Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘change’

April Fools!

John 20:1-2; 11-18

Easter-EggsOPEN
April Fools’ Day is perfectly timed this year, don’t you think? Now look, I’ve been fooled more than enough times on April 1st—mostly by my dad, who is notorious for doing this. One year, when I was 12 years old, my dad somehow managed to put red dots all over my face with a marker while I was sleeping the night before. I woke up on April 1st, went downstairs for breakfast, and my parents said: “Gee, Josh, you look like you broke out in a rash or acne or something. You better go check by looking in the mirror.” So my 12-year-old paranoia got the best of me and I ran to the bathroom, took one look in the mirror,

AND FREAKED THE HECK OUT.

I could tell you some other stories, but that’s enough triggering for now. This is also what I like to call “low-lying-fruit-for-lazy-pastors-who-think-they’re-funny” day, because I guarantee that there are thousands of sermonizers leading with an April Fools’ prank or joke of some kind, and then the inevitable statement at the end that God played the ultimate April Fool’s joke by raising Jesus from the dead…blah, blah, blah….

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I just couldn’t resist.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to talk with you about resurrection and how it pertains to your personal story being sacred in and of itself, and how we are given a chance [if we risk it] to resurrect/reinvent ourselves periodically.

But let’s back up for a moment.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we give meaning to things.

You know what I’m getting at? Example: you slip and fall on the ice and bruise your tailbone [ouch] and miss a couple of days at work or school. You think, while your bum is healing, about what it all means. Did I fall because I was distracted? Is this supposed to teach me something? Am I supposed to slow down, work less, appreciate the small things more? Should I get different shoes?

What does this mean?

And so, you assign meaning to the fall on the ice. But really, if we’re honest here, did it mean anything? You slipped on some ice that you probably could not see and anybody walking that same patch of ground would also slip. You fell because your feet whipped out from under you, causing you to try to get back your balance, and you ended up falling on your rear end as a result of it, because your body and mind prevented you from hitting your head [which would have been much worse]. You simply slipped and fell on some ice. That’s what happened–if we don’t judge the event or try to give it meaning.

We assign meaning to things all the time, don’t we? And we certainly do it in the sacred/religious stories that we have heard for a long time, don’t we?

Case in point–I’m guessing that all of you have differing views about the stories in the NT Gospels [in this case John] about Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection. Your meaning-making started the first time you heard this story and hasn’t ended since then. So let’s have some fun. Let’s look at John’s story like the slip and fall story on the ice, shall we? What actually happened?  Let’s address that first, and then we’ll circle back to meaning-making later.

First, Jesus died. He dead body was put inside a cave and wrapped in burial clothes.

It was the first day of the week [could be Saturday or Sunday in our calendars], still dark before sunrise, and Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ followers and friends, went to the cave. She noticed that the stone that was supposed to cover the entrance to the cave had been removed. She found some other friends of Jesus like Simon Peter and told them what she saw. They immediately assumed some people who didn’t like Jesus took his body out of the cave, and now they didn’t know where to look.

Mary then went back to the tomb and started crying. Through her teary eyes she did notice that two figures dressed in white were sitting where Jesus’ body used to be. They asked her why she was crying. Mary repeated the new version of the story that the men came up with: “Some people took Jesus’ body and we don’t know where!”

Just then, a gardener showed up and also asked her why she was crying and who she was looking for. Mary assumed that this gardener might have had something to do with it and so she asked him for the location of Jesus’ body. Then the gardener spoke her name:

Mary!

And Mary realized that she was looking at Jesus of Nazareth. So she called him by his name: teacher, which was what he was to her. Jesus told her not to hold onto him [literally, let me go] but to tell her friends that Jesus was going to be with Abba God. Mary Magdalene went and told everybody that she had seen her teacher Jesus and all that he had said to her.

Now, back to meaning-making.

I will challenge you and encourage you to assign less meaning to the story, less meaning to this day called Easter, and more meaning to your everyday life.

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The thing is, dear friends, when we assign great meaning to one thing or one day, other things [and people] become less meaningful.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you go to a beautiful sanctuary or basilica or temple with the sole purpose of experiencing God. Well, if the place is awe-inspiring to you, the place will have great meaning for you. Outside of that building, though, you will assign less meaning to your daily experiences of work, school, home, etc. It applies to any and every religious ceremony or worship experience—if the music or the message or the ritual or the atmosphere make you feel the presence of God much more than other times and places, you assign great meaning to that worship service or ritual. And other times and places have less meaning.

And I will argue that this is contrary to what Jesus taught and lived and contrary to what resurrection is all about.

Consider that at the last meal Jesus had with his friends, they shared bread and wine and community, and Jesus pretty much said goodbye and now do this on your own. Love one another. Seek out those who are lost and suffering and love them too. Share your bread and wine and sit at table with them. It wasn’t about feeling some intense emotion about the ritual of Communion each time you eat crackers and drink grape juice. There was no more meaning in the ritual than brushing your teeth.

And it’s the same for resurrection.

Resurrection is meant to be a daily, ongoing activity. It’s not a one-shot deal, a one-time event. It’s not a thing reserved for religious myths and stories, Easter parades and hymns, or special prayers and ceremonies. Resurrection, this beautiful-amazing-chaotic-universal idea is in seeing yourself as new. It is about not ignoring the suffering or pain you’ve experienced or are experiencing. It is embracing all of it—all that you are and feel and experience–as holy. In this way all the places and times in your daily life are meaningful. And God is present in all of it—in the crap, in the darkness, in the pain, the doubt, the melancholy, the joy, the laughter, the tears, the coming out, the staying in, the celebrating, and the mourning.

Because notice in the story that those who followed Jesus of Nazareth “saw” the resurrected Jesus in many different ways, according to who they were and where they were. But in every case, the resurrected Jesus told them to let go of the past and to start to live their lives as resurrected people.

This is the shift in paradigm and in meaning-making. Resurrection isn’t limited to a sacred book or a story or one person or one day. Resurrection, like the Spirit, is loose in the world, and is happening in each of us.

We don’t have to be the same every day.

We don’t have to be loyal to old paradigms. We have the freedom to let our curiosity run wild, to explore and to discover more about ourselves and what living is, no matter what stage of life we are in.

So may your hours and days all have meaning. May your sacred spaces be everywhere you roam. And may you embrace the possibility of resurrection as an ongoing process, surprising you and shaping you. And may you recognize the daily lives of others as sacred and holy and meaningful—all of it.

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Restored to Wholeness: Full Self

Mark 1:29-34a

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

I’m inspired periodically by those of you with the courage to be yourselves.

I mean it—most people are not themselves. In fact, we spend most of our lives trying to fit into other people’s categories or playing characters we think others have written for us to play.

Image result for be yourselfThere are lots of reasons for this—psychological, emotional, physical, and cognitive. As humans, we are constantly creating and re-creating reality as we see it and feel it and how we think about it as individuals. We are not stuck with one framework of our human existence; on the contrary, we are moving through stages and developing new frameworks. Though we often assume such things are true about human existence when we are children and youth, this re-framing of our identity and the world can and does continue throughout adulthood.

So allow me to return to what I said at the very start: I’m encouraged, inspired by people with the courage to be themselves.

The reason I say that is because there seems to be so much around us that discourages this framing and re-framing of self, and of this expressing of a self that is truer to who we are. There seem to be more boxes these days for people to try to fit into. All this does is make us feel inadequate, anxious, or sad. At our core I do think we wish to be free—free to change/adapt/evolve in our own way—to express ourselves as we are.

Perhaps part of the problem with the society that we have created is that, overall, it is a society based on specializations and not the whole self. If you are a teacher, for example, you are specialized/categorized according to the subject you teach or age group/academic level/demographic you deal with. As a “teacher” you are not a teacher of the whole; in other words, you are not expected to consider the spiritual, mental, physical, emotional, and social state of each student. You are charged with teaching a subject or a theme and hopefully you will see certain outcomes in the student’s learning. The same goes for many doctors, care practitioners, clergy, and therapists, who increasingly specialize. I am not making a judgment either way, just observing. We rarely focus on the whole person. The whole self.

There is fragmentation.

Image result for fragmentation of selfAnd I think that this fragmentation in society contributes to a fragmentation of self. In other words, if most structures and social groups around you are very specialized and categorized, you had better be specialized and categorized also, if you hope to fit in. For example, most religious communities are homogeneous—people in those communities tend to vote for the same political candidates, look similar, speak the same language, etc.

I’ll continue to speak out against this, because I think this is where churches and other religious institutions have failed. We’re not meant to create fragmented and homogeneous communities, we’re meant to embrace the differences and uniqueness of each other, wherever we are on life’s journey. That’s what makes this community special and courageous to me.

Case in point—in the faith community I work with some of them do not identify with one particular gender. Some are in transition. Others identify with various parts of the sexuality spectrum. Some people identify as Black, or as African-American, and some don’t. Among our partners and members some identify as Mexican, or Latin American or Latino or Latinx, some don’t. Some identify as Korean or Filipino or Asian-American. Some don’t. Some identify with a particular religious tradition and say I’m Muslim, or Hindu, or Jewish, or Jain, Sikh, Christian, Baha’i, or Hare Krishna. Or I’m agnostic, secular humanist, Wiccan or otherwise.

Actually, if we step back and think about it, why is this even an issue?

So what? There are some of us who don’t identify with the gender given at birth. Okay. So what? There are some of us who are attracted to males, or to females, or to both. Okay. So what? Some of us don’t’ really identify as any specific gender. All right. So what? Some of us don’t identify ourselves by skin color or nationality or religion, and some do. Okay. The only reason this IS an issue, friends, is because we’ve stopped thinking about our whole humanity and we’ve specialized and made categories that we must fit into. Without those “required” categories, we wouldn’t care how someone identified themselves or didn’t.

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And that leads me to another Gospel story where we find Jesus of Nazareth encountering someone in need of healing, in need of restoration to her true self. She was categorized, too. She is Simon’s Mother-in-law and that’s all we get. She’s a woman, and so, her name isn’t given in the story. She has a fever and is laid up in bed. Jesus goes to her, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. The fever leaves her and she begins to serve. Well, by “serve” the text means show hospitality to Jesus and those who accompanied him. It was a cultural rule to serve food and drink to those who had traveled distances to your home. At first glance, this story may seem easy pickings for those who want to preach about women being silent in churches and homemakers above all else. But a closer look at the Greek [and our own bias] may help. First, she is “healed” but the word in Greek translates to “made whole.” The woman is made whole again. She is restored to her true self. When she is made whole, she engages in showing hospitality to Jesus and his followers. Again, this is not some statement about gender and more a cultural expression of what one does when one is grateful or visited by strangers.

See, our bias wants the woman to fit neatly into a gender or cultural role. But really, none of the people Jesus heals in the Gospel stories fit neatly into our categories. So I ask, what if this woman, and all the others who were made whole, were just humans, like any of us? What if this fever-ridden woman was just a human who, when Jesus met her, was taken by the hand, lifted up, and made whole? And what if we sought to do the same with others right now? Friends, there is so much courage, beauty, and encouragement in the lives of people who are seeking to be themselves, even when it’s difficult or not accepted, or the norm. For when we accept someone on their own journey, we also start to see the possibilities we have for evolving, for changing, for being our whole selves.

So whether you’re in the process of transition, or you’re laid up in bed, or if you need a hand to lift you up, or if you’re feeling empty and heavy because you just don’t feel like yourself—know this—you are not made to fit into a box or a category. You are you. And that “you” will keep framing and re-framing and that’s a good thing. And those along your journey of self-discovery who laugh, cry, and celebrate with you not only help and love you, but they are positively impacted by your courage to keep journeying forward.

Progress and Purpose

Mark 1:14-20

Free-yourselfSometimes we see ourselves as only what others tell us, or what the world tells us. Are we just our jobs? Are we just defined by appearance? Are we meant to fit into other people’s boxes?

Or, are we invited to be ourselves in a free-flowing, surprising way? Are we invited to follow the movement of a freeing, creative Spirit that moves us to love and to be loved?

At times, we can feel like we are stumbling around in the dark, and discovering ourselves is difficult. We can feel like Jean Valjean in the story of Les Miserables, asking Who am I and starting out by defining self as the numbers [24601] that society gives us, or the names we are called.

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And so, life can seem monotonous and also heavy, particularly if we feel bombarded/overwhelmed by society’s expectations for us. I think most of us want to believe that we are on a journey, but it can be hard sometimes to sense progress or even know where that journey starts. As kids, adults often tell us to “chase our dreams” and “use our imaginations” but that quickly changes in adolescence and in adulthood, sadly we are told to “stop dreaming” and to “be realistic” or to “settle down.” Fantine, another character in Les Mis, expresses this in the song “I Dreamed a Dream.”

So the idea of waking up to a new reality and way of being, at any age or season of life—can often be looked upon as silly or impossible.

But I don’t think we’re wired that way—to stay the same or to fit into categories.

I think we’re made to be in a state of constant change or evolution or transformation or whatever word you wish to use. Yes, we are made to keep changing, discovering ourselves, and even changing paths, just as the characters in Les Miserables change perspective about their identities, because eventually, Jean Valjean leaves the prisoner number behind and embraces his new identity, and in doing so, discovers light and realizes that to love another person is in fact to see the face of God.

It is this pursuit of identity and light within that identity that dominates the Gospels. In the Gospel stories about Jesus of Nazareth calling people to follow him, it isn’t as we often paint it in Western culture. It’s not like Jesus was going around converting people to a new religion or recruiting people for some type of church. Instead, Jesus was calling people to be alive, and that meant something different for each person. For those fishing in lakes and rivers and oceans for a living, controlled by a Roman tax system and seeing no other options, Jesus offered them a new perspective about life. Perhaps fishing was not all they were capable of doing. Perhaps there was more to their personal narrative and if they were willing to try a new path, rediscover themselves, well, that new existence could be filled with adventure, gratitude, and love.

See, Jesus said that the time was now, that God’s presence was near, and so people could turn their lives around, and experience good news. So what IS good news?

It’s the news that you’re not done.

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It’s the news that your life is a creative, changing, beautiful chaos of connections, mistakes, joys, sorrows, friendships, epiphanies, and wonder. Many, many people keep looking for their purpose in life. They look in their careers or in their families or in a religion or in other places. None of those pursuits are good or bad as long as “purpose” isn’t limited to those things. The journey and the seasons of life are meant to be fluid, creative, and unpredictable. I know some of us need some control and get anxious when things are not set. But I invite you to be open to the possibility of your life not being set in stone, that your identity can change and so can your perspectives.

You are not just what you do in a job or career. You are not just a mom or dad or a student or a grandparent or a single person. Neither are you limited to just one gender expression or identification, or type of love. You are not boxed in by religion or a church or what some weird pastor says. You’re not the mistakes you’ve made, nor any of the things that caused you pain; not the pieces of the dream left behind; you are light. You are not the color of your eyes nor your skin on the outside, not your age or your bank account. Inside you are all light.

Image result for you are light india arie

You are purposefully on a journey of self-discovery. And along the way you will be invited to turn around and experience new perspectives and new people. This is the breath of the Great Spirit, in each and every one of us, moving us and calling us to keep on beginning and failing, to keep on just doing you, going with the flow, gravitating towards love wherever we encounter it. Whatever season of life you are experiencing now, whatever people or society have told you, You are inherently gifted with uniqueness and ability to change, to evolve, to grow. It will look different for each and every one of us. Embrace that. Embrace that change in others.

Living in Trust, Living in Peace

Philippians 4:5-8

Emotional health is hard to come by in a world that seems to discourage trust in a healthy way, especially among many of in our communities who have a history of being marginalized. How can we seek a path out of the destructive patterns that recreate abusive relationships? How can we work towards a future that doesn’t recreate the past? What keeps us from this kind of healthy, holistic living: broken trust. When trust is broken we feel betrayed, alone, even worthless. We can enter into behavior patterns of mistrust, even when people have shown us that they are to be trusted. We can even perpetuate the same patterns in our relationships

Thus, it is essential that we seek restored trust. What are the elements of trust that we look for in a person, in life? What if we pursue and nurture these qualities in our relationships?

So…who was Paul of Tarsus? Good question. Like every author of Biblical literature, there is a lot of speculation and interpretation as to who Paul was. What we do know from other historical documents of the time and other Biblical books, is that Paul spent considerable time in prison. He was accused by the people of Philippi of disturbing their city and promoting customs that were not lawful for them or the Romans to observe. Leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin also sent Paul to trial because they considered him an agitator and a leader of a sect of the Nazarenes. We don’t know for sure, but it’s very possible that Philippians was written while Paul was in prison.

Before I go on, if any of you have any baggage about Paul, i.e. what’s been most likely pushed on you by others, let’s put that on the table first. Some [and maybe that’s you] consider Paul a misogynist, homophobe, and strict legalist. By no means am I claiming that Paul of Tarsus [or any other Biblical authors for that matter] were perfect or extra-inspired, super-holy people, and that’s why they are Biblical authors.

No way.

Paul, like anyone else was a flawed human being and he actually said as much in some of his writings. Now look, I cannot address the whole “against women and gay people” thing in a few sentences and you’ll need to do more thinking and study to come to wise conclusions. What I do know, however, is that women covered their heads in the 1st and 2nd century. It was cultural. This is not a teaching of Paul. Likewise, some of Paul’s closest associates on his missionary journeys and most trusted leaders were women. They were obviously teaching and leading. People who wish to propagate the idea that women cannot be leaders or ordained ministers use Paul as a way to justify their gender bias. And, Paul was not a homophobe. This word and also the word homosexuality did not exist until this century and neither did the concept of sexual orientation. It’s a fact. When Paul mentions in his letter to Rome, unnatural acts, he is speaking of a whole of behaviors [as defined by Greco-Roman culture and Jewish culture]. I point you to Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa and others for a more in-depth look at NT sexuality.

I say all this only so our conversation is not derailed by our biases about Paul of Tarsus. Otherwise, all that follows will not have any relevance. You see, Paul was a Pharisee originally. He was raised with a rigid belief system and set of morals. Most everything was “right” or “wrong.” He was raised to trust in a religious system and eventually to trust a Roman Empire that occupied Israel and spread its cultural and societal norms. But like most people who go through some sort of psychological break, Paul had a life-changing moment. We don’t know if it was a day, a week, or a period of years. Whatever the case, he changed his world view. He no longer trusted being a Pharisee. He no longer trusted the Roman Empire. He found peace and contentment in the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. But that was long after Jesus’ death; Paul never met Jesus. His journey to self-awareness and contentment was not as a follower of Jesus. Perhaps this is why some people can resonate with at least part of Paul’s story. He came from oppressive power and great privilege. At some point he broke away from that and changed. As Jesus did, Paul spent the rest of his days with the marginalized. And in doing so, he found peace within himself. This leads us to a pretty well-known part of Paul’s letter to Philippi, chapter 4.

The phrase “Do not worry about anything” could certainly sound like wishful thinking at first glance. But, as it fits within the original meaning of the Greek language, consider placing it after the first part of this text. In other words:

Be gentle with others, because you really don’t know what they’re going through. In your day-to-day moments, meditate, pray, be grateful. Whatever is honest, just, joyful, beautiful, kind, life-giving—think about these things and pursue these things in your relationships. If you do, a divine, holistic peace that doesn’t fit into society’s or religion’s boxes will fill you and surround you. You will think differently about yourself and others. You won’t judge life and its situations so much because you’ll take them as they are. And anxiety will not control you anymore.

As such, this is not telling you to just push aside your problems and feelings, to ignore suffering, to be complacent and to “don’t worry, be happy.” Instead, this is an invitation to trust those things and people that bring you joy and encouragement, fill you with acceptance and peace. To think about and meditate on such trusted things and people, because the trust is earned. I’m hearing this text giving us all permission to Live into trust and into peace. Life is about Moving forward.

It is about stopping the continual dysfunctional patterns within our lives and relationships.

handscirclepeaceSee, we can try to be healthier, more spiritual, whatever—but we won’t be unless we change. We won’t find peace and wholeness by tweaking this or that or by trying various religious practices or joining clubs or making small lifestyle changes or making New Year’s resolutions. We can continually rearrange things in our lives, but it will never end. Not until we realize who we are at our core.

Are you feeling stuck in a dysfunctional past? If so, why? What relationships and behaviors are keeping you there? How can you move forward?

What drives you in life? Think about these things.

Where have you been hurt? Recognize this.
What qualities in people inspire and encourage you? Meditate on those qualities.

Are We Out of the Woods?

Matthew 4:1-11 NRSV

The 40 days of Lent, for Christians around the world, are an opportunity. Now I don’t know where you are in terms of Christian traditions or Lent. Maybe for you, Lent is a strange word that sounds like the small amount of fuzz in your pants pockets [i.e. lint] or the past tense of a word meaning to borrow. Some of you may have grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, and so Lent may remind you of giving something up, like candy, alcohol, or meat [on certain days]. I also know that many of you have no history with this thing called Lent whatsoever. So let’s focus on the number 40, shall we? And on the journey story of Jesus of Nazareth, which begins with a 40 day period of self-discovery.

And as a help in our own journey of self-discovery, allow me to introduce another story.

wild
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a memoir written by Cheryl Strayed that describes her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 as a journey of self-discovery. Her story was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Cheryl Strayed, at the age of 22, saw her mother die of lung cancer at the age of 45. Afterwards, her family was incredibly distant and disconnected and she began a path of self-destruction, leading to broken relationships and heroin addiction. Four years later, Strayed, with no hiking experience, set out to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail that begins in the Mojave Desert and continues through California and Oregon to the Bridge of the Gods into Washington State. Her story recounts Cheryl’s life before and after this hike, describing her physical challenges and spiritual realizations. Let’s watch the trailer:

Cheryl Strayed’s story is an appropriate one for us to look at during this season. It leads us to Jesus’ story in the Gospel of Matthew. This 40 day journey of Jesus is told by Mark, Luke, and Matthew, though today we are focusing on Matthew’s version, and there are some differences that I need to point out.

First, Matthew’s author says that Spirit “takes Jesus up” into the wilderness, he fasts for forty days and only afterward is he hungry. Matthew’s Gospel was written for a primarily Jewish audience, so no surprise that this version of the story makes two connections with Israel. The number 40 refers to the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and the phrase “forty days and forty nights” refers to Moses in the book of Exodus who was on Mt. Sinai for “forty days and forty nights.”  Further, Matthew’s story defines the character of “the tempter” in various ways, calling him devil, Satan, the evil one, the enemy, prince of demons, and even Beelzebul.

Speaking of the temptations. And no, not the Motown group, though they were AMAZING.

temptationsgroupThis is Jesus’ temptation experience and Matthew switches things up. First, Jesus is told to turn stones [plural] into loaves of bread. Then, Jesus is tempted at the pinnacle of the temple [order change], and lastly, Jesus is tempted up on a mountain [see earlier Exodus/Moses references]. The plural of stones and loaves is important because Matthew is making the point that if Jesus is who he says he is, why not feed the world? Why not use his magic power to do something like that? Jesus rebuffs the temptation by retelling the story of the Israelites in the wilderness and waiting for food, and in that waiting and humility, they were finally able to be ready to receive the manna [bread] that Yahweh provided.

The second test is in Jesus exploiting his supposed religious power as God’s son. This is about the religious elite of Jesus’ day, and how they wielded power over the marginalized of society. Jesus, in Matthew’s story, again refers to Moses, this time to a story in which people were thirsty and Moses asked God to make water flow from a rock.

And lastly, when Jesus is up on a high mountain [so high that he not only sees the promised land but the whole cosmos], he is tempted by the question: who is the divine? Is Yahweh God? Is the tempter God? And it follows: how is Jesus really? That last question, of course, has been the crazy controversy of Christianity since probably around the 3-4th century.

The identity question within Jesus’ wilderness story is the point for us. Just like in the story of the Wild, someone is challenged to look deeply at who they are, facing temptations, anger, sadness, the past, and the present.

I will pretty much leave this here for now, because we need to take this journey appropriately—with patience and care. Self-examination /change/personal growth are not quick-fixes. This is more than just learning a new skill, giving up something, or practicing some sort of religious thing. This is a change not just in what you do but in who you are. Each step of your journey is important. And we all must start where we are. Doesn’t matter what mistakes you’ve made or the state of your life currently. This is where you are. Just take the next step, whatever that is. Take the first step.

See the trail, the wilderness, the journey—as an opportunity. Embrace it. What would it be like for you to forgive yourself? What would it be like for you to embrace your own journey? What is your first step to change that will help to make you a healthier, balanced, and whole person?

 

How Do Changes Change YOU?

Matthew 17:1-9

Change.

changeFactory
Does this word scare you? Make you shiver? Excite you? Heighten your anxiety? Give you hope? Motivate you? Change. How does this word make you feel?

It is not hyperbole to say that recently, in the United States, the word change for many does not have a positive connotation. A president addicted to the bully pulpit and one who consistently uses fear to distract and separate people does not help. Not all change is good, isn’t that true? Removing protections in public places for transgender people and for transgender students is not a good change. Requiring people to carry and show IDs randomly doesn’t feel like a good change either. Forcibly removing native peoples from Standing Rock, their own land, so an oil pipeline can be installed, is not a good change. Banning the majority of the press from presidential press conferences is a bad and dangerous change. Lawmakers skipping out on town hall meetings…not a good change. Detaining people in airports, like Muhammad Ali’s son, a U.S. citizen born here in Philly, asking him about his religion—a horrific change.

Fanning the flames of ignorant prejudice and hate crimes, not a good change. Rest in peace, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, engineer and family man of 32 years, shamelessly killed in a bar in Kansas by a white man who said: “Go back to your country” before he shot Srinivas and wounded two others.

srni

So no, not all change is good.

In my view, any change motivated by fear, prejudice, manipulation, or power is not a good change.

Call it disfiguration.

Change is good when it is progress, when it leads to positive transformation. Changing positively is allowing for a new reality and then advancing towards that which makes us better people.

Call it transfiguration.

The idea of transfiguration [in a spiritual sense for Christians and Jews] is based on the Exodus story of Moses and then the Matthew story of Jesus. In Matthew of the NT, Jesus and three disciples go up on a mountaintop for 6 days. In the OT book of Exodus, the prophet Moses also went up to a mountain [Mt. Sinai] for 6 days. The 7th day, in Jewish thought, is Sabbath, rest, the recharging of batteries, recreation and reinvention of self. Both Moses and Jesus do this for 6 days and then find fulfillment on the 7th day. In Jesus’ case, on top of the mountain, he is transformed by the presence of God. There is light that visibly changes him, just like Moses’s shining face in the Exodus story. The main difference is that Jesus doesn’t wear a veil to cover the light. The three disciples then talk in their sleep—dreaming about Moses himself and the other prophet Elijah. But then more light comes [in cloud form] and wakes up the sleepy disciples, with a voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

They have trouble listening, though, and they fall to the ground, scared out of their minds. But Jesus reassures them with a simple touch [like in healing] and these words: “Get up and do not be afraid.” They look up. And then they come down from the mountain.

Day seven; the change begins.

This metaphorical story has relevance in this very moment, I think. It is not a stretch to say that our world is disfigured in so many ways. Why do we judge people by who they love, the color of their skin, their last name, their religion, where they were born or grew up, or which bathroom they choose?

This is sickness, not health.

This is disfigurement, not transformation. So those of us who actually do want to live in a world in which people are valued as they are, and diversity of all kinds is embraced, and affirmation and compassion rule the day—those of us wanting this reality, this change, we have to go up to the mountaintop.

So to speak.

We have to take the time to search ourselves, recharge our batteries, heal and rest. We have to take the time to reinvent, recreate, and transform ourselves. And then we come down from the mountain. Then we make change happen.

A big mistake I have made [and many of us] is to wish for positive change, talk about it, but then never do the necessary hard work to make it a reality. I’m done waiting for a change to come. I’m finished with wishing or hoping for all people to be treated well. I don’t want to wait for the seventh day to come so that light will break through. I want to be part of positive change now, in this moment. Today.

And so I remind myself [and I remind you] that real change is cyclic. In order to make lasting change, all of us will have to do that tedious and difficult mountaintop work of introspection, self-examination, and transformation. We will need to ask hard questions of ourselves. We will need to look in the mirror. This allows us to have the strength necessary to face the obstacles when we come down from the mountain. This gives us the wisdom to discern who we should join with and who we should part ways with.

The world is disfigured. We must face it and not ignore what is going on. But we must spend time and energy recreating and transforming as people, and then making positive changes happen. The approaching 40 days of Lent are an opportunity. How will you get to know yourself better? How will that work lead you to positive change within yourself? And then, how will that personal change lead you to make positive change happen in the world? See you on and off the mountain….

Who Are Our Neighbors?

Luke 10:25-37

WhoMattersMoreWhelp, this is a well-known story.

I’ll try to highlight some of the details that may sometimes go unnoticed before I share some thoughts. First off, the person asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is a lawyer. Why that is significant is because of what lawyers do. Lawyers qualify and define elements of the law, correct? Good lawyers are concerned about justice. So, in this case, the lawyer is examining the Mosaic Law of the Jewish faith to find out exactly what he must do to justify himself before God. This is not an attack on Jesus. This is a legitimate question. What do I need to do to be right with God? Jesus responds appropriately: “What does the law say?” And the lawyer knows:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, life, power, and thought; love your neighbor just as you love yourself.”

That’s from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. And Jesus says: “There you go, good job. Done.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied. So he asks a follow-up question: Who is my neighbor? And then Jesus tells the famous parable-story. Some insight:  it begins in a typical way like many ancient Jewish teaching stories—with an introduction akin to a joke: A priest, a Levite, and an Israelite walk into a bar…

But in this case:
A dude is beaten up and dying on the side of the road, and then, a priest, a Levite, and….

And an Israelite walks by…right?

Uh, no. Remember that probably there were at least 70 people listening to this story. They all expected for the third character, the hero, to be an Israelite. But wait—it wasn’t. Before we get there, some quick notes on the first two characters. The priest decided not to help the dying man, most likely because he wasn’t sure if the dying man was a Jew. Better to be safe than sorry, because if he were not a Jew, going anywhere near him would defile the priest and he’d have to go through a lengthy process of becoming clean again. Oh, and also, the guy might die soon. So a priest certainly couldn’t touch him. The priest is the higher class, the elite. Then, the Levite. The Levites were not as high as a priest, but they were descendants of Levi and assisted the priests in the temple. The Levite decided to pass by, because maybe he saw the priest? How could he do that which the priest passed up? So the Levite walked on by. So now the lower-class Israelite will arrive and save the day, right? WRONG!

It’s a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixed race between Jews of captivity [when they were exiled from Israel] and the Samaritan people of the actual land of Samaria. Jews [called Israelites, too] were hostile towards Samaritans. The Mishna, the oral traditions of Judaism that developed about law, say this about Samaritans in Mishna Shebiith 8:10: “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.”

Right. That’s harsh. Also, you may remember Jesus talking to a certain Samaritan woman at a well of water? She told him: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan” [John 4:9]? This Samaritan, though, would be bound by the same law as the Jews. So seeing a dying person on the side of the road was equally dicey. This dying person did not qualify as the Samaritan’s neighbor. So why did he help?

Because he was moved with compassion.

He did the right thing, regardless of the ethnic and religious conflicts involved. He put himself at risk. And the crowds listening would assume that the half-dead person now rescued by the Samaritan was Jewish. So add that to the drama. Jesus tells the lawyer: go and do the same.

The lawyer wanted to know who we are obligated to love. Jesus answers with a story that says it’s not about obligation, of loving the person near to you, or like you. Jesus erases the line of difference. Whoever is in need or hurting is your neighbor.

mylifematters1Friends, in the course of 72 hours this past week, all sorts of &*$! went down. Two more Black lives were taken away. Their names are Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was needless violence, and yes, it was committed by police officers and once again against Black people. And then, violent individuals not affiliated with the peaceful BlackLivesMatter demonstrators in Dallas, Texas, opened fire on police and civilians, taking the lives of five Dallas police officers and harming many others. As a white person, I cannot understand the racial profiling that others have experienced. I can only stand with my friends and colleagues while they express anger, frustration, and grief. I can only continue to work for understanding and peacemaking in our communities. I can only choose to be vocal and to say that Black lives do matter.

girlBLMWhen thinking about this burning question of who is my neighbor, this is what I hear:
My neighbor is anyone and all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice.
I cannot just walk by and ignore their suffering; I shouldn’t try to silence their anger, frustration, and sadness. I should love them. I should stand with them. Loving my neighbor compels me to help put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism in this country, inspires me to continue to talk with colleagues and church and community folk about why it’s important to stop saying that if we support Black Lives Matter that we are “against” the police or “against” others. That is not only false, it is also harmful. We can be “for” the just treatment of Black people everywhere and also “for” those in law enforcement. We can be “for” the honesty of admitting that the U.S. has deep, racist roots within its systems and society. And at the same time, while we support Black Lives Matter, we can also support the just treatment of undocumented immigrants, transgender and non-binary folk, the poor and homeless, the abused, and all else who deserve our love and attention. Of course we can.

I close with some words from the UCC’s Acting Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, Rev. Traci Blackmon:
Ultimately, the guns used to kill those 5 officers last night and wound 6 more and 1 civilian and the guns used to kill Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Amadou Diallo, 49 mostly black and latinx people who were LGTBQ at Pulse in Orlando, and the 9 people in bible study in Charleston, were loaded by our common enemies, fear and hate.  This same ammunition is responsible for the bombing of mosques and the burning of churches. This same ammunition fuels the escalating levels of death in our nation’s streets as a result of communal violence. Irrational fear and hatred that nurses at the breast of a nation increasingly divided against itself.

We must mourn them all because we are all connected.
And we must find our way back to love.
Murder is a by-product of people who have lost their love.
Love is our only hope.

changestartsBLM

And look–the WNBA players who chose to wear these t-shirts while warming up for their game were just doing what we should all do. Their message was simple: CHANGE STARTS WITH US. Let’s stop trying to spin things to fit some agenda that isn’t helping to bring us together. Remember the Dallas police officers who protected Black Lives Matter protestors. Let’s set an example for all the kids and youth who are just waiting for us to cooperate and love each other as we should. Come on. Change starts with us.

 

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