Non-refundable LOVE

We all know the words of 1 Corinthians 13. Right? It’s one of the most familiar verses in scripture. Who hasn’t been to a wedding, or two, or twenty that present it as a reminder of the love and commitment a couple is offering to each other?

But, do you know the original intent of Paul when he wrote it? Maybe he sat around the campfire with his “flock” and wrote this song to commemorate the establishment of his new faith community (though it’s not credited to him and he gets no residuals. Pity):

Anyway, everybody’s high-fiving as Paul slaps his own back for his ingenious efforts in the name of love. He may have even imagined himself receiving a Pulitzer Prize or at least Time’s Man of the Year. Temporarily losing sight of his own advice about “pride” and all.

Okay, fine…truth be told, none of that happened. He wasn’t in some mushy mindset when he wrote those words to the Corinthians. Actually, Paul wrote them in a fit of anger. I kid you not.

When he established Corinth, he imagined it being perfect. God’s dwelling place; a community of love and care for each other and all man/womankind. Peace on earth; Good will to men…and all that.

But, things quickly fell apart. He was peeved at them because of their short memories. As soon as Paul was out of sight and on his way to his next church planting the Corinthians began to fight and argue over everything. The rich and powerful immediately began to demand more and more for themselves, believing they deserved it. Jealousy often lead to striving for importance and self-promotion. And if you’ve ever wondered why many churches today use those little thimbles for communion wine, it may be because some of these guys got a bit carried away guzzling the stuff and making fools of themselves. I don’t know – just guessing.

But, the deepest split came when the self-proclaimed “authorities” felt compelled to form a committee to decide, and then pronounce, who was going to heaven and who was headed for hell because of their messed up beliefs. So, they drew a line in the sand: the “ins” over here, the “outs” here. Love got lost in the scramble for importance. In short, they were all a mess. Sound familiar?

Sure, initially, they may have bought into the idea of love. But it wasn’t the love Jesus taught and died for. They wanted it on their terms: less demanding, just as we do today. We want the watered down version that puts loving my new car in the same category as loving humans or puppies. (I know, I know, puppies are much easier!) Anyway, perhaps in our own time of so much strife it would behoove us to revisit 1 Corinthians 13 in light of what Paul was trying to get across to those hard-headed folks, immature in faith and lacking the love that requires self-sacrifice – a love rooted in compassion.

So, here goes.

Love Never Fails – 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NIV)

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Like when I put myself and my wants and presumed needs first.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. As in “I know everything about everything that matters – to me. That’s why I have given myself all authority to laud it over you.”

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. As in “Look at me, ain’t I special?!”

Love is patient – except when you annoy me.

Love is kind – except when I don’t get my way.

It does not envy – except when you bought that new, nicer, shinier car before me.

It does not boast – except when I excelled in some project at work, got a significant raise, and a corner office.

It is not proud – except when I installed the biggest pool in the neighborhood.

It does not dishonor others – except when they deserve it because they’re being poopyheads.

It is not self-seeking – except when I believe I am deserving of fame and fortune; power and authority; and fewer wrinkles.

It is not easily angered – except when my kids can’t seem to behave appropriately – by my rigid standards, of course. 

It keeps no record of wrongs – except for all the people who just can’t seem to keep their broken, messy attitudes out of my broken, messy life. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – well…I don’t necessarily delight in evil. It’s just that I can sometimes stretch the definition of “truth”.

It always protects – those innocents who suffer and are downtrodden.  

Always trusts – our God who never fails us.

Always hopes – in a better way; a better life for all mankind.

Always perseveres – even when things seem impossible.

Love never failsNEVER! END OF STORY

And finally:

Diana Butler Bass says it beautifully:

Yes, we may be in hell. The world may be hellish. COVID is hell. Our political crisis is hell. The climate crisis is truly hell. But there is another story, another song, a different word. A word we can speak and a word we can act upon.

Peace has been born. We wait for its fullness….we claim the power of the Christmas story to bless, to redeem, to transform the stark earth. While “death howls in strife,” we embrace and embody the poetry of God and beat back the walls of hell.

Make ready the stable of your heart. Fear not. And get busy with the work of peace.

Bishop John Shelby Spong and Martin Luther Kings words should be written on our hearts, “Dream of Peace on Earth and good will among men and women, and then dedicate yourself to bringing that vision into being.”

Peace to you and your loved ones this Christmas. It is certainly a Christmas like no other most of us have experienced; a Christmas that may seem to counter all we have believed about goodness and love. But, only if we have lost sight of the one who changed everything for all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This Christmas Day, may we finally “see” Jesus as an incarnation of God’s immovable, constant, abiding, majestic, unfailing LOVE for ALL: every single messy, broken one of us! A LOVE that is not returnable. You can’t refuse it like that ugly tie you’re getting – again – from Aunt Lucy.

You’re an Idiot – Just Thought you Should Know

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

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

Have I left anything out?

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

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

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

I’ll start:

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

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

God’s shoulds:

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

Everyone else’s shoulds:

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

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

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

Let’s take a look back.

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

 A for real Scripture Scholar, Stephen Patterson tells us:

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

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

Diana Butler Bass emphasizes Patterson’s words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

white supremacy catholic

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

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

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

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

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

My second example is from the National Catholic Reporter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America's Original Sin

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

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

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

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

 

I’m Right and You’re Wrong –DAMN IT!

We are in the midst of a battle. Anger and violence are played out in the media daily. It’s deafening and there are activists on both sides of the conflict. Both have dug in their heels and refuse to budge. How many times have we seen in-your-face confrontations?

wrestling

So, the question then becomes: How many of those times have we seen adversaries turn into allies who decided to work together with the determination to change things for the greater good of our country? How many?

What we’re seeing is a win-lose struggle and when there is a winner that necessarily means there is a loser.  So, what’s the answer? How do we get beyond this impasse that is adding so much suffering to an already disintegrating situation?  Well, how about this novel idea? How about if we just go home and work on our own issues first (and if you don’t think you have any…well…that’s an issue)?  Crazy huh?

No matter what I believe,

no matter how passionate I am about changing the world;

I am really the only person I have the power to change.

I would like to share with you my course correction after years of being a selfish, stubborn, know-it-all believer in the power of God to send all heathens to hell if they don’t straighten up! I was certain that was my assigned duty here on earth and I was really good at it! My buddy Paul and I both got knocked on our butts – in a loving way of course. God knew I was used to getting knocked on my butt and would then come out fighting!  So, after He got my attention, He gently went after my heart instead. Sneaky.

I want to touch on three areas in the past fourteen years that have had a profound impact on my life. What’s amazing is that I have no bruises to prove it, but, that’s because hatred, not Love, bruises.

The changes I am referring to are: My faith, politics, and my self-centeredness vs. other-centeredness:

MY FAITH: – back in the day, I could quote lots of scripture verses that would prove that anyone I disagreed with was destined for hell. Have a nice trip! I could justify my superior attitude and what was clearly my god-given responsibility to save lost souls. That is until I got to graduate school in 2006.

It did not take me long to see the error of my ways and the folly of my “beliefs”. But, and here’s the point I want to make in all of this: The Professors I was so blessed to know in that three years were powerful influences in my life. And yet, not one of them shook an angry fist at me to announce that I was an idiot, which they could have. I saw something in them that helped me to see, really see, the error of my thinking. They were loving, compassionate, grace-filled teachers of God’s unconditional love for all of His creation. They taught me, not just through studies like reading the works of Thomas Aquinas (geeeezzzz that was painful!), but more importantly, through their own example; their own lives. It wasn’t because of a need to be right, or to make demands, but because they simply loved. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to grow in a faith like theirs that imitated Christ. They helped change my attitude about so many things. But, at the end of the day, all they had the power to do was encourage my willingness to change from the inside-out. It was really up to me.

MY POLITICS: I will simply say that what I learned about myself at Aquinas carried over to a more nuanced understanding of the part I play just in the act of voting. Prior to this, I was a one-party voter. Admittedly, it was so much easier back then: Walk into the polling place, pull the lever for my party of choice, get my “I Voted” sticker, and go home. Never mind that I usually didn’t know who or what I was pulling that lever for. It didn’t matter though. I was confident in the knowledge that I did my duty. I think today many people who were like me, now know how critical it is to be informed and to choose for everyone in this country, especially those who have been kicked to the curb and feel they have no voice. And, again, my movement away from “don’t really care” did not come about by brute-force. What woke me up to my responsibility and privilege to do my part for the sake of others came from an enlarged heart-space, not from someone yelling in my face.

SELF-CENTEREDNESS THAT MORPHES INTO OTHER-CENTEREDNESS: Giving instead of taking. Seeing, really seeing, the worth, dignity, and humanity of those the world rejects. And not only seeing them, but loving what we see because if you look closely enough you will see Christ. And I just can’t get enough of that.

I would challenge you to just sit for a moment and think of recent stories you have seen on TV or the Internet that either enraged you or spoke into the depth of your heart so powerfully that you cried.  Then, ask yourself, which of those scenarios comes from God and which is motivated by an ego-driven, self-serving purpose?

I was recently involved in a conversation with someone who is very passionate about their beliefs concerning what we are experiencing. This person wanted to do battle until the other person involved caved and cried uncle.  But, hey both stood their ground. In the aftermath of that train wreck, I made the comment that everyone who does not agree with you is not your adversary. When you view every discussion with someone who feels differently as an opportunity to bully them into your way of thinking, the conversation shuts down and you both lose.  Then I get the equivalent of a Bible-lashing on Matthew 21:12-13 to remind me that Jesus got angry and threw s*#t.

Okay, first of all, there are many “stories” in Scripture that are meant to offer a teaching. Does that Scripture verse mean that Jesus was actually this angry-bird who couldn’t control His temper? We could take this to a discussion of “righteous” anger, but that’s not really the point. Do you think that table tossing anger changed ANYONE? We don’t know of course, but, I’m guessing not.

Now, how many of Jesus’ acts and teachings call us to love? How many people followed Him in spite of the danger, especially women, because He offered what their hearts longed for. It is what He came and eventually died for, and so many others after Him were martyred for. So it must be a big deal!

What was one of the last things Jesus said to His disciples? Come on, you know: “Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy! I’m outta here now, so it’s up to you to carry on. Go on out there and beat into compliance everyone who refuses to follow Me. Got it?”

Hmmm.  Yep, sign me up!

We know, of course, that Jesus was very passionate. However, He showed us that passion is not the end of the story. It’s when that passion is turned into service to others that everyone wins and God does His happy dance!

Why you Care Matters – BUT – How you Care Matters More

Recently, I read this reflection, “Please show me is one of the most powerful prayers you can speak. You can avoid painful trials and errors by inviting Spirit to guide you at the outset of your decision making process. He will direct your efforts telling you exactly what to do.” Alan Cohen

I bulked at that, or more accurately, painful memories and an ego ever on high-alert, bulked, “It’s not that simple. Life is not that simple.” That partly comes from a place long ago when I learned not to trust anyone but myself (well…that’s a scary thought!). As a child, I needed to trust my mother so I could learn to trust the world around me, but she often lied and proved to be untrustworthy, which, in turn, meant the world was untrustworthy too. The World loves those who don’t know who to trust and empowers the ego to walk itself right off every unmarked cliff until we begin to doubt ourselves.

To this day, my ego-driven mind wants every aspect of my life to be certain and laid-out clearly and at the same time believes that the Spirit that I deal with doesn’t seem to be so concise about its guidance in my life, “You’re on your own kid. Good luck!” Old memories combine with my return again and again to my default setting dredges up my monumental failures to prove I’m right – hoping that Spirit-guy will finally see that I have good reason to question what I read.

The two major events that always come to mind are: (1) writing a book, and (2) attending Graduate School – the biggest, most profound, scariest, decisions of my life that did not turn out the way I planned. It seemed so obvious to me that the outcome of these events was confirmation that Spirit-guy could not be trusted either. And just to remind him we had a little review:

1) One day, out of nowhere you clearly told me to, “Write a book”. That was you – right? Admittedly, after laughing hysterically, I finally did believe you and wrote the damn thing. That led to me imagining myself becoming a famous and sought-after author. But, that’s not what happened is it? No.

2) Then, how about this? When offered the unbelievable opportunity to attend Graduate School, after much consternation, I did, even though I fully believed I would be discovered as a fraud and be tossed out on the street. When I finally realized I might actually accomplish such a crazy endeavor (which took nearly the entire three years I was there), I began to imagine myself becoming a beloved Pastoral Associate destined for sainthood, fulfilling my need to be somebody special. But, that’s right, that’s not what happened either.

saint linda (2)

Are you still with me Spirit-guy?

All of these “failures” were confirmation to me that what I read, “You can avoid painful errors and trials by letting the Spirit guide you”, did not apply to me. In a rare moment I sat quietly and prayed. The response came quickly. I suppose because it has been the same obsessive struggle I have had for years now and you were probably peeved weren’t you?

Spirit (eye roll here), “Sit down and take a deep breath, Linda. Ready? Here we go for the bizzilionth time.”

1)  Yes, I did tell you to write a book. And, no, it did not catapult you into fame and fortune. BUT, it did develop into your blog postings and both have touched lives. How many? It really doesn’t matter because that’s not the point. Maybe a review of Luke 15:4-6 is in order here. It went something like this, “Jesus dropped everything and went after ONE lost sheep. ONE! And then he danced and sang all the way back to camp like he hit the lottery!!”

Purpose can never be driven by the world’s definition of success. But your ego is often too needy of praise to allow you to use this gift you have been given for others beyond yourself. So, stop putting expectations on the outcome and just write already!”

2) Sorry to be the one to inform you that you will not win the ‘Catholic Woman of the Year’ award. It’s actually funny that we’re still having this conversation since you seem to have pushed away from some aspects of your Catholic faith. But, that’s a conversation for another time.

So, admit it Linda, it took these experiences and growing pains to strip away enough of your own brokenness (not all, but enough for now) to open you to the love of God that resides deep in your heart. And, yes, I’m still going to be there, as always, to offer you guidance even if you pretend not to notice me: the elephant in the room!

Anyway, let’s think of the things that you have done just since graduation that you would probably never have considered being capable of before Aquinas wrested your shallow ‘faith’ from you and replaced it with a love for others.

Can you not see how much your faith grew and flourished when you cared for the dying as a Hospice volunteer? Working with the homeless you showed them love when they only knew rejection. We will soon be venturing into a new ministry together: some, maybe even just ONE (remember, numbers don’t matter), of the countless and nameless sex trafficked youth will also encounter the love of God through little ole you, Linda. This is what you have been preparing for; this is your calling. And no award, book contract, or flurry of accolades will come close to invoking those tears of love and compassion you reveal every time you think about those kids.  

Now, come on, enough with the pitty-party already. We have lots of work to do and you aren’t getting any younger you know. Just sayin’.

Can you relate? Have you experienced your own come-to-Jesus moment but you’re not sure what that means for you?

Understand that when Jesus said, “Follow Me” it was a radical call not an invitation to tea. It wasn’t the Jesus version of Simon says, “Touch your toes. Wiggle your nose. Bend your knees”. Pat on the head. Here’s your prize.

You realize don’t you that Jesus never said, “Go to church”. Never. Church is where we so often hear the word of God, rejoice for a millisecond at its splendor, and then go home to cut the grass. Following Christ means living the Word; it means being Christ to others. He told us, “I have suffered the hatred of those in power to serve those at the bottom: the forgotten and rejected. If you follow me you will do even more and, yes, you will suffer for your efforts as well.” Our response to that call must be a resounding, “Yes”! But, it’s often, “I’ll get back to you.”

Remember that all the disciples ran for cover when Jesus was taken away. When they saw the empty tomb, in unison they proclaimed, “Bummer, this is not how we imagined it turning out.” When Jesus showed up unannounced at their pitty-party he was surely in the same place Spirit-guy has been with me so often, “Okay guys let’s try this again. First of all, let’s get this out of the way – none of you will be sitting on any throne. You’ll be sitting in the muck and mire with the least among you and, get this, you’re going to love it there because that’s what you were created for: selfless love and compassionate care for the lost and hurting.”

Over the past few months we have been inundated by images and news concerning Covid-19, our broken economy, hunger and homelessness, and the BLM protests that have shed an uncomfortable light on the inequities in this country. Every day, people are suffering and dying because they have been victims of Covid or hatred or both. How are you affected by these realities? What do you think of when you witness what is surely a most profound moment in our history? Do you turn off the TV, retreat to your safe place, and pray, or send a check to a food bank? I’m not discounting those things. Both are needed for sure. But, do you also feel guilty for not having to suffer what your brothers and sisters are suffering and don’t know what to do? Is there a tugging on your heart to not just “be” a kind, compassionate person, but to act on that reality?

I think this is a time of reckoning for all of us who consider ourselves decent human beings. Never mind any label you may attach to that: Christian, Jew, Atheist, none of the above, whatever – just decent human beings who know deep down we are now called to lift our “caring” to a whole new level.

I love the expression: “Bidden or not bidden, God is still present”. God still lives and moves and has his being in the very depth of your heart, whether you believe in him or not. And even if you don’t he just hangs out there hoping you will one day acknowledge who he is, and in turn, who and Whose you are.  He’s like the heart whisperer, “I love you, you are mine, and your life has a purpose.”

If I ever sound like I have totally got my act together don’t think for a moment that’s true. We are all a work in progress. We have all sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23). I’m just thankful that God’s love and grace know no bounds. My weaknesses don’t anger him and my fears won’t push him away. He is merciful, forgiving, empowering and likely has a wicked sense of humor! Oh yeah, and he has never lied to me. Not once.

So, let’s do this. Yes, it’s important to sit quietly to discern how and where you are called to serve. But then, just like Jeremiah, get off your butt and get over your self-doubt because God will give you all you need to do what he calls you to do. That’s a promise we can all trust.

And know this: God is a constant, unfailing certainty beyond every struggle, every perceived failure, and every disappointment.

I will end with this wisdom from Anthony DeMello, SJ:

Once upon a time a disciple asked the elder, “Holy One, is there anything I can do to make myself Enlightened?”

“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”

“Then of what use” the disciple asked, “are all the spiritual exercises?”

“To make sure,” the elder said, “that you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”

 

When You Quit Believing in Santa, You Get Underwear

Do you remember how long you believed in Santa? I remember slowly doubting when I was about seven. Santa became suspect when my brother and sister, who are older, began to make fun of me. But I didn’t want to stop believing. Christmas was magical. Santa made it so. For a child Santa is the reason for the season (we can only hope they outgrow that belief).

One year, my brother and I found all the presents wrapped up and hidden in a closet two weeks before Christmas. We shook them and then carefully peeled the tape away to see what was inside. Then wrapped them back up and put them back in the closet. As you might imagine, Christmas morning was a terrible disappointment to me. I couldn’t even pretend to be excited about the gifts I received, even though some were what I had asked for. It was over: The magic, the mystery, the futile fight to stay awake this time, just for a glimpse of Santa. If I could see him just this once, my faith would be restored, and, with tears streaming down my face, I could tell him that my brother and sister were VERY naughty all year and they should both be turned into lumps of coal! 

But, that didn’t happen and now I was doomed to a reality I was not willing to face. I supposed the next thing to go was the Easter Bunny, and then the Tooth Fairy. And then what? I couldn’t bear it!

charlie-brown-aaugh

But wait!  Discovering that Santa is likely the invention of parents who simply run out of creative ways to keep kids in line a few weeks out of the year may have a positive side:

You were always told to keep your list short since Santa had to provide for the entire world!  Now you could make your Christmas list longer and the requests more extravagant.

Parents could do more than Santa because they only have to buy for a few kids and they have deeper pockets. Sweet!

You would not have to share the cookies and milk with him. You know how you always hated sharing. You little Grinch!

You could complain about the gifts received and demand they be returned to the store. You can’t return gifts to Santa because that would make him angry!

Have you ever felt that Santa would be very disappointed in you if you did not give up your “gently used” toys for kids who had nothing?  You could now ask your parents to write a check to their favorite charity allowing you to keep every last toy for your pathetic selfish self.

And what about those stupid pictures on Santa’s lap?  He was creepy and made you cry.

creepysanta4

And – best of all – there would be no pesky “list” Santa would check to ad nauseum! “Santa’s watching you, you little monster! I saw what you just did to your sister! That’s gonna go on your permanent record young man!”

Now that we’re all adults here, and you’ve gotten over your obsession with Santa, what about Christ?  What about your faith in Someone a bit more significant? If you profess to be a Christ-follower, then there are serious implications to consider. I would be remiss if I did not throw in God’s word about his “lukewarm” followers in Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Nothing ambiguous about that, right? But, we are ridiculously skilled at glazing over it like it applies to everyone else but me.

Professing Christ does not simply amount to the word games we play to dodge God’s claim on our lives. It doesn’t matter how you “talk” about Christ if what people see does not match your rhetoric.

What matters is how you “live” Christ in your day-to-day. Are you truly “living” Christ’s message to love and serve the Lord; to being Christ to a hurting world?  That comes from the very core of who you are as the image and likeness of God.

Faith that is shallow and superficial can be enormously attractive to lazy Christians seeking cheap grace:

You have enough to do just paying the bills and trying to one-up your snooty neighbors. Those ladders to climb; that big house to pay for; people to gossip about; weekly therapy, and all your “charitable volunteering”, will require much more of your valuable time. So God will just have to find someone else to do his other work; the work that doesn’t appeal to you. How about that retired guy down the street? He needs something to keep him occupied, out of his wife’s hair and your business.

If you simply go to church on Sunday, hide in the back, and get your card punched you can sneak out before anyone notices you. And be sure you skip “Mission Sunday” and “Sponsor a poor family Sunday” and “Stewardship Sunday” and “How come you’re wasting your gifts Sunday?” It just makes you squirm in the pew.

Never buy into the idea that the abundant love God pours on you is a free gift – no strings attached. It’s just a trick to reel you in. Nothing in this world is “free.”  You know you’re gonna have to pay him back. And from past experience you know that’s simply an exercise in futility. Better to just not accept it in the first place.

If you must relieve occasional guilt for your indifference to the world around you, send a check – commensurate with the size and scope of your guilt – to a charity of your choice.  And, while you’re at it, consider tithing a little of that money you spend so frivolously on your pathetic selfish adult self.

Whatever you do, stay away from church on Good Friday! You know Jesus’ passion makes you very uneasy and almost, almost, makes you long for something more. You’re sure never going to watch that Mel Gibson movie again are you?!

And best of all, having “religion” in place of relationship makes you accountable to no one. You can just skip merrily along without ever having to “give an answer” to anyone for how you are living your wretched, despicable, miserable life.  Sounds lovely.

So, there you have it. That’s how underwear ends up in your stocking and how Jesus ends up irrelevant.  Neither is a pretty sight; neither will bring you joy on Christmas morning.

We can “pretend” to be excited about the whole “Jesus is the reason for the season” message as we’re reminded once again just how deeply and extravagantly God’s love is by dropping head-long into a smelly manger with smelly animals and not a bit of fanfare!

But it’s sorta like this: even if you LOVE the underwear you receive for Christmas it’s not likely anyone will know unless you wear it on the outside.

underwear boy1

 

And even if you say you LOVE Jesus and your neighbor, it won’t be “obvious” unless you are carrying him and his love for you and your neighbor on the inside in that place where there is a void you have been trying to fill with other things. Then, it will spill out and manifest its radiance and glory to all the world around you!

Brilliant!

Jesus' birth

I wish for you and your family a very blessed

Christmas filled with wonder and awe like you’ve

never imagined it!

 

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

 

The Things we do for Love

everlasting love

What if you believed, as I do, that Jesus did not die to save us from our wretched sins? What if God sent Jesus to show us an incalculable, immeasurable love without regard to our sinfulness, knowing it would be that very sinfulness that would be the cause of his beloved Son’s death? Would that make a difference in your life?

Imagine my excitement when I recently read the following meditation by Richard Rohr. Finally, one of my heart’s deepest beliefs is put into words I could not express more powerfully:

Love, Not Atonement

The common Christian reading of the Bible is that Jesus “died for our sins”–either to pay a debt to the devil (common in the first millennium) or to pay a debt to God the Father (proposed by Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109). Anselm’s infamous Cur Deus Homo has been called “the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written.” My hero, Franciscan philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), agreed with neither of these understandings. Scotus was not guided by the Temple language of debt, atonement, or blood sacrifice (understandably used in the Gospels and by Paul).  

After Anselm, Christians have paid a huge price for what theologians called “substitutionary atonement theory”–the strange idea that before God could love us God needed and demanded Jesus to be a blood sacrifice to atone for our sin-drenched humanity. With that view, salvation depends upon a problem instead of a divine proclamation about the core nature of reality. As if God could need payment, and even a very violent transaction, to be able to love and accept “his” own children…. 

For Scotus, the incarnation of God and the redemption of the world could never be a mere mop-up exercise in response to human sinfulness, but the proactive work of God from the very beginning. We were “chosen in Christ before the world was made,” as the hymn in Ephesians puts it (1:4). Our sin could not possibly be the motive for the divine incarnation, but only perfect love and divine self-revelation! For Scotus, God never merely reacts, but always supremely and freely acts, and always acts totally out of love. Scotus was very Trinitarian.

 The best way I can summarize how Scotus tried to change the old notion of retributive justice is this: Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.

That changes everything. Or at least it should.

John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Where does it say, “God was so fed up with us that he sent His only Son to straighten us out and then die to erase our sins”? Because, hello, his death didn’t erase our sins! Think about it. Was everyone suddenly perfect after that? NO! The horrors we have committed against each other through the ages would defy logic if that were true.

So, believing that Jesus died to atone for our sins doesn’t make sense. Does it? At least, it doesn’t to me. I mean, come on, can you see Jesus returning to His Father as they contemplate his thirty-two-year experiment gone bad? “Okay Son let’s try something different. Can’t do the whole wipe the slate clean thing again (Genesis 6:5-10:32), I promised I wouldn’t.”

Now, you could counter with the possibility that the whole “Love” thing didn’t work either. After all, we are still sinning and hating and killing each other. BUT…many of us (I hope that includes me), in spite of ourselves, are really trying to change each day; trying to find our hope in the love and mercy of God; trying to love our neighbor as ourselves. Just like Paul, we often fail, but we know God’s love will prevail in the end.

How often do we read stories of people, from biblical times to the present who have given their lives for others without regard for themselves? All Jesus’ disciples, except for John, died martyrs for their faith. Would they have done that for someone who came to tell them how wretched they were?

If Jesus had come to teach us a lesson I’m imagining him bemoaning his fate for the likes of us. His own disciples were a bunch of misfits. Why didn’t he just shake his head in disgust and walk away? “They’re hopeless losers. I’m outta here”! And yet, we seem to find it easier to believe the Atonement theory. Why? Perhaps it makes God a cruel judge who doles out conditional love which brings Him down to our level and justifies a lukewarm religion we can easily become comfortable with. That kind of God you want to keep at arm’s length because you never know what will set Him off!

If you can’t wrap your head around the inexhaustible love God has for you, perhaps it’s time to quit comparing Him to earthly fathers, even if yours regularly received the “Father of the Year” award. He still has his faults.

My father was not abusive like my mother, but he was an absentee father. He never showed us affection: no hugs, no sense of “gosh, I’m really glad you’re here, glad you’re my daughter.” No expression of love. My great aunt once told me she never remembered either of my parents even holding us. It took me a long time to realize and accept that he couldn’t express love, he just didn’t know how because no one in his life ever did, a reality of his humanness and his parents humanness, and on and on.

The reality of our humanness is why, I believe, God came to earth incarnate – to show us His love in the flesh. This is what it looks like people.”

“Even though we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).

May we witness anew God’s magnificent LOVE for each and every one of us. My prayer is that we will live fully in the light of that LOVE that has no bounds, knows no limits, and believes in our intrinsic worth – even when we don’t.

Here’s a question to ponder at the foot of the Cross: Could you be so courageous as to give up your life for a friend – or more importantly – the jerk down the street that never liked you and would likely never change after your funeral?

May you know the amazing and unconditional love of God, the peace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit like never before!

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!”

Why do I HAVE to Love People I Don’t Even Like?

If I say I love chocolate (which I do…INTENSLY!) that seems like a very extreme version of like. After all, I’m sure my reaction to my first taste was, “Hum, I like this stuff.” But, liking chocolate is not pining for it, dreaming about it, or finding every opportunity to indulge in it. That came later. Probably not much later.

If I just liked it I wouldn’t ask my husband to hide it from me and then search for it when he’s not here (kinda funny since the only place he can think to hide it is in the freezer – “Oh, my…there it is!”). And, I might add, I have grown to delight in it in a manner likened to the Matthew 13:46 hidden treasure! That’s pure unadulterated love!

Relationships can be very different. You may be in a relationship with someone you have never liked. If you’re stuck there how do you get to the love part?

eddie vacation

I have been reflecting on that question in light of my own relationships. In particular, my family of origin – more specifically, my relationship with my brother and sister. A little background would be helpful here: My sister is eight years older than me, and my brother is two years older. So, you know what that makes me – that’s right – the “baby.”

me as baby
What’s not to love here?!

Being the baby of the family never really afforded me any special perks. Even so, my siblings treated me like I needed a constant reminder that I was NOT special. When we were left alone they relentlessly tormented and bullied me. To be fair, I was probably obnoxious. But that didn’t give them license to beat me up, and then do everything in their power to get me in trouble when our parents returned home.

three stooges

When I was younger, my mother forced my brother to play with me because I had no friends to play with. He and his friends would use me for their football, throw things at me, and try to dismember me with a Frisbee. That damn thing hurt, but I never let them see me cry! Sometimes they would just chase me around the yard until I gave up and went inside, only to return the next day for more.

My sister would initiate fun activities for her and my brother, and intentionally exclude me. One time, I was so angry with my brother’s unrelenting teasing that I put my fist through the glass of a door he slammed shut on me. That hurt too, but no tears from this tough kid!

wonderwoman

I’m not sure what my parent’s reasoning was the Christmas they gave my brother and me one sled – to share. That ended badly when his friends chased me down the hill on theirs trying to intimidate me into leaving. I swung mine around just in time to knock out the two front teeth of one of them.

shit just got real

It was pretty satisfying, even when my brother ran home to tell my mom, and his friend ran home crying. I knew it was not going to go well for me and I didn’t care.

As bad as all that was, what makes it worse is that I do not recall any happy moments to off-set our feelings toward each other. Soon after our mother died, I called my sister, she had been drinking at the time. She cried, saying over and over “Mom loved you best”! – I was so surprised to hear her say that. My recollection was that our mother never loved anyone.

After our father died, we rarely saw each other. Often, I can’t remember how long the gaps are between our conversations. If I had to guess I would say that I speak to them about three times a year. The times we do talk, or see each other, we say, “I love you.” Truth be told, we would have been hard pressed to say we ever even liked each other. I always believed that too much pain had divided us and lack of forgiveness left open wounds.

Then, recently, I read and reread the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis (37:1-50:21). Poor Joseph didn’t have just two siblings to deal with, he had eleven! And most of them hated him because he was their father’s favorite. They hated him so much they plotted together to kill him. If not for his one brother, Judah, they would have succeeded.

Here’s the part that caused me to think more deeply than I ever have about my relationship with my brother and sister. Before Joseph was raised to a position of power, he suffered as a slave in Egypt. Years passed before he saw his brothers again. When he did, he wept for love of them. What kind of love is this? It was the time of the seven year famine, and he controlled the grain bins. His brothers used to laugh at him because he dreamed of greatness. Their fate was now in his hands. Revenge would have been so sweet right then.

As Christians, we are taught that God loves us deeply. But, how often do we ponder just how much he likes us? I mean really, really likes us? And, if we are called to be Christ-like towards others, then it stands to reason that if we don’t like others, then we can’t possibly, truly, love them.

How often, when I tell my sister or brother that I love them, do I consider what those words really mean in the context of my Christian faith? What I should believe about love, I have failed to live, because it’s too demanding, so I give it lip service. Because we are supposed to love everyone, even our enemies, we settle for spewing empty words that sound like love, in an effort to rid ourselves of guilt. That’s cheap love.

Then it happened. Recently, (compelled, I’m sure, by you-know-Who), my husband and I drove to the house I grew up in and knocked on the door. The lady that bought the house from us still lived there, and welcomed us in. As I walked through the house, everything looked different. What surprised me was that my past experiences of that time in my life no longer seemed to have a claim on me. They did not dredge up the anger I felt for so long.

Later, we went to my brothers to visit, and then to my sisters. Again, the experience was different. When we left, and I said, “I love you” to them, I meant it. More importantly, I felt it! And, I do believe that they really do love me as best they can. And maybe, just maybe, our mother loved us too – the best she could.

I can tell you that my heart has changed, but will that translate into my being a more loving sister? Will I call more often, visit more often, pray for them, and think of them lovingly? Will I actually like them? Will they like me?

After Joseph was reunited with his brothers he gave and gave and gave to them without asking for anything in return…and…as far as we know…he never got so much as a “thank you” or “gee we’re sorry about that whole pit incident and selling you off to slavery.” After their father died, Joseph’s brothers feared he was hiding anger that would explode into revenge. To their surprise, he was not angry or vengeful. He did tell them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good….” (Genesis 50:20). God used that experience, just as he uses ours, to turn our pain and hurt into compassion and mercy for others.

As for me, I know that all that has happened in my life has had a profound impact on the person I am today: The good, the bad, and the ugly. But, if I allow God to work in and through those areas of brokenness, by his grace, good will prevail.

Now, as I pray for my brother, sister, and their families, I pray they will know God’s love and mercy, and that in some small way I can manifest that love. I once heard the expression concerning people we encounter, in particular people we don’t like, “You may be the only Christ that person meets.” That is a responsibility of all Christians; to be Christ to others; the Christ who loves deeply and unconditionally.

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Yeah, she’s smiling now. I’m bigger and faster than her! It’s a good thing I love you Sista!

I Want a Do-Over…I Think…Maybe not

(Originally posted 6/30/14)

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

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

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

“From you daddy!”

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

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

  • Generosity: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a recent experience I had:

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

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

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

  • Forgiveness 

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

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

  • And speaking of Compassion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Humility

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

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

Would I do this? Would my child?:

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  • Trust

This has always been a huge one for me.

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

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

“Linda, open the door.”

“No.  You’ll hit me!”

“I said open the door!”

“Promise you won’t hit me.”

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

“Promise you won’t hit me!”

“Okay, I promise. Now open the door!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hitler-150x150 Know who this is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GREATEST of these…is…

Drum roll please….

LOVE

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