If There Is to Be Peace

If there is to be peace in the world,

there must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,

there must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,

there must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,

there must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,

there must be peace in the heart.

Lao Tzu (570-490 B.C.E.)

The One with The Shepherd

Sheep are completely defenseless. They have no sharp teeth, or fierce claws, or fast legs to get away. When under attack by an enemy, a sheep has two choices; stay in a group or flee. Predators attack the ones separated from the flock – the old, the weak, the ill, and especially the young. In the group with the shepherd, the sheep are protected. The shepherd provides that protection. The rod and the staff are the shepherd’s tools to protect the sheep. — The Writing Sisters

Light is the First Thing to Go: My Advent Stories

Last year I wrote a piece of flash fiction for Loren Eaton’s Shared Storytelling – Advent Ghosts project, and it was difficult. Writing exactly 100 words is not especially hard, but purposefully dredging up fear and loss at Christmas time feels ugly; I wondered last year and I wonder again this year — especially this year — how people will react to this kind of writing.

Then I reread Loren’s words:

Light is the first thing to go as we near the year’s nadir, the days dimming earlier and breaking later. The dark is truly rising. So as Advent approaches, flip every switch in the house, break out the blankets and steel yourself to outlast the gloom. But in all your preparations, pause for a moment, just long enough to peer up into a firmament black and cold as flint. See the frosty flecks of stars? See how the borealis coils its frigid fire around them, eldritch and writhing? What speech do they pour forth to us, and what unearthly knowledge do they show night after endless night?

I have 2 pieces for the Advent Ghost project this year. Following Loren’s example, I am writing one secular story and one sacred story.

Unwanted explores the terror we feel when an unexplained and damaged presence penetrates the safety of our families and our homes; I wrote it before Newtown, but I think like every parent I wrote it from a place of fear of the idea that this presence has designs on our children.

For Later is my take on what I’ve always seen as a poetic and disturbing element in the gifts of the three kings to the baby Jesus.

Advent is about waiting for the light of the world. It is about waiting for God with faith, even on the darkest days. I hope you will read these pieces of flash fiction with a heart and mind willing to look into the dark, so that the brilliance of Christmas day is truly a day of love, gratitude, and salvation for you and yours.

The stories will post later today.

Peace be with you.

God-Talk: Acknowledging the Individual and God

(P)rogressives have a God-talk problem. That is, progressives write lots of books and blog posts about social issues, the church, culture, and society. But we don’t write that much about God. That is, we don’t say substantive things about who God is, what God does, etc.

You might say the same thing about conservative Protestants (i.e., “evangelicals”). But the thing is, their people pretty much know what they think of God. It’s well-known and on the record.” — Tony Jones, A Challenge to Progressive Theo-Bloggers

“Well-known.”

“On the record.”

“PR problem.”

These are some of the phrases that jumped out at me when Tony Jones issued his challenge to write about what I believe about God.

I’m not supposed to tell you what I believe about Jesus, or social issues, the church, culture, or society. This is specifically a request to write about the nature of God. Frankly, this is what I prefer to do anyway, and I’m with Mr. Jones in that I think slipping away from strong and articulate conversations about the nature of God is not doing progressive believers any favors. Part of the problem is feeling revulsion at the twisted theologies of God as politician, angling for a particularly powerful nation-state rise to global domination. Defining God as uniquely interested in one society over another is definitely not part of my God-talk. This makes me neither atheist, nor agnostic, nor unloving toward my own country.

I believe the nature of God is individual, and I wonder sometimes if this may be a major divide with believers who identify as evangelical or conservative. There is the “two or more gathered in my name” teaching, but all indications are that those are two or more individuals with a common devotion and general intent born of an individual relationship with God.

I believe the spirit of God seeks to be alone with every person on Earth. I will go so far as to say I believe that only that still and exclusive connection can save a life. I shudder when I see large groups of people pursuing some “lost soul” who they believe is in need of their assistance to be saved. I have to assume that their intentions are good, but God doesn’t need a gang. In fact, God “needs” nothing but the listening and sincerity of the individual.

I believe that Christians must be vigilant in our desire to know the difference — or to at least try to know the difference — between our agendas and the nature of God. The only way to approach clarity in this complicated zone is to, again, find a way to be alone as an individual with God and be willing to practice discernment in our faith journeys.

I often go back to the film Dead Man Walking. Matthew Poncelet has a close and devoted human friend and counselor in Sister Helen. He would never have reached his redemption moment without her unrelenting message of confession and forgiveness. But only he could choose to encounter God’s grace. In the end, he was alone with God. I believe that is the nature of God. God’s love and saving grace wants to mend a shattered soul, but it happens only when we say, “Enough of everyone else. I choose to be alone with you.”

Choosing to be alone with God is serious business. It is not just sitting quietly and thinking nice thoughts. It is choosing to let down walls you may not have acknowledged yet. It is choosing to be willing to hear that you need to put down your nets. We like our nets, don’t we?

I think progressive believers need to work through these questions of how to honor beliefs about God’s connection to us as individuals without being co-opted by the right-wing politics that claim the individual is all that matters. This will require getting more comfortable with keeping our social justice leanings out of every conversation, and doing more to talk about how individual devotion to God can change the world.

You can read some of my other writing about:

Faith and Sciencehttps://essediemblog.com/category/faith-andor-science/

Spiritualityhttps://essediemblog.com/category/spirituality/

An excerpt from an essayhttp://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/2011/05/where-is-god-in-chronic-illness.html

God Loves Losers: Reflections on the Olympics

“The one thing that irks me is when people thank God after they win. I’m not sure why it irritates me, because scripture urges us to give thanks in all things. But there’s something about it all that suggests God plays favorites, that God loves winners more than the ones who lost. I understand feeling caught up in the excitement of the moment and wanting to offer some word of thanks to God, but the way we marry this with victory plays into a perception of Christianity in our culture that I’d rather shed.” — Christian Piatt

via God Loves Losers: Reflections on the Olympics.

The #PowerofMany: Confronting Cancer as a Community

There are many statistics that paint the picture of cancer’s advance on the people of West Virginia, but this is one of the most powerful:

Patient Visits to David Lee Cancer Center at CAMC (2004):  17,000
Patient Visits to David Lee Cancer Center at CAMC (2011):  39,000

When I was a little girl, “cancer” was a whispered word. I didn’t really understand at the time, but now I appreciate that people are loathe to say out loud the things they fear the most. There is good reason to fear cancer, especially if you live in southern West Virginia. The reality is that most residents of our region will either be diagnosed with some form of cancer or see someone they love diagnosed with the disease.

A few decades ago, that meant a lot of whispering.

Philosophers say that courage is not absence of fear, but mastery over it.Today, the fear is still real, but the courage is growing. The courage is growing because our knowledge is increasing, and our awareness of prevention as well as treatment options is growing exponentially. This time of year, for example, it’s common for friends of my generation to wince in mental anguish remembering how we used to slather ourselves in baby oil and lie on light-reflecting blankets to “tan” ourselves as teenagers. We know now how dangerous that is, and how it damages skin cells often to the point of abnormal growth. We have friends who received a melanoma diagnosis, most of whom survived with the outstanding treatment of oncologists and first-rate cancer care facilities.

At Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC), the most common cancers seen in women are breast, lung, uterine, colorectal, and kidney; in men, it is prostate, lung, colorectal, kidney, and urinary/bladder. There is a dramatic need to increase and improve outpatient services to these patients, and CAMC is rising to the challenge with its campaign to build a  new state-of-the-art facility for patients in our region.

The odds are, if you live in southern West Virginia, you or someone you love will be served by this center one day. If you are reading this from another part of the world, you may face similar odds for a cancer diagnosis. We all need to get involved in turning this ship around.

We don’t whisper about cancer any more, we say it out loud. We speak its name and we write about it to call it out of the shadows where we can see, as a community, what we plan to overcome.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and pursuing treatment will, in most ways, always be about the power of ONE. One person’s body, one person’s choices, one person’s courage. Holding the hand of that patient, strengthening her in the process, increasing his choices, and improving treatment availablity is about the power of MANY.

During the social media awareness week (May 27 – June 2, 2012), information about the new cancer center and the Power of Many Campaign will be shared by the CAMC Health Systems and CAMC Foundation social media accounts.  You can simply repost or retweet from CAMC social media accounts, or create your own personal messages. Esse Diem invites you share your thoughts on this blog if you do not have your own; simply comment here or email me at edg@longridgeeditors.com and I would be pleased to send you some post ideas and stats.

(If you want to do something extra easy, just use the social share buttons here and pass this post along to your network.)

Thank you for any support you can lend to the cause. You can make a real difference in this community effort to change the course of a cancer diagnosis.

Every Land Needs a God

The treasure box

My daughter and I made a treasure box yesterday from an old cardboard shipping container and some glittery “jewels,” marker, glue, and paint. It was all going as expected until she leaned back, tapped her chin and said very matter-of-factly:

There needs to be a god.

This is a child who doesn’t talk much about The Divine in traditional terms, so when I heard her articulate this instinct she had my full attention.

I believe that children are closer to truth and mystery than are we adults. We’ve had it all beaten right out of us, but those little ones…poets say children are still wet with Heaven. Whenever children want to talk about life, death, and the spirit I focus on their words. It’s always fascinating.

That’s interesting, sweetie. Why do you think there needs to be a god?

Because this is a land. Every land needs a god.

I like the god you’re making. Tell me about it.

It has a caterpillar body made of jewels, but it needs a face. Momma, will you draw a smile and eyes. No head, just put the smile and eyes in front.

I see this god is over the land. I like that.

It needs wings. Can you please add two wings.

Sure thing, baby.

So there you have it, friends. Every land needs a god. My child’s creation smiles over her land, sans a head that would house a mind as we know it. It shines and watches.

This is the day that her heart has made. I rejoice and am glad in it.