These are the observations of an ordinary woman in a very crazy world...which doesn't have to be a bad thing, especially when common sense prevails. Right now? I'm thinking that commons sense is close to extintion and should be put on the endangered list...except it has to be recognized to be protected, and there are too many people out there who don't seem to recognized it anymore
There is a purity and sacredness as a life begins to ebb, the veil thins and the hint of what is to come becomes more palpable. While the biological mechanism that holds our soul begins to weaken and wear out, the soul in its beauty begins to shine through. While I fully realize that in this day and troubled age, many times the body that harbors someone’s soul is ripped apart too quickly, by violence and the harsh realities that come with human free will, there are those who, after a full and breathtakingly ordinary and beautiful life, sustain my belief that love is still the author of this play called life, and because of the tether we have to a gracious God, nothing will still it.
I think we sometimes forget the subtle and sustained moments of love that often go unrecognized in the day to day. It is like a favorite smell, song, or the warmth of the sun that bring a sigh, a moment of relief or happiness that Fill in the negative spaces and keep us moving forward. I am amazed to hear the stories my mother-in-law Rayola tells, each one a reflection of simple moments that wouldn’t seem to amount to much in the full span of a life, but are coming back to her with great clarity as her life begins to wane and the effect they had on her and her life’s journey. It gives me respect for the moments I often disregard as meaningless or less than impactful, when, in reality, they take root deep in our personal psyche and ripple outward inspiring other simple gestures of kindness and love toward even more people.
I see the ripple effect everywhere in this woman’s life…the circles of kindness, acceptance, and unconditional love that wave outward into the world making their impact heartily and consciously felt. I know there are many moments that may be unconsciously felt or recognized by the person receiving the benefit (as I am one such recipient), but they are powerful nonetheless. I want to remember the beauty in the waning of life, like the colors of a sunset or beauty of the first star of the night…like a hint of all the beauty and the glory to come. Love doesn’t need a trumpet or neon flash or pageantry. Love is the all, the beauty of a background and the whisper of God in our ears, just like my mother in law. Today I celebrate the indomitable spirit of those subtle but powerful moments of love.
Imagine if your wallet was unlimited and you never had to worry about having enough money. Would your relationship with money change? What would you spend your money on? Would you buy a bunch of stuff, or build a lavish lifestyle? Would your friends change? Would you bestow gifts on others, or just the people who give you something back or who you believe were worth of it? Would it change how you think about being generous? Would you give more, care more about the challenges of the world? I think that knowing your wallet was unlimited wouldn’t change your relationship with money at all. Would you care how others used your generosity, or even care? Would you worry that perhaps someday that unlimited wallet would change so you’d need to stockpile? Or if everyone had enough, how would it change your status in the world? If every hierarchy that existed based on the level of income you had was obliterated, would you feel any different? If it controls your happiness now, even in your lack of it, wouldn’t it still control you in its abundance? Just google the effect of money for people who suddenly became wealthy to start…not a pretty picture. There are plenty of people who have more money than they could spend in a lifetime, hell several lifetimes…and sit on it, and build power structures that help them continue to sit on it. Or they use it to wield power and not love.
Now image if your heart was as limitless as your wallet. Would you change how you wield love in the world? Would you love in spite of getting little or nothing in return? Would you love only those who show you love, or whom you deem worthy? Would it be conditional? Would you dole it out carefully as if it were in short supply? Would you wield it only according to certain prescriptions and rules that dictate how to get it and who deserves it? Would you participate in a hierarchy who put you above others in the world in terms of eternal life? That is the trouble with conditions and love they don’t go together at all. Placing limitations on love turn it into something else, something that may be called love, but in name only…because love does not exist in limitation…
So, if you believe in a limitless God, one that brought a savior to our world to give our hearts an unlimited source of that love, without condition…then you have to wield it as as you would if you had an unlimited wallet. No excuses…Not receiving love is not a reason to stop wielding it. Here’s the funny thing about money and love…even with an unlimited supply, would it change how you use it in the world? Again, I don’t think so. Our understanding of love is intimately related to our understanding of money. I guess that’s why Jesus intimated that they couldn’t exist in the same plane. If you’re generous with one, you have to be generous with the other. I’m sure the reverse is true as well. Anyway there are plenty of parables in the Gospels that warn us of our attachment to money and its affect on our ability to love.
So why did I title this post love and quid pro quo? I did so because quid pro quo means “something for something”. While it may seem obvious in relation to money, that we pay out and get something in return, but the value of it? We spend money on trivial things like we have an unlimited wallet, and are often miserly when it comes to extending it in generosity. Civilized society depends on a rhythm, a flow of investing, sharing and giving without a clear personal return. Too often it is also how we measure out how much love to give, but that’s not how it should work. The exact opposite is true, love should be given without regard of return, because we have an unlimited supply. It may look different in how it is applied uniquely to every individual, (remember it is patient, kind, etc.) but the expectation is to wield it according to its nature which is free, abundant, and without expectation of payment or return. Every single lesson in scripture lays that idea out for us. You never earn God’s love, its yours for free. And the thing I learned from this unbelievably challenging year? How I spend money and wield love in this world has nothing to do with never having enough…because somehow in the moment I always do. That is what faith is supposed to look like…walking your path and working on building faith that you have enough, you are enough and to face challenges that arise in your life with the belief that God will never abandon you, that God will never give you a stone when you ask for bread, that God can be seen clearly in every gesture of love, and never, ever in any other action.
This was my most difficult post to write, not only because I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to you, but because I have been challenged this year to dissect my relationship to both love and money, and while grateful for the lessons learned I am also full of sadness at the deep anger and hateful divides in this world. It is direct opposition of all that I have learned, believe and hold dear…not just in our country, but in those institutions that are supposed to represent and be the fountain of God’s unlimited supply of love to this world. They are being corrupted, and we must join together as warriors of love to turn things around. You may not agree with my method, but you have to agree that something must be done….because love dissolves corruption, it shines a light on lies and manipulation, it bears all things and never fails…
As another year cycles to my 60th year on the planet, I am consumed by love…the abundance of it, the shortage of it, the mischaracterization of it, and mostly the lack of understanding how powerful it can be. So this year, my prayers for you are all about love,
I pray you understand that your DNA, the very composition of you is rooted in the profound mystery of love. Love is the source code, and there is nothing, not even the best liars in the world, that could convince me otherwise…I pray that you understand this too.
I pray that you have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, that each person has the composition of love too. Our job, is to help them realize it…
I pray that you become aware that at your core is the potential to bear great fruit, God has bestowed upon each of us unique talents, a unique melody meant to share with the world.
I pray that you have the strength to let your talent, your melody sing and never let the haters and those who spread dissonance drown you out. You have the power of love on your side, it is built in you and empowered by God. Change the space you are in to let it shine out of you.
I pray that you wield love in your own unique way to help heal the pain and sorrow that exist in our world. Your potential is unlimited, and like a ripple effect, it circles outward to influence others to do the same.
I pray you remember that we are on this planet to bear fruit, not to burn or tear it down, we are commanded to nurture and sustain it, and leave the judgement to God…for God alone commands the day and the night, we are gifted with its beauty and ability to help us rise to our greatest potential.
I pray that you understand helping another see and reach their potential can only serve and help our own journey, there is abundance in this world for everyone.
