America is about…

Once when I was traveling in Turkey I stayed at a cool hotel in Bodrum.  It had walls upon which guests could write or draw graffiti.  I found this post there:

Repenting of arrogance

I liked that.  Made me hopeful that people from around the world might read it.

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Knowledge Leads to Empathy

Empathy comes from knowing the other.

I’ve been trying to cultivate some habits that help me be open to “other-ness,” people from outside my world, neighborhood, family, affinity groups, church, groups, you name it.

Can’t remember where I read the good suggestion that we try to shop in parts of town where we don’t live (and that perhaps have less than my share of affluent neighbors), so as to spread around material benefits.  And to meet others who aren’t just like me.

I like this Henri Nouwen quote from “Bread for the Journey”:

We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between gay people and straight people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between prisoners and free people, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics.

There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the street once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might become neighbours.

We’ve been laughing at my church lately (though we know it’s not funny) that churches can often have a “calling to the poor” that remains abstract.  A valid question is “What are the names of the poor whom you interact with?”

Thanks for Sharing Your Mother

Raised in the south, our family employed a maid who came to work for us most weekdays to cook and clean and take care of my sister and me.  And she was one of the most important people in my life.

She died 5 years ago this week.  And I’m missing her mightily.

I’ve written about her a lot in my life, and I’ve written about the unique relationship between black maids and white children in the south.  And I wrote my Masters thesis on that topic.  It’s a complicated one, of course, and one that white girls really don’t know the half of.

But today it’s too tender to share or to give more words to.  What I do want to say today, on this particular blog, is that I benefitted from her care and love because her own children went without as much of her time and energy as they probably would have liked to have had, so that she could support them by taking care of me.

And I want to thank them.  So… “Mary and Howard, Mattie meant the world to me.  Thank you for sharing her.”

Gluttony and Theology

Meat and three (plus a few)

I’m reading a very interesting book, called “Food and God, A Theological Approach to Eating, Diet and Weight Control.” Joel Soza wrote it, and it has nothing to do with another currently popular book with a similar title.  I’ve really enjoyed thinking through the themes of the role of food and eating in creation, in temptation, in Israel’s law code, in Old Testament case studies (Esau, Eglon and Eli), in the life and teaching of Jesus, and in the New Testament church.  It’s convicting, but then again I rather expected that since I know I have a problem in this area (being a typical American with a weight problem, knowing I live in a world where much of the population doesn’t have enough to eat), and I want to grow beyond that problem and act on convictions that are only somewhat recent.  So bring on the conviction!  Which Soza has done for me.

I’ll be doing a lot of posts on this, I think, as the use of food is definitely a jubilee principle (How much is right for me? Who and what do I owe for its production? How can I share?).

I want to start with a conversation around Gregory the Great, pope from 590-604 AD, who talked about the “seven deadly sins” which included gluttony.  Quoting Francine Prose’s “Gluttony,” Soza writes that “According to him (Gregory), gluttony could reveal itself in one of five ways: “too soon, too delicately, too expensively, too greedily, and too much.”  What do you think of those?  Have you commonly thought of gluttony that way if you think of it at all?

I’ll continue with some of Soza’s reflections: “By ‘too soon’ Gregory meant that one eats before there is real need to eat; by ‘too delicate’ he meant that one is too fussy or too dainty about one’s food choice and preparation; by ‘too expensive’ he meant indulgence in costly foods, by ‘too greedily’ he meant self-centered eating without regard for others; and by ‘too much’ he meant, well, exceeding the obvious measure of refreshment or need.”

I am guilty on all counts.  Good stuff to think about and — God, help me — to change.

Michelle Obama and Exposure to the Arts as a Gateway to More

I’m a fan of our First Lady.  And I enjoyed this article in the Washington Post today, “To showcase nation’s arts, first lady isn’t afraid to spotlight the unexpected.”

I love how she mixes power D.C. with “regular” D.C.  I love her attention to healthy food, arts, people.  I wish we were neighbors.  We are, relatively speaking, but we don’t exactly hang out together.

But I digress.  What I loved most about this article was her assertion that when children are exposed to a variety of things, they begin to know that more could happen in their lives.  Let me quote her, not me (way more exciting):

“My life is an anecdotal representation of the importance of music and culture. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago where you had me and my brother and a set of kids who happened to have parents that were a little more enlightened,” she said during an interview about her arts interests and advocacy. “We got to go to the symphony and we got to experience opera and we got to see and go to the museums when we were young. But we were also hanging out with kids who didn’t know these museums existed in the city they grew up in. We grew up with kids who had never seen the lake because they lived on the west side.”

She paused, and her silence underscored her disbelief. “Their disconnect from the heart of the city of Chicago was so deep,” she said, “that they had never seen the lake.”

“There’s a difference between where I am and where many of them are and that’s when I say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ because these kids were smart, engaged,” she said. “They were missing that opportunity, and many times that opportunity came in the form of arts and culture.”

I take it for granted that my children had the chance to experience all sorts of arts, as well as all sorts of all sorts of things. But how can I see to it that all children in our country will have that?

Someday

Flipsyde is a band I enjoy for catchy tunes, awesome guitar picking, and — especially — social commentary.

Their song “Someday” is poignant, following several people through vignettes in which they pin their hopes on lottery tickets that leave them with only “Make a Wish” sentiments when the scratch-off reveals that no fortune is on the way.

Check out the video for the song (and don’t miss the guitar solo at 2:06 or so).

What do we do with others’ dreams?  What do we do with all the pain we see and know?  Something akin to a lottery ticket or something deeper, Living Water?

Drunk Drivers and New Creatures in Christ

Romans 6 and its themes of “dead to sin, alive to Christ” constitute a compelling look at the tension we feel between our old nature and our redeemed nature.  We live with the knowledge that we are “crucified with Christ” but that we also would tend to return to our old sin natures without claiming the righteousness imputed to us through the cross.  This distinction is important to remember as we get tripped up easily, and when we are asking God to change us (with jubilee principles or in any other way), we are wise to think about what part of change is dependent on grace and what part requires our effort or our disciplines to line us up to see, apprehend and then act on that grace.

The apostle Paul does a particularly good job of reminding us that there always exists a mysterious dichotomy between the part of sanctification that is our part vs. the part that is God’s part.  Romans 6, in verses 11 to 13, reads “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

Those lines that read “…do not let sin reign…” and “…do not offer the parts of your body to sin…” came to my mind this week when I was thinking about something dumb I did one time.  I was at a party with older people.  I was about 30; the rest of the folks were in their 50s.  We had cocktails at one house, and then we were going to move on to a dinner elsewhere.  All the women drew sheet music out of a big bin, and then the men drew sheet music out of another bin.  When we found the man with the same music, we “got to” drive to the next phase of the party with him.  And “my guy” was drunk.   He wasn’t drooling or falling down, but he had visibly crossed over a line.  And I took a deep breath and got in the car with him.  Because it would have been awkward to make a scene, or not please the hostess, or for some other dumb-ass reason.

So I was thinking how much that’s metaphorically like “letting sin reign” or “offering the parts of your body to sin.”  It’s handing the wheel to the wrong driver.  We do it all the time in our lives, in big and small ways.  I did it literally with a drunk driver.  It’s the opposite, I’d say, of that Carrie Underwood song, “Jesus Take the Wheel.”

The only advantages I can think of to my brief drive with the older intoxicated man are that it gave me a spiritual metaphor and it gave me ground to talk to my children about how even grown-ups feel peer pressure (and should take the keys!).