Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Evolution of Beauty

Kudos to Dove for their campaign to address the self esteem of girls!
Here is one example:
Campaign for Real Beauty

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is That a Fake ID?

On Sundays we have a Breakfast Fellowship- this is a free breakfast open to anyone- there are many regulars who make the free meal circuit and usually a few new faces. I have enjoyed getting to know them and to hear about what is going on in their lives, and sometimes to connect them with something that will help their current concern, to give out hugs, share laughs and prayers. The lay leaders have been using the VBI "Gospel of Matthew" each week showing a different passage. This week was
Matthew 12: 15-45. With so much to cover, I chose to pretty much wrap it up at verse 30 for my message.
The message time has give and take to it- I stop and ask for questions, or people raise their hands to comment and others just talk anyway. Out of all of that, below is the gist of the message from yesterday with a couple modifications:

We live in a culture where we all have some form of identification that says who we are- drivers license, Social Security card, school ID, passwords. We cannot navigate our culture without them. It is not enough for us to say who we are, we have to prove it. If we prove who we are, our ID says things about us. We protect our identity at all costs so others don’t steal it. From time to time we hear stories about people who create fake ID’s- to go places and do things that they could not otherwise do. All ways we seek to address the question of “WHO ARE YOU?”
Today we hear that Jesus cured many and ordered them not to make it known. Why would this be? Wouldn’t it help to grow Jesus’ following if news of these miracles spread from town to town? Later we hear the Pharisees tell Jesus, “If you could just give US a sign.” Prove your identity. For people who seek him to be healed, they believe in the signs, but they are not sure who exactly they believe in. But they hope- the Gentiles hope. Hope in this person whose name proclaims and enacts “Save us.” Can this Jesus be the one?
For those who are learned, who have studied Scripture and are the self-proclaimed enactors of holiness, they should know who Jesus is, but they seek a sign. The prophet Isaiah’s words are being fulfilled –“he will not wrangle or cry out”- Jesus will not engage in the debate of “prove it!” “Nor will anyone else hear his voice”- no one is getting what he is preaching and teaching- he is placing his identity before them, yet the Pharisees are the ones who are blind, who cannot hear, who cannot speak rightly of Jesus. They are sure he must be working for Satan- he cannot be who he says he is. They accuse Jesus of having a fake ID. Jesus reminds them that it is by the Spirit of God that he cast out demons, and “the kingdom of God has come to you.” He gives examples from the Old Testament that he knows should ring some bells with the temple leaders, but seemingly to no avail- they still want to see a sign.
He tries logic- If people who are sick have sinned and are full of evil, why would a force of evil, get rid of evil- wouldn’t it work the other way around? And what about the fact that these “holy men” also have “faith healers?” They can’t have it both ways. What is it that they are doing? Are they also calling upon the devil? Or are their “so-called” cures not cures at all? But the logic doesn’t work either.
What about all of the people who are sick and in need who the Pharisees have cast aside and ignored- those who the Pharisees have refused to help? A saying in Scripture is that people are “blessed to be a blessing to others.” If faithful and holy people are blessed to be a blessing to those in need, why are the Pharisees blinded to the painfully obvious needs of others, and deaf to their cries? Why when they see those who are aching for any assistance, do they find themselves with nothing to say to these people? People in need of food, and shelter, and in need of basic care- cast to the outer regions of the town and left to fend for themselves. Unable to worship or to be even become clean and whole. Erased from the minds of those in charge. What about those Pharisees who claim to be one thing, but clearly are another? Nothing seems to sway the Pharisees, but we can be left with a question- Just who is operating under a fake ID?
One of you asked if there is a connection between the Pharisees and Pharaoh. Though they are in many ways not connected- in fact this is a very interesting point to consider. The Pharisees are the temple leaders in Jesus’ day- that is who we see in our story today. Pharaoh was the leader in Egypt who kept the people of Israel in slavery. The people of Israel were trapped in their situation until God through Moses acted to free them from their oppression. Likewise the Pharisees, in a lot of the actions and decisions they made that I spoke of just a minute ago, very much enslaved and oppressed others- the poor, the sick, the widowed. And Jesus’s mission is to end this oppression and to clean house. It is as if God’s world, God’s house, has been taken over by the many forces and ways that leave people poor and oppressed. A lot of us here today know what it feels like to be pushed off to the side, left to fight on our own, in some ways trapped and unable to change things- we need healthcare, and jobs, and people to care.
This is how many in Matthew’s gospel feel and Jesus talks about stealing back the house. Sounds kind of odd to think of Jesus as committing assault and robbery. But I think in some ways the better view for our world today is “freeing the hostages.” In the many rules and policies that have caused people to be excluded, to live in poverty and pain, and to remain trapped, they have become hostages to evil- evil that enacts behaviors that do not match God’s vision. In order to restore the house to what it should be, the hostage taker must be subdued and the hostages released. This is what is happening when we hear about Satan and Jesus.
This is Jesus’ identity- the one who saves and frees the hostages. We’re freed!
It might be easy to simply reassure ourselves that we are the hostages, and someone else is the bad guy and that as long as we are not the Pharisees, we can feel pretty good. But not so fast, I think we are being told. Because I think we need to ask ourselves whether we also operate under that fake ID. We hear teaching about what we say- about God and about each other. We are not being freed to just create another hostage situation for others. We are called to choose our behavior- we are called walk the walk and talk the talk of the freed. We're asked are you with me or not? If we put on a good act, but we do not speak as we should- we are using a fake ID. If we talk a good game, but live only for ourselves- you got it- fake ID.
No matter who we are, we all need to remind ourselves that we are freed to live a different way- not just freed to take it out on others and settle scores. We not only need to pay attention to how we act, but what we say- we all know the power and the pain words can have. As we leave today, thankful to be freed, let’s think about how to live in a way that shows that how we live matches our ID.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Getting Personal with God-Psalm 19

