Fallen Fruit

fallen fruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting your Hands Dirty

getting your hands dirty

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

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

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

John 9:1-11

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

Living Without Permission

 

book of kells

A wise teacher once told me that to truly live, you must do so without permission. Seeing myself as a free spirit and natural rebel, I couldn’t imagine he didn’t see that I had already mastered the concept. “Think about it for a moment”, he then said, “to whom or what do you seek permission?” I just looked at him blankly, wondering what the infernal hell he was talking about. “Total up all the, ‘Don’t think that’, ‘Don’t say that’, ‘Don’t Be that’, or ‘A good Christian says or does’, ‘An attractive woman is’, ‘A successful person is’ and don’t forget all the ‘You have too’s’, and ‘you can’t do that’s’, and you can see that your life is more restrictive than need be. Except no one can define you, restrict you…without your permission. You have all the power to decide, no one else. You decide who or what enhances your life. And it isn’t always easy…because we can’t always choose who the people and circumstances are that surround us and fill our heads. But personal survival depends on those you choose to submit to.” He then gave us an assignment to list what permissions must be extended, and those that must be denied. I cried for a long time while doing that assignment. When challenged to do so, I felt the terrible weight of the shackles that I had the key to unlock all along, and that meant letting go of some people and ideas and learning to see others in a new light. Change sucks, and I certainly understand why people talk themselves into staying in a situation that is toxic, and they are bound, because once the shackles are off…you have to walk on your own.

The reason I bring this lesson to light has much to do with my year of clarity. When I get lost in the business of living it’s easy to hand over your life in pieces without even being aware of it until suddenly, voila, my journey is weighted down by those shackles again. Except this time, no tears, just resolve. I choose, once again, to live without permission. I’m not talking about anarchy here. There will be always be rules and laws that I submit to because I understand that in the long run they will be as much a service to me as to those that I love, live, work and play with. But to those voices, people and structures who try and rewrite the blueprint that is me because it serves their purpose, I respectfully decline. I know my heart and with clarity I can see who is helping me become and who is keeping me from becoming all that I can be. I decide.

I also know that when I live without permission, I must extend to others the same accord. I must let them live according to their rhythm too. That means dancing a careful dance between support and control, and between fear and love. I am as guilty as any person of treading too far, of overpowering instead of graciously offering, and yet I won’t let myself be punished for trying too hard, even if I am sorry I overstep. And to those who have grown and expanded under my tutelage, I know that is because they have also brought out the best in me too. Because when you live without permission and allow others to live with out permission, everyone benefits. We all get to be our bigger and better selves.

So let me now extend a request. In the comment section on wordpress, share with me one way you would like to live without permission, and I would gladly pray for that to be extended to you. If you wish your comment to remain unpublished, I will submit to that too, (but I will still pray for you). The benefit of throwing it out there for all to see though, is that you will have many more wonderful people out there praying for you too.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

smokeSome of the most talented and successful people I know don’t have a college degree…a testament to hard work,innovation and blazing new and unforged territories.  For what its worth, I commend you, you stand as an inspiration to us all.  And yet, (I’ll bet you knew it was coming), some of the most foolish, ignorant, arrogant and single-minded people I know don’t have a college degree either.  But wait!  Some of the most talented and successful people I know do have a college degree and the EXACT same things, both good and bad, could be said about all of them too.  So, do we rally up all the foolish, ignorant, and single-minded people and shove them all into a room somewhere, lock them up and throw away the key?  Oh, if only it could be that easy.  My mission is to blow the smoke out of your eyes and transform those who give the formally trained and unformally trained a bad rap.

I have listened to a lot of people tell their tales….what can I say, I’m the kind of person people tell their shit to, whether I want to listen or not (and that is an indictment about me, not necessarily them).  I think there is a pattern to where the road diverges between the two aforementioned groups.  From the broadest perspective, success is a collaborative affair.  It relies on embracing our personal talents, and mastering a sense of cooperation with others to achieve success with that talent, which could be anything from success financially, in service, gaining knowledge, artistic expression, creating a family, etc. None of us are an island…we need others to get ahead.

While not everyone has access to the same amount of help, which is a challenge in a country of dreams that needs to be continually improved upon, I am not talking about general inequity right now.  That is a hornet’s nest for another day.  What I do want to address is the fundamental difference between how people approach success.  I think that those who, at most, do nothing to help use their talents along the way or, at least, use their talent without the same sense of extending help to another are doomed to fail.  It is as simple as that.  Jesus tells a parable about a master going on a journey and distributing talents each according to their ability.  The first two took their talents and made good use of them by working with others and successfully doubling their talent.  The third, who was afraid, feared the success of his master and felt he couldn’t do the same, buried his in the ground. His punishment was harsh, and his talent taken away and split between the other two.

