What’s the Matter Here?

Every time something terrible happens in the news – terrible like, “hey, let’s try to shoot up a black church, and oops, that didn’t work, so let’s kill two other random, black grocery shoppers instead because, you know, they’re black” or “hey, let’s shoot up a synagogue filled with innocent people who are worshiping because, you know, they’re Jewish,” I can hear Natalie Merchant’s voice as clear as day in my mind, “Oh, what’s the matter here?”

“Why?” is my question.  How do you go from hate to ending someone’s life?  In fact, why hate?  Please explain it to me, what’s the point exactly?  So I don’t agree with you or you with me, does that give anyone the right to take life?  I don’t curse much, but here’s the answer: FUCK NO. Why do people waste their time harboring nasty feelings about someone who is different? We’re all different.  That’s the damn point.  No two people are exactly the same, and if you want to do or be someone who is different, then you should be able to knock yourself out.  We all get to choose our lives.  The journey we take is our own and no one else’s.  Do I have to like someone else’s journey or be involved? No. But somewhere along the road, we have many people who have forgotten (or never learned) what it means to show respect.  Respect for opinions, respect for differences. RESPECT FOR HUMAN LIFE.

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Photo by Nina Uhlíková on Pexels.com

What about the proverbial Golden Rule?  Don’t we still teach that to our Kindergarteners?  We do.  I know.  I currently have a Kindergartener, and I’ve had two Kindergarteners prior to him.  So if we treat people the way that WE would like to be treated, I’m pretty damn sure that killing ourselves doesn’t come up in that equation.

What especially gets me is when people do it in the name of religion, Christianity especially.  I was disgusted when recently a politician used the Bible to justify the separating of children from their parents at the border?  Really? Have you actually opened your Bible because if you have, I’m pretty sure you would see that Jesus was the kind of man who was kind and loving to all people – regardless.  He sought out the people whom others were busy judging (prostitutes, shady accountants, lepers, you get the picture).

Who are you to judge?  Who am I to judge? What’s that old saying about not judging someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes?  I firmly believe in embracing the differences between us. We are all HUMAN BEINGS. Under no circumstances do any one of us have the right to take another’s life.  And here’s the thing, why waste your time with hating someone else because you don’t like the way they look, dress, love, are? Focus on making your corner of the world a better place, and mind your own damn business when it comes to everyone else.

I grew up in a religion that was extremely close-minded to the point of not being allowed to “associate” with anyone who was not that religion.  Talk about insular. I will never forget when I started at Rutgers University. One of my first courses – in the English department, mind you — was Theories of Sex & Gender.  I believe the Professor who taught the course is still there, and I can tell you he is outstanding. The course opened my eyes to an entire world of people whom I had been taught were sinning.  They are human beings, for God’s sake! We read Kate Bornstein’s memoir, and I remember being so touched by the internal and external struggle she went through before she transitioned and after. At NJLA (New Jersey Library Association conference), Janet Mock spoke about her own struggles.  How these stories do not evoke empathy is something that I will never understand.

We are meant to be kind to each other, to love each other, to help one another when we are in need.  I feel like the answer is that the people who commit these terrible acts have to be insane, because otherwise, it’s too scary to think about.  

In the words of the beautiful songbird, Ms. Merchant:

“Oh, what’s the matter here? I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses. . .but get this through that I don’t approve. . . If I’m the only witness to your madness, please offer some words to balance out what I see and what I hear.”

 

Note: The song, What’s the Matter Here by 10,000 Maniacs is specifically referring to child abuse.

Natalie Merchant

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The Light, the Darkness, and the Shadows

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Light, darkness and shadows this week!

This past week the weather in New Jersey changed to the point that one morning the chill in the air had created a frost on the ground.  As I drove, there was one yard where the frost was the shape of the tall trees that stood across the street, towering against the sun’s rays, shielding the grass from the warmth.  It looked like a child had taken white crayon and colored in the shape of the trees. This contrasted to part of the lawn that was in the sun: it was a bright, shiny emerald green. It glistened from the water droplets that had recently melted from their frosty beginnings.  The green side of the lawn showed life, while the darkness held captive the blades of grass beneath their shade. The grass was frozen–not dead, but immovable.

The next day my scripture of the day was John 1:5:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ESV

How often do we feel lost in the darkness?  Darkness that is either literal, spiritual or emotional–darkness that clouds our hearts and minds to the point of near-surrender.  I have had my own struggles with depression so the contrast of light and dark have a very personal meaning to me. When depression runs rampant, my thoughts are dark, my mood is dark.  

Similarly, when the weather goes on for days and days with a thick cloud covering, it’s like a depression has fallen upon the land, and being the suggestive person that I am, I find myself feeling less than my cheerful self, but I don’t realize it until the sun breaks through, and that’s when the contrast makes me aware of the darkness that I have been carrying around inside me.  

There are times of sadness, pain, anger or hurt where the same darkness, perhaps even darker, consumes the light within, but the promise in John is that God’s light shines in the darkness and His light will NOT be overcome.  We may feel lost, we may be consumed by darkness, but His light remains. When the sun breaks through the clouds and shines upon my skin, my eyes close in quiet relief, and for a few moments, I bask in the rays of the sun. The darkness vanishes and instead of being frozen, I can move, I breathe in the warmth of the light.

On Sunday as my sons and I drove to church, the sky was again dreary and dark.  The clouds seemed never-ending. If you looked in any direction from our house, we were surrounded by a dismal grey blanket with heavy, thick clouds looming every which way we turned.   We jumped into the car and turned South on Route 1. The picture above (top left) doesn’t capture it as well as I remember it in my mind, but there was an opening in the clouds in the horizon that seemed to be calling, “Come to me. It’s warm here in the light!”  The contrast between the dark grey-blue clouds was stunning in comparison to the bright, almost mint-green sky that seemed to beckon us forward. I was so captivated by the contrast that I tossed my phone at Jaden and said, “Quick! Take a picture!”

Midway through the worship, the young woman who was singing stopped to talk about these words from the song Tremble by Mosaic MSC: “Jesus, Jesus, you make the darkness tremble” and then she quoted John 1:4-5.  My scripture of the day from the day before:

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!” she said with passion.

The darkness can never overcome the light.  We have life and light as a promise. No matter how dark things get the light will come as assuredly as the sun rises each day.  I know I need it. Not only do I need it, I have to be willing to surrender myself to that light. To give up the control that I am so desperately grasping and failing at, and trust my Light.  My entire demeanor changes when I’m in the light — the light of the sun AND the light of the Son.

As I was pondering all of this, I kept thinking about that icy grass: it was frozen in the shadows of the trees.  Are the shadows as bad as the darkness? I knew I had read scriptures recently about the shadows, so I searched my Bible for the word “shadow.”  What I found touched me even more:

Psalms 17:8: “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.”

Psalms 107: 14: “He brought them out of the darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart.”

Psalms 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalms 36: 7: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Psalms 63:7: “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.”

Ah, David. Look how many times (and I didn’t put every single instance that I found) he talks about God using His Shadow to give us rest and shelter.  When the rays of the sun are beating down on us, we have His protection, a place where we can hide when things get to be too much. Those shadows show us His love for us: “How steadfast is your love?!” So steadfast that it illuminates us when we fall into despair or gives us the cool respite of shade as protection (Thank you, Lord!).

No matter how dark life may get, we have a promise that His light is enduring, and by contrast, when we need rest, we can take it in the shade of the Almighty. So, I will not let the darkness consume me.  Just as the night comes to an end, the daybreak is just on the horizon.

Look what I made!

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Alex’s Handiwork!

My little one, Alex, is well on his way in his Kindergarten year.  He comes home some days so proud to show me his work: “Look at this Spiderman that I colored!”  “Look at my letter h! It was my best one!” He is so joyful, so proud of what he has created, what he has accomplished.  It makes me smile to see how happy he is to show off his work.

I had my own little moments of pride recently.  For a while I had stopped baking. I love(d) to bake, but the more I bake, the more I eat, so it negatively affects my waistline. In an effort to be healthy, and I also think just not having the time, energy or motivation, I stopped baking. This past week, I had two bananas that were growing more and more ripe.  I’ve been more cost-conscious so I didn’t want to let those two bananas go to waste (how much could they have cost, a dollar?). Finally one evening, while Alex was in the living room, relaxing and watching his favorite YouTube character, I pulled up Pinterest and found a recipe that I had all the ingredients for (minus the nuts, I used mini chocolate chips instead).

Within 20 minutes, you could smell the cinnamon throughout our condo.  Alex said, “Mmm. . . what is that smell?” We went over to the oven, and I turned on the light to show him.  Banana bread with chocolate chips! For the rest of the evening our house smelled heavenly and Alex, who doesn’t like to try new things, had a tiny piece of banana bread, and then wanted more (hooray! lovely smells entice little people, who knew?!).

I was so happy that evening.  I felt proud, “Hey, look what I made!” and was so pleased that I decided to share: two slices were cut for my older ones (Jaden would be home the next day and I was planning to pick up Riley on the weekend), and then I took the rest to work for my department to enjoy.

“You baked?” everyone said.  It was kind of shocking because I have worked at Somerset for 2 years and I have never once baked for my staff.  That banana bread gave me joy and I wanted to share it.

Similarly, I decided to plant 3 garlic bulbs and have been watching them grow (they’re huge!) and have been awe of their daily growth from a tiny clove that blossomed into a shoot with roots, to now being well over 12 inches tall.  I’ve done my part, making sure they have water and light, and the rest is up to nature. My sons have been equally amazed as we watch these garlic sprouts grow bigger. It’s fun to say, “Hey, look at the garlic!” and they both respond with wide eyes and a “Wow!”

This all got me thinking about how we are created in God’s image. I was reminded of Genesis and the story of creation.  Even God reflected on his own work (what joy it must have given Him!):

“And God saw that the light was good.” Genesis 1:3, ESV

“God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” vs. 10

“The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, according to its own kind. And God saw that it was good.” vs. 12

As He created each kind of life, land animals, sea animals, night and day, heaven and earth, he reflected on his work and saw that it was good.

Verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  That is when he blesses man and woman and says to continue His work of creating: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (vs. 28).

The final verse of chapter one finishes this way,

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Gen 1:31, ESV, emphasis mine).

“Look what I made!  It’s good–very good!”  Our own Grand Creator not only reflected on what He created, but He took pride and joy in the creation of His hands.

Sometimes the idea of being made in God’s image is confusing to me, but this week I understood a piece of how I am made in the image of my Heavenly Father.

What ways do you see yourself being made in the image of God?

Heavenly Musings

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Thoughts of Anne on my way to work.

This past week was Anne’s birthday.  Anne was a dear friend who I met while working at Rutgers, who passed unexpectedly in June. I knew her birthday was coming up but in case I didn’t quite remember the date (which I didn’t), I have the ever-faithful Facebook to remind me.  I woke up to a friendly reminder from Facebook to wish her a happy birthday. But you see, she’s not here. A mere three months ago, she left this life for another.

As I drove to work, I thought about Anne and the next words in my mind were, “I hope you’re working on the Great Heavenly novel.” Because you know, once you get to heaven who cares about writing a Great American novel when your audience can be so much more vast.  Right?

This got me thinking about heaven and what it might be like.  I wonder about Adam, Eve and the perfection they lost. What will restoration look like for us?  If we loved writing, or singing or playing music in this life, will we still love it in the next?  And, what if in this life, we love those things but are maybe mediocre at them? Does that mean the people who are amazing become even more amazing and the rest of us become what we’ve always hoped or wished to be (because you know, we’ll be perfect).  Will we need to practice things to get better at them, or will they just come naturally? And also, won’t that make life just a bit boring? Aren’t we interesting because we are all different, which includes the fact that some of us are better at some things than others?

Is Anne working on her novel right now?  When we get to heaven, are we going to have an exponential amount of amazing things to read, and has Shakespeare been working for hundreds of years. . . oh my goodness, can you imagine how many “new” plays he might have written since he died???

Or, in some sense, do these things cease to matter?  I mean, do you think there are books in heaven? I know quite a lot of us who would certainly miss them if there weren’t.  Is there even a reason to write things down?

Go with me on this for a minute.  I’m going to use “writing” but every time I use that word, substitute it for something you like or love to do: running, organizing, taking photographs, singing, knitting, you get the drift. . .

For some of us, “writing” comes naturally, but even when it does, the craft of “writing” often takes work.  We become better when we practice our craft. Some of us may be gifted with the talent of “writing,” whereas others may feel that “writing” is their calling.  Maybe we discovered it later in life, maybe it was an aspiration, or maybe we’ve been doing it since we were children. No matter what way we’ve come to love “writing,” we know that we do, and we work at it.

In heaven does that all go away?  Is the desire to be better, to improve, to transform, to create permanently assuaged so that what we do in the next life is completely incomprehensible to our limited minds?  Or does the desire and focus of our beings become something completely new and unknown to anyone of us humans?

To give some context, as a Jehovah’s Witness, I was taught that when you die, you are dead.  You cease to exist, there is no soul or consciousness that moves to another location, be it hell, heaven, purgatory or Mars.  Once you die, that’s it. Dead. Done. Finito.

Only a select amount of people (144,000 to be exact) make it to heaven.  So, if you think from Adam’s time until now, your chances of getting to heaven are astronomically low.  Nearly impossible, I’d say. Instead, God will recreate the earth to be a beautiful place for us to live, and all those who are dead and who were right with God before death will be resurrected to life in a paradise.  Not sure where all those people might fit (again, Adam until now), but that’s what they believe.  Maybe that’s why I find the concept of heaven or whatever future God offers so intriguing. 

So here’s one more thing to throw into the pile of questions.  I recently read a book – historical/biblical fiction that was about Miriam, her family, and the 10 plagues in Egypt.  God’s power, His Spirit were vividly depicted. What must it have been like to witness that kind of amazing power? Again, I find this mind-boggling: if the sea could be parted by God, then who knows WHAT is possible.

I’m asking a lot of questions, I know, but I can’t help it.  I wonder. . .

For a scarce moment the idea of perfection sounded like it might be boring (yes, I am a literal and limited human being), but when I begin to realize how infinite the glory and power of God is, then my mind goes crazy wondering about the possibilities.  The truth of the matter is that I am quite certain that our human minds (well, at least my human mind, which allowed me to put my dress on backwards in the morning. . .I was tired, what can I say?) cannot comprehend it, nor will we, until we experience it.  I believe even our imaginations will fall short of the awesome reality.

“At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass like crystal.”  Rev. 4:2-6, ESV

Amazing.

So Anne, I miss you.  Maybe you’re working on your novel, maybe you aren’t, but I know and trust that you are somewhere where you are at peace, happy and I look forward to seeing you again one day.

***

If you have some thoughts on this topic, or want to call me crazy, please feel free to leave some comments! 

Growth after Damage

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My Christmas Cactus

I’m terrible with plants.  In fact, I kill them.  A few years ago, my former boss gave me a beautiful plate filled with rocks and succulents with a note that said, “You can’t kill these!”

Guess what? I killed them.  I’m not sure how, but I did.  A green thumb I have not.  Before I left my position at Rutgers two years ago, another dear friend gave me a cutting of her Christmas Cactus.  “Now Rebecca,” she said, “you have to keep this alive. I’m counting on you.”

Here’s where the true confession comes in.  I nearly killed this plant too.  Life was crazy, I was in the midst of divorce number two, and watering a plant was really not on my to do list.  But somehow this poor little cactus survived, though she was looking withered and beat up.  When I saw that she was a fighter, I decided maybe some water and sunshine would help, and it did! Little tiny green jelly bean-shaped leaves started to grow.  It was a miracle!

Then one day, my son stepped on the poor thing causing major damage (note in picture above the odd, grey-brown leaves near the base of the plant). Putting her in the front yard turned out not to be the wisest decision.  The plant was trampled, so I was going to throw it out, but I heard my friend’s voice in my head, “you have to keep this alive” and so I did.

Recently, I thought, “hey YouTube has videos on all kinds of stuff, maybe you should look up how to take care of a Christmas Cactus!” (Hard to tell that I’m a librarian by trade, I know). After my research, my girl is now in a new pot, I know how much watering she needs, and if you look carefully in the above picture, she’s still sprouting new little leaves.

When I went to water her the other day, I was observing that all of the new growth has come from those not-so-pretty grey-brown leaves, which though they are damaged and appear to be dead, are giving life to the rest of the plant, and it was like God whispered to me, “just like you.”  He reminded me that even with the damage and brokenness, she is still thriving.  Just like me.

2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us that once we are in Christ, we are a new creation. Does it mean the damage goes away? No, but if we allow Him control, and we face the hurt, we have a chance to be healed.

I know I’ve experienced a world of hurt from childhood until now.  Some of it was my own doing, some of it was circumstances, some of it might just be in my DNA, but I am still thriving.  The key is not holding on to the past – to the damage – to even the ugliness that may have come from it. “But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV).

That was my scripture for this year, and so it’s with that thought that I begin this new adventure!

Thanks for reading!