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Saturday, June 20, 2015, 12:09 PM
Like many, I watched video of family members of the Charleston Nine (Emanuel AME Church members murdered in a mass shooting at the church this week) express forgiveness to the confessed shooter during a court hearing.
It has been suggested it is too soon to forgive. What does that mean? Why does it matter?
It is never too soon to affirm the intention to forgive. That's where forgiveness begins--with intent. From intent, we may move to the deep, emotional freedom that comes with true forgiveness. That true forgiveness frees us from the poison of an offender's words or actions. That's why Jesus taught his disciples to forgive. It all begins with intent.
When I watched a sobbing woman lament the loss of a loved one in open court and heard her broken voice proclaim forgiveness, I knew I was watching a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
This woman was not proclaiming damnation for the mass murder. No words were spoken about God's vengeance and hate, or Hell and suffering. This woman was following the example of her Lord, who spoke forgiveness while suffering a torturous death on a cross. This woman was speaking the words her loved ones, now worshiping with the Church Triumphant, would want her to speak. Through her tears, she was affirming the power of hate would not dominate or claim her goodness and take it away. She was affirming an eternal truth: the acts of the spirit are greater than the acts of the flesh.
All of this matters because what is said now will determine how well the survivors heal, continue their lives, and honor the memory and legacy of those who are gone from our view.
It all begins when forgiveness is spoken. Forgiveness does not minimize or rationalize away or excuse the horror and injustice of what was done. Forgiveness does not mean anyone should have warm, fuzzy feelings for the shooter.
Forgiveness means the survivors have taken their power and decided to reclaim their true selves from the pain and injury of what was done. Forgiveness means they begin to cancel the power of hate. It all begins with intent. It is not something any of us naturally do. The power to forgive is a gift from God.
(c) 2015 Deborah Evans
From Paravanes: Meditations
Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 4:44 PM
In my Facebook feed, a news article about the closing of a large, nationally significant Catholic church building in a downtown central business district drew some noteworthy comments.
One commenter lamented the "loss" of a beautiful building, stating members of "his church" relocated to suburban areas two decades ago. He went on to suggest Baptists or Lutherans --traditions of quite different origins and worship styles--would soon take over "his" old building.
Another commenter wrote of the irony of the Archdiocesan Office shuttering the sanctuary, but leaving open the attached Senior Center which serves nearly 2,000 people per week, offering food assistance and a safe place to meet for socializing and fellowship. Was the Senior Center's work of placemaking and feeding the hungry more meaningful than the activities and rituals held on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings in the sanctuary?
Jesus said "For where two or three come together--are present, assemble, or gather in my name--there I am with them." (Matthew 18:21).
This is an powerful statement, and is proceeded by something many of us have found difficult to express or demonstrate in our experience of church worship and life: "Again, I tell you that if two of you on Earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven."(Matthew 18:20).
Has this been your personal experience?
In this passage, Jesus told his followers if two of them agreed about anything they asked for, the Father would do it. Why? He answers the "why?" in the next verse: because when two or three have gathered in his name--in his purpose, viewpoint, style, and method--he is there with them. There is, in that place, an unbroken fellowship and presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (living and abiding in the believers gathered).
If this is true--and if Jesus says something, that "something" is always true--what has happened to the gatherings of the church? Why has the church experienced so much division, apostasy, and loss of direction?
Many attending church stopped gathering "in his name." Some never gathered in his name, not ever.
Some are gathered in the name of a preacher or a teacher. Some are gathered in the name of a denomination, a philosophy, or a tradition. Some are gathered in the name of political conservatism or political liberalism. Some are gathered in the name of prosperity or human riches. Some are gathered in the names of pipe organ music and architectural splendor.
Some are gathered in the name of "fixing the world", or "social justice", or "peace." Some are gathered in the name of finding a husband or wife, or obtaining a denominational scholarship or summer campership for a child or grandchild. Some are gathered in the name of free child care for two hours on Sunday morning while Mom and Dad sneak away from church to enjoy a quiet breakfast at a nearby restaurant.
Some are gathered in the name of social status or business and career connections. Many years ago, I visited a local megachurch where the pastor warned (from the pulpit) those in attendance--members and visitors-- against using the church as a prospecting ground for selling Mary Kay Cosmetics and other "business opportunities." He said the situation had gotten out of hand and had to be publicly addressed.
When the church--the called out body of believers in Jesus Christ--gathers, the building doesn't matter. If that body is together for Jesus' purposes, that body will have whatever they agree on if they ask for it.
When you step into church next Sunday, ask yourself: why am I really here?
What do I expect as a result of having been here?
How will I know my time here has been well spent?
If I stopped coming here, how would my life change?
What would I miss most if this church building closed?
Ask yourself: am I really here "in his name?"
Saturday, May 9, 2015, 12:07 PM
National Association of Non Custodial Moms: www.facebook.com/NANCM.org
Parental Alienation Awareness Organization: paawareness.org/
Have you heard of these groups? When you learn a woman does not have custody of her child, do you assume she is an addict of some type, or mentally ill, or morally unfit to raise her child or children?
If you make these assumptions, you are wrong.
Many noncustodial moms lost a legal battle with a well funded or abusive ex husband or ex partner. Perhaps this mother trusted someone who promised to take care of her child during a crisis, but that someone was simply creating a pretext for taking custody of that child. Perhaps this mother fled an abusive situation (taking her children with her) and was unable to finance the legal battle to maintain custody.
Yes, there are some women who are not ready or willing to raise their children. But, there are many who were not able to prevail in a court system that favors the well connected and well funded. Mother's Day is always a challenge for these women.
Perhaps you have custody (full or part) of your child, but you have been a victim of parental alienation. I have written about parental alienation elsewhere on this blog: watch out for the unexpected alienator, how to reunite after parental alienation, when to give up the legal battle in court . You have your child with you, or have access to them on a regular basis, but you are struggling with negative brainwashing that has been imposed on your child. You and your child once had a close, loving relationship. Now, that child disrespects you, doesn't appreciate you, destroys your property, and says they hate you or wish you were dead.
There is no rational basis for your child's beliefs, but the beliefs are deeply held. Your child insists these are their own thoughts, that he or she was not programmed or brainwashed by anyone.
What happens on Mother's Day when this is your story? What can you do when your children are not physically or emotionally with you?
Allow yourself to choose how you spend the day. Don't mask your grief by accepting dinner invitations or invitations from friends who insist you should not be alone. Perhaps you would prefer to spend the day alone looking at old photo albums, watching a movie you once happily shared with your children, or cooking a favorite meal all of you once enjoyed together. Allow yourself these pleasures if they make you happy. If you truly don't want to be alone, accept invitations from people who will enjoy your company and not judge you or try to preach to you.
Celebrate your own mother if you had a good relationship with her. Let this day be a day you remember, recall, and celebrate your own mother or grandmother if you had a good relationship with her. This could involve anything from visiting church, strolling in the park, planting flowers, taking a drive to a special place, or sleeping late and giving yourself a mani-pedi. If your mother is still living and you can enjoy your time with her, plan a visit or phone call or Skpye connect time.
Gather friends and recreate the meaning of the day. Give yourself permission to get together with friends and do something totally unconnected to the meaning of Mother's Day. It can be a challenge to go out and have fun on Mother's Day when you are surrounded by seemingly happy families of moms, dads, and kids. See what's going on in your local area--check newspapers or local event websites-- and find something that will affirm your goodness and bring joy and happiness to the surface of your life. If you have no one to share the day with, your local public library or a nearby museum is a place you can visit on your own and still be in the presence of others. Stroll the galleries or read a stack of magazines or a good book. Spend a few hours enjoying yourself.
Because this is a blog about faith, I will add that if you have a faith tradition, see what it says to you on this day.
