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Sleep-Walking Through Life

For years, as a Christian, I determined that my “job” was to inform everyone I encountered of their “heaven/hell” status. I was good at it too! I could even give you a check list of “requirements” to get into heaven and I can assure you the hoops you were required to jump through were daunting. It was not for the faint of heart! It’s no wonder I was never successful at “converting” anyone, including myself!

We sleep-walk through life with no clue what we’re doing here or that our lives have meaning and purpose – but they do!

We are all called to use the gifts and talents we already possess that have been uniquely designed for us. But it takes awareness on our part. We can be so enmeshed in, and blinded by, the things of this world we miss out on our whole reason for being here.

If you are going through life day-after-unremarkable-day; schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose people. God needs your brilliance and love to shine his light in a darkened world.

You. Matter. That. Much.

Leo Tolstoy’s  novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”,  considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience.

While lying on his deathbed, Ivan ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving as he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done.At the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?

And don’t look to me anymore (like you ever did) to give you a formula or a check list to send you on your way to sainthood. But, I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you are able to love yourself. And you can’t love yourself by means of any of the myriad of self-help books on the market. And…no…sorry, there’s not a pill for that either.

We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention. We even busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places.

Socrates claimed the unexamined life is not worth living. “To live deep and suck out all the marrow” as Thoreau put it.

If we would just stop talking and LISTEN to the lessons life is trying to teach us!  Geeeezzzzz, we’re SO BAD at listening.

The expression, “Life is short” is a yawner for most of us until it becomes a reality. My reality came a few months ago when I found my husband had died in his sleep. Now it’s real for me!

Church – A Great Place to Hide

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

THE DISCONNECT:

Rev. Gretta Vosper shared these thoughts with a reader who left her church and feels disconnected, “It is so hard to realize that you are no longer drawn to a community of faith by the faith of the community.” She then offered opportunities to consider for community and service outside the church:  

There are so many places that need a helping hand from food banks to women’s shelters to garden centres and reading programs. Any one of them would lift your heart and connect you to that great power of love by which so many needs in the world are filled. In the process of finding that new ministry, be open to the new friends to whom it will introduce you. They may not look like what you’re used to, but your heart, next to theirs, will soon beat with a common rhythm.

For me, walking away from church was a formidable and uncertain experience. I thought I had everything figured out – I was wrong. Now, here I was, packing up a Master’s Degree that hadn’t even had time to collect dust.

Then came the guilt. My Graduate School education was completely paid for by a grant. When I was accepted into the program it was expected that I would return to my parish and begin work as a Pastoral Associate. What seemed to be forgotten, or missed all together, by those establishing the program, was the stubborn refusal of Priests to accept us…you know… women, as part of the leadership team. Apparently, the times they were not a changin’.

I spoke to some pastors, my own in particular, who flat-out told me they weren’t interested in what I had to offer even though I said I would work as a volunteer. I was shown the door and given a man-sized boot.

I’m sure the discouragement and frustration I felt were palpable. I couldn’t fight that male-dominated, power-hungry, muscle flexing attitude. It exhausted me and made me cuss more frequently, so I gave up. It was a short walk from there to totally leaving church, but I left broken-hearted.

THE PROBLEM WITH DONUTS AND LATTES:

How about you?

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

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

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

STUCK IN ORDINARY

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

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

Megachurches have tried to fill the gap with music and light shows that could rival “Jesus Christ Superstar”.

The problem is, while folks are swinging and swaying and belting out thirty minutes of music (albeit beautiful music), Jesus left the building and no one noticed.

TRANSCENDING ORDINARY IS RISKY:

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

God is: Magnificent, gracious, merciful, and forgiving. His gratuitous love spills out into the heart and soul of every one of us. He cares deeply about the lost and forsaken. Is that what we experience in church? Is that what we hear from the pulpit? Is that what we base our actions and attitudes on? From the daily news of the violence and hatred emanating from many “Christians” today, it wouldn’t seem so.

How many of us would feel culpable if we stood by and watched but didn’t actively participate in that violence? How many of us hate in silence?

Mary Collins shares the words of the British writer Monica Furlong:

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

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

In my own faith, which has grown from non-existent to something beyond my imagining, God-filled AHA moments did not happen while I was sitting in the pew on Sunday. Possibly because I was always on guard for lightening strikes against me or the guy next to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved certain aspects of being a part of a church community. What frustrated me was not seeing the most central expression of our faith – communion –forgotten the minute we (myself included) walk out the door.

When we share communion we are reminded of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “Take this bread and never forget me. Never forget how much I love you! Never forget“. But, we do forget.

We stroll in late, then haul purses, coats, and kids through the communion line and straight out the door for the important stuff of the day: Soccer, brunch, bingo, whatever.

We forget there is more that must take place the other six days of the week. God’s call to take what we were just fed into a hurting world rings hollow in hearts that are not transformed.

We refuse to accept that the problem has anything to do with us and we certainly don’t want to get close enough to God to hear the truth. That’s too scary. It may expose us to the real God, and it’s that real God we go to great lengths to avoid.

Many come to faith in the same way we come to our day-to-day world. We bring our narcissistic attitude that the world revolves around us. The God we worship must meet our expectations and demands. The world is a mess – He must fix it. People are suffering – He must help them. I am a Christian – He must put me first. So our worship amounts to praise if things are going well and complaining if they’re not.

Those “bravest among us” Collins calls God-seekers who risk. She says:

Monica Furlong, speaking about liturgy as keeping in touch without getting too close to God, distinguished between ordinary churchgoers and “god-seekers”.  She observed that god-seekers risk more than the ordinary. They risk their sanity – their healthy adjustment to conventional thinking – by opening themselves to powerful disclosures of the divine. The rest of us, less adventurous, go to church. But it is possible to be both.”

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

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

He called out the National Guard troops in particular. They had already killed six other priests, so he was certain he was also going to die at their hands. But, he spoke out anyway, and he celebrated Mass anyway. And the people came anyway! He passionately and fearless upheld the gospel mandates to care for his brothers and sisters in Christ – all of them!  

The poor among him who suffered, as well as the soldiers, heard his plea:

“No soldier is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God. Therefore, in the name of God, and in the name of this long-suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven every day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you! In the name of God: ‘Cease the repression!’”

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

“A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — what gospel is that? Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone, that’s the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in. … The gospel is courageous.”

God wants us to know that every bit of pain and suffering that we see or experience calls for our response. Without us nothing will change. Nothing!

Annie Dillard also presents a tough reality, “There is no one but us. There is no one to send but only us. There never has been.”

What is required of us but to do justly and to love mercy (Micha 6:8). We are called to be the instruments of justice and mercy in this world. There is no one but us. If we can ever come to a place where we “get it” our worship will become the action that will resound into a world that suffers.

We will sing through our hurting, rejoice through our suffering, and be a beacon to a world that is yet to “get it”.

JUST WHO ARE YOU, GOD?

Can we ever be brave enough to accept the reality of a God we can’t imagine?

Even though every theological method of putting a label on God has been tested through the ages, one fact remains, and it’s one we as human beings refuse to accept: We will never figure God out! And I am certain (metaphorically) he rolls his eyes at our feeble attempts at it.

WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!

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

Now, dear friends, it’s our turn.

Is It Worth The Risk?

In the Book of Esther (I LOVE that girl!), Mordecai tells her she must go to the King to save her people; a life threatening proposition for her. He asks her to consider that this may be God’s calling, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” And her reply? You gotta love this!  “And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”

So often God calls and we’re afraid to answer. If we choose to ignore him he may eventually go away, but the loss will be ours, not his, because he will find someone else. Yes, a call from God probably is risky. He’s an expert at risky. Remember he took the ultimate risk by giving us free will to tell him “No”. He has also provided examples of many Risk Takers to lead the way. Not the lease of which was Jesus. Of course, if you think Jesus is too difficult to emulate, you could start with any of the misfits he hand-picked to follow in his footsteps.

When I think of the question we are all called to answer: Is saying “Yes” to God worth the risk? –  the first thing that comes to mind for me takes me back sixteen years. In January of 2005, my husband and I were given the opportunity to go to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to spend a year working for Habitat for Humanity. Life in Belfast was full of blessings, many of which were realized from lessons learned only reluctantly (the story of my life, really).

We lived close enough to the City Center to walk there on occasion. One morning, I walked to the post office to mail some letters before going to work. My time was limited so I was in a hurry. By then, the route was so familiar to me that I rarely noticed the things that had taken my breath away just a few months earlier: The iron gates dividing the Protestants from the Catholics and the murals that told of each side’s pain and suffering during the “Troubles”. They no longer seemed quite so shocking.

On this day, God taught me a most profound lesson on the streets of Belfast. I was about to meet Bernie, my alcoholic teacher on my mission to tick off another task before work when I noticed a woman lying on the sidewalk. People passing her seemed to be oblivious to her. I even noticed some crossing to the other side of the street. And here’s me as I walk past her, “I wonder if she’s alive”. But did I stop? No. And then came that “Holy nudge” I knew so well.

Dang it! Not now. “Lord, don’t you have other heathens to reckon with?” I must have walked another five minutes before God got the best of me. I guess I thought I could out-pace him. I kept hearing, “Go back”. That’s all. Nothing about what I was supposed to do once I got there. No. That would have been too easy.

Fine. So, back I go.

