About the Author

Jill Maisch - as a writer, speaker, missionary, and educator - has a tendency to wander upstream... against the more comfortable current of social and spiritual complacency.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Racism... my own story

This is something I’ve thought about writing… needed to write… for quite a while now. Here it is and you might not like it, but it’s my story and I won’t apologize for sharing my truth.


I’ve been told that I’m pretty “woke” for an older, grey-haired white lady. Ha! I’ve posted anti-racism memes on my FaceBook page, participated in racial justice workshops, studied the school-to-prison pipeline, marched in D.C., come to recognize my white privilege, embraced restorative justice practices in schools, encouraged my students to learn about the valuable contributions people of color have made to science throughout history, and yet…


I grew up in the 60s and I remember watching the marches and riots on TV. I especially remember hearing about the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the evening of Thursday, April 4, 1968. I vividly remember the adults around me praying that it wasn’t a white man who did it. But it was. Of course, it was. I was twelve years old, and I remember that for the first time in my life I was ashamed of being white – as if the lack of melanin in my skin somehow made me partially responsible for the death of this amazing, prophetic man. I was in 7th grade and it was hard to look my friend, Rhonda, in the eye the next day. We simply didn’t talk about Dr. King's murder. Later that year a boy came up to me in the lunchroom and asked, “Why are you friends with her?” in clear reference to Rhonda being African American. I thought what the hell kind of question was that?  I walked away, but I didn’t say anything.... 


High School. When I was sixteen, I remember asking my dad if it would be OK to go out with a certain boy I liked. He was in several of my classes. Dad taught at my school and knew him. The boy hadn’t asked me out, but I thought I’d better ask permission just in case… because he was Black. My dad said sure. But here’s the thing… I never asked in advance about any other boys possibly asking me out… and I realize that’s because they were white... 


Fast forward to January 1979 during my first year of teaching. I was barely twenty-two years old and a fellow teacher whom I admired greatly and thought of as a mentor started telling “n- jokes” to others in the staff lounge. I’m ashamed to recall that the first time I heard her tell a joke I laughed… not that I thought it was funny… it was a nervous, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this shit” kind of laugh. I was grateful for the fact that she also smoked cigarettes because that gave me an excuse to avoid the staff lounge when she was there. But I didn’t speak up. I avoided her, but I didn’t say anything. To this day I regret my silence...


These days I hear – too often – about the racist tweets our current president sends. I watch video clips of rallies during which he allows racist chants. I’m offended by his recent comments about a beautiful city barely 40 miles from where I live. I’m disgusted that the president then referred to a member of congress from my state as being “racist” simply because he stood up to the president’s racist tirade against his district. Since when did being a racist become OK and calling out racism become wrong?


What the hell is going on, people? What happened to the progress I thought we had made during and since the Civil Rights Movement? Why is racism suddenly coming back? I think I know because, honestly, I don’t think racism ever went away. It simply became socially unacceptable, so it thrived in less overt ways.


Racism has continued in the home during family discussions about who the kids can or can't have as friends, who they can or can't date, who they should or shouldn't marry, and who they will or won't live next door to. Racism has continued in our justice system as evidenced by the disproportionate number of people of color who are arrested and then caught in a cycle of incarceration… when too often a white person who commits the same offense isn’t even arrested or gets off with essentially a slap on the wrist. Racism has continued in our schools through the achievement gap and the number of black and brown children who are suspended – which is far greater than any other demographic.


And, to make things worse, today we have religious and political leaders who are basically giving permission for racism to publicly and violently rear its head by turning a blind eye to white supremacy, encouraging fascism, vilifying the media, and falsely representing nationalism as patriotism.


Let’s face it… racism is alive and well and thriving. I believe it is our country’s greatest sin. And now I will not be silent. I will call it out. I will march against it. I will stand up to those who make racist remarks. At sixty-two years old I’ve found my voice and I’m giving fair warning that I will use it. If I embarrass or offend, I can live with that. What I can’t live with is myself if, through silence or complacency, I enable racism to continue to thrive.


Now I challenge you to reflect on your own story – your personal history with racism. When and where have you recognized it? How has your life been affected by it? How does it impact your daily life? Who is harmed by it? We need to wrestle with this, folks. All of us. We need to look racism in the face then be honest and recognize ourselves in the narrative. Only then can we work together… struggle together to end racism. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Praise God! - Published in "The Upper Room" 3/22/19

Photo Credit: Kurt Bauschardt
Several years ago, during a strange late-February thunderstorm, a fierce wind cut a path of destruction through our neighborhood. The experts couldn’t agree on whether it was a microburst or a weak tornado. Whatever it was, it ripped siding off some homes, knocked down fences and toppled dozens of trees. We were lucky that our own house was spared, but our fence was shattered and all the trees in our backyard were uprooted. 

For months I missed the sounds of birds in those trees. I also missed watching squirrels play tag on top of the fence and rabbits running around at dusk. Our back yard had been stripped bare and was far too quiet. After the fence was rebuilt, we put up new two bird feeders and planted several trees.

I wrote today’s meditation a little over a year after the storm’s destruction. I was sitting outside one morning, and it suddenly hit me that many of the birds had finally returned. I remember closing my eyes and basking in their beautiful chorus. I heard at least three different sets of birds that were doing some sort of call and response using their species’ own unique pattern of chirping and singing. It was like hearing three groups of people carrying on conversations at the same time. I found it amusing and laughed out loud. 

Sitting outside on a chilly spring morning continues to be one of my favorite things. Wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot coffee, reading a devotion, praying, listening to the sounds of nature, and watching the sunrise all help to center my soul. I find that when I start my day with God while surrounded by God’s amazing creation, I am able to approach the rest of the day – planning lessons, setting up labs, teaching 147 middle school students, and mountains of grading – in a much more relaxed and peaceful manner. 

This year, it seems that here in Maryland we’ve had one polar vortex after another. Hopefully the one we’re experiencing this week will be the last of the season. I’m looking forward to later in March when hopefully I can once again head outside each morning to my tranquil, happy place. I know my students will appreciate it, too. Ha!


Scripture: Psalm 148 (NRSV)
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him.Praise the Lord!

Focus Verse: Psalm 66:4 (NRSV)
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.

Praise God!

In the springtime I love to sit outside alone in the early morning chill to sip a mug of hot coffee, read and meditate on The Upper Room message for the day, and then sit back and bask in the sounds of nature. Each creature praises God in its own way.

I especially enjoy the symphony of praise performed by all the different birds that live nearby. The orchestra often includes the loud trumpet sounds of Canada geese flying overhead, the high-pitched whistles of black-capped chickadees jostling for a place at our bird feeder, and a lone woodpecker holding down the percussion section in a tall oak tree.

Each bird has its own unique call, but together they generate a beautiful morning chorus of praise. Just like the birds, we each have our own distinctive, God-given voice with which we can praise God. Some people have the ability to praise God out loud for all to hear, some have the gift of quietly praising God more informally during conversations with others, and some are skilled at soundlessly praising God through prayer. 

Like the birds, let’s merge our unique voices and together share a magnificent melody of God’s praise for all the world to hear!

Prayer: Dear God, help me become more aware of the many reasons for praising you. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday... my struggle

Palm Sunday. The name we have given to the day Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time.

As I read the Gospel accounts… 
…I can easily picture the disciples descending down the dusty road from the Mount of Olives as a large crowd congregates and accompanies them.
…I can hear the cacophony of shouting. Calling Jesus blessed. Proclaiming him to be the King who comes in the name of the Lord! 
…I can see the men, women and children laying their coats on the dirt so the colt carrying Jesus can trample on them. 
…I can picture their faces filled with awe as they speak of the miracles they have witnessed or heard about. 
…I imagine hearts filled with hope… the possibility that Jesus is the one for whom the Israelites had been praying for hundreds of years. Hoping that he is the promised Messiah – the mighty one who will smite the Romans and return the land to God’s people. Hosanna! God save us!

They didn’t know what was really going to happen. They had no idea.

I can forgive the ignorance of the crowd, but the disciples certainly should have known better.

Surely, they were aware of the fear both the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem had of Jesus. Weren’t they smart enough to figure out that there was very likely a plot to get rid of him? Didn’t they realize it was highly probable that the fickle populace of this city would turn on Jesus… that he might even be condemned to death by the hypocritical crowd that was now shouting Hosanna?

Shouldn’t they have been protecting Jesus rather than announcing his arrival so publicly? Didn’t they realize what they were doing? Didn’t they realize what was to happen?

No. Even though Jesus tried to tell them, they didn’t really comprehend what was going to happen that week. They had no idea.

And I think this is why I have a problem with Palm Sunday. 

I know what happens during the next several days in Jerusalem. I know how Jesus is asked bogus questions by those who try to trick him. I know how he is viciously and violently tortured. I know how the crowd chooses life for Barabbas and death for Jesus. I know how he is murdered in the most agonizing and humiliating manner known at that time. So how can I possibly be joyful and join in the festivities of Jesus’ entry into a city full of those who will denounce, convict and kill him in just a few days? 

I struggle with this every year. Wave a palm frond, plaster a smile on my face and sing joyfully? No. I don’t want to play the part of a person in the crowd because I know that same person probably screamed, “Crucify him!” several days later. I don’t want to be that person. I won’t be that person. I refuse to be that person!

…but the story is convicting… and, if I am honest with myself, I realize I am that person.

How often do I declare myself a follower of Jesus then – sometimes that same day – do or say something that practically crucifies the presence of Jesus in my life. I speak a word that is sharp and hurtful. I think I'm better than the next person. I neglect the needs of others. I place more importance on human-made things than on God’s creation. 

So, today I’ll walk with the crowd. I’ll wave a palm frond, throw down my coat and shout Hosanna. I'll join the throng as we push our way through the Eastern Gate and enter Jerusalem. I’ll eat the Passover meal then fall asleep in the garden on Thursday. I’ll keep vigil then weep at the foot of the cross on Friday. I’ll feel perplexed and yet pray on Saturday. And next Sunday? Next Sunday... on Easter... I hope to be with the women who are first to arrive at the tomb before dawn. I want to experience the undeniable evidence of Jesus’ triumph over death. I look forward to joining my voice with others as together we lift shouts of hallelujah! And then… and then I intend
to leave the empty tomb behind… go out into the world… and live a life worthy of one who calls herself a follower of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Brain Break" - Published in The Upper Room 1/22/2018

I've taught science in middle school since 1995. Our school has what's called a "rotating block schedule" which means we see a different five of our seven classes each day... with each class lasting 70 minutes. That's a long time - for the students and for the teacher! I started building in a short 'brain break' several years ago. The students love it and those two minutes give me a breather as well. I've also learned it's OK to spontaneously take a short break from my busy day to pray, read a devotion, reflect on Scripture, or just sit quietly with God.

Scripture Reading - Psalm 121:1-8 (NRSV)
I lift up my eyes to the hills - from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Focus Scripture - Psalm 121:1-2 (NRSV)
I lift up my eyes to the hills - from where wily help come? My help comes from the Lord..."

Brain Break

     My announcement of "Brain break!" always brings relief and joy to my students. As a teacher, I have found that 13-year-olds are unable to sit through 70 minutes of even my most engaging science lessons. They need a break! A two-minute brain break gives them the opportunity to get out of their seats, stretch, or walk across the classroom to chat briefly with a friend. When we begin class again, the students are relaxed, refreshed, and ready to learn more.
     I have found that a brain break can also provide me with some much-needed relief during a long stressful day. I can give myself a few minutes of peace by moving to a quiet place where I can pray, read a passage of scripture, or simply rest in God's comforting presence.
     A couple minutes alone with God in the middle of a hectic day might be enough to help us feel spiritually restored, physically revitalized, and ready to move on. When we feel stressed and overwhelmed, we can take a brain break - some time apart with God.

Thank you, God, for the peace and comfort you bring us even on our most stressful days. Amen.

"Come Out!" - Published in The Upper Room 4/4/2014

This devotion was extremely difficult to write because it deals with some very painful memories. In fact, I held on to it for several months before I finally got up the nerve to send it to The Upper Room for consideration. After it was published, I was surprised by how many people wrote comments. They thanked me for being vulnerable - for exposing the painful struggles they or someone they knew were also dealing with. They said it meant a lot to know they were not alone and that there is hope. I'm glad I followed God's nudge to risk sharing my experience... to tell my story.

Scripture Reading - John 11:28-44 (NRSV)
When [Martha] had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Focus Scripture - John 11:43-44 (NRSV)
[Jesus] cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

Come Out!

     Our house was in foreclosure, I couldn't pay the bills, I had been denied public assistance, and I had three young children counting on me. I was angry, ashamed, and afraid. I felt emotionally and spiritually dead.
     When I desperately cried out to God for help, I felt God say to me, as Christ commanded Lazarus, "Come out!" Through my tears, I could sense God's loving whisper, "You don't need to hide in shame. Let your friends and family know what you're dealing with. I'll walk through this with you."
     Trusting in God, I realized that my fear of being judged was unwarranted. When I talked about my situation with my family and with Christian friends, I received love and support. They helped unbind me from fear and shame. For the first time in many years, I was free. I could move in a positive, healthy direction, knowing that God was and always had been by my side.
     Whenever we are bound by anger, shame, or fear we can cry out to God and trust God to be with us. We can be unbound and free. A wonderful world waits fr us, as do the people who love us and need us.

Dear God, free us from shame and fear, and lead us into a new life. Amen.

The Inn Was Full

Martin Luther wrote these words almost 500 years ago... words that challenge us even today.

"Cranky and Unappreciative?" - Published in The Upper Room 10/31/2013

I thoroughly enjoyed the five winters I served at the cold weather shelter in Westminster, Maryland. Each Friday from November to March our group would help clients sign in to the overnight shelter starting at 7PM and we'd check through bags and backpacks for weapons and drugs. We would also provide and serve a hot meal, hand out toiletries, and then stay until a local deputy arrived around 11PM. I got to know many of clients. 'Electric Man' was convinced that his shoes set off sparks as he walked across the floor and he was constantly checking his food because he was sure the government was putting stuff in it so they could track him. Before his paranoia got the best of him, he worked as a physicist and we used to have long conversations about all things science. 'Bandana Mike' was a cranky guy who seemed to always want to pick a fight with someone. We got along, though, because we were fans of the same football team. I usually wore my Redskins hoodie because I knew that way I wouldn't have any trouble with him. Ha! Serving at the shelter was more about building relationships than anything else. That's what I decided to write about...

Scripture Reading - John 21:15-17 (NIV)
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

Focus Scripture - John 21: 15 (NRSV)
Jesus said to [Peter], "Feed my lambs."

Cranky and Unappreciative?

     When I began serving at a homeless shelter, I assumed the guests would be appreciative. But several complained about the menu and others snatched their plate in silence. Most met my smile with sideways glances that spoke of wariness and distrust. I though angrily, How dare they treat me this way! They don't even know me!
     Then I heard God speaking through my frustration: "Jill, do you know them?" The next week I began to actually sit and eat with the guests. I asked, "How are you" and took the time to listen - not only to what was said but also to what was not said. I heard the sadness in the tone of voice, observed the forced smile, and was touched by the eyes glassy with tears. I learned names and heard stories. Those I once saw only as grouch and ungrateful became sisters and brothers - each with their own unique pains of the past, fears of the present, and hopes for the future.
     In our reading for today, Jesus gave Peter some very specific directions about shoeing his love for Christ by serving others: "Feed my lambs... Tend my sheep". We are called to feed and tend to even those who, at first, seem cranky and unappreciative.

Dear God, help us discover how we might tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the people around us. Amen.