525,600 Minutes and So Much More

save our starving children 1 save our starving children 2 stave our starving children 3Numbers are generally not my forte, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them, or understand their significance in our lives.  There is a great song lyric from the song, “Seasons of Love”, from the musical “Rent’ that I love: 525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year.”  This weekend, working at a “Feed My Starving Children” event at Osceola High School, less than 250 high school students, faculty, and a handful of parents, assembled 300,000 meals. That means 822 children will be fed for a year, 432,043,200 precious minutes of life sustained and celebrated. Actually that last number gave me goose bumps because 432 is a sacred number, (for my science and religion students, Joseph Campbell pointed out the significance of this number), as well as the square root of the speed of light, and how the golden mean is exemplified in sound (432Hz tuning).  And this very number is repeated twice in those precious minutes we helped save this past weekend!

I’ve been focusing on these words of Jesus this year, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” and “Every good tree bears good fruit.” This event was the perfect, shining, harmonic example of everything Jesus was talking about.  By the hands of the few, many are saved.  So many good trees, bearing good fruit.  There is nothing more powerful than that.  It was done with joy, celebration and mad organization by the staff of “Feed My Starving Children” and Joel and Heidi Hazzard who sponsored the event. Duplicating loaves and fishes and even moving mountains doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply joining together and working together can accomplish amazing things. Congress could learn a lot from these young people, who came together from all different social groups to work in concert together and accomplish an amazing goal.  I’ve always said the most extraordinary things are accomplished by ordinary (and yet amazing) people.

Taking Umbrage…for and at Women

um·brage

noun \ˈəm-brij\

: a feeling of being offended by what someone has said or done

I started this post several times, wanting to be positive, a bit less controversal, and with propriety.  I couldn’t do it because I did promise a sense of wild abandon, so here goes.  I seem to take umbrage with almost every angle of the state of women in our world today.  I am sickened by movements to censure, mutilate, deny education, control and retract any advances made through history.  And yet, I take as much umbrage with a culture that objectifies, sexualizes, and at the opposite end values a woman based on some prudish matronly definition of goodness.  Seriously people, what in the sam hill is going on?

Jesus set the standard so clearly in his ministry.  Women were of great value to him; especially women who chose his instruction over what culture restricted them to, check out the Mary and Martha story…( I blogged about it here, maryfrancesflood.com/2012/06/18/im-a-mary-and-not-a-martha/.  I think women owe Jesus a great deal for the place that he brought us to…and with that comes responsibility.  We, as women, must take a stand against those who would force us to lose the sacred ground that many fought so hard to attain.  So where the hell do I stand?

While I am plagued with fear when I hear most men speak of rape, whether on a college campus, foreign soil, a military base or from the mouth of a politician, I have to admit that I am plagued with as much fear at the cavalier attitude and sexually charged culture in this country.  While I think we should celebrate our physical bodies, I am tired of how sex inundates our culture.  I don’t want to see young women run around in their underwear, or clothing designed to cradle a man’s package.  While I am not a prude…I say EEEWWWWW!  The pervasiveness of sex in just about everything is a problem for me. Being a good lover by today’s standards is understood by sexual prowess and not in the way the gospel intended.  Getting better at sex will never help us get better at love…PERIOD.  And it won’t help us reclaim our power either.

I have thought long and hard about whether or not my attitude is based on my aging form and diminishing beauty…and then that very thought even pissed me off!  Who defined aging and beauty anyway?  Well, I include myself when I say we all had a hand in that too.  With age, I’ve gained great experience and education and was for a moment ready to hold those accomplishments at a lesser value than my aging appearance…and yet, in all truthfulness I understand why. We live in a culture that worships youth and marginalizes maturity.  Look at the amount of money that goes into physical beauty; the money women spend on achieving some skewed idea of youthful perfection is tragic.  We could save all the starving children in the world many times over, if we allowed ourselves to age naturally and dump our obsession with beauty regimens.

I’m not saying as women, we can’t try to be beautiful and celebrate our sexuality.  But if we aren’t working as hard for the standard the Jesus set, i.e. we are as valuable as any man, and are offered the same gift of grace, with the same expectations for our behavior…then we’ve failed on a massive level.  Let’s be better at loving, starting with ourselves.

Ask and Receive

law and prophetsI’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed.  Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own.  The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost.  While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”  While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.

Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things”  God would never give us anything harmful.  I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify.  So how then, do we know what good is?  What follows gives us a clue.  Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”  He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”.  The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.

So what is good fruit?  Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power?  I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray.  Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree).  It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit.  Pretty much sums it all up.

Waiting at the Well

woman at the wellIn the Gospel of John, Jesus functionally begins his ministry at a Samaritan well talking to a woman.  I say he functionally began his ministry, because he had just left the desert from being baptized by John the Baptist.  So what a place to start: not only with a woman, but a Samaritan woman, and even more so, a Samaritan woman of ill repute.  What makes this particular event so powerful is that just prior to this conversation in the previous chapter comes the famous line he spoke to the Pharisee Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”  We never get Nicodemus immediate response, but from Jesus we get an inclination that he wasn’t completely sold on the idea: Jesus makes it clear that those who prefer the cloak of darkness and fear exposure of their wickedness are already condemned. So after journeying to Samaria, while his disciples had gone to look for food, he stopped for a drink of water.  What followed, (I will make you read it for yourself) was nothing short of remarkable…especially given the timing.

I think it is remarkable because he not only spoke to this woman of ill repute, but he talked to her as if she were anyone else of equal value.  She was the first person who, when told he was the Messiah, believed him right then and there. (Nicodemus was most probably still pondering the idea and the disciples were amazed he was talking to a woman and concluded he simply needed to eat something). You see this is of utmost importance because he knew all about her disreputable past, appreciated her telling the truth, and then offered her everything, because she, like all those who came after her, were in need of and wanted everything he offered.  She wasn’t afraid of the truth, of being exposed.  And yet I still wondered, why her?  Jesus must have recognized a remarkable quality in her, because even though she was a woman of ill repute, when she went back into the village saying, “He told me everything I have ever done, could he be the Messiah?” they actually came.  She wasn’t afraid of her wickedness, like perhaps many of those who feared Jesus. She wanted the light.

What would his ministry have looked like had Nicodemus believed him right away instead of perhaps falling into his fear of exposure.  What if it was he who ran and said to the people “I have met the Son of man who will bring us eternal life”  maybe Jesus whole ministry would have transpired differently.  The Samaritan woman stood in truth when exposed and that made all the difference in the world.

Money Lenders in the Temple

jesus-vs-money-changersThe last time Jesus rode into Nazareth, he did so with the aplomb of a King.  He had reached the conclusion of his ministry, celebrated by ringing voices “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.  At the pinnacle of his ministry, he entered the temple and trashed all those merchants buying and selling saying, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’ but you are making it a den of thieves”  Then he healed the sick and lame and irritated pretty much everybody who had any status whatsoever.  He even withered a fig tree that wasn’t bearing fruit and cursed it to never bear fruit again…and when asked how the tree withered immediately, he said something that has become one of my very favorite phrases EVER: “Amen I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain: ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea’ it will be done.  Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith you will receive”  BOOYAH!

So who do you think our modern money lenders are?  Here’s my take…Anyone who acts under the auspices of faith and uses it to gain advantage or influence.  You and I both know who those kind of people are.  Here’s the thing.  At that moment, riding into Jerusalem, Jesus could have used his new-found adulation from the people to do pretty much anything he wanted.  But instead, he upset the apple cart and made it very clear what needed to be done was challenge the status quo.  They weren’t bearing fruit or building the kingdom, so they were done.  Things were going to change.  But he also let us know that we had the same power to make the changes he did…enough to move mountains.  Anything asked in prayer with faith…and what people forget is that he instructed us how to pray as well.  He said to pray in secret, don’t pray like the hypocrites so that everyone will see, do it in private where your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  The bottom line? You can never fake out God.  He knows our hearts.  He knows the hearts of those who profit publicly on his name too.  I guess I would rather move mountains than gain approval.

The buying and selling of influence under the auspices of faith is the barren fig tree that Jesus withered.  If you are not bearing fruit from your faith, if you are not keeping the temple ground sacred, then you are done…just like the money lenders and those hypocrites who pray to be seen.  All of us have at times had barren patches, I’m not really talking about that, but when you make a claim to be one who bears fruit in name only, and do nothing?  Well, that is a whole different story.  People of consequence, who really believe and have faith in prayer and do it secretly to the Father will move mountains.

Of Consequence and Consequences

Jesus and the sanhedrinI’ve embraced that breaking out in a cold sweat will be the new normal as I write this first post for the new year.  After the title popped into my head I knew I needed to write before I lost my nerve.  Here goes.

Every person on this earth is of consequence.  Everyone.  God’s plan for the world is weakened, altered whenever we lose sight of this most fundamental idea; we are in this together.  How do I know this?  Just read the Bible, actually most Holy Scriptures.  Since I am a Christian, this is how I know this.  In Jesus’ wheelhouse of people, he spent the majority of his time with the least desirable, most despised, greatest sinners…etc.  He chose simple fishermen for his disciples, and often the oddest of people to dine with and talk to.  His reach went beyond the limitations of class, ethnicity, religion and politics; everyone mattered.  Everyone deserved to hear his message  He especially avoided those who had held the prestige of class and distinction….because they had forgotten who God was, and how to build up His Kingdom.

I don’t think it is difficult to draw a parallel to modern culture.  We have become as exclusive, judgmental, bigoted and narrow-minded as those who were threatened by Jesus in his day.  We have forgotten who God is and how to build up His Kingdom.  To twist the words of Jesus to exclude and redefine who is acceptable to God is nothing short of blasphemy.  So don’t.  God celebrates every one of us, he doesn’t make mistakes.  I hope that isn’t a hard pill to swallow, because to each of you who really hates a section of the population for whatever reason…stop, because they are precious in God’s eyes.

Ouch, I know that can be harsh.  So I have to see preciousness in the people who literally make my skin crawl? Yes.  That doesn’t mean that we all go hug a random criminal or (insert name of the faction of the population you hate the most).  So here is where I move beyond “of consequence” and on to consequences.  Saying the phrase, “of consequence” and believing it is hard.  Most people I know are insecure and struggle, in a variety of ways, with low self esteem…that includes those who appear über confident and present the illusion to the world that their shit doesn’t stink.  It is what drives the angry divisive, bullying behavior of people today.  Those who really believe they are precious, essential, loved and important just don’t behave that way.  I also think it is why people refuse to accept responsibility for their own choices, and how that is manifested, I suppose, is different for each person.  For example, I think the one of the reasons the Pharisees hated Jesus so much is that he took their power over the people away.  If Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting so long for, they were no longer formidable.  Their self-worth depended on knowing more, having more power, the exclusivity of being the God’s chosen people, rendering them more important that everyone else.  Jesus virtually pulled the rug out from under their belief of who the Messiah would be, not a mighty King, but a loving servant.  That could not have set well.  They were precious in God’s eyes and yet there were dire consequences of what they did.  How are we supposed to love that?

Being “of consequence” will never render the “consequences” of any our actions in the world null and void.  We all live by the choices we make and often suffer the fallout of choices others make.  We have to hold others accountable, but only in a way that offers the possibility of being “of consequence” again.  I’m not naive, the world has some pretty evil stuff going on.  But remember that we are not alone, God is truly with us and for us…all of us.  And until we can believe that we are all precious in His sight, even though we all sin, we have to stop throwing stones, the kind that destroy and not build up.  We have to stop blaming the government, the 1%, the poor, ethnicity, ideology… the list goes on and on.   Jesus said, that whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.  Holding ourselves and others accountable while still seeing the worth in all sinners is how we grow and how we grow to understand God.  I just want people to understand that the kind of choices we make change when we look in the mirror and believe that the person who is looking back matters, is important, and is an expression of God’s great creative mind.  Because if you can’t see God’s creation when you look in the mirror, you won’t be able to see it in others either.