Fallen Fruit

fallen fruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

1988

001.JPG

My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.

It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.

002

I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.

We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.

There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.

009   010

I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.

014  1988 russia friend

Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.

012     011

My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.

We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.

Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.

me and Diana    1988 gala dinner

Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.

That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.

Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.

Walking on Water

walking-on-water-prank.jpg

Let me begin by saying this post is indeed political and may indeed seem polarizing, but it has nothing to do with political parties or the election per say. As part of my year of clarity, which is almost at an end by the way, I remain committed to see the world as Christ intended when he said blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Having come so far, I certainly am not going backward now. In many ways, this year has been a torturous stripping away of every illusion, every chain and old belief that I held onto as an appeasement to my fears, insecurities and those beliefs that limit my personal evolution. I never anticipated what asking for the eyes to see and ears to hear would do to my life. It was upended. Be careful what you pray for, I’ve heard. And as much as I had no idea how naive my request was, I remained stalwart through every point of this journey, sometimes to the detriment of my health and personal psyche. I also want to say, while not everyone is a Christian like I am, I hope you will appreciate the conclusions I’ve come to anyway. Today, I am Peter, when Jesus was walking on water:

Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified, “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Even after all I’ve learned and how deep my faith has become having answered Jesus when he said “Come,” now that I am here standing amidst the turbulence, I am trying not to be afraid, trying not to sink into the depths. I have the benefit of hindsight that Peter didn’t. I already know Jesus response, “oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” In this moment of such turbulence, I will not let fear falter my journey. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid, I just simply reject the doubt so I don’t sink. I will walk on water regardless of my fear. I will respond to Jesus command when he says come. So what does that even look like? This may take a moment, so please bear with me until the end.

For that last few weeks, I have pondered, and worried a bit over Jesus words in Matthew 10 when he describes the world they, as disciples, would venture into:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more that me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his/her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses her/his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he/she is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous person because she/he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of theses little one’s to drink because he/she is a disciple-amen, I say to you, surely he/she will not lose their reward.

Life as a disciple is often life shattering. It is an ultimate test of loyalty and faith. If we succeed, we can walk on water. Call it whatever you will, a metaphor, a means to make the unfathomable, fathomable…I really don’t care. What I really care about is that regardless of the fear that holds many of us paralyzed right now, we must keep walking, we follow Jesus command to come. We refuse to doubt and be one of little faith. We do what seems at the moment to be the impossible. Because with God, all things are possible…right?

Now, here is where it gets tricky for me. As many of you know, I have friends who are democrat and republican. I embrace and accept that different ideologies exist. We’ve all walked different journeys and have embraced our own conclusions about what we’ve seen. I have friends who are religious and non-religious alike. So, my beef isn’t about that, hence the latter scripture that speaks about peace vs the sword. Here is my beef. Political ideologies, in essence, belong to Caesar (see last post), and we give to Caesar in our own way. How we express those ideologies most definitely leaks into giving to God what is Gods. So this is when the fear grips me most deeply. When you use an ideology to set others apart, to demean or demoralize them, to treat them disrespectfully you are not a being a disciple of Christ. When you cross the line in defaming your opposition, someone who doesn’t support the candidate you do, you are not being a disciple of Christ. That doesn’t mean the conversations about ideas won’t be difficult and painful. Where it became appalling to me in this election cycle was the deeply vicious and slanderous way people shared their opinions and almost never to anyone’s face. I always thought that to the people who know me, they know I’m a good person and so would listen to things from my perspective as well as their own and  that they wouldn’t dismiss me or talk about me behind my back because I thought differently than they did, or get angry when I expected truth beyond salacious innuendo. I am not a bad person because I voted a certain way. Winning this election doesn’t give you God’s stamp of approval, God doesn’t give a shit about who won this election. But losing this election doesn’t give you the right to give up all hope or hate the other party either, God has clear opinions about those kinds of judgement too.

