Love Your Enemies

Mosaic

This is a repost from the Alive Now blog.

Jesus set such a seemingly impossible standard when he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5). I’ve been all jumbled up inside since I heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I felt relieved, but also sad. When I saw and heard the crowds of people cheering, I was uncomfortable. I was nervous this American response would stir up even more hatred and violence toward our country. During the night I had strange, disturbing dreams, and I woke up feeling tired and anxious.

I was worried about the current issue of Alive Now on “The Household of God,” in which we hear the voices of people from all over the world, from several different religions all talking about how we are invited to a banquet where God is the host. What if, I worried, there’s a backlash against the magazine because of these current events? (We were aware that the content of this issue would be challenging for some.) Then I remembered how we turn this magazine over to God as we begin to work on each issue, asking for God’s guidance and wisdom as we gather and shape the content. Perhaps, I thought, this issue on “The Household of God” in some way represents what God wants to say to us today.

It makes sense that Osama Bin Laden’s death would bring up emotions. 9/11 was an event of terror that brought trauma to an entire nation. And events such as Bin Laden’s death bring the trauma back as if happened only yesterday. For me, it’s brought back feelings of fear and sadness. I imagine that this event has stirred up a variety of responses in us all, especially for those who were directly affected by the attacks ten years ago and the wars since then.

Those of us who are Christ-followers have the example of Jesus, who set that seemingly impossible standard when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). May the God of love guide us. And may we keep learning how to be Christ-followers, even as we seek our place in the world community.

Blessings,
Beth A. Richardson

 

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

God Weeps

fog over water

I first wrote this piece after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. I rewrote it for the sorrow in the world today.

350 dead. … 1,000 dead. … 10,000 dead in one prefecture. Trains, boats, entire villages washed away. Thousands missing. How many will have died when the counting is done? My ears hear, but my mind cannot comprehend these numbers … In this place far away from Tennessee, in a country I do not know and may never visit, people are suffering, people are crying.

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
        she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
– Matthew 2:18, NRSV

These words of the prophet Jeremiah apply today, too.

Voices are heard in Tokyo, Sendai, Kesennuma,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
Mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers,
        friends and strangers weeping …
They refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

What can I say? How can I respond? These grieving, devastated people live so far away. But they are my sisters and brothers. They are children of the Most High, the God who must be weeping, too.

God of Compassion, with you and all the world family, we weep and mourn. Comfort all who are alone or afraid, who wail in loud lamentation, who cry silently. Let us be your heart reaching out to those who grieve. Let us be your hands working to assist those who still live. For you are the God who stands with the least and the lost. Come by here, Lord. Come by Sendai, Minamisoma, Ichihara, and Tokyo. Come by all the places that need your comforting and healing presence. Amen.

Support the Relief Effort

United Methodist Committee on Relief

The Keeper

Beth in the 1980s
Beth in the 1980s

This was my first-ever published writing — in the “Patterns” issue of alive now! J/F 1985. I wrote this following my mom’s last trip to Colorado before her death in 1983 from a brain tumor. This piece speaks to me today as I prepare the “Living in the Present” issue, J/F 2011.

Yesterday at the top of the Trail Ridge, I was getting really frustrated because Mom was so slow. I had to walk her to the bathroom and wait while she went and washed and dried her hands. I walked out. Dad wanted to go to the gift shop, but Mom wanted to look at the display in the visitors’ center. So I stayed with Mom.

I was so angry because I did not want to see the display — we’ve seen it so many times before — every year the very same display of stuffed tundra birds and pictures and charts. As I watched her walk around and read each display like it was the first time she had read it, it all of a sudden hit me that she might never see it again. Each trip for her could be her last.

The reading of the display, the rituals that we participate in as a family — certain things to be done (mail a postcard to Aunt Eileen from the top of Trail Ridge, read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”), certain things to be said (“When are we gonna get there?” “Smell that cool mountain air.” “We’ll have these moments to remember.”) — all these things take on new importance as we/she lives every day as a holy one. Mom is the keeper of the ritual right now. In the participation in these family rituals, there is a combination of such pain and joy, such comfort and such vulnerability.

