The Greatest Privilege

At Arapaho UMC in Richardson, Texas, we are in the middle of a sermon series titled, “Unmasked.” We are acknowledging various attitudes, feelings, and actions that need to be unmasked in our world right now. This past Sunday’s sermon was about Unmasking Justice, listen to Pastor Scott share about it if you’d like.

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I was struck by his first point about problems we may encounter when we unmask justice. Here’s what he says:

“The greatest privilege is the ability to “move on” from an exposed injustice.
The call of Jesus is to take a sustained look at injustice in a culture of sound bites.”

What’s he saying here? Perhaps it’s this:

Speaking out, then going back to the routine in our lives, isn’t fully unmasking justice. Why? Because unmasking justice is a long term commitment. It’s not just a “re-tweet” or “share” on social media. Injustice is something we will encounter over and over, time and again, in our lives and beyond. It’s not a one time thing.

I spoke about this recently in response to George Floyd’s death, and the response from those who were calling out the injustice of the incident. I was asked to share a short devotional as part of a series of devotionals on lamenting. I chose to reflect on the biblical story of Ruth in that devotional, which you can hear on Facebook, or you can read on here:

The story of Ruth is not just about Ruth. The story begins with a famine that forced a man and his wife, Naomi, out of Judah and into Moab (current Jordan). So they were in a strange land. Over time, they had 2 sons, and the sons married women named Orpah and Ruth (who would be Moabites, because that’s where they are living now). In a series of tragedies, Naomi’s husband dies first, then her two sons die. The women are left without husbands, which is not a good place to be.

So Naomi decides to leave the land of Moab and return to Judah. Both of her daughters-in-law are initially willing to join her, but Naomi encourages them to stay, so that they would have a better chance at finding husbands. (Yep. She said it. I’ll talk about that at a later date, this ‘women only have value if they are married’ challenge.) Naomi didn’t just say it once, she said it a few times. “Go back,” she says, “May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (And again, let’s just acknowledge that this statement is at best, problematic, when expressing that all are children of God in their own right, not dependent on another human being. We are called to be in community, and we need each other, to be sure. But a woman’s value is not based on her marital status.)

Orpah takes Naomi’s advice, kisses her goodbye, and returns home. Ruth, on the other hand, is in this for the long haul. Here’s what she says to Naomi (1:16b-17b, NIV):

“Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.”

Ruth and Naomi

Naomi had become Ruth’s family. They had grown to love each other as mother and daughter. They had experienced grief together. Ruth had a choice. She could stay where she was comfortable, return home, and likely marry someone. Or she could stand by Naomi, journey to an unfamiliar place, and continue to be in relationship with her, until death.

Ruth is clear in her actions. And my brothers, sisters, and siblings, we should be, too.

I’m speaking mostly to my white siblings here: are we unmasking justice when George Floyd is killed, then retreating to the comfort of our own homes? What do we do, then, when Jacob Blake is shot and killed? Are we not also family? We, too, have a choice. We can stay where we are comfortable, return home, and wait for the next incident of injustice. Or we can stand by our siblings, in perhaps an uncomfortable place, and continue our journey together. Just like Ruth and Naomi.

What’s our action that says, “Your people will be my people, and your God my God?”

I submit that our action to unmask justice comes from our hearts and from a faith that truly believes that every person is a cherished child of God.

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It’s in gathering together, sharing a meal, and learning more about each other. It’s in the action of building community – a Beloved Community in which we can all walk without fear of each other and in which we can grow in love. It’s a community that becomes family.

Because when we build family, it’s a whole lot harder to return to our comforts when our brothers, sisters, and siblings are dying in the streets. When we build a family, privilege is no longer being comfortable. The greatest privilege is in the honor to stand with each other, until the Beloved Community is complete.

 

Longhorns, Fighting Irish, and an Unexpected Friendship

September 21, 1996.  That’s how far back I have to go to tell this story.  And it seems appropriate that I tell it this week, as the University of Texas Longhorns take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Austin for each team’s opening game of the 2016 season this weekend.  Once again – since Grandma gave me the gift of gab – make yourself comfortable.

Steve and I met in the Longhorn Band at UT.  He says we met in 1985, at the Fiesta Parade in San Antonio (LHB traditionally kicks off the parade as the first band); I know better, and actually have proof.  We met in the fall of 1984 at a meeting of the LHB Decadence newsletter staff.  This was the newsletter that was written by students and distributed to LHB members to read as we traveled to away games.  I still have that particular newsletter; I’m surprised Steve hasn’t burned the evidence by now.

cathy steve LHB

But I digress.

I tell that short version of the story to share why Steve and I, once we graduated, bought season tickets to the Longhorn football games every year for 23 years.  Being in the stadium was just in our blood, and that blood bled a very boiling burnt orange.  Our first seats were well past the end zone, in the sun; eventually, we moved to an area that was under the overhang on the west side, shaded, and filled with characters that we named “Angry Man,” “Headset Man,” and “Hairnet Lady.”  Each game was not complete unless these individuals were in their proper seats; only then did we feel at home.

In 1996, we only had one child (Jack came along in 2000), so we were able to invite friends to the game.  We had four tickets, and they were stacked two and two (rather than four in a row).  This helped us out in that we could easily talk with our guests and explain traditions to them (cue “Angry Man,” “Headset Man,” and “Hairnet Lady”).

Darrell_K_Royal-Texas_Memorial_Stadium_at_Night

At this particular game, we had invited a coworker of mine, Scott Riddles, and his friend John.  Each football season, Scott and John, longtime buddies, had a guy’s weekend, when they selected a high-profile football game to attend.  This year it was #6 UT v #8 ND, in Austin.  The stadium was still known as Texas Memorial Stadium, but had recently undergone improvements, and on this particular day, the seats were filled to capacity.  Who could doubt it?  This was a big game – Texas, coming in with 2 wins on the season, as did Notre Dame.  The two teams met the year before in South Bend, where ND trounced the Longhorns with a score of 55-27. [Quick pause to say that Steve remembers it well, since he was a stones throw from SB at the time, and I made him feel bad about even thinking of attending without me.]  Needless to say, the excitement on this night was in the air – and the expectation of payback? We could almost taste it.

The game was great.  Many of the fans in our area stood, rang their cowbells, chanted “Texas” and “Fight,” when appropriate.  Me?  I joined right in, with one addition.  Scott and John were sitting on the lower two seats, which meant that Steve and I were on the upper two.  This allowed me to stomp my foot loudly on the seat as we cheered and yelled; even better, neither Scott nor John cared that I did.  I’m telling you, it was one of those electric environments that only sports venues can provide, and everyone was on their feet, cheering and yelling.

Well, except this one guy.  And boy, did he let me know it.

At the start of the second half, the game was very close – 14-17, in favor of ND.  (Hey, the internet is good for some stuff like historical box scores).  So, as all good Longhorn fans do, we got back on our feet and started yelling and pounding the seats.  That is until, in one moment of silence after a play, we all heard a voice, coming from a few seats to our right:

“HEY, LITTLE LADY, YOU MIND BANGING ON YOUR OWN SEAT FOR AWHILE?  YOU’RE GIVING ME A HEADACHE!”

Just in case you are wondering, he clearly meant me.

I looked to my right, and saw an older man, maybe in his 70’s, Texas Longhorn cap on his head, glaring at me with what can only be termed a “Get off my lawn!” scowl.  My response was somewhat unexpected:  completely embarrassed, I turned my head toward the field, and sat down on my seat, silent.  (It happens).  His words seemed to hang in the air.  Scott, feeling my shock, tried to lighten the mood.  He turned around from his seat, and casually reminded me, “Well, you could always tell him that technically you are banging on your own seat.  And he should try sitting in front of you!”

But not much helped my mood.  In fact, his outburst made the yelling from others worse.  As you can imagine, the nearby fans more than made up for my missing voice the next two quarters.  But, despite a significantly valiant effort, our Horns lost the game, 27-24, in the last-minute of the game.  We left the stadium – me, significantly humbled and dejected, other fans more boisterous but equally downcast.  And I certainly didn’t make eye contact with the man who yelled at me.

The season continued, and I remained energetic, but quiet.  I just didn’t want to get so worked up that I was scolded again.  So, there I sat, timidly (don’t laugh), through each of the next two home games.

Then came the last game of the season – the big rivalry with Texas A&M.  Nothing compares to a rivalry, and at the time, the Horns had two:  The TX/OU game in October in Dallas, and the home/home series against Texas A&M.  Always – and I mean always – a great game, when anything can happen.  On the field, and off.

As Steve and I made our way to our seats, someone reached out and grabbed my arm.  It was him, and I stared, wide-eyed, wondering what I had done now.  “Little Lady, I want to make sure we talk before the end of the game. I have something for you.”  I looked him in the eye, a little confused, but answered, “OK.”  Then  I made my way to our seats.  He reminded me again at halftime as we passed to go to the concession stand.  Steve and I were both curious by this time.

We cheered the entire game (me, still a bit reserved so as not to offend).  And our cheering paid off – in what can only be described as a solid thumping, the Horns beat the Aggies 51-15, earning the right to meet Nebraska in the first ever Big 12 Championship game the following week.  (The Horns also won that one, something that can never be taken away).

After the game, Steve and I made our way to his seat, and sat down beside him.  What happened next was, at best, unexpected.  He looked at me and said something like this:

“Young lady, a few games ago, I did and said something that was completely out of character for me, and I want to say I am sorry.  It is clear that you are a wonderful fan, and you shouldn’t have to quiet your enthusiasm.”  (or something like that)

Then he reached into his pocket and brought out a card, with his name on it, and handed it to me, with a hug:

L. DeWitt Hale, attorney

(home address)

And such became a wonderful friendship.  I learned that day that DeWitt is a former Representative from the Texas House, serving in various capacities for almost 42 years.  His heart, like mine, led him to fight for better education and equal rights for all.  You can read more about him HERE.  Over the years, we became pen pals; we sometimes traded gifts; he grew to love the kids, and showed it by sharing some of his prized coin collection with them.  When the Longhorns went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in history (2005), we shared pictures with him; and when the Longhorns won the National Championship in 2006, we had something new to celebrate!

Mr. Hale lost his beloved wife, Carol, in 2008, and eventually, it became difficult for DeWitt to attend the games himself.  Our family, too, found that attending all of the games was, at best, difficult, and our time in Austin diminished.  When we did attend, I would make sure to talk with DeWitt’s daughter and grandchildren, who were the light of his eyes.  When Texas was invited to the National Championship again after the 2009 season, we had hopes that all of us could travel to the game together.  However, those dreams became impractical for lots of reasons.  Steve and I dropped our season tickets during the 2015 season, finally admitting giving in to the inevitable….we will likely not be season ticket holders again.

DeWitt is still around; no doubt having in-depth and meaningful discussions with his children and grandchildren.  It’s funny, I haven’t seen him in years, but he remains in my heart every time we sing “The Eyes of Texas.”  I miss that man.  I miss the experience of talking with him.  He is a wealth of knowledge and widsom.  And he made me a better person.

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In my last blog post, I wrote about listening to understand, and not to reply (Stephen Covey).  That thought applies here as well.  Both DeWitt and I have had a chance to listen to each other, after what many would call a rocky start.  And by listening, we opened up a whole new route to friendship.  We accomplished this not by yelling, but by listening and loving.

Somewhere in your life, a situation requires listening, rather than yelling.  Find a way to address it.  Apologize.  Forgive each other.  And always, always, let love be your final word.

 

 

 

 

Ado Annie was Right: “All ‘Er Nuthin'” Doesn’t Work.

Rogers & Hammerstein opened their first collaborative Broadway musical, “Oklahoma!” in March, 1943.  Based on a 1931 play (Green Grow the Lilacs), the show incorporated lively musical numbers, lyrics, and ensemble dances to capture the imaginations of the audience members; the stage version also earned many awards for both the original and revival productions. A movie version was released in 1955, starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.

Oklahoma 12

Set in the early 1900’s in the Oklahoma territory, two love stories unfold among the feuding groups of farmers and cowboys.  Laurie and Curly (Jones and MacRae) are the classic and primary couple.  The other couple – Ado Annie and Will Parker – are the ones I’d like to talk about today.  Will Parker makes himself out to be a new fangled cowboy, set for the bright lights/big Kansas City.  Ado Annie, his ‘gal’ and not one to wait around, stays home, and her flirtatious tendencies drive Will crazy.  Back and forth they go, Will going where he pleases, and Annie never saying no to a visit from a cute beau (that’s one of her famous songs: “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No”).

ado annie

Now, I happen to know a thing or two about this musical.  When I was in the 5th grade, my family moved to Culpeper, Virginia, and the choir, led by Debra Greeley (who later became my church choir director at Culpeper United Methodist Church), performed the musical.  I even remember Lisa Nygaard (Lyons), as Ado Annie, singing the famous lines.  [Lisa has since released three CD’s of original music in the Celtic tradition….take a listen!]

For some reason this week, one of the songs – All Er Nuthin’ – got stuck in my head.  The gist of the song is that Will expects Ado Annie to be and act in a certain way.  “If you can’t give me all, give me nuthin; and nuthin’s what you’ll get from me!”  Ado Annie responds, appropriately, I think, by pointing out that “All Er Nuthin'” doesn’t work well in a relationship.  “With you it’s all er nuthin; all for you and nuthin for me…..”  Annie and Will had to learn to work together to make the relationship work.  And they did.

Maybe the reason the song came to mind is because of the “all er nuthin” approach I hear from many people in disagreements these days.  The late 17th century French moralist Joseph Joubert is credited with this quote: “The aim of a(n argument or) discussion should not be victory, but progress.”  In all of this public discourse taking place on social media and in the news, are we even trying to reach agreement anymore?  I realize the word ‘progress’ brings shivers to the spines of some, but seriously – should we be living in an “all er nuthin” world?  How to we even start to address this?

Here’s how I sort it out:

I try to listen.

 I try to listen not to reply, but to understand. (Covey)

I try to listen as the first duty of love. (Tillich)

I don’t want to be short on ears and long on mouth. (John Wayne)

And I want to listen to the one who is mentioned when God’s voice comes through the cloud, saying,”This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (MT 17:5b)

With Christ, life was not an ‘all er nuthin’ approach to be right, and to advance a cause immediately.   In story after story, we read of how Christ entered situations with a heart toward listening, a servant’s heart that time and again teaches us to listen to the poor, the widowed, the orphaned and the sick.  Christ shows us how to be patient, to listen to understand a need, and to reply with love.

In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us this:

27 But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

I say that to do good, we must listen; if we don’t, we might fall prey to the ‘all er nuthin’ mentality.  Yet even when we don’t listen – even when we shoot off our arrogant mouths, assuming that we have all of the facts, assuming we personally know what is best in every situation – even then, God loves us.  Even then, when we realize our mistake, God waits willingly for us to find our way back to him.

That’s how it is with grace – always ‘all’ and never ‘nuthin’.

Now that, my friends, makes for a great story.

In all things, Love.

 

 

 

 

The Taco Cabana Story

Wanting to start blogging again, I reminded myself of a promise not to do so until I wrote about a particular story.

I’ve been wanting to share this story for some time.  The events of the last few months cause me to believe some might want to hear it now.  Our son, Jack, and I refer to it as “The Taco Cabana Story.”  I’m not sure if that is the best title, but I do know that the story will stay with me a long time.  Why?   After you read this, you might question my judgment.  I ended up questioning something else.  It’s a long one, so get comfortable.

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Many of you are aware that Jack played select baseball in DFW for many years.  Three or four times a week, Steve or I would drive him from our home in Richardson to McKinney, Texas, where he would practice with his team.  To be honest, we didn’t really mind – I don’t think any of us would change the alone time we had with him in the car.  At least at the young ages, he was willing to talk and share details about his day, and I viewed that as a blessing.

On this night, I was on car duty.  Jack was 11 or 12, and after practice, he and I agreed to stop at the Taco Cabana on Stacy Road and Highway 75 in Allen, Texas.  I’m really a fan of the EZ-on/EZ-off drive thru places, and Jack had recently become somewhat addicted to Taco Cabana’s brisket tacos.  So, I pulled into the parking lot, prepared to order him his favorite.

As we pulled out of the drive-thru, Jack already chowing on his taco, I saw a man pushing a car in to the parking lot.  Now, remember, it was after sunset, and not many people headed for Taco Cabana on a Tuesday or Thursday night at 9pm in Allen.  I had a feeling this man wouldn’t have many offers for help in the next hour.

broken down car

I stopped the car, told Jack to keep eating, and stepped over to the broken down car, now with the hood popped open.  The man was trying to get the engine to roll over, and he wasn’t having much luck.  Being the properly trained mechanic that I am (my dad made sure I could charge a battery, and I had jumper cables in the trunk), I asked him if I could help jump the battery in his well-used car.

He stopped turning the key, and took a big breath.  This man was probably in his early 20’s.  An African American, he was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes.  Then he turned to me, looking very tired – almost worn out – and said simply, “Yes.  Thank you.”  Then he smiled.

Jack helped us move his car up the incline and into the parking spot next to mine. I got out of my car (still dressed for the day in my business clothes, mind you) and popped the hood to connect the cables.  Thankfully, each of us knew what we were doing, and his car was running again soon.  He thanked me kindly, shook my hand, waved to Jack, and started to back out of the parking spot. I told him I would follow him, at least until we had to get off of the highway in Richardson.  All was going well as he turned the wheel to leave the spot.

Then the car stalled again.

Another man was driving into the parking lot, and I asked him if perhaps he could help.  I had used up all of my mechanical knowledge on the jumper cables.

He just looked at us, didn’t attempt to get out of the car, pointed to his watch, and shook his head, “No.”

The young man lay his head on the steering wheel, and pounded his fist into it.  “Just wanna get to my boy,” he cried.  When I asked him to tell me about that, he said his 3 year old son was with his girlfriend in Dallas and he hadn’t seen them in a few days.

Something nudged me.  I tried to shake it off, but it kept pestering.  So I told him, “Look, we’re headed that direction.  Why don’t you get your things and I’ll drop you off at the DART location in Richardson.  Then you can ride the train to downtown and your girlfriend can pick you up from there.  Will that work?”

He looked at me like I was crazy.  Maybe I was, but as the offer hung in the air, he slowly said, “Sure; thanks.”  He grabbed the few pieces of clothing he had in the back of his car, said “Hey” to Jack as Jack gave up the front seat to him.  I bought him a drink, took off onto Highway 75, and we started a reasonable conversation.  I wish I could recall his name.

I learned he was driving down from Sherman, where he lived with his grandmother.  He had just finished several days of late shifts at a nursing home where he worked.  That’s why he hadn’t seen his family in a few days.  He was trying to save enough money that they could all live together, but for now, they were apart.  And, they were expecting another child in a month.  I suggested he call his girlfriend so she would know what was happening.

I overheard his side of the conversation, and I could hear her mumbled voice on the other side of the phone.  The night was edging on, and it was clear both of them were tired.  Further, being new to the area, I interpreted that she thought I was referring to the Greyhound Bus station and not the DART line near their home.

I quietly asked him, “Where do you need to go to get home?”  With that, he stopped talking, turned his head, and looked at me like I was insane.

“What?” he asked.  “She lives off Knox/Henderson.  Why?”  All I could think of was an 8 month pregnant woman out at night, trying to find the right rail station, and wandering around.

I’m very familiar with that intersection of off 75 in Dallas.  I used to live very close to it.  I lived on the ‘right’ side of the intersection, that is.  The side that had its own patrol of town police; the side that felt safe.  Not the side that intersection other streets filled to the brim with poverty and unemployment.  Not that side.  I knew, if I continued to drive…I knew which way I would turn at that intersection.

“Tell her you’ll be home in about 15 minutes.  Jack, you ok with that?”  I asked as I caught Jack’s eye in the rear view mirror.  Jack nodded, and I said, “Tell her you are on your way.”  He did; he hung up the phone.  I called Steve to let him know we were helping someone with car trouble; why I didn’t elaborate, I don’t know.  In the car, we continued to talk, the three of us, until we reached Knox/Henderson.  “Which way?”  I asked.  “Turn left,” he replied.

knox-henderson

After a few more turns, we reached our destination.  He grabbed his clothes, shook my hand and Jack’s, and thanked us over and over.  “Pay it forward someday,” I said.  “God Bless.”  And we drove away.

Silence in the car.  I was thinking about a lot of things, maybe even feeling good that I was able to help someone.  Then Jack asked me, “Mom?  What are you planning on telling Dad?”  I thought about it for a second.  “I don’t know, Jack.  I’m not sure he’d be very happy with me.”  Jack prodded:  “Why not?”  I thought about it again, and I sighed.

“Jack, if I were to share a story with some people that I drove a strange black man from a Taco Cabana in Allen, Texas, to this neighborhood, after dark, with our 11 year old son in the car….well, they might think I was lacking in judgment, to say the least.”

Now it was Jack’s turn to think for a moment.  And after a minute, he responded with words that slapped me in the face, and words that I will never, ever forget.

“Mom?” he asked.

“Yeah?”  I answered.

What’s his being black have to do with it?

For so many reasons, a lump formed in my throat.  I cringed, and with all the humility I could muster, and tearing up with knowledge that even a seminary student who cherishes a God who loves each person as equal can fall prey to ridiculous and hateful stereotypes …..with all of those feelings, I replied to this young, 11 year old boy:

“Not one thing, son.  And thank you.”  And we were quiet for the rest of the drive home.

Having told this story a few times verbally, I have seen the reaction from others.  And yes, some people do think I lacked judgment on that night.

Should I have taken the safe route, and called this stranger a taxi?  Probably.

But not because of the color of his skin.

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I’ve silently asked him for forgiveness for my arrogance, and in my head, he has forgiven me.  I know God has.  I never want to forget this story.  And that’s why I’m sharing it with you.  Be mindful, my friends.  Listen to others with intention and love.  We owe it to each other.

 

 

From the Scoring Table

This may not come as a surprise, from someone who graduated UT with an accounting degree:  When given the opportunity, I keep score at Jack’s basketball games.  Most of the parents from Jack’s teams (basketball or baseball) know why:  Keeping the book keeps me from yelling from the seats too often and too loudly.  Keeping the book helps keep me calm, and rational, and really makes me focus on all aspects of the game.

OSU Basketball Scorer

I enjoy keeping score, which I only do in the rec league.  From the scorer’s table, I get a unique view of travels, and steals, and the often missed/improperly called foul.  From the scorer’s table, I can hear coaches and assistants planning strategies before the game, and during time outs.  At the scorer’s table, you’ll often see me smile when I overhear the boys ‘encouraging’ each other with heated commentary.

At the scorer’s table, I meet people.  There are always two of us – one keeping the book, and one working the clock.  Many of the league refs know by now that I do not like to keep the clock.  The pressure is just too much on the clock, and the action is so visible- turn it on, turn it off, make sure you turn the arrow, and my favorite – was that a 2 or a 3?  Sure, the more you keep the clock, the easier it is; I’d just as well keep the book.

 Keeping the book relaxes me.  I have a system for Coach Nick – written numbers in the quarter, and beside the player’s name means a shot was taken and made; zeros mean a 2 pointer was taken and missed; triangles mean a 3 pointer was missed; circle with a line through means foul shot made for 1 point; circle underlined means missed foul shot.  Throughout the columns, you’ll find my R’s, T’s, S’s and A’s:  Rebounds, Turnovers, and Steals…..and the ever illusory Assist.

Let me tell you, if this Sweeney gives credit for an assist, that player rocks.

See, an ‘assist’ in basketball is one of the most subjective statistics in basketball.  Assists are granted completely at the judgment of the scorekeeper (that would be me).  There is no formal definition of the ‘assist.’  The NBA Statistician’s Handbook states that ‘A player is credited with an assist when the player makes, in the judgment of the statistician, the principal pass contributing directly to a field goal (or an awarded score of two or three points)‘.   That is, two things need to happen:  first a pass is made from one player to another; and then, the second player makes a shot that goes in.

burke assist

I’m very stingy on handing out assists, and I feel so judgmental about it.  I guess that’s the one thing I don’t like about the scoring table – there is a point where I watch refs and coaches and players act as ‘judge’ for others, by applying the rules of basketball as they see from their position on the court.  And I really don’t like to judge.

I know of another table where there is no judgment, only forgiveness.  How I wish every table could be like the welcoming communion table, the open table to which Christ invites each and every one of us.  At this table, we recognize that God gave us the ultimate assist by giving us God’s son, Jesus Christ. God passed Christ to us, and it’s up to us to carry the ball to the basket by sharing Christ with others.

And this month, we all get to add a beautiful scoring to our book of life:

 Let’s make it a star, for the ultimate assist God has given to us in the form of a baby, come to save the world.  (MT 2:9b-10; LK 2:10-14)

Merry Christmas, everyone.

God Blesses and Prayers

When our kids were younger, we had a nighttime routine for bedtime.  After baths, after brushing teeth, after the bedtime story and that last drink of water, we prayed.  We prayed the same basic prayer every night, and we called it “God Blesses and Prayers:”

children praying

“God, thank you for a beautiful day.  Thank you for [insert good things that happened today.]  God Bless Mommy and Daddy, Shannon and Jack and Ash-a-lee, Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunt and Uncles and Cousins, all our friends, people who are happy, and those who need help.  We love you, God.  Amen.”

Such a simple prayer that reminded all of us, each day, to thank God, remember those who are close to us, and to help others in whatever way we could, and especially through prayer.  But is prayer enough?  Some say yes, some say no.  And, to be inclusive, some say prayer just doesn’t make a difference.  I’m one that says yes, prayer helps.

Recently, some in the national spotlight have taken heat for offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ for the families and victims of the San Bernardino shootings.  Perhaps we’ve all just had enough – too much violence, too much fear, too much inaction to help those who need it most.   Some seem to be saying that prayer is not enough – they want action; they want progress; they want an end to this insane run of violence.

I, too, want change, and action, and an end to violence.

But I also don’t think I’m going to get that without prayer.  Why?  Because when I pray, I listen; and when I pray, I wait for God to respond.  And when God responds, we are called to act, sometimes courageously, to make a change where change is needed.

Mother Teresa understood the power of prayer.  She helped us understand the purpose of prayer when she told us:

prayer changes us

And so, we pray.  We pray thanks for all that is right in our lives.  We pray for the right words to comfort a friend who is grieving the loss of a family member during this holiday season.  We pray for the soldiers, and the first responders, who put their lives in danger every day and night, so that we are safe.  We pray for our fears, and for others’ fears as they face difficult medical problems.  We pray for wisdom to enter into discussions to help solve problems that seem to grow larger every day.

And we pray that each of us listens closely for God’s call, and that each of us has the courage to act on that call, wherever it might lead.

When we do, we’re doing a lot more than ‘offering thoughts and prayers.’   We are changing things for the better.  And in doing so, we make “God Blesses and Prayers” an action, not just a phrase.

 

The Side Door

There’s a meme making the rounds again in social media, starring a toddler who wants to go home after church, but his mom is still ‘chatting’ with others:

church over and trying to leave

My son and my husband (both sans tie) have experienced this emotion.  I can see their faces now: “Will she ever stop talking?  Is there anyone she doesn’t know? How does she know every.single.person’s.name? ”

The answers to those questions: I don’t know.  Grandma Mary just passed on the gift of gab to me; part of that gift is being aware of what others are going through in life, trying to make them feel better, and being genuinely happy to talk with them.  I don’t pull it off half as wonderfully as she did, but I try.

So yes, I linger in the lobby, talking with those who want to say hi, catch up, give a hug, etc.  It’s usually a festive area, with lots of laughter and smiles.

