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.
Don’t worry, I’m not going all horror story, but I do think the biggest block to recognizing truth are our own personal demons, deep seeded fears, and dark secrets that we keep putting layer upon layer of subterfuge on so we don’t have to deal with their often painful realities. I consider myself lucky in this regard because over the last three years I have ripped off enough of that subterfuge, like ripping off a band aid, to warrant a transfusion. I am proud of all the work I did recognizing and coming face to face with myself, both flawed which I was already good at noticing and unrecognized beauty which I often never saw at all. In hindsight, I’m glad that there seemed to be a plan from above because I’m not sure if I could have withstood it all in one fell swoop. And no, there will be no details. We all get to deal with our own demons, and keep them private from those who care more to relish in others discomfort than face their own…I’ve learned that the hard way too. I think God has always understood that my deepest desire was to use my talents to the best of my ability and so put me on a path to do just that. The blessing about God being the only omniscient one in our relationship is that if I would have had that kind of foresight, I’m not sure I ever would have taken the journey.
In learning to see myself, and love her…I’ve learned to be more accommodating and accepting of others. That last statement seemed so silly and obvious when I wrote it…and I’ve heard it in a million ways at a million different times. The difference lies in taking it out of the conceptual level and really do it in practice every day. On my most difficult days along this journey, the anger I felt toward (excuse the expletives) every mother f***ing person who deceived, lied, hurt, ignored, talked about, underestimated, or didn’t see, me was as much a result of my own sadness at my place in the center of it all. I know the ones closest to me felt much of that wrath, and I am sorry for it. And still, I am fine with who I am at the center of my world today because I finally see and understand, (through my family, whom I love) at my deepest core I know that I am a good person, who only wants to do good in this world. I am honest, spiritual, and exceptionally powerful in my own way. And I know my power comes from this simple belief: When God is for me who can be against me. When this unbounded love, (God and love are the same thing for me) flows in, around and through me, I am the truest version of me, and the most powerful.
So, for truth to mean anything at all, one must look at oneself first. Uncover what you’ve been hiding all this time, see it, own it and only then can healing happen. More probably you’ll see just as much beauty too…and that is God’s best truth. Then, and only then can you learn to also see the world for what it truly is, and go from there.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every contact makes an impact. Awareness of a result or lack thereof will never alter this fact.
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.
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.
If you’re alive, there is still plenty of work to do, God is not finished with you yet, old man…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Suck up as many senior discounts as possible, you deserve it.
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.
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!
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?
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.
You have have been and are still loved, truly, madly and deeply!
In Goethe’s “Faust’, the character of Mephistopheles, i.e. a devil, bored with all things in God’s creation, wagers a bet with God that he can tempt Faust (whom God proudly uses as an example of goodness) to commit evil acts, and thereby gain his soul and service for all eternity. Mephistopheles approaches Faust experiencing a crisis of faith and after some malicious tricks, makes a pact with Faust to give him such ultimate bliss that he would never want to leave, in exchange for his soul and eternal service in hell. In the end, love and grace ultimately win and save Faust, because try as he might to create evil moments where Faust is lost, Mephistopheles somehow creates opportunities for goodness too. The joke is on Mephistopheles, the ultimate cosmic outsider, because he has no true awareness or understanding of love…he only understands deceptions and illusions (the whole Father of lies thing). Love is our true weaponry and armor against the Mephistopheles of the world. They prey on those who feel isolated and disillusioned with the world and tempt them with those things they believe will fill their personal void, except it’s all smoke and mirrors.
The human spirit was created in love and goodness. I see it every day, and it is time to let it sing. Cumulatively we have to stand for goodness and all the hallmarks of culture that humanity has brought forth. Denouncing those periodic elements of hatred and strife is how love works…to keep silent breeds complicity, period. No one wants to confront the disparate events of hatred, but that is what goodness or love does…we transform them into something greater. In times of great evil, like Faust, lies the opportunity for goodness and love. We have been a divided country for awhile, polarizing politics have damaged relationships, I know they have damaged mine. The tragedy in Charlottesville offers us an opportunity for goodness, to walk together undivided, even if momentarily, and stand for something greater than hate. I have seen posts circulating on social media attempting to diminish these hateful groups as a handful of crazies etc. To dismiss these events that are happening around the world as just a few crazy people who don’t deserve our attention is completely missing an opportunity to shut down yet another Mephistopheles. To say it is no big deal is ultimately an act of cowardice. A small cancer is still a cancer. Acknowledging it early offers an opportunity for a cure.
