An Environment For Fruit

dead-fig-tree

To begin, since there will be “language” used in this post, I won’t start immediately because generally the first few words of my posts are visible to everyone on my Facebook account, those that haven’t blocked me anyway. To those abroad, I’m not sure how my words will translate…but hopefully you’ll get my point, and to everyone other English speaking reader that reads my blog regularly, I don’t think you’ll mind. True to what I learned last year during my year of clarity…here goes, no holes barred.

What this fuckstorm is, this present political environment, is indeed the apocalypse, the end times, the rolling out of the red carpet for the Antichrist. Before you get all hyped up and ready to condemn or think me certifiable, I’m not talking about Trump. Who I am talking about is Beelzebub, the fucking Devil, Satan, Lucifer, or whatever your moniker is for pure unadulterated evil and the only arsenal in said’s wheelhouse: the appropriation of truth and twisting it into something unrecognizable…given the whole the Father of Lies title, the distorter of Truth, yes, with a capital “T”. Scripture teaches us that Hell was irreparably broken when Jesus sacrificed his life and rose from the dead. We are saved. The evil one only has lies now, to somehow convince us that what really happened didn’t happen and to throw away the grace that was given to us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There is all this talk of alternative facts, fake news etc., that has amped up such a negative polarity in this country and the rest of the world, that we now have an environment that is toxic, perfect for negating bearing the good fruit necessary to build up the Kingdom of God. Because when neighbor turns against neighbor, based on the climate created by such negative politics, the ripple effect of such animus will destroy those important elements and connections necessary in a person’s life that would have been an essential part of them becoming the best person God created them to be, all because they’ve been deceived into believing and then rendering null and void certain important people placed specifically in their lives. Not to mention the staggering amount of cyber bullying and hate crimes that strip the light from individuals who will now never bear good fruit in this world. For me, I’ve been called I…let me see what I’ve been called, a libertard, sore loser, snowflake, baby killer, ignorant of the real truth, whiner, jealous (yeah, I don’t get that one), unpatriotic and so much more that is thought and yet unspoken. All of which I am NOT. Beyond the hurt feelings, I worry, because that is my nature, that what if my very calling, which I truly believe is to create environments necessary for people to thrive and become their best selves, is rendered null and void because of all this bullshit. More than ever I see that my commitment to clarity last year was the greatest gift that God could have given me. But it will mean nothing if I’m dismissed because of my politics.

Admittedly, I hold myself to equal chastising, except to say that since I am aware of my own leaps to judgement, I have worked with Herculean strength to overcome my gut responses and act as Jesus demands me to and not as I want to in my head (my rapier tongue has been silenced so often I am in a chronic state of exhaustion). I have never called anyone a name, I have pleaded to keep discussions rational, to verify facts and hold back on pigeon holing people into a specific category. I have sat with incredulity as I’ve had to withstand the increasing level of distortion and misrepresentation of situations, many of which I personally participated in, are actually on tape, easily verifiable and still squelched under the biggest pile of bullshit the world has ever been witness to. And let me be clear, I am NOT TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE WHO THINK DIFFERENTLY THAN I DO POLITICALLY. I am talking about the most basic expectation of civility and desire for the truth. I am talking about choosing fear over love, I’m talking about rationalizing one’s way into justifying hatred and buying the lies that would lead us down the path of hatred verses love. When you do that, you are actively involved in creating the exact environment that kills potential fruit. Good fruit cannot grow out of something evil as Jesus explains in Matthew 7:15-29.

Be aware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like the fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

And what is the will of our Father in heaven? Let’s start with the line just before this admonition: Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets. If you don’t strive for that, you aren’t creating the environment necessary to bear good fruit, and you are, and I don’t say this lightly or hyperbolically, the arm of the Devil.

