Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘justice’

Reaching Outside the Lines

Luke 4:21-30     

Dear Readers,

Quick question, and please be honest.

Are you hearing any prophetic words, seeing any prophetic justice-action these days that are reaching across lines of difference, welcoming the marginalized, and standing up to hate and injustice and privilege? Are you? If so, please share in the comments.

And now…Luke’s version of Jesus’ prophetic voice taking flight….

Jesus of Nazareth had just read from the Isaiah scroll, which said: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because it has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. I’ve been sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then Jesus just sits down, drops the mic in the synagogue and says that this is fulfilled simply because the people heard it.

Hearing is an intimate thing.  You gotta lean in. You gotta pay attention. You have to notice body language and expression. The words you hear literally come all the way inside your body where they are then “processed” and understood through your neural connections. If your language is ASL you hear just as intimately, by noticing so much more than words, but intention.

So the crowds of people hearing this were amazed. Wasn’t this Jesus bar Joseph from Nazareth? Wasn’t he the same kid from their small town?

But Jesus wasn’t fooled by their amazement. They wanted Jesus to do some miracles or something—prove that he was magic or could do the stuff they had heard about him. More importantly, they wanted their own personal blessing—for the families, for their town, for Jesus’ hometown. Hey Jesus, homeboy, spread the love to us!

Jesus knew his hometown fans were definitely fairweather fans.

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They could turn on him at any moment, especially if they found out that this justice and freedom and acceptance wasn’t specifically for them, but was for all those who were oppressed, imprisoned, poor, or marginalized.

Jesus then provides two examples, well-known in Israel, of the prophet coming to the aid of outsiders:  the Zarephath widow and Elijah, and Elisha and Namaan the Syrian (1 Kgs 17:8-24, 2 Kings 5: 1-19).  In both cases, a prophet came to the aid of a gentile when other people in Israel could have also used the help. 

Luke’s author wants us the readers to know that the widow was on the margins of society and undoubtedly poor.  Naaman, though powerful as an army commander, suffered from leprosy, so he was unclean. 

In both cases, a prophet reached out to them on the margins [Elijah and Elisha]. See, Jesus was being prophetic by telling his hometown that they weren’t going to get special treatment.

This of course didn’t go over well. The people of Jesus’ hometown turned on him. Not only did they want to throw him out of town, they wanted to throw him off a cliff! Yeah, that’s not good. But somehow, in Luke’s version of this story, Jesus is able to get out alive, without the people getting to him, thus recalling to mind the scene from A Christmas Story when the leg lamp is broken and Ralphie’s father heads out to the store to get some glue to try to fix it and in his frustration, he can only utter: “Not a finger!!!” Yeah, they couldn’t lay a finger on Jesus.


But I digress.

This story is pretty clear, especially in today’s context. Look, I’ll be frank. Christians [especially the U.S. brand] deserve all the bad press they get. Honestly, American Christians have earned the bad reputation. I’ve been in rooms, halls, sanctuaries and in public spaces with self-proclaimed Christians who quote all manner of scripture they claim is holy and the word of God, but do they hear any of it? Because after they read it they say horrific things about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and then deny the existence of transgender people. Then, they call immigrants “Isis” and Muslims “anti-Christian” and “against Jesus.” They camp out in the alleyways of Planned Parenthood near the back door so they can heckle doctors, social workers, and any women who receive services. They hold up incredibly triggering and hateful signs using words I won’t utter here [and not because I’m PC, but because they are hateful words]. They say they know who’s going to hell [not them of course] and who Jesus loves and who Jesus hates. They say they are “hearers” and “doers” of God’s Word, and well, I [and most of the rest of the world] call BS.

They are chasing Jesus out of his own town, hoping to throw him off a cliff.

Because Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t bless them like they want to be blessed. Jesus doesn’t favor them. Jesus sees their privilege and their hate and their greediness. Jesus reads from the justice prophet, Isaiah, and the Christians don’t listen or hear or care. They have their own agendas. And anyone outside of those agendas either is against them or doesn’t exist.

And this, my friends, is why Jesus of Nazareth gathered people to his side who would follow him to do justice and to love those on the margins. This is why Jesus even rejected his own town and his own religion so that he could be part of something good in the world. This is what we are prophetically asked to do. Religion has failed us. It’s okay to admit it, because we don’t need to be loyal to a religion.