Most importantly I pray that you be kind, slow to anger, not judge, forgive, and have the faith of a mustard seed…for then you truly can move mountains
On a vacation with our neighborhood years ago at a campground, my eldest son made a statement which came to me during this last portion of training. He said, “Mom, there isn’t anyplace even in hell that the love of God can’t reach, right?” I said, yes that’s right, unequivocally. That phrase shocked and reorganized my whole theological philosophy in an instant. I’ve been pondering that phrase over and over as I started and restarted this post for days. I knew what I had to do to test it, make it my own so I immersed myself in my own personal hell (mind you I certainly didn’t know what I was doing at the time…but I think God did) And while it wasn’t quite 40 days in the desert…once I came out the other end, I had such clarity and calm. So here is what I came to understand.
To start, I’ve always been uncomfortable with people who use Christianity as a means to get the golden ticket of salvation, i.e. once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior you’re in the club…or if you followed the prescriptions of the church perfectly you got salvation covered, and everyone else was totally screwed. It doesn’t really work like that. I know it, because Jesus said so. When Jesus told the disciples what the end time would look like, he didn’t separate them by who accepted Jesus and who did not. He didn’t separate them by who were the best rule followers and who were not. He separated them by how well they loved:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life
Jesus also told the story of the a perfect rule follower:
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
So I guess what I’m saying is that when you accept Christ, when your heart becomes his heart, you are supposed to be different, see the world in an altogether different light than everyone else. And as a whole, we are not the Body of Christ, as a whole, we haven’t really understood what grasping Jesus as a formula for eternal life was really all about. Arrogant? perhaps, but I asked the question so here is what I got. While I still believe that Grace is offered to all for the taking, I do believe that what is required is so much more than speaking a formula out loud or following a bunch of rules, or making a claim that you are a Christian…that has never been the heart of it. It is, I’ve come to understand, all about redemption.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He also challenged the disciples at their definition of who their neighbor is. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect
And how do we love perfectly?…with mercy as Jesus describes in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (you can look this up on your own…Mt 22:34-40) The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us the expectation that mercy be extended to the least of whoever that is in your personal lexicon. You must show them mercy or you have failed embracing Christ, embracing God, on every level. Those that show mercy towards their neighbors get it right. So here is my question: with so many Christians in the world who have supposedly grasped the golden ticket to eternity, why does there seem to be so little of it?
And so my training in learning to wield love led me to hell. And it sucked and there was darkness and despair and there were moments when I didn’t think I could make it because I just couldn’t get what it was that I was supposed to understand. Bloody hell !!!!!(there was much swearing so bear with me), I know Jesus sacrificed his life for us all, for me…I tried to let go and let God. I read scripture, I prayed and then God told me to look in the mirror and then asked me if I thought the person looking back was redeemable, and it hit me like a jack hammer…fuck no. Beyond all the rational and reasonable there was a dark theme that hung in the back of my mind that said you haven’t accomplished what you were put here for, you’re lazy, you’re petulant, you’re arrogant, you’re ugly and old etc, etc. I remembered in the book of John where a woman was caught in adultery and people were going to stone her according to the law. When Jesus stopped them by challenging them on their own sinfulness, he stopped the stoning not because she was innocent, she had sinned, he simply told her not to sin anymore and that he would not condemn her. The way was open to redemption, but she had to do the work. Sadly, those that were willing to throw stones didn’t even know they needed it, and that is by far the greater tragedy. I have to say, that while I may not have seen myself as a stone thrower, I certainly threw enough stones at the woman looking back at me in mirror. I was also the woman caught, and believed that somehow I didn’t deserve redemption (not that I’ve ever been caught in adultery…anal rule follower here). I was driven to those dark places in my own personal hell where I hated myself, the places where I let the great deceiver get into my head and try to try and convince me that I was unworthy by letting the judgments and condemnations slip into my psyche (and yes, I do believe in the devil so get over it). And in the end I put my stones down and extended my hand and let the love of God reach through the darkness. And I felt peace for the first time in awhile, I’m not embarrassed in the slightest to have that part of me exposed…because everyone has it, whether they admit it or not.
So in conclusion, my takeaway on the visit to my own little hell in the last month?…we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves and God with all our hearts, souls and minds because we don’t love ourselves enough to get there. We don’t give ourselves the love and mercy we are supposed to give to God and neighbors and that is where the breakdown lies. So how do we fix that? We look in the mirror every day and believe we are redeemable. I mean really believe it, and are willing to work at the sinning no more part. It also means that you have to venture a bit into your own hell and face up to the parts of yourselves that you think aren’t redeemable. And just like those words of wisdom from a once seven year old…there is no place in hell that the love of God can’t reach. But acknowledgement is the first step. You can’t reach it if you don’t see it and acknowledge that it’s there. And then, when all is revealed, or what you are willing to see…you extend the hand of mercy and with the Grace of God believe that even with all the nasty parts that you hide from the outside world you are worthy of redemption.
I also know that it doesn’t matter if:
You wear the cloth
You are a genius
You are successful
You are beautiful
You are famous
You are powerful
You are popular
You are a leader
You appear to have everything together
YOU HAVE DARKNESS THAT NEEDS TO BE SEEN, ACKNOWLEDGED AND REDEEMED. And like the good Samaritan, offer up a hand of mercy and redemption to the broken parts of you. Jesus will simply say, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Wielding love begins here. That is what will distinguish the sheep from the goats…not the formula or the rules, but mercy and redemption.
I didn’t want to write today. I just didn’t. But then “want” doesn’t really seem to be part of my training this year. Facing difficult subjects head on is what is required, so here goes. Life is sacred. It’s the reason that I’m on this journey and is the reason that I’m training to wield love in a world that is full of fear and hate, and more and more appears to be demonstrably against the sacredness of life. I’m not talking about abortion, because I don’t believe the movement is really concerned about the sacredness of life at all, because you can’t make someone appreciate life’s sacred quality by enacting a law. I happen to know that there are many individuals out there who feel all life is sacred on both sides of this issue. This “movement” is about control. This movement is about judgement. This movement is about power. I know those last statements will strike the solar plexus of many, but just bear with me for a moment.
I keep focusing on the words of Jesus when he instructed his disciples to love one another in a way that even the least of us deserve. While it is easy to feel charged up to fight for the unborn, there is no reciprocal fight for those that already exist on this planet. The reason, I would wage, is because the movement isn’t about love and the sacredness of life…it is about control, and regulating a woman’s body under the auspices of “saving a live.” If the movement were about the sacredness of life, then it would also be dedicated to saving life in those that are already born in every corner of the world suffering greatly. But I guess once that first breath is taken they are somebody else’s problem. Scripture challenges us in this:
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. 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 he 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 him: whoever loves God must also love their brother or sister
So, then, what is to be done about the sacredness of life? If the end result means to have us all understand and appreciate the sacredness of life, then it certainly isn’t by denying a women’s choice to arrive at that conclusion on her own. I have known women who have had abortions BECAUSE they believe that the fetus they carried was sacred and would do anything to fight for life, including the choice to end it. And yet I’ve known women who just didn’t want to bring a life into the world…and while my personal choice may have have been different, it was MY personal choice and conscience that I followed. Follow the commands of Christ…that we love our neighbors as ourselves and that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters you do unto Christ who saved us. I think that looks more like reaching out in other ways besides allowing the government to force its will upon women. I know there are many who disagree with me on this issue, as to be expected…we all have the freedom to hold our own beliefs, I get that. But please, do not think for one minute that its because you hold life more sacred than I do, or anyone else who may disagree with you…because you would be wrong.
