What is Joy

Definition of joy

 (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

intransitive verbto experience great pleasure or delight REJOICE

transitive verb1archaic GLADDEN

2archaic ENJOY

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.

Love and Vengeance

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay” is an important theme in the Old and New testaments…and one in my own life as well. I once wrote a paper in law school entitled, “Vengeance is mine saith the law, it will repay” My professor rolled her eyes when she saw the title, but changed her tune after she read it (I got an “A”). The point of my paper, from a theologian’s perspective was to render what is God’s to God, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The bottom line, was that if you are going to be a person of faith, then, as scripture states many times, leave vengeance to God. If you are an American citizen where freedom is recognized as an unalienable right then vengeance is in the hands of our legal system which is set up to protect those freedoms, even in the face of a criminal act. I know, I know, we don’t live in a perfect world…there are unjust laws, and as for faith…its hard to let go of the hurt, unfairness and cruelty of this world. The tenor of our hate filled world is a sorry reminder of that. As one who harnesses and wields of love, though, vengeance can never be a driving force.

For Christians, Jesus speaks about forgiveness, loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, etc., etc. My time on this earth is too short to waste it worrying about who is going to get their just desserts. I used to be that person crying over the injustice in the world and it ate me alive (which is not the same thing as working for justice). It’s just a waste of emotion. If we trust that God has our backs, and that whatever you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold…then the exercise of letting go and letting God is instrumental in effectively harnessing love. I’m not suggesting passivity, not at all. Fighting for justice is also fundamental to my faith…but there is a powerful distinction between energizing a fight for love and justice because you believe an omnipotent God has our backs and will trust those precepts that are fundamental to that faith and the energy of a fight that obliterates the “enemy” because they think they can do a better job than God or believe that have been enlisted by God to hate another or it just feels good in the moment. Regarding Caesar’s world, we can’t revere the rule of law and then seek vengeance by disregarding it and manipulating it when it doesn’t give us the result we want. When we stand against all the negativity and hatred in the world, it has to be done with the belief that everyone, even those we see as enemies at the moment stands to benefit from wielding love.

As any person of faith, there is an expectation of certain behaviors that are in alignment with the central tenets of that faith. As a citizen of this country, there are also certain expectations of behavior as well. Melding the two together is a natural struggle to be sure, but wielding love whether it be for God, country or both can’t be done by bean counting those that break both sets of laws. That is why I struggle so deeply with the present situation in this world. People are far too eager to justify their vengeance against their “enemy” because they happen to think they are on the right team and believe the notion that anyone who doesn’t believe like they do are the enemy. Its exhausting, and stands in direct opposition to what it means to wield love in the world. Like it or not, America includes many “teams” and Christianity commands that we love one another…even our enemies. Vengeance has no place in either.

I will be the first to admit that there are days when I want to hate everybody. Part of love’s training is to be aware of and work through these weaknesses constantly. I am not always a compliant student, but I am getting better. It is often the hardest part of my training…to wield love to those who demonstrably relish in the us against them fight, or judging others as lessor than, or bullying and name calling, or those who lie or are violent or are all of the above, the list goes on and on. The truth of the matter is that we are all human and I’m sure there are those out there who wish vengeance on me by wishing me ill, judging me and calling me names…and I may not even be aware of it. I know my heart, but others may not, which may mean attributing to me qualities I don’t think I deserve, and I know I have, at times, done the same thing to others. I’ve stopped allowing the world to define or weaken me by those judgments, especially when the world is in such desperate need of love which also means bringing my heart to the forefront for everyone to see, and that is not easy…because the world can be a cruel and unfair place after all. And yet it is because I have faith in a God that has my back and augments my vulnerable heart with a greater one that vengeance plays no part in my journey. It is a burden I don’t want or need anymore. So I wield love and celebrate those that do the same in the world. The other problem with vengeance is that it take our focus away from the people who should be celebrated for all the love they share.

Every day I say the phrase “I choose” in my head, whether it is to control my vapid tongue or expose my heart…it is my choice. I make the conscious choice to wield my love in the best way I can. I choose love, not vengeance.

 

Love and Shoes

I love shoes…I know a lot of people who do. I love the interesting, uncommon and artsy kind that most people don’t have. I could easily be one of those hoarder types with hundreds of shoes, but alas I am limited to loving them from afar. My horrible spine and the resulting poor bio-mechanics have limited my shoes to those that support arches, and when necessary my orthotics…how cruel is that? Gone are the days of heels and the barefoot sandals with barely there straps. I’m not saying I’m old and haggard with orthopedic shoes, it just takes more time to find the right ones, you know the ones that put my best foot forward. Sadly, they are far and few between.

As a result of my own limitations, I try and afford others the same courtesy of not judging them by the shoes that they wear.. Many of us don’t wear the shoes we want for a whole host of reasons that aren’t apparent to the naked eye. Perhaps some have physical limitations like me, some are strapped financially, others don’t have a choice about what shoes to wear, and others haven’t even considered what shoes they would even like to wear and are simply driven by trends or what they think others believe are the right kind of shoes to wear. The shoes themselves don’t define the person, but walking in them may help each of us understand what their journey is and why they wear the ones they do. I do know that wearing shoes that I love does affect how I walk in the world, but maybe that’s just me.