Being immersed in an environment that often is diametrically opposed to my most core beliefs has at times been difficult for me, but I’ve adapted because I’ve learned to see the deep goodness in the people who surround me. It has always been my prayer that others would offer me the same accord and it grieved me when that didn’t always happen. This year of clarity has given me freedom from that concern. I don’t care if you judge me, because my journey is sacred. I’ve said this before, that until you walk in another’s shoes you can never understand or judge their journey and I’ve worked hard to try and do that. So I implore people to listen to, and most importantly actually see those who are hurting right now and try and understand why. Sometimes seeing life through another’s eyes isn’t pretty, especially since it challenges our assumptions. There are people of color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, different levels of education and economics, who are devastated by the situation they are in today and the implications they may face come with deep feelings often times fear and rage. But when you take time to really see them and hear them, and break the confines of a limited perspective, fear diminishes and the walk gets easier, kind like gliding on water.

And yet to those who remain convinced that the problems we face are someone else’s fault, or that your “side” has the license on righteousness or God’s imprimatur, or that the answer lies in one person’s judgement against another, I choose to stand against you, whatever side of the aisle that puts you on. To refuse to recognize that we are all of us together, citizens who should all enjoy the the same self evident truths that are the cornerstone of this great country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is simply unacceptable to me. So, as a Christian, my sword will be lovingly raised, and wielded in every moment the Spirit deems fit. Go ahead hate me, reject me, whatever. I choose to answer the call and walk on water.

 

Letters from my Father

016.JPG

7/12/1928-10/11/2016

During this painful waiting time, while my father comes to terms with the finality of his corporeal life, I dug out all the letters my father wrote to me in college. They are incredibly thoughtful and wise. Here are some excerpts from the many letters I received, listed non-chronologically:

About my personality:

God has ways of doing what is best even though we don’t realize it. It is not as though you have never been told that you are too harsh, though. You do lack a sensitivity to people at times, and you are aggressive. I dearly love you and know you better than they, but at times you piss me off by that behavior. I know it’s a cover for other feelings and I yet I still feel that way. However, I wouldn’t change you much. I would never want you to be meek. I want you to grow to be comfortable with you, who you are now and what you will become. I would want you to be more sensitive to people. Learn to read their feelings and respond accordingly. You are so wonderfully strong and I want no less, but your strength should not ever be to cover a weakness or fear. Is this confusing? I know, because I’m not sure how to say it. I have been hurt by similar things but have grown as a result and hopefully have become better. Sometimes, we must have things pointed out to us that we don’t see. It is most important for you that you work with it, test it and grow. You are almost perfect…but not quite! I think of you and pray for you, do the same for us. I continue my love and support, but no money…Ha! Ha! Harrumph.

and yet again:

Nice to hear from you, but you sound up-tight. What do I say. You’re always so anxious you know you must simply relax and take things slower. You will go over the herd. You see so much and are so interested, you see so many different ramifications that others are not with you. Not that your’e wrong you’re so ahead that people don’t always know what point you’re coming from. However, you always question everything. Perhaps its time for you to accept things as you learn then file them not to question them. You must learn quietness, acceptance, patience and slowness. Things must be questioned and challenged (this is a logical process) but not with the intensity that you go at it. All life is a process. As you proceed in life or in literature or studying theology, by your humanness, you are forced to go step by step until we get to the end which for people of faith we never do. Our concepts are imperfect and constantly changing. Even our knowledge of God changes, although God doesn’t. This is what makes life so interesting. We go step by step and learn more and more and try to enjoy where we are at each moment. That is why there is always a need for scholarship. But good scholars are patient. You can’t skip the middle of the book. You might like to know, or even re-write the final chapter, but until you have the means… you can’t. Enjoy what God Gives us each minute, patiently, slowly and learn more and change according to the plan. Un-hunch your shoulders my darling, study and learn but just not with such ferocity but a thankful, patient slowness. Enough homily, but I demand you relax and take life a little easier.

His humor:

I’m surprised to hear that there was a bee that had enough guts to attack you. Obviously the poor thing was suffering from delusions of grandeur…and then died

On a men’s bible study:

I started a Bible class on Saturday morning for men only. We are going to study from the Wisdom tradition, Proverbs, etc. It will be a new, different opposite from the traditional. It was very good and the book we have to read is exciting. Basically, the point of view is that man is made a free individual who God trusts. A man, in his scope, makes decisions and hopefully they are worthy ones that he must live with the outcomes. Unlike traditional beliefs, culture is pleasing to God because he has given man the power to create and this is our greatness. Less emphasis on “saviorhood” of Jesus and more on his humanity because God wants us, like David, to embrace life, now, daily-not to suffer life and be rewarded in heaven. Heaven is now or should be, and also after. So man must be concerned about his community (culture) and his fellow man because we are brothers of Jesus, in terms of justice and peace, etc. right now. We should know life and God trusts us to do the right thing: this is more responsible than saying man is degenerate and weak and asking God to handle all our problems. This kind of prayer always baffled me…asking God to take care of everything. If I was somewhat God-like in power because of Jesus why would I cast them aside and make myself less? I always pray out of thanksgiving and love not of weakness. Although at times I say this is what’s going on and I can’t handle it God. Somehow, I think this is OK but I don’t know why. The important thing is that God trusts us, life is great. Even though we make mistakes God is not angry. He is if we don’t do what is life giving. I guess it is better to over live than under live. The ideas are so very exciting!!!

About speaking in tongues at during the charismatic movement:

When we prayed the Confiteor at the beginning of mass, the priest said we should express our sorrow and love. I though, O.K., then everybody began to talk, and sing and clap very loud and independently of each other. It sounded like a symphony orchestra warming up. I stood amazed, flustered, and I suppose embarrassed. Suddenly as though by a pre-arranged signal all was quiet. It was an interesting phenomena but I was shaken momentarily. More than anything I felt like someone looking in a window at a party where I wasn’t invited. It was a slightly lonely experience. Then I thought the hell with it. I’ll come to your party if I damn well please any time I please. You’ll have to beat me up and throw me out. Isn’t that strange to feel all that at mass? Embarrassment, fear, love , anger all at the same celebration.

About politics:

The news on the political front is disturbing. It looks as if the Democratic party is splitting. Short (the candidate) does not represent the people as he says. He represents money and power. However, with diligence we will survive and the world will go on in spite of the political chicanery and volume of words with no meaning. This may be the first year in my life I’ll not vote. It does seem there is only solace in God.

About fundamentalism:

I’m flattered that you see me as an expert, which of course I’m not. You probably know more about the Bible than I. Your mother is the real expert. What I know, I know from listening to priests and your mom, but mostly from seat of the pant logic. I am glad you disagree with fundamentalism because to be narrow as they are apt to be, leads to a narrow frustrating life. They tend to gather around others like them and fail to find goodness in those who are not like them or put their own their own faith to tests of honesty. They’re good people but they stay status quo, with no growth. It seems to me they put limits on God. To me theology is a process of change which goes on continually in a life time. One must continually grow by learning new things, theologically. As you learn more your life changes in accordance. Everything you learn, in turn, must be challenged and tested. This is how you arrive at growth, or truth. I do not judge how others believe because ultimately we are responsible for our own Christian lives and we must act according to what we know to be the Truth at the time. Over a time we may prove to be wrong but only because we had insufficient knowledge or our logic was faulty. There is always so much we don’t know but we have to have faith that somehow God will reveal to us how right or wrong we are, and with way we grow. I’m sure God does not abandon us and sometimes things happen we cannot handle alone and we give it up to Him. I see you in everything I have said. You plan your own path well enough.

About the death of Hubert Humphrey:

I suppose you are aware by now of Hubert Humphrey’s death. I’m pleased and sad. He fought it so gallantly and he had enjoyed life. I’m sure he was a figure of stature we will not see in our lifetime again. Such an indomitable man, God must be very proud of Hubert for his just spirit, his true love of humanity and life. He had a full realization of what God has given us. What profound joy there must be in heaven where his spirit joined those whom God has loved and who loved God. I pray our lives are full of the justice, humanity and love that Hubert had. If all of us could exercise our power to one tenth of what he did, what a wonderful world and lives we could have. I hope his spirit still works in our lives and gives us hope.

I added the last note in the hopes that he understand that is exactly how I see him and his impending welcome into heaven. There are more letters to cherish and when he is gone they will give me comfort. That wisdom formed me, calmed me and still gives me hope. I love you dad, more than you can ever know.

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.

 

Beauty

cropped-cropped-cropped-gods-sunset.jpgI have been stumped on this one for days. My commitment to clarity has found fault in every attempt at bringing forward a response to the private sadness-es extended to me, the brokenness, and the unbearable burden of living in the skin that they’re in. Be it stress, self loathing, anxiety about the future, never fitting in…the list goes on and goes deep. I could write about societies skewed views on beauty, weight, identity, intelligence, gender, etc. but so many have done a better job at it…and I continued to feel like there was an idea, a word, a first step just outside my consciousness that others hadn’t addressed, that I could create a different context for. Then, this morning it came to me…Job.

While perusing the news and social media, I came across a post that made my blood boil about defining “who and what” is made in God’s eyes. In general, a pastor went on about who God intended men and women to be, which seemed completely contrary to everything I have ever understood about God. It was that moment when Job, in the Wisdom books of  the Old Testament, popped into my head. Here is a primer: Job has a wonderful life in every respect. God is reveling in how faithful he is, and the Devil speaks up and says, “well, sure he is…he has everything. Take it all away and he won’t be so faithful.” To which God replies emphatically, “Go ahead, take away all that he has, but do not harm him” The devil takes up this wager and takes everything and makes his life unbearable. Horrors unimaginable happen to him and throughout the story, Job’s friends and even his wife try to convince him that he had to have done something wrong to have received God’s wrath. Job wishes he had never been born, demanding answers from God. Then a man who claims to know God’s mind instructs Job in what he should do to get back in God’s graces. God has finally enough of people bombarding Job their opinions and claiming to know his mind. He goes on a long diatribe that begins like this:

Then the Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding? Who determined its size, do you know? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid the cornerstone?  While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the children of God shouted for joy? And who shut within the doors, the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, And said “Thus far shall you come, but no further, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!” Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown dawn its place? For taking hold of the ends of the earth, till the wicked are taken from its surface?…….

 

God goes on for pages asking questions that no one could know the answer to until Job finally responds:

Behold, I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth…I know you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know. I have heard you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.

God then sees that Job has learned and repented, and restores all his blessings.

What strikes me most in this time, with this old and wise story is how often I hear men and women preach about what is in the mind of God. I wish God would come down and say to them as clearly as he did in that ancient story, that unless you can answer the litany of questions that I posed to Job, don’t speak as an authority of what is in my mind! At 56 years old, I am still trying to figure that out, through many trials and errors. The arrogance of the judgments made in the name of God make me physically ill. But that doesn’t mean we can have no understanding at all, we have a history of faith to pull from. First and foremost, though, I think the place to start is to learn to see and appreciate the beauty that he created, including the beauty that is each and every one of us. If we can’t start there, with what is right in front of our eyes, then we can’t begin to understand the masterful construction of God in anything else. Seeing beauty as God does, counter intuitively must begin through our own eyes, the created, at our own reflection. Until that happens, any beauty we think we see or strive for out in the world is nothing but an illusion to try to become something other than what we are at this moment, which is loved by an omnipotent and magnificent God. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t take care of and nurture the beauty that we are, it just means we accept and celebrate the blueprint…which can include any amount of differentiation, like being born with the brain of one gender into the body of another gender. It is expressing that blueprint with each individual’s best effort and not defaming it in any way, regardless of the challenges, that we acknowledge the brilliance of God. Imagine how wonderful the world would be if each of us could just accept that God made us exactly the way we are for a reason and trusted us to do the best we can with what we have.

When an individual or group condemns one of God’s creations, be it gender, or size, or ethnicity, or class, it is also how we can know with surety that someone does indeed NOT speak God’s mind. There are no mistakes. When anyone says, “this creation is an abomination”, or denies the beauty of it, they move further away from understanding God. The New Testament is full of opportunities to see and hear things in a new way, the way God intended. When any person tried to trap Jesus into condemning anyone, he refused and usually threw the judgement back at the accuser, because all are welcome into God’s kingdom.. We need to be more like Job, recognizing our smallness compared to God, and admit that there is just too much out there that we cannot know, and most importantly humbly trust in God even though it might be beyond our understanding.

 

Of Purity and Principle

 

constitutionOf purity and principle…I’ve included the definitions of both words below because I, for one, believe that definitions matter. Too often words are used without the necessary respect for what, in purity and in principle, they actually mean causing confusion and misunderstanding. I hate that. In my commitment to clarity I will try my best to stay in tune. So, take a moment and become acquainted with pure and principle.

Full Definition of pure

purer purest

  1. 1a (1) :  unmixed with any other matter <pure gold> (2) :  free from dust, dirt, or taint <pure spring water> (3) :  spotless, stainless b :  free from harshness or roughness and being in tune —used of a musical tone c of a vowel :  characterized by no appreciable alteration of articulation during utterance

  2. 2a :  being thus and no other :  sheer, unmitigated <pure folly>b (1) :  abstract, theoretical <pure research> (2) :  a priori <pure mechanics>c :  not directed toward exposition of reality or solution of practical problems <pure literature>d :  being nonobjective and to be appraised on formal and technical qualities only <pure form>

  3. 3a (1) :  free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes (2) :  containing nothing that does not properly belong b :  free from moral fault or guilt c :  marked by chastity :  continent d (1) :  of pure blood and unmixed ancestry (2) :  homozygous in and breeding true for one or more characters e :  ritually clean

  4. 4:  having exactly the talents or skills needed for a particular role <a pure shooter in basketball>

Full Definition of principle

  1. 1a :  a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) :  a rule or code of conduct (2) :  habitual devotion to right principles <a man of principle>c :  the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device

  2. 2:  a primary source :  origin 3a :  an underlying faculty or endowment <such principles of human nature as greed and curiosity>b :  an ingredient (as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality

In particular, I want to focus on 3a (1) of pure: free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes. And from 1a of principle: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption. OK, now let’s look at the four principles of our American Constitution:

  1. All people are created equal,
  2. All people are endowed with basic rights that cannot be taken away,
  3. The power the government has to make decisions and protect the rights of people comes from the people, and
  4. When the government does not protect the rights of the people, the people have the right to change or remove the government.

In order to keep these principles pure, that is free from what vitiates, weakens or pollutes them, we have to master and appreciate them in order. Any politician who would work against these fundamental principles, cannot in the purest, most principled sense of the definition represent the people effectively. You don’t pick someone for office to defeat someone else. You pick someone who is best suited for the job.

Section 4 of the definition of pure states:having exactly the talents or skills needed for a particular role. Anyone running for office, in order to defend our most sacred principles, must embrace and defend ALL of the citizenry. If a primary goal is not to unify and work with the entire populace, then they don’t have the requisite talent for the job. Campaigns should be based on the habitual devotion to right principles, those laid out in our constitution, the hows of which should be defined by now…and are not.

America, we are a diverse and free people. We will never all think alike or agree. A two party system is one way to balance that diversity. But I wonder, though, how many people are actually acquainted with the principles that define these parties. Both have some noble ideals, and it is those ideals that need to remain pure, especially from the standpoint of a campaign. Because if the behavior of those running for office, run contrary to the purity of those principles, then no one wins.

It’s about time we hold ourselves to a higher standard. We need problem solvers, visionaries, peace makers and dreamers. We need someone who inspires us to face difficulty without fear, because we know we are not alone in this. We all need to trust that anyone charged to be our commander in chief knows that we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The sacred trust that they hold in purest principle is that they must be devoted, in service to us.

 

 

 

 

Can Optimism Rule?

julian-of-norwichI have to say, this one is a tough one to write. It’s tough because I am, at heart, an eternal optimist. Maybe its the way my brain is wired, or faith, or experience, or insight…or delusion, or any combination of therein. My life has not been easy or tragedy free. All I know, deep in my gut, my core is that all will be well and all manner of things will be well. So it is hard to admit, given how I’m wired…why I’ve struggled with pessimism lately.

Pessimism, you weigh heavy on the world like a thick blanket, and rightly so I suppose, given the circumstances, be it depression, disease, violence, poverty, isolation, ignorance or evil, it can be overwhelming. I have to remind myself daily, no hourly, and sometimes minute by minute that being an optimist doesn’t reject those bad things in the world, it simply means that you decide not to be defined or defeated by them. Life is, at times, hard and depressing because that is its nature. Hardship often presents the greatest lessons and growth, the most poignant evolution. And while my rational mind scoffs at this obvious conclusion, my emotional, more intuitive side stamps its foot at the difficulty and discomfort of it all. It’s at this point of the book when I want to skip over the hard and scary parts and jump to the conclusion and see how it all ends.

I know my life and movement is tethered to the many, that my single commitment to optimism is doomed if others can’t be swayed to jump on the hope train. The reason is that my faith demands that I be part of a larger body and help make it work. I am not alone, and yet I feel alone a lot of the time. There is unrest and anger that inhibits the function of the larger body I am part of. There is fear there too, paralyzing fear. Fear that is covered up by institutional mandates and paranoia that on the surface state that they are there for our own protection, but really serve no other purpose but to cut out those parts of the body that are felt to be less honorable. Remember what Paul said:

those parts of the body we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety. Whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Being an optimist does require embracing at the most fundamental level that the dynamic gifts of each person on this planet are essential to keeping the body of Christ functional  in transforming our world to make it better. So to all you pessimists out there, if you can’t embrace the dynamic gifts of those you hold to be less honorable, then you doom us all. Your pessimism halts the function of the body. It makes it weak and susceptible to the very evils that were vanquished by the death, and resurrection of Christ.

I am vague on who the less honorable are, because they are different for every individual. You may hold gay people as less honorable, or transgender people, or straight people, poor people, or rich people, or powerful people, or famous people, or beautiful people,or the sick, the dying, the imprisoned. It doesn’t really matter who. What really matters is that you, pessimist, with your inability to see that each person is essential in God’s eye, limit the power and function of the most powerful body in existence. A body that has the superpowers of Grace and love, and a gospel of instructions on how to make the body move. It would be easy for me to tell you to get lost, find another body to be part of, but then I would be no better than you. My anger would keep me from recognizing your value, your part to play. So let me say this: my optimism trumps your pessimism. I do know the ending to this story, and I win. So win with me, say over and over again that all things shall be well and all manner of things shall be well, and soon your eyes will be open to the world I wake up to every day. As dark as the world may seem, know that the battle is won. When God is with us (and I mean all of us) who can be against us?

Being an optimist begins with you, it means embracing this truth: you are an essential ingredient in maintaining, sustaining and transforming our human evolution. It means that you have impact and worth regardless of any feedback. You act, because you know on even the smallest level that you can move the world forward. Let it bring a smile to your face, a confidence that you have never had before. No one, not even the most pessimistic hater can ever take that away. Let me honor you, celebrate you and share your joy. And if you can’t, know that I will suffer with you, and pray for your transformation.

 

The Decline of American Civilization, Part III: Hedonsim

hedonismFirst, excuse my absence…I came down with a horrible influenza that seems to have afflicted pretty much everyone I know in one shape or form. I am on the mend, and see now that my absence has been fortuitous in completing this series. Much has happened over the last few weeks that I don’t think any of us could have predicted, except to say that there is an eerie prescient quality to much of what I’ve written over the last year or so.

So let me begin here: we are falling like many great civilizations have done before. The words of George Santayana keep ringing in my head: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” There are certain qualities that most failed empires seemed to fall victim to: 1) decline of education, 2) increase in materialism, 3) devaluing human life, 4) immorality, 5) decay of religion, 6) loss of respect for traditions, 7) a general weakening of cultural foundations, 8) polarization of the classes. I know there are many more…but for the sake of brevity, let’s focus on these. How does a empire go from a great height to an immeasurable fall? To speak simply…hedonism.

Before you think I’m going all Puritan, I’m not. The philosophy of hedonism is rooted in pleasure as its primary goal. Please also note that I am not talking about happiness, which is a primary right/goal of each individual in America. Happiness and pleasure are not even close to being the same thing. Any truly civilized and moral and happy person should know this. Look to what lengths people strive for that pleasure high, whether it is sex, drugs, money, power, control, beauty, fame etc. it will never leave you satisfied or happy, but just wanting more. And wanting more at the exclusion of everyone else is part of the reason that we are in the place that we are in.

Greed with no consequence will widen the gap between those who have and those who don’t. The ones who have, create ways to justify why those who don’t have aren’t entitled to have what they have, and the ones who don’t have try desperately to become one of those who have so they can be on the right side of the wall (pun intended). And now we have plenty of charlatans who are promising that they will be the one to get us to the promise land…except they have no idea what or where that is.

I call forth the warning that Jesus gave to the rich young man who wanted eternal life:

sell all you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me. And the rich man went away sad for he had many possessions. Jesus then said to his disciples, “Amen I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to get into the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God”

I think the insatiable sense of want is what kept the rich man clinging to his possessions. I don’t think Jesus wanted him to be poor, I think he understood that wanting riches more than the Kingdom of God was an insurmountable obstacle. He said that we can’t serve two masters…it was either God or money. While I truly believe there is enough abundance for all people in this country, I would also venture to say that I am in the minority here. As long as the vast population truly believes that there are those in the population don’t deserve it, we will be lost.

If you truly believe that all of us have the same right to pursue life, liberty and happiness then it means that rich and poor alike have to continue to support that effort. It is that effort that has to take precedence over pleasure right now. The word pursue is of essential importance. It doesn’t mean that we are entitled to those things at any cost, you have to work for them. Remember the parable of the tithes and making the most with what you’re given. If you sit idle and do nothing it will be taken from you. If you work with the gifts you have more will be given to you. But Jesus also cautioned us to not be so judgmental to the wealthy, remember the story of Zacchaeus. Once he learned to put God over money, Jesus refused to condemn him. The important thing is to dismantle those obstacles that keep any American from pursuing their dreams.

The basic formula for keeping America as a civilization from falling is to refurbish the structures the founders put in place to offer every citizen the opportunity to pursue their dreams, and that means even the people that you don’t like (from Wallstreet to Mainstreet). The checks and balances were put there for a reason, and those we elect have to abide by them whether or not they want to or always agree. We have to shore up those elements that define the fall of a great civilizations past which are: education, respect for tradition, valuing all human life, strengthening culture, and a morality that isn’t rooted in traditional religious structures (which have also suffered from decay). The road will be full of clashes, the founders knew that too. But it is a road we must walk together if we truly want America the great civilization it can be. It is up to leadership to lead the many and not the few.