Love Beyond Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is over. Some people are sad to see it go, while others are rejoicing that they made it through the hype and high expectations. While searching for something else over the weekend, I found this reflection that I shared with some friends. I decided to share it here (with some minor edits) hoping that whether or not you enjoyed Valentine’s Day this year, you are encouraged that there is love beyond any one day.

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LOVE BEYOND VALENTINE’S DAY

Today is Valentine’s Day and I’ve been struggling to find something to say about it. Then I saw a meme on Facebook that captured my attention. It was a photo of St. Valentine with the following caption:

“Roses are red. Violets are blue. I was beaten with clubs, beheaded, buried under the cover of darkness, disinterred by my followers and you commemorate my martyrdom by sending each other chocolates.”

Ouch!St. Valentine

While the statement is filled with irony and reflects the harshness of the cruel death St. Valentine is thought to have suffered, in a strange way it also reminds me of  the complicated and conflicted ways in which many of us view Valentine’s Day—especially those of us who are separated or divorced. We’ve experienced (or are still going through) a hellacious situation and the world wants us to just get over it and be excited about chocolate!

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Winter Has Finally Arrived…Darn!

winter SU
I spent my undergraduate years at Syracuse University so when I say I hate cold weather, I really mean it! I’m not being overly dramatic or a weather wuss. I’m speaking out of experience, learned the hard way with snow falling every day for months sometimes, layers upon layers of clothes and Timberland boots (not the cute kind, either). Upperclassmen would tell incoming freshmen that it gets so cold your snot freezes in your nose. Sadly, it wasn’t a lie to make you afraid. It was the harsh truth about temperatures so cold that…well, your snot freezes in your nose.

But, now I live in the Washington, D.C. area on purpose and this winter has been mild, that is, up until now. I mean how can we complain? Above average temperatures straight through the holidays and no polar vortex in sight. What a blessing—at least for those of us who hate cold weather. Honestly, I’ve embraced the warm weather like my own special gift from God and I don’t really want to transition into a winter state of mind. Continue reading

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I’m with Rachel…Until

This week I thought I might write about something light-hearted or humorous. It’s the last Monday of 2015 and since life is filled with challenges and comedic moments, I thought it would be good to spread some laughter at the end of the year. And, who doesn’t need a little comic relief every once in a while? But, then today happened and I had to revisit Rachel’s weeping. Again. tamir rice

Another grand jury. Another decision not to prosecute. Another African American murdered without consequences. Another case of justice denied. Another, another, another…

“Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’” Matthew 2:18 (NIV)

I’m with Rachel.

Rachel is in despair. Rachel is inconsolable. Sack cloth and ashes just won’t do. The text in the Book of Matthew actually says that she refuses to be consoled. It is as if she makes a decision not to let go of her grief or stop lamenting until a change comes. Until there are policy changes. Until the hateful rhetoric ends. Until there are no more mass shootings. Until mass incarceration is replaced by mass investment in our children. Until 12-year-olds playing at parks, even with toy guns, are no longer seen as a threat. Continue reading

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Don’t Forget Herod at Christmas, Terror and All

christmas on main streetFor the past three weeks, I have been preaching at a pastor friend’s church. She is on maternity leave and asked me to step in for her during the Advent season. While I’m “helping” her, it has really been a huge blessing for me as well. The church has been reading Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking, during their Bible study. I have been preaching on topics that coincide with the chapters of the book. One chapter dealt with the issue of Herod’s massacre of baby boys being a part of the Christmas story. McLaren suggests that while it is shocking to have the violence perpetrated by Herod in the story of Christ’s birth, it is necessary to keep Herod in Christmas.

I agree with McLaren on this point. Herod’s decree is an integral part of the story and while it may be shocking, it should not be a surprise that someone like Herod would take the news of Baby Jesus’ birth as a threat. As I prepared for this sermon, I could not help but recognize that this account of Herod’s massacre of baby boys to maintain his power and position reminded me of the history of violence perpetuated against African American boys and girls, men and women in our nation. Slavery, lynchings, whips, chains, rape, dogs unleashed, billy clubs, water hoses, hangings, 16 shots… sometimes it has felt like a decree was issued even when there were no laws written down. I also couldn’t help but think that Herod’s decree was terrorist activity, particularly for those living in and around Bethlehem and for the families whose child was slaughtered. Consider what Matthew records:

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’” Matthew 2:16-18 (NIV)

Christmas hollyIt may seem cruel, abrupt, even uncalled for to insert this story about Herod into the middle of the account of our Savior’s birth. I mean, everywhere around us, sometime after Oct. 31st are signs of the joy that is Christmas. Giving to others and charitable works are at an all-time high during this time of year. Cities and Main Streets across the country are decorated with holiday cheer. Lights and trees, holly and mistletoe all let us know that the season is upon us and that we are supposed to be happy about it. Just a few hours on Hallmark Channel and even the Lifetime network during the Christmas season and you’ll know that Christmas means you get everything you want, there’s always a happily ever after, the good guys always win and the bad guys either learn their lesson or get what they deserve…and, sometimes both. Scrooge’s heart is changed forever and those who don’t like Christmas are touched by the season in profound and meaningful ways. Everywhere we look there is blessing upon blessing with crises working out exactly the way we think they should. How nice…

While this overload of holiday perfection is harmless on the surface, in fact, it dilutes and distorts the real story of Christmas and sets us up to think that the birth and Coming of Christ represents a romanticized fairy tale of miracles and blessings without struggle, hardship or injustice. I believe that while Christ’s birth is a romance about God’s great love for God’s people, it is also a story about a decree, a massacre, about principalities and powers and rulers of wickedness in high places. Continue reading

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More People with More Guns? If You’re Not Joking, You Ought to Be

Black WidowI have sometimes joked with my friends that if I found myself in a dangerous situation facing would-be assailants (you know, the bad guys), in my mind I would be like Black Widow from Marvel’s The Avengers – kicking butt and taking names. I have visualized these encounters and just like Black Widow, I would do flips, avoid bullets, neutralize bombs and beat the bad guys (or gals). In my mind, I’m saving the day and all of humankind! Yay, me!

In reality, I recognize that my skills in this area are very limited. Sure, I took a self-defense class after someone attacked me.  I now feel much more prepared to handle a situation like that should it happen again. But, unlike Black Widow, whose lines and stunts are scripted, I am not at all equipped to take down the villains or criminals that I may come across. Nor do I want to be. Self-defense is one thing. Turning into a vigilante or trained assassin is something quite different.

That’s why this current rhetoric about how people should respond if they find themselves faced with an active shooter or terrorist would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. There are some who are calling for ordinary citizens to carry guns in large numbers so that if an attack breaks out they can pull out their weapons, take down the bad guys/gals and save the day. And, I suppose it could happen that way in some cases. There was the incident with the three Americans foiling a terrorist plot on the train in France. There’s the s/heroes who brought down Flight 93 on 9/11. There’s certainly other accounts of people who’ve stopped robbers, criminals and would-be terrorists.

Flight-93-012However, I think that we are overestimating our own abilities if we think ordinary citizens—even with some training—will respond in predictable ways during a crisis that requires them to use firearms. That’s how it happens in Hollywood and maybe even on “reality” television, but not so much in real life. No one knows exactly how they will react when taken off guard and faced with making quick, split-second, life-or-death decisions. You can train for it on some level but even professionals don’t always know how they will react in those types of situations. Mistakes are often made. Mistakes that end people’s lives. At least, this is what we’ve been told following case after case of unarmed African American men and women losing their lives at the hands of law enforcement officers. Continue reading

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Starbucks, Syrian Refugees and a Real Christmas Scandal

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I love Starbucks. Really. I love the coffee, the atmosphere and the way that my local store prepares my morning drink as soon as they see me walk through the door. Starbucks is just a thing with me. Once, I gave up coffee for Lent and that year Starbucks’ stock went down for the first time ever. I often joke it was because of me but, of course, that’s just not true.

Starbucks has recently been enthralled in a bit of a melodrama about, of all things, its plain red holiday cups. In case you missed it, reportedly some Christians are upset that instead of having cups during the holiday season adorned with drawings of snowflakes, snowmen, reindeer, Christmas trees, ornaments and other “symbols” of the holiday season; this year Starbucks went for a plain red cup. Apparently, the omission of these seasonal images has been interpreted by some as yet another assault on Christmas. Strange. Even confusing. You see, snowflakes, snowmen, reindeer, Christmas trees and ornaments, have nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. They are not Christian symbols. Even the so-called “Christmas” tree has roots in paganism and the celebration of the winter solstice. A cross, yes. The magi, yes. A picture of wrapped presents could work since they are symbolic for Christians of the greatest gift given to humankind – Jesus Christ.

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The window outside of my local Starbucks

But, images of seasonal or fictitious winter symbols do not make the cut as religious emblems celebrating Jesus’ birth. I suppose I should admit that I didn’t even notice the missing images on the cups. I mean with everything else going on in the world and in my life, the red cup didn’t catch my attention. This could also be because my local Starbucks was decorated with holly on the glass, displays with Christmas coffee blends, Oprah’s teas and lots of other holiday gifts to purchase for family and friends. In other words, the whole uproar doesn’t quite make it to controversial status for me and it’s certainly not a scandal.

However, not long after the red cup upheaval, the Paris attacks happened and then presidential candidates, state and local politicians began to broadcast their intentions to block Syrian refugees from coming to America, or to their city or state. Even some Christian leaders have been advocating to stop Syrian refugees from coming to the land of the free and the home of the brave. You see, presumably, one of the Paris attackers had entered Europe through Greece as a Syrian refugee. Consequently, the House of Representatives passed a bill that put additional screening measures in place in order for Syrian refugees to get approval to come into the U.S. and cities and states across the country are reneging on their promises to provide shelter and safety for the refugees. Sadly, a recent poll shows that we can’t even blame this one just on political maneuvering, although hate speech and fearmongering does have to take part of the blame. More than 50 percent of Americans do not believe Syrian refugees should be allowed in America at this time, in spite of the fact that their screening process –which takes at least two years and usually longer – is lengthier than refugees coming from most other nations.

But, Jesus was a refugee.

mother and child Syria

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Breaking the Bondage: What Churches Can Do (and Should Avoid) to End Human Trafficking

FILIPPINE_-_preghiera_trafficoIt’s hard to fathom the pervasiveness of modern-day slavery or human trafficking. An estimated 27 million women and men, girls and boys, are victims of human trafficking. As early as 13 years old, sometimes even younger, children are forced into various kinds of traumatic and life-altering exploitation—from forced labor and servitude to prostitution and other forms of sexual violence. We thought that slavery had ended once and for all but now we have to face the harsh reality that not only is it still happening but it has taken on new and insidious forms.

Earlier this week, I attended the Lott Carey Convention’s Human Trafficking Summit. Lott Carey is a global missional network of Baptist congregations who work together to extend the Christian witness around the world through missions projects, education, training and advocacy. During the Summit, the question about the Church’s logo-end-human-traffickingrole in ending human trafficking kept coming up. While some churches are mostly unaware of its pervasiveness and how it impacts individuals, families and communities; others are not equipped to minister to victims or confront the systematic issues that make human trafficking so ubiquitous. Continue reading

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