Two Sundays ago, during our live-streamed worship service, many left comments and greetings. Among them were the words in today’s post title: May goodness define us. A member of our congregation wrote these words for all to read. His choice of words jumped off the computer screen at me. And I knew at that moment what I wanted to do with them.
I wrote them out on a small Post-it note and placed it near my computer. When I felt judgmental about someone’s words or actions toward others, I’d read these words. And I’d stop myself from throwing out a quick rebuttal with four words: May goodness define us. Friends, it is working.
Today I share them here in the hope of others doing the same. How you ask? By spreading thought-provoking reflection throughout the land. Here’s a suggestion to begin.
Take a few moments to look at the image above. Its creator calls it a photomontage of human faces.
Look closely and find one or more of the following in the image:
Young and old;
Black, white, and other colors representing a variety of ethnicities;
Male, female, LBGTQ+;
Doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, politicians, teachers, ministers and more;
Parents and grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins;
Some connected by DNA and a family tree;
Others connected by a relationship founded in friendship;
And the list could go on forever.
And yet, in the Creator’s eyes we are all the same. We are His children.
Too often we judge others in haste. We get caught up in a short-tempered state of mind. Usually, we base our feelings on differences among us or as a means to stay in good standing with someone else. These actions are disgraceful, morally wrong, and vile. My words may sound harsh to you, but imagine how your words or actions sound or feel to the person you judge.
In order for goodness to define us, we must return to our center. We have to get back to the Source of light and life. Move through today’s crises and uncover a new justice and reality and allow goodness to define you. So dig deep to find where the light shines forth. It is the place where you can find the inherent beauty of those around you, whoever and wherever they are. And here we will celebrate the wholeness and unity in our diversity. From there perhaps we will find the peace we all long for.
In the Book of Micah, we read these words:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Many in Portland, including myself, feel we’re living in a dystopian world created by issues beyond our control.
We are attempting to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve watched the peaceful protests for Black Lives Matter escalate into all-out conflicts with federal troops who were not invited to our city. Then “grab and snatch” tactics by the uninvited and unidentified troops to control protesters by loading them into unmarked vehicles left citizens feeling unnerved. Our city is rid of the uninvited and unidentified troops.
All of us are entitled to support, compassion, and a just and equitable environment in which to live and raise our families. Government leaders and citizens of Portland are now in discussions to make support, compassion, and equity primary to all actions taken in Portland.
However, behind the scenes, there are many suffering and struggling with depression and emotions out of control regarding all of these strange and unusual dilemmas we’re facing. I am one of them. And I know I’m not alone.
Many are writing blog posts and articles on the state of our mental health and how to relieve the stress of it all and ultimately find peace.
I stumble around each day looking for something to do that interests me. My writing flounders. I write that with abundant kindness (it’s worse than floundering!).
What can I do for someone else during these times? Write a note, make a call, send a text or email? Maybe. But somehow silence and solitude sound better. And I know that’s selfish on my part.
God gifts me with a new day every morning, and what do I do? After reading emails, I spend too much time on social media. Scrolling through my feed in search of something positive seems a waste of time these days. Then I am angry with myself for wasting a good part of His gift.
My idea is to think of my brain’s tendency toward negativity as something like a dog that’s a little wild but could be trained toward better behavior with consistent, loving effort. If I train myself to recognize pointless negative thoughts the moment they happen, like a dog lunging while on a leash, I can reflexively take control, since my hand is on the other end of that leash, right? I can control the dog if I just make the effort to do so. And I can curb my regativity the same way. I can put myself on a short leash and make the effort to train myself to think differently.
This makes a great deal of sense to me. If I sit down, plug into social media, and bombard myself with negative thoughts, my brain absorbs the negativity. The negativity will pull me down into the muck and mire of that news feed. Immediately on reading Robert’s words, I knew I wanted and needed to start building mental resilience and fight against negativity. I’m working on it.
The other way I’m working toward positivity vs. negativity is by making lists of things I need to work on. Today I made three lists: (1) administrative projects (I called it that when I was working; I still have similar tasks in retirement to keep us operating as a family), (2) personal interests (things I long to do, including writing), and (3) struggles (things I have difficulty facing, including writing).
From this, you can see that if I wanted to I could find a great deal to occupy my time. However, there is something inside me that bucks up against some of these things. It’s up to me to figure out how to balance all of this out while “walking the dog” and changing my mindset and my mental resilience.
For this reason, I’ll be on social media only minimally for awhile. I will continue to write here posting as it comes to me and seems worthy of your time.
John 14:27 states God’s promise. It should be sufficient in times like these.
December 2019 is here. Where did November, October, and September go? In my world, they seemed to fly by. How about you? The image above reflects mostly what I’ve been doing–reading by the fire.
In looking through my blog yesterday, I was shocked to find my last post was on November 19, 2019. The post is my review of Kathy Pooler’s second memoir, Just the Way He Walked(see Disclosures). I have other book reviews to share but I’ll be honest and not beat around the bush. My motivation to write, even a book review, is gone.
I seek inspiration looking out the windows, listening to music, reading others’ work. Nothing happens. Nothing comes to me. I go back over my list of ideas for blog posts. Nothing jolts me into action. And it’s not just writing.
Some days I can’t find interest in doing much of anything. I tackle the mundane–household chores, laundry, cleaning the kitchen following meals, wiping down countertops. These are chores that cry out to be dealt with NOW!
Why am I telling you all this? Simply to let you know that I’m going to turn out the lights on the blog until January 2020 in hopes of feeling more like the writer/blogger I have been. I may even tackle sending out a monthly newsletter. Who knows what the new year may bring?
With the preparations needed for the holiday season and appointments four out of five days next week, I need to devote time to get through this month.
I came across this quote from Marianne Williamson this morning.
‘Once everything falls into place,
I’ll feel peace.’
‘Find your peace, and
everything will fall into place.’
A still small voice said, “You need to find peace with your current situation.” That’s my plan for December 2019.
There are days when I wonder if this world can continue to exist under the current load of hate and misunderstanding and evil, when I wonder if the hearts of all people can somehow find an antidote to racism and virulent nationalism and a concern only for ourselves. We are born to these things as sparks fly upward, I suppose. I know I am. My friendship with Mohammad has been both the diagnosis and the beginning of a cure within me.
In 2012, Mohammad fled his Syrian village along with his wife and four sons, escaping to Jordan through the wilderness. Four years later he sat across from Shawn Smucker in a small conference room in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Though neither of them knew it, Mohammad had arrived in Shawn’s life just in time.
This is the story of a friendship. It is the story of a middle-aged writer struggling to make a living and a Syrian refugee struggling to create a life for his family in a strange and sometimes hostile land. It’s the story of two fathers hoping for the best, two hearts seeking compassion, two lives changed forever. It’s the story of our moment in history and the opportunities it gives us to show love and hospitality to the sojourner in our midst.
Anyone who has felt torn between the desire for security and the desire to offer sanctuary to those fleeing war and violence will find Shawn Smucker a careful and loving guide on the road to mercy and unity.
Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me About Loving My Neighbor by Shawn Smucker Published by Revell Publishing Company (October 16, 2018) Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir Source: Publisher Format: Paperback, 208 pages
Disclosure: My thanks to Revell Publishing Company for providing a copy of Once We Were Strangers for my review. Opinions expressed here are mine.
I cannot remember a time when reading a book had the transformative effect upon my life that Shawn Smucker’s Once We Were Strangers has had. The first few pages unfold into a story that provides a perspective of two lives–cultivated by different cultures and traditions–coming together in a way I’ve never experienced.
Imagine yourself traveling from Syria to Lancaster, PA. That’s a distance of 5,792 miles by air. But parts of that mileage you have either walked or relied on buses or cabs, usually in the night. You have not traveled alone. Your wife and four sons, the youngest of whom is only a toddler. You are leaving behind everything you have known for most of your life. You are taking a risk in a war-torn hostile country. Yet, what other options do you have to protect your family?
In four years time, after this agonizing journey, Mohammad, his wife Moradi, and their four sons arrive in Lancaster, PA. Their journey has been difficult, risky, and long. They are supported by a local organization, and one day a local resident of Lancaster, Shawn Smucker, arrives to meet Mohammad for the first of many visits and gatherings. They are hopeful that this book I’m reviewing will reach a point of going out into the world to tell Mohammad’s story and what is inevitably a similar story to that of most refugees in a new land.
After Shawn’s cautionary statement that Mohammad shouldn’t get his hopes as nothing might come of this effort, Mohammad’s translator shares the following:
Mohammad says it is impossible for nothing to come of this. He is glad you are willing to hear his story, and no matter what happens you are friends now. That is all that matters. (Emphasis mine.)
Friends. Something we take for granted because most of us have a long history in our country. We may have moved from one city to another or perhaps one state to another. But we’ve not likely moved as many miles as Mohammad’s family did. Yet, Mohammad knows that friends are the foundation for his family’s success in a new land.
If friendships weren’t so important to all of us, where would all the social media outlets be? How clever of Facebook to use the phrase “Add Friend.” Friends bring us a sense of security, loving compassion, support, encouragement. As a refugee from another country, it seems refreshing that Mohammad was eager to find and make friends. This was something to which he was already accustomed.
A glimpse into the bridge-building, fear-silencing, life-affirming gift of cross-cultural friendship. This is an important and timely message.
–PETER GREER, president and CEO, HOPE International;
coauthor of Rooting for Rivals
There is so much I want to tell you about Mohammad and Shawn’s friendship building and about their families coming together as friends. To tell you too much robs you of the experience I had when I completed my reading of this short book. It takes away the element of transforming your existence in a country where many want to come to our country, and many have already done so. They too are people in search of friends, simple friendships, communities of support.
This need of something so simple touched me deeply when I realized how many friends I have–not on social media but in real life. It is incumbent on us to pass along those good gifts we’ve received. So, if I’m blessed with multiple friendships, it doesn’t hurt if I reach out and befriend another, and another, and another. In so doing, perhaps some of my friends will become friends too.
This story needs to be told–and then? It needs to be replicated in some way throughout all our communities.
— TSH OXENREIDER, author of At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe
The last two quotes contained in this review are from advance praise for Once We Were Strangers. I have included them because they are relevant to what I believe is the importance of Mohammad and Shawn’s story.
Lastly, a few words from Shawn about this book:
I feel like I should have a disclaimer on the cover: ‘No one was harmed in the creation of this book.” But something was harmed. Something happened.’
My belief that refugees have little to offer was crushed. My belief that they need my help more than they need my friendship was brought low. My deep-seated, hidden concern that every Muslim person might be inherently violent or dedicated to the destruction of the West was exposed and found to be false.
* * *
The help I was prepared to offer was help given at arm’s length, aid that would cost me perhaps a tiny bit of time and maybe a few dollars but not much than that.
But I, not Mohammad, needed more than that. Actually, it turns out we both needed the same thing. We both needed a friend.
My Recommendation: I can’t emphasize enough the life-changing impact of this story. Nothing appears in these pages that is from someone’s imagination nor that has been fictionalized. It is a true story recounted by Shawn Smucker’s indelible excellence in his writing style. His descriptive powers given to Mohammad’s story of leaving Syria are filled with reality. This is a book that leaders in all religions need to read, men and women in power in our governments (county, state, and country) should read. We need to read it and step out in faith and hope to make a difference and make a friend. I highly recommend Once We Were Strangers.
Meet Shawn Smucker
Shawn Smucker is the author of the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, as well as the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He lives with his wife and six children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at http://www.shawnsmucker.com.