It is amazing what people will talk themselves into. I’ve felt pretty speechless over the last few weeks. Struggling to find the perfect analogy, I remember reading Plato’s allegory of the cave, which in a nutshell tells the story of prisoners in a dark cave all chained with a fire behind them that reflects on the cave wall in front of them. Also behind the prisoners are prison masters waving puppets to create shadows on the wall. To the prisoners this is their reality, the shadows define their reality. Lets say one escapes and turns to see the puppet masters making the shadows on the wall and realizes that the world they’ve known is an illusion, and also sees an exit that leads outside. The world is blinding bright and beautiful, and for few minutes the light blinds them.. When the now freed person goes back inside to free the other prisoners and tell them about the true world out side, the freed person can no longer see in the darkness and the prisoners become afraid that the freed person can no longer see, so the keep their chains and shadows out of fear, regardless of how beautiful the description of the outside world, or the explanation that they are just being manipulated. In truth? That is how I feel much of the time. I feel like the person who has escaped. I see things the way I do, not because I am better or smarter, but because I recognized chains that held me, and once freed actually turned around and challenged my perspective and moved outside to another world view.
How do you convince people that what they believe to be true may be nothing more than an illusion held and rooted in shadow and the machinations of others defining their reality? You can’t. What you can do, like Jesus did, is calm fears, challenge weaknesses, show them hope (many in the miracles he performed) and promise a greater life and future, teach people to pray for God’s ample help to assist you in moving out into the light. And still so many people are rooted into always staying, believing what they are looking at without question. What is most disturbing are those charlatans who having heard the escaped prisoner’s story, pretend that they’ve been unchained and gone outside and twist and turn the message to suit their own ills and pressure those stuck in shadow that the message of the outside is wrong and not to listen. There are plenty out there who stand in the name of life, who are more concerned with control, political will and power. It makes me angry and sick to my stomach listening to their self righteous blather., and how many believe that they are telling the truth.
So, who do you believe? Well, perhaps its time to get up off your butt and turn around to see what’s behind you, what you’re rooted in and get some new information on your own. Going outside your comfort zone and chucking what you’ve always thought you knew for something completely new is scary, It’s scary because it requires us to use our own eyes and ears instead of staring at shadows in the darkness created by someone else. The light may be bright and painful at first, but the reality is so much better. I’d rather learn to see in bright light than suffer in the shadows.
What more can I say, except what I’ve said most of the year…a year of joy is proving to be more challenging than I ever expected. I have, lately, been ruminating though, on the idea that it is indeed darkest before the dawn. I think of all the literature that I’ve read, as well as scripture, that the darkness, in desperation, works incessantly to cloud, impede, circumvent and appropriate all the progression that light, love and the building of the kingdom lays forth. For me it has truly become a observational moment, where the goats are separated from the sheep, and the quality of our character determines whether we embrace falsehood and fear, or truth and love. It has all become so clear. It is my hope, then, that the one God who made us and saved us all, who is truth and love will prevail. It is also more clear than ever that if we are going to continue on a road of truth and love that we can’t do it alone. We must join together, every last one of us, all with unique and essential gifts and parts to play in the continuing drama of our country and world’s evolution. When we act, ripples outward are created. Will they perpetuate darkness or light?
I’ve also been ruminating about the warnings of the New Testament to beware against wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are so many sparkly people who claim to be leaders of the future, who shroud themselves in flags and national rhetoric as the savior of the people. I heed this caution and shred through the illusions and watch instead their behavior and the results that come from those choices. If your words spew hate and fear it is glaringly obvious that you don’t represent the evolving future of our country. Going backwards is not evolution. Limiting the perimeters of who qualifies as worthy of liberty and justice isn’t evolution…it is the exact opposite. Investing time and energy into unfounded and conspiratorial filth completely cuts off ones ability to embrace the talents God has given an individual to bear their own good fruit. I see instead people walking around with hatchets destroying the fruits others have been laboring to build all on shaky unsubstantiated rumor. I am stunned and amazed at how easily some are swayed to believe these rumors and pass them around as truth, taking absolutely no effort to check their veracity. I think to the gospel story of the woman caught in adultery and the challenge Jesus issued to those who would stone her, “let you among you who has not sinned throw the first stone” At least in that situation, the crowd had the ability to be humbled and walk away. In today’s environment? I feel no joy in knowing that some are so entrenched in their righteousness that they would not only throw stones, but would light her on fire, and then demand that Jesus thank them for it.
