Lent Blog #23: World Vision: Would Jesus Pull Out His Support?

This week, the Christian community got all a quiver with the release of World Vision’s new statement of faith and values; World Vision, a previously more politically and theologically conservative Christian mission organization, reassessed its theological trajectory and mission and decided not to define marriage as between a man and a woman in its employee manual, and therefore recognize same-sex marriages of its employees. Additionally, World Vision stated that they would not discriminate against the hiring of employees in same-sex relationships or marriages – a first in the non-profit’s history. Suffice it to say, moderates and liberals – both Christians and otherwise – across the nation let out a sigh of relief and a shout of huzzah. But for the conservatives, this decision was not a breath of fresh air. Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention were quoted as expressing outrage at this decision, citing that “The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman; World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and any other marriage relationship is sin.” (Franklin Graham, an evangelist and son of renowned preacher Billy Graham) Uhhhhh an effort to unite the church is sin? Wellll ok Franklin, I’ll just let you keep thinking that! But since everything means something, what are you REALLY afraid of? Are you actually afraid of coming to the Table of Jesus Christ with the very people who were also created in the Image of God, just as you were – flawed, broken, and in need of forgiveness? God forbid we all recognize that we are not perfect.

It is much easier to think of sex – same or different, heterosexual or homosexual, gay, straight, bisexual, no sex or every sex – as being the issue, when in all honesty, the real problem is far deeper than the definition of marriage. For the Religious Right (the former moral majority of the 1980s), it is easier to fight the biblical battle of the biblical definition of gay marriage than to address the real issue beneath, as this requires asking true theological questions for which there are no human answers, only God answers.

In all seriousness, World Vision took a huge leap of faith in making this new proclamation of theological faith; the face of mission and evangelism is changing. Gone are the days of the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist Convention being the predominant faces of the mission front abroad. These days, the PC(USA), the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Reformed Church in America (my own denomination and sponsoring church for ordination) and the United Church of Christ are prominent faces in the growth of Reformed Protestantism (and in the case of the UMC, John Wesley…) abroad. Recognizing the changing theological “face” of sorts (or rather, theological demographic) of missions, it is only natural that World Vision would see the need to prayerfully reform their stance on an issue that is more or less accepted in the more progressive denominations at work in God’s mission field. This doesn’t, however, exclude the fact that the Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist Convention, Pentecostal Churches, non-denominational/non-affiliated missionary churches, who tend to be more conservative are still present and objecting to such a change.

The reaction this week was massive and judgmental to say the least. Conservative pastors called for their churches’ and congregants’ withdrawal of support to the mission organization. It was estimated that World Vision would lose close to $500,000 in donations as a result of this simple, inclusive, loving statement, just from their conservative constituency.

What is more horrible is that under the pressure of supporters, and under the pressure of financial boycotting, World Vision has reversed its decision to recognize legal same-sex marriage. Decide what you want, but the Conservative, Moral Majority, Religious Right with its inaccurate, proof-texting manner of scriptural interpretation won, simply by choosing to sit on their wallets.

But is this bullying, this cowardice in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? In the last two years, the Fundamentalists have banded together behind Chik-Fil-A, behind Hobby Lobby and the providing of contraceptives to its employees under Obamacare, and that’s just what we know of, what’s publicized. Christianity is not a faith tradition that honors and rewards vengeance, as the reaction of the conservative, fundamentalist Christians did in this case. This is not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about.

The larger issue at stake here is the care of the poor and the impoverished right here and right now in God’s kingdom, who frankly don’t care about liberal or conservative, gay or straight, married or single, white or black. All that matters is that the Love of God is being extinguished by people who can’t see beyond a political issue that is irrelevant thousands of miles away to those who just want to be loved, fed, clothed and shown some Christian compassion. Unfortunately, this love is not as simple as embracing another, or cooking a meal and running it around the corner, since the corner is thousands of miles away. The money involved is politically and theologically charged, or unfortunately has become so in the last few decades.

The Global poor will not suffer because World Vision decided to stand up for larger equality, as God incarnate in the form of Christ decided to show God’s love for all of creation – even the most physically unappealing, those with sores, those who were social outcasts, those who were suffering and those who weren’t the most beloved. The Global poor will suffer because a large group of theologically stubborn and proof-texting Christians decided that a certain point of view didn’t work for them and so they would protest with their money until they got their way, regardless of the ramifications this would have on others. This doesn’t seem very Christian, let alone very Christ-like. But unfortunately, this is the direction the American church has taken, and the response each side has taken is indicative of our faith.

The only people who got hurt in all this were the kids, families and the organization; no conservatives were truly harmed in the making of this decision. Despite their attempt at self-victimization. And in reality, they were the victors, since their voices were more loudly heard than those children sponsored by World Vision; they won because World Vision chose to return to their initial statement of faith after tremendous financial and political pressure – less than 48 hours later.

We should not be more focused on acting with our checkbooks than acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. Regardless of how you feel on the issue of marriage and how you define it, these children don’t care. They need love, need food, and deserve to feel and know love, apart from politics, dispute, and this ridiculousness. They don’t care about politics, they care more about their connection with the person who chose to love them when no one else would.

Regardless of how you feel about “the gay issue,” you picked these kids, you pray for them, you write that $35 check every month (which is a huge financial commitment in these times, especially for us students, post-grads, “Millennials…”). On Monday, before World Vision changed their statement, the amount of money didn’t matter, the politics didn’t matter, but the child that check stood for mattered a whole lot. On Wednesday, did something change drastically? Yes. The so-called faith statement of the institution sponsoring your beloved little child changed, but that child loving you didn’t change one bit. And now, now that World Vision’s statement of faith has changed again, still nothing about your child has changed. Your position, the taste in your mouth about World Vision may have, and I respect that. Mine certainly has. But my desire to sponsor a child hasn’t, and my desire to prayerfully and financially support a segment of the Global poor as much as I am able, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with a teeny bit of their politics. The child didn’t ask to be caught up in the politics, and therefore, shouldn’t be punished for what happens thousands of miles away.

So do you? Are you a doer of justice, lover of kindness and one who walks humbly with God, even in the face of adversity? What does your decision indicate about your faith? What will you do?

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Lent Blog #22: You Are Good Enough. Words for the Journey

A few weeks back, I came across this blog post on what is considered good enough, and even now, it stuck in my head. For those who know me best, they know that I struggle with perfectionism, always wanting to “be better,” and trying to fit the silver square into the gold triangular hole. Terrible but true metaphors; where this all started, no one knows, and there’s no point in really trying to figure out at this point – I’m in my twenties, and I am a recovering perfectionist…a recovering perfectionist who has had to take ownership of the fact that I am simply not perfect, and try as I might, I will never be perfect, but I will always be good enough.

Society tells young women that they need to be skinner, blonder, more brunette, tanner, wear more makeup, have longer hair, be smarter, work harder, make more money, get married young (to a handsome looking man in my case, but that looks different for many others) and be a stay at home mother. Men are told they are valuable when they’re tall, dark, handsome, financially valuable, have a great job, intelligent, articulate, hard working, buff, drive a nice car, have gone to an Ivy League School, and are able to play in the NFL. When you don’t fit into either category or are somewhere in between or nowhere in between, the desire to be good enough becomes heightened again.

Self-worth is not defined by physical appearance, nor by emotional capability, nor by social capacity. It is cannot be confined, but is unbounded by the simple fact that Christ died on the cross for humanity – for those who saw themselves as too good, those who were judged as not good enough, and everyone in between. Faith makes it possible to see it that it is possible to be good enough – not for everything that I’m not and cannot be in this world, but for everything that I will be in the world to come. If I truly believe that God created humanity in God’s image, and was willing to sacrifice His only Son to reconcile the created world to Himself, then my flaws, which are lowly and of a fallen nature, should be of the least of my concern. This God was willing to go to the very edge to get the world back for all time, and did so on my behalf as well.

These flaws, these things I don’t necessarily love about myself, yes, well, we all have them. Welcome to the curse of humanity. Only God gets to be perfect, and fortunately, there is only one of those. But as I see it, this God, this one, all-loving, all-gracious, omnipotent God sees past these imperfections and flaws to constantly remind each and every one of His creation that day in and day out, YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH. God has not forsaken us, nor has He decided to give up any of His promises, and that should be indication enough that YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH in the eyes of the ONLY ONE who matters in this world.

Yes, yes, I know I’m supposed to preach a message of self-acceptance, and that too matters; your opinion of yourself does matter, far more than anyone else’s

IMG_0790I will always struggle to see myself as good enough, smart enough, perfect enough; but what is most critical is to recognize for all my flaws (and including all my flaws, which are in fact, not flaws), I was created in the image of God, and am therefore just about as perfect as I could be and should be. I can’t be any better physically, intellectually or emotionally, but I sure as heck could be better in my relationship with God, and relatively, in my relationship with others.

I don’t need to see flaws as “good enough.” But what is most important is that when I wake up in the morning, I recognize that this day is good enough, my friends are good enough, my walk with God is good enough, what I have is good enough, my family is good enough, and all my blessings – even the difficult ones – are good enough. Those are the very things that make me “me.” And therefore, I AM GOOD ENOUGH. It is a nearly impossible task some days, but it is a mantra I am willing to work at, and therefore, something that is worthy, worthwhile, and a cross I am willing to bear with God at my side.

Thanks be to God!

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Lent Post #21: “You’re Fired!” Can Social Media Get You Fired?

Social media. The new forum for feelings, experiences, joys and concerns, and the expression of everything in between. The place to post selfies, your experiences from “last night,” and ultimately the place you can anonymously air your grievances against basically anyone without any fear of real retribution. Or is there any retribution? Are you really as anonymous as you think you are out there on the internets as George W. Bush deemed it during his second term?

The internet has become this great place to connect with people, and yet it has also become this random place, as I have previously stated, for people to state their opinions without concern and fear for the consequences their statements and actions have later. It has become a place where people bash their educational institutions for not giving their spouses jobs, enough financial aid, a “good enough grade,” a snow day, for giving them a snow day, for treating them a certain way, or for any reason in between. It is a place where people post their class and work cutting antics realizing that employers and professors sometimes DO check social media sites, let alone their classmates or fellow co-workers.

A few years ago, a medical resident from an unnamed hospital revealed HIPPA-protected patient information on multiple social media sites (Twitter, Facebook), and was summarily dismissed from his residency program for violating a federal patient privacy law; his response? He didn’t understand two things: why he had been dismissed from his program, and why what he had done was considered wrong since he had left out all identifying information (i.e. name, age, race, gender, etc.), but had left in location, condition, etc.

While the example of the medical resident is a VERY extreme example, and one of immaturity, social media can do horrible damage to one’s reputation, both in the present and future. What goes up on the internet doesn’t disappear once you delete it; once its up, it is always there. The best advice a counselor gave was to Google yourself and see what comes up, being prepared for the good, bad and everything in between. And when you find the things you are less than proud of, start working on damage control. Delete the photos of that wild party that may damage your image, or that status bashing your workplace.

The law is extremely murky behind whether someone can get fired for what they put up on social media, and it is done on a case by case basis; mostly, it is done for cases of slander and privacy violation (in cases of law and medical practices). But what you post on social media is also at times protected by the First Amendment to a point…This isn’t to say that what you say and do can’t irrevocably damage your reputation both in the present and the future, to the point of hurting your job desirability. Think about it this way: if you’re known as the ____ who posts revealing things on Facebook, will your employee necessarily want that kind of risk? Employers look at social media sites nearly as much as they look at resumes, even if you think your social media site is “protected.” Nothing is truly protected anymore, and many

Remember this motto: when you’re angry and heated about a particular situation, don’t jump right to tweeting about it or updating your Facebook status so that everyone can comment on your situation. Put your phone down and breathe for a bit; gain some perspective, talk to a friend whom you trust, your spouse, a sibling, a mentor, a parent or take a walk BUT DON’T POST THE SITUATION because you can’t get that negative moment back.

So consider your online presence in applying for a job; it may be a healthy thing today, but it may cause a bit of trouble going forward, and may inhibit or even prohibit the job search. Discern carefully the words you use, the photos you post, the people, things and circumstances you post about, however innocent they may be. Would your boss, your pastor, your grandma/grandpa/future child (if you desire to be a parent) to see or read that post? Does it glorify God (if that is important to you)?

Ruth Keefover, a social media expert and campaign organizer for national brands like TUMS and Breathe Right said, “If you are applying for jobs and not getting anywhere, you may want to take a look at your social media channels to see if you are posting any of these mentioned items [provocative/inappropriate photos/posts, content about drinking/drugs, bad-mouthing a previous employer/coworker, sharing confidential information about others, discriminatory comments about race/gender/religion, use of foul language]; it may be time to clean up your online presence.”

A great point, and something to think about. Go Google yourself! Be honest with what you see, and be prepared to do damage control if necessary. Your future should be bright and full of potential, and your youth on Social Media (age or otherwise) shouldn’t limit your job/call potential.

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Lent Post #20: March Beauty/NonBeauty Favorites 2014

As a part of my Lenten devotion, I wanted to make more of an effort to use some of the products that I already had laying around in my apartment – a rediscovery of sorts – rather than constantly desiring things that I don’t have. Many of my favorite YouTubers make videos documenting their favorite beauty and non-beauty favorites each month as well as some misses, and so I thought that since I am blogging my way through Lent, I would do the same, especially since I have rediscovered some things within my own treasure trove that are definitely newfound loves! Bear in mind that I am by no means a beauty guru, even though I am getting sent products from influenster.com to test, and am being asked to blog, video and report back on certain products (from Rimmel London, Duck Tape, Skinny Cow, just to name a few). It has been an interesting blessing of sorts that I never expected would come out of this blog, my YouTube channel, and my twitter account, but God works in such funny ways, and connects people and things together in ways I never would have imagined. It has also brought about an awareness of the incredible consumer mindset present in American culture, and the tremendous and pressing desire for “more, more, MORE” among the young and old, myself included. It is especially prevalent among the YouTube beauty community, where “hauling” is a common practice, and videos flaunting excessive makeup, beauty and clothing collections are lets just say, not few and far between, even among ladies as young as eleven and twelve.

In the almost twelve months I’ve been involved in the online beauty community, I myself have accumulated quite a bit of makeup, but nothing quite like those whose videos I enjoy watching. In reaction to this, I decided to undertake a “no-makeup buy” project, or 40 days (or even more…) of enjoying and searching through what I have, rather than giving in to the consumer mentality of constantly desiring more. Advertisements, models and celebrities make it such that we as a culture of excess constantly are wanting the latest and greatest, regardless of whether it is a beauty product, a car, a phone, a computer, or a piece of clothing, and once we have it, it only satisfies this addictive desire or a short period of time before we are left longing for that next high again. Lets face it, whether you like makeup, technology, books, cars, magazines, nail polishes, shoes, jeans, sweaters, or ______, chances are you have fallen victim to American consumerism at one point or another, and while it may have satisfied a need for a moment, two, or ten, you likely went out and bought a similar product not too much later. 

In an effort to try to break the cycle, I stopped looking at makeup products online – one of my favorite procrastination techniques, I stopped going to Target unless I had a specific reason, and if I needed to go, I went with a list, and stuck to it – NO DEVIATING. I wouldn’t go to the drugstore unless I needed to refill my prescriptions. I completely reorganized my makeup collection to see what I actually have, and in this process, I found a lot of really cool things I didn’t know I even had…SHOCKER! Things I was given, things I bought from the outlets, things I had collected over the year I really began to enjoy makeup, or things Influenster had sent me (which has been quite a lot!). Being intentional over the last 20 days has caused me to enjoy what I have, and realize I don’t need as much as I would like, nor do I really need all that I have to be perfectly happy in all honesty. My loves are simple, and I don’t use everything I own everyday, but a bit of variety is nice – variety is the spice of life, after all! 

Now, onto my favorites for the month! 

First, I have fallen madly in love with my Milani Luminoso blush. A peachy “baked blush,” this blush makes this pale chick look perfectly tan, and gives me the right amount of shimmer. I usually hate shimmery products, since they tend to make me look like a glitter fairy, and who really wants to look like a glitter fairy (whatever a glitter fairy is, use your imagination…), but this product is absolutely divine, and I have grown to use it nearly every single day!

My second favorite are my NARS lip glosses in Turkish Delight and Super Orgasm. I’ve had these glosses for a while, and initially, these were definitely a miss. I thought they were sticky, and smelled like plastic (uhh yuck, and definitely NOT worth $25). I also thought the pigmentation of Turkish Delight (a translucent baby pink) was lackluster. So into the back of my lippy drawer it went (yes, I have a lippy drawer). But after watching a few YouTube videos where this kept reappearing, I pulled it out and tried it again, and fell MADLY in love this month, and now I carry it with me daily, either wearing it on its own, or on top of my Hourglass lipsticks (another monthly favorite). They’re non-sticky, lightweight and the scent actually isn’t as assuming as I initially thought. A real win in my book!

Third: Hourglass lipsticks in Edition, Grace and Whisper. These are buttery, smooth and very pigmented lipsticks! They are heavy, which is a downside, but I absolutely love them, and have worn them almost every day. Many do have glitter in them, but the glitter isn’t evident on the lips and definitely isn’t gritty, a real win for me. They are also pretty moisturizing, which I like. The color doesn’t feather, and does last a really long time for a lipstick. However, the lipstick is really soft, and tends to melt in the tube, which weirds me out a little bit. It isn’t a sturdy product, so I worry about carrying it around a whole lot. Plus, the packaging is extremely heavy and bulky. But, that’s all minor compared to my love for the product!

Fourth: Wildflower iPhone cases…I got my iPhone 5s for Christmas, or shortly before, and I love my new Wildflower cases that I got off of amazon.com. Those cases were so worth spending a little bit of money! They are so dang cute!!! A little bit of style and a bit of cuteness! Nuff said!

Fifth: Tree Hut Pomegranate Acai Body Scrub…This body and facial scrub smells like candy, is thick, and very abrasive. I initially bought Rub, Rub Rub from Lush to replace my beloved Ocean Salt Scrub (also Lush), which ran out a while back…and while I love the scent, it isn’t abrasive enough for my tastes. This Tree Hut stuff, however, is INCREDIBLE! Tree Hut is known best for their Coconut Lime scented scrub, which isn’t exactly for me…too lime-scented, not coconut enough, and the blend of those two scents doesn’t work for this chick. This scrub, however, is absolutely perfect, and gets all the dead gross stuff off my legs, makes them soft and just plain smells sour and lovely! A must have, and I would recommend it! Plus, it is only $8, whereas the Lush scrub is over $20…what a rip off in my opinion considering it is thin and runny, not scrub like at all! 

Misses:

First: The Body Shop Body Butter in Grapefruit. Ok. I loved the moisturizing properties of this product, but I hated how this product smelled hours after I applied it. It smelled sour, like stinky milk sour. Not good grapefruit. I absolutely love grapefruit, but the scent didn’t stay nice and tangy, it got sour and icky. The scent stuck to clothing, to the skin, and seemed to follow wherever I went. Not a fan. Not a fan at all.

Second: L’Occitane Hand Cream in Mango. I loved the scent, but I hated how greasy it was. This winter was murder on my hands, and so I needed something with a bit more umph, but this hand cream just left my hands greasy and yuck, like an oil slick. My hands felt like I had an extra layer of skin on top of them. Usually I would just wash my hands after using it to take it off they felt so yucky. I finished it, not because I loved it, but because the cream was so damn expensive.

Favorite Book: A Fault in Their Stars by John Green

Favorite Artist: Danielle Bradbery (Country, really fresh, although her first album is all covers of other artists, but still, a really great new country artist, so go out and get it from iTunes!) 

Favorite Snack: Double Stuf’ Oreos

Favorite App: A tie between Bloglovin’ (A great App that pulls together different blogs of all different genres and makes them easier to read in one place) and Twitter (duhhh) 

Favorite YouTuber: EleventhGorgeous (https://www.youtube.com/user/eleventhgorgeous)

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Lent Post #19: “How Do You Feel…” Facebook As The Cork board for An Attitude of “Ungratitude” as Opposed to The Ingathering of Blessings

Facebook and the plethora of social media sites available today are a true blessing for countless reasons; they connect family and friends separated by hundreds and even thousands of miles, they allow for the announcement of social events, and for the ringing in of holidays, personal and collective worldwide. They allow for professional networking, the dispelling of information, the connection of educational institutions globally, and even the in a perfect world, the solving of massive global issues. But on the other hand, what these social media sites have also opened the door to is the constant onslaught of complaining, and what has been called by some as “ungratitude vomit” by the Millennial generation. In a generation so accustomed with instant gratification – “Getting what I want, and right now” – a constant stream of complaints and dissatisfaction with one thing or another is not unnatural.

I understand that this post may be unpopular, and I am willing to take ownership of this, but try to take it this way. The very things being complained about are very trivial in the grand scheme of things:
-The weather not being warm enough is really not as big of a deal since we have shelter, blankets, clothing to keep us warm, and people to keep us company.
-Complaining about having a cold really sucks right this very minute, but it will go away, and while you may feel crappy right now, you aren’t dying. Consider the blessings you have in light of this – you will get better in 4-10 days, and your life will continue as though you never got a cold/the flu/the stomach bug. There are some whose lives will be forever impacted by permanent illness that is nothing like a cold.

Why are we not posting our blessings on social media? Why is it more attractive to post the horrible matters and aspects of our lives? We are all entitled to a bad day, or a bad series of days – we are all human, and all have emotions, all have “stuff.” Complaining happens, and as fallen sinful humans, we still do quite a bit of this, over stuff that really isn’t worth it. Over cars, over rent, over temporary things that have solutions just around the corner, but we get too wrapped up in complaining to see the potential for a solution. But as Christians, our countenance should be such that we hold ourselves to a higher standard than constantly complaining about how we didn’t get our way, we didn’t get what we wanted, someone wronged us (and what is worse, calling them on it publicly on a social media site). Our lives are more than a source of complaints, curses, wronging others and being wronged by others, but also a collection of blessings, and things worth celebrating in the presence of others.

I wonder what would happen if humanity took just one day a week to praise the blessings – even the difficult blessings, the things that we would ordinarily complain about. The things that we see as thorns in our side are even blessings in disguise if we allow them to be, because in these moments, growth happen. This growth is a choice, a voluntary decision to get up and allow the change to happen, instead of stewing in negativity (or, taking pride in the negativity and flaunting it on social media for all to see – wearing it as a badge of pride, per se). Many struggles are blessings, but complaints cannot be. Complaints dull their shine, and mute the message should anyone desire to listen to it. In choosing to celebrate and acknowledge the blessings, rather than complaints, social media becomes a place of community, rather than a source of constant and irritating negativity, where arguments and hatred reign supreme, modeling the world “out there’s” hatred for anything and everything.

Try this for a week: make your status every day a recognition of a simple (or complicated) blessing. It doesn’t have to be something incredible or happy that happened, but it could be something difficult that is also a blessing. In adding something to the community of the world, rather than taking, this world becomes a little bit better of a place.

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Lent Post #18: Who Are You Really? Seeing the Person Behind the Disease or Circumstance

Hospital chaplaincy teaches a great number of quick lessons:
-Don’t piss off the nurses, because once you do, you’ll be getting paged in the middle of the night to sit with the most ornery and angsty of patients, just because.
-Use those Purell stations every time you enter and exit a patient room…even when you don’t enter and exit a patient room. They serve a really important purpose, and can even save a life.
-It is perfectly ok to cry with a patient and/or their family, and some even appreciate this kind and sensitive gesture.
-Ask questions, and truly listen. Don’t be the one to constantly talk with a meaningless agenda.
-Don’t be afraid to ask if they would like to pray, and don’t be afraid for your offer to be rejected. God through the Spirit is still present in the interaction, regardless of whether a prayer was spoken, and your interaction was DEFINITELY sacred.
-When visiting a patient, look into their eyes, not at their wounds, the number of tubes or wires they have attached to their failing, frail and diseased bodies. There are people in white coats and scrubs coming in and out of their rooms all day staring at anything but their faces, so don’t be yet another person who doesn’t see the soul behind their eyes.

One of the most incredible initiatives Mount Sinai Medical Center (MSMC) in Manhattan, the place where I had my five heart surgeries performed over the last 14 months, has undertaken is to teach its medical staff how to see patients not for their diseases and circumstances, but for their humanity. Mount Sinai is a tertiary care facility, and thus sees the sickest of patients, frequently with the rarest of conditions, like mine. These patients often are seeking treatment after having been turned down at other centers, or are in need of a higher and more advanced level of care; MSMC also provides a great level of outreach to the surrounding community of people who might not otherwise receive care – those who don’t have health insurance, who haven’t been able to receive the care they needed for one reason or another. Regardless, this isn’t a shameless plug for MSMC, because I will never be able to thank Mount Sinai for the care I have received, and I doubt they will ever see this. Medical practitioners are taught to not see cases, statistics, numbers, procedures and surgeries, but to see the person behind them – where these people have been, their families, their circumstances, their communities, their hopes and their dreams.

People are more than one aspect, one circumstance, one disease, even if they should choose to let that one thing define them. In a society that so easily stigmatizes…mental illness, race, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, political party, job title, social class, physical ability, TAKE YOUR PICK…the one thing any of us should have any say over is how we are perceived by ourselves, because it can be said without a shadow of a doubt that the Lord our God sure doesn’t stigmatize based on ANY of those things. Society likes to categorize, perhaps out of comfort: “My name is ____, I’m a ______, _______, ______.” Take social media for example. Facebook asks us to pick our likes and dislikes, favorites, and constantly bombards us to like pages for various artists, politicians, groups, etc. In liking these things, we are put into categories with other people who are apparently “just like us.” But are they really? Why can’t we all be unique? What if I don’t want to fit into a box? If God desired us to all be exactly alike, then wouldn’t we all look, act, walk, talk and think the same?

We are more than the sum total of a single event, and a single life event or decision does not and should not define who we are and what we are to become. If that were so, then life would be rather hopeless. The most incredible thing about what MSMC is doing is that it is teaching the current and next generation of physicians to see patients as people (which they always were, but most forget to remember) who are also dealing with life-altering, and at times life-transforming illnesses. These things, whether they are illnesses, death, marriages and divorces, a cross-country or international move, a new job, a dog, or a “come to Jesus” moment, all have the power to transform who we are, and sometimes, the people around us lose a grip of the fact that we are still humans, despite the fact that we are undergoing some sort of transformation. We have lives, hopes, dreams, desires, and wishes for the days, weeks, months, and years to come, and we need others to help fulfill that.

Hospital Chaplains help with that; they see the face of Christ in the patients they visit with in the most dire of circumstances. They have the ability to remove the patient from the circumstance, even if only for a moment, to not inflict physical harm, and to bring them somewhere completely different. They have the tools and the opportunity to bless patients – should they choose to use it – by seeing them as who God created them to be…as full human beings: as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, farmers, politicians, knitters, readers, lovers of music and art, certain TV shows, of dogs and cats, of rain showers and snow, of summer and beaches, of husbands and wives, of sons and daughters…and not simply an illness, bad situation, downturn in life, whatever it may be.

We are not a snapshot, a moment in life. If that were so, I would be who I am right now for the rest of my life. I will always be someone growing, changing, with hopes, dreams and a growing potential, and hospital chaplains and physicians have the opportunity to recognize this in others, especially those longing to have this drawn out of them when all else seems futile and impossible. I’m grateful that this program is being piloted, and have seen it at work in my EP, a very pastoral, honest and upfront man. The world of medicine could learn a lot from him, and I have as a pastoral caregiver as well.

May we as caregivers see the face of Christ in those longing to be seen as Children of God, and may those honestly and authentically suffering be seen as something more than the sum total of their physical and emotional pain. God, grant us authenticity, honesty and wisdom to care, be present, and a capacity for compassion for someone other than ourselves.
Amen.

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Lent Post #17: Be Strong and Be Bold, For The Lord Will Never Forsake You

Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6

Yesterday, the confirmands at Dutch Neck learned about discipleship, and putting God first in the various aspects of their lives; for very logical and understandable reasons, this was a particularly challenging lesson for these incredible and brilliantly faithful youth. When one was asked whether he could insert God into his tennis matches, he said absolutely not, because that would mean giving up control, and that wasn’t something he could see himself doing. 

Another youth, a high level cheerleader, said that her travel cheer team frequently gathers right before competitions to stop and say the Lord’s Prayer. Even though they are of different faith traditions, or of no faith tradition at all, the Lord’s Prayer is a reminder of protection and security for the team, and an assurance that they aren’t alone during their competition. When they don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer, they don’t feel as good about their performance, and their communication isn’t as good. 

Interesting perspectives indeed from two strong faithful youth athletes, both faithful in their own way. One holding on to the perspective that athletics are his sphere of control, and not God’s, and the other, very much understanding God to have an eye out for each and every aspect of life. 

Deuteronomy 31:6 encourages the Israelites that they are not alone in every aspect of their being, but that it is the Lord their God who goes with them in everything that they do; this is a God who cares, but also won’t fail nor will this God forsake them. 

Don’t mistake God’s patience for His absence. This perfect and awesome God is not a vending machine God who is awaiting us to feed in a dollar and has a selection of candy bars, potato chips and granola bars for us to choose from. God’s timing is absolutely perfect, and His presence is constant, no matter the circumstance, and no matter our prayers. The thing is, this is where our strength and boldness comes in; our prayers don’t work like this vending machine, where we can get whatever candy bar selection we desire from God simply because we pray for it. Our call in life is God-driven, not human-desired, and sometimes it takes a few tries, a few flops, and a few nights spent in prayer to figure out exactly where God is leading. But GOD IS LEADING, and never has God departed from His people at any time. He expects us to be passionate about the various things that pass through our lives, and to get disappointed when they don’t work out, when we fail, or when we find out that we didn’t get a job. 

But God is the source of strength, promise and courage, and is always present with and for us. A vending machine god, who could give us what we want in response to our prayers, not what we need and what is truly best for us, might not be the god we want. But with God as the source of our strength, everything is possible. 

“But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26

With the one and true God, we can do all things, for He does not leave, nor does He abandon His creation. Scripture proves this – He didn’t abandon Abraham, Noah, Moses, the Israelites, despite their ignorance, their struggles, their inability to just follow the rules. No matter our ignorance, our stubbornness, our stupidity, our enthusiasm, our love for ourselves, our ignorance for others, our hatred, our bigotry, our just plain whatever, God continues to love us and Deuteronomy 31:6 puts it perfectly, God simply refuses to leave and forsake us. 

When we pray for something and it isn’t answered the way we would like it, that doesn’t mean that God is ignoring it, it means that God has something else even better in store. The way faith works is this: We have to play by God’s rules, not by our own, and that means giving up control to God. Like the two confirmands who talked about their own faith and sports, giving up ultimate control to God is extremely difficult, and for some it is an easier thing than for others. Sometimes, it takes time – even a lifetime. Control is a difficult thing to give up, a natural human quality beloved and cherished by some, like the one confirmand. But to truly enjoy this life in God, to truly understand and cherish the path and walk, control must be yielded. Vending machine faith, while somewhat enjoyable, can be disappointing and frustrating, even narcissistic. And ultimately, it isn’t God, it is human-centric, human-initiated, and human-concluded. 

Control can be anxiety reducing in a life otherwise out of control, but a life lived in faith can actually completely reduce anxiety; God never leaves our side, and has the whole world in His sight. Nothing goes unseen, and nothing is out of His control. God doesn’t call without giving the tools to do the call, nor does God call without providing the resources to make it happen. 

But during the process, God is there, working in and through you. Still not leaving nor forsaking you. 

So give up the vending machine deity, give up the control, God is waiting, working through you and in you, and have courage and be strong, the Lord your God will never leave nor forsake you. This fact, you can be certain of – that is, if you have faith.  

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