By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my visits to Russia, once when it was the USSR, and once after it dissolved. I was reading through my journals about the trip the other day, and I thought I would honor that young girl by first sharing some of her insights about the trip. I was the youngest member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches, being only 24. I had to study extensively before hand as well as attend briefings for days at Columbia University in New York City before we left. It was 1984, and there was still a cold war, but I believed that this opportunity was a God-given one that I couldn’t pass up. There are so many more stories that I can’t print here, but I want to offer some of the insights that shaped my future thoughts
Notes during our briefings
Like America, there seems to be a big difference between the people and those in power. The big difference is the sense of futility of the Soviet people feel in overtly doing anything about the injustice they are forced to live with. I was also amazed at the structured and networked way people work around the system. I’ve always believed things are not always what they seem to be, that we live in a time of Olympic level charades-the feeling that things are not what they appear to be. In the USSR it must be overpowering. Again, the difference between the two countries is not just ideology but one of survival. All the bullshit in America is who can get ahead-who can accumulate the most. The feelings in Russia are to survive, to beat an unfair system-yet Hedrick Smith says they’re very generous people-they love to share gifts with people. We are not allowed to bring any denim and the woman have to wear skirts or dresses. Clothes of the west are a hot commodity. They asked us to bring pins to share, I am completely unprepared.
about the Olympic boycott
I’ve just heard about the boycott of the Russians to our Olympics. I’m sad that our two countries keep egging each other on.What will this do to my trip? I’m beginning to realize the seriousness of what I’m about to do. I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect, but don’t want to push any preconceived ideas into my thinking.
On the the trip
After our city tour, we went to a small village church. The pastor’s name was Basil and I know what will have been the highlight of my trip was the children, it was wonderful! There is no way I can explain it in words…just freedom. Fr Basil took us to his “home” where we had another “gala” dinner-we made many toasts (too much vodka). During one of the toasts by Fr Innocent (irony of the year) I started to cry, partly because I’m tired, but mostly because of the double speak, the secret language of the heart and the language of the mouth, or party line, which I’ve had pretty much enough of by now. My eye contact with people has become quite piercing…and they don’t like it, not at all. But you see, you have to look so deeply for the truth and when they deceive and you’re looking deep into their eyes, they can’t hold your gaze. It started having a bad effect on people…not speaking but just forcing eye contact. I hoped my eyes say “I see YOU”. It was when we visited the collective farm I wanted to scream “Do you really think we’re that stupid?” It doesn’t matter to me that you’re trying to impress me, what I want is the truth…a rare commodity here. I’m tired of the press, people taking our pictures and the presence of the KGB. Do they think I can’t tell the difference between a real seminarian and a Soviet officer, especially the way they look me up and down?
Celebrating the high holiday for Russian Orthodox-Pentecost, at Zagorsk, which is their equivalent of Rome was beyond words. When our many buses drove into the monastery, there were thousands waiting to greet us. Walking through all those people just staring at us made me realize that we were definitely on display. The whole experience was beautiful and breathtaking and yet completely freaked me out.
The cantata at the Baptist Church
There was quite a bit of excitement at the Baptist Church. They had prepared a special cantata for us and it was really beautiful. But after the music was over, some people held banners over the balcony claiming in English that many pastors of Baptist Churches were being imprisoned. I was astounded, everything had been so “perfect” until this point. Our leaders avoided it and we were basically told from everyone, what you saw, you didn’t see. Afterwards, I could see one of the wives giving an interview with journalists. I am impressed by her determination and guts and will pray for her protection.
Gala Dinner Menu (one of many)
Cocktail/Salad: rolled ham stuffed with eggs, stuffed hard boiled egg with tomato, salmon and white fish, tomatoes, and breads with caviar. This served with vodka, also for toasting.
First course: crepes and black caviar. Served with red wine.
Second course: Chicken Kiev, with vegetables and rice in a puffed pastry. Served with white wine.
Dessert: Ice cream and filled cake. Served with Champagne.
Coffee: biscuits,cheeses. Served with cognac.
Dancing, and most were a bit drunk…Cheers to my Irish tolerance (and I did toastes with water, not vodka)
Leaving the USSR
I’m in the Moscow airport ready to board the plane for Amsterdam. My feelings are mixed. I’m sad to leave because I feel like I haven’t seen enough-but the tension of this society is so oppressive that I can’t breathe. I’ve also felt disillusioned about this trip. It seemed to be so much media hype for our Leader—– I don’t like to be part of diplomatic niceties which I feel most of this trip was, especially near the end. There were times when I felt like I was on the mountain being tempted by the Devil with all the fanfare, pampering and “gala” dinners. Everything. was. just. too. nice. It makes me wonder what the results of our trip will really be. Will all the frosting hide justice? i.e.the women at the baptist church.
The lay over in Amsterdam was a needed break. My wild side came out, and I’m sure a bit of repressed anger too. I waltzed some of the ministers down to the red light district..he he. Their faces as they looked at the prostitutes in the store fronts doing their best come hither, is something I will never forget.
They said everything was a perfect success. I began to panic because I knew I had to tell people about my experience-that was part of the deal. While going to the USSR was a dream, I had to borrow against my next year salary to do this, with the little I make working with the church it was such a risk. I thought I would be making a real difference, and now I wonder. One of the youth group members committed suicide just as I was arriving home. Physically her life was nice, like our peace mission. Nice isn’t enough, it just can’t be. Christianity can’t always be nice. Peace should be defined by more than nice. It means pain, sacrifice, being vulnerable, being scared and letting go in the face of it. I didn’t get that from the leadership of either country. I felt those things personally and I’m angry that those feelings were never supported by a group speaking in my name too.
We Americans and the Soviets are different, I accept that. I accept protocol and diplomacy are very important. We depended too much on behaving “appropriate” and not enough on being Christians. Our connection was our mutual faith. The Church’s route just has to be different than a political one, it has to be. Politics is rooted in a struggle for power, Christianity is rooted in the spread of the gospel and love. Human beings have proven through history that they are incapable of bringing about lasting peace by their own initiative. It doesn’t matter how good and noble the intentions are if they become egocentric somehow.
Because I am young, the youngest that went by far, my insight and intuition isn’t quite as keen as it will be some day. God has blessed me with much potential, though. So I will listen to how deeply disturbed I feel. There was so much going on in the Soviet Union on a completely different level. I could tell by eye contact, body language, atmosphere-the shadow language. It was all very subtle, but clear enough to demand attention, because when added to the whole picture, my impressions were radically altered. My struggle will be to create an honest picture without embellishment.
Afterwards, I was relieved when a journalist called to get my opinion of the trip. Excited to tell my truth, we talked for a long while. When the article came out in a national paper, not only wasn’t I mentioned, but it “nice.” In my mind, I had been censored and rendered insignificant. I became depressed and disillusioned after that. I spoke three times about my trip, the bare minimum and I continued to worry and pray about the baptist ministers wife and what the truth really was….so I went back, four years later……
Let me begin by saying this post is indeed political and may indeed seem polarizing, but it has nothing to do with political parties or the election per say. As part of my year of clarity, which is almost at an end by the way, I remain committed to see the world as Christ intended when he said blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Having come so far, I certainly am not going backward now. In many ways, this year has been a torturous stripping away of every illusion, every chain and old belief that I held onto as an appeasement to my fears, insecurities and those beliefs that limit my personal evolution. I never anticipated what asking for the eyes to see and ears to hear would do to my life. It was upended. Be careful what you pray for, I’ve heard. And as much as I had no idea how naive my request was, I remained stalwart through every point of this journey, sometimes to the detriment of my health and personal psyche. I also want to say, while not everyone is a Christian like I am, I hope you will appreciate the conclusions I’ve come to anyway. Today, I am Peter, when Jesus was walking on water:
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified, “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Even after all I’ve learned and how deep my faith has become having answered Jesus when he said “Come,” now that I am here standing amidst the turbulence, I am trying not to be afraid, trying not to sink into the depths. I have the benefit of hindsight that Peter didn’t. I already know Jesus response, “oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” In this moment of such turbulence, I will not let fear falter my journey. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid, I just simply reject the doubt so I don’t sink. I will walk on water regardless of my fear. I will respond to Jesus command when he says come. So what does that even look like? This may take a moment, so please bear with me until the end.
For that last few weeks, I have pondered, and worried a bit over Jesus words in Matthew 10 when he describes the world they, as disciples, would venture into:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more that me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his/her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses her/his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he/she is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous person because she/he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of theses little one’s to drink because he/she is a disciple-amen, I say to you, surely he/she will not lose their reward.
Life as a disciple is often life shattering. It is an ultimate test of loyalty and faith. If we succeed, we can walk on water. Call it whatever you will, a metaphor, a means to make the unfathomable, fathomable…I really don’t care. What I really care about is that regardless of the fear that holds many of us paralyzed right now, we must keep walking, we follow Jesus command to come. We refuse to doubt and be one of little faith. We do what seems at the moment to be the impossible. Because with God, all things are possible…right?
Now, here is where it gets tricky for me. As many of you know, I have friends who are democrat and republican. I embrace and accept that different ideologies exist. We’ve all walked different journeys and have embraced our own conclusions about what we’ve seen. I have friends who are religious and non-religious alike. So, my beef isn’t about that, hence the latter scripture that speaks about peace vs the sword. Here is my beef. Political ideologies, in essence, belong to Caesar (see last post), and we give to Caesar in our own way. How we express those ideologies most definitely leaks into giving to God what is Gods. So this is when the fear grips me most deeply. When you use an ideology to set others apart, to demean or demoralize them, to treat them disrespectfully you are not a being a disciple of Christ. When you cross the line in defaming your opposition, someone who doesn’t support the candidate you do, you are not being a disciple of Christ. That doesn’t mean the conversations about ideas won’t be difficult and painful. Where it became appalling to me in this election cycle was the deeply vicious and slanderous way people shared their opinions and almost never to anyone’s face. I always thought that to the people who know me, they know I’m a good person and so would listen to things from my perspective as well as their own and that they wouldn’t dismiss me or talk about me behind my back because I thought differently than they did, or get angry when I expected truth beyond salacious innuendo. I am not a bad person because I voted a certain way. Winning this election doesn’t give you God’s stamp of approval, God doesn’t give a shit about who won this election. But losing this election doesn’t give you the right to give up all hope or hate the other party either, God has clear opinions about those kinds of judgement too.
Being immersed in an environment that often is diametrically opposed to my most core beliefs has at times been difficult for me, but I’ve adapted because I’ve learned to see the deep goodness in the people who surround me. It has always been my prayer that others would offer me the same accord and it grieved me when that didn’t always happen. This year of clarity has given me freedom from that concern. I don’t care if you judge me, because my journey is sacred. I’ve said this before, that until you walk in another’s shoes you can never understand or judge their journey and I’ve worked hard to try and do that. So I implore people to listen to, and most importantly actually see those who are hurting right now and try and understand why. Sometimes seeing life through another’s eyes isn’t pretty, especially since it challenges our assumptions. There are people of color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, different levels of education and economics, who are devastated by the situation they are in today and the implications they may face come with deep feelings often times fear and rage. But when you take time to really see them and hear them, and break the confines of a limited perspective, fear diminishes and the walk gets easier, kind like gliding on water.
And yet to those who remain convinced that the problems we face are someone else’s fault, or that your “side” has the license on righteousness or God’s imprimatur, or that the answer lies in one person’s judgement against another, I choose to stand against you, whatever side of the aisle that puts you on. To refuse to recognize that we are all of us together, citizens who should all enjoy the the same self evident truths that are the cornerstone of this great country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is simply unacceptable to me. So, as a Christian, my sword will be lovingly raised, and wielded in every moment the Spirit deems fit. Go ahead hate me, reject me, whatever. I choose to answer the call and walk on water.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” Jesus
“Truth never hurts the teller” Robert Browning
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” Flannery O’Connor
“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion” Edward Abbey
“The truth hurts. Maybe not as much as jumping on a bicycle with the seat missing, but it hurts” Leslie Nielsen, Naked Gun 2 1/2
Truth is a tough thing to talk about. So much of it weighs on our life experience and perspective. But our country was founded on certain truths, if maintained, should guarantee our success and survival. Simply stated they are, 1) That all persons are created equal, 2) and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So lets just start there.
The word unalienable means impossible to give up or take away. So it is a truth, one not only that should be self evident, but IMPOSSIBLE to take away. Unless and until this fundamental tenet becomes central to any presidential discussion, everything else is a lie. Because a qualified presidential candidate has to understand that they will represent every individual in this country, whose pursuits for happiness must weigh into the whole. A qualified presidential candidate cannot deride or devalue or demonize any citizen so as to diminish the truth of their right to happiness to seem alienable. It goes against everything the founders dreamed of for our country. A qualified presidential candidate should know that this may not sit well with a large part of the citizenry who only want what they want, and care not for the needs of others. But a qualified candidate should be better than those who live with blinders on…that’s what a true leader does, fight for the truth even when it isn’t popular.
The truths we face today are often cruel. Our planet is suffering for lack of sufficient care. Violence is escalating in the world. People are starving and illness is epidemic. Fear reigns where level heads should prevail. A qualified candidate must face these truths head on knowing that any answer won’t appease everyone, and may anger more than a few. A qualified candidate won’t be daunted by this because they know that it is the central job of the chief executive of this country to first and foremost protect those unalienable rights, which in this time of grave crisis will demand sacrifices from all of us. A qualified candidate won’t base their campaign on pointing the finger and placing blame. A qualified candidate should never rely on the love of the masses, only that they love the masses enough to do what is necessary.
Saying something is true over and over will never make it true. A qualified candidate won’t state lies as truths and truths as lies to fit their agenda. Nothing stirs up the masses and creates a mob faster than a lie that is presented as the truth. It is our responsibility as citizens to check the statements that are made before we tie any emotion to them. There has been so much turmoil as a result of an irresponsible electorate. While I hope any candidate would base their platform on the truth, I certainly don’t expect it anymore. The responsibility of jumping on a platform is my own, and I can chose the route of a fool, or do my due diligence and find the truth first. Inevitably, I am the one responsible for standing with those who will better fight for truth or live in a lie.
Most importantly is that fact that while the truth may often hurt, it is the one thing that will save us. A qualified candidate should radiate that with all their being, then there is no cause for fear because they will inspire the confidence necessary to face whatever is coming. So look at the candidates out there and ask yourself if they are qualified to fight for those truths that define our nation. If not, we face an even sadder truth.
It is a slippery slope when science modifies nature without regard for the consequences. As uncomfortable as it is talking about the mess we’ve made with our foodstuffs it pales in comparison to what humanity has done with the scripture that is meant to save the world. While I realize that the words of Jesus are subject to interpretation, like our modern made food stuffs, if we aren’t careful the words can be compromised. The torture for me is trying to understand and embrace the real truth. How can I have a better handle on the teachings of Jesus than anyone else? I’m just a person with a singular perspective. Yes, I have a degree in theology, I have devoted much of my life in the service of Christ and yet I have no greater claim on truth than anyone else who shares in the gift of grace. So here is my take. While it took me awhile to realize that the bread I was eating was poisoning and being rejected by my body, so it is with my soul rejecting some of what is being preached as the Word of God and not in the way that the Gospel challenges us and makes us uncomfortable to become better Christians, but more visceral. Like the body’s rejection of manufactured foods, manufactured faith is just as lethal. I’m speaking about the kind of faith that may taste good, but really isn’t good for you.
After writing and then deleting the start of this paragraph about 50 times, once again I have accept the fact that I may sound self-righteous and a bit arrogant…but there is so much violence and hatred even among Christians, that I just can’t stand it anymore. I think of it like this: the primary focus of our faith shouldn’t be on weaponizing it to keep people out, or beating down Satan in the way of pointing the finger at the evil of the moment. For the love of all that is Holy, people! Jesus fought that fight, so we don’t have to. Our only job….let me say that again, OUR ONLY JOB is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS JESUS LOVED US. Love feeds the soul and makes it stronger. Hatred, judgement, fear, anger, self-righteousness emaciates the soul and makes it weak.
Just think about it for a moment. Is the Body of Christ alive and well? Does it consist of only what you have a taste for? Scripture, like life, can’t be rewritten to appeal to the crazy pace and affluence of modern living. Our bodies become stronger when we exercise and put forth hard effort, even when it’s uncomfortable. Our immune systems become stronger when they are put to work naturally to fight off illness, and sometimes that means dealing with sickness or physical challenges. Our souls, demand the same kind of workout. Being a Christian isn’t always about consuming things that taste good, sometimes we just can’t eat candy or cake…we need vegetables and protein.
The Word of God, is Gods and when the Word is used to serve only individual purpose we poison them. In the end, the strength of the soul will be defined by how well we can love one another…of that I am sure.
I’ve often had people challenge me when I tell them that I can’t eat gluten. I’ve suffered through their derision and can see the contempt in their eyes as if I’m making it up or I’m a mindless fool jumping on the latest bandwagon of kooks who have challenged the health of many of the common foods that people have been consuming for years. From a logical perspective I get it, I really do. Beyond bread being a powerful metaphor for life, people have been consuming bread throughout the ages, and it never seemed to bother them (unless it was tainted with something, like poisonous rye that was an impetus for the Salem witch trials, or crazy King George) . Why now? Why me? Well, I know that I can’t tolerate gluten, or soy, or a host of other things. I’ve been tested. I have definitive proof…and it isn’t just the tests…it is what happens to me when I eat these foods, and even more importantly what happened when I stopped eating them. I had forgotten what it was like to feel good.