Here instead is the final preached version:
In Friday Bible study we’ve been exploring the dynamics of the Psalms, and unpacking the poetic language and metaphor, to see the psalms as a resource for our prayers. Walter Brueggemann, author of Praying the Psalms- Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit., speaks of the world of the Psalms as evoking universal life experiences, often experiences that test our limits, and suggest that we can enter the world of the psalmist, and of all the voices who have since prayed these words in the midst of the same joys, fears and struggles we face in our prayer and relationship with God.
How fitting it that the psalm in our lectionary is Psalm 19. It is not simply a resource for prayer, but is in fact a prayer. A prayer about prayer, and about the relationship between creation, humanity and God. Like in Psalm 1 and 119, the psalmist is rejoicing and praising God’s order and work. But the psalmist also acknowledges the struggle to be faithful, hopes against fear that his imperfect-ness will be redeemed. This psalm moves from the very broad to the intensely personal- it is kind of like taking a zoom feature on a camera and moving from wide angle lens- engaging God in general terms, to a closer view of God as YHWH, or Lord, and finally to the up-close face to face shot of YHWH, a Lord who draws near as “My Rock and Redeemer.” A God who travels from the vast heavens to the place of the psalmist- to one on one intimacy where ultimately nothing can be hidden. In the immediacy of this experience we perceive not only the depth of relationship with God, but see God as Lord who desires just such a relationship with each of us and all of us. While we can be a people who shy away from “too much information,” this psalm proclaims God seeks to know us, to get personal and involved, in the midst of our shortcomings, known and unknown, as our rock and redeemer.
But how can we come to know even in part this God?
For starters, I submit we have to read the whole of Psalm 19 (our lectionary has selected only verses 7-14). To grasp the full picture we need it all, otherwise it’s like watching the TV when they announce they are experiencing “technical difficulties.” To attempt to grasp God’s image with only one half is like the picture without sound or the sound without picture. Verses 7-14 praise God’s law, or instruction. To contemplate only God’s instruction is meaningful, but incomplete. Likewise, if we were to only look at the first verses, we would see God as grand creator of nature but lack the ability to decipher what the voices of nature would lead us to grasp.
To illustrate this point, I want to move through the psalm from the opening verses, those voices of creation. I am reminded of a documentary series from the BBC entitled “Planet Earth.” Over many years and at a cost of 5 million dollars, filmmakers were able to capture exquisite footage of the many facets of our planet- the rainforests, the depths of the ocean, the polar regions, the deserts, and so on, going to the farthest corners of earth, sea and space. The images are breathtaking- far beyond the psalmist’s imagination. My favorite episode, entitled “The Shallow Seas,” depicts the watery regions just off the seven continents in their vibrancy, their diversity and their quirkiness. There are creatures with colors that are too intense and beautiful to fathom, and unusual creatures that have purposes which are clearly intended but whose function remains a mystery. Forces of nature and creatures whose migration and life cycles seem to make no sense on their own, but in the broader picture can be seen to be just as they should be for that much larger scope of the interconnected web of creation. In one example, there are 100,000 cormorants, a species of sea bird which migrates inland to breed, hatch and nurse their young- sea birds in the desert of Bahrain. They need food, but are in vast seemingly barren wasteland, of sand and the shallowest seas. But there are unimaginable events that occur- they are safe from predators, and they arrive at just as seasonal shamal winds begin to blow, whipping up the sands and picking up nutrients in their flow, which are then deposited in the Arabian Gulf to transform it into a feeding ground just for these birds at just that time. Seemingly burdensome and counter intuitive migration is in fact exactly what is needed. To watch the aerial photography demonstrating the winds in relation to the birds is mesmerizing and I’m moved to tears to fathom the God who has created this arrangement.
All of God’s handiwork is too vast to ever take in, but I sense I can join those ceaseless voices of creation bursting forth where the heavens are bursting, telling of God’s glory, day and night- their voice is everywhere. There are images are of joy- of a consummated marriage, strength, indescribable happiness and light in the farthest reaches. Yet, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “Nature never taught me that there is a God of glory and infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word “glory” a meaning for me- I still don’t know where else I would have found one.” As glorious as it is, even these photographers cannot capture the answers to “WHY”- as much as I can imagine the voices of creation singing ceaselessly their praise, using only this view, I cannot say that I would grasp that God existed if I did not believe, nor could I hope to fully perceive God. Voices everywhere but not heard- Pictures without sound.
We need to learn in other ways. This is the focus of the second section of this psalm. We again hear repeated praise, but this time, praise for God’s law, the torah- Actually more than just law, God’s life-giving instruction. Today, Jean was showing me a cartoon that I think illustrates what we think of when we hear “instruction.” It’s from Hagar the Horrible. In the first frame there is a knock at the door and one of the characters has answered it and is standing there to hear the man who has knocked say, “I have good news! I am hear with life changing instruction for the people of this house!” In the next frame, we see the character who has answered the door go back inside and tell the others, “There’s a man outside who can tell us how to get rich!” We often think of instruction as this- how to’s for making money, getting ahead, losing weight. But instead our checklist, we hear that this instruction that revives the soul; gives wisdom, that should cause hearts to rejoice, that brings enlightenment, and is righteous and enduring. It’s kind of hard to imagine “Rejoicing about the law” but the focus here is upon what is life-giving and life sustaining- this relationship with God. Just as we desire human relationships, we should desire this relationship with God even more- more than the best physical experience, the sweetest of honey, or the greatest riches.
This is when the psalmist shifts from using the Hebrew word El for God, which could be any god, to YHWH, the Lord of Israel- God as Lord who is in relationship with a chosen people-who is involved and desires relationship. We hear six different words that capture the way God provides and proscribes which will give and sustain life. Just as non-human creation has been ordered and arranged, torah is intended to point the way for humanity. Sometimes difficult to understand, or seemingly burdensome and counterintuitive to us, yet life giving and life sustaining.
We should desire to be in and to work at this relationship- to seek to learn God’s words and to go deeper. Engaging this relationship involves constant attention, study and prayer. In the world of the psalmist and in Jewish custom, one would pray three times a day in three separate prayer services- early in the morning, early afternoon, at sundown, with a fourth prayer service on major holidays, a fifth service on Yom Kippur, and many additional personal prayers and blessings throughout the day, for meals, and when going to bed. And one would regularly engage in study and wrestling with all of the meanings of God’s instruction to pursue a faithful understanding. To fully engage this would seem like unceasing speech. God’s word and God’s name always on one’s lips, in constant murmuring. This would also mean that God is constantly on a person’s mind, for to speak we must engage our brain. Yet in the midst of all of this speaking, one could argue that this is simply a one sided relationship. Just because someone speaks doesn’t engender hearing and listening from the other. Indeed some of the hurts in our lives come from feeling unheard. Without a purpose, all of this would be words without a picture.
The fuller picture comes when we put the two images together in dialogue and relationship, where we engage God as Lord, and creator, and we find God’s responses in our prayers, among community, in creation around us, and in the universal dialogue with the Scriptures. Then like the psalmist pray not only in the hope of being heard, but in the faith that we are heard. This is the core of the deepest level of the psalm, beyond words, to meditations of the heart.
We can rely upon this. God is not just God, but our Lord, and not just our Lord, but Lord with us- Rock and redeemer are not just hope, but reality. The psalmist endeavors to join in the ceaseless prayer and praise of creation and of others though he cannot grasp the whole, but only part of the power and glory of the creator. And the psalmist desires to perfect this relationship with God, but is aware that this perfection is beyond his grasp, just as his complete comprehension of God is beyond grasp. And it is in this moment that the psalmist prays about his prayer, his murmuring and his meditation- that he can go as deep as God, as faithfully as God.
To be faithful involves true prayer. In the Hebrew, the phrase kavanat ha lev, is considered essential. These words imply worship, concentration, and perhaps the hardest, singlemindedness. Prayer without this is said to be like a body without a soul- like that incomplete picture. This notion is behind the question of who can know all of their faults? We can ask ourselves- How often do we approach God in a hurry, or distractedly- in worship, in prayer, in study? For each of us, myself included, there are those times when we fail to truly engage the relationship, or we go through the motions. I know that while I should be deep in prayer and contemplation in worship, sometimes I am thinking about what to make for dinner, or something I forgot to do, or someone does something that distracts me- I think we all experience this.
The faith of the psalmist is that even when we fail to bring our full selves to a life of personal engagement with God, God’s faithfulness is not only to our instruction, but to our redemption- a relationship. The subtitle for the Bible Study, “Praying the Psalms” is- “Running Out of Words.” I initially chose this title thinking that when we cannot find the words for prayer, we can turn to the Psalms as a resource, and can join the psalmist in praying not only with words, but with ceaseless meditations of the heart, deep thoughts we cannot grasp or express. But Psalm 19 pushes deeper- we can join in the hope and faith that when we fail to fully engage, in spite of intentions, God will still find the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts acceptable. – God, our Lord, who is our rock and redeemer, continuing to seek us out, to get personal and to deepen a relationship that transcends just words. And “this is to be desired above all else.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Life Together-Community

This week I have been re-reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in as I ponder the direction of the church post-CWA. In listening, one word I have heard talked about is "unity." Bonhoeffer's first chapter, entitled "Community" opens with the 1st verse of Psalm 133, which exclaims "Behold,how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity!" Bonhoeffer observes that Christians take for granted the priviledge of living among other Christians, while Christ, in whose path we profess to follow, lived in the " midst of enemies." We live, Bonhoeffer asserts, as that people scattered of whom Zechariah speaks, among others who do not believe as we do, as seed of the Kingdom of God. We live as a people scattered who are held together "solely in Jesus Christ" in the already, but not yet time.
Yet, not all of us are blessed to be in fellowship- there are those who know the absence of this fellowship- the lonely, the sick, those who are persecuted around the world. These know most keenly the blessing they live without. They see the companionship of a fellow Christian,the face of Christ and the grace of moments we sometimes take for granted. Bonhoeffer indicts the rest of us for "trodding under foot" the gift we have each day. Sometimes our sense of entitlement blinds us to what is in our midst already.
What we have can be taken from us, this fellowship can be interrupted or disrupted. How do we respond to the notion that there are limitations? Do we chafe against these limitations as being a life that is insufficient to our desires? Can we live in the grace of a moment for its own sake? Can we live in the reality of relationships that are not all we seek? Do we live in the world at the foot of the cross or the world we prefer? Do we search for an ideal world, or Christ's reality?
Can we give thanks for the present without constantly searching for that better future we have so assuredly determined should be ours?
"If we do not give thanks for that daily Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ."
Bonhoeffer claims that "Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate."
It is because of this reality established by the cross that we enter community, not as demanders but as thankful recipients, as people who can go on living through sin and need under the blessing of grace- a divine gift even on the most distressing day. Even in the darkest hour of disillusionment, may we remember "neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed that binds us- forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ who alone is our unity.
In all of the tensions and dissatisfactions, hurt feelings and misplaced perceptions, may we start by remembering not what separates us, but what we share in common in the eyes of Christ. May we each use this view not only to support ourselves in our own hurts, but first use this view to see the other.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Happy 15th Birthday, Lutheran Chick #2- proof that Mourning and Dancing live together

Eight years ago, our world was re-scripted in ways we could not imagine.
Fifteen years ago, my world was changed in ways that still amaze me- our younger daughter burst onto the scene. This year I am so proud that she has joined in founding an Interact Club at school- the hight school version of Rotary International. Next summer she hopes to travel with People to People, an organization whose very existence dates back to post- WWII and Dwight Eisenhower's belief that peace can happen when people take the time to experience one on one relationships with others around the world. So for my peacemaker, this is a re-post from a couple years ago- without diminishing the importance and profound nature of the losses on this day, please remember that others are the new life that remind us that death and evil do not have the last word:

This week people across the nation marked the sixth anniversary of the tragedies which unfolded on September 11, 2001. September 11th holds another importance to me- my younger daughter was born on September 11th and was an elementary school student in 2001 when the world seemed like it was falling apart.

It was, in the tradition of the school, her day to be the line leader and the snack person. And it all started out like any other great day. And it is almost always clear and sunny on her birthday, as it was that day.

She had been dropped off with her cupcakes and dressed in red, her favorite color. Her older sister was also at school and my husband and I were at work. The way it worked out, my secretary was on a family trip ( about a mile from where the plane went down in PA). So I had public radio on and I was vaguely listening as I waited for a client to come for an appointment.

As the appointment began there was a report that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center but the assumption was it was a small plane. Hmm. The client came and we met. When I finished, I called our lawfirm’s main office and people were frantic. Get to a TV, they cried.

So, still wondering, I walked down the street to the coffeehouse and on the TV, the now infamous plane clips that are etched into our collective memory were rolling. I got a coffee and as people were wandering in and sitting down to watch numbly, the first tower collapsed. I watched it as though it was a surreal vision, but it had really happened.

They announced that the last plane was unaccounted for, but was over Pennsylvania. I felt like Chicken Little; the sky was falling. I frantically called my husband, and found out his government office near the school was in lockdown.

The school called and I was on my way to pick up the kids. Driving on a sort of auto -pilot. As it seemed was everyone else. My kids got in the car and it was as I saw the tear-stained face of my young child, I realized that for her this was as much about her day as anything else.

How much do you share with 7 and 9 year olds? They had heard the whispers of a few things. We talked briefly about what I could say, planes had crashed and people were not sure what had happened but that it looked like someone made them crash on purpose.

When we came home, my birthday girl was wondering why anyone would do such a thing. At the time none of us knew who was behind the attacks or why. But it seemed to come from somewhere in the Middle East. I struggled to find a way to explain why any person would embrace death in this way.

I started by saying that people do not always agree about where other people should be able to live, or what religion they can believe, or what people can say and who is in charge. I used the playground as an analogy for who gets to pick the game, or who gets to be on the swings first, or who solves a problem when there is a fight. And I admit that even though grownups tell kids not to act out, and to get along and share, we do not always do what we tell them to do. And so we argue and we fight, even though we shouldn’t. And we try to settle things the way we want and we do not take turns. And we push and shove.

Heads are nodding and I think I have made a connection. Perhaps a little too well. Because then the birthday girl points out that the difference between kids on a playground and adults is that “ when adults fight, the way they settle things is to kill.”

My eyes welled up with tears as I heard the truth of what she so boldly said- yes, sometimes this IS what adults do. And now.. what to say? To my saddened, disappointed bitter child who at age 7 knows us as we can be?

I tell her she is right, and that when people do this, it is wrong, and that it makes God sad. She laments that this is how things are. And suddenly I find a moment of good news. I ask her to think about the fact she is not the only person born on this day. That there are too many to count. And that if she and every other person born on this day says, “ I have had enough!” They can become the peacemakers. They can help to bring the change our world needs. They can work for peace, not just because it is right, but because they know how awful not having peace is. And all around the world, change starts because one person stops saying “there is nothing I can do” and starts saying, “ I can do something.”

So every year when we get to her birthday, we place flowers in church to honor the peacemakers in the world. And as the events of the past become further into history, the best hope we have of honoring memories is to work, pray and hope for peace. And when you remember September 11th, just as it evokes sadness, remember that there is life and hope and God’s promise.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

School is in Session- Part II

There are many things I am learning during my internship in the city at the Pulpit in the Sky. One of the recent facts I learned is that there are 900 homeless children attending school here in the city school district. I cannot even begin to fathom that there are 900 children, some of whom may be the children I see at the free breakfast in Sundays. What kind of a life must this be? To have nowhere that is permanent? To always be on the move? I recently posted about the need for uniforms for school- there is also a need for shoes. Which leads to another fact.
Not every child can attend school because they do not have shoes that they can wear. They may not have shoes that fit, or shoes that are not flip flops. Another obstacle to attending school. What kind of life is this where children need such basics- laundry detergent, personal care products, school clothes, food to eat and shoes? What does it mean to spend your days walking without?
In this week's lectionary, we find ourselves in the midst of Jesus' teachings on cross living-what it means to live and walk in discipleship of Christ. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."

In the extreme this teaching can be about true loss of life. But particularly as we conclude a holiday which honors the laborers, in a nation where we celebrate industry, what does "our life" mean for many of us? We have transformed culturally from a nation where those with the physically demanding jobs, children, and immigrants struggled for decent work conditions, fair wages, reasonable work hours, and limits on how young a worker can be. The labor movement spawned the honor of these people on Labor Day. A day where we honored those whose struggles could have been overlooked by the captains of the industrial revolution. We however, have turned this day into a shopping extravaganza- there are so many circulars for enticements to consume that the paper lies bloated on the front doorstep. And in our own lives at the end of the last summer cookouts and shopping, do we find ourselves lying around a little bloated too? What would it mean to us to consider denying ourselves, to consider losing such a life? What does it mean to walk without, is what we would would be without worth more than what we would gain?

Losing one's life is not about glorifying poverty and want. Instead, "taking up our cross" requires and compels us to see who is in need, and to address the needs of "why." "Taking up our cross" requires and compels us to stand with those whose "life" is not ours and to lift them up. One of the small ways here at TLC we are working to do this is to gather shoes. Shoes for the 900 pairs of feet that need them so that every homeless child has a new pair of shoes for school. Not just because they need shoes, but also because we all get joy and dignity when we are treated like equals, not cast aside.

In two weeks we will present shoes and money for shoes at the altar so that others may gain a little life, dignity and equality. May these shoes bless the lives of those they touch. May this living teach and inspire us to the many other ways we can continue to walk in the path of cross living.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

School is in Session

I have already blogged before about the great evangelism of the VBS kids in the neighborhood. So excited to share the good news they did what we struggle to do- they simply but enthusiastically proclaimed, "Hey come with me- check it out! This is good stuff!" This past week I was given a chance to follow their lead and to continue to be inspired. Of the many people who flow through our office building's doors, I have had a couple of occasions now to see one woman- she called me this past week for prayer and to see how I was and to ask for another favor- though I think really one could say it was a prayer. Her son is about to start school in a district where they wear uniforms. Earlier this summer they had been homeless. Now they have a place here in the city, but with the new job they are still catching up and he needs uniforms. There is a uniform clothing bank but they are out of uniforms and helpfully told the recently homeless mom that she should have called sooner. He cannot go to school without a uniform. All of the other places she hoped could help cannot. He is already repeating a grade.
There are uniforms for sale at the Kmart. They are only seven dollars for the shirt and seven dollars for the pants. But even if he only has two that is $28 plus the bus fare to get there and back and what if they do not have them. And he needs a backpack. I have always loved the start of school and cannot imagine what it is like to be this 8 yr old boy. So I tell her I will check out what I can do. I go to the Kmart and get the last two pairs of pants and the last two shirts in his size. Having asked about colors for the backpack I find out he loves Spiderman. I manage to find a light-up Spiderman backpack.
I call her and tell her to come and to bring N, her son. They come and we meet in the chapel. We talk about school. I give him the uniforms and before I can give him the backpack, he tells me that today is his birthday. I tell him I have something special and give him the light-up Spiderman backpack and his face glows and he clutches it.
We talk about how he will walk to school and how he is worried about doing well. I offer that he can come and see me if he has homework questions or just to talk- any time. We talk about how no matter what he is worried about, Jesus is always with him. I learn he is related to the most recent shooting victim in the city and to a victim of a violent gang-related stabbing last year. We talk about how learning gives us choices beyond the street. We put a prayer card in his backpack and then we pray. I convince him to let go of the backpack long enough to hold my hand and his mother's- we pray for his time at school, giving thanks that no matter where we go or what we face, God is always there. I give thanks that they know that God is here in a caring place where they are loved.I silently am praying he will not be a statistic in the next ten years. I pray the new job lasts. I pray that the family stays together and this little boy feels loved. I pray in my heart that he can be an 8 yr old kid whose only focus is the light up Spiderman backpack- which by the way is REALLY cool. I pray each day.
On Sunday we have the Breakfast Fellowship, free breakfast for as many as 80 people. It is devotedly provided by a core group of dedicated laypeople who show great love and compassion. This past Sunday I was honored to lead the confession and forgiveness and the psalm and to offer the benediction. But before all of that, I experienced wonderful table time with a lot of people, from all walks of life, including 6 elementary school kids here with their uncle and father. Mostly boys, but one little girl who dressed up in a floral dress "Because it was church." One of the oldest boys told me he comes to the breakfast pretty often but he "made" the others come- he told them it was good to be here. They ate, they ran around, one or two decided to go to Sunday school and others took a bag of goodies "home." I give thanks they were here, they were fed and they smiled. I wonder how often they smile.
I also wonder on the other days of the week- how often do we reach out to others and tell them- You really need to be here? We all are needy in some way. In the midst of the kids I wonder who is the teacher and who is the student?