So wielding love for me in this situation? It means listening to women’s stories and seeing what a grave and complicated issue this is. It means really looking at the least among us and seeing sacredness in them. It means loving and not punishing…like Georgia’s law does. It means looking around and seeing that all life is sacred, and like the story of the Good Samaritan when Jesus asked a scholar of the law listening to the parable what loving our neighbor looked like “he said the one who treated the Samaritan with mercy…and Jesus said: “go and do likewise.” We don’t force people to believe in God, they need to get there on their own…we shouldn’t force women to make a choice they don’t have a say in either. Wielding love could help us all understand the sacredness of life.
Geez, this is a trying year. I would think talking about my training to wield love would inspire people…obviously it seems to make some people uncomfortable and the source of some judgey behavior. I thought it was obvious that this was my personal journey…MINE, and so right from the start let me just say that I have completely embraced this training and it is my journey and no one else’s. So far, I think its been extremely beneficial, I’ve learned a lot, suffered a lot, and become a much better person. I will say that the last three years has led me to this simple, yet profound understanding: love isn’t conditioned on anything but acting on it, embracing it, and extending it outward, with no expectations or conditions. It’s expression is unique to the individual, and undefined except for simple and yet powerful criterion I’ve followed from 1 Corinthians 13: it is patient, it is kind, it isn’t full of envy, it isn’t arrogant or proud, it isn’t rude and doesn’t seek it’s own interests, it is slow to anger and does not brood over injury (some versions say evil), it doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing but with the truth, it bears all things, hopes all things and endures all things. It never fails. It is the opposite of fear.
Love is also the measure by which we should see and recognize with clarity those in the world who claim to wield love and follow Christ, but only seem to confuse or confound what his teachings are really about. Love is the means by which these wolves are exposed. We are also taught in scripture that wielding love always bears fruit, and is by the fruits of love that the path through the narrow gate becomes clear:
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them
And it seems that the wolves out there today don’t even bother hiding under a sheep’s clothing, they walk freely and shout what you see isn’t what you see, what is true is really false, and behave in ways that are contrary to all love’s criterion. It is when truth and love become contorted and absorbed into a personal dictum that great divides occur and unity falters. No good fruit can come of it. And no good fruit can occur when all those criterion listed above are disregarded as unnecessary or weak. Love is wielded when we treat others as we want to be treated, period, even those we choose to see as wolves. I say choose to see, because I have learned in my training that what we see is always colored by our own personal perceptions. And because perceptions are limited and often not based in fact, I am even more committed to being diligent about uncovering truth and making my actions speak louder than any words ever could. Words are often the source of misunderstanding, but wielding love is so much harder to misconstrue. I’ve also said that wielding love by no means infers that we will simply “be nice”. Solomon in the Old Testament declares that: “stern as death is love…its flames are a blazing fire.” There are still great wrongs occurring in the world that must be righted, but it how we address them and proceed forward that makes the difference. Calling out injustice and fending off the wolves can still be done according to the necessary precepts
I do still question why in the face of so much corruption there are so many who refuse to open their eyes to see and their ears to hear at the bare minimum to avoid any path of destruction and avoid it like the plague. It is never about who is right and who is wrong, (I tend to fall into that rut), but rather seeing clearly the behavior that is required of us and whether or not it bears fruit. I choose to seek with clarity and love, and as the prophet Micah says: do right, love goodness and walk humbly with God.
“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay” is an important theme in the Old and New testaments…and one in my own life as well. I once wrote a paper in law school entitled, “Vengeance is mine saith the law, it will repay” My professor rolled her eyes when she saw the title, but changed her tune after she read it (I got an “A”). The point of my paper, from a theologian’s perspective was to render what is God’s to God, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The bottom line, was that if you are going to be a person of faith, then, as scripture states many times, leave vengeance to God. If you are an American citizen where freedom is recognized as an unalienable right then vengeance is in the hands of our legal system which is set up to protect those freedoms, even in the face of a criminal act. I know, I know, we don’t live in a perfect world…there are unjust laws, and as for faith…its hard to let go of the hurt, unfairness and cruelty of this world. The tenor of our hate filled world is a sorry reminder of that. As one who harnesses and wields of love, though, vengeance can never be a driving force.
For Christians, Jesus speaks about forgiveness, loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, etc., etc. My time on this earth is too short to waste it worrying about who is going to get their just desserts. I used to be that person crying over the injustice in the world and it ate me alive (which is not the same thing as working for justice). It’s just a waste of emotion. If we trust that God has our backs, and that whatever you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold…then the exercise of letting go and letting God is instrumental in effectively harnessing love. I’m not suggesting passivity, not at all. Fighting for justice is also fundamental to my faith…but there is a powerful distinction between energizing a fight for love and justice because you believe an omnipotent God has our backs and will trust those precepts that are fundamental to that faith and the energy of a fight that obliterates the “enemy” because they think they can do a better job than God or believe that have been enlisted by God to hate another or it just feels good in the moment. Regarding Caesar’s world, we can’t revere the rule of law and then seek vengeance by disregarding it and manipulating it when it doesn’t give us the result we want. When we stand against all the negativity and hatred in the world, it has to be done with the belief that everyone, even those we see as enemies at the moment stands to benefit from wielding love.
As any person of faith, there is an expectation of certain behaviors that are in alignment with the central tenets of that faith. As a citizen of this country, there are also certain expectations of behavior as well. Melding the two together is a natural struggle to be sure, but wielding love whether it be for God, country or both can’t be done by bean counting those that break both sets of laws. That is why I struggle so deeply with the present situation in this world. People are far too eager to justify their vengeance against their “enemy” because they happen to think they are on the right team and believe the notion that anyone who doesn’t believe like they do are the enemy. Its exhausting, and stands in direct opposition to what it means to wield love in the world. Like it or not, America includes many “teams” and Christianity commands that we love one another…even our enemies. Vengeance has no place in either.
I will be the first to admit that there are days when I want to hate everybody. Part of love’s training is to be aware of and work through these weaknesses constantly. I am not always a compliant student, but I am getting better. It is often the hardest part of my training…to wield love to those who demonstrably relish in the us against them fight, or judging others as lessor than, or bullying and name calling, or those who lie or are violent or are all of the above, the list goes on and on. The truth of the matter is that we are all human and I’m sure there are those out there who wish vengeance on me by wishing me ill, judging me and calling me names…and I may not even be aware of it. I know my heart, but others may not, which may mean attributing to me qualities I don’t think I deserve, and I know I have, at times, done the same thing to others. I’ve stopped allowing the world to define or weaken me by those judgments, especially when the world is in such desperate need of love which also means bringing my heart to the forefront for everyone to see, and that is not easy…because the world can be a cruel and unfair place after all. And yet it is because I have faith in a God that has my back and augments my vulnerable heart with a greater one that vengeance plays no part in my journey. It is a burden I don’t want or need anymore. So I wield love and celebrate those that do the same in the world. The other problem with vengeance is that it take our focus away from the people who should be celebrated for all the love they share.
Every day I say the phrase “I choose” in my head, whether it is to control my vapid tongue or expose my heart…it is my choice. I make the conscious choice to wield my love in the best way I can. I choose love, not vengeance.
I love shoes…I know a lot of people who do. I love the interesting, uncommon and artsy kind that most people don’t have. I could easily be one of those hoarder types with hundreds of shoes, but alas I am limited to loving them from afar. My horrible spine and the resulting poor bio-mechanics have limited my shoes to those that support arches, and when necessary my orthotics…how cruel is that? Gone are the days of heels and the barefoot sandals with barely there straps. I’m not saying I’m old and haggard with orthopedic shoes, it just takes more time to find the right ones, you know the ones that put my best foot forward. Sadly, they are far and few between.
