Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

One Little Word

As promised, this is another excerpt from Listening to Love (Waterbrook, 2004).  These words about spiritual warfare have been on my mind.

One Little Word

The spiritual momentum in the late seventeenth century was strong, when many were forced to see the church they loved lose its power under a structure of greed and secrecy. (sound familiar?)  As many started to say no to things that grieve God's heart, they became targets, both in their private lives and through the unseen assault, as the subterfuge of the true things was uncovered.  I thing the greatest spiritual warfare song ever penned was written during those days by Martin Luther, who had the guts, or balls, to set off this warfare by pounding his Ninety-five Theses to the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral.  Luther was up against the Catholic Church itself, and he was up against the enemies of his own heart.   I love that he wrote "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" in the midst of this personal mission, fueled by love of Jesus' saving grace through faith.  Read the song in its prose form (sadly, we rarely sing the whole thing anymore, and it loses its punch without the story it is telling):

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulward never failing.  Our helper, He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.  For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe - his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate- on earht is not his equal.  Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.  Were not the right man on our side, the mand of God's own choosing.  Dost ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is He - Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same.  And He must win the battle!  And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed His Truth to triumph through us.  The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him - his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure.  One little word shall fell him - that word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth.  The Spirit and the gifts are ours with Him who with us sideth.  Let good and kindred go, this mortal life also.   The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still.  His kingdom is forever!

God is limitless.  Evil not only has limits, but it operates under the strictest, most suffocating hierarchy you can imagine.  Because of this, it is limited not just by the authority it is under with Jesus ascended and reigning, but it is limited by its very nature - a fallen, rejected defiler at the helm, who holds memory of untold beauty, charisma, and power ('on earth is not his equal') but who will one dy shrivel like a star-gazer lily in a desert inferno.  When we become naive to evil's limits, we are saying that we live in a dualistic universe - God and his enemy battling it out on the same plane, and we hold our breath to see who will win.  I fall into this trap so quickly when I'm in the midst of a battle with contempt, because the battle is all I can see.  Dark lies feel too real, too big.  But it really is true - "one little word shall fell him." 

Listening for the Threat of Love

Is it cheating when a blog is simply an excerpt of something written by me in the past?  For some reason, these words from Listening to Love (Waterbrook, 2004) are coming to mind, so I share them with you, in a few  installments:

Our Bumbling Authority

I fully believe in the authority given to every believer in Christ.  His authority is our authority.  We no longer belong to evil, and we have a restored dignity that words cannot capture.  Now, this might sound like a contradiction, but can we be honest for a moment and admit that the working out of our authority looks a lot more like Barney Fife than an NYPD chief?  We hold the badge, and we get the job done, but we bumble along more than we're flooded with confidence.  I think God takes delight in this.  God sees Schwarzenegger as we muddle along like Columbo.  He sees Kristin Scott Thamas when we're all over the map like Lucille Ball.  God sees heroes in bumbling hobbits.  Even as I write this, I see an office cluttered and disheveled.  I know I have it in me to be Isabel Allende, typing her novels on an immaculate desk adorned with fresh flowers (on the Argentine coast, no less), but the glory and authority that seep out of me comes as a surprise to me, under protest - and under a few piles most times!  When we do have wonderful, full-glory moments, our hearts are flooded with the yes of eternity, yet we know it is fleeting.  So the question we must ask is, How can our hearts rise with the fullness of no longer belonging to evil, but rest knowing that the working out of our new identity may be, shall we say, less than lustrous?

I love the authoritative buffoon in the book The Fellowship of the Ring.  His name is Tom Bombadil, and he is part court jester, part powerhouse.  In a fearful encounter in the Barrow-Downs, a dark figure (a Barrow-wight) puts an icy grip on Frodo and his friends, leaving them in a slight frozen fog (which is where, if wer're honest, we find ourselves most of the time).  But Frodo knows they cannot remain frozen and survive, much less complete their mission.  Frodo remembers the face of Tom Bombadil and his merry ways as he ruled the forest.  He remembers Tom's lilting attitude about himself and his authority in the woods:

"None has ever caught him yet, for Tom he is the master;  His songs are stronger songs, and his feet  are faster."

