A Bright Sadness

The next topic in my diving deep blog series is replacing unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones. Before I write about healthy thoughts, I am pausing to reflect on the unhealthy events of the past two weeks. Today my thoughts are dark and sad.

I believe her. It took a lot of courage to come forward. She had no reason to lie about what happened at a party 36 years ago. It saddens me that people ridicule and vilify her when she tried to do the right thing for the country.

Sometimes it seems like the wicked always win. When you believe in truth, it’s discouraging to see powerful men bury it. When you love justice, it’s discouraging to see powerful people thwart it. When you love mercy, it’s painful to see fellow citizens mercilessly attack a woman who made herself vulnerable.

The man chosen to sit on the highest court is already drunk with power. The ends do not justify the means. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?

I lift my eyes to the Higher Court, to the arbiter of justice and mercy. Every person who perverts truth and justice in the pursuit of power will be held accountable to God.

So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. – Matthew 10:26

When I read Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, I was intrigued by his chapter on A Bright Sadness. A bright sadness is Rohr’s description of the quality of delightful older people who have the capacity to hold both the good and the bad “creatively and with less anxiety” than those who have not reached that level of spiritual maturity.

I am trying desperately in these dark times to achieve that bright sadness. Deep pain and intense joy can coexist. I feel them both: sorrow for the broken world I live in and the joy and hope of the Lord.

I take refuge in the Lord, the one who examines each of us and knows what’s in our hearts. For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice. Someday I will see his face.

Psalm 11

In the Lord I take refuge.
    How then can you say to me:
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
    they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
    at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
    his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
    but the wicked, those who love violence,
    he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
    fiery coals and burning sulfur;
    a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the Lord is righteous,
    he loves justice;
    the upright will see his face.

 

Worn out shoes

When I saw the story on the internet about the taped, beat-up looking shoes that Nordstrom’s sells for $530, it brought back a memory of a pair of honest to goodness beat up shoes I wore when I was 10 years old. I’ve worn and worn out a lot of shoes in my life time; the only reason I remember that pair is that I wore them to school on the play day at the end of the year and they fell apart as I ran a three-legged race. I don’t remember if I taped my sneakers after they were torn; I just remember how hard it was to run in cheap, worn-out shoes. And embarrassing, in case anyone noticed.

When I wore my worn out shoes, I wasn’t trying to be cool. I was wearing what I had. Nowadays it isn’t unusual to see people wearing “distressed” or ripped jeans. In my day, it wasn’t trendy or fashionable to pretend your shoes or clothes were well-worn.

It’s funny the things you remember from your childhood – the things that made an impression on your young psyche.

I have other shoe memories. One of the first was of going to school in kindergarten or first grade in a pair of second-hand tap-dance shoes; I wasn’t a dancer, I just needed shoes for school and that’s what my mom bought for me. I remember a pair of oxfords that I wore with my Brownie dress – that was a good memory. I remember the white go go boots I got for Christmas in the 5th grade; I loved them. And I remember the pair of shoes my mom bought at a popular classmate’s family garage sale. I liked the shoes but cringed at the thought that she might recognize her used shoes and say something to embarrass me.

People are understandably disgusted with the $530 beat up shoes because this “fashion” statement is insensitive to people who have no choice but to wear clothes or shoes that are genuinely distressed and worn-out. People who are poor do not get to make fashion choices. They get to choose between food and rent and gas to get to work.

Who is crazy enough to spend $530 for a pair of dirty, taped up sneakers? Evidently, a lot of people – a lot of shallow, self-indulgent people. I know this is a judgmental statement to make. People have a right to spend their money any way they choose – they certainly don’t need my approval. But the choices people make – even about what to wear – says a lot about their values.

I am an accountant. I know $$. Where is the value in spending $530 for a pair of beat-up looking shoes you could buy for $30 or $50 and wear out for real (by walking and running and living in them for goodness sake!)? The value of these shoes – the reason Golden Goose can charge a ridiculous amount of money for ugly shoes – is the value people place on impressing other people.

Your fake worn-out Golden Goose shoes? That don’t impress me much.

When you strip off all the pretense that money can buy, what is left? Our value as human beings is not based on what we wear; our value comes from who we are on the inside. Do we care about other people? Are we kind and patient and forgiving?

We are all born naked into this world, but each of us is fully clothed in potential. – Emmitt Smith

I have misjudged a lot of people in my life. One is the girl who I thought would judge me if I wore her used shoes. As an adult, I’ve gotten to know her (another Cathy) better. She is one of the most empathetic people I know. She has walked a mile in my worn out shoes and I love her for it!

👟👟👟👟👟

Photo credit: USA Today (link above)

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Lord’s Whistle

At my church, we sing a prayer of illumination before the sermon asking God to make us receptive to the message he wants us to hear. Sometimes as I listen to the sermon, especially if I pick up on subtleties, I wonder how the message is received by others. Do they hear God’s whistle?

What I’m calling God’s whistle is a message from God that can only be heard by people who are receptive to hearing his voice. God whistles to his children to gather us in.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

A pastor is to be like a shepherd, helping and feeding the Lord’s sheep. Some pastors are false teachers who lead the flock astray. For pastors who are genuinely committed to following Jesus, it must be difficult to lead people who have fallen under the influence of deceptive, misleading voices. A pastor may have to be very subtle to get God’s message across to those who have been led astray.

A member of my church who is also a professor of theology delivered the sermon while our pastor was on a mission trip. He preached about the Hebrew word for the sin of rebelliousness against God, pesha. Dave said that among all religions, Christianity should be the most realistic about sin. Christians should call what is evil evil and what is good good. We should celebrate what is good and push back against evil. Christians today do not speak out against sin as they once did.

As Dr. Dave pointed out, we all sin and should focus our attention on our own sinfulness and not on the sin of others. After all, Jesus said, “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It is difficult to speak out against sin because no one wants to be accused of being judgmental. But if we don’t speak out against evil, our silence sends the message that abhorrent behavior is acceptable.

It especially saddens me when Christians refuse to speak out against hate in all its forms. Silence in the face of evil is sinful. When we speak out against bigotry, racism, and other sins that harm others, we are being obedient to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident, said this:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

Dr. Dave said that pesha is crossing boundaries – the boundaries that God placed on our behavior so that we could enjoy a healthy relationship with God and with others. He said that when wicked people are in power, pesha increases. Those who rebel against God have no fear of God. They do not submit to God’s authority. They selfishly assert themselves against God and his boundaries. They are hotheaded and angry.

When I heard Dr. Dave’s message, I hoped that those who have turned a blind eye to wickedness would hear God’s whistle. God has shown us what is good. When we see behavior that is evil, we should speak up. Watch out for wicked people in power who have crossed God’s boundaries.

Let us be strong, courageous, and obedient. Call what is evil evil. Call what is good good. Hate is evil. Love is good. If you hear God’s whistle, you know this. Fighting is evil. Peacefulness is good. If you hear the good Lord’s voice, you know this. Lies are evil. Truth is good. If you hear God’s voice, you know this.

A Man of Lawlessness Revealed

Several weeks ago when I read 2 Thessalonians, the words hit me like an omen. At the time the apostle Paul wrote this letter, around A.D. 51, many people in the church thought that the second coming of Christ was imminent. Paul wrote telling them not to be too unsettled or alarmed. The second coming would not happen, he wrote, “until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” Since I last read this letter, I have seen a man of lawlessness revealed and I have to admit it is unsettling.

Paul said that the man of lawlessness “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” While I have not literally seen this man set himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God, I have seen the power he has over the so-called church. His support among the religious is astonishing because he is the antithesis of Jesus. When 80% of self-identified “evangelicals” voted for him, it became clear that an evangelical is no longer one who spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have witnessed the rise of a man who exalts himself over all others, either by shamelessly bragging about himself or by mercilessly tearing others down. He is known for his out-sized ego, by a malignant form of narcissism. He doesn’t even have the humility to recognize the sovereignty of God and to ask God for forgiveness. Why should he? He is a god unto himself.

I do not seek signs of the second coming of Christ. Jesus said that no one knows when that day will come except the Father. But Jesus also warned his disciples to watch out for deceivers. I have been on guard against this one from the beginning.

When I read Paul’s description of the coming of the lawless one, also called the man of iniquity or the man of sin in other translations, it felt like déjà vu. Here’s the NIV translation of 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

The lawless one will use all the ways that wickedness deceives. A man of iniquity uses slander and propaganda and conspiracy theories to fool his supporters. He tells lies that are easily proven to be untrue. He wages a battle against truth by calling those who expose his lies “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” In reality, he hates the free press because it does not serve the lie.

According to Paul, the lawless one will use signs and wonders, portents of falsehood, that serve the lie. A man of iniquity plays on the fears and vulnerabilities and prejudices of his followers. He claims to be the only one who can solve their problems. He tells his followers that they are victims of the enemy. He makes them fear and resent foreigners and people who practice other religions. He even preys on their sense of patriotism even as he betrays his country.

I have seen a man of iniquity revealed. He opposes the Jesus creed: the command to love the Lord your God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself. This lawless one is the enemy of civility, common decency, kindness, gentleness, and peacefulness. In him, I see clearly the working of Satan with all his powers of darkness: racism, xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny. He is Satan’s little-handed helper.

I was absolutely gobsmacked after the election. How did an amoral man manage to deceive millions of people when his lies are so patently obvious? According to Paul, people will be deceived by the lawless one because they don’t love the truth. They have no place in their hearts for truth. Like the lawless one, they delight in wickedness. They are the kind of people John wrote about.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. – John 3: 19-20

It is difficult for me to read that God sends a powerful delusion so that the people will believe what is false. So I have to look beyond what I can see and put my trust in God’s greater purpose.

The unlikely rise to power of a lawless reality star turned politician may or may not be the fulfillment of prophesy. But it is an invitation to a dress rehearsal for the coming of the Lord. Put on the full armor of God and take a stand against evil.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-18

For those of us who have been called to follow Jesus, the message of 2 Thessalonians 2 is to be prepared. Be steadfast in your faith. The Lord is to be trusted. He will strengthen you and protect you from evil.

 

Love Foreigners as Yourself

The current immigration crisis has really exposed people for the heartless hypocrites they are. What a hypocrite Jeff Sessions was to use Romans 13 to excuse this administration’s immoral and inhumane immigration policies. Sessions completely misses the heart of the gospel. For those who claim to worship God, there is no greater authority than God who said, love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Keep my decrees.

When one of the pages I follow listed Bible verses that specifically address how immigrants should be treated, a guy who can’t spell said this:

“I think no one who written that had expected this super-massive inmigration crysis. This applies for a normal inmigration status, but not for an invasion, because that’s not one or two inmigrants, that’s just a non declared invasion. Wake up.”

What made this guy think he can interpret God’s word better than Moses? Did he go back in time and take a head count of the number of immigrants?

Wake up yourself, you fool.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:34

I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking about the children separated from their parents at the border. I cried and I prayed that God would protect them.

I thought about a comment I heard yesterday on K-Love radio about a child being the greatest gift God gives us. How inhumane it is that our government thinks it is just to take a child from the parents God entrusted with caring for them. How heartbreaking it is for the caregivers who cannot comfort them.

I thought about the business trip I took to New York when I saw the Statue of Liberty from a distance. It stands as an enduring symbol of this nation’s history of welcoming immigrants. “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The New Colossus (Emma Lazarus, 1883)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I just heard King Trump say that we’re going to move to a system of merit not luck or happenstance. I wish that he could walk even one mile in the shoes of the mothers and fathers who came to the border of this country seeking asylum. The luck belongs to those of us who were born here. I wish that Trump knew what God’s grace is. None of us merits God’s mercy.

I will end with this verse from Romans 14. It brings me comfort to know that God is watching. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.