Dying by the Sword

fluer de lisAt the conclusion of the trial in a stabbing death in St Croix Falls, WI yesterday, I felt nothing but profound sadness. I feel sadness for the family of the victim, sadness for all those young men who will no longer be mentored and coached, and sadness for the community who will struggle with the loss of a friend, father and community member. I also feel deep sadness for Levi Acre-Kendall. So,let me say this to you young man: You will wake up every day knowing that it was by your hand that a man died. It was by your hand that five children are fatherless and a wife is without her husband. It was by your hand that a life that impacted many was cut short. Regardless of the circumstances, which by all accounts was a horrible example of testosterone, alcohol, and confrontation gone awry, and the legal result…which in all fairness, as an attorney, was decided as it should have been, there is much to be done to make this profane moment in time into a sacred one.

Yeah, I know, how is that even remotely possible? The choice between the sacred and profane lies in a choice to choose a path of light or darkness. To not choose one or the other isn’t an option. The inevitability of what path to choose lies in how much you can trust the power of God, of love, to work in this mess. Yes, a good man is gone, and a young man is still here. That is the place we start…with what is still here. If any of the words of Jesus are to have any meaning at all, it is in these moments that we embrace them wholly. We have to be the prodigal son story, we have to be the seed that bears fruit, we have to treat the lowest among us as Jesus would…and in this moment it means Levi. Levi, you still have a life to lead, and if it to be one of any legacy at all, you can never compartmentalize away this horrible tragedy. I, for one, believe that your destiny can be a good one and in order for that to happen, you should embrace the struggle of the road ahead because you have to be in those very words of Christ too. You cannot forget about what your actions did to the Kelly family either. Beyond a not guilty verdict, you killed a man and that will always be a painful truth for you. You have to become worthy of their forgiveness or your actions will eat away at you and limit your ability to be an instrument of the light in this world.

Facing up to the consequences of our actions and how to resolve conflict is never easy, and these skills are grossly lacking in today’s society . This is just one of too many examples of what happens when we live by the sword. Let us then, choose another option. Let us teach our children to resolve differences as Jesus taught us to.

Indecent Proposal

Matthew-5-43-44-web-esvIn Matthew 5, Jesus says this:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.

Yet, the notion to love as God does, and that means “everybody,” has almost become a noxious, indecent, cowardly, weak and almost vulgar concept. While in the face of the most painful tragedy, love not hatred is still God’s greatest command. You cannot hate sin or the sinful away.

For Christ, the choice to love was obvious. If we are to be true children of God, we must be different; we must love as God does, without fear and hatred because those attributes are the opposite of love. We must be perfect. I used to be overwhelmed by that notion. I am completely aware of my imperfection, so how could I ever come close? I become perfect by practicing love, by opening myself up day after day to God’s grace. Every time I chose love over hatred and fear, I am built up and purified…every time I choose the latter, evil wins.

And so I make this indecent proposal: When the desire to respond to evil with evil presents itself, call on the perfection of God and choose love.

Vengence is Mine, Sayeth the Lord…I will Repay

peter kellyWhen tragedy strikes, the phrase above can be like salt to the wound.  Polarities are ridgidly distiguished and the cry for justice, vengence, blame, and blood is at an all time high…as is natural and expected.  Yet, and this is the hard part, for true healing to begin, these cries must be overcome, and lifted up to God. This is where prayer for our enemy is essential, less the dark side gain yet more souls…and I’m not just talking about the perpetrator, but those good souls whose heavenly talents may become wasted because they let vengeance and hatred cast a shadow over the potential for future goodness. It is in this time that we who bear the gift of Grace are no longer merely subject to human temperament, simply stated, we are more. Yet, to use the power of heaven, we must invoke it, claim it and use it…even when it is the most difficult, even when our hearts are breaking, even when the rage is most palpable.  We cry to God to augment our failing hearts and let his heart, be our heart. It is this time when we are most vulnerable that the dark waits to pounce, to drain the power of heaven and replace it with hatred and fear. It is when these words from 1 John are most poignant and powerful:

Beloved, if God so loved us, we must love one another.  No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.  This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.

So far, the love the community has shown the family is such a testament to the goodness that lives and thrives here.  It is such comfort in the face of darkness that so many are willing to hold up and help bear the burden of others. It is how God is evidenced in this painful time. Our small community has shown the world that they have the backs of those who are suffering, we must also have faith that God has our backs too.

To embrace the call to love, doesn’t mean that we don’t hold others accountable, we have a justice system for that.  Yet, and sadly this is required of us as Christians, even those who have wronged us are of consequence in God’s eyes and must be held accountable without losing hope that God still has a plan for their souls. For they too are sons with parents. And, although they may be deep onto a dark path, what a holy turn it could take if, from the prayers for them as well, we could bring them back into the light.  Then we could truly say to the Devil himself:  We chose Love…WE WIN.

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.

 

Empathy

unmerciful servant1This morning I was thinking about forgiveness and empathy, and the general lack thereof in the world. While I was pondering this notion, a nasty bug crawled across my path and I smashed it…yeah, the irony hit me right away.  Where was the forgiveness and empathy in this knee jerk response?  Of course I told myself that it was just a bug that had no place on my counter, that it was no big deal.  Perhaps it wasn’t.  But for a moment, I focused on the impulse I had when I saw the bug; I hated it, it was disgusting, I wanted to get rid of it and frankly, its death was of no consequence to me. It was that visceral reaction that caused a bit of an epiphany.  I realized that my response to that bug, although microcosmic, was probably close to the reaction that a lot of people have to that section of the population they simply can’t empathize with because they hate them, are disgusted by them, want to get rid of them and their death is really of no consequence to them at all. So often our lack of empathy is a result of a knee jerk response, programmed early by some uncomfortable experience. While the leap from insect to race, class, gender, ideology, nationality, or religion may seem huge…isn’t it really just a magnification of that same kind of automatic response?

I certainly didn’t have empathy for the insect in the moment and it did give me pause, because magnified, that initial gut response could be problematic.  I’d like to think of myself as a steward of God’s creation, and a disciple of God’s great message, but I don’t like bugs much. I will probably never like them and have difficulty with the empathy thing from human to insect. But I can appreciate their place in the food chain.  There is a place for everything under the sun right?  What becomes more difficult for me is the trouble that comes with finding empathy for our fellow humans, it should be so much easier and yet it isn’t. It is so hard to bypass that knee jerk response and try to reprogram ourselves. I suppose that is why Jesus demanded that we walk in someone else shoes before we pass judgement. When we view the world from another’s perspective the blinders come off and hopefully that knee jerk response is transformed.  Empathy is central to forgiveness.  When we accept another as important in God’s eyes and try appreciate that life from their perspective, perhaps we can recognize how similar we all are.  Jesus shows us this in this parable of the unmerciful servant:

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage and said, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full.’  Moved to compassion, the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.  He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe!’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.

Now, when his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply disturbed, and when to their master and reported the whole affair.  His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!’ I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then, is anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from his heart.

Today, let’s all work together to quell the knee jerk response that comes before the choice to empathize and forgive…life will be so much better as a result.

Ask and Receive

law and prophetsI’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed.  Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own.  The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost.  While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he 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?”  While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.

Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things”  God would never give us anything harmful.  I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify.  So how then, do we know what good is?  What follows gives us a clue.  Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”  He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”.  The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.

So what is good fruit?  Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power?  I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray.  Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree).  It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit.  Pretty much sums it all up.

Embracing Karma

IMG_1968Karma has been a huge thing in my life, you know the concept of what ever you put out in the universe comes back to you tenfold.  I embrace this philosophy in particular, not only because it inspires hope in doing what I think is right regardless of whether or not my motivation is apparent, but also because the universe has seen fit to keep my comeuppance to about 10 seconds, when I don’t do what I know is right.  I’ve learned that it is much easier to just tell the truth, be honest and accept responsibility when necessary.  I know that God understands me to the core, and also that as pig-headed as I can be, I generally learn my lesson.

A while ago, (the spiral perm says it all) I was hired to speak at a large city church about perspective, being wounded and forgiveness.  There were to be a few hundred people there, and my talk focused around an elementary school teacher I had, that according to my recollection had treated me quite unfairly (she once made me stick my head in the desk to suffer the humiliation of Eve).  Thoughts of her always made me feel sad and wounded, and it was truly my first experience of being judged as a “naughty girl”  I even think that I was going to forgive her at the end of the speech.

Just as I was about to take the pulpit, the pastoral minister approached me and said that someone had seen my name in the bulletin and wanted to say hello before I started.  I know you know exactly who it was.  It was that teacher.  She literally ran over to me, grabbed me in an embrace and said that she always wondered what happened to one of her favorite students, yeah, I know.  I was baffled.  How had she retained such different memories?  I was completely thrown off my game and gave one of the first extemporaneous speeches of my career.  I  can’t even remember what I said…except that once I realized that my hurt was more personally manufactured than an actual occurrence, I immediately began to wonder how many people out there remembered me as “that person” who was a cause of pain, and was completely clueless about it.

Perspective is a funny thing.  Sometimes we are completely unaware of what we are throwing out there.  What we may see as good and right, maybe hurtful to another.  I am always mindful of that when I walk in the world.  I trust the universe will always let me know when I need clarity.  Now, when I think of that teacher, I am mindful not to waste emotional energy on perhaps a flawed perspective.  She has become a part of a great life lesson instead of a lingering memory of a hurt little girl.