Christmas 2020: The Light of the World

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Christmas – The Light of the World

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light all the candles: We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine His light of hope, life, glory, and joy for the whole world to see.

Read Scripture: Matthew 1:18-21

Read: God loves the world so much that He wrapped up in swaddling clothes the best gift we will ever receive: His Son Jesus, who lived and died and rose again to save us from our sins. As we exchange gifts on Christmas, and on every day the whole year through, we remember that we love because He first loved us. We walk by faith because He shines His radiant light over the whole world and straight into our lives.

Pray: Everlasting God, we receive the gift of your Son who lights up the world. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

Image by Terri Cnudde from Pixabay

Advent 4: The Light of Joy

Photo by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Week 4 – The Light of Joy
December 20-23

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light four candles: We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope, life, glory, and joy.

Read Scripture: Luke 2:8-21
(Shorter reading: Luke 2:8-14)

Read: On an ordinary dark night at work, the shepherds huddled around a fire for warmth while the sheep clustered together, some bleating and shuffling their hooves to kick up nibbles of grass, others leaning in for support as they slept on their feet. Into this ordinary every night darkness, angels burst forth to explode the inky-black sky, heralding the light of extraordinary joy: the long-awaited Messiah’s birth.

Pray: With the angels we sing–Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. Messiah Jesus, in your name we joyfully wait and pray. Amen.

design by @thecreativeresource

Monday 1 John 1:5-7 What do you do to keep walking forward in the light?
Tuesday 1 John 2:9-10 How are light and love, darkness and hate, parallel? Who do you need to forgive so that you can walk in the light of love?
Wednesday Revelation 22:5 How do you imagine eternity with God in heaven?

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

“…God dances amidst the common…. The angel came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason.” –Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven

Image by svetlanabar from Pixabay

Cover image by Jan Zatloukal from Pixabay

Advent 3: The Light of Glory

image by Pexels from Pixabay

Week 3 – The Light of Glory 
December 13-19

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light three candles (two purple, one pink): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope, life, and glory.

Read Scripture: John 1:6-18
(Shorter reading: John 1:9-14)

Read: The sun rises every day without fail even when clouds block our view of its brilliance. The moon and stars sparkle through each night while we sleep. God dazzles His light on the whole world, and those who open their eyes to see His glory receive a startling new identity-gift: we become His very own beloved children.

Pray: God of glory, illuminate our eyes to read your living Word filled with grace and truth. In the name of Jesus, we wait and pray. Amen.

design by @thecreativeresource

Monday Matthew 17:1-8 What does Jesus want to say to you?
Tuesday Acts 9:1-5 Has God ever unexpectedly redirected your plans? 
Wednesday 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 Ask God to shine His light in your heart.
Thursday Ephesians 5:8-9 What does it mean to you personally to be a child of light? How will you shine goodness on others today?
Friday James 1:17 What good and perfect gifts has the Father of the heavenly lights given you?
Saturday 1 Peter 2:9 How does knowing that you are chosen and called by God add beauty and meaning to your life?

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
–Jan Richardson, “How the Light Comes,” The Cure for Sorrow

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Cover image by Jan Zatloukal from Pixabay

Advent 2: The Light of Life

tree of life by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay

Week 2 – The Light of Life
December 6-12

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light two candles (purple): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope and life.

Read Scripture: John 1:1-5

Read: In the beginning, God spoke into the vast emptiness to create life. From His infinite imagination, God spoke into being amoebas and armadillos, light and life and love, mountains and mollusks, rhinos and roses, wombats and waterfalls, and so much more—declaring each “good.” To us—all of us, human beings created in His image—He spoke the blessing “very good.”

Pray: Creator God, thank you for the gift of life on earth and life eternal. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

design by @thecreativeresource

Monday Psalm 27:1 How does the light of the Lord keep you from being afraid?
Tuesday Psalm 43:3 What help do we receive from light? How does God care for us through His light? 
Wednesday Psalm 97:11 When have you experienced feeling light and joy as a result of your decisions to follow Jesus?
Thursday Psalm 119:105 How can the Bible make clear your next step?
Friday Psalm 139:11-12 When have you felt like hiding from God? How did He respond?
Saturday Proverbs 20:27 Do you tend to trust or doubt your intuition? How might this verse help you receive it as a gift from God?

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

“God redeems darkness. He wants to infiltrate the shadows the hardest life has to offer and bring light beyond our comprehension.” –Tsh Oxenreider, Shadow & Light: a Journey into Advent

Image by My pictures are CC0. When doing composings: from Pixabay

Waiting: Advent 2020

The global experiences of this unusual year have changed the way we express ourselves. So much so that the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary couldn’t choose just one Word of the Year for 2020. While pandemic and Coronavirus are obvious, look at others that rose to the top: Blursday (the blurry sameness of everyday); doomscrolling (reading online all the opinions/facts); social distancing and flatten the curve and the fun new ways we use remote to describe work and education.

I’ll add another: waiting.

Waiting has become one of the names of this pandemic game. We’re waiting for normal, for justice, for civility, for people to consider and honor the common good, for election results, for a vaccine, for schools and businesses to reopen safely, for empathy, for the time when we can venture forth without anxiety, for hugs, for a new year, for hope.

We’re waiting. Oh Lord, we’re waiting, and we’re fatigued from all the waiting. We don’t like waiting in general and this year we are certainly learning that lesson…among others.

Advent, which comes from the Latin word for “coming,” is the Church season in which we wait for God. We celebrate God coming to dwell among us in Jesus. We open our hearts to how God wants to come into our lives now. And we anticipate with hope our everlasting life with God.

I write about many things on this blog, stories featuring my family and friends and pets, creativity, travel, vegetarian recipes…all ways I experience everyday epiphanies regarding the miracles smack in front of my distractable eyes. This month I’ll focus on Advent, and I hope you’ll join me for the journey. On Sundays I’ll post daily readings; the readings for Sundays in particular are meant to accompany the lighting of candles in an Advent wreath. If that’s not part of your tradition, you can light any candle and follow along.

If you’d like to see the beautifully designed Advent devotional guide by The Creative Resource, click here.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.Psalm 139:11-12

Week 1 – The Light of Hope
November 29- December 5

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light the first candle (middle purple candle): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope.

Read Scripture: Luke 1:67-80
(Shorter reading: Luke 1:67-70, 76-79)

Read: Praise be to our God, who sent prophets to remind us of His covenant of love, sustain our hope, and prepare the way for our coming Lord who will shine His light in our darkness and guide our feet to the path of peace.

Pray: Most High God, thank you for the gift of people who remind us of your great love. With hope we anticipate the birth of your Son, in whose name we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday Genesis 1:3-4 What does it mean to you personally that God has the power to create light out of darkness? 
Tuesday Exodus 3:2-3 When have you seen God’s light appear in surprising places?
Wednesday Exodus 13:21-22 How does God’s light go in front of you?
Thursday 1 Kings 18:33-39 What big or small miracles have you witnessed that help you know that the Lord is God?
Friday 2 Chronicles 13:10-11 How might lighting a candle in your home remind you to honor and serve the Lord?
Saturday Psalm 19:8 How do God’s commands give light to our eyes? What does that mean for you today?

Cover image by Jan Zatloukal from Pixabay

All Saints’ Day

Still trembling with fear, I grabbed Mom’s arm in wobbly desperation. “Do Not Ever let me ride that again!” I gasped. “Even when I’m a teenager and I come here with my friends, tell them I Am Not allowed to ride that ride!”

My mom took me and my sister to Disneyland, an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, and we went on the Haunted Mansion ride. About half-way through, our chair spun suddenly toward a mirror where I could see ghosts, invisible when I looked at myself but visibly sitting on my lap when I glanced in the mirror. Gah, ghosts? Only nine years old, I had the first panic attack of my life.

I’m not a Halloween person. As a kid, I liked costume parades and school carnivals, pumpkin carving and candy, all the candy, until that one year I learned that ALL the candy isn’t a grand idea. As a parent, I enjoyed helping my kids choose costumes, the kid-cute creativity and the fun of families gathering together for dinner and a trick-or-treat stroll of the neighborhood.

I understood early that I am sensitive, and scary + gore = more terror than I can handle. I eventually succumbed to sleep-over peer pressure and watched a few horror movies with friends, but that came to a hard stop when Nightmare on Elm Street gave me actual nightmares for months.

However, Halloween will always fall on October 31 and All Saints’ Day will always fall on November 1. I didn’t grow up within a tradition that observed All Saints’ Day, but it took on new meaning when my dad died on my son’s first birthday.

The Church has a centuries-old tradition of setting aside this day to remember those who have gone before us from life into death to form the “great cloud of witnesses” as mentioned in Hebrews: …since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)

Although I have lightly pussy-footed with a little bit of running, that race image has never worked for me. I’m kind of a wuss, and perseverance implies a hard-edged discipline I don’t possess. Joy motivates me far more…and so it truly helps to remember that I, that we, have a jam-packed cheering section hootin’ and hollerin’ for us as we look to Jesus for direction on how to live each day.

I still don’t have a specific All Saints’ Day observance. Unlike Dia de Muertos, for me this day doesn’t come prepackaged with decorations, traditions, and treats. Some years it slips my notice altogether. But last night we had the quietest Halloween ever, take-out burritos (boo-ritos!) and a suspenseful (not gory) movie and not a single trick-or-treater at the door. Our kids having grown older and this pandemic year combined to cancel one more opportunity to gather.

Which made me more grateful for the timely encouragement I found this morning when I wasn’t even looking for it, a prayer and a hymn, the great cloud of witnesses putting resources in my hands to remind me that, though we may feel alone in these strange days, we are never truly alone.

By the way, my family celebrated my 40th birthday at Disneyland and, as the Haunted Mansion was also 40 years old, I received skip-the-line passes for the ride. Despite countless trips to Disneyland, I had, in fact, not ridden the ride since that first time. I put it off all day until finally, determined to conquer my fear, my young son held my hand and rode it with me.

Renovated to include characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas movie, we giggled throughout our short trip. The ride still has the ghost-infested mirrors, but they no longer scared me. At the end, my son looked at me with concern on his face: What about that was so scary for you? I understood his incredulity; the ride isn’t scary.

It scared me once, though, when it showed me that there might be more going on in our experience of this life than we can observe with our two eyes. Still, I’ll take a heavenly cheering section over ghosts any day.

Prayer: Lord, your saints come from every nation and every tribe. Such is the beauty of your kingdom, where every race and people are honored and recognized as being made in your image. Help us live lives of peace and reconciliation that pay homage to the diversity of your great cloud of witnesses. Amen. (from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro)

Hymn:
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.

Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last
(Be Still, My Soul!, music by Jean Sibelius, words adapted from Psalm 46 by Kathrina von Schlegel)

Cover Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay

30 Day Gospels: An Invitation

If [the things Jesus did] were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books. –John 21:25, The Message

Which book has been most influential in your life?

I’m a BIG reader and I can recommend any number of books, classic and contemporary, fiction and non. But for me, the “most influential” is, was, and always will be: The Bible.

The Bible, Genesis through Revelation, has been my source book, telling me who I am, who God is, and how I fit in this world. It has been my go-to for wisdom, not “What should I do today?” but “How should I live?”

The Bible has been my story book, my children’s story book, my history book, text book, and reference book. At times I have neglected the Bible – frustrated with life, God, the Church, or just plain too busy. Other times, I’ve taken my fight with God to Scripture and found consolation there among biblical characters who also wrestled with God (the Psalms especially are great for that, as well as for offering comfort).

I have no idea how many times I’ve read the Bible. I’ve read it cover-to-cover and I’ve read it in the chronological order in which it was written. My favorite way to read it is to follow a reading plan that always keeps me on track even when I skip a day or five.

I’ve been reading and studying the Bible for most of my life and, truth be told, sometimes I get bored. I know the stories by heart and I can tell you what many of them mean to me.

So sometimes I need a nudge to keep reading. Maybe you do, too.

This year I set a goal to interact with different versions of the Bible to shake up my reading and potentially bring new things to light. During Lent 2020 I hung out in The Jesus Storybook Bible, my very favorite children’s Bible which I recommend to more adults than children for its gorgeous way with words and art.

During September I read from The Message as I followed author Annie F. Downs‘s plan to read the Gospels in 30 days. Yes, I skipped a few days because life has its own plans. Some days I read simply because I had committed to do so.

And other days words jumped off the page at me. Like in Matthew 2:11 when it says that the scholars from the East, upon seeing baby Jesus in Mary’s arms, were “overcome.” I’m so familiar with Jesus that I forget to be overcome by Him. I long to be overcome, not by the day’s realities but by Jesus’ loving presence.

Or in these crazy-chaotic pandemic-political times, when it’s so easy to feel depleted and to dread each day’s news, I’m thrilled to read that “Jesus was quick to comfort them. ‘Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid'” (Matthew 14:27) and that “…your sadness will develop into gladness” (John 16:20). Right about now I can use a hefty dose of courage and the hope that gladness will be on its way.

So I’ll be reading through the Gospels again in October and I invite you to join me. I haven’t yet decided which version of the Bible I’ll read (what’s your favorite, or how do you shake things up?). I expect, like always, some days will be dull and other days new word, phrases, or images will leap off the page…because God’s Word is alive with insight, and oh how I need the presence of Jesus during this unusual time in which we live.

from Annie F. Downs

9 Prayers to Squelch Pandemic Panic (aka, anti-anxiety prayers)

A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place, I knew I needed a different kind of spiritual discipline, one that focused my creative writing on Scripture God could use to lift me out of the sudden onset of anxiety. I began searching God’s Word for promises related to anxiety and fear, and what I needed most, peace.

From there, I wrote short prayers following the tradition of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during King Henry VIII’s reign of England and author of the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: an address for God, a characteristic of God, a request, an intention, and the name of Jesus. While I used a traditional form, I also personalized it in ways Cranmer couldn’t have imagined.

Listening to God through the Bible and then listening for what my heart wanted to say in response has helped me channel my energy into making something meaningful. Praying these prayers resets my anxious mind, centering my focus on God’s presence here and now. I pray they’ll also share some peace with you. Please feel free to share with friends who might want to pray along with you!

Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

My Rescuer, always listening and quick to respond, rescue me now. Lift me up to new, safe heights so that I may bellow your praises. In the name of Jesus Christ I sing, Amen.

Psalm 94:18-19 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Loving God, though I fall, you never fail; you extend comfort when anxiety topples me. I’m slipping, Lord! Catch me in your strong arms of love and hold me so tight that, instead of fear, I am squeezed by joy in your presence. In Jesus’ name I squeak love, Amen.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Creator God, who sculpted my heart and knows me inside and out, excavate the junk I can’t, or won’t, admit. Take my hand and direct me in better ways to better days with you by my side forever. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Lord my God, you who have been with me since before the beginning and will be for eternity, dress me in your strength, your courage, your nearness, so that I am prepared for the adventures of brave living each day. In the name of your Son who is the Way, Amen.

Matthew 6:25-27, 32b-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …your heavenly Father knows [what] you need… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Provider God, who feeds the birds and cares even more for me, give me what I need for body and soul. Set my eyes so firmly on your kingdom and plant my feet so firmly in today that my faith in you motivates my every step. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

John 14:1, 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faithful Savior with arms full of offered peace, sprinkle your sparkly glitter dust of peace over the messy glue of my heart to create a down-to-earth and still frame-worthy work of art entitled “Confident Belief.” In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Hey Jesus, my Comforter, the world is in trouble and I feel stuck in the world. Wrap me up in your peace and show me how you are overcoming so that I can move forward into this braveheart life. I pray in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ, my near and gentle Lord, fill my mouth with rejoicing and drench me in peace so that your gentleness, rather than my anxiety, becomes evident to everyone I meet. I rejoice in you, Jesus, Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Servant Savior, who loved us fully by showing us how to be humble, I am tossing all my anxiety at you like a sack of dirty laundry–I don’t want it, please take it. Thank you for gently loving me, for cleaning up my messes and holding me tight. Humbly your child prays to you, Jesus, Amen.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

Finding Faith in the Storm

I woke suddenly to the boom of an explosion, my heart-thud echoing the blast. In my sleepy-confused state, I lifted my eye mask and glanced around the bedroom cast in early gray light. Had it been fireworks? A blown transformer?

No, there it was again: thunder crack so loud I shook; seconds later, a charge of lightning zapped the gloom.

In the fourteen years I’ve lived in Northern California I can’t recall a single summer thunder-and-lightning storm. After days of oppressive, record-breaking heat, rain felt refreshing. Unusual heat, followed by an unusual storm; unusual, like most of 2020.

Which got me thinking about other storms, like this one:

23 As they sailed, [Jesus] fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:23-25).

The disciples were in the boat because Jesus asked them to go to the other side of the lake. They sailed while He fell peacefully to sleep. Jesus must have been exhausted, because he stayed asleep during their storm-battle. Experienced fishermen among them, it must have been exceedingly bad for them to panic as they did.

They woke Jesus. I would have, too, wouldn’t you?

As I reread this story, I realized I’ve been reading it wrong since forever. Jesus rebuked the wind and water; He didn’t rebuke the disciples. I’ve read His question, “Where is your faith?” as a rebuke, but that’s not what it says.

Jesus calmed the storm, and then turned to calm His amazed disciples, to remind them that He deserved their faith.

2020 has hurled all manner of storms our way: a global pandemic; unemployment and/or financial insecurity; political and racial tension; distance learning; the cancellation of oh-so-many celebrations and traditions; isolation and loneliness; mental health turmoil; frustrated and angry people at every turn; devastating fires in Australia, Colorado, and again in California (the NorCal fires resulted from those lightning strikes); I could go on, and you’d have your own storms to add to the list.

We all recognize that 2020 has been a whopper of a year, and I don’t mean delicious. But the storm last weekend reminded me of the storm in Scripture that reminds all Jesus’ followers that Jesus is with us in the storm. We can have faith. No matter what, He is here.

Not all storms are bad, some might even be refreshing, and especially if they send you running to Jesus. Jesus will never rebuke us for running to Him during our storms. He won’t be angry when we “wake” Him, and He never wakes up sleepy-confused. He knows the score: God always wins, even when the game looks like an upset from our perspective.

Take heart, friends. Jesus is with you, a calming presence in every storm. Put your faith in Him.

Cover image: Craig Mole Photography, sfgate.com

Who Will Be the Good Samaritan?

When someone tells you they’ve been hurt, you wouldn’t tell them they haven’t.
When someone shares with you about their experience, you wouldn’t tell them that can’t have happened because you have a different experience.

When a whole group of people tell us they’ve been hurt, a compassionate response involves listening.
When a whole group of people share their experience, a compassionate response involves trying to understand how and why that happened to them.

An appropriate, compassionate response does not include setting about to prove them wrong, declaring that that can’t possibly have happened because it hasn’t happened to you. They must be wrong, right?, because what they’ve described seems so wrong.

If I tell you I’ve been hurt, and you tell me I haven’t; if I describe my experience and you tell me I’ve misunderstood what happened to me; if you choose not to listen and try to understand, not to bear my pain with me but instead to defend those who have hurt me, I will not trust you. In aligning yourself with the one who hurt me, you have added insult to injury. I will call it like it is: you have heaped additional abuse upon the abused.

And if you don’t listen but instead want to tell me to buck up, that God loves me and God will take care of me if I just trust Him more, I won’t believe you. Because we know of God’s love through the ways we are loved, and you haven’t loved me.

We cannot love well unless we listen well. And once we’ve listened, we have to be willing to do something. We have to be willing to lean in and shoulder the pain with those who’ve been hurt. It’s time to stop defending the abusers, even though they may be us.

Jesus told a story about a traveler who got robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the roadside (Luke 10:25-37). One after the other, some VIP’s passed by on the other side of the road. Jesus doesn’t explain their excuses but it’s not a big stretch to imagine that it might have had to do with ceremonial cleanliness–they couldn’t afford to get blood on their blouses since that would mean additional time to ritually purify themselves before they could get on with their very important business, ironically (or not) of helping others come close to God.

The story’s good guy is the least likely of the passersby to stop and help. Samaritans and Jews didn’t mix. The Samaritan should not have wanted to help a Jew, and the Jew might not have accepted the help if he had been aware enough to have an opinion. At this point, though, it’s pretty clear he needs help or he will die.

This Samaritan allowed himself to be moved by pity for their shared humanity. He got on his knees in the dirt to do roadside triage. He examined and then treated the man’s wounds, cleaning and anointing them to prevent infection. He put the man on his donkey and took him to an inn. He spent the night caring for this stranger when surely he should have been on his way to his intended destination. When he had to move on, he made sure the injured man would have continued care; he paid the expenses and promised to check back in and cover any overages.

The Samaritan went so far out of his way and then some. Clearly the story tells us that he didn’t have to. He could have kept on going like the others. Jesus’ listeners wouldn’t have expected the Samaritan, of all people, to stop. Yet the Samaritan who showed mercy has become the Ultimate Example of what it looks like to love your neighbor.

You know, the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. The two basics of living in God’s kingdom, the non-optionals above all others for what it looks like to follow a God who defines Himself as Love (1 John 4:8).

Our brothers and sisters of color have exhausted themselves trying to get us to hear and understand that they’ve been hurt. They’ve been beaten and left for dead. And so many of us have crossed the street, looked away, held our noses to avoid the stench of blood. We’ve said we’re too busy, the problems are too big and they’re not our problems. We’ve said that there aren’t any problems, that they’ve misunderstood their own experience, that they’re bringing the problems on themselves. It has nothing to do with us. We’re good people, and we’re not racists. Obviously we would never beat someone up.

Obviously. However, if we haven’t been part of the solution, we have been part of the problem. We are complicit if we walk on by with our heads full of excuses held high. Getting involved will be costly. So I ask: who will be the good Samaritan? And what will that look like today?

I’m listening.

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay