My husband was in a terrible accident that has put us on an unexpected path. Luckily, he will recover, and as much as I am thankful for that, the path ahead looks steep and uphill. Contemplating the changes, I was reminded of a song I heard on my way to the Soviet Union in 1984 by Nik Kershaw called “Wouldn’t it be good.” It’s a song that expressed an individual’s desire to step into another’s shoes, whom he thinks has it easy as he is worn out by his own life, only to have the response in return: “you don’t know how good you have it, stay out of my shoes”. I always remember that song because at that time, I had assumed that I was so lucky and communists were not. I was wrong. Wishing you were anywhere else but your own shoes isn’t helpful. While this new road brings apprehension…God, the universe abhors a vacuum. Our gifts will have a new outlet.
We have people who love us…that is what matters. In the face of all his injuries, Steve found out his roommate from Chiropractic college, whom he just spoke to right after his accident, who was recovering himself from heart surgery they were both talking about career and life changes, passed away this morning. The shock of it is more than close. A reminder to cherish every moment.
There is a purity and sacredness as a life begins to ebb, the veil thins and the hint of what is to come becomes more palpable. While the biological mechanism that holds our soul begins to weaken and wear out, the soul in its beauty begins to shine through. While I fully realize that in this day and troubled age, many times the body that harbors someone’s soul is ripped apart too quickly, by violence and the harsh realities that come with human free will, there are those who, after a full and breathtakingly ordinary and beautiful life, sustain my belief that love is still the author of this play called life, and because of the tether we have to a gracious God, nothing will still it.
I think we sometimes forget the subtle and sustained moments of love that often go unrecognized in the day to day. It is like a favorite smell, song, or the warmth of the sun that bring a sigh, a moment of relief or happiness that Fill in the negative spaces and keep us moving forward. I am amazed to hear the stories my mother-in-law Rayola tells, each one a reflection of simple moments that wouldn’t seem to amount to much in the full span of a life, but are coming back to her with great clarity as her life begins to wane and the effect they had on her and her life’s journey. It gives me respect for the moments I often disregard as meaningless or less than impactful, when, in reality, they take root deep in our personal psyche and ripple outward inspiring other simple gestures of kindness and love toward even more people.
I see the ripple effect everywhere in this woman’s life…the circles of kindness, acceptance, and unconditional love that wave outward into the world making their impact heartily and consciously felt. I know there are many moments that may be unconsciously felt or recognized by the person receiving the benefit (as I am one such recipient), but they are powerful nonetheless. I want to remember the beauty in the waning of life, like the colors of a sunset or beauty of the first star of the night…like a hint of all the beauty and the glory to come. Love doesn’t need a trumpet or neon flash or pageantry. Love is the all, the beauty of a background and the whisper of God in our ears, just like my mother in law. Today I celebrate the indomitable spirit of those subtle but powerful moments of love.
I didn’t want to write today. I just didn’t. But then “want” doesn’t really seem to be part of my training this year. Facing difficult subjects head on is what is required, so here goes. Life is sacred. It’s the reason that I’m on this journey and is the reason that I’m training to wield love in a world that is full of fear and hate, and more and more appears to be demonstrably against the sacredness of life. I’m not talking about abortion, because I don’t believe the movement is really concerned about the sacredness of life at all, because you can’t make someone appreciate life’s sacred quality by enacting a law. I happen to know that there are many individuals out there who feel all life is sacred on both sides of this issue. This “movement” is about control. This movement is about judgement. This movement is about power. I know those last statements will strike the solar plexus of many, but just bear with me for a moment.
I keep focusing on the words of Jesus when he instructed his disciples to love one another in a way that even the least of us deserve. While it is easy to feel charged up to fight for the unborn, there is no reciprocal fight for those that already exist on this planet. The reason, I would wage, is because the movement isn’t about love and the sacredness of life…it is about control, and regulating a woman’s body under the auspices of “saving a live.” If the movement were about the sacredness of life, then it would also be dedicated to saving life in those that are already born in every corner of the world suffering greatly. But I guess once that first breath is taken they are somebody else’s problem. Scripture challenges us in this:
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. 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. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love their brother or sister
So, then, what is to be done about the sacredness of life? If the end result means to have us all understand and appreciate the sacredness of life, then it certainly isn’t by denying a women’s choice to arrive at that conclusion on her own. I have known women who have had abortions BECAUSE they believe that the fetus they carried was sacred and would do anything to fight for life, including the choice to end it. And yet I’ve known women who just didn’t want to bring a life into the world…and while my personal choice may have have been different, it was MY personal choice and conscience that I followed. Follow the commands of Christ…that we love our neighbors as ourselves and that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters you do unto Christ who saved us. I think that looks more like reaching out in other ways besides allowing the government to force its will upon women. I know there are many who disagree with me on this issue, as to be expected…we all have the freedom to hold our own beliefs, I get that. But please, do not think for one minute that its because you hold life more sacred than I do, or anyone else who may disagree with you…because you would be wrong.
So wielding love for me in this situation? It means listening to women’s stories and seeing what a grave and complicated issue this is. It means really looking at the least among us and seeing sacredness in them. It means loving and not punishing…like Georgia’s law does. It means looking around and seeing that all life is sacred, and like the story of the Good Samaritan when Jesus asked a scholar of the law listening to the parable what loving our neighbor looked like “he said the one who treated the Samaritan with mercy…and Jesus said: “go and do likewise.” We don’t force people to believe in God, they need to get there on their own…we shouldn’t force women to make a choice they don’t have a say in either. Wielding love could help us all understand the sacredness of life.
Today, I celebrate the anniversary of the day I arrived on this planet. Today I feel joy because: I am surrounded by a loving family, I am empowered by a loving God, I choose love as my focus and energy, and I embrace truth. justice and the American way 🙂 So here goes…
I pray you be kind in thought, word and deed…the world is in desperate need of your kindness, make it your superpower.
I pray for you to stand for truth in all that you do, especially when it may appear to be against your own interest, watch how it can transform that moment. In truth there is always greater freedom. Lies deteriorate God’s Kingdom in this world and we have the power to stop it.
