Boiling a frog is not complicated because frogs are…well…stupid. The hardest part will be to find one; the rest is easy. Simply put enough water in the pot (not too hot or cold), so its little head won’t be submerged. Place the frog in the pot and set the flame on low.
That’s it! You don’t need to watch the pot, cover it with a lid, or tie an anchor to froggies feet. The frog will not move a muscle. In about twenty minutes, you will have tender succulent frog for dinner. You’ll find great recipes online too. (By the way, it really does taste like chicken!)
We are so like those frogs! Seriously. Just hanging out, and not even sure why. And when life gets a little sticky or uncomfortable and starts to boil over, we just stay stuck in our misery.
If you find yourself going through life day after mundane day, repeating the same routine to ad nauseum, perhaps God is trying to get your attention. WOW! Do you realize what a great segue this is to the miracle and magnificence of the Incarnation? No? Well, hang on…
We’re in mid-January. By now, the decorations are down, trees shredded into mulch, ugly sweaters returned or regifted, and everything packed away for another year. Now we can focus, not on the miracle of Christ’s birth, but on fixing all the stupid, unhealthy things we did over the holidays: Drank too much, ate too much, and spent too much.
What are you doing right now? Okay, you’re reading this. But what were you doing before that, for…say… the thirty or so days leading up to Christmas? What about the weeks and months, and years before that?
Wanna know what I was doing? I wasted much of Advent doing nothing that really mattered. But, I did have an AHA moment thinking about Mary’s pending parenthood. Do you think she lived her life like a typical teenage girl today? Polishing her nails at sleepovers; giggling about the little Jewish boy her girlfriend sat next to on the bus; texting, tweeting, and posting selfies all day?
Do you believe for one minute that Gabriel just popped in on her at the eleventh hour and dropped that bomb, “Guess what, Mary, oh favored one, do we have a surprise for you!” Are you kidding me? Even though Mary may not have known what was coming, you can be sure that her entire life was preparation for it. Let’s go back a little further – to her parents. They likely had no clue, either. But, we can be sure the Spirit guided them to parent her well. That was their calling, and they were well prepared for it.
The takeaway for me is that we are all called to holiness, called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work. But it takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book, Awareness, if you need some help climbing out of that boiling pot.)
See the segue now?
I know so many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you yourself, who just can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God toldyou to do that, huh? Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if God hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him, even if I had no earthly idea what he was up to. For years, little promptings proved to be pretty awesome if I was paying attention.
If you have come out on the other side of Christmas and find yourself back in your old routine – schlepping through the same habits, STOP IT! How about starting over? Right here. Right now. How about starting with your perception of “church” because that’s often the source of our stuckedness (yeah, spell-check, that’s a word)?
See if any of this rings true for you: In some faith traditions, we have what is called, “Ordinary Time” – the times before and after Easter and Christmas. But, sadly, there are way too many Christians out there called the C&E people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter, and they’re probably not even sure why they go then.
Perhaps the word “ordinary” is the problem. “Hey, I live ordinary, monotonous, unexciting every day of my life! So why on earth would I want to get up early, dress up, squeeze into a pew full of strangers, and listen to irrelevant “stuff” that puts me back to sleep and causes me to snore and drool out the side of my mouth? Why?”
Megachurches have tried to fill the gap with music, and light shows that could rival “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
The problem is, while we were swinging and swaying and belting out forty-five minutes of music (albeit beautiful music), Jesus left the building, and no one noticed.
Is it the church’s responsibility to turn our ordinary lives into extraordinary – which is what God meant for us, you know! My own faith has grown from non-existent to something beyond my imagination. My God-filled AHA moments and the breathtaking adventure God has me on did not develop while I was sitting in the pew on most Sundays.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being a part of a church community. It keeps me grounded and enhances my faith. When we receive the Eucharist, we are reminded of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “take this bread and never forget me. Never forget how much I love you!”But, there is more that must take place the other six days of the week. We are told by Jesus to “never forget,” Then, at the end of the service, we are told to take that love out into a hurting world. That’s what Jesus meant by “Follow me”. He never said, “Worship me”.
Don’t sleepwalk through life, it’s too important, and frankly, it’s way too awesome to miss!
I won’t tell you where or how to worship or give you a formula or a checklist to send you on your way to sainthood. But I will tell you this: you cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you can love yourself. And you can’t love yourself through any of the myriads of self-help books on the market or the number of “likes” on your Facebook page.
