Getting your Hands Dirty

getting your hands dirty

Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.

I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.

So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.

John 9:1-11

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

When it is no longer the Bread of Life

bad breadI’ve often had people challenge me when I tell them that I can’t eat gluten. I’ve suffered through their derision and can see the contempt in their eyes as if I’m making it up or I’m a mindless fool jumping on the latest bandwagon of kooks who have challenged the health of many of the common foods that people have been consuming for years. From a logical perspective I get it, I really do. Beyond bread being a powerful metaphor for life, people have been consuming bread throughout the ages, and it never seemed to bother them (unless it was tainted with something, like poisonous rye that was an impetus for the Salem witch trials, or crazy King George) . Why now? Why me? Well, I know that I can’t tolerate gluten, or soy, or a host of other things. I’ve been tested. I have definitive proof…and it isn’t just the tests…it is what happens to me when I eat these foods, and even more importantly what happened when I stopped eating them. I had forgotten what it was like to feel good.

What begs the question is this: Could it be that the foods our forebears ate 50 years ago are not the same as the foods we eat today? And if not, why not? There will be plenty of discussion to be had over what those reasons may be, from genetically altered foods, chemicals in the soil, over processing, preservatives, poor eating habits etc., But I don’t think there is any argument as to whether there are major problems with today’s food stuffs, and if you don’t think there are any problems with foodstuffs of today then just stop reading, because no amount of science would convince you otherwise. I will avoid you as clearly as you avoid factual information. So let me be clear, just because we can’t decide, or know, or prove the exact cause of why modern foods are making us ill, doesn’t mean that the IBS and a host of other diseases that affects the masses are figments of our imagination. While the intentions of those in the food business may be good ones (and you know what they say about good intentions) we have messed with our food supply so much over the last few decades in the name of progress and improvement that I’m beginning to wonder if the food manufactured today is really food at all, the key word being manufactured. When natural foods are cross pollinated and genetically spliced and diced and when the list of ingredients in packaged food contains words that usually find their home in a chemistry class, then it’s just not really food in my book. I will always find it troubling to think we can do a better job at nature than God does. (As an aside, I am not a believer in the creation science movement, predestination, anti-science or a hippy. I do stand with those who acknowledge the reality of climate change.) Moreover, I am simply saying that as humans, we are limited in our ability to not only fully comprehend our natural world, we also lack the capacity to clearly understand the impact of our behavior on it and our future.

This is not a diatribe against science or using our big brains to make the job of sustaining life better. It is simply a strong suggestion that when we mess with mother nature, so aptly defined as a woman whom history has proven we just don’t fully understand, we can’t even begin to take in the full scope of the consequences of our actions. It is one thing to use our big brains to build better equipment to harvest or produce food, It is more than hubris to believe that we can do a better job than God can at the actual function of nature. Doesn’t the story of Genesis lay that out? We had easy, convenience, and perfection in the Garden and we wanted to venture on our own. I am OK with that, I think it is a blessing of evolution to strike out on our own. It is crossing the line, though, when we think we can change nature without consequences. Humanity has always struggled with the naked truth (pun intended).

I’ve waited a long time to publish this blog, mostly because I think the true meaning of what I’m saying will go right over people’s heads. Let me repeat, I am not anti-science. I know the desire of many scientists is to make life better for people. But I also see a growing tendency to avoid the consequences of the choices science makes, even when unintended. Avoiding culpability doesn’t make the problem go away, we can’t mitigate the damage without accepting responsibility first. Scientific advancement without careful consideration and appreciation of the impact it has on the future of the planet and my poor digestive system is just not acceptable any more. To be continued…

Not to Convince, but to Love

Rainbow_Thumbnail_mediumLove will always win.  Love, after all, is the source of our world and all that is part of it. And though I am flawed, I was made whole by love through Jesus Christ.  I think a lot about that last statement and what it means as I walk in the world day-to-day. In response to the seminal ruling last friday, there seems to be so much angst for many Christians, to which I respond…Good!

I say that because we have focused so long on what love is supposed to look like: what the acceptable expression and demonstration of it must be that we have limited the very power of  that which was unleashed to save us. I think much of the anger is steeped in a historical revulsion of sexual expression period. I think it also brings up the fear of change in the institution of marriage that has already rightfully evolved throughout history (and that includes biblical history) from slavery and control to mutual love and respect. As I have always taught my children…sex isn’t love. Love can transform sex into something more, and marriage is an amazing and protective institution to do just that. It isn’t just a means for acceptable moral sex, but a shout out to the world that you are making it sacred by a commitment and vow to another person.

I thought of using Jesus’ words as a means to convince people not to be afraid or to judge, or to not throw stones, but all that logic has to do with sin…and then I realized that I am not talking about sin here, but love and it is not my job to engage in debate or convince anyone of my point of view. The only job I am commanded to do as a Christian is to spread the good news, the gospel that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation and to love one another as he loved us. That’s it. That’s all. Anything else has to do with fear and hatred and I quite frankly, have no time for that. The world is already an expert in hate and fear. We need to practice love and remember what that entails.

By scripture’s standards, love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, 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 thing, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never fails. Let’s focus on this phrase: love believes all things. Love believes all things, that God made us all in his image, that it doesn’t matter who you love, but that you love. Expanding marriage means expanding love. That is true growth, true evolution.

Against Perpetuities

the rule againstThere is an obscure rule in the law called, “The rule against perpetuities”, to which I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out in preparation for the bar exam, (even though my instructors almost guaranteed a question regarding it would certainly not appear on the bar exam…of course there was…they obviously didn’t know that when it comes to me and odds, I’m of the, “May the odds be ever in your favor, Hunger Games” ilk, and so I apologize to everyone else who took the test that day…) Sidebar concluded. Anyway, the rule against perpetuities basically placed a statutory limit as to how far a dead person will have control over the distribution of assets to future descendants.  While I still may have trouble with the particulars of the rule, I always thinks it’s a good idea to limit the power one has to control the future of another.

But how often do we hold on to, in perpetuity, our own sins, the sins of others and even sins projected onto future descendants who remain tethered to those past injuries or judgements?  It is takes so much energy to hold on to all that anger and is just as unfair to future generations who have to deal with the fallout.  I think if more of us looked to see what collateral damage there is to holding onto grudges, judgements, and condemnation, perhaps then refusing forgiveness wouldn’t be as common.  I think refusing forgiveness is the greatest weapon against the spread of the gospel. Think again if you feel immune, because you are not.  All of us have baggage, and if you think that holding on to it has no effect on those around you, you are also mistaken.

The only thing that I am sure of lasting into perpetuity is the love of God, the sacrifice of his Son and the need for God in my life.  That doesn’t mean that love’s affect can’t be blocked or inhibited.  Continual forgiveness of oneself and others is the key that will keep the door to the kingdom open. God gave us the key, the choice to keep it locked or unlocked every day,  as a matter of principle, is on us.

 

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

smokeSome 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.

Pretty Little Liars

the open bibleI often wonder if people actually read the same scripture that I do.  SERIOUSLY, I really wonder that.  I am conflicted and challenged every day by my weakness when I read the words of Jesus. I remember the day when my heart broke in a vision of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane extending his hand to me and saying it is for you that I will make this sacrifice and felt first, the horrible guilt and then an overwhelming love fill me up.  It is because of that moment that I resist the impulse to lower myself to the level of those pretty little liars out there who would have you believe that 1.6 billion people are extensions of the devil, are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ, and that America is synonymous with the chosen people.  I don’t want to be lectured by smug individuals who turn the challenge on its head and point to the atrocities that are befalling innocent people right now, and how we must destroy them.  History has told us many a woeful tale of this same story.  Christians destroyed by Rome, Jews destroyed by Christians (and yes, we had our crazy factions too), women being burned as witches, etc. the list goes on.  And as the saying by Edmund Burke goes: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”

So, to those of you who are so confident that you know the mind of God and believe anyone who disagrees with you be damned…see how successfully you live and breathe these words:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.  Wo to you when all speak well of you for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.  But I say to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you.  Even sinners love those who love them”  Luke 6:24-32

I am angry because these words convict me every day to be a greater person and have faith that Jesus knew what he was talking about, and yet I don’t see a lot of support for this notion right now.  As hard as it is to look at the atrocities that are being perpetuated every day and have faith that the above formula is the greater course, it does revolve back to that great sacrifice of Jesus.  Jesus had faith in me, so I must have faith in him…it is really as simple as that.  When I face the banal every day workings of life, where I get to practice and master on an inane level the challenges listed above, I know that then and only then will my discipleship be honed and perfected.  And deep in the simplicity of everyday life, my greatest fear is coming to pass…that those pretty little liars out there are corrupting the gospel, perverting it and twisting it to serve another master, one who Jesus warns us of…the one who can entice us, utilize our fears to their advantage and sway us away from the kind of love God first gave us.  It is a master who would have us build a cocoon of our own self-righteousness, and prejudice, who will ply us with a twisted appreciation of what exactly grace will do which is to deny those we are commanded to love and give entry to only those who are deemed worthy, and condemn any who would disagree.

The central point of the gospel is that the invitation is extended to us all….including those 1.6 billion people out there who only see hateful rejection, persecution and judgement. The parable Jesus told of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24 reminds us that those who find excuses not to come to his table will be shut out. Many have accepted the invitation in words, but let me remind you, Jesus never said that they will know you are my disciple by telling people that you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour; he said they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another, not judge, not condemn, not kill, not run in fear from…but how you love them, which means actually showing up at his table and not a facsimile of one you like better.  So where do you put your faith; do you put your faith in the words above, or those words that perpetuate the rancor, that undermine leadership, that feed self-righteousness. that are smug in their conviction that only one ideology rings true.  It is my prayer that all of us, during this Lenten season, ask this question: Do they know I am a follower of Jesus by how well I love others.

Dancing Naked before the Lord

David Dancing before the LordSome of you have heard this story, but it bears repeating for the sake of context…When I was getting my degree in Theology, my professor asked the class to pick a verse in scripture that summed up our faith. After much thought, I chose King David dancing naked with abandon before the ark of the covenant. At first, my professor was offended, until I explained that my faith had always been stripped down, joyful and with abandonment. It’s true. Some people are good at math, or art, or sports… Faith has always been easy for me. Inside my head, belief and understanding God has always been easy and obvious…that doesn’t mean that I always understood the practical implementation of it in the world, or that it would be appreciated. Like King David would show us, even those anointed by God are flawed, because we are human. Therein lies the rub, how do the faithful stand with authority in the face of such flaws? It’s easy to be good at math and prove it on a test. But faith? I shake my head writing it, because there really isn’t any good way to prove it, beyond being a saint (which I am SO not)and not look like a total douche. I never felt the need to prove my expertise, and quite often exercise it. And anyway, why is it important?

Last year, my focus for 2014 was to walk forward on an open road, to take God at His word that he has something in mind specifically for me. If He would rid my life of illusion and pretense then I would walk forward without question, wherever that may lead. As it usually is with those kinds of promises, I had no fucking (excuse the expletive, it is part of letting go of pretense) idea what would entail. Once stripped of illusion, it is a bit frightening to realize that most of the world’s population thrives on it…including those anointed by God (and yes, I include myself). So here I am at the end of a year of walking, standing with deep fear and trepidation with the knowledge that regarding faith and God, we have so obviously gotten almost everything wrong…like 2 + 2 = 5 wrong. I’ve known it for a while, and it has slowly been eating away at me. My response to God was this: What the hell am I supposed to do with this…AND more importantly why me? I am of no consequence…people will laugh at me, especially those who know me. To which God responded, all of my children are of consequence, you said you would walk wherever I lead…and this is where I lead.  So stop walking and keep quiet, or keep moving and start talking. So here I am, standing naked and afraid and feeling charged to explain what God is all about, ready to pee my pants, except I am not wearing any.  And then I remembered King David dancing naked.  I want that back…not the naked part, the with joyful abandoned part.

So, before I start sharing my insights (it took me ten minutes to even come up with a noun to describe it).  I’m going to relearn to dance.  To dance with joyful abandon that God graced me with a gift I didn’t have to pay for, and I am pretty stoked about that.

Things that I must say at the get go for the coming year :

1) I will write without pretense, and often without propriety…so I apologize ahead of time, what can I say…I’ve always been a good girl at heart and some days it may be a stretch for me.

2) I will most definitely piss people off from time to time.  I can live with that, because I piss myself off more than anyone can ever know.

3) I truly believe that this is what God requires of me, in all seriousness, I do.

4) I am of sound mind, though of uncertain temperament.

5) Love is the root of everything…and is what compels my dance.

5) Understanding God doesn’t require perfection…just willingness and commitment.

6) I pray everyday, all day.

7) All God’s children are of consequence, not just those deemed so by society.