Such has been our experience over the last 5 weeks…There is a great parable in Matthew where Jesus talks about those who live by his words are likened to someone who has built a house on rock, which stands against the wind, the rain and floods. My husband and I feel that way right now, our friends and those who love us have helped us hold steady against the unique storm we are facing with his injury. More than ever, we are humbled, honored and celebrate the love extended and shown to us during this struggle. Sometimes, even under difficult circumstances it is important to see and understand the impact of the good fruits we have shared to the community around us and see how they have indeed benefited and sustained others.
In difficult times that we have all faced in the past couple of years it is easy to come to the conclusion that what you offer to the world isn’t significant or doesn’t matter. But when the storm came, so did those whose lives we have touched and they held us up, unconditionally without asking. It’s truly overwhelming at times, to embrace the love that has poured forth from so many people, and it has given us greater stamina to move forward into the future and reestablish and perhaps even produce different and better fruits to our community.
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.
When I have no words to express the sadness, the shock, the shame that I feel when I am witness to events that I find unconscionable, unreasonable and unacceptable, I turn to scripture to find comfort. I came upon this verse in the gospel of Matthew 10: 28-31.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
In this moment, with grief and anger regarding senseless loss of life, I pray for our national soul. In this moment, we need to be our best selves, and that will look different depending where we stand. Wherever that is, it is counterproductive to focus energy on blame and vengeance. In this moment, those of us who stand on the outside must shine light into the darkness with love and support. All are essential in God’s eyes. That has to be the foundation in finding a solution, one nation under God. A nation that is not just one color, religion, or political ideology. Unless you stand for the freedom of every citizen, you do not stand for America. As for your faith, unless you see God in the eye of every citizen, you do not stand for God.
We have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about racial inequality and gun violence. We are becoming an angry, fearful, judgmental and self righteous violent people. If we truly believe that we all matter, then a change in attitude is the only possible solution. It starts with me, and it starts with you. None of us can stay the same…we all have to move forward, together.
It is a slippery slope when science modifies nature without regard for the consequences. As uncomfortable as it is talking about the mess we’ve made with our foodstuffs it pales in comparison to what humanity has done with the scripture that is meant to save the world. While I realize that the words of Jesus are subject to interpretation, like our modern made food stuffs, if we aren’t careful the words can be compromised. The torture for me is trying to understand and embrace the real truth. How can I have a better handle on the teachings of Jesus than anyone else? I’m just a person with a singular perspective. Yes, I have a degree in theology, I have devoted much of my life in the service of Christ and yet I have no greater claim on truth than anyone else who shares in the gift of grace. So here is my take. While it took me awhile to realize that the bread I was eating was poisoning and being rejected by my body, so it is with my soul rejecting some of what is being preached as the Word of God and not in the way that the Gospel challenges us and makes us uncomfortable to become better Christians, but more visceral. Like the body’s rejection of manufactured foods, manufactured faith is just as lethal. I’m speaking about the kind of faith that may taste good, but really isn’t good for you.
After writing and then deleting the start of this paragraph about 50 times, once again I have accept the fact that I may sound self-righteous and a bit arrogant…but there is so much violence and hatred even among Christians, that I just can’t stand it anymore. I think of it like this: the primary focus of our faith shouldn’t be on weaponizing it to keep people out, or beating down Satan in the way of pointing the finger at the evil of the moment. For the love of all that is Holy, people! Jesus fought that fight, so we don’t have to. Our only job….let me say that again, OUR ONLY JOB is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS JESUS LOVED US. Love feeds the soul and makes it stronger. Hatred, judgement, fear, anger, self-righteousness emaciates the soul and makes it weak.
Just think about it for a moment. Is the Body of Christ alive and well? Does it consist of only what you have a taste for? Scripture, like life, can’t be rewritten to appeal to the crazy pace and affluence of modern living. Our bodies become stronger when we exercise and put forth hard effort, even when it’s uncomfortable. Our immune systems become stronger when they are put to work naturally to fight off illness, and sometimes that means dealing with sickness or physical challenges. Our souls, demand the same kind of workout. Being a Christian isn’t always about consuming things that taste good, sometimes we just can’t eat candy or cake…we need vegetables and protein.
The Word of God, is Gods and when the Word is used to serve only individual purpose we poison them. In the end, the strength of the soul will be defined by how well we can love one another…of that I am sure.
There is a certain shallowness today when we measure success. If you do well, you get a reward (and sometimes children are rewarded just for showing up)…if you don’t do well you lose. Seriously, that is the biggest crock around. I’ve found myself explaining this to a variety of people, from teegagers to adults. While winning a race, receiving an award, completing a degree are all good things, they are not always, in and of themselves, definitive of success. The small failures we experience in life not only help us to reorganize our approach to a situation, they hone our ability to get better at it. The greatest successes in our lives are often preceded by many smaller failures. The greatest disservice we give people is to approach failure as a bad thing, something to be embarrassed about, or pity. Total BS. Without failure, we would never improve. Without failure we never learn graciousness in defeat. Without failure we never learn humility, or problem solving, or raising the bar, improving a work ethic or to redfine our talents. We are given an opportunity hone dormant talents when we fail that create a solid foundation for character when we finally reach or achieve a goal.
I think success should be measured as much or more by the process of getting to a goal than in the accolade itself. There too many examples of people who gain success too easily just to watch the implosion afterwards (often times cheating and cutting corners as they go just to win). I’ve seen as many examples of people work tirelessly, with no easy access just miss the brass ring And yet, when I compare the two, hands down, I would pin the marker of success on the one whose journey was more difficult because of the journey they undertook only to, what many others would say, just miss the mark. Character isn’t bourne by always winning, but by the many qualities developed when we lose. Some of the greatest lessons in my life have been because of personal failures, that when I look back at were essential moments leading to some of my greatest achievements.
There is such a negative stigma of being a “loser.” It can be the best and biggest opportunity for a future win if can embrace it as an important step of the journey.
I am feeling, with great intensity, the truth of the above statement from Ecclesiastes. My youngest child graduated from high school, a great accomplisment and I celebrate his bright future. Curiously, I am not sad. Instead, I am ebullient, energized, almost giddy that the most important stage of parenting has concluded. While I am thrilled that my boys have their lives ahead of them, I am thrilled for mine too. My husband asked if I felt sad, and when I took a moment, I realized that the clearest emotion was one of relief. We did good. The young men in my house, while the source of crazy in crazytown, turned out to be fine, intelligent, faithful, funny, good, handsome and unique young men. Whew!
I know, of course, there will be future challenges…obviously being a parent never ends. But I do know my grocery bill will diminish, and the biggest challenge of my day won’t be what to cook for dinner, or what sporting or music event I have to travel too. My mind is already swirling with great ideas to fill in the gaps. I can finish my play, take a class, hang with my husband, friends and family, or do absolutely nothing. I am perfectly happy to continue to be that steadfast support my son’s will need as they face new challenges in life. Only now, I will be rested and confident that we successfully raised men who can be independent and strong, who have the necessary skills to figure things out, and when they can’t have the wherewithall to ask for help, all of which I’m happy to give.
After Jesus faced and withstood the temptation by the devil in the desert, he was ready for ministry. He called his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John and set forth preaching and healing the sick and the lame. His fame grew. When he saw the crowds following him, he went to the top of the mountain and started teaching them. He began one of the greatest sermons of all time: the sermon on the mount. Beginning with the beatitudes, or blessings of supreme happiness, he laid down promises to those who would submit to a moral conduct in conformity to God’s will. He lists those necessary attitudes that will result in heavenly blessings: poor in spirit, which refers to those who don’t rely on worldly possessions, but on God: those who mourn, which refers to those who genuinely feel loss, the meek, or humble, those who hunger for righteousness: those who are clean of heart (nothing to hide): peacemakers: and especially those who have the fortitude to stand firm in the face of persecution for righteousness and for all that Jesus stands for. Only when these internal qualities are embraced can a disciple move onto the kind of outward behavior that is expected. He akins those behaviors to being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If salt goes flat or the light hidden, they are of absolutely no use whatsoever.
What follows the promise of these blessings of supreme happiness is the adamance that Jesus did not come to abolish the law or quash the prophets. He honed and perfected the expected and often extended behaviors of the ten commandments, which on its face appear to demand an almost super human and impossible fortitude. Do not kill isn’t enough, you are subject to judgment even if you are angry with your brother or sister, so make sure that reconciliation comes before worship. He understood the mindset to kill, festers over time, so nip it in the bud so it cannot grow to such evil proportions. He ups the ante on adultery as well, and includes lustful thoughts, which is an inevitable mind-set that always comes before the actual sin. He challenges those writs of divorce which basically allowed men to throw away their wives for any reason and goes on to say that they will force their wives to commit adultery and any other woman they choose to marry afterwards. He concludes with commanding them to not make false oaths. Say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no.
Only when we understand the moral code of God, and the internal fortitude necessary to be a true disciple, does he then venture onto what will distinguish his disciples from any other. A true disciple must offer no resistance to evil, when slapped turn the other cheek, when asked for a tunic, give your cloak as well, when asked to go a mile in service go two, to give to those who ask of you…and the most challenging of all; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. With out the necessary attitudes, the above actions would seem almost cowardly, a person who is a pushover. But to one who embraces the prescribed characteristics listed above, one can only see the strength of God breathing through and pure defiance of evil which cannot thrive in the midst of love. Remember what Jesus learned in the desert; One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God; Don’t put God to the test; The Lord your God shall you worship and to him alone shall you serve. And since we all know that God is love,it is love that we worship serve through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus knew what he was doing. He understood the difficulty of the behavior he was expecting, which is why he started with the blessings first. The road to the Kingdom is clear, submission to the code is non-negotiable. Somehow we have forgotten these essentials and why there is definitely not a lot of supreme happiness out there in the world today. We have the power to change that. Here is my challenge, do the leaders who stand before us in the world have the attitudes necessary and the internal fortitude that are prescribed to be his disciple? Can they love even in the presence of evil? If they claim to be Christian and yet do not exert these expected behaviors, then like salt that has gone flat, or a light hidden, they are nothing and are to be avoided as clearly as Jesus avoided temptation in the desert.
Some of the most talented and successful people I know don’t have a college degree…a testament to hard work,innovation and blazing new and unforged territories. For what its worth, I commend you, you stand as an inspiration to us all. And yet, (I’ll bet you knew it was coming), some of the most foolish, ignorant, arrogant and single-minded people I know don’t have a college degree either. But wait! Some of the most talented and successful people I know do have a college degree and the EXACT same things, both good and bad, could be said about all of them too. So, do we rally up all the foolish, ignorant, and single-minded people and shove them all into a room somewhere, lock them up and throw away the key? Oh, if only it could be that easy. My mission is to blow the smoke out of your eyes and transform those who give the formally trained and unformally trained a bad rap.
I have listened to a lot of people tell their tales….what can I say, I’m the kind of person people tell their shit to, whether I want to listen or not (and that is an indictment about me, not necessarily them). I think there is a pattern to where the road diverges between the two aforementioned groups. From the broadest perspective, success is a collaborative affair. It relies on embracing our personal talents, and mastering a sense of cooperation with others to achieve success with that talent, which could be anything from success financially, in service, gaining knowledge, artistic expression, creating a family, etc. None of us are an island…we need others to get ahead.
While not everyone has access to the same amount of help, which is a challenge in a country of dreams that needs to be continually improved upon, I am not talking about general inequity right now. That is a hornet’s nest for another day. What I do want to address is the fundamental difference between how people approach success. I think that those who, at most, do nothing to help use their talents along the way or, at least, use their talent without the same sense of extending help to another are doomed to fail. It is as simple as that. Jesus tells a parable about a master going on a journey and distributing talents each according to their ability. The first two took their talents and made good use of them by working with others and successfully doubling their talent. The third, who was afraid, feared the success of his master and felt he couldn’t do the same, buried his in the ground. His punishment was harsh, and his talent taken away and split between the other two.
The success isn’t in the amount of money though. The subtlety of two phrases in the parable is often missed. First: the master entrusted his servants with his possessions, each according to his ability. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all just understood that each of us have different abilities and that is the way that things should be? The success of two of the servants in the eyes of the master had nothing to do with the amount of the end result, but simply that they went out and did something to expand it. Second, was this: the master rewarded them with more responsiblity, not money, but responsibility. I truly wish our world worked that way. But no, there are too many people who are focused on who got what in the first place and believe what they make of their talent is theirs alone, or do nothing with what they are given. Success results in more responsiblity first, then more riches.
The journey to success is different for everyone. I do know this, however, minimizing someone’s talents because they may be different from yours (and it goes both ways, for those with a greater ability to those with lesser) you will never be successful in my book. Because success is rewarded with an even greater responsibility and how one proceeds after that. I measure success by how they handle the responsibility. There are no short cuts, no pretense…Jesus goes on to say a lot about responsiblity after this parable…not only does he celebrate those who multiply their talents, he describes how the responsiblity is measured when the Son of Man comes and separates those who inherit and those who don’t. Those who achieve success is based on this:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and visit you?’ and the king will say to them in reply: ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these of mine, you did for me'”
I implore all of you, stop polarizing talents minimizing them and focus on your own. Your success won’t be defined by how much money you make off of them, but what you do with it. God sees talent much differently than our world and politicians do. Just remember that.
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.
We all have moments when we question our relevancy. For me it happens on a daily basis, usually in the midst of a conversation that is just on the edge of nuclear. More times than not, I side with Occam’s razor when it comes to problem solving. Summed up simply: when you have two competing theories, the simplest is usually the best solution. Embracing simple is never the case at my house, and sadly, just as often outside my house.
Who wants the simplest solution? It’s usually boring, demands personal responsibility and often times self-incrimination. Why embrace simple, when it’s so much more fun to move to the dark side of insanity, invoking unsubstantiated and immaterial information and challenging the relevance and intelligence of any who would offer a safe and sounder solution? Talk to any parent (specifically mothers) with teenagers, they will vouch for me. I am relevant because in the end, when it all plays out, the simplest solution is almost always the answer. And when the dust settles, I am the one standing to lend a hand and say, “let’s try this again.”
Numbers are generally not my forte, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them, or understand their significance in our lives. There is a great song lyric from the song, “Seasons of Love”, from the musical “Rent’ that I love: 525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year.” This weekend, working at a “Feed My Starving Children” event at Osceola High School, less than 250 high school students, faculty, and a handful of parents, assembled 300,000 meals. That means 822 children will be fed for a year, 432,043,200 precious minutes of life sustained and celebrated. Actually that last number gave me goose bumps because 432 is a sacred number, (for my science and religion students, Joseph Campbell pointed out the significance of this number), as well as the square root of the speed of light, and how the golden mean is exemplified in sound (432Hz tuning). And this very number is repeated twice in those precious minutes we helped save this past weekend!
I’ve been focusing on these words of Jesus this year, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” and “Every good tree bears good fruit.” This event was the perfect, shining, harmonic example of everything Jesus was talking about. By the hands of the few, many are saved. So many good trees, bearing good fruit. There is nothing more powerful than that. It was done with joy, celebration and mad organization by the staff of “Feed My Starving Children” and Joel and Heidi Hazzard who sponsored the event. Duplicating loaves and fishes and even moving mountains doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply joining together and working together can accomplish amazing things. Congress could learn a lot from these young people, who came together from all different social groups to work in concert together and accomplish an amazing goal. I’ve always said the most extraordinary things are accomplished by ordinary (and yet amazing) people.
In a world where so much goes wrong, it can be easy to wonder where all the heavenly help has gone. You know, you hear all those stories of mystical beings springing out of nowhere to save the day, never to be found again to be thanked, but I wonder…is that the exception for angelic behavior, or the rule? I know Jesus inferred many times that heralded help may not always be what it appears, wolves in sheep’s clothing, thieves in the night. So how do we know? Is it a good standard to escape the pain and difficulty that are almost essential to mastering the game of life? Is it logical to surmise that when things go our way, heaven is behind us and when they don’t we are being punished or plagued by a demon? I say unequivocally, no it isn’t logical…but then again neither is God. That isn’t to say that God can’t behave logically. God just isn’t defined by it. Logic is a human invention to help make sense of life and discover truth. It will never be a primary tool to uncover and understand the divine.
So then, it’s complicated. If heaven is beyond and not limited by our comprehension, how do we know when help is near…and more importantly when it’s not, and we are just being duped into deeper and deeper illusion? That’s when I rely on the teachings of Jesus. I truly believe in the realm of angels, because Jesus did. And while I may not understand all that entails, I do understand Jesus when he described the different kinds of people who would follow his words. The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a perfect description of those who abide by his teachings: there are those who are more shallow and the words never take hold, those who don’t hold them deep enough and forget the minute things get rough, those whose would use them for their own thorny purpose and choke the life out the message, and finally, those who let them deep into the soul and nurture them till they bear fruit. I always pray that I am of the latter, but time and humility will tell.
That’s how I feel about angels. I am aware that I need a lot of help if I am to nurture this seed of faith that I’ve been given. In hindsight, though, my personal magical moments hardly ever consisted of being swooped up and saved by a heavenly messenger, rather it usually meant knowing I could survive the pain of heaven peeling away the darkness and replacing it something brighter and more pure, whatever the situation. Angels don’t make our lives easier, they help us make it better, and that sometimes means harder. They direct us down a better road, often the least traveled or obvious. They help us defy and ascend logic by demanding faith in that which we cannot yet see, but have been told to be real. Their presence is with us all the time, yet because of free will, requires our permission to assist in sowing the sacred soil of the soul. The fruit of which, is to extend an angelic hand to someone else, not necessarily to save, but to serve.
While I don’t claim to stand in the middle on every issue, knowing how passionately I feel about some things, I do venture there all the time. Mostly, because I don’t trust my own bias. I have learned throughout all my studies, in theology, education, leadership, and the law, that a singular perspective rarely reveals a complete truth. Looking at an issue from inside the shoes of an opposite view can reveal a lot. I have to admit I’ve understood a greater truth when I’ve ventured off my polar end and visited the other side of an issue. What saddens me the most is that I get the distinct impression that acknowledging bias is akin to admitting a deep weakness or lack of faith in one’s ideals. Even more so is the judgment from both ends that to venture off my post is being a flip-flopper or worse yet, a challenge my commitment to this country.
Looking at a problem from a 360 degree angle is the best way to understand it. I have said it so many times before that I’ve begun to wonder if too many people have drunk the Kool-Aid offered by those who simply want to perpetuate the vitriol. I am sickened by our Congress, just sickened, with law suits, temper tantrums, and hypocrisy. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that there are problems in this country, and I believe it is not unpatriotic to make that statement. We are not the best anymore. It is not the fault of our president, or the 1%. We all have had a hand in the mess we are in, created by this horrible partisan war that is so stuck on blaming someone, in the most horrible fashion I might add, that we are no different than the Hatfields and the McCoys. The response no less stupid, childish, and dangerous and plays to the weakest flaws of humanity.
So let me share these conclusions after hanging in the in-between: guns are a problem in this country…too many people have died, especially children. So, second amendment extremists: just shut-up. And to the invasion of privacy by our government: knock it off, we are not the Soviet Union. Regarding the income disparity: The 1% have too much power, because money does talk…period. To those who are struggling: I know how you feel, but working hard and innovation does work, feeling sorry for yourself and succumbing to being a victim does not. I am amazed and proud how many helping hands are out there for those who are willing to invest in themselves and not rely on someone else fixing the problem. I have honestly come in equal contact with innovative wealthy and poor, who are great hard working people who should be honored and not pigeon-holed into a stereotype. It just isn’t fair. But I’ve also met my share of slimy, entitled assholes too, both wealthy and poor, who would sell their soul for a better piece of the pie. Neither end can claim freedom from skeleton’s in their closets…humanity is just too flawed.
What I worry about the most, though, standing in the in-between, is how little outrage there is, beyond hating the president, and immigrants, guns and the 1%, for the future of our children. Sure, I’ve heard both side make claims that it’s the children they are fighting for, yet our public schools are still failing; children are deteriorating, both physically, mentally and spiritually. The programs that could help them never come to fruition because there are too many powerful lobbies that keep standing in the way…and personal bias. Our children are our greatest resource…we should be investing the most money in them, yet we don’t. Any way you look at it is always a bad thing to allow children to fail.
There is one concluding issue I want to address while I am standing in the in-between. It is a balancing act to hold true to a principle and yet remain open to the best way to handle it in a country of varied principles. Yet, for this great American experiment to continue working, that is the most important commitment of holding a governmental office. I know that those elected can’t always support my personal agenda, most intelligent people would understand that. And I don’t use the word intelligent lightly…because I think there is an astonishing lack of intelligence in government today. There is a definite blurred line when it comes to who has the proper training and credentials to run for office. We should demand only the best and brightest to take on the complicated business of running our country…which is why I take great offence to people like Joe Blow who think they can do a better job, just like I wouldn’t want a plumber to do surgery on me, any more than I would want a plumber as a president. I mean no disrespect to plumbers…I trust them implicitly by having them fix any and all problems at my house. As one who studied law, though, I do believe that lawyers better understand the intricacies of all that the constitution demands and are better suited for higher office. That is my personal bias, challenged quite often, which is why after my venture to the in-between, I learned to be open to those who are committed to service because they are called to do so…but only after they become prepared by understanding the workings of government and putting personal agenda’s aside for the whole of their constituency. That is a rarity today…it just is. Sound bites from positions on social media and cable news prove how little understanding there is about how government works. It astonishes me, more than I can convey. The people who claim to think they can actually do a better job with so little background is as bizarre to me as the same person thinking that they could perform surgery, without the proper training… I believe that to the bottom of my heart….I took government and constitutional law…it’s hard, for a reason.
The one final thought I would implore those who embrace their own polarity, don’t buy into the bullshit that those on the other side are evil. They are not. There are wonderful people on both ends who want the same thing and are grown up enough to hammer out their difference to come up with greater solutions. Go find them.
I suppose it is good that my body provides me with an unmistakable sign that my stress is out of control, that my autoimmune disease will just not tolerate. In hindsight, which is always 20/20…I could feel it coming on…the second incidence of Bells palsy, only this time on the other side. After an initial round of tears, the rational calm took over. I must self-care, do all the things that I would rather ignore, but can’t. This body of mine, broken or not, is the only tool I have to fulfill my purpose on earth…and I had better take care of it…which I haven’t. I forget to get adjusted, do decompression, do my stretches and strength exercises…there is always so many other things to do. I know I’m not the only one, my symptoms are staring me in the face. Others are not so obvious. So, take a moment, say a prayer, do something kind…for yourself.
In all sincerity, I’m not sure whether it is having spring and summer occur simultaneously that has thrown my whole rhythm off, or the unbearable nature of events. from shootings, to the ravages of mother nature, to the quagmire of American politics. I’m sad much of the time…not the cry your eyes out kind, or the can’t get out of bed kind. The sadness I feel is like a dull ache based on recognizing a pattern that too many people seem to miss and not feeling like I can act effectually enough to stop it.
The pattern I speak of is fear, the kind of fear that is so deeply in-bedded in our nation that we have begun to suffer a rigor mortise of the soul, expressed in both subtle and obvious ways. Most obviously, it is expressed in the kind of partiality that blinds one to solutions because national pride lately is only celebrated in opposition to something else, such as guns, the government, climate change, the poor, etc. In more subtle ways is the complete lack of civil discourse between divergent views, and sense of entitlement that isn’t extended beyond a small group of like-minded individuals. I know I’m personally tired of being written off, or pigeon holed into a particular ideology that I certainly am not contained by because I ask questions and try to look at a situation from a multitude of perspectives. The political flavors of the moment are too honed into a blanket kind of hate, blame, and judgment of anyone who harbors a different idea than one’s own. Personal responsibility rarely enters the picture. What is most disturbing, though, is the religious imprimatur that is often used to justify such ignorance and fear.
Jesus says that the truth will set us free, and the way to truth is through him…and he is LOVE. Love will set us free. So let us practice love, first and foremost. Fear will be our demise, if we don’t utilize the powers we’ve been given… And so I offer a reminder of our greatest gifts: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues 2 but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
3 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
4 Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
5 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Every year in February, when the weather (especially this year) becomes almost too unbearable and spring is a distant memory…a fever begins to build here in the tundra. Chatter about conditions, grooming, weather, training, technique and fueling the fire are constant. An obsession to train regardless of the conditions, this year including continuous subzero temps, all hinges on one magical race: The American Birkebeiner. The Birkebeiner is always held on the fourth Saturday of February in Hayward Wisconsin. The race runs from Cable to Hayward, a 52 kilometer feat that is daunting enough for a beginner to feel as if they climbed Mount Everest and still difficult enough to qualify as a World Loppet for seasoned professionals. Thousands of skiers in multiple waves, depending on your qualifying time, start at the same point and begin a journey that truly binds them into an elite brother/sisterhood.
Nothing compares to it. There is something completely insane about skiing 32 1/2 miles in skin-tight uniforms, freezing faces and beards, multiple clouds from the moisture of warm breath hitting ice-cold conditions, lungs burning from bitch hills and the euphoria that comes from successfully making it to the top over and over again. But they do it, every year without fail. The hours after skiing across the lake and downtown Hayward over the finish line, is spent replaying the best and worst moments and making a plan to do even better the next year.
What is also amazing is how well this international feat usually plays out. There are no worries about crime and violence. A town of a few thousand transforms to 10 times that amount and handles the influx with ease. This year, the warming tent had some problems, but that won’t stop the fever, it just gives the participants a point of reference when they talk about the many Birkies they’ve done. It connects people from all over the world; knowing someone has done the Birkie breaks down walls and creates immediate friendships. If you can ski that far in long underwear, you must be a quality human being. I agree. All the qualities it takes to finish that race, are qualities that will make you shine as a human being. I just don’t think bad-hearted people could do it…it’s too hard, stamina like that demands hard training that is developed over time, there are no short cuts.
Sadly, I wish I could be one of the many that partakes…my broken spine won’t allow it. I can say that have I biked the trail, so I know how grueling it is (the black flies biting at my ass were a great incentive to keep going). I live vicariously through my husband and close friends that partake in this joyful insanity. This is the kind of fever you hope is infectious, to inspire every other challenge one faces in life…even if it is simply tolerating winter until spring.
This has been an overwhelming week. Tragedy strikes, the kind that one wonders if its possible to come back from…and then, small miracles happen that renew hope. I have to say what an honor it has been to work together with amazing people in this small little hamlet who have responded with no less love and compassion than heavenly angels. The effortless ease with which we pulled together to help our friends, our neighbors, attend to whatever needs there may be, is indeed inspiring. In the lull of day-to-day, it’s easy to isolate in our own personal dramas and let the negativity of the world overwhelm and discourage us. Then, by no small miracle we are given an opportunity to pull together and bestow the kind of loving embrace that soothes the wounded soul. Broken hearts of a few are augmented by the functioning hearts of the many. We are the body of Christ as we pull together and carry our friends in their need. From a simple desire to sooth and help, to comfort and to heal, to mourn innocence gone too soon, connections happen that strengthen us all. I feel in this moment the magic of my simple yet extraordinary community. Regardless of position or politics, we are a community to be proud of, the best that America has to offer, and proof that in even in the darkest moment our hope will prevail.
I hate this phrase. I hate the message that it sends, that nice guys aren’t winners, that in order to “win” you have to be an asshole. It really all depends on perspective though, doesn’t it? The greatest success of a race is always to be the first one, the fastest, grabbing the brass ring, the big payout. What if that isn’t the real success of the race at all? What if what we have traditionally defined as coming in first, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? What if focusing on first so much, that you bypass other significant events that make crossing the finish line so much more evolutionary? I think of all those people who took shortcuts, cheated and lied to be first, and whose only focus was on the line itself have really lost the race entirely. What did that really get them except for a moment of glory that soon tarnishes because the truth always eventually comes out anyway…and they never really know and understand the difficulties of the lessons they’ve been able to conquer along the way…they just skipped that part. Nice guys don’t finish last…they may finish later, but with a whole lot more.
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.
Sometimes it is so simple to speak the truth, but dangerous nevertheless. This young girl is my hero, and proof that the Universe has more in store for her. We could all learn a thing or two from her about simple truth and moral courage. Kind of makes our government look foolish…No? When a young woman like this will take a bullet for the right to be educated, and the powers that be don’t even tap into the truth that free education and information can bring it is easy to feel hopeless, but Malala is living proof that perhaps truth and goodness can prevail. Watch this link from The Daily Show: