As reflected by the weather…time seems to be at a standstill for me, leaving me with a bit of whiplash since it usually speeds by so fast I never seem to be able to keep up…even with good shoes. When a particular moment in history is difficult, it feels like the clock will never move again. I am stuck at an impasse. Mother Nature shares my sympathies, given the late April snow storm we had yesterday and oddly, it gives me comfort, allowing me to stand still for a moment and try to catch my breath. As I stood in my yard yesterday morning at the crack of dawn, I tried to recognize the beauty and peace of the moment and stifle the growing frustration at the circumstances of my life right now. Even in the cold, when the exit of winter is long over due and stubbornly forces the entrance of spring into stasis, I find peace in the stalemate. While I am anxious for new life to begin in the resurrection of spring, I pause to reflect on springs past and pull out memories that have given me strength to move ahead into the warmth of spring.
Literally 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.
When it comes to influence, sometimes I think we underestimate the simple things, those simple gestures that may not seem so significant at the moment, but whose gentle influence has somehow altered the path we walk in life. My father-in-law is like that. He is a central figure in our small hamlet of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. My husband’s family ran the funeral home in town, and everyone knows his father John. I always laugh when my husband answers the phone with the phrase “Who died?” because I know he is talking to his father, who mentally keeps record of the people in his community. He’s the kind of guy, you could meet once, and I don’t know if it was because he was a mnemonic master, but he would not only remember you but have pertinent details about your family and life events as well. We’d travel all over the country and, it happened all the time, we would be at a gas station in Texas, or some other far out place and someone would come up to him and say, “Aren’t you John Edling?” and talk about how he had helped them, or how he knew a family member of theirs. When I was in Law School, my torts professor had to miss a class because of the death of his mother and when he came back and found out I was married to an Edling, he told me that my father-in-law had arranged the funeral and what a wonderful person he was…(his father had been the butcher in town). Things like that happen a lot. John was voted the best athlete of all time in St. Croix Falls a couple of years ago, his high school basketball team still holds the record for the greatest point spread in Wisconsin state high school tournament history. He in turned passed that passion forward through his children, and countless other town athletes. Even after he stopped driving, he would still find a way to stand on the side lines of every varsity football game.
Right now, John is sick, and he is moving closer to the Kingdom of God. His mortal life may be coming to a close, but the ripples of his influence will go on and on forever. To him, it is effortless to help and comfort people, which is why he is so beloved. Simple gestures are what make him a great person, gestures that touched more hearts than he will ever know, and will ripple outward through others who learned how important those gestures can be to someone’s life. I hope it makes him happy and gives him comfort to remember that. I also know it will give comfort to My mother-in-law Rayola, to Steve and his siblings, Jude, David and Barbara to remember how many lives he has influenced. He is a true character, and in many ways, Steven is just like him…generous to a fault, kind and altruistic, passionate about sports and feels totally comfortable in hanging out in boxer shorts. Blessings John, fear not…I see a heavenly ticker tape parade in your future soon.
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.
This one is hard for me. Not because I have trouble voicing my opinion…but because this issue is so rooted in fear and hatred of the gay community. Strip away all the rhetoric and what is left is fear at its weakest and hatred at its strongest, neither of which is an acceptable motivation in my book. Scripture teaches that the opposite of love is fear, so that is where I stand first and foremost. Regardless of where anyone of you stand on the issue at this moment, which is a freedom richly fought for and celebrated in this country, level heads must prevail…which is easier said than done. I know that. I’m not the one fighting for my self-respect. What I do know, is that I have many dear and beautiful friends who are gay whom I see as naturally no different from any of the other dear and beautiful heterosexual friends I have. Sexual orientation isn’t something I even recognize so by extension regarding love, marriage and children I see no difference. Period. Except I know that in society there is one. I know social media is rife with profile picture changes and scripture quotations making a clear unwavering stand for their positions on the issue. So how do we come together? We talk, we discuss, we challenge old judgments and work together, and for my part as a Christian…work together as the body of Christ.
When I hear people quote Scripture as an indictment against homosexuality, I wince. Most often because the words are taken literally out of history and out of context. For example, I did question someone when they quoted the first chapter of Romans to me about the literal word of God, but balked when I challenged them on their view on gun control. Jesus did tell us to love our enemies and turn our swords into plowshares after all. I really wasn’t trying to be a smart ass…really I wasn’t. I did want to support the notion that it is dangerous when you use scripture to justify a bias literally on one issue and disregard it in the next. I also challenge all of you who use Romans 1:24-32 to continue reading to the next chapter where Paul admonishes people for judging…you will be judged by the same measure with which you judge others. Never mind that Paul in the first chapter was talking about the state of Rome under Nero, after the edict of Claudius expelled all Jews and converted Jews out of Rome…that he feared for converted Gentiles who lived there that they were falling into old pagan practices. Never mind that the wickedness that Paul lays out in verses 29-31 could describe any one of us…so to heap all those horrible qualities on just gay people is ridiculous…period. I also believe that to take Jesus words in Matthew as an indictment against gay people is just short of blasphemy… yeah, I said it. Jesus was being tested by the pharisees about divorce as a means to find something to use against him, as they often did. Jesus spoke to the hardness of the people themselves as a reason for divorce. He went on to make sacred a union that in his time was often unfair to women, who had no voice, were considered chattel, and who could be dismissed by her husband if the marriage was unsatisfactory. To use the beauty of a verse that celebrates love into a tool that indicts gay people renders its message void, especially since the verses that follow have Jesus blessing the children, entering the kingdom of God by loving God and your neighbor as yourself and concluding with how hard it is for a rich man to get into heaven. It’s curious how few take the verse “Go and sell all you have and follow me” literally…not that I would either, I’m just saying.
Jesus spent his whole ministry challenging the notion that we get to pick and choose who we love, and who we should treat with respect. He spent his time with those whom society rejected and he often berated those that held positions of esteem…because it is wrong to use position and power to keep others out. He is the corner-stone whom the builders rejected. He championed our eternal destiny by bearing our flaws. I can’t help but think, as Easter our most sacred day comes near, that we do him a dishonor when we focus more on judgement than we do championing love. Love, as I’ve stated before is so much bigger and more powerful than our limited comprehension of it. When it comes right down to it as Paul goes on to say in Romans…”There will be joy, honor and peace for everyone who does good…there is no partiality with God.”
So, what does perfection look like? The dictionary defines it, in part, as the full growth or development of anything, or a completed state. So beyond all the traditional trappings…I ask this question, “Given that God is perfect what does God look like? Avoiding the easy traps of artists portrayals, I start with the old testament when God was always shrouded somehow, because to look upon God physically meant certain death. The metaphor that came to me as I was struggling to find something completely unique, was that of God as a flasher–God revealing the deeper realities of life, for God’s pleasure, and our limited ability to see God in full glory. NOW WAIT INTERNET, DO NOT FREAK OUT, KEEP WITH ME FOR JUST A MINUTE! I have waited for enough time after writing this draft to validate that I have not caught on fire, I have not turned to stone and my head hasn’t turned all the way around once…so just bare with me, if God’s OK with it, so should you. First of all, the reason I use the flasher image is that God has been clothed in so many different layers over the centuries, it’s about time to challenge many of these historical notions. So when all the layers are stripped away, what do we have left? I don’t have that answer yet, but and this is a big one, BUT I certainly had to ask this question first? Am I willing to see God naked?
Culturally, nakedness is far more associated with sexuality and porn than personal knowledge and perfection. The kind of exposure from someone who reveals themselves out of pleasure without being asked to do so is not only uncomfortable, many times it is a criminal offense. Perhaps it is our discomfort and limited capacity for understanding perfection that God chooses to show us only so much at a time. It can be more than a little daunting to entertain the possibility that many of the fundamental assumptions we have about God are really ill-fitting costumes that not only hide, but distort God’s very essence. I say this, in part, because if we were so clear about God’s true nature, wouldn’t our world be in a much better place? So let’s go back to before being naked was an indecent thing.
According to the book of Genesis, when Eve, then Adam ate from the tree of knowledge, bringing sin into paradise, they recognized their nakedness, tried to cover themselves up and hid from God. Note that being naked was a good thing until they sinned and they began to see themselves differently as a result. It certainly doesn’t imply that being naked was intrinsically a bad thing does it? We are created in God’s image, after all…free of any wardrobe malfunctions. Isn’t it more likely that the need to cover ourselves up as a result of recognizing our imperfection naturally flows to why we try to cover up God as well; we don’t want the constant reminder of how imperfect we really are. History certainly says so, for Christians anyway, look how humanity treated Jesus. If we are truly created in the image of God, and by our own choice moved away from that image, it seems to make sense that in order to discover God’s true nature we deal with our own nakedness…and the neurosis that comes with it first.
Looking at my own naked flesh is mixed with many different emotions. At my age it is impossible avoid gravity, period. I will never resemble those beautiful women in the magazines, and I guess I’m OK with that, but sadly, though, I never thought my body would ever resemble one of those prehistoric fertility goddess figurines comprised of sagging breasts and a marsupial like stomach either…and while spanks work miracles, they do have to come off some time. But at the same time, this body of mine has survived breaks, falls, injuries, childbirth, dancing, and the many things I have done for God…all that comes with living life. Our bodies are the empirical evidence of all that we have seen and experienced. So why is it that we worship bodies that bear no reflection of the greater lessons in life? Isn’t it true that most supermodels hit their peak before the reach the age of majority? Why focus on a blank canvas, or a body free of experience? I truly believe that God’s true nature is probably closer to the reflection most people see of themselves in the mirror–a body worn with experience. Let’s go back to the definition of perfection…the full growth or development of anything, a completed state. A life lived fully, should be seen as closer to being perfect than running away from it through growth hormones, plastic surgery or the other myriad of ways we try to look younger. I’m not saying that we allow ourselves to waste away, our bodies are temples after all…but the obsession with youth has to stop, especially since it sends an unfair message to young people that their bodies are the standard to which all perfection should be measured. Would I go back to the perky body I used to have? Ah, now therein lies the rub…the temptation would be great, but seriously no, I would not. I think I would focus on all the wrong things. As much as I struggle with aging, it is a natural part of coming to completion…and it is up to me, with the help of God to figure out how to wrap my head around it. Perhaps, it will mean for me that I am one step closer to seeing God.
I find it a little surreal talking about evil with any real clarity because it is so weighted in stories of fantasy, monsters, fallen angels, hell and brimstone, red demons etc. So, let me start with this: Christian Scripture is heavy on the notion that all things work out for those who love. Then where does the big “E” come in to play? I’ve never met the prince of darkness personally, but my first hand experiences of evil through perhaps his minions were good enough to convince me of its existence. In addition to be donned, the Father of Lies, I think another good moniker for Satan is the consummate actor and tailor: one who tempts us to layer ourselves in costumes and convinces us to portray ourselves as anything but what we truly are. We then, are confused so deeply that we lose the ability to ask for the right kind of spiritual help.
For example, look at the chaos that gun violence has brought to this country. There are those who think the government is evil because they believe their second amendment rights are threatened. There are those who think the guns themselves are evil and that they should be eradicated. I’m sure God has entertained prayers to abolish both. Where then, does the true root of evil lie? I would say the true root lies in the most fantastic misdirection of all. First that God has not conquered Satan yet (in classic terms) and we think we know exactly what evil looks like and what fuels it. When Jesus died, and before he rose, we are told of a short trip he made to hell where he basically opened a big ol’ can of whoop ass. What does this mean? I think that the whole point of Christ’s sacrifice, essentially is that for those who choose Him, evil cannot infect them…they have a spiritual vaccination, of sorts. Evil is like an opportunistic virus; it can not survive on its own. Without the human spirit to infect, it can never thrive. Think for a moment, what better way to create a foothold in human lives than for evil to skulk around shrouded in disguise in order to infect our perception and cloud our vision. Evil, then, like a plague that spreads like wildfire, we are paralyzed by fear and become obsessed with how to combat it, even though we’ve had the cure all along. And we fight it, most often in the name of God and religion. Aldous Huxley, in The Devils of Loudoun (regarding the crusades) explains it like this:
“Those who crusade not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptively worse than it was before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil, we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself…To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous.”
So I say, the best way to combat evil in our lives is first and foremost to practice love, and never let fear take hold of how we live our lives. Then, and only then, will we develop the acumen to recognize, free from disguise the face of evil…I will save that for another post.
As it so happens, when I am able to articulate a bit of wisdom, or share a challenge of sorts… others may sit back and breathe a sigh of relief they were able to move a bit down the path of righteousness…I just close my eyes and wait for the karmic tumble that I know I’m about to take. Generally, it manifests itself in a couple of ways, 1) In the form of a shit storm, most often metaphorical, where I am barraged by spiritual excrement in the attempt to call “hypocrite” and make me take back what I said, or 2) In the form of a person who makes it almost impossible to put into practice what I’ve just put out into the vastness of cyberspace. This time, it was number 2…yes, pun intended. Mind you, rarely does anyone put my teeth on edge like this particular person…a person who at our clinic in a full waiting room, once showed me a disgusting souvenir that his Philippino “girlfriend” sent him and was just barely able to scream at him to put it away before I vomited in my mouth. This is a person who after bringing me to the edge of my fragile sanity so many times finally stopped speaking to me because I wouldn’t let him come over to our house and use our pool for “rehabilitation”. Finally, I was free…of course until I shared my words of wisdom about seeing everyone through the eyes of grace. HMMMM! Was it the devil or God who decided to test that notion? Whatever, it doesn’t matter…because I get it. Sometimes it’s HARD, so hard that when I picked up the phone with my bright message of, “It’s great day at Edling Chiropractic…” that horrible, horrible voice, forgiving me for being so inhospitable made my hand involuntarily rise to my temple and start pounding the phone against my head until the phrase, “See him through eyes of grace” popped in there. Lord of All, I love you with all my soul…but that, my deity, SUCKED BIG TIME! Ok, I tried. I was kind. I kept my boundaries. I wasn’t mean. I listened, even though he only called to talk about his bracket for March Madness. I am humbled, and now I need a shower.
These days, I write what comes to me in prayer, what moves me in the face of what is happening in the world…even if, to some, it appears that I think I know more than I do. Really, I don’t. And yet in the same breath…I do know a lot of things, as do many of the people I come in contact with every day. I try to learn from people and things that cross my path… Some times the lesson come easily, and sometimes the lesson begins to fester against my strong will, and when I’m ready, I finally understand. But when my brain simply can’t make heads or tails of what a lesson means and I feel blind to the answer, I simply surrender. I let go not because I’ve given up, on the contrary, it is because I also know that I am guarded by the spirit of grace, a wisdom that my mind can never fully comprehend in my human form…a grace that ultimately saves me every single time I accept my limitations and am unable to see a truth. Jesus blessed those that weren’t able to see and yet still believed, which I would respectfully say means all of us, even the wisest and holiest. I accept that with grace I am more than what I can see with my eyes, just as anyone who embraces this free gift can be. When I look through eyes of grace, all my cracks and fissures are filled in, I am so much more than what I see physically. Am I just being delusional?…what then, is the point of grace? Is it just a free ticket to heaven? Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within, and that we too could do all that he did. Is it all just folly? Perhaps, except I am so much better a person when I try to see my imperfections filled in by that divine gift. Grace will never make me better if I don’t allow it to fill me up. But the prerequisite is to see ourselves as broken as we truly are first. Seeing through the eyes of grace demands that we walk differently in the world, even if we may look physically the same as everyone else, our actions should prove to the world that we are so much more. How well have we done in 2000 years? That is the challenge of this generation. Today I pray we all see ourselves and each other through the eyes of grace.
My son asked me if you have to be a priest to be pope…The answer is no. Even I could be chosen, and while there is a greater chance of hell freezing over, I wouldn’t. But I might accept the challenge to teach those cardinals a few things. If I were to give an intro to Prophets class…it would start like this:
To be a true prophet, you don’t need a pedigree…in anything. You do, however, need to say this prayer: “Honoring all the talents I’ve been given, take me down the path I need to go to fulfill my greatest purpose in life and in turn I will promise to keep walking despite the fear that wells up in my throat, the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy that I may face and the desire to give into the temptation to run in the opposite direction.” If you can say those words then you are ready. Please note, however, that once you say them…God will take you at your word. Changing your mind is not an option.
I don’t know if it is God’s great humor or the hubris of Jonah that resulted in my isolation in the belly of my own metaphorical whale, but sans the fish smell it was no less cramped, dark, and completely uncomfortable. When it comes to the non-prodigal son and Jonah, I can completely sympathize with their tendency to mope over a last-minute save. Today, they are my brethren. Granted, I may be speaking in the voice of that petulant child that roars her ugly head once in a while, but the feeling of putting my ninja on and wreaking havoc on all the vipers and hypocrites and evil doers even has my rational, old soul, adult self jumping on board. I am tired of bad people getting away with bad things and coming to Jesus to make it all right. I wish omniscience was one of my super powers so I would have the ability to distinguish between who has really learned the hard lessons and has changed their ways and the liars who just pretend to. Then I could spontaneously combust the wolves with my Darth Vader like stare. But alas, that would make me no better than they are, focused so outwardly on the sins of others that I can’t see my own. I did despair a bit at this awareness because Jesus has taught me to keep forgiving the bastards seventy times seventy….which is how I ended up inside my whale. My internal rantings began to the tune of “Walking the Line” and all the difficulties that come with that when there are so many who appear to reap benefits from not only walking far away from the line but taunt the rest of us who do…only to descend even deeper to conclude with a chorus of “nana nana booboo” while I visualized the evil doers being herded off a cliff somewhere. The echo of all that whining bouncing off the blubber of my internal whale became so deafening that I told my internal petulant child that enough was enough already. The descent into emotional and spiritual retardation, became an invitation to revisit why it is I choose to live by a higher moral imperative anyway. It isn’t because I believe that I get to go to heaven, or avoid a heavy karmic backlash. Truly, I believe it is because it makes the most sense to me. Choosing a path of love demands certain behaviors laid out for me in the New Testament. Jesus did prescribe a way to live in the world that will build the Kingdom of God and in order to get out of the belly of the whale I had to figure out that holding others accountable is God’s job and not mine. The phrase, “it’s not fair” is wiped from my lexicon. That is not to say that I won’t continue to fight for justice, rather, I will trust that Jesus’ great gift is very much alive and well even when it appears that the line isn’t even visible anymore. I have learned a great lesson these past days and have regain a greater peace.