Posted by: alliehope | March 15, 2010

On Glenn Beck

Glenn. Beck. Is. An. Idiot.

Seriously. He’s kicked up dust before, but now it’s personal: telling people to leave their churches if they see or hear the terms “social justice” or “economic justice” talked about on their churches’ websites, linking social justice and communism.

First of all, I have to rant a little bit, so if my language goes to you-know-where in a handbasket, I beg your forgiveness.

Commencing rant:

What the HELL is so “communist” about feeding the homeless, helping victims of abusive relationships find jobs/shelter/transportation so they have means to get out of those situations, or rebuilding homes for those who have lost them due to natural disaster? Who the hell does this know-nothing windbag think he is, insulting basically all except for a tiny lunatic fringe of Christianity? And now he’s been backtracking, softening his message, trying to deny that he ever said it. Well, he said it, and my first reaction was, “Oh no, you *&#$ing didn’t! And how is it that now you’re going to take the chicken’s way out of “softening” it, even though you know that your words managed to piss off most reasonably thinking Christians who have even a smidgin of understaning of the Scripture, enough to know how to call your BS?”

Rant concluded. I fear I may have said too much.

So let’s let the Bible speak for itself. Check Isaiah 58, Michah 6:7-8, and Amos 5:22-23, among others. Nose over to Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 4:14-19. These are just the obvious ones; I could probably throw Scriptures all night if I felt like it, but I won’t. Not because I don’t feel like it, but because I don’t want to belabor the point.

Further, working for justice is a key component of evangelism. Of what use is a sermon to someone who’s starving to death? That person has 2 needs to be met: physical and spiritual. To attend to his or her spiritual need without feeding him or her is just as dangerous as feeding him or her without being a living (and speaking, when necessary) example of the Gospel, one that God might use to bring that person closer to Himself. If we fail to work for justice, I would argue that our gospel falls flat, and we’re in danger of telling people that their lives on earth don’t matter, that all that matters is whether or not they’re going to Heaven. That reductio ad absurdum of the Gospel, is, I don’t think what Jesus intended. Let’s just hope that Glenn Beck gets that sometime soon.

Posted by: alliehope | January 15, 2010

Tragedy–and Shame

As reports continue to pour in from earthquake-shattered Haiti, one crossed my email that completely fried me. I short-circuited into outrage immediately. It seems that credit card company Visa is profiting from donations made on behalf of the victims of the recent earthquake. The word I immediately used for that is unprintable, and then I thought to myself, My God, this is the height of unchallenged greed!

According to the email I received, Visa is gettng 3% of some credit-card based donation to agencies working in Haiti–and have been getting these “transaction fees” from charitable donations for quite some time. A company like that should not be able to profit financially from such tragedy. If you’re as outraged as I am, sign the petition. It takes less than one minute to call out Visa on their greed, and say, “This is not what I stand for”. If you’re a cardholder with them, consider cancelling your account as a way of backing up your stand. If enough people do that, they might realize that their greed is morally wrong, period.

My outrage isn’t just limited to the revelation of financial shenanigans, however. It seems that both Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh have stuck their feet in their mouths about this tragedy. Here are two voices of sanity on the matter. Listening to both Olbermann and the commentator, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post (a writer I respect greatly), I thought of the moral outrage present in using a tragedy–exploiting a tragedy to get their own views out is just as immoral.

I happen to think of that kind of profiteering, that of manipulating tragedy to one’s benefit, as one of the worst forms of narcissism. It is beyond outrageous. I cannot, nor will I ever, attempt any sort of theodicy (an study of God’s role in suffering) in the light of tragedies like this, since words and logic fail when faced with suffering of this massive of a scale. However, let me be unequivocally here: shame on you, Visa, shame on you, Pat Robertson, and shame on you, Rush Limbaugh.

Posted by: alliehope | January 13, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

I got home, turned on some music, and heard the news: there has been an earthquake in Haiti.

I thought two things in that instant: “Oh, man, this is really scary; those people are already in so much suffering!” Then I thought, “God, what do You need me to do to help?”

In that instant I thought of World Vision, and knew that they’d be “boots on the ground”, providing relief and care in the aftermath of the disaster. If you have the means to give, follow the link to WorldVision. It’s really easy, and you’ll be able to know that you’ve done something that makes a difference.

Regardless of what you give financially, the most important gift you can give is prayer. Pray for the people who will have lost loved ones, whose lives and dreams have been shattered. Pray for the ministries like WorldVision and others who are or soon will be on the ground, providing needed relief supplies and the compassion of Christ to hurting souls. Pray that God would send His healing grace to the afflicted country and its people tonight and in the days ahead, as the death toll rises.

A Prayer

Our Father, we hear on the news of yet more devastation, this time in Haiti. Our hearts strain to try to comprehend the suffering Haiti’s people are already going though, and how much this now adds to it. We pray that we would not turn a blind eye nor a deaf ear to their cries, but that we would respond as You move us. We pray that You would be with the people in their grief as they seek to recover, and with the volunteers who seek to support and minister to them. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. +

Posted by: alliehope | January 11, 2010

Happy New Year, 11 Days Later

So, yeah. It’s several day (11) after new year’s day, and all the good intentions and resolutions I made are pretty much forgotten. I resolved not to be so critical, but within about an hour of clocking in at my job on new year’s day, I said something nasty to a coworker about a rude customer. I resolved not to swear as much, but that was gone within about 20 minutes as I stubbed my toe on the edge of the bed. I could go on. But the point of the matter is that resolutions don’t work.

Heck, I even resolved to write here at least once a week. Well, that obviously didn’t happen, since it’s been quite some time since my last post. I realize now that resolutions really are a way of cluttering up the mind. Resolutions are my way of relying on myself instead of the Holy Spirit to show me what needs changing, what in my life isn’t pleasing to Him. Resolutions tell the world, “I’m competent. I have control over my life. I know what’s wrong, and I know what needs to be done about it”.

But underneath the bravado, there’s an incredible amount of hubris, and that’s why resolutions don’t go deep enough when it comes to lifelong transformation. I find instead that daily cleansing and confession are what strengthen me for the fight, and what lead to real transformation. I have come to understand the battle I fight against myself, and against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms“, and how I can’t rely solely on my own strength in order to fight those two battles.

And so, it is in that spirit of seeking that I set out in this second full week of 2010. I know that if I seek God’s face, He will give me the strength to win the two battles I mentioned. So my encouragement to you is that if you’ve failed, go running home to the Father’s arms. He will tenderly wipe the mud and blood from your face, dry the tears from your eyes and set you on the path to righteousness with His strength. There’s no shame in admitting you’ve failed, ever. There is shame, however, in hiding it, and the hiding it doesn’t allow you to move forward into freedom, either. Don’t be afraid of confession, because even though it can be painful, the letting go of the burden is a sweet blessing. The energy you spent carrying it is now marshaled into moving forward, secure in the Father’s love, the Son’s wisdom, and the Spirit’s blessing. Resolving to walk with Them is the best resolution of all, and one worth keeping.

PS: If you lose 20 pounds along the way, that’s bonus!

Posted by: alliehope | October 26, 2009

This Wrecked Me

Oh, man. All I can say is, oh, man. (I’m trying to keep it G-rated). I saw this today, and it’s reminded me of so much that I’m far too quick to forget. It’s amazing how one frame of a cartoon can say so much, while seeming to say so little.

All at once, I started thinking wildly divergent thoughts: the aforementioned “oh, man”, the “Wowie, that’s incredible”, and an “I need to get this out there. Too many people just don’t seem to care”, and finally, “How much do I care, really?”

I saw this as an opportunity to get this out there, and in doing so, reexamine my commitment to “the least of these” (see Matthew 25:31-46). It made me grateful, first of all, that I have the means to sponsor children through Compassion International, and to go to a church that is actively involved in serving the needs of the underresourced, both locally and around the world. It has reminded me to continue seeking God’s direction for what He might have me do to be even more involved in serving the needs of the world.

After all, I guess I was set-up to see this. As I was on the bus today, I saw two radically different signs on the side of the road. One, for a church, said, “Feeling empty? Get a free fill-up here every Sunday”. The next one, for a local police department, said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”. One sign appealed to people’s selfcenteredness, the other, to the desire to make an impact beyond oneself.

Later on, at church, the pastor mentioned that one of the signs of being truly born again is a willingness to engage joyfully with the needs of the world (not his words, but that was his point). In thinking about his words, I understood that the chance God gives us to work on behalf of the poor is really a chance to join Him in the work of redeeming the suffering that exists in our world, and through doing so, share the Gospel. As a Christian, I understand that there is no higher calling than that.

Contrast that to the rampant narcissism in our society, and I see just how high the calling really is. I flashed back through the day to something I saw that made me want to throw up. A woman was in the drive-up where I work, and I was outside taking oders, and encountered her. She was driving an obviously upscale SUV (I won’t mention the brand name), there was a designer handbag on the seat next to her, and she was quite well-dressed. On the license plates: ILIV4ME. The frames of her plates: Yield to the princess.

I could tell I was in for a rough encounter (Father, forgive me for judging her. She’s a precious daughter of Yours, even though it might seem like her priorities are compleletely out of whack!), and I think I was right. She was really whiny, not bothering to say please or thank you. In fact, every item she ordered started with the phrase “I need”. It started to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. I wanted to say, “Hey, princess. Shove the tiara where the sun doesn’t shine. I can tell by looking at you that you are OBVIOUSLY not in need, so stop saying “I need”. You have more than you need. You WANT this stuff, that’s all!”

It drove me nuts! But a couple weeks later, I realize that some of that’s about my own misplaced priorities, and the part of me that thinks that such a life of luxury and ease is the cat’s meow, and the part of me that envies those with that life. On further reflection, I understand that such a life isn’t as easy as it might seem. Hiding behind the facade might be rampant debt, sickness, family dissolution, marital conflict, you name it. Pain doesn’t just visit the poor, I reflected.

But the truth of the matter is that the kind of pain that visits the poor often hurts worse, since they are often struggling simply to survive, to say nothing of dealing with the emotions associated with that struggle. It’s what I saw in the eyes of the kids in the cartoon. Sure, we were all entranced by the boy in the balloon story: would he live? Would he die? Where WAS he, anyway?

Yet we don’t seem to think for any reason about those thousands of children who WILL die of preventable causes, those who will go to bed hungry tonight. It seems beyond us, but it’s not. It is my hope that reading this challenges you to action, to find a cause you care about and throw yourself into it. Need next steps? Contact your house of worship and test whatever connections they might have. Get educated on the issues. I recommend a couple books: Richard Stearns’s The Hole in Our Gospel (from a Christian perspective) and Gary Haugen’s Just Courage. Check your local library for information they might have as well. Then get out there and do it! You might make some mistakes, and not find what you’re truly called to do right away, but the worst you can ever do is to make a positive impact on the life of someone in need. That’s the best kind of mistake to make.

Posted by: alliehope | October 6, 2009

At The Altar of Grace

As I sat this morning with a pastry at my local Panera, I read a piece on Communion in the marvelous Gifted for Leadership blog. The weight of my own story hit me again: I came to Christ during a Communion service.

I can see it now as clearly as anything: I’m 12 years old, having come from Sunday School into service, as was my routine. I don’t remember the pastor’s sermon that day, but I do remember hearing him very clearly say something to the effect of “Jesus gave us this Sacrament to help us remember the price He paid for us, and the new life He offers us. If you want to receive His new life, come to the altar of grace, remember Him, and be renewed”.

Suddenly, in that moment, the penny dropped, and everything I’d ever heard about how Jesus laid down His life for us while we were still sinners (see Romans 5:8) became much more than a Sunday School lesson: it became living, active Truth. I knew in that moment that I believed in Him, not just with my head, but with my heart, and knew that He had given His life, for me! As I held the bread soaked in grape juice (I grew up Methodist, and we used grape juice), I realized that from that moment on, my life would never be the same, because I would now have His life living inside of me.

In the years since that experience, I have never forgotten that term: altar of grace. It so perfectly describes what the Communion experience is: a chance to come to the altar, lay your burden of sin and shame down, and be restored to freedom, and take up Christ’s easy yoke (see Matthew 11:28-30). I love how The Message puts it:
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

For me, it’s about knowing that anywhere I am can become an altar of grace: a graham cracker the bread, and a little bit of fruit punch the wine, as I again pour out my life in gratitude for Christ’s pouring out His life for me. I think about Charlie Hall’s worship song, Mystery, where he says, “Sweet Jesus Christ, my sanity/sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity/Bread of Heaven, broken for me/Cup of salvation, held out to drink/Jesus, Mystery, and I think it perfectly captures the meaning of the Sacrament. At its depth, it IS mystery, not something to be parsed through with the intellect (which cheapens it) but something to be lived from the heart. It’s about acknowledging my sin, my smallness, and opening my life to the greatness of His life and His sacrifice on my behalf. I can think of no better way to end this, than with the following prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left
unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us, we beseech
thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and
Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of
thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer)

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. +

Posted by: alliehope | September 12, 2009

Remembering 9/11: A Reflection

I woke up this morning thinking two things: It’s Friday (TGIF) and it’s 9/11. The second thought took over way too quickly, and I found myself reeling back to exactly where I was on that momentous day 8 years ago. I was in college, just coming back from breakfast. I can remember passing by the main administration building and overhearing two staffers talking, saying that apparently a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in NYC.

I thought, No way. Tell me that’s an accident, or a joke. So I ran like a bat out of [the other place] to my dorm room, only to discover that the school’s internet was on the fritz because of people hearing the news and wanting to find out what was going on. Not wanting to wake my roomies, I went to the student activities building and to the commuter lounge, where CNN was on, with live coverage. I was watching it when the second plane hit the second tower. I was one of the ones who screamed. I remember hearing a collective “Oh, my God” come out of people’s mouths as we all witnessed the unthinkable, and our innocent worlds were shattered.

As the coverage continued, I remember crying, and holding people who were crying, and listening to one girl repeatedly saying “Oh my f*&#ing God” (at least until someone told her to “shut the *&#$ up”). The rest of the day turned into a blur, as classes were cancelled and I spent much of it working in the chaplain’s office, helping with the vigils that were being hastily planned. At the end of the day, as I carried the altar cross back to its home in the chapel from where it had been set up in one of the campus’s large meeting rooms, I remember thinking, Nothing will ever be the same.

Eight years later, nothing is the same. In some ways, we as a country have become better. But in a lot of ways, we have become worse. We have become coarser, more crassly narcissistic than we were. We’ve seen the disastrous results of greed in the subprime housing crisis, the immense suffering caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, corporate fallouts, political scandals, the White Sox winning the Series (had to get that in), and the historic election of Barack Obama.

In this mixed bag of where we’ve been, I look forward, and ask the question, Where will we be next year? Will we be worse, or will we as a society be even a little better than we are now? Will we be kinder, or more self-centered? I can only hope that we will choose the way of love and enlightenment, the way of allowing our collective suffering as a nation and our individual sufferings to soften us, to make us more compassionate to those who carry burdens of pain greater than what we can sometimes imagine. I pray that as we mourn, as we remember, that we can look forward to the day when we can realize that our collective sufferings have brought out the best, not the worst, in us.

May God bless America.

Posted by: alliehope | August 15, 2009

A Little of Both

Yep… the little birds have it right. I am engaged. (Holy &^#@!) Even though I can hear the wags out there saying that it’s too soon (Mike and I have only been dating 7 months), I believe that when love finds you, and I believe it has in my case, you run with it however far it takes you, no matter what anyone else thinks or does. After all, what other people think of you is none of your business.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’ve been doing some thinking about health care reform, and what it might mean to America. Before I give my opinions, let’s start with a little truth. I figure, if we want to have some reasonable debate, as President Obama is urging, we need to have some straight facts. The seven issues talked about in the posting I linked to are the biggest canards being played by BOTH sides in this one, and understanding what they are is a key step in forming a well-reasoned, well-subtantiated opinion.

As for my opinion, I believe that heath care reform is a justice issue, and one that needs to be addressed. If even one person uninsured is a tragedy, 47 million is a travesty. While I have not yet formed my own opinion, I believe one thing very strongly: There MUST be a public option. There also MUST be more clear regulations on what private insurance companies are and are not allowed to do. There also needs to be a strong shift into preventive care and educating people about nutrition, fitness, anti-smoking, and other preventive care issues. That’s what I think so far. More later, as I continue to sort through all the crap out there and attempt to form my own opinion.

Posted by: alliehope | June 24, 2009

Dispatch From Bay St. Louis

I sit here on a muggy night in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It’s a picturesque town that was almost wiped off the map four years ago by Hurricane Katrina. I’m down here with my church, working with their team to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. It’s really incredible to see the progress that’s being made on the houses. (Follow the action at the Blitz Build blog if you’re so inclined).

While it’s an inspiring sight to see the houses and projects coming together, it’s even more inspiring to see the teams coming together. It’s truly incredible to see people supporting each other in not only building a home for someone in need, but in supporting one another. I experienced that tonight when one of the teammates was having trouble at home and some of us rallied around her, praying for her and helping her to feel like she wasn’t alone in her struggle.

It really brought the words of Paul in Galatians 6:2 home. This whole experience of a Blitz Build is really a microcosm of life, I realize. At each moment, I face a choice: either I can choose to open my arms and help someone carry their burden, or I can fold my arms and let them struggle alone. As I consider this, I am forced to admit that there are far too many times when
I have acted like their problem wasn’t mine, and went unconcerned. I know I will never have those opportunities back, and I lament them, knowing that I let a chance to show the compassion and love of Christ pass in the life of someone who needed Him.

