Pondering the Paradox

What are we to make of the dynamic tensions of life? The either/ors? The gains/losses? Few, if any, of us are not thankful to turn the page on 2020. Stark dichotomies, paradoxes, winners and losers that mark divisions and a binary way of looking at the world in the ways we have looked at the world in 2020 completely dismiss God’s work in it all. God created the oneness of all life, the interdependencies, the drive to be family and community, the call upon every creature to honor creation and all life.

We are children of the One who says, “ I am the beginning and the end, the first and the last….” The encompassing work of God’s love holds us pole to pole, year to year, through all beginnings and endings, all gains and losses. God holds all, even those things we try to use for purposes of self congratulation and adulation as if human accomplishment matters one whit. Power is illusive; it is only valuable when it benefits someone who has none. Voice is empty unless it champions the least among us. Empathy, sympathy, humility, authenticity, joy and love are the bridge that make life’s losses, life’s hurts, life’s grief even bearable.

The divisions of 2020 have become tiring and trite. Anybody can sling mud. Anybody can create chaos. Anybody can sow animus. Where are the champions of goodness? Who is leading us to green pastures? I am weary of the ugliness of 2020 both the politics and the way our country has responded to Covid. I remain confused that something as innocuous as public health could become a lightning rod of political tribalism. So much so that a third of a million Americans are dead.

I remember as a child being sad for the loss of the old year and a little anxious about the unknown of a new year. I remember asking Mother to embroider the number of the old year on my pillowcase, so I would not forget it. I don’t want to forget 2020. I think this has been a year when so many of our flaws as a nation have been exposed. It will remain to be seen if we would rather live the disruption stirred in 2020, or if we will rise up to meet our challenges with renewed vigor and hope. God’s promise is sitting right in front of us. There is so much work for the Spirit to do in our hearts. 2021 is ahead and waiting to be written. I pray the voices of hate and division will be quieted in the disarming wave of love we will bring through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us love one another, for love is of God. From the losses, let us find the gain. From the hurt, let us find the healing. From the darkness, let us find the Light that has been born among us. Amen.

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Wanting. Waiting.

We say we want peace.
Yet we stockpile weapons,
Guns. bullets.
We build walls and harbor hate.
Suspicions and thirst for power rob peace.

We say we want joy.
Yet we resist forgiveness
Close our hearts
Wallow in self-pity
Hold onto old hurts.
We are full up with no room for joy.

We say we want hope.
Yet trust is hard to come by
Doubt and conspiracy are easy
Questions and truth complicate
We want easy and simple
Hope seems illusive when life gets hard.

We say we want love
Yet we are fearful and afraid
Isolation of the heart looms large
We are protective, locked in, closed up
Where will love enter if vulnerability is lost?

Four candles shine light on expectations.
Christ come. We wait for you. Only you can save us.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

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5 Days Out

As I checked out at the Food Lion today, a young Black woman checking out my order, said to me, “ I like your button.” I was wearing my “Women Vote” button. I have had 500 of them printed since 2018. Anytime anybody comments on it, I give them one… or 10. Some of my family hate it; I do it anyhow. The young woman said to me that her son questioned why she wanted to vote. Her child told her, “Only old people vote.” She told him that he was wrong; voting was especially important this year. I checked out with a hopefulness that felt good. We shared a hopeful moment that this election in 5 days could change the course and heal the harms of the last 4 years.

Genesis 1 tells the story of creation. God swept over the waters. God separated the light from the dark. God breathed creation into being and that includes us humans. Out of dust we are created because God breathed. Only once a year we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. How is such hubris born of dust? Oh, yes, the Garden. Blind obedience versus free will. Guess which one God gave us? And look at what we do with it.

The most important election of my lifetime is going on right now. There are 5 days until Election Day 2020. I have watched presidents since Dwight Eisenhower. Some have been better than others. Some have been orators. Some strategists. Some have had extra-marital affairs. Some have walked to Sunday School to teach a class. None of them have been as publicly vile and despicable as our current president, Donald Trump.

We saw him for years as a brash, conceited, corrupt, bully, businessman and television reality personality. Even in 2016 when he was running for office, his character was indecent and incendiary as he mocked people and called them petty, ugly names, just like a schoolyard bully would. Then he got elected. I prayed he would grow into the gravitas of the Office of the Presidency. He has not.

In the book of Esther, there is a verse that says we are called to times like this for purpose and for good. There are 5 days for us to stand up for good, for decency, and for a return to empathy and compassion. We all need to VOTE. And we need to vote for change and a deep breath of peace and quiet. We need to VOTE for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and enough Democrats to change the Senate and hopefully break the logjam that has become our government. Perhaps over 4 years of relative calm, we will capture a new vision for this nation. Maybe hate can be tamped down and ugliness be put back in a box while we work on the real issues that plague us: Covid-19, health care, climate change, jobs, education, voting rights, racism, justice and inequity.

I know the dissing that will come with my posting this piece. The negative comments will be listed under my post or spoken behind my back. I also know that if this time passes without my speaking into this election situation, I will regret it forever. We have real problems that cannot be solved until our moral compass is reset. God change our hearts for good. Give us courage to do that which is honorable and right. Help us be not afraid to welcome and love one another. Lead us, Lord. Lead us into righteousness. May my will be your will. Amen.

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Finding 50 Righteous Men

“How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave is their sin. I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know,” so saith the Lord to Abraham in Genesis 18. The outcry must have been great, 24/7 on cable channels and in daily newspapers around the world. Sodom and Gomorrah must have been very depraved.

Licentiousness, injustice, violence, evil-doers are thriving, yet Abraham pleads for them. “Suppose there are 50 righteous men within the city; will you then sweep away the place?” The Lord replies, “If I can find at Sodom 50 righteous men in the city, then I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 50 righteous men; therein lies the conundrum.

A boy scout of a man runs for elective office; his text messages reveal an inner life hidden from the public persona we see. His opponent has gall; who knows what skeletons may inhabit his own past? A purportedly righteous man is president of a Christian college. Then, whoa! He gets caught with his pants down. Literally. Another man who, if we are honest, mocks, bullies, lies, sleeps around, pays porn stars off. And what do you know, he is the president. Complicity with what is obviously wrongdoing is a plague unto itself; and 214,000 plus people have met a swifter death than they needed to because there have not been 50 righteous men to impact outcomes. We wait for shoes to fall in a world of millipedes and the shoes drop by the dozens.

Sodom and Gomorrah fall. They might blame it on God, but it appears, the people of the city have such blindness to their sin, they collapse on their own hubris. The writer of Genesis says the people are so blind, they cannot find the way to the door that will let them out of the coming destruction. The account of the fallen city bears a message for us today. Are our eyes open enough to see what is going on; are our ears open enough to hear the message?

Righteousness is not the same as goodness; not the same as niceness. Righteousness means right relationship – with God, with our fellow humans, all with whom we share the planet, with all creation that includes the animals and the natural order. Can we be counted among the 50 who are righteous? Can we even ask ourselves, and give honest answers, without being defensive and self-protective. Will we find a way to confession and compassion? Or will we turn to pillars of salt and melt into the coming storms?  

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When Rancor Enters the House

My husband, Tom, writes editorials that appear in newspapers across the state. Recently he wrote two columns dealing with racial reckoning. I read them before they were published. I give thanks for the justice journey my husband is on. He is using his voice to speak truth into the racism that has permeated our nation since the 17th century.

Tom’s awakening, however, has been met in ugly ways that make their way into our house – through the mailbox and the inbox. I have read his mail. Not only is a lot of it sickening, it is saddening, grievously saddening. What are we coming to?

The responses he has gotten go far beyond healthy debate on issues. They are accusatory, demeaning, calling him a Marxist, calling him anti-American, accusing him of being a socialist. Usually people know us before they hate us. Pre-formed talking points amplify the hate-full echo chamber that surrounds so much that is going on today.

I can turn the radio off. I can turn television off. If I hear one more time….”you Democrats” or “you Republicans,” I will vomit. Party names have become slurs. There is no civility across the spectrum. But usually the ugliness is out there, not in here. It feels so dirty in the house.

So interesting to me that the pandemic has made me realize some things. First, how precious life is. Second, I can live a more sheltered, cloistered life and be perfectly fine with it. I have remembered prayer without ceasing and thanksgiving for all creation. I am happy with a small life. Then we open the mail.

One thing both Tom and I have decided. We will work for justice and equity. The naysayers, deniers, conspiracy theorists, and white supremacists will live with whatever consequences their words evoke. As for me and my house, we will love God and neighbor and speak truth with love. Bring it on, people. I will add your names to my growing prayer list. God save us all.

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September Silence: A time of prayer for the healing of the world.

September Silence: A Time of Prayer for the Healing of the World

O Lord, in your mercy, hear the prayers of our hearts. Your world groans and your people weep in the sickness, fear, and disruption that envelopes us. We need to come apart from the world in silence and prayer. We need silence as the season changes into a new flu season, more time indoors, and a political storm swirling around us that will not end even with an election. Have mercy on us, Lord. Teach us your ways in a time that feels in freefall. Catch us in your grace and love and heal us that we may find our way back to wholeness and You. Amen.

This invitation goes out to you, A Virtual Church, for a time of reflection and prayer as we live these stress filled days.  You are invited to find a favorite space, a chair outside in the chilly morning or a quiet spot inside. Light a candle, get your journal, your Bible, and art supplies if you would like to doodle your prayers. Set aside an hour for silent prayer and meditation. I am providing prompts for worship and prayer. God will find you wherever you are.

Morning Prayer

Early morning light breaks and day begins; You are still with us.  Praise for the morning. Praise for creation. May the praise and thanksgiving we offer you fill us with hope and assurance that all is well. In this time of silence, O Lord, hear our prayer. Amen

Read Psalm 66. What does it speak to you today?

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.


  • For the Church – its ministry and mission – its leadership, pastors and lay people – for the Bishops – for clarity in ways to be the church during this pandemic – for each of us to go deeper in the ways we love and serve God
  • For the State – For our governor and legislature and all who lead and make decisions on behalf of the people of North Carolina – for agencies of the state that are strained under the pressures of Covid – Health and Human Services and all who serve the people working with infrastructure and natural event problems
  • For the Nation – for our president and the congress that they will do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly on behalf of all the people of America – for judges and justices that their decisions will be thoughtful and fair – for all who serve in positions of power, that they may see themselves as public servants and serve to benefit the many and not only the few.
  • For students, teachers, principals, administrators of schools from pre-school to graduate school.
  • For the Media – for all who seek truth and transparency. Let fairness prevail. Let the rhetoric subside all around. Let our media remember lessons of kindness and truth telling.
  • For Health Care Workers and First Responders – prayers of strength and health for all who serve on front lines – Covid caregivers, fire fighters, EMC and Rescue workers
  • For all Essential Workers – Mail deliverers, grocery store workers, Amazon delivery people, Fed Ex, UPS, Pizza and other food delivery workers, for all the low wage workers in the stores that remain open
  • For all who suffer – for those with Covid 19, for families who worry and fear for their loved ones whom they cannot even visit – for all who have lost jobs and incomes –
  • For peace in our communities – for reckoning with racism in our country and state – for healing and forgiveness for all who have faced racism and hatred – a prayer for police and all who are in harm’s way today –
  • Add your intercession here:

In your great mercy, Almighty God, we offer our prayers, our hearts, and our time today to rest in you and find renewal. Give us guidance and boldness to find new life even in our weariness. Strengthen us through the power of your Holy Spirit that our hope will indeed be renewed. Lead us to still waters, to deeper faith, to good decisions, to greater charity, to lasting equity, and righteousness that comes from you. Thank you for the gift of life and breath this day.  Amen.  

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“Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”

                                                                                                Romans 12: 9 – 21

Great heaviness of heart is hard to escape some days. Edginess in conversations; great differences in interpretation of events around me feel unsettling and disturbing. Sometimes it feels that there are two realities. I remember when first studying post-modern culture that one of the characteristics of the new era would be that truth was no longer absolute. I wondered what that meant at the time; now we are living it in real time.

When I read the Romans text, which was the lectionary text for last week, it struck me that I need a little more of this kind of being in the world and a little less of all that is weighing me down. I am not helpless and I have nothing to fear. I am called to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. I am generally not a confrontational person. I don’t like conflict and will back down in great mea culpa most of the time. I don’t feel like doing that now.

Last night we hosted five college students, our granddaughter and four of her Tar Heel Voices friends. It was a glorious, uplifting night. Spaghetti and song go a long way to bring joy into a room. The UNC students talked about their school year and their hopes for moving forward. They talked about life and the way of the world. They recognize that they will be responsible for carrying forth a mantle of truth, goodness and joy into the world. It was a most restorative evening for Tom and me.

I am tired of being sick and tired of the way some things are being lived out and spoken into. I am tired of tirades by the left and the right on the radio and television. I hope for a steady middle ground on which to stand. I also have realized even more that I need time for quiet reflection and prayer. Prayer. Prayer. And more prayer. It’s the only way I can find peace in the storm.

Paul gives such good instruction for living in turmoil. This. This way of being in the world seems so simple, yet it calls for much intention to live in truth and authenticity, joy and mutual affection. From Rush to Rachel to Romans there is such difference. But I choose Romans as a way to return to civility and abundant life. When we lose civility in our daily discourse, does civilization even stand a chance? When truth is malleable, when dismissal of science and research and contortion of facts become normalized, could we be headed into another Dark Age?

My prayer going home last week was born out of the heavy heart seeking renewal. I share it with you in all its rawness:

O God, a heavy heart will not raise the world. A fearful heart will back away in silence and reticence. Quiet sometimes is not restorative; it is only escape. O God, renew my faith that all things work together for good, and that your power is still all encompassing. Renew my hope in a world filled with hopelessness, ugly rhetoric, division, and degradation of the values that have made of us a great people. Create a new heart in me, one that knows your peace and graciousness. Fill me so full of You that it pours out of me in every word and every gesture. Let me be gentle in the world, slow, thoughtful, fearless. Faith and hope that we as Americans can indeed build a more perfect union, faith and hope that we can live the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven are my prayer. Only You can save us from the out of control ego and the anger born of un-knowing. Be present in powerful ways and unexpected turns. Lead me, Lord; lead me in your righteousness. Amen.


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Forgotten History

A Reflection on Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” With this one line, a statement of history forgotten, great change comes to the land of Egypt. Joseph the dreamer is a hero in the Pharaoh’s household. Fat cows and skinny cows foretell famine that will come after times of plenty. The Egyptians are spared starvation and Joseph is reunited with his brothers who are also spared the hardship of famine.

Immediately after the king reveals his great un-knowing, fear overtakes him. Who are these foreign people and why are they here? We must do something before they “increase and join our enemies and fight against us. Let us set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor.” Oppression of the Hebrew people begins as a king, ignorant of history, grows fearful and dangerous. Is ignorance of history still dangerous?

We hear it said that history repeats itself; cycles of relative peace, then oppression or some other disruption. In the end a redeemer rises up to carry forth the story of God’s people. Forgotten history keeps us on the merry-go-round, always travelling in circles, never really going anywhere.

This text is the beginning of the Moses story, the great redemption story of the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses, the stutterer, is a most reluctant player. Yet Moses realizes his calling and Moses has not forgotten the history of God and God’s covenant with the beloved community.

Forgotten history plagues us today. We are fighting each other because we have forgotten our common bonds, as people of faith, as Americans, as citizens together whirling through space on a very small planet. We have selective amnesia about the good ole days. Not everybody lived in the plantation house. Not everybody had electricity, running water, food. Not everybody had a vote or a voice. We have selectively remembered those things that prop up our own narrative, our own hegemony.

Lest we forget, we fail God when we do not remember Joseph and all the dreamers of history. We grow smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker as we forget. There is much that is ugly in history. There is much that has oppressed and denied and short-changed and killed as we have forgotten who we are called to be. God’s economy does not short-change anyone.

Thankfully every day is a new beginning…”time to remember and move on..” as the song says. We stand on the shoulders of a checkered history in America. Now is the time, this is the moment when we are being called to remember history, the good, the bad, the ugly and to search our hearts and souls to learn a new way, the way of grace, and goodness, and Christ in the world. Forgotten history leads us to dark places. Look up. Look forward. Keep all that is good and learn from the bad. This is how redemption works. This is Resurrection.

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A Virtual Church


In the story of the Ascension of Jesus, there is  – at the beginning of the story of the Church – a final commission: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

I began my first retirement in 2011. I failed at it. Yet I knew even then there was more in me to do for God. More witness, more words, more love and more to say about God and a relationship with Christ. I decided on the name and concept of A Virtual Church. After I secured the domain name, I wrote about what a Virtual Church would be. This is what is I wrote on my website:

“If the Church is the Body of Christ for the world, then a Virtual Church is that body without bounds. A Virtual Church is a place of speaking hope, praying for healing, offering communion with others, reflecting on God’s Word in Scripture, and engaging in thoughtful reflection on the world. A Virtual Church is a voice for offering peace to anyone on the planet who needs word of encouragement and life.”

Who knew that the Great Pandemic of 2020 would make most all the church virtual? Who even now knows the opportunity of that to reach the far ends of the earth with the Good News of Christ who often tells us – Be not afraid, and offers us an invitation to follow in ways that bring peace and rest. The opportunity for witness in the world has never been greater, both in the work that is done online, and in the boots on the ground ways of serving our communities. Ours is not an ordinary time.

What we offer online is for a world bigger than our own congregations. As I have scrolled through all the worship offerings from churches around the world, I see a world soaked in the Good News. The biggest challenge is that our culture is so slick with media graphics, music, gloss and mirrors, the simple story of Jesus may get lost among the competing voices and stories. What is shared online needs to be creative, compelling and relevant. Our shared word needs to serious, and honest, plain, hopeful, life saving truth. I am not a great believer in the theatrics of worship, yet certain amounts of those production values can show tender care of the Word we share. Herein lies the conundrum of the Virtual Church.

I think of the Abbas and Ammas and their voices from the desert place that still impact the faith. I think of Julien in the anchorage writing words for the ages. In the end, glitz and gloss do not a faith make. The word goes out into a field ripe for harvest, a life giving word. Yet the wheat wants a hook and a show. When the word falls like gentle rain on the parched field, the harvest comes alive.

For me in my little Virtual Church, I pray to offer healing words and words of hope. For ears and hearts who seek wholeness and peace, God will find you beyond the clamor and noise. Do not be afraid still is the call of Jesus in the world. I pray that all the church will live into the opportunity that is ours today and the world will live the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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Stephen and the Mob

A Reflection on Acts 7: 55 – 60

Stephen’s rise to leadership begins much earlier in Acts. “Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” The Twelve are so busy tending the needs of widows and orphans and distributing food, the ministry of the word is being neglected. They choose Stephen and six others and lay hands on them to go and preach the word. And the gospel spreads rapidly.

There is unrest among the people. Economic disparity, mis-treatment of the most vulnerable populations and growing ideological and social “camps” are stressing the people. Sharing equally in the community of goods is problematic to some. (Wasn’t this written in the paper this morning?)

And there is one other new and annoying thing raising eyebrows. Stephen is bringing life and hope to a people outside the Temple. Stephen is a charismatic leader who, like Jesus, threatens the status quo. The opposition voices fear the change that will come in Stephen’s leadership. Change and fear of losing power stir angst and anger against Stephen and a mob is born.

Interesting that the mob against Stephen is like the mob against Jesus who end up shouting, “Crucify him. Crucify him.” Seems that mobs forget reason and civility and the seeking of mutual ideals just to get their own way. “Where have all the good guys gone? Long time passing. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” Thank you PPM for an eternal question: When will we ever learn?  

Mobs are roaming downtown Raleigh this week. Para-military units loaded with weapons and hate symbols protest a government that is working to balance public health and the economy. Never mind that. Mob mentality has no room for hearing both sides. It’s my way or the highway. If the virus doesn’t keep us in, fear of protesters with assault weapons surely will. Seems a little like defeating their own purpose.

In New Hanover County, Wilmington area, just two hours from here, a mob gathered on the front porch of a young Black high school senior demanding entrance to his home for questioning about girl who was missing. The officer present jammed his foot in the door so that the young man could not close it against the mob. Then someone noticed the sign in the young man’s front yard. It had his picture on it and a big “Congratulations, Senior!” Someone realized they were intimidating the wrong Black man. And someone else called the police.

Life is going to change in lots of ways as we live and die our way through this pandemic. And there are huge swaths of life that need to change if we will ever be healed. Racism has to be called out as the evil it is. Hate needs to be shunned and hate groups need to be shamed into non-existence. We don’t need more martyrs like Stephen. We need strong, ordinary people who will stand up to the pot-stirrers and hate-mongers and say, not on my watch.

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