Nana Nana Boo Boo

nana boobooPlease excuse the snark to, you, the general population: “Get over yourselves!” I implore all of you, before you get all whiny and memey on social media…check the veracity and appropriateness of your tweet, update, meme, gif, etc. If it will not help the particular situation you are complaining about and is just to express outrage by sharing convicting “facts” about a person or issue that has you rankled (I checked at least a dozen this morning…ALL of which were inaccurate and just plain MEAN), then I DON’T WANT TO SEE IT. Part of my committing to clarity this year is to stop tolerating the cyber-bullying that people put passive/aggressively out on social media.

So let me ask you this: tell me something positive you’re passionate about, give me more stories of passing it forward, tell me how you are going to make the world a better place. Doing and saying something positive doesn’t have to be monumental. Major ripples start small. Let’s you and I change the culture. Let’s start with halting any and all political rhetoric that has defamatory language toward any person, place or idea.It should be the mission of every ordinary man and woman out there to see and inspire goodness. Share a book that inspired you, make us laugh, tell someone how they’ve impacted your life. Help build someone one up rather than beat someone down.

See goodness and it will multiply…Remember whatever you put out there will come back to you tenfold.

IBS of the Soul

broken crossIt 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.

Darkest Before the Dawn

he is risenThe pinnacle of our church year is Easter Sunday when after Lenten days of fasting we can shout, “Alleluia, He is Risen” and truly celebrate the joy of Jesus’ great sacrifice.  For those of us today, though, it’s all hind sight.  We already knew what was coming, we read the end of the book. Think for a moment what it was like for the disciples and the rest of those who Jesus loved (namely the women) between the last supper and that fate filled Sunday morning.  How dark, sad and lonely must their thoughts have been.  They weren’t waiting with bated breath outside the tomb for Jesus resurrection, no, they were hiding in secret, in a room, afraid for their lives.

I’ve always wondered about those dark three days, when their faith was put to the ultimate test. Did they suffer the doubt and shame of not saving their friend, or was it anger that he wouldn’t save himself, or perhaps grief that what they had believed for three years was a pipe dream, a fairy tale?  When it came right down to it did they really believe that he accomplished what he came for?  All those months of witnessing miracles and spell binding sermons and now this?  It must have been torture for them, this dark night of the soul, especially since they actually lived with Jesus every day and believed completely that he was the Son of God.  But what about the rest of us?  We have the easy part, we get to celebrate the resurrection year after year. And why I must extend this great challenge: how are we any better than those men hiding in a secret room?

While I don’t want to take away the power of the resurrection, I am amazed at how many are stuck in the darkness.  He is risen, the veil of the sanctuary torn, the dead raised, and the gates of hell broken, all as our heritage tells us and yet more than 2000 years later we still live in fear.  We, who know the end of the story and filled with His grace still persist in living lives where judgement reigns in the forefront rather than love, and condemnation rather than celebration.  Remember these words from Matthew when he spoke to his disciples: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

He is with us.  I truly believe that if everyone really believed those words, we would embrace everyone with love, because He is with us in every action.  That which you do to the least of them, you do to me, Jesus said that, not me.  You can’t make disciples of nations by condemning them…that is the darkness of the room talking, not one who has brought us into the light of His new day.

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.

 

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.

525,600 Minutes and So Much More

save our starving children 1 save our starving children 2 stave our starving children 3Numbers 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.

Taking Umbrage…for and at Women

um·brage

noun \ˈəm-brij\

: a feeling of being offended by what someone has said or done

I started this post several times, wanting to be positive, a bit less controversal, and with propriety.  I couldn’t do it because I did promise a sense of wild abandon, so here goes.  I seem to take umbrage with almost every angle of the state of women in our world today.  I am sickened by movements to censure, mutilate, deny education, control and retract any advances made through history.  And yet, I take as much umbrage with a culture that objectifies, sexualizes, and at the opposite end values a woman based on some prudish matronly definition of goodness.  Seriously people, what in the sam hill is going on?

Jesus set the standard so clearly in his ministry.  Women were of great value to him; especially women who chose his instruction over what culture restricted them to, check out the Mary and Martha story…( I blogged about it here, maryfrancesflood.com/2012/06/18/im-a-mary-and-not-a-martha/.  I think women owe Jesus a great deal for the place that he brought us to…and with that comes responsibility.  We, as women, must take a stand against those who would force us to lose the sacred ground that many fought so hard to attain.  So where the hell do I stand?

While I am plagued with fear when I hear most men speak of rape, whether on a college campus, foreign soil, a military base or from the mouth of a politician, I have to admit that I am plagued with as much fear at the cavalier attitude and sexually charged culture in this country.  While I think we should celebrate our physical bodies, I am tired of how sex inundates our culture.  I don’t want to see young women run around in their underwear, or clothing designed to cradle a man’s package.  While I am not a prude…I say EEEWWWWW!  The pervasiveness of sex in just about everything is a problem for me. Being a good lover by today’s standards is understood by sexual prowess and not in the way the gospel intended.  Getting better at sex will never help us get better at love…PERIOD.  And it won’t help us reclaim our power either.

I have thought long and hard about whether or not my attitude is based on my aging form and diminishing beauty…and then that very thought even pissed me off!  Who defined aging and beauty anyway?  Well, I include myself when I say we all had a hand in that too.  With age, I’ve gained great experience and education and was for a moment ready to hold those accomplishments at a lesser value than my aging appearance…and yet, in all truthfulness I understand why. We live in a culture that worships youth and marginalizes maturity.  Look at the amount of money that goes into physical beauty; the money women spend on achieving some skewed idea of youthful perfection is tragic.  We could save all the starving children in the world many times over, if we allowed ourselves to age naturally and dump our obsession with beauty regimens.

I’m not saying as women, we can’t try to be beautiful and celebrate our sexuality.  But if we aren’t working as hard for the standard the Jesus set, i.e. we are as valuable as any man, and are offered the same gift of grace, with the same expectations for our behavior…then we’ve failed on a massive level.  Let’s be better at loving, starting with ourselves.

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.

Waiting at the Well

woman at the wellIn the Gospel of John, Jesus functionally begins his ministry at a Samaritan well talking to a woman.  I say he functionally began his ministry, because he had just left the desert from being baptized by John the Baptist.  So what a place to start: not only with a woman, but a Samaritan woman, and even more so, a Samaritan woman of ill repute.  What makes this particular event so powerful is that just prior to this conversation in the previous chapter comes the famous line he spoke to the Pharisee Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”  We never get Nicodemus immediate response, but from Jesus we get an inclination that he wasn’t completely sold on the idea: Jesus makes it clear that those who prefer the cloak of darkness and fear exposure of their wickedness are already condemned. So after journeying to Samaria, while his disciples had gone to look for food, he stopped for a drink of water.  What followed, (I will make you read it for yourself) was nothing short of remarkable…especially given the timing.

I think it is remarkable because he not only spoke to this woman of ill repute, but he talked to her as if she were anyone else of equal value.  She was the first person who, when told he was the Messiah, believed him right then and there. (Nicodemus was most probably still pondering the idea and the disciples were amazed he was talking to a woman and concluded he simply needed to eat something). You see this is of utmost importance because he knew all about her disreputable past, appreciated her telling the truth, and then offered her everything, because she, like all those who came after her, were in need of and wanted everything he offered.  She wasn’t afraid of the truth, of being exposed.  And yet I still wondered, why her?  Jesus must have recognized a remarkable quality in her, because even though she was a woman of ill repute, when she went back into the village saying, “He told me everything I have ever done, could he be the Messiah?” they actually came.  She wasn’t afraid of her wickedness, like perhaps many of those who feared Jesus. She wanted the light.

What would his ministry have looked like had Nicodemus believed him right away instead of perhaps falling into his fear of exposure.  What if it was he who ran and said to the people “I have met the Son of man who will bring us eternal life”  maybe Jesus whole ministry would have transpired differently.  The Samaritan woman stood in truth when exposed and that made all the difference in the world.

Of Consequence and Consequences

Jesus and the sanhedrinI’ve embraced that breaking out in a cold sweat will be the new normal as I write this first post for the new year.  After the title popped into my head I knew I needed to write before I lost my nerve.  Here goes.

Every person on this earth is of consequence.  Everyone.  God’s plan for the world is weakened, altered whenever we lose sight of this most fundamental idea; we are in this together.  How do I know this?  Just read the Bible, actually most Holy Scriptures.  Since I am a Christian, this is how I know this.  In Jesus’ wheelhouse of people, he spent the majority of his time with the least desirable, most despised, greatest sinners…etc.  He chose simple fishermen for his disciples, and often the oddest of people to dine with and talk to.  His reach went beyond the limitations of class, ethnicity, religion and politics; everyone mattered.  Everyone deserved to hear his message  He especially avoided those who had held the prestige of class and distinction….because they had forgotten who God was, and how to build up His Kingdom.

I don’t think it is difficult to draw a parallel to modern culture.  We have become as exclusive, judgmental, bigoted and narrow-minded as those who were threatened by Jesus in his day.  We have forgotten who God is and how to build up His Kingdom.  To twist the words of Jesus to exclude and redefine who is acceptable to God is nothing short of blasphemy.  So don’t.  God celebrates every one of us, he doesn’t make mistakes.  I hope that isn’t a hard pill to swallow, because to each of you who really hates a section of the population for whatever reason…stop, because they are precious in God’s eyes.

Ouch, I know that can be harsh.  So I have to see preciousness in the people who literally make my skin crawl? Yes.  That doesn’t mean that we all go hug a random criminal or (insert name of the faction of the population you hate the most).  So here is where I move beyond “of consequence” and on to consequences.  Saying the phrase, “of consequence” and believing it is hard.  Most people I know are insecure and struggle, in a variety of ways, with low self esteem…that includes those who appear über confident and present the illusion to the world that their shit doesn’t stink.  It is what drives the angry divisive, bullying behavior of people today.  Those who really believe they are precious, essential, loved and important just don’t behave that way.  I also think it is why people refuse to accept responsibility for their own choices, and how that is manifested, I suppose, is different for each person.  For example, I think the one of the reasons the Pharisees hated Jesus so much is that he took their power over the people away.  If Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting so long for, they were no longer formidable.  Their self-worth depended on knowing more, having more power, the exclusivity of being the God’s chosen people, rendering them more important that everyone else.  Jesus virtually pulled the rug out from under their belief of who the Messiah would be, not a mighty King, but a loving servant.  That could not have set well.  They were precious in God’s eyes and yet there were dire consequences of what they did.  How are we supposed to love that?

Being “of consequence” will never render the “consequences” of any our actions in the world null and void.  We all live by the choices we make and often suffer the fallout of choices others make.  We have to hold others accountable, but only in a way that offers the possibility of being “of consequence” again.  I’m not naive, the world has some pretty evil stuff going on.  But remember that we are not alone, God is truly with us and for us…all of us.  And until we can believe that we are all precious in His sight, even though we all sin, we have to stop throwing stones, the kind that destroy and not build up.  We have to stop blaming the government, the 1%, the poor, ethnicity, ideology… the list goes on and on.   Jesus said, that whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.  Holding ourselves and others accountable while still seeing the worth in all sinners is how we grow and how we grow to understand God.  I just want people to understand that the kind of choices we make change when we look in the mirror and believe that the person who is looking back matters, is important, and is an expression of God’s great creative mind.  Because if you can’t see God’s creation when you look in the mirror, you won’t be able to see it in others either.