Death doesn’t care if you have unfinished business
I wrote the following Blog post on 4/2/2021 (Good Friday), having no idea that my husband would pass away just fifteen days later. The words are now more poignant than ever. I have added my thoughts since his passing at the end.
Every death diminishes me
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, a few dared 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, we are reliving the horrific facts of George Floyd’s death during Derek Chauvin’s trial. Hearing the witnesses’ testimony 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 so violently at the hands of others.
So I sit and contemplate 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 I keep trying and longing to be more like him in how 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 horrifying death on the daily news.
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.”
That is a fact of God’s making. We are all interconnected – like it or not. 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 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 sleepwalking through life.
Facing the realization that we will also die (sorry if that’s 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 doesn’t care
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 doesn’t change its reality. We can’t rely on death to come when we are ready. But we can depend on it to teach those of us who are willing how to truly live.
Death 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 left 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?
As I contemplate the reality that my life has changed drastically, my beliefs have not.
The suddenness of my husband’s death has not made me fearful or anxious, as I know God’s love and care for me have always been steady and unchanging, even when I have so often failed to appreciate it. But, at the same time, it drives home the fact that my own life is not guaranteed beyond this moment. So, what does that mean?
My life is filled with many moments of disbelief that my husband is actually gone. I’m sure that will continue for some time. But, in the midst of that, as I daily make decisions about how I am to “live and move and have my being” (Acts 17:28) – I am discovering my better self, my true self, not the self on display when others are watching.
I am asking critical questions that will surely determine my life’s direction, purpose, and focus for whatever time I have left here. How will/should I live my life moving forward? What do I want my loved ones to remember about me?
God longs for us to use the gifts he has given us to leave the world better than we found it. How will I do that? How will I serve in this time of such need and suffering? Every moment of every day allows us to grow in love and compassion for all those we encounter on this journey.
There truly are gifts in the midst of our goodbyes. What do I want mine to be? What do you want yours to be?
Recently, I was reminded of a long-standing frustration I have as I gathered my thoughts on what church is supposed to be and what is actually happening.
I left the Catholic Church several years ago, and though I feel like I have landed in a church I’m growing to love, I still find myself searching for a true depth of faith I want to encounter, not just in others, but also in myself.
I want it to be like those guys on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:32). You know, when they were bellyaching about how their lives were upended and all of a sudden they realized their hearts “were on fire” as they walked with this guy who showed up out of nowhere? I had my own experience of that in Kentucky and it changed my life!
In the past, I was great at shaking my finger – at someone, anyone, to blame for the indifference to God’s call to Love that I witnessed almost daily:The clergy, bishops, the Pope, but not the faithful sitting unaware in the pews (if they’re sitting there at all). Never those poor innocent folks in the pews.
I assumed that for some reason beyond their consciousness – poor religious instruction or perhaps sucky sermons that can rival Ambien’s affect as a sleep medication – they have never encountered the “living” Christ. How is that supposed to happen when we’re either nodding off in the pew or thinking of that much anticipated Super Bowl in just a few hours (more on that later).
If liturgy is, as I learned from Catholic Church teaching, the “source and summit” of faith then it must give meaning to our lives. Right? Meaning that should cause us to sit in stunned silence in the presence of the Incarnate Word of God. Where, in awe and wonder, we remove our sandals on what is surely holy ground.
Gradually then, it would seem, Sunday after Sunday, we would fall in love with Love. Perhaps we would begin to squirm in the pew we once found comfortable as we realize that God is calling us to a responsibility to respond to that Love. It’s really not optional if we call ourselves “Christian” you know.
Liturgy, from the Greek leitourgia, means “the work of the people”. That’s all of us, every single one! Let’s look back at the early church where it began – with Jesus himself. Think of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper. Think of John resting on Jesus’ shoulder. Jesus poured the wine, washed their feet, loved on them and said, “Do this in memory of Me, always recall My love for you, prepare yourselves for the work I’m calling you to. Sooooo, what are you waiting for? Get out there and love on people!” I can guarantee you that not once during that supper did Jesus or any of his apostles ruminate on the Super Bowl or long for hot wings while consuming dry bread. Not one of them!
But, we do. The significance and power of our worship seems to be all but lost today. It isn’t confined to the Pastor. There isn’t a list of formalities we can check off: Enter, bow, glare at the person who’s sitting in your spot, gaze out the stained glass windows past the tearful widow next to you, tune out the sermon, rush out the door. Repeat.
Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me. But, don’t stop there!” He gives us explicit instructions to respond in action, to go out to “love and serve the Lord”. Every part of our worship should lead us to that end.
Here’s what, I believe, a life of faith should look like. It’s what I strive for and so often fail miserably at. We go to church to be nurtured by God’s Word; to seek and know we are forgiven for our sins. We are challenged by the sermon, share the peace and love of God with others and then are sent out to be Christ to a hurting world. But if, instead, we sit as silent spectators simply waiting to get our card punched for the week, a broken world suffers the loss. What is missing? Many people today say they can be spiritual without the Church. Those who simply “show up” also miss the point.
Here’s a question for you: Who wants to watch the Super Bowl alone? We surround ourselves with friends and indulge in a feast made for a king. It’s a party! If we could only approach liturgy with that same excitement. We are called to prepare our hearts and minds at the banquet table where we celebrate the love of God.
Guys, the liturgy is a feast; a celebration of God’s extravagant Love. We relish the fires of hot wings while the fire of the Holy Spirit lies smoldering in our hearts. This realization always causes me to point my finger in the mirror again and again. Perhaps many believers have not encountered the living Christ, but I have. Yet, I too am often resistant to His deepest call to love.
Mary Collins speaks of “God-seekers” who “risk more than the ordinary. They risk their sanity….The rest of us go to church”. It’s too frightening. We don’t want the responsibility to love like that. We want that left to those “holy” people we often read about. But….
What if we had an Emmaus encounter with Christ right in the midst of communion?
What if we actually saw Christ proclaiming God’s lavish, magnificent, and unending Love?
What if we turned to offer others the sign of peace and Christ took our hand?
What if in our “Amen” we meant it? “Amen” means, “Yep, I wholeheartedly agree!” It doesn’t mean “let me think about that and get back to you.”
What if in sheer gratitude for God’s self-giving Love, Christ in our midst, we became that very Love emptied and spilled out into the world? Catherine Vincie calls this “the prophetic function of a dangerous memory”.
Then, how dangerous would this be – what if we saw Jesus Himself as the primary sacrament of grace. Could we handle that? All forms of love, goodness, sacrifice, and resurrection are salvific. In this sense Jesus is the greatest sacrament of all. Why does that reality not trump football? Why does Jesus always have to be competing with a cheap imitation?
You know the question – we all do. It’s the answer that we fear, that stymies us, that we avoid like a stalker on our social media accounts.
Jesus’ disciples were challenged by ”the” question, up close and personal, but skipped blindly past it, believing they belonged to an exclusive “Jesus Club” that exempted them from such a challenge. They would post selfies with Jesus and then boast to their friends on Facebook.
They couldn’t wait for their ten-year high school reunion so they could counter the negative comments in their senior yearbook, “most likely to end up in jail” or “most likely to become a TV repairman living in their mother’s basement.” I think that one was about James and John because their mother boldly approached Jesus to ask him to get them both out of her hair! (Mark 10:35-45)
I imagine Jesus had to constantly pose that all-important question to them just to pull them back to reality, “Come on, guys, you don’t get a pass on this. AGAIN…”Who Am I?”
It wasn’t just the disciples; every one of us has been challenged by that question that words cannot answer, but rather, by the very act of our day-to-day living. Still, we rarely get it right.
Recall that Jesus’ brothers (yes, he had some, and sisters too, get over it) often mocked and ridiculed him in front of others, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:2-9) A bit of sibling rivalry? Possibly. Not surprising as he was the only one who never disobeyed or sinned. His brothers had to be jealous of that and how his admiring followers flocked to him wherever he went.
John Dominic Crossan gives us some fascinating insight into the thinking of the day,“…if you asked anyone in the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus, “Who’s the Son of God, the Lord, the redeemer, the savior of the world?” everyone would’ve known immediately who you were talking about, and it sure wouldn’t have been Jesus.—it would have been Caesar Augustus.”
That’s right, and Caesar loved it. He was a master of propaganda and deceit and knew how to manipulate everyone, from the powerful to the lowliest pheasant. Because he was so skilled at deception, everyone loved him even though he was a dictator. Go figure.
Perhaps this understanding of the belief that Caesar Augustus was the Son of God made him a hard act for Jesus to follow. Who knows. Could Jesus have questioned his life’s purpose? There may be a hint of that here – Luke 22:42. We are so surprised when we read that he asked God to take away the suffering he knew he was about to experience.
And then, (I don’t pretend to know – I wasn’t there. So, don’t send me hate mail!) I’m imagining, almost as an AHA moment, after God revealed to him that, yes, this was still his purpose, people would soon discover who Jesus was.
We humans can get lost when we go down that rabbit hole of self-doubt. So many of us know the feeling of being “less than”. Right? It’s easy for us to buy into the lies that we are not good enough.
Michael Beckwith tells us, “There is a life occurrence or a sequence of events unique to each of us that breaks through our self-imposed limitations, our egoic self-will, beckoning the Authentic Self to come forward and announce itself to us….the wisdom in this grace knows exactly what conditions will cause us to exclaim, ‘Enough is enough. I give my consent to my next level of growth.’”
Stay with me here.
The title of my blog, “Passion, Purpose, and Poopyheads”, defines the struggles I have had trying to accept that I was gifted with passion and purpose –as we all are. The problem has always been the “poopyheads” that keep setting up roadblocks for me to stumble over.
What would our lives look like if we dared to pose the “who do you say I am” question back to God? Deep down, we yearn for the answer. It’s our greatest spiritual longing. “Who am I to you, Lord?” But his response can be drowned out by the voices of those who run roughshod over our hearts and muddy the pure waters of God’s immovable, unchangeable, immense love for us. He calls each of us his beloved, but we don’t believe it. Instead, we believe the lies of those who are just as broken as we are.
Picture this: you go to a new doctor and are ushered into his nurse’s station as she takes all your vital signs and then shoves you up on a scale. All the while, you cannot help but notice that she is obviously struggling with her health issues. Then, you sit for an eternity waiting for the doctor, who finally walks into the room, reeking of cigarette smoke and finishing up the last bite of a McDonald’s Big Mac – his lunch (gag me!). Will you trust anything he advises to keep you healthy when he clearly doesn’t follow that advice himself? Do you stay or run like hell? You decide for yourself, but I’m already in my car!
Now, let’s put that scenario into the context of this discussion of just who it is that Jesus says we are. Even though he repeatedly tells us the same thing, we choose to give full authority to the thoughts of others who are – well – screwed up. Mostly. Like us. Who are you going to trust?
But, alas, it’s 2022—a new year.
I’m going to speak for myself now. You’re welcome to tag along….
Let’s call it:
An ode to new beginnings that tell us endings are never final if you’re still breathing.
Last year was, hands down, one of my worst years ever, with Covid relegated to last place on my list of profoundly crappy moments. After losing my husband, I had to face the truth of a heart condition that I chose to ignore for years until it reared up and took a huge bite out of my…denial.
Both these profound life events were instrumental in creating my new reality: at my age, I am starting over in an uncertain and unfamiliar place. God has promised never to leave us, but he does not lay out our lives like a scavenger hunt. Unfortunately, that’s what we expect from him, and then we get tripped up every time we encounter any obstacles.
For most of my seventy-three years, I have not allowed the Creator of my destiny to guide me. Others would constantly butt in unsolicited and make huge messes in my life, like the bratty kid who knocks down all your Legos, so you have to start over!
So now, if I live as though I really believe that God is the only one I need to listen to and trust, then I will have no one else to blame if I fail to follow the path he has laid out for me. And there it is…TADA! It’s less scary and less demanding to keep doing what I have always done than expose myself to what God may be asking of me.
If I answer that question, “Who do you say I am?” honestly, that would naturally require me to change and release my grip on mediocrity because God doesn’t do mediocre. And how do I deal with that when I have been led to believe all my life that it’s the best I have to offer in a world that couldn’t care less? So with that mindset, why would I turn that question around and ask it of God? “Who do you say I am?” And then risk what that answer would demand of me?
How often have I thought God abandoned me because, in hindsight, a path he pointed me to seemed like a dead-end? Only to discover it offered a critical lesson I needed to learn before moving on. If I could just become more self-aware and present to God as I walk this uncertain path, whether I obtain clarity in the process or not, much of my angst and fear will surely turn into trust and a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I’m working on that.
I have no idea what’s around the next corner for me, and frankly, I don’t need to know. I only know this: God is always with me. He is by my side. He is my biggest cheerleader. He forgives my stupidity and delights in giving me second chances. Yeah me!
At the end of the day, hopefully, he will welcome me home, where I will hear those immortal words, “Pretty well done, Linda. Not bad for a messy human.”
We all know the words of 1 Corinthians 13. Right? It’s one of the most familiar verses in scripture. Who hasn’t been to a wedding, or two, or twenty, that present it as a reminder of the love and commitment a couple is offering to each other?
But do you know the original intent of Paul when he wrote it? You may think he sat around the campfire with his “flock” and wrote this song to commemorate the establishment of his new faith community (though it’s not credited to him, and he gets no residuals. Pity): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYJMtn6IJeE
Anyway, everybody’s high-fiving as Paul slaps his own back for his ingenious efforts in the name of love. He may have even imagined himself receiving a Pulitzer Prize or at least Time’s coveted “Man of the Year” award. Temporarily losing sight of his own advice about “pride” and all.
Okay, fine…truth be told, none of that happened. He wasn’t in some mushy mindset when he wrote those words to the Corinthians. Actually, Paul wrote them in a fit of anger. I kid you not.
When he established Corinth, he imagined it to be perfect. God’s dwelling place, a community of love and care for each other and all humankind. Peace on earth, Goodwill to men…and all that.
But things quickly fell apart. He was peeved at them because of their short memories. As soon as Paul was out of sight and on his way to his next church planting, the Corinthians began to fight and argue over everything. The rich and powerful immediately began to demand more and more for themselves, believing they deserved it. Jealousy often led to striving for importance and self-promotion.
But the deepest split came when the self-proclaimed “authorities” felt compelled to form a committee to decide, and then pronounce, who was going to heaven and who was headed for hell because of their messed up beliefs. So, they drew a line in the sand: the “ins” over here, the “outs” way over there – “keep going till we tell you to stop”! Love got lost in the scramble for importance. In short, they were all a mess. Sound familiar?
Sure, initially, they may have bought into the idea of love. But it wasn’t the love Jesus lived and died for. Instead, they wanted it on their terms: less demanding, just as we do today. We want the watered-down version that puts loving my new car in the same category as loving humans or puppies. (I know, puppies are much easier!)
Anyway, perhaps in our own time of so much strife, it would behoove us to revisit 1 Corinthians 13 in light of what Paul was trying to get across to those hard-heads, immature in faith and lacking the love that requires self-sacrifice – a love rooted in compassion.
So, here goes.
Love Never Fails– 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues of men or angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Like when I put myself and my wants and presumed needs first.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. As in, “I know everything about everything that matters – to me. That’s why I have given myself all authority to laud it over you.”
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boastbut do not have love, I gain nothing. As in, “Look at me, ain’t I special?!”
Love is patient – except when you annoy me.
Love is kind – except when I don’t get my way.
It does not envy – except when you bought that new, nicer, shinier car before me.
It does not boast – except when I excelled in some project at work, got a significant raise, and a corner office.
It is not proud – except when I installed the biggest pool in the neighborhood.
It does not dishonor others – except when they deserve it because they’re being poopyheads.
It is not self-seeking – except when I believe I deserve fame and fortune, power and authority, and fewer wrinkles.
It is not easily angered – except when my kids can’t seem to behave appropriately – by my rigid standards.
It keeps no record of wrongs – except for all the people who just can’t seem to keep their broken, messy attitudes out of my broken, chaotic life.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – welllll, I don’t necessarily delight in evil. It’s just that I can sometimes stretch the definition of “truth”.
It always protects – those innocents who suffer and are downtrodden.
Always trusts – our God, who never fails us.
Always hopes – in a better way, a better life for all humankind.
Always perseveres – even when things seem impossible.
Love never fails – NEVER! END OF STORY
Diana Butler Bass says it beautifully, “Yes, we may be in hell. The world may be hellish. COVID is hell. Our political crisis is hell. The climate crisis is truly hell. But there is another story, another song, a different word. A word we can speak and a word we can act upon. Peace has been born. We wait for its fullness….we claim the power of the Christmas story to bless, to redeem, to transform the stark earth. While “death howls in strife,” we embrace and embody the poetry of God and beat back the walls of hell. Make ready the stable of your heart. Fear not. And get busy with the work of peace.
Peace to you and your loved ones this Christmas. It is certainly a Christmas like no other we have experienced, a Christmas that may seem to counter all we have believed about goodness and love. But only if we have lost sight of the One who changed everything for all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This Christmas Day, may we finally “see” Jesus as the Incarnation of God’s immovable, constant, abiding, majestic, unfailing LOVE for ALL: every single messy, broken one of us! A LOVE that is not returnable. You can refuse it if you want, but God will keep trying. It’s like that ugly tie you got – again – from Aunt Lucy. (You know she buys those in bulk at after-Christmas sales, right? Yep, you’re getting one again next year!)
