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Strengthening Christ in us, Sharing Christ among us, and Showing Christ around us.

Reclaiming the Skill of Listening

Posted by Wendy Pratt on OP2er @ 2:45 PM

I grieve when I see the ever-growing divisions in our country.  I have spent some time pondering what we can do as Christians to bring healing and understanding to our communities, and I offer some humble suggestions. 

Too often when we listen, it is for the purpose of figuring out our response.  We live in a society that has decided that if you don’t share my political views, you are my enemy.  Too many people think that the only reason to talk to someone with whom we disagree is to convince them that they are wrong and we are right.

We need to reclaim the skill of listening.  Our listening should not be motivated by the desire to refute, convince, or shutdown the opposition.  Rather, we need to listen to understand.  We need to listen to find common ground.  We need to listen and affirm that we are hearing one another and recognize that the concerns of those with whom we disagree are just as real to them as our concerns are to us. 

In a society where it is increasingly difficult to discern the facts and motivations behind a news story, we need to look for and acknowledge the fears behind the news and the stories that we claim as true and factual. 

Rather than beating one another up with our trusted news sources, we need to connect with one another on the basis of our common emotions:  our hopes, our fears, our concerns.  In listening to people talk about the election, I have come to realize that many went into the voting booths feeling fear.  Many were voting against someone, not for someone.  Our fears may have been different, but that doesn’t mean they were less real or less important.  I may have come to a different conclusion as to which candidate was best, but that doesn’t mean we all didn’t struggle hard with our decision and seek to elect the candidate we thought was best in addressing our particular fears and the needs of the country.

The next time you come across someone with a different perspective, seek to understand.  Ask questions, listen hard, not to convince them to change, but to understand and acknowledge their feelings.  Listen to understand, and if we can understand one another: our fears, our hopes, our dreams, we will find common ground, and we can continue our journey with the strength and perspectives we all have to offer, together finding ways to respect and address the needs of one another.     

 

 

 

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As I’ve followed the election this year, I’ve seen numerous essays explaining why Christians can’t vote for Trump or why Christians can’t vote for Clinton.  I’ve seen articles questioning whether someone is really a Christian if they are supporting a particular candidate. 

I know how I intend to vote.  I am confident that I will be voting for the candidate that best reflects my Christian faith.  I have come to this conclusion after careful study of the candidates and their platforms, and after prayerful consideration as to how they align with what I understand to be the Christian message.  However, even after all this reflection, I am aware of the reality that I could be wrong.  I am an imperfect human being trying to understand the perfect God. 

Just as I want people to respect the decision I have made and the sincerity of my belief that this is what God wants, I need to be willing to respect the decision of others and the sincerity of their belief.  Yes, I believe they are wrong, but they believe they are right, and just as I need to be faithful to my beliefs and understanding of God, they need to be faithful to their beliefs and understanding of God. 

Even with our deep divisions, there are things Christians share in common, despite our differences:

  • We all want what’s best for this country.
  • We all believe our chosen candidate is the better choice.
  • We all trust in God.
  • We all want God’s will to be done in this country. 

I also believe there are things on which we can come together:

  • Pray that God would guide us as we go to the voting booths.
  • Pray that the outcome of the election would reflect God’s will for this country.
  • Pray that we would come together to respect the outcome of the election.
  • Pray that God would guide those who are elected. 

I admit, if my candidate loses, it will be hard to believe that the outcome is God’s will for the country.  However, I trust in God, so I believe God can use the outcome of this election, whatever it may be, to work good for us all.  I know that my security comes from God, and it will still come from God whoever wins this election.  I hope that is something we can all remember. 

I humbly suggest that it is time for us to come together in prayer for our country and for one another.  “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  Let’s set aside the judgement, fear, and hate to focus on love and prayer.  That is how we will transform this country. 

 

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Not Again

Posted by Kyle Dymond on OP6er @ 6:03 PM

Not Again

Not another one.  I don’t think I even want to know the details.  Like most people, I’m tired of reading about innocent people, out celebrating, dying at the hands of a disturbed individual.  Politicians are talking about how to solve the problem and keep us safe. 

