Hope Beyond the Stereotypes

Perhaps it is the coming of winter that causes moments of reflection. Or the new journal I use to record my thoughts. Or the writer in me who MUST write in order to process life. Whatever the origin, my reflection turns to a time-honored quote.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge reminds us how the Jews honored the name of God. They would not purposely step on a piece of paper, in case it contained the name Yahweh. He suggests we should apply this practice to how we treat others.

“Trample not on anyone. There may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on. It may be a soul that Christ thought so much of as to give his precious blood for it. Therefore, despise it not.”

This not trampling on anyone sounds like an easy goal. A worthy purpose. Yet when I see the blatant evil perpetrated by some, it seems impossible.

How can I love every soul, no matter what they choose to do? How can I honor the second commandment of Jesus, to love others as I love myself?

  • Even the evil ruler who is bombing the life out of the citizens of Ukraine, for no other reason than to garner for himself the trophy of another country?
  • Even the knife-wielding radical who stole the eye from a courageous author who dared to confront the inequities of his religion?
  • Even the abuser who torments a puppy, then kicks it out onto the street?
  • Even the man who threatens his wife and children, using his second amendment rights to weaponize their home?
  • Even the religious leader who uses his bully pulpit as a tool for control?
  • Even the woman who allowed her boyfriend to kill their child in one of our Kansas City neighborhoods?
  • Even the murderers of 14 year-old Emmett Till?
  • Even me and the self-righteousness legalism fostered in me?

When I cannot do anything about these horrors, how do I respond? How can I pray? And how do I live in these perilous times to make sure my home is safe yet offer grace to others?

I flip the page on my journal, still not satisfied with how the processing of this question is going. For such a quandary, there surely is no easy answer. For all sin is the practice of ignoring God, and all of us have been guilty.

Some of us just hide it better than others.

Were it not for grace, any of us could be included in the above bullet list. The giving of grace seems so easy for Almighty God who loves unconditionally. Yet it did cost the life of his Son. No easy road there.

And I admit I am still learning how to receive and gift this same costly grace.

What will it cost me to release my stereotypes of these people who choose evil? Will it be to remember that trauma often begets trauma, that evil can multiply through the generations? That people who are raised without knowing the love of God will therefore act like satan?

When did it become my responsibility to judge another? Never. Not even when it became personal to my family, to my soul.

For if Christ died for me, he also died for these others who choose to ignore his grace. And his infinite patience is somehow allowing them the time to make another choice, to open their souls to his healing grace.

It is in the patience of the timing that I am stuck. When, God, when?

So although I find no answers, I will choose to live each day trusting the One who knows not only the answers but all the relatable questions.

And I will embrace the backward living suggested by Father Richard Rohr. That instead of trying to think my way into a new way of living, I should instead live myself into a new way of thinking.

Have mercy on us, oh God.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Uploading Faith addresses such reflective questions, especially for those who seek answers.

Hope Beyond the Tarnish

“Get some Brasso,” the handyman said.

I had never heard of the stuff but found it at the hardware store. Guaranteed to take the tarnish and other gunk off brass and restore the original shine. Less than five bucks to keep the vintage look of my kitchen cabinet hardware.

It wasn’t tarnished too badly, but in the years since the house was built (1976) and multiple owners — the hardware had turned black.

Plus the human touch, the oils and dirt accumulated and added to the grime. In fact, the hardware was so tarnished, I did not even know it was brass underneath.

With just a small amount of Brasso and the bristles of an old toothbrush, the process began. Soon, the shiny antique brass hardware sported its best-dressed look, and my kitchen was transformed.

The spiritual connection was obvious. We may think we’re doing okay, shining as we can for Jesus. But the dirt of the world and our own inner tarnish can make a difference in how we appear. Dull us a bit. Take away from the best of our vintage source.

Others may not even know we are Jesus followers, because we no longer look or act like our origin.

Add the tarnish of the touch of other humans who wound us, the oils and dirt we so easily accumulate, the lies we believe, and our refusal to change. Hope disappears, because we have lost our ability to fully shine. We’re only okay. No longer fabulous.

But with a bit of the Holy Spirit at work and the addition of God’s word, we can start to become who we were created to be. We have to let the Spirit do his polishing act, remove from us the toxins that corrode us. Transform us by the renewing of our minds.

That important word: Let.

We may not even be aware that the Spirit is working. Most of his best processes happen in sacred silence. No fanfare that might point to human endeavor. Just a bit of divine power, of spit and polish, rub and erase.

We may even hear the divine whisper, “You’re okay, beloved child. But there is more you can reach for. More of the taste of heavenly delight. More of the love that draws others upward. More purpose to satisfy your lonely heart.

“And when the polishing process is completed, you will look better. Feel more alive. Be more useful, because nothing will hold you back. You will make the world a safer and more loving place to inhabit, because you are more connected to Me.

“Oh, yes child, you’re okay now. But just wait, honey. Soon — you will shine.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out the story of Abigail in No Visible Scars. Her scars were not visible yet she learned to set important boundaries and shine.

Hope Deferred

Petting zoos are not just for children. They can be a peaceful haven for adults like me who grew up on a farm and still nurture a country heart.

So I was excited to find a petting zoo at one of the local fall festivals. I was eager for the sensory experience of touching and smelling animals, conversing with these splendid creatures of God’s design.

Until I stepped inside.

About ten sheep needed shearing. They wore their wool like heavy armor while children dug fingers into the nap. Ducks and geese stood in a small pen, so crowded they could barely move. No water source so they could drink and play.

One pygmy goat, obviously used to feeding from children’s pudgy hands. He nuzzled a few pellets. Refused to eat more. Again, no water source.

Then I saw her. An older goat lying in the shade, far away from the others. I knelt beside her. Petted the blonde and white stripe on her forehead. No response. No movement except a slight flutter of her long lashes. I checked for the movement of her breath and was relieved to see the rhythms of inhalation.

“I’m sorry, old girl. You don’t feel good, do you? And no one is taking care of you today.”

How long had she lain there with no water and no desire to eat? Was she weary of being taken to a common pen each day for the entertainment of humans? Did anyone care about her physical and emotional health? Who was responsible?

We are encouraged to care for God’s creation which includes the animals (Proverbs 27:23). To honor our shared life that originated when God spoke, “Let there be….” To provide for the weak and care about the suffering, no matter the species or the nationality.

I wonder if I should report that petting zoo to the ASPCA. Would my actions save the life of that sweet goat or would the operators merely move it to another location and find other unwanted creatures to exploit? 

The patriarch Job shared a message regarding the importance of God’s creatures, “For ask now the animals, and they will teach you [that God does not deal with His creatures according to their character]; ask the birds of the air, and they will tell you.

“Or speak to the earth [with its other forms of life], and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare [this truth] to you.

“ Who [is so blind as] not to recognize in all these [that good and evil are promiscuously scattered throughout nature and human life] that it is God’s hand which does it [and God’s way]?

“ In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:7-10 AMPC).

Hope should color our actions so that we appreciate and care for all of creation. So that we fight to preserve the precious green spaces that give back oxygen. So that we honor the Creator by protecting his work. So that we touch the sacred places around us with intention to leave them better.

So that we share hope with broken people and even, forgotten goats.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the beauty and poignant prose in The Church of the Wild by Victoria Loorz. I am halfway through and loving every nugget of truth.

Hope in Going Deep

A character in the novel I’m reading told his wife, “I love you deep.”

What does it mean to love deep and want to love even deeper? Rather than focusing on this fictional human relationship, I decided to reflect on spiritual love.

How can we love God deeper and grow into a more intimate relationship with the Divine Three? Surely, this important relationship involves reflection and decision.

What are some of the layers of personal choice we can move aside to grow into deeper communion? Or are we just satisfied with salvation and the assurance of eternity. One and done. Period.

Like any relationship, it takes time to develop a deeper understanding with each other. Certainly, it takes quality time to learn how to relate with God. Time to pray. Meditate. Journal through our questions. Or journal our prayers. Use music as a connection point. Get outside and watch how God reveals himself in nature.

It takes the gift of offering ourselves as a living sacrifice. By saying, “No” to another activity so we can grow deeper with our God.

Time is the one commodity we often claim to lack. I hear this complaint often from writers, “I don’t have time.”

Yet everyone is given the same 168 hours each week. It’s not so much a matter of time, but of choices. How will we choose to use those 168 hours this week? Sure, we have to work, do the laundry, make the meals and clean up the mess.

But how much of our consumerism gets in the way of using our time for deeper reflection? We like to have multiple choices for the things we want and the things we do. We often buy what we don’t truly need. We also do what we don’t truly like to do.

We can’t completely clean up our spiritual messes without time with the One who can heal us and help us mop up the mess.

Every week, my church sends out a list of activities. Ways we can “connect” with each other. To make sure we all feel like we belong somewhere. To help us use our gifts and keep our families together by staying busy. Is that an oxymoron?

How can we spend quality family time doing activities with everybody else? How can we learn to be the family of God if we have no time to go deep with our families? And no time to go deep with the One who started life in the first place?

What if our churches sent out a memo to stay home? To love on each other. To pray together and have a communion service around the kitchen table.

The pandemic did force us to slow down and stay away for a while from all the consumerism of stuff and activities. Maybe we need to rekindle a bit of that solitude.

To find our way to a deeper path with each other and especially with the One we will spend eternity with.

Hope is a concept that requires the willingness to go deep. But it takes an intentional choice to make time. To move aside the layers that keep us from that deeper place of hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Take some time this week and discover some deeper truths in Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope in Three Values

One of the best fiction series, in my opinion, is Jan Karon’s Mitford books. Karon does such a good job of crafting this fictional town, it feels like an actual place where I want to live.

The main character, Father Tim Kavanagh, presents his wisdom in spades. As the local Episcopal priest, he oversees most of the spiritual events in Mitford. But he is also a practical fellow who grows roses, struggles with diabetes, and walks daily with his faithful dog, Barnabas.

Recently, I re-read the latest book in the series, To Be Where You Are. In this story, Karon offers a special life-values formula via Father Tim.

What are the three things everyone needs in their life?

Someone to Love. We all need an object of our affection, whether human or a pet. And I would suggest we also need to know and truly believe we are loved by someone.

During COVID lockdown, one of my friends had to put down her beloved dog. But she knew living alone without something or someone to love would be emotionally painful and isolating.

So she bought a puppy. Between potty training, adapting her new buddy to the environment of her house, and the usual vet visits — she had no time to feel isolated or worry about COVID. She had someone to love. And the regular licks of her face proved she was loved in return.

Something to Do. We all need to feel as if we have a purpose, that our lives matter for something. Activity of some kind keeps our brains nimble, our muscles hydrated. If we can see we are making a difference, leaving an impact for someone else, that sense of significance soothes our souls.

During the pandemic, I was so grateful I could continue to work. Although some people tired of Zoom meetings, I was grateful for this technology that allowed me to coach my clients and help them publish their books.

In fact, during COVID, multiple books were published — especially digitally. With more time at home, more people were reading. All the authors in the world cheered.

Multiple words were produced, words that will impact readers forever because of writers such as my clients who continued to write.

And they increased my hope as I had work to do, helping them to make an impact with their wordsmithing.

Something to Look Forward to. Whether it is holding a newly published book in your hand, planning for a wedding, or cleaning the clutter to downsize and move to a smaller place — we need some reason to anticipate the future.

As we circle a date on the calendar and make a list of tasks to complete, we focus on something positive happening soon. From that future event rises a feeling of hope, a surge of joy for something good on the horizon.

In 2020, I often thanked God in advance for the day I would no longer have to wear a mask. Looking forward to that time helped me deal with the reflection of myself in the mirror, masked and praying I would not get COVID.

Although masks helped us stay a bit healthier, they also represented fear. So the anticipation of no longer needing to wear one felt like freedom in advance. Answered prayer with God’s detailed timing.

Many of us in the last act of life are anticipating that day when our bodies no longer constrain us. When our spirits get to lift out of flesh and become totally free. When we get to relax in the arms of God.

That anticipation becomes a life-giving hope that carries us through health scares, changes in family dynamics, even the higher prices at the grocery store. And it helps to remind us that the problems we daily face are really nothing compared to the amazing life ahead.

Someone to love. Something to do. Something to look forward to.

Wise words and a reason to reflect on these blessings in our lives. Then thank God for the hope they offer.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

One of the books I wrote after COVID lockdown is titled: Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom. Check it out on Amazon and Kindle.  

Hope Within Conflicting Beliefs

While sharing coffee with a friend, our conversation turned to current events and political differences. Though raised in similar backgrounds, we are worlds apart in our worldviews. Yet we remain good friends.

Later that day, I pondered how we people of faith can believe in the same basic values yet support conflicting causes, certain of our beliefs. We may even attend the same church, yet we vote for different sides of the aisle. Donate to differing organizations.

What does that say about our culture standards and about the freedoms we have to choose?

This is nothing new. Even during the time of Christ, various groups constantly confronted each other. The Zealots, Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees all worshipped the same Jewish God. Yet their value systems differed, and they often clashed.

Our beliefs come from experience, how we were raised, what values were grandfathered into us, the culture we live in, how we think and make decisions.

For example: in my birth culture within the legalism of the church, I was taught to always obey authority, particularly the leadership of our denomination. So I did not question the ruling hammered into us: “Going to movies is a sin.”

The pastors were ordained, seminary trained, encouraged by the elders with years of ministry experience. They must, therefore, be right.

But my dad asked me to accompany him to a Billy Graham training for an evangelistic movie. Would I like to become one of the counselors for this city-wide event?

I said, “Yes,” hoping God would not strike me dead, yet inwardly believing this was a good thing. After all, my dad was supporting it.

The training was intensive and cohesive, pointers I have carried throughout life in various ministries. The movie created a community revival with hundreds of people deciding to follow Jesus. I had the privilege of leading a teenager to her salvation experience.

Yet kids in my youth group branded me as a heretic and sinner. “If Jesus comes when you’re in the theater, you’ll go to hell.”

My dad’s love and protection kept me from being blackballed, and his gentle reputation soothed the elders’ fears for our radical actions.

That experience began a questioning in me. What if the leaders of the church were wrong? What if their definition of sin was merely based on tradition, a conservative culture, and their need for control. Throughout the years as I experienced more spiritual abuse, I realized authority figures are fallible, prone to sin like everyone else, and not always to be believed.

The freedom in making my own choices via my faith, my own study of God’s word, and the counsel of those I trust has changed me spiritually, emotionally, and at the ballot box.

So what do we do in these troubling times, when so many questions swirl around us? How do we handle the anger within our churches?

Do we blindly follow what we are told by our favorite news channel or by the authority figures behind pulpits? Do we vote based on culture, tradition, and rules or by careful thought and reflective prayer about all the surrounding issues?

How does what Jesus said affect our everyday beliefs? Love God, love yourself, and love others. Period.

As we approach the mid-term elections, perhaps we can be more careful how we post on social media. How we proclaim what we believe to be true. How we take at face value what we are told.

Maybe we can take to heart Ephesians 4:29 and live it out, “Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it” (AMPC).

Perhaps we can spend more time searching for the truth and find it within the heart of the Truth teller and Truth liver — Jesus himself.

And above all, perhaps we can strive more intentionally to love even those with whom we disagree.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re looking for the truth and nothing but the truth, check out Uploading Faith.

Hope Within the Silence

In different seasons of life, our spirituality fluctuates. No right or wrong involved. Just the normal ebb and flow that reminds us we are mortal. We may feel condemned as those old legalistic tapes scream, “Where is your joy?”

But the truth is that feelings do not determine what or how we believe. Sometimes when God seems most silent, he is actually hard at work on our behalf.

Thus, the truth of Psalm 57:2, “I will cry to God Most High, who performs on my behalf and rewards me [who brings to pass his purposes for me and surely completes them]” (AMPC).

This silent time is not the dark night of the soul — that cavernous and sorrowful pit where we feel alone and lost. Yet even then — for those who have experienced it — the result may be a cleansing, purifying, detox that results in an even greater measure of faith.

No, this is the sound of silence. When prayers go unanswered, no matter how intensely we voice our pleas. When no inner voice whispers solace. When God is still present, yet mysteriously quiet.

We may feel abandoned, yet we must remember that every relationship has its silent sounds.

A couple may travel miles without speaking a word. Simply enjoying the journey of being together. How many times do we eat a meal with a long-time friend, each chewing thoughtfully? No words spoken.

The same comradeship can happen in our faith journeys. That comfortable knowing when neither God nor we speak. Yet our hearts still bind together. When God is silent, and we have no prayer language. When no actions result from the desires of our hearts.

Do we give up? Nay, nay. This is the time for the deepest faith striving, the strongest beliefs. This is the living example that faith means being certain of what we cannot see. Solid on what we cannot hear. (Hebrews 11:1).

We can know that no matter how silent are the Divine Three, they still have our best in mind. They still live inside us and around us. They still gather our tears in bottles. They still believe in us and cheer for us.  

Therefore, we also believe and rest in Hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Sometimes we can deal with the silence as we read a brief meditation. Check out these daily devotions in Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom