We. Are. All. Flawed. This is one of humanities greatest truths, and yet there often is a compulsion, especially regarding social media, advertising, politics, etc. to depict just the opposite. It’s everywhere: perfect appearance, perfect lives, perfect family and if you were “doing it right” you would be able revel in the happiness that “the right way” brings. The Right claims they have all the answers to live “rightly”, and so does the Left. There are right foods, and right looks, and right beliefs, ad infinitum. And if you aren’t celebrating in said perfection, and still feel you are “doing it right” there is a list of who you can blame for why the “rightness of life” isn’t working for you, including, but not limited, to the government, criminals, foreigners, the mentally ill, a political party or simply put, everyone who think differently than you do. It’s all such bullshit, because life is never perfect, right or fair. But given the level of suicide, depression, anger, polarization, mass shootings, and over all breakdown of society, I would say people everywhere are struggling with the message that we all must strive to be something other that we are at this moment, or there should be a short cut to bypass growing and learning from our imperfections, by a pill or a program to eliminate everything you think is in your way. I know that is a sweeping generalization, but I can’t help but believe that the power of “doing it right” and perfectionism will be humanities greatest downfall.
To start, we are all born with gifts and flaws and it is the journey of one’s lifetime to grow and nurture the the things that hopefully will help us grow and prune away the things that don’t. While that is pretty vague, what growth looks like to each individual is different. The road for each is different. But I think we can all agree that there must be a balance between what helps us all thrive and what doesn’t in a general sense. In my old and imperfect life, I have learned that there are some misnomers out there of what “thriving” looks like. I could go on for a long time about knowing people on either end of the spectrum of beauty, wealth, success, faith, political leanings, age THAT ARE NOT THRIVING. And while the same goes for those who are thriving, the mechanism doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the five qualities I listed. So, stepping aside from all the crap that you think helps one to thrive to their potential amidst a uniquely different learning curve for everyone on the planet, you can see that what we really need is so much more basic than we’ve been conned into. Things like food and shelter, education and encouragement, a society that sees every individual as worthy and full of potential, freedoms like the ones our constitution holds dear, like the pursuit of happiness, and individual rights and autonomy. I know this is far from an exclusive list, but I grow increasingly frustrated with the idea that some deserve to thrive, and some don’t, based on arbitrary ideas of “doing it right” or looking perfect on the outside. The power lies in developing the blueprint that is you, flaws and all. I leave you with a quote and passage from the gospel of Matthew that have helped me thrive on my journey
It is only with the heart that one sees rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye” The Little Prince
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.
1Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
Like a club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow, is the one who bears false witness against his neighbor
And who is our neighbor? Jesus is clear about that, at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan he says:
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise
I know that the power of lies is multi-faceted, but for this moment I really want to focus on the kind of lies that feed on the need to judge and condemn our neighbors by corralling them into groups of “unworthy” or “sinners.” When Jesus was confronted with an angry mob demanding justice for a fallen woman, he asked that whomever was without sin throw the first stone…none did, and they left. Jesus did not judge her either, instead he asked her to go and sin no more. He also said this about judgement in Matthew 7:1:
Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
I use these scriptural references specifically to challenge all those who spend most of their time judging others, often without offer of proof besides they “heard” it somewhere or simply by distorting the truth to their selfish benefit…because the foundation of our faith lies, not in pointing the finger at groups deemed unworthy by any person or entity, but to demonstrate that we treat our neighbors with mercy, recognize that we are all sinners and the measure we use to judge others is the same measure that will be used against us.
The ninth commandment asks us to not bear false witness against our neighbor, it is one of the very foundations of our Judeo Christian heritage. And while there is plenty of substance available to determine who is perpetuating the destructive kind of lies Jesus and others have warned us about…I think those who really are committed to the truth can simply see if those spreading the lies are those who gain power from throwing stones, and corralling the “unworthy” as the fall victims, especially since one of the last instructions of Jesus was to say: that which you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me. Condemnation belongs to God, we are asked to show love and mercy see and hear clearly through the words of Jesus who was sent to save anyone who embraces his word and example.
There is a great deal of power gained from spreading lies and stoking people’s fears and sense of superiority, but that is the power of darkness at work, and not heaven. Jesus said that the truth will set you free, not make you powerful…that comes from God alone. So when someone tries to tell you they are the only source of truth and that the source of evil lies in the “other sinner” turn away quickly and walk away.
