Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘light’

Saltiness Leads to Light

Matthew 5:13-16curry.jpg

I’m not a big fan of bland food. If you are, no problem—no judgements. Everyone has different tastes and certainly, what you grew up eating affects your taste buds. But for me, I like strong flavors in food. I gravitate towards spicy and tangy curries and sauces, a wide variety of chili peppers, and accent flavors in herbs like cilantro.

And I cannot imagine what certain bland foods would be like without…salt.

dead-sea-salt-crystals-12Dead Sea Salt Crystal Formations

Everybody uses salt to some extent in their food. Of course, salt isn’t just to add flavor, because it also can be a preservative. Ancient cultures around the world used salt for a variety of reasons—even religious ceremonies and currency. For the sake of our conversation, though, we are not talking about your everyday table salt. We are talking about sea salt.

Sea salt comes in rock crystal form and can be used for such things as a muscle-relaxing, skin reviving warm bath, a non-corrosive cleaner, or an incredibly delicious hummus. There are more than 14,000 uses for salt. Pretty useful, wouldn’t you say?

And yet, as the story in Matthew’s Gospel assumes, salt can lose its flavor. Salt from places like the Dead Sea or any other body of water obviously can mix with sand and other things, thus making it not entirely “pure” salt [NaCl]. When mixed with water or when exposed to a lot of sunlight, this salt mix loses its saltiness. In Jesus’ day, merchants in the region of Galilee would deal with this on a regular basis, as they would encounter salt mixtures that were not usable because they were flavorless. It was trampled underfoot because, logically, people walked on the shores and therefore walked on the salt.

That’s the context for the humans being as salt metaphor.

Being salty is about having flavor, but also about being useful. What comes to my mind in this moment is that saltiness involves diversity. As a human race, we are full of flavors, full of beautiful colors, cultures, and ideas. What makes us salty isn’t that we are all the same or homogeneous. Our diversity makes us salty; our diversity makes us useful as well, because the more we encounter and cooperate with others who are different, we gain new perspectives about the world [and ourselves], we break down barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice, and we better our world. Like I said, I’m all about the flavor, baby.

And then there’s light.

lightpersion
Pretty common religious reference across the board, right? But in this case, the light reference needs some explanation. Think 1st and 2nd Century Israel and Palestine, as we know this area today. People of that time typically had just one room in their houses. When someone entered a home, they would immediately notice an oil lamp on top of a stand. When it was time to put the lamp out, the residents of the home would place a bushel basket over the lamp. Practically, that would keep the smoke and fumes in the basket and not blowing in your face. This context is important if we are to gain insight into this Jesus saying.

an-ancient-style-oil-lamp1

You see, Jesus of Nazareth, according to Matthew’s author, says that we should be like the lamp on that stand, except for one caveat—we shouldn’t put the basket on top of our light to snuff it out.

Jesus raises the stakes and says that humans should not just be a lamp, but a city, and not just on a stand, but on a hill.

We are supposed to be even brighter lights that illuminate the darkness, up on a hill where others can see.

I don’t know about you, but I want to SEE that. Who is tired of all the hateful speech, manipulation, fear tactics, and hypocrisy? I honestly do not care if you are a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Sikh, Jain, Baha’i, Secular Humanist, Atheist, Wiccan, Republican, Democrat, Independent, vegetarian, vegan, carnivore, bland food or spicy food lover.

Why not accept our saltiness? We are all unique, and this is SO GOOD.

Why not be light? Why not be light in this world, because the world needs us to be light, yes?

I’ll do my best. Won’t you shine your light and add yours to mine?

Cast Nets, Light It Up!

Matthew 4:12-23

march1On Saturday, January 21st, 2017 a LOT of people were gathering in cities and towns and suburbs across the U.S. and even the world, for the women’s march. My mom marched in Durango, Colorado; my sister in Seattle, Washington; my niece in Des Moines, Iowa; many of friends and colleagues made it to Washington D.C. for the massive gathering of half a million people. Others gathered with thousands in Philly and even in the suburbs like the 1500 who marched in Doylestown.

march2Now I don’t know if you have ever participated in a march—whether to protest a war, a law, or an injustice. Marches and other non-violent protest assemblies are about lifting up voices of people that may not be heard. They are about identifying social issues and societal problems. Though you may not agree with every march or protest that goes on, it is important to understand and embrace the why of marches and that they are steeped in history. Any time a group of people in any place in the world felt that their government was not caring for them or governing wisely, people assembled and protested. They marched.

march3Maybe you know about the purpose of this particular march, maybe you don’t . The purpose and mission of the women’s march, as described on its website, caught my eye:

We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.

