The Death of Mephistopheles

mephistopheles

In Goethe’s “Faust’, the character of Mephistopheles, i.e. a devil, bored with all things in God’s creation, wagers a bet with God that he can tempt Faust (whom God proudly uses as an example of goodness) to commit evil acts, and thereby gain his soul and service for all eternity. Mephistopheles approaches Faust experiencing a crisis of faith and after some malicious tricks, makes a pact with Faust to give him such ultimate bliss that he would never want to leave, in exchange for his soul and eternal service in hell. In the end, love and grace ultimately win and save Faust, because try as he might to create evil moments where Faust is lost, Mephistopheles somehow creates opportunities for goodness too. The joke is on Mephistopheles, the ultimate cosmic outsider, because he has no true awareness or understanding of love…he only understands deceptions and illusions (the whole Father of lies thing). Love is our true weaponry and armor against the Mephistopheles of the world. They prey on those who feel isolated and disillusioned with the world and tempt them with those things they believe will fill their personal void, except it’s all smoke and mirrors.

The human spirit was created in love and goodness. I see it every day, and it is time to let it sing. Cumulatively we have to stand for goodness and all the hallmarks of culture that humanity has brought forth. Denouncing those periodic elements of hatred and strife is how love works…to keep silent breeds complicity, period. No one wants to confront the disparate events of hatred, but that is what goodness or love does…we transform them into something greater. In times of great evil, like Faust, lies the opportunity for goodness and love. We have been a divided country for awhile, polarizing politics have damaged relationships, I know they have damaged mine. The tragedy in Charlottesville offers us an opportunity for goodness, to walk together undivided, even if momentarily, and stand for something greater than hate. I have seen posts circulating on social media attempting to diminish these hateful groups as a handful of crazies etc. To dismiss these events that are happening around the world as just a few crazy people who don’t deserve our attention is completely missing an opportunity to shut down yet another Mephistopheles. To say it is no big deal is ultimately an act of cowardice. A small cancer is still a cancer. Acknowledging it early offers an opportunity for a cure.

So before we try and band together about hate let me say this: blaming one side or the other obfuscates the real problem. I am a liberal, and I defy anyone of you who knows me and yet still condemns liberals as a matter of course, to maintain those judgments when they see my face in their words when they disparage the party of my choice. So we tackle problems from different angles, big f-ing deal we are not evil because of it. I refuse to judge people on those kinds of generalizations for the same reasons: because I walk, work and live in a very conservative area and it is their faces I see when I engage in political discussions and refuse to disparage an entire party. Vilifying each other is just Mephistopheles whispering in our ears. Personally, in all honesty, I do take much of the unfair criticisms and name calling to heart and wonder, when they hate liberals so much, how can they then purport to be my friend? Is it that they surround themselves with only people who think like them? Is it unthinkable to disagree, to be critical in a civil manner of a president who is so negative and polarizing? Truthfully people? to work through our disagreements is the job of an engaged citizenry.

What I will condemn, and hope you on both sides of the aisle will too, is the KKK, White Nationalists, Nazi’s, and any other group who preaches hate and condemns another’s right to liberty and happiness, because they are antithetical to who we are as Americans. Being  disenfranchised is a problem we can solve together, but not the furtherance of hating a group of people who don’t fit your definition of worthiness. It was disgusting when Hitler preached it and it is disgusting when they preach it now. So I offer this. Let’s take the evil and transform it by shutting it down with goodness, with love. The way Faust saved his soul, was by engaging his goodness, even in the darkest moments. So lets band together, all of us against hatred, against violence, against bigotry, against religious intolerance. Let’s together pray, bring out our goodness to the forefront and stop the judgement, even privately, and focus on who we really want to be as a nation.

 

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.

The Shoes of Boston

saints of boston 2Literally moments after I published “Step by Step”, I became aware of the tragedy in Boston.  While I am still walking in my shoes here in Wisconsin, I immediately asked myself what new steps I could take to appease the horror of what happened.  So I want to point out the many shoes of the Saints of Boston, who used their shoes to bring help, comfort, hope, healing and many more unbelievable qualities to those affected by the bomb at the marathon.  The response of what happened after the tragedy is proof positive that good does outweigh evil.  The evil actions of one can not quell the goodness of the many, that is the most important memory I want to take away from this tragedy.  Hopefully it will be what the rest of the world sees as well…that we are not the axis of evil that our enemies portray us to be, but strong, brave and compassionate human beings.  America is defined by those people who ran to the victims and offered their help.  Our pride is reflected in the eyes of those people who stood together singing our National Anthem at the Bruins game.  That is the America that I want to stand up and get noticed…not a blood lust for revenge.

While it is understandable to feel rage after being bombarded over and over again with news of violence, like those Saints in Boston we have to hold on to that same source of goodness that drove them so we don’t let vengeance rule the day.  In all truthfulness, I am disgusted by some of the idiotic commentary on social media escalating the blood lust for retribution or even linking our president or the government to the growing tide of violence that has swept our country.  I am tired of anger, paranoia and panic being the exemplifying qualities that define America.  We are better and stronger than that.  When we let the few who have committed heinous acts intensify our distrust of one another, then we accept defeat.  I would venture to say most Americans are like those Saints in Boston and it is the voice of those reasonable people who must guide us forward…not those that feed our fear of the government and each other.  Grieving belongs to us, vengeance belongs to God.

I pray for peace and justice, for reasonable and level heads to move us forward.  As always, first and foremost, I pray that we champion love.

Agony

agony

I’ve been working on a dramatic piece called “Stations” about Jesus’ final walk to Golgotha for a while now, and it’s had many incarnations.  Lately, though, I keep coming back to the agony Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane before the culmination of his great act of sacrifice.  How deep was the agony he felt that it would cause him to sweat blood, to panic so deeply, that even after all his miracles and raising Lazarus from the dead, he asked his Father to release him at the last-minute?  So, as I often do, I prayed to God for some insight into those few hours underneath the tree…and this is what came to mind.  Music is part of my process, and this piece in particular from Eric Whitacre peeled away much of what I was afraid to see, invoking such grief and deep emotion that I was almost too embarrassed to write this post.  So I add it as a context, while you read that hopefully it will add a dimension to my words.

I see a solitary figure under a tree, with sleeping men laying a short distance away.  His loneliness is palpable and He prays out to His Father for assistance and comfort.  An angel appears and quietly sits beside him, and I draw closer.  The solemnity of the angels’ presence is palpable, his tone somber as he speaks to Jesus.  What transpires between them is an understanding of what is about to happen in the next few days, that agony has begun.  The angel shows Jesus the sinfulness of humanity throughout the ages and his fury grows blinding hot, more than he ever did at the scribes and pharisees, or any other behavior we have witnessed thus far.  In his rage, he turns away and tells the angel that perhaps humanity is beyond saving.  The thought of sacrificing himself for such an abomination is unbearable to him.  The angel than takes his hand and shows him the victims of that sin…the beauty of God’s creation destroyed in the darkest and most heinous fashion and then racked in anger and despair he begs his Father to release him from drinking from this cup.

I try to empathize with Jesus, and though I haven’t seen all that the angel has shown him, I hope I have seen enough evil in my life to maybe create a speck of understanding.  Who would die for them?  The angel then turns to me and brings Jesus attention to where I am standing.  Up until this point I am an unknown presence, a simple voyeur watching a play.  As I am drawn in, fear wells up inside, I am exposed…in all my fallibility it is me that Jesus sees now in his deepest agony.  The angel points to me and says…”It is for her that you must bear this burden, so that she might live.”  Jesus turns to me and immediately the anguish in his face dissipates for a moment and he sees me, purely, flaws and all.  I am no longer an insignificant one of millions who is graced because of something that happened 2000 years ago.  I am removed from that safety of history and stand right before him, weak and pathetic.  Than angel wants me to be the reason that he follows through with what will be the most painful, demoralizing and fearful moments of his life.  Completely shocked and appalled and before I can run away to avoid the guilt of being the reason for his pain he turns to heaven and says “Father, let your will be done.”  He turns to me resolved and with such eyes of love that I fall on the ground weeping.  I scream at him, “Don’t make me the reason, I am not worth going through what you about to go through.”  I fall with the weight of this realization clear in my heart to the ground…the phrase “He died for my sins” blaring into my head, and I am unable in that raw moment to safely intellectualized anything.  My soul in broken, I see that now.

Jesus pulls me up, and the moment I look into his eyes, my burden is lifted and the weight of my sins are gone.  In an instant, I know that it wasn’t only just my face that he saw but every face seen singularly,  yet all at once.  His appearance becomes a bit heavier and darker and I understand the transference of my sins and all whose eyes he gazed upon has begun.  The aura of his purity is blackened…I know now that it will be easy for him to be handed over for crucifixion.  The blackness of our sin becomes like a cloak…hiding his true nature by reflecting back to those that gaze upon him their own sinfulness.  Magnified by a millennium of sin I see now how they can hate him.  Every Good Friday service, at the part in the story when the crowd screams “crucify him!”,  I am certain I would have stood up to the crowd and fought for him.  Now, seeing him with the weight of that darkness, I don’t think I could.  It is so easy to hate the sin worn by others, when we can’t see it in ourselves.

My once broken soul has been made whole by his sacrifice, the cloak of my sin is gone.  The light of his grace can shine unfettered and bring healing to the world.  It can shine through me if I choose to be his instrument of love and peace.  And as often as I may fail, this visit to the garden will inspire me to keep trying…every day until I die.