As a result of my own limitations, I try and afford others the same courtesy of not judging them by the shoes that they wear.. Many of us don’t wear the shoes we want for a whole host of reasons that aren’t apparent to the naked eye. Perhaps some have physical limitations like me, some are strapped financially, others don’t have a choice about what shoes to wear, and others haven’t even considered what shoes they would even like to wear and are simply driven by trends or what they think others believe are the right kind of shoes to wear. The shoes themselves don’t define the person, but walking in them may help each of us understand what their journey is and why they wear the ones they do. I do know that wearing shoes that I love does affect how I walk in the world, but maybe that’s just me.
Of course, metaphorically we all wear “different shoes” depending on the jobs we perform every day. There are many shoes I despise wearing, but out of necessity I wear them responsibly to support those I love. What is important to remember is that I am not defined by these shoes, but that I am willing to wear them for love. More importantly, I have to remember to take time to also wear shoes that express me…for love of myself. And I’m learning in this year of love, that it isn’t always easy to do. There are people out there who hate my taste in shoes and judge me for it and while it may make me sad, I realize lately that it is also these same people I have allowed to keep me from wearing the shoes I have loved all along…and I’m not doing that anymore. I have discovered that I can wear shoes that support my flawed structure and still make a statement. I urge you all to do the same, you’ll never walk the same way again.
So yeah, the trials continue…this time it’s not cars, boils, subzero windchill, or money…its mother nature. We’ve had a whole winter’s worth of snow in four weeks, about 40 inches of snow. I’ve always thought that living up here in the great white north keeps out the riffraff, that you have to be built of sturdy stuff to with stand the winters here…in the hope that it would also help build strength, character and a sense of humor. There is something to be said about gearing up for subzero temps, shoveling out so I can actually get my car out of the garage and face the treacherous black iced roads even before I get to work and start my day. It’s easy to whine about it, commiserate and share weather related horror stories, but it’s also an opportunity to share stories of people helping each other out, whether it is shoveling, starting a car, helping someone who is stuck etc. It is in these small sacrifices that we strengthen our ability to wield love in a world in desperate need of it.
The amount of snow seems to have slowed everything down enough to give me pause to focus on the sacrifices that love demands of us every day. Some are easy for me, extending a helping hand, or listening, and giving support, and putting other’s needs above my own. Some are hard, like trusting someone to put my needs above theirs when I am so depleted I don’t have much at the time to give, being vulnerable to accept help and while its hard to admit…making sacrifices to those outside my circle who I feel don’t deserve it, but I am obligated to help because of the golden rule I chose to follow: treat others the way that you want to be treated. I feel that simple axiom hones our ability to wield love: to accept the sacrifices that others make for me with love and to sacrifice in the name of love for others. The challenging circumstances of weather, money and physical challenges only stand to purify that sacrifice because it becomes more intentional. To sacrifice in the name of love in spite of challenges only makes us stronger.
I never anticipated using the word “hate” so much in posts about love, but here it is…I hate this year’s task, because it appears that….in order to wield love effectively, I must be whittled down to a mere wisp of myself, with all pride thrown aside (and I hemmed and hawed about the level of sharing, to keep some semblance of pride and decided, no, I am all in with this commitment). From a boil on my butt (I’ve never even had a pimple anywhere else but my face, and that was 35 years ago) that left me not only humiliated, but unable to do virtually anything, to paper cuts on every finger (it was -55 below zero with windchill after all, every scintilla of moisture gone from my body) I struggled through last week, having to make a conscious choice to get out of bed and resurrect the optimism I once had about facing the day…and I did, bully for me. I was going to title the post about it “Love and the seven plagues” but instead am just using it as a prelude to another more challenging lesson.
And so I reiterate that an interesting tidbit I learned about these silly little obstacles, in my life anyway, is that it is more often than not, that it is the “small things” that undermine my ability to wield love in the world. I am a tigress when demonstrably bad things happen. I can champion a cause better than most. I have learned to gird my loins and run into battle in defense of justice and righteousness. The embarrassing things, like those mentioned above, including but not limited to intestinal distress, and other vanity challenges have felt like a sword through my armor and it was with greatest effort that I tried to move in the world with my integrity in tact.
And then came this week, and the charge forth stopped. Every vehicle in my small family of four has just cost us thousands, within two days (in addition to the water crises and house calamities of the prior weeks). While I am thankful for Triple A, and no visible injuries…it is the very ability to actually move in the world being hindered and the financial challenges that followed (not to mention the punch the cold weather had on our business) that reminded me of all those stories in scripture when Jesus lectured us about serving God and money. It is money, the lack of it, the power of it, the injustice of it, and the corruption it brings that stands as my obstacle this week. The weight of money can cripple our ability to wield love in the world if we are not careful, and let me tell you it doesn’t matter how much you have, it may be a lot or hardly any at all. It affects each of us differently, but I have humbly learned that it can, does, and will stunt our ability to wield love in the world if we aren’t careful. The parts in scripture that I’ve held onto and so far have kept me from falling into panic are these three:
No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money) Mt 6:24
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Which one of you would hand their child a stone when they asks for a loaf of bread or a snake when they 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. Mt 7:7-11
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Mt 19: 16-22
So, the test is: where do our loyalties ultimately lie? Do we embrace the love of God over the power of money? Do we trust that when we ask God for bread he will not give us a stone? And I think the most important is when given a choice do we choose God and all that that entails (loving God, ourselves AND our neighbors) or our possessions. I am learning this: to wield love effectively and well, I must continually weigh all three, many times every day. Vanity? shedding that is the easy part…the real strength and conditioning comes from choosing God over money, every day.
So, I guess the training on how to wield the power of love has begun…with the year of a thousand cuts. By all accounts, I don’t tend to over react to life’s foibles, I’m more likely to turn them into a good story, but so far this year? I swear Beelzebub is trying to trip me up with, well there is no other word but shit (which I also stepped in, by the way). From cleaning vomit out of my husband’s car when a never before attack of vertigo seized him while driving (no flu or illness inspired), my car not going out of second gear, the front door of our clinic not opening (forcing us to replace the knob) my bed breaking in the middle of the night (3 a.m.), “someone” losing my car keys, replacing a faucet that stopped giving us cold water, bank deposits mysteriously delayed for no apparent reason and some more delicate ones that I can’t add to protect the innocent…and these are only from this week! I found myself holding my breath in anticipation of the next crisis.
While these events may seem innocuous in the face of terrible tragedies that occur every day, I maintain it’s these kinds of events that literally grab focus away from the good I could be doing and just wear me down (and I’m assuming many feel the same way I do). Things that I normally brush off seem so much bigger and crueler and in a way limit my ability to wield love in the world. Questions like, “am I being punished?” “am I just that unlucky?” and the far more irrational ones like, “is Satan lurking around here somewhere?” “am I being plagued because I’m championing love this year?” It is the compounding of these events and the bad attitude that I take that send ripple effects outward to others and voila the love quotient goes down. I went back to read some the book of Job in the Old Testament, it is involves much of the same phenomenon. The Devil bets God that he can take a wonderful, happy, successful and loving servant of God (Job), and turn him by plaguing him with all sorts of irritants. Those who surround Job try and convince him that it must have been something he had done or God wouldn’t be punishing him…still Job doesn’t lose faith. When he begins to waver, God storms in and demands answers to those who seen to know the mind of God when they fail to answer, God sets them straight…some things are just beyond our comprehension. The good news is that lesson learned, Job goes on to live a blessed life.