But here’s the thing.  If I only use the front door, and if I only talk with those in the area that is known for smiles and joyful chatter, I have to ask myself, “Who is not included here?”  In other words, “Who is using the side door, and why?”

Stop to consider – is anyone using the side (or back) door because they feel out of place?  Is anyone using the side door because they don’t feel deserving?  Is anyone using the side door because they think no one cares whether they were here or not?

If we are all, truly, one body with Christ as the head (as I discussed last week and referenced by the verses in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26), then we must care for each individual part, to keep the body healthy.   We need to care for each other – the familiar and the stranger; the rich and the poor; the healthy and the sick.  We need each other.

And what happens when we show we care?  I don’t think I can show you any more clearly than in this video from one of my favorite You Tube sites, Soul Pancake: http://bit.ly/1VFvxkN

How can you show someone you care, today?  Are you willing to search out those using the side door, to let them know they are equally important?  I’ll bet you are.

And if, when you check out those in the side door, you run across a 15 year old trying to sneak out because his mom is still talking …. feel free to chat him up until I arrive.  His Great Grandma Mary would be proud to hear he’s carrying on the tradition.

 

 

 

Am I a 10?

Wait, that sounds a bit too much like the loaded question, “Honey, does this outfit make me look too big?”  Hint to honey:  respond ‘no’ under all circumstances.

Perhaps clarification is in order.

perfection

I have a friend who insists that accuracy is important.  And he’s right, especially as it relates to financial analysis, the context in which he was speaking.  In that particular case, ‘perfection’ is important; but even then, inaccuracies are measured in material terms.  Are the errors material to the statement?  If not, probably ok to pass on correction.

Another example, same friend.  This one has to do with those pesky annual evaluations from our friendly human resource department.  You know the ones – rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, a number of attributes on which a person is ‘graded.’  My friend’s outlook on these forms is insightful:  Should we expect that everyone should strive for a 10, on every attribute, every time?   The answer, it might not surprise you, is ‘yes and no.’

See, we are not ‘practically perfect in every way’ Mary Poppins.  And, if you believe as I do, only one human who ever walked this earth was perfect.  So what do we do with this expectation of perfection?  Let’s look at it in three points:

  1.  We shouldn’t try to be a 10 in all categories in all circumstances, at least that’s my friend’s motto.   He is right – especially if we are working as a team.  See, one person might be an 8 in analysis, but a 2 in creativity;  another might be an 8 in creativity, but a 2 in administration.  The question I’ve learned to ask is this:  In which categories am I most likely to move my 8 to a 10?  Is it likely that if I consistently score a 2 that I should expect to raise it to a 10, or even an 8?  Probably not.  So it appears we should be focusing on two things:  finding the strength of each person, and making sure those strengths are appropriately additive to the team results.
  2. Finding our strengths.  Outside of those fun (and often predictable) social media quizzes, how do we know?  Some of us know by instinct; others don’t realize until someone points out the gift.   In a biblical setting, these strengths are referred to as ‘spiritual gifts,’ and once identified to us by the Holy Spirit, we gravitate toward those gifts with a passion.  In            1 Corinthians, 12:4-11, Paul writes about these gifts using the Greek word for ‘charisma,’ or that of which someone is graced.  See what he does there?  We are ‘graced’ with ‘gifts.’
  3. OK, I think I know my gift – what now?  Funny thing – Paul continues to answer the question for us.  In 12:12-31, Paul creates an image that we are all parts of a body, with Christ as the head.  More importantly, each part of the body relies on the other parts.  It matters not what your individual function is; what matters is that together, we make up the body.  Together, we create Christ on earth, to be each other’s strength.  Together, we strive for a 10.

And how exactly do we do that, you ask?  1 Corinthians 13:  The gift of love.  When we act in love – the love taught by Christ – we score a 10.  1 Cor 13:8 tells us that love never ends – all of those other gifts:  prophecy, tongues, teaching, knowledge:  all of these are only part of a whole and will eventually end.  But when we love – when we love and act on that love as Christ calls us to love – that is the perfection for which we strive.

So maybe we should think about changing the answer to “Honey, does this outfit make me look big?”  Consider, instead, the answer: “It doesn’t matter, honey.  I love you even where you aren’t a 10.”

You Know Where to Find Me

Having spent one week sick in bed, and another week in Santa Fe at the hospital with my husband, Steve, I wanted to have some special time with our son, Jack, when we returned to Dallas.  Under normal circumstances, Steve and I are not “movie-goers.”  We choose to wait for movies to appear on instant video or on demand, watching from the comfort of our own home, and with the ability to click “pause” when needed.  Even when we dated in college, we rarely spent our times in a movie theater; personal preferences, I guess?

Our son Jack, however, really likes to see movies on the big screen.  So, upon our return, and while Steve continued to recuperate, I promised a trip to the theater to see “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.”  If I’m going to pay a lot of money to see a movie in a theater, it’s going to be a high action movie, with great stunts and visual effects!

Mi Rogue Nation

I was especially interested in the opening scene, shown above.  Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) was determined to stop the ‘rogues’ from stealing a large pallet of nuclear weapons.  He was so determined, in fact, that he ran down the runway, jumped onto the aircraft, and latched himself onto the door, all while the aircraft was lifted into the air at amazing speed.  Hunt had no choice but to hold on, waiting for his partner, Benji (played by the ever charming and funny Simon Pegg), to open the door by way of improbable technology.

Of course, the door opens.  Hunt needed help, Benji heard him, and opened the door.  I don’t know how that happened; the details are far lost on me.  What I do know, however, is that Hunt had faith in his friend, and his friend pulled through.

Watching Hunt hang on, while the plane rose to cruising heights at speeds faster than I can even imagine – I realized that’s the kind of month I had in July.  I just had to hang on, knowing life would one day be normal again.  In the meantime, though, I had faith in my friends, and that God was my companion.  I knew that eventually, the door would open and I would get a long overdue breather.

Later in the movie, coincidentally in the final scene, Ilsa Faust (British undercover, played by Rebecca Ferguson) looks at Hunt and declares, “You know where to find me.”  Her line is a play on a previous scene in the movie, which I will not detail here, lest I spoil the movie for you.

The concept of “You know where to find me,” though – that line brings the intro scene for me to full circle.  See, when I think of hanging on, despite incredible odds and difficult circumstances, I can’t help but look for God, and know I’ll find him.

In the Gospel of Matthew 28:20b, Jesus reminds us “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”  Jesus, Son of God, is there with us, as we hang on, and as we ask for comfort.  God is there, all the time, working with us and through us to bring on the peace that passes all understanding.  And God is there, working through friends, who open the door for us when we ask.

I’m thankful that God is with me as I hang on.  I’m thankful to each one of our friends who sat ready and able to open the door, and who took our hands, ready to pull us in from the rushing winds and climbing heights of our troubling month.

“You know where to find me.”  Yes, I do, God.  Not only do I find you in prayer and solitude, but I find you in the lives of friends who open the door when we need shelter the most.

Amen.

How to get an Acura MDX to Santa Fe…..Have Faith.

July 2015…a tough month for the Sweeneys, ending with Steve as a passenger on a careflight ride from Raton, NM to Santa Fe.  He had been hiking on the Philmont Scout Camp, with the scout troop, and contracted pneumonia along the way.

We had a lot of logistics to consider, but the one I would like to focus on today is the story of the car.  Steve drove half of the troop in his Acura MDX to the camp and now we were challenged with two things:  getting the scouts home, and getting the car home.

acura

Boy Scouts have a hard rule that a scout must be 18 or over to drive other scouts.  None of those in the troop were over 17.  Even so, we hoped we could obtain a waiver so the 17 year olds could drive the car back to Dallas.  No such luck.

Still, the scouts needed to get home, since they arrived in Steve’s car. Amazingly enough, another troop from Dallas was leaving the same day as our troop. And amazingly, there were three spots available for extra passengers.

At Philmont, the staff calls this ‘A Philmont thing’. I call it a God thing, and the rest of the story helps you understand why.

Thankfully, we have many friends on Facebook.  Since Cathy had been posting, some friends had offered help. We connected with a friend from our Longhorn Band days who lives and conducts band programs in Cimmaron, NM (Pam).

Pam had resources who were willing to drive two cars to Santa Fe for shopping.  But the best resource was a woman who worked the front desk at Philmont, who was out of town for a few days.

Cathy was prepared to drive up to Philmont to get the car.  At the last minute, Pam reached front desk friend (Dede) on her first morning back to Philmont.

As Pam relayed the problem to Dede, Dede covered the phone mouthpiece, and asked the group congregated in the lobby if anyone was headed to Santa Fe that morning.

One man stepped forward.  “I am,” said Elder Anderson, a chaplain with the camp, representing the LDS faith group ( Philmont staffs 2 LDS, 2 Jewish, 2 Catholic, and 2 Protestant.chaplains at the camp).

“I am headed to St. Vincent’s to visit a camper named Steve Sweeney.”

You can guess the rest.  Elder Anderson and his wife, Mary, delivered the car around noon.

Do not try to convince me that God is not real.  I saw God today in the faces of two people who sacrificed time and energy to help their neighbor.  Thank you, Philmont.  Your chaplains give their best so we can feel the love of God around us.  Today, we remember that God is good, because we have lived it.