The Little Things

I left a small tip in my room for the housekeeping staff. And then, coming “home,” I met Gloria finishing up 215.

“Hello” and “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for my tip,” she said.

And then we talked, strangers together, listening through the beautiful dance of too little of each others’ languages (my too-little Spanish and her too-little English.)

She told me that they moved here from Texas because the services are better for her son with autism. He is eleven years old , but his mental level is six. The tips are his — money for Christmas.

Her friendly sharing and her gracious gratitude stopped me in my busyness. A sacred encounter of strangers on a journey, separate and together. May I have eyes to see and ears to hear the stories of those whose paths I cross.

Journey of Compassion

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
– Hebrews 13:2, NRSV

I waited to board my flight from Seattle to Nashville. I was looking forward to four hours of solitude, the kind I love in an airplane seat on a long flight.

As I neared my row, I saw a woman already seated in the middle seat. A beautiful scarf draped her head and body; her hands were busy with prayer beads. I realized that she had little English and was not familiar with the ways of airplane travel. My irritation quickly turned to compassion as I noticed her discomfort at being stuck on a plane in the middle seat between two strangers.

The young woman in the seat by the window helped plug in our friend’s cell phone to charge and explained that the phone would not work in the air. We showed her how to find and secure her seatbelt. When she needed to go to the restroom, I walked her to the back of the plane, opened the door for her, and held her scarf.

We learned through little bits of words and gestures that she was traveling to Tennessee from a Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya. She was going to be with her daughter who was in Tennessee … or maybe Kentucky.

About halfway through the flight, I pulled up the flight tracker application that showed where we were on our flight. We “talked” about how much longer we would be flying (two hours). How far we still had to travel (1000 miles or 1600 kilometers). I dragged the screen to show Africa and, between us, we found Sudan and Kenya on the map.

She told me, “In English you say, ‘Good morning.’ [In my language] ‘Salam Alaikum.'” I said to her, “Salam Alaikum.” And she smiled.

I saw her later at the baggage claim. She was in a wheelchair pushed by an airport employee who spoke her language. She told him that I had been helpful on the airplane. I said that I enjoyed traveling with her.

Later, I realized that I never learned her name. But I hold her in my memory, my heart, and my prayers. May God bless her journey to this new place so far from her home. May God bless her healing from whatever traumas she has endured. May God bless her life, her family, her journey. Salam Alaikum.

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
– Deuteronomy 10:19, NRSV

Common Ground


In these days when political correctness is not politically correct …
When pundits talk of two sides in their own bubbles …
When we are so reticent to share what we believe, concerned that things we say not hurt or offend someone else …
In these days of polarization …
Is there no common ground?

Is not the common ground tolerance and understanding?
Is not the common ground justice and equality for all?
Is not the common ground abhorrence of hate and embrace of love?

Once upon a time, a year or so ago,
I thought there was a wide, beautiful river of common ground
running through our hearts, our world.
I yearn for that time before I saw
the truth of what we have become.

God, have mercy on us
and give us wisdom and compassion.
God, have mercy on us
and give us courage to speak truth and act for justice.
God, have mercy on us
and show us the way to redemption.

Hate, Emboldened

Hate, emboldened,
Steps out of a closet,
Packs a suitcase,
And drives to Virginia.

Hate, emboldened,
Does not feel the need
To cover up with hoods or robes.

Hate, emboldened,
Marches in the light of day,
And illuminates the night
With torches and spotlights.

Hate, emboldened
By “free speech”
And “take back what is ours.”

Hate, encouraged by anger,
By fear, by prejudice.

Hate, empowered by the silence
Of political leaders,
Of church leaders,
Of ordinary people
Like me.

Rise up, voices of truth,
Voices of light,
Voices of courage.
Embolden Love.

What Have We Become?

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I usually wake up early,
Turn on the news,
And go back to sleep.

This morning I was shocked awake
By the news of further violence.
The targeting of police officers in Dallas.
A suicide attack at a Muslim shrine in Iraq.

God of Love, what have we become?
We need you now.
We are broken, torn apart,
Permeated with a violent malignancy.

Come, quickly.
Come, now, and heal this hurting world.
Amen.

A prayer for today.

#kellyonmymind

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A few weeks ago I found myself deeply affected by the impending execution by the State of Georgia of Kelly Gissendander who was convicted of participation in the death of her husband. My denomination, The United Methodist Church, and my personal beliefs are against the death penalty, no matter who the person is or what they have done. I have not been an activist against state executions in a number of years.

But hearing the story of Kelly Gissendander and seeing pictures of her smiling face in her graduation from Chandler School of Theology hit me in a different way. I found myself watching the clock, refreshing my Twitter feed in order to find out what was going on, and praying, praying, praying. Kelly was not put to death that evening and has had a temporary stay put on her execution.

I have been wondering about why I was so captivated by Kelly’s story when there are so many facing the same fate. I confess: I think it was because she looks like me, she’s not that different from me. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, it could have been me facing death on death row.

I was reminded of this quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-1956), The Gulag Archipelago

I truly believe that we all have within our own hearts the capacity for both good and evil. So how can I condemn and condone the state killing of someone on my behalf?

Since that evening of Kelly’s reprieve, Manuel Vasquez was killed by the state of Texas and I didn’t hear a thing about it. There are 13 other executions scheduled in the United States this year. Thirteen other children of God facing death on my behalf as a citizen of the U.S. Lord, have mercy. Show us the way.

Let’s continue to fight for life. In the name of the executed and risen Christ. Amen.
Shane Claiborne

Death penalty information.