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As I continue reading these angry posts on Facebook, I keep thinking about how unhelpful they are. Instead of leading to wholeness, they are instead causing more division and brokenness in our friendships.  While a few people have engaged in some productive dialogue, there is inevitably someone who takes it to a hateful or ridiculous place in the comments.

A skill that I am learning in my Clinical Pastoral Education experience, is getting over this need to “fix” others. When I am counseling people in the hospital or in my parish, the goal is to give hope to others, not to fix them.  It seems that the goal of all of us who post these controversial things on Facebook are trying to fix others.  We think that if they just read what we read, they will change their mind and we can correct their bad thinking.  This is driven by  the media world that we live in where shouting angry opinions and calling them facts, divides us.  While we remain somewhat helpless to change anything, we turn on each other and attack.

When we post things that ridicule another persons point of view instead of listening to it, how do you think it is perceived by those who don’t agree?  Do you think they turn in a completely different direction and thank you for showing them the light, or do you think you have just damaged your relationship with your friends who have a different viewpoint?  Have you offered them hope, or just fueled more anger?

So where is the hope?  The hope is that our country has gone through some pretty ugly stuff in our history and we have come through it.  Just like in our own personal lives, it has not been without some pain, sacrifice, oppression, injustice, flirtations with greed, and times of extreme misguidedness.  But, eventually we can see the light of hope and realize that we are not alone to solve all of these problems ourselves.  So what do we do?

We remember who we were created to be and we live into that image.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

–Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

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Disagreeing about politics is not a new thing. We bring our different experiences, good and bad, along with the way we were raised, and how we were taught to look at the best ways to live together as Americans. I’ve been on both sides of the political fence but I try to be a thoughtful and informed voter. I put my opinions out there when I think it is appropriate, but I try not to do so with the mindset that my views are the only way to think.  In conversations about politics, I try to listen to another perspective, but admit that sometimes I get defensive and feel like I have to explain misconceptions that people have about issues in which I believe deeply.
In the past few weeks, there have been a few things that have crossed the line for me.  While I can skim past things written on Facebook, when I have had ugly things arrive in my email inbox or in my church mail, they have upset me greatly:   An email from a close friend asking me to change who I am voting for, a Christian newsletter from people who I love, deriding my candidate of choice for something he had nothing to do with, and a letter from an organization, claiming to be non-partisan asking me to distribute inflammatory material to my church members that is not only not non-partisan, but is misleading and hateful.
While this organization is one that I will probably never agree with, I hope that there will be healing in the personal relationships when the election is over, but for now, I would prefer not to have things that upset me like that come into my personal space, to keep from contaminating the important work that I am doing now in my church and at school. I plan to watch the debates and become as informed as I can, but at the end of the day, it’s not the president that I put my trust in, it’s God.  Those who have such a great deal of fear and anger need to remember that.
My friend Gary is a very wise person and someone whose opinion I greatly respect.  While we have different views politically, he is one that I enjoy engaging in conversation with, since he remembers what being a person of faith is all about.  Here are some wise words from Gary when I asked him what he would like to see happen:
What changes Should be made in government? Boy, is that a tough question!
1. Elections: All negativity should be removed from every campaign. Tell me what you are going to try to do if elected.  Don’t spend millions trying to find out what the people want to hear so you can repeat it. There is so much
“Dirt” in every campaign the real issues get pushed aside. Limit each candidate to a fixed amount of funds
He or She can spend and outlaw any form of “Super Pac” campaigning. Above all be honest!
2. In office: Act like adults. It is not about you and your pride and prestige or the party it is about the people you represent.  All elected officials should be subject to the same rules, laws, healthcare etc. as everyone else so their decisions
affect them the same as the people they serve.
3. There will always be differences of opinion when two or more people are involved and that is good. both could be right and both could be wrong. Call them what you want; liberal, conservative, right wing, left wing, tea party, etc. They are just names that try to categorize people and I don’t think too many people can be categorized that way. I, for one certainly cannot.  I have beliefs that would be considered conservative and beliefs that would be considered liberal.
A number of years ago a small town had an idea that I thought was inspired. Each local candidate was given a list of the local issues  and asked to check whether they were for or against that particular issue. The candidates were then given the opportunity to explain their choice on each issue in 5 minutes or less. Then the people voted. Yes, Maybe a little simplistic for a national election but a compromise would be nice.

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Thanks, Gary.  The day after the election, I plan to pray Psalm 72, no matter who is elected, for the success of the leader of our country.  But before the election, think about whether your views are being represented in a way that is positive or helpful. If it’s neither, rethink the way that you share them.

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When John Gray came out with the book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, it gave us ways to have a better relationship with someone who has a whole different way of thinking from our own. It moved tsolve the problem of wondering, “How could this person think this or say this?” Instead of arguing for who is right or wrong,  it gave couples a way to relate to each other in a more respectful manner and to understand our differences,.

We need this book to be written for our current political climate to get through this election year.  I have sort of an interesting perspective, as I have been all over the map politically.  I think most of us come to our political identities because of our experiences. My parents were both Republicans and my mom was very involved in politics.  I think she viewed the Republican party as the “respectable” party, much like a college girl would want to pledge the “right’ sorority. But she was true to her views.  When she disagreed, she spoke up about it.  As someone who valued family, she also valued women’s reproductive rights and was pro-choice most of her life.  She marched in support of the Equal Rights Amendment in Tallahassee in the 1970’s and campaigned for many state and local candidates.  When I was a teenager, I went with her to an event to hear Ronald Reagan speak.  My mom told me that he would be our next president. I got to meet him and shake hands with him.  I wasn’t old enough to vote the first time he ran, but the first time I voted for a president, it was to re-elect Ronald Reagan.  If you want an image of my political identity as a teenager, watch the TV show Family Ties and look at Michael J Fox’s character.

The first time I really listened to a different point of view was when my great Aunt Cora talked about President Reagan’s re-election.  She was one of my favorite older relatives, just as sweet as she could be, living very simply on social security.  She never engaged in the heated political discussions at family reunions between my mom and Aunt Dottie who were very outspoken Republicans, and my sister and Aunt Charlotte, who were very outspoken Democrats.  Aunt Cora just quietly said, “I’m not going to vote for him again, he nearly starved me to death.”

As my life unfolded, and I had my own experiences outside of the shelter of my parent’s house, I developed my own political identity, which has become just to the left of the center. I am an evangelical, patriotic, Bible following, Democrat.

I am not involved politically, like my mother was and my sister still is, but I feel that my participation in the political arena is meant to be one of peacemaking and reconciliation.  For some people, this is not possible. They are addicted to anger. Watching or listening to political commentary that fires up this anger is just, in my opinion, one of the worst things happening in our country right now.  I love to hear a smart, well informed person, with different views talk about their perspective.  Even better when they can admit the weaknesses of their view or candidate that they support.  When their view is only negative about the person who is currently in office or when they start quoting these angry political commentators and view everyone who disagrees as an idiot, it’s not a conversation that I want to have.

The other day, after chapel, I was talking to the chaplain and she pointed at this bird outside sitting on top of one of the tall trees.  I couldn’t see it from where I was standing.  She kept pointing at it, but I couldn’t see it. When I moved and stood where she was standing, I could finally see it from her perspective.  Ah!

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I was inspired by the president’s State of the Union speech.  I liked what he said that if we work together we can accomplish anything and how this works in the military.  This is also how it works in orchestra and in sports (on the same team), and in almost everything else I can think of when people come together to achieve a common goal.  Everything except one of the most important – running our country.  Now, usually my issues with politicians are them promising one thing and then not following through, but I don’t think there was even any agreement on the idea of working together!  Immediately after the speech there was opposition from the news analysts and from people who disagreed.  I understand disagreement on issues and think that we all need to learn how to more respectfully share our views and intelligently articulate our positions.  I understand the beauty of the exchange of ideas in our two-party system, but certainly there has to be more common ground than what we have.  I like it that each party holds to its philosophy and keeps things from going too far in one direction or another.  But can’t we agree on some basic things and work together towards them?