Joe Newman is 107 years old. Anita Sampson, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday, is Joe’s fiancée (you read that right). Joe said he has survived two World Wars, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, and the Great Depression. His advice after reflecting on all he has lived through? “Always look on the bright side. Don’t spend time worrying about what’s going to happen since what will happen will happen.” He says the coronavirus is just another event in his life and believes we should look forward to whatever time we have, be it years, weeks, or just days, and then hope for another one. Maybe work on those wedding plans – or not. (Anita has reportedly demanded a “Promise” ring by Tuesday, or she’s moving back to her own rocker!) But, for now, it’s nap time.
Since there are now so many American Centenarians, there have been several studies regarding these 100+-year-old folks. They all have survived so much. They have lived through misery, hunger, job loss, financial ruin, the loss of loved ones, and every imaginable heartache along the way. But that’s not the whole story. There are also beauty and blessings intermingled with suffering.
The most common and inspiring thread was just as I suspected. During the Depression, people who went beyond simply surviving learned to support and care for each other. They were generous with a few extra dollars, food from their gardens, and emotional support. Many discovered a deep well of strength and optimism that carried them beyond those tough times. They had a shared sense of gratitude, kindness toward others, and even a feeling of being blessed in the midst of unimaginable hardships. They learned acceptance of circumstances you cannot control. And hope – always hope.
Today they will tell you that happiness and fulfillment come from helping others; having a positive and optimistic attitude. Most have a strong faith and a deep commitment and passion for a cause beyond themselves. And now, here we are in the midst of one of our most difficult and challenging times, and our young people are suffering. What can we pass on from the wisdom of what is known as the Greatest Generation and our own life experiences?
I believe those of us who have not simply survived but, against all odds, have thrived during this screwed-up mess called human life are not finished yet. We have a calling, a responsibility actually, to share those experiences with younger generations in these desperate, seemingly hopeless times. We owe it to them. We have a treasure trove of stories I believe they are hungry for.
I’m not close to 100, except for those achy things that are the bane of my existence. But in my seventy-one years, I have learned so much about the ugliness and beauty of the human condition, about reality and resilience. I have experienced joy and sorrow, loss and pain and grief, and epic moments of delight and wonder and unexplainable joy. I hate and love, horde and give generously, fear and throw caution to the wind.
One moment I close in on myself, and another, I can open up with compassion and empathy for the brokenness that surrounds me. I’m a mixed bag of pride and humility. I can be your biggest fan or your most vocal adversary. I can be quiet and reflective or noisy and blow things up. I’m confusing, even to myself! I think that makes me human, albeit a very messy, bewildering human, like everyone else – if everyone else were honest. Anne Lamott says it beautifully, “Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared. So there’s no sense wanting to be differently screwed up than you already are.”
What we are dealing with today: a failing economy, children going to bed hungry, job losses, Covid, wildfires, hurricanes, racial tensions, protests, and violence in the streets is nothing new. But, all at once? Good Lord! Think about all those younger than us that have not lived long enough to feel any sense of hope for their future because they have not had much of a past to draw that hope from, and from the statistics, few of them have faith in God either.
I believe we are in the midst of our collective dark night of the soul, and there’s a double whammy for those younger generations that have not found religion, or even God, to be relevant. They have rejected a religion based on duty and obligation. No thanks.
Religion, as we have come to know it since the first century, has always been top-down and authoritarian. But that is not God’s way. He sent Jesus on a mission to show his steadfast, unwavering love to the lost and broken. I have openly admitted that I have given up on the Institutional Church, but I have not given up on God or my faith, which is couched in awe and wonder at the marvels of all of creation.
Jesus didn’t wander the streets playing whack-a-mole with anyone who didn’t follow the rules, memorize rote prayers, or tithe 10%. When he said, “follow me”, he didn’t mean act virtuous, he meant be virtuous. Be kind and gentle and caring to your brothers and sisters that suffer life’s cruelties. Consider these verses: Jesus touched the blind man (Mark 8:22), he touched the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:33), he touched the leper (Matthew 8:3). The gentle, compassionate, loving touch of Jesus is what we are called to emulate.
I’m not gonna lie, it can be scary! Reaching out will require some risk and could result in ridicule or rejection from others. Hum…isn’t that what Jesus accepted to his death? Do you think for one moment that Jesus or the countless martyrs throughout history went to their deaths for a bargain-basement god? Would you?
Surely God put wisdom and gray hair together for a reason. Like Esther, we were made for such a time as this. People are scared and hurting. We have been there and hopefully have experienced the love and healing power of God. Every life has a story, and those are stories that must be told. If your story begins and ends with you, we all lose a bit of God’s glory.
So, what is your story? How have you overcome hurt and pain? How have you hurt others? How have you prevailed over life’s disappointments? How do you find joy and peace in these trying times? I Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Are you ready?
People today, especially young people, are living out of fear instead of the abundance of life God has promised each of us. What we fail to understand is that it isn’t God being the mean, authoritarian father that is holding back on us. It’s us holding back. It’s us not believing our story matters. I truly feel this is a remarkable time for us old folks who are still hanging around to get ourselves off our rockers and into the fray. Why should we bother? Do they even want to hear from us? Well, you decide:
Let’s focus on what young adults (ages 18-25) are dealing with in this frightening and uncertain time:
Jeffrey Arnett, a psychologist at Clark University, says, “The pandemic struck students at a particularly vulnerable age.” He explains that this is “a time of life when many different directions remain possible, when little about the future has been decided for certain, when the scope of independent exploration of life’s possibilities is greater for most people than it will be at any other period of the life course.”
So, picture these young people that have likely never before experienced even one of the many crises we’re facing today. They have had their certainties about life jerked out from under them without any warning.
Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope. In one study, young people said they were empowered by forming connections, but they admitted they did not always know how to form them. Psychologists at the University of Manchester have found another factor critical to young adults’ resiliency — the strength of their social bonds able to provide them with the support needed to weather the worst storms. Check this out for inspiration: https://www.nunsandnones.org/
So, as their lives seem to be falling apart, that leaves a huge gap to be filled, a gap between their current reality and hope. And that’s where God can use us to step in if dancing in the midst of tragedy is our specialty. There, of course, is a hurdle to jump first (not that God isn’t the world’s best hurdle jumper!). They don’t think much of religion or God or the pain of Judgment Day…..Ohhhh, don’t get me started on “God’s gonna-take-you-to-the-woodshed on Judgment Day”! Let’s quickly move on…
A study from National Catholic Reporter asks: “Why are young Catholics going, going, gone?” Since we know it’s not just Catholics that have left their faith, this is very telling for all young adults that feel disenfranchised and left to their own devices to find their way. “Whether it’s feelings of being judged by religious leaders who don’t know or understand them, or being forced by their parents to attend church, or witnessing the sexual abuse scandal and the hypocrisy of church hierarchy, young people are expressing a desire both to break free from organized religion and to be part of a community. As emerging adults continue to navigate a difficult period, it is crucially important that they are able to maintain wellbeing and seek support where needed from those around them.”https://www.ncronline.org/news/parish/study-asks-why-are-young-catholics-going-going-gon
“Belonging before believing” may be the key to all of this! The Institutional Church teaches “rules” necessary to live as a “good” person of faith is expected to. That rigid voice has become old and tiresome, void of meaning and purpose. It cannot address the longing of a soul that knows deep down it belongs to something bigger, something more.
Where do we see in any of Jesus’ teachings to the masses gathered everywhere he went that he stopped mid-sermon for an alter call? “Look, guys, we know you’re hungry after walking for miles and sitting here in the heat for hours. The food trucks won’t be coming any time soon…BUT…we’ve got fish! Come on up and get yourselves saved, and you get some!”
Years ago, when I was a youth minister, one of the most basic truths that I grew to understand about human longing and relationships came from one statement, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”
I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I first got some teens in our church together to start a youth group. Truth be told, I was probably needier than they were, but I sincerely wanted to give them a place to gather, safely question anything about their faith (when Father wasn’t within earshot), serve the community, and have fun. Granted, I suffered the pains of having an A.D.D. brain that called into question my “fly by the seat of your pants” leadership style. More than one parent informed me how unorganized I was – thank you very much. Of course, they were too busy to help.
But here’s the thing: not one of the kids walked away because a meeting was rescheduled due to a bit of forgetfulness by one flighty adult. Not one kid complained when said flighty adult was the only one who thought an icebreaker consisting of sticking life savers on someone’s face was funny. I still think that one’s funny! But, oh well. (Note to self: teenager = insecurity. Got it.) They forgave my every misstep as we all learned together. Why? Because they knew I loved them. That’s it. That’s all that mattered…well…except that I made some badass cookies!
I recall a young pastor we had, new out of seminary. He came to a meeting one night and later complained that there were only ten kids there. So, why did we bother? I didn’t see that one coming and had no reply for him until a few days later. I invited a therapist to come speak to the kids about suicide: how to recognize it and what to do if they suspected a friend was at risk. One of the “just ten kids” at that meeting called me a couple of days later to thank me – like sobbing thanking me – for having her there. He got her phone number afterward and called her because he was contemplating suicide. They began therapy sessions with his mom. I still get teary when I think about that.
We all have life’s most critical and basic questions that need to be answered if we are to live fully the lives we were meant to live. Who am I? Why am I here? What is God’s purpose for me? Are you someone that can help young people answer those questions? You can, you know, just by being present to them, listening to them, and trusting God. Knowing he has already given you all the tools you need to fulfill your own destiny – you can now help them do the same.
The tomb was empty. He was gone. Mary cried out in anguish, “What have they done with him?” The response was not comforting to her:
Some mysterious guy with no name: “He’s not here”.
Mary with no filters: “Wait…What? That’s not how this is supposed to go!”
It wasn’t what the other disciples wanted to hear either. So when she told them, they didn’t believe her. Why would they? She was just a woman and probably hormonal at that! Anyway, they thought the script was already written. It was a done deal, and they were now scrambling to adjust their lives accordingly.
As Christians, we should be able to relate to them, except for one HUGE difference. We relive that scenario year after year. We are supposed to know how the story plays out. There should be no surprises. But by the way we act many of us seem to have amnesia.
Bumping into Jesus
How often are we oblivious to Jesus while walking our own Emmaus trail? Whining and complaining about how unfair life is, acting like we don’t even feel him breathing down our necks.
After the Resurrection, Jesus revealed himself in the most unlikely places: Behind locked doors, within those tough relationships, at a fish fry on the beach, in the faces of the broken and downtrodden. He’s there.
In many ways, the poor and homeless among us feel they are also staring into an empty tomb. “Wait, if you’re not dead – where were you, Jesus, when I lost my job and my home? Where were you when my child died and my husband left because my pain was too much to bear? Where are you now as I struggle to feed my family?”
Often, in working with the homeless, when the need seems almost overwhelming, I experience a God moment that reminds me heis, and always has been, in our midst, changing lives and bringing hope to the hopeless.
I will share one beautiful story with you. Since last September, I have worked with a woman who, through no fault of her own, lost her job, then her home. When I met her, she was living in her car and felt hopeless. She would search for available jobs on her phone but had no place to take a shower and “look presentable” to go on an interview. We were able to provide her with a motel room and food. She soon got another job as an Assistant Manager of a shoe store, moved into an apartment, and now has the stability we strive for in this work.
But wait, there’s more! Experiencing the blessings of God, she now gives back. Last week, I witnessed that once-homeless woman give another homeless woman brand-new shoes and coats for her kids. Is that not the epitome of being Christ to others just as we are called to be?
Can we try this again?
So, here we are again in the midst of an Easter season meant to draw us into a deeper relationship with God and, in turn, with our brothers and sisters. Not just the ones that are low-maintenance and easy to love.
It is a time we are called to prayer and sacrifice to help us remember and then act on (we always forget that part) God’s scandalous, extravagant, outrageous love by sharing it with others.
On Easter Sunday, we sing and celebrate our faith’s most important Feast Day. “Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” What should that mean to us? After the glorious Resurrection of our Lord – what then? Yes, we get to eat chocolate again, but beyond that…
This is where our transformation should begin
Sister Joan Chittister tells us, “The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.”
Transformation can be powerful if we are willing to seek God in new places outside the comfort of our assigned pew on Sunday.
Transformation happens when Jesus takes up residence within our often stubborn hearts and calls us to love and serve those he most loves: The outcast, the poor, and those the world rejects.
God is good ALL THE TIME! And he’s hiding in plain sight. Go see for yourself.
John (5:-5-6) is such a challenging question, “Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”
REALLY!? Come on. Why would he ask that? Jesus could end thirty-eight years of misery for this guy in a heartbeat! Is there any possibility that he would say “no”? Well, yes, there is. I know that for a fact because I have said “no” to God longer than that! I turned my back on him and suffered a life of emptiness for years. Truth be told, I still suffer the consequences whenever I close my heart to God and choose to go my own way.
I was angry and self-indulgent (I often still am). My faith was shallow and lifeless (it, maybe not so often, still is). I continually picked at the scabs of the wounds inflicted by others, refusing to forgive and, at the same time, denying my own sinfulness (yeah, you guessed it – still doing that).
As I listened to God’s word and began to meet some faithful Christians, I became aware of an unexplainable longing in my heart. That was God, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I found myself getting bolder at reaching out to trust him. Though I still considered myself unworthy of anyone’s love, especially God’s.
I was also learning to become a better parent. I believe God intended for the parenting skills he taught to be passed down from generation to generation, but some of us have to look elsewhere for guidance. As much as I resented my mother for abusing me, and as determined as I was not to be like her…I was. Her way was the only way I knew. But then God gave me lessons in “Parenting 101” through others in my life.
However, as I poured more of myself into my children, a new reality was setting in. My husband and I were headed for disaster. I begged him to look honestly at our relationship while refusing to do it myself. I prayed we could work harder to mend our hurts and strengthen our marriage. But my pleading fell on deaf ears, and my fears were becoming a reality.
One by one, our kids were leaving home, and my husband and I became lost in the deafening silence of our empty nest. So after much thought, counseling, and prayer, I made the heart-wrenching decision to leave. It was probably the most challenging decision of my life! I had no idea what the outcome would be. I will say this in hindsight; I know I did not sense God was approving my decision or telling me to leave. But I am sure he intended to use this new reality “for his good”. (Genesis 50:20)
So, off I went. I decided to go to Kentucky to volunteer for an organization that worked with the poor in Appalachia. Before I left home, I prayed a prayer that I had never prayed before, that God would change me, not every other person in my life, but ME! God was just giddy with excitement! And, oh, the lessons I was about to learn!
How can I describe to you the soul-cleansing I experienced during that time, what those eight months were like for me? Every single day seemed to bring to light another of Linda’s issues to deal with. I didn’t enjoy confronting my pride, anger, and resentfulness. As a matter of fact, it was, in essence, like being in hard labor – for eight months. Non-stop. With no anesthetic!
“Come on, breathe for me,” says the doctor. “Breathe for me?I’ll give you breathe for me!How about if you try to breathe for me while my hands are around your neck, choking you? How about that?” (Oh, sorry, I must have been having a flashback.)
Anyway, for the first time in my life, my longings, my brokenness, and my hope that maybe I was worthy of love were laid bare. God was beginning to change my heart, though I hardly knew all the implications of that at the time. It was a beautiful example of how he can work in our lives when we “allow” him to do what only he can. All of my past attempts to change failed because I tried to do things my own faulty way, refusing to yield my will to his.
Sheer desperation began leading me to accept whatever God deemed necessary to change my life. No strings attached, that would allow me to yank control back if things became too hard or too painful. I would resist the impulse to switch to an easier route, though that’s how I reacted in the past when I was afraid. And what did I receive in return? Oh, not much…just a new relationship with God, my family, my husband of forty-three years, a purpose that fulfills me, and the joyful hope that endures, even during the most challenging times. In short – an abundant life I could never have imagined on that fateful day I left home.
John 10:10 says, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.”
The fulfillment we seek can seem elusive. It can be confused with something as insignificant as a new outfit or something as unattainable as somebody else’s life. When we’re removed from our groundings and feel overpowered by our struggles, God reminds us that we’re right where he wants us. In our brokenness is where we’ll learn to be most like him. That’s where we discover that our joy cannot be stolen unless we allow people or circumstances, rather than God, to define us. Coming to grips with that truth will open us to the fullness of life.
In his most beautiful book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen enfleshes all that I have experienced, all that I have been so afraid to admit or even look at honestly. His vulnerability and openness about his own struggles give others the courage to trust that when Jesus comes to us and asks, “Do you want to be made well”? Our “yes” can be the beginning of more than we could ever imagine or hope for. (Ephesians 3:20)
Nouwen talks about his “coming home”; about being in his Father’s embrace, “I so much want to be, but am so fearful of being…It is the place where I have to let go of all I most want to hold on to….It is the place that confronts me with the fact that truly accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place of surrender and complete trust.” I believe Henri Nouwen would agree that it is where God’s call and our self-emptying “yes” meet in the fullness of his grace.
All these years later, I’m still being challenged daily, and I don’t always respond as I should. My sinfulness is constantly a force to be reckoned with. After all, I’m still a messy human being. But I know God longs for us to claim the gift of his extravagant love amid all our messiness. If we only look within ourselves, we can see what is already there. We can become who we already are. God offers that joy to all of us. All we have to do is claim it. When Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well”? – and your answer is finally “yes”, strap yourself in for the ride of your life!
Last Sunday was the Feast of the Ascension, celebrated by many Christian faiths.
Let’s begin with a refresher of the lead-up to this pivotal moment, just in case you slept through it, or you didn’t think it applied to you.
The big question is, why did God send Jesus here?
