Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘disciples’

Thrice Love

Matthew 28:16-20  NRSV
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Creator and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[a]

[based on I Corinthians 13]
Finally, my friends, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with sacred embraces. Jesus is grace for you; God is love for you; and the Spirit is community for you.

thricelove
Let’s start with three questions we all ask:

  1. Am I loved?

  2. Do I have a purpose in this world?

  3. How am I connected to others?

And now imagine your are on a mountain, but not really. A “mountain” experience is a spiritual one. It doesn’t have to be a literal mountain; it is a spiritual space where you learn something important.

For Jesus’ followers, their mountain experience included being told to “go” and make disciples. What does that mean? To baptize in a threefold concept of Creator, Son, and Spirit? And then, they were to obey the command. Which command? The greatest command–love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Then, a letter from Paul of Tarsus, to the people of Corinth, echoing this same idea. We are to go and strive for restoration in our relationships with each other, in our communities. We are to be better together, to live in peace. And then, we will experience peace. We are to greet one another with sacred embraces.

This whole “discipling” and “Trinity” thing. It’s not just a Christian idea. Many, many traditions hold to it, teach it, seek to live it out. It is a threefold mantra of God/the Divine Light living in us and calling us to live out this identity.

Keeping in mind the wisdom of many, many years and the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh:

First, God says:

I am here for you.

You are not alone. Love as availability, accessibility. A great gift we can give to each other is our true presence. I am here for you. I am present with you, in this moment.

Second, God says:

I know you are here, and I am very happy.

Our lives matter. What a gift we can give to each other if we acknowledge their existence, that their lives matter to us. That we’re glad they are alive.

Third, God says, through Jesus,

I know and acknowledge that you suffer.

The most difficult thing for us to do, I think, to admit that people suffer, to accept it, and to not try to fix it, but to acknowledge that it is true. Many of us want to move quickly past the suffering, because it hurts to hear. But what if we acknowledge the suffering of another? Sit with that person? Stand with them?

The identity piece in all this, friends, is that the Trinity is not about a doctrine or a religious belief system. It is about living. God is here for us, loves us, as we are. God is happy that we are here, alive, as we are. Jesus knows and acknowledges suffering. This is the threefold love we are called to be for each other, and it is important, and purposeful, and powerful.

Make this a part of your everyday life.

  1. Be present with others.
  2. Be glad that others are alive.
  3. Acknowledge when people suffer.

Go and do likewise.

 

How Do We Measure Success?

Luke 10:1-11

Speak Peace
This story, in my opinion, is about how one defines success.My initial thoughts on the background of this Luke story: it’s originally a Mark story, but instead of Jesus sending out 12 [as in Mark], Jesus sends 70, or is that 72? Some Bible translations go with 70, while others say 72. Why? I don’t have time to go into all that, but let’s just say it’s all about one little Greek word that appears in some of the copies of Gospel manuscripts and whether or not that particular manuscript copy changes the number, but it’s not really a huge deal. In my perspective, either 70 or 72 leads us right to the Old Testament, and more specifically, to Genesis 10. Often called the table of nations, Genesis 10 reveals all of Noah’s family and offspring. That family, of course, eventually led to the story of Moses, who in Numbers 11 appoints 70 elders and then two more. That’s 72. And these people were filled with “spirit.” Seems like a pretty strong connection to Luke’s Gospel story. The number 70/72 makes Jesus’ calling and sending of disciples a universal action and not some regional movement.

Those people are sent on the “way” to be with other people. They are sent to treat all people with equal respect, to heal social divisions, and to create and participate in open tables. They are “lambs in the midst of wolves,” which reminds them of their vulnerability. If they are to do this work, they will need to be vulnerable with the people they meet and accept their hospitality.

Without community, this work will not happen.

And so, away they go, in pairs. They are to speak peace to every house, which is shalom, the wholeness. If someone reciprocates that peace, peace will rest on that person. If not, the peace comes back to them. Finally, they are to heal the weak. We’re not talking about sick people as we often assume. Healing the weak entails addressing the unjust societal structures that separate people and oppress. Healing can be physical, mental, spiritual, or societal, or all of the above.

So in short, this mission, this living out the Reign of God looks like this: eating, drinking, healing, and fellowship. Oh, and also not dwelling on those who reject the peace and the healing. Shaking the dust off of one’s sandals, in my view, is about moving on and not resenting people, even if they reject you.

In Luke, this is Jesus’ version of success. How does it compare to what churches actually do and say? Hmm…..

I think it’s obvious that most churches today are more concerned than ever before about measuring success. How many people sit in the pews or attend worship? How much money are we taking in? How many new members did we receive last month? Do people remark about our beautiful building? Are we well-respected in the community? I could go on, but you get the idea. The institutional church bases most of its measurement of success on business models or societal structures. For generations, the U.S. Christian church was a standard, old reliable institution in each town, city, and suburb. Then post-modernism came and went. People in those towns, cities, and communities began to see the church institution as no different than any other. Where was the meaning? What made the church uniquely wonderful and different? In fact, most people saw or experienced awful and hurtful things in the church. No wonder they left. No wonder the institution started to decline and continues to decline.

But the institution is not the church, and thank god.

The church is community.

As Jesus sent out people to heal and reconcile, he sent them out in community to be community. Buildings didn’t matter. Strategic financial planning or marketing didn’t matter. What mattered was community, and what that community stood for: justice and peace.

As such, any faith community is our group of 72. We are not in this alone. Faith and spirituality are communal and we make a huge mistake when we try to make it isolated, like when people say: my Bible says, or my God does or says…In our church structures, we struggle the most when our leaders and volunteers are completely autonomous. We become fragmented, burned out, and disconnected. Why? Because that’s not how it’s supposed to work. We are supposed to be a community of staff, volunteers, leaders, etc. Males and females, non-binary zes, children, teenagers, young adults, older adults, people behind the scenes and people in front, creative and visionary minds and detail-oriented and task-oriented minds. We are supposed to be radically together in community. This means that every little and big thing we do in our faith communities is for the good of the whole, for something bigger than ourselves.

How do you measure success? It matters how you answer that. People struggle their whole lives trying to achieve goals they never reach and end up feeling tired, disappointed, and out of balance. But what if this story offers us some insight? What if success is not measured by numbers, money, degrees, and prestige?

What if success is measured by community, and how people treat each other within that community?

What if success is welcoming all to the table?

Consider this from St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

Note: next week I’ll post something about Luke 10:25-37 and ask the question: Who Are Our Neighbors?
I’ll say right now, however, that #BlackLivesMatter!
BLM
And all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice, we won’t stand by and watch it happen; we won’t be silent. You should have the space to express your anger, frustration, and sadness. We love you. We will stand with you. Let’s put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism. And let’s 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.

It’s Good to be a Kid!

Mark 9:30-37

kid1.jpegFear.

It is a feeling that all of us have. Fear is programmed into us. That’s okay, though, because fear is actually meant to protect us. We are born with a sense of fear so we can react to things or situations that could be dangerous or harmful to our emotional or physical health.

kid2.jpeg

Obviously, babies cry when they’re afraid, even if they are startled by a loud noise that is completely harmless—like an older sibling banging drums or something. Babies also experience stranger anxiety and will cling to their parents when confronted by people they don’t recognize.

Or maybe strange people like me who make scary faces at them.

As babies become toddlers, around 10-18 months old, they start to experience separation anxiety, becoming emotionally distressed when one or both caregivers/parents leave.

4-6 year old kids start to fear things that aren’t based in reality, like monsters or ghosts.

kid3.jpeg

…Or Great Aunt Martha’s sloppy kisses and awful casseroles.

Okay, maybe that last fear is a real one.

Anyway, once kids are 7-12 years old, their fears can reflect real things that could actually happen to them—like getting hurt physically or a natural disaster, like a tornado or something.[1]

It’s clear that what kids fear is different than what adults fear.

This is due to the many facets of mind development. Children have an incredible imaginative capacity, can repress reason, and also exhibit the condition of innocence. This is played out when a mom is scared of the next medical bill, while her five-year-old isn’t scared of that at all, as long as the medical bill isn’t delivered by the abominable snowman.

But as Tim Lott states, in his article “Children used to be scared of the dark – now they fear failure,” fear in children is starting to look more and more like the fear of adults. A recent survey from Johns Hopkins University found that the top five fears of kids thirty years ago were of animals, being in a dark room, high places, strangers and loud noises. But currently, in the updated survey, kids are now afraid of divorce, nuclear war, cancer, pollution, and being mugged.

Further, in another poll from the UK, researchers found that some traditional fears like spiders and bugs, witches, the dark, and clowns [eww yes, clowns] are still prevalent among children. But, today the fear of being bullied, being approached by strangers and the fear of failure in school performance are major players.[2]

In a society driven by achievement in school that leads to finding a high-paying job, children’s fears are starting to look less innocent and imaginative.

And while we could spend a lot of time discussing why this is the case, we’re going to move onto a story in Mark’s Gospel that all about fear and children. Perhaps this story will give us some insights.

So here’s the deal: Jesus of Nazareth is traveling with his followers from Galilee to Capernaum. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to know this is happening, because he is afraid [yes, that’s right, I said Jesus is afraid] of how the people might react if they knew he was passing through. He didn’t want to become a king or a religious leader, or a spiritual rockstar. It wasn’t just a fear of the crowds in Northern Galilee, though. Jesus was also concerned about his small band of followers on the road with him to Capernaum. He tells them that he’s going to die and introduces also the possibility of life after death [however you want to define that]. And yet, Jesus knows that his closest friends are afraid of such a possibility. They are confused and fearful of the unknown; so they don’t ask any questions. Instead, their fear leads them to arguing. As they walked to Capernaum, they bickered over who was the best disciple. Who had the most faith? Who did the best work? Who was the most loyal?

So when they get to Capernaum, Jesus tweaks them with a question:

And…what were you discussing on the road?

Uh-oh, he heard.

And the disciples, now afraid what Jesus would think of them, stay silent. Fear is driving this whole story!

So finally, Jesus sits down with them, in somebody’s house, maybe his own. And it’s a teaching moment. His disciples still saw the world as a hierarchical structure of kings and queens, religious elites, and then all those below who struggled to survive. And so they sought to move up in the world.

But this was not what Jesus called the “kingdom” or “reign” of G-d. This “kingdom” was not top-down. The most venerated politician or religious leader was no different than the no-name beggar on the street.

Or the smallest child.

Mark’s Gospel writer gives us a rare symbolic detail to supplement the teaching. Jesus picks up a kid and says:

Those of you who receive any of these children like this one receive me. And those of you who receive me receive not me but the one who sent me.

The child is a symbol—not necessarily that the disciples should physically receive children and honor them, but that they should receive and welcome the child inside themselves.

You see, we say that we value children in society. In the 1st and 2nd century in Israel and Palestine, people said the same things. But children were property and they were cared for by women, who were also considered property. They were bought and sold. And children, for the most part, were not to speak unless spoken to; they were to be seen and not heard.

Sounds familiar.

Jesus’ teaching is significant in many ways, but here’s what I’m hearing.

First, we need to admit that we are often hypocritical when we talk about children. We say that we love them, we appreciate their cuteness, and we encourage [and sometimes pressure] people to have more babies.

And yet, so, so many children are not cared for, not loved, not mentored. Far too many children are born into households of violence, neglect, and abuse. And some children, forced from their homes in Syria, or Honduras, or West Africa, are left to starve and are turned away by governments, religious institutions, and whole countries. These children have done nothing wrong. And yet, as a society we are ignoring them.

And secondly, we need to learn to embrace the inner child in us in order to face our fears in a healthy way. There is no reason for us to lose our imaginations.

kid4.jpeg

There’s no reason for us to stop laughing at silly things, or to cease exploring or to halt our curiosity.

Though as stubborn adults we don’t want to admit it, our fears for the most part are useless. Our fears do nothing to protect us from the things we are anxious about

Aung San Suu Kyi, Noble Peace Prize winner and Burmese [Myanmar] political leader, once said: “The only real prison is fear and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”

kid5.jpegFriends, ask yourselves these questions:

Are your life stories often driven by fear?

Are your decisions based out of fear?

Do you behave in certain ways simply because you are afraid?

From time to time, we may all answer yes to these questions.
But we have an opportunity to seek and follow a simpler way, to accept that which we don’t understand or know, and not fear the unknown.

To embrace the child in each one of us is to think imaginatively like a child, to move away from fear to trust, love, and wholeness.

It is kicking up your feet on an Amsterdam bicycle, just because.

kid6.jpeg

All are invited to embrace the inner child, the child who knows that faith is not about certainty, but about wonder; not about answers, but questions.

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[1] http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=KidsHealth&lic=1&article_set=21758&cat_id=145&&ps=105
KidsHealth®, © 1995- 2015 . The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. All rights reserved.

[2] Lott, Tim, “Children used to be scared of the dark – now they fear failure,” The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/may/29/children-used-to-be-scared-of-the-dark-now-they-fear-failure

Doors and Prayers

Luke 11:1-13

During my travels in Europe, I was treated to an array of incredible architecture. Some of the oldest basilicas, cathedrals, and synagogues were feasts for my eyes. Like this building in Salamanca, Spain:

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Or these pictures of churches in Toledo, Spain:

ImageImageEach building, of course, had various doors for which to use as an entrance.

ImageImageImageI admit that I have always been quite fascinated with doors because they are the entry point for all of us. Even on the smallest of scales, when we enter someone’s house, we often knock on a door and then pass through a doorway.

What we see next is the inside. And we are now in a new place.

How do we react to that place?

What do we feel?

Do we feel welcomed?

Comforted?

Are we scared?

Do we feel out of place?

Is it cold? Hot? Dark? Light?

 Doors are an entry point.

 While in Europe, I thought a lot about how big, imposing doors can seem to say: Don’t come in here! Or: Enter if you dare…

Like this cave in Salamanca…

 Image

 Or…they can say:
Come inside, because what you will see and experience will be amazing!

This is how I felt when I first saw Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain from a distance.

 Image

 At the entrance I sensed that I was welcomed; curiosity overwhelmed me.

ImageImageYou quickly learn when you see so many doors and pass through so many architecturally wondrous sacred spaces that these buildings were designed differently on purpose. Basically, when you are in a basilica that was constructed in the Middle Ages you realize you are looking at history. People thought differently and their lives reflected that. The architecture reflects the feeling of the era and also how the people thought about God and themselves. Likewise, when you enter through a door to experience a Renaissance era cathedral, you see the vast differences in the structure that reflect the worldview of the people of that time and place.

 Image

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 We tend to assume that all churches, cathedrals, basilicas, etc. were built to be houses of prayer. We expect that upon entering the door to a church that we will feel comfort, welcome, peace, and perhaps even gain some clarity.

But if you’re like me and you’ve been to countless “places of prayer” around the world [both old and new] you have realized that many of these places are not peaceful or welcoming.

 This is St. Peter’s Church in front of the Vatican.

 ImageImage

After standing in line for a long, long time, you walk through the large doorway and then feel that you are in a museum or a king’s great hall.

It’s dark and full of towering sculptures of popes and other religious leaders staring down at you. It’s full of tombs and homages to the saints. There is actually very little space in which to pray. And those prayer spaces are only accessible to a few.

 Image In Paris, Notre Dame stands imposing as its gothic eyes stare at you.

ImageI guess I should say that eyes are literally staring at you—with their tongue sticking out!

Image Sad and scary faces don’t exactly say: You are welcome here!

ImageBut for some reason, as I entered Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, I felt different. The inside of the Basilica looked nothing like its Gothic counterparts. He chose to design a worship space that resembled a forest. Instead of towering pillars, trees. Instead of imposing sculptures of saints and popes, symbols of nature; instead of gloomy darkness, natural light.

 ImageImageImageI think that the doors to cathedrals are a good metaphor for our prayer life. Many of us struggle with prayer because we often fear knocking on that door. Perhaps life has beaten us down so much that the door is too big and scary. Maybe people have hurt us enough that we don’t feel adequate and therefore could not possibly enter through that door. Or possibly we have entered through these doors, but once inside we have not felt welcomed.

That is why I particularly like this passage in Luke in which Jesus gives great insight into prayer. Of course, many people know this passage for what we call The Lord’s Prayer.

But the actual words that the majority of Christian churches say are a combination of two passages of scripture, Matthew 6:9-13 [part of what we call Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount/Plain] and this reading from Luke 11:2-4. Take a look at the two scriptures side by side.

Matthew 6:9-13  

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

Luke 11:2-4

Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

 

11Give us this day our daily bread.*

Give us each day our daily bread.

12And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

13And do not bring us to the time of trial, *but rescue us from the evil one.*

And do not bring us to the time of trial.

14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

 

Luke’s version is sandwiched between two parables—teaching moments. The bottom line is that Jesus never prayed this prayer, nor was it actually a prayer per se. It is a teaching tool to learn about prayer.

Jesus is pushing his disciples [and us] to think more like children do—wondering and asking questions. Children are curious and keep knocking on doors, honestly asking, “Why? How?” “What next?”

I think we get an answer, but not in the Lord’s Prayer.

There was a man who went to his friend’s home at midnight. The man needed three loaves of bread for another friend who staying with him. Three loaves of bread in that place and time meant one meal for a person. But the friend didn’t want to help the man, because his door was already locked. Everybody was already snoring. “Don’t bother me,” he said. Yet, in the end, the friend did give the knocking man three loaves of bread, not because he was so concerned, but because of the man didn’t stop knocking and asking.

Hmmm…are we supposed to nag God, until God answers?

Look out…big-white-bearded-God-Dude-about-to-smash-you-with-big-sandal!

No, actually.

If we ask God for something, God doesn’t answer only because we keep knocking. This story was a typical tale from a teacher to show movement from the lesser to the greater. The lesser is the friend, who was reluctant to help his pal. He responded at the very end; it’s the least someone can do. Now move to the greater–if even this reluctant man responds to the friend’s request, how much more will God respond! 

The second parable is about a parent and child. If a child asks you for a fish, would you give her a snake? If a child asks you for an egg, would you hand him a scorpion? Of course not! That’s the lesser part of the story. Now, the greater. If we as human beings, who are so capable of hurting each other with words and violence would give the fish and egg instead of the serpent and scorpion, shouldn’t we expect that our loving God will give us everything we need and more!?!

The stories teach us about prayer.

We don’t really know what we’re doing.

Yet Jesus made it very clear to his dearest friends that this shouldn’t stop us from praying. We should never be afraid to knock on that door.

Prayer’s door is not huge, not imposing, not locked.

It’s not supposed to strike fear in our hearts or make us feel inadequate or awful.

Prayer’s door invites us in, no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey. And inside prayer’s space, we find healing, forgiveness, acceptance, peace.

And prayer doesn’t just benefit us. Prayer also helps us treat others well.

People who honestly knock on prayer’s door and enter in, are inspired to love; they show compassion; they build bridges; they heal wounds.

Praying people believe in forgiveness. They think mercy is real and that everyone deserves it.

Prayer moves us to not let prejudice rule our thoughts; prayer helps us see the world as one big family.

Prayer opens doors even when the whole world seems to be closed shut.

Friends, every door in life is not so inviting.

I can remember many doors on which I did NOT wish to knock. Doors so uninviting, dangerous, scary, cold and dark. Each time in my life when I have started something new, the door has always been in front of me, and I have had to walk through.

The path was uncertain, scary; what would come next?  

But God invites us to knock on new doors.

God welcomes us inside the prayer space.

We are not judged; we are loved.

So knock on that prayer door.

Ask. Seek. Find. Amen.

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