Women of the ELCA

Commentary and reflections on issues, events and trends in our church, society and world, as seen through the lens of our mission and purpose and our ministries.

Protecting the poor and the hungry is a good investment

Posted on June 28, 2011 by Inez Torres Davis

I was in Washington, D.C. with Bread for the World people recently. I learned a great deal! I learned that legislators over the last 30 years have faithfully placed a “circle of protection” around our foreign development dollars: which is 0.6% of the federal budget, although many say it is 1% and people in the street imagine it to be as much as 25%. It is so small, it will do nothing to balance the budget if eliminated.

Foreign development funds do not enter the coffers of despots nor line the pockets of dictators. It is military foreign aid that gets abused in this way. Our foreign development funds support sustainable development, like programs for women in agriculture or entrepreneurship, and provide milk, beans, rice and porridge to save the lives of children overseas. 

The 1000 Day Campaign supports infants through to the age of 2 years.  As a humane nation, we are developing these countries for the sake of the future but we are also creating our future foreign markets. We need other countries to purchase our products. This is another reason U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Gates supports our foreign development fund investment–0.6% of our budget–and says we should not reduce it.

I learned that our domestic programs for the poor and hungry have also been kept within this “circle of protection.” These programs are about 14% of the budget. I learned that for every $1 that is spent in WIC and SNAP (food stamps) $1.73 is returned to our economy. If I could get $1.73 back for every $1 I gave you, I would give you all that I could!

Even in cases of abuse, each $1 spent in domestic programs for the poor and the hungry still returns $1.73 to our economy. I am not defending those who abuse our system of domestic relief, but there is no net loss with these programs, and the amount of good they do is measurable.  

I personally asked all of my Washington representatives to keep that “circle of protection” around programs for the hungry and the poor. Have you? Tell them Bread for the World and Jesus sent you.

Taming the fear of aging

Posted on June 24, 2011 by Terri Lackey

Please God, don’t let me look like my new passport photo. Thank you. Oh yeah, and help the people who are suffering in Joplin, Missouri, Afghanistan and Iraq.

That was my actual prayer in my pre-awake haze one recent morning, when the image of my passport photo taken at a local drugstore bubbled into consciousness.

My previous passport photo, taken in 2001 looks all right, not bad. But, oh yeah, I was 10 years younger then. In this newest one, taken in 2011, I look old. And not only old, but extremely unattractive. Is that me? Is my nose that big? Are my eyes that squinty? Do I have a yellowish-orange cast to my skin?

True, the 20ish-year-old “photographer” at the drug store stepped in really close for the shot. And he clearly didn’t use a photo-editing program. Those could be some of the reasons I look like a cheese curd. But really, where did all this vanity come from, anyway. And when is it time to let it go? Age 55? 60? 70? Eighty for sure. I would say that, but my mother, age 80, still worries about her weight (not enough to diet) and steps on the scales twice a day to see if she’s mysteriously shed pounds.

And if we don’t worry about our weight (I can count those friends on one hand), we worry about our wrinkles, our gray hair, our spider veins, our cellulite, our zits (one colleague even names her pesky blemishes; Delores makes regular appearances). When does it stop?

Or a better question. How do I make it stop? Do I have control over my fear of aging? Well, not a fear of aging, exactly, because I believe I am wiser now that I was when my passport photo was taken in 2001. And most certainly wiser than when it was taken in 1991. Maybe it is anxiety about a slow demise, like when you throw a banana peel in the yard and watch as it shrivels, then turns black. I don’t want that for my face or my body or my mind.

What I need is a dose of grace to accept that I’m aging.

How about you?

Combating loneliness

Posted on June 21, 2011 by LPB

I read a sobering news account last week. We are a nation of lonely people. Beyond that, loneliness is linked to serious health problems like depression, sleep disorders and chronic pain, among others. The World Health Organization ranks loneliness as carrying a higher health risk than smoking and as great a risk as obesity (with its attendant risks of diabetes and heart disease).

Isn’t that astounding?

I already knew a bit about the opposite side of that loneliness coin. I’ve seen research that shows friendships and social networks can lead to healthier diets, more exercise and better sleep habits; that strong social ties promote brain health as you age. Research even shows that friendships provide a greater positive impact in your life than do family ties.

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; and those who fear the Lord will find them.  (Sirach 6:14-16)

So if loneliness is bad for your health, what is its cure? As a participant in Women of the ELCA, I’m quick to answer with “living in community.” Lutheran women find their friends and build social networks through Women of the ELCA. Whether we participate in a traditional circle, a Café group or a book club, the connections we make there contribute to our emotional, spiritual and physical health.

Now that is good news! How often is something good for you that you actually enjoy?

We know that healthy women can produce healthy families, churches and communities, and can develop healthy, more just and more holistic societies. So, go out there today and make a friend. You’ll be helping you and that new friend lead a healthier life.

Free to be

Posted on June 17, 2011 by Emily Hansen

Who remembers Free to Be…You and Me? Originally written in 1972 as a project of the Ms. Foundation, it was a children’s album that sang these truths: no matter where you came from, what gender you were or what your parents did, you were free to do and to be anything! I loved this album when I was young and now I sing it with my own little girl.

A few weeks back, I was attending a soccer game and had brought some books and toys for my younger 3 year-old to play with. She likes hearing the stories and singing the songs from my Free to Be songbook and so I took that one out of the bag and we started going through it. Well, sitting there on our blanket on the grass, we were quietly singing “William Wants a Doll” and suddenly I had not one but several moms come up to me and say “Is that Free to Be You and Me? I remember that album! I had that record when I was a girl!” 

Some may want to dismiss Free to Be as a post-60’s radical piece, but I think they’re wrong, because the themes of individuality, family and acceptance are just as relevant and important now, nearly 40 years later. 

So, how about you? 
Do you remember the songs and stories? 
Has it gone through the generations in your own family?

A meditation on Psalm 23

Posted on June 13, 2011 by deborahpowell

In dealing with the recent death of my husband, I’ve been drawn into God’s word. One passage of scripture in particular has been speaking to me: Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
It’s comforting to know that God is the shepherd of my life, the one who leads and guides me. So in times like these, when I am not in position to think clearly, I know that God is navigating my path.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
When the world around me seems out of control, the Lord allows me to rest. It has not been eight consecutive hours of sleep for me since my husband’s death, but when I am able to sleep, I have sweet dreams.

He leads me beside still waters;
My husband of 29 years is no longer here with me, yet God has given me a sense of peace about this situation. God gives me peace that surpasses all understanding.

He restores my soul.
After experiencing such a devastating loss, I didn’t know how I was going to recover. But God has strengthened me to look to the hills for my help. My help comes from the Lord. I now have hope for what is to come.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
In spite of everything that I’ve been through over the past six weeks, I trust God to lead me in the right direction. In doing so, God will get the glory.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Yes, I may be in a dark valley right now, but God’s word says “I will walk through it.”  When I find myself in the valley of darkness, I need not fear because God is with me and will protect me. My God will never leave me nor forsake me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
I know the Lord has His hands on me. No matter what the enemy throws at me, I am still standing. God continues to shower me with blessings as I live life in the overflow.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
Thank you God for offering me new grace and new mercy on a daily basis.

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
I will continue to serve the Lord with gladness until He calls me home.

True renewal

Posted on June 6, 2011 by Terri Lackey

True renewal takes more than a week-long vacation or a steaming hot bubble bath. I know I need a spiritual boost when I scream at drivers in front of me who fail to signal or when I want to put my hands around the neck of a colleague. (Of course, that never really happens.)

I thought I was truly renewed after taking a couple of weeks off at Christmas. I floated on a cloud of happiness and nothing bothered me. Not my neighbor’s barking dogs. Not crazy drivers. Not long lines at the grocery.

The bliss lasted about a week. When my eyes shot blazes at the person who took the parking spot I was going for, I knew my renewal had come to a screeching halt.

In the first session of Lutheran Woman Today’s summer Bible study, Renew, Respond, Rejoice! , our authors—Catherine Malotky and David Engelstad—inform us that “renewal is not all about sipping iced tea on the beach! It’s often hard work, disruptive, and even painful to get to the other side of a hard heart or a narrow perspective.”

To be truly renewed, they say, means “something fundamental has to change in order for life to be different on the other side.”

Often renewal takes breaking and remaking. In her article by this title, Martha Stortz asks whether we seek change or are averse to it. “Do you live by routines? Or do you live to try the latest new gadget?”

When cancer shattered Martha’s and her late husband’s lives, change chose them, she wrote. “We could only choose whether change would renew or destroy us.” Later, she affirms that “God’s change offers all of us the consolation we crave, for God’s change leads to renewal and not destruction.”

To avoid destruction or ruin, Sonia Solomonson in “Time for a Tune-Up” proposes we design a “maintenance routine for our bodies and souls.” Suggesting that we take better care of our cars than ourselves, she writes that women must believe they deserve to self-pamper.

“For starters we might remember that God spent six days creating and one resting,” she writes. …And “Jesus often pulled away from the crowds, too, so he could pray and be renewed.” Solomonson offers us a “tool kit” of practical self-care tips.

Maybe one of the articles in our June issue will help you consider what change could move you toward renewal this summer.

Anti-racism lessons from working in the garden

Posted on June 2, 2011 by Inez Torres Davis

I am teaching my husband to deadhead. I had no idea what amazing measurement, dexterity and practiced skill lies in my right palm, fingers and thumb!

I demonstrate to him how to pull dead blooms off the flowers in the garden, but he doesn’t really see what is happening inside of my hand as I reach for a plant and return with a little spent head in my palm. And when he does the “exact same thing,” a strangled stem drags behind the spent head like a torn remnant. Jesus wept. Okay, it is no big deal … we can do this!

So we start using scissors, a proven and satisfactory (and safe for the plant) way to deadhead. Now the question becomes at what precise point to cut?  Well, that depends on the plant: Cut too high and you have ugly naked stems towering over the new growth; cut too low and you trim away new blooms.

There’s a connection here to building a robust anti-racist organization. It takes practice. It takes effort. It takes listening to those who have been doing this for awhile. It takes attention, study and prayer. It takes commitment and persistence. It takes faith, compassion and diligence. And it takes mistakes–lots and lots of mistakes! Like my husband killing a yarrow, or the time I cut a prized lily bulb with my spade because it was not where the stem led me to think it would be.  

If you garden, you understand that you limit walking in the beds. Just as there have been times when I have looked down and seen one of my “dainty little feet” stepping on the neck of a tender plant, I have also been in anti-racism presentations and training events and looked down and seen my foot on a neck.

Do I flee from the garden, sobbing, “I am just not meant to garden!!” Or have I learned to gingerly right the plant after removing my foot? Well, actually, I have cried and fled, but thankfully I have more often set things right.

How do you cultivate a culture of racial justice?
What have you learned?