GRIEF

GRIEF

I have always associated that word with death. I have great respect for those experiencing grief due to the loss of a loved one. I have also lived in that space but know well those experiences are individual. Grief is a call to arms for us to “stand in the circle of grief” as beautifully expressed by my friend Blair Meeks in her book by the same name. We stand together, we listen, we sit quietly. Our presence is a witness to our care and concern, our love for those in pain. We respond in tangible ways that hopefully bring comfort.  And we pray. I am grateful to know that happens and have been grateful when our family has been the recipients.

But I think so often about the many others who grieve while still living. Those who waken every day to sorrow, without hope, without inclusion. 

Those who suffer racism and its personal and systemic effects…..systemic effects that translate to personal. Racism unrecognized, buried by conditioning. 

The immigrant designated as illegal and without value, fear their constant companion. Many separated from their young children, their hopes for a peaceful existence housed in detention centers. 

The refugee, here “legally” but equally disdained because of a mentality of scarcity, fear driven by inaccurate rhetoric. 

Those who live in poverty, the working poor, without access to healthy foods in food deserts, adequate health care, unequal education, the respect of their community members. Banished to live in communities that isolate until gentrification drives them to rental spaces miles away from jobs that pay minimum wage. 

Our LGBTQ friends who are maligned, judged and subject to limits that diminish their very beings and often prevent living into their potential. 

All have to “qualify” and prove themselves worthy, feeling they are “less than”, knowing they will never qualify.

And the list goes on.

So for these grieving people,  compassion loses to exclusion, prayers remain unspoken. We are not present. Care and concern aren’t emergent because there is no “end” to their grief and their sorrow is deemed self inflicted.

There is no celebration of their lives, their stories. Judgement shuts down knowing one another. The presuppositions paralyze any chance for building relationships. 

Categorizing by disagreement offends the gospel message that clearly calls us to love. Those verses don’t mention agreement as a requirement. 

We fail to recognize unending grief. We are afraid to look.

jackiejonesshields

09.08.18

“Prayer Concerns”

I belong to a Sunday School class that embraces praying for one another….and for those brought to the class through a shared time called “prayer concerns”. It happens every Sunday….our class president, Jerry, writes the requested names on the board. Class members send cards to each person, if requested. These names are included in Jerry’s opening prayer.

So, we start each class with others on our hearts, on our minds……and take their names home with us covered by a covenant to include them in our prayers all week….or longer. Their names are listed in our newsletter as confirmation of their importance to us…..and as an affirmation of our responsibility to them.

This week I asked our class members to pray for George Harvey and his daughters…..a family who lives in Florida who recently suffered the death of George’s young wife, Tory……mother to Abbey and Millie, their beloved young daughters. Cancer has claimed this young woman’s life. God has claimed her in victory over that death. She is well now.

After Jerry wrote the above on the board, I kept looking back at the names….these as well as the others. And admit my attention kept wandering back to George and his girls. To his parents, Kaye and George who lost their young daughter to cancer a few years ago, during Kaye’s tenure as a pastor at our church. Beloved friends. I thought of Tory’s family, whom I do not know. I considered with some needed depth what it means to pray for someone else, especially those we have never met! I have long been taught and know it isn’t necessary that we have met. I have rejoiced in knowing that.

I know in my heart God has made us a family…..a diverse family across many localities without borders. Several don’t know George or Millie or Abbey personally. We didn’t know Meadow Pollack, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Or Alan Kurdi, a three year old Syrian child who drowned trying to reach safe shores. Or Malala Yousafzay, a young woman from Pakistan who still fights for the right to an education for all children. Or Stephon Clark, recently killed in the backyard of his grandparents’ home.

But we are called to pray for them, too. We have the privilege to pray for them. We have the responsibility. I will leave the theology of prayer to those who teach us. But, starting with my parents’ teachings forward, I have become convinced that prayer is a powerful, and oft underused, gift. It connects our diverse communities, be they local or national or international with connection, with a commonality that transcends differences. For me to pray for you, I first have to think about you, wonder who you are, what your needs might be, what your joys might be, your sorrows. Even if far away, never to meet, you become a person to me. You do become my family, my neighbor, in the way God has taught.

I remember some years ago having lunch with a homeless gentleman, gathered with several of us who were his friends. I asked him if he would like to pray. He told me he didn’t know how. I suggested he speak as if he were having a conversation with God. My simple definition of prayer. I wish I had a recording of his words. Oh, my! He learned he had “the right” to pray……and he learned he had the power to pray. And then, we all learned from him!

So, a seemingly simple request every Sunday has reminded me of its power. It has rekindled my focus on its importance. It has disallowed taking it for granted!

So, to George and Millie and Abbey, Kaye and George and Tory’s family…..please know you are in our prayers. We lament not being able to offer our physical presence, meals, hugs or the like…..but we are blessed by the knowledge our prayers go with you, especially those first days returning to school, to work, to a changed way of living. Prayers have answers not only through those of us far away but in the actions of those with you, who love you and will do anything you ask….or don’t ask. I am honored to bring your names to classmates I know who will pray for you because they accept the privilege.

We care about you.

jackieshields

03.27.18

Seasons

The seasons of

Ecclesiastes

sound so lovely but

feel so differently

in the now

of change.

.

 When I think of the

seasons

spring always

comes to

mind first.

New growth

new hope

a blank canvas.

 

But somehow this

new season

feels more like

falling into the

dormancy of fall

 wings folded in

warmth so welcome.

 

I hope winter stays at bay.

 

jackieshields

02.13.18

Title Not Necessary

It has been a sad two days. Even more so than usual when the rhetoric from our President is non inclusive, privileged, uninformed and selfish. That has become the norm; our society has been given permission for a lack of civility that has begged response.

My friend, Kaye Harvey, has posted an eloquent, heart felt response. Her words are needed and necessary. Many have agreed and commented. She has always been a leader.

These are not policy issues that bring disagreement or polarity. These are not political issues. These are not religious issues that divide.

These are human issues……words that defile our very natures, abuse our very souls, squander our intellect, diminish our potential for building community. They fragment hard won relationships, model an attitude not shared, indicate an ignorance borne of privilege. They steal the future for our world.

If we fail to speak out, we become complicit. Not a new concept…..supported by people who have given their very lives for humanitarian and justice issues. We can learn from them.

We are being given an opportunity to teach…..not only our children and grandchildren, but Senate and Congressional members, most of whom seem to value career and monetary gain over service to the people and country they serve. But, more importantly, they exhibit no personal integrity or character. They shouldn’t speak because it’s their job….they should speak because they are human beings.

As I mentioned on a shared post, I am grateful my parents, who served in Haiti, are not here to know how the people they loved are being characterized. Hearing their stories has contributed to our family, who we are, who we hope to be. I pray Douglas, a little boy we sponsor in the ministry with Raise the Roof Academy in Uganda never knows our leader places him in this description; I pray his teachers can forgive.

I have never written without being specific about the subject, without outlining the focus. I simply cannot write the words.

Sadly, I know it isn’t needed.

I write not because I can add anything new. I write to raise my voice.

Magi

Our Sunday School lesson this morning included the verses in Matthew that describe the visit of the Magi and their gifts to Jesus. A portion of the lesson referenced King Herod and his response to Jesus’ birth. Because the Magi returned home another route to protect the child, rather than reporting the exact place of the birth to King Herod as he had instructed, he ordered the murder of all boys ages 2 and under in Bethlehem and the vicinity. We all know the rest of the story…..an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him to take Jesus and his mother and escape to Egypt. They remained there until the death of Herod.

I have heard those same powerful words more times than I might count. They are difficult to read, difficult to hear. I can’t recall ever seeing them shared in the secular writings around the Christmas story, though we are very aware of the wider account within the church and as a part of study. Pretty understandable, I would admit!

But today, for some reason, what struck me was the power of King Herod and how that translated to the deaths of small, innocent children! I have always lamented the deaths themselves, of course……but I have been remiss in not giving serious thought as to what his power had to look like, how unequivocal it had to be, even in the face of the social and political times he lived and ruled! Many words and much study would be interesting and personally edifying, but the final result would not change.

I have given a lot of thought to leaders and unrestrained power today. I have considered the ways we sentence children to similar fates in today’s world……all the way from rising infant and maternal mortality secondary to poor or non existent health care resources, prenatal care and education; food instability worsened by changes in laws that were basic safety nets for the most vulnerable in our society; access to mental health care or medical care regardless of age; compassion and care for the elderly who suffer poverty even after long years in lower paying jobs; a minimum wage that cannot support even the basic needs; refugees who suffer persecution and torture refused the hope of freedom and hope in our homeland; immigrant families divided and deported, DACA recipients deprived of a promise that would not only empower their futures but also our collective……lack of effective and consistent assistance to Puerto Rico following a hurricane that continues to devastate their people….and on and on. We don’t want to entertain the idea that all of these issues, and many more, do contribute to deaths…of children, of young people, of adults, of the elderly, of the disabled, of the mentally unstable which often results in the deaths of innocent people. Physical death is quantifiable. The death of hope, the death of potential, the death of a future remain obscure and unqualified.

Those who carried out King Herod’s orders, we assume, had no choice.

We do.

We need to become the Magi and take a different route.