Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘Forgiveness’

For…Give.

Luke 16:1-13

forgive
In life, we sometimes encounter confusing and difficult situations. Maybe you are in one of those situations right now. Regardless of the advice that people give you, or conventional wisdom, nothing seems to fit or work. You feel stuck. You are not sure how to move forward. There are no easy answers.

This kind of life narrative needs to be told. We need to share with others [and ourselves] that it’s okay to feel stuck sometimes and that there are situations without answers or solutions. For me, it has been a comfort throughout my life to hear these stories—to discover that many, many others struggle with some of the same things I do, and that I don’t always have to resolve things. This gives me peace.

So maybe that’s why I appreciate the so-called “hard parables” of Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels. These parables are the stories that Bible commentators, preachers, and teachers struggle to decipher. These are the parables that they avoid. They don’t have easy answers and they leave you hanging.

The parable of the unjust steward is one of those difficult stories. What does it mean? I don’t know, you tell me! But maybe that’s the beauty of it. It’s left open, and it also seems to contradict some of the things we assume about the Bible, God, and Jesus. So let’s explore a bit and see what happens.

First off, one thing we do know is that this story can be connected to the story of the prodigal son. In both stories, a character squanders the wealth he has been given. Also, the audience would have been Jesus’ followers and the Pharisees. The story is pretty straightforward, as a guy wriggles himself out of trouble by doing something pretty dishonest, but at the same time is shrewd enough to put his boss in a tough situation where he cannot fire him. So basically, the boss chooses to save face and thus “saves” the dishonest, shrewd guy. Yes, this is a parable about money. Duh. It’s Luke. Luke’s Gospel is all about money and maybe that’s why many Western Christians avoid it. Oh snap, did I say that?

oh-snap-this-is-getting-good-meme-35315
Anyhoo, Many Western Christians know what is called “The Lord’s Prayer.” But do they know that this prayer is about money? Yep. In Luke, the Lord’s Prayer is about forgiving debts—monetary debts. It’s literally saying that we should forgive the money that people owe us, therefore “releasing” them from the debt.

Okay, wow.

In terms of life application, I need to quote Sarah Dylan Breuer,[1] who has a wonderful blog that interprets various “difficult” Gospel texts. Ms. Breuer asserts that most commentators ask the standard questions like “Who is the steward?” and “Who is the master” but she asks a more pointed question: What does the steward actually do, without permission and dishonestly? 

The answer: the steward forgives debts. This is about forgiveness. So what’s the point of this supposedly confusing story?

Just forgive.

Forgive everything, forgive it today, forgive for any reason whatsoever and for no reason at all. Forgive. This applies to you and me, first of all. Forgive yourself. Just forgive yourself. For the things you regret, for the moments when you feel you failed, just forgive yourself. And then forgive others. That doesn’t mean forget any form of abuse or violence of oppression—but forgive means release the debt that exists between you and that person, because it is bringing YOU down. And it means forgive in the community, the nations, the world. Communities and nations should not be in debt to others. This is part of why the world is so screwed up. Forgive.

There is no bad reason to forgive, says the story, because keeping score is meant for sports and not for life. What does keeping score do for us anyway?

So what do you think?

Teaser for next week: Story of Lazarus and the rich man. What is it that causes some people to have someone in their line of vision and yet not really see them?

SHOUT OUT TO CHARLOTTE AND TULSA AND ALL WHO MOURN.

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2004/09/proper_20_year_.html

What Do Our Tears Mean?

Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Frederick Buechner[1] wrote:
You never know what may cause tears. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not… God is speaking to you through them—of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you, to where you should go to next.

Do you cry easily and often? Or do you struggle to cry?

What do our tears mean?

cryingAccording to Michael Trimble, British professor at the Institute of Neurology in London, and author of Why Humans Like to Cry, tears are necessary to keep the eyeball moist, and contain proteins and other substances which maintain the eye healthy and to combat infection. Trimble writes: “Humans cry for many reasons, but crying for emotional reasons and crying in response to aesthetic experiences are unique to us.”[2] He goes on to say that tears of joy or sorrow, in other words, the tears that are highly emotional, tell us a lot about ourselves. Emotional crying can help us highlight what’s important and what we need to focus on, says Dr. Lauren Bylsma[3], at the University of Pittsburgh, someone who has conducted various studies about tears and crying.

Tears
I’m sure you probably already knew that there are different types of tears. According to Dr. Bylsma and her co-author Ad J.J.M. Vingerhoets, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, the first type of tears is basal tears. Basically, we cry to lubricate, nourish, and protect our eyes. This can happen involuntarily, of course. The second type of tears is reflex tears. You cut an onion or if you are allergic to things like smoke, pollen, or ragweed, and well, you tear up. Lastly, the third tear type: the tears that we shed after fighting with someone close to us, getting treated badly, empathizing with someone who is suffering, or crying for help. These are emotional tears.

Truthfully, researchers haven’t quite figured out why we cry. They have theories, of course. Some scientists, according to Vassar psychologist Randy Cornelius,[4] say that emotional tears were [and are] ways to signal distress without making noise. You can make others know you are vulnerable by crying, even if you cannot speak a word. Thus, over time, according Dr. Bylsma, humans have developed a purpose for emotional tears, which is to signal that there is a problem or to ask for comfort or support from another.

vulnerableAnd the research shows that crying can be valuable in a cathartic way. If someone cries in a social situation in which the people are accepting, that person is more likely to feel better after crying. In fact, we will feel better than other social situations in which we held back tears, because we felt unsafe, in danger, or embarrassed. Furthermore, other researchers suggest that emotional tears contain stress hormones that the body can physically push out while we are crying, therefore making us feel calmer. And finally, the difference between happy and sad tears is not very big. Dr. Bylsma states that after crying the body returns to “a state of homeostasis after being aroused—whether positively or negatively.”[5]

I’m fascinated by this. I myself do not cry a lot, but when I do, I can say that the majority of the time I feel better afterwards. And, I can also say that if I cry with people who care about me and accept me, the feeling is not unlike euphoria. So what of the crying woman in Luke’s story?

It all took place in Simon the Pharisee’s house, which should tell us something. The Pharisees were mostly in opposition to Jesus of Nazareth’s teaching, and were certainly not happy with Jesus hanging out with the so-called unclean, marginalized, and sinful. Keep in mind, though, that we cannot make the Pharisees out to be the “bad people” because many times in the Gospel stories, the readers [you and I] are supposed to put ourselves in their shoes. Anyway, the story is not about Pharisees as much as it is about a brave woman who was already shunned and who came into the house [she was completely unwelcome] and brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She came from the city, but it is not said that she was a prostitute, as some interpreters say. Clearly, though, in the eyes of Simon, she was a category and not a person. She stood behind Jesus crying her eyes out, and then she covered his feet with tears and tried to dry them with her hair. She then kissed his feet and anointed him with the ointment. Of course, the host Pharisee mumbled under his breath: If this guy really were a prophet, he would have known what kind of woman this is. She’s a sinner.

Jesus then addressed Simon by name and told him a parable. That was, after all, the purpose of such a meeting at the house—debate and discussion. The parable of the two debtors is pretty clear. Both people owed a lot to a money lender; both were forgiven. Who would be more grateful? Logically, the one who owed the most. Simon got it. Would he get that this woman was a human being, capable of love and not just a category?

Once again, in Luke, Jesus turned. Big deal! He turned toward the woman. Then, he said to Simon: do you SEE her? Yes, that’s the climax, folks. Her tears, her love, her expression of sorrow, were all accepted and embraced. She showed hospitality. She had no more debt. She was forgiven. And her tears told that story. What do you think?

Teaser for next week: Luke 8:26-39: what binds you? In other words, what are the things that keep you from being your whole self? What would it feel like to be unbound, free?

[1] Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words
[2] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-humans-like-to-cry/
[3]
http://www.pitt.edu/~bylsmal/
[4]
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129329054
[5]
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/10/tear-facts_n_4570879.html

Room in the Tomb, Room for Doubt

John 20:19-29

empty-easter-basket-green-grass-white-13295986The tomb is still empty. Really, it is.
The peeps have been eaten [or at least mostly eaten], the baskets emptied of their sugary substances and plastic grass, and the Easter egg hunts are a distant memory. It’s the week after, and the tomb is still empty.

candyComaIn Luke’s Gospel story, a group of women discovered an empty tomb and no body, and two guys in shiny, white clothes [apparently part of some Elvis impersonator caravan]. And they were happy, because they were told that Jesus was no longer dead in the tomb. So they rushed to their friends the disciples, and told them, and were met with sarcasm and rebuttal. They were called foolish. Only one of the men, Peter, decided to make his way to the tomb, and of course, when he did, it was empty.
Now we shift to John’s story, so put on your seatbelts. We’re not in Luke-Kansas anymore!

John sets the stage for us and says that it’s evening, and all the doors of the disciples’ house are locked. They were afraid, not of the Jews in general [because that would include most of them], but afraid of the religious and political authorities who they felt were out there looking for any followers of this Jesus of Nazareth who had died. Add to that the fact that the body of Jesus had gone missing, and well, the disciples didn’t want anything to do with that. They were keeping their heads down.

But, in the all-of-a-sudden, freaky-John style, Jesus appears out of nowhere. He says: Shalom, peace be with you, and then shows them his hands and his side. The disciples are happy about this whole seeing Jesus again thing. This was pretty cool. After all, to this point, they had done nothing but deny, run away, and betray. And then they locked themselves inside their house after the women disciples told them that the body was missing. And now. Jesus was here! Great.

Like a broken record, Jesus says Shalom again. And: As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
Then Jesus breathes on them [though I don’t imagine some weird, awkward breathing like when you eat garlicy food and want your friend to smell your breath].

bad-breath4

I imagine a more symbolic sort of breath like in Genesis’ creation story. A breath that gives life or purpose. Perhaps a breath to help them remember? The women already did remember the things that Jesus said and did. But these disciples, because they were afraid, had forgotten.  Well, here comes the answer to our question about the whole breathing thing, because John’s author tells us that Jesus then said:

Receive the Holy Spirit. And forgive.
In that breath is God’s Spirit and that Spirit is one of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Anyone at this point wondering if this whole forgiveness part was needed by these particular disciples? I mean, really, their track record wasn’t all that great. I wonder if that statement about forgiving others was also about forgiving themselves. Either way, we’re not given much time to think about it, because the most interesting disciple outside of Mary Magdalene [in my opinion], takes center stage.

Thomas!

thomastrain

And not the train!
Thomas, the doubter! Yes! Welcome back! How we missed you…

First, he’s called Thomas the twin, and here’s what I will say about that. He has no named twin so, you and I could very likely be his twin. That’s literary device at its best. We are meant to be with Thomas here.
He didn’t see Jesus appear, He didn’t hear the double shalom, he didn’t see the hands and side. He didn’t get breathed on or told to forgive. He was out.
Was Thomas less afraid than the others?
Or was he just unlucky?
We don’t know. But we do know that Thomas was not buying this whole “we’ve seen the Lord” thing. Yeah right. These fearful, cowering men had seen Jesus? Prove it.

The story flips forward about a week later.

Well, this time Thomas is there with the others and Jesus appears again. Peace be with you again, but then Jesus speaks directly to Thomas, telling him to touch his hands and side—not just to see them. But Thomas doesn’t touch anything. After only seeing, he makes a proclamation: My Lord and my God! It’s a statement of allegiance, because this same phrase was said to Caesar by his loyal Roman subjects at that time.

And then Jesus says: Have you [trusted] because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to [faith].

I changed belief in both cases to trusted and faith due to a confusing translation from Koine Greek to English. I’ve mentioned this before, but often in our English Bibles, the word belief appears, and in my opinion, it is a lazy/Western biased translation that does not take into account the many possible meanings and nuances of the original word.

Belief is absolute certainty in something that you know to be true and is not at all tied to spirituality or religious practice—at least it wasn’t until much, much later in history. Trust and faith, however, are two words that appear often in the New Testament and carry with them much larger meanings than just believing that something is true.

I’ve come across so many people who assume that because I am a Christian, I believe this or that or the other thing, or what that thing says on TV or what that person says, and with complete certainty. Of course, when I tell them that I don’t believe in more than half of the stuff they said do, they are confused.

Why?
Because many people, including Christians, assume that faith is belief.
As I’ve mentioned before, the word faith in John’s Gospel is a verb, not a noun.
Faith is not just an idea in your head about a certain thing [whether it’s true or false]. Faith is more like an orientation of your whole self. If someone “faiths” something, she puts her whole self into it—mind, body, and spirit. Faith includes trust.
So as we’re standing in the empty tomb, left to wonder what happened, or if we find ourselves in Thomas’ shoes, doubting the whole thing, is that so bad?

No, of course not. Doubt is goooooood……

Have you ever thought [or said]:

I’m going through a time in which I don’t think God exists.

Do you feel guilty or strange about it? Well don’t! Embrace that thought.

In Brian McLaren’s recent book, Finding Faith, he says that his doubts keep him moving and that doubt can be a doorway to spiritual and personal growth. In terms of his own personal thoughts about God, McLaren has “sifted and re-sifted, and some beliefs [he’s] had to release, while others have proven themselves as ‘keepers.’”[1]

I don’t think doubt is really the problem. I think an unwillingness to question belief is a problem, because consider: isn’t holding onto a belief out of a sense of false security a very dangerous concept? I would say, look around the world, and the answer is a big, fat, YES.

Because if we’re convinced that doubt is “bad” and not something so common, we don’t allow for the possibility of mistakes or misjudgments. Instead, our so-certain belief system becomes a rigid, intolerant and self-righteous existence.

Freedom to doubt, however, helps us to deepen, clarify, and even explain certain aspects of our spirituality and of our day to day lives.

So friends, there is room for your doubt and plenty of it. Embrace it and allow it to challenge certain belief systems and perspectives that may be doing you harm. From experience, I can tell you that if you do that honestly and at your own speed, like Thomas you will encounter healing, reconciliation, and a rejuvenated enthusiasm for more exploration.

Thanks, Thomas.

We all needed that.

[1] Brian McLaren “Doubt: The Tides of Faith”

 

Extravagant, Scandalous Love

John 12:1-11

Throughout these 40 days of Lent, I’ve been asking this question:

What does it mean for me be truly myself?

And I encourage you to do the same.

While we ask that question of ourselves, we are journeying with the story in the Gospels, following Jesus’ own journey of self-discovery. Most of this Lent, we’ve been reading Luke’s story, but this time we are following the 4th Gospel’s story—John.

Let’s set the stage. Use your imagination. John’s Gospel writers certainly did.

It was six days before Passover. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead; some were people were amazed and some were mad. The religious leaders of the day were firmly in that mad group. So they were making their plans to kill Jesus as soon as they had the right moment. He was too popular now. Kind of a depressing start, but it gets better.

mummyJesus and company were in Bethany, just a small town outside of Jerusalem, but surely at its most crowded, because tons of people flocked to Jerusalem for Passover. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus make a cameo appearance. These three characters only appear in John’s Gospel, except for a short story about them in Luke’s Gospel. Who the heck were they, then? It’s a mystery. For real.

This story appears in all four Gospels, but each one has different characters. Mark has Jesus in Simon the leper’s house and he is anointed by an unnamed woman. Matthew’s version is pretty much a copy of Mark’s. Luke, on the other hand, changes it up. In Luke’s version of this story, Jesus eats dinner at the home of a Pharisee called Simon, and an unnamed woman called a “sinner” cries at Jesus’ feet and then wipes them with her hair before anointing his feet with ointment. It’s yet another example of how the four canonical Gospels can tell the same story in different ways. I think recognizing this is so very helpful for us the readers as we try to glean some meaning from ancient texts. The stories aren’t the same—even the characters change! So this means that we should be reading this as a metaphor for something, but also we should see the different perspectives of each author.

It’s always good to see another person’s perspective.

If we don’t do that, we can come up with some really insane beliefs. For example, there are still way to many people who believe that the woman in the story is in fact Mary Magdalene, and a prostitute. This idea started to gain traction in the 6th century. Popes and other religious leaders assumed that a woman called “sinner” must be a prostitute and that even though the other Gospels do not name the woman, it must be Mary Magdalene.

It’s unfortunate, I think. Female characters of the Bible have enough trouble getting respect as it is. But to assume that the hero character in this story, clearly the woman who anoints Jesus, was a prostitute just seems lazy and irresponsible to me. What if she really was a hero? What if she really was the Christ figure in the story?

So let’s look at what she did. She took a pound of ointment, called pure nard. Another name for it is spikenard.

Spikenard-Oil-5 It is oil derived from a flowering plant of the Valerian family and grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, India and China. So not only is it good for anointing, but it might even help you sleep! The important point being that it’s imported oil, probably from India. It’s expensive. This type of oil was considered a healing and palliative ointment. And it smelled reeeeeeeel good. Which would have been important, considering that there is some previously-dead due named Lazarus in the room, reading something and not opening his mouth, apparently. Spooky, isn’t it? Just earlier in the story, Lazarus was completely stinking of death. Then he emerged from the tomb, alive. And now, Jesus is in Lazarus’ house and everything smells fantastic. Gotta love the details.

Anyway, lovely-smelling, expensive oil aside, Mary does something scandalous next. She uses her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet with the oil. Uh…..

 

Yeah, THAT wasn’t good. Consider this—women covered their heads in this time and culture. Jewish women wore [and some still wear] a tzniut that looks remarkably similar to the Muslim hijab. Hair was intimate. So if a woman like Mary uncovered her head and then touched a man’s feet [also intimate], well, you might as well make this an R-rated feature. Cue Judas Iscariot’s entrance.

We all know Judas, the oft-misunderstood, so-called “bad guy” of the Bible. Here he gets to be the Debbie Downer in the room. Everything smelled so nice, Lazarus wasn’t dead anymore, Martha was doing her OCD stuff around the house, and Mary was anointing Jesus’ feet with oil. What could be bad about that? Well, Judas found something.

Why didn’t Mary sell the oil for money and then give it to the poor? What wastefulness!

You wonder if Martha was in the background shaking her head yes in agreement. After all, Mary was a rambunctious character who tended to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen when there was work to be done.

But John’s authors tell us that Judas didn’t really care about the poor. He kept the bag which was actually a box which eventually was called a coffer or money box [Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary]. It seems to me that here John’s Gospel wants to make sure we don’t side with Judas. After all, he does seem to make a good point here. But the Gospel quickly tells us that Judas is still the bad guy. I can sort of understand, because Judas Iscariot was really close to Jesus. He was in the inner circle of disciples and was trusted with the money, too. Regardless, Jesus stands with Mary and not with Judas, telling Judas to release her, which in the original Greek really means let her go or forgive her. It’s the same thing that the gardener said to the landowner about the fruitless fig tree. Forgive it.

Why forgive it? Because Mary did something not only scandalous, but extravagant. She could have anointed Jesus on his head like normal people did for kings and prophets. But no, she chose his feet and her hair. This was no king. This was no religious elite. Not according to Mary.

This was someone she truly loved.

Her act sets in motion something that will happen in the future. Eventually, when Jesus’ life is in real danger, and he’s in Jerusalem with his friends, they wash each other’s feet. So Mary, not considered by many to be a “disciple” of Jesus, not in the inner circle, preempts the foot washing before it was a command.

But the story isn’t over. Jesus ends it by saying: “You always have the poor with you.”
Uh……..

say-what

Jesus, was just happened?

Okay, before we jump to the conclusions of prosperity gospel people, Jesus was not giving people an excuse to ignore poor people. It’s quite the contrary. The so-called poor people who were often destitute beggars, were an assumed part of the Jesus community. They weren’t outsiders, they weren’t those poor people. They were part of Jesus’ circle. And I think that this wonderfully frames the message of Mary’s loving and extravagant act. Mary acted out of love and not charity. So should Jesus’ disciples act. They should care for all people [including those who were poor], but not out of charity—out love.

I wonder sometimes how much we do things to or for others, simply out of some obligation or perceived duty to be charitable.

And don’t just mean when you give a couple dollars to someone on the street or sponsor a child in Africa, though that happens, of course. I mean how often do we act out of love in our relationships, and not out of charity? Think about that for a moment.

How much of our relationships are built on obligation, duty, and charity?

And how much of our relationships are built on love?

It’s scandalous and extravagant to think about.

Because if we act out of love and not out of charity, we won’t be afraid to let our hair down, crack open the expensive jar of oil, and touch someone’ s bare feet. We won’t worry about what other people will think or how we’ll look or if we broke somebody’s rules. We will just act. Out of love.

Whenever I think back to those few moments in my life when someone truly acted out of love and showed me that love, I am overwhelmed with a peacefulness and gratitude. Those acts of love changed my life, healed me, and shaped me.

So what would it mean for you be a person who acts out of love?
What would that look like?

How would it change your relationships? Your workplace environment? Your school?

Calling All the Prodigals

Luke 15:11-33

From the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scriptures:

To practice forgiveness is fasting, good conduct and contentment.
Dispelled is anger as forgiveness is grasped.
Where there is forgiveness,
There God resides.

HugProdigalPerhaps there is no more-recognizable story from the New Testament Gospels than the story of the prodigal son. You could make a case for the parable of the Good Samaritan, but I think the prodigal story is right up there. In my view, the worth and appeal of a good story is that it can be viewed from various angles. Each time you hear the story, you may notice or feel is somewhat different. This story is like that.

The prodigal parable is a reiteration of the same theme in two other parables: one about a lost sheep and another about a lost coin. In both cases, something is lost and then it is found. Simple enough, right? But we will need to notice the narration in Luke’s Gospel story before the prodigal parable begins. It goes something like this:

Tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. Some Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about that and saying, “This guy welcomes sinners and even eats with them!”

You have to pay attention to that lead-in. In Jesus of Nazareth’s life, he was dealing with people—real people who were treated like dirt and dehumanized. They were called names like tax collector, sinner, leper, etc. And then at the same time, Jesus was dealing with his religious colleagues, the Pharisees and scribes. Don’t assume that this is a clear-cut good vs. evil thing; it’s not. The lost-and-found parables all present the same picture:

The lost were the outcasts of society; the dehumanized; the marginalized.

They were always found and embraced as being priceless.

Those already “found” were the religious elites, the rich, the powerful.

In the end of the story, they ended up lost.

So let’s revisit the story.

The father in the parable ends up giving all his assets to his two sons. The twist is that the younger son asked for his share prematurely, because according to the culture and time period, he was supposed to wait to collect his inheritance. But the younger son oversteps his bounds and asks his dad for the money up front. The dad obliges and splits his assets in half for both sons. It doesn’t take the younger son long to start blowing the money—a couple of days, in fact. But even after he spends it all, he’s still okay being far away from home. That is, until the economy goes in the tank. No food. So he gets a job feeding pigs. He is so hungry, in fact, that he envies the pigs and what they are eating! So they must have been Iberian pigs.

Iberian01Mmmm…..herbs and nuts….

But one day he sort of wakes up and realizes that the people who work for his dad eat pretty well. So why not go back home and work? That way he would at least have food and a better life. So he concocts what he will say to his dad. It is a real dramatic speech, for sure. But as he journeys back home, his dad is already waiting for him excitedly. The son doesn’t even get a chance to give his great speech. His dad runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him. He gets to wear his best robes and there is a huge party. The lost son is now found. The older brother, however, skips the party and sulks out of anger.

A quick observation:

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think that the younger son repented.

Perhaps he was just being practical. Read the story carefully. It wasn’t until he ran out of food and realized that working for his dad wouldn’t be so bad that he came up with a speech about being sorry for what he did. One of my professors from Princeton, the late Dr. Donald Juel, shared some insight about this: he suggests that younger siblings like the prodigal son have the advantage of waiting, watching, and learning how to manipulate their parents. In this case, the younger son knows his dad and therefore convinces him to give up the inheritance earlier. He also knows that his dad is a big ‘ole softy and so his speech about not being worthy to be a beloved son but instead a servant would have indeed landed.

This view certainly makes the story more challenging, doesn’t it? Yes, but also more authentic, if you ask me, because forgiveness and showing grace to someone is messy.

Sometimes welcoming a prodigal back with open arms doesn’t lead to repentance or transformation. In fact, showing grace to someone often will not result in a reward and certainly not a big party.

Once you show someone grace, it is up to that person to do something with it.

We don’t know if the younger turned his life around after the party.

This parable, though not a true story, is representing real life. So the younger son represents the so-called tax collectors and sinners who were coming to Jesus. The angry, older son represents the scribes and Pharisees who grumble and complain about those who hang out with Jesus. But all that really matters is that the lost [prodigal] is found and those who are already found [older son, Pharisees, scribes] are lost in their anger and resentment. They miss out on the party.

It’s a story about forgiveness.

Forgiveness. One of the most difficult things to make a part of your lifestyle. I hear it all the time. So I thought about the many obstacles to forgiveness. Here are some quick thoughts about that, some of it from Dr. Thomas G. Plante, in his article the 7 Rules of Forgiveness:[1]

One obstacle is that we sometimes think that forgiving means forgetting completely. That’s certainly not true in the case of someone who is abused, neglected, or victimized. No one should be told to forget the trauma he/she experienced.

Another obstacle to forgiveness is thinking that forgiveness makes a person weak. I think it’s the opposite, actually. When you forgive, you show great strength, because forgiveness takes time and energy and character. The people I’ve known in my life who have forgiven people, even when it was most difficult, were so strong and courageous.

The Weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
-Mahatma Ghandi

And lastly, possibly the biggest obstacle to forgiveness is anger. People find it very difficult to let go of anger. One of the reasons for this is that sometimes we assume that we should feel angry because we hope that the person the anger is directed at will accept our anger and as a result feel sorry for what they did. We assume that this gives us power. It’s the opposite, actually. The more you hold onto anger and resentment, the more you are victimized by it. Psychologists who work with patients who have been severely traumatized note that those who are able to let go of anger feel freer than ever before and also do not feel like victims any longer.

So yes, there are obstacles to forgiveness, but I think that this prodigal story helps us work through them, because the story shows us that forgiveness does not depend on the other person apologizing or accepting your offer of forgiveness. The father forgave the son even before he had a chance to apologize. The younger son does not repent at all and there is no indication that he felt sorry for what he did, because that’s not the point of Jesus’ parable.

The Pharisees, scribes, and even some of Jesus’ disciples wanted fairness in forgiveness. They wanted reward and punishment.

Oftentimes we want fairness in forgiveness, too.

The characters in the story felt that some deserved to be lost and others to be found. But Jesus rejected such a notion. Instead, he argued that the prodigal was found by forgiveness, not repentance. Moving forward, the younger son would then have to choose what he would do with that forgiveness.

Yes, this story is complicated, but it’s good news, too. Who doesn’t need forgiveness? Who wouldn’t appreciate a little grace now and then? The key is to realize that God doesn’t differentiate between prodigals. Whoever is lost is meant to be found—wherever they are on their journey. Forgiveness and grace don’t come in neat packages; they are extravagant actions. They know no boundaries or categories; they just are.

So whether today you find yourself feeling like quite the prodigal—marginalized, lost, left out—remember that you’re worth being found. And when forgiveness is offered to you, do something with it. Pay it forward.

And if during this part of your journey you feel that you’re not a prodigal, remember that we’re not made to just hang out with the people who seem “together” or “found,” whatever that means. Instead, we are supposed to seek out and befriend those who feel lost, or hurt, or pushed to the margins of society. Why? Because they deserve to be treated as the human being they are. So be lavish in your forgiving and grace giving to others. Don’t hold onto anger. Let all the prodigals, including you, experience the healing and transformation of forgiveness.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/do-the-right-thing/201403/7-rules-forgiveness

Changing to Return to Ourselves

Luke 13:1-9

Selections from Self, Gautama Buddha

If a person holds oneself dear, let one watch oneself carefully.
The wise should be watchful during at least one of the three watches.
Self is the master of self; who else could be the master?
With self a well-controlled a person finds a master such as few can find.
Bad actions and actions harmful to ourselves are easy to do;
what is beneficial and good, that is very difficult to do.
By oneself is wrong done; by oneself one suffers;
By oneself is wrong left undone; by oneself is one purified.
Purity and impurity come from oneself; no one can purify another.

Change.jpeg

Daniel Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching, including the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology. Dan’s 2007 book, Stumbling on Happiness, spent 6 months on the New York Times bestseller list, has being translated into more than 30 languages, and was awarded the Royal Society’s General Book Prize for best science book of the year. In 2010, Dan hosted and co-wrote the award-winning PBS television series This Emotional Life, whose premiere was watched by more than 10 million viewers.

He gave a recent Ted Talk entitled: The Psychology of Your Future Self.

He claims that all of us are walking around with an illusion:

“an illusion that history, our personal history, has just come to an end, that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives.”

To prove that claim, Mr. Gilbert provides some data from studies with thousands of people. Gilbert and his researchers asked half of them to predict how much their values would change in the next ten years; the other half they asked how much their values had changed in the last ten years. So in essence, they were comparing the predictions of people who were about 18 years old with the reports of people who were 28. Here’s what they found:

The common view that we often hold is that change slows down as get older. Gilbert’s study found that change does not slow down nearly as much as we think. People from age 18-68 in the study vastly underestimated how much change they would experience over the next 10 years. For example, 18-year-olds anticipated changing only half as much as 50-year-olds actually do. And it’s more than just change in values. It’s personality change and it’s likes and dislikes, too. What music do you like? Who is your best friend? What is your favorite hobby? People in the study thought that these things would not change in 10 years, but they were almost always wrong.

They did change.

This season of Lent [40 days] is about self-reflection and about change.
I’ve been asking you to hold this question closely:

What does it mean for me to be truly myself?

So as we continue to ask that question, let’s look at a story in Luke’s Gospel that challenges us to consider that change is really a part of who we are.

The story begins with a reference to Galileans. These “Galileans” were most likely pilgrims in Jerusalem. Apparently, Pilate, a Roman leader, had mistreated these Galileans, and violence filled Jerusalem. Jesus then asks a question of the crowd gathered there:

“Do you think that these Galileans were bigger sinners than all the Galileans because they had suffered this?”

Meaning: something really bad happened to these Galileans, so did they deserve it?

This of course is the old-school, sad but commonly-held view that if someone does things right, things will go well for her; if bad things happen to her, it’s because she is bad. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t believe this for one second.

So he refers to another old story about the tower of Siloam falling down and killing 18 people. And once again he asks: did these people do something bad to deserve that fate?

Both stories are attempts to change people’s perspectives about sin and debt. The commonly-held belief was that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. This cause and effect, reward and punishment mentality was and is severely limited. Instead, Jesus calls the people in the crowd to repent, a word that does not mean feeling sorry for a sin or something bad you did. Repent means turn around and move in a new direction.

Change in perspective that leads to change in your life.

Finally, Jesus of Nazareth tells the parable of the fig tree.

fig_tree2

A vineyard owner comes to a fig tree looking for fruit, but finds none. The owner is ticked off about that and lets the gardener have it. For three years I’ve been looking for figs, and nothing! Get rid of it—it’s taking up too much space! But the gardener says leave it alone. Coincidentally, the Greek word there [aphes] means forgive. The gardener is not ready to dig up the fig tree. In spite of its history of not bearing fruit, there is still the possibility that the tree can change and eventually be productive, finding its place in the vineyard.

Have you ever considered that change is part of your natural makeup–that you are not meant to stay the same? That goes for your perspectives and your life practices.

As Dan Gilbert’s studies found, we over-invest time and energy in our current preferences and perspectives because we think we won’t change and so we overestimate their stability. Why does this happen? Gilbert and co. are not sure. But one hypothesis is that it has to do with the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining.

The owner of the vineyard couldn’t imagine the fig tree having any use, because the owner only saw a tree without fruit. But the gardener had an imagination.

Friends, I’m sure that most of you can remember who you were 10 years ago, right? But how hard is it sometimes for you to imagine who you are going to be?

Don’t assume that due to your lack of imagination, who you are going to be, i.e. a change, is not likely to happen. When we say: “I can’t imagine that,” we are simply expressing our lack of imaginative perspective, but not the unlikelihood change.

Yes, changing your perspective right now will help. The present moment can be, as Gilbert points out, a magical time.

It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves.

So no matter what age you are, or where you are on life’s journey, remember this:
We are all works in progress. We are not finished.

The one constant in our life is change.

And when we change, we are truly ourselves.

 

Alarming Love

Romans 13:8-11a

Matthew 18:15-20

Sell your crap.

Pay your debt.

Do what you love.

This was the title of Adam Baker’s TED TALK in 2011—the story of how his family moved away from being the “typical” debt-laden U.S. family trapped by the next thing to buy to a family that envisioned freedom from that debt and then took the necessary steps to truly be free.

Let’s listen to a bit.

Adam argues that most of us live a life based on a script.

And we did not write that script—someone else did, or perhaps even a government, or a company, or an institution wrote that script for us.

The script, sadly, can become our life.

And that script involves debt.

debtFinancially, many people in the world are born into debt. Those who are fortunate enough to be born into a family without debt have a better chance, but even so, they often accumulate debt of their own. It piles up, because we follow the script of what we are supposed to buy, what is the next “logical” step in our relationships, when to get the house with the yard, the new car, and where to send our kids to college.

But is this really freedom?

I don’t think so—not if we’re following someone else’s script.

Not if we’re buying things because we think we need them or because that celebrity or that commercial told us to.

Not if we’re moving from one life decision to the next without actually reflecting on those decisions because…

We’re just following someone else’s script for our lives.

So I want to talk about debt; obviously, so far we have been talking about the financial kind of debt, because that will help us in the rest of this discussion.

In order to understand relationship debt, we first have to understand financial debt.

I include two Bible passages—one from Matthew [words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth] and the other from Romans [Paul’s letter to the Roman church] to help us honestly reflect and hopefully act.

First, Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew’s discussion about debt is based on human relationships and Torah Law. The Torah is the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures [OT]. In Matthew’s debt discussion, the author includes references to Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The Jesus of Matthew is concerned about how people treat each other. There was [and is] conflict between humans. How do we deal with such conflict?

The root of said human conflicts is a problem—which happens to be a problematic word—and that word is sin.

Not enough time to break down just how misunderstood this word is. So let’s just stick to Matthew’s view.

Sin isn’t about morality but more about missing the mark. Sin is a failure to be human—as we are created to be.

So when two people fight about something, talk behind each other’s back, hurt one another—this is sin or missing the mark showing itself. And there is no prayer, or physical offering at the altar, or religious duty that one can do to solve such conflicts. Notice here that it is completely up to the humans themselves to work this out. There is no mediator-priest.

The first step is to confront the other person directly. Honesty and direct communication come first. The goal of the confrontation, however, is to prove who is “right” or “wrong” but to reconcile. The goal is reconciliation and thus the direct confrontation is motivated by love.

Jesus concludes the relationship debt teaching with this:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Just in case we weren’t paying attention, we have the ball in our court.

Whatever we hold onto, we carry with us.

Any debts we have weigh us down.
If we keep others in debt to us, they are weighed down.

But if we choose to lose our own personal debts and release the debts of others, there is great freedom for all.

But clearly, Jesus leaves it up to us.
If two or more of us AGREE on earth, it will be done.

Do we agree to forgive the debts of others?

Do we agree to clear our lives of the debt that weighs us down?

————————————————————————————————

And now to Paul and his letter to the Roman church—a church under an empire and in great debt.

Time to WAKE UP!

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Paul flips things around: owe no one [including Rome] any THING.

But love one another.

Loving fulfills the law.

Then he lists some of the commandments [back to the Torah again, like in Matthew] but adds an emphasis that was Jesus’ teaching:
Any can be summed up in this word,
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The reasoning?
Love does not harm another person.
So love does indeed fulfill all the law.

If you don’t harm people, you won’t break commandments.
You only owe one thing this to the world and all its creatures—love.

And we are invited to wake up to this reality every day.

It’s not a script; it’s not predictable; it’s not popular; it’s not mainstream; it won’t be easy; it will be risky; love is like that when it’s actually lived out.

It’s like theologian Karl Barth once wrote:
Love of one another ought to be undertaken as the protest against the course of this world.

Friends, owe nothing to empires, institutions, companies, things, and even people! Don’t allow debt of any kind to weigh down your life and your humanity.

True freedom is letting go of any debts that exist.
And in true freedom you will learn how to love.

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