Some Questions I’m Asking

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After the shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas this last week and the attack at the Istanbul airport the week before, my soul will not rest, my heart is moving toward despair, and my body actually hurts with the loss of life. I don’t have words, but I have a bunch of questions that I’ve been wrestling with as I’ve listened to the news, read various blog posts, and scanned through social media posts. Here they are:

What does it mean to live in our world today?

What does it mean to be white in the United States? How is the lens through which I see every victim and perpetrator impacting my heart and mind and response?

What does it mean to be black in the United States…and how do I know the answer to that?

Who do I need to sit with and listen to?

What authors do I need to read?

What are the things I want to be right about and why?

What statistics are right? Does it matter?

How am I benefiting from unjust systems, laws, practices, and presumptions?

What do I do with the despair I feel?

What topics, questions, conversations make me afraid? And why?

Who do I want to be wrong and why?

What are all the things that are making me so sad?

What ways of thinking or assumptions need to be renewed, challenged, questioned?

What history am I believing and has this caused me to be biased for or against certain people?

Who will be a light?

What lens am I seeing the world through?

What does love (and not being right, being respected, being loud, being defensive) look like right now?

What is my hope really in? Really.

Do you see us, Lord? Is your heart breaking?

What is mine to do?

How can I be on the side of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation?

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A Lament in Haiku

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They will know us by
our love, he said. But we are
known by who we hate.

Go and do likewise,
he said. But we have gone and
done the opposite.

You are the light of
the world, he said. But we spread
darkness and judgment.

Love your neighbor, he
said, and your enemies too.
But we say, Not them!

And Jesus weeps for
what we have done and not done.
May his kingdom come.

Lord! Lord!

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–A reading of Matthew 7:21 and 25:44

Lord! Lord!
You didn’t mean the bread on my shelves, did you?
The food pantry does great work.

Lord! Lord!
You didn’t mean the water from my faucet, did you?
The wells in Africa serve hundreds.

Lord! Lord!
You didn’t mean my room, my bed, did you?
The Syrians believe different things.

Lord! Lord!
You didn’t mean my shirts, my jeans, did you?
The racks at Goodwill have all sizes.

Lord! Lord!
You didn’t mean placing my hands on fevered heads, did you?
The hospice workers and nurses are trained.

Lord! Lord!
You didn’t mean face-to-face with a criminal, did you?
The mailed Bibles will bring lasting change.

Lord! Lord!

New Mercies

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New mercies always seemed like supernatural,
hard-to-miss displays of souls coming out
of darkness and bodies coming into healing.
Look at that! How amazing!

But then I caught the brave dandelion heads
waiting for the noon winds to render them
stems to spread their life;

And a tiny sparrow pick a buried twig out
of overgrown grass to surround
her marbled eggs, beginning to crack.

And I filled my cupped hands with cold, clean
water, lifting them to my mouth to drink.

Look at that! How amazing!

Longing for the Good

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
—Revelation 21:3–4

This past weekend, my daughter and I went to my mom’s home to help her box up or clear out old things that had piled up over the years. At one point, we came across a collection of works my grandmother, Lou Sheffield (we called her “Little Granny”), painted or sketched during her lifetime (November, 1913–May 1993). Some were stored in a large black folder, others were framed and leaned against the back of the closet, and still others were buried in sketchbooks. Several still hung on the walls. Her specialty was watercolors, but I remembered in that moment that her in-home studio smelled of oils and her hands often carried the dust of pastels.

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Initially, as I looked through her work, I saw the transitory nature of life. Was all this creative beauty, this ability to transfer what is inside an imagination onto a canvas for nothing? Is it all ultimately without meaning—her life’s creative work destined to be thrown away or relegated to storage facilities over the next several decades and then never to be seen or known again?

And then almost immediately, a deep longing for heaven welled up within me. I don’t mean a faraway place in the sky where we sing and play harps. I mean the new heavens and the new earth we see in Revelation 21–22. I don’t know that there are words that describe the longing I felt and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it before, but it’s a bit like the ache you have when you find something from your childhood that reminds you of a good that existed long ago.

The longing right then wasn’t necessarily to see Little Granny again, although that desire has almost overtaken me since I’ve been reflecting and writing about her. There is so much I could tell you about her that has been dormant in my memories for nearly two decades. (She once told my sister and me to pick up the middle of the floor—referring to the mess of toys we had made in our room. My sister and I looked at each other and then pinched the carpet between our fingers, literally picking up the middle of the floor. Then the three of us laughed so hard, tears streamed down our faces.)

The greater, deeper longing I felt standing in my childhood home surrounded by Little Granny’s paintings and sketches was to see her draw and paint again. To watch with wonder my mom’s mom put forth the beauty and the good God planted within her imagination, her heart, and her hands. And her hands will not be twisted and sore from arthritis, she will be able to breathe deeply without her lungs wanting to give out, and she will smile and laugh, tears of joy streaming down her face because of the good.

On Sunday night, in a private conversation, a wise man named Steven Garber said to me: “most of us live as if there are two chapters in the story: the fall and redemption. But there are four chapters: the creation, the fall, redemption, and consummation.” He went on to say that if we forget that God created the world good, we forget that all of creation was supposed to be a certain way and that way was fundamentally good and beautiful. And if we forget that there will be a day when heaven meets earth fully—in the new heavens and the new earth—and all things will be good again, everything we do and experience can begin to seem meaningless.

I have been living as if the story has only two chapters. But with four chapters, there is hope and life and good to come. And there, I will see Little Granny painting and sketching again.

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