Power and Fruit

 

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This is my last post of the year. I’ve learned much in my year of working to understand and appreciate individual fruits. I know each of us has a measure/talent that the master has given us to hold, develop and expand for his glorification and ours. No one can take that measure from you…it is yours, and yours alone to develop and share with the world. Period. Any person, place or thing that tries to halt, limit or suspend your ability to develop your own unique and special fruit is working against the Master. On this fact I would stake my soul…again, Period.

For this, I looked to the Galations 5: 17-23, to support my conclusion:

For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law

I tread carefully here, knowing what a powder keg the application of this particular scripture to our present world situation can be. I  do, however, recognize many of the qualities that work against the fruits of the Spirit in modern politics. I can find multiple examples of all of them…and it’s not limited to any party either. The desires against the Spirit ultimately work to impede any of us from developing and sharing our individual talents to their fullest. In turn, the fruits of the Spirit are essential qualities in developing and sharing those talents. The “desires of the flesh” work against all of us. I’m not defining these negative qualities like the Puritans did, like all things human are evil, that draconian garbage won’t help us either because they are rooted in fear which is diametrically opposed to God (1John 4). Historically, fear was a means used by the hierarchy to control the masses and vilify anyone who would question their authority (especially women). To be honest, and my bias…the men and an occasional token woman or two throughout history who would use their power to misconstrue another’s gifts as bad or evil, or effect any other means to strip any individual of their goodness and grace are acting on behalf of the dark side, are instruments of evil. I don’t care what kind of title they have.

Power on the other hand, is not a gift, a fruit, or a talent. It is a responsibility. On a spectrum, those who wield it well are governed by the fruits of the Spirit listed above, and encourage all of us to grow our individual talents. On the other end, those who wield it badly can kill the unique gifts God has bestowed on every individual and render us as barren as the fig tree Jesus condemns. I don’t think its too difficult to distinguish between the two. If you are really honest with yourself, it should be glaringly apparent who it is that creates divisiveness, lies, acts with fury, selfishness etc and who does not. What has surprised me most at the end of this year of appreciating God’s fruit is how many people, and many who even claim to be faithful…aren’t able to distinguish between the two, and aren’t even aware that they can’t. For them, it appears that believing that some people are worthy, and others are not, is a good proposition. To which I mind blowingly respond…”How the F*** can you think that? Have you not read any of the Gospels or Scripture? Cause its all there in black and white. We are ALL God’s children not by our actions, but by our very creation, and we are to love ALL our neighbors as ourselves because that which we do to the least among us, we do unto God.

Which, in conclusion, brings me to this season of Light, this season when we celebrate humanity’s greatest gift: wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, Prince of peace. I understand that there is evil in the world. But this great Light can’t break through the darkness as long as all those spirit killing qualities listed above are practiced in our daily lives. It would be as if we were to take this great gift, one that can conquer all evil, and help us to become all we can be and throw it downstairs in a dark basement and slam the door. It is embracing the season and the gift we are given with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control that makes it effective, and in turn making our own talents effective. It is my hope that your gifts are treated as such, and that you in turn treat everyone in the same way.

For now, I am celebrating all the wonderful fruits of my world, both large and small and prepare for my next step of the journey in the new year…Truth, and all that that entails. (I’m already sweating…big time)

 

The Fruit of Thanks

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It’s come so fast, this season of Thanksgiving. It seems a moment ago that I started my year of celebrating the fruits of all God’s children. And par for the course, it didn’t turn out at ALL like I expected. This year I did celebrate the many fruits God has gifted us, but also mourned fruit lost from violence, divisiveness, abuse of power, lies and just blind hatred and judgement. I spent much of the year struggling to keep my face above the negative fray, unsuccessful at times, especially when in one fell swoop a multitude of fruit was swept away, whether it was by Mother Nature or humanity itself. I think as the tower of illusions came tumbling down around me and the world became exposed for what it truly is, old wounds were uncovered and still lie unhealed. It was addressing my wounds that I was forced to come to terms with how my own talents may have been cut off or dwarfed resulting in a lesser version of what could have been, and more importantly how my lack affected others whom the master intended me to help flourish. I read and re-read the parable of the talents and understand that goodness is the result of taking the talents given to us and sharing them for the world’s benefit, and not just our own. And I prayed about what happens when talents themselves are stolen before they have a chance to benefit anyone. I think a lot about the good that could have come and never did because a gift was ripped away…and then we all lose, the Kingdom of God stakes a step backward.

God has made it clear, however, what will happen to those who champion the destruction, or benefit from the burying of, God’s given fruits. For right after the parable of the talents, Jesus tells us of the gathering of the nations when the Son of Glory comes again and he will separate them like a shepherd does with sheep and goats, and say to them:

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?

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.

All that God asks us to do is to behave and share our talents in a way that will benefit even the least of all of us, because that will ensure the best environment for every fruit to thrive. It is not up to us to determine who is worthy, only that we take our talents and bring them out to the world to feed, clothe, welcome, and heal. That is our charge, and for that I am so very grateful to those who in this past year have given me hope. And while there are many…here are a few that come to mind that I can happily name…

Steve Edling: for your healing efforts, regardless of the difficulty…you have helped many heal so that they, in turn, can bear their own fruit.

Riley Edling: for being strong in integrity even when there were those who would break you down.

Connor Edling: for rising to the challenges you’ve faced and to never let fear win.

Ruth Flood: for facing the challenges of the world without your life long partner with  faithful strength. Your keen eye and commitment to know and understand what is happening in the world, is one of your superpowers.

For my siblings: for being present, unique, strong, supportive and my safety blanket.

For my nieces and nephews: for seeing God’s work in action through your talents and personal passions.

For Rayola Edling: for being a second mother to me and your strong will and quiet comfort.

For my sisters and brother-in-law: for your friendship, presence and support of my family.

For my extended family: for your friendship and amazing links to a shared past…our forebears can be proud of their legacy.

For the many wonderful practice members at our clinic, for your commitment to health and often extending that commitment to helping others reach better health as well.

For honest friends, those who can see beyond the veil of politics and bubbles…who, with civility, can agree to disagree with facts and never fiction or a need to denigrate anyone.

For all those in leadership positions who: don’t abuse power, speak the truth to those who do, hold the powerful accountable even against their own interest, put our country above party, hold themselves to a higher standard because of those who follow them, have a vision of a better world and are willing to roll up their sleeves and work with the rest of us and most importantly set an example of what it means to be a true leader.

For my country: whose long efforts to promote liberty and justice for all is one I honor and commit to every day, and whose bountiful gifts I receive with gratitude and pride.

And most importantly for my God: who in whispers continues to give me hope, augments my limited heart with a heavenly one, and has faith in me, especially when I don’t. I am yours and you are mine. I will walk where you send me and use my talents to build the kingdom in my own unique and flawed way, always with love, truth, kindness and forgiveness.

Happiest of Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

For the sake of the few

I was reading a story in Genesis when the Lord has already decided that Abraham was to be the source of a great nation, and as he walks with him to check out the gravity of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, concerned of the imminent destruction of the two cities, wonders out loud to God and asks would he wipe away the innocent with the guilty. “what if there were 50 innocent people, would you wipe away the place rather than spare it for the fifty innocent?” God agrees to spare it for the sake of the 50. Abraham slowly whittles God down to only 10 people, and God agrees to spare the two cities for 10 innocents. Of course in the next story he sends angels to find the innocent, finds Lot and his wife and daughters and sends them away before God obliterates Sodom and Gomorrah…ouch.

In a time when corruption can seem so pervasive, when it appears that the good and innocent stand no chance against the evil in the world, I took up the notion to negotiate with God like my forefather Abraham did. In my prayer time, (which as an aside I actually visualize the conversation I’m having with God and am often surprised at what transpires…is it God talking? Not sure, but if I learn something I guess that’s what matters…so don’t judge) I asked God, “what of those of us who love you with all our hearts, minds and souls, and our neighbors as ourselves? Would you save this world for us or let us perish along with those who are evil?” To which God responded,

“You already have your salvation guaranteed into my kingdom, and not by your deeds but by sacrifice. As for this world, you have already been given all the necessary tools to keep this world thriving, what you do with them is entirely up to you.”

“What tools?” I asked. God responded bringing my attention to my bible which was open to the Gospels.

“It’s all there”

and then he pointed to my head and heart and replied

“and in here.”

What about all those who gather for worship? He answered gravely

“attendance at worship is for each individual, for their own sustenance…it is of no consequence to me. Love is all there is, and is the source of all that exists. It is neither restricted by doctrine or space.”

I replied, that I didn’t think the pope would be happy about that.

“Don’t underestimate my brother in Rome, he is working within a millennia of human drama. He understands that the foundation of my church resides in something far more substantial than rules and regulations.”

Not wanting to dwell on church dogma, I moved on.

So I asked him, “so what about prayer?” He pressed me further,

“What about it?”

I began to get that sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to like the answer, I responded, “when we pray to you for something why aren’t our prayers always answered?”

“I hear every one”, he replied, “but be careful, I answer in the course of things beyond your comprehension.”

I asked for greater understanding so God sighed and replied,

“I hear and answer all prayers, but not always in the way that you all want. The burden of omniscience is that I see beyond the moment into all future implications and interactions. Just because someone doesn’t get what they think they need or want in the moment doesn’t mean that I don’t love them or didn’t answer them. Alternatively, the burden of free will is that you can choose your own destiny and with that comes the consequences of choice, many of which aren’t always so obvious. Free will is a difficult concept, one can’t ask for freedom to choose their own destiny and then hide from it when it becomes something other than what they thought it would be, it gets too hard, or when they make a mess of things.  Additionally, I can’t just intervene whenever I want to, I need to be invited in as part of the equation. You must choose me in that moment to become involved and trust that I can help, that I will help, and have faith in the outcome. The hardest part for my children is to let go of control, and have faith in my answer, the kind of faith that knows that even the darkest moments can be  transformed into the greatest of lights. I will be always present to support, love and guide you, if that is your will. For it is my will that all my children thrive and fulfill their own destinies.”

The line about destiny spurred me on, “So what about our heavenly destiny?” To which God smiled, and said

“That is where the miracles happen. Your heavenly task is to do what I have created you to do, to use your gifts and don’t bury them and help others to do the same. Utilize all the lessons my Son gave you, take them to heart. If you do this, you can save your world many times over, all with your own personal flair and flavor.”

Worried, I asked, ‘What about those who choose evil instead?”

“I am the author of this play, My Son has already secured the ending. With free will, choice is always present. The balance may shift from time to time, but fear is fleeting and always offers an opportunity for champions of the light, remember, I know how the story ends, because I created you, I am your source, your home and your heart. That is why I say to you that my yoke is easy, my burden is light”

I suddenly felt sad, worried that I haven’t done enough with the gifts I’ve been given because I do feel worry and burdened a lot these days. He then got serious for a moment and said,

“And your heavenly task has nothing to do with a church, a philosophy, a country or a tribe. You asked me to open your eyes, and ears and so I did. You asked me for clarity and I gave it to you. Your path will be perfect and will lead you where you need to go not only because of your faith in me, but in yourself. No building or structure, occupation, job or livelihood will ever define or direct your destiny because it is who you are that is your gift, and everything that you do that is your destiny. Don’t complicate it dear child…I will guide you where you need to go, if you ask me to and I promise to hold your hand the whole time.”

I shook my head yes and took God’s hand and away we went.

Fallen Fruit

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In my year of bearing good fruit, today on Father’s day, I pause and wonder and pray for those whose fruit bearing was cut short, who, by our human tendency toward violence as a problem solving tool were shut down before their purpose and gifts in this life were brought to fruition. None of us can know just how other lives could have benefited and been saved by these individuals who were prematurely cut down, whether by the hand of another, or their own hand, but the future is affected nonetheless.

This year I have committed myself to be aware of those whose talents, gifts and influence have brought me thus far. They are a multitude. I am also aware of the tentative thread that connects all of these moments and actions together. What if one essential thread had disappeared, been cut short by violence? What if those God intended to be on my path at some future date were already gone? How are the many affected by a loss of a fruit that was meant as an essential benefit to someone long ahead in the future?

In a time when everyone is arguing about who deserved what, who caused what, and who ultimately is to blame, no one, it seems to me anyway, asks the very important question about what happens when human beings decide a life isn’t worth living, or redeeming, or is worthy only as a blood sacrifice. None of us are omniscient. None can know what the impact on our future will be. Yet, we are living in violent times. I understand the logic of self defense. I have heard all of the justifications. But….none of us know the mind of God or know the opportunity for redemption that could have come. As Christians, we should a least hold that as a powerful possibility too. We are told, when God is for us, who can be against us? Maybe if we had just a little more faith in that, we wouldn’t feel the need to use violence (both in words and deeds) to solve our problems.

We must do better. We must learn to work at problem solving with less vitriol. And because of all I learned last year about clarity, I must start with myself. And it is hard work. Before I went to sleep a couple of nights ago, I prayed hard that God show me how to move forward…and I didn’t like the answer. I am a vivid dreamer, and here was my dream:

I was on a rocky hill. Jesus, or my vision of him, was sitting on rock. I went and sat next to him and asked what I must do to help the world.

He smiled and said, “I have laid everything out in the Gospel” When I asked him to be more specific, he simply said “infrastructure”

Of course I wanted clarity, so I asked, “You mean like roads, bridges, foundations and things like that?”

He responded, “yes, infrastructure of the spirit. You must make roads and bridges and create a foundation all for and to the Kingdom of God.”

Feeling overwhelmed, I asked, “but how do I do that, where do I start?”

Jesus answered, “By being a servant first and foremost”

I got worried and asked, “But haven’t I been serving you?”

He looked somber and said, “it isn’t a question of past service, but what must be done to heal the wounds that are threatening the Body of Christ. The road ahead isn’t solitary, I require the Body, full and functioning. In order to heal it you must find the wounds first, and clean and remove infection so that it can grow in strength. It isn’t pretty, or easy but it must be done.”

Of course I’m all about healing (or so I thought) “I want to help heal it, show me what I can do.”

Jesus said “No servant is greater than their master, if you want to serve me then do what I have done.”

I was all in “I will, Lord” I responded. Then he handed me a towel and walked me over to a chair with a basin. I recognized the washing of the feet scenario…not too scary, I’ve handled worse. But then Jesus greeted someone behind me, and when I turned around Donald Trump was standing in front of me. My heart sank farther that I ever thought it could. Because, this is the first and last time I’ll say this, I despise him. Please understand it has nothing to do with a political party. I despise the man. I think he’s a narcissist, mean spirited, untruthful, a misogynist, weak in character and so much more. I looked at Jesus, and he looked really sad. He guided Mr Trump to the chair and asked him to remove his shoes. Thankfully he did was he was told and didn’t speak. (I’m sure my unconscious mind wouldn’t allow it). I looked at the towel in my hand and looked at Jesus with eyes that said “Really?”

He reminded me of something my son asked when he was a little boy, “Remember what you said when Connor asked you whether there was any place in hell that the love of God couldn’t reach?”

I said, “I told him that the love of God can and does reach every place in the universe”

And then Jesus said, “Show me that its true”

I literally got down on my knees and started sobbing. I picked up Mr Trump’s foot and started washing it. I suddenly realized how horribly misshapen-ed and wounded it was. Every time I squeezed the water on it, the wounds seemed to clear up a bit. Then he disappeared and it was Jesus feet in his place. They were perfect, even with the scar of the nail, they were perfect.

He said to me, “That what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” I was devastated. I had been schooled. Then I woke up. I committed in that moment to building a spiritual infrastructure worthy of the Body of Christ.

I have no clear idea of what to do. But I will work toward keeping the fruit of the future in tact, and I hope you will too. The time has come for us as servants to find the wounds and clean them and heal them, and not just the wounds we want to heal, or just the people that we believe are worthy of it. We must call out and stand in defense against any who would harm the Body of Christ…but our weapon is not a gun, it is LOVE. LOVE that flashes brilliantly to everyone to see, as proof that God can touch everywhere in the universe. We all benefit when we see Christ in absolutely every person out there. I know the journey will be hard and complex, but this dream will be forever on  my mind when I walk…for the love of God can reach anywhere.

Getting your Hands Dirty

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Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.

I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.

So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.

John 9:1-11

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

The New Road Traveled

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My husband called me today from a seminar on cutting edge research (8-5 both Saturday and Sunday) because during his lunch break he found out that one of our practice members fulfilled a dream of being drafted by the NFL. Years ago, this particular young man (wonderful man, even when he faced the wrath of Mary…) came into our office with a debilitating injury, a hip dislocation (Bo Jackson) that threatened his future not just in football, but all sports. They told him he may never play again, that he couldn’t put weight on it for at least 6 weeks. Just days later, he walked out of our office and now he is in the NFL (not directly, of course). He was our “first” ARP (accelerated recovery performance) patient, and with his dedication, hard work and faith, he is a testament to overcoming obstacles. I am so happy for him.

