Hmmm that surprised me – Gratitude 8/28

I confess that I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. I started watching the series when it was in season 3, which was nice because I was able to catch up to all the back episodes. Once caught up I read all the books.

The show is engaging enough that I’m always surprised when the credits appear on the screen. It’s as if a few minutes have passed and the show is over. But that’s not what surprised me in the last two episodes. My reaction, even physically, is what surprised me.

So…the show is violent. Most of the characters are complex. Sometimes story lines go off on to seemingly weird tangents. Sometimes little inconsistencies strain credulity. But I like watching it. It’s fiction and in my mind fiction has permission to strain credulity. It is also fantasy…with dragons, weird diseases, and strange abilities all alongside human beings who are often very human in their flawed decisions.

Then there are the white walkers and the army of the dead. They’ve been encountered before this season. The entire story is leading to a grand battle between the flesh and blood humans and the white walkers with their army of the dead.

Last week there was a big battle. A small group of humans was vastly outnumbered band were rescued by a queen and her dragons. The dragon fire can kill these walking dead creatures. But one of her dragons died in a battle…and is now one of the “flying” dead. This battle physically and emotionally disturbed me. I later described the episode as “intense.”

Then last night, the season finale set the story for next season’s grand battle between the living and the dead. The dead seem to outnumber the living (of course their numbers increase whenever anyone dies). So last night, the flying dead dragon destroyed the centuries old wall that separated these creatures from the rest of humanity. There used to be real, living people north of the wall but they now make up the army of the dead. Anyway, the prospect of this battle once again disturbed me.

As I’ve thought about it today, I remembered that as a child I didn’t mind fantasy. But, I never liked supernaturally scary movies. I guess I haven’t changed much.

I think my visceral reaction is because the walking dead represent pure evil. These bodies are walking fighting machines but they are vacant. They do not contain life. They do not contain the promise of life. They have no spirit. These are scary because there is no reasoning, no bargaining, no way to come to a truce.  In a sense they remind us that there is not negotiating with evil. Rather one must fight or become one of the walking dead. It seems like being swallowed into the darkness.

Thankfully this is fiction… we are walking, talking, spiritual beings. We have challenges but we don’t face an army of the walking dead. I love the story in Genesis of God breathing life into the first human…breath is life and breath is spirit. I think of Ezekiel 37 and the promise of restoration for the valley of bones. This scripture describes the opposite of walking dead, but rather the breath of the spirit, bringing life. It describes the coming together of dry bones (the rebuilding of the body), not as monsters but as new life. I find comfort in this imagery because it is a reminder that new life is possible…for each of us every day.

Meanwhile we are in a fight for the soul of our country. As we engage in that battle, we remember that humans… flesh and blood, spiritual beings… are engaged in both sides of this struggle. There is evil present, or the potential for evil, but we mustn’t de-humanize those with whom we disagree.

Jesus called us to love God and to love one another (including our neighbors). If we can do that we don’t need to know anything else. This call to love seems to be a hard call lately. We get confused into thinking that love is submission to the loudest voice. This is not true, but rather love is in seeking the good for our neighbor, and I believe this sometimes means standing in opposition to those who would exclude, oppress, or demean others. Its not easy to love in this way, but it is not an impossible. It is also necessary for our own humanity. The more I think about it, the more it seems as if hate is the feeling that can swallow us into the darkness. Lets not let that happen.

Saturday – Gratitude 8/26

It’s Saturday, so its long run day. We ran along the Ventura River today, a 10 mile up and back down. The workout was 2 miles easy, 3 miles at half marathon pace, 1 mile easy, 3 miles at half marathon pace, and the last mile easy. I think this was the hardest effort I’ve done on an uphill. I’m getting better here and look forward to doing it again.

I use Final Surge for my training and one thing I love is the ability to look a different parts of a workout…and to get summaries. Here is a bit of data:

Entire run

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 5.00.20 PM

First race pace segment (miles 3-5)

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 5.01.56 PM

Second race pace segment (miles 6-9)

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 5.02.57 PM

After our run, we (Scott, Megan, and me) went out to breakfast. By the time we actually ate, we could have called it lunch. This is typical for a Saturday.

Scott was then off to a Rams football game. Megan and I talked about seeing a movie but couldn’t find one. In honor of #nationaldogday we gave the chihuahuas baths… they would have preferred treats. She went home and I started looking at the hallway that I have been ignoring. (I’ve been removing 100 years of old paint from the trim, so that we can eventually paint).

Yesterday I did some hand sanding. Today I decided to make some progress with the random orbital sander. This works for large flat pieces and I’ll be using smaller sanders later. So, 30 minutes of taping plastic over doorways. Just over an hour of actual sanding, followed by about 45 minutes of cleaning up the mess. I think I’ve been putting off the project because sanding is so damn messy!

Unfortunately the most efficient sander is too big for the top
It’ll be nice to actually use this again.
Messy messy messy

Then a shower. And now I will sit down with a glass of wine and begin reading a new book.img_0461.jpg

Happy Saturday everyone. I’m thankful that I could do all this today!

How was your Saturday?

Transformed Living – Gratitude 8/25

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1

This endurance stuff is sometimes painful!

The above quotation sounds nice to my ears as I read it, at first. I say “at first” because there is a whole lot of potential conflict packed into these two sentences.

First, what does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices? Do we take care of our bodies? I think this is important and as an endurance athlete I could extoll the spiritual benefits of hours and miles out on the roads and trails. I would love for this text to be pointing us in this direction. But I’m afraid I would be reading my own desires into the text…a danger for every preacher.

Contextually, I’m convinced this text is part of Paul’s (the author) instructing his audience, and us on how to live as people of faith. The “therefore” bridges us to the earlier arguments against anti-Semitism. So to present our bodies as living sacrifices (as did Jesus) means to live the sometimes difficult life in defense of and love for neighbor. In this case, Jewish neighbors.

Second, what about non-conforming to the world? This sentence is so ripe for misuse. We could say we are not conforming to the world when we choose to persist in our stubbornness (whatever that may be).

As I think about this I am mindful of our problems with racism. Seeking to understand the privilege that is “white culture” is an example of what Paul is getting at. The easy thing is to ignore the issue, choosing to “just be nice” to everyone. I think that as we do this we somehow numb ourselves to the real challenges that are before us. Seeking to do what is good, acceptable, and perfect in God’s view is, I believe, to embark on that difficult journey.

This takes me back to endurance sports. Transformation from an overweight walker to a Boston qualifying marathoner came through the persistence, pain, and sometimes suffering of running long distances. Through this experience I know I can withstand anything. I also know that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. While we may want to see quick results, we learn through endurance training that transformation comes, but only through patience and persistence.

Today I am personally thankful for: my pianist friend who used my running to reminded me yesterday that transforming doesn’t happen overnight; coaches and exercise instructors; the continued love of God.


Growing up Racist #2

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10

What is godly grief? I think of it as the regret, or better, the shame that comes with recognizing the sinfulness of past (& current) behavior. Godly grief comes when we can begin to see differently. Godly grief leads to repentance…which is another way of saying that it leads to us changing our minds and changing our direction.

We are in dire need of godly grief in our nation. We, and I am speaking to white Christians, need to recognize and repent of the systemic racism that continues to define life for our brothers and sisters of color. Often, though, we become defensive and resist seeing, pretending that the problem is for another time and for other people. As part of my own confession and repentance I am remembering the racism that I’ve been a participant. Today’s story could be thought of as “casual racism” and I’m sure that some would defend it as, ‘no big deal.” But it is.

Right out of high school I went to Long Beach City College. While there I joined a “wanna-be” sorority. It was fun, but it was also a time when I engaged in some of my worst behavior (wild living). This club, like others, had to raise money for various activities and in my time there they had one large event fundraiser. A slave sale.

That’s right a slave sale. This was a night when we (female club members) would auction ourselves off…to guys. Following would be dates, or washing a car, or baking cookies, or something. As I think back on it now I’m appalled that I participated and that I did not have the maturity to recognize the casual racism and sexism that were at the heart of this fundraiser. This was truly despicable.

I am grateful for becoming a woman of faith who can say, “no, that was not ok.” I am thankful for the forgiveness God offers me. I don’t presume to think that I can receive forgiveness from those who have been hurt by casual racism and sexism.

What about you? What do you remember from your past?

Concentration – Training on Trails

Running in Malibu with my daughter. Can’t beat the view.

I crazily signed up for a 50k that will be on a local trail December 2nd.

While the race is more than three months away (and I have a marathon in October), I realize it will be here soon. Will I be ready? I am confident I will be able to do it, but I want to run it strongly, and I’m not ready for that.

Today, Megan and I ran our first run on the trail. We’ve hiked it many times but running it is completely different. Running up those hills was hard. Running down was obviously easier but I had to be very careful not to trip as I seem to be having issues staying on my feet.

To avoid falling (I did trip at the beginning) required great concentration… much more concentration than running on pavement. This was a good thing. I love the ability to think about life when running and I do much sermon preparation while running. But lately I’ve been fatigued with thinking. Not with sermon prep, but rather with thinking about the state of our world. It turns out that I today I couldn’t think about anything except the trail. The benefit of this was that my body was tired but my mind a spirit were rested. I love running!

We encountered this picnic table after 3 miles. The engraving says, “my home where I am free.” I think we need a picnic here someday.

Growing up racist – #1

“for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)

I’m writing today to my white skinned sisters and brothers…

Racism is the great challenge facing our country today (and yesterday and the day before that). Because most of us, being white, don’t usually experience the outright racism that we’ve seen in our country this week, we often don’t think there is a real problem. We can easily dismiss the cries for justice. We can easily choose to close our eyes and our ears.

And when we’re identified as racist, we indignantly cry, “NOT ME!” This cry makes sense because we reject white supremacy, we reject Nazis, we reject white nationalism. So how can we be racist?

I had a professor (in seminary) who used the analogy of fish swimming in water to describe culture. The fish cannot see the water just as we cannot see the air we breathe. The same goes with culture in that there is much we “know” and “believe” without actually being cognizant of it.

This morning I ran a nice, easy and enjoyable 5 miles. My run was, as is often the case, a good time for me to think about my sermon for Sunday. The verse above, from Romans, is part of the text for this week. I love the message that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Not only are they irrevocable, but they are free and they are unconditional. Unfortunately we don’t always hear this message and when we do, we have trouble believing it.

It was as I contemplated this, I remembered something from my childhood. Maybe you remember it too. Indian Giver.

Do you remember this? It was what you said to someone who was not honest. It was what you said to someone who reneged on an offer to give you something. It implied the revocation of a gift. It was an insult. What makes it doubly insulting is that our nation were the one who were not honest with the indigenous. It was (and still is) our nation that stole (steals) land from the indigenous. It was our nation that broke treaties.

But to justify the horrible way we’ve treated the indigenous, we projected our sins on to them…as a culture. So that when I was a child, Indian Giver, meant thief and until I learned otherwise I accepted that.

This is just one of many examples…it happens to be the one that came to mind while I ran this morning. I plan to share more examples as I remember them. I’m glad I remembered because we need to remember these things. It is in remembering that we can repent and hopefully start down the road towards peace.

Please know that God’s gift of grace is irrevocable and it is for you. I hope and pray that as we live into this gift we better see our siblings as God’s beloved.

What examples can you remember?

White Power

White power. I hate those two words together. They represent racism at its most vile. These words evoke images of violence, intimidation, and hate. I would love to reject these words when used together.

Unfortunately I can’t for the stark reality that I, throughout my life have benefited from “white power.” We don’t like to think that. And those of us who do, have substituted a less offensive sounding term, “privilege.” Or, “white privilege.” Many don’t like this expression either, because we don’t really want to face up to the idea that we have benefited from a “privileged” place in society.

Some of us might even vociferously reject this idea. I once rejected this idea. I once thought that my struggles growing up (and I had a few) negated any idea that I was privileged. I’ve since learned differently. But how I got to this place – whether I was privileged or not – is not really important for today.

What is critically important for today is the recognition that I do indeed have privilege today. As a white, middle class woman I am privileged… I have power. The most obvious illustration of that today is that I could choose to ignore the plight of our country today and I’d be largely unaffected. That is power. Many of my fellow Americans do not have that power. Many of my fellow Americans (black, brown, LGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, and other religions) are being threatened today, not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because they are not white “Christian.”

This is abhorrent to me both as a person of faith and as an American. I wept as I read statements of despair (and genuine fear) from people affected by the president’s saying “many sides” contributed to the violence in Charlottesville and his doubling down by saying that some “very fine people” were marching with the Nazis and other white supremacists.

I would love to be able to ignore this. To say to myself, “this doesn’t affect me.” But I can’t do that. So what do I do?

  • Continue to love my neighbor, realizing that this may mean speaking against my neighbor.
  • Continue to use my voice (and my power) to oppose those who espouse white supremacy.
  • Continue to pray… for strength… and for fellow Christians that we have the strength to follow the teachings of Jesus throughout the gospels and especially in Matthew 25:

…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…

I (we) must be ready to physically come to the defense of our sisters and brothers should the time arise. The other day a person who’s commentary I follow posted a lament. She is a Jew and is alarmed at the attack on Jews. She notes that her people have had to be ready for these attacks for thousands of years. She notes that the desire to attack Jews never seems to go away. I wished I could have responded by telling her she was wrong, but I couldn’t. Instead, I wrote, “I am so sorry and I vow that I will never turn my back.”

May all decent people who have the power vow to do the same.