What are We Celebrating Here?

Do you know what February 22nd is? Yeah, yeah, Ash Wednesday, for millions of Christians around the world. Catholics, in particular, are called to prayer, fasting, and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Before Ash Wednesday, they are supposed to wrestle with something that they LOVE – A LOT –like chocolate, or cussing, or binge-watching those stupid TV shows and give it up for those forty days. Good luck with that and your commitment to exercise too! We’re so pathetic when it comes to the teeniest bit of “suffering”.

But there’s another event on this day that everyone, faithful and heathen alike, will be celebrating. Something easier to stick to. It is – drum roll, please…

National Margarita Day!!! Olay…olay…olay…olay!

It is a sad commentary for all people of faith that they seem to compete with each other. Think of how many faithful Catholics receive their ashes on a throbbing forehead after reveling the day before.

    Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Ash Wednesday should be one of the most sacred of church seasons. You see them everywhere, people with those strange ashes on their foreheads. You want to reach up and wipe it off for them because you think they don’t know it’s there, “You have something on your forehead. Let me get that for you.”

Some people focus these forty days entirely on the “giving up” aspect of it. Chocolate sales are probably higher on the days leading up to Lent than on Valentine’s Day! Perhaps that’s how Valentine’s Day got its start! Ya’ think? People began buying copious amounts of chocolate in February, and someone at Hershey noticed. It probably had nothing to do with St. Valentine. It’s a commercial windfall for Hershey and Hallmark. Cha-Ching! But I digress.

The morning after Ash Wednesday and National Margarita Day may appear to be similar.

Ash Wednesday:

  • You wake up wondering if you really want to do this again.
  • You feel an emptiness you can’t define.
  • You wonder if you did anything the past year that you’ll regret confessing because you conveniently forgot that one nasty faux pas you should have mentioned last year. OOPS.
  • You shower that already-faded reminder off your forehead and act like it never happened. You check the mirror. Thank goodness it’s not a tattoo!
  • You ask yourself, again, “Why do I put myself through this forty-day review of all my shittines… Every. Single. Miserable. Year?!”
  • You question if any of it even matters.

National Margureta Day:

  • You wake up forgetting what happened the night before.
  • You feel an emptiness you can’t define.
  • You wonder if you did anything stupid the night before. You usually do, and someone you were with will probably remind you, or point out that tattoo they warned you against.
  • You down a couple of aspirins for the headache.
  • Then, you ask yourself – again – why you continue to do this when the outcome is always the same?
  • You question if this annual event should be struck from your calendar!

Like it or not, they will both be back. You just have to decide which one you will allow in because it really is up to you. Alcohol will try to force its way into your mouth. Jesus will gently knock on the door of your heart. One will try t’kill’ya, and the other wants to bring you back to life. You decide.

Here is the beautiful lesson of Lent we can all take away, “Lent is not about giving up. It is about finding. It is about healing. It is about cleansing. It is about weeping. It is about reconciling,” says Carla Mae Streeter, O.P. (one of my former professors.) And only a person in love truly “gets it.” That’s where remembering becomes critical. Of course, we must never forget the suffering of Christ and the Love that hung on the cross on Good Friday. But that cannot be where it ends.

We must take our remembering into Easter Sunday and beyond – and rejoice! Death has no sting. Hell has no victory! God loves us that much! If we forget that, if we become so caught up in the “more important” things in our lives, we lose, and Satan wins. John Eldridge tells us that “the story of your life is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it. We must never forget that we are part of a greater story.”

Lent has something to teach us, no matter what our faith is, that it’s about remembering. And who doesn’t need to be continually reminded of who we are as God’s beloved? (Also, when you walk out your front door this morning, remember that God loves your neighbor too – because he threw up on your lawn last night!)

Even during the most difficult of times, are we aware that we are truly being held by a MightyAwesome, and Loving God? The richness of your life comes from a promise kept by the God who LOVES YOU DEEPLY AND PASSIONATELY. If the cross doesn’t prove that, if the empty tomb doesn’t prove that, if the resurrection doesn’t prove that, nothing will. You were created for love. Try to remember that.

Jesus: I’m Back! Did You Miss Me?

I think it’s fair to say that this Easter will be like no other, and I would like to think of that as a good thing – eventually – hopefully. God has stripped away all the non-essentials: new outfits, haircuts, a review of proper behavioral expectations for the kids at church, and “how to stay awake” for adults. Making up tiny sins suitable to hide the deeper embarrassing stuff for the annual confession – not needed.

Oh yeah, and the relatives you can’t stand that your mother always guilted you into including on the Easter dinner invites – not necessary, either. You’ll be dining alone (and you might want to work on that hate issue of yours).

You take a deep breath and realize what’s left. Ready? Jesus and you. AWKWARD! It’s okay. He doesn’t bite. No matter what your third-grade teacher told you.

So, how about we take a new look with fresh eyes at the events of this Easter week? It was a week that revealed humanity at its best and worst. What might that mean for us today?

We begin with Palm Sunday. Those crowds were lovin’ on Jesus the Prophet on his way to becoming their anticipated King who would finally save them. Christ was celebrated as the One who would bring his people out of captivity. They were enthralled with him. The cheering was almost deafening, sorta like opening day at Busch Stadium. But, remember, these were his faithful followers, and it was all palms and rose petals.

Then it all went sideways as he went to Jerusalem to encounter a not-so-supportive crowd. What a different picture, huh? Here he’s among the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who know enough about him by now to hate him.

Now he is stirring up more anger than a crowd rush for toilet paper on the opening day of coronavirus mania! So, the chief priests and elders meet to plot against him. They know they have to get him away from his faithful followers first. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26: 3-5).

And how about those disciples who vowed never to leave him at the height of his ministry? We know James and John made it clear they wanted to have an honored place next to him when he came into his glory (Mark 10:35-37). Perhaps the rest thought they already had that favored position all sewn up. But then they all scattered and ran for cover when he was taken away to be crucified. “This is not what we signed up for!”

In very short order, He was convicted and dragged before an angry crowd who screamed for his crucifixion, and they probably didn’t even know why. How many do you suppose just got caught up in the moment and didn’t realize until afterward what they had participated in – the torture and murder of an innocent man they would later discover was PRETTY SPECIAL?

Then at the Cross on Good Friday, we watch horrified as Jesus suffers an unspeakable death, and his mother suffers in silence.

On Saturday, the waiting begins as we are called to silently contemplate what has happened. But we already know that his glorious resurrection is coming, and peace on earth will prevail. At least, we used to believe that. But that truth seems to have been morphed by fear and the unknown this year. So, maybe this day will be spent like all the rest these past few weeks trying to numb ourselves to what we imagine is coming: watch TV (which only fuels that fear), take a nap, eat, drink, wash hands – repeat.

Where’s the peace in all that? We usually only have the capacity to think our hearts are at peace when everything is perfect: our relationships are perfect, our kids are perfect, and the mother-in-law moved away (oops, not nice). But even, or especially in these times when fear will try to overwhelm you, don’t let that happen! God is ready to prove to you that you are stronger, braver, and more resilient than you ever imagined! (Which will come in handy when your mother-in-law has to move back in with you).