I am humble enough to admit that it has taken often herculean efforts to wake up, commit to truth, wielding love and expanding the talents God has given me to bear fruit and evolve this world. I too often take personally the vitriol and judgement projected through social media and common interactions (even if it is the hatred that is spewed over the simple wearing of a mask). I find I hold my breath…a lot. It saddens me at how miserly people are with how we are facing such a crisis in our present day. So much discussion about who deserves what, always watching their own backs and pocket books. This, clearly, is amplified for people of faith. When Jesus tells the people that it is harder for a rich person to enter the gates of heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle, he understood the hold that wealth can bring, with out it we would have to have faith in our gifts and God to provide what we need, and as the multiplication of the loaves and fishes shows us, we truly could always have enough to share.
So to end this rambling, I have walked the way of the sheep…as prescribed by Jesus: to treat the least among me as I would Christ, to tend my gifts and bring forth fruit and pray for those on the same journey, as children of the light, truth and love that we may overcome the darkness and the fear, the lies and the judgment and celebrate the joy in this simple axiom: “Anything you ask of me in goodness shall be given to you” The focus should be on the word “goodness”, and not “given”. The Gospels have always laid a clear path on how to behave, and not what to look like, or words to say. Remember that next time someone sparkly speaks
I was naked and afraid…again. WTF, again? I was beginning to wonder if this was standard protocol for my dream state. I got my answer quickly from my spirit guide, always in the form of Jesus (my image of him anyway…I make no claims to know) He told me that as my year of truth was at an end, I would always be in my natural form, and that I was in the dark because it surrounds the world, and how important light is at this point in time. He also reminded me that until I got my embarr-ass-ment under control, I wouldn’t be able to show my light fully to the world, because it meant that everyone could see me too…shit.
“Ugg, truth sucks. Now is the naked part real or metaphorical?”
“Just think of it as all encompassing. You can’t be my light to the world and hide yourself…its flaws and all baby! “With that he laughed and looked at me. “For what it matters, I love what I see. Your body is a reflection of an active and creative life.”
“That’s one way to look at it”, and before I could be interrupted, I said, “OK it is the only way to look at it. So, to reiterate, please tell me what the HELL have I been doing all year, because it seems less and less that people care about the truth at all, and I am including those who claim to be religious. “
“Let me tell you a little story, and maybe you’ll have a better handle on what this year has been about, have a seat.”
“Uch, there is nothing grosser than sitting on the ground, cross-legged and naked.”
“Why? I’ve made the ground perfectly comfortable.”
“Because I’m fat, my bones make noises and I might pee if I sit or try to stand up.”
“A life lived and many gifts given, I don’t care, nor should you…can I continue please, or are you going to hold onto your vanity?”
“Point taken, continue…”
“When I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, before I was arrested and everyone was asleep…”
“I always felt bad about that.”
“No interruptions, please.”
“Sorry, bad habit.”
“When I was distraught about what was to come, the Devil came to visit me. He said he realized his mistake in trying to tempt me in the desert, but now that it looked like he might be defeated, he said he had a secret weapon and he brought Eve forth swinging on the tree that we were standing under and she was eating “THE APPLE.”
(my eyebrows went up in acknowledgement but I kept silent…I’ve always been a good student)
“The Devil told me that he had totally forgotten about free will and that his plan of attack was to use the gift of grace against me. He told me that what ever sacrifice I was about to make would be meaningless if people didn’t choose it, didn’t understand it, or truly want it. and that he would take his time throughout history twisting it and rendering its power useless. He would use their weaknesses and tempt them to use their faith as a sword to bring fear to the world. He would convince people that the grace of God couldn’t protect them from his power, and he would make them afraid all the time, all the while making them think that they had the power, and that they knew what the truth was. He also committed to me that in time, my words and my teachings would be so twisted that they would actually become the weapon that tears apart the Body of Christ and takes down the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he showed me the trouble, the horror and the lies that would happen throughout history. He told me that while I may not fall prey to his temptations, he knew the heart of humanity so well, that he could twist and turn them from the very saving gift I would be giving them. He instructed to quit while I gave everything for nothing.” (Jesus paused, and saw my mouth was gaping, then he continued) “I have to admit, his words were unnerving…and I had a glimmer of doubt, but then the truth of what I would be doing came upon me like a revelation. My sacrifice was based in truth, and love which are impenetrable as well as the source of all creation, his lies were only an illusion and could and would never be sustained. I told him that while he may choose to wreck havoc on the world, that I would be giving the world eternal life, a light to guide them through the darkness. My words and teachings were to give comfort and help those who choose to evolve to a greater place while on this earth…and that many would see beyond his lies…truth and love will always reign as long as those committed to this truth would shine their light, because light shatters the darkness. Needless to say, he was furious…and I was ready, it was at that moment that the Roman guards came. You see, my sacrifice defeated him…he has illusions and lies, but I saved the soul of the world by sharing my everlasting light…the essence that continues on after human life is over.”
“What about those who say the only way to get to heaven is my accepting you as their Lord and Savior?”
“Well, that’s a bit of a distortion. I never gave any other formula for the Kingdom of heaven but a choice to do so by loving one another, its as simple as that. It is the task of your life to master being a lover, and celebrating the fruit that is a result of that love. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”
“Yah, well I’ve said something to the effect of that many times and it does not go over well. People want a defined group, a limited number of who ‘gets’ into heaven”
“Like a wall to keep people out? (my mouth was gaping open again). And yes, I get the inference. There is no limitation to Heaven, to God’s love, to anything at all. That is the greatest lie ever told, that my sacrifice is limited to a set of prescriptions and rules or people, its not and never will be, its free to all.”
“I feel a bit silly playing devil’s advocate here…but you did say that you were going to fulfill the law and the only way was through you…”
“And I did. God’s chosen people were promised a Savior and I fulfilled that promise. I just extended it to all people. All the old is passing away. I am the Alpha and the Omega. It doesn’t matter what churches or people do or say to redefine what or who I am to the world, I am not hypothetical or a metaphor. I am who I am…I changed reality. My sacrifice doesn’t hinge on your belief in it, it happened. Your belief in my sacrifice helps you, and the light you shine to the world. It is the fruit of that light that shapes the Kingdom on Earth.”
“But I feel, in many ways, that this year of truth, that truth has lost in the end…the lies keep getting bigger and seem to hold more power.”
“That means that you’re gaining ground, the devil wouldn’t be trying so hard if he were winning…things tend to get worse before they get better…and also the light tends to shine even more brightly then. Just continue to be that light in the darkness and love yourself and one another as I have, and watch the transformation. My love and power are completely availed to you. Do you want to know what next year’s task will be?”
“This is where I get nervous, because it never turns out like I think it will…”
“That’s because I have a better imagination than you do…Next year will be the year of love, so start you studying now.”
I know I’ve said this before…be careful what you pray for…when I spoke of money in the last post and the story of the widow’s mite, giving from need instead of want etc…I should have known that I would be tested on that particular conclusion and commitment. Tuesday our water stopped running. Wednesday the phones and internet were down, I have all my neighbors coming to my house on Saturday to celebrate the season. I am making the food for said celebration…and I have no water, and until yesterday with no internet or phone, trying to fix the problem was very difficult. So, feeling like Job for a few moments, “life is but drudgery” and all that, I rallied and repeated my mantra over and over…”All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” The irony of the word “well” wasn’t lost as I was told the diagnosis after replacing many things plumbing was: “the WELL pump is shot.” I guess I am getting what I asked for: being in need. It has taken a Herculean effort to not panic as the costs add up and yet I’m also thinking that that is the point: will being thrust suddenly in need stop me from giving? The answer is no, it will not because I am actively choosing faith, choosing God and I felt peace about that. I found a great well guy, with the suggestion of a friend and my water is again flowing. The lesson here is that we are all in need, even if we don’t know how much because we are so insulated by the comforts of modern living. So how do we cope when life gives us situations when our “well” runs dry? The truth of the matter is that we can’t do it alone, we need God and each other and that is what strikes fear in most people…that we all “need” outside help. For me this is the heart of what this season of light should be about. We are not alone in the darkness. There are truly good people about and it should be our sole focus during this sacred time to extend a hand to one another and say I am here for you, you are not alone. Give a little light and receive a little light.
The truth about water is that we can’t live without it, and yet we take it for granted every single day. I know I certainly did. I feel the same way about truth. The water for the soul is truth, and without it we cannot survive. While I may not appreciate God’s timing in all this, I certainly understand it. I appreciate water so much more now that I have it back. I also appreciate what life without truth would be like, in a country where I could not speak freely, it would be as devastating. I am hoping that I never have to live without it and pray God doesn’t feel the need to deprive me of it to teach me a lesson…ever. An end run of avoiding getting what I prayed for? I hope so. Today, I am grateful…for water and for truth.
This is my last post of the year. I’ve learned much in my year of working to understand and appreciate individual fruits. I know each of us has a measure/talent that the master has given us to hold, develop and expand for his glorification and ours. No one can take that measure from you…it is yours, and yours alone to develop and share with the world. Period. Any person, place or thing that tries to halt, limit or suspend your ability to develop your own unique and special fruit is working against the Master. On this fact I would stake my soul…again, Period.
For this, I looked to the Galations 5: 17-23, to support my conclusion:
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law
I tread carefully here, knowing what a powder keg the application of this particular scripture to our present world situation can be. I do, however, recognize many of the qualities that work against the fruits of the Spirit in modern politics. I can find multiple examples of all of them…and it’s not limited to any party either. The desires against the Spirit ultimately work to impede any of us from developing and sharing our individual talents to their fullest. In turn, the fruits of the Spirit are essential qualities in developing and sharing those talents. The “desires of the flesh” work against all of us. I’m not defining these negative qualities like the Puritans did, like all things human are evil, that draconian garbage won’t help us either because they are rooted in fear which is diametrically opposed to God (1John 4). Historically, fear was a means used by the hierarchy to control the masses and vilify anyone who would question their authority (especially women). To be honest, and my bias…the men and an occasional token woman or two throughout history who would use their power to misconstrue another’s gifts as bad or evil, or effect any other means to strip any individual of their goodness and grace are acting on behalf of the dark side, are instruments of evil. I don’t care what kind of title they have.
Power on the other hand, is not a gift, a fruit, or a talent. It is a responsibility. On a spectrum, those who wield it well are governed by the fruits of the Spirit listed above, and encourage all of us to grow our individual talents. On the other end, those who wield it badly can kill the unique gifts God has bestowed on every individual and render us as barren as the fig tree Jesus condemns. I don’t think its too difficult to distinguish between the two. If you are really honest with yourself, it should be glaringly apparent who it is that creates divisiveness, lies, acts with fury, selfishness etc and who does not. What has surprised me most at the end of this year of appreciating God’s fruit is how many people, and many who even claim to be faithful…aren’t able to distinguish between the two, and aren’t even aware that they can’t. For them, it appears that believing that some people are worthy, and others are not, is a good proposition. To which I mind blowingly respond…”How the F*** can you think that? Have you not read any of the Gospels or Scripture? Cause its all there in black and white. We are ALL God’s children not by our actions, but by our very creation, and we are to love ALL our neighbors as ourselves because that which we do to the least among us, we do unto God.
Which, in conclusion, brings me to this season of Light, this season when we celebrate humanity’s greatest gift: wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, Prince of peace. I understand that there is evil in the world. But this great Light can’t break through the darkness as long as all those spirit killing qualities listed above are practiced in our daily lives. It would be as if we were to take this great gift, one that can conquer all evil, and help us to become all we can be and throw it downstairs in a dark basement and slam the door. It is embracing the season and the gift we are given with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control that makes it effective, and in turn making our own talents effective. It is my hope that your gifts are treated as such, and that you in turn treat everyone in the same way.
For now, I am celebrating all the wonderful fruits of my world, both large and small and prepare for my next step of the journey in the new year…Truth, and all that that entails. (I’m already sweating…big time)
Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.
I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.
So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.
“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
I was inspired by the readings for the second Sunday of Advent, with a tone of reconciling opposites. From Isaiah 11:1-10
On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.
And also in Romans when Paul wishes that we have harmony with one another, but most importantly by the admonition of John the Baptist in Matthew’s gospel: “Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” That’s it. That’s my resolution for next year. While my year of clarity paved the way for wiping illusion away, next year will the year of bearing good fruit. I won’t be blind to the troubles of the world, but there is too much good that goes unnoticed. So, I will find the fruit bearers and celebrate them and hopefully create a ripple effect. It brings me hope in this season to bring light to the darkness.
I’m writing in the darkness of my house, except for the twinkle lights from the Christmas decorations I finished putting up. I am a sucker for the beautiful respite this season brings to the darkness of winter. In the simple power of a few twinkle lights, a burst of hope shatters the darkness. In the most unlikely of places, among animals and shepherds, our faith is born. In the most unlikely of places, a seemingly untenable situation of a woman giving birth in a barn becomes our sacred event. In the most unlikely of places a starry night brings hope and guides kings with gifts to mark the occasion of the exact point in time when heaven’s greatest light comes into the world. And now our journey this advent season begins. Now, gifted by grace, we are the heavenly light that must shine in the most unlikely of places.
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.
You know what I find so troubling? I find it troubling that the internet/social media, while doing so much good to connect people and help them access information, also does a lot of damage in making it easy to rip people apart without any real consideration for the truth, or what it does to someone’s spirit, and, moreover, what it does to the often faceless, feckless, and feeble-minded people who perpetuate damaging rhetoric. It will never make you a better person to disparage someone anonymously or behind their backs. I have seen first hand what it does to people, nipping away at one’s soul, in varying degrees perhaps, but adding to the darkness nonetheless. I’ve posted before regarding an important lesson I learned, that no one can hurt you without your permission…a wonderful and freeing exercise that saves me everyday. However, I also think its important to address what it does to the one who doles out the damage. It just builds up the anger and angst.
Perhaps people are truly unaware that what they say or do has any affect on another, and that if they knew how hurtful they were being they may actually feel bad about it. I know, I’ve unwittingly hurt someone before, it is part of my process to rectify the situation any time I’ve been made aware of it. That’s why face to face conversations are so important, except the internet often makes it impossible to know the direct effect someone has on another…it is just too easy to click, send, or post, without ever looking someone directly in the eye and never face the repercussions of their actions. Ignorance is never an excuse, because the damage occurs anyway. My last post spoke about letting your light shine. But know this truly, when you condemn, disparage or judge another darkness spreads. Jesus speaks very clearly about this:
Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother or sister’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye. How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me remove the splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye. You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother or sister’s eye.
None of us is perfect. And we are all in this together. So let’s focus then, on what we can do to spread light and not darkness. Looking in the mirror, with humility and grace and judging by the measure with which we want to be measured is the place to start.
The first thing that popped into my head on the day of the Orlando shooting? This was a tortured man, most probably gay, who lived within a culture who condemned who he was with such ferocity that he grew to hate those who freely and joyfully embraced who they were, so he took their light in one horrible action. Then, in a last ditch effort to cover up who he really was, claimed to be a martyr for the religious extremists who condemned him in the first place. As more information came out, I feel, sadly that my assessment was correct. Since then, beyond the empathy I feel for the LGBT community, the deep sadness that comes with yet another mass shooting, and the anger for those who are using this tragedy for their own agendas…I am, yet again, standing on the precipice of a darkness that wants to swallow us whole.
You see the thing about true darkness is that we seem to be convinced that it must be fought against with guns blazing. We seem to be convinced that it can win. Darkness is dissipated by light, by love. Jesus lays it out clearly:
No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it under a bushel basket, but on a lamp stand so that those who enter might see the light. The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness. If your whole body is full of light, and not part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness.
So how does the light in you become darkness? How about when you are told that who you are is a sin? When you are dismissed as unimportant and ostracized by a world that is obsessed with external perfection? Or when you are taught that you are of a special group and that unless you conform, you are condemned. Or when you believe lies that are perpetuated to feed the fury of fear. Jesus has an answer to that too, in what happened directly after his lesson on light:
After he had spoken, a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal. The Lord said to him, ‘Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you’
Give alms, meaning give charitably to others, whether it be materially or providing capabilities (like education). What cleans one’s inside is extending one’s light out to others. Nothing more. Just simple charity. And when the scholars of the law twist it into depriving you of your God given light? They doom you to darkness, a darkness that will spread to others by continuing the distortion of the law, ending in the death of the light. We see it played out in suicide and murder. Too many, everyday…when all we are asked to do is love the Lord with all our hearts, soul and mind and our neighbors as ourselves. When you are taught to hate yourself, you cannot fulfill this fundamental premise of our faith. When you are taught to hate others, you serve the darkness.
He exposes these scholars for their hypocrisy and ends with this telling phrase:
You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter, and you stopped those trying to enter.
And what that key is, is that each of us is a light, each with a specific purpose and God given gifts to fulfill that purpose. When we subscribe to the belief that any light is not of God, and in any way large or small snuff out that light, darkness spreads. When Jesus died, and sacrificed himself for our transgressions, the key to everlasting life was given to us. The Kingdom of God, though, is within. And it cannot house fear, or hatred, condemnation, or doubt. So here I stand on the precipice of darkness and allow my light to shine, and pray that others will come to stand with me, trusting and celebrating their own light will do the same.
At the conclusion of the trial in a stabbing death in St Croix Falls, WI yesterday, I felt nothing but profound sadness. I feel sadness for the family of the victim, sadness for all those young men who will no longer be mentored and coached, and sadness for the community who will struggle with the loss of a friend, father and community member. I also feel deep sadness for Levi Acre-Kendall. So,let me say this to you young man: You will wake up every day knowing that it was by your hand that a man died. It was by your hand that five children are fatherless and a wife is without her husband. It was by your hand that a life that impacted many was cut short. Regardless of the circumstances, which by all accounts was a horrible example of testosterone, alcohol, and confrontation gone awry, and the legal result…which in all fairness, as an attorney, was decided as it should have been, there is much to be done to make this profane moment in time into a sacred one.
Yeah, I know, how is that even remotely possible? The choice between the sacred and profane lies in a choice to choose a path of light or darkness. To not choose one or the other isn’t an option. The inevitability of what path to choose lies in how much you can trust the power of God, of love, to work in this mess. Yes, a good man is gone, and a young man is still here. That is the place we start…with what is still here. If any of the words of Jesus are to have any meaning at all, it is in these moments that we embrace them wholly. We have to be the prodigal son story, we have to be the seed that bears fruit, we have to treat the lowest among us as Jesus would…and in this moment it means Levi. Levi, you still have a life to lead, and if it to be one of any legacy at all, you can never compartmentalize away this horrible tragedy. I, for one, believe that your destiny can be a good one and in order for that to happen, you should embrace the struggle of the road ahead because you have to be in those very words of Christ too. You cannot forget about what your actions did to the Kelly family either. Beyond a not guilty verdict, you killed a man and that will always be a painful truth for you. You have to become worthy of their forgiveness or your actions will eat away at you and limit your ability to be an instrument of the light in this world.
Facing up to the consequences of our actions and how to resolve conflict is never easy, and these skills are grossly lacking in today’s society . This is just one of too many examples of what happens when we live by the sword. Let us then, choose another option. Let us teach our children to resolve differences as Jesus taught us to.
Being 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.
I’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed. Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own. The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost. While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.
Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things” God would never give us anything harmful. I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify. So how then, do we know what good is? What follows gives us a clue. Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”. The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.
So what is good fruit? Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power? I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray. Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree). It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit. Pretty much sums it all up.
In a world where so much goes wrong, it can be easy to wonder where all the heavenly help has gone. You know, you hear all those stories of mystical beings springing out of nowhere to save the day, never to be found again to be thanked, but I wonder…is that the exception for angelic behavior, or the rule? I know Jesus inferred many times that heralded help may not always be what it appears, wolves in sheep’s clothing, thieves in the night. So how do we know? Is it a good standard to escape the pain and difficulty that are almost essential to mastering the game of life? Is it logical to surmise that when things go our way, heaven is behind us and when they don’t we are being punished or plagued by a demon? I say unequivocally, no it isn’t logical…but then again neither is God. That isn’t to say that God can’t behave logically. God just isn’t defined by it. Logic is a human invention to help make sense of life and discover truth. It will never be a primary tool to uncover and understand the divine.
So then, it’s complicated. If heaven is beyond and not limited by our comprehension, how do we know when help is near…and more importantly when it’s not, and we are just being duped into deeper and deeper illusion? That’s when I rely on the teachings of Jesus. I truly believe in the realm of angels, because Jesus did. And while I may not understand all that entails, I do understand Jesus when he described the different kinds of people who would follow his words. The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a perfect description of those who abide by his teachings: there are those who are more shallow and the words never take hold, those who don’t hold them deep enough and forget the minute things get rough, those whose would use them for their own thorny purpose and choke the life out the message, and finally, those who let them deep into the soul and nurture them till they bear fruit. I always pray that I am of the latter, but time and humility will tell.
That’s how I feel about angels. I am aware that I need a lot of help if I am to nurture this seed of faith that I’ve been given. In hindsight, though, my personal magical moments hardly ever consisted of being swooped up and saved by a heavenly messenger, rather it usually meant knowing I could survive the pain of heaven peeling away the darkness and replacing it something brighter and more pure, whatever the situation. Angels don’t make our lives easier, they help us make it better, and that sometimes means harder. They direct us down a better road, often the least traveled or obvious. They help us defy and ascend logic by demanding faith in that which we cannot yet see, but have been told to be real. Their presence is with us all the time, yet because of free will, requires our permission to assist in sowing the sacred soil of the soul. The fruit of which, is to extend an angelic hand to someone else, not necessarily to save, but to serve.
I take all the struggles in the world a bit too personally because I do believe that none of us is insulated from the pain, that we are all connected to each other. When I look at the world and try to see it as the body of Christ, I see so many wounds in need of healing. I see the different parts of the body fighting for supremacy and importance. I am reminded of what Paul said in the first letter of Corinthians: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, let all parts share its joy”. So, a midst a tumultuous and suffering world, part of my regimen of zen is to take stock of the things that cause suffering, but also those things that I can honor and celebrate. In so doing I can be more effective in creating peace and balance, not only for myself but the world.
While I realize that I am just one person, I also know I am only as effective as I believe I can be. I know how easy it is to give into despair and hopelessness given all that bad that happens every day. The past paralysis of my face is a good metaphor (almost fully healed, by the way). When one gets too immersed in the pain in the world, and I see it every day as part of my job, it’s easy to turn to an isolated insular state of existence. That is what Paul commands us not to do. So, I breathe, take in some quiet and look to the healing that I’m surrounded by every day. Since it feels like I am at our clinic all the time, it’s easy to for me to be immersed in the function and bypass the miracles that happen here each and every day. We are blessed to have an amazing group of patients who are already keyed into the magic that happens at our clinic. Some you out there may have heard of us, some have not. But I do know it is a true center of healing and wellness in the world.
I know there are plenty of testimonials on Steve’s blog, which you can link to from this site as well as on his you tube channel. I would have linked them all, but for some reason, I couldn’t embed the links into this post. All I know, is that Edling Chiropractic is an incredible place of healing in a world that too often, puts cost and convenience above health. I am surrounded by the many lives our clinic has touched every day, and I know there are countless more that we could help. I am grateful to Steve for patiently working on my autoimmune issues and bringing my smile back. I am grateful for all the successes we see each and every day, and the wonderful people who are committed to their health. As many of you have been challenged to do on Facebook, being grateful abates the overwhelming despair that works so hard to take over our lives and wreck havoc on the body. I am lucky to be part of Edling Chiropractic, and proud of the work Dr Edling does. My smile is proof.
I tell my sons this all the time. Much of the lifestyle we live, is earned and I am proud of that. As much, however, is not. I am always mindful of that I live in a rich country, have freedoms that others fought for, have the ethnicity that offers more opportunity to me than to others. I am gifted spiritually by Grace, and perfected by God’s sacrifice. I am NOT entitled to anything, except the opportunity to love as Jesus did and help bring light to a world that often seems dimmed by smoke and subterfuge…so that we cannot see that we are blessed, created by and vindicated by God.
I can’t help thinking that if we really believed that we were greatly privileged, and wore that greatness as a badge of honor, we would embrace the responsibility to love and honor each other so much more easily. We’ve been lulled into believing that we will never have enough, will never be enough, and the world’s acceptance matters. We should be better at it by now, you know, loving one another and being the Body of Christ. We are way too obsessed about gaining what is rightly ours…when nothing really is, in this temporal world, all is fleeting and none of it will matter in the next world.
I know it doesn’t mean we stop practically living in the world, but we would live differently if we really believed that we could. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell all you have and follow me”. With the privilege of Grace, comes responsibility.
This picture represents a simple idea, we can change a single molecule by our thoughts and words. For more info on the picture check this link: http://www.whatthebleep.com/water-crystals/ But his ideas led me to what I had to say about the growing darkness in this world on a past post:
I remember teaching moral issues long ago, when I tried to impress upon the sophomore class the subtleties in making a moral decision. Right and wrong, good and bad are never really black and white, rather exist in often the subtlest shades of grey. I don’t think they could quite get their heads wrapped around the concept, perhaps it was that the examples I gave weren’t very good, like distinguishing between taking a pen from someone’s desk or locker without asking, or the last piece of pie when you’ve already had your share. Most scoffed at how stupid I was being, and rationalized quite sensibly, that a pencil is only worth a couple of pennies, or the person would never miss it, or justify that the person excluded from the pie really didn’t need it after all and they were just doing them a favor. What I was unable to convey, even after I thought I stated it pretty clearly, is that moral behavior, in large part, is built by developing an ability to distinguish between shades of grey….and the way to do that is one decision at a time, regardless of how simple or inane they might appear. What can I say, I was young…and wanted them to understand that as adults, we are an accumulation of choices just like these. If the first impulse is to justify in your mind why an action is morally ok to serve any “want” at the time then it is a clear indication that your gut is telling you that it may not be. I learned throughout the years from very wise people, to simply take a moment to weigh my options…which in truth most often takes a few seconds. Asking before borrowing something or choosing not to be greedy only increases our souls acuity to recognize shades of grey. Our brains also help us continue on a moral path by creating neuro-pathways, or shortcuts to respond to situations like the ones mentioned automatically after we repeat a certain behavior after a while. I guess that is why bad habits are so hard to break…just ask my family…it’s to the point that whenever I even open my mouth to speak their eyes roll back into their heads, and I guess I can’t blame them. For now it is safer to opine in cyber space.
I fear in this time, we may be losing the ability to distinguish between shades of grey and the world is growing darker. I don’t know if it’s because there is so much corruption, rationalized behavior, and greed that we’ve accepted that the growing darkness is inevitable (or its someone else’s fault), or if it’s because up against such darkness it is easier to look so much better in comparison. We do live in morally dubious times, and I think the place to start cleaning up all the pollution begins with our own choices…not necessarily the ones involving pencils and pie, but the ones that trigger the rationalization response. I know I’ve had a hard time taking my own inventory when there are so many who don’t, but it has to start somewhere. And I know that I am in no position to throw stones, but do hold myself obligated to develop my own moral acumen…because too many of our leaders and movers and shakers in our world don’t…and why the saving of the world may very well be left in the hands of us ordinary folk…one choice at a time.
So it is with Grace. Sometimes I think we believe that real power lies in those who stand in the light of infamy and fame, those names that we are familiar with, who are known by the masses. I think that is the greatest illusion of all, perpetuated by darkness to seduce us from recognizing our own power. How many are looking for a savior on a white horse, fearless and strong with endless power and ability to slay any adversary? There is a reason God chooses great leaders from the simplest and most ordinary people…it is within every heart to do great things. Each of us has the ability to use the subtly of Grace and change even water…even if we aren’t around to see their impact in the future. Never underestimate a single gesture of Grace…the darkness never does and that is how it grows as well. The good news is that even the subtlest of light can cast away the darkness. Be a light. Change the world
Every day I say this prayer: “God, bless all those in need with the miracle of love and light, let this miracle transform their lives in such a way that they, in turn, transform others with the gift of love and light.” Given recent events, I was truly gifted with a miracle when God shed light on the wounds I carried as a result of my past and healed them with love by exposing those wounds that were hidden away. I learned that my singular perspective so skewed the truth of past events that it literally weighed me down for years. Not only was it largely a burden that tortured me unnecessarily, it also distracted me from good that could have been accomplished. Like I’ve said before about perspective, it is limited to the individual…we have only a finite amount of information, finite gifts and functions. That is why we were called to become a body, where all our differences are used together to become something so much more. Living by a singular perspective stifles the functionality of the body of Christ.
Herein lies the problem with that singular perspective. It has become a marker for a political ideology, where differences are suspect and at times deemed sinful…which is exactly what Paul said can’t happen. He said no part of the body has the right to look at another and say that they are of lesser or of no importance. All parts are essential to the functioning of the whole. I may have carried the burden that I was a nonessential or less than other parts of the body, therefore limiting my ability to do what God created me to do. I had to broaden my perspective and take the leap to ask…”how do you see me?” I was blessed with seeing that I am essential, that I do matter. What of those who are not so lucky? What of those who many Christians see as abominations? I challenge them to read John 8:1-11. When the Pharisees and scribes presented the woman caught in adultery to him and asked whether or not he would fulfill the law of Moses and stone her, he bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. When they persisted he said: “Let the one among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. He then bent down and continued writing on the ground. No one threw a stone. I’ve always believed that they walked away because each could see their own sin in what Jesus wrote on the ground. I wish each and every Christian spent less time perched and ready with stone in hand, and more time embracing the light and love that he brought with his teaching. He concluded by telling the Pharisees and scribes: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me with have the light of life…You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.”
Drop the stones. None of us is sinless. Walking in the light demands it.
I avoid Black Friday as if it were the plague. I used to think it was because I hated the crowds. Don’t get me wrong, I do hate the crowds…but I think deep down I hate Black Friday because I don’t want it to render null and void, the belief that I have that this is truly the season of good will toward all, and a time to prepare for the entrance of light into the world. This morning I woke up to the news of record numbers and violence for shoppers that started early on Thanksgiving. I felt robbed, I felt sick, not because people don’t have a right to the good deal, but because it is beginning to reflect more of who we are as a culture, one obsessed with material goods and not good will toward all. Stuff matters more and more…and it makes me sad. It isn’t what the season is about, and I can’t help but think what a perfect diabolical plot it is for the father of lies to completely ruin what should be an essential moment in time to get us back on track, to remind us that we can be so much more than what the limitations that our physical beings offer . We were given the gift of light, and can forever be so much more…if our focus is where it should be. There is no store anywhere that could give us the deal that we’ve already been given, and we need to remind our souls of that. We need to remind the world of that…and it will only happen one person at a time. This can be a season of love and kindness, generosity and compassion, peace and goodwill, but it truly up to all of us to curb the desire for shop for the best deal, and activate the one we’ve already received.