The way of justice and love is not tied to a religion, a country, or even a sacred book.

Doing justice and loving others across lines of difference is a choice we make. It is a difficult, but I argue, a compassionate and wonderful choice. And yes, sometimes this means we’ll have to leave behind religious ideology or traditions that keep us from doing justice and loving others.

As a general rule, I look at any religious practice or ideology and ask: does it exclude people, separate them out, marginalize them? Then it doesn’t come from anything sacred.

Then I ask: does it reach out to those who are hurting, on the margins, oppressed? Does it take no issue with their nationality, orientation, gender, language, or color of skin? If not, then it’s worthwhile, it’s sacred, it’s useful, it’s prophetic.

So I ask you: how will we listen to the prophetic voices and be inspired to do justice and to love people as they are, to reach outside of boundaries and borders and differences? And how will we be prophetic in our words and actions?

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Intimate Hearing, Radical Living

Luke 4:14-21  

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Echo [Ronin], a deaf superhero

Hearing is one of our senses, along with seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching.

Now, let me ask—how many of you are deaf or have a close family member or friend who is deaf?

As a hearing person, I am amazed at how in tune deaf people are with their surroundings and also, how well they communicate with others across a wide range of cultures and languages.

Case in point–my Grandpa M. He was deaf for most of his life. He read lips. I remember as a kid that when we talked with Grandpa, we needed to make eye contact, to face each other. I also remember reading the closed captioning on the TV and thinking that was cool. But to be honest, I never felt hindered in my conversations with him. In fact, to this day I still feel that my Grandpa sometimes communicated more effectively than we did. My grandpa used body language and facial expressions to communicate, as well as his words.

Deafness, unfortunately, is often viewed by hearing people as a deficiency rather than a separate linguistic context, worldview and culture, which people of the deaf community would like us to know that it is.

I asked my friend Jamie Lynn Hill, a freelance ASL interpreter, about her years of working with the deaf community. This is what she shared:


Body language and facial expressions are heavily integrated in their language and in the signs themselves so they’re used to REALLY looking at someone when they speak. Both because they HAVE TO (they can’t hear them) and because sometimes the sign alone doesn’t convey the full feeling, so you have to pay attention to the whole thing. And, as a side note, because you have to LOOK AT ONE ANOTHER to talk, you can’t be on the phone, or watching TV, or surfing Facebook and just be nodding and “uh-huh”ing. And I think that that also makes them better communicators and closer to one another. They always have each other’s full attention. 
Secondly, they really say what they mean. The double speak we use in English doesn’t translate into ASL the same way. It translates into a much more direct and clear statement. You are never left wondering how a deaf person “really feels about you”. Their community is unique in that they are very quick to let you in and share their lives but they can also be very passionate and very protective of themselves and their community. It almost seems like they went so long without having people to communicate easily with that they don’t have time to waste playing games. They want to talk, and share, and be involved in each other’s lives and if you’re willing to be a part of it, great, and if you’re not, fine.

In their history they spent a lot of time not being allowed to sign. Being in families that didn’t learn it, or allow them to learn it. Being shipped off to places for “disabled people” and it’s only in the last couple generations that they’ve been treated remotely like the rest of society. And I think as a result, they really value that communication with one another
And still I know, sadly, of a lot of people who are deaf–kids I’ve worked with, whose families don’t sign at home, and who therefore don’t have the same access to the everyday “how was school, how are you feeling” mundane conversation we take for granted. So when they find themselves surrounded by people they can fully express themselves to and understand back, they just don’t take it for granted.

Thanks, Jamie. What catches my attention is how deaf people have this ability to really listen.

Actually, did you know that research shows that only 7 percent of our personal messages are conveyed by words, 38 percent by tone of voice and 55 percent by facial expressions and body language? That is why nonverbal communication is so important.

See, we can get caught up in the 5 senses [especially hearing and seeing] and then look at others who are deaf or blind as having a disability. But if we do that, we are missing something. They are gifted. And they are often more in tune with their senses than we are. Our senses are miracles—especially when we pay attention to them. Those who are deaf can see more than we can imagine. Those who are blind can hear beyond what we think. Our senses are miracles when we use them.

So I want to try something. I’m going to say [write] less, and then let’s allow for our senses to be heightened, let’s be present in this very moment, and then let’s see what happens.

In Luke’s Gospel story, Jesus of Nazareth has become a teacher–his new profession. Jesus returned home to Nazareth, his home town to do some of that teaching just as he was doing in other synagogues outside of Nazareth. So Jesus read from one of the prophetic scrolls, this time Isaiah. He read famous words that everyone would have known—about an age of jubilee when justice would reign, and marginalized people would be welcomed back and healing would occur for many. Prisons would be emptied. People without sight would see, oppressed people would have freedom. He read from the scroll, rolled it back up, gave it to the synagogue attendant, and sat down.

Silence. People stared at him. Their body language anxious, curious, wondering. What would he say? How should they react?

Silence.

Until—just a few words.
“Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
By simply hearing it—fulfillment.

But what does it mean to truly hear and see it fulfilled in action, in living?

Is it enough to just hear, or do we need to lean in, make eye contact, read lips, facial expression, body language, gestures?

Is intimate hearing actually active listening? Not just using our ears to hear, but our eyes to see, our tongues to taste, our hands to touch, and our noses to smell? To take it all in—to truly sense and be present. So that, in the act of being fully present, and aware and awake, we process what was said/expressed, and then it changes us.

May we learn from all the gifted, incredible people in the deaf community. May we recognize our lack of listening skills. May we put down our phones and turn off our devices. May we look each other in the eyes or read lips, or notice body language and facial expressions.

May we actively listen to each other.

Any time of jubilee and justice–an era during which the marginalized are welcomed and balance is restored will only happen if we listen to each other.

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Interfaith Immersion Day 4

Wednesday

At noon we journeyed to Repair the World,

Repair the World

The organization partners with local and community-based organizations like the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children and Broad Street Ministry as it seeks to build a kinder and more equitable city. Repair the World works to inspire American Jews and their communities to give their time and effort to serve those in need. Their aim is to make service a defining part of American Jewish life.

Our group participated in a workshop with Mary Holmcrans, one of their food fellows. She presented information about food security and justice issues, including food deserts and food sovereignty. The students had a chance to reflect about those terms, as well as an opportunity to read some passages from the Torah [mostly from Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Exodus] and to reflect on how these passages speak to the issue of hunger and justice.

After the workshop, we went to Reading Terminal Market for some fun and well, eating.

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Then, a quick stroll up and down South St. to glance at the Magic Gardens and one of the urban gardens in the city that provides fresh produce for those who do not have access to nutritious food.

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And finally, the obligatory run up the Art Museum steps all the while humming the tune to Rocky.

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See you tomorrow.

Love Builds Up

Mark 1:21-39

Let’s talk demons, afflictions, identity and love.

Cool with you?

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Okay, first, a story about Jesus of Nazareth. He’s making his way to Capernaum–perhaps the most important and well-connected community in the region of Galilee. There was a temple there, and Jesus was about to darken its door. Mark’s Gospel is the speed Gospel, going right to the point. Jesus has already been baptized by John, has experienced temptation in the wilderness, and then he formed new community by calling fishermen. Now, after all that in just a few verses, Jesus moves on to engage the religious authorities of the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum. On the Sabbath, Jesus started to teach within the temple walls. The “they” in this case probably refers to the people in general—those who were present to receive a teaching. But they didn’t expect this action-oriented teaching they were about to get.

For something strange then happened. Something out of the Exorcist maybe? A man, in the synagogue, cried out. He was unclean, with a spirit inside him. What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.

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For sure, the people had to be a little freaked out.

But oh, it wasn’t over. Be silent, and come out of him! Jesus spoke with authority. And then, the unclean spirit left the man after much convulsing and crying out. Okay, yes, Mark tells us, the people were freaked out and amazed by this. What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. People all of a sudden didn’t care that Jesus was from Nazareth or some so-called sh&thole country.

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Just then, the people didn’t care about Jesus’ place of origin. Go figure. They liked what they heard and saw. They saw him doing something good and forgot about their prejudice. Hmmm…..

Let’s get this out of the way. Demon possession? It’s something reserved for horror movies or superstition, right? It’s the scary story my conservative youth group leader use to tell us as teenagers about some kid she claimed was possessed by the devil and then cured by the prayers said by church leaders. Yes, that really happened. It was a religious anecdote meant to scare us into the fear of God and steer us away from the many, many things that tempt teenagers and well—everyone. Is that what we’re talking about here?

No, this is not a story about fear or scaring people into certain moral choices.

This is about healing.

Pure and simple. Healing. You see, in Jesus’ time and in ours, there were and are many people afflicted by disease, illness, mental anguish, depression, and loneliness. There are many suffering from addictions, OCD, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, chemical imbalance, genetic tendency, etc., etc. What Jesus healed [and the disciples, too] was affliction—and not something out of a Hollywood movie. People were possessed by unclean spirits that did not allow them to live their lives. Sometimes those unclean spirits were physical ailments; sometimes mental afflictions; sometimes, lifestyle habits; other times, vicious family cycles; sometimes injustice, oppression, or discrimination. But the demons were real. And today, they are still real.

Because people [and governments] still deny a person’s full humanity. They tell them that they are lesser, unworthy, or unnatural. There are lots of reasons why, they say—based on a person’s gender identity or expression; who they love; the color of their skin; what language they speak; what religion they practice; where they grew up or how much money they have. This denial of a person’s true self causes terrible anxiety and depression in people whose beauty deserves to be seen and recognized.

Those who demonize others don’t bless, they curse. They ban people from hospitality and refuge. They use religions and politics to hide behind their prejudice and hate. They tear down instead of building up. There are even those in today’s society who quote Bible passages and even mention Jesus in their hateful rhetoric against certain people and then are conveniently silent when people are unjustly treated.

But Jesus and those who followed him told a different story. Healing was accessible to all—even if they were poor, marginalized, unclean, or forgotten. Jesus recognized that poverty, sickness, injustice, and the denial of someone’s humanity were systemic problems. Even he could not solve this in a blink of an eye or a healing touch. But he could heal one person in her own context, listening to her story, and offering whatever kind of healing touch she needed. It’s like Paul said in his letter to the church in Corinth, you can gain all the knowledge you want, and that’s great, but it is love that builds something. Love builds something.

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Why do we need to create accepting, affirming, raw-messy-beautiful communities? Because it’s needed. Healing doesn’t happen overnight. And sadly, far too many religions and governments deny some people’s full humanity. So community is needed—a community that loves and heals together. See, we can claim to know this or that about Jesus or God or whatever, but that knowledge takes us only so far. Eventually, we are tasked with acting out of love. Because there will always be people standing outside our gates, or entering in, who need healing of some kind. We can shower them with knowledge and prayers but that’s not enough and sometimes it’s not relevant. But love is always relevant. Love builds up. It is the one thing in this mess of a world that makes any sense.

Well Traveled

Matthew 5:1-10  

Hey, how ya feelin’ today? Blessed? Are ya feelin’ blessed today?

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If you were to answer “yes” to that question, what does that mean, to be blessed?

Let’s ask our friend the dictionary. First off, if this word is used as a verb, it is pronounced blest, with one syllable, i.e. “Before the dinner started, grandma blessed [blest] the food.”  But this word can also be used as an adjective, and this case, it is pronounced with two syllables, i.e. “Gerry’s graduation from college was a bless-ed moment.” Of course, you can also say:

“I don’t have a bless-ed clue about what you’re saying!”

In general, though, blest or bless-ed means favored, fortunate, lucky, privileged, enviable, happy. This is the most typical use of the word, at least here in the U.S., where you hear people say “I’m blessed” quite a lot.

But the modern use of #blessed is not really close to the “blessed” said many times in a famous speech attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in Luke’s and in Matthew’s Gospels. Often called the Beatitudes, these words of Jesus are believed to have been said from a hill overlooking the Lake of Galilee, but over time, a collection of Jesus sayings, kind of like a Jesus mixtape.

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These “blessed” quotes had their foundation in the Hebrew wisdom literature, the Psalms and Proverbs. In Israel’s culture, poets and sages used beatitudes to encourage admirable behavior and traditional attitudes towards life. These ancient writings affirmed that blessedness was not about material fortune or prosperity. People were blessed when they were filled with and surrounded by a spiritual sense of well-being—both as an individual and as a community.

Jesus’ blessed sayings, though, are paradoxical. They don’t fit the typical idea of what it means to be blessed. Poor, mournful, humble, hungry, merciful, honest-hearted, peaceful, persecuted, and hated? These states of mind or being don’t necessarily seem blessed, at least according to society. But maybe that’s point. For Jesus,

Being blessed was about being well-traveled—being wise and awake.

Being poor isn’t just about having less material things. It’s about detaching yourself from things and finding freedom, joy, and gratefulness in all that is simple and beautiful. Mourning is about being open and honest when you are sad. Justice-seeking is wanting the best, not just for yourself or for those who are close to you; but for anyone anywhere. Being merciful to others means mercy will find you. Working for peace and not war ends your hate and starts your love.

So, I hear this saying to all of us:

Accept that people won’t like you and will sometimes say bad things about you when you try to do good things. Don’t let that stop you. Instead, find joy in the fact that you even have an opportunity to do good.

Emmanuel AME: Just Be. And Be Not Afraid

Mark 4:35-41

Emmanuel.jpegThis is an excerpt from an article written for the Huffington Post by Rev. Otis Moss, III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

The doors of the church are [still] open.

The question running through the minds of many African Americans, particularly black church folks is where and when will we ever be safe? Earlier this week nine prayer warriors were massacred at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina…

On Wednesday night, members of Emanuel gathered with their pastor in what should have been a safe place…Seated in their midst was a young white man who was a stranger, yet welcomed as a friend…The young man was seated next to the pastor, where he returned the church’s hospitality with unimaginable inhumanity.

The AME denomination was founded as a protest against racism [Yolanda Pierce]. This is true of Emanuel AME, affectionately known as “Mother” Emanuel. Its storied history dates back almost 200 years. Mother Emanuel endured despite being burned down, outlawed and destroyed by an earthquake.

Emanuel AME has been the target of racist attacks, legal harassment and arson. [Despite each [calamity] that stormed the doors of the church, [Emmanuel] was committed to teaching the south “a more excellent way” called love. Emanuel at every turn has responded with love rooted in justice by teaching literacy, producing leaders, protesting unequal treatment, fighting for economic parity and demanding the confederate flag be replaced by a symbol for all South Carolinians. Mother Emanuel exemplifies the best of our religious tradition–liberation, love and reconciliation.

This storm too shall pass.

Despite this breach, the black church will continue to serve as a sanctuary against racism and hatred. We are encouraged by the images of South Carolinians of all races coming together to mourn and remember the fallen.

When we see the faces of those who were lost and learn of their lives, we are devastated not just by the senselessness of the act but also because we know these victims. We know them–the civil servants, the recent graduate, the librarian, the track coach, the grandfather and the great-grandmother.

In honor of those nine souls and of the countless others who preceded them, we will continue to exist, to protest, to remain open, to stand, and to pray. The doors of the church are open.

So many of us mourn with the families, friends, and church members of Emmanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina. In Philly, Mother Bethel AME, led by my colleague Rev. Mark Tyler, hosted a prayer vigil for hundreds of people. And Rev. Tyler’s commitment to interfaith cooperation and welcome shined through. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and many others gathered at Mother Bethel for prayer, mourning, and healing.

In spite of the fear, confusion, and sadness—

Their doors were open.

I don’t have much to say about what happened other than it makes me sick, angry, and sad. So I cannot imagine what others feel. This kind of storm seems insurmountable. And where is God in all this?

So I suppose it’s appropriate to reflect on Mark’s Gospel story about some horrified disciples stuck in a boat in the middle of a storm while their teacher Jesus slept.

They were doing what they were supposed to do. They were listening to Jesus, reaching out to people who had been marginalized by religion, society, and government. They were in a boat going to the other side where others did not dare to go. And then, without warning, the storm came. They weren’t protected; they were vulnerable, exposed, afraid.

Jesus was asleep, unresponsive to their fears.

Until they awakened him and then he asked:

Why are you afraid?

Seems like Jesus was asking them why they had allowed their terror to overcome their faith—to lessen their commitment to journeying to the other side. And Jesus commanded:

Peace! Be Still!

This kind of peace was aggressive.
The disciples took notice. They were in awe. Jesus spoke peace to terror; love to hate; mercy to judgement; friendship to isolation; healing to sickness; forgiveness to resentment; justice to injustice.

And so they kept going in their boat…to the other side, well aware of the dangers ahead and that things would not be comfortable or perfectly ordered, or even completely safe.

During the storms, when we wonder where God is, how do we respond?

My colleague, the Rev. Waltrina Middleton, United Church of Christ National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership, wrote this on Thursday:

waltrina.jpegWith deep sorrow, I write to share that my beloved first cousin was among the nine fatalities. Her death was confirmed this morning, and the unspeakable grief of this loss has knocked me and my family off-kilter.

