Such has been our experience over the last 5 weeks…There is a great parable in Matthew where Jesus talks about those who live by his words are likened to someone who has built a house on rock, which stands against the wind, the rain and floods. My husband and I feel that way right now, our friends and those who love us have helped us hold steady against the unique storm we are facing with his injury. More than ever, we are humbled, honored and celebrate the love extended and shown to us during this struggle. Sometimes, even under difficult circumstances it is important to see and understand the impact of the good fruits we have shared to the community around us and see how they have indeed benefited and sustained others.
In difficult times that we have all faced in the past couple of years it is easy to come to the conclusion that what you offer to the world isn’t significant or doesn’t matter. But when the storm came, so did those whose lives we have touched and they held us up, unconditionally without asking. It’s truly overwhelming at times, to embrace the love that has poured forth from so many people, and it has given us greater stamina to move forward into the future and reestablish and perhaps even produce different and better fruits to our community.
My husband was in a terrible accident that has put us on an unexpected path. Luckily, he will recover, and as much as I am thankful for that, the path ahead looks steep and uphill. Contemplating the changes, I was reminded of a song I heard on my way to the Soviet Union in 1984 by Nik Kershaw called “Wouldn’t it be good.” It’s a song that expressed an individual’s desire to step into another’s shoes, whom he thinks has it easy as he is worn out by his own life, only to have the response in return: “you don’t know how good you have it, stay out of my shoes”. I always remember that song because at that time, I had assumed that I was so lucky and communists were not. I was wrong. Wishing you were anywhere else but your own shoes isn’t helpful. While this new road brings apprehension…God, the universe abhors a vacuum. Our gifts will have a new outlet.
We have people who love us…that is what matters. In the face of all his injuries, Steve found out his roommate from Chiropractic college, whom he just spoke to right after his accident, who was recovering himself from heart surgery they were both talking about career and life changes, passed away this morning. The shock of it is more than close. A reminder to cherish every moment.
It’s been awhile…got me a new hip and I’m walking straight for the first time in more than two years (yes I’m comfortable with the double entendre). Now that I’m on the other side, I realize how pain had become part of my “new normal”. As I sit here, I wonder how the hell I made it (like childbirth, I remember the pain in a remote and detached way… otherwise I wouldn’t have had more than one). I also am aware how that pain challenges perception, response and interaction with the world. I think the same is true for people who are going through all different manifestations of pain, be it physical, spiritual, mental or emotional. Pain changes how we see and hear things, it just does. Like many polarities that exist in the world today, I think in the extremes, pain can take us down a rabbit hole of darkness and de-evolution or upward toward enlightenment and greater evolution.
I think most people fall somewhere in the middle, and have some days better than others. For me, I am in constant awareness of how my pain affected my life, and is one of the reasons that I began to paint, draw, make jewelry, read and do brain puzzles whenever I wasn’t working. I needed something good to come of it, and to save my sanity and the relationships that kept me moving upward and onward instead of down a rabbit hole of pessimism (my great fear), isolation and anger. I had a daily pattern of reprimanding myself every time I started to think, “why me?, or poor me,” or lean into the appalling lack of empathy and stupidity in this world. While you may have other triggers that pain induces, those are mine. I had to willingly work hard to not just let go and fall into the whirlpool that would bring me downward into blame, judgement and self pity. Remarkably, that focus kept the pain abated enough that, hopefully anyway, I never lost my true self.
I also observed that people all react to pain in their own unique way, which like love, makes sense because we are all built of unique stuff and walk a unique path. Different isn’t better than, but it doesn’t take long to see where different responses can become more pathological than proactive. Without passing judgement, my own pain help me see more clearly when another’s pain begins to cloud judgment and then begins to circumvent healthy attitudes and beliefs. While I’m struggling to explain how, this is where application of all I’ve learned over the past years acted as my foundation and direction on how to move through it. Much of what I use to move forward is rooted in Scripture. Love, mercy, forgiveness, hope, etc and all the how to’s that come along with Christ’s teachings were the very mechanism for me to decide on a daily basis if I was moving forward or backward.
The bottom line, is the profound understanding that we all are in, at any given time, different kinds of pain, and that our response to each other should have that very notion in mind, whether it is apparent or not. Kindness, being slow to anger, patience, mercy…all the things any person who declares themselves a Christian should know. If you don’t and can’t see others as if they were Christ, you may be going down the wrong road. That last statement was hard for me because it sounds harsh…but truly ask yourself if your pain is moving you up, or down. No one else can change that direction but you.
Every year, at least for the past few, I take advantage of the anniversary of my birth and offer prayers as my gift to all the other travelers on this planet, to bolster the body of humanity as it moves forward on the evolutionary road forward. The subtle difference this year, is that my prayers are not meant for everyone. This year my prayers are focused on, and dedicated to, those “children of the light” and soldiers of Christ, (for those who embrace him) for it is all of you who will save this world and keep us evolving into the future. The rest, while I continue to pray for you in a general way all year…on my special day, with my special powers, I am reserving the right to focus on those who are blessed to see and hear, devoid of illusion, fear and the need to scapegoat. And as for those of you who seem unable or unwilling to look beyond the lies, fears, vitriol and have weaponized religion to maintain a culture that is anything but the representation of the body of Christ…you made your bed, and you can lie in the false comfort that you are on the right path. As scripture tells us, only good trees produce good fruit, the truth will set us free, and it is how you treat the least among us that determines your eternal future, and my hope is that you figure it out eventually.
I pray for you to honor all the talents you’ve been given and walk down the path that fulfills your greatest purpose in life, and to keep walking despite the fear that may well up your throat, despite any overwhelming feelings of inadequacy that you may face or despite the desire to give into temptation and run in the opposite direction when it feels perilous ahead. I pray that you always have the knowledge that with God and the powers of the universe even the seemingly impossible truly is possible, and that when God is with you nothing can defeat you and that this knowledge brings you the necessary courage and fortitude to forge ahead.
The downfall of most traditional systems is that they try to insulate their body of believers from the rest of the world. Inclusion to a group that is predicated by certain beliefs and axioms will not keep purity in their body of believers. Why? because we are all of the same fabric. A true child of the light, soldier of Christ is motivated by the premise that every person is of consequence, to judge one group as dispensable runs contrary to the beauty and diversity of God’s creation. I pray that you see and hear that as long as there is breath and life there is hope for all, and as shepherds for the future, that you guard and protect the flock that surrounds you.
Once you start living in higher definition, it may become easy to judge others who live with less clarity as stupid, and that they have nothing to offer you on your journey forward. I pray you realize that everyone and everything that crosses your path is an essential element for sharing the light of truth. You will be known and appreciated by how you love, not how much you know. I pray that each moment is a gift that you can be grateful for, even those dark moments because they create opportunities to illuminate the stark contrast between light and darkness. Gratitude builds hope, and hope guides us forward.
It is often a lonely experience to see, hear and understand a truth that others do not. In many ways it is like seeing a color, or an added sense that others do not share. I pray you find each other to add support and community to your journey. While self containment is important to the development of your own unique gift, it is not necessary to be isolated to nurture it. All of us need sustenance, and communities are like oxygen to the soul.
I pray that you take time along this journey to celebrate the moments that truth and justice bring. Celebration is as much a part of evolving as is the hard work of building. I pray you have many moments where success and the fruits of your labor shine for all the world to see and bring healing, hope and encouragement to others who are not as far along on the journey as you are.
And finally, I pray that you remain constantly vigilant as new truths unfold. There is a reason that children of the light, soldiers of Christ are given only as much as we can handle at any given time (the Old Testament tells us that prophets would die if they gazed upon the Lord directly…its just too much). I pray you continue to see and hear the many dimensions of truth as they unfold and are unveiled to you and that you can revel in its ever broadening beauty and power and it gives you strength
It is amazing what people will talk themselves into. I’ve felt pretty speechless over the last few weeks. Struggling to find the perfect analogy, I remember reading Plato’s allegory of the cave, which in a nutshell tells the story of prisoners in a dark cave all chained with a fire behind them that reflects on the cave wall in front of them. Also behind the prisoners are prison masters waving puppets to create shadows on the wall. To the prisoners this is their reality, the shadows define their reality. Lets say one escapes and turns to see the puppet masters making the shadows on the wall and realizes that the world they’ve known is an illusion, and also sees an exit that leads outside. The world is blinding bright and beautiful, and for few minutes the light blinds them.. When the now freed person goes back inside to free the other prisoners and tell them about the true world out side, the freed person can no longer see in the darkness and the prisoners become afraid that the freed person can no longer see, so the keep their chains and shadows out of fear, regardless of how beautiful the description of the outside world, or the explanation that they are just being manipulated. In truth? That is how I feel much of the time. I feel like the person who has escaped. I see things the way I do, not because I am better or smarter, but because I recognized chains that held me, and once freed actually turned around and challenged my perspective and moved outside to another world view.
