When you fail to love. . . (and some social justice info)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – MLK

It is the first day we’re outside for gym this year. The air has that chilly clean feeling- as if someone has left all the windows open while spring cleaning. But it’s sunny and warm enough for us all to be in short-sleeves, ready to play basketball or walk the endless quarter miles of a circular track. I have lucked out for the third year in a row- gym is last period for me and I have a solid group if friends to hangout with. We are sitting on the low wall near the outdoor basketball hoops waiting for the teachers to come out and take attendance. There’s about 120 kids milling about. Mostly upperclassmen, since three of the four gym classes outside are junior/senior gym classes.

Suddenly, there’s a murmur of chuckling. That electric feeling of “something is happening” runs through the crowd. A shifting of attention. I lean closer, anticipating a fight or screaming match. Instead I see her, a swimmer, who is popular enough and clever enough that people like her for making them laugh and not quite mean enough to be censored by anyone.  “Oh my God, look at her shorts” she’s saying, loud enough for everyone to hear. “What a slut, I mean are they even covering her butt? And spaghetti straps? Really? I can see her nipples.” I glance to the girl who this diatribe is directed at and I freeze. Girl, is really the only word for her. A small freshman who is stoically pretending not to hear the hate directed at her- unfortunately her friends are inching away from her- understanding that being near this  girl-at this moment- is akin to social suicide. And I flush red with her but I stay silent, rooted to the wall. As the words continue, there is more chuckling, a shifting as some guys try and get a glimpse of the “whore in gym class.” And I watch as waves of red creep slowly up her face and down her arms and legs. She has heard every word, she can’t stand up for herself, she is shrinking in on herself and still I am silent. The gym teachers come out and call their classes over, the spectacle is done.  I am livid, I talk for the rest of the period about it- but the truth is I am talking to relieve the knot of shame in myself- the fear that kept me silent when I should have spoken, the hesitancy that caused me not to act when action was what was needed.

I’m not sure if this was a seminal moment- but I chose to remain silent while someone’s soul was shredded in front of me. I took an easy way out when I had nothing to lose. I still think of things I could have said- could have done- to stop that. I have come up with elaborate and creative ways to sail to that freshman’s rescue- dazzling retorts, long eloquent speeches- that overturn the system of injustice where the strong are allowed to prey on the weak.  As much as we like to pretend that that only happens in high-school, that’s a lie. It happens every time a teenager kills themselves because they’re bullied for their sexuality and adults never lend a word of affirmation or comfort. It happens every time a woman is told to please leave and put on something more appropriate because she’s making men sin. It happens every time a minority’s concerns are dismissed, as they’re told they’re being too sensitive.  It happens when we decide that chocolate chip cookies are more important than a child getting an education. Or that keeping up with trends is more important than making sure our clothes are not made at the cost of health and safety and freedom of women in the third world. “You have already been told what is good, what Adonai demands of you —no more than to act justly, love grace and walk in purity with your God.”

The issues of social justice can be overwhelming and discouraging. I’m not trying to pile on any guilt or shame, I believe that those run counter to the life that Jesus has gifted us with.  Rather, I have some amazing siblings who through years of research have put together a comprehensive list of various ways to creatively work social justice into our day to day lives.  It’s too hard and overwhelming to try and tackle all at once. The point of this list is to make information available to you- to help you realize that changing just one purchase is like placing a vote for a more just society. Maybe try to replace one thing, like your coffee, with a fair-trade alternative. Wait until it’s second nature, then pick something else to replace with a fair-trade alternative.

Chocolate:

Equal Exchange, Green and Black, Divine Chocolate, Endangered Species Chocolate, Newman’s Own Organics, Dagoba Organic Chocolates (many of these brands are available at Hanaford’s and Shoprite.)

For chocolate chips or cocoa you can find them at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or order them online here:  http://www.naturalcandystore.com/ or here, http://shop.equalexchange.coop/chocolate.html

Also look for anything with the RainForest Alliance label or the Fair Trade USA label.

Coffee:

Green Mountain is the world’s largest producer of Fair Trade certified coffee. (Also available at Hanafords! I swear this is not a paid sponsor post) http://www.greenmountaincoffee.com/

Food, Gifts, etc.: 

These websites have some pretty cool, unique things. It’s a lot of fun to pick out special food or accessories for friends and family member’s birthdays. Take some time to browse. Some of these stores even run awesome sales before the holidays and getting stuff on sale doesn’t affect how much the craftsman was paid!

http://www.equalexchange.coop/

http://www.greenheartshop.org/

http://www.serrv.org/

http://www.taraluna.com/

http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/

http://tradeasone.com/

http://green.ebay.com/#wog

http://www.beadforlife.org/en/frontpage/us

http://ssekodesigns.com/

http://www.etsy.com/ (depending on where people source their materials from but the great thing about Etsy is you can dialog with the seller before purchasing)

Stay tuned for more links and tips for fair-trading your life!

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Loving the Bible

About two years ago I stopped reading the bible for six months. For those of you who don’t know me, that’s insane. I am from “read your bible pray everyday” children’s church. And prizes for most scripture memorized. My parents bought me my own bible in 4th grade and encouraged me to read a chapter a day. I still remember sitting with my back to my dresser and my feet on the forced hot air vent trying to figure out what a foreskin was. I am from the NIV kids club (no literally, if you get your hands on a videotape, you can find me in the crowd). And mostly I am grateful for how scripture is part of the fabric of my being. I am thankful that portions of verses come out of my mouth naturally and my internal dialogue will speak ancient Mesopotamian poetry to me when I am need of comfort. I love the fact that my knowledge of the breadth of scripture allows me to make connections between thousands of years of writing. But. . . 

I began to fall asleep reading at my children’s nap-times and at night.  Reading became a chore to be grind-ed out not for a day or a week but for months on end. I heard a million voices and opinions on each verse I read. Voices that used to be enrichment and part of my growing catalog of spiritual midwives became harping shrews piling on guilt ad opinions to words that had lost all meaning. So I stopped. I quit. I didn’t crack my bible. I read for the bible study I attended, halfheartedly. And I read the storybook bible to my kids. But in my own devotions, I was done. I sometimes read christian books or blogs (but not often, I’ll admit).

Mostly during my quiet time I just was. I sang, or recited scripture or slowly learned, for really the first time, how to pray. Pray honestly and faithfully. I wasn’t always sure when “Quiet Time” for me was over. There was no read the bible, apply to life, pray, format to be got through. I had to just be. And I noticed, when I did this my devotions never really ended. I started continuing my prayers as I snuck downstairs to wash the dishes, and I had communion with God interspersed with building block towers for kids to knock down. Without the distraction of reading, more verses than I was even aware of memorizing began to be called up in me. I felt free and at peace.

After about six months, I started to actually miss the bible. I missed the rich, alive quality of words. I missed the thrill of discovery when suddenly a verse that used to plague you becomes crystal clear in a flash of divine light. So, with trepidation I picked it up again. And I tumbled into the words of Revelation. The last time I had read Revelation all through was after a marathon of read the bible in a year, I was burned out and confused and had no time for commentaries or even thinking. I gulped down whole passages and swallowed without chewing. But this time . . . I loved it. I loved Revelation. It was like a Picasso painting- impossible to understand from one viewpoint. You can’t honestly be dispensational, or pre-trib or literalist or anything when reading that crazy, maddening book. John sounds like Don Quixote, old, crazy and laughable but for some reason more true than the sane, modern storytellers of today.

And so I fell back in love but this time I think it’s gonna last. I sometimes, at night, read a whole book, gulping down the refreshing  drink of a story well-told. And sometimes I read one verse, coming back to it every morning while washing my dishes. And sometimes I dig in and buy (no, actually, borrow) a commentary and thrash through the parts that I hate and really just want to ignore. And the thing I know now is this is all okay. How I read the bible does not define how I love Jesus. And the act of reading the bible is not the pinnacle of a life well-lived for Christ. I love the bible not for what I want it to be- an easy answer book to turn to when I’m in trouble. But for what it is- a community of voices all telling the story of truth.

