The Gift of Risk

IMG_0624I watched my two and four year old sons ascend the ladder of the tall slide.  Twenty, twenty-five feet?  Metal and a steep grade; this slide survived from the early days when playgrounds were actually pretty exciting, a place where you could feel a thrill of adrenaline-pumping weightlessness as you peaked the arc of the giant swings and hovered there, lifting out of the rubber saddle, gasping.  Sometimes you let go and went flying through the air, attempting to stick your landing, or at least not get your wind knocked out.

I lay back on the sun-warmed merry-go-round and watched the heavens circle above me.  Memories of white-knuckled thrill rides, holding on for dear life while centrifugal force tried to turn all of us wide-eyed kids into projectiles, sometimes succeeding, were as vivid as the smell of the chipping hot paint beneath me.

There was a high look-out platform at my elementary school, accessible by climbing a network of intersecting chains, clambering over the top edge, and standing with a simple rail between us and a bone-shattering fall.  There were rumors about kids who’d fallen to their possible deaths, but I don’t think anyone got seriously hurt on it.  We loved leaning over that rail, mentally picturing the ground zooming up at us, feeling butterflies of fear in our stomachs.

My children use playground equipment improperly.

If the spiral slide is too slow and not long enough, they’ll climb on top of the outside of it to challenge themselves; to seek that line between pushing away fear and holding back from foolishness.  To test their balance, their nerve, their ability.  If the swings are too low to achieve a good speed and height, they’ll climb the support poles and walk across the tops.  And when we find a precious vintage playground with merry-go-rounds, calf-crunching teeter totters, and high swings?  They’re in their glory, even if, and sometimes especially if, they get hurt a bit.

It’s been discussed quite a bit among those who study such; how managed risk helps to make kids safer.  How tame, “safe” playgrounds are simply boring for kids.  How kids who’ve never been allowed to test their limits are highly vulnerable to real dangers.  I think about that as I watch mothers forming an admonishing, controlling ring of managers around the merry-go-round.  The kids are made to stop the whole thing for each approaching kid to get on, and then painfully slowly they are given a light push, only to stop a moment later when the understandably bored kids want off.  When all their kids got off and they walked off to monitor other play with the same exacting interference, my kids got on.  The two year old hovered beside the spinning structure, tentatively reaching out and pulling back his hands as he gauged which bracket to grab.  He reached and his chubby legs pumped hilariously fast as he sought to retain hold, and he hefted himself inside, grasping for a handhold against the outward force.  He made it, and he smiled.  Moments later he misjudged and tumbled off; a scuffed knee and dull pain told him all he needed to know for next time.  Moms exchanged glances; I imagine that they thought there was some slacker of a mom around who’d let such shenanigans happen without stepping in.

 

IMG_2707 I gently lift the upper cover of each beehive, wafting smoke down through the inner cover’s vent hole.  I pry apart the structure, box by box, moving slowly, avoiding bumps and bangs.  Bees overflow and land all over me, some hovering at my bee veil.  Stings hurt.  A lot.  That pain informs the way I move, even the way I breathe.  It has made me a better beekeeper, and a safer one.

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There are no compromise times for me though; parking lots, streets, when I’m working with lye to make soap, when I’ve got a boiling canner going, when I deeply distrust a stranger hanging out near my kids; then the red flags are waving madly and I’m on high alert, and I’ll grip their hands just as white-knuckled as I’d held on to the merry-go-round bars as a kid.  But that fear all the time?  No.

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Sometimes things appear more dangerous than they actually are.  In Machu Pichu I posed for this picture which seems like a giant drop-off into the steep canyon below, but there was actually another terrace below me (and then the death plummet).  It took me a while to handle with some peace my older children being able to walk around town unaccompanied.  I imagined every creepy guy I’d ever seen, every wild driver, every scenario of disaster.  But what actually happens is that my kids experience new freedom and a sense of themselves in the world.  They purchase candy from the gas station and test their balance on low stone edge walls.  They talk to townsfolk.  They look both ways without me telling them to.

I don’t get a guarantee that they’ll be safe, only that they’ll have truly lived; a gift most of us grew up with, riding our bikes “no hands” on summer evenings.

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Many Thanks

It’s felt a bit like Christmas, gift after gift, and joy to match.  Two friends who faced cancer were healed.  My foster niece will soon legally be my niece after years of waiting and uncertainty.  Two of our children won a school supply raffle.  Family stepped in to help with tutoring fees for another of our kids.  A friend blessed me with a large bag of fabric to use.  Another anonymously sent me a box of fabric as well (thank you, whoever you are!  So sweet!  You blessed my heart!).  Another friend enabled me to attend an amusement park with my toddlers, while yet another had my kids over for the day.  My son got to spend a weekend at a lovely lake house enjoying boat rides and all sorts of fun.  My husband plugged away at our cottage we’re fixing up in the backyard which will be my soap studio and a sometimes airbnb to help with school fees.  My mother-in-law helped me with running kids about, and took them on special outings one-on-one.  A cousin’s wife gave me black raspberries and eggs from her chickens.

There are always hard things happening; our prayer list is ever-full and growing, but too there is joy and peace and encouragement in the midst of sorrows and trials.  20664553_661313794073816_3145693829644866278_n

Thus It Pleases God

I leaned back against the bathroom door, the cold from the tile floor below, hot tears running down my face above, my shoulders bowed inward from deep crying.  It was just an argument, an impasse of heated words, and expectations let down.  When I couldn’t cross swords any longer without fear of inflicting deep wounds with my fiery tongue, I retreated.

Like usual a small thing had lain atop a big thing and then both had exploded together, and one could mistake the heat coming from just the small thing.  I hadn’t even gotten out of bed this morning and we were deep into a conversation about finances, the upcoming private school bills, our revenue streams, and we talked ourselves into circles, without a viable exit point, without a hopeful stratagem.  The big thing was:  How do we send our children to their school and not fall into debt?  Is it folly to try to send them at all?  But we feel a peace in our commitment to send them, but we don’t have enough money to pay the bills.  So is God telling us “no”?  Or are we to walk in faith?

We already economize, to the point that I’m accused of living in the wrong century; we garden, preserve our food, keep bees, mend our clothing, make bedding, cook from scratch, buy our clothes and shoes and sports equipment secondhand, we have no tv, no cable bill, I often line dry the wash, I buy at discount grocery stores, we butcher our own deer, make our candles and soap, and on and on.

The school bill went up this year, as school bills tend to do, and tutoring fees heaped on top of that for one of our kids who desperately needs timely help.  Our narrow margin got narrower.  We had to tell our daughter that she wouldn’t likely be able to attend with her friends past eighth grade.  There’s a mountain of grief in that for her, and we hurt for her pain.  It’s hard to see a nearly fourteen year-old girl, just absolutely thriving, surrounded by caring and kind friends, and excellent teachers who have made a good impact on her life, and imagine disrupting that, and sending her into a school where she knows nobody.

Do not say, “this happened by chance, while this came to be of itself.” In all that exists there is nothing disorderly, nothing indefinite, nothing without purpose, nothing by chance … How many hairs are on your head? God will not forget one of them. Do you see how nothing, even the smallest thing, escapes the gaze of God?
(St. Basil the Great)

How can you find out if you are living within the will of God? Here is the sign: If you are troubled about any thing, this means that you have not completely given yourself over to the will of God. A person who lives in the will of God is not concerned over anything. And if he needs anything, he gives both it and himself over to God. And if he does not receive the necessary thing, he remains calm nevertheless, as if he had it. The soul which has been given over to the will of God is afraid of nothing, not of thunder nor of thieves – nothing. But whatever happens, she says, “Thus it pleases God.” If she is sick, she thinks: this means that I need to be sick, or else God would not have given it to me. Thus peace is preserved in both soul and body.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, VI.4)

Tears have rimmed my eyes the whole day, a whole day of aquarium vision.  There is a baby quilt to make, for this dear son who bumps and jolts about in my womb.  Fabric is another cost, it feels like a step down further into the hole.  I took the bundle of my husband’s worn-out or ill-fitting cotton dress shirts out of the yard sale pile and carefully cut out usable sections of cloth, filling a bowl with buttons for later use as I went.  One was the white shirt he wore as a smiling groom on our wedding day.  I cried as I cut it.  He looked like a prince to me; my breath caught when I saw him vowing his love to me, to me!  IMG_1413

The baby will have a quilt, not one of precisely chosen colors and patterns, put together like a textile symphony, blending in this way and that and harmonizing in this way and that.  But I will tell my son, when I wrap it around him that the quilt was born from hard times, and that each patch is a part of the years of struggle, but also joy.  I will tell him about the joy.  I will tell him how it won.

 

Dancing Little Screens

I’m the only one looking around, seeing trees swaying in the wind, and the play of shadows over rough bark; the way the light streams through twisting leaves.  Even the children, even the littlest ones, their faces still and passive, their squirming ceased, their eyes riveted by the dancing little screens, they miss the squirrel racing around the trunk and chattering.

Their parents stare hard and scroll, scroll, scroll, their thumbs stroking the glass of their miniature portals into otherness; other peoples’ beach photos, rapid-fire recipe videos, artful platings of food, and memes unending.  Now and then they’ll look up, around, at their child, and then, as though there were an invisible elastic from their neck to their wrist, they bend to it, raising their phone-clutching hand, and they leave again.

Grocery lines, stoplights, carpool pick-up lanes, waiting rooms, restaurants; they are no longer experienced anymore…they are only escape spaces to distraction, to otherness.

I love elderly people.  You still see their eyes; their eyes greet you, see you; there is a sense that they’d gladly connect and share life for a moment.  They remember the times before people carried all-engulfing entertainment in their pockets and used them at every opportunity.  They remember courtesy, conversation, presence.

I am alarmed.

Ever-reaching for phones, ever-scrolling, compulsive behavior that is becoming “normal”.  I’ve experienced it myself.  I don’t have a phone, and hopefully never will, but my husband’s smart phone is terribly tempting to reach for on the long drive to church.  I don’t even know what compels me to “check it”; what on earth am I longing for; why not let the passing landscape form my thoughts, rather than absorbing the experiences of others?

In my home my laptop is a severe temptation; always promising a moment’s escape from domestic cares and hollering toddlers.  But again, I have to ask, what am I longing for?  Do I ever feel any sort of fulfillment from “checking in” and “catching up”?  No.  Rather I feel the weight of wasted time and attention.  My childrens’ behavior also changes when I tune out; they are more irritable and uncharitable with each other.  They ignore my words, sensing that I’m not really “there” anyways.  Presence is necessary.  Not just at home but out and about in the world.

I will endeavor to change; to allot a time for online reading and interaction, writing, answering of emails, and ordering supplies for my business.  Lord, help me!  I don’t want to be absorbed by a screen, nor feel myself pulled towards it.  I am mindful of the little eyes that watch how I live; do I need a screen or use a screen?

Please, dear ones, consider.  Leave the phone in your car, don’t let your kids play with one whenever they’re bored or fidgety (it’ll prevent them from growing in imagination and creativity and being present), and don’t teach them that zombie-like staring at screens is how to live.shortstory8

Make It Easy

As a mother of five, a small business owner, from-scratch cooker, beekeeper, gardener, blogger, and volunteer, I have been asked how on earth I manage to regularly attend to all of my responsibilities without going mad.  Though I don’t do things as well as some might imagine (weeds are prolific, bedrooms are messy more often than not, and sometimes dinner is drive-thru), I do have some tricks that make doing the better thing a bit easier, which, I think, is all we can truly hope for.

What makes it easy for me to:

Recycle, Reduce, Refuse, and Reuse

In my kitchen there is the trash can, plus two bins labeled paper/cardboard and plastic/metal/glass.  Outside the kitchen door, for obvious reasons, is a reused five gallon bucket with a lid for compostable food scraps which get worked into our compost heap when full.  It is so easy to sort my recycling when everything is set up to make that effortless and convenient (and oddly satisfying).    After learning more about plastic pollution, I’ve tried very hard to get every bit of recyclable plastic into the bin (think the plastic spout on a juice carton, kids cups from restaurants, empty play-doh containers).  On top of that I remove the plastic windows from pasta boxes, envelopes, and the like so that the cardboard and paper can be recycled.  Once a year or so I gather up unsolicited mailings and call the companies to be removed from their lists, cutting down on waste and clutter.  When we go out to eat I bring along my beloved tiffin to take home leftovers in, avoiding the styrofoam and plastic bags.  I keep a metal spoon in my purse to stand in for plastic ones. I have an extensive cloth bag collection for shopping (even homemade produce bags!), and keep some stashed in my purse at all times for unexpected stops at stores.  None of this takes much effort.  If it’s easy to do the right thing, we are much more likely to do it!

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Keeping worn-out jeans and other usable scraps around saves me from craft store over-spending (it’s a thing) and puts the material to good use once again.  My jean potholders have held up extremely well and I never burn my fingers with them!_MG_5079

My gardening and canning probably reduce our waste the most.  Jars and rings are used over and over again, with only the dome top needing to be recycled.  This avoids countless cans and gas to drive to the store.Photo on 9-2-14 at 1.44 PM

Though we are still working on a viable solution for shampoo, conditioner, and dish soap, our body and hand soap needs are all met quite economically and naturally through my soap making.img_0670

The wondrous tiffin with three compartments.  Waitresses ooh and aah over it!  I think they may be tired of all the styrofoam waste too.  Plus it’s quite cute.

Keep the house mostly clean and the gardens mostly under control.

I am not afraid of assigning work to my children that they are capable of doing.  Every day all I have to say is “floors, guys” and the one son starts picking up all the trash cans, toys, shoes, chairs, etc, and puts them up and away.  Another older child begins to vacuum, followed by another who mops, followed by the younger son who puts all the up things down again.  I was brought up with an understanding that clean floors=clean house, so having this regular cleaning routine has helped me so much to feel sane in a three bedroom household of seven.  The children help with pulling weeds, cleaning the bathrooms, mowing the lawn, harvesting produce, and cook their own breakfasts and pack their own lunches.  The elder two also do their own laundry.  They benefit as well from knowing how to do their jobs well, and that they are contributing  to our family’s wellbeing.

-Make work easier by having quality tools for each task.

I am a fan of properly-working, quality tools.  Whether it’s a hand-forged garden trowel which will last decades or a heavy-duty copper saute pan that will enable me simmer sauces to perfection, I heartily endorse buying the best one can afford to make work more pleasant with less wastage from cheap, easily-broken tools.  Fortunately many of these things are quite easy to pick up secondhand, which goes nicely with the first item in my list, of reusing.  I recently picked up two Le Creuset kitchenware items at a local thrift store, as well as Cutco knives, and other culinary gems.

A greenhouse to start my seeds in, soap molds I don’t need to line with wax paper, a bee suit that protects me so well that I am not tense when doing hive inspections or swarm-collecting; these things all enable me to do my tasks in a simpler, easier way.

In my kitchen, where most of my work is done, there is every conceivable quality tool (note, I didn’t say “gadget”; I’ve found that many “time savers” just lead to cabinet clutter and little use) one could hope for:  four dutch ovens, copper pans, a chinois, a pasta maker, cast iron pans in many sizes, a grain mill, two tortilla presses, a hardworking mixer and blender, an electric pressure cooker, a pastry board, nice knives, a juicer and a steam juicer, a 16 qt stock pot, vintage mixing bowls, and, well, I use them all.  They are satisfying to work with and help produce excellent meals.  And much of it came from thrift stores or credit card reward points (like my new $200 All-Clad stock pot!).

-Host birthday parties without expense, waste, nor loss of sanity.

This is so easy to get right.  First, one must drop preconceived ideas about what a good party should include, such as:  inviting everyone in their class, providing treat bags, going somewhere ultra entertaining, like to a laser tag place, and lots of disposable crap (except balloons, for the love, keep the balloons!).

We have a standing rule for our five:  they can invite two-three friends and go on a special outing (bowling, mini golf, ice skating) or invite a whole passel of them to our home or on a hike.  This has worked marvelously for us, especially when we keep them outside by going down to our favorite stream, jumping on the trampoline, or making gigantic bubbles with a homemade bubble wand and solution.  I do not organize their time, but let them play freely, sometimes inviting them to make homemade slime or help cut up veggies for the meal.  We cook supper over the campfire (which they get to help build, sorry helicopter moms).  They go home dirty and giddy, without a bag of plastic junk.  I use enamel plates, real silverware, and canning jars to serve the food, because it just isn’t hard to, and there’s so much less waste!  And, no, I don’t even own a dishwasher!  We make the cake, churn the ice cream, and munch on simple homemade appetizers or a big pot of chili.  It’s easy.

Keep the laundry and mending under control.

When they hit eleven years of age I give them lessons on sorting, washing, drying, and folding clothing and then wash my hands of their stinky socks and muddy jeans.  For the younger kids their clothing goes straight into the laundry room where all their clothing lives.  They change and from there it all goes straight into the washer, dryer (or out on the line if the weather is nice), and then right back into cubbies my husband built in the laundry room out of scrap wood from a job site.  This makes it SO EASY to keep on top of things.  Also helpful for a mom of active kids is to have my sewing machine always out, threaded, and ready to do repairs.  I can’t emphasize enough how much more I attend to the mending simply because it is convenient to take a few minutes at the machine, rather than have a pile of ripped clothing that provokes guilt and wistful thoughts of “someday I’ll get to that, hopefully before they grow out of them”.  Also, after reading about the KonMari method of storing clothing, I implemented it and taught it to my children, and what a difference it makes in reducing clothing chaos in the drawers!

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Ready to serve.12513860_10154191364768352_459053708843952877_o

Organized drawers stay organized with vertical folding.IMG_0415

The clothing cubbies made from lumber scraps.  Baskets hold socks and one pair of shoes.

Spend little and experience much.

Each year we invest in a family membership to an interesting place.  We’ve done the North Museum (twice), Longwood Gardens, the Baltimore Aquarium (twice), and this year our local gym.  We get to really experience the joy of each place, and it’s wonderful to say “yes” to doing something fun without worrying about the cost.

We also regularly pick up library passes to local attractions for free such as to Landis Valley Museum, the Hans Herr House, the National Toy Train Museum, James Buchanan’s Wheatland home, and the Science Factory.  And every year we go to Hershey Park (a huge theme park loaded with top notch rides) for free by attending a Hershey Bear’s hockey game in the winter that includes free park passes as a gift.  Beyond these destinations we make regular use of local rails-to-trails, parks, free museums and zoos, and beaches.

To grow in knowledge.

Anyone with a library nearby has no excuse for not investing in their education.  I’ve often said that education is already free, but degrees cost money.  I in no way denigrate higher education, but encourage folks to continue their learning throughout their lives.  It is easy, because it requires no expense, can be worked into your day as time allows, and makes no demands on you.  I am currently learning Norwegian with my daughter for free online on duolingo.com.  I read news for free online from some of the best journals.  I can access tutorials on nearly anything via YouTube.  I am constantly reviewing works I’ve read to refresh myself on what I’ve learned, be it herbal medicine, beekeeping, gardening, food preservation, byzantine history, theology, or quilt making.  Those works I keep coming back to can often be sourced online used for cheap, so I can keep returning to them and highlight them to my heart’s content.

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This isn’t an exhaustive list, but the ideas here have made life a lot more manageable and rich for me and my family.

On Faith, Life, and Refugees

A guest post by Andrea Bailey

We are not listening to each other. I hear conservatives accusing liberals and other conservatives that they have bought into liberal biased media hype. I hear liberals accusing conservatives of being hateful and intolerant, all the while not listening themselves. I hear those genuinely concerned for truth asking questions and being overwhelmed, not sure who they should trust. I hear so many proclaiming boldly which media sources can be trusted and which ones cannot, authoritatively dismissing legitimate questions and reasonable discourse. I hear fear and pride.

If only it were so simple. If only we could know with certainty which sources to trust. If only that source could outline all the answers. If only we could trust that facts and news could come to us without bias or could be completely neutral.

Speaking to those who seek to follow Christ, at this intersection of faith and life, there are no simple, axiomatic solutions. We must seek wisdom. The application of truth requires wisdom and is never simple; rather, its progress is often slow and it requires discernment, effort and humility to learn.

For those who claim the name Christian, how do you know truth? Where do you turn for truth and the wisdom to live it out? How does that truth teach you to stand in these matters? Is truth ever just rational or logical belief? Is it not also experiencing God in the details of our physical lives, authenticating and revealing more fully that which we also know and confess?

It seems possible that in these matters of loving others, we have erred too much on the side of reason. We have not experienced truth in that way which helps us to fully know it, through our physical, everyday experiences, entering into the physical, everyday lives of those we are called to serve.

Where do we think we can experience the grace and mercy of God more than in entering into the struggles of those whom He has taught us to love? But have we entered in?

Christ spent his time with the poor, the marginalized, the broken, the suffering, the sick—these are the ones he most often gave the gift of His physical presence. Loving others carries a cost but did Christ not show us how to love when He came to show His love for us?

God’s love for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner is undeniable throughout Scripture and His commands for us to care for them cannot be dismissed. And so it is needful to consider how we were taught to love.

Are we only supposed to love and welcome others when it is safe for us, or doesn’t cost us too much, even though the ones seeking our help are suffering or dying? When God calls us to love the sojourner, did He say only if they believe in Me and it will not threaten your safety?

I recognize that this type of thinking has the potential to conflict with national security, but does it have to? Can we rally for stronger security measures while still advocating for our government to give us the ability to welcome those who are suffering, in accordance with the teachings of our faith? Does our faith allow us to ignore the sufferings of others in the name of national security?

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Of those who are no longer allowed to come safely to our shores, is it possible that they might also have learned and believed the Good News—that God loves them and welcomes them to believe and be healed? Is it possible that they would have believed, especially in a land where they are shown welcome and are given the freedom to believe? But for now they cannot come. For now they cannot hear. For now, is it not more likely that they will think of America, that Christian nation (as it is believed to be), as a nation who worships a God that does not care that they are suffering?

To love is to sacrifice.

As Christians, can you claim to value and cherish life and then stay silent while it is denied to those who are in danger of losing theirs? Have you supported and sacrificed when those seeking to care for the ones who have already lost so much in this life, need help?

Let’s bring it closer to home—when you see a young single woman, trying to care for her child on her own, have you helped? Or have you referred her to government programs and then supported policies that make her life more difficult?

When you see adoptive or foster families struggling, sacrificially loving children who have lost or have suffered, have you entered in? Have you given of your own time? Has it cost you anything to help care for those lives which you said you were for? Has it changed the way you live?

If we have not entered into the lives of those whom Christ taught us to love, sacrificially giving of ourselves, is it possible that our unaffected lives mock their suffering? It is possible that our unaffected lives are the very thing which cause them to doubt God’s love for them?

And so today, to all who claim the name Christian, I invite you to enter into the lives of those who are suffering. Only in entering in can we more fully experience that which we know. Only in entering in can we more faithfully demonstrate the love of God for those who are suffering. Only in entering in can we see the power of love in the face of fear because only in entering in can we know more fully that perfect Love which drives out all fear.

 

Andrea Bailey directs a faith-based ESL program serving refugees and immigrants in her local community.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms, or, Why a Conservative Christian Cried on Election Day

I rubbed tiredness from my eyes as they tapped red and blue-smattered digital maps and now and then cued the dramatic music for the next incoming projection.  A yellow checkmark shone beside the beaming candidate’s triumphal face, claiming another state, another trove of electoral votes.  There was disbelief, conjecture, and momentum towards an outcome radically different than expected.

When it ended I slipped into bed beside my sleeping husband, waking him.

“Trump won.”

“What?  You’re joking.  No way.”

“Yep.  Hillary conceded.  He’s going to be our President.”

“Wow.”

Then we lay in silence.

Tears came readily, for me, a pro-life Christian conservative.  Yes, when the power seemed to fall in my peoples’ laps.  The tears weren’t for Hillary, though I did feel sad for her own grief, having worked so hard.  I did not want her as my President, but I felt for her loss and frustration.  I grieved for the people whose hearts felt hope because of her support for the marginalized; I grieved for their fear.  You don’t have to agree to feel.  You can look into the eyes of those with whom you experience profound disagreement and feel compassion for their hurt, their disappointed hopes, their suffering.

No, I didn’t grieve for Clinton; I grieved for the Church.

History has taught me to grieve this; I cannot ignore it.  The government may or may not be improved with Christian morality legislated; this is complex and hard to quantify especially because Christian morality itself is interpreted so differently among Christians! Is it Christian to execute criminals?  Is it Christian to initiate war?  Is it Christian to tell non-Christians whom they can form a civil union with?  And clearly there are certain things that an effectively self-sustaining government must be ready to do that a good Christian could never do; we are constrained by the laws of another Kingdom which are incompatible with any earthly one.  How does a country operate in global relations if its beliefs include loving your enemy, blessing those who hurt you, turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor as you love yourself, not thinking only of your own interests, denying yourself, overcoming evil with good, welcoming the sojourners (immigrants and refugees), honoring them and caring for their needs without qualification?  History shows us that those who have attempted a Christian theocracy have either split their lives into two parts (public life and private life), or they have ignored the merciful and radically-loving commandments and used the Christian name to incite fervor and unity into their subjects.  Both distort Christianity.  When the Church and power hold hands, the Church loses, it loses its very heart and medicine.

Christianity is the path, the way, the hospital where our sin sickness is diagnosed and healed.  It is where we encounter Him, Christ, our very life.  Trying to make people behave like Christians through legislation ignores how each of us really experiences transformational change.  I would argue that we are changed by love, by humility, by joy, by good examples, by beauty, by heroes, by music, by art, by godly grandmothers’ prayers and the lives they led before us, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit’s work within us; not from top-down laws that govern our bodies but not our hearts.

Of course I want abortion to end, but I also don’t fool myself into thinking that true change will come if it’s made illegal.  Theft, perjury, child abuse, and rape are all illegal too, and yet how prevalent they continue to be.  Of course I don’t want to suffer persecution for holding on to God’s sexual ethics, but God never promised me a cost-free faith.  God does not say, “Make sure you don’t have to suffer for Me”; he calls me to suffer well for His sake, enduring.  We are to be the conscience of the nation, not the constable.

Which kingdom are we invested in seeing triumph?  And, importantly, at what cost?

“It has become more evident to me that we are to be given a great popular national Church, whose nature cannot be reconciled with Christianity, and that we must prepare our minds for the entirely new paths which we shall then have to follow.  The question is really:  Christianity or Germanism?  And the sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day the better.”  -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor who was executed by the Nazis

When I see that 80% of evangelicals rallied behind a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, and that they’d let him because he’s a “star”, and who laughed at his own failed attempt to seduce a married woman, and who mocked both prisoners of war and a reporter with a disability, I am sickened (especially when I remember how they eviscerated Bill Clinton for his moral failures).  I am also disturbed by Christians who found the life of the unborn an insubstantial reason to not support Clinton.  I’m disturbed that they could so easily brush aside some very real concerns about her integrity.  I have heard all the justifications about voting for a platform rather than a person, about how God uses sinful people for His purposes, and so on, but what the world sees is far different.  They see that our bar is extremely low for the person we want in power and hypocritically high for those we don’t want in power.  Character matters until it doesn’t.

How did I want this election to go?  My hopes weren’t pinned there.  My hopes were that Christians would vote for those who both represented what they cared about AND were capable and experienced people of sound character and integrity, even if they lost.  That they would be kind and warm to those who disagreed with them.  That they wouldn’t vote if there was no one they felt in clear conscience that they could affirm.  That they wouldn’t choose a lesser evil, but would rather choose good always, even if it meant abstaining from voting.  That in all things, that they were more invested in God’s kingdom work than in the power plays of Washington.  I wanted the Church to be the Church, a distinct and beautiful thing that reaches not for power but for the downtrodden and broken, embracing them.

Last night at our local English as a Second Language program I sat down and played a board game with two young Muslim girls, their hijabs framing their playful, beautiful faces.  Their mother was in class, learning the language of her new home.  We laughed together.  I was so glad they’re here, and I hoped that their bright joy wouldn’t be stomped on by the hate and fear of my fellow Americans.  I stopped by the home of one of our Indian students, enjoying their delicious food and warm hospitality, laughing together, hugging them both as I left, saying “May God bless you, Mamagi (Mother, with respect).  May God bless you, Papagi (Father, with respect).”  These experiences were a balm on my raw heart.  Here was the kingdom work that I could be a part of, each connection a vote for love and compassion.burden