What if Good Friday was cancelled like all other “big events”? The need to manage crowd control during this time would take priority.
Well then, Holy Saturday would be cancelled too. Even if you spent that day alone in your Upper Room, there would be nothing to wait for.
And then, of course, no need for Easter.
This could be our most profound Holy Week ever! Okay, maybe not “ever” – the original one would trump it.
But, we have an opportunity to make this EPIC for our lifetime if we’re paying attention!
Throughout Jesus’ Passion God remained eerily silent. Jesus was mocked by those who were certain He was an impostor. “If you are the Son of God, why doesn’t He save you? Why don’t you just come down from that cross?” (Matt. 27:40)
Yet, when “it was finished,” God’s heart exploded with the reality of His beloved Son’s death. The torn curtain, the earthquake, the rocks splitting! The eruption of Love’s broken heart. Slumped over on the cross was humankind’s ultimate rejection of God’s ultimate Love. What Jesus’ death revealed most profoundly was that God and Jesus’ mutual self-giving was completely gratuitous. “Surely He was the Son of God.” (Matt. 27-54)
And for us today? Good Friday seems to be happening every day since the pandemic began. I don’t know about you but I wake up every morning, open the shades, and look out the window expecting the world to be different. But, the news tells us it’s not. (Call it our very own Groundhog Day).
I think the significance of this Good Friday for us is that, as bad as it is, we know this too will pass and God will use this tragedy for His good if we will just trust Him and cooperate with His plan. We have been blessed with the opportunity of a do-over if we are so inclined to take it on.
Holy Saturday…and we wait. Truth be told we spend most of our lives waiting for something. Our lives seem to be suspended between the really bad days and a sprinkling of a few really good days, that life presents to us like an endless loop of obsessive rumination, good or bad.
Fear and despair abound in today’s world. How is it possible to find hope or trust in anything, let alone a God who seems distant from human suffering?
Maybe we don’t know how many lives will be lost, what the economic outcome will be, how long it will be before our lives return to “normal”, and even how differently we might view our “normal”. But, we do know Easter is coming! HALLEAUJAH AND AMEN!
Easter Sunday – Our celebration of the Risen Christ will surely be much different than we have ever experienced before. What I am hoping and praying for is that we honestly access our new reality in light of how we live our precious lives going forward. God’s will is made clear through His Son, “Love as I have loved and forgive as I have forgiven, no matter the cost.” And we dare not cling to false innocence when the Truth stands before us.
How will we celebrate the Risen Christ in the midst of the fear and despair in today’s world? Holy week is always a reminder that we are called to live differently. But, when people in need see our backs turned from them, they see God’s back as well. It may seem too scary to accept that we are to be God’s compassion, His touch, His mercy. So, we cry out to Him to, “do something” forgetting that we are to be His hands and feet. We stand on Holy Ground when our compassionate care embraces another’s suffering.
This is the point where we must ask ourselves, “Does faith in Jesus orient my life?” If no less than God is present and active in Jesus, is the same true about me? And if so, does that not call for an immediate response? God’s Love can release our human potential beyond our imagining, but not without our “YES”.
Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” will be answered by our falling on our knees in awe and adoration, yes. But it cannot stop there. Jesus never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me.” As a Christian I answer that question every time I give of myself for the sake of another, or conversely, care more for myself than my neighbor. How can I believe God loved me so much, so passionately, that He sent His only Son to suffer and die for me, and for every person I encounter, if I refuse to love them? If I say to Christ, “You are the living God,” that truth must be manifest in and through the way I live my life, or it is a lie.
I am sure the next question Jesus will confront me with is, “Do you love me?” How will my life answer that question?
The Lord gives us eyes to see, really see, IF (big if) we are willing, open, and present to Him.
For too long this country has cast God aside for our own wants and desires, striving ambitions, and material obsessions. Things we thought we couldn’t live without may have now become a hindrance to our ability to survive what is surely coming.
As I write this, the coronavirus is rearing its ugly head in every area of our lives, but I would like to focus here on one area – churches are closed all over the country.
This can’t be…
What will we do?
God must be beside Himself knowing we aren’t sitting in pews praying.
Or is He?
That depends on how we are actually living our new reality. And that runs the full spectrum from those who are frightened and immovable to many who seem to be indifferent.
Yes, these already are, and will continue to be, trying times as we suffer the physical, emotional, spiritual, and economic impact unlike anything we have ever known.
But, hold on…don’t leave me for a stiff drink yet! I have GOOD NEWS. Really!
Here we are experiencing the worse disaster we have ever known right in the midst of the most holy season of Lent. We have no idea what the outcome of the virus will be, but we do know how the Passion of Christ plays out. So, let me ask you a question: what has your celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus meant to you up until now? (To make this work, you have to be brutally honest. Okay?)
