Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘atheist’

All in it Together

Mark 9:38-50

POPE-A-LOOZA

popeLast Friday and Saturday, I had the opportunity to spend time with friends in Philadelphia while Pope Francis visited for the World Meeting of Families. I am fortunate to have a few friends in Center City who live in an apartment building right near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Art Museum where much of the festivities took place. It was a really fun and interesting experience. I enjoyed being with the hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, and neighboring and far-away U.S. states. It was also a surreal experience to see all the roads closed in the city, and no cars. People were free to walk and bike everywhere without hindrance.

It felt kind of like the Netherlands!

JoshBike

It was fun biking around the city on Saturday morning with a couple thousand people. I also thought it was hilarious to see people dressed up in pope outfits, complete with the papal hats. People cheered as we biked through their neighborhoods as if we had accomplished something important.

After the bike ride, my friends and I walked to the Ben Franklin Bridge which was open to pedestrians. It was pretty cool to walk across the bridge the reaches to New Jersey, without the car traffic and tolls.

bridgeBF

While we were there, groups of people marched into Philly. Here’s a clip of a group from the New Jersey Diocese.

This led us to Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Saturday evening concerts and papal address. Not sure how many were actually there, but certainly we were not alone!

crowdsAs we made our way as close as we could to the stage, we saw rows and rows of porta-potties–perhaps more than we saw people?

portopotties

Of course, we had to pass through one of the security checkpoints. It took less time than it usually takes in the airport. People were nice. We laughed and passed though without incident. Of course, others who tried to pass the checkpoints on the other side of the Parkway [closer to City Hall] were not so lucky. A bit busier!

phillynight

Once on the Parkway, somehow we were close enough to see this. Apparently, the Pope is fast. Or at least, his little white golf cart is.

We stayed to hear musicians like the Fray and Aretha Franklin perform. Then, the Pope gave his address. More later on that.

Now give me a moment to reflect on this experience via this story in the Gospel of Mark.

andnow

In Mark’s Gospel, following Jesus is about following the Jesus way. Here we see a scene in which those who follow the way are contrasted with those who don’t. But it’s not what we might assume. John, one of Jesus’ disciples, claims that there are some people who are not following “them” as opposed to Jesus or the way. Obviously, the disciples can easily forget that it’s actually not about them. Also, John is complaining about people doing something [i.e. exorcising a demon] that they themselves could not do. And John’s comments are ill-timed, because Jesus had just dropped the inclusive teaching about welcoming children. Now John and the other disciples want to exclude, claiming that “those others” were not one of them?

Jesus’ response is pretty clear:

Stop criticizing people who are actually trying to do the same thing we are. Who is not against us is for us.

For Jesus, even a simple act of kindness like giving a cup of water to someone is enough to be part of the way—part of Jesus’ team.

But then Jesus gets mad and is quoted as saying some pretty harsh things to those [like John and the disciples and anyone else] who get in the way of the inclusive, welcoming nature of the reign of God. In fact, anyone who causes “little ones” [i.e. those who are marginalized, forgotten, pushed down, persecuted] to fall will be in HUGE trouble. Cue the awful image of a large millstone around your neck as you are thrown into the sea to drown.

And then we get into body parts. The hand, the foot, the eye. If any of these cause someone to fall away, cut them off, thrown them out.

And…SIDE NOTE!

The word hell is not appropriately translated. It should be more like Gehenna which is the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. It’s a place where child sacrifices were made long ago, before Jesus’ time. That place was a symbol of death and destruction—a real place with no pitchforks, devils in red suits, or fires.

Frankly, Jesus uses such strong imagery because people were really divided–separated by social class, religion, and customs. And even people who were trying to do something compassionate or good might get criticized by others simply because of their particular religious or political affiliation.

So Jesus adds salt to a wound, but it is meant to heal:

Being salted with fire is all about healing. First century medicine utilized salt and fire to heal physical wounds. But in this case, the healing is mental, spiritual, and social. And it also leads to peace.

In any positive and impactful social movement, people outside of the “movement catch on and participate in their own way. This should always be affirmed. In fact, in my opinion, the only thing stopping religions from cooperating around the world are the people who are the “insiders” in each tradition. They put up barricades and roadblocks, like I saw this past weekend in Philly. They don’t affirm other traditions, even when they do good in the world. They hold tightly to their theologies and ideologies and prejudices. No cooperation happens.

I’m not Catholic. And I certainly don’t think that one person, i.e. Pope Francis, is more important or that his words are necessarily more special than others. But when someone or a group of people strive for justice, compassion, and peacemaking–I don’t care what religion they claim, or if they claim no religion.

They’re on my team if they care about those who are marginalized. I’m with them if they keep their saltiness but also accept and affirm the saltiness of others. We’re all living on this planet together. Being at peace with each other means swallowing pride and admitting that no one gets it right.

We have the opportunity and responsibility as people to join with those around us, not just because they claim the same religion or because they think like us– but because we care about humanity, this world, and recognize the pain we cause each other.

What I saw and experienced in Philly during the Pope’s visit was a large group of people who simply wanted to connect. Religion took a backseat. Politics hovered over us, threatening to distract us. But in the end, it was an “all-in” moment.

In his seemingly spontaneous address on Saturday, Pope Francis spoke about love and family. “In the family there are indeed difficulties, but those difficulties are overcome with love,” “Hatred is not capable of dealing with any difficulty and overcoming any difficulty. Division of hearts cannot overcome any difficulty. Only love can overcome.”

I’d like to think that he defines family more loosely than the Catholic Church does. I’d like to believe that he defines family as the great big human family–not narrowly defined as a mom, dad, and kids. Pope Francis’ past comments seem to reflect a more compassionate and accepting view of same sex couples, gay and lesbian folk, and transgender people. Likewise, this pontiff has reached out verbally and otherwise to atheists and people of other religions. And he has expressed great sorrow and pain over the culture of child abuse and deceit that has plagued various dioceses.

I won’t agree with most of the doctrine of the Roman Catholic tradition. But that is less important. For I do think that hatred among any of us is only destructive and distracting. As a human family, we need to love each other, and that is unifying. But it will mean accepting and affirming our unique, salty selves and doing the same for all others. In this way we can strive for peace and be at peace in ourselves.

And woe to any of us who try to undermine anyone else who is doing just and compassionate work. May we love each other as we are, may we find ways to cooperate for common good, and may it lead to peace.

My final thoughts after a full weekend.
Hatred is destructive & distracting. Love builds and heals. May we reflect this in our cooperation and in our accepting of all people.

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?

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)”.

New Things, Beautiful and Changed

Mark 2:21-22  

Have you  moved a lot in your life?
I know I have. I have way too many memories of packing up stuff and cleaning out an apartment, a dorm room, or a house.

That’s the worst part of moving, isn’t?

Each time I moved, I had to come to that awful, eye-opening revelation that I just had too much stuff and now what am I going to do with it all?

It’s overwhelming.

Well, at least it is when you’re in the midst of all that packing and cleaning.

And yet, something happened to me every time I moved—whether as a kid, or a teenager, or a student, or an adult—once all that stuff was gone or packed, I felt pretty great.
In fact, I felt light as air.

And if you’ve ever been in a “temporary” living space for a while, unable to have all your “stuff” by your side, the first few days are frustrating, but after that, something happens.

Again.

You feel liberated.

Some of my fondest memories in life involve an empty house in Indiana; an unfurnished studio apartment in Honolulu, Hawai’i; a bare-bones dorm in Princeton, NJ; and a period of many months when my partner Maria and I did not have any of our stuff because it was in storage somewhere.

Why is that?

Perhaps you have your own answers to that question.
For me, the reason I felt so liberated each time I moved was because the change made me aware of my attachment to all the stuff in my life, and I’m not just talking about furniture, clothes, or knickknacks.

I mean my attachment to the past—to a life I lived somewhere else that was now over.

My attachment to memories and places.

In this case, I agree with the Beatles when they state in their song In My Life:

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
In my life I’ve loved them all

 

But the song continues with a realization:

And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Sure, this may be portrayed as a love song, but it’s always resonated with me as a love song for our memories. Yes, I do stop and think about all the places I’ve lived and been; I do think about the people who have come in and out of my life; and I do have affection for those memories.

But today, in my life in this moment, I see something more important.

I love this moment more than my memories, because it’s real.

I love the people and things in my life right now more than my past.
That doesn’t mean that my memories are worthless or harmful.
It simply means that I embrace today more than yesterday.

And such a change should not scare us.

Maybe that’s why this Jesus saying about wine and wineskins that appears in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas has always spoken to me.

Funny, though—it’s basically an argument.
Jesus is arguing with his own disciples [and others] about the memories of tradition.

Hmmm….maybe this wasn’t written in the 1st or 2nd century?

It all sounds so familiar.

People were arguing with Jesus because they noticed that he and his disciples didn’t follow the “normal” religious rules. They weren’t fasting as much as they were supposed to and when they were supposed to.

Of course, this was about more than fasting.
Jesus was also criticized for healing people, remember.
That’s right—you heard me.
He was criticized for healing people—for doing something so amazingly wonderful and life-giving.

Healing wasn’t a tradition on the Sabbath. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just a criticism of Judaism—it’s a criticism of religion in general.

Christians are no different than the Pharisees and disciples who were more interested in protecting the memories of the past than actually living compassionately today.

Curious, isn’t it, that while Christians claim to believe in a God who is a God of change and claim to follow the Jesus of change and claim to be guided by and filled with the Spirit of change—most Christians fear change.

There’s a sense in the church institution that things were always better way back when.

Remember when…

But Jesus throws down a teaching here that is significant for any century.
Don’t put new wine in old wineskin.

If you have chosen to be a person of faith, and this spirituality you choose to develop is a “new” thing or at least something that “renews” you every day–why in the world would such a thing feel heavy?

If you choose to be a person of faith, this should not be a burden to you. It should not weigh you down; it should not be about “I can’t do this or that”; it should not make you legalistic, rigid, or limited.

So why then, is much of religion such a burden and so heavy?

Puzzled male shrugging wearing lab coatIt’s heavy, because we keep trying to put new things in old things.

In the Gospel story, wine is a metaphor, of course, but real wine was indeed a staple of the culture of Jesus.
No one would never put new wine in an old wineskin.
It would ruin it!

New-wineIt’s really a simple metaphor about embracing change and letting the past be the past.
But I’m quite sure you’ve had moments [or days, or week, or months] when you wanted to put your past behind you but just couldn’t.

You wish you could do that so you could move forward in your life.
But you keep hearing [and feeling] that you have to hold onto your past for some reason.
So you keep trying to introduce new ideas or experiences into that old life, it just doesn’t take.

Hey, I understand.

Every time I moved in to a new place and tried to introduce the same old things from my old place, it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t work. I had to rearrange or get rid of some things altogether.

The difficult truth we all have to hear is that we need to let the past be yesterday.

It’s difficult, but we have to let go of anything that weighs us down or keeps us from moving out of the past and into the present moment.

This affords us the opportunity to be free.
And, it enables us to be creative, to love, to help, and to fully live.

The past is something that can cause fear and confusion. It can make us believe that some things are impossible and that some things will just never change.

A couple of years ago, the congregation I serve decided to put up two signs [one a rainbow design] that clearly welcomed the LGBTQ community in a public way.

People left the church.
Founding and long-time members quit. Others continued to grumble. Eventually, because of what those two signs led to [more freedom and less fear of change], more people left. The first rainbow sign, after it was put up, was even stolen.

Many members of the congregation who stuck around started to be more active in their community. They welcomed and helped people who had no place to go and sometimes no food to eat. They formed more partnerships with people of different religions and those who didn’t claim a religious background. It was new wine.

And yet, there was still grumbling; and fear; and resistance.

The new wine was bursting the old wineskin.

And the more they interacted with people who were atheistic, agnostic, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Baha’i, Sikh, Buddhist, gay, lesbian, transgender, yellow, brown, pink, orange, and black; speakers of languages other than English; loud and energized toddlers; inquisitive and skeptical teenagers; suburban, urban, and rural folk; those with money and jobs and those with neither; families with kids and those without; single moms and dads; straight and gay couples…

The wine spilled out.

The old wineskin just didn’t function anymore. The heavy religious stuff didn’t make sense.

And for those who were able to embrace this, it freed them.

Yes, it’s true. Though it is difficult sometimes to do, we should not fear change.
We should actually embrace change.

Because the Creator is always doing NEW things.

And we are created and can become creators ourselves of new things.

We are all liberated from the way it’s always been done

You have the opportunity to be new–to embrace all people for real, and to show them that something new is being created in them and in you.

And whatever those heavy things are from your past—whatever weighs you down—know that you have the freedom to let go.

Today [and every day] new wine is poured.
New things are created.
So welcome it.

Embracing Doubt and Breathing Life

John 20:19-31

philomena fieldThe movie Philomena is based on the 2009 investigative book by British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] correspondent Martin Sixsmith, entitled, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Philomena Lee, played by Judi Dench, is an older woman searching for her long-lost son. When Philomena was a young woman living in an Irish-Catholic community, she gave birth to the baby boy, only to have the child taken from her at an early age. The nuns sold the boy to a U.S. couple for adoption.

Philomena was forced, according to church doctrine, to sign a contract that wouldn’t allow for any sort of inquiry into her son’s whereabouts. But Philomena never stopped thinking about her son, and so thus, when she meets Martin Sixsmith [played by Steve Coogan], and he wishes to publish and investigative report of her story, the two of them embark on a quest to find her son.

Here is a clip from the movie:

The film and story of Philomena includes a rigorous examination of faith and belief. Philomena and Martin were both raised Roman Catholic, but Martin is an atheist and Philomena holds on to her beliefs about the church and her faith in God. Martin is perplexed by this, considering all the great evils that were done to Philomena and countless others by the church, in the name of God. How could someone who knew of all the evils of the church continue to be so steadfast?

It is worth watching—at the very least, to stimulate thought and conversation about two words:

Faith and Belief

Most people often think that the most important thing to understand about religion is:

Why do people believe in God?

Most people assume that belief comes before action and therefore explains choices. So, in other words, you believe something first; that belief causes you to do something.

But in fact, most people, when thinking about belief, are off-base.

Let me explain.

Belief is a principle, a proposition, an idea that you accept as true. It could be an opinion, a religious doctrine—whatever.

Case in point: close your eyes, everyone.
Imagine the color green.

Now red.

Now yellow.

Now…magenta.

How about saffron?

I cannot get inside your head and actually see how you imagined those colors, but I can tell you this:

All of us imagined the colors a bit differently.

Your green may have been darker or light than mine. Your yellow may have been closer to red or orange. Your magenta and your saffron? It depends on whether or not you ever “saw” those colors in a book, in a painting, or used that particular crayon.

This is belief. You were taught and conditioned. This is what you believe.

Belief is what we think we know to be true.

Okay, now faith. This is trust or confidence in something or someone without necessarily having concrete evidence.

The Greek language of the New Testament of the Bible seems to use these words faith and belief interchangeably. But in this case, prepositions matter.

We can believe a million things about something or someone.

But how much do we have faith in something? How much do we trust?

That is why I argue that we have to be very careful about belief, because people can believe anything! And sometimes, like in the case of Philomena, extreme, stubborn belief in something can lead to awful behavior.

But faith, on the other hand, isn’t about being stubborn.
Why? Because faith is mixed with doubt.

Let me say that again.

Faith is mixed with doubt.

Theologian Frederick Buechner once said:

Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.[1]

I love that! Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.

So with ants in our pants, let’s explore Thomas’ story.

doubting-thomas-cartoon

Jesus died recently. The disciples are locked up behind closed doors, hiding from the authorities. But keep in mind that the male disciples were more scared than the female disciples who were brave enough to visit Jesus’ tomb. Who were they scared of? Well, the Judean authorities and the Temple aristocracy, and perhaps the Romans, too. They were so scared, in fact, that they did not believe Mary Magdalene’s story about meeting the Jesus with a green thumb [i.e. a gardener].

Lucky for them, Jesus appears. Jesus greets them with Peace be with you, which as I’ve mentioned before, really means shalom, which means wholeness as a gift of God. Then Jesus shows his hands and side. They rejoice because they see him. Then he breathes on them. After the breath that resembles the Creator breathing life into humanity, Jesus talks about forgiveness.

I like this translation of verse 23 from Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

 If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good.

If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?

Seems to be Jesus telling the disciples to stop being afraid. Seems like faith, in this sense, is about unlocking the doors and going outside.

But then again, John’s Gospel story is yet to introduce Thomas.

Yes, Thomas, was outside the locked doors, like the women were, and so he did not see this Jesus appearance. And Thomas was not one to believe something just because everyone else did. He was a skeptic. He knew that Jesus died. Why would he believe something that these scared guys told him? They were most likely delusional.

Then John’s story skips ahead; it’s a week later.

Jesus magically walks through a wall again and repeats the wholeness blessing. But then Jesus talks to Thomas, telling him to touch his hands and side. But he doesn’t’ do it. Instead, the skeptic Thomas says: My Lord and my God!

Jesus closes with:

Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

And don’t miss the last part of John’s story, reminding us to whom this Gospel is addressing.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe[d] that Jesus is the Messiah,[e] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

a: or continue to believe

e: or Christ

The story is for all the skeptics—the ones who don’t see and don’t believe.

This is a story of faith, because after the resurrection appearances, these women and men were supposed to live resurrected lives themselves. They had faith in the presence of G-d, faith in the power of love to conquer even hate and death.

And even so, these people were so full of doubt.

I really, really like the Thomas story.

But I really, really dislike how many people misquote it and push belief on other people—telling them that this bad thing happens or this will happen to them if they don’t believe a certain thing.

Or, you know, if you are struggling or suffering….

Just have more faith!

But Faith isn’t something to possess.

Belief—sure, you can possess that. It’s what your mind has been conditioned and taught, so yes—your beliefs are in your head and are yours.

But faith is spiritual—beyond doctrines, words on a page, well outside the locked, closed doors of the church!

Faith is trust in and feeling of and action performed.

I myself find great inspiration in the 5th Gospel, ironically called The Gospel of Thomas. It was discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. The author and exact date of the Gospel of Thomas is still being researched, but it most certainly is an early Christian writing. It contains only sayings of Jesus. Let me close with two of them, related to faith and belief.

His disciples said, “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?” Jesus said, “When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid.”

Jesus said, “If two make peace with each other in this one house, they will say to the mountain, ‘Move Away,’ and it will move away.”[2]

Friends, don’t get caught up in belief.

Embrace the doubts you have. Embrace the living that is breathed into all.

May your faith and spiritual practice move you to peaceful, loving, and compassionate action in the world.

 

[1] Buechner, Frederick, Wishful Thinking

[2] Gospel of Thomas, Sayings 37 and 48.

Aside

Still Speaking and Water Still Flowing

Matthew 3:13-17

funny-baby-catholic-baptismBaptism stories are always fun to tell because if you think about it, what is stranger, funnier, or more awkward than dressing up someone in white clothes, sprinkling water on his/her head and rubbing it into his/her hair while people stare? Or, if you come from another tradition, what is odder than dunking the person in a religious bathtub, a pond, or some body of water while people stare? Wearing white in this case is also awkward because that means whatever is underneath is of great importance.

Hmmm….do I go with the Steelers jersey underneath the white, see-through robe, or the Led Zeppelin t-shirt?
Whether someone is baptized as an infant or a child, as a teenager or as an adult…we have to admit that this ceremony is a bit weird.

So last Sunday I was asked to lead such a ceremony at a friend’s house. Mom and dad, two honest people, were just not sure what it was…a baptism, a dedication, a christening…what do these things mean and what we were actually going to do?

Really good questions, actually.

What are these things and what are we going to do?

50+ people were staring intently at this baby boy all dressed in white and screaming his eyelids out. He was red in the face; would he ever stop crying? Mom and dad tried to soothe him and so did the two godparents looking on. But he just wailed louder. I finally put the water on his head.

First time [Creator]: kid is still screaming.
Second time [Jesus]: tears rolling down like a waterfall.
Third time will be the charm, right? Spirit: he didn’t like it one bit.

Even his dad was like…geez, this kid is not content right now. So I said the blessing and a benediction—as fast as I could. Poor kid—he probably just wanted to eat; or sleep; or get the diaper changed. And here I was talking about him to all those people and asking his parents questions and then putting water on his head and oh, that white outfit just wasn’t a good look for him. I don’t blame him for crying. Man, these baptism/dedication/christening things are so weird.

I still think that the parent’s questions were right on.

What is this and what are we going to do?

heQiBaptismWhat is this Christian rite of baptism [just another way of saying tradition]? What is this so-called sacrament? There are a hundred different answers and it depends on your tradition. For the sake of time, let’s just say that a sacrament in general terms is a ceremony or ritual that has some sort of religious or spiritual significance. But some people take that much more seriously than others. I would argue, though, that most people take it just about as seriously as my two friends who had their kid screaming through the whole thing. They both wanted to do something to mark the occasion of the birth of their child. They wanted family and friends to be there and experience it. They wanted to celebrate and eat and drink.

But it was less about religious tradition and more about all that other stuff.

For the house was filled with Catholics, all kinds of Protestants, and plenty of agnostics/atheists and non-religious folks.

What is this?

What are we going to do?

The water ceremony—at least for me—is more about identity and community than anything else. I said this to the whole group gathered: it takes a whole village to raise a child. I asked them to agree to be part of that village. I asked mom and dad to agree to give freedom to their kid to explore spirituality and to ask questions. I asked the godparents be honest and to be mentors.

And I reminded everybody that this crying baby was….a baby. All of this won’t be remembered. He will have no recollection of the so-called sacrament. Even one day when he’s older and people show him pictures, he will still not directly connect to that experience.

So what was this?

It was, in all honesty, a moment for the adults—the friends and family—to embrace each other and their commitment to be the village that raises the kid.

And what will they do?

That question is yet to be answered. The kid, as he grows up, will answer with his own life. His family and friends will answer by how they accept and love him, mentor him, and teach him.

Fortunately for him, it’s quite possible that he will never again have some strange guy rub water on his head or say strange words while he’s crying.

You know, Jesus was baptized, too, but it was a lot different. It’s a story told by all 4 Gospels. Jesus wasn’t a baby, but an adult. And there was no ordained clergy to put water on his head in the name of the Trinity or whatever. Jesus’ baptism story must have been strange, because all 4 Gospels tell a very different version of the same event.

Kind of makes we wonder if this cartoon about Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount is right:
funny-pictures-auto-scumbag-jesus-469460Yep. The Gospels of the NT often tell very different versions of the same story. Why? In storytelling, the audience matters. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s Gospels were all written for and to different people. So each Gospel tells its own story so as to make sense to the hearers.

Matthew’s version includes a unique dialogue between John and Jesus. John is hesitant to baptize Jesus. “No, Jesus, I should be baptized by you—not the other way around.” It’s almost like a “you first, no you first” kind of kid’s game. Well, that happens until Jesus reassures John that it’s okay for John to be the baptizer. Jesus literally tells John: Release it. Let it go. All the ideas of hierarchical relationships—who should baptize, who should be baptized, religious rites, etc.—let it go. This is a clear attempt by Matthew to address some controversy in the early church. You see, some people were uncomfortable with Jesus being baptized by someone else. That would imply John in the role of priest and Jesus as underneath John. At least, that was their worldview.

But that’s not all. Many wondered: isn’t baptism supposed to be reserved for sinners? So how in the world could Jesus be baptized? Some people believed that Jesus was without sin. So to them, this makes no sense!

Matthew’s Gospel is of course making a point—or at least trying to. Unfortunately, many so-called religious people limit the waters of baptism to a chosen few—people they choose. But Jesus, in Matthew’s story, contradicts that. Water [and baptism] is for everyone. It’s for all who are not perfect.

And that’s everyone.

Jesus is on the same level as us; he is immersed in water just like anybody else; he identifies as real person. The heavens open, but not to prove some sort of religious doctrine or to fit into church hierarchy.

The heavens open to mark the occasion as important, for sure. Pay attention, world. God doesn’t show favoritism. God is pleased because God desires for humans to understand identity. God is not some cold, non-empathetic deity equipped with rotating, exploding judgment lightning bolts, although that might be a cool anime movie.
GodInstead, God understands suffering, and crying, and doubt, and fear, and love, and curiosity, and confusion, and humanity…as it is.

People have tried for so long [and still try] to say that God only loves some people and only cares about my people and not them; and people still say this person who is gay or lesbian or Arab or from another land or speaking a different language or someone who is just plain different is outside of grace and mercy.

What is this?

What are we going to do?

Here’s the thing—if someone is never baptized formally in a church or even in a house—this is not really important.

Now some people will NOT like this on FB or repost this, for sure. But questions are much more important than the ceremony.

And how we treat people is way more important than baptism.

So what is this water?

stillwaterWater itself is a flowing, renewing, refreshing source of life for all living things—including us. When babies are well, babies—they are almost ALL water [75-78%]. That’s why they are so squishy. Water is part of our physical makeup. The rest of us are 50-60% water. We need it in order to survive. When the heavens open, so to speak, water comes down in the form of rain or snow.

So if you need to, forget the word baptism. Forget the word sacrament.

But remember to notice water.

Water is a sign of life. And water is provided for the whole planet.

Water should be available to everybody in the world.

The fact that some people in our world do not have access to water is a sign of our degrading humanity and our need to change. Water itself is essential—not to be a symbol for religions to argue about—but as a physical source of life.

And focus on identity. Because the second question of what will we do is one we must ask every day of our lives. It doesn’t matter if you’re an infant, a kid, a youth, or an adult. I think that God still speaks to anyone and everyone. Yes, we all talk about that differently and that’s fine. But I do think that God is still communicating with us. And I do think that God is pleased with people as they are. There is no hierarchy in humanity. We have created this lie ourselves. No one is more important than another, no one loved more or blessed more. We don’t have to wear white outfits or jump through religious hoops for God to love and accept us.

God is pleased with how you are you.

If you have ever been made to feel or have ever been told that the waters of healing, compassion, and purpose aren’t meant for you, then let the water wash over you. Put those harmful words aside. Let them go. Anyone who excludes certain people is just trying to control the water.

But the water is strong and free to flow and move as it will.

Just as God’s love is free to flow and move as it will.

I was at a Bat Mitzvah yesterday, and the girl chose this poem to be read in her rite of passage ceremony. It is a beautiful way to finish this.

200px-Lucille_cliftonLucille Clifton’s poem, blessing the boats:

 May the tide that is entering
Even now the lip of our understanding
Carry you out beyond the face of fear
May you kiss the wind then turn from it certain
That it will love your back
May you open your eyes to water
Water waving forever
And may you in your innocence sail through this to that

Water you can notice every day. It pours from the sky and comes up from the ground. It is not limited to a sacrament or a building or a church. Water is the still speaking, still flowing creator at work. And so be baptized, sprinkled, immersed, washed, refreshed and renewed by it every day. And be inspired to love, to show compassion to others…and be inspired to forgive. Because we are all filled with and surrounded by water….all of us. May the rivers carry us on our journey and lead us to live with love. May the still speaking and flowing water move through us and be shared with all creation.

 

Giving Up Your Seat = Empathy

Luke 14:1-14

QUESTION: What is the worst seat you have ever had? Consider a concert, opera, game, classroom, etc.

What is the best seat you have ever had?

a-place-at-the-tableHere we are in Luke’s Gospel, and Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem. Like a previous story about a bent-over woman, here we find a story in which a person is suffering from some sort of illness and then a healing takes place.

BACKGROUND ALERT: Jesus is warned about Herod of Antipas, the ruler of the region called Galilee. At this point in the journey, Jesus’ ideas have become dangerous to political leaders. Surprisingly, the Pharisees actually seem to be protecting Jesus from a possible threat. In spite of the danger, Jesus continues on.

And, like in Luke’s previous story about a bent-over woman, it is the Sabbath day.

Jesus goes to the home of a Pharisee for a meal. As I have mentioned before, in the 1st century in the Middle East, dinners were about more than just food. Great discussions [and debates] about politics, social issues, and religion would take place. Also, keep in mind that one who was hosting such a dinner would obviously invite people of the same social class [or higher], so as to guarantee an invite later on to a dinner at their house. People of low income levels would not have the home to offer so they would not be invited to such a dinner. They could not return the favor.

But we cannot ignore the man with dropsy, who is healed, on the Sabbath.

This man seems to be the male version of the healing story about the bent-over woman. Both stories occur on the Sabbath and in front of the Pharisees. So what is dropsy? The Greek word for dropsy is hudropikos, which is a derivation of the word for water. Dropsy carries with it symptoms of fluid retention and strangely, also great thirst. It’s not a disease really—just a side effect of another health problem. Just like with the bent-over woman, we do not know exactly what is causing his symptoms.

What we do know is that he is thirsty for the thing that he has the most of: water. A sad irony, don’t you think? He is retaining too much water, but is constantly thirsty.

Jesus asks the Pharisees a question, which we can probably guess the answer to:
Is it lawful to heal someone on the Sabbath?

The Pharisees give no answer, though we can assume what many of them were thinking:
The Law says that one cannot work on the Sabbath.

So I guess the answer is no.

Then, the example of the wedding feast.

At the dinner table, always sit at the worst seat in the house—never the best seat.
At first, it seems that Jesus is giving the Pharisees some good advice as to how to be falsely humble.

Sure! I’ll take the worst seat at the table, and then, later on, someone will move me up to the best seat. Sounds great!

But as Jesus continues on, it becomes clear that his point has nothing to do with false humility.

Jesus’ point is all about empathy.

The great reversal, as it is called, that the last will be first and vice versa—is about empathy. Do not identify just with your own social class, but with those who you call poor; those you call marginalized; those you call unclean. Identify. Empathize with them.

Invite them to your dinners and give them the best seats. Give up your own seat, even though they won’t repay you. There is nothing that you will get out of it, actually. The world and its social order will reject this behavior. No one will applaud your efforts, you won’t get an award or your name in the paper, and you won’t get more money or status out of it.

In fact, the only thing that comes out of it is that you will participate in God’s kingdom on earth. In other words, God already says that all people are equal. There are no social classes in God’s eyes. So the great equalizing God asks this of you in order to display God’s mercy and love—give up your seat. Empathize.

So another question for you: who do you usually welcome?

Your families, right? Or, on occasion, you might invite over a good friend, too, or someone you haven’t seen in a long time who just moved into the area. Okay, and let’s admit, sometimes we invite someone over because they invited us, and so we feel obligated. Like the Pharisees, an invitation to our home often has more to do with an exchange of favors than empathy.

And, even if we “invite” someone into our lives who is a so-called “poor” person or someone who is “marginalized” we often do it with the hope of salvation in mind—some sort of heavenly reward.

This is why I’m not a big believer in altruism, or the idea that we as people can act completely unselfishly when we help another. For each time we help someone, we are helped, too. We feel better and useful and when we see someone go from sad to content because we helped her, this gives us satisfaction. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, of course. This positive, pay-it-forward kind of idea can have a wonderful impact on our corners of the world. We help someone with his/her best interest in mind; that person helps us, too.

But for Jesus, the expectation of reward is the problem.

We are not entitled. Oh boy…

ohno

No reward that we should expect if we are to truly empathize. The resurrection of the righteous is not about an express ticket to heaven. It is about new life [resurrection] for all of God’s children.

When we invite those who are left out and pushed down, we empathize with them. We choose to say and show that they are just like us. We choose to say to the world that salvation is not reserved for us. We exhibit controversial, uncomfortable behavior when we radically accept people as they are.

Sadly, we live in a world that promotes an opposite idea [and many churches do, too]. We are not encouraged to empathize with others, but instead we are encouraged to stay close to those who are just like us. The media often portrays a so-called “Christian” perspective that is suspicious of this kind of empathy that leads to social justice—especially if it means giving up a good seat at the table. In fact, recently, a well-known television commentator addressed U.S. Christians, instructing them to avoid at all costs and to run away from “those churches that talk about or promote social justice.” Wow.

But friends, don’t let this kind of nonsense or propaganda make you apathetic.

We are called by Christ to be inclusive and to welcome all to our tables. We cannot say or claim the word “gospel” unless we are welcoming the stranger, the foreigner, and the outsider.

We cannot preach, teach, or live gospel unless we welcome the gay man who was sent to “conversion camp” to get rid of his “gayness”;
or the two women who have loved each other for 13 years and still cannot get married;
the boy who learns differently than the other kids and needs more attention;
the young man who just got out of prison;
the young woman who battles addiction each day of her life;
the people of Syria who are dying and suffering;
the people of Egypt who are mourning;
the families split apart in the Sudan;
the family here in the U.S. that is undocumented and discriminated against;
the Muslim communities in NY or elsewhere who are spied on;
the atheist or the agnostic who has been spiritually wounded;
the teenager searching for acceptance and love in a cruel world.

Friends, we are made in the image of the still-speaking, still-welcoming God.

We have been given a place at the table. Grace and mercy are the place settings.

All of you are invited to the feast of great compassion by God.

So may your life be a table.

And may our tables be radically inclusive.

May our tables be set with no rewards in mind.

May the movement of the welcoming Spirit invade our personal space.

May we always invite those who will not return the favor.

May our church always reserve the best seats for those in great need.

May we choose to empathize with others and accept them as they are.

May our lives be inclusive tables. Amen.

Tag Cloud

My Journey 2 My Peace

Overcoming Anxiety and learning to live Positively

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Silence Teaches Us Who We Are

Silence, Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Jesus, God, and Life.

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On the road to change the world...

myrandomuniverse

a philosophical, analytic, occasionally snarky but usually silly look at the thoughts that bounce around....

"Journey into America" documentary

Produced by Akbar Ahmed

Interfaith Crossing

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Prussel's Pearls

An Actor's Spiritual Journey

The Theological Commission's Grand, Long-Awaited Experiment

Modeling Civility Amidst Theological Diversity

a different order of time

the work of a pastor

learn2practice

mood is followed by action

Imago Scriptura

Images & Thoughts from a Christian, Husband, Father, Pastor

the living room.

117 5th Street, Valley Junction__HOURS: M 9-5, TW 7-7, TH 7-9, F 7-7, S 8-5, S 9-4

the view from 2040

theological education for the 21st century