But today’s post isn’t about just this young man’s success. It is about all the pieces that fit together that helped him on his journey. I’m sure he can give you a list of all those influential people who stood in his corner that helped him to achieve his dream (I know he has thanked Steve over and over). We should all follow his lead, because as individuals we don’t do enough of that, i.e. recognizing and thanking those who help us in our lives. Not one of us is an island. And not one of us achieves anything on our own. The fruits we bring to the world are a compilation of countless influences, obstacles, opportunities, and benefiting from the fruit of others, many who go unrecognized. So let me take a moment to say a few words about the man who helped him on his way.

Most people don’t realize that Dr Edling is always on the cutting edge of embracing new and innovative approaches to health (which are soooo different than fads). I have never met someone who is as passionate about sustaining, maintaining and forging new roads for optimal health as he is. As an athlete himself, whose life was derailed by an injury, he has worked tirelessly to find ways and technologies so no young athlete has to let go of a dream. Whether it is through constant study, new technologies and going way beyond the call of duty, he is one of those special few who refuses to be defeated and absolutely loves and is committed to his work. No one is more thrilled, save the person themselves, than Dr Edling is when success is achieved and goals are met, and many times even surpassed.

Much of the time, his voice is a solitary one, one that pushes and maintains that change is up to the individual, that it is often a scary and challenging proposition and never an easy pill to swallow. The answers aren’t always easy to find, but he is there, though, every step of the way, through the frustration, sometimes pain, the problem solving and adaption when other questions arise. He has done the work, the study, put in the sacrifice, the investments in the best technologies. Most importantly he is present, available and stands as a partner to everyone who walks in our practice door looking for better health. Whether their needs are structural or metabolic, he gives 100%.

He may be a little embarrassed by this post. He never toots his own horn, so I will…only because the gift of his fruit, is making dreams possible for others, and that makes me proud. I see his enthusiasm for innovation, selflessness and commitment in our sons too, so that I’m confident the gift of his fruit will continue, and that also makes me proud.

Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall be shown Mercy.

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I’ve been quiet. I’ve been busy. I’ve been stretched. I’ve been focused. I have lingered on this beatitude for awhile. Mercy: I have yearned for it, received it, exercised it, celebrated it, and embraced the hope it brings. I have also, at times, stood with an aching sadness at the lack of it in the world in both small and large ways. Mercy was at the heart of my spiritual awakening and is the sustenance for my soul. And it is mercy both in its effort and absorption that keeps my house clean when I am tempted to throw it by the wayside and rage against the lies and cruelty and ignorance and ego and judgement and entitlement and fear. In desperate moments I remember Jesus in the garden sweating blood because his fear and anxiety was so deep yet was still willing to give his Godly heart for my flawed human one. My life transformed because he augmented my broken heart with his heart. And it was then that I became his fruit, a viable product of his extraordinary life and sacrifice, a means by which the power of mercy can live and stay palpable in our often sad and desperate world. When I allow his heart to be my heart, mercy is air, it is breath, it is life, it is everything.

Before the Fruit

the little red hen 2

Remember the story in the Golden Book series about the red hen who begins the arduous process of planting, growing,harvesting and preparing the wheat to make bread? Along the way she asks for help from various animals who, for no apparent good reason, decline to help her in her work? In the end she, with a great deal of snark, asks if anyone would like to share the finished product…the other animals who refused help finally chime in, and in perfect self justification, the hen says no and keeps the finished product all to herself. A simple story about the results of hard work and who should enjoy the spoils of said work.

I think there are two important issues here. The first, the bearing of fruit is rooted in hard work. Yes, I see the pun, but it still rings true. Often times we are so focused on the end result that we disregard the effort it takes to bring something good to fruition. The second important issue for me, and one that the red hen while perhaps justified personifies, is the belief that the lines are clear between who deserves the fruit of labor and who does not. I wish life were as simple as portrayed in the story, but the lines drawn between who deserves the fruits of labor and who does not are absolutely not clear, and it is a trap we as Americans have fallen into and largely what the last election was predicated on. It is also runs contrary to everything I’ve learned in scripture.

I get it, why give the other animals any bread after they refuse to help? There are a host of potential reasons that could mitigate why the dog, cat and duck refused to help: poor health, exhaustion from helping out in another situation, a lack of understanding what to do, secret yearning to be rid of the hen, or a multitude of other reasons, many of which can also be bad. The reasons are infinite. One would have to be interested in why, but due to the job that the hen wanted done, concern for why the other animals refused to help wasn’t part of her need or plan at the time. She had work to do to accomplish her goal, and that can be a good thing. I, personally, see a lot of myself in that red hen, as I’m sure most people do. The problem arises when the work is finished and the choice is made how to share. Just taking a moment to understand the other animals could have made a huge difference in her choice.

I eat plenty of bread that I had nothing to do with making. I get to share in many fruits of others where I played absolutely no part in their creation. I drive on roads, attended schools, share in new technologies that enlisted no help from me at all. Of course, I’ve paid a price for many of these things, but many I have not. I’m lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a host of fruit that I personally paid nothing for at all and had little if anything to do in their creation. If I’m truly humble about it, there have also been times when I’ve been asked to help and I may have appeared like one of those animals in the story, and yet I still received the benefit of the final fruit. The actual foundation of my faith is rooted in the greatest freebie of all: eternal life by the sacrifice of Christ.

Yet on the other side of the coin I know with great certainty that there are plenty of people out there who have benefited from my hard work, who either don’t have a clue, or were happy for me to do the work for them. In all truth, there are moments, like the red hen, where I don’t want to share, but they are far and few between because challenged by the words of the Gospel and my faith, I choose to go beyond initial judgments and dig deeper into the people who seem to want something for nothing. Walking in someone’s shoes strips initial judgments away, and almost always I learn my initial assessment is either off, at least triggered my compassion. In some cases, delving deeper into who the people are who actually extended the hand of help to me actually exposed a more corrupt character than initially presented and who turned out had far more nefarious reasons for helping, and I’ve escaped harm from them too.

I guess the point I’m making is two-fold, you can’t bypass hard work in bearing good fruit because the end result isn’t the same. Secondly, the decision regarding who should benefit from the fruit of that effort is never black and white. It is a difficult balance, I acknowledge that, but when you spend a bit more time on actually seeing and knowing the people who surround you and being grateful for the fruit that others bring to the table the shift is powerful. Sharing a gift hard fought without measuring the worthiness of who benefits can be life transforming too.

Lydia’s Fruit

 

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A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.

After Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for freeing a girl of a demon, the jailer was converted when after fervent prayer an earthquake felled the walls of the jail, but they refused escape to protect the jailer. Overwhelmed, he asked what he needed to do to be saved, they told him of Jesus, witnessed and baptized his whole family and he bathed and addressed their wounds. After refusing to leave quietly, because they were falsely detained without trial as Roman citizens, they walked proudly out the front door and went directly back to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers and then left.

It took me a long while in my study and ministry to understand the power and gift of Lydia. Imagine the difficulty of traveling all these territories spreading the gospel. Foreign places full of strangers with nothing really to travel with. Those few lines in Acts bring it home. She offered them a safe haven, a generous hospitality that enabled them to face hardship, yet continue their ministry. I wrote a paper about Lydia in graduate school, using her simple, yet powerful gesture as an example of environmental leadership. What Paul and his entourage did was extremely difficult, and because of people like Lydia, they could stop, refuel, take a moment to regenerate to begin the journey anew.

I never underestimate the power of hospitality, especially in terms of leadership…because being a good leader is hard. But when welcomed in and nurtured in a safe haven, they can become their best selves, and that in and of itself can be the the greatest gift to the world, bringing out our best selves to build the Kingdom of God. Face it, the world can be a scary place and we as individuals and faith communities can be a powerful source of love and safety for those on their life’s difficult journey. Never underestimate the power of hospitality, even if it means just sitting next to someone who appears afraid, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or oppressed. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but compounded together these simple gestures can be beautifully transforming. Go ahead, be Lydia.

1988

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My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.

It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.

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I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.

We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.

There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.

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I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.

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Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.

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My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.

We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.

Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.

me and Diana    1988 gala dinner

Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.

That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.

Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.