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Where was God when_______________?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s been right here all along:

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

More God spottings:

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Church Issues Covid Rules for a Safe Easter Season

1. Stay six feet away from all infidels!

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

You – at work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY EASTER!

God Reimagined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait! What?!

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

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

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

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

This would probably be my feeble attempt..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear God,

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

Dear God,

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

THE END – OR JUST THE BEGINNING?

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

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

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

Let’s begin with this article in Christianity Today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Metaxas: author and radio host:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is fun! A little light reading for you:

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

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

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

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

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

Accelerationism in the White Power Movement:

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

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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

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

A recent article in the LA Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Militant Websites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, to come back around to my original question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless!

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

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

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

Jonah: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA…NO!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. David M. Felten says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “No one’s asking us why we left!”

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

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

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

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

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

Barna Research shows: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episcopal Bishop John Spong said:

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

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

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

Up  next:  The Agenda of Militant Christian Nationalists and Evangelicals

Jesus 101

This post has been developing into a book! I have spent a great deal of time reading and researching massive amounts of material concerning the hatred and violence we have been witnessing for so long, not just on January 6, 2021. It began long before Donald Trump and those who monitor it, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, warn that it is getting worse. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch

While watching the violence escalate that day something shook me to my core. Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and reaffirmed my deepest beliefs about who Jesus is, who I am as a professed follower of him, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a country.

It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances but here we go.

This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding and sanity…mostly sanity, because trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates, without any doubts, can be likened to figuring out how birds know I just washed my car!

The need to know, to understand, presupposes that somehow, someway, we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” – that was not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. It is answered by first falling on our knees in awe and reverence before the magnificence that is 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. But, Jesus never said, “Worship me”, he said “Follow me”. OUCH!

 You may not agree with me when it’s all said and done and that’s fine. These are just my thoughts not any attempt to coerce or judge anyone who differs. If we were all meant to be robots marching lock-step through this life God could have easily made that happen. Although, I wonder if, for his own sanity, he may now regret not doing that!

Anyway, I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to decide; to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. Rather be afraid of not being the person we claim to be only when others are watching. We should be more concerned that God is watching! And I am betting that 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 through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, spoken to the hard-headed Corinthians. I know these are verses we have heard so often our eyes glaze over. So, perhaps reading them again, slowly, one at a time, 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 still there.

“The greatest of these is love”.

From where I stand, it seems to have come down to two options if I claim to be a Christian: Either I stand with the Jesus who loves or the Jesus who hates.

I once would have said there was a third option of neutrality, but, not anymore. 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) Ewwwww…nothing ambiguous here.

Let’s say you agree that you need to decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. I believe  stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. Believe me; I have had that happen more times in my life 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.  How I live that life, if I own up to being a follower of Jesus, 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, but it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I believe at times we all need a wake-up call because too often we simply muddle through our days numb to what we’re even doing here.

And so, as I see it, the most important question to begin with must be: Just who is this Jesus I claim to follow? I think it’s fair to say that one of Western Christianity’s most espoused and fervent beliefs is that Jesus is the Answer. But, are we asking the right question?

Up next: Jesus is the Answer

A Christmas Thought

It’s Christmas. Advent is over – the waiting is over. The anticipation: waiting, sitting in darkness, in wonder and awe. Over.

My prayer for this Christmas is that what is not over is hope for a better, more peaceful, world, and an understanding that that begins with God, but is manifest through us, just as it was with Jesus so long ago. Archibald MacLeish explains that truth in a sermon on the Book of Job:

“Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one (ONE). And it is most itself…when it is offered in spite of suffering, or injustice, or death. It is in man’s love that God…triumphs; in man’s love that the world’s injustice is resolved.”

What does that love look like for us today? It looks just like it did for Mary. I’m imagining that when she humbly offered her “yes” to God’s call, that “yes” came from the depths of her heart, even in the midst of doubt. This was her purpose, to use the gifts God had given her, as Esther said, “For such a time as this.”

Surely, Mary contemplated the meaning of her “yes” to this new birth; to this baby she would soon be holding. Being a mother, I can picture her and Joseph just staring at the magnificence of this new creation that God had blessed them with, imagining what his future would hold and surely wondering if they were even capable of parenting him well, helping him to become fully who he was created to be. Remember, Mary was just a teenager, though she was blessed with awesome parents who excelled at Parenting 101 – training her up by their example.  

