Recently, I was reminded of a long-standing frustration I have as I gathered my thoughts on what church is supposed to be and what is actually happening.
I left the Catholic Church several years ago, and though I feel like I have landed in a church I’m growing to love, I still find myself searching for a true depth of faith I want to encounter, not just in others, but also in myself.
I want it to be like those guys on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:32). You know, when they were bellyaching about how their lives were upended and all of a sudden they realized their hearts “were on fire” as they walked with this guy who showed up out of nowhere? I had my own experience of that in Kentucky and it changed my life!
In the past, I was great at shaking my finger – at someone, anyone, to blame for the indifference to God’s call to Love that I witnessed almost daily:The clergy, bishops, the Pope, but not the faithful sitting unaware in the pews (if they’re sitting there at all). Never those poor innocent folks in the pews.
I assumed that for some reason beyond their consciousness – poor religious instruction or perhaps sucky sermons that can rival Ambien’s affect as a sleep medication – they have never encountered the “living” Christ. How is that supposed to happen when we’re either nodding off in the pew or thinking of that much anticipated Super Bowl in just a few hours (more on that later).
If liturgy is, as I learned from Catholic Church teaching, the “source and summit” of faith then it must give meaning to our lives. Right? Meaning that should cause us to sit in stunned silence in the presence of the Incarnate Word of God. Where, in awe and wonder, we remove our sandals on what is surely holy ground.
Gradually then, it would seem, Sunday after Sunday, we would fall in love with Love. Perhaps we would begin to squirm in the pew we once found comfortable as we realize that God is calling us to a responsibility to respond to that Love. It’s really not optional if we call ourselves “Christian” you know.
Liturgy, from the Greek leitourgia, means “the work of the people”. That’s all of us, every single one! Let’s look back at the early church where it began – with Jesus himself. Think of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper. Think of John resting on Jesus’ shoulder. Jesus poured the wine, washed their feet, loved on them and said, “Do this in memory of Me, always recall My love for you, prepare yourselves for the work I’m calling you to. Sooooo, what are you waiting for? Get out there and love on people!” I can guarantee you that not once during that supper did Jesus or any of his apostles ruminate on the Super Bowl or long for hot wings while consuming dry bread. Not one of them!
But, we do. The significance and power of our worship seems to be all but lost today. It isn’t confined to the Pastor. There isn’t a list of formalities we can check off: Enter, bow, glare at the person who’s sitting in your spot, gaze out the stained glass windows past the tearful widow next to you, tune out the sermon, rush out the door. Repeat.
Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me. But, don’t stop there!” He gives us explicit instructions to respond in action, to go out to “love and serve the Lord”. Every part of our worship should lead us to that end.
Here’s what, I believe, a life of faith should look like. It’s what I strive for and so often fail miserably at. We go to church to be nurtured by God’s Word; to seek and know we are forgiven for our sins. We are challenged by the sermon, share the peace and love of God with others and then are sent out to be Christ to a hurting world. But if, instead, we sit as silent spectators simply waiting to get our card punched for the week, a broken world suffers the loss. What is missing? Many people today say they can be spiritual without the Church. Those who simply “show up” also miss the point.
Here’s a question for you: Who wants to watch the Super Bowl alone? We surround ourselves with friends and indulge in a feast made for a king. It’s a party! If we could only approach liturgy with that same excitement. We are called to prepare our hearts and minds at the banquet table where we celebrate the love of God.
Guys, the liturgy is a feast; a celebration of God’s extravagant Love. We relish the fires of hot wings while the fire of the Holy Spirit lies smoldering in our hearts. This realization always causes me to point my finger in the mirror again and again. Perhaps many believers have not encountered the living Christ, but I have. Yet, I too am often resistant to His deepest call to love.
Mary Collins speaks of “God-seekers” who “risk more than the ordinary. They risk their sanity….The rest of us go to church”. It’s too frightening. We don’t want the responsibility to love like that. We want that left to those “holy” people we often read about. But….
What if we had an Emmaus encounter with Christ right in the midst of communion?
What if we actually saw Christ proclaiming God’s lavish, magnificent, and unending Love?
What if we turned to offer others the sign of peace and Christ took our hand?
What if in our “Amen” we meant it? “Amen” means, “Yep, I wholeheartedly agree!” It doesn’t mean “let me think about that and get back to you.”
What if in sheer gratitude for God’s self-giving Love, Christ in our midst, we became that very Love emptied and spilled out into the world? Catherine Vincie calls this “the prophetic function of a dangerous memory”.
Then, how dangerous would this be – what if we saw Jesus Himself as the primary sacrament of grace. Could we handle that? All forms of love, goodness, sacrifice, and resurrection are salvific. In this sense Jesus is the greatest sacrament of all. Why does that reality not trump football? Why does Jesus always have to be competing with a cheap imitation?
So, you think you’re not good enough. You’re certain you’re too flawed, too messed up, and have made too many mistakes to ever be considered useful for God.
You said you really wanted help with that character flaw that keeps showing up at the most inopportune time. Like, I don’t know, when you cut and pasted a not-so-well-done image of yourself hugging a leper and posted it on your Churches facebook page just before a committee was considering the recipient of their “Woman of the Year” Award! What’s wrong with you?!
But, in spite of all that baggage you carry, guess what? You are actually, no kidding, a saint in God’s eyes. Anyway, you might as well suck it up and live like that’s your truth. I suppose the big question is where do you even start believing that when the world tells you you’re as likely to be a saint as you are to birth an elephant?! How about starting here – get over yourself!
Have you ever read the life stories of some of the most beloved saints? I have. And I want to tell you, for a split second I think I have the tiniest, microchance of being one of those impossible, messy, screwed up humans that God will actually use. I know. Crazy huh?
Go ahead, google some of their stories. A few of my favorites are Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Esther (more about her later) and, now, the one I wish I was named after: Dorothy Day! She totally rocked the “lost and broken” definition of imperfection. Yet, as I write this, her case awaits the crowning achievement bestowed by the Catholic Church: Sainthood, where she would likely be defined as the Patron Saint of the-most-impossible-screwed-up-humans-on-earth.
But, don’t hold your breath and don’t look for her statue to adorn your in-home shrine. And don’t hold out hope of having her pray for that impossible brother of yours. And don’t think for a minute she would ever want any of it anyway!
Let’s have a glimpse of her life before she was presented all shiny and cleaned up to the “sainthood committee”. Here it is in a nut-shell by Patricia Lefevere:
Her cause for sainthood has been initiated even in the wake of a lifetime that included allegiance to the Communist party, affairs, an abortion, divorce, an out-of-wedlock birth, two suicide attempts and a youth colored by excessive drinking, chain-smoking and a lurid vocabulary, as well as estrangement from her father and older brothers.
If Dorothy Day is ever canonized, she will be the patron saint not only of homeless people and those who try to care for them, but also of people who lose their temper. Dorothy Day was certainly not without her rough edges.
And if that’s not enough, let me share some additional thoughts about everyone’s innate saintliness:
We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. Saints do not live in some other world. . . . They live in the same world we do, and they show us that spirituality is intensely down-to-earth. We learn to love through frustration, disappointment, and failure. We learn through the seemingly trivial incidents of our daily lives.
When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness—the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. . . .
It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion, and connection. . . .
Jim Forest encapsulates her virtues that we can all aspire to:
She helped us understand a merciful life has many levels: There is hunger not only for food, but also for faith; not only for a place at the table, but also for a real welcome; not only for assistance, but also for listening; not only for kind words, but also for truthful words. As she said, “We are here to celebrate Him through these works of mercy.
I have no doubt God calls us all to serve “for such a time as this” as my favorite hero, Esther, says. But, we can’t seem to buy into her words at the end of her heroic proclamation, “…and if I die, I die.” Oops.
Her words have always spoken so profoundly to me. Esther was incredibly brave. She was willing to die for love of her people, just like the apostles after Jesus and the Holy Spirit instilled a brave heart in them: a boldness that surprised everyone around them. (I have no doubt even their mother’s were shocked!) This was a boldness even they didn’t realize they had, when before, they ran and hid in fear! Dummies – everyone of them!
But, I ask you to keep in mind that none of them expected God to intervene to save them or change their situation. We see it in so much of Scripture: Daniel being tossed in the lion’s den, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in that whole blazing furnace incident (Daniel 3). (You can almost see them roasting marshmallows in there! Okay, maybe not). Anyway….
Today, we are called to that same bravery; to trust that He is right beside us, that our tears and heartache are His as well. He holds us and loves us through all of our trials. That will never change; That we can have certitude about.
Beyond that, we have to trust and cling to Him even when He seems silent in our suffering. I know, that totally sucks and usually isn’t what we signed up for. Most of what happens in life we will never understand this side of eternity. I have learned to be okay with that and it has given me a great deal of peace along with a smidgeon courage. Think mustard seed.
It can sorta feel like God’s performing root canal on your heart. It hurts – A LOT – at first. But it’s often necessary for our healing.
(Just an aside, I always took the cowards way and opted out of root canal! No thanks, Just pull it and I’ll be on my way. I now realize that if I do that anymore I will soon be eating baby food! Have you ever eaten baby food? Yeah – that’s my point.)
So, let’s remember:
When the world seems to be falling apart, we tend to look down rather than up to a God who never falters.
When we lose hope and we get swallowed up in the muck and mire of life, God reminds us of His steadfast promise to never leave us.
When we feel alone in our brokenness God holds our trembling hearts.
When the injustice of the world seems overwhelming, God calls us to boldness and courage to model a spirit of love that can infuse the hearts of those who are watching, especially our children who may follow our lead.
God needs you, all of you, even the broken parts, especially the broken parts, that are more a beacon of hope for others than the shiny parts we put on display. And you can relax. They’re not looking for a Savior. That job’s already taken.
And so…carry on warrior!
(Full disclosure: I stole that title from Brene’ Brown and highly recommend her book, titled the same!)
Last year, an unwelcome course correction arrived at my doorstep with the sudden passing of my husband. My life came to a screeching halt as I faced the stark reality of being thrust into the unknown and the numbing emptiness that followed.
I unwillingly became a part of a club with no guidelines, rules, or secret handshake. I was signed up without permission, and I can’t “cancel at any time”.
The blessings that came from a forty-seven-year marriage were overshadowed for most of this past year by regrets over things said or done, the if only’s, and lost opportunities. I thought that dark cloud would not dissipate. It totally sucked.
I needed someone to complain to. Ahhhhh, God. I could complain to God. I’m so good at that. But the last time I tried, it went something like this:
Me dialing the number I found on the Internet…
The message in response:
Dial 1 to leave a message of gratitude.
Dial 2 to leave a complaint. You will be prompted to whine, grovel and beg. (FYI, this box is not monitored.)
How in the world did I fool myself into believing that my life would just keep plugging along with only a few potholes here and bumps in the road there until I drifted unceremoniously into eternity? I was lulled into believing that the way my life was would not change drastically or without some kind of damn warning.
Wrinkles and gray hair warn you. They don’t just show up one fine morning. They tiptoe in without much fanfare giving you plenty of time to disguise them before your next high school reunion. The aches and pains of aging sneak around your joints like a ninja, which mercifully eases you into the acceptance that your running days are over.
For as long as I can remember, each day of my life seemed to blend into the next. Birthdays piling one on top of another were no more thought-provoking than a trash can filling up. Any thought of purpose or meaning was often left unaddressed – till tomorrow, next week, or….
I think life’s subtle changes are meant as a wake-up call. But they’re too subtle for me. They need to scream loudly into my failure to act before it’s too late…but…oh yeah…pride helped me ignore the fact that I probably needed a hearing aid. Until now – until this.
Then, just as suddenly as I was knee-jerked into widowhood, the dark cloud lifted to reveal God’s promise to turn my mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11).
Being thrust into the pain of loss must become the catalyst for change, for the hope that there is more to this life. Or why do we even bother? Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light”. Jesus came along and spent his life showing us how to live abundantly in that light, often despite the darkness.
Then one morning, God spoke into my broken heart, “This is your new reality, Linda. You’re still here. You are surrounded by my love, the love of an amazing family, and supportive, loving friends. Now get up, dust yourself off, and do what you were created to do. Because if you haven’t learned anything else this past year, you surely have realized that this one precious life you have is short. Quit wasting it! Roll up your pity party mat and GO!”
I will leave you with two of the most powerful quotes that have helped me move beyond my sorrow:
Gian Carlo Menotti wants us to let this sink in, “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.”
John Shelby Spong tells us, “It is to live not frightened by death, but rather called by the reality of death to go into our humanity so deeply and so passionately that even death is transcended.”
You know the question – we all do. It’s the answer that we fear; that stymies us; that we keep denying.
Jesus’ disciples were challenged by ”the” question, up close and personal, but skipped merrily through their lives believing they belonged to an exclusive “Jesus Club”. They would post selfies with Jesus and then boast to their friends on Facebook.
They couldn’t wait for their ten year high school reunion so they could counter the negative comments in their senior year book, “most likely to end up in jail” or “most likely to become a TV repairman living in their mother’s basement.” I think that was about James or John because their mother boldly approached Jesus to ask him to get them both out of her hair! (Mark 10:35-45)
I imagine Jesus had to pose that all important question to them constantly just to pull them back to reality, “Come on, guys. AGAIN…”Who Am I?”
It wasn’t just the disciples, everyone of us through the centuries has been challenged by that question which cannot be answered by words, but rather, by the very act of our day-to-day living. And in our arrogance we rarely get it right.
Recall that Jesus’ own brothers (yes, he had some, and sisters too, get over it) often mocked and ridiculed him in front of others, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:2-9)
A bit of sibling rivalry? Sure. Not surprising as he was the only one who never disobeyed or sinned. His brothers had to be jealous of that and how his admiring followers flocked to him wherever he went.
John Dominic Crossan gives us some interesting insight into the thinking of the day:
“…if you asked anyone in the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus, “Who’s the Son of God, the Lord, the redeemer, the savior of the world?” everyone would’ve known immediately who you were talking about, and it sure wouldn’t have been Jesus.—it would have been Caesar Augustus.”
That’s right and Caesar loved it. It seemed like a game to him. He was a master of propaganda and deceit and knew how to manipulate everyone from the powerful to the lowliest pheasant. Because he was so skilled at the deception, even though he was actually a dictator, everyone loved him. Go figure.
Perhaps this understanding of everyone’s belief that Caesar Augustus was the Son of God made him a hard act for Jesus to follow. Who knows?
But we know the feeling of being “less than”. Right? Stay with me here.
The title of my blog, “Passion, Purpose, and Poopyheads” defines the struggles I have had since I first accepted that I was actually gifted with passion and purpose –as we all are. The problem has always been the “poopyheads” that keep setting up roadblocks for me to stumble over. And isn’t that what we all deal with when we pose the “who do you say I am” question back to God: That incessant question.
We yearn for the answer. It’s our deepest spiritual longing. “Who am I to you, Lord?” But, his answer is always drown out by the voices of those who, for years, have run roughshod over our hearts and muddied the pure waters of God’s immovable, unchangeable, immense love for us. He calls each one of us his beloved, but we don’t believe it. Instead, we believe the lies of those who are just as broken as we are.
Picture this (and don’t pretend you have never thought this): You go to a new doctor and are ushered into his nurse’s station as she takes all your vital signs then shoves you up on a scale. All the while you can’t help but notice that she is obviously struggling with her own health issues. Then, you sit for an eternity waiting for the doctor who finally walks into the room reeking of cigarette smoke and finishing up the last bite of a McDonalds Big Mac – his lunch (gag me!). Will you trust anything he advises to keep you healthy when he clearly doesn’t follow that advice himself? Do you stay or run like hell? You decide for yourself, but I’m already in my car.
Now, let’s put that scenario into the context of this discussion of just who it is that Jesus says we are. Even though he tells us the same thing over and over and over, we choose to give full authority to the thoughts of others who are – well – screwed up. Mostly. Like us.
God, the magnificent Creator of all things has set before each of us hiscommitments – not commandments – an important distinction here.
He has committed to never leave us no matter what twists or turns we take on the journey. He has given us everything we need for a life not laid out before us like a scavenger hunt, though we seem to prefer that. Then, we get tripped up every time we encounter any obstacles.
We just sleepwalk through this one precious life we have been given without much thought to what we’re supposed to be doing here.
But, alas, it’s January 1, 2022. A new year.
I’m going to speak for myself now. You’re welcome to tag along….
Let’s call it:
An ode to new beginnings that tell us endings are never final if you’re still breathing.
Last year was, hands down, one of my worst years ever, with Covid relegated to last place on my list of crappy moments. After the loss of my husband, I had to face the truth of a heart condition that I chose to ignore for years. Until it reared up and took a huge bite out of my…denial.
Both these profound life events were instrumental in creating my new reality: At my age, I am starting over in an uncertain and unfamiliar place.
For the entire seventy-three years of my life I have never known what it’s like to be the creator of my own destiny. Others would always butt in with unsolicited advice and make huge messes in my life like the bratty kid who knocks down all your Legos so you have to start over! Likewise, I now have no one else to blame if I fail to follow that destiny.
How often have I thought God abandoned me because a path I took seemed like a dead-end? Only to discover it offered a critical lesson that I needed to learn before I could move on. If I could just become more self-aware and present to the steps I have taken, and will continue to take, it will be clear how they fit into my life’s purpose. I’m working on that.
How many times during the Christmas season have I hear the words, “Emmanuel – God with us” and not understood that that does not mean God has taken the wheel? He is still with us; still loving on us – but from the passenger seat.
I remember when my kids were learning to drive. That imaginary brake on my side of the car never worked! And throwing my hands up on the dashboard didn’t alter the trajectory or the speed of the car. God doesn’t work like that. He will not grab the wheel to redirect us if we mess up, and he will not bail on us no matter how out-of-control we become. He waits for our return to him – sadly, expectantly, – but patiently, like the father of the prodigal son. The choice is ours alone.
I have no idea what’s around the next corner for me and, frankly, I don’t need to know. I only know this: God is always with me. He is by my side. He is my biggest cheerleader. He forgives my stupidity and delights in giving me second chances. Yeah me!
At the end of the day, hopefully, he will welcome me home into his very heart where I will hear those immortal words, “Pretty well done, Linda. Not bad, for a messy human.”
For the year of 2005, my husband and I had the incredible opportunity to live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and work for Habitat for Humanity. During that year we learned about a sectarian conflict there known as The Troubles.
After thirty years of hatred and violence some were able to forgive and learned to love neighbors once considered the enemy. But, there was also ongoing refusal of others to let go of their hatred. Annual Orange Day parades continued to fuel division year after year since the Peace Accords of 1998. Many parents passed that hatred on to their children. Today, the divisiveness and conflict may be played out differently, but it is still a reality, often manifested in rival gangs.
Ten years later, we were in Rhonda and learned about the horrendous massacre of thousands of men, women, and children, slaughtered by their own neighbors. Most of the perpetrators of those atrocities were never brought to justice. They scattered into the mountains or other countries and regrouped. They’re still out there causing mayhem and promoting hatred.
Now, here we are, reliving hatred and strife in America that is pitting us against each other. Extremists groups fueled by years of hatred going back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow are more and more embolden today to act out that hatred. Encouraged by a wink and a nod from the President. Some White Evangelical churches advocating their claim of being “Christian” – cling to power presumed given them by God.
What is going on? Did Jesus lose his way? Or have we reinvented him and relegated him to a dashboard Buddy Jesus bobblehead?
Let’s listen in on a few guys trying to figure it all out for themselves – perhaps you can relate:
One night a few friends gathered in a neighborhood bar. Their conversation quickly turned to questions about how to overcome fear and frustration over the current crisis playing out over their backyard fences, at family dinners, and in the news. The violence and anger coming from all sides made it hard for them to reconcile with their beliefs. They were a varied group: two Catholic brothers – one “devoted” (as in a follower of all the “rules”) and the other lukewarm (as in “rules suck”), a Presbyterian, and a Baptist. After several beers, they found it challenging to reach any consensus on what part they played as Christians. They were even struggling to agree on what a “Christian” was.
Before departing, they jokingly decided to invite Jesus to their whine fest the following week so they could drill him to see if he could help them come to some agreement on the most basic fundamentals of their Christian faith. They weren’t looking for clarity on what was true, noble, and right as much as fodder for their arguments. Something they could use to counter those they disagreed with. But none of them would admit to that. There were stark differences they could not overcome. They each held on to who was right and who was totally on the path to hell. At an impasse, they would let Jesus decide.
So, on the allotted day, they all showed up for a second installment of “My god can beat up your god”. And who shows up? – Jesus (through the front door, not the wall). “Hey, guys, what’s up?” Still in shock that he actually came, they offered him a chair and a beer…or…uh…wine. He took a seat and declined the alcohol, “I’m driving, but you go ahead.”
Then, right out of the gate, one guy at the table explained what had happened the prior week and why they invited him (as if he didn’t know…DUH!). Anyway, the conversation begins but immediately deteriorates into the same dispute as before. Each of them chimes in with their “beliefs”. Then someone has the foresight to ask the “Expert” sitting right in their midst, “Jesus, how would you resolve this?”
Jesus sits quietly for a moment, and then the men observe his eyes welling up with tears. They are shocked and don’t know how to react. Why isn’t he angry and pounding his fist like we do? Why isn’t he pointing out people to blame? There are plenty of them: the media, politicians, white supremacists, and other so-called Christians.
Jesus’ weeping felt akin to when their wives would cry about something they could not get their heads around – like the broccoli soufflé that fell right before Christmas dinner with the in-laws. And, buddy, you learned quickly that your response better not be some lame man-up comment because you just want that awkward moment to be over! How’d that work for you? Exactly.
This Jesus moment was like that. Sure, he was known to throw a few tables around when he got mad, but we only see that once in all of scripture. why don’t we just put that angry, show em’ who’s boss, can’t-control-his-temper-just-like-me Jesus to rest? Sorry.
So the world is falling apart, and Jesus weeps. That’s it? That’s all he can offer us? What are we supposed to do with that? Well, let’s see:
Joan Chittister says of weeping,“Indeed, few of us see our weeping as a spiritual gift or a matter of divine design. But we are wrong. Weeping is a very holy and life-giving thing. It sounds alarms for a society and wizens the soul of the individual. If we do not weep on the personal level, we shall never understand humanity around us. If we do not weep on the public level, we are less than human ourselves.”
The Rabbi Hanoch of Alexander offers, “There are…some things that ought not to be endured. There are some things worth weeping about lest we lose our sense of self. We must always cope with evil, of course, but we must never adjust to it. We must stay eternally restless for justice, for joy. Restless enough to cry out in pain when the world loses them.”
Chittister concludes, “If we do not allow ourselves to face and feel pain…our lies about life shrink our hearts and limit our vision. It is not healthy, for instance, to say that massive poverty is sad but “normal.” It is not right to say that sexism is unfortunate but “necessary.” It is not human to say that war is miserable but “inevitable”. To weep tears of frustration about them may be to take our first real steps toward honesty, toward mental health, toward a life that is worth living.”
We know Jesus did not just sit around weeping all day long. As with Jesus, so with us; God took that pain, that compassion he felt in the deepest part of his being, and turned it into action. “Now go,” God would tell him, “do something for those you weep for”.
He longs to tell us the same thing if we can get over ourselves. If we can see clearly the suffering all around us that breaks God’s heart, the next hurdle is being accountable. It’s way too easy to shirk our responsibility. To just bring Christ into this battle for the soul of America with whatever excuse happens to work at the moment.
Lately, we seem so overwhelmed by the reality of the pain and suffering in our midst that we have either become numb to it or shake our fists in anger. We don’t feel like we have the power to address the massive needs of others, even if we want to. And truth be told, we don’t. So we shrug our shoulders, retreat into our little bubbles, and utter some feeble justification for not “getting involved”.
But we’re definitely not weepers – that’s a weakness we are not willing to put out there. If suffering humanity is lucky, Jesus just blew that myth to shreds for you! Fine. He doesn’t blow things up. But, you get it. Right?
And don’t worry, I’m not going to spew some moral edict to try to guilt anyone out of being a self-serving, self-absorbed jerk. This isn’t about taking on a rule-following, righteous, high and mighty stance. That would amount to the lowest common denominator required for entry into “heaven” at some later date. Is that what you want out of life?
So, let’s reconsider the gift of weeping that Jesus modeled, now seemingly lost as a Christian response to hatred and suffering. Not only should we weep for the state of our nation and the wrongs done to others, but we also need to realize that Jesus isn’t your personal fixer of all things that suck. That is not his job.
I think Rami Shapiro in his powerful book, “Holy Rascals”, gives us the most powerful definition of people of true faith that I have ever read:
“Holy Rascals have only one aim: to pull the curtain back on parochial religion in order to liberate people from the Great and Terrible Wizards who use religion to frighten them in to submission and to manipulate them into doing evil under the banner of good.
We are not anti-religion: we are anti-unhealthy religion: religion that promotes a world of “us against them” and sanctions the exploitation, oppression, and even murder of “them” in this world and the torture of “them” in the next.
We are not anti-belief; we are anti-irrational belief: belief that substitutes ancient fiction for modern science.
We are not anti-God; we are anti-mad Gods: Gods who sanction the lust for power that rules those who invented them.”
What saddens me more than anything today is the fact that there is such contention and visceral hatred among those who profess to be “Christians”. But, the louder they are the less like Jesus they are which is clearly an oxymoron: “Christians” who hate, “Christians” who seek power and prestige, “Christians” who have no empathy or compassion for others. Jesus was the Suffering Servant not the King of the elitists. “This is my commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s it.
We are so far removed from the Jesus known to his disciples. When the Church turned him into “Jesus Christ Superstar”he got lost in the power struggle for whose faith was the true faith. I would say many Christians probably have no idea that it was the Church struggling for power that created the Jesus so many “worship” today. And there’s the rub I think. Jesus never told us to worship him. He said, “Follow me”. When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross kid and follow me.” What do you think he meant? Pick up your bucket and shovel we’re headed to the beach?
Jesus lived and moved and had his being on the fringes of society. He was a revolutionary; a rebel, an outsider among the powerful leaders of his time. Why? Because he loved without regard for position or status or how it looked to others. He loved “the least of these” with abandon. He touched and healed and served the broken – the outcast. And they responded in love; a love that blurred distinctions between us and them, rich and poor, powerful and weak, saint and sinner. Does that sound anything like what is preached on street corners and in some churches today? Or the hatred spewed by “White Supremacists”? They have tried to remake Jesus into someone who would be unrecognizable to his followers and they have been given a thumbs-up by a president who, at the same time, secretly makes fun of them. It is frightening to watch.
Trillia Newbell, an author and Christian commentator, says: “I want to hear that we’re mourning and weeping, that we are active in our community, that we are going to work to love our neighbor as ourselves, that racism and any kind of hate is evil.”
I want to share one final, uncomfortable, not proud of this, Linda-you-suck-at-caring-but-it-will-get-easier story about two women I met in Belfast in 2005. Both taught me about what compassion looks like up close and personal.
Not long after we got there, I was walking to the post office before work. I was in a hurry. Several blocks ahead of me, I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk. I watched people walk right past her without giving her a thought. Here’s the awful truth, I did the same thing. I needed to get to work; I wasn’t from there and wouldn’t know what to do, and…and…and. I didn’t get far when I heard that still small (annoying) voice — “Go back”. Just two words that felt like a gut punch. So, I turned around. Fearful now that she might be dead, and then how would I feel? “Okay, Lord, this was your big idea. Please tell me what to do.”
I set my things down and sat next to her. It was clear she was drunk. I had to nudge her several times before she responded. She looked irritated at me but sat up. I tried to find out her name and where she lived, but all she said was, “Leave me alone. I’m not worth it.” To this day, I can hear her say those words that pierced my heart. I held her dirty, make-up-streaked face and told her she was worth it because she was a child of God. She said again, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m not worth it!” I told her, “I am looking at you and what I see is someone God loves deeply!” Through tears, I tried to get her up, put her in a cab, and take her to get something to eat. Just then, a mission van pulled up. A guy got out and addressed her by name. He gently helped her up and walked her to the van. I never saw her again.
My second experience wasn’t quite so involved but was equally as dramatic. Again, I was walking down the street and saw a woman with a little boy about five or six walking toward me. He said something that angered her, and she slapped him, which shocked me. Again, I summoned that voice within, a bit more willing to cooperate. “Okay, Lord, what do I do here?” When I got to her, I simply asked if she wanted to talk. She walked around me and kept going. The little boy turned around and stuck his tongue out at me. Alrighty then. Yeah me!
Encountering those two women for just one moment in time literally changed the trajectory of my life! Seeing the humanity of others should teach us compassion. By allowing ourselves to see Jesus in everyone we encounter, we will grow in love for those we usually disregard or, worse, reject outright. Seeing beyond the degenerate, the depraved, the lost, and the broken takes courage, humility, and trust in a God who shows us the beauty in others — and BONUS — in ourselves.
So, there you have it, you macho guys guzzling beer and feeling a bit queasy watching Jesus weep for those who suffer. How do you respond to that? You first need to offer a resounding “YES” to whatever Jesus has in mind for you. That’s it. Easy enough. Right?
Then fasten your seatbelt, brother; this is when the rubber meets the road because God has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), and this probably won’t be an “I’ll get back to you next week” moment either. There’s much to do, and you’re running out of time because you sat on your duff in that bar so long trying to get out of it. Just pray and stay open to your calling. You’ll know it. Then, brave heart, this is your moment! GO!
Wait…maybe lose the war paint. You don’t want to scare the crap out of people. They have enough to deal with.
It may seem crazy to imagine Satan having any defining joy in his life. Seriously! Does he countdown days to special holidays? Review photos of favorite vacations with the family? Post pics of him and his buds at a hockey game? Laugh hysterically at anything remotely comical?!
Well…there is one thing – and only one thing – that does get him all giddy in the midst of his miserableness, and we stupid humans seem to love indulging him. It happens when we judge others and refuse to forgive. That is what Satan thrives on and we seem so eager to comply, even those of us who profess to be Christians. I would go so far as to say “especially” Christians, get sucked into that ego driven sense of superiority over others. Being honest, I have to confess that I am just as guilty, though I’d like to believe I’m better than I used to be. I suppose it depends on who you ask.
Nearly twenty years ago, I thought the “revelation” that came to me about forgiveness when I was in Kentucky (which I write about in my book) was my most profound life changing moment ever! Until it wasn’t. Even though I came away from that experience proclaiming the magical, mystical healing power of God!
Oh, for sure, I played the game. The “I’m fine. Great actually. No, really! I’m totally healed of all my past shit” game! The game God reveals when, for a split second, I get out of His way. That moment when I let my guard down and leave just a crack in the door of my hardened heart and He shoves His foot in before I can slam it shut again. I hate when that happens!
Recently, I was confronted again by the call of God to forgive. The two people that caused me the most suffering and hurt – my mother, and the relative I have never named publicly, have both passed away. The funeral services were unremarkable and sparsely attended. The realization of that struck me profoundly! Two people that caused me so much hurt, I believe now, suffered more than I did. I never considered that possibility.
I was given the gift of grace when I was able to see the brokenness of their lives and truly feel empathy for them. Yes, they both made messes in my life, but I have also experienced healing and as a result, have, for the most part, lived a rich and fulfilled life.
I have been blessed with a loving family and friends and have so much to be thankful for, most importantly, a God who never gives up on me, never keeps count of my sinfulness, and loves me unconditionally often in spite of my foolishness and forgetfulness of His mercy and love. The profound truth of God’s love gets so lost when we prefer to live on the periphery where it is safer and Satan tries his best to keep us there.
A life of faith has always been about transformation; our dying to self and being renewed. It takes place when we step outside our theology of reward and punishment; when we decide we are bone-tired of suffering and causing the suffering of others. It happens when we step into the terror as well as awesomeness of being human. In that place, God does His best work and can awaken the creation of something new within us. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Father Richard Rohr tells us:
For many of us, suffering is a cycle. We go back and forth, holding on and letting go, healing, hurting anew, and healing again. Suffering, of course, can lead us in either of two directions: (1) it can make us very bitter and cause us to shut down, or (2) it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open, because our hearts have been softened.
We’re not perfect. The project of learning how to love—which is our only life project—is quite simply learning to accept this….If you really love anybody then you have learned to accept a person despite, and sometimes even because of, their faults.
Also consider these thoughts of Desmond Tutu on what he calls, “Essential Humility”:
We are able to forgive because we are able to recognize our shared humanity. We are able to recognize that we are all fragile, vulnerable, flawed human beings capable of thoughtlessness and cruelty. We also recognize that no one is born evil and that we are all more than the worst thing we have done in our lives. A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more.
Well, I’m still here in case you were wondering – or even if you couldn’t care less (in which case I don’t suppose you’d be reading this). Regardless, here we go…
For over a year now, I have gone kicking and screaming into a new and uncertain reality. In the process, I have slowly, often unwillingly, been discovering who I am in the midst of loss and pain and sorrow. The world I thought would never change – changed – without any warning.
As I sat in the midst of packing up my former self, one box, one picture, one memory at a time, I suddenly realized the uncertainty I have been trying to suppress with superficial words and inadequate certitudes, “I’m fine. Really!”
Many “experts” encourage us to act “as if” _________(fill in the blank) until it becomes our truth. So, I did – or at least I tried. But, in pretending I was already there I believe I was also denying the necessary process of change. So, does acting “as if” my life is often a total shitstorm count? Because it is – no acting required.
Jen Hatmaker beautifully describes the inevitable change of seasons in life:
“It can be difficult to envision a new start but impossible to deny one. This is your work. No one can do it for you. Something doesn’t have to be bad to be over. That season has possibly given you everything it has to offer; it shaped and developed you, it stretched and inspired you. We are not entirely rebranded with each new season; we simply build the next layer. Throughout transitions, we embody permanent virtues and become deeply shaped, and as a testament to our design, we are capable of preserving the best of each season while rejecting the worst. The human heart is shockingly resilient. We need to get better at permission and grace.”
As the pictures have been packed up leaving bare walls, it has become all too clear to me that I have been stuck in the past. God tells us to stay out of there and move on, trusting him every step of the way. The past certainly formed my identity to this point and I am truly grateful for all of its lessons, but, thanks-be-to-God, that’s not the end of my story or my journey. Hatmaker says: “You can care about new things and new beginnings and new people. Carry on sister!”
God wants me, wants all of us, to boldly step into each new day believing each life experience, good or bad, will influence how we impact our world. Our loving God has created our most outlandishly gifted, magnificently designed selves for that very purpose.
It’s time to grab onto that desire of my heart that has been sitting too long and aching to be acknowledged; that one passion refusing to fade away no matter how much I have tried to ignore it.
For three years, Jesus walked with and taught his disciples. He dared to love those cast aside by society. He healed the sick, turned unbelieving hearts toward God, and challenged those who believed they held the ultimate power.
The problem was that his disciples wanted to follow him on their own terms. Time and again, they failed. Why? Their desire to change was ever frustrated by their inability to know God as Jesus knew him. Their frame of reference for God’s love was within the realm of deserving and undeserving. It was something they could control by their actions.
In Jesus’ Passion and death, they witnessed his total self-giving to his Father. God revealed by the resurrection his radically gratuitous love for his Son, the disciples, and. Though that love is given freely, it calls for a response from us. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why we, like the Israelites, settle at the foot of the mountain in a comfortable, risk-free faith. “Nuh-uh, I ain’t goin’ up there!”
Before Jesus’ crucifixion all of his wishy-washy disciples ran away in fear of meeting the same fate. (Just a little reminder here: the women stayed! You know that, right? Power to the women!) Anyway, the manly men finally came out of hiding and ran head-long into Jesus transfigured. There was now no denying that what they witnessed they were compelled to share with a lost and hurting world.
For the disciples, transformation came through their realization that this Jesus, standing before them, the same human person they knew before, now reveals his divinity. Through his resurrection, they are also made a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit. That reality released within them an unshakable love beyond their human capacity.
Can we possibly grasp the implications of that love in our own lives? We zealously take care of “number one” in a world laden with mistrust and fear. How does that correlate with the fact that we were made in the image of God? It doesn’t.
As Christians, we too were created anew by the resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit. That is Good News! And we have a mandate to take that Good News into the world. If fear holds us back, it is grounded in the denial of who we really are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and ties the hands of the Spirit. God’s sacrificial love is meant for all, and I am to be an instrument of that love, or my faith response is inadequate.
Confession time. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an “instrument” of God’s love on my own terms, just like the disciples, and I blew it – big time – just like they did! BUT I’m still breathing, so I still have time for a course correction. Sooooo, let me get all my “stuff” out there now and pray for that clean slate God is so good at freely offering us. You might want to fasten your seatbelt!
You see, I always felt the need for certitude about something, anything, in my, messed up, confused, and broken life, but I wasn’t sure about trusting that to God. I mean, up to that point, he didn’t seem to pay any mind to me or my trials. I was convinced I was screaming into an echo chamber when I complained about the raw deal life handed me. It sucked for real! So, I went about creating a new and different me, and it seemed to work just fine – on the outside – for a while.
After my husband and I were married, I became a card-carrying member of the Catholic Church. Then with a cross around my neck and a big fish on the bumper of my car, I sat and waited for the angels to break out in song. It never happened. I never got so much as a thumbs up or “atta girl”.
For several years after my official dunking, I still lived in a state of doubt, constantly questioning the very essence of my faith. I read the Bible from front to back even though my eyes glazed over, trying to wrestle with the Old Testament. Still, I came away from that experience believing I now knew everything about everything God, Jesus, Spirit, and leprechauns (Okay, not leprechauns, I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention), but God, Jesus, and Spirit, yes!
I was also good at making you look bad to make me look better. Listen, I could easily admonish you for all your faults and failures without skipping a beat. I could even quote scripture verses to shore up my convictions. “Oh yeah, you think you’re a shoe-in for heaven? Well, I’ve got news for you – you’re screwed. Matthew says so, ‘For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few – very few – almost no one!’” (Matt. 7:13–14). I hate to tell you (NOT!) but this is not your lucky day and tomorrow ain’t lookin’ too good either if you don’t change your ways! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re welcome.”
Jesus side-eyed me for my attitude more times than I care to admit!
Then, one fine day in 2006, I was accepted into a graduate program at Aquinas Institute of Theology! Yeah, surprised the hell out of me too! Now I thought I would have even more ammunition in my arsenal to judge and condemn you while promoting myself. Sweet! I have shared my experiences at Aquinas in previous posts. So, let me just say that, like Paul, I was knocked off my high horse and taken to task because of an arrogant assessment of myself. It was not pretty.
Now, since I am very stubborn and hard-headed (duh) my transformation was very, very slow. Truth be told, I muddled along for several years after graduation trying to sustain my convictions. After all, who would I be if not this person I created to shore up my sense of self, albeit a very fragile and false self?
So I trudged along searching – for what? I didn’t know. Longing for something out there that could give my life meaning, I tried desperately to fill the void. I left the Catholic Church in frustration and wandered into other Christian churches. Some sent me running out the door with my hair on fire! Why was I struggling so hard to find a faith with the correct beliefs that spoke to me? For a moment, I considered communing alone with nature! Then I had a vision of St. John the Baptist running naked in the woods, eating bugs and swatting mosquitoes! No thanks.
And then – my glorious and long overdue AHA moment arrived at my doorstep unannounced. In my search for a belief system that I could buy into, I suddenly realized what I was actually longing for. At that moment, experience and dogma clashed head-on, and I understood that I wasn’t searching for correct beliefs. That has never been what drew me to God. The experiences along the way showed me God’s love beyond anything I had ever known. It just took this long to accept that God could actually love me like that. Experiencing God in relationship, not knowledge of God, wells up within the very depth of our hearts – where he resides. I was finally home within my very being – where my deepest longing and hunger reside.
I could beat myself up for all the years I wasted wanting faith on my own terms, but God has spoken tenderly into my brokenness and heartache. That voice was not a voice of condemnation that I was taught to believe was God’s. It’s not helpful that we are reminded every Lenten season that he had his beloved Son killed because of our wretchedness. NO! That never worked for me. I believe Jesus was killed by a power structure that feared him. He lived a life that he had to know would get him killed, but he did it anyway out of a self-giving love at the core of his being.
I now trust that the God I long to surrender to also longs for me. The God who knew his Son would suffer terribly and die showed us his unwavering love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness in the person of Jesus.
John 15:12-13 tells us: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Seeing Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the context of John’s gospel of love have cast a new and beautiful light on what I now see when he says, “I am the way”. His life and love show me that if I follow in his way, I will be living my purpose: to love unconditionally, serve where I am called, and offer freely the same forgiveness and mercy God has shown me.
The Easter question for me, for us, as for the disciples, becomes, “What do you believe about me?” What I say I believe must manifest itself in the way I live my life or it is a lie.
And so it begins. Another Lent when we give up peas (my husband’s favorite sacrifice) but not our belief that we are such wretched souls that a vindictive God demanded the death of his son to fix it.
A sort of bait-and-switch tactic, which is kinda genius if it weren’t for the fact that God deals with stupid humans. I mean, it’s not like all of humankind did an immediate about-face and never sinned again. If God really devised this plan to correct the stupidity of Adam and Eve, it didn’t work. We have continued to sin and fall short of the glory of God. So, what would have been the point?
Even so, this belief is easy for us to buy into because it makes no demands on us. It’s a bit like believing “fortified” Froot Loops are healthy! No kids – they’re NOT! So spit it out and go get yourself some common sense! GEEEEZZZZZ.
I hate to admit that I lived comfortably in that safe place for many years. Eventually, it grew impossible for me to accept such an untruth in light of the God I grew to know intimately. How can anyone “know” God, you ask? – By experiencing his essence in the beauty of nature, the love of family, the compassion of friends, and the thoughtfulness and generosity of strangers.
Jesus’ Passion should declare the unbridled love of God for us. The cross should upend any denial that he loves us deeply and obsessively. But, as Hebrews 10:31 tells us, “It’s just way too scary to fall into the hands of the living God” (loose translation). That is not a god we want to snuggle up to. We prefer a god like that unpredictable, crazy uncle we keep at a distance. Genesis 3:8 insists that Adam and Eve ran and hid from that God!
Every single blessed year, Lent calls us to look at the cross differently. It’s a perpetual life lesson that keeps showing up forty days a year, year-end and year out until we “get it”! If we get it at all.
Will we ever wake up to the beauty of the cross? I believe that can only be possible through the eyes of faith – illuminated by the grace of a tender, loving God.
For that to happen, though, we must be willing to fix an unwavering gaze at the cross and realize the true meaning of Jesus’ Passion. We must embrace with faith – even if it’s a bit shaky – the reality that the crucifixion on Friday and the empty tomb on Saturday were necessary for the revelation of the profound mystery that is God manifest through Jesus on Easter Sunday.
We’re not talking about regrettable tattoos, people. Although, if you trusted a tattoo guy who never got past the third grade– well – you’re a bonehead! Let’s move on.
We’re talking about serious, life-altering, fast-track to hell choices. If you can look me straight in the eye and deny you have ever made any decisions that tipped your halo sideways I will be the first to recommend you for canonization to sainthood. Oh, not Catholic? Then, sorry, you’ll just have to settle for hopes of an honorable mention (which comes with no monetary rewards).
Now, know that I am not talking about the likes of the Catholic baby, later confirmed, Hitler turned adult monster. There can’t be any doubt in most people’s minds that he did not pass GO and did not collect $200 on his way to hell. Right? Or at the very least still resides in Purgatory because his momma was the only one who may have wanted to pray him out of there but she died long before him. Never mind him. If you think for one minute that Purgatory will be your saving grace. Well, that’s a major attitude fail on your part and God will side-eye you every time you knowingly sin and make no corrections.
It seems the idea of Purgatory came to life in the late 1100’s. Thomas Aquinas and the Church quickly latched onto the concept. Aquinas likely had a personal stake in it because he was a no good, very bad boy in his early days and the Church quickly realized it was a money-maker for them. Pay to play. Cha Ching. In my humble opinion though, Purgatory makes no sense. Let me tell you why I believe that. And, again, I don’t know. No one does.
Anyway, several years ago, I went through a year-long training to work with hospice patients. The most profound learning for me came from reading books written by nurses and doctors who worked for years with hospice patients. First off, they believed, as I do, that anyone who sits with someone taking their last breaths should remove their sandals because they are standing on holy ground.
During the time I sat with dying patients I only witnessed two deaths. Both experiences were intense for me and I came away with a much different belief about the idea of “cleansing” than what the Catholic Church teaches. I watched the process evolve to the final stage when they were given morphine. At that point they seemed incapable of any type of movement or communication, let alone a deathbed confession.
BTW, deathbed confessions raise all sorts of anger among the snobby self-righteous. Being certain that sinner is destined for hell secretly makes the rest of us happy knowing they didn’t get to live their whole life being a total ass and then received an eleventh – hour Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. NOT FAIR!
Anyway, though I had not known anything about those two people prior to their deaths it was clear that something was happening within them that I was not privy to. There was restlessness not a sense of peace – not until the end. In both of those situations, I had an opportunity to meet briefly with a family member before I left and in each case they shared the struggles their loved one had during their life.
Do these encounters prove anything? No. But, I came to believe, as I still do, that if cleansing is an actual thing, it probably happens in those moments just before we die. Who knows? As for me, I decided long ago to hedge my bets and make course corrections in the moment I know I did or said something mean or unkind to someone. And if you’re still hanging out there waiting for an apology from 1985, pm me and we’ll meet for lunch while I beg forgiveness.
When God says, “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it” he means it. But that doesn’t mean he won’t roll his eyes or admonish us when we screw up. It means we can go to him trusting that he will forgive and forget our stupidity. Those we have hurt may not be so gracious, but that doesn’t change anything. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want my indiscretions to cause God to do a head smack and question the wisdom of creating a doofus like me and then take some big ole God sized eraser to my sorry self. Even if for a split second he thought about it. I mean, do I dare bring up the antics of Moses to take the pressure off myself? Sure. Why not?
I think Moses got a raw deal. If it was me, I would have bid those cranky Israelites adieu early on, “I’m done here. You guys are on your own. Good luck!” Remember Moses tried to worm his way out of God’s calling to lead them (Exodus 3:1-12:42). Maybe he later agreed because of a bigger than life ego. “When I get these guys to the Promised Land they will surely erect a statue of me and bow to me profusely! It will be epic!”
But, toward the end of those forty long years he totally lost it. It wasn’t what he expected and what with all the whining and complaining about everything and blaming it all on him. “No food – your fault! No water – you’re fault!” Their anger slammed up against his vision of them worshipping at his shrine. So, what does he do? What any self-righteous, self-serving guy would do. He begged God to “DO SOMETHING! I can’t deal with them anymore!” So, God sent him back to wave a stick around in front of a rock and then he (God – not Moses – a small detail Moses left out) would make water pour out from it.
Anywho, Moses thought that was a terrible idea. So, he devised a better plan when he remembered seeing this witch doctor work some magic on a Netflix special back in Egypt. Back when they had Internet and modern conveniences and stuff!
Everyone thought he was to blame for all their problems. Fine. He would show them how powerful and mighty he was. The poor guy probably still had abandonment issues from that whole baby-in-the-basket-in-the-river incident, so this seemed like a great plan to bolster his sense of self. Surely they would bow down and worship him then.
So, instead of waving the stick around in the air, he beat the crap out of the rock with it and voila water poured out! The people went crazy! Yeah, it was all fun and games until God stepped in.
Personally, I think Moses possessed some HUGE nerve in his life. In a temporary lapse of judgment he did some awful things, like, I don’t know, defying God and then getting all up in his business. And, lest we forget, in the end, his antics kept him from joining the Israelites in the Promised Land. That ship was sailing without him. (BTW, I don’t recommend you use this material in a Sunday School class. It’s all made up. You’ve been warned.)
So, now, put on your big boy/big girl pants folks and gird your loins cause it’s up to you how the rest of your life will play out and your journey will end. I have had regrets in my life and will probably have more because that’s the foolish me who can’t seem to learn the first, second, or zillionth time! But, God still forgives a zillion + one times, if that’s what it takes.
I would just recommend that you don’t stand before him with unfinished business and a shit-pile of complaints from those you didn’t treat right along the way. Because, again, no one knows what that encounter will be like and who wants to be handed a fireproof robe and a one-way ticket south, especially if your momma isn’t around to pray for you, you little schmuck? So clean up your mess and make better choices from now on! GEEZO!
Yep, there is such a thing! Okay, I could have made it up, but just work with me here.
It has been ten years since I ran my last half-marathon and I have decided it’s time to dust off my running shoes and get back in the game. God help me. This will probably kill me!
I began running thirty years ago when a friend dragged me to a high school track near us. We planned to run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K in St. Louis. It was three miles. Since I had never run a day in my life, it seemed reasonable. I could easily drive three miles without getting winded. So, why not?!
The first morning we ran once around the track – a quarter mile. OMG, I thought I would die! But, I didn’t. So, I went back for more; again and again until it got easier and I decided I could do it. Not just that, but I was actually beginning to love it and the challenge that came with each turn around the track. Initially, my ambitions didn’t go beyond the 5K and the free beer at the end!
It wouldn’t be long before I was hooked as I grew to love the challenge of discovering my ability to go beyond anything I had imagined. Let’s see whatcha got Linda! Though I have run several half-marathons over the years since then it has always been that initial 5K that developed my theology of running.
I started off slowly, but pushing myself to run faster became a passion for me, especially when we moved to a rural area where I would run country roads at 5:00 in the morning. I was often told I was getting too old to run and that I should slow down because it wasn’t good for my joints (jealous couch potatoes every last one of you!). I had no desire to slow down. Every time I decided to walk instead it didn’t last long. It wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel the joy and fulfillment I experienced when I ran.
I discovered that I am most fully alive when I am running, especially in nature. When we moved further out into the country I enjoyed it even more. I could run right out my front door and be in the woods. It was so peaceful and serene. In the early morning the sunrise was breathtaking.
There was something else I noticed: God was there. In those moments my connection with God was most vibrant and my prayers seemed most profound. That never happened for me sitting in a pew in church (I don’t need forgiveness father…that ain’t a sin!)
St. Irenaeus said that, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Being fully alive is the quintessential manifestation of Divine Love. That magical mysterious Love is most revealed to me in these moments when I am in the midst of; when I know I am fully a part of his creation.
One of the beauties of running is its simplicity. You need only a good pair of shoes. Actually, shoes aren’t even necessary as Ethiopian Abebe Bikila proved. He set a world record in the Rome Olympics barefoot!
For sure there is a stark difference between the simple needs I have as a runner and the “perceived needs” of those in many sports. How does that relate to what we understand as “church”? Is church the magnificent cathedrals built centuries ago or some of the mega churches of today that entertain like a new rendition of Jesus Christ Super Star?! Not according to Jesus. The “ideal” church he modeled was about action: humble service, love, unity, hope, and mission – all easily accomplished barefoot – or at the most, wearing sandals.
When training for a race there are specific practices that can be incorporated. One such practice is called “fartlek”. It’s a Swedish word for “speed play” and it’s simply short bursts of accelerating at various times during a run. Here again, fartleking could have a spiritual meaning. Well, it could! Okay, the name might have to be changed to something a bit less like a bodily function, but it could work nicely when considering the process of growing spiritually, and, yes, it is a process.
I believe there is a misunderstanding for so many of us about just how important it is to “train” if we are to grow in faith and that may be what discourages new Christians. I don’t believe faith just “happens” with a dunk in a bucket of water even if there is some sort of “ritual” to prepare new converts for acceptance into a particular faith. There’s just more to it than that. It’s not an event, it’s a life-long journey. What about babies that are baptized in the Catholic Church? Does that baby jump right out the Priest’s arms and start serving in a soup kitchen? No.
You start out testing the waters with things that aren’t too risky like smiling instead of flipping someone off in traffic. Then, maybe you graduate to a bumper sticker…or two…or six. Don’t do that. That’s not right.
Anyway, we are taught that in baptism we are to put on Christ. But, what does that really mean? We are called to live and move and have our being as followers of Christ who teaches self-giving love by his example. And how does that happen? We learn from him to be less self-centered and more other-centered. For most of us none of that growing happens at the moment of our baptism. We will struggle in life, have set backs, and often lose our way. We have fits and starts trying to believe we truly are God’s beloved and our life has purpose.
As we journey through life, hopefully, we will grow in the fullness of that baptismal call to be an instrument of God’s love for the good of the world we live in. This realization can surely be likened to a “runners high”! When we finally become conscious of who and whose we are and we respond through works of love, justice and mercy. Call it a “Jesus high”! You just can’t get enough.
Now I am at the place where I need to tell on myself and share a couple of final important AHA moments in my long running and faith journey. The first experience goes back to the beginning when my friend and I started training for that 5K. When we got to the day of the race we both felt we were not prepared, especially since, just a few days before, her husband, an avid runner, told us that the route of the race was very hilly! Wait…what? Hilly?! As in mountainous hilly? As in, crap, we didn’t train on hills, hilly?! After that initial shock we decided to do it anyway even if we had to walk – or crawl – or call an Uber.
But we were going and we were getting that beer at the end. Period. So, off we went. When we got to the start line we immediately saw the “hill” staring down at us laughing hysterically! Undeterred, we went for it. It was hard, but we both endured and walked when we had to. AND THEN, we turned a corner and saw the finish line! I got so excited I took off running with all I had in me (it was downhill which helped). As I got to the end, gasping for air, my friend caught up with me. She was visibly upset, “Why did you take off like that? We spent all this time training together and we were supposed to finish together! Why did you do that?” I felt so bad for leaving her behind. I was only thinking of myself and that was just wrong. Sadly, I suppose I believed that everything revolved around me.
NO. IT. DOESN’T. DUMBASS.
Our faith journey is not meant to be about us alone. If we are merely growing in a personal faith that does not embrace others on their journey; if we are so self-centered that we sprint toward life’s finish line knocking others aside, I’m pretty sure God will be waiting with those chilling words, “You came alone? Where’s your friend?”
Okay, that experience wasn’t funny, but this one is. A few years ago, another friend and I signed up for a 10K. She wasn’t concerned about training because she planned to walk. I think she just wanted to be sure I survived because, well, by then, I was old. So, off we went agreeing to meet at…that’s right…the beer truck at the end.
There were a lot of turns so volunteers stood at designated intersections to point the way. At one intersection I was a bit confused and was alone to choose. I turned right and kept running. After a mile on that road with no one in sight, it became clear to me that I had gone the wrong way. So, I turned around and ran another mile back to where I should have been. I was tired, but knew the end was near. And there, around the last corner, I saw it! The finish line! WOOT WOOT…
Then I realized the race was over and they were deflating the blow up finish line! I panicked and ran faster, but I was too late. By then most everyone had left. No one cheering. No one telling me I was almost there and to not poop myself (they tell you that. It’s not funny. Neither is the lie that “You’re almost done” when you’re not. It’s not right). Anyway, I was devastated and my friend was in a panic! When I finally did see someone carrying some medals I insisted I deserved a first place metal for being the only person who ran eight miles instead of six! So, technically I reasoned I came in first in the unofficial eight mile race. That logic didn’t fly. I was handed a “Yep, you did finish even though you screwed up” medal. FINE. WHATEVER. “Where’s the free beer?”
There were still a few drops of beer left for my friend and I to cheer each other and I did survive, so it wasn’t all in vain. And the lesson? Yeah you know. On this journey of faith we will also make wrong turns, but God is always at the finish line with a cold beer (don’t tell me there ain’t no beer in heaven!) and a “well done, my good and faithful servant” cheer!
You’ll have to decide for yourself if there’s beer at the finish line of life, or if that’s really why you want to run that race – to get some reward. As for me, I fully trust that a life of faith is all about the journey, not the finish line. That will take care of itself.