Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘becoming’

Water, Light, Spirit…BEGIN!


Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Water is essential for life.

Image result for water is life

Without water, we die. Without water, there is no life. Period.

Look around the world right now and you’ll notice that there are far too many people who struggle to survive…because they don’t have access to drinking water.

844 million people don’t have clean water.
(WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report 2017)

31% of schools don’t have clean water.
(UNICEF, Advancing WASH in Schools Monitoring, 2015)

Every minute a newborn dies from infection caused by lack of safe water and an unclean environment.
(WHO, 2015)

Worldwide, 1 out of every 5 deaths of children under 5 is due to a water-related disease.

And here’s the thing—access to water affects a person’s whole life. If a kid, for example, has access to clean water, he/she does not need to travel miles to fetch water. That kid can then stay in school and get an education. Also, with clean water, disease and sickness is lessened, and the child can grow up healthy with access to more opportunities. And, with clean water access comes better food security and reduction of hunger. Access to water can break the cycle of poverty.

Now for many living in the U.S., water scarcity is not a thing. Many of us used to think that that kind of thing happened in far away places like Sub-Saharan Africa. And then Flint, Michigan happened. You remember that? Also, as recently as last year, there were a few days in certain Philadelphia suburbs when the water was unsafe to drink due to septic issues. Imagine if that problem were to last weeks, months, even a year?

Many of us take water for granted. It’s coming out of our faucets, shower heads, flushing our toilets, and making our coffee. But what if you had to travel miles on foot just to have access to water? How would that change your view of it? Water would become precious to you. Water would become life for you. Water would be more valuable than money.

We ought to view water in this way—as a precious treasure, and something that all people [and all living things] deserve access to. For without it, life is no more.

I hope that you can embrace water as a tangible thing but also as a symbol of life, of wholeness. For that is what a small story found in all four canonical Gospels is all about—water.

You may have heard of this tale. Jesus of Nazareth, now a grownup, heads to the river Jordan in the middle of nowhere to meet up with this crazy preacher named John. Now, there’s context here, right? John is Elizabeth’s kid, and Elizabeth is somehow related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Were they cousins? Very possible. But the Gospels seem to point out that John and Jesus didn’t know each other yet. How could that be? Well, it’s possible that when King Herod was trying to kill all the first-born sons of Judah back in the day that while Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus to Egypt, maybe Elizabeth and Zechariah and John went somewhere else to hide. Perhaps Jesus and John grew up apart from each other. And then, it’s possible that Jesus heard about this crazy preacher by the river Jordan and wanted to meet him. It’s possible. But we really don’t know. What we do know is that the first version of this story, in Mark, is shorter and just says that Jesus traveled from Nazareth to where John was and got baptized, i.e. submerged in the water of the river. Then, the heavens opened [I’ve always taken this to mean that it may have rained], and then the Spirit came down [fluttering like a bird] and a voice told Jesus that he was a pretty good dude.

But the later Gospel writers added some commentary, because honestly, this story is problematic. I mean, think about it—many people believed [and still believe] that Jesus of Nazareth was without sin. So, why in the world would a sinless Jesus need to be baptized by John, who was doing that so as to forgive people’s sins? Um, yeah. So the later Gospels try to explain it away and in my opinion, they fail at it. I actually think this whole “sin” thing isn’t the point of the story at all.

The point is the water.

Image result for water

See, John and Jesus were doing the same thing, in their own ways. They were preaching and teaching what the ancient Hebrew prophets did, like Isaiah, telling anyone who would listen that the world was messed up, out of balance, and injust [especially to the vulnerable and marginalized], and that Yahweh had just about had it. Time to repent [which means turn around], time for a 180 and the water was a symbol of that. You submerge yourself in that river, you make a decision to move forward in a new way. You leave behind whatever was dragging you down. You commit to being just and compassionate to others. You decide to be just and compassionate with yourself.

The water is the tangible element in nature that everyone needs to survive. There is not one single living thing on this earth that doesn’t know about water. Every day water is part of our lives. So it’s the perfect, universal, tangible symbol for something that may seem not so universal or tangible—the Spirit.

See, many read this story as Jesus’ big moment when God pretty much certifies Jesus as the Messiah and some type of demi-god. In fact, that’s what most people wanted. Truth be told, if you read the whole story in the Gospels, John had his own views about who the Messiah would be. We have NO IDEA how John really reacted to meeting Jesus. We just know from the earlier story in Mark that John baptized Jesus. And then they went their separate ways. So make your own conclusions.

But what resonates for me is what is consistent in the story—the water. The water changes the people who are baptized in the Jordan river. The water changes Jesus of Nazareth. After the water, Jesus launches a movement of ragtag, poor, marginalized people who promote justice, peace, and love. They go from town to town, and eventually make it to the epicenter, Jerusalem.  The water-spirit drives them there, keeps them together, motivates them when they lose momentum, fills them when they feel empty.

The last thing I’ll say about this story is that the voice coming from heaven was mostly likely heard by lots of people. In other words, don’t take the story so literally that you see these events as happening all in the same linear time frame. The voice was meant for Jesus, yes, but was also meant to be heard by others, and was also meant to be heard by you and me in 2019, reading this story.

Because we’re invited to the water ourselves.

We’re invited there no matter how long it takes us to get there, or where we come from, or who we call ourselves. We are invited to the water, invited to submerge ourselves in it, to feel its drops trickle down our face, to feel the sensation of cool water in the middle of a hot desert. Yes, we’re invited to the water and we NEED this water to live. It turns us around, it reminds us of who we are and who we are becoming, and then we just might have a chance to embrace this Spirit-thing that is sometimes hard to understand or accept. The voice is also for you and for me, for all of us, telling us that we are just fine as we are made, we are beloved as-is, but that also at any time we can go back to this water and make a change.

We can turn around. We can do a 180. We can keep becoming.

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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.

Image result for self help books
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!!!!!!

Image result for terrible twos
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.

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