Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘Mark’

Basic Rules Don’t Apply: Love Is Wealth

Mark 10:17-22

What possesses you?

Okay, weird question?
What I mean to ask is: what consumes you, what drives you?

What possesses you?

Is it your career? Are you one of those people who is completely driven by your job and all the things related to it? Do you find yourself thinking and talking about your profession more than anything else?

Or is it your family, if you have kids? Are you mostly driven by what your kids are doing, how they feel, behave, learn?

Or is it something else? What possesses you, drives you, consumes you?

Now bear with me here, because I realize this can be a nuanced conversation. I am aware that for some of you, this question may lead you down a difficult path. Perhaps you have struggled for years with addictions and so, this can drive you. Or for any of you who suffer from depression or anxiety, this can consume you, no doubt. So please know that I am not downplaying that and I absolutely acknowledge addiction, illness, disease, and chemical imbalances as real issues that people deal with every day.

What I’d like for us to do is to focus on the things that drive us overall, apart from those things we cannot control or are part of our chemical makeup or a result of great trauma we suffered. I’d like for us to focus on the driving force for each of us, the thing or things that get us out of bed in the morning and keep us alive.

And I acknowledge the amazingly courageous people I know who fight addiction or mental illness every day and keep on living. Because this is at the core of the question. How do they keep on going?

And I’d like to address this by looking at this Mark Gospel story about a person who clearly was driven by questions about salvation, eternal life, legacy, etc. The man [called a ruler and a young person by Matthew’s and Luke’s versions] was also rich. He owned things—most likely a lot of land. He possessed property. He went to Jesus of Nazareth, because he respected Jesus as a religious teacher. Jesus would know the answer to a question he had. The rich man wanted to inherit eternal life. He was used to getting what he wanted, you see. He thought of salvation as something to buy or sell or to obtain. It was a possession. Religion, for this person, was about keeping the commandments that Moses shared with the Israelites. Don’t do this, don’t do that, etc., etc. Following these rules allowed him to maintain his upper hand in society, to fit in, to be respected, to maintain control. Follow the rules, get the reward.

Wrong.

Jesus tells him that he still lacks something. Ironically, what he lacks is because of what he owns. He has a lot of possessions. Material things. On the surface he has a lot. But he lacks the most important thing. What was that important thing? Well, it seems like Jesus didn’t say. What Jesus does do is tell him to do the most logical thing: sell your things, give money to those who need it most, and then you’re good. Follow this way of love.

Sounds good, right? Happy ending to this story?

Nope.

The rich guy doesn’t jump up and down with joy, now knowing what he has to do. I mean, it would have been fairly simple for him to give things away. And Jesus wasn’t even asking him to give it all away! But instead, the man gets sad about it. He expected Jesus to perhaps tell him about some other commandment or rule that he didn’t know about. Maybe there was just one more thing he had to check off his list and then he’d be okay. But no—he was told to do the very thing that he felt that he couldn’t do. He couldn’t give up material possessions. He could not follow such a way. For him, wealth was having things; wealth was not expressing love, not giving to others. Following the religious rules made more sense to him, even comforted him. But now that salvation fell outside the rules, his world turned upside down. He grieved, because he lost something—his ability to control things, to buy and sell life.

As Jesus often does, though, he invites this rich man to be healed. Get up, go, change, be healed. Follow this way. And I suspect that the story doesn’t really give us an ending so that we are aware that it’s not so easy to just change in the moment. The rich man was grieving because he felt that he could not give up his possessions, he could not see a way to be possessed by love. But that was in the moment. He left the scene—probably went home, probably thought more about it. And maybe, must maybe he started small. Perhaps he gave away some of his material wealth. And it probably felt great. And then maybe he gave away some more. And eventually, maybe this person was no longer possessed by what he owned. After a while, maybe he discovered what true riches were.

Friends, we can be possessed or consumed by things that are our “ultimate concern” like ambition, religion, money, power, politics or whatever. We can be owned by a number of things. And so we are offered a healing choice, I think, to instead be driven by love. To let go of the things that possess us and drag us down or hold us back. To walk forward and not backwards. To give more than we try to obtain. To make love our reason for existing—not pleasing people, not “making a name for ourselves,” not obsessing over legacy or retirement or status or religious rules or sexual norms or gender binaries or nationalities or affiliations or ethnicity.

What if we are driven by love?

What if love is in front of us, behind us, around us, and in us?

*To all of you who beautiful and courageous humans out there who wrestle with addiction and mental illness, I love you. It is your life: your courage and honesty and the way you show love to others in spite of all you go through–that inspires me.

Be driven by love, because you are loved.

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An Ally Identity

Mark 9:38-41; 49-50     The Message (MSG)

38 John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”

39-41 Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.

49-50 “Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace.”

What is an ally?

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The organization GLAAD [not an acronym] defines an LGBTQIA+ ally as:

-a listener.
-open-minded.
-willing to talk.
-inclusive and inviting of LGBT friends to hang out with your friends and family.
-not assuming that friends and co-workers are straight.
-not afraid to speak out when Anti-LGBT comments and jokes are made.
-someone who confronts their own prejudices and bias
-a defender against discrimination.
-a believer that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect.

At the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto this November, I’ll be co-presenting a workshop entitled “How to Be an Interfaith Ally.” Here are some highlights of the definition of an interfaith ally:

Image result for interfaith allyAn interfaith ally:

-Is aware of one’s own thoughts and feelings about spiritual identity.
-Builds religious literacy
-Is aware of current social and political events.
-Treats everyone as individuals
-Does not obligate anyone, regardless of their outward appearance, to share or speak about that in any context.
-Avoids assumptions and gossip. Allows the individual to share his/her/their identity in their time.
-Uses inclusive and appropriate language and confronts harmful, oppressive language.
-Shows support for or encourages creation of the Interfaith community.

See, there are many specific ways to contextualize what an ally is. An LGBTQIA+ ally will look different than an interfaith ally in certain cases. There are specific actions that apply to specific situations. Overall, though, an ally in any context shares important characteristics and behaviors.

For the sake of this conversation, allow me to define an ally as someone who:

-stands with those who are not heard, marginalized, disenfranchised, or oppressed.
-listens well and does not judge.
-learns, learns, and learns some more!
-recognizes diversity and difference, not as a threat, but as an essential fabric of humanity.
-knows when to step back and when to step up.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about human development [evolution, change, becoming].

I’ve noticed that many adults in our society sadly believe a narrative about themselves—that they are incapable of change. That their perspectives are locked in place and that the way they see themselves and the world is static. I don’t buy this for one second. I fully believe in the capacity of all humans [no matter the age] to continue to develop and grow, to evolve, to become. We are built that way. But yes, as adults it does require us to make more of an effort in our development. We first have to embrace the possibility of growth change; then we have to seek it out, care for it, be willing to leave behind old paradigms, and be willing to listen and learn.

This relates directly to being an ally in any context, because in order to be an ally we have to confront our own prejudices and assumptions. It is necessary for us to consider other perspectives that we previously viewed as impossible or crazy, or perhaps we never even considered such perspectives.

So to be an ally we have to evolve.

I look at Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospel stories and it jumps out at me—Jesus was an ally. Jesus stood with and for those who were voiceless and oppressed, including but not limited to:

Widows, children, lepers, the sick, the materially poor, Samaritans [the ethnically oppressed], the homeless, the unclean [religiously marginalized people].

Jesus was an ally. And if you look close enough, Jesus was trying to teach and mentor others to be allies. Those who followed Jesus didn’t join a religion or a church. They followed a path. They lived a new kind of way. They shifted away from old paradigms to new ones. They sought to create heaven on earth by balancing what was out of whack in society. They were changing, developing, becoming. And they were called to be allies.

But the followers of Jesus struggled with this. They argued over who was the best ally, the greatest follower. They struggled to listen to each other. They carried deep and historical prejudices with them. It wasn’t easy for them to learn how to be allies. Case in point—in this particular Mark story Jesus’ followers aren’t happy that someone outside of their group is healing someone. How dare someone else do the good work THEY were supposed to be doing! But Jesus called them out on this. “If someone is for us, they are not against us.” Quite the paradigm shift, no? We often hear the opposite of that phrase. See, Jesus didn’t care if the insider group did the work of healing or if people outside the group did it. Part of being an ally is not letting your ego get the best of you. It’s celebrating the good things others are doing, even if you don’t get any credit or benefit from it.

And Jesus, in this Markan section, closes with a healing word of wisdom: Everyone will be salted with fire. Remain salty, and be at peace. Salt and fire were symbols and actual tools of healing in Jesus’ time. This remark is about the ally community—that yes, there will be times when we screw up. We will say or do something hurtful, even if we don’t mean it. But there’s always a chance to heal. Fire and salt. Wounds are healed. People are welcomed again. We learn and grow from our mistakes. And this leads us to be at peace with one another.

This ally thing is hard, no doubt. It’s messy, it’s risky, and it’s sometimes unpopular. But it’s SO WORTH IT.

Add to this discussion. How do you know when someone is your ally? Reply in the comment section.

Further, if you wish to have some resources about how you can be an ally, visit here.

It’s a Human Evolution Part II

Mark 9:30; 33-37

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To recap:

Human evolution is a growth process that children, youth, and adults experience.

Though there are plenty of narratives out there that try to convince us adults that we hit an evolutionary wall at some point and therefore do not change or have the ability for a paradigm shift—I argue that we are always evolving, always changing, always becoming. We don’t have to be stuck or stagnate. For sure, there are obstacles in front of us if we engage in the continuing process of personal growth and change. One of the main obstacles is baggage, something I’m sure all of you are well aware of. Baggage is that part of our identity that is informed by what people have told us about ourselves, who they have said we are from the beginning and who they say we are today. Now some of that can be positive, don’t get me wrong. But it’s still an obstacle to growth, because the old paradigms that people give us are just that—old. They are past.

When we engage in human evolution the old paradigms don’t work anymore.

And that’s a conflict.

Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gospel stories, is a great example of growth, becoming, and the encountering of the various voices in our lives that try to name us or tell us who we are or where we belong. People were constantly defining Jesus’ identity and today, it is still going on. Which is why Jesus’ poignant questions of “Who do people say I am” and “Who do you say I am” are completely relevant—not just for the Gospel stories, but for our stories.

Human evolution, simply put, is about asking these two questions:
What is self?
What is other?

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Jesus was defined by others but rejected those definitions. Jesus was becoming, and this becoming led Jesus to eat, sleep, and drink with those on the margins—the poor, the sick, the forgotten, the shunned, the so-called unclean. This is how Jesus of Nazareth defined self—that Jesus was with those who suffered, those that society and even religion had rejected. And in doing so, Jesus saw himself as “with” them and they were no longer “other” to Jesus. This is precisely why when Jesus was asked about the living out of the greatest commandment [love God, love yourself, love neighbor], Jesus responded with stories about a good Samaritan and children. They were the neighbors, they were the wisdom-bearers. Yes, children.

Image result for children diverseSee, in Mark’s Gospel story, Jesus was passing through Galilee but stealth-like. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know. Why? Back to what I said earlier. People were defining Jesus in a certain way and this led to trouble. So Jesus and the band of followers made it to Capernaum; and got to a house. And once again, Jesus had questions for the followers. “What were you arguing about on the way?” See, apparently those who walked with Jesus had been arguing with each another about who was the greatest disciple. This, after Jesus had just tried to tell them not to call him Messiah or to promote him as some kind of political or religious leader. And yet, they were still at it; the ego trip continued.

So Jesus sat down. Was he tired? I don’t think so. Jesus sat down to make a point. You want to be first in line, the greatest? So then be last in line, give up your place, serve others. This probably made no sense to those who were listening. Which is why Jesus needed to illustrate the point by holding up a little child. You welcome this kid, you welcome me. And welcoming this kid/welcoming me means you welcome Yahweh.

This is a paradigm shift—an evolution to a new way of seeing ourselves and the world. Jesus wasn’t an evangelist or someone seeking to build a religion.

Jesus was leading a movement, mostly of people on the margins of society—a human towards community and reciprocal love and away from hierarchies and power.

In the community Jesus was trying to build, children and anyone else who was considered “least” were just as important as he was. Yes, kids were [and are] not valued enough. Their opinions and wisdom have much to teach us.

And even more significant, I think, is how children remind us that we are constantly evolving, continually moving and changing. Daily we can discover ourselves and learn to see the world and those around us in a different way. When we welcome the child among us, when we welcome the child within us—we welcome the possibility of growth.

It’s a Human Evolution

Mark 8:27-32; 34-35   

From time to time people may say things like:

“Once you pass a certain age, you are who you are.”

“People don’t change much after age ___….”

“You can’t teach and old dog new tricks….”

While most of the time we don’t mean any harm when we say such things, it does highlight a tendency in our society and in the way we think—that at some point in adulthood we just stop changing, stop growing, stop evolving. In essence, we buy into the idea that as we get older, we slow down our human development and become less capable of change. Perhaps that’s why many adults of varied ages encounter strong opposition from family, friends, and co-workers when they do decide to make a major change or if they exhibit steady growth in another direction that does not resemble their past or even their present. Have you ever had that experience from either side? Have you seen someone you know change unexpectedly? How did you react? Or, have you gone through a major shift in you life and noticed strong reactions of others?

Just to be clear, when I talk about human evolution and change I’m not talking about human growth the way that the self-help industry does. Surely you’ve seen the overstocked shelves at your favorite bookstore. You have a million choices—books that tell you in their title that you should be able to tweak this or that or try this method, and change will be easy.

Image result for self help books
Some real titles:

Improve Your Life the Quick Way [part one]
Anybody Can Be Cool…but Awesome Takes Practice
Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself
Awaken the Giant Within
Just Stop Having Problems, Stupid!

And I didn’t even delve into the myriad of fad diet and exercise books. The basic premise of these books is to convince you that change is easy and fast. Just give your money, read the book, and you’re set. Go to the lectures or workshops. You’ll change quickly. Of course, none of it is true. Fad diets don’t work. Exercise methods and techniques are just made up and don’t work for most people. Mental exercises that are quick and easy don’t have a lasting effect. And anything you have to keep paying for in order to develop as a person is already set up to fail.

Because human evolution happens on the inside.

And it’s based on who you are, what you’ve experienced, and how you see the world. And human evolution is not easy or quick or simple. There are certainly obstacles in front of us if we engage in the continuing process of personal growth and change. One of the main obstacles is baggage, something I’m sure all of you are well aware of. Baggage is that part of our identity that is informed by what people have told us about ourselves, who they have said we are from the beginning and who they say we are today. Now some of that can be positive, don’t get me wrong. But it’s still an obstacle to growth, because the old paradigms that people give us are just that—old. They are past. When we engage in human evolution the old paradigms don’t work anymore. And that’s a conflict.

Image result for paradigm shiftFor example, psychologists like Robert Kegan refer to the idea of the terrible twos. You know, any parents out there, of what I speak. The toddler turns green and becomes a tiny ball of rage and fury. And their vocabulary seems to only include one word: NO!!!!!!

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Now there are two ways to view this. One: the kid is out to get us, terrible, and mad at the parents–just intolerable. The kid has only one goal in mind and that is to say and do the opposite of what we tell them to do and therefore to ruin our lives until they get a little older. And then it will happen again when they are a teenager.

Or, the second way of seeing this: the twos aren’t terrible at all.

The toddlers are becoming.

The constant No! is simply a denial of the old self [the baby]. It’s a repudiation of the old way of being.  The toddlers’ declaration is to their old self, which was embedded in the world they knew as a baby. Now, as two-year-olds, they are evolving. They are becoming.

Human evolution, simply put, is about asking these two questions:

What is self?
What is other?

Who am I? And what is the world around me? A example across cultures is related to how we talk about the weather. Say it’s a beautiful, sunny day—not too hot, not too cold. In the West, people would say: Wow, it is a nice day. But in other cultures, like the Amerindians of the Americas, they would say: I am in a nice day. See, in Western cultures the weather [the day] is separate from our being and is it whereas in other cultures, the weather is not separate from their being, and so they are in and the day is not an it. This matters, how we see ourselves and how we see the world.

This is reflected in a Gospel scene in which Jesus of Nazareth might as well have taught a Greek philosophy and psychology class 101. He asks his followers: “Who do people say that I am?” And of course, the disciples answer with all the identities that other people gave to Jesus–John the Baptist; Elijah; one of the prophets. And then Jesus asks his followers: But who do you say that I am? Peter, not known for tact or using his brain  much, blurts out: You are the Messiah. This made Jesus mad and so he told Peter and company to stop talking about him with other people.

