There is a song that I used to love to sing during Mass, called “Be not Afraid” by Robert Dufford, a Jesuit. The refrain goes: “Be not afraid, I go before you always, come follow me and I will give you rest.” It is a reminder to me that throughout the whole of the Old and New Testament, the message is clear; God is always with us and will pave the way forward, regardless of the circumstances. It’s a difficult concept to embrace in these troubled times, given a pandemic, climate catastrophes and political upheaval (all the products of accumulative human free will and not God’s punishment, by the way). And yet, for me anyways, it is the most essential quality of any great leader that fear is never the guiding principle for any action and that the trust, hope and faith in the ideals and principles one stands for run so deep that nothing will impede their progression forward in bringing them to light. A leader must be the voice that rises above fear, and reminds us of who we are and what we stand for. A leader must not be swayed by the darkness that threatens us but be that hopeful voice that challenges us to stop hiding our light under a bushel basket and to uncover it for all to see and shine so bright the darkness cannot and will never win. They must remind us that we are not alone, and that together, with our combined light and talent (and for people of faith the presence of God) will guide us all to a better place.
I’ll end this short post with one of my favorite lines from scripture from the first letter of John in which we are reminded that love is the opposite of fear:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from God: whoever loves God must also love his brother or sister.
As it sometimes happens, with me…my normally indomitable spirit has been laid flat. It doesn’t matter how or why, but only that I had to scramble to find something to hold on to so I could climb up from the darkness. Then, I had a dream about my father; we were in my childhood home’s basement. I was standing in front of our old piano and he was standing in front of his workbench, which had been moved to the foot of the stairs, and he had his back to me. In my dream I knew he had passed, and I asked him what he was doing. He said, as he was building or working on something, “hopefully not making a mistake.” Then I woke up and remembered a post I had written right before he passed away, called “letters from my father.” It helped me rise up a bit, and I offer it to you. Read them as if he were talking to you, even if the context of them don’t fit, I hope the wisdom will.
While it may appear that I’m being swept away by alliterations, I think that this is the most apropos way to end my discussion on leadership and lies. Think for a moment, why would anyone remain loyal, pledge their fidelity to a leader who lies to them? There are many of us who have given our fealty to people who didn’t deserve it, whether it is due to ignorance, willful or not, fear of violence, retribution or loss, perpetuating an environment that supports our own personal illusions, or because stepping away they would lose any advantage they believe they might have as a result of an association with them. I completely understand there are a myriad of reasons why people do what they do, but this isn’t about that, this is about not wanting to remain loyal to a liar. If you don’t care, move on…but if you want to grow and evolve, it would seem to make sense that any loyalties you have should grow and evolve too. This is about analyzing and letting go of loyalties that are just not good for you anymore…and while it should go without saying, the first step is to recognize and acknowledge when you are being lied to.
While I can’t comment on anyone else’s reasons for choosing who to be loyal to, I can tell you the reasons I choose. I remember a long time ago when discussing codependency, I was challenged to look into those relationships that had, but did not deserve my loyalty. Initially, standing on my “strong woman” platform my gut reaction was that that my circle was not huge and that everyone in it was already worthy of my loyalty and I theirs. I thought it would be an easy task and like many of my initial conclusions, I was so wrong. Instead of seeing who certain people really were, I saw them as who I needed them, or wanted them to be much of the time. Without going into detail, I had to decide what criteria was necessary for me to choose who to be loyal to, and secondly, based on that criteria, did the people already in my circle deserve it. And finally, was I deserving of their loyalty too, it is a two-way street after all.
My first criteria is the foundation for any and all of my deep connections I have in my life, any loyalty has to be founded in truth. Liars, carnival barkers and gas lighters need not apply. I had to evaluate whether my associations worked to my detriment or to my sustenance and growth. Did I like who I was as a result of this association, did it bring out or stifle my potential, or did it bring out my better angels and in turn, did I bring out the best in that association as well. It was and still continues to be a long and harrowing journey, because some of the constructs and people I held onto for dear life, began to dissolve before my very eyes when they didn’t hold truth anymore, and the road ahead became more ambiguous and challenging without those comforting landmarks that no longer gave me confidence and hope. I have learned that while life’s journey is filled with many people, most moving beautifully in and then out of ours lives, more often than not our personal journey is a solitary one. And after awhile, I felt comfortable seeing my sojourns as solitary ones, even in the presence, direction and companionship of any leader I choose to follow along the way. Ultimately, where I end up at the end of my life is on me. I feel as if I can see, hear, feel and understand God much better once I stopped trying to see, hear and feel God through someone else’s construct. I think that is why I have such a visceral reaction to those lying liars who lie. Loyalty to these types of leaders is inviolate, never to be questioned or challenged, and more times than not is not reciprocal.
My second criteria is responsibility. Any leader who blames everyone else for their problems, or scapegoats other groups when they get caught up in a lie, making a mistake, or acting in a way that is contrary to what they say they believe, is unworthy of my loyalty. Leaders, regardless of their effectiveness make mistakes…period. If they admit them, take responsibility for them, and learn from them, it is a sure sign that they may indeed deserve my loyalty. The phrase “the buck stops here” has so much more meaning to me now, given the state of blamers our there. I am firmly of the “those who have not sinned throw the first stone” kind of attitude when it comes to responsibility. When a leader understands that they are not infallible, I think they work harder to get it right.
My third criteria is courage. It takes courage to stand in the forefront, share your vision and ask people to follow you even when you may make mistakes, even when you tell them the road may be hard, and there will be challenges and sacrifices along the way but that a renewed commitment to those fundamental building blocks, and axioms that hold us together as a group will set our path toward success. It takes courage to say that one leader doesn’t have all the answers and that we all need to work together and use our individaul gifts collectively. It also takes courage to make choices that help foster unity and not divisiveness, regardless of how hard it is. As the apostle Paul said so eloquently:
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,
whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
So all of you leaders out there who have deemed me as inconsequential and unnecessary, or anyone else who you blame for the word’s ills because you are too cowardly to take responsibility for your own actions…you will never have loyalty from me.
This particular issue is going to take multiple posts. First, I don’t think its helpful to call people liars because I don’t think it does anything except further polarize us. However, lies exist everywhere, from simply lying about the size of whatever, be it your brain or your bank account, the amount you drank during quarantine, lies about relationships, to lies about elections and race and gender. Whether it is just telling someone what they want to hear even though you believe the opposite to avoid conflict or judgement, or the many lies we tell ourselves and the people we choose to be around to the help us sustain those lies to keep up the illusion of being other that who we really are, we all live in a culture that is far from truthful. If you can’t see yourself in any of the above examples, then I absolutely don’t know what to say to you except you are in a vulnerable place that the lying liars who lie have a special ability to pick up on, and you best be careful what band wagon you jump on.
I think its human to rationalize away our faults, weaknesses, fears etc. but I also know you can’t evolve if you spend all your energy doing so. My father taught me that in order to grow and evolve, you must continually challenge yourself and the beliefs you hold dear, to see if they still remain a reflection of who you are and what you stand for. As I’ve started this blogging journey with God, I have learned to recognize those who rationalize their way out of and refuse to change and adapt by finding someone or something else to blame or choosing institutions that allow you to believe that you have a leg up on everyone else. It isn’t enough anymore to simply say that everyone does it, or the little white lies we hide behind are no big deal…because they obfuscate the simple truths that are supposed to push us through those illusory patterns, better enabling us to recognize these deceptions and weaknesses in the future. This isn’t a push to walk around emotionally exposed, it is a push to see with your own eyes those truths that help you evolve and face your weaknesses, fears and darker side. Jesus always said that the truth will set you free, and I, for one, take him at his word. The greatest threat of leadership today are those leaders who represent and feed on the lies that perpetuate a false narrative of control, righteousness, and privilege above others who are different. These are the kind of leaders who convince you that anyone who doesn’t support them doesn’t deserve the same abundance of what the world offers their followers. They do it by undermining those champions of light who try and shed light on the lies they tell to keep people in a deep state of fear. It’s happened over and over throughout history. Let’s not let it happen again.
Goodness isn’t relative to the happy thoughts you have and just a desire to be a work in progress…it is relative to the effort you put forth to be that tree that bears only good fruit that Jesus talks about. It is relative to your ability to allow the truths that are present to remove the illusions we cover ourselves with. Truth knows that the best of who you are doesn’t need all those coverings and trappings that the liars who lie tell you that you need. Facing your own truths better enable each of us to choose those leaders who not only do the same, but will ensure that we all become trees that bear good fruit.
Yes, it’s already March and I’ve yet to post, but there was much wading through necessary existential crap to be done before I could see a starting point. I could write a multitude of papers on the essential qualities of a good leader, histories of great leaders, the measurement and impact of evolutionary roads forward like I did in grad school…but I don’t think that is what this year is about. Considering the climate of the present time, and the depth of anger, misinformation and lack of any true critical thinking of the masses, I think even the second coming of Christ would have difficulty being seen as anything but another rabble rousing anti-(insert appropriate noun) dissident. And if you react adversely to the last statement, ask yourself this: how easy is it for you to lap up that latest sound bites against people or movements you hate…yah, not much use of critical thinking there.
So, it is incumbent upon all of us, I believe, to create an environment where good leaders, in whatever capacity, can succeed. What we don’t need are those kinds of leaders who divide, create fear, lie, disseminate misinformation, and encourage isolationism, all for their own power and gain. You know, the kind that creates such a frenzy of political and vitriolic illusory dust that we can’t even see straight as to who or what we are following. So, what this year will be about for me is settling the dust of anger, hate, and just bad information so we can see clearly enough to follow leaders out there who best represent what we stand for. Let me add a small caveat: what we stand for, is not the same as what we stand against. Standing against something as a primary motivation is too easy for someone with less than altruistic ideals to manipulate the anger that lies within us all who feel harmed in some way into creating the kind of mob mentality that is the source of much of the destruction we’ve seen over the last months. Let the anger we feel from injustice, help us understand and clarify what exactly it is we actually stand for, and find a way forward that is a larger reflection of those ideals. And if what you stand for is destruction and the preservation of your own self interest…you will be in my thoughts and prayers.
For me, the anger I’ve experienced since I’ve started this blog, is the disregard for truth, the hubris of the privileged few, the lack of informed civility in debate and information sharing, the tendency to scapegoat others and avoid personal responsibility, racism and the corruption of Christianity which is the source and soul of my entire existence. So that means, for me anyway, that I stand for: truth, the pursuit of happiness for all, the work that goes with being truly informed and using common decency and civility to share that information, taking responsibility for my own failings and make the necessary changes instead of blaming others, extend a listening ear and commitment to fight against the forces that unfairly marginalized people of color, ethnicity, religion and sexuality, and to declare and model with love all that my faith requires of me. I’m sure there will be more in the coming year, but I’ll start with those for now. Let me finish then with this question:…what is it that you stand for?
As I have stated often, it is hard to speak of joy during turbulent times. While I’ve learned to focus on small joys, and clean my house of those who obstruct my personal evolution, I have also learned that living in the moment demands acting in a way that builds joy for the future. There are a lot of my Christian friends who are convinced that revelations is unfolding before our very eyes, and speak of doom and gloom that I believe only perpetuates fear (and somehow those who push said fear are sent from God…go figure). Fear has never been the focus of the gospel message, it is quite frankly the antithesis of the gospel message. Jesus the Savior more than anyone understood the frailties and failures of the human spirit. Jesus the teacher, though, speaks more of what brings about troubling times and how we should behave to survive them (from the 24th chapter of Matthew:
As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said: Tell us then, when will this happen and what signs will be of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus said to them in reply, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name and say ‘I am the Messiah’ and they will deceive many…But of that day and hour no one knows, neither angels of heaven, nor the Son but the Father alone…Therefore stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come
Interestingly, prior to the disciples query, Jesus goes on a rampage about what liars and hypocrites the church leaders have become and to be wary of those who appear holy in name and appearance with positions of high esteem and power, yet don’t practice what they preach. My favorite lines he uses to describe them are from Matthew 23:
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth…Blind guides who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel…You cleanse the outside of the dish but inside they are full of plunder and self indulgence…
The point is so clear…a title of power means nothing if their words and actions are empty or contrary to the teachings of scripture. Jesus demands that the greatest among us must be a servant, and the way to survive the trouble of the times is to always be ready, by treating the least among us like we would treat him. For me, that is joy in the long game. Joy in the future is contingent on my actions today. My readiness also means that I am critical of anyone who promises salvation and yet behaves like the scribes and pharisees , the liars and the hypocrites that he decries prior to his comments on troubling times ahead. Actions speak louder than words. There is no other way to look at it.
So, here I am starting my 61st year, a bit shocked at the place we are at. It leads me to believe that prayer, among many other actions are more important than ever. I think we can agree that we live in troubled times (yes, I know that’s an understatement) so my prayers for you this year on the anniversary of my birth are about evolution.
First, if you are one of the few who believe that you are already on the top of the evolutionary scale and everyone else simply has to catch up…I pray you pull your head out of your butt and understand that as long as you’re still breathing (pun intended) you have plenty of room to evolve. And if you remain resolutely firm in the belief that you have all the answers, or even most of them, I pray that karma doesn’t hit you too hard to force the issue.
I pray for you to find and develop your spiritual intelligence, from whatever source inspires that spiritual essence that exists in all of us…be it nature, music, art, meditation, scripture, or more traditional church. With that inspiration, I pray that you learn and grow and expand that intelligence into all that you do. The world is changing around you whether you like it or not and honing spiritual intelligence can only help you evolve with the changes.
I pray that you are able to evolve past what isn’t working in this world and find ways to change in a way that supports the evolution of everyone and not just you. Just as everyone walks their own path, its more important than ever that your journey doesn’t progress at the expense of someone else’s. Your success in this world should never be predicated on some one else’s failure. This is not the same as saying some will fail on their own, I mean more of the stepping on someone else to move forward kind of evolving. I think its evolutionary to believe and embrace goals that help all of us succeed, and I think it also honors a God who has created a body that can and should celebrate every part of it, even the seemingly insignificant.
I pray that you can evolve beyond what makes you afraid, and understand that the greatest way to overcome fear, is to shed a light on it and face it head on instead of turning a blind eye. Fear only controls what you allow it to and should never be the primary source or reason for any action. We are all afraid of one thing or another, be it rooted in money, judgement, violence, sickness, gender and race or a host of other things…and addressing fear with love, which is so much more powerful and bigger than we are individually, I can guarantee will help fear dissipate (and for those of you who claim to be Christian, you are commanded by God to love one another, because the opposite of love is fear, and choosing fear over love means you reject God who is love)
I pray that we all can embrace change, because it is a universal truth whether we like it or not. Evolution comes when we can clear our vision of illusions and work hard to see truth. While technology advances and tightens our global circle, it can also move us toward even more falsehoods or expose them. Words matter, facts matter and while you may disagree, the lying liars who lie are becoming even more deft at manipulating the truth, So, in order to evolve within change, truth, not opinions or falsehoods are essential.
I pray that that you can celebrate the unique and perfect blueprint that God created in making you. (go with the poetry for a moment and leave genetics aside). I pray you can evolve every great talent that has been built in and bestowed on you, and in doing so I want to thank you ahead of time for the impact it will have on the world and all its troubles right now. We need every gift we can get, and as soon as you understand how gifted you are, the quicker those gifts can be used to help our world evolve.
Lastly, I pray that throughout all the necessary changes our world needs right now that through them you feel and know that you are loved, that you show others that they too are also loved (especially someone you don’t love right now, because I guarantee you they need it) and celebrate the joy that comes with building a new and stronger future for everyone.
This post was originally titled something else. I tried to live within the theme of joy, but given the current situation in our country and world, the message seemed inappropriate, because truthfully,…it felt trite, disingenuous, disrespectful, entitled, and simply unfair to be talking about joy right now. So, if you would indulge a bit of diversion this is my “not joy” insight. If joy is feelings of great pleasure, happiness and contentment, then we should all take a quick hiatus for a moment. There are times when given the gravity of the violence happening in my home town, when a discussion of joy is reserved for a later date. There may be a time to talk of joy amidst crisis, but that moment is not now.
I have only one single perspective. If I stand alone and demand that the only value is in what I see, and hear and dismiss any other vantage point because it is contrary or different than my perspective then it is antithetical to my personal evolution and contrary to my faith. If I try to move around to see things from different angles and ask for and listen to the perspective of those who may see things vastly different than I do, I think that not only helps me evolve and fulfills what Jesus requires of us, but is the only necessary place from which good solutions are to follow. I think its essential to take a moment and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Looking at things from a variety of perspectives, asking and listening to others doesn’t mean that I have to buy in to any one perspective, but it is required if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and love the least among us as if they were Christ. What seeing from a variety of perspectives does for me is to create a sense of empathy, understanding and a greater truth beyond my own limited perspective. Then I get to re clarify and move beyond my limitations.
We have some difficult steps to take now and into the future. It can’t happen without a dialogue, one that is sure to be charged with emotions and opinions. But, if we truly want to get beyond this crisis of the pandemic, racial inequity and the resulting violence and bring together the people of this country, then confronting the uncomfortable and learning to address these problems with civility and respect is a necessary requirement. Before any of us stand in polarity for or against any issue, remember these words that Jesus spoke:
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
There will be a variety of perspectives on all the worlds ills in the weeks to come, especially before our elections…let reason, love, truth and the golden rule of treating others as we would treat ourselves reign. I won’t tolerate bullying, but I am open for dialogue. I am praying all the time, for us all.
Amidst scrubbing for the umpteenth time, dried food on pots and pans and the ratsin’ fratsin’ that kept pouring out of my mouth, I had a revelation that brought me peace among the crust of other people’s garbage. The revelation pulled so much of my journey over the last few years together, amidst a pandemic, financial upheaval, polarizing anger and judgement…it all became so very clear. And to begin with, this has nothing, well mostly nothing to do with partisan politics, those of you who think differently than me should know by now how dear you are to me…if not, I’m sure I will be rethinking my ability to communicate that better. Secondly, I really don’t give two hoots in hell if I make some people angry. Do you want to know why? I DID THE WORK…and when I didn’t get it right, karma came crashing down until I got it right. (my relationship to God stems on a quick turn around so I waste no time) please check this reference on “standing in the middle” https://maryfrancesflood.com/?p=7930. Third, because I did the work, I am emboldened to tell you what I think is important information kind of like a philosophical/ theological explorer of sorts. And Forth, and maybe the most important of all, the possibility exists that I am totally fuc@#$g completely off base, and like Thomas Merton said “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” And also my obsession with Job; https://maryfrancesflood.com/2012/04/25/the-patience-of-job/ I am perfectly aware that I don’t have the omniscience that God has, so if I’m wrong about any of this, it certainly wasn’t for failed effort. I don’t think God would allow me to keep such delusions. Anyway, here we go.
I’ve been think a lot about this particular scripture when Jesus talks about the separation of the sheep and the goats. When Jesus comes back in all his glory, he will separate the sheep from the goats…basically those who understood the point of his ministry and utilized the power of grace to inherit the kingdom of heaven (which is super goal oriented, I guess). The bottom line is that the prize will go to those who treat the least among us like they were Christ…there is a lot fodder for discussion for what that means, but let me assure you it has nothing to do with the recitation of the phrase “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” and then keep kicking the least among you because you think they are sinners and disgusting, and well basically because you said the magic phrase and I’m in the club now, and gives you license to be God in judgment and jury. Love is more efficacious than that…which is evidence why I can love people who stand on a different polarity than me…their love is efficacious (look it up, its a cool word…you’re welcome). Also, the least among us may look differently to each person see:https://maryfrancesflood.com/2015/01/02/of-consequence-and-consequences/. What makes us a sheep and not a goat, is how we respond to the people we think are of no consequence, or using my reference from the beginning of the post, who throw cooked on dried on food container in the sink for us to clean up. Jesus taught me in a dream, that if I really wanted to keep true to that message I had to be willing to wash someone’s feet that I think is so off it would be painful to do so, and I’m also reminded of that question that my eldest son posed when he was eight that rocked my world, “Mom, there isn’t a place even in hell that the love of God can’t reach, right?” This is where my frailty comes in and my deep dependence on God to do the right thing when someone has spiritually knifed me in the back…while the anger and all that comes with that is justifiable and all I want to do is eviscerate them with my velociraptor like vocabulary…I recommit to refusing to let it turn me into a goat. (even though for the record this metaphor is lost on me because I love me some baby goats…I understand Jesus meaning though).
The joy comes because of the work that I’ve done, work for which I WILL NOT AND NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR, even if you call me a pontificating freak (which in so many words people have said a lot).I have the war wounds to show for it, and the wisdom to know what is self inflicted and what is not. The joy comes because I have walked and listened to a multitude of perspectives…again, here is the reference: https://maryfrancesflood.com/2018/02/15/truth-and-perspective/. The joy comes because I am so much more than those people that are stuck in one position and refuse to broaden their perspective by simply moving and opening their eyes to a different angle. I have joy because I recognize clearly those who are stuck and understand that it is as impossible to change their minds as it is to have someone color blind understand the color purple. The joy comes because “I” am so much more, because my eyes are open and God has shown me a multitude of colors I hadn’t seen before…and that does make a difference. As the little prince says in St Exupery’ great book: words are often the greatest source of misunderstanding…and then goes on to say “What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly” Jesus says it too: they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another. The joy also comes even amidst the anger that I feel when someone else’s stupid fear (and or just someone’s stupidity) creates havoc in this world. I have joy even amidst the sadness of so many life changes and losses, because the crux of my faith is when God is with me, nothing can keep me from his love…and those who don’t live by that are becoming or already are goats. And I can’t change that, except to treat them, and the least among my particular world as I would Christ. I can only change my response to them, and see if that makes a difference. And sometimes that response looks like wielding a sword, and others like washing feet. The joy comes when I simply do what the Gospel asks me to do, and the promise that I am not alone, even if I am physically in any given moment.
The joy comes, also, because for the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel alone. I feel connected to the great source that connects us all, and in my prayers I feel you, (even though I may not physically know you), struggling to become or stay sheep. I feel joy in praying for you every day too.
So, all this COVID19 stuff is starting to get old, I know that is stating the obvious. All the big corporations talk about how “we’re in this together”. Yeah, I don’t really believe that…but just regular people? Now it is in them that I hold my hope. There has been a lot that could have broken my spirit in the last days, and usually it was a single act of an individual, or the brave act of a bunch of individuals ( I live in Wisconsin) that lift me back up. I do believe that when we come out the other end of this we will be better than before…and that we will invent a “new” normal. And that is my focus right now, to use joy even in its seemingly insignificant impact in the face of sickness, death, isolation and so much fucking bullshit (and my new normal is to step a bit outside of propriety and swear a bit) out there, to bring light one moment at a time.
I’ve witnessed soul crushing examples when money, power and fear take hold…whether its hoarding or behaving superior or being just plain selfish and mean, and the impact it has on other people and myself. And while I’m getting over the shock of it, I guess, it has also become a “separating the sheep and the goats” moment for me. How we behave during this crisis is a truer reflection of who we really are and the future road we take. There is nothing like a crisis to wipe away the minutia of ego..(I have the gray stripe down my part to prove it). It has become clearer to me who I will spend my time with when the isolation lifts. It is also the time where faith isn’t just a word or something we talk about or celebrate remotely on You Tube. It is where we put it all out there and prove to ourselves and the world that we really do believe what the Gospels say and the promises it bears. It is the time to see for ourselves where our houses are built. Are they built on sand or rock? Can you live the beatitudes and treat the least among us as Christ? Can you treat others as you would yourself? Or are you living in fear, judgement, persecution and blame? I face this every day, and I do better on some days than others. The bad days?, I pick myself up and send out a little joy to someone…and it has saved me. I hope it can save you too.
OK, I borrowed from the phrase: fearmongering…but why can’t we turn that word on its head? So, I had a thought (this time a super fun one). The store that sold my cards is under reinvention, and of course closed because of the COVID19 virus. So I plan on engaging in a bit a joymongering since we are all stuck at home. I will send anyone who wants one, one of my cards free of charge so they can, in turn, send one out to bring a bit of joy to someone that is suffering (like we all are) from social distancing and other pressures this whole new world has brought forth. You can message me on messenger with your address, or for my wordpress followers you can leave initials and an address in the comments section (I don’t, and won’t publish comments), or email me at the address attached to this blog. It’s first come, first serve. You can mention the type of card you want too, but like I said it will be first come first serve. If you have cards at home and don’t need one. them by all means just send them out. Most people keep fears and concerns silent…so let’s break that pattern and spread a little, simple bit of joy!
We are in this together, and we need not be afraid! I’ve never asked this, but please share this post so we can spread joy to as many people as we can!
I keep thinking God is punking me with joy as a my yearly focus…especially given all that is happening in the world right now…what exactly is there to be joyful about? And then I had an epiphany…and danced. In context, my beautiful niece got married last weekend. Most people had to travel (we did) and some from abroad. There were cancellations, concerns, anxiety and some frayed nerves. Yet love was celebrated, families were together, and in the face of growing world fear, an opportunity for joy. So this is what I exercised during this trip: conscious joy. In every moment, to find the joy, because its there, always present and waiting to be seen and felt.
I saw joy when myself and others exercised kindness, others so appreciated it. I saw joy in the joining of two phenomenal people in love, and felt joy in all that we as parents accomplished with such amazing offspring and support for one another. I found joy in the warm sun, beautiful surroundings and time to breath (and I don’t mean that metaphorically). I felt overwhelming joy watching my brother and his daughter dance together, and felt an other worldly presence of my niece’s mother and my father who both have passed that washed over me with joy also. I practiced joy in re figuring crazy moments and laughed about them. And then, even though I didn’t want to at first…when given the opportunity, I danced…just like I used to. At that moment I remembered how much I loved it, why I did it and could feel my joy alter the world, even if in a minuscule way. I’m still paying for it now (my body just doesn’t work that way anymore) but it was the best reminder of why my favorite verse was David dancing naked before the ark of the covenant. It transformed my fear, and I realized that joy can be found at all moments. It reminded me why I am a person of faith. It reminded me that all things are indeed possible if we have faith in God, ourselves and each other.
I am beginning to appreciate that my theme this year is joy. I think God knew I would be prone to dark moments and hopelessness. So I am conscious of it at all times. Joy can be found even in the darkest moments, because we are the very creation of love, and with that understanding comes joy. And this understanding will be crucial as we move forward in this crisis…for me I will try to exercise joy.
Suddenly the air is gone, lungs burn, the automatic function of living is momentarily halted because of an unthinkable tragedy…we have to breathe and we can’t, the shock of it halts the involuntary exercise of bringing air in and exhaling it out, it seems impossible, painful and exhausting. The heart stops and then begins to pound as the adrenaline and panic kick in. There is an unconscious will that supersedes the painful blow and we suck in air and as the pain spreads air is forced back out, and brought in again. Your thoughts go straight to no, no, no, this can’t be happening, this can’t be right, there must be a mistake. Lives so vibrant can’t be gone…life doesn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t work this way. The sadness is enveloping, overpowering and paralyzing.
There is no correct script for handling death…and there are no feelings that are off limits. The path that the immediate family walks is obliterated and altered to the road never wanted to be traveled, ever. But it is the love that fills in the cracks of all who are shattered by the simple gestures of loved ones: hugs, stories, prayers, and food that will help hold them up for whatever is to follow. The love is what will augment and keep resilient the shattered and brokenness of the present moments. It is the love that is the strength of this small community and the connections that are depicted in scripture when the apostle Paul talks about the body of Christ being many different parts holding on together each with different jobs to do to keep the body living and breathing together, in love. This body becomes a sanctuary that protects these moments of intimacy, and makes breathing, in and out become less stressful when it is done together. Being cherished and loved will make the new road traveled less lonely. It is impressive thing to witness for this big city girl.
There is much comfort that lives in this place, even amidst the pain. Kindness and generosity flow in waves over this community who have pulled together more than once to celebrate the ripple effect these two young men and others have brought into the world. It is a reminder to all of us to remain on our best behavior and place the pettiness that often overwhelms us aside and remember who we really are. The presence of these beautiful young men must continue to be reflected in our daily lives. Their ripples that flow outward into the world are now our responsibility. We now breathe for them and for all those who loved them.
When I studied Theology in college, I will never forget one particular reading assignment in a class on the early Church Fathers that has left an indelible mark on my soul. During the early development of Christianity and its persecution by Rome, there is a letter to the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in which the apologist tries to respond to the Emperor’s query: “Who are these Christians that are joyful even in the face of horrible death?” In truth, I was more impressed with the question than any answer given. The observation was clear…there was something demonstrably different about Christians, they seemed to have something more, a power that enabled them to face their greatest tribulation with joy rather than fear, hatred or anger. As a woman of faith, that’s what I wanted more than anything…to be joyful in the face of any struggle thrown my way.
During this time of cultural trouble when it seems that up is down and down is up, I am again focused on being joyful amidst tribulation. Not fake joy, or just the deep desire or hope of it, and not the proclaimed kind or the kind that the church claims dominion over and is expected of all who say they believe, not the kind that exists in a bubble free from what is happening in the larger world to the least among us….I want true joy, joy that sustains and fills in the empty holes that life sometimes brings…the kind that makes me “more” than non believers. I want the kind of joy that dampens or halts any desire for retribution for injustice, and hypocrisy. I want to be joyful amidst all of the strains and struggles of modern life. I want the joy that used to propel me to dance…the kind that allowed me to see colors that many people, blocked by fears and all things opposite of love cannot see. I want the kind of joy that fills me with the power of light, so that change can happen through the visible representation that we as people of faith are more than someone without it.
I want to be the kind of woman of faith that can show to those who face depression, suicide, victimization, starvation, loneliness, judgement, the kinds of stress manifested in many forms, and all other tribulations that there is hope, a life line, a superpower that helps us all rise above any and all tribulations. I want to be more. For those who were so close to the events of Christ and the apostles in history, perhaps it was easier to become more that they were before they believed, or maybe it was the ferocity that comes when someone like the Romans try to take away what is most precious that gave them joy, because they knew so clearly that God would prevail.
I observe a church today that is more concerned about finding sanctuary within human made walls and blame upon others than standing as a beacon of hope and joy amidst some of the greatest tribulations of our time. It’s no wonder that people are falling apart in desperation all over the world. The surest way to destruction is to lose hope, forget the joy comes when we know that when God is for us, in us and around us that nothing will come between his love for us and the worst of all tribulations…even if that is death.
Think of it this way: those who fully embrace God’s love truly see things on a greater color spectrum. I have had times in my life seen colors that others don’t see. The difficult part is trying to explain a color to someone who is color blind, or can’t see it. Words are ineffective, you have to show the world by example, by expressing and wielding the love that Christ demonstrated, by having faith in the grace that was and continues to be extended by his loving sacrifice and a deep belief in all the promises that he made us. I know most Christians focus too much on the eternal life part, or getting “in the club” part…I’m talking about the transformation in each present moment. I pray every day to be the kind of person that would make people say, “I want what she has” (and not in a material sense).
Make no mistake, I am just as responsible as anyone for not exuding the joy that faith brings. I also want to be clear that joy looks different depending what path you’re on. There are people who suffer from mental illness, grief, are victims of violence and racism, etc. I tread softly here, because I don’t think true joy is a visible celebration all the time. The distinction, though, lies in filling and augmenting the broken pieces in each of us with the spiritual strength of God. Jesus said they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another, and that there is no distinction between loving your enemy and loving those who love you. I have to believe, that whatever the struggle, the love you share still will differentiate you from one who is just broken and hopeless. He also said that if you live in that love, His love will live in us and our joy will be complete. That is what I want to reclaim this year, and I hope my journey helps you reclaim it as well.
(Entry 1 of 2)1a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : DELIGHTb: the expression or exhibition of such emotion : GAIETY2: a state of happiness or felicity : BLISS3: a source or cause of delight
When in doubt, I use the dictionary…otherwise its too easy to become mired in word use that doesn’t reflect its true meaning, at least for me anyway (words matter). Merriam-Webster has always been a good springboard to start. Words like well-being, getting what I desire, delight, gaiety, happiness, rejoice and bliss aren’t really in my wheelhouse right now. So here it is, the sad truth…I am not feeling the joy.
When I started a “theme for the year journey” 6 years ago, King David dancing before the ark of the covenant was the scripture verse I picked that exemplified my faith. Since then and six themes and years later: walking my path (opening my eyes to see and my ears to hear), speaking a loud about faith, clarity, fruits, truth and love have rebuilt me practically from the ground up, and in all truth most of the time I didn’t feel much like dancing. I don’t necessarily believe there was anything wrong with the verse I chose back then, not to dismiss my past self, but when God answered my prayers on my quest, my movement included a lot more rough and rocky terrain that was and continues to be difficult to dance along. There was a lot more climbing, and leaping, falling down, and scrapes and bruises as well as navigating over new terrain with no visible path than I expected. I learned that whenever a person is serious about a prayer, like mine have been for the last 6 years without qualification, you are afforded an answer. I may not have liked every answer, but, as I reflect, I know the answers were spot on. While I never could have imagined the direction life has taken me, hindsight shows me a great deal of proof that my prayers have been and will continue to be answered. The real qualifier is whether or not I can absorb, understand and apply everything at all…hence the rebuilding of my body and soul.
So, if evolution is to become a reality and not just a blog story (this is in direct reference to all the bullshit that is out there, i.e. saying one thing and doing another), this must be central to my discovery of joy this year:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. John 15:7-12
The journey continues, right now its hard to experience joy according to the definition and Scripture’s promise. So my bliss is the hot cup of tea I am sipping, delight in the people I encounter, the happiness I find in my art. I am focused on rejoicing in putting one foot in front of the other and bearing good fruit on my journey as a disciple.
I haven’t written a post in awhile. It’s been an intense couple of months. It’s been a wild ride of emotions. I’ve celebrated life, death, relaxation, this beautiful planet, friends, family, illness, and felt sad at what is broken and corrupt and how that affects not only me, but everyone. I have figured out a few things this year focused on love, and what I’ve come to understand are the necessary elements to wield it well. Love isn’t an idea, a belief, or a religion. It isn’t exclusive or limited to one group of people. Love has matter and dimension that extends way beyond our human ones, an independent omniscience that cannot be defined by or limited to any one human definition. Love can not be wielded falsely by those who would frame it in a way that gives them greater control or power…love won’t tolerate illusion and can become as destructive as fire when the world tries to limit, redefine or destroy it. Love is the source of life and all evolution. But I also know that none of the above matters if somehow it isn’t translated to action. And what does that look like from a million different perspectives, is there a way to love incorrectly? That question still seems to exist beyond my level of clearance…but I am comfortable in choosing Christ as one who does know the best way to love.
And based on that relationship, this is what I learned:
This is a heady paragraph…but necessary to understand my train of thought…so please bear with me. Love in its entirety is so far beyond my individual perception that I can only get glimpses. My biggest obstacle this year was thinking that I needed to understand love in its entirety before I could wield it correctly. That’s just not possible, I am too limited. I know God is not limited, while I welcome the presence of God in my life, I also feel charged with the responsibility to work with God as a partner and not just a puppet blindly following the precepts of a church structure to tell me what to do to get to heaven…this whole relationship with God is so much more than that. While I’ve learned much in my study of theology, I also know that the flaws, (in today’s organized structures) far out weigh the benefits for me. So, for all intents and purposes I embrace the idea that without a structure I act blind a lot of the time regardless of what my intentions are, so I have learned to activate all my other senses that have gotten a little rusty for a better chance of getting it right.
Prayer, constant prayer…and not just when I or anyone else wants or need something, but prayer for continual direction, for understanding and insight before I wield love. In Christian scripture we are promised that anything we ask for in goodness, shall be given to us. So I take Jesus at his word that if I’m serious about what to do in a situation, I will receive the necessary insight. If I’m still unclear, I pray that those self imposed obstacles and prejudices are removed from my eyes, so that I can see a clear answer. And yes, more often than not we are our own worst enemies…I am the reason that an action fails and not the other way around. People are so fragile, I’ve observed, that they lash out and blame others first when love isn’t present….and blame never gets anyone anywhere. I also pray for those champions of love and light in the world to have the courage and strength to shed light into darkness and not hide it under a bushel basket.
Next, I ask for forgiveness, at the end of every day, when people and life are just too much that I’ve failed in wielding love like I could have (which is a lot). It really helps, not kidding…like unloading weights everyday. I am a better person because of it, because I feel a physical manifestation of love that I’m opening my soul to. I may be judgmental, and a bitch at times but love is not. It’s also important to forgive others too. I will say this: the more I’ve learned about love, the more I know what it is not…and the lack of it is soul crushing when it comes to the future of this world. Scripture teaches us a lot about forgiveness, but if you can’t acknowledge your own flaws and ask for, and then receive forgiveness…then any act of love will be so much more stunted.
I think its most powerful to wield love in small and ordinary ways. Looking at a person directly into their eyes and seeing them and being present is a more powerful gift that you think. So often, people just want to be heard…and seen. And in order to see others, you have to let them see and hear you too. It was in my struggle with authenticity that I realized wielding love isn’t possible if you can’t take off your own mask and let the world see your true face. Love’s authenticity and wielding it effectively is contingent on my own authenticity. And in a world where judgement and bullying is dished out quicker than anything else, it takes courage and strength…and faith to do that.
And last, but not least…wielding love demands that we are willing to extend it to the least of those in our lives. Who that is, is different for every person. I have to wield love even to those whom I despise. How else will the world be transformed? How else do we build a body that is worthy of that kind of transformation? I’m tired of preachers and teachers, and talk. (and I’m aware that I’m guilty of it too, so I do even get tired of myself). I want simple actions gestures and behavior that is appropriate for those who claim they are acting in the name of love, whether it is for God, country, family or any of the commands that Christ gave us. And I must admit, those who stand in righteousness but who are comfortable with name calling, bullying, less than transparent behavior, divisiveness, willful ignorance of the truth, and condemnation of their brothers and sisters on this earth, I will wield love for you too. It’s hard, and at times frustrating…but love trumps hate, and I can’t ever forget that.
There is a purity and sacredness as a life begins to ebb, the veil thins and the hint of what is to come becomes more palpable. While the biological mechanism that holds our soul begins to weaken and wear out, the soul in its beauty begins to shine through. While I fully realize that in this day and troubled age, many times the body that harbors someone’s soul is ripped apart too quickly, by violence and the harsh realities that come with human free will, there are those who, after a full and breathtakingly ordinary and beautiful life, sustain my belief that love is still the author of this play called life, and because of the tether we have to a gracious God, nothing will still it.
I think we sometimes forget the subtle and sustained moments of love that often go unrecognized in the day to day. It is like a favorite smell, song, or the warmth of the sun that bring a sigh, a moment of relief or happiness that Fill in the negative spaces and keep us moving forward. I am amazed to hear the stories my mother-in-law Rayola tells, each one a reflection of simple moments that wouldn’t seem to amount to much in the full span of a life, but are coming back to her with great clarity as her life begins to wane and the effect they had on her and her life’s journey. It gives me respect for the moments I often disregard as meaningless or less than impactful, when, in reality, they take root deep in our personal psyche and ripple outward inspiring other simple gestures of kindness and love toward even more people.
I see the ripple effect everywhere in this woman’s life…the circles of kindness, acceptance, and unconditional love that wave outward into the world making their impact heartily and consciously felt. I know there are many moments that may be unconsciously felt or recognized by the person receiving the benefit (as I am one such recipient), but they are powerful nonetheless. I want to remember the beauty in the waning of life, like the colors of a sunset or beauty of the first star of the night…like a hint of all the beauty and the glory to come. Love doesn’t need a trumpet or neon flash or pageantry. Love is the all, the beauty of a background and the whisper of God in our ears, just like my mother in law. Today I celebrate the indomitable spirit of those subtle but powerful moments of love.
Imagine if your wallet was unlimited and you never had to worry about having enough money. Would your relationship with money change? What would you spend your money on? Would you buy a bunch of stuff, or build a lavish lifestyle? Would your friends change? Would you bestow gifts on others, or just the people who give you something back or who you believe were worth of it? Would it change how you think about being generous? Would you give more, care more about the challenges of the world? I think that knowing your wallet was unlimited wouldn’t change your relationship with money at all. Would you care how others used your generosity, or even care? Would you worry that perhaps someday that unlimited wallet would change so you’d need to stockpile? Or if everyone had enough, how would it change your status in the world? If every hierarchy that existed based on the level of income you had was obliterated, would you feel any different? If it controls your happiness now, even in your lack of it, wouldn’t it still control you in its abundance? Just google the effect of money for people who suddenly became wealthy to start…not a pretty picture. There are plenty of people who have more money than they could spend in a lifetime, hell several lifetimes…and sit on it, and build power structures that help them continue to sit on it. Or they use it to wield power and not love.
Now image if your heart was as limitless as your wallet. Would you change how you wield love in the world? Would you love in spite of getting little or nothing in return? Would you love only those who show you love, or whom you deem worthy? Would it be conditional? Would you dole it out carefully as if it were in short supply? Would you wield it only according to certain prescriptions and rules that dictate how to get it and who deserves it? Would you participate in a hierarchy who put you above others in the world in terms of eternal life? That is the trouble with conditions and love they don’t go together at all. Placing limitations on love turn it into something else, something that may be called love, but in name only…because love does not exist in limitation…
So, if you believe in a limitless God, one that brought a savior to our world to give our hearts an unlimited source of that love, without condition…then you have to wield it as as you would if you had an unlimited wallet. No excuses…Not receiving love is not a reason to stop wielding it. Here’s the funny thing about money and love…even with an unlimited supply, would it change how you use it in the world? Again, I don’t think so. Our understanding of love is intimately related to our understanding of money. I guess that’s why Jesus intimated that they couldn’t exist in the same plane. If you’re generous with one, you have to be generous with the other. I’m sure the reverse is true as well. Anyway there are plenty of parables in the Gospels that warn us of our attachment to money and its affect on our ability to love.
So why did I title this post love and quid pro quo? I did so because quid pro quo means “something for something”. While it may seem obvious in relation to money, that we pay out and get something in return, but the value of it? We spend money on trivial things like we have an unlimited wallet, and are often miserly when it comes to extending it in generosity. Civilized society depends on a rhythm, a flow of investing, sharing and giving without a clear personal return. Too often it is also how we measure out how much love to give, but that’s not how it should work. The exact opposite is true, love should be given without regard of return, because we have an unlimited supply. It may look different in how it is applied uniquely to every individual, (remember it is patient, kind, etc.) but the expectation is to wield it according to its nature which is free, abundant, and without expectation of payment or return. Every single lesson in scripture lays that idea out for us. You never earn God’s love, its yours for free. And the thing I learned from this unbelievably challenging year? How I spend money and wield love in this world has nothing to do with never having enough…because somehow in the moment I always do. That is what faith is supposed to look like…walking your path and working on building faith that you have enough, you are enough and to face challenges that arise in your life with the belief that God will never abandon you, that God will never give you a stone when you ask for bread, that God can be seen clearly in every gesture of love, and never, ever in any other action.
This was my most difficult post to write, not only because I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to you, but because I have been challenged this year to dissect my relationship to both love and money, and while grateful for the lessons learned I am also full of sadness at the deep anger and hateful divides in this world. It is direct opposition of all that I have learned, believe and hold dear…not just in our country, but in those institutions that are supposed to represent and be the fountain of God’s unlimited supply of love to this world. They are being corrupted, and we must join together as warriors of love to turn things around. You may not agree with my method, but you have to agree that something must be done….because love dissolves corruption, it shines a light on lies and manipulation, it bears all things and never fails…
As another year cycles to my 60th year on the planet, I am consumed by love…the abundance of it, the shortage of it, the mischaracterization of it, and mostly the lack of understanding how powerful it can be. So this year, my prayers for you are all about love,
I pray you understand that your DNA, the very composition of you is rooted in the profound mystery of love. Love is the source code, and there is nothing, not even the best liars in the world, that could convince me otherwise…I pray that you understand this too.
I pray that you have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, that each person has the composition of love too. Our job, is to help them realize it…
I pray that you become aware that at your core is the potential to bear great fruit, God has bestowed upon each of us unique talents, a unique melody meant to share with the world.
I pray that you have the strength to let your talent, your melody sing and never let the haters and those who spread dissonance drown you out. You have the power of love on your side, it is built in you and empowered by God. Change the space you are in to let it shine out of you.
I pray that you wield love in your own unique way to help heal the pain and sorrow that exist in our world. Your potential is unlimited, and like a ripple effect, it circles outward to influence others to do the same.
I pray you remember that we are on this planet to bear fruit, not to burn or tear it down, we are commanded to nurture and sustain it, and leave the judgement to God…for God alone commands the day and the night, we are gifted with its beauty and ability to help us rise to our greatest potential.
I pray that you understand helping another see and reach their potential can only serve and help our own journey, there is abundance in this world for everyone.
Most importantly I pray that you be kind, slow to anger, not judge, forgive, and have the faith of a mustard seed…for then you truly can move mountains
On a vacation with our neighborhood years ago at a campground, my eldest son made a statement which came to me during this last portion of training. He said, “Mom, there isn’t anyplace even in hell that the love of God can’t reach, right?” I said, yes that’s right, unequivocally. That phrase shocked and reorganized my whole theological philosophy in an instant. I’ve been pondering that phrase over and over as I started and restarted this post for days. I knew what I had to do to test it, make it my own so I immersed myself in my own personal hell (mind you I certainly didn’t know what I was doing at the time…but I think God did) And while it wasn’t quite 40 days in the desert…once I came out the other end, I had such clarity and calm. So here is what I came to understand.
To start, I’ve always been uncomfortable with people who use Christianity as a means to get the golden ticket of salvation, i.e. once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior you’re in the club…or if you followed the prescriptions of the church perfectly you got salvation covered, and everyone else was totally screwed. It doesn’t really work like that. I know it, because Jesus said so. When Jesus told the disciples what the end time would look like, he didn’t separate them by who accepted Jesus and who did not. He didn’t separate them by who were the best rule followers and who were not. He separated them by how well they loved:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life
Jesus also told the story of the a perfect rule follower:
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
So I guess what I’m saying is that when you accept Christ, when your heart becomes his heart, you are supposed to be different, see the world in an altogether different light than everyone else. And as a whole, we are not the Body of Christ, as a whole, we haven’t really understood what grasping Jesus as a formula for eternal life was really all about. Arrogant? perhaps, but I asked the question so here is what I got. While I still believe that Grace is offered to all for the taking, I do believe that what is required is so much more than speaking a formula out loud or following a bunch of rules, or making a claim that you are a Christian…that has never been the heart of it. It is, I’ve come to understand, all about redemption.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He also challenged the disciples at their definition of who their neighbor is. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect
And how do we love perfectly?…with mercy as Jesus describes in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (you can look this up on your own…Mt 22:34-40) The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us the expectation that mercy be extended to the least of whoever that is in your personal lexicon. You must show them mercy or you have failed embracing Christ, embracing God, on every level. Those that show mercy towards their neighbors get it right. So here is my question: with so many Christians in the world who have supposedly grasped the golden ticket to eternity, why does there seem to be so little of it?
And so my training in learning to wield love led me to hell. And it sucked and there was darkness and despair and there were moments when I didn’t think I could make it because I just couldn’t get what it was that I was supposed to understand. Bloody hell !!!!!(there was much swearing so bear with me), I know Jesus sacrificed his life for us all, for me…I tried to let go and let God. I read scripture, I prayed and then God told me to look in the mirror and then asked me if I thought the person looking back was redeemable, and it hit me like a jack hammer…fuck no. Beyond all the rational and reasonable there was a dark theme that hung in the back of my mind that said you haven’t accomplished what you were put here for, you’re lazy, you’re petulant, you’re arrogant, you’re ugly and old etc, etc. I remembered in the book of John where a woman was caught in adultery and people were going to stone her according to the law. When Jesus stopped them by challenging them on their own sinfulness, he stopped the stoning not because she was innocent, she had sinned, he simply told her not to sin anymore and that he would not condemn her. The way was open to redemption, but she had to do the work. Sadly, those that were willing to throw stones didn’t even know they needed it, and that is by far the greater tragedy. I have to say, that while I may not have seen myself as a stone thrower, I certainly threw enough stones at the woman looking back at me in mirror. I was also the woman caught, and believed that somehow I didn’t deserve redemption (not that I’ve ever been caught in adultery…anal rule follower here). I was driven to those dark places in my own personal hell where I hated myself, the places where I let the great deceiver get into my head and try to try and convince me that I was unworthy by letting the judgments and condemnations slip into my psyche (and yes, I do believe in the devil so get over it). And in the end I put my stones down and extended my hand and let the love of God reach through the darkness. And I felt peace for the first time in awhile, I’m not embarrassed in the slightest to have that part of me exposed…because everyone has it, whether they admit it or not.
So in conclusion, my takeaway on the visit to my own little hell in the last month?…we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves and God with all our hearts, souls and minds because we don’t love ourselves enough to get there. We don’t give ourselves the love and mercy we are supposed to give to God and neighbors and that is where the breakdown lies. So how do we fix that? We look in the mirror every day and believe we are redeemable. I mean really believe it, and are willing to work at the sinning no more part. It also means that you have to venture a bit into your own hell and face up to the parts of yourselves that you think aren’t redeemable. And just like those words of wisdom from a once seven year old…there is no place in hell that the love of God can’t reach. But acknowledgement is the first step. You can’t reach it if you don’t see it and acknowledge that it’s there. And then, when all is revealed, or what you are willing to see…you extend the hand of mercy and with the Grace of God believe that even with all the nasty parts that you hide from the outside world you are worthy of redemption.
I also know that it doesn’t matter if:
You wear the cloth
You are a genius
You are successful
You are beautiful
You are famous
You are powerful
You are popular
You are a leader
You appear to have everything together
YOU HAVE DARKNESS THAT NEEDS TO BE SEEN, ACKNOWLEDGED AND REDEEMED. And like the good Samaritan, offer up a hand of mercy and redemption to the broken parts of you. Jesus will simply say, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Wielding love begins here. That is what will distinguish the sheep from the goats…not the formula or the rules, but mercy and redemption.