Inauguration Day

Yesterday, according to our local weathermen, the sun came out for the first time since December 26. When Jeff got home from work, we went for a walk. I’ve been having some trouble with my back, so I couldn’t make it very far without discomfort.  When I’d had enough, Jeff went on without me and I made my way back home alone.  The sky was a fair companion and the wind shifted daubs of cumulus clouds about, rearranging the geography of heaven as I walked. Patches of azure opened and closed here and there, like pupil-less irises in the cloud sclera of sky.

I passed a row of white pines and absentmindedly plucked some needles from a bough. I lifted them to my nose and breathed in their faint scent. It was diminished by the season—tired, old. I pressed the flimsy greens between my teeth and bit down: earthy, grassy, dry.

I walked on, mouthing the needles, wondering at the day. Further along I came across an evergreen I did not recognize. It looked out of place amidst all those white pines and I was pleased to meet it.

“Hello,” I said, to be polite. “How did you end up here?” I felt a kinship with this lonely traveler on this day of days. She was a testament to my heart, a splash of truth in all the pretense.

I bent and buried my nose in a cluster of her needles. Sweet and citrusy, she offered herself to me. Her needles were long, about four inches, and in clusters—like a pine—sprayed out abundantly from the twiggy branch. The cone was open, about three inches. I plucked a cluster of needles from her upstretched arm. No sooner were they in my grasp when my fingers were sticky with the scent of orange. I bit down on acidic brightness—a fruit basket in two small stalks of green. I chewed on the resiny goodness all the way home.

This morning, in my quiet time, I read part of Luke 4. The reading took me through the temptation of Jesus (1-13), to the beginning of his ministry in Galilee (14-15), to his rejection in his home town of Nazareth (16-30). I’m reading through an old lectionary commentary, and the writer had this to say about these passages:

Today marks the midpoint of the Epiphany season, a season in which we celebrate the revelation, the manifestation (epiphania)—of God. Primarily, we celebrate how Jesus is made known—revealed to us as God’s Messiah. But something else is also revealed in this season. In this text, we, too, are made known. And we, like the congregation in Nazareth, are revealed to be a people who like to draw lines in the sand—a people with a persistent ‘we-they’ mind-set. … We can easily turn all of life into a competition—who is better than whom. …
Sometimes we would like to peg God with a certain nationality, a political party, an income level. Yet in the second half of Luke’s work, we read especially about the impartiality of God. When Peter preached about the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles through Christ, he proclaimed, ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ (Acts 10:34). Literally, this reads: ‘God makes no distinction between faces.’ God does not differentiate between peoples.
No, God is not interested in faces; God is interested in hearts. Not beautiful hearts, not pure hearts, nor perfect hearts, but hearts that know their need of God …”

This morning, the sun is still shining. And I’m trying to remember to stand like my new friend—beautiful in her distinctiveness, full of grace. The freshness of such a friend can make one almost forget the pain from a tired old back, and remind to look upon this tired world with eyes of love.

Jesus for President

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Yesterday—the day Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders came to town—was the National Day of Prayer, and Franklin Graham preached on the steps outside the West Virginia Capitol building as a part of his 50-state “Decision America Tour.” I got up early to put in my two-cents worth, but ended up falling back to sleep with my forehead pressed into the dining room floor, Bible open to Romans 8 on the table. I drove to work in the rain and tried to keep the conversation going, tried to focus on gratitude and love and all good things as I puttered under gray clouds.

Work was stressful and fast-paced and it felt like the gray clouds had misted indoors, dogging me with gloom. I was sitting outside a patient’s room writing a progress note when my friend David stopped to say hi. “I thought I’d go up to the seventh floor during lunch,” he said. “There’s a good view of the capitol from there. I thought I could pray a little. Want to come?”

I love to pray with people. Something about joining hearts together this way opens up that thin veil between heaven and earth. Jesus is so close. I’ll pray with just about anyone, anywhere.

“Sure,” I said.

So after we snarfed our lunch we took the elevator up and stood side-by-side looking down through a wall of glass. The capitol dome shone golden in the sun, but we couldn’t see the people who gathered there.

I closed my eyes for a minute and imagined the people down there, praying and singing, holding hands and hoping together. David offered up some words and I chimed in a little, but mostly, we were speechless. What do we pray for? We wondered out loud. Where is wisdom, where is love?

“When people ask me to pray for our country, I always end up praying for the Church,” David said. “That we would keep focused, keep our eyes where they should be.”

We wondered who would make the headlines on the local paper. Would prayer beat out Trump and Bernie? Of course, we knew better, but wouldn’t it be great? David said.

“Politics and religion make me so uncomfortable,” I confessed. And he agreed. It’s too tricky a tightrope to walk. A slippery slope. A rock and a hard place.

“God knew what He was doing when He brought Jesus into this world during the time that He did. Jesus’s country was occupied; you know? And the people wanted him to take it back, to be this warrior king, and fight. But he showed us, that isn’t the way.”

I thought about some of the political “fights” I’ve witnessed lately—on Facebook, and in person. What would Jesus think? I wondered.

“I have no hope in the Democratic Party,” the Charleston Gazette quotes Franklin Graham as saying to the people of West Virginia yesterday (the story about his appearance was relegated to section “C” of the paper. Trump made the big headline with the biggest photo. Sanders got co-lead but a smaller photograph). “I have no hope for the Republican Party. The only hope for this country is almighty God and the people of God.”

I haven’t always agreed with the things Graham has said, but this? This was a reminder I needed to hear. Romans 8 tells us He is working “all things together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (verse 28). When I live out this belief, I can love much better—even those who disagree with my political views.

So when I pray for our country, for our world, I pray for the church. I pray for the hearts of our leaders but also for the hearts of the people. And I remember the posture Jesus modeled for us: servanthood. I pray for God to give me a heart of humility and grace.

And I trust that all these things are held in the hand of God.