Jesus could very well have been that infuriating toddler.

Who do people say I am? No! Who do you say I am? No!

Eventually, Jesus made it clear how he saw himself and how he saw the world and no one liked it. Jesus saw himself suffering alongside those who suffered, those who were pushed to the margins; Jesus saw himself far from the religious elites and the temple; Jesus saw himself as constantly evolving, towards a place and a goal that would never be realized. Jesus knew his evolution would take him to dangerous places and that he probably wouldn’t survive it physically. But Jesus also saw the world and the human beings in it as something worth fighting for, worth loving, worth showing compassion to. In essence, it was Jesus’ desire to pour his whole self out in the world, regardless of what others called him or tried to make him.

And I think this should be a really encouraging thing for us. We don’t have to be two years old to undergo an evolution. We don’t have to stop changing and growing after adolescence. We can keep going all through our lives. We can keep becoming. After all, we are human beings, are we not? We are humans who are being….we are people who are becoming.

It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts

Mark 7:1-7; 14,15    

You ever hear this before: It’s what’s on the inside that counts!

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You know what it means, right? That your outward appearance is less important than your personality. Or, to take it a step further, that your SOUL [your whole self] is THE most important thing. If that’s what you get out of this, so be it.

Right now I’ll go back in time to consider that this idea is ancient—that our SOUL/WHOLE SELF is the absolute-most-important thing and supersedes what people see.

May be weird, but let’s do this together. Let’s go back in time to the end of the 1st Century in Israel and Palestine. There’s a big issue here: Jews vs. Gentiles [non-Jews] but it’s not fair to say it was just Jewish people vs. non-Jewish people. Really, it was religious elites or religious fanatics vs. non-religious or lower-income people. I don’t think it’s hard for us to imagine this type of situation, considering that in 2018 in the U.S. there are plenty of religious people who criticize, judge, or even shut out others who don’t share their religious moral beliefs or practices.

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I REFUSE TO MAKE THIS CAKE BASED ON MY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS….

Well, in the case of the end of the 1st century in Israel and Palestine it wasn’t about wedding cakes, but it was about food and clean vs. unclean, which for the religious people was akin to our modern rendition of moral vs. immoral. For those called Pharisees or Sadducees or Temple authorities, it was all about the interpretation of the Torah [whether you had the “right” interpretation] or whether you took the Torah literally and didn’t interpret it at all.

Sound familiar? Yeah, people do that with the Christian Bible all the time.

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Image result for taking the bible literally

Back to the story. People were grumbling about Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, hanging out with and even eating with non-Jews who obviously did not follow the Torah teachings, according to those religious folk. But Jesus was no dummy. He knew the Torah well and he also knew well the hypocrisy of the religious folks. I mean, think about it. You can take any scripture right now and come up with an interpretation that fits your lifestyle or worldview. Or, you can say that you don’t interpret scripture and “take it literally” which is just another way of saying “I’m going to hide behind these words written centuries ago for people in a different time and place and not with me in mind.” Either way, it’s hypocrisy—if you choose to cop out and hide behind a literal reading, or if you interpret it to fit your own moral system.

So Jesus, to address this [And I think it’s relevant for us today], kept it simple. Yes, we can interpret scripture or say we don’t interpret it, blah, blah, blah, but if in doing so we contradict ourselves, we are showing our true colors.

In other words, our actions reflect what is inside our heart, and our heart is truly what matters most—what’s on the inside.

We can put certain food or drink in our mouths and absorb scripture teachings, but if what comes out contradicts it all, who cares? We are a walking hypocrisy.

A word about heart. Heart, in this context, an ancient Jewish understanding, meant soul/identity. The common Hebrew word for heart is lev. It was the center of personality and of being. It drives us. This inward self is what actually moves us to do what matters most in the world. It is our heart and not our rules that matters most to our neighbors.

So, what do you think? How can we as a community address those who criticize, marginalize, or judge others based on interpretations of scripture or cultural or religious practices? How can we focus on matters of the heart, what’s on the inside? How can we do that for ourselves, but also for others?

Comment below.

A Preceding Faith in a Touch

Mark 5:24b-34

I would like to ask you a question. Simple, but it may seem the opposite.

What is faith?

Sure, perhaps you are thinking:

Really? What is faith? Now that’s a loaded question. Are you referring to some kind of religious faith, or a faith in God or Jesus or Mohammad, or Buddha, or humanity, or the Philadelphia Eagles? What is faith? Really???

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Okay, I get it. It may seem like a question full of baggage. For this moment, if we can, I’d like to talk about faith without all that. Can we? Bear with me. When I refer to “faith” I’m not really talking about “belief.” Does that help?

Belief is an acceptance that something is true or adherence to a certain precept or doctrine. I’m not talking about that. I’m referring to faith, which, for the sake of our conversation, we’ll define as trust or confidence in someone or something.

So, what has been your experience with that?

I’d like to explore not an answer but a curious story, about a woman who had “faith” that does not look like anything often called “faith” today in the media, politics, or religion. It’s a story about a woman who had suffered for 12 years. She didn’t believe in anything. She didn’t have any reason to. Doctors had failed her. Priests- had failed her. Her own body had failed her. She was out of money. No medicine could cure her. She was really out of options and believed in nothing.

And yet, she had great faith.

A reminder: Jesus of Nazareth and his followers are on the Jewish side of the Lake of Galilee. So there’s this woman—she’s not given a name, which, in a literary context means that she’s a nobody. The Gospel writers were not disparaging her, just letting the reader know that she was a nobody in her time and place. She wasn’t rich, and more than that, she wasn’t touchable. She wasn’t even supposed to be in public, you know. See, she had been suffering from hemorrhaging for 12 years. This bleeding made her unclean according to the law of the Levites and therefore no one could touch her. She had been alone for a long, long time; she was isolated from her community, living on the outskirts. Apparently, she had had spent all of her money on doctors. None of them made her better; in fact, her disease had gotten worse. And she, of all people, broken down and without any reason to have faith, followed after Jesus.

She knew, without question–that according to the purity code, everyone she touched would be rendered unclean, and so she didn’t reach out to touch Jesus directly. She only reached for his clothes.

It’s hard to imagine this kind of respect and trust after so many years of being ignored and pushed to the side. This is faith.

And Mark’s writer rewards her as a hero. Her faith [and touch] leads to healing. Her bleeding stops.

And, oh yeah–Jesus noticed. Who touched my clothes? Jesus had no clue who it was. But the woman knew who had touched his cloak. She could have run away, all healed, and no one would have known. But she didn’t. She came back to Jesus, fearful, trembling, and she fell down before him, and told Jesus everything. To her great surprise, Jesus called her daughter. And not only that, but Jesus recognized that her healing was not as a result of his own action, but of her trust. Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

Friends, this story is powerful, in my opinion.

What if faith is not what it is purported to be?

What if faith is instead determination, even when things are bleak, extra challenging, even desperate? What if faith is that determination to still reach out to try to make a positive change, no matter the circumstances? What if faith is about recognizing what is already inside you, what you are capable of, what wholeness feel and look like for you? What if faith is a skeptical thought coupled with determined action—thinking that your situation is difficult and uncertain, not believing in the things people say or try to convince you of, but still reaching out, still acting, still faith-ing with your hands and feet? What if faith is determined action to not let hate win?

Just Out of Reach

Gilbert Ruiz

Maybe you feel like the person in this painting.

If you’re feeling like you’re stuck or that feeling alive and whole is out of your reach, keep on reaching.

You are loved; really. You are not alone; really.

Keep on reaching. One of us will notice; someone will find you. And most importantly, keep reaching, because that shows that you’re alive and that there’s a spark inside of you, a divine consciousness, that can help you move forward and discover healing.

Keep reaching.

 

Peace Clouds in the Storm

Mark 4:35-41

I got behind on my blog posts. Sorry ’bout that! But I’m back…hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!

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Do you like rainstorms? Do you appreciate the pattering sounds of raindrops impacting the roof or the ground or the windows or the top of your umbrella? Do you marvel at the dark clouds moving in, changing the landscape of sky, the rapid temperature change, and the possibility of thunder? I don’t know about you, but a good summer rainstorm can be an amazing thing.

Of course, there’s another way to look at it, right? Imagine you’re on your way somewhere urgently for work or school or whatever—and the rain clouds move in and you’re caught in it. No umbrella. No poncho. No raincoat. You’re bound to get soaked. You can’t avoid the puddles. You’re inundated. You’re stuck in the middle of a storm.

Image result for stuck in a rain

That can be scary, or ominous, or at least annoying. Your plans have to change [and your clothes have to be changed]. Your shoes slosh around. You may have to take shelter for a bit and wait it out. It can be difficult if you’re caught in a storm.

Weather is a universal thread throughout the great literature of the world. Consider the metaphor of storms, which typically represent a great challenge or an obstacle to overcome, and often are metaphors that are both physical and psychological in nature.

Indeed, storms present themselves in the great stories and teachings as necessary for growth, essential for learning, and opportunities to discover inner strength and/or wisdom.

Such is the case in Biblical literature and the stories about Jesus of Nazareth in the NT Gospels. This particular story in Mark has as its principle setting a stormy body of water—one in which Jesus and his followers are navigating in a boat. The boat full of Jesus-followers is on its way to the other side of the lake, where non-Jewish people [called Gentiles] lived. It was Jesus who challenged his fellow Jewish followers to stop discriminating against non-Jews and to share love and compassion with those who they had always called “other.”

So there they were, on a boat bound for the “other” side.

Then, the winds picked up. So much so, that the boat was rocking. A storm was coming, and the rain threatened to fill the boat up and sink the whole enterprise. The people on the boat were freaking out.

And then there was Jesus.

He was curled up like a baby, sleeping on a pillow. Wind? Rain? Storms? No problem. Nap time.

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Seeing this, the followers were upset and blurted out to Jesus: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Really? Did they think that Jesus of all people didn’t care? Well, Jesus must’ve cared, because he woke up, got up, and rebuked the wind and talked to the water. Peace. Be silent. And sure enough, the wind ceased and then a great calm began.

Now it’s important to note that at the end of the story, the followers on the boat were not in awe of Jesus. They were scared—of the storm with its wind and rain, and scared of Jesus’ calmness in the storm. In fact, the Greek word/phrase to describe them was less awe and more crippling fear mixed with inaction.

That leads us to now. Not gonna lie—there are a lot of “storms” out there right now that seem to be invading our boats, stirring the water, tossing us about, creating a climate of fear all around us. Sadly, we in the United States live in a country where the government uses social media to create storms of fear. Donald Trump [yes, I rarely say his name, but in this case it’s necessary] is a distraction artist—using whatever he can to distract our attention from social issues we can actually change, so as to keep his false and faulty sense of control. Those around him stay silent when it comes to human rights issues like the treatment of immigrants at our borders and in detention camps and centers; the separation of families in the name of homeland security and so-called safety; the unprecedented, unchecked presence of ICE and the angry, fearful, ignorant, armed U.S. citizens who direct their anger and fear at black and brown people or anyone who looks like an “other.” All of this is a created storm of distraction and fear. And it’s effective if we let it keep us in our boats, huddled in fear and confusion or worse yet, if we let it keep us from venturing over to the other side of the lake at all.

It’s true, friends, that storms exist. They exist outside in the physical world and they exist in our society. But the storms also exist inside us. That which is external is what it is. You and I cannot control other people. Neither can governments or leaders, regardless of what they assume. What happens externally is often beyond our control. The storms come with wind and rain and they rock our boats. And then we’re left with a decision: how will we react inside?

Will we let those storms eat us up, engulf our minds and bodies so much that we forget our humanity and stop seeing the humanity in others? Will we take on these external storms inside ourselves and start to claim them as our own storms? This will cripple us; we will cower in fear; we won’t act. We’ll either stay in the boat out of fear or we’ll never get into the boat at all.

But there is another path, and it’s one that Jesus of Nazareth invited others to take. It is the path of peace, the path of calm within the storm. It is recognizing the storms and not ignoring them, but not allowing them to affect us negatively.

This path is seeing the storms as opportunity for growth, for aha moments, for strength, and for effective action.

Yes, it matters how we see the storms. Will you see the rain clouds, will you feel the wind and drops, will you hear the thunder, and will you see it as opportunity? Will you see it as a chance to jump into the boat and go to the other side? To embrace an “other” as a “friend” and to combat the distractions and fear mongering with focused compassion and courageous action?

Bring on the storms. We’re in the boat together. Let’s keep going to the other side.

 

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