Of course, metaphorically we all wear “different shoes” depending on the jobs we perform every day. There are many shoes I despise wearing, but out of necessity I wear them responsibly to support those I love. What is important to remember is that I am not defined by these shoes, but that I am willing to wear them for love. More importantly, I have to remember to take time to also wear shoes that express me…for love of myself. And I’m learning in this year of love, that it isn’t always easy to do. There are people out there who hate my taste in shoes and judge me for it and while it may make me sad, I realize lately that it is also these same people I have allowed to keep me from wearing the shoes I have loved all along…and I’m not doing that anymore. I have discovered that I can wear shoes that support my flawed structure and still make a statement. I urge you all to do the same, you’ll never walk the same way again.

 

 

Higher Ground

mount everest

Deception is heavy. Lies breed more lies. Illusions feed on fear. All together, deception, lies and illusion are the weights that keep us down, immobilize and prevent us from standing on the highest ground, having sight to see what’s up ahead and how to move forward. I know and understand this, yet why does it seem so daunting at times?. When Jesus said my yoke is easy and burden light, I believe he was speaking of being free from the burdens that lies bring and the deception of covering our sins, that living in truth brings true freedom. When you live and walk in truth, there is nothing to hide. But that’s the rub, isn’t it, being in a place where you have nothing to hide. Standing naked while the rest of the world seems to be clothed in any number of costumes to cloak who they really are underneath is the purest form of vulnerability. And yet, if I am to be a follower of Jesus, whose very purpose is to testify to the truth, then naked I must be. The rest is pure logic…if you do not walk in truth, and testify to truth, you really aren’t a disciple of Christ, or any other faith who holds truth as a central tenet of its dogma. Getting rid of all the subterfuge is the first step, and the second is the exposure of ones flaws.

When I worked in ministry, I had the honor of being a 5th step counselor for an adolescent treatment center. The fifth step in AA is: “Admitting to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” It was a step often feared, but once accomplished always left the participant (that I saw anyway) with such relief, lightness and often joy. It’s hard to walk around the world with the heavy burden of guilt and past acts of hurtfulness, but once released, it was as if they were standing on higher ground. It is an instrumental step for people in recovery, and I have learned so much from those who are in the program.

So in the early steps of my year of truth, I feel strength in standing on higher ground, not in a way that is better by any means, just lighter. I’ve learned to appreciate that being born without filters has proven to be quite a gift. I am who I am, flaws and all unburdened by lies or deception. The scarier step is to continue to walk in the world and be seen and judged by those flaws. I always believe that when people see me what they see is what they get, and while that is mostly true, I also know the nature of my sensitive heart and the length to which I have gone to close it off to the angry sentiment, deceptions, betrayal and judgments of the world. In doing so I also closed myself off to the support, love, acceptance and joy that comes when my heart is open. Trust and truth go hand in hand, of than I am sure.

Today I walk unhindered and exposed, naked and at times afraid, and yet in full sight of the goodness and hope that higher ground offers. My prayer is that you too will join me on this journey.

Evolution

yearbook

 

Last night I went to my 40 year high school reunion…I know, right? It seems impossible to remember what it was like during those years so many decades ago, and the hundreds of people that crossed my path on a daily basis, but then…I walked into the room and spied name tags, and it was as if those memory/feeling files awakened from a long slumber and I was back in 1977. No judgement, just happy hello’s and good conversation…for the most part. It’s hard to disregard those memories, feelings and insecurities that were so plentiful from 15-18, many of which were rooted in placing pretty much every body else above myself, as if there was a game being played and every one else got the rule book, but me.  I also realized, though, that even though I felt foolish a lot of the time, I had much better taste in friends than I ever gave my younger self credit for. They were good people then, only to have evolved through life’s trials to be even better versions of themselves today. Those whom I didn’t feel worthy of back in high school I felt no need to pay heed last night either, but only in the calm and resolved maturity when it just doesn’t matter any more. And besides, there were just so many good people to reconnect with and hear about their lives. There were so many happy memories, and they are the ones to celebrate and reminisce about.

It was also interesting to hear feedback from people about how they saw you in high school. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself thinking, given all the positive statements, I wonder why I felt so tortured and alone in high school much of the time? I’m sure it’s the same for many of my cherished friends, because we just didn’t spend as much time pumping each other up as we could have, a teenage thing I suppose, the inactivity of our frontal lobes…so I will do it now. I am an accomplished and educated woman…but I wouldn’t have become the me I turned into without so many wonderful people throughout my adolescence who were there to help form and support me, even if I was too myopic to notice. I was so impressed with all the stories I listened to and shared last night. Regardless of the path that each of us took, I have a much better appreciation of who they are now. 1977 was full of good people, people who help build the foundation that is me and I really am grateful. I hope, too, that I helped build a foundation for others as well. Most importantly? Like wine, we do get better with time.

Lydia’s Fruit

 

lydia

A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.

After Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for freeing a girl of a demon, the jailer was converted when after fervent prayer an earthquake felled the walls of the jail, but they refused escape to protect the jailer. Overwhelmed, he asked what he needed to do to be saved, they told him of Jesus, witnessed and baptized his whole family and he bathed and addressed their wounds. After refusing to leave quietly, because they were falsely detained without trial as Roman citizens, they walked proudly out the front door and went directly back to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers and then left.

It took me a long while in my study and ministry to understand the power and gift of Lydia. Imagine the difficulty of traveling all these territories spreading the gospel. Foreign places full of strangers with nothing really to travel with. Those few lines in Acts bring it home. She offered them a safe haven, a generous hospitality that enabled them to face hardship, yet continue their ministry. I wrote a paper about Lydia in graduate school, using her simple, yet powerful gesture as an example of environmental leadership. What Paul and his entourage did was extremely difficult, and because of people like Lydia, they could stop, refuel, take a moment to regenerate to begin the journey anew.

I never underestimate the power of hospitality, especially in terms of leadership…because being a good leader is hard. But when welcomed in and nurtured in a safe haven, they can become their best selves, and that in and of itself can be the the greatest gift to the world, bringing out our best selves to build the Kingdom of God. Face it, the world can be a scary place and we as individuals and faith communities can be a powerful source of love and safety for those on their life’s difficult journey. Never underestimate the power of hospitality, even if it means just sitting next to someone who appears afraid, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or oppressed. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but compounded together these simple gestures can be beautifully transforming. Go ahead, be Lydia.

In My Shoes

my shoes

I think this will be my last post detailing my year of clarity. I feel complete, for now anyway, and want to enter into the season of light focused only on that. It seems funny that showing you the context of all my previous posts this year will be the subject of my last. I think it’s because I needed to do the journey first, before I open up my coat and share life in my shoes. Perhaps then you can understand why I believe as I do and maybe take something away that you can use on your own journey. The bottom line, is that I can never unhear, all I’ve heard; I can’t unsee all I’ve seen; and most importantly I can’t unknow all I’ve learned. I am who I am because of it.

Also, I needed to have the strength to say to those who are reading this just to be judgmental or to find fuel for your dislike, to say stop reading, or better yet, go ahead, keep reading…because I don’t give a shit anymore. I don’t wish you ill, but I certainly don’t wish you well. Harsh, it’s true. But I think I’ve spent too much time parsing words and feelings not to offend anyone, or try to be my best Solomon in all my posts. While being fair and balanced and living as a disciple of Christ is still my main objective, this election cycle has brought out the true character of many who I just won’t waste my time or breath on anymore. I embrace that is who you are, I just don’t have to listen to you anymore. Make no mistake, I am not talking about those who have a polar opinion from mine, there are still plenty of you in my posse…I’m talking about those who judge before they listen, embrace fear, refuse to look for truth, or only enough to justify their world view and those who only associate with people who are just like them. While the number I disassociate from may be few, it is something I have never done before but need to because of the impact it was having in my life. What’s funny, is I’m sure those people will never know it because they stopped really seeing or listening to me a long time ago.

No axiom, truth or ideology ever comes to me lightly, except the love of God and the call to be a disciple of Christ. While I may be a good student, I am not an easy one. I’ve pissed and moaned and thrown many a tantrum learning valuable lessons. So let me highlight just a few of those instrumental ports of call on my journey of faith. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be like one of those infernal slide shows that go on forever…just a few tidbits. Know that there are some givens: I have a great family, I’m blessed with privilege and a great deal of comfort. The experience that follows are in addition to, or in spite of.

When I was in college, I used a January term to live in a contemplative monastery in the desert of New Mexico. During my stay at Christ in the Desert, we began our day at 2:30 in the morning to pray according to the divine office of the Rule of St Benedict, an order that balances prayer and work. Without going into depth, I understand why Jesus began his ministry in the desert, in prayer and silence. It was the hardest (and not just because I wasn’t allowed to talk) and most transforming experience of my life. I fought with and conquered many internal demons over that month. It was the foundation for everything that what was to come.

The next January term, I chose to work with the United Farm workers (UFW) movement in La Paz California. There, I saw what solidarity behind a spiritual and nonviolent leader, Caesar Chavez, could do for the powerless and disenfranchised. I was also witness to racism for the first time in my life, and how protesters gallantly withstood all the horrible words and actions taken against them, all just because they desired to be treated fairly, with dignity and pride. I worked as a laborer that month, it was hard, humbling and it refined and polished me in ways I never could have predicted.

After I started working in ministry, I received the chance to travel with the National Council of Churches to then Soviet Russia. It was a terrifying, mind boggling, heart wrenching, uplifting, life transforming experience. It was during that trip at the ripe age of 24 when I saw the impact and effects of raw political power. It was there that I learned to recognize its lizard qualities that slithered and slimed their way into the world. I was no longer the naive, altruistic girl that I once was living in a global world.  I went back four years later to see how it had progressed, doubting that democracy could ever work there efficiently…I was right, it couldn’t. Not that its people aren’t marvelous, they are…there were actually more Christians there than members of the communist party. Politics, though, are another story. It is also why I despise Putin so much.

Throughout my ministry, I worked with the poor and homeless, did respite for the mentally disabled, worked in a nursing home, a drug treatment center for adolescents, was part of a team who worked with modern media and the gospel message. I got to teach, write curriculum and preach the good new of Christ. It wasn’t always easy, but I learned so much and was graced with interacting with so many incredible people. I’ve worked with prisoners and laborers, met rock stars, politicians in Washington and media moguls. I’ve eaten on clay floors and dined on Italian marble. In every one of these experiences people are often the same with varying levels of brokenness. Every one of them needed love beyond the basic dignities of life.

I’ve had the pleasure of having many gay friends who have shown me great sacrifice and commitment in being able to love who their heart chooses. When I was teaching, I was blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood far beyond my pay grade when I was rented a room in a house from an incredible lesbian woman and her daughter, also gay, and who is now an incredibly powerful pastor in Minneapolis. I will attest to the beauty and strength of all my gay friends and their families and children, and am happy to have them in my life and the life of my family and children too. It is so natural and easy to love them and support them, I cannot fathom why anyone would not (which is a bit sarcastic because traditional religion is the true culprit for all the hate).

