Archives For A Better World

* This article first appeared on Patheos on November 9, 2016.  

“This isn’t middle school anymore,” one of my ninth grade teachers used to say whenever someone complained about homework, “it’s not a bunch of warm fuzzies.” Neither is forgiveness, and for many of us the holidays can feel more like forgiveness boot camp than walking in a winter wonderland. 

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As our families disappoint once us again, old hurts flare up, and holiday shopping ends in shouting matches, forgiveness can like an assault to our humanity. Could God really ask us to stoop that low, to forgive that person Continue Reading…

Several months ago I signed up for eHarmony to prove to all the imaginary critics in my life that I was doing my part to get married. You know, all those people out there who mutter under their breath about how I’d be married if I just tried harder. By the time I’d typed in my credit card number, I’d practically composed an entire speech about how I’d spent my twenties trying to get married and I wasn’t about to waste my thirties doing the same, especially if God intended to keep me single. This didn’t strike me as odd—spending my hard earned wages on internet dating just to prove some theoretical faultfinders wrong—until I heard my niece wailing about the Play-do in her tights. That’s when I realized it was time to fire the imaginary critics.

 

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I was FaceTiming my sister-in-law when my five year old niece found Play-do smashed into her tights. As her mom told her to pack up the dough so they could get to church on time, my niece began to whimper about needing her tights washed. Her mom said there wasn’t time and that no one would notice, but my niece began to wail that they would. Who? The mean people. Those all-seeing, all-knowing, invisible judges who zero in on bits of Play-do smashed into tights, who whisper disparagingly about single women who aren’t trying hard enough. It’s time to pull a Donald Trump on them and let them know for once and for all that they’re fired Continue Reading…

Thanks to Kate Knapp, LMHC, for contributing to my Finding God at Work series on how she experiences God through her work as a therapist. Check out her free counseling videos or follow her on Facebook.  

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Although I’m therapist, sometimes I feel in danger of being the bull in the china shop. I can see the damage in my clients’ lives, the hurt, and the likely reasons for it all, and I want to tell them where they went wrong and how to fix it. But even if I can diagnose the situation accurately, I can’t repair it. That’s not my job—not the job I’m paid for or the one God calls me to.

 

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Hank and I sat down for our eleventh session. We’d spent the first ten wading through the issues he’d presented for while I waited for the real issue to surface. We’d talked about his faith, low level depression, and pending life choices. We discussed doctoral programs and his wife’s thoughts about what he should do. Then, during that eleventh session, out of no where—whamoo—an affair. For the past 6 months. His wife found out when a friend saw Hank with the other woman, who was a part of his education circle. His doctoral options were now looking limited and, more importantly, his marriage was a mess Continue Reading…

We buckled ourselves into the SUV, four adults and two nieces smooshed between all the camping gear. By buckled, I mean to include Grandma’s arms which clasped around the two littles in their pink swimsuits. Not exactly legal, but the Honda Pilot inched past pine trees and toward the sand about as slow as the snails whose vacated shells we planned to hunt at the beach. Mom asked if our souls felt at rest, being here in the Adirondacks, wedged away from our busy lives, but silence greeted her question. 

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I’d spent the week sleeping late and paddling across lakes powdered with sunshine. My body had slowed down, but when I checked my soul I found it ticking away just as fast as ever. My brother and sister-in-law felt the same. 

 

It probably didn’t help that every time we got cell reception, driving through Lake Placid on the way to a hike or just outside the bathhouse at the beach, I’d look for text messages, Jen would check her email, and Jason would post pictures on Instagram. Only mom, still living in her paleontologic world devoid of Facebook with it’s real, in-person friends and live-time conversations—where being social doesn’t require media— seemed to have soul rest Continue Reading…

“So, you’re here today about your blood pressure,” I said, my words trotting out. The key to a successful morning at a doctor’s office is to keep up the tempo. Fall behind schedule before 9 a.m. and you’ll have a morning full of grumpy patients waiting for you. I dropped onto the swivel chair and opened my laptop.

 

“Blood pressure looks great. How long have you been off the pills?” A couple weeks. She’d waited till after surgery like we’d discussed.

 

“Any new problems?” No, she felt great. Surgery had gone well. No other concerns. 

 

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Photo courtesy of Megan Au via flickr.com (CC BY-ND-NC 2.0)

 

I closed my laptop and slid the stethoscope into my ears. I couldn’t believe my luck, this was going to be the quickest first-appointment-of-the-day ever.

 

“Sounds good. Hope you have a great week!” I stuffed the stethoscope into my pocket and headed for the door.

 

“One more thing…” she said Continue Reading…

This month, two black men were killed by cops, but that’s old news. ISIS also exploded a truck bomb in Bagdadkilling nearly three hundred, snipers in Dallas and Baton Rouge murdered eight cops. Then a truck barreled through the streets of Nice. Another eighty four dead. Why write about a couple of police-encounters-gone-wrong when the world’s got bigger problems? 

 

Over the last several years, questions like that one let me sidestep the news about Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, or Rekia Boyd that fell across my path. I’d squint at the headlines from a distance and, like the Levite in the story of the good samaritan, cross the street and hurry past.

 

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Starting to Care

 

All that changed, though, when my coworker, Sham, showed me a video of cops manhandling black teens at a pool party. Something shifted. I started reading the articles I never saw about Trayvon Martin. I starting asking Sham about her experience as a black woman and mother of black boys. I began to see that the amount of melanin in my skin might have more to do with my experience as an American than I’d realized Continue Reading…

During my childhood summers in Ontario, I’d bolt out of bed and check the red line on the thermometer outside the kitchen window, hoping it had crawled high enough for shorts. Summers were an endless glory of rolling down hills, jumping through sprinklers, and sucking on blue Mr. Freezies. Now, I’m more likely to start the morning by burying my face in the pillow, hoping to postpone the day’s busyness for a couple minutes longer.

 

One of the sad realizations of adulthood is that work days crowd July and August like ants swarming a scoop of ice cream on the ground. If we aren’t careful, we can spend ten months of the year waiting for summer to come, just to keep up our hectic schedules, blink twice, and watch the geese fly south. So, here are a few tips for savoring summer, even if you have to work overtime while the boss is on vacation. 

 

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Pause

 

Summer is about slowing down, giving yourself permission to sit on the deck and feel the day slip into a bath-warm night. You don’t have to take a week off work to slow down, you just need to be strategic. Here are a few tricks for shifting into a more relaxing gear Continue Reading…

Lord, 

We acknowledge that our lives in this country have differed from those of our black brothers and sisters. While we’ve experienced the common pain and grief of life, our skin color has usually exempted us from the cold looks, stinging slurs, and hasty gavels of discrimination.

We have, sometimes without even knowing it, repeated racial stereotypes in our hearts. We have at time, in our churches, failed to acknowledge injustice when it didn’t touch us personally. We have been inconsistent. We’ve prayed against the industry that rips fetuses from pregnant wombs. We’ve prayed against the beheading of Christians in other countries. We’ve prayed for villages ruptured by earthquakes and cities devastated by bombs. But we’ve ignored the injustice grinding down on the people who live in our own neighborhoods and cities. 

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Photo courtesy of Nancy Andrea D. via creationswap.com

We have failed to see. And failing to see, we’ve failed to care. And failing to care, we have failed to act. But as the list grows, of black civilians killed by individuals who’ve abused their power, we acknowledge that something is wrong. 

Help us face a problem that we would prefer to ignore. Help us to remember that, as your children, you hold us responsible to care for our neighbors. Help us feel in the bowels of our faith your heart for the powerless, your anger at their oppression, and how you sacrificed your own comfort to bring them peace. Help us to face the heat of your justice and our own failure in neglecting it Continue Reading…

My friend felt guilty. A grad student and barely able to pay rent, he didn’t have enough money to tithe and worried that he was disappointing God. As I listened to the strain in his voice, it struck me that Jesus never taught about tithing.

 

Jesus’ silence on the subject is startling considering that money was one of his favorite topics. His voice fills the gospels with financial advice, stories about bosses, investors, and trust fund babies gone wrong. He admonished a rich businessman, commended a poor widow, and sent Peter to find their tax money in the mouth of a fish.

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In the church’s current fascination with tithing, it seems we’ve lost the breadth of God’s interest in our money. We’ve settled for an Old Testament rule, adding it to our checklist of ways to please God; but, by drawing a line around a part of our income and packing it off to the church, an orphanage in Africa, or the homeless shelter downtown, we’ve restricted the scope God’s interest in our money and, as a result, shrunk our relationship with of him Continue Reading…

Lessons from the book Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior

 

As kids, we believed that we could change the world. We wanted to fly to the moon, write novels, and save people from burning houses, but then we grew up and discovered just how much time living takes. No one told us about the hours involved in keeping the boss happy, the bills paid, and the pile of dirty shirts washed. 

 

Even if we could free up some hours every week to change the world, its problems are overwhelming — sex trafficking, ISIS, the twenty-five million North Koreans cut off from the gospel. We can start to doubt whether our lives will actually make a difference and, when that happens, we need to meet Hannah More.

 

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Since Hannah died in 1833, our best venue for meeting her is Karen Swallow Prior’s book, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, which introduces us to the unlikely woman who helped end the slave trade in Great Britain. Not only that, Hannah fought for female education, lobbied against animal cruelty, and taught a nation to read. 

 

How did Hannah, a single woman without wealth, family status, or access to Parliament leave her mark on the British Isles? She believed in a God who cared about the world and worked through his children to change it. 

 

Hannah’s life reveals five facts about God that we need to grasp if we want to make a difference in our world Continue Reading…