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.