In The Valley Of The Shadow

This week has been hard. No, no. Hard doesn’t even begin to touch it. Heavy. Exhausting. Constricting. Those are all words that come closer to the sense of my week. There has been no relief. No moment where I thought that was enough breath so that I can swim the rest of the way across this in my own strength.

It’s not only what I’ve been walking through, the path cut back and forth across the mountain, with a valley on either side. More than just my own travels, it is that there are traveling next to me voyager after voyager making the same journey, bags packed with grief and anxiety, weighing down the back of our cars. That weight at times can feel like the only thing holding us down to the road, keeping us in touch with the ground beneath us, pushing us forward to places we don’t want to go. In other moments, it is that weight that though we bear down pedal to the metal makes us wonder if we can make it up again.

The valley was full of fog when I set off both times this week and traveling through those conditions felt very apropos as I walked through my week not sure I could see five feet in front of my situation. I had a hard time talking to God about it. Not because I don’t think He is listening or don’t think He cares. I just couldn’t find the words. There were times I said “Please” and cried. There were times I just cried and couldn’t speak.

At some point out of the mist came something I could put into words, old familiar words from Psalm 23, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. They rod and thy staff will comfort me.” The valley of the shadow of death. I have so many friends and loved ones in that valley this week. I’ve seen the posts on Facebook. I’ve had conversations with friends. This has been a hard week for a lot of people, while others are marching proud with voices raised, many more have been shuffling through the fog in that valley of the shadow.

I’ve gone over and over that verse in the past week, not having the easy kind of conversation that I generally experience in my own prayer life, just repeating that verse, trying to remember that the rod will defend and the staff will guide and I am not alone. Where am I? I know where. Who is with me? I know who. What will He do for me? I know what. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Tonight I went to class and people gathered around me to pray, to pray for me and for those I love, for peace and comfort and healing. We said “Amen,” all in agreement. Amen. I agree. I believe. Amen.

My friend to the left pointed to a verse he’d pulled up on his computer screen. Psalm 91:1-2  “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

I could almost hear it. If I stop and listen, there it is. Look up. This is no shadow of death. See you are in my shadow. Rest. Take refuge. You are only passing through a valley, but you dwell in my shelter.

It has rained nearly all week, cold, damp, muddy misery falling into a mess all around me. Tonight as I walked out of class I looked up. The sky was still shrouded in darkness, but falling all around me was snow. Face upturned, the shadow above me was in that moment the wings of refuge sheltering me beneath His feathers.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I have a rod and a staff, a refuge and fortress, a shelter and a shadow, and those are all I need to cross the valleys.

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In Defense Of Remaining Silent

I know a man who says such nice things to me that one day I turned to him and said “You must have a pancake mouth because you speak so much syrup!” He was genuine and sweet and it was lovely to hear good things about myself. If he had an online presence, I’d suggest he teach a seminar on it and share that all over social media like it was a gorilla meme.

I’m big on making policy changes that better protect and serve us. Here’s one I’d like to figure out how to make into policy….

If you don’t have anything nice to say, say……

And everyone reading just finished the sentence. Because we all know it. But for the love, why can no one DO IT.

We take to Facebook, to Twitter, to blogs and post our rhetoric intended to “raise awareness.” We want people to know that we disagree with this public figure or that celebrity. We want people to know that our country is headed down the toilet. We want people to know that we are right and “the other” is wrong. We want to tell those who we think are marginalized, that they are indeed marginalized and we offer salvation via hand holding. It’s not bad to have an opinion. It’s not bad to express your opinion. But in 2017, everyone thinks they are an oracle.

I’ve seen a lot of people addressing their friends who are afraid, who are anxious, who are concerned. Here is what I am concerned about.  I feel like I’m staring down the barrel of an approaching civil war brought about not by the true oppression experienced in other countries where governments are murdering their own people, but by our society’s complete lack of self control to engage in the kindergarten level behavioral concept of “not saying anything at all.” We stir each other into such panicked frenzies that people take to the streets and loot and destroy. Yes, there are peaceful protests. Most likely the majority of the gatherings and the people attending are attempting to do so peacefully. That sort of gathering I’m absolutely down for.

But I’m not down for watching people destroy other people’s property and potentially their lives by acts of violence, whether or not I understand their motivation. And I’m not down for seeing those criminals painted as victims, because let me be clear, if you set my car on fire, I’m not going to see you as a decent person expressing your point about oppression and promoting legislative changes that break down walls, I’m going to see you as someone I’m pressing charges against.

I understand that most people are peacefully protesting, are carrying signs, are expressing themselves in a legal and helpful way. Again, let me be clear, I’m down for that. However, I believe those radicals, the radicals on every side of every issue are emboldened by our speech, by our words that we throw up on our walls because it’s our right to free speech and if people don’t like it they don’t have to follow you. We say, “This group is wrong!” and then those who have a tendency towards extremes and respond, “That group is wrong! I’m so pissed! I’m going to do something unhelpful to prove my point about how unhelpful they are!” I think it was my fifth grade teacher who told our class, “Yes, you have the right to free speech, but you do not have the freedom from the consequences of exercising that right.”

Bible reader or not, I think all of us can see the wisdom in the following passage from James 3.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell……..Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

You absolutely have the right to say what you want, but friends, consider the consequences, the absolutely legal and appropriate responses that will come to our individual lives and our collective experiences if we cannot get this under control. A room full of thousands of oracles screaming at the top of their lungs to be heard over shattering glass will be seen only as insanity, but a chorus of voice speaking together might be heard.

That script though, the lines the chorus shares, must be consistent to the truth of the message. One cannot espouse love and spurn hate, by speaking hate to support love. We see that truth talked about in that passage from James. We hear it in Martin Luther King Jr’s words.

If you are where I am…if you cannot be sure that what you say will not communicate your intention is to peacefully encourage us to a healthier and more positive space, then don’t. Or let me make it simpler, if you’re pretty sure you’re going to start a Facebook fight, just don’t. There’s a difference between posting pictures of positive efforts towards change which were big experiences in your lives and posting memes with witty one liners that always offend somebody, because that was the intended point of their creation!

If you are where I am, where you cannot post or respond on an issue without elevating yourself above others, simply shifting the second class status to another group instead of attempting to raise a person in a lesser situation up, or you can’t, like me at times, disguise your frustration and allow your message on a topic to be respectful of the person you are addressing, then be silent. Erase the half written, very intelligent point you’re making and just walk away.

Not everyone is the mouthpiece for a cause. Be the eyes. See those in need. Be the feet. Go to those places you can be of use. Be the hands. Meet their needs.  Be the heart. Continuously push life into the efforts of all the other parts. Be the liver. Clean the crap out of the cause. Be the brain. Learn so the body can work more effectively and communicate within the body to better the functions of each part. There are so many other parts to the body of a cause.

Not everyone is the mouth piece and if you aren’t sure that you can make your point without feeding an us vs. them mentality…
Pull your rudder out of the water and just float.
Pull in the reins on your horse and wait.
Pull your match back in your mouth and blow it out before a fire is set out of control.
Say nothing at all.

And on this subject, I will say no more. At least for today.