Watching the news

Micah 6 8We started the day here in Omaha with news from overnight. There was an attempted robbery at a Wendy’s not far from our home. The police responded and fired at the suspect because he had a gun and he shot first. (I am not finding any fault here with the police. I believe they were firing in self-defense.) The suspect was killed. His name was Cortez Washington.

Another man was also killed. The sound man from the television “Cops,” which has been riding along with our police department, was the victim of a police bullet as well. It was totally accidental and everyone is devastated by this, including the police officers who had come to think of him as their friend as they spent the summer together. His name was Bryce Dion.

Both deaths break my heart today, as I am sure they break the heart of God. There are so many deaths due to gunshots in our community and in our country. It just doesn’t happen like this in other places. So many lives lost, so many families with empty places at their tables and empty spaces in their hearts.

The other thing that makes me so sad is that we even have shows like “Cops.” Why is the reality of every day law enforcement considered entertainment? These are not documentaries. Our police chief said he agreed to this because he wanted the citizens of Omaha to have access to how our department does their job in a professional manner. Transparency. This is how it happens in real time. We have nothing to hide. And that is all well and good; it is good public relations to let citizens see how hard our police officers work and the dangers they face. They should be protected and respected as they protect and serve.

But Bryce was just doing his job too, and that’s the part I don’t understand, because in the end this was a commercial show being recorded for entertainment purposes. It would be edited, broadcast with commercial breaks (probably for some drug we should ask our doctor about or beer or some new movie), and then we would turn off the television and forget about it until next week’s exciting episode.

I think that is how we watch the news these days too. The horrors of war and earthquakes and Ebola epidemics capture our attention for the briefest of moments and then we move on. Or we get a twisted picture of all people of a place (like Syria or Iraq) based on the very small part of a much larger story that we get fed to us. It scares us. We overreact. We want to build our own arsenals because ISIS IS COMING! Right?

The other communication I had first thing this morning was an email from my sister. I love my sister and she loves me too. That was the point of her email. She is worried and scared for me and Steve to return to Lebanon and Syria this November.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about writing these thoughts down and sending them your direction. I love you, you’re my sister, but I fear more and more for your safety in your travels abroad. I respect your passion in your beliefs and am proud of you and the things you do. But the part of the world to which you are going in November is increasingly SO dangerous, I felt the need to express my overwhelming fear for your safety and that of Steve and everyone with which you travel.  You are an intelligent and compassionate person, and I need to know that you realize the danger in which you place yourself. I need to know that precautions are taken for your safety, and that you have considered the possible consequences.  They take Americans hostage, they detest Christians and kill them. I know I can’t stop you and Steve from going, but please know that we are all afraid while you are gone. I don’t know what to do if something happens. I pray that nothing happens, but the people committing crimes against humanity aren’t going to pay attention to prayers.

I need you to know that I’m afraid, and I love you.

They take Americans hostage. Yes, they have, but many more hostages are people who look and speak just like them. I am still praying for the release of two Syrian archbishops, His Grace Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and His Grace Boulos Yazigi of the Green Orthodox Church. They were kidnapped April 24, 2013, near Aleppo and have not been heard from since.

They detest Christians and kill them. Yes, some do, but they really hate anyone who doesn’t follow their twisted ideology including their own Sunni brethren. More Muslims have been killed in these wars than any other group of people. And the vast majority of Muslims love their Christian neighbors. They have lived side by side for centuries in peace.

But this is what we understand from the news. We watch it. We get disturbed by it. We turn it off. Hey! Football starts Saturday!

I am so grateful for a police department that protects and serves. I pray for them in the situations they find themselves in, standing between me and my family and those who would hurt us.

I am grateful for news reporters who work hard to get the whole story and present it fairly. I mourn when their lives are taken in the pursuit of bringing that story to me.

I love my sister and am so grateful that all my family worries for what Steve and I are doing. I am also thankful that at some level they understand the call, the passion, the will and desire to go.

I am grateful for my brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are steadfast in their faith, with hearts of great courage. As Marilyn says, their courage makes us brave.

Today from Sojourners came the Verse and Voice blog via email later in the day after the news story and the email from my sister, and as usual, it was what seemed to draw these words of mine together for this day:

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in [God’s] ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you. – Psalm 128:1-2

“Every day there are people in our world that do absolutely amazing things. People of all ages are very capable of doing tremendous, courageous things in spite of their fear.” -Mairead Corrigan

Steadfast God, perhaps one of the greatest mysteries is why you continue to entrust the work of your kingdom into our clumsy hands. But we are forever grateful that you do not want to change the world without us. May we become the church you dream of. Amen. – From Common Prayer

I want to walk in God’s ways every day and I look forward to walking with his people in Lebanon and Syria in November. Oh! The fruit of that labor is indescribable!

I don’t think of what we do by traveling this way is an amazing thing, but if Susan thinks so, awesome! Our friends there make us brave.

My hands are clumsy, but God has formed them and calls me to use them for his purposes. I want to be a part of his kingdom come…which is a world changer.


Burning Man

Mike at the Norden ChuteI don’t really have to cook anymore because I married a man with a passion for cooking. Don’t get me wrong; I can cook. I learned from some great teachers like my Aunt Suzy and Aunt Heddy. Good stuff too, like homemade spaghetti sauce and lemon chicken. But Steve loves to cook and who am I to get in his way?

But baking is not his passion so I still do that. I maintain that baking is how I first caught Steve’s attention. I baked every Saturday for the three years I served on the Adult Education Committee at church. I didn’t feel like I could add anything spiritually or theologically to that team, but I could make sure that those attending classes every Sunday for those three years had something freshly baked to feed their bodies while they were filling their souls. I’m pretty sure that’s how I came into Steve’s line of sight.

Baking cookiesSo today my kitchen looked like this so I could make these for my little brother Mike.Fresh baked cookies






Mike is heading off to his first Burning Man Festival in the desert in Nevada next week. He tells me it’s about self-expression and self-reliance, so could I please make him some cookies to take along? So I expressed myself through baking so he could rely on himself why he bakes in the desert. It seemed to make sense at the time.

Don’t tell him, but I would actually do anything for Mike. He has grown into a person that I never expected he would based on our younger selves. He answers all my questions about computers at which he is self taught (Macs! Only Macs!) He can build a house and repair anything in one. He can ride a horse and herd cattle and call cattle and brand them, too. He learned all that (not the computers) on a ranch in western Nebraska in his teens. He can fix cars. He can and does run our family printing business as the production manager. He can hula-hoop and do yoga. He knows the entire Frank Zappa catalog, along with anything related to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young collectively and in all their combinations.

He teases me for being a red wine drinker and for living in a Federal style house. He worries when I travel to the Middle East. He is always there for Jana when she needs him and won’t let her get away with feeling sorry for herself. He has a big heart when it comes to his sisters, even when it may not look that way to others. WE know!

As a young kid, Mike was what we called a burn-out back in our day. He smoked, tobacco and other things. He drank. He skipped school. I remember once coming home from church headed south on 105th Street with the whole family (except Mike) and passing what looked like our other car going north. I said to Daddy as we went home after passing the VW squareback with the Road Runner decal on the back, “I think that was our car, but no one was driving it!” Someone was. It was Mike and he was maybe thirteen at the time. He ducked as we passed on the street.

I was home from college one summer and stayed up late to watch television. Mike came in about one in the morning and headed to the bathroom. He was very sick and I was so worried about him I went to wake up Daddy. Daddy came and stood outside the bathroom and listened. After about a minute, he knocked on the door and said, “We will talk about this tomorrow!” I didn’t understand until the next day. (I have not always been such a slow learner, just a bit naive.)

Anyway, I think it is a miracle that Mike lived long enough to grow up, but he did. He is an amazing person. I know he is my brother and I am slightly prejudiced, but it’s true. And I don’t know what our family would be without him.

I know we wouldn’t be as close. With all the trauma we have experienced in our lives from the early death of our mom, to an evil abusive stepmother, to sisters who were hit by a train and survived, to the death of our dad and the murder of our baby sister, we should be a family that has moved as far from each other as possible. But Mike is the strong one who moves us closer together. Mike is the one who organizes family canoe trips on the Niobrara where we camp together, canoe together, prepare family meals and watch movies under the stars. (That’s him hanging out over the Norden Chute in that picture above.) He is the one who has organized our new tradition of going out to Lake McConaughy at Christmas time to make great family memories. He gets me to make cookies so he can take them out in the desert and share them where they are needed.

The best thing that Mike has taught me in this life is to get off of the Interstate and take the two lane roads. There is no need to speed to your ultimate destination and miss all the amazing scenery along the way. Enjoy the journey. He used to just head out on the road and take the least traveled one to where it ended as dirt tracks that tapered off in a field somewhere. You have to stop for cattle…or buffalo. You’ve got to open your eyes and look and if you travel at 75 mph you will miss so much. You’ve got to get out of the city so you can look up at night and see the stars and watch the International Space Station orbit the earth. You’ve got to pull the canoe over on the Niobrara so you can climb up the stairstep falls. If you just speed by with the current, you will never find them.

As he heads out to the desert next week, I know he will get there and express himself in a drum circle or a fire dance under the stars. I am positive he will point out the ISS to new friends that he makes, people that he will share those cookies with. I know he will take time on the journey to look.

I am confident that he is totally capable of self-reliance, but I am oh so glad that he has chosen to remain in this family and to let us rely on him. I am so glad that we get to share the journey with him.

So burn the man, Mike! But come back…we’ve got to figure out the McConaughy trip and we need you to do it.



Aleppo porcelainI have been reading stories all day long about what is happening in Israel and Palestine, what so many of us refer to as “The Holy Land.” It’s awful. Horrendous. Unspeakable. Tragic. There are so many words to describe what is happening to actual flesh-and-blood human beings in an exchange of bombs and missiles between people whose family histories can be traced back to the same beginnings. They are brothers and sisters, just as we are with them.

I pray, I weep, I mourn. Some days I can’t do anything else. “How long, oh Lord?” is a constant thought.

There are wars going on in lands where I have walked with my brothers and sisters in Christ and they are holy lands to me. Syria. Iraq. Lebanon. The same bone-shattering weapons are flung back and forth between people who have shared the land for centuries. Homes lost. Churches and mosques blown to bits. Cities flattened. A generation of children who, if they haven’t already been killed, will spend their early years in shattered shells of buildings and minds. It’s all so fragile and tonight all I can think of is the broken pieces.

I wrote this poem after a visit to Lebanon when the only way I could visit the pastor I had met in Aleppo, Syria, in 2010 was to hear his voice on a phone. In that long ago summer – only four years ago! – we walked the streets of his city. We worshiped in his church. We saw the reconstruction of a high school for boys. We shopped for treasures in a souk whose aisles stretched into the eternity of the maze it was. I was looking for a set of the small cups and saucers that we were served coffee in everywhere we went. My shopping excursion paid off and I brought home a set of blue and gold china cups and saucers, which sit in my cupboard. Such fragile things, but they are a constant reminder of what has been lost. The church building has been destroyed. The school was bombed and ransacked. The ancient souk is no more. So many have died and the war continues.

Aleppo Porcelain

They sit ensconced upon my shelf
In glorious gold and blue
Perfectly matched for twelve of us
For tea and coffee too

We searched for them inside the souq
We went from stall to stall
‘twas in Aleppo, Syria
Me and Kate and all

We had been served so many times
In every place we went
Dark coffee with such sumptuous sweets
Hospitably, time well spent.

When I look upon the pictures now
Of Aleppo in the news
I see the shattered buildings
Broken homes and scattered shoes
People running for their lives
Their idea of normal is lost
Children crying, people dying
This is what war has cost.

The cups are gone, the saucers too,
The souq is history
All are now but faded scenes
Inside my memory.

But there is another memory
Of another cup and plate
A reminder of a sacrifice
Made on an earlier date
Of one who spilled his blood and life
That we might know forgiveness
The gifts upon these precious plates
Would remind us of the richness
Of life poured out for you and me
In sacrifice divine
Redeeming love for all on earth
For each of us for all time.

Each night as I raise prayers for peace
I ask this Lord of life
That he would send his spirit to earth
To end the days of strife
That he would show us how to serve
With fragile cup and plate
The kind of love he modeled
The love that conquers hate.