Waking Up Earley

Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

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.”

What Are You Waiting For?

When I saw the play “Waiting for Godot” I kept waiting for something to happen. Something else to happen. Something besides waiting. While the two men wait they sing songs, tell stories, examine sore feet, encounter other travelers, muse. But mostly they wait. At the end of the first act a boy tells them that Godot will be there the next day. The two men leave to sleep. And then they come back the next day (next day for them, second act for us) and wait some more. They consider not waiting. But then they keep waiting. We aren’t told why they’re waiting. We aren’t told why Godot is worth the wait, or what they expect will happen after Godot arrives. The play was about what happened while they waited for Godot.

Life is what happens while we’re waiting to die. Thinking about the play later, I decided that’s what it’s about.  Some might find that depressing. I find it freeing. There’s no pretending we’re more important than we are. Everything dies. Trees. Tigers. The black and coral striped centipede I saw on my walk today. My dog. Books get eaten by moths and music is forgotten. Great ideas are discovered and set aside and then discovered again.

If there is no  Meaning or Purpose or Plan, if there is no need to Make it Matter or Point to Prove then there is nothing to lose. There are no missed opportunities or lost causes. If life is about what we do while we’re waiting to die, we might as well enjoy what we can. I am free to write or hike without worrying if it’s what I’m Supposed to do. I can tinker or toil. If I want to spend my time waiting watching West Wing and drinking whiskey I can. It’s entirely up to me.

One of the two men waiting for Godot is more dour than the other. One is more ready to laugh and sing and the other to grouse and complain. Might as well laugh and sing, it makes the waiting more enjoyable. We’re all waiting to die, so there’s no need to be an asshole. No one wins in the end, we might as well be kind.

Christ is risen? Indeed?

It seemed so easy on Easter Sunday, didn’t it? I don’t mean the worship service. That took weeks of planning and practice by our chancel choir, musicians, contemporary music ensemble, the arts team, and a host of volunteers.  I don’t mean my sermon. I worked hard to make it relevant, funny (but not like I was trying too hard to entertain), heart tugging (but not saccharine) and pithy.  I don’t mean the packed-in crowd that made it feel like church was the cool thing to do and we don’t wrestle with how to provide ministry to busy people with volunteers who are also busy people.

What seemed easy was our certainty. We sang Christ the Lord is risen today! Al-le-lu-ia! Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!and Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes…I may have even fist pumped the air. Without a hint of doubt we responded to the proclamation, “Christ is risen!” with the exclamation, “Christ is risen indeed!” It was glorious.

But we aren’t always that certain, are we? In our heart of hearts we respond to “Christ is risen!” with a question mark, “Christ is risen? Indeed?” Part of our difficulty may be that we can’t quite reconcile the mechanics of the story with what we know about science. Faced with a miracle we do what we always do, try to find a rational explanation. But more troubling are the days when we don’t see any evidence that Christ is risen. We hear “Powerless love conquers loveless power” (William Sloane Coffin) on Sunday morning, and then watch the news Sunday night.

I want my faith to be bold and unabashed. More often I follow Jesus the way I enter the ocean – testing the water one toe at a time. I think God has room for lots of ways of following – tentative and reckless, full of exclamation marks and littered with question marks. I am grateful, though, for those glorious moments when a life of faith feels like when we’re all singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in a packed sanctuary.

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