So before we try and band together about hate let me say this: blaming one side or the other obfuscates the real problem. I am a liberal, and I defy anyone of you who knows me and yet still condemns liberals as a matter of course, to maintain those judgments when they see my face in their words when they disparage the party of my choice. So we tackle problems from different angles, big f-ing deal we are not evil because of it. I refuse to judge people on those kinds of generalizations for the same reasons: because I walk, work and live in a very conservative area and it is their faces I see when I engage in political discussions and refuse to disparage an entire party. Vilifying each other is just Mephistopheles whispering in our ears. Personally, in all honesty, I do take much of the unfair criticisms and name calling to heart and wonder, when they hate liberals so much, how can they then purport to be my friend? Is it that they surround themselves with only people who think like them? Is it unthinkable to disagree, to be critical in a civil manner of a president who is so negative and polarizing? Truthfully people? to work through our disagreements is the job of an engaged citizenry.
What I will condemn, and hope you on both sides of the aisle will too, is the KKK, White Nationalists, Nazi’s, and any other group who preaches hate and condemns another’s right to liberty and happiness, because they are antithetical to who we are as Americans. Being disenfranchised is a problem we can solve together, but not the furtherance of hating a group of people who don’t fit your definition of worthiness. It was disgusting when Hitler preached it and it is disgusting when they preach it now. So I offer this. Let’s take the evil and transform it by shutting it down with goodness, with love. The way Faust saved his soul, was by engaging his goodness, even in the darkest moments. So lets band together, all of us against hatred, against violence, against bigotry, against religious intolerance. Let’s together pray, bring out our goodness to the forefront and stop the judgement, even privately, and focus on who we really want to be as a nation.
My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.
It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.
I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.
We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.
There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.
I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.
Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.
My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.
We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.
Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.
Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.
That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.
Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my visits to Russia, once when it was the USSR, and once after it dissolved. I was reading through my journals about the trip the other day, and I thought I would honor that young girl by first sharing some of her insights about the trip. I was the youngest member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches, being only 24. I had to study extensively before hand as well as attend briefings for days at Columbia University in New York City before we left. It was 1984, and there was still a cold war, but I believed that this opportunity was a God-given one that I couldn’t pass up. There are so many more stories that I can’t print here, but I want to offer some of the insights that shaped my future thoughts
Notes during our briefings
Like America, there seems to be a big difference between the people and those in power. The big difference is the sense of futility of the Soviet people feel in overtly doing anything about the injustice they are forced to live with. I was also amazed at the structured and networked way people work around the system. I’ve always believed things are not always what they seem to be, that we live in a time of Olympic level charades-the feeling that things are not what they appear to be. In the USSR it must be overpowering. Again, the difference between the two countries is not just ideology but one of survival. All the bullshit in America is who can get ahead-who can accumulate the most. The feelings in Russia are to survive, to beat an unfair system-yet Hedrick Smith says they’re very generous people-they love to share gifts with people. We are not allowed to bring any denim and the woman have to wear skirts or dresses. Clothes of the west are a hot commodity. They asked us to bring pins to share, I am completely unprepared.
about the Olympic boycott
I’ve just heard about the boycott of the Russians to our Olympics. I’m sad that our two countries keep egging each other on.What will this do to my trip? I’m beginning to realize the seriousness of what I’m about to do. I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect, but don’t want to push any preconceived ideas into my thinking.