It wasn’t to flex his muscles – although he could have. He could have taken his anger out on our sinfulness and rejection and wiped us all out. He did it before you know…No, it was to show us in the most powerful way he could how deep his love is for us, particularly those who suffer.
It wasn’t to gather groupies who would idolize him, serve him, and cater to his every whim – although that would have been easier. All he had to do was eliminate free will. But our free will to love him – or not – was too important to him even though the will of those in power nailed his Son to the cross. No, it was to model meekness, humility, and service to those most in need.
It wasn’t to puff out his chest and boast of his great might – although he had plenty to boast about. No, his extravagant love was manifested through his beloved Son, not puffed up and boastful, but rejected and slumped over on a cross.
And so, Jesus comes without any fanfare
Jesus came to earth as a human being, just like you and me (we seem to have a hard time believing that). He had a particular purpose to fulfill, just like you and me (we can’t seem to believe that either).
God wanted him to show us up close and personal how deeply and passionately we are loved, how much he longs to bless us, and how we should care for and be blessings to others (those truths also seem to have been lost to us on our often broken journey). Jesus set out to fulfill his purpose even though he knew he was making a lot of “important” people angry, so angry they would kill him. I’m pretty sure no one wants to kill us for striving to be all God created us to be (though that’s not true for many Christians even today.
Just to be sure though, we have to come up with some excuse to opt out – and we do: I’m not smart enough, I’m busy, I don’t think that applies to me. I need to straighten up my messy life and my underwear drawer first (BTW, you can quit using that one. Everyone knows your mother does that for you).
Daily, Jesus had to decide if he would keep doing what he came to do. Just before they came to take him away, scripture tells us that he was in agony, praying that God would make it disappear (Luke 22:39-46). After all, the human side of him did not want to suffer. But, in the end, he accepted whatever God’s will was.
In Holy Week – we are reminded of Jesus’ suffering, death, and glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday, which we celebrate as the church’s most powerful reminder of how much God loves us! Easter Sunday is the moment in time when the disciples came out of hiding, when their fears and doubts fell away, for a while anyway.
And now we come to the Ascension (Acts 1:5-11). This is when the disciples and Jesus get together for the last time, and they ask him if this would be his grand finale – restoring God’s kingdom. They were beside themselves with excitement and anticipation.
And his response? “Yeah, that’s not your business. That is the business of God. But, not to worry; he will fill you with the Holy Spirit to help you carry on in my name. The work you will do will be epic!”
Then, poof, he was gone. The disciples just stood there scratching their heads and staring up into the emptiness. Then, two guys in white robes showed up, “Hey, what are you doing? Why are you just standing there? It’s time to pull up your big boy pants and get going. It’s called adulating guys. Jesus worked with you for three years to bring you to this moment of becoming response-able for your part in God’s kingdom work.”
So, what now?
God tells us he made us in his image and had special plans for us before we were even born. He gave everyone gifts and talents and, at the same time, made each person unique and special. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Sure, you may doubt yourself. You may not want to risk using gifts you feel inadequate to pursue. But, if you trust that God gave you those gifts, then you must believe that he has already given you everything you need to use them for his glory. Not doing that would be sort of like gifting you with a new car and not giving you the keys.
What do you say?
If you haven’t already, there is no better time than now to reflect prayerfully on your life’s purpose. Sit quietly with God and ask him to help you consider the following:
Do you enjoy helping others?
Do you consider yourself a leader?
What makes you happy – sad?
What are you passionate about?
Has someone else told you that you are good at something?
Who do you admire and why? (Often, what we admire in others is what we would like to develop in ourselves).
God is waiting for each of us to come out of hiding, step out of our comfort zone, and serve this broken world.
It’s time to deeply contemplate Jesus’ life, death, resurrection – and his calling to each of us. Is this your resurrection moment? Is it time for your “yes”?
2 Corinthians 5:17 proclaims that you are a new creation in Christ each new day, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
Also, and very importantly, when considering your gifts and how you are called to use them try not to get all full of yourself in the process – okay? It would be easy to do, but, dear heart, this isn’t about you! Sorry.
Now, go on. What are you waiting for? Have no doubt that God knows you’re a hot mess – so what?
First, I will treat you to the condensed version: “What the #%*& am I waiting for?”
About twenty-three years ago, in a clear audible voice, God told me to write a book. So I did. Then, I paid $10,000 (yep, that’s the correct number of zeros) to have it edited and self-published. Two thousand copies were dropped off on my front porch a few months later. Then, I stared at them, realizing I knew nothing about marketing. And apparently, I knew nothing about trusting a “Christian publisher” who knew nothing about editing. So they languished in my basement until I had them burned. Literally. I rewrote the book and had five hundred printed. Most of those are still in boxes.
I continually claim I want to be healthy, yet I have started, changed, and failed on more diets than I ever wanted to admit. Oh yeah – and – mint chocolate ice cream!
I am determined to start running again. I dust off my running shoes, trip over boxes of books trying to get out the door. Then, have to rest with an ice pack on my ankle.
I have been writing a blog for 20 years and give up whenever I consider submitting articles for publication. When writing, I sometimes crack myself up with my weird sense of humor and occasionally impress myself when writing about some awesome AHA moment. But I’m likely just living in the light of my own ego.
So, that’s the condensed story of me getting and staying stuck for most of my adult life. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a number of years because I have never been good at “adulting” well!
Now, here I am, looking down the barrel of old age and the reality that I am not a modern-day female Methuselah who has lots of time to get my act together.
James Finley says of Step Two of AA, “The admitting then brings us to a place in which, if this is up to me, it is not looking good. As long as we were still holding on to this ideology of our brokenness as having the final say in who we are, we were not capable of seeing this because we actually had faith in our own brokenness as the power to name who we are.”
Another enlightening moment materialized for me after reading Dr. Joe Dispenza’s work, which I wrote about in my last post. He tells us to “Stop telling the story of your past and start telling the story of your future.”
Apparently, all of our “stuckness” is of our own making because we have allowed others to define us. That gets embedded into our beliefs about ourselves and directs our thoughts and actions. Fun stuff!
F. Scott Fitzgerald said:
“For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”
And so, here I sit after fracturing a pelvic bone and being told by the doctor to SIT for 4-6 weeks! I don’t listen well and certainly don’t “SIT” well! But, this incident certainly got my attention. Actually, I believe it was God that got my attention:
GOD:So, Linda, there you sit on your broken parts, checking off the days until you are mobile again. While you’re sitting there, have you come up with a new excuse for not using those gifts I gave you? You do know I never created a female version of Methuselah, right?
I’m losing my patience with you, Linda Russell. You don’t want me to lose my patience (read: Job and Jonah).
Alrighty then. Here I go. Today, I will spend my sitting time finding a Christian Publishing Company that accepts articles. Submit one. Say a prayer. Send. Then, celebrate with a well-deserved nap!
Fun Factoid: A French woman, Jeanne Calment, was certified as the oldest living person by the Guinness Book of Records. Then, it was discovered that her daughter stole her identity to avoid paying inheritance taxes!
I am in such a strange and incredibly exciting place right now. I’m not sure I know how to write about it. But here it goes.
When I’m done here, you may think I have gone off the deep end, and you will soon hear that I ran away to live in a commune in the woods (they still exist, you know). It’s okay. I know I am in a better place just being able to write this with a smile on my face and a full heart, not worrying about what others think. I’ve done that for too long, and I’m now aware of how it affects my very being.
I have often said that I’m an introvert, but I now believe it would be more honest to say that I avoided people because of fear of being judged. In the past, when faced with meeting new people in new circumstances, I would be a nervous wreck. Obsessing over my appearance being acceptable, how I would speak, how I would be perceived/judged by others. Did I forget to shave my legs? It was exhausting!
For most of my life, I have been a mess of contradictions (and let all the people say, “DUH!”). Then, I began learning to meditate through the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza. It’s profound that it started during Lent, as I was constantly reminded of the truth of my life in light of the Easter story.
I have learned how we get stuck in the past. How our thoughts, words, and actions can’t seem to get beyond our misguided beliefs about ourselves. Instead, we allow others to determine our worth and tell ourselves repeatedly that what they say about us and what we believe about ourselves is true. Then we ruminate on our painful past experiences to prove it!
We go through every day on autopilot, settling for the mundane when God longs to shower us with a rich and abundant life beyond our imagining (1 Cor. 2:9). We need only claim it as our inheritance. But we don’t believe it. Our past experience tells us not to trust it, there’s always a catch!
I’ve come to recognize the emotions I bought into depending on what day it was: fear, anger, hopelessness, emptiness, and judgment. Yet, God yearns to exchange those lies for our true essence –manifested through our innate desire for something more than the world can offer. That “more” can be realized through the Easter story, if we open our hearts to it.
Resurrection was not a once-and-done deal, it is continual for all of us. God’s redeeming love is never-ending. In his grace and mercy, he can change our misery into joy, fear into hope, and emptiness into the fullness of life. He can shine his light into the darkness of our despair. God can give us new eyes to see that in the depth of the Easter story Jesus shows us the beauty of replacing ego with humility. We are called to emulate his life, which requires us to let go of the parts of ourselves that have caused us and others untold pain and suffering.
We are meant to thrive, not simply survive, but our past holds us back and tells us we are not good enough, loved enough, or powerful enough to create a different reality. Even though, during every Easter season, God proclaims from the Cross into the depths of our hearts, “That’s not true – none of that is true!”
So, here’s where my deepest longings encountered the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus this Easter:
Have you ever asked yourself why it’s called “Good”?
Pastor Rachel Srubas explains it beautifully, “A sense of sacred irony, of eloquent mistakes, has for centuries enabled Christians to call the Friday of Jesus’ tortuous execution “good.” This is not a matter of putting a happy spin on a grisly, unjust tragedy. Good Friday, and all Christian life, is about embracing paradox. When you and I embrace Jesus’ essential paradox—that to lose is to gain and to die is to live—we come to God, who gathers up the broken pieces of the world and makes them more complete and beautiful than they were before they broke. It’s a life we get to live here and now, by grace and faith. It’s the life toward which Lent has always pointed.”
This day we sit in darkness. This day, we experience uncertainty, just as the disciples did, and have no idea what to think or believe about God.
Richard Rohr gives us an understanding of this day through the writings of the unknown 14th-century author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”. He says, “.…first we have to enter the Cloud of Forgetting—to forget all our certitudes, all our labels, all our explanations….They are nothing but our ego projecting itself. It has nothing to do with objective reality.
The author of The Cloud teaches that after we enter into the Cloud of Forgetting, letting go of our hurts and our labels, then we must go into the Cloud of Unknowing, where we actually don’t need to label anymore…. I think the biblical word for that–is faith. It’s this willingness to live with a certain degree of humility.”
Father Rohr tells us, “Understanding the Universal or Cosmic Christ can change the way we relate to creation, to other religions, to other people, to ourselves, and to God….we won’t be the same after encountering the Risen Christ.
Jesus’ historical transformation allows us to more easily experience the Presence that has always been available since the beginning of time, the promise and guarantee of our own transformation. God’s presence became more obvious and believable in the world. The formless took on form in someone we could “hear, see, and touch” (1 John 1:1), making God easier to love.”
Contemplative theologian Beatrice Bruteau says, “When we take a little time to remember to look, to marvel, we find that there are sources of joy, of esthetic delight, of quiet happiness on every hand….
Our joy is not confined to ourselves but radiates out to all. Just as Jesus intended to enter into us, that his joy might be in us and our joy might be full (John 15:11), so neither can we contain our joy: our peace and happiness envelop all those around us. When we interact with people—or circumstances—we do not feel drained of energy, as we did when we were still obliged to protect and defend our ego-self….we feel ourselves fully living, full of the richness of God’s life. The reality of God is intensely perceived as present in everything.… When we are shaken awake, we see it.”
And finally, the words of Matthew Fox brought it all home for me. We are told that death is never final. It will never have the last word. “I cannot dwell in [despair] and death and anger and oppression and submission and resentment and pain forever. I need to wake up, get up, rise up, put on life even when days are dark and my soul is down and shadows surround me everywhere.
Resurrection is a commitment to hope and being reborn. It is a commitment to creativity, to the Spirit who “makes all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
How much in love with life am I? Is my curiosity alive? My gratitude? My mind? My imagination? My laughter and sense of humor? My creativity? My powers of generosity and compassion? My powers for continually generating and regenerating life?”
the words of Matthew Fox brought it all home for me. We are told that death is never final. It will never have the last word. “I cannot dwell in [despair] and death and anger and oppression and submission and resentment and pain forever. I need to wake up, get up, rise up, put on life even when days are dark and my soul is down and shadows surround me everywhere.
Resurrection is a commitment to hope and being reborn. It is a commitment to creativity, to the Spirit who “makes all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
How much in love with life am I? Is my curiosity alive? My gratitude? My mind? My imagination? My laughter and sense of humor? My creativity? My powers of generosity and compassion? My powers for continually generating and regenerating life?”
Now, I could profess to be a “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17), and would love to project that out into the world. But I believe saying it and living it are so very different. It’s much easier to say, far more challenging to live.
So, here I am, “shaken awake”, intent on not falling back asleep. I have missed too much. I don’t want to miss another glorious moment of life! God has given us a mandate to live and love fully in this broken world, and as beings created in his image, he has given us all we need to do just that!
If you care to join me on this journey, know that it is not for the faint of heart. It will require every ounce of courage you can muster and challenge every certitude about God you have ever professed. But then, somewhere along the way, you will encounter God, who has been waiting patiently and lovingly to bring you into your new life!
And, get this, it all comes with a lifetime guarantee! That’s right. If at any point you regret all the energy you poured into the journey, God will give you your old crappy life back! How’s that?!
Boiling a frog is not complicated because frogs are…well…stupid. The hardest part will be to find one; the rest is easy. Simply put enough water in the pot (not too hot or cold), so its little head won’t be submerged. Place the frog in the pot and set the flame on low.
That’s it! You don’t need to watch the pot, cover it with a lid, or tie an anchor to froggies feet. The frog will not move a muscle. In about twenty minutes, you will have tender succulent frog for dinner. You’ll find great recipes online too. (By the way, it really does taste like chicken!)
We are so like those frogs! Seriously. Just hanging out, and not even sure why. And when life gets a little sticky or uncomfortable and starts to boil over, we just stay stuck in our misery.
If you find yourself going through life day after mundane day, repeating the same routine to ad nauseum, perhaps God is trying to get your attention. WOW! Do you realize what a great segue this is to the miracle and magnificence of the Incarnation? No? Well, hang on…
We’re in mid-January. By now, the decorations are down, trees shredded into mulch, ugly sweaters returned or regifted, and everything packed away for another year. Now we can focus, not on the miracle of Christ’s birth, but on fixing all the stupid, unhealthy things we did over the holidays: Drank too much, ate too much, and spent too much.
What are you doing right now? Okay, you’re reading this. But what were you doing before that, for…say… the thirty or so days leading up to Christmas? What about the weeks and months, and years before that?
Wanna know what I was doing? I wasted much of Advent doing nothing that really mattered. But, I did have an AHA moment thinking about Mary’s pending parenthood. Do you think she lived her life like a typical teenage girl today? Polishing her nails at sleepovers; giggling about the little Jewish boy her girlfriend sat next to on the bus; texting, tweeting, and posting selfies all day?
Do you believe for one minute that Gabriel just popped in on her at the eleventh hour and dropped that bomb, “Guess what, Mary, oh favored one, do we have a surprise for you!” Are you kidding me? Even though Mary may not have known what was coming, you can be sure that her entire life was preparation for it. Let’s go back a little further – to her parents. They likely had no clue, either. But, we can be sure the Spirit guided them to parent her well. That was their calling, and they were well prepared for it.
The takeaway for me is that we are all called to holiness, called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work. But it takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book, Awareness, if you need some help climbing out of that boiling pot.)
See the segue now?
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 toldyou to do that, huh? Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if God hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him, even if I had no earthly idea what he was up to. For years, little promptings proved to be pretty awesome if I was paying attention.
If you have come out on the other side of Christmas and find yourself back in your old routine – schlepping through the same habits, STOP IT! How about starting over? Right here. Right now. How about starting with your perception of “church” because that’s often the source of our stuckedness (yeah, spell-check, that’s a word)?
See if any of this rings true for you: In some faith traditions, we have what is called, “Ordinary Time” – the times before and after Easter and Christmas. But, sadly, there are way too many Christians out there called the C&E people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter, and they’re probably not even sure why they go then.
Perhaps the word “ordinary” is the problem. “Hey, I live ordinary, monotonous, unexciting every day of my life! So why on earth would I want to get up early, dress up, squeeze into a pew full of strangers, and listen to irrelevant “stuff” that puts me back to sleep and causes me to snore and drool out the side of my mouth? Why?”
Megachurches have tried to fill the gap with music, and light shows that could rival “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
The problem is, while we were swinging and swaying and belting out forty-five minutes of music (albeit beautiful music), Jesus left the building, and no one noticed.
Is it the church’s responsibility to turn our ordinary lives into extraordinary – which is what God meant for us, you know! My own faith has grown from non-existent to something beyond my imagination. My God-filled AHA moments and the breathtaking adventure God has me on did not develop while I was sitting in the pew on most Sundays.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being a part of a church community. It keeps me grounded and enhances my faith. When we receive the Eucharist, we are reminded of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “take this bread and never forget me. Never forget how much I love you!”But, there is more that must take place the other six days of the week. We are told by Jesus to “never forget,” Then, at the end of the service, we are told to take that love out into a hurting world. That’s what Jesus meant by “Follow me”. He never said, “Worship me”.
Don’t sleepwalk through life, it’s too important, and frankly, it’s way too awesome to miss!
I won’t tell you where or how to worship or give you a formula or a checklist 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 can love yourself. And you can’t love yourself through any of the myriads of self-help books on the market or the number of “likes” on your Facebook page.
You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time and attention.
You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in.
Take the time to read scripture, pray, and…big AND...LISTEN. Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.
Then, a year from now, on Christmas morning, I pray you will be sitting with me to witness in a new way what a profound mystery we behold there!
From the 1950s to the 1970s, 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 disguise because I’m 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 of life today amid 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 some 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 would 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 save your sorry self and get all righteous like them, but you turned them down twice for a cold beer and a football game. 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 tick 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 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 sure 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 from 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 repeatedly to keep the 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 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 dared 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?”
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 many examples of how much 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 suddenly, he gets a wild hair to create something outrageously new and unique. It was a pretty lofty goal to finish everything 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 to invent the light bulb, kept trying until he got it right. Why didn’t God just keep trying till he got it correct? Surely he could foresee 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. 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? 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 created 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 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 humankind from the moment of their birth to a life of misery and sinfulness they could never 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 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), and 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 surprisingly, after all that work – AGAIN – 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, John likely preached things 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 of 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 down by the river.
Now, the obvious question arises: Does all this raise any red flags regarding our convictions 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 into our room and turn on the lights to show us there were no monsters under the bed – and then we slept. And now, at 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. Their God did not create all humankind 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 completing 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? Can we just stop and dare 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. Deep down, I believe 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:
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.
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.
According to the FDA: “With the exception of infant formula, the laws that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label.The FDA does not require food firms to place ‘expired by’, ‘use by’, or ‘best before’ dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.”
I admit that I can be, and often am, lax about the dates on most food products. But even perishable food can be tested. Milk is a good example. After you reach the date on the carton, smell it, and take the tiniest taste. Then, you’ll know if it’s okay for another day—simple enough and money-saving.
To many, the expiration date stamped on food products is gospel, which, they believe, is critical to our health and well-being and justifies throwing away so much food when nearly 34 million Americans suffer food insecurity.
Then there’s human expiration dates
This begs the question: Why do we so stubbornly oppose, ignore, or deny THIS expiration date:
That reality is probably the most profound image of “whistling past the graveyard”. Every one of us has an expiration date. It’s not arbitrary or negotiable. And, yes, it IS set in stone.
Okay, a bit of clarification: God can change that date if he wants to. He can do anything he wants. But are you willing to bet on that?
It’s also quite possible when your doctor told you you had six months to live – ten years ago – that all those prayers raised to heaven on your behalf were answered. But I believe it’s more probable that the doctor was wrong. It reminds me of the expression, “If it ain’t your time to go, not even a doctor can kill you”.
Here’s a fun factoid (sorry, this is probably gross for you to consider), when we humans reach our final stage of life, usually the last couple of days or hours, there is an unmistakable smell of death. It is one of the signs of the end of life’s journey. I have experienced it sitting vigil with Hospice patients. But don’t count on that smell test to help you decide to hurry up and clean your act up. Unfortunately, at that point, you will be too far gone to make any life-changing decisions.
And what if, on your expiration date, without any warning, you get run over by a truck on your way to the mailbox!?
Where to begin to prepare for that fateful day?
So many times, I have tried to change, then failed miserably. However, the older I get, the more I realize my time is running out for a course correction.
“I’m going to bake a pie for that grouchy neighbor of mine!”
“I need to apologize for all the messes I have made in people’s lives.”
It often sucks royally because I’m certain some are not likely to acknowledge or accept my efforts.
I must keep trying though, with humility and by the grace of God, who tells us that our efforts will not be in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
With that in mind, I have determined – again – to make an honest effort to clean up my mess while I still can.
I have so much to consider:
Needed changes I have refused to deal with.
The baggage I cling to.
Old hurts that still affect my life all these decades later.
Lies of other broken people I have fed on and nurtured.
Guilt and shame I cannot let go of.
And, most importantly, denial of my worth as a beloved child of God.
What’s the goal?
I long to grow in love. I want to use each day, however many I have left, to fully live as the person I was created to be.
Saint Irenaeus said: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” If we call ourselves Christian, we should all want to strive for our faith’s ultimate goal – to love and care for others. And it’s not a goal to be realized after life here on earth has ended – it’s too late then. It is a goal we should strive for every day, right here, right now.
The Kingdom of God is here, now. It’s not some faraway place we hope we’ve gotten our card punched enough to qualify for entry.
Our hell is right here if that’s the life we are living.
Our heaven is right here if we choose to live as God calls us to.
Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry speaks so powerfully of the murder of Tyre Nichols, ‘There is a passage from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, which is later quoted in Matthew’s Gospel when innocent baby boys are killed by an immoral dictator:“A voice is heard in Ramah,lamentation and bitter weeping.Rachel is weeping for her children;she refuses to be comforted for her children,because they are no more.”—Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18
With the murder of Tyre Nichols, another mother, as in the biblical texts, weeps, with the mothers of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. A family grieves. A community fears. A nation is ashamed. Like the psalmist in the Bible, something in us cries out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” How long violence, how long cruelty, how long the utter disregard for the dignity and worth of every child of God? How long?”
While watching the violent murder of Tyre Nichols, I was again shaken to my core, as I was each time before. But this time, it was different. I have cried tears over the injustice, but that’s not enough. Tears don’t impact or change anything. I think that’s called empathy without action – or, my favorite, being lukewarm (Rev 3:16). Yeah me!
I can no longer feel the horror and not be moved to do something. What? – you ask. “You’re an old white grandma. Turn off the TV and go knit something.” Those negative voices that once allowed me to retreat back into complacency were now drowned out by God’s voice that calls me to “go”. As usual, he never seems to specify where. Like Abraham. Just go.
Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and struggled with my deepest beliefs about who I am as a professed follower of Christ, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a nation. And the most profound question for me that has arisen now is: if and how we as Christians are culpable.
It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances, but here it is. This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding. But trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates without any doubts is futile. I know that, but I keep going back there.
The need to know and understand presupposes that somehow we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples, and now us, “Who do you say I am?” That is not an academic question and will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. Instead, it is answered by first falling on our knees in awe of the magnificence of God’s love on full display in the life of Jesus.
That’s a great start, but it can’t stop there. And that’s the rub. We want it to stop before that. Let’s just go to church – get our cards punched –done – go home, and watch football or knit (BTW, I don’t even know how to knit). But Jesus never said, “Worship me”. He said, “Follow me”.
You may disagree with me when it’s all said and done, and that’s fine. But I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. But rather, stop pretending to be the person we claim to be only when others are watching.
We should be more concerned that God is watching! And it’s not the god who keeps a running total of our church attendance and tithing spreadsheet. That would be a shallow, small-minded, authoritarian god who is out to get you if you make one wrong move.
The God I’m going to stick with tells us explicitly how we are to live and move and have our being in the world through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13. I know these are verses we have heard so often they have probably lost their brilliance. So, perhaps reading them now while picturing all the hatred and violence we are witnessing, we could see them as God intended:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It does not envy.
It does not boast.
It is not proud.
It does not dishonor others.
It is not self-seeking.
It is not easily angered.
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is…following the “rules” some guys made up over beers in a bar…wait…no…that’s not it…sorry. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.
The greatest of these is love.
Many of us will choose between love and hate. I’m guessing a lot more prefer to think of themselves as neutral – it feels safer. But that stance needs to be reckoned with too. Too much is at stake. God is adamant about it when he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16).
Let’s say you agree that you must decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. Stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. I have had that happen more times than I care to admit.
So, this is where I landed: As a Christian, I am compelled to consider my life and purpose from my essence, my very being, where God resides. Not from any outside influence. If I own up to being a follower of Christ, how I live that life is to manifest his love in every moment and with every decision.
Not that seeing the hatred spewed by those who profess Jesus is anything new. Still, it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to only love those like us, those who don’t threaten our comfort level.
Remember Jonah, who seriously needed a bath because of the awful fish smell after God told the whale to “Spit him out. I think he has learned his lesson”? So, here I am, a modern-day Jonah, asking God for a different assignment. “Can I pick this time, Lord?!”
Do you know what February 22nd is? Yeah, yeah, Ash Wednesday, for millions of Christians around the world. Catholics are called to prayer, fasting, and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday – other traditions have some version of that.
Before Ash Wednesday, they are supposed to wrestle with something that they LOVE – A LOT –like chocolate, or cussing, or binge-watching those stupid TV shows, and give it up for those forty days. Good luck with that and your commitment to exercise too! We’re so pathetic when it comes to the teeniest bit of “suffering”.
But there’s anotherevent on this day that everyone, faithful and heathen alike, will be celebrating. Something easier to stick to. It is – drum roll, please…
National Margarita Day!!! Olay…olay…olay…olay!
It is a sad commentary for all people of faith that they seem to compete with each other. Think of how many faithful Catholics receive their ashes on a throbbing forehead after reveling the night before.
Ash Wednesday should be one of the most sacred of church seasons. You see them everywhere, people with those strange ashes on their foreheads. You want to reach up and wipe it off for them because you think they don’t know it’s there, “You have something on your forehead. Let me get that for you.”
Some people focus these forty days entirely on the “giving up” aspect of it. Chocolate sales are probably higher on the days leading up to Lent than on Valentine’s Day! Perhaps that’s how Valentine’s Day got its start! Ya’ think? People began buying copious amounts of chocolate in February, and someone at Hershey noticed. It probably had nothing to do with St. Valentine. It’s a commercial windfall for Hershey and Hallmark. Cha-Ching! But I digress.
The morning after Ash Wednesday and National Margarita Day may appear to be similar.
You wake up wondering if you really want to do this again.
You feel an emptiness you can’t define.
You wonder if you did anything the past year that you’ll regret confessing because you conveniently forgot that one nasty faux pas you failed to mention last year. OOPS. You know those stay on our record, right?
You shower that already-faded reminder off your forehead and act like it never happened. You check the mirror. Thank goodness it’s not a tattoo!
You ask yourself, again,“Why do I put myself through this forty-day review of all my shittines… Every. Single. Miserable. Year?!”
You question if any of it even matters.
National Margureta Day:
You wake up forgetting what happened the night before.
You feel an emptiness you can’t define.
You wonder if you did anything stupid the night before. You usually do, and someone you were with will probably remind you, or point out that tattoo they warned you against.
You down a couple of aspirins for the headache.
Then, you ask yourself – again – why you continue to do this when the outcome is always the same?
You question if this annual event should be struck from your calendar!
Like it or not, they will both be back. You just have to decide which one you will allow in because it really is up to you. Alcohol will try to force its way into your mouth. Jesus will gently knock on the door of your heart. One will try t’kill’ya, and the other wants to bring you back to life. You decide.
Here is the beautiful lesson of Lent we can all take away, “Lent is not about giving up. It is about finding. It is about healing. It is about cleansing. It is about weeping. It is about reconciling,” says Carla Mae Streeter, O.P. (one of my former professors.) And only a person in love truly “gets it.” That’s where remembering becomes critical. Of course, we must never forget the suffering of Christ and the Love that hung on the cross on Good Friday. But that cannot be where it ends.
We must take our remembering into Easter Sunday and beyond – and rejoice! Death has no sting. Hell has no victory! God loves us that much! If we forget that, if we become so caught up in the “more important” things in our lives, we lose, and Satan wins. John Eldridge tells us that “the story of your life is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it. We must never forget that we are part of a greater story.”
Lent has something to teach us, no matter what our faith is. It’s about remembering. And who doesn’t need to be continually reminded of who we are as God’s beloved? (Also, when you walk out your front door the next morning, remember that God loves your neighbor too – because he threw up on your lawn last night!)
Even during the most difficult of times, are we aware that we are truly being held by a Mighty, Awesome, and Loving God? The richness of your life comes from a promise kept by the God who LOVES YOU DEEPLY AND PASSIONATELY. If the cross doesn’t prove that, if the empty tomb doesn’t prove that, if the resurrection doesn’t prove that, nothing will. You were created for love. Try to remember that.
I think it’s fair to say that this Easter will be like no other, and I would like to think of that as a good thing – eventually – hopefully. God has stripped away all the non-essentials: new outfits, haircuts, a review of proper behavioral expectations for the kids at church, and “how to stay awake” for adults. Making up tiny sins suitable to hide the deeper embarrassing stuff for the annual confession – not needed.
Oh yeah, and the relatives you can’t stand that your mother always guilted you into including on the Easter dinner invites – not necessary, either. You’ll be dining alone (and you might want to work on that hate issue of yours).
You take a deep breath and realize what’s left. Ready? Jesus and you. AWKWARD! It’s okay. He doesn’t bite. No matter what your third-grade teacher told you.
So, how about we take a new look with fresh eyes at the events of this Easter week? It was a week that revealed humanity at its best and worst. What might that mean for us today?
We begin with Palm Sunday. Those crowds were lovin’ on Jesus the Prophet on his way to becoming their anticipated King who would finally save them. Christ was celebrated as the One who would bring his people out of captivity. They were enthralled with him. The cheering was almost deafening, sorta like opening day at Busch Stadium. But, remember, these were his faithful followers, and it was all palms and rose petals.
Then it all went sideways as he went to Jerusalem to encounter a not-so-supportive crowd. What a different picture, huh? Here he’s among the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who know enough about him by now to hate him.
Now he is stirring up more anger than a crowd rush for toilet paper on the opening day of coronavirus mania! So, the chief priests and elders meet to plot against him. They know they have to get him away from his faithful followers first. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26: 3-5).
And how about those disciples who vowed never to leave him at the height of his ministry? We know James and John made it clear they wanted to have an honored place next to him when he came into his glory (Mark 10:35-37). Perhaps the rest thought they already had that favored position all sewn up. But then they all scattered and ran for cover when he was taken away to be crucified. “This is not what we signed up for!”
In very short order, He was convicted and dragged before an angry crowd who screamed for his crucifixion, and they probably didn’t even know why. How many do you suppose just got caught up in the moment and didn’t realize until afterward what they had participated in – the torture and murder of an innocent man they would later discover was PRETTY SPECIAL?
Then at the Cross on Good Friday, we watch horrified as Jesus suffers an unspeakable death, and his mother suffers in silence.
On Saturday, the waiting begins as we are called to silently contemplate what has happened. But we already know that his glorious resurrection is coming, and peace on earth will prevail. At least, we used to believe that. But that truth seems to have been morphed by fear and the unknown this year. So, maybe this day will be spent like all the rest these past few weeks trying to numb ourselves to what we imagine is coming: watch TV (which only fuels that fear), take a nap, eat, drink, wash hands – repeat.
Where’s the peace in all that? We usually only have the capacity to think our hearts are at peace when everything is perfect: our relationships are perfect, our kids are perfect, and the mother-in-law moved away (oops, not nice). But even, or especially in these times when fear will try to overwhelm you, don’t let that happen! God is ready to prove to you that you are stronger, braver, and more resilient than you ever imagined! (Which will come in handy when your mother-in-law has to move back in with you).
As Alan Cohen tells us in his book, A Course in Miracles Made Easy, “No person, group, situation, or condition has the power to take away your happiness. NO ONE. NO THING. NEVER. The experience of joy is your God-given right. People can try to remove your happiness, but they cannot remove your peace unless you give them that power.”
So, there you go. Unlike the disciples, we don’t need to hide or be anxious about the future. Surely, they all sat with regret knowing they did the unthinkable by abandoning Jesus and running away. Aside from Peter and Judas, we don’t know what was going through their heads. Did they wish they could have a do-over? I would think they must have. That’s the beauty of second chances. After Jesus invited them to a fish fry, they were all on fire to serve the God they now knew as unfailing love and mercy, especially Peter, the hater, turned lover of Jesus, turned coward, turned forgiven, turned martyr for his now unshakable love of Christ. Whew!
I think I read somewhere that at that fish fry, Jesus recalled to them the Last Supper, “Hey guys remember the great time we had then?” – since they all seemed to have forgotten. “Remember how I washed your nasty feet?” Then he reiterated his call to them to love one another (John 13:34). “And just so we’re clear…that was not a suggestion.” I wonder if any of them choked on their food at that point.
Now, what about us? Here we are, kind of like the disciples, in the midst of what is surely one of the most uncertain times of our lives. And, funny thing, God is still here, still loving and merciful and compassionate. But where are we? Big question.
How many of us have been running from him all our lives? Oh sure, we have been going through the motions of being a “Christian,” mostly to impress others. But what have we done as Christ’s followers? How have we been Christ to others?
Today, maybe more than ever, we need to let the light of the Risen Christ shine in and through us for those who are lost and alone, not just in their homes but in the very depth of their hearts. That is God’s hope and greatest longing. “Look,” He says on Easter morning, “I never left you, and I never will. So, stop trying to hide from me. Let’s sit together and get to know each other. What else do you have to do? You’ve cleaned your house and straightened your sock drawer so many times you’ve lost count. Just sayin’.”
Galway Kinnell says, “Sometimes it’s necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.” I think that’s what God is trying to do with us, so we can pass it on to others who have become frozen with fear. Living into the truth of our loveliness will allow others to do the same. Just imagine what beauty, joy, and peace would be created for this world’s future?!
THIS IS OUR TIME. THIS IS OUR CALL TO LOVE! AND WHO KNOWS BUT THAT WE WERE CREATED FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS (Esther 4:14).