Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bad News, Good News

This morning on NPR, I heard something that made my stomach turn and my heart break. Rev. Fred Phelps, a Christian minister from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas pickets military funerals, protesting homosexuality in the military. He advertises these protests, interrupting the expression of mourning these families need with his hateful messages of damnation and judgement. I do not endorse such behavior towards anyone, but the kicker is, he does this at any military funeral he can -- regardless of the sexual orientation of the soldier.

Here's a link to an article (and broadcast) about the father of one soldier who has sued Rev. Phelps for emotional distress during the last few moments he had with his son.
While I agree that Rev. Phelps has the first amendment right to speak, I am saddened by the way he has chosen to display that message.

Christians are human. We do great things and we also make mistakes. However, the Christian community has recently been represented by extremists who choose to preach a message filled with fear, hate and judgment over the hope, love and grace that I believe is really expressed in the Gospel. I am offended by this. As a human being and as a Christian, I am appalled that adults -- and especially adults who connect themselves to Christ's teachings -- willingly treat each other with such enmity and fear. In response, I find I must compare what I see my fellow Christians do with what I read in the Bible. (This decision, of course, necessitates self-reflection, too.) Below, I've placed three readings from the Gospels that I think correspond to the NPR broadcast and make me consider my own role in this world.

The following story is found in John 8:
"At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin.""

Matthew 5:4
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

From John chapter 11:
"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."

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.

Jesus wept."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Smallest Post Yet -- But Incredibly Deep Question. : )

Why is it that I have such a hard time with life transitions but my favorite seasons are Autumn and Spring (the seasons that transition us from Summer to Winter and back)?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


and Christianity.
I was thinking about creativity and Christianity the other day and these were some thoughts I kicked around:
Why is it that creativity seems so darn important to humans? Why were we made to express? To color, to pretend, to make up? What is it about us that needs -- and wants -- creativity? And, how much should creativity be a part of our work in Christianity? How much should it be a part of our lives in community? Should we, for example, be just as concerned about meeting the artistic needs of the civilization as we are about meeting their dietary needs? I'm not sure. And yet, we were created in the image of a creator. This implies we are -- at least at some level -- made to create.

Would it be ridiculous or soothing, for instance, to offer a coloring sheet and crayons along with a bowl of minestrone to a man who walks through a soup line? How about passing out that same sheet and primary-colored crayons to a congregation as part of a sermon? Or gather around the woman who's been teaching the preschool Sunday school class for the past 3 decades and hear her read a story. Any story. Does it have to be a "Bible story"? I don't think so. God is found in a plethora of places -- most of them unexpected. At least that's my opinion.

In the play Wit by Margaret Edson, the main character, Vivian Bearing, PhD is a feisty, rude, highly intelligent scholar who has been transformed by experimental drugs she's taken to kill the cancer in her body. The drugs have literally destroyed her physical and communicative capacities. Towards the end of the play (when she can do little but lie on the bed and moan) Vivian receives a rare visitor. A former professor, E.M. Ashford, DPhil, stopped by to visit Vivian in her university office and was, instead, directed to the hospital. E.M. Ashford, DPhil, has recently bought "The Runaway Bunny" for her great-grandchild and, having little else to offer, curls up with Vivian and reads her the book. It takes all of 3 minutes to finish the book, but nothing else in the production affects me as much as that moment when creativity is so freely and gently shared. E.M. Ashford, DPhil leaves with the epitaph Shakespeare wrote for his most famous character, Hamlet: "And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." (Cue me to start weeping). It is the most touching moment of the play. At the end of life -- when there is nothing else -- two humans can comfort in another's creative work. Is this moment not a representation of Emmanuel: "God with us"?

The traditional Christmas song Little Drummer Boy explores this theme of creativity connected to Christ even more specifically. A little boy stands among wealthy worshipers who've come to Jesus with "their finest gifts". The little boy, who connected to Jesus because he is "a poor boy, too", can only offer the King of kings a simple song beat out on a drum. He plays his drum -- plays his "best" in fact -- for the baby Jesus and it is at this offering that Emmanuel smiles.

Now, the fact that I revel in this completely non-realistic story (no newborn babe would smile as an 8-year-old bangs on a loud drum) may only be because I, myself, am an artist and think creativity should be important. I hope not. I, instead, have hope that God has gifted us with various ways to communicate and that by using our creativity to share, to love, to encourage and inspire, we are simultaneously pleasing and bringing Emmanuel. Inside that exchange of colors, stories, sounds, images, movements etc. is the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Googling Beautiful

I decided to google "beautiful" today. These are what I found:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sometimes I Just Can't Be the Person I Want to Be

This morning I had three voice mails on my office phone.
One of them was from a professor in our department. The other two were from this boy I've taken to church on Wednesday nights for the past five months. This kid, we'll call him James, is about 12 years old and gets into trouble almost every week. We've had discipline problems with him a lot including a couple weeks ago when he got into a fist fight with another kid. It was quickly stopped, but fighting is never good. So he (and the other kid) were not allowed to return to church the week after that.

Even though he knew that, he called me the next Wednesday and asked if I was going to pick him up. When I tried to explain that he wasn't allowed to go, he got really upset and hung up on me. He then called me back from a number that didn't show up on my caller id and proceeded to pretend that he was his cousin and threatened me with bodily harm if I didn't take him to church. While it's great that this kid wants to go to church so badly, I didn't appreciate being threatened in this way. I talked to some "real adults"/those with authority at the church, but many have been out of town or dealing with other big issues and I've not been able to actually sit down and talk with James or his family.

So the two messages on my phone this morning (from last night): 1.) "Hi Amy...Can you come pick me up for church? This is James. I'm at ____ ____ house and the phone number here is ____ ____ ____".
2.) "Amy. I'm sorry for what I did to you. Will you please come pick me up for church? The phone number is ___ ___ ____".


Then, there's "Tiffany" who (at 19) is pregnant with her second child and calling me every day to ask if I can take her to an employment agency to get a job. She doesn't have one because she got mad and walked out on her old one last week. But if I want to keep MY job, I have to be here working and not driving her around.

Then, "Mark" is a man Emily (my roommate) and I used to go to church with who had a stroke and is living in a nursing home. We haven't visited him in weeks and he's written Emily two letters describing his anxiety and sadness at the fact that we haven't been by.

Then, there's the three girls I love to mentor, the girls I occasionally babysit that I've been dying to play with and all my adult friends.


I feel like I need to give all these other people attention. I care for them. But sometimes I just want to be selfish. And -- practically -- I CAN'T care for all these people the way I want to. I have to choose. Or go insane. And I have to allow time for myself. But knowing that doesn't make it easier to handle when a 12 year old boy leaves a rather pitiful voice mail on my phone. How do I handle that? How do I love these people?

I don't always know what to do.

I suppose that's why it's good I only have to handle this life one day at a time... :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


So I'm working in the ACU box office one afternoon last week and this lady comes in wanting tickets for the musical. She is average height, thin and has white hair that bobs just below her ears. She's very cute.

The most arresting quality about her, though, is her voice. It's soft, a little high pitched, and very peaceful. Very peaceful. I sat here watching her buy tickets from the curly-haired, oblivious sophomore boy sitting next to me. Simply watching her calmly take out her chequebook, write a cheque, and say, "Thank you" made me feel calm myself: like I was a little kid and could trust this woman to tuck me into bed. Surely I would have good dreams if she told me a bedtime story and said, "Don't let the bed-bugs bite".

I love it when I encounter people who carry peace with them like that.
I hope someday I will be a bringer of peace, too.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Don't Let the Car Fool You

It's funny to me how life throws laughter and tears at you often in the same moment. Yesterday I got in my car and heard "I'm Walkin'" by Fats Domino come on the radio. (here it is on youtube!)
It made me smile, even as I sang along with the lyrics thinking of people I miss in my life, "I'm walking...I'm hoping that you come back to me. I'm lonely as I can be, I'm waiting for your company, I'm hoping that you come back to me....yes indeed." I sang to along, tapping the steering wheel, dancing (as much as you can in a car) and be-bopping along. It felt gloriously like summer, and I didn't care if anyone saw me singing to myself. I said a quiet prayer of gratitude for that moment of sunshine and fun and proceeded to buy a vegetarian burrito from Sharky's.

Not an hour later, I received an e-mail that brought a moment of solemnity and grief to my day.

Every once in a while, ACU sends out this "what's going on around campus" e-mail letter. I had received one earlier that day, which had a "With Sympathy" section. There were two people attached to ACU who had lost loved ones. One of them was my former Concepts of Heath and Fitness teacher. Her mother-in-law had died after an 18-month long battle with cancer. I felt a strange connection and immediately wrote her a short e-mail simply saying (for what it's worth) that I was sad to hear the news and praying for her family -- I especially wanted to say this because it had appeared to me, while in her class, that her family was particularly sweet and close. She responded with a very gracious and honest e-mail (which I read after eating my vegetarian burrito from Sharky's) about her connection to her mother-in-law and the pain her family was experiencing.

I haven't had anyone really close to me die. I don't know what it's like. And yet other important things in my life have "died". I've lost my church, New Life; said good-bye to, and lived far away from, many good friends and family; dealt with change I didn't want to face; felt confused, frustrated, exhausted and hurt... So, I suppose for these reasons, I really felt connected to her pain. Does that sound really self-centered and rude to anyone else? It does to me. How could I say I connect to her pain when I have no idea how she's really feeling? But I honestly couldn't help breathing in a bit of sorrow as I read: "We are deeply hurting, but rejoicing in the same breath. I hope I continue to carry her kind, christian spirit with me wherever I go. Thanks so much for taking the time to write."

I felt her resignation, exhaustion, and hope as if they were mine. And perhaps they are, in some strange way, shared. Perhaps when I experience pain or sorrow (or love or joy for that matter), I am simply dipping my toe into the pool of shared human experience. Perhaps we all are. Perhaps (I hope) I am, in some small way, living out Romans 12: Learning to, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."

A few summers ago, I found myself comparing my life to my friend's life. Her life seemed so much better than mine and I was in danger of living in secret envy or bitterness. So I copied a large chunk of Romans 12 on a piece of cardboard and hung it on my wall. Reading it almost every day that summer really did help. It gave me the option to choose a less bitter, more humble and loving response to her success and joy. In turn, I was more content and found opportunities to gain success and joy for myself I might not have been open to, otherwise. Ever since then, I've tried to read Romans 12 to myself often, reminding me of the kind of person I want to be:

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"says the Lord. On the contrary:

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

A couple days ago, I was driving down Treadway Blvd. in Abilene and saw a bumper sticker on the back of an old car (I know very little about cars, but it looked kind of like my mother's old LeBaron we threw out in 1995). It was a bumper sticker I'd seen before, "Don't let the car fool you" it read, "my treasure is in heaven." "Who would put this bumper sticker on their car?" I wondered. As I drove by, I glanced at the driver. It was a woman who looked like a 60-year old child, eating a frozen ice-cream bar. There she was, driving down the street with her hair blowing in the wind, a crazy bumper sticker on her car, and she was eating an orange ice-cream bar. (Visions of Maude from "Harold and Maude" danced in my head.) Here was a lovely woman. She didn't have a great car, her hair didn't look perfect, but darn it, she was going to enjoy her ice-cream bar.

Sometimes life is not so great. Sometimes we experience pain and sorrow (and it really sucks) but I am inspired by the woman eating the ice-cream bar to embrace those hard moments of loss as well as the moments where Fats Domino sings. And when confronted with the option, to choose to bless and not curse. To overcome evil with good.