Blessed are your eyes and ears

Sometimes I think of that moment in the story of Adam and Eve, when they both become aware of good and evil and what that must have felt like. Their sense of innocence was gone and they were keenly aware that they are naked, exposed, and were immersed in a world of sin. And then, I remember a line from the Easter liturgy that says: “Oh happy fault of Adam which gained for us so great a Savior” So, while none of us ate a bite of that damn apple, sin is in the world, its consequences glaringly apparent (at least to those who aren’t blind, metaphorically speaking). The good news is that we are not without hope, without help, without guidance; we were blessed with such a Savior. Which is why I’m confounded to think that there are those who think that sin isn’t their problem and that if they simply sanitize what they see and hear in the world then some how that becomes an acceptable response in dealing with its ugliness. Sin is here, that ship has sailed. It’s presence and legacy is unavoidable and is something we all have to deal with, even our youngest and most innocent. With the interconnections and expanse of social media, we are literally running out of places to sweep things we don’t want to see and hear under the rug. I also am acutely aware that one person’s definition of what is unconscionable is vastly different than another’s. And while accepting the gift of grace by following Christ has opened my eyes and ears, it doesn’t make me any less of a sinner or any less susceptible to its temptations. I think the Gospels lay out pretty clear criteria on how to go about dealing with sin. There is a clear conversation, though, about why Jesus teaches the way he does through parables:

 This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it

Jesus used story telling as a mechanism to teach us about sin, love, sacrifice, and who God is. It is clear from Jesus’ perspective that many people wouldn’t get it, because they refused to be open to it, even the Pharisees. So from where I stand, I do not believe that book burning, or banning is the answer. I must admit, on a list of banned books, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Wrinkle in Time” are why I am a reader…and I read them when I was 11…and was not tainted by them in any way shape or form. As a matter of fact, I learned a lot about the horrors of the world without needing direct experience in how to face or understand those horrors. I also learned a lot about standing in someone else’s shoes and more often than not I was left hopeful. Sometimes, though, I learned very hard lessons about myself, that changed the way I moved and behaved in the world. Regardless of the discomfort one may feel reading a book like “Lord of the Flies”, which I hated and yet still learned a great deal about bullies and the nature of power, I learned about sin and what havoc it can create in this world, and what can happen even in the most unexpected circumstances. I think books like the ones I mentioned are necessary, not as an approval of, but as an awareness of the destruction that evil and sin have brought into the world without having to have first hand experience. Utilizing our eyes and ears and exercising what hopefully are evolving ethics and humanity in a safe environment are a way to contain the sin that need not be perpetuated as an inevitable result of being human.

I am in no way saying that any parents don’t have the right to guide their child’s education, but I am clearly saying that burning books or banning them in righteous indignation could also mean that you are afraid to see and hear uncomfortable truths about the world. Sin affects not just those who commit bad acts, but those who are victims of it as well. And most importantly ignorance of the sin is never an excuse to say you can never be responsible for it. I’m not saying this cavalierly at all. Reading a book like “Schindler’s List” was devastating for me, but knowing atrocities like the holocaust happened, opened my eyes and ears to a kind of hatred that designates a whole people as unworthy. That’s why there are those out there who would have you believe that none of these atrocities are real, and to block that knowledge so ignorance may abound and the sin can continue. I have also spent much of my lifetime working among righteous Christians who were wonderful reflections of Christ and at the same time, in the same environment Christians who were the worst kind of sinners. Hypocrisy abounds among those who believe they are above the decay of sin and refuse to acknowledge their own sin and portray themselves like wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Claiming moral superiority about how to address the nature of sin is the kind of hubris that Jesus despised. He hated the kind of hypocrisy that existed in the temple at the time of those who proclaimed a moral superiority but spent much less time living as God expected all of us to. You don’t have to like a book to appreciate it and understand its value, or believe that the very act of reading a banned book is a tacit approval of its content. There are many great books that simply depict, honestly, albeit sometimes harshly, and horrifically the character of our sinful world…but to pretend that somehow you and yours simply by the act of knowing about a sin, will be tainted by it somehow suggests you can remain free from its corruption magically in the first place. Like I said at the beginning, that ship has sailed. We are in the same boat. I will leave you with the man born blind who Jesus healed, and was booted out of the temple for being a sinner. Thinking you see, doesn’t necessarily make it so

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, ” Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he”. He said, ” I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came to this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind”. Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have not sin; but now your are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

Putting Christ back into Christianity

writing on the groundEvery day I say this prayer: “God, bless all those in need with the miracle of love and light, let this miracle transform their lives in such a way that they, in turn, transform others with the gift of love and light.”  Given recent events, I was truly gifted with a miracle when God shed light on the wounds I carried as a result  of my past and healed them with love  by  exposing those wounds that were hidden away.   I learned that my singular perspective so skewed the truth of past events that it literally weighed me down for years.  Not only was it largely a burden that tortured me unnecessarily, it also distracted me from good that could have been accomplished.  Like I’ve said before about perspective, it is limited to the individual…we have only a finite amount of information, finite gifts and functions.  That is why we were called to become a body, where all our differences are used together to become something so much more.  Living by a singular perspective stifles the functionality of the body of Christ.

Herein lies the problem with that singular perspective.  It has become a marker for a political ideology, where differences are suspect and at times deemed sinful…which is exactly what Paul said can’t happen.  He said no part of the body has the right to look at another and say that they are of lesser or of no importance.  All parts are essential to the functioning of the whole.  I may have carried the burden that I was a nonessential or less than other parts of the body, therefore limiting my ability to do what God created me to do.  I had to broaden my perspective and take the leap to ask…”how do you see me?”  I was blessed with seeing that I am essential, that I do matter.  What of those who are not so lucky?  What of those who many Christians see as abominations?  I challenge them to read John 8:1-11.  When the Pharisees and scribes presented the woman caught in adultery to him and asked whether or not he would fulfill the law of Moses and stone her, he bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.  When they persisted he said: “Let the one among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.  He then bent down and continued writing on the ground.  No one threw a stone.  I’ve always believed that they walked away because each could see their own sin in what Jesus wrote on the ground.  I wish each and every Christian spent less time perched and ready with stone in hand, and more time embracing the light and love that he brought with his teaching.  He concluded by telling the Pharisees and scribes: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me with have the light of life…You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.”

Drop the stones.  None of us is sinless.  Walking in the light demands it.

Dancing with the Devil

dancing with the devilI hesitated for a long time before I expressed my rage against this corporate machine, but now that my dance with this particular devil is done…let me tell you about it.  For the past few years, my family has made a special effort to live more simply, pay off debt and choose a life that isn’t inspired by all the physical trappings of modern society.  I’m not saying we live like monks, but we, like a lot of others working in health-care fields have suffered in this economy.  We want to live responsibly and not live in the mentality of blaming the world for the challenges that we may face on any given day.  Some days are better than others.  Today, having gotten out from under the single most Faustian company in the world, Bank of America, I feel free.  The holes in my stomach can heal, the frustration of feeling victimized by a company that is rife with story after story of malfeasance is over.

In all my discussions about power, I thought it was high time I took an opportunity to act powerfully in what, to me anyway, was a situation in which I had none.  Choosing to act powerfully doesn’t always mean having the upper hand.  In this instance it meant seeing a situation clearly, and also affirming the belief that I am a good and honest person who was in need of help solving a problem.  That was my platform.   While I think I’m a pretty good negotiator, I had a very positive and yet completely unfruitful conversation with a representative who was rendered speechless in the end even though the machine he worked for may have won, it was I, not he, who felt powerful at the end of our conversation.  I was completely forthright, made no excuses, wanted to resolve a problem efficiently and then proceeded to state the truth to him that not only were they unwilling to negotiate anything, I was penalized for being truthful and responsible.  Not to go into detail, any time I was put on hold so he could “check with his manager,” he came back with an even more dismal situation.   I asked him how he could stand working for this company, (not at all in a mean way, but more because I was curious) given how stressful this was…he answered me, in a tired voice, that it was his job.  I said, that I pride myself on working with people to solve problems and are usually successful in creating solutions where both sides can benefit.  I repeated back much of what the company touted in their new campaign, that they wanted to help stay connected and help people in their ordinary lives.  Being as ordinary as they come, it appeared to me that the company not only didn’t want to keep me connected they were doing their very best to make life as difficult as possible.  He had nothing to say to that.  Ironically, I felt good after the phone-call because I had done everything I could do on my end.  I ended with phrase:  “You have to know that this will catch up to your company, that the rule of the universe is that whatever you put out there comes back to you.  It certainly has for the rest of us.  But when you have an opportunity to help, and your company literally pays bonuses for pushing people to default, you have to know that eventually you and your company will have pay the price…even if all you do is answer the phone and relay your manager’s message…”  We ended the conversation politely.  I did pray for him that night, more because he didn’t seem to thrilled about working for them.  I know I sounded a bit judgmental but at that moment, it seemed so true.  Also,  he had to go back.  I don’t, and I guess that is why I win.

I learned something too.  All the years our business had a relationship with this company, like millions of others, I never thought about what a monster we helped make.  I get that it was done  completely unwittingly, but we still did our part, and I feel most definitely we paid the consequences.  Isn’t this how a lot of monsters get created?  Not by one thing, but by diffusing it among the masses until they become the catch phrase…”Too big to fail”  Perhaps this is why Jesus talks so much about the difficulty of a rich man getting into the Kingdom of God.  Today, I cut my ties with this particular devil and will for the first time in a long time sleep well.

Agony

agony

I’ve been working on a dramatic piece called “Stations” about Jesus’ final walk to Golgotha for a while now, and it’s had many incarnations.  Lately, though, I keep coming back to the agony Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane before the culmination of his great act of sacrifice.  How deep was the agony he felt that it would cause him to sweat blood, to panic so deeply, that even after all his miracles and raising Lazarus from the dead, he asked his Father to release him at the last-minute?  So, as I often do, I prayed to God for some insight into those few hours underneath the tree…and this is what came to mind.  Music is part of my process, and this piece in particular from Eric Whitacre peeled away much of what I was afraid to see, invoking such grief and deep emotion that I was almost too embarrassed to write this post.  So I add it as a context, while you read that hopefully it will add a dimension to my words.

I see a solitary figure under a tree, with sleeping men laying a short distance away.  His loneliness is palpable and He prays out to His Father for assistance and comfort.  An angel appears and quietly sits beside him, and I draw closer.  The solemnity of the angels’ presence is palpable, his tone somber as he speaks to Jesus.  What transpires between them is an understanding of what is about to happen in the next few days, that agony has begun.  The angel shows Jesus the sinfulness of humanity throughout the ages and his fury grows blinding hot, more than he ever did at the scribes and pharisees, or any other behavior we have witnessed thus far.  In his rage, he turns away and tells the angel that perhaps humanity is beyond saving.  The thought of sacrificing himself for such an abomination is unbearable to him.  The angel than takes his hand and shows him the victims of that sin…the beauty of God’s creation destroyed in the darkest and most heinous fashion and then racked in anger and despair he begs his Father to release him from drinking from this cup.

I try to empathize with Jesus, and though I haven’t seen all that the angel has shown him, I hope I have seen enough evil in my life to maybe create a speck of understanding.  Who would die for them?  The angel then turns to me and brings Jesus attention to where I am standing.  Up until this point I am an unknown presence, a simple voyeur watching a play.  As I am drawn in, fear wells up inside, I am exposed…in all my fallibility it is me that Jesus sees now in his deepest agony.  The angel points to me and says…”It is for her that you must bear this burden, so that she might live.”  Jesus turns to me and immediately the anguish in his face dissipates for a moment and he sees me, purely, flaws and all.  I am no longer an insignificant one of millions who is graced because of something that happened 2000 years ago.  I am removed from that safety of history and stand right before him, weak and pathetic.  Than angel wants me to be the reason that he follows through with what will be the most painful, demoralizing and fearful moments of his life.  Completely shocked and appalled and before I can run away to avoid the guilt of being the reason for his pain he turns to heaven and says “Father, let your will be done.”  He turns to me resolved and with such eyes of love that I fall on the ground weeping.  I scream at him, “Don’t make me the reason, I am not worth going through what you about to go through.”  I fall with the weight of this realization clear in my heart to the ground…the phrase “He died for my sins” blaring into my head, and I am unable in that raw moment to safely intellectualized anything.  My soul in broken, I see that now.

Jesus pulls me up, and the moment I look into his eyes, my burden is lifted and the weight of my sins are gone.  In an instant, I know that it wasn’t only just my face that he saw but every face seen singularly,  yet all at once.  His appearance becomes a bit heavier and darker and I understand the transference of my sins and all whose eyes he gazed upon has begun.  The aura of his purity is blackened…I know now that it will be easy for him to be handed over for crucifixion.  The blackness of our sin becomes like a cloak…hiding his true nature by reflecting back to those that gaze upon him their own sinfulness.  Magnified by a millennium of sin I see now how they can hate him.  Every Good Friday service, at the part in the story when the crowd screams “crucify him!”,  I am certain I would have stood up to the crowd and fought for him.  Now, seeing him with the weight of that darkness, I don’t think I could.  It is so easy to hate the sin worn by others, when we can’t see it in ourselves.

My once broken soul has been made whole by his sacrifice, the cloak of my sin is gone.  The light of his grace can shine unfettered and bring healing to the world.  It can shine through me if I choose to be his instrument of love and peace.  And as often as I may fail, this visit to the garden will inspire me to keep trying…every day until I die.