It goes on to identify specifically groups of people who have been targeted or discriminated against both historically and currently in the United States: Muslims, recent immigrants, Native people, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault, etc. It continues:

The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us…there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.

I encourage you to read more on their website. The guiding principles of the women’s march may sound familiar to some of you. They should. They reflect both Martin Luther King’s vision for a beloved community where all people were treated justly. In my view, they reflect the views of one Jesus of Nazareth who, many years ago, went on a march of his own. He left his home town, went on a journey to various towns and cities, and he carried a message with him. He preached good news for all people, but especially those who were on the margins. He named them. He healed them. He stood strong against the Roman government authorities and even his own Jewish religious leaders. He called people of all walks of life to take this journey with him, to march with him. What he did was controversial. He was hated by some; called names by many; forced to isolate himself and his followers at times because of death threats; and in the end, his journey, his march, did not end well. It was clear what he stood for, though. The Gospel writers were clear that Jesus was marching to make Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom a reality—that light would break through darkness and a new day would dawn.

I’ve been thinking a lot leading up to and after this recent presidential election about what I really care about and what I plan to do about it. I mean, what and who is most important to me? And how will I be a part of bringing healing and light and love rather than division and fear and hate? I challenge you to ask those same questions of yourselves.

What matters, who matters to you?
What will you do about it?

Will you march? Will you move towards those things and people? Okay, whether you are religious or not, or whether the stories about Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels have meaning for you, the question still is relevant.

Will you stand up for love and community right now?

Special note to Christians reading this:
I challenge you to ask those questions of yourselves, but I also want you to ask that question of your congregation, because this story about Jesus calling fisherman to march with him was not about creating a church or staying with the status quo. Jesus called them to build relationships with strangers—people who were very different than them. Jesus called them to hang out with the hated, the disenfranchised, and the most-marginalized in society. To be “fishers of people” means that we use whatever gifts we have, expertise, resources, time, and energy to seek justice for all people, and to spread love and light no matter what.

Many people of various faith backgrounds [and secular ones] are having frank and open conversations to organize around this idea of what will we do? I’m not that naïve to think that we will always agree on the how. But friends, that we must march together is essential. That we must stand up for those who are bullied is essential. That we continue to name anyone or any group that is specifically targeted by government, religion, or communities is essential.

I work with a congregation. The United Church of Christ in Warminster. This is my hope and dream and challenge for them.

Now when UCCWarminster people sold a building and left 785 W Street Rd in Warminster they withdrew to Ben Wilson Center. They made their homes in the urban gardens of Philadelphia, at SHARE in East Falls, at Manna on Main in Lansdale, Peace Valley Park by the lake, Warminster library, Orlando, Florida, Living Water UCC, many homes, and many other places. Then they made their home in the borough of Hatboro, in the territory of Montgomery County by the creek, so they that what had been spoken long ago could again be heard and seen: Land of Hatboro, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, United States of America, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who still sit in that region of shadow and death light will dawn. So they went, all over the NE suburbs of Philly, teaching in the cafes and churches and local places and proclaiming the good news of God, bringing healing to the diseases of racism, homophobia, sexism, religious prejudice, and all other sicknesses that hurt people and destroy communities. They followed Jesus on this path that stretched from York and Horsham Rds and beyond.

They cast their nets wide and far. They expected people to join them. They didn’t shy away from conflict, challenge, or opposition. Instead, they loved above all else, and to a fault. Every time they encountered hate they loved more and became bolder. Each time someone or something tried to turn rainbows into doom and gloom they joined hands with more and more rainbow-makers and sustainers. They marched for light and love.

A Fragile Peace

Isaiah 11:1-4a

stump_jesse21
It is December. It’s colder. The leaves are on the ground. Winter has come. Animals know it. They sense it—they go about their business getting ready for colder nights, gathering food and making more stable shelters. There is so much movement in nature at this time of year if you pay attention to it. Scurrying and gathering and preparing. Animals know a lot; they are obviously so much more connected to this good earth than we are. They understand instinctively that winter will come, but it’s not so bad. It’s necessary. Good stuff happens in nature during winter. There is a dormant period for plants and other living beings. But…in just a few months, just when all the humans like you and I are more than ready for winter to just GET IT OVER WITH PLEASE!….something happens. It starts with a bud—small and inconspicuous. It starts with tiny plants peeking out and then animals, both small and large, emerging earlier and later to drink water and find food. They know it’s coming. Spring is coming. The roots of the earth are strong; they will soon emerge and all of life will…be replenished, renewed, and delightful.

preparing-for-winterThe images of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah are indeed beautiful if you just embrace the metaphors of nature and life itself. Keep in mind the historical context of Isaiah and it becomes even richer, if you ask me. As I always say, if you identify as a Christian, do not be so quick as to jump to conclusions when you read Isaiah. Don’t make quick and easy connections between what Isaiah wrote so long before Jesus of Nazareth was born and the stories of the New Testament. Instead, embrace the beauty of Isaiah’s message and then understand why the New Testament Gospel writers [and even Jesus himself] borrowed from Isaiah.

This prophet, though writing during an incredibly difficult and bleak time for the ancient Israelites, Isaiah planted seeds of hope, of peace, of renewal. Too long had the Israelites experienced war, famine, and isolation. The stump is injured. But a root now grows out of it, then a branch. Of course, Isaiah was referring to a new leader of the Israelite people. Notice, though, the great disparity between Isaiah’s leader who comes out of a stump and what we typically would assume a “leader” would look like. This branch is wise and delights in knowledge, has understanding. This branch looks to the poor, the marginalized, and not to the rich, powerful, and privileged. This branch out of a stump seeks peace for all living beings.

I don’t know about you, but honestly, I don’t see this branch as being Jesus of Nazareth. Otherwise, the lion and lamb would be hanging out together with no Ultimate Fighting going on and our nations would stop killing each other and our communities would stop hating and targeting certain people.

Evil still exists in the world, poor people struggle more than ever, predators prey on the weak.

In this time where peace can seem incredibly far off; when LGBTQ beautiful people feel afraid and are targeted, when Latinx kids and youth are made fun of and told to “go home” and when Native Americans are sprayed with tear gas and hoses in the freezing cold as they seek to protect their lands, what do we say about Isaiah’s image of a peaceful world? Well, we say that it’s not yet here. We tell the truth. We say what is happening in our communities—what is not right or good or peaceful or loving and we say that this is not the Divine’s desire for the world.

We say that, but then we have to do something, too.

For while Jews waited for [and still wait for] this Messiah, Christians do, too. We wait for the same thing, for the world to change. To be a loving, accepting, and beautiful place as we believe it is meant to be.

So then, buds and branches of a broken stump we call the world, how will you bring peace to the world around you? How will you love people who feel unloved? How will you stand up for those who are bullied and marginalized? How will you be a part of Divine intervention, considering that we are all connected to this desire, to create and live in a world of peace, of understanding, and of love.

How will we create this together?

Matthew 3:1-6
Turning Around to Face the Light & the Dark

I’ve mentioned this before, but just as a reminder, the word repent in the Gospels is not a word telling you to get on your knees and say: “Please, Jesus, forgive me!” It’s not a formulaic faith affirmation either. Repent means turn around. Reorient your life path.

What a great message for all of us this season. So, here’s the thing–John the Baptist was craaaaazy. Yep. People thought he was nuts. He probably was. A little bit. But he quoted Isaiah, so at least people thought he might know something. The voice in the wilderness is important to note, because the wilderness was a metaphor for a time of introspection and a bit of wandering. You’ve had those times, right? When you weren’t sure where you were in life or where you were going? Maybe you are there now. The wilderness. A voice literally cries out and says: PREPARE! Make paths straight! Okay, so…what? Go back to Isaiah and the idea of a peaceful world. Remember that John’s Gospel was written long after Isaiah…people, we are talking more than 800 years, okay? Yeah. So the peaceful world that Isaiah envisioned didn’t happen in Jesus’ time, and it didn’t happen after Jesus’ death, and it didn’t happen after the Gospels like John were written. Get the picture? John wasn’t so crazy after all. He understood, right, that the world was still in need of more love, and peace, and connection? He said to anyone who would listen: turn around, it’s never too late.

Change your life path if you need to.

Yeah, I don’t know where you’re at today, but I’m realizing the need to face myself as I am. It’s not just the recent Presidential election, though that’s part of it. It’s everything. I’ve been asking myself: What am I really doing? Who am I? Who do I want to be? I’m trying my best, and failing a lot of the time, but I’m trying to face myself. I’m facing the darkness in me, my desire to give up sometimes, my fears, my heaviness. And I’m also facing the light within me: my desire to keep standing up for justice and peace and love, the creative imagination that lives within and the freedom to let go of the things that hold me back. I want to turn around, to reorient myself every day. I don’t always make it. But this is the path.

May you see yourself as you are; may you find ways to love yourself and be at peace with yourself; if you need to turn around from things or relationships that hurt you or isolate you, do it; and be free to love, be free embrace all of your darkness and light. In doing so, I tell you this—you will encounter other people doing the same. You will connect to them and it will be marvelous. You will find love, acceptance, and peace with them. And then we create this reality together.