When I was conducting an orchestra, there would have been no chance of us getting anything accomplished if all the members of the orchestra worked against me.  Knowing that we were in it together also allowed me to employ my favorite leadership style, where I sought consensus on things from the group, then moved in that direction.  But our political climate has become an environment where we can’t even agree with someone that we actually agree with, if they are of a different political party.  We are on the same team, but we have forgotten that.

My sister and aunt were telling me about how competitive law school was for them.  People would hide books in the library, tear out pages, or check out everything so that others couldn’t get to the materials they needed.  Divinity school, by contrast has people who post their study guides and their class notes in Dropbox along with other common resources that everyone may find useful.  There is no competition, only love and support for each other.  We are people from a variety of faith traditions and political affiliations, yet when we have discussions on theological issues, we share our ideas in ways that affirm each other and we all grow from seeing a point of view that we hadn’t experienced before.

We may not be able to change the tone of politics everywhere, but we can start in our own part of the world. As things heat up politically in this election year, we have a choice in how we share out deepest political values.  If you can’t understand how someone can vote for that person or support that position, this may be a good time to take that person out to lunch and listen.  If you are a person who can only share your political views in a negative way against someone else, learn more about how you can share your views for the person you support in a positive way.

Like I said in my last blog, ALL of us need to listen better.  If we learn how do do this, we can make beautiful music together.

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For those patient people who endure my ramblings and read my blog regularly, you may remember that I started a series on prayer this summer and wanted to finish it with a post about praying the Psalms.  This is that post.

In my spirituality class discussion we were asked to think about how we would lead a one hour study on prayer.  I didn’t speak (shocking, I know) in the discussion, but I think the best way to learn to pray is to pray the Psalms. In them, we have examples of prayers for a wide range of emotions and circumstances, an order to stay disciplined about the practice of prayer, and a long history of people before us who have prayed them, sung them, and interpreted them for us.  Through these prayers, we grow closer to God and find the presence of God in us.

I use the lectionary to choose Psalms for my weekly Bible study at the retirement community, with the idea that if they hear it on Wednesday, it will be familiar on Sunday.  Psalms are also part of the format for prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.  In the Jewish faith, there are Psalms that are read every day. In monasteries, there is a schedule of Psalms to pray daily, so that they will all be prayed during a week.

When I started my prayer journal, I started with the first one and read one every day (until the slacker in me won out and I stopped at Psalm 78, but I have since returned to the practice). Having this prayer book right in the middle of the Bible is a disciplined way to pray daily with no need to buy a daily devotional book.

When I went through them on my own, before I studied the Old Testament in an academic setting, I would occasionally get to one that I didn’t want to pray. When you want to be in touch with the peaceful, forgiving side of yourself, how do you pray for your enemies to have their teeth knocked out of their head (Psalm 58), or pray for their destruction (Psalm 109)?  How is that uplifting?  When I asked my professor about this (Dr. Ellen Davis) she said that we have to think about who would pray that prayer.  Who is in need of justice?  Is there anyone that could be praying that prayer about us? (Yikes!)  If we look back on our life, is there a time that we needed that prayer?

When there were prayers about kings, I wondered if I should skip over those, since we don’t have kings.  But can you imagine how our political climate would be shaped by people praying FOR the success of our leaders and for them to be mindful of the poor instead of working against them and seeking the interests of the wealthy (read Psalm 72)?

In using some type of set order of the Psalms, you don’t always pray for yourself or for what you want, but are reminded to expand your view to the needs of others.

When we get to challenging passages in the Bible, a lady in my Bible study group always wants to know how those passages are interpreted at Duke.  She sees the university as a reliable, authoritative source that will provide the “right” answer.  Bible interpretation is complex, though and of course there is no “right” answer.  Part of reading the Bible is putting ourselves in the place of the divine inspiration that comes to us, unique to our life situation and experiences.  But to quote Dr. Davis, “The Bible is not idiot proof.”  People have used scripture to justify all kinds of hatred and violence.  I believe that this is why being part of a small group is so important, so that we grow in understanding. Wrestling with the scripture is a lifelong journey.

Another question that comes up is, “Does God always answer our prayers?” I read two interesting quotations on that this week.  One was from Martin Luther, saying, “Lay the need, not the solution.” When we are tempted to pray for something that is a solution, paring that request down to the need that lies within is more meaningful. For years I prayed for a partner, a soul mate and got what I asked for (well, temporarily anyway).  But that didn’t fill what I really needed.  The underlying need was to be filled by God’s presence.  As I grow closer to God, the wish or desire for a human soul mate to fill an emptiness has disappeared.

The other quotation was from Schleiermacher that said, “A prayer that wants to claim the right to be heard must not have arisen merely from superficial and transient feelings.  It must be the expression of a heart totally pervaded with its condition, a heart that knows not only in this moment, but in every moment, no other wish or desire than to obtain that for which it has prayed.”  So, don’t pray to lose weight and then go out and eat a bucket of chicken.  Instead, pray for your heart’s desire and then take every step possible to enter the work with God to bring it about.

Praying the Psalms gets us to the bare, emotional place of our deepest need and gives us permission to lay that need before God, whether it is for us or someone else. Praying them every day is taking an action to align our will with God’s will and taking steps towards all that God wants for us.

Tomorrow, I will start sharing some of my Psalm reflections on my Facebook God in the City page. I invite you to read along and share your Psalm reflections. If you aren’t a Facebook user, feel free to share your reflections as comments here.

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Vanderbilt

It takes so much work to go out of town.  Leave lesson plans for the sub, take the dogs to the kennel, pack,  get books on CD from the library, load my iPod with great music, and pack some healthy snacks.  Friday, with a big cup of coffee, I headed out with Matilda (my GPS who speaks with an Australian accent).  The drive to Nashville was just beautiful.  Fall colors, crisp, cool weather.  A great uninterrupted opportunity to think and pray.

Tennessee River

Vanderbilt Divinity School

After a good night’s sleep,  I went to the Open House at the Divinity school.  Since this is my second seminary visit, I have something to compare now. It was great to help me clarify what I am looking for.  Their theme of the day was incorporating arts with theology, but I was disappointed that with such an emphasis on this, they don’t have any opportunities to participate in the arts – aside from an art history class or jumping into the rigorous music program in the Blair School of Music.

The first session was in the art room which is a small gallery.  I don’t know anything about art, but these were pretty disturbing pieces.  There was one with teddy bears with their heads and limbs chopped off, painted by a holocaust survivor.  We had to walk around and look at each piece and share our reflections with the group.  Most people talked about the pain and brokenness that was displayed.  Kind of a downer to start the day.

In the next session, they shared some of the Divinity School field trip activities which included visiting the botanical gardens and protesting against the death penalty at the state prison.  One student shared that she was inspired to come to Vanderbilt because of the work of James Lawson, who was expelled from Vanderbilt back in 1960 for leading students in non-violence activities in the civil rights movement.  The entire Divinity School faculty threatened to resign if they didn’t rescind the expulsion.  The medical faculty joined them in this, and the university had no other choice, but to rescind it.  Lawson transferred to Boston College, but eventually returned to Vanderbilt as a faculty member and was given an honorary degree as well as the Distinguished Alumnus award.  In the 2006 graduation ceremony, the school officially apologized to him.

Another student on the panel had been an orphan in Uganda and was recruited to come to the United States as a singer in the African Children’s Choir, which is an organization that has changed the lives of some of Africa’s neediest, most vulnerable children, through scholarships and the opportunity to tour with the choir.

There was a panel of professors who discussed how they incorporate the arts into their classes.  One teaches a class on pop music and theology.  He talked about playing gigs in a band throughout his college days.  When he was a Methodist minister in Louisville, their church made professional quality recordings for local bands as an outreach activity for the church.

In the afternoon, we had a chance to sit down with some current students.  While the official theme of the day was the arts, I felt that the theme of protest was more pervasive.  In my conversation with a representative from the second career women’s group I told her that politically and theologically, I generally fall just to the left of the center and that I wondered if I would be one of the most conservative people there.  She said, “Yes, you probably will be.”  As the one who is usually the rebel from the left in a room full of conservatives, I believe this is the first time I have ever been the one to the right of the group.

Sunset on the Tennessee River

More thinking and praying on the way home.  I support all of the causes that we heard about throughout the day, but am more comfortable with getting involved in ministering to the needs of a community than in non-violent protesting.  I was outside of my comfort zone at Vanderbilt, but am open to God’s leading.   I don’t know if that means that I am not committed to my beliefs or if it just means that I live out my faith in a different way.  Either way, my direction in this will be something that I thoughtfully and prayerfully consider.

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When I wrote my last blog, I was able to finally put away the feelings of neediness and hurt and was prepared to move on and completely move away from a disappointing marriage.  I realized that I could make a happy life on my own and that I could come to the end of the bad feelings from all of the recent pain. I am so full of crap sometimes.

As I prayed and read, I had a nagging feeling in my head that I was missing an important concept.  While cutting someone out of your life seems like a good measure of self-protection, it doesn’t seem like what Jesus is about.  In the HBO series Sex and the City, Samantha, who is notorious for her many sexual partners, has finally fallen in love with a guy named Richard who is also notorious for sleeping around.  They decide that they really have something special and make the decision to be with each other exclusively. Knowing his past, Samantha starts to get jealous and suspects that he is cheating on her.  Finally, one day, she goes to his apartment at lunch and finds him in a compromising position with another woman.  She breaks up with him an then utters this line that the writers liked so much, they used it again in the Sex And the City movie, “I loved him, but I love ME more.”

This statement is sure to be met with high fives from girlfriends who don’t want to see their friend hurt.  I was so grateful to all of my girlfriends who had choruses of “You deserve so much better” and “He didn’t realize what he had,” and the men friends who responded with a little more intensity.  But, that line bothered me when I heard it in the TV show and movie, and it bothered me when I had my own riff on it in my last blog.  That nagging feeling was telling me that this is the world talking.  The worldly view says, “I don’t have to take this,” where the eternal world is more concerned with the love and forgiveness in your heart and the way you reach out to your fellow man, even when you get hurt.

I ordered a bunch of books from Amazon, and have been getting one or two everyday.  I got one by Dr. Gary Chapman, who wrote The Five Love Languages, called Hope for the Separated:  Wounded Marriages Can Be Healed.  Here is the book’s description:

“The unfortunate reality is that Christians are separating and divorcing at the same rate as the unbelieving world. But does separation have to mean the end? You may not feel like reconciling. You may not see hope for a reunion. But the biblical ideal for a separated couple is reconciliation. So how do you do it? When doors slam and angry words fly, when things just aren’t working out, and even when your spouse has abandoned your trust, there is hope. Hope for the Separated will show you through God’s Word that your marriage can be restored.”

Yep, that’s what the nagging feeling was telling me.  David wasn’t some 18 year-old boyfriend or a guy that I was dating.  He is the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with.  We had a beautiful, God centered wedding, surrounded by loving and wonderful people, where we promised to stay together for life. As someone who is fairly liberal in both politics and theology, I guess I was a little surprised to find out that I have grown to be pretty conservative when it comes to marriage.  Perhaps it is because I’ve been through a divorce and see how un-Godly those emotions made me.

While I was extremely hurt over the separation, I’m finding that it has really been a good thing.  I am enjoying my independence and can work on one of my major character flaws which is subjugating to the needs of others to the point of being unhealthy.  I am taking a period of self-reflection and am finally working on healing the parts of me that have prevented me from being happy in romantic relationships.

I took the first step in strength, not in neediness, and let David know that I am totally in, even if he is not feeling it for me right now.  It doesn’t mean we are going to move back in together, but as we let God heal us in His time, we are both holding out hope for the restoration of this marriage.

I love me, but I love GOD more.

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