Love with No Prerequisites

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I should know by now that no amount of planning on my part when it comes to God means that I am prepared, ready, or set to go on my New Year’s commitment. Omniscience is funny that way. I guess I will never fully appreciate the intricacies of my heavenly God’s magnificent brain (but like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football, I keep trying). So. Bearing good fruit…its not as easy a subject as I originally thought. Don’t get me wrong, in my planning I had dozens of do-gooders lined up to talk about. Although enthused to share those stories that make one smile and push the belief that the future is bright, I got an overwhelming sense that wasn’t what I was supposed to do. There are tons of social media sites that highlight those happy stories of puppy’s being saved and glorious good deeds. Note, I will never denigrate these sites…they often bring a happy tear to my eye and put a smile on my face and calm my soul. What they don’t do, however, is propel me to action. Therein lies the rub, while a smile or happy tear is good thing, it can lull us into a stupor of contentment rather than incentivize us into acting on the belief that the fate of the world depends on bearing MY fruit, sharing MY gifts. And believe me, the world is in desperate need of everybody’s fruit. Even as I wrote that last phrase, I realize how almost dirty it sounds, because as a woman, the measure of my fruit has to be a bit tawdry, right? Sex and money, isn’t that what many people think of as worthy fruit? But I digress.

While the potential for all of us to bear fruit is there, what helps bring the potential of a gift to fruition? What are the prerequisites? What is the water, sun and good soil that every unique human soul needs to flourish and grow? And just as importantly, once those fruits grow to fruition, who do we share them with? To those who share regularly with me? To only those who will appreciate what I have to give or deserve the fruits of my labor? What of those who refuse to bear fruit at all? Shouldn’t they burn like the infernal barren fig tree? Those are the questions that I’ve been pondering. What makes someone feel like they don’t have anything to give, or are capable of bearing fruit? I think the answer lies in the one thing that doesn’t need a prerequisite, or a degree, or talent, or beauty, or a pedigree. It is the one thing that I swear my allegiance to every day…and that is love.

So love is where I will begin, the one requirement without which bearing fruit is impossible. And it expresses and nurtures everyone differently. So let’s begin with the basics…because my intent this year is to help everyone see how their unique gifts are essential to the plan, and together we can build a Kingdom worthy of all the goodness that we are.

Living Without Permission

 

book of kells

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.

Can Optimism Rule?

julian-of-norwichI have to say, this one is a tough one to write. It’s tough because I am, at heart, an eternal optimist. Maybe its the way my brain is wired, or faith, or experience, or insight…or delusion, or any combination of therein. My life has not been easy or tragedy free. All I know, deep in my gut, my core is that all will be well and all manner of things will be well. So it is hard to admit, given how I’m wired…why I’ve struggled with pessimism lately.

Pessimism, you weigh heavy on the world like a thick blanket, and rightly so I suppose, given the circumstances, be it depression, disease, violence, poverty, isolation, ignorance or evil, it can be overwhelming. I have to remind myself daily, no hourly, and sometimes minute by minute that being an optimist doesn’t reject those bad things in the world, it simply means that you decide not to be defined or defeated by them. Life is, at times, hard and depressing because that is its nature. Hardship often presents the greatest lessons and growth, the most poignant evolution. And while my rational mind scoffs at this obvious conclusion, my emotional, more intuitive side stamps its foot at the difficulty and discomfort of it all. It’s at this point of the book when I want to skip over the hard and scary parts and jump to the conclusion and see how it all ends.

I know my life and movement is tethered to the many, that my single commitment to optimism is doomed if others can’t be swayed to jump on the hope train. The reason is that my faith demands that I be part of a larger body and help make it work. I am not alone, and yet I feel alone a lot of the time. There is unrest and anger that inhibits the function of the larger body I am part of. There is fear there too, paralyzing fear. Fear that is covered up by institutional mandates and paranoia that on the surface state that they are there for our own protection, but really serve no other purpose but to cut out those parts of the body that are felt to be less honorable. Remember what Paul said:

those parts of the body we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety. Whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Being an optimist does require embracing at the most fundamental level that the dynamic gifts of each person on this planet are essential to keeping the body of Christ functional  in transforming our world to make it better. So to all you pessimists out there, if you can’t embrace the dynamic gifts of those you hold to be less honorable, then you doom us all. Your pessimism halts the function of the body. It makes it weak and susceptible to the very evils that were vanquished by the death, and resurrection of Christ.

I am vague on who the less honorable are, because they are different for every individual. You may hold gay people as less honorable, or transgender people, or straight people, poor people, or rich people, or powerful people, or famous people, or beautiful people,or the sick, the dying, the imprisoned. It doesn’t really matter who. What really matters is that you, pessimist, with your inability to see that each person is essential in God’s eye, limit the power and function of the most powerful body in existence. A body that has the superpowers of Grace and love, and a gospel of instructions on how to make the body move. It would be easy for me to tell you to get lost, find another body to be part of, but then I would be no better than you. My anger would keep me from recognizing your value, your part to play. So let me say this: my optimism trumps your pessimism. I do know the ending to this story, and I win. So win with me, say over and over again that all things shall be well and all manner of things shall be well, and soon your eyes will be open to the world I wake up to every day. As dark as the world may seem, know that the battle is won. When God is with us (and I mean all of us) who can be against us?

Being an optimist begins with you, it means embracing this truth: you are an essential ingredient in maintaining, sustaining and transforming our human evolution. It means that you have impact and worth regardless of any feedback. You act, because you know on even the smallest level that you can move the world forward. Let it bring a smile to your face, a confidence that you have never had before. No one, not even the most pessimistic hater can ever take that away. Let me honor you, celebrate you and share your joy. And if you can’t, know that I will suffer with you, and pray for your transformation.

 

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.

When it is no longer the Bread of Life

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

They Will Know That You Are Christains By Our Love

fear-notBeing ready to charge forth is how I always want to portray myself…but I am more a compilation of pacing, hyperventilation, tears, ending in quiet resolve.  I am aware of what I have to say, no less committed to continue on the path that I see so clearly, shaking but never wavering.  It just isn’t easy for me.  On that note, I am provoked by the faceless ugliness of social media and the fearful nature of information, convoluted to champion ideological superiority and then weaponizing it as a way to justify a belief and behavior that circumvents the gospel, and yes I did say circumvent…because Jesus could never, would never stand for it…the finger pointing and the blame, the violent solutions and polarization of the world and its people. In John 13:13, Jesus lays out the model of behavior he expects of his disciples:

You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’ and rightly so for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and the teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.  Amen, amen I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you understand this, blessed are you because of it.

He goes on to say in John 13:34,

I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

There will be those who will pick through scripture to find ways around this to justify their hatred of those who are the momentary evil of day…whether it is a political party, or those who terrorize in the name of their superiority.  We, as Christians, are not allowed that weakness.  That is what Jesus meant when he said:

You have heard that is 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…

There are plenty of places to find what love looks like….which is where everyone should start.  More importantly, we have to look at what drives us away from love, which drives us to propagate gossip and innuendo as fast as wild-fire. It is fear.  It is fear.  It is fear.  It. Is. Fear.  How can that be?, we who wear the gift of grace?, we who are promised that anything we ask for in prayer, with faith will be given, we who are commanded not to worry because if God clothes the world in such splendor, how much more does he have in store for us, so little in our faith? We fear because we have been lulled into the illusion that evil has the greater edge, that it can defeat us, and the greatest illusion of all, that the gates of hell haven’t already been shattered by Jesus death and resurrection.  On the night he was betrayed he rebuked a disciple who burnished the sword:

Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you not think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?  Then how would scripture be fulfilled which say this must come to pass in this way?

That is the question isn’t it?  How will our fate, laid out in scripure be fulfilled?  Could God swoop down and finish the job?  Or does he know that the sacrifice of his son has given us the necessary tools to be our own champions? 1John 4: lays it out plainly:

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.