The success isn’t in the amount of  money though. The subtlety of two phrases in the parable is often missed. First: the master entrusted his servants with his possessions, each according to his ability.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all just understood that each of us have different abilities and that is the way that things should be?  The success of two of the servants in the eyes of the master had nothing to do with the amount of the end result, but simply that they went out and did something to expand it. Second, was this: the master rewarded them with more responsiblity, not money, but responsibility.  I truly wish our world worked that way.  But no, there are too many people who are focused on who got what in the first place and believe what they make of their talent is theirs alone, or do nothing with what they are given.  Success results in more responsiblity first, then more riches.

The journey to success is different for everyone.  I do know this, however, minimizing someone’s talents because they may be different from yours (and it goes both ways, for those with a greater ability to those with lesser) you will never be successful in my book. Because success is rewarded with an even greater responsibility and how one proceeds after that. I measure success by how they handle the responsibility.  There are no short cuts, no pretense…Jesus goes on to say a lot about responsiblity after this parable…not only does he celebrate those who multiply their talents, he describes how the responsiblity is measured when the Son of Man comes and separates those who inherit and those who don’t.  Those who achieve success is based on this:

“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 the least of these of mine, you did for me'”

I implore all of you, stop polarizing talents minimizing them and focus on your own.  Your success won’t be defined by how much money you make off of them, but what you do with it.  God sees talent much differently than our world and politicians do. Just remember that.

Let the Games Begin!

the game of lifeFor a moment, imagine the point in time when humankind’s consciousness became aware of itself.  The phrase, “Let the games begin” comes to mind.  From that point forward, complete with cutthroat competition for an elusive prize at the end, whether it be immortality or eternal life, humankind has been in a race against itself up the evolutionary ladder.  Throughout history, humanity has also established cultural rules by which to play.  The rules may not be listed as clearly as they are in a Milton-Bradley game, but they’re there.  Face it; rules are important to any game especially when the stakes include life and death, and in many cases, heaven.   I don’t have a problem with living by cultural rules, but I do take issue, however, with who made up the rules we are supposed to live by and what it takes to win.   For the most part, history has been retold by a pretty select group of people, usually men of European background.  Why is this fact important?  Because there is a symbiotic relationship between whomever holds power, who records history and  who has made up most of the rules.  The result: defining the appropriate way to observe the world.

Because men have made up most of the rules simply means it has never been a level playing field for anyone that is not in this majority.  Don’t get me wrong, I love men—a lot, so much so that I married one and gave birth to two.  However, in order for me to embrace my full potential and become that unique ingredient in making a better world, it was and still is a necessity to challenge and question cultural rules, regardless of how far women have come in our historical journey, there is quite a distance left to travel.  Dreams begin their genesis in a form that is as small as a mustard seed.  And it is often the perimeters and basic assumptions created by cultural rules that are the biggest impediment to a dream’s development.  As a woman, I am certainly aware of what impact they had on mine.  It is sad to think of the dreams that may have died because they weren’t able to  thrive a midst the rules imposed by one’s culture.

A favorite philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, said that in investigating any philosophy of an era, there will be fundamental assumptions that adherents to that philosophy will presuppose, even if unconsciously.  These assumptions appear so obvious that the people adhering to them don’t even know they are assuming them because putting them another way has never even occurred to them.  These assumptions also color the way in which we observe the world.   Eternity with God in heaven for those who follow the right rules and eternal suffering with the Devil in hell for those who don’t are two simple examples.

Since all of us are a part of, potentially, many different philosophical groups (religious, political, economical, etc.) it is important to ask what the fundamental assumptions of these groups are, and how are said assumptions are translated into rules, and by following said rules, who exactly benefits?  Perhaps the most important realization of our time is to consider the possibility that our assumptions about the world are deeply flawed or at least inaccurate, and by critiquing them, there may be a new way to see and appreciate our place in the world.

Essentially, the problem is not that there are conflicting perspectives but that there only seems to be one “right” one that should prevail at any given time.  Whitehead also said that goodness and badness are relative to those fundamental assumptions endorsed by a ruling majority.  Given that we all experience life differently, how logical is that?  And although there are also perceptual inaccuracies based on race and sexual orientation, I am not the person to discuss them here.  Since I am Caucasian, female, Irish, Christian and heterosexual, and this blog is about my observations, I can’t really speak to their perspectives.  However, since male and female go beyond race and sexual orientation, and are universal to being human, hopefully anyone can resonate with some of the fundamental assumptions that exist, involving gender.

All of us are rooted in a gender that is male or female.  While the argument regarding nature vs. nurture still exists, my own personal experience has shown me that biology does affect perspective.  I tried to steer away from gender oriented toys when my sons were small, but no amount of influence on my part to raise them outside gender stereotypes could change the fact that they would rather sleep with a car than a teddy bear, they loved dirt more than anything, they figured out how to pee in the woods before the toilet, and no matter how hard I tried to keep guns out of the house, they made them out of anything else they could find.  I don’t believe in the nature side of the argument in a definitive sense but let me remind you these are my observations.

Scaling it down to the simplest form, look at how gender rules surface every day.  One need only look at the amount of literature that has been put out trying to help men and women understand one another.   Since spending the last several years in a household of men, my husband, two sons, it has become even clearer to me that the world they observe isn’t at all like the one in my head, and is most often the source of conflict in our household.  None of the men in my life think like me. (I’m not sure anybody does, but for the sake of conjecture let’s just say one of the reasons is because I’m a girl)  They march to a completely different rhythm.  The world for them appears to be just one big continuous playing field, one competition after another.  The rules they live by are not the same as my rules.  More than anything, a woman’s perspective regarding the rules of our household is not wanted or necessary for their happiness.  They do, however, know what happens when I am unhappy…life can become pretty miserable.  As a result, they choose to include my rules sometimes, not necessarily because their lives will be enhanced but just so that they get to live-period.  And if on my small level, I have to fight to include my rules in our household, it isn’t surprising at all that our cultural rule makers still disregard women in general.

So, let me just describe my personal jumping off point in shaking the foundations of this historical king of the hill that society has been playing, so to speak (notice the game isn’t called queen of the hill).  For a certain amount of time I held all rules suspended; not so much as an excuse to wreak havoc, but to use a girly metaphor, more to clean out my own cosmic closet and get rid of all the stuff that no longer fit or was, to put it bluntly, just tacky and outdated.  Arguing in favor of any particular new paradigm that only benefits me and trying to shove it down anyone else’s throat will never work.  The reason for starting here, challenging the established rules and assumptions of our present time, had a lot to do with my own personal development.  It never made good sense to follow a lot of rules blindly, especially those that were oppressive, simply because I was born female.

Here again was my first step, and probably the most difficult: accepting the challenge to break away from my own belief systems and rules, and entertain the possibility that they may not have served me all too well, not just from a place of indulgence but of personal fulfillment.  From this standpoint, there was absolutely nothing to lose except, perhaps, the realization that I might be wasting precious time.  If your own life is hunky dory then stop reading right now, no harm, no foul.  But if deep down in your spiritual self you also find there is a sense of discord created by the rules you’ve followed up to this point, then read on and try what I did.  Personal beliefs should at least be scrutinized every once in a while, even if it only acts as a reminder of why we started following them in the first place.  A function of free will is not to embrace matters of belief blindly; Jesus told us that “if you seek, you will find.”

It doesn’t seem logical that questioning the rules that control our lives would have any effect on real truth, especially if the questions stem from a desire to further understanding.  It’s worked for me because I question everything (which contrary to my catechism teachers turned out to be a very good thing) and my faith in God, myself and humanity is even stronger as a result.  Culturally, asking “why” after about the age of three usually labels you a trouble maker, and I’ve had to deal with that unfair moniker most of my life.  Remember the phrase “misery loves company?” well, perhaps enlightenment loves it just as much; the kind of enlightenment that is predicated by artfully and continually asking questions.  There is nothing greater than being in the company of people who want to know and understand as much as they can.

It never occurred to me to get hung up on the notion that even if an individual did disagree with some of the rules imposed by modern culture,that said individual lacked the power to do anything about it.  No personal evolution can take place without individual choice regarding the rules that one follows.  Changing cultural rules may not be easy, slavery and women’s suffrage being only two examples, but the alternative is to choose a life burdened by cultural rules that not only dash ones personal dreams but all the dreams out there that were dependent on your unique perspective.  Has anyone ever told you that the world will be a better place for everyone if you were able to live your dreams?  That my happiness may hinge on yours?  I didn’t think so.  Hopefully, by the end of this little essay you will entertain the possibility  that there is everything you can do about changing cultural rules.  So for now, don’t worry about changing anything, just take a deep look at what makes you tick, and let go of the rest.

So what does one do in the absence of any system of belief, live by the seat of one’s pants?  Well, yes, I guess.  What it boils down to is that people are inherently really quite sensible about which rules are good for them and which rules are not: whether we have the strength to listen to that sensibility and follow it is another matter entirely.   In order to begin perceiving the world from a higher, spiritual place, it was necessary for me to master the inherent gifts God had given me.  And let me tell you there have been plenty of times when I wondered if I had any at all—and that concern turned out to be a gift in itself because it forced to me to keep my eyes open and pay attention and embrace some good common sense…but I’ll leave that for next time

Normally, Not so Deep

stupid kneeIndeed, I have too much time on my hands…normally I’m not this deep.  I dislocated my knee cap at the fitness center and I’ve been immobile and restricted…Which. I. Hate!  Plus, this is the fourth funeral in two weeks…So,when I can’t move and I see so much death, I start to think…too much…sorry for the intensity.  Last night I had a dream of watching people trying to bike and drive their cars on a road made of sand, needless to say they weren’t getting far….sometimes a hard road gives us the structure to move more easily forward.  Just saying