Some day, you’re going to apologize to your neighbor (who hates you, by the way) for backing over his cat and blaming it on the mail carrier.
Some day, your humdrum existence will magically transform into the fairy tale life you have always dreamed of.
Some day, you will hit the lottery and buy your neighbor a new cat. Okay, you won’t do that because you’ll move to a deserted island where you won’t have any neighbors.
If you believe one morning you’ll just wake up and your butt will have fallen off as you slept – that’s right – you’re delusional. (You might want to just lay off the chocolate darlin’)
Wanna know where I’m at as I write this and why my thoughts went were they did? I am sitting with a dying hospice patient. I’ll call him Fred. I can’t show you a picture of him for obvious reasons, but I can show you a picture of the wall I’m staring at in his room. It’s 2:30 am and I have been staring at this wall for two hours.
I have been visiting Fred for about five months now. He has little family and no one visits him. He was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease when I first met him, so we were never able to communicate. I have no idea what he did for a living, but, for now, he is my teacher, like all the patients I see.
I know what you’re thinking. How could someone who has lost the ability to respond to their environment or converse with anyone teach you anything? How could they impart words of wisdom like Mahatma Gandhi; shine light on injustice like Martin Luther King; inspire Jesus’ call to “serve the least of these” like Mother Theresa? Well, they can’t….
They can do more – at least for me – in this moment.
When I meet a new patient the first thing I do is look at the pictures in their rooms. Some, like my dear mother-in-law, have their walls and shelves cluttered with family pictures. They make for great conversation. But, here’s my buddy Fred with four blank walls.
What am I supposed to do with that? I have discovered that that is the wrong question. The real question is: what is God wanting to teach me here?
It is no coincidence that at this very time I am also reading a most profound book by Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Aging. I read her other “most profound” book during my clinicals, The Grace in Dying.
So, what am I finally learning at this late stage in my life? What I have grown to believe from Gandhi, King, and Mother Theresa, has been personified by Singh and Fred.
What I am reading in Singh’s book moves from words on a page to experience that reaches the depth of my heart as I sit here with a dying man.
I got up in the middle of the night to come here because I believe no one should die alone. I have grown to appreciate that this is Holy Ground; that God is truly present here and he calls out to anyone with ears to hear, “You’re gonna die too! Maybe even today”. Which makes me laugh (maybe I’m just silly tired) because I remembered this hysterical cartoon.
At this stage in life it’s about time for us to be getting our act together before it’s too late! Don’t you think? To stop obsessing over things that don’t…actually, never did…matter. Stop dwelling on old hurts, lost opportunities, and someone else’s expectations. Stop striving for more and more of what someone else will trash before you’re cold in your grave. Stop lusting after useless stuff. Stop trying to control everything. Stop shadow boxing.
Singh tells us:
When we are deeply aware of our own impermanence, every fleeting moment is recognized as precious. Our desire to be present in each moment amplifies. Contemplating the fact that we truly do not know if we will still be alive in this human body with the next breath, we can witness a stunning decrease in our attachment to and interest in anything but now.
Meditating on death instantly calls us to question on the deepest of levels. What am I doing? What do I want? What does this all mean? What is it all about? Who or what is the “I” that is asking the questions?
Our desire to explore, to inquire, to see, intensifies in urgency….Contemplating our own mortality…our precariously impermanent existence, can call us to complete and thorough accountability. It can call us to instant reordering, a rearranging of our priorities and our intentions. A deep opening to our own mortality brings us to our knees and down to the nitty-gritty. It blocks off all of our habitual detours into denial. It forces us to face the way we’ve lived our lives, the choices we’ve made, the polestars we’ve chosen.
Thank you, Fred. In your dying you are teaching me how to truly live while there is still breath in me.
Now, go in peace…I pray…into the hands of our loving and merciful God. I’ll be right behind you.
Matthew 13:3-8 “Then he (Jesus) told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
We have lived in our current home for four years now. I’m sure I annoy more than a few of my neighbors because I refuse to use chemicals on my lawn. Here’s why:
Dr. (Anthony) Samsel is a research scientist who is passionate about farming, gardening, and agriculture, making him particularly suitable for investigating glyphosate. “I was with the ‘think tank,’ Arthur D. Little (ADL) in Cambridge, Massachusetts for many years working as a research scientist on many types of projects, from product development to environmental sciences to later switching to health sciences,” he says.
He’s also done contract work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and as a hazardous materials expert, he’s worked for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the United States Navy (USN), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).
What he has learned:
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world. An estimatedone billion pounds a year is sprayed on our food crops, resulting in the average American eating several hundred pounds of glyphosate-contaminated food every year.
Monsanto Has Known for Nearly 35 Years That GMOs Promote Cancer
Monsanto’s own research also supports the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determination that glyphosate is a Class 2 A “probable human carcinogen.”–a determination Monsanto is now trying to get retracted….
Monsanto Never Published These Negative Findings
So how did Monsanto and Biodynamics—the company doing the research—hide these inconvenient facts? According to Dr. Samsel, they cancelled out the controls and the damning findings by using historical control data from unrelated studies. It’s also worth noting that these negative findings were never published in the peer-reviewed literature or submitted to the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cancer was clearly shown in their 26-month long feeding study….Monsanto knew in 1981 that glyphosate caused tumorigenic growth and carcinomas in multiple organs and tissues…
“At the rate we’re going, we’re going to kill billions of people,” Dr. Samsel says.
So, back to my yard. We have weeds. I do my best to keep the grass cut short so it isn’t too obvious. I also have a small raised-bed organic garden. Well, it’s as organic as it can be considering we are surrounded by neighbors who spray their lawns with chemicals. That’s why I’m moving to Auroville, India:
Seriously! It was the vision of Sri Aurobindo that came to fruition in the 1960s.
Welcome to Utopia!
I imagined life in Auroville to be as close to perfect as anything this side of heaven. There’s probably no self-serving politicians, rabid neighbors, or drunken uncles. No cancer or heart disease or PMS, gluten intolerance, or out-of-control chocolate cravings, and they have no idea who the Kardashians are!
Well, not quite.
After all, if God had intended to use Auroville to test market a perfect world I doubt he would have used humans, especially greedy, self-absorbed, money-hungry humans who run multinational corporations like Monsanto to come in and mess it all up.
My bubble burst when I read about Monsanto’s disastrous corporate greed that has literally scorched the earth and destroyed thousands of lives in it’s wake in India (all over the world actually). You can read the article here.
Basically, Monsanto came in and made unattainable promises to hungry farmers and their families, who unwittingly signed on the dotted line. As a result, thousands of farmers and laborers have committed suicide because they lost everything as Monsanto became richer and richer.
The number of suicides by farmers and farm labourers increased five per cent at 12,360 in 2014. Bankruptcy and indebtedness accounted for the major cause of suicides. More here.
No doubt Monsanto hopes the destruction they leave in the wake of their self-interest goes unnoticed by the rest of the world. It must be working because we happily spray their poisonous chemicals all over the earth.
I know what you’re thinking! “SO? What does that have to do with me?” Stay with me.
Who would have thought Monsanto, the purveyor of everything deadly and toxic, would become a metaphor for a Scripture meditation? But, here we are. They not only destroy our soil, they are now irrefutably linked to diseases that are killing us. How many people are aware of that right now? Before their recent exposure in the media, were any of us fearful of the chemical content of these products? Obviously not, as they are a multi-billion dollar corporation set for a buy-out from Bayer.
Look at these two kids, just all giddy about their successes.
I doubt the people of India will be joining them in their celebration…
Can you see where I am going with this analogy? No? Okay. Follow my A.D.D. brain on this journey to the point I want to make about Matthews gospel.
We are the seed and the soil would be where we are planted, right?
I have some seeds that I start in small pots of organic soil. When they begin to grow into seedlings I repot them or move them into my garden which is also filled with rich organic soil. (Don’t be too impressed – I actually suck at gardening. Most of my plants start out beautifully but fail to thrive for one reason or another.
Because we were created in God’s image we start out perfect. But, sometimes things go terribly wrong. We can be “repotted”, if you will, into dysfunctional families where we fail to thrive, as was my case. Fortunately, God reclaimed me and did his best to “repot” me into the soil of his divine love and mercy. I began to thrive again, striving for perfection, reaching toward the Light.
But often I allowed the world around me to convince me that what I had wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t enough. I needed more: worldly pursuits, obsessions, longings for things other than God, selfishness. Like unsuspecting plants sprayed with Roundup, my soul was dying little by little.
We have been called to be watchful of the often subtle and insidious destruction the world can inflict on us. Like corporations that skillfully market their products, the world markets an exciting and fulfilling life, “You deserve this new car, this great job, this man of your dreams.” Never mind the cost: the car you can’t afford, the job that will take you away from your family, the man who happens to be married –oops. And, to the extreme, in the case in India: death and destruction.
What is our foundation? Is it God in which we live and breathe and have our being? Or is it worldly pursuits and obsessions in which we give away all that we are; all that we were created to be?
John 10:10 tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” And you can be sure that thief is cunning and resourceful. He knows our weaknesses and vulnerabilities so we must always be on guard.
And, my friends, this is where we get real, as Christians, we have also been given the responsibility of helping to protect those seeds that God has created and planted among us. Are we helping or hindering God’s work among the most vulnerable? We are surrounded by such tremendous need and suffering. What are we doing to help relieve that suffering?
Think about this: Because of the unbearable suffering and death of the people of India, one man stands out as their David against the Goliath, Monsanto. His name is M. Prabhakara Rao. This is what he gave up to battle a Corporate Giant:
Tens of millions of dollars were within reach for M. Prabhakara Rao as he prepared in April 2015 to take his Indian cotton seed company public. The Indian businessman already had $54 million in initial funding from an American private equity investor. Rao had also locked in a long-term licensing agreement with Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, for the technology used in genetically modified cotton seeds that made up the majority of his annual sales.
Could you or I have walked away from such wealth to stand before a giant like Monsanto?
It’s something to ponder and pray about don’t you think?
Okay, we’re done here. I have to get busy finding a recipe for dandelion wine! I’m hoping if I give a bottle of it to all the neighbors for Christmas, they’ll forgive me!
Just kidding. Not happening. Not today anyway. I don’t think. I could be wrong. Sorry if that disappoints you. Nothing I can do about it.
Anyway, let’s jump right into the muck shall we? Weren’t the 2016 elections fun?! And the aftermath? – there doesn’t seem to be an end to it.
Many people on both sides are everything from angry to frustrated to fearful. It’s all over the internet and the news ad nauseum. You can’t get away from it if you talk to friends, family, or strangers in the checkout lines who need to vent. Hateful rhetoric, anger, and violence are now the norm.
(Spoiler Alert: This is NOT a political post. Honest!) Stay with me now…the Good News is coming!
If you’re scratching your head because you don’t understand how we got here, maybe because you still believe Christianity is the foundation of this country, I am sorry to inform you…in recent years, it seems, we have become a more and more secular country.
So, this post is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It’s about our changing culture and how we are to live as people of faith in America today because I think we may need a refresher course on Luke 10:27.
Let’s begin with this excerpt from First Things written after the 2012 elections. What Reno wrote is even truer today:
The New Secular Moral Majority, by R. R. Reno
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life tells us that 20 percent of Americans (that number increased to 23% in 2014) now check “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. Many are fed up with religion’s longstanding influence on American society, making them likely to attack the public role of religious institutions and further polarize politics. (Source)
Never mind that “until recently, all the progressive movements in American politics were promoted and heavily influenced by the mainline Protestant churches.” (Source: Reno)
But, that’s not the whole story. It isn’t just their politics that’s concerning.
Consider thisarticle in the NY Times from April, 2016:
Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years with increases in every age group except older adults….sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study.
I could throw in statistics on road rage too (I was a victim of that recently, it was frightening!). Are you aware of how many fatalities are a direct result of road rage? And the numbers are increasing.
Data gathered by SafeMotorist.com indicates that 66% of recent traffic fatalities can be linked to aggressive driving. More disturbingly, 37% of those fatalities were found to be caused by a firearm, rather than a typical accident.
Here are some more fun facts concerning the rise in mental health disorders, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Then you have to wonder about the extent of usage of all those legal and readily available drugs. Well, one in six U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug, such as an antidepressant or a sedative. The data comes from an analysis of the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).
Okay. I’m done.
Now, let me ask you. Does it sound like we Americans, who supposedly have everything, are living full, joyful, blissful lives? Which, surprise, is what God intended. We may have lots of “things” and the sense that we can do what we damn well please, but do our lives have purpose? According to the above statistics, it doesn’t appear that way.
Weseem to be trudging through life on autopilot.
I believe what underlies all of this is that the American people are dying for hope.
We have everything else!
People in Third World countries have nothing and are literally dying of starvation. We recently spent two months in Rwanda and encountered the survivors of the genocide of 1994. They lost almost 1 million loved ones in one-hundred days! They experience hunger daily! Which would make their faith and hope in God incomprehensible to Americans. I wrote more extensively about it here.
So, I believe this is our challenge: We, as people of faith are called by God to be that hope for others. 1 Peter 3:14-15 tells us “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
The question that God puts before every person of faith is this, “Are you living a life of hope and joy; of compassion and mercy and generosity that speaks to the emptiness of those who have lost their way?”
Not according to Barna Research Group (sorry, this is the last one – promise):
It may come as no surprise that the influence of Christianity in the United States is waning. Rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible-reading have all been dropping for decades. By consequence, the role of religion in public life has been slowly diminishing, and the church no longer functions with the cultural authority it held in times past. These are unique days for the church in America as it learns what it means to flourish in a new “Post-Christian” era.
Geeezzzz, Linda, if I wasn’t depressed before you shared all this “stuff” I am now!
Oh, come on, stay with me guys cause we’ve got work to do!
God’s call in this day and time may seem overwhelming. After all, I am just one person, right? So was Esther! If you have been following my blogs, you know I have a special place in my heart for Esther. God prepared her for “such a time as this” (4:14). And here’s the key: we rarely know the outcome of God’s calling before our “yes” response. So, it’s too risky for us. We want to say, “Yes, if…”
“Yes, if it won’t cost me anything.”
“Yes, if I’m going to be rewarded for my effort.”
That was not Esther’s response, and it shouldn’t be ours. She said “yes” to God knowing full well she would likely be killed, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” But, she didn’t perish; she saved her people. (Esther 4:15)
“Okay” you say with great trepidation. “But, where do we start?”
Well, perhaps we’re standing in the wrong line;
Putting our trust in the wrong people;
Believing the rhetoric that there is no heaven or hell;
Spending too much time shopping online, obsessing over Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media sites;
We first have to come to the realization that we will never be fulfilled by our consumerist obsessions; our need to succeed at any cost; our inflated egos and narcissism. We never seem to be satisfied. We want more, but more of what? Richard Rohr calls it our “survival dance” which keeps us from “getting to our sacred dance.”
There is an incredible book I have read and reread, titled, Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge. Powerful stuff. He asks:
What is really going on here? Good grief – life is brutal. Day after day it hammers us, till we lose sight of what God intends toward us.” He quotes St. Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive” – and goes on the say, “You’re kidding me. Really? Is that what you’ve been told? That the purpose of God –the very thing he’s staked his reputation on – is your coming fully alive?
Eldredge believes that:
We are at war.I don’t like that fact any more than you do, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the better hope we have of possessing the life we want. I’m sorry if I’m the one to break this news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth.
Yeah, thanks! That insight surely makes you want to trade your Armani suit for an itchy camel hair coat; pack your lunchbox with locust, and find your prophetic voice doesn’t it?
Alternatively, I don’t know about you, but I’m not anxious to end up as the one referred to in Revelations 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
So many people have become fearful of what our future, in particular the future for our children and grandchildren, will look like. Focused entirely on the makeup of Washington, the seeming inability to correct the direction we are headed, and what all that will mean for this fragile country.
When I read the article I shared with you in the beginning of this post, God revealed to me something much graver. No matter how any of us voted, there is something much more critical to address. I have a great sense that our work, the work of all people of faith, at this time in history, is more critical than ever.
Okay…there you go.
What are we, as God’s people, supposed to be thinking, and feeling, and doing in what seems to be a hopeless situation?
Well, not this – please – not this:
If you’re wringing your hands, hunkering down, barring your windows, loading your guns, andwishing for the apocalypse, perhaps this is a good time for a refresher course in what it means to be God’s beloved. That’s where it starts. Then, it should flow out to others. People all around you are desperate to hear they are worthy. That is our “great commission” today, just as it was for the first disciples so long ago. In case you’ve been so busy you haven’t noticed, they’re long gone and there is a void that we ALL are called to fill.
Perhaps, for starters, some sobering questions need to be answered by each of us:
Does my “yes” to God call me to a responsibility that compels me to a response?
Why, if we are 40% of the population, have we not influenced the “nones”? We are the same 40% while they are growing in number. Why?
Are we culpable in the course this country has taken because of our limited desire to live the “Good News” in a way that makes others want what we have? When we “go to church” an hour on Sunday and the rest of our lives are enmeshed in worldly pursuits, how are we any different?
The secular may have pushed God out of our schools and Public Square, but are we, a people of faith, just as guilty of keeping Him hidden in our places of worship?
Still waiting for Jesus to come? Still waiting for the “Good News”?
Well, guess what? YOU are the bearer of God’s “Good News”! All wrapped up in the bright, shiny LIGHT of Jesus! YOU are God’s gift to a hurting world.
Indeed, we need God, but, are you aware that God needs us too? Right. You thought God didn’t need anything. But, it’s true. Archibald MacLeish, in his sermon on Job tells us why:
Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one. Without man, God does not exist as God, only as creator, and love is the one thing, no one, not even God Himself, can command.
Do you believe that? If so, what are you “doing” about it? Sure, you may not be the next Mother Theresa or Ghandi or Martin Luther King – or you could be. Either way, God has gifted you, and likely in some way you may not even have imagined. God prepared you before you were born and has called you into the fray and the messiness of this world to serve.
If the love of God is not manifest in and through us to others, how will the “nones” ever know there’s a better life waiting for them? If that beautiful nun, Sister Maureen, had not spoken God’s love into my heart fifteen years ago, I would likely still be drunk! If she had only seen the exterior of the obnoxious heathen I was, and not the very breath and heart of God buried deep within me, I would likely be one of those statistics.
Ask yourself how many Linda’s you have turned away from God because you were too busy or too afraid to be vulnerable and risk reaching out? Then, ask God to change your heart and move your feet.