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.

 

Pretty Little Liars

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

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

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

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

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

Taking Umbrage…for and at Women

um·brage

noun \ˈəm-brij\

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Bias

Breaking bias

Full Definition of BIAS

1
:  a line diagonal to the grain of a fabric; especially :  a line at a 45 degree angle to the selvage often utilized in the cutting of garments for smoother fit
a :  bent, tendency

b :  an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice

 

c :  an instance of such prejudice

d (1) :  deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) :  systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

4
a :  a voltage applied to a device (as a transistor control electrode) to establish a reference level for operation

b :  a high-frequency voltage combined with an audio signal to reduce distortion in tape recording

It seemed timely to post about bias because of the turmoil that is going on in Ferguson right now, that and a tortured call from my eldest son at 4 in the morning who, while trying to be the voice of fact and reason, was obliterated by a friend who challenged him as a privileged white person with deep racial overtones.  Understandably,  he is nothing like that, we didn’t raise him that way, but upsetting nonetheless.  It isn’t always helpful in the face of such raw emotion to be challenged on the lack of factual information.  Ferguson triggered a  powder keg of emotions that have been festering for a long time .  Justifiable or not, this kind of raw emotionally charged situation, already escalated by a media that capitalizes on frenzied, angry incitement and violence, has to be approached with the delicacy of a political surgeon, and not by online postings that polarize the situation further.  The horrible events that happened that day were so entrenched in a long history that none of us were directly involved in and can ever know accurately.  Telling someone in the throws of that kind of emotion to calm down or keep a level head, no matter how well intended, never sits well.

All of us are bias.  It is the inevitable result of a solitary perspective.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing…just a simple truth.  But to perpetuate that singular perspective by insulating yourself with only those who think like you do is how situations in Ferguson get out of control.  I’ve always told my children that true empathy must be rooted in caring for another plus factual information about something you’re not directly involved in because it will give you the necessary tools to help more effectively.  I had a great Evidence prof in law school that hammered that notion home: if information presented does not lead to the truth of the matter at hand, it should be excluded.  It is also why we don’t watch Fox news or MSNBC at my house…they are too biased, and often irreverently so.  I’m sure that will get me in trouble with some, but hey…I’m one of those fools who actually believes that the truth will set me free.

I don’t know how to solve the problems in Ferguson, it’s horrifying to watch and so beyond my wheelhouse of experience that it feels almost impossible to find the truth I desperately need to broaden my perspective.  Everywhere I turn I see bias that distorts whatever truth may exist out there.  That isn’t an excuse to forgo any conversation, because while I may never know what really happened there, I do know that addressing issues dealing with race, violence, police mistrust and the questionable way this whole crisis was handled have to be part of the solution.  I won’t say that level heads must prevail because that would be my bias…but I will say for those of us on the outside who cannot offer any solutions at this point, we should shut up and listen more, that would certainly go along way for the people of Ferguson.

 

With Privilege, comes Responsibility

privilegeI tell my sons this all the time.  Much of the lifestyle we live, is earned and I am proud of that.  As much, however, is not.  I am always mindful of that I live in a rich country, have freedoms that others fought for, have the ethnicity that offers more opportunity to me than to others.  I am gifted spiritually by Grace, and perfected by God’s sacrifice.  I am NOT entitled to anything, except the opportunity to love as Jesus did and help bring light to a world that often seems dimmed by smoke and subterfuge…so that we cannot see that we are blessed, created by and vindicated by God.

I can’t help thinking that if we really believed that we were greatly privileged, and wore that greatness as a badge of honor, we would embrace the responsibility to love and honor each other so much more easily.  We’ve been lulled into believing that we will never have enough, will never be enough, and the world’s acceptance matters.  We should be better at it by now, you know, loving one another and being the Body of Christ.  We are way too obsessed about gaining what is rightly ours…when nothing really is, in this temporal world, all is fleeting and none of it will matter in the next world.

I know it doesn’t mean we stop practically living in the world, but we would live differently if we really believed that we could.  I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell all you have and follow me”.  With the privilege of Grace, comes responsibility.