Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘being’

Being

Matthew 5:1-12

hatenohomeWhat do I do now?
How can I be a kind, loving, and authentic person in this moment?

Pertinent and difficult questions.

You see, I can only imagine what it was like for the more than half a million people who participated in the women’s march on Washington D.C. last Saturday, January, 21st, 2017. I can only imagine what it was like to have marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and 200,000 others on August 28, 1963, for the rally known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I can only imagine what it was like for people to give up their careers, religious practice, and in some cases, their families—to follow Jesus of Nazareth. I am not being overly dramatic. Sometimes we forget the privileges we have. I have never experienced war. No one has come to my house, telling me that I am now relocated and must leave at that very moment. I have never been told that my gender identification or expression is not acceptable at the workplace or that it is not “right” or not “of god.” And I have never been denied the right to marry a person I love, just because I’m gay. I have not been told that because I’m from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen or Mexico that I’m not welcome here, and that I may be a terrorist or a criminal or a “job stealer.” I have never been told what I can or cannot do with my body, as women are.

What do I do now?
How can I be a kind, loving, and authentic person in this moment?

This is what I am asking right now, today, in this very moment.

I’m not alone and nor are you. Others are asking these questions. So much of what we see, read, and hear is negative, heavy, and divisive. Some of it is even fake. How much is positive, uplifting, and bridge-building? As I reflected on the amazingly under-quoted beatitudes of Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew’s Gospel, I wondered:

What do I do now?
How can I be a kind, loving, and authentic person in this moment?

You see, author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote:

“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. ‘Blessed are the merciful’ in a courtroom? ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”

It’s true, you know. Where are these “attitudes” of “being” in our lives?

Let’s remove the spiritual veil from them. In Matthew’s story, Jesus goes up a mountain, just like Moses would when he spoke with Yahweh. So what is to follow is big. But it wasn’t really a mountain probably, but a plain–a raised hill, and there were not 200,000 or half a million people as at famous D.C. marches. Those gathered were Jesus’ closest disciples and they needed to hear Jesus’ urgent plea for how they would be in the world.

What were they to do now?
How could they be kind, loving, and authentic people in that moment?

You see, remember that this story in Matthew was written after the fact. Those who wrote this already knew what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. He was arrested, tortured, and killed. They wrote that with this in mind.

What were they to do now?
How could they be kind, loving, and authentic people in that moment?

What follows is beauty, at least I think so. Jesus says that there are certain people who are “blessed” or better yet, “risk-takers and well-traveled, and favored by Yahweh.” But notice that they are not the rich, or the religious, or successful, or the strong, or the full, or the powerful, or the loud voices or the war-seekers and makers. In the beatitudes according to Jesus, you don’t have to be famous, rich, or powerful to be blessed. In fact, no. You don’t have to be born in a prosperous country to be blessed. You don’t have to be considered “normal” or even “American” to be blessed. In God’s eyes, those who are blessed and favored are those who are on the margins.

And those who love those on the margins are following Jesus.

I know it is a critical time. I realize that for many this is a scary and uncertain time. But we cannot give into fear or apathy. Today we must ask:

What do I do now?
How can I be a kind, loving, and authentic person in this moment?

This matters to your family, your school, your church, your community, the world.

Those of us who identify as followers of this Jesus, we are called to BE people who love our neighbors even when our government says they are not welcome; we are called to be with the vulnerable and to welcome the stranger, regardless of which country they come from, what religion they practice, or what is the popular sentiment at the time. As my colleague and mentor, the founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel recently wrote:

“It’s the time for us. It’s the moment for us. How we respond to it is how this story turns out.”

 What will we do now? How will be kind, loving, and authentic people in this moment?

No Jesus Allowed in Church!

Luke 4:21-30

In Jesus of Nazareth’s time and culture, favors for your hometown, your family, and your closest friends were commonplace. I don’t think it’s far-fetched for you or me to understand or resonate with this in 2016, wherever you are.

Have you ever moved away from where you were raised?
Did you ever return?
What was it like?

I don’t know what your personal experience with this has been like, but I have heard about the experiences of many others, and when I reflect on my own life, something stands out:

It’s not easy to go back. Sometimes returning to your old social circles, hangouts, and interacting once again with people who knew you as a kid can be difficult and stressful. Why? Because your family and your old friends have expectations. They remember you in a certain way and expect you to behave in a certain way. And, let me add that if you have distanced yourself from where you grew up, and have experienced the world and expanded your perspective, it can be even more difficult to return.

cartoonExpectations

And if you have experienced success or made a name for yourself elsewhere, well, things can get tricky.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories about professional athletes running into trouble when they go back home. All of a sudden, people are appearing out of nowhere, asking for money or for autographs or tickets or favors. There’s a reason why some people who have successful and lucrative careers don’t even tell many people in their family or social circles that they have such success. They are afraid that it will negatively impact their relationships. People will treat them differently. They will expect things.

Manny-Pacquiao

Pretty sure Manny Pacquiao knows about it.

Well, this is what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. It was inevitable, really. Nazareth boy makes it big. He was becoming a celebrity. And now, returning to the place where he was raised, people of the town wanted something in return. Shouldn’t some of that blessing that others were receiving outside of Nazareth now come to them? Shouldn’t “their” Jesus do some favors, sign some autographs, hook them up with front row tix, or share some of his prosperity and fame? Didn’t he owe that to Nazareth?

And this is why there is no Jesus allowed in church.

Okay, What????????????

Yeah. No Jesus in church. The Nazareth man canNOT stay there or even return there.
Why?

Because the institutional church, created after Jesus was long gone from this earth, is in no way shape or form the kind of beloved community that Jesus sought to create and sustain. The institutional church has expectations for Jesus and wants favors from God. In return for services rendered, the church waits for Jesus to deliver on his promises. The institution uses symbols like the cross, sacrament rituals, and doctrines to claim superiority over those who are not part of the church. The church even believes that it is chosen, somehow better than others, and therefore the blessings of God better rain down…or else.

coolJesus And sadly, this is why the institutional church often resorts to some of the junk that we see today—demonizing certain types of people like Muslims, gay or lesbian people, transgender people, black or brown people, women, poor people, or immigrants, etc. It’s so much easier for the institution to be “high and mighty” and entitled if it criticizes others and makes them lesser. It’s classic bullying on a larger scale.

And this is why Jesus doesn’t belong in the institutional church. Because he hung out with outsiders and he taught others to do the same. Jesus wasn’t part of a good old boys network, nor did he indicate that certain communities were more deserving of blessings or prosperity.

Jesus wouldn’t be a Christian if he lived in this society.

The Gospels speak to this. In Luke’s Gospel story, Jesus is a prophet. Prophets, in Jesus’ case, come to the aid of the widow, the poor, and the marginalized. Prophets don’t favor the rich, the religious, or the elites. The prophet Jesus doesn’t even favor his hometown family and friends. No special treatment. There’s no loyalty involved.

And so you can see why this ticked off people in the town synagogue. Luke’s story gets harsh, as the people want to throw Jesus off a cliff! But I don’t think it is hyperbole. They were full of wrath because they wanted favors and blessings and Jesus basically told them that they weren’t special. Their Jesus from Nazareth was now a celebrity and they wanted their piece of the pie. But Jesus wasn’t having it. Now that isn’t to say that these local folks held no importance, but instead, they were part of a greater whole, a larger world, a planet with lots of other people, animals, plants, and living things. To assume that they deserved more or were entitled to blessings was contrary to how Jesus was trying to build community.

This really makes me think. As it is getting ever closer to a Presidential election in the U.S., there is so much noise about who deserves what and why. Even politicians themselves feel entitled to hold a certain position or to make decisions that can affect so many people. Also, at the heart of modern-day politics is lobbying by various groups and organizations for their cause—in exchange, of course, for campaign contributions and votes. It’s an obviously-skewed and imperfect system, because even if a candidate promises to help a certain demographic of people and then accepts campaign donations and gets their votes—he/she may or may not follow through on the promises made. Political TV dramas like House of Cards illustrate this flawed way of relating to each other, based on favors and expectations, showing the emptiness of it all.

houseofcards.jpgSo I wonder how our individual lives would change [and then eventually our communities and the people around us] if we didn’t seek after favors and blessings and felt that we were NOT entitled?

What if our spiritual practices were not about getting something, but instead about being something?

What if we looked around us and cared more about the people who are left out, pushed aside, left empty, and bullied?

If we committed ourselves to being this way in our everyday lives, we would positively impact those around us. If we committed ourselves to being this way in our faith communities, we would be relevant, purposeful, and thriving.

So may your spiritual practices help you be a whole, grateful, and loved person.

May that being spill out into your workplace and your school; may it overflow into your relationships with family, friends, and strangers.

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