From Alive Now, J/F 1985. Copyright © 1984 The Upper Room.

Caring without Numbing

Crucified Christ
Crucified Christ -- on a wall in Tuscany

[I wrote this article after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. But I return to it as new disasters occur and I find myself overwhelmed by tragedy. 2010 has been a difficult year — from the earthquake in Haiti to the Nashville floods to the Gulf oil spill. How do we care without numbing?]

The earth seems to in great chaos — shootings, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, floods, tornadoes. As we follow story after story of heartbreaking disaster, I wonder: “How can I continue to see, to hear, to read about these tragedies of human life? How can the aid workers continue to do their tasks as they hear the stories, see the losses, attempt to respond to the incredible needs? How can the survivors reach out to others when they have lost so much? How do they do it? And how did Jesus continue to care for people, day after day after day?”

JESUS MODELS CARING

The scriptures tell us that people followed Jesus everywhere. There were so many people with so many needs around him all the time. And Jesus met the needs of those people — touching them, healing them, feeding their spirits and their bodies. Jesus’ eyes saw the hurt; his ears heard the crying; his hands touched the wounded places; and surely, his heart felt pain — their pain, his pain — at seeing so many people with so many needs. I wonder, “Did Jesus ever experience compassion fatigue?” (I surely do.)

The scripture also tells us a little bit about how Jesus dealt with all the needs around him.

First, Jesus took action: He spoke with people. He touched them. He listened to them. He healed them. He gave of himself whenever he could. We can’t and don’t need to be Jesus; but we, too, can take action. Many of us can give financially or donate material goods to those in need. We can participate in community events responding to the disaster. We can help our families, friends, and children think of ways to take action.

Second, Jesus prayed: He lived his life through a series of “holy moments.” He sought God. He listened to God. He made time for his relationship with God. We can “pray the news.” Whenever we hear, see, or read about the disaster, say a prayer. Let that intersection become a way that you connect with God, asking God to be present to those in need around the world. Write a prayer list and pray it at least once a day.

Third, Jesus took time apart: He went away in a boat. He went up the hill and left his disciples behind. He sought out times to be alone with God. We can take time apart also. It may not seem that it’s ever possible, but think about the times in the day when you are alone. Standing in line at a store, driving in the car, sitting at your computer … these are times when you can take some deep breaths and turn your attention to God. Time apart for us today might mean “time away from the media.” Take a daylong fast from the news. Instead of watching the news, take that time to meditate or read the scriptures. Allow God to take care of the hurting places in the world by turning the world over to God during that day.

CARING FOR OURSELVES

Intense pain in the world and in our lives can be distressing and overwhelming, reminding us of our own grief and sadness. Just as Jesus took time away from hurting people, we also need to take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual selves.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, try praying this “rope’s end” prayer by Flora Slosson Wuellner:

Living Christ, I’m in over my head. This situation is getting beyond me. Take over; take over all the way. Fill this room, this place, [this world,] and all of us who are in it with your empowered presence. I give all of this to you. I thank you that you are here and that your light and love are enfolding us at this very moment. In your name, in your word, in your power. Amen. [Used with permission. From Prayer, Fear, and Our Powers, copyright © 1989 by Flora Slosson Wuellner. Published by Upper Room Books®.]

As I think about how I can respond to the people, the pain, the tragedies that surround me, may I remember Jesus’ example: his compassion, his action and interaction, his life of prayer, and his trust in God.

PRAYER

Loving God, touch and heal the hurting all around the world. Give us wisdom, compassion, and loving hearts to respond as members together in the family of God. Help us to follow the example of Jesus in our actions, in our spiritual lives, in our families and communities. Show us how to love without tiring, to care without numbing, to pray without ceasing. Amen.

Who Are Your Shepherds?

Beth with Dad
Beth with Dad

Excerpted from a sermon I preached on Psalm 23, April 20, 2010, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1, NRSV

I wonder — Who are your shepherds?

My dad — Charles Richardson — is one of my shepherds. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.

Now he’s walking through the shades of death … the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrinks just a little bit more. When I was with him two months ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”

I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”

Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”

“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)

“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”

I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”

He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.

