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?


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.

A prayer for today.



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.

3 Things I Learned When Answering the Upper Room Prayer Line


This morning when I got to work, The Upper Room Prayer Line was forwarded to my phone. After I panicked for five minutes trying to figure out how to make it stop, I accepted that I would be the Accidental Prayer Volunteer from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Acceptance. Sometimes things just get thrown my way whether I asked for them or not. I can get all excited and throw a fit. Or I can just accept it and do the right thing. Answering the prayer line and praying with the callers was the right thing to do.
2. Openness. I was afraid about what would happen when I answered the call. So I said, “Upper Room Prayer Center. May I pray with you?” And then people started talking about what was troubling them. When I let go of my fear and had an open heart, my mind, my heart, my mouth knew what to say.
3. Prayer time with people is holy time. What an honor it was to answer the phone and pray with a complete stranger, a person who trusted The Upper Room to hear the big and small, intimate details of their lives. They had a need and they reached out. And we were there — I was there — to say a prayer for that person. We sat together and God was present there on the phone — and in Nashville, Texas, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. God is present and sends God’s comfort right then and there through the voice at the other end of the telephone.

You can be a prayer volunteer. I recommend it. Learn more at the Living Prayer Center’s website.

Black Lives Matter


I’m wearing black to church today. I learned on Friday that today, nationwide, black churches are observing Black Solidarity Day or Black Lives Matter Sunday and wearing black to church.

At the Black Lives Matter prayer service in The Upper Room chapel, my colleague and friend, Candace, gently explained: Of course, all lives matter. They do! But we want to say that Black Lives Matter. It is Black children being killed in our streets, not all children.

I want to affirm that Black Lives Matter. Today, on this Gaudete Sunday in Advent, Black Lives Matter. Every day, Black lives matter.

Remember that Mary sang:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

– Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

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