I was just a teenager when my daughter was born and I can assure you that if I would have had the good sense to consider the magnitude of raising a child and loving them well, I would have been scared to death! Unlike Mary, I had no positive role models to emulate. It was trial by fire and I made plenty of mistakes, later requesting a do-over from God – which he never granted. However, in his infinite love and mercy and forgiveness he tenderly held and began healing those broken parts, infusing his love into our relationship. I suppose you could call that a do-over.

So, we reflect on the magnitude of Mary’s “yes” and Jesus’ “yes”, and let’s not forget poor Joseph. We’re always forgetting his “yes”, his contribution to this family and his obvious love and care for them.  

Mary and I both questioned God’s wisdom. “Wait, WHAT?! ME? You’re kidding, right?”

God – “NOPE!”

And guess what…you’re not off the hook either my friends! God has called each one of us to be Christ-bearers as well.  Scary, huh?

Take a deep breath. It’s okay.

God prepares us all for the work he has for us to do. Admittedly, it’s usually in hindsight that I see the progression of things God put in place to provide everything I needed short of my “yes”.

I recall many times in the past striking out on my own to do “volunteer work”. Those efforts usually failed in one way or another, never born of a longing, only an effort to garner praise from others and hopefully God. To get a few brownie points for heaven. But, in short order, I would lose interest or burn out because there was no real passion for what I was doing.

And, friends, you have to know that GOD DOES PASSION – OVER THE TOP!  

When it’s God’s plan, it will not fail.  He will see it through to completion. Jeremiah tells us so (29:11). Think of it, if he relied on us to figure it out by ourselves, we would surely mess it up and make him look bad. This, in turn, may cause others who may be watching to reconsider any thought of using their gifts. “WOW Linda! You royally screwed that one up! And wasted a whole lot of time and energy in the process! Alrighty then, no thanks. I’m not goin’ there. I have better things to do.”

Of course, we could argue that the expression, “Go big or go home” was probably coined by God. But, that doesn’t negate the fact that he initiates his plans for us, not the other way around. A great example is our friend Job. And, like Job, he doesn’t consult us for anything. Job found that out the hard way.

It wasn’t pretty when God confronted Job’s whiny self, “Hey buddy, I’m curious, when I was creating the world out of nothing I don’t recall seeing you there or consulting you on how to keep the oceans in their place or make a Zebra from scratch, or how to paint a breath-taking sunset. Whew, I outdid myself on that one even if I do say so myself! That was brilliant actually! And, of course, the myriad other uniquely spectacular feats of creation that no one has been able to top!

And what about my grand finale – humans?! Huh! Yea, I know, that was genius. Sure, there have been a few hiccups along the way – okay fine – major human failings. But, that’s not my fault! It’s you guys never seeming to get your part right.”

In any case, when we can’t see how we could possibly accomplish the task God sets before us, it takes trust and faith, like Mary, to say “yes” anyway. 

So this Christmas, as we are reminded once again of the amazing story of Christ’s birth—God’s love coming to us with skin on, I pray we will all listen for and accept God’s call to be Christ-bearers in whatever way he has prepared us for. 

Go ahead, allow yourself to sit in the darkness with God and bravely ask him what in the world you are here for. His answer will surely surprise you.  And I guarantee you, if you utter that one little word “yes”, fasten your seatbelt because there will be no more business as usual!

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you,and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  

Non-refundable LOVE

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? Maybe 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):

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 Man of the Year. 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 being perfect. God’s dwelling place; a community of love and care for each other and all man/womankind. Peace on earth; Good will 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 lead to striving for importance and self-promotion. And if you’ve ever wondered why many churches today use those little thimbles for communion wine, it may be because some of these guys got a bit carried away guzzling the stuff and making fools of themselves. I don’t know – just guessing.

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” here. 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 taught and died for. 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, 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-headed folks, 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 of 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 boast, but 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 am deserving of 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, of course. 

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, messy life. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – well…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 mankind.

Always perseveres – even when things seem impossible.

Love never failsNEVER! END OF STORY

And finally:

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.

Bishop John Shelby Spong and Martin Luther Kings words should be written on our hearts, “Dream of Peace on Earth and good will among men and women, and then dedicate yourself to bringing that vision into being.”

Peace to you and your loved ones this Christmas. It is certainly a Christmas like no other most of us 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 an 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’t refuse it like that ugly tie you’re getting – again – from Aunt Lucy.

Jesus: The Man; the Legend

It’s a shame that Gandhi, Buddha and all their followers are in, or headed to, hell. So say many Christians. What do you believe? What do I believe? People who profess to be Christian surely have a sacred calling. Scripture tells us so. If that’s true – what is it? Is it to announce the luck of the draw for members in an exclusive club with the secret handshake and a never to expire ticket to heaven, or to announce the bad news of condemnation and the hell-bound destiny of all those tough-luck-for-you-non-Christians? Over all my seventy-two years, I have probably accepted, without question, those beliefs more than I care to admit.

This post is my attempt, as feeble as it is, to offer a very different possibility of what Christianity means to me. Though it is different than what so many have come to embrace, it is actually what the first Christians believed about themselves as followers of Jesus. You may agree or you may not. Either way, this is where I have landed after many years of struggling with and contemplating my ongoing journey of faith, anger, falls from grace, brokenness and healing – all in one day sometimes. My very being has been squeezed through the wringer, patched together, taped up and super-glued so often I look like Humpty Dumpty! 

This post has been difficult and challenging for me to write. It has developed through months of witnessing the continued dumpster fires of 2020. In particular, the ugliness, anger, hatred and violence that seem to have rendered many of us oblivious to the suffering of so many innocent people, children in particular. They have just become collateral damage in this war – and it is a war – a spiritual war.

But, what has endured through it all for me are the words of wisdom and encouragement of those I quote in this post. Those folks that I consider to be outstanding voices and true examples of what it means to be a follower of a Holy, Magnificent, All-Loving God of every single messy one of us! Every one! You will see a lot of italics within the following quotes. They are all my doing! They have powerfully pierced my heart and uplifted my soul. They have reminded me and given me new hope that the God I love; have always deeply loved even when I often lose sight of him, has never changed. He is certain and immovable even when we have tried so desperately to change him to suit our egocentristic selves in moments of darkness and uncertainty.

I have been in that place more often than I can count. But, I do not want to be stuck there again. I recognized that god-awful place where it seemed to be easier for me to default to taking sides and raising my own fist against those I disagree with than to follow in the footsteps of those I so admire: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and, of course, at the top of that list, the One we all should be emulating – Jesus. Even Gandhi liked Jesus and learned from his life. He loved the Sermon on the Mount! And yet, it’s very telling that he once remarked, “I like your Christ, but not your Christianity.” Ouch!

Vance Morgan helped clarify my struggles to define how “Christianity” applies to me today.  What is that “new way of life” I am called to?:

 “I don’t believe Christianity can be packaged in a doctrinal statement at all. Jesus did not come to establish a new set of beliefs. Jesus came to show us a new way of life, a new way of being in the world and with that which is greater than us.

Seek to discover how the heart of the gospel is relevant to and can be lived out in our contemporary world. Choosing to understand Christianity as something that one lives rather than something that one believes is, of course, problematic for those whose Christianity is more about orthodoxy (what you believe) than about orthopraxy (what you do).”

Getting unstuck.

I believe the most critical questions for me to address have welled up from the deepest part of my being. They are: (1) how did we get here? And (2) how can we possibly move forward with any semblance of self and care and compassion for each other?  These questions have required more soul-searching and truth-telling than I have ever been willing to engage in for any length of time. Questions I have touched on, danced around, and often ignored for fear of what the answers might require of me. I will admit that God has had to drag me here kicking and screaming; lovingly and patiently loosening my clenched fists from my arrogance and ignorance.

So, here we go.

Addressing these questions begins and ends with Jesus.  Who was he? What was he doing here? And how in the world have we forgotten?

Before attending Aquinas Institute in 2006, I believed, without question, what I was told to believe by the church. For three years, my professors challenged my blind faith and lovingly confronted me with words I can still hear, “How do you know that, Linda?” – a question that I was only able to respond to with, “I don’t know”. Before that adventure I would never have considered these historical facts presented by Dr. Carl Krieg in Progressing Spirit10/15/2020, Racism, How Did We Get Here:

Speculation about who Jesus was and who he thought he was, begins in the New Testament itself. Layer upon layer was added to the original story and what we have today in the Christian Writings is far removed from the initial encounter between Jesus and the disciples.

It was not until 325 CE that the Council of Nicaea concluded, under imperial pressure, that Jesus was God. It was in 451, at Chalcedon, that the church threw up its hands and confessed that it had no idea how Jesus could be both God and man. The contemporaries of Jesus confronted no such issues. For them, Jesus was a man, but a man like no other, a man who presented to them who they were and could become. All the disciples knew was that Jesus empowered them to discover the truth of their humanity.

The original story of Jesus and his followers has been transformed into a story alien to what he intended and what they experienced. We now have someone born of a virgin who dies for our sins, appeasing an angry god, who will come in the future to judge all who have ever lived, and whose power is now controlled by the church (this is so critical to understand).

The good news is that this is not really who we are. None of us. Jesus showed us that, and we all know it in our hearts, in the depths of our being. The truth of our humanity, manifest in Jesus, requires that we dismantle the egocentricity that encapsulates us so that we can reconnect with ourselves, with one another and with God. Clearly what’s required is to rediscover the Jesus story.”

The truth of who Jesus was and who we are as God’s beloved may be lost to us in the West, but it has not been lost to so many in other countries who have long risked their lives and are still today being martyred for their faith. The numbers are staggering!

Consider these startling statistics on Christian persecution compiled by Open Doors USA.org:

Every day, 8 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith.

Every week, 182 churches or Christian buildings are attacked.

Every month, 309 Christians are imprisoned unjustly.

The listed nations comprise 260 million Christians suffering high to severe levels of persecution, up from 245 million in last year’s list.

We can’t imagine any of this can we?  People are literally dying for their faith while we rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Brilliant! Yeah us! Speaking the truth to power doesn’t often end well. But, in the immortal words of Saint Mother Theresa, “Do it anyway”.

Nothing in scripture tells us that Jesus, or any of his followers would die for the belief of those Christians today who condemn non-Christians to hell or proclaim some sort of special status for themselves. Rob Bell in his powerful book, “Love Wins” says:

“Jesus talked about hell to the people who considered themselves “in,” warning them that their hard hearts were putting their “in-ness” at risk, reminding them that whatever “chosen- ness” or “election” meant, whatever special standing they believed they had with God was always, only, ever about their being the kind of transformed, generous, loving people through whom God could show the world what God’s love looks like in flesh and blood.”  

And if that’s not enough, here’s another stark and uncomfortable reminder for us comphy, cozy American Christians in our watered down, lukewarm faith. You know, the faith that Jesus railed against? (Rev. 3:15-16). Whew…yeah, that one’s way too awkward! Let’s just skip over it. Surely, he didn’t mean it. He was probably just having a bad day…maybe too much caffeine. (But, I digress.)

Here’s another powerful article by Jeremy Weber that should cause some serious squirming in the pews. If there’s anyone left in the pews:

No Cheeks Left to Turn:

In America can I hate you for your faith? Absolutely. Can I practice my faith openly? Yes. And do I do that without fear of persecution or violence against me? Many Christians live in countries where gathering for church is illegal. They are forced to live their faith behind closed doors; in secret. The consequences are dire if they get caught: imprisonment, persecution, violence, beheadings, and death. One American pastor retold his story of visiting an underground church that villagers walked miles to attend in a country in Asia. He sat with them as they recounted with tears flowing what following Christ meant to their very existence. But, they did it; week in and week out, knowing full well they were risking their lives for Christ. Teenagers determined to share the love of Christ with others would say goodbye to their parents when they left their homes knowing they may not return.

And, here we are, in America with our comfortable lavish multimillion-dollar churches, many now half full. They live a radical and dangerous faith, while we settle for a comfortable, feel-good experience. We demand certitude in our beliefs and our dogmas, while they risk danger and uncertainty to follow Christ just as he calls us all to do, “If you want to be my disciple, pick up your cross and follow me.” But, we want to ignore the “pick up your cross” part. We prefer the easy way: Drop to your knees, bow your head, pray this prayer, sign your commitment card and you’re in our exclusive club full of perks, not the least of which is a direct ticket to heaven as you kick the lost and suffering to the curb on the way.”(OUCH AGAIN!)

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/november/nigeria-fulani-boko-haram-no-cheeks-left-to-turn.html

Jesus said abandon your possessions (Matt. 19:21) – we try to dicker, “Ummm, how about if I sell one mink coat, or one car. No? Okay, this is killing me, but how about if I sell one condo and then donate a few dollars to charity? Will that get me a ticket to heaven? Come on, cut me some slack, Lord!”

Jesus said abandon family and friends (Luke 14:25-27) – instead we cling to them and turn our backs on those not like us.

Jesus said abandon your very self (Matt. 16:24) – we might lay one bad habit down. But give up all our “stuff” – all our striving for power and influence – all our dreams of fame and fortune? No way!

There it is. We have just watered Jesus down and settled him into our comfort zone rendering him mediocre – right along with God. Hmmmm, sorta like us. But, what have we lost in the process? I can easily imagine, but dread to think, that I could one day say the same thing as Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilyich said on his deathbed, “What if my whole life has been wrong.”

Bishop John Shelby Spong says, “I hope I never disparage or look down on the way any person journeys into the mystery and wonder of God. I do not want to be against any religion. I want to walk beyond all religions, even my own, in my lifetime quest for the truth of God that all of us can only ‘see through a glass darkly’”. Bishop Spong has taught me so much about true faith! Here is another example of things we profess about Jesus, that have no basis in fact. If you care to read further: https://mailchi.mp/6447ab6ffa68/getting-beyond-the-usual-giving-birth-to-jesus-in-the-2020s-760564?e=8b67574a56

Steven Weinberg reminds us that, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Why do we stay stuck in doctrines and dogmas? Because it’s safe. But, is that actually what God wants? Is that what Jesus, and so many others died for? So, it appears there are two options to consider: Would I march myself into martyrdom for a doctrine created long ago by a church seeking control of its people? Or would I commit to an unwavering faith in the God who makes no demands for allegiance, but simply and profoundly speaks within the depth of our hearts and calls us all to love; to show compassion and care for others, no matter the cost? I want to be counted among the latter. Thanks.

Kevin G. Forrester, Ph.D. speaks of maturing in faith, “…while your “belief” in antiquated teachings is diminishing, at the same time your authentic faith is maturing. And maturation, whenever and however it occurs, involves “loss” of what we have previously taken ourselves to be.”

From the book “Holy Rascals”, “The God that can be branded is not the true God. Our job isn’t to dethrone the emperor, only to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Our task isn’t to banish the Great and Terrible Wizard, only to reveal that the Land of Oz is run by a small man with a large megaphone.”

In the words Mirabai Starr:

We are conditioned to treat the spiritual life as another commodity, rather than as a discipline of inner transformation with a corresponding commitment to alleviating suffering in the world.

The sacred scriptures of all faiths call us to love as we have never loved before. This requires effort, vigilance, and radical humility. This is the narrow gate Jesus speaks about… mutual dedication to lovingkindness as the highest expression of faith.

The call does not come softly. It bangs the shutters of your heart and wakes you from a deep sleep. You have no choice but to respond.

This faith is not predicated on belief. It is informed by experience….with an ongoing encounter with the Mystery….it is a direct engagement with the roots of poverty, a willingness to sacrifice our own comfort for the well-being of someone else, an unqualified identification with those on the margins and a wholehearted effort to bring everyone home to the table of the Holy One.”

So, here I stand naked and humbled before God. As uncomfortable as that may seem, it is far more desirable than sleep-walking through this one, short, marvelous life we have been given.

The experience of my seventy-second birthday a couple of weeks ago was more profound than even life’s typical milestones some call “rites of passage”. Like sixteen when I smoked in front of my dad for the first time. Guess he was just tired of me stealing his cigarettes and since I now had a job I could buy my own. Not sure how that stacks up with being allowed to wear makeup or going on a first date. It simply paved the way for a swifter road to possible lung cancer. But who thinks about that at sixteen? At twenty-one, I could discard the fake ID I had already used for a few years to get drunk. Now I would remain drunk and stupefied for years! Woohoo!

As you may have deduced by now there have been few birthdays for me that became Kodak moments. With the exception of this last one. Hopefully not last as in LAST. But, that’s the final point I want to make here. If this past year has not impacted me any other way it has reminded me of what’s really important, because I often forget that we have no guarantees in this life. And God is going to be VERY disappointed if, for whatever time I have remaining that I have not left this world better in some way for my having been here. Thankfully, there’s still time as long as I am breathing.

At the end of my life I DO NOT want to be reminded of these profound words by Gian Carlo Menotti, “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.”

I would prefer to dust myself off, let go of the negativity of 2020, and embrace these thoughts to empower my every action from here on out. Because every day is a new day. Every dayI am a new creation in Christ. Every day I can here God say to me, “Okay, Linda, let’s try this love thing again.”

Richard Rohr says it beautifully, not that God doesn’t (sorry, Lord), “We must re-teach all things their loveliness. That could be your one and only life calling!”  

Howard Thurman tells us:  “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

The beginning of my quest for truth came with my willingness to question what I believed about who God was, who Jesus was, who I was and who my neighbor was. Dag Hammarskjold said, “The longest journey is the journey inwards. Of him who has chosen his destiny, who has started upon his quest for the source of his being.”

Well, alrighty then…that was fun! Are you still here?

Let me leave you with my favorite prayer of blessing and this awesome song by Casting Crowns as we prepare for Christmas. I pray for God’s blessings for you and your loved ones during this season of remembrance. This time of renewal and commitment to love God and each other!

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
  (Numbers 6:24-26)

Jesus: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Have you ever regifted something your Aunt Ethel gave you for Christmas that you have absolutely no use for, which she probably got last year from her tasteless brother? Come on, you know you have. We probably all have. It’s okay. Regifting is in scripture you know. John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I have a new appreciation for those words this year.

For the last three weeks we have been decorating for Christmas and we’re not finished. Not even sure what Christmas is going to look like, but my anticipation this year has taken on a deeper meaning. It’s not the expectation of the sweet, non-threatening, “baby” Jesus arriving. It’s about the Jesus who seems to have gotten lost among us, especially during this year.

We have all been witnessing our world collapse into chaos: the anger and violence and hatred brought about by Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement, economic collapse, natural disasters, and the elections. That’s a LOT to deal with in such a short time. And watching the steady stream of sucky news isn’t helping. Some may wonder if Christmas is even worth the hassle, or anticipate more violence, or obsessively shop and decorate just to dull the senses.  But, as I prepare for this season, I have been imagining a different, better scenario.

As one who has fallen away from the “Institutional” church with all its trappings of dogma and rules and birthday cake for baby Jesus I seem to be left with the stripped down version of the meaning of Christmas. Perhaps I can see much better, like the blind man Jesus healed. I’m not sure if Jesus would have “physically” healed his blindness. He certainly could have. But, more importantly, I think of it as compassion revealing itself. I believe it was the tender touch of Jesus that changed that man others rejected and cast aside. Maybe for the first time in his life, he felt his worth and innate dignity. If you have ever “experienced” Jesus’ tender touch you know what I’m talking about. But, there’s more – and this is where it gets uncomfortable. Jesus expected him, as he does us, to not cling to that love he was shown, but to reach out to others and share it. It’s not a commodity to horde like the last roll of toilet paper on the shelf; it’s a gift to be given away. I have come to see this Christmas as an opportunity like no other to do just that.

God wants my excitement and anticipation to result in action. He is telling me; all of us really, “That’s great you’re excited. Now go do something about it!” Offer kindness and compassion to those who suffer: the elderly who are alone, millions of children in America that go to bed hungry, the neglected and abused. Check on your neighbor. Offer a smile and kind word to everyone you meet. Quit hating and judging others. Quit whining and complaining about what you don’t have, feel gratitude for what you do have, and then find a way to share it.

When we are called to “give till it hurts” that’s not referring to outlandish presents under the tree that are often not even appreciated. It’s about offering love back to God and others with all your heart and soul. (Matt. 22:37) That’s how we can more meaningfully celebrate Christ in our midst!

Here’s one of my favorite “Christmas-like” songs. Try not to get it stuck in your head!