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.
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.
I tell my sons this all the time. Much of the lifestyle we live, is earned and I am proud of that. As much, however, is not. I am always mindful of that I live in a rich country, have freedoms that others fought for, have the ethnicity that offers more opportunity to me than to others. I am gifted spiritually by Grace, and perfected by God’s sacrifice. I am NOT entitled to anything, except the opportunity to love as Jesus did and help bring light to a world that often seems dimmed by smoke and subterfuge…so that we cannot see that we are blessed, created by and vindicated by God.
I can’t help thinking that if we really believed that we were greatly privileged, and wore that greatness as a badge of honor, we would embrace the responsibility to love and honor each other so much more easily. We’ve been lulled into believing that we will never have enough, will never be enough, and the world’s acceptance matters. We should be better at it by now, you know, loving one another and being the Body of Christ. We are way too obsessed about gaining what is rightly ours…when nothing really is, in this temporal world, all is fleeting and none of it will matter in the next world.
I know it doesn’t mean we stop practically living in the world, but we would live differently if we really believed that we could. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell all you have and follow me”. With the privilege of Grace, comes responsibility.
It has been awhile, for good reason. I am woman caught on fire. In the last two weeks, the archdiocese I spent more than a decade working for, and the University where I received much of my training, released the lists of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors. The pastor of the first parish I worked for was on that list…and some who I have personal knowledge and experience of that should be on it were not. While my relationships with some of these men did not fall within the perimeters of the alleged abuse, it was still abuse. Suffice it to say that the rage I feel is based on countless power struggles during my tenure with the archdiocese that I believe impeded my ability to do the job that I was hired to do, called by God to do, and ultimately became the central reason I walked away from ministry. Given my personality, I always knew that I would have some difficulty working for the Catholic Church. I was an attractive, smart, strong willed, vivacious, intelligent woman. For those of you who think I should also include egotistical and arrogant to the list…yeah well, given all that I sacrificed during those years, believe me, while my list of vices may be many, false humility and lack of objectivity aren’t part of the list. Anyway, what matters is that given who I was and what the church was at that time, I knew the road would never be easy, and I took extra precaution to live a very pure life, to which I never strayed. But I never thought for one minute that I would be immersed in such a deep struggle between the sacred and profane. I can’t even regard them as people anymore at this point, because the manipulation and the mind games were so malevolent that even in the face of knowing rationally that something was way off with whatever situation I faced at the time, often I was the one left feeling like the sinner and they, the saint. I learned to work with blinders on just to survive, but I was too angry so I moved out of parish work to teaching after that, which didn’t turn out much better. The suggestions that perhaps if I dressed more appropriately for my profession, the rumors that went around never would have started. Shortly afterwards I cut off my hair. I’ve included some pictures to prove I didn’t dress like a whore, nor did I dress like a nun either.
I thought long and hard about what details to share, but I don’t think that would serve any purpose other than just more titillating proof of the kind of abuse that occurs in an environment of ultimate power, and fueling even more hatred won’t offer answers, just annihilation. The girl I was at the time wouldn’t like it. She would be embarrassed, humiliated and hurt, and just because she may have not been the typical theologian she deserved the respect she worked hard for. Still, after all this time, I don’t hate the church…I worked with too many wonderful and spiritual people during my time there. I do however hate the path the church has taken, and I can’t walk down that path anymore. For me, I knew I needed help finding clarity…that was what therapy was for, and given that the therapist knew I had never been sexually active at the time, said that I had all the symptoms of someone who was the victim of sexual assault, only on a spiritual level. She helped me see there is a much deeper dimension to the kind of power struggles I faced, and lost. I didn’t appreciate until I read those lists of names what a deep toll being a victim of spiritual, sexual assault took on me. I had many great plans and ideas back then, to manifest the Gospel in new and exciting ways, but I just got worn out and gave up. Meeting my future husband and moving to the woods of Wisconsin saved my sanity, which remains tenuous because I live in crazy town (too many men, too little common sense).
It is my hope and prayer that Pope Francis can not only clean up the mess, but begin to heal the many wounds caused by the hierarchy. But until I see evidence of that change, my faith life remains catholic…with a small “c”.
Yeah, I know Congress’ rating is at an all time low. I certainly can appreciate that. Now, what do we do? Yes, we can make our voices heard in the next election, but there is something that must be said first. I’m sick of vengeance politics. I don’t think the founders believed that problem solving could occur in a vacuum, and that is what vengeance politics does…it exists to punish and control. Those who declared what just happened in Washington “a battle” should not be there…period. We need people who first and foremost recognize that there are a multitude of issues and opinions in this country and don’t feel the need to vilify everyone who is different or shares a different ideology than they do. We need people who can empathize with others, who are committed to diving head on into difficult negotiations and find solutions to problems that affect everyone, and not just improve the livelihood of those who are like-minded. We need people who put the people over their political ambitions. Most importantly, we people who can forgive when they feel slighted and stop this monolithic grudge holding. I am sick of it. How else can we bring the greatness back to this country? While I understand that we should render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, those actions can’t cancel each other out either. Our faith should serve as a moral compass and courage under fire…not to stand in arrogant righteousness. I am praying for those who embrace those qualities to come forward…I hope you do too.
One of my own first experiences of following my sensibilities occurred early on in grade school. One day, when my teacher made an innocent mistake in pronouncing a classmate’s name, I raised my hand and corrected her. Much to my complete amazement she was furious and made me put my head in the desk to “suffer the humiliation of Eve.” The point of this little story is that my behavior was labeled “bad” for a reason that was rooted in one of the most pervasive assumptions (and one I was constantly plagued with) of all time—women are responsible for original sin, and as part of the punishment we should know our place.
The concept of Original Sin continues to slap women in the face in one form or another constantly. For the most part, my time in Catholic school was a testimony of penance for that very belief. For example, a priest once wrote my address on the board when I demanded to know where hell was. Please save the explanations. There is no parallel universe anywhere where treating a child like this would ever be acceptable.
So let’s take a look at the story that describes humanities’ fall from grace. Did Eve’s choice to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge warrant plaguing womankind with that kind of burden? Yes, she was disobedient, and yes, she convinced her mate to follow suit. What about Adam’s culpability, though? Eve had to contend with the serpent, pure evil; Adam just did what Eve asked him to do—how weak is that? (Remember that old maternal adage: if your friend jumped off a bridge would you as well? Well, Adam did.)
Eve suffered for her curiosity and then some, and Adam suffered for his weakness. There is no inference that Adam was charged with dominating Eve, the two of them were considered one body. According to the first Genesis story, man and woman were created at the same time and God gave dominion over the earth to both of them. It’s curious that most people only pay attention to the second creation story, where Adam is king of the world and Eve is made just to keep him company. It is clear that part of Eve’s punishment was that she would have an “urge” for her husband and be mastered by it—that appears to be an independent struggle for woman to contend with, not an excuse for gender subjugation. If anything, Adam’s punishment is the clearer representation of slavery; he is destined to toil and sweat until he returns to dust.
Perhaps Eve and Adam knew intuitively that it was time to move on to a place of individual choice, and with that choice they lost their innocence. Isn’t that the whole point of growing up though? In order to mature in wisdom we have to leave our childhood behind and take what we’ve been taught and try it on for size. So rather than getting too wrapped up in original sin and having woman bear the greater portion of it, perhaps it would be more productive to admit that both Eve and Adam made a choice that we have been living with ever since. Even from the church’s perspective that may not be such a bad thing. The Catholic Mass at the Easter Vigil has this to say about original sin: “Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” It is curious though: when the “sin” becomes a good thing, Adam gets credit for it and Eve isn’t even mentioned?
Focusing so much on the sin detracts from the great responsibility that humans were given: to subdue and cultivate the earth. The direction of the game of life had been set down. In order for humanity to be successful, it appears to me anyway, that men and women would have to use their inherently unique talents together: the power of dominion coupled with the grace to nurture the ordinary things that God made. The formula for this cosmic union is contingent upon male and female rising above fighting over which perspective is right, to embrace both perspectives as necessary to fulfill, successfully, the charge of God.
Another reason I bring up Original Sin as a fundamental assumption that desperately needs critiquing is that it still fuels one of the most pervasive myths that plague culture: that women are weaker and thus inferior to men. There are those of you who may think that statement is inaccurate, but really, look around you; there is evidence everywhere of that belief regardless of what level of consciousness you’re coming from. How many women are in “high places,” positions of power? Even if you really believe that the place of women in the world isn’t inferior just different, you need only look at the way the law has treated woman in this country. One need only recall what some of the great jurists (even the fathers of our country) did to women legally, especially in terms of rights. Rather than assume that the subjugation of women is the natural order of things, I choose to believe it is not. But if not, how were masses of people led to believe that it was?
While studying theology as an undergraduate, I was aghast at some of the opinions the church’s greatest teachers had about women. Thomas Aquinas (the guy who pondered the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin) said in his Summa Theologica, that every woman should have a man as her personal master, because her intellect is no better than that of a child or an imbecile. What is up with that? History has demonstrated that statement to be inaccurate. In all honesty, there have been more than a few men who’ve crossed my path that have defied accepted boundaries of stupidity. St. Augustine, one of the most influential of Latin Church Fathers and whose work created the foundation for western Christendom, had this to say about women (and it’s a gem): “women should not be enlightened or educated in any way. They should, in fact, be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men.” My response is the same one given to my sons when they point the finger at each other: “Don’t blame someone else because you can’t control yourself.” My utmost favorite though, is a church writer named Tertullian who said this about women: “You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree, you are the first deserter of the divine law, you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack, you destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die”. Methinks there was a bit of sexual repression going on there. Even Martin Luther, a great reformer, believed that women were made by God to be wives or prostitutes. And don’t even get me started on the Puritans.
But what does a young, female theology student feel when she finds out that many of the founding fathers of western Christendom had pretty skewed views of womankind? Well, indignation at first, but there was also conflict because much of what these great men had to say was also brilliant. It was at this point when using common sense, my innate sensibility, regarding the truth of the matter was essential: 1) there are plenty of men who are less intelligent than me; 2) it certainly is not my fault that men cannot control their sexual appetites; and 3) an entire gender, who, by the way was also created in the image of God, isn’t the gateway to hell. These church fathers had great minds and were brilliant, yes, but like me were creatures of culture and human experience which made them most undeniably—fallible.
Herein lies the problem with our concept of great leaders and rule-makes: a majority of folk take every word, hook, line and sinker of what they say without using any discretion at all. Generally speaking, their edicts for their supporters are sacrosanct, and those who oppose them are often vilified. It’s black or white, with no amount of grey in between. There seems to be a certain amount of infallible mysticism that surrounds the rules they create. If they are brilliant and/or holy, then everything they say must be right and we must never disagree or criticize them. Later, when we’ve evolved beyond them, or we tire of them and a flaw or two is exposed, we chew them up and spit them out, or, if they die before we tire of them, we make them saints. Given that kind of attitude, how can the voice of a common student compare to the voice of the Church Fathers? Well, if David could defeat Goliath, why not? Seriously, if the names of the men who said those horrible things about women had been left out, wouldn’t it have been easy to write them off? There have been plenty of times when I thought the men in my house were demons sent straight from hell, but that is my problem and no reason to make it a sweeping generalization for the rest of mankind. We often vilify what we don’t understand, agree with, or are afraid of, because somehow on a deep level we do want to subscribe to the “there is only one true perspective” rule. I, however, find it necessary to dispel this fundamental assumption when ever the spirit moves me—needless to say, the humiliation of Eve never quite stuck.
It is by questioning assumptions that we often have to contend with many conflicting perspectives, some of which seem to fit and others that do not. It is during the process of questioning, though, that we can begin to recognize that inner voice, one rooted in being a completely unique person whose perspective is of no greater or lesser value than anyone else in the universe. What I share with others doesn’t have to be right or better than anybody else’s perspective, it just has to be mine. Have you ever been in conversation with someone and they pull out a masterful source from the Bible or the Constitution just to prove how right they are and how wrong you are? Ultimately, both of the sources mentioned have always been subject to interpretation. It is a rarity to hear someone say, “I believe this way because it serves me personally” and just leaves it at that. Even though my inner voice may be inspired by my faith, it doesn’t mean that I have a better handle than anybody else on the mind of God or what God says to them. It is the process of sharing our ideas that keeps us moving forward. Sharing different ideas, regardless of who you are, should be encouraged rather than discouraged because you never know when another person’s perspective may be the needed ingredient for germinating an idea in someone else. When personal truths are shared, the world becomes a better place.
Let me tell you something else I learned about some of our rule-makers out there: that many of them are completely and utterly crazy. Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the amazing power crazy people have in establishing rules by which they demand others to follow. Most often people, (including myself) side step around them to avoid the scenes they create when we don’t follow the rules they set down. They come in many shapes and sizes, from some of the priests and nuns I had in school to people with substance abuse, or people who are generally miserable people and want to make sure the rest of us are made miserable too. None of us are on this planet long enough to abdicate our person freedom and follow the rules of crazy people who sap away sanity like syrup from a tree. Curiously, though, there is an upside to having crossed paths with all you sap suckers out there, because you gave me the opportunity to use and thereby hone my native good judgment.
So, back to the rules in respect to men and women, why can’t there be two equally respected perspectives? Why can’t we simply appreciate that reality is divided into two equal parts, like two sides of a coin? Well, besides equality and balance being absolutely no fun at all, with balance there is also no difference, no discord, and without difference there is no perceptual universe. If there were never any conflicts what reason would there be for any of us go beyond our limitations? If there were no darkness, could we truly know light? It’s the same dilemma with good and evil. Although the rules that I choose to follow may not be the same as yours, and many people in other parts of the world live according to a different rhythm, it doesn’t give me license to “live in my own private Idaho.” My own growth depends on bumping up against other rules and ideas that often run contrary to mine. That may sound a bit like I am contradicting myself, but just bear with me.
While studying Constitutional Law in law school, I was aghast at the lack of discussion that was encouraged about controversial issues, and in Con Law, there was a new one every day, from abortion to affirmative action. What saddened me most was that many class mates had their minds made up about an issue already and refused to even entertain the possibility that in actually listening to the “other side” they may be gaining a greater truth. The atmosphere became not one of learning, but of debating who was right. Inside the walls of a law school should be a forum for good intelligent discussion, a place to exercise the skills we were learning: to conflict with each other and in doing so achieve a greater understanding. Sadly enough, there may be a legitimate reason for societies’ mistrust of lawyers. The one thing I regret most about law school is that I didn’t take enough time to tell those students and teachers who had thought provoking things to say that I appreciated their insights because it challenged me to look at issues a little more broadly.
So although inequity exists and may be the natural order of things, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be my goal to abolish it anyway and actively engage in conflict with the intent to create harmony, even if the harmony is only internal. Because it was during my biggest struggles that truth often exposed itself and led me to seek an ever greater truth—inevitably leading to another conflict. Again, it all turns on perspective. One person may want to win and have their perspective prevail and happily remain ruler of their own little hill; another person may want to clash just to see what there is to learn in the process. It makes the most sense to me to choose the latter. The most important reason not to be too concerned about any controlling perspective is not only are they fleeting, regardless of who claims to be right at any given time, truth has a way of eventually prevailing anyway, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes. There is so much more out there that we, as human beings, have yet to discover that no one person can ever claim to have any complete answers. I believe that God has them, but the rest of us are a far cry from being “in the know” like God is. We simply have to get over the fear to engage in conflict.
As a result of not being in the know, here is another fundamental assumption about the game of life that proved to be inaccurate: that the rules should never change. The fact is that the rules change constantly, whether we want them to or not, as they should. As long as humanity keeps moving, discovering, inventing, loving, and hopefully evolving, the one thing we can be sure of is change. The ending of the game I play isn’t etched in stone; that is the great thing about free will. The rules I live my life by now are not the same as those that guided my life in my teens, twenties, thirties, forties and yes even my fifties. There may be a consistent theme in the rules I follow, but I’ve learned not to rigidly hold on to rules that no longer fit my life.
Let me stress that although there are certain fundamental rules that are necessary they aren’t always obvious. I’ve usually discovered what they were the hard way but at times there were a few people who were older and wiser that held my attention. And although there are lines drawn for the kinds of rules that help our world vs. destroy it, I can’t say, unequivocally, what they are. Throughout my life though, (usually by running smack dab right into a brick wall) I have picked up on some universal themes which are laid out at the end of this chapter. I am also aware that I can’t change another’s perspective any more than I can make pigs fly—with any level of concentration. For example, the men in my house won’t be transformed into clean freaks simply because I choose to believe that dirty underwear doesn’t belong on the kitchen floor. And although my opinions are made known to the men in my house, picking up underwear, laughing about bodily functions, and carrying the burden that it will always be my job to replace the toilet paper are things I’ve simply accepted, one, as a means to preserve my sanity and second, that men and women will always exist together and it would behoove us to try and get along.
So before you continue reading, let me offer a challenge: if you want to free yourself from the chains that bind you then suspend all your beliefs for a moment and try living by the seat of your pants for a bit. The Upanishads (Hindu scripture) says, “Whether we know it or not, all things take on their existence from that which perceives them”. When you’re done reading, go for it. Put on your old beliefs if they fit, but in order to see if the rules you are following fit the movie in your head, you should be willing to, at the very least, entertain the possibility that everything you think you know for sure right now maybe nothing more than a shadow created by someone else. Only you can bring to life the movie that is in your head. Then it becomes life as you see it, not how it has been told to you. Oh and one more thing, once I chose which rules I was going to follow, the responsibility of achieving my dreams was on me. Like the parable of the talents, God has given me a treasure, and it was up to me to go and make something out of it. That may sound like a big responsibility, but I try to think of it more as a golden opportunity.
Things that I know are true:
1) Things are not always what they appear to be, so pay attention and don’t judge too quickly—and by all means, have a sense of humor, especially when you’ve judged incorrectly.
2) Shit happens—and that can be a good thing.
3) One need not be perceived as an influential person to be a powerful influence.
4) What goes around comes around, or a slight variation: what ever you put out there comes back to you tenfold.
5) Love (or God) is a constant (like in math) and is greater than and is never changed by our perception—love is separate from and not defined by our expression of it.
6) The opposite of love is not hate, but fear
7) What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
8) Fame is not necessary for me to shape the world in a powerful way…no one, not even me need be conscious of it.
9) Real power has nothing to do with control.
10) Having faith demands that I let go (not give up) of an outcome; and doing that will almost guarantee things will work out.
11) Just because I cannot understand “why” now, doesn’t mean that I will never understand, sometimes I have to be open to looking at an issue from a multi-dimensional perspective.
12) Unexplained phenomenon is simply proof that I am continuing to evolve and that I don’t have all the answers yet.
13) Vengeance never brings peace.
14) Money is never a reason to do, or not do anything.
15) I may not control all that happens in my life, but I do control how I respond to it.
16) Destruction and death are essential elements in growth and life.
17) Things gained without lessons learned are empty successes.
Here is something that must be said. Simply stated, my faith in God is central to the way in which I observe the world—but that is just me. Although devout, I wouldn’t describe my faith as typical. I know I’ve said this before, but as a theology student I was given an assignment to find a biblical passage to represent my faith…my choice?: King David dancing naked before the Ark of the Covenant—draw your own conclusions. In the rash of religious fundamentalism that has taken hold of many in today’s world, I am almost a bit embarrassed to share my passion and devotion to God for fear of being pigeon-holed as an advocate for some of the idiocy that has come out of some religious fundamentalists. However, this post can be helpful to anyone regardless of where they are in life’s great journey or what philosophy or theology they embrace. My purpose here is to simply help people reflect on, and have a stake in how they choose to observe the ordinary things in this world because it matters more than you may realize. The many Christian and other spiritual images I use serve to illustrate what I have learned, and they just seem to make a lot of sense to me. More than anything, it is faith that God is behind me at all times that gives me the strength of this conviction: All things, are indeed possible.
Let me say this: the connections I’ve made based on how I observe the world have led me to new ideas which have resulted in becoming an effective force for change (or a force to be reckoned with depending on the day). Simply put, I found that most of the materials necessary to live out the movie in my head and the answers to my life’s questions came wrapped in ordinary brown paper, free for the taking. As much fun as it is to believe that a secret society, centuries ago, has buried the secret to happiness in countless riddles all over the globe, the truth is that it has been right in front of us all along.
The key lies in how to observe the ordinary: using ones own cosmic imagination to see everyday raw materials as essential ingredients in creating something greater, to achieve ones dream. I may just be stating the obvious, but I’m amazed at how many people don’t even begin to use the simple things that are right in front of them. They look, but do not really see. The growing sense of fear and despair in the world is all the proof that I need to bring a message of hope. Observing the world as one that is evolving into greatness shapes the very way one moves and creates in it. This is not just another take on “attitude is everything.” When I use the word “observation,” I’m not speaking about a passive action, rather, one that is the root of all creation and growth. I, in my ordinary-ness, am as essential a factor in the world’s equation for success as any president or king, because my observations are unique to me alone. And because they are unique to me alone, they can be the exact ingredient necessary for my greatness somewhere else.
Another observation I’ve made is that too many people want to bypass the middle of any process. We live in a day and age where the easiest route is always the best route, regardless of the cost. Having status is far more important than the process by which one attains it. What happens when one is given something too easily, without the opportunity to earn it? In an age where technology has made all our lives so much easier, perhaps we have lost the motivation to work hard…for anything. That may be a hard bit to swallow, but there is evidence out there to prove my point. I find the amount of money that goes into gambling and lottery pots around the world staggering. It is certainly more than the GNP of many third world countries in the world. What really is the end result for bypassing the middle where all the hard work is and jumping to the end? I think part of the reason that we want to bypass the middle is that there is a subtle underlying message today that tempts us into believing that life shouldn’t be hard, that there are ways to bypass any difficulty and that if you can’t fix it within a moment’s time, throw it away and buy something better. Sadly enough, there are more than enough individuals out there who have, to put it bluntly, just stopped moving period, forcing the rest of us to find our way around them.
I would also venture to say that most people out there have, at times, considered themselves to be inconsequential when it comes to making an impact on the world. They don’t see themselves as an essential element in something much greater. It is this belief that has created the grey cloud that is obstructing clear sight. I am here to say this: the roots of colossal change lie in the smallest and simplest things which often go unnoticed by the naked eye. When you bypass the middle of any process, you miss all the important stuff. It is the mustard seed approach that Jesus spoke about: taking something small and seemingly insignificant and learning to have faith in its potential, to put forth the effort to nurture it and see its place in the distant future, far after it has left my circle of influence. Like the beauty of our DNA’s double helix, every single element is essential in creating the blueprint that becomes a human being. It is the compilation of many different elements that expresses our potential. Why not look at our human family the same way?
Being in the middle of a process can also be, at times, tedious, hard work, full of uncertainty, and time-consuming. It also demands a great deal of humility and faith in the work being done and the process as a whole. It is my hope to give credit and encouragement to anyone in that middle place, where the effort is not glamorous, but is no less essential than finishing the job. All of us, at one time or another has had the tedious job of passing a bucket. Columbus may have been credited for discovering America, but when it came to the discovery of chocolate he was just a middle man