The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss ~ The Butter Battle Book

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Corinthians 13:4-8a, 13.

Joshua is teething. Our wonderfully content little man…is now a wonderfully cranky little man. Poor guy. It is true what they say – it is good that babies are the ones that teeth and that they (we) forget the pain. Adults could not endure it.

Watching Joshua teethe, attempting to soothe him, or listening as he gives Andrew a piece of his mind about teething during the late night hours is hard. It is hard to watch and attempt to soothe and listen to someone you love experience pain.

We rock Joshua. We sing to him. We offer him a cold teething ring. We assure him that the pain will pass. We offer him something to eat and, when necessary, pain reliever. He is not left alone in his pain. Our nearness assures him that we see, we know, and we walk alongside. Our nearness communicates our commitment to him. Our nearness and our presence in his pain – not to increase it but to comfort him in hopes of alleviating the pain – is an expression of our love.

Our world is full of all sorts of pain. And sadly there are many in this world that sit alone in their pain – some through self-selection and others that have sought listening ears and warm hearts and found only cold shoulders. I am convinced that their pain – our pain – would be surely eased and well on its way to being healed by giving and receiving the gift of nearness, which entails both companionship and compassion.

Sometimes when we see a loved one in pain, we can fix the situation. Andrew or I can offer Joshua a teether and that does the trick! But other times we cannot fix the pain; it is either beyond our capacity to fix or it is not our role to fix. No matter the circumstance, what we can do – and it is hard! – is show our loved one empathy by sitting with them in their pain. The intent of sitting with them is not to further exacerbate their pain but to acknowledge that it is real, and, that if it is a concern for their heart, then it is a concern for ours, too.

Pain, and often the shame that accompanies it, intensifies when we feel we are all alone, which is why the Apostle Paul calls our attention to “a more excellent way” – which is the way of love expressed through companionship and compassion. This is the love that we receive from God because God first loved us. This is the love that bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things. This is the love that never fails. This is the love that never ends.

When was a time someone showed you empathy? How did that nearness comfort you and heal your pain? Who is God placing on your heart to connect with this week? How might sharing God’s gift of nearness alter their circumstances for the better?

Prayer: “Your love, O God, has called us here, for all love finds its source in you, the perfect love that casts out fear, the love that Christ makes ever new.”* Amen.

*“Your Love, O God, Has Called Us Here,” The United Methodist Hymnal 647.

Where You Go, I’ll Go

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ruth 1:1-18.

Following the events in Las Vegas late Sunday evening and early Monday morning, I saw a number of people quoting phrases from Warsan Shire’s poem entitled, What They Did Yesterday Afternoon. Shire is a British poet, activist, writer, and teacher, born to Somali parents, and originally from Kenya. Her poems stem from the tension between suffering and belonging – and in that place – she, from writing, and others, from reading – experience healing.

what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Once again – maddeningly, frustratingly, horrifically, crushingly – we as a society, as a species – find ourselves trying to make sense of life after a senseless tragedy. Innocent blood spilled. Questions unanswered. Joy stripped away. Peace voided.

We know too well the environments Shire describes in her poem. We see our places of origin or the places that we spend most of our time “thirsty” and “on fire” – meaning that we see them – we engage them experiencing – great need and crying for help. People are hurting. And unfortunately, hurt people hurt people.

Following a tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas it seems the the hurt compounds further as everyone from family members to neighbors to religious leaders to law makers argue over Second Amendment Rights, gun control, responses to gun violence, and access to quality mental health care. Tempers flare and arguments rage to a boiling point…and then the conversations start to cool…but the hurt remains.

“Where does it hurt?” “Everywhere everywhere everywhere.”

In our Scripture passage this week Ruth covenants to journey on with Naomi, her mother-in-law, though it would make more sense for Ruth to return home to seek better future opportunities. Naomi feels so poorly treated by God that she wishes to change her name to Mara to capture the experience that the Almighty has “dealt bitterly [and] harshly” with her (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi looks at her life and as her heart bleeds over the losses in her family, she feels abandoned and wants to give up. But she is not alone. Ruth is with her. And I believe Ruth’s presence is the very embodiment of God’s presence – a present gift and promise – of which Naomi needed to be reminded.

In a hurting world we have the opportunity to be the very embodiments of God’s presence – God’s present gift and promise – of which our family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and elected officials need to be reminded. We bear with us the message of the cross – that life has the final word, not death – and that our God’s preferred future for us is one shaped by peace rather than violence.

We bear this message in our bodies and it is also our responsibility to communicate this message – to share and advocate this message – through our words, actions, and deeds. A mentor of mine once told me that hope is a beautiful gift, but hope is not a strategy. We cannot “hope away” conflict, no matter the subject of the conflict. We must come to the table, as hard as it may be, to have conversations, to hear points of view different from our own, to accept that all parties – all sides – must give and take to reach a life-giving solution. I believe these are vital, necessary, and immediate steps that must be taken as we journey in life together.

God calls us to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper; God calls us to be Ruth for whoever is experiencing a period of Naomi.

Wherever Naomi went, Ruth was with her. In the joy and in the hurt. Everywhere everywhere everywhere.

In our journeying together – in compassion, empathy, and advocacy – I believe we can change the answer of Shire’s atlas.

“Where does it hurt?” “Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.”

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’ Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 338.



Fright Nights ~ Tamar

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 13:9-19

I attended an anti-bullying seminar while in high school.  The t-shirts for the event were black with a very crude (what we now call) emoticon on the front.  What was intended to be a smiley face was a pain-stricken yellow circle with weary eyes and a zipper for a mouth.  The zipper was closed but the face looked anxious to speak.  The caption for the shirt read, “Silence isn’t golden.”

How true that is.

Unfortunate events occur all around us and when they do we greet a pivotal point: address it or ignore it.  Give it voice or by our apathy essentially affirm or promote the continuance of the event.

Which would you choose instinctively?  Which would you choose after reflection?  How can we transform the “after reflection” choice into the “instinctive” choice?

(Can you guess which one I think should be our response?)

I live in the hope that one day our instinctive choice will be the gospel choice, which is to give voice, bear witness, raise awareness, and heal.  God in Christ Jesus calls us to be the change!

I will admit it is quite a challenge at times to give voice, bear witness, raise awareness, heal, and be the change in day-to-day circumstances.  Perhaps it is even more difficult when we are confronted with an unfortunate circumstance in Scripture.

– segue to this week’s passage –

When we encounter difficult Scripture passages we meet the same pivotal point: address it or ignore it.  And as it was with my anti-bullying seminar, silence isn’t golden.

– I promise…we’re almost to this week’s text –

Difficult Scripture passages make us uncomfortable, rub us the wrong way, and may lead us to only read the Scripture passages that make us feel happy, hopeful, comfortable, and secure.  Leader Keck et al., The New Interpreter Bible Commentary editors, lift up the royal rape of Tamar as a text that is shied away from because of its horrific nature.  While identifying our hesitancy towards this text Keck et al. simultaneously identify that this hesitancy does a disservice to the text.  Shying away from this text limits – or even denies – how God’s Spirit can speak to us through this text.  Shying away from this text also does a disservice to the communities of faith of which we are a part because this behavior can distance us – our empathy and our relationships – from our community members that identify with or share a tragic kinship with this story and others like it.

Keck et al. write, “In reading this story, we are forced to recognize our own experience in this ancient tale.  There is an empowerment that comes from recognizing that this story names present realities as well as those long past.  If such stories are read as part of our biblical tradition, similar stories can be faced in our own lives, in the lives of our family and friends, and in the life of our communities” (The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary: II Samuel 1306).

In other words, when we don’t preach, read, or study texts like the royal rape of Tamar we perpetuate the violence of the text through our silence.  But, writes Keck et al., “if the church can be the place of such reading and such voicing, then there is hope that the church might provide a community prepared to take action against continued patterns of violence against women (and I believe other groups that have been victimized) in our culture and to stand in caring support of those who have already been victimized” (The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary: II Samuel 1306).

(deep breathe to let things marinate)

Silence isn’t golden.  So let’s end our hesitancy.  Let’s get uncomfortable with Scriptures.  Let’s be unsettled, be attentive to how we feel, and respond!  Let’s get in touch with our empathy, seek out relationships, and build community.

Prayer: O God, sow within me your seed of constant vigilance to study what you would have me study, read what you would have me read, and speak as you would have me speak.  Lead me to the uncomfortable places and be my companion.  Open wide my ears, eyes, and heart.  Amen.