We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I have become.

Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?”  And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”

I know there are so many like him — wandering through dark valleys of illness or depression or struggle.

My dad’s shepherd is his wife. He is tethered to life through her presence. But there will soon come a time when he doesn’t know her as his wife. And he will depend on shepherds who will care for him even though he may not know who they are. It’s heartbreaking to think of him in this way, and I trust that God, the great shepherd, will tether his heart in love. That “goodness and love will pursue him every day of his life.”

I need shepherds to guide me through these days of the loss of my Dad. I need to know and trust that he will have shepherds who will take good care of him. And I want to watch for opportunities to be a shepherd to others — to serve, to love, to witness to goodness, to give comfort, to nurture hope.

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode, and all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest (while others go and come),
no more a stranger nor a guest; but like a child at home.

– “Psalm 23 (My Shepherd, You Supply My Need)”
[Words: Isaac Watts; adapt. by Mary Ruth Coffman (© 1981 The Upper Room)]

Nashville in Exile

Nashville Downtown Flood Panorama by Kelsey Wynns
Nashville Downtown Flood Panorama by Kelsey Wynns


By the rivers of Babylon —
there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

– Psalm 137:1-4 (NRSV)

Image used with permission of Kelsey Wynns. © Kelsey Wynns.

God’s Love Taking Flight

Abe McIntyre of Bahamas Habitat
Abe McIntyre of Bahamas Habitat - watch the video clip

My friend, Abraham McIntyre, is working to bring healing to Haiti. The director of Bahamas Habitat, Abraham and his crew have been using social networking (both the new and the old kind), hard work, and creativity to fly medical supplies into the outlying areas of Haiti.

Bahamas Habitat normally works to build houses. But ever since the earthquake, Abraham and his volunteers have helped to facilitate evacuations out of Haiti and supply delivery into Haiti. As refugees leave Port-au-Prince and go to the countryside, the needs for medical relief there have increased.

Bahamas Habitat’s formula for Haiti:

Abraham’s always been a giver. A couple of years ago, I posted blog entries from him as he took his first year out of college and traveled around the world volunteering. He drove computer supplies to Belize, flew to the Bahamas to help fix up people’s houses, worked with homeless outreach in Atlanta. He ended up back in the Bahamas as the director of the program there. He has a knack at seeing needs and figuring out ways to meet them.

Ways to Help

  • Recruit donations of medical supplies
  • Identify small airplanes which are available to assist
  • Donate money to help purchase fuel for the flights
  • Spread the word about the needs

Learn more …

Life after Advent/Christmas/Epiphany

Ordinary mushroom for Ordinary TimeI’ve been so social, so extroverted(!!!) since the beginning of Advent that today felt a little odd. On this day after Epiphany, I felt sort of like — “Where’d everybody go?”

I asked my Facebook friends about life after Advent and here’s some of their collective wisdom:

Bob: Yes, most certainly!!! I think it is something about discipleship.

Micah: Yeah, it’s called Mardi Gras!!!

Pam: I on the other hand think its about sleeping… until the Annunciation wakes you up.

Debbie: Absolutely, there is life after everything!

Ann: Good question.

Lynda: There are wonderful ordinary days which are relaxing and can be spirit filled. I remember our student preacher, Rachel, say in a sermon that God can come in the ordinary days of January as much as in December when we are overwhelmed with it all. Was comforting to me to hear this since I love the quietness of Jan. and Feb.

What about you? Tell me about your life after Advent.

Nativity Surprise

Copper Wire Crèche

I opened a gift from my brother on Christmas and discovered the Nativity scenes from our childhood. One was the figures we had played with — with Mary’s chipped nose and the shepherd whose legs were lost along the way. Joseph’s head’s been glued back on so many times that he has a mantle of Elmer’s. Also in the box were the copper wire figures my dad crafted as a part of an Advent wreath and crèche.

As I unpacked the box, tears flowed. I didn’t know the crèches were still around. These treasures from my childhood coming back to me now — what a great gift!

I’m wondering — what are the significant rituals or symbols you remember from your childhood? Do you still have them in your life?