Truth and Money

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Approaching the end of “my year of truth” as the sun wanes and the cold comes, I can’t help but have conflicting feelings about this particular season of Christmas. Yes, I still believe that it represents the light that breaks through the darkness of winter. This year, however,  has been as brutal as it has been enlightening. It is also why I’ve committed to approach this season without the blinders I usually tend to put on, like a suspension of all the truths I’ve embraced just to do “the Christmas” thing. Can we celebrate “the light” while participating in all the commercial hoopla? While I may not have the perfect answer to that question, and its one I’ve struggled with for many years, I’m always optimistic that I’ll figure it out. For example, past attempts include: once when I was a teenager I asked only for a bible at Christmas and got nothing else (which really wasn’t satisfying, but more like emotional flagellation for someone who loves presents and parties and whose guilt says I shouldn’t so much), or when I told our family of four one year that we were giving our Christmas away, (again mixed results, I really don’t think it changed anything since I was spending money anyway but directing it somewhere else) or the time I limited the amount we could spend to try and celebrate the simple (such a disaster since no one but me followed the rules). Like they say, the spirit is always willing but it resulted with little success. It’s not that they were bad ideas, and I’ll never regret trying, but since I’m being truly honest, I don’t think I succeeded in changing anybody else’s mind about the season itself, which made my efforts seem, well, a bit empty, like I failed.

So this year, because of truth, I embrace both my good and bad feelings about the season. I love Christmas, the lights, the presents, the parties and all that is festive and hopeful about its message. I hate the commercialism, the loneliness, the financial pressure, the wealth disparity and the subjugation of other religious holidays to its mighty rhetoric (and I’m not talking about the good will part of it…more the Black Friday part of it). So this year, I decided that while I will give presents (because giving people gifts MAKES ME HAPPY), I will only support those companies who donate their profits, are small local businesses, have special gift giving opportunities and are generally philanthropic with the millions and billions they stand to gain during the holiday season. I’ve let go of rationalizing my reasons like being a better person etc., because those rationalizations don’t work. To be frank, it is something I am compelled to do because of an underlying terror about money and consumerism and that money, or mammon (material wealth or possessions as having a debasing influence…you know the bad side of money) is ruining the spiritual fabric of our world, and in some ways my own (you know two kids in college, small business owner…yada yada). I think that many of our present ills are because of money, rooted in the not having enough of it and why should you get more of it than me internal struggles. More and more power is falling into the hands of fewer and fewer individuals who are not leading our planet to a better place, and they have one thing in common…money, and a lot of it.

And while I acknowledge I am privileged more than most, the fact is that all of us can take our consumer power and the smallness or greatness of it and direct it toward those companies and individuals who will do good in the world. I may not have received all “the deals” like past years, but I can use the power of money for both for pleasure and for good. I choose to also give from my need and not my want. Tightening my belt to be philanthropic and share freely with others when my bank account says otherwise is also a consequence of my year of truth because if I really truly am a Christian, then this is the attitude I must have about money:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be. “No one 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 mammon.

and

When (Jesus) 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.

So, when I see starving children in Yemen, families fleeing from dangerous situations and treated as if they were criminals, and all the poor and lonely around the world I have to force myself to breathe when I look around at all the “stuff” of this season before the mind boggling, crippling guilt overwhelms me.  And it is in these times I remember that I can be a light in all this darkness, that I am not alone in solving the world’s ills, and the power of love and its ripple effects are more powerful than I will ever know. That my simple coins, like the widow’s mite, matter in the eyes of God. And finally, in truth, the greatest gift of the season has already been given, it is grace that dispels the darkness and grace behind the light in my eyes. I choose to serve God and it is that I celebrate.

Power and Fruit

 

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This is my last post of the year. I’ve learned much in my year of working to understand and appreciate individual fruits. I know each of us has a measure/talent that the master has given us to hold, develop and expand for his glorification and ours. No one can take that measure from you…it is yours, and yours alone to develop and share with the world. Period. Any person, place or thing that tries to halt, limit or suspend your ability to develop your own unique and special fruit is working against the Master. On this fact I would stake my soul…again, Period.

For this, I looked to the Galations 5: 17-23, to support my conclusion:

For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law

I tread carefully here, knowing what a powder keg the application of this particular scripture to our present world situation can be. I  do, however, recognize many of the qualities that work against the fruits of the Spirit in modern politics. I can find multiple examples of all of them…and it’s not limited to any party either. The desires against the Spirit ultimately work to impede any of us from developing and sharing our individual talents to their fullest. In turn, the fruits of the Spirit are essential qualities in developing and sharing those talents. The “desires of the flesh” work against all of us. I’m not defining these negative qualities like the Puritans did, like all things human are evil, that draconian garbage won’t help us either because they are rooted in fear which is diametrically opposed to God (1John 4). Historically, fear was a means used by the hierarchy to control the masses and vilify anyone who would question their authority (especially women). To be honest, and my bias…the men and an occasional token woman or two throughout history who would use their power to misconstrue another’s gifts as bad or evil, or effect any other means to strip any individual of their goodness and grace are acting on behalf of the dark side, are instruments of evil. I don’t care what kind of title they have.

Power on the other hand, is not a gift, a fruit, or a talent. It is a responsibility. On a spectrum, those who wield it well are governed by the fruits of the Spirit listed above, and encourage all of us to grow our individual talents. On the other end, those who wield it badly can kill the unique gifts God has bestowed on every individual and render us as barren as the fig tree Jesus condemns. I don’t think its too difficult to distinguish between the two. If you are really honest with yourself, it should be glaringly apparent who it is that creates divisiveness, lies, acts with fury, selfishness etc and who does not. What has surprised me most at the end of this year of appreciating God’s fruit is how many people, and many who even claim to be faithful…aren’t able to distinguish between the two, and aren’t even aware that they can’t. For them, it appears that believing that some people are worthy, and others are not, is a good proposition. To which I mind blowingly respond…”How the F*** can you think that? Have you not read any of the Gospels or Scripture? Cause its all there in black and white. We are ALL God’s children not by our actions, but by our very creation, and we are to love ALL our neighbors as ourselves because that which we do to the least among us, we do unto God.

Which, in conclusion, brings me to this season of Light, this season when we celebrate humanity’s greatest gift: wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, Prince of peace. I understand that there is evil in the world. But this great Light can’t break through the darkness as long as all those spirit killing qualities listed above are practiced in our daily lives. It would be as if we were to take this great gift, one that can conquer all evil, and help us to become all we can be and throw it downstairs in a dark basement and slam the door. It is embracing the season and the gift we are given with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control that makes it effective, and in turn making our own talents effective. It is my hope that your gifts are treated as such, and that you in turn treat everyone in the same way.

For now, I am celebrating all the wonderful fruits of my world, both large and small and prepare for my next step of the journey in the new year…Truth, and all that that entails. (I’m already sweating…big time)

 

1984

russia-1984

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my visits to Russia, once when it was the USSR, and once after it dissolved. I was reading through my journals about the trip the other day, and I thought I would honor that young girl by first sharing some of her insights about the trip. I was the youngest member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches, being only 24. I had to study extensively before hand as well as attend briefings for days at Columbia University in New York City before we left. It was 1984, and there was still a cold war, but I believed that this opportunity was a God-given one that I couldn’t pass up. There are so many more stories that I can’t print here, but I want to offer some of the insights that shaped my future thoughts

Notes during our briefings

Like America, there seems to be a big difference between the people and those in power. The big difference is the sense of futility of the Soviet people feel in overtly doing anything about the injustice they are forced to live with. I was also amazed at the structured and networked way people work around the system. I’ve always believed things are not always what they seem to be, that we live in a time of Olympic level charades-the feeling that things are not what they appear to be. In the USSR it must be overpowering. Again, the difference between the two countries is not just ideology but one of survival. All the bullshit in America is who can get ahead-who can accumulate the most. The feelings in Russia are to survive, to beat an unfair system-yet Hedrick Smith says they’re very generous people-they love to share gifts with people. We are not allowed to bring any denim and the woman have to wear skirts or dresses. Clothes of the west are a hot commodity. They asked us to bring pins to share, I am completely unprepared.

about the Olympic boycott

I’ve just heard about the boycott of the Russians to our Olympics. I’m sad that our two countries keep egging each other on.What will this do to my trip? I’m beginning to realize the seriousness of what I’m about to do. I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect, but don’t want to push any preconceived ideas into my thinking.

On the the trip    the-children      russia-friends

After our city tour, we went to a small village church. The pastor’s name was Basil and I know what will have been the highlight of my trip was the children, it was wonderful! There is no way I can explain it in words…just freedom. Fr Basil took us to his “home” where we had another “gala” dinner-we made many toasts (too much vodka). During one of the toasts by Fr Innocent (irony of the year) I started to cry, partly because I’m tired, but mostly because of the double speak, the secret language of the heart and the language of the mouth, or party line, which I’ve had pretty much enough of by now. My eye contact with people has become quite piercing…and they don’t like it, not at all. But you see, you have to look so deeply for the truth and when they deceive and you’re looking deep into their eyes, they can’t hold your gaze. It started having a bad effect on people…not speaking but just forcing eye contact. I hoped my eyes say “I see YOU”. It was when we visited the collective farm I wanted to scream “Do you really think we’re that stupid?” It doesn’t matter to me that you’re trying to impress me, what I want is the truth…a rare commodity here. I’m tired of the press, people taking our pictures and the presence of the KGB. Do they think I can’t tell the difference between a real seminarian and a Soviet officer, especially the way they look me up and down?