How will we respond?  How should we respond as Christians?  Our first reaction is naturally to seek safety—and to punish those responsible.   The problem is where we choose to look for that safety. 

As Christians, we are called to find our security in God.  We are called to live in the confidence of those who know that God always wins. 

Our fears are telling us that other people (people with different beliefs, lifestyles, and ethnicities) are dangerous.   When we listen to those fears, we get caught in the spiral of fear and hatred and the terrorists win.  They have accomplished their goal.  When we get caught in the spiral of fear and hatred, the violence escalates.  Fear and hatred multiply and grow, and when we act out of that fear and hatred, we feed the fear and hatred of others, and we are caught in a destructive spiral.

If we have confidence in Christ, if we know God wins, we can set aside our fears.  We can step out of the spiral.  We can respond with compassion for the victims and their communities, and recognize that the perpetrators are not representative of the vast majority of Muslims, any more than white supremacists are representative of the vast majority of white, or police who respond in fear and shoot unarmed civilians are representative of the vast majority of police officers.  We can remember that Muslims are suffering at the hands of terrorists as targets not only of attacks of those who claim to be Muslim, but as they suffer from the backlash against Muslims that is the result of these attacks.   

I am in New York right now.  I will be visiting both the 9-11 Memorial and the Statue of Liberty.  I will remember and honor the victims of that terrible attack, and I will remember and honor the principles that have made us who we are as a nation.  We can’t let the terrorists rob us of our principles. 

Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  When Christ was threatened with death, he went willingly to the cross.  He calls us to follow in his way and take up the cross, too.  He calls us to face death with the confidence that comes from knowing we will share in his resurrection.  If we face terrorist attacks with the confidence that comes from trusting in Christ, the terrorists lose.

Christ has shown us the way to defeat terrorism, to step out of the fear and hatred spiral.  The world needs us to do that now more than ever.  We do it by reaching out across divisions to show compassion and solidarity with all who stand against fear and violence.  We do it by modeling a different response, a response that reaches out and stands in the confidence of Christ.  God wins.  Always.  Christ calls us to life, not fear, hatred, and violence.  Let’s step out of the spiral, and live in the confidence we have in Christ.  

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The Problem with Fear

Posted by Sarah Dymond on OA9er @ 9:33 AM

Several news stories this week have caused me to spend some time reflecting on fear.  There is, of course, the story of what has been happening in Ferguson, MO.  There is also a smaller story you may have missed, and I start with that.  In Florida, a grandmother shot her 7 year old grandson at 1:00 in the morning.  She thought he was an intruder. Fortunately, according to one account I read, he is expected to recover.

There is also the story of the conviction of the white homeowner in the Detroit area who shot a young black woman who knocked on his door in the middle of the night seeking help.  He has now been convicted of 2nd degree murder and faces life in prison. 

In Ferguson, a white police officer shot an unarmed black man.  There have been nightly demonstrations since that time, with accusations flying from a variety of sources.  Some of those demonstrations have become violent.  Businesses have been looted and set on fire.  People have been shot—by demonstrators and the police.

There are those who have pointed out the racial dimensions of the last two stories, but there is something far more basic driving all of these stories:   Fear.  Fear has a tremendous hold on our society right now, and I would go so far as to say that it is the source of many of the problems we see.  In addition to crime, we are being told to fear the national deficit, climate change, environmentalists, big oil companies, gay people, conservatives, progressives, atheists, Muslims, Christians, terrorists, earthquakes, and the list can go on, and on, and on....

The Florida grandmother was afraid of intruders, especially when her son was working nights.  On those nights, personal safety was her top concern.  She would have her twin grandsons sleep in her bedroom with her, she’d move a chair to block her bedroom door and sleep with a loaded gun.  When she heard the chair scraping against the floor, her fear took over, and she was convinced it was an intruder.  She was prepared for an intruder, so she grabbed her gun and fired shots toward the door. It must have been the most horrifying moment of her life when she heard her grandson scream.

It was fear that prompted that Detroit area homeowner to shoot the woman on his front porch.  It was fear that prompted the white police officer to view those young black men walking down the street as a threat.  And those young black men had most likely been taught to fear white police officers. When fear takes over, rationality goes out the window. 

The problem is, there is some basis to some of that fear.  On September 9, State Trooper Paul Butterfield stopped a vehicle for what should have been a routine traffic stop.  The driver, afraid of being arrested since he was driving on a suspended license, shot and killed Paul Butterfield. The police have reasons to fear, routine things can turn deadly quite quickly. There are no official records kept, but according to the FBI, about two black men a week are killed by police officers.  Black men quickly learn that there are those who fear them. 

It was over 25 years ago, when I was working in Gary, IN.  I was trying to unlock the church van.  It was a cold, snowy day.  Someone had tried to break into the van, and as a result it was hard to get the key to work in the door lock.  (Do you remember when you had to put a key into a lock and turn when you wanted to get into a car?)  The van was parked on a one way street, so I was standing in the street as I tried to unlock the door.  I was frustrated by the difficulty of getting the door to unlock.  I looked down the street to see if there were any cars coming.  There were two black men walking down the middle of the street, talking.  With all the snow on the ground, that was the easiest place to walk. I noticed them, but didn’t think much about it.  They continued down the street, talking and walked behind me. 

It wasn’t until I got into the van and started to drive off that I realized what they’d been saying. I’d heard them, but had been so focused on the door lock their words hadn’t registered. “That’s right, hurry and get in that van.  You don’t want to be out in the street when we walk by.  We’re probably dangerous.”  I felt terrible when I realized what they’d been saying, and how they’d interpreted my frustration and what they’d seen as the reason behind my fumbling with the lock. 

But that was a long time ago.   Things are different now.  I recently heard the story of a black teenager who saw two older women struggling with something.  He went over and offered to help them, and knowing this young man, I’m sure he was very polite and full of respect.  The women recoiled in fear.  He was shocked to discover he was considered someone to fear. 

With the power that fear has in our society, how do we move beyond it?  I think we have to take a step back and reconsider our fear.  We also have to rethink how we respond to the fear.  Our jails and prisons are full of mentally ill individuals.  We have prioritized keeping society safe and locking people up over addressing our broken mental health system.  Consider this story out of San Antonio, Texas and how they have saved money by addressing the core problem. 

Rather than emphasizing SWAT training for our police officers, maybe we should be training them on how to calm down a situation.  The first night Capt. Ron Johnson took charge of the police response in Ferguson, he went out and walked with the crowds, exchanging handshakes and hugs.  Now violence has returned since then, but when he put aside his fear to go out and went out to listen to the people, good things happened.  A police officer wearing riot gear is not  seen as someone who is interesting in hearing the concerns of an individual. 

Rather than responding to fear defensively, arming ourselves to defeat the perceived enemy, consider listening to the other and seeking common ground.  Look what happened when an assault victim looked beyond his fear. I would like to see what would happen if rather than emphasizing how to keep yourself safe from those you fear, we learned how to practice empathy with those we fear.  What would happen in Ferguson if the police heard the fear of the black population and the black population listened to the police discuss their fears? 

Now obviously, this would not have saved the life of Trooper Paul Butterfield.   There is no way to eliminate all danger in this world.  It seems to me, though, that what we are doing now is not working.  Let’s step back from that fear and consider alternatives. 

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Reflections on a Public Death

Posted by Sarah Dymond on OP3er @ 3:57 PM

Like everyone else, I was shocked and dismayed to hear of Robin Williams’ suicide yesterday.  I was asked to write a blog post on it, so I share some of my thoughts with you. 

My daughter has diabetes.  Before each meal, she checks her blood sugar.  We use the blood sugar to determine how much insulin she needs to take.  When her psychiatric medication needs adjusting, it is a bit more challenging.   I have told her psychiatrist that I want them to come up with a blood test that will determine what brain chemical needs adjusting.  Now, it is a matter of predicting what medication it is that needs to be adjusted.  It can take several weeks before we know if it’s going to help.  Sometimes, the change can make things worse.  Unfortunately, her medications need periodic adjusting.   I dread those times. 

When her medication is off, her brain doesn’t work right.  She is not rational, and it is impossible to reason with her.  I’ve gotten glimpses into her mind during those time, and they are difficult to watch.  When I think about how difficult it is to be with her during those times, I realize how much more difficult it must be to be her during those times.  There are times when she desperately wants to escape, and at those times suicide seems to her to be an option. 

When someone commits suicide, it may be that their only motivation is the overwhelming need to escape their pain.  In the midst of that pain, they don’t see any possibility of being out of the pain.  You can tell them the depression will end, but they can’t see how that is possible. 

We are told that Robin Williams was struggling with a deep depression when he took his life.  It is a tragic loss, and I hold his family in my prayers.  There are several things I think are worth remembering as we ponder his death.

  • Mental illness is a real, physical illness.  The brain chemicals aren’t in balance, and as a result the brain is not working properly.  It can’t be overcome through strength of will.
  • Mental illness can be a two edged sword.  Many of the most creative people have struggled with mental illness.  They have alternated between periods of creative genius and debilitating disease.
  • Mental illness is treatable.  It takes work, but with proper medication and therapy, it can be managed. 
  • People who have overcome mental illness in the past do experience relapses. 
  • There is help and support available.  There are crisis lines that can provide you with emotional support and refer you to available resources in your community. 

Many of us have been taught that suicide is an unforgiveable sin.  Obviously, I don’t know how God judges someone who committed suicide.  A number of years ago I spoke at the funeral of a young man who had caused many people much pain by his actions, which were the result of an illness.  As I spoke, I realized that despite what this man had done, we were all there because we still loved him and had forgiven him.  Our love is an imperfect reflection of God’s perfect love, and if we are able to understand and forgive, how much more can God understand and forgive?  My hope is that Robin Williams is now experiencing the peace that eluded him in life. 

I encourage you to show compassion to those who are struggling with mental illness, whether it be their own or that of a family member.  Make yourself aware of the resources in your community.  If you have the time, consider volunteering  at a crisis center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections on Current Politics

Posted by Wendy Pratt on OP12er @ 12:33 PM

 

3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith. 

 

                                                                                    Habakkuk 2:3-4

 

As I read through one of my devotionals this morning, I came across these verses.  I have not yet looked at the news or turned on the radio, so I don’t know what the latest is from Washington.  I doubt that an overnight miracle has slowed the momentum that is taking us toward a government shutdown.  I am frustrated with our political leaders, and want to tell them how to fix this mess.  I am confident that I know the perfect solution. 

 

I read the verses from Habakkuk and I see the particular politicians I disagree with as the “proud”, and nod knowingly.  I agree, the spirit is not right with in “them”.  Then I get an uncomfortable nudge from the Holy Spirit:  What about my pride?  I’m so confident I know which side is right.  I’m so confident that I know the solution.  Isn’t that pride?  Am I sure that the spirit is right within me? 

 

Here is what I do know: 

 

1.    We did not get into this mess overnight, and we are not going to get out of it overnight. 

 

2.    There isn’t one perfect solution to the current impasse. 

 

3.    The decisions that are made in Washington have an impact on real people. 

 

4.    Our hope and security come from God, not Washington.

 

Here is my hope and prayer:

 

1.    I pray that all of our leaders would set aside their self-righteous certainty to listen:  to God, to one another, and especially to the people with whom they disagree.

 

2.    I pray that we look beyond our fear and see that our security comes from God, not the government.

 

3.    I pray that we would stop blaming one another and each accept our own responsibility for the present situation. 

 

I invite you to join me in this prayer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I invite you to join me in this prayer. 

 

 

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Oceans of Love

Posted by Sarah Dymond on OA9er @ 9:23 AM

As many of you know, I was planning on joining over 1,700 pastors in Nashville for the Festival of Homiletics.  I was very excited about attending.  Then I tripped and fell, breaking my arm.  I spent 3 nights in the hospital instead of 4 nights in Nashville.  On Thursday, the last evening of the Festival, I received a text from a friend.  I could hear the evening’s entertainment over the internet.  She sent me the website.  I gratefully listened to the music, humor, stories, and inspiration, feeling a bit of sorrow that I wasn’t there to see it in person.  When I headed to bed, I took the computer with me so I could continue to listen.  Then I heard a song I’d never heard before:  After the Last Tear Falls by Andrew Peterson.  I listened, and realized that he was describing something I had been struggling to put into words as I dealt with the reality of my injury. 

Here are a few of the lyrics:

After the last tear falls
After the last secret's told
After the last bullet tears through flesh and bone
After the last child starves
And the last girl walks the boulevard
After the last year that's just too hard

There is love
Love, love, love
There is love
Love, love, love
There is love

I had been reflecting on the fact that though I was in pain and had missed out on a long anticipated trip, I was full of gratitude and feeling very blessed.  As I listened to the song, I understood why.  Your love has overwhelmed me, easing the pain and disappointment.  I was still lying in my driveway when I began to experience your love. 

That love accompanied me to the hospital and from the ER to my room.  It was there before, during and after the surgery to fix my broken bones. 

As I thought about going home, I dreaded the thought of the mess that would greet me.  I wasn’t keeping up with two hands, how would I manage with one?  Your love took care of that for me.  Your love has more than met my needs as I have struggled with the limitations imposed upon me by this injury. 

Back to the song: 

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We'll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we'll look back on these tears as old tale

Through your love, I have experienced God’s love and the healing it brings.  My wrist still hurts and limits me, I still missed out on a trip, but I have been carried through these struggles by the oceans of love you have shown me in so many ways.  Thank you for living out what it means to be the church, the body of Christ in the world.  Thank you for your patience as I continue the journey of healing and get back up to full speed.   I love you all.

Here is a link to the song:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8pfyBiqdd4

 

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Teaching Our Children to Pray

Posted by Wendy Pratt on OP1er @ 1:09 PM

I have been dismayed to see Christian leaders stating that God has been banned from our public schools and that somehow school shootings are the result of outlawing prayer in the schools.  First of all, I don’t believe God would punish children because our constitution supports the separation of church and state and freedom of religion.  Yes, children suffer because of the actions of adults, but that is not God’s will, and God doesn’t use their suffering to punish us as a society. 

I suggest that instead of teaching our children that prayer has been banned from public schools, we should be teaching our children how to pray in public schools.  I want my daughter to know that she can pray any time and any place.  I want her to know that when she is scared and prays silently, “God, help me,” that God will hear and answer her prayer.  I want her to know that when she is happy and excited, she can say (or think), “Thank you, Lord,” and God will hear. 

I want her to know that through the Holy Spirit, God is with her always.  I don’t want her to think that the Holy Spirit waits outside when she goes into a governmental building, because the Holy Spirit has been somehow prevented from entering by the government.  Think about it, are those who lament the removal of God from the public schools really saying that government is more powerful than God?  Does God obey the government? 

I want to be the one influencing her understanding of God, through what I teach her at home and the teachings of the religion I choose in the congregation to which I belong.  I want her life to point to God, not by demanding her right to pray in public, but by the light of God’s love shining through her.  It’s more important to me that people see the results of her prayers than her act of praying.  That’s my hope for my daughter, and for all of our children.  Let’s shift our focus and teach our children how to pray in public schools, stores, restaurants, court houses, hospitals, cars, and everywhere else in God’s good creation. 

 

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Reflections on the Election

Posted by Wendy Pratt on OP1er @ 1:11 PM

As I write this, I don’t know what the outcome of this election will be.  People are still voting.  I was pleased to see it so busy at my polling place this morning.  I was even more pleased that they had snaked the line around inside the lobby so we could all wait inside, rather than outside in the cold. 

Whatever the outcome of the election, these are my hopes for the future:

  1. We need to remember that ultimately our security comes from God, not the government. 
  2. If we have been praying that God’s will be done in this election, then whatever the outcome, we need to support it.  The hard reality is that sometimes my will is very different from God’s will.
  3. If our government is going to work, the parties need to come together to find common ground.  The last two years have focused too much on politics and the election and not enough on governing.  Whoever is elected, they are going to face some hard decisions, some of which will be unpopular.  Pray for wisdom and courage, that they may make the right decisions and lead us in them without thought of what that will mean for the next election.
  4. The Bible tells us we have a responsibility to pray for our government.  It doesn’t say anything about praying only for those leaders we support, or about praying for death and misfortune for those we dislike, it directs us to pray for them.  Lift up our elected leaders in prayer on a daily basis.
  5. I also think we need to pray for all of the people who worked so hard for the losing candidates.  Thank God for their passion and their love of country that motivated them to become so involved.  Pray for them to find peace with the results. 
  6. Pray that we would come together as a country, and discover that those with whom we disagree are not the enemy, but rather people who love the country and want what’s best for the country and come at those questions from a different perspective and with different priorities. 

I write this today, because tomorrow I might be the one who needs to remember these things.  One thing we know from the polls:  whatever the outcome, about half the country will be disappointed with the results.  Rather than gloat or cry foul, we need to trust the process, trust God, and move forward together as the United States of America. 

 

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Labels

Posted by Wendy Pratt on OA9er @ 9:18 AM

Yesterday evening at Adult Education we were discussing Chapter 4 of Messy Spirituality. This chapter focuses in on the ugliness of rejection. I had come across a blog post that talked about the pain of rejection in a particularly graphic fashion, and I shared it with the group. We had a lively discussion about the implications of what we were reading and the damage done by labels. When I left the church last night, I was still considering the implications of labels. As I pondered the implications, I began to think about the upcoming elections.

I don't recall ever seeing the country so divided. We are throwing around labels. Worst, once we label someone, we dismiss them. "She's a socialist." "He's a tea partier." "He's a liberal." "She's ultra-conservative." Once we've labeled someone as having views that are different from our own, we are comfortable seeing them as out of touch and/or stupid and feel no obligation to listen to them or show them any respect. We justify our refusal to engage them: "There's no reasoning with a _____." What we don't recognize is that that comment shows that we are doing the exact same thing we are accusing the other side of doing. We have shown that we aren't open to reasoning, discussing, and listening to and learning from one another.

As Christians, the only label we should place on one another is beloved child of God. If we look at those with whom we disagree as beloved children of God, how does that change our interaction with them? If we begin with the idea that we are all beloved children of God, we are called to show one another the respect of listening deeply. If we listen deeply, behind the rhetoric we will hear the fear. There is a lot of fear out there: fear of the ever growing deficit; fear of not being able to get needed medical care or prescriptions; fear of terrorists; fear of not having enough money to live on in retirement; fear of losing jobs; fear of being unable to get/afford medical insurance; fear that we are straying from the vision set forth by this nation's founders. Of course, if we listen to and acknowledge one another's fears, we may have to modify our own views. We may find that the solutions to this country's challenges are more difficult than we thought. We'll discover that they are beyond are ability to solve, and maybe we'll turn to God-- not to tell God the answers, but to ask God for guidance. Instead of telling God who we want to win the election, there’s a possibility we'll ask God who we should support. Then we can spend 2013-2016 praying for our elected officials to come together to address the challenges we face instead of plotting how to make the other side look bad so we can defeat them in the next election.

Of course, to do that, we'll have to be willing to let go of our labels. That's where we have to begin. We begin by acknowledging that even those we view as our enemies are beloved children of God.  It’s hard to hate someone once you acknowledge that they are a beloved child of God.  That’s where we start. 

 

 

 

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