Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘I AM’

Love in Safe Spaces

John 15:9-15

Question of the day: Who do you feel safe with?

Image result for safety love
Do you have people in your life who make you feel safe? What I mean by that, in this moment is—do you have people who make you feel at ease, that you can be silly, raw, honest, ridiculous, crazy you?

These would be the people who would look at you weird when you say that you’ve always considered yourself a unicorn at heart, but then seconds later break out laughing at your stunned face thinking that your friend didn’t already know that and love that about you.

Image result for unicorn funny
This would be the people in your life who are well aware of your faults and the mistakes you’ve made, and they don’t judge you for them. These are the people who don’t like certain aspects about you or get annoyed by personality quirks you have but don’t try to change that about you, and still love and accept you. Yeah, those people are needed. And they are rare. And they encourage us to be our best.

It’s difficult to feel safe in our relationships, isn’t it? I mean, I’m guessing that most [if not all] of you have made yourself vulnerable and some point, and then you’ve been burned by someone, taken advantage of, or hurt. That sucks. So the more that happens, the less we feel comfortable being vulnerable/real/raw with others. We don’t trust that process. We wonder when the other shoe will drop. Admittedly, most of the relationships we have in this life will not feel safe a lot of the time. Especially for those of us who have experienced great trauma, or were the victims of some type of abuse, it is hard to feel safe with others.

We cannot ignore the issues that exist in our human existence: disconnection, loneliness, isolation, marginalization. We all experience some level of these feelings in our lifetime. We don’t have to look far to understand why. Unfortunately, we have created societies in which connecting to other people can be difficult; we are conditioned to believe that spending time alone is unhealthy and that we need a partner to survive; systems of society segregate people and whole communities are based on prejudicial categories like race, religion, sexuality, gender identification, and financial means; the same systems [including religious ones] push certain people to the margins, shutting them off from resources and rights that others enjoy.

This reality was true in the 1st and 2nd Century in Israel, Palestine, and the Mediterranean—places where Jesus of Nazareth taught and lived and the time period when the NT Gospels were written. John’s Gospel, I refer to as the metaphorical Gospel, is addressing a mixed community of people of different religious and cultural traditions. No doubt they were trying to make sense of the nonsensical world [like us] and also, they were wondering who this Jesus of Nazareth really was.

Because John is metaphorical, the author or authors present Jesus to the reader in a series of seven “I am” statements. Previously, “I am the good shepherd” and “I am the true vine.”

Now, still in John 15, Jesus introduces [or re-introduces, really] a command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

And then an emphatic statement: no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Now the command wasn’t new to anyone listening and really shouldn’t be new to us. To the Jewish listener, this command is standard. It is the crux of Deuteronomy and the covenant Yahweh made with the Israelites. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself. But John’s Gospel had just introduced the vine and branches metaphor, and that gives this ancient command a new context. Love one another as I have loved you. In other words, as branches of the Jesus-vine which was planted by Yahweh, be the expression of Yahweh. With great care, compassion, and detail—love one another.

And then be connected by this love.

The second part of this, that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends needs some further unpacking.

First, it is not about dying a physical death or martyrdom. I have heard this phrase misquoted and misinterpreted to explain why Christian missionaries die in other countries or why Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, or elsewhere are attacked for their faith or even why women and men of the military die at war.

I think this shows great disrespect—both to those who have died, but also to those who are living. In John, the last thing Jesus does is to ask people to die for a religion. Jesus wasn’t about creating a religion in the first place. No, let’s go to the language of John, Koine Greek, and look at the phrase lay down one’s life.

It is actually: lay down one’s psuche. Psuche is roughly translated into English as breath, life-being, or soul. Apply that to the phrase and here are some possibilities:

  • lay down (or set aside) your heart
  • lay down your mind
  • lay down your soul
  • lay down your being

There is influence from Eastern philosophy here. Psuche is a holistic word to represent our humanity—including our ego. Ego means “I” in Eastern philosophy. It is the named self, the self-consciousness of self-recognition, when you say: “I am.” So now these seven I am statement start to resonate more, don’t they?

From the story of the burning bush when Yahweh declared to Moses, I AM who I AM, to the seven I AM statements of Jesus, the Jewish and Christian scriptures present a God who is interested in revealing Godself in a way that humans understand and recognize.

The Israelites loved and knew a God who was love and they committed to loving God and each other right back. This was their life commandment. This bound them together. Likewise, those who followed Jesus were invited to encounter their own burning bushes that revealed an I AM of love and kindness, and they were connected to that I AM in such a way as to live out this kind of love for others.

The command to love and to lay down one’s being for one’s friends is about loving in a better way, knowing ourselves [our personal I AM], and knowing those around us. It means setting aside any prejudices that would prevent us from truly loving others as they are.

So friends, here is what love in safe space looks like: it’s healing.

It is love in community. It is loving people as they are with their wounds and flaws and gifts and beauty–not judging them or trying to mold them into our image, but loving and accepting their I AM as it is, embracing it…

 

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The I AM and WE ARE of Love

John 15:1, 5; I John 4:7-8, 11-13, 18

Image result for vine and branches
Imagery of the natural world—metaphors that are living things—often speak to us in powerful ways. I think you’ll agree that being compared to a tree is much more agreeable and full of possibilities than being compared to another person or a material thing like a car. In most spiritual traditions, nature metaphors are prevalent and even essential in terms of presenting a view of the world and all of us who live in it.

The image/metaphor of the vine is a famous example. Imagine, if you will, a Creator who grows vines. This Creator plants the vines and knows where to do so—considering the type of earth, the climate, how much sun the land will get, etc. So the vine is planted with great care and with attention to the details. And so imagine that this vine planted so carefully and purposely that it does indeed grow. Branches form. The vine grows sideways and up and down, and every which way. The branches of the vine start to bear fruit. Grapes. And as long as those branches are connected to that vine, they keep bearing grapes, keep winding farther around, keep growing.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus of Nazareth is given I AM statements, seven of them–as metaphors for Jesus’ place in the world, and our place with God. In this case, obviously God is the vine grower, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches bearing fruit.

It’s simple, but it’s also complicated.

Because this metaphor is about interconnectedness and relationship and community. And it forces us to ask the question: what is the fruit that we as branches actually bear? In some Christian circles, the fruit may be defined as moral decisions and behaviors, or sometimes even stretched to be political and social decisions and viewpoints. You see, we can even distort a beautiful image like a vine and branches just so we can make it fit into our view of the world and each other.

But it’s not meant to be that way. This vine and the branches are supposed to reflect what Jesus considered a relationship with God to be—a connected, fluid expression of love. It is for this reason that the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth equated God with the abstract concept of love, and because Jesus was intimately connected to this God, then Jesus was an expression of this love, and so the branches [you and I] are bearing the fruit of this love. In fact, this early followers of Jesus also believed the flip side of the metaphor—those who didn’t love, didn’t know God, were not connected to God, nor to Jesus. The “test” to know if God was real was love expressed by people. If people loved each other, God existed. And so, this God, this vinegrower, was the opposite of fear, the opposite of punishment. The Vinegrower is love, plants love, Jesus is connected to this love, we are connected to this love, we bear this love; we are this love.

Now let’s bring this metaphor one step further, as it can be expressed in community. I’ve mentioned communities of practice before. Allow me a moment to remind ourselves what a COP is:

A Community of Practice is a group of people that shares a Domain [shared interest], a Practice [body of knowledge, experiences, and techniques] and a Community [a select group of individuals who care enough about something to participate regularly together].[1]

So, to continue with the vine and branches metaphor, a Community of Practice that reflects the vine and branches metaphor would be people who share a passion for loving others, know how to love others and have had experience in loving others/being loved, and have formally started and continue to maintain a community that regularly gathers in order to love and be loved.

This is not abstract, as metaphors and even the term “love” can be. This idea of vine and branches community is intentional and practical. It is a focus. It is reflected in how we communicate with each other, how we make decisions, etc. Our conversations are restorative, meaning that when we talk to each other in meetings or gatherings, we are imagining possibilities, and are being creative and are open to learning from each other. We are less focused on solving problems but instead on growing and bearing the fruit of love as our community practice.

In doing so, we seek to invite transformative change rather than forcing it. We don’t own things but share them. Our thinking is diverse and even dissent voices are embraced. People make commitments based on passions and gifts and not pressure, obligation, or bartering. The gifts of each person, each branch, are acknowledged and valued.