On the the trip
After our city tour, we went to a small village church. The pastor’s name was Basil and I know what will have been the highlight of my trip was the children, it was wonderful! There is no way I can explain it in words…just freedom. Fr Basil took us to his “home” where we had another “gala” dinner-we made many toasts (too much vodka). During one of the toasts by Fr Innocent (irony of the year) I started to cry, partly because I’m tired, but mostly because of the double speak, the secret language of the heart and the language of the mouth, or party line, which I’ve had pretty much enough of by now. My eye contact with people has become quite piercing…and they don’t like it, not at all. But you see, you have to look so deeply for the truth and when they deceive and you’re looking deep into their eyes, they can’t hold your gaze. It started having a bad effect on people…not speaking but just forcing eye contact. I hoped my eyes say “I see YOU”. It was when we visited the collective farm I wanted to scream “Do you really think we’re that stupid?” It doesn’t matter to me that you’re trying to impress me, what I want is the truth…a rare commodity here. I’m tired of the press, people taking our pictures and the presence of the KGB. Do they think I can’t tell the difference between a real seminarian and a Soviet officer, especially the way they look me up and down?
Celebrating the high holiday for Russian Orthodox-Pentecost, at Zagorsk, which is their equivalent of Rome was beyond words. When our many buses drove into the monastery, there were thousands waiting to greet us. Walking through all those people just staring at us made me realize that we were definitely on display. The whole experience was beautiful and breathtaking and yet completely freaked me out.
The cantata at the Baptist Church
There was quite a bit of excitement at the Baptist Church. They had prepared a special cantata for us and it was really beautiful. But after the music was over, some people held banners over the balcony claiming in English that many pastors of Baptist Churches were being imprisoned. I was astounded, everything had been so “perfect” until this point. Our leaders avoided it and we were basically told from everyone, what you saw, you didn’t see. Afterwards, I could see one of the wives giving an interview with journalists. I am impressed by her determination and guts and will pray for her protection.
Gala Dinner Menu (one of many)
Cocktail/Salad: rolled ham stuffed with eggs, stuffed hard boiled egg with tomato, salmon and white fish, tomatoes, and breads with caviar. This served with vodka, also for toasting.
First course: crepes and black caviar. Served with red wine.
Second course: Chicken Kiev, with vegetables and rice in a puffed pastry. Served with white wine.
Dessert: Ice cream and filled cake. Served with Champagne.
Coffee: biscuits,cheeses. Served with cognac.
Dancing, and most were a bit drunk…Cheers to my Irish tolerance (and I did toastes with water, not vodka)
Leaving the USSR
I’m in the Moscow airport ready to board the plane for Amsterdam. My feelings are mixed. I’m sad to leave because I feel like I haven’t seen enough-but the tension of this society is so oppressive that I can’t breathe. I’ve also felt disillusioned about this trip. It seemed to be so much media hype for our Leader—– I don’t like to be part of diplomatic niceties which I feel most of this trip was, especially near the end. There were times when I felt like I was on the mountain being tempted by the Devil with all the fanfare, pampering and “gala” dinners. Everything. was. just. too. nice. It makes me wonder what the results of our trip will really be. Will all the frosting hide justice? i.e.the women at the baptist church.
The lay over in Amsterdam was a needed break. My wild side came out, and I’m sure a bit of repressed anger too. I waltzed some of the ministers down to the red light district..he he. Their faces as they looked at the prostitutes in the store fronts doing their best come hither, is something I will never forget.
They said everything was a perfect success. I began to panic because I knew I had to tell people about my experience-that was part of the deal. While going to the USSR was a dream, I had to borrow against my next year salary to do this, with the little I make working with the church it was such a risk. I thought I would be making a real difference, and now I wonder. One of the youth group members committed suicide just as I was arriving home. Physically her life was nice, like our peace mission. Nice isn’t enough, it just can’t be. Christianity can’t always be nice. Peace should be defined by more than nice. It means pain, sacrifice, being vulnerable, being scared and letting go in the face of it. I didn’t get that from the leadership of either country. I felt those things personally and I’m angry that those feelings were never supported by a group speaking in my name too.
We Americans and the Soviets are different, I accept that. I accept protocol and diplomacy are very important. We depended too much on behaving “appropriate” and not enough on being Christians. Our connection was our mutual faith. The Church’s route just has to be different than a political one, it has to be. Politics is rooted in a struggle for power, Christianity is rooted in the spread of the gospel and love. Human beings have proven through history that they are incapable of bringing about lasting peace by their own initiative. It doesn’t matter how good and noble the intentions are if they become egocentric somehow.
Because I am young, the youngest that went by far, my insight and intuition isn’t quite as keen as it will be some day. God has blessed me with much potential, though. So I will listen to how deeply disturbed I feel. There was so much going on in the Soviet Union on a completely different level. I could tell by eye contact, body language, atmosphere-the shadow language. It was all very subtle, but clear enough to demand attention, because when added to the whole picture, my impressions were radically altered. My struggle will be to create an honest picture without embellishment.
Afterwards, I was relieved when a journalist called to get my opinion of the trip. Excited to tell my truth, we talked for a long while. When the article came out in a national paper, not only wasn’t I mentioned, but it “nice.” In my mind, I had been censored and rendered insignificant. I became depressed and disillusioned after that. I spoke three times about my trip, the bare minimum and I continued to worry and pray about the baptist ministers wife and what the truth really was….so I went back, four years later……
I found out late last night that one of my roommates from college passed away. In looking through all my old photo albums, I was aware, once again, of those positive influences in my life who helped me overcome my inadequacies, and stood as an example of goodness, truth and such kindness. She stands front and center. I know its common to talk about people who die in celebratory language and images. But Louise was the real deal. She would get teased sometimes by her Pollyanna approach to the world, but she was just, simply, so good. She helped me stay optimistic when my more brooding tendencies would begin to take over. A fellow sojourner on a quest for spiritual enlightenment, she visited a community in Canada to calm her spirit and find some answers, like I did in the desert in New Mexico. She found her soul mate in her husband Tom, a relationship I often used as an archetype of how a man and woman behave in a healthy relationship. I wasn’t always good at social cues, and Louise somehow helped me navigate through the complications of relationships. Even after all this time she continued to be that person who glowed, and that was intrinsically so much better than many of us not just because she was kind, funny and smart, but she moved in the world living a life that reflected her spiritual values and made it seem uncomplicated and effortless…and she never made me feel inferior, never once, even though I believe it to be true, in every sense of the word. Lou was matter of fact about what was necessary to be a modern Catholic Christian. She had her causes and worked tirelessly to bear her own brand of “good fruit.”
She was that friend you could always pick up right where you left off. I was able to talk to her on the phone a few times after she got sick because she lived in another state. The first time, I didn’t even know she was sick, we didn’t talk about that, we just picked up and updated like we usually did. My world was brighter every time we connected, and it is my hope that I made her world brighter too. She was my only friend that continued to write letters long hand as well, waxing philosophically much of the time, continuing to search and grow. They are in my box of letters along with others like my father’s that made me think and grow. She again, was much better at it than I was. I would start but never finish, and end up sending missives separated by long periods of time that had many different sections that were started and then stopped. I regret letting my own ill health often get in the way of reconnecting, but I do feel confident that she knew how much I loved her, even if we didn’t see each other very much.
I have often used Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” in the story of the wood fox, to depict how to make friends or tame people…
Louise tamed me. She transformed how I learned to see the world. I’m sure through her husband and beautiful children, her friends and family, no one will see the wheat fields in the same way agian. And it is nice to know that there is one more angel in heaven watching over and bringing us light and hope.
I should know by now that no amount of planning on my part when it comes to God means that I am prepared, ready, or set to go on my New Year’s commitment. Omniscience is funny that way. I guess I will never fully appreciate the intricacies of my heavenly God’s magnificent brain (but like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football, I keep trying). So. Bearing good fruit…its not as easy a subject as I originally thought. Don’t get me wrong, in my planning I had dozens of do-gooders lined up to talk about. Although enthused to share those stories that make one smile and push the belief that the future is bright, I got an overwhelming sense that wasn’t what I was supposed to do. There are tons of social media sites that highlight those happy stories of puppy’s being saved and glorious good deeds. Note, I will never denigrate these sites…they often bring a happy tear to my eye and put a smile on my face and calm my soul. What they don’t do, however, is propel me to action. Therein lies the rub, while a smile or happy tear is good thing, it can lull us into a stupor of contentment rather than incentivize us into acting on the belief that the fate of the world depends on bearing MY fruit, sharing MY gifts. And believe me, the world is in desperate need of everybody’s fruit. Even as I wrote that last phrase, I realize how almost dirty it sounds, because as a woman, the measure of my fruit has to be a bit tawdry, right? Sex and money, isn’t that what many people think of as worthy fruit? But I digress.
While the potential for all of us to bear fruit is there, what helps bring the potential of a gift to fruition? What are the prerequisites? What is the water, sun and good soil that every unique human soul needs to flourish and grow? And just as importantly, once those fruits grow to fruition, who do we share them with? To those who share regularly with me? To only those who will appreciate what I have to give or deserve the fruits of my labor? What of those who refuse to bear fruit at all? Shouldn’t they burn like the infernal barren fig tree? Those are the questions that I’ve been pondering. What makes someone feel like they don’t have anything to give, or are capable of bearing fruit? I think the answer lies in the one thing that doesn’t need a prerequisite, or a degree, or talent, or beauty, or a pedigree. It is the one thing that I swear my allegiance to every day…and that is love.
So love is where I will begin, the one requirement without which bearing fruit is impossible. And it expresses and nurtures everyone differently. So let’s begin with the basics…because my intent this year is to help everyone see how their unique gifts are essential to the plan, and together we can build a Kingdom worthy of all the goodness that we are.
Christmas time, a season of wonder, full of hope…but what should it mean to people of faith? There are plenty of people out there who appreciate this season for a host of reasons…those of us who claim to be Christians should be on a whole different page. We should alwayslive with a sense of wonder and hope, even if, in times of trouble, it is buried deep. The funny thing, is that given the current climate, most people (and I’m talking about Christians here) don’t live that way. They live in fear of others who are different from them, or think differently than them, or embrace such righteousness that they, like the religious elite that Jesus despised, think that everyone else is beneath them, and take pleasure in condemnation or scapegoating others. Those are the distinctions for me that are proof they don’t get it, they can’t see all the glorious colors that faith, hope and love brings. There will be plenty who read this who will have a visceral reaction…who does she think she is? except in more in more salacious terms. I don’t care. There is too much at stake. If you see yourself in any of the descriptions I’ve negatively laid out, then read a bit of the Gospel and CHANGE. Bullshit doesn’t work anymore. If you want to be a change-maker, a true disciple, then you believe what Jesus taught. Walk on water, do the things he did, show the world you are truly a disciple by how you love one another…AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT BEING SEEN, OR GETTING CREDIT, OR ANYTHING BUT LIVING JOYFULLY IN THE COLORS BROUGHT TO SIGHT BY THE FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE THAT YOU SUPPOSEDLY LIVE AND LOVE BY. For those of you who aren’t necessarily religious, per say, and are tired of me proselytizing, try and read between the lines to at least embrace the simple challenge of living beyond fear.
That is my commitment for next year. I want to meet and know people who see in color. I want to help bring that goodness to the forefront.
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.
Yes, I know what that statement usually signifies, it signifies anger. Taken from what a bullfighter’s red cape triggers in the eyes of the bull…blind fury, it means feeling so much anger that it takes control of one’s actions. For me red signifies something different. Red is a color that also signifies love, and when I see red, that is what I see. Seeing love doesn’t preclude feeling anger, I think anger can be a powerful force for change. It is the feeling of anger that moves us to challenge discrimination and senseless violence, to fight those who reject liberty and freedom. Love of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the foundation of our country, and whenever that is attacked, we should feel anger, even if it stems from within our own borders. As the most powerful country in the world, we should feel anger at any force who would try and dismantle all the good that has been built and established by the brilliance of our forebears. The difference, though, between allowing the rage of anger to blind us into acting like a bull and wrecking havoc, and allowing the power of love to expand our sight into acting like one who is evolved enough to wield it, marks the distinction between animal and human. Choosing the former reduces us to raw instinctual response, choosing the latter is the reason God gave us dominion over the earth.
We are made in God’s image. And God is love. God made the earth and all living creatures in it and said that it is good. God, who breathed life into us out of love, gave us dominion over that creation. As people of faith…we should know this, we should abide by this. And we should fight for God’s creation, all of it. It is right that we should feel anger when that creation is threatened…but as people who were created in the image of love, this and only this is what that dominion should look like:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love 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 wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The power of love should be our strength, motivation and triumph. It is unlimited and unbounded in its capacity to protect and nourish God’s creations…all of them.
Let me conclude with a powerful phrase that has guided me always:
The day will come when, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.
Tielhard de Chardin
The power of love is the only omniscience that can abide in us. Through the blood of Christ, we are perfected in the power of that love. Only we can choose to accept the power of love, or the power of anger. I choose love.
I know a lot of people who give in secret, and I know a lot of you do too. Here’s the thing, though. Generosity can be exhausting, even when heavenly rewards have been promised. Sometimes its hard when generosity is scrutinized, or expected in an entitled sort of way. It is those moments when a simple thank you or acknowledgment would be nice. When I walk in the world, I try to look at each person as if they have a giving secret, and it changes the way I see them and treat them. I make it a game, thanking God for the secret giving they have stored in their hearts. For me, I visualize the treasure growing and solidifying in my own heart. At night I show the gifts of the day to my Father in heaven, knowing he understands why I do what I do, even when many others do not. I don’t need approval or accolades of others…only God, who knows my heart. It is then that I can breath in his acceptance and love. I know it changes how people see me. I feel powerful. And I want to share that power with you. I read this scripture from Matthew 6, over and over. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
But take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your alms-giving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
It’s been awhile, and the reason is simple: life happens and sometimes life is hard. Events occur and people we love grow ill and the future teeters in a precarious balance that seems beyond everything but hope and prayer. The world is fraught with crisis and to weigh in demands I make a choice. Will I be a glass half empty person or a glass half full person. I choose to stand on the side of the half fullers. For me its not a Pollyanna thing but a hard stance in the face of negativity and dare you to defy my hope kind of thing. Ultimately, it is a requirement of my faith…for without it, I am just a seed on rocky ground. This world is so good, and so full of great things happening every day, and not the apocalyptic nightmare purported over the many means of media.
It’s also a science thing for me…in a quantum situation, i.e. light can exist as a particle or a wave depending on how its observed (note, prior to this double slit experiment, it had to be one or the other, light could not exist as both). Life can be good or bad, I as the observer determine which…and that determination matters more than anything. I can affect an outcome through faith, hope and love. Words matter, telling the truth matters, prayer matters, looking to the future no matter how daunting with God, in whatever form, augmenting our weakness with deep abiding love and strength matters. It ultimately distinguishes who gets up and moves forward.
For you glass half empties…I offer you my prayer to learn to see with hopeful eyes
There is a sweet thing going around Facebook…its a love your spouse challenge, posting pictures for seven days. I was tagged…I hate being tagged, not because I don’t love my husband, I do. I just don’t do the picture or display thing. Please don’t hate me because I’m not a follower. So rather than pictures of us standing together, here is why I stand with him and for him…and then let me be done please.
Beyond all the typical stuff people fall in love and get married for (he is good looking, my man…), I had never met someone who was so good period…in the sense that he couldn’t formulate a malevolent thought if you paid him a lot of money. It isn’t part of his nature to connive or manipulate, those of you who know him know that he is true to the core. It is part of his make up not just to be good, but to do good in the world as well. It is the central driving force of his life’s path. Part of my own altruism is sustained by being partnered with someone whose passion in life is to do good in the world. We are both people of deep honesty and integrity, which sustains the goodness in our hearts and our actions.
He is uncomplicated emotionally. He is exactly who he is, untethered and unrestrained. I am complicated and intense, an old soul that holds the struggle of the world in my heart and on my shoulders. I think I bring him to a deeper place and he challenges me to lighten the hell up. It hasn’t always been easy dancing the simple/complex dance, but this dance is what we signed up for and we trust each other to keep it going. Neither of us are quitters.
He despises controversy and confrontation, and works hard to find common ground and celebrate everyone…even those who have been unfair or unkind. I don’t like controversy and confrontation either, although both are easy for me because I see them as a road to find common ground and celebrate everyone, although I struggle with people being unfair or unkind. People wonder how we can work together everyday. It is a balancing act, embracing what each of us do best and it works..except when he tries to micromanage me, or my tone is a bit too rapier…our patients, I’m sure, have plenty of stories. It is, though, a place of healing and love. You see we share that commitment to not only bringing out the good in ourselves, but helping to bring it out in others too, especially by restoring their health.
We allow each other to be imperfect. In a world that is trending toward vanity and perfectionism, we don’t have to be anyone but ourselves with each other. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we don’t get under each other’s skin, or that we don’t fight or throw tantrums or are always on the same page. It simply means that we are not conditional. Our marriage is neither temporary nor a fairy tale. It is so much bigger than that. When we face trials of sickness, death, balancing business and finances, or the growing pains of our sons, I am there for him and he for me. We both take our promises to each other seriously. I have to remind myself of how lucky I am, with my back issues and autoimmune struggles, that he can be that support I need.
The most important thing that we hold as a priority is a deep and abiding faith in God. While we both express it differently, I am more cerebral and he more through nature, we both know that our life works because we believe there is a God who is great and loves and supports us unconditionally. Our faith doesn’t work if we declare a deep love of God, but not from one another. We try to manifest God’s love in our lives everyday, hospitality is very important to both of us. Some days its hard and we fail. So we just try harder the next day.
Beyond all that…everybody loves Steve, who can compete with that?
When I have no words to express the sadness, the shock, the shame that I feel when I am witness to events that I find unconscionable, unreasonable and unacceptable, I turn to scripture to find comfort. I came upon this verse in the gospel of Matthew 10: 28-31.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
In this moment, with grief and anger regarding senseless loss of life, I pray for our national soul. In this moment, we need to be our best selves, and that will look different depending where we stand. Wherever that is, it is counterproductive to focus energy on blame and vengeance. In this moment, those of us who stand on the outside must shine light into the darkness with love and support. All are essential in God’s eyes. That has to be the foundation in finding a solution, one nation under God. A nation that is not just one color, religion, or political ideology. Unless you stand for the freedom of every citizen, you do not stand for America. As for your faith, unless you see God in the eye of every citizen, you do not stand for God.
We have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about racial inequality and gun violence. We are becoming an angry, fearful, judgmental and self righteous violent people. If we truly believe that we all matter, then a change in attitude is the only possible solution. It starts with me, and it starts with you. None of us can stay the same…we all have to move forward, together.
One of the observations that Jesus makes both comforts and convicts me in equal measure. Jesus first warns his disciples:
Be on guard against the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and love greetings in marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.
He then goes on to make this observation:
When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.’
I’m not about to get close to the subject of people and their money. No one thinks they have enough, and certainly don’t want to let go of it…to their detriment anyway. At my core, I’m no different, and it is with great effort and sometimes with great ease, that I consciously release the hold it has on me every day. It expands my faith and my trust in God that I will have enough…that I will be enough and it actually makes me walk in the world differently.
I want to explore other kinds of want, and that has been the greater task for me this year. Loving when I don’t feel loved, being respectful when I don’t feel respected, empathizing when I don’t feel empathy, offering hope when I don’t feel hopeful, trusting someone when I am plagued with distrust, extending peace when I am full of rage, all lessen the need itself. The distinction is subtle…but like the widow, when I give out of my need, with all my present resources, I not only see that I have enough, but the need loses its hold on my soul.
Exhausting needs, and offering all I have to another, allows God to replenish me and create a surplus that wasn’t there before. The mystery of letting go and letting God is manifested. Otherwise it’s just talk. Otherwise we become like the scribes who never lessen their wealth, but gain all the accolades for their holiness. Otherwise faith, hope and love lose and fear wins. I won’t let that happen. Today, I give from need and not want.
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.
When a scholar of the law asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him what the law said, to which the scholar responded: “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responded that he had answered correctly and said “Do this and you will live.” The scholar then asked who his neighbor was, and Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. For those of you who don’t know the story…let me tell you some history first. The Samaritans were people of what had been the former Northern Kingdom that had been conquered by the Assyrians, resulting in a mixed race people comprised of both Jews and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh, as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. Because of a lack of strict adherence, and pagan ancestry they were despised by ordinary Jews.
So the story then goes as follows:
A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with instruction, ‘Take care of him, If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, Jesus said, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? The scholar answered, ‘The on who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
This timeless story couldn’t be more prevalent in facing today’s volatile atmosphere. In America there is a movement, like the Jews with Samaritans, of defining standards that limit who fits into a narrow definition for what an American is. And it goes against the root of the message that Jesus was trying to convey. The funny thing, though, is that no one really fits this limited definition, its all an elaborate illusion. We are all of mixed heritage and history. But I still believe we all have more in common than we have differences. That should be the end of the story, but its not. So I ask the question that scholar asked…who, then, is my neighbor?
For me, I know I’m lucky. Growing up, I was in a neighborhood where the moms watched each other’s kids in a pinch and there were enough of us for two teams of whatever the game was of the moment. Our house may have felt too small for our large family, and while none of us were rich, with a pitcher of Kool-Aid, a bike, a ball or wading pool, who cared? We helped each other out when sickness came, or death, or just relaxed on a hot summer evening. We were a little village, and we felt safe and had each other’s backs. As an adult, I always made a point to meet my neighbors, because we were breathing the same air, and they or I may need help some day. Most importantly, life is so much better when you’re not isolated, or alone. I was always surrounded by people who were different from me, in ways that always expanded my universe. When mercy is offered, most often it is returned with mercy.
Loving your neighbor begins with you. You have to extend the hand first. That was my attitude when I landed in the latest, and greatest neighborhood of all. My neighborhood is the gold standard, as neighborhoods go, with grand functions we’ve entertained in the 21 years we’ve lived here. We’ve had chick parties, boccie ball and bowling and golf tournaments, pool parties, spooky paths, Christmas Caroling, Dance Camps, World War II simulations, Jelly stone camping excursions, bonfires, road trips and Oktoberfest romps. we’ve grown and mourned together, read books together and laughed until we snorted, OK, until I snorted, we celebrated life events together. Most importantly we all pray and celebrate the goodness that God offers us. We don’t all pray the same way or in the same building, but for Buck Ridge, where we start is the simple dictum Jesus taught us: “love your God with your heart, being, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” We extend mercy in so many fun and wonderful ways, and mercy is what is given in return. It is that simple platform that makes our neighborhood so wonderful, and uncomplicated and oh so easy.
The greatest truth? It isn’t how lucky we are, I already know that. I just want to point our that when you extend the hand of mercy, and treat another as your neighbor, all the fears that life brings, dissipate just a little bit. Isolation breeds fear, being a good neighbor breeds love. It isn’t contingent on anyone else, just you. Perhaps when we can master this practice in our own small neighborhoods and towns, it will leech into the larger picture, calm the fray and lead us to a time when all Americans will be seen as neighbors.
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.
For many, it’s almost here, one of the most holy and hopeful days of the year. From the darkest surroundings and difficult circumstances with love and hope being the only binding force…a miracle occurs. The angels sing, Kings shower a child with gifts and the universe breathes a sigh of relief. God in human form brings salvation into the world.
More than anything I pray that those who are in dark surroundings and difficult circumstances can see hope and embrace the miracle at Christmas time. It is through darkness that light shines the brightest. It is through faith that the power of Christ can make us whole. It is love that can dissipate our fear and move us into a hope filled future.
Blessings to you and yours on this miraculous night