Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘Love’

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?

 

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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: the Wildcard

I Corinthians 13

Love is patient, love is kind…

Image result for same sex weddingYou’ve probably heard this text before. Weddings? Yeah.
Not gonna lie—it’s a bit overused. And misused. So let’s discuss, no?

I Corinthians is Paul of Tarsus’ first letter to a faith community in Corinth. Is it relevant? That depends on how deep you’re willing to go. Context is everything. The writer of this letter, Paul, wasn’t happy at all with this church in Corinth. People were too proud. They thought they had theology and God all figured out. They put down others who didn’t believe or think or act like them. They were full of themselves and therefore had no room left for love. Paul’s focus was indeed on community—not just in this letter, but throughout his life and writings. This is the same guy who described the faith community [or church] as being like the human body. Each part, big or small, was of equal importance. And each body part needed the other in order to function and thrive. Everyone in the community, taught Paul, was equal.[1]

But being “one” had nothing to do with sameness.

The people in the various house churches of the 1st and 2nd century Mediterranean world were incredibly diverse. They were Jews and non-Jews; Greeks and Romans and Israelites and Egyptians and Assyrians and Samaritans; they were people who believed in many gods and others who believed in one; they were women and men who ate different foods, wore different clothes, spoke different languages, said different prayers, and had different ideas. So being community for these people was not about being homogeneous or comfortable.

It was a radical community, like the one Jesus of Nazareth created and lifted up. Jesus met people face to face and accepted them for who they were. He then encouraged his disciples to do the same, to bring this message of God’s kin-dom community to their neighbors near and far. It became the recognizable mark of the Jesus Way. People noticed, because it was weird to accept people who were poor, widowed, childless, unclean, or of low status. It was odd to reach across boundaries of social level and religion. Such an idea and a community would upset the order and status that religious and political leaders wanted to protect.

Paul was into this new way in spite of the odds. He himself used to be one of those oppressors, remember. He was changed by a forgiveness he had never experienced before. Paul was convinced that such a community had the power to make a difference–not just in the lives of individuals–but in the world.

Therefore, this “wedding” text is not about romantic love at all, but a radical, communal love that enables individuals to imagine life in a community where unity and difference can co-exist.[2]

But is this still relevant?

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I think so. Because I sat through a long city council meeting in Hatboro, PA recently on a  Monday night, anticipating a vote on a Human Rights Ordinance that included protections for LGBTQIA people. I spoke, as well as many others, in favor of this ordinance—how it was a no-brainer, common sense, an illustration of what the U.S is supposed to be about. Friends, the only opposition, and I mean the ONLY ONES WHO OPENLY AND VEHEMENTLY OPPOSED THIS ORDINANCE were so-called Christians. They got up and quoted Bible passages without stopping. They went on and on about how their children will be afraid if this passes, how their rights will be infringed, how this was a step in a terrible direction for the town and for the country. They even had the gall to quote scripture passages that talk about loving God and neighbor. Then they turned, in the same breath, to face all of us allies and LGBTQIA folks to say that we were dead wrong, that this ordinance was dangerous, that my friends and colleagues who identify as LGBTQIA are contrary to God’s wishes and contrary to Jesus.

They were the only ones who openly opposed this ordinance. And they used God and Jesus and even Love to justify it.

It passed, by the way. Barely. READ HERE

So I’m gonna keep it simple. I don’t care if you’re religious or not, I really don’t. If you are on the side of love, of human rights, of human dignity, of helping the marginalized whoever they may be—I love you, I’m with you, and I’ll stand with you. Period.

If you’re not—if you choose to hate, regardless of what things you quote or how much you pray or say the name Jesus—you do not know God, you do not know love. Why?

Because love is the wildcard in this messed up world.

We as human beings hurt each other all the time and do so for asinine reasons and out of fear. But love is the wildcard. Love is the unshakable, rust-proof, honest, litmus test. Love unifies those who choose to love. That is relevant in any age or context.

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[1] He reiterated this in his letter to the Galatians, when he said: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

[2] Karoline Lewis, Ass. Professor of Preaching, Alvin N. Rogness Chair of Homiletics, Luther Seminary.

Hey, I’ve been thinking…

If you consider yourself a Christian and you’re reading this, welcome. I hope you continue reading.

If you are not a Christian, welcome. I really hope you keep reading too.

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The thing is, Christianity looks pretty bad right now, in many ways.

Racism, prejudice against immigrants, LGBTQIA exclusion and marginalization, belittling of women, support of [or at the very least, silence about] the killing of Palestinians, the money from the United States that funds wars, the horrific treatment of Black people on the streets, in schools, and in places of business, and the exploitation of girls and women.

Christians in churches now have earned the reputation for caring more about their “core values” that they list on their pretty webpages. Said core values quote Bible passages and mention Jesus a lot. They align well with politically conservative ideals like gun rights and capitalism and segregation. And then the core values also exclude, and persecute, and separate, and marginalize. And then those same core values don’t inspire people to care about others different than them, nor to stand up against social injustices. All of this terrible “Christianity” at large in the world is as radicalized and as well-funded as it ever has been. You do realize, right, that there are hundreds of “Islamic Watchdog” sites out there [some funded by so-called Christians] that supposedly monitor radical Muslims? So how many sites exist that are well-funded and closely monitor the radical, terrorist Christian churches and groups?

Still reading?

I say this as someone who was raised a Western Christian. I say this as someone who is imperfect and well-aware of the flaws in every religious tradition, including Christianity. I say this, because it saddens and sickens me and begs me to walk away from all of this and to disassociate myself completely from anything Jesus-related.

Until I’m reminded of something that isn’t fake news—something that’s meant for everyone.

Whether or not you or I see it in the radicalized, prejudice, and selfish Christianity of today, the crux or core value of Jesus of Nazareth and those who followed him was the very thing that bonded them together:

LOVE.

Now I don’t mean some flowery, abstract, intangible image of love. I am not referring to Jesus somehow saving you from all your sickness or helping you get that new car or making it possible to find your future spouse…

I’m talking about LOVE.

The LOVE of Jesus’ time, John’s Gospel, with a twist of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy.

You see, it’s simply put in the later communities [like those John’s Gospel was written for]:

God’s name=LOVE. We belong to God, so: we are Love’s.

We have kept Love close to us. The words of Love have been given; we know them.

We are protected in the name of Love.

And in Love, we are One.

Hey, dear readers, if you’ve made it this far, please know that I only do this because I care—about you, and the world, and all the living beings in existence. Yes, right now may seem to be a sad, heavy, and unsafe time for many of you. I don’t have all the answers. What I do know, however, I try to pass on, pay it forward, share.

So here goes:

Anyone who doesn’t know what it means to show love and compassion to another just isn’t someone to be trusted. No matter how many Bible verses they can quote, or how religious they are, or what name they claim. If they don’t love people as they are and for who they are, the god they worship has nothing to do with Jesus, or Gospel, or Yahweh or Allah or Krishna or Buddha or….

Don’t listen to them. Don’t follow them on Twitter. Don’t friend them on Facebook. It’s okay. It’s ridding yourself of toxicity that you don’t need.

Instead, let’s band together, all of us. Doesn’t matter if we are of the same tradition or don’t have a tradition. Let’s band together in love. We don’t have to agree about politics, or sports, or finances, or social issues. We just need to decide to intentionally love people as they are, where they are. That’s it. Don’t bring morals or ethics or religion into it. Just love people.

Calling all artists, nerds, musicians, queers, engineers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, activists, politicians, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is, Wiccans, Secular Humanists, Hare Krishnas, Taoists, Agnostics, Atheists, Jedi Knights and anyone else I missed–calling all ya’ll!

We are better together.

 

 

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

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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.

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.

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Mind Squirrels

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