Passion, Purpose and Poopyheads

Life sometimes seems like a “Comedy of Errors” from our very first breath. You probably expected something very different while you were being formed in that cozy little B&B. You’re all comfy in there aren’t you? Floating around getting all your needs met. It’s pretty sweet. Except for those damn hiccups; people poking on you and trying to have a conversation with you right in the middle of your nap. But, then the party’s over. Without any warning, whoosh, out’cha go there little feller. You get flipped on your head and slapped silly by a perfect stranger. All the while, you’re thinking this is not what the brochures promised!

I have fourteen grandkids and at last count fifteen great-grandkids. I am always awe-struck at the sight of babies. They show-up all fresh and new; a clean slate. Well, they do have all that slimy stuff all over them, true, but, it washes off.

And then, life happens.

Good grief life can be a shit-storm some days can’t it? It really wasn’t meant to be that way you know. Long before we set one teeny foot into this world, God had our life all figured out. He gave us a big hug and a heart bursting with love and passion for all creation that we were meant to share. That was our purpose: To use the gifts he gave each of us to share his love. After all the work of creating us in his image (remember that for later), He kicked back, patted himself on the back and proclaimed to himself, “Yep, it’s all good!”

Then, it all went side-ways.

Maybe a parent failed us, a friend betrayed us, a cheating spouse or a devastating illness smacked us silly. Then, just for good measure, throw in our own missteps and sinfulness. All of which helped to build a wall around our fragile hearts that God can’t even penetrate. That wall is also fortified by a culture that worships independence, self-sufficiency, and self-promotion. We grow further and further from God’s intended purpose for us and we lose our way. The world does not offer us choices that are meant to fulfill our lives we simply learn how to climb into the least leaky boat.

If we dare step back, take a deep breath, and pay attention, the emptiness is almost palatable. If it wasn’t meant to be that way how did we end up here? Well, somewhere along the way we forgot who and Whose we were.

Being indoctrinated into “religion” only made it worse. We forgot that Jesus’ whole purpose was to remind us once again of the love of God, the desire of God for relationship with us, the longing of God for us to share that love with a broken world. But, we forgot. We got lost in the “rules” and fell asleep. 

Oh sure, there are times when we get some crazy notion that we are here for a reason. We start beating our chest determined to face our fears, stand down the bullies in our lives, and our own shadow. But, it doesn’t seem to last long. We fizzle out for any number of reasons: Confusion, fear, lack of trust in ourselves, that stupid poopyhead that keeps showing up uninvited to the party, or that damn zombie apocalypse in our heads (you know that’s not real, right?)!

Well, crap!

But hey, if it’s any consolation, just think about the hand-picked bunch of misfits Jesus had to deal with! Allow me to paint a picture for you. Better still, stick yourself in this moment. You’re Simon Peter at the Last Supper. Now, don’t get all gender specific on me, just indulge me okay?

Anyway, everyone’s enjoying fellowship and a great meal. You start to take an extra helping of mashed potatoes with a big slab of butter. Yum. But, just as you’re about to dig in, Jesus turns to you and asks a question that seems to come out of nowhere, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

You, “What?! Seriously? Of course I love you” you say as you go back to stuffing your face (by the way, you should seriously cut back on those carbs).

Jesus, “Feed my sheep”.

You nod.

But, you barely get that spoonful of lusciousness to your mouth when Jesus asks again, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

You’re flabbergasted and your potatoes are getting cold. “Yes, Lord, I do. I swear (oops)!”

“Where is this coming from?” you mumble under your breath.

Jesus, unrelenting, “Feed my lambs”.

You scratch your head, but get lost in – drum roll please – dessert. OMG! Your favorite, apple pie ala mode! You grab the server before she gets away and ask for an extra scoop. You start to dig in, and….yep…

There he is in your face, “Simon Peter, one last time, are you sure you love me?” Now, in all fairness, it’s understandable why Jesus keeps asking you that since, well, you did run and hide when it all got too scary for you. But, you’re about to lose it anyway, “Why do you keep asking me that same question? Yes, yes, yes, I love you!”

Then, without responding, Jesus stands up, goes to the window and pulls back the curtain. “Simon Peter, come here.”

“Oh man”, you groan. Great, now your ice cream is going to melt. Everyone else is finished and the server comes to clear the table, “Don’t take this”, you say, “I’ll be right back”! You walk to the window.

Jesus, “Simon Peter, look outside. What do you see?”

At this point you get a little snarky: “I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you, And I think to myself what a wonderful world.”

Jesus, “Oh, for Heaven’s sake! You don’t see that mother crying as she holds her starving child? You don’t see the beggar everyone is ignoring? You don’t see the broken humanity right outside this window?”

You swallow hard because you sense your moment of reckoning is here.

Jesus, Three times I called you to feed my sheep and three times you chose to feed yourself instead. You give lip service to my call to care for those who hunger and in the same breath claim to love me.”

Hopefully, this is where you pass on the dessert and get your sorry self out there doing what really matters like you were supposed to all along. But, how do you do that? That, my friend, is a good question. It was supposed to have been answered by your Kindergarten teacher when you were learning “This little light of mine”. Unless, of course, you were a public school kid like me. Okay, then, maybe you began to learn it in Sunday school. Unless you were a heathen like me. Then, there’s the possibility your dear granny sat you on her knee (before knee surgery) and taught you all about Jesus’ love. Unless your granny was a heathen too.

I think we were set-up too when the Church decided to take control by creating lots of rules to keep us in line. It worked for a while, actually a very long while. But then people got smart and tired of “rules” that couldn’t fill the void. The latest study from Pew Research can attest to that fact, even if the churches have decided to ignore it. The study shows 23% of Americans, mostly millennials, self- identify as “nones”: atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” (whatever that means). And, the numbers are growing.

Even older folks are just showing up to get their cards punched. They shake the Pastor’s hand and lie about how good his sermon was (if they stay that long), then grab a bulletin to prove to anyone who might care that they were there. Done for another week or two, or maybe till Easter. 

Where did we ever get the notion that the narrow definition of religion was going to get us anywhere meaningful? There are actually several definitions of “religion”. The etymology of the word is often times connected with religare “to bind fast”. Great! What image does that conjure up for you?

Then, as if that isn’t enough to render anyone a total numbasille (I just made that up. Spellcheck doesn’t like it, but I think it works), we have the “stories” in the Bible. I know, we could debate all day long, because people do, about whether or not the “stories” are factual or myth. You’ll have to decide that one for yourself. (If you would like some help with that read anything by John Shelby Spong. I wouldn’t share that one with your grandma!)

Let’s look at just two that I have a real problem with: Adam and his accomplice/wife Eve. We’re told that Adam and Eve set us up for failure. No sense trying to be good. That’s a lesson in futility because, well, we can’t be “good”. It’s called “Original Sin”. It’s like a hereditary disease. We all have it and there’s no cure for it. (Believe me, if the pharmaceutical companies could come up with a pill for it they would have long ago!)

“I’ve got you now you wretched little creature!” (Not sure how the Scripture verse that says we were made in God’s image reconciles with that, but there it is.) Yep, like the Elf-on-the Shelf, he watches our every move, just waiting for us to screw up. I mean really. He was lurking around in the garden while they tried to hide, but he caught em’.

adam-and-eve-hiding-1

“I can see you, Adam.”

“No you can’t.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can.”

Then, there’s that whole burning bush thing. Do you think for one minute that wasn’t a set up for Moses? “Come on out God we know you’re hiding in there waiting to pounce on our slightest indiscretion. That’s sneaky. No one likes a sneak!”

Sorry, I just can’t believe in that kind of God. It’s more that we have turned our backs on Him and our full potential, our purpose, our call to love beyond measure.

Somewhere along life’s journey we are supposed to grow into the person we were created to be. But, we got hornswaggled by the lies. And, unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen on its own.

And don’t think for a moment that it’s just you. People who seem to have everything, are hungry for that something “more” just like the rest of us. Deep within every one of us is a longing for purpose. But, we can spend a life-time raking the muck this way and that in our foolish efforts to figure it out.

I think our world today has successfully sucked the life out of anyone who believes for one minute that we are here for more than accumulating fake friends on FB, making lots of money, having the newest iPhone, or investing in the latest miracle weight loss cure. And for what?

Get up. Do life. Go to bed. Repeat.

We have all been given a purpose in this life, the passion to fulfill it, and lots of poopyheads along the way intent on screwing it all up!

The truth of our very existence has been stifled, stuffed away, and rendered irrelevant right along with God and all that matters for humankind. But, I believe “religion” became something long ago that God never intended. For so long, if we stuck with it we learned to stay within our comfortable unquestioned faith because to do otherwise was just too daunting. Religion became empty and void of meaning. And when young people came along who were not afraid to ask the hard questions and were not content with the canned answers the Church offered they left in droves, and they’re still leaving.

So, what is my purpose? – you ask. Why am I here? Good question and one that is asked over and over again when the answer is really quite simple. Our struggle is embedded in worldly pursuits that ultimately bring us to a dead-end. We want life on our terms. We don’t want to struggle, we don’t want to suffer, and we damn sure don’t want to encounter anyone else’s suffering. We have enough to deal with trying to stand out in this dog-eat-dog world: An impressive degree, the next promotion, a face life, the biggest house, exotic vacations with pictures to prove it. I could go on. The point is that none of it offers fulfillment that lasts. Striving for more, paradoxically, leaves us emptier and hungrier. If we could just realize that hunger will never be filled with anything this world has to offer. NEVER.

Consider this: If someone approached you and demanded everything you have accumulated and cling to or they will kill you right where you stand, what would you be willing to die for? Any of it? Or would you quickly, without hesitating, had over your wallet, credit cards, and keys to that new car? I’m guessing you would. I would!

Martin Luther King said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” Ouch! So, the question then becomes, what is worth dying for? I have a one word answer. Ready? Love.

There it is.

I don’t know about you, but my most profound moments of clarity are at funerals when I do a life review. If funerals don’t cause us to evaluate our own existence, I don’t know what will. We may still be standing at the grave site when the questions surface: Do I matter? Have I value? What is my legacy? Will anyone care when I’m gone? Do I really have a purpose? What have I done to make the world a better place? Will I have to eat that crappy potato salad at the luncheon again? (Oh, sorry, I digress)

Sometimes funerals can cause us to throw up our hands and proclaim, like Macbeth after the death of his wife, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.”

Oh joy.

But wait, look closer at the life Macbeth lived:

(1) He was evil.

(2) He believed three witches who told him he would be King of Scotland.

(3) Egged on by his equally evil wife, Lady Macbeth, he kills the king to become the new king.

Oh it gets better.

(4) He continues his killing spree out of fear that he can’t hold on to his power.

(5) A war erupts to overthrow Macbeth, resulting in more death.

(6) Lady Macbeth eventually kills herself.

(7) Macbeth gets himself beheaded.

The End.

Macbeth was bamboozled by witches because they offered him certainty that he would get what he wanted: Power and fame. He really was an idiot. Look at his motives because this is where we take a deep dive into God vs. the world. This might be pretty heavy stuff so buckle up, dear ones.

Today, we too want absolute certitude that what we are after is real. Faith is a calculated risk, but we don’t like risk even if there is a high degree of probability. It’s too iffy. No thanks. Which I find pretty amusing considering the things some people will do for “fun”. Like, I don’t know: Jumping off buildings, scaling walls, motorcycle stunts! And that’s not risky??

A shaky questioning faith might be less cut and dry than mindlessly following a set of rules.  It may be more uncontrollable and mysterious than what you have ever experienced, but that is what will bring you into the presence of Love and the very essence of God.

What’s the difference between unquestioned faith and allowing life to run rough-shod over us while we sit in the middle of the road? You may not have been told this but you’re allowed to wrestle with God; to question the reason for the suffering and heartache in the world. You can tackle the very struggles within yourself that you have never thought you could bring to him. God’s tough. Trust me. He can take it.

I got so angry with him during a very difficult time in my life, I cried and shook my finger at Him, “God, if you love me so much where were you when my mother was abusing me?!” I ranted on and on about all the suffering he allowed in my life. And what I got back from him was not a lightning strike which I was prepared for, but a gentle loving response that unsettled the very core of my being. “Linda, I did not abandon you during that time. I suffered along with you. My heart ached for you. I have lovingly, sorrowfully, held your tears. But, the choices people make are beyond my control. I’m truly sorry. But, you, my dearest daughter, have also sinned and fallen short. Even then, I never have I stopped loving you. I’m just waiting for you to trust me and start loving me. Then, your healing will start and you will be able to forgive those who hurt you.”

You see, there are no church “rules” or dogmas that will ever bring us into that kind of deep abiding relationship with God, which, in turn will shine a light on our purpose in life. It is what we call “experiencing” God. Until we can let go of our need to “know” that God is real, we will never allow ourselves to open our hearts to experiencing Him.  It’s that simple and that critical. It’s no more complicated or profound than that!

That is Good News!

William O’Malley nailed it when he said, “Genuine religion begins – not as it did for most of us, with indoctrination and imposing worship but with a personally captivating experience, a “sense” of the numinous, a presence larger than the capacities of this world to produce.”

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”

YOU HAVE TO KNOW THAT YOU MATTER!

That is what John Eldredge tells us, “If we could believe that about our lives, and come to know that is true, everything would change. We would be so much more able to interpret the events unfolding around us, against us. We would discover the task that is ours alone to fulfill. We would find our courage. The hour is late, and you are needed. So much hangs in the balance. Where is your heart?”

Alrighty then, I’m done, and if I didn’t lose you long ago I would like to offer you one last thing to contemplate before I go: Which of these scenarios would most likely bring you right to the heart of this very critical moment of truth, the deepest question of our existence?

  1. All your years growing up, you were drug to “church”. Parents started it: “Get up, clean up, sit quietly, don’t touch your brother, and act like this isn’t the most boring thing in your life! Then you’ll get donuts.” Then teachers of “religion” stepped in: “Memorize all the sins that will send you straight to hell: Miss one Mass – straight to hell. Think those dirty thoughts – straight to hell. Do not pass “GO” do not collect $200.” In short order “that little light of yours” has been snuffed out!

2. Every day you encounter Someone (guess who) doing things that draw you to him: Feeding the hungry, comforting the dying, kissing the leper, dining with prostitutes and beggars. He is so sincere and passionate about what he is doing that something incredible reaches deep down into the very core of your being and you can’t shake it. You are awe-struck, probably for the first time in your life, and you want to emulate him. You want to follow him. You want to sit at his feet and learn from him.

“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.”

Linda

But…Who do YOU say I am?

 

Matthew 26:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the just will ask him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we welcome you away from home, or clothe you in your nakedness? And when did we visit you when you were ill or in prison?” The King will answer them: “I assure you, as often as you did it to one of my least brothers, you did it for me.”

 INTRODUCTION

Who do you say I am? Every person 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 live. Every Christian must answer the question, “Who is Jesus,” and ultimately, “Who is the God revealed in Jesus?”

The two basic elements of Christology are the historical Jesus and the “living” Jesus. Neither can stand alone. We must understand the historical Jesus to ground belief in the “living” Jesus. Historically, Jesus was human; he was a Jew, a teacher, and a preacher of salvation. He was God Incarnate, bringing mercy, compassion, hope, and unconditional love to all humankind. He healed suffering and overcame sin. That is the truth of the “living” Christ in our midst.

So then, if Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God, who is God? Our human finite thinking cannot answer that question. Scripture says, “We are made in God’s image,” that conjures up a picture of a very very old grandfather. Even though the image we have of this grandfather may be loving and benevolent, it is woefully inadequate, because we can never know the essence of God. What we can know is what Jesus reveals as the Logos, the Word made flesh. 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!

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was not for the purpose of atonement. Peter Abelard explains, “Since man could make no payment to God, and God need make no payment to the Devil, the purpose of the Incarnation could not be that of making any payment at all. It could only be an act of love.” The problem is, we cannot grasp that kind of Love. As mystery we worship it, yet God calls us to do more. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made to share in the mystical life of the Triune God. We are called to respond to that Love, just as Jesus responded. We are called to “follow him.” What does it mean to truly “follow” Christ? What does it demand? How do we know we are not simply giving lip service to our confession of faith?

The suffering of the poor and marginalized among us is immoral. In the world’s wealthiest nation six-hundred thousand children should not go to bed hungry—but they do, every day. The stories of abuses of women in India, Asia, and Africa, are horrendous and inexcusable. How do we respond? How are we Christ to our brothers and sisters who are suffering right here in our midst? How do we join them in their struggle for a just society, a just world? Would we be admonished by Jeremiah today? “Your own apostasies are rebuking you.” (2:19)

homeless

So, let us take that walk with Jesus from the last supper to His Crucifixion and answer the question,  “Who do you say I am?”

Jesus Institutes the Last Supper

last supper

Scripture:  Matthew 26:26-29, “During the meal Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.“Take this and eat it,” he said, “this is my body.” Then he took a cup. Gave thanks, and gave it to them. “All of you must drink from it,” he said, “for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke 22:24, “A dispute arose among them about who should be regarded as the greatest.”

John 13:5, 14, “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet.…”  “But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—then you must wash each other’s feet.”

Meditation: As Jesus prepared himself and his disciples for his coming suffering and death, they were frightened and misunderstood his final and central teachings: The unblemished lamb was now the innocent Jesus; the blood on the signpost that would save the Israelites from death, was now Jesus’ blood that would give all humankind eternal life.  God’s power would, paradoxically, be revealed through Jesus’ total surrender. Jesus did not come to take Caesar’s place; he came to take the place of sinners. He did not come to be served, but to serve.

Meaning Today: Jesus is always and everywhere among us. He invites us to respond to Christ’s stirrings within our very being. The purest and most perfect act of worship is to “do this in memory of me” and then 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.”

Prayer:  Who do I say you are Lord, when I forget you humbled yourself to wash my feet? Who do I say you are when I do not live my life as though your sacrifice meant something? May my life speak to the memory of God’s passionate love, revealed through you.

The Agony in the Garden

agony-in-the-garden

Scripture: Matthew 26:36-39, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane. He said to them, ‘Stay here while I go over there and pray.’ He took along Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, and began to experience sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, ‘My heart is nearly broken with sorrow. Remain here and stay awake with me.’ He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Still, let it be as you would have it, not as I.'”

Meditation:  Fear fueled the anger that turned the Jewish leaders against Jesus. Fear fed the disciples’ desperation and confusion. The scene was chaotic. Yet, in the middle of that chaos stood a silent and submissive Jesus. He was not submissive to the angry mob before him; they had no power over him. All the strength and courage his humanity would now require would be his through his relationship with his Father, the deepest source of his identity. Because we are made in the image of God, that same courage to submit to God’s will, that same identity, belongs to us.

Meaning Today:  We are revealed in our relationships, how we accept or reject others, and how others react to us. Jesus was in the face of those who oppressed the least in God’s kingdom; that cost him his life. What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of those the world rejects? Pride and arrogance blinded those who used their power to oppress others, where is our pride and arrogance revealed?

Prayer:  Lord, to be countercultural is risky and uncomfortable. But, before I shake my finger at others, may I have the courage to stand in the mirror and shake it at myself. With a trembling heart and a longing to change, I ask you to reveal the truth to me. Show me where I have rejected others, and in doing so, have rejected you. Show me where my pride masks my indifference to those who suffer.  

Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns

jesus scorged

Scripture: Matthew 27:27-31, “The procurator’s soldiers took Jesus inside the praetorium and collected the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and wrapped him in a scarlet military cloak. Weaving a crown out of thorns they fixed it on his head, and stuck a reed in his right hand. Then they began to mock him by dropping to their knees before him, saying, ‘All hail, King of the Jews!’ They also spat at him. Afterward they took hold of the reed and kept striking him on the head. Finally, when they had finished making a fool of him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucifixion.” 

Meditation:  The question so often asked of Jesus’ suffering and death is “why?” Did Jesus have to suffer? Why did God allow it? Jesus’ obedience was not demanded by God as a price for our salvation. Jesus was the revelation of God. God is Love, and can be nothing other. Therefore, he could not return violence for violence. Certainly, he knew that would make him vulnerable. Being faithful to his mission, his suffering and death would be inevitable. It would be allowed by God, but it was not his will.

Meaning Today:  Jesus’ suffering and death screams, “Stop the insanity!” Evil and violence perpetuate themselves over and over. That is how “original sin” affects us two-thousand years later. Adam and Eve may have started it, but every generation perpetuates it. At some point someone must respond as Jesus responded to end the cycle of violence we inflict on each other. We cannot, must not, excuse ourselves by pointing to others. We all must look deep within our own hearts as that is where violence begins.

Prayer:  Lord, who do I say you are when I refuse to suffer, or accept the slightest inconvenience? We have the examples of victims throughout history who refused to enter into the violence of this world. Many have suffered for their convictions. We believe suffering shouldn’t happen. Jesus accepted, as we should, that suffering is part of human life. Peace was first offered by you on the cross, and is made available to us through you.  Help me to strive for peace and justice no matter the cost.

Jesus is Condemned to Death

jesus condemned

Scripture: John 19:13-16, “Pilate…brought Jesus outside and took a seat on a judge’s bench at the place called the Stone Pavement – Gabbatha in Hebrew. He said to the Jews, ‘Look at your king!’ At this they shouted, ‘Away with him! Crucify him.’ 

‘What!’ Pilate exclaimed, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The Chief priests replied, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ In the end, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.” 

Meditation:  The oppressive and brutal nature of those in power in Jesus’ day was blatant. They truly believed they were God’s elect, his favored, and they could do no wrong. Jesus challenged that presumption at every turn. What began as someone who simply loved and cared for others, became an accusation of their sins. Jesus became dangerous and threatened the status quo. There was no alternative but to rid themselves of him to restore the peace they once knew.

Meaning Today:  What lengths will we go to today to rid ourselves of those who make our lifestyle uncomfortable and remind us that we are not living up to the faith we profess? Untimely pregnancies, aging parents, that annoying homeless man on my street corner. 

Prayer:  Lord, forgive my indifference to the suffering all around me. When I neglect my brothers and sisters, I neglect you. I call upon your grace to change my heart that I may care for those you call me to serve.

Jesus Takes up His Cross

JESUS-carrying-cross

Scripture: John 19:16-17, “Jesus was led away, and carrying the cross by himself, went out to what is called the Place of the Skull.”

Meditation: What kind of love is this which allows such pain and suffering? Jesus’ cross bore the weight of our sins, yet he carried it alone. His heart should have been filled with hatred. God should have been shaking with anger, his will bent on revenge.

Humankind could understand and accept that response. It is more difficult for us to accept love and forgiveness as a response to violence. Christ, as the Incarnation of God, could do nothing else. 

Meaning Today:  What is the meaning of suffering? Why does God allow it? Meaning is not found in the suffering. Mark Heim says, “It is found in the grace of the transformation of that suffering.” As Christians we are called to be an instrument of God’s grace-filled love for a suffering world.   

Prayer:  What kind of Love is this that refuses to turn away from undeserving humanity? We balk at the slightest inconvenience while others suffer unimaginable pain. Lord, forgive us for saying we love you, while refusing to love our brothers and sisters. 

Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

jesus meets his motehr

Scripture: Luke 2:34-35, 51, “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.’  His mother meanwhile kept all these things in memory.” 

Meditation: Mary, so afflicted by the torture her Son endured. Heart full of anguish. Eyes full of tears.Yet, when Jesus stood silent, she stood silent. When Jesus accepted his cross, she took up her own. When Jesus forgave, she forgave.With the same love of Christ, born in the same Love that brought him into this world, she submitted. 

Meaning Today:  We cannot conceive the pain and suffering inflicted on Jesus and his holy Mother, or the grace they received to submit to such suffering. They have shown us by their very lives how we are to respond to violence, and God has promised us the same grace to endure our afflictions.

Prayer:  Lord, that I may obtain the grace that overflowed in the hearts of your Son, and his holy Mother, to love their persecutors and forgive those who exacted such unspeakable horrors on them both. My willingness to forgive those who have hurt me reveals who I say you are more powerfully than anything else I say or do in your name.

The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene

simon

Scripture: Mark 15:21, “A man named Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was coming in from the fields, and they pressed him into service to carry the cross.”

Meditation: Surely Simon had heard about this Jesus, and could have thought him a troublemaker. Jesus infuriated the Jewish leaders; they had enough of him. Now Simon was being forced to help him carry his cross. Did he know he had just come face-to-face with the living God?

Meaning Today: When any human being is stripped of dignity, Jesus’ passion is repeated. We are made in the image of God, created anew by the resurrection, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have a mandate to take that Good News to the world. If fear holds us back, it is grounded in the denial of who we are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and ties the hands of the Holy Spirit. God’s sacrificial love is meant for all, and I am to be an instrument of that love or my faith response is inadequate.   

Prayer:  Lord God of immutable Love, you allow no cross that you yourself have not carried. When we see others struggling with theirs, may we not turn away. Let the only thing that forces us to reach out be the Love that resides in the depth of our hearts.

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

women

Scripture: Luke 23:27-31, “A great crowd of people followed him, including women who beat their breasts and lamented over him. Jesus turned to them and said: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children.'”

Meditation:  This was not the first encounter Jesus had with these women. He had a deep love and respect for them. These were women whose lives were changed because he broke all the social and religious rules that forbade such relationships. He impacted their lives and called them to discipleship, but he also knew they would suffer for their faith.

Meaning Today:  It is insightful to realize the deep compassion Jesus had for women, and how that truth revealed in scripture gives power, courage, and hope today  to women who continue to be the victims, like Jesus, of untold abuses. Many women are speaking out boldly (at the risk of their own lives, as many have been martyred), to draw attention to the injustices they and their sisters are suffering.  

Prayer:  Lord, you showed your deep love for all those who were made to feel unworthy of love. How often do I make others feel unworthy because of my refusal to acknowledge them as having the dignity all should be given because they are made in your image? How would I feel in their place? Lord, have mercy. May I never again cause violence or harm to another.  

Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

jesus stripped

Scripture: Matthew 27:35,When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

Meditation: The Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothing in one last attempt to put him to shame. They could strip him of his clothes, but not his dignity. They had no power over him.

Meaning Today: The world cannot strip the poor of their identity; it is grounded in God’s love. God is Abba to all of his children – all are beloved. This is what is most true about us; it is what we share with Christ.

Prayer:  Lord, there is no pain or injustice I can suffer, that You, in your humanity, have not experienced. You know all the pain and humiliation we cause each other. Help me to draw so close to You that any indignity inflicted on my body cannot pierce my heart if it belongs to You.  

Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

jesus nailed to the cross

Scripture:  Luke 23:33-34, “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’”

Meditation:  In the Passion, Jesus was mocked, beaten, abandoned by his friends and God. Yet, despair was absent—forgiveness was his final word. This is where, Ignatius of Loyola says, “The divine hides itself.” The divine is permanently present in the human. Though Jesus endured the most unimaginable suffering, what is revealed in this moment is not despair, but hope!

Meaning Today:  To forgive such horror—impossible! This is why we have such difficulty believing Jesus was fully human. It is easier to believe his humanity was simply humanlike. Jesus’ humanity confronts us with our sinfulness and our unwillingness to change. It refuses to allow us to divide people into categories of deserving and undeserving of our love and care.

Prayer:  Lord, it is the violence within my own heart that keeps you nailed to the cross. You saw broken humanity with the heart and mind of God. You are now—just as you were then—the outward sign of inward grace. I have no justification for ignoring the cry of those who suffer. My hope is in this Love that forgives the unforgivable, and makes all things new.

Jesus Dies on the Cross

jesus-on-cross

Scripture: Matthew 27:50-51, 54, “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’”

Meditation: Throughout Jesus’ Passion God remained eerily silent. Jesus was mocked by those who were certain he was an impostor. “If you are the Son of God, why doesn’t he save you? Why don’t you just come down from that cross?” When “it was finished,” God’s heart exploded with the reality of his beloved Son’s death! The torn curtain, the earthquake, the rocks splitting! The eruption of Love’s broken heart. Slumped over on the Cross was humankind’s ultimate rejection of God’s ultimate Love; “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 

Meaning Today: God was victim, God was rejected, God was cast out, and suffered at our hands. Though he persistently calls out to disturb our comfort with injustice, he refuses to violate our freedom to reject him, to the extreme of his own suffering.

Prayer:  Radical Love, we dare not cling to false innocence when the Truth stands before us. Your essence Lord, is beyond our finite understanding, though your will is made clear through your Son, “Love as I have loved and forgive as I have forgiven, no matter the cost.”

The Resurrection

resurrection

Scripture: John 20:19-22, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had net were locked for rear of the Jews Jesus came and stood among then and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”

Meditation: Before the resurrection, the disciples could only relate to Jesus as a human being. Their attempts to understand Jesus’ teachings were thwarted by human limitations. They could not grasp the depth and breadth of who God was until after the resurrection. Only after the resurrection, when humanity and divinity came together and erupted into their lives, could they comprehend this God Jesus called, “Abba.” Only then could they share in that relationship. Love as we know it is limited. Jesus revealed the gratuitous love of God. It is self-giving. The resurrection of his humanity allowed us to touch that Love. The indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus makes that Love eternally present within the heart of everyone of faith. 

Meaning Today:  This is the point where we must ask ourselves, “Does faith in Jesus orient my life?” If no less than God is present and active in Jesus, is the same true about us? And if so, does that not call for an immediate response? That Love can release our human potential beyond our imagining. 

Prayer:  Lord, the resurrection reveals forgiveness—undeserved, unimaginable, unconditional. May I know that forgiveness for my sins of indifference toward others, for my possessive attitude, and for my lack of compassion. May I see Jesus in every person I encounter, and be Jesus to the lost and forsaken.

Conclusion

“Who do you say I am?” is not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge we may acquire. It is answered by our falling on our knees in awe and adoration. But it cannot stop there. Jesus never said, “Worship me”. He said, “Follow me.”

As a Christian I answer the question every time I give of myself for the sake of another, or conversely, care more for myself than my neighbor. How can I believe God loved me so much, so passionately, that he sent his only Son to suffer and die for me, and for every person I encounter, if I refuse to love them? If I say to Christ, “You are the living God,” that truth must be manifest in and through the way I live my life, or it is a lie. I am sure the next question Jesus will confront me with is, “Do you love me?”  

How will my life answer that question?

Hungry for LOVE

So many Americans pride themselves on what truly is a self-serving and glaring distinction between love of self and love of neighbor. But there is no such distinction if we are open to seeing the deepest truth of our connectedness because we are all created by one God to be in relationship with Him and with each other. Our perceived sense of control and security; our self-imposed separateness from “them” breaks the bond of our very creation and the heart of God.

Still many are too afraid to relinquish the precarious grasp they have on their self-proclaimed and arrogant superiority over others they see as “less”.

What, or who, gives anyone the right to determine who is worthy of love, dignity, compassion, and basic kindness? This country is bloated with anger and violence. We are quickly becoming a culture of hatred.

It is a frightening reality, especially for our children, which makes it even more imperative for us, if we call ourselves believers, to change the tide. To speak out against injustice and speak up for the downtrodden just as Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10):

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In a 2012 speech to students at Georgtown University, Bono, of U2, challenged the almost one thousand students present to see the invisible (as he continues to challenge all of us).

Because when you truly accept that those children in some far off place in the global village have the same value as you in God’s eyes or even in just your eyes, then your life is forever changed, you see something that you can’t un-see.

This song, Invisible, and actually his life, are an incredible witness to that truth. It’s about getting real; about getting beyond self and realizing the connection we have with everyone. It is about the human dignity of every person as a child of God. We are to exclude no one – NO ONE.

Listen to these words:

I’m more than you know/ I’m more than you see here
I’m more than you let me be
I’m more than you know / A body & A Soul
You don’t see me but you will/
I am not invisible / I am Here.

There is no them / only us/ only us
there is no them / only us / only us
There is no them / only you, only me
There is no them.

Meghan Clark, writing in Catholic Moral Theology, commented on the song saying:

The ultimate violation of human dignity is to no longer be counted as a human person. The response must be inclusion and participation. Once I recognize that you have human dignity, that you are a child of God, that you are the image of Christ – I cannot un-see that. 

All of this has hit home for me in a more profound way than ever before (even more so since our time spent in Rwanda) since I have been working with the homeless in St. Charles County. We have the resources to meet their basic human needs as defined by Abraham Maslow in 1943:

Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival. Physiological needs are thought to be the most important; they should be met first: Air, water, food, clothing and shelter.

But, as St. Mother Teresa so powerfully states it isn’t enough:

Mother_teresa hunger

 

And the Winner is…..

“Christians are happier than atheists” That was the consensus of a CNN article in 2013.

Duh you say. Well…hold onto your halos folks. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride to heaven.

Here’s the article if you’re so inclined to read it.

The article continues with a rebuke of the study:

After reading an article about the study on Pacific Standard magazine’s website, Richard Wade, an advice columnist for the blog Friendly Atheist, called it “useless and misleading” and based on “sloppy research.” He wrote, “The take away for most lay people is ‘Atheists are unhappy people.’ … How do you quantify ‘happiness’? How do you quantify ‘analytical thinking’?

Even in their acknowledgments about the possible biases in their study, the authors still use absurd and meaningless terms like ‘militant atheist,’” he added. “This study suffers from the same negative stereotypes about atheists that most of society has, and it has simply reinforced that prejudice with more muddled thinking.

Even though the study presumes Christians are happier on twitter, I wish we acted more like it in real life.

As I was reading the above article, another one caught my eye, so I pulled it up too. The caption was Gay detective’s mother booted from church.

I wonder how the researchers of the first article would have interpreted over 3300 comments on the second one. You can read them too, but here are just a few from so-called “Christians” My BS meter was going off a lot, but there were some honorable mentions:

  • From Dale, If God ever does light this planet on fire, I pray that those churches of hate and prejudice should be the first to burn.” (Wow…can you feel the love oozing from our friend Dale here?!)
  • From Starr: May God treat them the way they have treated this women.” (Yeah, go get em’ Starr. That’s a for sure invite to your church!)

The following comment, I believe, tells it all:

  • From Katy: “Religion preaches hatred…glad I comprehended that at a young age and left Catholicism. Now I am a happy Secular!” (Hum)

Richard Rohr has something to say about where so many “Christians” reside:

So how do we love God? Most of us seem to have concluded we love God by attending church services. For some reason, we thought that made God happy. I’m not sure why. That idea probably has more to do with clergy job security! Jesus never talked about attending services, although church can be a good container to start with, and we do tend to become like the folks we hang out with. The prophets often portray God’s disdain for self-serving church services. “The sanctuary, the sanctuary, the sanctuary” is all we care about, Jeremiah shouts (7:4).

The prophetic message is absolutely clear, yet we went right back to loving church services instead of Reality. I believe our inability to recognize and love God in what is right in front of us has made us separate religion from our actual lives. There is Sunday morning, and then there is real life.

God certainly gave us minds to use. But, when the mind is given dominance over heart, again Rohr says:

The mind starts steering, judging, analyzing, fixing, controlling, and trying to dominate body and soul….your endless mental commentary on everything. It really doesn’t matter what you think about things, believe it or not. This is a revolutionary and humiliating breakthrough for most people. What matters is WHAT IS.

Our egos are forever getting in our way and “Christian” egos are scrumptious, lip-smacking fodder for unbelievers.

I believe that when the mind controls our every thought, word, and action it is because we do not have the courage to be imperfect ourselves and we make our life’s mission to fix, manage, or adjust everyone around us because we know for a fact that they are imperfect slobs in need of a Savior.

news flash

Sorry to inform you…you are not the Savior of thw world. That position is already taken. The sooner we realize that the sooner we will stop sending people like Katy running away from God. He’s not pleased with us when we do that you know. As a matter of fact, the hairs on the back of His neck stand stiff when he sees us acting or speaking like we’ve forgotten who and Who’s we are. I manage to forget that far too often as some snarky thought or remark manages to slip past my not-so-vigilant-act-like-you-have-the-tiniest-bit-of-Christian-love monitor…

When you are tempted to “set someone straight” remember that in every circumstance God calls us to manifest his love in that moment, to that person. Now, look back at the article and comments above and tell me who was Christ for all the people involved? Was it the church that kicked the mother out? The “Christians” who posted mean, insensative comments?

Do we see God in the actions of the likes of Westboro Baptist Church that is always in the news because of their hatred toward others? Do we see him in you or me when we judge and speak hatefully to or about others and refuse to accept them?

And let me say this about quoting Scripture: That’s fine. But, if you find yourself frantically searching with the only purpose of finding that one nugget to smack someone sideways…knock it off! You can cut and paste your beliefs and certainties to prove yourself all day long, but what will you have gained for God’s kingdom? Besides, that someone will just cut and paste their own “proof” that they’re right and you’re a moron. And then what?

Words of wisdom from Shane Claiborne:

There’s something powerful that happens when we can connect our faith with the pain of our world…. We’re not throwing out the things we believe, but we’re also focusing on practices that work out those beliefs. In the past few decades Christianity has primarily been about what we believe. But in Jesus we see an invitation to join our actions with a movement rather than ideas and doctrine.

 I’m hopeful because people have grown tired of a Christianity that can say what it believes on paper but doesn’t have anything to show with our lives. Ideologies and doctrines aren’t easy things to love. 

Pray that God would give us the eyes to see the pain….

“You can show your love to others by not wishing that they should be better Christians.” –Francis of Assisi

And, finally – what your mother always told you is still valid today, “If you can’t say something nice, keep your mouth shut!”

The Gospel According to Monsanto

Matthew 13:3-8 “Then he (Jesus) told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

We have lived in our current home for four years now. I’m sure I annoy more than a few of my neighbors because I refuse to use chemicals on my lawn. Here’s why:

Dr. (Anthony) Samsel is a research scientist who is passionate about farming, gardening, and agriculture, making him particularly suitable for investigating glyphosate. “I was with the ‘think tank,’ Arthur D. Little (ADL) in Cambridge, Massachusetts for many years working as a research scientist on many types of projects, from product development to environmental sciences to later switching to health sciences,” he says.

He’s also done contract work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and as a hazardous materials expert, he’s worked for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the United States Navy (USN), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

What he has learned:

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world. An estimated one billion pounds a year is sprayed on our food crops, resulting in the average American eating several hundred pounds of glyphosate-contaminated food every year.

Monsanto Has Known for Nearly 35 Years That GMOs Promote Cancer

Monsanto’s own research also supports the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determination that glyphosate is a Class 2 A “probable human carcinogen.”–a determination Monsanto is now trying to get retracted….

Monsanto Never Published These Negative Findings

So how did Monsanto and Biodynamics—the company doing the research—hide these inconvenient facts? According to Dr. Samsel, they cancelled out the controls and the damning findings by using historical control data from unrelated studies. It’s also worth noting that these negative findings were never published in the peer-reviewed literature or submitted to the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cancer was clearly shown in their 26-month long feeding study….Monsanto knew in 1981 that glyphosate caused tumorigenic growth and carcinomas in multiple organs and tissues…

“At the rate we’re going, we’re going to kill billions of people,” Dr. Samsel says. 

https://www.myhealthwire.com/news/breakthroughs/1100

So, back to my yard. We have weeds. I do my best to keep the grass cut short so it isn’t too obvious. I also have a small raised-bed organic garden. Well, it’s as organic as it can be considering we are surrounded by neighbors who spray their lawns with chemicals. That’s why I’m moving to Auroville, India:

auroville

Seriously! It was the vision of Sri Aurobindo that came to fruition in the 1960s.

Welcome to Utopia!

I imagined life in Auroville to be as close to perfect as anything this side of heaven. There’s probably no self-serving politicians, rabid neighbors, or drunken uncles. No cancer or heart disease or PMS, gluten intolerance, or out-of-control chocolate cravings, and they have no idea who the Kardashians are!

Kumbaya…

Well, not quite.

After all, if God had intended to use Auroville to test market a perfect world I doubt he would have used humans, especially greedy, self-absorbed, money-hungry humans who run multinational corporations like Monsanto to come in and mess it all up.

My bubble burst when I read about Monsanto’s disastrous corporate greed that has literally scorched the earth and destroyed thousands of lives in it’s wake in India (all over the world actually). You can read the article here.

Basically, Monsanto came in and made unattainable promises to hungry farmers and their families, who unwittingly signed on the dotted line. As a result, thousands of farmers and laborers have committed suicide because they lost everything as Monsanto became richer and richer.

The number of suicides by farmers and farm labourers increased five per cent at 12,360 in 2014.  Bankruptcy and indebtedness accounted for the major cause of suicides. More here.

No doubt Monsanto hopes the destruction they leave in the wake of their self-interest goes unnoticed by the rest of the world. It must be working because we happily spray their poisonous chemicals all over the earth.

I know what you’re thinking! “SO?  What does that have to do with me?” Stay with me.

Who would have thought Monsanto, the purveyor of everything deadly and toxic, would become a metaphor for a Scripture meditation? But, here we are. They not only destroy our soil, they are now irrefutably linked to diseases that are killing us. How many people are aware of that right now? Before their recent exposure in the media, were any of us fearful of the chemical content of these products? Obviously not, as they are a multi-billion dollar corporation set for a buy-out from Bayer.

bayer and monsanto

Look at these two kids, just all giddy about their successes.

india suicide farmers

I doubt the people of India will be joining them in their celebration…

Can you see where I am going with this analogy? No? Okay. Follow my A.D.D. brain on this journey to the point I want to make about Matthews gospel.

We are the seed and the soil would be where we are planted, right?

I have some seeds that I start in small pots of organic soil. When they begin to grow into seedlings I repot them or move them into my garden which is also filled with rich organic soil. (Don’t be too impressed – I actually suck at gardening. Most of my plants start out beautifully but fail to thrive for one reason or another.

Anyway…Matthew’s parable…

Because we were created in God’s image we start out perfect.  But, sometimes things go terribly wrong. We can be “repotted”, if you will, into dysfunctional families where we fail to thrive, as was my case. Fortunately, God reclaimed me and did his best to “repot” me into the soil of his divine love and mercy. I began to thrive again, striving for perfection, reaching toward the Light.

But often I allowed the world around me to convince me that what I had wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t enough. I needed more: worldly pursuits, obsessions, longings for things other than God, selfishness. Like unsuspecting plants sprayed with Roundup, my soul was dying little by little.

We have been called to be watchful of the often subtle and insidious destruction the world can inflict on us. Like corporations that skillfully market their products, the world markets an exciting and fulfilling life, “You deserve this new car, this great job, this man of your dreams.” Never mind the cost: the car you can’t afford, the job that will take you away from your family, the man who happens to be married –oops. And, to the extreme, in the case in India: death and destruction.

What is our foundation? Is it God in which we live and breathe and have our being? Or is it worldly pursuits and obsessions in which we give away all that we are; all that we were created to be?

John 10:10 tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” And you can be sure that thief is cunning and resourceful. He knows our weaknesses and vulnerabilities so we must always be on guard.

And, my friends, this is where we get real, as Christians, we have also been given the responsibility of helping to protect those seeds that God has created and planted among us. Are we helping or hindering God’s work among the most vulnerable? We are surrounded by such tremendous need and suffering. What are we doing to help relieve that suffering?

Think about this: Because of the unbearable suffering and death of the people of India, one man stands out as their David against the Goliath, Monsanto. His name is M. Prabhakara Rao. This is what he gave up to battle a Corporate Giant:

Tens of millions of dollars were within reach for M. Prabhakara Rao as he prepared in April 2015 to take his Indian cotton seed company public. The Indian businessman already had $54 million in initial funding from an American private equity investor. Rao had also locked in a long-term licensing agreement with Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, for the technology used in genetically modified cotton seeds that made up the majority of his annual sales.

 

david and goliath

Could you or I have walked away from such wealth to stand before a giant like Monsanto?

It’s something to ponder and pray about don’t you think?

Okay, we’re done here. I have to get busy finding a recipe for dandelion wine! I’m hoping if I give a bottle of it to all the neighbors for Christmas, they’ll forgive me!

The World is Coming to an End!

APOCALYPSE

Just kidding. Not happening. Not today anyway. I don’t think. I could be wrong. Sorry if that disappoints you. Nothing I can do about it.

Anyway, let’s jump right into the muck shall we? Weren’t the 2016 elections fun?! And the aftermath? – there doesn’t seem to be an end to it.

wrestling

Many people on both sides are everything from angry to frustrated to fearful. It’s all over the internet and the news ad nauseum. You can’t get away from it if you talk to friends, family, or strangers in the checkout lines who need to vent. Hateful rhetoric, anger, and violence are now the norm.

(Spoiler Alert: This is NOT a political post. Honest!) Stay with me now…the Good News is coming!

If you’re scratching your head because you don’t understand how we got here, maybe because you still believe Christianity is the foundation of this country, I am sorry to inform you…in recent years, it seems, we have become a more and more secular country.

So, this post is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It’s about our changing culture and how we are to live as people of faith in America today because I think we may need a refresher course on Luke 10:27.

Let’s begin with this excerpt from First Things written after the 2012 elections. What Reno wrote is even truer today:

The New Secular Moral Majority, by R. R. Reno

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life tells us that 20 percent of Americans (that number increased to 23% in 2014) now check “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. Many are fed up with religion’s longstanding influence on American society, making them likely to attack the public role of religious institutions and further polarize politics. (Source)

Never mind that “until recently, all the progressive movements in American politics were promoted and heavily influenced by the mainline Protestant churches.” (Source: Reno)

things that make you go hmmm

But, that’s not the whole story. It isn’t just their politics that’s concerning.

Consider this article in the NY Times from April, 2016:

Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years with increases in every age group except older adults….sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. 

I could throw in statistics on road rage too (I was a victim of that recently, it was frightening!). Are you aware of how many fatalities are a direct result of road rage? And the numbers are increasing.

Data gathered by SafeMotorist.com indicates that 66% of recent traffic fatalities can be linked to aggressive driving. More disturbingly, 37% of those fatalities were found to be caused by a firearm, rather than a typical accident.

Here are some more fun facts concerning the rise in mental health disorders, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Then you have to wonder about the extent of usage of all those legal and readily available drugs. Well, one in six U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug, such as an antidepressant or a sedative. The data comes from an analysis of the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).

Okay. I’m done.

Now, let me ask you. Does it sound like we Americans, who supposedly have everything, are living full, joyful, blissful lives? Which, surprise, is what God intended. We may have lots of “things” and the sense that we can do what we damn well please, but do our lives have purpose? According to the above statistics, it doesn’t appear that way.

We seem to be trudging through life on autopilot.

olive oil sleep walking

I believe what underlies all of this is that the American people are dying for hope.

Nothing else.

We have everything else!

People in Third World countries have nothing and are literally dying of starvation. We recently spent two months in Rwanda and encountered the survivors of the genocide of 1994. They lost almost 1 million loved ones in one-hundred days! They experience hunger daily! Which would make their faith and hope in God incomprehensible to Americans. I wrote more extensively about it here.

So, I believe this is our challenge: We, as people of faith are called by God to be that hope for others. 1 Peter 3:14-15 tells us “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

The question that God puts before every person of faith is this, “Are you living a life of hope and joy; of compassion and mercy and generosity that speaks to the emptiness of those who have lost their way?”

Not according to Barna Research Group (sorry, this is the last one – promise):

It may come as no surprise that the influence of Christianity in the United States is waning. Rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible-reading have all been dropping for decades. By consequence, the role of religion in public life has been slowly diminishing, and the church no longer functions with the cultural authority it held in times past. These are unique days for the church in America as it learns what it means to flourish in a new “Post-Christian” era.

Geeezzzz, Linda, if I wasn’t depressed before you shared all this “stuff” I am now!

Oh, come on, stay with me guys cause we’ve got work to do!

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God’s call in this day and time may seem overwhelming. After all, I am just one person, right? So was Esther! If you have been following my blogs, you know I have a special place in my heart for Esther. God prepared her for “such a time as this” (4:14). And here’s the key: we rarely know the outcome of God’s calling before our “yes” response. So, it’s too risky for us. We want to say, “Yes, if…”

“Yes, if it won’t cost me anything.”

“Yes, if I’m going to be rewarded for my effort.”

That was not Esther’s response, and it shouldn’t be ours. She said “yes” to God knowing full well she would likely be killed, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” But, she didn’t perish; she saved her people. (Esther 4:15)

BAM DONE!

“Okay” you say with great trepidation. “But, where do we start?”

Well, perhaps we’re standing in the wrong line;

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Putting our trust in the wrong people;

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Believing the rhetoric that there is no heaven or hell;

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Spending too much time shopping online, obsessing over Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media sites;

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We first have to come to the realization that we will never be fulfilled by our consumerist obsessions; our need to succeed at any cost; our inflated egos and narcissism. We never seem to be satisfied. We want more, but more of what? Richard Rohr calls it our “survival dance” which keeps us from “getting to our sacred dance.”

There is an incredible book I have read and reread, titled, Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge.  Powerful stuff.  He asks:

What is really going on here? Good grief – life is brutal. Day after day it hammers us, till we lose sight of what God intends toward us.” He quotes St. Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive” – and goes on the say, “You’re kidding me. Really? Is that what you’ve been told? That the purpose of God –the very thing he’s staked his reputation on – is your coming fully alive?

Eldredge believes that:

We are at war. I don’t like that fact any more than you do, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the better hope we have of possessing the life we want. I’m sorry if I’m the one to break this news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth.

Yeah, thanks!  That insight surely makes you want to trade your Armani suit for an itchy camel hair coat; pack your lunchbox with locust, and find your prophetic voice doesn’t it?

Alternatively, I don’t know about you, but I’m not anxious to end up as the one referred to in Revelations 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

So many people have become fearful of what our future, in particular the future for our children and grandchildren, will look like. Focused entirely on the makeup of Washington, the seeming inability to correct the direction we are headed, and what all that will mean for this fragile country.

When I read the article I shared with you in the beginning of this post, God revealed to me something much graver.  No matter how any of us voted, there is something much more critical to address. I have a great sense that our work, the work of all people of faith, at this time in history, is more critical than ever.

Okay…there you go.

What are we, as God’s people, supposed to be thinking, and feeling, and doing in what seems to be a hopeless situation?

Well, not this – please – not this:

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If you’re wringing your hands, hunkering down, barring your windows, loading your guns, and wishing for the apocalypse, perhaps this is a good time for a refresher course in what it means to be God’s beloved. That’s where it starts. Then, it should flow out to others. People all around you are desperate to hear they are worthy. That is our “great commission” today, just as it was for the first disciples so long ago. In case you’ve been so busy you haven’t noticed, they’re long gone and there is a void that we ALL are called to fill.

Perhaps, for starters, some sobering questions need to be answered by each of us:

  • Does my “yes” to God call me to a responsibility that compels me to a response?
  • Why, if we are 40% of the population, have we not influenced the “nones”?  We are the same 40% while they are growing in number. Why?
  • Are we culpable in the course this country has taken because of our limited desire to live the “Good News” in a way that makes others want what we have? When we “go to church” an hour on Sunday and the rest of our lives are enmeshed in worldly pursuits, how are we any different?
  • The secular may have pushed God out of our schools and Public Square, but are we, a people of faith, just as guilty of keeping Him hidden in our places of worship?

Still waiting for Jesus to come? Still waiting for the “Good News”?

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Well, guess what? YOU are the bearer of God’s “Good News”! All wrapped up in the bright, shiny LIGHT of Jesus! YOU are God’s gift to a hurting world.

Indeed, we need God, but, are you aware that God needs us too? Right. You thought God didn’t need anything. But, it’s true. Archibald MacLeish, in his sermon on Job tells us why:

Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one. Without man, God does not exist as God, only as creator, and love is the one thing, no one, not even God Himself, can command.

Do you believe that?  If so, what are you “doing” about it? Sure, you may not be the next Mother Theresa or Ghandi or Martin Luther King – or you could be. Either way, God has gifted you, and likely in some way you may not even have imagined. God prepared you before you were born and has called you into the fray and the messiness of this world to serve.

If the love of God is not manifest in and through us to others, how will the “nones” ever know there’s a better life waiting for them? If that beautiful nun, Sister Maureen, had not spoken God’s love into my heart fifteen years ago, I would likely still be drunk! If she had only seen the exterior of the obnoxious heathen I was, and not the very breath and heart of God buried deep within me, I would likely be one of those statistics.

Ask yourself how many Linda’s you have turned away from God because you were too busy or too afraid to be vulnerable and risk reaching out? Then, ask God to change your heart and move your feet.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8)

 

matthew west
Do Something

Perhaps the motto of the French Foreign Legion would help us:

                If I fall – pick me up.

                  If I falter – push me on.

                   If I retreat – shoot me!