Truth and Money

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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.

and

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.

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 Waiting Game

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To wait, is to stay in one place in expectation of something. Waiting is never easy in this day and age and I think it would be safe to say that we do it badly. It can inspire the worst behavior, whether it is in traffic, or shopping, shipping, or security lines at the airport. It can also inspire despair, waiting for justice, for assistance, for long awaited promises. We expect and often times demand immediate results. In doing so we lose the sacred element of expectation: faith, hope and love. What if we could use this season of light to relish waiting, to use the pensive moments we often hate to take a beat and just relish the expectation of what is to come, instead of giving into the fear it often inspires, i.e. the unworthiness that comes when we don’t get what we want, or think we deserve?

Waiting gives us an opportunity to exercise faith, to trust, regardless of our present circumstances, that the goodness we are waiting for will come. Waiting gives us a powerful opportunity to extend that same faith toward our brothers and sisters, often inspiring the same hope in them, which, in turn gets extended out to even more people. Most importantly, though, it brings a precious opportunity to reflect on what it is we are waiting for. In the the readings for the third Sunday of Advent, Jesus asks the people, regarding John the Baptist,

What did you go out to the desert to see?
A reed swayed by the wind?
Then what did you go out to see?
Someone dressed in fine clothing?
Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.
Then why did you go out? To see a prophet?
Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
This is the one about whom it is written:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way before you.

Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

So, if all we celebrate this Advent is to become of any consequence at all, we must anticipate with hope, faith and love all that Jesus promised. He lived, died was resurrected so that we have, by his grace, that special place in the kingdom of heaven. If we could live in that space of anticipation, the world would become transformed. Let this truly become a season of goodwill toward all, in every moment of preparation for Christmas.

The Year of Bearing Good Fruit

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I was inspired by the readings for the second Sunday of Advent, with a tone of reconciling opposites. From Isaiah 11:1-10

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.

And also in Romans when Paul wishes that we have harmony with one another, but most importantly by the admonition of  John the Baptist in Matthew’s gospel: “Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” That’s it. That’s my resolution for next year. While my year of clarity paved the way for wiping illusion away, next year will the year of bearing good fruit. I won’t be blind to the troubles of the world, but there is too much good that goes unnoticed. So, I will find the fruit bearers and celebrate them and hopefully create a ripple effect. It brings me hope in this season to bring light to the darkness.

In the Most Unlikely of Places

 

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I’m writing in the darkness of my house, except for the twinkle lights from the Christmas decorations I finished putting up. I am a sucker for the beautiful respite this season brings to the darkness of winter. In the simple power of a few twinkle lights, a burst of hope shatters the darkness. In the most unlikely of places, among animals and shepherds, our faith is born. In the most unlikely of places, a seemingly untenable situation of a woman giving birth in a barn becomes our sacred event. In the most unlikely of places a starry night brings hope and guides kings with gifts to mark the occasion of the exact point in time when heaven’s greatest light comes into the world. And now our journey this advent season begins. Now, gifted by grace, we are the heavenly light that must shine in the most unlikely of places.

Silent Night, Holy Night

starsFor many, it’s almost here, one of the most holy and hopeful days of the year. From the darkest surroundings and difficult circumstances with love and hope being the only binding force…a miracle occurs. The angels sing, Kings shower a child with gifts and the universe breathes a sigh of relief. God in human form brings salvation into the world.

More than anything I pray that those who are in dark surroundings and difficult circumstances can see hope and embrace the miracle at Christmas time. It is through darkness that light shines the brightest. It is through faith that the power of Christ can make us whole. It is love that can dissipate our fear and move us into a hope filled future.

Blessings to you and yours on this miraculous night

Holiday Wishes

xmas 2014It has been a strange season, marked with events that seem anything but filled with good will toward all.  So, here are my wishes:

1) be safe,

2) reflect on God’s greatest gift

3) focus on the goodwill that you can spread,

4) resist the need to buy the smile,

5) love freely and outside of your comfort zone,

6) exist in the moment

7) leave the past behind

8) wish a stranger a happy holiday

9) laugh

10) breathe