As Alan Cohen tells us in his book, A Course in Miracles Made Easy, “No person, group, situation, or condition has the power to take away your happiness. NO ONE. NO THING. NEVER. The experience of joy is your God-given right. People can try to remove your happiness, but they cannot remove your peace unless you give them that power.”

So, there you go. Unlike the disciples, we don’t need to hide or be anxious about the future. Surely, they all sat with regret knowing they did the unthinkable by abandoning Jesus and running away. Aside from Peter and Judas, we don’t know what was going through their heads. Did they wish they could have a do-over? I would think they must have. That’s the beauty of second chances. After Jesus invited them to a fish fry, they were all on fire to serve the God they now knew as unfailing love and mercy, especially Peter, the hater, turned lover of Jesus, turned coward, turned forgiven, turned martyr for his now unshakable love of Christ. Whew!

I think I read somewhere that at that fish fry, Jesus recalled to them the Last Supper, “Hey guys remember the great time we had then?” – since they all seemed to have forgotten. “Remember how I washed your nasty feet?” Then he reiterated his call to them to love one another (John 13:34). “And just so we’re clear…that was not a suggestion.” I wonder if any of them choked on their food at that point.

Now, what about us? Here we are, kind of like the disciples, in the midst of what is surely one of the most uncertain times of our lives. And, funny thing, God is still here, still loving and merciful and compassionate. But where are we? Big question.

How many of us have been running from him all our lives? Oh sure, we have been going through the motions of being a “Christian,” mostly to impress others. But what have we done as Christ’s followers? How have we been Christ to others?

Today, maybe more than ever, we need to let the light of the Risen Christ shine in and through us for those who are lost and alone, not just in their homes but in the very depth of their hearts. That is God’s hope and greatest longing. “Look,” He says on Easter morning, “I never left you, and I never will. So, stop trying to hide from me. Let’s sit together and get to know each other. What else do you have to do? You’ve cleaned your house and straightened your sock drawer so many times you’ve lost count. Just sayin’.”

Galway Kinnell says, “Sometimes it’s necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.” I think that’s what God is trying to do with us, so we can pass it on to others who have become frozen with fear. Living into the truth of our loveliness will allow others to do the same. Just imagine what beauty, joy, and peace would be created for this world’s future?!

THIS IS OUR TIME. THIS IS OUR CALL TO LOVE! AND WHO KNOWS BUT THAT WE WERE CREATED FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS (Esther 4:14).

AMEN AND HALLELUJAH!

THIS IS GONNA BE EPIC!!

HAVE A BLESSED AND JOYOUS EASTER, EVERYONE!

I Want a Do-Over…I Think…Maybe Not

(Originally posted 6/30/2014)

One of my daughters-in-law recently asked me what I thought was important to teach their kids, which surprised me because she knows I’ve made a LOT of parenting mistakes. It’s something that always comes to mind for me on Mother’s Day and other random days when I am particularly vulnerable to my darker side. That said, I suppose I would be an expert on what not to do! I often wish I could have a do-over. A chance to enact that age-old expression, “if I knew then what I know now”.

So, how would I parent differently if I had it to do over? First, it’s possible, but very difficult, to instill in your children what has not been instilled in you. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” doesn’t work. Neither does my all-time favorite, “Because I said so.”

The reality that children learn by our example more than anything else sometimes catches us off-guard, often in uncomfortable places: in front of friends, the pastor, or a new neighbor. We blush with embarrassment and exclaim, “Johnny, where did you hear that?” Then, here it comes, “From you, mommy!”  We often fail miserably to live out the values we want to impart to our children, and you can be sure they’re watching and taking notes.

So, there are six values (in no particular order) and one HUGE command that come to mind for me, none of which, I might add, were modeled to me as a child.

Generosity:

If we were all honest, we would admit that we embrace some degree of selfishness. Like, I don’t know…

Hiding in the bathroom with the last piece of pie from last night’s dinner. Knowing full well it was your husband’s favorite pie. AND it was more like two pieces! AND you told him it was all gone!

Holding onto that favorite can’t-live-without-it sweater when packing up a box of clothes for the hurricane victims in Haiti – never mind that it doesn’t even fit you anymore. They really wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. And you’re giving them all this other stuff that’s clean and doesn’t have holes or stains. Okay, maybe it is your dear dead grandmother’s stuff from ten years ago, but it’s still usable.

Ignoring the bills in your wallet and digging in the bottom of your pocket for meager change to hand out the window of your moving car to the homeless guy on the corner, and feeling pretty good about it because the three people in front of you drove right past him. You may have even offered him a blessing as you drove away.

Is that the kind of “generosity” our kids see in us? Will they respond to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in the same way? How giving and selfless do we want them to be? Like us – or like Jesus? I would hope you would say, “like Jesus”, which begs the question, am I like Jesus?

The challenge becomes: How generous are we willing to be the next time we are given the opportunity to give to or serve others? Enough that it hurts a little bit?

Here’s a recent experience I had:

I recently encountered this homeless man on the Katy Trail one morning. I greeted him kindly as I ran past him – because I’m a runner, not out of fear – okay, FINE – it was both.

When I was returning, I saw another man standing next to his bike talking to him. When I passed them, I couldn’t help but think about how I had avoided him, excusing it as a safety measure on my part. After all, the trail was secluded, and no one else was around at the time.

However, when I got home, I enlisted my husband to help me pack some food and water and take it to him. We found him trying to fish with a string and a hook and talked with him for a while before he went on his way. I’m pretty sure I did all that out of guilt and felt the Holy Spirit’s nudging when I tried to get past him on the trail that morning. (Look at the picture and how he didn’t want to get close to me. I can only guess why because I have no way of knowing, but I think about it every time I see it.)

The point is, as I am continually reminded, it isn’t enough to throw a few coins from the safety of your car. Your brother or sister needs touch. They need the love that says you care. They need to see and feel the tender love of Christ. Have you heard the expression, “You may be the only Christ a person meets”? Think about that.

Forgiveness:

This is probably the hardest one of all, especially if what you are teaching your children to forgive seems unforgivable to you. But how do they know? Have you taught them that? Did you tell them you don’t visit Uncle Jim because he did something awful to you, and you can’t stand him? Do you talk about the neighbor you hate or the friend you don’t see anymore because of some grievance you have against them? Then one day, your daughter comes home from school and tells you she hates her once best friend for whatever reason, and you tell her that it’s not nice to hate?

Countless times I said to my kids, “Hate’s a strong word. We don’t use that word”, while for years, I hated my mother and others who abused me. I am gradually learning to forgive those who hurt me deeply and to seek forgiveness from those I hurt in the past, and sometimes still do. We need to realize and teach them, that you can’t truly forgive without the grace of God.

Compassion:

God could have kept Jesus safely at home, sparing both Son and Father the agony they’d soon be suffering. But those who had been cast aside by society desperately needed Jesus up close and personal. The woman who came to the well after all the other women had shunned her. The leper who’d been sent into a lonely, humiliating exile. The adulterous woman, shamed and frightened, standing half-naked before a self-righteous crowd eager to stone her. All of them, and so many more, needed Jesus’ loving touch, which the world rejects because it’s beneath them.

As we grow into the people God created us to be, made in his likeness, we must accept the call to share that love with others – not as a burden, but as a blessing. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart….” (Matthew 11:29).

We are all undeserving, yet we receive God’s compassion and mercy unconditionally. He calls us to reach out to others in the same way. The world would have us believe that it’s dangerous to reach out to others, especially strangers. But, as Mother Theresa says, “Do it anyway”.

Here’s an important question to reflect on: Could you or I have compassion for someone in need if no one was watching?

Of course, the Pope knows everyone is watching him, and this picture makes a lovely photo op. But, I think few people doubt Pope Francis’ empathy and compassion. It is truly genuine, and we know it.

Someone snapped a picture of Officer Larry DePrimo after he bought boots and thermal socks for a homeless man. He didn’t do it because someone was watching or because he would gain anything for himself. He did it because he cared. Plain and simple.

Acceptance:

Our kids are often more accepting of others than we are. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for us, but it is. We can’t accept the jerk next door that spews profanity at everything from his crabgrass to the mail carrier to his wife…and you, of course. I can find something wrong with everyone I know, myself included, if I’m honest, because the list of the things that make me the mess that I am is very long.

Think about the time your shitty old neighbor moved. You hope against hope the new ones will be different. They seem normal. Then they do something stupid by your standards, and suddenly, they become an instant ass; the honeymoon is over, and you want to take back that “Welcome to the neighborhood” plate of cookies.

If we could only grasp these profound words of Richard Rohr, “Once we have learned to discern the real and disguised nature of both good and evil, we recognize that everything is broken and fallen, weak and poor—while still being the dwelling place of God….That creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18). In this, you may have been given the greatest recipe for happiness for the rest of your life.” 

Humility:

“Love does not get puffed up” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Puffed-up love, or pride, is always turned inward. I know all about pride because I once made an almost effortless transition from self-hatred to self-love. Not the self-love God refers to in Mark 12:31. The self-love I’m talking about hides within the ego and thrives on a superior self-image. That’s not what God had in mind when he modeled humility in the life and death of Jesus. He became “the least of these”.

Would I do this? Would my child?

Trust:

This has always been a huge one for me.

Are you trustworthy? Because if you are not, it stands to reason that you will not trust others and find yourself cynical of their motives. Do your children trust you?

I learned very early about trust. Once, I hid the key to our bathroom because I wanted a safe place to run to when my mother had one of her frequent angry fits. Soon after that, while my brother and I were playing, I cursed, and he ran home to tell our mother. I ran past him, flew into the house, and locked myself in my safe place. There was a pounding on the door.

“Linda, open the door.”

“No. You’ll hit me!”

“I said open the door!”

“Promise you won’t hit me.”

“Open the g@#*^ door, or I’ll climb in the window!”

“Promise you won’t hit me!”

“Okay, I promise. Now open the door!”

Trusting her – after all, she was my mother, right? – I opened the door. She beat me until I fell into the bathtub and continued beating me until she was convinced I had learned my lesson. Well, I did learn a lesson that day: don’t trust anyone. It was a lesson that would stay with me for many years. I instantly determined that no one would hurt me like that ever again.

Why is it that we’ll trust people who have no interest whatsoever in us or our well-being, yet we can’t seem to trust the One who died for us? How many of your four-hundred Facebook “friends” care about your salvation? Do you think they care that you struggle? Do you think for a moment they wonder how you’re doing? “Gee, that’s a shame about Linda’s brush with hell” – yawn.

Though I kept God at arm’s length for a long time, gradually, he got through to my hardened heart. Gradually I began the process of turning loose of those things that – truth be told – I never had control of anyway. Finally, I was beginning to trust that he might just be wiser than me.

As I have grown closer to God, I have come to hear his voice more clearly, trust his guidance more readily, and wait a bit more patiently when he is silent. Yet, what is critical to understand in all of this is that I still fall short. Just when I believe I have overcome my defensive attitude, someone pushes my button and sets me off. And the insecure Linda I try to keep locked up is revealed. Busted!

So, there are the six virtues I wish I had learned as a child from loving, virtuous parents. They are the virtues I should have modeled to my own kids. They never saw it then; I hope and pray they and my grandkids do now.

 When we fail – and we do, as will our kids – discouragement will become our constant companion if we do not accept the fact that we will never be perfect, and neither will they. Because I could not believe that in the past, I felt I was continually failing God when I couldn’t control or discipline myself, my husband, my kids, or the dog. But, as shocking as it may seem, the greatest commandment is not, “Get your act together, stupid!”

And as for our children, sure, we want them to grow up with moral fortitude and integrity, but we also have to accept that it might not happen the way we envision it. There are no guarantees. That adorable baby you start off with could end up different than you had dreamed.

God has lent us our children. They don’t belong to us, they belong to him, and he wants them back in the same “condition” we received them. Of course, he knows we aren’t the only ones influencing their behavior. He does not hold us accountable for the possibility that others may lead them astray. I’m sure there were people in my earlier years (I’m thinking of some of my teachers) who wouldn’t have given me a snowball’s chance in hell of staying out of jail! Well….

The days of raising my children have long passed, and lest I forget, they’re quick to remind me of that fact. But if I did have it to do over, I would have first learned to love them unconditionally because of God’s unreserved love for me. I would have accepted them as the individuals they were created by God to be, faults and all because that is how God created and accepts me. And I would not have felt such a need to control the hell out of them!

That brings us to my final thought: that ONE HUGE COMMAND which Jesus left to his disciples and us.

The GREATEST of these…is…

Drum roll, please….

LOVE – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” If the basis of all we do as parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors is to love as we are called to, our children will be just fine.

Suck it up Buttercup!

(Originally posted 1/22/16)

I have not posted since August. Not because I got bored with writing or died. (I hope you’re happy I didn’t die!) On August 18th, I was on the receiving end of a vaccination shot gone terribly wrong! That shot was the cause of four months of constant pain, an emergency room visit, failed treatments, and rotator cuff surgery.

For the first few weeks after surgery, my husband had to do almost everything for me. God bless him he’s a trooper. My neighbor has come over several times to fix my hair when I actually cared about what I looked like.

I know I have been more miserable than necessary because I cannot take pain medications. They make me feel physically and mentally whacked. I have experienced more pain than ever in my life, including childbirth! Seriously. Besides, that pain is short-lived, and there’s a blessed little prize at the end – until they’re two, anyway!

But I am getting better. I am able to do more for myself. Occasionally I will muster up the energy to cook a meal and clean the house. But it takes everything I have to do it. My husband never complains, which I am eternally grateful for.

To be perfectly honest, sometimes I catch myself actually enjoying the sympathy from friends and family and even strangers. Of course, no one is going to feel sorry for me if I don’t complain, right? When someone asks how I’m doing, I jump feet first into my pit of misery and do my best to pull them in with me! I might begin by saying, “Oh, you’re probably tired of hearing about it it’s been going on for so long!” But then I don’t give them a chance to respond before, choking back tears, I give an update on my ongoing misery. Poor, poor pitiful me!

Then, one day,  “Holy lesson-in-the-making Batman.” I received another of God’s proverbial admonishments. It’s never audible. It just hangs around me like a shroud until I acknowledge its presence, “Okay, Lord, there’s a lesson here I just know it! You’re not going to let me get away with this, are you?”

This was actually a lesson in process since December when I was thinking about the silly New Year’s Resolutions I usually end before they even begin. I’m going to lose weight right after this super-sized hot fudge sundae, or maybe the next, or maybe not at all. I don’t know. I’m not feelin’ it.

So, this time, in order to grow deeper in faith, I chose to focus on a virtue instead of giving up something. Nightly, I would meditate and journal on all I thought, said, and did that day (while eating my hot fudge sundae). Then, out from under that shroud, “Or, Linda, how about gratitude?” Hum. Gratitude. Okay, that’s a good one! At the end of each day, I could write in a Gratitude Journal all the things I was grateful for that day: a beautiful sunrise, the song of birds outside my window…

That’s lovely, Linda, and safe. But let’s go deeper. You are thankful for your good health, but how about the help you received from others while you recovered from your injury? You are grateful for friends who are low-maintenance, but what about the relationships that are difficult?  You are grateful for all the things you have, but what about the things others have that you don’t, that you covet?”

When we consider gratitude, if we consider it at all, we often stay within the realm of the warm squishy stuff. I remember the times at my son’s house when the kids were small. They would each take turns thanking God, mostly for “things” – a doll, a stuffed animal, a birthday present envied by their siblings. Unfortunately, as adults, we are still prone to thankfulness for adult “things” that make us happy.

Being grateful for our struggles in life just doesn’t make sense. It’s easier for us to see a beautiful sunrise, attribute it to God and thank him for it than to thank him for adversity. Are you old enough to remember this commercial?

(Sorry, I just had to throw that in!)

I suppose we are in one of two camps when dealing with suffering: we either believe (a) God doesn’t cause suffering, but he allows it, think of Job, or (b) God is behind everything that happens to us. I’m going with (a). Either way, we are probably going to complain, and complain loudly! If we believe it’s the former, we cry out, “Lord, why don’t you stop this?” or the latter, “Lord, how could you do this to me?!” Either way, God is to blame for our suffering.

Philippians 2:14 tells us to “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” But we just can’t, can we? Whining is in our nature, apparently. Look at the Israelites, for heaven’s sake. I can see why Moses tried to get out of God’s call on that fateful day! But he acquiesced and was drug into the Israelite’s unrelenting pity parties. He went to God and begged him to make it stop! I suppose the Israelites got it in their heads that because they were God’s chosen people (Exodus 6:7) life would be grand. Their suffering was over. Not so much.

When things don’t go as planned in my life, it’s usually a wake-up call. After all, when did I win the perfect life lottery? When was I promised immunity from suffering and pain? We can’t seem to watch the news or talk to a neighbor any day of the week and not hear of someone’s tragedy: A death, an illness, a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, a lost job. But when that’s my story, I scream NOT FAIR! I pout and complain and solicit sympathy from anyone who will listen, especially God – I think he plugged his ears long ago.

Would Jesus Invite a Porn Star to the Prom?

(Originally posted on March 23, 2012)

I never attended a prom. Back in my day, with a certain number of credits, short of a diploma, we could obtain a “certificate,” which had no value beyond getting out of classes you hated, which was pretty much all of them for me. Today, you’re just labeled a loser and drop-kicked into the world to fend for yourself.

But prom prep is coming very soon to a high school near you. It’s time for the annual dress shopping and thirty-day diet protocol; time for the reality check that, for some like me, no one would invite you if you begged and paid for a date with the biggest loser in school. It’s humiliating.

Who knows, maybe it would have happened if a guy like Mike Stone had been around in my day. Here’s the headline I caught in the news a few days ago that prompted this post. Granted, our friend here may have had a different motive than Jesus. But who’s to judge anyway?

Teen’s porn star date to prom scuttled by district officials. 

Now back to Jesus. I know, I know, there’s nothing in scripture about Jesus’ prom. Do you know why? Why is there nothing about him from the age of twelve to thirty-three when he began his ministry? Did you ever wonder about that? Well, I have a theory (of course, you do, Linda!).

When Jesus got in trouble for going off to the Temple without telling his parents, that was just the beginning of his rebellious streak. His teen years were just around the corner. The hair instantly stands up on the back of the neck of any parent who has raised teenagers – can I get an AMEN?!

On his thirteenth birthday, Jesus invited all the misfits in the neighborhood, and a few clowns with balloons, to his party, along with his snooty relatives, and they were livid! After that, his relatives refused to attend his birthday parties, which was fine because they were too stuffy anyway!

I’m sure the real challenge for Mary and Joseph was the unexpected letter from Jesus’ principal just before graduation. Fortunately, they hadn’t rented his tux yet. The letter read:

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Joseph (last name unknown),

I regret to inform you that we have had to administer an out-school suspension for Jesus. As a result, he will not be allowed to attend graduation ceremonies or prom. We have repeatedly discussed with him the school “rules”, yet he has continued to defy them. We have given him ample opportunities to follow the regulations required of all our students and feel we have no other choice in the matter. Below you will find the documented offenses:

Jesus has demonstrated a refusal to adhere to the precepts of submission to his teachers and repeatedly questions their authority to run roughshod over the troublemakers. He seems to have a misguided concern for the poor, the meek, and the place of women in our society. We have laws and customs, you know! You really need to talk to him about that. We would also caution you to be more aware of these people he is associating with. You know – birds of a feather! I’m just sayin’.

He will receive his diploma by postal carrier.

Regards,

Mr. Caesar,

Principle, Nazareth High School (Go, Lions!)

Now, do you see why scripture writers probably skipped over this period of Jesus’ life?  They collectively decided that teens are too easily influenced by their peers, which could tick off parents. Anyway, back to that dreadful letter…

The letter arrives. Then…that dreaded, you know you’re in trouble, summons,  “JESUS!” (No middle name here either; too bad. Middle names are critical for a parent’s emphasis! So it loses some of its oomph.) But Jesus knew what was coming. “Dad, I can explain.” Joseph was calm and attentive, “Okay, I’m listening.” Joseph was actually proud of his son but contained himself because Mary was listening from the kitchen.

This conversation ended as you might expect – with a parable! (This is where he got the material for his later ministry, trying it out on mom and dad.)

“See dad; there’s this rich guy who prepared a banquet. He first invited all the “important” people. But they all had some lame excuse not to attend. Now he’s furious thinking of the rejection and the money he wasted on those ingrates. So, he went to Plan B. He ordered more pizza, rented a big ole bus, grabbed the servant, and ordered him not to return until he rounded up every misfit he could find. It’s party time! Pizza and beer with true friends trumps wealth, fame, and fortune! (Luke 14:16-24). Joseph gave him a high-five and assured Mary it was all straightened out.

So, I’ll ask you again – would Jesus take a porn star to his prom?

 Of course, he would have (not as a date, silly!), but along with every lost and broken person God loved and the “popular kids” rejected.  And what a grand time they would have had!

