Jesus: The Man; the Legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting unstuck.

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

So, here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every week, 182 churches or Christian buildings are attacked.

Every month, 309 Christians are imprisoned unjustly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Cheeks Left to Turn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the words Mirabai Starr:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the end of my life I DO NOT want to be reminded of these profound words by Gian Carlo Menotti, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re an Idiot – Just Thought you Should Know

We all seem to have a sense of what “should be” in our personal lives, our neighbors lives, our culture, and our God.

I should, you should, we should, they should, God should, trees should, rocks should, animals should, the weather should. My boss should be nicer, my kids should be more respectful, my husband should do the laundry, my hair should be thicker, my waist thinner, my car should be a Mercedes…(deep inhale).

Have I left anything out?

We are obsessed with how our lives should be and how others should act. We calculate daily, almost moment-by-moment, what ought to be, and then adjust our lives accordingly. Let’s say I call you out on social media because, well, you’re an idiot and someone has to do it. Then, I see the next day you’ve done something even more reprehensible. You should then be arrested, or at the very least, get a huge dose of eczema right before a long anticipated summer holiday and have to wear sweatpants the entire time!  There take that!

What if before you died you were given the power to enact all the most profound shoulds you have ever imagined? What would they be? This is pretty broad so let’s make three categories:

  • My shoulds.
  • God’s shoulds
  • Everyone else’s shoulds.

I’ll start:

My shoulds (being totally honest here…which sucks. But they probably won’t materialize anyway):

  • I should be more loving and less judgmental.
  • I should spend less time on the internet and more time with God.
  • I should quit counting offenses against me and begin counting my blessings.
  • I should be more like Jesus and less like a “Christian” who’s superior to everyone (more on this to come).
  • Chocolate should not be fattening (oops how did that get in there?).

God’s shoulds:

  • God should not allow suffering – especially for Christians.
  • God should make purgatory mandatory for non-Catholics too (no reason to keep that exotic vacation destination to ourselves!)
  • God should punish all mean people – except me.
  • God should ignore my pompous attitude even though it runs totally counter to everything Jesus stood for.

Everyone else’s shoulds:

  • People should be more generous and less self-serving.
  • Wicked people should not prosper.
  • People should love and accept each other.
  • My neighbor should only put his trash out on trash day and make his dog stop pooping in my yard. (Yeah, I know it’s you!)

But wait; is this truly what we were made for? Is this what fulfills us and gives our lives meaning?

It seems we have gotten so caught up in demands and rules and check-lists that we have forgotten who and Who’s we are. We need to reclaim our innate call to love because of who we are in Christ. But, we seem to have lost our way in a culture that is hell-bent on dividing us into opposing camps: those who deserve the best life has to offer and those who don’t. We have replaced decency and justice for one-upping our “enemies” and this is not a new phenomenon.

Let’s take a look back.

Did you ever wonder how the piety of Jesus’ early followers morphed into the self-righteousness we witness today; how we as proclaimed followers of Christ actually believe that mandates enacted by man were Jesus’ way of “doing” religion? I’m no Scripture Scholar (duh) but I don’t think anyone has to be to question this colossal slight-of-hand by the powers-that-be from the beginning of Christianity. And, we who have been led to assume that we are superior to anyone who does not adhere to our beliefs, have let our egos run amuck. 

 A for real Scripture Scholar, Stephen Patterson tells us:

 “The original believers embraced Jesus’ radical social message – something we know because they were killed by the state as traitors. They were “committed to giving up old identities falsely acquired on the basis of baseless assumptions – Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (insert: black or white) – and declared themselves to be children of God.

The first Christian creed – the long-forgotten creed – wasn’t about God. It was about us. Who we are, who matters, and who deserves dignity. The first creed was a statement of human solidarity. The Jesus movement grew from a community who dared to proclaim that “there is no us, no them. We are all children of God. It was about solidarity, not cultural obliteration.” 

Diana Butler Bass emphasizes Patterson’s words:

“We are all children of God. You and your neighbor and immigrants and believers of other faiths and Democrats and Republicans… and … and … and …We are all children of God. It doesn’t sound like any Christianity we know. But it is what Jesus preached. What Paul shared in his letters.  And it was what the first Christians gave their lives for – a world of human dignity and equality for all children of God – where walls are torn down and bridges built in their stead. And if that’s what a “Christian America” could mean, then count me in.”  (Me too!!)

Each Christian faith has creeds, dogmas, and doctrines that define them. I am going to focus here on the Catholic version as that is what I am most familiar with. If I call myself “Catholic” then I am expected to adhere to Catholic doctrine. Long ago, I learned to walk lockstep in conformity to the “rules” because, well, the Church knows what’s best for us, right? Truth be told, I loved feeling superior to others. I did not question any of it. With a straight face I could admonish you if you did not play by the rules, “Yeah, you’re going to hell. Not sorry.”

The Church, somewhere back in time determined that its “sheep” needed to be controlled. They created rules that required strict adherence to avoid damnation and the eternal fires of hell and then circled the wagons to protect their flock from the evils of the world; or more likely from discovering the truth. Which explains why the “unqualified” laity were discouraged from reading the Bible. They needed their pastors to interpret it for them, poor inept souls. The BS meter should have gone off on that one!

Back in the First Century, Saint Irenaus took it upon himself to save the poor naïve masses from the Gnostics who, “…cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them…and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth”.  The Franciscan Media tells us, “Iraneus was tremendously protective of apostolic teaching, but was prompted more by a desire to win over his opponents than to prove them in error.”

So, what happened to Jesus? He seems to have gotten lost somewhere in the smoke and mirrors. Who is He to us? “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13) is the definitive question He still asks us today.  Every human being who knows the name Jesus will answer that question.  Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.”  Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions.  Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!”  Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23)  Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not liveEvery Christian must answer the question, “who is Jesus?”

Bidden or not bidden, Jesus is always and everywhere among us. We are invited to respond to Christ’s stirrings within our very being. The purest and most perfect act of worship is to go out into the world and do what He did for others. Central to what he did was to care for the poor, the outcast, the lost and rejected, with no regard for what others would ultimately do to Him. “Do what you must,” His life would say, “I can only respond to you in love.”

We must surely ask ourselves, today in particular, if we believe in and recognize the worth of everyone. It will require all the truth and vulnerability we can muster. Have we replaced Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-16) with a sense of superiority? If we look deep inside our own hearts what will we find? As hundreds of years of racism and bigotry in this country have become a glaring reality some so called “Christians” have jumped unapologetically on that bandwagon, we have to ask ourselves where we stand.

“If  you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”  Herman Hess

We are currently facing a hard truth that can no longer be ignored by any Christians, specifically (in the context of this post) Catholic Christians and the Catholic Church itself. We are in the midst of our day of reckoning. The Catholic Church’s extensive history of involvement in racism and bigotry which gives approval to white supremacy can no longer be denied. Sadly, when the Church condones these atrocities it is no surprise that some followers feel emboldened to do the same.

“I can only speak for myself, if I only teach things that make me feel comfortable, if I only teach and read things that reaffirm that I am right to be as I am in the world, then I never become aware of how I’ve both personally and systemically contributed to white supremacy. And that’s not okay.” Dr. Megan Goodwin

I will summarize these thoughts with two recent examples of the relationship between the Catholic Church and white supremacy. If you are not Catholic you’re still not off the hook. Sorry. I mean Westboro Baptist Church! So, it is still up to you to determine where your particular faith tradition stands and where you stand because this is not just a Catholic issue. Anyway…

white supremacy catholic

Jeannine Hill Fletcher wrote about “The Sin of White Supremacy” which Jack Downey discusses in America Magazine. He says:

“In 1968, the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus’s inaugural public statement indicted the Catholic Church in the United States for being a “white racist institution.” The following year, Vine Deloria Jr., a champion of Native American rights, chronicled the genocidal effects of the “Doctrine of Discovery” on indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. The year after that, theologian James Cone called the white Christian ideology that undergirded U.S. slavery and Jim Crow nothing less than “Antichrist.”

Hill Fletcher offers a wrenching and meticulous genealogy of the relationship between Christian thought and racism that is guaranteed to shock, depress and enrage more than a few white readers. At the same time, others will read it and think it to be among the most obvious and historically demonstrable theses in world history.

White Catholic institutions are beginning to reckon with their internal traditions of racism, but justice will remain an ever-receding horizon without a full accounting of, and divestment from, their spoils of white supremacy….the notion that American Christianity is fundamentally committed to the equality of all humanity, despite voluminous evidence to the contrary—is the soil out of which white supremacy grew”

 You can read the full article here: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/03/08/hard-truths-about-white-supremacy-america

My second example is from the National Catholic Reporter:

An article alleging that the Catholic Church has a white power faction was unpublished by Sojourners magazine (a social justice magazine no less), prompting backlash from other Catholics over the decision (and) the public resignation of two of the magazine’s editors.

The controversy surrounds the article, first published online under the headline “the Catholic Church has a visible white-power faction” and appearing in the August issue of the print magazine under the title “Harboring a Culture of Hate.” the essay was penned by Eric Martin who teaches religion at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Martin claims that when the U.S. bishops deliberated over their 2018 pastoral letter against racism, they voted to reject language condemning the imagery of swastikas, confederate flags and nooses.

 “The Catholic Church, once persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan, today has a visible white-power faction,” he wrote. “As long as the bishops actively refuse to condemn its banners, they give white supremacists space to embrace their anti-Black and anti-Semitic work free of religious dissonance.” 

Further, Martin chronicles a number of individuals who have promoted their faith as sympathetic to white supremacy or explicitly nationalistic in nature and that these individuals, some of whom led or have founded Neo-Nazi groups, have found a safe harbor in catholic leaders and institutions.

What I found to be a chilling reality is that Jim Wallis, the Founder and Editor of Sojourners who unpublished this article succumbed to outrage and pressure from the “Circle of Protection” of which he is a member.  I was aghast when I went to their website! They define themselves as: “Christian leaders who are heads of denominations, agencies, organizations, and educational institutions. We share a belief that God expects national leaders to give priority to the needs of poor and hungry people.”

Wallis is also the author of this 2017 New Your Times bestselling book….…wait for it…

America's Original Sin

The full story is here: https://www.ncronline.org/news/media/sojourners-pulls-article-about-catholic-church-and-race-website?utm_source=AUG+14+2020+NCR+White+Sojourners+email&utm_campaign=cc_081420&utm_medium=email

Circle of Protection website: http://circleofprotection.us/who-we-are/

This may have been as difficult for you to read as it was for me to write. It challenges all of us to look honestly within our own hearts, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for the truth of our beliefs and the basis of our actions. Perhaps we don’t consider ourselves racist or bigoted, but do we have the courage to confront family members, neighbors, or coworkers, or even our churches, especially our churches, if they are? Or do we remain silent?

Right now, not some questionable far off Judgment Day, we are all being called to account for the way we have treated our fellowman. God help us if we don’t get this right.

 

WACK!! Welcome to my Most Profound 2×4 Moment Ever!

Originally posted on October 25, 2012

Many people use, and believe, the expression, “the patience of Job”.  Actually, Job was not a patient man. Perhaps a bit more patient than his lovely wife who told him to “Curse God and die!”– And his so-called friends who insisted God had exposed him for his wickedness. Their accusations had no limits:

Eliphaz, like most people in Jesus’ time, and many people even today, sadly, believed suffering was a direct result of sin; that suffering exposes you to God’s wrath – you’re busted!

Eliphax tells Job that he suffers at the hand of God because “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”. (Job 4:7-8)

Bildad chimes in, “God has rejected you because you’re evil!” (8:20). Ouch!

And, of course, not to be outdone by the others, Zophar annihilates any sense of worth he may be clinging to, “You’re a damn fool! Waxing poetic nonsense like you can dupe everyone, even God. Are you crazy?! We’re going to hang out here until God decides to give you a piece of his mind. And he will. You watch. If you weren’t such an idiot you would reach out to God while you still have breath in you!” (Job 11-14). Honestly, that’s all in there. Okay, I might have taken some license with it.

So, would “patient” be the appropriate verb for Job? After all, he admits, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (Job 3:26). I do, however, believe Job endured through more hardships than most of us could possibly imagine. So, let’s give him that.

Then, there was God, who was eerily quiet, until he came storming out of the whirlwind (38:1-40:2) into Jobs broken heart, revealing his power and majesty. And what was Job’s response? How could it have been anything other than “what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth” (40:4). And later, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (42:3). So, I think we could also give Job credit for finally surrendering to God even in the midst of his suffering; even though he still had no idea why God allowed him to suffer such pain and loss. God owned him no explanation and he no longer questioned God.

As for me? How long have I been questioning God? Forever, I think. Questioning often grew into whining and whining into mistrust until I felt I would never know or abide in the deep faith I so longed for. I was too afraid and too busy trying to control my own destiny. I talked about surrender and wrote about surrender, but felt my hypocrisy would one day be exposed because I wasn’t living it. Easy enough for me to tell you to surrender your life to God! Go on now. You’ll be fine. Honest.

In all fairness to my fragile ego, in two of the major events in my life: writing a book and going to graduate school, I did get the first part of God’s calling right. Go. The problem was my need to second-guess him; to run on ahead of him. But, let’s go back to where it all began.

God said to me one day, out of the clear blue, “Write a book.” Long story short, it was a work in progress for ten years: written, rewritten, and self-published twice. Writing the book was the part of God’s call I listened to and accepted.

The part I added later went something like this: “I’ve just written a book! Since this came from you, Lord, I can only assume it’s going to be on the New York Times best seller list! WOW! I can’t wait!” When that didn’t happen, I began to grow weary of God failing to meet my expectations and started to whine and complain, again. “God, why did you have me write this book? There have been so many mistakes made in the process. You knew I didn’t know what I was doing. So, why? Why? Why? Why?” Those incessant questions were born out of my feeble attempt to control the process and the outcome.

The next chapter begins with a friend asking me to speak at her church. I muttered a few words in God’s direction, “Lord, if you are now calling me to speak, even thought this is also something I never would have imagined doing, then I will do it.” I enrolled in a Speakers Training Workshop, had promotional DVD’s made and mailed to everyone I could imagine would care. I was offered a few opportunities to speak, and although I was extremely nervous, they went well and the feedback was positive.

Would it surprise you that I again tried to finish this chapter without any input from God? Oh boy, speaking! Yippee! I wanted to be faithful, funny and famous; Beth Moore, Sheila Walsh, and Chonda Pierce all rolled into one. And why not? This was God’s calling for me and he doesn’t do ordinary. But, except for those few opportunities, I sat by a silent phone practicing my funniness in the mirror.

“Oh, hahahahaha Linda, you are so funny!”

Wait, don’t leave! There’s more! In 2006, I was approached by my pastor to consider a program that would entail studies for a graduate degree in Pastoral Care (I still have the laugh lines from that one!). Seriously, I was nine credit hours short of an Associate’s Degree from a community college, and this was a graduate program! Right! To appease my pastor, I completed the application forms certain they would not accept me.

When the letter came I confidently opened it. My rejection began with “We are pleased to inform you…” That’s not nice I thought. You are pleased to tell me what I already know – I’m a loser?

But wait…

The letter went on to say they had accepted me. .

“Oh shit!” That’s what I said. That word usually only comes out in extreme circumstances like a car coming at me head-on, being stuck in a burning building, or having Robert Redford knock on my door and I’m in my bathrobe and curlers. (Yes, I’m that old!).

So…

“OH SHIT!”

An impossible and immutable reality was staring me in the face and I was scared to death! But, I went, frightened and uncertain, and graduated in 2009. Glory be to God – well, and to Linda, who, after one semester of preaching classes, and a head full of myself, determined that I would probably become the female Billy Graham on the preachers circuit. But, alas, more dashed dreams of fame.

I was supposed to move right from graduation to a position as Pastoral Associate in my comfortable little church. But, yep, you guessed it, that’s not what happened. After three grueling years of studies, I was told that position was not available due to lack of funding. So, there I sat in my pile of poopy dreams and unfulfilled aspirations as imminent writer, speaker, preacher and/or Pastoral Associate faded into oblivion.

For three years, I have been bellyaching to God just like Job. And then it happened, though not out of a whirlwind. God’s preferred method of attention getting for me is a 2×4.

While driving down the highway, minding my own business – from out of nowhere – WHACK!

“Are you paying attention, Linda?”

“I am now!”

Suddenly, I was pummeled by God, or at least that’s how it felt, with a review of the course of events that had transpired. Here’s a chronology of those events:

  • My book is the story of how God reached into my pain and suffering at the hands of others, and my own sinfulness, and spoke healing into my brokenness. He used the process of writing the book and the opportunities I have had to speak to continue that healing, which in turn, has helped others who have shared their own experiences with me.

 

  • Graduate school was really, really, REALLY a struggle for me. Writing graduate level papers and reading the works of theologian’s like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard Lonergan, made my head explode! I was anxious most of those three years. I felt inadequate at best and downright stupid at worst. Academically, I felt I was not on the level of most of the other students – always looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to show me the door. I got some of it, forgot most of it, but, somehow, in the process, I grew spiritually in    ways I could never have imagined. One of my last classes dealt with the foundations  of ministry. I remember my professor telling me at the end of the semester that I had  a simple way of approaching ministry that would serve me well. He was telling me  that I didn’t need to feel incompetent because I couldn’t put together a string of  theological thoughts that would rival the best in the field. But I didn’t understand or  appreciate his words at the time.

 

  • Just before graduation, I asked my pastor, “Do I still have a job when I get out of here?” He replied matter-of-factly, “No.” I was shocked! He stated that because of the economy they could not afford to hire an associate. I was devastated and shaken to my foundation. I would only realize later that much of that was due to fear. If I was going to apply for a position in a different church, how would I fair in the interview process? Even though I had a 3.7 GPA, I had little confidence in my abilities, especially since I knew there would be lots of applicants and very few positions available. Oh yeah , and I was old. So, I insisting that I lived too far from the churches that were making job offers. I’d wait for something else to come along.

 

  • I have often heard people say that they did not have closure when a loved one died. I have come to believe, since my mother’s death, that closure happens in the day-to-day moments when we do or say stupid things, or we fail to love well. Scripture tells us in Matthew 5:23-24,“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Don’t wait, take care of it immediately. It’s too late when you’re lying cold in a casket, or your ashes are scattered over the gulf course.

Do you see how God has moved in my life over all these years? I didn’t until that fateful trip in my car last week, when all of these events and situations came flooding into my head – then my heart. And, just as with Job, God spoke:

Linda, Linda, Linda, what am I going to do with you?! I called you to write a book, to do some speaking, to go to graduate school. Who told you you were going to be a famous writer, speaker, or preacher?! Much of the time you ran off on your own without waiting on me; without even consulting me. You had it all figured out and then when it didn’t happened the way you planned it, you came complaining to me. My time is not your time, my ways are not your ways. It’s about obedience and trust, Linda. I think you are finally ready to hear that. Why, according to your timing, has it taken so long?

It was important for you to feel the pain of the loss of your mother and to go through your own healing process before you could enter the sacred space of others who suffer; are dying, or have lost a loved one. This is Holy Ground that I am asking you to step into. You were not ready before.

Somehow you have managed to move in the direction I have called you. You’ve made it an uphill climb, but you have been falling forward, so that’s progress! I placed the desires in you before you were born, and I have set in place my plan for you and long to bring it to completion…

If you will just get out of my way!

A few days after the Holy Whacking in my car, I received a Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr. Quite appropriate I think:

All of Jesus’ guidance for ministry…are very concrete and interpersonal. They are all about putting people in touch with specific people, and especially with people’s pain. Person-to-person is the way the Gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-touching-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Divine Presence is so beautifully revealed.

I have come to understand through personal experience what Richard Rohr also says about grief and death and dying:

We must learn how to walk through the stages of dying. We have to grieve over lost friends, relatives, and loves. Death cannot be dealt with through quick answers, religious platitudes, or a stiff upper lip. Dying must be allowed to happen over time, in predictable and necessary stages, both in those who die graciously and in those who love them. Grief is a time where God can fill the tragic gap with something new and totally unexpected. Yet the process cannot be rushed.

It is not only the loss of persons that leads to grief, but also the loss of ideals, visions, plans, places, and our very youth….Grief work might be one of the most redemptive, and yet still unappreciated, ministries in the church. Thank God, it is being discovered as a time of spacious grace and painful gift.

What a dunce I was, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). I pray I have finally learned to wait on God and know his plan for me is perfect; to trust his infinite wisdom more than my finite and feeble efforts to do things my own way.

Okay, that is the post from 2012.

And the saga continues…

I would like to conclude with a quote from Glennon Doyle that sums up where I’m at right now in my life.

do the next right thing

“About time – huh God?!”

“Still not holding my breath, Linda.”

 

Theology Can Render You a Moron

moron

Okay, I can’t speak for everyone, but it certainly applies to me!

My adventures into the great unknown – better known as graduate school – began just as it ended three years later. My initial question, “What am I doing here”? – morphed into my final, most profound, and current question, “Really! What am I doing here”?

There I was, barely a high school graduate, with just a bit of junior college and a whole lot of “know-it-all” religion, running head long into theological studies. Fortunately, at the outset, I agreed to allow God to have his way with my pebble-sized faith and my Goliath attitude. He wasted no time. From my first class to my last exam, God pelted me with enough “what ifs” to render me stupid. “Linda, what if some of the stories in Scripture aren’t “factual”?  What if I don’t have a beard? What if Heaven’s not a “place”, eternity is here and now, and my “church” includes everyone – even those you don’t like? How’s your faith holding up so far?”

My faith was black and white, and it seemed so simple. In reality, “religion” may be, but true faith is hardly black and white, yet, paradoxically, it’s simpler. For example (here’s the moron in me): I had a long list of people who were destined for hell. Not specific names (well, okay, I had some), but rather, specific attitudes and actions that qualified. To be fair, I myself slipped on and off that list all my life for not following the “rules” – even when I didn’t know what the rules were!

Reality tells me that things are not what they seem and only God can know what is in the heart. My neighbor may seem like the jerk of all jerks, but only God knows him well enough to decide that. I Samuel 16:7 says, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  God may very well agree with my “jerk” label of someone, but he says in no uncertain terms, “He may be a jerk. But he’s MY jerk, so lay off”!

In my first semester at Aquinas I encountered the infamous St. Augustine, considered one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all time. At the end of his life, he decided he was an idiot and didn’t know what he was talking about (see, I’m in good company!). So he quit writing and speaking. It didn’t take me that long. I’m sure God is still rejoicing over that!

Fortunately, deciding you are a moron early on has some unforeseen benefits:

  • You no longer have anything to “prove.”
  • “Rules” transform into possibilities.
  • You encounter the living Christ, in the here and now – not the long ago, far away, dead and buried – thus rendered irrelevant and easily dismissed, Jesus. Nice guy though.
  • Righteousness gives way to solidarity with all your brothers and sisters in faith, or no faith at all.
  • Unknowing looks more like wisdom than stupidity.
  • Humility flourishes. Acceptance of self, of God, and of others is borne of true humility.
  • Loving relationships carry no conditional baggage.
  • Faith and trust in a loving, extraordinary God is now actually possible.
  • And finally, you can live in this messy, sometimes violent, darkened world, with a sense of hope.

Lord knows, I don’t have all the answers. “Yes, I do, Linda!”

Actually, I probably don’t have any answers.  But I still know that my only source of grace and hope lies in the mystery of a God that holds it all together, and holds us gently and lovingly in his embrace.

Now I can say with great conviction, “I am a deeply loved moron”!

Can I get an AMEN?

I Want a Do-Over…I Think…Maybe not

(Originally posted 6/30/14)

My oldest son and daughter-in-law have an eight-month-old baby, their first. On a recent visit, my daughter-in-law asked me what I thought was important to teach their daughter. I threw out some thoughts, but, several weeks later, I am still thinking about that question.

I made a LOT of mistakes parenting my children, something that always comes to mind for me on Mother’s Day, and other random days when I am particularly vulnerable to my darkest side. I often wish I could have a do-over. A chance to enact that age-old expression, “if I knew then what I know now”.

So, if I had it to do over how would I parent differently? First of all, and most importantly, you cannot instill in your children what has not been instilled in you. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” doesn’t work (you do know that, right?). Or, my all-time favorite, “Do it because I said so.” But, the reality that children learn by our example more than anything sometimes catches us off-guard, many times in uncomfortable places: In front of friends, the pastor, or new neighbor. We blush with embarrassment and exclaim, “Johnny, where did you hear that????” You know darn good and well where he heard that!

“From you daddy!”

We often fail miserably in living out the values we want to impart to our children.

There are six values (in no particular order), and one HUGE command, that immediately come to mind for me, none of which, I might add, were modeled to me as a child:

  • Generosity: 

I think that if we were all honest we would admit that we embrace some degree of selfishness. Like:

Hiding in the bathroom with the last piece of pie from last night’s dinner. (Come on, you know you’ve done it.) And you know full well it was your husband’s favorite pie. AND it was more like two pieces! AND you told him it was all gone!

Holding onto that “favorite-can’t-live-without-it-sweater” when packing up a box of clothing for the hurricane victims in Haiti. They really wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. And you’re giving them all this other stuff that’s clean and doesn’t have holes or stains. Okay, maybe it is your dear dead grandmother’s stuff from ten years ago, but it’s still usable. Never mind that you have three other identical sweaters!

Ignoring the bills in your wallet and digging in the bottom of your pocket for meager change to hand out the window of your moving car to the homeless man on the corner. Then feeling pretty darn good about it because the three people in front of you drove right past him. Shoot, you may have even offered him a blessing as you drove away.

Is that the kind of “generosity” our kids see in us? Will they respond to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in the same way? How giving and selfless do we want them to be? Like us – or like Jesus? I would hope you would say, “Like Jesus” but then the question becomes am I like Jesus in my selflessness and generosity?

The challenge becomes this: the next time we are given the opportunity to give to or serve others how generous are we willing to be? Enough that it hurts a little bit?

Here’s a recent experience I had:

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This was a homeless man I encountered recently on the Katy Trail one morning. I greeted him kindly as I ran past him. When I was returning I saw another man standing next to his bike talking to him. When I passed them I couldn’t help but think about how I had avoided him, excusing it as a safety measure on my part. After all, the trail was secluded and there was no one else around at the time.

However, when I got home I enlisted my husband to help me pack some food and water and take it to him. We found him trying to fish with a string and a hook and talked with him for a while before he went on his way. I’m pretty sure I did all that out of guilt and definitely felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit when I tried to get past him on the trail that morning.

The point is, as I am being continually reminded, it isn’t enough to throw a few coins from the safety of your car. Your brother or sister needs touch; needs the love that says you care; needs to see Christ. Have you heard the expression, “You may be the only Christ a person meets”? Think about that.

  • Forgiveness 

I know, this is probably the hardest one of all, especially if what you are teaching your children to forgive is, well, unforgivable. But, I have to ask, how do they know what is or isn’t unforgivable? Have you taught them that? Do you tell them you don’t go visit Uncle Jim because he did something awful to you and you can’t stand him? Do you talk about the neighbor you hate or the friend you don’t see anymore because of some grievance you have against them? Then one day your daughter comes home from school and tells you she hates her once best friend for whatever reason and you tell her that it’s not nice to hate?

Countless times I said to my kids, “Hate’s a strong word. We don’t use that word”, while for years I hated my own mother and others who abused me. Eventually I did learn to forgive those who hurt me deeply and I learned to seek forgiveness from those I hurt in the past and sometimes still do. Try it. Just know that you can’t truly forgive without the grace of God. It’s not a good idea to go knocking on someone’s door you are estranged from without taking God’s compassion and grace with you.

  • And speaking of Compassion:

God could have kept Jesus safely at home, thereby sparing both Son and Father the agony that they’d soon be suffering. But those who had been cast aside by society desperately needed Jesus’ touch. The woman who came to the well after all the other women had shunned her; the leper who’d been sent into a lonely, humiliating exile; the adulterous woman, shamed and frightened, standing half-naked before a self-righteous crowd eager to stone her. All of them, and so many more, needed Jesus’ compassionate touch, a touch that the world rejects; it’s beneath them.

As we grow into the people God created us to be, made in His likeness and His image, we must accept the call to share that love with others – not as a burden, but as a blessing.  Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart….” (Matthew 11:29).

I’m someone who has received Jesus’ compassionate tenderness when I have been so undeserving of it. He calls me to reach out to others in the same way. Even when we can’t imagine how our touch will be received, we have a mandate to carry on Christ’s work. The world would have us believe that it’s dangerous to reach out to others, especially strangers. But, as Mother Theresa says, “Do it anyway.”

Here’s an important question to reflect on: Could you or I have compassion for someone in need if no one was watching?

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Yes, of course the Pope knows everyone is watching him and this scene makes a lovely photo opt. But, I think there are few people who doubt Pope Francis’ compassion. It truly is genuine and brings many to tears.

Do you remember this story of Officer Larry DePrimo who was photographed after he bought boots and thermal socks for a homeless man? He didn’t do it because someone was watching, or because he would gain anything for himself. He did it because he cared. Plain and simple.

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  • Acceptance

I often think our kids are more accepting of others than we are. I’m not sure why it is so difficult for us to just accept others for who they are, but it is. We can’t accept the jerk next door that spews profanity at everything from his crabgrass to the mail carrier to his wife…and you, of course.

We often can’t even accept ourselves. Actually, I believe we are just as judgmental and merciless towards ourselves, because, after all, we should act better.

I would go so far as to say that we even struggle to accept God for who he is. We try desperately to remake him into our image and become frustrated when he doesn’t cooperate.

I guarantee you I can find something wrong with everyone I know, myself included. The list of the things that make me the mess that I am is long – very long.

Think about every time you meet someone new. You hope against hope that this person will be different. They seem normal. Then they do something stupid by your standards (it’ll happen, just give it time). Suddenly, they become an instant ass and the proverbial honeymoon is over.

If we could only grasp these profound words of Richard Rohr (paste this on your bathroom mirror and read it to yourself every day until it sinks in. You’ll be doing yourself, your kids, you neighbor and God a huge favor!):

Once we have learned to discern the real and disguised nature of both good and evil we recognize that everything is broken and fallen, weak and poor—while still being the dwelling place of God—you and me, your country, your children, your marriage, and even your church and mosque and synagogue. That is not a put-down of anybody or anything, but actually creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18).

In this, you may have been given the greatest recipe for happiness for the rest of your life. You cannot wait for things to be totally perfect to fall in love with them or you will never love anything. Now, instead, you can love everything!

  • Humility

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

“Love does not get puffed up” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Puffed-up love, or pride, is easily recognized because it’s always turned toward itself. I know all about pride because I once made an almost effortless transition from self-hatred to self-love. Not the self-love God refers to in Mark 12:31. The self-love I’m referring to hides within the ego and thrives on a superior self image. That’s not what God had in mind when he modeled humility in the life and death of Jesus. He became “the least of these”.

Would I do this? Would my child?:

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  • Trust

This has always been a huge one for me.

Are you trust-worthy? Because if you are not, then it stands to reason that you will not trust others and will find yourself cynical of their motivations. Do your children trust you?

I learned very early about trust. When I was about seven, I hid the key to our bathroom because I wanted a safe place to run to when my mother had one of her frequent angry fits. Soon after that, while my brother and I were playing a game, I cursed and he ran home to tell our mother. I ran past him, flew into the house, and locked myself in my sanctuary. In almost no time, of course, there was a pounding on the door.

“Linda, open the door.”

“No.  You’ll hit me!”

“I said open the door!”

“Promise you won’t hit me.”

“Open the g@#*^ door, or I’ll climb in the window!”

“Promise you won’t hit me!”

“Okay, I promise. Now open the door!”

Trusting her – after all, she was my mother right? – I opened the door. She beat me until I fell into the bathtub and continued beating me until she was convinced that I had learned my lesson. Well, I did learn a lesson that day: don’t trust anyone. It was a lesson that would stay with me for many years. I became instantly determined that no one would hurt me like that ever again.

Why is it that we’ll trust people who have no interest whatsoever in us or our well-being, yet we can’t seem to trust the One who died for us? How many of your Facebook “friends” care about your salvation? Do you think they care that you struggle? Do you think for a moment they wonder how you’re doing? “Gee, that’s a shame about Linda’s brush with hell” – yawn. If they want anything, it is to keep you right there with them. Misery loves company.

When I became a Christian my struggles and heartaches didn’t magically disappear. They did, however, illuminate God’s call to surrender my will to his. Every time I came to that place I fought it with everything I had. I was angry that God would ask such a thing of me, “Where were you, Lord, when I was being abused? Why should I give anything up to you”? Though I kept him at arm’s length for a long time, gradually, he got through to my hardened heart. Gradually I began the process of turning loose of those things that – truth be told – I never had control of anyway. I was beginning to trust.

As I have grown closer to God, I have come to hear his voice more clearly, trust his guidance more readily, and wait a bit more patiently when he is silent. Yet, what is critical to understand in all of this is that I still fall short. Just when I believe I have overcome my defensive attitude someone pushes my button and sets me off. Busted! Exposed! And the insecure Linda I try to keep locked up is revealed—again.

So, there are the six virtues I wished I would have learned as a child from loving parents; virtuous parents. They are the virtues I have wished for so long to have modeled to my own kids. They never saw it then; I hope and pray they do now.

Now, be assured, ticking off a checklist of all that we “accomplish” on the path to sainthood and beating ourselves up when we fall short is an exercise in futility. Why? Because we are human, it is no more complicated than that. We try to make it more complex, but it really isn’t.

 When we fail – and we do (as will our kids) – discouragement will become our constant companion if we do not accept the fact that we will never be perfect. Never! (And neither will our kids.) Because I could not accept that in the past I felt I was continually failing God when I couldn’t seem to control or discipline myself, my husband, my kids, or the dog. No one!  But, as shocking as it may seem, the greatest commandment is not, “Get your act together stupid!”

And as for our children, sure, we want them to grow up with the moral fortitude and the integrity of a saint, but we also have to accept that it just might not happen the way we envision it. For whatever reason, there are no guarantees. That adorable baby you start off with could end up different than you had dreamed:

hitler-150x150 Know who this is?

So, are you saying, Linda, that raising children is a crap shoot? In some ways, yes. But, here’s the thing we just can’t seem to comprehend when we try desperately to control our lives and the lives of our children, if that is the basis of our parenting, God help us! I’m not saying that you should throw discipline out the window – far from it. We are given a responsibility as parents that we should take very seriously.

Anyway, my point is this: God has lent us our children. They don’t belong to us, they belong to him and he wants them back in the same “condition” we received them. Of course, he knows we aren’t the only ones that influence their behavior and he does not hold us accountable for the possibility that others may lead them astray. As I said before, there are no guarantees. I’m sure there were people in my earlier years (I’m thinking of some of my teachers) who wouldn’t have given me a snowball’s chance in hell of staying out of jail! Well….

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If you, like me, are a bit intimidated by the responsibility you have to care for the children God has gifted you with there are innumerable Christian parenting books. Some are very good, while others make no sense at all. God has also given you the ability to discern which ones make sense and which ones don’t. I will say this: If you try a method that advocates excessive discipline, or go the opposite route and become too permissive, you will likely know in your gut that you are on the wrong path. Remember, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results.

For me, Dr. James Dobson’s books filled the gap between the way I was raised and the way God was calling me to love and nurture my own children. And I believe his council is as true today and it was then. But, that is as far as I will go in offering advice as that goes beyond the scope of this post. Just remember that what I have offered here is my opinion. And what did you pay for that opinion? Nothing.

The days of actually raising my children have long passed. But if I did have it to do over I would have first learned to love them unconditionally because of God’s unconditional love for me. I would have accepted them as the individuals they were created by God to be, faults and all, because that is how God created and accepts me, and I would not have felt such a need to control the hell out of them!

That brings us to the final thought: that ONE HUGE COMMAND which Jesus left to his disciples and us.

The GREATEST of these…is…

Drum roll please….

LOVE

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” If the basis of all we do as parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors is to love as we are called to, our children will be just fine.

 

 

Welcome to my Groundhog Day!

(Originally posted 2/12/2014)

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I recently celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday. I’m thinking that sixty-five years is a loooooong time to be doing the same dumb things over and over and over. I’m also thinking that God is thinking the same thing! I believe that’s why He has also recently been intent on repeating himself over and over and over until I – hopefully (hope springs eternal) – change.

Let me say that God has done some pretty incredible things in my life! And there have been significant changes over the years. But there are still things that haunt me: Rejection, complaining and lack of true humility. Oh sure, I can lay claim to superficial humility. You know, that surface stuff that implodes the first time some jerk gets on my bad side!

And so, like our poor friend Phil here, I go to bed every night with good intentions and wake up the next morning finding myself stuck in the same place.

Remember in the movie, Groundhog Day, when Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) says to Rita: “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned, and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me”? That would make a great metaphor for my life, and probably all our lives to one degree or another, except for the “without a scratch” part.

Here’s how my life has unfolded:

I was once a concept of God’s wild and magnificent imagination. I can envision all the angels in heaven dancing for joy at the sight of every single creature God brings to life.

Then, without warning, I was plopped into a broken world and life immediately began its re-creation of me into the person God no longer recognized. And the angels fell silent.

Through life I too (metaphorically) have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned”. First by those who were entrusted with my care, and then by myself attempting to live within the context of that person who forgot who, and Whose, she was. Everything this Original Creation was supposed to be morphed into something unrecognizable. My focus was not to live with joy the fullness of the life promised to me. My focus became simply a matter of survival. Like Phil waking up every day in a world that never changed.

I tried to end my pain just like he did. Only I didn’t have a groundhog strapped to my steering wheel and it wasn’t on railroad tracks. It was me drunk in my little MG on the highway, praying that I would crash and die. Phil’s reaction when his attempt to kill himself failed was, “Ah, nuts.” Mine was the same. I think my exact words were, “Great! I’m even lousy at killing myself!” I remember getting out of bed the next morning and going off to work: Same empty life, different day.

Over the years, since that not so fatal day (thank you God!), much has happened. As I said before, God has done some remarkable things in my life considering my incessant resistance to the death of my own will. We have been through so much together! When I think about what He has managed to accomplish in this continual wrestling match it has been nothing short of a miracle! (Genesis 32:22-32)

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After Phil described the torture he had endured he exclaimed that there was “not a scratch on me”. I couldn’t say that, but I did think that “not a scratch on me” meant symbolically that I tried to live as though the pain and suffering had no impact on my life. That I was just fine when I was far from it. I knew in light of the fact that God has brought my issues to light again, and not so subtly, that a lesson was coming…and it wouldn’t be pretty.

Sure enough, the last couple of weeks I have embarked on a new meditation that’s pretty AWESOME! It is titled Bridges to Contemplative Living, a compilation of the works of Thomas Merton and other Spiritual Giants. I know that God is ever so gently loosening my white-knuckled grip to my own self-will.

Of course, as is God’s mysterious way and because I have been in total denial, I have been whacked with almost daily admonitions from God of “Who do you think you’re kidding, Linda?”

For example: Within all of our relationships lies the truth of our faithfulness and sinfulness whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Every time we try to fool ourselves into thinking we’re destined for sainthood, if we’re not afraid to face that truth, there are powerful lessons to be learned.

So…I recently had a conversation with my husband. Okay, let me restate that. I had an angry confrontation with him concerning a family matter that I felt was going badly. I wasn’t angry with him, but wanted him to know how I felt about the situation. God sat quietly while I whined and wailed and wore myself out. And then ever so gently stepped in and stuck a big fat mirror in my face! That’s all it took.

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I had to sit with that and in the process I realized that my anger stemmed not from the current situation, but from many years of trying to defend my fragile ego and pride. It isn’t just with this particular person; it is with every person that pushes my ever so delicate buttons.

And I hear God say, “Okay, Linda. Let’s give it another try.” And so…I’m trying. What I would like to share with you is what God has been showing me in the process of the meditations, prayers, and almost daily experiences related to the study I am in the middle of that provide the litmus test of how I’m doing. Regardless of the fact that God has not cut me one bit of slack, I think it’s some pretty awesome stuff.

Some things have been subtle; some not so much as God tries to love me into the person He originally created me to be and He knows full well He has His work cut out for Him.

One profound lesson concerned rejection:

Have you ever felt rejected? I have, all my life. Even today there are people I feel rejected by and I react to them with unkindness. But how often have I considered the times I reject God by those thoughts and actions born of pride and cultivated in arrogance?

And, so I pray: Lord, I seek your forgiveness for putting so many things ahead of you. You love me SO much and feel my rejection so deeply. You cannot make me love you, though you love me unconditionally. Help me to sit in silence in your presence and teach me how to love. By your power and your grace, help me to let go of the things that fill my thoughts and keep me out of relationship with you and with those you bring into my life.

Another lesson reminded me how much I complain:

Mark 6:34 says, “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them.”  Not so much the hearts of his disciples. All they did was complain. Jesus said to feed them. And their response? “What, are you kidding? There are thousands of them.” They counted the meager change in their pockets, “You can’t expect us to just call out for pizza. Let em’ get their own food!”

Jesus always manages to shine a spotlight on our smallness. In those moments I’m standing right there with the disciples all indignant about my weaknesses and inadequacies; forgetting the Source of my power that is within my very soul. He’s trying his best to get through to them, and me, and you. He even humbles himself for heaven’s sake! “I can’t do anything without my Father!” (John 5:30) But, do we listen?

And, the recurring theme throughout this study? Humility:

Matthew 3:13-17, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?”

There is a whole bunch of humility going on here! John the Baptist never felt worthy “to tie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7)”, and said before his followers, “I must decrease so Jesus can increase.”

How often are we willing to decrease so Jesus can increase? We are all called to love; to have faith and trust and hope; to be filled with joy, peace, and humility, which underlies it all. None of this is remotely possible if it is not born of a heart filled with awe and wonder at the magnificence, power, and glory of God. None if it!

And think of Jesus himself allowing John to baptize him. He wasn’t a sinner and didn’t need to be baptized. Yet he humbled himself before everyone and in the company of sinners to lead the way to his Father.

Reflecting on what I have been reading and studying was like a one-two punch. No, God doesn’t punch, but I’m telling you he flicks! I have been flicked often enough to know. And it hurts. Because he’s not flicking my head, he’s flicking my heart!

At one point in the movie, Groundhog Day, Phil says, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” Good question.

When we go our own way; when we obey the parts of God’s commands that are easy and discard the parts that don’t appeal to us: love your neighbor – check, love your enemy – scratch, is it any wonder that God hates that?

It’s funny, all that I have just related to you is nothing new. “HOLY COW, I never saw those verses before! I never knew God felt so strongly about THAT!” Liar! They have just been an inconvenient truth for me. They demand something I have not been willing to submit to. I pray that is all changing.

I’m sure God isn’t finished with me yet because I checked my pulse and I’m still alive!

I’d like to say that I have finally conquered this one but I know better, and I’m pretty sure there will be another lesson tomorrow…

and the day after that…

and the day after that!