As I sat down on the cold sidewalk beside her I nudged her but she didn’t move. Oh my God, I got a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if she was dead?! What if I stepped over a dead woman without a thought of her humanity?

I nudged her again. She slowly opened her eyes and I could tell she was intoxicated. “Come on, Love. Sit up.” (that’s what they say in Ireland. They call everyone “Love” even if they don’t know them).

She looked at me and angrily responded, “Leave me alone!”

“No, come on, you can’t stay here. It isn’t safe. Sit up.”

She managed to sit up and stare at me.

“What’s your name?”

“Bernie”

“Do you have a home, Bernie?”

“No”

Now I’m wondering what I am going to do with her. Being unfamiliar with Belfast I didn’t know where to take her. “Are you hungry? We’ll go get something to eat.”

“No. You got a fag?”

“No, sorry I don’t smoke, (are you ready for this?) it’s bad for your health.” That caused both of us to laugh. It was such a ridiculous response.

Then she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Look at me! No one wants me. It’s no use. It’s no use. Just leave me alone!”

“No, Bernie, that’s not true. I am looking at you and what I see is beautiful. Now, come on, let’s get you to some place safe.”  Then, as I struggled to help her up, I prayed, “A little help here, Lord!”

Just then (I’m not kidding) a van pulled up and a young man got out. Bernie recognized him, “Here comes the welcome wagon.” We both laughed again. The man, calling her by name, very gently and lovingly got her in the van and climbed into the driver’s seat. Wait! He was interrupting my “Good Samaritan” moment! Not sure what to do, I quickly wrote down my phone number, “Please, would you give her my number if she wants to contact me?” He assured me he would and drove away. After they left, I resumed my walk to the post office, at a slower pace though, and still a bit stunned.

“Lord, what just happened? You stopped me dead in my tracks and sent me back to help her.  Now I’m certain I’ll never see her again. What was the purpose of all of this?”

No answer.  I sensed he was going to let me struggle with that one for a while. Except he did fire a Matthew 25:41-43 warning shot at me! As I continued to walk in silence, I could feel God speaking to my heart, “Linda, next time, don’t pass me by.”

A few weeks later, I broached the subject with God again, “Come on, Lord! You’re killin’ me. I know you aren’t finished with this lesson.”

And then came my answer, “Oh, Linda, you poor thing! I didn’t send you to save her, I sent her to save you – from your indifference.” (Ouch! I should have left well enough alone!) 

Soon my next risky adventure came along. I was walking down Falls Road behind a woman and a little boy about four years old. It didn’t seem to concern her that I was right behind them when she suddenly reached down and smacked the little boy on the face. I have no idea why. He said something, and she hit him again. Amazingly (or not so amazingly, I suppose), he clearly was not surprised by the abuse. Then, they crossed the street and I continued toward home, which was just a block away. I didn’t get there though, because I knew instantly that voice I had heard so clearly before was going to strike again. But I got a jump on it this time, “I know, go back!” I crossed the street and headed toward the woman, having no idea how she would respond to the intrusion. If she would hit her own child, what would stop her from striking at me?

“I don’t like this, Lord. Please help me out! What do you want me to say?” It felt very awkward, but as I approached her, I simply asked, “Do you need help? Do you want someone to talk to?” She gave me the stink-eye and brushed past me and the little boy stuck out his tongue at me. Cute.

I assumed they lived close by. Maybe I would see her again. Maybe she would knock on my door one day. But that never happened.

After our year in Belfast, we returned home to settle back into our former lives; to business as usual. I found a beautiful trail nearby to begin running again. I loved the beauty and serenity there. At times, I encountered a few cyclists along the way, and occasionally a scary dog, but I was usually alone.

One day, I noticed someone coming towards me. He was walking alongside a bicycle with a chain of baby bike trailers behind it. It’s funny how you can suddenly become acutely aware of your surroundings. We were approaching each other in a secluded area of the trail. Trees blocked the view of the road and there was no one else nearby. I ran a little faster andoffered a “Good morning” as I passed. I’m sorry to say that, as we approached each other, I did not feel less threatened because I gave my trust to God – I felt less threatened because I was confident I could outrun him –okay, and someone else was approaching on a bike. As we passed each other, we both said “Hello”- but he did something I did not, he stopped to talk to the man; the man who is our brother; the man I should love and respect because of his dignity as a child of God – no different than me. I was feeling pretty crappy right then. So, I went back and we spoke for an awkward moment.

Then, my emotions kicked in – or God kicked me (whatever). I said goodbye and ran quickly to my car, drove the three miles home in a cloud of dust, woke my husband to enlist him to help me pack up a cooler and some money to take to my soon to be new friend. We found him by the river – fishing. He was amiable and enjoyed telling us about his travels, and he allowed my husband to take a picture of us:

Here’s what makes me so sad. Look closely at this picture. He didn’t want me to touch him because he hadn’t had a bath in a while. Yeah, I knew that, but after running for an hour, I was pretty smelly myself! There we were, two smelly, beloved children (and one worm) of one AWESOME God!

From these three very brief incidents I learned volumes about risking and reaching out to others: That the outcome may not be ours to know, and about the unexpected blessings we receive from it.

These were momentary encounters with hurting people that I fancied myself saving. Truth be told, they actually saved me. We weren’t meant to have ongoing relationships that would last a lifetime. None of them would be calling me years later to tell me they named their first-born child after me, or to invite me to their college graduation. God was working quietly and without fanfare on my hardened heart which he somehow knew was not beyond reach. It would just take time.

There are signs all around us of man’s inhumanity to man. Violence against our brothers and sisters never seems to abate. We strip our fellow human beings of their dignity when they are suffering and we refuse to involve ourselves in their lives. How easy it is to ignore the misery of others! But when God teaches us to “see” with our hearts there’s no going back.

Honestly, I’m not sure I will ever stop gauging my compassion by my sense of safety. But, I pray for the grace to let go of my fears, so that I can reach out freely – out of love instead of guilt – like Sister Karen Klimczak.

Many would say that  Sister Karen Klimczak  should have paid closer attention to the dangers that surrounded her. For years she ran a transitional housing program in Buffalo, New York, for men who were being released from correctional facilities. Her selfless, heroic work ended with her murder on Good Friday of 2006, at the hands of one of the very people she had cared for. Ironically, Sister Klimczak, like Jesus, believed that “people will die if we don’t reach out”. 

Fifteen years before her murder, Sister Klimczak dreamed (or had a premonition) that she would die a violent death. Just before Holy Week of 1991, in her personal journal, she wrote the following words to the person who would take her life:

Dear Brother, I don’t know what the circumstances are that will lead you to hurt me or destroy my physical body. No, I don’t want it to happen. I would much rather enjoy the beauties of this earth, experience the laughter, the fears and the tears of those I love so deeply! Now my life has changed and you, my brother, were the instrument of that change. I forgive you for what you have done and I will always watch over you, help you in whatever way I can. Continue living always mindful of His Presence, His Love and His Joy as sources of life itself – then my life will have been worth being changed through you.

Sister Klimczak’s advanced warning that she would meet a violent death didn’t stop her from championing the world’s outcasts. Instead, she simply continued doing what she knew she’d been called to do, for as long as she was able.

“You leave your fingerprints on everything. We need to be people who leave imprints of peace wherever we go in our world.” Sister Klimczak

Fear does not protect – it limits – it limits the blessings and grace God longs to pour out on us, and those we reach out to in his name. 

Richard Rohr in his book, Job and the Mystery of Suffering, explains risk beautifully:

There are two things that draw us outside ourselves: pain…and…beauty. Those – pain and beauty – constitute the two faces of God. Whenever we see true pain, most of us are drawn out of our own preoccupations and what to take away the pain. I think we are rushing not just toward the hurt child, we are rushing toward God. That’s why Francis could kiss the leper. That’s why so many saints wanted to get near suffering – because, as they said again and again, they met Christ there. It saved them from their smaller and untrue self.

Jesus’ Matthew 25 challenge is always right in our midst: The poor, the homeless, the lonely neighbor, the crotchety checker at the grocery store, the elderly left to die alone in nursing homes. If only we would embrace the vulnerability that allows us to dare bravely for the sake of others what a different world we would create.

Oh Death Where is Your Sting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are You SO Afraid of?

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

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

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

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

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

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

statue

But, I digress…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What ARE we so afraid of? Trusting? Possibly.

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

Fear of the unknown? Absolutely.

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

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

alice1

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

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

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

And Satan cheers again.

satan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s more

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on. Wake up!

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

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

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

“Linda, you’re crazy!”

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

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

From Mountain Top to Dark Box to Intimacy

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

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

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

UP HE GOES

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

DOWN HE GOES

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

UP HE GOES

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

DOWN HE GOES

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

UP HE GOES

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

DOWN HE GOES

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

UP HE GOES

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

DOWN HE GOES

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

UP HE GOES

(24:3) Then they went back down.

DOWN HE GOES

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

 UP HE GOES

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

It was a LONG forty days!

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

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

DOWN HE GOES:

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

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

UP HE GOES:

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

DOWN HE GOES…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of my favorite quotes of Brennon Manning:

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

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

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

Surely You Were in This Place

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

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

So, here we go:

Consider this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus Borg:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never, Never, Never Give Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where was God when_______________?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s been right here all along:

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

More God spottings:

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Church Issues Covid Rules for a Safe Easter Season

1. Stay six feet away from all infidels!

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

You – at work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY EASTER!