Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places

Recently, I was reminded of a long-standing frustration I have as I gathered my thoughts on what church is supposed to be and what is actually happening.

I left the Catholic Church several years ago, and though I feel like I have landed in a church I’m growing to love, I still find myself searching for a true depth of faith I want to encounter, not just in others, but also in myself.

I want it to be like those guys on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:32). You know, when they were bellyaching about how their lives were upended and all of a sudden they realized their hearts “were on fire” as they walked with this guy who showed up out of nowhere? I had my own experience of that in Kentucky and it changed my life!

In the past, I was great at shaking my finger – at someone, anyone, to blame for the indifference to God’s call to Love that I witnessed almost daily:The clergy, bishops, the Pope, but not the faithful sitting unaware in the pews (if they’re sitting there at all). Never those poor innocent folks in the pews.

I assumed that for some reason beyond their consciousness – poor religious instruction or perhaps sucky sermons that can rival Ambien’s affect as a sleep medication – they have never encountered the “living” Christ. How is that supposed to happen when we’re either nodding off in the pew or thinking of that much anticipated Super Bowl in just a few hours (more on that later).

If liturgy is, as I learned from Catholic Church teaching, the “source and summit” of faith then it must give meaning to our lives. Right? Meaning that should cause us to sit in stunned silence in the presence of the Incarnate Word of God. Where, in awe and wonder, we remove our sandals on what is surely holy ground.

Gradually then, it would seem, Sunday after Sunday, we would fall in love with Love. Perhaps we would begin to squirm in the pew we once found comfortable as we realize that God is calling us to a responsibility to respond to that Love. It’s really not optional if we call ourselves “Christian” you know.

Liturgy, from the Greek leitourgia, means “the work of the people”. That’s all of us, every single one! Let’s look back at the early church where it began – with Jesus himself. Think of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper. Think of John resting on Jesus’ shoulder. Jesus poured the wine, washed their feet, loved on them and said, Do this in memory of Me, always recall My love for you, prepare yourselves for the work I’m calling you to.  Sooooo, what are you waiting for? Get out there and love on people!” I can guarantee you that not once during that supper did Jesus or any of his apostles ruminate on the Super Bowl or long for hot wings while consuming dry bread. Not one of them!

But, we do. The significance and power of our worship seems to be all but lost today. It isn’t confined to the Pastor. There isn’t a list of formalities we can check off: Enter, bow, glare at the person who’s sitting in your spot, gaze out the stained glass windows past the tearful widow next to you, tune out the sermon, rush out the door. Repeat.

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me. But, don’t stop there!” He gives us explicit instructions to respond in action, to go out to “love and serve the Lord”. Every part of our worship should lead us to that end.

Here’s what, I believe, a life of faith should look like. It’s what I strive for and so often fail miserably at. We go to church to be nurtured by God’s Word; to seek and know we are forgiven for our sins. We are challenged by the sermon, share the peace and love of God with others and then are sent out to be Christ to a hurting world. But if, instead, we sit as silent spectators simply waiting to get our card punched for the week, a broken world suffers the loss. What is missing? Many people today say they can be spiritual without the Church. Those who simply “show up” also miss the point.

Here’s a question for you: Who wants to watch the Super Bowl alone? We surround ourselves with friends and indulge in a feast made for a king. It’s a party! If we could only approach liturgy with that same excitement. We are called to prepare our hearts and minds at the banquet table where we celebrate the love of God.

Guys, the liturgy is a feast; a celebration of God’s extravagant Love. We relish the fires of hot wings while the fire of the Holy Spirit lies smoldering in our hearts. This realization always causes me to point my finger in the mirror again and again. Perhaps many believers have not encountered the living Christ, but I have. Yet, I too am often resistant to His deepest call to love.

Mary Collins speaks of “God-seekers” who “risk more than the ordinary. They risk their sanity….The rest of us go to church”. It’s too frightening. We don’t want the responsibility to love like that. We want that left to those “holy” people we often read about. But….

 What if we had an Emmaus encounter with Christ right in the midst of communion?

What if we actually saw Christ proclaiming God’s lavish, magnificent, and unending Love?

What if we turned to offer others the sign of peace and Christ took our hand?

What if in our “Amen” we meant it? “Amen” means, “Yep, I wholeheartedly agree!”  It doesn’t mean “let me think about that and get back to you.”

