A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.
After Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for freeing a girl of a demon, the jailer was converted when after fervent prayer an earthquake felled the walls of the jail, but they refused escape to protect the jailer. Overwhelmed, he asked what he needed to do to be saved, they told him of Jesus, witnessed and baptized his whole family and he bathed and addressed their wounds. After refusing to leave quietly, because they were falsely detained without trial as Roman citizens, they walked proudly out the front door and went directly back to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers and then left.
It took me a long while in my study and ministry to understand the power and gift of Lydia. Imagine the difficulty of traveling all these territories spreading the gospel. Foreign places full of strangers with nothing really to travel with. Those few lines in Acts bring it home. She offered them a safe haven, a generous hospitality that enabled them to face hardship, yet continue their ministry. I wrote a paper about Lydia in graduate school, using her simple, yet powerful gesture as an example of environmental leadership. What Paul and his entourage did was extremely difficult, and because of people like Lydia, they could stop, refuel, take a moment to regenerate to begin the journey anew.
I never underestimate the power of hospitality, especially in terms of leadership…because being a good leader is hard. But when welcomed in and nurtured in a safe haven, they can become their best selves, and that in and of itself can be the the greatest gift to the world, bringing out our best selves to build the Kingdom of God. Face it, the world can be a scary place and we as individuals and faith communities can be a powerful source of love and safety for those on their life’s difficult journey. Never underestimate the power of hospitality, even if it means just sitting next to someone who appears afraid, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or oppressed. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but compounded together these simple gestures can be beautifully transforming. Go ahead, be Lydia.
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.
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.
First, excuse my absence…I came down with a horrible influenza that seems to have afflicted pretty much everyone I know in one shape or form. I am on the mend, and see now that my absence has been fortuitous in completing this series. Much has happened over the last few weeks that I don’t think any of us could have predicted, except to say that there is an eerie prescient quality to much of what I’ve written over the last year or so.
So let me begin here: we are falling like many great civilizations have done before. The words of George Santayana keep ringing in my head: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” There are certain qualities that most failed empires seemed to fall victim to: 1) decline of education, 2) increase in materialism, 3) devaluing human life, 4) immorality, 5) decay of religion, 6) loss of respect for traditions, 7) a general weakening of cultural foundations, 8) polarization of the classes. I know there are many more…but for the sake of brevity, let’s focus on these. How does a empire go from a great height to an immeasurable fall? To speak simply…hedonism.
Before you think I’m going all Puritan, I’m not. The philosophy of hedonism is rooted in pleasure as its primary goal. Please also note that I am not talking about happiness, which is a primary right/goal of each individual in America. Happiness and pleasure are not even close to being the same thing. Any truly civilized and moral and happy person should know this. Look to what lengths people strive for that pleasure high, whether it is sex, drugs, money, power, control, beauty, fame etc. it will never leave you satisfied or happy, but just wanting more. And wanting more at the exclusion of everyone else is part of the reason that we are in the place that we are in.
Greed with no consequence will widen the gap between those who have and those who don’t. The ones who have, create ways to justify why those who don’t have aren’t entitled to have what they have, and the ones who don’t have try desperately to become one of those who have so they can be on the right side of the wall (pun intended). And now we have plenty of charlatans who are promising that they will be the one to get us to the promise land…except they have no idea what or where that is.
I call forth the warning that Jesus gave to the rich young man who wanted eternal life:
sell all you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me. And the rich man went away sad for he had many possessions. Jesus then said to his disciples, “Amen I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to get into the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God”
I think the insatiable sense of want is what kept the rich man clinging to his possessions. I don’t think Jesus wanted him to be poor, I think he understood that wanting riches more than the Kingdom of God was an insurmountable obstacle. He said that we can’t serve two masters…it was either God or money. While I truly believe there is enough abundance for all people in this country, I would also venture to say that I am in the minority here. As long as the vast population truly believes that there are those in the population don’t deserve it, we will be lost.
If you truly believe that all of us have the same right to pursue life, liberty and happiness then it means that rich and poor alike have to continue to support that effort. It is that effort that has to take precedence over pleasure right now. The word pursue is of essential importance. It doesn’t mean that we are entitled to those things at any cost, you have to work for them. Remember the parable of the tithes and making the most with what you’re given. If you sit idle and do nothing it will be taken from you. If you work with the gifts you have more will be given to you. But Jesus also cautioned us to not be so judgmental to the wealthy, remember the story of Zacchaeus. Once he learned to put God over money, Jesus refused to condemn him. The important thing is to dismantle those obstacles that keep any American from pursuing their dreams.
The basic formula for keeping America as a civilization from falling is to refurbish the structures the founders put in place to offer every citizen the opportunity to pursue their dreams, and that means even the people that you don’t like (from Wallstreet to Mainstreet). The checks and balances were put there for a reason, and those we elect have to abide by them whether or not they want to or always agree. We have to shore up those elements that define the fall of a great civilizations past which are: education, respect for tradition, valuing all human life, strengthening culture, and a morality that isn’t rooted in traditional religious structures (which have also suffered from decay). The road will be full of clashes, the founders knew that too. But it is a road we must walk together if we truly want America the great civilization it can be. It is up to leadership to lead the many and not the few.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” Jesus
“Truth never hurts the teller” Robert Browning
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” Flannery O’Connor
“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion” Edward Abbey
“The truth hurts. Maybe not as much as jumping on a bicycle with the seat missing, but it hurts” Leslie Nielsen, Naked Gun 2 1/2
Truth is a tough thing to talk about. So much of it weighs on our life experience and perspective. But our country was founded on certain truths, if maintained, should guarantee our success and survival. Simply stated they are, 1) That all persons are created equal, 2) and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So lets just start there.
The word unalienable means impossible to give up or take away. So it is a truth, one not only that should be self evident, but IMPOSSIBLE to take away. Unless and until this fundamental tenet becomes central to any presidential discussion, everything else is a lie. Because a qualified presidential candidate has to understand that they will represent every individual in this country, whose pursuits for happiness must weigh into the whole. A qualified presidential candidate cannot deride or devalue or demonize any citizen so as to diminish the truth of their right to happiness to seem alienable. It goes against everything the founders dreamed of for our country. A qualified presidential candidate should know that this may not sit well with a large part of the citizenry who only want what they want, and care not for the needs of others. But a qualified candidate should be better than those who live with blinders on…that’s what a true leader does, fight for the truth even when it isn’t popular.
The truths we face today are often cruel. Our planet is suffering for lack of sufficient care. Violence is escalating in the world. People are starving and illness is epidemic. Fear reigns where level heads should prevail. A qualified candidate must face these truths head on knowing that any answer won’t appease everyone, and may anger more than a few. A qualified candidate won’t be daunted by this because they know that it is the central job of the chief executive of this country to first and foremost protect those unalienable rights, which in this time of grave crisis will demand sacrifices from all of us. A qualified candidate won’t base their campaign on pointing the finger and placing blame. A qualified candidate should never rely on the love of the masses, only that they love the masses enough to do what is necessary.
Saying something is true over and over will never make it true. A qualified candidate won’t state lies as truths and truths as lies to fit their agenda. Nothing stirs up the masses and creates a mob faster than a lie that is presented as the truth. It is our responsibility as citizens to check the statements that are made before we tie any emotion to them. There has been so much turmoil as a result of an irresponsible electorate. While I hope any candidate would base their platform on the truth, I certainly don’t expect it anymore. The responsibility of jumping on a platform is my own, and I can chose the route of a fool, or do my due diligence and find the truth first. Inevitably, I am the one responsible for standing with those who will better fight for truth or live in a lie.
Most importantly is that fact that while the truth may often hurt, it is the one thing that will save us. A qualified candidate should radiate that with all their being, then there is no cause for fear because they will inspire the confidence necessary to face whatever is coming. So look at the candidates out there and ask yourself if they are qualified to fight for those truths that define our nation. If not, we face an even sadder truth.
Seeking Clarity, my commitment in 2016, sometimes means facing the ugliness out there in the world that I’d really rather avoid. I’m not talking about the horrors of humanity that seem to run consistently throughout history: racism, violent crime, plagues, war, etc. With regard to those big evils, I already know I am exceptionally lucky to be in the shoes I’m in. I think there are far more subtle and pervasive evils out there, quietly embedding themselves in our national psyche like a parasitic disease, a cancer that slowly decays all that is good, robust and healthy about our country. The little evils are the ones I tend to close my eyes to, they just make me tired. Except clarity demands I open my eyes. Once recognized, the remedies just have to be simpler than facing a war or plague…right? Not so much, because sometimes the smaller the evil, the easier it is to ignore. So I am sincerely embracing the belief that if we face the evils with a lower case “e” then ones with a capital “E” don’t have a chance. The first smaller evil of the day is the lack of civil discourse that exists with discussing the politics of the day.
I was on social media the other day and did something that I rarely do. I hit some of the extreme news stories links that people put up, from far left and right media and read the comments at the end of the articles. Disturbing is putting it mildly, but like gawking at an accident it was hard to look away. The level of insulting and invective comments were unbelievable, my jaw dropped a few times, and I get this choking kind of feeling when I feel someone is really being offensive and unreasonable. I even wanted to cyber punch a few. Of course you could say that “those” kind of people don’t represent the norm of the American people but I also hear it every day from the mouths of otherwise good and kind people. Hot bed issues or not, it creates a cloudy mess where truth can barely breath. Being an obsessive fact checker, I find more times than not, absolutely no truth to the big lies that are the root of so much of the angst that is circulating. Not that there isn’t bad shit going on in the world, its just that people aren’t really paying attention to the stuff they should really have some angst about.
So much of the rhetoric that gets spewed is often out of context and spun to defame one person and glorify another. Even when there is truth to an argument, it is almost always blown way out of proportion or presented as an either or situation. I get it, passion drives much of the debate. But life is messy, and all people are flawed. Everyone of us comes from a different set of personal facts so our perspectives are all different, we simply can’t expect a leader will only address the kinds of issues that appeal to one party. We are a country of diversity. And while all of us want different things, we all want those basic freedoms our country is founded upon. Those tenets are why a civil discourse is so important. I have been the victim of a virtual beat down for simply asking a question, or pointing out an inaccuracy and it sucks. I am no less an American because I may disagree with someone. But it really feels like no one ever wants to hear that the information that feeds all the vitriol isn’t accurate. I guess it is so much more fun to believe in what ever you want regardless of facts or anyone else’s perspective.
Civil discourse is essential to a country as diverse as ours. We will fall apart without it.
While this quote of Aristotle always inspired me whenever I felt overwhelmed or alone, frustrated with my own limitations and inadequacies…it also rendered me dissatisfied and disillusioned in my quest to be a member of that one great whole, or team that I could latch onto and add my small part to a much greater and more powerful transformation. While I’ve been a party to many groups in my lifetime, with the pledge to add my part to build something greater, also came the disappointment that comes with recognizing even the whole itself is horribly fallible. When the big picture starts to be a reflection of the the flaws of its smaller parts at a greater rate than the many gifts that are present…then its time to pick a new team.
In choosing clarity as my focus for the year, sometimes it means that we look at those groups that we are but a small part of. It is never easy, trying to be objective about a group that you’ve committed to, at least in theory, and asking these questions: Is the whole, the group that I’m part of really greater than its parts? Is it pulling the best of the many into an even better whole? Does it reflect the best of me? If you don’t like the answers to any of these questions, then it may be important to step away and reject the whole, in favor of just a solitary part. If the whole doesn’t embrace the best parts of me…even with all my flaws, its’ time to step away.
I could remain vague, but I don’t think that would fall in line with my commitment to clarity, and would leave you confused. So I say this: While my commitment to be an active part of the Body of Christ is as strong as it has ever been, I am leery of the the body that calls itself church as the primary means to create and keep the body of Christ functioning. Oh yeah, I said it. Remember, I am making this claim. While I do see progress in the name of building the Body of Christ all over the world, the progress lies in the small parts and not the whole. I can give you a ton of individual anecdotes about people doing wonderful things…But when it comes to the whole? whew, those “bodies” are too much a reflection of people who look alike, think alike, and talk alike about what the rest of the world needs to do to be more like them, and what the “real” church has to look like.
So I call bullshit. If we are to really be a church, an expression of the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God….then it has to reflect all of us, even the lesser parts (which will look different to every individual part who thinks they are so much more important, enlightened, and blessed than everyone else). It includes the wealthy and the poor, men and women, all ethnic groups and gender expressions, idiots and geniuses, the strong and the weak, the courageous and afraid, liberals and conservatives etc., etc. Because truthfully? All of us are fallible and fragile on our own. All of us need God, and not in all the same way. We do need each other to move ahead. But we need to use our best selves and allow others to be their best selves to do it. The Gospels are full of ways to be our best selves…when was the last time you walked in someone else’s shoes, not judged, gave out of need instead of excess, sold all you had, visited someone in prison, danced naked before the Lord..(ok, that last one is my favorite…you really should try it sometimes, it makes the other stuff so much easier to do).
And so comes the how. It is by God’s grace, and Christ’s essential commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. It may be messy. It may be hard. But it is what is required of us.
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.
When I look forward to 2016, embracing an unhindered path free from the past, I want clarity of mind more than anything. The one thing about moving forward without baggage is that I am far more leery of grabbing onto anything that will weigh me down. At this point, the beliefs I carry with me are no strain; I take Jesus as his word when he says my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I am to love others as he loves me. Grace has filled all my empty nooks and crannies, so that love should be easy too. Except when its not.
So clarity of mind is what I pray for. I want the ability to see through all the rancor and the guile, and see the goodness in each moment. I want to push through layer after layer of subterfuge that buries the truth beneath power and attempts to beautify the evil that lies at the center of so many of today’s problems that would poison us against each other instead of becoming the body of Christ we were meant to be. I pray for the kind of ears to hear and eyes to see that Jesus spoke about and allow no one, regardless of how rich and tempting, to deceive my eyes and ears otherwise.
So, clarity of mind is what I ask for. For then I can wield the power of love as God’s greatest weapon against the growing darkness in the world.
After Jesus faced and withstood the temptation by the devil in the desert, he was ready for ministry. He called his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John and set forth preaching and healing the sick and the lame. His fame grew. When he saw the crowds following him, he went to the top of the mountain and started teaching them. He began one of the greatest sermons of all time: the sermon on the mount. Beginning with the beatitudes, or blessings of supreme happiness, he laid down promises to those who would submit to a moral conduct in conformity to God’s will. He lists those necessary attitudes that will result in heavenly blessings: poor in spirit, which refers to those who don’t rely on worldly possessions, but on God: those who mourn, which refers to those who genuinely feel loss, the meek, or humble, those who hunger for righteousness: those who are clean of heart (nothing to hide): peacemakers: and especially those who have the fortitude to stand firm in the face of persecution for righteousness and for all that Jesus stands for. Only when these internal qualities are embraced can a disciple move onto the kind of outward behavior that is expected. He akins those behaviors to being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If salt goes flat or the light hidden, they are of absolutely no use whatsoever.
What follows the promise of these blessings of supreme happiness is the adamance that Jesus did not come to abolish the law or quash the prophets. He honed and perfected the expected and often extended behaviors of the ten commandments, which on its face appear to demand an almost super human and impossible fortitude. Do not kill isn’t enough, you are subject to judgment even if you are angry with your brother or sister, so make sure that reconciliation comes before worship. He understood the mindset to kill, festers over time, so nip it in the bud so it cannot grow to such evil proportions. He ups the ante on adultery as well, and includes lustful thoughts, which is an inevitable mind-set that always comes before the actual sin. He challenges those writs of divorce which basically allowed men to throw away their wives for any reason and goes on to say that they will force their wives to commit adultery and any other woman they choose to marry afterwards. He concludes with commanding them to not make false oaths. Say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no.
Only when we understand the moral code of God, and the internal fortitude necessary to be a true disciple, does he then venture onto what will distinguish his disciples from any other. A true disciple must offer no resistance to evil, when slapped turn the other cheek, when asked for a tunic, give your cloak as well, when asked to go a mile in service go two, to give to those who ask of you…and the most challenging of all; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. With out the necessary attitudes, the above actions would seem almost cowardly, a person who is a pushover. But to one who embraces the prescribed characteristics listed above, one can only see the strength of God breathing through and pure defiance of evil which cannot thrive in the midst of love. Remember what Jesus learned in the desert; One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God; Don’t put God to the test; The Lord your God shall you worship and to him alone shall you serve. And since we all know that God is love,it is love that we worship serve through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus knew what he was doing. He understood the difficulty of the behavior he was expecting, which is why he started with the blessings first. The road to the Kingdom is clear, submission to the code is non-negotiable. Somehow we have forgotten these essentials and why there is definitely not a lot of supreme happiness out there in the world today. We have the power to change that. Here is my challenge, do the leaders who stand before us in the world have the attitudes necessary and the internal fortitude that are prescribed to be his disciple? Can they love even in the presence of evil? If they claim to be Christian and yet do not exert these expected behaviors, then like salt that has gone flat, or a light hidden, they are nothing and are to be avoided as clearly as Jesus avoided temptation in the desert.
The 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.