But…Who Do YOU Say I Am?

You know the question – we all do. It’s the answer that we fear; that stymies us; that we keep denying.

Jesus’ disciples were challenged by ”the” question, up close and personal, but skipped merrily through their lives believing they belonged to an exclusive “Jesus Club”.  They would post selfies with Jesus and then boast to their friends on Facebook.

They couldn’t wait for their ten year high school reunion so they could counter the negative comments in their senior year book, “most likely to end up in jail” or “most likely to become a TV repairman living in their mother’s basement.” I think that was about James or John because their mother boldly approached Jesus to ask him to get them both out of her hair! (Mark 10:35-45)

I imagine Jesus had to pose that all important question to them constantly just to pull them back to reality, “Come on, guys. AGAIN…”Who Am I?”

It wasn’t just the disciples, everyone of us through the centuries has been challenged by that question which cannot be answered by words, but rather, by the very act of our day-to-day living. And in our arrogance we rarely get it right.

Recall that Jesus’ own brothers (yes, he had some, and sisters too, get over it) often mocked and ridiculed him in front of others, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:2-9)

A bit of sibling rivalry? Sure. Not surprising as he was the only one who never disobeyed or sinned.  His brothers had to be jealous of that and how his admiring followers flocked to him wherever he went.

John Dominic Crossan gives us some interesting insight into the thinking of the day:

“…if you asked anyone in the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus, “Who’s the Son of God, the Lord, the redeemer, the savior of the world?” everyone would’ve known immediately who you were talking about, and it sure wouldn’t have been Jesus.—it would have been Caesar Augustus.”

https://bustedhalo.com/features/busted-john-dominic-crossan

That’s right and Caesar loved it. It seemed like a game to him. He was a master of propaganda and deceit and knew how to manipulate everyone from the powerful to the lowliest pheasant. Because he was so skilled at the deception, even though he was actually a dictator, everyone loved him. Go figure.

Perhaps this understanding of everyone’s belief that Caesar Augustus was the Son of God made him a hard act for Jesus to follow. Who knows?

But we know the feeling of being “less than”. Right? Stay with me here.

The title of my blog, “Passion, Purpose, and Poopyheads” defines the struggles I have had since I first accepted that I was actually gifted with passion and purpose –as we all are. The problem has always been the “poopyheads” that keep setting up roadblocks for me to stumble over. And isn’t that what we all deal with when we pose the “who do you say I am” question back to God: That incessant question.

We yearn for the answer. It’s our deepest spiritual longing. “Who am I to you, Lord?” But, his answer is always drown out by the voices of those who, for years, have run roughshod over our hearts and muddied the pure waters of God’s immovable, unchangeable, immense love for us. He calls each one of us his beloved, but we don’t believe it. Instead, we believe the lies of those who are just as broken as we are.

Picture this (and don’t pretend you have never thought this): You go to a new doctor and are ushered into his nurse’s station as she takes all your vital signs then shoves you up on a scale. All the while you can’t help but notice that she is obviously struggling with her own health issues. Then, you sit for an eternity waiting for the doctor who finally walks into the room reeking of cigarette smoke and finishing up the last bite of a McDonalds Big Mac – his lunch (gag me!). Will you trust anything he advises to keep you healthy when he clearly doesn’t follow that advice himself? Do you stay or run like hell? You decide for yourself, but I’m already in my car.

Now, let’s put that scenario into the context of this discussion of just who it is that Jesus says we are. Even though he tells us the same thing over and over and over, we choose to give full authority to the thoughts of others who are – well – screwed up. Mostly. Like us.

GEEEEZZZZZ PEOPLE!

God, the magnificent Creator of all things has set before each of us his commitments – not commandments – an important distinction here.

He has committed to never leave us no matter what twists or turns we take on the journey. He has given us everything we need for a life not laid out before us like a scavenger hunt, though we seem to prefer that. Then, we get tripped up every time we encounter any obstacles.

We just sleepwalk through this one precious life we have been given without much thought to what we’re supposed to be doing here.

But, alas, it’s January 1, 2022. A new year.

I’m going to speak for myself now. You’re welcome to tag along….

Let’s call it:

An ode to new beginnings that tell us endings are never final if you’re still breathing.

Last year was, hands down, one of my worst years ever, with Covid relegated to last place on my list of crappy moments. After the loss of my husband, I had to face the truth of a heart condition that I chose to ignore for years. Until it reared up and took a huge bite out of my…denial.

Both these profound life events were instrumental in creating my new reality: At my age, I am starting over in an uncertain and unfamiliar place.

For the entire seventy-three years of my life I have never known what it’s like to be the creator of my own destiny. Others would always butt in with unsolicited advice and make huge messes in my life like the bratty kid who knocks down all your Legos so you have to start over! Likewise, I now have no one else to blame if I fail to follow that destiny.

How often have I thought God abandoned me because a path I took seemed like a dead-end? Only to discover it offered a critical lesson that I needed to learn before I could move on. If I could just become more self-aware and present to the steps I have taken, and will continue to take, it will be clear how they fit into my life’s purpose. I’m working on that.

How many times during the Christmas season have I hear the words, “Emmanuel – God with us” and not understood that that does not mean God has taken the wheel? He is still with us; still loving on us – but from the passenger seat.

I remember when my kids were learning to drive. That imaginary brake on my side of the car never worked! And throwing my hands up on the dashboard didn’t alter the trajectory or the speed of the car. God doesn’t work like that. He will not grab the wheel to redirect us if we mess up, and he will not bail on us no matter how out-of-control we become. He waits for our return to him – sadly, expectantly, – but patiently, like the father of the prodigal son. The choice is ours alone.

I have no idea what’s around the next corner for me and, frankly, I don’t need to know. I only know this: God is always with me. He is by my side. He is my biggest cheerleader. He forgives my stupidity and delights in giving me second chances. Yeah me!

At the end of the day, hopefully, he will welcome me home into his very heart where I will hear those immortal words, “Pretty well done, Linda. Not bad, for a messy human.”  

Pretty well done indeed – I’ll take it!

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.”

How to be a Human – for Dummies

Originally posted on May 21, 2012

how-to-be-human-for-dummies

Yesterday, I invited God to a whine-fest, “I’m so sorry! Why do you put up with me? I can never seem to get this human thing right.” Paul and I are like kindred spirits, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Romans 7:15). Mea culpa, mea culpa.

And then, this morning – an AHA moment! That holy 2×4…WACK, “Pay attention, Linda. In the name of all that is holy – PAY ATTENTION”!

It began a few weeks ago as a presumed uneventful adventure into the Bible. I read a bit of Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament daily. I would resist my usual habit of skipping over the begots, genealogies, and the “order of Creation.” This is why I avoid the Old Testament unless I am searching for a particular verse. You know, the short, profound, meaningful ones.

Despite myself, I have persevered. Almost to the end of Genesis now – whew – it’s like running a marathon! Suddenly, the reality of yesterday’s whine-fest smacked me silly. I act like I’m the only misfit God created, the only failure. God’s only recorded mistake – ever!

But, alas, realizing a common bond, I have found myself shaking my head and laughing at the characters in Genesis! I’m sure you know these stories well. But have you ever connected the dots between them and us? Here’s what I find so amusing (in condensed form), though I’m not so sure God was amused:

  • God creates paradise. He plops Adam and Eve right in the middle of it. Eve barely gets her first morning stretch in before Satan offers her breakfast –THE APPLE! She bites (literally). Gives it to Adam. He bites. God shows up unannounced (he’s sneaky like that!). Adam whines and passes the blame off to Eve, “It’s not my faultShe made me do it”! (Genesis 1:1-3:24)
  • Adam and Eve have sex, as the job of being “fruitful and multiplying” rested entirely on them at this point.
  • So, Caine and Able are the first to arrive. Time lapses. Then, Caine, out of jealousy, kills his brother Able.  God shows up unexpectedly. Again. He punishes Caine. Caine whines, denies any wrongdoing, and with an in-God’s-face retort, “I don’t deserve this!” – he pleads for his life. (4:1-15)
  • Now, along comes Noah. He most likely didn’t whine. Well, maybe he complained about cleaning up after all those stinky animals, but we don’t know that for sure. Perhaps he kept his mouth shut because he was privy to God’s anger about all the stuff God had to put up with. He knew God was having Creator’s remorse and decided to wipe humanity out and start all over (6:9-8:19). (I don’t know. Maybe this would have been a good time to reconsider that whole free-will thing. Maybe.)
  • Even though God promised not to wipe out all of creation ever again, he didn’t promise not to annihilate a small part. Just a sort of shot across the bow on Sodom and Gomorrah. God couldn’t even find ten faithful people there.

poof-001-300x185

  • So, Sodom and Gomorrah are no more. (19:1-25) Then, God asks anyone watching, “How do you like me now?!”

 Okay, now, back to Noah…

  • Noah and Mrs. Noah also have sex –a lot! Somewhere in all that begetting, Abraham is born, grows to manhood, and marries Sarah. And they have sex too, but Sarah can’t conceive. God promises them a son in their old age, but they do not believe it, and Sarah is even caught laughing at Him (18:10-15). Really!
  • When Abraham told Sarah she would conceive at the age of ninety-five, she rolled on the floor laughing. God heard her, “Are you laughing at Me”? Sarah tries to deny it, “No, no, I wasn’t laughing…really”! God replied, “Yes, you were! Just for that, you’re not only going to conceive, but I will also give you, and every woman after you, stretch marks! Not so funny now is it?”  But, really, I’m not sure Sarah grieved over her stretch marks. It’s not like bikini lines were an issue.

Anyway…

  • Remember, in verses 16:1-6, the waiting got to be too much for Sarah. She failed to trust God’s promise. Whining to him for making her barren, Sarah takes matters into her own hands and gives Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, to conceive a child for her, and we all know how that turned out! Now, Sarah whines to God again. Hagar is making her life a living hell (16:1-6). Then, unbelievably (even though God promised), Sarah conceives Isaac (21:1-7).
  • Okay, now here’s Isaac, a grown man. He falls in love with beautiful Rebekah who becomes his wife (24:62-67). Ahhh, a marriage made in heaven…NOT! They have twin sons, Jacob and Esau…awe…. Mom and dad play favorites. Isaac loves Esau, and Rebekah loves Jacob (25:27-28). And, you guessed it, Rebekah whines because Esau was born first and therefore had the birthright she wanted for Jacob. So, she and Jacob trick IsaacIt was an unfortunate and deceitful trick  (25:29-34, 27:1-46).
  • Jacob falls in love with Rachel but is coned by their father into marrying her older sister. Then, whining, he realizes he has no alternative but to work longer so he can also marry Rachel. And of course there was plenty of whining between the two sisters, now sharing a husband. They were each pumping out baby after baby, trying to win his favor (29:1-30:24). Whoever thought of that arrangement never knew about PMS! Yeah, I say Jacob deserved it. Can I get an AMEN, sisters?!

Okay, that’s as far as I have gotten in the Old Testament – the FIRST BOOK! And, of course, there’s lots more to come. We know that – deceit, murder, adultery, incessant whining – everything we’re seeing and doing today, they were doing then. Even those God loved and favored. This has been the reality of humanity throughout the ages. Yes we are sinners, grumblers, and selfish, self-centered creatures – the whole lot of us. But God refuses to wipe us out again. And because we have not changed one tinsy bit, what he did seems more ridiculous than ever, “Christ died for the ungodly. Scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps for a good man, someone would dare to die. But God demonstrates his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

If Jesus wanted to walk with the sinless he would have had to walk alone. If he was looking for someone, anyone, who was without fault, he would have had to look in the mirror. If he would only die for those who deserved it he would not have bothered to come.

We humans, we sinful, messy, prideful, self-centered, outcasts, are deeply loved by God in spite of ourselves. Why? It bears repeating that we were made in his image, and yet we beat ourselves up constantly for who we have come to believe we are, for only seeing our faults and assuming that’s all God sees too. Oh, he see’s our faults – don’t ever doubt that! But he also sees the beauty deep within when he gazes lovingly at us. Every stinkin’ one of us.

And how about this for a revelation! Do you think God “gazed lovingly” at the Pharisees in the Old Testament times, or their counterparts today? He shouldn’t have by our standards. Brood of vipers they were, self-righteous and arrogant. They denied to their last breath that they were sinners. They had no need of God! “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). But, here’s the reality. The sun shines, the cooling rains fall gently, the mighty Oak tree’s shade covers – all – the good and the evil. It is not God’s loving gaze that distinguishes us from them, it is our response to him.

Unlike the Pharisees, we “Publicans” know we need God. I ask you, is that not what is going on every time we whine? Call that whine the canary in the coal mine. Something is happening in our life at that moment that is not right, and we know as Christians that God is the only one who can make it right. We grumble to the One who can take it and turn it around – it’s the Job story played out over and over again.

I would like to share with you an excerpt from a wonderful book by Henri Nouwen titled, “The Life of the Beloved.”

I would like to speak to you about the spiritual life as the life of the beloved. As a member of a community of people with mental disabilities, I have learned a lot from people with disabilities about what it means to be the beloved. Let me start by telling you that many of the people that I live with hear voices that tell them that they are no good, that they are a problem, that they are a burden, that they are a failure. They hear a voice that keeps saying, “If you want to be loved, you had better prove that you are worth loving. You must show it.”

But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, “You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.

 Jesus heard that voice. He heard that voice when He came out of the Jordan River. I want you to hear that voice, too. It is a very important voice that says, “You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter. I love you with an everlasting love. I have molded you together in the depths of the earth. I have knitted you in your mother’s womb. I’ve written your name in the palm of my hand and I hold you safe in the shade of my embrace. I hold you. You belong to Me and I belong to you. You are safe where I am. Don’t be afraid. Trust that you are the beloved. That is who you truly are.

I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts — by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved.

Life can seem as painful as being pecked to death by a chicken. But live it we must if we are to fulfill our calling; our destiny. Claiming Christianity offers no trophies to set on a mantle, no promises of worldly success, no protection from pain, no surety of love from others. What it does offer, with surety, is a life unimaginable. It requires faith and trust in a God who loves us more passionately than we dare believe, even when we are sinful, even when we reject or ignore Him, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you.” (Isaiah 30:18) Beyond a simple wish, “longing” holds a tension between yearning and frustration.

God pleads with us and longs for us to claim His LOVE and believe it. If that were not true He would not have come to SHOW us, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (not to be pecked to death of course), but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37).

Here’s my “Tear-Out for Quick Reference” because I daily forget who I am. What would yours look like?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Tear-out for Quick Reference:

  • Begin and end every day in prayer. Spend a good deal of that time listening.
  • Stop my incessant whining and start living as the deeply and radically beloved sinner I am.
  • Admit my faults and ask forgiveness from those I have hurt.
  • Let go of my “right” to hurt others as they have hurt me. Forgive them.
  • Follow this simple and straightforward path of Micah 6:8,“Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”
  • Live fully – laugh often – love unconditionally.
  • Leave the world a better place than I found it.