Are you discovering these types of communities? Are you part of one? If so, please share a story about it in the comments section.

In the meantime, stay connected to the Love that planted us all and wishes us to bear this fruit for all.

[1] https://www.scaledagileframework.com/communities-of-practice/

Copyright © 2010-2017 Scaled Agile, Inc.

Creating Safe Spaces

Proverbs 18:10, John 10:2-4; 7-10

Define safety. What does it mean for you to feel safe?

In the Hebrew literature of the Psalms and Proverbs, Yahweh is portrayed as a physical and spiritual presence–and place of safety. A refuge. A comfort from the storms of life. Yahweh is also portrayed as a safe space for those on the margins, those who are lonely, oppressed, or afraid.

Fast forward to Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish person, raised in this tradition. How Jesus saw Yahweh or Abba, was akin to the views of Psalms and wisdom literature. God, for Jesus, was calling people to a place of acceptance, safety, and abundant life. God would gather people to God’s self like a mother hen gathers her chicks.

Eventually, long after Jesus of Nazareth had died, those who followed him came up with metaphors for Jesus. One of the most overlooked metaphors was the the metaphor of the Good Shepherd. Surely many of you have heard of Psalm 23, i.e. the lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…

Well, the Gospel writers would have been well aware of this image. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ identity is expressed with I AM statements, in Greek the ego eimi. In fact, John’s Jesus uses this phrase seven times. I AM…the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine. And in John 10 Jesus also expressed what Jesus is not. Jesus is not a thief or destroyer of life, but instead a giver of life, a full life.

John’s metaphor involved sheep, a shepherd, and a gate. Jesus was portrayed as a good shepherd, one who will lay down one’s own life for the sheep and stand with them when they are in trouble.

Consider that this image of Jesus as good shepherd is a more ancient symbol for Jesus than the cross. Before Roman Christianity developed its own symbols, followers of Jesus resonated with the simple image of a shepherd who cares for sheep and knows them by name.

good-shepherd

The comparison of people to sheep is not meant as an insult, though it is oft-understood this way.  The metaphor of human beings as sheep means that human beings have a capacity, like sheep, to hear their shepherd.  It refers to that part of the human psyche which listens for a True Voice.

And yet, particular brands of Christianity [including American Christianity] have skewed Jesus’ message and even the image of the good shepherd to be about exclusion, judgement, and even violence. It is so sad to know that there are people who claim to be a follower of this Jesus and consistently mistreat people because of their cultural or linguistic heritage; their gender expression or identification; who they love; how much money they have; the color of their skin.

This is why it is essential for us to not be silent while this is going on.

We cannot hide from the wolves and thieves who seek to destroy. We must confront them, for the sake of our friends and neighbors who are being bullied, and excluded, and told that their lives do not have value. We must change the narrative and express that ALL deserve safe pastures.

So I’m interested in doing that, but in community, and with intention. How, in community, can we create safe spaces for those on the margins?

I’ll be asking these questions the next few months. Please join in the conversation by posting in the comments section….THX

 

 

Community within, Community Expressed

Sense8 is an original TV series streaming on Netflix, created by the Wachowskis, the two people behind the Matrix trilogy. Sense8, a play on the sensate, tells the story of eight strangers: Capheus, Sun, Nomi, Kala, Riley, Wolfgang, Lito and Will, each from a different culture and part of the world. As the story develops, all eight characters have visions and find strange connections to the others even though they are all worlds apart. They realize that they are all sensates, humans like anyone else except for the fact that they are linked with a mental and emotional connection, allowing them to sense and communicate with each other, as well as share their knowledge, language and skills. The eight sensates try to live their lives and figure out how and why this connection has happened and what it means.

Here are the eight sensate characters in the story:

sense8
Capheus,
a matatu driver in Nairobi, a passionate fan of movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme, and a son who is trying to earn money to buy AIDS medicine for his mother.

Sun Bak
, daughter of a powerful Seoul, Korea businessman and a star in the underground kickboxing world.

Nomi Marks,
a trans woman hacktivist and blogger living in San Francisco with her girlfriend Amanita. She was born Michael but changed her name to Nomi, which stands for “Know Me”.

Kala Dandekar
, a university-educated pharmacist and devout Hindu living in Mumbai, India. She is  engaged to marry a man she does not love.

