Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘John’

Saving the Best for Last?

John 2:1-11     

Image result for israel vineyards

Winemaking was a practice in the ancient world we now call the Middle East and parts of Africa. Wine was made in the triangle of the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee—consider eastern Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. Then the vines made their way to Egypt. There wine’s importance was first documented. The vines also passed through Canaan and ancient Israel. After that, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans brought the vines to what is now Western Europe and North Africa and then the Spanish brought it to the Americas.

Wine figures prominently in the Bible—both the Old and New Testaments. Prophets like Isaiah use wine frequently as imagery in prophecy. Prominent characters like King David, Moses, and many others were wine drinkers. Noah was the first recorded vine grower. He planted his vineyard where the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Back in Jesus’ day, people drank a lot of wine because it was often safer than water. Wine was also a disinfectant for wounds, an agent for dying, a digestion aid, and an instrument for religious ritual.

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Making wine was a family enterprise. Everyone would have a role in the harvest. People carried grapes in baskets and then put them on the floor of the winepress and then they pressed the grapes with their bare feet. Finally, though wine was stored in pottery jars–

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When people traveled, they would put the wine in animal hides [often goat]. These wineskin flasks allowed for the wine to keep fermenting while it was stored.

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So fast forward to Jesus of Nazareth, and let’s be honest—Jesus was a typical Nazarene Jew who enjoyed wine. He was referred to as the one “who came eating and drinking, a gluttonous man and wino, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

Sounds like my kinda dude.

How many times have you ever considered that Jesus may have been really fun to hang out with? Hmmmm….

Anyway, we find ourselves in a John Gospel story that is often referred to as the first miracle story. But let’s bring it back down to earth. Jesus and his fam and some of his followers are at a wedding in nearby Cana of Galilee. It’s a party. Now at some point, they ran out of wine. And that’s bad news for a wedding reception. How are grandma and grandpa going to do the electric slide without wine?

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So Jesus’ mom tells Jesus as much: “There’s no wine.”

At first Jesus seems a little put off. I mean, is it really his problem that the hosts ran out of wine? But Jesus’ mom knows what she’s doing. She’s savvy. She’s in on the joke, you see. She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says. Then we get some important details. There are 6 stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification. Aha! Let’s explore this. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people had developed water purification rituals before entering the temple or other religious rites. They would submerge themselves in a mikveh, a collection of water similar to a pool.

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So those 20-30 gallon jars were for purification purposes. You sensing where this is going yet? I don’t need to fill in the blanks, right?

Consider that Jesus of Nazareth had recently met up with crazy John the baptizer at the River Jordan to be submerged in the water, baptized. It was a ritual cleansing for “reorienting” [repenting]. So now Jesus has the people fill those empty purification jars with water. What was supposed to hold “holy” water would now be party juice. They do it and then they draw some out for the chief steward. He takes one drink and is like: “What is this? It’s gooood…” See, usually you serve the good wine at the beginning of the reception and then people’s taste buds get numb so that at the end of the night you can serve the bleh or meh wine.

But the opposite was true—the best wine for last.

So let’s review the opposites at play here:
-best wine served last, not first
-religious, ritual jars filled with secular juice
-divine to profane
-clean to unclean

There is so much to say about this story. What stands out to me is the interplay of water as a purifying, cleansing, blessing agent and wine as coming from that water and bringing about joy, and existing in the everyday lives of ordinary people, and quite frankly, reminding us that all our religious rules and rites can blow up at any moment.

And it’s a world of opposite possibilities:

Exclusion to Inclusion
Division to togetherness
Walls to open spaces and welcome mats
Hatred to Compassion
Judgement to Acceptance

It’s a world of possibilities and the world of incarnation—of the divine and human coexisting just like water and wine coexist. It’s a world that exists in each one of us, the possibility to make change. You know, Martin Luther King once said:

Image result for mlk always time to do the right thing

There will be resistance to us turning water into wine, friends. There will be people with red baseball hats that call certain others unclean and shout hateful and harmful rhetoric about making things great again, but we’ve learned from this story, haven’t we? Being great isn’t about power or sovereignty or control. We don’t get to say who is clean or unclean. At any moment, things can flip.

See, greatness is about serving others in love.

For if our actions are generated by love, we will make change. We will change water into wine. We will turn the tables in ourselves and in the world. Salud!