Zagorsk    zagorsk-2  zagorsk-3   zagorsk-4

Celebrating the high holiday for Russian Orthodox-Pentecost, at Zagorsk, which is their equivalent of Rome was beyond words. When our many buses drove into the monastery, there were thousands waiting to greet us. Walking through all those people just staring at us made me realize that we were definitely on display. The whole experience was beautiful and breathtaking and yet completely freaked me out.

The cantata at the Baptist Church   cantata

There was quite a bit of excitement at the Baptist Church. They had prepared a special cantata for us and it was really beautiful. But after the music was over, some people held banners over the balcony claiming in English that many pastors of Baptist Churches were being imprisoned. I was astounded, everything had been so “perfect” until this point. Our leaders avoided it and we were basically told from everyone, what you saw, you didn’t see. Afterwards, I could see one of the wives giving an interview with journalists. I am impressed by her determination and guts and will pray for her protection.

Gala Dinner Menu (one of many)          gala-dinner

Cocktail/Salad: rolled ham stuffed with eggs, stuffed hard boiled egg with tomato, salmon and white fish, tomatoes, and breads with caviar. This served with vodka, also for toasting.

First course: crepes and black caviar. Served with red wine.

Second course: Chicken Kiev, with vegetables and rice in a puffed pastry. Served with white wine.

Dessert: Ice cream and filled cake. Served with Champagne.

Coffee: biscuits,cheeses. Served with cognac.

Dancing, and most were a bit drunk…Cheers to my Irish tolerance (and I did toastes with water, not vodka)

Leaving the USSR  propaganda   soldiers

I’m in the Moscow airport ready to board the plane for Amsterdam. My feelings are mixed. I’m sad to leave because I feel like I haven’t seen enough-but the tension of this society is so oppressive that I can’t breathe. I’ve also felt disillusioned about this trip. It seemed to be so much media hype for our Leader—– I don’t like to be part of diplomatic niceties which I feel most of this trip was, especially near the end. There were times when I felt like I was on the mountain being tempted by the Devil with all the fanfare, pampering and “gala” dinners. Everything. was. just. too. nice. It makes me wonder what the results of our trip will really be. Will all the frosting hide justice? i.e.the women at the baptist church.

Amsterdam     amsterdam

The lay over in Amsterdam was a needed break. My wild side came out, and I’m sure a bit of repressed anger too. I waltzed some of the ministers down to the red light district..he he. Their faces as they looked at the prostitutes in the store fronts doing their best come hither, is something I will never forget.

Home     breifing

They said everything was a perfect success. I began to panic because I knew I had to tell people about my experience-that was part of the deal. While going to the USSR was a dream, I had to borrow against my next year salary to do this, with the little I make working with the church it was such a risk. I thought I would be making a real difference, and now I wonder. One of the youth group members committed suicide just as I was arriving home. Physically her life was nice, like our peace mission. Nice isn’t enough, it just can’t be. Christianity can’t always be nice. Peace should be defined by more than nice. It means pain, sacrifice, being vulnerable, being scared and letting go in the face of it. I didn’t get that from the leadership of either country. I felt those things personally and I’m angry that those feelings were never supported by a group speaking in my name too.

We Americans and the Soviets are different, I accept that. I accept protocol and diplomacy are very important. We depended too much on behaving “appropriate” and not enough on being Christians. Our connection was our mutual faith. The Church’s route just has to be different than a political one, it has to be. Politics is rooted in a struggle for power, Christianity is rooted in the spread of the gospel and love. Human beings have proven through history that they are incapable of bringing about lasting peace by their own initiative. It doesn’t matter how good and noble the intentions are if they become egocentric somehow.

Because I am young, the youngest that went by far, my insight and intuition isn’t quite as keen as it will be some day. God has blessed me with much potential, though. So I will listen to how deeply disturbed I feel. There was so much going on in the Soviet Union on a completely different level. I could tell by eye contact, body language, atmosphere-the shadow language. It was all very subtle, but clear enough to demand attention, because when added to the whole picture, my impressions were radically altered. My struggle will be to create an honest picture without embellishment.

Afterwards, I was relieved when a journalist called to get my opinion of the trip. Excited to tell my truth, we talked for a long while. When the article came out in a national paper, not only wasn’t I mentioned, but it “nice.” In my mind, I had been censored and rendered insignificant. I became depressed and disillusioned after that. I spoke three times about my trip, the bare minimum and I continued to worry and pray about the baptist ministers wife and what the truth really was….so I went back, four years later……

Seeing Red

red

Yes, I know what that statement usually signifies, it signifies anger. Taken from what a bullfighter’s red cape triggers in the eyes of the bull…blind fury, it means feeling so much anger that it takes control of one’s actions. For me red signifies something different. Red is a color that also signifies love, and when I see red, that is what I see. Seeing love doesn’t preclude feeling anger, I think anger can be a powerful force for change. It is the feeling of anger that moves us to challenge discrimination and senseless violence, to fight those who reject liberty and freedom. Love of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the foundation of our country, and whenever that is attacked, we should feel anger, even if it stems from within our own borders. As the most powerful country in the world, we should feel anger at any force who would try and dismantle all the good that has been built and established by the brilliance of our forebears. The difference, though, between allowing the rage of anger to blind us into acting like a bull and wrecking havoc, and allowing the power of love to expand our sight into acting like one who is evolved enough to wield it, marks the distinction between animal and human. Choosing the former reduces us to raw instinctual response, choosing the latter is the reason God gave us dominion over the earth.

We are made in God’s image. And God is love. God made the earth and all living creatures in it and said that it is good. God, who breathed life into us out of love, gave us dominion over that creation. As people of faith…we should know this, we should abide by this. And we should fight for God’s creation, all of it. It is right that we should feel anger when that creation is threatened…but as people who were created in the image of love, this and only this is what that dominion should look like:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated,  it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The power of love should be our strength, motivation and triumph. It is unlimited and unbounded in its capacity to protect and nourish God’s creations…all of them.

Let me conclude with a powerful phrase that has guided me always:

The day will come when, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.

Tielhard de Chardin

The power of love is the only omniscience that can abide in us. Through the blood of Christ, we are perfected in the power of that love. Only we can choose to accept the power of love, or the power of anger. I choose love.

A Model to Follow

flagThis 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.

 

Can Optimism Rule?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Against Perpetuities

the rule againstThere is an obscure rule in the law called, “The rule against perpetuities”, to which I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out in preparation for the bar exam, (even though my instructors almost guaranteed a question regarding it would certainly not appear on the bar exam…of course there was…they obviously didn’t know that when it comes to me and odds, I’m of the, “May the odds be ever in your favor, Hunger Games” ilk, and so I apologize to everyone else who took the test that day…) Sidebar concluded. Anyway, the rule against perpetuities basically placed a statutory limit as to how far a dead person will have control over the distribution of assets to future descendants.  While I still may have trouble with the particulars of the rule, I always thinks it’s a good idea to limit the power one has to control the future of another.

But how often do we hold on to, in perpetuity, our own sins, the sins of others and even sins projected onto future descendants who remain tethered to those past injuries or judgements?  It is takes so much energy to hold on to all that anger and is just as unfair to future generations who have to deal with the fallout.  I think if more of us looked to see what collateral damage there is to holding onto grudges, judgements, and condemnation, perhaps then refusing forgiveness wouldn’t be as common.  I think refusing forgiveness is the greatest weapon against the spread of the gospel. Think again if you feel immune, because you are not.  All of us have baggage, and if you think that holding on to it has no effect on those around you, you are also mistaken.

The only thing that I am sure of lasting into perpetuity is the love of God, the sacrifice of his Son and the need for God in my life.  That doesn’t mean that love’s affect can’t be blocked or inhibited.  Continual forgiveness of oneself and others is the key that will keep the door to the kingdom open. God gave us the key, the choice to keep it locked or unlocked every day,  as a matter of principle, is on us.

 

Empathy

unmerciful servant1This morning I was thinking about forgiveness and empathy, and the general lack thereof in the world. While I was pondering this notion, a nasty bug crawled across my path and I smashed it…yeah, the irony hit me right away.  Where was the forgiveness and empathy in this knee jerk response?  Of course I told myself that it was just a bug that had no place on my counter, that it was no big deal.  Perhaps it wasn’t.  But for a moment, I focused on the impulse I had when I saw the bug; I hated it, it was disgusting, I wanted to get rid of it and frankly, its death was of no consequence to me. It was that visceral reaction that caused a bit of an epiphany.  I realized that my response to that bug, although microcosmic, was probably close to the reaction that a lot of people have to that section of the population they simply can’t empathize with because they hate them, are disgusted by them, want to get rid of them and their death is really of no consequence to them at all. So often our lack of empathy is a result of a knee jerk response, programmed early by some uncomfortable experience. While the leap from insect to race, class, gender, ideology, nationality, or religion may seem huge…isn’t it really just a magnification of that same kind of automatic response?

I certainly didn’t have empathy for the insect in the moment and it did give me pause, because magnified, that initial gut response could be problematic.  I’d like to think of myself as a steward of God’s creation, and a disciple of God’s great message, but I don’t like bugs much. I will probably never like them and have difficulty with the empathy thing from human to insect. But I can appreciate their place in the food chain.  There is a place for everything under the sun right?  What becomes more difficult for me is the trouble that comes with finding empathy for our fellow humans, it should be so much easier and yet it isn’t. It is so hard to bypass that knee jerk response and try to reprogram ourselves. I suppose that is why Jesus demanded that we walk in someone else shoes before we pass judgement. When we view the world from another’s perspective the blinders come off and hopefully that knee jerk response is transformed.  Empathy is central to forgiveness.  When we accept another as important in God’s eyes and try appreciate that life from their perspective, perhaps we can recognize how similar we all are.  Jesus shows us this in this parable of the unmerciful servant:

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage and said, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full.’  Moved to compassion, the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.  He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe!’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.

Now, when his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply disturbed, and when to their master and reported the whole affair.  His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!’ I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then, is anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from his heart.

Today, let’s all work together to quell the knee jerk response that comes before the choice to empathize and forgive…life will be so much better as a result.

Pretty Little Liars

the open bibleI often wonder if people actually read the same scripture that I do.  SERIOUSLY, I really wonder that.  I am conflicted and challenged every day by my weakness when I read the words of Jesus. I remember the day when my heart broke in a vision of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane extending his hand to me and saying it is for you that I will make this sacrifice and felt first, the horrible guilt and then an overwhelming love fill me up.  It is because of that moment that I resist the impulse to lower myself to the level of those pretty little liars out there who would have you believe that 1.6 billion people are extensions of the devil, are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ, and that America is synonymous with the chosen people.  I don’t want to be lectured by smug individuals who turn the challenge on its head and point to the atrocities that are befalling innocent people right now, and how we must destroy them.  History has told us many a woeful tale of this same story.  Christians destroyed by Rome, Jews destroyed by Christians (and yes, we had our crazy factions too), women being burned as witches, etc. the list goes on.  And as the saying by Edmund Burke goes: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”

So, to those of you who are so confident that you know the mind of God and believe anyone who disagrees with you be damned…see how successfully you live and breathe these words:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.  Wo to you when all speak well of you for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.  But I say to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you.  Even sinners love those who love them”  Luke 6:24-32

I am angry because these words convict me every day to be a greater person and have faith that Jesus knew what he was talking about, and yet I don’t see a lot of support for this notion right now.  As hard as it is to look at the atrocities that are being perpetuated every day and have faith that the above formula is the greater course, it does revolve back to that great sacrifice of Jesus.  Jesus had faith in me, so I must have faith in him…it is really as simple as that.  When I face the banal every day workings of life, where I get to practice and master on an inane level the challenges listed above, I know that then and only then will my discipleship be honed and perfected.  And deep in the simplicity of everyday life, my greatest fear is coming to pass…that those pretty little liars out there are corrupting the gospel, perverting it and twisting it to serve another master, one who Jesus warns us of…the one who can entice us, utilize our fears to their advantage and sway us away from the kind of love God first gave us.  It is a master who would have us build a cocoon of our own self-righteousness, and prejudice, who will ply us with a twisted appreciation of what exactly grace will do which is to deny those we are commanded to love and give entry to only those who are deemed worthy, and condemn any who would disagree.

The central point of the gospel is that the invitation is extended to us all….including those 1.6 billion people out there who only see hateful rejection, persecution and judgement. The parable Jesus told of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24 reminds us that those who find excuses not to come to his table will be shut out. Many have accepted the invitation in words, but let me remind you, Jesus never said that they will know you are my disciple by telling people that you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour; he said they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another, not judge, not condemn, not kill, not run in fear from…but how you love them, which means actually showing up at his table and not a facsimile of one you like better.  So where do you put your faith; do you put your faith in the words above, or those words that perpetuate the rancor, that undermine leadership, that feed self-righteousness. that are smug in their conviction that only one ideology rings true.  It is my prayer that all of us, during this Lenten season, ask this question: Do they know I am a follower of Jesus by how well I love others.

They Will Know That You Are Christains By Our Love

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

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

He goes on to say in John 13:34,

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

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

You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…

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

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

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

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.  We love because He first loved us.

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

Taking Umbrage…for and at Women

um·brage

noun \ˈəm-brij\

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

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

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

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

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

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

The In-Between

roads-divergingWhile I don’t claim to stand in the middle on every issue, knowing how passionately I feel about some things, I do venture there all the time.  Mostly, because I don’t trust my own bias.  I have learned throughout all my studies, in theology, education, leadership, and the law, that a singular perspective rarely reveals a complete truth.  Looking at an issue from inside the shoes of an opposite view can reveal a lot.  I have to admit I’ve understood a greater truth when I’ve ventured off my polar end and visited the other side of an issue.  What saddens me the most is that I get the distinct impression that acknowledging bias is akin to admitting a deep weakness or lack of faith in one’s ideals.  Even more so is the judgment from both ends that to venture off my post is being a flip-flopper or worse yet, a challenge my commitment to this country.

Looking at a problem from a 360 degree angle is the best way to understand it.  I have said it so many times before that I’ve begun to wonder if too many people have drunk the Kool-Aid offered by those who simply want to perpetuate the vitriol.  I am sickened by our Congress, just sickened, with law suits, temper tantrums, and hypocrisy.  It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that there are problems in this country, and I believe it is not unpatriotic to make that statement.  We are not the best anymore.  It is not the fault of our president, or the 1%.  We all have had a hand in the mess we are in, created by this horrible partisan war that is so stuck on blaming someone, in the most horrible fashion I might add, that we are no different than the Hatfields and the McCoys.  The response no less stupid, childish, and dangerous and plays to the weakest flaws of humanity.

So let me share these conclusions after hanging in the in-between: guns are a problem in this country…too many people have died, especially children.  So, second amendment extremists: just shut-up.  And to the invasion of privacy by our government: knock it off, we are not the Soviet Union.  Regarding the income disparity: The 1% have too much power, because money does talk…period.  To those who are struggling: I know how you feel, but working hard and innovation does work, feeling sorry for yourself and succumbing to being a victim does not.  I am amazed and proud how many helping hands are out there for those who are willing to invest in themselves and not rely on someone else fixing the problem.  I have honestly come in equal contact with innovative wealthy and poor, who are great hard working people who should be honored and not pigeon-holed into a stereotype.  It just isn’t fair.  But I’ve also met my share of slimy, entitled assholes too, both wealthy and poor, who would sell their soul for a better piece of the pie.  Neither end can claim freedom from skeleton’s in their closets…humanity is just too flawed.

What I worry about the most, though, standing in the in-between, is how little outrage there is, beyond hating the president, and immigrants, guns and the 1%, for the future of our children.  Sure, I’ve heard both side make claims that it’s the children they are fighting for, yet our public schools are still failing; children are deteriorating, both physically, mentally and spiritually.  The programs that could help them never come to fruition because there are too many powerful lobbies that keep standing in the way…and personal bias.  Our children are our greatest resource…we should be investing the most money in them, yet we don’t.  Any way you look at it is always a bad thing to allow children to fail.

There is one concluding issue I want to address while I am standing in the in-between.  It is a balancing act to hold true to a principle and yet remain open to the best way to handle it in a country of varied principles.  Yet, for this great American experiment to continue working, that is the most important commitment of holding a governmental office.  I know that those elected can’t always support my personal agenda, most intelligent people would understand that.  And I don’t use the word intelligent lightly…because I think there is an astonishing lack of intelligence in government today.  There is a definite blurred line when it comes to who has the proper training and credentials to run for office.  We should demand only the best and brightest to take on the complicated business of running our country…which is why I take great offence to people like Joe Blow who think they can do a better job, just like I wouldn’t want a plumber to do surgery on me, any more than I would want a plumber as a president.   I mean no disrespect to plumbers…I trust them implicitly by having them fix any and all problems at my house. As one who studied law, though, I do believe that lawyers better understand the intricacies of all that the constitution demands and are better suited for higher office.  That is my personal bias, challenged quite often, which is why after my venture to the in-between, I learned to be open to those who are committed to service because they are called to do so…but only after they become prepared by understanding the workings of government and putting personal agenda’s aside for the whole of their constituency.  That is a rarity today…it just is.  Sound bites from positions on social media and cable news prove how little understanding there is about how government works.  It astonishes me, more than I can convey.  The people who claim to think they can actually do a better job with so little background is as bizarre to me as the same person thinking that they could perform surgery, without the proper training…  I believe that to the bottom of my heart….I took government and constitutional law…it’s hard, for a reason.

The one final thought I would implore those who embrace their own polarity, don’t buy into the bullshit that those on the other side are evil.  They are not.  There are wonderful people on both ends who want the same thing and are grown up enough to hammer out their difference to come up with greater solutions.  Go find them.

 

 

Where is the Love?

thunderIn all sincerity, I’m not sure whether it is having spring and summer occur simultaneously that has thrown my whole rhythm off, or the unbearable nature of events. from shootings, to the ravages of mother nature, to the quagmire of American politics.  I’m sad much of the time…not the cry your eyes out kind, or the can’t get out of bed kind.  The sadness I feel is like a dull ache based on recognizing a pattern that too many people seem to miss and not feeling like I can act effectually enough to stop it.

The pattern I speak of is fear, the kind of fear that is so deeply in-bedded in our nation that we have begun to suffer a rigor mortise of the soul, expressed in both subtle and obvious ways.  Most obviously, it is expressed in the kind of partiality that blinds one to solutions because national pride lately is only celebrated in opposition to something else, such as guns, the government, climate change, the poor, etc.  In more subtle ways is the complete lack of civil discourse between divergent views, and sense of entitlement that isn’t extended beyond a small group of like-minded individuals.  I know I’m personally tired of being written off, or pigeon holed into a particular ideology that I certainly am not contained by because I ask questions and try to look at a situation from a multitude of perspectives.  The political flavors of the moment are too honed into a blanket kind of hate, blame, and judgment of anyone who harbors a different idea than one’s own. Personal responsibility rarely enters the picture. What is most disturbing, though, is the religious imprimatur that is often used to justify such ignorance and fear.

Jesus says that the truth will set us free, and the way to truth is through him…and he is LOVE.  Love will set us free.  So let us practice love, first and foremost.  Fear will be our demise, if we don’t utilize the powers we’ve been given…  And so I offer a reminder of our greatest gifts:  1 Corinthians 13:1-13


1
 If I speak in human and angelic tongues 2 but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

2

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

3

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4

3 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,

5

it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,

6

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

7

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8

4 Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.

9

For we know partially and we prophesy partially,

10

but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

11

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

12

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

13

5 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Pugnacious Pernicious Putin

PutinSeriously, what sane person who has ever seen a teenage movie, can’t recognize this plot and character archetype: the tough guy who bullies others, lets fear reign and because of his deep seeded secret insecurities finds a way to blame some other guy he is secretly threatened by and plots to turn the school against said guy only to be exposed in the end by the girl he loves because she discovers that the scape-goat is really a hero after all, and proceeds to dumps the bully who ends up in a corner sucking his thumb.  To me, that is Putin…and to all those Americans who have fallen under the spell of the rhetoric that plays him up as a strong leader….go watch a John Hughes movie so you can see how this sad story ends…and yes, while I am being hyperbolic, there is some major truth to the reference

Leadership is not measured by testosterone and how high you hike up your pants.  It is not about taking what you want and making up the reasons afterwards to justify how you took it.  I’ve been to the Ukraine, twice.  Once while it was still the USSR, and once afterwards.  They were and are, proud to be Ukrainian, not Russians.  I spent time in Crimea, on the Black Sea, it’s a vacation spot…a place that was rich in tourists, money and access.  I could say more on that, but will reserve it for another time…because this is more about Putin reeling in resources that he thought he had in the bag with the relationship he had with the former president Yanukovych, and when the people rebelled, he had to make up another reason to get what we wanted all along.

Here’s the thing…we in the United States judge what goes on abroad from our own bias.  Those who lived under the control of the former Soviet Union would never want to go back there.  While it may sound like an outrageous statement from one who spent a total of less than two months there, I was surprisingly aware of how much the people loved the west and the idea of self-realization, from celebrating the religion they wanted to, to being able to speak freely without the threat of big brother  putting them in jail, which I was witness to.  Life under the former regime wasn’t good for anybody except those who held power…like Putin did, and I don’t believe it was a result of his exceptional abs or inherent leadership qualities, Justin Bieber beats him by a hair on that scale.

So, when I hear language that calls out the weakness of our leadership in America and cajoling them to act with as much foolishness as Putin, I remind you of what happened in those movies…things are not always what they appear to be, bullies never prosper, the truth always wins and the good guy gets the girl in the end.  One more thing…to infer that Obama’s “mom pants” are a sign that he is weak?  Well, I have to say…I’m a mom, and anyone who would attempt to take my family (which is what Ukraine is) without my permission?  I would seriously cut you.  Next time pick a better metaphor.

The Subtly of Grace

power of emotionThis picture represents a simple idea, we can change a single molecule by our thoughts and words.  For more info on the picture check this link: http://www.whatthebleep.com/water-crystals/ But his ideas led me to what I had to say about the growing darkness in this world on a past post:

I remember teaching  moral issues long ago, when I tried to impress upon the sophomore class the subtleties in making a moral decision.  Right and wrong, good and bad are never really black and white, rather exist in often the subtlest shades of grey.  I don’t think they could quite get their heads wrapped around the concept, perhaps it was that the examples I gave weren’t very good, like distinguishing between taking a pen from someone’s desk or locker without asking, or the last piece of pie when you’ve already had your share.  Most scoffed at how stupid I was being, and rationalized quite sensibly, that a pencil is only worth a couple of pennies, or the person would never miss it, or justify that the person excluded from the pie really didn’t need it after all and they were just doing them a favor.  What I was unable to convey, even after I thought I stated it pretty clearly, is that moral behavior, in large part, is built by developing an ability to distinguish between shades of grey….and the way to do that is one decision at a time, regardless of how simple or inane they might appear.  What can I say, I was young…and wanted them to understand that as adults, we are an accumulation of choices just like these.  If the first impulse is to justify in your mind why an action is morally ok to serve any “want” at the time then it is a clear indication that your gut is telling you that it may not be.  I learned throughout the years from very wise people, to simply take a moment to weigh my options…which in truth most often takes a few seconds.  Asking before borrowing something or choosing not to be greedy only increases our souls acuity to recognize shades of grey.   Our brains also help us continue on a moral path by creating neuro-pathways, or shortcuts to respond to situations like the ones mentioned automatically after we repeat a certain behavior after a while.   I guess that is why bad habits are so hard to break…just ask my family…it’s to the point that whenever I even open my mouth to speak their eyes roll back into their heads, and I guess I can’t blame them.  For now it is safer to opine in cyber space. 

I fear in this time, we may be losing the ability to distinguish between shades of grey and the world is growing darker.  I don’t know if it’s because there is so much corruption, rationalized behavior, and greed that we’ve accepted that the growing darkness is inevitable (or its someone else’s fault), or if it’s because  up against such darkness it is easier to look so much better in comparison.   We do live in morally dubious times, and I think the place to start cleaning up all the pollution begins with our own choices…not necessarily the ones involving pencils and pie, but the ones that trigger the rationalization response.  I know I’ve had a hard time taking my own inventory when there are so many who don’t, but it has to start somewhere.  And I know that I am in no position to throw stones, but do hold myself obligated to develop my own moral acumen…because too many of our leaders and movers and shakers in our world don’t…and why the saving of the world may very well be left in the hands of  us ordinary folk…one choice at a time. 

So it is with Grace.  Sometimes I think we believe that real power lies in those who stand in the light of infamy and fame, those names that we are familiar with, who are known by the masses.  I think that is the greatest illusion of all, perpetuated by darkness to seduce us from recognizing our own power.  How many are looking for a savior on a white horse, fearless and strong with endless power and ability to slay any adversary?  There is a reason God chooses great leaders from the simplest and most ordinary people…it is within every heart to do great things.  Each of us has the ability to use the subtly of Grace and change even water…even if we aren’t around to see their impact in the future.  Never underestimate a single gesture of Grace…the darkness never does and that is how it grows as well.  The good news is that even the subtlest of light can cast away the darkness.  Be a light.  Change the world

Catching Fire

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

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

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

Nice Guys Finish Last?!?

finishlineI hate this phrase.  I hate the message that it sends, that nice guys aren’t winners, that in order to “win” you have to be an asshole.  It really all depends on perspective though, doesn’t it?  The greatest success  of a race is always to be the first one, the fastest, grabbing the brass ring, the big payout.  What if that isn’t the real success of the race at all?  What if what we have traditionally defined as coming in first, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?  What if focusing on first so much, that you bypass other significant events that make crossing the finish line so much more evolutionary?  I think of all those people who took shortcuts, cheated and lied to be first, and whose only focus was on the line itself have really lost the race entirely.  What did that really get them except for a moment of glory that soon tarnishes because the truth always eventually comes out anyway…and they never really know and understand the difficulties of the lessons they’ve been able to conquer along the way…they just skipped that part.  Nice guys don’t finish last…they may finish later, but with a whole lot more.

Seventy times Seven

Seventy-Times-SevenYeah, I know Congress’ rating is at an all time low.  I certainly can appreciate that.  Now, what do we do?  Yes, we can make our voices heard in the next election, but there is something that must be said first.  I’m sick of vengeance politics.  I don’t think the founders believed that problem solving could occur in a vacuum, and that is what vengeance politics does…it exists to punish and control.  Those who declared what just happened in Washington “a battle” should not be there…period.  We need people who first and foremost recognize that there are a multitude of issues and opinions in this country and don’t feel the need to vilify everyone who is different or shares a different ideology than they do.  We need people who can empathize with others, who are committed to diving head on into difficult negotiations and find solutions to problems that affect everyone, and not just improve the livelihood of those who are like-minded.  We need people who put the people over their political ambitions.  Most importantly, we people who can forgive when they feel slighted and stop this monolithic grudge holding.  I am sick of it.  How else can we bring the greatness back to this country?  While I understand that we should render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, those actions can’t cancel each other out either.   Our faith should serve as a moral compass and courage under fire…not to stand in arrogant righteousness.  I am praying for those who embrace those qualities to come forward…I hope you do too.

My New Best Friend

malala_yousafzai_1374126230_1374126242Sometimes it is so simple to speak the truth, but dangerous nevertheless.  This young girl is my hero, and proof that the Universe has more in store for her.  We could all learn a thing or two from her about simple truth and moral courage.  Kind of makes our government look foolish…No?  When a young woman like this will take a bullet for the right to be educated, and the powers that be don’t even tap into the truth that free education and information can bring it is easy to feel hopeless, but Malala is living proof that perhaps truth and goodness can prevail.  Watch this link from The Daily Show:

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

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

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

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

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

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