The Belief Came Tumbling Down

Dear person in the pew, person in the street, person declaring your rights—I hear you. I’m a listener. I want to understand you. You are fighting for a belief—for a right. You are declaring that belief to be key to your religious life. You, however, are not setting your beliefs in stone and building upon them. You, instead, are creating paper towers that tumble when the wind blows. 

You declare that businesses have the right to turn away gay couples who want a wedding cake. You say it’s their right to determine what they are comfortable with in their own business. However, you declare that Whole Foods can’t decide that they are going to require people to wear a mask. You threatened any business that decided their faith told them to care for their employees and customers in this way. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that protests should never interfere with traffic when Black Lives Matter groups block cars and walk across a bridge. You say that is interfering with the safety of others and creating a dangerous situation, yet you block roads around a hospital and a state building when you are angry about public policy. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that you can protect your own home in a way that seems best to you and declare that you can shoot and kill intruders, yet you have a black man arrested for shooting a gun in the air inside his house when people walk into his home unexpectedly. 

Your belief just came tumbling down… 

You declare that truth should be held up as an ideal in this nation, yet you do not call out lies caught on tape. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that life is sacred and should be protected against those who seek an abortion, yet you let children die in our protective custody. You let domestic violence continue to kill women and men and children in this nation. You fight against medical care that would save thousands of lives each year. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that sexual purity should be an ideal that we all seek, so you fight against access to birth control and condoms. You, however, let rapists go free. You keep the pornography industry in business. Child sexual abuse is still prevalent in our nation. You say “boys will be boys” when they grope girls against their will. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare marriage to be sacred and demand that it be exclusively a right given to a man and a woman, yet you have high divorce and adultery rates and don’t question your buddies when they cheat on or abuse their spouses. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

Your paper foundations that fuel your protests and your anger burn quickly when held up to the light of your actions. The ashes blow away in the wind when your need for comfort and personal satisfaction collides with your declared beliefs. 

What do you believe? How often do you ask yourself if your life reflects what you yell so loudly? Do you really live your beliefs, or do they come tumbling down when your own actions bump up against them?

I believe in the sacred worth of all people…

I believe that love heals and love wins…

I believe that my actions should reflect my faith and should help work towards the greater good—should build a nation where we are all respected.

I believe that all people deserve a chance at health and all should be allowed to join with the love of their lives and find joy…

I believe that gender is more complicated than we knew, and I’m willing to be a lifelong learner…

I’m willing to listen to you and also work to include you in the community…

I believe we can end hunger and abuse and unnecessary deaths if we work together…

I believe we can come together in community and seek truth together, in conversation with each other… 

I believe we can share a common table…grab a chair and have a seat with me…

Let’s pray to God who taught me these beliefs… 

Cultivating…respect instead of fear

Greetings! I guess we are all busy following the news about coronavirus. Students are having to change their foreign travel plans. Nations around the world are quarantining entire regions. Cruise ships are being stopped offshore so passengers can be tested. I still remember the H1N1 scare from 2009. We all wondered if we should send our kids to school.

I’m not a person who panics. I do follow the news and am heeding the advice of our Center for Disease Control and other medical professionals. I have always washed my hands well, so I don’t have to change any habits there. I do find it odd that people across the United States (and maybe elsewhere) are buying things like toilet paper and face masks and bottled water in bulk. Stores are selling out of many common items. People are giving in to fear rather than following the simple steps being advised by professionals.

Here’s what I do know: I hope I don’t get the flu, coronavirus, strep throat, or the stomach bug. None of us like being sick and very few of us have the luxury of being able to afford to be sick. Every year, I make an online post asking people to respect others and stay home when they are sick.

Here’s what else I know: Goodness and justice and love are never present when you make choices based only on your own fears and never also consider the fears of others.

Fear Quote

When we fear, we make decisions that we hope will protect us in some way. We walk faster or pull out our cell phones if we fear the sound of footsteps behind us at night when we are walking to our car. We buy hand sanitizer because we worry about coronavirus. We build a storm shelter when our area has been hit by tornadoes.

But do we consider the fear that others live with? When we don’t feel great, but we also don’t want to lose a paycheck, do we realize that some people with weakened immune systems could be killed by the viruses we are carrying? When we go into a restaurant knowing we are contagious, do we understand that some of the workers fear losing a home or a car if they get sick and lose a paycheck?

People carry legitimate fears for many reasons. If we respect others, we will find ways to understand their fears and help ease those worries. I am around the elderly quite often. I assure them that I will never visit if I am ill or still recovering. I will not compromise their health.

When I am around refugees in my community, I learn about the fears they lived with all of their lives…fear of abusive leaders, of persecution, of war, of hate, of losing their families because of poverty. I try to show that I am willing to learn about those fears and work to find ways to open doors for them to be safe.

When I am around any member of the LGBTQ+ community, I try to make it known that I am a safe ally. I will stand with them if they are being bullied or disrespected in any way. I will love.

And some forms of respect just involve paying attention to what I am being told. Right now, doctors are urging people to quit buying up the entire supply of face masks. They are useless to most of us, and there are people who legitimately need them. I have to consider their greater need over my current fear.

When we live life reacting only to our own fears, we can cause quite a bit of harm to others. We need to be life-long learners and find out how we can care for ourselves and respect the needs of others.

Do not fear. Do not let fear cause you to make decisions that will harm others. Do not let fear cause you to exclude others. Do not let fear cause you to judge others. Respect and love should be our guiding forces in challenging times (and, actually, in all times).

Cultivating…new thoughts

So, it’s February, and I’m still hanging in there with my process of cultivating new things in my life in 2020. I wrote about cultivating new relationships in my last post. I want to share with you something I’m working on along with that: cultivating new thoughts.

I’ve carried a lot of thoughts with me through the years that I have had to learn how to toss out. Most of these thoughts were handed to me by toxic people in my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t just dismiss those thoughts. I allowed them to become part of my daily journeys…part of what I thought about myself and the world around me. As I have grown through the years, I found found a place of strength and healing where I have learned to let go of those words. If someone judges me or places their own negativity on my path, I can now recognize their words as toxic and know to leave them there on the path to be washed away by the next rains.

But if I am getting rid of thoughts that I don’t need to carry with me, what am I replacing them with? When I’m waking every morning or walking or meditating with my dog beside me, what thoughts do I allow to settle into my mind? Where do I look for new thoughts that will offer me hope and will carry me instead of pulling me down into their treacherous waters?

There’s not one place alone that I search. For me, I often turn to the words of Scripture, not to the toxic interpretations handed out by people seeking their own comfort and wanting to control others, but to the words as they were written…words of love and hope and a call for peace and true community.

I also turn to poetry and music. Today, I have read through several poems written by Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, and Mary Oliver. These words fill me with hope and sense of being a part of a larger community and a world full of beauty. I can relate to their struggles and find comfort in their understanding. I am given a new glimpse of the beauty of the world around me.

I also seek out the words of encouragers in my community. There are people who can say such kind things and offer words that make me laugh and make me feel such hope and joy. Sometimes I just listen in on conversations in restaurants or as I walk along a busy sidewalk. People can be inspiring as they help others along the way. The kindness doesn’t have be directed toward me to appreciate it.

The more I cultivate new thoughts, the more I find that I can be an encourager as well. When I was with these new thoughts in my mind and in my soul, I find it easier to share them with others. I can spread hope and love when I am walking with both of them.

What thoughts are weighing you down? Can you find a way to leave them on the path and walk with new thoughts? Don’t let others pull you down with their harsh judgments or their negativity or desire to control or harm.

Cultivate thoughts that will bring you hope and healing, that will make you strong and help you see your own worth and your own gifts and talents. You are loved and have much love to offer. Let that thought soak in. Share that thought with others.

Sourly Patched Theology

This poem was written out of my frustration with comments I have heard recently from people who call themselves Christian. I am a Christian…I remember my grandmother’s faith and strength and that of her siblings. I went to what was then a small country church when I was a child…I loved VBS, Sunday school, and all things between. And I still love the words of Jesus.

But some people have left love and hope out of their faith. They use their faith to exclude others and judge others. That’s not from the faith I know and follow. My faith tells me to welcome and sit with strangers, to hug people who hav been rejected by others, to encourage and love those with broken hearts…to be a Mama Bear…to speak out against abuse…to speak out for children being harmed…to give hope…to be a light in darkness…to care…to listen…to be open to leaning something new…to embrace the diversity of God’s creation…

Sourly Patched Theology

I wade through the murky bog
filled with your misconceptions
and self-informed thoughts
of who I am and I watch you
live out your sourly patched theology—
patched together with verses
cut from the whole and
stitched together to wrap
you comfortably in your
creation that you name truth…
the sweet for those you choose,
the sour for those who differ,
and gone when we don’t bend
to the pressures of your
need for others to conform
to your convenient readings
of the Holy Word you toss
around to prove the rightness
you need to cling to so
your house built on comfort and
convenience doesn’t
wash away with the
waves of truth our presence
sends into your life, and
I wonder why you
withhold seats at the table
and close doors and build
shelters from those you
claim to fear when you
have locked yourself away
from the joys being sent your way
and from the love waiting
just outside of the walls
you say are God-designed,
and you offer a superficial smile
and quick hugs to the peers
who join you in your
steeple-topped fortress
and polished pews
often built or cleaned
by the hands you push away
and your stained glass
hides the view of the hurting
and the hunger and the brokenness
you deem deserved by those
who carry the load, and
you toss out demands
to push any wanderers
farther away from
the hope you have locked
away by your own false fears
and your moat filled
with self-ordaining
holy water
that drowns out
the cries of those
clinging to the cross
you claim as yours
and yours alone…
your birthright to
the land you claimed as holy…
your inherited right
as one of the chosen few…
your legal right
as a citizen of the inner circle…
your claimed right
as a person who deserves
to feel happy and secure.

I wade through the waters
you called baptismal
but had tainted with your
own rumors of who
I needed to become
when I arose from
the cleansing depths,
and I pushed through
the falsehoods you
heaped upon me
and spewed about me…
thoughts born of your own
prejudices and fears and
assumptions believed
because you declare that
your own opinions and
interpretations are what
must be engraved in the
stones of the foundations
of your faith,
and you fear that my
presence may unearth
the roots you grow from
and may cause you
to face uncertainty
rather than the peace
you call yours to claim…
and I break free from the cross
built from your insecurities
that you tried to nail me to
and I move into the clearer waters
that are cool and refreshing
to my soul and the waves
of hope wash over
my wounds and cleanse them
and open arms pull me
from the depths of
my struggles and into
the arms of the Loving One
who had himself broken free
from your cross you nailed him to,
and he walked across the waters
of your moat and met me on the
the other side and together
we dined on the hillside
with others you tossed aside,
and I listened to his
words of love and hope
that only resembled the
words you had said were true,
and he called me by name
and saw me and touched my wounds
as I touched his
and he built a table
for all of us and we
saved a seat for you…
we’re waiting just outside
your walls of hate and fear
and disbelief…we have shed our labels
you branded us with…and
we dance and sing and
break bread and learn from
the One who is The Word…
and with the bread,
he left a trail that leads
you to the Life that
The Word called you to…
Come to the table
on the other side…

–Chris Pepple ©2019

To Those Seeking Truth

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something that I hope we are all doing—seeking truth.

Throughout the last five years or so, I’ve discovered how much false information is floating around on the internet through our social media sites and through websites that have been created to look like actual news. I had no idea that our society could become so full of misinformation. It’s happening because so many of us aren’t seeking the truth. We’re seeking self-validating stories and things that make us feel good about ourselves instead of things that are making us grow and think through who we are and who others in our communities are.

I’ve also discovered just how much I don’t know about our world and the people in it. I have a master’s degree and have been a lifelong learner even when not officially enrolled in school. I studied literature, a little astronomy, and lots of history. But I picked and chose what I learned about based on my own interests. I didn’t take time to see that I was ignoring topics that would have helped me understand the people around me better. I saw my life as only connected to a small group of people I associated with.

But life itself is bigger than any one person or group of people. Life and its accompanying breath and love and hope draw us all together in an interconnected bond that we often fail to realize. When we disconnect ourselves from the bigger picture, we lose part of our humanity and part of our connection to a love and a hope bigger than ourselves. We limit our view of what life is like and what all of the possibilities are. We also cut ourselves off from opportunities to be loved and to love. We remove ourselves from the people doing the healing work in the world—the people willing to get to know someone different from themselves and walk through some really tough truths to help another person.

When I look back over the podcasts I’ve done throughout the last two years, I’ve chosen topics that need a light shined on their truths…I’ve highlighted groups that really seek to know the truth about people and circumstances and work to help us see the truth about others. So that sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want truth after all? Well, I know I didn’t used to think much about truth. I went about my life not thinking that I needed to know much about others. I was a “good person” after all. I didn’t hurt others, and I was trying to do the best I could as a person.

But then it became personal for me—I needed someone to know my truth. I needed to quit pretending that everything was ok. I had been taught to wear a mask for years—to look like a sweet Southern girl with an amazing family that had no problems. I shouldn’t appear to have any struggles at all. A “smile-for-the-camera” girl. Sometimes we don’t stop to think about issues until they become personal for us—when we realize we can’t handle life on our own at the moment, but we don’t know who to turn to because we aren’t sure who will understand or even believe us. I can tell you how deeply it hurts to tell the truth and have no one care or believe you.

That’s what so many of the agencies I have highlighted are doing right—they are looking at the lives of real people and telling them, “We hear you and we believe you” They are standing with people who have historically been unheard or when heard, not believed. Why? Because there are topics we are uncomfortable talking about. We are much more comfortable remaining in the dark about certain areas of life. We don’t want to admit how badly some people are suffering in our world. We don’t want to acknowledge that domestic violence and child abuse happen in our neighborhoods—in our churches—and that few resources exist to truly help break the chains of abuse. We don’t want to admit that people we are close to became addicted to pain killers or to porn or to gambling or to alcohol. We don’t want to admit that many single parents struggle with having resources to raise their children. We don’t want to admit that in our nation, no one can afford an apartment for a family making minimum wage.

We don’t want to be made uncomfortable, so we separate ourselves from truth. We either ignore it, or we deny it can be true because it doesn’t make sense to us. So, if we consider ourselves to be wise, and something doesn’t make sense or line up with what we have experienced, it’s easier to deny it.

I’ve found this to be true in my own life. I didn’t want to face the suffering of other people. I had enough problems of my own. And I didn’t want to admit that my silence or my unwillingness to listen could actually hurt others. Again, I was a good person, so I couldn’t be harming anyone.

But as I looked at agencies helping others while I was trying to find help, I found that I knew very little about other people’s lives—their families, their joys, their struggles. I had not taken the time to listen to others—to really learn about their cultures, their neighborhoods, their hopes, their faith, their fears. My silence and my lack of understanding was actually allowing suffering of others to continue because I wasn’t even acknowledging that it was real.

I started picking up magazines that covered in-depth stories about international events. I read about different faith communities. I turned on podcasts hosted by a diverse group of people. But reading or listening to a podcast would never be enough. It’s about being in community with other people—seeing them face to face—sitting at the table with them. John Pavlovitz, an American Christian pastor and author, has a book titled A Bigger Table. He refers to the idea that we need to expand our table so we are sitting and communing with new people—diverse people. It’s only then that we are truly learning and accepting others.

That’s what Thistle Farms does—they don’t just hand out money to women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. They invite them to table to hear their stories and help them find love and hope and new opportunities for a more fulfilling life.

That’s what the Dorothy Day House does—go back and find that episode. They invite families in to share their table. They don’t just believe the old myths that you must not be trying or you must deserve your lot in life if you are homeless. They see that truth that people lose homes for a variety of reasons, and that we can all be a part of the solution.

That’s what the Big Heart Fund does…invite families to the table who have children suffering from illnesses that affect their hearts.

That’s what Mama Bears do—they see the truth that people in the LGBTQ+ community deserve love and deserve equality and have a lot of talents and gifts and love to share with all of us. They dig deeper in their faith beliefs and go back to original texts and ask hard questions as they learn. They research the scientific findings available and realize the beauty of how people are created rather than seeing their loves as a horrible choice.

It’s what the Refugee Empowerment Program does. It invites people in—listens to their stories—researches to understand what they are fleeing—sees the beauty of who they are—helps them find safety and hope—embraces their children—works to educate the rest of us so we stop fearing what we don’t even try to understand.

It’s about admitting we have a lot to learn. It’s about building a bigger table. It’s about really seeking truth. Who have you turned your back on and walked away because you just didn’t want to be around someone “like that?” Who have you labeled without sitting with? Who have you gossiped about instead of talked to? Who has asked you for an invitation to the table and you have said no because it felt too inconvenient or because you couldn’t understand their perspective?

“I just don’t understand” is never an excuse for taking away a chair at the table. Be a person who seeks truth—listen and meet them face to face. Go to a Jewish synagogue. Dine with a Muslim. Take a victim of violence out for a meal and ask if they are willing to share part of their story with you. Tutor a refugee. Read to a child over the summer through programs like Project Transformation. Create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. Ask to see their wedding pictures and smile with them. Volunteer at Pride events. Sit with them if they visit your church. Go to an original source of a news story and get the whole picture. Shut down lies being passed around. Grow a little each time. Seek truth and destroy myths along the way.

OK, let’s be real. Some of you are asking why? Why get out of my comfort zone? Why be willing to work hard to get to know someone else and help someone else reach their goals? Isn’t that what nonprofits are for? I give them my money.

First, great job if you are helping to support a nonprofit! They certainly need all of us working with them. However, we are also called to be part of the solution to bringing love and hope to this world. We are the people educating ourselves so we can employ people who are healing, encourage those who are hurting, and love those who are working to find hope and fulfill their dreams.

There’s so much joy in building the bigger table and joining in the sharing of bread with others. There’s love for us all when we reach out to others. There’s a satisfaction of seeing someone reach their goals. And there’s the words at the end of the journey: well done.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.