Max and the fifth home

All Max the cat wanted was a home.

He didn’t have one that day many years ago when my daughter discovered him curled up in the corner of a park near our house, frozen with fear and overheating on a scorching summer afternoon.

Max was a house cat – he’d been neutered. But now, he was separated from home. Nobody knows why. Maybe his owners abandoned him. Perhaps Max – who was very inquisitive – boarded someone’s truck unseen and was transported away from his home.

How he got there didn’t matter anymore. Now, he had a second home.

Not that it was all easy for him. There were other cats in the house, one of which didn’t get along with him. Seven years ago, he was outside and got attacked, apparently by a much larger animal.

When I found Max that day, he was bleeding from the mouth and torn up inside. He nearly didn’t make it. The vets recommended giving him one more day and if there was no progress, it would be time to euthanize him.

On the day of decision, Max stood for the first time, took some wobbly steps and ate food. Down to his final hours, he clung to life and began to heal.

Sometimes, the final word is a purr.

“All he wanted was a home”

When I was divorced five years ago, Max came with me to his third home and was my companion. I’d arrive home from work and he was there to welcome me and demand attention.

He made sure I never came home to an empty house.

At night, he would jump on the bed and put his paw on my wrist as he curled in for sleep, wanting to feel that flesh-to-flesh connection. It was soothing.

When I moved a year ago, Max came along to his fourth home. He was content so long as he got a little tuna each day and a lot of attention.

After he nearly died in that attack years ago, Max’s need for attention and affection increased and could become annoying. He wanted to be petted nonstop. There were times I’d push him away or tell him to go away because it was too much.

Today, I miss the annoyance.

Max quickly went downhill over the weekend. He was 14 years old. Renal failure. It happens. Only one humane option left.

“Paw to wrist, heart to heart”

The vet gave him a sedative as he lay on my lap. I cradled Max’s head with my hand, reassured him everything was going to be OK, told him I loved him, and promised we would remain connected always.

He reached out his paw and touched my right forearm, maintaining our connection with his final breaths.

Gloria and I brought him home and buried him in the warm and welcoming shadow of his fourth home, even as he takes up residence in his fifth.

I believe the Creator of Life would never abandon a beloved creature or push them away. No, the God of Love cherishes and wants connections with us and among us: paw to wrist, hand to hand, heart to heart.

And home. God provides a loving home to all, no matter which number it is – first, second or fifth.

Welcome home, Max.

On the road to a better place

The last step in our mending process is choosing a new destination. Once we’ve identified our current location, we pick the place we want to go, map a route and head out.

We must envision a better place – and describe it for others – before we can get there together. We need to develop a path forward and extend a hand for others to accompany us.

That’s how societies heal and move forward again.

So, what’s our vision for our society? How is it different from the vision of those who want to keep us divided, angry, fearful, miserable and at each other’s throats?

Moving toward a different place begins with showing people what it looks like. It involves sharing our vision and our dream for how we can live together in ways that benefit all people of goodwill.

Jesus talked about the kingdom of God more than anything. He described it, modeled it, lived it and enacted it through his words and his choices.

He reached out to those who were on the receiving end of someone’s cultural, religious or political war and invited them into this alternate and already-present kingdom that operates on love rather than violence and respects everyone as an equal child of God.

He described it as a place quite opposite of how his society operated – the last are first, the greatest are the least, the hurting are freely offered healing, those who are struggling take precedence.

He invited everyone into a different way of living. That’s our intent, too.

Offering the world a very different image

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., followed this pattern. He offered a different vision – a new destination – for a racially divided society. He offered his dream of a world where all God’s children were treated as equals. He advocated and enacted it as best he could while inviting others to join the holy and creative work.

How we go about it matters greatly.

We must resist the temptation to respond to violence – physical or verbal — with our own. We can’t allow those promoting war to suck us into their anger and hostility and fear.

We’re not here to join in their mutual destruction; we’re here to transform.

This doesn’t mean we allow others to spew hatred unchecked or harm others without a response. The question is in what form we respond.

Trading insult for insult gets us nowhere – eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth stuff. Instead, we challenge purveyors of war with a vision of peace built upon nonviolent work for justice and equality for all God’s children.

We’re not going to change the opinions of those consumed by a war mentality, but we can reach the many people who are listening to our conversations and, like us, looking for a better world.

Most of all, we begin this re-creative act by living and enacting our vision through our daily lives, making it real in our interactions with others. Slowly and inexorably, the movement grows and the healing occurs.

That’s the journey. And it’s already begun.

(“Praying Hands” image courtesy of josephleenovak @creativecommons.org)

Clearing our heads and hearts

Before we can repair and heal our society and ourselves, we’ve got to let go of a lot of toxic stuff we’ve inhaled.

On some levels, we’ve absorbed the words of division, domination and derision in our society. We’ve heard the war cries of those who want to pit us one against the other. We’ve been conscripted into nonstop battles over religion, culture and politics.

Nobody who’s engaged in our society can avoid being drawn into the muck. When something noxious is dumped into water, animals that live there can’t avoid ingesting it.

Neither have we.

We’re anxious and on edge. We’ve become addicted to our screens, habitually looking for the latest outrageous thing that will set us off.

People waging their nonstop wars have gotten into our heads. They don’t want people living in joy and peace; they demand conflict and attention.

It’s time to let all that go.

We need clear minds and loving hearts as we set off on this journey to build a better land. We can’t let those voices continue to get under our skin and inside our souls.

This work of cleansing is as old as humanity. We see it throughout our history and our Scriptures as well.

Jesus lived in times much like ours, full of wars over culture, religion and political power. He invited everyone to live a different way. He advocated for the kingdom of God, a place where we call a truce to our nonstop wars and love one another, even those deemed an enemy.

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We don’t achieve peace by winning wars; we create peace by instilling
justice in our world.

The culture warriors of his day reacted the same way they do now, attacking and demonizing him. They clearly recognized that his message of love and healing and peace was a threat to their divisive way of life.

“Evicting those voices from our heads and hearts”

In the midst of all this, Jesus would go off by himself to clear his mind and get re-centered. He pushed those other voices out of mind and created a space to hear God’s voice.

So must we.

We can’t allow the voices of conflict and division to take up space in our heads. We can’t obsess over them or let their harsh words provoke a harmful reaction. We can’t allow them to conscript us into their latest war.

Instead of allowing them to rob us of our peace, we need to show them the door and evict them. We need clear heads and loving hearts to transform and redeem our world.

This doesn’t mean we stop working for justice – far from it! We persistently push for it. But we do this holy work in a spirit of healing and unifying rather than dominating and dividing.

We’re children of God, not enemy combatants.

Next: Picking a destination

(“Praying Hands” image courtesy of josephleenovak @creativecommons.org)

Finding the starting point back

When we get lost, the first step in finding our way back is figuring out where we are. It’s like a Google map that requires you to include not only your destination but your current location to map the way.

We need agreement on a starting point.

To get our society headed in a better direction, we need to do the work of locating ourselves. To put it another way: Before we can prescribe a cure, we have to assess our woundedness.

And right now, our society is very sick and lost.

We’re divided down the middle and fighting over everything. Even common-sense things like protective masks are turned into battlefields. Anxiety, fear and unhappiness pervade our society.

For a land with so much, we’ve got so little of what really matters.

We’re lacking peace, purpose, and any sense of community. There’s a hole where our heart ought to be. We seek happiness in materialism and consumerism that can never provide it.

Instead of redeeming our lost souls, our Americanized, White-washed, wealth-based version of religion leads us deeper into the darkness.

“So much … and so little of what matters.”

We’re so invested in wars — cultural, religious and political — that we don’t even recognize the sickness producing them. Instead of love and justice and healing, we choose hate and inequality and misery. Addictions and violence abound.

We’ve abdicated our responsibility to love one another. Our virulent individuality corrupts our decency. We see others as enemies instead of siblings in God’s family.

We choose narcissistic leaders – political and social and religious — who promote endless conflict and unrestrained self-interest. They bully and belittle and habitually lie about the state of our sickness.

The truth can’t set us free when we’ve decided it no longer matters. We’ve substituted “alternative facts” and personal opinion for the self-evident truths about ourselves.

The truth? We’re looking for what we all need – love, peace, joy, fulfillment, wholeness, satisfaction, connectedness, caring community, respectful relationship, a profound experience of our Creator — in all the wrong places and all the wrong ways.

We need to repent.

Repentance isn’t about beating ourselves up. Rather, it’s about taking a truthful look at ourselves because we care enough about ourselves and each other to want to do better.

“Because we care enough to want to do better”

We’ve been given a chance to do better. We need a time of revival, a day of reformation, a season of internal transformation.

It starts with recognizing where we are and envisioning a better place. We can’t stay where we are; we must set out for an entirely different destination.

Next: Clearing our heads and hearts for the journey

(“Praying Hands” image courtesy of josephleenovak @creativecommons.org)

Ready for change?

Whenever we make a major choice – an election, for instance – we create a possibility for change. Such a time is at hand. A long-awaited day has arrived in our deeply divided society.

We can keep going down the same dead-end path, or we can turn around and begin anew.

A lot of people are ready to chart a new course.

By every measure, our society is a mess. And, let’s admit it, so are we. We’re anxious and stressed and exhausted by years of chaos and conflict and bullying and divisiveness and lying and incivility from leaders in all parts our society, including religion.

We’ve inhaled a lot of toxic stuff, making it difficult to breath. We’re ready for fresh air. We’re yearning to heal and mend and move forward.

None of this is new. It’s a tale as old as time.

We humans have a history of falling and getting up. We wander away from what matters – love – and get completely lost. The question is how long we wander before we realize we’re lost and begin to find a way back.

Our Scriptures are full of such stories, tales of people and societies that were lost and then found. Our faith tradition is full of second chances, falling and rising, sin and redemption, death and resurrection, and division and reconciliation.

How do we get back on track? How do we mend and heal? Our faith provides a template.

The journey back begins with recognizing how far we’ve wandered off course. Prophets come along in many forms and challenge us to take an objective, unflinching look at ourselves.

They urge us to see what a mess we’ve become. See what needs to change. Compare what we’ve become to what we’re meant to be.

Then, we repent – a word that simply means aiming to do better. We commit to personal change as well as collective transformation. We re-center ourselves in love and renew our work to redeem and heal the world.

The mending process requires commitment and effort. Healing doesn’t just happen. Division doesn’t magically disappear. The fever won’t break until we address the underlying causes and eradicate the illness.

It’s holy and sacred work. It’s the work that’s given to us to do.

No, not everyone will be on board. Many will insist things are great and we need to keep heading in the same direction. They’ll continue stoking fear and hatred and endless wars over culture, politics and religion.

No matter.

We don’t need to get everyone on board; all we need is enough people committed to making a difference. That’s how it always works.

Each of us is a strong stitch than can pull things back together. Stitch by stitch, we repair what others have torn apart. We make all things new again.

That is the story of our faith. That is the way of human history. People come along to repair what others have ripped apart, including the parts of themselves that have gotten torn.

Tomorrow: Looking at ourselves

(“Praying Hands” image courtesy of josephleenovak @creativecommons.org)

We need one another

One Lisa Fotios at Pexels

What do you miss during social distancing?

I miss hugs. Concerts. Attending church. Sharing a birthday cake. Being there in person to feel someone’s joy or pain or struggle.

I miss Singo, a sing-along version of bingo. During Singo, nobody cares about political labels, age groups or religious affiliation. Everyone sings familiar lyrics together, and strangers get up and dance with one another.

Everyone just enjoys each other’s company.

All those activities are on hold as we try to contain the spread of a virus that leaves death and battered bodies in its wake. When the time comes that we can safely be social again, I hope we’ll do it with a renewed appreciation for each other.

I hope the pandemic has taught us how much we need one another.

We needed that lesson. We’ve become so divided that we’ve forgotten we’re intimately bound to one another.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, we’re all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” Mother Teresa said that “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

How did we forget that? How did we lose the pleasure and peace of each other’s loving company?

Perhaps a confluence of factors is responsible for fraying our common fabric.

Our culture worships individuality, the myth of the self-made man who pulls himself up by his bootstraps without anyone’s assistance at all. It’s all about me and my rights.

The Americanized version of Christianity promotes this self-centeredness, too. The prosperity gospel preaches self-absorption. Pad your personal accounts – financial as well as spiritual – while telling those bleeding by the side of the road to work harder.

We’ve got political, social and religious leaders trying to sell us the bitter pill of division as well. They want us to quarantine within political, social and theological bubbles, pushing away everyone who is different.

They frame it as us-against-them and promote nonstop political, cultural and religious wars against anyone not inside our bubble.

No! They’re selling a lie. The last three months have reminded us how much we need to stop the fighting and start reconnecting with one another.

Those connections are what we miss.

God made us as social beings. We’re hard-wired to be together and have relationship with God, with all God’s children, and with all God’s creation. Those artificial divisions deprive us of what we need most.

Hopefully that’s the pandemic’s lesson for when the time comes that we can safely come together again as extended human family.

We need one another.

(photo by Lisa Fotios @pexels.com)

 

 

 

Who’s atop our pedestals?

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We drove through a small town on our way to a nature area for a picnic and a hike in southern Ohio. The town is quaint with old storefronts dotting the public square.

In the middle of the square is a cannon, part of a large war monument that lists the names of town members who died in various wars. It’s a nice gesture to remember their sacrifices.

What struck me, though, was how there were no other remembrances of anything else involved with the town. How odd, I thought.

There was no mention of the town’s founder. Nothing honoring the teacher who started the first school that taught children about their world. No tribute to the town’s first doctor who made house calls in the middle of the night.

Nothing honoring the wise and compassionate leaders who developed the town and got it through times of division, showing everyone that there are ways to settle differences other than conflict.

I’m not picking on this one town. Most places – large and small – are the same way, if you think about it. There are war memorials and monuments to warriors in rural and urban communities.

Sporting events have morphed into tributes to the military, with fans applauding those who serve.

Meanwhile, we give comparatively scant attention to those who teach us, heal us, help us to grow in wisdom. We don’t invite doctors and nurses to stand on dugouts between innings for applause. We don’t invite teachers and social workers to stand at midfield for tributes.

We don’t hold ticker-tape parades for scientists and researchers who develop treatments that save our lives and our environment. We don’t create memorials to those who feed the poor and help the needy and work for peace.

No, our pedestals are mostly reserved for those who conduct war. So is our national budget; our society spends as much on the military as the next seven countries combined.

There’s nothing wrong with remembering the sacrifices of military people. When theirs are the only sacrifices we honor, however, we’re doing something other than showing appreciation to them.

We’re glorifying conflict and worshiping war.

My dad was a paratrooper in the Korean war. He was wounded and returned with his emotional scars. Neither he nor any of the other veterans in my family circle spoke of the atrocities they saw.

None of them glorified war.

Noble and courageous acts occur during war, but war itself is the ultimate human failure – God’s children killing God’s children — and must never be portrayed as anything else, certainly not with pedestals.

During our response to the pandemic, we’ve started paying more attention to people who have been overlooked by comparison.

We’re seeing the brave medical workers sacrificing to save lives and how we have failed to give them the support they need. We’re appreciating teachers much more after two months of home schooling.

We’re seeing how ordinary people treating others with compassion and care. We see regular folks doing courageous and noble acts to keep others safe.

We see so many people who belong on pedestals. We need to think about which ones we choose to put there, and why.

(Photo courtesy of Szilas @commons.wikimedia.org)

Healing a broken system

heal atomicity creative commons

Americans read about foreign hospitals overwhelmed by the coronavirus and mistakenly thought those horror stories could never happen here because our health care system is so good.

We spend more per capita on health care than any other developed nation, which provided a sense of security that was badly misplaced.

The virus has exposed a broken system. Our faith compels us to try to heal it.

The heart of religion is about healing our individual and collective brokenness and repairing ruptured relationships with God and one another. We must be healed, and we also must be healers, both individually and collectively.

The accounts of Jesus’ life describe him as a gifted healer who offered healing to everyone free of charge. He could have leveraged his abilities, but he chose not to.

He never monetized healing. Instead, he offered it like grace to anyone who desired it. He sent his followers to heal collectively in the same unbrokered way.

We’re meant to do so as well. As N.T. Wright puts it, “Healing is far too important and central to the stories about Jesus for those who wish to follow him today to ignore it.”

We can’t pretend about our health care system anymore. Long before the pandemic, we knew it was broken.

Millions can’t afford it. Those with health coverage face crippling debt for something as common as cancer. Premiums and deductibles soar. The cost of drugs jumps exponentially.

We saw with the opioid epidemic how a profit-motivated system inflicts suffering and death on society by pushing drugs that enrich the bottom line.

The coronavirus stripped away any remaining illusions about our system.

A doctor in a New York City emergency room wrote last month about her experiences as the virus raged. Dr. Helen Ouyang described for The New York Times Magazine how the system was ill-prepared for a pandemic that the medical profession had long predicted.

She described patients crammed into the ER, lying in their own waste while dying unattended because of depleted medical staffs.

Doctors and nurses were among the sick and dying because of inadequate protective equipment, a situation Dr. Ouyang described as far worse than in any of the “third-world” countries she visited on relief missions.

Applauding health care workers every evening or posting grateful memes isn’t enough. We have the resources we need to fix the system. What’s missing is our resolve.

Profit will always be part of the system, but we can’t allow it to be the engine driving it. Providing healing at an affordable cost for all God’s children must be the overriding intent.

There are many ways to do this. We need wide-ranging discussions to plot the best path and then enact changes, knowing we’ll get pushback from those making enormous profits off the current, broken system.

When healing is turned into a high-priced commodity available only to those who can afford it, we get a sick society. What we need now is healing. And people committed to being healers.

(Photo courtesy of atomicity @creativecommons.org)

Tomorrow: Monuments to war

 

 

 

 

Faith in our broken society

values burrows.nichole28 CC

The pandemic has shown us that we need to change not only our individual lives but our collective ones as well. There’s a lot in our society that’s deeply broken and needs fixed.

Our spending priorities are askew. Our health system is a mess. Our leadership is lacking. Our decisions favor some lives and render others expendable.

In times like these, prophetic voices challenge systems and shape discussions. We need to be those voices.

We can’t hide inside places of worship. We must get involved in what’s happening outside our doors.

Faith and values apply not only to our personal lives, but to our collective lives as well. If they don’t, our faith is only half-hearted and our values null and void.

Our religious tradition urges us to love God with all our hearts in all areas of our lives, not just the convenient parts. We’re to love our neighbors – all of them, in all situations – the same way we love ourselves.

Real faith is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Throughout history, many religiously observant people have endorsed superficial faith. Some Christians peddle the notion that Jesus’ values — love, compassion, forgiveness, healing, inclusion, caring for the needy, promoting peace — should apply to personal lives but can be excluded from our collective choices.

They say our society should be run by conflicting values – wealth, greed, privilege, self-interest, domination.

The same mentality created slavery and Jim Crow. White Christians insisted that their oppressive systems were exempt from Jesus’ commands to treat everyone as an equally beloved child of God.

We can’t limit faith to a few areas of our lives. We can’t ignore what’s being done by the various social systems that need our support or our inattention to continue.

That’s the real test of faith.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, “A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions. … Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.”

One form of religion mustn’t gain privilege or supremacy; rather, faith compels us to ground our collective decisions in the loving values that are the foundation of all true religion.

Our conversations about the many challenges confronting us must begin by acknowledging our shared responsibility to care for all God’s children and all God’s creation in all circumstances.

It’s all-or-nothing.

We’ll sometimes disagree about how best to accomplish goals, but we must always be in accord on the underlying intention for all we do. Love alone must be our motivation.

If we choose a different starting point for our collective decisions, then we’ve not only lost our way but any semblance of faith as well.

(Photo illustration courtesy of burrows.nichole28 @creativecommons.org)

Tomorrow: Healers in a broken system

 

 

Dead end of denial

dead end

We explored the illusion of control in yesterday’s reflection, how we all go to great lengths to convince ourselves that we’re in charge when, clearly, we’re not. Much denial is involved.

Illusion and denial go hand-in-hand.

We’re all mired in forms of denial, which doesn’t make us bad, only human. The challenge is to recognize it and decide how to move beyond it.

It’s a powerful drug, this denial. It anesthetizes us from the results of our self-destructive choices, both individually and collectively. It allows us to avoid the hard work of taking stock and making changes.

When I was growing up, I got a powerful lesson in how our lives improve immensely when we’ve got the courage to emerge from denial.

My dad was a wounded veteran from the Korean war. He brought demons back from the battlefield and tried to drown them in alcohol. All it did was make everything worse for everyone.

After a few difficult years, he recognized how his drinking was a problem and courageously resolved to change. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and transformed his life, finding healing ways to deal with his demons.

Transformation starts with facing the things we’ve worked so hard to avoid or explain away. Or, to put it another way, it begins with taking the plank out of our own eye.

Spirituality is about recognizing the denial that prevents us from changing, healing and growing in love.

There were people in Jesus’ religious culture who liked to ostracize and throw stones. He tried to get them to see that they should stop judging others and instead see what needed to change inside themselves.

They were so deep in denial that they didn’t hear anything he said. Judging others’ behavior gave them a pass from looking at their own.

Religion can easily devolve into systems of blame and denial. Horrific things are done by people invoking God’s name and insisting that others deserve the horrible things done to them.

Injustices proliferate because people are in denial that anything’s wrong, that they play any role in the injustice, or that anything can be done to make a situation better.

Things aren’t so bad, people will say. And besides, other groups of people have it bad too, so there’s no point in talking about any of it. Let’s just change the subject.

Denial is a dead end. Real faith forces us to take another path.

Thankfully, God is always trying to resurrect us from the tomb of denial. God wants us to be transformed into more honest and more loving versions of ourselves.

Remove our planks, drop our stones, and love instead.

(photo courtesy of creativecommons.org)