and for others.

God is powerful. Though my capacity may feel small, HE can do anything. I believe this. He has infinite resources at his disposal. Most days my job is simply to bring people and their needs before him, blanketing them in his word and truth to my mediocre best on the way.

God of grace and power, YOU are here, and we behold your beauty: the beauty of utter sacrifice and depletion, and the refilling with your amazing love, that you evidenced at the cross, and that you repeat in us if we will let you. Fill us we pray, with your love that overcomes evil. Overcome evil with your good; in us, through us. Eph 4:2-9

If I must wrestle, help me to wrestle against the things that keep me from knowing and understanding you. Help me to turn my flagging energy toward loving the sinner rather than my own sense of righteousness. May my meager attempts at righteousness, serve only to mirror your glory, for righteousness comes from you alone.

Help us not to be debilitated by weariness: renew the joy of knowing you as our strength; the unity of fellowship, spouse-to-spouse, believer-to-believer; as powerful witness to others, but also to us, of who you are. The eternal sustaining nature of your being, breathe in us, as suits your purpose we pray.

God, will you bring your infinite and unmatched power to address the needs of those traumatized by life Will you supply resources, and wisdom, and understanding that will renew the life that you intend; trading poverty for riches, by your definition rather than ours? Will you push the enemy out of the way, such that your purposes will be accomplished? Will you give the thirsty living water, such that they will not thirst again? Always God we pray, as you meet needs, will you see beyond the superficial that sometimes stalls us, and speak into the hearts of your people, we pray. Amen

jlf/2015

tuesday mornings: the prayers in between…

A well-worn path runs between the cross and the tomb.  The air is permeated with the fragrance of grace.

I used to think a disciple of the Risen Christ, wouldn’t get stuck at the cross, but be out among the masses declaring jubilantly, “Christ is risen!’ I had trouble figuring out why a deeply wounded friend needed so much cross time??? But the past two years have been twilight dark, except for God repeatedly shining his light on deeply entrenched sinful attitudes in me. Their exposure has basically kept me at the foot of the cross, too weak at times to lift my head.  That and trundling back and forth to the tomb – to make sure it is still empty. Slowly, as the icons to self drop heavily away, the light has crept up. There is a lot of company along this path… there is a lot of vulnerability and quiet regard and sorrow; a shared knowing that the darkness of sin leaves a residue of pain, whether one is the sinner, or the sinned against. At times, one fills either role. But the path to the cross leads also to the tomb. It’s a journey that Jesus made; and to which we can bear witness. It is a journey I have been unable to make successfully without the company of His Spirit.

The prayers ‘in between’ are prayers of grace, founded in Christ’s journey. They are breathed to life in his sacrificial death on the cross, and burnished in power by his resurrection from the grave.  They are prayers woven amongst believers, held in the knowing that sin leaves a residue of darkness, that only Christ’s mercy and grace can dissolve. They are prayers in between earth and heaven, rising as hope’s echo from the empty tomb, and soaring away on the winds of the Spirit to fill kingdom air with God’s intentions. They are prayers that fill the holes in Nehemiah’s wall with that same intent, and guard against Satan’s. They are prayers that you and I can breathe between the utterances of Almighty God…Amen, amen, amen.

Almighty God, move in mercy and grace, to wipe away the sins of this age. Begin with me. I need you desperately to reframe my thinking, to carry me from the cross, to the grave. To show me that the tomb is, in fact, empty. Help me to believe that your power is great – even for me. That your grace is a deep well; deep enough to cover a multitude of sins.

Almighty God, move in mercy and grace, and help me to move to the nuances of that same dance. Help me to leave the judging to you. Help me to understand that every turning from sin is covered by the blood of Christ.

Almighty God, help me to guard my heart against sin, not against the sinner – so that you can use me as a vehicle of reconciliation, a conveyor of truth.

Almighty God, help me to remember what this powerful grace cost in the giving, and receiving of your Son. Help me to bear the banner of that cost, not proudly, but thankfully.

May my life bear the fragrance of your grace, a sweet aroma to those in need of you.

jlf 3/15