Love and Life

justice scales

I didn’t want to write today. I just didn’t. But then “want” doesn’t really seem to be part of my training this year. Facing difficult subjects head on is what is required, so here goes. Life is sacred. It’s the reason that I’m on this journey and is the reason that I’m training to wield love in a world that is full of fear and hate, and more and more appears to be demonstrably against the sacredness of life. I’m not talking about abortion, because I don’t believe the movement is really concerned about the sacredness of life at all, because you can’t make someone appreciate life’s sacred quality by enacting a law. I happen to know that there are many individuals out there who feel all life is sacred on both sides of this issue. This “movement” is about control. This movement is about judgement. This movement is about power. I know those last statements will strike the solar plexus of many, but just bear with me for a moment.

I keep focusing on the words of Jesus when he instructed his disciples to love one another in a way that even the least of us deserve. While it is easy to feel charged up to fight for the unborn, there is no reciprocal fight for those that already exist on this planet. The reason, I would wage, is because the movement isn’t about love and the sacredness of life…it is about control, and regulating a woman’s body under the auspices of “saving a live.” If the movement were about the sacredness of life, then it would also be dedicated to saving life in those that are already born in every corner of the world suffering greatly. But I guess once that first breath is taken they are somebody else’s problem. Scripture challenges us in this:

We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God ¬†whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love their brother or sister

1John:15-21

So, then, what is to be done about the sacredness of life? If the end result means to have us all understand and appreciate the sacredness of life, then it certainly isn’t by denying a women’s choice to arrive at that conclusion on her own. I have known women who have had abortions BECAUSE they believe that the fetus they carried was sacred and would do anything to fight for life, including the choice to end it. And yet I’ve known women who just didn’t want to bring a life into the world…and while my personal choice may have have been different, it was MY personal choice and conscience that I followed. Follow the commands of Christ…that we love our neighbors as ourselves and that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters you do unto Christ who saved us. I think that looks more like reaching out in other ways besides allowing the government to force its will upon women. I know there are many who disagree with me on this issue, as to be expected…we all have the freedom to hold our own beliefs, I get that. But please, do not think for one minute that its because you hold life more sacred than I do, or anyone else who may disagree with you…because you would be wrong.

So wielding love for me in this situation? It means listening to women’s stories and seeing what a grave and complicated issue this is. It means really looking at the least among us and seeing sacredness in them. It means loving and not punishing…like Georgia’s law does. It means looking around and seeing that all life is sacred, and like the story of the Good Samaritan when Jesus asked a scholar of the law listening to the parable what loving our neighbor looked like “he said the one who treated the Samaritan with mercy…and Jesus said: “go and do likewise.” We don’t force people to believe in God, they need to get there on their own…we shouldn’t force women to make a choice they don’t have a say in either. Wielding love could help us all understand the sacredness of life.

More prayers for you on my Birthday

008

Today, I celebrate the anniversary of the day I arrived on this planet. Today I feel joy because: I am surrounded by a loving family, I am empowered by a loving God, I choose love as my focus and energy, and I embrace truth. justice and the American way ūüôā So here goes…

  1. I pray you be kind in thought, word and deed…the world is in desperate need of your kindness, make it your superpower.
  2. I pray for you to stand for truth in all that you do, especially when it may appear to be against your own interest, watch how it can transform that moment. In truth there is always greater freedom. Lies deteriorate God’s Kingdom in this world and we have the power to stop it.
  3. I pray you come to realize how important you are to the fabric of this world. Your golden thread holds many other threads in place to show and become an even greater beauty. Never underestimate God’s blueprint, every thread is counted.
  4. ¬†I pray that you release fear in your life. It is a source of animosity and judgment, and inhibits your ability to be all that God intends for you to be. Find comfort in knowing that when God is for you, nothing will come between you and God’s power.
  5. I pray your eyes are open to the wonder of God’s creation and that you can take precious moments to let the beauty of our world sink in and nourish your soul and¬† in so doing you recognize your own beauty.
  6. I pray you see clearly the impact you have on those around you and that your love, hope, faith, kindness and truth do influence and affect them. I pray that you’re open to receiving the same from them. I know sometimes its easier to give all those things out than receive them.
  7. I pray that you can ask for forgiveness as well as forgive others for any intended or unintended¬† hurts. Most importantly I pray that you forgive yourself. We are all imperfect and our journey on this earth isn’t about being perfect but growth.
  8. I pray that you find happiness and contentment in all you do, and if what you do doesn’t make you happy, I pray for the strength to find what does and do that.
  9. I pray that you find a way to laugh everyday, it will do your brain good!
  10. I pray that this next year we all find ways to rise above all the negativity and work together to build the Kingdom of God. And I pray we remember every day that all things are possible through God

Truth and Love

truth and love

We love, because we were loved first. This is my foundation, my starting point for everything. I would not be me without this truth at my core. This axiom directs everything I do, and sustains all my hope in dark times. It took the vast majority of my focus and energy as I moved forward in my faith life as a young girl and woman to wrap my head around this central truth of Christianity: I am loved by an omniscient God, who is the source of all things…me, and by the sacrifice of Christ I have eternal life. Scripture says that we are born anew, we become infinitely more. The struggle of my lifetime is in the manifestation of and how the world expresses love. How do I stand out as the recipient of supranatural love? There are these verses that have helped guide me on my journey:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1John: 18,19

But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35

“Teacher,¬†which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him,¬†“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it:¬†You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39

For God so loved the world that he gave  his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. John 3:16

Historically, I think Christianity has forgotten that the core of our faith isn’t the accumulation of power and wealth, dogma, edicts or an exclusive club that closes off the power of that love and sacrifice to other faiths. It¬† isn’t about structure or rules. The core of how we express our faith is in Jesus last command to his disciples: “They will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.” John 13;35. Sadly,¬† I would say that after all this time we have failed in that regard.

The truth about love, is that we have let human frailty, human insecurity, our fears, injuries and judgments, redefine what love is. As a society we seem to have decided that love must look a certain way, must be earned, or extended to only a privileged few, and that is the biggest of all lies. In truth it is the exact opposite. What we know about love is that:

it is patient.

it is kind.

it is not jealous.

it is not pompous.

it is not inflated.

it is not rude.

it does not seek its own interest.

it is not quick tempered.

it does not brood over injury.

it does not rejoice over wrongdoings.

it rejoices in the truth.

it bears all things.

it believes all things.

it hopes all things

it endures all things

Love never fails.

 

That is what love looks like. It never says that it only for the beautiful or the young. It never says anything about being sexy or hearts or being soft or frilly. It is a force as stern as death (Song of Solomon) it’s free to everyone, there is no shortage because its infinite source is what we attest to believe in…God. While love may move our expressions, it is not defined by them. Love is so much bigger than our expression of it. Like music, its melody changes with each individual and situation. When love is the guide, it not only changes how we see the world, but how we live in it. It is only when we do that, that we will be known as Jesus’ disciples…by how we love. It never fails. Humans fail, but love never does…because God first loved us…and that is the best truth.

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.

Eighty Things

dad

A year ago on a Tuesday, my father passed on into paradise. When I look over the past year, I see how much my family has endured, so many transitions. In going through all sorts of treasures in preparing our family home for sale last summer, I found this tidbit that I gave my father of “Eighty Things” on his eightieth birthday…they made me laugh and renewed my belief that he is still with us. I won’t share them all because you wouldn’t understand most of the personal anecdotes, so here are the highlights…

  1. In every non-linear, chaotic system (that would be you) the initial conditions of said system set the path you would follow. Like a butterflies wings, that can change the weather across the globe, so the world was changed when you arrived in it.
  2. That’s right, the world was and will continue to be altered by your existence…deal with that tidbit of information with the enclosed package of Mallowmars (my father’s guilty pleasure). Some how, chocolate always seems to make mind blowing realizations palpable.
  3. Don’t hang too tightly onto those initial conditions, they were preordained before you were born. You were born, in particular, the miracle baby boy of an Irish woman who survived multiple miscarriages before you came, which under normal circumstances would have made you intolerable to the rest of us, but was offset by the fact that you were poor, Irish, and Catholic with the addition of scary relatives. Surely this is proof that the good Lord believes in balance for all his miracles, and also has a kick ass sense of humor.
  4. Since the nuns didn’t kill you, thus leaving your will to live in tact, the fractal that is you had already begun to spin into a delicate design.
  5. All the information you learned in school is still locked away in your cranium, the records of which are downloaded daily, and in your case will stave off Armageddon for at least a bit more time. Note, that as long as stupid people inhabit the planet you will have to think smart thoughts even more vehemently.
  6. Just like weather patterns, the going is never consistently easy, which is what makes a fractal beautiful. I’m sure God is constantly amazed at how easily his children sweat the small things. Worrying about Global changes are appropriate, the question of “Am I good enough” NEVER.
  7. Every contact makes an impact. Awareness of a result or lack thereof will never alter this fact.
  8. We are all ingredients in the perfect recipe, faith is nothing more than allowing heaven to guide us in the compilation of the greatest result. You are in charge of keeping your addition fresh. Doubt will make you rancid, and will affect the whole.
  9. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Which means by now, you should just have it about friggin perfect. Wisdom flows from you, so sail through to the next event with no fear.
  10. If you’re alive, there is still plenty of work to do, God is not finished with you yet, old man…
  11. Boy, did you score with your lovely wife Ruthie, could you have ever imagined what a perfect compliment she was to your DNA? Of course heaven could, which is why you were so prolific…5 kids in 6 1/2 years. Let’s just list fertility as both of your super powers.
  12. There were times when the post traumatic stress of having such exuberant offspring has shaken you to your very core. Take enclosed Kowalski gift card, buy a picnic at the deli and with your lovely wife, revel in the fact that they no longer depend on you financially…most of the time.
  13. Celebrating all those sacraments, with all that spiritual energy coursing through your body, I would think you’d be able to fly by now…No?
  14. So, go outside and breath in deep and blow out several time, the air definitely needs purifying and since your body has been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, why not? It’s good to put those sacraments to work once in awhile.
  15. Now, take a moment to just be. Even non-linear chaotic systems need to sit in the still point of this turning world to remember why we’re here. Like the parable of the talents, we just need to try and do the best with what the master has given us, and with that winning personality of yours I will say with confidence that you have a SHIT LOAD of stuff to do before the master gets back!
  16. Just when the fear of running out of time hits you, remember this: everything about this world wouldn’t have existed without you, because nothing would be the same.
  17. That being said, the fractals that you have authored  (John, Tom, Mary, Kate, and Joan) may have turned their individual professions on their heads, but given your influence, it is probably a well needed and deserved toss.
  18. Take a walk on the beach and celebrate that you have successfully retired to Florida and haven’t lost your fashion sense, unless you’re wearing black socks with sandals and then, well I just can’t look at you right now.
  19. Say what you mean to say, for the love of God man, you’ve been alive for 80 years and it’s a sin to keep that kind of wisdom to yourself!
  20. Suck up as many senior discounts as possible, you deserve it.
  21. Revel in the fact that as much as your offspring tortured you during their adolescence, they are now getting it back in spades…karma is a bitch.
  22. Like wine, we get better with time, the only thing we take to the afterlife with us are our experiences and lessons learned. So, celebrate, especially if there is reincarnation…you will surely come back as a higher species and given the depth of your stellar life, I would be confident in saying that you will probably come back as a woman…congratulations!
  23. Although you may feel that life has nothing in store for you, zero point theory states that there is no empty space between things, so take your energy and move some shit around, man! Make sure when you do, do it in public and freak people out. If not now, when?
  24. While close to the end of this list, hopefully not your life. You have created order out of chaos, and helped the weather ease for many people throughout your life, many of whom you may not remember or even be aware of, but heaven knows and never forgets.
  25. You have have been and are still loved, truly, madly and deeply!

For the sake of the few

I was reading a story in Genesis when the Lord has already decided that Abraham was to be the source of a great nation, and as he walks with him to check out the gravity of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, concerned of the imminent destruction of the two cities, wonders out loud to God and asks would he wipe away the innocent with the guilty. “what if there were 50 innocent people, would you wipe away the place rather than spare it for the fifty innocent?” God agrees to spare it for the sake of the 50. Abraham slowly whittles God down to only 10 people, and God agrees to spare the two cities for 10 innocents. Of course in the next story he sends angels to find the innocent, finds Lot and his wife and daughters and sends them away before God obliterates Sodom and Gomorrah…ouch.

In a time when corruption can seem so pervasive, when it appears that the good and innocent stand no chance against the evil in the world, I took up the notion to negotiate with God like my forefather Abraham did. In my prayer time, (which as an aside I actually visualize the conversation I’m having with God and am often surprised at what transpires…is it God talking? Not sure, but if I learn something I guess that’s what matters…so don’t judge) I asked God, “what of those of us who love you with all our hearts, minds and souls, and our neighbors as ourselves? Would you save this world for us or let us perish along with those who are evil?” To which God responded,

“You already have your salvation guaranteed into my kingdom, and not by your deeds but by sacrifice. As for this world, you have already been given all the necessary tools to keep this world thriving, what you do with them is entirely up to you.”

“What tools?” I asked. God responded bringing my attention to my bible which was open to the Gospels.

“It’s all there”

and then he pointed to my head and heart and replied

“and in here.”

What about all those who gather for worship? He answered gravely

“attendance at worship is for each individual, for their own sustenance…it is of no consequence to me. Love is all there is, and is the source of all that exists. It is neither restricted by doctrine or space.”

I replied, that I didn’t think the pope would be happy about that.

“Don’t underestimate my brother in Rome, he is working within a millennia of human drama. He understands that the foundation of my church resides in something far more substantial than rules and regulations.”

Not wanting to dwell on church dogma, I moved on.

So I asked him, “so what about prayer?” He pressed me further,

“What about it?”

I began to get that sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to like the answer, I responded, “when we pray to you for something why aren’t our prayers always answered?”

“I hear every one”, he replied, “but be careful, I answer in the course of things beyond your comprehension.”

I asked for greater understanding so God sighed and replied,

“I hear and answer all prayers, but not always in the way that you all want. The burden of omniscience is that I see beyond the moment into all future implications and interactions. Just because someone doesn’t get what they think they need or want in the moment doesn’t mean that I don’t love them or didn’t answer them. Alternatively, the burden of free will is that you can choose your own destiny and with that comes the consequences of choice, many of which aren’t always so obvious. Free will is a difficult concept, one can’t ask for freedom to choose their own destiny and then hide from it when it becomes something other than what they thought it would be, it gets too hard, or when they make a mess of things.  Additionally, I can’t just intervene whenever I want to, I need to be invited in as part of the equation. You must choose me in that moment to become involved and trust that I can help, that I will help, and have faith in the outcome. The hardest part for my children is to let go of control, and have faith in my answer, the kind of faith that knows that even the darkest moments can be  transformed into the greatest of lights. I will be always present to support, love and guide you, if that is your will. For it is my will that all my children thrive and fulfill their own destinies.”

The line about destiny spurred me on, “So what about our heavenly destiny?” To which God smiled, and said

“That is where the miracles happen. Your heavenly task is to do what I have created you to do, to use your gifts and don’t bury them and help others to do the same. Utilize all the lessons my Son gave you, take them to heart. If you do this, you can save your world many times over, all with your own personal flair and flavor.”

Worried, I asked, ‘What about those who choose evil instead?”

“I am the author of this play, My Son has already secured the ending. With free will, choice is always present. The balance may shift from time to time, but fear is fleeting and always offers an opportunity for champions of the light, remember, I know how the story ends, because I created you, I am your source, your home and your heart. That is why I say to you that my yoke is easy, my burden is light”

I suddenly felt sad, worried that I haven’t done enough with the gifts I’ve been given because I do feel worry and burdened a lot these days. He then got serious for a moment and said,

“And your heavenly task has nothing to do with a church, a philosophy, a country or a tribe. You asked me to open your eyes, and ears and so I did. You asked me for clarity and I gave it to you. Your path will be perfect and will lead you where you need to go not only because of your faith in me, but in yourself. No building or structure, occupation, job or livelihood will ever define or direct your destiny because it is who you are that is your gift, and everything that you do that is your destiny. Don’t complicate it dear child…I will guide you where you need to go, if you ask me to and I promise to hold your hand the whole time.”

I shook my head yes and took God’s hand and away we went.

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.

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.

 

Walking on Water

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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

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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.

Do not go gently into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the light

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This poem by Dylan Thomas is loved by my father who is in hospice care right now. It pretty much sums up his attitude toward living…never idle and always in a continuous fight for light it its many forms. Whether it was the light of intellect (he has four degrees), the light of truth (his involvement in politics, from school boards to general elections), the light of faith (a devout Catholic and when he retired from teaching, a second career as a deacon), the light of love (married to my mother for 60 years and with her raised 5 very different and exceptional children). A jack of many trades, he was always planning the next great thing and the reality of Alzheimer’s and cancer has altered those plans, leaving the many in his stead whom his light has touched to continue to rage against darkness and be champions of the light.

My father has always been quite the orator. Whether it was Shakespeare or the Gospel, his voice commanded the moment, his inflection amplified and diminished words in perfect measure and cadence. Once, after he was done reading the Gospel at church, without thinking, I naturally started clapping instinctively as if it were a performance. Of course, I was embarrassed when I realized that I was the only one clapping, but I knew by the gentle laughter that I had done what everyone else had wanted to do in that moment. Words matter to my father, he required good grammar and for us to speak intelligently. Ignorance was simply unacceptable, as was the cruelty of gossip and unfounded innuendo. He held high standards for his children and his students because he had the uncanny knack of recognizing other people’s potential even when they, themselves, could not. That is the greatest gift he could give us as a teacher, to help see ourselves in the fullest light. He wasn’t always successful, but always maintained hope. Even as his cognition wanes, I still see the light he sees in me, reflected back in his face whenever he looks at me.

My parents and I have often sat around the dining room table and¬†talked about theology and the world at large for hours. In fact our whole family has spent many hours around a table laughing and telling stories. Those kinds of conversations began by having dinner at the same table all together growing up. We all shared an appreciation for the absurdity of our human condition and the hilarity of these moments gave us stomach aches from laughing so hard at all our escapades. Our dinner table was as much a place for talking as it was for eating. Dad, at the head of the table, was the inspiration for much of the conversation. I think I picked up my sense of humor and storytelling from that dinner table. I remember him telling stories of reciting Macbeth in a Swedish accent, or all his English classes wearing orange on St Patrick’s day (you Irish Catholics can figure it out) and the stories of his time in the Navy, or growing up down the street from Charles Schulz who wrote the Peanuts cartoon. He had as many serious stories of intervening to help students, parishioners, and many who struggled. The best advice I ever got before I started teaching was from my dad. He said: Be prepared, never raise your voice, always look them in the eye, never talk down to them, and always hold them to their highest selves and more times than not they will rise to the occasion.

In a recent conversation about heaven he had with my younger sister, he contemplated whether he had done enough in his life. While surprising, given everything he’s done, I understand what he meant. My father always knew there was so much more to do, that the Kingdom of God was hardly finished and he wanted to be there to see how it all turned out. My prayer is that he will have a front seat to all the action, to celebrate and guide us from above while we continue to refuse to walk gently in this life and carry on his legacy of fighting for the light.

Living Without Permission

 

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

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

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

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

The Decline of American Civilization, Part II: The Truth Will Set You Free

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“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” Jesus

“Truth never hurts the teller” Robert Browning

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” Flannery O’Connor

“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion” Edward Abbey

“The truth hurts. Maybe not as much as jumping on a bicycle with the seat missing, but it hurts” Leslie Nielsen,¬†Naked Gun 2 1/2

Truth is a tough thing to talk about. So much of it weighs on our life experience and perspective. But our country was founded on certain truths, if maintained, should guarantee our success and survival. Simply stated they are, 1) That all persons are created equal, 2) and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So lets just start there.

The word unalienable means impossible to give up or take away. So it is a truth, one not only that should be self evident, but IMPOSSIBLE to take away. Unless and until this fundamental tenet becomes central to any presidential discussion, everything else is a lie. Because a qualified presidential candidate has to understand that they will represent every individual in this country, whose pursuits for happiness must weigh into the whole. A qualified presidential candidate cannot deride or devalue or demonize any citizen so as to diminish the truth of their right to happiness¬†to seem¬†alienable. It goes against everything the founders dreamed of for our country. A qualified presidential candidate should know that this may not sit well with a large part of the citizenry who only want what they want, and care not for the needs of others. But a qualified candidate should be better than those who live with blinders on…that’s what a true leader does, fight for the truth even when it isn’t popular.

The truths we face today are often cruel. Our planet is suffering for lack of sufficient care. Violence is escalating in the world. People are starving and illness is epidemic. Fear reigns where level heads should prevail. A qualified candidate must face these truths head on knowing that any answer won’t appease everyone, and may anger more than a few. A qualified candidate won’t be daunted by this because they know that it is the central job of the chief executive of this country to first and foremost protect those unalienable rights, which in this time of grave crisis will demand sacrifices from all of us. A qualified candidate won’t base their campaign on pointing the finger and placing blame. A qualified candidate should never rely on the love of the masses, only that they love the masses enough to do what is necessary.

Saying something is true over and over will never make it true. A qualified candidate won’t state lies as truths and truths as lies to fit their agenda. Nothing stirs up the masses and creates a mob faster than a lie that is presented as the truth. It is our responsibility as citizens to check the statements that are made before we tie any emotion to them. There has been so much turmoil as a result of an irresponsible electorate. While I hope any candidate would base their platform on the truth, I certainly don’t expect it anymore. The responsibility of jumping on a platform is my own, and I can chose the route of a fool, or do my due diligence and find the truth first. Inevitably, I am the one responsible for standing with those who will better fight for truth or live in a lie.

Most importantly is that fact that while the truth may often hurt, it is the one thing that will save us. A qualified candidate should radiate that with all their being, then there is no cause for fear because they will inspire the confidence necessary to face whatever is coming. So look at the candidates out there and ask yourself if they are qualified to fight for those truths that define our nation. If not, we face an even sadder truth.

 

When it is no longer the Bread of Life

bad breadI’ve often had people challenge me when I tell them that I can’t eat gluten. I’ve suffered through their derision and can see the contempt in their eyes as if I’m making it up or I’m a mindless fool jumping on the latest bandwagon of kooks who have challenged the health of many of the common foods that people have been consuming for years. From a logical perspective I get it, I really do. Beyond bread being a powerful metaphor for life, people have been consuming bread throughout the ages, and it never seemed to bother them (unless it was tainted with something, like poisonous rye that was an impetus for the Salem witch trials, or crazy King George) . Why now? Why me? Well, I know that I can’t tolerate gluten, or soy, or a host of other things. I’ve been tested. I have definitive proof…and it isn’t just the tests…it is what happens to me when I eat these foods, and even more importantly what happened when I stopped eating them. I had forgotten what it was like to feel good.

What begs the question is this: Could it be that the foods our forebears ate 50 years ago are not the same as the foods we eat today? And if not, why not? There will be plenty of discussion to be had over what those reasons may be, from genetically altered foods, chemicals in the soil, over processing, preservatives, poor eating habits etc., But I don’t think there is any argument as to whether there are major problems with today’s food stuffs, and if you don’t think there are any problems with foodstuffs of today then just stop reading, because no amount of science would convince you otherwise. I will avoid you as clearly as you avoid factual information. So let me be clear, just because we can’t decide, or know, or prove the exact cause of why modern foods are making us ill, doesn’t mean that the IBS and a host of other diseases that affects the masses are figments of our imagination. While the intentions of those in the food business may be good ones (and you know what they say about good intentions) we have messed with our food supply so much over the last few decades in the name of progress and improvement that I’m beginning to wonder if the food manufactured today is really food at all, the key word being manufactured. When natural foods are cross pollinated and genetically spliced and diced and when the list of ingredients in packaged food contains words that usually find their home in a chemistry class, then it’s just not really food in my book. I will always find it troubling to think we can do a better job at nature than God does. (As an aside, I am not a believer in the creation science movement, predestination, anti-science or¬†a hippy. I do stand with those who acknowledge the reality of climate change.) Moreover, I am simply saying that as humans, we are limited in our ability to not only fully comprehend our natural world, we also lack the capacity to clearly understand the impact of our behavior on it and our future.

This is not a diatribe against science or using our big brains to make the job of sustaining life better. It is simply a strong suggestion that when we mess with mother nature, so aptly defined as a woman whom history has proven we just don’t fully understand, we can’t even begin to take in the full scope of the consequences of our actions. It is one thing to use our big brains to build better equipment to harvest or produce food, It is more than hubris to believe that we can do a better job than God can at the actual function of nature. Doesn’t the story of Genesis lay that out? We had easy, convenience, and perfection in the Garden and we wanted to venture on our own. I am OK with that, I think it is a blessing of evolution to strike out on our own. It is crossing the line, though, when we think we can change nature without consequences. Humanity has always struggled with the naked truth (pun intended).

I’ve waited a long time to publish this blog, mostly because I think the true meaning of what I’m saying will go right over people’s heads. Let me repeat, I am not anti-science. I know the desire of many scientists is to make life better for people. But I also see a growing tendency to avoid the consequences of the choices science makes, even when unintended. Avoiding culpability doesn’t make the problem go away, we can’t mitigate the damage without accepting responsibility first. Scientific advancement without careful consideration and appreciation of the impact it has on the future of the planet and my poor digestive system is just not acceptable any more. To be continued…

Empathy

unmerciful servant1This morning I was thinking about forgiveness and empathy, and the general lack thereof in the world. While I was pondering this notion, a nasty bug crawled across my path and I smashed it…yeah, the irony hit me right away. ¬†Where was the forgiveness and empathy in this knee jerk response? ¬†Of course I told myself that it was just a bug that had no place on my counter, that it was no big deal. ¬†Perhaps it wasn’t. ¬†But for a moment, I focused on the impulse I had when I saw the bug; I hated it, it was disgusting, I wanted to get rid of it and frankly, its death was of no consequence to me. It was that visceral reaction that caused a bit of an epiphany. ¬†I realized that my response to that bug, although microcosmic, was probably close to the reaction that a lot of people have to that section of the population they simply can’t empathize with because they hate them, are disgusted by them, want to get rid of them and their death is really of no consequence to them at all. So often our lack of empathy is a result of a knee jerk response, programmed early by some uncomfortable experience. While the leap from insect to race, class, gender, ideology, nationality, or religion may seem huge…isn’t it really just a magnification of that same kind of automatic response?

I certainly didn’t have empathy for the insect in the moment and it did give me pause, because magnified, that initial gut response could be problematic. ¬†I’d like to think of myself as a steward of God’s creation, and a disciple of God’s great message, but I don’t like bugs much. I will probably never like them and have difficulty with the empathy thing from human to insect. But I can appreciate their place in the food chain. ¬†There is a place for everything under the sun right? ¬†What becomes more difficult for me is the trouble that comes with finding empathy for our fellow humans, it should be so much easier and yet it isn’t. It is so hard to bypass that knee jerk response and try to reprogram ourselves. I suppose that is why Jesus demanded that we walk in someone else shoes before we pass judgement. When we view the world from another’s perspective the blinders come off and hopefully that knee jerk response is transformed. ¬†Empathy is central to forgiveness. ¬†When we accept another as important in God’s eyes and try appreciate that life from their perspective, perhaps we can recognize how similar we all are. ¬†Jesus shows us this in this parable of the unmerciful servant:

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage and said, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full.’ ¬†Moved to compassion, the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. ¬†He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe!’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.

Now, when his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply disturbed, and when to their master and reported the whole affair. ¬†His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!’ I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then, is anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from his heart.

Today, let’s all work together to quell the knee jerk response that comes before the choice to empathize and forgive…life will be so much better as a result.

Pretty Little Liars

the open bibleI often wonder if people actually read the same scripture that I do. ¬†SERIOUSLY, I really wonder that. ¬†I am conflicted and challenged every day by my weakness when I read the words of Jesus. I remember the day when my heart broke in a vision of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane¬†extending his hand to me and saying it is for you that I will make this sacrifice and felt first, the horrible guilt and then an overwhelming love fill me up. ¬†It is because of that moment that I resist the impulse to lower myself to the level of those pretty little liars out there who would have you believe that 1.6 billion people are extensions of the devil, are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ, and that America is synonymous with the chosen people. ¬†I don’t want to be lectured by smug individuals who turn the challenge on its head and point to the atrocities that are befalling innocent people right now, and how we must destroy them. ¬†History has told us many a woeful tale of this same story. ¬†Christians destroyed by Rome, Jews destroyed by Christians (and yes, we had our crazy factions too), women being burned as witches, etc. the list goes on. ¬†And as the saying by Edmund Burke goes: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”

So, to those of you who are so confident that you know the mind of God and believe anyone who disagrees with you be damned…see how successfully you live and breathe these words:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. ¬†Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. ¬†Wo to you when all speak well of you for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way. ¬†But I say to you who¬†hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. ¬†To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. ¬†Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. ¬†Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. ¬†For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you. ¬†Even sinners love those who love them” ¬†Luke 6:24-32

I am angry because these words convict me every day to be a greater person and have faith that Jesus knew what he was talking about, and yet I don’t see a lot of support for this notion right now. ¬†As hard as it is to look at the atrocities that are being perpetuated every day and have faith that the above formula is the greater course, it does revolve back to that great sacrifice of Jesus. ¬†Jesus had faith in me, so I must have faith in him…it is really as simple as that. ¬†When I face the banal every day workings of life, where I get to practice and master on an inane level the challenges listed above, I know that then and only then will my discipleship be honed and perfected. ¬†And deep in the simplicity of everyday life, my greatest fear is coming to pass…that those pretty little liars out there are corrupting the gospel, perverting it and twisting it to serve another master, one who Jesus warns us of…the one who can entice us, utilize our fears to their advantage and sway us away from the kind of love God first gave us. ¬†It is a master who would have us build a cocoon of our own self-righteousness, and prejudice, who will ply us with a twisted appreciation of what exactly grace will do which is to deny those we are commanded to love and give entry to only those who are deemed worthy, and condemn any who would disagree.

The central point of the gospel is that the invitation is extended to us all….including those 1.6 billion people out there who only see hateful rejection, persecution and judgement. The parable Jesus told of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24 reminds us that those who find excuses not to come to his table will be shut out. Many have accepted the invitation in words, but let me remind you, Jesus never said that they will know you are my disciple by telling people that you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour; he said they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another, not judge, not condemn, not kill, not run in fear from…but how you love them, which means actually showing up at his table and not a facsimile of one you like better. ¬†So where do you put your faith; do you put your faith in the words above, or those words that perpetuate the rancor, that undermine leadership, that feed self-righteousness. that are smug in their conviction that only one ideology rings true. ¬†It is my prayer that all of us, during this Lenten season, ask this question: Do they know I am a follower of Jesus by how well I love others.

A Conflagrancy of Dunces

paper-dunce-capWe all have moments when we question our relevancy. ¬†For me it happens on a daily basis, usually in the midst of a conversation that is just on the edge of nuclear. ¬†More times than not, I side with Occam’s razor when it comes to problem solving. ¬†Summed up simply: when you have two competing theories, the simplest is usually the best solution. Embracing simple is never the case at my house, and sadly, just as often outside my house.

Who wants the simplest solution? ¬†It’s usually boring, demands personal responsibility and often times self-incrimination. ¬†Why embrace simple, when it’s so much more fun to move to the dark side of insanity, invoking unsubstantiated and immaterial information ¬†and challenging the relevance and intelligence of any who would offer a safe and sounder solution? Talk to any parent (specifically mothers) with teenagers, they will vouch for me. ¬†I am relevant because in the end, when it all plays out, the simplest solution is almost always the answer. ¬†And when the dust settles, I am the one standing to lend a hand and say, “let’s try this again.”

They Will Know That You Are Christains By Our Love

fear-notBeing ready to charge forth is how I always want to portray myself…but I am more a compilation of pacing, hyperventilation, tears, ending in quiet resolve. ¬†I am aware of what I have to say, no less committed to continue on the path that I see so clearly, shaking but never wavering. ¬†It just isn’t easy for me. ¬†On that note, I am provoked by the faceless ugliness of social media and the fearful nature of information, convoluted to champion ideological superiority and then weaponizing it as a way to justify a belief and behavior that circumvents the gospel, and yes I did say circumvent…because Jesus could never, would never stand for it…the finger pointing and the blame, the violent solutions and polarization of the world and its people. In John 13:13, Jesus lays out the model of behavior he expects of his disciples:

You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’ and rightly so for indeed I am. ¬†If I, therefore, the master and the teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. ¬†I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. ¬†Amen, amen I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. ¬†If you understand this, blessed are you because of it.

He goes on to say in John 13:34,

I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

There will be those who will pick through scripture to find ways around this to justify their hatred of those who are the momentary evil of day…whether it is a political party, or those who terrorize in the name of their superiority. ¬†We, as Christians, are not allowed that weakness. ¬†That is what Jesus meant when he said:

You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ¬†But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…

There are plenty of places to find what love looks like….which is where everyone should start. ¬†More importantly, we have to look at what drives us away from love, which drives us to propagate gossip and innuendo as fast as wild-fire. It is fear. ¬†It is fear. ¬†It is fear. ¬†It. Is. Fear. ¬†How can that be?, we who wear the gift of grace?, we who are promised that anything we ask for in prayer, with faith will be given, we who are¬†commanded not to worry because if God clothes¬†the world in such splendor, how much more does he have in store for us, so little in our faith? We fear because we have been lulled into the illusion that evil has the greater edge, that it can defeat us, and the greatest illusion of all, that the gates of hell haven’t already been shattered by Jesus death and resurrection. ¬†On the night he was betrayed he rebuked a disciple who burnished the sword:

Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you not think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?  Then how would scripture be fulfilled which say this must come to pass in this way?

That is the question isn’t it? ¬†How will our fate, laid out in scripure be fulfilled? ¬†Could God swoop down and finish the job? ¬†Or does he know that the sacrifice of his son has given us the necessary tools to be our own champions? 1John 4: lays it out plainly:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.  We love because He first loved us.

Love is what must be¬†our core. ¬†It doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but at any moment in time we can pray to God to augment our imperfect hearts with His perfect love, or we can give into fear in all its seeming righteousness, in its promise of vengeance, its illusion of creating peace and safety. ¬†Violence will never be the answer; hatred exists as a bi-product of fear. ¬†But that doesn’t mean I am naive, either. ¬†I don’t condemn armies who fight for a cause…one of the conundrums of being human, I guess. ¬†Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. ¬†He also told us that we couldn’t serve two masters, and how narrow the road to righteousness really is. But certainly, the task at hand is to focus on how others will see us and know that we are his disciples…they will know us by how we love one another.

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.

Taking Umbrage…for and at Women

um·brage

noun \ňą…ôm-brij\

: a feeling of being offended by what someone has said or done

I started this post several times, wanting to be positive, a bit less controversal, and with propriety. ¬†I couldn’t do it because I did promise a sense of wild abandon, so here goes. ¬†I seem to take umbrage with almost every angle of the state of women in our world today. ¬†I am sickened by movements to censure, mutilate, deny education, control and retract any advances made through history. ¬†And yet, I take as much umbrage with a culture that objectifies, sexualizes, and at the opposite end values a woman based on some prudish matronly definition of goodness. ¬†Seriously people, what in the sam hill is going on?

Jesus set the standard so clearly in his ministry. ¬†Women were of great value to him; especially women who chose his instruction over what culture restricted them to, check out the Mary and Martha story…( I blogged about it here, maryfrancesflood.com/2012/06/18/im-a-mary-and-not-a-martha/. ¬†I think women owe Jesus a great deal for the place that he brought us to…and with that comes responsibility. ¬†We, as women, must take a stand against those who would force us to lose the sacred ground that many fought so hard to attain. ¬†So where the hell do I stand?

While I am plagued with fear when I hear most men speak of rape, whether on a college campus, foreign soil, a military base or from the mouth of a politician, I have to admit that I am plagued with as much fear at the cavalier attitude and sexually charged culture in this country. ¬†While I think we should celebrate our physical bodies, I am tired of how sex inundates our culture. ¬†I don’t want to see young women run around in their underwear, or clothing¬†designed to cradle a man’s package. ¬†While I am not a prude…I say EEEWWWWW! ¬†The pervasiveness of sex in just about everything is a problem for me. Being a good lover by today’s standards is understood by sexual prowess and not in the way the gospel intended. ¬†Getting better at sex will never help us get better at love…PERIOD. ¬†And it won’t help us reclaim our power either.

I have thought long and hard about whether or not my attitude is based on my aging form and diminishing beauty…and then that very thought even pissed me off! ¬†Who defined aging and beauty anyway? ¬†Well, I include myself when I say we all had a hand in that too. ¬†With age, I’ve gained great experience and education and was for a moment ready to hold those accomplishments at a lesser value than my aging appearance…and yet, in all truthfulness I understand why. We live in a culture that worships youth and marginalizes maturity. ¬†Look at the amount of money that goes into physical beauty; the money women spend on achieving some skewed idea of youthful perfection is tragic. ¬†We could save all the starving children in the world many times over, if we allowed ourselves to age naturally and dump our obsession with beauty regimens.

I’m not saying as women, we can’t try to be beautiful and celebrate our sexuality. ¬†But if we aren’t working as hard for the standard the Jesus set, i.e. we are as valuable as any man, and are offered the same gift of grace, with the same expectations for our behavior…then we’ve failed on a massive level. ¬†Let’s be better at loving, starting with ourselves.