Oh Death Where is Your Sting?

Today is Good Friday. I am struck to tears and unspeakable heartache, now more than ever before.  Why? Every Good Friday we are called to remember the brutal beating and crucifixion of Jesus. He walked in the midst of those deemed lesser and unimportant. They experienced his love and compassion for them. But, he walked a lonely road to his death. Sure, there were a few who had the courage to walk with him (ahem…the women!). But many, his disciples in particular, scattered for their own safety feeling powerless to stop it from happening.

Also, today we are reliving the horrific facts of the death of George Floyd during the trial of Derek Chauvin. To hear the testimony of the witnesses as they broke down and grieved over watching Floyd die has been excruciating for many. Most of the witnesses were strangers to him, yet they all spoke of feeling helpless and guilty that they didn’t try to help him. Even though they also knew they were powerless to do so.

Jesus was innocent of any crime, George Floyd was not. But, the fact remains that neither deserved to die in such a violent way at the hands of another.

So I sit quietly and contemplate both these men and how their deaths have impacted me. As a professed Christian I am called to emulate Jesus’ radical love in every aspect of my life. I mostly fail, but keep trying and longing to be more like him in the ways I live my life.

And, George Floyd? I didn’t know him and likely never would have, nor would most of us, if not for witnessing his horrific death on the daily news.

Both men have touched my life. In those beautiful and poignant words of John Donne, “No man is an island; entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

“Any man/woman’s death diminishes me.” That is a fact of God’s making, we are all interconnected – like it or not. It cannot end there. The death of another, be it a loved one or a stranger, should call us to stop and take inventory of our own lives. Every funeral I attend does that for me and often shines a light on my failings to be Christ-like to others. Thankfully, every day is a new day – a day to begin again.

So, here’s what I will be contemplating and praying about today, on this holy Good Friday, and hopefully be acting on daily. It doesn’t have to be Jesus who calls us to be better, kinder, softer; to live and love more fully. It can also be the death of a stranger we have never met that wakes us from sleep-walking through life. Facing the realization that we will also die (sorry if that is news to you) – maybe sooner than later (sorry again) – should cause us to ask ourselves if our houses are in order and, more importantly, what we are leaving behind because…

Death does not care if we have left business unfinished, relationships broken, or children to be raised. It doesn’t matter if we are not ready or sit on promises to change. It will take the weak with the strong, the humble with the proud, the saint with the jerk. Death doesn’t respect wedding plans, vacation plans, or unmet deadlines. It does not operate by a timetable we set, and is no respecter of age. It does not discriminate between the most loved or most hated. It may not wait for the most brilliant to cure cancer, bring peace to a troubled nation, or receive a Nobel Prize.

Denying that death is a part of life is like believing we still look like our high school picture. We can’t rely on death to come when we are ready. But we can rely on it to teach those of us who are willing, how to truly live. It can and should be a time of reflection: Have I lived well, loved well, forgiven — honestly – and sought forgiveness humbly?

For good or bad, I have touched the lives of family and friends, the mailman, and the grumpy receptionist at the doctor’s office.  I may have amassed wealth and recognition, and may leave a fortune to my loved ones. All things they can pack away, gamble away, or throw away. But, at the end of the day...what have I left in their hearts?

What Are You SO Afraid of?

Did I tell you about Justin (not his real name) the kid who taught me a lesson in love? Okay, well, if so, I’m gonna tell it again because it’s freakin’ awesome!

About twenty years ago, I worked for Youth in Need, a wonderful organization that helps teens, usually wobbling vicariously between their broken world and the road to juvenile detention. This was often the last best hope for them.

I was basically a house mom and often worked the night shift in the house they lived in. It was a time in my life when I was also a broken mess, not long before my husband and I separated for a year (another God story). I’m not really sure how I ended up there, thinking I had anything to offer them. It would be much later before I could see God’s hand in it.

The police often brought the kids to us. Sometimes they were runaways, or castaways by their parents or guardians. Justin came to us, a little guy – for a twelve-year-old – with a huge chip on his shoulder. He was always angry and struck out at anyone who looked at him wrong.

Easter Sunday was my day off but I decided that I would buy a ham and ask some of my neighbors to make some covered dishes. How nice of me! Look out Saint Mother Teresa…Linda’s vying for your spot in heaven! I can see the headlines now:

LINDA RUSSELL CANNONIZED BY POPE FRANCIS: THE PARTON SAINT OF MISFITS…

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But, I digress…

The evening went unusually well. That is until we discovered that one of the Easter baskets went missing. Later, I found it under Justin’s bed. When I called him out on it he went ballistic! He started pounding on the walls and yelling obscenities. When I headed down the steps to contact our on-call therapist, he followed me. Still yelling! And then he spit on me. Okay, now I was mad! I began thinking of how very generous I was to come in on my day off. I muttered under my breath, “Kid you’re outta here!” And I meant it. I was determined to send him away and I had the power to do it. When I shut the office door and picked up the phone I knew he was listening.

I explained to the therapist what had happened. She asked me if I felt threatened. If I would have said yes, the police would have been called. But, then, in that moment God grabbed my heart…this was Easter Sunday! On Good Friday, Jesus was spat on and mocked and crucified. Justin was just a child; a hurting, suffering child. I assured the therapist that I did not feel threatened and would handle it.

When I opened the door, Justin fell into me – still angry, “YOU GONNA CALL THE POLICE?! GO AHEAD CALL THE POLICE I DON’T CARE. CALL MY DAD, I DON’T CARE!” I calmly (which surprised me) said to him, “No Justin I’m not calling anyone. Just go upstairs, get your shower, and go to bed. Oh, and, if you need a hug I have one for you.” I think that offer surprised both of us, but his response didn’t. He uttered, “Yeah right!” just before he knocked the chair up against the wall and stormed out of the room.

Yeah right. What was I thinking? And now I had to fill out an incident report! Oh joy. “I’m taking my ham back! You hear me buddy???”

Twenty minutes later, report finished, I headed upstairs just in time to encounter Justin coming out of the bathroom. There was something different about him when he looked at me. He was calmer and then asked something that, to this day, I still get teary eyed thinking about it. “Can I have that hug now?” I can’t even describe the emotions that filled my heart as I hugged that little boy. I have no idea if he had ever been hugged before or since then. I hope that’s not the case, but I never saw him after he left.

When I consider that for just one moment  that I had the power to influence a little boy’s life – for good or bad – it’s mind-blowing! I know this for sure, if I would have followed through and had him sent away, that would have certainly been my own narcissistic doing. But, the ultimate outcome of that incident was totally God’s doing and took place even in the midst of my own brokenness (that’s a very important fact). It wasn’t by my own strength or even care for Justin. I was not some amazing spiritual giant responding as would have been expected of the likes of Saint Mother Teresa, But, and this is huge, I was able to hear Jesus speak into the depth of my otherwise hardened heart, which in turn allowed him to speak love into the soul of another broken heart. He used me in all my messiness. Unbelievable.

When I look back on my life it is simply astounding to me to consider what God is able accomplish when he has so little to work with. If such incredible acts of love, mercy, and healing can take place even when we are so resistant to him, I have to wonder what America would be like today, if more Christians would stop resisting God’s call. It is breathtaking to consider the possibilities.

Sadly, so many who confess to be Christian are believers in name only – lukewarm God calls it. Revelations 3:16-17: “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone, oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” (The Message)

How much do we hate the thought of being that person before God? – Because we don’t act like it. I don’t know if it’s as much a matter of indifference as fear.

What ARE we so afraid of? Trusting? Possibly.

Are we afraid of what God will require of us if we come out of hiding? Perhaps.

Fear of the unknown? Absolutely.

Let’s go back a ways. There are many people in the Old and New Testament that were afraid to trust God; afraid of the unknown, “You want me to do what?” They came up with some pretty lame excuses considering they were arguing with God himself.

Coming out of our comfort zones and believing we have gifts to be used for God’s kingdom is just too hard to get our heads around. But, it’s true. When I have the opportunity to share my story, I have heard so many people tell me they can’t imagine God working in their lives like that. I have to remind them of the heathen I was before God caught my attention. And when that did happen it wasn’t a sudden thrust into a world I knew nothing about…

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God isn’t in the business of scaring us to death to get his point across. He knows each one of us intimately. He knows how to gently encourage our trust in him and the fact that our lives have a purpose.  Just little moments of grace, then more to follow,  like a child learning to crawl, then holding onto something sturdy to stand before he could trust enough to walk…and then run.

 Eventually I discovered, as I hope you will, that God gives us everything we need to be all he created and called us to be; that my past did not define my future, and that the lies I lived were Satan’s stronghold on me – not my truth.

When we doubt ourselves Satan gets all giddy inside. When we question God’s call to us, the kingdom work he has planned for us to do never gets done. And Satan cheers. Sure, he could go find someone else, but with the number of us who are never willing to step out of our comfort zones, that leaves him limited resources.

And Satan cheers again.

satan

Our strength is limited, but we don’t need to rely on our own strength because God’s boundless, inexhaustible, immeasurable grace is just a prayer away. Not convinced? Pick one:

The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. Psalm 29:11

In quietness and confidence shall be my strength. Isaiah 30:15 

I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Ephesians 6:10

I have put on the complete armor of God. Ephesians 6:11

God gives power to the weak. And to those who have no might, He increases strength. Isaiah 40:29

Here’s more

Enough? Yeah, it seems God knew we needed lots of convincing. Has it worked? Not according to Ed Stetzer in his article titled, Too Many So-Called Christians Merely Giving Lip Service to Jesus. Below is an excerpt, and if you would like to read the entire article go here.

I suspect many churches have forgotten their main calling: to make disciples. Instead, we believe drawing a crowd of people on Sundays is enough. We invite people to come to church or to be good people—but not to follow Jesus.

Sociologists like Christian Smith say many Americans follow something called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a belief in God that’s mainly focused on being a good person and having a positive self-image. 

That kind of religion feels good. But it doesn’t motivate people to act on their faith in areas where it costs them.   

Mediocre. Is that what you’re striving for? Is that what gets you up every morning and fills you with excitement about what life has in store for you? Are you content to sleepwalk through this life waiting for the next (whatever that means)? Have you thought about what you’re missing when you sleepwalk through life? That’s a shame because God could put those gifts he gave you to better use. Imagine him watching you just sitting on them…

Oh, okay, maybe you’re waiting until you get your life straightened out before you think God can use you. After all, you may reason, I’m just too broken myself.  There’s no way I could help anyone else if I can’t even help myself. That’s true, if in fact it is you that you’re relying on the fix yourself. It’ll never happen! Sorry. I can’t imagine you haven’t heard the expression: God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. Catchy huh?

Come on. Wake up!

There’s kingdom work to be done. God’s waiting…

Here’s a little food for thought: Do you realize that God is dependent on you?  That’s not a typo.

Say it to yourself, “God is dependent on ME!

“Linda, you’re crazy!”

Really? Then what does this quote by St. Irenaeus mean? “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Let that sink in a moment. You see, God needs us. It’s true. Anyone ever tell you that before?

So, you see, you MUST WAKE UP because this broken world needs you! God needs you! Now more than ever.

From Mountain Top to Dark Box to Intimacy

Poor Moses had a lot to deal with. God sent him to lead the Israelites into the wilderness. When they got hungry they complained to Moses. When there was no water, they complained to Moses. So, God opened the spigot and they drank, but forgot to thank him. He dropped manna in their laps, but they wanted steak and potatoes cause they weren’t creative enough to make pancakes out of it and douse it with syrup!

Yet still, God loved their sorry selves. He desired a covenant and intimacy with them. It would be extraordinary! But, the Israelites were having nothing to do with it. It was way too scary! Intimacy? No way! So they stubbornly settled at the foot of the mountain and were going no further.

Then, the Lord called Moses up the mountain….and….

UP HE GOES

(19:3) The Lord instructs him, “Tell those guys I’m going to do awesome things for them: Make them all holy and priestly.”

DOWN HE GOES

(19:8) Moses repeats what the Lord told him and they jumped all over it! “We will do everything the Lord has said.” 

UP HE GOES

(19:11-12) Moses tells the Lord how excited they were! The Lord tells Moses, “I’m going down there in a bunch of clouds to hang with you so they can see how cool I think you are. But, if they try to approach me for selfies I’ll kill the lot of them! Got it?”

DOWN HE GOES

(19:14-19) Moses told them to clean up and don’t have sex (okay?!). Then everything explodes! Thunder, lightening, thick clouds and a really loud, ear drum bursting trumpet blast for good measure. Even the mountain trembled. People were screaming and crying and scattering all over the place! It probably wasn’t the reaction God anticipated. So, he called Moses back.

UP HE GOES

(19:21-24) Before Moses unpacked his gear the Lord said to him, “Go back down and keep them in line.”

DOWN HE GOES

 (20:19) So Moses went down to the people, told them the Lord was not happy with them, but they were still trembling with fear and begged him, “You go talk to the Lord. We’ll wait right here!”

UP HE GOES

(20:21) While he was gone God was furiously chiseling out the Ten Commandments which he gave Moses along with a huge list of additional mandates and decrees.

DOWN HE GOES

(24:1) Then, the Lord summoned Moses and Aaron and some big shots back up for some sort of conference maybe.

UP HE GOES

(24:3) Then they went back down.

DOWN HE GOES

(24:7) Moses showed the Israelites the plans the Lord drew up. Again, in unison they replied, “Yep, we’ll do all that stuff!” Bright and early the next morning they got to work.

 UP HE GOES

(24:18 – 31:18) Moses and Joshua climbed back up and hung out there for forty days while the Lord gave them specifics of his required offerings from the Israelites. It was some pretty pricy stuff too.”Oh yeah, an Arc. I need an Arc. A very BIG Arc –HUGE – and fill it with lots of cool stuff! Here’s the specifics and note the required fancy priestly garments all the way down to the underwear.”  

It was a LONG forty days!

32:1-6) The Israelites didn’t think he was coming back and it all went downhill from there (pun intended). They decided they wanted to be their own gods and make their own rules. It was party time!

32:7-14) The Lord saw what those stiff-necked fools were up to and was furious! He planned to destroy the whole lot of them. Moses begged him to recall his promises and relent. When the Lord settled down, Moses left.

DOWN HE GOES:

(32:19-29) His legs ached and his back hurt from lugging those stone tablets down the mountain! He was exhausted and HE.WAS. LIVID.

They were all running wild – even Aaron. Moses lost it and ended up doing what he had just begged God not to do! He had the Levites chop up about three-thousand people and then he blessed the rest of them. Weird! So, back up he goes to beg God for mercy for the ones who are left. Saying nothing about making mincemeat out of 3,000 of them!

UP HE GOES:

(32:31-35) The Lord makes note of Moses’ request (insert God-sized eye-roll here), while at the same time planning the proper punishment for those who sinned. He sends Moses back down to give them the bad news followed by a fun little plague, followed by their long walk without the Lord cause he is still fuming and afraid he might let loose and destroy them all, but he’s not sure, “I’ll let you know”.

DOWN HE GOES…

A little trivia: Did you know that Mount Sinai is about 7,500 feet high! Moses’ mountain climbing world record has never been beaten. Moses went up and down that thing eight times trying his damndest to keep everybody happy – God included – and look where it got him.

Still today, we seem to quickly forget or just dismiss the fact that all humans are erratic and unstable screw-ups – every one of us! Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites were no exception. The Lord promised to love and care for them if they would trust him, follow the “rules”, and draw close to him.  And they were all about it for a millisecond – until the Lord got a bit too dramatic.

Anyway, when the Israelites saw the lightning and heard the thunder they shrank back in fear. They ran from him to a safer place with shiny, mute, fake gods that they created themselves. They preferred distant respect over intimate relationship: Out of reach, out of range, out of earshot.

Then one day, as Moses was recovering from his mountain climbing adventures and feeling his age, he had an AHA moment! There had to be a better way for him to mediate between God and the Israelites from his recliner, in a more practical way; less frightening and less physical. He knew the Israelites would love it because they had already made it known they wanted to keep their distance from God, especially when they were despicable wretches deserving of God’s wrath. So, he had them build a big Box, later known as a “Confessional”. He hung his shingle out front and began the business of absolving sins. Brilliant! Never mind that not once did he run the idea by God!

Okay, fine, history tells us that is not how it went down. It was actually worse!

John Cornwell, in his book, The Dark Box, tells us Pope Pius X dreamed it up. He wanted to have the reality of sin and damnation seared into the brains of every child by their first communion so he wouldn’t have to deal with the adult version of them. They were required to learn and memorize every detail of categories of sin and the appropriate punishment of Purgatory or Hell. And, yes, there would be a quiz at the end. That’s right; six-year-olds were introduced to the fear of hell that may have surpassed their fear of monsters under the bed. What fun!

I had my own AHA moment when I watched my kid’s classes full of six-year-olds go though that ritual. Deep down I had to wonder what offense a child would possibly have to commit to rile God! It made no sense to me.


Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

Cornwell tells us, “Many readers will be surprised to learn that prior to 1910, young children were not subjected to this rather terrifying information, because they were deemed incapable of sinning in any meaningful way.”  

He adds that there was also the required annual confession for everyone else as well and that this requirement was “imposed, at least in part, by church leaders who expected priests to interrogate penitents and learn if they might be heretics.” Sneaky inquisitors – the lot of them!

Even today, we seem to prefer admiration at arm’s length over a relationship God longs for. Like the Israelites, we want someone, anyone, to stand between us and God – what confession in a Box symbolizes.  

There was a period of time, after my adult conversion, when I faithfully and fearfully adhered to the requirements of going to confession. Though, admittedly, I tried to disguise my voice or go to a different church. So, I’m sitting – sorry – kneeling in the dark spewing all my wretchedness and waiting for the easy-peasy penance that every penitent receives, from grandma’s admission of missing one Mass in seventy years because she was in a coma to abusive priests on their way to another assignment (ohhhhh, don’t get me started!). The only difference seems to be the number of Hail Marys and Our Fathers required to wipe the slate clean. Done. Then you’re off the hook till you screw up again which for me was likely that same day.  I kid you not, there were times I would ask God to take me right out of the Box – while I was all shiny clean – but please hurry!

Then, I quit “going” to confession. It happened when I was able to realize that God isn’t interested in how many prayers we can memorize, or if we meet our Hail Mary obligation. But rather, how sincere we are about changing and correcting our offenses.

I now long for intimacy that allows me to go straight to the source any time I mess up.  I don’t have to wait till Saturday between the hours of 3:30 and 4:45 and I don’t have to wait in line. And, bonus, I have never experienced one bit of thunder, lightening, or annoying trumpet noises!

I would like to end this post by sharing how three amazing people (and many more since) helped me along the path to a relationship with God: Brennon Manning, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Sure, they were all qualified to hear confessions and dole out penance, but that is not how people change. Rather, it was seeing how they lived their faith that helped me change how I live mine!

They professed to the world their failings AND their trust that they could draw close to God because his love is unconditional, merciful, and grace-filled. Because they believed that, so can I! They have all inspired me to long for that God!

One of my favorite quotes of Brennon Manning:

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

I can now profess that, yes, I am a paradox of misfitted pieces: I love and hate, forgive and hold grudges, accept and judge others. At times, eager to give and other times, selfish. I can sing praises to God and curse the jerk that just cut me off in traffic all in the same breath. And on some really bad, terrible, horrible, dreadful days I can be all of those parts at once! 

So, the question before us seems to be: Do we stay stuck at the foot of the mountain or go all in? Going all in is what St. Augustine meant when he said, “The glory of God is man fully alive”.

Surely You Were in This Place

We are called during this time to contemplate more deeply the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This central tenant of our Christian faith is also the cause of my innermost struggle with what I believe and how I am to live. Paradoxically, it has become the source of a deepening faith that I believe will sustain me even if I never enter another church building. I no longer find my “home” there.

The following is the content of a post I wrote in 2012. As I reread it I realized it was everything I still believe because there is no mention of Jesus’ bodily resurrection which has been my sticking point. So, allow me to share the short post followed by a feeble attempt to express my feelings about that with what will surely be impossibly inadequate human words.

So, here we go:

Consider this:

  • While we prepare the menu for an Easter feast; Jesus is preparing for the Last Supper.
  • While we scrub the house for guests; Pilate washes his hands of the people who demand Jesus’ death.
  • While we are shopping for new outfits; Jesus is stripped, humiliated and brutally beaten.
  • While we look forward to having all the family together again: Kids home from college, parents arriving soon, on the long walk to Calvary Jesus and his mother touch for just a moment as their eyes reveal the unspeakable pain of their suffering.
  • While we are feeling left to do all the work amidst our annual pity party; Jesus, in his weakened state, struggles with the weight of the cross he carries – alone and abandoned by those who called themselves his disciples.
  • While we fuss over last-minute appearances playing beat the clock: Taming cowlicks, straightening ties, new shirt without stains, socks that match – finished – Jesus’ face is streaked with blood and his broken body is no longer recognizable. It is finished.

Knowing what will take place before that glorious Easter Day should cause us to tremble – but we’re too busy with our “stuff”.

The soon to be revealed and unimaginable love of God for us should bring us to our knees – an uncertain and uncomfortable place that we avoid.

The reality of the cross should cause us to beg forgiveness for our sinfulness – but we’ve become desensitized to our own sin, while easily pointing out everyone else’s transgressions!

We don’t reach out to God during the darkness of Good Friday or the deafening silence of Holy Saturday because we’re afraid he’ll answer! And then, for many of us, Easter comes and goes with little more fanfare than any other Sunday.

Could we even bear to consider what just happened? Jesus as the Incarnation of God showed us the full expression of God’s own self: He is relentless, extravagant, merciful, indiscriminate, gratuitous, enduring, and grace-filled Love!  

In this most holy season of Easter we are called to remember and celebrate that love. But, not just that! Jesus never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me. Do what I do.” What difference does it make if we have not changed in some way; if Monday is just business as usual, if we step over our suffering brothers and sisters on our way to more important things? If we forget.

Now, for my current, albeit meager, “resurrection” thoughts. This is probably a good time to remind everyone that this is simply my opinion which you are free to disagree with.

I have read and studied the writings of several people I love and respect. Each of them has, in some way, helped me to better understand and then put into practice my beliefs about Jesus’ life and how I am to “follow him”. Even though I may stumble to articulate those feelings, I am still at peace with saying, “This is what I believe. I have no clue what the “facts” are and don’t believe anyone else does either. And that’s okay.”

Bishop John Shelby Spong has had the most profound impact on me so I will begin with him (italics are mine):

 “I do not believe that the resurrection had anything to do with the physical resuscitation of a deceased body, but I do believe that an experience that transcended all known human limits was real. Mythology is frequently the only language we have to use in order to make sense out of a transcendent experience. Having said that, I still see no reason to doubt the historicity of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth or the conclusion that seems to have come from many sources that a deep and transforming God experience was met in him.

After the crucifixion some experience of great magnitude brought Jesus’ disciples back, empowered them and gave them the courage to take up the cause of this Jesus in the face of persecution and martyrdom. They never wavered. The way the disciples understood God was changed by whatever that Easter experience was.”

There it is: Spong says, “…a deep and transforming God experience was met in him.”  We may not know what that experience was and there has never been a consensus about it, but we do know something profound happened!And we know that because those once frightened disciples came back empowered to speak God’s truth and act on that truth no matter the consequences.

Jesus, trusting in his Father, freely chose to become victim and was put to death. This final profound act united humanity to divinity, bringing us into the relationship by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Easter question for us then becomes, “What do you believe about Me?”  What I say I believe must manifest itself in the way I live my life, or it is a lie.

Rev. Dawn Hutchings gives us a timeline that should cause a whole bunch of head scratching regarding everything we’ve been told to unquestioningly believe about Jesus’ resurrection:

The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth, about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, died and was buried….at least 20 years before the Gospel according to Mark, 30 to 40 years before the gospels according to Matthew and Luke and probably nearly 50 years before the Gospel according to John.

The writings of the Apostle Paul contain the earliest writings that we have on the subject of the Resurrection. And the Apostle Paul’s understanding of resurrection was good enough for the early followers of the Way….Paul never described Jesus’ resurrection as a physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse. Indeed in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul denies that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual physical resurrection.

The vision that Paul credits with having changed his view of Jesus is clearly that, a vision; a vision of a heavenly body.

….it is also difficult to reconcile a physical resuscitation with the details that are recorded in the Scriptures.

In an age in which, what we would define as supernatural visions, were commonplace, this experience of the power of the divine that their teacher had opened them to could have been interpreted as if the spirit of their teacher had never died because the power of God never does die.

Those who followed and loved Jesus experienced life in ways that were so earth shattering, so mind-blowing, that their lives would never be the same again. The power of the love they experienced in their life with Jesus could not be constrained or ended by Jesus’ death.

Long after they found the empty tomb, Jesus’ loved ones continued to experience his presence in very real ways. In the breaking of the bread and in the meals they shared together; as they walked the pathways they had walked with Jesus, and fished the waters they had navigated with Jesus.

Marcus Borg:

Many of these experiences were visions. Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, described three times in Acts 9, 22, and 26, and referred to by Paul in Galatians 1, was clearly a vision. It happened a few years – three to five – after the death of Jesus.

As Acts describes Paul’s vision of the risen Christ, Paul saw a brilliant light, but not a bodily formThen a voice identified the brilliant light as Jesus. Yet Paul can say, as he does in 1 Corinthians 9.1, “I have seen the Lord.”

 “The Spirit of the Lord” was upon him, as the gospels put it – and his followers continued to experience the same Spirit after his death. The risen Jesus appears in a locked room (John 20). He journeys with two of his followers for a couple of hours and is not recognized – and when he is recognized, he vanishes (Luke 24). He appears in both Jerusalem (Luke and John) and Galilee (Matthew and John). He appears to Stephen in his dying moments (Acts 7). He appears to Paul in or near Damascus as a brilliant light (Acts 9). He appears to the author of Revelation on an island off the coast of Turkey in the late 90s of the first century (Rev. 1).

So, here is the question that I no longer struggle with, Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13)  Every human being who knows the name Jesus will answer that question. Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.” Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions. Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!”  Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23)  Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not live.  Every Christian must answer the question, “Who is Jesus,” and ultimately, “Who is the God revealed in Jesus?”

The answer I have settled into has given me more peace and joy than I ever imagined. It has stripped away all the spectacle and pageantry and ritual; the flowing robes, incense, drama, and hype.  It has defined and focused my attention on the simple yet profound reality of Jesus. The one I long to emulate. Jesus was God’s beloved son, just as I am his beloved daughter. His life had a purpose, just as mine does.

When I consider all the wonder and awe the disciples must have experienced after Jesus’ death; how he enlivened them with the strength and courage to stand against the same powers that crucified him and they ran and hid from; how he stayed with them in spirit, I am reminded of the most profound experience of my own life.

Jesus appeared to me most vividly in Kentucky twenty years ago (post), at one of the lowest times in my life. A time when I doubted God could possibly love me. I felt the tender hand of God – the touch of Jesus, through another living, breathing human and my life has never been the same since. I have often wished for more of those intense moments when in reality we are surrounded by them in the ordinariness of our lives if we would just stay open to them.

The central meaning of Easter is not about what happened to the corpse of Jesus. Its essential meaning is that Jesus continues to be known and experienced through his followers to this very day. Those whose lives manifest the love of God witness to the truth that Jesus is still here; hanging about loving on humanity.  And he still has his eye on you!

Never, Never, Never Give Up

I know so many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you yourself, who just can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh?  Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to. For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me that he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust; offered way more grace than I deserved, and opened my heart more than I could have imagined.

God was always longing to grow me into the person he meant for me to be. It was me resisting; me not being present to him; me missing the mystery and majesty that surrounded me because I was just too busy to notice, or more likely, too afraid. Instead I skipped along trying to drown out his voice, “Lalalalalalalala I can’t hear you!”

We can be so enmeshed in, and blinded by, the things of this world we miss out on our whole purpose for being here. If you are going through life day-after-unremarkable-day; schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose people…you matter that much!

We are all called to holiness; called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work right here – right now. It just takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book by the same name, Awareness).

Leo Tolstoy’s  novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”,  considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience. While lying on his deathbed, Ilyich ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving and he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done!”At the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered himself, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?” Oops, a little late buddy!

“Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do” Gian Carlo Menotti

It  was too late for Ilyich, but not Tolstoy. He discovered his purpose and rejected his aristocratic life to follow Jesus’ teachings – in particular – the Sermon on the Mount. Years later, his writings also had a profound impact on Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others.

Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty! He has proven that through the lives of every misfit from Moses to this ole grandma – To infinity and beyond!  God coined that phrase you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’re packing your sandals and camel hair coat and checking Google Maps… for what? A sign from God?

Stop! Take a deep breath. Maybe start by sitting quietly with God and waiting.

Don’t look to anyone to give you a formula or a check list to send you on your way to sainthood. But, I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you are able to love yourself. And you can’t love yourself by means of any of the myriad of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time.

You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?

We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention, especially today. We even busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places. That’s how we miss God’s “still small voice” or “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Sure, he’s good at those show-stopper whirlwinds and earthquakes and fire. Even what I have called 2×4 moments, but they didn’t leave marks like the ones my mother inflicted. Because of her I was always on guard for those “laying down the law” whacks that I expected from God too when I messed up. But, I believe he more often speaks through Spirit – whispers of pure grace.

Now, though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in the muck.

Absolutely, go to church, take the time to read scripture, and pray, But mostly...LISTEN! Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.

Where was God when_______________?

The messiness of life has called us often to question what God is up to, if there even is a God. If you believe that God is up in the sky doling out rewards or punishments and you never received that promotion, perfect partner, or winning lottery ticket you begged him for, you may be very confused. If your words of wisdom for a friend who just received a terminal diagnosis are, “This must be God’s plan for you so suck it up buttercup”, then your understanding of God is likely skewed a bit  a LOT!

I believe many of us may be experiencing a significant crisis of faith and our understanding of just who this God is that we worship. At the core of the confusion may be the age-old question of where God is in the midst of all the tragedies and disasters we are witnessing.  All of us have been affected, some more personally than others.

So many are still impervious to human suffering because it normally happens far away in third world countries, so we can keep it from affecting us; from reaching down into our very being and ripping our hearts out. But, we can’t avoid it when it’s up close and personal.

So, we continue to question why God isn’t fixing all of this when we diligently pray for him to intervene? What kind of God would just sit back and ignore all the pain and suffering? Do I even believe in him? Is it possible to step back, take a deep breath, and start admitting that there are no words for, no answers for, the suffering or the possibility of branding God? And can that be okay?

You will not receive “answers” or certitudes from me because I gave up trying to figure him out a long time ago. I can now live with the possibility that life is just a crap-shoot. I wake up in the morning not knowing what the day will bring. Will I get cancer or a call from a long-lost friend? Will I win a new car or get run over by one? Will the cop who catches me speeding be cheerful and forgiving or a poopyhead?  Is today my last day here? I have no idea.

Now, let’s recap all the terrible things that have happened just in the past year and then revisit the “where is God” question.

The following list of the pile-on of disasters comes from the CDP Website: https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disaster/2021-winter-storms/

  • DEVISTATING WINTER STORMS: The storms left extensive power outages, damage to homes, empty grocery shelves, massive electric bills, boil water advisories, deaths and vehicular accidents…in their wake.

 

  • COVID DESTROYS LIVES: Feb. 11, 2021: The U.S. case total is 28,542,904 with 505,795 deaths and 18,707,002 recoveries. The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but more than 25% of its COVID-19 cases with minorities suffering the most.

 

  • RACIAL INJUSTICE: Being killed by police is the leading cause of death in the US for Black men and boys. They are 2.5-3 times more likely to die than white men and boys at the hands of police. Other people of color, including Latino men and boys, Black women and girls, and Native American men, women and children, also experience higher rates of death due to police violence than their white counterparts.

 

  • DEVASTATING WILD FIRES: The 2020 season was a record-setting one for the state of California and the United States as a whole. NIFC reported that as of Nov. 27 there were 52,113 wildfires that had burned 8,889,297 acres in 2020. This is approximately 2.3 million more acres burned than the 10-year average and almost double the acreage burned in the 2019 season. There were 10,488 structures damaged or destroyed and at least 31 fatalities.

 

  • ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON: At the conclusion of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season – damage assessments for many storms coming in at well over $1 billion. The total cost for the 2020 season was almost $47 billion. More than 430 people lost their lives.

 

  • SOUTHERN BORDER HUMANITARIAN CRISIS: As of December 2020, the Southern Border Communities Coalition reports that 118 people have died since 2010, including several who died while in Customs and Border Protection custody….problems of overcrowding, lack of hygiene facilities and health care access, as well as food shortages….extreme violence in border cities including kidnapping and rape. The conditions in camps for unaccompanied children have been reported as deplorable, lacking in food, health care, water, sanitation, hygiene and other services. Children have died or become severely ill in these camps. There are currently more than 500 children separated from their families at the border and those families cannot be found.

Of course, there’s more and getting into the details of the pain and suffering would surely add to the stress, anger, and fear that causes so many of us to shake a fist at “heaven”; at a void we once believed housed God. Some are asking, some demanding, that God show himself and answer for his lack of concern for us.

I want to introduce you to Kate Bowler. She wrote a book titled, “Everything Happens for a Reason; and other lies I believed” in 2018, when she was thirty-five-ish and diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. She was given two months to live. Know how she would respond to the question “where is God”? “When I was sure I was going to die, I didn’t feel angry. I felt loved.” She managed to get past stupid people saying stupid things and discovered God was revealed in the likes of all those who loved on her, quietly sat with her, and took care of day-to-day tasks in myriad ways.

Bowler speaks from her experience and from “great works of Christian theology”:

The sense of God’s presence will go. There will be no lasting proof that God exists. When the feelings recede…they will leave an imprint. I would somehow be marked by the presence of an unbidden God. It is not proof of anything….It was simply a gift. Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.

You may not recognize God because everywhere you turn he’s disguised as someone who looks like your grandmother or brother or that kid down the street who raked your leaves last year when you broke your leg and refused any money – remember? That was God.

He’s been right here all along:

  • From owners turning their stores into warming centers, to a mystery man handing out $20 bills to shoppers in Houston.

 

  • Texans have instinctively turned to helping others. One such figure is Raymond Garcia of Houston, Texas, who, upon realizing he had no power at home, decided to use his time helping others. He has been visiting people in his local community, helping with tasks such as fixing burst water pipes.

 

  • Houston resident Max Bozeman II, who was diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic, knew first-hand the importance of asking for help in difficult times. After posting to Instagram saying he would give out $100 to ten people who needed the money for groceries, he received a deluge of messages. He ended up handing out 70 gifts of $100 each and says he’s prepared to part with as much as $10,000.

 

 

  • In Elgin, Texas, Monica Nava, owner of the Chemn Cafe, put in a big order just before the storm hit. Rather than see perishable items go to waste, she boxed them up with shelf-stable goods into care packages. She gave the packages to in-need members of the community.

 

  • In San Antonio, one Good Samaritan at the Martini Ranch bar put on a free grill complete with lobster bisque for anyone in need of a meal. “Just grilling away out front to provide some people with a free hot plate,” he said.

 

  • Another Houston hero is Jim McIngvale, better known locally as Mattress Mack. McIngvale opened two of his furniture stores to be used as warming centers. “Anybody who needs it—whether they’re homeless, whether they lost power, whether it’s just wanting to come in and get something to eat—anybody wants to come in, we’re here for them….during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, he turned over some of his stores to be used as evacuation centers.

 

  • Texas Nurse and Mom Stays Behind to Help Neighbors: I Had to ‘Make Sure They Were Still Alive’ “It made me very aware that we had to stay to help,” she added. “There were opportunities for us to leave and it just wasn’t an option anymore.” Grigsby and her family have done what they can since then, such as bringing three meals a day to a neighbor who uses a wheelchair. “I needed to go check and make sure that our neighbors were okay and do pulse checks every morning.

 

More God spottings:

 

  • Adolfo Melendez, owner of Tex-Mex restaurant El Mezcal in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, has bought more than $2,000 in gift cards to restaurants in his community to raffle off to his customers. Winners received $20 gift cards to a local restaurant.

 

  • The daughter of Rafael Palomino, who owns Sonora said she always loved baking. “My dad would take care of dinner and I’d take care of the sweets,” said the 27-year-old self-taught chef.

Now, she’s launched her own company: Batter that Matters, an online bakery focused on cookies, which donates a portion of its profits to various charities.

 

  • Haley Bridges, 17, of Appleton, Wisconsin, knew her friend and fellow Chick-fil-A employee, Hokule’a Taniguchi, 19, was commuting to work in the Wisconsin winter by bicycle. So when she learned she had won a car at a company Christmas party raffle in December, she knew exactly who she wanted to gift it to. (Got that?! A 17 year-old gave a car away!)

 

  • A rival “tip war” that’s been escalating for nearly a month has now generated over $34,000 for Cincinnati restaurant workers struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. It all started on Jan. 9, when an Xavier University alum left a $1,000 tip on a $54.59 bill and a note on a napkin that said: “Please share this tip with all of your employees as they work so hard and are dealing with COVID.”

  • A 10-year-old boy decided to thank the front-line heroes battling the relentless coronavirus pandemic by clearing snow off their cars outside a Rhode Island hospital this week. “I was thinking they’ve been helping us a lot through this whole pandemic, and I figured why don’t we help them, you know?” Christian Stone told a local news station.

 

  • Eight-year-old Cavanaugh Bell lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “I spread positivity to inspire others to change the world. Because the pandemic left so many in need, I decided to make care packs to help elderly people in my community. And now, I’m able to gather supplies to give to families across the country,” he said. Cavanaugh initially created his care packages for elderly people in his neighborhood using his own savings from birthday and Christmas money. As word spread and donations grew, he and his mom opened a food pantry called Love is Greater than COVID-19.
  • Madison, Wisconsin — Morgan Marsh McGlone started a virtual lemonade standlast spring to raise money for a local food charity that lets people pay what they can. It was the 8-year-old’s plan to help struggling families during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

  • Two Bismarck families are determined to focus on the good and to spread kindness. This moment was the best part of 11-year-old Eva Brooke’s Christmas vacation. Eva and her family collected money from friends and family, “It was $280” They gave it all to their server at Rockin’ 50s. “We called it ‘Project Kindness.’” Heather Frey’s family did the same thing in December. They raised more than $1,600. “It was from all over United States.”

 

 

  • Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso and HOPE Border Institute Announce ‘Border Refugee Assistance Fund’ to Aid Migrants at the US-Mexico Border. Thousands of migrants, mostly from Central America, are currently stranded in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Grants from the fund will be used to support the initiatives and shelters providing for the immediate humanitarian needs of migrants in Ciudad Juárez, the majority of which have been organized by faith communities. Bishop Seitz said, “The need in Juarez is tremendous. Churches and community-led initiatives there are doing everything possible to feed, clothe and offer shelter to thousands of migrant families fleeing desperate conditions and looking for safety and refuge. Here we have a real opportunity to serve Christ in the migrant.” Faith communities and individuals across the country have asked how they can help at the border.

Pope Francis asks: “Will we bend down to touch and heal the wounds of others? Will we bend down and help another to get up? This is today’s challenge, and we should not be afraid to face it.”

 

Remember the story of the stupidly rich man and Lazarus in Luke’s gospel? (Luke 16:19-31) We often think the story is about how the rich man refused to help Lazarus and was likely annoyed by Lazarus’ presence in his front yard. But, it is more likely he didn’t even notice Lazarus. His life’s obsessions were himself and his “stuff”. Jesus warned us about our attitude toward the poor in Matthew’s gospel: When we found ourselves having to ask, “But, when did we do that? I don’t remember doing that!” Jesus said, “Whatever you did or didn’t do for the least of these – you did or didn’t do for me”.

 

So, where is God? He’s as close as your mirror. You will only “see” where God is when you are doing something to relieve the suffering of others, when you are his hands and feet.

 

Lord, help me to be more like you and “Less like me”!

The Church Issues Covid Rules for a Safe Easter Season

1. Stay six feet away from all infidels!

2. Push yourself in front of the line for Covid testing and a vaccine by insisting your “job” is essential!

You – at work

3. On Ash Wednesday (I know, we’re past that, just humor me): Keep your hands away from your face, not necessarily to protect you from Covid, just so you don’t wipe your ashes off that everyone needs to see so you can prove that you are the holiest of holies. Once you shower them away you can get back to being comfortable in the skin of the hypocrite everyone, but you, knows you are.

4. Giving something up: Yes, I know, you’ve already chosen and forgotten it, especially if it had anything to do with food or exercise. But, there’s an unwritten “rule” that you can keep trying any time before Holy Week. So, come on, try again. Make it something you REALLY REALLY LOVE! Not chocolate, that’s been over-done. I know, how about giving up that stinkin’ attitude that you’ll gain a coveted spot in heaven because you are way more special than those you have labeled “heathens”.

5. Confession:  Just in case it’s been a long time since you’ve gone, here’s a refresher from “Mortal and Venial Sin for DUMMIES (I kid you not!) https://www.dummies.com/religion/christianity/catholicism/mortal-and-venial-sins-in-the-catholic-church/

Anyway…mortal sin is basically something you’ll go to jail for or get shot by a husband for. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think there was an appendage added at the end by some Bishops that reads: “if you get caught”.

Venial sins fall into more of a gray area. They don’t meet all three criteria of a mortal sin: (1) A Grave Matter, (2) Full Knowledge (3) Deliberate Consent. Think politicians – they default to #2.  In the moment, they don’t seem to realize what they did was wrong or that it’s still on Twitter. Then, the truth is splattered all over the media and suddenly they “realize” what they did was a really awful, very bad thing and they’re sorry and it won’t happen again (until after their next run for office).   

So, priest and confessee are to wear masks, keep a fan running, and the screen closed. Confessee is to turn away from the priest while spewing tiny, tiny indiscretions. These safeguards are for protection, not so he won’t recognize you, silly!

5. Easter Sunday may be tricky. You’ll still have to limit the number of people coming for dinner (good excuse for not inviting your crazy relatives though).

Now, you don’t want to make Jesus feel like he’s not welcome back, but at the same time, we really don’t know where he’s been for the last three days. So, just to be safe he should probably get tested before he comes and wear a mask. Then, he’s perfectly welcome to join the party and sit at the head of the table. — which he will decline to do. Actually, he’ll probably sit at the kid’s table. They’re more fun anyway.

And, that’s it. Easter is over, the good china is put away, Uncle Wilber goes back to the nursing home, and Jesus fades into“Ordinary Time”.That’s what we Catholics know as “down time”. A time we need to feel no “obligation” to do anything we don’t want to (not that we feel any obligation any other time it’s just that there’s no guilt connected to it). Like, I don’t know, what Jesus showed us by his example that we just got a forty day recap of.  It’s all in Matthew 25:40-45:

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

We may have to continue to wear masks, but they cannot hide what others see in our eyes and witness by our acts of love for those who suffer. Or, conversely, when keeping our distance has nothing to do with that whole “social” thing.   

HAPPY EASTER!

God Reimagined

From the 1950’s to the 1970’s there was a popular TV show called “To Tell the Truth”. I loved watching it as a kid.

Then I wondered: What if it came back and the first episode had three contestants that claimed to be God? They would all have to be hidden behind a screen or in a disguise because we’re pretty sure we could identify him.

Then, I wondered: If I was on the panel what questions would I ask to flush out the real God? That might be tricky. But, here it goes:

1. “One of my grandkids would cheat at board games that I wasn’t familiar with and make up the rules as he went along. So, I quit playing with him. Do you make up your own “rules” depending on your mood that day?”

2. “How many “rules” can I break without coming back as a slug in my next life?”

3. “What are you made of – flesh and bone or smoke and mirrors?”

4.”If you really loved us, why did you make ice cream fattening?” (Oops. How’d that get in there?)

That was fun to imagine, but let’s move on to the reality that is life today in the midst of Covid and one catastrophe after another. So many lost souls are wandering around without a clue of how they got where they are or what to do next.

Then there are those who believe they have it all figured out – it’s the Apocalypse! The end of the world! So, they packed their bags for heaven and made a mental list of all those that will be “left behind”. They’re all giddy at the thought that ALMIGHTY GOD will exact his punishment on you heathens (you know who you are)! But, don’t say they didn’t warn you. You had your chance to get your sorry-self saved and get all righteous like them but you turned them down – twice – for a cold beer and a football game. That your team lost by the way! Big mistake!

 I imagine most people hang out somewhere between the two. I’m not sure that’s a great place to be either. But, if God’s not going to send us a current day “Moses” to help us tic off an updated list of “rules to live by” then we will need to make some decisions ourselves. I think it’s more critical than ever for each of us to decide where we stand on issues of faith and then stay there!

Perhaps the place to begin is to come face-to-face with the age-old idea of an angry, vengeful God who confounds so many of us. Even though today’s young people seem to be able to see right through him. They reject the blind faith of the older generations and I can speak to that because I’m old.

In my past life of black and white faith I was certain about EVERY SINGLE THING, even the fact that God would get those who refused to follow the dogmas and dictates infallibly laid out for us in his own words in a nicely leather-bound Bible that he dropped from heaven like manna.

I read that Bible front to back several times. As a die-hard Catholic I wasn’t supposed to do that. I was supposed to leave it to the “Experts”. But, I had to see for myself. And, yep, it was all in there. All the literal “truths” that I didn’t discover until later were reformulated over and over to keep the powerful – well – powerful, and the ignorant masses in line.

And then it happened: In 2008, at the age of fifty-nine, a course of events upended everything I was certain about. I was offered a rare opportunity to attend Graduate School paid for by a grant. That’s a whole, “How the hell did you get in here?!” story all by itself, but we’ll leave that for another day.

I quickly discovered that there was a reason a string of Bishops made every effort to have that school shut down because those professors were corrupting minds. They had the audacity to challenge us to think! One of the first questions in my Scripture Studies class was, “What if the story of Adam and Eve was just a myth and they were not even actual people? Would it shatter your faith or would it still have meaning to you?”

Wait! What?!

For the next three years, the certitude I clutched like a security blanket was unraveling. I had so many “what ifs” to sort through I’m surprised I survived. My righteous, superior attitude was being dismantled right in front of me and it wasn’t pretty! But, I stayed and endured the painful reality of my shallowness – because – well – what if?! I could give you example after example of how so much of scripture was written, not by God, but by faulty humans, many with an agenda. But I won’t.

Well, okay, maybe just a short one. How about the Creation Story?

I’m just gonna throw this question out there: Is it possible that a few mistakes were made when God so quickly created the entire universe and all its content? Not sure what his hurry was. I mean he was just hanging around for billions of years with nothing to do and all of a sudden he gets a wild hair to create something outrageously new and unique. It was a pretty lofty goal to get it all done in just six days. Maybe this too hurried planning stage was the problem. I get it. I am terrible about following directions and often in a rush leave out steps that are critical to the outcome.

Admittedly, I never tried to make a human though. I suppose that would be a bit complicated.

This would probably be my feeble attempt..

But, Thomas Edison, who failed 2,000 times trying to invent the light bulb, kept trying till he got it right. Why didn’t God just keep trying till he got it right? Surely he could foreseen the messiness of humanity and tweak them somehow. Reconsidering free-will might have been a good place to start because it probably didn’t take long for God to wonder what he was thinking with that one.

Let’s do a follow-up to that story, one that Alexander would define as a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” for humanity. Except in this case, not just a single day, but an entire life for every human from Adam and Eve to that adorable brand-spankin’-new nephew of yours. That’s right. We’re talking about the stain of “Original Sin”. Do you know where that “infallible truth” originated? No? That’s a huge one! Weren’t you even curious?

Let’s pick it apart beginning with a peek into the relationship between Augustine, the author of “Original Sin”, and his mother, Monica. He was a rebel-rousing, partying, sex-lustful heathen with no intention of changing. Still, she was relentless in her prayers. She admonished him over and over, but he was having too much fun to take her seriously. Until finally, after years of her incessant nagging and possibly a heavenly whack (I’ve received my share of those, they leave marks!) he finally saw the error of his ways, or maybe a paternity suit influenced his decision. Anyway, he did a 180 and converted to a man of faith. But, then there was the terrible reality of his life of sin and debauchery. How would he account for that? Well, being unwilling to take responsibility for his miserable life he conjured up a brilliant idea, “I know”, he said to himself, “I will blame it all on Satan! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

And so he set out creating this incredible story about two characters he named Adam & Eve. Oh yeah, and the Devil disguised as a snake who talked (nothing sketchy there). The story went like this: Adam was going about the business of being holy when out of nowhere the evil woman, Eve, seduced his senses with an apple and a promise (fingers crossed) from a snake. When they got caught butt-naked, Adam the Cowardly immediately blamed both the snake and Eve for conniving against him in this wretched scheme. 

So, what does God do? He apparently lost his cool and in a fit of anger condemned all of humankind from the moment of their birth to a life of misery and sinfulness that they can never, ever, ever, recover from. And, voila, Augustine is off the hook for all his sexual indiscretions and Satan took the fall. Brilliant!

Then, in the 16th Century the Council of Trent gave that inane doctrine its stamp of approval and the rest, as they say, is history. Thus the well-worn bumper sticker, “THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!” was created by some genius who got rich from it and moved to the Bahamas.

Now, that brings me to another story. Sorry. But, this transitions perfectly into the great and only flood that God dreamed up. Again in total frustration over the mess that was humanity. You would think that he might have stuck with plants and crawly things by then; maybe a few cute puppies – they’re great companions that love unconditionally and don’t talk back! But, no, again God seems to have made another hasty decision with dire consequences.

Okay, the story of Noah and the great flood. If God was so intent on wiping the slate clean and starting over wouldn’t he have first tried to figure out what went wrong and then create a new template? Maybe messed up DNA, gene sequencing issues (whatever that means), possibly needing to tweak a few chromosomes?  Anyway, that was all before the immortal words of wisdom attributed to Albert Einstein which might have helped, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  So, not surprising, after all that workAGAIN – the first thing Noah does when he steps foot on dry land is make wine, get naked and drunk, and embarrass his son, Ham. Guess they were cooped up too long and got on each other’s nerves! Great start for God’s new creation huh?! And, of course, we know it all went south from there.

Oh my gosh! We haven’t even talked about Jesus! Please indulge me for one more story. I promise this is the last one!

Consider Jesus’ baptism. By all accounts, John was a wild and crazy guy! He was all about “turn or burn” and preached God’s vengefulness and “requirements” for repentance and baptism. One could certainly consider him a militant. Did Jesus?

Imagine the scene: Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River. The fact that he went through that ritual presumes that he followed the teachings of John. But, somewhere along the way there were likely things that John preached that must have been unsettling for Jesus.  John the Baptist was all about power. Jesus, by his very nature, rejected power. Recall, that he was raised by two people who humbled themselves and surrendered A LOT when they both could have been on the cover to TIME magazine as Persons of the Year”!

Perhaps Jesus had an AHA moment because he skipped the after-baptism party and went right to the desert to reflect on the truth of who he was and discern how he was to live that truth. While there, our buddy Satan pulled out all the stops in a cunning and deceitful effort to lure Jesus away from his quest for clarity about his life’s purpose. But the promises of Satan fell on deft ears. Jesus was totally focused on this next phase of his life, trusting just enough to get on the path and go. Maybe stop for some breakfast.  

Now, the obvious question arises: Does all this raise any red flags regarding the convictions we have about scripture and God? Anything? I have one: How are we supposed to believe in and follow a God we don’t understand and can’t label; a God that truly is more mystery than certainty?

Robin Meyers’ most recent book, “Saving God from Religion” offers his thoughts for:

…everyone who is struggling with the old and narrow definitions of God but has yet to see any coherent and comprehensive way to reimagine the Ultimate Mystery…. we long for a faith that is more than judgmental certainty, more than “believe and receive.” ….we are hungry for new ways to heal and transform the broken world we inhabit.

I know, that’s a little daunting, huh? We don’t remember this, but one day each of us let go of our mother’s hand and took our first steps. One night dad had to come in our room and turn on the lights to show us there were no monsters under the bed – and then we slept. And, now, in this moment we are all challenged to reject that Great and Terrible Wizard that has been pulling our strings for too long. I don’t know a lot, but I do know that is NOT the God I have grown to love.

I don’t recognize the God defined by today’s Extremists. Do you? A God invoked by violence and hatred against those who are different than them, seen as lesser, or not seen at all. According to the militant Nationalists and Evangelicals their God did not create allhumankind in his image. Instead, they created their own God in their image and then defined “Christians” as only those adhering to the creeds and doctrines of their particular denomination which requires completion of a membership form, three references, and paid dues. The God they worship is a Mighty Warrior that will beat the crap out of the rest of humanity – the lesser than, outcasts, poor, and lost beings.

We must ask ourselves honestly, does any of this make any sense at all? Can we just stop and have the courage to question our beliefs that someone else with control issues instilled in us? Is it starting to feel like we have been conned by a little man with an intimidatingly loud voice behind the curtain?

I know it seems unsettling to live in the question. But blindly following beliefs that just don’t work anymore isn’t the answer. I believe that’s what Father Richard Rohr may be speaking to here:

 The human ego hates a genuinely new experience. It hates to change and is preoccupied with control. A genuinely new idea leaves you out of control for a while and forces you to reassess your terrain, find new emotions, and realign your life coordinates. We prefer to stay in our small comfort zones. God usually has to break in or break us down to break through to us.

So, if we really desire to be more like Jesus and less like those who use fear to claim power and control over us, then we must recognize, reject, and expose that little man with the big megaphone!

I no longer struggle to define God by my human understanding. I have fallen in love with the idea of God being “Ultimate Mystery” as Meyers says. I believe deep down that God is Unrelenting Love, Forgiveness, Compassion, and Mercy. I have given up on any need to go beyond that because none of us really knows. I’m good with that, although, it makes life right here, right now, more critical than ever because Jesus tells us that “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) God is alive and well within our very heartbeat.

What are the “facts’ of our Christian faith? I have no clue and I don’t dwell on it. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I simply try to be the best version of myself, to do the next right thing, to give and ask for forgiveness, to grow in empathy for those who suffer, and to imagine a better world; a kinder, more compassionate world.

Okay, that was some heavy stuff so I want to leave you with the hysterical and profound thoughts of Rami Shapiro the author of, “Holy Rascals”. In one section he offers made up letters written by made up kids addressed to God. What’s so incredible is that these thoughts came from beliefs he literally heard from adults. He says, the letters “are not about dismissing dogma, doctrine, or belief, but about taking dogma, doctrine, and belief to their absurdist conclusions.”  They made me laugh so hard I spit coffee through my nose – just giving you a heads-up. Here are just two:

Dear God,

My pastor says you need the blood of Jesus to calm down so you won’t get mad and send us to Hell. My mom makes me go to my room when I get mad. Maybe you should try that instead

Dear God,

My pastor says when your son comes back to earth, he will send my gramma and grampa to Hell because they are Methodists. Please don’t let him come back before my birthday because they promised to take me to Disney World.

THE END – OR JUST THE BEGINNING?

The Jesus Militant Christian Nationalists and Evangelicals Have Created in Their Own Image

This very long blog post began here with an Introduction followed by a two part post concerning Western Christian beliefs about who Jesus is and what “following” him entails.

This last part is mostly a compilation of articles and quotes that I we have been inundated with since January 6, 2021. All presented with the purpose of trying to understand the reality of what we are facing as a country – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ll spare you all the details and offer the sources in case you’re someone, unlike me, that actually has a life.

Let’s begin with this article in Christianity Today:

Christian nationalism has little to do with personal religiosity and everything to do with acquiring and leveraging political power around key issues like Islam, immigration, abortion, patriarchy, militarism, gun control and sacrificial allegiance to the flag.

Christian nationalists, then, appeal to biblical justification to construct an “us” (i.e., “white” Christians) versus “them” (heathen) caste system, wherein immigrants, BIPOC, LGBTQ persons and women are subordinate. This segregated worldview attempts to monopolize power among white, native-born Protestants to control social and political institutions.

Christian nationalists, it turns out, are often religiously disconnected, lean toward heterodoxy, and are often at odds with biblical ethical values like hospitality, peace/justice, and neighborly love. One of the strangest realities of calling oneself a Christian…is that if you affirm the social teachings of Jesus (love of neighbors/enemies, inclusive table-fellowship, divestment of money, care for poor), you are called a “libtard” or a “snowflake.” But if you affirm the values of Christian nationalism (militarism, xenophobia, meritocracy), you are considered a good, Bible-believing Christian.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/august/lets-talk-about-christian-nationalism.html

NPR: Militant Christian Nationalists Remain a Potent Force, Even After the Capitol Riot, by Tom Gjelten

The notion that God would take direct interest in a U.S. election is an expression of the ideology of Christian nationalism, says sociologist Andrew Whitehead. “Taken to an extreme that viewpoint can even be seen as justifying violence. It tends to draw on a framework of conquering outsiders and taking violent hold of what is rightfully yours.”

The founder of the OathKeepers militia group, Stewart Rhodes, hoped Trump would use the Insurrection Act to “drop the hammer” on his opponents. “He needs to know from you that you are with him, and that if he does not do it now, we’re going to have to do it ourselves later, in a much more desperate, much more bloody war.”

One of the leaders of the invasion of the Senate chamber, Jacob Chansley, actually asked the rioters to pause in their rampage and join him for a moment of prayer to God. “Thank you for allowing the United States to be reborn,” Chansley said, “We love you and we thank you. In Christ’s holy name, we pray.”

Eric Metaxas: author and radio host:

Metaxas said he did not care about the overwhelming odds against any effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden. “We need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood, because it’s worth it.”

Metaxas was the emcee at the Jericho March in Washington, where he and others implored God to keep Trump in office. “We are here because we know he is the God who does real miracles when his remnant cries out to him in humility and love (my emphasis – added after I threw up!),” Metaxas said.

Metaxas has never shown himself as one who feels compelled to respond to criticism, especially when he feels he has heard directly from God on the matter. In his autobiography, Metaxas lists a whole series of miracles and messages from God — including one from a turtle in Central Park…(Nothing questionable here! While walking one day, Kermit the Frog jumped out of a tree in front of me! I kid you not! SCARED. ME. TO. DEATH. He told me God wanted me to buy that Hermes handbag Shilpa Shetty was spotted carrying. Yeah – my husband didn’t believe me either.  Okay, fine, I don’t even know what a Hermes bag is, except that the cost of it would buy a kidney on the black market.)

Pastor Darryl Knappen was still denying reality and even declaring himself willing to take up arms to keep Donald Trump in office. “I was tempted to wear my black robe today and cover up my AR-15 beneath it.” In his Jan. 9 Facebook message, Knappen issued a call to arms, “There is a need in every one of our localities to have individuals, patriots, who are ready to arm up and be part of a citizen militia to protect our freedoms.”

Kristin du Mez, an historian at Calvin University and author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

Evangelicals formed an idea of Christ from figures like John Wayne and Theodore Roosevelt. This Christ was a rugged warrior, willing to fight for the faith and the nation. For all their talk of being Bible-believing Christians, when it came to these guides on Christian manhood, there was a Bible verse sprinkled here or there, but it really wasn’t based on biblical teaching. Instead, it was based on Hollywood heroes, mythical warriors, soldiers and cowboys. Its good guys versus bad guys, using violence to achieve order, and the ends will justify the means. It’s violence for the sake of righteousness, violence to achieve order, violence to bring peace and security. There’s a willingness to do what needs to be done.

I just finished reading du Mezes book and what she has uncovered is seriously frightening!  She details the belief that this house of cards seems to be toppling. She says,

In the end, Doug Wilson, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, James Dobson, Doug Phillips, and John Eldredge all preached a mutually reinforcing vision of Christian masculinity—of patriarchy and submission, sex and power. It was a vision that promised protection for women but left women without defense, one that worshiped power and turned a blind eye to justice, and one that transformed the Jesus of the Gospels into an image of their own making. The militant Christian masculinity they practiced and preached did indelibly shape both family and nation. Masculine authority, militarism, and the sexual and spiritual subordination of women have simply been part of the air evangelicals breathe for decades.

That so many of their “leaders” have been accused of and indicted on charges of extreme sexual misconduct and many of those who continually hold them up as the victims of haters of Evangelicalism seems to be the tip of the iceberg and their names as likely as recognizable to you as they are to me. There is no way of knowing over all these many years how many young minds have been corrupted by the violence and hatred they teach and advocate for.

https://www.npr.org/2021/01/19/958159202/militant-christian-nationalists-remain-a-potent-force

This is fun! A little light reading for you:

https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

https://www.isdglobal.org/our-mission/

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2021/01/22/capitol-insurrection-shows-how-trends-far-rights-fringe-have-become-mainstream

There’s this analysis in 2020 by the Department of Homeland Security – Violent Extremism in the United States:

Some U.S.-based violent extremists have capitalized on increased social and political tensions in 2020, which will drive an elevated threat environment at least through early 2021. Violent extremists will continue to target individuals or institutions that represent symbols of their grievances, as well as grievances based on political affiliation or perceived policy positions. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/2020_10_06_homeland-threat-assessment.pdf

Accelerationism in the White Power Movement:

What defines white supremacist accelerationists is their belief that violence is the only way to pursue their political goals. To put it most simply, accelerationists embrace terrorism. Accelerationists aren’t part of a new movement. They’re just an iteration more inclined toward terroristic violence than has existed in recent decades.

 “We advocate political terror and murder against jews and politicians among other things. We have accepted that the (((system))) cannot be saved, rather it must be destroyed,” one group posted on Telegram in February. “In order to accelerate the inevitable collapse of the jewish nightmare society we must not follow the rules of the (((system))) but ACT against it.”

In December 2018, a man named Rinaldo Nazzaro purchased 30 acres of remote land in Republic, Washington, a city of roughly 1,000 people about an hour’s drive south of the Canadian border. The tract was meant to serve as a training ground for a terroristic white power group he founded earlier that year called The Base.

Where do we go from here?

In their minds, they are the heirs to a movement that began decades ago and are nobly carrying out the fight. They believe – not unlike many Americans all across the political spectrum – that we’ve arrived at a breaking point.

Scholars and pundits are actively questioning whether American democracy can withstand the threats being made against it….the far right is openly talking about the prospect of civil war. On the economic front, Americans continue to struggle to find stability and, on the political side, people believe not only trust in government, but in each other, is declining. Uncertainty like this provides fertile ground for extremists.

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2020/06/23/there-no-political-solution-accelerationism-white-power-movement

Robert Wuthnow, Princeton sociologist of religion tells us, “On January 6, we did not witness the old Religious Right at the Capitol. Instead, we saw three streams of religion, forging a new alliance.”

And don’t think for a moment that you can exhale because Trump has left the building.

A recent article in the LA Times:

In the days following the Capitol riot, right-wing extremists who lost Parler accounts or were suspended from Facebook and Twitter migrated to Telegram and gained a following of tens of thousands of Trump supporters looking to vent anger and promote extremist views. The groups are competing for a surge of new users on alternative platforms while refocusing their messages on militant nationalism (and) white supremacy.“We want people who walk away from Trump and authoritarianism to join us,” Dunn said in an interview later. “Memes play a role on the younger generation and we are winning.”

Trump’s impeachment and the prosecution of rioters who attacked the Capitol have left the far right emboldened and potentially more dangerous, experts say. Some still rally around the former president. Others, like the militant Proud Boys, have distanced themselves from Trump, blaming him for disavowing the Capitol insurrection and betraying them by leaving office.

“This has been very energizing for far-right movements,” Lindsay Schubiner, program director at Portland, Ore.-based Western States Center, said of the Capitol attack. “The core of these movements is likely to become even more hardcore and violent.”

Schubiner, who tracks activity by right-wing extremists, said some have chosen to work within the political system, shifting their focus from disputing Trump’s loss to joining local races. “They are spreading bigotry to build political power”.

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-27/

According to a CBS News poll released in January, more than half of all Americans say the greatest danger to America’s way of life comes from their fellow citizens. Before the election, another study illustrated that about one in five Republicans and Democrats believed that their political adversaries “lack the traits to be considered fully human.” Is it possible for Americans to achieve unity when they cannot agree on their common humanity?

https://www.dannyhayes.org/uploads/6/9/8/5/69858539/kalmoe___mason_ncapsa_2019_-_lethal_partisanship_-_final_lmedit.pdf

Militant Websites:

https://www.propublica.org/article/boogaloo-bois-military-training?emci=20437b9d-6d65-eb11-9889-00155d43c992&emdi=84d073e2-7465-eb11-9889-00155d43c992&ceid=200218

https://religionnews.com/2021/01/06/as-chaos-hits-capitol-two-forms-of-faith-on-display/

Perhaps this will lighten your emotional load a bit. In the aftermath of the violence that day, many faith leaders spoke out condemning it in no uncertain terms:

https://religionnews.com/2021/01/06/faith-leaders-react-to-mob-at-capitol-with-prayers-calls-for-end-to-violence/

So, where does all this leave us? Again, I can only speak for myself, but it has called me to reevaluate who I am, what I believe, and how I am called to act in such a toxic and hostile world. I had to go back pretty far to begin that process.

When I was growing up, Jesus wasn’t in the picture. I never heard him mentioned except in a parental fit of anger. So, he was just an expletive. God did show up occasionally disguised as a dysfunctional wild woman (my mother) and other times a man who sat numb in front of the T.V. every night while his family was being dismembered in the next room (my father).

If either of these images was reality it’s no wonder this god messed up his creation. I suppose in the planning stages it looked great to him on paper. According to the beliefs of Christians who adhere to an “us” vs “them” theology, that warns that you’re doomed to hell because you won’t buy into their “rules”.  This god would have created an excess of people he would then turn around and damn to hell. Just for fun. Like playing the game whack-a-mole out of sheer boredom. It probably keeps him busy on those long winter nights when he is being totally ignored by humanity.

Anyway, God seemed crazy unpredictable and impossible to please. I wanted nothing to do with him. But, alas, my wretched soul was not totally, irreparably lost.

I am so grateful that nearly twenty years ago, right in the midst of my pain and confusion over just who this God was and who I was in relation to him, he showed up in a powerful way in the person of Jesus. I discovered how deeply God loved me in spite of myself and he offered Jesus as my guide. He would walk with me through this long, but necessary, journey with all its pitfalls and uncertainties. I could now accept that, although he would not help me get even with those who so deeply hurt me, he would not leave me alone either. I discovered for the first time that I was worthy of his love; that I mattered, and my life had a purpose.

So, to come back around to my original question:

In this current culture war the lines have been drawn by those on both sides of the struggle for power and significance. When we label those we disagree with “radical” it immediately conjures up a sense of “us” vs “them”, “right” vs “wrong”. It makes us enemies and instills hatred in our hearts leaving no room for Jesus.

So, consider this: If Jesus is the answer, then who do you say Jesus is – the Jesus of hate or the Jesus of love?

Many still believe it’s the Jesus who hates. A belief that has ushered in the violence and animus we witness on a continuous thread. So much so that many have become desensitized to it. It doesn’t seem so extreme any more. It becomes accepted by those who need to normalize their beliefs.  

But, when everything un-Christ-like is stripped away: all the false beliefs, bad theology, and broken promises of our egocentric selves – the foundational, naked truth is revealed. It is there; in that deepest place where “radical” faith goes beyond our human understanding. It becomes a powerful, revolutionary force for God’s love! Which may now give us a better sense of this Jesus.

Now, that’s radical! So, take a deep breath, quite yourself before God, and trust that he will make all things new!

I feel an apology may be in order if you found this last post difficult to follow! Just think of how difficult it was for me to write and offer some grace to this old woman who now needs a serious nap!

God bless!

Jesus is the Answer – Wait…What was the Question Again?

I have been contemplating this often touted Christian belief that “Jesus is the Answer”. It seems simple enough. Easy to dance to. Rolls effortlessly off the tongue. But, in light of the unremitting struggles and suffering in the world there is a glaring question for me. If God actually designated Jesus as the one and only “Savior of the world”, as is the belief of Christians who adhere to a stifling literalism of scripture, and so much of humanity has continually suffered all these thousands of years, is this mess on Jesus? Did Jesus not want to save all of creation? Reminds me of Jonah.

God: “Jonah! Wake up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

Jonah: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA…NO!

God: “Fine. Get your trunks on. You’re going for a swim!” (Jonah 1:2)

Or did God mess up trusting this one guy; albeit a really AMAZING guy, with so much responsibility? Who knows, maybe the vetting process wasn’t perfected back then. Or is it remotely possible that God divvied up that job? What if Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad were all sent out in their time, within their culture, to draw followers to the heart of God? If you look into it it’s almost eerie how similar their lives were.

Or is it on us to not just rotely nod to church authority proclaiming the only truth of their particular faith? I have shared the words of Jeremy Weber in an earlier post.

Listen, I love Jesus with all my heart!  He’s the One who saved my sorry, pathetic self from my sorry, pathetic self so long ago and continues to love me in spite of my sorry, pathetic self.

Though I often mess up trying to emulate him, I keep trying because he has become for me a powerful manifestation of God! That said, I still respect the faith of those adherents of other traditions as well.

Consider that our faith could just be a matter of where we were born. If I was born in another country there’s a chance I would have been a Buddhist or Muslim.  Several years ago, we were in Morocco. Our son hired a cab driver to give us a tour. This lovely man enthusiastically shared things about his Muslim faith that nearly brought me to tears. We noticed before that day that so many of the buildings were unadorned; made of mud and earth.

Like this one we saw on our way to a Riad
Then you step inside and the beauty takes your breath away!

Our cab driver explained that the buildings are like that because it’s a metaphor for their very personhood. Their Muslim faith teaches them that what is on the outside is not important. It’s what is on the inside that matters.

In this country, because of 9/11, we have learned to hate all Muslims. What I discovered from that gentleman that day was the true essence of the Muslim people. Sure there are exceptions. But, if we have learned nothing else in 2020, we must acknowledge our own propensity toward violence and hatred that is escalating at an alarming rate.

I will never accept the belief of many Christians, especially church leaders, that if you don’t profess Jesus, and only Jesus, you’re doomed to eternal damnation. I am certain that does not come from God.

Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ says:

“If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is
not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living deeply, loving and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus. The way is Jesus himself and not just some idea of him.

Jesus said, the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. Who knows but that such love encompasses Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and all eternal truths humans conceive of to explain the mystery of God in every time and culture?”

Anywho…There’s definitely something seismic going on within American Christianity that screams foul and yet those leaders who claim moral authority seem to be oblivious to it as they finger wag to an empty church. Looks like the Emperor still has no clothes on.

For years, research has shown that people have been leaving the church in droves. We’re just waiting for the last guy to turn out the lights when he leaves.

Some church leaders seem to be slow-walking their supposed desire to understand what is happening, especially among millennials, while still operating within an outdated template. They have been focusing on new ways to rebrand Christianity and bring them back (if they were ever there to begin with): Perhaps a more casual atmosphere, a fun coffee bar or surround sound music with a light show.

Some may have even considered a more extreme threat of hell. Forgetting that that’s one of the reasons they left in the first place. You can’t scare these guys like you did their grandmothers!  They don’t even believe in hell. So, that’s an empty threat.

Rev. David M. Felten says:

The challenge is that most people in most churches (and many clergy) have their theological beliefs pre-set to the “oldies station” and are either insulated from or intimidated by what’s going on outside their comfort zone. So, they simply plod along in the isolation of their bubble of orthodoxy without a clue that there are people who practice Christianity and follow Jesus in radically different ways.

How many of these leaders of the Christian faith have thrown up their hands in frustration, choosing  to fill empty pews with cutouts that look remarkably like those numb pew sitters I mentioned earlier?!

I so appreciate the honesty of one millennial, Emma Cooper, in a recent article: Anything But Christian: Why Millennials Leave the Church.

 “We come after college begins, on our breaks. Then, we don’t come back. Why don’t we come back?”

Cooper tells how she was raised in the church and loved everything about it! She never imagined walking away. But, she did. She frankly and openly addresses the issues. One is that:

A separate group of people is speaking for us, explaining why we leave, and what it will take to bring us back. We don’t want coffee. We don’t want multi-colored stage lights. We want Jesus. And we can’t find Him in your churches.”

As if to say, “HELLLLOOO, we’re right here!”

 “No one’s asking us why we left!”

Sadly, they know non-Christians who seem to innately act on God’s call to love one another and care for the suffering. She says that:

If no-Christ has made them people we’d love to be, while Christianity creates people we beg to never be… then why should we be Christians?

What we’re looking for in religion is an experience so real, so gripping, it knocks us breathless. We want our lives to be overturned….We’re not interested in your churches because — as much as we need Him to be — God is not there.

https://emmacopper.medium.com/anything-but-christian-why-millennials-leave-the-church-ccae210dfb06

That is such open and unadulterated commentary on the state of American Christianity that no dogma, doctrine, canon of faith, or fun new latte, will ever penetrate. Perhaps that’s why so many church leaders refuse to acknowledge the truth of their failings to exemplify and teach the love of Christ. They must get stuck on the “exemplify” part. Which seems like an obvious failure since Jesus made it clear that those who are charged with the teaching of God’s truth but use their power to lead people astray will, well, end up in the very place they threaten others with. Many of them seem to continue their stubborn resistance to this reality at their own, and their blind followers, peril.  During his time right up to today, Jesus had no patience with those who claim such authority to rule over others; to mislead them right into the pit (Matt 15:14).  

Barna Research shows: 

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

But…if “Jesus is the answer” how is this happening? Where’s the disconnect?

 “What if it’s not a building or an attendance record that is at the core of God’s heart? What if it’s how we love?” Sam Eaton http://www.recklesslyalive.com/50-ways-to-serve/

Has anyone considered the fact that Jesus was a millennial himself – and a radical one at that? There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus LOVES these young people who have bolted from the cold stone buildings and have chosen instead to step into the muck and mire of the suffering and brokenness in their midst, just like he did. They want to make a difference. They want to know and fulfill their life’s purpose.

 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. -James 1:27

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

I believe Jesus was exactly the one God prepared and sent at that time to infuse the lost with a love they had forgotten. Just as I believe that he is still the One so many of us love! People would not still be dying for him if that were not true.

“We dare to believe that the love manifest in Jesus reflects the authentic nature or character of the Ultimate Reality, which makes Jesus a great teacher, an inspirational philosopher, and someone whose words and example should be followed indeed.” ~ Brian D. McLaren

Consider how Jesus’ ministry began. Father Alfred McBride tells us:

Jesus began his public ministry. His inaugural address in the synagogue was a powerful statement on the need for justice and concern for the poor. (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus read from a scroll the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah. Those words were about the servant of the Lord that God’s Spirit had come upon. God sent the servant to bring good news to the lowly, to heal broken hearts, to announce freedom for those in prison and liberation for those suffering oppression.

Everyone listening thought those words to be the fulfillment of their longing for the Messiah that would come to set them free from their oppressors. An army would be raised up in rebellion against the government; a political and military revolt against Rome. It was gonna be epic. The stuff movies are made of!

Jesus knew what they believed about that reading in Isaiah. When he rolled the scroll up he sat down quietly and watched as the tension rose in the room. But, when he finally spoke again and said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20-21) they were gob-smacked! Wait…what?! Did Jesus claim that he was the Messiah God sent to save them? Jesus? For real? The kid who grew up in their midst!? He was a lover not a fighter! His message struck a nerve in them because they didn’t want to hear it. All that love, mercy, compassion, justice talk was too much for them. They were seething with anger to think that he wanted them to let go of their long held desire to get even with those who oppressed and held power over them. They covered their ears, walled off their hearts, ran him out of their midst and threatened to kill him. (Luke 4:29)

Even in our time, those who followed the non-violent precepts of Jesus and died for them are still etched in our memories: Mahatma Gandhi (that’s right, Gandhi loved Jesus!) Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Oscar Romero just to name a few. Like Jesus, all of them were well aware of the hatred that would likely cost them their lives, but they continued on in spite of the threats, until they too were silenced.

And now, this is our time of reckoning; a time for each of us to take a stand, to pronounce our faith in Jesus and then to act on that faith. Not in anger or hatred, but in love. This country is on shaky ground, but it is not a time to cower in fear.

“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.” Martin Luther King

“Seeing the suffering is only the beginning of change….to move not just our hearts into a deeper understanding but also our bodies into the work of greater change. Perhaps out of this comes, truly, every form of love.”  Kristin Lin, Editor of the On Being Project

Thich Nhat Hanh offers another critical question that must be answered:

…what we say of Jesus, what we believe of Christ, determines how we live our lives.
To set our minds on divine things is to care about how everyone answers the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Because the answer is the heart of the matter.

The answer to his question, “Who do you say I am?”….is the key to our own lives. It calls our bluff about all the things we say our lives are about. All the things we say, but do not do. When historical people like the Buddha and Jesus, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. live out the call of who they believe God to be, the world knows it. If you and I live out the call of who we believe God to be, the world will also know us. Who we say Jesus is inspirits our lives.

Episcopal Bishop John Spong said:

I do not believe that God is a Christian or a Buddhist. Yet both Christianity and Buddhism have pointed hundreds of millions of people toward the mystery of God. Seeking faith is not about dogma and the mind alone, though it is about that. It is about the heart. It is about living as God inspires us to live.

So, I will leave you to consider this: If Jesus is the answer, then who do you say Jesus is?

Yes, Jesus was radical…He radically loved, he radically touched lepers, he radically condemned the powerful for causing the suffering of those they considered “less than”.  Jesus did NOT hate and he did NOT empower others to do so. So, what do you feel deep down in your very being as you witness that hatred day in and day out?

Up  next:  The Agenda of Militant Christian Nationalists and Evangelicals