I further wonder: why do I choose to fold my arms? Sometimes it’s fear that I don’t have what it takes to support the person, that I will fail them. Sometimes it’s just plain out not wanting to be responsible for whatever happpens, not wanting to involve myself. Sometimes something in me rebels, and says, “NO! I don’t want to carry another person’s heartache, another person’s sorrows when God only knows I’ve had enough of my own. I’ve seen too much, and I just can’t carry another microgram of suffering!”

It’s at those times when I bow my head in shame, and feel the tender hand of the Father drawing up under my chin, lifting it toward the Cross. I hear the words of Isaiah echo in my head, and see my sin there on His shoulders, as He carried the burden that I never could. It’s then that I repent of my selfishness, that cold-hearted refusal to help someone who needs me. After all, I know that He very well could have refused to carry my burden, or the burden of any one of us. Yet in His infinite love and mercy, He chose the nails, the crown of thorns, the disgrace to reconcile us to the Father, to take away the heavy load of sin and shame that on our own we never could have gotten rid of.

When I think about that, I realize that the best expression of my gratitude is to participate in carrying someone else’s suffering, whether it’s in a hands-on way like building a home, in a financial way, such as sponsoring a child through Compassion International, or whatever it is God is calling me to do in a given moment. Doing so is a fulfillment of the law of loving my neighbor as myself, and is itself an act of worship that glorifies Him. In that light, then, no burden is ever to be shirked, since I know that when I don’t have the strength to help that person, I can do the most important burden-bearing of all: carrying their needs and intentions to God in prayer.

My encouragement to you: open your eyes to the needs around you. Find something in your own neighborhood that you can do. Work as the Spirit moves you. Know that He will move you beyond your comfort zone, and challenge you to really enter into the lives that you’re being called to touch. But also trust, even a little bit, even if your “little bit is just to the right of none” (to borrow a phrase from The Shack) that He will guide you all the way, and strengthen you to do the work He has appointed for you. After all, He is the Master Worker, and He will never leave a job undone. And I hope this start of a poem I wrote Monday evening encourages you as well.

It takes just one pair of ears to hear the cry
One one pair of hands to wipe the tears dry
Ears and hands like yours and my own
Listening, reaching out, making His love known

See the face of the Father in the eyes of a child
In the fear of a man who’s suddenly lost it all
We are the ones the Father’s love has reconciled
We are the ones meant to heed their call

Indeed, we are the ones the world has been waiting for. Greater things are yet to come, and they will come through us, carrying one burden at a time.

Posted by: alliehope | June 15, 2009

Ye-ouch!

OK, so I don’t watch a lot of the late night comedians. I don’t find a lot of their schtick funny. However, last week’s debate about the Letterman/Palin controversy again reminded me of something that I’ve let slip in my own walk with God: the power of the tongue, specifically, but the power of words in general. As I thought about this, the text of James 3 . and just how powerful that chapter continues to be.

As I ponder James’ words, I realize that they’re not just a guide to how to avoid “sinning out loud” but a guide to a countercultural way of being in the world. They remind me that anyone who aspires to lead, particularly teach, has a far higher standard to live up to. This runs against the celebrity culture that has even permeated our churches, a culture that says that just because you’re “somebody”, you can say anything you want and not expect there to be blowback.

Bull! The truth of the matter is that words kill. As an aspiring teacher, and as a leader at work, I’ve learned, (unfortunately, the hard way sometimes), that what I say can either lift someone up, or it can bring them down. It’s a needed reminder to me that I am called to seek God’s wisdom about speaking the truth in love, not just the old axiom of “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

The fact is, sometimes as leaders, we have to say the not-so-nice things. Sometimes we have to confront people and issues head-on, and not be afraid to call blarney. But there is a way to do so without tearing the person down. James’ reminder about wisdom (see verses 13-18) provide needed illumination on just how that should work.

The biggest thing is that I need to confront my motives. In this “say anything” culture, this is of huge importance. If what’s about to be said comes from pride, bitterness, jealousy, or narcissism (even though James doesn’t use that last word), I have to confess it as sin and let it go even before I say it. This is something that I honestly stink at a lot of the time.

If, however, there is a point I need to make, I’m called to do so gently and humbly, aware of my own faults and not in a way that shames the other person. This is the other counter to the “say anything” culture that thrives on manipulation and cynicism in order to get its point across. I may be naive in saying that, but I believe that if we as Christians model, both in what we say and how we live, this whole idea of keeping a guard over our words, we won’t be adding fuel to the fires that rage in our culture, and instead be helping create a much gentler society.

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