Please keep my family, Mother Emanuel congregation and all those impacted by this rampant culture of violence in the center of your prayers.

Let us come together for such a time as this to the sacred clearing—no matter our faith or practice—and be of one accord in the spirit of love, hope, and healing to seek justice and peace for these and other victims of hatred and violence.

Let us put our faith to action and be more than empty drums that have long lost their melodies or arrangements. Let us remove our instruments from the poplar trees and call the people, the public officials, and, yes, the church to action to address the festering sores of racism, classism and militarism—as they intersect in this culture of violence. How can we begin to eradicate this evil without acknowledging the realities of racialized policing, hate crimes, and the disproportionate acts of violence against Black and Brown bodies?

Alas, it is morning and tear-filled dewdrops fall fresh upon my face, with eyes watching God and a soulful lament. Our hearts are troubled, but our faith remains steadfast, trusting and believing in the reconciling power of God for the brokenhearted and the oppressed.

Yours in faith and justice,
Waltrina

She has chosen to cry out to God, but she has also chosen to keep on going to the other side.

How about the rest of the families who lost loved ones on Wednesday night?
Have you seen the video from the courthouse?
As the terrorist thug who took so many lives stood there, grieving family members expressed their sorrow. But then they verbally told him:

We forgive you.

I don’t know if I would have been capable of such a thing during such a storm.
But even as they cried out, they forgave.

Peace be still!

The miracle is in the justice and love work that people still do while they’re in the storm or down in the depths.

I have no doubt that Mother Emanuel AME Church will continue to be the miracle it has always been, just like Mother Bethel AME in Philly—testifying to a counter-narrative. No doubt that they will testify to the Spirit working its own history of justice, of peace, of reconciliation for American people who have been ostracized, marginalized, and treated as imposters.

We are, and should be appalled by this hate crime. We should mourn with those who mourn and cry out. But as we have been shown by those directly affected by this tragedy, we must also stay in the boat and keep going to the other side. We cannot allow fear to paralyze us or to make us apathetic about things like gun violence and racism.

In short, saying nice words isn’t enough.
We have to act.
We have to make changes TODAY.

When storms like this occur, we are meant to join together with others. We are meant to cooperate, support, stand with, work for justice, replace hate with love, fear with faith, and we are meant to make peace ourselves.

Jesus woke up and expected the disciples to understand that this was their responsibility. They didn’t get it until Jesus himself spoke peace to the storms.

We should all keep in mind that Mark’s Gospel was written to assure people that God was present with them in their sufferings. And it should come as no surprise that this story in a boat follows the mustard seed parable. It’s emphasizing, once again, the freeness of God’s presence, the unlimited, uncontrolled Spirit in the world. And it’s focusing on us–on humans, and how we are afraid of this freeness and this uncontrollable Spirit. We are afraid to let go of control. We are afraid of change.
And sadly, if we grip tightly to that fear, we become obsessed with keeping all that we are afraid to lose—whether status, control, money, power, privilege, etc. We can even go so far as to commit acts of violence against others.

What is racism? Fear. What are acts of terrorism? Cowardly acts.

In Mark’s boat story, faith is letting go of fear–letting go of the belief that everyone in the world is out to get us and so we better control certain people and things in order to survive. Faith is about letting go of this.

And so, as we hear the cries of all those who mourn this tragedy, we must sit and stand with them and join them in their cries. But then, we must act. We must let go of any fears that keep us from fighting against prejudice, and gun violence, and racism and stop making excuses. We must stand up in the boat and say:

ENOUGH! PEACE BE STILL!

We must be the peace we so often hope for and talk about, in spite of the storms.

Inner Peace and a Path

Isaiah 40:4-8, Psalm 85: 8, 10, 11, 13  

This time of year, a second candle is lit and people speak an elusive word:

 Peace.

 PeaceUnfortunately, I’m not sure we are all that honest about this word.

Do we really believe in peace?

I mean, it certainly doesn’t seem like we believe in it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be fighting wars and starting new ones. We wouldn’t have tons of weapons; we wouldn’t separate communities of people from each other–if we really believed in peace. We wouldn’t be shouting or posting racial slurs; we wouldn’t be apathetic about building bridges across lines of difference.

So I would like to go in a different direction, taking another path, this Advent season. What if the prophetic passages of Isaiah, the Psalms, and the NT Gospels didn’t really talk about peace the way we think they did?

What if real and honest peace is not about lighting candles and singing songs and observing a holiday season and religious traditions, just like we do every year? What if peace isn’t even about most of the things associated with Christmas?

Now before you start throwing things at me, allow me to explain.

The typical “Advent” scripture passages [and also the typical Christmas Eve passages] talk about peace, but not as an absence of conflict, a nice, warm feeling, or comfort.

Take Isaiah 40, for example. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a path of preparation. Something new is about to happen, something that will change everything, and the way for God needs to be prepared. The highways and byways are metaphors of the spiritual pathways in people that need to be ready to receive such a change.

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Isaiah the prophet tries to convince people that beyond all the destruction and loss in the world there is comfort and recovery. The earth itself will proclaim God’s reign of healing and transformation.

And then there are Psalms like Psalm 85 that echoes the Isaiah proclamation of healing and change. People [and whole nations] are forgiven and justice becomes healing. People are transformed and become free and joyful, and they commune with God.

And finally, in the Gospels, what does John the Baptizer do? He quotes Isaiah [and so does Jesus], and tells people to “turn around” to change, and he tells them to prepare the way for God.

But…none of this change, justice, and peace happens without real, honest human change on an individual basis.

People are exhorted to look deeply and honestly at themselves.

They are challenged to deal with the fears, the anxieties, the prejudices, and the apathy within themselves.
And they are encouraged that if they commit to that path, they will find something within themselves.

A highway.
A vessel.
A space where the divine can live and act.

And the encountering of peace…inside ourselves.
Inner peace.

Of course, it’s impossible to define what inner peace is, because it is and will be different for every person.
But, the path to inner peace is less relative.

Not just in Christian or other religious traditions and scriptures is this true, but in real life it’s true.

Inner peace is about accepting yourself.

But how do people discover acceptance?

Usually the first, and the hardest step, is in recognizing that the past is just…the past. Letting go of the past is critical, because the past is something that we cannot change.

And then it is in recognizing that the future is not here yet. We cannot turn the hands on a clock to make a day skip forward. We cannot turn the pages of a calendar to move ahead to future months.

Peace/Wholeness within yourself comes when you realize that the past and the future are not yours to hold in your hands.

Instead, the one thing you do hold in your hands is the here and now.

If you live firmly in the moment and then move fluidly from moment to moment, life seems to have a rhythm.
You will spend more time actually living, and you will see and experience the here and now in an honest and healthy way. You’ll spend less time regretting or dwelling on the past and less time worrying about the future.

And in the embracing of the here and now you actually embrace yourself.
You realize that you are alive. You are present.
Right now.

One particular theologian and philosopher who doesn’t exactly get mainstream love, and who certainly wouldn’t be on most people’s Christmas list, is one Paul Tillich.

tillichTillich looked at the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament Gospels with an alternative lens. He saw in the scripture stories a particular dynamic in what many Biblical scholars call Kairos time—in other words, when the divine breaks into the moment-by-moment existences of human beings.

In Tillich’s work, The Courage to be, he states:

…the reality of God’s moment by moment coming – the Kairos of this very moment – calls us to be self-aware and mindful and to be people who already live “on earth as it is in heaven.”[1]

But in order to live on this earth as we expect things are in heaven, we will need to have the courage to look at ourselves. We will need to honestly accept who we are—in spite of all that happens around us that might seek to distract us from such a pursuit.

It’s common for us to look out at the world and to become apathetic, depressed, and overwhelmed by all the suffering, injustices, violence, and pain.

It would be easy to just do things as we’ve always done them and to neglect looking intently inside ourselves.
But this is the path of Advent, the path of waiting, the path of real change.

For when we look deeply at ourselves and learn to accept ourselves as we are, we start to see others differently.

We even participate in that Kairos time—that intersection of the divine and us.

But don’t think that finding inner peace is just some isolated act for each individual. It’s more than that. Because when you commit to the path of accepting yourself, you participate in the divine act of God affirming all the good creation, all the beauty of the animals, and the plants, and the humans.

And you become aware of justice and the need to participate in it.
And peace is more than a dove or a word or an idea.
Peace is real because it lives in you.

[1] The Courage to Be. By Paul Tillich. Second Edition. New Haven, Yale University, 2000 (1st ed. 1952).

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