Tom understood that he was the master of all powers within his sphere.  But he wasn't taken with himself or prideful; the authority just made him glad!  Frodo was strengthened by this thought and quoted Tom to the thing that gripped them:  "Get out, you old  Wight!  Vanish in the sunlight!"

We're told that "at these words there was a cry and part of the inner end of the chamber fell with a crash.  Then there was a long trailing shriek, fading away into an unguessable distance; and after that silence."  When we listen with the ears of our heart, we can hear that long, trailing shriek, the clamor and fog of condemnation giving way to the silence of grace.  We hear this whenever we remember the authority Christ has given us, and it simply makes us glad.  We are not to be enamored with the authority given to us, but we are to present it as a humble offering to the One we're now indentured to, in love.  This way we can walk wth Tom's confidence, and Tom's humility.

We are in a war and must show up for our place in the war.  But this is a war where all soldiers - men and women, support personnel and Red Cross employees - all have one thing in common:  we all, at one time or another, carried the flag of the enemy.  The minute this is forgotten, we lose our power.  We resist evil in humility, drawing near to God in awe of our change in allegiance.  We lean in and ask if Jesus could possibly want us to give up our own ability to protect ourselves in this war, and we hear his startling reply:  ultimately yes.  He, in fact, does want us to stop fighting in our own power, but he doesn't leave us unarmed.  He bestows his power on us as we humbly remember his power and authority.  There is spaciousness in this, allowing us to say, "Oh good, Jesus."  I can watch a crimson finch outside my window and find a knowing smile grow inside me that says, The one who created this playful little bird is the same one who has crusehd the head of my Enemy.  Somehow, in ways that confound the wise he has this battle fully in his control.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

For Mother's Day, I'd like to introduce you to Mary, my mom.


How was it, Mary, as you flitted past cornfields and felt humidity form on your young ivory brow? 
Your Bellaire and laughter ringing exuberance despite quiet and unspoken stories, a little girl’s confusion ~

the rending of  twins, the black shadow of the Summers, the grit of watching your mother’s decline.

How did you emerge, lovely and soft?

He saw you then, he said, floating across the high school lobby, a brunette beauty with elegant gate.  
Decades cemented in the shady grass of Kansas.

Where did it come from, your courage to board the train, cinching the belt on your slender waist, holding the fabulous hat against your beautifully coiffed black hair?

A girl, an adventure, mad love.

How was it as your world expanded into safety and harbor ~ just in time to join the world’s efforts against tyranny? 

Send him off, Mary.  Find your way.

How was the mountain world of science and parties and energy and the fragileness of peace?   Did you feel the tender tremble of a shy girl midst the cackle of socialites as you sweetly and gently won the hearts of good and true men and women? 

                You always won them, Mary, without trying.

How did you weave it – smells of tacos, lasagna, cookies and drop doughnuts and the creeping despair rising from a body too often betraying your love of life? 
How did you manage it – riding the crest of exuberant waves, inviting all who would join to go to Disneyland, while the creeping dark beckoned, whispered, wanting to steal.

But you, all resurrection.  Surfacing, shunning grave clothes, determined to live.

To find life in sangria and grins and money slipped into grandchildren’s pockets. 
“Shhh,” you would say, as if repercussions were earthshaking for such indiscretions. 

To find Jesus in hummingbirds, cattails formed as décor, golden paper mache crèches, filling your home with smells of glue guns and Christmas.  Heels and pearls around card table bridge. A thermos of hot chocolate as your brood tromped out the door on the frigid New Mexico trek for the perfect Christmas tree.

Land of Enchantment, adopted surely.  Splendid, you said, the drama of light and sound.  “Shhhh,” you said, as finches found your backyard offering, framing your world of Weeping Willow, Russian Olive, Wild Roses, Columbine, Raspberries and Cherry Pie. 
Vinegar in the crust. “Shhh, no one knows.”

Do you want a cookie?
                No thanks, Mom.
You want a cookie.
                No, not really.
I know you want a cookie.
I know what you want.

So often wrong, dear Mary, about cookies and meatloaf.
So how did you know, with perfect intuitive acuity, what we did want, in the tender longings within each of our hearts.

Inextricably woven ~sometimes a spell, sometimes a symphony ~
                fierce determination rose in your eyes at
                a hint
                a rumor
                of your children’s harm.

                Lioness Mary, crouching and sly.

When disgust hit your face, all knew to run, duck and cover or face the wrath of Mary against
                Frank Sinatra
                Scantily clad women
                Mockery for an incorrect pronunciation of Espanola
                Doctrinal arguments

                Some things you did not need.

Where did it come from, your propensity to worry, to hold up the world through the energy of fret?

How good to see your shoulders ease as flickering light marbled granite stone through the moving leaves of aspen, and blue spruced hillsides.
This looks just like Colorado!” your exclamation before your heart’s trip to your Jemez Mountain Mecca.

How did you believe?
                How did you love.
                                How you did live, Mary.

Your life lingers, 
as the dove lights with kind eyes,
as the hush at dusk.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Kiss of Justice

The Kiss of Justice

Osama Bin Laden was killed yesterday.  Some semblance of justice has come for the victims of 9/11.  We all, in some nuanced form, have been victimized by Al Qaeda, and we have all yearned for some form of justice. But like most of you, I have been sitting with my thoughts, considering the ambivalence I feel around this heroic, sobering, epic event.  

Predictably, because my career and calling through the years have brought me into the lives of those who are victims of other forms of evil, my reflections are filtered by them.   My thoughts have run to a handful of people I’ve had the privilege of knowing, all of whom have stories of shame from sexual abuse, but whose lives hold particular power because of what they have determined to do with their own hearts.   I’ve known scores of individuals with sexual abuse stories, but the particular folks who come to mind today are those who, over a crucible of time and often excruciating interaction with the gospel,  have begun to yearn for the redemption of their abuser or abusers.  For Amy it was her father and several members of the church where he pastored.  For Joann it was her uncle and brother.  For John it was his grandmother.  For Eunice it was her trafficker.  I watched as each of these people succumbed to a force deeper than their pain, higher than their cry for justice.

But that’s just it.  They had to cry for justice.  Or better said, they had to cry for justice first.  Some of them had to go through the actual justice system first, watching as their perpetrators were incarcerated, or waiting for justice to be metered out on their behalf.  Had they ignored this process, as many who suffer harm choose to do, they would have greatly diminished their own dignity, their own worth.  Their countenances would have a passive, detached quality rather than the strength of presence, the solid light which comes from acknowledging they are an image bearer of God, and that image was not meant to be harmed.  Harm me and there is a price. The weighty beauty I see on the faces of these people is partially there because they have allowed their hearts to rise in the holy fire of justice, in resonance with the heart of God when he says things like:

“It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin (cause them to doubt). – Luke 17:2

Millstones in the ancient near East could be several tons.  This was a severe judgment, worthy of Navy Seals or Special Forces.

Or, “I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness.
Since your refuge is make of lies,
A hailstorm will knock it down.
Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away.”  Isaiah 28:17

God, in this manner, is very much okay with himself.  He does not apologize for his sense of offense, or his fury.  And a certain strength and beauty comes to our face when we join him, when we acknowledge the fury within our own hearts when we are harmed. 

But the beauty in these people, truly, also comes from their response to the more difficult task.  Each of these dear people found the strength from within that fire, from within the burning, to relinquish all rights to the dissemination of that justice.  They have let go, trusting their hearts’ care to a more trustworthy judge.  

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  ~ Romans 12:19.

Because of this, they live in a freedom very few of us ever know. It is a deeply dignified freedom.  It is not whiny, self aggrandizing or gloating.  It is quiet, strong, fierce and saturated in a love beyond them.  It is divinity in its most raw form.

It is the ‘competing’ truths, equally found in the story line of scripture, positioned together like breathtaking acrobats navigating a tension filled wire, which have set these people free.  Free to love.  Remembering this today, I could acknowledge my gratitude that at least one source of true evil had been stopped, yet hold it with a hushed awe that does not gloat over the demise of one’s enemies. 

In light of this, something else struck me this morning.  I share this gingerly because I don’t want it to be heard as a political comment as much as a comment about the longing we have in our hearts for strength to guide us through moments like this, through the complexities of justice and mercy.  There is a grounding voice in the psalms which delightfully exclaims, “Mercy and Truth have met each other.  Justice and Peace have kissed. (Psalm 85:10).  There is an equally grounding voice in the New Testament which delightfully invites us to search our own eye for a log before we can see clearly to remove another’s speck (Matthew 7:3).  How powerful would it have been for us to be led by those voices yesterday?  How much more deeply dignified and powerful we might be as a people, if our response was not to the proclamation “Justice has been served,” but to the sentence:

“Justice has been served.  And today it has not been served to us.”

So as we allow ourselves to feel the weight and beauty of justice realized, let’s also hold the reverent acknowledgement that we feel dissonant because we were never intended to navigate evil in the first place.  Evil is here, we must expose it.   But only as we search for its activity within our own behavior, attitudes and thoughts can we move toward it with the purpose of inviting those trapped within it.    Midst our glee, let’s reach in to the deeper, truer place within us which longs for all to obtain redemption and mercy.  Let’s sorrow that any must be snuffed out in order for the world to gain a bit of realigning.   And like the people I remember today, let’s hold ourselves with the dignity that flows from the heart of God – the burning, holy, justice fueled heart of God which perpetually answers his own justice with a love which pours out mercy instead.  And let’s long for the day when justice will no longer be our cry.  I really, really wish we could have been merciful. It wouldn’t have honored the Story.  But our wanton glee does not either.  Somewhere in the middle is a place, a chapter of the Story when justice and mercy kiss.  And only when justice and mercy kiss do we comprehend Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hope Deferred

He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you.  To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

It was the beginning of what we knew would be a forty hour block of travel time back from a village in Rwanda via Ethiopia, Frankfurt, Dallas and home.   I had done ten hours of teaching for a week at an Africa Regional conference for Africans (heroes to me) who pour their lives out for women in forced prostitution. We went to the largest marketplace in Africa at night, where hundreds of girls and women stand in the shadows, poverty forcing them to wait to be picked for a 30 cent sexual encounter.  We drove... and drove.... and drove.... the sea of precious women set as commodities went on for miles. It rended our hearts in ways I can't describe.  Then Steve and I spent a week of research in Rwanda, him wondering out loud about his experience with infrastructure and how it all might fit with the little African nation with such a brutal past as it rises from the ashes of shame into a true shining example of development and reconciliation.  We went to the high country region of Byumba, near the Ugandan border, where a humble Anglican priest has begun a literal movement of healing through the practice of sociotherapy – groups of ten to twelve individuals who commit to meet together for 15 weeks, for the purpose of healing from war and genocide.  Forget your images of group therapy and even the most powerful counseling prowess -  these are the invisibly bleeding caring for the invisibly bleeding.  One seventy year old grandmother, her leathered face crowned with layers of corn rowed perfection, spoke from the depths as she explained how the group had become medicine to her heart after she lost six children to war and the other four to genocide.  Her burdened existence was made bearable as she received care from a single mother, an orphan and many others in the group whose bodies bore the literal scars of hatred.  The facilitator, once a sociotherapy group member herself, now restored and precise in her facilitation, had a scar on her neck which betrayed the trauma which brought her into the esteemed place of healing. 
All that to say, I was tired.  I didn’t have the energy to engage someone sitting next to me on the plane.  As Steve and I fumbled our way to our frequent flier miles seats in economy class on our first leg of the eternal trip (seasoned international travelers know the ‘augh’ of not being in business class, knees huddled to chest, for hours and hours and hours), I saw her eyes as we sat down and something caught me.  I had been ‘caught’ for two weeks, hearing story upon story in Ethiopia and Rwanda, but this woman’s quiet fragility unnerved me.  She was equator black, as my Nigerian friend Balonle calls it.  She had on a lovely soft pink business suit and she sat with her hands folded, like a nun.  Her jewelry told me she was a well loved woman, but her aloneness puzzled me.  I kept my questions to myself for some time, hours into the flight, actually.  I nuzzled up against my exhausted husband and watched with a certain longing as several American couples struggled to quiet their Ethiopian adopted babies and toddlers to make safe passage to their new homes abroad.  I listened to my ipod.  I watched the customary movie and tv clip.  I snoozed.  And then there were the final two hours before the descent.  Steve and I had declined our meal, so I apologized to this African woman for causing her to eat alone.  Her eyes showed appreciation, and we began to chat.  She was from Burundi.  We talked of our time in Rwanda and the war and tribal blood and religious and colonization complexities and the puzzling and shocking reality of watching your own neighbors kill neighbors, family members killing family members.  She related that her home, just twenty minutes from the Rwandan border in Burundi, had also experienced this strange wave of evil dark.  She had seen things for which she could not speak. She was now a registered nurse who now works in Ottowa, Canada.  We talked of the cold.

And then I heard her story. Not the story of all the atrocities her eyes have taken in, but the story of her current injustice.  Her mother had died two weeks before, she said.  I told her of my mom’s death, and how I only knew that it was impossible for anyone else to know what it means to lose a mother.  Yes, she said.  Her mother died suddenly, and she had to make quick arrangements to fly to the funeral in Rwanda.  Traveling alone, in shock and grief, she suffered what was, for me, the crowning jewel of injustices.  She missed her flight in Europe and was unable to catch another plane until the next day.  This woman had to spend a night in Heathrow, alone and in grief and full of futility.  She arrived in Rwanda the next evening.  Two hours after her mother’s funeral was finished. 
I don’t know what it was about this story but something in me snapped inside.  I thought of a beautiful woman I know who has poured her life out for girls in forced prostitution in a Latin country, only to be raped as she was walking to her comfortable home one day.  I thought of the seventy year old grandmother.   And now a funeral missed – a once in a life time chance to say goodbye in the presence of her community, in the band of union known only to Africans – due to a ten minute distance which closed an airliner door with a thud. This injustice pierced my heart.  Steve and I sat in our sorrow, with her, over her story. Her name was Rose.  She was so kind.  As airline conversations go, she turned her questions to us and we relayed to her the beauty of our friends who are giving up everything to establish organizations and businesses and ministries to intervene for the exploited.  Her grieving heart opened to their stories, and she sat quietly.  As the plane descended Rose said, “I am comforted by our talk." "We are too," we said.

I watched Rose disappear into the crowds as we departed into the transit terminal.  I quietly wondered if moments such as those - communing together in deferred hope, sorrow and the strength which comes from the stories of others - are feast of God.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Untended Story

No matter what we might think of it, social media is an avenue into clarity.  It is a great way to force us to have to articulate ourselves well, to determine what is important enough to us to do so.  We either engage in it silently and keep our head low, or we venture out and have to say, “Look, this is what I mean.”  I’m having one of those moments.

Like many, my Facebook friends list is a menagerie of current intimate relationships mixed in with friends from the block I grew up on in New Mexico, mixed with high school friends from Trigonometry, college reading group folks and various people from many countries I’ve encountered in my adult life.  It is a mixture of professing followers of Christ, Buddhists, Jews, nominal Christians, agnostics, academic atheists and those practicing a various smattering of contemporary spiritual mixes.

So, each time I desired to post something about a story of forced prostitution and/or the work of folks I care about involved in that realm, or even my own heart and work, I was forced to consider how it would be ‘heard’ by those on my friends’ list.   Would it come across as moralizing?  I realized that many would immediately think of the ‘sex trade’ as a viable if not necessary form of income for the impoverished. For many, when not aware of the coercive and violent nature of how many of the girls are forced into slavery, the term ‘traffiicked’ has helped in recent years to underscore the difference between forced prostitution and the practice or trade of selling sex simply to make a living. Even with that distinction, however, many hear of attempts at intervening in prostitution as either moralizing or a naïve intrusion into the private choices of others.   I recognized that there were perhaps men in my list who have, at one point in their life, participated in securing a prostitute.  The spectrum of opinion and impression and unspoken images around the subject would be as varied as, well, the Facebook list.

There’s too much encumbered around the notions and stigmas around prostitution.  That’s okay.  Actually, it is really good.  It allows us to come to the subject the way Christ comes to any subject.  It is not that he refuses to be boxed in, its just that he can't be.   His heart is so intent on the true nature of a person's heart that he speaks of slavery as our condition.  He brazenly stood up in his hometown temple, reading the prophetic scroll of Isaiah and claiming it as a description of himself as the one who would 'heal the broken hearted, and set the captive free' (Isaiah 61).  He not only leveled the playing field for Greek and Hebrew, Male and Female, Slave and Slave Owner, but he makes it clear that our log-fogged eyes can't see clearly just how similar we are to the speck-blinded poor folks we pity.   Another way for us to think of it:  his words are as much for the hardened child porn producer as they are for the eleven year old Cambodian girl taken into an interment camp intended to prepare her for filming.  His words are for organized crime, and for my own heart.   His definition of captivity is comprehensive, it cannot be separated, body from spirit from heart.  Oppression is slavery is bondage is…. our state. 

Last week was a case in point for me.  I (along with thousands of others, apparently) was really grieved when I learned that Amazon.com was selling and promoting a book entitled, ‘A Pedophiles Guide to Love and Pleasure.’  My heart was immediately flooded with the stories of women I’ve had the privilege to walk with in my counseling practice, many of whom have struggled upstream their entire life after being drawn into the conflictual relational nature of child sexual abuse.  And my mind was overwhelmed at the thought of the countless kids who are forced onto the soiled mattresses or pristine silk pillows or suburban couches which are the venues of child exploitation in this age.  I picked up the phone and called to complain.  As I was on hold, waiting to speak to an Amazon.com supervisor, the thought crossed my mind that many would consider what I was doing an affront to freedom of speech.  I knew intellectually that this argument did not hold up, as the book promotes criminal activity, and yet, our culture has become desensitized to the point that ‘live and let live’ often is the stronger choir than intervening on behalf of goodness.   I posted something about the book, and I was off and running in wondering what people might be thinking about it.  It was important enough to post – I really hoped others would call Amazon as well.  Amazon responded to a cavalcade of complaints, and the supervisor I spoke with expressed their own personal horror that the book had slipped through normal decency channels.  I thought to myself, “This is not about decency.  It is about kids.”  But I just said yes and thanked him.   A few days later CNN did a story about this whole thing – the book, the avalanche of opposition, the guy who wrote it.  I was struck when I read how the author of the book spoke of his intentions – to show people they could express love for children in sexual ways.  He referenced his own life and experiences as a child, and my heart broke as I realized this is a man who has a history of sexual abuse himself.  An unnamed, untended to story.  I realized anew the level playing field.  This man needs to be in prison, yet in the same breath that he needs a rescue from the prison he is in.    Just like me.

 ~ Jan Meyers Proett