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.
Today’s post is somewhat tawdry, and deals with some antiquated ideas perhaps, but in this new era where truth is false and falsehood true, I’ve chosen to get a little down and dirty. My intent is to shed a different light and a little humor to point out something about power. And we all know how powerful sex is, right? It sells things, draws attention, allures us and awakens desires. It compels behavior in both good and bad ways. Most importantly, what would the world be like without it? Yet the same goes for truth, what would our world be without it? While studying World Literature, I will always remember the play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, the plot of which centers on a woman, Lysistrata who, fed up with the constant fighting and poor decisions of the men in Greece convince the women to withhold sex as leverage to negotiate a peace to the Peloponnesian war. It was one of the few Greek plays that literally made me laugh out loud (especially at a Catholic University)…and yet gave me great pause knowing full well the power of sex in a male dominated culture. (This is not to say the culpability falls on men alone or in general…OK, that’s bullshit, for my purpose here, I am saying exactly that). My friends, wouldn’t it be great if we could connect sex and truth together and harness that same carnal power to force the present culture to negotiate a peace to the war on Truth?
Here is one of my favorite exchanges from the play:
Lysistrata: “Here goes, then; no need to beat around the bush. Ladies, if we’re going to force the men to make peace, we’re going to have to give up—”
Calonice: “Give up what? Tell us.”
Lysistrata: “You’ll do it, then?”
Calonice: “We’ll do it, even if it means our death!”
Lysistrata: “All right. We’re going to have to give up—the prick. Why are you turning away from me? Where are you going? Why are you all pursing your lips and shaking your heads? What means your altered color and tearful droppings? Will you do it or not? What are you waiting for?”
Calonice: “Count me out; let the war drag on.”
and after some convincing…
Calonice: “Well, what if we did abstain from, uh, what you say, which heaven forbid: would peace be likelier to come on that account?”
Lysistrata: “Absolutely, by the Two Goddesses. If we sat around at home all made up, and walked past them wearing only our diaphanous underwear, with our pubes all plucked in a neat triangle, and our husbands got hard and hankered to ball us, but we didn’t go near them and kept away, they’d sue for peace, and pretty quick, you can count on that!”
Lampito: “Like Menelaus! As soon as he peeked at bare Helen’s melons, he threw his sword away, I reckon.“
In a modern twist, wouldn’t it be great to have a campaign to make truth as tantalizing as sex? Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Just think, instead of People magazine coming out with the Sexiest Man/Woman alive issue, they could have the Most Veracious Man/Woman alive. I can see it now, a centerfold of (feel free to pick your favorite flavor, there are plenty of truthful women out there too) Jake Tapper or Chuck Todd stripping away illusion like a well-worn suit, taunting us with tantalizing factual information rooted in multiple and verifiable sources. I had to stop writing for a moment, my blood pressure just skyrocketed. If truth were as powerful as sex, our news programs could begin with seductive, low lights and music…Baum chiki baum, baum…”Good evening I’m Wolf Blitzer (a perfect name for news porn), for tonight’s top story, only new objective and concrete evidence will be discussed and our esteemed panel, suited with lie detector machines will weigh in and get shocked whenever they spin (I had to throw a little 50 shades of Gray thrown in there). Like in Lysistrata, we would recognize the lying liars who lie because of how deprived they behaved. That deprivation, in the play, meant all the men of Greece and Athens suffered from constant chaffing because of, well, you know what rubbing against…let me just say we wouldn’t see Putin riding a horse for any time soon.
The un-augmented would be the fashion, truth tellers the new celebrity. Not hiding behind all the subterfuge would obliterate stress. Sex and truth would be desired equally. When we turned on cable news, we would simply be informed, there would be no need for endless panel discussion any longer unless the focus was pure problem solving. Of course that may mean some may lose their jobs, but running the world would be a whole lot easier. The truth has brought sexy back and made us free, and with freedom comes much responsibility (but a lot more fun). I will leave you with the last line of the play:
Lysistrata: “Come now, since everything has turned out well, take these women back with you, you Spartans. And, you Athenians, these ones are yours. Let each man stand beside his wife, each wife beside her man, and then to celebrate good times let’s dance in honor of the gods. And for all future time, let’s never make the same mistake again.”
Yes, I know what that statement usually signifies, it signifies anger. Taken from what a bullfighter’s red cape triggers in the eyes of the bull…blind fury, it means feeling so much anger that it takes control of one’s actions. For me red signifies something different. Red is a color that also signifies love, and when I see red, that is what I see. Seeing love doesn’t preclude feeling anger, I think anger can be a powerful force for change. It is the feeling of anger that moves us to challenge discrimination and senseless violence, to fight those who reject liberty and freedom. Love of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the foundation of our country, and whenever that is attacked, we should feel anger, even if it stems from within our own borders. As the most powerful country in the world, we should feel anger at any force who would try and dismantle all the good that has been built and established by the brilliance of our forebears. The difference, though, between allowing the rage of anger to blind us into acting like a bull and wrecking havoc, and allowing the power of love to expand our sight into acting like one who is evolved enough to wield it, marks the distinction between animal and human. Choosing the former reduces us to raw instinctual response, choosing the latter is the reason God gave us dominion over the earth.
We are made in God’s image. And God is love. God made the earth and all living creatures in it and said that it is good. God, who breathed life into us out of love, gave us dominion over that creation. As people of faith…we should know this, we should abide by this. And we should fight for God’s creation, all of it. It is right that we should feel anger when that creation is threatened…but as people who were created in the image of love, this and only this is what that dominion should look like:
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 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 things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The power of love should be our strength, motivation and triumph. It is unlimited and unbounded in its capacity to protect and nourish God’s creations…all of them.
Let me conclude with a powerful phrase that has guided me always:
The day will come when, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.
Tielhard de Chardin
The power of love is the only omniscience that can abide in us. Through the blood of Christ, we are perfected in the power of that love. Only we can choose to accept the power of love, or the power of anger. I choose love.
I’m not a tentative person…never was, never will be. While that may have caused me considerable consternation in the past, I don’t worry about that anymore. I do worry, however, about the state of the world and those who command our attention. I wonder how differently they would speak if they read these words everyday:
A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil. I tell you, on the day of judgement people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Just saying…I’m sure there would be a lot more silence.
It’s been awhile, and the reason is simple: life happens and sometimes life is hard. Events occur and people we love grow ill and the future teeters in a precarious balance that seems beyond everything but hope and prayer. The world is fraught with crisis and to weigh in demands I make a choice. Will I be a glass half empty person or a glass half full person. I choose to stand on the side of the half fullers. For me its not a Pollyanna thing but a hard stance in the face of negativity and dare you to defy my hope kind of thing. Ultimately, it is a requirement of my faith…for without it, I am just a seed on rocky ground. This world is so good, and so full of great things happening every day, and not the apocalyptic nightmare purported over the many means of media.
It’s also a science thing for me…in a quantum situation, i.e. light can exist as a particle or a wave depending on how its observed (note, prior to this double slit experiment, it had to be one or the other, light could not exist as both). Life can be good or bad, I as the observer determine which…and that determination matters more than anything. I can affect an outcome through faith, hope and love. Words matter, telling the truth matters, prayer matters, looking to the future no matter how daunting with God, in whatever form, augmenting our weakness with deep abiding love and strength matters. It ultimately distinguishes who gets up and moves forward.
For you glass half empties…I offer you my prayer to learn to see with hopeful eyes
When there are no words, I am called to listen. This week I listened to stories of love and loss, hardship and unexpected graciousness, and I felt sadness but also hope. I also listened to stories of anger, bias, ill informed and ignorant claims about “what really happened,” questions about character and worth and I felt despair but also deep anger. I heard people speak of those participants in the horrors of Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas with deep love about those who were lost. I listened to my pastor speak about a phrase from Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I listened to my son, impressed by Jane Elliot’s ground breaking, “blue eyed, brown eyed” experiment in the 1960’s, speak with laser accuracy about racism. I listened to social media friends talk about white privilege and black lives matter and knew that I could never understand with any depth what people of color go through in this country. I listened to friends in law enforcement and blue lives matter and the fear that follows them each and every day, and yet work with deep honor and pride as well. I listened to a mother with a biracial child speak about the subtle and not so subtle ways racism affects her daughter. I listened to a story about a woman who was able to comfort a frightened Muslim grandmother who was afraid at an airport in the most beautiful and simplest way. I listened to people effortlessly bash our president with unmitigated hatred after, what I thought was one of the most beautiful memorial speeches ever, he spoke in Dallas. I listened with even more sadness when I heard the news of another attack in France.
It is a disturbing point of tension, caught in the middle unable to say anything that would begin to change another’s mind or heart. To hear so many perspectives that seemed to speak over each other, cancel each other out or in anonymous condemnation made me want to stop listening. So I sat in silence and remembered the words of Isaiah when he heard God in a whisper. And in the quiet of those moments I could feel God present in my struggle, and could hear God in a whisper, and he asked me to magnify my struggle as much as I could and think of how much bigger my struggle could be…and he told me even then I am there. He is present in every place where there is crisis, even in my small and seemingly insignificant one. I listened to God and realized that we haven’t really been listening to him when he said that nothing could separate us from his love. When we listen, we can hear God through each other. I told God that I wanted to be the seed that was planted deep and not on shallow, rocky, or thorny ground. And then I listened to the words of Christ who said that I need only love the Lord my God with my heart, mind and soul, and my neighbor as my self. And the way to do that was to see Christ in them, understand them by walking a mile in their shoes, and work with them to become the Body of Christ. I am a holder of his Grace, I have no need to fear, and yet I do. I fear the lies that are being spread, because we don’t want to listen to painful truths. I fear that the Devil is craftier than I ever knew in eliciting strife and discord, and people are buying it hook, line and sinker, under the guise of faith, patriotism and righteousness.
So before you plant your feet too firmly, take a walk to the other side, and listen. You may see things differently.
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.
One of the observations that Jesus makes both comforts and convicts me in equal measure. Jesus first warns his disciples:
Be on guard against the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and love greetings in marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.
He then goes on to make this observation:
When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.’
I’m not about to get close to the subject of people and their money. No one thinks they have enough, and certainly don’t want to let go of it…to their detriment anyway. At my core, I’m no different, and it is with great effort and sometimes with great ease, that I consciously release the hold it has on me every day. It expands my faith and my trust in God that I will have enough…that I will be enough and it actually makes me walk in the world differently.
I want to explore other kinds of want, and that has been the greater task for me this year. Loving when I don’t feel loved, being respectful when I don’t feel respected, empathizing when I don’t feel empathy, offering hope when I don’t feel hopeful, trusting someone when I am plagued with distrust, extending peace when I am full of rage, all lessen the need itself. The distinction is subtle…but like the widow, when I give out of my need, with all my present resources, I not only see that I have enough, but the need loses its hold on my soul.
Exhausting needs, and offering all I have to another, allows God to replenish me and create a surplus that wasn’t there before. The mystery of letting go and letting God is manifested. Otherwise it’s just talk. Otherwise we become like the scribes who never lessen their wealth, but gain all the accolades for their holiness. Otherwise faith, hope and love lose and fear wins. I won’t let that happen. Today, I give from need and not want.
You know what I find so troubling? I find it troubling that the internet/social media, while doing so much good to connect people and help them access information, also does a lot of damage in making it easy to rip people apart without any real consideration for the truth, or what it does to someone’s spirit, and, moreover, what it does to the often faceless, feckless, and feeble-minded people who perpetuate damaging rhetoric. It will never make you a better person to disparage someone anonymously or behind their backs. I have seen first hand what it does to people, nipping away at one’s soul, in varying degrees perhaps, but adding to the darkness nonetheless. I’ve posted before regarding an important lesson I learned, that no one can hurt you without your permission…a wonderful and freeing exercise that saves me everyday. However, I also think its important to address what it does to the one who doles out the damage. It just builds up the anger and angst.
Perhaps people are truly unaware that what they say or do has any affect on another, and that if they knew how hurtful they were being they may actually feel bad about it. I know, I’ve unwittingly hurt someone before, it is part of my process to rectify the situation any time I’ve been made aware of it. That’s why face to face conversations are so important, except the internet often makes it impossible to know the direct effect someone has on another…it is just too easy to click, send, or post, without ever looking someone directly in the eye and never face the repercussions of their actions. Ignorance is never an excuse, because the damage occurs anyway. My last post spoke about letting your light shine. But know this truly, when you condemn, disparage or judge another darkness spreads. Jesus speaks very clearly about this:
Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother or sister’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye. How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me remove the splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye. You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother or sister’s eye.
None of us is perfect. And we are all in this together. So let’s focus then, on what we can do to spread light and not darkness. Looking in the mirror, with humility and grace and judging by the measure with which we want to be measured is the place to start.
There reaches a point when I just have to turn off, or I will take a header down the rabbit hole. Whether it is social media, the TV, or random conversations. I can’t stand the blind polarization…and it is blind, because I spent all of yesterday just checking out the many links, and total SHIT put out there to see if everyone is as off base as I thought they were. Don’t hate me because I fact checked. Don’t hate me because I am shoving all of the hateful, paranoid, holier than thou, I’m more American than you, or I’m in tune with the real truth rhetoric back in your face. And I am calling out EVERYBODY. You know the one thing that will destroy our country?…your own self interest. You hate Trump, because he’s a racist, thin skinned, narcissistic hack. (More than anything I do believe he is an unfiltered opportunist). You hate Hillary because she is a liar and a woman (I checked, I can’t say she is anymore a liar than those who are doing such a good job at convincing you she is a liar…I was one of the few people who actually watched all 11 hours of the eighth Benghazi hearing) and she is a career politician that is ruining Bernie’s chance to bring down Wall-street (who you believe she secretly supports), You hate Bernie because he’s a socialist and wants to give everything away for free and is ruining Hillary’s chance to be the first woman president. So, instead of perpetuating all the bullshit, and don’t send me a bunch of links that support your “stance” or call me blind-fully ignorant (which I am soooo not), or a typical liberal (which I am soooo not), or one of those Intellectuals who think they know more than the average person (which I sooooo am), let’s stop seeing just what we want to see and try our damnedest to try and be more objective. So let me put my big brain to work and try to appeal to the real you that usually exists until someone starts talking about politics. We are all passionate about the future of our country. It just shouldn’t be so polarized and so desperately mean. To support one candidate doesn’t mean we have to vilify another.
Let’s look at it from another angle. Trump seems to attract people who are tired of politicians, they are enthused by his “I say what I want” and want to feel proud of a country that honors hard work and patriotism, and I think are really afraid. Hillary has been a career politician, but one who has constantly worked for women, children, and stands for many women as an example of breaking the glass ceiling. Bernie gave a voice to young people, who just want a chance to reach their dreams without debilitating student debt. He also called out the money makers who have been bailed out and yet suffered few consequences for the devastation they caused. Regardless of who you vote for, cause we all have issues that matter more to ourselves than others, comes the responsibility to speak about them in a way that honors what America stands for. There can be civil disobedience and peaceful revolution, there can be respect even with clear disagreement. There can be tough debates without name calling and character assassinations, that focus on issues. We, the people, can define the tone of this election. So next time you feel compelled to lambaste someone, or share an unchecked link that focuses more on smear than issue, conspiracy over truth, watch the baby bird video I posted first. How can you hate after that?
When a scholar of the law asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him what the law said, to which the scholar responded: “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responded that he had answered correctly and said “Do this and you will live.” The scholar then asked who his neighbor was, and Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. For those of you who don’t know the story…let me tell you some history first. The Samaritans were people of what had been the former Northern Kingdom that had been conquered by the Assyrians, resulting in a mixed race people comprised of both Jews and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh, as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. Because of a lack of strict adherence, and pagan ancestry they were despised by ordinary Jews.
So the story then goes as follows:
A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with instruction, ‘Take care of him, If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, Jesus said, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? The scholar answered, ‘The on who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
This timeless story couldn’t be more prevalent in facing today’s volatile atmosphere. In America there is a movement, like the Jews with Samaritans, of defining standards that limit who fits into a narrow definition for what an American is. And it goes against the root of the message that Jesus was trying to convey. The funny thing, though, is that no one really fits this limited definition, its all an elaborate illusion. We are all of mixed heritage and history. But I still believe we all have more in common than we have differences. That should be the end of the story, but its not. So I ask the question that scholar asked…who, then, is my neighbor?
For me, I know I’m lucky. Growing up, I was in a neighborhood where the moms watched each other’s kids in a pinch and there were enough of us for two teams of whatever the game was of the moment. Our house may have felt too small for our large family, and while none of us were rich, with a pitcher of Kool-Aid, a bike, a ball or wading pool, who cared? We helped each other out when sickness came, or death, or just relaxed on a hot summer evening. We were a little village, and we felt safe and had each other’s backs. As an adult, I always made a point to meet my neighbors, because we were breathing the same air, and they or I may need help some day. Most importantly, life is so much better when you’re not isolated, or alone. I was always surrounded by people who were different from me, in ways that always expanded my universe. When mercy is offered, most often it is returned with mercy.
Loving your neighbor begins with you. You have to extend the hand first. That was my attitude when I landed in the latest, and greatest neighborhood of all. My neighborhood is the gold standard, as neighborhoods go, with grand functions we’ve entertained in the 21 years we’ve lived here. We’ve had chick parties, boccie ball and bowling and golf tournaments, pool parties, spooky paths, Christmas Caroling, Dance Camps, World War II simulations, Jelly stone camping excursions, bonfires, road trips and Oktoberfest romps. we’ve grown and mourned together, read books together and laughed until we snorted, OK, until I snorted, we celebrated life events together. Most importantly we all pray and celebrate the goodness that God offers us. We don’t all pray the same way or in the same building, but for Buck Ridge, where we start is the simple dictum Jesus taught us: “love your God with your heart, being, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” We extend mercy in so many fun and wonderful ways, and mercy is what is given in return. It is that simple platform that makes our neighborhood so wonderful, and uncomplicated and oh so easy.
The greatest truth? It isn’t how lucky we are, I already know that. I just want to point our that when you extend the hand of mercy, and treat another as your neighbor, all the fears that life brings, dissipate just a little bit. Isolation breeds fear, being a good neighbor breeds love. It isn’t contingent on anyone else, just you. Perhaps when we can master this practice in our own small neighborhoods and towns, it will leech into the larger picture, calm the fray and lead us to a time when all Americans will be seen as neighbors.
This Memorial weekend I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sacrifice. To all the veteran’s out there, I thank you and words cannot express the deep gratitude I feel for your service. We are able to continue our great American Experiment due, in large part, to the great sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. I believe most Americans, regardless of which side of the fence they sit on, honor you for that. Regardless of the lowlifes out there who capitalize on this weekend to breed ever more hatred for their opponents, claiming “ownership” of being a real and true American, I believe all Americans shine with pride on this day for our brave men and women of the military. It does a disservice to politicize it…even if you are in uniform, you are not sacrosanct to vilify your fellow citizens either. No one gets a free pass to condemn anyone. It defeats the purpose of the sacrifice, which is to maintain freedom for all. I tread carefully here, because while I will never undervalue those who fought in war, there are also other ways to fight, to lead, to serve, to evolve our country into something even better that demanded the sacrifice of life too. Their sacrifices are no less valuable and I honor them on this weekend too.
While I have not served in the military, I have spent my life in service. The model I have used was the core to my vocation, from the Gospel of John 13:12-15:
So when Jesus washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at the table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master and nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
Throughout all my life though, as my understanding grew, this model Jesus set for us is so much more than humbling oneself to wash another’s feet. It is how we must look at each other…the master equals the servant. In one simple motion, Jesus disassembles one of the most embedded notions of cultural hierarchy, that there are those who deserve privilege and others who don’t…and says that we are all the same, no one is better than the other. No amount of societal consequence, propriety, adulation or even condemnation can make any set of eyes looking into mine any greater or lesser. I can honor their gifts or challenge their flaws without placing them above or below my gaze.
So when I celebrate this day, I do so not only for those who have sacrificed their lives, but to honor that sacrifice by holding myself to the highest standard for what a real American looks like: a beacon to the rest of the world, while acknowledging my power as a citizen of the most powerful country in the world, I embrace the model that Jesus set for me, not lording over, or looking down on, but helping others to rise up to their greatest potential. Our greatness depends on an America committed to building the strengths of its citizens and on leaders who are not kings, but who model the example of humility and service and return our gaze with equality and respect.
A wise teacher once told me that to truly live, you must do so without permission. Seeing myself as a free spirit and natural rebel, I couldn’t imagine he didn’t see that I had already mastered the concept. “Think about it for a moment”, he then said, “to whom or what do you seek permission?” I just looked at him blankly, wondering what the infernal hell he was talking about. “Total up all the, ‘Don’t think that’, ‘Don’t say that’, ‘Don’t Be that’, or ‘A good Christian says or does’, ‘An attractive woman is’, ‘A successful person is’ and don’t forget all the ‘You have too’s’, and ‘you can’t do that’s’, and you can see that your life is more restrictive than need be. Except no one can define you, restrict you…without your permission. You have all the power to decide, no one else. You decide who or what enhances your life. And it isn’t always easy…because we can’t always choose who the people and circumstances are that surround us and fill our heads. But personal survival depends on those you choose to submit to.” He then gave us an assignment to list what permissions must be extended, and those that must be denied. I cried for a long time while doing that assignment. When challenged to do so, I felt the terrible weight of the shackles that I had the key to unlock all along, and that meant letting go of some people and ideas and learning to see others in a new light. Change sucks, and I certainly understand why people talk themselves into staying in a situation that is toxic, and they are bound, because once the shackles are off…you have to walk on your own.
The reason I bring this lesson to light has much to do with my year of clarity. When I get lost in the business of living it’s easy to hand over your life in pieces without even being aware of it until suddenly, voila, my journey is weighted down by those shackles again. Except this time, no tears, just resolve. I choose, once again, to live without permission. I’m not talking about anarchy here. There will be always be rules and laws that I submit to because I understand that in the long run they will be as much a service to me as to those that I love, live, work and play with. But to those voices, people and structures who try and rewrite the blueprint that is me because it serves their purpose, I respectfully decline. I know my heart and with clarity I can see who is helping me become and who is keeping me from becoming all that I can be. I decide.
I also know that when I live without permission, I must extend to others the same accord. I must let them live according to their rhythm too. That means dancing a careful dance between support and control, and between fear and love. I am as guilty as any person of treading too far, of overpowering instead of graciously offering, and yet I won’t let myself be punished for trying too hard, even if I am sorry I overstep. And to those who have grown and expanded under my tutelage, I know that is because they have also brought out the best in me too. Because when you live without permission and allow others to live with out permission, everyone benefits. We all get to be our bigger and better selves.
So let me now extend a request. In the comment section on wordpress, share with me one way you would like to live without permission, and I would gladly pray for that to be extended to you. If you wish your comment to remain unpublished, I will submit to that too, (but I will still pray for you). The benefit of throwing it out there for all to see though, is that you will have many more wonderful people out there praying for you too.
The eighties was an era of tremendous growth for me. I worked for the Catholic Church in the capacity of both a Youth Director and a Teacher. In order to effectively do my job well, I turned to many influences of the day to bring in young people to a church that I believe, at the time, was losing its grip on anyone under 30. Of course, so much of what I did was often labeled offensive and threatening to the souls of the very group I was commissioned to save. I always thought if I could just get the hierarchy to listen for a moment, they might see that what I was trying to do was exactly the opposite: using modern media to spread the Good News, and that the Church could be a place that could connect to them too. Regardless of my enthusiasm, I realized that I was simply too small and insignificant to impact so many on my own. So I utilized those who already had influence: musicians, actors, athletes…anyone who stood as a good example in the many bad ones of the day.
In the fall of 1987, I did a series on utilizing modern music as a tool to spread the Gospel.
I had hired a “DJ” priest from California to lead a week of workshops and other events. I used much of my budget to sponsor it, confident of its great success. We had a spot on a show called Twin Cities Live, with Bob Bruce to discuss rock and roll and its potential for good, but turned into just the opposite, how it was the devil’s influence in the modern world. As a result, I was interviewed by the Pioneer Press the following day, and was hopeful to turn things around. I had planned to end our series with a rock and roll mass, with a live rock band celebrating an Advent theme: from darkness to light. I had planned to begin the service with Prince’s “Sign O the Times” and also incorporate his song, “The Cross”. The reporter, in order to have his story garner attention, only focused on the fact that we were using Prince’s music in a Catholic mass. I cannot tell you how bad the fall out was, the horrible things people said. I had already gotten the rock mass approved, and agreed to only use “Sign O the Times” before the mass began, and remove “The Cross” from the list of music (that included, U2 and the Beatles). Still, on the day of the service, the Archbishop called my pastor, and told him to cancel the service, because the Catholic Church didn’t do “theme” masses. When I told my pastor that yes, indeed they did, (referencing a popular polka padre) he reluctantly said we could go ahead (with pressure from our DJ priest too). I know he was nervous, but the mass was a spectacular success, with people dancing in the aisles at the end. We even made the evening news. I always wondered if Prince ever followed the story, and if he would have been pleased by this little rebel in his home town.
Although I may have won the battle, I did lose the war. That was my last year in parish ministry and I left to begin my life as a teacher. I was embittered, told that I was a bad influence, and “allowed” to resign. A depiction that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. But Prince as an artist, gave me tools to reach out to young people and influence them in a much more powerful way than I could have ever done on my own. For this, and so much more, I will be eternally grateful. He was a bridge for me…from darkness to the light.
There is such a distortion of truth these days. There is no discernible difference between what someone perceives to be true and what is true. The effect, in essence, is that illusion has a greater hold on our daily lives than actual tangible reality where one loses the ability to discern what is up and what is down, what is good and what is bad. Not to get all existential here, but we seem to be living in a time when if you repeat a falsehood enough times, call someone a liar enough times, state publicly that something is what it is not enough times, the actual physicality of the world shifts and what was once false becomes true.
While I understand that perception has the ability to shape our understanding of reality, I think there is enough strength in the school of thought that would also argue that when a cloud of illusion becomes big enough, it will eventually lack the substance to sustain the lie and it collapses.. While that may seem like a likely scenario of simple karma, i.e., what goes around comes around, we don’t live in a vacuum. People in leadership positions can entice and then destroy millions with their delusions.
Yeah, I know, what else is new. A lot, actually. We are living in a wolf in sheep’s clothing kind of time that Jesus talked about. The uncanny and diabolical way in which what is truly good is being painted as bad, and the truly insane are being portrayed as almost messianic is as shocking to me as inspired. Never in a trillion years, (hyperbole inserted here just to show they can still exist in all this insanity) would I ever have believed, in my worst dystopian nightmare in a world in which many in the public eye enthusiastically spew such misguided and diabolical nonsense. Give me the four horseman of the apocalypse anytime, at least they are recognizable.
Like I mentioned before, truth is tough. As enticing as lies can be, our world will never be sustained by them. Regardless of what you believe, unless those beliefs can be held up to the light of truth they will never be real. You have to do the work, you have to decide if your perceived reality is all it is cracked up to be…if not, it’s time for a change.
Please 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.
There 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.
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.”