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Posts tagged ‘parables’

Generosity and DACA

Matthew 20:1-16

GenersosityWhat are your initial thoughts to this story—the idea that an employer sends out workers at different times all day long, but then pays everyone, regardless of how long they worked, the same wage?

Do you find yourself in the shoes of those who worked all day, who aren’t happy with the employer’s decision? Are you feeling envious?

Or do you find yourselves in the shoes of the workers sent later, feeling grateful for the generosity of the employer?

Whoever you identify with this story, keep in mind what the employer says at the very end to the workers first sent out when they complained: You were happy with the wages I offered. Are you envious because I am generous? The last shall be first and the first last.

As Jesus parables often do, this one challenges cherished values, long-standing opinions, and the so-called “order” of things that we hold to. It’s nothing new for Jesus—he did the same thing with the stories about a hidden treasure in a field, a lost sheep, a pearl of great price. The way we often see the world is turned upside down. But not it’s some pie-in-the-sky, over-spiritualized thing. It’s not something very nice to say but impossible to practice.

We are not talking about fairness at all, or the value of a hard day’s work.

This is all about generosity and the way of generosity, and how that generous way can change people’s lives and bring  more balance to society in general.

And so let’s bring this story and this idea of generosity down to earth. Let’s talk about DACA.

DACAcongressMany of you probably know about DACA or at least have been hearing about it in the news. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a U.S. immigration policy that has allowed certain individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country without documentation, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit. Currently, approximately 800,000 individuals—called Dreamers—were enrolled in the program created by DACA. This policy was established by the Obama administration in June 2012. The reason we are talking about it in the past tense is because DACA was rescinded by the Trump admin. this month.

Some of you may wonder why so many people, including the current administration, would be against a thing like DACA. Especially because research shows that DACA increased the wages and labor force participation of DACA-eligible immigrants, and reduced the number of unauthorized immigrant households living in poverty. Further, DACA has increased the mental health outcomes for DACA-eligible immigrants and their children. All told, there are no known negative impacts from DACA on U.S. citizens who were born in this country. U.S.-born people are not losing jobs. And most economists say that DACA benefits the U.S. economy as a whole.[1] And finally, though certain TV personalities and Donald Trump claim that DACA-eligible individuals are more likely to commit crimes, there is no evidence of that whatsoever.[2]

So then, why are we in the middle of a very public and emotional argument about these dreamers, youth and adults who have been here since they were small children, brought here by their parents? This is the only home they know. English is their language. They have been going to U.S. schools their whole lives. Many are productive, tax-paying citizens, contributing positively to society and doing all kinds of skilled work from nursing to business to education. And yet, there are far too many loud voices [and I’m appalled to say that too many of these voices are so-called Christians] that are shouting that DACA is not fair and that these Dreamers should not be given this chance to study, work, and live in the U.S.

Why?

It’s about fear. People fear that if they let go of their preconceived notions about society and nationality and status and economy that they will lose everything or at least something important. Their fear causes them to ignore actual facts; their fear makes them prejudiced; and their fear keeps them from generosity.

This is the same thing that happened in the story about a generous employer and grumbling workers. Think about this—the workers first sent out were guaranteed a full day’s pay. They could rest easy. If the employer chose to offer full pay to others who were sent out later, why would the first workers complain? Because people want to believe they earned something or deserve something, meaning that they are better than others, more deserving It can be applied to immigration status, wages, education, and even salvation. Yes, it can go to that extreme.

Last week, I was at the International House of Philadelphia for a presentation entitled DACA: A Dying Dream? featuring panelists Alicia Kerber, Head of the Mexican Consulate of Philadelphia; Sarah Paoletti, Director, Transnational Legal Clinic at Penn Law, Adam Solow, Attorney with the immigration and nationality law firm Solow, Isbell & Palladino; and Anel Medina, DACA recipient. I met with other Dreamers who were there. If you would have been there, you would have heard the same story:

DACA is not perfect, and another conversation for another time is immigration “status,” but at the very least, DACA is a starting point for opportunity, an attempt to make society better by improving the lives of those around us. I am unsure what will happen in the next few months as Congress is charged with “fixing” DACA. I have no idea what the future will hold for those who were planning to apply for DACA but cannot now. I will continue to work with all those who are on the forefront of this issue and I will continue to listen to the stories of the Dreamers. All I do know is that the majority of the people who speak loudly against DACA are living in fear. And their fear keeps them from seeing facts and their fear paralyzes them and can even lead to hate and prejudice. And those full of fear do not accept generosity, either for themselves or for others.

And I wish they would just meet dreamers like Anel Medina and listen to her. She’s amazing.

Friends, the world is unfair. If you don’t think that is true, just look around. The idea that we always “earn” or “get” what we deserve just isn’t true. So in this world where there is plenty of injustice and unfairness, generosity is needed.

It’s desperately needed.

What if you thought about your job [if you have one], as a gift. What if you thought about your home or apartment as a gift. What if your ability to go to school, eat food every day, feel safe, what if all of this is because of generosity? Honestly, I think this perspective is healthier for you, for me, and for the world. Accept generosity in your own life. Accept generosity when it’s shown to others.

[1] “Fact Check: Are DACA Recipients Stealing Jobs Away From Other Americans?”. NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-09-07.

[2] Nowrasteh, Alex (July 12, 2017). “Illegal immigrant crime wave? Evidence is hard to find”. Fox News. Retrieved September 9, 2017.

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Buried Treasure Inside You

Matthew 13:44-46
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in their joy they go and sell all that they have and buy that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, the merchant went and sold all and bought it.

treasureHave you ever searched for hidden treasure? What about buried treasure, pirate treasure? There are treasures around the world that are hidden and waiting to be found, like the treasure of Lima, Peru; the golden owl of France; Lake Guatavita “el Dorado” in Colombia, and many others…

Guatavita-lagoonWhen I was a kid I used to go out into the rural expanse of Iowa and look for treasure in fields and grasslands. Sometimes I found First Nations arrowheads, other times amazing creatures living underground like massive ant colonies, centipedes, chipmunks, and more. At times I found coins or pieces of what seemed like pots or something.

Either way, I always believed that there was more treasure out there, just waiting to be found…

In religious traditions of the ancient worlds the idea of buried treasure within the natural world and within human beings was a common thread. It came to be known as the Divine Spark. The idea of a divine spark is that every human being possesses either a connection with God or a “part” of God. The goal of life, then, is to allow the divine spark to influence us toward love, peace, and harmony. Upon death, the divine spark returns to God. There are current expressions of this in most Western Mystical Traditions such as Kabbalah and Sufism and many Eastern spiritual traditions teach it.

lightinyourheartI know it may seem that the major world religions that dominate the landscape these days [especially in the West] seem to teach or display something contrary–saying that the Divine [God] is far too big and powerful to be close or hidden within these lands, streams, trees, and in the people on the earth. It is true that Christianity as a religion moved away from what was called Gnosticism by some in the time of Jesus, the idea of mysticism and Divine-Human connection. As time passed and as people formulated more and more perspectives about Jesus of Nazareth, they moved towards a more distant God that they chose to express as Creator, Son Jesus, and Holy Spirit. Of course, for many Christians, this is a doctrine: the Trinity. But what if we were to embrace the truth that the Trinity and this idea of God being far away was not a 1st and 2nd century Jesus-taught idea? What if we were to hear these words of the prophet Isaiah, in the Jewish tradition, written so long before Jesus:

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name (45:3).

And one of the many times that Jesus was believed to have said this in the Gospels, like this instance in Luke 17:21: The kingdom of God is within you.

The idea that each of us contains within ourselves a portion of God, a Divine Spark, is old but also new. It is the idea that each time we quiet ourselves and sit in the grass and look deeper into it, what will we see?

Hidden treasure.

Life we didn’t notice before. When we are patient and look out on the water and pay attention, we see it. The spark is there. When we look deeply within ourselves and realize that we are indeed connected to something more, something deeper, something that is love and compassion and wholeness. It is there. You may not see it today because it may be buried within you for lots of reasons. You may have been told a false story that your life is not life or that your existence is not important. You may have been lied to and told that you are dirty or sinful or unworthy. You may have been hurt, rejected, or isolated because of the way you look, who you love, or how you express yourself. But none of these change this fact—that you have within you a Divine Spark. God has not left you and never will. That treasure, within all of us, is worth looking for, worth focusing on, worth finding and embracing.

 

Hidden Histories: What’s Cookin’

Matthew 13:31-35
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with* three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:*
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’*

A common remark I hear a lot these days goes something like this:

I can’t watch the news or stay informed with what’s going on the world, because it’s just so negative and divisive. I’m tired and I don’t know what to do with what I’m feeling. How can I make a difference?  

I feel/have felt this too. Life in this world can wear us down and even seem to defeat us. Particularly those of us who are going through deep depression, anxiety, or who are consistently mistreated. This can lead to feeling that pretty much all things are out of our control and so what’s the point

I hope that in this message [and in two symbols] anyone feeling this way can find even a small bit of encouragement to keep living. I certainly don’t have all the answers and neither does any religious writing including the Bible, but in my experience [and in the experience of many others as well] there is a healthy balance of life we can live, even in a world so heavy and difficult.

Before we look at two symbols that will lead us there, allow me to mention briefly a philosophy that you may have heard of. Stoicism was a prominent school of thought in the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century. Stoics looked first to the natural world and found that there was one overall force balancing it all. They called this many names, including the Divine, or logos. Now if that sounds familiar, it should, be throughout the Gospels and Paul’s letters these concepts resurface. Christianity, many historians believe, was influenced by Stoicism. The main aspect I want to focus on is that the Stoics thought that for human beings, the path to happiness was in accepting that which they had already been given [i.e. the life-logos], and then not allowing themselves to be controlled by desire for pleasure or fear of pain. This is an understanding that the overall logos balancing all the world is also in us and then compels us to work together with others and to treat them fairly and justly.

And now the two symbols: the mustard seed and yeast.

seeds.jpegNow the mustard seed is a tiny little thing. You may not notice it. It’s hidden. The mustard seed comes from the mustard greens plant. You can eat the greens and also, if you allow the plant to flower, you can harvest the seeds and use them as spices, in sauces and other delicious sides and condiments. So Jesus makes good use of hyperbole by mentioning the tiniest of seeds that will eventually grow like crazy and add spice to whatever it touches. Matthew’s author was clearly writing from a Jewish perspective and to a mostly-Jewish audience. So these references to trees and plants would have been familiar. And this naturalistic focus is akin to the Stoic view of nature-humanity.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the prophetic books, seeds, plants, and trees play a prominent role. Listen to this section of the book of Daniel, chapter 4:
11The tree grew great and strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth. 12Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it, the birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed.

About-The-Tree-of-LifeIn this case, the tree is God’s domain of provision, rest, and safety. So essentially, if you recognize that God is in a tree of life and in the tiniest of seemingly insignificant seeds, then you get it. God is big and balancing it all, but even the smallest of creatures participate in this.

We cannot control everything, but we can still be part of everything.

Any of us who have ever felt [or still feel] that our lives don’t matter or that we are so small, we are reminded that yes, we are small, but we are still important, still loved, still valued.

Then there’s the symbol of yeast.

parableoftheleavenjamesbjanknegt.jpegThis time, we find ourselves in a kitchen, and God is the chef, and God is a female. The divine baker is making bread and she uses a large amount of flour as if she is baking bread for hundreds of people. Then comes the yeast or leaven, which you may recognize as a common image in 1st Century Jewish life, but typically a negative symbol. Leaven was often a symbol of corruption. One rotten strawberry can spoil a whole basketful. But not this time. Now yeast is a positive force of growth and something that causes the hidden to be seen. The baker hides the yeast in the dough. After much kneading, she has made it so that the yeast is not visible or detectable. It’s now a part of the dough completely.

The yeast gives life to the dough. It’s creating something.

Left alone and covered, the dough starts to rise—it doubles in size. And then, in the heat of an oven, more rising, golden brown crust on the outside, and light and airy on the inside. You hungry yet?

So here’s my take. We are not meant to gloss over the heaviness of this life. We are meant to express what we feel as being part of our existence. And yet, if we can recognize the logos, the nature inside us, we can make progress towards love, towards wholeness, towards healing. A lot of us feel like mustard seeds. We may feel unnoticed, very small, and sometimes even without value. The heaviness and hatred in the world can make us feel that way. But mustard seeds can grow into something beautiful, delicious, nutritious, and spicy. They can bear flowers and eventually produce seeds. Even when you feel small and unnoticed, you are still capable of life. And your unique personality and gifts can add needed flavor to the community and to the world.

And yeast. It’s hidden growth and life. What and who you are on the inside is often not visible to others. You are made with the divine inside you. Life has already been breathed into you [like the CO2 air produced by yeast]. Sometimes you may not always notice that life, but it’s still there. Eventually, that life emerges from you and becomes visible on the outside. It grows and can even encourage others. Any small step when you embrace yourself, any small movement towards being more kind to yourself and to others, and the growth is accelerated. May it be so.

 

 

 

 

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