I pray you come to realize how important you are to the fabric of this world. Your golden thread holds many other threads in place to show and become an even greater beauty. Never underestimate God’s blueprint, every thread is counted.
I pray that you release fear in your life. It is a source of animosity and judgment, and inhibits your ability to be all that God intends for you to be. Find comfort in knowing that when God is for you, nothing will come between you and God’s power.
I pray your eyes are open to the wonder of God’s creation and that you can take precious moments to let the beauty of our world sink in and nourish your soul and in so doing you recognize your own beauty.
I pray you see clearly the impact you have on those around you and that your love, hope, faith, kindness and truth do influence and affect them. I pray that you’re open to receiving the same from them. I know sometimes its easier to give all those things out than receive them.
I pray that you can ask for forgiveness as well as forgive others for any intended or unintended hurts. Most importantly I pray that you forgive yourself. We are all imperfect and our journey on this earth isn’t about being perfect but growth.
I pray that you find happiness and contentment in all you do, and if what you do doesn’t make you happy, I pray for the strength to find what does and do that.
I pray that you find a way to laugh everyday, it will do your brain good!
I pray that this next year we all find ways to rise above all the negativity and work together to build the Kingdom of God. And I pray we remember every day that all things are possible through God
We love, because we were loved first. This is my foundation, my starting point for everything. I would not be me without this truth at my core. This axiom directs everything I do, and sustains all my hope in dark times. It took the vast majority of my focus and energy as I moved forward in my faith life as a young girl and woman to wrap my head around this central truth of Christianity: I am loved by an omniscient God, who is the source of all things…me, and by the sacrifice of Christ I have eternal life. Scripture says that we are born anew, we become infinitely more. The struggle of my lifetime is in the manifestation of and how the world expresses love. How do I stand out as the recipient of supranatural love? There are these verses that have helped guide me on my journey:
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. 1John: 18,19
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. John 3:16
Historically, I think Christianity has forgotten that the core of our faith isn’t the accumulation of power and wealth, dogma, edicts or an exclusive club that closes off the power of that love and sacrifice to other faiths. It isn’t about structure or rules. The core of how we express our faith is in Jesus last command to his disciples: “They will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.” John 13;35. Sadly, I would say that after all this time we have failed in that regard.
The truth about love, is that we have let human frailty, human insecurity, our fears, injuries and judgments, redefine what love is. As a society we seem to have decided that love must look a certain way, must be earned, or extended to only a privileged few, and that is the biggest of all lies. In truth it is the exact opposite. What we know about love is that:
it is patient.
it is kind.
it is not jealous.
it is not pompous.
it is not inflated.
it is not rude.
it does not seek its own interest.
it is not quick tempered.
it does not brood over injury.
it does not rejoice over wrongdoings.
it rejoices in the truth.
it bears all things.
it believes all things.
it hopes all things
it endures all things
Love never fails.
That is what love looks like. It never says that it only for the beautiful or the young. It never says anything about being sexy or hearts or being soft or frilly. It is a force as stern as death (Song of Solomon) it’s free to everyone, there is no shortage because its infinite source is what we attest to believe in…God. While love may move our expressions, it is not defined by them. Love is so much bigger than our expression of it. Like music, its melody changes with each individual and situation. When love is the guide, it not only changes how we see the world, but how we live in it. It is only when we do that, that we will be known as Jesus’ disciples…by how we love. It never fails. Humans fail, but love never does…because God first loved us…and that is the best truth.
My stomach grows increasingly tight, often triggering my autoimmune symptoms as I move forward in my year of truth…and I’m not even half way through. “Be careful what you pray for”, is a statement that I find both disconcerting and freeing at the same time. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to move fearlessly into the future with truth as my primary weapon of choice to break down the lies and illusions that seem to be well, just everywhere…and I’m certainly not just projecting the lies that exist in the outside world because I face my own every day, I have to say, just in case you see me as some self righteous lunatic. I know it is hard to come face to face with personal truths, but as Jesus said: “how can you point out the speck in another’s eye when you can’t even see the plank in your own”. I am also aware of an intrinsic flaw in my character of being so intense about something that I can get in my own way. I hear my fathers voice daily telling me to lighten the hell up…and breathe, for God’s sake. And then say, “All will be well, and the manner of all things will be well” (Julian of Norwich) and try to move on and forward. We are all works in progress, right? So here goes…
We are surrounded by lies. There are powerful people in the world that are making it their goal to obfuscate the truth almost everywhere you turn, often to avoid being held accountable for their own actions, even if it ruins lives. And, based on a dream I had last night, we are all complicit if we don’t take every measure to verify and fact check what we are hearing every day. If you only get information from one source and use that source to bolster the unchecked rhetoric flying around out there because it validates your world view and personal bias, blame and bent (and it can come from just about everywhere, from politics, to healthcare, to education) then you are being complicit in the attack on truth. There is no justification for the willful blindness that perpetuates itself throughout the media. And yet I am astounded everyday at the next new attack on the truth and how easily people are willing to just comply with or ignore it.
Try and think of it this way…God is the truth, and in my faith, Jesus is truth as well and even died for it. So, every time you believe a lie by your complacence and not by naivete or ignorance, you act in defiance of God, and when you condemn the truth because it challenges you, you condemn yourself and you turn from God. It. Is. As. Simple. As. That. For if believing in and following some self serving myth that feeds ones basest desires is more important than working hard to find the truth of the matter at hand, then you are being complicit in those lies. What good are the moments in scripture when Jesus rails against the liars and hypocrites if none of us are willing to stand in those very same shoes as if he is railing against each of us individually? Love of God is expressed through word and deed, which is why Jesus was so hard on those in leadership positions who looked so holy on the outside but were full of evil on the inside. My original post for today was about truth and love, which will have to wait until a later date. In truth, I didn’t want the backlash of what my heart really needed to say: if you can’t stand up for truth, you don’t stand up for God. It sounded just too mean. and talking about love is much nicer…and then I had a dream:
I was in a crowd of people who were basically talking crap and spreading rumors with no questioning of their validity or factual basis. I felt I had to say something, and it was a bit lame or innocuous, like “you really shouldn’t be talking about people like that”. I left the room and then I became the one they talked about…and I lost it. I went back in the room and railed against all I know from all I’ve learned in my life and I made them answer my questions about whether what they were saying was accurate, good or kind. They said nothing and sat there stunned. I felt better.
I don’t really think deep down most of us want to be complicit in a culture of lies…but it has become too easy to do so. When life is good financially, or when a lie benefits you personally its too easy to look the other way. That is simply unacceptable. For our actions and inaction have consequences. And if you’re like me, you want to be on the right path, and never become complicit in perpetrating lies and illusions. So when I am unclear (which is a lot of the time) I always use a prayer of Thomas Merton to give me solace when I’m unclear what to believe:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone
So here’s something all humans have in common…we are all afraid of one thing or another. Here’s another thing…it’s not always clear what exactly it is that we are afraid of, and that is where truth becomes essential, otherwise, it’s difficult to control the negative behavior that fear inspires. Just google: fear as a source of negative behavior, and you’ll see what I mean. From a theologian’s perspective…fear is the antithesis of love, and will impede the work, the gifts, the power of God.
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 1 John 4:18
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” Romans 8:15
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. John 14:27
Truth, is the armament of love.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And truth will keep fear at bay…but not if we don’t face it, accept that we have it, and work to overcome it. At the core of Christianity is the belief that on our own, salvation is impossible, but with God, ALL things are possible. My struggle in my over inquisitive mind is this: If this is true, then after all this time, where is the ALL possible? What are we, as Christians, doing wrong? While the answer to that question is demonstrably huge and complicated, I keep coming back to fear and behavior. When we let fear dictate the course of our actions and behavior, we do not act in accordance with the belief that in God we can do all things. It is a direct affront against that basic tenet. And well, that sucks because I come face to face with fear every day. Questions like: Am I enough, Did I do that right, Was that unkind, should I do more…the list is endless. When I am truthful about my fears, however, and ask God to help me overcome them…the power of that fear fades. More importantly, when I face the consequences of fear based behavior, I become even more determined to not let that behavior dictate future decisions…because those decisions have never taken me to a better place, ever.
I will also say this: pretending that we are not afraid, or pretending that fear is justified gives it strength over our future behavior. And if we can’t handle personal fears and the behavior it inspires, there is no hope that we can conquer fear on a larger level. I just don’t think its possible. And I don’t mean any of this in the way of chastisement, not at all. It should be a source of great comfort to know that nothing will stand in the way of God’s love for us and any and all the fears out in the world. It should cause a huge wave of relief.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid?
Here’s the thing about truth, at its core, it is consistent, as in it is consistently evolving. When someone comes to know something, based on experience, information, or revelation, it remains true until altered or changed by a greater truth. Sometimes it’s simply seeing a new facet to, or an expansion of a truth long held, and sometimes because of insufficient knowledge or faulty logic a truth is exposed as a fallacy. The truth that has been expanded by greater understanding should still remain consistent at its core, because we are the change agent and not the truth itself. As you evolve, your life should change in accordance to greater knowledge and understanding, that is what Paul, in 1 Corinthians, meant when he said that when he was a child he thought, reasoned, and talked like a child, but when he became an adult he put childish things aside. Holding on to to an idea, or truth and refusing to allow it to be challenged or tested by time and maturity is not being consistent, it’s just being childish.
I feel the same way about the truth of my faith. My father always taught me that our faith always evolves, and in order to grow theologically I had to be willing to put presently held truths to the challenge and to test them. The hard part was to be willing to put them aside after they fell short:
To me theology is a process of change which goes on continually in a life time. One must continually grow by learning new things, theologically. As you learn more, your life changes in accordance. Everything you learn, in turn, must be challenged and tested. This is how you arrive at growth, or truth. I do not judge how others believe because ultimately we are responsible for our own Christian lives and we must act according to what we know to be the Truth at the time. Over a time we may prove to be wrong but only because we had insufficient knowledge or our logic was faulty. There is always so much we don’t know but we have to have faith that somehow God will reveal to us how right or wrong we are, and that way we grow.
I have always held onto his words, and the words of the scripture passage mentioned above so I wouldn’t stand too rigidly on any one thing, with one exception. What creates an evermore solid foundation for the truth of my faith, however, is that as I’ve evolved there may be inconsistency in my ability to live out truth I’ve grown in to, whether it is because of fear, public scrutiny, confusion and a host of other factors, but there is not and has never been an ounce of inconsistency in the truth that is the foundation of my faith in God. While theologically my faith has evolved to a wonderful kaleidoscope of color, it is rooted in one thing: love. No amount of evolution has changed that. The words of the Bible, particularly the Gospels, are even clearer and more nuanced then ever before, strengthening my resolve and commitment. Not one word has ever failed a challenge or a test because there was always a greater revelation of what love means that came as a result.
So when the world becomes confusing and its hard to decipher what is true, I choose from the most basic tenets of my faith:
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. 1 John 4:20
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:16-22
No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24
That which you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me. Matthew 25:40.
So really, it isn’t about a political ideology at all…but more behavioral. It isn’t too hard to recognize when someone thinks and reasons and behaves like a child. Name calling, becoming immovable, willful ignorance and rapier like judgement, and most importantly actions that are not based in love, are not being consistent with truth, ever. And as for those of faith who throw scripture at someone as a weapon or means to stop another’s perspective? Well, the devil can quote scripture too.
Don’t worry, I’m not going all horror story, but I do think the biggest block to recognizing truth are our own personal demons, deep seeded fears, and dark secrets that we keep putting layer upon layer of subterfuge on so we don’t have to deal with their often painful realities. I consider myself lucky in this regard because over the last three years I have ripped off enough of that subterfuge, like ripping off a band aid, to warrant a transfusion. I am proud of all the work I did recognizing and coming face to face with myself, both flawed which I was already good at noticing and unrecognized beauty which I often never saw at all. In hindsight, I’m glad that there seemed to be a plan from above because I’m not sure if I could have withstood it all in one fell swoop. And no, there will be no details. We all get to deal with our own demons, and keep them private from those who care more to relish in others discomfort than face their own…I’ve learned that the hard way too. I think God has always understood that my deepest desire was to use my talents to the best of my ability and so put me on a path to do just that. The blessing about God being the only omniscient one in our relationship is that if I would have had that kind of foresight, I’m not sure I ever would have taken the journey.
In learning to see myself, and love her…I’ve learned to be more accommodating and accepting of others. That last statement seemed so silly and obvious when I wrote it…and I’ve heard it in a million ways at a million different times. The difference lies in taking it out of the conceptual level and really do it in practice every day. On my most difficult days along this journey, the anger I felt toward (excuse the expletives) every mother f***ing person who deceived, lied, hurt, ignored, talked about, underestimated, or didn’t see, me was as much a result of my own sadness at my place in the center of it all. I know the ones closest to me felt much of that wrath, and I am sorry for it. And still, I am fine with who I am at the center of my world today because I finally see and understand, (through my family, whom I love) at my deepest core I know that I am a good person, who only wants to do good in this world. I am honest, spiritual, and exceptionally powerful in my own way. And I know my power comes from this simple belief: When God is for me who can be against me. When this unbounded love, (God and love are the same thing for me) flows in, around and through me, I am the truest version of me, and the most powerful.
So, for truth to mean anything at all, one must look at oneself first. Uncover what you’ve been hiding all this time, see it, own it and only then can healing happen. More probably you’ll see just as much beauty too…and that is God’s best truth. Then, and only then can you learn to also see the world for what it truly is, and go from there.
I was reading a story in Genesis when the Lord has already decided that Abraham was to be the source of a great nation, and as he walks with him to check out the gravity of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, concerned of the imminent destruction of the two cities, wonders out loud to God and asks would he wipe away the innocent with the guilty. “what if there were 50 innocent people, would you wipe away the place rather than spare it for the fifty innocent?” God agrees to spare it for the sake of the 50. Abraham slowly whittles God down to only 10 people, and God agrees to spare the two cities for 10 innocents. Of course in the next story he sends angels to find the innocent, finds Lot and his wife and daughters and sends them away before God obliterates Sodom and Gomorrah…ouch.
In a time when corruption can seem so pervasive, when it appears that the good and innocent stand no chance against the evil in the world, I took up the notion to negotiate with God like my forefather Abraham did. In my prayer time, (which as an aside I actually visualize the conversation I’m having with God and am often surprised at what transpires…is it God talking? Not sure, but if I learn something I guess that’s what matters…so don’t judge) I asked God, “what of those of us who love you with all our hearts, minds and souls, and our neighbors as ourselves? Would you save this world for us or let us perish along with those who are evil?” To which God responded,
“You already have your salvation guaranteed into my kingdom, and not by your deeds but by sacrifice. As for this world, you have already been given all the necessary tools to keep this world thriving, what you do with them is entirely up to you.”
“What tools?” I asked. God responded bringing my attention to my bible which was open to the Gospels.
“It’s all there”
and then he pointed to my head and heart and replied
“and in here.”
What about all those who gather for worship? He answered gravely
“attendance at worship is for each individual, for their own sustenance…it is of no consequence to me. Love is all there is, and is the source of all that exists. It is neither restricted by doctrine or space.”
I replied, that I didn’t think the pope would be happy about that.
“Don’t underestimate my brother in Rome, he is working within a millennia of human drama. He understands that the foundation of my church resides in something far more substantial than rules and regulations.”
Not wanting to dwell on church dogma, I moved on.
So I asked him, “so what about prayer?” He pressed me further,
“What about it?”
I began to get that sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to like the answer, I responded, “when we pray to you for something why aren’t our prayers always answered?”
“I hear every one”, he replied, “but be careful, I answer in the course of things beyond your comprehension.”
I asked for greater understanding so God sighed and replied,
“I hear and answer all prayers, but not always in the way that you all want. The burden of omniscience is that I see beyond the moment into all future implications and interactions. Just because someone doesn’t get what they think they need or want in the moment doesn’t mean that I don’t love them or didn’t answer them. Alternatively, the burden of free will is that you can choose your own destiny and with that comes the consequences of choice, many of which aren’t always so obvious. Free will is a difficult concept, one can’t ask for freedom to choose their own destiny and then hide from it when it becomes something other than what they thought it would be, it gets too hard, or when they make a mess of things. Additionally, I can’t just intervene whenever I want to, I need to be invited in as part of the equation. You must choose me in that moment to become involved and trust that I can help, that I will help, and have faith in the outcome. The hardest part for my children is to let go of control, and have faith in my answer, the kind of faith that knows that even the darkest moments can be transformed into the greatest of lights. I will be always present to support, love and guide you, if that is your will. For it is my will that all my children thrive and fulfill their own destinies.”
The line about destiny spurred me on, “So what about our heavenly destiny?” To which God smiled, and said
“That is where the miracles happen. Your heavenly task is to do what I have created you to do, to use your gifts and don’t bury them and help others to do the same. Utilize all the lessons my Son gave you, take them to heart. If you do this, you can save your world many times over, all with your own personal flair and flavor.”
Worried, I asked, ‘What about those who choose evil instead?”
“I am the author of this play, My Son has already secured the ending. With free will, choice is always present. The balance may shift from time to time, but fear is fleeting and always offers an opportunity for champions of the light, remember, I know how the story ends, because I created you, I am your source, your home and your heart. That is why I say to you that my yoke is easy, my burden is light”
I suddenly felt sad, worried that I haven’t done enough with the gifts I’ve been given because I do feel worry and burdened a lot these days. He then got serious for a moment and said,
“And your heavenly task has nothing to do with a church, a philosophy, a country or a tribe. You asked me to open your eyes, and ears and so I did. You asked me for clarity and I gave it to you. Your path will be perfect and will lead you where you need to go not only because of your faith in me, but in yourself. No building or structure, occupation, job or livelihood will ever define or direct your destiny because it is who you are that is your gift, and everything that you do that is your destiny. Don’t complicate it dear child…I will guide you where you need to go, if you ask me to and I promise to hold your hand the whole time.”
I shook my head yes and took God’s hand and away we went.
Last night I went to my 40 year high school reunion…I know, right? It seems impossible to remember what it was like during those years so many decades ago, and the hundreds of people that crossed my path on a daily basis, but then…I walked into the room and spied name tags, and it was as if those memory/feeling files awakened from a long slumber and I was back in 1977. No judgement, just happy hello’s and good conversation…for the most part. It’s hard to disregard those memories, feelings and insecurities that were so plentiful from 15-18, many of which were rooted in placing pretty much every body else above myself, as if there was a game being played and every one else got the rule book, but me. I also realized, though, that even though I felt foolish a lot of the time, I had much better taste in friends than I ever gave my younger self credit for. They were good people then, only to have evolved through life’s trials to be even better versions of themselves today. Those whom I didn’t feel worthy of back in high school I felt no need to pay heed last night either, but only in the calm and resolved maturity when it just doesn’t matter any more. And besides, there were just so many good people to reconnect with and hear about their lives. There were so many happy memories, and they are the ones to celebrate and reminisce about.
It was also interesting to hear feedback from people about how they saw you in high school. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself thinking, given all the positive statements, I wonder why I felt so tortured and alone in high school much of the time? I’m sure it’s the same for many of my cherished friends, because we just didn’t spend as much time pumping each other up as we could have, a teenage thing I suppose, the inactivity of our frontal lobes…so I will do it now. I am an accomplished and educated woman…but I wouldn’t have become the me I turned into without so many wonderful people throughout my adolescence who were there to help form and support me, even if I was too myopic to notice. I was so impressed with all the stories I listened to and shared last night. Regardless of the path that each of us took, I have a much better appreciation of who they are now. 1977 was full of good people, people who help build the foundation that is me and I really am grateful. I hope, too, that I helped build a foundation for others as well. Most importantly? Like wine, we do get better with time.
In my year of bearing good fruit, today on Father’s day, I pause and wonder and pray for those whose fruit bearing was cut short, who, by our human tendency toward violence as a problem solving tool were shut down before their purpose and gifts in this life were brought to fruition. None of us can know just how other lives could have benefited and been saved by these individuals who were prematurely cut down, whether by the hand of another, or their own hand, but the future is affected nonetheless.
This year I have committed myself to be aware of those whose talents, gifts and influence have brought me thus far. They are a multitude. I am also aware of the tentative thread that connects all of these moments and actions together. What if one essential thread had disappeared, been cut short by violence? What if those God intended to be on my path at some future date were already gone? How are the many affected by a loss of a fruit that was meant as an essential benefit to someone long ahead in the future?
In a time when everyone is arguing about who deserved what, who caused what, and who ultimately is to blame, no one, it seems to me anyway, asks the very important question about what happens when human beings decide a life isn’t worth living, or redeeming, or is worthy only as a blood sacrifice. None of us are omniscient. None can know what the impact on our future will be. Yet, we are living in violent times. I understand the logic of self defense. I have heard all of the justifications. But….none of us know the mind of God or know the opportunity for redemption that could have come. As Christians, we should a least hold that as a powerful possibility too. We are told, when God is for us, who can be against us? Maybe if we had just a little more faith in that, we wouldn’t feel the need to use violence (both in words and deeds) to solve our problems.
We must do better. We must learn to work at problem solving with less vitriol. And because of all I learned last year about clarity, I must start with myself. And it is hard work. Before I went to sleep a couple of nights ago, I prayed hard that God show me how to move forward…and I didn’t like the answer. I am a vivid dreamer, and here was my dream:
I was on a rocky hill. Jesus, or my vision of him, was sitting on rock. I went and sat next to him and asked what I must do to help the world.
He smiled and said, “I have laid everything out in the Gospel” When I asked him to be more specific, he simply said “infrastructure”
Of course I wanted clarity, so I asked, “You mean like roads, bridges, foundations and things like that?”
He responded, “yes, infrastructure of the spirit. You must make roads and bridges and create a foundation all for and to the Kingdom of God.”
Feeling overwhelmed, I asked, “but how do I do that, where do I start?”
Jesus answered, “By being a servant first and foremost”
I got worried and asked, “But haven’t I been serving you?”
He looked somber and said, “it isn’t a question of past service, but what must be done to heal the wounds that are threatening the Body of Christ. The road ahead isn’t solitary, I require the Body, full and functioning. In order to heal it you must find the wounds first, and clean and remove infection so that it can grow in strength. It isn’t pretty, or easy but it must be done.”
Of course I’m all about healing (or so I thought) “I want to help heal it, show me what I can do.”
Jesus said “No servant is greater than their master, if you want to serve me then do what I have done.”
I was all in “I will, Lord” I responded. Then he handed me a towel and walked me over to a chair with a basin. I recognized the washing of the feet scenario…not too scary, I’ve handled worse. But then Jesus greeted someone behind me, and when I turned around Donald Trump was standing in front of me. My heart sank farther that I ever thought it could. Because, this is the first and last time I’ll say this, I despise him. Please understand it has nothing to do with a political party. I despise the man. I think he’s a narcissist, mean spirited, untruthful, a misogynist, weak in character and so much more. I looked at Jesus, and he looked really sad. He guided Mr Trump to the chair and asked him to remove his shoes. Thankfully he did was he was told and didn’t speak. (I’m sure my unconscious mind wouldn’t allow it). I looked at the towel in my hand and looked at Jesus with eyes that said “Really?”
He reminded me of something my son asked when he was a little boy, “Remember what you said when Connor asked you whether there was any place in hell that the love of God couldn’t reach?”
I said, “I told him that the love of God can and does reach every place in the universe”
And then Jesus said, “Show me that its true”
I literally got down on my knees and started sobbing. I picked up Mr Trump’s foot and started washing it. I suddenly realized how horribly misshapen-ed and wounded it was. Every time I squeezed the water on it, the wounds seemed to clear up a bit. Then he disappeared and it was Jesus feet in his place. They were perfect, even with the scar of the nail, they were perfect.
He said to me, “That what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” I was devastated. I had been schooled. Then I woke up. I committed in that moment to building a spiritual infrastructure worthy of the Body of Christ.