Welcome to My Groundhog Day

I recently celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday. I think sixty-five years is a loooooong time to be doing the same dumb things over and over. I also think God agrees! I believe that’s why he is intent on repeating himself until I – hopefully (hope springs eternal) – change.

Let me say that God has done some pretty incredible work in my life! And there have been significant changes over the years. But there is one thing, and unfortunately, it is the main thing I have refused to succumb to: Humility. Oh sure, I can lay claim to superficial humility. You know, that surface stuff that implodes the first time some jerk gets on my bad side!

And so, like our poor friend Phil, I go to bed every night with good intentions and wake up the next morning, finding myself stuck in the same place.

Remember when Phil said to Rita, “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned, and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me”? That would make a great metaphor for my life and probably all our lives to one degree or another, except for the “without a scratch” part.

Here’s how my life has unfolded:

I was once a concept of God’s wild and magnificent imagination. I can envision all the angels in heaven dancing for joy at the sight of every single creature God brings to life. Then, without warning, I was plopped into a broken world, and life immediately began re-creating me into the person God no longer recognized. And the angels fell silent.

Through life, I, too (metaphorically), “have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned”. First, by those entrusted with my care. Then, by my own attempts to live within the context of that person. Everything this Original Creation was supposed to be, became unrecognizable. My focus was not on living with joy and the fullness of life promised to me. My focus became simply a matter of survival, like Phil waking up every day in a world that never changed.

I tried to end my pain too. I didn’t have a groundhog strapped to my steering wheel, and it wasn’t on railroad tracks. Instead, it was me drunk in my little MG on the highway, praying that I would crash and die. Phil’s reaction when his attempt to kill himself failed was, “Ah, nuts.” Mine was the same. I think my exact words were, “Great! I can’t even do this right!” I remember getting out of bed that morning and going off to work: same empty life, different day.

Over the years since that not-so-fatal day, much has happened. As I said before, God has done some remarkable work in my life, considering my incessant resistance to the death of my own will. We have been through so much together! When I think about what he has managed to accomplish in this continual wrestling match, it has been nothing short of a miracle! (Genesis 32:22-32)

After Phil described his torture, he exclaimed that there was “not a scratch on me”. I couldn’t say that, but I did think that “not a scratch on me” meant symbolically that no one ever noticed that I had changed. Considering that has made me, and God, very sad. Since God recently raised the issue again, and not so subtly, I knew that a lesson was coming, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

Sure enough, I have embarked on a new meditation titled “Bridges to Contemplative Living”. A compilation of the works of Thomas Merton and other Spiritual Giants. I know God is ever so gently loosening my white-knuckled grip on my self-will.

You know how you get a song in your head and can’t escape it? How about just a word: Humility? Of course, as is God’s mysterious way, and because I have been in total denial of my lack of humility, I am confronted almost daily with examples of “Who do you think you’re kidding, Linda?”

I’ll give you one example, but my head and heart are still reeling from the raw truth of many more! Reality bites. Can I just say that?!

Within all of our relationships lies the truth of our faithfulness and sinfulness, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. If we’re not afraid to face that truth, there are powerful lessons to be learned.

So…humility. I recently had a conversation with my husband. Okay, let me restate that. I had an angry confrontation with him concerning a family matter that I felt was going badly. I wasn’t angry with him but wanted him to know how I felt about the situation. So God sat quietly while I whined and wailed and wore myself out. Then he stepped in and stuck a big fat mirror in my face!

I had to sit with that and realize that my anger stemmed not from the current situation but from many years of trying to defend my fragile ego and pride. It isn’t just with this particular person but everyone who pushes my ever-so-delicate buttons. And I hear God say, “Humility…Linda. Let’s give it another try.”

Here’s what God has been showing me in the process of the mediations, prayer, and almost daily experiences that provide the litmus test of how I’m doing. I think it’s some pretty awesome stuff. Let me know what you think!

What I believe has set this entire process in motion did not begin in the last couple of weeks. It started with my hospice training and work with dying patients. You get a much different perspective on life when you sit with the dying. It is impossible to fully understand the richness and beauty of life if you cannot face the reality of death. They are both part of one continual journey and cannot be separated. Though death is something you can choose to ignore, participation is mandatory. For some people, death is just one thing on a long list of “How did that happen?” moments:

  • Every day he ate a carton of ice cream on the couch, watched TV, and got fat. He scratches his head and wonders how that happened.
  • She was doing 90 in a 30 with no driver’s license and went to jail. How did that happen?
  • She was walking on the tracks, got run over by a train, and died. How did that happen?

Anyway, the beauty of humility seems more and more appealing to me as I sit vigil with those who are actively dying. Things that always seemed to matter diminish in significance. I witness what’s really important to those with so little time to fool with ego, pride, and self-centeredness.

If we consider the wasteful things we busy ourselves with, it’s astounding. Like we’re going to be here forever. Yet, working with hospice patients has finally begun to awaken me to the truth of my own life. That Ground of Being hidden behind the false self-created long ago.  

The Scriptures and meditations I want to share with you were not “dug up” by my efforts. They unfolded before me just as God planned. This, by the way, should be a powerful lesson for anyone who thinks that God does not want to be deeply involved in the details of our lives. This has happened too often for me to believe otherwise. Now, if I can just get out of his way, perhaps humility is not impossible – even for me.

The following is a list of thoughts, Scripture verses, and quotes that have gradually caused me to loosen my grip on my pride so God can do what he does best: Love me. I hope and pray that I will surrender to that Love and be the empty vessel he desires.

  • Matthew 4:25, “Great crowds…followed him.”

Meditation from “The Word Among Us”: “People are going to be attracted to Christ in you – not you (my emphasis). Your joy, your peace, and your love will grow, and that will attract people to you.”

OH, MAN!!!! I thought it was all about me!

  • Have you ever felt rejected? I have, most of my life. Even today, there are people I feel rejected by, and I react to them with unkindness. But, how often do I consider the times I reject God by those thoughts and actions born of pride and cultivated in arrogance?

Lord, I pray for your forgiveness for putting so many things ahead of you. You love me so much and feel my rejection so profoundly. You cannot make me love you, though you love me unconditionally. Help me to sit in silence in your presence and teach me how to love. By your power and grace, help me to let go of the things that fill my thoughts and keep me out of relationship with you and those you bring into my life.

  • Mark 6:34 says, “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them.”

Not so much the hearts of his disciples. All they did was complain. Jesus said to feed them. And their response? “What, are you kidding? There are thousands of them.” They counted the meager change in their pockets, “You can’t expect us to just call out for pizza. Let ‘em’ get their own food!”

Jesus always shines a spotlight on our smallness while beaming his might and power at us. In those moments, there are always thirteen disciples. I’m standing there with them all indignant about my weaknesses and inadequacies, forgetting the Source of my power. He’s trying his best to get through to them, and me, and you. He even humbles himself, for heaven’s sake! “I can’t do anything without my Father!” (John 5:30) But, do we listen?

We are all called to love; to have faith and trust and hope; to be filled with joy and peace; called to humility which underlies it all. None of this is remotely possible if it is not born of a heart filled with awe and wonder at God’s magnificence, power, and glory. None of it!

  • Matthew 3:13-17, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?”

There is a whole bunch of humility going on here! John the Baptist never felt worthy “to tie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7)”. How often are we willing to decrease so Jesus can increase?

And think of Jesus himself allowing John to baptize him. He wasn’t a sinner and didn’t need to be baptized. Yet he humbled himself before everyone to lead the way to his Father.

What I was led to consider this day was the fact that I am not Heartland Hospice’s Chaplain. My
ID badge doesn’t proclaim that I am; my supervisor, although recognizing that I “qualify” as a hospice chaplain, reminds me that I am a volunteer.

Up to this point, I have made it a practice to tell people I was a “volunteer chaplain” – I had to get it in, and technically it’s true enough. But, I have slowly, and ever so profoundly, been admonished by God. He rolls his eyes and repeatedly shakes his head at my need to pump up my false self. But the more I sit with dying patients, the more I realize how little it matters. No one has ever said, “Thank you for being a chaplain.” They say, “Thank you for coming.” That’s all. They thank me for my presence, not any vast wisdom or knowledge I think I possess, and they need to hear. They’re dying; they could care less about my degrees or accomplishments.

Reading that verse was like a one-two punch. No, God doesn’t punch, but I’m telling you, he flicks! I have been flicked often enough to know. And it hurts. Because he’s not flicking my head, he’s flicking my heart!

You see, everyone I know, friends and family, know I have a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies. How many of them, I wonder, look at how I treat people and make a note to self: mistreating people must be okay if Linda is doing it. After all, she’s the “holy one”. 

I am supposed to be, we are all supposed to be, giving witness to God’s love in a hurting and broken world. But if all others see is my brokenness, how will they ever have hope?

When we go our own way, we obey the parts of God’s command that are easy and discard the parts that don’t appeal to us: Love your neighbor – check. Love your enemy – scratch. Is it any wonder God hates that? Are we putting forth an image of ourselves – more importantly – an image of God that others can use to justify their own sinfulness?

I want to say that I have finally conquered this one, but I know better, and I’m pretty sure there will be another lesson tomorrow…

                                   and the day after that…

                                                                          and the day after that!

It’s funny; the Scripture verses here are not new to me. “HOLY COW, I never knew God felt so strongly about THAT!” – Liar! They have just been an inconvenient truth. They demand something I have not been willing to submit to. I pray that is all changing. The power of humility lies within every one of us. We have no excuse to believe or act otherwise.

Waiting for Tomorrow Are Ya’?

(Originally posted 8/08/2012)

Some day you’re going to apologize to your neighbor (who hates you, by the way) for backing over his cat and blaming it on the mail carrier.

Some day your humdrum existence will magically transform into the fairy tale life you have always dreamed of.

Some day you will hit the lottery and buy your neighbor a new cat. Okay, you won’t do that because you’ll move to a deserted island where you won’t have any neighbors.

If you believe one morning you’ll wake up, and your butt will have fallen off as you slept – that’s right – you’re delusional. (You might want to lay off the chocolate darlin’)

Wanna know where I’m at as I write this and why my thoughts went where they did? I am sitting with a dying hospice patient. I’ll call him Fred. I can’t show you a picture of him for obvious reasons, but I can show you a picture of the wall I’m staring at in his room. It’s 2:30 am, and I have been staring at this wall for two hours.

Fred has little family, and no one visits him. He was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease when I first met him, so we were never able to communicate. I have no idea what he did for a living, but for now, he is my teacher, like all the patients I see.

I know what you’re thinking. How could someone who has lost the ability to respond to their environment or converse with anyone teach you anything? How could they impart words of wisdom like Mahatma Gandhi, shine a light on injustice like Martin Luther King, and inspire Jesus’ call to “serve the least of these” like Mother Theresa? Well, they can’t….

They can sometimes do more – at least for me – at this moment.

When I meet a new patient, I first look at the pictures in their room. Some, like my dear mother-in-law, have their walls and shelves cluttered with family pictures. They make for great conversation. But here’s my buddy Fred with four blank walls.

What am I supposed to do with that? I have discovered that that is the wrong question. The real question is – what is God wanting to teach me here?

It is no coincidence that at this very time, I am reading a most profound book by Kathleen Dowling Singh, “The Grace in Dying”.

So, what am I finally learning at this late stage in my life? What I have grown to believe from Gandhi, King, and Mother Theresa, has been personified by Singh and Fred.

Singh’s book moves from words on a page to experience that reaches the depth of my heart as I sit here with a dying man. I have grown to appreciate that this is Holy Ground and that God is truly present here.

I sense that God is trying to tell me during these times to review my own life. He calls out to anyone with ears to hear, “You’re gonna die too. Maybe even today. So, get your act together!”

Because I have a warped brain (DUH! Surely you know that by now), I had to laugh because that reminder sent me to this cartoon.

At this stage in life, considering priorities is surely in order, don’t you think? Can we stop obsessing over things that don’t…actually, never did...matter? Stop dwelling on old hurts, lost opportunities, and someone else’s expectations? Stop striving for more and more of what someone else will trash before you’re cold in your grave? Stop trying to control everything? Stop shadowboxing? Donate those skinny jeans that will likely NEVER fit you again (geeezzzzz)?

Singh tells us, “When we are deeply aware of our own impermanence, every fleeting moment is recognized as precious. Our desire to be present in each moment amplifies. Meditating on death instantly calls us to question on the deepest of levels. What am I doing? What do I want? What does this all mean? Contemplating our own mortality…our precariously impermanent existence can call us to complete and thorough accountability. It can call us to instant reordering, a rearranging of our priorities and our intentions. It blocks off all of our habitual detours into denial.

The bare walls in Fred’s room don’t tell me anything about Fred, but they signify two realities for me: (1) To ask honestly if my life has been empty and void of significance. (2) God always offers us a clean slate – to begin again if I have failed to fulfill my purpose.

Thank you, Fred. In your dying, you are teaching me how to truly live while there is still breath in me.

Now, go in peace…I pray…into the hands of our loving and merciful God.

Let Us be Silly!

https://vimeo.com/19071448

This 1978 song “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor was turned into the “Alien Song”. It has made me laugh for years! Watch it, then come back. I’ll wait. https://vimeo.com/19071448

Are you laughing? Come on. That was hysterical! Now wipe that frown off your face, and let’s get to more funny business because we take life way too seriously.

Do you think God doesn’t have a sense of humor? Really? If he hadn’t had a sense of humor, Genesis might have read a bit differently, “And God made one robot with a whole bunch of clones”…. Then he decided to quit while he was ahead. “ My grand plan is for every creature to simply exist for my pure pleasure. I like it. I’m done. Why muddle it up?”

But then Spirit, observing it all, objected, “But, Lord, who will return your love then? Isn’t that what this is all about”? God replied, “Oh, please! Let’s think about this. If I want them to love me, I will have to give them all the free will to do it, and you know what that’s gonna make them don’t you? A royal pain!”

But, alas, God relented, “Okay, fine. But if we’re going to do this, we can’t have all drama and whining. If they can’t laugh at themselves or take a little ribbing occasionally, then we’re gonna replace them with more trees and rocks!”

So God made humankind in his image (Genesis 1:26), reluctantly giving everyone free will. And just as he foresaw, it went very badly! Okay, not totally. That’s why God gave us a sense of humor to help us over the rough spots. And to keep, at least some of us, from that incessant bellyaching, “Why me, Lord”? Waaa, waaa, waaa…

I truly believe that you cannot learn to really laugh – I mean laugh till you pee – laugh, until you have cried; cried from the deepest sorrow that life throws at you. If you know what I’m talking about, you know that getting through this life is like being pecked to death by a chicken. And you had better find the humor in it, or that chicken may just turn into a buzzard – and you? Roadkill!

I can’t tell you how often my screw-ups have turned into life lessons, followed by laughter. God has the uncanny ability to admonish me and then stick a mirror in front of me until I can no longer keep a straight face. It’s a beautiful thing to know that I am a deeply loved idiot, because as that famous saying goes:

I will end with one of my favorite poems, which prompted this post:

LET US BE LOVELY – Edward Monkton

Let us be lovely

And let us be kind

Let us be silly and free

It won’t make us famous

It won’t make us rich

But damnit how HAPPY we’ll be!

Major New Year’s Resolution Fail – AGAIN!

(originally posted 1/13/2019)

This was going to be the year I would recreate myself! Maybe I’ll try to be the first great-grandmother on The Titan Games! YEAH! That’s the ticket! I missed the opportunity to be the oldest great-grandmother bodybuilder in the Guinness Book of World Records. That coveted title went to Ernestine Shepherd, who recently celebrated her eightieth birthday! Okay. But I can still impress the masses with my stellar fitness! It will be epic!

I was off to a great start on January 1st! I got out my planner, dusted off my scale, bought some adorable running pants, ordered some new microgreen seeds & potting soil, found that meditation DVD I bought last year, and revamped my workout routine. BAM! Ready to go.

But NO!  Two weeks into the new year, and I haven’t committed to anything! Statistically, I only have a few more weeks before I give up. According to U.S. News, “approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.” so the odds are against me. But it’s not ALL my fault!

I am currently working with the homeless for St. Vincent DePaul. Since I am the only one in my parish doing it, I receive all the phone calls for assistance. (I have not given any personal information or used anyone’s real name here. I should have given myself an alias, as this is another embarrassing “tell on Linda” post.)

Monday morning:

The phone rang—a message on our helpline. A homeless woman was at a motel. Could I call her?

Betty just completed her fourth chemo treatment for colon cancer and has COPD. In our conversation, she told me how she loved the nuns at St. Mary’s Academy, where she went to high school “a long time ago”. Smiling through broken and missing teeth, she wondered if any of the nuns that taught her were still there and could she visit them?

How did her life go so wrong? She and her husband had been homeless for years. Her husband could never seem to provide for them. They never owned a home. She never had her own gym in her basement (ahem). Her “workout routine” consisted of wrestling to get comfortable and stay warm in the car she and her husband slept in. And yet, this woman praised God. How is that possible?

Tuesday morning:

I have always struggled to lose weight. I know what to do. I just choose not to. But no more! In preparation for my return to healthy eating, I have gotten rid of everything that tempts me to failure and replaced it with all things fresh, green, and organic! WOOT! WOOT!

The phone rang – a message on our helpline. Could we help a homeless family trying to get home to Kentucky?

Jim and his wife, their three kids, and her mentally disabled brother lost their home in a fire in Nebraska. Friends in Louisville offered them a place to stay and jobs there. But they ran out of money and gas and had a flat tire. Mom & dad hadn’t eaten for two days to provide for the kids, but now they were out of food. So we provided them with a room for the night and gave them money for gas, tire repairs, and bags of food. All items with pop-top lids they could eat cold while they traveled. These were fill-a-void-in-the-stomach foods. NOT A SINGLE GREEN THING in those bags. And yet, Jim’s eyes fill with tears of gratitude.

He told me they felt they had lived in a good community. Their neighbor’s kids were always at their home. They called him “Uncle Jim”. But, after the fire, not one neighbor reached out to help them. He and his wife could not believe the love and support they received here from strangers.

Their hearts ached for their kids and her brother because of what they were going through. But I could see something else: Their love for God, each other, and their kids. Somehow I knew they would prevail over their struggles. Their kids were learning tough but powerful life lessons. They were actually the happiest kids I have ever seen! Can you imagine?

Cold spagettios would not be the choice of a health snob like me. After having met such a beautiful family, it made me wonder how strong my faith would be; how well I would survive in their circumstances. I’ve never been tested like that. Nor do I want to be! Truth be told, I’m probably not as strong or resilient as I would like to believe.

Wednesday morning:

Okay, this was it! It was SO COLD, but I was determined to pull on my new running pants,  jacket, and hat I bought when we went to the French Alps over the holidays – and go! I usually don’t like running in the cold, but this is the new me. Bring it on!

Then the phone rang—a message on our helpline. A young dad, his wife, and a two-year-old were staying at the motel. The manager was trying to overlook the fact that they were falling further and further behind. Could we help them?

Jason rode a bike to work from the motel to a new job ten miles away. His two-year-old son was ill and had seizures. All their income went to the motel bill. They had no family or support.

The difference between Jason and me should be obvious. He doesn’t ride his bike in the winter because he is obsessed with the benefits of exercise and loves the challenge. And I don’t have to be out in bad weather if I don’t want to. Instead, I can go back to bed or down to my basement and jump on the treadmill.

Thursday Morning:

For years, I was able to maintain a healthy weight. I ran half-marathons for seven years. In 2010 I ran two! That was the year after I had a kidney removed. Basically, I ROCKED it! Now, I beat myself up for failing to get my act together. And I don’t believe age has anything to do with it. (So, get that thought out of your head.) I’M JUST LAZY. There, I said it! But I need to get over it and realize that I am not happy where I’m at and the only one who can change that is me.

Then the phone rang—a message on our helpline. A homeless couple staying at the motel ran out of money. She was disabled, and he was out of work. Could we help them?

When I met with Rick and Amy, I held the door to the room we used to fill out intake paperwork. Rick had to help Amy walk. Every step seemed labored. She had been in a motorcycle accident and broke her back. At the time, she was a nurse. Now, she was on total disability. Her constant pain was more than I could imagine or bear to watch. They had never been homeless before. He always had a good job and worked hard to provide for his family. Then, due to circumstances involving his ex-wife, a shady lawyer, and back child support, he ended up in jail for three days, which awarded him a police record. They also took his driver’s license away, so he lost his job.

When they first became homeless, he lived in his car for two months, and she went to live with a friend. They tried to get into a shelter before calling us, but the only bed available was an upper bunk, which she couldn’t manage. Yet they expressed gratitude to God even when their lives were turned upside down. So why weren’t they shaking their fists at God?

I could go on and on with the stories of pain and struggle we encountered almost daily. But, somehow, right now, at the beginning of this new year, God has been shining a bright light on the contrast between my “personal” resolutions and his focus on my transformation. I’m sure he has no problem with my wanting to be healthy. But I’m betting he thinks I take it too far, focusing too much on myself. Our transformation is what he desires. It is what we were made for, not simply a lifestyle change.

Marcus Borg ends his most profound book, Speaking Christian, with these words, “Christianity…at its best, is about truth, goodness, and beauty. And it addresses the two great yearnings – our longing for personal transformation and our desire that the world be a better place.”

The Christian message reduced to its essentials is: love God (as known in Jesus) and love everyone.” Okay. My first and foremost resolution will hopefully endure every day I wake up until I take my last breath: Love God above all things, and find ways to touch others with that love every day. And, please God, may I have left this world a little bit better for having been here.

Sweatpants optional – with one caveat:  1 Corinthians 6:19 – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” This “temple”  is meant to be healthy as God created it, so we can physically do his work. You can decipher that however you like.

Jeff Larson cartoon

Church – A Great Place to Hide

The church has been made safe, comfortable, and non-threatening. We leave our messy and damaged selves outside, freeing us up for Worship Aerobics. We greet, bow, kneel, sit, stand, sing, bow, kneel, recite, pray, hug, sit, stand, stare, judge, wiggle, squirm, and daydream – then go home for a nap.

THE DISCONNECT:

Rev. Gretta Vosper shared these thoughts with a reader who left her church and felt disconnected, “It is so hard to realize that you are no longer drawn to a community of faith by the faith of the community.” Vosper offered opportunities to consider for community and service outside the church, like food banks, women’s shelters, and many others. “Any one of them would lift your heart and connect you to that great power of love by which so many needs in the world are filled.”

I, too, walked away from the church, which seemed impossible to imagine for a long time.

THE PROBLEM WITH DONUTS AND LATTES:

How about you?

If, as a youth, going to church was nothing more than an obligation and the only time you didn’t drag your feet and complain was Donut Sunday – that’s a problem.

If the only thing that set your heart on fire at Youth Group were the cute girls/boys – that’s a problem.

If you quit attending church the minute you came of age because it was never your “thing,” whose failure is that? The Churches’? Your parents? Yours?

STUCK IN ORDINARY:

The Catholic tradition has what is called “Ordinary Time” – basically the times before and after Easter and Christmas. I would imagine that resembles other traditions even if it isn’t named as such.

Perhaps the word “ordinary” is a problem. “Hey, I live ordinary, monotonous, boring every day of my life! So why on earth would I want to get up early, dress up, squeeze into a pew full of strangers and listen to irrelevant “stuff” that puts me back to sleep and causes me to snore and drool out the side of my mouth? Why?

Megachurches have tried to fill the gap with music, and light shows that could rival “Jesus Christ Superstar”. The problem is, while folks are swinging and swaying and belting out thirty minutes of music (albeit beautiful music), Jesus left the building, and no one noticed.

TRANSCENDING ORDINARY IS RISKY:

Is it the Church’s responsibility to turn “ordinary” into extraordinary? And what exactly is “extraordinary? Can we even define “church” in the context of what we do know about God?

God is: compassionate, merciful, and forgiving. His gratuitous love should spill out into the heart and soul of everyone. He cares deeply about the lost and forsaken. But is that what we experience in church? Is that what we hear from the pulpit? Is that what we base our actions and attitudes on?

From the daily news of the violence and hatred emanating from many “Christians” today, it doesn’t  seem so.  How many of us feel culpable if we stand by and watch but don’t actively participate in that violence? How many of us hate in silence?

Mary Collins shares the words of the British writer Monica Furlong, “It has been customary to talk as if the purpose of the Church has been to put people in touch with God, or to keep them in touch with God. Although, on the face of it, the church seems to exist to help its adherents into relationship with God. It equally, and perhaps essentially, plays the opposite role of trying to filter out an experience of transcendence which might be overwhelming.”

Collins continues with a striking question, “What did she (Furlong) judge to be one of the church’s key filters for helping people avoid too great an intimacy with God? Liturgy. Liturgy as ‘keeping in touch’ without getting too close. Yet the bravest among us allow ourselves to wonder. Dare we agree that liturgical practice itself, in whatever form, conceals truth about God that we are unable to bear?”

In my own faith, which has grown from non-existent to something beyond my imagining, God-filled AHA moments did not happen while I sat in the pew on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong. I loved certain aspects of being a part of a church community. What frustrated me was seeing the most central expression of our faith – communion –forgotten the minute we (myself included) walked out the door.

When we share communion, we are reminded of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “Take this bread and never forget me. Never forget how much I love you! But, we do forget. We stroll in late, then haul purses, coats, and kids through the communion line and straight out the door for the important stuff of the day: Soccer, brunch, bingo, whatever.

We forget that more must occur the other six days of the week. God’s call to take what we were just fed into a hurting world rings hollow in hearts that are not transformed. We refuse to accept that the problem has anything to do with us, and we certainly don’t want to get close enough to God to hear the truth. That’s too scary. It may expose us to the real God, and it’s that real God we go to great lengths to avoid.

The God we worship must meet our expectations and demands. The world is a mess – he must fix it. People are suffering – he must help them. I am a Christian – he must put me first. So our worship amounts to praise if things are going well and complaining if they’re not.

Those “bravest among us” Collins calls God-seekers who risk. She says, “Monica Furlong observed that god-seekers risk more than the ordinary. They risk their sanity – their healthy adjustment to conventional thinking – by opening themselves to powerful disclosures of the divine. The rest of us, less adventurous, go to church. But it is possible to be both.”

WOULD WE LAY DOWN OUR LIVES? (JOHN 15:13)

Saint Oscar Romero was a bishop in El Salvador. He was gunned down at the altar while celebrating Mass. He knew that was likely to happen when he pleaded on the radio the night before for the violence and murders to stop.

He called out the National Guard troops in particular. They had already killed six other priests, so he was sure he would also die at their hands. But he spoke out anyway, he celebrated Mass anyway, and the people came anyway! He passionately and fearlessly upheld the gospel mandates to care for all our brothers and sisters in Christ!  

The purpose of the church is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We, as Christians and the preachers who are called to lead, should hear and ACT ON Romero’s powerful words or our profession of faith is empty and superficial.

Romero said, “Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone. That’s the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in. … The gospel is courageous.”

God wants us to know that every bit of pain and suffering we see or experience calls for our response. Without us, nothing will change. Nothing! Annie Dillard also presents a harsh reality, “There is no one but us. There is no one to send but only us. There never has been.”

“What is required of us but to do justly and to love mercy” (Micha 6:8). We are called to be the instruments of God’s justice and compassion in this world. We are to sing through our hurting, rejoice through our suffering, and be a beacon to others.

JUST WHO ARE YOU, GOD?

Can we ever be brave enough to accept the reality of a God we can’t imagine? Even though every theological method of putting a label on God has been tested through the ages, one fact remains, and it’s one we as human beings refuse to accept: We will never figure God out! And I am certain he rolls his eyes at our feeble attempts at it.

WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!

We can affect change in the world if we become bold enough. God is searching for people hot after his own heart, like David. Yes, that David, the adulterer, and murderer. He was a screw-up who hobbled through life, often missing the mark. But when he got it right and was on fire for God, there was no stopping him! And people took notice. They smelled something burning and came to check it out.

Now, dear friends, it’s our turn.