If you are feeling beaten down by the judgments of others, remember no one has the right to judge unless they know all of the facts. There is One Who Does. Do not leave this day without connecting with God in a special way.
Free yourself from the negative judgments of others and seek to live only under the judgment of God. Remember you are beloved of God not because of what you accomplish, but because you are a creation of God. You are a spiritual being who will live somewhere forever. Temporary judgments are not final rulings. Allow your challenge to become your triumph. You are never beyond the reach of God's love, and neither are your children. Be who you need to be in this time. Seek help and accept it when it is genuinely offered. Get enough rest. Find two or three things that bring joy to you and hold on to them. Finally, understand that others do what they do because of who they are. You can only change yourself. You cannot change others.
Have a happy day. Know that your mothering was not in vain, nor could it have been in vain. Keep the eternal viewpoint. Live well and be blessed.
(c) 2015 Deborah Evans
Friday, April 17, 2015, 1:55 PM
Scripture tells us very little about what happened with Jesus and his disciples between the time of the Resurrection and the Ascension. He appeared to them, and to many others, after his return from the dead. For the disciples, he breathed the power of the Holy Spirit onto them and into them. He gave them a life altering commission, or charge, and then returned to the heavenly realm. He was not absent, but he was out of physical view.
As Charles Wesley put it in his hymn, Rejoice the Lord is King: "When He had purged our stains, He took His seat above." This doesn't mean Jesus sat back and watched history unfold with caring or participating. This means he returned to the heavenly realm of honor he had before coming to Earth. Jesus always cares. If you invite him, he always participates.
Based on the accomplishments of the disciples after the Ascension, we can imagine a few things that must have happened for Jesus' followers. We can learn from their experiences, and find new paths for ourselves after our hearts have been broken by life's events.
The disciples had to rethink what was real and possible. No one, before or after, has ever returned from death to live on Earth. Jesus did. That first Holy Week had been a real roller coaster ride for them. After they saw Jesus was alive---physically, in his body---they had to accept many new possibilities for what life could mean. They were then ready to accept the Great Commission. They saw their leader was more than they had ever imagined or originally believed. When Jesus heals your broken heart, he will show you possibilities and a future beyond what you imagined in your past.
The disciples had to accept new and different responsibilities. During his ministry on Earth, the disciples expected Jesus to remove Roman power, restore the Davidic kingdom, and bring prosperity. They also expected to help him carry out that mission. It didn't quite turn out that way. Jesus gave them a new purpose and direction. The disciples carried it out very effectively. But it wasn't what they'd originally planned. They were willing to change. Ironically, the change Christianity brought to the ancient world did eventually bring down the Roman Empire, but it happened one person at a time.
Much of what God does is done one person at a time. He heals broken hearts one at a time.
The disciples found a worthy purpose: to spread a message of personal salvation+freedom from sin (sin = whatever makes us less than what God created us to be), a message of goodness defined as holiness-happiness-purpose. They found a purpose worth living for and dying for. If we have a purpose worth dying for, we must choose to live for that purpose. If we do not have a purpose worth dying for, it is time to find a new purpose. The difficulties the disciples faced were nothing compared to the eternal value of what they did. Tradition says most of them suffered a martyr's death. Have no doubt that where these disciples are now, they would not say God asked too much of them. They found a purpose to carry them past their pain. We can do that as well when we listen to God and follow him.
(c) 2015 Deborah Evans
Monday, February 23, 2015, 2:51 PM
Lord, the horrible deaths of the Egyptian Coptic martyrs trouble me.
But this I believe:
In a way unknown to those of us who are left behind, you comforted their minds, bodies, and spirits in those final moments.
Your revealed presence wiped fear and terror from their hearts.
As their spirits left their broken bodies, You joyfully and proudly welcomed them into your uninterruptible presence.
They now live in comfort, joy, and praise.
They have no regrets for their sacrifice.
Their pains are eternally forgotten.
Their testimony and witness will continue through endless ages, world without end.
Your precious children are never forgotten or abandoned, never absent from your care, never beyond the reach of your power.
Friday, January 2, 2015, 1:44 PM
Did you leave somethiing or someone behind in 2014?
Did something or someone leave you behind in 2014?
Release with love.
When you release with love, you no longer look back with frustration,
regret, or resentment. You no longer ask these questions: "why did they do that?", "what were they thinking?", or "how can I get even", or "God, how could you allow that?"
When you release with love, you no longer need explanations.
When you release with love, you accept others as you accept yourself: imperfect, but striving; flawed, but still seeking; wounded, but still alive and growing.
Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He taught His followers to "turn the other cheek": release with love, go in a new direction, and trust Me to make it work out.
You can easily become the thing you fight. So do not fight unless you seek to become like your opponent. Instead of fighting: pray, plan, speak, and act.
Release with love.
(c) 2015 Deborah Evans
Monday, December 1, 2014, 8:41 PM
Recently, I viewed (for the second time) the D. Channsin Berry/Bill Duke documentary "Dark Girls." It was a painful view, but I felt compelled to watch and listen carefully because I could identify so deeply with much of what was said.
This message rang through the film: there is something ugly and unpleasant about being a "dark girl". This does not mean dark girls are ugly or unpleasant. Still, much of what is presented in this film shows how differently dark girls experience life. Generally speaking, these differences are not considered positive ones. I think there was much truth and painful honesty in this film, but a part of the story is missing.
Since Lupita Nyong'o won an Oscar, made a famous and well-documented speech, and appeared on several fashion magazine covers, I have listened and watched many women describe how triumphant Nyong'o's story is: she is the manifestation of dark beauty, her confidence and poise are enviable, her skill and preparation have won out over the color prejudices that dominate much of Hollywood. Many, many dark girls are cheering for Lupita.
No one says "I wished I looked like Lupita." I have yet to read or hear that comment.
It's hard to be different. Dark girls are a minority within a minority. We may have been the "original woman", but now we are often sidelined and rejected by those who gave birth to us, raised us, and shared our childhood homes. Society has labeled us as second class, and often we are not strong enough to resist and overcome that programming until we have lived much or most of our lives.
When I watched the film for the second time, I was able to see and absorb a lot of the spiritual pain expressed by the women interviewed. Most of these women were pretty, and some were very beautiful. A sadness lingered in the eyes of almost all of them, even those who stated they have grown into an appreciation and gratitude for their looks. The injury of rejection by family and friends--and society at large--did not fade away with increased awareness and personal growth. This pain seemed to be persistent across generations, classes, geography, and personality types.
Is there a remedy? I am always looking for a reason to hold hope close to my heart. Will dark girls have to wait for society to change before we can be happy, fulfilled, and joyful?
As I thought about the answer, I remembered the Bible verse that tells me: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2, NIV)
My default position is to be conformed to the world, to see myself as others who appear powerful choose to define me, to live within those limitations, and to fear moving beyond them. My default position is to absorb what is sent my way, even if that message is destructive and limiting to me, even if that message causes me to dislike my appearance or even my very existence
When I move from conformity to transforming renewal, I am embracing the God who is powerful enough and loving enough to smile at me and say "you are beautiful because you have been created in my image." New thoughts and images appear in my mind. When I live in transforming renewal, I am able to "test and approve" God's good, pleasing, and perfect will. In my own experience, God has never failed a test. In transforming renewal, I am expecting and approving of God's ability to bring into my life those who will also smile at me with loving kindness and joy.
In transforming renewal, I release and forgive those unable to see me as whole and lovely, because their short-sightedness does not limit what God will do in my life.
In transforming renewal, I remember God's will is good, pleasing, and perfect for me, not just for God alone.
In transforming renewal, I begin every day smiling at myself in the mirror, happy with what I see, knowing that I am an intentional creation of God and not a result of random chance. I no longer wish God had made me someone else, or something else. I approve of God's choice to form me as I am. I trust and know God has prepared something good for all creatures He has made.
In transforming renewal, I expect more than what I can see today.
For dark girls, and for all people, gratitude for self begins by knowing and living the truth that we are intentionally made by God, for his joy---and ours---and we can live in the transforming renewal that changes us from objects of scorn to beautiful channels of grace. That's the truth.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
Sunday, October 19, 2014, 1:52 PM
Why would someone choose to be a Christian?
You must really make this choice for yourself. It is deliberate
and no one can do it for you. No one "inherits" Christianity.
It cannot be passed down like money, property, or heirlooms.
You may inherit the practice of certain Christian traditions, but
you cannot inherit the status of Christian. As someone has said,
"God has no grandchildren, only children."
You should be able to look back to a place and time in your own life
where you made a conscious choice to turn over
the reigns of your life to God, a time when you admitted you had
a sin problem you could not solve, a time when you asked God to
solve it for you. In most cases and barring certain illnesses,
we remember major events of our lives: finishing school,
getting that first job or joining military service, marriage,
buying that first home or renting that first apartment.
It's perfectly reasonable that we remember turning over control
of our lives to God, the most important decision we will ever make.
Becoming a Christian isn't the same as joining a church or getting baptized.
Those can be positive experiences, but they do not substitute for salvation
because salvation is a totally personal "you and God" experience. Perhaps
you were baptized as an infant, in which case that baptism wasn't your choice.
Perhaps you joined a church because you were lonely, or liked certain social
activities the church offered, or because a spouse or parent belonged to that
church. Those aren't necessarily bad reasons to join a church, but those
reasons don't address your relationship with God.
Some have been told to become a Christian because Christianity assures
prosperity, health, and what the world generally calls "success."
Trust me, it's not true because Scripture doesn't teach this and
history disproves it.
Some have been told to become a Christian to avoid Hell. Maybe you will
avoid Hell (which, by the way, I believe is a real place), but fear never
motivated anyone to consistent goodness or greatness. If Hell, or avoiding it,
is your focus, you have missed the entire reason why people have sought
a relationship with Jesus for over 2,000 years.
Some have been told become a Christian because Christians are "better" than other people and, of course, you want to be among "the best." Jesus
constantly taught against pride, judgment of others, and haughtiness.
He never invited anyone to follow Him based on feeling superior to others.
In fact, during His time here, He often sought out and embraced those
who were on the outskirts of society: the poor, the rejected,
the weak and the lonely.He had wealthy followers as
well---and still does--but they are not "better" followers
because of their material advantages.
Hopefully, you have chosen or will choose to become a Christian because
you have received a glimpse of this truth: "Jesus, you are all compassion,
pure and wondrous love you are."
Only someone like this is worthy of your unconditional
allegiance and faith.
It is only to someone like this should you hand over the reigns of your life.
Only God is powerful enough to be "all compassion" and only God is
generous enough to express to us "pure and wondrous love." Whoever you are, and in whatever condition you find yourself, Jesus waits to express these things to you and will wait for you as long as you live and will
never withdraw His offer of compassion and love.
That is the reason to become a Christian.
(c) Deborah Evans 2014
Friday, September 19, 2014, 1:25 PM
Why would anyone pray for someone who despitefully uses them?
You would do it because that prayer is your guarantee against the permanent soul damage that may result from the user's actions.
How does this work?
1) When you pray for that person, your mind and spirit free themselves from responsibility for that person's hostile actions and hostile energy. You have turned that person, and their state of mind, over to God. You no longer try to adjust your behavior to "fix" them and to "keep them happy."
2) When you pray for that person, you place yourself under God's protection. Your decision to obey this very challenging command is an affirmation of faith in God's judgment of how difficult people are to be handled. Your prayer is an affirmation of your obedience.
That affirmation of obedience directs your focus away from the "user" and back to God. Your thoughts are no longer tied to "what they did." Your thoughts are focused on "what God will do." Instead of uselessly expecting someone to "make things right", you look to God. This looking to God cancels disappointment. This opens your mind to faith and hope, and to new possibilities.
How many times have you heard speakers and teachers say "Energy follows focus"?
Ironically, when you pray for the despiteful user, your focus moves away from them.
3) Praying for someone who did not treat you well is your personal expression of freedom. You cannot hold the hurt and pain while you pray for them. At first, this will not "feel right." Stick with it! As you continue, you will notice you don't cry anymore when you think about them. Your fists don't ball up. You don't feel that tension in your shoulders. You remember facts, but you are no longer poisoned by negative energy.
If someone is abusing you and placing you in danger, you must take carefully planned steps to get away from them. Praying is not a substitute for rational action when your safety is at risk. Please see my post on the topic of "Why Do So Many Churches Tell Women To Stay In Abusive Marriages?"
Regardless of where you are physically located, you can pray for that person. You can begin the process of healing yourself. As is often the case, prayer is not about making a different outcome. Prayer is about making you a different person who is free and capable of creating God-willed outcomes.
The command to "pray for those who despitefully use you" is definitely one of Jesus' "hard sayings." This saying seems counter-intuitive. As you practice this prayer, something happens in you, something you could not have anticipated or expected. It is called a miracle.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
Friday, August 8, 2014, 3:10 PM
"Once upon a time, a visitor came to the monastery looking for the purpose and meaning of life.
The Teacher said to the visitor, 'If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.'
'I know', said the visitor. 'To find Truth, I must have an overwhelming passion for it.'
'No", said the Teacher. 'In order to find Truth, you must have an unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong.' "
photo from Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement
Why was it so difficult for the southern, white church to acknowledge segregation was wrong?
For some, this question may pose another question: why was it so difficult for southern white culture to acknowledge segregation was wrong?
My original question is based upon the assumption that the church does not accept without question or challenge the values and mores of the larger society. In this case, the church obviously did accept those values and mores. The few who spoke out for what was right were often labeled "enemy." Did the church lose its testimony because it refused to visibly and vocally challenge the violence that was needed to enforce segregation?
Was the southern church co-opted culturally by the larger society in which it lived and functioned? For the record, many elements in what was then called the southern Negro church did not support civil rights during its earliest days. Many conservative African-Americans feared the disruption and retribution that would come with a push for civil rights. Based on their (well-founded) fear, they also sat on the sidelines, or accused the civil rights workers of being trouble-makers and rabble-rousers.
Why was the southern white church also so afraid of change that those who spoke out for the righteousness of civil rights were excluded and ostracized?
How was it possible that southern white Christians did not see a brotherhood and sisterhood of faith in their African-American neighbors? Why was it so much easier to speak about "personal salvation in Jesus Christ" and "holiness and sanctification" that it was to say that all Americans should be treated as citizens? Who were "the least of these"
in this situation? How many sermons on the Good Samaritan
were preached in churches where African-Americans were not welcomed or even permitted?
How many ministers said "those people won't come to our churches anyway?" How many laypersons felt it was permissible to eat food and wear clothes prepared by women with whom they refused to worship? How many times did ministers preach on Lazarus and the Rich Man
without considering how their actions appeared to an unredeemed world?
Why was so much pseudo-science accepted as reasonable explanations for legally and forcibly separating
people who worshiped the same God, read from the same Bible, and looked forward to the same Heaven?
I suppose arguments could be made regarding social comfort and traditional practices. Still, I wonder how many of those outside of the church watched in wonder or mockery as church leaders and laypersons affirmed the right of the government to separate people based on race. I wonder how many atheists mocked the Gospel as so-called Christians remained silent while churches were bombed, busses were bombed, and peaceful demonstrators were set upon by police dogs and high powered fire hoses.
Why was it so difficult for the church to admit legal segregation was wrong? Can a testimony lost ever be regained?
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans