The Stumbling Block

I wrote this poem while thinking of the passage from Matthew 18:6-9, which says that it is better to be drown in the sea than to cause someone else to stumble. I am trying to come to a place of peace with the frustration which is continuing to take root in me despite my best efforts. I am working as hard as I can to burn off the anger through diet, exercise, and even spiritual disciplines, but there are times when things are simply wrong and more than an irritation. There are times when people do real harm to you and that pain becomes a thorn in the side that will not go away.

Even if there may be divine punishment for the person who causes another person to stumble, it still hurts deeply to be the person with broken toes, scraped knees, and a noticeable limp. I don’t doubt for a second that all that is happening is noticed and noted in the Book of Life and any equivalent book with opposite purpose. It would still be nice if there could be some relief.

Broken heart longs for them
The hugs, smiles, and dumb jokes
as joy is hard to coax
when you're alone

Prayers flow as I walk
Burn the anger with fat.
I look more and more flat
but rage lives on.

Walking, praying, fasting:
I curse this stumbling block
as on the Door I knock
and ask for help.

Even so, upon further reflection, a better passage to consider might be Romans 14:12-19 which is far more balanced in perspective. What I mean by balanced is that Paul does a decent job in Romans in balancing the concerns. Yes, it is wrong when someone else causes us harm, but Paul writes in a way that invites people to look inside before looking at one’s neighbor. It is not right for your neighbor to harm you, but first consider whether or not you will be ashamed when you give your account to God about how you lived your life and what you did, which is different from what your neighbor did to you.

So, how do I live with this pain in my side and sorrow in my heart? I see wisdom in Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-12. I have asked time and time again for this thorn to be removed, but it hasn’t budged. I guess that God’s strength is shown in my weakness, so I’ll keep trudging down the road while remembering the simple truth from a few verses earlier in Romans 14:7-10:

“We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God”

Romans 14:7-10, Common English Bible

This life I live with thorn-gifted pain is the life that I have to live. My “neighbor” may look at me with disdain or judgment, keep me from my children in defiance of the court order, and teach them that it is dangerous to speak with me (since I might call Child Protective Services if something goes wrong and the kids are in danger). Even with that sorrow and pain, I am called to live, so I will live. When the day of my death comes, even if I am alone I will die in the Lord with hope in my heart that:

“We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:2-5, Common English Bible

Thorn in my side or not, I will live in hope and I shall not be ashamed of the Lord. I will seek hope all of my days, even with broken bones in my soul, for God loves me and will make all of this right one day. Even with broken places in my soul, I am still fearfully and wonderfully made and God loves me. I am God’s child and I trust that my Parent will hold me as close as I wish I could hold my children.

A Prayer for the Brokenhearted and Upset

Written after a vote for the disaffiliation of several churches from the Upper New York Annual Conference. Several people, including me, are upset and hurting. People are having sleepless nights over the question of whether or not our liabilities will outweigh our assets after paying settlements under the Child Victim Act out of our reserves while these churches walk away from the settlement we made together as a community. Will we have enough to pay for pensions both for those who remain and for those who serve the new denomination in retirement? Individuals feel harmed, wounded, and are in pain.

What do we do in these moments? What do we do when we are upset or angry? What do we do when we raise our voice and still end up watching as others walk away despite our concerns? On my end, I acknowledge my pain, acknowledge where it hurts, acknowledge what I desire, and ask God to help. This descending syllabic poem (a nonet) comes from that place:

Broken hearted people ache within
as our life together shatters.
We once lived in communion.
For those who are angry
and those who are hurt;
mercy hungry,
seeking hope,
pour forth
love.

Thoughts after talking with a sick child…

J: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be sick.
Me: It is okay. Just because you are sick it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.

United Methodist friends, today is going to be rough. I didn’t sleep. Many of my friends didn’t sleep. We are tired, cranky, and a little bit tired of the arc of history being so long… I heard a speech on the livestream of General Conference yesterday about hearing the same arguments over and over… I sympathize. I am also very stubborn!

Young friends, we are birthing something new. If you have never raised a child, I will tell you that it takes a lot of patience. I cannot tell you how many times YESTERDAY I asked a toddler to stop pulling leaves off of the houseplant… Being a parent takes patience.

Older friends, do not be deceived. Something isn’t wrong just because our younger family in Christ is trying to do something new. To be honest, we have likely had siblings trying to help us through this struggle for decades. I know that is a truth for me.

Beloved family in Christ who are my age, we likely have decades to go before our time is done. We are the ones who can shepherd and support the generation after us. I can think of folks who shepherd and shepherded me along this path. Don’t give up.

Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. Nothing,

Let us Ramble: Prejudice and Wisdom

When I was a young boy I visited with my relatives down south in Georgia. My grandfather’s sisters lived in a small town where they spent their days in a house that was quite large and quite ornate. I wondered at the house, the railroad tracks that ran past the front yard, and the massive properties on the side of the tracks on which they lived. As a kid I was more interested and terrified of fire ants than I was of the social situation, but even I noticed that the people who helped my grandfather’s sisters maintain the property came from the smaller homes on the other side of the railroad tracks. As an adult, it took me forever to realize that they looked different too.

I do remember hearing negative things. When things went missing it was never because they were misplaced. The “help” had taken them. Even when those things were found, it was still the fault of the people who came to help the two elderly women in their home. I realize now that there was a world of things going on behind the scenes. There were likely issues of race, prejudice, class, and economics at play. There were also questions of grief as two women lost the ability to control first their bodies and then their minds. I don’t excuse the behavior, but I did have the seeds of my first nightmares about Alzheimer’s disease in those days.

As an adult who is now removed nearly three decades from those events, I do not blame myself for having neither the wisdom nor the education to ask questions. What small child really knows enough to ask those questions? Furthermore, would my proper southern relatives have even taken me seriously? I do my best to act with the wisdom gained in my day to day life now, which is where this post originates.

I identify as a millennial but I am not a young adult. I have three children who I am raising to the best of my ability. I pay my taxes, dutifully pay off massive student loans, and understand that I cannot be bailed out of every challenge by my father. I do my best to be a constructive part of society. I also listen to a lot of complaints about millennials.

Perhaps it is my sensitivity to hearing people complain about my generation that caused me to notice something I found disrespectful the other day. Several folks that I know shared a couple of memes suggesting that eighteen year old students are spoiled. One or two of the folks pointed out that eighteen year old kids used to charge the beaches of Normandy and other folks pointed out that eighteen year olds used to serve in Vietnam. They proceeded to mock eighteen year old kids as being spoiled.

It begged a question in my mind. Who do they think serves in the Armed Forces today? Who do they believe are recovering from wounds from IEDs in hospitals and clinics or leaving children without parents after ambushes? What’s more, when they come to an age where they need care to live out the end of their lives, who do they believe will be the doctors or nurses? Who do they believe will care for the needs of their property? Who will teach their children? Who will serve in the fire departments, police forces, and even on road crews when they are no longer capable?

To me it was mind boggling. I remember my relatives saying that my grandfather’s sisters did not understand what they were saying about other people. I also remember a few choice moments when the generation who raised me made a few choice comments that were not so gracious. For all of the criticism of the people who came before, my own family has struggled to leave behind the bad habit of criticizing others for being different, whether that be in terms of race, age, ability, or education.

The memes gave me pause because it seemed as if another generation had been raised up to sit on their lawn and insult other people for having the audacity to live life differently than they once lived. What’s worse, I am almost certain that somewhere in my life I do the same thing. I might even be doing it now.

So, let me apologize for those moments when I forget the lessons I learned from the mistakes and missteps of my ancestors. Let me apologize for people who do not see what they are doing in their attempt to be funny, opinionated, or simply a part of a disastrous movement who wants to disenfranchise as many people as necessary to maintain the way things have always been. Let me apologize for the things that I will miss in my own heart and my own actions. Please forgive me.

Eighteen year old soldiers, students, and human beings… You have my respect. Please, live a life that is incredible and help me to live a great one as well.