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Water, Light, Spirit…BEGIN!


Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Water is essential for life.

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Without water, we die. Without water, there is no life. Period.

Look around the world right now and you’ll notice that there are far too many people who struggle to survive…because they don’t have access to drinking water.

844 million people don’t have clean water.
(WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report 2017)

31% of schools don’t have clean water.
(UNICEF, Advancing WASH in Schools Monitoring, 2015)

Every minute a newborn dies from infection caused by lack of safe water and an unclean environment.
(WHO, 2015)

Worldwide, 1 out of every 5 deaths of children under 5 is due to a water-related disease.

And here’s the thing—access to water affects a person’s whole life. If a kid, for example, has access to clean water, he/she does not need to travel miles to fetch water. That kid can then stay in school and get an education. Also, with clean water, disease and sickness is lessened, and the child can grow up healthy with access to more opportunities. And, with clean water access comes better food security and reduction of hunger. Access to water can break the cycle of poverty.

Now for many living in the U.S., water scarcity is not a thing. Many of us used to think that that kind of thing happened in far away places like Sub-Saharan Africa. And then Flint, Michigan happened. You remember that? Also, as recently as last year, there were a few days in certain Philadelphia suburbs when the water was unsafe to drink due to septic issues. Imagine if that problem were to last weeks, months, even a year?

Many of us take water for granted. It’s coming out of our faucets, shower heads, flushing our toilets, and making our coffee. But what if you had to travel miles on foot just to have access to water? How would that change your view of it? Water would become precious to you. Water would become life for you. Water would be more valuable than money.

We ought to view water in this way—as a precious treasure, and something that all people [and all living things] deserve access to. For without it, life is no more.

I hope that you can embrace water as a tangible thing but also as a symbol of life, of wholeness. For that is what a small story found in all four canonical Gospels is all about—water.

You may have heard of this tale. Jesus of Nazareth, now a grownup, heads to the river Jordan in the middle of nowhere to meet up with this crazy preacher named John. Now, there’s context here, right? John is Elizabeth’s kid, and Elizabeth is somehow related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Were they cousins? Very possible. But the Gospels seem to point out that John and Jesus didn’t know each other yet. How could that be? Well, it’s possible that when King Herod was trying to kill all the first-born sons of Judah back in the day that while Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus to Egypt, maybe Elizabeth and Zechariah and John went somewhere else to hide. Perhaps Jesus and John grew up apart from each other. And then, it’s possible that Jesus heard about this crazy preacher by the river Jordan and wanted to meet him. It’s possible. But we really don’t know. What we do know is that the first version of this story, in Mark, is shorter and just says that Jesus traveled from Nazareth to where John was and got baptized, i.e. submerged in the water of the river. Then, the heavens opened [I’ve always taken this to mean that it may have rained], and then the Spirit came down [fluttering like a bird] and a voice told Jesus that he was a pretty good dude.

But the later Gospel writers added some commentary, because honestly, this story is problematic. I mean, think about it—many people believed [and still believe] that Jesus of Nazareth was without sin. So, why in the world would a sinless Jesus need to be baptized by John, who was doing that so as to forgive people’s sins? Um, yeah. So the later Gospels try to explain it away and in my opinion, they fail at it. I actually think this whole “sin” thing isn’t the point of the story at all.

The point is the water.

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See, John and Jesus were doing the same thing, in their own ways. They were preaching and teaching what the ancient Hebrew prophets did, like Isaiah, telling anyone who would listen that the world was messed up, out of balance, and injust [especially to the vulnerable and marginalized], and that Yahweh had just about had it. Time to repent [which means turn around], time for a 180 and the water was a symbol of that. You submerge yourself in that river, you make a decision to move forward in a new way. You leave behind whatever was dragging you down. You commit to being just and compassionate to others. You decide to be just and compassionate with yourself.

The water is the tangible element in nature that everyone needs to survive. There is not one single living thing on this earth that doesn’t know about water. Every day water is part of our lives. So it’s the perfect, universal, tangible symbol for something that may seem not so universal or tangible—the Spirit.

See, many read this story as Jesus’ big moment when God pretty much certifies Jesus as the Messiah and some type of demi-god. In fact, that’s what most people wanted. Truth be told, if you read the whole story in the Gospels, John had his own views about who the Messiah would be. We have NO IDEA how John really reacted to meeting Jesus. We just know from the earlier story in Mark that John baptized Jesus. And then they went their separate ways. So make your own conclusions.

But what resonates for me is what is consistent in the story—the water. The water changes the people who are baptized in the Jordan river. The water changes Jesus of Nazareth. After the water, Jesus launches a movement of ragtag, poor, marginalized people who promote justice, peace, and love. They go from town to town, and eventually make it to the epicenter, Jerusalem.  The water-spirit drives them there, keeps them together, motivates them when they lose momentum, fills them when they feel empty.

The last thing I’ll say about this story is that the voice coming from heaven was mostly likely heard by lots of people. In other words, don’t take the story so literally that you see these events as happening all in the same linear time frame. The voice was meant for Jesus, yes, but was also meant to be heard by others, and was also meant to be heard by you and me in 2019, reading this story.

Because we’re invited to the water ourselves.

We’re invited there no matter how long it takes us to get there, or where we come from, or who we call ourselves. We are invited to the water, invited to submerge ourselves in it, to feel its drops trickle down our face, to feel the sensation of cool water in the middle of a hot desert. Yes, we’re invited to the water and we NEED this water to live. It turns us around, it reminds us of who we are and who we are becoming, and then we just might have a chance to embrace this Spirit-thing that is sometimes hard to understand or accept. The voice is also for you and for me, for all of us, telling us that we are just fine as we are made, we are beloved as-is, but that also at any time we can go back to this water and make a change.

We can turn around. We can do a 180. We can keep becoming.

A Taste Test

Psalm 34:1-8;18, John 6:51         

Okay, do me a favor. Open your mouth and say “ah…” Go look in the mirror.

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You have taste buds.

You know, those sensory organs on your tongue that allow you to experience tastes that are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

See the bumps on your tongue? Those are called papillae, and most of them contain taste buds. Those buds have very sensitive microscopic hairs that send messages to the brain about how something tastes. Most of us have about 10,000 taste buds and they’re replaced every 2 weeks or so.

But the nose is part of our tasting too. When we chew, the food releases chemicals that immediately travel up into our noses. The chemicals trigger the olfactory receptors inside the nose and work together with our taste buds to create the true flavor of that amazing lasagna, slice of pecan pie, or a spicy, green Thai curry.

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So now that we are more aware of our taste buds, let me ask you: have you ever taken a taste test? You know what I mean?

Say you’re interested in trying a new flavor of ice cream, or a beverage you’ve never had before. If you’re lucky enough, someone my offer you a sample to try. That way, you can decide for yourself if you like it or if you don’t. You don’t commit to buying something you haven’t tried. You ever seen a baby try something for the first time? The kid approaches the food, expecting the same taste as always, and then is surprised. The baby’s palate explodes. The kid makes hilarious faces and you’re just not sure whether it’s disgust or sheer enjoyment.

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But there are other types of taste tests, right? For example, if you cook a lot, you are doing this all the time. You taste a bit of the sauce you’re cooking throughout the process…to see how it tastes. Does it need salt? More tomatoes? Every time I make a curry or a salsa I’m tasting it probably at least ten times to see if it’s spicy enough, or savory enough. I even taste test the batter for cookies or cakes before it’s cooked.

A taste test, though subjective to our palates, is a pretty scientific way to test something. We either like it or we don’t. Or sometimes, the first taste is weird, but the second and third tastes are much better.

So it is with this mind that we can more adequately approach another Jesus metaphor/I AM statement, namely: “I am the bread of life…those who eat of my flesh will live.” First, let me say that according to John’s Gospel, Jesus of Nazareth said this in front of a decent crowd of people, and most of these people were offended by it.

Why? It’s simple—they took it literally, kind of like Drax the Destroyer from Guardians of the Galaxy, they weren’t capable of understanding parables, double meanings, or metaphors.

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So when Jesus said we was bread and that people could eat his flesh and live, the hearers were upset by this statement. What, were they cannibals? Did Jesus’ flesh have some kind of magic power? But there’s even more to the crowd’s offense at what Jesus said, and this is where I’d like to actually go with this:

They were conditioned to believe that the natural world, i.e. “the flesh” was corrupt and impure.

God or the Divine was apart from this natural world and therefore holy. This was the dichotomy in the Greco-Roman world. I would argue that in the West not much has changed. Most Westerners consider God to be far away from the natural world/flesh and even removed from it. We as humans are flesh, fallible, corrupt, blemished. God is not.

So that’s why was Jesus said and did was really offensive. But Jesus wasn’t saying anything inconsistent with what God [Yahweh in this case] was or did. Yahweh, in the Hebrew Psalms, was very present in the very human lives of people and of animals and all of creation. Yahweh heard the cries of living creatures. Yahweh surrounded those who were vulnerable or who were crushed in their spirit, stayed near to them and helped them.

Jesus, in John’s Gospel, continually said I AM…to reflect the importance of “living or abiding” in God and a mutual-indwelling of God in Jesus, Jesus, in people, God in people. In a mystical sense, tasting is seeing that Yahweh is good; tasting Jesus is akin to an interior perception of self and the Divine within the self.

In other words, this Divine/Yahweh/God/I AM/Logos is not far away or separated from the flesh of humanity and creation—it all lives together. Think of it like a dance. The Divine and you are always dance partners, but the dance style can change, according to where you are in life, and you don’t always have to stay on the same part of the dance floor.

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It’s a mutual, symbiotic existence and the more that you and I taste life in this way and internally perceive that we are indeed loved and well-made to give and receive love, the more we become aware of the presence within us and the more we are able to discern between the other foods that the world or others try to feed us that are in fact very unhealthy. So friends, what do you think? What flavor does this talk have for you? What dance style are you currently engaged in?

 

Bread Is Us, Is Them, Is Life

John 6:35-37; 48-51

So here’s the thing—bread is a universal food.

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Now it varies, of course. Some people eat wheat-based bread of all shapes and sizes. You’ve probably tried that at some point in your life—a flaky croissant, a baguette, an Italian loaf, even a doughnut. And even if you’re gluten intolerant, you have options. In some cultures, like that of Mexico, the staple “bread” is made out of corn masa.

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Any way you look at it, bread is a staple. It is often the thing that we associate having enough to eat with. If someone is going hungry, that person is without bread.

So on this level, bread is universally about filling our stomachs, satisfying our hunger, fulfilling our need to survive physically. And bread is a symbol of our diverse cultures and our uniqueness.

As usual, Jesus of Nazareth would take universal symbols like bread and then use them to illustrate something, to make a point, to bring people to a realization, a transformation.

So Jesus, in John’s Gospel, says that bread is life. He says that he is the bread of life, and this is John’s Gospel, and so remember that any I AM statement [ego eimi in Greek] means “divine presence.”

So in essence, Jesus is saying that the divine is present in him, and this presence provides sustenance to all who embrace it in themselves.

But Jesus, [and John’s writers] were addressing an audience much different than us. It was a different time and culture, and this audience was made up of Jews, Greeks, and others. But they would have known the story about the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness. They would have known the story about manna [bread] being provided but not being enough. Their ancestors couldn’t just live by this type of bread alone. Bread runs out; people get hungry. All you have to do is keep your eyes open to see that in our communities and around the world, people go hungry. We don’t share enough of our bread and so, people are hungry. And even those of us lucky enough to have enough bread to eat, the satisfied feeling doesn’t last.

Eventually, we get hungry again.

So Jesus was taking bread to another level. Eat this new idea of bread, live forever. Eat this new bread, be truly alive.

And yes, it may sound a little weird the way John’s Gospel spells it out. Jesus is the living bread and the bread Jesus gives for the world is flesh. Flesh? Huh? Okay, now these theories about Christians being cannibals don’t sound so crazy, right?

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Of course, some have taken this idea to an extreme. In some religious traditions, the bread used in Communion services becomes Jesus’ flesh. At least, that’s what some people believe. This is also why historically, there were people of other faith traditions [and the original followers of Jesus] who saw this as weird, this whole Jesus-flesh-eating-thing.

I think we’ve overblown this. In fact, I think John’s Gospel is pretty clear. Jesus’ flesh isn’t actual flesh, though Jesus’ presence with people was most certainly real, down to earth. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is logos—word, presence. Jesus is vine, good shepherd, life, love.

Jesus is presence.

So it’s not about some mystical meal where bread turns into human flesh. The metaphor is: Christ is life-bread, this life-bread is in us, and it is freely given to us to share with others.

This Bread reanimates us, shows us our inner beauty. And if we apply this in life, we will also see this bread in others. They will be our family. And if anyone lacks this bread, we will be sure to share it with them, remind them of their beauty, help them to discover the life inside them. In turn, we become the living bread and spread the life all around.

Won’t You Love Your Neighbor?

John 13:33-35

Someone who loves a neighbor allows them to be as they are, as they were, and as they will be.  -Michel Quoist

You can be a follower of Muhammad or Jesus or Buddha or whomever. Always, they said that the most essential factor is to love your neighbor and to love you.  -Leo Buscaglia

Image result for won't you be my neighborAs a kid, I remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood probably more than any show. To this day, when I see old clips of him singing “There are many ways to say I love you…” it brings me back to my childhood and makes me teary eyed and happy and peaceful.

Perhaps it’s because Mr. Rogers helped me through some difficult times like when I was sad or bullied or scared. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Rogers’ show was groundbreaking and controversial in its day. The show addressed issues like racism and death. One of the main characters, Officer Clemmons, is a gay Black man with a beautiful tenor voice.

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Why would that be groundbreaking and controversial? Because, sadly, at that time, you didn’t see main characters who were black or gay, unless they were stereotypes. And you certainly didn’t see a white dude dipping his feet into a wading pool and singing songs with a black police officer. Mr. Rogers was intentional about asking us each time “Won’t you be my neighbor?” but being a neighbor also meant befriending and loving those who were different than you. Fred Rogers always encouraged us to love ourselves as we were and to love others as they were.

Loving someone—being kind to them, according to Mr. Rogers, was the most important thing we could do to show that we were alive.

I’m with all the critics and pundits who are saying that the recent documentary about Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, entitled: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A Little Kindness Makes a World of Difference” is a much-needed movie for people to watch, and it comes to us during a time when kindness and love seem in short supply.

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Here’s why:

I also remember as a kid some of my classmates made fun of me or anyone else who watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. They said it was a show for babies. According to the bullies, such a show was weak and childish. Now that may seem like playground banter to you, but stay with me. What has changed? Look around.

The bullies are saying and doing the same thing. It’s weak to be kind to people who are on the margins and vulnerable. Instead, we’re told that they take our jobs or money or health care away from us; they worsen our schools and neighborhoods. Likewise, if people look different or come from another country or culture [particularly poor ones], we shouldn’t welcome them, we should keep them out. They are to be feared and not trusted.

They are not our neighbors.

Neither are those who love a different gender [or more than one]. Neither are those who don’t identify with a binary gender or who have transitioned or who are transitioning, or who are just not sure. Neither are people who have brown or black skintones to be trusted. In fact, we should call the police on them when they make us feel uncomfortable. We should use extra force with them because they are dangerous. They are out to hurt us. And so are people who practice other religions besides Christianity—who wear special clothes are hats or coverings and pray in different languages and read from different sacred books. They don’t look or feel red, white, and blue enough, and so they are not our neighbors.

Friends, it’s even true that U.S. elected officials [including the President] are spreading these ideas and bullying those who don’t agree. If we are kind and loving to those on the margins or to those who are different than us, then we are weak. And we’re given license and permission to refuse services and basic human rights to people simply because of their gender identification or expression, their sexual expression, their skin color, their nationality, their linguistic background, or their religious practice. The bullying hasn’t stopped, and it won’t, as long as these bullies are given money and authority…

And as long as people like you and me stay silent and stop making new neighbors. See, the message of Mr. Rogers may seem trite and simplistic in a time such as this, but it’s not. It’s profound and difficult to be kind and to love people as they are. It’s courageous to love yourself with all your flaws and then to turn around and love all people as your neighbor, with all their flaws. There is no weakness in such a thing. Living kindness and love is brave and daring and risky. Jesus taught this and lived this. It was the greatest and newest command of Jesus of Nazareth, to love one another—to know and love our neighbors. And when asked who our neighbors might be, I don’t have any doubt that Jesus and Mr. Rogers would be on the same page, and that both of them would see what is happening in the White House, in Congress, in the Senate—in far too many of our schools and workplaces and courthouses and on our streets–as the opposite of kindness and love.

So it’s time, if you haven’t already started, friend. It’s time to ask: won’t you love your neighbor? Won’t you love yourself? Won’t you be loud with your love and kindness, right now, in this moment?

 

 

 

Love in Safe Spaces

John 15:9-15

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

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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.

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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…

 

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.

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