I’ve spoken about money before, in regard to truth, and love. I wrote about the threat that the lack of it can put pressure on how we wield love in the world, https://maryfrancesflood.com/2019/02/02/love-and-money/ Of all the difficult lessons in my lifetime, that wasn’t the hardest I am content to say. Looking at the relationship between power and money, though, has been demonstrably more difficult. My family has faced tremendous challenges in the last many months, like many others have as well. The challenge for me, in this year of understanding power, is to become aware of and utilize a kind of power that only comes when the power that money yields, whether it is status, stability, fulfilling all the necessities, demands and obligations of life are temporarily at a standstill. Humbling as though it may appear, I never put my self worth into fiscal terms. But when separating the wheat from the chaff (money being the chaff, in my mind), there are other clear sources of power present.
There are few things more powerful than the true power of friendship (including family) that rises up when need is at its greatest and when the reciprocal nature of true friendship is demonstrably one sided. The power that comes with being surrounded with unconditional love keeps me going (also my own small family, but I’m only speaking for myself here). Not to sound disrespectful to those who extended prayers, they are another source of great power and are always welcome, but I am speaking about the tangible and physical presence of those who show up to aid and comfort in the trenches. More importantly, for me anyway, are those who respond without having to be asked (which I suck at). I am still able to channel that power forward to continue on my path.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the power of my own “talents” too. Sometimes, the greatest fruits come out of difficulty. I won’t be specific, but I surprised myself at my ability to adapt to horrible circumstances with my wit, problem solving skills, and commitment in tact. The world outside may not underestimate my abilities, but I certainly did…but for today at least, I am speaking in the past tense. I also rely quite heavily on a passage in Luke where Jesus tells the people that the Kingdom of God isn’t observed but is in and around us. Jesus chastises us in the Gospel of Matthew about worry. especially in regard to money, as well:
15 “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
16 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? 17
Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.
18 If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, 19 and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil
I think that’s why Jesus is so harsh about the relationship humanity has with money, and with God. Like fear and love, they are often mutually exclusive. If you are going to embrace Christianity, this is its most essential tenet: either the power of money drives you, or God…it can’t be both. As much I can say I’ve always understood that concept cognitively, in this year of understanding power, I have to understand it in a multidimensional perspective and while it seems money has no power, the lack of it certainly does. Today, I step around that power and choose God
I know everyone experiences both love and fear, essential parts of being human. There is a difference, though, between what we experience as love or fear, and what power becomes its driving force. For example, it isn’t uncommon for a person to “love” something or someone in such a way that in fear of losing it or feeling undeserving of it that fear becomes more of a motivation than the initial experience of love. Scripture tells us that love and fear are mutually exclusive, so when fear is a stronger motivator than love, the results are never good.
Regarding the general environment of the world today, I often hear the phrase, “how did we come to this” meaning the general level of anger, bullying, violence, greed, mistrust, blaming, etc. I think its taken a long time to get here. When love and fear are so intermingled for so long, its hard to keep those corrupting forces at bay. If you’ve ever been to a Christian wedding, I’m sure you’re familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, which espouses the many qualities of love: patient, kind, not jealous, not pompous or inflated, not rude, does not seek its own interests, slow to anger, doesn’t obsess over injury, does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. Importantly, love bears all things, hopes all things, and endures all things…and never fails. A powerful phrase that I never forget: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or clanging symbol:.
Seems pretty clear to me. I can’t say I love my brother or sister and behave in a way that is antithetical to any of those descriptions of love listed above. And since we are all human, its understandable to believe that no-one acts purely out of love or fear, but when the fear out weighs the love the scale tips in favor of all the vitriol we are facing today. I may not control what motivates others, but I can see how they behave, and often, even when defining what love “looks” like, whether it is love of God, another, or a country, it doesn’t take a genius to see what their primary motivation is. In truth, those angry, accusatory, and loud mouth individuals out there blaming sections of the population for all the world’s ills, are nothing but gongs and clanging symbols. There are loving ways to express anger and outrage…and that noise? It’s not love.
Jesus spoke a lot about separating the goats from the sheep (in my mind those who are motivated by fear and those by love respectively) and he speaks of what their personal motivation is: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” And when the righteous challenged him responding that they had never seen him in any of those situations, he said: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sister, you did for me.” Boom
As someone said, and I’m paraphrasing, “We can’t always control our circumstances but we can control our response to them.” A part of me knew that when I started looking into the idea of power this year, I would be bombarded with experiences that would not only transform my understanding of power, but also my lack of it…and it was the latter I was most concerned about. Face it, no one wants to feel powerless, but we all do. How we respond to the kinds of circumstance that limits power and control, not only change the dynamics, it also changes the level of power those circumstances exert.
While being forced (always against my will, even considering the learning curve) in situations that have limited the power I have over certain circumstances, I have figured out that just curling up and dying isn’t a viable option. I’ve applied the old saying, “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” too many times in the last few months. Granted, I have come out stronger, but have limited feelings about how it has empowered my life. I’m putting that into the time will tell column. I will say, though, I’m not overpowered by them…at least yet.
