Waking Up Earley

Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

It is hard. And I’m Not Sorry

“It is hard. And I’m not sorry.” I learned this phrase from a parent who used it in a difficult conversation with school officials. The conversation was about a curriculum choice that in the parent’s view perpetuated racial stereotypes. When the parent acknowledged that conversations about race can be difficult the school official interrupted saying, “No, no. You don’t need to be sorry.” The parent responded, “It ishard. And I’m notsorry.”

“It is hard. And I’m not sorry,” is my new go to phrase for those conversations where the stakes are high, the outcome uncertain, and I have to take a risk. It could be talking with a friend about my hurt feelings, a discussion to hold a co-worker accountable, or conversation with a neighbor about a racial slur.

“It is hard,” acknowledges that I’d rather be anywhere else, like at a dentist appointment, bathing suit shopping, or spending hours waiting on a car repair surrounded by the smell of tires, than in this conversation at this particular time.  The topic could be emotionally charged or politically potent. Maybe it’s embarrassing or awkward. “It’s hard,” spoken or thought, helps me have compassion for myself and my conversation partner as we stumble through saying what we mean in a way that can be understood.

“And I’m not sorry,” helps me summon the courage for the conversation. I don’t have to apologize for bringing up issues that make others uncomfortable. I owe it to myself to enter the fray. I regret more things I didn’t say than things I did. My mouth can be a steel trap, keeping big feelings, hard questions and unpopular truths locked inside.  I wonder how my life would be different if I had been able to say what I really meant.

 

 

 

 

 

No Candles Required

It was all so beautiful on Christmas Eve. The candles and Christmas tree lights revealed a sanctuary full of red-and-green plaid bow ties, Santa socks, sequined sweaters, and taffeta and tights. We really meant it when we raised our candles and sang, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king!” Our hearts expanded to prepare him room.

But then we blew out the candles, turned on the lights and everyone bundled out to their cars. Some of us stuck around to be sure that there weren’t stray candles to be extinguished, the doors were locked and the bathroom lights were turned off. In the glare of the sanctuary lights we could see candle wax on the pews, dropped bulletins, and smudges on the windows. A dropped glove lay on the front sidewalk.

The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.
John 1:9 (CEB)

Is the true light like the make-up mirror that magnifies and spotlights every blemish? Is it a giant neon arrow pointing out every flaw? Is it a blinking caution light warning the world that we are damaged?

Someone once came on-to a friend of mine by saying, “You look beautiful in candlelight.” My friend replied, “We all look good in candlelight.” We all do. It’s easy to believe that God would choose to dwell among us when all of our imperfections are hidden by the flame’s flicker. But then we go home to the reality of dinner-table tension and family spats. It’s hard to imagine that God would choose to be in that muddle when we’re looking for a way out of there.

What if the true light isn’t either candlelight that hides our imperfections or a spotlight that highlights them? What if the true light that comes into the world in Christ is a light that reveals who we truly are, like the art restorer’s light that discovers a hidden fresco?

What if the true light is a light that shows us the way? A trekker’s headlamp that helps us pick out our next step in uncertain terrain; a porch light in the distance that tells us that we’re almost home. What if the true light is the light that floods out the front door to welcome us back from wherever we’ve been?

The true light of Christ exposes the truth of who we are with such love that we don’t have to run away. Christ’s light invites us into the heart of God where we can be forgiven for what we’ve done wrong, healed of deep hurts, and freed to share the true light of God’s love with the world.

 

What Christmas Cards Don’t Say

I received a Christmas card from a friend. The front of the Christmas card was loaded with photos of happy, smiling people living their Best Lives Now! The family update on the reverse was peppered with exclamation points, jolly news, and travel destinations in bold.

Then we had coffee.

Though we hadn’t talked for several months, we are close enough friends for honesty over steaming mugs. No surprise, the card only told the tip of the iceberg of her family’s life. There were travels and a family wedding. But there’ve also been family fights, job anxiety and loneliness.

I wondered about all of our image conscious cards. Why can’t we just put it all out there in our Christmas letters? Why not write, “This will be the last time you get a card from this address, we’re going into foreclosure,” or “As I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, I was pretty sure I’ve wasted my life,” or even, “I don’t really like my kids this year. I’m a pretty nice person. How did I raise this bunch of jerks?”

Why not? Because not everything is everyone’s business. Secrets are how we protect those tender places that aren’t read for public scrutiny. We all know that if we put our dirty laundry on the line, someone will point at it and say, “Ick. That’s really dirty.”

There is power in bearing witness to the complicated truth of our lives. When we tell someone else about our struggles, insecurities, and personal triumphs, we each get a little less lonely. When we can unfold the layers of lives before another person without covering a part with our thumb we create a holy text. I have found healing when I’ve shared my hurt places with someone else.

But it’s okay for Christmas cards to have only the updates that are okay for other people to talk about in the grocery store check-out line.

This year, when I open  cheery Christmas cards and read the enclosed brag letters, I’ll celebrate the joyous news. And I’ll pray for the very real people and all the complicated, difficult, messy stories they’re not yet telling.

 

 

 

Barking at the Wrong Things

It turns out that the dystopian novelists are right – the world really is coming to an end. At least according to the UN’s experts on climate change. If we continue at our current rate, by 2040 (I’ll be 72 years old. How old will you be?) there will be global food shortages and millions of people living on the coast will be displaced by rising ocean levels. The report released by the U.S. on the high news day of Black Friday said much the same thing.

Meanwhile, President Trump sent troops to the front with Mexico to engage the advancing army of Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans armed with diaper bags. They are such a mighty force that they walked all the way from their home towns; so fierce that they don’t need guns or missile launchers. But it’s a fair fight since we sold all of our weapons to Saudi Arabia who kills journalists.

My dog sits in my favorite armchair and barks. She’s alerts me to the car turning at our corner, the jogger, and the man trudging down the sidewalk carrying his belongings in two grocery store plastic bags. I assume he’s spent the night in our church basement as a guest of our Monday night PADS shelter.

That same dog grabbed a box of raisins from the pantry on Thanksgiving morning. While I puttered in the kitchen making the best pecan pie ever, she ingested what could have been a lethal number of dried grapes. A number of years ago she ate two pounds of Frango mints and a bag of Hershey kisses. That time she had to spend a night at the emergency vet clinic (costing me a winter vacation).

We face real threats. But our president barks at the wrong things.

 

Paddling My Way Back to Sanity

Last week as my news feed swirled with reactions to the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, the speeding up of climate change, and the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I felt like I was reading the first chapter of a dystopian novel. Is this what it’s like to hover at the beginning of the end of the world? My chest tightened and my head felt heavy, as if someone had opened my skull and poured in concrete.

And then, scrolling through Facebook, I saw an ad for a used kayak. A red one. I imagined myself gliding through the water, surrounded by the sounds of rustling trees, birdsong and humming insects.  I realized I hadn’t gone kayaking all summer. So I went. I rented a kayak (a red one) at Busse Lake. I paddled by resting ducks and cormorants drying their wings in the setting sun. I admired the regal posture of an egret and noticed the yellows and oranges of changing leaves. I breathed in the stillness of the glassy lake and let it quiet my soul.

When I got back in my car the world was still a mess. Nothing had changed. Except me. I felt renewed, recharged, at peace. There is work to be done. We need to address the pressing concerns of our time. But not at the expense of joy. Sabbath is much more than a day of the week. Sabbath is God’s gift of time when we set aside our worry and our work to enjoy all that God has made. In Sabbath time we practice trusting that God’s love for us does not rely on our accomplishments and that our future is in God’s hands.

Advice for Young Coots

If you have a question about your love life, pet care, or your next travel destination you might consider heading to the Salt Lake City Farmers’ Market and find the “Old Coots Giving Advice” booth. The only topics off limits are politics and religion (they do have voter registration cards available). The Old Coots is a group of retired friends who took their regular Saturday coffee klatch across the street to the farmers’ market to escape boredom.[1]Their banner gives fair warning, “Old Coots Giving Advice—It’s Probably Bad Advice, But It’s Free.”

They’ve been told that theirs is the most popular booth. I’m not surprised. We all need Old Coots.” We all need people who care but are not affected by the outcome of our decisions and whose relationship with us is unencumbered by living through our past.

Old Coots provide ballast. In the church they’ve outlasted many pastors, hymnal changes, and strategic plans. They’ve experienced heartbreak, health problems, problem presidents, technological shifts, and terrible storms. If you don’t have any Old Coots in your life, get some. I suspect Old Coots need Young Coots too. But don’t pretend for a minute you’re doing them the favor. Old Coots are in demand.

 

 

[1]The full article is from Cathy Free’s article in the Washington Post, September 27, 2018.

You Don’t Have to Be Good

You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to know the right answers. You don’t have to show up on time and well prepared. You just get to be you and God loves you. That’s what grace is. Trust grace.

For many, fall is an anxious season. The cooler days and crisp nights are a relief from the clingy heat of a humid summer, but they don’t give relief for the back to school, back to schedule pressure of September. We review all the summer projects that we didn’t finish and log our inadequacies. Even if we’re not going back to class, this time of year reminds us of all the ways we are evaluated and know we don’t measure up.

A friend shared with me, a particularly well-chosen moment, the poem that concludes this post. What good news, “the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

Learn the right answer for math class. Show up on time and prepared for work. But don’t put on a false Facebook self for God. Don’t weave a list of “ought’s” and “should’s” into a lead blanket you wear in God’s presence. Just show up. Just show up with your incompletes, uncertainties, and unfinished tasks. Just show up. Don’t try to earn “extra credit” from God. God doesn’t hand out grades. That’s what grace is. The unearned gift of God’s love. Trust grace.

 

Mary Oliver
WILD GEESE

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

I wish Jesus hadn’t told us to love our enemies

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “love our enemies.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” (Matthew 5:44) I suspect he really said it because it’s not something later followers would make up so that they could be popular. Loving enemies does not win friends or influence people.

Let me be the first to admit, I don’t want to love my enemies. I want to hate them. I want hate to fuel my momentum in working for change. But hate is not a fire in the belly but a weight around the ankles. Hate doesn’t help us get things done. It cramps our thinking, it stifles our creativity. Hate calcifies our spirits, making it harder for God to breathe through us.  When I first divorced I thought hate could protect me from hurt. It didn’t. It just kept me from healing.

Love does not exclude holding people accountable, calling on them to be better than they’ve been, calling them out for what they’ve done wrong. Love does not mean we do not vote political leaders out of office, break up with a lover, or unfollow a friend on social media. Love does not mean we do not tell the truth and tell it boldly. It does not mean we do not continue to work for a just society and insist on being treated decently by the people in our lives. Love does not make us weak. Love makes us strong because it is God’s force in the world.

I’m still figuring out what loving our enemies includes. I know from what Jesus said it includes praying for them. Right now my prayer is that God would erode their hard hearts until cracks are formed where droplets of grace might enter and exand until their  hearts are broken open by God’s love.

It takes the brave to create the land of the free

“Freedom isn’t free,” we’re reminded every 4th of July and other national holiday.  Veterans are applauded at parades and honored at civic events. We rightfully remember the honored dead who fought for our country. Freedom isn’t free. But it’s not just soldiers who die for it and it’s not just military who fight for it.

November 10, 1917 was dubbed “The Night of Terror” by suffragettes. 33 women who were protesting outside the Whitehouse for the right to vote were arrested and then beaten, clubbed and tortured by the guards at the Occoquan Workhouse. (Read more about the Night of Terror)

 “Rev. George Lee, one of the first black people registered to vote in Humphreys County, used his pulpit and his printing press to urge others to vote. White officials offered Lee protection on the condition he end his voter registration efforts, but Lee refused and was murdered.” May 7, 1955, Belzoni, Mississippi (Taken directly from the Civil Rights Martyrs web page of the Southern Poverty Law Center where you can read more stories.)

Sylvia Rivera was a veteran of the Stonewall uprising and a tireless advocate for the rights of transgender and transvestite people, particularly as the gay rights movement became more main stream.

Freedom isn’t free. We all a debt to many who have tirelessly fought, struggled, suffered, and died so that our country would live up to its promises. Today we should also remember all those who worked and died for civil rights for African Americans, women and the LGBTQ community. We should tell these stories on national holidays and incorporate them into our country’s celebrations. These are the people who shaped our country as much as Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. Let us honor them by working to ensure our country really is the “home of the free.”

 

 

It’s okay to quote the Bible – It’s better to read it

If you want to follow Jesus it’s important to read the Bible and not just quote it. Romans 13 does encourage obedience to government authorities (though some think Paul wrote this knowing Roman authorities would read his letter and he wanted to take a bit of heat off of early Christians). It also encourages the paying of taxes, duties and other debts. What does Mr. Sessions make of President Trump’s violation of the Emolument Clause (foreign and domestic), obstruction of justice in the firing of James Comey, violating the Constitution by inciting white supremacy and bigotry, putting the Presidential seal on merchandise, not paying for contracted work, misuse of campaign funds, and admitting to sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tape?

There’s also these irritating scripture passages:

Deuteronomy 24: 17

Don’t obstruct the legal rights of an immigrant or orphan. Don’t take a widow’s coat as pledge for a loan.

 

 

Matthew 25: 44 – 46  

Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”

 

Amos 5:23-25

23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 

Isaiah 1: 17

learn to do good.
Seek justice:
help the oppressed;[a]
defend the orphan;
plead for the widow.

Reading the Bible should confront and challenge us. Romans 13 goes on to say: “Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is what fulfills the law.”

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