Many faiths observe various practices during Lent. The Catholic Church has requirements and suggestions for observing this season. Over the years, some of those “requirements” have become “suggestions”. For instance, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence, unless you’re old like me. Daily Mass, prayer, Scripture readings, traditional Lenten Devotions, sharing our abundance with the poor, and throwing in a confession somewhere are all strongly recommended. Oh yeah, and then there’s that pesky self-denial summed up in the Christian concept of “mortification” which in no way should be misconstrued as self-flagellation, an extreme practice of physical self-punishment that somehow, since medieval times, has been thought to imitate Christ’s suffering. Don’t do that!
Mortification in this sense means “cause death to our self-will” which is what Jesus meant when He said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mat 16:24). When we surrender our self-will we are imitating Christ. Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).
So, let’s take an honest look at our individual observances of Lent shall we? Then we’ll break down the three phases of The Passion in the context of today’s reality. I’ll go first.
I used to love fish fry’s when I was still a beer drinker and less concerned about recycled hydrogenated oil – YUCK!
I used to go to confession until, on two separate occasions and two different priests, they each said something totally inappropriate. I never went back.
I do Intermittent Fasting for my health regularly, but my “spiritual” fasting practices are, honestly, pathetic…okay, non-existent.
Going to Mass always felt like a requirement to have my card punched once a week. Sort of like getting that sticker, “I voted” or “I Gave Blood”.
When I outgrew the fear instilled in me by the Powers-That-Be within the Church, I grew into a different person; a better person hopefully. I quit “volunteering” to impress others and started to actually care about my suffering brothers and sisters. Which, in turn, led me to my life’s purpose.
I gave up my ambition of being the Catholic Woman of the Year or Saint Linda, and began to give myself to God for His purpose even though I had no idea what that purpose was. He just seemed to be a bit wiser than I always imagined myself to be.
Fear of going to hell got me to church most Sundays until I discovered this definition of hell: “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.” Gian Carlo Menotti…OUCH!
Okay guys, I’m standing here with my sins exposed. It’s your turn. Don’t worry no one’s going to call you out. You don’t have to expose yourself to judgment like I just did. Just take a quiet moment to think about it and then we’ll move on. Go ahead I’ll wait right here.
Okay, so, Pope Francis offered some powerful words to consider this Lent, “Jesus’ Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.”
And there it is.
God has been making this call to us since Jesus walked the earth; the call to get off our backsides and care for the poor and suffering among us. Jesus was here in the flesh to show us how that should be done. And how do we respond today? There are many who heed that call, some just half-halfheartedly drop coins in a beggar’s hat”, while some simply aren’t listening. Not much has changed in two-thousand-some-odd years I suppose.
Now, let’s consider the three phases of Jesus’ Passion: His life, death, and resurrection, in light of our call to imitate Him.
His life: Of his thirty-three years here (give or take a few), on the surface, it appears that only the last three were spent fulfilling His purpose. Three years. That’s it. I’m seventy-one and hate to admit that I have probably wasted at least sixty of it. But, Jesus wasn’t wasting His life. He was growing into His purpose.
When I look back on my life: all the mistakes and missteps, the hurt inflicted on me and by me, the selfishness and rejection, there simply would have been no way for me to be all God created me to be because I didn’t even know who that was. But, I do now! I don’t know how much time I have left here. But it doesn’t matter because time has no meaning for God, so it shouldn’t for us either. Each day is a new opportunity to bring Christ to our suffering brothers and sisters. And it isn’t just a privilege; it’s a responsibility we all have.
His death: Jesus knew that His constant presence was a threat to the status quo. He knew that every choice He made to expose the rich and powerful of his day would risk His very life. That became more and more clear as He pushed against the power that held sway over the most vulnerable and lost. He didn’t hold back from calling them out with choice words to describe them even though it surely sealed His fate: Hypocrites, brood of vipers, prideful, whitewashed tombs, legalists disguising an inner corruption. “They preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:3). His death was inevitable.
Most of us will not be called to sacrifice our lives, but we are all called to die to our self-will so that we can be used by God in whatever way He has already predetermined. That might just mean having the courage to step into what will likely be uncomfortable, probably risky, perhaps even scary. And expect it to be a wild adventure because God doesn’t do ordinary! (You know that right?)
His resurrection: When Jesus died everyone believed they would be returning to their ordinary, mundane lives. “Alrighty then, that was a wild and crazy ride! We could liken it to that special vacation we always dreamed about and finally got to experience. The difference is that we probably have pictures to reminisce over; they got nothing, not even a stinkin’ T-shirt for heavens sake.
Anyway, when Mary and the girls got to the tomb they were met with, “Surprise! He isn’t here!!” And when He showed up at the disciples pity party later, they were all overwhelmed, first with fear, then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, they discovered within themselves a determination and fervor that would send them out sharing the Love of Christ with anyone with ears to hear. With the exception of John, all the disciples were martyred for their willingness to go when God said “GO!”
And for us? Following death to self, resurrection, I believe, does not mean a new birth, but a “rebirth”. It means returning to our original holiness. Before we were born God created us with Love, for Love. But, we have somehow lost our way. We have forgotten who and Whose we are. Saying “yes” to God means saying “yes” to our true selves and “no” to the lies we have believed about our unworthiness.
Jesus’ Passion was a disaster turned triumph. The conventional thinking of our time is that we can’t handle tragedy and suffering; that we will fall apart and resort to some sort of primal survival instinct. Though I suppose as we watch people claw each other to death for toilet paper some could make the case for that belief. But, I choose to look instead at the myriad examples of people all over the world who have shown love and compassion and hope in disasters. Countless studies have born witness to the fact that most people are altruistic not barbaric. And out of the ashes of disaster comes the gift of the blessedness and fullness of our humanity. Yes, you and I are our brother’s keeper! It’s in our DNA.
This, my dear friends, can be a turning point in what we believe about ourselves and our neighbor; of what we are capable of in the face of fear and uncertainty if we trust in the divinity of our very souls where God resides and where we live and move and have our being. What you believe right now will determine how you act. So, it’s time to believe and act like you and everyone around you; friend or stranger, are a beloved and precious child of God.
In our new coronavirus reality, we need to do away with “practicing” our faith and get to the business of “doing”. And how better to begin than to be kicked out of our comfortable pews, locked out of church, and sent on a new meaningful, mystical and mighty mission?!
GO ON NOW!…“see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.” And fear not. Remember the immortal words of Esther when Mordecai told her that her people were going to perish if she didn’t do something. Then he said to her, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” And what was Esther’s reply without hesitation? “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:14 – 5:16)
As I write these words I fully understand that none of us have any idea how this will turnout. But, I do know this – God does not cause such tragedy (so get that idea out of your head), but He will use it for good!
God is our steady strength. He will not abandon us. He hears our prayers and tells us: “Don’t be afraid!”
I love this quote by Rebecca Solnit, “Disaster could be called a crash course in Buddhist principles of compassion for all beings, of non-attachment, of abandoning the illusion of one’s sense of separateness, of being fully present, and of fearlessness…in the face of uncertainty.”
My prayer is that we will take on that mantel of courage and faith now, whatever that looks like, wherever we are.
So, hang in there, pray, wash your hands, and take care of your neighbor!
Oops. Did you just spit your coffee on that new white shirt? Sorry. My bad.
While you’re cleaning up there and before I go any further, I think a disclaimer may be in order. Everything I say about God, aside from my own personal experience, is my humble opinion and has no basis in fact. What did you pay for that opinion? Nothing. So, what is it worth? That’s right. Nothing.
So let’s continue.
There are many different beliefs and opinions concerning heaven and hell. But, there is only one fact: no matter what someone tells you, no matter what “proof” they provide, no one knows. No different than a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine who collects clowns. She thinks they’re delightful and enchanting. I actually believe they were created by some satanic force to kill us in our sleep. So, who’s right? (I’m pretty sure I am, but I have no proof of that either.)
So, if your bubble just burst or your halo deflated, I apologize. But this is kind of important stuff to consider because if heaven and hell aren’t an actual piece of real estate, then maybe your reason for being nice, or not, to the jerk next door needs to be reevaluated. And, spoiler alert, this is not going to be easy or fun.
This is not heaven!
And this is not hell!
Diana Butler Bass speaks of this idea of heaven and hell as “vertical faith”. She says:
“Sacred traditions replete with metaphors of God in the elements were replaced by modern theological arguments – about facts and religious texts, correct doctrine, creation versus science, the need to prove God’s existence, how to be saved, and which church offers the right way to heaven. These are the questions of vertical faith.” (Did you catch that – metaphor was replaced with fact?)
So, when it is said that we make our own heaven and hell right here, where we live and move and have our being, what exactly does that mean? Well, this is the tough part I referred to earlier because our Western brains can’t seem to grasp or accept anything mysterious or inexplicable. Everything in existence has to be named and categorized or it gets cast aside as irrelevant.
We are very good at compartmentalizing everything in our lives. Nice people who are low-maintenance get to be a part of our club. Unpredictable, moody, or disagreeable people don’t get to join. We easily converse with those who agree with us and avoid or argue with those who don’t. We “attend” church on Sundays and then divide up the rest of the week into unrelated “things”. We even compartmentalize life and death. We separate the two with the certainty that there is no connection (Mufasa would not approve!).
You may be too young to recall the days when wakes were held at home in a family parlor where the life and death of a loved one was celebrated as a continuum. That all changed with the advent of the funeral parlor. Funeral parlors opened so “professionals” could manage the uncomfortable aspects of death and turn bodies into pasty replicas of loved ones. Frankly, I think funeral parlors came into existence when some guy got tired of his mother-in-law hanging around in a box in his living room for a week, but I can’t prove that either.
Considering how we keep everything in our lives separated into neat tidy boxes that we can easily manage, like peas and applesauce on our dinner plate, (yuck, don’t want those to touch each other) it’s no surprise how easily we accepted God’s separation from us as well. We can’t fathom the thought of God being right here in our midst looking for any soft entry into our walled up hearts. If we could just stop for one minute, let down our guard, and imagine how different; how rich and full our lives would be if we let Him in.
Try as we may to ignore it we all have an emptiness that God placed in our hearts that can only be filled by Him and not with things of this world. Augustine said it best: “Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” I think, as I found in my own life, it requires us to admit our need for God; to truly see how our lives are empty of purpose and meaning without Him; that He has not left us to fend for ourselves.
How about this uplifting thought: Gian Carlo Menotti tells us, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.” Wait now, this is actually good news. If hell is here now, and we somehow figure out what our true purpose is then we have a chance to correct our pathetic, despicable, pitiful selves before we drop dead. That is Good News, right?!
So, what does all this mean? Again, I can only speak from my own experience. For most of my life I ignored God and when I did acknowledge Him it was usually in a display of anger directed at Him. I believed He was distant and could care less about me – a heathen.
If God is known as “Father” then it would stand to reason that I would view Him just as I viewed my own father. In which case, he would be distant and aloof. He would be sitting on his sofa eating ice cream and mindlessly watching TV, while the world fell in around him. Or if my mother was any indication of who God was as a parent, I would have run like hell in the other direction. I would have seen Him as a controlling, punishing, and unforgiving God. And who needs that? Either way, He would not get a Father of the Year award from me and there would be no Hallmark card created for Him.
I think we actually like the notion that God is way up there while we’re way down here. We might be relieved to think He’s not watching when we try to run our own lives. “Don’t need you, God. I’ve got this!” We’re probably hoping He’s much too busy with other more important things to pay any attention to us mindlessly sleepwalking through life?
In many traditional faiths, God sits in His heaven and doles out rewards and punishment to each of us according to our merits or sinfulness. Think of Job in his most distressing time and how his friends wagged their accusing fingers at him, certain that he had sinned in some terrible way to have been the recipient of God’ wrath. “It’s pretty obvious Buddy. You screwed up big time! Now, you need to fess up before God gets His second wind!”
So, what changed for me? It certainly wasn’t that God changed His ways. No, I had changed and it wasn’t because I was growing in knowledge about God. It was because I opened myself to a relationship with Him that allowed me to experience who God really was, not who I created Him to be. Knowing about God and experiencing Him is the critical difference necessary to live as fully as we are called to live, and to trust what lies ahead. God tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We can choose to believe what we have long been told about a God whose wrath is to be feared, or we can choose to experience the God of immeasurable love and compassion.
Oh, if we could just grasp the reality of heaven and hell perhaps we would live our lives differently so that Menotti’s words would not be the end of our story.
Listen to these prophetic words of Father Richard Rohr:
“When hell became falsely read as a geographical place, it stopped its decisive and descriptive function, and instead became the largely useless threats of exasperated church parents. We made (heaven and hell) into physical places instead of descriptions of states of mind and heart and calls to decisions in this world (emphasis mine). We pushed the whole thing off into the future, and took it out of the now.
Jesus clearly says the kingdom of heaven is among us (Luke 17:21) or “at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). One wonders why we made it into a reward system for later, or as Brian McLaren calls it, “an evacuation plan for the next world.” Maybe it was easier to obey laws and practice rituals for later than to actually be transformed now.”
A bit more on the reality of hell by Joanne M. Pierce in Sojourners Magazine (italics mine):
“Pope Francis said, ‘Hell is wanting to be distant from God because I do not want God’s love. This is hell.’ Most contemporary theologians would agree with the pope. Hell is not about fire and brimstone; it is about our freedom to say no to God, our freedom to reject love and choose loneliness. When we close our hearts and tell the world to go to hell, we are in fact choosing hell for ourselves. Hell is the absence of love, companionship, communion. We are not sent there; we choose it. God did not create hell; we did.”
When I write a blog post there is always an AHA moment involved. Sometimes it’s what prompts the post, and other times, like now, it comes in the process of writing. It’s like getting my proverbial thump from you-know-Who that causes me to stop and listen closely knowing I am about to be inspired. It happened this morning as I was sitting in silence. Okay, actually I was whining to God. I had a particularly bad couple of days and sleepless nights. I beat myself up so much I thought there would be obvious bruising when I got up this morning.
What I read was in the Gospel of Thomas. Yes, there really was one, but he didn’t make the cut. Neither did Mary Magdalene but don’t get me started on that one! So, Thomas writes, “Jesus said,“Seekers shall not stop until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. After being disturbed, they will be astonished (my emphasis). Then they will reign over everything.” Now, hold that thought a minute. The scripture verse we are most familiar with is similar, but clearly less challenging, it is Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Our shallow, non-threatening translation? Just ask and you’ll get whatever your little heart desires. This reads like a Christmas wish list: Apple AirPods? Done. Captain Marvel Legacy Hero Smartwatch? It’s yours. Chanel’s Quilted Tote bag? Because Lindsay Lohan!? Whatever. Here you go.
Now, back to Thomas. I’m guessing that his gospel was rejected by the powers that be because they were afraid they could not control us if we discovered who God really is and the power that truth gives us. Of course I wasn’t there, so I’ll admit I’m really just pushing hot air, but I think the verse is useful for making the point of this blog.
Thomas tells us that we are to be seeking God and when we find Him in our very hearts, it’s all over. What being “disturbed” and “astonished” means to me is that this only happens when we experienceGod.
I also read Micah 6:6-9 this morning which tells us what God wants from us. In verses 6-7, these two stupid rich guys were trying to gather up all the best they had to appease God and buy their way into heaven. Somebody even threw in a first born child for good measure. But, God rejects their attempts to buy His favor. God, “Nope, I don’t want your stuff, I want you.”
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Let’s look at that last verse again. Read it slowly because it is the very core of who we are called to be as children of God: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
I fully believe that we are living our heaven and hell right here on earth, in our day in and day out lives. Each time we make choices to love and serve others, or conversely, serve ourselves. Each time we seek out those God calls us to bring His love to, or we take care of number one. Each time our hearts break over the pain and suffering that permeates our world and then do something about it or turn our backs and cling to our fear of what it might require of us. With every choice we make to love or hate we choose our own heaven or hell right here.
Now, how does that translate to what eternity looks like for us when we take our last breath?
Wait for it….
Wait for it…
I have no idea.
But, I will tell you this: I have lived as a sinner/saint (don’t laugh, my mother-in-law thought I was a saint once for about five minutes) and everything in between, in my seventy years. I have lived many years of anger, pain, and bitterness. I have been hurt and I have hurt others. At one point I attempted suicide because the idea of living another moment was too unbearable (clearly I sucked at that too – thank God).
In recent years, I have been blessed to live with the indescribable joy of a rich and full life, even in the messy parts. A life that encourages giving, serving, and caring for others. That calls us to be in relationship with God and everyone around us – to be Christ to a broken world. A life that requires forgiveness of others and ourselves. To be totally honest, still today, my virtues and faults are often intermixed on any given day. We humans are complicated, but it’s okay.
I now know that I can show up for life unkempt, messy, disordered, and at times unpleasant because I am a beloved sinner. I know I serve a God of mercy and unconditional love so I am not afraid to humble myself before Him and I am not afraid of what lies beyond this life.
And as for you, my friend, if you’re reading this you are still breathing, and if you’re still breathing it’s not too late. Even if you feel like your life is empty and you’re a total failure – you’re wrong! How do I know that without even meeting you? Because you were created in God’s image and He said as much when He first laid eyes on you as a tiny thought in His imagination, “Yep, I did good, real good! You’re a work of art, even if I do say so myself!”
You always have another chance to get life right. To erase regrets, to heal broken relationships, to seek forgiveness, to serve others, and to be all you were created and gifted to be! God is your biggest cheerleader (don’t try to visualize that!).
And, dear ones, this is not something you want to put off till Monday, like that diet!
I will leave you with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and give you peace,
Just kidding. Not happening. Not today anyway. I don’t think. I could be wrong. Sorry if that disappoints you. Nothing I can do about it.
Anyway, let’s jump right into the muck shall we? Weren’t the 2016 elections fun?! And the aftermath? – there doesn’t seem to be an end to it.
Many people on both sides are everything from angry to frustrated to fearful. It’s all over the internet and the news ad nauseum. You can’t get away from it if you talk to friends, family, or strangers in the checkout lines who need to vent. Hateful rhetoric, anger, and violence are now the norm.
(Spoiler Alert: This is NOT a political post. Honest!) Stay with me now…the Good News is coming!
If you’re scratching your head because you don’t understand how we got here, maybe because you still believe Christianity is the foundation of this country, I am sorry to inform you…in recent years, it seems, we have become a more and more secular country.
So, this post is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It’s about our changing culture and how we are to live as people of faith in America today because I think we may need a refresher course on Luke 10:27.