I’ve learned to understand sexual abuse, mental illness, suicide and PTSD, all first hand from students, friends and family. I’ve had to live with structural and physical maladies that have greatly altered and challenged my life. Yet in all these times, that in spite of these challenges I was always aware of and felt God’s presence. In fact, all these challenges gave root to all of Jesus teachings for me. The Gospel doesn’t make sense in a perfect hardship free life. Personally, I’ve endured misogyny and abuse, and also great and deep love and support. It’s true, that when you most need them, in the darkest of times special people enter your life to be what you need, and then are on their way.

My latest destination on my journey is to this small little hamlet on the St Croix river. It is insular and safe, uncomplicated and many times without the challenges of the greater world. It was a good place to raise my children except I could never let them be part of the bubble that can exist here. I had walked too far for that. I left my church here, and found another that had a more open world view. And to my boys, I know I forced you to give your Christmas to a poor family, invite the fringe to all your birthday parties, serve on mission trips and study  the bible, and challenge every assumption or stereotype you threw in my face. I demanded you research and listen and be open to others, and dad, more than me made you put only good things in your bodies. Hopefully you will thank me for it some day, cause I am sure proud of how you turned out. We have a wonderful business that brings health to our community and our patients are some of the best people I have ever known.

So after all these steps, this is why I refuse to stand for bigotry and hate. This is why I stand for all my LBGTQ brothers and sisters. This is why I will fight for people of all ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political ideologies. This is why I stand for truth and will never shy away from pointing out inaccuracies that so deeply penetrate our media today. This is why I try so hard to root the Gospel in the most subtle of actions and behaviors. I am who I am, never to be pigeon holed into a left or right column, or belittled by any limiting moniker. My path is one of power and love, because I am a child of God and these are MY shoes. And as a servant of Christ I will fight for your shoes too.

 

Forces to be Reckoned With

full of hopeThere is a sweet thing going around Facebook…its a love your spouse challenge, posting pictures for seven days. I was tagged…I hate being tagged, not because I don’t love my husband, I do. I just don’t do the picture or display thing. Please don’t hate me because I’m not a follower. So rather than pictures of us standing together, here is why I stand with him and for him…and then let me be done please.

Beyond all the typical stuff people fall in love and get married for (he is good looking, my man…), I had never met someone who was so good period…in the sense that he couldn’t formulate a malevolent thought if you paid him a lot of money. It isn’t part of his nature to connive or manipulate, those of you who know him know that he is true to the core. It is part of his make up not just to be good, but to do good in the world as well. It is the central driving force of his life’s path. Part of my own altruism is sustained by being partnered with someone whose passion in life is to do good in the world. We are both people of deep honesty and integrity, which sustains the goodness in our hearts and our actions.

He is uncomplicated emotionally. He is exactly who he is, untethered and unrestrained. I am complicated and intense, an old soul that holds the struggle of the world in my heart and on my shoulders. I think I bring him to a deeper place and he challenges me to lighten the hell up. It hasn’t always been easy dancing the simple/complex dance, but this dance is what we signed up for and we trust each other to keep it going. Neither of us are quitters.

He despises controversy and confrontation, and works hard to find common ground and celebrate everyone…even those who have been unfair or unkind. I don’t like controversy and confrontation either, although both are easy for me because I see them as a road to find common ground and celebrate everyone, although I struggle with people being unfair or unkind. People wonder how we can work together everyday. It is a balancing act, embracing what each of us do best and it works..except when he tries to micromanage me, or my tone is a bit too rapier…our patients, I’m sure, have plenty of stories. It is, though, a place of healing and love. You see we share that commitment to not only bringing out the good in ourselves, but helping to bring it out in others too, especially by restoring their health.

We allow each other to be imperfect. In a world that is trending toward vanity and perfectionism, we don’t have to be anyone but ourselves with each other. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we don’t get under each other’s skin, or that we don’t fight or throw tantrums or are always on the same page. It simply means that we are not conditional. Our marriage is neither temporary nor a fairy tale. It is so much bigger than that. When we face trials of sickness, death, balancing business and finances, or the growing pains of our sons, I am there for him and he for me. We both take our promises to each other seriously. I have to remind myself of how lucky I am, with my back issues and autoimmune struggles, that he can be that support I need.

The most important thing that we hold as a priority is a deep and abiding faith in God. While we both express it differently, I am more cerebral and he more through nature, we both know that our life works because we believe there is a God who is great and loves and supports us unconditionally. Our faith doesn’t work if we declare a deep love of God, but not from one another. We try to manifest God’s love in our lives everyday, hospitality is very important to both of us. Some days its hard and we fail. So we just try harder the next day.

Beyond all that…everybody loves Steve, who can compete with that?

 

A Model to Follow

flagThis Memorial weekend I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sacrifice. To all the veteran’s out there, I thank you and words cannot express the deep gratitude I feel for your service. We are able to continue our great American Experiment due, in large part, to the great sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. I believe most Americans, regardless of which side of the fence they sit on, honor you for that. Regardless of the lowlifes out there who capitalize on this weekend to breed ever more hatred for their opponents, claiming “ownership” of being a real and true American, I believe all Americans shine with pride on this day for our brave men and women of the military. It does a disservice to politicize it…even if you are in uniform, you are not sacrosanct to vilify your fellow citizens either. No one gets a free pass to condemn anyone. It defeats the purpose of the sacrifice, which is to maintain freedom for all. I tread carefully here, because while I will never undervalue those who fought in war, there are also other ways to fight, to lead, to serve, to evolve our country into something even better that demanded the sacrifice of life too. Their sacrifices are no less valuable and I honor them on this weekend too.

While I have not served in the military, I have spent my life in service. The model I have used was the core to my vocation, from the Gospel of John 13:12-15:

So when Jesus washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at the table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master and nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

Throughout all my life though, as my understanding grew, this model Jesus set for us is so much more than humbling oneself to wash another’s feet. It is how we must look at each other…the master equals the servant. In one simple motion, Jesus disassembles one of the most embedded notions of cultural  hierarchy, that there are those who deserve privilege and others who don’t…and says that we are all the same, no one is better than the other. No amount of societal consequence, propriety, adulation or even condemnation can make any set of eyes looking into mine any greater or lesser. I can honor their gifts or challenge their flaws without placing them above or below my gaze.

So when I celebrate this day, I do so not only for those who have sacrificed their lives, but to honor that sacrifice by holding myself to the highest standard for what a real American looks like: a beacon to the rest of the world, while acknowledging my power as a citizen of the most powerful country in the world, I embrace the model that Jesus set for me, not lording over, or looking down on, but helping others to rise up to their greatest potential. Our greatness depends on an America committed to building the strengths of its citizens and on leaders who are not kings, but who model the example of humility and service and return our gaze with equality and respect.

 

525,600 Minutes and So Much More

save our starving children 1 save our starving children 2 stave our starving children 3Numbers are generally not my forte, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them, or understand their significance in our lives.  There is a great song lyric from the song, “Seasons of Love”, from the musical “Rent’ that I love: 525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year.”  This weekend, working at a “Feed My Starving Children” event at Osceola High School, less than 250 high school students, faculty, and a handful of parents, assembled 300,000 meals. That means 822 children will be fed for a year, 432,043,200 precious minutes of life sustained and celebrated. Actually that last number gave me goose bumps because 432 is a sacred number, (for my science and religion students, Joseph Campbell pointed out the significance of this number), as well as the square root of the speed of light, and how the golden mean is exemplified in sound (432Hz tuning).  And this very number is repeated twice in those precious minutes we helped save this past weekend!

I’ve been focusing on these words of Jesus this year, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” and “Every good tree bears good fruit.” This event was the perfect, shining, harmonic example of everything Jesus was talking about.  By the hands of the few, many are saved.  So many good trees, bearing good fruit.  There is nothing more powerful than that.  It was done with joy, celebration and mad organization by the staff of “Feed My Starving Children” and Joel and Heidi Hazzard who sponsored the event. Duplicating loaves and fishes and even moving mountains doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply joining together and working together can accomplish amazing things. Congress could learn a lot from these young people, who came together from all different social groups to work in concert together and accomplish an amazing goal.  I’ve always said the most extraordinary things are accomplished by ordinary (and yet amazing) people.

Ask and Receive

law and prophetsI’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed.  Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own.  The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost.  While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”  While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.

Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things”  God would never give us anything harmful.  I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify.  So how then, do we know what good is?  What follows gives us a clue.  Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”  He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”.  The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.

So what is good fruit?  Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power?  I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray.  Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree).  It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit.  Pretty much sums it all up.

Breaking Bias

Breaking bias

Full Definition of BIAS

1
:  a line diagonal to the grain of a fabric; especially :  a line at a 45 degree angle to the selvage often utilized in the cutting of garments for smoother fit
a :  bent, tendency

b :  an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice

 

c :  an instance of such prejudice

d (1) :  deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) :  systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

4
a :  a voltage applied to a device (as a transistor control electrode) to establish a reference level for operation

b :  a high-frequency voltage combined with an audio signal to reduce distortion in tape recording

It seemed timely to post about bias because of the turmoil that is going on in Ferguson right now, that and a tortured call from my eldest son at 4 in the morning who, while trying to be the voice of fact and reason, was obliterated by a friend who challenged him as a privileged white person with deep racial overtones.  Understandably,  he is nothing like that, we didn’t raise him that way, but upsetting nonetheless.  It isn’t always helpful in the face of such raw emotion to be challenged on the lack of factual information.  Ferguson triggered a  powder keg of emotions that have been festering for a long time .  Justifiable or not, this kind of raw emotionally charged situation, already escalated by a media that capitalizes on frenzied, angry incitement and violence, has to be approached with the delicacy of a political surgeon, and not by online postings that polarize the situation further.  The horrible events that happened that day were so entrenched in a long history that none of us were directly involved in and can ever know accurately.  Telling someone in the throws of that kind of emotion to calm down or keep a level head, no matter how well intended, never sits well.

All of us are bias.  It is the inevitable result of a solitary perspective.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing…just a simple truth.  But to perpetuate that singular perspective by insulating yourself with only those who think like you do is how situations in Ferguson get out of control.  I’ve always told my children that true empathy must be rooted in caring for another plus factual information about something you’re not directly involved in because it will give you the necessary tools to help more effectively.  I had a great Evidence prof in law school that hammered that notion home: if information presented does not lead to the truth of the matter at hand, it should be excluded.  It is also why we don’t watch Fox news or MSNBC at my house…they are too biased, and often irreverently so.  I’m sure that will get me in trouble with some, but hey…I’m one of those fools who actually believes that the truth will set me free.

I don’t know how to solve the problems in Ferguson, it’s horrifying to watch and so beyond my wheelhouse of experience that it feels almost impossible to find the truth I desperately need to broaden my perspective.  Everywhere I turn I see bias that distorts whatever truth may exist out there.  That isn’t an excuse to forgo any conversation, because while I may never know what really happened there, I do know that addressing issues dealing with race, violence, police mistrust and the questionable way this whole crisis was handled have to be part of the solution.  I won’t say that level heads must prevail because that would be my bias…but I will say for those of us on the outside who cannot offer any solutions at this point, we should shut up and listen more, that would certainly go along way for the people of Ferguson.

 

Angels in Disguise

holy spiritIn a world where so much goes wrong, it can be easy to wonder where all the heavenly help has gone. You know, you hear all those stories of mystical beings springing out of nowhere to save the day, never to be found again to be thanked, but I wonder…is that the exception for angelic behavior, or the rule? I know Jesus inferred many times that heralded help may not always be what it appears, wolves in sheep’s clothing, thieves in the night. So how do we know? Is it a good standard to escape the pain and difficulty that are almost essential to mastering the game of life? Is it logical to surmise that when things go our way, heaven is behind us and when they don’t we are being punished or plagued by a demon? I say unequivocally, no it isn’t logical…but then again neither is God. That isn’t to say that God can’t behave logically. God just isn’t defined by it. Logic is a human invention to help make sense of life and discover truth. It will never be a primary tool to uncover and understand the divine.

So then, it’s complicated. If heaven is beyond and not limited by our comprehension, how do we know when help is near…and more importantly when it’s not, and we are just being duped into deeper and deeper illusion? That’s when I rely on the teachings of Jesus. I truly believe in the realm of angels, because Jesus did. And while I may not understand all that entails, I do understand Jesus when he described the different kinds of people who would follow his words.  The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a perfect description of those who abide by his teachings: there are those who are more shallow and the words never take hold, those who don’t hold them deep enough and forget the minute things get rough, those whose would use them for their own thorny purpose and choke the life out the message, and finally, those who let them deep into the soul and nurture them till they bear fruit. I always pray that I am of the latter, but time and humility will tell.

That’s how I feel about angels. I am aware that I need a lot of help if I am to nurture this seed of faith that I’ve been given. In hindsight, though, my personal magical moments hardly ever consisted of being swooped up and saved by a heavenly messenger, rather it usually meant knowing I could survive the pain of heaven peeling away the darkness and replacing it something brighter and more pure, whatever the situation. Angels don’t make our lives easier, they help us make it better, and that sometimes means harder. They direct us down a better road, often the least traveled or obvious. They help us defy and ascend logic by demanding faith in that which we cannot yet see, but have been told to be real. Their presence is with us all the time, yet because of free will, requires our permission to assist in sowing the sacred soil of the soul.  The fruit of which, is to extend an angelic hand to someone else, not necessarily to save, but to serve.

Embracing Karma

IMG_1968Karma has been a huge thing in my life, you know the concept of what ever you put out in the universe comes back to you tenfold.  I embrace this philosophy in particular, not only because it inspires hope in doing what I think is right regardless of whether or not my motivation is apparent, but also because the universe has seen fit to keep my comeuppance to about 10 seconds, when I don’t do what I know is right.  I’ve learned that it is much easier to just tell the truth, be honest and accept responsibility when necessary.  I know that God understands me to the core, and also that as pig-headed as I can be, I generally learn my lesson.

A while ago, (the spiral perm says it all) I was hired to speak at a large city church about perspective, being wounded and forgiveness.  There were to be a few hundred people there, and my talk focused around an elementary school teacher I had, that according to my recollection had treated me quite unfairly (she once made me stick my head in the desk to suffer the humiliation of Eve).  Thoughts of her always made me feel sad and wounded, and it was truly my first experience of being judged as a “naughty girl”  I even think that I was going to forgive her at the end of the speech.

Just as I was about to take the pulpit, the pastoral minister approached me and said that someone had seen my name in the bulletin and wanted to say hello before I started.  I know you know exactly who it was.  It was that teacher.  She literally ran over to me, grabbed me in an embrace and said that she always wondered what happened to one of her favorite students, yeah, I know.  I was baffled.  How had she retained such different memories?  I was completely thrown off my game and gave one of the first extemporaneous speeches of my career.  I  can’t even remember what I said…except that once I realized that my hurt was more personally manufactured than an actual occurrence, I immediately began to wonder how many people out there remembered me as “that person” who was a cause of pain, and was completely clueless about it.

Perspective is a funny thing.  Sometimes we are completely unaware of what we are throwing out there.  What we may see as good and right, maybe hurtful to another.  I am always mindful of that when I walk in the world.  I trust the universe will always let me know when I need clarity.  Now, when I think of that teacher, I am mindful not to waste emotional energy on perhaps a flawed perspective.  She has become a part of a great life lesson instead of a lingering memory of a hurt little girl.

Healing the Body

getting betterI take all the struggles in the world a bit too personally because I do believe that none of us is insulated from the pain, that we are all connected to each other.  When I look at the world and try to see it as the body of Christ, I see so many wounds in need of healing.  I see the different parts of the body fighting for supremacy and importance.  I am reminded of what Paul said in the first letter of Corinthians: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, let all parts share its joy”.  So, a midst a tumultuous and suffering world, part of my regimen of zen is to take stock of the things that cause suffering, but also those things that I can honor and celebrate.  In so doing I can be more effective in creating peace and balance, not only for myself but the world.

While I realize that I am just one person, I also know I am only as effective as I believe I can be.  I know how easy it is to give into despair and hopelessness given all that bad that happens every day.  The past paralysis of my face is a good metaphor (almost fully healed, by the way).  When one gets too immersed in the pain in the world, and I see it every day as part of my job, it’s easy to turn to an isolated insular state of existence.  That is what Paul commands us not to do.  So, I breathe, take in some quiet and look to the healing that I’m surrounded by every day.  Since it feels like I am at our clinic all the time, it’s easy to for me to be immersed in the function and bypass the miracles that happen here each and every day.  We are blessed to have an amazing group of patients who are already keyed into the magic that happens at our clinic.  Some you out there may have heard of us, some have not.  But I do know it is a true center of healing and wellness in the world.

I know there are plenty of testimonials on Steve’s blog, which you can link to from this site as well as on his  you tube channel.  I would have linked them all, but for some reason, I couldn’t embed the links into this post.  All I know, is that Edling Chiropractic is an incredible place of healing in a world that too often, puts cost and convenience above health.  I am surrounded by the many lives our clinic has touched every day, and I know there are countless more that we could help.  I am grateful to Steve for patiently working on my autoimmune issues and bringing my smile back.  I am grateful for all the successes we see each and every day, and the wonderful people who are committed to their health.  As many of you have been challenged to do on Facebook, being grateful abates the overwhelming despair that works so hard to take over our lives and wreck havoc on the body.  I am lucky to be part of Edling Chiropractic, and proud of the work Dr Edling does.  My smile is proof.

 

 

 

The In-Between

roads-divergingWhile I don’t claim to stand in the middle on every issue, knowing how passionately I feel about some things, I do venture there all the time.  Mostly, because I don’t trust my own bias.  I have learned throughout all my studies, in theology, education, leadership, and the law, that a singular perspective rarely reveals a complete truth.  Looking at an issue from inside the shoes of an opposite view can reveal a lot.  I have to admit I’ve understood a greater truth when I’ve ventured off my polar end and visited the other side of an issue.  What saddens me the most is that I get the distinct impression that acknowledging bias is akin to admitting a deep weakness or lack of faith in one’s ideals.  Even more so is the judgment from both ends that to venture off my post is being a flip-flopper or worse yet, a challenge my commitment to this country.

Looking at a problem from a 360 degree angle is the best way to understand it.  I have said it so many times before that I’ve begun to wonder if too many people have drunk the Kool-Aid offered by those who simply want to perpetuate the vitriol.  I am sickened by our Congress, just sickened, with law suits, temper tantrums, and hypocrisy.  It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that there are problems in this country, and I believe it is not unpatriotic to make that statement.  We are not the best anymore.  It is not the fault of our president, or the 1%.  We all have had a hand in the mess we are in, created by this horrible partisan war that is so stuck on blaming someone, in the most horrible fashion I might add, that we are no different than the Hatfields and the McCoys.  The response no less stupid, childish, and dangerous and plays to the weakest flaws of humanity.

So let me share these conclusions after hanging in the in-between: guns are a problem in this country…too many people have died, especially children.  So, second amendment extremists: just shut-up.  And to the invasion of privacy by our government: knock it off, we are not the Soviet Union.  Regarding the income disparity: The 1% have too much power, because money does talk…period.  To those who are struggling: I know how you feel, but working hard and innovation does work, feeling sorry for yourself and succumbing to being a victim does not.  I am amazed and proud how many helping hands are out there for those who are willing to invest in themselves and not rely on someone else fixing the problem.  I have honestly come in equal contact with innovative wealthy and poor, who are great hard working people who should be honored and not pigeon-holed into a stereotype.  It just isn’t fair.  But I’ve also met my share of slimy, entitled assholes too, both wealthy and poor, who would sell their soul for a better piece of the pie.  Neither end can claim freedom from skeleton’s in their closets…humanity is just too flawed.

What I worry about the most, though, standing in the in-between, is how little outrage there is, beyond hating the president, and immigrants, guns and the 1%, for the future of our children.  Sure, I’ve heard both side make claims that it’s the children they are fighting for, yet our public schools are still failing; children are deteriorating, both physically, mentally and spiritually.  The programs that could help them never come to fruition because there are too many powerful lobbies that keep standing in the way…and personal bias.  Our children are our greatest resource…we should be investing the most money in them, yet we don’t.  Any way you look at it is always a bad thing to allow children to fail.

There is one concluding issue I want to address while I am standing in the in-between.  It is a balancing act to hold true to a principle and yet remain open to the best way to handle it in a country of varied principles.  Yet, for this great American experiment to continue working, that is the most important commitment of holding a governmental office.  I know that those elected can’t always support my personal agenda, most intelligent people would understand that.  And I don’t use the word intelligent lightly…because I think there is an astonishing lack of intelligence in government today.  There is a definite blurred line when it comes to who has the proper training and credentials to run for office.  We should demand only the best and brightest to take on the complicated business of running our country…which is why I take great offence to people like Joe Blow who think they can do a better job, just like I wouldn’t want a plumber to do surgery on me, any more than I would want a plumber as a president.   I mean no disrespect to plumbers…I trust them implicitly by having them fix any and all problems at my house. As one who studied law, though, I do believe that lawyers better understand the intricacies of all that the constitution demands and are better suited for higher office.  That is my personal bias, challenged quite often, which is why after my venture to the in-between, I learned to be open to those who are committed to service because they are called to do so…but only after they become prepared by understanding the workings of government and putting personal agenda’s aside for the whole of their constituency.  That is a rarity today…it just is.  Sound bites from positions on social media and cable news prove how little understanding there is about how government works.  It astonishes me, more than I can convey.  The people who claim to think they can actually do a better job with so little background is as bizarre to me as the same person thinking that they could perform surgery, without the proper training…  I believe that to the bottom of my heart….I took government and constitutional law…it’s hard, for a reason.

The one final thought I would implore those who embrace their own polarity, don’t buy into the bullshit that those on the other side are evil.  They are not.  There are wonderful people on both ends who want the same thing and are grown up enough to hammer out their difference to come up with greater solutions.  Go find them.

 

 

With Privilege, comes Responsibility

privilegeI tell my sons this all the time.  Much of the lifestyle we live, is earned and I am proud of that.  As much, however, is not.  I am always mindful of that I live in a rich country, have freedoms that others fought for, have the ethnicity that offers more opportunity to me than to others.  I am gifted spiritually by Grace, and perfected by God’s sacrifice.  I am NOT entitled to anything, except the opportunity to love as Jesus did and help bring light to a world that often seems dimmed by smoke and subterfuge…so that we cannot see that we are blessed, created by and vindicated by God.

I can’t help thinking that if we really believed that we were greatly privileged, and wore that greatness as a badge of honor, we would embrace the responsibility to love and honor each other so much more easily.  We’ve been lulled into believing that we will never have enough, will never be enough, and the world’s acceptance matters.  We should be better at it by now, you know, loving one another and being the Body of Christ.  We are way too obsessed about gaining what is rightly ours…when nothing really is, in this temporal world, all is fleeting and none of it will matter in the next world.

I know it doesn’t mean we stop practically living in the world, but we would live differently if we really believed that we could.  I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell all you have and follow me”.  With the privilege of Grace, comes responsibility.

Embracing the Simple Things

hand_wateringI used to spent a long time pondering why Jesus used such simple parables and metaphors in sharing the blueprint for building the Kingdom of God.  It all seems so basic and simple, yet we are still so far from the goal. This is how I explain why: if we can’t begin to see God in the smallest scenarios of our own lives, and apply those simple truths to everyday experiences, then there is no possible way for us to begin to apply them on a grander scale, or to use his parables, like planting a seed in shallow ground, or those who pray for just show.  Jesus’ stories eliminate every excuse we can manufacture for why we don’t live God’s  dream for us everyday.   So, while I do try to learn from those simple parables, I try not to focus on my failures but become inspired in even the simplest of tasks I can do that work for change and growth.  Who knows what the result will be far down the line, but it is encouraging to know that every small effort is part of something infinitely larger, that even in my small way I help create the stuff that dreams are made of.  I may not live long enough to see the fruits of my labor, but I am thankful that my effort, whatever comes of it down the line, can be like the mustard seed that Jesus spoke of, so small, but when planted deep into good soil, and nurtured will become  something much bigger and greater.

Foodie

clementine chickensweet potato and black bean chiliportabello and eggspaghetti squash casseroleavacado hummusbake chicken with sweet potato and carrotsThe phrase, “eating healthy is too expensive” causes such a deep visceral reaction in me that I literally see red.  I have to take a beat and get to my zen place before I respond.  We are a wasteful nation with horrible priorities.  It frustrates me that people spend more on cars, than their own bodies.  It saddens me that people can drop a wad on vacation, tanning package, and wardrobe included, but will consciously put toxins in their bodies.  It’s acceptable to spend copious amounts of money on making a body look good, and completely disregard what it needs to function.  Eating healthy doesn’t have to cost all that much, except that you’ll live longer…which costs money too.  It is all about perspective.  The money you spend at the grocery store, will save you money that you may otherwise spend at the doctor’s office, future prescriptions and heaven help any other malady you may come down with after eating crappy food and damaging your body for so long.

A body can not thrive on packaged, processed and chemically corrupted foods, or eating foods that make you feel ill afterwards, foods you may have a sensitivity to that subsequently run havoc on your body’s ability to function optimally.  It is time to stop whining and start treating your body right.

I believe the body is a temple.  It is the only tool we have to live our life to the fullest.  It is a biological masterpiece that deserves the same luxury treatment you give your car, or your pet, or whatever other indulgence that takes precedence.  It doesn’t have to be hard, we all have busy lives…but it does have to be a priority.

Being Remarkable

baby maryOn occasion, I will have a dream that is not only eye-opening, but trans-formative in its effect.  The details are not important, but the resulting clarity is.  How many of us can look in the mirror and with no doubt look at one’s reflection and see a remarkable person looking back?  I do, and for some reason I have always felt bad about that.  What I woke up this morning understanding, is that a large part of why I am remarkable is two-fold:1) recognizing the amazing gifts I’ve been given, now before you throw up…2) the remarkable part is that I also understand that I am as equally flawed…deeply so, which is also a gift in and of itself.  I know that I am flawed, and I’m OK with that…because you can only change what you can see.  When I became open to seeing my flaws, I could also see remarkable talent (please don’t get tired of the word…we all need to use it more often) 

We spend so much energy covering up the flaws that we think we have, so we can look perfect on the outside, that we refuse to recognize the raw materials that each of us were given to work with.  Those raw materials can’t be honed until we recognize that they exist.  Insecurity, low self-esteem, false pride, platitudes, and the inability to be objective about the lessons we are all given but refuse to learn from, keep us from seeing those gifts.  Wasting energy wallowing in the fact that we are flawed is wasted energy, developing gifts, can help us transform those flaws into virtues.

The most important thing I learned from my dream is that being able to see myself objectively is one of the things that makes me remarkable.  I am genuinely surprised when others can’t see themselves the same way….because they don’t see themselves as remarkable when they look in the mirror.  I am committed to pointing out the remarkable and not assuming that you know it.  The flaws you can figure out for yourself.