What my enemy steals from me ...

Some truth for these days:

"The moment I have defined another being as my enemy, I lose part of myself, the complexity and subtlety of my vision.

I begin to exist in a closed system.

When anything goes wrong, I blame my enemy.

If I wake troubled, my enemy had led me to this feeling.

If I cannot sleep, it is because of my enemy.

Slowly all the power in my life begins to be located outside.

And my whole being is defined in relation to this outside force, which becomes daily more monstrous, more evil, more laden with all the qualities in myself I no longer wish to own.

The quality of my thought then is diminished.

My imagination grows small.

My self seems meager.

For my enemy has stolen all of these."

(Susan Griffin, b. 1943)

Let's try these beautiful responses

If you read my post yesterday, you know I cited a list of things we should stop saying to struggling friends or acquaintances.

This list was composed by Kate Bowler and can be found in the back of the incredible memoir about her life with Stage IV colon cancer. The book is called Everything Happens for a Reason ... and other lies I've loved.

As promised, here is her suggested list of things to say to those who are hurting.

She calls it - Give this a go, See how it works: A Short List

1. "I'd love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?"

Oh, thank goodness. I am starving, but mostly I can never figure out something to tell people that I need, even if I need it. But really, bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant. A set of weird erasers. I remember the first gift I got that wasn't about cancer and I was so happy I cried. Send me funny emails filled with You-Tube clips to watch during chemotherapy. Do something that suits your gifts. But most important, bring me presents!

2. "You are a beautiful person."

Unless you are of the opposite gender and used to speaking in a creepy windowless-van kind of voice, comments like these go a long way. Everyone wants to know they are doing a good job without feeling like they are learning a lesson. So tell your friend something about his life that you admire without making it feel like a eulogy.

3. "I am so grateful to hear about how you're doing and just know that I'm on your team."

You mean I don't have to give you an update? You asked someone else for all the gory details? Whew! Great! Now I get to feel like you are both informed and concerned. So don't gild the lily. What you have said is amazing, so don't screw it up by being a Nosy Nellie. Ask a question about any other aspects of my life.

4. "Can I give you a hug?" *

Some of my best moments with people have come with a hug or a hand on the arm. People who are suffering often - not always - feel isolated and want to be touched. Hospitals and big institutions in general tend to treat people like cyborgs or throwaways. So ask if your friend feels up for a hug and give her some sugar. 

5. "Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard."

Perhaps the weirdest thing about having something awful happen is the fact that no one wants to hear about it. People tend to want to hear the summary but they usually don't want to hear it from you. And that it was awful. So simmer down and let them talk for a bit. Be willing to stare down the ugliness and sadness. Life is absurdly hard, and pretending it isn't is exhausting.

6. ******Silence******

The truth is that no one knows what to say. It's awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People's weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up.

A FINAL PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT TO SUFFERING PEOPLE:

Just remember that if cancer or divorce or tragedies of all kinds won't kill you, people's good intentions will. Take the phrase "but they mean well ..." as your cue to run screaming from the room.

Or demand presents.

You deserve a break.

* Note from Alice -

No hugs during Covid, unless you are part of the quarantine pod of the struggling person!

One more note from Alice -

So many people are hurting right now.

People we know are suffering all kinds of tragedies, large and small.

The very last thing we should do with our words is add to their misery.

If you have to, keep this list close by. Refer to it before you get together with a hurting friend.

And if all else fails, try silence, a small gift, a hug and a smile.

Lord knows we could all use some serious kindess these days.

 

No more of these dumb statements, please

These days I am reading Kate Bowler's fantastic memoir called Everything Happens for A Reason ... and other lies I've loved.

Bowler has Stage IV colon cancer.

She is also a young mom, a brilliant professor, a wife, a follower of Jesus.

She cites, at the end of her book, a list entitled: "Absolutely Never Say This to People Experiencing Terrible Times."

I feel compelled to share.

Here is her short list, along with her commentary:

1. "Well, at least ..."

Whoa. Hold up there. Were you about to make a comparison? At least it's not ... what? Stage IV cancer? Don't minimize.

2. "In my long life, I've learned that ..."

Geez. Do you want a medal? I get it! You lived forever. Well, some people are worried that they won't, or that things are so hard that they won't want to. So ease up on the life lessons. Life is a privilege, not a reward.

3. "It's going to get better, I promise."

Well, fairy godmother, that's going to be a tough row to hoe when things go badly.

4. "God needed an angel."

This one takes the cake because (a) it makes God look sadistic and needy and (b) angels are, according to Christian tradition, created from scratch. Not dead people looking for a cameo in Ghost. You see how confusing it is when we pretend that the deceased return to help you find your car keys or make pottery?

5. "Everything happens for a reason."

The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. I've had hundreds of people tell me the reason for my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my unfaithfulness. Because God is fair. Because God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussels sprouts. I mean, no one is short of reasons. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering your own. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.

6. "I've done some research and ..."

I thought I should listen to my oncologist and my nutritionist and my team of specialists, but it turns out that I should be listening to you! Yes, please, tell me more about the medical secrets that only one flaxseed provider in Orlando knows. Wait, let me get a pen.

7. "When my aunt had cancer ..."

My darling dear, I know you are trying to relate to me. Now you see me and you are reminded that terrible things have happened in the world. But guess what? That is where I live, in the valley of the shadow of death. But now I'm on vacation because I'm not in the hospital or dealing with my mess. Do I have to take my sunglasses off and join you in the saddest journey down memory lane, or do you mind if I finish my mojito?

8. "So how are treatments going? How are you really?"

This is the toughest one of all. I can hear you trying to understand my world and be on my side. But picture the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Got it? Now try to put it in a sentence. Now say it aloud fifty times a day. Does your head hurt? Do you feel sad? Me, too. So let's just see if I want to talk about it today because sometimes I do and sometimes I want a hug and a recap of American Ninja Warrior.

 

Do you love her as much as I do?

I highly recommend her book. It is incredible.

Stay tuned for her very short list of statements to try if you want to speak a word of hope and help to suffering friends.

Until then ... silence is a great option. Along with a hug or a home-cooked meal.

Top 10 Post - #5

So appropriate for today. I posted this in 2017

A Mary Oliver poem for today ...

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition is the best for by evening you know that you at least have lived through another day)

and let the disasters,

the unbelievable

yet approved decisions,

soak in.

I don't need to name the countries,

ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down,

our faces to the ground,

ashamed,

ashamed?

A prayer for today ...

God whose name has been used to enslave those who bear your image,

God whose name has been used to steal this land and kill those who bear your image,

God whose name was called upon by Moses and Miriam and Martin Luther King Jr and Sojourner Truth, Brionna Taylor and George Floyd.

God who raised up prophets to speak truth to power, and poets to speak truth to stupid,

We call on your holy name to give us what we need to undo what has been done in your name.

We call on your name to bring your fierce mercy upon us and remove our complacency and our complicity.

We call on your name to heal the wounds of those whose daily reality we do not understand.

We call on your name to give us a holy curiosity about what being Black in America is really like, Lord.

We call on your name to free us from our cherished notions of being “good” that keep us from hearing this truth,

We call on your name to give us this day our daily truth, our daily humility, our daily rage, our daily hope.

This country is burning Lord…may it be a cleansing Holy Spirit fire.

Guide us to believe that the true name of God is stronger than what has been done in God’s name.

Come, Holy Spirit.

Amen.

(Nadia Bolz-Weber)

Top 10 Post - #4

I wrote this in 2017 and it feels as fresh as if I wrote it yesterday:

As a woman who works in the church, as the mother of three grown adults,

and frankly, just as a human being,

I have a few words to say about sexual harassment and sexual abuse of power that is rampant in our world:

It has been going on since the beginning of time.

Ask any woman you know, and I bet she will have a story, or three.

I have mine,

including one in which I reported a pastor from a previous church who had a habit of touching women inappropriately.

I was one of those women who thought long and hard, but eventually decided to speak up.

Times were different then.

Those of us who reported were scorned.

The pastor was seen as a victim.

The outcome was dark and ugly and divisive and so hurtful.

Ever wonder why women don't come forward right away and speak their truth?

It is because too often, we tend to shoot our wounded.

Why do you think Jesus had to save the "woman caught in adultery" from being stoned, mostly likely by a group of men? Surely there was a "man caught in adultery" as well, right?

Listen, I love men.

I love and admire my dad, my brother, my father-in-law, my husband, my son, my male colleagues and friends ...

This is not an anti-men rant.

It is a strong shot-across-the-bow, though, for all of us.

The day and age where women will just "take it" and be quiet out of fear of backlash may be over, at least for a time.

Let's hope so.

And my plea is that the church - of all places - should be known as one of THE places where women are honored, respected, valued and believed. Where women can walk in and KNOW that they are in a harrassment-free zone.

My fear, however, is that too often the church is the exact opposite.

Too often, we are part of the problem.

It is time - well beyond time - that we instead become leaders in the move toward a solution.

Let's start by seeing women and men as equals.

Let's start by bringing our own darkness into the light and being appropriately repentant about all the ways we as Christians have either mistreated women, or have allowed them to be mistreated.

Let's start by promising to believe women when they work up the courage to be honest about what they have experienced. Let's not cherry pick Bible verses to toss at them like grenades in order to silence them.

Let's start by taking any and all kinds of harassment and abuses of power - sexual or otherwise - very, very seriously as violations of the belief that every human is a divine bearer of the image of God.

Let's just start, church, shall we?

The world waits.

Jesus waits.

Top 10 Post - #2

The world of the church, throughout history,

has tended to be a "man's world."

In many places, it still is.

And yet, even in the early church

there were whispers ...

names mentioned ...

women who led,

taught,

funded,

were at the center of,

Jesus' ministry,

and the start of the church.

As one who teaches,

some would say, preaches ...

(and happens to be a woman)

it has been an interesting ride.

Fifteen years

of serving God

in this unexpected way.

And as I take a look behind me

at the amazing young women God is using

all over the world,

but especially in my little neck of the woods,

I cheer.

I came across this poem the other day

and post it as a hat-tip to my fellow

"kitchen table theologians."

God sees you,

and he cheers, too.

Laywoman

Were you a man and single,

the Jesuits would have you in a trice.

But you are a man's wife,

lovely hair coarse and wild as a Morgan's tail,

on each hip a fine son, and one on your shoulders.

Your bent for theology is more startling

than your renegade humor,

your ease on a good horse, fast and wild as he can be.

You are no cut-out saint.

Bus-stop apologist,

training your eye for truth at your kitchen table,

turning worn pages in the weary night

as your tea grows cold.

The day has come for your kind.

Venerable Jenn,

you are better than you know,

stirring the oatmeal,

reading Aquinas,

shoveling the snow.

(by Nancy A. Henry)

 

My Top 10 old posts ... #1

In the Old Testament, a trio of people are often cited as deserving special protections from God and God’s people … The fatherless, the widow, the orphan. Often, the foreigner is added to this list.

God knew these people were at risk in the society of the Old Testament … at risk to be marginalized, neglected, oppressed, victimized, even killed.

And so God commanded his people to take special care of these particular people in their midst. He gave special commandments, even made special rules that protected them, gave them chances to enter mainstream society again, helped them escape the noose of generational poverty, protected them from oppression and violence.

And these rules spoke to God’s people and said, “I care for this group of people in a special way, and if you follow me, you must care for them, too!”

Who are the marginalized among us today?

Might they not fit into this same descriptive trio (or quartet)? The fatherless, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner.

It matters not your political persuasion, if you are a follower of God, you are to live in such a way that you protect the marginalized, speak up for them, watch out for them, care for them, serve them, give to them, pray for them.

Often, when confronted with the marginalized in our midst, we hope for someone else to help them.

Annie Dillard addresses this common deferral of responsibility:

“There is no one but us. There is no one to send, not a clean hand or a pure heart on the face of the earth or in the earth --- only us … unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and uninvolved. But there is no one but us. There has never been.”

There is no one but us.

Just that, Lord ...

Another prayer from Nadia Bolz-Weber:

Holy God hear my intercessions,

For those who are giving birth alone;

for those who are grieving without their people;

for the beleaguered parents who ran out of creative ideas two weeks ago;

for those who don't know where this week’s grocery money will come from;

for everyone who has watched the date of their wedding, or their graduation, or their birthday, or their dissertation defense, or their long hoped for vacation, or their family reunion, or the “non-essential” medical procedure they hoped would change their life, come and go;

for the exhausted and the despairing,

I ask that your comfort, your presence, and your peace be felt.

And if that’s not possible, could you just nudge the right person to reach out and call them?

Just that Lord.

Just that?

AMEN.

Keeping Quiet ...

KEEPING QUIET
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.