Why Unity Is Love & Light

John 17:20-26

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.[1]

Like a sculptor, if necessary, carve a friend out of stone. Realize that your inner sight is blind and try to see a treasure in everyone.[2]

If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired.[3]

You are never alone. You are eternally connected with everyone.[4]

What does unity mean to you?

bettertogetherWISC
Say or think the first few things that come to mind. What is unity? According to a mash-up dictionary definition, unity is defined as:

Being together or at one with someone or something.
Unity is the opposite of being divided.

In the world, we certainly see divisions in many aspects of society—divisions in religions, politics, culture, nationality, race, gender, world view, and many more. Keep in mind that I am referring to divisions, and not difference. Having different religions, cultures, languages, and world views is what makes us human. Difference is good; difference is humanity.

Division is something else. Case in point: I have different political views from some of my friends and colleagues. That’s fine. Some of us can actually talk about these differences without getting angry or defensive. But others who have different political views than I do cannot even engage in discourse with me. They see only their own point of view and also see my different view as a threat, or as flat out wrong. And that my friends, is division.
Last week, as many of you know, I participated in the annual Interfaith Peace Walk for Reconciliation in Philadelphia with hundreds of people from various religious and secular backgrounds.

peace-walk-gallery-header_0Now to some, this kind of walk is pointless, because in their view, the actual event accomplishes nothing.

So what? People go on a walk. But they are still divided! Muslim women in hijabs; Wiccan women with no head coverings; Sikh men with turbans; Jewish men with kippas; Catholic men and women with cross necklaces; Buddhists with mala beads; Hindu women with saris; hippie and hipster folk with peace signs and long hair.

From the outside, the walk doesn’t seem like anything unified at all if one thinks that differences only separate us. What they don’t know is that throughout the year, the real influence of the walk is evident. It is not about one day or one walk. It is about the relationships that are formed. People build bridges of understanding, trust, and friendship across lines of difference. A Christian woman now sees her Muslim friend not as a Muslim, but just a friend. Likewise, a Sikh college student sees a Buddhist classmate as a colleague and does not identify him by his religious tradition.

That’s what this walk is about: a commitment of individuals [and communities] to embrace difference as healthy and beautiful, and to not see difference as division.

The Christian Bible most certainly addresses the theme of division and unity in both the Old and New Testaments. I will say, however, that American Christians often understand unity to be something only within their own religious circles. So, if you happen to be Catholic, unity might mean that various Catholics should get together, be on the same page, and cooperate. Mainline denominations, including the United Church of Christ, do the same thing. They create regional and national events to try to make unified decisions and also to join for unified worship and prayer. And ecumenical groups have joint worship services to express unity across denominations.

By no means am I saying that such things are negative—they are not. But this is not the kind of unity that the Bible speaks of.
Remember that the various authors who wrote the Bible did so over the course of centuries. And none of them had any idea about the religion of Christianity. Zero. It did not exist. It is really important to keep that in mind when you read the Bible. Instead of Christians, there were all kinds of people who were considered to be of the Jewish tradition [and they were not all the same]. There were also Greeks, and Romans, and Samaritans, and Africans, and Arabs, and many, many more. Religiously and culturally, even in the small area around where Jesus and his followers lived, there was diversity and difference. Later on, when Paul and other followers of Jesus of Nazareth started to branch out farther into Europe and the Middle East, they encountered even more difference.

All that being said, John’s Gospel was written well after that—even after Paul’s letters. So look at this prayer that is attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in John 14:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

We don’t have adequate time to dissect every part of this prayer so we will focus on unity as it is expressed here as being one. In order to do that, I’m going to borrow from Richard Rohr and his work, the Cosmic Christ. For those of you unfamiliar with Richard Rohr, he is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.

In The Cosmic Christ, Rohr speaks about the Incarnation of God that we assume happened in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Rohr states that the incarnation actually happened 14.5 billion years ago with a moment that many scientists call “The Big Bang.” In other words, two thousand years ago, according to the New Testament of the Bible, the human incarnation of God in Jesus took place, but before that there was the first and original incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and “every kind of wild beast” according to the story in Genesis of the Hebrew scriptures (Genesis 1:3-25).

This, Rohr says, was the “Cosmic Christ.” Christ is in fact not Jesus’ last name, but the title for his life’s purpose. Jesus is the very concrete truth revealing and standing in for the universal truth.[5]

This idea is nothing new. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe that the world was created by one God and that this God manifested in a human or in humans. So do many, many other traditions like the Baha’i faith, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jains, etc. Some traditions call that divine manifestation light. This concept is often called non-duality.

Okay, stay with me here.

Nonduality or nondualism, means “not two” or “one undivided without a second.”

Across religious and philosophical traditions around the world, nondualism takes different shapes. But for the purpose of this discussion, let’s take nondualism to mean that there is no absolute, transcendent reality beyond our everyday reality. The universe is one reality, and we are part of it. Explore more about this idea and you will find that there is so much harmony across religious and non-religious traditions when it comes to this perspective, i.e. that we are all part of the same universe and connected to it.

Westerners struggle with nondualism. Why? Lots of answers to that question. In my experience, it is often because people have been raised to think that there are black-and-white answers to cosmic and nuanced problems, and also that there are clear opposites, i.e. male and female, good and evil, true and false. This is what we can refer to as binary thinking. For example, consider when countries like the United States wage a “war” thinking that it is on the side of good. At the same time, those on the other side of this war also think that their cause is right. So who is right? It depends on where you live, how you were raised, and your worldview, of course. Most people from the Eastern part of the world would understand this and not be freaked out by it. It is not relativism. It is non-dualism. Both sides of a war are seeking the same thing.

Contrarily, the opposite of nonduality is duality. In the West, as individuals, we see duality expressed with this idea—that I am here and you are there. All of you and the rest of the world is outside me. In other words, we are not connected.

What happens outside of my family or social circle, or house, or church is not related to me.

 

This is, unfortunately, how many Christians know Jesus.  They say they believe in and follow Jesus Christ, but they really have no idea what that entails. What they have actually done is to make two acts of faith, one in Jesus of Nazareth [the person] and another in Christ [the cosmic]. Jesus of Nazareth was a man—a human being who taught certain things and lived in a certain way. Christ is the “anointed” one who was and is divine. This concept of Christ is much bigger and older than Jesus of Nazareth or the Christian religion. This idea that the material and the divine co-exist is ancient and spans nearly all religious and philosophical traditions.

Imagine how a non-dualistic understanding of Jesus’ prayer in John 14 could be liberating and unifying. Imagine how it could embrace difference and combat division.

Jesus understood that to be divine was to be human, and vice versa.

He was well aware of his connection to all of nature, the communities around him, and the universe. He taught that anyone who hurt others hurt themselves. Understanding the connection between himself and God, Jesus was fully able empathize with another person’s pain and even the very cries of creation. Imagine if some of these highly-contested social issues were thought of in a nondualist way. There wouldn’t be so much fear of what or who is different. Case in point: I think the hurtful controversy about bathrooms and gender identifications would be less about the religious agendas like it is today and more about people—taking into account that non-binary is not a bad thing at all. And we are connected to each other. So if certain people do not feel welcomed to use a bathroom, we also do not feel welcomed.

gender-inclusive-bathroomsNot sure what your take is on whether Jesus was divine or not. Explore that on your own. What matters most is that if we separate God from humanity and vice versa, we’ll deal in division, absolutes, and binary things. We won’t be able to see God in the face of an enemy or in the faces of people in faraway lands or even in the faces of people next door who are different than us.

If this prayer teaches me anything, it is that our divisions are made up.

We are not divided. We are all connected. And the Divine is everywhere, in all of us. We are not alone. There is light in all things and in all people.

So take that idea with you—hold it close and express it in everyday life. We should all be one—with all our differences and uniqueness. We should be unified—as humanity and the natural world. Remember that you are not separated from the people and living things all around you. Remember that you are not separated from the Divine and the Divine is not separated from you. This is love and light.

[1] Gwendolyn Brooks
[2] Rumi
[3] Askhari Johnson Hodari, Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs
[4] Amit Ray, Meditation: Insights and Inspirations
[5] From Radical Grace, April-May-June, Volume 23, Number 2, 2010.

Listening and then Belonging

John 10:22-30

Julian Treasure is founder and chairman of The Sound Agency, a UK-based consultancy that asks and answers the question: “How does your brand sound?”

julianTreasureJulian’s vision is to make the world sound beautiful, by helping individuals to make and receive sound consciously, and companies to discover that good sound is good business.
http://www.juliantreasure.com.

He recently gave a Ted Talk entitled: “Five Ways to Listen Better.” Conscious listening, he says, leads to understanding.You can watch it here:

 

Allow me to apply some of his research and points.
First, consider crowd noise. Everyone is talking all at once.
Now, in the midst of all that noise, I will call upon the names of two people, saying their names and telling them to pay attention. What will happen? They will stop talking and listen.

This happens because we recognize patterns to distinguish noise from signal, and especially our name.

Another sound technique: differencing. Play some constant noise—anything. TV, phone, iPod, whatever. Now, if you leave this noise going for more than a couple of minutes, you would literally cease to hear it. We listen to differences and we discount sounds that remain the same.
Now close your eyes.

Sound places all of us in space and in time. By closing your eyes, you become aware of the size of the place you are in from the reverberation and the bouncing of the sound off the surfaces. And you’re aware of how many people or other beings are around you because of the micro-noises you’re receiving.

And now to the crux of Mr. Treasure’s passion: he claims that we are losing our listening. Why? First, because we have invented ways to record sound and video and words. Second, because the world is very noisy. It becomes hard to listen. Perhaps that’s why many people use headphones so that they can transform big, noisy spaces into small little sounds in their ears. We’ve also become impatient. We don’t want to listen for long periods of time, we want sound bites. Headlines therefore have to scream at us, just to get our attention. It’s political season. You know what I mean.

And why do you think commercials turn up the volume?

Mr. Treasure goes on to say that listening is our access to understanding. Conscious listening creates understanding. A world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed.

So He shares five simple exercises–tools to take away with you, to improve your own conscious listening.

Silence: Silence of 3 minutes a day helps reset our ears to quiet so that we can listen well.

The Mixer: Even in a noisy environment, try to listen to as many individual channels as you can hear and differentiate. It can be in a crowded city intersection, at the workplace, at school, or even in a beautiful, natural place as well, like a park. How many birds do you hear? Where are they? Is their flowing water? So the leaves make sounds in the wind? This improves the quality of your listening.

Savouring: This is about enjoying the most mundane sounds. For instance, the tumble dryer of a washing machine. We can enjoy any sound as long as we listen.

Listening positions: This is the most important one. Moving your listening position to what’s appropriate –  active/passive or critical/sympathetic. This helps become conscious of barriers/filters to listening and play around with them.

RASA: It’s a Sanskrit word for juice or essence and the acronym stands for Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask. It recaps the process of active listening.

In the conclusion of his Ted Talk, Mr. Treasure says this:

Every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully — connected in space and in time to the physical world around us, connected in understanding to each other, not to mention spiritually connected, because every spiritual path I know of has listening and contemplation at its heart.

This is certainly true of early Christianity—though I would argue that modern-day Christianity [and especially Western Christianity] completely undervalues listening. Just consider how much Christian sects and denominations yell back and forth at each other but rarely listen? Just think about how many of us who identify as progressive Christians have to explain ourselves again and again, saying: “Yes, I’m a Christian, but I’m not like that or I don’t believe that or I don’t dehumanize certain types of people.” It seems that  a lot of the time, religious people are not listening.

We often do not listen.

notlistening
And this is indeed the message of this short snippet from a John story, in which Jesus is pretty blunt about the need for listening. The story begins by saying that it is the “festival of dedication” which refers to the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. In Greek, the Hebrew word is translated to be renewal. Hanukkah is the festival which celebrates the reconsecration of the Jerusalem Temple after the victory of Judas Maccabeus. John’s Gospel includes these references from time to time due to the audience reading the story. It was important to help non-Jewish readers understand a bit of the history and context of Jesus’ ministry.

It’s winter—you can feel the chill in the story. As Jesus of Nazareth strolls around the portico of Solomon, the Judeans [the Jerusalem-area social and religious aristocracy] surround him and pester him. They are scared of Jesus, because they had heard whispers of him being the promised Messiah, even though Jesus himself had never made such a claim. If Jesus were indeed the Messiah, the religious elites would be in trouble. So they were nagging Jesus until he said something. If he claimed to be the Messiah, he could be stoned. If he denied it, they could go back to the other elites and say See, we told you so.

Jesus’ response is typical. He doesn’t call himself the Messiah. Instead, he makes it about trust. The phrase here shouldn’t be I told you and you did not believe but instead I told you and you did not trust. They didn’t trust in the work that Jesus did. The healings. The teachings. The gathering of so-called sheep who were marginalized and left on the outside of society. The religious authorities are not the sheep. They are more like the thieves that come to separate and destroy.

And they don’t listen.

On the other hand, those who were often considered unclean and unworthy are sheep, and they do listen. They hear the loving voice. And they are known. They follow the merciful path. And life is theirs to embrace.

So here it is—we should listen, but not to all the noise, all the conventional sounds of society, and certainly not to the voices that seek to destroy, hurt, or separate.

Instead, we should listen to the voice that says:

I am not the things my family did.

I am not the voices in my head that tell me I’m worthless.

I’m not the mistakes that I have made or any of the things that have caused me pain.

I am not the color of my eyes or the skin on the outside.

I am not an age, a race, a nationality, a religion, or an academic level.

I am divinity defined.

I am the God on the inside.

I am connected to others because I listen to them and accept them.

I am light.[1]

Will you take just a few moments each day and during the week to listen to that voice? Will you connect with me, connect with each other? Will you teach children how to listen and will we teach listening in our schools, workplaces, places of worship, and homes? Listening is a powerful thing. It can transform the world to a listening world — a world of connection, a world of understanding and a world of peace. Will you listen?

[1] Excerpts from India Arie’s song I Am Light.

Shiny Faces & Propheteering

Exodus 34:29-35   and Luke 9:28, 29; 37, 38

What does it mean to have a shiny face?

Okay, think about it.

shine.jpegShiny face is real. By midday, your face just might have a little sheen. It’s called sebum [combo of dead skin cells and lipids]. This sebum protects your skin from drying out. But it can look oily and make your face shiny. Over-exfoliation?

I’ve had that problem before. After running outside in the cold winter weather, I’m not sweating as a normally do, but my face gets really shiny. My skin is overcompensating for the dry weather. My forehead is shiny. Or, sometimes I over-moisturize with face cream and, shiny face. And finally, if I get some nice sun, could very well be…shiny face.

This is not about complexion, pigmentation or whatever. Everybody can get the shiny face. Even light reflecting off of you the right way can give you the shiny face. It’s hard to photoshop, too.

Apparently both Moses and Jesus had the shiny face issue.

Now in American Christianity we don’t talk much about the Moses-Jesus connection. But we should. The two characters, though centuries removed from each other, have a lot in common. Both were considered prophets. And in this story, both got shiny faces when they met up with God.

Also keep in mind that Luke’s Gospel is not hiding the fact that the Jesus story is parallel to the Exodus story. Moses and the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Then, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to Jerusalem. After that, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon and other places. Jesus, a Jew himself, would now return to Jerusalem. It’s a full-circle moment. And of course it’s clear in this particular story in Luke that the author is making connections between Moses and Jesus. Moses appears in the story, on the mountaintop, with the other prophet Elijah. The story tells us that Moses led the people to freedom and now Jesus will do the same—albeit via a different road. Luke even starts his story saying that Jesus, Peter, John, and James went up the mountain eight days after a series of teachings. This is to indicate the wholeness of what was about to happen—for the eighth day in Hebrew tradition, was the day of new creation.

Just like Moses on Mt Sinai, Jesus is changed by light. Luke uses the Greek word heteron which means changed, different, other. But Luke adds a detail that the original author of this story, Mark, doesn’t say. Mark says that Jesus was transfigured before them. Luke says that the appearance of Jesus’ face was changed. It’s Moses all over again. His clothes also turn a dazzling white. Maybe like a really good Elvis impersonator? But this time, there was no veil, nothing to cover up before the presence of Divine Light. Jesus shone brightly and then they all had to come down from that mountain.

Inevitably, once you come down from any mountaintop experience, reality hits quickly. And so it did. Just as soon as they are down on the ground, a great crowd comes. And then a man shouts out: I beg you! Help my son!

The transfiguration story can be interpreted in a lot of ways. Here’s what I’m thinking this time around. I’m seeing prophets and shiny faces.

Let’s talk a bit about prophets and the idea of someone being prophetic or engaging in propheteering [hehe].

There are two extremes in Christian traditions in regards to what it means to be prophetic. First, there is the common-held belief that prophets tell the future or predict things. They have special knowledge. Thus, we have thousands of books written by people who claim to be prophetic. It’s pathetic.

prophecyOn the other hand, some Christians hold the view that being prophetic means being social-justice oriented or political.

It’s important to be familiar with the extremes and then to encounter a more balanced and grounded perspective about prophets.

For example, I appreciate what Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel and NT scholar Walter Brueggemann have to say. First, Brueggemann. He wrote The Prophetic Imagination, in which he writes, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”[1]

For Brueggemann, a prophet should not only criticize social and spiritual deficiencies, but he/she should also energize people with the hope that alternatives are possible. Again, he writes: “Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us.”[2]

And then there is Abraham Heschel, who wrote The Prophets. He states: “The prophet was an individual who said no to his [or her] society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. [The prophet] was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what [his or her] heart expected. [The prophets] fundamental objective was to reconcile [humanity] and God.”[3]

So in both cases, being prophetic is about bringing people together. It is about reconciliation. In both the Testaments of the Bible, the prophets spoke out against the ills of society and did not avoid controversial subjects. Yet at the same time, they offered hope and a possible path to wholeness, peace, and reconciliation.

And this leads me to shiny faces again, for prophets are certainly not superficial and they seek to get to heart of the matter.

We tend to see the surface and superficial side of things more often than not. Shiny faces are, well, shiny faces because of oily skin or overexposure to the sun. But that’s not what the symbolism is all about.

Shiny faces reflect light because of what is inside.

In the case of both Moses and Jesus, their faces shone because of the light within them. And it certainly became contagious. Eventually, other people started to recognize the light within them–that they were worthwhile, and capable, and even possibly prophetic if they chose to be.

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, people smear ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. It’s a visible thing that people see. It’s fine, I guess, but it’s not enough. Because you don’t really need to smear ashes on your forehead for others to see.

But it really WOULD be something if your face was shiny for all to see. If the light within you became visible to others—spreading hope, love, mercy, and peace and reconciling rather than separating.

Wouldn’t that be something, if our faces shone with the light that comes from within?

We’re all capable of the shiny face, you know. We all have light within us. We just need to nurture it, let it breathe and grow, let it flourish freely. If you think that you’re not someone with light in you because you’re going through some difficult times right now, or you have incredible challenges, or you just don’t feel light at all. Remember this Leonard Cohen lyric from the song Anthem: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.[4]

So may all the cracks in your life remind of the light that lives within you. May your light shine through your face and your life. And may all the prophets and reconcilers and bridge-builders and truth-tellers show themselves.

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition, June 1, 2001.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Heschel, Abraham, The Prophets, 1962.

[4] Leonard Cohen, Anthem.

The Lighthouse

Luke 21:25-28   NRSV

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

The New Testament Gospels often quote Hebrew prophets like Isaiah, or at least, they paraphrase. Jesus of Nazareth, at various points in the Gospel stories, uses the words of Hebrew prophets to speak to the context in which people were living. In this Luke passage, Jesus refers to the chaos and confusion in the world, but also a breaking through of a new kind of era.

This is what is called apocalyptic literature, i.e. a writing that imagines the end of an era. It’s not necessarily the “end times” as some often refer to it. The end of the world is not a literal end like the earth exploding or a mass extinction or the planet disappearing or something like that. Save that for Hollywood and maybe The Leftovers.

the-leftovers-season-2dApocalyptic literature, however, is more about symbolism—that the sun, moon, stars, oceans, and land all reflect what people are feeling inside.

In this case, people are scared and worried. So nature reflects that. But Luke’s writer encourages the reader to not hide or give up. Why? Because the Son of Man [literally human one] is coming. This is a direct reference to another Hebrew scripture book, Daniel. Instead of hiding in fear, people are encouraged to stand up and raise their heads.

Luke’s apocalyptic writing is imaginative just like Isaiah. The Gospel is imagining this current moment as hopeful, redemptive, healing, and character-building—in spite of the external things all around that seem so daunting.

But in order for us to personalize this, we’ll have to do some imagining of our own. So let’s try this simple yet effective activity. It’s called lighthouse.

Visualize this: You are lost at sea on a stormy night, far, far away from the shore, in a rowboat. But off in the distance you notice a glimmer of light, leading you to land. If you row hard, you can make it. You reach the shore only to find someone waiting for you with a warm meal, dry clothes, and a place to rest.
lighthouse.jpeg

Take a moment to draw, color, or paint an image of a lighthouse on a piece of paper or any sort of medium. Depict yourself in the image, either in the boat on the water, in the lighthouse, or wherever you choose.

Who are the people who greet you there? They are the ones who fill you with love, encouragement, and peace. They accept you as you are; they help you become a better person.

What kind of food will you eat there? How does it smell and taste? Who do you share the food with?

How soft is the bed waiting for you inside the lighthouse? How does it feel to put on warm and dry clothes after such a long, wet, and cold journey?

This lighthouse is the source of guidance in your life—a place to stand up and raise your head and look for—especially when things are confusing, tense, worrisome, or fearful. This place of rest, peace, and strength is always there; you can always return to it.

We are at our most human when we admit that things are not perfect, when we admit that sometimes we feel broken or lost. We fully embrace our humanity when we put aside all the superficial things and false appearances that we maintain to look good for others.

Everyone deserves a lighthouse within themselves. Everyone deserves to feel loved and cared for and accepted. That lighthouse exists in all of us. We don’t have to wait for it or allow others to build it for us, because each one of us is enough. We have inside of us the capacity to love and care for ourselves. When we do, we are able to weather any storm and to find that flicker of light off in the distance.

Put your lighthouse drawing somewhere in your house or apartment or room where you can easily find it. Throughout this season, return to it. Remember that imagining wholeness and hope in this moment will lead you to wisdom and strength.

 

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