I have no clear idea of what to do. But I will work toward keeping the fruit of the future in tact, and I hope you will too. The time has come for us as servants to find the wounds and clean them and heal them, and not just the wounds we want to heal, or just the people that we believe are worthy of it. We must call out and stand in defense against any who would harm the Body of Christ…but our weapon is not a gun, it is LOVE. LOVE that flashes brilliantly to everyone to see, as proof that God can touch everywhere in the universe. We all benefit when we see Christ in absolutely every person out there. I know the journey will be hard and complex, but this dream will be forever on my mind when I walk…for the love of God can reach anywhere.
Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.
I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.
So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.
“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
I’ve been quiet. I’ve been busy. I’ve been stretched. I’ve been focused. I have lingered on this beatitude for awhile. Mercy: I have yearned for it, received it, exercised it, celebrated it, and embraced the hope it brings. I have also, at times, stood with an aching sadness at the lack of it in the world in both small and large ways. Mercy was at the heart of my spiritual awakening and is the sustenance for my soul. And it is mercy both in its effort and absorption that keeps my house clean when I am tempted to throw it by the wayside and rage against the lies and cruelty and ignorance and ego and judgement and entitlement and fear. In desperate moments I remember Jesus in the garden sweating blood because his fear and anxiety was so deep yet was still willing to give his Godly heart for my flawed human one. My life transformed because he augmented my broken heart with his heart. And it was then that I became his fruit, a viable product of his extraordinary life and sacrifice, a means by which the power of mercy can live and stay palpable in our often sad and desperate world. When I allow his heart to be my heart, mercy is air, it is breath, it is life, it is everything.
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.
My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.
It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.
I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.
We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.
There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.
I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.
Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.
My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.
We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.
Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.
Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.
That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.
Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.
I think this will be my last post detailing my year of clarity. I feel complete, for now anyway, and want to enter into the season of light focused only on that. It seems funny that showing you the context of all my previous posts this year will be the subject of my last. I think it’s because I needed to do the journey first, before I open up my coat and share life in my shoes. Perhaps then you can understand why I believe as I do and maybe take something away that you can use on your own journey. The bottom line, is that I can never unhear, all I’ve heard; I can’t unsee all I’ve seen; and most importantly I can’t unknow all I’ve learned. I am who I am because of it.
Also, I needed to have the strength to say to those who are reading this just to be judgmental or to find fuel for your dislike, to say stop reading, or better yet, go ahead, keep reading…because I don’t give a shit anymore. I don’t wish you ill, but I certainly don’t wish you well. Harsh, it’s true. But I think I’ve spent too much time parsing words and feelings not to offend anyone, or try to be my best Solomon in all my posts. While being fair and balanced and living as a disciple of Christ is still my main objective, this election cycle has brought out the true character of many who I just won’t waste my time or breath on anymore. I embrace that is who you are, I just don’t have to listen to you anymore. Make no mistake, I am not talking about those who have a polar opinion from mine, there are still plenty of you in my posse…I’m talking about those who judge before they listen, embrace fear, refuse to look for truth, or only enough to justify their world view and those who only associate with people who are just like them. While the number I disassociate from may be few, it is something I have never done before but need to because of the impact it was having in my life. What’s funny, is I’m sure those people will never know it because they stopped really seeing or listening to me a long time ago.
No axiom, truth or ideology ever comes to me lightly, except the love of God and the call to be a disciple of Christ. While I may be a good student, I am not an easy one. I’ve pissed and moaned and thrown many a tantrum learning valuable lessons. So let me highlight just a few of those instrumental ports of call on my journey of faith. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be like one of those infernal slide shows that go on forever…just a few tidbits. Know that there are some givens: I have a great family, I’m blessed with privilege and a great deal of comfort. The experience that follows are in addition to, or in spite of.
When I was in college, I used a January term to live in a contemplative monastery in the desert of New Mexico. During my stay at Christ in the Desert, we began our day at 2:30 in the morning to pray according to the divine office of the Rule of St Benedict, an order that balances prayer and work. Without going into depth, I understand why Jesus began his ministry in the desert, in prayer and silence. It was the hardest (and not just because I wasn’t allowed to talk) and most transforming experience of my life. I fought with and conquered many internal demons over that month. It was the foundation for everything that what was to come.
The next January term, I chose to work with the United Farm workers (UFW) movement in La Paz California. There, I saw what solidarity behind a spiritual and nonviolent leader, Caesar Chavez, could do for the powerless and disenfranchised. I was also witness to racism for the first time in my life, and how protesters gallantly withstood all the horrible words and actions taken against them, all just because they desired to be treated fairly, with dignity and pride. I worked as a laborer that month, it was hard, humbling and it refined and polished me in ways I never could have predicted.
After I started working in ministry, I received the chance to travel with the National Council of Churches to then Soviet Russia. It was a terrifying, mind boggling, heart wrenching, uplifting, life transforming experience. It was during that trip at the ripe age of 24 when I saw the impact and effects of raw political power. It was there that I learned to recognize its lizard qualities that slithered and slimed their way into the world. I was no longer the naive, altruistic girl that I once was living in a global world. I went back four years later to see how it had progressed, doubting that democracy could ever work there efficiently…I was right, it couldn’t. Not that its people aren’t marvelous, they are…there were actually more Christians there than members of the communist party. Politics, though, are another story. It is also why I despise Putin so much.
Throughout my ministry, I worked with the poor and homeless, did respite for the mentally disabled, worked in a nursing home, a drug treatment center for adolescents, was part of a team who worked with modern media and the gospel message. I got to teach, write curriculum and preach the good new of Christ. It wasn’t always easy, but I learned so much and was graced with interacting with so many incredible people. I’ve worked with prisoners and laborers, met rock stars, politicians in Washington and media moguls. I’ve eaten on clay floors and dined on Italian marble. In every one of these experiences people are often the same with varying levels of brokenness. Every one of them needed love beyond the basic dignities of life.
I’ve had the pleasure of having many gay friends who have shown me great sacrifice and commitment in being able to love who their heart chooses. When I was teaching, I was blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood far beyond my pay grade when I was rented a room in a house from an incredible lesbian woman and her daughter, also gay, and who is now an incredibly powerful pastor in Minneapolis. I will attest to the beauty and strength of all my gay friends and their families and children, and am happy to have them in my life and the life of my family and children too. It is so natural and easy to love them and support them, I cannot fathom why anyone would not (which is a bit sarcastic because traditional religion is the true culprit for all the hate).
I’ve learned to understand sexual abuse, mental illness, suicide and PTSD, all first hand from students, friends and family. I’ve had to live with structural and physical maladies that have greatly altered and challenged my life. Yet in all these times, that in spite of these challenges I was always aware of and felt God’s presence. In fact, all these challenges gave root to all of Jesus teachings for me. The Gospel doesn’t make sense in a perfect hardship free life. Personally, I’ve endured misogyny and abuse, and also great and deep love and support. It’s true, that when you most need them, in the darkest of times special people enter your life to be what you need, and then are on their way.
My latest destination on my journey is to this small little hamlet on the St Croix river. It is insular and safe, uncomplicated and many times without the challenges of the greater world. It was a good place to raise my children except I could never let them be part of the bubble that can exist here. I had walked too far for that. I left my church here, and found another that had a more open world view. And to my boys, I know I forced you to give your Christmas to a poor family, invite the fringe to all your birthday parties, serve on mission trips and study the bible, and challenge every assumption or stereotype you threw in my face. I demanded you research and listen and be open to others, and dad, more than me made you put only good things in your bodies. Hopefully you will thank me for it some day, cause I am sure proud of how you turned out. We have a wonderful business that brings health to our community and our patients are some of the best people I have ever known.
So after all these steps, this is why I refuse to stand for bigotry and hate. This is why I stand for all my LBGTQ brothers and sisters. This is why I will fight for people of all ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political ideologies. This is why I stand for truth and will never shy away from pointing out inaccuracies that so deeply penetrate our media today. This is why I try so hard to root the Gospel in the most subtle of actions and behaviors. I am who I am, never to be pigeon holed into a left or right column, or belittled by any limiting moniker. My path is one of power and love, because I am a child of God and these are MY shoes. And as a servant of Christ I will fight for your shoes too.
Let me begin by saying this post is indeed political and may indeed seem polarizing, but it has nothing to do with political parties or the election per say. As part of my year of clarity, which is almost at an end by the way, I remain committed to see the world as Christ intended when he said blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Having come so far, I certainly am not going backward now. In many ways, this year has been a torturous stripping away of every illusion, every chain and old belief that I held onto as an appeasement to my fears, insecurities and those beliefs that limit my personal evolution. I never anticipated what asking for the eyes to see and ears to hear would do to my life. It was upended. Be careful what you pray for, I’ve heard. And as much as I had no idea how naive my request was, I remained stalwart through every point of this journey, sometimes to the detriment of my health and personal psyche. I also want to say, while not everyone is a Christian like I am, I hope you will appreciate the conclusions I’ve come to anyway. Today, I am Peter, when Jesus was walking on water:
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified, “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Even after all I’ve learned and how deep my faith has become having answered Jesus when he said “Come,” now that I am here standing amidst the turbulence, I am trying not to be afraid, trying not to sink into the depths. I have the benefit of hindsight that Peter didn’t. I already know Jesus response, “oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” In this moment of such turbulence, I will not let fear falter my journey. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid, I just simply reject the doubt so I don’t sink. I will walk on water regardless of my fear. I will respond to Jesus command when he says come. So what does that even look like? This may take a moment, so please bear with me until the end.
For that last few weeks, I have pondered, and worried a bit over Jesus words in Matthew 10 when he describes the world they, as disciples, would venture into:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more that me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his/her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses her/his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he/she is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous person because she/he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of theses little one’s to drink because he/she is a disciple-amen, I say to you, surely he/she will not lose their reward.
Life as a disciple is often life shattering. It is an ultimate test of loyalty and faith. If we succeed, we can walk on water. Call it whatever you will, a metaphor, a means to make the unfathomable, fathomable…I really don’t care. What I really care about is that regardless of the fear that holds many of us paralyzed right now, we must keep walking, we follow Jesus command to come. We refuse to doubt and be one of little faith. We do what seems at the moment to be the impossible. Because with God, all things are possible…right?
Now, here is where it gets tricky for me. As many of you know, I have friends who are democrat and republican. I embrace and accept that different ideologies exist. We’ve all walked different journeys and have embraced our own conclusions about what we’ve seen. I have friends who are religious and non-religious alike. So, my beef isn’t about that, hence the latter scripture that speaks about peace vs the sword. Here is my beef. Political ideologies, in essence, belong to Caesar (see last post), and we give to Caesar in our own way. How we express those ideologies most definitely leaks into giving to God what is Gods. So this is when the fear grips me most deeply. When you use an ideology to set others apart, to demean or demoralize them, to treat them disrespectfully you are not a being a disciple of Christ. When you cross the line in defaming your opposition, someone who doesn’t support the candidate you do, you are not being a disciple of Christ. That doesn’t mean the conversations about ideas won’t be difficult and painful. Where it became appalling to me in this election cycle was the deeply vicious and slanderous way people shared their opinions and almost never to anyone’s face. I always thought that to the people who know me, they know I’m a good person and so would listen to things from my perspective as well as their own and that they wouldn’t dismiss me or talk about me behind my back because I thought differently than they did, or get angry when I expected truth beyond salacious innuendo. I am not a bad person because I voted a certain way. Winning this election doesn’t give you God’s stamp of approval, God doesn’t give a shit about who won this election. But losing this election doesn’t give you the right to give up all hope or hate the other party either, God has clear opinions about those kinds of judgement too.
Being immersed in an environment that often is diametrically opposed to my most core beliefs has at times been difficult for me, but I’ve adapted because I’ve learned to see the deep goodness in the people who surround me. It has always been my prayer that others would offer me the same accord and it grieved me when that didn’t always happen. This year of clarity has given me freedom from that concern. I don’t care if you judge me, because my journey is sacred. I’ve said this before, that until you walk in another’s shoes you can never understand or judge their journey and I’ve worked hard to try and do that. So I implore people to listen to, and most importantly actually see those who are hurting right now and try and understand why. Sometimes seeing life through another’s eyes isn’t pretty, especially since it challenges our assumptions. There are people of color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, different levels of education and economics, who are devastated by the situation they are in today and the implications they may face come with deep feelings often times fear and rage. But when you take time to really see them and hear them, and break the confines of a limited perspective, fear diminishes and the walk gets easier, kind like gliding on water.
And yet to those who remain convinced that the problems we face are someone else’s fault, or that your “side” has the license on righteousness or God’s imprimatur, or that the answer lies in one person’s judgement against another, I choose to stand against you, whatever side of the aisle that puts you on. To refuse to recognize that we are all of us together, citizens who should all enjoy the the same self evident truths that are the cornerstone of this great country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is simply unacceptable to me. So, as a Christian, my sword will be lovingly raised, and wielded in every moment the Spirit deems fit. Go ahead hate me, reject me, whatever. I choose to answer the call and walk on water.
Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census to Caesar or not?’
Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.’ Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They replied, “Caesar’s,’ At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’
Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s is found both in the gospel of Mark and the gospel of Matthew. The two parables are different, but important in understanding the lesson that follows. In one parable we come to understand what belongs to God, and in the other, who controls the timing and invitation to God’s Kingdom. The phrase “Repay to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s” is not mutually exclusive, one guides the other.
In Mark, Jesus tells a story about a man who labored and built a vineyard and leased it out to tenants and went on a long journey. At the proper time, he sent his servants to obtain a sample of the produce of the vineyards. Some servants were beaten, others killed, all were sent away empty handed. When the owner sent his beloved son, thinking that they would respect him, they killed him desiring his inheritance. When Jesus posited to the crowd what the owner would do, they said the owner would kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. To which Jesus responded: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
So in this story, what belongs to God? The tenants believed that the fruits of their labor were theirs alone. How many of us still believe that? We forget that all we have comes from God. When God asks us for something, a mere sample, we are expected to give it, but not to show how generous we are, but as a sign of gratitude and a reminder that it was never ours to begin with. Remember in the story all the owner is asking for is for a sample of the produce, not enough to ruin the tenant but simply as a reminder of what they owner gave them since he labored and built it up to begin with. Celebrating all that God has built for us should be the only incentive we need to share our good fortune. The rejection of the Owner’s son happens every time we fail to understand that all our gifts come from God and when we refuse to share with the least of our brothers and sisters, we are refusing God. It is the least among us that the Kingdom is built on. Face it, we are all tenants on this earth at the grace of God.
In Matthew’s version, he likens the Kingdom of God to a King who gave a wedding feast. When the feast was ready, he dispatched his servants to invite the guests to share in his celebration but they wouldn’t come. He dispatched other servants and implored them to tell his guests that the banquet was indeed ready, the fatted calves were prepared for the feast. Some ignored the invitation, others went on to their businesses or farms. Still, others took the servants and killed them. The King was enraged and destroyed the murderers and their city. He declared the feast was ready but that those who were invited were no longer worthy to come. He told his servants to invite anyone they could find. The hall was filled with the good and the bad. And yet when he saw someone who was not dressed in a wedding garment and and was silent when questioned about it, the servants were instructed to throw him out. Jesus ended this story with “Many are invited, but few are chosen”
In this story, it is important that we realize embracing the Kingdom of God is not only being invited into God’s grace, it is actually showing up for the celebration…in God’s time. It is so easy to become so involved in our daily comings and goings that we have no time for God. That is just unacceptable. God’s time is just that…God’s time. We are here at His pleasure, not ours. We need to be ready, in the appropriate garb, at all times. So what does that actually mean?
When Jesus says “give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is Gods,” I think he is making a clear distinction of what belongs to a worldly view and what belongs to a Godly one. These stories help illustrate what belongs to God. In the first, it is clear that God is the owner of the vineyard…and we are only tenants. When God asks us for our talents, we don’t have the right to say no. He rejects the idea that the tenants have no obligation to give back. The selfishness, insolence and ultimate disrespect by the murder of his son is their undoing. In the second story, when we are called to celebrate at the wedding feast, at his appointed time, he is so put off by the disregard of his invitation that he effectively dis-invites them by burning the city and he opens his doors to anyone who would come, yet still expecting wedding attire…our best selves put forward. I used to be more confused by this parable…how could the invitees act so horribly? I understand it better now. Jesus is the bridegroom, we are already joined to God, by his grace. We should know that every moment of every day we should be celebrating with God. You don’t accept God’s invitation and continue to live on your own time, and on your own terms.Too many people think that being on the right team is all that is what is expected of us, that there is no demand on how we live and carry on in the world, that we can do what we will in the meantime. That is so much bullshit. We come when we are called, every day and in every way.
What belongs to God is sharing the fruits of our labor, and putting all else aside to celebrate the Kingdom when we are called. I can’t help but believe that those who dwell in the muck of this election, by perpetuating the vitriol and pointing the finger of judgement are behaving just like the protagonists of these two parables. Behavior I never thought possible from those who claim to be Christians. I am so tired of it, and I know many of you are too. Giving to Caesar is nothing more that the price of living in a human created construct. Giving to God is a declaration and expression of what is expected of us when we accept God’s invitation and all the gifts He has shared with us. So lets embrace each other as God’s people and celebrate all we have been gifted with and put our best selves forward as if we were celebrating at a great wedding feast everyday…and worry less about Caesar.
Here is the poem I read at my father’s funeral…I made it almost the whole way through, until the part about dancing…
You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life? The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honor. Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king? Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then you shall truly dance.
I still hear his voice, telling me that the smallest gestures can make the largest impact, to live fearlessly and faithfully. I embrace fully in the dream of building the Kingdom of God, one simple brick at a time. Papa, you taught me that and you showed me that by all the people that showed up to celebrate you…from your students, neighbors, colleagues, family, the diocese, and many friends. Your heart was open wide to the body of Life and from above you still walk with me and all those you love to keep singing and dancing until we meet our King.