Compassion and justice aren’t optional

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Many times in my life, several things I’m working on or doing converge into one lesson. The things I’m reading, thinking about and doing seem to fit nicely together so that I can “kill two (or three) birds with one stone,” so to speak.

Today I was determined to make my Bible and devotion time a priority:

Get the dogs fed (sweet mercy, most days that’s gotta be No. 1 in my household), microwave my refrigerated coffee (No. 2? Most definitely!), then the Bible App.

I hate to admit it, but I’m STILL a work in progress. (Note to self: You always will be.)

I still haven’t disciplined myself to do Bible first, email and social media notifications second. Still working on that.

But I’m going to put that discussion aside for now, because today at least two of the things merged.

The things?

Day 6 of the 30-day Practice in Public Challenge. that I’ve been participating in.

Day 1 of a devotional reading plan in the Bible App. I did this same 40-day plan four years ago, but as I finished my latest plan, rather than search for a completely new one I decided to take a look back at the 68 plans I had already completed.

The plan “Restart: Compassion and Justice” caught my eye because: 1) It touches on issues that I think are extremely important in our society, especially lately. 2) My pastor started a new sermon series last Sunday called “The Invisibles: Seeing the People that God Sees.”

The scripture for Day 1 is Genesis 1:26-27 (I read it in the New Living Translation):

“Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.’

“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

And from the commentary:

“As we understand and live this out, our lives reflect the One who created us. Instead of oppressing others, we empower them; instead of building fences, we get involved in the lives of others and work toward their good. We stand up for justice, speak out for the powerless, and love the unloved.”

My question (primarily to myself, but to all of us):

What I am doing, other than believing (and occasionally stating in public) that racism, bigotry and favoritism are wrong? That looking down on someone who’s homeless, mentally ill, in prison — or maybe just “different” from us — is NOT okay.

What am I doing to show “the least of these” that I care, that God cares? That no matter what society says they are — broken beyond repair, unworthy, unlovable — God says they are created in His image and, therefore, are of INFINITE value. No one can put a price tag on that which God has determined is invaluable.

His redemption covers all of our brokenness. It covers our sin, our struggles … our bigotry, arrogance and apathy.

But the sacrifice God made for our sin (Jesus’ death and resurrection) doesn’t give us license to spend our days living for ourselves, as if being redeemed means freedom from responsibility.

So, what am I going to do this weekend to “stand up for justice, speak out for the powerless, and love the unloved”?

For starters, I’ve just taken 30 seconds to add a reminder to my Google calendar. Monday I’m going to contact a local agency where I’ve been wanting to volunteer. This agency helps the unwanted have life. I need to be a part of that again, as I was 30 years ago when I had more energy and optimism. It’s time to hit refresh.

And I’m going to spend some extra time thinking through this question with more intention: What else can I do?

So that’s me.

What are YOU going to do?

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Book review: Back to Bremen by Cecelia Wilson

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The following week our orders arrived at the house. Our family had been directed to leave Bremen for reassignment to Saxony in eastern Germany, which had been spared the bombing the majority of the country had sustained. The larger the family, the more likely permission was given to evacuate, so we would be one of the first families leaving our neighborhood. … I remember being sad and excited at the same time. None of us wanted to leave, but we were also more than eager to escape bombs, death, and fear.

– Excerpt from Back to Bremen

By the time Edith Ropke was 3 years old, she was well acquainted with the horrors of war.

In 1939, Edith, seven of her eight siblings and their mother, Marta, could not have foreseen the devastation they would experience as they endured evacuation, separation, hunger, illness and loss before making the weeks-long journey back to their hometown of Bremen, Germany.

With Father conscripted to service — whisked off in the middle of a family meal — the rest of the Ropke family had to carry on with Mutti (Mother) and eldest brother Gunter, not yet 10 years old, in charge.

(That is, until just before Gunter turned 14 and was, himself, ordered to report for duty.)

Throughout the six-year journey that unfolds for us in Cecelia Wilson’s Back to Bremen, Marta Ropke’s mission was to keep her remaining family together, and safe.

Each child knew by heart Mutti’s mantra: Always stay together.

That mindset, Marta’s humor amid challenging situations, and her fierce love and determination to see every family member safe, is at the heart of Back to Bremen, the true story told with heart and skill by Cecelia Wilson.

Most of the World War II books I’ve read are told from the perspective of the soldiers or the Jews or — in my favorite book of all time, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom — the families trying to save Jews from Hitler’s brutal Nazis.

In the case of Back to Bremen, the story is told from the perspective of a German girl whose family was thrust into the thick of it and remained …

Well, if I went any further I’d be giving away too much. (I hate spoilers. Don’t you?)

You’ll have to buy the book, read Edith and Marta’s story, then come back here (or, even better, visit the author’s website) and tell us what you thought of it.

I’m serious. Buy it. Read it. Share it.

OLD MEMORIES

My family and Cecelia’s family have been friends for 45 years — since the Taylors moved to Batesville, Ark., in 1972. We met at church, and church (a different one in a different town) is exactly where Cecelia met Edith Ropke Harris, whose story is told in Back to Bremen.

Edith and Cecelia sat for many hours over servings of popcorn and Dr Pepper, Cecelia marveling at Edith’s stories and taking copious notes, grateful that she and her friend had finally found the time and the circumstances to make good on Cecelia’s promise to tell the tale of Marta Ropke and the journey back to Bremen with her children.

I had the privilege of meeting Edith and one of her daughters, Barbara, at a book signing a few months ago. That’s how long ago I promised Cecelia I’d read and review her book.

SIGH OF RELIEF!

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a friend says, “Do you like my new haircut” (and you don’t) or, “Do these pants make my butt look big” (and they do)?

I had a twinge of that feeling when I found out that Cecelia had published Back to Bremen.

I knew she was a part-time writer — I’d read one or two of her pieces in Searcy Living magazine — but when I heard that she had published her first major book, I was a bit nervous to read it.

I was afraid it wouldn’t be good.

And because I have an extreme aversion to false flattery, I would have to find some way of being a good friend without lying. Or I’d have to avoid Cecelia and her family for the rest of my life.

To join the Witness Protection Program or something.

Imagine my relief when I turned the last page and knew beyond a doubt that I could give the book a good review.

In the span of 36 hours (interrupted by church, sleep and feeding the dogs and people in mein Haus), I read the book, phoned Mom and gushed about it (she then read it and phoned Cecelia’s mom to gush about it), and fell asleep. The next morning at work, I gushed about it to my co-worker, who was also at the book signing, but I didn’t know this because I was too busy listening to Cecelia’s fascinating stories of the book, her writing career and the publishing process. (I’m a geek that way.)

LIVING HISTORY

It was such a joy to meet Edith and Barbara at the book signing. I asked Edith a couple of questions, had her and Cecelia sign my copy of Back to Bremen, introduced myself to Barbara, and marveled that I had the privilege of meeting someone who lived through such a time in our history.

If you’re on Facebook, take a look at Cecelia’s video of Edith talking to Fred Hilsenrath, a fellow survivor of WWII, as they converse for a few minutes in their native German.

And here’s where you can buy the book.

Go on. Buy a copy now! Then let us know how you like it. Comment here or on Cecelia’s page, wherever you’re the most comfortable. Be sure to like her Facebook page while you’re there.

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