Wielding and harnessing love requires that we get rid of the notion that when bad things happen we are being punished by a vengeful and puritanical God. Those kind of beliefs bring out the worst in us: guilt, shame, fear, blame, mistrust, hatred, etc. And those beliefs also cause ripple effects by affecting other people who then create their own ripple effects and before you know it the whole world is in crisis and crippled to handle major crises when they actually happen. I felt like my task during this shit-storm of irritating events was to: 1) try and see the humor in it (cleaning out the vomit from my husband’s car, I was laughing hysterically when I pulled his phone out from under it all…Q-tips are amazing) and 2) not extend my irritation to other people, hence the ripple effect. I tried, with limited success to consciously fight the darkness that irritants bring with love creating a positive ripple effect that perhaps would help someone else who is facing their own personal shit storm (most of the time with laughter and a good story). While I may have simplified the situation a bit, I think the lesson I learned is the most important foundation in my year of love: that wielding love takes training, discipline, faith and the willingness to put into action the promised of scripture, which demands that we love God, ourselves and others regardless of vomit, lost keys, broken beds, doors, faucets, and shit.
Love, I already hate it. I figured since faith was one of my superpowers, I studied Theology and World Religions, I worked in ministry etc., that a year of love would fall easily into my wheelhouse. Nah, per my usual eye opening jaw dropping revelation once my task actually starts…it isn’t going to be that easy. I can point to hundreds of quotes, ideas, antidotes, lessons, scripture verses but none of them hit me as a place to start. The the quote from Teihard de Chardin that I used at my wedding kept coming to mind:
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, (humanity) will have discovered fire.
I guess this is going to have to be more of a training exercise. How do I harness love? That is the big question…and I believe given the state of the world, there have been too far and few that are/were successful at doing so. When you compare the power of love to the wind, the force of the moon and gravity…well, I for one say we’ve been looking at the whole concept of love from the wrong direction. Because harnessing fire brought human evolution to a whole new level. Just think of what harnessing love could do. I don’t think I’m the only one who has grossly underestimated love’s power and strength. So, this year I intend to find out, and master it. I also know the first step begins with me. No one can wield love from the outside it has to come from within.
So, I get why my year of truth came before love. I don’t see the world in the same way because of last year. I can’t lie to myself or anyone else about where I begin and it isn’t always pretty. I’ve used God’s heart to augment my weak and broken one too long. I want a stronger heart…and maybe some of you do too. Let the training begin.
I was naked and afraid…again. WTF, again? I was beginning to wonder if this was standard protocol for my dream state. I got my answer quickly from my spirit guide, always in the form of Jesus (my image of him anyway…I make no claims to know) He told me that as my year of truth was at an end, I would always be in my natural form, and that I was in the dark because it surrounds the world, and how important light is at this point in time. He also reminded me that until I got my embarr-ass-ment under control, I wouldn’t be able to show my light fully to the world, because it meant that everyone could see me too…shit.
“Ugg, truth sucks. Now is the naked part real or metaphorical?”
“Just think of it as all encompassing. You can’t be my light to the world and hide yourself…its flaws and all baby! “With that he laughed and looked at me. “For what it matters, I love what I see. Your body is a reflection of an active and creative life.”
“That’s one way to look at it”, and before I could be interrupted, I said, “OK it is the only way to look at it. So, to reiterate, please tell me what the HELL have I been doing all year, because it seems less and less that people care about the truth at all, and I am including those who claim to be religious. “
“Let me tell you a little story, and maybe you’ll have a better handle on what this year has been about, have a seat.”
“Uch, there is nothing grosser than sitting on the ground, cross-legged and naked.”
“Why? I’ve made the ground perfectly comfortable.”
“Because I’m fat, my bones make noises and I might pee if I sit or try to stand up.”
“A life lived and many gifts given, I don’t care, nor should you…can I continue please, or are you going to hold onto your vanity?”
“Point taken, continue…”
“When I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, before I was arrested and everyone was asleep…”
“I always felt bad about that.”
“No interruptions, please.”
“Sorry, bad habit.”
“When I was distraught about what was to come, the Devil came to visit me. He said he realized his mistake in trying to tempt me in the desert, but now that it looked like he might be defeated, he said he had a secret weapon and he brought Eve forth swinging on the tree that we were standing under and she was eating “THE APPLE.”
(my eyebrows went up in acknowledgement but I kept silent…I’ve always been a good student)
“The Devil told me that he had totally forgotten about free will and that his plan of attack was to use the gift of grace against me. He told me that what ever sacrifice I was about to make would be meaningless if people didn’t choose it, didn’t understand it, or truly want it. and that he would take his time throughout history twisting it and rendering its power useless. He would use their weaknesses and tempt them to use their faith as a sword to bring fear to the world. He would convince people that the grace of God couldn’t protect them from his power, and he would make them afraid all the time, all the while making them think that they had the power, and that they knew what the truth was. He also committed to me that in time, my words and my teachings would be so twisted that they would actually become the weapon that tears apart the Body of Christ and takes down the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he showed me the trouble, the horror and the lies that would happen throughout history. He told me that while I may not fall prey to his temptations, he knew the heart of humanity so well, that he could twist and turn them from the very saving gift I would be giving them. He instructed to quit while I gave everything for nothing.” (Jesus paused, and saw my mouth was gaping, then he continued) “I have to admit, his words were unnerving…and I had a glimmer of doubt, but then the truth of what I would be doing came upon me like a revelation. My sacrifice was based in truth, and love which are impenetrable as well as the source of all creation, his lies were only an illusion and could and would never be sustained. I told him that while he may choose to wreck havoc on the world, that I would be giving the world eternal life, a light to guide them through the darkness. My words and teachings were to give comfort and help those who choose to evolve to a greater place while on this earth…and that many would see beyond his lies…truth and love will always reign as long as those committed to this truth would shine their light, because light shatters the darkness. Needless to say, he was furious…and I was ready, it was at that moment that the Roman guards came. You see, my sacrifice defeated him…he has illusions and lies, but I saved the soul of the world by sharing my everlasting light…the essence that continues on after human life is over.”
“What about those who say the only way to get to heaven is my accepting you as their Lord and Savior?”
“Well, that’s a bit of a distortion. I never gave any other formula for the Kingdom of heaven but a choice to do so by loving one another, its as simple as that. It is the task of your life to master being a lover, and celebrating the fruit that is a result of that love. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”
“Yah, well I’ve said something to the effect of that many times and it does not go over well. People want a defined group, a limited number of who ‘gets’ into heaven”
“Like a wall to keep people out? (my mouth was gaping open again). And yes, I get the inference. There is no limitation to Heaven, to God’s love, to anything at all. That is the greatest lie ever told, that my sacrifice is limited to a set of prescriptions and rules or people, its not and never will be, its free to all.”
“I feel a bit silly playing devil’s advocate here…but you did say that you were going to fulfill the law and the only way was through you…”
“And I did. God’s chosen people were promised a Savior and I fulfilled that promise. I just extended it to all people. All the old is passing away. I am the Alpha and the Omega. It doesn’t matter what churches or people do or say to redefine what or who I am to the world, I am not hypothetical or a metaphor. I am who I am…I changed reality. My sacrifice doesn’t hinge on your belief in it, it happened. Your belief in my sacrifice helps you, and the light you shine to the world. It is the fruit of that light that shapes the Kingdom on Earth.”
“But I feel, in many ways, that this year of truth, that truth has lost in the end…the lies keep getting bigger and seem to hold more power.”
“That means that you’re gaining ground, the devil wouldn’t be trying so hard if he were winning…things tend to get worse before they get better…and also the light tends to shine even more brightly then. Just continue to be that light in the darkness and love yourself and one another as I have, and watch the transformation. My love and power are completely availed to you. Do you want to know what next year’s task will be?”
“This is where I get nervous, because it never turns out like I think it will…”
“That’s because I have a better imagination than you do…Next year will be the year of love, so start you studying now.”
I know I’ve said this before…be careful what you pray for…when I spoke of money in the last post and the story of the widow’s mite, giving from need instead of want etc…I should have known that I would be tested on that particular conclusion and commitment. Tuesday our water stopped running. Wednesday the phones and internet were down, I have all my neighbors coming to my house on Saturday to celebrate the season. I am making the food for said celebration…and I have no water, and until yesterday with no internet or phone, trying to fix the problem was very difficult. So, feeling like Job for a few moments, “life is but drudgery” and all that, I rallied and repeated my mantra over and over…”All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” The irony of the word “well” wasn’t lost as I was told the diagnosis after replacing many things plumbing was: “the WELL pump is shot.” I guess I am getting what I asked for: being in need. It has taken a Herculean effort to not panic as the costs add up and yet I’m also thinking that that is the point: will being thrust suddenly in need stop me from giving? The answer is no, it will not because I am actively choosing faith, choosing God and I felt peace about that. I found a great well guy, with the suggestion of a friend and my water is again flowing. The lesson here is that we are all in need, even if we don’t know how much because we are so insulated by the comforts of modern living. So how do we cope when life gives us situations when our “well” runs dry? The truth of the matter is that we can’t do it alone, we need God and each other and that is what strikes fear in most people…that we all “need” outside help. For me this is the heart of what this season of light should be about. We are not alone in the darkness. There are truly good people about and it should be our sole focus during this sacred time to extend a hand to one another and say I am here for you, you are not alone. Give a little light and receive a little light.
The truth about water is that we can’t live without it, and yet we take it for granted every single day. I know I certainly did. I feel the same way about truth. The water for the soul is truth, and without it we cannot survive. While I may not appreciate God’s timing in all this, I certainly understand it. I appreciate water so much more now that I have it back. I also appreciate what life without truth would be like, in a country where I could not speak freely, it would be as devastating. I am hoping that I never have to live without it and pray God doesn’t feel the need to deprive me of it to teach me a lesson…ever. An end run of avoiding getting what I prayed for? I hope so. Today, I am grateful…for water and for truth.
Approaching the end of “my year of truth” as the sun wanes and the cold comes, I can’t help but have conflicting feelings about this particular season of Christmas. Yes, I still believe that it represents the light that breaks through the darkness of winter. This year, however, has been as brutal as it has been enlightening. It is also why I’ve committed to approach this season without the blinders I usually tend to put on, like a suspension of all the truths I’ve embraced just to do “the Christmas” thing. Can we celebrate “the light” while participating in all the commercial hoopla? While I may not have the perfect answer to that question, and its one I’ve struggled with for many years, I’m always optimistic that I’ll figure it out. For example, past attempts include: once when I was a teenager I asked only for a bible at Christmas and got nothing else (which really wasn’t satisfying, but more like emotional flagellation for someone who loves presents and parties and whose guilt says I shouldn’t so much), or when I told our family of four one year that we were giving our Christmas away, (again mixed results, I really don’t think it changed anything since I was spending money anyway but directing it somewhere else) or the time I limited the amount we could spend to try and celebrate the simple (such a disaster since no one but me followed the rules). Like they say, the spirit is always willing but it resulted with little success. It’s not that they were bad ideas, and I’ll never regret trying, but since I’m being truly honest, I don’t think I succeeded in changing anybody else’s mind about the season itself, which made my efforts seem, well, a bit empty, like I failed.
So this year, because of truth, I embrace both my good and bad feelings about the season. I love Christmas, the lights, the presents, the parties and all that is festive and hopeful about its message. I hate the commercialism, the loneliness, the financial pressure, the wealth disparity and the subjugation of other religious holidays to its mighty rhetoric (and I’m not talking about the good will part of it…more the Black Friday part of it). So this year, I decided that while I will give presents (because giving people gifts MAKES ME HAPPY), I will only support those companies who donate their profits, are small local businesses, have special gift giving opportunities and are generally philanthropic with the millions and billions they stand to gain during the holiday season. I’ve let go of rationalizing my reasons like being a better person etc., because those rationalizations don’t work. To be frank, it is something I am compelled to do because of an underlying terror about money and consumerism and that money, or mammon (material wealth or possessions as having a debasing influence…you know the bad side of money) is ruining the spiritual fabric of our world, and in some ways my own (you know two kids in college, small business owner…yada yada). I think that many of our present ills are because of money, rooted in the not having enough of it and why should you get more of it than me internal struggles. More and more power is falling into the hands of fewer and fewer individuals who are not leading our planet to a better place, and they have one thing in common…money, and a lot of it.
And while I acknowledge I am privileged more than most, the fact is that all of us can take our consumer power and the smallness or greatness of it and direct it toward those companies and individuals who will do good in the world. I may not have received all “the deals” like past years, but I can use the power of money for both for pleasure and for good. I choose to also give from my need and not my want. Tightening my belt to be philanthropic and share freely with others when my bank account says otherwise is also a consequence of my year of truth because if I really truly am a Christian, then this is the attitude I must have about money:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be. “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
When (Jesus) looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.
So, when I see starving children in Yemen, families fleeing from dangerous situations and treated as if they were criminals, and all the poor and lonely around the world I have to force myself to breathe when I look around at all the “stuff” of this season before the mind boggling, crippling guilt overwhelms me. And it is in these times I remember that I can be a light in all this darkness, that I am not alone in solving the world’s ills, and the power of love and its ripple effects are more powerful than I will ever know. That my simple coins, like the widow’s mite, matter in the eyes of God. And finally, in truth, the greatest gift of the season has already been given, it is grace that dispels the darkness and grace behind the light in my eyes. I choose to serve God and it is that I celebrate.
a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not: behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel…the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.
I would add to this definition of hypocrisy by adding: “exhibiting and perpetuating the very behavior you are ranting against.” I am not getting into finger pointing because I don’t think its helpful…at all. I do know that when any of us allow “our side” to exhibit this kind of behavior because, well, its “our side” after all and the “other side” is so much worse…NOTHING CHANGES. Truth and hypocrisy cannot exist in the same room, EVER. Its the one thing that made Jesus so angry. This quote from Matthew 23 is long…but he speaks what I feel this week:
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.
“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 cumin, 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!
Power is corrupting, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is why many hierarchical churches are broken at this point in time. It is understanding the potential for corruption that the foundation of this Republic is built on checks and balances on exclusive power. It is why we have laws to protect consumers from corporate greed, distinctions for protected classes such as race or gender, and rights for those charged criminally. It is why, as a nation, we proclaim that ALL people are created equally and should be treated as such regardless of wealth, status, race or religion. It is not a country who acts against the interests of the whole, for the individual party that is in control at the time. That is the greatest hypocrisy of Washington…to love America, but condemn and vilify anyone who thinks differently than you do. While there are some who are more balanced, given the extreme divisiveness that exists, I think its safe to say balanced is the minority sentiment.
It is essential to take to heart the very behavior that angered Jesus the most: looking good and righteous on the outside but being filled with darkness on the inside. Because of this, I am skeptical of people who say they love an ideology like America and the flag, that they stand for this country, believe in justice and freedom for all, but whose behavior and actions say the opposite, that their allegiance is only to those who love and believe as they do. Some, in positions of power fuel that divide even more. People who believe in truth should not let that happen.
Hypocrisy isn’t foreign to any of us. All of us are guilty of being or saying something one time or another that is contrary to what we really believe. All of us, at times, rationalize why its OK to behave hypocritically because of power in the balance or it achieves something we think we need or want at the time. I think it would be true for everyone who is truthful that it is easy to justify hypocrisy when passions arise. The real issue here, I believe, is not that we are all flawed, but that we embrace an “end justifies the means” mentality, that acting in a way that is hypocritical is OK, if you get the result you want. That is a downfall of having power. The means by which you attain something does matter, perhaps because of the standard it sets. And I believe that is why we are where we are right now in this world. It doesn’t have to stay that way. We are after all, the Body of Christ. We are, after all, created in image of God. We are, after all, “we” the people. Its up to us to act like it.
We don’t walk in anyone else’s shoes. We can’t know or bear anyone else’s burdens. We don’t feel anyone else’s pain. We can only know our own. And that being said, because we all have burdens, it should never be a competition…i.e., my pain is worse than yours or I learned my lessons faster than you have, etc. Our journeys on this planet are unique to each individual. When I weigh out my troubles during prayer time, I am often overwhelmed by the ripple effect that our actions have on other human beings. I am aware that when I allow my personal struggles and fears to fog my eyesight, my behavior changes: less open, less empathetic, less loving. I also know how it affects me when others treat me in a closed, judgmental or hateful way, its like a punch in the stomach making it harder to bounce back. In response, I am continually refocusing my prayers to help me include bringing openness, empathy and love to all people, specifically to combat the growing deficit of these qualities in the world. I know all change begins with me. I decide the tone and tenor of my journey on this planet and it is my belief that being open, empathetic and loving will have an even bigger ripple effect than being closed, judgmental and hateful does.
When I start at this small level I can build up the skills necessary to bring out the big guns when I need them. What do I mean? Becoming skilled at being open, empathetic and loving has changed my whole perspective, hope begins to thrive and my own burdens become significantly less. A simplistic solution, I know…that’s why working hard on the simplest circumstances help gird my loins for the tougher circumstances. Knowing the back story of a truly vile person that is rooted in the most tragic of circumstances does change the level of judgement that I have about them. It has to. If I am trying to evolve as a person…IT HAS TO! It doesn’t mean that people who break the law get a free pass, or people who make bad choices don’t have consequences. It does mean that when I respond back to them in an open, empathetic and loving way…I take control of the situation and that is where the truth lies. I learn a lot from friends of mine who are defense attorneys. They hear another side to the story. They stand for people who have made mistakes, or who truly haven’t, all of whom need help facing a complex system. They advocate fairness in a way that the world outside the justice system does not (OK an aside here, I am not referring to the inequities of the present justice system…just for the importance of hearing the other side of every story). I also learn a lot from friends and others who are counselors, pastors, doctors, etc. who hear the “other” sides of the stories we would like to bypass so we can feel comfortable in smug judgments. I am also privileged to hear many stories that have staid the hand of my own judgment of others in my own life. What I know is this: most people are not inherently evil, most were taught to hate (I have to be truthful here, I say most because the jury is out on some who actually are evil in my mind…but then I am a work in progress). And when you offer openness, empathy and love in response, they do react differently. Change has to start somewhere.
Being open, empathetic and loving isn’t just reserved for the more heinous behaviors of the population either, it also allows me to share in the goodness and wonderful experiences I hear about every day too. The joy of another’s win, accomplishment, and kindness all give me hope and encouragement to keep me on the road that I am on. And for those of you who share in my faith, Jesus affirms my celebrations of openness, empathy and love as well in MT 7:1-18:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s or sister’s eye. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand their children a stone when they ask for a loaf of bread, or a snake when they ask 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. “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
The lesson here is clear: spend less time judging, help is always available, and the only acceptable judgement is determining who the wolves are by the fruits that they bear.
The word “courage” and the word “truth” are intimately connected…in my book, anyway. While the word courage is often identified with magnanimous feats in history, of war heroes and historical figures and fictional super heroes, I think its most important function is as the foundation for truth. Telling the story of who you are with your whole heart, speaking your truth takes more courage than most would admit, especially, given the temperament of the world today. Given the blatant disregard for truth that exists within powerful hierarchies and the level of sophistication of the lies told, it becomes an even greater challenge to recognize what the actual truth really is so that telling the actual truth becomes an even more courageous exploit. In order to combat the pathology that a culture of lies create…we all need to embrace the courage to tell our own personal truths first, and then stand together when those talented liars who lie try to attack us for it. Once you stand for truth, I’ve found, it is intolerable to accept or perpetuate lies coming from anybody else. And it is speaking out against those lies where courage is so necessary…because there are plenty of people in the world who are not only content with those lies, but thrive on them.
Stripping down the illusions that I surrounded myself with took the greater part of my lifetime and I found the courage to wipe those illusions away in large part because of my faith and a deep experience of unconditional love of God and also those brave souls who’ve shared the stories of their hearts and showed me a different facet of life through their experiences. Being on the beneficiary side of those personal stories revealed to me a broader truth and with every story a greater perspective. Championing truth requires perspective, and since I only have one set of eyes and limited control over my physical movement I often depend on listening to other perspectives to expand and form my world view. As I’ve mentioned before, truth is not two dimensional, it demands we move and try and see things from a different angles and perspectives. Once you strip your own life from illusions it isn’t as difficult when listening to another’s perspective to tell who is being truthful and who is either lying to themselves or has too high a stake in believing the lie. That was a hard statement to write because am I not prescient (well, maybe a little), and certainly don’t want to inhibit anyone from telling their story, but this isn’t about judgement, its about truth. I want everyone to be able to share their truth…I’m just saying that there are some criteria that I use in deciding whether or not I allow their perspective to shape mine or not.
Fear is the first condition I have for rejecting someone’s perspective. Perpetuating fear is the opposite of courage, and is the true cause of hatred in this world. Please let me be clear, being afraid is not the same thing as rooting one’s perspective in it and using it to justify your choices and behavior. Because fear is the greatest illusion of all, truth cannot exist in someone who roots their ideology in fear (1John 4:18), I don’t care if what they are afraid of is the devil, a political party, race or gender, or an intimate partner. It is embracing courage to face your fears and not be controlled by them that frees your heart to speak your truth. And speaking that truth literally makes you free and will distinguish you from the rest of the population who simply succumb to lies that feed their fears.
The second condition is the willingness to change. This is a bit of a slippery slope, because I certainly am not talking about being malleable, to change in accordance with everybody else. I’m also aware that change happens over time and never all at once. I’m talking about the willingness to make necessary changes that must be made in a person’s life when things aren’t working, or honesty when you decide you’re just not ready to make a needed change. Change, while inevitable, is still one of the things that is hard for most people, and it takes a lot of courage to do so. We tell people up front at our clinic that we can’t “fix” anybody without their help. If they are unwilling to change bad habits, there is nothing we can do to help them turn their health around…the individual themselves is the change agent, not those who are supposed to magically fix them. And there are those who will try and convince you that “they” can fix you. It’s just not true. I am the superstar in this equation, I make the changes, I reap the benefit for doing so.
The third condition are those who refuse to take responsibility for their lives and blame others for their life challenges. People who are never responsible for anything that happens in their lives and can point a finger at everyone else but themselves, are not being courageous or truthful. Again, while there are plenty of people who are tragically victimized or face tragic circumstances, I am not talking about them. I am speaking about those who consciously refuse to proactively engage in finding a solution to any problem they face, and instead find a scapegoat to vent their rage and frustration, even if they turn it inward on themselves. While blame may give momentary solace, it never fixes anything and is the source of some of the greatest conflicts in history.
Lastly, are those people who allow structures and institutions in our world to control them and tell them who they should be in a way that redefines them according to to the acceptable norms within the structure or institution. They tell them who they should be instead of who God created them to be. While I understand civilized people embrace certain behaviors, like the golden rule for instance, those structures whose purpose is only for power and control and superimpose a perspective at the detriment of an individual…I reject. So when someone tells me that God deplores homosexuals, or black people are inferior, or illegal aliens don’t deserve humane treatment, or their “faith” is the only true faith, I know right away they really don’t understand God at all.
All in all, I think truth and courage go hand in hand. It is difficult to share your truth when there are people who would condemn you and judge you for it. It also takes courage to speak truth to power again for the same reasons. I struggle at times worrying about the consequences of the words I speak, I’ve had my share of condemnation and judgment too. But the alternative would be to lie and that’s just not possible at this stage of the game. So, today I pray for courage and to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart.
When I looked up the word loyalty in the dictionary, the word “faithfulness” was primary in each explanation. Faithfulness to an ideal, principle, etc. was expected. When it came to defining loyalty to a person. though, it added an important word: “faithfulness to a person who is due.” The word “due” is an important distinction in my mind because it infers that the person has to deserve my loyalty, that they have earned it. It is also a point of clarity for me. Over the years, and I have spoken of this before, I have had to filter out and clean my own personal loyalty house. When it comes to an ideal, or principle I think it had become clear that certain groups or institutions to which I had plead wholehearted faithfulness no longer represented the principles to which I believe they were supposed to represent. While the stripping away part may have taken effort, it was a necessary step for me in clarifying where my loyalties would lie. And I think in the present culture it has only intensified. How can you be true to a person or institution who isn’t the reflection of the ideas or ideals they claim to represent?
We all have had the experience of being loyal to someone who really didn’t deserve it. I’m not talking about our shared human frailties, I know I have acted in a way on occasion that could be considered disloyal…I’m speaking about those toxic people who continuously behave in a way that defies the reasons we were loyal in the first place and leave us diminished rather than enhanced as people. Those experiences should help us hone our ability to choose better people in the future, and also more importantly show us how to be better worthy of another’s loyalty. Those relationships that command loyalty come from an investment of time, experience and continued proof on both sides that the loyalty is justified.
So there is reason to be concerned with what we are asked to do in today’s market of social media regarding our loyalties. There are those who play on our weaknesses, fears, laziness and at times character flaws to create such a divisive and angry divide. I see cable news do it, political parties do it, religions do it, and the list goes on and on. They demand loyalty without being held to account for whether or not they hold up the ideals they are supposed to stand for, claim the exclusive power to define who is right and who is wrong, are just using people for their own personal gain, or even more nefarious reasons, all to create an us vs them environment where no one can think differently without being vilified. The thing that befuddles and concerns me most deeply is to see good intelligent people fall prey to this kind of nonsense just because it suits their color or symbol of the moment. The leverage we give these groups instead of truth or principles they are supposed to stand for, is one of the greatest evils of our time.
And yet, how do you address it? It has become so difficult to have a civilized discussion at all about people who strike such polarity in our world. It never used to be a big deal to have friends that held different beliefs than I did…not so anymore. So rather than conquer the great white elephant in the room, let me ask you this: To whom or what are you pledging your loyalty? Do they represent your values, and would you stake your soul on it? These questions shouldn’t be answered easily, because there is just too much smoke and mirrors out there that the truth must be fought for. Expecting loyalty should take time, patience and experience. If the behavior doesn’t measure up, or isn’t truthful, then cut them free and look elsewhere. My loyalties may be few, but I believe they are worthy of my fidelity…until they are not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about free will and choice in these days of such tribulation. I’ve pondered, studied and applied (to the best of my ability) the lessons of the story of the Garden of Eden that speaks of the origin of free will and sin. In short, a choice was made to defy God and eat of the tree of knowledge, and innocence was lost…and if I’m truly honest, I’m OK with that. I would rather choose God, choose my path and choose all that comes with human fallibility on my own than live in a world of perfection without having the choice to be there. I say that because it means everything when you choose something for yourself, and not have it imposed upon you. And with that freedom comes a responsibility to accept the consequences of those choices, because that is how I evolve. I also embrace the help that God offers, in humility, because I acknowledge the limitations to my human perception and ability to move as far forward on my own as I would like. I believe that whatever I put out into the world comes back to me tenfold, which gives me care and pause to keep me on the straight and narrow road I choose to walk on. We are all fallible, flawed, and yet free to move in the world in the way we choose even within the limitations of circumstance and physicality because no one controls our souls or thoughts. Even how we choose to follow God, at its core is a personal responsibility. We can’t hide behind God to justify our behavior any more than we can blame the devil…because we have the freedom to choose. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE for every choice even in the midst of horrible circumstances, not knowing better or even in the midst of enslavement. (which, in the story of Adam and Eve, God says: “See! They have become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad!”) While in any given circumstance our physical choices may be restricted or limited, we always have the freedom to choose how to respond to them. We can choose goodness, or not.
With that said, I fully realize that the freedom to choose our physical destiny fully is not available to everyone on this planet, its just not. I think the choices to restrict freedom are being imposed out of fear and all the ramifications that come with that choice. There is a part in the story of Adam and Eve when they realize they are naked, and they hide. I think of even the most powerful people in the world in that position in front of God, when stripped down to just their nakedness not protected by wealth or status or embellishment would feel the same way as Adam and Eve did. I know I do, and I am thankful for that…I, in truth, really am. The reason? Because, sensibly, I know we all have flaws that we cover with a variety of subterfuge because of a skewed belief that if we do that the rest of the world won’t see how flawed we are, except that the rest of the world is flawed also. I find it tragic the length to which people will go to fake who they are or make excuses for who they are not. I refuse to do that. Instead, I choose to be a work in progress, flaws and all, give credit to God for the blueprint that is me and work desperately hard to make sure my choices are good ones, and when they aren’t, take responsibility for them and move on.
So, in the light of free will, I choose to celebrate that sacred fault of the Garden, choosing more to see it not as original sin, but the ability to recognize good and evil and then consciously, to the best of my knowledge and belief, choose good, choose God…which differs based on an individual’s perspective. And because we all have a different perspectives, work within those differences unless and until I think goodness is threatened and find ways to rectify it. I think this is why the tone of Jesus’ message is based on love, and not a regimented set of rules or judgments. Loving God with all your strength, treating your neighbor as you would yourself, and loving the least among us, and being prayerful, helps us recognize that while others also have free will and face circumstances we may not understand or appreciate, and the choices made may have a ripple effect outward, there is a good way to respond to them and an evil one, even if those choices are not black and white but on a spectrum. At our core, unless you are a sociopath or severely mentally ill, knowing what is good and what is evil is the burden of free will, and simply hoping you are doing good does not make it so. To abdicate responsibility for your status by blame, by excuses, by rationalizations, by out right lying is choosing against goodness. And while none of us can equivocally define what goodness is all of the time, in time, if we choose to evolve, we should get better at recognizing it. Lastly, Good and Evil are not shaped by public opinion…that is the truth.