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The Promise of Inclusion

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Resultado de imagen para one purple candleDuring this time of year for Christians, called Advent, Hebrew prophetic literature is what is often read leading up to Christmas Eve. I wonder, though, do most Christians know what they are reading? Do they know that these prophets were telling the story of the Jewish people? Do they know that none of these prophets were speaking about Jesus of Nazareth? It’s an eyebrow-raiser for sure, for Christians to step back during this season to realize that it’s not about them.

No, the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures are Jewish stories, and the book of Jeremiah is no exception. So why do Christians read the Jewish prophetic literature during this season? Because in order to better understand the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew himself, Christians must have a context and a history and a story.

And that story is about the Israelites: their nation, Judah, was destroyed, conquered. Their rulers and religious leaders were taken away to a distant land. This happened something like 600 years before Jesus was born. The Israelites were taken to Babylon, this was their exile. The glory days of King David were long gone. I can hear Bruce Springsteen singing in the background…

And this is why Jeremiah as a prophetic book is just flat-out depressing, dark, and gloomy.

But oh, that’s what makes it work….

Because amidst all the darkness and despair and suffering there is still a glimmer of hope. And though Jeremiah is pretty heavy-handed, all of a sudden the prophet says that a better day is surely coming, and Yahweh is the one making the promise. The promise is to restore that which was devastated and broken, to repair and heal. The promise is for justice, and peace.

No doubt when you are ripped from your home and way of life you feel excluded from the good graces of life and from the possible love and care of a Creator who seems to have forgotten you. It is not until you are restored, until you are included when you were once excluded, that you feel whole again. That’s the thing about inclusion. It’s not just identifying who is “in” and who is “out.”

Inclusion is about a transformative promise that someone who has been historically excluded/left out, will now be included/invited in.

The hope of inclusion is a powerful one. It has driven major justice movements around the world. And inclusion drives the story of the Israelite people; inclusion drives the story of Jesus of Nazareth. And, I would argue, the promise of inclusion can move us past even hope, which can sometimes be fleeting or seem superficial. What if we didn’t hope for justice and peace in this world, and instead, we believed in the promise of inclusion?

What if inclusion shaped our thoughts and actions in our daily lives? It would change us. Think about it—if you’ve ever been party to a racist, sexist, homophobic/transphobic joke, and didn’t speak up because you were afraid of being excluded from that particular group, what if you weren’t afraid of exclusion? What if you believed in the promise of inclusion? You would speak up, not to paint yourself as any better, but simply to point out that inclusion is a promise to humanity.

This promise of inclusion would drive us in our city councils and local governments to get rid of the boundaries and regulations that keep certain people out of certain boroughs and neighborhoods; we wouldn’t block immigrant caravans with soldiers and police and signs saying “go home, you’re not welcome”; churches and other places of faith would stop excluding gay, lesbian, bi and transgender people, not because it’s becoming a social norm, but because they believe in the promise of inclusion.

Being included when you’ve been excluded before gives you the ability to feel and believe:

“I’m valued, I have a place. I am equal. I am affirmed as I am.”

If inclusion drives us, and we believe it is a promise, then we will see ourselves differently. Those who have been made to feel lesser will be transformed by the welcome they receive. Those who have been left on the margins will enter the open circle, as they are. It is more than a hope, which can fade. It is more than a dream, which can be forgotten.

It is a promise.

 

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Great-FULL-ness

Let’s take a brief look at the concept of Gratitude across world religions [this by no means doing justice to each tradition]:

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Judaism: The first and last prayers of the day are of gratitude. For the Jewish people, all things come from Yahweh and thus their lives are filled with this recognition. A prayer is said upon hearing good or even bad news.

Christianity: For followers of Jesus of Nazareth, God is the giver of all gifts and the ultimate foundation for thankfulness. God ‘s generosity provides the model for how Christians are to deal with other people. The greatest commandment, love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself is a gratitude commandment. Thankfulness to the Creator and thankfulness for others. Even the most universal Sacrament of Christianity, Communion [called the Eucharist], comes from the Greek word eurucharistia, which means thanksgiving.

Islam: in the Holy Koran, the necessity for gratitude and thankfulness to Allah is emphasized. The prophet Muhammad said, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue.” Daily prayers for Muslims do not petition God, but instead show everlasting praise and adoration to God for life and mercy. The month of Ramadan when fasting takes place is intended to lead a person to a state of gratitude.

Buddhism: for Buddhists, gratitude is the main currency of the “economy of gift.” They give prayerful thanks for all that life has to offer, including the challenges and suffering, because it helps them to appreciate the gifts, and to become more compassionate.

Hinduism: Hindus show gratitude in many small acts of hospitality, and through service toward the divine presence, both in their homes and at temple shrines. Hindus celebrate a number of festivals signifying the importance of gratitude. Guru Poornima is celebrated in gratitude to teachers, to those who have taught skills and to all those who teach something that shapes people’s lives. Harvest festivals like Pongal pay respect to the Sun God for helping with a bounty harvest and also thank the rain, seeds, cattle and the farmers.

Baha’i Faith: The Baha’i teachings emphasize an attitude and lifestyle of gratitude. Bahai’s are to step back, see their glass as much more than half full, and be thankful for life. Abdu’l Baha said: Thank God with all your hearts that such a privilege has been given unto you to spread love across the earth. For a life devoted to praise is not too long in which to thank God for such a favour. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 67.

Sikhism: For Sikhs, gratitude is the center of their faith practice. Siri Singh Sahib teaches that when you are grateful to God “You will be great and you will be full.” Sikhs also emphasize that  “By your ego you get yourself, which is very earthly and limited. Whenever you want to get to your own unlimited self, you have to relate with gratitude.” –Yogi Bhajan 7/10/75

Jainism: Though Jains do not believe in God per se, Jains are constantly expressing gratitude in prayers and actions. The act of fasting, which Jains are famous for, is about gratitude.

Native Americans: the First Nations People have always had a deep tradition of routinely giving thanks. They have particularly given attention and gratitude to the animals and plants that provide sustenance or medicine. The Iroquois created a thanksgiving prayer to the Creator for the earth and the living things upon it– birds, rivers, medicinal grasses and herbs, wind, rain, sunshine, the moon and stars, etc.

Paganism: Pagans, including those who identify as Wiccan, believe in the notion that if we surround ourselves with good, we will attract positive things back to us. Part of that theory is that by showing gratitude, you can cultivate more good things to come your way. Gratitude rituals are a common thread of their practice.

So gratitude pervades spiritual traditions. What does science say? There have been various studies done about gratitude and its association with well-being, suggesting that people who are more grateful have higher levels of subjective well-being. Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships.

Perhaps it is because grateful people have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self acceptance and the ability to positively deal with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpret and grow from experiences, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem.

So what do you think? How do you practice gratitude? How does it affect you?

Basic Rules Don’t Apply: Love Is Wealth

Mark 10:17-22

What possesses you?

Okay, weird question?
What I mean to ask is: what consumes you, what drives you?

What possesses you?

Is it your career? Are you one of those people who is completely driven by your job and all the things related to it? Do you find yourself thinking and talking about your profession more than anything else?

Or is it your family, if you have kids? Are you mostly driven by what your kids are doing, how they feel, behave, learn?

Or is it something else? What possesses you, drives you, consumes you?

Now bear with me here, because I realize this can be a nuanced conversation. I am aware that for some of you, this question may lead you down a difficult path. Perhaps you have struggled for years with addictions and so, this can drive you. Or for any of you who suffer from depression or anxiety, this can consume you, no doubt. So please know that I am not downplaying that and I absolutely acknowledge addiction, illness, disease, and chemical imbalances as real issues that people deal with every day.

What I’d like for us to do is to focus on the things that drive us overall, apart from those things we cannot control or are part of our chemical makeup or a result of great trauma we suffered. I’d like for us to focus on the driving force for each of us, the thing or things that get us out of bed in the morning and keep us alive.

And I acknowledge the amazingly courageous people I know who fight addiction or mental illness every day and keep on living. Because this is at the core of the question. How do they keep on going?

And I’d like to address this by looking at this Mark Gospel story about a person who clearly was driven by questions about salvation, eternal life, legacy, etc. The man [called a ruler and a young person by Matthew’s and Luke’s versions] was also rich. He owned things—most likely a lot of land. He possessed property. He went to Jesus of Nazareth, because he respected Jesus as a religious teacher. Jesus would know the answer to a question he had. The rich man wanted to inherit eternal life. He was used to getting what he wanted, you see. He thought of salvation as something to buy or sell or to obtain. It was a possession. Religion, for this person, was about keeping the commandments that Moses shared with the Israelites. Don’t do this, don’t do that, etc., etc. Following these rules allowed him to maintain his upper hand in society, to fit in, to be respected, to maintain control. Follow the rules, get the reward.

Wrong.

Jesus tells him that he still lacks something. Ironically, what he lacks is because of what he owns. He has a lot of possessions. Material things. On the surface he has a lot. But he lacks the most important thing. What was that important thing? Well, it seems like Jesus didn’t say. What Jesus does do is tell him to do the most logical thing: sell your things, give money to those who need it most, and then you’re good. Follow this way of love.

Sounds good, right? Happy ending to this story?

Nope.

The rich guy doesn’t jump up and down with joy, now knowing what he has to do. I mean, it would have been fairly simple for him to give things away. And Jesus wasn’t even asking him to give it all away! But instead, the man gets sad about it. He expected Jesus to perhaps tell him about some other commandment or rule that he didn’t know about. Maybe there was just one more thing he had to check off his list and then he’d be okay. But no—he was told to do the very thing that he felt that he couldn’t do. He couldn’t give up material possessions. He could not follow such a way. For him, wealth was having things; wealth was not expressing love, not giving to others. Following the religious rules made more sense to him, even comforted him. But now that salvation fell outside the rules, his world turned upside down. He grieved, because he lost something—his ability to control things, to buy and sell life.

As Jesus often does, though, he invites this rich man to be healed. Get up, go, change, be healed. Follow this way. And I suspect that the story doesn’t really give us an ending so that we are aware that it’s not so easy to just change in the moment. The rich man was grieving because he felt that he could not give up his possessions, he could not see a way to be possessed by love. But that was in the moment. He left the scene—probably went home, probably thought more about it. And maybe, must maybe he started small. Perhaps he gave away some of his material wealth. And it probably felt great. And then maybe he gave away some more. And eventually, maybe this person was no longer possessed by what he owned. After a while, maybe he discovered what true riches were.

Friends, we can be possessed or consumed by things that are our “ultimate concern” like ambition, religion, money, power, politics or whatever. We can be owned by a number of things. And so we are offered a healing choice, I think, to instead be driven by love. To let go of the things that possess us and drag us down or hold us back. To walk forward and not backwards. To give more than we try to obtain. To make love our reason for existing—not pleasing people, not “making a name for ourselves,” not obsessing over legacy or retirement or status or religious rules or sexual norms or gender binaries or nationalities or affiliations or ethnicity.

What if we are driven by love?

What if love is in front of us, behind us, around us, and in us?

*To all of you who beautiful and courageous humans out there who wrestle with addiction and mental illness, I love you. It is your life: your courage and honesty and the way you show love to others in spite of all you go through–that inspires me.

Be driven by love, because you are loved.

An Ally Identity

Mark 9:38-41; 49-50     The Message (MSG)

38 John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”

39-41 Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.

49-50 “Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace.”

What is an ally?

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The organization GLAAD [not an acronym] defines an LGBTQIA+ ally as:

-a listener.
-open-minded.
-willing to talk.
-inclusive and inviting of LGBT friends to hang out with your friends and family.
-not assuming that friends and co-workers are straight.
-not afraid to speak out when Anti-LGBT comments and jokes are made.
-someone who confronts their own prejudices and bias
-a defender against discrimination.
-a believer that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect.

At the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto this November, I’ll be co-presenting a workshop entitled “How to Be an Interfaith Ally.” Here are some highlights of the definition of an interfaith ally:

Image result for interfaith allyAn interfaith ally:

-Is aware of one’s own thoughts and feelings about spiritual identity.
-Builds religious literacy
-Is aware of current social and political events.
-Treats everyone as individuals
-Does not obligate anyone, regardless of their outward appearance, to share or speak about that in any context.
-Avoids assumptions and gossip. Allows the individual to share his/her/their identity in their time.
-Uses inclusive and appropriate language and confronts harmful, oppressive language.
-Shows support for or encourages creation of the Interfaith community.

See, there are many specific ways to contextualize what an ally is. An LGBTQIA+ ally will look different than an interfaith ally in certain cases. There are specific actions that apply to specific situations. Overall, though, an ally in any context shares important characteristics and behaviors.

For the sake of this conversation, allow me to define an ally as someone who:

-stands with those who are not heard, marginalized, disenfranchised, or oppressed.
-listens well and does not judge.
-learns, learns, and learns some more!
-recognizes diversity and difference, not as a threat, but as an essential fabric of humanity.
-knows when to step back and when to step up.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about human development [evolution, change, becoming].

I’ve noticed that many adults in our society sadly believe a narrative about themselves—that they are incapable of change. That their perspectives are locked in place and that the way they see themselves and the world is static. I don’t buy this for one second. I fully believe in the capacity of all humans [no matter the age] to continue to develop and grow, to evolve, to become. We are built that way. But yes, as adults it does require us to make more of an effort in our development. We first have to embrace the possibility of growth change; then we have to seek it out, care for it, be willing to leave behind old paradigms, and be willing to listen and learn.

This relates directly to being an ally in any context, because in order to be an ally we have to confront our own prejudices and assumptions. It is necessary for us to consider other perspectives that we previously viewed as impossible or crazy, or perhaps we never even considered such perspectives.

So to be an ally we have to evolve.

I look at Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospel stories and it jumps out at me—Jesus was an ally. Jesus stood with and for those who were voiceless and oppressed, including but not limited to:

Widows, children, lepers, the sick, the materially poor, Samaritans [the ethnically oppressed], the homeless, the unclean [religiously marginalized people].

Jesus was an ally. And if you look close enough, Jesus was trying to teach and mentor others to be allies. Those who followed Jesus didn’t join a religion or a church. They followed a path. They lived a new kind of way. They shifted away from old paradigms to new ones. They sought to create heaven on earth by balancing what was out of whack in society. They were changing, developing, becoming. And they were called to be allies.

But the followers of Jesus struggled with this. They argued over who was the best ally, the greatest follower. They struggled to listen to each other. They carried deep and historical prejudices with them. It wasn’t easy for them to learn how to be allies. Case in point—in this particular Mark story Jesus’ followers aren’t happy that someone outside of their group is healing someone. How dare someone else do the good work THEY were supposed to be doing! But Jesus called them out on this. “If someone is for us, they are not against us.” Quite the paradigm shift, no? We often hear the opposite of that phrase. See, Jesus didn’t care if the insider group did the work of healing or if people outside the group did it. Part of being an ally is not letting your ego get the best of you. It’s celebrating the good things others are doing, even if you don’t get any credit or benefit from it.

And Jesus, in this Markan section, closes with a healing word of wisdom: Everyone will be salted with fire. Remain salty, and be at peace. Salt and fire were symbols and actual tools of healing in Jesus’ time. This remark is about the ally community—that yes, there will be times when we screw up. We will say or do something hurtful, even if we don’t mean it. But there’s always a chance to heal. Fire and salt. Wounds are healed. People are welcomed again. We learn and grow from our mistakes. And this leads us to be at peace with one another.

This ally thing is hard, no doubt. It’s messy, it’s risky, and it’s sometimes unpopular. But it’s SO WORTH IT.

Add to this discussion. How do you know when someone is your ally? Reply in the comment section.

Further, if you wish to have some resources about how you can be an ally, visit here.

It’s a Human Evolution Part II

Mark 9:30; 33-37

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To recap:

Human evolution is a growth process that children, youth, and adults experience.

Though there are plenty of narratives out there that try to convince us adults that we hit an evolutionary wall at some point and therefore do not change or have the ability for a paradigm shift—I argue that we are always evolving, always changing, always becoming. We don’t have to be stuck or stagnate. For sure, there are obstacles in front of us if we engage in the continuing process of personal growth and change. One of the main obstacles is baggage, something I’m sure all of you are well aware of. Baggage is that part of our identity that is informed by what people have told us about ourselves, who they have said we are from the beginning and who they say we are today. Now some of that can be positive, don’t get me wrong. But it’s still an obstacle to growth, because the old paradigms that people give us are just that—old. They are past.

When we engage in human evolution the old paradigms don’t work anymore.

And that’s a conflict.

Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gospel stories, is a great example of growth, becoming, and the encountering of the various voices in our lives that try to name us or tell us who we are or where we belong. People were constantly defining Jesus’ identity and today, it is still going on. Which is why Jesus’ poignant questions of “Who do people say I am” and “Who do you say I am” are completely relevant—not just for the Gospel stories, but for our stories.

Human evolution, simply put, is about asking these two questions:
What is self?
What is other?

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Jesus was defined by others but rejected those definitions. Jesus was becoming, and this becoming led Jesus to eat, sleep, and drink with those on the margins—the poor, the sick, the forgotten, the shunned, the so-called unclean. This is how Jesus of Nazareth defined self—that Jesus was with those who suffered, those that society and even religion had rejected. And in doing so, Jesus saw himself as “with” them and they were no longer “other” to Jesus. This is precisely why when Jesus was asked about the living out of the greatest commandment [love God, love yourself, love neighbor], Jesus responded with stories about a good Samaritan and children. They were the neighbors, they were the wisdom-bearers. Yes, children.

Image result for children diverseSee, in Mark’s Gospel story, Jesus was passing through Galilee but stealth-like. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know. Why? Back to what I said earlier. People were defining Jesus in a certain way and this led to trouble. So Jesus and the band of followers made it to Capernaum; and got to a house. And once again, Jesus had questions for the followers. “What were you arguing about on the way?” See, apparently those who walked with Jesus had been arguing with each another about who was the greatest disciple. This, after Jesus had just tried to tell them not to call him Messiah or to promote him as some kind of political or religious leader. And yet, they were still at it; the ego trip continued.

So Jesus sat down. Was he tired? I don’t think so. Jesus sat down to make a point. You want to be first in line, the greatest? So then be last in line, give up your place, serve others. This probably made no sense to those who were listening. Which is why Jesus needed to illustrate the point by holding up a little child. You welcome this kid, you welcome me. And welcoming this kid/welcoming me means you welcome Yahweh.

This is a paradigm shift—an evolution to a new way of seeing ourselves and the world. Jesus wasn’t an evangelist or someone seeking to build a religion.

Jesus was leading a movement, mostly of people on the margins of society—a human towards community and reciprocal love and away from hierarchies and power.

In the community Jesus was trying to build, children and anyone else who was considered “least” were just as important as he was. Yes, kids were [and are] not valued enough. Their opinions and wisdom have much to teach us.

And even more significant, I think, is how children remind us that we are constantly evolving, continually moving and changing. Daily we can discover ourselves and learn to see the world and those around us in a different way. When we welcome the child among us, when we welcome the child within us—we welcome the possibility of growth.

It’s a Human Evolution

Mark 8:27-32; 34-35   

From time to time people may say things like:

“Once you pass a certain age, you are who you are.”

“People don’t change much after age ___….”

“You can’t teach and old dog new tricks….”

While most of the time we don’t mean any harm when we say such things, it does highlight a tendency in our society and in the way we think—that at some point in adulthood we just stop changing, stop growing, stop evolving. In essence, we buy into the idea that as we get older, we slow down our human development and become less capable of change. Perhaps that’s why many adults of varied ages encounter strong opposition from family, friends, and co-workers when they do decide to make a major change or if they exhibit steady growth in another direction that does not resemble their past or even their present. Have you ever had that experience from either side? Have you seen someone you know change unexpectedly? How did you react? Or, have you gone through a major shift in you life and noticed strong reactions of others?

Just to be clear, when I talk about human evolution and change I’m not talking about human growth the way that the self-help industry does. Surely you’ve seen the overstocked shelves at your favorite bookstore. You have a million choices—books that tell you in their title that you should be able to tweak this or that or try this method, and change will be easy.

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Some real titles:

Improve Your Life the Quick Way [part one]
Anybody Can Be Cool…but Awesome Takes Practice
Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself
Awaken the Giant Within
Just Stop Having Problems, Stupid!

And I didn’t even delve into the myriad of fad diet and exercise books. The basic premise of these books is to convince you that change is easy and fast. Just give your money, read the book, and you’re set. Go to the lectures or workshops. You’ll change quickly. Of course, none of it is true. Fad diets don’t work. Exercise methods and techniques are just made up and don’t work for most people. Mental exercises that are quick and easy don’t have a lasting effect. And anything you have to keep paying for in order to develop as a person is already set up to fail.

Because human evolution happens on the inside.

And it’s based on who you are, what you’ve experienced, and how you see the world. And human evolution is not easy or quick or simple. There are certainly obstacles in front of us if we engage in the continuing process of personal growth and change. One of the main obstacles is baggage, something I’m sure all of you are well aware of. Baggage is that part of our identity that is informed by what people have told us about ourselves, who they have said we are from the beginning and who they say we are today. Now some of that can be positive, don’t get me wrong. But it’s still an obstacle to growth, because the old paradigms that people give us are just that—old. They are past. When we engage in human evolution the old paradigms don’t work anymore. And that’s a conflict.

Image result for paradigm shiftFor example, psychologists like Robert Kegan refer to the idea of the terrible twos. You know, any parents out there, of what I speak. The toddler turns green and becomes a tiny ball of rage and fury. And their vocabulary seems to only include one word: NO!!!!!!

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Now there are two ways to view this. One: the kid is out to get us, terrible, and mad at the parents–just intolerable. The kid has only one goal in mind and that is to say and do the opposite of what we tell them to do and therefore to ruin our lives until they get a little older. And then it will happen again when they are a teenager.

Or, the second way of seeing this: the twos aren’t terrible at all.

The toddlers are becoming.

The constant No! is simply a denial of the old self [the baby]. It’s a repudiation of the old way of being.  The toddlers’ declaration is to their old self, which was embedded in the world they knew as a baby. Now, as two-year-olds, they are evolving. They are becoming.

Human evolution, simply put, is about asking these two questions:

What is self?
What is other?

Who am I? And what is the world around me? A example across cultures is related to how we talk about the weather. Say it’s a beautiful, sunny day—not too hot, not too cold. In the West, people would say: Wow, it is a nice day. But in other cultures, like the Amerindians of the Americas, they would say: I am in a nice day. See, in Western cultures the weather [the day] is separate from our being and is it whereas in other cultures, the weather is not separate from their being, and so they are in and the day is not an it. This matters, how we see ourselves and how we see the world.

This is reflected in a Gospel scene in which Jesus of Nazareth might as well have taught a Greek philosophy and psychology class 101. He asks his followers: “Who do people say that I am?” And of course, the disciples answer with all the identities that other people gave to Jesus–John the Baptist; Elijah; one of the prophets. And then Jesus asks his followers: But who do you say that I am? Peter, not known for tact or using his brain  much, blurts out: You are the Messiah. This made Jesus mad and so he told Peter and company to stop talking about him with other people.

Jesus could very well have been that infuriating toddler.

Who do people say I am? No! Who do you say I am? No!

Eventually, Jesus made it clear how he saw himself and how he saw the world and no one liked it. Jesus saw himself suffering alongside those who suffered, those who were pushed to the margins; Jesus saw himself far from the religious elites and the temple; Jesus saw himself as constantly evolving, towards a place and a goal that would never be realized. Jesus knew his evolution would take him to dangerous places and that he probably wouldn’t survive it physically. But Jesus also saw the world and the human beings in it as something worth fighting for, worth loving, worth showing compassion to. In essence, it was Jesus’ desire to pour his whole self out in the world, regardless of what others called him or tried to make him.

And I think this should be a really encouraging thing for us. We don’t have to be two years old to undergo an evolution. We don’t have to stop changing and growing after adolescence. We can keep going all through our lives. We can keep becoming. After all, we are human beings, are we not? We are humans who are being….we are people who are becoming.

It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts

Mark 7:1-7; 14,15    

You ever hear this before: It’s what’s on the inside that counts!

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You know what it means, right? That your outward appearance is less important than your personality. Or, to take it a step further, that your SOUL [your whole self] is THE most important thing. If that’s what you get out of this, so be it.

Right now I’ll go back in time to consider that this idea is ancient—that our SOUL/WHOLE SELF is the absolute-most-important thing and supersedes what people see.

May be weird, but let’s do this together. Let’s go back in time to the end of the 1st Century in Israel and Palestine. There’s a big issue here: Jews vs. Gentiles [non-Jews] but it’s not fair to say it was just Jewish people vs. non-Jewish people. Really, it was religious elites or religious fanatics vs. non-religious or lower-income people. I don’t think it’s hard for us to imagine this type of situation, considering that in 2018 in the U.S. there are plenty of religious people who criticize, judge, or even shut out others who don’t share their religious moral beliefs or practices.

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I REFUSE TO MAKE THIS CAKE BASED ON MY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS….

Well, in the case of the end of the 1st century in Israel and Palestine it wasn’t about wedding cakes, but it was about food and clean vs. unclean, which for the religious people was akin to our modern rendition of moral vs. immoral. For those called Pharisees or Sadducees or Temple authorities, it was all about the interpretation of the Torah [whether you had the “right” interpretation] or whether you took the Torah literally and didn’t interpret it at all.

Sound familiar? Yeah, people do that with the Christian Bible all the time.

Image result for taking the bible literally

Image result for taking the bible literally

Back to the story. People were grumbling about Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, hanging out with and even eating with non-Jews who obviously did not follow the Torah teachings, according to those religious folk. But Jesus was no dummy. He knew the Torah well and he also knew well the hypocrisy of the religious folks. I mean, think about it. You can take any scripture right now and come up with an interpretation that fits your lifestyle or worldview. Or, you can say that you don’t interpret scripture and “take it literally” which is just another way of saying “I’m going to hide behind these words written centuries ago for people in a different time and place and not with me in mind.” Either way, it’s hypocrisy—if you choose to cop out and hide behind a literal reading, or if you interpret it to fit your own moral system.

So Jesus, to address this [And I think it’s relevant for us today], kept it simple. Yes, we can interpret scripture or say we don’t interpret it, blah, blah, blah, but if in doing so we contradict ourselves, we are showing our true colors.

In other words, our actions reflect what is inside our heart, and our heart is truly what matters most—what’s on the inside.

We can put certain food or drink in our mouths and absorb scripture teachings, but if what comes out contradicts it all, who cares? We are a walking hypocrisy.

A word about heart. Heart, in this context, an ancient Jewish understanding, meant soul/identity. The common Hebrew word for heart is lev. It was the center of personality and of being. It drives us. This inward self is what actually moves us to do what matters most in the world. It is our heart and not our rules that matters most to our neighbors.

So, what do you think? How can we as a community address those who criticize, marginalize, or judge others based on interpretations of scripture or cultural or religious practices? How can we focus on matters of the heart, what’s on the inside? How can we do that for ourselves, but also for others?

Comment below.

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