Empathy and Being a Voice for the Marginalized

“When are we going to have the moral courage to speak in terms other than economy…” I struggle to understand people that have lacked empathy in the face of the fear and concern of minorities and marginalized people which rose out of the recent election; people who think it’s about who won/lost. I’ve often heard it said, “Those who voted for Trump but insist they aren’t racist/sexist/etc. are really only saying that I don’t matter at all; their wealth matters more than the wellbeing of others.” If we don’t stand for something, we stand for nothing. Let us make sure we strive to maintain the innate human dignity of every person.

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

 

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Thoughts on Communion

Holy Communion… One of the definitions of communion is “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.” How much thought do you put into this tradition? More specifically, what do you think Jesus was trying to say during this dinner where he offered his bread and wine to his community?

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25

When I read these verses and think about the frame of mind Jesus had to be in, and what he must have been trying to say and teach in this experience, I believe that he had to be doing more than giving a ritual to remember him by. While we cannot, of course, understand fully any aspect of God, we can understand from scripture what Jesus must have been feeling in that moment.

Now one of the scribes had come up and heard their debate. Noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”  Mark 12:28-31

Because of these verses, I have to believe that Jesus does these things primarily for love of God and love of humanity rather than pure obedience to the Father. In his actions, he demonstrates the love for both. First, he gathers around him his disciples, the people whom he taught and loved during their time together. Here we remember that he is using the bread as a symbol for his body, and the wine as a symbol for his blood, the source of life for all living things.

First he thanks God for his “body” and then he breaks his “body” and gives it to them.  He says, “Take it, this is my body.”  He is figuratively breaking his body for his community, but soon it will literal. Then he thanks God for his “blood” and gives it to all of them to drink. He tells them that his blood will be poured out for many, but the life that blood represents? He again shares it with his community. He is symbolically showing them what will come pass… that out of love, he breaks his body and pours his blood out for others.

Of course, this has great implications for us. He does this for us, for his community. But what are we to understand from the ways in which he sacrificially loves us?

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Jesus didn’t come here just to die and be resurrected (although it’s a big deal and I am forever grateful for that). However, if such were the case, he could have done so without the teaching, the miracles, the lifetime of being fully human. The prophets foresaw what they did and Jesus fulfilled it so that he could show us how to live. To demonstrate that those who follow him do not put themselves first but rather, prioritize others. They deny themselves and carry the cross daily, a necessary attribute to follow him. This call isn’t new; we are to do what was at the heart of our covenant from the beginning. Jesus reminds us of this when he says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

Jesus lives a life that fulfills both the prophecies as well as the Law: a law of love. A law that is a call to mercy, forgiveness, repentance, relationship, and hope. A law that is good news for the poor. To be a person of humility and justice. Because we could not figure out what that looked like, he came to show us in person.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

I certainly do not want to discourage people from communion. I think it is a great tradition that is meant to recall to us not just the sacrifice made by Jesus but also to remind us of the life to which we have been called as followers of Christ. Instead of empty ritual I want to see people experience communion in such a way that their hearts are set on fire for God; that they are inspired by his example and moved to carry their cross daily.

Jean Vanier, an extraordinary man moved by God to have relationships with people who are outcasts in our time, reflects the character of Jesus who also came alongside those who were rejected by the rich, powerful and religious. Vanier created communities where people with various disabilities could live with one another while experiencing love, reedom and hope. Here is how he describes communion:

To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain. To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.”  Pg. 16, From Brokenness to Community

 

The Hope that Lies In Relationship with God

I am humbled. Truly and deeply humbled.

The faithfulness of my God even when I struggle amazes me. I wrote at one point about how God tore down everything in my life that I had built in order to lay a good foundation. This allowed everything that was built afterwards to point to God’s power to redeem; that it demonstrates not my glory but God’s.

He called me to move to Clifton and when I gave up control, He gave me a beautiful home with a faithful Christian woman that challenges, inspires and balances me.

I said no to the move from Cincinnati that I’d always wanted and stayed in a city I never loved and God transformed my heart and vision for Cincinnati; through my volunteering, classes and relationships I’ve come to see this city and her people for the beautiful love story she is.

Less than two months ago I left my job because I felt like that was what I was supposed to do. I spent time in prayer and reflection asking God to lead me. I struggled and fought, wept and submitted. I put all my trust and faith in God who I believed would show up where I had heard His promise. This gave me time to learn to rest, to learn to listen, to deepen my faith and better understand the call God put on my heart. When I was ready, He connected me to the most beautiful team of people whose mission is the same as mine; I wouldn’t have recognized that this was the ideal role for me if God hadn’t called me to leave when He did and I hadn’t responded with a yes.

Every place I thought I would feel stifled by my faith I have found instead to be full of freedom. I’ll make a lot less money and I certainly own substantially less than I used to but it turns out money and THINGS were never able to bring me joy, freedom and happiness.

This life with God is a series of contradictions; each step of the way I felt like I was sacrificing so much and on the other side I see that they were just chains being broken so I know the freedom found in this true love, in this real relationship.

The Silent Victim of Imprisonment: Children

According to alternet.org (link below) in 2013, around 2.7 million children under the age of 18 had a parent in prison or jail. In this video they quote 3 million which shouldn’t be a surprise since the prison population has been rising for decades. The tragedy that strikes here is twofold: first, that children suffer the pain of growing up parentless. Second, with our system and society the way it is, those children will then be six times more likely to enter the system themselves.

Some people might say that these men don’t deserve to see their children; perhaps those people are against rehabilitating prisoners so they can be productive members of society when released.  But what about the kids? Do you think that the “sins” of the parents should be the “sins” of the child?  And thus the “sin” of society?  Or do you think we can do better? This program that allows dads and their kids to spend time together seems like an amazing step in the right direction.

 

(AlterNet Article) http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/27-million-children-under-age-18-have-parent-prison-or-jail

(Article Video was from) http://tosavealife.com/inspiration/dads-behind-bars-hold-kids-1st-time-look-faces/

Blessings From Woman Camp

This past weekend at Woman Camp I realized I got to live out “The Great Commission” through my friendship with a woman who was the first person that I purposefully discipled and then was able to baptize. Over our time together I’ve watched her transform, taking steps of faith that deepen her relationship with God and inspire others to do the same. Now she disciples others too, and our friendship fills my heart with joy.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” Matthew 28:18-20

Sunday morning at camp, I went to the lake early to clear my mind and fill myself with His Spirit. To pray that He use this experience to speak into her heart about His relationship with her and who He is. Women began to gather for baptisms and we eventually found each other. Before we stepped into the water, three of us laid hands on her and prayed for her. As we stepped into the lake the sun was bright and reflecting off of the water. We were surrounded by the colors of fall in the trees and a bright blue sky dotted with clouds. All around us were the voices of hundreds and hundreds of women singing their worship to God; praising Him and celebrating her baptism.

I was stunned by the sensory experience of it all. I wanted to look at her and Laura (the other friend baptizing her) and encourage them to feel God’s presence in the moment, although I’m sure they did. I was overpowered. I forgot the words (and was reminded). And so we baptized her, immersing her fully in the pond. Afterwards, around the fire people hugged her and encouraged her and I felt like I should tell her anointed. I felt like it had to be tied to a verse so when I got home I sent her the verse I found that resonated most with what I was feeling in that moment:

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Corinthians 1:21-22

There were many other blessings that came out my time at Woman Camp but I wanted to write this one down. This journey with her was scary at times, it was a major investment that required sacrifice and sometimes made me question if I was capable of what was being asked of me. But my relationship with God grew from my relationship with her and I am so excited at the number of people I know who will be impacted by her testimony and discipleship.

 

Reflection Paper: Ableism

It is estimated that 15 percent of any given population has disabilities that are visible, and that percentage would climb if we were to include things that are invisible to the eye, such as mental illness. (Tataryn, 18) Yet does such a large percentage of the population get to participate fully in the society in which it finds itself? Furthermore, does the society to which these individuals belong find themselves able to benefit from what these people have to offer? When people with impairments aren’t able to participate fully in the society to which they belong they are existing in a space where ableism is defining how they are perceived and treated.

“’Ableism’ names a subtle and pervasive bias that assumes nondisabled people…are ‘normal’ and that people with disabilities represent an undesirable deviation from this norm. The disability is seen as a personal dilemma to be privately endured and we’ve placed the responsibility to adapt on the individual with the disability.” (Kujawa-Holbrook, 211) Ableism is able to seen in all sectors of society. As an example, the church I attend just announced that a sign language interpreter would now be available for the hearing impaired during one of their five services. While this is certainly a step forward, it puts a constraint on when hearing-impaired people can attend service and groups them all together, effectively segregating them from the rest of the congregation. Many of the videos posted to media by my church also do not have subtitles, so it can be challenging for a person with that kind of impairment to feel truly connected to the community.

Publicly we face many ableism challenges, particularly in Cincinnati. Often aisles and entryways are not spaced appropriately for people in wheelchairs and in downtown areas they sometimes don’t have curb cuts or ramps. Additionally, entry into buildings or the use of a bathroom is often not possible because of the older buildings and lack of updates. Usually if my family is going out, we go someplace familiar or check out the location beforehand in order to confirm it is actually wheelchair accessible. This is true of many social gathering spaces, although the growing occurrence of family restrooms is very helpful and accommodating. However, when it comes to swimming pools or entertainment parks the options can be very limiting with no way to gain access to many of the rides or amusements.

Even in politics, the issues of disability are not often discussed unless it is in relation to the elderly or soldiers. That ties it even more to the idea, as the book mentions, that “disability” is a matter of tragedy rather than circumstance. Perhaps the reason it is so little discussed is because of the challenges faced in voting. Where many without impairments complain of the difficulty of voting, the impossibility for some to potentially obtain transportation, wait in line and navigate the voting booth can be a challenge. If they have a home, they can certainly write-in, but many who are disabled by our society find themselves homeless and therefore struggle to have a political voice.

When we look at theology, it is most certainly influenced by the perspective one has biblically. Does one view God as a Creator who spoke diversity into existence and continued to create and inspire diversity in His creations, as he did when He created humankind or told Noah to preserve the diverse life He had created through the Ark? Or does their view of God tie sin to differences between people and ignore that Jesus chooses to hang out with those who the Pharisees called “unclean” over those who were “pure?” Jesus demonstrates clearly that even those whose impairments were linked to their own personal sin were not made any less human because of it or any less worthy of His love and community. Furthermore, as a community, we are called to be one another’s burden bearers in Galatians 6:2.

But the attitude we more often hear says that a person’s life choices caused them to be in the situation in which they find themselves, supporting an ableist perspective. This could be things that people sometimes attribute to character flaws instead of illness or social injustice: addiction, prison sentences for past mistakes, diabetes or an eating disorder. But even if that were the case, it doesn’t change the fact that they are as much human as you or I and equally deserving of our love and companionship. When our ministry doesn’t resemble the ministry of Christ in the way that He dined, preached and lived alongside ALL in his community, we are allowing the paradigm of ableism to carry social injustice into our ministry and potentially nullify it.

 

Works Cited

Kujawa-Holbrook, Sheryl (Ed.) & Montagno, Karen (Ed.). Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009. Print.

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

God is with those Who Mourn

I thought that this class on death would better equip me, but more often then not it highlights how ill-equipped we are to deal with death. How inadequate words are. How necessary the feeling are as you experience grief when you are the one dying or when you are the one who lives on after they’ve passed.

As I look back on past experiences with death, anger is so frequent and so stifled. Our professor says it is okay to be angry at God; that pastors or ministers often discourage it but it’s sometimes a place people have to move through.

I thought quite a bit about it and as I reflect on God’s character, I think my professor is right. As long as we take it TO God. As long as we have a dialogue with Him about what this loss means and what we do with how we are feeling and where His place in that is. Because ignoring anger doesn’t make it go away and stifling it doesn’t put out fires of that kind. However, if we tell people they can’t take their anger at God TO God, they end up taking it out on others.

Yet if we take what we are feeling TOWARDS God, TO God, how differently might things turn out? We get to pour out what we are feeling and maybe God will respond. Maybe your relationship with Him, like many that weather a storm, will be deepened.  Take for example what Mary says, which sounds like there might be a little accusation mixed in with her mourning. Yet she takes it to Jesus:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:32

How about grief? Psalm 102 is a prayer of an afflicted person who then laments to God. Here’s just a tiny peak at what that looks like:

“Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.” Psalm 102:1-4

See, I think what we see in that Bible is not that we aren’t supposed to feel the things that we feel when we mourn, but that we are supposed to feel it with God. Furthermore, I think that God is there with us in this mourning, whether we acknowledge Him or not (like the theologians I wrote about when looking at the Holocaust). I was at a lecture by Cath Livesay where she made the point that God doesn’t lose His voice, but we sometimes lose our ability or willingness to listen. You might call out for God while your heart still isn’t ready to hear what He has to say to you; just because you aren’t hearing from God doesn’t mean He isn’t with you.