Riley Blue,
an Icelandic DJ living in London.

Wolfgang Bogdanow,
a Berlin, Germany locksmith and safe-cracker who has unresolved issues with his late father and participates in organized crime.

Lito Rodriguez,
a gay, closeted actor from Bilbao, Spain living in Mexico City with his boyfriend Hernando.

And Will Gorski, a Chicago police officer haunted by an unsolved murder from his childhood.

In the story, the sensates represent the next step in human evolution. Their brains have subtly but powerfully changed so that they are able to connect with each other across long distances without being detected or listened to. They can have conversations in two places simultaneously, flipping back and forth between a rainy café in Germany and a sunny temple in India, while a character in Korea vapes with a character in Iceland. They seem to be physically in the same place as the others, having a face to face conversation. A common phrase for the sensates becomes:

“I am also a we.”

I wish to explore this idea of deep connection—how it is on the inside and then how it can be expressed on the outside. Have you ever felt a deep connection with someone you just recently met? How did it feel? What did that connection lead to? And, do you ever have the experience of feeling disconnected, even from people you have known nearly your whole life? See, connection is not about longevity; it’s not even about having things in common, looking the same, or sharing all the same perspectives. Connection, I argue, is an energy. It is an energy between people, between us, when we feel that we have been seen, heard, and valued as we are. Connection is that energy that fills us when we are not judged, when we are truly seen and valued.

I’ve mentioned this many times before, but it’s worth saying again. In this life, it is really important to pursue and nurture relationships/connections with people who value you, who see and hear you and accept you, as you are. That most likely means that you will have these types of strong connections with only a handful of other humans and that’s fine. Hey, the characters in Sense8 are only deeply connected to seven others. The energy of connection in our relationships is vital to our health.

The language and concept of connection is obvious in the Jesus of John’s Gospel. Jesus is portrayed in various I AM statements, and all of those identity statements lead us right back to the idea of connection. Jesus said I AM the vine and you are the branches. Straight up connection talk there. And now here in John 14 we find Jesus talking about dwelling places, though not your typical house or apartment. Jesus speaks here of a realm of dwelling beyond the brick and mortar. Dwelling in Abba God’s house is not heaven—it is the presence of God, and it goes both ways like a swinging door of connection. If God dwells in you, then you also dwell in God’s house. And vice versa. The place, the connection for all of us has already been prepared; it is simply up to us to embrace it.

And then the Jesus of John takes it one step further, or maybe in this case, Jesus humanizes it even more, because our good friend Thomas is still asking great questions. Thomas asks the how question and Jesus responds with love and care. How will you know the way to this connection? Well, I AM way, I AM truth, I AM life. No one comes to the light, to the connected Divine, to God, except through path, truth, and life. If you know your path, and truth, and life, then you will know the Divine. And from now on you do know, and you have seen.

Wonderful and beautiful language, but of course I have to mention [albeit briefly] that this beautiful part of John’s Gospel can also be negative trigger for some. Why? Because sadly some make it a habit of taking words from the Gospels attributed to Jesus and turning them into clobber texts, exclusive religious dogma, or even opportunities to say to some people they don’t like that they are doomed and that God doesn’t love them. Rather than spend more time on those who use this as a clobber text, I prefer to focus on what the text actually says within its context, also considering the audience it was written to. Keep in mind that John’s Gospel is the most inclusive Gospel writing, apart from the Gospel of Timothy, probably. John is a text written for a mixed group of people. It’s meant to open up the message of Jesus to a wider audience. It verges on universality sometimes. It’s often ambiguously symbolic and even combines different religious traditions. But John’s Gospel is not exclusive. Jesus’ I AM statements, each one of them, are meant to invite and include more human beings. Many rooms in Abba’s house, remember?

So this oft-quoted phrase about way, truth, and life is not a claim that Christianity [which didn’t exist at the time, by the way] is the one true faith and that Jesus is the only way to God. It doesn’t say that. The word only just isn’t there. What IS there is a kind and loving invitation to be connected in a deep and powerful way. Be connected to Jesus/God/the Divine/the Light, however you wish to call it, but be connected to this way, truth, and life, which is the power greater than all of us that connects us across genders, orientations, cultures, languages religions, countries, and differences. This connection is love and compassion—practicing that in our everyday lives. Seeing and hearing people as they are. Accepting them. Seeking and nurturing this connective energy gives us purpose and meaning in life. What do you think?

 

What Gives You Life?

John 10:1-10

Open-Gate
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the intersection of religion and politics. Now before you run away after hearing this, please hear me out. I know some of us prefer to avoid that conversation, but I think it’s really important to address it. Religion and politics have been intertwined ever since human beings started saying and defining those two words. Though people who live in countries like the U.S. that claim to be democracies often think that religion and politics are separate, it’s time for some honesty. Religions have always influenced political policies; political movements and policies have influenced religions. Currently, many in the U.S. are perhaps recognizing this for the first time, even though it is nothing new. When things like health care are discussed, or marriage rights, or abortion, climate change, capital punishment, gender equality, trans rights, etc., it quickly becomes clear that a person’s religious tradition [or lack thereof] informs how they view these issues. If you haven’t noticed, since the new administration took office, many religious groups across the spectrum have been more vocal about government policies that are inhumane, harmful, and even evil.

We need to leave space for these conversations to happen and people of all religious traditions and secular traditions should not ever be afraid to stand up against any policy or political movement that threatens people’s humanity or rights. It is our responsibility to do so, even if said policies do not affect us personally, because they affect our neighbors. Of course, this is what Jesus taught and did—even though it was not popular. In the Gospels, Jesus is often portrayed as the presence of the Divine as hoped for in the Hebrew prophets like Isaiah—bringing justice, healing, and reconciliation to an unjust, wounded, and divided world.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus often expressed identity with I AM statements, in Greek the ego eimi. In fact, John’s Jesus uses this phrase seven times. I AM…the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine. And in John 10 Jesus also expressed what Jesus is not. Jesus is not a thief or destroyer of life, but instead a giver of life, a full life. John’s metaphor involved sheep, a shepherd, and a gate. Jesus was portrayed as a good shepherd, one who will lay down one’s own life for the sheep, stand with them when they are in trouble. In fact, this image of Jesus as good shepherd is a more ancient symbol for Jesus than the cross. Before Roman Christianity developed its own symbols, followers of Jesus resonated with the simple image of a shepherd who cares for sheep and knows them by name.

good-shepherd

Sadly, as mentioned previously, religions are created by humans and thus end up serving the desires of humans. That means that religions easily lose their way when they stray from the core elements of message and practice. Jesus, in no Gospel account, was violent, uncaring, exclusive, or judgmental.

Jesus didn’t try to steal people’s identities.

Jesus didn’t destroy people’s lives. Jesus was a giver of life to all. And yet, particular brands of Christianity [including American Christianity] have skewed Jesus’ message and even the image of the good shepherd to be about exclusion, judgement, and even violence. It is so sad to know that there are people who claim to be a follower of this Jesus and consistently mistreat people because of their cultural or linguistic heritage; their gender expression or identification; who they love; how much money they have; the color of their skin. This is why, as I mentioned, it is essential for us to not be silent while this is going on. We cannot hide from the wolves and thieves who seek to destroy. We must confront them, for the sake of our friends and neighbors who are being bullied, and excluded, and told that their lives do not have value.

And we need to tell the blessed story that gives life. Everyone deserves this type of love and care that the good shepherd offers to all. Everyone. And all of us should be loving and caring in this way, in the world. For if we choose to identify with this good shepherd, if we choose to believe that God offers us a full life and acceptance as we are, then doesn’t it follow that we should wish for others to experience the same thing?

You see, I think what gives us life as individuals is a good place to start. So ask yourself: what gives me life? Who are the people who give me life? Go to that place. Then, think about all those around you—regardless of their religious traditions or lack thereof; no matter what gender they express or identify with; no matter who they love or what they look like or how much they make or what language they speak. Think about those around you. Don’t you want them to feel alive, cared for, loved? My answer is yes. And all of us who do answer yes to that question, let’s do something about it. Be life-givers in your conversations, your interactions, your decisions, your tweets, and your connections. And if you feel bullied or destroyed or hurt or not invited—I am sorry that this has happened to you. It’s not something you deserve. What you do deserve is love and kindness and community. Let’s work on that together.

 

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