I’ve also become more aware of the types of things, many that are simple that we let overpower us on a daily basis: addictions, fears, money, health, the future…and so many more, I’m sure. Sometimes, the empowering response is to recognize that we all need help once in a while to combat difficult circumstances, sometimes the empowering response is to quit depending on other people to solve our problems and use our own abilities. It’s often difficult to pinpoint what response is best. For addicts, one must acknowledge they are powerless over their addiction, and the following 11 steps can help you through it. For health issues, sometimes enlisting help means getting the necessary help from health professionals. The overpowering response would be to blame others or an addiction, or in terms of health, expect doctors to “fix” you without making changes to your lifestyle in response to any disease.
The most crucial, in my book anyway, is how to respond to situations where there is no ability to change a circumstance, a death, life ending disease or life altering injury just to name a few. For me, then, the greatest mechanism of empowerment is my faith. I go back constantly to one particular phrase in scripture MT 7:7-10:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 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
I do feel empowered when I ask for things in prayer, even though I think my overpowering circumstance may seem silly compared to many others I see and hear, I do believe that my prayer will be answered. The trick to continued empowerment is to be open to however God, in God’s infinite wisdom, decides to answer my prayer, i.e. actually letting go of control of the situation and using God’s power to move forward. The older I get, and the stronger I am via learning through tough circumstance means that God’s answer often pushes me harder and farther than when I was younger (which is good, but sometimes sucks when you just want to coast for a bit), but the result, regardless of how difficult getting there was, generally turns out for the better. Sometimes the result won’t be apparent for a long time, but I pretty solid on feeling answered up to this point
So empowerment, vs being overpowered is still a personal choice, in my book. That’s not to say feeling overpowered at any given moment is a bad thing, its when the emotional decision to stay there, do nothing and let it drain all the goodness within, is where it becomes a tragedy and builds a stronghold for fear, anger, hatred, judgement and all other sorts of darkness that thrive as a result of doing nothing. Simply asking for help, whether it be in prayer or a hand held out to another, isn’t doing nothing. It may be the most empowering step.
What enables one to move or act in a particular way? Who or what has the capacity to influence the behavior of others or the course of events? What is the source of our ability to move and influence? And most often the most elusive, is understanding a source of power and where it comes from necessary in its function? i.e., just because I believe something is a source of power, does that make it so? Tough questions, and this year will be dedicated to the source, methods and effects of different kinds of power. Terrifying prospect, really. After all these years I am pretty sure that most people have a clear idea and belief about what their source of power is and how it fuels and sets the direction of their lives, and the types of power that control our destiny on a larger level…and I say right here and now, most people don’t have a clue, because I think most people just tell themselves what is necessary to keep believing what they want to believe. Why? Just look around you, this world can be pretty f’d up. But since I asked the question in sincerity and love to God, whom I believe is the source of all power, I expect to get an answer. For Jesus said,
Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him.
Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.
I take him at his word, whether I’m happy about the result remains to be seen. One thing I do know, at a point where I feel most powerless in a worldly sense, I have never felt more powerful in a spiritual sense…because to my core, I believe that it is the source of all my power.
A couple of things before I start. While I was being taught to draw by my cousin who is amazing artist, I learned to appreciate the subtle shades of grey that portray the final image. The subtle shifts from dark to light make all the difference in the world when bringing life to a drawing. You have to learn to see and shift the pencil in order to get it just right. I think power works the same way, it is clarified in subtle shades of grey. I think I am a pretty good observer at this point, but I can’t see every subtly. I will try, however, and it is my hope that the picture that emerges at the end will reflect the life of what I’ve come to understand about power..
A few themes have emerged so far: having power over vs, empowering, power of politics, power of religion, power of money, power of truth vs lies, the power of education and information, and the power of fear vs love. I’m sure more will appear, and they will be added as such.
“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay” is an important theme in the Old and New testaments…and one in my own life as well. I once wrote a paper in law school entitled, “Vengeance is mine saith the law, it will repay” My professor rolled her eyes when she saw the title, but changed her tune after she read it (I got an “A”). The point of my paper, from a theologian’s perspective was to render what is God’s to God, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The bottom line, was that if you are going to be a person of faith, then, as scripture states many times, leave vengeance to God. If you are an American citizen where freedom is recognized as an unalienable right then vengeance is in the hands of our legal system which is set up to protect those freedoms, even in the face of a criminal act. I know, I know, we don’t live in a perfect world…there are unjust laws, and as for faith…its hard to let go of the hurt, unfairness and cruelty of this world. The tenor of our hate filled world is a sorry reminder of that. As one who harnesses and wields of love, though, vengeance can never be a driving force.
For Christians, Jesus speaks about forgiveness, loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, etc., etc. My time on this earth is too short to waste it worrying about who is going to get their just desserts. I used to be that person crying over the injustice in the world and it ate me alive (which is not the same thing as working for justice). It’s just a waste of emotion. If we trust that God has our backs, and that whatever you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold…then the exercise of letting go and letting God is instrumental in effectively harnessing love. I’m not suggesting passivity, not at all. Fighting for justice is also fundamental to my faith…but there is a powerful distinction between energizing a fight for love and justice because you believe an omnipotent God has our backs and will trust those precepts that are fundamental to that faith and the energy of a fight that obliterates the “enemy” because they think they can do a better job than God or believe that have been enlisted by God to hate another or it just feels good in the moment. Regarding Caesar’s world, we can’t revere the rule of law and then seek vengeance by disregarding it and manipulating it when it doesn’t give us the result we want. When we stand against all the negativity and hatred in the world, it has to be done with the belief that everyone, even those we see as enemies at the moment stands to benefit from wielding love.
As any person of faith, there is an expectation of certain behaviors that are in alignment with the central tenets of that faith. As a citizen of this country, there are also certain expectations of behavior as well. Melding the two together is a natural struggle to be sure, but wielding love whether it be for God, country or both can’t be done by bean counting those that break both sets of laws. That is why I struggle so deeply with the present situation in this world. People are far too eager to justify their vengeance against their “enemy” because they happen to think they are on the right team and believe the notion that anyone who doesn’t believe like they do are the enemy. Its exhausting, and stands in direct opposition to what it means to wield love in the world. Like it or not, America includes many “teams” and Christianity commands that we love one another…even our enemies. Vengeance has no place in either.
I will be the first to admit that there are days when I want to hate everybody. Part of love’s training is to be aware of and work through these weaknesses constantly. I am not always a compliant student, but I am getting better. It is often the hardest part of my training…to wield love to those who demonstrably relish in the us against them fight, or judging others as lessor than, or bullying and name calling, or those who lie or are violent or are all of the above, the list goes on and on. The truth of the matter is that we are all human and I’m sure there are those out there who wish vengeance on me by wishing me ill, judging me and calling me names…and I may not even be aware of it. I know my heart, but others may not, which may mean attributing to me qualities I don’t think I deserve, and I know I have, at times, done the same thing to others. I’ve stopped allowing the world to define or weaken me by those judgments, especially when the world is in such desperate need of love which also means bringing my heart to the forefront for everyone to see, and that is not easy…because the world can be a cruel and unfair place after all. And yet it is because I have faith in a God that has my back and augments my vulnerable heart with a greater one that vengeance plays no part in my journey. It is a burden I don’t want or need anymore. So I wield love and celebrate those that do the same in the world. The other problem with vengeance is that it take our focus away from the people who should be celebrated for all the love they share.
Every day I say the phrase “I choose” in my head, whether it is to control my vapid tongue or expose my heart…it is my choice. I make the conscious choice to wield my love in the best way I can. I choose love, not vengeance.
This is my last post of the year. I’ve learned much in my year of working to understand and appreciate individual fruits. I know each of us has a measure/talent that the master has given us to hold, develop and expand for his glorification and ours. No one can take that measure from you…it is yours, and yours alone to develop and share with the world. Period. Any person, place or thing that tries to halt, limit or suspend your ability to develop your own unique and special fruit is working against the Master. On this fact I would stake my soul…again, Period.
For this, I looked to the Galations 5: 17-23, to support my conclusion:
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law
I tread carefully here, knowing what a powder keg the application of this particular scripture to our present world situation can be. I do, however, recognize many of the qualities that work against the fruits of the Spirit in modern politics. I can find multiple examples of all of them…and it’s not limited to any party either. The desires against the Spirit ultimately work to impede any of us from developing and sharing our individual talents to their fullest. In turn, the fruits of the Spirit are essential qualities in developing and sharing those talents. The “desires of the flesh” work against all of us. I’m not defining these negative qualities like the Puritans did, like all things human are evil, that draconian garbage won’t help us either because they are rooted in fear which is diametrically opposed to God (1John 4). Historically, fear was a means used by the hierarchy to control the masses and vilify anyone who would question their authority (especially women). To be honest, and my bias…the men and an occasional token woman or two throughout history who would use their power to misconstrue another’s gifts as bad or evil, or effect any other means to strip any individual of their goodness and grace are acting on behalf of the dark side, are instruments of evil. I don’t care what kind of title they have.
Power on the other hand, is not a gift, a fruit, or a talent. It is a responsibility. On a spectrum, those who wield it well are governed by the fruits of the Spirit listed above, and encourage all of us to grow our individual talents. On the other end, those who wield it badly can kill the unique gifts God has bestowed on every individual and render us as barren as the fig tree Jesus condemns. I don’t think its too difficult to distinguish between the two. If you are really honest with yourself, it should be glaringly apparent who it is that creates divisiveness, lies, acts with fury, selfishness etc and who does not. What has surprised me most at the end of this year of appreciating God’s fruit is how many people, and many who even claim to be faithful…aren’t able to distinguish between the two, and aren’t even aware that they can’t. For them, it appears that believing that some people are worthy, and others are not, is a good proposition. To which I mind blowingly respond…”How the F*** can you think that? Have you not read any of the Gospels or Scripture? Cause its all there in black and white. We are ALL God’s children not by our actions, but by our very creation, and we are to love ALL our neighbors as ourselves because that which we do to the least among us, we do unto God.
Which, in conclusion, brings me to this season of Light, this season when we celebrate humanity’s greatest gift: wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, Prince of peace. I understand that there is evil in the world. But this great Light can’t break through the darkness as long as all those spirit killing qualities listed above are practiced in our daily lives. It would be as if we were to take this great gift, one that can conquer all evil, and help us to become all we can be and throw it downstairs in a dark basement and slam the door. It is embracing the season and the gift we are given with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control that makes it effective, and in turn making our own talents effective. It is my hope that your gifts are treated as such, and that you in turn treat everyone in the same way.
For now, I am celebrating all the wonderful fruits of my world, both large and small and prepare for my next step of the journey in the new year…Truth, and all that that entails. (I’m already sweating…big time)
Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.
I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.
So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.
“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
I’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 think this will be my last post detailing my year of clarity. I feel complete, for now anyway, and want to enter into the season of light focused only on that. It seems funny that showing you the context of all my previous posts this year will be the subject of my last. I think it’s because I needed to do the journey first, before I open up my coat and share life in my shoes. Perhaps then you can understand why I believe as I do and maybe take something away that you can use on your own journey. The bottom line, is that I can never unhear, all I’ve heard; I can’t unsee all I’ve seen; and most importantly I can’t unknow all I’ve learned. I am who I am because of it.
Also, I needed to have the strength to say to those who are reading this just to be judgmental or to find fuel for your dislike, to say stop reading, or better yet, go ahead, keep reading…because I don’t give a shit anymore. I don’t wish you ill, but I certainly don’t wish you well. Harsh, it’s true. But I think I’ve spent too much time parsing words and feelings not to offend anyone, or try to be my best Solomon in all my posts. While being fair and balanced and living as a disciple of Christ is still my main objective, this election cycle has brought out the true character of many who I just won’t waste my time or breath on anymore. I embrace that is who you are, I just don’t have to listen to you anymore. Make no mistake, I am not talking about those who have a polar opinion from mine, there are still plenty of you in my posse…I’m talking about those who judge before they listen, embrace fear, refuse to look for truth, or only enough to justify their world view and those who only associate with people who are just like them. While the number I disassociate from may be few, it is something I have never done before but need to because of the impact it was having in my life. What’s funny, is I’m sure those people will never know it because they stopped really seeing or listening to me a long time ago.
No axiom, truth or ideology ever comes to me lightly, except the love of God and the call to be a disciple of Christ. While I may be a good student, I am not an easy one. I’ve pissed and moaned and thrown many a tantrum learning valuable lessons. So let me highlight just a few of those instrumental ports of call on my journey of faith. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be like one of those infernal slide shows that go on forever…just a few tidbits. Know that there are some givens: I have a great family, I’m blessed with privilege and a great deal of comfort. The experience that follows are in addition to, or in spite of.
When I was in college, I used a January term to live in a contemplative monastery in the desert of New Mexico. During my stay at Christ in the Desert, we began our day at 2:30 in the morning to pray according to the divine office of the Rule of St Benedict, an order that balances prayer and work. Without going into depth, I understand why Jesus began his ministry in the desert, in prayer and silence. It was the hardest (and not just because I wasn’t allowed to talk) and most transforming experience of my life. I fought with and conquered many internal demons over that month. It was the foundation for everything that what was to come.
The next January term, I chose to work with the United Farm workers (UFW) movement in La Paz California. There, I saw what solidarity behind a spiritual and nonviolent leader, Caesar Chavez, could do for the powerless and disenfranchised. I was also witness to racism for the first time in my life, and how protesters gallantly withstood all the horrible words and actions taken against them, all just because they desired to be treated fairly, with dignity and pride. I worked as a laborer that month, it was hard, humbling and it refined and polished me in ways I never could have predicted.
After I started working in ministry, I received the chance to travel with the National Council of Churches to then Soviet Russia. It was a terrifying, mind boggling, heart wrenching, uplifting, life transforming experience. It was during that trip at the ripe age of 24 when I saw the impact and effects of raw political power. It was there that I learned to recognize its lizard qualities that slithered and slimed their way into the world. I was no longer the naive, altruistic girl that I once was living in a global world. I went back four years later to see how it had progressed, doubting that democracy could ever work there efficiently…I was right, it couldn’t. Not that its people aren’t marvelous, they are…there were actually more Christians there than members of the communist party. Politics, though, are another story. It is also why I despise Putin so much.
Throughout my ministry, I worked with the poor and homeless, did respite for the mentally disabled, worked in a nursing home, a drug treatment center for adolescents, was part of a team who worked with modern media and the gospel message. I got to teach, write curriculum and preach the good new of Christ. It wasn’t always easy, but I learned so much and was graced with interacting with so many incredible people. I’ve worked with prisoners and laborers, met rock stars, politicians in Washington and media moguls. I’ve eaten on clay floors and dined on Italian marble. In every one of these experiences people are often the same with varying levels of brokenness. Every one of them needed love beyond the basic dignities of life.
I’ve had the pleasure of having many gay friends who have shown me great sacrifice and commitment in being able to love who their heart chooses. When I was teaching, I was blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood far beyond my pay grade when I was rented a room in a house from an incredible lesbian woman and her daughter, also gay, and who is now an incredibly powerful pastor in Minneapolis. I will attest to the beauty and strength of all my gay friends and their families and children, and am happy to have them in my life and the life of my family and children too. It is so natural and easy to love them and support them, I cannot fathom why anyone would not (which is a bit sarcastic because traditional religion is the true culprit for all the hate).
I’ve learned to understand sexual abuse, mental illness, suicide and PTSD, all first hand from students, friends and family. I’ve had to live with structural and physical maladies that have greatly altered and challenged my life. Yet in all these times, that in spite of these challenges I was always aware of and felt God’s presence. In fact, all these challenges gave root to all of Jesus teachings for me. The Gospel doesn’t make sense in a perfect hardship free life. Personally, I’ve endured misogyny and abuse, and also great and deep love and support. It’s true, that when you most need them, in the darkest of times special people enter your life to be what you need, and then are on their way.
My latest destination on my journey is to this small little hamlet on the St Croix river. It is insular and safe, uncomplicated and many times without the challenges of the greater world. It was a good place to raise my children except I could never let them be part of the bubble that can exist here. I had walked too far for that. I left my church here, and found another that had a more open world view. And to my boys, I know I forced you to give your Christmas to a poor family, invite the fringe to all your birthday parties, serve on mission trips and study the bible, and challenge every assumption or stereotype you threw in my face. I demanded you research and listen and be open to others, and dad, more than me made you put only good things in your bodies. Hopefully you will thank me for it some day, cause I am sure proud of how you turned out. We have a wonderful business that brings health to our community and our patients are some of the best people I have ever known.
So after all these steps, this is why I refuse to stand for bigotry and hate. This is why I stand for all my LBGTQ brothers and sisters. This is why I will fight for people of all ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political ideologies. This is why I stand for truth and will never shy away from pointing out inaccuracies that so deeply penetrate our media today. This is why I try so hard to root the Gospel in the most subtle of actions and behaviors. I am who I am, never to be pigeon holed into a left or right column, or belittled by any limiting moniker. My path is one of power and love, because I am a child of God and these are MY shoes. And as a servant of Christ I will fight for your shoes too.
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.
This 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.
There is an obscure rule in the law called, “The rule against perpetuities”, to which I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out in preparation for the bar exam, (even though my instructors almost guaranteed a question regarding it would certainly not appear on the bar exam…of course there was…they obviously didn’t know that when it comes to me and odds, I’m of the, “May the odds be ever in your favor, Hunger Games” ilk, and so I apologize to everyone else who took the test that day…) Sidebar concluded. Anyway, the rule against perpetuities basically placed a statutory limit as to how far a dead person will have control over the distribution of assets to future descendants. While I still may have trouble with the particulars of the rule, I always thinks it’s a good idea to limit the power one has to control the future of another.
But how often do we hold on to, in perpetuity, our own sins, the sins of others and even sins projected onto future descendants who remain tethered to those past injuries or judgements? It is takes so much energy to hold on to all that anger and is just as unfair to future generations who have to deal with the fallout. I think if more of us looked to see what collateral damage there is to holding onto grudges, judgements, and condemnation, perhaps then refusing forgiveness wouldn’t be as common. I think refusing forgiveness is the greatest weapon against the spread of the gospel. Think again if you feel immune, because you are not. All of us have baggage, and if you think that holding on to it has no effect on those around you, you are also mistaken.
The only thing that I am sure of lasting into perpetuity is the love of God, the sacrifice of his Son and the need for God in my life. That doesn’t mean that love’s affect can’t be blocked or inhibited. Continual forgiveness of oneself and others is the key that will keep the door to the kingdom open. God gave us the key, the choice to keep it locked or unlocked every day, as a matter of principle, is on us.
I often wonder if people actually read the same scripture that I do. SERIOUSLY, I really wonder that. I am conflicted and challenged every day by my weakness when I read the words of Jesus. I remember the day when my heart broke in a vision of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane extending his hand to me and saying it is for you that I will make this sacrifice and felt first, the horrible guilt and then an overwhelming love fill me up. It is because of that moment that I resist the impulse to lower myself to the level of those pretty little liars out there who would have you believe that 1.6 billion people are extensions of the devil, are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ, and that America is synonymous with the chosen people. I don’t want to be lectured by smug individuals who turn the challenge on its head and point to the atrocities that are befalling innocent people right now, and how we must destroy them. History has told us many a woeful tale of this same story. Christians destroyed by Rome, Jews destroyed by Christians (and yes, we had our crazy factions too), women being burned as witches, etc. the list goes on. And as the saying by Edmund Burke goes: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”
So, to those of you who are so confident that you know the mind of God and believe anyone who disagrees with you be damned…see how successfully you live and breathe these words:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Wo to you when all speak well of you for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way. But I say to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you. Even sinners love those who love them” Luke 6:24-32
I am angry because these words convict me every day to be a greater person and have faith that Jesus knew what he was talking about, and yet I don’t see a lot of support for this notion right now. As hard as it is to look at the atrocities that are being perpetuated every day and have faith that the above formula is the greater course, it does revolve back to that great sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus had faith in me, so I must have faith in him…it is really as simple as that. When I face the banal every day workings of life, where I get to practice and master on an inane level the challenges listed above, I know that then and only then will my discipleship be honed and perfected. And deep in the simplicity of everyday life, my greatest fear is coming to pass…that those pretty little liars out there are corrupting the gospel, perverting it and twisting it to serve another master, one who Jesus warns us of…the one who can entice us, utilize our fears to their advantage and sway us away from the kind of love God first gave us. It is a master who would have us build a cocoon of our own self-righteousness, and prejudice, who will ply us with a twisted appreciation of what exactly grace will do which is to deny those we are commanded to love and give entry to only those who are deemed worthy, and condemn any who would disagree.
The central point of the gospel is that the invitation is extended to us all….including those 1.6 billion people out there who only see hateful rejection, persecution and judgement. The parable Jesus told of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24 reminds us that those who find excuses not to come to his table will be shut out. Many have accepted the invitation in words, but let me remind you, Jesus never said that they will know you are my disciple by telling people that you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour; he said they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another, not judge, not condemn, not kill, not run in fear from…but how you love them, which means actually showing up at his table and not a facsimile of one you like better. So where do you put your faith; do you put your faith in the words above, or those words that perpetuate the rancor, that undermine leadership, that feed self-righteousness. that are smug in their conviction that only one ideology rings true. It is my prayer that all of us, during this Lenten season, ask this question: Do they know I am a follower of Jesus by how well I love others.
Being ready to charge forth is how I always want to portray myself…but I am more a compilation of pacing, hyperventilation, tears, ending in quiet resolve. I am aware of what I have to say, no less committed to continue on the path that I see so clearly, shaking but never wavering. It just isn’t easy for me. On that note, I am provoked by the faceless ugliness of social media and the fearful nature of information, convoluted to champion ideological superiority and then weaponizing it as a way to justify a belief and behavior that circumvents the gospel, and yes I did say circumvent…because Jesus could never, would never stand for it…the finger pointing and the blame, the violent solutions and polarization of the world and its people. In John 13:13, Jesus lays out the model of behavior he expects of his disciples:
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’ and rightly so for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and the teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you because of it.
He goes on to say in John 13:34,
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
There will be those who will pick through scripture to find ways around this to justify their hatred of those who are the momentary evil of day…whether it is a political party, or those who terrorize in the name of their superiority. We, as Christians, are not allowed that weakness. That is what Jesus meant when he said:
You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…
There are plenty of places to find what love looks like….which is where everyone should start. More importantly, we have to look at what drives us away from love, which drives us to propagate gossip and innuendo as fast as wild-fire. It is fear. It is fear. It is fear. It. Is. Fear. How can that be?, we who wear the gift of grace?, we who are promised that anything we ask for in prayer, with faith will be given, we who are commanded not to worry because if God clothes the world in such splendor, how much more does he have in store for us, so little in our faith? We fear because we have been lulled into the illusion that evil has the greater edge, that it can defeat us, and the greatest illusion of all, that the gates of hell haven’t already been shattered by Jesus death and resurrection. On the night he was betrayed he rebuked a disciple who burnished the sword:
Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you not think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? Then how would scripture be fulfilled which say this must come to pass in this way?
That is the question isn’t it? How will our fate, laid out in scripure be fulfilled? Could God swoop down and finish the job? Or does he know that the sacrifice of his son has given us the necessary tools to be our own champions? 1John 4: lays it out plainly:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.
Love is what must be our core. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but at any moment in time we can pray to God to augment our imperfect hearts with His perfect love, or we can give into fear in all its seeming righteousness, in its promise of vengeance, its illusion of creating peace and safety. Violence will never be the answer; hatred exists as a bi-product of fear. But that doesn’t mean I am naive, either. I don’t condemn armies who fight for a cause…one of the conundrums of being human, I guess. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. He also told us that we couldn’t serve two masters, and how narrow the road to righteousness really is. But certainly, the task at hand is to focus on how others will see us and know that we are his disciples…they will know us by how we love one another.
I’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed. Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own. The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost. While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.
Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things” God would never give us anything harmful. I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify. So how then, do we know what good is? What follows gives us a clue. Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”. The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.
So what is good fruit? Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power? I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray. Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree). It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit. Pretty much sums it all up.
The last time Jesus rode into Nazareth, he did so with the aplomb of a King. He had reached the conclusion of his ministry, celebrated by ringing voices “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. At the pinnacle of his ministry, he entered the temple and trashed all those merchants buying and selling saying, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’ but you are making it a den of thieves” Then he healed the sick and lame and irritated pretty much everybody who had any status whatsoever. He even withered a fig tree that wasn’t bearing fruit and cursed it to never bear fruit again…and when asked how the tree withered immediately, he said something that has become one of my very favorite phrases EVER: “Amen I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain: ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith you will receive” BOOYAH!
So who do you think our modern money lenders are? Here’s my take…Anyone who acts under the auspices of faith and uses it to gain advantage or influence. You and I both know who those kind of people are. Here’s the thing. At that moment, riding into Jerusalem, Jesus could have used his new-found adulation from the people to do pretty much anything he wanted. But instead, he upset the apple cart and made it very clear what needed to be done was challenge the status quo. They weren’t bearing fruit or building the kingdom, so they were done. Things were going to change. But he also let us know that we had the same power to make the changes he did…enough to move mountains. Anything asked in prayer with faith…and what people forget is that he instructed us how to pray as well. He said to pray in secret, don’t pray like the hypocrites so that everyone will see, do it in private where your Father who sees in secret will repay you. The bottom line? You can never fake out God. He knows our hearts. He knows the hearts of those who profit publicly on his name too. I guess I would rather move mountains than gain approval.
The buying and selling of influence under the auspices of faith is the barren fig tree that Jesus withered. If you are not bearing fruit from your faith, if you are not keeping the temple ground sacred, then you are done…just like the money lenders and those hypocrites who pray to be seen. All of us have at times had barren patches, I’m not really talking about that, but when you make a claim to be one who bears fruit in name only, and do nothing? Well, that is a whole different story. People of consequence, who really believe and have faith in prayer and do it secretly to the Father will move mountains.
In all sincerity, I’m not sure whether it is having spring and summer occur simultaneously that has thrown my whole rhythm off, or the unbearable nature of events. from shootings, to the ravages of mother nature, to the quagmire of American politics. I’m sad much of the time…not the cry your eyes out kind, or the can’t get out of bed kind. The sadness I feel is like a dull ache based on recognizing a pattern that too many people seem to miss and not feeling like I can act effectually enough to stop it.
The pattern I speak of is fear, the kind of fear that is so deeply in-bedded in our nation that we have begun to suffer a rigor mortise of the soul, expressed in both subtle and obvious ways. Most obviously, it is expressed in the kind of partiality that blinds one to solutions because national pride lately is only celebrated in opposition to something else, such as guns, the government, climate change, the poor, etc. In more subtle ways is the complete lack of civil discourse between divergent views, and sense of entitlement that isn’t extended beyond a small group of like-minded individuals. I know I’m personally tired of being written off, or pigeon holed into a particular ideology that I certainly am not contained by because I ask questions and try to look at a situation from a multitude of perspectives. The political flavors of the moment are too honed into a blanket kind of hate, blame, and judgment of anyone who harbors a different idea than one’s own. Personal responsibility rarely enters the picture. What is most disturbing, though, is the religious imprimatur that is often used to justify such ignorance and fear.
Jesus says that the truth will set us free, and the way to truth is through him…and he is LOVE. Love will set us free. So let us practice love, first and foremost. Fear will be our demise, if we don’t utilize the powers we’ve been given… And so I offer a reminder of our greatest gifts: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues 2 but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
3 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 interests, 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.
4 Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
5 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.