It is amazing what people will talk themselves into. I’ve felt pretty speechless over the last few weeks. Struggling to find the perfect analogy, I remember reading Plato’s allegory of the cave, which in a nutshell tells the story of prisoners in a dark cave all chained with a fire behind them that reflects on the cave wall in front of them. Also behind the prisoners are prison masters waving puppets to create shadows on the wall. To the prisoners this is their reality, the shadows define their reality. Lets say one escapes and turns to see the puppet masters making the shadows on the wall and realizes that the world they’ve known is an illusion, and also sees an exit that leads outside. The world is blinding bright and beautiful, and for few minutes the light blinds them.. When the now freed person goes back inside to free the other prisoners and tell them about the true world out side, the freed person can no longer see in the darkness and the prisoners become afraid that the freed person can no longer see, so the keep their chains and shadows out of fear, regardless of how beautiful the description of the outside world, or the explanation that they are just being manipulated. In truth? That is how I feel much of the time. I feel like the person who has escaped. I see things the way I do, not because I am better or smarter, but because I recognized chains that held me, and once freed actually turned around and challenged my perspective and moved outside to another world view.
How do you convince people that what they believe to be true may be nothing more than an illusion held and rooted in shadow and the machinations of others defining their reality? You can’t. What you can do, like Jesus did, is calm fears, challenge weaknesses, show them hope (many in the miracles he performed) and promise a greater life and future, teach people to pray for God’s ample help to assist you in moving out into the light. And still so many people are rooted into always staying, believing what they are looking at without question. What is most disturbing are those charlatans who having heard the escaped prisoner’s story, pretend that they’ve been unchained and gone outside and twist and turn the message to suit their own ills and pressure those stuck in shadow that the message of the outside is wrong and not to listen. There are plenty out there who stand in the name of life, who are more concerned with control, political will and power. It makes me angry and sick to my stomach listening to their self righteous blather., and how many believe that they are telling the truth.
So, who do you believe? Well, perhaps its time to get up off your butt and turn around to see what’s behind you, what you’re rooted in and get some new information on your own. Going outside your comfort zone and chucking what you’ve always thought you knew for something completely new is scary, It’s scary because it requires us to use our own eyes and ears instead of staring at shadows in the darkness created by someone else. The light may be bright and painful at first, but the reality is so much better. I’d rather learn to see in bright light than suffer in the shadows.
Today is Good Friday, and I’m reminded that to Christians, it is the holiest time of the year. It is the day that traditionally, the crucifixion narrative is read. Beyond the obvious, that is, that it is a horrific way to die, it is the hatred and fear of the mob who stood against him that frightened me the most about this story. What was it that could turn a crowd, who just days before were singing songs of adulation and waving palm fronds in his wake as he entered Jerusalem? Was it the machinations of the church leaders and Romans who turned the public against the one who had healed and supported, taught and fed them during his short ministry? I often asked myself the question, “Would I have been like them, or like Peter who denied him three times?” Perhaps it is because of the grace I have been given that I see and understand the reasons why mob rule is so dangerous, and the horror and evil that individuals en mass are capable of when fueled with angry rhetoric (especially if the source is religious). All of us are susceptible, and if you think you’re exempt and never worried about how you would respond to mob anger, I don’t think you’re being totally honest with yourself.
So with Jesus’ great sacrifice, where are the effects of this super power we celebrate on Easter Sunday? Is the extent of it held in the future promise of eternal life? Or is there a mechanism we gain to transform the world around us in the moment? I continually struggle with what makes me, as a Christian, so different than other humans, religious or not. What makes me visibly different? I truly believe, that with seeing and hearing through the gospel message I am meant to, challenged to, radiate heaven in a way that shows I fully understand what Easter means: that they will know I am his disciple because of how I love. We understand Jesus sacrifice because we are gifted with holding the Kingdom of God within us…
Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”
This is where it gets tricky for me. There is so much noise and dissonance from churches around the world that not only contradict the idea that “the Kingdom of God is within” and what it is supposed to look like, but actually subvert it by redefining what heaven is through exclusive and authoritarian methods, not unlike those in power did at the time Jesus was crucified. The corruption that often lies hidden behind the righteous in power is why I continue to look to how Jesus radiated the Kingdom…extending mercy, the relinquishment of earthly power, the focus on those in need, loving your neighbor and enemy, loving God more than money, and kind civil rhetoric. That isn’t the rhythm of many professed Christians who radiate superiority, judgement, and yes, mob anger and hatred, the kinds of behaviors that Jesus deplored in his day. I think of Jesus’ quiet power standing broken and beaten in front of Pontius Pilate, refusing to be bated and justify his questions and ignorant assumptions, his quiet strength in carrying the cross and his mercy once on the cross to those criminals beside him. That is how in the worst of circumstances we radiate heaven.
Like any superpower, grace must be continually exercised, and expressed. Jesus made clear the road to heaven was to treat others as if they were indeed him. He also promised that he will come again and until then we must radiate the Kingdom of Heaven like children do or never expect to exist there. Beyond righteous behavior, we must be willing to sell all we have and follow him, and when we feel unworthy, be reminded that what is impossible for humans is forever possible with God.
Sometimes I think of that moment in the story of Adam and Eve, when they both become aware of good and evil and what that must have felt like. Their sense of innocence was gone and they were keenly aware that they are naked, exposed, and were immersed in a world of sin. And then, I remember a line from the Easter liturgy that says: “Oh happy fault of Adam which gained for us so great a Savior” So, while none of us ate a bite of that damn apple, sin is in the world, its consequences glaringly apparent (at least to those who aren’t blind, metaphorically speaking). The good news is that we are not without hope, without help, without guidance; we were blessed with such a Savior. Which is why I’m confounded to think that there are those who think that sin isn’t their problem and that if they simply sanitize what they see and hear in the world then some how that becomes an acceptable response in dealing with its ugliness. Sin is here, that ship has sailed. It’s presence and legacy is unavoidable and is something we all have to deal with, even our youngest and most innocent. With the interconnections and expanse of social media, we are literally running out of places to sweep things we don’t want to see and hear under the rug. I also am acutely aware that one person’s definition of what is unconscionable is vastly different than another’s. And while accepting the gift of grace by following Christ has opened my eyes and ears, it doesn’t make me any less of a sinner or any less susceptible to its temptations. I think the Gospels lay out pretty clear criteria on how to go about dealing with sin. There is a clear conversation, though, about why Jesus teaches the way he does through parables:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it
Jesus used story telling as a mechanism to teach us about sin, love, sacrifice, and who God is. It is clear from Jesus’ perspective that many people wouldn’t get it, because they refused to be open to it, even the Pharisees. So from where I stand, I do not believe that book burning, or banning is the answer. I must admit, on a list of banned books, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Wrinkle in Time” are why I am a reader…and I read them when I was 11…and was not tainted by them in any way shape or form. As a matter of fact, I learned a lot about the horrors of the world without needing direct experience in how to face or understand those horrors. I also learned a lot about standing in someone else’s shoes and more often than not I was left hopeful. Sometimes, though, I learned very hard lessons about myself, that changed the way I moved and behaved in the world. Regardless of the discomfort one may feel reading a book like “Lord of the Flies”, which I hated and yet still learned a great deal about bullies and the nature of power, I learned about sin and what havoc it can create in this world, and what can happen even in the most unexpected circumstances. I think books like the ones I mentioned are necessary, not as an approval of, but as an awareness of the destruction that evil and sin have brought into the world without having to have first hand experience. Utilizing our eyes and ears and exercising what hopefully are evolving ethics and humanity in a safe environment are a way to contain the sin that need not be perpetuated as an inevitable result of being human.
I am in no way saying that any parents don’t have the right to guide their child’s education, but I am clearly saying that burning books or banning them in righteous indignation could also mean that you are afraid to see and hear uncomfortable truths about the world. Sin affects not just those who commit bad acts, but those who are victims of it as well. And most importantly ignorance of the sin is never an excuse to say you can never be responsible for it. I’m not saying this cavalierly at all. Reading a book like “Schindler’s List” was devastating for me, but knowing atrocities like the holocaust happened, opened my eyes and ears to a kind of hatred that designates a whole people as unworthy. That’s why there are those out there who would have you believe that none of these atrocities are real, and to block that knowledge so ignorance may abound and the sin can continue. I have also spent much of my lifetime working among righteous Christians who were wonderful reflections of Christ and at the same time, in the same environment Christians who were the worst kind of sinners. Hypocrisy abounds among those who believe they are above the decay of sin and refuse to acknowledge their own sin and portray themselves like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Claiming moral superiority about how to address the nature of sin is the kind of hubris that Jesus despised. He hated the kind of hypocrisy that existed in the temple at the time of those who proclaimed a moral superiority but spent much less time living as God expected all of us to. You don’t have to like a book to appreciate it and understand its value, or believe that the very act of reading a banned book is a tacit approval of its content. There are many great books that simply depict, honestly, albeit sometimes harshly, and horrifically the character of our sinful world…but to pretend that somehow you and yours simply by the act of knowing about a sin, will be tainted by it somehow suggests you can remain free from its corruption magically in the first place. Like I said at the beginning, that ship has sailed. We are in the same boat. I will leave you with the man born blind who Jesus healed, and was booted out of the temple for being a sinner. Thinking you see, doesn’t necessarily make it so
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, ” Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he”. He said, ” I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came to this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind”. Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have not sin; but now your are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.
Faith unchallenged is dead, and so it goes with institutions. A while back I wrote a post about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and breaking from that idea resulted in seeing human institutions for what they are…human. If the “whole” remains static, held in place by those who refuse to challenge, move, evolve and then impede any moving “part” from functioning to keep the “whole” great…then its time to do one of two things: 1) remember what the function of the “whole” is supposed to be and work to change and or remove any parts that impede its function, or 2) Decide the “whole” no longer represents you as a “part”, and find another “whole” that does. I tend to choose the first option over and over because at heart I’m a fighter and feel so much more effective and powerful as a part of a greater “whole”, many of whom have truly maintained a strong presence and were created by incredible individuals.
I think the greatest blindness people have regarding institutions and the bubble they create is that we hold them as sacrosanct…and above reproach. If you challenge the church your commitment to the church and its authority is questioned, regardless of any atrocity witnessed, whether its abuse, embezzlement or any other infraction that has been committed and seen by eyes and ears of one of it’s “parts”. If you challenge a law that is rooted in draconian ideas or in practice is on its face is immoral, often your patriotism or citizenry is questioned. And so prevalent today, when a political structure no longer represents the ideals it was founded upon, and challenge the road being followed, you are often called a traitor and punished for it.
No institution is above reproach, be it the church, the police, or our political structures. We were given eyes to see and ears to hear for a reason, to keep the whole true to its foundation, keep the moving parts functional and to participate actively to keep correcting when they go astray. An institution founded in love or freedom, safety of the public, or liberty and the pursuit of happiness must be measured in great part in whether the sum of its parts is successful in its chosen endeavor. If not, the “whole” itself must shift. That’s simply how evolution works. Those that refuse to see and hear the flaws in any institution because in their mind they are beyond challenge or reproach, are the greatest sickness any institution can face.
Before I offend…I am aware of the visceral reaction this word causes, and at this point in the game of my life, I I don’t really mind. I could have used a euphemism like, “awareness” or “evolved” but I really think that to move beyond our own personal bubbles and being uncomfortable is essential in coming together as a people, so I don’t think I want to mince words. I absolutely believe that I am still stuck in the groggy bit between waking and sleeping, so I have a way to go before I am fully awake, or “woke”. Not because I don’t want to be, but because of the singularly small perimeters of my solitary life. I am, to use the modern vernacular, a cisgender, white, educated, Midwestern woman…I guess you could say that by nature I am pretty vanilla. And yet, regardless of the privilege of that status, I am very aware that I am so much more than that and have the scars to prove it.
For me, I am not offended by the phrase “woke” whether its used as a description or an epithet. I am only interested in what it means to me, and what has been part of my journey over the last seven years…to put into practice what God called from the heavens when Jesus was baptized, “This is my beloved, my son…listen to him.” So I have tried, sometimes harder than other times, to take the conversations, parables, teachings and actions of Jesus in a way that keeps pushing me outside of my bubble and become fully awake:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.
I can’t comment on anyone else’s “wokeness”, except, according to Jesus anyway, that some absolutely won’t get it, he’s made that very clear. The stepping outside of one’s bubble to really see and really hear is just too uncomfortable and threatening for some so they vilify anyone else who does. I am of the “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” school of evolution and when I jumped on this train I did so willingly with utmost faith and the promise that I would absolutely go where God put me and keep walking regardless of the discomfort (even though now its with a gimp instead of a dance…see original post of starting this journey, “dancing naked before the Lord”). The sad truth after all this time? You can never un-see or un-hear those painful moments that pull you out of your comfortable slumber to witness the harsh realities (and some beautiful ones too) that are out there in this world. And it has changed me and moved me beyond so many people who are happy with the bubble they are in, because I know I can’t go back to whatever it was that I thought I knew before. I just don’t have anything to say to them any more (nor they to me if I’m being honest).
I used to think that what I wrote on this journey might…I don’t know, help others in some way. I don’t think about that much anymore, because the only thing I’m sure of is what I, myself, have learned…and its been a lot, with so much more to come. So this year is dedicated to seeing and hearing beyond the bubble and by listening more to God’s beloved.
Everyone knows that freedom isn’t free. Just ask a veteran, a suffragette, advocate for social justice, or one who simply wants the freedom to be and love who they choose. I live in a place that claims as a central tenet that all people are created with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therein lies the problem in a diverse republic where each person has one voice, one vote…no one has the same definition of what those rights mean and what obligations it places on the individual in support of the whole country. Because while we do have freedoms in this country, it doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want.The framers were aware of the potential disasters of what can happen when a civilized republic that stands for unified rights and freedoms becomes secondary to individual wants, desires and hierarchies of power. And yet, remarkable as these men were (and future influential powerful women) the document that governs us is fluid enough to adapt and grow with time and cultural advancement. It is the responsibility of all who serve and hold leadership positions in our “government” to be dedicated to the republic as a whole, and the individual needs of its diverse populace to nourish and sustain it.
It wouldn’t be a lie if I said that I believe that most in Washington were more concerned with their individual needs and perspectives than the health of the body as a whole. The obsession for re-election and power of their positions and moneyed lobbyists take more precedence than the needs of the people and the tenets of the nation they serve. The hubris with which many roll around in moral righteousness while engaging in the same exact behavior or worse that they are whining about and has become so common that we don’t even react to it any more, is a sure sign we are on the precipice disaster. Those cancerous voices who decry that those who don’t think the way they do are akin to evil and traitors are the antithesis of the freedoms our country promises every citizen.. I am appalled at how far its gone and yet I understand (to a certain extent) why this has happened. Life has been hard for many people, whether it is a pandemic, financial crises, unemployment, being disenfranchised or being treated like a second class citizen, or in many cases as if you weren’t human at all. It’s devastating to look down a future road with hopelessness in your heart. The easy way, however, is to listen to those voices of chaos who demand that we choose one camp or another, that there is only one way to move forward and its theirs and anyone else be damned. It is the lies those voices of chaos tell that are dismantling our hard fought freedoms. They sow discord and divisiveness and refuse to remember who we are and what we’ve fought for and refuse to engage in the often daunting challenge of actually talking to one another and negotiate terms. They refuse to embrace compromise that is an inevitable consequence of diversity.
The role of any good leader in continuing the work of freedom is to be a force for a republic that balances the needs of the many and with stalwart commitment amidst the cacophony of voices that demand the opposite in directing us into the future. A leader must listen and observe the multiple perspectives of the many even amidst the vitriolic atmosphere that they are presently mucking through. We cannot survive on the vilification of “difference” that has paralyzed the nation right now. I look to leaders who refuse to be pigeon holed into party over country. I refuse to listen to leaders who tell me I’m evil because I think the last president was the most destructive force to our country and democracy that we have EVER seen. I refuse to put my common sense aside and particular expertise on the many things I am particularity schooled in for some rabbit hole internet site that would state otherwise and then throw epithets my way to undermine my perspective.
As a citizen I recognize and accept that I have obligations that are necessary to sustain the freedoms of the many (kind of like the Body of Christ example I pontificate about). It is childish and morally repugnant to think otherwise. So those in leadership…model what a good citizen is, be accountable to the tenets of this great land, and work together and appeal to the citizenry’s higher angels that we do the same.Stop the hate, stop the childishness, stop the lies and start working for a better nation and world
I’ve written several pieces since my last post…none of them seemed necessary because either the message wasn’t new, or the message wouldn’t necessarily change anything (in my opinion). Some of the pieces I wrote about were misinformation and its effect on leadership (glaringly apparent already), the conundrum of the phrase “cancel culture” (those who need to understand don’t want to), obstruction and etc., etc., etc., (“King and I” reference). Then I suddenly realized, that, there are those in this world whose mission, goal, dogma is to sow seeds of chaos so profusely that confusion, lies, fear, polarization would keep any leader or group of leaders who would evolve us forward from doing so. Misinformation, cancel culture, and obstructions are simply mechanisms to accomplish that.
So how does one lead in the midst of chaos? With great difficulty, of course. As much as I could write about all the specifics…I tried to step into the shoes of one who is charged to lead through this mess, and as much as that is a near impossible task, I do listen, read and research other perspectives. There was a time early in my career, where I was the source of a vicious rumor that wasn’t true. I wanted to burn everything in my path because of righteous indignity. My father, a true source of wisdom simply said to me to hold my head high, keep working with truth, dedication and skill to the best of my ability and people would see the truth eventually…and they did, well most did, the others didn’t matter after awhile because I discovered it wasn’t about me, especially those that had the time to come to know me but still chose to believe lies. It was about the chaos those lies created and the energy it gives certain people I will call Lords of chaos. Seriously, there are those people in the world who thrive on watching people fail, for a whole host of reasons but the same result is limiting that person’s ability to bear good fruit.
After the whistle blower came forward from Facebook, the evidence they brought forward showed that the algorithms that perpetuated negative reactions were the most popular and profitable. So what does that have to say about us? Is it more exciting to throw stones and hate, than actually dialogue and face our problems and make changes together, or just decide to throw stones and point fingers and avoid personal responsibility, or remain comfortable in a narrative that only supports beliefs presently held and remain unchallenged? All of us have an important choice to make, regardless of any bias. Are the people we are listening to moving us forward to a better place, or are they simple lighting on fire and burning up any and all those whom we disagree with by negative means and prohibiting any accurate portrayal of who our leaders are because it is easier than making difficult changes?
It’s funny, there are those in religious communities (in America) who use scripture to perpetuate the Lord’s of chaos, by misrepresenting information whether it be about the pandemic, human identity, race, financial inequities, or religious freedoms all to serve one purpose: their own superior power and beliefs. They forget that the preamble of our Constitution supports that all people are created equal in the eyes of God, and Jesus, truly loved all people who lived according to simple truths: to love God with all your heart and mind, love your neighbor as yourself, and treat the least among you as if they were he. There were times when he was angry and spoke clearly about who he believed the Lords of chaos were in his time, and spoiler alert he is PISSED, from Matthew and Luke:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (But) these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. 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. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way
You know what I also find curious? Jesus never condemned most of things the Lords of chaos condemn today, he condemned lies and hypocrisy, extreme wealth and those who lacked mercy. Even Jesus was a victim of the Lords of chaos and was condemned to die on lies. He simply held his head high, because he knew what his sacrifice would mean, and that after a time people would know him for the truth and not the lies that condemned him to death. We do have a right to demand the truth of those who would sow chaos over growth. Jesus said the truth will set you free, so why are so many people afraid to tell it? It’s because the Lords of chaos are experts at turning truth on its head and manipulating it to build anger and hatred. So lets decide not to buy into all that rage, anger and hatred. I would bet if every person out there decided that truth matters, that love supersedes hate, that anger and rage don’t move us forward, that connecting and truly seeing each other and sharing the good fruits we bring to the table will keep us moving forward, the Lords of chaos would lose their power over us.
When the Lords of chaos lose their power, the environment for true leadership prevails
There is a song that I used to love to sing during Mass, called “Be not Afraid” by Robert Dufford, a Jesuit. The refrain goes: “Be not afraid, I go before you always, come follow me and I will give you rest.” It is a reminder to me that throughout the whole of the Old and New Testament, the message is clear; God is always with us and will pave the way forward, regardless of the circumstances. It’s a difficult concept to embrace in these troubled times, given a pandemic, climate catastrophes and political upheaval (all the products of accumulative human free will and not God’s punishment, by the way). And yet, for me anyways, it is the most essential quality of any great leader that fear is never the guiding principle for any action and that the trust, hope and faith in the ideals and principles one stands for run so deep that nothing will impede their progression forward in bringing them to light. A leader must be the voice that rises above fear, and reminds us of who we are and what we stand for. A leader must not be swayed by the darkness that threatens us but be that hopeful voice that challenges us to stop hiding our light under a bushel basket and to uncover it for all to see and shine so bright the darkness cannot and will never win. They must remind us that we are not alone, and that together, with our combined light and talent (and for people of faith the presence of God) will guide us all to a better place.
I’ll end this short post with one of my favorite lines from scripture from the first letter of John in which we are reminded that love is the opposite of fear:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. 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 whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from God: whoever loves God must also love his brother or sister.
As it sometimes happens, with me…my normally indomitable spirit has been laid flat. It doesn’t matter how or why, but only that I had to scramble to find something to hold on to so I could climb up from the darkness. Then, I had a dream about my father; we were in my childhood home’s basement. I was standing in front of our old piano and he was standing in front of his workbench, which had been moved to the foot of the stairs, and he had his back to me. In my dream I knew he had passed, and I asked him what he was doing. He said, as he was building or working on something, “hopefully not making a mistake.” Then I woke up and remembered a post I had written right before he passed away, called “letters from my father.” It helped me rise up a bit, and I offer it to you. Read them as if he were talking to you, even if the context of them don’t fit, I hope the wisdom will.
While it may appear that I’m being swept away by alliterations, I think that this is the most apropos way to end my discussion on leadership and lies. Think for a moment, why would anyone remain loyal, pledge their fidelity to a leader who lies to them? There are many of us who have given our fealty to people who didn’t deserve it, whether it is due to ignorance, willful or not, fear of violence, retribution or loss, perpetuating an environment that supports our own personal illusions, or because stepping away they would lose any advantage they believe they might have as a result of an association with them. I completely understand there are a myriad of reasons why people do what they do, but this isn’t about that, this is about not wanting to remain loyal to a liar. If you don’t care, move on…but if you want to grow and evolve, it would seem to make sense that any loyalties you have should grow and evolve too. This is about analyzing and letting go of loyalties that are just not good for you anymore…and while it should go without saying, the first step is to recognize and acknowledge when you are being lied to.
While I can’t comment on anyone else’s reasons for choosing who to be loyal to, I can tell you the reasons I choose. I remember a long time ago when discussing codependency, I was challenged to look into those relationships that had, but did not deserve my loyalty. Initially, standing on my “strong woman” platform my gut reaction was that that my circle was not huge and that everyone in it was already worthy of my loyalty and I theirs. I thought it would be an easy task and like many of my initial conclusions, I was so wrong. Instead of seeing who certain people really were, I saw them as who I needed them, or wanted them to be much of the time. Without going into detail, I had to decide what criteria was necessary for me to choose who to be loyal to, and secondly, based on that criteria, did the people already in my circle deserve it. And finally, was I deserving of their loyalty too, it is a two-way street after all.
My first criteria is the foundation for any and all of my deep connections I have in my life, any loyalty has to be founded in truth. Liars, carnival barkers and gas lighters need not apply. I had to evaluate whether my associations worked to my detriment or to my sustenance and growth. Did I like who I was as a result of this association, did it bring out or stifle my potential, or did it bring out my better angels and in turn, did I bring out the best in that association as well. It was and still continues to be a long and harrowing journey, because some of the constructs and people I held onto for dear life, began to dissolve before my very eyes when they didn’t hold truth anymore, and the road ahead became more ambiguous and challenging without those comforting landmarks that no longer gave me confidence and hope. I have learned that while life’s journey is filled with many people, most moving beautifully in and then out of ours lives, more often than not our personal journey is a solitary one. And after awhile, I felt comfortable seeing my sojourns as solitary ones, even in the presence, direction and companionship of any leader I choose to follow along the way. Ultimately, where I end up at the end of my life is on me. I feel as if I can see, hear, feel and understand God much better once I stopped trying to see, hear and feel God through someone else’s construct. I think that is why I have such a visceral reaction to those lying liars who lie. Loyalty to these types of leaders is inviolate, never to be questioned or challenged, and more times than not is not reciprocal.
My second criteria is responsibility. Any leader who blames everyone else for their problems, or scapegoats other groups when they get caught up in a lie, making a mistake, or acting in a way that is contrary to what they say they believe, is unworthy of my loyalty. Leaders, regardless of their effectiveness make mistakes…period. If they admit them, take responsibility for them, and learn from them, it is a sure sign that they may indeed deserve my loyalty. The phrase “the buck stops here” has so much more meaning to me now, given the state of blamers our there. I am firmly of the “those who have not sinned throw the first stone” kind of attitude when it comes to responsibility. When a leader understands that they are not infallible, I think they work harder to get it right.
My third criteria is courage. It takes courage to stand in the forefront, share your vision and ask people to follow you even when you may make mistakes, even when you tell them the road may be hard, and there will be challenges and sacrifices along the way but that a renewed commitment to those fundamental building blocks, and axioms that hold us together as a group will set our path toward success. It takes courage to say that one leader doesn’t have all the answers and that we all need to work together and use our individaul gifts collectively. It also takes courage to make choices that help foster unity and not divisiveness, regardless of how hard it is. As the apostle Paul said so eloquently:
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,
whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But 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.
So all of you leaders out there who have deemed me as inconsequential and unnecessary, or anyone else who you blame for the word’s ills because you are too cowardly to take responsibility for your own actions…you will never have loyalty from me.
For the past few years, I’ve been making a dedication on the anniversary of my revolutions around the planet to all my fellow world travelers out there who could benefit from a simple gift of prayer. It’s one day where I can do what I want and not worry about any other agenda but my own. This year has been a bit harder to bear, the pandemic, economic strife, physical struggles etc., but they are nothing compared to the growing level of anger and hatred that has risen its ugly head in this world . While I know in such difficult times as these, anger is a natural response, it is difficult for me to see history replay itself before my very eyes when hateful acts become justified. Unless you truly live a charmed life, or live with your head in the sand, this kind of hatred isn’t new, and now more than ever, with so much access visually to happenings in the world, we all have to make a decision… will the driving force moving us forward be love, or will it be hate? Personally, I know I am exhausted by those who feel the freedom to spout and act out their anger and hatred in a singular and pointed manner toward a self determined group of sinners who are responsible for all the world’s ills. Whether you are justified or not in your anger, throwing stones won’t solve the problem. Even in the face of my own individual failures at throwing a stone or two along the way, I still have the wherewithal to recognize that its a personal failure to do so and then rectify it by choosing love. I know I may fail again and again, but I will keep getting up, brush myself off, and recommit to love, because despite my imperfections, my faith demands it of me. And for those of you who smirk and roll your eyes at that last statement, today’s set of prayers are dedicated to you, because everyone else on love’s train already receives the benefit of my daily prayers.
To the angry, fearful and hateful men and women out there who really believe the lying liars that lie as they stoke and provoke your anger and fears about people who are different, who may see things differently than you but want the same good things in life you do, I pray that whatever hurt, anger or fear that drives you be removed, like the thorn from the foot of the beast, and that you can see “those” people you are encouraged to judge, be angry with and are afraid of more as children of God than an impediment to your happiness.
To those of you who use words like “woke”, “conservative”, “liberal”, “cancel culture” etc. as epitaphs so you don’t have to listen to a different perspective, I pray you shut off the negative commentary and force yourself to go beyond labels and polarizing attitudes. And for God’s sake shut off the TV, podcasts, YouTube or any other mechanism that fuels anger and fear. Start simple, treat others like you want to be treated and you may be surprised at the results.
I pray for the dismantlement of those companies, groups and individuals who disseminate news and information based on lies and conspiracy theories by stoking peoples’ fears for their own power, and financial gain. I pray for their embarrassment and exposure so people can see they truly are wolves in sheep’s clothing
I pray for our political leaders who bend to the power of lies and hatred for their own survival, that they find the courage necessary to do what’s best for all the people they represent rather than just what’s in their own self interest. I also pray that these leaders be held to account for every word spoken and deed done.
I pray that the democratic structures built around the world can withstand the attacks against freedom and justice by autocracy and authoritarianism and any who participate in these attacks. Let the souls of the many who died for freedom burgeon these structures up and hold them strong.
I pray for those who believe that they are fine and everyone else is the problem, I pray your bubble bursts and you are put to the test.
I pray that those of you who choose hatred over love look in the fucking mirror and see what hate really looks like. You my fellow traveler are the problem, not me. No amount of rhetoric or scripture can justify your hateful and angry words and deeds that are committed in the name of patriotism or religious ideology. And when you see the hate looking back through your own eyes as you think of whomever you determine is “lesser than”, I pray your better angels come through and show you what love looks like instead.
Finally, I remind everyone that freewill comes with responsibility, Each individual choice has a ripple effect. We all independently choose how to respond to any given situation, regardless of its difficulty, and not one of us can avoid responsibility for how we move forward. God or the devil doesn’t make you do anything…you choose, and I pray you choose love.
An argument is logical and valid, only if the truth of the conclusion is based on the truth of each premise supporting that conclusion, if not, the argument is unsound, illogical and invalid. Make sense, right? You can’t base a method of leadership on lies and untruths. Any future purpose becomes illogical and invalid and possibly dangerous. I don’t know why that idea is so hard for people to wrap their heads around. And while we are all flawed and sometimes fall for arguments that are questionable and then create intricate methods sometimes of creating validity where there is none, whether it is questioning the foundation of a relationship or ideology, it doesn’t make our behavior any less dishonest or illogical because we double down on the illusion or a premise we want to be true. So if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and behaves like a duck, perhaps the logic flows forward that there is a great chance it is a duck. That is the simplicity of logic
I think its important in this day and age where truth becomes suspect when leaders tell us: that if it walks, sounds and acts like a duck, it is really entirely something different, and if you really were a good person you would jump on board with that otherwise you are the one with the problem…its even more important to challenge these lies. Why is it when there is clear evidence to the contrary that a premise is untrue, the usual response is more akin to gas-lighting (like the phrase we used as kids…”no you are”) and the allegations are blown off as a hoax, or mechanism of evil, or the most dangerous: the actual definition of what a duck walks, sounds and looks like is completely changed to contradict the evidence of its untruthfulness? For example, when evidence is brought forth in our legal system (the checks and balances AMERICA is known for), it seems perilous to vilify the very system people have built, fought and died for almost 250 years rather than hold to account what the evidence says about a particular person accused. Even having said that, this country includes even more checks and balances to effect how the legal system works via our legislature, because truth and logic are so important to our structure of government.
I don’t want to move too deeply into my bias, but COME ON people! It doesn’t take a genius to figure out if any particular leader’s messages are truthful or not…you do have to use your eyes and ears and cognitive thinking to determine the veracity of what they are posturing. It does take a little effort to move from premise to premise and determine whether or not they are logically sound…but not impossible. Before I choose to follow anyone, I am obligated to use my due diligence to find the truth. It’s also true that you can follow anyone you like…but it will never be logical if what they are saying isn’t true. Like Pat Moynihan famously said: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts”
As for my spiritual take on it…Jesus said that the truth will set you free, not your opinions…
This particular issue is going to take multiple posts. First, I don’t think its helpful to call people liars because I don’t think it does anything except further polarize us. However, lies exist everywhere, from simply lying about the size of whatever, be it your brain or your bank account, the amount you drank during quarantine, lies about relationships, to lies about elections and race and gender. Whether it is just telling someone what they want to hear even though you believe the opposite to avoid conflict or judgement, or the many lies we tell ourselves and the people we choose to be around to the help us sustain those lies to keep up the illusion of being other that who we really are, we all live in a culture that is far from truthful. If you can’t see yourself in any of the above examples, then I absolutely don’t know what to say to you except you are in a vulnerable place that the lying liars who lie have a special ability to pick up on, and you best be careful what band wagon you jump on.
I think its human to rationalize away our faults, weaknesses, fears etc. but I also know you can’t evolve if you spend all your energy doing so. My father taught me that in order to grow and evolve, you must continually challenge yourself and the beliefs you hold dear, to see if they still remain a reflection of who you are and what you stand for. As I’ve started this blogging journey with God, I have learned to recognize those who rationalize their way out of and refuse to change and adapt by finding someone or something else to blame or choosing institutions that allow you to believe that you have a leg up on everyone else. It isn’t enough anymore to simply say that everyone does it, or the little white lies we hide behind are no big deal…because they obfuscate the simple truths that are supposed to push us through those illusory patterns, better enabling us to recognize these deceptions and weaknesses in the future. This isn’t a push to walk around emotionally exposed, it is a push to see with your own eyes those truths that help you evolve and face your weaknesses, fears and darker side. Jesus always said that the truth will set you free, and I, for one, take him at his word. The greatest threat of leadership today are those leaders who represent and feed on the lies that perpetuate a false narrative of control, righteousness, and privilege above others who are different. These are the kind of leaders who convince you that anyone who doesn’t support them doesn’t deserve the same abundance of what the world offers their followers. They do it by undermining those champions of light who try and shed light on the lies they tell to keep people in a deep state of fear. It’s happened over and over throughout history. Let’s not let it happen again.
Goodness isn’t relative to the happy thoughts you have and just a desire to be a work in progress…it is relative to the effort you put forth to be that tree that bears only good fruit that Jesus talks about. It is relative to your ability to allow the truths that are present to remove the illusions we cover ourselves with. Truth knows that the best of who you are doesn’t need all those coverings and trappings that the liars who lie tell you that you need. Facing your own truths better enable each of us to choose those leaders who not only do the same, but will ensure that we all become trees that bear good fruit.
In the first book of Kings in the Old Testament there is a story I love when the Lord speaks to Elijah who is in crisis, and tells him to stand outside a cave where he will be passing by. The Lord is not in wind rending the mountains and crushing the rocks, it was not in the earthquake, or next a great fire that pass Elijah by. The Lord was in a whisper that Elijah had to be still to hear. I love that story, because it goes to the heart of the matter of God’s influence. When we shut down the chatter and move away from the noxious drama and all the noise…we will be in a better position to hear God, that is if we really want to hear what God has to say. Listening, while not as flashy as some of the other qualities of a great leader, is, for me anyway, the most essential quality. How can you lead anyone if you can’t hear their pain, their fears, their concerns, their hopes, their passions about the journey ahead? The role of a leader, contrary to many of those who presently act in leadership positions, is not to forge ahead with their own agenda, with everyone else be damned. It is to do what is in the best interest of those who are following you. That being said, the listening only comes after your commitment to what it is you stand for and proclaim, because I guarantee, in the listening process that follows, there will be those who will try to convince you to sway from those ideals to pursue an agenda that will not benefit the whole.
I know I’ve used this before, but in the the first book of Corinthians in the New Testament, Paul creates an apt analogy of the Church being the Body of Christ, with all the many members having different functions to sustain the body, and those differences should be celebrated, because it is their interdependence that allows the Body to fully function. Knowing that in any hierarchy there is a tendency to give greater power to those members that seem more honorable like a foot or hand, and less power to those more unseemly parts, Paul would have none of that and he states logically, if all parts were the same where would the body be? He declares if one part suffers, all parts should suffer, if one part is honored, all parts should share it’s joy. What a beautiful image, right? Sadly it is one where we have failed miserably…and perhaps it is because no one has taken time to listen to the parts of the body that suffer, or to listen to God in the whispers to tell us what to do.
I seem to be in tears a lot these days…a reflection of a developed sense of empathy and artistry, I hope. I hear the pain of those parts of the body of our country, and the scramble of those who try to convince us the pain isn’t real, or those who would damage the rest of the body just so they will listen. So lets all be better at listening, for a start, before we write off a part of this body that isn’t like “our part”. None of us can function if can’t work together and see the value of each gift an individual brings that will keep this body functioning. It need not start from the top down, it just needs to be a reflection of who we are and what we stand for.
Before determining a path forward and to whom or what you pledge your allegiance moving into the future, you must determine, as I stated in my last post, what you are going to stand for (please note that I am perfectly aware that there are many people who move into the future without any regard or thought to what or whom they believe in…but since this is about leadership, good leadership, I will focus on those who do). The next step, in my opinion, is to figure out the method and means you use to actually move forward. And I think it must be said, since believing something is too obvious to state in the past has bit me in the ass, that movement forward has to be a reflection of what you stand for. If it’s not, then you need to rethink what it is you actually stand for. This is really important to me when making a determination of who is fit for any position of leadership.
Any true leader must represent and move in a way that supports those ideals they proclaim as their foundation and motivation. Let me give you an example, and I’m using this particular instance because of the visceral reaction I had to it when I saw the events that occurred on January 6th, 2021. On this sad day in history, insurrectionists broke into the capitol to obstruct the constitutional obligation of the Congress to certify the November election in an attempt to thwart the peaceful transition of power. Regardless of your opinion on the election, what occurred afterward could never be described as anything but unlawful. Those who who broke into the capital, grabbed hands in the house chamber and prayed in the name of Christ claiming after all the violence, vitriol and destruction that somehow God endorsed this behavior and anyone who opposed them were not, in fact, true Christians. The president was silent, but the wasn’t what hit me because I had grown numb to his behavior. What bothered me to my core was watching the insurrectionists pray in the name of Christ claiming his blessings on their behavior. I wasn’t bothered that members of the insurrection prayed, but that they conflated their faith, and the “means” of their stated principle as one and the same and justified the violence they brought. Love is not political. Believe what you believe, but it is never appropriate to use your belief as an endorsement from God for personal politics. Saying you are doing something for God, doesn’t make that true, because none of us know the mind of God. Acting under the auspices of faith to justify bad behavior contravenes the very axioms that faith requires of us. If I act in a way I believe God wants me to, I had better be ready and able to, one: root that behavior in the totality of those teachings and message of that faith (because even Satan can use scripture for nefarious purposes) and two:accept the consequences of that behavior as my own and not blame anyone else. I’ve long been frustrated by those who utilize faith as an imprimatur on their actions…as if making a statement that you are a Christian is license for any and all behavior that flows from that oath. This kind of inconsistency is one of the main reasons that I have put aside traditional means and structures that organized religion uses to celebrate and witness to Christ’s great gift and sacrifice. I’ve been witness and victim to too much corruption all in the name of God. As a caveat, this is not an indictment of those who embrace traditional structures and leaders and still adhere to what Christianity stands for. There is a growing movement, however, that is dangerously derailing the Gospel message: one that is rooted in love, respect for those lesser than, mercy, justice and peace, into endorsement of a political ideology. For all intents and purposes it is becoming what Jesus warned us about, the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.
While I studied Theology, I spent a great deal of time both academically and experientially to find ways to move within my belief system that reflected that very belief system. Over many decades, I had to alter and change my path and leaders depending on the multitude of my own mistakes, revelations, evolution and transformation. I don’t claim to be exceptional by any means…but I did ask for and expect direction from God, which I believe I received. In truth, God dismantled me and rebuilt me into something else. I took the parable of the talents to heart and tried to bear fruit from God’s multitude of resources. More importantly when you are willing to have eyes to see and ears to hear, even when the glory of God is an indictment against old restrictive behaviors, you have to be willing to change, and often that’s the hardest part. All our paths are different, our personal gifts vast, but any journey, even one that includes following someone else, must be a reflection of what you stand for. There is always room for diversity, but my path forward should never be an obstruction to anyone else’s, especially in the name of God.
Yes, it’s already March and I’ve yet to post, but there was much wading through necessary existential crap to be done before I could see a starting point. I could write a multitude of papers on the essential qualities of a good leader, histories of great leaders, the measurement and impact of evolutionary roads forward like I did in grad school…but I don’t think that is what this year is about. Considering the climate of the present time, and the depth of anger, misinformation and lack of any true critical thinking of the masses, I think even the second coming of Christ would have difficulty being seen as anything but another rabble rousing anti-(insert appropriate noun) dissident. And if you react adversely to the last statement, ask yourself this: how easy is it for you to lap up that latest sound bites against people or movements you hate…yah, not much use of critical thinking there.
So, it is incumbent upon all of us, I believe, to create an environment where good leaders, in whatever capacity, can succeed. What we don’t need are those kinds of leaders who divide, create fear, lie, disseminate misinformation, and encourage isolationism, all for their own power and gain. You know, the kind that creates such a frenzy of political and vitriolic illusory dust that we can’t even see straight as to who or what we are following. So, what this year will be about for me is settling the dust of anger, hate, and just bad information so we can see clearly enough to follow leaders out there who best represent what we stand for. Let me add a small caveat: what we stand for, is not the same as what we stand against. Standing against something as a primary motivation is too easy for someone with less than altruistic ideals to manipulate the anger that lies within us all who feel harmed in some way into creating the kind of mob mentality that is the source of much of the destruction we’ve seen over the last months. Let the anger we feel from injustice, help us understand and clarify what exactly it is we actually stand for, and find a way forward that is a larger reflection of those ideals. And if what you stand for is destruction and the preservation of your own self interest…you will be in my thoughts and prayers.
For me, the anger I’ve experienced since I’ve started this blog, is the disregard for truth, the hubris of the privileged few, the lack of informed civility in debate and information sharing, the tendency to scapegoat others and avoid personal responsibility, racism and the corruption of Christianity which is the source and soul of my entire existence. So that means, for me anyway, that I stand for: truth, the pursuit of happiness for all, the work that goes with being truly informed and using common decency and civility to share that information, taking responsibility for my own failings and make the necessary changes instead of blaming others, extend a listening ear and commitment to fight against the forces that unfairly marginalized people of color, ethnicity, religion and sexuality, and to declare and model with love all that my faith requires of me. I’m sure there will be more in the coming year, but I’ll start with those for now. Let me finish then with this question:…what is it that you stand for?
I know, its February. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t sure what to write about. This year’s theme came early…even before the insurrection at the Capital…so I’ve spiritually hid in a corner for a month. What. An. Evolutionary. Crisis. I can’t even claim simple ignorance about my theme this year…I have a Master’s Degree in it. I’m not bragging, seriously, I am not. I am in a wishing I was ignorant so I can be blissful and spend this year happily learning but instead am having heart stopping moments of reckoning because knowing what I know I should have seen this coming and now I have to say stuff about it. And as much as I loved studying leadership and all the nuances of what kinds of qualities are important to any modern leader, I never particularly had any interest in leading anybody anywhere…and I still don’t. I’ve also never in my wildest dreams anticipated a world in this kind of crisis. In the worst of times I could foresee a world taken over by greedy and powerful men, or at its best foresee a world motivated and directed by ethical and insightful strong women (its my imagination so deal with it). I don’t think there is any dystopian future that I could have imagined that would be based on some of the most bizarre and baseless conspiracy theories invented by who knows who and perpetuated by the once leader of the free world. As incomprehensible as that is to me, calling the millions of people out who believe this shit must be done in a careful and calculated manner. Now, I absolutely get calling these theories “shit” is neither careful or calculated, but think of it as the initial rip off of that proverbial band aid of delusion to get their attention. These theories are “mendacious junk” (from the mouth of a particularly loquacious journalist with whom I share an imaginary verbal love affair) and must be disassembled immediately. If you are offended, I’ll take your derision with open arms because you are being led down a dark path of doom where truth doesn’t matter and fear and gossip rule and could possibly be the spark that causes the apocalypse. I can’t and won’t stand for that, I just won’t. Disagree on ideology, that’s fine but if you are as shocked and appalled as I am at what is going on with all these conspiracy theories its time to pull up our big girl/boy pants and deal.
I have always believed that the world could face any crisis through dynamic, informed leadership. I think it still can, but it is going to be a long and winding road. I’ve always also believed that faith in whatever higher power you embrace would also call forth those inspired individuals necessary to combat any crisis, I call them children of the light and I pray for them every day. But, and this is a big but, not without a good house cleaning (or exorcism…I haven’t decided which word is more appropriate yet) for both our country and church (which sadly is fueling much of pooh flying around). This year is a game changer. Too many fools out there are claiming they know the mind of God to justify their duplicitous plots, they are the thieves in wolve’s clothing that Jesus spoke about. So here begins a year of building a leader (and it is NOT me), and it begins with truth, and principled ideas and solutions that are not exclusive or restrictive.
This is my last post of the year… without declaring what next year’s theme will be. I haven’t really tapped into any insight of what the next year will entail, so for now I will be silent about that. Anyway, to state that this “year of Joy” was anything but joyful is not definitive proof that I am a sadist or one who is incapable of experiencing joy. With all things I’ve asked of God, however, the truth of ” the themes” is always multidimensional. Also, not being one who is ever satisfied with a flimsy or shallow understanding of said “theme” (like a house built on sand) the effort to understand the deeper meaning of joy has taken greater energy and focus than anything else I’ve tackled on this journey. First, because I feel at its core the concept of joy is deeply misunderstood; second, because of my own imperfections and limitations; thirdly, because the concept of joy is so intimately intertwined into my particular belief system that it has been necessary for me to strip away what has been illusory and what is real about the joy that my faith brings. Boom. Head explodes.
The greatest fallacy I’ve discovered regarding joy is that it somehow comes from a place of sublime and almost ignorant happiness, that with axioms and idioms, joy becomes real, a fact. What this year has shown me is that true joy cannot be fabricated and is often most predicated on difficulty. Whether it comes from sadness, stupidity, pierced illusion, betrayal, embarking on a strenuous challenge, obstacles of every sort or simply boredom…Joy is that very thing that colors and transforms difficult or challenging moments when I choose to embrace them as seeds of possibility, nurturing them and seeing something blossom that turns into a beautiful and succulent fruit that comes with being rooted in faith, truth and love. Yes, I can see this as heady nonsense, so let me explain.
When the year began, I had already started to dabble in some arts and crafts (what I would call it) and then at the beginning of my year of joy, I consciously chose it as a mechanism to react to, and express the struggle I was having with understanding its true meaning. By that time my faith in reason, religious structures, leadership and later the countries response to a pandemic was already at a lifetime low. So I taught myself to draw (with the help of YouTube and an amazing artist and family member), to paint, to create jewelry that took all that negative energy and made it into something else, something that I felt joy from. The result was something that I didn’t foresee…I was actually good at it, and my own surprise that I was good at it was a revelation in itself that made me pause. I tried to take inherently joyful moments and ideas that existed outside myself and put myself into them: my son climbing a mountain, a butterfly, and exquisite stones and then created art including the blue laughing woman at the top of this post. I understood my surprise in this hidden talent was rooted in the second reason this journey of discovering joy was so difficult. Because, regardless of proof otherwise, at my core I fight against the belief that I truly am one of the least among us that Jesus spoke so poignantly about. No, this is not a pity party or cry for approval, it is simply recognizing and stating a belief that I’ve struggled the hardest to get rid of my entire life. Curiously, this year I found more success by learning to see this weakness as a future gift. And by choosing to see myself as one of the least among us, I’ve also become able to distinguish who the sheep and goats are in my life. So those of you who have chosen to treat me unlike Jesus would, I say good riddance, because even though you may think it is of little effect for a lowly one as me to treat any of you who righteously believe you are superior to me, as Jesus would, it offers me clarity of who really understands what those words truly mean. Your behavior toward “the least” is a measurement of how much you truly understand the gospel message. The gift that comes from thinking I am among the least, is that there is no compunction to create any falsehoods about who I am or hold onto any sense of superiority. I don’t have to pretend I’m better than anyone else because I already know I’m not. And those of you who do, are becoming so much more obvious about your true nature. Being “better than” is never and has never been part of what true joy really is…but kindness is, and mercy, and truth, and love, love, love is. Joy is also not synonymous with happiness, because some of my truest moments of joy this year, like the woman above, were colored in blue, in grief, and the sadness that comes from seeing things in a new light.
So when I say these words, in this season of light: “Joy to the World,” it is not only my wish that all of you discover the joy that comes through when we transform any moment into a future fruit, but that it is done by preparing room in our hearts for it, and seeing it through eyes of love, faith and truth.
I know there are plenty of people, roughly more than half the country who are joyful and relieved at the outcome of the election, and roughly less than half who are not. So, I am thinking of the consequences of the kind of joy that Jesus spoke of in the gospel of John 15: 9-12:
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.
So this is a caution for all of us out there who claim to be people of faith, to keep Jesus’ words at heart. If you claim to be a Christian, and still cling to the belief that anyone who is not on your side isn’t worthy of Christ’s love, you have slipped too far into delusion and I wash my hands of you, just like Jesus instructed his disciples when they came up against those who would not listen and would treat them with ill will in Matthew 10:7:
Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words – go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.
So for the rest of us, who really want to work toward unity and reflect what this country is founded on, this is for us. We are divided, that is true. But also true? Division will always exist with diversity and a nation built on the idea that all people are created equal and deserve an equal shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t claim to know what that will look like, but I do know that the anger, the conspiracy theories and the misinformation vilifying the party who won (and it isn’t Mr Trump’s party)isn’t working toward that goal . Our American world has thrived under administrations of both parties. It will continue to thrive if we keep our eye on the prize: A more perfect union, based on the structure that has maintained us for over two hundred years.
I am a democrat, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. If you really know me, you know I’m not evil, naive, misinformed about legitimate news sources or an idiot. So there goes your theory that I am part of a Satanic movement. I would say that Q-anon stuff is silly, but it is just too dangerous given the amount of people who are buying into it…and it is them that I am kicking the dust from my feet because obviously you have not understood the teachings of Jesus regarding, well, just about everything. You can hide behind all the traditional structures and denominations you want, but if you are not loving everyone, even the least among you like Jesus…you are the one suffering a morality crisis, not me.
I also caution those who are emboldened by Biden’s win. Our job now, is to be the party that leads, and not leave people behind or stop listening to people because we hate what they say. Yes, I will disregard those who work toward violence, anarchy and impede our evolution. But as some of greatest leaders have taught us, there is a way to lead that builds up the body, and gives regard to all parts of it. We have a government that is by the people and for the people for a reason, and we need to strengthen its infrastructure so that no one has the power to over ride the will of the people and its laws ever again. We can no longer be naive and think that once someone is in high office that tradition of honesty and integrity will prevail. There must be consequences when that doesn’t happen.
So I am cautiously joyful, and praying for consequences for those who choose not to remain in love, whether it be how you treat your neighbor or interpret God. Because if you continue to read the Gospel we know what happens then too.
What more can I say, except what I’ve said most of the year…a year of joy is proving to be more challenging than I ever expected. I have, lately, been ruminating though, on the idea that it is indeed darkest before the dawn. I think of all the literature that I’ve read, as well as scripture, that the darkness, in desperation, works incessantly to cloud, impede, circumvent and appropriate all the progression that light, love and the building of the kingdom lays forth. For me it has truly become a observational moment, where the goats are separated from the sheep, and the quality of our character determines whether we embrace falsehood and fear, or truth and love. It has all become so clear. It is my hope, then, that the one God who made us and saved us all, who is truth and love will prevail. It is also more clear than ever that if we are going to continue on a road of truth and love that we can’t do it alone. We must join together, every last one of us, all with unique and essential gifts and parts to play in the continuing drama of our country and world’s evolution. When we act, ripples outward are created. Will they perpetuate darkness or light?
I’ve also been ruminating about the warnings of the New Testament to beware against wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are so many sparkly people who claim to be leaders of the future, who shroud themselves in flags and national rhetoric as the savior of the people. I heed this caution and shred through the illusions and watch instead their behavior and the results that come from those choices. If your words spew hate and fear it is glaringly obvious that you don’t represent the evolving future of our country. Going backwards is not evolution. Limiting the perimeters of who qualifies as worthy of liberty and justice isn’t evolution…it is the exact opposite. Investing time and energy into unfounded and conspiratorial filth completely cuts off ones ability to embrace the talents God has given an individual to bear their own good fruit. I see instead people walking around with hatchets destroying the fruits others have been laboring to build all on shaky unsubstantiated rumor. I am stunned and amazed at how easily some are swayed to believe these rumors and pass them around as truth, taking absolutely no effort to check their veracity. I think to the gospel story of the woman caught in adultery and the challenge Jesus issued to those who would stone her, “let you among you who has not sinned throw the first stone” At least in that situation, the crowd had the ability to be humbled and walk away. In today’s environment? I feel no joy in knowing that some are so entrenched in their righteousness that they would not only throw stones, but would light her on fire, and then demand that Jesus thank them for it.
I am humble enough to admit that it has taken often herculean efforts to wake up, commit to truth, wielding love and expanding the talents God has given me to bear fruit and evolve this world. I too often take personally the vitriol and judgement projected through social media and common interactions (even if it is the hatred that is spewed over the simple wearing of a mask). I find I hold my breath…a lot. It saddens me at how miserly people are with how we are facing such a crisis in our present day. So much discussion about who deserves what, always watching their own backs and pocket books. This, clearly, is amplified for people of faith. When Jesus tells the people that it is harder for a rich person to enter the gates of heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle, he understood the hold that wealth can bring, with out it we would have to have faith in our gifts and God to provide what we need, and as the multiplication of the loaves and fishes shows us, we truly could always have enough to share.
So to end this rambling, I have walked the way of the sheep…as prescribed by Jesus: to treat the least among me as I would Christ, to tend my gifts and bring forth fruit and pray for those on the same journey, as children of the light, truth and love that we may overcome the darkness and the fear, the lies and the judgment and celebrate the joy in this simple axiom: “Anything you ask of me in goodness shall be given to you” The focus should be on the word “goodness”, and not “given”. The Gospels have always laid a clear path on how to behave, and not what to look like, or words to say. Remember that next time someone sparkly speaks