What footprints will you leave?  

When I first saw it, I was upset and disappointed. Across the road from the episcopal residence in Clive, preparation for a new subdivision is underway. Over the past several months, Gary and I have watched as a mile stretch of road has been increased from two to four lanes, with a wide median strip, sidewalks on both sides, and dozens of newly planted trees.

The day we used the sidewalk for the first time, however, I noticed that someone had decided to leave their mark by walking on the wet cement with a dog. I am sure the individual thought it was funny, but the reality is that this sidewalk will be forever marred by intentional footprints and pawprints.

Over this past Memorial Day weekend, as I walked the sidewalk, I remembered the legacy those who have gone before me whose footprints I hope to emulate in my own life. I also walked figuratively with those who are celebrating the joy of graduations, even in the midst of COVID-19. I have been deeply moved by the care and support given to our high school and college graduates, who have not been able to go through normal graduation ceremonies or enjoy graduation parties. At the same time, schools, family, and friends and been inventive and playful by posting congratulatory signs in front yards and organizing car caravans to drive by homes.

As I ponder this tender time of graduations in the midst of COVID-19, four words come to mind that I hope for each graduate as they live out God’s call in their professional as well as personal life. I invite you to forward this blog on to those you know who are graduating.

The first word I hope for you is responsibility. “Responsibility” comes from the Latin root, respondere, which means “to promise back.” I prefer to divide the word into two parts, “response” and “ability.” Do you remember the scripture from Luke 12:48, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse in The Message in an easy way, “Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!”

The ability to respond to the needs of our world is a gift of God. You have been given far greater privileges and opportunities than most young adults in our world. What is your “response ability” to look beyond yourself and act for the common good of our planet, advocate on behalf of those afflicted by war, poverty, disease, and be a catalyst for systemic change?

The second word I hope for you is wonderWhen our son was five years old, we were lying outside looking at the stars, and he said, “It looks like God took a big sheet of paper and poked holes in it. Then God shined light through it and made the stars!”

One of my favorite quotes comes from E.B. White, “Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.”  We adults are often pretty serious and intense and need to lighten up. When I see you laugh, joke around, enjoy your friends, and have fun, you teach me to savor the world at the same time as I seek to save it. Never lose your sense of wonder and joy.  Keep learning. Keep searching. Love life. Enjoy every minute.

The third word I hope for you is persistence. Each of you understands persistence because you are either heading for college or graduate school, or you are looking for a job. It can be demoralizing to be ready to enter the work world as an adult but have to spend day after day networking and searching for employment opportunities, especially during the time of COVID-19. I imagine your parents told you from day one that a good education was the key to finding meaningful work.

Be assured that you will eventually find a job. But also know that this will not be the only time you are tested in life. Rejection and failure are as common as affirmation and success. I wish for you a mental toughness that takes intelligent risks and bold action and never gives up. Remember that nothing worthwhile comes easily.

You may think this odd, but I hope that you can embrace adversity when it comes. May you choose to gain wisdom through the struggle, for life is a constant process of growth, stretching, death, and rebirth. What will help you move through the difficult times is a supportive network of family and friends and the knowledge that God journeys with you and loves you no matter what. Doors that close can open up new worlds that help us to grow stronger and more confident. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who pointed out, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” Remember the God who poked holes through the dark with the light.

The fourth word I hope for you is integrity. The root word for integrity comes from the Latin word integritas (integer), which means whole, complete, or undivided. If your inner and outer lives are integrated, you will never act in a way that is contrary to the spiritual truths you have been taught and know about yourself. 

The characteristics of an integrated life are honesty, compassion, fairness, and the courage to find your own voice in this world. I call it leading from the heart, which is nothing more than integrating the physical, relational, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your personality into a coherent whole.

Here are my top ten suggestions for leaving footprints that will change the world.

  1. Who you are is more important than what you do. Be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
  2. Discover your passion and let your dreams lead the way.
  3. Don’t neglect your inner life. Take time to reflect. Be self-aware.
  4. Don’t forget to listen to your heart when you have to make tough decisions.
  5. Remember, God loves you not because you are good but because God is good.
  6. Have the courage to do the right things, show compassion for the very least of God’s children, and resist injustice and oppression wherever you see it.
  7. Seek peaceful resolutions for every conflict in which you find yourself.
  8. Don’t get sucked into a lifestyle that does not ultimately satisfy. Money will never make you happy, but generosity will.
  9. If you hold on to anger and bitterness, you will only poison yourself. Forgive at all costs.
  10. Your mission in life? Be an imitator of the whole life of Jesus Christ.

You have seen and experienced the world. Now find your place in it.
You have discovered your voice. Now let it sing.
You know who created you. Now poke holes in the darkness and reflect God’s light.
What footsteps will you leave?

Stuck Like a Dope with a Thing Called Hope

I’ve been thinking lately about hope, which seems to be in short supply at the moment. Where is hope in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as infection rates continue to rise in some areas of our state, country. and world, unemployment rates are at historic highs, and the necessity of quarantining has canceled so many significant events and isolated us from others?

I have been especially grieving over the fact that high school and college graduations are not able to take place in person this year. Particularly inspiring is the story of Texas principal Virdie Montgomery, who decided that if his high school seniors were not able to gather for graduation, he would go to them. Virdie and his wife then put on their masks and proceeded to drive eight hundred miles over twelve days to visit almost every one of the homes of the 612 seniors. Virdie couldn’t stay very long at each home, but he spoke words of hope and encouragement, gave each senior a card and some candy, and took a selfie.

When asked, “What was the hope that you would get out of that?” Principal Montgomery said, “It’s pretty selfish. This is not for you all. You all are handling this fine. l just want to see you and let you know I care about you. This matters a lot.” Another senior who was visited said, “It’s good to know that somebody cares about you… giving people a sense of hope … like they are not alone.”

I have always been an optimistic person, clinging to hope as one of God’s most enduring promises. Many years ago, I gave a speech at my high school graduation. It was called Living in Hope. I still have a copy, which was hand-written during the height of the Vietnam War and then pecked out with two fingers on a manual typewriter. Here are a few things that I felt were important to share with my fellow students and their families in 1972. (Please forgive my lack of inclusive language in the era this was written. Quotes from the speech are in bold italics.)

“Are you living in hope? Are you looking to the future with anticipation or dread? Are you able to endure the trials of the present because of a confidence in the future, or are you so weighed down by life’s difficult problems that mean nothing anymore?”

“Hope is naturally directed toward God, for God is the ultimate source of hope. Only through faith and trust in God can we look to the future with confidence and anticipation. Hope can give us security in times of loneliness and faith in times of despair. Hope can free us from the life that binds us and lead us into a new kind of freedom, a freedom in which we know that the future is in God’s hands.” 

“But what do we, graduates, who are the future of the world, have to hope for? The future looks very dim when we talk about the senselessness of Vietnam, the tensions in the Middle East, the growing arsenal of nuclear arms, the pollution of our environment, the overwhelming number of college graduates out of work, or such issues as poverty, ignorance, dissension, and prejudice.”

Decades later, we’re still lamenting the same problems. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Protesting injustice and oppression wherever they present themselves is part of our baptismal and membership vows as United Methodists and is the responsibility of every Christian as we work together to bring in God’s reign of shalom.

Near the end of my speech, I quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “I don’t know what will happen to me…. We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it doesn’t matter to me now…. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” 

How could I have ever imagined the truth of this paragraph? I was just 17 years old. “We all have great hopes for the future, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the present. Everyone must do whatever he can to make hope for the future a reality so that all people can live in happiness and peace.”

I graduated from high school just four years after King’s death and still remember the pit in my stomach when I heard the news that day. Several years later, when working on my speech, I realized that Martin Luther King Jr.’s words apply to me as well you. Like Mr. King, I don’t know what will happen to me after tonight. I know that my life will not be all happiness and that I will have to endure much, but I am still able to look beyond today toward a joyous future. I am not afraid because I’m stuck like a dope, with a thing called hope.”

For what do I hope as a disciple of Jesus Christ in this year, 2020?

  • I hope that we will be diligent in practicing social distancing until the pandemic has passed.
  • I hope that we will continue to be creative and hopeful in our worship.
  • I hope that we will be “living stones,” witnessing to the power of the gospel to transform lives.
  • I hope that we will do our part to live in hope by reaching out to those who feel depressed, discouraged, or hopeless and using our collective resources to make a difference.
  • I hope that we will keep connected with each other, with our local churches, and with our communities.

If you want a little dash of hope this week, I invite you to play this two-minute video of Mary Martin singing A Cockeyed Optimist in the Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway production South Pacific. Martin, playing a U.S. Navy nurse named Nellie Forbush, falls in love with a French plantation owner named Emile de Becque. People around the world were fearful about the outcome of the war, so Nellie reassures Emile that everything will turn out fine by singing.

But I’m stuck like a dope, With a thing called hope,
And I can’t get it out of my heart!
Not this heart, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Healing of the Nations

A favorite hymn was running through my mind last week as I participated in one virtual meeting after another related to COVID-19. It was reinforced by a recent Zoom meeting of the Council of Bishops, where we heard about countries whose struggles with COVID-19 are far more serious than ours in the U.S.

For the healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord;
for a just and equal sharing of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action, help us rise and pledge our word (2x).
(Tune: CWM RHONDDA: United Methodist Hymnal, #428)

The writer of this hymn, Fred Kaan (1929- 2009) was born in the Netherlands and was ordained in the United Reform Church. Kaan was a pastor in England and also served in ecumenical roles in Switzerland. His great love, however, was hymn writing, with a focus on justice, mercy, and abundant life for all people on our earth.

Statistics released last Friday show that nonfarm payrolls fell by 20.5 million jobs in April and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%. These are both post-World War II records.The actual unemployment rate, including those not looking for jobs and those who are underemployed, surged to 22.8%.

As our world continues to struggle with COVID-19, how is God calling people of faith to live a life of love and action and seek a just and equal sharing of the resources of our earth?

Lead your people into freedom, from despair your world release,
that redeemed from war and hatred, all may come and go in peace.
Show us how, through care and goodness, fear will die and hope increase (2x).

One of the most important markers of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health is relationships. People the world over yearn for meaningful connections with others through care and goodness. Like many around the globe, my husband Gary and I connect with our three children and grandchildren every Sunday evening through Zoom. We don’t often have lots of news since we are all confined to home. However, there is comfort and hope in seeing the faces of those we love, laughing together, and offering support and encouragement.

How is God calling you and me to dispel fear and bring hope by reaching out to those who live alone or are afraid or have fallen onto despair? And how can our communities of faith create systems of caring through personal connection with the most vulnerable among us?   

All that kills abundant living, let it from the earth be banned:
pride of status, race or schooling, dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice may we hallow life’s brief span (2x).

My heart aches for the millions of students around the world who will not be able celebrate their graduations with friends and family. Nor are any of us able to gather for funerals/memorial services or weddings in ways we had hoped for. These milestones are so important, and it is wonderful to witness the creativity of family and friends as they honor these significant occasions.

Jesus said that he came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. What is it that kills abundant life in our world? Looking out only for myself? Refusing to help my neighbor? Criticizing those who look differently, dress differently, speak differently, or believe differently? Keeping score? Turning my back on human need?

You, Creator-God, have written, your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness, bring the life of Christ to mind;
that by our response and service, earth its destiny may find (2x).

Clearly, the health and economic effects of COVID-19 continue to be catastrophic for our world. We were honored to have Vice-President Mike Pence visit Des Moines on Friday in response to a rise in confirmed infections in the state. Pence was meeting with religious leaders to encourage them to reopen churches responsibly. At the same time, most of the religious leaders who were present stated clearly that we are not ready yet for in-house worship and must put the safety of parishioners first. It was important dialogue with no easy answers.

About thirty miles from where Vice-President Pence was meeting is Tyson Foods pork plant in Perry where 730 employees – nearly 60% of its workforce – have tested positive for the coronavirus. Many of them are immigrants and refugees. More than 100 patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized in Polk County, which includes Des Moines. Karl Keeler, president of MercyOne Central Iowa, a major hospital system, told his staff last week that Iowa’s estimated rate of transmission for the virus remains among the highest in the nation. “Our community spread of the virus remains high. We have a lot of work to do.”

At the same time, we are discovering that in the midst of COVID-19, where so much travel and movement has come to a halt, the earth itself has begun to flourish. Our planet and its creature are beginning to heal, just as everyday life comes to a virtual standstill. Our “energy-friendly” quarantine lifestyle has resulted in less pollution, less waste, cleaner air, and a reduction of greenhouse gases. The earth it literally coming alive.

Fred Kaan based his hymn on Revelation 21. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. 

How will earth find its destiny? I suspect it will happen when we recognize that the God who dwells with us has written God’s name on humankind, upon each heart. When you and I grow into the likeness of Christ and respond by our stewardship of the earth and our love for one another, then our world will become whole again. To a life of love in action, help us rise and pledge our word.