How do you convince people that what they believe to be true may be nothing more than an illusion held and rooted in shadow and the machinations of others defining their reality? You can’t. What you can do, like Jesus did, is calm fears, challenge weaknesses, show them hope (many in the miracles he performed) and promise a greater life and future, teach people to pray for God’s ample help to assist you in moving out into the light. And still so many people are rooted into always staying, believing what they are looking at without question. What is most disturbing are those charlatans who having heard the escaped prisoner’s story, pretend that they’ve been unchained and gone outside and twist and turn the message to suit their own ills and pressure those stuck in shadow that the message of the outside is wrong and not to listen. There are plenty out there who stand in the name of life, who are more concerned with control, political will and power. It makes me angry and sick to my stomach listening to their self righteous blather., and how many believe that they are telling the truth.
So, who do you believe? Well, perhaps its time to get up off your butt and turn around to see what’s behind you, what you’re rooted in and get some new information on your own. Going outside your comfort zone and chucking what you’ve always thought you knew for something completely new is scary, It’s scary because it requires us to use our own eyes and ears instead of staring at shadows in the darkness created by someone else. The light may be bright and painful at first, but the reality is so much better. I’d rather learn to see in bright light than suffer in the shadows.
Today is Good Friday, and I’m reminded that to Christians, it is the holiest time of the year. It is the day that traditionally, the crucifixion narrative is read. Beyond the obvious, that is, that it is a horrific way to die, it is the hatred and fear of the mob who stood against him that frightened me the most about this story. What was it that could turn a crowd, who just days before were singing songs of adulation and waving palm fronds in his wake as he entered Jerusalem? Was it the machinations of the church leaders and Romans who turned the public against the one who had healed and supported, taught and fed them during his short ministry? I often asked myself the question, “Would I have been like them, or like Peter who denied him three times?” Perhaps it is because of the grace I have been given that I see and understand the reasons why mob rule is so dangerous, and the horror and evil that individuals en mass are capable of when fueled with angry rhetoric (especially if the source is religious). All of us are susceptible, and if you think you’re exempt and never worried about how you would respond to mob anger, I don’t think you’re being totally honest with yourself.
So with Jesus’ great sacrifice, where are the effects of this super power we celebrate on Easter Sunday? Is the extent of it held in the future promise of eternal life? Or is there a mechanism we gain to transform the world around us in the moment? I continually struggle with what makes me, as a Christian, so different than other humans, religious or not. What makes me visibly different? I truly believe, that with seeing and hearing through the gospel message I am meant to, challenged to, radiate heaven in a way that shows I fully understand what Easter means: that they will know I am his disciple because of how I love. We understand Jesus sacrifice because we are gifted with holding the Kingdom of God within us…
Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”
This is where it gets tricky for me. There is so much noise and dissonance from churches around the world that not only contradict the idea that “the Kingdom of God is within” and what it is supposed to look like, but actually subvert it by redefining what heaven is through exclusive and authoritarian methods, not unlike those in power did at the time Jesus was crucified. The corruption that often lies hidden behind the righteous in power is why I continue to look to how Jesus radiated the Kingdom…extending mercy, the relinquishment of earthly power, the focus on those in need, loving your neighbor and enemy, loving God more than money, and kind civil rhetoric. That isn’t the rhythm of many professed Christians who radiate superiority, judgement, and yes, mob anger and hatred, the kinds of behaviors that Jesus deplored in his day. I think of Jesus’ quiet power standing broken and beaten in front of Pontius Pilate, refusing to be bated and justify his questions and ignorant assumptions, his quiet strength in carrying the cross and his mercy once on the cross to those criminals beside him. That is how in the worst of circumstances we radiate heaven.
Like any superpower, grace must be continually exercised, and expressed. Jesus made clear the road to heaven was to treat others as if they were indeed him. He also promised that he will come again and until then we must radiate the Kingdom of Heaven like children do or never expect to exist there. Beyond righteous behavior, we must be willing to sell all we have and follow him, and when we feel unworthy, be reminded that what is impossible for humans is forever possible with God.
Sometimes I think of that moment in the story of Adam and Eve, when they both become aware of good and evil and what that must have felt like. Their sense of innocence was gone and they were keenly aware that they are naked, exposed, and were immersed in a world of sin. And then, I remember a line from the Easter liturgy that says: “Oh happy fault of Adam which gained for us so great a Savior” So, while none of us ate a bite of that damn apple, sin is in the world, its consequences glaringly apparent (at least to those who aren’t blind, metaphorically speaking). The good news is that we are not without hope, without help, without guidance; we were blessed with such a Savior. Which is why I’m confounded to think that there are those who think that sin isn’t their problem and that if they simply sanitize what they see and hear in the world then some how that becomes an acceptable response in dealing with its ugliness. Sin is here, that ship has sailed. It’s presence and legacy is unavoidable and is something we all have to deal with, even our youngest and most innocent. With the interconnections and expanse of social media, we are literally running out of places to sweep things we don’t want to see and hear under the rug. I also am acutely aware that one person’s definition of what is unconscionable is vastly different than another’s. And while accepting the gift of grace by following Christ has opened my eyes and ears, it doesn’t make me any less of a sinner or any less susceptible to its temptations. I think the Gospels lay out pretty clear criteria on how to go about dealing with sin. There is a clear conversation, though, about why Jesus teaches the way he does through parables:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it
Jesus used story telling as a mechanism to teach us about sin, love, sacrifice, and who God is. It is clear from Jesus’ perspective that many people wouldn’t get it, because they refused to be open to it, even the Pharisees. So from where I stand, I do not believe that book burning, or banning is the answer. I must admit, on a list of banned books, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Wrinkle in Time” are why I am a reader…and I read them when I was 11…and was not tainted by them in any way shape or form. As a matter of fact, I learned a lot about the horrors of the world without needing direct experience in how to face or understand those horrors. I also learned a lot about standing in someone else’s shoes and more often than not I was left hopeful. Sometimes, though, I learned very hard lessons about myself, that changed the way I moved and behaved in the world. Regardless of the discomfort one may feel reading a book like “Lord of the Flies”, which I hated and yet still learned a great deal about bullies and the nature of power, I learned about sin and what havoc it can create in this world, and what can happen even in the most unexpected circumstances. I think books like the ones I mentioned are necessary, not as an approval of, but as an awareness of the destruction that evil and sin have brought into the world without having to have first hand experience. Utilizing our eyes and ears and exercising what hopefully are evolving ethics and humanity in a safe environment are a way to contain the sin that need not be perpetuated as an inevitable result of being human.
I am in no way saying that any parents don’t have the right to guide their child’s education, but I am clearly saying that burning books or banning them in righteous indignation could also mean that you are afraid to see and hear uncomfortable truths about the world. Sin affects not just those who commit bad acts, but those who are victims of it as well. And most importantly ignorance of the sin is never an excuse to say you can never be responsible for it. I’m not saying this cavalierly at all. Reading a book like “Schindler’s List” was devastating for me, but knowing atrocities like the holocaust happened, opened my eyes and ears to a kind of hatred that designates a whole people as unworthy. That’s why there are those out there who would have you believe that none of these atrocities are real, and to block that knowledge so ignorance may abound and the sin can continue. I have also spent much of my lifetime working among righteous Christians who were wonderful reflections of Christ and at the same time, in the same environment Christians who were the worst kind of sinners. Hypocrisy abounds among those who believe they are above the decay of sin and refuse to acknowledge their own sin and portray themselves like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Claiming moral superiority about how to address the nature of sin is the kind of hubris that Jesus despised. He hated the kind of hypocrisy that existed in the temple at the time of those who proclaimed a moral superiority but spent much less time living as God expected all of us to. You don’t have to like a book to appreciate it and understand its value, or believe that the very act of reading a banned book is a tacit approval of its content. There are many great books that simply depict, honestly, albeit sometimes harshly, and horrifically the character of our sinful world…but to pretend that somehow you and yours simply by the act of knowing about a sin, will be tainted by it somehow suggests you can remain free from its corruption magically in the first place. Like I said at the beginning, that ship has sailed. We are in the same boat. I will leave you with the man born blind who Jesus healed, and was booted out of the temple for being a sinner. Thinking you see, doesn’t necessarily make it so
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, ” Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he”. He said, ” I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came to this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind”. Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have not sin; but now your are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.
Faith unchallenged is dead, and so it goes with institutions. A while back I wrote a post about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and breaking from that idea resulted in seeing human institutions for what they are…human. If the “whole” remains static, held in place by those who refuse to challenge, move, evolve and then impede any moving “part” from functioning to keep the “whole” great…then its time to do one of two things: 1) remember what the function of the “whole” is supposed to be and work to change and or remove any parts that impede its function, or 2) Decide the “whole” no longer represents you as a “part”, and find another “whole” that does. I tend to choose the first option over and over because at heart I’m a fighter and feel so much more effective and powerful as a part of a greater “whole”, many of whom have truly maintained a strong presence and were created by incredible individuals.
I think the greatest blindness people have regarding institutions and the bubble they create is that we hold them as sacrosanct…and above reproach. If you challenge the church your commitment to the church and its authority is questioned, regardless of any atrocity witnessed, whether its abuse, embezzlement or any other infraction that has been committed and seen by eyes and ears of one of it’s “parts”. If you challenge a law that is rooted in draconian ideas or in practice is on its face is immoral, often your patriotism or citizenry is questioned. And so prevalent today, when a political structure no longer represents the ideals it was founded upon, and challenge the road being followed, you are often called a traitor and punished for it.
No institution is above reproach, be it the church, the police, or our political structures. We were given eyes to see and ears to hear for a reason, to keep the whole true to its foundation, keep the moving parts functional and to participate actively to keep correcting when they go astray. An institution founded in love or freedom, safety of the public, or liberty and the pursuit of happiness must be measured in great part in whether the sum of its parts is successful in its chosen endeavor. If not, the “whole” itself must shift. That’s simply how evolution works. Those that refuse to see and hear the flaws in any institution because in their mind they are beyond challenge or reproach, are the greatest sickness any institution can face.
Before I offend…I am aware of the visceral reaction this word causes, and at this point in the game of my life, I I don’t really mind. I could have used a euphemism like, “awareness” or “evolved” but I really think that to move beyond our own personal bubbles and being uncomfortable is essential in coming together as a people, so I don’t think I want to mince words. I absolutely believe that I am still stuck in the groggy bit between waking and sleeping, so I have a way to go before I am fully awake, or “woke”. Not because I don’t want to be, but because of the singularly small perimeters of my solitary life. I am, to use the modern vernacular, a cisgender, white, educated, Midwestern woman…I guess you could say that by nature I am pretty vanilla. And yet, regardless of the privilege of that status, I am very aware that I am so much more than that and have the scars to prove it.
For me, I am not offended by the phrase “woke” whether its used as a description or an epithet. I am only interested in what it means to me, and what has been part of my journey over the last seven years…to put into practice what God called from the heavens when Jesus was baptized, “This is my beloved, my son…listen to him.” So I have tried, sometimes harder than other times, to take the conversations, parables, teachings and actions of Jesus in a way that keeps pushing me outside of my bubble and become fully awake:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.
I can’t comment on anyone else’s “wokeness”, except, according to Jesus anyway, that some absolutely won’t get it, he’s made that very clear. The stepping outside of one’s bubble to really see and really hear is just too uncomfortable and threatening for some so they vilify anyone else who does. I am of the “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” school of evolution and when I jumped on this train I did so willingly with utmost faith and the promise that I would absolutely go where God put me and keep walking regardless of the discomfort (even though now its with a gimp instead of a dance…see original post of starting this journey, “dancing naked before the Lord”). The sad truth after all this time? You can never un-see or un-hear those painful moments that pull you out of your comfortable slumber to witness the harsh realities (and some beautiful ones too) that are out there in this world. And it has changed me and moved me beyond so many people who are happy with the bubble they are in, because I know I can’t go back to whatever it was that I thought I knew before. I just don’t have anything to say to them any more (nor they to me if I’m being honest).
I used to think that what I wrote on this journey might…I don’t know, help others in some way. I don’t think about that much anymore, because the only thing I’m sure of is what I, myself, have learned…and its been a lot, with so much more to come. So this year is dedicated to seeing and hearing beyond the bubble and by listening more to God’s beloved.