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Love in Community II

It’s raining tonight, coming in diagonally. Words like torrent, soaked, cats and dogs, a million clichés puddling up in the corners of my mind. But I drive slowly down the highway, through a town and pull up to a house with a soft yellow glow and a scraggly rose bush climbing up the side.

window drops glass rain storm abstract wallpaper background

I am the first one here; to a book club that hasn’t read a book in 6 months. There is a murmur of voices from upstairs with an occasional 3 year old shout. I settle down on worn furniture with beauty surrounding me. Brilliant sunflowers next to a sketchbook, one page-a scribbled grocery list- the other a sketch with the suggestions of truth. It is the beautiful not found in magazines but in life. A little messy maybe but with beauty intertwined with the common that it takes your breathe away. I flip through Time magazine and wait for the others to arrive.

We talk about the nothing that is of utmost importance. Kids and God and writing and art and books. My Grandmother has passed away but I’m not ready to talk about it just yet, so after murmurs of comfort we change the subject. This is my fellowship, a word that for too many years meant large halls full of people who know your name but not your soul- Italian dressing dripping off iceberg lettuce and moistening overcooked ziti- with general conversation about what I’m studying. But now, this is our communion: sipping too strong White Russians and eating chocolate and blueberry crumble.

My friend, she has the power of a namer. I remember youth group, just one summer together. Me, entering as a freshman and her a graduating senior. I will always remember the first time I went to a youth group event without the comforting presence of my big sister, I walked through the door not sure if anyone would even know me or acknowledge my presence. All the pain and terror of being fourteen and lonely tied up into a walk through a door. And she smiled and said “Hello, Deig.” That nickname- reserved for family and the closest of friends- suddenly I belonged. I was named. I am always drawn to people like that- people who are able to bring out the essence of others. These namers, they are subtle. You think you’re in a regular conversation and slowly you realize, with their turns of phrase, with their honest questions, with their eye contact, they are reaching deep into your being and drawing you out gently and slowly.  To name is to listen to the song of someone else’s soul and sing it back to them when they have forgotten it.

And this is love. Being seen. Having silence, having a voice, a space,  four people in room, no posturing or tiptoeing, just honesty and heartbreak and joy. And this is love us choosing to be vulnerable because sometimes the most terrible thing to risk is yourself.  But to make that choice, to open yourself up to the possibility of rejection is also to open yourself up to the possibility of deep love.

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I am from Love

I’m participating in the SheLoves Synchroblog today. The theme is heritage in recognition of South Africa’s Heritage Day. The idea was to poetically explore where you come from.

I am from streets that stay light all night with people talking and walking under my window. The screen still smells metallic and slightly bitter in my nose. The adrenaline of fear for our safety lingering under the surface of family love.

I am from long days at home, sitting in the square panels of sunshine as they creep across the floor. My sister and mother murmuring above my head at the large square table that is only laid at birthdays and Christmas.

I am from cups of tea with creamy milk and sharp cheddar and wheat thins. And turkey and gravy and the most perfect fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes ever tasted.

I am from Adirondack pine and clear, clean Schroon lake. The fourth of July fireworks bursting to celebrate my growing independence. And salty Ocean Grove sand between my toes. And feeling infinite with the crashing waves pulling me deeper into the deep.

I am from a hundred cousins, raucous and demanding- struggling to make your voice heard then shrugging to add your yell to the common chaos. I am from lonely daydreaming in fantasy worlds. I am from Narnia and 18th Century England and Middle-Earth and Green Gables.

I am from art supplies neatly under my bed- then spilling out of my closet in the house of my own. I am from the melting swirls of brilliant color that rush in slowly when introduced to a stroke of clean water.

I am from hippie homeschooling, carefully painting our van in vivid colors of excitement and learning about animal droppings as we hike through the woods, a baby always on the back of my father. From “think for yourself,” and “don’t give up” and “try again”

I am from the wild west cowboys and pioneers- hard and independent. I am from Irish immigrants- loud and celebratory.

I am from alcoholism and mood disorders and anger that leaves scars even with healing and grace and time.

I am from hard conversations and honesty and I am sorry.

I am from loyalty above all else. I am from Love and Truth woven so tightly into the fabric of my being I forget where and when I learned it. I am from Love.

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Love Song to My Body

Boys are taught their bodies are tools with which to conquer the world.

Girls are taught their bodies are a project on which to improve.

I’ve tried this before- when SheLoves magazine did a series about bodies. I wrote a long essay detailing my flaws and the reason I’m usually at peace with them. I wrote about my stretch marks as a reminder of those peaceful days of growing new life inside me. When it feels like despite the public opinion and attention, you have a joyous secret. You’re carrying your own oceanic world of rhythm and life. I mentioned my pudgy toes and how they look so exactly like my grandmother’s that they make me feel she must be walking around without them.

When I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants, I wrote- focusing on my attributes. My long sexy legs that almost never need to be shaved. The gentle curve of my pretty-much perfect lips. But the truth is these never seemed like love songs. They seemed hollow and unfamiliar-like a story with the plot removed.

This is my love song to you:

Running fast- the darling of my life beside me on her bike, just learning to ride. She’s fast now and fearless about going down steep hills. And I run beside her because I’m not quite ready to let her go. To let her ride along this road on her own. And my legs pump fast but my breath is still steady. I always was a little unsure if I could do this-what would happen if I just ran- and now I do. My chest is not tight, there’s breeze in my face and my darling and I are both laughing at the speed and freedom of the moment. We could go anywhere together.

The day is brilliant, the way only days in May can be. The sunshine is strong but here on my mother’s back deck there is shade and breeze and glasses of water that are sweating and puddling on the table. I’m leaning on the exercise ball talking and as each contraction comes I lean over and rock through it. I know in a bit I will move from this peace and rhythm of talking and breathing to a more focused physicality. I will groan through the pain and it will rend and ravish you but we will be triumphant. We will deliver a new human being to the world. Sweating, exhausted and bloodied, I will have conquered childbirth. Because you were sure-footed and confident, because I quieted my inner monologue and let you do the work. Because I trusted you and you brought me through.

And this is not all that you can do. You can soothe and comfort a nightmare-riddled toddler. A soft sweaty head against my chest and the very rhythm of our heart will soothe him back to sleep. You can move rocks,-huge stones across my yard and build a patio in the shade- a place of rest for myself and guests. You can carefully and with precision de-tangle a fishing line or hair ribbons. You can dance with abandon at my cousin’s wedding- my presence and your movement a proclamation of joy. You are strong and soft and defiant. You can create life and you can live it fully. Because you are a temple, a holy space, capable of bringing, speaking life with more than just words. And we can live out the rest of our time here together, at peace. And here I swear, I will no longer fight you, or curse you, or be ashamed of you. I will not use you or berate you. And when I turn upon you the unrealistic expectations I have accepted and fed to myself, I promise I will repent. And I will thank God again for you with a hot bath and expensive lotion and red lipstick and a long run and food that is melty, and savory and delicious. And we will get up and try again to live out this love that should be so natural but sometimes is so hard.

If you get a chance read some of the love letters at SheLoves magazine some of my favorites are here and here. Also, I’d love your insights into your struggles and triumphs of self-acceptance. If you get a chance to write a love letter to your own body I’d love to read it! Post a link or email me at DeidreCSanchez@gmail.com.

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When my car breaks down and my weekend plans are ruined. And money is tight and my husband didn’t get the job we thought. When the baby is not sleeping well and things just keep piling up and there’s not quite enough of me to make it through the day. And I’m feeling lonely stuck at home and no one’s calling.

When children are dying in Syria and people are being shot in our nation’s capitol and the west is flood and fire and there are just no easy answers.

When my prayers are sounding hollow and even the Psalms are failing to comfort me. When the people I love are being hurt by people I love and my ears are filled with dissonance and try as I might I can’t quite weave a blanket of beauty and love to cover all those raw emotions and wounded souls.

Sarah Bessey lights a candle. I turn on Missy Higgins- her haunting music always speaks to my yearning- and send the kids outside with their Daddy. I preheat the oven and boil water and set about making a meal. Cutting chicken, melting butter, chopping vegetables. It’s simple, it’s rhythmic. It’s the meal I always cook for new moms, adjusted a bit for this family, who is gluten and dairy free. Chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, veggies. I can’t think too hard about the tomorrows; I’m caught up in the simple act of creation. I’m not creating art, just a meal to be consumed. Yet at this moment- overwhelmed- it seems subversive, triumphant. It is my saving grace, this desperate act of meaning in a space that seems hopelessly confused. I’m creating something for someone who just brought new life into the world. To be able to support that ultimate act of hope- the defiance of birthing a new person into being, is an honor fit for queens.

My family will probably be eating peanut butter and jelly tonight because I forgot to buy the double pack of chicken and me making two full dinners is so not happening tonight. But we’ll survive. (Actually, moment of honesty- my children love eating PB&J for dinner, or oatmeal, or any number of no-effort foods. Why do I keep cooking dinner for them again?) So I sing sad songs, sigh a little and pray with my hands, because my heart and mind are just too full. And for one moment I am connected to this family- my hands nourishing their bodies. Hoping that my food will bring the mom a little peace, the boys a little joy. Because sometimes I think too much and sometimes I want to fix everything and often the best way to muddle toward love is to forget what needs to be done for yourself and do for someone else.

Let’s get a conversation going. . . What do you do to heal the soul ache that comes when everything is wrong? Have you had the opportunity to receive from someone, and what was that like? What’s your “desperate act of creation” that creates meaning for you?

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Love in Community I

It is my first time away from home for so long without my parents. I am 14 not yet in high school. So sure we will change the world or at least these kids lives for the better on this Missions Trip to middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. I am ready to let these people, almost all older than me become my best friends. I have idolized them for the past year, carefully watching and listening to them to pick up their youth group lingo. I already know how to laugh at the right inside jokes. I am becoming fluent in the spiritual jargon that is bantered about. I am so ready to set the world on fire for Jesus and change people’s lives. But it comes, slowly. . . creeping in. At lunch I sit through a conversation that makes my cheeks burn as I look around nervous that some of the young campers might overhear. (I now realize it was some pretty mild sexual banter when compared with what I will hear later when I enter public high school but it was a shock to learn that not everyone here was totally focused on God). I later am mocked by the boy I’m pretty sure God wants me to marry because I don’t understand the sexual jokes and my face is as flushed as when we dug the trench, though now I’m sitting in the shade no physical exertion to blame my blush on. But the blows keep coming. I meet a beautiful girl, 5 years old. I remember being drawn to her smooth creamy skin. She tells a tale of heartbreak and abuse. It’s not the worst I’ll ever hear but it’s the first. The first time I see someone damaged by the lack of love I take for granted. Missing the very air I breathe at home. And now I’ve lost it. The ground seems unsteady and for the first time on this trip I wish to be alone. I run to the stream and fling myself onto the smooth dense stones. Sobs are ripping up my deepest held assumptions: Mom’s love their daughters, Christians have the right intentions, I am able to make a difference. As my sobs quiet I hear a voice searching for me. I pray I won’t be found. I’m not ready yet, haven’t pieced back my mind and my heart. I can’t present a Christian smile to the world. But she comes, relentless in her responsibility. Its dinnertime she says. I know I reply looking away trying to keep my voice steady. But I fail, I crack and she sits down as I once again sob out all that’s wrong with the world that I have just realized. She is older than me, almost done college. She doesn’t smile, or dismiss my realizations as something I will get used to. She sits. She says nothing. She is Job’s friends, letting me weep in silence. She is Christ, allowing the pain of my world to break her heart. Dinnertime ebbs away and she doesn’t move, she misses dinner as she sits, the uncomfortable stones digging into her butt because she knows I need presence. And when she speaks she is honest, she has no answer. It breaks my heart is all she says. But she is the one who is there. She is love.

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Love and Words

File this under one of my most embarrassing moments: 15 years old. I’ve spent the past 9 years of my life homeschooled and just recently entered public high school. I got my first real job working at a local farm stand. Like most local shops we were made up of working class managers who had lived in the area their whole lives and young high school students working for minimum wage. I don’t know what it is but that combination seems like the Holy Grail of gossip mongers and drama queens. One manager in particular (I’ll now show my snobbery by noting he was a forty-year-old man with a mullet) loved being the cool manager. He flirted with the teenage girls and told dirty jokes out back with the boys. My first week there he was doing something bizarre to get me to laugh. I can’t remember what it was now. I do know I laughed and then said “John you’re so queer.”

How could I, a homeschooler fresh from reading 17th century literature, have any idea about the loaded statement of my words? To me queer was a milder form of weird: meaning eccentric, or slightly odd. However, the minute I saw his face I knew whatever I said did not mean that in this world. He stalked out of the store silently and refused to speak to me for the next two hours of my four hour shift. We were the only two people working might I add.  I tremblingly went home and the next time we worked together I pulled him aside and apologized for offending him. Told him I was just joking and had no intention of offending him.

It took me three years to find out the etymology of the word queer, how it was used to deride effeminate men and then turned into hate speech towards homosexuals and lastly the attempted reclamation of the word by the LGBT community. I guess I tell this story to illustrate this point: Words don’t inherently mean things. Or rather the meaning of a word is so intricately connected to the culture in which it resides that they are inseparable.

I wonder if the church sometimes is in that same position as fifteen year old me, using a word or phrase that means something to us but actually means something completely different to those who haven’t been immersed in Christian culture. I wonder how many people we cause to stiffen up, walk out of the room by blithely using words that come with baggage we can’t even imagine. I’m all for reclamation. I like the concept. Taking something old and worn-out and making it beautiful. But reclamation doesn’t occur simply by insisting loudly what you think a word means is what it really means and everyone else is wrong. Reclamation involves hard and thoughtful work. Reclamation is harder work than making something from scratch. Because it involves all the work of creating something new but also involves a transformation. (There’s a reason that furniture made from barn wood is so frickin’ expensive). But I like that idea, I like the idea that the scars we have can be made into something beautiful. I like the idea of taking pain, or hurt or weapons or wounds, things that only seem destructive and using them to make something whole and true and beautiful. I think that it some of the most holy work we can do. But in order to do it we have to speak in a language of love. We may only be able, at first, to speak a few halting words but we will learn. We learn to speak a language of transformation. And it won’t be with loudly shouting the old worn-out words of pain and rejection. Rather they will be “a new song in our mouths”

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Love as a Process

Love as a process

I like results. I like to know how many kids raised their hands to accept Jesus. I like to empty my sink of dirty dishes. I like to see a pile of dirt when I sweep the floor. I like to see people run to the front of the room, tears streaming down, after I preach. I know that’s decidedly uncool to admit to nowadays but it’s the truth. I like the cold hard facts of how many showed up. But I also like that palpable high of community after a missions trip. The beauty of knowing the spirit moved during a worship set. I’ve always hated the “we planted the seed” line. I like my feedback to be quick and affirming. Even criticism doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s direct and to the point, as long as it’s a response to what I just did.

And so here I am, walking in circles in my tiny driveway, just wide enough for one car to fit, hunched over my one year old son. He’s got both feet on the scooter, both hands gripping the handle bars. I’m slightly dizzy from pushing him around. The handle bar bent sharply, so the scooter can finish its circle before hitting the unmowed grass. I can’t stop thinking about the pile of dishes in the sink or the phone calls that should be made. The checks along my to do list that will make me see results. That will make me know I’ve done something today.

I know, a stay at home mom was a bad choice of career to see quick results. I’ve heard tell, it takes eighteen years at the soonest, to find out if anything good you did stuck.

His laugh warms my heart, his chubby hands melt me but still . . . “this is accomplishing nothing” a small voice says inside me. This is not a memory he’ll treasure forever, he’s only one. It’s not really helping him build the skills he needs to learn how to walk or talk. I’m literally going in circles. And then it hits me. This, this is love. The thankless, slightly dizzying walking in circles, the actions which may not ever be remembered, the giving up your time and desires to the demands of someone who certainly doesn’t recognize the sacrifice you’re making.

I always want my love to show results, if not in gratitude, then in clear actions. I like my service to recognized by someone. And that’s not all bad. But for today, maybe for one brief second I had sympathy with the Divine Nature. One who gives with delight, even when results are so slow in coming. One who takes joy in another’s joy. One who serves with no thought of response.

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Love and Proselytizing

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I settle into my rocking chair with a steaming cup of tea. My children are playing in the driveway, still in their PJ’s (yes I’m that mom) because this Saturday morning sunshine streaming through curtained windows demanded to be enjoyed. The sky is the type of blue that clears your mind in the eternity of blueness going ever upward to where it meets the dim reality of space. Up my driveway come two people in their sunday best, smiling and respectful, bibles and pamphlets in hand. I try not to let a brief flash of annoyance across my face. I’m not one of those people who hates talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses, I usually take what they’re giving out and say goodbye politely. But today I wanted to sit, drink my tea, breathe in fresh air and just be. As they begin to talk I think about just saying “I’m sorry I believe Jesus is Jehovah” because that is the most foolproof method of ending the conversation (your welcome for that tip). But something stops me. . . oh I know Lord you want me to witness to them, that’s it. And so I engage them in conversation, searching the reaches of my mind for the bible passages that prove I’m right, something about angels not accepting worship but Jesus accepting it.

But as we talk I get frustrated. They’re not listening to me. They have no interest in my story, my hesitancy at the fact that only 144,000 of them get into heaven. My questions are dismissed with a “yes but . . . .” My cares are waved away. I get annoyed that no matter what I say, what issues I have they have a pat answer ready. A script, if you will, to explain away my difficulty’s. We end in a polite but shaky truce. They walk down my driveway and up my neighbors, ready to enter into their spiel and that’s when it hits me. I’ve been that.

Now I’ve never been one for proselytizing in malls. I don’t think the question “If you were to die tonight where would you spend eternity?” has ever crossed my lips. I always scored low on evangelism on the spiritual gifts test. But I still have approached people as projects. I remember dutifully studying good responses to doubts people have about becoming a Christian. I thought I was supposed to “always have an answer.” It had never occurred to me to listen to someone else’s story. I never would have admitted any of this, I thought I was a great friend to my non-christian friends. And in some ways I was, when I forgot I was supposed to be “winning them for Christ” and loved them the way Jesus taught me to love. But I still cringe at the flippant answers I gave my gay friend when he asked me about homosexuality in the bible. I want to bite my tongue out at the some of my answers to my friend’s pain, how unaware I was of how prevalent sexual abuse, physical abuse, heartbreak, racism, loneliness, pain and fear is. I knew nothing and I thought I had the key to the universe because I memorized some bible verses.

Slowly the Spirit is changing me. I think the work of God is everywhere. I think some hackneyed questions, when asked in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s prompting can open doors to life and relationships. But I don’t think God is using me that way. I’m learning slowly to talk a little less. I’m learning to be honest in my uncertainty. I’m learning that Jesus is enough for me when theology leaves my soul gasping. I’m becoming friends, real friends with people who have different views of God than me. Or no views of God. I’m learning to ask them questions and allow myself to be fascinated by their answers. I’m learning that things are much more difficult than I ever thought. I’m learning that there is no fear in love. If I allow myself to be afraid of an author, or an atheist, movies or a Muslim, I have shut off a channel of love in my life. I’m learning to sit in my rocking chair on a sunny summer day and to listen.

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