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

Leave me Alone – I LOVE Being Miserable!

Who aggravates every fiber of your being? Come on, you know there’s someone in your  life – past or present – you have, in one of your most aggravated moments, wanted to throw from a moving train!

Throw mama from the train

Perhaps it isn’t your mother (like Danny Devito in Throw Mama from the Train); you love your mother. How about Uncle Bill? Uncle Bill makes you dread holidays! Every. Single. Blessed. One. He hates holidays, and in short order, makes you hate them too. He also hates your new living room set, your cheesecake; thinks you’ve put on too much weight, and wants to borrow another $200.

How about that annoying and relentless neighbor who causes you to lock your doors and pull your shades when you see her coming? Sometimes she catches you off-guard and holds you hostage in your own yard as she rants incessantly about absolutely nothing! Oh yeah, and she thinks your new birdbath is tacky (she might be right though).

birdbath

Anyway, you walk away dazed and confused. Ewwww, she got you again! She makes you want to smoke more, or drink more, or kick the dog. (Don’t do that. It’s not the dog’s fault.)

It’s really not the dog’s fault, or Uncle Bill’s fault, or your neighbor’s fault. It’s your fault because you choose to allow others to control you. Don’t think they’re doing that? When you allow another person to upset you, for whatever reason, they are controlling you. How do you like being controlled? If you’re like me, you pride yourself on being the one in control and refuse to believe anyone could have that kind of power over you.

NEWS FLASH: When we cling tenuously to control or give it up to another that is the prescription for misery.

Mark 7:14-23, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within the man, from his heart, come evil….”

My dear mother-in-law recently passed away at the age of ninety-eight. Before her health took a decided turn for the worse, she was happy and content and loved being with her family, especially the grandkids. She was always very giving of herself and generous to a fault. But, the last few years of her life she was miserable. Daily she expressed that misery to us, “Why won’t God take me?!” She felt like a burden; that her life no longer had purpose. She was angry, frustrated and confused. Throw in hip pain, a bad back, possible strokes and dementia and of course she was miserable!

But, what’s my excuse? What’s your excuse? I believe we have forgotten. We have forgotten who we are. Life presents a series of blows to our fragile ego and the joy God intended for us is over-shadowed by misery; misery that we inflict on ourselves, all the while blaming others.

“Wounded by sin, clouded by temptation, we are our own worst enemy. Everything we say and do arises from within our own hearts. If our hearts change, it stands to reason that our actions will follow.” Terry Modica (http://gnm.org/good-news-reflections/ )

We see misery played out in a powerful way in the lives of the Pharisees during Jesus’ time. He not only came to show us by His own life how we are to live, He used the Pharasees as a prime example of how we are not to live. They were pious and arrogant! They were mean, vengeful, and always trying to trip up Jesus. Their hatred for Him was palatable because He was always exposing their sinfulness. No one wants to be exposed. If they could just get rid of him! Mark 8:11 tells us that Jesus “sighed from the depth of his spirit” because of their actions.

He could have retaliated, but he didn’t. We would have liked him to so we could justify our own reaction to the hurt we feel from others. But, he humbly walked away and in the end, he humbly received the torturous beatings and crucifixion.

Misery can be a stern mother. But, Psalm 119 tells us that being afflicted is a good thing, “It is good that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.” Also, sometimes, we can learn from other’s afflictions. Take my mother-in-law for instance. I believe I learned more from her at the end of her journey, when she laid dying and unresponsive. I learned more about compassion that cannot be measured; love that cannot be returned, and inexplicable joy in the midst of it all.

When I would sit vigil in the evening with her, I could sense God’s presence, as in Genesis 28:16, …surely the Lord is in this place.” The joy I felt during that time was unmistakable; the joy of knowing that Catherine would soon be in God’s presence. Truth be told, I was a bit jealous. I recall saying to her several times even though she could not respond, “Aren’t you excited?! You will soon see all of your family and friends that have gone before you. They’re waiting for you. God is waiting for you. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to put in a good word for me – I need it!” I thought I heard her say, “Yes, you do!” one time, but it was probably my imagination.

In all the training and experiences I have had as a Hospice volunteer you just know that God is present. You can’t explain it or quantify it. You just know. For me, the most intense times of joy are these experiences and the Lenten journey we are now on. Joy that comes in knowing God never forsakes us; never abandons us. These are times when He asks me to return to Him. Joel 2:12 says, “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart…”

Listen to this beautiful song by John Michael Talbot.

Every Lent I read Henri Nouwen’s, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. I am enthralled by this book and Nouwen’s honesty about his own life and struggles. It is a beautiful and powerfully written account of a story most of us know, yet few of us delve so deeply into. Nouwen uses Rembrandt’s portrait of the Prodigal Son to tell the story:

prodigal son

The son made a choice. He chose to leave his father and go his own way; to take his inheritance and “set off for a distant country and there he squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13). Soon he was broke and in the midst of a famine. He was hungry, but no one offered him anything to eat.

This is a very telling example of what happens when we turn to the world to meet our needs but all we meet there is misery. We want the world to fill us with all we ever thought we wanted, but what we want is never enough. The world can’t/won’t satisfy. The world only takes and leaves desolation in the empty places of our souls.

Notice though that the son finally, instinctively, knew where to turn when he was starving – his father. Though he felt he wasn’t worthy of his father’s love because of the shameful way he acted, he also hoped his father would at least feed him as the servants were fed (15:17-20). That was all the son hoped for. Imagine his surprise when he didn’t even get his well-rehearsed words out of his mouth…

HOLY FATTED CALF BATMAN!

Being willing to receive crumbs, the son got the surprise of his life when “the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (15:20) There’s no way my father would have done that and my mother would likely have changed the locks on the doors when I left.

The father had compassion for his son because he knew he was a miserable lost soul – but, now he was found. It was a time to celebrate; it was a time of joy and thanksgiving.

Well, okay, the oldest son was not so joyful and was not willing to offer his brother the least bit of sympathy or support. He was also angry with the father because it all seemed so UNFAIR! Here’s that “misery gremlin” again! Sucking the fullness of life and joy from anyone too self-absorbed to notice.

Nouwen says, “It seems to me now that these hands have always been stretched out – even when there were no shoulders upon which to rest them.” And of the son he says, “He realized he had lost his dignity as his father’s son, but at the same time he is aware that he is indeed the son who had dignity to lose.” He says, “I am loved so much I am free to leave home.”

Think about that.

What brings the joy we so long for? It’s a choice we make in how we respond to our circumstances. You can be the younger son who learns from the misery he inflicted on himself, or the older, bitter, son who doesn’t seem to “get it”. It is a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute choice.

Nouwen says:

And this concerning the attitude of the elder son: “Am I so ensnared in my own self-righteousness complaints that I am doomed, against my own desire, to remain outside of the house wallowing in my anger and resentment? God says to the elder son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.”

The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.

God always has more for us. We are always only at the beginning of love (you must understand) Jesus is pleased with you right now. He sees how much you’ve already done. He wants to see you overcome the next hurdle and get that much closer to the finish line. He is committed to taking you there.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Often, my prayer is that God will not give up on me and that I will daily surrender to this love that is beyond my understanding; that I will let go of all those hurts and sorrows that steal my peace and joy.