Love is what must be our core.  It doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but at any moment in time we can pray to God to augment our imperfect hearts with His perfect love, or we can give into fear in all its seeming righteousness, in its promise of vengeance, its illusion of creating peace and safety.  Violence will never be the answer; hatred exists as a bi-product of fear.  But that doesn’t mean I am naive, either.  I don’t condemn armies who fight for a cause…one of the conundrums of being human, I guess.  Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  He also told us that we couldn’t serve two masters, and how narrow the road to righteousness really is. But certainly, the task at hand is to focus on how others will see us and know that we are his disciples…they will know us by how we love one another.

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.

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.

 

 

Angels in Disguise

holy spiritIn a world where so much goes wrong, it can be easy to wonder where all the heavenly help has gone. You know, you hear all those stories of mystical beings springing out of nowhere to save the day, never to be found again to be thanked, but I wonder…is that the exception for angelic behavior, or the rule? I know Jesus inferred many times that heralded help may not always be what it appears, wolves in sheep’s clothing, thieves in the night. So how do we know? Is it a good standard to escape the pain and difficulty that are almost essential to mastering the game of life? Is it logical to surmise that when things go our way, heaven is behind us and when they don’t we are being punished or plagued by a demon? I say unequivocally, no it isn’t logical…but then again neither is God. That isn’t to say that God can’t behave logically. God just isn’t defined by it. Logic is a human invention to help make sense of life and discover truth. It will never be a primary tool to uncover and understand the divine.

So then, it’s complicated. If heaven is beyond and not limited by our comprehension, how do we know when help is near…and more importantly when it’s not, and we are just being duped into deeper and deeper illusion? That’s when I rely on the teachings of Jesus. I truly believe in the realm of angels, because Jesus did. And while I may not understand all that entails, I do understand Jesus when he described the different kinds of people who would follow his words.  The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a perfect description of those who abide by his teachings: there are those who are more shallow and the words never take hold, those who don’t hold them deep enough and forget the minute things get rough, those whose would use them for their own thorny purpose and choke the life out the message, and finally, those who let them deep into the soul and nurture them till they bear fruit. I always pray that I am of the latter, but time and humility will tell.

That’s how I feel about angels. I am aware that I need a lot of help if I am to nurture this seed of faith that I’ve been given. In hindsight, though, my personal magical moments hardly ever consisted of being swooped up and saved by a heavenly messenger, rather it usually meant knowing I could survive the pain of heaven peeling away the darkness and replacing it something brighter and more pure, whatever the situation. Angels don’t make our lives easier, they help us make it better, and that sometimes means harder. They direct us down a better road, often the least traveled or obvious. They help us defy and ascend logic by demanding faith in that which we cannot yet see, but have been told to be real. Their presence is with us all the time, yet because of free will, requires our permission to assist in sowing the sacred soil of the soul.  The fruit of which, is to extend an angelic hand to someone else, not necessarily to save, but to serve.

Putting Christ back into Christianity

writing on the groundEvery day I say this prayer: “God, bless all those in need with the miracle of love and light, let this miracle transform their lives in such a way that they, in turn, transform others with the gift of love and light.”  Given recent events, I was truly gifted with a miracle when God shed light on the wounds I carried as a result  of my past and healed them with love  by  exposing those wounds that were hidden away.   I learned that my singular perspective so skewed the truth of past events that it literally weighed me down for years.  Not only was it largely a burden that tortured me unnecessarily, it also distracted me from good that could have been accomplished.  Like I’ve said before about perspective, it is limited to the individual…we have only a finite amount of information, finite gifts and functions.  That is why we were called to become a body, where all our differences are used together to become something so much more.  Living by a singular perspective stifles the functionality of the body of Christ.

Herein lies the problem with that singular perspective.  It has become a marker for a political ideology, where differences are suspect and at times deemed sinful…which is exactly what Paul said can’t happen.  He said no part of the body has the right to look at another and say that they are of lesser or of no importance.  All parts are essential to the functioning of the whole.  I may have carried the burden that I was a nonessential or less than other parts of the body, therefore limiting my ability to do what God created me to do.  I had to broaden my perspective and take the leap to ask…”how do you see me?”  I was blessed with seeing that I am essential, that I do matter.  What of those who are not so lucky?  What of those who many Christians see as abominations?  I challenge them to read John 8:1-11.  When the Pharisees and scribes presented the woman caught in adultery to him and asked whether or not he would fulfill the law of Moses and stone her, he bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.  When they persisted he said: “Let the one among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.  He then bent down and continued writing on the ground.  No one threw a stone.  I’ve always believed that they walked away because each could see their own sin in what Jesus wrote on the ground.  I wish each and every Christian spent less time perched and ready with stone in hand, and more time embracing the light and love that he brought with his teaching.  He concluded by telling the Pharisees and scribes: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me with have the light of life…You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.”

Drop the stones.  None of us is sinless.  Walking in the light demands it.

Catching Fire

catchingfireIt has been awhile, for good reason.  I am woman caught on fire.  In the last two weeks, the archdiocese I spent more than a decade working for, and the University where I received much of my training, released the lists of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors.  The pastor of the first parish I worked for was on that list…and some who I have personal knowledge and experience of that should be on it were not.  While my relationships with some of these men did not fall within the perimeters of the alleged abuse, it was still abuse.  Suffice it to say that the rage I feel is based on countless power struggles during my tenure with the archdiocese that I believe impeded my ability to do the job that I was hired to do, called by God to do, and ultimately became the central reason I walked away from ministry.  Given my personality, I always knew that I would have some difficulty working for the Catholic Church.  I was an attractive, smart, strong willed, vivacious, intelligent woman.  For those of you who think I should also include egotistical and arrogant to the list…yeah well, given all that I sacrificed during those years, believe me, while my list of vices may be many, false humility and lack of objectivity aren’t part of the list.  Anyway, what matters is that given who I was and what the church was at that time, I knew the road would never be easy, and I took extra precaution to live a very pure life, to which I never strayed.  But I never thought for one minute that I would be immersed in such a deep struggle between the sacred and profane.  I can’t even regard them as people anymore at this point, because the manipulation and the mind games were so malevolent that even in the face of  knowing rationally that something was way off with whatever situation I faced at the time, often I was the one left feeling like the sinner and they, the saint.   I learned to work with blinders on just to survive, but I was too angry so I moved out of parish work to teaching after that, which didn’t turn out much better.   The suggestions that perhaps if I dressed more appropriately for my profession, the rumors that went around never would have started.  Shortly afterwards I cut off my hair.  I’ve included some pictures to prove I didn’t dress like a whore, nor did I dress like a nun either.

marytexastexas staffmarygregg

I thought long and hard about what details to share, but I don’t think that would serve any purpose other than just more titillating proof of the kind of abuse that occurs in an environment of ultimate power, and fueling even more  hatred won’t offer answers, just annihilation.   The girl I was at the time wouldn’t like it.  She would be embarrassed, humiliated and hurt, and just because she may have not been the typical theologian she deserved the respect she worked hard for.  Still, after all this time, I don’t hate the church…I worked with too many wonderful and spiritual people during my time there.  I do however hate the path the church has taken, and I can’t walk down that path anymore.  For me, I knew I needed help finding clarity…that was what therapy was for, and given that the therapist knew I had never been sexually active at the time, said that I had all the symptoms of someone who was the victim of sexual assault, only on a spiritual level.  She helped me see there is a much deeper dimension to the kind of power struggles I faced, and lost.  I didn’t appreciate until I read those lists of names what a deep toll being a victim of spiritual, sexual assault took on me.  I had many great plans and ideas back then, to manifest the Gospel in new and exciting ways, but I just got worn out and gave up.  Meeting my future husband and moving to the woods of Wisconsin saved my sanity, which remains tenuous because I live in crazy town (too many men, too little common sense).

It is my hope and prayer that Pope Francis can not only clean up the mess, but begin to heal the many wounds caused by the hierarchy.   But until I see evidence of that change, my faith life remains catholic…with a small “c”.

In the Quiet, Her Melody Sounds

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????There is so much noise in the world… voices that breed chaos and fear, that drown out hope’s melody.  Then, there are the voices that still the noise and soothe the heart.  The simple beauty of innocence, in which the melody of hope bares the true litmus test of God’s presence and reign over this world.  Sadly,one of those voices in full swing of transforming the world, moved to join the choir of heaven to magnify the purity of her singular sound.  Our human ears may not have the physical ability to hear the fullness of that heavenly choir, but in stillness I hear Sarah’s simple voice and know that she is here, her melody continuing in the day-to-day.  Once created in the image of God and sanctified by Him, her melody will continue for ever more helping heaven quell the tide that evil brings.  She will forever sing for her family, for friends for those who have lost the ability to hear the song of hope.  Through her melody I pray that loved ones can find comfort as they miss her physical presence.  In remembering her, I will try even harder to listen and to hear the unique song of all of God’s children and celebrate that through them, hope will reign.

You Want the Truth? You can’t Handle the Truth!

jack nicholsonThat is one of my favorite movie lines from all time, and it was what popped into my head when I worried about how to continue my discussion on illusion.  I thought of using “breaking bad”, but since the series just ended, I didn’t feel right usurping any searches that way.  While I think the first instinct for most people is that they would really like the truth, to see it, know it and live it…I have to be honest and say that I don’t believe that for a minute.

I didn’t sleep much last night, and as I often do, I prayed hard that God may break any illusions that may hold me prisoner, and to bless me with even greater truth.  And that is exactly what God did.  Except not at first, at first there was just silence…so I turned on the TV, as I often do when I can’t sleep.  As I pressed the guide on my remote, there was a movie on called “Desert Flower”, thinking that it might  be an opportunity to get an answer to my questions, I watched it.  It was about the life of Waris Dirie, a super model who suffered the humility of female genital mutilation, or female circumcision and became the world’s foremost crusader against it.  I’m not shifting gears into this heroic struggle, but there was a point in the film, when she flashes back to when she was a three year old girl, playing and kissing her mother and the graphic horror of what happened when held by two woman who mutilated her without anesthesia .  I sobbed long and hard, of course as a mother at what pain and horror that baby went through, and because of the horrible subjugation of women that still occurs around the world.  Through my tears, though, I still wasn’t ready for sleep, so I kept watching T.V.

The movie that followed, was called “The Magdalene Sisters.”  It told the stories of four young women in 1964 Ireland who labeled”fallen” by their families, were sent to Magdalene Asylums to suffer manual labor doing laundry and other penance as appeasement for their sins.  The abuse and humiliation these young woman suffered all under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church, was just as painful to watch.   Again, I don’t want to talk about that injustice right now either.  Here was my uncomfortable truth: In this moment of time, I have it unbelievably easy, I have control over my body, my mind and my voice, and I won’t be punished for it.  I am free to choose the life I live and choose what I want to believe, the operative word being “choose.”

While it is not perfect, my country allows me this freedom.  I am grateful for it, and proud to live as an American citizen.   Of course, that isn’t the greater truth.  The greater truth is this; All of our voices matter.  We, the people represent different ethnicity’s, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, intelligence and gender.  That is why we have a republic, a representative government.  Coming up with solutions that will represent all of us is tricky and hard.  I think Congress has forgotten that fact.  In this crisis I have become biased, and angry that one small group of people thinks that their voice matters more than anybody else’s.  So I’m using my voice to declare loudly, “Knock it off!  put your dicks back in your pants and pass a CR to reopen the government.  Quit pointing the finger at each other and COMPROMISE!  and that doesn’t include what has already been made into law and upheld by the court.  DO A BETTER JOB.  QUIT CLAIMING TO SPEAK FOR ONLY THOSE THAT THINK LIKE YOU DO AND TRY AND WORK FOR US ALL FOR A CHANGE…that is what we elected you to do.

To conclude, let me just say that I had to be reminded of how little power many woman have around the world before I was challenged to exercise my own.  I will do better.

The Kingdom of Heaven

heavenSo how exactly does one go about discovering the rules by which to live?  Rather than filter through all the outside sources available, I began my journey internally because of something intriguing Jesus once said.  In response to a question regarding when the Kingdom of Heaven would come, Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of Heaven cannot be observed, and no one will announce ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ for behold, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”  Clearly, if the Kingdom of Heaven is within us surely it is the inner world that changes how, not what we observe in the outside world.  Later on in the gospel of Mark, Jesus says this about why he spoke so often through parables: “The mystery of the Kingdom has been granted to you.  But to those outside….they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand.” Paradoxically, focusing inward to create a foundation for the rules one chooses to live by seems counter intuitive.  Most instruction and learning comes from the outside in.  Tapping into the Kingdom within is the first and most necessary step in being able to actually see and understand clearly what the outside world stands to teach us.  Think of trying to read in the dark.  A book, no matter how brilliant, is worthless if there is no light to illuminate what is written on the page.  Tapping into my inner resources turned on a light that gave me a different kind of sight, and it has certainly changed how I see the world.

I don’t want to get too hung up on semantics but, the Kingdom within has been described in many different ways: the voice of truth, the cosmic consciousness, intuition, conscience, etc.  Whatever you choose to call it, it is the inner voice which speaks from deep down inside.  Because the concept of intuition is present in many cultures and, for me anyway, doesn’t carry as much theological baggage as and is more feminine than “The Kingdom of Heaven,” it’s the label I’m going to use to describe the melody of the universe.  Intuition, is actually defined as the act of mentally looking into, contemplation, perception; a mental view.  Archetypically, it is associated with all things feminine, especially in many religious traditions.  In Eastern religions, the symbol of the Yin-Yang, or t’ai chi, represents the interaction of opposites such as male/female and light/dark.  It is the combinations of all kinds of opposites that form the world we see.  Culturally, intuition is associated with femininity; it represents darkness, water, instinct and feeling.  Without subscribing to “Emo” culture, we are going to delve into the black side of the yin-yang symbol.  Because it is in basking in the coolness of the yang, that I discovered my own intuition which became a mechanism for accessing the Kingdom within.

Let me also say that getting in tune with intuition isn’t just for women, although we may be given a predilection for knowing how to use it (fodder for another huge debate, but again I have plenty of tales to back this one up).  This is not to be taken as advocating that all you men who are reading this to embrace your feminine side and get all emotional and sensitive (although it wouldn’t be a bad thing).  You men out there should think about being taught by a woman, she may come in a variety of forms but for each and every one of you out there, like a guardian angel, some woman is ready to offer her perspective and it would behoove you to listen.  So let go of the baggage of Eve, the apple and original sin for a moment and look inward to find the prize…and just breathe….and listen for the melody within.

To See or Not to See

ireland-crossHere is something that must be said.  Simply stated, my faith in God is central to the way in which I observe the world—but that is just me.  Although devout, I wouldn’t describe my faith as typical.  I know I’ve said this before, but as a theology student I was given an assignment to find a biblical passage to represent my faith…my choice?: King David dancing naked before the Ark of the Covenant—draw your own conclusions.  In the rash of religious fundamentalism that has taken hold of many in today’s world, I am almost a bit embarrassed to share my passion and devotion to God for fear of being pigeon-holed as an advocate for some of the idiocy that has come out of some religious fundamentalists.  However, this post can be helpful to anyone regardless of where they are in life’s great journey or what philosophy or theology they embrace.  My purpose here is to simply help people  reflect on, and have a stake in how they choose to observe the ordinary things in this world because it matters more than you may realize.  The many Christian and other spiritual images I use serve to illustrate what I have learned, and they just seem to make a lot of sense to me.  More than anything, it is faith that God is behind me at all times that gives me the strength of this conviction: All things, are indeed possible.

Let me say this: the connections I’ve made based on how I observe the world have led me to new ideas which have resulted in becoming an effective force for change (or a force to be reckoned with depending on the day).  Simply put, I found that most of the materials necessary to live out the movie in my head and the answers to my life’s questions came wrapped in ordinary brown paper, free for the taking.   As much fun as it is to believe that a secret society, centuries ago, has buried the secret to happiness in countless riddles all over the globe, the truth is that it has been right in front of us all along.

The key lies in how to observe the ordinary: using ones own cosmic imagination to see everyday raw materials as essential ingredients in creating something greater, to achieve ones dream.  I may just be stating the obvious, but I’m amazed at how many people don’t even begin to use the simple things that are right in front of them.  They look, but do not really see.  The growing sense of fear and despair in the world is all the proof that I need to bring a message of hope.  Observing the world as one that is evolving into greatness shapes the very way one moves and creates in it.   This is not just another take on “attitude is everything.”  When I use the word “observation,” I’m not speaking about a passive action, rather, one that is the root of all creation and growth.  I, in my ordinary-ness, am as essential a factor in the world’s equation for success as any president or king, because my observations are unique to me alone.  And because they are unique to me alone, they can be the exact ingredient necessary for my greatness somewhere else.

Another observation I’ve made is that too many people want to bypass the middle of any process.  We live in a day and age where the easiest route is always the best route, regardless of the cost.  Having status is far more important than the process by which one attains it.  What happens when one is given something too easily, without the opportunity to earn it?  In an age where technology has made all our lives so much easier, perhaps we have lost the motivation to work hard…for anything.  That may be a hard bit to swallow, but there is evidence out there to prove my point.  I find the amount of money that goes into gambling and lottery pots around the world staggering.  It is certainly more than the GNP of many third world countries in the world.  What really is the end result for bypassing the middle where all the hard work is and jumping to the end?  I think part of the reason that we want to bypass the middle is that there is a subtle underlying message today that tempts us into believing that life shouldn’t be hard, that there are ways to bypass any difficulty and that if you can’t fix it within a moment’s time, throw it away and buy something better.  Sadly enough, there are more than enough individuals out there who have, to put it bluntly, just stopped moving period, forcing the rest of us to find our way around them.

I would also venture to say that most people out there have, at times, considered themselves to be inconsequential when it comes to making an impact on the world. They don’t see themselves as an essential element in something much greater.  It is this belief that has created the grey cloud that is obstructing clear sight.  I am here to say this: the roots of colossal change lie in the smallest and simplest things which often go unnoticed by the naked eye.  When you bypass the middle of any process, you miss all the important stuff.  It is the mustard seed approach that Jesus spoke about: taking something small and seemingly insignificant and learning to have faith in its potential, to put forth the effort to nurture it and see its place in the distant future, far after it has left my circle of influence.  Like the beauty of our DNA’s double helix, every single element is essential in creating the blueprint that becomes a human being.  It is the compilation of many different elements that expresses our potential.  Why not look at our human family the same way?

Being in the middle of a process can also be, at times, tedious, hard work, full of uncertainty, and time-consuming.  It also demands a great deal of humility and faith in the work being done and the process as a whole.  It is my hope to give credit and encouragement to anyone in that middle place, where the effort is not glamorous, but is no less essential than finishing the job.  All of us, at one time or another has had the tedious job of passing a bucket.  Columbus may have been credited for discovering America, but when it came to the discovery of chocolate he was just a middle man