You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time and attention.
You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in.
Take the time to read scripture, pray, and…big AND...LISTEN. Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.
Then, a year from now, on Christmas morning, I pray you will be sitting with me to witness in a new way what a profound mystery we behold there!
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.
I know so many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you yourself, who just can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh? Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to. For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me that he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust; offered way more grace than I deserved, and opened my heart more than I could have imagined.
God was always longing to grow me into the person he meant for me to be. It was me resisting; me not being present to him; me missing the mystery and majesty that surrounded me because I was just too busy to notice, or more likely, too afraid. Instead I skipped along trying to drown out his voice, “Lalalalalalalala I can’t hear you!”
We can be so enmeshed in, and blinded by, the things of this world we miss out on our whole purpose for being here. If you are going through life day-after-unremarkable-day; schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose people…you matter that much!
We are all called to holiness; called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work right here – right now. It just takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book by the same name, Awareness).
Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience. While lying on his deathbed, Ilyich ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving and he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done!”At the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered himself, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?” Oops, a little late buddy!
“Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do” Gian Carlo Menotti
It was too late for Ilyich, but not Tolstoy. He discovered his purpose and rejected his aristocratic life to follow Jesus’ teachings – in particular – the Sermon on the Mount. Years later, his writings also had a profound impact on Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others.
Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty! He has proven that through the lives of every misfit from Moses to this ole grandma – To infinity and beyond!God coined that phrase you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’re packing your sandals and camel hair coat and checking Google Maps… for what? A sign from God?
Stop! Take a deep breath. Maybe start by sitting quietly with God and waiting.
Don’t look to anyone to give you a formula or a check list to send you on your way to sainthood. But, I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you are able to love yourself. And you can’t love yourself by means of any of the myriad of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time.
You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?
We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention, especially today. We even busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places. That’s how we miss God’s “still small voice” or “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Sure, he’s good at those show-stopper whirlwinds and earthquakes and fire. Even what I have called 2×4 moments, but they didn’t leave marks like the ones my mother inflicted. Because of her I was always on guard for those “laying down the law” whacks that I expected from God too when I messed up. But, I believe he more often speaks through Spirit – whispers of pure grace.
Now, though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in the muck.
Absolutely, go to church, take the time to read scripture, and pray, But mostly...LISTEN! Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.
2. Push yourself in front of the line for Covid testing and a vaccine by insisting your “job” is essential!
3. On Ash Wednesday (I know, we’re past that, just humor me): Keep your hands away from your face, not necessarily to protect you from Covid, just so you don’t wipe your ashes off that everyone needs to see so you can prove that you are the holiest of holies. Once you shower them away you can get back to being comfortable in the skin of the hypocrite everyone, but you, knows you are.
4. Giving something up: Yes, I know, you’ve already chosen and forgotten it, especially if it had anything to do with food or exercise. But, there’s an unwritten “rule” that you can keep trying any time right up to Holy Week. So, come on, try again. Make it something you REALLY REALLY LOVE! Not chocolate, that’s been overdone. I know, how about giving up that stinkin’ attitude that you’ll gain a coveted spot in heaven because you are way more special than those you have labeled “heathens”.
Anyway…mortal sin is basically something you’ll go to jail for or get shot by a husband for. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think there was an appendage added at the end by some Bishops that reads: “if you get caught”.
Venial sins fall into more of a gray area. They don’t meet all three criteria of mortal sin: (1) A Grave Matter, (2) Full Knowledge (3) Deliberate Consent. Think politicians – they default to #2. In the moment, they don’t seem to realize what they did was wrong or that it’s still on Twitter. Then, the truth is splattered all over the media and suddenly they “realize” what they did was a really awful, very bad thing and they’re sorry and it won’t happen again (until after their next run for office).
So, the priest and confesses are to wear masks, keep a fan running, and the screen closed. Confesse is to turn away from the priest while spewing tiny, tiny indiscretions. These safeguards are for protection, not so he won’t recognize you, silly!
5. Easter Sunday may be tricky. You’ll still have to limit the number of people coming for dinner (good excuse for not inviting your crazy relatives though).
Now, you don’t want to make Jesus feel like he’s not welcome back, but at the same time, we really don’t know where he’s been for the last three days. So, just to be safe he should probably get tested and wear a mask before he comes. Then, he’s perfectly welcome to join the party and sit at the head of the table. — which he will decline to do. Actually, he’ll probably sit at the kid’s table. They’re more fun anyway.
And, that’s it. Easter is over, the good china is put away, Uncle Wilber goes back to the nursing home, and Jesus fades into“Ordinary Time”.That’s what we Catholics know as “downtime”. A time we feel no “obligation” to do anything we don’t want to (not that we feel any obligation any other time it’s just that there’s no guilt connected to it). There’s your forty-day recap. It’s all in Matthew 25:40-45.
I have been contemplating this often-touted Christian belief that “Jesus is the Answer”. It seems simple enough. Easy to dance to. Rolls effortlessly off the tongue. But, in light of the world’s ongoing struggles and suffering, I have a glaring question. If God actually designated Jesus as the one and only “Savior of the world”, as is the belief of Christians who adhere to a stifling literalism of scripture, and so much of humanity has continually suffered all these thousands of years, is this mess on Jesus? Did Jesus not want to save all of creation? Reminds me of Jonah.
God: “Jonah! Wake up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
God: “Fine. Get your trunks on. You’re going for a swim!” (Jonah 1:2)
Or did God mess up trusting this one guy, albeit a really AMAZING guy, with so much responsibility? Who knows, maybe the vetting process wasn’t perfected back then. Or is it remotely possible that God divvied up that job? What if Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad were all sent out in their time, within their culture, to draw followers to the heart of God? If you look into it, it’s almost eerie how similar their lives were. (I’m not disputing that Jesus was the Son of God. That’s not my focus here.)
So, is it on us to not just rotely nod to church authority proclaiming the only truth of ones particular faith? I have shared the words of Jeremy Weber in an earlier post. Listen, I love Jesus with all my heart! He’s the One who saved my sorry, pathetic self from my miserable self long ago and continues to love me despite my pathetic self.
Though I often mess up trying to emulate him, I keep trying because he has become a powerful manifestation of God for me! That said, I still respect the faith of those adherents of other traditions as well.
Consider that our faith could just be a matter of where we were born. If I had been born in another country, I could have been a Buddhist or Muslim. Several years ago, we were in Morocco. Our son hired a cab driver to give us a tour. This lovely man enthusiastically shared things about his Muslim faith that nearly brought me to tears. We noticed before that day that many of the buildings were unadorned, made of mud and earth.
Our cab driver explained that the buildings symbolize their very personhood. Their Muslim faith teaches them that what is on the outside is not essential. It’s what is on the inside that matters.
Because of 9/11, we have learned to hate all Muslims in this country. What I discovered that day was the true essence of the Muslim people. Sure there are exceptions. There are also “exceptions in Christianity. We see it played out every day. If we have learned nothing else in 2020, we must acknowledge our propensity toward violence and hatred that is escalating at an alarming rate.
I will never accept the belief of many Christians, especially church leaders, that if you don’t profess Jesus and only Jesus, you’re doomed to eternal damnation. I am confident that does not come from God.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, says:
“If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living deeply, loving and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus. The way is Jesus himself and not just some idea of him.
Jesus said, the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. Who knows but that such love encompasses Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and all eternal truths humans conceive of to explain the mystery of God in every time and culture?”
Anyway…Something seismic is going on within American Christianity that screams foul. Yet, those leaders who claim moral authority seem oblivious to it as they finger-wag to an empty church. Looks like the Emperor still has no clothes on. Research has shown that people have been leaving the church in droves for years. We’re just waiting for the last guy to turn out the lights when he leaves.
Some church leaders seem to be slow-walking their supposed desire to understand what is happening, especially among millennials, while operating within an outdated template. They have been focusing on new ways to rebrand Christianity and bring them back (if they were ever there to begin with): Perhaps a more casual atmosphere, a fun coffee bar, or surround sound music with a light show.
Some may have even considered a more extreme threat of hell. Forgetting that that’s one of the reasons millennials left in the first place. You can’t scare these guys like you did their grandmothers! They don’t even believe in hell. So, that’s an empty threat.
Rev. David M. Felten says:
The challenge is that most people in most churches (and many clergy) have their theological beliefs pre-set to the “oldies station” and are either insulated from or intimidated by what’s going on outside their comfort zone. So, they simply plod along in the isolation of their bubble of orthodoxy without a clue that there are people who practice Christianity and follow Jesus in radically different ways.
How many of these leaders of the Christian faith have thrown up their hands in frustration, choosing to fill empty pews with cutouts that look remarkably like those numb pew sitters I mentioned earlier?!
In a recent article: Anything But Christian: Why Millennials Leave the Church, I appreciate the honesty of one millennial, Emma Cooper:
“We come after college begins, on our breaks. Then, we don’t come back. Why don’t we come back?”
Cooper tells how she was raised in the church and loved everything about it! She never imagined walking away. But she did. She frankly and openly addresses the issues. One is that:
“A separate group of people is speaking for us, explaining why we leave, and what it will take to bring us back. We don’t want coffee. We don’t want multi-colored stage lights. We want Jesus.And we can’t find Him in your churches. No one’s asking us why we left!
If no-Christ has made them people we’d love to be, while Christianity creates people we beg to never be… then why should we be Christians?
What we’re looking for in religion is an experience so real, so gripping, it knocks us breathless. We want our lives to be overturned….We’re not interested in your churches because — as much as we need Him to be — God is not there.
That is such open and unadulterated commentary on the state of American Christianity that no dogma, doctrine, canon of faith, or fun new latte, will ever penetrate. Perhaps that’s why so many church leaders refuse to acknowledge the truth of their failings to exemplify and teach the love of Christ. They must get stuck on the “exemplify” part. This seems like an obvious failure since Jesus made it clear that those who are charged with the teaching of God’s truth but use their power to lead people astray will end up in the very place they threaten others with. Many of them seem to continue their stubborn resistance to this reality at their own, and their blind followers, peril. During his time right up to today, Jesus had no patience with those who claim such authority to rule over others, to mislead them right into the pit (Matt 15:14).
But…if “Jesus is the answer” how is this happening? Where’s the disconnect?
Has anyone considered the fact that Jesus was a millennial himself – and a radical one at that? There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus LOVES these young people who have bolted from the cold stone buildings and have chosen instead to step into the muck and mire of the suffering and brokenness in their midst, just like he did. They want to make a difference. They want to know and fulfill their life’s purpose.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. -James 1:27
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
I believe Jesus was precisely the one God prepared and sent to infuse the lost with a love they had forgotten. Just as I believe that he is still the One so many of us love! People would not still be dying for him if that were not true.
“We dare to believe that the love manifest in Jesus reflects the authentic nature or character of the Ultimate Reality, which makes Jesus a great teacher, an inspirational philosopher, and someone whose words and example should be followed indeed.” ~ Brian D. McLaren
The stories of those who followed the non-violent precepts of Jesus and died for them are still etched in our memories: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero, just to name a few. Like Jesus, all of them were well aware of the hatred that would likely cost them their lives, but they continued on despite the threats. Until they too were silenced.
And now, this is our time of reckoning; a time for each of us to take a stand, to pronounce our faith in Jesus and then to act on that faith. Not in anger or hatred, but in love. This country is on shaky ground, but it is not a time to cower in fear.
“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.” Martin Luther King
“Seeing the suffering is only the beginning of change….to move not just our hearts into a deeper understanding but also our bodies into the work of greater change. Perhaps out of this comes, truly, every form of love.” Kristin Lin, Editor of the On Being Project
Thich Nhat Hanh offers another critical question that must be answered, “…what we say of Jesus, what we believe of Christ, determines how we live our lives. To set our minds on divine things is to care about how everyone answers the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Because the answer is the heart of the matter.
The answer to his question, “Who do you say I am?”….is the key to our own lives. It calls our bluff about all the things we say our lives are about. All the things we say, but do not do. When historical people like the Buddha and Jesus, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. live out the call of who they believe God to be, the world knows it. If you and I live out the call of who we believe God to be, the world will also know us. Who we say Jesus is inspirits our lives.
Episcopal Bishop John Spong said, “I do not believe that God is a Christian or a Buddhist. Yet both Christianity and Buddhism have pointed hundreds of millions of people toward the mystery of God. Seeking faith is not about dogma and the mind alone, though it is about that. It is about the heart. It is about living as God inspires us to live.
So, I will leave you to consider this:
If you consider yourself a Christian then at the core of your being, WHO ARE YOU? What would others say about you? Jesus was radical…He radically loved, he radically touched lepers, he radically condemned the powerful for causing the suffering of those they considered “less than”. Jesus did NOT hate and he did NOT empower others to do so. So then, what about you? Are you living God’s call to BE Christ to a suffering world?
It’s a shame that Gandhi, Buddha, and all their followers are in, or headed to, hell. So say many Christians. What do you believe? What do I believe? People who profess to be Christian indeed have a sacred calling. Scripture tells us so. If that’s true – what is it? Is it to announce the luck of the draw for members in an exclusive club with the secret handshake and a never to expire ticket to heaven, or to announce the bad news of condemnation and the hell-bound destiny of all those tough-luck-for-you-non-Christians? Over all my seventy-two years, I have probably accepted, without question, those beliefs more than I care to admit.
As feeble as it is, this post is my attempt to offer a different possibility of what Christianity means to me. Though it is different than what so many have come to embrace, it is actually what the first Christians believed about themselves as followers of Jesus. You may agree, or you may not. Either way, this is where I have landed after many years of struggling with and contemplating my ongoing journey of faith, anger, falls from grace, brokenness, and healing – sometimes all in one day! My very being has been squeezed through the wringer, patched together, taped up, and super-glued so often I look like Humpty Dumpty!
This post has been difficult and challenging for me to write. It has developed through months of witnessing the continued dumpster fires of 2020. In particular, the ugliness, anger, hatred, and violence seem to have rendered many of us oblivious to the suffering of so many innocent people, children in particular. They have become collateral damage in this war – and it is a war – a spiritual war.
But what has endured through it all for me are the words of wisdom and encouragement of those I quote in this post. Those folks I consider to be outstanding voices and true examples of what it means to be a follower of a Holy, Magnificent, All-Loving God of every single messy one of us! Every one! You will see a lot of italics within the following quotes. They are all my doing! They have powerfully pierced my heart and uplifted my soul. They have given me new hope that the God I love, has always deeply loved me, even when I often lose sight of him. He has never changed. He is steady and immovable even when we try desperately to change him to suit our egocentric selves in moments of darkness and uncertainty.
I have been in that place more often than I can count. But I do not want to be stuck there again. I recognize that god-awful place where it seemed to be easier for me to default to taking sides and raising my own fist against those I disagree with than to follow in the footsteps of those I so admire: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and, of course, at the top of that list, the One we all should be emulating – Jesus. Even Gandhi loved Jesus and learned from his life. He loved the Sermon on the Mount! And yet, it’s very telling that he once remarked, “I like your Christ, but not your Christians.” Ouch!
Even today, people are dying for their faith while we rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Brilliant! Yeah us! Speaking the truth to power doesn’t often end well. But, in the immortal words of Saint Mother Theresa, “Do it anyway”.
Nothing in scripture tells us that Jesus, or any of his followers, would die for the belief of those Christians today who condemn non-Christians to hell or proclaim some sort of special status for themselves.
And if that’s not enough, here’s another stark and uncomfortable reminder for us comfy, cozy American Christians in our watered-down, lukewarm faith. You know, the belief that Jesus railed against? (Rev. 3:15-16). Whew…yeah, that one’s way too awkward! Let’s just skip over it. Surely, he didn’t mean it. He was probably just having a lousy day…maybe too much caffeine. (But, I digress.)
Jesus said abandon your possessions (Matt. 19:21) – we try to dicker, “Ummm, how about if I sell one mink coat or one car. No? Okay, this is killing me, but how about if I sell one condo and then donate a few dollars to charity? Will that get me a ticket to heaven? Come on, cut me some slack, Lord!”
Jesus said to abandon family and friends (Luke 14:25-27) – instead, we cling to them and turn our backs on those not like us.
Jesus said, abandon your very self (Matt. 16:24) – we might lay one bad habit down. But give up all our “stuff” – all our striving for power and influence – all our dreams of fame and fortune? No way!
There it is. We have just watered Jesus down and settled him into our comfort zone, rendering him mediocre – along with God. Hmmmm, sorta like us. But what have we lost in the process? I can easily imagine, but dread to think, that I could one day say the same thing as Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilyich said on his deathbed, “What if my whole life has been wrong.”
Steven Weinberg reminds us that, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
Why do we stay stuck in doctrines and dogmas? Because it’s safe. But, is that actually what God wants? Is that what Jesus and so many others died for?
It appears there are two options to consider: Would I march myself into martyrdom for a doctrine created long ago by a church seeking control of its people? Or would I commit to an unwavering faith in the God who makes no demands for allegiance, but simply and profoundly speaks within the depth of our hearts and calls us to love, to show compassion and care for others, no matter the cost? I want to be counted among the latter. Thanks.
From the book by Brennon Manning, “Holy Rascals”, “The God that can be branded is not the true God. Our job isn’t to dethrone the emperor, only to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Our task isn’t to banish the Great and Terrible Wizard, only to reveal that the Land of Oz is run by a small man with a large megaphone.”
In the words of Mirabai Starr, “The sacred scriptures of all faiths call us to love as we have never loved before. This requires effort, vigilance, and radical humility. This is the narrow gate Jesus speaks about… mutual dedication to lovingkindness as the highest expression of faith.The call does not come softly. It bangs the shutters of your heart and wakes you from a deep sleep. You have no choice but to respond.”
So, here I stand naked and humbled before God. As uncomfortable as that may seem, it is far more desirable than sleepwalking through this one, short, marvelous life we have been given.
The experience of my seventy-second birthday a couple of weeks ago was more profound than even life’s typical milestones some call “rites of passage”. Like sixteen when I smoked in front of my dad for the first time. Guess he was just tired of me stealing his cigarettes, and since I now had a job, I could buy my own. Not sure how that stacks up with being allowed to wear makeup or going on a first date. It simply paved the way for a swifter road to possible lung cancer. But who thinks about that at sixteen? At twenty-one, I could discard the fake ID I had already used for a few years to get drunk. Now I would remain drunk and stupefied for years! Woohoo!
As you may have deduced by now, few birthdays for me became Kodak moments. Except for this last one. Hopefully, not last as in LAST. But that’s the final point I want to make here. If this past year has not impacted me any other way, it has reminded me of what’s really important because I often forget that we have no guarantees in this life. And God will be VERY disappointed if, for whatever time I have remaining, I have not left this world better in some way for my having been here. Thankfully, there’s still time as long as I am breathing.
At the end of my life, I DO NOT want to be reminded of these profound words by Gian Carlo Menotti, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”
I would prefer to dust myself off, let go of the negativity of 2020, and embrace these thoughts to empower my every action from here on out. Because every dayis a new day. Every day I am a new creation in Christ. Every day I can hear God say to me, “Okay, Linda, let’s try this love thing again.”
Richard Rohr says it beautifully, not that God doesn’t (sorry, Lord), “We must re-teach all things their loveliness. That could be your one and only life calling!”
Howard Thurman tells us: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The beginning of my quest for truth came with my willingness to question what I believed about who God was, who Jesus was, who I was, and who my neighbor was. Dag Hammarskjold said, “The longest journey is the journey inwards. Of him who has chosen his destiny, who has started upon his quest for the source of his being.”
Well, alrighty then…that was fun! Are you still here?
Let me leave you with my favorite prayer of blessing and this incredible song by Casting Crowns as we prepare for Christmas. I pray for God’s blessings for you and your loved ones during this season of remembrance. This time of renewal and commitment to love God and each other!
“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
We have been inundated for months with “facts” about the virus and the protests. The hatred that seems to be growing daily on every side, no matter what the argument is about, is deafening. That can be frightening…but…we must remember that fear is the ultimate goal of extremists. Fear can have the power to darken and obliterate the very meaning and purpose of our existence if we allow it to.
As I read and try to understand the depth of so many issues we are facing now, there is one that I feel is critical for our future, our children’s future, and America’s future, and it is so basic it should not even be in question – but it is: If I call myself a Believer (it doesn’t matter of what tradition) in the God of all creation, then loving my neighbor is not optionaland there should be no place for hatred in my heart.
How about this for a reality check: 1 John 4:20 should thump us all on our hard heads, “If anyone boasts ‘I love God’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, HE IS A LIAR (emphasis mine and most likely God’s too). If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see?” (The Message). If we continue to pull away from that ONE TRUTH to create our own, we will have lost our way, and, God help us, our children will suffer the consequences.
We will all be called to account for how we choose to live in this world, and it’s pretty likely that for most of us, myself included, it ain’t gonna be pretty. We are messy, selfish, demanding, unforgiving, broken humans – full of ourselves and pumped with ego, with the tiniest bit of empty space for God to squeeze into. Somehow he does. Somehow he continues to love us in spite of ourselves. And somehow, miraculously, he pats me on the head with the greatest of love, mercy, grace, and compassion and says, “Linda, you screwed up again, but I forgive you and long for you to do the same. I love you and long for you to do the same. Like Jesus, you were created to take my light into the darkness. There should be no room for hate in your heart.”
Love ismore powerful than hate if we truly believe what we profess! And, that, my friends, is the TRUTH.
You don’t have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Maybe you see him as a stand-out Prophet, a great role model, or the most you can muster is a wink and a nod to “Buddy Jesus”.
We know enough about Jesus’ life to know he didn’t stand behind a bullhorn and threaten hell and damnation for anyone who didn’t do what God expected them to. He led by example. He could have jumped on the bandwagon of the powerful leaders of his day and would probably have had a pretty cushy life, retired with a great pension, and lived into old age. But, that scenario wasn’t going to play out because his love and compassion for those who suffered guided his every thought and action, as it should ours. Are we afraid to ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” when confronted with a moment that challenges our moral fortitude because, deep down, we already know the answer? Ponder that one for a while.
We may not be marched up to a hanging tree, but, we surely should speak and live as fully as we are called to, no matter the consequences. You do realize God is counting on us to do just that, right? I will leave you with these words from Archibald MacLeish’s sermon on Job.
MacLeish asks why God allowed Satan to tear Job’s life apart. He says, “Because God believes it will be demonstrated that Job loves and fears God because He is God and not because Job is prosperous…that Job will still love God and fear Him in adversity, in the worst of misfortunes, in spite of everything. God stakes His supremacy as God upon man’s fortitude and love….Where the nature of man is in question, God has need of man. Only Job can prove that Job is capable of the love of God, not as quid pro quo but for love’s sake, for God’s sake, in spite of everything – in spite even of injustice, even God’s injustice. Only man can prove that man loves God. Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one. Without man’s love, God does not exist as God…love is the one thing no one, not even God Himself, can command. It is a free gift, or it is nothing. And it is most itself, most free, when it is offered in spite of suffering, of injustice, and of death. It is in man’s love that God exists and triumphs, in man’s love that life is beautiful, in man’s love that the world’s injustice is resolved. To hold together in one thought those terrible opposites of good and evil which struggle in the world is to be capable of life, and only love will hold them so.”
Today is Ash Wednesday. We are called to contemplate more deeply the life, death, and wondrous Resurrection of Christ.
Knowing what must occur before that glorious day should cause us to tremble – but we’re too busy.
The soon-to-be-revealed and unimaginable love of God for us should bring us to our knees – but we’re too afraid.
The reality of the cross should cause us to beg forgiveness for our sinfulness – but we’ve become desensitized to sin.
We don’t cry out to God because we’re afraid he’ll answer!
And so, for many of us, Easter comes and goes with little more fanfare than any other Sunday.
While we prepare the menu for an Easter feast, Jesus is preparing for the Last Supper.
While we scrub the house for guests – Pilate washes his hands of the people’s demand for Jesus’ death.
While shopping for new outfits – Jesus is stripped, humiliated, and brutally beaten.
While we look forward to having all the family together again; kids home from college, parents arriving soon – on the long walk to Calvary, Jesus and his mother touch for a moment as their eyes reveal the unspeakable pain of their suffering.
While we are feeling left to do all the work and have our annual pity party – Jesus, in his weakened state, struggles with the weight of the cross he carries, alone and abandoned by those who called themselves his disciples.
While we fuss over last-minute appearances playing beat the clock: taming cowlicks, straightening ties, new shirts without stains, socks that match – Jesus’ face is streaked with blood, and his broken body is no longer recognizable.
Could we even bear to consider what just happened? Jesus, as the Incarnation of God, is the fullest expression of God’s own self. God is relentless, extravagant, merciful, indiscriminate, gratuitous, enduring, and grace-filled Love!
In this most holy season of Easter, we are called to remember and celebrate that Love. But not just that! Jesus never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me. Do what I do.” What difference does it make if we have not changed in some way, if Monday is just business as usual, if we step over our suffering brothers and sisters on our way to more important things?
When did you quit believing in the Easter Bunny?
When did you quit believing the message of the cross and the empty tomb?