Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for July, 2015

Signs in All of Life

John 6:1-21

signsThere is a good quote from the movie Signs, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. This is said during a scene in which a Pennsylvania family has just learned that creatures from another planet have started descending on earth. Their spaceships light up the sky all over the world. The father in the family, speaking to his brother, says:

People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance.

I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

signs2Do you believe in signs?

Or is life just a day-to-day routine of cause and effect?

I’m not arguing for or against either view; I think both are needed in the world, for sure. But I will say that in my experience, there have been signs that I felt I was supposed to notice. Sometimes it was as simple as an unexpected phone call; or a text; or an email. Other times it was a subtle change in a friend’s or family member’s behavior. A couple of times, it was a sign that seemed to scream out:

PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!!!!

I’m always curious as I walk through this life to see how much people pay attention to stoplights and traffic signs and other signs that they obediently follow. Think about how much we pay attention to those types of signs.

And then think about how little we may pay attention to the other types of signs, like the signs that whisper to us:

Slow down.

Or:

You know that this relationship is unhealthy. Time to change.

Or:

Is this life of routine really living?

Or:

You’re not ugly, you’re beautiful. You’re not stupid, you’re wise.

Or:

I think that person needs my help.

This story in the Gospel of John is a sign story.

In this Gospel, scholars identify seven signs before Jesus dies. Seven, of course, is a number with significance. It is about wholeness, and so, it would follow that the seven signs of Jesus are meant by John to give the reader a “whole” picture of Jesus. The feeding of the 5000 happens to be the fourth sign.

Now any “sign” or “miracle” story always depends on the reader to make up his/her mind about how to interpret the story. Is the feeding of 5000 a literal miracle that actually happened, or is it merely a symbolic story to illustrate something else? Like always, you get to choose which type of reader you will be.

I will say, however, that there may be another way to read these stories. Rather than taking the hard right [literal] or the hard left [symbolic], what if we consider the writer’s perspective? Why did this person write this story, and what were signs in the author’s perspective?

So let’s give it a try.

John’s Gospel is trying to prove a point. More than any of the other Gospels, John is trying to say to its audience that Jesus was with God from the very beginning of time and therefore was God from the very beginning, as opposed to becoming divine at his resurrection. This is key for John’s Gospel.

But in order to prove that, John has work to do.

You see, the audience reading this Gospel would have been a mix of Greeks and Jews and Hellenistic Jews, etc. So many of them were well aware of the great religious prophets of old.

Moses? Yeah, pretty miraculous. Um, he talked to a burning bush that was G-D!!!!
And…the parting of the red sea? Come on….and there’s much more with Moses.
Man, maybe we should make a movie about that. Or two, or three, or a hundred….

mosescoolSo John’s Gospel wants to prove that Jesus was a great prophet like Moses, and even better. So the signs keep coming in the Gospel. And Jesus goes up on mountaintops just like Moses, but Jesus doesn’t need to wear a veil to hide his face from God like Moses did. Jesus doesn’t have to remove his sandals to talk with God.

And then there’s the prophet Elisha.

elishaIn 2 Kings 4 of the Hebrew Scriptures, Elisha performs a miracle! He feeds 100 people with only twenty barley loaves of bread. Wow! Elisha rocks!

So John has Jesus feed 5000 with some little kid’s loaves and fishes.

Boom!

And it all adds up when you see the crowds say after the meal:
This is indeed the prophet who has come into the world!

I think listening to John’s perspective about signs and miracles can help us find some meaning in this story, because to be frank, a literal reading doesn’t work for me and here’s why.

5000 people are fed, and Jesus is portrayed in John’s Gospel as the bread of life, and that people will never go hungry. But hello? If Jesus were some magical Harry Potter prophet who could multiply food in the blink of an eye, why not do it for all the poor people? Jesus talked about the poor and cared for them deeply. If he really was so magical, why not feed everybody? Same goes for today. Not everyone in the world is fed. People are hungry–starving even. Some don’t have access to drinking water. Where’s God and Jesus in all of that?

But I also think that trying to explain away the miracle of the 5000 doesn’t so the story either. Often people react to literal readings of the Bible and go in the other direction. They try to explain every sign and miracle. So in this case, when the boy offered to share his food, then everyone else in the crowds realized that they also had a little bit, and if they pooled their food together, everyone could eat. I am not sure about that. Sounds like the children’s story Stone Soup to me.

So let’s return to the author of John. What was he thinking?

Well, I’m guessing, but the number 5000 is a bit arbitrary and not tied to any important numerology. 5000 is a significant number, though, and as the story states, a number like 5000 would mean that many people are now following Jesus. A crowd that size just might equal the size of a Roman legion. And that’s John for sure, because this Gospel is keen on that contrast between Jesus’ band of followers and Caesar’s band of soldiers. The Jesus way vs. the Roman occupation and the religious elites.

Secondly, in John, whenever people are fed, it’s not just about people getting food they can chew on. If Jesus is the bread of life and the shepherd who feeds his sheep, and the giver of living water—then we’re definitely talking about spiritual food.

I think that changes the story for me a bit.

I feel like Jesus is teaching his disciples [and the others gathered]. He is illustrating provision and sharing. Provision, because actually, there IS enough food and water for everyone in the world to eat. Yes, today we are overpopulated, but we still [via the land and water] have enough to eat. So Jesus tests Philip by asking him where they are going to find enough bread for all to eat. Jesus knows there’s already enough! Provision. It’s there. But without sharing, we don’t see that sign of provision. I don’t need to reiterate, do I, that the Western world is eating WAY more than we ever should? It’s insane. We don’t share well. We’re like a two-year-old who won’t share her toy with her brother. So the signs I see in this story are that we have been provided with all we need, and not just food. All we need to be whole and healthy people. And second, that we have a responsibility to share. If not, not everyone will be fed.

Now, to the end of the story. Did Jesus really walk on water?

Take that, Moses and Elisha!!!

Well….

The disciples were rowing in their boat, trying to cross over to the other side, and a strong wind comes. They are not afraid yet, even though they are alone.

But then, they see [don’t miss this word!] a sign: Jesus is walking on the sea and coming near the boat. Well, at this point they are a hot mess and freaking out. What Jesus says is so important:

Ego eimi.

This is the Greek form of the Hebrew name for G-d [YHWH].
This is the assurance of the divine presence–that they are not alone in their little boat.

He tells them not to fear.

John’s author, writing to a mix of people who weren’t sure about Jesus, and actually, weren’t sure about tomorrow, were encouraged to not be afraid.

Walking on water? A sign, but not of magic. A sign of encouragement, presence, and confidence.

I think that too often we look for the Hollywood Jesus stuff—supernatural miracles that are fit for 3D or IMAX. We want God to be an in-your-face action hero that blows us away with thunder and lightning, high mountaintops, raging seas, feeding of 5000, walking on water, and massive miracles. But the reality is that most of our lives we are walking on the ground, living day to day. Most of the time we’re not on high mountaintops or surrounded by raging seas or experiencing massive miracles.

Many days we’re trying to figure out how to pay our bills, send a kid to college, keep our job or find a new job; get through school, and sometimes, we’re just hoping to wake up in the morning and get out of bed.

So where are the signs in real life?

This is where the John story does speak to me. I argue that we overthink the signs. We want something miraculous and overwhelming; supernatural, maybe. But why?

Signs are everywhere, and we don’t have to look far.

It is about how much we decide to pay attention, and usually that means that we’ll have to slow down. Signs don’t come easy to those whose lives are one multi-task moment after another. The entire natural world around us is full of signs. But you won’t notice them if you speed past them or just consider them background noise.

Your feelings are signs. They are trying to tell you something. Are you listening?

Your physical body gives you signs every day. Are you paying attention?

Your dearest friends say and do things that are signs for you to notice. Are you noticing?

I encourage you to spend less time waiting for some miraculous event or a supernatural sign. Instead, expect to see signs in your day-to-day life.

Pay attention to them.

And this will feed you in an unexpected way.

What Do We Need?

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

A question for you, once again.

Right now, in this moment, what do you want?

Okay, a follow-up question.

What do you need?

It’s true, isn’t it, that what we want is often not what we actually need.

WANT-orSometimes what we want is based on social conditioning. We want material things like cars, clothes, jewelry, electronic devices, etc., because we’re taught to want them.

Other times what we want is a result of habits we have formed over many years. Our brains are trained to want certain things.

What we need, however, is another story. Sometimes we need rest and more sleep. Other times we need to eat healthier or exercise more. At times we need alone time; other times we need time with family and friends. Perhaps we need encouragement, or honesty, or motivation.

So allow me to expand the previous questions.

In this moment, wherever you are in life:

What do you need to feel whole, to be content, to live fulfilling lives, to make a difference in the world, to feel like you belong?

What do you need?

I’m interested in how you answer that. Feel free to comment on the blog, as you feel comfortable. Well, here’s how I answer that question in this moment:

To feel whole and content, I need to have creative freedom, and challenge, and partnerships with others. To live a fulfilling life, I need to sing and make funny faces, and laugh, and make a positive difference in even just a few people’s lives. To make a difference in this world, I need to be curious and proactive in making new friendships and finding new colleagues—all people who are different than me in many ways. I need to let go of things and people that hold me back from this. And, to feel like I belong, I need to shake hands and hug and high five and talk with people. I need to be in nature enough to hear birds and smell flowers and appreciate plants and animals and water and mountains. But I also need to be in bustling urban areas full of people and movement and action and all kinds of smells and sounds. And finally, I need people with which to share my life—people who love and accept me as I am and don’t expect me to be anyone I am not.

How did you answer?

This story in Mark’s Gospel about Jesus and his followers could take us in a variety of directions. For example, is this story about rest, taking time off, even when it’s counter-culture? Or, is this story about paying attention to people and helping them, even when you don’t want to or when you’re exhausted?

Let’s explore some together.

We encounter the disciples and Jesus of Nazareth in a sharing moment. The disciples were telling Jesus what they had been doing and what they had been teaching. Then Jesus, possibly noticing their fatigue and burnout, says:

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

And to emphasize this point that Jesus’ followers were exhausted, Mark’s writer says that because of all the people coming to them for help or healing, the disciples didn’t even have time to eat! Makes me think about how things have shifted in culture—at least in the West. Now some people say it’s a “luxury” to be able to eat lunch off on your own. Most people “eat” their lunch at a desk, in front of a computer, in a car, or not at all. And we say this is “normal.” For 1st and 2nd century folks in that part of the Mediterranean world, eating meals was an important part of culture. And they weren’t called working lunches.

Eating is a major theme in Mark’s Gospel. Mark chapter 6, the part of the Gospel we are looking at, also includes the story of the feeding of the 5000. In that account, many people did not have enough to eat. The story is foreshadowing and not necessarily a literal, historical event. It points to a time when Jesus will no longer physically be on earth, but that his presence will be seen and felt in the open table fellowship of his followers—that everyone is welcomed and fed and accepted. But our part of Mark 6 is the story of when the disciples of Jesus did not have time to eat, and in their journey to find a place to rest, Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd.

Sheep without a shepherd is a phrase rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures [OT]. Numbers 27:16-17 says:

Let the Lord…appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.  

Of course, in Numbers, this is nothing about Jesus of Nazareth. It’s about Joshua, or Yeshua, the name that translates in Greek to Jesus. So obviously, Mark is throwing a softball here. We’re supposed to notice this implied reference and connection. Secondly, Ezekiel 34 talks about shepherds who do not feed their sheep as a metaphor for elites or religious leaders who were ignoring the poor and those without food. So Mark’s Gospel is implying that Jesus of Nazareth is teaching his disciples to feed people [and not just with food, mind you]. And that there should be no sheep scattered and left without their needs fulfilled.

And so it was in Mark’s story. Jesus and the disciples made it to the other side of the water to Gennesaret. People saw them and rushed in from all over to be taught and healed, as they needed. And all who touched Jesus’ cloak were healed.

So let’s return to the question of the day: What do you need to feel whole, to be content, to live fulfilling lives, to make a difference in the world, to feel like you belong?

What do you need?

It is a beautiful and important question to ask.

If you ask it honestly, you’ll find yourself drifting away from the things you want.

The things you want won’t bring fulfillment or wholeness or peace into your life. You’ll end up feeling empty. Look, a lot of us on this planet, religious or not, pursue things just because we think we want them. And I don’t just mean material things like cars, houses, clothes, etc. I mean that we pursue lifestyles and social status because we think we want them.

But do we need them?

As an ordained minister, I do a lot of weddings. But I don’t say yes to everyone. Why? Because some want to get married, and according to them, “start a family,” but they really don’t need to. In fact, they probably shouldn’t. They are in no position to do so, and if they do have children, those kids will suffer the consequences. Not everyone needs to follow every convention of society. Some who get married and have children have fulfilling and whole lives and that’s wonderful! I’m so glad for that. But not everyone needs that life. Others need a different life full of different challenges and adventures.

Likewise, youth and young adults are pushed so hard to get into the best schools and then to make the most money in the highest-paying careers, and I wonder:

Do they need to do that? Does it fulfill them? Are they whole people?

More often than not—no.

More often than not, they give up passions, joys, creativity, and uniqueness for a desk job and corporate benefits. Maybe this is what they have been conditioned to want. But I would argue that it’s not what they need.

I could go on, but you get the point. Think of all the ways that you have been conditioned to want certain things out of life and whether or not those things brought you fulfillment, joy, and wholeness.

And then, ask yourself: what do I really need?

Jesus’ compassion for people continues to inspire me to do the same for myself, and for others. Let’s stop telling people and ourselves what they should want out of life. Let’s focus on what we all need to be fed, supported, loved, accepted, inspired, filled, and whole.

See yourself and others in this way.

Love at the Core of Being

Psalm 85:1-8; 10

I want to begin with a question.

How many of you feel that your definition of who God is comes mostly from:

What your parents or family raised you to believe?

Or:

From the Bible?

Or:

From a church?

Or:

From a spiritual or enlightening experience?

Or:

From personal life experience?

homerThinking

Perhaps some of you answered this question strongly with one of those options. Or, maybe there are a couple of those options that resonate with you.

Regardless, most likely you identified strongly with these options:

-Parents or family beliefs
-Church beliefs
-Personal life experience

Yes, it’s true. Most of us [and I mean almost ALL of us] do not define who G-d is based on the Bible or some spiritual experience of enlightenment.

say-whatIn my vocation I encounter a lot of people who want to talk about religion or spirituality or G-d, and many of these conversations start with assumptions about belief itself. For example, many assume that the Christian G-d is a certain way. If that person is not a Christian, he/she has learned something from the TV or other media or most likely, they’ve just heard it as second or third-hand information from family or friends or acquaintances. If he/she does not have much contact with people who identify as Christians, the assumptions begin to grow into perceptions and eventually, they get solidified. He/She ends up saying and thinking:

All Christians believe this or that. They all think G-d is like this or that…

Of course, today this is happening much more to Muslims than to Christians. Islamophobes really do exist. They group all Muslims together, as if every single Muslim in the world believes the same things and practices their faith in the same way. They assume that all Muslims say and think the same things about Allah and life in general, and so the beliefs and actions of so-called terrorists like ISIS are no different than say, the Muslim family down the street or the guy at work who pauses to pray from time to time, or the female doctor who wears a hijab. Even though terrorist groups are not considered Muslims by practicing Muslims, it doesn’t matter to Islamophobes. They’ve made up their minds already. This kind of thing also happens to Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, etc., but we know that in this country Islamophobia is most prevalent.

closing2So because I have Muslim friends and colleagues and work frequently with Muslim communities, people come to talk to me.

I do my best to fact-check their statements and to clarify that there is not just one way of looking at things and that every Muslim is unique just like every Christian is unique.

Then the conversation usually shifts to me.

But aren’t you a Christian? So don’t you then believe that there is only one G-d, and that Jesus is the only way to salvation? Aren’t you supposed to believe that?

My response reiterates:

Just like Muslims, not all Christians believe the same things or practice their faith in the same way.

But then they scratch their heads and act confused. And for some, that’s the end of the conversation. For some, I cease to be a Christian in their minds.

What we’re talking about here is theology, or simply how we think about G-d.

I asked you the question at the very beginning about how you think you come to beliefs about G-d. I’ll tell you why this matters.

Religious prejudice and discrimination, Islamophobia, harmful rhetoric, propaganda, fanaticism, and even violence occur because of theology.

For example, if you think that G-d does not exist or if you think that there’s no way to be sure that there is a god, then that affects the way you look at the world. You’ll most likely be skeptical about all religions. You’ll certainly balk at any religious folk who try to convert others. But you may also be very accepting of all religious and non-religious people, because again—you are not sure that there is a god in the first place. And finally, you won’t feel the urge to attend a church, temple, mosque or whatever, because prayer and worship don’t make sense if there is no object for prayer and worship.

Likewise, let’s say you aren’t atheist or agnostic, or a secular humanist. Say you do believe in G-d, and that’s been part of your perspective since you can remember. That clearly affects the way you see the world and other people. Perhaps you see G-d as a creator of all living things. Maybe G-d is a cosmic judge, too. And if you believe in this kind of G-d, most likely you spend a reasonable amount of time in worship services, prayer, or Bible reading. You do that, because you believe G-d is watching, and also because G-d deserves your time and attention.

Take it a step further.

Say you do believe in G-d, but you were abused in the past—either physically, verbally, or religiously. Or a combination of all three. You see G-d much differently. You may see G-d as a divine rewarder and punisher. You may see G-d as completely distant and unfeeling, because how could G-d allow the abuse to happen? Or, if people used religion to control and manipulate you, perhaps you see G-d as someone or something that as power over you; and you are afraid of this G-d.

I’m sad to say that I know too many people who think in this way because of abuse.

Back to the original question. Almost all of us are conditioned to believe something about G-d by other people. And then some of us, via personal experience, come up with our own conclusions.

But very, very few people actually believe something about G-d based on Scripture itself or some spiritual enlightenment.

Someone can read the Bible many, many times and then say that he/she believes in the G-d of the Bible. But which parts of the Bible do you mean?
The Bible is chock full of theologies that don’t agree with each other at all.

The majority of what we call the Bible is Jewish, to be sure, but also many, many other Semitic theologies and ancient Hebrew thoughts—including Egyptian.

The smaller part of the Bible, the New Testament, is Jewish and Roman and Greek and Aramaic and African Sub-Saharan and more, in its perspective.

Yes, it’s true that one theology does not fit all—even in the Bible.

What anyone believes or doesn’t believe about G-d is a result of a series of influences, experiences, texts, words, songs, and feelings. No one person can claim that he/she “knows” who G-d is or isn’t. Theology has always been relative to the culture and time period in which it was created. This is why the theology of the 1st and 2nd century in Israel and Palestine looks so much different than the theology of 2015 in Philadelphia. It’s just normal for this to happen.

The Psalms of the OT are a great example. They are completely human expressions of what people feel and think about G-d.

Consider Psalm 85, for example. It’s nationalistic. It’s about Israel. It’s written by someone who is in the midst of troubling times. There’s war. Notice that the writer expresses perspectives about G-d formed because of personal experiences. For this writer, G-d is a celestial being who protects a certain nation. This G-d gives fortune to certain families. This G-d forgives them when they make mistakes. This G-d is also capable of getting mad. Eventually, the tone of the Psalm shifts to a challenge.

Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?

This person believes that G-d is angry with him and his nation. And yet, the writer coerces G-d as well. It’s as if the psalmist is subtly reminding G-d how G-d should act. Aren’t you loving, G-d? Don’t you care about us? You did before, so….

And then the writer even goes a step further, saying what G-d will actually do and say:

God will speak peace to the people, to the faithful, to those who turn to God in their hearts.

And, a desired result for himself and his nation:

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

There’s a reason, in my opinion, why certain Psalms are not appropriate for us to read in worship services. They reflect a certain worldview and time period and sometimes they are looking for revenge, or war, or punishment.

And now, I will say something that for some might be going too far, and that’s okay.

Sermons are Wizard of Oz speeches, because always when you listen or read them, you should use your brains, your hearts, and your courage.

wizard-of-ozFriends, we create theology. There is no “right” or “true” or “orthodox” theology.
We create for ourselves what we would like G-d to be or how G-d should act.

We ourselves connect experiences in life to things we read in the Bible and other sacred books; we listen to what people teach us and say about G-d and we make choices about what we actually think.

I am fortunate. My parents did not force a certain theology on me. G-d was never a punisher or a cosmic judge. I was conditioned to see G-d as love. I saw that love in my parents. But many people I know were not so lucky. They were raised to fear G-d. Some were taught that G-d rewarded certain moral behaviors and punished others. Others were raised in a church that excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender folk; or people of other cultural backgrounds; or people who didn’t believe in things like the trinity. And as I mentioned before, some were abused.

What I hope you take from this is some encouragement. For those of you who have been raised in an abusive environment, know that what you were conditioned to believe is not true and certainly not based on any Scripture or enlightened spirituality. It’s fear-based theology created to push you down or keep you down. Over time, you can be free of it.

If you were raised to think that G-d is jealous and craves human devotion, rewarding it with heaven, then your life may be focused on what you have to do or believe in order to go somewhere nice when you die. But that limiting theology can keep you from discovering that your day to day life on this earth is the most important and treasured thing. G-d isn’t dividing people between some place called and heaven and some place we call hell. Courageously use your heart and mind to consider that G-d is concerned with your personal well-being and also present when you’re hurting or suffering.

And if you were raised to think that Jesus was and is THE ONLY savior of humankind, and your ticket to heaven, then probably it’s hard for you to interact with others who are not Christians and most likely you struggle with accepting those who follow another spiritual or religious path, or none at all. But what if Jesus is bigger than that perspective?

Courageously using your brains and your hearts, consider that Jesus of Nazareth existed and taught and lived because of love. Consider the possibility that G-d didn’t send one person to be a martyr, to die on a cross for people’s sins like a sacrificial lamb. Consider that Jesus came, as he was known to say, to seek out the lost and marginalized. Consider that Jesus challenged religion itself, and the status quo, and instigated a new type of community that considered everyone to be neighbor and family.

For those of you like me who were fortunate enough to be raised in an environment of questioning and openness, we have a responsibility. We cannot promote one view over another or lord over anyone with our theology. And we must reach out to those who have been abused, and help them to heal, and to move with them from fear into love.

For indeed, what is at the core of G-d’s being and our being. Are we not essentially love?

Regardless of what you believe [or don’t believe], may your perspectives and beliefs be rooted in the honesty that they are part conditioning and part experience. And may you always fact-check your beliefs by returning to love. Does what you think and believe come out of a place of love?

Moving Forward after Rejection

Mark 6:1-13 

RejectedHave you ever been rejected?

Sure you have!

Wasn’t it great?

rejection

Just kidding.

Rejection stinks.

I remember being rejected when I was thirteen. I wanted to sing. I loved music. I sang in the school choir. But my music teacher told me personally once, in front of some other students, that music wasn’t my thing. I wasn’t very good at singing. I should stick to other things.
I was demoralized. I felt like it was the end of the world. I cried when no one was looking.

And then, the worst part:

I started to believe it.

I wanted to quit choir and stop singing altogether. I believed the narrative.

Of course, that’s just a small, somewhat superficial example.

I cannot tell you how many people I know who have been rejected in big and terrible ways. People I care for deeply were rejected time and time again when they were young children. They were told that they were no good. When they showed enthusiasm for something, they were met with scoffing and sarcasm. Maybe they were rejected by family, friends, teachers, or even pastors.

So they stopped being enthusiastic. They stopped singing, or writing, or dancing, or drawing, or running, or showing random acts of kindness, or doing the things they loved.

Why do we remember rejection so much?
Why does it follow us for much of our lives?

Rejection deals a direct blow to our ego. The ego is the inherent part of the self which holds intact our pride, esteem and self-worth. So when the ego is bruised, a core element of our being is damaged. We automatically begin to blame ourselves, assuming there must be something wrong with us and criticizing the behavior that led to our rejection.[1]

And some follow-up questions.

Why do we seek approval of certain people, and not others?
Is it more difficult to be rejected by those who know us best?

Today’s Mark story is all about rejection.
Jesus of Nazareth was rejected and in his hometown, no less.

I would argue that this is what attracts so many to the person of Jesus—not that he was some supernatural force—but that he experienced failure and rejection just like we do.

Jesus, in the story, marvels at the way he his rejected by his family and friends. In typical Markan style, there are no details about what “marveling” meant, but I’m going to assume that Jesus was upset. And yet, he doesn’t overreact to the rejection or become defensive. He heals who he can, he does what he can, and he tries to model this for his followers.

Jesus’ response is simple: a Jewish custom: shake off the dust.
Shaking the dust off of one’s feet was a custom of pious Jews returning to Jerusalem after spending time in a Gentile, non-Jewish land. It symbolized separation from any clinging form of defilement. But of course, Jesus was constantly with Gentiles, and in Gentile land. So his mention of this custom served to be a teaching moment for his disciples. They were not to hold onto the feelings that come with rejection. They were to let go of any attachments that kept them from moving on.

Moving forward from rejection means accepting what we cannot change.

For Jesus, it was in accepting that not all the people he spoke to or dealt with would accept his message of love and mercy. He had to accept [and I’m sure this was hard to do] that even some of his family and friends would reject him. That’s tough. But it’s real. And in accepting that, Jesus didn’t move towards resentment. He moved towards accepting himself as he was, and passed on that same advice to his disciples. I’m sure they struggled with it too, but it was good advice.

He told them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; only wearing sandals and a single tunic. Metaphorically, you probably get the idea. Don’t carry baggage with you, as much as possible. It will weigh you down in this life. As I mentioned before, this is about being free of attachments as much as possible, whether material or relationship-wise. This is becoming aware, but also stepping towards freedom and honesty. That’s why they told by Jesus to stay in someone’s home as long as they were welcome–to really stay. To appreciate the hospitality, the friendship, the connection. But if there was not an acceptance and instead a rejection, they were to leave without attaching themselves to the situation. In other words, don’t get defensive!

letitgoEveryone is different and looks at the world differently, do don’t expect everyone to think like you.

It’s great advice for us.

So often we focus on achieving someone’s acceptance. We do it at school, at work, in public, with friends, and at home with family. So when we are rejected, we take it so hard. But in order to move forward, we have to come to accept that not everyone will approve of everything we say and do. It’s just fact. Even our family and closest friends will not always accept how we live.

And that’s okay.

We are meant to live fully and wholly as we are. We are not meant to live someone else’s life or to fulfill someone else’s expectations for us. If we accept that about ourselves and about others, something wonderful can happen–albeit slowly as part of a process. We can find the capacity within ourselves to stop seeking approval all the time. We can just be ourselves and that is freedom. We won’t hang on to past rejections, giving them so much power in the present moment. We’ll accept ourselves and we’ll accept others. We’ll shake the dust off of our feet when necessary, and we’ll walk forward.

Friends, there is so much that we can learn from rejection.
First, that everyone is rejected at some point. It’s not just you.

Second, moving on from rejection orients us to see the world differently. For me, it meant that I would continue to sing, but under different circumstances. I didn’t seek the approval of my music teacher. But I didn’t stop singing.

Further, if people tell you “no” or “you can’t” that’s just them. You alone can tell yourself no or yes or what you can or cannot do.

Lastly, it’s not about you. People make subjective judgements about themselves and about others [including you] every day. And those judgements change in the blink of an eye.

When somebody rejects you, they are acting on their own insecurities and fears. It is encouraging to consider that the person who rejects you is dealing with his/her own personal issues; most likely you did nothing to cause them to reject you.

Moving on from rejection can mean beginning a new day and finding new opportunities.

[1] Dr. Carmen Harra, “How to Deal with Rejection”, Huffington Post.

No Triage Necessary

Mark 5:21-43

triageTriage [in medical situations] is the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition. Triage is meant to make treatment of patients more efficient when there are not enough resources for all to be treated immediately. Triage comes from the French word trier, meaning to separate, sift or select.

Triage can be applied in the emergency room of a hospital, after a natural disaster, in war, and in many other settings. Essentially, the original intent of triage was to categorize patients in one of three ways:

  • Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in the outcome.[1]

Now, with modern advances in technology, triage scores based on physiological assessment findings determine which category in which a patient is placed. Some of these models are algorithm-based and of course, caregivers and hospital staff now have access to triage software and hardware products.[2]

I know many people who work in the health care profession. Here are some stories that they gave me permission to use.

I had a resident patient of mine who waited for me to come back from vacation before she passed away. I believe it was because she wanted to say goodbye and to be at peace. She always called me her granddaughter. She had no close family and no children to speak of. I was her only family. I did my best to make her feel as comfortable as possible…bringing homemade things in for her just to make sure she ate. I was there for her through it all and held her hand as she passed. I let her know that it was okay and that I was here….that it was okay for her to go…she died peacefully with me right by her side.
——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

I was a fairly young nurse–married and working in obstetrics. I was going through fertility treatment for a while with no success. At that time in my life becoming a parent was all I wanted. It just so happened that I was caring for a patient whose child was a stillborn. She chose to stay on the maternity floor, even though it was her day for discharge, the day when most mothers go home with their newborn. I went to her room to do her discharge teaching and of course to discuss whatever she needed to talk about. Well, I found myself becoming very emotional when I was supposed to be her support. She then put her arm around me and comforted me. Although I was supposed to be her healer, she turned out to be mine. I have never forgotten that patient or this experience, because I learned that sometimes I will be the one to experience the healing, This story continues to heal me after all these years!

I’m sure you have some healing stories of your own—I know I do. The thing about healing is that it isn’t limited to someone getting physically “better.” Sometimes healing takes shape even when someone passes away. Other times healing comes to the one who is supposed to be doing the healing!

I have great respect for health care professionals, because I cannot fathom how difficult some of their decisions must be. I get the concept of triage, I really do. In emergency situations when doctors and nurses are overwhelmed, what else can they do? They have to make the tough calls in a split second. Of course, they want to treat everyone, but sometimes that is impossible. So who gets healed first, second, and who has to wait?

Healing is complicated, isn’t it?

I know plenty of people who stopped participating in a church or synagogue or temple because a beloved family member or friend passed away after a long battle with an illness. They were told to pray, pray, and pray. They were assured that God would heal their loved one. And then, when their beloved passed, they were left feeling empty. What good did all the prayers do? Where was God? How come some others were healed and their loved ones weren’t? Did God have some sort of triage system, determining who received healing and who didn’t?

Also, I’ve known plenty of people who have lost a close family member or friend suddenly, and who have raised similar questions. How does the person still living find healing for him/herself? Will the prayers work? When will that emptiness and sadness they feel subside?

And finally, I’ve been in so, so many churches and I’ve heard numerous people praising God because someone was healed of an illness, an addiction, a problem, etc. And while I think that they should celebrate and be thankful, it still troubles me, for I know that while they celebrate, there are others right next to them who are not healing, and some who won’t heal from cancer or whatever ails them. And so, I still ask:

Is there a triage for healing? Does God heal one person over another?

I know what my gut response is to that last question: no. Absolutely not. God does not show favoritism. And yet, this issue continues to come up again and again, because there are still so many who do think that they are favored [or not favored]. This can lead, of course, to some thinking that they are favored because of how they pray, or live, or believe. And the flipside is that by doing that, they are subtly thinking and saying to others who are suffering that this is all because of something they did wrong, or that they didn’t pray enough or they just didn’t believe.

That is just plain awful.

Because I’ve seen people healed of physical ailments and they never once said a prayer and they certainly don’t believe in a god. Likewise, I’ve seen devout people of faith suffer from ailments and illnesses for years—never to encounter the healing they prayed for. So I argue that if there is a triage, it’s not what we think.

For example, some of us may need to heal physically, and it can and sometimes does happen. Medical professionals are amazing. For real.

Some of us, though, may need to heal mentally more than physically. We often neglect the healing of the mind.

And others may need to be healed spiritually, and you guessed it—that can affect the body and the mind.

The triage, then, is in which healing each person needs first in order to be whole. Sometimes we think we need to be healed of a sprained ankle, but really that’s not the priority. Our negative thoughts about ourselves and about others are the priority.

Other times, we may feel down; our mental state is deeply affected by our past, so we bombard ourselves with psychological treatments. But deep down, the thing requiring urgent care is not our mind but our spirit. We have neglected our spirit for so long that we don’t feel anymore; we don’t find joy in simple things; we don’t laugh hard and out loud; we are so seriously devoid of spirit that we are withering away.

And other times, we pursue religion and dive into prayer and worship and service, but that isn’t the urgent need. We have mistreated our physical bodies so much that we’re sick all the time, feeling heavy and tired. And our minds aren’t active and have lost their creative edge, because everything we do now is based on something in the heavens. And as our body and mind degrade, our pursuit of spirituality does also.

This is why I enjoy Mark’s Gospel and its portrayal of Jesus as a healer. I’ve mentioned before that this Gospel is no-nonsense. There is less theology or “Christology” than the other Gospels. Mark’s Jesus of Nazareth is a doer and most certainly a healer.

I’ll admit—this story in Mark 5 is one of my favorites of the whole Bible. Essentially, it seems like one unified story: two healings for the price of one. Jesus is met by Jairus, a leader of a Galilean synagogue. His twelve-year-old daughter is dying. He wants Jesus, in his words, to heal her so she can live. So Jesus goes with Jairus, and a crowd follows.

But then, Jesus is interrupted.

A woman who had been suffering from a bleeding illness for 12 years, and who had visited every doctor she could find and had spent all her money, and yet the illness had worsened—she reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak. She thought that if she could just touch it, she might be healed.

This is called intercalation, a literary device whereby two narrative units are combined by splitting one apart and inserting the other between the parts. There is a broader point in intercalation–something fundamentally important that the writer wishes to draw out. So Mark’s writer inserts the bleeding woman’s story in the middle of Jairus and his daughter’s story. Why?

There are countless possibilities. Here’s what I’m thinking.

Jairus’ daughter was twelve. The woman was bleeding for twelve years. The bleeding woman had the faith to touch Jesus’ cloak as a means to healing. Jairus lacked that sort of faith and needed Jesus to come with him to his house. The bleeding woman was an untouchable—someone so removed from society because of her ailment. She was also poor. Jairus was well-known, well-off, and part of an elitist social class. Jesus calls the bleeding woman daughter, and it is Jairus’ daughter who is dying. I’m sure you can make more connections of your own.

But here’s what continues to floor me about this story.

First, the bleeding woman surprised Jesus. Oh yes she did! He looked around to find out who touched him. He was befuddled. No one else was interested. But he found her.

Secondly, Jairus’ family and friends gave up and told Jesus to go away. They laughed at him when Jesus said that the twelve-year-old was just sleeping. In the end, Jesus told everyone to leave.

He took the girl by the hand and told her to get up.
And when the girl did, of course, the people changed their tune. They were amazed. And Jesus, in classic Mark form, tells them to shut up and to give that poor girl something to eat.

So this says to me that healing happens at all times and in all places.

Healing is not limited to a select few.
Healing is different for everyone.
Who is a “daughter” to God is not who we assume.

We better stop creating our own triage—saying who we think is more important or less important. Jairus’ “important” daughter WAS the bleeding woman to Jesus. There was no difference.

And so it should be with us.

We should recognize that all of us need healing of different types and at different times.
And we must all balance our joy over a realized healing with the honesty and sorrow of someone still waiting for such a healing to come.

The encouragement in the story is to consider that everyone has access to healing, and it will happen in its own time. So no matter what you need to be healed of, you don’t walk alone. Sometimes a hand reaches out to you; sometimes you will reach out your own hand; others times you will pray; sometimes you won’t; at moments you’ll gather community together in order to heal; other times you will heal yourself; sometimes hoping for a certain thing to heal will lead you to unexpected healing of another kind.

So may healing come in its time; may you be whole.
And may this Ben Harper song help you get started.

[1] Iserson KV, Moskop JC (March 2007). “Triage in medicine, part I: Concept, history, and types”. Annals of Emergency Medicine 49 (3): 275–81.

[2] “Transforming Triage Technology (National Research Council of Canada website)”.

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