What begs the question is this: Could it be that the foods our forebears ate 50 years ago are not the same as the foods we eat today? And if not, why not? There will be plenty of discussion to be had over what those reasons may be, from genetically altered foods, chemicals in the soil, over processing, preservatives, poor eating habits etc., But I don’t think there is any argument as to whether there are major problems with today’s food stuffs, and if you don’t think there are any problems with foodstuffs of today then just stop reading, because no amount of science would convince you otherwise. I will avoid you as clearly as you avoid factual information. So let me be clear, just because we can’t decide, or know, or prove the exact cause of why modern foods are making us ill, doesn’t mean that the IBS and a host of other diseases that affects the masses are figments of our imagination. While the intentions of those in the food business may be good ones (and you know what they say about good intentions) we have messed with our food supply so much over the last few decades in the name of progress and improvement that I’m beginning to wonder if the food manufactured today is really food at all, the key word being manufactured. When natural foods are cross pollinated and genetically spliced and diced and when the list of ingredients in packaged food contains words that usually find their home in a chemistry class, then it’s just not really food in my book. I will always find it troubling to think we can do a better job at nature than God does. (As an aside, I am not a believer in the creation science movement, predestination, anti-science or a hippy. I do stand with those who acknowledge the reality of climate change.) Moreover, I am simply saying that as humans, we are limited in our ability to not only fully comprehend our natural world, we also lack the capacity to clearly understand the impact of our behavior on it and our future.
This is not a diatribe against science or using our big brains to make the job of sustaining life better. It is simply a strong suggestion that when we mess with mother nature, so aptly defined as a woman whom history has proven we just don’t fully understand, we can’t even begin to take in the full scope of the consequences of our actions. It is one thing to use our big brains to build better equipment to harvest or produce food, It is more than hubris to believe that we can do a better job than God can at the actual function of nature. Doesn’t the story of Genesis lay that out? We had easy, convenience, and perfection in the Garden and we wanted to venture on our own. I am OK with that, I think it is a blessing of evolution to strike out on our own. It is crossing the line, though, when we think we can change nature without consequences. Humanity has always struggled with the naked truth (pun intended).
I’ve waited a long time to publish this blog, mostly because I think the true meaning of what I’m saying will go right over people’s heads. Let me repeat, I am not anti-science. I know the desire of many scientists is to make life better for people. But I also see a growing tendency to avoid the consequences of the choices science makes, even when unintended. Avoiding culpability doesn’t make the problem go away, we can’t mitigate the damage without accepting responsibility first. Scientific advancement without careful consideration and appreciation of the impact it has on the future of the planet and my poor digestive system is just not acceptable any more. To be continued…
There is an obscure rule in the law called, “The rule against perpetuities”, to which I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out in preparation for the bar exam, (even though my instructors almost guaranteed a question regarding it would certainly not appear on the bar exam…of course there was…they obviously didn’t know that when it comes to me and odds, I’m of the, “May the odds be ever in your favor, Hunger Games” ilk, and so I apologize to everyone else who took the test that day…) Sidebar concluded. Anyway, the rule against perpetuities basically placed a statutory limit as to how far a dead person will have control over the distribution of assets to future descendants. While I still may have trouble with the particulars of the rule, I always thinks it’s a good idea to limit the power one has to control the future of another.
But how often do we hold on to, in perpetuity, our own sins, the sins of others and even sins projected onto future descendants who remain tethered to those past injuries or judgements? It is takes so much energy to hold on to all that anger and is just as unfair to future generations who have to deal with the fallout. I think if more of us looked to see what collateral damage there is to holding onto grudges, judgements, and condemnation, perhaps then refusing forgiveness wouldn’t be as common. I think refusing forgiveness is the greatest weapon against the spread of the gospel. Think again if you feel immune, because you are not. All of us have baggage, and if you think that holding on to it has no effect on those around you, you are also mistaken.
The only thing that I am sure of lasting into perpetuity is the love of God, the sacrifice of his Son and the need for God in my life. That doesn’t mean that love’s affect can’t be blocked or inhibited. Continual forgiveness of oneself and others is the key that will keep the door to the kingdom open. God gave us the key, the choice to keep it locked or unlocked every day, as a matter of principle, is on us.
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