In My Shoes

my shoes

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.

 

Giving from Need and not Want

Widowsmite

One of the observations that Jesus makes both comforts and convicts me in equal measure. Jesus first warns his disciples:

Be on guard against the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and love greetings in marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.

He then goes on to make this observation:

When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.’

I’m not about to get close to the subject of people and their money. No one thinks they have enough, and certainly don’t want to let go of it…to their detriment anyway. At my core, I’m no different, and it is with great effort and sometimes with great ease, that I consciously release the hold it has on me every day. It expands my faith and my trust in God that I will have enough…that I will be enough and it actually makes me walk in the world differently.

I want to explore other kinds of want, and that has been the greater task for me this year. Loving when I don’t feel loved, being respectful when I don’t feel respected, empathizing when I don’t feel empathy, offering hope when I don’t feel hopeful, trusting someone when I am plagued with distrust, extending peace when I am full of rage, all lessen the need itself. The distinction is subtle…but like the widow, when I give out of my need, with all my present resources, I not only see that I have enough, but the need loses its hold on my soul.

Exhausting needs, and offering all I have to another, allows God to replenish me and create a surplus that wasn’t there before. The mystery of letting go and letting God is manifested. Otherwise it’s just talk. Otherwise we become like the scribes who never lessen their wealth, but gain all the accolades for their holiness. Otherwise faith, hope and love lose and fear wins. I won’t let that happen. Today, I give from need and not want.

 

 

 

 

Can Optimism Rule?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty Little Liars

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

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

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

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

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

They Will Know That You Are Christains By Our Love

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

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

He goes on to say in John 13:34,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

525,600 Minutes and So Much More

save our starving children 1 save our starving children 2 stave our starving children 3Numbers are generally not my forte, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them, or understand their significance in our lives.  There is a great song lyric from the song, “Seasons of Love”, from the musical “Rent’ that I love: 525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year.”  This weekend, working at a “Feed My Starving Children” event at Osceola High School, less than 250 high school students, faculty, and a handful of parents, assembled 300,000 meals. That means 822 children will be fed for a year, 432,043,200 precious minutes of life sustained and celebrated. Actually that last number gave me goose bumps because 432 is a sacred number, (for my science and religion students, Joseph Campbell pointed out the significance of this number), as well as the square root of the speed of light, and how the golden mean is exemplified in sound (432Hz tuning).  And this very number is repeated twice in those precious minutes we helped save this past weekend!

I’ve been focusing on these words of Jesus this year, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” and “Every good tree bears good fruit.” This event was the perfect, shining, harmonic example of everything Jesus was talking about.  By the hands of the few, many are saved.  So many good trees, bearing good fruit.  There is nothing more powerful than that.  It was done with joy, celebration and mad organization by the staff of “Feed My Starving Children” and Joel and Heidi Hazzard who sponsored the event. Duplicating loaves and fishes and even moving mountains doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply joining together and working together can accomplish amazing things. Congress could learn a lot from these young people, who came together from all different social groups to work in concert together and accomplish an amazing goal.  I’ve always said the most extraordinary things are accomplished by ordinary (and yet amazing) people.