An Apology for a Former President

New York Times Columnist, Nicholas Kristof, recently offered an apology on behalf of the media to former President Jimmy Carter. Carter only served one term as president. It was a time of rapid inflation. World oil production was cut back because of the Iranian revolution leading to shortages, long lines at gas stations and high prices. The media never really took to Carter. His Southern background wasn’t a mix for Washington insiders. Jokes about peanuts were frequent. His presidency was covered by the media in a way that indicated that the Georgia peanut farmer, belonged back home on the farm.

But life for Carter since the presidency, has been an amazing story of living life with significance and meaning. Nicholas Kristof ended his July 9, 2015 apology to Jimmy Carter saying, “We in the snooty media world owe him an apology.” He pointed out that this former president has improved the lives of more people, in more places in the world than any other recent president.

From the time I first heard that former President Jimmy Carter led a Bible Study at his home church in Plains Georgia, it was on my bucket list of things to do. Which is how I found myself in that little church on a Sunday morning in June of 2012. Then, age 87, the former president was just back from monitoring the election in Egypt.

I discovered that Jimmy Carter exudes joy when he shares his deep faith. The day I visited, his Bible Study was based on the book of Matthew, that section where Jesus’s disciples ask him how to pray. Jesus in turn taught his disciples the prayer we know of as the Lord’s Prayer. Carter said he believes that when Jesus told his disciples to pray the words. “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus was asking them and us to envision the world God wants for us. “It certainly,” he said, “would be one of peace.” Then he told us what he has come to believe, that “peace cannot come apart from forgiveness.”

Carter said that the years of his presidency were those when he prayed most fervently with the most emotion because he felt an obligation to the American people to not make a mistake. Given political realities, we could argue about the success of his presidency, but I’ve always admired the way he chose to live after he left the white house.

Instead of sitting back and resting on some quite significant accomplishments in life, he decided to take that segment of life left to him and do whatever he could to make the world a better place. He created the Carter Center with it’s mission to “Wage peace, fight disease, and build hope.” He has frequently been invited to monitor elections around the world, to insure the integrity of those elections

He left us the day I visited with these words, “Our prayer should be to find out where we fit into the universe.” I think that last piece is one that is a lifetime quest. Where does God want us to fit into the universe? How does God want us to serve in this stage of each of our lives?

Another Week, Another Shooting

Another week, another shooting. And we pretend that guns have nothing to do with the violence we see played out week by week. If it isn’t a mass shooting in a church, a theater, a military base or a gang shooting on the streets of our cities, it’s a murder of family members. We glorify violence as a society. Mass killers receive a notoriety they have not had previously in their lives.

Sandy Hook School, Aurora Movie Theater, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Mother Emmanuel AME church . . . the names roll off our tongues. Tonight’s shooting in a Louisiana theater will find it’s place in the long litany of names. It has been said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The source of this quote is in question, but its truth lives in our newspapers. No matter how many people are killed, no matter how great a percentage of the population wants stricter gun control laws, there is a force more intent on profits than people. We will hear the platitudes again, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” So, week after week, we live with another tragedy.

Stephen Vincent Benet short story, “The Devil and Daniel Webster” is a tale of a man who sold his soul to the devil for material gain. I wonder if we as a people haven’t been selling our souls to keep the status quo. If not selling our souls, we’ve been worshiping the false gods of profit, fear and guns. Our law makers live in fear of the gun lobby and resist any changes and improvements to our laws. The NRA controls the congress while most of us wait for something to change. Laws may not have kept a gun out the hands of today’s shooter, but that isn’t true of others. Stolen guns are used every day to kill and to main. Yet, even the most sensible protection which would only allow the person who purchased the gun to use it, can’t get passed.

I grew up around guns with both a father and brother who hunted. Today’s guns are not like those of my childhood. Today’s reasons for owning guns are not either. The gun culture would tell us we are safer for our guns, but have trouble explaining how an Idaho toddler could find a gun in his mothers purse and kill her during a trip to a store.

I am tired of the clichés. I am tired of the deaths. I am tired of good people being killed by misguided youths, gang initiations, vengeful men and troubled young people . . . all of which are aided by too easy access to guns. I am tired of excuses. I’m tired of our nations lawmakers living in such fear of the gun lobby, they refuse to act. I’m tired of the pretense of sorrow, the false outrage by Washington, when next week, we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing, all the while preparing notes for the next heartache. The combination of Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for violent movies and our nation’s easy access to guns, makes another tragedy inevitable and soon.

Jeremiah – “Oh That I Might Weep Day and Night”

Today is another of those moments when we try to make sense of violence. We wonder if Mohammad Youusef Abdulazeez’s act in Chattanooga at two military recruiting sites was motivated by a mind twisted by radical Islam. There is no logic to the shootings which are too prevalent in our nation. I don’t understand how Dylann Roof could convince himself that walking into a prayer service at a church and slaughtering people is somehow noble or just. Equally, I don’t comprehend how Andreas Lubitz. a person with personal problems could take it upon himself to fly a plane into a mountain as happened a few months back on a Germanwings plane. There are certain moments in life that can only be defined as evil. Evil rooted in the mind and heart of a person through illness or subverted truth.

The question of evil is one that we will always wrestle with. We know that we live in a fallen world . . . A world where sin and evil exist. At times, when we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that evil exists even in us. We may never understand what caused the anger, rage and violence of yesterday’s Chattanooga attacks, but we do know ourselves and our own hearts.

Still, we wonder why God allows the kind of evil which targets the innocent. Why doesn’t God stop evil in its tracks? Is God indifferent? Does God care? Where is the will of God is all of this? Jeremiah was a person who often struggled with that question. He lived in the sixth century before the birth of Christ. In 587 BCE Jerusalem was overthrown. Much of the population was taken to Babylon where they would serve as slaves. Jeremiah had spent his life trying to prevent that catastrophic event. When he fails, Jeremiah’s heart breaks for his beloved city. He cries out to God with these words, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? Oh that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Jeremiah 8:22-9:1 NRSV) He cries out to God in his anguish, his pain and his sorrow. His tears of sorrow are a prayer, bewailing a world gone mad.

Evil spills into the lives of innocents, ripping hearts in two. This is never something God wants to have happen. Call it free will. Call it anything but God’s will. God’s desire has always been to save all of creation. For that reason, Jesus was sent into the world. While there are moments when evil seems to rule, God’s ultimate will, will be done. That ultimate will and purpose of God cannot be defeated. Nothing can happen which finally defeats God’s purpose and plan for each of our lives. Evil will have its moment, God will ultimately overcome, for God is greater than evil.

Today we grieve again, for lost lives and broken hearts. We pray to learn something from our losses, to grow as a nation and as a people. We pray to open our hearts to God’s wisdom and truth. We pray that troubled souls will find peace in God. A peace that turns hearts and minds from darkness to light.

Carried by Grace

IMG_4049“When you make the big decision – Everything else falls into place.” It was the message I needed to hear that Sunday morning, as a young woman, trying to not only make sense of where I was in life, but also of that long and stubborn call into ministry. I had asked myself, “How could I, who had failed in marriage, with children split up through a custody battle and little income ever go to seminary.” I wondered how I could afford the cost, survive with even less to live on, and do right by my children. Where would I find the time and energy?

Months later, I visited the seminary I’d applied to and was admitted. Still I didn’t have any sense of how I could possibly survive. Back in the shipping department where I was working at the time, the words of that earlier sermon played over in my head, almost as if I were hearing it for the first time. “When you make the big decision – Everything else falls into place.” I thought through my options and what I had thought to be an insurmountable obstacle was seen for the small hill it really was.

As I took the first steps, God opened new doors. I learned that, when God is calling to you, and you make the big decision, the resources of God’s kingdom open. With my student loan gone and almost out of money, I walked into the church one morning and was asked, “Are you still looking for a part time job?” My search the previous months has been fruitless. We were in a recession and no one was interested in a person with my seminary schedule to work around. I had no idea the person who asked, even knew I was looking for work. The job offered that morning was one that fit into my life easily. I worked on my own schedule. I was free to come and go from the office whenever I wanted. The job was close by, so my children could walk over when they needed to see mom. Days later, I learned I had been given a substantial scholarship which would renew each semester until I graduated.

In the summer months, when the student loans were gone, my church supplemented my income. Along the way were gift cards signed, “From a friend.” Help with Christmas gifts and assorted other emergencies. Two years into seminary, I was appointed to a church on a part time basis. My memories of that time, are of being carried by grace. People have often asked how I could have gone to seminary with my large family, I usually reply, “On grace.” I kept finding people who chose to be gracious to me and to my family. I learned then, how God warms a human heart to compassion. God had certainly warmed a lot of people, to my need.

When God puts a dream in your heart, God already knows how you’re going to be able to follow it. Our response is to simply take the first steps and see how and where God leads.