I love shoes…I know a lot of people who do. I love the interesting, uncommon and artsy kind that most people don’t have. I could easily be one of those hoarder types with hundreds of shoes, but alas I am limited to loving them from afar. My horrible spine and the resulting poor bio-mechanics have limited my shoes to those that support arches, and when necessary my orthotics…how cruel is that? Gone are the days of heels and the barefoot sandals with barely there straps. I’m not saying I’m old and haggard with orthopedic shoes, it just takes more time to find the right ones, you know the ones that put my best foot forward. Sadly, they are far and few between.
As a result of my own limitations, I try and afford others the same courtesy of not judging them by the shoes that they wear.. Many of us don’t wear the shoes we want for a whole host of reasons that aren’t apparent to the naked eye. Perhaps some have physical limitations like me, some are strapped financially, others don’t have a choice about what shoes to wear, and others haven’t even considered what shoes they would even like to wear and are simply driven by trends or what they think others believe are the right kind of shoes to wear. The shoes themselves don’t define the person, but walking in them may help each of us understand what their journey is and why they wear the ones they do. I do know that wearing shoes that I love does affect how I walk in the world, but maybe that’s just me.
Of course, metaphorically we all wear “different shoes” depending on the jobs we perform every day. There are many shoes I despise wearing, but out of necessity I wear them responsibly to support those I love. What is important to remember is that I am not defined by these shoes, but that I am willing to wear them for love. More importantly, I have to remember to take time to also wear shoes that express me…for love of myself. And I’m learning in this year of love, that it isn’t always easy to do. There are people out there who hate my taste in shoes and judge me for it and while it may make me sad, I realize lately that it is also these same people I have allowed to keep me from wearing the shoes I have loved all along…and I’m not doing that anymore. I have discovered that I can wear shoes that support my flawed structure and still make a statement. I urge you all to do the same, you’ll never walk the same way again.
So yeah, the trials continue…this time it’s not cars, boils, subzero windchill, or money…its mother nature. We’ve had a whole winter’s worth of snow in four weeks, about 40 inches of snow. I’ve always thought that living up here in the great white north keeps out the riffraff, that you have to be built of sturdy stuff to with stand the winters here…in the hope that it would also help build strength, character and a sense of humor. There is something to be said about gearing up for subzero temps, shoveling out so I can actually get my car out of the garage and face the treacherous black iced roads even before I get to work and start my day. It’s easy to whine about it, commiserate and share weather related horror stories, but it’s also an opportunity to share stories of people helping each other out, whether it is shoveling, starting a car, helping someone who is stuck etc. It is in these small sacrifices that we strengthen our ability to wield love in a world in desperate need of it.
The amount of snow seems to have slowed everything down enough to give me pause to focus on the sacrifices that love demands of us every day. Some are easy for me, extending a helping hand, or listening, and giving support, and putting other’s needs above my own. Some are hard, like trusting someone to put my needs above theirs when I am so depleted I don’t have much at the time to give, being vulnerable to accept help and while its hard to admit…making sacrifices to those outside my circle who I feel don’t deserve it, but I am obligated to help because of the golden rule I chose to follow: treat others the way that you want to be treated. I feel that simple axiom hones our ability to wield love: to accept the sacrifices that others make for me with love and to sacrifice in the name of love for others. The challenging circumstances of weather, money and physical challenges only stand to purify that sacrifice because it becomes more intentional. To sacrifice in the name of love in spite of challenges only makes us stronger.
I never anticipated using the word “hate” so much in posts about love, but here it is…I hate this year’s task, because it appears that….in order to wield love effectively, I must be whittled down to a mere wisp of myself, with all pride thrown aside (and I hemmed and hawed about the level of sharing, to keep some semblance of pride and decided, no, I am all in with this commitment). From a boil on my butt (I’ve never even had a pimple anywhere else but my face, and that was 35 years ago) that left me not only humiliated, but unable to do virtually anything, to paper cuts on every finger (it was -55 below zero with windchill after all, every scintilla of moisture gone from my body) I struggled through last week, having to make a conscious choice to get out of bed and resurrect the optimism I once had about facing the day…and I did, bully for me. I was going to title the post about it “Love and the seven plagues” but instead am just using it as a prelude to another more challenging lesson.
And so I reiterate that an interesting tidbit I learned about these silly little obstacles, in my life anyway, is that it is more often than not, that it is the “small things” that undermine my ability to wield love in the world. I am a tigress when demonstrably bad things happen. I can champion a cause better than most. I have learned to gird my loins and run into battle in defense of justice and righteousness. The embarrassing things, like those mentioned above, including but not limited to intestinal distress, and other vanity challenges have felt like a sword through my armor and it was with greatest effort that I tried to move in the world with my integrity in tact.
And then came this week, and the charge forth stopped. Every vehicle in my small family of four has just cost us thousands, within two days (in addition to the water crises and house calamities of the prior weeks). While I am thankful for Triple A, and no visible injuries…it is the very ability to actually move in the world being hindered and the financial challenges that followed (not to mention the punch the cold weather had on our business) that reminded me of all those stories in scripture when Jesus lectured us about serving God and money. It is money, the lack of it, the power of it, the injustice of it, and the corruption it brings that stands as my obstacle this week. The weight of money can cripple our ability to wield love in the world if we are not careful, and let me tell you it doesn’t matter how much you have, it may be a lot or hardly any at all. It affects each of us differently, but I have humbly learned that it can, does, and will stunt our ability to wield love in the world if we aren’t careful. The parts in scripture that I’ve held onto and so far have kept me from falling into panic are these three:
No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money) Mt 6:24
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Which one of you would hand their child a stone when they asks for a loaf of bread or a snake when they 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. Mt 7:7-11
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Mt 19: 16-22
So, the test is: where do our loyalties ultimately lie? Do we embrace the love of God over the power of money? Do we trust that when we ask God for bread he will not give us a stone? And I think the most important is when given a choice do we choose God and all that that entails (loving God, ourselves AND our neighbors) or our possessions. I am learning this: to wield love effectively and well, I must continually weigh all three, many times every day. Vanity? shedding that is the easy part…the real strength and conditioning comes from choosing God over money, every day.
So, I guess the training on how to wield the power of love has begun…with the year of a thousand cuts. By all accounts, I don’t tend to over react to life’s foibles, I’m more likely to turn them into a good story, but so far this year? I swear Beelzebub is trying to trip me up with, well there is no other word but shit (which I also stepped in, by the way). From cleaning vomit out of my husband’s car when a never before attack of vertigo seized him while driving (no flu or illness inspired), my car not going out of second gear, the front door of our clinic not opening (forcing us to replace the knob) my bed breaking in the middle of the night (3 a.m.), “someone” losing my car keys, replacing a faucet that stopped giving us cold water, bank deposits mysteriously delayed for no apparent reason and some more delicate ones that I can’t add to protect the innocent…and these are only from this week! I found myself holding my breath in anticipation of the next crisis.
While these events may seem innocuous in the face of terrible tragedies that occur every day, I maintain it’s these kinds of events that literally grab focus away from the good I could be doing and just wear me down (and I’m assuming many feel the same way I do). Things that I normally brush off seem so much bigger and crueler and in a way limit my ability to wield love in the world. Questions like, “am I being punished?” “am I just that unlucky?” and the far more irrational ones like, “is Satan lurking around here somewhere?” “am I being plagued because I’m championing love this year?” It is the compounding of these events and the bad attitude that I take that send ripple effects outward to others and voila the love quotient goes down. I went back to read some the book of Job in the Old Testament, it is involves much of the same phenomenon. The Devil bets God that he can take a wonderful, happy, successful and loving servant of God (Job), and turn him by plaguing him with all sorts of irritants. Those who surround Job try and convince him that it must have been something he had done or God wouldn’t be punishing him…still Job doesn’t lose faith. When he begins to waver, God storms in and demands answers to those who seen to know the mind of God when they fail to answer, God sets them straight…some things are just beyond our comprehension. The good news is that lesson learned, Job goes on to live a blessed life.
Wielding and harnessing love requires that we get rid of the notion that when bad things happen we are being punished by a vengeful and puritanical God. Those kind of beliefs bring out the worst in us: guilt, shame, fear, blame, mistrust, hatred, etc. And those beliefs also cause ripple effects by affecting other people who then create their own ripple effects and before you know it the whole world is in crisis and crippled to handle major crises when they actually happen. I felt like my task during this shit-storm of irritating events was to: 1) try and see the humor in it (cleaning out the vomit from my husband’s car, I was laughing hysterically when I pulled his phone out from under it all…Q-tips are amazing) and 2) not extend my irritation to other people, hence the ripple effect. I tried, with limited success to consciously fight the darkness that irritants bring with love creating a positive ripple effect that perhaps would help someone else who is facing their own personal shit storm (most of the time with laughter and a good story). While I may have simplified the situation a bit, I think the lesson I learned is the most important foundation in my year of love: that wielding love takes training, discipline, faith and the willingness to put into action the promised of scripture, which demands that we love God, ourselves and others regardless of vomit, lost keys, broken beds, doors, faucets, and shit.
Love, I already hate it. I figured since faith was one of my superpowers, I studied Theology and World Religions, I worked in ministry etc., that a year of love would fall easily into my wheelhouse. Nah, per my usual eye opening jaw dropping revelation once my task actually starts…it isn’t going to be that easy. I can point to hundreds of quotes, ideas, antidotes, lessons, scripture verses but none of them hit me as a place to start. The the quote from Teihard de Chardin that I used at my wedding kept coming to mind:
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, (humanity) will have discovered fire.
I guess this is going to have to be more of a training exercise. How do I harness love? That is the big question…and I believe given the state of the world, there have been too far and few that are/were successful at doing so. When you compare the power of love to the wind, the force of the moon and gravity…well, I for one say we’ve been looking at the whole concept of love from the wrong direction. Because harnessing fire brought human evolution to a whole new level. Just think of what harnessing love could do. I don’t think I’m the only one who has grossly underestimated love’s power and strength. So, this year I intend to find out, and master it. I also know the first step begins with me. No one can wield love from the outside it has to come from within.
So, I get why my year of truth came before love. I don’t see the world in the same way because of last year. I can’t lie to myself or anyone else about where I begin and it isn’t always pretty. I’ve used God’s heart to augment my weak and broken one too long. I want a stronger heart…and maybe some of you do too. Let the training begin.
I was naked and afraid…again. WTF, again? I was beginning to wonder if this was standard protocol for my dream state. I got my answer quickly from my spirit guide, always in the form of Jesus (my image of him anyway…I make no claims to know) He told me that as my year of truth was at an end, I would always be in my natural form, and that I was in the dark because it surrounds the world, and how important light is at this point in time. He also reminded me that until I got my embarr-ass-ment under control, I wouldn’t be able to show my light fully to the world, because it meant that everyone could see me too…shit.
“Ugg, truth sucks. Now is the naked part real or metaphorical?”
“Just think of it as all encompassing. You can’t be my light to the world and hide yourself…its flaws and all baby! “With that he laughed and looked at me. “For what it matters, I love what I see. Your body is a reflection of an active and creative life.”
“That’s one way to look at it”, and before I could be interrupted, I said, “OK it is the only way to look at it. So, to reiterate, please tell me what the HELL have I been doing all year, because it seems less and less that people care about the truth at all, and I am including those who claim to be religious. “
“Let me tell you a little story, and maybe you’ll have a better handle on what this year has been about, have a seat.”
“Uch, there is nothing grosser than sitting on the ground, cross-legged and naked.”
“Why? I’ve made the ground perfectly comfortable.”
“Because I’m fat, my bones make noises and I might pee if I sit or try to stand up.”
“A life lived and many gifts given, I don’t care, nor should you…can I continue please, or are you going to hold onto your vanity?”
“Point taken, continue…”
“When I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, before I was arrested and everyone was asleep…”
“I always felt bad about that.”
“No interruptions, please.”
“Sorry, bad habit.”
“When I was distraught about what was to come, the Devil came to visit me. He said he realized his mistake in trying to tempt me in the desert, but now that it looked like he might be defeated, he said he had a secret weapon and he brought Eve forth swinging on the tree that we were standing under and she was eating “THE APPLE.”
(my eyebrows went up in acknowledgement but I kept silent…I’ve always been a good student)
“The Devil told me that he had totally forgotten about free will and that his plan of attack was to use the gift of grace against me. He told me that what ever sacrifice I was about to make would be meaningless if people didn’t choose it, didn’t understand it, or truly want it. and that he would take his time throughout history twisting it and rendering its power useless. He would use their weaknesses and tempt them to use their faith as a sword to bring fear to the world. He would convince people that the grace of God couldn’t protect them from his power, and he would make them afraid all the time, all the while making them think that they had the power, and that they knew what the truth was. He also committed to me that in time, my words and my teachings would be so twisted that they would actually become the weapon that tears apart the Body of Christ and takes down the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he showed me the trouble, the horror and the lies that would happen throughout history. He told me that while I may not fall prey to his temptations, he knew the heart of humanity so well, that he could twist and turn them from the very saving gift I would be giving them. He instructed to quit while I gave everything for nothing.” (Jesus paused, and saw my mouth was gaping, then he continued) “I have to admit, his words were unnerving…and I had a glimmer of doubt, but then the truth of what I would be doing came upon me like a revelation. My sacrifice was based in truth, and love which are impenetrable as well as the source of all creation, his lies were only an illusion and could and would never be sustained. I told him that while he may choose to wreck havoc on the world, that I would be giving the world eternal life, a light to guide them through the darkness. My words and teachings were to give comfort and help those who choose to evolve to a greater place while on this earth…and that many would see beyond his lies…truth and love will always reign as long as those committed to this truth would shine their light, because light shatters the darkness. Needless to say, he was furious…and I was ready, it was at that moment that the Roman guards came. You see, my sacrifice defeated him…he has illusions and lies, but I saved the soul of the world by sharing my everlasting light…the essence that continues on after human life is over.”
“What about those who say the only way to get to heaven is my accepting you as their Lord and Savior?”
“Well, that’s a bit of a distortion. I never gave any other formula for the Kingdom of heaven but a choice to do so by loving one another, its as simple as that. It is the task of your life to master being a lover, and celebrating the fruit that is a result of that love. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”
“Yah, well I’ve said something to the effect of that many times and it does not go over well. People want a defined group, a limited number of who ‘gets’ into heaven”
“Like a wall to keep people out? (my mouth was gaping open again). And yes, I get the inference. There is no limitation to Heaven, to God’s love, to anything at all. That is the greatest lie ever told, that my sacrifice is limited to a set of prescriptions and rules or people, its not and never will be, its free to all.”
“I feel a bit silly playing devil’s advocate here…but you did say that you were going to fulfill the law and the only way was through you…”
“And I did. God’s chosen people were promised a Savior and I fulfilled that promise. I just extended it to all people. All the old is passing away. I am the Alpha and the Omega. It doesn’t matter what churches or people do or say to redefine what or who I am to the world, I am not hypothetical or a metaphor. I am who I am…I changed reality. My sacrifice doesn’t hinge on your belief in it, it happened. Your belief in my sacrifice helps you, and the light you shine to the world. It is the fruit of that light that shapes the Kingdom on Earth.”
“But I feel, in many ways, that this year of truth, that truth has lost in the end…the lies keep getting bigger and seem to hold more power.”
“That means that you’re gaining ground, the devil wouldn’t be trying so hard if he were winning…things tend to get worse before they get better…and also the light tends to shine even more brightly then. Just continue to be that light in the darkness and love yourself and one another as I have, and watch the transformation. My love and power are completely availed to you. Do you want to know what next year’s task will be?”
“This is where I get nervous, because it never turns out like I think it will…”
“That’s because I have a better imagination than you do…Next year will be the year of love, so start you studying now.”
I know I’ve said this before…be careful what you pray for…when I spoke of money in the last post and the story of the widow’s mite, giving from need instead of want etc…I should have known that I would be tested on that particular conclusion and commitment. Tuesday our water stopped running. Wednesday the phones and internet were down, I have all my neighbors coming to my house on Saturday to celebrate the season. I am making the food for said celebration…and I have no water, and until yesterday with no internet or phone, trying to fix the problem was very difficult. So, feeling like Job for a few moments, “life is but drudgery” and all that, I rallied and repeated my mantra over and over…”All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” The irony of the word “well” wasn’t lost as I was told the diagnosis after replacing many things plumbing was: “the WELL pump is shot.” I guess I am getting what I asked for: being in need. It has taken a Herculean effort to not panic as the costs add up and yet I’m also thinking that that is the point: will being thrust suddenly in need stop me from giving? The answer is no, it will not because I am actively choosing faith, choosing God and I felt peace about that. I found a great well guy, with the suggestion of a friend and my water is again flowing. The lesson here is that we are all in need, even if we don’t know how much because we are so insulated by the comforts of modern living. So how do we cope when life gives us situations when our “well” runs dry? The truth of the matter is that we can’t do it alone, we need God and each other and that is what strikes fear in most people…that we all “need” outside help. For me this is the heart of what this season of light should be about. We are not alone in the darkness. There are truly good people about and it should be our sole focus during this sacred time to extend a hand to one another and say I am here for you, you are not alone. Give a little light and receive a little light.
The truth about water is that we can’t live without it, and yet we take it for granted every single day. I know I certainly did. I feel the same way about truth. The water for the soul is truth, and without it we cannot survive. While I may not appreciate God’s timing in all this, I certainly understand it. I appreciate water so much more now that I have it back. I also appreciate what life without truth would be like, in a country where I could not speak freely, it would be as devastating. I am hoping that I never have to live without it and pray God doesn’t feel the need to deprive me of it to teach me a lesson…ever. An end run of avoiding getting what I prayed for? I hope so. Today, I am grateful…for water and for truth.
Approaching the end of “my year of truth” as the sun wanes and the cold comes, I can’t help but have conflicting feelings about this particular season of Christmas. Yes, I still believe that it represents the light that breaks through the darkness of winter. This year, however, has been as brutal as it has been enlightening. It is also why I’ve committed to approach this season without the blinders I usually tend to put on, like a suspension of all the truths I’ve embraced just to do “the Christmas” thing. Can we celebrate “the light” while participating in all the commercial hoopla? While I may not have the perfect answer to that question, and its one I’ve struggled with for many years, I’m always optimistic that I’ll figure it out. For example, past attempts include: once when I was a teenager I asked only for a bible at Christmas and got nothing else (which really wasn’t satisfying, but more like emotional flagellation for someone who loves presents and parties and whose guilt says I shouldn’t so much), or when I told our family of four one year that we were giving our Christmas away, (again mixed results, I really don’t think it changed anything since I was spending money anyway but directing it somewhere else) or the time I limited the amount we could spend to try and celebrate the simple (such a disaster since no one but me followed the rules). Like they say, the spirit is always willing but it resulted with little success. It’s not that they were bad ideas, and I’ll never regret trying, but since I’m being truly honest, I don’t think I succeeded in changing anybody else’s mind about the season itself, which made my efforts seem, well, a bit empty, like I failed.
So this year, because of truth, I embrace both my good and bad feelings about the season. I love Christmas, the lights, the presents, the parties and all that is festive and hopeful about its message. I hate the commercialism, the loneliness, the financial pressure, the wealth disparity and the subjugation of other religious holidays to its mighty rhetoric (and I’m not talking about the good will part of it…more the Black Friday part of it). So this year, I decided that while I will give presents (because giving people gifts MAKES ME HAPPY), I will only support those companies who donate their profits, are small local businesses, have special gift giving opportunities and are generally philanthropic with the millions and billions they stand to gain during the holiday season. I’ve let go of rationalizing my reasons like being a better person etc., because those rationalizations don’t work. To be frank, it is something I am compelled to do because of an underlying terror about money and consumerism and that money, or mammon (material wealth or possessions as having a debasing influence…you know the bad side of money) is ruining the spiritual fabric of our world, and in some ways my own (you know two kids in college, small business owner…yada yada). I think that many of our present ills are because of money, rooted in the not having enough of it and why should you get more of it than me internal struggles. More and more power is falling into the hands of fewer and fewer individuals who are not leading our planet to a better place, and they have one thing in common…money, and a lot of it.
And while I acknowledge I am privileged more than most, the fact is that all of us can take our consumer power and the smallness or greatness of it and direct it toward those companies and individuals who will do good in the world. I may not have received all “the deals” like past years, but I can use the power of money for both for pleasure and for good. I choose to also give from my need and not my want. Tightening my belt to be philanthropic and share freely with others when my bank account says otherwise is also a consequence of my year of truth because if I really truly am a Christian, then this is the attitude I must have about money:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be. “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
When (Jesus) looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.
So, when I see starving children in Yemen, families fleeing from dangerous situations and treated as if they were criminals, and all the poor and lonely around the world I have to force myself to breathe when I look around at all the “stuff” of this season before the mind boggling, crippling guilt overwhelms me. And it is in these times I remember that I can be a light in all this darkness, that I am not alone in solving the world’s ills, and the power of love and its ripple effects are more powerful than I will ever know. That my simple coins, like the widow’s mite, matter in the eyes of God. And finally, in truth, the greatest gift of the season has already been given, it is grace that dispels the darkness and grace behind the light in my eyes. I choose to serve God and it is that I celebrate.
a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not: behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel…the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.
I would add to this definition of hypocrisy by adding: “exhibiting and perpetuating the very behavior you are ranting against.” I am not getting into finger pointing because I don’t think its helpful…at all. I do know that when any of us allow “our side” to exhibit this kind of behavior because, well, its “our side” after all and the “other side” is so much worse…NOTHING CHANGES. Truth and hypocrisy cannot exist in the same room, EVER. Its the one thing that made Jesus so angry. This quote from Matthew 23 is long…but he speaks what I feel this week:
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated. Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (But) these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna!
Power is corrupting, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is why many hierarchical churches are broken at this point in time. It is understanding the potential for corruption that the foundation of this Republic is built on checks and balances on exclusive power. It is why we have laws to protect consumers from corporate greed, distinctions for protected classes such as race or gender, and rights for those charged criminally. It is why, as a nation, we proclaim that ALL people are created equally and should be treated as such regardless of wealth, status, race or religion. It is not a country who acts against the interests of the whole, for the individual party that is in control at the time. That is the greatest hypocrisy of Washington…to love America, but condemn and vilify anyone who thinks differently than you do. While there are some who are more balanced, given the extreme divisiveness that exists, I think its safe to say balanced is the minority sentiment.
It is essential to take to heart the very behavior that angered Jesus the most: looking good and righteous on the outside but being filled with darkness on the inside. Because of this, I am skeptical of people who say they love an ideology like America and the flag, that they stand for this country, believe in justice and freedom for all, but whose behavior and actions say the opposite, that their allegiance is only to those who love and believe as they do. Some, in positions of power fuel that divide even more. People who believe in truth should not let that happen.
Hypocrisy isn’t foreign to any of us. All of us are guilty of being or saying something one time or another that is contrary to what we really believe. All of us, at times, rationalize why its OK to behave hypocritically because of power in the balance or it achieves something we think we need or want at the time. I think it would be true for everyone who is truthful that it is easy to justify hypocrisy when passions arise. The real issue here, I believe, is not that we are all flawed, but that we embrace an “end justifies the means” mentality, that acting in a way that is hypocritical is OK, if you get the result you want. That is a downfall of having power. The means by which you attain something does matter, perhaps because of the standard it sets. And I believe that is why we are where we are right now in this world. It doesn’t have to stay that way. We are after all, the Body of Christ. We are, after all, created in image of God. We are, after all, “we” the people. Its up to us to act like it.
We don’t walk in anyone else’s shoes. We can’t know or bear anyone else’s burdens. We don’t feel anyone else’s pain. We can only know our own. And that being said, because we all have burdens, it should never be a competition…i.e., my pain is worse than yours or I learned my lessons faster than you have, etc. Our journeys on this planet are unique to each individual. When I weigh out my troubles during prayer time, I am often overwhelmed by the ripple effect that our actions have on other human beings. I am aware that when I allow my personal struggles and fears to fog my eyesight, my behavior changes: less open, less empathetic, less loving. I also know how it affects me when others treat me in a closed, judgmental or hateful way, its like a punch in the stomach making it harder to bounce back. In response, I am continually refocusing my prayers to help me include bringing openness, empathy and love to all people, specifically to combat the growing deficit of these qualities in the world. I know all change begins with me. I decide the tone and tenor of my journey on this planet and it is my belief that being open, empathetic and loving will have an even bigger ripple effect than being closed, judgmental and hateful does.
When I start at this small level I can build up the skills necessary to bring out the big guns when I need them. What do I mean? Becoming skilled at being open, empathetic and loving has changed my whole perspective, hope begins to thrive and my own burdens become significantly less. A simplistic solution, I know…that’s why working hard on the simplest circumstances help gird my loins for the tougher circumstances. Knowing the back story of a truly vile person that is rooted in the most tragic of circumstances does change the level of judgement that I have about them. It has to. If I am trying to evolve as a person…IT HAS TO! It doesn’t mean that people who break the law get a free pass, or people who make bad choices don’t have consequences. It does mean that when I respond back to them in an open, empathetic and loving way…I take control of the situation and that is where the truth lies. I learn a lot from friends of mine who are defense attorneys. They hear another side to the story. They stand for people who have made mistakes, or who truly haven’t, all of whom need help facing a complex system. They advocate fairness in a way that the world outside the justice system does not (OK an aside here, I am not referring to the inequities of the present justice system…just for the importance of hearing the other side of every story). I also learn a lot from friends and others who are counselors, pastors, doctors, etc. who hear the “other” sides of the stories we would like to bypass so we can feel comfortable in smug judgments. I am also privileged to hear many stories that have staid the hand of my own judgment of others in my own life. What I know is this: most people are not inherently evil, most were taught to hate (I have to be truthful here, I say most because the jury is out on some who actually are evil in my mind…but then I am a work in progress). And when you offer openness, empathy and love in response, they do react differently. Change has to start somewhere.
Being open, empathetic and loving isn’t just reserved for the more heinous behaviors of the population either, it also allows me to share in the goodness and wonderful experiences I hear about every day too. The joy of another’s win, accomplishment, and kindness all give me hope and encouragement to keep me on the road that I am on. And for those of you who share in my faith, Jesus affirms my celebrations of openness, empathy and love as well in MT 7:1-18:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s or sister’s eye. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand their children a stone when they ask for a loaf of bread, or a snake when they ask 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. “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
The lesson here is clear: spend less time judging, help is always available, and the only acceptable judgement is determining who the wolves are by the fruits that they bear.