Joy, Idolatry and the Co option of America

Joy, Idolatry and the Co option of America

It’s been a tough few months struggling with my theme for this year…It has been hard to celebrate joy as a constant theme in these factious and dangerous times. Regardless of where you stand ideologically, unless you’re a zombie, soul-less, a hermit or a fool we should be able to at least agree on that. So, for the rest of us who are not the aforementioned, can we agree to work together to fight a horrible disease rationally, scientifically and without politics? Can we be respectful to those working tirelessly to rid the world of this horrible disease (and if I lose you at this point, I’m sorry, you really are a zombie, soul-less, a hermit or a fool and just fuck off…sorry, my bad…stop reading) Can we all agree to be civil and listen to one another before we go on the attack? Can people quit using “fake news” as an argument and do a little research please? Can we also agree that those who have tried to co opt the American Flag as a representation of only one kind of patriotism don’t really understand what the flag is a symbol of (meaning using the flag as only a representation of what they believe and then proceed to bully the rest of the country with strings of un-American epithets)? I can be just as American as a veteran (I’m a pacifist), because I’ve found ways to serve this country outside of the military. I have multiple family members who are veterans and they don’t see me as any less American as them. The person who just became a citizen or who has brown or black skin is just as American as someone whose presence in this country goes back generations and is white. So when the flag becomes more important than what it stands for, well that’s called idolatry and we should all be able to agree on that. What truly makes us American is how we reflect the ideals this country is founded upon and what the flag represents. So what ideals am I talking about?

This is where every true American should be walking hand in hand in agreement. America is that great experiment that fosters the freedom of “we the people for the people” to be treated equally under the law, and have the same freedom to pursue happiness. It also stands as a powerful symbol to the rest of the world and especially to enemies that democracy lives. The colors of the American flag represent the following ideas: red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. These are qualities that we all can work to uphold regardless of political party. But to co opt the flag as proof you are more American that any one else? Like I said, that’s just idolatry. Go ahead celebrate American pride…I fly my flag with honor and pride, but as a weapon to curtail those freedoms fought for because your perspective clashes with someone else’s? Well, excuse the language but again, fuck off cause you just don’t get it.

I have found simple joy in those who may not agree with me, but get that we can all work harder for a kinder, less divisive world. The bullies don’t scare me anymore, because the America I believe in is stronger than them, the love I have for this country is so much stronger than the hate spewed at me for having the audacity to have a different ideal of the world. So next time you see someone misuse the flag for their own purpose…simply remind them what it stands for.

Joy and the Long Game

As I have stated often, it is hard to speak of joy during turbulent times. While I’ve learned to focus on small joys, and clean my house of those who obstruct my personal evolution, I have also learned that living in the moment demands acting in a way that builds joy for the future. There are a lot of my Christian friends who are convinced that revelations is unfolding before our very eyes, and speak of doom and gloom that I believe only perpetuates fear (and somehow those who push said fear are sent from God…go figure). Fear has never been the focus of the gospel message, it is quite frankly the antithesis of the gospel message. Jesus the Savior more than anyone understood the frailties and failures of the human spirit. Jesus the teacher, though, speaks more of what brings about troubling times and how we should behave to survive them (from the 24th chapter of Matthew:

As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said: Tell us then, when will this happen and what signs will be of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus said to them in reply, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name and say ‘I am the Messiah’ and they will deceive many…But of that day and hour no one knows, neither angels of heaven, nor the Son but the Father alone…Therefore stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come

Interestingly, prior to the disciples query, Jesus goes on a rampage about what liars and hypocrites the church leaders have become and to be wary of those who appear holy in name and appearance with positions of high esteem and power, yet don’t practice what they preach. My favorite lines he uses to describe them are from Matthew 23:

You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth…Blind guides who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel…You cleanse the outside of the dish but inside they are full of plunder and self indulgence…

The point is so clear…a title of power means nothing if their words and actions are empty or contrary to the teachings of scripture. Jesus demands that the greatest among us must be a servant, and the way to survive the trouble of the times is to always be ready, by treating the least among us like we would treat him. For me, that is joy in the long game. Joy in the future is contingent on my actions today. My readiness also means that I am critical of anyone who promises salvation and yet behaves like the scribes and pharisees , the liars and the hypocrites that he decries prior to his comments on troubling times ahead. Actions speak louder than words. There is no other way to look at it.

Joy and choice

Since my last post, I’ve thought long and hard about sources of joy and my commitment to serve and build the body of Christ. I fully realize that there are differing “opinions” about many different subjects out there. I put the word opinion in quotes, because the distinction between opinion and facts still seems to be an issue in today’s world. Phrases like “I heard”, “Someone who is (insert position of some sort) said…” are not always factual, if you bother to check up on them. Also, just because someone states something on cable news, or posts something on the internet, doesn’t make it a fact. In the alternative, “facts” are increasingly hard to come by, when the volume of information differs depending on a host of factors: bias, resources and incomplete understanding. I feel dizzy at what to believe sometimes. My personal strength lies in being prudent, cautious and researching claims and potential bias. It takes a lot of time and effort and while I’ve felt exhausted doing so, it brings me joy to do my due diligence.

There are plenty of people out there who may disagree with my ability to disseminate fact from fiction, and truly, that is of no consequence to me, which further brings me joy. Choosing to challenge unfounded information (info I did research on) and suffering consequences as a result, strangely brought me great joy and freedom, which is pretty new for me. It is a relief to exclude those who refuse to acknowledge, parse words and always demand the last word, (again, my words, my take on it). The removal of those who refuse to be challenged and or continue to misconstrue opinions as fact, view as persecution or anti whatever, and at the very minimum are never open to differing opinions has lightened my load considerabley. My youngest son challenged me by saying, “Mom, you debate and argue logically and succinctly better than anyone I know, you have spent your life studying and understanding the complexities of what is happening right now, why would you associate with people who live on conspiracy theories, misinformation and hateful rhetoric or even care what they think?” I had a pretty weak response initially, but deep down it was because I truly want to be open to differing ideas and am firmly committed to building the whole Body of Christ…to which my own internal dialogue said…so if there was a sickness or cancer in the Body that threatened its very existence you wouldn’t address it? The challenge should be on how to move forward, with different ideas and yet still cleanse the Body of disease which is horribly hard to do with the limitations of a single perspective of which WE ALL SHARE. Its why we must listen to each other. So here is what I finally and uncomfortably realized: functionally, I am declaring that I am beyond or more evolved than some people, the reason being that I am continually challenging my faith. That idea doesn’t sit easily with me because of incorrectly associating being evolved with thinking I’m better than someone else. I really don’t think I’m better, down to my core, which is why I feel joy in finally understanding the distinction. I also embrace understanding that my personal evolution also means that I am aware that I am demonstrably more flawed than I was yesterday, because of exposed holes in my belief system that are a direct result of questioning. But before I let myself spiral downward a bit at recognizing those flaws, words my father wrote to me popped into my head as I continued to ponder this challenge:

I am glad you disagree with fundamentalism because to be narrow as they are apt to be, leads to a narrow frustrating life. They tend to gather around others like them and fail to find goodness in those who are not like them or put their own faith to tests of honesty. They’re good people but they stay status quo, with no growth. It seems to me they put limits on God. To me theology is a process of change which goes on continually in a life time. One must continually grow by learning new things, theologically. As you learn more your life changes in accordance. Everything you learn, in turn, must be challenged and tested. This is how you arrive at growth, or truth. I do not judge how others believe because ultimately we are responsible for our own Christian lives and we must act according to what we know to be the Truth at the time. Over a time we may prove to be wrong but only because we had insufficient knowledge or our logic was faulty. There is always so much we don’t know but we have to have faith that somehow God will reveal to us how right or wrong we are, and with way we grow. I’m sure God does not abandon us and sometimes things happen we cannot handle alone and we give it up to Him. I see you in everything I have said. You plan your own path well enough.

I have worked really hard at this, and rereading my father’s letter brought me such joy. There are too many people who refuse to test their faith and embrace evolution. Happily, I know that I am getting better at it everyday (this is not the same as people arriving at a different conclusion, I still welcome them with open arms, our paths are all different, challenging each other is how we all grow). But those who refuse to evolve, embrace illusions and lies to be superior and refuse to be challenged? They bring me no joy, and I am gratefully releasing them from my life. Challenging my faith on issues of privilege or what personhood means and how better to be a custodian of this beautiful planet and to make necessary changes to evolve my faith are only a few that I’ve embraced. There are so many more powerful truths that are sweeping me up in the current of growth to help me evolve beyond who I was yesterday, and who I will choose to be tomorrow…and it brings me joy.

Prayers for you on my Birthday

So, here I am starting my 61st year, a bit shocked at the place we are at. It leads me to believe that prayer, among many other actions are more important than ever. I think we can agree that we live in troubled times (yes, I know that’s an understatement) so my prayers for you this year on the anniversary of my birth are about evolution.

First, if you are one of the few who believe that you are already on the top of the evolutionary scale and everyone else simply has to catch up…I pray you pull your head out of your butt and understand that as long as you’re still breathing (pun intended) you have plenty of room to evolve. And if you remain resolutely firm in the belief that you have all the answers, or even most of them, I pray that karma doesn’t hit you too hard to force the issue.

I pray for you to find and develop your spiritual intelligence, from whatever source inspires that spiritual essence that exists in all of us…be it nature, music, art, meditation, scripture, or more traditional church. With that inspiration, I pray that you learn and grow and expand that intelligence into all that you do. The world is changing around you whether you like it or not and honing spiritual intelligence can only help you evolve with the changes.

I pray that you are able to evolve past what isn’t working in this world and find ways to change in a way that supports the evolution of everyone and not just you. Just as everyone walks their own path, its more important than ever that your journey doesn’t progress at the expense of someone else’s. Your success in this world should never be predicated on some one else’s failure. This is not the same as saying some will fail on their own, I mean more of the stepping on someone else to move forward kind of evolving. I think its evolutionary to believe and embrace goals that help all of us succeed, and I think it also honors a God who has created a body that can and should celebrate every part of it, even the seemingly insignificant.

I pray that you can evolve beyond what makes you afraid, and understand that the greatest way to overcome fear, is to shed a light on it and face it head on instead of turning a blind eye. Fear only controls what you allow it to and should never be the primary source or reason for any action. We are all afraid of one thing or another, be it rooted in money, judgement, violence, sickness, gender and race or a host of other things…and addressing fear with love, which is so much more powerful and bigger than we are individually, I can guarantee will help fear dissipate (and for those of you who claim to be Christian, you are commanded by God to love one another, because the opposite of love is fear, and choosing fear over love means you reject God who is love)

I pray that we all can embrace change, because it is a universal truth whether we like it or not. Evolution comes when we can clear our vision of illusions and work hard to see truth. While technology advances and tightens our global circle, it can also move us toward even more falsehoods or expose them. Words matter, facts matter and while you may disagree, the lying liars who lie are becoming even more deft at manipulating the truth, So, in order to evolve within change, truth, not opinions or falsehoods are essential.

I pray that that you can celebrate the unique and perfect blueprint that God created in making you. (go with the poetry for a moment and leave genetics aside). I pray you can evolve every great talent that has been built in and bestowed on you, and in doing so I want to thank you ahead of time for the impact it will have on the world and all its troubles right now. We need every gift we can get, and as soon as you understand how gifted you are, the quicker those gifts can be used to help our world evolve.

Lastly, I pray that throughout all the necessary changes our world needs right now that through them you feel and know that you are loved, that you show others that they too are also loved (especially someone you don’t love right now, because I guarantee you they need it) and celebrate the joy that comes with building a new and stronger future for everyone.

Joy and Sorrow

I wanted to start with sorrow, because it is the most prevalent emotion I feel everyday…but that isn’t the focus of my year, its joy. So I think that in this shit show of a world right now, where the condemnatory gifs and memes that condemn the year 2020, I am choosing to live in the “darkest before the dawn” sentiment and imagine that this is exactly the kind of year that will lead us to deeper and greater joy.

Perhaps the joy lies in not taking things for granted, like societal connections both strained and limited by a disease and challenged to transform because the horrific death of George Floyd. The greatest joy would lie in the belief that we really are all in this together. As Jesus says:

God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Perhaps the joy comes when people of all colors and backgrounds unify and walk the streets peacefully claiming that black lives do, indeed, matter and that we need to have difficult and necessary conversations about securing the safety and welfare of all our citizens.

Perhaps the joy comes when there is a renewed effort to practice kindness…even when that kindness isn’t returned, because people don’t always act appropriately when they are overwhelmed and afraid.

Perhaps joy comes with realizing that the pandemic and racial violence also offers the opportunity to rebuild what was burned down, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit the lonely especially those in prison.

Perhaps joy comes when empathy and compassion circumvent the need to demand perfection first. All of us are flawed and fallible at any given point in our lives…we should all be worthy, just like the good Samaritan deemed the thief worthy.

Perhaps joy comes with using your voice to ring out truths that are deemed inalienable by the founders of this great country, and continue their work to be our best selves by exercising one of our single greatest powers, the power to vote.

Perhaps joy comes with the freedom to wield our faith with impunity regardless of those who try to proclaim the belief that we cannot. There is no structure big enough, no limitation strict enough to keep us from engaging in grace and loving as Jesus commanded us to: To love your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Structures and services are not the priority, the loving part is. The rest is just subterfuge perpetuated by fear mongers. For scripture also says:

If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God 5 whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love their brother or sister.

And lastly, perhaps, joy comes from having eyes to see and ears to hear the necessary truths shared by all our brothers and sisters that will set us on the road to building a better future. We are all creations of God with unique and singular gifts. To think that we can accomplish any greatness on our own…is folly and contrary to what makes humanity great.

Joy and …..

This post was originally titled something else. I tried to live within the theme of joy, but given the current situation in our country and world, the message seemed inappropriate, because truthfully,…it felt trite, disingenuous, disrespectful, entitled, and simply unfair to be talking about joy right now. So, if you would indulge a bit of diversion this is my “not joy” insight. If joy is feelings of great pleasure, happiness and contentment, then we should all take a quick hiatus for a moment. There are times when given the gravity of the violence happening in my home town, when a discussion of joy is reserved for a later date. There may be a time to talk of joy amidst crisis, but that moment is not now.

I have only one single perspective. If I stand alone and demand that the only value is in what I see, and hear and dismiss any other vantage point because it is contrary or different than my perspective then it is antithetical to my personal evolution and contrary to my faith. If I try to move around to see things from different angles and ask for and listen to the perspective of those who may see things vastly different than I do, I think that not only helps me evolve and fulfills what Jesus requires of us, but is the only necessary place from which good solutions are to follow. I think its essential to take a moment and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Looking at things from a variety of perspectives, asking and listening to others doesn’t mean that I have to buy in to any one perspective, but it is required if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and love the least among us as if they were Christ. What seeing from a variety of perspectives does for me is to create a sense of empathy, understanding and a greater truth beyond my own limited perspective. Then I get to re clarify and move beyond my limitations.

We have some difficult steps to take now and into the future. It can’t happen without a dialogue, one that is sure to be charged with emotions and opinions. But, if we truly want to get beyond this crisis of the pandemic, racial inequity and the resulting violence and bring together the people of this country, then confronting the uncomfortable and learning to address these problems with civility and respect is a necessary requirement. Before any of us stand in polarity for or against any issue, remember these words that Jesus spoke:

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

There will be a variety of perspectives on all the worlds ills in the weeks to come, especially before our elections…let reason, love, truth and the golden rule of treating others as we would treat ourselves reign. I won’t tolerate bullying, but I am open for dialogue. I am praying all the time, for us all.

Joy and Revelation

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Amidst scrubbing for the umpteenth time, dried food on pots and pans and the ratsin’ fratsin’ that kept pouring out of my mouth, I had a revelation that brought me peace among the crust of other people’s garbage. The revelation pulled so much of my journey over the last few years together, amidst a pandemic, financial upheaval, polarizing anger and judgement…it all became so very clear. And to begin with, this has nothing, well mostly nothing to do with partisan politics, those of you who think differently than me should know by now how dear you are to me…if not, I’m sure I will be rethinking my ability to communicate that better. Secondly, I really don’t give two hoots in hell if I make some people angry. Do you want to know why? I DID THE WORK…and when I didn’t get it right, karma came crashing down until I got it right. (my relationship to God stems on a quick turn around so I waste no time) please check this reference on “standing in the middle” https://maryfrancesflood.com/?p=7930. Third, because I did the work, I am emboldened to tell you what I think is important information kind of like a philosophical/ theological explorer of sorts. And Forth, and maybe the most important of all, the possibility exists that I am totally fuc@#$g completely off base, and like Thomas Merton said “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” And also my obsession with Job; https://maryfrancesflood.com/2012/04/25/the-patience-of-job/ I am perfectly aware that I don’t have the omniscience that God has, so if I’m wrong about any of this, it certainly wasn’t for failed effort. I don’t think God would allow me to keep such delusions. Anyway, here we go.

I’ve been think a lot about this particular scripture when Jesus talks about the separation of the sheep and the goats. When Jesus comes back in all his glory, he will separate the sheep from the goats…basically those who understood the point of his ministry and utilized the power of grace to inherit the kingdom of heaven (which is super goal oriented, I guess). The bottom line is that the prize will go to those who treat the least among us like they were Christ…there is a lot fodder for discussion for what that means, but let me assure you it has nothing to do with the recitation of the phrase “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” and then keep kicking the least among you because you think they are sinners and disgusting, and well basically because you said the magic phrase and I’m in the club now, and gives you license to be God in judgment and jury. Love is more efficacious than that…which is evidence why I can love people who stand on a different polarity than me…their love is efficacious (look it up, its a cool word…you’re welcome).  Also, the least among us may look differently to each person see:https://maryfrancesflood.com/2015/01/02/of-consequence-and-consequences/. What makes us a sheep and not a goat, is how we respond to the people we think are of no consequence, or using my reference from the beginning of the post, who throw cooked on dried on food container in the sink for us to clean up. Jesus taught me in a dream, that if I really wanted to keep true to that message I had to be willing to wash someone’s feet that I think is so off it would be painful to do so, and I’m also reminded of  that question that my eldest son posed when he was eight that rocked my world, “Mom, there isn’t a place even in hell that the love of God can’t reach, right?” This is where my frailty comes in and my deep dependence on God to do the right thing when someone has spiritually knifed me in the back…while the anger and all that comes with that is justifiable and all I want to do is eviscerate them with my velociraptor like vocabulary…I recommit to refusing to let it turn me into a goat. (even though for the record this metaphor is lost on me because I love me some baby goats…I understand Jesus meaning though).

The joy comes because of the work that I’ve done, work for which I WILL NOT AND NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR, even if you call me a pontificating freak (which in so many words people have said a lot).I have the war wounds to show for it, and the wisdom to know what is self inflicted and what is not. The joy comes because I have walked and listened to a multitude of perspectives…again, here is the reference: https://maryfrancesflood.com/2018/02/15/truth-and-perspective/. The joy comes because I am so much more than those people that are stuck in one position and refuse to broaden their perspective by simply moving and opening their eyes to a different angle. I have joy because I recognize clearly those who are stuck and understand that it is as impossible to change their minds as it is to have someone color blind understand the color purple. The joy comes because “I” am so much more, because my eyes are open and God has shown me a multitude of colors I hadn’t seen before…and that does make a difference. As the little prince says in St Exupery’ great book: words are often the greatest source of misunderstanding…and then goes on to say “What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly” Jesus says it too: they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another. The joy also comes even amidst the anger that I feel when someone else’s stupid fear (and or just someone’s stupidity) creates havoc in this world. I have joy even amidst the sadness of so many life changes and losses, because the crux of my faith is when God is with me, nothing can keep me from his love…and those who don’t live by that are becoming or already are goats. And I can’t change that, except to treat them, and the least among my particular world as I would Christ. I can only change my response to them, and see if that makes a difference. And sometimes that response looks like wielding a sword, and others like washing feet. The joy comes when I simply do what the Gospel asks me to do, and the promise that I am not alone, even if I am physically in any given moment.

The joy comes, also, because for the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel alone. I feel connected to the great source that connects us all, and in my prayers I feel you, (even though I may not physically know you), struggling to become or stay sheep. I feel joy in praying for you every day too.

Using Joy

So, all this COVID19 stuff is starting to get old, I know that is stating the obvious. All the big corporations talk about how “we’re in this together”. Yeah, I don’t really believe that…but just regular people? Now it is in them that I hold my hope. There has been a lot that could have broken my spirit in the last days, and usually it was a single act of an individual, or the brave act of a bunch of individuals ( I live in Wisconsin) that lift me back up. I do believe that when we come out the other end of this we will be better than before…and that we will invent a “new” normal. And that is my focus right now, to use joy even in its seemingly insignificant impact in the face of sickness, death, isolation and so much fucking bullshit (and my new normal is to step a bit outside of propriety and swear a bit) out there, to bring light one moment at a time.

I’ve witnessed soul crushing examples when money, power and fear take hold…whether its hoarding or behaving superior or being just plain selfish and mean, and the impact it has on other people and myself. And while I’m getting over the shock of it, I guess, it has also become a “separating the sheep and the goats” moment for me. How we behave during this crisis is a truer reflection of who we really are and the future road we take. There is nothing like a crisis to wipe away the minutia of ego..(I have the gray stripe down my part to prove it). It has become clearer to me who I will spend my time with when the isolation lifts. It is also the time where faith isn’t just a word or something we talk about or celebrate remotely on You Tube. It is where we put it all out there and prove to ourselves and the world that we really do believe what the Gospels say and the promises it bears. It is the time to see for ourselves where our houses are built. Are they built on sand or rock? Can you live the beatitudes and treat the least among us as Christ? Can you treat others as you would yourself? Or are you living in fear, judgement, persecution and blame? I face this every day, and I do better on some days than others. The bad days?, I pick myself up and send out a little joy to someone…and it has saved me. I hope it can save you too.

Joymongering

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OK, I borrowed from the phrase: fearmongering…but why can’t we turn that word on its head? So, I had a thought (this time a super fun one). The store that sold my cards is under reinvention, and of course closed because of the COVID19 virus. So I plan on engaging in a bit a joymongering since we are all stuck at home. I will send anyone who wants one, one of my cards free of charge so they can, in turn, send one out to bring a bit of joy to someone that is suffering (like we all are) from social distancing and other pressures this whole new world has brought forth. You can message me on messenger with your address, or for my wordpress followers you can leave initials and an address in the comments section (I don’t, and won’t publish comments), or email me at the address attached to this blog. It’s first come, first serve. You can mention the type of card you want too, but like I said it will be first come first serve. If you have cards at home and don’t need one. them by all means just send them out. Most people keep fears and concerns silent…so let’s break that pattern and spread a little, simple bit of joy!

We are in this together, and we need not be afraid! I’ve never asked this, but please share this post so we can spread joy to as many people as we can!

Joy and Dancing

I keep thinking God is punking me with  joy as a my yearly focus…especially given all that is happening in the world right now…what exactly is there to be joyful about? And then I had an epiphany…and danced. In context, my beautiful niece got married last weekend. Most people had to travel (we did) and some from abroad. There were cancellations, concerns, anxiety and some frayed nerves. Yet love was celebrated, families were together, and in the face of  growing world fear, an opportunity for joy. So this is what I exercised during this trip: conscious joy. In every moment, to find the joy, because its there, always present and waiting to be seen and felt.

I saw joy when myself and others exercised kindness, others so appreciated it. I saw joy in the joining of two phenomenal people in love, and felt joy in all that we as parents accomplished with such amazing offspring and support for one another. I found joy in the warm sun, beautiful surroundings and time to breath (and I don’t mean that metaphorically). I felt overwhelming joy watching my brother and his daughter dance together, and felt an other worldly presence of my niece’s mother and my father who both have passed that washed over me with joy also. I practiced joy in re figuring crazy moments and laughed about them. And then, even though I didn’t want to at first…when given the opportunity, I danced…just like I used to. At that moment I remembered how much I loved it, why I did it and could feel my joy alter the world, even if in a minuscule way. I’m still paying for it now (my body just doesn’t work that way anymore) but it was the best reminder of why my favorite verse was David dancing naked before the ark of the covenant. It transformed my fear, and I realized that joy can be found at all moments. It reminded me why I am a  person of faith. It reminded me that all things are indeed possible if we have faith in God, ourselves and each other.

I am beginning to appreciate that my theme this year is joy. I think God knew I would be prone to dark moments and hopelessness. So I am conscious of it at all times. Joy can be found even in the darkest moments, because we are the very creation of love, and with that understanding comes joy. And this understanding will be crucial as we move forward in this crisis…for me I will try to exercise joy.

Breath

Suddenly the air is gone, lungs burn, the automatic function of living is momentarily halted because of an unthinkable tragedy…we have to breathe and we can’t, the shock of it halts the involuntary exercise of bringing air in and exhaling it out, it seems impossible, painful and exhausting. The heart stops and then begins to pound as the adrenaline and panic kick in. There is an unconscious will that supersedes the painful blow and we suck in air and as the pain spreads air is forced back out, and brought in again. Your thoughts go straight to no, no, no, this can’t be happening, this can’t be right, there must be a mistake. Lives so vibrant can’t be gone…life doesn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t work this way. The sadness is enveloping, overpowering and paralyzing.

There is no correct script for handling death…and there are no feelings that are off limits. The path that the immediate family walks is obliterated and altered to the road never wanted to be traveled, ever. But it is the love that fills in the cracks of all who are shattered by the simple gestures of loved ones: hugs, stories, prayers, and food that will help hold them up for whatever is to follow. The love is what will augment and keep resilient the shattered and brokenness of the present moments. It is the love that is the strength of this small community and the connections that are depicted in scripture when the apostle Paul talks about the body of Christ being many different parts holding on together each with different jobs to do to keep the body living and breathing together, in love. This body becomes a sanctuary that protects these moments of intimacy, and makes breathing, in and out become less stressful when it is done together. Being cherished and loved will make the new road traveled less lonely. It is impressive thing to witness for this big city girl.

There is much comfort that lives in this place, even amidst the pain. Kindness and generosity flow in waves over this community who have pulled together more than once to celebrate the ripple effect these two young men and others have brought into the world. It is a reminder to all of us to remain on our best behavior and place the pettiness that often overwhelms us aside and remember who we really are. The presence of these beautiful young men must continue to be reflected in our daily lives. Their ripples that flow outward into the world are now our responsibility. We now breathe for them and for all those who loved them.

Joy Amidst Tribulation

When I studied Theology in college, I will never forget one particular reading assignment in a class on the early Church Fathers that has left an indelible mark on my soul. During the early development of Christianity and its persecution by Rome, there is a letter to the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in which the apologist tries to respond to the Emperor’s query: “Who are these Christians that are joyful even in the face of horrible death?” In truth, I was more impressed with the question than any answer given. The observation was clear…there was something demonstrably different about Christians, they seemed to have something more, a power that enabled them to face their greatest tribulation with joy rather than fear, hatred or anger. As a woman of faith, that’s what I wanted more than anything…to be joyful in the face of any struggle thrown my way.

During this time of cultural trouble when it seems that up is down and down is up, I am again focused on being joyful amidst tribulation. Not fake joy, or just the deep desire or hope of it, and not the proclaimed kind or the kind that the church claims dominion over and is expected of all who say they believe, not the kind that exists in a bubble free from what is happening in the larger world to the least among us….I want true joy, joy that sustains and fills in the empty holes that life sometimes brings…the kind that makes me “more” than non believers. I want the kind of joy that dampens or halts any desire for retribution for injustice, and hypocrisy. I want to be joyful amidst all of the strains and struggles of modern life. I want the joy that used to propel me to dance…the kind that allowed me to see colors that many people, blocked by fears and all things opposite of love cannot see. I want the kind of joy that fills me with the power of light, so that change can happen through the visible representation that we as people of faith are more than someone without it.

I want to be the kind of woman of faith that can show to those who face depression, suicide, victimization, starvation, loneliness, judgement, the kinds of stress manifested in many forms, and all other tribulations that there is hope, a life line, a superpower that helps us all rise above any and all tribulations. I want to be more. For those who were so close to the events of Christ and the apostles in history, perhaps it was easier to become more that they were before they believed, or maybe it was the ferocity that comes when someone like the Romans try to take away what is most precious that gave them joy, because they knew so clearly that God would prevail.

I observe a church today that is more concerned about finding sanctuary within human made walls and blame upon others than standing as a beacon of hope and joy amidst some of the greatest tribulations of our time. It’s no wonder that people are falling apart in desperation all over the world. The surest way to destruction is to lose hope, forget the joy comes when we know that when God is for us, in us and around us that nothing will come between his love for us and the worst of all tribulations…even if that is death.

Think of it this way: those who fully embrace God’s love truly see things on a greater color spectrum. I have had times in my life seen colors that others don’t see. The difficult part is trying to explain a color to someone who is color blind, or can’t see it. Words are ineffective, you have to show the world by example, by expressing and wielding the love that Christ demonstrated, by having faith in the grace that was and continues to be extended by his loving sacrifice and a deep belief in all the promises that he made us. I know most Christians focus too much on the eternal life part, or getting “in the club” part…I’m talking about the transformation in each present moment. I pray every day to be the kind of person that would make people say, “I want what she has” (and not in a material sense).

Make no mistake, I am just as responsible as anyone for not exuding the joy that faith brings. I also want to be clear that joy looks different depending what path you’re on. There are people who suffer from mental illness, grief, are victims of violence and racism, etc. I tread softly here, because I don’t think true joy is a visible celebration all the time. The distinction, though, lies in filling and augmenting the broken pieces in each of us with the spiritual strength of God. Jesus said they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another, and that there is no distinction between loving your enemy and loving those who love you. I have to believe, that whatever the struggle, the love you share still will differentiate you from one who is just broken and hopeless. He also said that if you live in that love, His love will live in us and our joy will be complete. That is what I want to reclaim this year, and I hope my journey helps you reclaim it as well.

What is Joy

Definition of joy

 (Entry 1 of 2)1a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires DELIGHTb: the expression or exhibition of such emotion GAIETY2: a state of happiness or felicity BLISS3: a source or cause of delight

intransitive verbto experience great pleasure or delight REJOICE

transitive verb1archaic GLADDEN

2archaic ENJOY

When in doubt, I use the dictionary…otherwise its too easy to become mired in word use that doesn’t reflect its true meaning, at least for me anyway (words matter). Merriam-Webster has always been a good springboard to start. Words like well-being, getting what I desire, delight, gaiety, happiness, rejoice and bliss aren’t really in my wheelhouse right now. So here it is, the sad truth…I am not feeling the joy.

When I started a “theme for the year journey” 6 years ago, King David dancing before the ark of the covenant was the scripture verse I picked that exemplified my faith. Since then and six themes and years later: walking my path (opening my eyes to see and my ears to hear), speaking a loud about faith, clarity, fruits, truth and love have rebuilt me practically from the ground up, and in all truth most of the time I didn’t feel much like dancing. I don’t necessarily believe there was anything wrong with the verse I chose back then, not to dismiss my past self, but when God answered my prayers on my quest, my movement included a lot more rough and rocky terrain that was and continues to be difficult to dance along. There was a lot more climbing, and leaping, falling down, and scrapes and bruises as well as navigating over new terrain with no visible path than I expected. I learned that whenever a person is serious about a prayer, like mine have been for the last 6 years without qualification, you are afforded an answer. I may not have liked every answer, but, as I reflect, I know the answers were spot on. While I never could have imagined the direction life has taken me, hindsight shows me a great deal of proof that my prayers have been and will continue to be answered. The real qualifier is whether or not I can absorb, understand and apply everything at all…hence the rebuilding of my body and soul.

So, if evolution is to become a reality and not just a blog story (this is in direct reference to all the bullshit that is out there, i.e. saying one thing and doing another), this must be central to my discovery of joy this year:

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. John 15:7-12

The journey continues, right now its hard to experience joy according to the definition and Scripture’s promise. So my bliss is the hot cup of tea I am sipping, delight in the people I encounter, the happiness I find in my art. I am focused on rejoicing in putting one foot in front of the other and bearing good fruit on my journey as a disciple.

Joy

So like always, this idea came to mind like a ditty that you can’t get out of your head and played constantly as my year of love waned. Good, I thought…I could use some lessons on joy. While it may come as a surprise to some people, upon reflection, I am not a very joyful person. That is not to say that I’m not hopeful, faithful, loving, optimistic or other positive adjectives….I am just not very joyful about it. Chalk it up to many different factors, from personal, cultural as well as institutional, but all the things I was taught or told to be joyful about? never really brought me the kind of joy I thought it would. That’s a lot to pack into one sentence, and at least I get the year to figure it out. But considering the strife in the world, I think there are a lot of people like me who fake joy, more than they feel it. And given the kind of learning curve I’ve been on the last few years, I’m sure faking it till you feel it isn’t part of God’s program. So even though it may seem trite, here are a couple of things that popped into my head when I thought about joy:

Cooking really good food.

My youngest son gave me a gift card to my favorite art store.

My oldest son put together my drafting table.

I made some beautiful pieces of jewelry from a picture in my head.

Reading the Gospel

And now I’m stuck. For now, though, that’s OK…even though I feel a bit pathetic about it. I know I’m capable of joy because I’ve felt it in the past. I just need to figure out what it really means to me and celebrate that instead of someone’s definition of it. This year I’m looking for authentic joy.

Love Afterall

So what a year it has been. Training to wield love amidst, (I was going to say something more delicate but sadly the truth can’t be couched) SO MUCH SHIT is probably the most brutally effective and yet demonstrably most uncomfortable way possible. And yet now that I am at the end of this year of learning to wield love I’m not quite sure how adept that I have become. What I have learned is to strip down what love is not. It isn’t contingent on anything, it isn’t rigidly defined, it isn’t earned, it is not limited to religion, or what is culturally appropriate. It is not self contained or controlling, it is not present because of the use of the word…it is present because of the substance of the energy that it is. I know that last bit may be confusing, but the most important lesson I’ve learned this year? I have learned that most people don’t have a fucking clue what love is especially amidst the pain, struggle and challenges that most of us face in our lives everyday. The very power we should turn to to manage the struggle is circumvented by anger, hate and blame, sometimes couched in the very name of love that we are supposed to seek. That kind of love, the righteous, judgmental and fire and brimstone kind has nothing at all to do with the true nature of love. The love I’ve embraced, been overwhelmed by and grieved by the loss of, is made so much more clear by the darkness that has surrounded me…because then the love and its light is so much brighter.

And yet my greatest weakness in my training has been to curb the desire I have to rage against the unmitigated bullshit that people give to justify hate, lies, bias and racism, sexism, greed and so much more. I have had to revisit all the many things I’ve learned over that last five years to refocus all the emotions that come with movement in this world that is the antithesis of all the gospel preaches and just move forward with purpose, clarity. truth and love and find ways to embrace all that my faith teaches me, regardless of what I receive in return. Most of the time, in the moment, I think I’ve failed miserably this year. But now as I look back over the year, I do see progress. I have learned to set boundaries, demand as much from others as I am willing to give them, and love in the way that brings my heart joy, instead of someone else telling me how I should do it. I’ve learned to respond to hatred with kindness and expanded my prayers to include those that are not kind-hearted.

But the most important thing that I learned this year? I am certain that scripture’s words are my heart’s words also when it comes to defining love. It is patient, and kind, slow to anger and doesn’t celebrate fault, it is deliberate and the opposite of fear, it is omniscient and omnipresent, it is the source of everything and NEVER used in judgement or to punish. It never fails…and as long it is the source of my heart, neither will I. I also learned that I will wield love in any instant that threatens any person, place or thing that stands in opposition to it. That is powerful, and frightening and beautiful.

Love and Action

I haven’t written a post in awhile. It’s been an intense couple of months. It’s been a wild ride of emotions. I’ve celebrated life, death, relaxation, this beautiful planet, friends, family, illness, and felt sad at what is broken and corrupt and how that affects not only me, but everyone. I have figured out a few things this year focused on love, and what I’ve come to understand are the necessary elements to wield it well. Love isn’t an idea, a belief, or a religion. It isn’t exclusive or limited to one group of people. Love has matter and dimension that extends way beyond our human ones, an independent omniscience that cannot be defined by or limited to any one human definition. Love can not be wielded falsely by those who would frame it in a way that gives them greater control or power…love won’t tolerate illusion and can become as destructive as fire when the world tries to limit, redefine or destroy it. Love is the source of life and all evolution. But I also know that none of the above matters if somehow it isn’t translated to action. And what does that look like from a million different perspectives, is there a way to love incorrectly? That question still seems to exist beyond my level of clearance…but I am comfortable in choosing Christ as one who does know the best way to love.

And based on that relationship, this is what I learned:

This is a heady paragraph…but necessary to understand my train of thought…so please bear with me. Love in its entirety is so far beyond my individual perception that I can only get glimpses. My biggest obstacle this year was thinking that I needed to understand love in its entirety before I could wield it correctly. That’s just not possible, I am too limited. I know God is not limited, while I welcome the presence of God in my life, I also feel charged with the responsibility to work with God as a partner and not just a puppet blindly following the precepts of a church structure to tell me what to do to get to heaven…this whole relationship with God is so much more than that. While I’ve learned much in my study of theology, I also know that the flaws, (in today’s organized structures) far out weigh the benefits for me. So, for all intents and purposes I embrace the idea that without a structure I act blind a lot of the time regardless of what my intentions are, so I have learned to activate all my other senses that have gotten a little rusty for a better chance of getting it right.

Prayer, constant prayer…and not just when I or anyone else wants or need something, but prayer for continual direction, for understanding and insight before I wield love. In Christian scripture we are promised that anything we ask for in goodness, shall be given to us. So I take Jesus at his word that if I’m serious about what to do in a situation, I will receive the necessary insight. If I’m still unclear, I pray that those self imposed obstacles and prejudices are removed from my eyes, so that I can see a clear answer. And yes, more often than not we are our own worst enemies…I am the reason that an action fails and not the other way around. People are so fragile, I’ve observed, that they lash out and blame others first when love isn’t present….and blame never gets anyone anywhere. I also pray for those champions of love and light in the world to have the courage and strength to shed light into darkness and not hide it under a bushel basket.

Next, I ask for forgiveness, at the end of every day, when people and life are just too much that I’ve failed in wielding love like I could have (which is a lot). It really helps, not kidding…like unloading weights everyday. I am a better person because of it, because I feel a physical manifestation of love that I’m opening my soul to. I may be judgmental, and a bitch at times but love is not. It’s also important to forgive others too. I will say this: the more I’ve learned about love, the more I know what it is not…and the lack of it is soul crushing when it comes to the future of this world. Scripture teaches us a lot about forgiveness, but if you can’t acknowledge your own flaws and ask for, and then receive forgiveness…then any act of love will be so much more stunted.

I think its most powerful to wield love in small and ordinary ways. Looking at a person directly into their eyes and seeing them and being present is a more powerful gift that you think. So often, people just want to be heard…and seen. And in order to see others, you have to let them see and hear you too. It was in my struggle with authenticity that I realized wielding love isn’t possible if you can’t take off your own mask and let the world see your true face. Love’s authenticity and wielding it effectively is contingent on my own authenticity. And in a world where judgement and bullying is dished out quicker than anything else, it takes courage and strength…and faith to do that.

And last, but not least…wielding love demands that we are willing to extend it to the least of those in our lives. Who that is, is different for every person. I have to wield love even to those whom I despise. How else will the world be transformed? How else do we build a body that is worthy of that kind of transformation? I’m tired of preachers and teachers, and talk. (and I’m aware that I’m guilty of it too, so I do even get tired of myself). I want simple actions gestures and behavior that is appropriate for those who claim they are acting in the name of love, whether it is for God, country, family or any of the commands that Christ gave us. And I must admit, those who stand in righteousness but who are comfortable with name calling, bullying, less than transparent behavior, divisiveness, willful ignorance of the truth, and condemnation of their brothers and sisters on this earth, I will wield love for you too. It’s hard, and at times frustrating…but love trumps hate, and I can’t ever forget that.

Love and an Indomitable Spirit of Love

sunset and stars

There is a purity and sacredness as a life begins to ebb, the veil thins and the hint of what is to come becomes more palpable. While the biological mechanism that holds our soul begins to weaken and wear out, the soul in its beauty begins to shine through. While I fully realize that in this day and troubled age, many times the body that harbors someone’s soul is ripped apart too quickly, by violence and the harsh realities that come with human free will, there are those who, after a full and  breathtakingly ordinary and beautiful life, sustain my belief that love is still the author of this play called life, and because of the tether we have to a gracious God, nothing will still it.

I think we sometimes forget the subtle and sustained moments of love that often go unrecognized in the day to day. It is like a favorite smell, song, or the warmth of the sun that bring a sigh, a moment of relief or happiness that Fill in the negative spaces and keep us moving forward. I am amazed to hear the stories my mother-in-law Rayola tells, each one a reflection of simple moments that wouldn’t seem to amount to much in the full span of a life, but are coming back to her with great clarity as her life begins to wane and the effect they had on her and her life’s journey. It gives me respect for the moments I often disregard as meaningless or less than impactful, when, in reality, they take root deep in our personal psyche and ripple outward inspiring other simple gestures of kindness and love toward even more people.

I see the ripple effect everywhere in this woman’s life…the circles of kindness, acceptance, and unconditional love that wave outward into the world making their impact heartily and consciously felt. I know there are many moments that may be unconsciously felt or recognized by the person receiving the benefit (as I am one such recipient), but they are powerful nonetheless. I want to remember the beauty in the waning of life, like the colors of a sunset or beauty of the first star of the night…like a hint of all the beauty and the glory to come. Love doesn’t need a trumpet or neon flash or pageantry. Love is the all, the beauty of a background and the whisper of God in our ears, just like my mother in law. Today I celebrate the indomitable spirit of those subtle but powerful moments of love.

 

Love and Quid pro Quo

Imagine if your wallet was unlimited and you never had to worry about having enough money. Would your relationship with money change? What would you spend your money on? Would you buy a bunch of stuff, or build a lavish lifestyle? Would your friends change? Would you bestow gifts on others, or just the people who give you something back or who you believe were worth of it? Would it change how you think about being generous? Would you give more, care more about the challenges of the world? I think that knowing your wallet was unlimited wouldn’t change your relationship with money at all. Would you care how others used your generosity, or even care? Would you worry that perhaps someday that unlimited wallet would change so you’d need to stockpile? Or if everyone had enough, how would it change your status in the world? If every hierarchy that existed based on the level of income you had was obliterated, would you feel any different? If it controls your happiness now, even in your lack of it, wouldn’t it still control you in its abundance? Just google the effect of money for people who suddenly became wealthy to start…not a pretty picture. There are plenty of people who have more money than they could spend in a lifetime, hell several lifetimes…and sit on it, and build power structures that help them continue to sit on it. Or they use it to wield power and not love.

Now image if your heart was as limitless as your wallet. Would you change how you wield love in the world? Would you love in spite of getting little or nothing in return? Would you love only those who show you love, or whom you deem worthy? Would it be conditional? Would you dole it out carefully as if it were in short supply? Would you wield it only according to certain prescriptions and rules that dictate how to get it and who deserves it? Would you participate in a hierarchy who put you above others in the world in terms of eternal life? That is the trouble with conditions and love they don’t go together at all. Placing limitations on love turn it into something else, something that may be called love, but in name only…because love does not exist in limitation…

So, if you believe in a limitless God, one that brought a savior to our world to give our hearts an unlimited source of that love, without condition…then you have to wield it as as you would if you had an unlimited wallet. No excuses…Not receiving love is not a reason to stop wielding it. Here’s the funny thing about money and love…even with an unlimited supply, would it change how you use it in the world? Again, I don’t think so. Our understanding of love is intimately related to our understanding of money. I guess that’s why Jesus intimated that they couldn’t exist in the same plane. If you’re generous with one, you have to be generous with the other. I’m sure the reverse is true as well. Anyway there are plenty of parables in the Gospels that warn us of our attachment to money and its affect on our ability to love.

So why did I title this post love and quid pro quo? I did so because quid pro quo means “something for something”. While it may seem obvious in relation to money, that we pay out and get something in return, but the value of it? We spend money on trivial things like we have an unlimited wallet, and are often miserly when it comes to extending it in generosity. Civilized society depends on a rhythm, a flow of investing, sharing and giving without a clear personal return. Too often it is also how we measure out how much love to give, but that’s not how it should work. The exact opposite is true, love should be given without regard of return, because we have an unlimited supply. It may look different in how it is applied uniquely to every individual, (remember it is patient, kind, etc.) but the expectation  is to wield it according to its nature which is free, abundant, and without expectation of payment or return. Every single lesson in scripture lays that idea out for us. You never earn God’s love, its yours for free. And the thing I learned from this unbelievably challenging year? How I spend money and wield love in this world has nothing to do with never having enough…because somehow in the moment I always do. That is what faith is supposed to look like…walking your path and working on building faith that you have enough, you are enough and to face challenges that arise in your life with the belief that God will never abandon you, that God will never give you a stone when you ask for bread, that God can be seen clearly in every gesture of love, and never, ever in any other action.

This was my most difficult post to write, not only because I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to you, but because I have been challenged this year to dissect my relationship to both love and money, and while grateful for the lessons learned I am also full of sadness at the deep anger and hateful divides in this world. It is direct opposition of all that I have learned, believe and hold dear…not just in our country, but in those institutions that are supposed to represent and be the fountain of God’s unlimited supply of love to this world. They are being corrupted, and we must join together as warriors of love to turn things around. You may not agree with my method, but you have to agree that something must be done….because love dissolves corruption, it shines a light on lies and manipulation, it bears all things and never fails…

Prayers for You on my Birthday

love

As another year cycles to my 60th year on the planet, I am consumed by love…the abundance of it, the shortage of it, the mischaracterization of it, and mostly the lack of understanding how powerful it can be. So this year, my prayers for you are all about love,

  1. I pray you understand that your DNA, the very composition of you is rooted in the profound mystery of love. Love is the source code, and there is nothing, not even the best liars in the world, that could convince me otherwise…I pray that you understand this too.
  2. I pray that you have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, that each person has the composition of love too. Our job, is to help them realize it…
  3. I pray that you become aware that at your core is the potential to bear great fruit, God has bestowed upon each of us unique talents, a unique melody meant to share with the world.
  4. I pray that you have the strength to let your talent, your melody sing and never let the haters and those who spread dissonance drown you out. You have the power of love on your side, it is built in you and empowered by God. Change the space you are in to let it shine out of you.
  5. I pray that you wield love in your own unique way to help heal the pain and sorrow that exist in our world. Your potential is unlimited, and like a ripple effect, it circles outward to influence others to do the same.
  6. I pray you remember that we are on this planet to bear fruit, not to burn or tear it down, we are commanded to nurture and sustain it, and leave the judgement to God…for God alone commands the day and the night, we are gifted with its beauty and ability to help us rise to our greatest potential.
  7. I pray that you understand helping another see and reach their potential can only serve and help our own journey, there is abundance in this world for everyone.
  8. Most importantly I pray that you be kind, slow to anger, not judge, forgive, and have the faith of a mustard seed…for then you truly can move mountains

Love and Redemption

 

cross

On a vacation with our neighborhood years ago at a campground, my eldest son made a statement which came to me during this last portion of training. He said, “Mom, there isn’t anyplace even in hell that the love of God can’t reach, right?” I said, yes that’s right, unequivocally. That phrase shocked and reorganized my whole theological philosophy in an instant. I’ve been pondering that phrase over and over as I started and restarted this post for days. I knew what I had to do to test it, make it my own so I immersed myself in my own personal hell (mind you I certainly didn’t know what I was doing at the time…but I think God did) And while it wasn’t quite 40 days in the desert…once I came out the other end, I had such clarity and calm. So here is what I came to understand.

To start, I’ve always been uncomfortable with people who use Christianity as a means to get the golden ticket of salvation, i.e. once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior you’re in the club…or if you followed the prescriptions of the church perfectly you got salvation covered, and everyone else was totally screwed. It doesn’t really work like that. I know it, because Jesus said so. When Jesus told the disciples what the end time would look like, he didn’t separate them by who accepted Jesus and who did not. He didn’t separate them by who were the best rule followers and who were not. He separated them by how well they loved:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life

Jesus also told the story of the a perfect rule follower:

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

So I guess what I’m saying is that when you accept Christ, when your heart becomes his heart, you are supposed to be different, see the world in an altogether different light than everyone else. And as a whole, we are not the Body of Christ, as a whole, we haven’t really understood what grasping Jesus as a formula for eternal life was really all about. Arrogant? perhaps, but I asked the question so here is what I got. While I still believe that Grace is offered to all for the taking, I do believe that what is required is so much more than speaking a formula out loud or following a bunch of rules, or making a claim that you are a Christian…that has never been the heart of it. It is, I’ve come to understand, all about redemption.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He also challenged the disciples at their definition of who their neighbor is. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect

And how do we love perfectly?…with mercy as Jesus describes in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (you can look this up on your own…Mt 22:34-40)  The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us the expectation that mercy be extended to the least of whoever that is in your personal lexicon. You must show them mercy or you have failed embracing Christ, embracing God, on every level. Those that show mercy towards their neighbors get it right. So here is my question: with so many Christians in the world who have supposedly grasped the golden ticket to eternity, why does there seem to be so little of it?

And so my training in learning to wield love led me to hell. And it sucked and there was darkness and despair and there were moments when I didn’t think I could make it because I just couldn’t get what it was that I was supposed to understand. Bloody hell !!!!!(there was much swearing so bear with me), I know Jesus sacrificed his life for us all, for me…I tried to let go and let God. I read scripture, I prayed and then God told me to look in the mirror and then asked me if I thought the person looking back was redeemable, and it hit me like a jack hammer…fuck no. Beyond all the rational and reasonable there was a dark theme that hung in the back of my mind that said you haven’t accomplished what you were put here for, you’re lazy, you’re petulant, you’re arrogant, you’re ugly and old etc, etc. I remembered in the book of John where a woman was caught in adultery and people were going to stone her according to the law. When Jesus stopped them by challenging them on their own sinfulness, he stopped the stoning not because she was innocent, she had sinned, he simply told her not to sin anymore and that he would not condemn her. The way was open to redemption, but she had to do the work. Sadly, those that were willing to throw stones didn’t even know they needed it, and that is by far the greater tragedy. I have to say, that while I may not have seen myself as a stone thrower, I certainly threw enough stones at the woman looking back at me in mirror. I was also the woman caught, and believed that somehow I didn’t deserve redemption (not that I’ve ever been caught in adultery…anal rule follower here). I was driven to those dark places in my own personal hell where I hated myself, the places where I let the great deceiver get into my head and try to try and convince me that I was unworthy by letting the judgments and condemnations slip into my psyche (and yes, I do believe in the devil so get over it). And in the end I put my stones down and extended my hand and let the love of God reach through the darkness. And I felt peace for the first time in awhile, I’m not embarrassed in the slightest to have that part of me exposed…because everyone has it, whether they admit it or not.

So in conclusion, my takeaway on the visit to my own little hell in the last month?…we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves and God with all our hearts, souls and minds because we don’t love ourselves enough to get there. We don’t give ourselves the love and mercy we are supposed to give to God and neighbors and that is where the breakdown lies. So how do we fix that? We look in the mirror every day and believe we are redeemable. I mean really believe it, and are willing to work at the sinning no more part. It also means that you have to venture a bit into your own hell and face up to the parts of yourselves that you think aren’t redeemable. And just like those words of wisdom from a once seven year old…there is no place in hell that the love of God can’t reach. But acknowledgement is the first step. You can’t reach it if you don’t see it and acknowledge that it’s there. And then, when all is revealed, or what you are willing to see…you extend the hand of mercy and with the Grace of God believe that even with all the nasty parts that you hide from the outside world you are worthy of redemption.

I also know that it doesn’t matter if:

You wear the cloth

You are a genius

You are successful

You are beautiful

You are famous

You are powerful

You are popular

You are a leader

You appear to have everything together

YOU HAVE DARKNESS THAT NEEDS TO BE SEEN, ACKNOWLEDGED AND REDEEMED. And like the good Samaritan, offer up a hand of mercy and redemption to the broken parts of you. Jesus will simply say, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Wielding love begins here. That is what will distinguish the sheep from the goats…not the formula or the rules, but mercy and redemption.