What if in sheer gratitude for God’s self-giving Love, Christ in our midst, we became that very Love emptied and spilled out into the world? Catherine Vincie calls this “the prophetic function of a dangerous memory”.

Then, how dangerous would this be – what if we saw Jesus Himself as the primary sacrament of grace.  Could we handle that? All forms of love, goodness, sacrifice, and resurrection are salvific. In this sense Jesus is the greatest sacrament of all. Why does that reality not trump football? Why does Jesus always have to be competing with a cheap imitation?

The Good News Reimagined

For three years, Jesus walked with and taught his disciples. He dared to love those cast aside by society. He healed the sick, turned unbelieving hearts toward God, and challenged those who believed they held the ultimate power.

The problem was that his disciples wanted to follow him on their own terms. Time and again, they failed.  Why? Their desire to change was ever frustrated by their inability to know God as Jesus knew him. Their frame of reference for God’s love was within the realm of deserving and undeserving. It was something they could control by their actions.

In Jesus’ Passion and death, they witnessed his total self-giving to his Father. God revealed by the resurrection his radically gratuitous love for his Son, the disciples, and. Though that love is given freely, it calls for a response from us. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why we, like the Israelites, settle at the foot of the mountain in a comfortable, risk-free faith. “Nuh-uh, I ain’t goin’ up  there!”

Before Jesus’ crucifixion all of his wishy-washy disciples ran away in fear of meeting the same fate. (Just a little reminder here: the women stayed! You know that, right? Power to the women!) Anyway, the manly men finally came out of hiding and ran head-long into Jesus transfigured. There was now no denying that what they witnessed they were compelled to share with a lost and hurting world.

For the disciples, transformation came through their realization that this Jesus, standing before them, the same human person they knew before, now reveals his divinity. Through his resurrection, they are also made a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit. That reality released within them an unshakable love beyond their human capacity.

Can we possibly grasp the implications of that love in our own lives? We zealously take care of “number one” in a world laden with mistrust and fear. How does that correlate with the fact that we were made in the image of God? It doesn’t.

As Christians, we too were created anew by the resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit. That is Good News! And we have a mandate to take that Good News into the world. If fear holds us back, it is grounded in the denial of who we really are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and ties the hands of the Spirit. God’s sacrificial love is meant for all, and I am to be an instrument of that love, or my faith response is inadequate.

Confession time. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an “instrument” of God’s love on my own terms, just like the disciples, and I blew it – big time – just like they did! BUT I’m still breathing, so I still have time for a course correction. Sooooo, let me get all my “stuff” out there now and pray for that clean slate God is so good at freely offering us. You might want to fasten your seatbelt!

You see, I always felt the need for certitude about something, anything, in my, messed up, confused, and broken life, but I wasn’t sure about trusting that to God. I mean, up to that point, he didn’t seem to pay any mind to me or my trials. I was convinced I was screaming into an echo chamber when I complained about the raw deal life handed me. It sucked for real! So, I went about creating a new and different me, and it seemed to work just fine – on the outside – for a while.

After my husband and I were married, I became a card-carrying member of the Catholic Church. Then with a cross around my neck and a big fish on the bumper of my car, I sat and waited for the angels to break out in song. It never happened. I never got so much as a thumbs up or “atta girl”.

For several years after my official dunking, I still lived in a state of doubt, constantly questioning the very essence of my faith. I read the Bible from front to back even though my eyes glazed over, trying to wrestle with the Old Testament. Still, I came away from that experience believing I now knew everything about everything God, Jesus, Spirit, and leprechauns (Okay, not leprechauns, I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention), but God, Jesus, and Spirit, yes!

I was also good at making you look bad to make me look better. Listen, I could easily admonish you for all your faults and failures without skipping a beat. I could even quote scripture verses to shore up my convictions. “Oh yeah, you think you’re a shoe-in for heaven? Well, I’ve got news for you – you’re screwed. Matthew says so, ‘For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few – very few – almost no one!’” (Matt. 7:13–14). I hate to tell you (NOT!) but this is not your lucky day and tomorrow ain’t lookin’ too good either if you don’t change your ways! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re welcome.”

Jesus side-eyed me for my attitude more times than I care to admit!

Then, one fine day in 2006, I was accepted into a graduate program at Aquinas Institute of Theology! Yeah, surprised the hell out of me too! Now I thought I would have even more ammunition in my arsenal to judge and condemn you while promoting myself. Sweet! I have shared my experiences at Aquinas in previous posts. So, let me just say that, like Paul, I was knocked off my high horse and taken to task because of an arrogant assessment of myself. It was not pretty.

Now, since I am very stubborn and hard-headed (duh) my transformation was very, very slow. Truth be told, I muddled along for several years after graduation trying to sustain my convictions. After all, who would I be if not this person I created to shore up my sense of self, albeit a very fragile and false self?

So I trudged along searching – for what? I didn’t know. Longing for something out there that could give my life meaning, I tried desperately to fill the void. I left the Catholic Church in frustration and wandered into other Christian churches. Some sent me running out the door with my hair on fire! Why was I struggling so hard to find a faith with the correct beliefs that spoke to me? For a moment, I considered communing alone with nature! Then I had a vision of St. John the Baptist running naked in the woods, eating bugs and swatting mosquitoes! No thanks.

And then – my glorious and long overdue AHA moment arrived at my doorstep unannounced. In my search for a belief system that I could buy into, I suddenly realized what I was actually longing for. At that moment, experience and dogma clashed head-on, and I understood that I wasn’t searching for correct beliefs. That has never been what drew me to God. The experiences along the way showed me God’s love beyond anything I had ever known. It just took this long to accept that God could actually love me like that. Experiencing God in relationship, not knowledge of God, wells up within the very depth of our hearts – where he resides. I was finally home within my very being – where my deepest longing and hunger reside.

I could beat myself up for all the years I wasted wanting faith on my own terms, but God has spoken tenderly into my brokenness and heartache. That voice was not a voice of condemnation that I was taught to believe was God’s. It’s not helpful that we are reminded every Lenten season that he had his beloved Son killed because of our wretchedness. NO! That never worked for me. I believe Jesus was killed by a power structure that feared him. He lived a life that he had to know would get him killed, but he did it anyway out of a self-giving love at the core of his being.

I now trust that the God I long to surrender to also longs for me. The God who knew his Son would suffer terribly and die showed us his unwavering love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness in the person of Jesus.  

John 15:12-13 tells us: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Seeing Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the context of John’s gospel of love have cast a new and beautiful light on what I now see when he says, “I am the way”. His life and love show me that if I follow in his way, I will be living my purpose: to love unconditionally, serve where I am called, and offer freely the same forgiveness and mercy God has shown me.

The Easter question for me, for us, as for the disciples, becomes, “What do you believe about me?” What I say I believe must manifest itself in the way I live my life or it is a lie.

A Blessed Easter to you all!

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 activists are 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?

We’re seeing 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?  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 didn’t straighten up! I was sure 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 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 profoundly impacted my life. What’s impressive 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 many scripture verses proving 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 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 in 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 and 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: What I learned about myself at Aquinas carried over to a more nuanced understanding of the part I play just in voting. Before this, I was a one-party voter. Admittedly, it was 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 like me now know how critical it is to be informed and 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 someone yelling in my face.

SELF-CENTEREDNESS THAT MORPHS 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 close 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 battle until the other person caved and cried uncle.  But, hey, both stood their ground. In the aftermath of that train wreck, I commented that everyone who disagrees 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 in Matthew 21:12-13 to remind me that Jesus got angry and threw s*#t.

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

How many of Jesus’ acts and teachings call us to love? How many people followed him despite the danger, especially women, because he offered what their hearts longed for. He came and eventually died for it, 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 everyone who refuses to follow me into compliance. 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. When that passion is turned into service to others, everyone wins, and God does his happy dance!

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

Recently, I read a reflection by Alan Cohen. It began with, Please show me is one of the most powerful prayers you can speak.

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 (whew, 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 guide 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 presence in my life, “You’re on your own kid. Good luck!” Old memories combined with my return again and again to my default setting dredge up my monumental failures to prove I’m right – hoping that Spirit-guy will finally see that I have good reason to question everything.

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. 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 “suggest” you 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. 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 your Catholic faith. But, that’s a conversation for another time.

So, admit it Linda, it took these experiences and many others 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 some insight 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? Then, working with the homeless you showed them love when they only knew rejection. We will soon be off on a new venture 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 pity-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 pity-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.”

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, 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 takeaway 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 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 woman.” (Yeah, go get em’ Starr. That’s a 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 an excellent container to start with, we 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. 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 the 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 at that moment, to that person. Now, look back at the article and comments above and tell me who Christ was for all the people involved? Was it the church that kicked the mother out? The “Christians” who posted mean, insensitive 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, 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:

Something powerful 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!”