Charleston: Beyond Black and White

Today at work I asked a young colleague — I’ll call her Marie — what she thought about  the events in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Charleston? The nine people killed? My sister won’t even turn on the television. I am afraid to walk to my car after work. We have this at home, too,” she said.

Home, for Marie, is Romania, a country where by various reports more than 5,000 Orthodox priests were imprisoned, 400 Eastern Rite priests were murdered, and, under President Nicolae Ceaucescu, at least hundreds and possibly thousands killed for various offenses against his rule.

Marie is slim and petite and blonde and very pale, except for her huge and luminous brown eyes. She and her family came to the United States not so very long ago. They live and work in communities regularly ranked among the safest in the nation. And yet, this week, they are terrified.

I’m telling Marie’s story because I have a long-time friend — a white American — who can’t see anything fearful in the young man who pretended to pray with 12 people for an hour, then shot nine of them dead.

I fully agree with my African-American friends that this historic church and its valued leaders were intentionally targeted, that this was an act of terrorism, not just one crazy person’s shooting spree.

But I want my old friend to hear: white people can also look at this boy and be terrorized. Terrorism is terrorism. If you haven’t learned to see it, you haven’t learned as much as I might have hoped in six decades. God have mercy on you and us all.

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Welcoming the Prodigals Among Us

We had a touching sermon this morning about the God we know and love, the God who cares about both the Somebodies and the Nobodies. It included two stories: the story from the Bible about the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears of gratitude for his love and a more recent story about a family who welcomed their own prodigal teen prostitute daughter home. In the recent story, some 40 members of the immediate and extended family — parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins — gathered at the train station in party hats blowing silly party blowers to celebrate her return.

Not just her parents but a large part of her extended family awaited her at the train station.

Not just her parents but a large part of her extended family awaited the returning runaway at the train station.

One well-dressed, middle-aged member of the congregation began weeping when the pastor described what the teen girl’s father said as she attempted to apologize to him:

“Shhh,” he told the girl, wrapping his arms around her. “There’s time enough for that. My daughter has come home.”

After the service, the pastor spoke to the woman.

“How’s everything? You doing all right? How’s your friend doing?”

She gave the expected answers to the rapid-fire series of everyday questions. Work was fine. She was getting extra shifts, which meant more money, and also negotiating more Sundays off, which meant she’d be at church more often. Her friend was doing well, but since they worked different shifts, it was harder to spend time together.

Then, as the pastor turned, she said:

“You know, I was a runaway, too. When I came home, my mother said the family was happier without me.”

What a staggering story. That would be as if, when the Prodigal Son showed up, his father told him:

“Look, you were never easy to live with. You didn’t want to be part of the family. You’ve already taken your inheritance. You didn’t need us. So go. We don’t need you either.”

Of course, that’s not how the Bible story ends. God has showed us, in this story, how God behaves when we run from him to seek our own pleasures. God welcomes us back, always, forgiving before we can even speak our request for forgiveness. God knows our hearts, how sad and lost we are when we are away, and always, always wants us in the family. When we offer, in our shame, to just work for God as a hired hand, God says, “No!” God wants us in the family as a full member of the family — the position we tried to escape, with all the rights, responsibilities, and relationship that being part of a family involves.

I’m glad that a prodigal daughter who still can cry when she remembers being turned away from her earthly family has a heavenly Father who holds her close.

Have you met any prodigals you can embrace in the name of our Lord?

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Who Do You Want to See in Your Mirror?

SnowWhite-mirrorRemember in Snow White, when the evil Queen insists that her Magic Mirror lie to her:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall
Who’s the fairest one of all?”

The day her mirror told her the truth — that Snow White was more beautiful — she began to disintegrate, even as she became in the short-term, more hard and dangerous than ever.

What’s does the Magic Mirror say about me? About you? Continue reading

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Have You Found Your Calling?

Lately, I’ve been working part-time at a natural foods store — the better to support my book writing and jewelry design projects. The store is part of a relatively small chain with great values that tends to hold onto people tenaciously. I keep meeting people in their early 40s who have been with the company for their entire career. If that doesn’t say something about the generation we have accused of failing to commit, I don’t know what does. Give them a task that matters — like providing quality food to the community — and the opportunity to continually grow professionally, and they’ll stick with it as readily as anyone with common sense would.

But I digress.

The question is of calling. Continue reading

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George Lucas Plans Affordable Housing … on His Dime


Filmmaker George Lucas has pledged half his fortune to charity, and building affordable housing on his own property with his own money is a current goal.


George Lucas, the multibillionaire filmmaker behind the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, has pledged half his fortune to charity as part of The Giving Pledge, led by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.

Now he’s bringing the charity closer to home, with a plan to build 224 units of affordable housing at his own cost on property he owns. Continue reading

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