Getting your Hands Dirty

getting your hands dirty

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.

John 9:1-11

“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.”

A Model to Follow

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ask and Receive

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

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

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

Getting my Sparkly Back

bodyglitterYes, I do know that it has almost been a month since my last post.  Plagued by a very late starting spring, resulting in compressing all the things that should have been done by now into the very shortest measure of time before the 5 minutes of summer comes, I was in danger of shedding my sparkly Pollyanna skin to something more dark, sinister and leathery…hence the silence.  I discovered, that I can handle the major stuff in life with relative ease, that is where my problem-solving, common sense super power kicks in.  Those irritations like: lost keys, wallets, glasses, bikes, forms…none of which are mine but somehow fall into my purview of responsibilities; broken things that interrupt the flow of the day, like the computer my son just built that shuts down 10 times a day…of course he’s only finished his freshman year in computer engineering, or the eroding land that may cause our pool to fall into a ravine; and those never-ending tasks of life that you swear you just took care of and like going through a time warp, there they are again demanding attention like running out of toilet paper, kitty food, dish soap, laundry soap, razor blades, etc…; and lastly, all the man things that I live with every day too numerous to list here.  All these irritations have worn my sparkly skin down to paper thinness, so I can see the serpent skin underneath.  What’s worse are the responses I get from the men in my house: “I didn’t touch it”, “Just dump some dirt on it”, “Just turn it back on”,  I’ll do it later (loose translation, NEVER) or my least favorite, “Just buy a new one”.  It is just not acceptable…I almost died…of irritation.

So, that explains the silence.  I saw my weakness and got help, not the psychological kind, but someone who will clean my house and organize the chaos, so those other irritations don’t kill me.  Now, I don’t have to worry that the fire coming out of my mouth will burn everything in it’s wake.  My sparkly skin is coming back…even through the gob of flem I just cleaned out of the many used glasses that the men in my house love to spit in…I will survive.

Mastering Ordinary Love

The song “Ordinary Love” by U2 sparked a notion in me that substantiates a belief that I’ve had for a long time.  Here is the link:

These particular words strike a chord:

“We cannot fall any further if we can’t feel ordinary love, and we cannot reach any higher if we cannot deal with ordinary love”

It seems all too often, that many Christians bypass mastering the skills of ordinary love to claim expertise in the extraordinary love of God… in reality, if we can’t master the basics, if we bypass the difficult process of learning to love as Jesus taught us, the simple everyday expression of patience, kindness, slowness to anger and judgement, walking in another’s shoes etc., we can NEVER comprehend the extraordinary love of God, and love as God does.  In a sense, it is like bypassing all that comes before any high achievement and claiming entitlement to the prize anyway.

Let me be clear, mastering ordinary love is different from sharing in the grace bestowed on us by Christ’s great sacrifice.  That gift isn’t earned, it  is free to all, but mastering love only comes with often painstaking practice and experience.  Grace is the conduit to an endless source, which only is as powerful as our ability to master ordinary love and infuse it into the world.  That is what Jesus meant when he said: “they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.”  It doesn’t have to be complicated…it’s all laid out in the Gospels.  It is putting it to work every single day, as strenuously as we would an exercise program, with no shortcuts, that creates a Master.

 

 

The Subtly of Grace

power of emotionThis 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

By an Imperceptible Degree

baby scars 1baby scars 2Each day when I wake up and while I sit in my bath…(the only quiet time in my day because the testosterone at my house is unconscious…except for the new man kitty who dive bombed the bubbling water and totally freaked himself out and is lingering in the corner of my house somewhere soaking wet and hopefully thinking twice about messing with my zen time again…picture to prove my scars…) and think how I can make this day an improvement over yesterday…especially given that my yesterdays have developed a pattern of , well, let’s just say in terms of GPA, I would totally be dropping out right now.  So, I have taken a broader and more realistic view, and will hone my observation skills to view the almost imperceptible.  By the end of the year I will totally have x-ray vision…and said man cat will be claw-free and testosterone free.  Booyah!

The Comforts of Home

comfort of homeThis has been an overwhelming week.  Tragedy strikes, the kind that one wonders if its possible to come back from…and then, small miracles happen that renew hope.  I have to say what an honor it has been to work together with amazing people in this small little hamlet who have responded with no less love and compassion than heavenly angels.  The effortless ease with which we pulled together to help our friends, our neighbors, attend to whatever needs there may be, is indeed inspiring.  In the lull of day-to-day, it’s easy to isolate in our own personal dramas and let the negativity of the world overwhelm and discourage us.  Then, by no small miracle we are given an opportunity to pull together and bestow the kind of loving embrace that soothes the wounded soul.  Broken hearts of a few are augmented by the functioning hearts of the many.  We are the body of Christ as we pull together and carry our friends in their need.  From a simple desire to sooth and help, to comfort and to heal, to mourn innocence gone too soon, connections happen that strengthen us all.  I feel in this moment the magic of my simple yet extraordinary community.  Regardless of position or politics, we are a community to be proud of, the best that America has to offer, and proof that in even in the darkest moment our hope will prevail.

My New Best Friend

malala_yousafzai_1374126230_1374126242Sometimes it is so simple to speak the truth, but dangerous nevertheless.  This young girl is my hero, and proof that the Universe has more in store for her.  We could all learn a thing or two from her about simple truth and moral courage.  Kind of makes our government look foolish…No?  When a young woman like this will take a bullet for the right to be educated, and the powers that be don’t even tap into the truth that free education and information can bring it is easy to feel hopeless, but Malala is living proof that perhaps truth and goodness can prevail.  Watch this link from The Daily Show:

http://mtvnmobile.vo.llnwd.net/kip0/_pxn=1+_pxI0=Ripod-h264+_pxL0=undefined+_pxM0=+_pxK=18639+_pxE=mp4/44620/mtvnorigin/gsp.comedystor/com/dailyshow/TDS/season_19/episode_006/ds_19006_05_1280x720_3500_h32.mp4?tds_mobile_web&_fw_vid=mgid:cms:video:thedailyshow.com:429606&_fw_sid=The_Daily_Show_Videos_mob

You Want the Truth? You can’t Handle the Truth!

jack nicholsonThat is one of my favorite movie lines from all time, and it was what popped into my head when I worried about how to continue my discussion on illusion.  I thought of using “breaking bad”, but since the series just ended, I didn’t feel right usurping any searches that way.  While I think the first instinct for most people is that they would really like the truth, to see it, know it and live it…I have to be honest and say that I don’t believe that for a minute.

I didn’t sleep much last night, and as I often do, I prayed hard that God may break any illusions that may hold me prisoner, and to bless me with even greater truth.  And that is exactly what God did.  Except not at first, at first there was just silence…so I turned on the TV, as I often do when I can’t sleep.  As I pressed the guide on my remote, there was a movie on called “Desert Flower”, thinking that it might  be an opportunity to get an answer to my questions, I watched it.  It was about the life of Waris Dirie, a super model who suffered the humility of female genital mutilation, or female circumcision and became the world’s foremost crusader against it.  I’m not shifting gears into this heroic struggle, but there was a point in the film, when she flashes back to when she was a three year old girl, playing and kissing her mother and the graphic horror of what happened when held by two woman who mutilated her without anesthesia .  I sobbed long and hard, of course as a mother at what pain and horror that baby went through, and because of the horrible subjugation of women that still occurs around the world.  Through my tears, though, I still wasn’t ready for sleep, so I kept watching T.V.

The movie that followed, was called “The Magdalene Sisters.”  It told the stories of four young women in 1964 Ireland who labeled”fallen” by their families, were sent to Magdalene Asylums to suffer manual labor doing laundry and other penance as appeasement for their sins.  The abuse and humiliation these young woman suffered all under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church, was just as painful to watch.   Again, I don’t want to talk about that injustice right now either.  Here was my uncomfortable truth: In this moment of time, I have it unbelievably easy, I have control over my body, my mind and my voice, and I won’t be punished for it.  I am free to choose the life I live and choose what I want to believe, the operative word being “choose.”

While it is not perfect, my country allows me this freedom.  I am grateful for it, and proud to live as an American citizen.   Of course, that isn’t the greater truth.  The greater truth is this; All of our voices matter.  We, the people represent different ethnicity’s, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, intelligence and gender.  That is why we have a republic, a representative government.  Coming up with solutions that will represent all of us is tricky and hard.  I think Congress has forgotten that fact.  In this crisis I have become biased, and angry that one small group of people thinks that their voice matters more than anybody else’s.  So I’m using my voice to declare loudly, “Knock it off!  put your dicks back in your pants and pass a CR to reopen the government.  Quit pointing the finger at each other and COMPROMISE!  and that doesn’t include what has already been made into law and upheld by the court.  DO A BETTER JOB.  QUIT CLAIMING TO SPEAK FOR ONLY THOSE THAT THINK LIKE YOU DO AND TRY AND WORK FOR US ALL FOR A CHANGE…that is what we elected you to do.

To conclude, let me just say that I had to be reminded of how little power many woman have around the world before I was challenged to exercise my own.  I will do better.