Voting with Prayer

pray-and-voteElection Day looms in the United States and I write the verb “looms” with intention. No matter the political stripe, I’ve heard no one deny that this has been one of the ugliest political campaigns in our country’s history.

People from suburbs and cities, from farms and factories, will walk into voting booths Tuesday, November 8. Many of us, however, choose to mark our ballots for candidates and issues in the privacy of our homes, insert the ballot in a pre-addressed envelope, affix the proper postage and drop our final decision in the mailbox.

In other years, I’ve sat at the dining room table where I could spread out the ballot and reams of information about the various choices, but this year I extensively reviewed everyone and everything  a few days ago so this morning I went to my Prayer Chair with ballot in hand. I read and meditated on words like these from the psalms: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Only then, with a quiet heart, did I fill in the small ovals beside names and issues with black ink.

Did I make the right choices? Choices that will lead to justice and righteousness in our community and country? My selections very likely differ from those made by other Christ followers. I’m not at all sure that matters! We are called to choose and live out our belief in a sovereign God. We here in the United States have the privilege of voting our conscience and then—as believers—obeying those who govern us. I was stunned into thoughtful silence by the Easy-to-Read New Testament version of Romans 13:1-7:

All of you must obey the government rulers. Everyone who rules was given the power to rule by God. And all those who rule now were given that power by God. So anyone who is against the government is really against something God has commanded. Those who are against the government bring punishment on themselves. People who do right don’t have to fear the rulers. But those who do wrong must fear them. Do you want to be free from fearing them? Then do only what is right, and they will praise you. Rulers are God’s servants to help you. But if you do wrong, you have reason to be afraid. They have the power to punish, and they will use it. They are God’s servants to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government, not just because you might be punished, but because you know it is the right thing to do. And this is why you pay taxes too. Those rulers are working for God, and they give all their time to the work of ruling. Give everyone what you owe them. If you owe them any kind of tax, then pay it. Show respect to those you should respect. And show honor to those you should honor.

I readily admit that reading this raised more questions than answers but that’s a topic for another time and for those with greater theological expertise. For now it’s enough to know I’ve done my part in Election 2016 with an honest and humble heart and mind.


Stay Seated

woman-w-bowed-headIt had been a church service filled with a thought-provoking sermon, buoyant praise music, the joyful giving of our tithes and offerings, and the centrality of the Word. The benediction was given and received and people began moving out of their seats to speak with old friends and new acquaintances. Most of us already began thinking of lunch and Sunday afternoon activities: rest, reading, football, and a few tasks to prepare for the coming week.

But in the second row on the middle aisle a young woman stayed in her seat. With bowed head resting on her hands she remained in place even after the last strains of the postlude faded. Was she ill? Did she have special needs? Should I interrupt? Having learned through trial and error (much error) to heed the Holy Spirit’s nudges, I gently placed my hand on her shoulder and asked, “Can I help you?” She looked up with a smile and said, “Oh, thank you for asking. I’m just thinking about everything I heard this morning.”

Thinking about what she heard???? Who does that immediately after church? It’s time to get on with life, plan for the week, enjoy lunch. Maybe remember a word or two of the sermon Wednesday afternoon when life gets complicated. People might think I have spiritual problems if I stay in my seat when everyone is leaving. Maybe they’ll think I’m sick. Maybe they’ll assume God is convicting me of a great sin and I need to kneel at the altar. Maybe…

Years ago when we visited a German church, we were surprised by—and came to appreciate—that the congregation remained seated during the postlude. Music was important to them, but perhaps their posture is more than an appreciation of music. Could it be a good example of taking a few moments to absorb God’s Word and words?

Absorb: to take in or soak up, to engage the attention. I’m writing these words on a Sunday afternoon, about six hours after hearing a sermon. What words did God speak to me that I absorbed, that engaged my attention to the degree that in twenty-four hours they will be in the forefront of my mind? That will influence my choices and relationships during the week?

Maybe next Sunday I’ll stay in my seat during the postlude. Maybe even longer.

Thanks, Bob Dylan

dylanIt’s taken me over 30 years to say thank you to Bob Dylan. And now the Swedish Academy has done it for me! While the Nobel Prize for Literature is more sophisticated than any note I would have penned—and it lacks my personal touch—I’m glad an official acknowledgement has been sent.

This is the first time the honor has gone to a musician and in its citation, the Swedish Academy credited Mr. Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” There is dissension about whether a songwriter produces “literature,” but I’ll leave that argument to the pundits.

But his literary accomplishments aren’t what prompts my gratitude at this late date. Rather, I say thank you because Dylan’s chords were the source of a guitar’s strumming from a second-floor bedroom in our home in Bonn, Germany so many years ago. During the last months of our teenaged son’s life, Rick’s fingers moved from one Dylan song to another as he sat alone. He didn’t talk much about the cancer invading his body, but along with his deep faith in the God he didn’t fully understand, he found something in those chords that soothed his soul.

Toward the end of his 1978 world tour,  Dylan began expressing interest in Christian topics, but I’ve no evidence it was that turn of events that captivated Rick. Was it melody? words? chords? “new poetic expressions”? Those questions I’ll contentedly leave unanswered and simply thank Dylan…and God…that music brought comfort and joy when the physical outlook was bleak. The psalmist wrote, “Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings,” but I firmly believe God was deeply praised with music from a stringed guitar.

Thanks, Bob.

Living in the Feasible* or the Unbelievable?

toiletIt was a simple conversation about what’s going on in our lives when my friend began relating her home owner woes. Wanting to be responsible with money, she recently tackled a DIY project. But along with the decision to use her resources wisely, this independent woman wanted the satisfaction of doing a task that some men (no men in our family, of course!) would consider beyond female capabilities. Maybe you know men like this? While they wouldn’t come right out and say that women shouldn’t or can’t execute certain jobs, an unmistakable—and in some cases, unintended—attitude of superiority seeps through. My friend expressed frustration (to be honest, “frustration” is a watered down version of her response!) when she was summarily dismissed from the appointed task because “you should just let the expert do it.”

The yet unfinished task has resulted in my friend living without certain conveniences and we laughed at her creative ways of still getting on with life while reminding us of living in truly less-than-comfortable circumstances on mission trips. One young person reported on her short term mission experience: I learned to live in the unexpected. Not just go in to it, but to live there… that is where God functions. Beyond the edges of what is feasible, into the unbelievable. 

Learning to live in the unexpected—learning and living are ongoing processes. How often I fall into the trap of believing that at this age (!) I’ve already learned. Don’t ask me to learn something new or how to live. And certainly don’t ask me to live in the unexpected. I prefer a plan and one with bullet points and time table. But I wonder if my don’t-ask-me-to-learn-something-new attitude deprives me of living “where God functions…beyond the edges of what is feasible, into the unbelievable”?

The following paragraphs by Connilyn Cossette are a personal challenge with underlining my own emphasis:

Thinking back to Ancient Israel, whose experiences and choices are a mirror image of us in this modern age, when did miracles occur?

 The Hebrews were protected from six of the plagues in Egypt, but only after enduring the first three along with the Egyptians. 

They were rescued from the last plague, or rather the final judgment of the Death of the Firstborns, but only after slaughtering a sweet little innocent lamb that had lived in their homes for four days.

The Red Sea parted. Yes. But only when their backs were against the water and Pharaoh was breathing down their necks.

Water sprang from a crack in the rock created by Moses’ staff, but only after they endured such thirst that they were nearly willing to go back into slavery in Egypt.

Manna appeared on the ground each morning to satisfy their rumbling stomachs, but only after they were so hungry they nearly starved to death and were ready to rebel against Moses.

It certainly sounds as though “God functioned beyond the edges of what is feasible, into the unbelievable.” I wonder how many miracles I unintentionally miss because I live within the borders of what is feasible instead of venturing into the unbelievable?

Just wondering…

*That which is accomplished easily or conveniently

THIS is Aleppo

aleppo-boyI groaned when I heard a former governor of a U.S. state and current candidate for the U.S. presidency—albeit a candidate without much chance of actually winning—respond to a reasonable interview question with ignorance that stopped me in my tracks. (“Groan” isn’t an adequate description of my initial response but what I thought and even said aloud shouldn’t be aired publicly.) When asked what he would do, if elected, “about Aleppo,” the candidate responded, “What is Aleppo?” In his defense, he claimed that he thought it was an acronym. Personally, I believe that defense wouldn’t stand a chance in a high school mock trial.

After I cooled down, I began to wonder how many North American Christians know “what” is Aleppo? How many of us have Googled a map to see exactly where this once beautiful city is located? Did the Apostle Paul travel its streets? Do we wonder where all the people have gone? Do we see the blackened homes, smoke rising into the skies, rubble littering the streets? Do we weep over the heartbreaking picture of the little boy rescued from that rubble? At one time Aleppo was home to the largest number of Christians in Syria. How many churches have been bombed, how many followers of Jesus have been murdered?

I can’t know everything about every place. My heart can’t break for every tragedy. But if I am to pray with intelligence and with some semblance of emotional connection to my brothers and sisters, I believe that at the very least I should look at a map and lay my hand on their homes and churches and children as I pray for mercy and justice. Maybe, just maybe, I can be one who knows the answer to “What is Aleppo?”