We love, because we were loved first. This is my foundation, my starting point for everything. I would not be me without this truth at my core. This axiom directs everything I do, and sustains all my hope in dark times. It took the vast majority of my focus and energy as I moved forward in my faith life as a young girl and woman to wrap my head around this central truth of Christianity: I am loved by an omniscient God, who is the source of all things…me, and by the sacrifice of Christ I have eternal life. Scripture says that we are born anew, we become infinitely more. The struggle of my lifetime is in the manifestation of and how the world expresses love. How do I stand out as the recipient of supranatural love? There are these verses that have helped guide me on my journey:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1John: 18,19
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. John 3:16
Historically, I think Christianity has forgotten that the core of our faith isn’t the accumulation of power and wealth, dogma, edicts or an exclusive club that closes off the power of that love and sacrifice to other faiths. It isn’t about structure or rules. The core of how we express our faith is in Jesus last command to his disciples: “They will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.” John 13;35. Sadly, I would say that after all this time we have failed in that regard.
The truth about love, is that we have let human frailty, human insecurity, our fears, injuries and judgments, redefine what love is. As a society we seem to have decided that love must look a certain way, must be earned, or extended to only a privileged few, and that is the biggest of all lies. In truth it is the exact opposite. What we know about love is that:
it is patient.
it is kind.
it is not jealous.
it is not pompous.
it is not inflated.
it is not rude.
it does not seek its own interest.
it is not quick tempered.
it does not brood over injury.
it does not rejoice over wrongdoings.
it rejoices in the truth.
it bears all things.
it believes all things.
it hopes all things
it endures all things
Love never fails.
That is what love looks like. It never says that it only for the beautiful or the young. It never says anything about being sexy or hearts or being soft or frilly. It is a force as stern as death (Song of Solomon) it’s free to everyone, there is no shortage because its infinite source is what we attest to believe in…God. While love may move our expressions, it is not defined by them. Love is so much bigger than our expression of it. Like music, its melody changes with each individual and situation. When love is the guide, it not only changes how we see the world, but how we live in it. It is only when we do that, that we will be known as Jesus’ disciples…by how we love. It never fails. Humans fail, but love never does…because God first loved us…and that is the best truth.
My stomach grows increasingly tight, often triggering my autoimmune symptoms as I move forward in my year of truth…and I’m not even half way through. “Be careful what you pray for”, is a statement that I find both disconcerting and freeing at the same time. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to move fearlessly into the future with truth as my primary weapon of choice to break down the lies and illusions that seem to be well, just everywhere…and I’m certainly not just projecting the lies that exist in the outside world because I face my own every day, I have to say, just in case you see me as some self righteous lunatic. I know it is hard to come face to face with personal truths, but as Jesus said: “how can you point out the speck in another’s eye when you can’t even see the plank in your own”. I am also aware of an intrinsic flaw in my character of being so intense about something that I can get in my own way. I hear my fathers voice daily telling me to lighten the hell up…and breathe, for God’s sake. And then say, “All will be well, and the manner of all things will be well” (Julian of Norwich) and try to move on and forward. We are all works in progress, right? So here goes…
We are surrounded by lies. There are powerful people in the world that are making it their goal to obfuscate the truth almost everywhere you turn, often to avoid being held accountable for their own actions, even if it ruins lives. And, based on a dream I had last night, we are all complicit if we don’t take every measure to verify and fact check what we are hearing every day. If you only get information from one source and use that source to bolster the unchecked rhetoric flying around out there because it validates your world view and personal bias, blame and bent (and it can come from just about everywhere, from politics, to healthcare, to education) then you are being complicit in the attack on truth. There is no justification for the willful blindness that perpetuates itself throughout the media. And yet I am astounded everyday at the next new attack on the truth and how easily people are willing to just comply with or ignore it.
Try and think of it this way…God is the truth, and in my faith, Jesus is truth as well and even died for it. So, every time you believe a lie by your complacence and not by naivete or ignorance, you act in defiance of God, and when you condemn the truth because it challenges you, you condemn yourself and you turn from God. It. Is. As. Simple. As. That. For if believing in and following some self serving myth that feeds ones basest desires is more important than working hard to find the truth of the matter at hand, then you are being complicit in those lies. What good are the moments in scripture when Jesus rails against the liars and hypocrites if none of us are willing to stand in those very same shoes as if he is railing against each of us individually? Love of God is expressed through word and deed, which is why Jesus was so hard on those in leadership positions who looked so holy on the outside but were full of evil on the inside. My original post for today was about truth and love, which will have to wait until a later date. In truth, I didn’t want the backlash of what my heart really needed to say: if you can’t stand up for truth, you don’t stand up for God. It sounded just too mean. and talking about love is much nicer…and then I had a dream:
I was in a crowd of people who were basically talking crap and spreading rumors with no questioning of their validity or factual basis. I felt I had to say something, and it was a bit lame or innocuous, like “you really shouldn’t be talking about people like that”. I left the room and then I became the one they talked about…and I lost it. I went back in the room and railed against all I know from all I’ve learned in my life and I made them answer my questions about whether what they were saying was accurate, good or kind. They said nothing and sat there stunned. I felt better.
I don’t really think deep down most of us want to be complicit in a culture of lies…but it has become too easy to do so. When life is good financially, or when a lie benefits you personally its too easy to look the other way. That is simply unacceptable. For our actions and inaction have consequences. And if you’re like me, you want to be on the right path, and never become complicit in perpetrating lies and illusions. So when I am unclear (which is a lot of the time) I always use a prayer of Thomas Merton to give me solace when I’m unclear what to believe:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone
Here’s the thing about truth, at its core, it is consistent, as in it is consistently evolving. When someone comes to know something, based on experience, information, or revelation, it remains true until altered or changed by a greater truth. Sometimes it’s simply seeing a new facet to, or an expansion of a truth long held, and sometimes because of insufficient knowledge or faulty logic a truth is exposed as a fallacy. The truth that has been expanded by greater understanding should still remain consistent at its core, because we are the change agent and not the truth itself. As you evolve, your life should change in accordance to greater knowledge and understanding, that is what Paul, in 1 Corinthians, meant when he said that when he was a child he thought, reasoned, and talked like a child, but when he became an adult he put childish things aside. Holding on to to an idea, or truth and refusing to allow it to be challenged or tested by time and maturity is not being consistent, it’s just being childish.
I feel the same way about the truth of my faith. My father always taught me that our faith always evolves, and in order to grow theologically I had to be willing to put presently held truths to the challenge and to test them. The hard part was to be willing to put them aside after they fell short:
To me theology is a process of change which goes on continually in a life time. One must continually grow by learning new things, theologically. As you learn more, your life changes in accordance. Everything you learn, in turn, must be challenged and tested. This is how you arrive at growth, or truth. I do not judge how others believe because ultimately we are responsible for our own Christian lives and we must act according to what we know to be the Truth at the time. Over a time we may prove to be wrong but only because we had insufficient knowledge or our logic was faulty. There is always so much we don’t know but we have to have faith that somehow God will reveal to us how right or wrong we are, and that way we grow.
I have always held onto his words, and the words of the scripture passage mentioned above so I wouldn’t stand too rigidly on any one thing, with one exception. What creates an evermore solid foundation for the truth of my faith, however, is that as I’ve evolved there may be inconsistency in my ability to live out truth I’ve grown in to, whether it is because of fear, public scrutiny, confusion and a host of other factors, but there is not and has never been an ounce of inconsistency in the truth that is the foundation of my faith in God. While theologically my faith has evolved to a wonderful kaleidoscope of color, it is rooted in one thing: love. No amount of evolution has changed that. The words of the Bible, particularly the Gospels, are even clearer and more nuanced then ever before, strengthening my resolve and commitment. Not one word has ever failed a challenge or a test because there was always a greater revelation of what love means that came as a result.
So when the world becomes confusing and its hard to decipher what is true, I choose from the most basic tenets of my faith:
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. 1 John 4:20
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:16-22
No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24
That which you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me. Matthew 25:40.
So really, it isn’t about a political ideology at all…but more behavioral. It isn’t too hard to recognize when someone thinks and reasons and behaves like a child. Name calling, becoming immovable, willful ignorance and rapier like judgement, and most importantly actions that are not based in love, are not being consistent with truth, ever. And as for those of faith who throw scripture at someone as a weapon or means to stop another’s perspective? Well, the devil can quote scripture too.
Look at the above picture. One person sees a square, another sees a circle. They are both correct in declaring what they see. Except what they see as individuals doesn’t create a full picture. The object itself is greater than just one perspective, it demands that we see it from three dimensions, from different angles. The problem lies when a person who sees only the square tells a person who sees the circle that what they see can’t possibly be true…that they must be lying, crazy or guided by some nefarious force because it is absolutely crystal clear that what they see is the only correct perspective of the above image, and from their vantage point they would feel certain in their position. The person who sees only the circle may feel the same way. Except both would be wrong, the object is a cylinder that expresses both a circle and a square depending on where you are standing. The truth is never two dimensional, ever. But we seem to live in a time where people think it is, and that is the real root of our problems today.
As an individual, you may be clear on your perspective, but when you rigidly stand in one place, refusing to listen to another who offers another angle and then vilify them for it, to refuse to stand in their shoes, and see something from their perspective, I truly believe that you don’t really want to understand the greater truths of the world. To expand your perspective lies at the heart of the Gospels. Jesus asks us constantly to stand in another shoes, to not judge, to love our neighbor, to treat the least of society with great respect. And while I understand that to your eyes, what you see is definitely a circle or a square, I’m asking you to walk, move around to another angle and see if your perspective changes. You may be surprised. You may be angry. You may even still refuse to step away from your initial perspective because of a deep hurt, pain, past mistreatment or judgement. But the truth is never flat, two dimensional or rigid…its just not. If you want the truth, you have to move beyond where you are standing right now. Otherwise you will be ever caught in a lie, regardless of how real it looks to you.
I feel like a circle person living in a square world a lot of the time. I don’t like it much, especially when I read such derogatory descriptions of circle people, because I’m nothing like that. I also get frustrated at the judgments hurled at square people by other circle people, because I live among them and find their judgments faulty as well. Notably, I do see that both sides are just sick and tired of being judged. So lets move people, lets walk outside our perspective to see the truth from 360 degrees. That begins by listening, talking and the goal of wanting a greater truth.
I’ve been quiet. I’ve been busy. I’ve been stretched. I’ve been focused. I have lingered on this beatitude for awhile. Mercy: I have yearned for it, received it, exercised it, celebrated it, and embraced the hope it brings. I have also, at times, stood with an aching sadness at the lack of it in the world in both small and large ways. Mercy was at the heart of my spiritual awakening and is the sustenance for my soul. And it is mercy both in its effort and absorption that keeps my house clean when I am tempted to throw it by the wayside and rage against the lies and cruelty and ignorance and ego and judgement and entitlement and fear. In desperate moments I remember Jesus in the garden sweating blood because his fear and anxiety was so deep yet was still willing to give his Godly heart for my flawed human one. My life transformed because he augmented my broken heart with his heart. And it was then that I became his fruit, a viable product of his extraordinary life and sacrifice, a means by which the power of mercy can live and stay palpable in our often sad and desperate world. When I allow his heart to be my heart, mercy is air, it is breath, it is life, it is everything.
My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.
It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.
I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.
We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.
There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.
I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.
Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.
My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.
We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.
Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.
Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.
That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.
Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.
I’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
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?
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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……
I think this will be my last post detailing my year of clarity. I feel complete, for now anyway, and want to enter into the season of light focused only on that. It seems funny that showing you the context of all my previous posts this year will be the subject of my last. I think it’s because I needed to do the journey first, before I open up my coat and share life in my shoes. Perhaps then you can understand why I believe as I do and maybe take something away that you can use on your own journey. The bottom line, is that I can never unhear, all I’ve heard; I can’t unsee all I’ve seen; and most importantly I can’t unknow all I’ve learned. I am who I am because of it.
Also, I needed to have the strength to say to those who are reading this just to be judgmental or to find fuel for your dislike, to say stop reading, or better yet, go ahead, keep reading…because I don’t give a shit anymore. I don’t wish you ill, but I certainly don’t wish you well. Harsh, it’s true. But I think I’ve spent too much time parsing words and feelings not to offend anyone, or try to be my best Solomon in all my posts. While being fair and balanced and living as a disciple of Christ is still my main objective, this election cycle has brought out the true character of many who I just won’t waste my time or breath on anymore. I embrace that is who you are, I just don’t have to listen to you anymore. Make no mistake, I am not talking about those who have a polar opinion from mine, there are still plenty of you in my posse…I’m talking about those who judge before they listen, embrace fear, refuse to look for truth, or only enough to justify their world view and those who only associate with people who are just like them. While the number I disassociate from may be few, it is something I have never done before but need to because of the impact it was having in my life. What’s funny, is I’m sure those people will never know it because they stopped really seeing or listening to me a long time ago.
No axiom, truth or ideology ever comes to me lightly, except the love of God and the call to be a disciple of Christ. While I may be a good student, I am not an easy one. I’ve pissed and moaned and thrown many a tantrum learning valuable lessons. So let me highlight just a few of those instrumental ports of call on my journey of faith. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be like one of those infernal slide shows that go on forever…just a few tidbits. Know that there are some givens: I have a great family, I’m blessed with privilege and a great deal of comfort. The experience that follows are in addition to, or in spite of.
When I was in college, I used a January term to live in a contemplative monastery in the desert of New Mexico. During my stay at Christ in the Desert, we began our day at 2:30 in the morning to pray according to the divine office of the Rule of St Benedict, an order that balances prayer and work. Without going into depth, I understand why Jesus began his ministry in the desert, in prayer and silence. It was the hardest (and not just because I wasn’t allowed to talk) and most transforming experience of my life. I fought with and conquered many internal demons over that month. It was the foundation for everything that what was to come.
The next January term, I chose to work with the United Farm workers (UFW) movement in La Paz California. There, I saw what solidarity behind a spiritual and nonviolent leader, Caesar Chavez, could do for the powerless and disenfranchised. I was also witness to racism for the first time in my life, and how protesters gallantly withstood all the horrible words and actions taken against them, all just because they desired to be treated fairly, with dignity and pride. I worked as a laborer that month, it was hard, humbling and it refined and polished me in ways I never could have predicted.
After I started working in ministry, I received the chance to travel with the National Council of Churches to then Soviet Russia. It was a terrifying, mind boggling, heart wrenching, uplifting, life transforming experience. It was during that trip at the ripe age of 24 when I saw the impact and effects of raw political power. It was there that I learned to recognize its lizard qualities that slithered and slimed their way into the world. I was no longer the naive, altruistic girl that I once was living in a global world. I went back four years later to see how it had progressed, doubting that democracy could ever work there efficiently…I was right, it couldn’t. Not that its people aren’t marvelous, they are…there were actually more Christians there than members of the communist party. Politics, though, are another story. It is also why I despise Putin so much.
Throughout my ministry, I worked with the poor and homeless, did respite for the mentally disabled, worked in a nursing home, a drug treatment center for adolescents, was part of a team who worked with modern media and the gospel message. I got to teach, write curriculum and preach the good new of Christ. It wasn’t always easy, but I learned so much and was graced with interacting with so many incredible people. I’ve worked with prisoners and laborers, met rock stars, politicians in Washington and media moguls. I’ve eaten on clay floors and dined on Italian marble. In every one of these experiences people are often the same with varying levels of brokenness. Every one of them needed love beyond the basic dignities of life.
I’ve had the pleasure of having many gay friends who have shown me great sacrifice and commitment in being able to love who their heart chooses. When I was teaching, I was blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood far beyond my pay grade when I was rented a room in a house from an incredible lesbian woman and her daughter, also gay, and who is now an incredibly powerful pastor in Minneapolis. I will attest to the beauty and strength of all my gay friends and their families and children, and am happy to have them in my life and the life of my family and children too. It is so natural and easy to love them and support them, I cannot fathom why anyone would not (which is a bit sarcastic because traditional religion is the true culprit for all the hate).
I’ve learned to understand sexual abuse, mental illness, suicide and PTSD, all first hand from students, friends and family. I’ve had to live with structural and physical maladies that have greatly altered and challenged my life. Yet in all these times, that in spite of these challenges I was always aware of and felt God’s presence. In fact, all these challenges gave root to all of Jesus teachings for me. The Gospel doesn’t make sense in a perfect hardship free life. Personally, I’ve endured misogyny and abuse, and also great and deep love and support. It’s true, that when you most need them, in the darkest of times special people enter your life to be what you need, and then are on their way.
My latest destination on my journey is to this small little hamlet on the St Croix river. It is insular and safe, uncomplicated and many times without the challenges of the greater world. It was a good place to raise my children except I could never let them be part of the bubble that can exist here. I had walked too far for that. I left my church here, and found another that had a more open world view. And to my boys, I know I forced you to give your Christmas to a poor family, invite the fringe to all your birthday parties, serve on mission trips and study the bible, and challenge every assumption or stereotype you threw in my face. I demanded you research and listen and be open to others, and dad, more than me made you put only good things in your bodies. Hopefully you will thank me for it some day, cause I am sure proud of how you turned out. We have a wonderful business that brings health to our community and our patients are some of the best people I have ever known.
So after all these steps, this is why I refuse to stand for bigotry and hate. This is why I stand for all my LBGTQ brothers and sisters. This is why I will fight for people of all ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political ideologies. This is why I stand for truth and will never shy away from pointing out inaccuracies that so deeply penetrate our media today. This is why I try so hard to root the Gospel in the most subtle of actions and behaviors. I am who I am, never to be pigeon holed into a left or right column, or belittled by any limiting moniker. My path is one of power and love, because I am a child of God and these are MY shoes. And as a servant of Christ I will fight for your shoes too.
Let me begin by saying this post is indeed political and may indeed seem polarizing, but it has nothing to do with political parties or the election per say. As part of my year of clarity, which is almost at an end by the way, I remain committed to see the world as Christ intended when he said blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Having come so far, I certainly am not going backward now. In many ways, this year has been a torturous stripping away of every illusion, every chain and old belief that I held onto as an appeasement to my fears, insecurities and those beliefs that limit my personal evolution. I never anticipated what asking for the eyes to see and ears to hear would do to my life. It was upended. Be careful what you pray for, I’ve heard. And as much as I had no idea how naive my request was, I remained stalwart through every point of this journey, sometimes to the detriment of my health and personal psyche. I also want to say, while not everyone is a Christian like I am, I hope you will appreciate the conclusions I’ve come to anyway. Today, I am Peter, when Jesus was walking on water:
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified, “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Even after all I’ve learned and how deep my faith has become having answered Jesus when he said “Come,” now that I am here standing amidst the turbulence, I am trying not to be afraid, trying not to sink into the depths. I have the benefit of hindsight that Peter didn’t. I already know Jesus response, “oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” In this moment of such turbulence, I will not let fear falter my journey. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid, I just simply reject the doubt so I don’t sink. I will walk on water regardless of my fear. I will respond to Jesus command when he says come. So what does that even look like? This may take a moment, so please bear with me until the end.
For that last few weeks, I have pondered, and worried a bit over Jesus words in Matthew 10 when he describes the world they, as disciples, would venture into:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more that me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his/her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses her/his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he/she is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous person because she/he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of theses little one’s to drink because he/she is a disciple-amen, I say to you, surely he/she will not lose their reward.
Life as a disciple is often life shattering. It is an ultimate test of loyalty and faith. If we succeed, we can walk on water. Call it whatever you will, a metaphor, a means to make the unfathomable, fathomable…I really don’t care. What I really care about is that regardless of the fear that holds many of us paralyzed right now, we must keep walking, we follow Jesus command to come. We refuse to doubt and be one of little faith. We do what seems at the moment to be the impossible. Because with God, all things are possible…right?
Now, here is where it gets tricky for me. As many of you know, I have friends who are democrat and republican. I embrace and accept that different ideologies exist. We’ve all walked different journeys and have embraced our own conclusions about what we’ve seen. I have friends who are religious and non-religious alike. So, my beef isn’t about that, hence the latter scripture that speaks about peace vs the sword. Here is my beef. Political ideologies, in essence, belong to Caesar (see last post), and we give to Caesar in our own way. How we express those ideologies most definitely leaks into giving to God what is Gods. So this is when the fear grips me most deeply. When you use an ideology to set others apart, to demean or demoralize them, to treat them disrespectfully you are not a being a disciple of Christ. When you cross the line in defaming your opposition, someone who doesn’t support the candidate you do, you are not being a disciple of Christ. That doesn’t mean the conversations about ideas won’t be difficult and painful. Where it became appalling to me in this election cycle was the deeply vicious and slanderous way people shared their opinions and almost never to anyone’s face. I always thought that to the people who know me, they know I’m a good person and so would listen to things from my perspective as well as their own and that they wouldn’t dismiss me or talk about me behind my back because I thought differently than they did, or get angry when I expected truth beyond salacious innuendo. I am not a bad person because I voted a certain way. Winning this election doesn’t give you God’s stamp of approval, God doesn’t give a shit about who won this election. But losing this election doesn’t give you the right to give up all hope or hate the other party either, God has clear opinions about those kinds of judgement too.
Being immersed in an environment that often is diametrically opposed to my most core beliefs has at times been difficult for me, but I’ve adapted because I’ve learned to see the deep goodness in the people who surround me. It has always been my prayer that others would offer me the same accord and it grieved me when that didn’t always happen. This year of clarity has given me freedom from that concern. I don’t care if you judge me, because my journey is sacred. I’ve said this before, that until you walk in another’s shoes you can never understand or judge their journey and I’ve worked hard to try and do that. So I implore people to listen to, and most importantly actually see those who are hurting right now and try and understand why. Sometimes seeing life through another’s eyes isn’t pretty, especially since it challenges our assumptions. There are people of color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, different levels of education and economics, who are devastated by the situation they are in today and the implications they may face come with deep feelings often times fear and rage. But when you take time to really see them and hear them, and break the confines of a limited perspective, fear diminishes and the walk gets easier, kind like gliding on water.
And yet to those who remain convinced that the problems we face are someone else’s fault, or that your “side” has the license on righteousness or God’s imprimatur, or that the answer lies in one person’s judgement against another, I choose to stand against you, whatever side of the aisle that puts you on. To refuse to recognize that we are all of us together, citizens who should all enjoy the the same self evident truths that are the cornerstone of this great country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is simply unacceptable to me. So, as a Christian, my sword will be lovingly raised, and wielded in every moment the Spirit deems fit. Go ahead hate me, reject me, whatever. I choose to answer the call and walk on water.
Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census to Caesar or not?’
Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.’ Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They replied, “Caesar’s,’ At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’
Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s is found both in the gospel of Mark and the gospel of Matthew. The two parables are different, but important in understanding the lesson that follows. In one parable we come to understand what belongs to God, and in the other, who controls the timing and invitation to God’s Kingdom. The phrase “Repay to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s” is not mutually exclusive, one guides the other.
In Mark, Jesus tells a story about a man who labored and built a vineyard and leased it out to tenants and went on a long journey. At the proper time, he sent his servants to obtain a sample of the produce of the vineyards. Some servants were beaten, others killed, all were sent away empty handed. When the owner sent his beloved son, thinking that they would respect him, they killed him desiring his inheritance. When Jesus posited to the crowd what the owner would do, they said the owner would kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. To which Jesus responded: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
So in this story, what belongs to God? The tenants believed that the fruits of their labor were theirs alone. How many of us still believe that? We forget that all we have comes from God. When God asks us for something, a mere sample, we are expected to give it, but not to show how generous we are, but as a sign of gratitude and a reminder that it was never ours to begin with. Remember in the story all the owner is asking for is for a sample of the produce, not enough to ruin the tenant but simply as a reminder of what they owner gave them since he labored and built it up to begin with. Celebrating all that God has built for us should be the only incentive we need to share our good fortune. The rejection of the Owner’s son happens every time we fail to understand that all our gifts come from God and when we refuse to share with the least of our brothers and sisters, we are refusing God. It is the least among us that the Kingdom is built on. Face it, we are all tenants on this earth at the grace of God.
In Matthew’s version, he likens the Kingdom of God to a King who gave a wedding feast. When the feast was ready, he dispatched his servants to invite the guests to share in his celebration but they wouldn’t come. He dispatched other servants and implored them to tell his guests that the banquet was indeed ready, the fatted calves were prepared for the feast. Some ignored the invitation, others went on to their businesses or farms. Still, others took the servants and killed them. The King was enraged and destroyed the murderers and their city. He declared the feast was ready but that those who were invited were no longer worthy to come. He told his servants to invite anyone they could find. The hall was filled with the good and the bad. And yet when he saw someone who was not dressed in a wedding garment and and was silent when questioned about it, the servants were instructed to throw him out. Jesus ended this story with “Many are invited, but few are chosen”
In this story, it is important that we realize embracing the Kingdom of God is not only being invited into God’s grace, it is actually showing up for the celebration…in God’s time. It is so easy to become so involved in our daily comings and goings that we have no time for God. That is just unacceptable. God’s time is just that…God’s time. We are here at His pleasure, not ours. We need to be ready, in the appropriate garb, at all times. So what does that actually mean?
When Jesus says “give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is Gods,” I think he is making a clear distinction of what belongs to a worldly view and what belongs to a Godly one. These stories help illustrate what belongs to God. In the first, it is clear that God is the owner of the vineyard…and we are only tenants. When God asks us for our talents, we don’t have the right to say no. He rejects the idea that the tenants have no obligation to give back. The selfishness, insolence and ultimate disrespect by the murder of his son is their undoing. In the second story, when we are called to celebrate at the wedding feast, at his appointed time, he is so put off by the disregard of his invitation that he effectively dis-invites them by burning the city and he opens his doors to anyone who would come, yet still expecting wedding attire…our best selves put forward. I used to be more confused by this parable…how could the invitees act so horribly? I understand it better now. Jesus is the bridegroom, we are already joined to God, by his grace. We should know that every moment of every day we should be celebrating with God. You don’t accept God’s invitation and continue to live on your own time, and on your own terms.Too many people think that being on the right team is all that is what is expected of us, that there is no demand on how we live and carry on in the world, that we can do what we will in the meantime. That is so much bullshit. We come when we are called, every day and in every way.
What belongs to God is sharing the fruits of our labor, and putting all else aside to celebrate the Kingdom when we are called. I can’t help but believe that those who dwell in the muck of this election, by perpetuating the vitriol and pointing the finger of judgement are behaving just like the protagonists of these two parables. Behavior I never thought possible from those who claim to be Christians. I am so tired of it, and I know many of you are too. Giving to Caesar is nothing more that the price of living in a human created construct. Giving to God is a declaration and expression of what is expected of us when we accept God’s invitation and all the gifts He has shared with us. So lets embrace each other as God’s people and celebrate all we have been gifted with and put our best selves forward as if we were celebrating at a great wedding feast everyday…and worry less about Caesar.
This poem by Dylan Thomas is loved by my father who is in hospice care right now. It pretty much sums up his attitude toward living…never idle and always in a continuous fight for light it its many forms. Whether it was the light of intellect (he has four degrees), the light of truth (his involvement in politics, from school boards to general elections), the light of faith (a devout Catholic and when he retired from teaching, a second career as a deacon), the light of love (married to my mother for 60 years and with her raised 5 very different and exceptional children). A jack of many trades, he was always planning the next great thing and the reality of Alzheimer’s and cancer has altered those plans, leaving the many in his stead whom his light has touched to continue to rage against darkness and be champions of the light.
My father has always been quite the orator. Whether it was Shakespeare or the Gospel, his voice commanded the moment, his inflection amplified and diminished words in perfect measure and cadence. Once, after he was done reading the Gospel at church, without thinking, I naturally started clapping instinctively as if it were a performance. Of course, I was embarrassed when I realized that I was the only one clapping, but I knew by the gentle laughter that I had done what everyone else had wanted to do in that moment. Words matter to my father, he required good grammar and for us to speak intelligently. Ignorance was simply unacceptable, as was the cruelty of gossip and unfounded innuendo. He held high standards for his children and his students because he had the uncanny knack of recognizing other people’s potential even when they, themselves, could not. That is the greatest gift he could give us as a teacher, to help see ourselves in the fullest light. He wasn’t always successful, but always maintained hope. Even as his cognition wanes, I still see the light he sees in me, reflected back in his face whenever he looks at me.
My parents and I have often sat around the dining room table and talked about theology and the world at large for hours. In fact our whole family has spent many hours around a table laughing and telling stories. Those kinds of conversations began by having dinner at the same table all together growing up. We all shared an appreciation for the absurdity of our human condition and the hilarity of these moments gave us stomach aches from laughing so hard at all our escapades. Our dinner table was as much a place for talking as it was for eating. Dad, at the head of the table, was the inspiration for much of the conversation. I think I picked up my sense of humor and storytelling from that dinner table. I remember him telling stories of reciting Macbeth in a Swedish accent, or all his English classes wearing orange on St Patrick’s day (you Irish Catholics can figure it out) and the stories of his time in the Navy, or growing up down the street from Charles Schulz who wrote the Peanuts cartoon. He had as many serious stories of intervening to help students, parishioners, and many who struggled. The best advice I ever got before I started teaching was from my dad. He said: Be prepared, never raise your voice, always look them in the eye, never talk down to them, and always hold them to their highest selves and more times than not they will rise to the occasion.
In a recent conversation about heaven he had with my younger sister, he contemplated whether he had done enough in his life. While surprising, given everything he’s done, I understand what he meant. My father always knew there was so much more to do, that the Kingdom of God was hardly finished and he wanted to be there to see how it all turned out. My prayer is that he will have a front seat to all the action, to celebrate and guide us from above while we continue to refuse to walk gently in this life and carry on his legacy of fighting for the light.
It is a slippery slope when science modifies nature without regard for the consequences. As uncomfortable as it is talking about the mess we’ve made with our foodstuffs it pales in comparison to what humanity has done with the scripture that is meant to save the world. While I realize that the words of Jesus are subject to interpretation, like our modern made food stuffs, if we aren’t careful the words can be compromised. The torture for me is trying to understand and embrace the real truth. How can I have a better handle on the teachings of Jesus than anyone else? I’m just a person with a singular perspective. Yes, I have a degree in theology, I have devoted much of my life in the service of Christ and yet I have no greater claim on truth than anyone else who shares in the gift of grace. So here is my take. While it took me awhile to realize that the bread I was eating was poisoning and being rejected by my body, so it is with my soul rejecting some of what is being preached as the Word of God and not in the way that the Gospel challenges us and makes us uncomfortable to become better Christians, but more visceral. Like the body’s rejection of manufactured foods, manufactured faith is just as lethal. I’m speaking about the kind of faith that may taste good, but really isn’t good for you.
After writing and then deleting the start of this paragraph about 50 times, once again I have accept the fact that I may sound self-righteous and a bit arrogant…but there is so much violence and hatred even among Christians, that I just can’t stand it anymore. I think of it like this: the primary focus of our faith shouldn’t be on weaponizing it to keep people out, or beating down Satan in the way of pointing the finger at the evil of the moment. For the love of all that is Holy, people! Jesus fought that fight, so we don’t have to. Our only job….let me say that again, OUR ONLY JOB is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS JESUS LOVED US. Love feeds the soul and makes it stronger. Hatred, judgement, fear, anger, self-righteousness emaciates the soul and makes it weak.
Just think about it for a moment. Is the Body of Christ alive and well? Does it consist of only what you have a taste for? Scripture, like life, can’t be rewritten to appeal to the crazy pace and affluence of modern living. Our bodies become stronger when we exercise and put forth hard effort, even when it’s uncomfortable. Our immune systems become stronger when they are put to work naturally to fight off illness, and sometimes that means dealing with sickness or physical challenges. Our souls, demand the same kind of workout. Being a Christian isn’t always about consuming things that taste good, sometimes we just can’t eat candy or cake…we need vegetables and protein.
The Word of God, is Gods and when the Word is used to serve only individual purpose we poison them. In the end, the strength of the soul will be defined by how well we can love one another…of that I am sure.
There 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.
This 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.
I 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.
Being 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.
I’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed. Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own. The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost. While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.
Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things” God would never give us anything harmful. I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify. So how then, do we know what good is? What follows gives us a clue. Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”. The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.
So what is good fruit? Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power? I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray. Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree). It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit. Pretty much sums it all up.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus functionally begins his ministry at a Samaritan well talking to a woman. I say he functionally began his ministry, because he had just left the desert from being baptized by John the Baptist. So what a place to start: not only with a woman, but a Samaritan woman, and even more so, a Samaritan woman of ill repute. What makes this particular event so powerful is that just prior to this conversation in the previous chapter comes the famous line he spoke to the Pharisee Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” We never get Nicodemus immediate response, but from Jesus we get an inclination that he wasn’t completely sold on the idea: Jesus makes it clear that those who prefer the cloak of darkness and fear exposure of their wickedness are already condemned. So after journeying to Samaria, while his disciples had gone to look for food, he stopped for a drink of water. What followed, (I will make you read it for yourself) was nothing short of remarkable…especially given the timing.
I think it is remarkable because he not only spoke to this woman of ill repute, but he talked to her as if she were anyone else of equal value. She was the first person who, when told he was the Messiah, believed him right then and there. (Nicodemus was most probably still pondering the idea and the disciples were amazed he was talking to a woman and concluded he simply needed to eat something). You see this is of utmost importance because he knew all about her disreputable past, appreciated her telling the truth, and then offered her everything, because she, like all those who came after her, were in need of and wanted everything he offered. She wasn’t afraid of the truth, of being exposed. And yet I still wondered, why her? Jesus must have recognized a remarkable quality in her, because even though she was a woman of ill repute, when she went back into the village saying, “He told me everything I have ever done, could he be the Messiah?” they actually came. She wasn’t afraid of her wickedness, like perhaps many of those who feared Jesus. She wanted the light.
What would his ministry have looked like had Nicodemus believed him right away instead of perhaps falling into his fear of exposure. What if it was he who ran and said to the people “I have met the Son of man who will bring us eternal life” maybe Jesus whole ministry would have transpired differently. The Samaritan woman stood in truth when exposed and that made all the difference in the world.
I’ve embraced that breaking out in a cold sweat will be the new normal as I write this first post for the new year. After the title popped into my head I knew I needed to write before I lost my nerve. Here goes.
Every person on this earth is of consequence. Everyone. God’s plan for the world is weakened, altered whenever we lose sight of this most fundamental idea; we are in this together. How do I know this? Just read the Bible, actually most Holy Scriptures. Since I am a Christian, this is how I know this. In Jesus’ wheelhouse of people, he spent the majority of his time with the least desirable, most despised, greatest sinners…etc. He chose simple fishermen for his disciples, and often the oddest of people to dine with and talk to. His reach went beyond the limitations of class, ethnicity, religion and politics; everyone mattered. Everyone deserved to hear his message He especially avoided those who had held the prestige of class and distinction….because they had forgotten who God was, and how to build up His Kingdom.
I don’t think it is difficult to draw a parallel to modern culture. We have become as exclusive, judgmental, bigoted and narrow-minded as those who were threatened by Jesus in his day. We have forgotten who God is and how to build up His Kingdom. To twist the words of Jesus to exclude and redefine who is acceptable to God is nothing short of blasphemy. So don’t. God celebrates every one of us, he doesn’t make mistakes. I hope that isn’t a hard pill to swallow, because to each of you who really hates a section of the population for whatever reason…stop, because they are precious in God’s eyes.
Ouch, I know that can be harsh. So I have to see preciousness in the people who literally make my skin crawl? Yes. That doesn’t mean that we all go hug a random criminal or (insert name of the faction of the population you hate the most). So here is where I move beyond “of consequence” and on to consequences. Saying the phrase, “of consequence” and believing it is hard. Most people I know are insecure and struggle, in a variety of ways, with low self esteem…that includes those who appear über confident and present the illusion to the world that their shit doesn’t stink. It is what drives the angry divisive, bullying behavior of people today. Those who really believe they are precious, essential, loved and important just don’t behave that way. I also think it is why people refuse to accept responsibility for their own choices, and how that is manifested, I suppose, is different for each person. For example, I think the one of the reasons the Pharisees hated Jesus so much is that he took their power over the people away. If Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting so long for, they were no longer formidable. Their self-worth depended on knowing more, having more power, the exclusivity of being the God’s chosen people, rendering them more important that everyone else. Jesus virtually pulled the rug out from under their belief of who the Messiah would be, not a mighty King, but a loving servant. That could not have set well. They were precious in God’s eyes and yet there were dire consequences of what they did. How are we supposed to love that?
Being “of consequence” will never render the “consequences” of any our actions in the world null and void. We all live by the choices we make and often suffer the fallout of choices others make. We have to hold others accountable, but only in a way that offers the possibility of being “of consequence” again. I’m not naive, the world has some pretty evil stuff going on. But remember that we are not alone, God is truly with us and for us…all of us. And until we can believe that we are all precious in His sight, even though we all sin, we have to stop throwing stones, the kind that destroy and not build up. We have to stop blaming the government, the 1%, the poor, ethnicity, ideology… the list goes on and on. Jesus said, that whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me. Holding ourselves and others accountable while still seeing the worth in all sinners is how we grow and how we grow to understand God. I just want people to understand that the kind of choices we make change when we look in the mirror and believe that the person who is looking back matters, is important, and is an expression of God’s great creative mind. Because if you can’t see God’s creation when you look in the mirror, you won’t be able to see it in others either.
I tell my sons this all the time. Much of the lifestyle we live, is earned and I am proud of that. As much, however, is not. I am always mindful of that I live in a rich country, have freedoms that others fought for, have the ethnicity that offers more opportunity to me than to others. I am gifted spiritually by Grace, and perfected by God’s sacrifice. I am NOT entitled to anything, except the opportunity to love as Jesus did and help bring light to a world that often seems dimmed by smoke and subterfuge…so that we cannot see that we are blessed, created by and vindicated by God.
I can’t help thinking that if we really believed that we were greatly privileged, and wore that greatness as a badge of honor, we would embrace the responsibility to love and honor each other so much more easily. We’ve been lulled into believing that we will never have enough, will never be enough, and the world’s acceptance matters. We should be better at it by now, you know, loving one another and being the Body of Christ. We are way too obsessed about gaining what is rightly ours…when nothing really is, in this temporal world, all is fleeting and none of it will matter in the next world.
I know it doesn’t mean we stop practically living in the world, but we would live differently if we really believed that we could. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell all you have and follow me”. With the privilege of Grace, comes responsibility.