Heart in the Right Place

Valentine’s Day just came and went, and with it the swirl of activity around gifts and cards and plans for showing those we love that we love them.

It’s a beautiful thing… and also a stressful thing.

Author Rachel Held Evans put it this way in a tweet:

Screen shot of a tweet from Rachel Held Evans: V-Day Single: "I am missing out on so much joy." V-Day, Dating: *stresses out over finding the perfect gift* V-Day Married: "We should probably, like, go out or something." V-Day Married w/Kids: "You need how many valentines? For people who can't even read yet? By when?"

This year I ended up throwing my husband a curve ball.

He had made arrangements ahead of time to send me flowers and have them delivered to my office…since Valentine’s Day fell on a workday.

There was just one snag in his well-laid plans.

I was feeling under the weather this week, and ended up working from home on Valentine’s Day.

I am happy to report he was able to intervene and redirect the delivery to our home.

At the end of the day, his flowers were in the right place.

Flowers on a table with scattered papers and a laptop. Delivery slip has crossed out address.

That got me to thinking.

Sometimes, despite planning ahead and thoughtful consideration, our efforts to show our love can land in the wrong place.

Literally, our heart may not be in the right place.

*

And that got me to thinking.

Sometimes, despite studying scripture and faithfully attending worship and being in community and fellowship with others of our faith, our efforts to show GOD’s love can land in the wrong place.

And, friends, while our hearts may not always be in the right place, GOD’s love can never be in the wrong place.

*

Sometimes (like with my husband’s flower delivery plans), we need to keep our eyes and ears open and listen for new information and new direction.

And then we need to take action based on that new information.

God’s love doesn’t change.

But maybe our understanding of God’s love can grow and change.

Maybe the way we try to share it needs to change.

*

As the United Methodist denomination prepares to meet later this week in St. Louis to discuss and vote on matters of human sexuality and the church, I believe we have come to such a time.

I believe the Holy Spirit is saying to us that God’s love is for all.

I believe the Holy Spirit is saying to us that God’s love is unconditional.

I believe the Holy Spirit is saying God’s love doesn’t change, but old interpretations of short passages of scripture will not help get God’s love to its intended destination.

I believe the Holy Spirit is saying it is time.

It is time to welcome and include all.

Fully.

It is time.

I believe.

Fellow United Methodists, I pray our hearts are in the right place.

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

 

‘This people honors me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

 

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

 

Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”

 

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

 

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”  (Mark 7: 1-23 NRSV)

 

*

**Addendum:

I have read and re-read this passage of scripture. To me it clearly calls out those who put their own human traditions (including human traditional interpretation of scripture) above the commandment of God to love one another as he loves us – unconditionally.

And that got me to thinking.

It’s often pointed out that Jesus never said one single word about sexual orientation or homosexuality.

He talked about many things.

Never that.

And here, in this scripture, he pours out a long list.

A LONG list of things that – if coming from a human heart – can defile it.

Nothing on this list can be directed at homosexuals or any person regarding a different-from-traditional sexual orientation that cannot also be directed at any person of traditional sexual orientation.

It’s not the sexual orientation that is an issue for Jesus.

It’s the heart.

And so, I say again, I pray our hearts are in the right place.

Selah.

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Hourglass

First of all, I’m OK.

But there are days, sometimes lengthy stretches of days-in-a-row when I’m not.

The human emotional equivalent of “January”…

So as we give January the send-off for another year, I want to share a poem I wrote recently when I hit one of those lengthy stretches of days-in-a-row.

I’m sharing it because maybe you sometimes feel this way, too, and this will help you know you are not alone.

And it gets better.

A poem is inserted into the figure of an hourglass. The words are: Pooling at the bottom of my eyes evidence that thoughts in my heart pierce my sense of S E L F H O W to continue to live each new day with any hope that the tears can be stopped? Copyright 2019 Sarah Lowther Hensley

New Year

I turn the page and end the book;

excited for “next” and ready to look.

My life is unique and yet it’s connected.

Reading of others is what keeps my soul fed.

Handwritten quote from Michelle Obama's book Becoming: "There's power in allowing yourself to be known and heard - in owning your unique story - in using your authentic voice. And there's grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become."

My 2018 journey included reading these books:

The Architect’s Apprentice, Elif Shafak

Finished 1-6-18

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Finished 1-16-18

“A” is for Alibi, Sue Grafton

Finished 1-20-18

American Street, Ibi Zoboi

Finished 1-22-18

Autumn, Ali Smith

Finished 1-24-18

The Power, Naomi Alderman

Finished 2-1-18

The Cruelest Month, Louise Penny

Finished 2-6-18

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, Bruce Handy

Finished 2-11-18

When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon

Finished 2-14-18

Dear Martin, Nic Stone

Finished 2-15-18

Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward

Finished 2-20-18

An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take it Back, Elisabeth Rosenthal

Finished 3-2-18

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff

Finished 3-12-18

A Rule Against Murder, Louise Penny

Finished 3-17-18

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

Finished 3-22-18

He Chose the Nails, Max Lucado

Finished 3-30-18

The Brutal Telling, Louise Penny

Finished 3-31-18

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Elizabeth Catte

Finished 4-3-18

B is for Burglar, Sue Grafton

Finished 4-9-18

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, James Comey

Finished 5-2-18

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

Finished 5-6-18

Wicked, Gregory Maguire

Finished 5-17-18

Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds

Finished 5-18-18

Make Your Bed, William H. McRaven

Finished 5-20-18

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone, Richard Lloyd Parry

Finished 5-30-18

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

Finished 6-5-18

Fascism: A Warning, Madeleine Albright

Finished 6-11-18

The Power of One (YA edition), Bryce Courtenay

Finished 6-17-18

The Crossover, Kwame Alexander

Finished 6-18-18

Everything Happens For a Reason, Kate Bowler

Finished 6-20-18

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, Zora Neale Hurston

Finished 6-23-18

God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines

Finished 7-15-18

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

Finished 7-15-18

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made For Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown

Finished 7-21-18

Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight For Trans Equality, Sarah McBride

Finished 8-1-18

Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga

Finished 8-15-18

The German Girl, Armando Lucas Correa

Finished 8-23-28

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Michael Eric Dyson

Finished 8-28-18

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown

Finished 9-2-18

Everything Here is Beautiful, Mira T. Lee

Finished 9-7-18

Free Food For Millionaires, Min Jin Lee

Finished 9-17-18

Fear: Trump in the Whitehouse, Bob Woodward

Finished 9-22-18

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, Anthony Ray Hinton

Finished 9-25-18

Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover

Finished 10-4-18

The Taster, V. S. Alexander

Finished 10-13-18

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh

Finished 10-19-18

The Girl with the Red Balloon, Katherine Locke

Finished 10-26-18

Lincoln in the Bardo (audio book), George Saunders

Finished 10-26-18

How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Finished 11-1-18

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

Finished 11-4-18

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Nadia Bolz-Weber

Finished 11-15-18

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Barack Obama

Finished 11-27-18

Mr. Poppers Penguins (audio book), Richard and Florence Atwater

Finished 11-30-18

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo

Finished 12-1-18

Becoming (audio book read by the author), Michelle Obama

Finished 12-10-18

Together At The Table: Diversity Without Division in the United Methodist Church, Karen P. Oliveto

Finished 12-22-18

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

Finished 12-27-18

Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver

Finished 12-30-18

____________________________________________________________________

Looking forward to another year of reading.

I read most of my books electronically through the OverDrive library app…but I do still read a hard copy here and there.

Some of what’s on deck…

A stack of books waiting to be read in the coming year.

By Design

Every day we look at things we don’t see.

Maybe it’s something that has become so familiar to us we no longer even acknowledge it’s there.

Clutter, anyone?

I just shredded a foot-high stack of old business papers that had been taking up prime real estate on the corner of our home-office desk.

Average age of the papers?

Six years.

No longer relevant.

No longer noticed.

I looked at them.

Every. Day.

But I did not “see” them.

Picture shows a garbage bag full of shredded paper.

Every day we look at things we don’t see.

Maybe it’s something we sort of see superficially, but it doesn’t really register.

Consider the FedEx logo.

FedEx logo

Until somebody pointed it out to me, I never noticed the arrow embedded in the logo…an arrow that symbolically summons the idea of movement from here to there. Nice for a delivery company, don’t you think?

Maybe you never noticed it either. (Look between the capital E and the x.)

But once it’s pointed out, you can’t “unsee” it.

*****

I believe the same thing happens to us with social issues.

Every day we look at things we don’t see.

Maybe we don’t “see” because we only see from our own perspective.

A few days ago I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across a tweet that stopped my thumb mid-scroll.

Screen shot of a tweet from Meg Guliford - shows a scene from a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving in which the only black guest, Franklin, is sitting all alone on one side of the table. The tweet says, "Only about ten minutes until I get to be irritated as hell at this seating arrangement. #tradition"

How many dozens of times have I watched “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”?

I never saw that scene from that perspective.

Now, I can’t “unsee” it.

To be clear, Charles Schulz took a bold ethical, moral, and political stand when he insisted he include the character of Franklin in his comic strip. He took a lot of flak for it, and he stood his ground.

But even someone as “woke” as Schulz was for his time did not “see” the visual statement made with this scene – a scene with an integrated gathering…but with the lone minority guest sitting apart from the other guests.

Even things that are well-intended can often fall short.

Unintentionally short.

I never saw it.

But now I can’t “unsee” it.

This is why it is so important to listen to a diversity of voices. We need to see from different perspectives. We need to see with fresh eyes.

For years, I watched that scene and focused on the absurdity of having popcorn, toast, and jelly beans for Thanksgiving.

The lone minority guest segregated to his own side of the table did not register.

I have worked very hard and with intention to read, listen, and learn other perspectives.

Despite that, I did not see the scene this way until somebody who felt hurt by it pointed it out.

Only then did I see it from that perspective.

When it comes to understanding the world, we need to be open to new perspectives.

Then we can see.

And then we cannot “unsee”.

And then we can do better.

But we must be intentional about it.

It must be by design.

“Do the best you can until you know better.

Then when you know better, do better.”

-Maya Angelou

Jesus Loves Them

Due to a mixture of disbelief and grief, I did not sleep the night of the 2016 presidential election.

At sunrise, my disbelief and grief soon turned to anger.

I have felt on edge and emotionally exhausted since that day as I have watched the full-frontal attack on our institutions and system of checks and balance, on any national sense of dignity or moral and ethical standing, and on the very wellness and rights of vulnerable people.

My anger and disgust have lots of targets – the president, congressional leaders, white supremacists, and those who would put gun “rights” above common sense measures to try and protect people from gun violence.

But deep down in my heart, I am most angry at and feel betrayed by white, “evangelical” “Christians” who seem to be just fine with all of this.

In fact, they are not just fine with it. They are some of the most ardent enthusiasts for this sordid attack on decency and justice.

They make me sick.

They make me sick and they break my heart because I know they are painting a very wrong picture of what it means to follow Christ.

This false witness will lead (has lead) (is leading) many people to reject Christ.

*

This past Sunday I sat in worship and listened while about a dozen beautiful children sang “Jesus Loves Me” and rang bells of joy. It was wonderful and touching.

I smiled.

Until I cried.

As these children grow and move out into the world, will they remember and believe the message that Jesus loves them? Will they recognize it is a message for everyone?

*

I look at these children and wonder what will happen to them once they move beyond this loving and supportive community that is teaching and showing them that Jesus loves them.

Maybe they will end up hearing and believing the strident voices of some among the white, “evangelical” “Christian” community in our nation – voices that tell them Jesus loves them…but only as long as they are white, “American”, and straight. Will they turn “Jesus Loves Me” into a song celebrating their chosen place in God’s family at the expense of the “others” who are not?

Will they listen to and believe the voices that demonstrate through actions that the “right to life” ends at birth – pushing for policies that take food, health care, education, housing, and living-wage jobs away from the most vulnerable; that tell immigrants they are not welcome; that applaud the death penalty; that treat people of color with less (or no) respect and love; and push for a bigger and more ferocious war machine?

Will some of these boys learn that they are not responsible for their actions? Will they believe that men are “in charge”?

Will some of these girls be victims of sexual harassment or assault and be afraid to speak out about it? Will they believe they are to be subservient to the men in their lives?

Will some of these children believe that Christ would sanction or approve of them hurting people in their rush to seize power, wealth, and a false sense of “security”?

Will they believe that God – the same God who demands that we not worship false idols (such as country, wealth, power, and weapons) – somehow supports the idea of “making America great again”?

*

Perhaps they will end up rejecting the message that Jesus loves them because they sense that some of the loudest voices claiming “Christianity” are also the loudest voices spewing hate and violence.

Will they stumble over the cognitive dissonance between what Jesus says and what his followers do? Will they turn away?

Will some of these children find themselves among those who white, “evangelical” “Christians” reject as part of the Body of Christ?

*

I sat in the sanctuary.

I listened to the children.

I listened to their beautiful voices; watched their shy smiles and subtle dance moves; and marveled at the sparkle in their eyes as they sang.

I smiled.

Until I cried.

*

Lord, in your mercy, watch over each of these little ones and protect them from evil…even the evil they may run into within your church and among those who claim to know and serve you. And, Lord, help me be a voice that proclaims that you love them…a voice that proclaims you love them regardless of race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, economic status, or ability; you love them regardless of anything they bring to the table; you love them because you love them; you love them because of your grace.

Amen.

Photo of a page in a hymnal with "Jesus Loves Me" lyrics and music.

Reasons

Door hanger with Elmer Fudd and the words "be very very quiet!"

I’m in my mid-50s and I can honestly say there are certain moments from my life that stand out vividly – some good, some bad.

I don’t remember every single moment of my life in detail.

That would certainly be overwhelming.

 

But some memories are very clear.

I don’t hesitate to share the good ones.

“Remember that time when…oh boy was that wonderful/funny/beautiful/joyous.”

 

But those not-good memories also surface from time to time…perhaps in response to something I hear or see – or maybe smell.

Some of those not-good memories are of times when somebody hurt me.

Some, unfortunately, are of times when I hurt somebody.

I generally don’t talk about those times.

There are reasons.

 

But I have a two-fold hope:

One – if it turned out that sharing my not-good memory of being hurt would help somebody else not be hurt – I hope I would.

Two – if it turned out that sharing my not-good memory of hurting somebody else would help them heal – or help somebody else avoid experiencing/causing such hurt – I hope I would. I certainly hope – if the person I hurt brought it up – I at least would acknowledge what I’d done and apologize.

 

We don’t always share our memories.

And sometimes we do.

And there are reasons.

A corner along a floorboard behind a door...full of dust and cobwebs.

Trespasses

A sign shows a human shape with a large hand extended to indicate "Stop" - and with a red circle and line through it - to indicate no trespassing.

What if it’s not the refugees and immigrants who are trespassing?

What if we are trespassing against them by not welcoming them?

When we pray that God will deliver us from evil, do we realize the evil is not “the other” but rather our own worst nature?

Forgive us our trespasses…lead us not into temptation…deliver us from evil.

Amen.

“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

A person's shadow over green grass.