Let’s begin with this excerpt from First Things written after the 2012 elections. What Reno wrote is even truer today:
The New Secular Moral Majority, by R. R. Reno
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life tells us that 20 percent of Americans (that number increased to 23% in 2014) now check “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. Many are fed up with religion’s longstanding influence on American society, making them likely to attack the public role of religious institutions and further polarize politics. (Source)
Never mind that “until recently, all the progressive movements in American politics were promoted and heavily influenced by the mainline Protestant churches.” (Source: Reno)
But, that’s not the whole story. It isn’t just their politics that’s concerning.
Consider thisarticle in the NY Times from April, 2016:
Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years with increases in every age group except older adults….sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study.
I could throw in statistics on road rage too (I was a victim of that recently, it was frightening!). Are you aware of how many fatalities are a direct result of road rage? And the numbers are increasing.
Data gathered by SafeMotorist.com indicates that 66% of recent traffic fatalities can be linked to aggressive driving. More disturbingly, 37% of those fatalities were found to be caused by a firearm, rather than a typical accident.
Here are some more fun facts concerning the rise in mental health disorders, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Then you have to wonder about the extent of usage of all those legal and readily available drugs. Well, one in six U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug, such as an antidepressant or a sedative. The data comes from an analysis of the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).
Okay. I’m done.
Now, let me ask you. Does it sound like we Americans, who supposedly have everything, are living full, joyful, blissful lives? Which, surprise, is what God intended. We may have lots of “things” and the sense that we can do what we damn well please, but do our lives have purpose? According to the above statistics, it doesn’t appear that way.
Weseem to be trudging through life on autopilot.
I believe what underlies all of this is that the American people are dying for hope.
We have everything else!
People in Third World countries have nothing and are literally dying of starvation. We recently spent two months in Rwanda and encountered the survivors of the genocide of 1994. They lost almost 1 million loved ones in one-hundred days! They experience hunger daily! Which would make their faith and hope in God incomprehensible to Americans. I wrote more extensively about it here.
So, I believe this is our challenge: We, as people of faith are called by God to be that hope for others. 1 Peter 3:14-15 tells us “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
The question that God puts before every person of faith is this, “Are you living a life of hope and joy; of compassion and mercy and generosity that speaks to the emptiness of those who have lost their way?”
Not according to Barna Research Group (sorry, this is the last one – promise):
It may come as no surprise that the influence of Christianity in the United States is waning. Rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible-reading have all been dropping for decades. By consequence, the role of religion in public life has been slowly diminishing, and the church no longer functions with the cultural authority it held in times past. These are unique days for the church in America as it learns what it means to flourish in a new “Post-Christian” era.
Geeezzzz, Linda, if I wasn’t depressed before you shared all this “stuff” I am now!
Oh, come on, stay with me guys cause we’ve got work to do!
God’s call in this day and time may seem overwhelming. After all, I am just one person, right? So was Esther! If you have been following my blogs, you know I have a special place in my heart for Esther. God prepared her for “such a time as this” (4:14). And here’s the key: we rarely know the outcome of God’s calling before our “yes” response. So, it’s too risky for us. We want to say, “Yes, if…”
“Yes, if it won’t cost me anything.”
“Yes, if I’m going to be rewarded for my effort.”
That was not Esther’s response, and it shouldn’t be ours. She said “yes” to God knowing full well she would likely be killed, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” But, she didn’t perish; she saved her people. (Esther 4:15)
“Okay” you say with great trepidation. “But, where do we start?”
Well, perhaps we’re standing in the wrong line;
Putting our trust in the wrong people;
Believing the rhetoric that there is no heaven or hell;
Spending too much time shopping online, obsessing over Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media sites;
We first have to come to the realization that we will never be fulfilled by our consumerist obsessions; our need to succeed at any cost; our inflated egos and narcissism. We never seem to be satisfied. We want more, but more of what? Richard Rohr calls it our “survival dance” which keeps us from “getting to our sacred dance.”
There is an incredible book I have read and reread, titled, Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge. Powerful stuff. He asks:
What is really going on here? Good grief – life is brutal. Day after day it hammers us, till we lose sight of what God intends toward us.” He quotes St. Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive” – and goes on the say, “You’re kidding me. Really? Is that what you’ve been told? That the purpose of God –the very thing he’s staked his reputation on – is your coming fully alive?
Eldredge believes that:
We are at war.I don’t like that fact any more than you do, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the better hope we have of possessing the life we want. I’m sorry if I’m the one to break this news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth.
Yeah, thanks! That insight surely makes you want to trade your Armani suit for an itchy camel hair coat; pack your lunchbox with locust, and find your prophetic voice doesn’t it?
Alternatively, I don’t know about you, but I’m not anxious to end up as the one referred to in Revelations 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
So many people have become fearful of what our future, in particular the future for our children and grandchildren, will look like. Focused entirely on the makeup of Washington, the seeming inability to correct the direction we are headed, and what all that will mean for this fragile country.
When I read the article I shared with you in the beginning of this post, God revealed to me something much graver. No matter how any of us voted, there is something much more critical to address. I have a great sense that our work, the work of all people of faith, at this time in history, is more critical than ever.
Okay…there you go.
What are we, as God’s people, supposed to be thinking, and feeling, and doing in what seems to be a hopeless situation?
Well, not this – please – not this:
If you’re wringing your hands, hunkering down, barring your windows, loading your guns, andwishing for the apocalypse, perhaps this is a good time for a refresher course in what it means to be God’s beloved. That’s where it starts. Then, it should flow out to others. People all around you are desperate to hear they are worthy. That is our “great commission” today, just as it was for the first disciples so long ago. In case you’ve been so busy you haven’t noticed, they’re long gone and there is a void that we ALL are called to fill.
Perhaps, for starters, some sobering questions need to be answered by each of us:
Does my “yes” to God call me to a responsibility that compels me to a response?
Why, if we are 40% of the population, have we not influenced the “nones”? We are the same 40% while they are growing in number. Why?
Are we culpable in the course this country has taken because of our limited desire to live the “Good News” in a way that makes others want what we have? When we “go to church” an hour on Sunday and the rest of our lives are enmeshed in worldly pursuits, how are we any different?
The secular may have pushed God out of our schools and Public Square, but are we, a people of faith, just as guilty of keeping Him hidden in our places of worship?
Still waiting for Jesus to come? Still waiting for the “Good News”?
Well, guess what? YOU are the bearer of God’s “Good News”! All wrapped up in the bright, shiny LIGHT of Jesus! YOU are God’s gift to a hurting world.
Indeed, we need God, but, are you aware that God needs us too? Right. You thought God didn’t need anything. But, it’s true. Archibald MacLeish, in his sermon on Job tells us why:
Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one. Without man, God does not exist as God, only as creator, and love is the one thing, no one, not even God Himself, can command.
Do you believe that? If so, what are you “doing” about it? Sure, you may not be the next Mother Theresa or Ghandi or Martin Luther King – or you could be. Either way, God has gifted you, and likely in some way you may not even have imagined. God prepared you before you were born and has called you into the fray and the messiness of this world to serve.
If the love of God is not manifest in and through us to others, how will the “nones” ever know there’s a better life waiting for them? If that beautiful nun, Sister Maureen, had not spoken God’s love into my heart fifteen years ago, I would likely still be drunk! If she had only seen the exterior of the obnoxious heathen I was, and not the very breath and heart of God buried deep within me, I would likely be one of those statistics.
Ask yourself how many Linda’s you have turned away from God because you were too busy or too afraid to be vulnerable and risk reaching out? Then, ask God to change your heart and move your feet.
For, SO MANY YEARS, my life was out-of-control and my brokenness held a death-grip on the teeniest desire I may have had to change. During that time, if anyone would have told me to be grateful I likely would have slapped them silly! And in their stunned state, while I had their attention, I would have pulled out my handy “gratitude – NOT” list and spewed all my anger and bitterness right at them.
Thanks mom for all the abuse. That was fun.
Thanks psycho-neighbor kid for introducing me to perversion when I was too small and afraid to run away from you.
Thanks ex-husband for your “lying, cheating, cold dead-beating, two-timing and double-dealing, mean mistreating, (un)loving heart”. What a knight in shining armor you turned out to be!
Thank you world for gleefully providing all my trivial wants, empty longings, and self-centered demands.
Oh yeah, and THANK YOU, GOD! for totally ignoring all the above.
I was bitter and hateful all those years; entrenched in such a deep sense of emptiness and hopelessness that I felt the only relief from the pain was to find a way to end my life. I did make a failed attempt to kill myself when I was twenty-three. Two years later, when I married my current husband, Tom, I became a Christian. But, for years it was in name only and nothing really changed.
Though that was the beginning of my faith journey (such as it was) it took years of healing for me to warm up to this scripture verse that is most critical for a life to be filled with joy, passion and purpose: 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Be thankful in allcircumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”.
It has only been in the past ten years or so that I have been able to truly appreciate and claim for myself the meaning and depth of gratitude in two significant areas of my life: the painful experiences of my past and my sense of entitlement: My striving for “things”, successes, whatever it took to numb the pain. My constant shame battled with my pretense of being emotionally stable and spiritually healthy, “Look at me people! Aren’t you jealous? You are and you know it!”
I know gratitude for the pain as well as the joys in life seems like a paradox – it makes no sense at all, right? Believe me, I get it…
All I can say is that it was gratitude that finally made sense of my past. In the midst of the pain inflicted by others in my life I felt I had nothing to live for: No purpose, no hope, no concern for anything or anyone beyond myself. Gratitude has loosened my white-knuckled grip on my own sins as well, which was actually my biggest hurdle.
The beginning of my transformation was like a forest and trees analogy: I had to step away and look back to realize how God was with me all along; that He did love me, and had a plan to use my pain in service to others. My gift was to share my story. My purpose was, and still is, to walk alongside those God puts in my life that are also broken and lost. My life has never been richer. I have never been happier. I could never ask for more. I owe a debt I cannot pay to a God who will never send bill collectors to my door – not ever!
So, is my life now pain and heartache free? No…but…now I know how to access God’s love which resides within my very being; I know I can hope and trust in Him to overcome anything life throws my way even if I may not have the slightest idea what good will come of those struggles.
Sooooo, how do you replace discontent with gratitude? Is gratitude a simple act of will? Sort of like all the diets I have been on? Let’s see…today I am going to be content with this bowl of broccoli while you eat that big, fat, juicy steak!
No, it isn’t easy.
It’s important to first realize what we’re up against. I believe the biggest obstacle to gratitude and contentment is our Western culture’s sense of scarcity in all areas of life. We need more gadgets, a bigger house, a better car, a more important job. We’re never grateful for what we have because someone else always has more.
The Scarcity Gremlin eats up sufficiency for a midnight snack. So, by morning each day begins with a sense of “not enough” of___________ (fill in the blank), and then a striving to get it. Whatever “it” is.
How can you be content, you ask, when your new neighbor, who just moved into a house twice the size of yours, is younger, prettier, has a career you envy, and a pool to die for. And if all that weren’t bad enough, she speaks eight languages – you only speak four. She has traveled to fifty-two countries – you have only made it to thirty-eight. She’s been married six times – you’ve only been married once! Okay…ENOUGH!
We are continually comparing ourselves to others in myriad ways: Our looks, our weight, our homes, our successes and that of our kids, our social status, our cars, the lushness of our lawns, and jealousy inducing vacation pictures of our friends posted on Facebook! It’s endless and exacerbating.
Where is God in all this? Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”. Sounds lovely, but we prefer, no, must have, the newest doohickey that we often can’t afford, but cannot possibly live without. Really? The first smartphone was introduced, what? In the 1990’s? How’d we do without it for about 2,000 years before that?
Our sense of scarcity; our need to one-up others, distorts and devalues all the blessings and gifts we have been given. We are so hyperfocused on what we don’t have, we fail to appreciate or show gratitude for what we do have. Gratitude seems to be a lost virtue in a culture never satisfied.
David G. Myers, author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, wrote in an American Psychologist article. “Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology. Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.”
So, are you sleepwalking through life, fooling yourself into believing that striving, owning, having, and out-spending others will make you happy? Is this what your purpose in life is?
You know you want to change because there is something deep within your heart that has been speaking to you for a very long time about how discontented and unfulfilled you are with your life and with all your “stuff”. All you need to do is trust that God’s got your back and is just waiting for the slightest motion toward him. That mustard seed step of faith (Matthew 17:20). A faith that begins with patience and hope which are two critical elements of a healing heart:
Gratitude requires a great deal of patience; trusting God’s timing and ultimate plan for our lives:
Hope is not tangible, it is in things unseen: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, considered the world’s leading expert on gratitude, says, “Gratefulness is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness.” When we turn our focus from ourselves to God, we are the ones who benefit. “The self,” in the words of Emmons, “is a very poor place to find happiness or meaning in life.”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (not Amazon prime), and cometh down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17)
If you want to read more Dr. Emmon’s Website is here:
Now then, time for true confessions. Until six weeks ago, I was feeling pretty altruistic and benevolent toward “the least of these”. After all, over the years, I have given away perfectly good: designer clothes, furniture, household items, a kidney, canned goods, and my precious time and energy. I thought I knew what poverty and hopelessness were all about. I was wrong.
Six weeks ago, my husband and I went to Rwanda in Central Africa to visit our son, daughter-in-law and two of our grandkids. It has been the most profound and overwhelming experience of my life! Here, hunger has stared down my apathy. I have seen the memorials that display the graphic reality of the genocide in 1994: A mass slaughter of almost a million men, women, and children in just one-hundred days, while the world stood by and watched. I have talked to survivors and been surrounded by hungry, often shoeless, always laughing, children. I can’t even put into words how it has torn at my heart.
And when I think of the contrast between this country and America: what we have and they don’t; what they appreciate and we don’t, I can’t help but think about the virtue of gratitude and pray that I will be a different person when I return home. That I won’t forget. I pray that contentment will look much different; that I will be mindful of the difference between need and want; that I will not be so wasteful or take anything for granted again.
Just try to imagine the following contrasts. I could have posted many more. But, I hope these will give you a sense of how this experience has impacted me: